(continuation of the series)
ii. Lydia, Lydia and Lydians
The first convert of Paul is a woman who has gained much wealth from selling “purple”. Purple is, of course, a colour that was indicative of rulership and worn by a select few, mostly Romans of authority.
The name Lydia was well-known to Romans as the ancestral kingdom of the Etruscans, the first inhabitants (and kings) of Rome. Virgil in the first century could write meaningfully of the Rome’s Tiber as the ‘Lydian’ river (Aeneid II.780-781) and call the early Etruscan people of Italy ‘Lydians’ (Aeneid IX.11; VIII.479-480 uses Maeonia, the Homeric name for Lydia). The Etruscans were believed to have migrated from Lydia and become the foundation of the Roman culture and future power. Lydia was also renowned for its legendary wealth, and also for its purple dying industry, a craft associated with women. Thyatira, the home city of Lydia, was a city in the Asian province that replaced the Kingdom of Lydia when Rome expanded her power there. Is it coincidental that the first “Roman” convert — recall that the author singled out Philippi as a colony and hence Roman — should be named Lydia? What would we think of a modern author telling us that the first person to rent a house on Glasgow Street just across town was a Mrs Scott who made her living selling kilts and bagpipes. Possible of course, but some might also wonder if the thickness of the stereotypes was just a little too rich and sense the possibility of a cute but apocryphal tale.
We also know from the Book of Revelation that Rome was in the popular mind seen as notoriously wealthy (Rev.18). This first we-passage in Acts, on the contrary, makes positive associations of this first convert in this Roman colony with wealth.
We thus have in the story of the first conversion in Philippi associations (those of authority and wealth) that reinforce the idea that our setting is in under the umbrella of the Roman power and its Lydian ancestor. (Of course all cities in Acts are part of the Roman empire but they are elsewhere addressed as locales in their own right without comparable associative reminders that they represent Rome itself.)
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