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The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia

And their place in the plan of the Apocalypse

W. M. Ramsay, D.C.L, Litt.D., LL.D.
Professor of Humanity in the University of Aberdeen

Table of Contents

Chapter   1: Writing, Travel, and Letters among the Early Christians
Chapter   2: Transmission of Letters in the First Century
Chapter   3: The Christian Letters and Their Transmission
Chapter   4: The Letters to the Seven Churches
Chapter   5: Relation of the Christian Books to Contemporary Thought and Literature
Chapter   6: The Symbolism of the Seven Letters
Chapter   7: Authority of the Writer of the Seven Letters
Chapter   8: The Education of St. John in Patmos
Chapter   9: The Flavian Persecution in the Province of Asia as Depicted in the Apocalypse
Chapter 10: The Province of Asia and the Imperial Religion
Chapter 11: The Cities of Asia as Meeting-Places of the Greek and the Asiatic Spirit
Chapter 12: The Jews in the Asian Cities
Chapter 13: The Pagan Converts in the Early Church
Chapter 14: The Seven Churches of Asia
Chapter 15: Origin of the Seven Representative Cities
Chapter 16: Plan and Order of Topics in the Seven Letters
Chapter 17: Ephesus: The City of Change
Chapter 18: The Letter to the Church in Ephesus
Chapter 19: Smyrna: The City of Life
Chapter 20: The Letter to the Church in Smyrna
Chapter 21: Pergamum: The Royal City: The City of Authority
Chapter 22: The Letter to the Church in Pergamum
Chapter 23: Thyatira: Weakness Made Strong
Chapter 24: The Letter to the Church in Thyatira
Chapter 25: Sardis: The City of Death
Chapter 26: The Letter to the Church in Sardis
Chapter 27: Philadelphia: the Missionary City
Chapter 28: The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia
Chapter 29: Laodicea: The City of Compromise
Chapter 30: The Letter to the Church in Laodicea
Chapter 31: Epilogue  


In the contact of East and West originates the movement of history. The historical position of Christianity cannot be rightly understood except in its relation to this immemorial meeting and conflict. The present book is based on the view that Christianity is the religion which associates East and West in a higher range of thought than either can reach alone, and tends to substitute a peaceful union for the war into which the essential difference of Asiatic and European character too often leads the two continents. So profound is the difference, that in their meeting either war must result, or each of them must modify itself. There is no power except religion strong enough to modify both sufficiently to make a peaceful union possible; and there is no religion but Christianity which is wholly penetrated both with the European and with the Asiatic spirit--so penetrated that many are sensitive only to one or the other.

Only a divine origin is competent to explain the perfect union of Eastern and Western thought in this religion. It adapted itself in the earliest stages of its growth to the great Graeco-Asiatic cities with their mixed population and social system, to Rome, not as the Latin city, but as the capital of the Greek-speaking world, and to Corinth as the halting-place between Greek Asia and its capital. Several chapters of the present book are devoted to an account of the motley peoples and manners of those cities. The adaptation of Christianity to the double nationality can be best seen in the Apocalypse, because there the two elements which unite in Christianity are less perfectly reconciled than in any other book of the New Testament. The Judaic element in the Apocalypse has been hitherto studied to the entire neglect of the Greek element in it. Hence it has been the most misunderstood book in the New Testament.

The collision of East and West throughout history has been a subject of special interest to the present writer from early youth; and he has watched for more than twenty-five years the recent revival of the Asiatic spirit, often from a very close point of view. In 1897, in a book entitled Impressions of Turkey, he tried to analyse and describe, as he had seen it, "the great historic movement" through which "Mohammedanism and Orientalism have gathered fresh strength to defy the feeling of Europe." It is now becoming plain to all that the relation of Asia to Europe is in process of being profoundly changed; and very soon this will be a matter of general discussion. The long-unquestioned domination of European over Asiatic is now being put to the test, and is probably coming to an end. What is to be the issue? That depends entirely on the influence of Christianity, and on the degree to which it has affected the aims both of Christian and of non-Christian nations: there are cases in which it has affected the latter almost more than the former. The ignorant European fancies that progress for the East lies in Europeanising it. The ordinary traveller in the East can tell that it is as impossible to Europeanise the Asiatic as it is to make an Asiatic out of a European; but he has not learned that there is a higher plane on which Asia and Europe may "mix and meet." That plane was once in an imperfect degree reached in the Graeco-Asiatic cities, whose creative influence in the formation of Roman and modern society is beginning to be recognised by some of the latest historical students, and the new stage towards which Christianity is moving, and in which it will be better understood than it has been by purely European thought, will be a synthesis of European and Asiatic nature and ideas.

This book is a very imperfect essay towards the understanding of that synthesis, which now lies before us as a possibility of the immediate future. How imperfect it is has become clearer to the writer as in the writing of it he came to comprehend better the nature of the Apocalypse.

The illustrations are intended to be steps in the argument. The Apocalypse reads the history and the fate of the Churches in the natural features, the relations of earth and sea, winds and mountains, which affected the cities; this study distinguishes some of those influences; and the Plates furnish the evidence that the natural features are not misapprehended in the study.

The Figures in the text are intended as examples of the symbolism that was in ordinary use in the Greek world; the Apocalypse is penetrated with this way of expressing thought to the eye; and its symbolic language is not to be explained from Jewish models only (as is frequently done). It was written to be understood by the Graeco-Asiatic public; and the Figures prove that it was natural and easy for those readers to understand the symbolism. Most of the subjects are taken from coins of the Imperial period; and hearty thanks are due to Mr. Head of the British Museum for casts from originals under his care. If the style of the coins were the subject of study, photographic reproductions would be required. But what we are here interested in is the method of expressing ideas by visible forms; and a line drawing, which brings out the essential facts, is more useful for our purpose. Examples are very numerous, and this small selection gives rather the first that came to hand than the best that might be chosen.

Thanks are due to Miss A. Margaret Ramsay for drawing twenty-two of the Figures, to Miss Mary Ramsay for two, and to Mr. John Hay for twelve.

In several cases it is pointed out that the spirit which is revealed in the natural features of the city was recognised in ancient times, being expressed by orators in counselling or flattering the citizens, and becoming a commonplace in popular talk. It is right to point out that in every case the impressions, gained first of all immediately from scenery, were afterwards detected in the ancient writers (who usually express them in obscure and elaborately rhetorical style).

The writing of a series of geographical articles in Dr. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible greatly facilitated the preparation of the present book, though the writer has learned much since, often as a result of writing those articles.

It has not been part of the writer's purpose to describe the Seven Cities as they are at the present day. That was done in a series of articles by Mrs. Ramsay in the British Monthly, November, 1901, to May, 1902, better than he could do it. He has in several places used ideas and illustrations expressed in the articles, and some of the photographs which were used in them are here reproduced afresh.


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