Category Archives: Museums

The Winners’ Prizes — Dead Vegetation?

In a previous entry I shared some pictures related to “Running the Race.”  The winners of such competitions were awarded, among other things, victory crowns—the composition of which depended upon the games.

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Modern Recreation of Victory Wreaths — On the left a Pine Wreath for the winner of an event at the Isthmian Games and on the right a Laural Wreath for the winner of an event at the Olympic Games — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The games at Isthmia were held twice during the four year Olympic cycle.  The city of Corinth was in charge of these games and Isthmia was only 6 miles from Corinth.  The games included athletic as well a music contests.  It is very probable that the games were held during Paul’s stay at Corinth.  Indeed, he writes to the church at Corinth:

1Cor. 9:24     Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV)

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Athens: Acropolis Maidens Glow Anew

On Tuesday, July 7, The New York Times published an article entitled “Acropolis Maidens Glow Anew — Caryatid Statues, Restored Are Stars at Athens Museum.”  A “caryatid” is a column in the shape of a female and there were six of them that supported the roof of a porch on the Erechtheion.

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View of 5 of the 6 Caryatids on the southern porch of the Erechtheion — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The Times article has brief videos showing how the “maidens” were cleaned—hint, laser like technology.  It also describes that history of the Erechtheion and the Caryatids in particular.

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One of the Caryatids when it was on display in the “old” Acropolis Museum — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

A caryatid is a sculpted draped female figure that serves as a column that supports an entablature (beam for the roof). The, less frequently found, male counterpart is an “atlante.” Note the draped garment and the flexed inside leg — lending lightness and grace to the figures.

Five of the Caryatids have now been cleaned and are on display in the new “Acropolis Museum”—that is located south of the acropolis.

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View from the acropolis of Athens looking down on the new “Acropolis Museum” where artifacts found on the acropolis are on magnificent display — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

One of the caryatids was taken to England by Lord Elgin (see the Times article for a description of the context.

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The Caryatid the Lord Elgin brought to England and that is it now in the British Museum — It is said that she weeps to be with her 5 “sisters” in Athens — Hmm — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

For a brief description of the Erechtheion Click Here.

Rare Ancient Bronze Statues — Part 2 of 2 — Athena

I previously posted images and commentary on two of the very well–preserved bronze statues of Artemis that are in the Piraeus Museum (port of Athens).    People often wonder “what did the statue of Athena in the Parthenon look like?”  Well, one of the bronzes from Piraeus is a larger than life-size statue of Athena that was made when the one in the Parthenon was less that 100 years old!

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Piraeus Athena in Bronze — This statue was crafted while the original statue of Athena in the Parthenon still stood! — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

This bronze(!) statue of Athena is larger than life size—almost 8 ft. [2.35 m.] tall.  It may have originally been from Delos.  Two owls and two griffins adorn her Corinthian helmet.  The statue dates to ca. 360 B.C. — at that time the Athena statue in the Parthenon was less that 100 years old!   She held a spear in her left hand and a libation bowl—or an owl or a Nike—in her right.  Note the diagonal belt bordered by snakes that contains a Gorgon’s head.

Her weight is resting on her right foot and her left leg is slightly flexed.  This statue, along with three others, was found in 1959 during building excavations in Piraeus.  They were found as a group and although deposited at the same time, they were crafted at different periods.  They were probably deposited in the first century B.C.

Compare the “Varvakeion Athena” (below) that is in the National Museum in Athens.  This statuette is 1/12 the size of the Athena in the Parthenon.  It dates to the third century A.D.!

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The “Varvakeion Athena” from Athens — Third century A.D. — one twelfth the size of the Athena in the Parthenon — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Siloam Inscription from Hezekiah’s Tunnel

On a recent trip to Turkey I was able to rephotograph the Siloam Inscription from Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem.  In the past I have found it difficult to photograph because of the glass cover over it and difficult lighting conditions.  This time I think my photograph turned out quite well and by clicking on the image you can actually read many of the letters.

The Siloam Inscription — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

The Siloam Inscription — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

This six line Hebrew inscription describes the digging of Hezekiah’s Tunnel that joins the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam in the ancient city of Jerusalem.  It was found carved into the wall of the tunnel.

In was found in 1880 and was chiseled out of its original place and is now on display on the second/third floor of the “Archaeological Museum” in Istanbul.  It’s language, script, and content suggest that it was inscribed in the late eighth century during the reign of the Judean king Hezekiah (715–686 B.C.; see 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron 32:20).

For a translation of this text see pages 171-172 in Arnold, Bill T., and Beyer, Bryan E. eds.  Readings from the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources for Old Testament Study.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.  Click Here  to view for purchase from amazon.com.

One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Besides constructing a Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate issued a series of bronze coins—perutahs honoring the Emperor Tiberius.  He minted these coins in Jerusalem between 29 and 31 (Taylor, 556; Jesus was tried before this same Pilate in AD 30 or 33).

Obverse of a bronze perutah, minted in Jerusalem, by Pontius Pilate
Note the “augur’s staff” called a lituus — the coin is inscribed
Click Image to Enlarge

The above is a sample of one of the two types of coins.

Bronze perutah minted in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate

The inscription on this coin reads “of Tiberius Caesar.”  This type of coin features a lituus on the obverse side of the coin.

The lituus was a wooden staff (or wand) with a curled end, made of a branch of either ash or hazel … The lituus was held in the right hand of the augures and was the augures’ identifying emblem.  (Taylor 559-59)

The lituus was used by augurs who were priests that interpreted the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds (size of flock, noises made, direction of flight, etc.).

[The lituus] was also raised to the sky when they invoked the god and made predictions.   It was used to mark out regions of the heavens when assessing the placement of sacred space on earth (Taylor 559).

Taylor continues, that these two types of coins (only one is covered in this post) honor priests

who were representatives of Roman religion in the two imperial cult temples of Caesarea Maritime and in Sebaste, located in the province he [Pilate] governed (565).

And she concludes:

In using exclusively Roman cultic items in his coinage designed for a province largely composed of Jews and Samaritans, Pilate was promoting Roman religion, manifested largely in the imperial cult, in an environment in which there were strong sensitivities (565).

Thus it is evident that the person who condemned Jesus to death was active in promoting the Imperial Cult via the coins that he issued and the Tiberieum that he built at Caesarea!

In light of the above, imagine what was going through Pilate’s mind when he heard the words:

“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 555–563.

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It should be noted that coins from cities/areas outside of Judea — with images of deities or emperors on them — circulated in Judah.  See Mark 12:13-17 and parallels.

The Roles of the Roman Emperors

Groups traveling to Turkey will often fly into Istanbul and spend a day or two there before continuing on to other parts of the country.   One of the stops in Istanbul is typically the world-class Archaeological Museum located near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  For students of the Bible it houses some extremely important artifacts.  The main ones are located on the top floor of the museum including the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, The Second Temple Warning Inscription, and the Gezer Calendar (the first two from Jerusalem).

Bronze Statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138)
In Toga depicting him as “the first citizen” of Rome
Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
For additional information about this statue Click Here

When walking up to visit the gallery containing these precious objects you will usually pass a bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.   Because the lighting in the room is typically not too good, and the room really looks “dated,” most groups will bypass this statute.

However, it is worthy to pause for a minute or two to view it.  First of all, it is very rare to have a statue preserved in bronze from ancient times!  Most of the statues that are preserved are marble copies from the Roman Period—but here a real bronze original is on display.  And secondly, it is worthy to notice the dress of the emperor—in a toga that depicts him as the first among Roman Citizens.

On other statues, for example several on display in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya,

Roman Emperor Hadrian in Military Garb
Depicting him as the head of the Roman armies
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge — Second Century AD
For additional information about this image Click Here

Hadrian is depicted in military garb as the head of the Roman army

Roman Emperor Hadrian in the Nude — Reflecting His Divine Status
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge – near Antalya
For additional information about this statue Click Here

and in others he appears in the nude—depicting his divine status!

Thus back at the bronze statue in the Istanbul Museum, this is a great place  to begin to introduce your group to the various roles played by the Roman Emperors—for certainly you will be “bumping into them” again and again in your travels in Turkey.

Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb

One of the least visited places in Jerusalem is the portion of the village of Silwan that is located on the lower western slope of the Mount of Olives—opposite the “City of David.”

The village itself is built over 50 tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. This necropolis – “city of the dead”  – was investigated by David Ussishkin and Gabriel Barkay between 1968 and 1971. Travel to this area is very difficult (= impossible) for the inhabitants of Silwan are normally very hostile to outsiders.

The two most famous tombs from this necropolis are “the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter” and the “Tomb of the Royal Steward.”

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Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
Note the door on the left — this important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken

Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village.  This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed.  The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).

IJOTIT07 Nahman Avigad translated the larger inscription as “This is [the sepulcher of . . . ] yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and no gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his amah with him. Cursed be the man who will open this!”

In the text the phrase “who is over the house” refers to a very important personage in the Judean government (about second to the king). His name, according to the inscription, was “. . . yahu.” Unfortunately the first part of his name is missing but many believe that the person who was buried here was none other than Shebna [yahu], the Royal Steward, whom Isaiah condemned for ‘hewing a tomb for himself on high’ – SEE Isaiah 22:15-17!

The amah (a female) mentioned in the inscription may also have been a very high functionary in the Judean government.

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Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The main inscription was above the “modern” door
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
This important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken 

For a popular description of this necropolis see: Shanks, Hershel. “The Tombs of Silwan.” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 20, no. 3 (May/June, 1994):38-51

You also may be interested in viewing the First Temple Tombs found on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem – Click Here.