The Development of the Canon of the New Testament

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Places in Early Christianity

Alexandria, Egypt
Antioch, Syria
Edessa, Syria
Lyons, Gaul
Pepuza, Phrygia
Rome, Italy
Map of the Spread of Christianity

Edessa, Syria (modern Urfa, Turkey)

The town lies in the fertile plain of Haran, ringed by limestone hills on three sides. It controls the strategic pass to the south, through which runs a road from Anatolia to northern Mesopotamia, which has been used since antiquity. The town in the 2nd millennium BCE was probably the chief city of a Hurrian state destroyed by the Hittites in the 14th century. Traditions of its earliest foundation associate the site with the legendary king Nimrod, and Muslim legend associates the place with Abraham; a cave beneath Urfa's citadel is said to be Abrahams's birthplace.

The Aramaic name, Urhai, was changed to Edessa when it was refounded as a military settlement in the 3rd century BCE. Freeing itself from imposed Hellenism, Edessa, as capital of the principality of Osroëne, was one of the main centers of Syrian culture; it figured prominently in the conflicts between Parthia and Rome.

Christianity seems to have reached the Edessa and the Euphrates valley about the middle of the 2nd century, while the country was still an independent state. Since neither Latin nor Greek was understood, the native language Syriac (a Semitic language related to Aramaic) was used in Christian writings. The political fortunes of Edessa present a remarkable contrast to those of other centers of Christianity. Until 216 CE in the reign of the Emperor Caracalla, Edessa lay outside the Roman Empire. Since its people did not speak Greek, like their neighboring Syrians in Antioch, it is not surprising that the Christianity of Edessa began to develop independently, without the admixture of Greek philosophy and Roman methods of government that at an early date modified primitive Christianity in the West and transformed it into the amalgam known as Catholicism.

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