Where Was The Largest Altar in the Ancient World?

View looking southeast at the huge altar that was constructed by Hieron II in the third century B.C. at Syracuse, Sicily!  Click on images to Enlarge and/or Download.

This altar is 643 feet long and 75 feet wide!  Most of what is visible in the picture is carved out of “living rock.” There was a superstructure but most of the stones have been carted off and reused in other buildings in Syracuse. It had been covered with plaster. Many think it was dedicated to Zeus Eleutherios (Zeus the Liberator) and that at its dedication 450 bulls were sacrificed!  Hiero II was the ruler of Syracuse from 270 to 215 B.C.

View looking southeast at the huge altar that was constructed by Hieron II in the third century B.C.

Syracuse was a Greek and Roman city on the southern portion of the east coast of Sicily. Paul spent three days here when the ship that carried him from Malta to Puteoli docked here. (Acts 28:12).

Acts 28:11    After three months [on Malta] we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli.

This probably happened in the spring of A.D. 60.  This altar was 300 years old by the time that the Apostle Paul passed through Syracuse—as a prisoner—on his way to Rome.

Syracuse was founded in 734 B.C. and reached its zenith in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The Athenians laid siege to it (415–413 B.C.) but were seriously defeated and this defeat helped lead to the decline of the Golden Age of Athens. Syracuse, along with the whole of Sicily, was fought over by the Romans and the Carthaginians.

In 212 B.C. Rome conquered the city. It carried off many Greek captives and many pieces of Greek artwork to Rome. This influx led to the Romans turning their cultural “tastes” towards things Greek. Unfortunately, the great mathematician and inventor, Archimedes, was killed by a Roman soldier, in spite of the order that he was to be spared.

Additional images can be viewed Here.

 

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The Lighter Side: The “Trip” within “The Trip”

Okay, as an academic I have introduced many academic groups to the “Historical Geography” of the Holy Land.  These classes have included pre–trip readings and map markings, lectures, field trips, and exams—serious stuff.  On the other hand, I am well–aware that although most of the students (young and old) are “onboard” with what we are doing, sometimes they have different agendas (other than “academics,” like basking on the beach, meeting the local folk, etc.).

A few years ago a number of young (“A” students) produced the following—all the while really engaging with all the “academic” material.

In the video you may see some of the places that you visited on your trip(s) to Israel.  BTW – I am “featured” very briefly at 00:01 and 2:45  and check the gymnast at 1:20 on Mount Gerizim.

BTW1: this blog will self destruct in four days!
BTW2: I disavow all knowledge with regard to the filming or production of this video.

 

Have you ever seen a Human Sacrifice?

On our trips Following in the Footsteps of Paul on one of the days, we visit Alexandrian Troas—its agora, harbor, and one of the quarries.  After lunch, we visit Troy, which is our last antiquity site we visit in Turkey, before crossing into Greece on the next day.

This year at Troy, the new museum was finally open.

The entrance to the New Museum near Troy.

The museum was opened in October 2018.  In the museum displays include sculpture, sarcophagus, inscription, altar, milestone, ax and cutting tools, terracotta ceramics, metal pots, golds, guns, coins, bone objects and tools, glass bracelets, ornaments, figurines, glass and terracotta scent bottles, etc.

Some of the precious objects from Troy that were previously on display in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara have been returned to Troy.

The interior of the Museum at Troy. Bookstore and coffee shop.

Objects from Assos, Alexandria Troas, the Smintheion, etc. are also on display.  Below is a sample of what the displays look like.

The Polyxena Sarcophagus.

This sarcophagus was discovered in 1994.  It is dated to 500-490 B.C.  On one of the long sides the sacrifice of Polyxena, the younger daughter of the Trojan King Priam and Queen Hecuba is depicted.

The sacrifice of Polyxena, the younger daughter of the Trojan King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Click on image to enlarge and/or download.

Note the detail on how the human is being carried and the positioning of the knife as it is inserted into the throat.  This is not the “mere” execution of a prisoner, but a purposeful sacrifice of a beloved child in order to propitiate a deity!

Compare, on the Greek side of the Trojan war the fresco from Pompeii.


Compare from the Bible:

1Kings 16:34  In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun.

2Kings 3:27 Then he [King of Moab] took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.

A New Discovery at Perga — Turkey

Perga is mentioned twice in the New Testament in connection with Paul’s First Missionary Journey.  I like to visit the site for many additional reasons for it is a place where one can get a real feel for what a large Greco-Roman city was like—without all of the crowds, think of the crowds typically visiting Ephesus.

One of the famous people of Perga was Plancia Magna, who lived after the days of Paul and who was a great benefactress of the city.  The guide books said that her tomb was located just south of the south city wall.  During my visits to the city, I had never really spotted anything that looked like her tomb.

When we visited the site in May of 2019, new excavations were underway in that area and the foundation of the Tomb of Plancia Magna was on full display!

View looking northeast at the front of the Tomb of Plancia Magna.

Note the finely chiseled four-tiered base (crepidoma) that the “tomb” stands on.   On top of this, between the two projecting walls (antae) are three additional stairs that lead up to where the tomb itself stood.  The “tomb” almost looks like a small temple.  It stands to the south of the southern gate complex of Perga.

Plancia Magna was the daughter of the proconsul of Bithynia. She dedicated her life and her wealth to the beautification of the city [of Perge], undertaking large remodeling projects during Hadrian’s reign [A.D. 117-138]. She was “elevated to the rank of tutelary divinity of the city.”

View looking southwest at the front of the Tomb of Plancia Magna.

Note the four-tiered base (crepidoma) that the “tomb” stands on.   On top of this, the well-chiseled base of the tomb stands upon.  The “tomb” almost looks like a small temple.  It stands to the south of the southern gate complex of Perga.

I am not certain why there is still “dirt” on one of the crepidoma.  The rough stones on the top of the platform were probably covered with marble—that has been since stripped off.

View of a statue of Plancia Magna in marble that was found at Perge. It is 6.6 ft. tall.

`Plancia Magna was the daughter of the proconsul of Bithynia. She dedicated her life and her wealth to the beautification of the city [of Perge], undertaking large remodeling projects during Hadrian’s reign [A.D. 117-138]. She was “elevated to the rank of tutelary divinity of the city.”

Note that she is wearing TWO garments.  Below her knees and partially covering her feet, the vertical folds of her inner chiton are visible.  The chiton was the most common Greek/Roman garments.  The outer garment, that is wrapped around her head, shoulders, and arms, and that hangs down to her knees, is a himation. On the top of her head are the remains of a priestly diadem – indicating that she functioned as a priestess of the imperial cult!


Perga is located 8 mi. [13 km.] north of the Mediterranean coast of Turkey — about 10.6 mi. [17 km.] northeast of Antalya. It is situated on the large fertile plain of Pamphylia just west of the Cestrus river (modern Aksu river). In New Testament times ships were able to sail up the Cestrus to a point near Perge.

On Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark sailed 175 mi. [280 km.] from Paphos on Cyprus to Perge. Here John Mark left the “team” while Paul and Barnabas walked 155 miles [246 km.] inland through the Taurus mountains to Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13–14). After having completed their work in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, Paul and Barnabas returned to Perge, where they preached (14:25), before departing from nearby Attalia (Antalya) for Antioch on the Orontes.

God Fearers in the Synagogue and Early Church — Evidence from Miletus

MiletusMap3In the New Testament the book of Acts 13-28 describes the spread of Christianity primarily through the efforts of Paul and his companions.  As they traveled throughout Asia Minor and Greece some Jews and many Gentiles adopted the new faith.  Some of these Gentiles where already interested in the God of the Jews and involved in synagogue worship.  This group is mentioned several times in the book of Acts (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

Clear evidence for the presence of a Jewish population living at Miletus, which Paul stopped at on the return leg of his Third Journey (Acts 20:15ff), is evidenced by an inscription that is located on the fifth row of seats on the southeast side of the large theater at Miletus (see below).

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Greek Theater Inscription
τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον”the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers” or
“the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers”
Click on image to enlarge/download

τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον

This inscription seems to mark “reserved seating” for Jews and possibly related “God–worshipers.” There are other “reserved seat” markings in this, and other, theaters.  As it stands the inscription reads “the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers.”

But some have suggested that whom ever wrote the inscription may have inverted the “τῶν καὶ.” If this is the case, then the inscription could refer to two groups of people, Jews and Gentile God–worshipers (= “the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers”). Compare the same categories found in the book of Acts, although not quite the same terminology (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

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The Theater at Miletus
The “God-Fearer” inscription is located where the two people are sitting near the center of the image
Click on image to enlarge and/or download

To View More Images of Miletus Click Here.

Thyatira, One of the Seven Churches of Revelation — An Upgrade!

When Christian travelers visit Turkey they often like to visit the “seven churches” mentioned in Revelation 1–3.  But because of logistical (travel) difficulties, oftentimes Thyatira is omitted.

The archaeological part of Thyatira from above.

To be frank, up until recently, there has not been too much to see in Thyatira.  The major remains are in downtown Akhisar and were not very impressive.

Columns and stone fragments scattered about in the archaeological park of Thyatira.

The remains have consisted of a few columns and remnants of arches scattered in the fenced-off area in Akhisar.

In May of 2019, we were pleasantly surprised upon arriving (BTW we always visit ALL seven churches) at Thyatira that a major upgrade was underway.  It was a “fun” moment for we were able to witness the reconstruction of parts of the monumental arches of the ancient city—something I had not seen before.

The reconstruction of the arches at the archaeological site of Thyatira in modern Akhisar.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The metal framework supporting the arch is called “centering.” This type of framework was also used in ancient times—only constructed of wood—to build arches. In ancient times, arches were not of course constructed at ground level but on tops of columns. Thus the centering was much more elaborate and wooden scaffolding was used for the workmen to stand on. In ancient times they also used cranes (see below) that were powered by people, with ropes and pulleys!

Lowering the “keystone” into place at the reconstruction of the arches at the archaeological site of Thyatira in modern Akhisar.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download

The lowering of a modern block into place to complete the reconstruction of the arches at the site of Thyatira.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download

Note how much ancient material has been used—supplemented by some modern stonework. This reconstruction technique, using mainly ancient remains, is called anastylosis.  BTW, the man in the green hat, with his arms raised, is in charge of the reconstruction project.  He is actually that one who is also in charge of all the reconstruction of the site of Laodicea!

Thyatira is mentioned in Revelation 1:11 and 2:18–19.    It was of course, the home of Lydia—the seller of purple dye that was converted at Philippi (Acts 16:14).  For additional pictures of Thyatira click here.

 


A 1:10 scale model of the type of crane used in Greco–Roman building projects. On display at the Parthenon exhibit in Nashville, TN (USA).  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download

The original crane was 90 feet high with a base 25 ft. side and 35 ft. long.  It was placed on rails and rollers which made it moveable.  It was mainly made up of cypress, oak, ash, and beech.  The only metal parts were the side pieces of the pulleys.  It would have taken 12-14 men to operate the crane to move a block into place.  Ten men were needed just to crank the take-up reel.  To prevent the crane from tipping over while a block was being lifted, two rejected column drums were stacked on the rear of the base. (adapted from the display description)

Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta — Final Part

Acts 27:29 And fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak.

As noted previously, the captain, sensing that the ship was approaching land, cast off four “storm anchors” to secure the ship.  Mark Gatt notes, logically, that the ship did not spend the night directly above where the anchors had been cast into the sea (= Ancient Anchors + Artifact below).  He notes that “good seamanship shows us that for the safest anchoring, the length of the anchor rope has to be ten times as long as the depth of the sea.  A longer rope secures better anchorage and allows the ship to better ride the waves in a storm” (p. 104).

This being the case, it seems to me that the ship spent the night riding out the storm at the entrance to Salina Bay, not too far from Qawra Point—see on the map below “Night Anchorage in Storm?” and the following picture.

Acts 27:39 “And when day came, . . .”

The following picture is of the rocky promontory called “Qawra Point.” This may have been the view, in the overcast dim of the dawn while the storm was still raging, that the 276 people on Paul’s ship would have seen.  If the storm anchors would have given way—the ship probably would have crashed into Qawra Point!

View looking west at Qawra Point (see map) that is located on the northern tip of the Qawra Peninsula. To the right of center is squat square tower is visible. This is called “Qawra Tower.”

The Qawra Peninsula forms the northwestern shore of Salina Bay. the Salina Bay is off the left (southwest) edge of this photo. The Qawra Peninsula/Point is what Mark Gatt believes to be the place where the “two seas met,” near which was the reef on which Paul’s ship eventually ran aground (Acts 27:41).

Acts 27:39 And when day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a certain bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could.

Salina Bay, with shallow reefs and some sandy beaches, fits the above description very well.

View looking south-southwest into Salina Bay.

The photo above was taken near where the “Night Anchorage In Storm” is marked on the map above.   This may be the spot where they cut the anchors loose and attempted to head straight into Salina Bay. (see text below)

40 And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders, and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. 41 But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. (NASB)

Mark Gatt believes that Paul’s ship ran aground on a sand reef  [now just below the surface] that is in the center of  Salina Bay—and broke apart there (Acts 27:41; text and picture above).  It was from there that the 276 people made their way to safety on the island of Malta from the shipwreck on the reef in Salina Bay.

For a complete discussion of the shipwreck of Paul see Mark GattPaulus The Shipwreck 60 A.D.  Second edition, 2017.  Malta: Allied Publications.

For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”