Category Archives: Deities

Household gods and Christian Converts

One of the places that we like to visit on our In the Footsteps of Paul: Turkey and Greece trips are the “Terrace Houses” at Ephesus.  In studying these well–preserved houses (domus) it is possible to get an idea of how the “elite” lived in the late Roman Period.

Ephesus: This aedicula/Lararium is the small structure in the center of the image embedded in the wall with two columns in front of it. Evidently here, the household gods were worshiped.

One of the features of these types of houses are small shrines (aedicule) called Lares domestici (see Hurtado pp. 46, 56 below).   It is well–known that the Romans worshiped many “high” deities such as Jupiter/Zeus, Baccus/Dionysus, etc. . . .  but not as much attention is given to the worship of the “lesser” deities such as lares.

. . . Lares functioned as guardians over various settings.  The most common were domestic Lares of each household (Latin: Lares domestici), which represented spirits of family dead who had been elevated to a special kind of spiritual existence on account of their goodness and/or importance.  These spirits protected the family, and all members of the household were expected to reverence them daily in offerings and prayers at the Lararium, a small altar typically placed in the Roman house. . . . In comparison to the more well–known gods, the Lares . . . figured much more frequently in the day–to–day ritual life of people.

. . . . members of Roman households, the family and their slaves too, gathered daily to reverence the household Lares.  (Hurtado pp. 46–47).

Question: is this common practice of worshiping the Lares reflected in the New Testament?

One of the well–preserved Lararium at Pompeii—including the “household deities” that were worshiped here.

Because of the sudden destruction of Pompeii in August A.D. 79 when the volcano Vesuvius erupted a good number of Lararium have been preserved there.

Detail of the above Lararium at Pompeii.

From the New Testament, we realize that believers in Jesus included people from all social classes, ethnic backgrounds, occupations, males and females, etc.

The most significant feature of the Roman household (familia) was that its power was concentrated in the hands of the male head, the paterfamilias.  The members of the household were those persons over whom the paterfamilias had power.  . . .The Roman household normally was composed of husband, wife, unmarried children, slaves, freedmen, and clients . . . . (Jeffers p. 238)

Given that the worship at the Lararium occurred daily, and that all in the household were expected to participate, how would individual converts to Christianity deal with this?

If the paterfamilias—to whom all in the household owed their allegience—converted to Christianity, would he abandon the worship of the Lares?  If so, how would his non-Christian wife, sons, daughters, spouses, even slaves have reacted to this abandonment of such a well-entrenched custom?  Would he even be shunned by his “non–Christian clients” who had owed their allegiance to him?  Would the paterfamilias “force” (because of his status) his household to follow his new found faith?

What if the wife of the paterfamilias converted, but her husband did not?  Would she disrespect her husband and his ancestors by refusing to participate in this daily ritual?  What would be the consequences of such an action?  What about individual children who converted but now would not participate in this worship?

And what about the servants or slaves that were part of the household who worshiped only Jesus?  I would guess that they would be severely punished because of showing disrespect to the paterfamilias.

Another Lararium from Pompeii.  Notice the snake and altar below the shrine.

“The snake, associated with the land’s fertility and thus prosperity, approaches a low laden altar.” (Wikipedia “Lares”)

I am surprised that this “problem” does not seem to be addressed in the pages of the New Testament.


Hurtado, Larry W.  Destroyer of the gods — Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World.   Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2016.

Jeffers, James S.  The Greco–Roman World of the New Testament — Exploring the Background of Early Christianity.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

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Ship Names — Paul’s Shipwreck—Part 3

In two previous posts I shared some images and thoughts on anchor stocks that are in the Malta Maritime Museum—here and here.  The final anchor stock that I want to mention is one that actually has Isis—the name of an Egyptian Deity—inscribed on it.

The name “Isis” is clearly visible on the left side of this anchor stock.

This is a detail of the name Isis, that appears in high relief, on this anchor stock.

Isis, an Egyptian deity, was a name (among others) commonly used for ships during the Roman Era.  There was a very famous ship called Isis that is mentioned by the ancient author Lucian that was about 180 feet long, 45 feet wide (beam), and 45 feet deep—I am not saying that this is an anchor stock from that ship, but it is interesting that the name appears here.

In his book Πλοἶον ἢ Εὐχαί (“The Ship, or The Wishes”) the sophist Lucian described the Isis when he saw it in Athens’ seaport Piraeus:

I say, though, what a size that ship was! 180 feet long, the man said, and something over a quarter of that in width; and from deck to keel, the maximum depth, through the hold, 44 feet. And then the height of the mast, with its huge yard; and what a forestay it takes to hold it! And the lofty stern with its gradual curve, and its gilded beak, balanced at the other end by the long rising sweep of the prow, and the figures of her name-goddess, Isis, on either side. As to the other ornamental details, the paintings and the scarlet topsail, I was more struck by the anchors, and the capstans and windlasses, and the stern cabins. The crew was like a small army. And they were saying she carried as much corn as would feed every soul in Attica for a year. And all depends for its safety on one little old atomy of a man, who controls that great rudder with a mere broomstick of a tiller!

(Wikipedia Isis (ship)

Please note that from Malta Paul sailed to Rome on:

Acts 28:11    After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.
[Two Greek Deities]

In addition, I found another inscribed anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio, this time with the name Hera on it.

An anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio (Italy) with the name Hera on it.

Hera was believed to be the wife of the chief deity ZeusReggio is located in southern Italy, on the coast facing Sicily.  Reggio is considered to be ancient Rhegium.

Acts 28:11    After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island [=Malta]. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli.

Detail of the name “Hera”—in reverse order—on the anchor stock.

To view images of items on display in the Malta Maritime Museum check here.

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum Part 2

In a previous post I shared some images and thoughts on what I believe is the only completely preserved building dedicated to the worship of Roman Emperors in the First Century A.D.  I want to complete the posting of images from the main room where the statue of the Emperor was located.  In these two frescos, the Emperor is portrayed as the mythical hero Hercules!

On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.

View looking at the north wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.  The nude figure next to him is a river deity that is attempting to snatch away Hercules’ wife, Deianeira.  Hercules is about to rescue her!  Tuck suggests that this is a metaphor for the Emperor as Hercules who protects/rescues his people.

Flanking the central piece are “windows” that look out on to the world.  Note especially the two chariots with horses in the upper two corners.

Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude. The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.

View looking at the south wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude.  The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.  Tuck believes that this is a representation of Hercules about to be taken up to be with the gods (= apotheosis) and that he and Hera are here reconciled—Hera had attempted to kill him.  Tuck believes that this is a metaphor for the apotheosis of the Emperor—being represented as Hercules.  In other words, Vespasian, like Emperors before him, was taken to be with the gods—and thus became a god!

To view 6 images of this important room Click Here.


Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this room was renovated shortly after the death of Vespasian in A.D. 79, early in the reign of Titus—which implies that the room was soon buried by the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius—ca. 24 August 79.

I am indebted to the explanatory comments of Steven L. Tuck in his engaging “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

 

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum

As Christianity spread into the Roman World, one of the major, growing, cults that it faced was the worship of the ascended, deified, Roman Emperors—and eventually the worship of living Emperors.  It is well–known that this practice forms part of the background for the book of Revelation and also for many additional passages found in the New Testament.

So, where did all this take place?  To my knowledge, there is only one almost completely preserved structure known where this occurred.  It is called the Sacellum (chapel/temple) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship) that was excavated at Herculaneum—near Pompeii.  In this and the following post, I will share some images of this very unique structure.

View looking west at the major room of the interior of the Sacellum of the Augustales. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This building is a large space with a central nave and two side aisles.  The four columns outline the central nave and above it was a clerestory that let in outside sunlight.  Directly ahead, on the west side is the central shrine where a statue, or bust, of the emperor was venerated.  In the foreground, there are two square pedestals attached to the columns.  On them stood statues of prominent priests that served the imperial cult (=Augustales).

View looking west into the cult room of the Sacellum of the Augustales where the deified Emperor was worshiped. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

As you look directly ahead you see a vertical rectangular podium on which a statue, or bust, of the emperor was venerated.  The white, faded, paint above the podium was the latest style—based upon Neronian examples found in Rome.  The light blue paint in and above the arch was made of a substance that included lapis lazuli that was imported from Afghanistan!

On both side walls are two different frescos of Hercules—see images in the next post.  Below the frescos is barren plaster that previously was covered with marble sheeting—removed during the early tunneling/mining expeditions.  On the floor is a well–preserved marble floor—see image below.

This Latin Inscription was found on the floor of the Sacellum of the Augustales. It mentions that Aulus Lucius Proculus and his son gave a dinner to the (priests), the Augustales and to the city council at the dedication of this building.

Steven Tuck’s translation of the six line inscription follows:

Sacred to Augustus
Aulus Lucius     MEN = voting tribe
Proculus and his son Julianus
P . . . S [= Pecunia Sua = “with their own money”] [CR: compare the use of “P   S” in the Erastus Inscription from Corinth]
[Lower two lines: ] they gave a dinner to the Augustales and to the city council at the dedication of this building [= large public dinner]

Tuck notes that the name Aulus Lucius Proculus indicates that this person was a freed slave who became very wealthy and had become a priest in the organization of the Augustales (= those priests that supervised the Emperor cult).  Talk about upward mobility!

This marble floor is found in the cult room of the Sacellum of the Augustales.

Cut marble floors were very expensive! Even more expensive than mosaic floors! Note the wonderful variegated colors!

Herculaneum is a city that was located on the Italian coast west of Mount Vesuvius.  It was destroyed in August A.D. 79 when Vesuvius erupted.

Because it was buried by 50–60 feet of pyroclastic material, the buildings and their contents are actually better preserved than those found at nearby Pompeii.  It was probably 1/4 the size of Pompeii.  It is estimated that only 25% of the town has been excavated.

Some scholars have suggested that it was a small fishing village, but because of the finely built houses, and their lavish decoration, it seems more probable that it was a sea–side playground for the elite!

Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this particular structure was renovated shortly after the death of Vespasian in A.D. 79, early in the reign of Titus—which implies that the room was soon buried by the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius—ca. 24 August 79—and that is why the decorative elements are so well–preserved.

I am indebted to the explanatory comments of Steven L. Tuck in his engaging “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

 

Paul at Assos — Final Part (Asia Minor/Turkey)

In two previous “posts” I described “Paul on the Road to Assos” (Acts 20:5-12) and “Paul’s Arrival at Assos” and the Temple of Athena at Assos.  The Assos that Paul visited was a well–established Greco Roman city.  Indeed, at one time the philosopher Aristotle had lived and taught in the city (ca. 347–343 B.C.).

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Ancient Theater at Assos with the Aegean Sea Below
Click on Image to Enlarge

As in other Roman cities, the citizens of the city would assemble as the ekklesia in the theater to discuss and debate civic affairs.

The city itself, like other Roman cities, were active in honoring/worshiping the Emperor, his family, and his predecessors.  In fact, in 1881 a bronze tablet was found at Assos that dates to A.D. 37—roughly 20 years before Paul’s visit.  This tablet “records the oath of allegiance that Assos’s inhabitants swore to the emperor Gaius [Caligula] when he gained power.  It reads:

“… Since the announcement of the coronation of Gaius … (Caligula), which all mankind had longed and prayed for, the world has found no measure for its joy, but every city and people has eagerly hastened to view the god [Caligula], as if the happiest age for mankind had now arrived.

It seemed good to the Council, and to the Roman business men here among us, and to the people of Assos, to appoint a delegation … to visit him and offer offer their best wishes and to implore him to remember the city and take care of it ….

We swear by Zeus the Savior and the god Caesar Augustus [Octavian] and the holy Virgin of our city [Athena Polias] that we are loyally disposed to Gaius Caesar Augustus and his whole house, and look upon as our friends whomever he favors, and as our enemies whomever he denounces.  If we observe this oath, may all go well with us; if not, may the opposite befall.
(reference below)

Thus again, Paul and his companions encountered the veneration (worship) of the Emperors even here at Assos.

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The Modern Port of Assos

AssosHarbor01

The modern harbor at Assos
The hotels on the right are located at the foot of the acropolis
Click on Image to Enlarge

Today the harbor as Assos serves the fisherman and a number of boutique hotels line its dock [on our tours we typically stay in one of these hotels].

However, the harbor that Paul left from for Mytilene was located a bit to the east of the modern harbor.

AssosHarborDiagNote the locations of the Modern and Ancient Harbors.

AssosAncientHarbor-01-2To view additional images of the site of Assos Click Here.

The quote above is from pp. 136–37 in Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. eds. Yarbrough. Readings From the First–Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Artemis of Ephesus

In the July/August 2016 edition of The Biblical Archaeology Review there is a survey article entitled “Archaeology Gives New Reality to Paul’s Ephesus Riot” by James R. Edwards.  The article deals with the riot that is described in Acts 19:23–41.

TWCSEA01

The BAR article is very informative, but it is to be noted that the recent book by Gary Hoag Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus is not mentioned.  Hoag’s book is considered as a “game changer” that goes into the details of how Artemis was worshiped at Ephesus AND it deals with some very problematic passages in 1 Timothy (2::9–15; 3:1–3; 6:1–2a; 6:2b–10; 6:17–19)!

The book is expensive and will be of interest to scholars—but it is also accessible to an informed layperson.  For a great overview of the content of the book and some of its conclusions see the review by Lucy Peppiatt that was posted by Scot McKnight.

I was particularly interested in how actual data related to the site of Ephesus helps in interpreting the following:

1Tim. 2:9     I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,  10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

1Tim. 2:11     A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.  13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

I totally agree that the book is a “game changer” and for starters, commend Peppiatt’s review as a starting place.

Worship (illicit) at the City Gate

One of the not–to–frequently mentioned actions that the ancients practiced at city gates was  worship ([always?] illicit).

2 Kings 23:8     Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines at the gates—at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate. (NIV)

One of the best places to envision an example of one of these shrines is at a not–too–frequently visited place in Israel called et–Tell—probably to be identified as biblical Geshur (home of Absalom; see below for location).  One of the spectacular finds is a massive four–chamber Iron Age Gate.

Iron Age II City Gate at et-Tell/Geshur

Iron Age II City Gate at et-Tell/Geshur

View looking west into the entrance of the east gate of et–Tell.  Note the basalt paving stones and the two upright standing stones on each side of the gate.  On the right (north) side are three steps that led up to a “high place” (= worship center?).

GeshurStelaThe carved basalt stela found at the Iron Age Gate at et–Tell (probably biblical Geshur).  Note the bull headed figure that is place upon a tripod and wearing a sword.  It may be a representation of the storm god Hadad.  The stela dates to the 9th or 8th centuries BC.

high-place-detailView looking north at the High Place and stela located on the north side of the Iron Age gate that leads into the city.  On the left is one of the seven(!) stelae that were found in the gate area—this one is not inscribed.  Slightly to the right of center note the three steps that lead up to a high place that has a basin—carved black basalt—on the top platform.  Note the replica of a stela with the deity Hadad engraved on it.

GeshurEt-Tell is located about 2 miles north of the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee on the east side of the Upper Jordan River.  It is often identified with the New Testament city of Bethsaida but in fact the remains from the Old Testament period are much more significant and it is probably to be identified as biblical Geshur (home of Absalom).

More on sanctuaries at the city gate on Monday.