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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 64, 2016

ALAN H. CADWALLADER, Fragments of Colossae: Sifting through the Traces (Hindmarsh: ATF Press, 2015), including Chapter 6, “Weaving Threads: Clothing in Colossae,” by Rosemary Canavan. Pp. 242. Paperback. AUD$49.95.

This is a truly beautiful book, which is not often said about ‘academic’ publications. With full colour photos on nearly every page, maps, a very helpful glossary of archaeological and historical terms, and full indices—all presented in 21.5cm by 21.5cm format—this volume merges and redefines several genres in a way that will inform and appeal to many scholars and general readers. I compliment the designer, Lydia Paton, and the ATF Press for producing such a landmark volume. It deserves to win awards.

Is there substance behind the pictures and attractive layout? Yes indeed, and on many different levels. Here we have gathered together in a very accessible way all that can be known about a site that has never been excavated. If permission to dig is ever granted by the Turkish Government, then we hope Alan Cadwallader and his associates from Adelaide (some now in the diaspora) will be involved. They have modelled responsible local engagement in their many visits to the area, and are sensitive to the social, religious, and environmental dimensions of what might be involved in such an enterprise. Over the years, Cadwallader has tracked down, photographed and evaluated the many traces of Colossae deposited in various museums, as well as much that remains in situ. The results are presented in meticulous detail, with full bibliographies, that will require the serious attention of biblical and historical scholars, and yet in a way that invites browsing and use by non-specialists interested in archaeology, or students beginning theological studies.

This book will be of particular interest to those looking for a detailed archaeological report of what can be known about Colossae, those interested in reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians in context, those interested in the extraordinary early history of the followers of Jesus in the Lycus Valley and those interested in the complex cultural and military history of the area (including the nearby cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis and Aphrodisias). It also contains valuable resources for introducing the possibilities and limitations of archaeology for informing history and biblical exegesis, and in particular the emerging field of ‘visual exegesis,’ which Rosemary Canavan has written more about in her own book, Clothing the Body of Christ at Colossae: A Visual Construction of Identity (WUNT 334, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012). In addition to her chapter on “Clothing in Colossae,” Cadwallader takes us on a tour not only of the principal features of the Colossae site (with chapters on the theatre, fortress, waters and baths, necropolis) and what can be known about them from the fragmentary remains, but also of the history, culture and religion of the area (with chapters on the stationing of armies at Colossae, the gods and their relationship to the environment, and a fascinating exploration of the interest in angels in the area—particularly of the Archangel Michael). This final chapter (on St Michael) breaks new ground, as far as I am aware, and makes a distinctive contribution to the history of the diverse early Christian traditions of the Lycus Valley.

Of perhaps even greater significance, is the evidence given in this book that Colossae continued to have a life after the devastating earthquakes of the early sixties and that, like Laodicea, it too funded its own reconstruction. Cadwallader explains why Colossae has often been missing in Roman and other records of the area, both before and after the earthquakes, and how its story was very different to those of the neighbouring cities. Not surprisingly, this too had an effect on the theology of the local followers of Jesus, and Cadwallader shows how this and the veneration of the archagel Michael’s healing spring, help us to understand the fourth century tensions between the churches of Colossae and Laodicea. My one suggestion about the book is that, in addition to the two larger maps of Asia Minor and the one of Colossae and environs, a map of the Lycus Valley and the roads between the major cities there would have assisted in understanding the discussions of the interactions between them.

Cadwallader’s interests are as eclectic and ecumenical as the bits and pieces he photographs and annotates, yet the book has a sense of unity and purpose about it that makes it much more than just a catalogue of archaeological remains. There are rich and detailed connections made with ancient history and with early Christian traditions, as well as with the culture and people of the local area today. So in addition to all that I have said above, this book embodies respectful inter-cultural, inter-disciplinary and inter-religious dialogue on every level, both then and now, and provides a model for such engagements today.

Review by
Keith Dyer
Whitley College, University of Divinity