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

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“Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download (free).  The letters were originally filled with metal — see the image below.

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:

ERASTVS PRO AEDILIT E
S P STRAVIT

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

The image below is an example of an ancient inscription filled with metal — from the via Appia in the Italian city of Terracina.

An ancient inscription filled with metal (as the Erastus inscription originally was) on the via Appia in the Italian city of Terracina.


For an extensive discussion of the Erastus 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 for purchase Click Here.

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

A Fortress on Patmos

Although many think that Patmos was a barren Alcatraz-like island where John was exiled, this is not true (see Franz below).

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View looking west into the modern harbor of Patmos. The “mountain/hill” in the background is the Citadel of Patmos that is called the Kastelli. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

On the central portion of Patmos, the “Kastelli” (acropolis) towers over the main harbor at an altitude of 1,550 ft. [472 m.].

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View looking south at the west gate on the summit of Kastelli (the acropolis) of Patmos. Note the well-preserved exterior staircase.

The woman in the image is actually standing in the entrance–way.  The original line of fortifications is from the Hellenistic Period (third century B.C.), although this gate may have been rebuilt in more recent times.

fortification-towerView looking southeast at six courses of stone of one of the towers on the north slope of the acropolis of Patmos that is called the “Kastelli” (acropolis).  These fortifications date to the Hellenistic Period—that is about the third century B.C.  Compare the style of the well–preserved Hellenistic fortifications found at Priene and Assos—both in Turkey.

To view additional images of the Acropolis/Kastelli on Patmos Click Here.

For a helpful article describing the Patmos that John was exiled to, see Gordon Franz, “The King and I (Part 2).” Bible and Spade 12 (2000): 115–23.  It is also available on Gordon Franz’s web site Life and Land but without graphics.

Nazareth: Perfect Crusader Capitals — Scenes from the Gospels and Acts

One of the places in Nazareth that is rarely visited is the Archaeology Museum of Nazareth.  It is actually located below the plaza on to which visitors to the Church of the Annunciation exit!  Of the displays, pride of place must go to the five capitals of the crusade era, unearthed by Father Viaud at the beginning of the 1800s, in a grotto dug to the north of the crusade Basilica, close to the grotto of worship.

View of the only rectangular capital called the “Fides–Ecclesia.” Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

The central capital shows a scene that has been open to several interpretations and represents a crowned woman holding a cross, while she travels to the left accompanied by a barefoot man among figures of the devil.
Some academics see the scene as the Byzantine theme of the liberation of Adam through the decent of Christ to the underworld. On the other hand, others identify the crowned woman with the Church Mother, holding the hand of an apostle, helping him to stand up to temptations, represented by the demons armed with bows and ready to shoot their arrows.

The capitals are made of high quality “sultan” stone.  The background surface is rough while the figures are very smooth.  The five, apparently unused, capitals from the Crusader Period depict episodes from the canonical apostles and from apocryphal writings regarding the life of the apostles.

View of one of the four octagonal capitals called the “Capital of Saint Peter.”

This capital represents two images of scenes from the life of the apostle Peter, taken from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
The three arches on the right in all likelihood represents the episode of the apparition of Jesus to the apostles, after the resurrection, at the lake of Tiberias. Peter, throwing himself from the boat to reach the shore, holds his hand out to Jesus, who is calling him. Below the three left arches there is a scene of the resurrection of the disciple Tabitha, in the city of Jaffa, by the hand of Peter, as told in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostle lifts the disciple from her deathbed, while three witnesses observe the prodigious miracle.

View of one of the four octagonal capitals called the “Capital of Saint Thomas.”

This capital is one of the four octagonal capitals. Below six arches, a unique scene is depicted, narrating the episode of the meeting between Saint Thomas and Jesus Christ, after the resurrection.
Thomas, absent at the time of the first apparition, is put to the test by Jesus who is showing the apostle the wound on his ribs, which Thomas had previously not believed in when hearing the take from the other apostles.
Christ is recognizable by the halo and the cross. The other saints present at the scene are the apostles: among these can be noted Peter, to the right of Christ and the brothers James and John in the arch on the left [not visible in image].

 


The Crusader Period in the Holy Land is from 1099 until 1291.  However, after the battle of the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187 the rule of the Crusaders was doomed.

Samothrace — Seldom Visited by Tourists, BUT Visited by Paul (Acts 16:11)

Samothrace is a Greek Island that lies 25 mi. south of the Greek mainland.  This mountainous island was the home of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods where famous religious ceremonies took place.

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The sacred hall called the Hieron where the mysterious sacred rites took place Click On Image to Enlarge/Download

On Paul’s Second Journey he traveled by ship from Troas (in Asia Minor) to Neapolis (in Europe).  Acts 16:11 notes that the trip took two days

From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis.

It is clear that the ship overnighted at Samothrace before continuing on to Neapolis—the port city of Philippi.

There is no indication that Paul ever stepped off the ship, but if he did (which I think is probable), he may have visited the “Sanctuary of the Great Gods.”  Since their rituals were practiced at night, he may have even witnessed—from afar—some of the rites.

Samothrace

It was here that the famous “Winged Victory/Nike of Samothrace” was discovered—the original is now on display in the Louvre in Paris.

The original of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre.

On his third journey, Paul made the same trip, in the reverse direction, in 5 days (Acts 20:6)—evidently, the winds were not as favorable on that trip (in the spring of the year).

To view the Original “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” Click Here.

To view 18 images, with commentary, of Samothrace Click Here.

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Foundations of a mysterious Cult Building on Samothrace

Unique Tombs from 2200–2000 BC

Dhahr Mirzbaneh is a site located about 16 mi. northeast of Jerusalem. The hillsides in the area are covered with tombs from the Middle Bronze I Age (2200-2000 B.C.).

Cut Away of MB I Tombs During Construction of the “Alon Road”

View looking northwest. When the “Alon Road” was being constructed in the 1970’s, the construction workers cut through the hillside of Dhahr Mirzbaneh exposing a side, “cut-away,” view of a number of Middle Bronze I (2200-2000 B.C.) tombs.  Some scholars place the migration of Abram from Ur to the Land of Canaan during this period.

A perfect “cut-away” view of such a tomb is visible on the left side of the image. The shaded semi-circular area is a tomb chamber, and to its left the “cut-away” outline of a vertical shaft (partially filled with rubble) is visible.

On the right side of the image more exposed tomb chambers are visible.

Detail of MB I (2200–2000 BC) Tomb

View of a MB I (2200-2000 B.C.) tomb which was sliced in half by road building activity.

A typical MB I tomb consisted of a vertical shaft, 4 to 9 ft. [1.2 to 3 m.] deep, cut into the rock. At the bottom of the shaft one or more chambers radiated from it. Usually only one person was placed in each chamber.

To the left of the leg of the man, the shaded arched outline of a burial chamber is clearly visible – it had an arched top and a flat horizontal floor. To the left of the chamber, partly shaded, is the outline of the vertical shaft, which led down from the surface to the burial chamber. This shaft is partly filled with rubble.

To view more images of Dhahr Mirzbaneh, and a map, Click Here.

July 4 in USA — Lycian League — A Model for the Founding 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.

Jews, Proselytes, and God-Fearers at Aphrodisias

In the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts and in the ministry of the Apostle of Paul, Jews, Proselytes, and God-fearers are mentioned (see for example Acts 2:11; 6:5; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).  Because of Paul’s activities in Asia Minor (= modern Turkey), Christian scholarship has been interested in finding evidence of these groups in that area.  Unfortunately, there is little archaeological indication of first-century Judaism in the region.  However, synagogues from the Late Roman Period have been found at sites such as Sardis, Priene, Andriace, etc.  And later inscriptions mentioning “God-fearers” have been discovered at Miletus and Sardis.

At Aphrodisias a unique find related to the Jewish presence in the city was discovered—that mentions all three categories noted above.  It is a 9 ft. tall marble block that was found during the construction of the Aphrodisias Museum.

This 9 ft. tall marble block lists over 120 donors to a synagogue. Click on this and following images to Enlarge and/or Download—and to read the Greek Inscription.

The marble block is engraved on two sides—both visible in the photo.  It is a list of over 120 donors to a synagogue and is composed of three categories of names—all males: Jews, recent converts to Judaism (proselytes), and unconverted members of the synagogue community (“godfearers;” theosebeis).  It evidently dates to ca. AD 350–500) and probably served as a doorpost in a synagogue.  (Please see below for sources used in this blog post)

There are about 121 names on this front side of the marble block.

This main list is divided into two sections—see the blank space between the upper and lower portions of the list. First come men who have distinctly Biblical names or names favored by Jews, such as Benjamin, Judas, Joseph, Jacob, Samuel, Zachary, and names such as Amantios (loving), Eusabatios (the good Sabbath).

The second portion of the list is headed with the word theosebeis (“god fearers” ΘΕΟΣΕΒΙΣ ) who are gentiles who have a strong chosen affiliation with Judaism but who are not themselves Jews. They have traditional Greeκ-Roman names such as Alexandros or Eutychos.

Several local councilors head the list of god fearers, and ten of the Jews and seventeen of the God-fearers list their professions. They are all tradesmen who range from food-providers to painters to leather-workers, to sculptors and builders. The pillar probably stood outside the local synagogue and is a striking testimony to the proud place of the Jewish community in the city, to continuing fluid religious interaction in the fourth century AD, and especially to the high valuation of craft professions among this group of like-minded monotheists. (from the description in the Aphrodisias’ Museum)

This is a view of the “side” of the inscribed pillar.

This side also lists the names of members of the Jewish community and includes “14 men with predominantly Hebrew names (including three proselytes) and two Godfearers.” (Chaniotis, p. 40)

Compare the quality of this side inscription with that on the front of it. Chaniotis argues the ‘these two distinct carving styles suggest that the inscription on the front face was carved first, when the stone was still lying flat on the ground and was fully accessible to the engraver, while the text on this side face was carved at a later date—once the pillar had already been installed in the synagogue and the engraving had to be completed from atop a ladder.’ (p. 40)

For detailed pictures of this Inscription see Here.


Chaniotis, Angelos. “Godfearers in the City of Love.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36, no. 3 (May/June 2010): 32–44, 77.

Fairchild, Mark R. Christian Origins in Ephesus & Asia Minor. Istanbul: Arkeoege, 2015.

Aphrodisias: The Theater and Its Artifacts

Like any respectable Greco-Roman City, Aphrodisias had a theater.  It is very well preserved because the “modern” village of Geyre was built on the theater and the acropolis and preserved what was underneath the village.  Geyre was moved to a different location around 1960 and some 120 ft. of debris under it was excavated away to reveal the theater.

View looking southeast at the interior of the theater at Aphrodisias, and beyond that, in the upper left of the image the Theater Agora.

In the theater, note that the seating area is slightly larger than a perfect semicircle.  This was characteristic of Greek, as opposed to Roman, theaters.  The brown semicircle is where the orchestra was located.  Note the high wall ringing it.  The orchestra was remodeled during the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180) and turned into a venue for animal and gladiatorial contests.  Left of the center of the image the remains of the stage area and behind it, the first of the three levels of the skene are visible—with the Doric columns.

Originally the theater could hold 10,000 people.  The lower portion of the cavea is preserved.  Note the staircases that the divide the cavea into sections (cunei).

The theater was originally built by Ioulos Zoilos, a slave that was freed by Octavian who became a benefactor of the city— in the first century BC.  An inscription on the stage wall describes this.

Although it is well-known that theaters were filled with statues, at Aphrodisias some well-preserved statues were found in the theater.  Some samples follow:

This is a larger than “life-size” statue of a marble Muse holding a theatrical mask.

Muses were thought of as inspirational goddesses of poetry, lyric songs, and myths—a fitting piece to be installed in the theater of Aphrodisias.

This is a statue of one of the leading citizens of Aphrodisias.

Leading citizens were always on the alert to promote their, and their family’s, status—so what better place than the frequently-visited theater to remind the people of the town of your beneficence!   The statue dates to the second century A.D.

This statue is of a “life-size” Diadumenos (diadem-bearer).  It is a copy of an original bronze statue by Polyclitus in the 5th century BC.

The theme is that of an athlete who is tying the ribbon on his head that marks the winner of athletic contests (a diadem).  The figure is contrapposto with his weight on his right leg and the left leg slightly flexed.  His head is slightly inclined to his right in a contemplative mood.  This marble statue of a young athlete was found in the theater of Aphrodisias and dates to around AD 200.  Some original color survives in his eyes and hair.

A photograph of a large statue of Nike, the goddess of victory that was found by the skene in the theater of Aphrodisias.

And of course, all of the theaters would have been adorned with statues of gods and goddesses.  This Nike dates to the late first century BC and is one of the earliest marble statues produced at Aphrodisias.


So now we can begin to visualize how the one theater mentioned in the New Testament might have been “decorated.”

Aphrodisias — City of Love and City of Marble

Aphrodisias — One of the most beautiful antiquity sites in Turkey.

The Monumental Gate (tetrapylon) at Aphrodisias. Click on images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Many groups that have visited Turkey have visited Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Revleation (chaps. 1-3).  While in the area they visit nearby Hierapolis and sometimes unexcavated Colossae.  However, because of time constraints, rarely is Aphrodisias visited.

Aphrodisias is an extensively excavated and beautifully restored Greco-Roman city that is located about 25 miles west southwest of Laodicea/Denizli in Turkey.  It was named after its patron deity—Aphrodite (= Venus, the goddess of love).  Because of its wonderful marble quarries, it was a center of sculpture carving for the Roman Empire.  Because of these things, it is sometimes called “the city of Love” and/or “the city of Marble.”  It was excavated in 1904-1905 and continuously from 1962 until the present.  The main excavator, Kenan Erim died and is buried at the site.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.   Over the next few posts, I would like to share with you some of the wonders of this site, as well as some insights that we can gain from it.

First of all, the city of Aphrodite must have a temple to the goddess of love—Aphrodite!

The Tetrapylon was a monumental gateway to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite built ca. AD 200.  This gateway led from a main north-south street into a large forecourt in front of the Temple.  Its decoration has a richness typical of the second century AD.  A complete scientific reconstruction (anastylosis) of the monument was completed in 1991.  It was made possible by the extraordinary preservation of the structure — 85% of its original marble blocks survive.

View looking northwest at the Monumental Gateway ( = tetrapylon) that was the main entrance into the Temple of Aphrodite Complex from the east.

The above image is a view of the exterior of the Tetrapylon.  The stone pavement in the foreground was the main north-south street that ran in front of the gate.  On the left, behind the gateway, where the person is standing, was the forecourt of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite.  Note the variety of columns on plinths: plain columns, spiral columns, and fluted columns.

The Temple of Aphrodite was the main temple of Aphrodisias and was begun in the late first century BC.  Zoilos, a leading citizen of Aphrodisias who also sponsored the construction of the Agora and Theater, paid for the initial construction.  In the second century AD, the temple was enclosed in an elaborate colonnaded court, framed by a two-storied columnar façade on the east, and by porticos on the north, west, and south.

View looking north northwest at the south side of a large Byzantine Church that was built over the former temple of Aphrodite.

The church was built around AD 500.  The church was constructed by reusing many materials from the temple of Aphrodite.  All the columns that are visible are from their position in the church.  In the lower-left foreground, the stubs of columns are from the portico that surrounded the church.  The church remained in use until the Seljuk conquest of the region around Aphrodisias in about AD 1200.

This larger-than-life statue of Aphrodite was found in the Bouleuterion (Council House).  It dates to the second century AD.

The head of Aphrodite was veiled and she wears a heavy casing (ependytes) on which are, from top to bottom, the Three Graces, the Moon and the Sun, Aphrodite on a sea-goat, and Eros figures sacrificing at an incense altar.

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and fertility (= Roman Venus). The original Aphrodite was done by Praxiteles for the city of Knidos in the fourth century B.C.  A much more common presentation of the deity is illustrated below.

Statue of Aphrodite with an inscribed shield.

This statue of Aphrodite is from Perga and is made of marble and is about 6.4 ft. high fand dates to the second century A.D. If you click the “Download” button the Greek inscription on the shield is clearly visible.

This “type” of Aphrodite is also found at Aphrodisias as the example from the Sculptor’s Workshop below shows.

This is an unfinished statue in marble of a naked Aphrodite seated on a rock.

This unfinished piece dates to the second or third century AD.

Previously, I have written briefly about the significance of the Temple of Aphrodite at Corinth in relationship to the Corinth that Paul visited—see Here.

For additional images of the Temple of Aphrodite and the Byzantine Church at Aphrodisias see Here. 

Tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene — Now Open . . . but

There is a tomb complex north of the Old City of Jerusalem that is variously called the Tomb of the Kings or the Tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene.  It is owned by the French Government and for many years it has been closed to visitors.  It is now “open,” but visiting times area very restrictive and the interior of the tomb itself is not “open.”  Because of this, I thought I would share a few images of the complex from the 1970’s—when it was more available to the pubic—including the interior.

This is a view looking down into the courtyard of the Tomb of the Kings. Click on image to enlarge and/or download.

Three steps lead up to the monumental entrance of the tomb that is partially preserved. On the top of the tomb entrance, there were originally three pyramids—none of which are preserved.  The courtyard measures 90 x 82 ft. and is carved out of the solid rock. It is about 30 feet deep.

This is the 30-foot wide 23-step staircase that leads down to the courtyard of the Tomb of the Kings. It was carved out of the solid rock.

View inside the Courtyard of the Tomb of the Kings looking southwest.

On the right side of the image, three steps lead up to the monumental entrance of the tomb that is partially preserved. On the top of the tomb entrance, there were originally three pyramids—none of which are preserved.  On the left (south) side note the solid rock wall that separates the Courtyard from the Staircase. The “door” opening on the far left leads to the staircase.

A detail of the small square entrance to the multilevel burial chambers of the Tomb of Queen Helena.

Note especially, the slightly broken rolling stone that was used to cover the entrance to the tomb. Rolling stone tombs are very rare in Israel.  There is a tradition that this tomb would open automatically on a certain day of the year, but this seems very far fetched!  BTW — You have to get down on your hands and knees to enter the tomb at this point—although once in, it is possible to stand erect in some chambers.

A detail of an arched burial bench (arcosolium) found in the chambers of the Tomb of Queen Helena.

This type of burial, plus niches into which bodies were inserted are found in this tomb.  One of the sarcophagi found in the tomb is now in the Louvre in Paris.A detail of the very small interior staircase inside of the Tomb of Queen Helena that leads from one level of the tomb to another.

A detail of the very small interior staircase inside of the Tomb of Queen Helena that leads from one level of the tomb to another.

A detail of the Architrave above the entrance to the Tomb of Helena, Queen of Adiabene.

From top to bottom note: the carved upper portion, the circular wreaths surrounded by Acanthus Leaves and below that, the not-too-well preserved triglyphs and metopes.  Originally, two columns would have supported this Architrave.


For more on the “Opening” of the Tomb, see: “Tomb of Kings Now Open!” in Bible History Daily — Biblical Archaeology Society (June 1, 2020)