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.”


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.

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.

NT Inscriptions — Gallio Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12)

Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:12).

Acts 18:12     While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

Acts 18:14     Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you.  15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.”  16 So he had them ejected from the court.  17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever. (NIV)


View of the “Gallio Inscription” found at Delphi. In the fourth line from the top, the Greek form of “Gallio” is clearly visible. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The inscription is written in Greek and is a copy, carved in stone, of a decree of the Roman Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41–54) who commanded L. Iunius Gallio, the governor, to assist in settling additional elite persons in Delphi—in an effort to revitalize it.

The inscription dates between April and July A.D., 52, and from it, it can be deduced that Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia in the previous year.  Thus Paul’s eighteenth month stay in Corinth (Acts 18:1–18) included the year 51.  This inscription is critical in helping to establish the Chronology of Paul as presented in the book of Acts.

To view all nine pieces of the inscription Click Here.

To view the “bema” in Corinth, before which Paul appeared in the presence of Gallio, Click Here.

For a brief description of Delphi Click Here.

A Very Useful Web Site of Ancient History — More Traffic than the British Museum or the Louvre!

This may be “old news” to many of you, but I recently became aware of the web site Ancient History Encyclopedia.  Its mission

is to improve history education worldwide by creating the most complete, freely accessible and reliable history resource in the world.

Currently they have around 200 articles on the Near East— articles that “cover the cradle of civilization, home of the first empires, and the world’s oldest cities.”  They also have 330 articles on the Greco–Roman world.

The articles are well–written, informative, and accurate.  They are peer reviewed.  I follow them on Twitter @ahencyclopedia where they seem to announce new articles as they become available and usually draw attention to one “older” article (like from the past few years) each day.  The lengths of the articles vary, but they typically seem to be a 5-15 minute read—depending on how familiar one is with the topic.  There is a search engine on the web site.

BTW – you are invited to follow me on Twitter “@go2Carl”— I only post one or two “tweets” a day—if that.

More Descriptive Details About the Ancient History Encyclopedia

Key Facts

  • All content is reviewed by our team of expert editors, ensuring highest quality
  • Trusted by teachers around the world as set reading for their students
  • More monthly traffic than the British Museum or the Louvre, and more monthly readers than the world’s most popular history magazines
  • Engaging the digital generation: We’re telling the exciting stories in history, using all media types (text, image, map, video, etc.)
  • Read more about our audience in our media presentation.

Our Work

We work to engage the digital generation: We are telling exciting historical stories using text, video, interactive features, social media and mobile apps. Every submission to the encyclopedia is carefully reviewed by our editorial team, making sure only the highest quality content is published to our site.

We aim to inspire our readers with the stories of the past, making history engaging and exciting for everyone. Our publication follows academic standards, but written in an easy-to-read manner with students and the general public in mind.

Ancient History Encyclopedia is entirely run by dedicated contributors and volunteers from all over the world. Our multi-cultural team is as neutral and as objective as possible, which is why we’re a completely independent organization.

Our Goal

Ancient history is only the start: We are working to create the world’s leading general history resource, covering all time periods of human history, freely accessible on the internet. Education is at the core of what we do, which is why we aim to provide more useful tools to teachers and students, such as interactive content, videos, mobile apps, and teaching resources.

We also plan to make our content available in other languages and other formats, such as printed books.

New Testament Inscriptions — Erastus of Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:13; 2 Timothy 4:20)


“Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download (free).

Part of a pavement found near the theater of Corinth which mentions “Erastus” who was the aedile of the city.  An “aedile” was in charge of the financial matters of the city — and was very wealthy. The pavement was laid about A.D. 50.

The New Testament book of Romans was written by Paul from Corinth to the church in Rome in the spring of A.D. 57—on his third journey. In Romans 16:23 Paul says that “Erastus, the city treasurer [Ἕραστος ὸ οἰκονόμς] greets you . . . .”   It is very probable that the “Erastus” mentioned in Romans is the very same person who is mentioned in this inscription.

The two lines on the Latin inscription have been transcribed by John McRay in the following way:


McRay suggests that the full transcription can be translated as “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.”

From the following passages it is evident that Erastus was very involved in Paul’s ministry:

On his third journey, prior to the writing of the NT book of Romans, Paul wrote:

Acts 19:22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia [at Ephesus] a little longer.

and then in Paul’s final letter while imprisoned in Rome Paul wrote:

2Tim. 4:20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus

For an extensive discussion of this inscription and the various options that the various Latin and (NT) Greek terms suggest, see John McRay Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991: 331–33.   To examine or  purchase Click Here.

For a brief description of the biblical and historical significance of Corinth and a Map of the region Click Here.

Pliny Persecutes Christians – A.D. 112

Were the early Christians really persecuted?  How many Christians were there in the Roman Empire in the early 2nd century A.D.?


Click on Map to Enlarge

In a previous post I commented on the importance of Pliny’s (Roman governor of Pontus and Bithynia) description of early Christians.  In his letters to the Roman Emperor Trajan (ca. A.D. 112) he asks what he should do with these people known as “Christians.”  This letter (see below) tells us at least two important things.

First of all regarding persecution(s):

  1. It does not seem that Christianity was outlawed by the Romans, yet it was considered subversive.
  2. The best “charge” that he could come up with was that they were “stubborn and obstinate”—i.e., they would not worship the gods nor burn incense to the Emperor.
  3. Pliny was not seeking out Christians to persecute them, but others were making accusations against them.
  4. Pliny came up with a “test” to see if they really were Christians.
    1. They needed to invoke the gods (with a formula dictated by Pliny)
    2. The needed to offer a prayer with incense and wine to the image of the Emperor.
  5. If they didn’t pass the test and were not Roman citizens they were to be executed.

The Romans seemed perplexed with what to do with these people.  They were not like traditional rebels for they did not take up arms against the state.

Secondly the letters can be interpreted to indicate that there may have been many Christians in the province that he governed.  Pliny writes:

For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it.

He seems to indicate that because of the Christians, the traditional gods were being neglected (cf. the situation at Ephesus: Acts 19:23–41), but because of his efforts the worship of the gods was increasing again:

It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found.

This can lead to the conclusion that Christianity was rapidly expanding, at least in the area governed by Pliny, but the extrapolated numbers do not agree with the general scholarly opinion that only about 1 or 2% of the total Roman population was “Christian” in the second century A.D. (see Reed p. 141).

Reed, Jonathan L. The HarperCollins Visual Guide to the New Testament — What Archaeology Reveals About the First Christians. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.  On the Amazon link above see the bargain price for $9.89.  This is a total “steal!”

–   –   –   –   –   The Relevant Text from Pliny the Younger Follows   –   –   –   –   –

Pliny, Letters 10.96-97
Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

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What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.


The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge


Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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Erecting an Obelisk

TWMRISHP11Have you ever wondered how the ancients actually set up an obelisk?  In the Late Roman/Byzantine hippodrome in Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul there is still standing the top third of an obelisk of the Egyptian ruler Thutmose III (r. 16th century B.C.).  This obelisk was brought from Egypt to Constantinople and erected by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius around A.D. 390.

One of the reliefs on its marble base depicts the erection of the obelisk with the emperor and his family watching.

TWMRISHP06For additional images of the obelisk and the hippodrome area Click Here.