Category Archives: Artifacts

New Testament Inscriptions — Erastus of Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:13; 2 Timothy 4:20)

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“Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download (free).  The letters were originally filled with metal — see the image below.

Part of a pavement found near the theater of Corinth which mentions “Erastus” who was the aedile of the city.  An “aedile” was in charge of the financial matters of the city — and was very wealthy. The pavement was laid about A.D. 50.

The New Testament book of Romans was written by Paul from Corinth to the church in Rome in the spring of A.D. 57—on his third journey. In Romans 16:23 Paul says that “Erastus, the city treasurer [Ἕραστος ὸ οἰκονόμς] greets you . . . .”   It is very probable that the “Erastus” mentioned in Romans is the very same person who is mentioned in this inscription.

The two lines on the Latin inscription have been transcribed by John McRay in the following way:

ERASTVS PRO AEDILIT E
S P STRAVIT

McRay suggests that the full transcription can be translated as “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.”

From the following passages it is evident that Erastus was very involved in Paul’s ministry:

On his third journey, prior to the writing of the NT book of Romans, Paul wrote:

Acts 19:22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia [at Ephesus] a little longer.

and then in Paul’s final letter while imprisoned in Rome Paul wrote:

2Tim. 4:20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus

The image below is an example of an ancient inscription filled with metal — from the via Appia in the Italian city of Terracina.

An ancient inscription filled with metal (as the Erastus inscription originally was) on the via Appia in the Italian city of Terracina.


For an extensive discussion of the Erastus inscription and the various options that the various Latin and (NT) Greek terms suggest, see John McRay Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991: 331–33.   To examine for purchase Click Here.

For a brief description of the biblical and historical significance of Corinth and a Map of the region Click Here.

I am a Pagan — A Rare Papyrus from A.D. 250

I have frequently heard and read about how there were “tests” to see if people were Christians or not.  Usually the tests consisted of invoking the gods and offering a prayer and wine to the image of the Emperor (see my previous post for this type of test by Pliny and the relevant text from A.D. 112).

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P.Luther 4 — Owned by Luther College Decorah Iowa — A Decian Libellus — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above papyrus document is from the ancient village of Theadelphia that was located in the Fayum of Egypt.  It is a document drawn up by a man (Aurelious Sarapammon) to attest that he had “sacrificed, poured the libations, and tasted the offerings” according to a decree of the Roman emperor Decius (ruled A.D. 249–251).  This document was then signed by two local officials to attest that he had done so.  There are only about 45 such “Decian Libellius” documents in existence.

Christians, both lay and leadership, had difficulty performing such acts and thus could be subject to torture and execution—see conveniently the Wikipedia article on Decius and his persecution of Christians.

The above text reads:

To those who have been selected to take charge of the sacrifices, from Aurelius Sarapammon, servant of Appanus, former exegetes of the most–illustrious city of the Alexandrian, and however he styled, residing in the village of Theadelphia.  Always sacrificing to the gods, now too, in your presence, in accordance with the orders, I sacrificed, poured the libations, and tasted the offerings, and I ask that you sign below.  Farewell

(Second hand) We, Aurelius Serenus and Hermas [way you sacrificing …

Translation by W. Graham Claytor, University of Michigan in the “Qualley Papyri Exhibit” at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. — Date of document ca. June12–July 14, 250 C.E.  My emphasis.

The above document was on display a number of papyri that were found in the ancient village of “Theadelphia” in the Fayum of Egypt was on display at Luther College (Decorah, IA) during a Homecoming Celebration.

For the official on-line publication of  “The Orlando W. Qualley Papyrus Collection” at Luther College, including other images) see the Luther Web Site where there are also additional notices.

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.
Click on Image to Enlarge

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.

The Winners’ Prizes — Dead Vegetation?

In a previous entry I shared some pictures related to “Running the Race.”  The winners of such competitions were awarded, among other things, victory crowns—the composition of which depended upon the games.

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Modern Recreation of Victory Wreaths — On the left a Pine Wreath for the winner of an event at the Isthmian Games and on the right a Laural Wreath for the winner of an event at the Olympic Games — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The games at Isthmia were held twice during the four year Olympic cycle.  The city of Corinth was in charge of these games and Isthmia was only 6 miles from Corinth.  The games included athletic as well a music contests.  It is very probable that the games were held during Paul’s stay at Corinth.  Indeed, he writes to the church at Corinth:

1Cor. 9:24     Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV)

One of the prizes at the Istmian games was a wreath, sometimes made of pine branches (see picture above) and at other times of wilted(!) celery leaves.  Thus Paul’s “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” certainly rings true!

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The grave stela of an unnamed athlete who won games at at least 8 different venues. Inside of the crowns are the names of the games. In the upper left wreath “Olympia” is noted and in the lower right “Pergamum.” Note the variety of “wreathes.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

To view additional images of this and other stelae from Isthmia Click Here.

The terms “prize,” “victor’s wreath,” etc. are common in New Testament imagery.

The Roles of the Roman Emperors

Groups traveling to Turkey will often fly into Istanbul and spend a day or two there before continuing on to other parts of the country.   One of the stops in Istanbul is typically the world-class Archaeological Museum located near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  For students of the Bible it houses some extremely important artifacts.  The main ones are located on the top floor of the museum including the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, The Second Temple Warning Inscription, and the Gezer Calendar (the first two from Jerusalem).

Bronze Statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138)
In Toga depicting him as “the first citizen” of Rome
Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
For additional information about this statue Click Here

When walking up to visit the gallery containing these precious objects you will usually pass a bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.   Because the lighting in the room is typically not too good, and the room really looks “dated,” most groups will bypass this statute.

However, it is worthy to pause for a minute or two to view it.  First of all, it is very rare to have a statue preserved in bronze from ancient times!  Most of the statues that are preserved are marble copies from the Roman Period—but here a real bronze original is on display.  And secondly, it is worthy to notice the dress of the emperor—in a toga that depicts him as the first among Roman Citizens.

On other statues, for example several on display in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya,

Roman Emperor Hadrian in Military Garb
Depicting him as the head of the Roman armies
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge — Second Century AD
For additional information about this image Click Here

Hadrian is depicted in military garb as the head of the Roman army

Roman Emperor Hadrian in the Nude — Reflecting His Divine Status
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge – near Antalya
For additional information about this statue Click Here

and in others he appears in the nude—depicting his divine status!

Thus back at the bronze statue in the Istanbul Museum, this is a great place  to begin to introduce your group to the various roles played by the Roman Emperors—for certainly you will be “bumping into them” again and again in your travels in Turkey.

One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Besides constructing a Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate issued a series of bronze coins—perutahs honoring the Emperor Tiberius.  He minted these coins in Jerusalem between 29 and 31 (Taylor, 556; Jesus was tried before this same Pilate in AD 30 or 33).

Obverse of a bronze perutah, minted in Jerusalem, by Pontius Pilate
Note the “augur’s staff” called a lituus — the coin is inscribed
Click Image to Enlarge

The above is a sample of one of the two types of coins.

Bronze perutah minted in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate

The inscription on this coin reads “of Tiberius Caesar.”  This type of coin features a lituus on the obverse side of the coin.

The lituus was a wooden staff (or wand) with a curled end, made of a branch of either ash or hazel … The lituus was held in the right hand of the augures and was the augures’ identifying emblem.  (Taylor 559-59)

The lituus was used by augurs who were priests that interpreted the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds (size of flock, noises made, direction of flight, etc.).

[The lituus] was also raised to the sky when they invoked the god and made predictions.   It was used to mark out regions of the heavens when assessing the placement of sacred space on earth (Taylor 559).

Taylor continues, that these two types of coins (only one is covered in this post) honor priests

who were representatives of Roman religion in the two imperial cult temples of Caesarea Maritime and in Sebaste, located in the province he [Pilate] governed (565).

And she concludes:

In using exclusively Roman cultic items in his coinage designed for a province largely composed of Jews and Samaritans, Pilate was promoting Roman religion, manifested largely in the imperial cult, in an environment in which there were strong sensitivities (565).

Thus it is evident that the person who condemned Jesus to death was active in promoting the Imperial Cult via the coins that he issued and the Tiberieum that he built at Caesarea!

In light of the above, imagine what was going through Pilate’s mind when he heard the words:

“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 555–563.

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It should be noted that coins from cities/areas outside of Judea — with images of deities or emperors on them — circulated in Judah.  See Mark 12:13-17 and parallels.

Another Son of God? Pilate’s Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judea that condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18 and 19). He is mentioned 61 times in the New Testament.  He governed Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.

The Pontius Pilate Inscription from Caesarea Maritima—now in the Israel Museum.

Pilate was facing at least two major problems when Jesus appeared before him to be tried.  The first was that he needed to deal with any potential rebellion against Rome—what else would a “king of the Jews” do?

A second problem was how seriously should Pilate take the accusation that

John 19:7-8  . . .  he [Jesus] must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this, he [Pilate] was even more afraid,

Why was Pilate “more afraid” when he heard this charge?  Well, the dead “ascended” Augustus was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire as a deity.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry there were Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  that had been in existence for over 40 years!

And in addition, Augustus’ son, and now Emperor(!), Tiberius, was worshiped as the “son of god” (that is, the son of the deified Augustus)!  In this regard it is not often remembered that it was Pilate who built a temple for the worship of Tiberius as the “son of god” at Caesarea Maritima!  How could there be a “son of God” to compete with the Imperial “son of god?”  In addition Pilate was confronted with the potential accusation of the local leadership: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12).  Pilate had a “lot on his plate!”

In light of this, I invite you to check out the following description and discussion of the “Pilate Inscription” from Caesarea Maritima.


In 1961 by an Italian expedition that was excavating the theater at Caesarea Maritima discovered a Latin inscription that actually mentions him.

The “Pilate” Inscription from Caesarea Maritima

When scholars comment on this inscription they usually emphasize that now there is actual archaeological evidence for Pilate’s activity in Judea and that his title was “Prefect.”  This is fine,  BUT what about the word “Tiberieum” in the first line?  To what does “Tiberieum” refer?

This stone was used at least three ways.  First, it was probably a dedicatory inscription in a temple called a “Tiberieum.”  Pilate built this temple to honor the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37)—the current “son of god”!  This was then the second imperial cult temple in Caesarea—the first was the (probably much larger) Imperial Cult Temple that had been built by Herod the Great (37– 4 BC) for the worship of Augustus and deified Roma!

Thus it should be noted that at Caesarea Maritima the imperial cult founded by Herod the Great was still being practiced AND that Pilate as a good governor was also promoting the Imperial Cult—adding a structure for the worship of the ruling Roman emperor, Tiberius (14–37).  All of this going on during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (ca. 26–30)!

Secondly, the stone was taken from the temple and used as part of a well–head—note the half-circle on the right hand side.  Finally, it was used as a step in the fourth century Byzantine theater (where it was discovered).

Four lines of the Latin inscription are visible.

[_ _ _]S TIBERIÉUM
[_ _ PO]NTIUS PILATUS
[PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E
[_ _ _ _ _ ] É [_ _ _ _ _ _ _] (Taylor, p. 564)

[. . .] Tiberieum
[. Po]ntius Pilate
[Pref]ect of Judaea
[. . .]e[. . .] (p. 565)

Joan E. Taylor translates the inscription as:   “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, [made and d]e[dicated] the Tiberieum for the (Augustan) gods” (p. 570).

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 564–65.

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.

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