Matthew J. Grey and Dr. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Church History and Doctrine
After traveling the Mediterranean world for 30 years as a missionary for Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul embarked on his final journey from the port of Caesarea in ancient Judaea. Eventually his company would sail toward Italy, land in the harbor at Puteoli (just north of modern Naples), and from there travel the road to Rome. Traditionally, it was in Rome where he would spend the final years of his life “preaching the kingdom of God (Acts 28:31)” and eventually be martyred for the cause of Christ. Interestingly enough, the scriptural account in Acts 28 offers less than five verses relating to the final leg of this journey (from the Puteoli harbor to the great city of Rome). The text that is given presents few details describing the journey itself.
As an undergraduate in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (with a personal emphasis on the biblical world), I had many opportunities to work with Richard Neitzel Holzapfel of the department of Church History and Doctrine. We have often talked of the importance of understanding the world behind the scriptures and concluded that this Italian journey of Paul’s was given little background information in the text and has not been well documented by modern scholars. Therefore, we felt that a need existed for a thorough study of this final journey of the famous Apostle. With funds provided by the ORCA scholarship, I was able to carry out this project – first through extensive library research and ultimately by travelling to Italy itself to study the journey on site, documenting its details with digital images. The end goal of Dr. Holazapfel and myself was a published article or series of articles making this information available to an interested audience.
The initial phase of library research included reading previous work done on the topic (which proved to be very little), a survey of the historical geography of first century Italy (i.e., the route Paul would have taken and its accompanying landscape), and a study of the traditions and archaeological evidence for those sites associated with Paul’s travels. Once having identified the relevant route and its important sites, all the research was summarized, condensed into a comprehensible format, and made usable for on site research.
The text of Acts 28 states that Paul and his company disembarked in Italy at the then thriving trade-port of Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli). Photographic documentation included a beautiful image of the Bay of Naples (taken from modern Sorrento) into which Paul would have sailed to dock in Puteoli. Within the modern city, impressive ruins of the first century city are still visible, notably the market place which Paul would have inevitably visited as he spent his seven days with local Christians (Acts 28:14). Having obtained images and conducted research in and around the Bay of Naples and ancient Puteoli, I was able to drive the congested modern road along the Via Campania, the best candidate for Paul’s link to the inland Via Appia.
Based on the internal evidence of the Acts text (the two noted stopping points on the way to Rome), it is clear that Paul’s company would have taken the Via Appia into the great capital. As the modern road follows the exact path of this important ancient route, I was able to drive the length of the journey, studying and photographing the same natural environment as Paul in the first century. The topography along this route initially consists of orchards, plains and foothills until it takes a slight turn back to the sea. At two different points the Via Appia makes contact with the Terranean Sea, once at the Gulf of Gaeta and again at the towering Cliffs of Terrachina. Eventually the road straightens out and heads directly for Rome. It is on this final portion of the Via Appia where the Appian Forum and the Three Taverns are located as mentioned in Acts 28:15.
The archaeology of the journey (quite sparse since its origin in Pozzuoli) becomes much more visible about six miles outside of Rome. Here the original stones of the ancient road are still present and form a peaceful walking path in the country entering the city. Walking along this final stretch of the Via Appia allows one to approach Rome as Paul and many others had done centuries ago. Ruins of the first century monuments still line the path. Upon reaching the edge of the city, it is more difficult (but still possible) to discern what is left of the city entrance Paul would have seen. As with the earlier portion of the journey, I was able to thoroughly study and document these wonderful sites.
Finally, upon entering Rome itself, the possibilities of researching Paul’s visit were quite varied. There is certainly the impressive Roman Forum that Paul most likely passed through (or was at least very near), although it is not clear in the text where exactly he stayed or (if he was indeed) heard by Caesar himself. At this point, with the text so bereft of detail, many of the sites associated with Paul in Rome rely largely upon Roman Catholic tradition. These sites include the Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Mamertine Prison (where, according to tradition, Peter and Paul were both incarcerated), and the traditional site of martyrdom, the Church of Tre Fontane (in reference to the “three fountains” that gushed as a result of Paul’s bouncing head upon decapitation). These are all clearly traditional accounts that have little or no archaeological or historical support. Therefore, in Rome itself, it is only possible to note those places surely seen or visited by Paul (such as the Forum) and merely acknowledge the traditional sites as interesting possibilities.
This project has been a wonderful opportunity to study the world behind the scriptures and to walk in the footsteps of an Apostle. While the final report is currently in process, the goal remains to publish a forthcoming article or series of articles making the findings available. The expected format is a combined presentation of the text, geography, topography and archaeology behind this fascinating journey, all fully documented with digital images. It is hoped that such a publication will help fill in the picture of such an important aspect of New Testament history. Without question, this project has provided invaluable experience and preparation for future graduate work in biblical studies.