Category Archives: Archaeology

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.

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.

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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

What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.

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The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge

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Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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The marvelous head of a bronze statue from the first century A.D.
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This finely crafted bronze statue, dating to the first century A.D., probably graced a villa of one of the elite residents of ancient Amisus.  Bronze statues from antiquity are very rare—for usually they were melted down and recycled.  Marble copies of bronze statues are much more common.  To view the complete statue Click Here.

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A well-preserved mosaic from the acropolis of Amisus. In the four corners are depictions of the four seasons. In the center (upside down) are Achilles and Thetis.

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
Click on Image to Enlarge

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.
Click on Image to Enlarge

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.

The Lighthouse at Patara

At the end of Paul’s third journey, as he was heading for Jerusalem, he and Luke changed ships at Patara—a port located on the Mediterranean coast of present day Turkey (see map below).

… we put out to sea [from Miletus] and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara.  We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail.  After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.  (Acts 21:1-3; NIV)

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View looking southwest at the square foundation and the cylindrical Lighthouse built upon it at Patara
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

A mysterious structure is located on the northern edge of the beach and on the western edge of the now silted harbor of Patara.  It is claimed that this is the ‘oldest preserved’ lighthouse in the world!

According to Dr. Mark Wilson (personal communication updating his book) writes that “the inscription should be dated to Nero’s eleventh tribunician power, thus between October 64 and October 65.”  And . . . “a second lighthouse (antipharos) still lies buried in the sand on the opposite side beneath Kurshunlutepe.”

The Greek inscription names “Marcus Sextius Priscus . . .  who served as governor until the reign of Vespasian in 71-72.”

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Entrance to the Circular Tower of the Lighthouse
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

View looking east at the doorway that is on the west side of the cylindrical tower.  Behind the student the solid interior cylinder is visible behind the modern supporting column.  There actually is an outer “cylinder” (the student is standing in it) that is constructed around a round central column and stairs are wedged in between the two parts.  The round central column is visible behind and to the right of the woman in the picture.  She is about 5 ft. 7 in. [1.5 m.] tall.

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Internal Staircase (woman is standing on it), the Outer Cylindrical Wall (just right of center) and the inner solid column with the staircase wedged in between them
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

A view of the interior staircase of the cylindrical tower.  In the center of the image the cylindrical exterior wall is visible and on the left side of the image the massive solid interior column.  Note how the staircase is bonded to both the exterior wall and the interior column. The woman in the image is about 5 ft. 2 in. [1.3 m.] tall.

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Note the location of Patara along with Cos and Rhodes
All mentioned in Acts 21:1-13

To view 14 images and commentary on the Lighthouse at Patara Click Here.
(Free of charge, without obligation and/or registration)

Dr. Mark Wilson’s comments on Patara and the lighthouse can be found in:  Mark Wilson, Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor.  Istanbul: Yayinlari, 2010, pp. 90–99.

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!

Astounding Neolithic Site — Göbekli Tepe

For those interested, I have posted 17 images of Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”)—a Neolithic site located about 9 mi. north of Sanliurfa in south–central Turkey before the “protective covering” was constructed over the site.  This 22 acre site was functional from roughly 9,600 BC to 8,200 BC was excavated by Klaus Schmidt.

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View of the major excavated area at Göbekli Tepe
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It was a religious center constructed by and used by foragers (not farmers!).  The excavated portions consist mainly of rings of well-carved standing limestone pillars—the tallest 18 ft. high.

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Detail of one of the rings of standing stones
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Note the variety of animals on the carved stone
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Images of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and boars are carved on them in low bas-relief.  In posting my images I was amazed to think about how during the Neolithic Period (ca. 9,000 B.C.) these people, using only flints and stone tools(!!), were able to quarry stones that were 18 ft. high and weighed 16 tons!  How did they transported these stones to the site of Göbekli Tepe?  How did they carve and smooth the surfaces of these stones and leave images in bas-relief(!) on them??

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One of the large (almost 18 ft. tall) standing stones —note the carving on its side and base
Click on image to Enlarge

How these pillars were carved, transported, and erected—in 9,600 BC—is very mysterious!

Schmidt believes that it was a worship center for foragers, for he has not found any walls, houses, hearths, or signs of agriculture.

The finds at the site are beginning to revolutionize the understanding of the transition from Natufian culture to the Neolithic age.

The worship center is actually almost 1,600 earlier than Kathleen Kenyon’s famous Neolithic Tower at Jericho.

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.

Lifting Heavy Stones!

Over the years I have seen various diagrams illustrating how the ancient Greeks and Romans—not to mention Herod the Great—lifted heavy stones into place as they constructed the walls of temples and erected columns.  But the first time that I heard about a Lewis Bolt was watching a fascinating DVD put out by The Great Courses entitled Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From the Catapult to the Pantheon.

In traveling to Greece and Turkey the use of iron and lead to secure columns and other architectural elements was very evident.

The Three Part "Lewis Bolt" — Note shape of the cavity that is carved into the stone that is to be lifted — The three parts of the bolt are inserted into the cavity and as lifting takes place the bolt becomes more firmly embedded!

The Three Part “Lewis Bolt” — Note that the shape of the cavity that is carved into the stone that is to be lifted is wider at the bottom than at the top — The three parts of the bolt are inserted into the cavity and as lifting takes place the bolt becomes more firmly embedded!

In the diagram above a rope or chain was attached to the loop to lift the stone.

I found that the use of Lewis Bolts was actually very common.  So on a recent trip to Turkey and Greece I began to look more carefully at the carvings into column and architectural pieces that might exhibit where Lewis Bolts may have been used.

The two square indentations were for iron pegs that secured this piece to its mate — note the grooves that lead to the square holes, for lead to cover the iron to avoid rust — The RECTANGULAR opening is for the Lewis Bolt that was used to lift this large piece (see diagram above)

The two square indentations were for iron pegs that secured this piece to its mate — note the grooves that lead to the square holes, for lead to cover the iron to avoid rust — The RECTANGULAR opening is for the Lewis Bolt that was used to lift this large piece (see diagram above)

At Alexandria Troas we were able to examine close up a number of archectural pieces, some of which exhibited the use of a Lewis Bolt to lift them (see above).  The Lewis Bolt indentations are difficult to photograph, but trust me, if you know what to look for you will find them—just stick your finger into the holes and find out how they are shaped!

The diagram above is from “Lewis (lifting appliance)” — Wikipedia

Anastylosis — Or, why is part of this photo colored blue?

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Coffers, Roof & Capitals of the Nymphaeum in the
Upper Agora at Sagalassos
ALL BUT the blue pieces (I have shaded them blue) are original pieces that were found at the foot of the Nymphaeum and were used in the reconstruction (anastylosis)

The Turkish site of Sagalassos is situated on a remote mountain slope and because of this, building stones from the site have not been carted off by locals nor were very much reused in antiquity.

Thus, when Professor Marc Waelkens and his team were excavating the Nymphaeum in the Upper Agora at Sagalassos they found over 3,500 pieces of the structure and by carefully matching them together they were able to form 400 blocks and columns.

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The Upper Agora Nymphaeum after excavation as the process of reconstruction begins. Over 3,500 pieces of the superstructure were found at its base and were carefully reassembled into 400 blocks and columns.

By using these reconstructed blocks and columns, and supplementing these originals with carefully crafted modern pieces, Waelkens and his team have been able to recreate the stunning Nymphaeum, the Heroon, and other structures at Sagalassos.

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The Nymphaeum (from the same angle as the above photo)
AFTER reconstruction (anastylosis)
Click on Image to Enlarge

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To view the reconstructed Nymphaeum, with water in it(!!), Click Here.

The famous “Library” at Ephesus was similarly reconstructed.

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The “Library” at Ephesus after reconstruction (anastylosis)
Click on Image to Enlarge