Category Archives: Daily Life

Away in a Manger (feeding trough!)

Megiddo Manger

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.

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Absalom’s Home City—Near the Sea of Galilee

Absalom, David’s son who attempted to kill him (2 Samuel 15–18), was the “son of Maacah daughter of Talmai” who was the king of Geshur (2 Sam 3:3).  It was to Geshur that Absalom fled after killing his half-brother, Amnon, who had raped his sister Tamar. (2 Samuel 13).

The city of Geshur, capital of the kingdom, is well–identified with the site of et–Tell that is located 1 mi. [1.5 km.] north of the Sea of Galilee, slightly to the east of the present course of the Jordan River.  It is a large 22-acre [9 ha.] mound that has been excavated since 1987 by Rami Arav.  Almost all of the structures of et–Tell were constructed of black basalt (volcanic) stone.

It appears that Geshur, despite its nearness to Israel, was a semi–independent kingdom until its destruction by the Assyrian king Tiglath–Pileser III during his campaign in the area in 732 B.C.—during the days of Ahaz and Isaiah.

Iron Age II City Gate at et-Tell/Geshur

The remnants of this massive four–chamber city gate are located on the southeast side of the Tell.  This view is from the east, from the plaza outside the four–chamber gate, looking west.  Note the two chambers on the right (north) side of the central passageway, the two standing stones (massevoth) at the sides of the entrance, and on the right (north) side of the gate the High Place.

High Place at City Gate with: Standing Stone, Stepped Approach, and Basin

A high place, for the worship of a deity, is located on the right (north) side of the gate.  Note the staircase that leads up to a hollowed out basalt stone into which liquids could be ritually poured and the upright standing stone (massevah) on the left side of the high place.  This standing stone may have been inscribed, but it more probably represented the presence of a (pagan) deity.

Et–Tell’s identification with New Testament Bethsaida is possible, but not certain.  Bethsaida was the home of Philip, Andrew, and Peter—disciples of Jesus, and there Jesus performed a number of miracles including the healing of a blind man and the feeding of the 5,000.

To view more images of et–Tell/Geshur/Bethsaida Click Here.

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

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!

A Picture and Now a Tombstone! Riot at Ephesus and A Riot at Pompeii

Update 28 July 2018.  It was announced today that a 12 ft. long tombstone, in 7 registers!,  of a gladiator was discovered at Pompeii.

Pompei:Scavi rivelano tomba che descrive rissa tra gladiatori

Among other important things, it refers to the riot that I wrote about in the following blog.

Osanna said in a statement, ”we have learned very important facts about the history of Pompeii, including a reference to the famous episode narrated by Tacitus that happened in Pompeii in 59 BC [sic AD], when a brawl broke out in the amphitheater during a gladiator show that led to an armed clash. [see below] The event drew the attention of Emperor Nero, who ordered the Senate in Rome to investigate the incident. Following an inquiry by the consuls, reports Tacitus, Pompeii residents were banned from holding gladiator shows for 10 years, illegal associations were dissolved and the organizer of the games – former senator from Rome Livineio Regulo – and all the others who were found guilty of incitement were exiled. The inscription complements the information given by Tacitus and makes reference for the first time to the exile imposed on some magistrates, the duoviri of the city.

See the blog below for a picture of the event and my connecting it to the riot at Ephesus described in Acts 19.


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.

Jewish Presence at Hierapolis (Menorahs)

The important city of Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the New Testament.

Epaphras, who is one of you . . . is working had for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
(Colossians 4:12-13; NIV)

Epaphras evidently founded the churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis that are located in the Lycus Valley—possibly during the long stay of Paul at Ephesus.  For a variety of reasons we would expect some type of Jewish presence in these cities.

Although actual synagogues have not been found (Colossae had not been excavated) a variety of menoroth (menorahs; seven branch candlesticks) have been found engraved on tombs, a sarcophagus, and a column indicating a Jewish presence in the area.

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Tomb 163d Dating to the First Century A.D.
Note the menorah (seven branch candelabra) located
to the left and above the green plant
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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The family tomb on which the menorah is engraved
The remains of 31 individuals were found in the tomb
Click on the Image to Enlarge/Download

To view Tomb 148b with its very faint menorah and lulav Click Here.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

Marble lid of a Jewish sarcophagus with a menorah
and a faint Greek inscription
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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Running the Race

In seven  passages the apostle Paul compares the Christian life to running a race.  The athletic games, that were initiated by the Greeks consisted of running, discus, jumping, javelin, boxing and fighting events.  Not to mention musical, oratory, and drama contests.

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The Stadium at Nemea in the Peloponnese of Greece — One of the four pan Hellenic Games was held here, the other places being Olympia, Isthmia (near Corinth) and Delphi — The stadium at Nemea was 161 yards long — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

A variety of foot races were held but the basic one was the length of the stadium—close to 200 yards.  The length of the stadia varied from place to place.  The stadium at Nemea above is well–preserved.  Notice the starting area in the foreground and the embankments on both sides where the male spectators sat.

Paul wrote (also in other places):

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith

It is interesting that Jesus, in his Judean/Galilean context never uses the image of running the race—but Paul, in a Greco-Roman context does.

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Two bronze runners from the villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum (near Pompeii) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The races took place in the nude.  The above are first century A.D. copies of third century B.C. statues.

And the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

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A “krater” (jar used for wine) — Found at Olympia — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a representation of a runner prepared for the start of the race.  the pole in front of him may represent a turning pole or a finish line at the far end of the stadium.  Between the runner and the turning pole is a strigil—a scraper that was used to remove olive oil, sand, dirt, and sweat.

To view more images of Nemea Click Here.

Cedars of Lebanon

In the Bible, “cedar” is mention 76 times.  This strong, fragrant, long-lasting, prized wood came from the trees that were grown in Lebanon.  Cedar was used for paneling, columns and beams in palace, temples and other elite buildings in the ancient world.  They are slow-growing trees and can reach heights of 120 ft. [35 m.] and circumferences of 36 ft. [10 m.].

Cedar of Lebanon Near Bchareé (Lebanon)

Cedars were used by Solomon in constructing buildings in Jerusalem and indeed, they were used all over the Near East for the construction of large buildings from ancient to relatively recent times.).  For example it is said of Solomon that he “… made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the Shephelah” (1 Kings 10:27).

Grove of Cedar Trees Near Bchareé Lebanon

Today there are only several thousand Cedars of Lebanon in existence.  The cedars pictured here are from a grove in the area of the Lebanese village of Bchareé that is located at an elevation of 6,500 ft. [2,000 m.] in Mount Lebanon.

Twenty thousand hectares [49,000 acres) of the area has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

To view additional images of cedars and a map locating Bchareé Click Here.  Images courtesy of Mark Connally.