The King and I (Part 2): Exiled to Patmos -- By: Gordon Franz

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 12:4 (Fall 1999)
Article: The King and I (Part 2): Exiled to Patmos
Author: Gordon Franz


The King and I (Part 2):
Exiled to Patmos

Gordon Franz

Second in a series on the Book of Revelation, this article examines the physical and historical evidence for the Aegean island of Patmos. The author draws from both ancient sources and his own exploration of the island to provide a greater understanding of the Book of Revelation.

A Misconception

A common misconception in commentaries and popular prophetic writings is that the island of Patmos, where John was exiled, was a sort of Alcatraz (Swindoll 1986: 3) or St. Helene where Napoleon was exiled (Saffrey 1975:392). This is partly due to 19th-century travelers who described the island as “a barren, rocky, desolate-looking place” (Newton 1865: 223) or as “a wild and barren island” (Geil 1896: 70).

Unfortunately, these 19th-century perceptions are not accurate in describing the island in John’s day.

The harbor of Skela with the ancient acropolis (Kastelli) of Patmos to the right. Located on the sea lane between Rome and Ephesus, the harbor of Patmos was a regular and important stop along the line of communication and commerce between these two cities. Church tradition suggests John was exiled here from the city of Ephesus, where he had been serving as elder.

The island of Patmos (Rv 1:9). This small volcanic island sits in the Aegean Sea, 60 km (37 mi) from the Turkish coastal city of Miletus. Here the Apostle John was exiled and received his visions recorded in the Book of Revelation (sometimes called The Revelation of St. John the Divine). This view of the island is from the village of Chora to the northeast. In the center is the ancient and modern harbor, where the modern town of Skela is located. The ancient acropolis, known as Kastelli, is to the left.

First-century Patmos, with its natural protective harbor, was a strategic island on the sea lane from Ephesus to Rome. A large administrative center, outlying villages, a hippodrome (for horse racing), and at least three pagan temples made Patmos hardly an isolated and desolate place!

The 11 km (7 mi) long crescent-shaped island has a jagged 65 km (40 mi) coastline. Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) knew the island, and in his Natural History said it was 48 km (30 mi) in circumference (Rackham 1989: 169). Central in the island and at its narrowest point is the Kastelli, the ancient administrative center. Called Skela today, it was located behind the harbor, and remains of its 1.2 m (4 ft) wide acropolis wall and three towers can still be seen (Tozar 1889: 194-95; Simpson and Lazenby 1970: 47-

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