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The Galli and Galatians in Galatians

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“Is it mere coincidence that Paul expresses his anger in such way, precisely in the letter to the Galatian churches?” This is the question we raised in our notes to “The God in the Manger about Paul’s graphic language in Galatians 5: 12. In fact, his entire ‘Epistle to the churches of Galatia’ is easily summed up as a scolding of his audience and a rant against his competitors, whom Paul calls agitators. Paul uses allegory quite extensively in his letters, but looking at who those agitators may have been, it is safe to assume that in verse 12 his “divinely inspired recommendation” to his competing colleagues is to be taken quite literally. A few of his competitors may have indeed been practicing a full castration rather than mere circumcision as an initiation to their cult.

Paul had to contend with a variety of long practiced religions and philosophies, resurging philosophies like Stoicism (*), Pythagoreanism, and a whole Army of Dogs (as the itinerant Cynic philosophers were collectively called). Aside from all the different Greek philosophies, there seemed to be at least one other Jewish messianic movement vying for attention. Providing he indeed hailed from the major port city of Tarsus, he may undoubtedly have come in contact with more than the occasional Cynic philosopher. He would undoubtedly have heard of Apollonius of Tyana, a neo-Pythagorean, who was practically born in Paul’s backyard. The two of them may very well have been throwing insults at each other in the streets of Tarsus, Antioch or Ephesus.

Galatia was named after the Thracian Celts or Gauls who had settled the regions around Ankyra, Gordion, Tavium and Pessinus by 270 BC. Before Galatia got its name and became a Roman province, the city-state Pessinus enjoyed a special sacred status under the Seleucid and Attalid kingdoms and was ruled by the galli, the priestly oligarchy of the principality. These galli were the chief priests of the Cybele annex Attis mystery cult. Whether the name of these castrated priests is in any way related to the Galli/Galatians is unclear, but one can imagine the puns and jokes that may have gone around. Pessinus lost its independence as a theocracy within Galatia in 36 BC but became the administrative capital of the Tolistobogii Gauls. By that time the cult had already been accepted and recognized in Rome as a legitimate religion, even if the Romans would remain ambiguous about the sexual ambiguity of its eunuch priests. It is around that same time that Dionysius of Halicarnassus (another major city in Asia Minor) refers to the religion in his Roman Antiquities. Archaeological finds have shown that by the fourth century AD the cult had spread as far as the north of England. This shows that “Christianity” wasn’t the only personal salvation cult on the rise in imperial Rome. The eunuch priests would maintain their religious, economic and political influence well into the 4th century AD, perhaps even increasingly so as the cult spread along with the Roman Empire itself.

But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” – Galatians 4: 9-11

Paul was right in doubting the success of his years long preaching, at least with regards to his own backyard. Luke may well have been citing Paul instead of Jesus, when he has him say that no prophet is accepted in his own hometown or home country (Luke 4: 24). Christianity would remain a marginal cult in Galatia for the coming centuries. Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus (Julian the Apostate) still made a pilgrimage to Pessinus, perhaps in preparation of his Parthian campaign, late 362 – before March 363 AD).

The Catholic Church is very proud of its “apostolic” history, whether factual or fictional, but in the case of Galatia even its own records find not so much to boast about. The first bishop of Pessinus mentioned was Demetrius, a friend and deputy of the archbishop of Constantinople, placing him at the beginning of the 5th century. In the same century bishop Pius was present at the council of Ephesus in 431 AD and bishop Theoctistus at the Counsel of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The "Notitiæ episcopatuum" mention the see until the middle of the fourteenth century, but it probably already became one in name only by the end of the eleventh century, when Asia Minor was gradually “Turkified” by the Seljuks. [the Sultanate of Rome made Nicaea its capital in 1081]

Paul’s tone in Galatians still echoes in present day Christian preaching and ‘apologetics’. Faced with the inadequacy or downright lack of rational arguments for the “one true faith”, Christians often cannot do much more than curse and condemn people who seem to possess different truths. At best, the almighty and eternal Christian god reigned the Turkish heartland of Phrygia / Galatia for 700 years. Allah seems to be a bit more eternal already, being the predominant god in Turkey for the past 900 years. Time will tell if the latter will surpass the current Anatolian record holding gods Cybele and Attis, who were revered for more than 1,600 years.

Darryl P.A, Charles Dalet, 22 June 2022


Notes, sources, references:

(*) Even in Palestine, Cynicism, Stoicism and Pythagoreanism were very influential, particularly in the region of Samaria, the Decapolis (Gerasa) and Galilee. The Cynics were reviled for living their philosophy to the extreme while others were lauded as being representatives of a philosophical ideal. Wikipedia, “Cynicism (philosophy)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynicism_(philosophy) Wikipeida, “Stoicism”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism Wikipedia, “Neopythagoreanism”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neopythagoreanism

Robin Campbell, "Letters from a Stoic - Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, selected and translated with an introduction", advisory editor Betty Radice, Penguin Books, 1969, https://hillelettersfromstoic.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/letters-from-a-stoic_lucius-annaeus-seneca.pdf

Wikipedia, “Galli”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galli

Wikipedia, “Pessinus”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pessinus

Wikipedia, “Julian (emperor)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_(emperor)

Attendees of the first counsel of Nicaea:

“Constantine had invited all 1800 bishops of the Christian church (about 1000 in the east and 800 in the west), but only 250 to 320 bishops actually participated. Eusebius of Caesarea counted 250, Athanasius of Alexandria counted 318, and Eustathius of Antioch counted 270 (all three were present at the council). Later, Socrates Scholasticus recorded more than 300, and Evagrius, Hilarius, Jerome and Rufinus recorded 318.”

“First Counsel of Nicaea”, https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/f/First_Council_of_Nicaea

“Judging from what little we know about the identity of those who attended, the council was overwhelming Eastern. Only six or seven bishops are recorded as having come from Western churches, among them were Ossius (or Hosius) of Cordoba, Caecilianus of Carthage, and two representatives from the church of Rome. The small number of bishops from the West reflected the general ignorance among Western churches of those theological issues that had embroiled the East.” D.H. Williams, “Who came to the Counsel of Nicaea?”, Christianity Today > Christian History, Issue 85, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-85/who-came-to-council-of-nicaea.html

Reference to Demetrius , bishop of Pessinus, Claude Fleury, “The Ecclesiastical History of M. L'abbe Fleury, from A.D. 400 to A.D. 429”, J.H. Parker, 1843, pg.449 (Index to the text)

Richard Price, Michael Gaddis editors, “The Acts of the Counsel of Chalcedon, Vol.1”, Liverpool University Press, 2005, Proceedings, pages 259-260

Catholic Encyclopedia, “Pessinus”, New Advent, https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11742a.htm

Wikipedia, “Diocese of Germensis in Galatia”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocese_of_Germensis_in_Galatia

“Pessinus (Titular See)”, Catholic Hierarchy, https://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/diocese/d2p77.html#hist


Edited map from Wikipedia, “Galatia”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galatia File:Asia Minor in the Greco-Roman period - general map - regions and main settlements.jpg. Created: 27 July 2011 under licence CC BY-SA 4.0, by Caliniuc since Putzger & Westermann atlases (Atlas zur Weltgeschichte, Stier, H.E., dir., 1985) - Own work Addition of borders of the Galatian provinces (in orange marker) based on the map in article: Mark, Joshua J.. "Galatia." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 24 Oct 2019. Web. 18 Jun 2022, https://www.worldhistory.org/galatia/

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