When visiting Athens in 2008 I heard explanations of why Mars Hill is called Mars Hill. Presently, the hill doesn’t resemble something significant. The dirty marble surface is very uneven and slippery. Tourists have walked upon it so often that the surface has become somewhat polished, sort of like Lincoln’s bronze nose being touched by millions. Access to the hill is difficult. If one were to come from the agora, which is below and north of the Acropolis, they’d need to walk a lengthy inclining path. Presently, most walk up new metal stairs to get to the top. While atop, everyone can basically see all of Athens in a 360 degree panoramic view. That means that if Paul were there in the same spot he could have easily seen the temples of the many deities surrounding him on the hill, which are no longer there. The Acropolis would likely have been much more in tact than today. It was likely a bustling place compared to the desolate ruins it is now.
The language of Acts 17:16-34 suggests that Paul was forcibly taken to meet with the Areopagus. Luke is not recording an event where some Athenians were simply interested in a novel idea. In other words, the Areopagus are going to make a decision about what Paul has been proclaiming about Christ in the marketplace. He, like Socrates, seemed to be introducing foreign gods into an already competitive pantheism. It appears Luke is describing another tense moment in the journeys of
Imagine a bird that picks up seeds and drops them randomly. Paul is described like this, as one who sounds like he’s a bit of a gossip…like one who selects pieces of philosophies, combines them and sells them as original. The Athenians were still highly respected as learners and this new teaching of Paul would have to be scrutinized publicly. Up to Mars Hill they go for that courtroom-like scene.
Why Mars Hill? Some say that Mars, the Roman god of war, is the reason behind the naming. War is where a permanent decision is made. There’s a winner and loser. However, mythology also says that the Greek gods used to descend upon that hill near the Acropolis to have trials. Paul attempts to capitalize on the opportunity.