🔼The name Philippi in the Bible
The in the Bible often mentioned Macedonian settlement of Philippi (not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi in Syria) was founded in 356 BC by king Philip II (father of Alexander the Great) as little more than a fort to control the gold-rich region and the important Macedonian coastal trade route between Neapolis and Amphipolis. The fort was situated near the coast between the bulks of modern Greece and Turkey; to the east of Thessaloniki, pretty much where modern Kavala is today.
Philippi was barely a hamlet and little known until in 42 BC it hosted the famous Battle of Philippi, which ranks among the most decisive events in human history, and although not actually mentioned in the New Testament, doubtlessly remembered by many as the battle in which the world was lost. It's not often admitted, but much of the horror of the last two millennia, including our modern age, derives from the outcome of the Battle of Philippi.
A century after the battle, Philippi was "a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony" according to Acts 16:12. As per the request of the Macedonian man in Paul's vision, Paul, Silas and Timothy had crossed over from Asia Minor to Macedonia and stayed a few eventful days in Philippi.
First they famously met Lydia, the purple seller who became the first European convert to Christ (16:14). Then Paul exorcized a lucrative demon from a girl, whose owners had Paul and Silas subsequently beaten and thrown in jail (in the olden days, jail was not the actual punishment but a holding pen for when one's case could be heard). But with the help of a miraculous earthquake, they managed to convert the jailer.
The next day the magistrates wanted to release them, but Paul reminded them that they themselves had broken the law by beating and incarcerating fellow Roman citizens (Acts 16:37, 1 Thessalonians 2:2). Paul and his companions travelled on, but apparently left the seeds for a blooming church in Philippi, as one of Paul's letters to the Philippians survives in the New Testament.
🔼The Battle of Philippi
The importance of the Battle of Philippi in relation to the New Testament can not be overstated. In the last century BC, the Senate-based semi-democratic government of Rome had become unstable, largely due to corruption and that mostly of generals. One of those generals, namely Julius Caesar, first ransacked the Gauls, and with their gold he expanded and fortified his legion and proceeded to march on Rome. In Rome, meanwhile, general Pompey was terrorizing the Senate with a plethora of decrees and rules that he pulled out of a hat. One man passing law without public deliberation was entirely against the founding and operating rules of Rome, but he did it anyway, because he had a legion. Julius attacked Rome and defeated Pompey, but in stead of repairing the Republic (by ending corruption and reinstating the Senate), he stripped the Senate of their last remaining powers, and had the members pronounce him Rome's Eternal Dictator.
Thus died the Republic; Rome had become a dictatorship.
The difference between a senate-ruled republic and a dictatorship is that in the first, citizens can count on justice according to an ever-evolving law, while in a dictatorship, justice is what one man says it is. Opposition — in which the full breadth of human conviction manifests and which in a democracy safeguards a society's growth, flexibility and humanity — is per definition not tolerated by a dictator and is therefore crushed. And in order to make a society allow a dictator to murder opponents, a dictator needs first make society believe that he is some kind of super-human, who knows more than the rest of us. In order for a dictatorship to work, people have to be convinced that their liberty of thought won't bring them as much peace and prosperity as would the beloved leader. Folks with that kind of delusion happily bind themselves (and others) in chains and are wonderfully easy to dominate, which is of course the whole idea.
In Rome, however, many people had no intention to hand over their liberties to anybody. Some of them grouped up under the name the Liberators (after Liberta, the goddess of liberty) and one fine day stabbed Julius to death in the Senate building.
The leaders of the Liberators, namely Brutus and Cassius, began running through the streets shouting, "People of Rome! We're free again!" but the people of Rome ran to their houses and locked their doors and nobody dared to meet their cheers. After a series of battles with the establishment, the Liberators realized that their support was waning and their efforts doomed. They ran for their lives, which lasted until the Battle of Philippi, when Mark Anthony and Octavian defeated them and massacred their troops. A noteworthy detail is that Mark Anthony, who slew Brutus, respectfully covered his victim with a purple robe. Octavian, who was Julius' adopted son, went back to Rome and worked himself onto the throne of his father as emperor Augustus, which means Glorious One.
🔼The Glorious One
To ensure the effectiveness of his own pending dictatorship, Octavian had swiftly declared the deceased Julius a divinity, and evenly swiftly, his supporters began to subsequently address him as Son of God, King of Kings, Savior of the World, all that. Next, as Augustus, he ordered the empire-wide worship of both Julius and the empire itself, and adorned the entire realm with mass-produced effigies of himself as a dashing young man. Augustus ruled for decades, but we have no images of Augustus as an older man. To us and everybody in the empire, Augustus would always be that Glorious One, Son of God and Savior of the World of say, roughly 33 years old.
Then, one fine day, a Pharisee from Tarshish named Paul, who was most probably born well within the later reign of Augustus, found himself with a few things to add to that. Paul lived in a time when the liberation movement pretty much defined life. Many of his contemporaries were convinced that taking up arms against the Romans was the only way to get rid of them, but Paul was convinced it wasn't. Paul's idea was that God's law is inscribed upon everybody's heart, and personal liberty is the only way for humanity to finally achieve a collective divinity (represented by John the Revelator's New City of Jerusalem). That brought Paul not simply in conflict with the Roman army, but with the emperor as entity and even tyranny as a concept. But it also created a way for Paul to engage the empire as evangelist (= good news bringer) and not as enemy.
Paul was on all accounts a brilliant man. His main tactic was to probe the opponent's belief system and harvest it for elements that he could somehow give a place in his own message. He would make fantastically misled folks believe that he wasn't telling them anything new, but was in fact agreeing wholeheartedly with them, and merely explaining their own stuff beyond their wildest imaginations. Most famously is his hijacking of the Unknown God, venerated in Athens (Acts 17:23), but he really did it all the time. Many signature Pauline phrases are in fact swiped from Roman Imperial theology, and were first applied to Augustus.
🔼The foundation of Rome
According to the myth, Rome was founded by Romulus, who killed his brother Remus in the process. When they were infants, both of them had been expelled from their sublime house of origin, were dumped in the Tiber, but survived and were raised by a wolf (and a woodpecker). Although this story was known by all Romans, it's clearly drawn from older traditions and appears to refer back to the oldest tales of the rise of human civilization. In fact, there is as much resemblance between the Biblical story of Noah and the epic of Gilgamesh as there is between the story of Romulus and Remus and that of Cain and Abel (note the expulsion theme, and the detail that Romulus turned into Quirinus, which probably means spear, as does the name Cain; see our article on the name Quirinius).
In historic reality, Rome began as a city of the Latins; a tribe that occupied territory just south of that of the Etruscans. For a long time, these two peoples co-existed but finally the Latins defeated the Etruscans. Rome emerged pretty much on the border between the two tribes, or rather in the Latin half of the area of confluence of the two cultures. At any rate, Roman culture would remain forever infused by that of the Etruscans, like an unnamed underground. According to both Herodotus and Virgil, the Etruscans came from Lydia, the neo-Hittite empire that once covered modern Turkey. Lydia's capital was Sardis, which is one of the seven cities to which John the Revelator addressed his message.
There are several tantalizing clues to how Paul might have weaved Greco-Roman mythology into his message, but perhaps the most relevant one to our present subject is that the ancients ascribed the invention of the monetary coin to the Lydians, and this around the same time that Etruscan colonists (presumably) came to Italy. The transition of Rome from republic to empire was entirely due to money, and apart from representing units of value, coins were also used as the first means of mass-propaganda; spin-doctoring, or the manipulation of the common man by subliminal methods.
To aid him win popular vote and secure power, Julius Caesar minted his famous silver Elephant denarius, on which he appeared to proclaim that he (the elephant) would trample Rome's enemies. Caesar's denarius became the third most minted coin in the republic's history, and with every transaction, people would see with their own eyes the wealth that Julius had infused Rome with. In between killing Julius and taking off, Brutus too managed to find time to mint his own denarius, the Eid Mar denarius, on which he explained that his deed was meant to restore the Republic and liberate the slaves (which were the Romans, but see Luke 4:18).
🔼Love, peace and money
After Timothy and he had parted, Paul wrote several letters to his young friend. Of these, two remain to us, and in both of these Paul warns for φιλαργυρια (philarguria), literally: silver-loving, that is: money-loving, and even calls money-loving the root of all evils (2 Timothy 6:10, 2 Timothy 3:2). The adjective occurs once more in the New Testament, namely in Luke 16:14, but the noun occurs elsewhere in the Bible only in the Septuagint's rendering of Jeremiah 8:10.
For many centuries, historians have told us that the Roman Empire was a wonderful thing, but it wasn't and many people knew it. One of Augustus' achievements was the hallowed Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, but Roman peace was the terrified quietness of a housewife whose husband had beaten her so much that she had simply given up living. The Romans deserve no laudation; their so-called wonderful inventions would have been made anyway by others, such as the Celts, the Greeks or the Phoenicians. But in stead of the products of these wonderful societies, humanity got stuck until today with the horror of Rome.
Long before Rome rose to prominence, the prophet Jeremiah wrote, "They say: 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace" (Jeremiah 8:11), and even the first century Roman historian Tacitus bravely recorded the lament of a Caledonian commander named Galgacus, who called the Romans, "Robbers of the world, exhausting the earth with their world-wide plunder [...]. Robbery, slaughter and plunder they lyingly call empire. They create a wasteland, and call it peace" (Agricola.1.30).
It's by no means odd that Hitler was so endeared by the Roman empire that he derived nearly his entire Nazi house-style from it. His whole philosophy was Roman, including his obsession with the Jewish Question, that is: what to do with folks who don't fit the grid, and that either by choice or disability. The Roman Empire contained about 300 million people in its heyday, and Josephus reported that during festivals 3 million people flocked to Jerusalem. That means that during festivals, 1% of the empire was not partaking in productivity and military functions, and that weakened the very fabric of Roman society. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD was not simply the accidental result of a peace-keeping intervention, but a calculated effort to destroy resistance against man-made order. If Hitler had won the war, we would now, with some disdainful glee, call D-Day the Great American Revolt.
🔼Christ and antichrist
Human cultural evolution does not simply occur between the two extremes of initial chaotic cave dwelling and the final form of a utopian society. But when technology allows one person or oligarchy to exert great power over a large group of people, it's inevitable that the resultant society does not reflect the entire width and breadth of human temperament, and oppression is either forcibly executed or else generated by under-facilitating or over-demonizing the needs, abilities and creativity of certain people.
Roman organization was hyper-legalized and focused wholly on manageability and efficiency, and as a result abhorred fringes and spontaneity. Roman society was a machine, and its people were laid out on, and ordered to operate within, a rigid grid. This may look wonderfully orderly and even godly, but it's hell to people who have trouble fitting in. Look at nature. Nowhere in nature are living things organized the way Rome was organized. In fact, the laws of life are such that life will always break through any constraints imposed on it. That means that if we regard the laws of life as divine laws, that is, if we regard Torahic Law essentially the same as the laws that run the universe, any kind of force that goes against it is a force of Lawlessness, even when we call it law.
This Lawlessness is doomed to fail, but it is so attractive that humanity has been falling for its lure since the beginning (read our article on the name Antichrist). The name Jesus of Nazareth may sound special and exclusive to us but in Hebrew and Greek it really sounds like John Doe. The name Jesus was very common (as opposed to the names of most of the other key-figures in the Bible, which happen only once) and Nazareth was virtually unknown. Apart from all else, the final society of which John the Revelator spoke will be one where nobody will be above king John Doe, the ordinary guy. It will be a safe place, but it won't be a peaceful place in the sense that there won't be any conflict. Disagreement, when properly channeled and harvested, is what causes growth, and that is why everybody in the New Testament, including Jesus Christ Himself, got into a fight once or twice.
🔼Etymology of the name Philippi
The English name Philippi is actually the Greek name Philippoi, which is the plural of the name Philip, or rather Philippos. Hence both names consist of two elements. The first part of both comes from the adjective φιλος (philos), meaning friend or one who loves:
The second part comes from the noun ιππος (hippos), meaning horse:
The name Philippi means Lovers Of Horses or rather, as we explain in our article on the name Philip: They Who Lean On Their Military Complex, which is a rather fitting name for it.