Category Archives: Daily Life

Riot at Ephesus and A Riot at Pompeii

There is a little known wall painting from a house at Pompeii (destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 79) that depicts a riot in and around the amphitheater at Pompeii in A.D. 59 (see connection to Acts 19 below images of Pompeii).

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The event that is depicted in this painting is a riot that occurred during the games in A.D. 59. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

This riot is also known from historical sources.  It was between the residents of Pompeii and those of nearby town of Nuceria. Notice all the people with raised arms = fighting—both inside and outside of the amphitheater. Note that the lower elite seating area has been vacated, but there is fighting in the upper portion of the amphitheater where the lower classes sat.

PompeiiAph6402The amphitheater was built in 80 B.C. when Pompeii became a Roman Colony.  It is the oldest amphitheater in existence!

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View of the exterior of the Amphitheater at Pompeii. In contrast to later amphitheaters note that the staircases to the upper levels of the structure are on the exterior, not in the interior of the amphitheater.

The amphitheater measures 432 x 335 ft. and could hold 20,000 people!  It was used for sports and gladiator contests, hunts and battles with wild animals!  Wall advertisements for the spectacles have been found on the walls of buildings at Pompeii.

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View of the interior of the Amphitheater at Pompeii.

Note the high retaining wall to protect the spectators.  In this earliest of amphitheaters there were no underground passages nor chambers—as in later structures.

On the left side of the image note that the first five rows are “walled off” and were for the use of the elite of the city.  The upper seats were for the use of lower class people and eventually women—who were allowed to go to the amphitheater because of a decree of the Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D.14).

Riots are Punished!!  Because of this riot at these games, the Roman Emperor Nero removed the head of the city and his family from office and politics and the city was forbidden to hold gladiatorial games for 10 years!  The Romans were not happy with those who rioted!!

Compare the riot in the theater in Ephesus when the apostle Paul was there (Acts 19):

Acts 19:23     About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way [= followers of Jesus] . . . .

Acts 19:29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater . . . .

Acts 19:32     The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another . . . .

Acts 19:35     The city clerk quieted the crowd . . . if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges.  39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly.  40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”

The Ephesus city clerk knew well that the Roman authorities would act severely against a riot.

Much of the descriptive information on the riot and the interpretation of this painting is  from Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City — 13 Riot in the Amphitheater—A.D. 59, by Steven L. Tuck.  Produced by The Great Courses, 2010, Chantily, VA.  Course No. 3742.

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!

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.

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.

Jacob’s Sheep In Danger of Dying

From The Times of Israel: After heavy rains, the whole “Jacob’s Sheep” project is in danger as one sheep has died and 40+ are sick!


After a few thousand years absence, “Jacob’s Sheep” have returned to Israel—from Canada!

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Jacob‘s sheep in quarantine in southern Israel on December 5, 2016. (courtesy The Friends of Jacob Sheep)

From The Times of Israel: ” Biblical sheep in Israel for first time in millennia”

The breed received the name “Jacob sheep” based on Genesis Chapter 30, where Jacob talks about leaving his father-in-law Laban’s home and taking part of the flock as his payment for years of service. “I will pass through all thy flock today, removing from thence every speckled and spotted one, and every dark one among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and of such shall be my hire,” he is quoted as saying in Genesis 30:32.

After three years of high-level negotiations between the Israeli and Canadian governments, 119 heritage sheep, which trace their lineage back 5,000 years to the Middle East, began arriving in Israel on November 30. It is the first time that the breed, called Jacob’s sheep, has been represented in Israel since biblical times.

Genetic markings for the breed date back at least a few thousand years to the Middle East. The journey for the sheep began in ancient Syria (also the biblical home of Laban) and passed through North Africa. Moorish invaders brought the breed to Spain, and then to England, where the animal was something of a trophy sheep. A number were brought to North America, originally for zoos and then later for commercial use.

According to the Lewinskys, the sheep has not been found in Israel for thousands of years.

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While sheep generally have two horns, Jacob sheep usually have four to six horns, including large horns that frame their face, like Solomon, a member of the Lewinsky flock. (courtesy Gil Lewinsky/Mustard Seed Imaging)

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.

 

Jacob’s Well — Then and Now

SycharMap01Just to the northeast of the modern city of Nablus is the small suburb of Askar (New Testament Sychar).  It was in the vicinity of Sychar that Jesus met the Samaritan Woman at “Jacob’s Well” (John 4 and especially 4:12).

In 1860 the Greek Orthodox purchased the property and restored the crypt that included the famous 75 ft. deep well.  Although the foundation and walls of a church were begun in the 20th century, the church was not completed until 2007.

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View of the uncompleted interior of the Greek Orthodox Church in the 1970/s. The “outhouse-looking” structures are the entrance and exit to the subterranean well.

The image below is the current beautiful interior of the Greek Orthodox Church.

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Interior of the Greek Orthodox Church — 21st Century — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

In the image above note the iconostasis and especially the two staircases down to the well.  Compare the current state of the church with its prior status pictured above!

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View of the grotto and the well head that is located under the altar area of the Greek Orthodox Church (ca. 1934). — This picture is from the Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, call number LC-M32-A[P&P].

 Tradition has it, that this is the spot where Jesus, at mid-day, met the Samaritan woman who had come to draw water (John 4).

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View looking down from Mt. Gerizim, where the Samaritan Temple was built, at the Greek Orthodox Church built over the site of “Jacob’s Well” (see John 4).