Aizanoi (Turkey) — A Monumental Site — Visited by Paul?

Aizanoi (Aezani, modern Çavdarhisar) is a site that is located 170 mi. southwest of Ankara (as “the crow flies”).

Temple of Zeus at Aizanoi

One of the best-preserved temples of the ancient world is located there as are the impressive remains of a stadium, theater, bathhouse, meat market, etc.

View looking east inside of the huge subterranean cellar that runs under the whole temple.

Some have suggested that the female mother deity, Cybele, was worshiped here. Others suggest that this arched cellar was used for storage. In any case, it is well–preserved!

View looking north down the length of the stadium toward the theater. Note the raised area on the right and left of the image—the seating area of the stadium. The outside wall of the theater can be seen in the distance!

This arrangement of stadium plus theater combination is almost totally unique to Aizanoi—the only other combination known to this author is found at New Testament Jericho in Israel/Palestine (built by Herod the Great 37–4 B.C.).

Theater with the connecting Stadium beyond.

Aizanoi is a very large Roman site located on the banks of the Penkalas (today Kocaçay) river, a tributary to the Rhyndakos.

Dr. Mark Wilson states that “Paul probably passed through the Greco–Roman city of Aizanoi while passing through Mysa on his second journey to Troas (Acts 16:8)” Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor, p. 161.

For additional High Resolution image of Aizanoi Click Here.

Adada and Paul’s First Journey

AdadaAdada is a well–preserved Roman city located 40 mi. north of Perge on the road that led from Perge to Pisidian Antioch.  It is probable that Paul and Barnabas passed through the city as they traveled south, descending from Pisidian Antioch to Attalia (see below).

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This well preserved temple at Adada was dedicated to the Roman Emperors
Three temples dedicated to the Emperors have been found at Adada
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The city minted its own coins in the first century BC and it was very prosperous during the rules of the Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius (ca. AD 98–160).

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Remains of the Roman Forum — The massive “staircase” is more probably a seating area where the council of Adada could meet.
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The remains at Adada include a Forum, a theater, and temples to Roman Emperors!

AdadaMapTHYDr. Mark Wilson notes that there were two routes that connected the Pamphilian Plain (Perge and Attalia) with Pisidian Antioch.  He suggested that Paul and Barnabas took the western route, the via Sebastia, from Perge to Pisidian Antioch but followed the quicker, but steeper central route on their return journey south to Perga (Acts 14:25)—thus passing through Adada on their return journey.

Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey — a Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2010, p. 106.

To view 24 high resolution images of Adada, along with commentary, Click Here.

Eflatunpinar — Did Paul Stop Here Four (!) Times?

The Hittites are mentioned 61! times in the Hebrew Bible.  Eflatunpinar (map below) is a mysterious, out-of-the-way Hittite site that is located about 50 mi. [80 km.] due west of Konya (classical and biblical Iconium; Acts 13:51; 14; 16:2; 2 Tim 3:11).

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Hittite Monument — Spring — Pool

At Eflatunpinar (Eflaltun Pinar) there is a spring and a very well–preserved Hittite monument that dates to the second half of the thirteenth century B.C.—to the reign of the Hittite king Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1259–1229 B.C.)—biblically, about the time of the Israelite conquest of Canaan.

It is actually very possible that the Apostle Paul stopped at this wonderful spring twice as he traveled from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium and back on his first journey (Acts 13:5; 14:21), and as he probably traveled from Iconium to Pisidian Antioch on his second (Acts 16:4-6) and third journeys (Acts 18:22-23).

The monument is a “spring head” that feeds a pool that measures 110 ft. x 100 ft. (34 m. x 30 m.).  Eflatun Pinar means “lavender-colored spring.”

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Main Hittite Monument

The monument is composed of 19 large stone blocks that measures 23.3 x 23 ft. (7.1 x 7 m.).  This upper portion is composed of twelve figures.  The two central deities (not well-preserved) are probably the main god and goddess—the symbolism may be that of the gods “who carry the sky and connect it with the earth” (source).   These two deities support two two-winged sun disks and above them is a huge two–winged sun disk tops the monument.

On the right side two deities, one on top of the other, are clearly visible–as are their counterparts on the left (west) side of the monument.

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Five Mountain Gods

At the base of the monument are five mountain gods.  The central three are the best preserved and note how the central three have holes in them—just below their folded arms—through which water originally flowed.

To view the lower portions of these deities when they are not covered by water, Click Here.  Additional holes for the discharge of water are clearly visible as are their “skirts.”

To view additional images of Eflatunpinar Click Here.

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.

Tarsus — A Very Unusual Roman Building

Very few tour groups have a chance to visit Tarsus and if they do, they typically visit only the excavations in the center of town and the associated “Well of St. Paul“).  However, there is a very massive building that is hard to locate and is situated on the edges of residential and industrial neighborhoods.  It is called the “Donuktash” (Turkish for “frozen stones”).  The foundation seems to be composed of a hardened conglomerate of medium size pebbles.

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View looking north along the eastern wall of the Donuktash. The preserved portion of this foundation reaches a height of about 15 ft. [4.6 m.]. This foundation wall is 335 ft. [102 m.] long — about the length of a football field! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This mysterious and massive structure is apparently the foundation of a large, second century A.D., Roman Temple.   The exterior core of the temple remains, as do some significant interior foundations—for the marble and stone facing have been stripped away during the centuries.

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View looking south at the current interior space of the Donuktash. It is longer than a “football field!”  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The exterior walls are visible on the right (west) and left (east) sides of the image.  In the far center is a massive foundation upon which the central building (cella) of the temple probably stood.  Even though this picture was not taken from the extreme north end of the Donuktash, it does give some perspective to its size—335 ft. [102 m.] long. The whole structure awaits excavation.

The Donuktash may have been an Imperial Temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Commodus (A.D. 177–192).

To view additional images of the Donuktash Click Here.


When we visited the site the gate was locked (it always is) and it seemed impossible to find a way in.  I thought to myself that there was no way to keep out the local children, so I asked our guide to ask the neighbor “how do the kids get in?”  Well, the answer was, “there is a ladder around the back!”  So, we climbed the ladder to examine the interior!  (remember the walls are 15 ft. high!)

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Students checking out the “cella” of the building.

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Investigating the walls of the Donuktash.

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Exiting the Donuktash.

Athens: The Acropolis Museum Online

In my opinion, the most beautiful museum in Athens is The New Acropolis Museum” which is “world-class” not only in its design and presentation but also in its contents.  It contains over 4,250 objects that were found on or near the acropolis.  A good number of these are so famous that they appear in almost all western Art History books.

Looking down, from the top of the Acropolis, on to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens

Visitors to Athens have a limited time to spend in its museums.  How much of can you absorb in a museum such as this one in say a 2-hour visit?

Well, the Greeks have come to the rescue!  The New Acropolis Museum in Athens has launched a new sophisticated online platform featuring artifacts from its permanent collection as well as information about its temporary exhibitions, educational programs, and more.  This digital collection includes over 2,156 artifacts with extensive descriptions, photographs, bibliographies, etc.

On its home page, it features 60 “highlights!” — some of the most famous objects in the collection.  Included under each there are several clear photographs and authoritative descriptions of the object.

The “Calf-Bearer”—or Moscophors found on the acropolis. 5 ft. 5 in high.

Among them, for example, is the famous “Calf-Bearer” (image above while in the old museum).  It is a statue depicting someone (Rhombos?) bringing a lamb as a sacrifice to the goddess Athena—dated to 570 BC!  [maybe we should not think of many, somewhat similar statues from the Christian era as “Good Shepherd” statues?]  Click here to view and read the museum commentary on this object.

IMHO — there is much to learn from this website.  Enjoy!

Personal “New Year’s Resolution” — to avoid “indigestion,” I have bookmarked the museum website and plan on reading about one object each day until I get through the 60!


How did they move the precious objects from the top of the acropolis down to the new museum?  Using three Tower-Cranes, of course!

Two of the three Tower-Cranes used to move the precious artifacts from the top of the acropolis down to the New Acropolis Museum.  January 2009.

This is a view looking west-northwest at two of the three tower-cranes that were used to move objects from the Old Acropolis Museum to the New Acropolis Museum. The old museum was located on the summit of the acropolis in the area just behind where the white crane is located. The new museum is located off the lower left side of the image but is not visible in the photograph (see image above).

The white tower-crane fetched objects from the top of the acropolis, pivoted, and then they were transferred to the second, orange, tower-crane. The orange tower-crane, in the middle of the image, pivoted and transferred the objects to the third crane, not visible, which was off the left side of the image. The third tower-crane pivoted and the objects were deposited into the new museum. The distance covered was approximately 310 yards—using the three tower-cranes.

This picture was taken in January 2009. The whole process of transferring the objects took four months.

The Earliest Synagogue in Israel? Used by the Maccabees?

First of all — Happy Hanukkah!
A SYNAGOGUE USED BY THE MACCABEES?

The folk over at Bible History Daily have drawn attention to  an article “Modi’in: Where the Maccabees Lived Have excavations uncovered the hometown [synagogue?] of the Maccabees, heroes of Hanukkah’s Maccabean revolt?”  Just in time for Hanukkah!

I don’t believe that any tour groups stop at this site so I thought I would share two images of the site (Umm el–’Umdan; Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”).

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View looking west at the synagogue at Umm el–’Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”.

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The red “c’s” are column bases. Note the remains of the courtyard, entrance, and benches.

Excavations conducted in the past decade at Umm el-‘Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of Columns”) by authors Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn (recently deceased) revealed a previously unknown synagogue—featuring eight imposing columns—likely built during the reign of King Herod. But what about earlier? What was at Umm el-‘Umdan during the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt?

Directly beneath the Herodian synagogue lies a smaller synagogue constructed during the Hasmonean period, and beneath this was a structure securely dated to the end of the third or beginning of the second century B.C.E. According to the excavators, this structure must have been contemporaneous to the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt. While this Early Hellenistic building influenced the location and shape of the two synagogues built atop it in subsequent centuries, the excavators believe that there is not enough information at the time to conclude that the Early Hellenistic building was also a synagogue.

If the excavators are correct in their interpretation and dating of the above mentioned three structures, then structures two and three (earliest) might well be the earliest synagogue(s) discovered in Israel!   They seem to suggest that structure 2 is a synagogue.

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A more detailed view of Umm el–’Umdan.

For more evidence confirming Umm el-‘Umdan’s Jewish identity in antiquity as well as a discussion of the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew name Modi’in and the Arabic name Umm el-‘Umdan, see “Modi’in: Hometown of the Maccabees” by Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Happy Hanukkah!

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) additional images of the Church of Saint Nicholas Click Here.

Encountering the Holy Land is now available streaming on Smart TVs

I am pleased to announce that Zondervan Academic has now provided their MasterLectures on four new high resolution platforms: Apple TV, Roko, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV.

This series includes my 13 sessions Encountering the Holy Land: A Video Introduction to the History and Geography of the Bible.

To celebrate this, they are offering a 30-day free access code for roughly 2,500 videos of their MasterLectures—that includes my lectures.  To receive the access codes for 30 days of free access Click Here.

To view the introductory lecture, “Introduction to the Ancient Middle East,” Click Here.

 

Sinope — a Church of 1 Peter in Northern Turkey?

At the beginning of 1 Peter we read:

577_SinopePeter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance . . . .  —  1 Peter 1:1-2 (NRSV)

Bithynia, Paphlagonia, and Pontus were regions along the southern shore of the Black Sea that were merged into the Roman senatorial province of Bithyna et Pontus.  Jews from this region were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9) and on Paul’s Second Journey Paul, Silas, and Timothy “… attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:7).

From 1 Peter 1:1 we learn that Peter addressed Jewish believers in this province as he wrote his epistle and it is probable the Silvanus carried the letter to churches in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 5:4).

Sinope was a major city in this area and “. . . was a certain stop in Pontus for the messenger carrying Peter’s first letter” (Wilson p. 342).

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Tower and Wall Guarding the Entrance to the Sinope Peninsula
Click on Image to Enlarge

This tower and wall guarded the narrow entrance point into the peninsula.  The walls probably date back to the 4th century B.C. and were frequently refurbished.  They are 1.3 mi. (2 km.) long and over 80 ft. (25 m.) tall.  There are many towers and seven gates.

To view additional images of Sinope Click Here.

TNCSNCT03A modern statue of the Cynic philosopher Diogenes is located at the entrance to Sinope.  Diogenes was born in Sinope in 412 B.C. (or 404) and died in Corinth in 323 B.C. (the same year Alexander the Great died).

The barrel that he is standing on reminds one of the clay pot that he is reported to have lived in in the agora in Athens.  He is said to have gone about Athens in the daylight with a lamp in his hand looking for “an honest man.”  Because of his unusual behavior he was nicknamed the dog (note the pooch by his right foot)!  In Greek, the name Cynics is related to the Greek word for “dog.”

It is reported that when Alexander the Great said to him “Ask of me anything you like,” Diogenes replied “Stand aside, you’re in my light.”

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Two Sailing Ships on a Sarcophagus
These may be the type of boats that the Apostle Paul Sailed On
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At Sinope there is also a wonderful museum.  One of the highlights in the museum is a sarcophagus that has a sailing ship and its “dinghy” engraved in bas relief.  On the other hand, the small vessel, with a sail(!), may not be in tow (note its own billowing sail), but rather another sailboat that is being depicted as being in the distance—and thus is smaller than the nearer vessel.

The Apostle Paul, and companions, may have sailed on such vessels.  On the large ship note the steering oars at the stern, the billowing main sail, and what looks like a jib near the bow of the boat.  Even the guy-lines are visible in the image.

An inscription on the sarcophagus reads: “Cornelius Arrianus is lying here.  His age is 60.”

As usual(!) Mark Wilson provides an excellent summary of the history of Sinope in his Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor.  Istanbul: Yayinlari, 2010, pp. 341–345.