Category Archives: Daily Life

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.

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

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!

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.