Coastal Lands of the Black Sea

Because the coastal lands of the Black Sea are mentioned infrequently and mostly indirectly in the Bible, they are often overlooked as significant contributors to the context of biblical events and passages, but careful study of Scripture reveals that the biblical writers were very aware of these people groups throughout the entire span of ancient history. The earliest mention of peoples from these lands is likely the references to Gomer and Ashkenaz in what is often called the Table of Nations in Genesis 10. Gomer probably refers to a people more widely known as the Cimmerians, and Ashkenaz probably refers to a people known otherwise as the Scythians. Until the later Old Testament, these two peoples lived primarily north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, and they were distantly related to each other. They were both equestrian and nomadic, and they left no written histories of themselves, though some of their culture and practices have been described by the Assyrians, the Greeks (including Herodotus), and the Romans. By the eight century B.C., large portions of these peoples had pushed south across the Caucasus Mountains and into Ararat and the region of the Halys River. Around the same time, Greek colonies began to spring up along the coasts of the Black Sea (many of which are shown here), and over the next few centuries the Scythians and the Cimmerians north of the Black Sea became increasingly hellenized. Nevertheless, ancient authors often continued to regard them as a savages, as can be seen in 2 Maccabees 4:47; 3 Maccabees 7:5; and 4 Maccabees 10:7. This stereotype is likely what Paul was seeking to renounce within the church when he noted in Colossians 3:11 that in Christ “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.” Similarly, the land of Colchis, though it is not mentioned in the Bible, was renowned in ancient times as an exotic land of immense riches and gold. The land of Pontus along the southern shore of the Black Sea was noted as one of the places from which Jews had come when Peter delivered his powerful sermon during the festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:9). Pontus was likewise listed among the addressees of Peter’s first letter (1 Peter 1:1), and it was the homeland of Aquila, a coworker of Paul (Acts 18:2). The region of Bithynia, immediately west of Pontus, was noted as one of the addressees of Peter’s first letter as well, and Paul tried to enter this region during his second missionary journey, but the Spirit of Jesus prevented him from doing so (Acts 16:7).

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