The Cave/Grotto of Paul and Thecla at Ephesus

One of the most interesting early extra–biblical stories is the one of Paul and Thecla (2nd century A.D.; Thecla is said to have been a female companion of Paul and eventually [for most of her life] a respected preacher of the Christian faith).

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From right to left: Theocleia (mother of Thecla), Paul, and Thecla
Fresco from the Grotto of Saint Paul at Ephesus
Click on Image to Enlarge

At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla).  It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus.  It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.

On the western wall of the grotto a painting portrays an event from the apocryphal book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla (ca. early second century A.D.).  The painting (5th/6th century A.D.) depicts the initial event described in the book, in the city of Iconium, where Thecla is looking from a window at Paul preaching while Thecla’s mother (Theocleia) looks on.  Thecla, against the wishes of her mother and her finance Thamyris, gave up her betrothal (engagement) in order to remain a virgin and to follow Paul.

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Detail of Thecla looking down from a window at Paul preaching
Paul’s raised hand is visible on the right
Click on Image to Enlarge

Eventually Thecla was separated from Paul and became a significant preacher and witness to her faith.  Her life and impact has been much discussed during the past thirty years and this painting has figured large in the discussions.

In addition, The Acts of Paul and Thecla contains the earliest physical description of Paul:

“And he [Onesiphorus] saw Paul coming [towards Iconium], a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”

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Paul and Theocleia (mother of Thecla) — Note the names spelled out in Greek
Also compare the artistic representation of Paul with the literary
Click on Image to Enlarge

The facial image of Paul in the fresco seems to match this description as do iconographic representations of Paul.

The cave seems to have served as a chapel from the early Byzantine period through the early 19th century.

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Vestibule to “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla” at Ephesus

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Plan of “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla”

The grotto is 50 ft. long 6.5 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. high gallery that was expanded to the south in the form of a “presbytery.”  It was excavated by Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna in 1995.

Not familiar with the fascinating story of Paul and Thecla?  You can get a Kindle version of the story for only $1.99 in the New Testament Apocrypha—along with 43 other stories!

To view additional images of this Grotto and Frescos Click Here.

Cenchreae — a very unusual find

In a previous post I shared some images of the harbor at Cenchreae and related the site to the Apostle Paul and Phoebe.

Although the site has not been excavated, FIFTY (yes, 50) wooden crates containing glass panels that portray the harbor of Cenchreae were discovered in the harbor.

The panels were never put into place – but they apparently depict the harbor. They evidently were being stored in the Temple of Isis when the earthquake destroyed the harbor in A.D. 375. These panels probably depict the harbor as of A.D. 370. They are labeled as opus sectile panels that are composed of colored glass! I am not sure where they were intended to be placed. On floors? On walls? Or?

The following are a few of the panels that are on display in the nearby museum at Isthmia. I think they will be best viewed if you click on, and enlarge, the image.

Harbor, buildings, fisherman, boat, etc. Please Click on Image to Enlarge for Viewing.

Note the standing fisherman on the right side of the image. of center.  Just to the left and below him the white “lighthouse” that stood on the southern mole is depicted.  To the left of the lighthouse are three windows (filled with yellow light) and to the left of them, a building with six columns is depicted. Also on the left side of the image, from top to bottom note a sailboat and on the extreme left a squid.

The Harbor or Cenchreae—ca. A.D. 370. Please Click on Image to Enlarge for Viewing.

Note the standing fisherman just left of center. Just to the left and below him the white “lighthouse” that stood on the southern mole is depicted. Above him and to the right the “lighthouse” of the northern mole is visible. Note the semi-circular columned wharf that connects the two lighthouses.

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Cenchrea — a port of Corinth

Cenchrea was Corinth’s port that was located about 6.5mi. [9 km.] east on the Saronic Gulf.  It was Corinth’s life-line to Athens, to Asia Minor, and to additional ports in the eastern Mediterranean.

Having stayed at Corinth for 18 months, Paul set sail for Jerusalem (via Ephesus and Caesarea) from here at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18).  Just prior to his departure he cut his hair in Cenchrea—in fulfillment of a vow (18:18)

Later, writing to the church at Rome while staying at Corinth on his third journey, Paul commends Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea to the church at Rome (Romans 16:1-2).

A picture looking north at the north mole that stretches from left (land) to right, out into the sea. The port area is between where this picture was taken and the mole. It has subsided because of earthquakes. On the seaside point of the mole are the remains of a Roman Tower.

View looking south across the harbor at the remains of the southern mole which extends out into the water.
View looking east from the shore at the remnants of the southern mole of the port of Cenchreae.

Due to seismic activity, the harbor of Cenchreae has sunk about 7.5 ft [2.3 m.] from the New Testament era. In Paul’s day this basilica shaped structure may have been a temple for the deity Isis. Later it may have been turned into a church dedicated to Phoebe.

Why Corinth?

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See the full size image below!

At the time of Paul’s visits to Corinth it was a thriving commercial city of over 200,000 people.

Corinth was situated in the northeastern corner of the Peloponnese — very near the narrow land bridge (isthmus) that connected the Peloponnese to the mainland of Greece. Its strategic location was enhanced due to its proximity to the diolkos — the stone-paved roadway that connected the Saronic Gulf with the Gulf of Corinth. By using this overland passageway, passengers and cargo avoided the difficult and time-consuming trip around the southern end of the Peloponnese.

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The Isthmus of Corinth from the air. For comments on this image, see above. To Enlarge and/or Download Click on Image.

The Greek city of Corinth had been (partly) destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C., but the rebuilding process, as a Roman city, had begun by 44 B.C.  For a long time it had been famous for its immorality (think prostitutes associated with the Temple of Aphrodite) and its commercial character. Its two harbors were Lechaion (Gulf of Corinth) and Cenchreae (Saronic Gulf). Every two years important games were held at nearby Isthmia.

Paul spent 18 months here on his second journey and maybe three months on his third. The letters of first and second Corinthians were written to the church here, and Paul probably wrote first and second Thessalonians and Romans while in Corinth.


To view important artifacts from Corinth, including the Erastus inscription, a menorah, and others, Click Here.

Excavations have been conducted at Corinth for over 100 years. Major finds have helped us understand the history and culture of the city that Paul spent so long ministering in. See the images included in this section and John McRay’s Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991.  To view for purchase Click Here.

Suggestion:  You may also be interested in the images of the Corinth Canal, the diolkos, the port of Cenchreae, and the Acrocorinth.

God Fearers in the Synagogue and Early Church — Evidence from Miletus

MiletusMap3In the New Testament the book of Acts 13-28 describes the spread of Christianity primarily through the efforts of Paul and his companions.  As they traveled throughout Asia Minor and Greece some Jews and many Gentiles adopted the new faith.  Some of these Gentiles where already interested in the God of the Jews and involved in synagogue worship.  This group is mentioned several times in the book of Acts (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

Clear evidence for the presence of a Jewish population living at Miletus, which Paul stopped at on the return leg of his Third Journey (Acts 20:15ff), is evidenced by an inscription that is located on the fifth row of seats on the southeast side of the large theater at Miletus (see below).

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Greek Theater Inscription
τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον”the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers” or
“the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers”
Click on image to enlarge/download

τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον

This inscription seems to mark “reserved seating” for Jews and possibly related “God–worshipers.” There are other “reserved seat” markings in this, and other, theaters.  As it stands the inscription reads “the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers.”

But some have suggested that whom ever wrote the inscription may have inverted the “τῶν καὶ.” If this is the case, then the inscription could refer to two groups of people, Jews and Gentile God–worshipers (= “the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers”). Compare the same categories found in the book of Acts, although not quite the same terminology (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

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The Theater at Miletus
The “God-Fearer” inscription is located where the two people are sitting near the center of the image
Click on image to enlarge and/or download

To View More Images of Miletus Click Here.

Samos — Another “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”?

Some of the readers of this blog are familiar with the 1,760 ft. long “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” that brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.  At the southern end of this tunnel, a Hebrew Inscription was found on which it describes how the two gangs of workmen began at each end and worked towards the center.  The tunnel was built in the late 8th century B.C.

Not so well-known is the very similar Tunnel of Eupalinos that brought water to the ancient city of Samos (now called Pythagorio).  This tunnel was about 3,280 ft. [1,000 m.] long and was carved into solid rock by two groups of workmen—one group beginning at each end and meeting near the middle.  It was completed during the rule of Polycrates around 524 B.C.

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Interior of the 3,280 ft. long Tunnel of Eupalinos on the Island of Samos
The woman in the image is 5′ 2″ tall
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

The image above is the interior of the Tunnel of Eupalinos that brought water to the ancient city of Samos (now called Pythagorio).   The outline of the rock-hewn tunnel is very clear in this image.  The woman in the picture is 5′ 2″ [1.57 m.] tall.

The area in which she is standing was actually a “service area” that was used by workmen to maintain the tunnel.  The metal grating behind her, on the left side of the image, covers the deep channel in which the water actually flowed—in clay pipes.

For additional images of the Island of Samos Click Here.

A Photo Resource for 2 Samuel

Todd Bolen recently released another volume in his series Photo Companion to the Bible. This time for Second Samuel. It contains 2,900 slides that illustrate the book, chapter by chapter. They are in PowerPoint format and contain ancient sites, artifacts, and cultural scenes. In addition, there is very useful descriptive commentary on each photo as well as interpretative graphics on some of them.

This “volume” will be useful for instruction as well as for personal Bible Study. Highly recommended!

It is on sale for a limited time for $39.00. Click HERE for details.

Special Diolkos Remains Near Corinth

Long Section of the Diolkos located on a Greek Army Base north of the Corinthian Canal

On one of our visits to the area of Corinth we had a chance to explore a seldom-visited portion of the ancient diolkos that is located on the isthmus that connects the Greek mainland with the Peloponnese.  This portion has been excavated and is very well preserved.

Map of the Peloponnese and Location of Corinth and the Diolkos

The Diolkos [Greek meaning “haul across”] was a paved “road” that connected the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs before the Corinthian Canal was dug.  It was built because sailing around the southern tip of the Peloponnese was very treacherous.  Strabo, for example, writes ‘But when you sail around Cape Malea, forget your home” (= “you’ll never return!”; viii 6, 20).  The ancients offloaded their cargo, dragged it on wheeled carts across the isthmus from one gulf to the other to the other side of the isthmus, and then loaded it on to another ship.  Small to medium size ships could be transported from gulf to gulf by this method also.

Detail of the Tracks/Ruts that guided the path of the wheels of the vehicles that carried ships and cargo from one gulf to another.

The Diolkos was constructed during the sixth century B.C.  and was in use for over 1,000 years!  It was made of large paving stones and was about 11 to 20 ft. [3.4 to 6 m.] wide. It followed a circuitous route, avoiding high ground if possible, from one side of the isthmus to another.

It is probable that some of the wealth of the nearby Corinth was derived from tolls, tariffs, and servicing the personnel associated with the shipping industry and servicing and maintaining the “road.”

To view additional photos of the diolkos plus additional commentary and a detailed map of its route — Click Here.

The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

As Easter approaches, I thought I would share a few related blog posts that contain some images that some of you might find useful for Easter presentations.

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View Looking East at the entrance to the First Century A.D. Tomb

View looking east at the entrance to the tomb. The rolling stone was 6 ft. [1.8 m.] in diameter and 1.3 ft [0.4 m.] thick. It was placed between two walls, each built of hewn stone. When discovered, it still rolled in its trough!

The tomb itself was in use during the Roman Period — up until A.D. 135.

In my estimation, it was the best example of a rolling stone tomb in the country of Israel. It seems to illustrate well passages from the Gospels which speak of Jesus’ tomb as being closed by a rolling stone. See especially Matthew 27:57-66; 28:1-2; Mark 15:42–47; 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–2, 10–11; and John 20:1, 11–18.

MidrasMap3Horvat Midras (Hebrew) or Khirbet Durusiya (Arabic) is located 19 mi. [30 km.] southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah. The ancient remains are spread over hundreds of dunams in the area. The site dates to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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View of the Courtyard of the “Rolling Stone Tomb” at Khirbet Midras—prior to its destruction

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990’s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals!#%$@!!

BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

To view 3 additional images of the tomb Click Here.

For images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher see: Calvary and Tomb.

Click to see images of Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

A Monumental Herodian (Hasmonean?) Hall in Jerusalem — Behind the Scenes of the Western Wall

Near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, there is a Monumental Hall that dates to the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era).  There is some speculation that the Sanhedrin may have (occasionally) met here—see below.

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View looking northwest at the northern and western walls of the hall. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note the finely finished stones in both walls as well as the chest-high decorative horizontal ridge/railing that separates the lower and upper portion of the walls.  Near the corner of the west (left) wall note the delicately carved protruding pilaster.

I visited this all in the 1970s with Gabi Barkai and I thought he said it might be Hasmonean.  But our guide said it was Herodian (37–4 B.C.) with possibly some Hasmonean elements.

I am not sure of its function but it certainly is “monumental.”  In my Zondervan Atlas of the Bible I labeled it as a “Public Building” (p. 250).

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View of the northeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

In the above image note, the delicate protruding pilaster to the right of the center of the image and to the left of center note the well–defined horizontal “railing” that is about chest high that separates the lower and upper portions of the wall.

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View looking at the southeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

On the left (east) wall there are two huge doorways.  Note the large carved doorposts and the huge lintels.  Currently, these doorways lead to the ritual bath that I described in a previous post, but originally they may have led to something else.

I believe that the far wall, with a doorway and other openings, is secondary, and that the original hall extended farther south.

Could this have been the hall where the Sanhedrin met?  If so, possibly Jesus, some apostles, Stephen, and/or Paul appeared here. (Unconfirmed speculation)

The early explorer Charles Warren called this structure the “Hall of the Freemasons (see below).  Additional comments/suggestions/correction are appreciated.

Not my “cup of tea” below.


From the Gallery of Masonic Sights from Israel
Hall of the Freemasons, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel.
Discovered and named by the Freemason, Bro. Lieutenant Charles Warren [!] during the excavations of the late 1860’s near Wilson’s Arch.  Second Temple construction by Zerubbabel (536-516 BCE).