Household gods and Christian Converts

One of the places that we like to visit on our In the Footsteps of Paul: Turkey and Greece trips are the “Terrace Houses” at Ephesus.  In studying these well–preserved houses (domus) it is possible to get an idea of how the “elite” lived in the late Roman Period.

Ephesus: This aedicula/Lararium is the small structure in the center of the image embedded in the wall with two columns in front of it. Evidently here, the household gods were worshiped.

One of the features of these types of houses are small shrines (aedicule) called Lares domestici (see Hurtado pp. 46, 56 below).   It is well–known that the Romans worshiped many “high” deities such as Jupiter/Zeus, Baccus/Dionysus, etc. . . .  but not as much attention is given to the worship of the “lesser” deities such as lares.

. . . Lares functioned as guardians over various settings.  The most common were domestic Lares of each household (Latin: Lares domestici), which represented spirits of family dead who had been elevated to a special kind of spiritual existence on account of their goodness and/or importance.  These spirits protected the family, and all members of the household were expected to reverence them daily in offerings and prayers at the Lararium, a small altar typically placed in the Roman house. . . . In comparison to the more well–known gods, the Lares . . . figured much more frequently in the day–to–day ritual life of people.

. . . . members of Roman households, the family and their slaves too, gathered daily to reverence the household Lares.  (Hurtado pp. 46–47).

Question: is this common practice of worshiping the Lares reflected in the New Testament?

One of the well–preserved Lararium at Pompeii—including the “household deities” that were worshiped here.

Because of the sudden destruction of Pompeii in August A.D. 79 when the volcano Vesuvius erupted a good number of Lararium have been preserved there.

Detail of the above Lararium at Pompeii.

From the New Testament, we realize that believers in Jesus included people from all social classes, ethnic backgrounds, occupations, males and females, etc.

The most significant feature of the Roman household (familia) was that its power was concentrated in the hands of the male head, the paterfamilias.  The members of the household were those persons over whom the paterfamilias had power.  . . .The Roman household normally was composed of husband, wife, unmarried children, slaves, freedmen, and clients . . . . (Jeffers p. 238)

Given that the worship at the Lararium occurred daily, and that all in the household were expected to participate, how would individual converts to Christianity deal with this?

If the paterfamilias—to whom all in the household owed their allegience—converted to Christianity, would he abandon the worship of the Lares?  If so, how would his non-Christian wife, sons, daughters, spouses, even slaves have reacted to this abandonment of such a well-entrenched custom?  Would he even be shunned by his “non–Christian clients” who had owed their allegiance to him?  Would the paterfamilias “force” (because of his status) his household to follow his new found faith?

What if the wife of the paterfamilias converted, but her husband did not?  Would she disrespect her husband and his ancestors by refusing to participate in this daily ritual?  What would be the consequences of such an action?  What about individual children who converted but now would not participate in this worship?

And what about the servants or slaves that were part of the household who worshiped only Jesus?  I would guess that they would be severely punished because of showing disrespect to the paterfamilias.

Another Lararium from Pompeii.  Notice the snake and altar below the shrine.

“The snake, associated with the land’s fertility and thus prosperity, approaches a low laden altar.” (Wikipedia “Lares”)

I am surprised that this “problem” does not seem to be addressed in the pages of the New Testament.


Hurtado, Larry W.  Destroyer of the gods — Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World.   Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2016.

Jeffers, James S.  The Greco–Roman World of the New Testament — Exploring the Background of Early Christianity.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

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Back Seat of the Plane — Aerial Views of Istanbul

On airline flights I can typically put up with any seat assignment for 1 to 4 hours.  However, when I found out that on our one hour flight from Istanbul to Denizli (Turkey) that my wife and I were assigned seats in the second row from the back of the plane (window/center), near the lavatory, I was less than happy.

But, as we settled in, I noticed that the sky was clear, the window was relatively clean, and that there was no wing to block my view of the ground!  “Heh Mary, hand me my camera!”  Now all I needed was for the pilot to take the “right” flight path out of Istanbul on our way to Denizli.  Well, he/she did!  And we flew just west, then north, and then east of the Bosporus—and I was on the “right” side of the plane to see/photograph everything!  My dreams had come true!!  Here are a few images that I took on that flight.

View looking south southeast over Istanbul.

In the upper right of the image is the Sea of Marmara. The landmass in the lower portion of the image is European Istanbul. The land mass in the upper left is Asian Istanbul. The Bosphorous/Bosporus Strait separates these two continents.

The meandering “river” in the lower center of the image is the “Golden Horn” (river) that “flows” into the Bosporus. There are four bridges over the Bosporus—faintly visible.

View looking south over part of Istanbul where the Golden Horn enters the Bosporus.

In the upper portion of the image is the Sea of Marmara. The water on the left (east) side of the image is the Bosporus Strait. The “Golden Horn” (river) “flows” from right to left in the center of the image—entering the Bosporus. Note the three bridges that span the Golden Horn.

The landmass in the image is European Istanbul.

To view additonal images Click Here.

The Temple of Aphrodite and the Upper Peirene Spring on the Acrocorinth at Corinth

The moral problems among the “saints” of the church of Corinth are well-known.  Writing of days prior to Paul, Strabo said that the Temple of Aphrodite owned one thousand temple–slaves and prostitutes!

Foundational Remains of the Temple of Aphrodite on the Summit of the Acrocorinth

Thus the reputation of Corinth was well–known.  It is not probable that interested persons would climb 1700 feet to the temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love) to visit a prostitute, but her temple was located there.

The “Fountain House” of the Upper Peirene Spring on the Summit of the Acrocorinth

Besides the several springs (Peirene Fountain, Glauke Fountain, Lerna Spring by the Asclepion) that were located near the site of Corinth itself, there actually was a powerful, not too frequently visited,  spring on the top of the Acrocorinth call the “Upper Peirene Spring.”  The basic remains visible in the image above date to the Hellenistic Period (third to first century BC).

For additional views of the remains of the Temple of Aphrodite Click Here.

For additional views of the Upper Peirene Spring Click Here.

The Divine Name — YHWH — at Mt. Gerizim

I have posted on my web site some images of the archaeological remains that have been excavated on Mount Gerizim—the Samaritan’s holy mountain.

Mount Gerizim on the left (south) and Mount Ebal on the right (north)
For a higher resolution version of this image Click Here

In addition to the images of the archaeological remains, I have posted three images of inscriptions, among many,  that were found on Mount Gerizim and that are now on display in the Good Samaritan(!) Inn Museum—on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

The Divine Name YHWH carved in stone — from the excavations at Mount Gerizim

One of these stone inscriptions actually contains the divine name Yhwh in Paleo-Hebrew script and might be of interest to some of you.

To view additional images of the remains on Mount Gerizim Click Here.

Only in Turkey: Food + Antiquities = Bliss!

Well, two of my favorite things to do are to eat and to visit antiquity sites.  We recently were on a “Tutku–Mark Wilson” tour visiting the Turkish city of Bodrum.  This is ancient Halicarnassus where the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was located.

The local Super Market that we stopped at.

Snacks and Ice Cream are on the way.  I can hardly wait!

Wait a minute!!  What is this in the back of the store???

Yup, a tomb from the 3rd century B.C.

This tomb had 6 burial chambers and although it was robbed in antiquity, some human bones, amphora, and other pots were found when it was excavated!

Really now, does it get any better than this?  Food + Antiquities = Bliss!

David vs. Goliath — The Valley of Elah

One of my favorite places to take students when in Israel is to the top of Tel Azekah.  From there, there is a wonderful view of the lowlands (aka Shephelah) and especially of the Valley of Elah.  From this vantage point one can envision the geographical setting of the battle between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

View from the Top of Tel Azekah. My interpretation of the geographical setting of the Battle between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

The Philistines, moving eastward from Ekron and Gath, camped at Ephes Dammim between Socoh and Azekah (17: 1). The Israelites, defending the approaches to the hill country, camped on the north side of the valley (vv. 2– 3), probably east of the Philistine camp.

The encounter between David and Goliath took place in the broad valley itself, from which David took five smooth stones for his sling. Emboldened by David’s example, Saul’s troops successfully attacked the Philistines. The latter at first fled northward, on the Shaaraim road in the valley east of Azekah, and then north of Azekah; they turned west and followed the valley to the security of their cities of Gath and Ekron (v. 52).

This battle was probably one of a number that occurred between the Israelites and the Philistines in the Shephelah. For example, in the Shephelah David defended the inhabitants of Keilah against the Philistines (23: 1– 13). Thus the account of David and Goliath not only provides geographical details concerning the Valley of Elah region but also illustrates the fact that the Shephelah served as a military buffer zone between the inhabitants of the coastal plain and those of the mountains to the east.

Valley of Elah during a January storm! It is normally dry!

For a description of the battle, see Rasmussen, Carl G. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible.   Zondervan, 2010, p. 34.

To view additional images of the area of the Valley of Elah (without obligation) Click Here.

Spring of Jezreel

On a recent trip to Israel I visited a site that I had viewed many times, but had not taken the time to visit.

The spring of Jezreel is situated in the large cluster of trees.

The Spring of Jezreel is located about 0.6 mi. northeast of the summit of biblical Zezreel.

This is a view of the pool and abandoned structure that was built during the days of the British Mandate (1922–1948). A channel directs water from the Spring of Jezreel into this pool. This powerful spring is located at the foot of Tel Jezreel (about 0.6 mi northeast of the summit of the tell).

According to the biblical text it was here that Saul mustered the Israelite troops in preparation for his fatefull battle with the Philistines.

“The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel.”

Soon afterward, Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-shua were killed on nearby Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:2).

Naboth’s vineyards may have also been in the vicinity (1 Kings 21:1).

View of the channel that leads from the Spring of Jezreel to the pool that was built during the days of the British Mandate (1922–1948). In this photo, the water is flowing toward the viewer.

For more images from Jezreel, Click Here.