Category Archives: Artifacts

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.

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.

NT Inscriptions — Gallio Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12)

Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:12).

Acts 18:12     While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

Acts 18:14     Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you.  15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.”  16 So he had them ejected from the court.  17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever. (NIV)

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View of the “Gallio Inscription” found at Delphi. In the fourth line from the top, the Greek form of “Gallio” is clearly visible. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The inscription is written in Greek and is a copy, carved in stone, of a decree of the Roman Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41–54) who commanded L. Iunius Gallio, the governor, to assist in settling additional elite persons in Delphi—in an effort to revitalize it.

The inscription dates between April and July A.D., 52, and from it, it can be deduced that Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia in the previous year.  Thus Paul’s eighteenth month stay in Corinth (Acts 18:1–18) included the year 51.  This inscription is critical in helping to establish the Chronology of Paul as presented in the book of Acts.

To view all nine pieces of the inscription Click Here.

To view the “bema” in Corinth, before which Paul appeared in the presence of Gallio, Click Here.

For a brief description of Delphi Click Here.

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).

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

For an extensive discussion of this 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 or  purchase Click Here.

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

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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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.

“Cupping” Ancient and Modern

There is quite a “buzz” about the round marks evident on the worlds’ best swimmer, Michael Phelps, as he participates in the Olympics in Rio.

PhelpsCuppingHe is practicing an ancient therapy called “cupping” where by cups are place on the skin to produce a local suction on the skin.  This is believed to assist the flow of blood in order to promote healing.  The “suction” can be created by placing heated cups on the skin—or in modern times by using mechanical suction.

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A rectangular marble statue base in which are carved Physicians’ implements. On each side are cupping glasses, and in the middle is a case of medical instruments of various types.  It was found in the Asclepion in Athens—below the acropolis.

This technology was actually used by the Greeks as far back as the Hellenistic Period as the above statue base gives evidence!  The above object dates to the 3rd or 2nd century B.C. and is located in the National Museum in Athens.

See Here for a good article on modern “Cupping.”