Category Archives: Christians

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.

Site of Crucifixion of Jesus?

Probably the most sacred place in the whole of Christendom is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (aka Church of the Resurrection) in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Since the first half of the fourth century a church has encased both the places of crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

Greek Chapel at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

View looking east at the focal point of the Greek Chapel at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

In the center of the image is the altar beneath which is located the traditional spot where Jesus was crucified.  Behind it is a silver iconostasis.  On both sides of the altar portions of the bedrock are visible behind the glass.

View looking northeast at the general area of Calvary.

From right to left note the “Latin” Calvary with the Medici Altar that commemorates Jesus being nailed to the cross (= Station XI of the Via Dolorosa).  Just left of center is a small shrine that commemorates that this is the spot where Jesus was removed from the cross (= Station XIII of the Via Dolorosa).  On the far left is the Greek Chapel (see above) where Jesus was crucified (=Station XII of the Via Dolorosa).

To view 15 images of this place Click Here.


Coming soon: Tomb of Jesus; Gordon’s Calvary; Garden Tomb.

Nazareth: Perfect Crusader Capitals — Scenes from the Gospels and Acts

One of the places in Nazareth that is rarely visited is the Archaeology Museum of Nazareth.  It is actually located below the plaza on to which visitors to the Church of the Annunciation exit!  Of the displays, pride of place must go to the five capitals of the crusade era, unearthed by Father Viaud at the beginning of the 1800s, in a grotto dug to the north of the crusade Basilica, close to the grotto of worship.

View of the only rectangular capital called the “Fides–Ecclesia.” Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

The central capital shows a scene that has been open to several interpretations and represents a crowned woman holding a cross, while she travels to the left accompanied by a barefoot man among figures of the devil.
Some academics see the scene as the Byzantine theme of the liberation of Adam through the decent of Christ to the underworld. On the other hand, others identify the crowned woman with the Church Mother, holding the hand of an apostle, helping him to stand up to temptations, represented by the demons armed with bows and ready to shoot their arrows.

The capitals are made of high quality “sultan” stone.  The background surface is rough while the figures are very smooth.  The five, apparently unused, capitals from the Crusader Period depict episodes from the canonical apostles and from apocryphal writings regarding the life of the apostles.

View of one of the four octagonal capitals called the “Capital of Saint Peter.”

This capital represents two images of scenes from the life of the apostle Peter, taken from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
The three arches on the right in all likelihood represents the episode of the apparition of Jesus to the apostles, after the resurrection, at the lake of Tiberias. Peter, throwing himself from the boat to reach the shore, holds his hand out to Jesus, who is calling him. Below the three left arches there is a scene of the resurrection of the disciple Tabitha, in the city of Jaffa, by the hand of Peter, as told in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostle lifts the disciple from her deathbed, while three witnesses observe the prodigious miracle.

View of one of the four octagonal capitals called the “Capital of Saint Thomas.”

This capital is one of the four octagonal capitals. Below six arches, a unique scene is depicted, narrating the episode of the meeting between Saint Thomas and Jesus Christ, after the resurrection.
Thomas, absent at the time of the first apparition, is put to the test by Jesus who is showing the apostle the wound on his ribs, which Thomas had previously not believed in when hearing the take from the other apostles.
Christ is recognizable by the halo and the cross. The other saints present at the scene are the apostles: among these can be noted Peter, to the right of Christ and the brothers James and John in the arch on the left [not visible in image].

Most of the above information is from the Custodia Terrae Sanctae: Sanctuary Nazareth.


The Crusader Period in the Holy Land is from 1099 until 1291.  However, after the battle of the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187 the rule of the Crusaders was doomed.

Laodicea — Menorah and Cross

Laodicea is the last of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation (1:11; 3:14–22). In the letter there may be a number of allusions to the local setting of Laodicea: the lukewarm water, riches, gold, white garments, and eye salve! (see The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting by Colin J. Hemer; click here to view for purchase from amazon.com).

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Menorah with Flames Flanked by a Lulav and Shofar — Above it a cross was inscribed — Click (actually two clicks) on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above column was discovered while “cleaning out the nymphaeum” at Laodicea (Wilson, p. 251; see below).  The search for the Late Roman/Byzantine Jewish presence in Asia Minor is ongoing.  The above column attests to a Jewish presence at Laodicea but its relationship to the Christians there is ambiguous.  To this untrained eye it looks like the cross was added to the menorah.  Did this mean that Christians and Jews were peacefully coexisting at Laodicea?  Or was this an indication of Jewish Christians there?  Or that Christianity had “superseded” Judaism?

(Addition.   In the scholarly article mentioned in Mark Wilson’s comment below, Steven Fine comments on this artifact in light of the anti-Jewish Council of Laodicea that was held soon after the death of Julian the Apostate in A.D. 363. After a long discussion Fine draws attention not only to the “Christianization” of pagan shrines but also of Jewish synagogues and he concludes, “my own instinct, however, is to suspect the worst and to suggest that the kind of social distancing given expression by the Council of Laodicea adversely affected the local [Laodicean] late-antique Jewish community, of which our column is the only archaeological evidence.)

To view additional Menoroth with a lulav see  Hierapolis Tomb 148B, the steps of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, the plaque from the synagogue at Andriace (Turkey), a square post at Umm el-Qanatir (Israel, Golan Heights), and the mosaic synagogue floor at Sepphoris (Israel).  Menoroth with shofars are rather common.

LaodiceaMap4Laodicea is a very large mound located to the north of Denizli. It was founded by Seleucid kings during the third century B.C. By the New Testament era it was a very large and very important city. It had evidently replaced both nearby Hierapolis and Colossae as the most important city in the area.

It was located near good water sources although an aqueduct brought water to the city from the south. Most importantly it was located at a key road junction. The major road coming from the east (Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, India, China) came to Laodicea and from there one could continue west, 112 mi. [180 km.], to the port city of Ephesus, or head northwest towards Philadelphia from where roads headed either west to Smyrna, or continued northwest to Pergamum. From Laodicea, one could also travel southeast to Attalia, a port on the Mediterranean Sea.

It is probable that Epaphras was instrumental in establishing the church at Laodicea, and Paul writes that his letter to the church at Colossae (only 8 mi. [13 km.] distant) should be read by the believers at Laodicea (Col 2:1). Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Laodicea (Col 4:16). This letter has not been discovered, although many scholars speculate that the book called “Ephesians” was originally addressed to the church at Laodicea.

Mark Wilson’s Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor is the best up-to-date resource available on biblical sites in Turkey (amazon $35.35).

Unusual Photos of a Recent Visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher/Resurrection

On my first day in Jerusalem I like to go the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before our groups arrive.  The following are some photos that I took of our visit on 31 December 2016

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The Tomb of Jesus is still undergoing reconstruction. It is still “walled off” but pilgrims are able to enter the tomb itself. Click on Image to Enlarge and or Download.

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An architectural piece from and earlier structure (Constantinian [ca A.D. 340]?) Note the massiveness of the stone AND especially the carving and the well-preserved painting on it.

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The now blocked western entrance to the Crusader Church on Christian Quarter Road.

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The Greek Orthodox Patriarch praying at the Stone of Anointing at the entrance of the Church.

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A Coptic Priest leading prayers west of the Tomb of Jesus.

To view over seventy (70) images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Click Here.  These free, High Resolution Images, are arranged in 12 convenient folders.

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

As usual, the airwaves and cable connections were filled with stories about Christmas in Bethlehem.  ”

In birthplace of Jesus, Christian population has dropped from 86% to 12% in the past 60 years, following trend across Middle East, except in Israel.
The Times of Israel

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Manger Square summer 2009. Note the “Peace Center” on the right (north) side of the image and the minaret of the Mosque on the west that towers over the square

Different people explain this phenomenon differently—not only for Bethlehem but for the whole Middle East and North Africa:

  1. Oppression from the Muslim majority.
  2. Oppression from the Israeli “occupation” [today, Bethlehem is under total Palestinian control]
  3. Christians have the economic means to emigrate.
  4. Some young adult Christians emigrate for better living conditions.
  5. Christians more easily integrate into western civilization.

The Times of Israel has a very interesting article entitled: “Christians worry ‘Silent Night’ may soon refer to their community in Bethlehem.”

  The article presents the statistical evidence of this phenomenon and cites a number of sources that offer explanations as to why this is: including quotes from Vera Baboun (the Catholic female mayor of Bethlehem), a shopkeeper, etc.

I also found some of the external links interesting:

A 2014 article citing a Pew Foundation Study.
The 2011 BBC’s Guide: Christians in the Middle East.

The article ends with an interesting quote:

“This issue of Christian emigration has become a political tool,” said Ramon, the researcher at the Jerusalem Institute. “There are right-wing groups, like Evangelists[sic], who are always saying ‘Christians are in such a bad situation with the Muslims and that’s why they’re leaving!’ Then there’s liberal Protestants who emphasize that the relations between Christians and Muslims are good, and it’s just the Israeli occupation that is responsible for all this.”

“The real situation is somewhere in the middle,” he said. “The question about whether to stay or go is really dependent on one single thing: the question, where my children will have a better future?”

Life in Bethlehem — Wedding Preparation

Sometimes when visiting the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem we encounter some pleasant surprises.  On occasions the Church of Saint Catherine’s is prepared for a wedding ceremony.

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“I am so excited to be going to the wedding!” In the courtyard of St. Catherine’s Church

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“Ooops, I think I need to practice a bit more!”

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“See! I am ready!!”

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Saint Catherine’s Church Prepared for a Wedding.