Category Archives: Daily Life

Paul in the Cities — Where Did They Eat?

The Apostle Paul resided in many cities of the Roman Empire including Tarsus, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Rome.  As I lead tours to these ancient cities, we often wonder what life was like in them in the first century A.D.  One of the interesting “institutions” are the thermopolia—”fast food establishments” that were found in every large city.  For example, eighty–three thermopolia have been discovered at Pompeii, and more have been discovered at nearby Herculaneum and at Ostia—the port of Rome.  (be sure and see the final two paragraphs of this blog)

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View of a Fast Food establishment (thermopolium, popina, taberna) at Pompeii. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This is the Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus (aka T. of Asellina) that is located on the lower floor of his house in Pompeii (Italy).  It is situated on the main street of Pompeii, the via dell’ Abbondanza.  Food and drink were sold and consumed here.  Note the large storage jars that are built into the masonry and marble counters.

On the back wall is a well–preserved lararium—a shrine dedicated to the household gods.   Among others Mercury, the god of trade, and Dionysus, the god of wine are depicted (maybe assisted sales?!).  A hoard of 6.6 lbs. of worthless coins were found in one of the jars.  It was evidently left behind when the owner fled Pompeii as ash rained down from the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius (picture below).  In the back of the shop, not visible, was a slightly more private eating area.  A staircase led to guest rooms on the second floor—a brothel?  These thermopolia were situated street side on the ground floor of apartment buildings and even elite houses.

The thermopolia were visited primarily by the lower classes as the upper classes would dine in the luxurious surroundings of their own homes.  The houses of lower classes of people rarely had kitchens, thus they would eat at an establishment such as this, or they would “carry out” the food to take back home.

Since many (most?) of the early Christians were from the lower classes, they probably frequented places like the local thermopolium.  And, it is very probable that Paul and other leaders of the Early Church did so as well in the cities that they resided in!  Is it not possible that in establishments like this that the Early Christians shared their belief in “Jesus is Lord”—rather than “Caesar is Lord?”

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A Thermopolium from nearby Herculaneum—also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius.

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Mount Vesuvius that erupted in August of A.D. 79 covering Pompeii with ash and Herculaneum with a pyroclastic flow.

For use or publication of any of these images please see this link.

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Paul in the Cities: Where did They Meet? 2 (Ask Eutychus! Acts 20:9)

Alexandria Troas — Paul on His Return to Jerusalem
on His Third Journey

Acts 20:7     On the first day of the week . . . Paul spoke to the people . . . and kept on talking until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.  9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.

What kind of building was this group of believers meeting in?  Probably an “apartment building” (insula).  After 2,000 years do any still exist?  Yes!

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High Density Roman Housing at Ostia — the Port of Rome  View of a street on which the Casa di Diana is located. On the left side of the image note the high–density housing (insulae). There were at least three floors, with rooms arranged around a central courtyard where there was a communal fountain.  The upper stories were probably made of perishable materials such as wood.

The term insula refers to a multi–story housing block, that was subdivided into apartments for rent with shops on the ground floor.  Windows and balconies were the principal light sources for the tenants.  The insulae were probably first built of wood and thus susceptible to destruction by fire—a big problem!  (I am not aware of the preservation of any wooden insula)  Often times they were constructed of baked Roman bricks—like this example at Ostia.

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View of a street lined with apartment buildings (insulae) near the via Della Fontana at Ostia. The staircase on the left led up to the upper floors of the building—at least 3 stories high.  This large structure was probably owned by one person who rented apartments, shops, and workplaces to tenants.

The ground floor of insulae were usually shops and stores.  The best apartments were on the lower floors and sometimes were decorated with simple paintings and mosaics.  The upper apartments (on floors 2 and 3) were smaller, more difficult to reach, and dangerous (fire!)—because they were built out of wood!  The upper storeys were typically without heat, running water, and toilets.  The poor, who lived there, would sometimes dump trash and human excrement out of the windows into the street below!  Most of the people, poor and “middle class,” would live in these structures.

New Testament Importance:
Since Acts 20:9 mentions Eutychus falling from a third floor, the group of Christians that Paul was speaking to must have been meeting in a cramped, lower class apartment such as the above.  But to date, no such insulae have been found at Alexandrian Troas, but they were probably built of wood and have perished over the last 2,000 years!

Dome of the Prophet

The Haram esh-Sharif (aka “Temple Mount”) seems to always be in the news!   Once, when visiting the site I saw, a person actually praying in the “Dome of the Prophet” (Qubbat al–Nabi).

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View looking northeast at the “Dome of the Prophet” (= Qubbat al–Nabi). Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The “Dome of the Prophet” is located about 20 yards northwest of the Dome of the Rock.  This is a single person prayer area built in 1539 “to mark the site where Muhammad led the prophets in prayer before his ascension into Heaven.”

The large umbrellas in the background shaded worshipers during Friday Prayers during the month of Ramadan.

The capitals on these eight columns look very much like a capital that was on the debris pile east of the Dome of the Rock platform.

Photo: June 17, 2015.

Quote from Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer. Jerusalem — the Temple Mount — a Carta Guide Book. Jerusalem: Carta, 2015, p. 130.

Sagalassos — Fountain House

People often will ask me “what is your favorite site in Turkey (or Israel, or Greece, or . . . .)?”  I have so many favorites that it is a difficult question to answer, but in Turkey, Sagalassos is one of my top  picks.

Sagalassos is a magnificent ancient city located about 80 mi. [130 km.] north of Antalya.  It was one of the largest cities of the region/district of Pisidia.  Although located in a very remote territory it was conquered by Alexander the Great and it was near one of the ancient roads that ran from Attalia (mod. Antalya)/Perge to Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25).

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The well–preserved Hellenistic “Fountain House” on the north slope of Sagalassos.
Fountain Houses usually were built at the site of a spring
but were not as elaborate as Nymphaea
This Doric structure is partly reconstructed and actually is functional today!
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Among the many well–preserved remains is a partly reconstructed “Fountain House” from which the inhabitants of Sagalassos could draw water.

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Mountains in the region of Sagalassos
Click on image to Enlarge

Fountain Houses were common in ancient Greco- Roman Cities.  For example compare the ones at ancient Corinth: the “Upper Peirene Spring” on the Acrocorinth; the Peirene Fountain and the Glauke Fountain in lower Corinth; and the Lerna Spring at the Asclepion at Corinth.

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Sagalassos has been under excavation since 1990 by a Belgian team led by Mark Waelkens of the Catholic University of Leuven.  Because of its remoteness it is very well-preserved and Waelkens’ team has made some outstanding discoveries and has been very diligent in the preservation and restoration of the site.

Jesus’ Crown of Thorns

For Christians: the Beginning of an Advent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Resurrection Day series.

The Roman soldiers (Matt. 27:29) . . . twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.

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A “Crown of Thorns” made from a branch of a tree just outside of Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Mark 15:17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.

John 19:2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe . . . John 19:5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

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View looking west over the Old City of Jerusalem from within Dominus Flevit. The “golden” Dome of the Rock is visible beyond the cross, and to the right of the Dome the grey Domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are visible. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

You can view/download 10 images of Dominus Flevit  Here.

Dogs Eating the Crumbs – Matt 15:27 and Mark 7:28

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In Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-31 there is the story of a “Canaanite woman” from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon who said:

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”  . . .  The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Matt 15:22–25 and compare Mark 7:26ff.

It seems that Jesus’ response was somewhat “off-putting” for the subsequent “conversation” went as follows:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”   Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
(Matt 15:26-28)

Dogs are not highly thought of in some of the Middle Eastern Cultures today but evidently in New Testament times they were kept as household pets.

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the crumbs that have fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (5th century BC.) found in the Asclepion of Piraeus (port of Athens).  It represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the right and a naked youth on the left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the food that has fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above votive relief  also represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the left and a naked youth on the far left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch waiting for crumbs from the meal — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (4th century BC.) found at Argos in southern Greece.  The god or hero is reclining on a couch with a woman on the left holding a tray with food.  On the far left is a nude boy drawing wine from a large krater.  Note the dog under the couch, waiting for crumbs!

Away in a Manger (feeding trough!)

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Feeding trough found at Megiddo on the southern edge of the Jezreel Valley

The gospel of Luke contains specific details regarding Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judea.  One of the things mentioned in this narrative is that he was placed in a “manger” (Luke 2:7, 12, and 16).

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, … and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were shepherds … find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger … found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

The Greek word φαντη that is used here typically refers to a stone type trough that was used for feeding of animals—sometimes in the stalls within a dwelling.

This word is used once more in the Gospels (Luke 13:15) where it refers to a “stall” (NIV), actually a feeding trough, for a donkey—and it is clear from the context that this was within a house (Luke 13:10–17).

Megiddo Trough at Rockefeller Musem

Reconstructed Feeding Trough and Pillars from OT Megiddo

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall (φαντη; “manger“) and lead it out to give it water?

It appears that after the birth of Jesus, that he was actually placed in a feeding trough somewhat similar to the ones presented here if not ones that were carved into the stone floor of the “stable”—a far cry from the rickety wooden “mangers” of Christmas pageants.

For details on this topic see Kenneth E. Bailey Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes — Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008, pp. 28–32 as well at the various Greek lexicons.

As Christmas approaches, I thought I would repost a few “blogs” that are related to the celebration.