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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What Did the Ancient Israelites Look Like?

About 13 years ago the brilliant Anson Rainey suggested that Shasu pastoralists were depicted on a well-known relief of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah (1209 BC) featured on one of the walls of the temples at Karnak in southern Egypt.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah Crushing His Shasu Foes (1209 BC)

At least four Shasu are pictured as being trodden under by legs of the horse of Merneptah.  Note their headdresses and pointed beards.

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MoM — Introduction (MoM = Monday on the Mount)

One of my favorite passages about Jerusalem is found in Psalm 132:

For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling:
“This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it—
I will bless her with abundant provisions;
her poor will I satisfy with food.
I will clothe her priests with salvation,
and her saints will ever sing for joy.

“Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.” (NIV)

For the ancient Israelite/Judean this passage must have given them much comfort in the face of ancient enemies who confronted them.  But how is a “modern,” especially a Christian who takes the word of God seriously, to interpret such a passage.  In this series we will explore the theological significance of passages such as this both to the ancients and to moderns.


Each Monday I would like to mention those authors who have helped me along the way—especially in regard to biblical theology.

Especially important was Walter C. Kaiser Jr. who was teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the late 1960’s  and early 1970’s when I was there.  His early work, Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) that treats the “promise theme,” has had a great influence on the thinking of many, including myself —the revised version is called The Promise-Plan of God.  I will return to his work in many places, but especially with regard to the “Patriarchal Promise” (Genesis 12:1-3; etc.).


Next week I will treat Genesis 2:15.

 

Running the Race

In seven  passages the apostle Paul compares the Christian life to running a race.  The athletic games, that were initiated by the Greeks consisted of running, discus, jumping, javelin, boxing and fighting events.  Not to mention musical, oratory, and drama contests.

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The Stadium at Nemea in the Peloponnese of Greece — One of the four pan Hellenic Games was held here, the other places being Olympia, Isthmia (near Corinth) and Delphi — The stadium at Nemea was 161 yards long — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

A variety of foot races were held but the basic one was the length of the stadium—close to 200 yards.  The length of the stadia varied from place to place.  The stadium at Nemea above is well–preserved.  Notice the starting area in the foreground and the embankments on both sides where the male spectators sat.

Paul wrote (also in other places):

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith

It is interesting that Jesus, in his Judean/Galilean context never uses the image of running the race—but Paul, in a Greco-Roman context does.

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Two bronze runners from the villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum (near Pompeii) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The races took place in the nude.  The above are first century A.D. copies of third century B.C. statues.

And the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

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A “krater” (jar used for wine) — Found at Olympia — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a representation of a runner prepared for the start of the race.  the pole in front of him may represent a turning pole or a finish line at the far end of the stadium.  Between the runner and the turning pole is a strigil—a scraper that was used to remove olive oil, sand, dirt, and sweat.

To view more images of Nemea Click Here.

Mondays on the Mount of Olives

Since 1973 I have been working with academic groups in Israel.  Often the first 4 or 5 days in Israel are spent in and around the city of Jerusalem visiting sites associated with biblical events and the whole gamut of the history of Jerusalem and its surroundings.  At the end of this sequence I like to visit the top of the Mount of Olives—early, before the tourist buses arrive.  This gives us a chance to sit and enjoy the early sunlight as it illumines “Jerusalem of Gold.”  At this time the students review and identify what they know about Jerusalem and its surrounds—sweeping from Nebi Samwil in the northwest, south through the Old City to Har Gilo in the southwest (see partially the photo in the header above!).  Pride of place certainly goes to the walls of the Old City, the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and now(!) the Hurva Synagogue—not to mention the Dormition Abbey and Mount Zion.

After reviewing the “stones” and the history of Jerusalem I like to take about 20(!) minutes to reflect on the “theology of Jerusalem” as it is presented in the Bible (my favorite deaf mute vendor patiently waits until I am finished—and I promote his wares!).  I begin in Genesis 2:15 and end in Revelation 22—yes, all of it 2o minutes!  This reflection is based upon a summary of a class that I taught to university students for 15+ years entitled “Jerusalem: Earthly City Heavenly Symbol.”  It was one of the most popular classes that I taught.  I have been amazed at how much of the Bible can be tied into the City of Jerusalem!

At one point I had hoped to write a book on this topic but I have never had the time to do all of the relevant scholarly research for such a project.  And indeed over the years others have approached this topic in somewhat similar but different ways.

Because of the importance of a “a biblical theology of Jerusalem,” and its usefulness to those I have shared it with in the past, I invite you to join me every Monday for “Mondays on the Mount of Olives.”

Emperor Worship In “Israel” in Jesus’ Day

When Christian tour/academic groups visit the area of Galilee it is natural to ask “what was Galilee like in Jesus’ time?”  This is actually a tricky question to answer for what is meant by “Galilee?”  I think it is best to let Josephus define it (War iii.3.1-2 [35–43]) and if this is the case then it was very limited in size and actually surrounded by Gentile populations! (see for example the map on p. 212 of The Zondervan Atlas of the Bible)

Foundation of the Temple to Augustus that Herod the Great built in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi—at Omrit
The southwest corner
Note the delicately carved molding and the remnants of fresco on the wall

Archaeological excavations in Galilee — Galilee as defined by Josephus, and pre- 70 CE — show that it was  Jewish in nature and was not yet greatly influenced by Greco- Roman culture (except for some frescos at Yodfat and Herod Antipas’ new city of Tiberias).  Indeed, the archaeological remains (ritual baths, stone vessels, lack of pig bones, shaft graves) at most sites in Josephus’ Galilee seem to indicate that Jews were living in small villages that were rural in nature.  Most tour leaders/guides will rightfully expound on the Jewish context of Jesus’ upbringing and focus of ministry, and will also reference the close proximity of Greco- Roman culture via the caravan routes that ran around and through Lower Galilee.

In two previous posts I have commented on the archaeological finds at Omrit and the Imperial Cult (worshiping the Roman Emperor) in Asia Minor.  IMHO we also need to give emphasis to the fact that Herod the Great had built  three Imperial Cult Temples — all less than 40 miles from Nazareth/Capernaum.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry these Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  had been in existence for over 40 years!

When tour leaders/guides expound upon “Peter’s Great Confession” at/near Caesarea Philippi — “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16; etc.) — usually the emphasis is upon “Christ” as the Greek word for Hebrew Messiah/Mashiach and Jesus as the fulfillment of the divine promise that had been made to David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7).  In addition, often reference is made to failed messiahs and rebel leaders that lived before, during, and/or after the days of Jesus — and that Jesus’ “kingdom” was of a different nature than the typical expectation of these folk.

But when Peter’s confession is made within 5 miles (or less) of  one of the three Imperial Cult Temples that had been dedicated to Roman Emperor Augustus — who was to be worshiped as a god, or at least the “son of god”  — the confession takes on all kinds of additional overtones!  And one of the first thoughts of many of the hearers of the Gospels (living in a Greco- Roman context in Asia Minor, Greece, North Africa, and Italy) had to have been, how could anyone ever think that  a crucified Galilean Jew named Jesus could be “the Son of the Living God?”   There already was a “son of god!”  Namely the reigning Roman Emperor who was worshiped as a “son of god” by (almost) all his subjects at Imperial Cult Temples scattered throughout his kingdom—not to mention previously deceased emperors (and some family members) who had ascended to heaven and were worshiped “as gods!”

The above just hints at some of the topics that could be thought through and expanded upon, and what better place to do this than at Omrit—where the foundations and some artifacts of the Herodian Imperial Cult Temple are still there in all their glory!

Directions to Omrit
Left is north in the image.
The road running from left (north) to right (south) in the bottom of the image is Hwy 918

It is easy to travel to Omrit by driving south on Hwy 918 (from the junction of Hwys 99 and 918) and turning east on the paved road just before (north) of the Bezek antenna.  To visit this unique site you need to budget about 90 minutes or so once you turn off  highway 918, but IMHO it is well worth the time!

Paul: From Asia Minor to Europe — From the Port of Alexandria Troas

Acts 16:11  ¶  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis.

It was at Alexandria Troas (see map below), on Paul’s second missionary journey, that in a vision he received a call to proceed to Macedonia (Acts 16:8–11). Because of the use of “us” it seems that Luke joined Paul and Silas on this portion of the journey.

Troas is a site that is not often visited by visitors to Turkey—yet it is huge — about 1,000(!) acres [405 ha.] in size. It is situated 31.2 mi. [50 km.] northwest of Assos — via the ancient road system. It is 15.5 mi. [25 km.] south of Troy and is largely unexcavated.

There are three parts to the harbor of Troas—from which Paul set sail—the breakwater/quay?, Outer Harbor, and Inner Harbor (see below for pictures of all).

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Breakwater/Quay of Troas — It is very probable that Paul and his companions set sail for Samothrace/Neapolis (Europe) from this point (Acts 16:11) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Protruding into the Aegean Sea are the remains of a Breakwater or Quay that protected the entrance of the harbor.

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View looking west at the entrance to the Outer and Inner Harbors of Alexandria Troas. Part of the “Outer Harbor” is visible on the left side of the image. The entrance to the “Outer Harbor” is silted up with sand. The white waves outline where the sea breakwater, or possibly a quay was located.  On the right side of the images the tops of columns that were ready for shipment are poking up out of the water.

For the few who visit the harbor area of Troas they usually stop where a few discarded columns tops protrude from the Aegean Sea.  But if they were to walk 100 yards farther south they would be able to see the stones of the breakwater/quay that protected the entrance to the two bays of the harbor.

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View looking west at the relatively well-preserved line of hewn stones that were once part of the quay or breakwater of Troas. The line runs from lower left up to the upper middle portion of the image. The white breaking waves indicate the now-underwater continuation of this quay/breakwater out into the Aegean Sea. Note how it “hooks” to the right, protecting the entrance to the harbor.

To the left of the line of hewn stones note the numerous small stones that were evidently part of the superstructure of the quay.  Note the “bosses” and the “margins” on the hewn stones.

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Looking west at the “Outer Harbor” of Troas (filled with water) with the Aegean Sea in the Background — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

View looking south at the large "Inner Harbor" of Troas — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Downlaod

View looking south at the large “Inner Harbor” of Troas — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Downlaod

 For additional high resolution images of Troas (including harbor, temple, and bath)  Click Here.

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