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Bible Lands of Turkey: Anatolia and the Beginnings

text by Charles E. Adelsen
photos by Henry Angelo-Castrillion


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The countryside is as broad and diverse as a continent, and is everywhere filled with memories of holy men and women who toiled and worked miracles here in the “second holy land,” Anatolia – now modern Turkey.

Here, the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow southward where according to tradition they once made fertile the Garden of Paradise. And here – far away in the Anatolian north, locked in seemingly-eternal glacial ice, are two peaks where it is said “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” Christian, Moslem and Jew stand in awe before this mighty sleeping volcano which reaches in height to 16,920 feet.

It is in this same Anatolian land that Abraham tarried for seven years at Harran as he and his fellow wanderers made their long trek into the land of Canaan.

Anatolia’s wide-reaching Mediterranean coast, with its busy port and huge petroleum refinery is a stretch of shore not wholly spoiled by development. Here, it is said, God spared Jonah from the belly of “the great fish.”

The lasting impression in this land is the sense of the stubbornness of men and women in search of the one God. One marvels at the overnight flowering of yellow bugle and silvery wormwood in the brief springtime under the peaks of Mount Ararat, and is astounded at what the Mongol wrath left of the great ancient city of Harran. What endures is the sense that the Christian faith grew to its full stature here, and from here reached out to so many.

Traveling beyond the major cities such as Izmir, which once was the Greco-Roman and biblical Smyrna, you are impressed with how out of place are the incursions of modernity on the old and lovely Ionian coast. Villagers still cultivate the vine, and olives are pressed for their oil in much the same manner as was used 2,000 years ago. Skilled hands shape wet local clay as they did centuries ago, and young men still dance as now forgotten generations danced long before Abraham saw the light of day.

When you visit the ruins of Ephesus, called the “first metropolis of Asia,” you can climb up to the great basilica of St. John and see where the beloved disciple was laid to rest, and where for centuries even emperors sought the dust of its crypt for the sureness of its cures.

Here at Ephesus, it is said, John found sanctuary for Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Here, in the green hills, appeared a man whose missionary zeal confirmed Anatolia’s claim to be the “second holy land.” The man, fittingly, was himself an Anatolian – a native of the port of Tarsus.

This man shook and aroused the East with such fervor and such eloquence as he traveled the sea for Christ, that the world would never again be the same.

The man was Saul. To the Church and history he is known as St. Paul.

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Charles E. Adelsen, an American journalist, lives in Istanbul and writes frequently about the Middle East.



Tags: Christianity Turkey Historical site/city