Turkey, on the Tarsus River, about 12 miles (20 km) from the Mediterranean
coast. It is an ancient city, on the alluvial plain of ancient Cilicia,
the birthplace of St. Paul (Acts of the Apostles 22:3).
Excavations by Hetty Goldman before and immediately after World War II
at Gözlükule, on the southwestern periphery of the modern town,
show that, with some interruptions, settlements had existed there from
Neolithic to Islamic times. Tarsus' prosperity between the 5th century
BC and the Arab invasions in the 7th century AD was based primarily on
its fertile soil, its commanding position at the southern end of the Cilician
Gates (the only major pass in the Taurus Range), and the excellent harbor
of Rhegma, which enabled Tarsus to establish strong connections
with the Levant.
The first historical record of Tarsus is
its rebuilding by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705-681 BC). Thereafter,
Achaemenid and Seleucid rule alternated with periods of autonomy. In 67
BC Tarsus was absorbed into the new Roman province of Cilicia. A university
was established that became known for its flourishing school of Greek
philosophy. The famous first meeting between Mark Antony and Cleopatra
took place there in 41 BC.
During the Roman and early Byzantine periods,
Tarsus was one of the leading cities of the Eastern Empire, with an economy
based on agriculture and an important linen industry. Modern Tarsus continues
to be a prosperous agricultural and cotton-milling center.
PAUL OF TARSUS
One of the most outstanding pioneers of the
newly established Church was Paul of Tarsus, born of Jewish parents, a
Pharisee as for the Law, a staunch and faultless follower of the paternal
traditions to which he was introduced by Gamaliel, one of the most famous
Rabbis in Jerusalem at that time, he persecuted with no respite those
whom he considered a threat for the Jewish religion. On the way to Damascus,
with letters from the High Priest to arrest and imprison men and women
who professed this new faith, he was struck by a heavenly light, and falling
to the ground, he heard a voice telling him: "Saul, Saul, why are
you persecuting me?" A short dialogue followed, and Saul was himself
converted to the faith in Christ he had so far persecuted. From now on,
Saul, the persecutor, henceforth called Paul, become one of the greatest
preachers of the Good News, the Apostle of the gentiles.