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The Church of Smyrna

History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community


Mauricio Saavedra

This book deals with the theology of the Church of Smyrna from its foundation up to the Council of Nicaea in 325. The author provides a critical historical evaluation of the documentary sources and certain aspects particularly deserving of discussion. He makes a meticulous study of the history of the city, its gods and institutions, the set-up of the Jewish and Christian communities and the response of the latter to the imperial cult. Finally, he undertakes a detailed analysis both of the reception of the Hebrew Scriptures and the apostolic traditions, as well as examining the gradual historical process of the shaping of orthodoxy and the identity of the community in the light of the organisation of its ecclesial ministries, its sacramental life and the cult of its martyrs.
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Chapter VII: The Christians of Smyrna in the face of the imperial cult


The imperial cult came to be a prominent characteristic of religion in the Asian cities and a source of tension for the development of the Christian communities. Domitian, emperor from 81 to 99, built a temple in his honour in Ephesus, and Hadrian did the same a couple of decades later in the same city. In the north, in the city of Pergamum, Trajan likewise built a temple843.

Much later, in the same area, temples in honour of the goddess Roma had been set up. The imperial government had welcomed with complacency the construction of each temple as a symbol of the loyalty of its subjects to Rome, and the conquered populations built them quite willingly in most cases, while there was frequently even competition between neighbouring cities to establish who would have the right to build one of these temples844. In one such competition, eleven cities were invited to compete for the building of the first temple in Asia, and Smyrna won the competition and built the temple in honour of Tiberius845. Smyrna, which was the sea port offering most competition north of the city of Ephesus, built a temple to the goddess Roma for the first time in 195 B.C., which from then on came to be a very powerful, though not the only, centre of the imperial cult in the region846.

It should not appear strange that the incursion of a Latin divinity was warmly welcomed by the Greek-speaking population of...

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