William Mitchell Ramsay
Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (15 March 1851, Glasgow –20 April 1939) was a Scottish archaeologist and New Testament scholar. By his death in 1939 he had become the foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor and a leading scholar in the study of the New Testament. Although Ramsay was educated in the Tübingen school of thought (founded by F. C. Baur) which doubted the reliability of the New Testament, his extensive archaeological and historical studies convinced him of the historical accuracy of the New Testament. From the post of Professor of Classical Art and Architecture at Oxford, he was appointed Regius Professor of Humanity (the Latin Professorship) at Aberdeen. Knighted in 1906 to mark his distinguished service to the world of scholarship, Ramsay also gained three honorary fellowships from Oxford colleges, nine honorary doctorates from British, Continental and North American universities and became an honorary member of almost every association devoted to archaeology and historical research. He was one of the original members of the British Academy, was awarded the Gold Medal of Pope Leo XIII in 1893 and the Victorian Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1906.
Ramsay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest son of a third-generation lawyer, Thomas Ramsay and his wife Jane Mitchell (daughter of William Mitchell (Scottish entrepreneur). His father died when he was six years old, and the family moved from the city to the family home in the country district near Alloa. The help of his older brother and maternal uncle, Andrew Mitchell, made it possible for him to have a superior education. He studied at the University of Aberdeen, where he achieved high distinction and later became Professor of Humanity. He won a scholarship to St. John's College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class in classical moderations (1874) and in literae humaniores (1876). He also studied Sanskrit under scholar Theodor Benfey at Göttingen.
In 1880 Ramsay received an Oxford studentship for travel and research in Greece. At Smyrna, he met Sir C. W. Wilson, then British consul-general in Anatolia, who advised him on inland areas suitable for exploration. Ramsay and Wilson made two long journeys during 1881-1882.
He traveled widely in Asia Minor and rapidly became the recognized authority on all matters relating to the districts associated with St Paul's missionary journeys and on Christianity in the early Roman Empire. Greece and Turkey remained the focus of Ramsay's research for the remainder of his academic career. In 1883, he discovered the world's oldest complete piece of music, the Seikilos Epitaph. He was known for his expertise in the historic geography and topography of Asia Minor and of its political, social, cultural, and religious history. He was Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1882.
From 1885 to 1886 Ramsay held the newly created Lincoln and Merton professorship of classical archaeology and art at Oxford and became a fellow of Lincoln College (honorary fellow 1898). In 1886 Ramsay was appointed Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen. He remained affiliated with Aberdeen until his retirement in 1911. From 1880 onwards he received the honorary degrees of D.C.L. Oxford, LL.D. St Andrews and Glasgow, and D.D. Edinburgh. In 1906, Ramsay was knighted for his scholarly achievements on the 400th anniversary of the founding of the University of Aberdeen. He was elected a member of learned societies in Europe and America and was awarded medals by the Royal Geographical Society and the University of Pennsylvania.
His wife, Lady Ramsay, granddaughter of Dr Andrew Marshall of Kirkintilloch, accompanied him in many of his journeys and is the author of Everyday Life in Turkey (1897) and The Romance of Elisavet (1899). He was a grandson of entrepreneur William Mitchell (1781–1854). Other relatives include Mary Ramsay and Agnis Margaret Ramsay who were responsible for contributing several photographs and illustrations in his work on The Letters to the Seven Churches.
Educated at Oxford, Ramsay held several prestigious professorships, including "First Professor of Classical Archaeology" and "Lincoln and Merton Professorship of Classical Archaeology and Art" at Oxford, and "Regius Professor of Humanity" at the University of Aberdeen. He received gold medals from Pope Leo XII, the University of Pennsylvania, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and was knighted in 1906.
Contribution to Biblical Studies
William Ramsay was known for his careful attention to New Testament events, particularly the Book of Acts and Pauline Epistles. When he first went to Asia Minor, many of the cities mentioned in Acts had no known location and almost nothing was known of their detailed history or politics. The Acts of the Apostles was the only record and Ramsay, skeptical, fully expected his own research to prove the author of Acts hopelessly inaccurate since no man could possibly know the details of Asia Minor more than a hundred years after the event—this is, when Acts was then supposed to have been written. He therefore set out to put the writer of Acts on trial. He devoted his life to unearthing the ancient cities and documents of Asia Minor. After a lifetime of study, however, he concluded: 'Further study . . . showed that the book could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement' (The Bearing of Recent Discovery, p. 85). On page 89 of the same book, Ramsay accounted, 'I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there [in Acts]. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian's and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment...'
When Ramsay turned his attention to Paul's letters, most of which the critics dismissed as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters that claimed to have been written by Paul were authentic.
- Pictures of the Apostolic Church: Studies in the Book of Acts
- The Bearing of Recent Discovery
- The Church of the Roman Empire Before AD 170
- The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia (2 vols., 1895, 1897)
- The First Christian Century: Notes on Dr. Moffatt's Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament
- The Historical Geography of Asia Minor (1890)
- The Church in the Roman Empire (1893)
- St Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (1895; German translation, 1898)
- Impressions of Turkey (1897)
- Was Christ born at Bethlehem? (1898)
- Historical Commentary on Galatians (1899)
- The Education of Christ (1902)
- The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (1905) online
- Pauline and other Studies in Early Christian History (1906)
- Studies in the History and Art of the Eastern Provinces of the Roman Empire (1906)
- The Cities of St Paul (1907)
- Lucan and Pauline Studies (1908)
- The Thousand and One Churches (with Gertrude L. Bell, 1909)
- articles in learned periodicals and the 9th, 10th and 11th editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Articles in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. Achaia, Adramyttium, Antioch in Pisidia, Asia, Asiarch, Bithynia, Cappadocia, Caria, Chios, Churches ( Robbers of), Cilicia, Cnidus, Colossae, Corinth, Cos, Delos, Derbe, Diana, Ephesian, Ephesus, Galatia, Galatia (Region of), Galatians, Halicarnassus, Hierapolis, Iconium, Laodicea, Lasea, Lycaona, Lycia, Lydia, Lystra, Mallus, Miletus, Myndus, Myra, Mysia, Nicopolis, Pamphylia, Patara, Perga, Pergamus, or Pergamum, Phasaelis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Phrygia, Pisidia, Pontus, Rhegium, Rhodes, Samothrace, Sardis, Smyrna, Syracuse, Tarsus, Thracia, Town Clerk, Troas, Tyrannus.
- Supplement Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible Numbers, Hours, Years and Dates, Religion of Greece and Asia Minor, Roads and Travel ( in NT),
- "I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader [i.e., the reliability of the book of Acts]. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tübingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvellous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations." Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 1904, Putnam and Sons, p.8.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Letters to the Seven Churches, Preface. (William Mitchell Ramsay)
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