🔼The name Thessalonica: Summary
- Victory Of Thessaly
- Victory Of The Place That Establishes Natural Law
- From (1) θεσ- (thes-), or θεος (theos), law-setter, and (2) νικη (nike), victory.
🔼The name Thessalonica in the Bible
Thessalonica (that's classical) or Thessaloniki (that's modern) is the name of a city in modern Greece but ancient Macedonia. The city of Thessalonica is situated where the eastern coast of mainland Greece bends from a north-south direction to an east-west direction: Thessalonica sits in the coast-line knee, at the northern end of the Thermaic Gulf, which widens into the Aegean Sea that sits between Greece and modern Turkey. Today it is the second largest city in Greece (second to Athens, on the south-eastern end of mainland Greece). It was founded in 315 BC (replacing the original city of Therma and more than two dozen of its satellite hamlets), but remained an autonomous entity within the kingdom of Macedon. In 168 BC, Macedon fell to the Romans, and Thessalonica became the capital of the province of Macedonia (and in the first century BC briefly of all Greek provinces).
The city Thessalonica (Θεσσαλονικη, Thessalonike) is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament, and the ethnonym Thessalonian (Θεσσαλονικευς, Thessolonikeus) an additional four times: see full concordance. The apostle Paul visited Thessalonica on his second missionary journey out of Antioch, for which he brought along Silas, and upon which he met Timothy, who had a Greek father (Acts 16:1), which implies that he was very well versed in the Greek Scriptures — and in a later letter to Timothy, Paul emphasizes that all writing is God-breathed (see our article on YHWH) and useful for edification: see 2 Timothy 3:16 relative to the extra-Biblical legend of Jannes and Jambres, which Paul is careful to mention eight verses earlier. Likewise, the Lukan author of Acts makes it clear that Jesus too took an international approach to literature, and would use whatever worked to drive the gospel home (Luke 4:25-27). This angered the Jews of Nazareth, but despite their zeal for the Law of Moses, their collective reaction resembled rather the familiar Greek legend of Sisyphus (see Luke 4:29-30, in which the Jews correspond to Sisyphus and Jesus to the rock that Sisyphus is condemned to push uphill). And as literally everybody back then would have known, Sisyphus was the founder of the line of kings of Corinth, and a son of king Aeolus of Thessaly, of which the name Thessalonica derives.
In Troas (which means Of Troy, in obvious memory of Homer's Iliad), Paul saw a vision of a Macedonian asking for help. The man isn't identified, but the people in the first century lived in a world that was wholly formed by Alexander of Macedon, who was educated by Aristotle (also of Macedon), and he by Plato and all of them by Homer the Blind Bard (compare Luke 4:18 to Isaiah 61:1).
Luke and Paul were authors of staggering genius, and although it's safe to state that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, every book of the Bible came to us because the market at large preserved it. The Bible is quite literally a compilation of Mankind's Greatest Hits, and we have it because the Books of the Bible were widely copied and circulated far more abundantly than any other writing in history. And that since long before there was a church that might have benefitted from it. We have the Bible simply because the whole of mankind has always loved it far more than any other writing.
But that means that Luke's details are certainly not anecdotal, and his compositions and even his characters certainly synthetic. The mentioning of a vision of a Macedonian, whilst in Roman Troas, was the first century equivalent of a vision of a WW1 German Imperial stormtrooper whilst in Waterloo in 1943. Nobody in Luke's original audience would have missed this.
Paul, Silas and Timothy came to discover that the Jews of Thessalonica were significantly "less noble" than those of Berea (Acts 17:11-13), which ties into the story of the historical Pyrrhus, the general whose antics ultimately triggered the Punic Wars (hence the annihilation of Carthage, the destabilization of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Empire). Much later, when Paul had been arrested and sent to Rome on a ship from Adramyttium (named after the king who had invented coin money, and thus the unholy union of capital and state), he was accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of the Thessalonian (Acts 27:2, which uses the genitive singular of Thessalonian, rather than the singular Thessalonica or the plural Thessalonians, which would have been normal). This character Aristarchus may derive from the brilliant Aristarchus of Samos (310-230 BC), who invented the heliocentric universe, and also realized that stars are little suns, just very far away (Daniel 12:3, Genesis 1:17).
Thessalonica was home to the Thessalonians, who were the recipients of two of Paul's letters. These letters of Paul to the Thessalonians are rumored to be the earliest letters of Paul to survive (written around 50 AD), which makes them the earliest written record of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which makes Thessalonica one of a few points of origin of the formalized Way, along such celebrated places as Jerusalem, Antioch and Rome.
The key here is that the Roman world was polytheistic: people in general saw the world as rising from the interactions of countless disagreeing deities, who asserted their wily wills on mankind and nature. That meant that the world could not be predicted, and one's life could only be managed by buttering up whichever god one hoped was in control of it: whichever god one was the slave and property of. In the Roman world, devotion to one's god was always rooted in the desire for one's own survival, and one's survival was always a matter of joining the winning team. Polytheists have an us-versus-them worldview, and everything is about competition, the survival of the fittest and the annihilation of the weakest.
Humanity's sole bid for social order came from the government of the emperor, who was therefore equal to a god himself, whose will translated to absolute law and whose authority came solely from the violent enforcement of law. Humans were to obey their imperial master, or naturally revert back to the anarchy of the animal world.
🔼Enslaved by the Law of Liberty
Prior to Paul, "the Gospel of the Lord and Savior of the World, the King of kings and Lord of lords" was a concept that was very well known by everybody within the empire and outside its borders. It described the birthday of the great Octavian, who had become Rome's first Emperor Augustus, the quintessential Son of God (namely of the deified Julius Caesar), who had built the glorious Empire on the ruins of the dying Republic, and so saved the whole of humanity from its descent into chaos and beastliness.
The primary novelty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was monotheism, which had always been the Jewish worldview but which had never been easily accessible to non-Jews because it is so utterly anti-intuitive. The Gospel had existed since the Word had appeared to Abraham (Genesis 15:1), but until the first century, there hadn't been a whole lot to compare it with. It had simply been inexplicable, until, as the story goes, the Word assumed human flesh and walked among us (John 1:14). In modern terms, this is when humanity had developed beyond a certain level of social and intellectual complexity — when everybody was wholly used to kings and multi-lateral governments, armies and officers and a vast road system to deploy them, human and natural law, general cause and consequence, operational efficiency, social norms and politeness, grace and beauty, commercial companies, natural character and professional occupation (and the baffling concept of the Day Off, which separated soul from duty or core identity from societal role), long-term planning, money and corporate insurance (compare Galatians 6:2 to Romans 13:8), guilt and debt, masters and slaves, rich and poor, international trade and diplomacy and interlocution, a sense of history and future, a sense of evolution and growth, accumulated and generational wealth, and of course information technology, which back then comprised script and paper and the postal service but also literary techniques such as allegory, metaphor and even self-similarity — that allowed the broad and reasonable suspicion that beyond man's best intentions, there existed a whole other level of social and intellectual order: one where the unimaginable was commonplace, and mankind could leap off the earth of its nascence and join the stars on their eternal trek (Genesis 15:5).
Just like a nation cannot ease from a Republic into an Empire, but can only make this transition when the former suffers a total and utter collapse, so a natural man cannot make the transition between his polytheistic worldview and a monotheistic worldview without first the complete collapse of the animalistic sanity of one's polytheistic world. Ascension into monotheism requires first the death of the natural man, and then a maddening rebirth into an utterly unfamiliar and wholly new world.
Monotheism is the understanding that the natural world is not dictated by many independent and disagreeing gods (and note that the Greco-Roman gods are all human ancestors, and humans were always considered godly offspring: Acts 17:28-29), but by one unified set of rules, that expand out of a singularity without ever compromising that singularity, that work always the same and for everybody and cannot be broken or circumvented or buttered up. That means that these rules can be learned and mastered and counted on, so that the natural world will become as predictable as a machine, and a human person may truly be the master of his own destiny and the author of his own fate. This law is not like a human law, in that it describes an alternative to how things really are, and the difference constitutes a crime for which punishment is due. Instead, this law describes how things work, and synchronicity with this law results in growth and peace and prosperity, whereas non-synchronicity results in inefficiency, loss, damage and ultimately death and disintegration.
A human world that is in synch with the rules that describe the natural world is no longer a place of competition but rather a place of cooperation: winners are those who know the rules and know how to work with them (Romans 8:28), whereas losers are those who don't and who spend all their energy fighting an uphill Sisyphean battle against inevitable instability, collapse and decay. But winners don't win from losers (or even fight them): winners win from chaos, whereas losers lose to chaos. Those who are still in the throes of a polytheistic worldview, live in a world that they share with the mortal animals (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10). But a man who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).
🔼His Son from Heaven
The other wonderful and wonderfully anti-intuitive aspect of the gospel is that humanity's collective knowledge of the Law of liberty is what we moderns call an emergent property or an attractor. An attractor is a set of parameters in which a dynamic system will ultimately settle: its point of greatest efficiency and thus least losses (and maximum entropy). And an emergent property of a dynamic system is a property that describes the system (say, an anthill) but not any element of it (a single ant), yet it is understood that the whole (the anthill) still emerges from deep within the core nature of every individual element (the ant). And all the ants need to build their anthill is unrestricted interaction with all the others. All an individual ant has to do is show up and be nice. The hill is an emergent property of ant society, and its governing constitution (ant-protocol and ant-decorum) is its attractor (compare Proverbs 6:6 to Haggai 2:7 and John 12:32).
Another familiar emergent property, which is actually quite comparable to an anthill, is human language. Human language emerges, like anything else human, solely from our DNA and nowhere else, but always as an emergent property of many people interacting and (crucially) imitating each other (1 Thessalonians 1:6, see 1 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1, Hebrews 13:7), so as to drift toward their common attractor of a fully formed and functioning language. And all an individual language-pioneer has to do is show up and be nice. And language emerges.
We humans have our emotions in common with animals, because emotions require no words to be felt. But this also means that emotions can't be shared. And this means that one's emotional experience is always a solitary prison. Words, on the other hands, are always communal, and a word must always exist in, and be agreed upon by, two or more minds (or else it's a formless grunt). Rational thought is thought in words, and is void of emotion, and thus wholly shareable. Emotions depend on individual feelings, whereas words depend on shared rules. That means that language is lawful, whereas emotions are lawless. Emotions are beastly and earthly and individual, but words are godly and heavenly and communal.
And since human language is an emergent property of wide social interaction, so our celebrated human consciousness is an emergent property of wide social interaction. By stating that God "spoke" reality into being (Genesis 1:3, Matthew 4:4), the Bible writers firmly connected the Creator to mankind's formal (i.e. conscious, in words and ratios and algorithms: in rules, or "lawful") understanding of things, rather than his emotional (lawless) feelings. The whole of creation comes from God's speakings, which are summed up by the Word, which in human terms comes down to the whole of reality described in an algorithmic language. The Word of God is eternal and wholly complete (Colossians 1:16-17), but the human understanding of it (which is the Word in human form, or formal monotheism as comprehended by a community of humans), grows like a human child (Luke 2:40, 2:52).
This slowly waxing "child", this slowly forming human understanding of the Word of God, the Bible writers famously called the Son of God. The Son of God began to be in the most rudimentary consciousness of Adam ("the son of God": Luke 3:38), then narrowed into Israel ("Israel is My son, My firstborn"; Exodus 4:22), then narrowed into Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 22:70), and finally incarnated in the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) who are those led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). Modern humanity is very rapidly shedding its animal roots, because (despite our national governments and the misplaced zeal of the various religions) the real government of humanity comes from our collective understanding of natural law.
🔼Etymology of the name Thessalonica
The city of Thessalonica was named after a half-sister (same father) of Alexander the Great, namely Thessalonike of Macedon, who in turn was named after the victory of father Philip II of Macedon over the Phocians with the crucial help of Thessaly (a.k.a. Aelia, home of Achilles and Jason and even Alexander's horse Bucephalus; see our article on Octavian), whose celebrated Thessalian League was seated in Larissa.
The name Thessalonica consists of two elements, the latter being the familiar noun νικη (nike), meaning victory:
The noun νικη (nike) means victory. It comes with the verb νικαω (nikao), to be victorious.
The first element of our name, Θεσσαλια (Thessalia), is harder to place. It's hugely old and stems from prehistory, presumably in the name of some ancient local tribe (aptly assumed to have been the "Thessaloi"; one of whom would have been a "Thessalos"). Mythology makes mention of several heroes named Thessalus, including a son of Jason, one of Heracles and one of Poseidon; all of whom were considered founders of Thessaly.
The leading "Th" of our name was subject to considerable dialectal drift and it's not quite clear anymore how the original may have sounded (Th-, Ph-, T-, K-), and from which language basin it may have been drawn. But, experts in this sort of thing seem confident that etymologically, our name may have derived from the Proto-Indo-European root "key-," meaning to pay or avenge, which in turn resulted in names like Tisamenos, Tisias and Tisiphone, as well as the verb τινω (tino), to pay a penalty. This verb occurs only once in the Bible, rather strikingly in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (in the form τισουσιν, tisousin).
But Greek speakers who were less concerned with proper etymology and rather swayed by obvious associations, were probably more charmed by our name's proximity to the verb θεσσασθαι (thessasthai), to pray for (hence the name Thestor). Where that verb formally comes from is also not clear, but our unconcerned Greek speaker might have assumed that it had to do with the vast array of θεσ- (thes-) words that were really θεοσ- (theos-) words: θεσφατος (thesphatos), god-spoken; θεσκελος (theskelos), god-moved; θεσπιδαης (thespidaes), god-burned. And our word θεοσ- (theos-), god, probably actually means setter (rule-setter, law-maker), from the verb τιθημι (tithemi), meaning to place or set. Hence words like θεσμος (thesmos), a thing set, a rule, an institution.
The suffix -αλα (-ala) is commonly added to a verb to create a noun that reflects the action, which would put our mystery term θεσσαλια (thessalia) is close proximity of an (otherwise non existing noun) that would mean Place Of Law Establishing. In that respect, another word of note is τεσσαρες (tessares), which is the cardinal number four, and which may have sounded somewhat similar to our mystery term θεσσαλος (thessalos). "Four" is of course the number of the entire human κοσμος (kosmos): the four corners of the earth and the four winds of heaven. That may have forged an association with the idea of a global and natural and perfectly just law: that law which science is after, which governs the whole of creation and which reflects the nature of the Creator (Hebrews 1:3).
The name Thessalonica means Victory Of Thessaly, and Thessaly may have reminded Greek speakers of an institution where inquiries into natural law gave rise to the first understanding that creation is governed by a single unified law, whom was called Logos and from which all natural law, all objects and all interaction followed:
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth... (1 Thessalonians 1:8).