A Solar Eclipse and Old Testament Chronology

Here in the United States there is much excitement about the total solar eclipse that will take place on 21 August 2017. But did you know that the solar eclipse of June 15, 763 B.C. holds the key to the chronology of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)?

Have you ever thought about how a Study Bible can, such as, date the rule of Solomon from 970 B.C. to 930 B.C.? Or supply the dates of the rule of any other biblical king? This is a complicated topic because the Bible itself does not give such dates—typically we find “relative” dates such as “in the fourth year of his reign, King Solomon began to build the temple” (1 Kings 6:1). But when exactly is the “fourth year . . .”? Some scholars have suggested 966 B.C. But how do they know that?

It is because scholars, such as Edwin R. Thiele, have been able to link the relative chronology given in the Bible to known dates from Assyrian records (Babylonian and Egyptian sources are used as well). But how do they know the dates of Assyrian rulers and events?

A collection of limmu stelae from Asshur in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul.

Well, I am glad you asked! It is because the Assyrians named their years after various officials, including the king. Such a person was called a limmu (don’t ask, just trust me). The Assyrians would then, in other documents, date an event (such as an invasion, a battle, the building of a temple, etc.) by the name of the limmu in which it occurred. It is fortunate that there are actually lists of limmus that can be joined to give a complete sequence from roughly 891 B.C. to 648 B.C.

But what we end up with is a sequence of limmus—giving us relative dates (“this limmu before that limmu,” etc.). How is it possible to turn this long sequence of relative dates to “absolute” dates? Well, some astronomical phenomena are tied to various limmus!

One item of unusual importance is a notice of an eclipse of the sun that took place in the month of Simanu, in the eponymy (limmu) of Bur-Sagale [name of a person]. Astronomical computation has fixed this as June 15, 763. With the year of the eponymy [limmu] of Bur–Sagale fixed at 763 B.C., the year of every other name of the complete canon can likewise be fixed. The Assyrian lists extant today provide a reliable record of the annual limmu officials from 891 to 648 B.C.; and for this period they provide reliable dates in Assyrian history. (Thiele pp. 41–42)

With this information, correlations with the Biblical text can be made, and Relative Biblical dates can be converted to what we now know as B.C. dates.

Thus, the solar eclipse on June 15, 763 B.C. has played a huge role in helping determine Biblical Chronology!

Disclaimer: this post is intended to express appreciation for all the time that scholars have put into trying to determine an accurate Biblical Chronology—it is far from a complete discussion of the many challenges met in trying to solve such a problem.

Thiele, E. R. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1965.

Beth Shemesh

Beth Shemesh is an Israelite site located 12 mi. west of Jerusalem in the Sorek Valley where it exits from the Hill Country of Judah into the Shephelah.

The tribe of Dan settled in this area and the main activities of Samson took place here (Judges 13–16).

Sorek Valley looking west from Beth Shemesh

During the period of the Judges the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites via Beth Shemesh (1 Samuel 4–6).

During the recent excavations, a huge “cruciform” cistern from the years of the Judean Monarchy was discovered.

Interior of the Israelite Cistern

For more free, high-resolution images of Beth Shemesh Click Here.

Dogs Eating the Crumbs – Matt 15:27 and Mark 7:28

In Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-31 there is the story of a “Canaanite woman” from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon who said:

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”  . . .  The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Matt 15:22–25 and compare Mark 7:26ff.

It seems that Jesus’ response was somewhat “off-putting” for the subsequent “conversation” went as follows:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”   Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
(Matt 15:26-28)

Dogs are not highly thought of in some of the Middle Eastern Cultures today but evidently in New Testament times they were kept as household pets.

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the crumbs that have fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (5th century BC.) found in the Asclepion of Piraeus (port of Athens).  It represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the right and a naked youth on the left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the food that has fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above votive relief  also represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the left and a naked youth on the far left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch waiting for crumbs from the meal — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (4th century BC.) found at Argos in southern Greece.  The god or hero is reclining on a couch with a woman on the left holding a tray with food.  On the far left is a nude boy drawing wine from a large krater.  Note the dog under the couch, waiting for crumbs!

A Picture and Now a Tombstone! Riot at Ephesus and A Riot at Pompeii

Update 28 July 2018.  It was announced today that a 12 ft. long tombstone, in 7 registers!,  of a gladiator was discovered at Pompeii.

Pompei:Scavi rivelano tomba che descrive rissa tra gladiatori

Among other important things, it refers to the riot that I wrote about in the following blog.

Osanna said in a statement, ”we have learned very important facts about the history of Pompeii, including a reference to the famous episode narrated by Tacitus that happened in Pompeii in 59 BC, when a brawl broke out in the amphitheater during a gladiator show that led to an armed clash. [see below] The event drew the attention of Emperor Nero, who ordered the Senate in Rome to investigate the incident. Following an inquiry by the consuls, reports Tacitus, Pompeii residents were banned from holding gladiator shows for 10 years, illegal associations were dissolved and the organizer of the games – former senator from Rome Livineio Regulo – and all the others who were found guilty of incitement were exiled. The inscription complements the information given by Tacitus and makes reference for the first time to the exile imposed on some magistrates, the duoviri of the city.

See the blog below for a picture of the event and my connecting it to the riot at Ephesus described in Acts 19.


There is a little known wall painting from a house at Pompeii (destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 79) that depicts a riot in and around the amphitheater at Pompeii in A.D. 59 (see connection to Acts 19 below images of Pompeii).

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The event that is depicted in this painting is a riot that occurred during the games in A.D. 59. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

This riot is also known from historical sources.  It was between the residents of Pompeii and those of nearby town of Nuceria. Notice all the people with raised arms = fighting—both inside and outside of the amphitheater. Note that the lower elite seating area has been vacated, but there is fighting in the upper portion of the amphitheater where the lower classes sat.

PompeiiAph6402The amphitheater was built in 80 B.C. when Pompeii became a Roman Colony.  It is the oldest amphitheater in existence!

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View of the exterior of the Amphitheater at Pompeii. In contrast to later amphitheaters note that the staircases to the upper levels of the structure are on the exterior, not in the interior of the amphitheater.

The amphitheater measures 432 x 335 ft. and could hold 20,000 people!  It was used for sports and gladiator contests, hunts and battles with wild animals!  Wall advertisements for the spectacles have been found on the walls of buildings at Pompeii.

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View of the interior of the Amphitheater at Pompeii.

Note the high retaining wall to protect the spectators.  In this earliest of amphitheaters there were no underground passages nor chambers—as in later structures.

On the left side of the image note that the first five rows are “walled off” and were for the use of the elite of the city.  The upper seats were for the use of lower class people and eventually women—who were allowed to go to the amphitheater because of a decree of the Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D.14).

Riots are Punished!!  Because of this riot at these games, the Roman Emperor Nero removed the head of the city and his family from office and politics and the city was forbidden to hold gladiatorial games for 10 years!  The Romans were not happy with those who rioted!!

Compare the riot in the theater in Ephesus when the apostle Paul was there (Acts 19):

Acts 19:23     About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way [= followers of Jesus] . . . .

Acts 19:29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater . . . .

Acts 19:32     The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another . . . .

Acts 19:35     The city clerk quieted the crowd . . . if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges.  39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly.  40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”

The Ephesus city clerk knew well that the Roman authorities would act severely against a riot.

Much of the descriptive information on the riot and the interpretation of this painting is  from Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City — 13 Riot in the Amphitheater—A.D. 59, by Steven L. Tuck.  Produced by The Great Courses, 2010, Chantily, VA.  Course No. 3742.

Did Paul see this View as he traveled to Miletus on His Third Journey?

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The Strait of Mycale Looking Southwest
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download
Also, See Map Below

View looking west southwest at the Strait of Mycale.  On the left (east) side of the image is Mount Mycale which is in Turkey.  On the right (west) is the Greek Island of Samos.  The open water between them is the “Strait of Mycale”—only 1 mi. [1.6 km] wide!

The Apostle Paul probably passed this way as he sailed from Chios to Samos to Miletus—towards the end of his Third Journey.

Acts 20: 15 says: “And sailing from there [Mitylene], we [Paul and traveling companions on board a ship] arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus.” (NASB)

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Map of the Strait of Mycale
Click on Image to Enlarge and Better Clarity

The route that Paul’s vessel took from Chios to Miletus is carefully examined by Dr. Mark Wilson at the beginning of his important article “The Ephesian elders come to Miletus: An Annaliste reading of Acts 20:15-18a.” He argues that the vessel that Paul was on sailed through the narrow straight between Samos and Turkey—the “Mycale Strait”— and possibly landed at the chief city of Samos—Pythagoras or at Troglilum closer to the (present) Turkish mainland.

For additional images of the Strait of Mycale and Samos Click Here.

The  map above is from: Eric Gaba, Wikimedia Commons user Sting [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Here are the “bibliographic details” of Wilson’s article, BUT to Download Your Copy Click Here:  WILSON, M.. The Ephesian elders come to Miletus: An Annaliste reading of Acts 20:15–18a. Verbum et Ecclesia, North America, 34, sep. 2013. Available at: <http://www.ve.org.za/index.php/VE/article/view/744/1751>. Date accessed: 18 Oct. 2013.

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum Part 2

In a previous post I shared some images and thoughts on what I believe is the only completely preserved building dedicated to the worship of Roman Emperors in the First Century A.D.  I want to complete the posting of images from the main room where the statue of the Emperor was located.  In these two frescos, the Emperor is portrayed as the mythical hero Hercules!

On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.

View looking at the north wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.  The nude figure next to him is a river deity that is attempting to snatch away Hercules’ wife, Deianeira.  Hercules is about to rescue her!  Tuck suggests that this is a metaphor for the Emperor as Hercules who protects/rescues his people.

Flanking the central piece are “windows” that look out on to the world.  Note especially the two chariots with horses in the upper two corners.

Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude. The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.

View looking at the south wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude.  The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.  Tuck believes that this is a representation of Hercules about to be taken up to be with the gods (= apotheosis) and that he and Hera are here reconciled—Hera had attempted to kill him.  Tuck believes that this is a metaphor for the apotheosis of the Emperor—being represented as Hercules.  In other words, Vespasian, like Emperors before him, was taken to be with the gods—and thus became a god!

To view 6 images of this important room Click Here.


Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this room was renovated shortly after the death of Vespasian in A.D. 79, early in the reign of Titus—which implies that the room was soon buried by the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius—ca. 24 August 79.

I am indebted to the explanatory comments of Steven L. Tuck in his engaging “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

 

Lycian League — A Model for the Founding “Fathers” of the USA

QUICK — what was the Lycian League?  Not many of us know, but Alexander Hamilton and James Madison knew!  Yes, the “Lycian Confederation” is mentioned four times in the Federalist Papers that were produced between 1787–1788 (#9, 16, 45).  Over 2,000 years ago it met in Patara—the same place where Paul and Luke changed ships on their way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-3).

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View of the exterior of the reconstructed Council Chamber (Bouleuterion) at Patara
January 2014 — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

So what was the Lycian Confederation/League?  First, Lycia was/is a geopolitical region located along the Mediterranean Coast of modern Turkey, often called the Turquoise Coast­ because of its beauty! (see map below) The 23 cities that made up the Confederation/League were located along the Mediterranean coast or in the nearby rugged Taurus Mountains (but the number of cities varied from time to time).

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View of the interior of the Council House at Patara
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

The Lycian Confederation is the first known democratic union in history!  One of the features of this Confederation is that they committed themselves to be governed by a central assembly (Greek: synedrion) that they themselves elected.  However, in fairness, the larger cities were allotted more representatives than the smaller ones.  Large cities such as Xanthos, Patara, Myra, Pinara, Tlos, and Olympos were allotted three representatives each (the maximum allowed).

The Lycian Confederation met at Patara—almost certainly in the Bouleuterion pictured above.  It was thus here (at the out-of-the-way site of Patara) that proportional representative government first got its start.  And, it was not until the founding of the United States (2,000 years later!!) that this concept was revived in the US House of Representatives (note the semi-circular seating arrangement of its chamber)!!

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The Rugged Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Coast of Lycia
The cities of the Lycian Confederation were located along the coast or in the mountains
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The league itself may go back to around 205 B.C.  This early form of the league would have had the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances.   In 168 B.C., while still under Roman control, the Romans allowed these cities to still assemble together to govern themselves as a unit—but the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances were now Rome’s prerogative.

This body elected persons who administered the Lycian League for a year at a time.  The council elected judges.  Voted proportional taxes.  A league court decided disputes between the cities.

189_PataraMapI have posted 5 photos of this historic meeting place on my web site,
both before and after it was excavated/reconstructed.

For a great summary article on the Lycian League and Patara see the article in Saudi Aramco World 2007.

Photos of the following cities of the Confederation are available:  Patara, Xanthos, Myra, and Phaselis.