Category Archives: Artifacts

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.

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Hercules Farnese of Perge and . . . .

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Hercules Farnese From the Baths at Perge
Second Century A.D. — Antalya Museum

A beautiful second century A.D. statue of Hercules was found in the baths of Perge.  The Boston Museum of Fine Arts returned the top portion of the statue to Turkey in September 2011.  Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erogan personally brought the important portion to Turkey himself.  Portions of over 60 such statues are known and are called the “Hercules Farnese” (named after a famous Italian collection now housed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum).  This is a Roman copy of a bronze original.  Note the positioning of the head, arms, and legs, and especially the body muscles.  The skin of conquered Nemean Lion flows down on his left side as it tumbles to the ground.

Below is THE Hercules Farnese that is displayed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Below is a five (5) in. high image of a “Hercules Farnese” found at Pergamum and displayed in the museum in Bergama.

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A Bronze Five (5!) Inch High “statue” of Hercules
From Pergamum — In the Museum at Bergama

Heracles was the son of the god Zeus and a mortal Alcmene. Although originally a mortal, he eventually attained divine status and was widely worshiped throughout Greece. As punishment for killing six of his children he had to perform 12 “labors” (= very difficult tasks). The first of which was to kill the Nemean Lion. He wrestled with the lion, strangled it, and subsequently used its pelt as a cloak. (Nemea is a site in the Peloponnese region of Greece).

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 people 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.

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.