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On July 27, 2011, the day after the announcement of the discovery of the Philistine horned altar, Francesco D’Andria, who has been excavating in the ancient city of Hierapolis for 32 years, announced the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Philip.  The grave has not been opened yet, but he’s convinced it belongs to Philip.

There is a church dedicated to St. Philip on Martyr’s Hill in Hierapolis, but Philip’s grave was never found there.  But in June D’Andria unearthed another church just 131 feet away.  There, they discovered a tomb.  D’Andria believes Philip’s body was moved from the St. Philip church on Martyr’s Hill to this newly discovered church sometime in the 5th century.

Why does D’Andria believe it’s the tomb of the Apostle Philip?  All of the evidence has not been released yet, but one reason is clearly that there is a tradition in the Acts of Philip that claims Philip was crucified in Hierapolis.

That is why an octagonal church was built in the city on the site called Martyr’s Hill (it was believed that was the site on which the Apostle Philip was crucified by the Romans).  Another reason is the discovery of a 6th century bronze bread stamp bearing an image of Philip standing on a staircase between two churches (one church is the octagonal church on Martyr’s Hill, and the other is believed to be the newly excavated church).  Under the image it reads “Hagios Philippos,” which translates as “Saint Philip.”

While this may be the tomb of a person named Philip, and while it may even turn out to contain the bones of such an individual bearing that name, it’s not at all certain that this is the tomb of Philip the apostle.  It may be the tomb of Philip the Evangelist that we read of in the book of Acts (6:5; 8; 21:8-9).

The earliest testimony comes from Papias as recounted by Eusebius.  Papias was an early second century bishop of Hierapolis.  While his works have been lost, Eusebius was familiar with them and records for us some of Papias’ testimony.  Eusebius did not record Papias’ exact words regarding Philip, but his reading of Papias led him to believe that Papias said Philip the apostle and his daughters settled in Hierapolis (in fact, Papias claims to have known his daughters personally).  Eusebius writes:

That Philip the apostle dwelt at Hierapolis with his daughters has been already stated. But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead. And he tells another wonderful story of Justus, surnamed Barsabbas: that he drank a deadly poison, and yet, by the grace of the Lord, suffered no harm. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.9).

Some maintain that Papias probably only mentioned a Philip who resided in Hierapolis with his daughters, and that Eusebius just assumed that he was talking about the apostle due to Eusebius’ knowledge of other traditions linking the apostle with that city.  This makes sense.  In 3.39.3 Eusebius quotes Papias as writing, “If, then, any one came [to Hierapolis], who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders—what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.”  As Richard Bauckham notes (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 18), if Papias is speaking of the Apostle Philip, and the Apostle Philip resided inHierapolis, Papias would not need to ask visitors to Hierapolis what Philip taught.  The local believers at Hierapolis would know his teaching better than anyone!

One tradition Eusebius was familiar with that linked the Apostle Philip to Hierapolis comes from Polycrate, a second century bishop of Ephesus.  Eusebius quotes him as saying, “For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the last day, at the coming of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus….”  (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3; see also 5.24.2).

Eusebius also quotes the testimony of Proclus, a Montanist who probably lived some time in the 2nd century.  He writes regarding Proclus:

And in the Dialogue of Caius which we mentioned a little above, Proclus, against whom he directed his disputation, in agreement with what has been quoted, speaks thus concerning the death of Philip and his daughters: “After him there were four prophetesses, the daughters of Philip, at Hierapolis in Asia. Their tomb is there and the tomb of their father.”[1] Such is his statement. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.31.4)

Notice that Proclus does not identify this Philip as either the apostle or the evangelist, but the mention of Philip’s four prophetess daughters makes it clear that Proclus is referring to Philip the evangelist since Luke speaks of that Philip as having four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9).  Eusebius also picks up the connection between the four prophetess daughters and Acts 21:8-9 because he goes on to speak of and quote that passage:

But Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, mentions the daughters of Philip who were at that time at Caesarea in Judea with their father, and were honored with the gift of prophecy. His words are as follows: “We came unto Caesarea; and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him. Now this man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” (3.31.5)

Even though the text he quotes and the text from which Proclus is clearly drawing speak of Philip the evangelist, Eusebius goes on to say, “We have thus set forth in these pages what has come to our knowledge concerning the apostles themselves and the apostolic age, and concerning the sacred writings which they have left us….” (3.31.6).  Eusebius is clearly confusing the Biblical reference to Philip the evangelist as a reference to the Apostle Philip, and appeals to Proclus in support of this notion even though Proclus never identified his Philip as the apostle.

Our earliest sources provide us with ambiguous or conflicting information as to which Philip resided in Hierapolis with his daughters.  If I had to bet on it, I would say it was Philip the evangelist who resided in and died in Hierapolis, but the early church confused the two Philips, and identified the Philip at Hierapolis as the more famous of the two Philips: the Apostle Philip.  If it turns out that this is the tomb of a Philip, it is probably the tomb of Philip the evangelist rather than Philip the apostle.  Nonetheless, finding the tomb (and possibly the bones) of one of the first seven deacons of the church is truly a spectacular discovery!

Who knows what archaeologists will discover next.

[1]Proclus says all four daughters resided in Hierapolis with Philip, and died there.  Proclates, however, said only two resided there.  One of the others resided and died in Ephesus.