Category Archives: Archaeology

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 (see previous post) and the associated “Well of St. Paul“).  However, there is a very 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 to 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 to the kids get in?”  Well, the answer was, “there is a ladder around the back!”  So, we climbed the latter 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.

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Paul on the Road to Assos (Asia Minor/Turkey)

Please don’t miss the important discussion in the comments to this post.

Towards the end of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey on his way to Jerusalem Paul stopped for about at week at (Alexandria) Troas (Acts 20:5-12; map below).  From there he walked by foot from Troas to Assos while his seven companions traveled by sea to Assos (Acts 20:13–14).

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A portion of the well-preserved Roman Road that leads, 31 mi., from Troas to Assos — See image below for instructive details
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

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Paul probably walked south from Troas to the Smintheion area and then turned east to Assos — the 31 mi. journey took over 2 days to complete
Enhanced map from the Pelagios Map Project — See Reference Below

The distance from Troas to Assos, “as the crow flies,” is about 21 miles while the Roman Road south out of Troas through the Smintheion areaa and then east to Assos covers a distance of about 31 mi.  Thus the walk must have taken him at least two days.

The Bible does not say why Paul chose to walk instead of taking the ship but Dr. Mark Wilson suggests that Paul may have received a prophetic word at Troas that imprisonment would await him in Jerusalem (compare Paul’s message at Miletus to the elders from the Ephesian church; Acts 20:22-23).  Wilson suggests that he may have been reflecting on the impact of this in light of his recent successes:

  • Three productive years at Ephesus and the spread of the gospel throughout the province of Asia
  • Recent resolution of the conflicts at Corinth
  • Successful fund-raising for the relief of the Jerusalem Church

Wilson goes on to compare the reflective agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42) to Paul’s solitary reflective walk from Troas to Assos:

“So somewhere on the road between the harbor  at Troas . . . and the city gate at Assos Paul apparently accepted his personal cup of suffering.”
(Wilson, Biblical Turkey, p. 360)

References

Map from Pelagius Map Project (free).  [This is the most accurate map of Turkey during the Classical Period based upon the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Classical World; $376]

“In-Site — Paul’s Walk to Assos,” p. 360 in Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor.  This 398-page book is filled with Wilson’s wonderful descriptions and insights on numerous biblical and extra biblical sites in Turkey.

For additional high-resolution images of Assos click Here and Here.

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!

Baram — The Synagogue

BaramAlmost all travelers to Israel will visit the justly famous synagogue at Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee—and some will even visit the one at nearby Chorazin.  However, the best preserved of the “Galilean Type” synagogues is the one located at the not-too-frequently visited site of Baram.  It is located in Upper Galilee, about 1.2 mi. [2 km.] south of the Israeli Lebanese border.

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View looking northeast at the southern façade of the synagogue at Baram
This southern wall is still intact—in contrast to the rebuilt walls of the synagogues at Capernaum and Chroazin
Click on Image to Enlarge

Note the light color of the building.  The darker grey upper portion was exposed to the elements over the years while the lighter lower portion was buried—until excavated.

There were eight columns that supported the roof of the porch—the one on the right (east) side is still standing!  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.  Stylistically, this synagogue is very similar to the more well–known ones at Capernaum and Chorazin.

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View looking southeast at the interior of the synagogue
Click on Image to Enlarge

Like the synagogues at Capernaum and Chorazin, the one at Baram has a central nave, two side aisles, and a back aisle.  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.   The floor of this synagogue was paved with limestone slabs (not mosaics).  There are indications that there were benches along the two side walls.

The dating of these “Galilean” synagogues is much debated with dates ranging from the third century A.D. (unlikely) to the six century (more probable).

To view additional images of the Baram Synagogue Click Here.

On Monday I will comment on the “modern” history of Baram—Kfar Bir’im.

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.

The “Farmer’s Sarcophagus” An Alternative Interpretation

In a earlier post I presented what I called a “Farmer’s Sarcophaus” that is located in the courtyard of the Antalya (Turkey) Archaeological Museum. (see end of this post for a new possible interpretation).

“Farmer’s Sarcophagus”?  Is it possible that this is an élite person who had the honor, using oxen, to plow the outline of the pomerium for an about-to-be estabished city?

At the time I wrote:

I have seen a lot of sarcophagi in our travels but never one with this theme on it!  Note the farmer plowing with two oxen and two roundels with (evidently) a husband and wife in each of them.  . . .  It is almost refreshing to see such a mundane and common activity represented on a sarcophagus—but it is surprising, for how did a FARMER afford having a stone sarcophagus made??

But in my readings about two months ago, I came across the concept of the pomerium.  What in the world is that?  Well . . .

The pomerium is the name given to the sacred boundary of an ancient Roman city founded with the help of omens.  It consisted of a wall and/or the sacred strip of land between the wall and the city’s outermost building: when a Roman colony was founded a simple ploughed forrow would encircle it n order to define the pomeriium.  Withing the enclosed pricincts, burials were forbidden. (conveniently Blue Guide, p. 88).

Evidently the walls of the city were established on the outer limit of the pomerium and no structures (theoretically) could be built on the pomerium.  In Rome the pomerium defined the limits of the city and there were prohibitions for armed troops to enter the city beyond this “barrior.”

My Musings: Given that sarcophagi were for the elite of society, it now seems more logical to me that what we have on this sarcophagus is an image of an elite “owner” who proudly was the person who was entrusted, with the oxen, to plow the pomerium for an about-to-be established city.

See Here for several reliefs of the plowing of the pomerium.

Alta Macadam, Blue Guide: Rome. Eleventh edition.  London, 2016.

Jewish Presence at Hierapolis (Menorahs)

The important city of Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the New Testament.

Epaphras, who is one of you . . . is working had for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
(Colossians 4:12-13; NIV)

Epaphras evidently founded the churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis that are located in the Lycus Valley—possibly during the long stay of Paul at Ephesus.  For a variety of reasons we would expect some type of Jewish presence in these cities.

Although actual synagogues have not been found (Colossae had not been excavated) a variety of menoroth (menorahs; seven branch candlesticks) have been found engraved on tombs, a sarcophagus, and a column indicating a Jewish presence in the area.

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Tomb 163d Dating to the First Century A.D.
Note the menorah (seven branch candelabra) located
to the left and above the green plant
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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The family tomb on which the menorah is engraved
The remains of 31 individuals were found in the tomb
Click on the Image to Enlarge/Download

To view Tomb 148b with its very faint menorah and lulav Click Here.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

Marble lid of a Jewish sarcophagus with a menorah
and a faint Greek inscription
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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