Category Archives: Archaeology

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.

The Burial Bench of Jesus

See the link near the end of this post!

On Thursday The Times of Israel published an article on the uncovering of the burial bench of Jesus in the  Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The Marble Slab on the Burial Bench of Jesus — Before it was removed! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

One of their reporters had gotten into the tomb and there was a unique photo of the gray slab that was below the well-known marble slab—among others.

I went to the same article today (29 October, 2016, 5:00 PM Israel time) and the article had been scrubbed of these unique photos and commentary had been replaced by the National Geographic photos and more generic commentary.  It appears that the article had been updated on 28 Oct at 2:16 AM.  (I wonder if this was at the National Geographic’s “request?”)

BUT here is the link to the original article.  The link was working at the time I posted this blog.  See the last three photos near the end of this article.

For more images of this unique structure, prior to renovation see here.

Magdala Stone Interpreted

Bible History Daily has published an important article by Jennifer Ristine, the longtime coordinator of the Visitors Center and the Magdalena Institute at Magdala, on the interpretation of the famous “Magdala Stone”—”The Magdala Stone: The Jerusalem Temple Embodied.”

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The Magdala Stone in place near the center of the First Century Synagogue. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

In her article, Ristine cites the work of Dr. Rina Talgam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Motti Aviam, Professor of Archaeology at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee.

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A depiction of the Temple in Jerusalem? A seven-branched Menorah with the sacrificial altar below it (?),  flanked by two vessels—one for water, one for oil?

Click here for additional images of the Magdala Stone.  And for the interpretion of the symbols see especially Ristine’s accessible article!

Magdala is open daily to the public from 8:00 to 18:00. For more information, visit www.magdala.org.

Images in this post courtesy of Gordon Franz who maintains the web site Life and Land.

For my previous posts on Magdala see here, here, here and here.

Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb

One of the least visited places in Jerusalem is the portion of the village of Silwan that is located on the lower western slope of the Mount of Olives—opposite the “City of David.”

The village itself is built over 50 tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. This necropolis – “city of the dead”  – was investigated by David Ussishkin and Gabriel Barkay between 1968 and 1971. Travel to this area is very difficult (= impossible) for the inhabitants of Silwan are normally very hostile to outsiders.

The two most famous tombs from this necropolis are “the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter” and the “Tomb of the Royal Steward.”

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Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
Note the door on the left — this important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken

Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village.  This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed.  The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).

IJOTIT07 Nahman Avigad translated the larger inscription as “This is [the sepulcher of . . . ] yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and no gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his amah with him. Cursed be the man who will open this!”

In the text the phrase “who is over the house” refers to a very important personage in the Judean government (about second to the king). His name, according to the inscription, was “. . . yahu.” Unfortunately the first part of his name is missing but many believe that the person who was buried here was none other than Shebna [yahu], the Royal Steward, whom Isaiah condemned for ‘hewing a tomb for himself on high’ – SEE Isaiah 22:15-17!

The amah (a female) mentioned in the inscription may also have been a very high functionary in the Judean government.

For a popular description of this necropolis see: Shanks, Hershel. “The Tombs of Silwan.” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 20, no. 3 (May/June, 1994):38-51

You also may be interested in viewing the First Temple Tombs found on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem – Click Here.

A Very Useful Web Site of Ancient History — More Traffic than the British Museum or the Louvre!

This may be “old news” to many of you, but I recently became aware of the web site Ancient History Encyclopedia.  Its mission

is to improve history education worldwide by creating the most complete, freely accessible and reliable history resource in the world.

Currently they have around 200 articles on the Near East— articles that “cover the cradle of civilization, home of the first empires, and the world’s oldest cities.”  They also have 330 articles on the Greco–Roman world.

The articles are well–written, informative, and accurate.  They are peer reviewed.  I follow them on Twitter @ahencyclopedia where they seem to announce new articles as they become available and usually draw attention to one “older” article (like from the past few years) each day.  The lengths of the articles vary, but they typically seem to be a 5-15 minute read—depending on how familiar one is with the topic.  There is a search engine on the web site.

BTW – you are invited to follow me on Twitter “@go2Carl”— I only post one or two “tweets” a day—if that.


More Descriptive Details About the Ancient History Encyclopedia

Key Facts

  • All content is reviewed by our team of expert editors, ensuring highest quality
  • Trusted by teachers around the world as set reading for their students
  • More monthly traffic than the British Museum or the Louvre, and more monthly readers than the world’s most popular history magazines
  • Engaging the digital generation: We’re telling the exciting stories in history, using all media types (text, image, map, video, etc.)
  • Read more about our audience in our media presentation.

Our Work

We work to engage the digital generation: We are telling exciting historical stories using text, video, interactive features, social media and mobile apps. Every submission to the encyclopedia is carefully reviewed by our editorial team, making sure only the highest quality content is published to our site.

We aim to inspire our readers with the stories of the past, making history engaging and exciting for everyone. Our publication follows academic standards, but written in an easy-to-read manner with students and the general public in mind.

Ancient History Encyclopedia is entirely run by dedicated contributors and volunteers from all over the world. Our multi-cultural team is as neutral and as objective as possible, which is why we’re a completely independent organization.

Our Goal

Ancient history is only the start: We are working to create the world’s leading general history resource, covering all time periods of human history, freely accessible on the internet. Education is at the core of what we do, which is why we aim to provide more useful tools to teachers and students, such as interactive content, videos, mobile apps, and teaching resources.

We also plan to make our content available in other languages and other formats, such as printed books.

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

Continue reading

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.