The REAL Saint Nicholas! December 6

On December 6 the feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated and so I thought I would bring back this oldie but goodie.

On the outskirts of the Turkish town of Demre is a church that is associated with Saint Nicholas—Father Christmas, a.k.a. in northern Europe as Santa Claus!

Saint Nicholas StatueSt. Nicholas was born in nearby Patara about A.D. 300 and served as the bishop of Myra later in his life.  A number of miracles are attributed to this revered bishop, including his providing a dowry to the three daughters of a local baker.  Thus he is associated with “gift giving!”  He was also the patron saint of sailors and was prayed to for protection at sea—note that Myra is very near the Mediterranean Sea.  He died about A.D. 345.

It is said that he was buried in this church, but that his relics (bones) were taken to Bari, Italy, about A.D. 1088, although other claims are made that the Venetians took them.

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View looking down at the altar area from the top of the synthronon
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Every 6 December, the feast day of St. Nicholas, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy here.

To view (or download) more images of the Church of Saint Nicholas Click Here.

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Israel Mount of Beatitudes

This past November I made my first trip back to Israel since my pre-pandemic trip in January 2020. I thought I would share a few impressions and photos from our recent trip.

One of my favorite places to visit, especially for prayer and meditation, it is the Church of the Beatitudes which overlooks the Sea of Galilee from the north.

View looking west at the Church of the Beatitudes.  The church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and was completed in 1938. It commemorates Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5–7) and more especially the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3–10).  Italian sisters administer the property.

The “garden” west of the church on November 3, 2022.

Upon arrival at the church it was sad to see that another fire had almost reached the church itself—it seems like there is a serious fire almost every 4-5 years.

One of the sisters wrote:

A “miracle” saved the Church from destruction during the afternoon of July 14, 2022, when a devastating fire raged on the grounds of the sanctuary.  Because of strong winds, the fire spread rapidly jumping from one tree to another and eventually to some of the buildings. After long hours of exhaustive work by the heroic crews of the firefighting aircraft and fire trucks, the fire was brought under control.

But the fire, unfortunately, caused extensive damage to the roof of our Church; our places of prayer; the olive trees on our premises; and the workers’ residence at our pilgrimage site. With the help of aircraft, the fire was eventually extinguished.

In the words of Sister Telesphoro, the director of the sanctuary, we ‘witnessed a miracle in the protection of our God.”  Fortunately, there were no casualties.

Church of the Beatitudes Galilee

The “garden” to the west of the church.

Chorazin Update October 2, 2022

In my previous blog post, I noted the video by Sergio and Rhoda that featured Achia Cohen-Tavor and his discovery of first-century A.D. pottery and coins below the floor of the 4th-6th century Synagogue at Chorazin.

My friend and guide, Ofer Drori, visited the site on October 2, 2022, and sent me three pictures he took. It is clear that the floor and other parts of the synagogue are undergoing extensive restoration.

Photo of the ongoing restoration of the Synagogue at Chorazin. Courtesy of Ofer Drori.

Photo of the ongoing restoration of the Synagogue at Chorazin. Courtesy of Ofer Drori.

Photo of the ongoing restoration of the Synagogue at Chorazin—the restored entrance. Courtesy of Ofer Drori.

Ofer and I will be leading a group of travelers from the Biblical Archaeology Society in October/November and will be visiting the synagogue at that time.


PS — Ofer (in Israel) and I will be leading a 13-day Bible Study Tour to Israel and Jordan in April 2023. Shoot me an email and I will send you a brochure—no obligation. (2Foot.Steps.Tours+Chorazin@gmail.com)

A First Century Synagogue at Chorazin?

Many visitors to Israel will visit Chorazin which is located about 2.3 miles north of ancient Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Chorazin is mentioned two times in the New Testament (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13) and in both cases it, along with Bethsaida are cursed for their lack of belief in Jesus. The text implies that miracles were performed there, and most have assumed that Jesus would have ministered in a synagogue there as well.

The reconstructed 4th-6th century synagogue at Chorazin.

When visiting the 4th-6th century synagogue at Chorazin, typically the question is asked “where is the synagogue that Jesus preached in?” Up until two years ago, the answer was, “we don’t know.”

Recently I came across a YouTube video by “Sergio & Rhoda in Israel” entitled “Lifting the ancient floor of the cursed city of Chorazin.” It was posted on September 27, 2020 (during the “heart” of the pandemic), and features the excavations led by Achia Cohen-Tavor in the synagogue and elsewhere at Chorazin. The whole video is worth watching (23 minutes long) but for those pressed for time, the work on the synagogue begins around 9:15. There are great images, drone shots, and expert commentary by Achia. He believes, based upon excavations below the floor of the late synagogue that he has found first century A.D. remains: pottery sherds and coins.

An important 23-minute video. The portion regarding the excavation of the synagogue begins at 9:30.

There appear to be a few referals to this video on the internet, but I have not seen any official reports of this discovery and would appreciate any references to official reports.

The interior of the synagogue where the excavation took place.

For additional images of the synagogue see Here. For the remainder of the site of Chorazin see Here.

The synagogue before excavation in 1967 on a field trip led by the late Anson Rainey — in the hat above the center of the image.

The Mausoleum of Caesar Augustus in Rome – Part 2

In my previous post, I described the geographical and historical setting of Augustus’ Mausoleum. Here are some pictures of the Mausoleum that I took last spring (2022).

The Mausoleum is a circular structure about 300 feet in diameter and about 140 feet tall. It was composed of a number of concentric circular walls, the outer of which were filled in to provide support for the structure. Only the lower third of the monument is preserved.
The exterior of the lowest and widest of the circular terraces.

View of the eastern exterior drum of the Mausoleum of Augustus.  Notice that some of the original marble and travertine stones are still in place—most of them had been looted in ancient times.  Obviously, the upper portions of this drum are modern reconstructions.

One of the inner drums is visible in the upper left quadrant of the image.  The paved path in the lower left leads down to the entrance of the dromos.

The entrance to the Mausoleum.

View looking north at the southern entrance (dromos) to the mausoleum complex.  This was the only entrance to the family tomb.

The long corridor (dromos) was originally flanked by two obelisks from Egypt—now erected in the Piazza del Quirinale and Piazza dell’Esquilino.  And, a copy of the deeds of Augustus, the Res Gestae, was inscribed on bronze tablets near this entrance.  They have disappeared, but copies of this document are still preserved on the walls of the Augustus Temple in Ankara—In Latin and Greek.  Other partial copies have been found—for example at Pisidian Antioch.

View of one of the interior drums of the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Visible is the exterior wall of the drum, on the left, and the cylindrical core of the mausoleum on the right—where urns of Augustus and other members of the royal family were deposited.

On the upper left, note that some of the arches are partially preserved—the roof has collapsed—and some ancient travertine blocks (white) and ancient brickwork are visible.

Burial chamber from above.

View looking down on the cylindrical core of the mausoleum, where urns of Augustus and other members of the royal family were deposited.

Only the bottom third(!) of the lower portion of the “drum” is preserved—it used to be the highest portion of the mausoleum reading a height of 140 feet.  It supported a large bronze statue of Augustus on the top that was visible from the outside to all.

Outer Ring of Cylindrical Core

A view of the outer ring of the cylindrical core of the mausoleum, where urns of members of the royal family were deposited.  On the left, one of the large, tall, niches of this outer ring is visible.  These were the places where the urns of the family members were placed.  Of course, all of the area was originally faced with marble over the preserved Roman brick.

On the right is the major inner core composed of a thick cylindrical wall, but hollow on the inside.  This is where the urn of Augustus was placed.

Cylindrical Core

A view of the thick, but hollow, cylindrical core—looking up at the truncated remnant of the originally 140-high structure.  The burial urn of Augustus was probably placed within this hollow core. It originally supported a large bronze statue of Augustus on the top that was visible from the outside to all. The “spiral” looking fan at the top, is the modern covering to preserve it.

Burial Chamber Inside the Cylindrical Core

This is a photo of the Burial Chamber inside of the Cylindrical Core—the place where the burial urns of Augustus and other super elites were placed. Many members of the royal families were buried here. As were the Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, and Nerva (the last emperor to be buried here).

Additional images can be found Here.

The following is a very well-done video describing and touring the Mausoleum of Augustus (7 minutes).

The Mausoleum of Caesar Augustus in Rome — Part 1

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Luke 2:1; NIV)

The life and rule of Caesar Augustus (r. 27 BC to AD 14) are well-known. On a trip to Rome in May 2022, we were able to visit a site that I had never entered. I had only seen it from the outside, from the building where the Ara Pacis is currently located (not the original location). The site is the Mausoleum of Augustus where the urns containing the ashes of the bodies of Augustus, family members, and other emperors such as Tiberius, Claudius, and Nerva were interred.

A model of the Campus Martius where the Mausoleum was/is located.

This is a model of the Campus Martius in the first century A.D.   The view is looking south-southwest.  In the foreground, on the north side of the CM is the circular Mausoleum of Augustus.  A long white street leads to the (well-known) Pantheon on the south side of the CM.  The Mausoleum is located 0.45 miles north of the Pantheon. The white street, perpendicular to the above, leads east to where the Ara Pacis originally was constructed.

The tree-lined square at the junction marks the spot where it is thought that the body of Augustus was cremated (ustrinum augusti).  At the midpoint between the Ara Pacis and the cremation spot, was a Horologium, the gnomon of which was an obelisk that had been brought from Egypt.

On the right (west) side of the image, the brown area indicates where the Tiber River was at that time.  On the left (east) side of the image the long white road was the Via Flaminia, today the Via del Corso—some slabs of the ancient road have been found beneath the modern road.

Although today the area of the Campus Martius is built up, in ancient times it was a large open space used for various activities: military exercises, sporting activities, etc.

A Model of the Mausoleum.

Augustus began the construction of his mausoleum in ca 28 B.C., soon after he defeated Anthony and Cleopatra.  It is a circular structure about 300 feet in diameter and about 140 feet tall.  It was composed of a number of concentric circular walls, the outer of which were filled in to provide support for the structure.  Only the lower third of the monument is preserved.

The focus of the mausoleum was a large, hollow, cylindrical column, on top of which a large statue of Caesar Augustus was placed—it is thought that the Prima Porta statue of Augustus is a small marble representation of this original bronze statue.  The Prima Porta statue was discovered on the Via Flaminia in the villa of the empress Livia.

The “Prima Porta Augustus”

This is the “Prima Porta Augustus” that is on display in the Vatican Museum in Rome.  Augustus is shown as the commander of the army addressing his troops.  He is in military dress and the breastplate commemorates the recapture of the “army standards” from the Parthians in 20 BC.  At his feet is a cupid, riding a dolphin, that alludes to the imperial family’s descent from Venus through her son Aeneas and grandson Ascanius.

It is believed that this is a smaller copy of a larger bronze statue of Augustus that was placed on the top of his mausoleum!

This statue, in marble, is about 6 feet 10 inches tall and weighs about 2,200 pounds.  It was discovered in 1863 in the villa of the empress Livia near Prima Porta on the Via Flaminia.

A 4-foot-tall copy of the “Prima Porta Augustus” that is on display in the Vatican Museum.

Next installment — The Mausoleum.

In the Fullness of Time (Galatians 4:4) and the Altar of Peace (Rome)

The Ara Pacis Augustae, (the “Altar of Augustan Peace”), commonly called the Ara Pacis, is not one of the places normally visited by groups that only spend a day or two in Rome.

It is interesting how the Ara Pacis illustrates at least one aspect of “the fulness of time.  Gal. 4:4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

The Ara Pacis Augustae, (the “Altar of Augustan Peace”) is commonly called the Ara Pacis.  Please see below for two images of the altar that illustrate these “peaceful conditions.”

This altar was dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of peace in honor of the peaceful conditions that the Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) was able to bring to the Roman Empire. It was dedicated on January 30, 9 BC.  Thus, this altar was over 60 years old by the time Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner!

This Augustus is the same Roman Emperor who is mentioned in

Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) could write about himself

I extended the borders of all the provinces of the Roman people which neighboured nations not subject to our rule. I restored peace . . . with no unjust war waged against any nation.

It is interesting that Paul wrote in the book of Galatians

Gal. 4:4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under 1the Law,

During the years following Augustus—ca. First Century A.D.—it was relatively safe to travel by land and by sea, the Greek language was understood and spoken by many, and peaceful conditions prevailed.

In the providence of God, it was during such an era that people such as Paul had the freedom to travel about to spread the “Good News”—the Gospel of Jesus Christ (but see note 1 below).


The following two images of the Ara Pacis exhibit the “peacefulness of the era”—think Royal (governmental) propaganda!

Harmony and peace surround either Pax herself, or Tellus, the earth goddess.  See below for a color representation of how it might have originally looked.

View of the upper left rear panel of the Ara Pacis with Tellus, the earth goddess—or possibly Pax, the goddess of Peace. Note the peacefulness of the image—Augustus had established peace in the Roman Empire (= pax Romana).

The two infants look so contented in the arms of the goddess.  The two semi-nude figures on the left and right of the goddess, with the billowing cloth, may represent the sky (on the left with the bird) and the sea (on the right with a tamed sea creature).  The sheep and the large ox seem very docile!

A procession of dignitaries processing to the dedication of the altar—including Augustus himself on the very left side of the image.

View of the upper south panel of the Ara Pacis.  Near the center of the procession is a child holding his father’s hand.  The father, tall, head–covered (like a priest), facing to the left of the image, is the son–in–law of Augustus, Marcus Agrippa.  The woman on our right of the child is Agrippa’s wife, Livia/Julia, daughter of Augustus, and the child is Gaius Caesar their offspring—an intended heir of Augustus.

On the left side of the image, there is a partial figure with a sharp vertical break.  This figure is that of Augustus himself!

The Ara Pacis was located in the Campus Martius, a large, formerly swampy, parade ground on the east side of the Tiber River—about 1 mi. northwest of the center of the Roman Forum.  Because of the flooding of the Tiber, it was buried in 12 ft. of debris and gradually fragments of it have been recovered.  It was reassembled in 1938.

Note the original location of the “Ara Pacis” on the left side of the Campus Martius.

Check Here to view additional images of the altar.

BTW — Ara Pacis was originally in full color:

Note 1 — obviously, in Judea and Galilee there was much discontent with Roman Rule during the first century A.D.

Fastfood along the Appian Way

On a recent trip, following Paul from Shipwreck on Malta to martyrdom in Rome, we stopped at a McDonald’s in Frattocchie—about 10 miles south of Rome. This was not an “I’m hungry for a Big Mac” type of stop, but we wanted to see the Roman road that was discovered when this McDonald’s was being constructed in 2014. We had been alerted to this site by two experts on the Appian Way—Drs. Mark Wilson and Glen Thompson who are writing a book on the subject!

View of the Roman Road beneath the McDonald’s Restaurant in Frattoccie.

A view of the Roman Road that was discovered when a McDonald’s was being constructed in 2014 in the modern town of Frattocchie  (41.46672, 12.99778).

A view looking northwest at a portion of the excavated area that is about 150 ft. long.  The well-preserved roadbed is about 6.9 ft. wide and is constructed mainly of basalt paving stones.  On the left, or the south side is a walkway for pedestrians that is about 2.6 ft. wide.  On the right (north) is a drainage ditch constructed of stone.  In later times, after the road went out of use, people were buried here—note the skeletons in the ditch.

This was a branch road (diverticulum) from the via Appia that led from near the town of Bovillae to the east.  This portion of the road is only about 200 ft. from the Appian Way on which Paul traveled, in custody, to Rome (Acts 28:13-16). The turn from near Bovillae seems to be between Roman Miles XII and XI on the via Appia—that is, about 10 mi. southeast of where the Via Appia ended near the Circus Maximus (now in modern Rome).

A view of the interior of the McDonald’s in Frattocchie. The Roman Road is clearly visible below the glass flooring of the dining section of McDonald’s.

This picture is a screenshot of the interior of McDonald’s at Frattocchie taken from Google Maps.

The entrance to the “drive-through” at the McDonald’s at Frattocchie. This picture is a screenshot of the interior of McDonald’s at Frattocchie taken from Google Maps.

By the way, Dr. Glen Thompson, who has studied all of the Roman Road systems from Puteoli to Rome, will be leading a trip from April 17-30, 2023. His group will travel from Malta to Rome, with an emphasis on what Paul would have seen as he walked along the Appian way—including this site! A descriptive brochure can be found Here.

What was in the building where the Roman Emperors were honored/worshiped?

In the last two posts I described and shared some images of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship) that was found at Herculaneum (near Pompeii). Because of a Latin Inscription that was found there, we know that banquets took place in the room. Suprisingly, in Professor Tuck’s 30-minute talk on this room, he does not mention the contents (see below). So I had never given it much thought.

On our recent trip to the Naples Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), Italy, our guide pointed out four large statues that were found in the Sacellum! Two of Augustus and two of Claudius! I was very surprised (and excited) to find this out, for although I had visited the museum a good number of times, but no guide had previously pointed these statues out. For me, it was a great experience to connect these statues with a place that has such importance for the topic of the Imperial Cult (aka Emperor Worship).

These four statues are part of the collection that is on permanent display in the large main room of the museum.

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as the deity Jupiter (Greek: Zeus). Note that he is holding a “thunderbolt” in his left hand. The statue is about 7 feet tall.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.”

Here, Augustus is semi-nude, as a deity, and is crowned with the Civic “Oak Wreath” Crown—a very special honor given to him for having “delivered/saved” his people

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) standing.  He has a spear in his right hand and may have held a “thunderbolt” (as Augustus above) in his left hand.  He probably is being portrayed as a deity (Jupiter) or possibly as a hero.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.” He is semi-nude, as a deity.
This is the Sacellum of the Augustales in Herculaneum, where these four statues were found.

It is amazing that a new religious movement that claimed that a poor Galilean carpenter, who was crucified by the Romans, believed to be the Son of God and raised from the dead could “compete” with the impressiveness of the well established Imperial Cult and and extensive/powerful Roman Kingdom.


For additional comments on these statues see here.

Steven L. Tuck “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.

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 (- ascension?) 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!  And of course, the Emperor’s successor (even if adopted), would be “a son of 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.