Local References in the Letter of Smyrna (Rv 2:8-11), Part 3: Jews in Smyrna -- By: David E. Graves

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 19:2 (Spring 2006)
Article: Local References in the Letter of Smyrna (Rv 2:8-11), Part 3: Jews in Smyrna
Author: David E. Graves


Local References in the Letter of Smyrna
(Rv 2:8-11), Part 3:
Jews in Smyrna1

David E. Graves

There was a considerable Jewish population in Smyrna, which was hostile to the early church. They opposed the early Christians and promoted the persecution of Christians (Rv 2:9–10). In the Revelation to John, they are described as calling themselves Jews but really belonging to the synagogue of Satan. As Walvoord points out, the Christian

persecutors were not only pagans, who naturally would be offended by the peculiarities of the Christian faith, but also hostile Jews and Satan himself (1983: 61).

Actual Jews

However, were these ethnic Jews who were not religious Jews, or Gentiles pretending to be Jews, or ethnic Jews who were rejecting the truth in Christ (Stern 1992: 795–96; Michaels 1997: 74)? The general consensus of commentators is that Ioudaious (Greek) refers to anti-Christian ethnic Jews (Trench 1861: 137; Charles 1963: 1.57; Osborne 2002: 131; Robertson 1934: 6.302; Lenski 1963: 97; Thompson 1998: 68–69; Gregg 1997: 67; Düsterdieck 1979: 138; Alford 1968: 4.566).2 To the early Christians, these were Jews in name only (see Mt 3:9; Jn 8:33; 2 Cor 11:22; Phil 3:4ff.).Paul and Clement both put forth this view (Rom 2:28–29; Roberts and Donaldson 1994, Recognitions of Clement 5.34).It is evident that this idea was a general perception in the early church. In all probability these were ethnic Jews who, though religious, rejected Jesus and their true “Jewishness” in Him.

Presence in Smyrna

The source of the Jewish presence in Asia Minor can be traced back to the time of the Seleucids, as early as 200 BC (Ramsay 1895:668n.4) when Antiochus the Great (261–248 BC) imported 2,000 Jewish families from Babylon to improve his grip on this territory (Josephus Ant. 12.125; Ramsay 1895: 668).3 These Jews were given land, guaranteed privileges,4 and a separate government. It has also been documented that there was a large Jewish population from the time of Cicero settling in every city in Asia and particularly in western Asia Minor (Smallwood 1976: 121; Roberts and Donaldson 1994, Cicero Pro Flacco 68; Philo Legum allegoriae 1.245; Philo 1993: 1929). By the first century the Jewish population...

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