The Persian capture of the Roman emperor Valerian and his great city of Antioch in 259/60 resulted from the constant weakness of an eastern frontier without natural barriers and in any event ill defined and fluctuating. Roman collapse made possible for a decade in the 260s the emergence of an autonomous kingdom under Queen Zenobia based on the largely Arab city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert. The political independence was contemporaneous with a controversy about the style and teaching of the bishop of Antioch on the Orontes, Paul from Samosata on the Euphrates, whose doctrines of Christ and flamboyance in general delighted some of his people and alarmed others. Paul was sharply critical of the interpretation of scripture generally current in the Greek churches. 'He spoke disparagingly of dead exegetes', said his critics, and the reference is probably to the lately dead Origen, whose commentaries and sermons were still influential. It is a measure of their influence and of the opposition aroused that about ad 300 Eusebius and his master Pamphilus undertook a considerable Defence of Origen in six books; the first of the six survives in a Latin version by Rufinus of Aquileia.
Greek culture had come to pervade Syria and most of the Semitic world, but not so much as to suppress the languages, Aramaic, Nabataean, Syriac, Arabic. Most people spoke Greek, which was the medium of cultured communication. Paul may well have had Aramaic as his mother's-knee tongue, but was certainly fluent in Greek. Critical as he evidently was of the way in which Origen and his admirers spoke of the incarnate Lord, there is no sufficient reason to think him a conscious vehicle of nationalist Syrian culture over against a Hellenic Christian society. Greek was the dominant Christian language for worship and theology. In the second century a Greek harmony of the four Gospels made by Justin's pupil Tatian and called 'Diatessaron' became a standard text translated for Syriac-speaking churches. At Edessa in 200 Bardaisan was bilingual in Syriac and Greek. The Palmyra court under Queen Zenobia became host to the excellent scholar Longinus, who tried to persuade the polymath Porphyry to come and join him (Life of Plotinus 6). The name Iamblichus, borne by the famous Neoplatonist, is that of a princely Phoenician family fluent in Greek but whose first language was Aramaic (Photius, Bibliotheca 94).