Sunday, April 28, 2019


Philipp Pilhofer, Das frühe Christentum im kilikisch-isaurischen Bergland: die Christen der Kalykad-nos-Region in den ersten fünf Jahrhunderten. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchrist-lichen Literatur, Band 184. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xvii, 345. ISBN 9783110573817. €119,95.

Reviewed by Ulrich Huttner, Universität Siegen (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Berlin is a good place to explore the regional development of early Christianity. Adolf von Harnack did this at the beginning of the twentieth century, presenting the results in the second volume (fourth book) of his magisterial Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums (Leipzig 1902, fourth edition 1924). Philipp Pilhofer has just done something similar at the beginning of the twenty-first, focusing on a modest region in the south of Asia Minor, while von Harnack covered all the coasts of the Mediterranean from Palestine to Spain. Harnack's volume has about 470 pages, Pilhofer's not so many less. The wealth of details, but also the wealth of discussion in Pilhofer's book make the difference. Moreover, von Harnack sets a limit with the year of Nicaea (325), and Pilhofer extends his analysis an additional two centuries.

The region explored by Pilhofer, in many regards corresponding to the province of Isauria at the beginning of the fourth century, is complex for several reasons. The Valley of Kalykadnos is a marginal district with fuzzy borders between the landscapes of Cilicia, Isauria, and Lycaonia. There is not much evidence that we can use for reconstructing the history of this region. The routes leading there are rather exhausting, still today, as Pilhofer can report from his survey-tours. Often it is difficult to identify place-names in ancient texts with modern sites. But Pilhofer knows the region well, having seen the landscape and the monuments with his own eyes, and his photos give a clear picture of the region. Occasionally he is able to include new discoveries, made together with his wife during their journeys. For example, until now Alahan had yielded two Conon-graffiti, but a third was seen by the Pilhofers in spring 2014 (255 n. 253).

It is a difficult task to reconstruct the pre-Constantinian history of Christianity in the Kalykadnos region. Paul's home town, Cilician Tarsus, lies to the east, and Gal.1:21 shows that he stayed in Cilicia for some time rather early on (around 40 CE). Although clear evidence is lacking, Pilhofer supposes with good reason that the apostle used those so-called 'silent years' for missionary activities also in Rough Cilicia: Seleucia or the Roman colony of Ninica may have been promising aims for such activities. Christian inscriptions belonging to the centuries before Constantine have not yet been found in the Kalykadnos district. As a consequence, the sources allow many fewer conclusions here than in the regions of Lycaonia to the north, where there is much more epigraphic evidence. Pilhofer suggests a promising way out of the methodological problem caused by the lack of evidence. He presupposes that in towns, where the veneration of local saints can be proved for the time after Constantine, a Christian community must have existed already before (137, 151, 272). In some instances, this idea is convincing. But bearing in mind that the primary place of a martyr's veneration is normally the town where the governor pronounced his sentence, there may emerge inconsistencies. For example, Zenonopolis, where a monumental inscription testifies to the sanctuary of the martyr Socrates, did not have the court of a governor.

For the time after Constantine, Pilhofer presents a Christian landscape subdivided into many bishoprics and local cults. But hardly any bishop was prominent enough to find his way into the traditions of Church history and patristics. An exception was Basil of Seleucia, who left not only a series of homilies but also played an important role in coining the Chalcedonian formula of one Christ in two natures.

One of the great merits of Pilhofer's book is the wary evaluation of hagiographic texts both to reconstruct the development of Christianity during the first centuries and to illustrate the local self-assertion of Christians during late antiquity. There is an astonishing amount of evidence for the veneration of saints in the region of Kalykadnos, more than in most other parts of Asia Minor. Above all, one owes to Pilhofer illuminating ideas and considerations on the stories about Thecla and Conon. For example, he can show that the traditions of civic rivalry, a form of competition that found expression in so many honorific titles and documents, was still mirrored in the Miracles of Thecla, written down in the fifth century. The author of this text lays out a sort of competition between Thecla's town of Seleucia and Paul's town of Tarsus (215-217). The Vita of Conon, developped during the fourth and fifth centuries, yields surprising insights into the liturgies honoring the martyr, as the Isaurians were assembling in a torchlight procession and acclaiming him with a monotheistic formula: 'Conon's god is the only one, Conon's god has been victorious' (237-239 on MKon 54). Basing his considerations on Conon's Vita, Pilhofer even succeeds in solving the old question of the toponyms Isaura, Isauropolis, and Leontopolis: Isaura and Isauropolis are one and the same town, while Leontopolis is the former Bidana, the sanctuary of Conon that obtained the status of a polis after belonging to Isauropolis until the fifth century (264-265). The elevation of Bidana could be compared with that of Didyma, which slightly later received an emperor's name as well: Ioustinianopolis.

A subject so complex can hardly be treated without errors or mistakes. In Pilhofer's book, they never touch the core of his arguments but always relate to details at the margins, especially in the discussion of inscriptions (dedications as proof of the existence of temples of the imperial cult at Kestros and Lamos, 31 n. 101), of onomastics (Zoilos as a theophoric name deriving from Zeus, 77), or problems of dating (74 n. 56: the name "Aurelius" as dating inscriptions to after 212; 135-136: crosses erroneously assumed as symbols to be dated not before Constantine, but compare epigraphic material from northern Phrygia). Pilhofer wonders why soldiers in Isauria used Latin acclamations to honor the emperor still in the year 488 (261 n. 285), but in late antiquity such Latin acclamations are not so rare in the Greek east (vincas = βίνκας; cf. Ch. Begass, Rheinisches Museum 157, 2014, 363-367, on John of Antioch, fr. 306, discussed by Pilhofer).

All in all, Pilhofer has published an excellent book, setting a milestone for further work on early Christianity in Asia Minor. He shows how to write history on a region that does not offer a leading narrative. He has an ability to elicit historical information from evidence that does not, at first sight, seem to have a voice, and this in a region so difficult to survey. Reviewing such a book is real pleasure. We look forward to the new edition of Conon's Vita, which Pilhofer announces will appear subsequently.

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