🔼The name Hierapolis in the Bible
The city of Hierapolis is mentioned once in the Bible. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul mentions that his companion Epaphras has deep concern for the Colossians and those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13).
Hierapolis was situated in Asia Minor, in the south-west corner of modern day Turkey, within sight of Laodicea and in the same general region as the seven cities to which the Book of Revelation was addressed. The city appears to have started with an Apollonian temple built by the Laodiceans over an active fault in the third century BC. A Plutonian temple (dedicated to death and exploiting the deadly volcanic fumes) soon followed.
The city rose to further prominence when its associated hot springs were converted into a health spa and sanatorium. This may sound deliciously recreational to our modern ears but in reality it turned Hierapolis into a heaving mass of dismay and agony. As many sick people flocked to Hierapolis and proceeded to succumb, a huge necropolis began to emerge on the city's north and south sides.
At the end of the third century BC, Jewish families were forced or compelled to move to Hierapolis and halfway the first century BC their number had risen to about 50,000 (or so estimated the theologian William Barclay). Why the city needed Jews is not immediately clear, but perhaps to occupy the many medical positions and the booming health trade this accommodated.
On top of all the misery, Hierapolis was leveled during the great Lydia earthquake of 17 AD, and the same thing happened in 60 AD, and this may explain why Epaphras was so deeply concerned. Several ancient Christian writers mention that the apostle Philip was martyred and buried in Hierapolis in 80 AD, and that his daughters ministered there as prophetesses (Acts 21:9), but other sources maintain that Philip of Hierapolis was not the same as Philip the apostle.
Note that the gospels were all written after the destruction of Hierapolis in 60 AD, and probably also after the destruction of the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem in 70 AD, and that at that time (and for a long time to come) there was no formal rift between Judaism and Christianity. Or in other words Christianity was still being formed within the greater Judaic discussion, and the Jews and God-fearing gentiles of Hierapolis may have found deliberate comfort and portent in the accounts involving the pools of Bethesda and Siloam.
🔼Etymology of the name Hierapolis
The name Hierapolis consists of two elements. The first part of our name comes from the Greek word ιερον (hieron), meaning temple, and ultimately from the noun ιερος (hieros), meaning sacred (thing):
The second part of our name is the common Greek word for city:
The name Hierapolis is generally considered to mean Sacred City (or erroneously: Holy City), but it's probably too hasty a conclusion to derive it simply from the Apollonian or Plutonian temples. Temples, or even whole complex centers of religion, were after all hardly unique to any city. Here at Abarim Publication we guess that the name ultimately derived from the art of medicine and healing for which the city was ultimately known.
The destruction of the temple of Jerusalem (that's ιερον Ιερουσαλημ hieron Hierousalem) caused a tremendous tremble in Judaic thought and gave Christianity much of its momentum that allowed it to become a dominant world religion. Part of the Christian message was that the temple of Jerusalem was superseded by the Body of the resurrected Christ, which was the real temple of YHWH (John 2:21, see 1 Corinthians 12:27), and of which all previous temple versions had been foreshadows (1 Peter 2:5, Revelation 3:12).
The priests of this final temple were assigned sacred functions, just as much as any priests, and just like with any priesthood, those sacred functions were divided over several disciplines. Since Jesus was also a healer, the sacred act of healing was obviously an important priestly function within the work performed in the final temple at large.
🔼The sacred art of healing
In the old world, the art of healing was divided over two camps. One group believed that sickness was a divine curse which could be appeased by rituals, sacrifices and entreaty (a view still espoused by some religious groups today). The other group believed that illness could be prevented and averted via scientific investigations, while it should be noted that this group itself was divided into competing theories and approaches.
The early Christian approach is obviously a blend between the two. Sickness as well as sin are manifestations of a separation from God, whether personal or cultural (because no, a sick person is not a sinful person, just part of a sinful world - John 9:3). A separation from God manifests in both ignorance and irreverence ("they mock what they don't know"; Jude 1:10, also see Luke 23:34), and an approach to God manifests in both knowledge and love (not awe; see our article on the verb ירא, yara' I, meaning to fear). Apart from all else, Jesus also personifies knowledge in its broadest sense. In that sense there is no such thing as true or false knowledge, there is only:
- The knowledge of truth, via which the patient gets better — miraculously to people who don't have that knowledge and logically to people who do, and:
- Ignorance, via which the patient stays sick or dies.
The crunch of the matter lies in that both knowledge and ignorance have the tendency to spawn elaborate procedures and figures of solemn authority, as well as adherers and believers. As is still obvious in our present day and age, the art of healing (as well as religion and science at large) are firmly tied to commerce. In other words: medicines aren't designed to make people well, they are designed to make people money.
Effectiveness of medicines and treatment is not the primary concern of the medical industrial complex, but the belief of folks in them. Sick people pop pills that have snazzy brand names and are backed up by advertisement campaigns, and only very few of us know anything about medicine and are additionally not funded by pharmaceutical corporations or work for universities that are. Full blown ignorance may even score a point or two by healing fakers or sufferers from psychosomatic infirmity, and there might even be a correlation between ignorance and an inability for a proper cure to make a difference in a sick person (see Matthew 13:58).
The bottom line is that neither healing nor staying sick are signs of the soundness of the treatment. The only way to establish whether a treatment is correct is to investigate, explain and discuss in the matter of the scientific method. One tell-tale sign that your doc is a quack is when he's all mysterious and esoteric about your affliction and his treatment. Someone who's serious about the craft of healing in any way or form (up to "healing" science itself) will be transparent. Someone who's serious about the craft of extracting cash from your pocket will demand that you have quiet faith in whatever that person is doing to you.
🔼The correlation between illness and faith
Let no one tell you that you are staying sick because you lack faith. Folks who resort to that cowardly cop-out deserve to get really sick themselves. The only person the Lord is unable to heal is the person who doesn't show up. If you are staying sick despite your desire to be well, it may very well be because of the great strength of your faith (Matthew 26:39). Never forget that Elisha, the greatest and most powerful prophet of Israel, died of a terminal illness (2 Kings 13:14).
It's a hell of a thing but being worthless is a lot worse than being sick and dying. If you are staying sick, it is because the Lord invests in you. He needs you, and He's using you. Human suffering results from human ignorance, and is the most important and most sacred priestly discipline of the final temple. You are suffering because you are the hardest working priest in the Body of Christ (Matthew 25:23, John 16:33, Acts 5:41, James 1:2).
Long sweaty prayer marathons are also nonsense (and with that we don't mean sincere conversations with the Lord that happen to be lengthy; Matthew 6:7). Prayers that consist of nothing but countless different ways to say the same thing are designed to make the prayer feel less responsible and you more guilty. A righteous person will utter a concise and earnest prayer, asking the Lord (1) for healing, and (2) for Him to show to the prayer how he or she might help you.
An awful person sends you a "get-well" card and goes back to watching TV. A righteous person will either concentrate on your affliction scientifically, or (equally crucial) will care for you and make you feel loved and attended to. The phrase "laying on of hands" in case you were wondering comes from "taking one in one's hands," and not from "channeling the Force" or something like that. The glory of the Lord is not revealed in lengthy prayers and a wave with the magic wand. If you are sick, it is because the rest of mankind is learning lessons in truth and love that they otherwise couldn't have (John 9:3). Thank God for you.