Category Archives: Deities

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

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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.

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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.

 

Astounding Neolithic Site — Göbekli Tepe

For those interested, I have posted 17 images of Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”)—a Neolithic site located about 9 mi. north of Sanliurfa in south–central Turkey before the “protective covering” was constructed over the site.  This 22 acre site was functional from roughly 9,600 BC to 8,200 BC was excavated by Klaus Schmidt.

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View of the major excavated area at Göbekli Tepe
Click on image to Enlarge

It was a religious center constructed by and used by foragers (not farmers!).  The excavated portions consist mainly of rings of well-carved standing limestone pillars—the tallest 18 ft. high.

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Detail of one of the rings of standing stones
Click on image to Enlarge

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Note the variety of animals on the carved stone
Click on image to Enlarge

Images of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and boars are carved on them in low bas-relief.  In posting my images I was amazed to think about how during the Neolithic Period (ca. 9,000 B.C.) these people, using only flints and stone tools(!!), were able to quarry stones that were 18 ft. high and weighed 16 tons!  How did they transported these stones to the site of Göbekli Tepe?  How did they carve and smooth the surfaces of these stones and leave images in bas-relief(!) on them??

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One of the large (almost 18 ft. tall) standing stones —note the carving on its side and base
Click on image to Enlarge

How these pillars were carved, transported, and erected—in 9,600 BC—is very mysterious!

Schmidt believes that it was a worship center for foragers, for he has not found any walls, houses, hearths, or signs of agriculture.

The finds at the site are beginning to revolutionize the understanding of the transition from Natufian culture to the Neolithic age.

The worship center is actually almost 1,600 earlier than Kathleen Kenyon’s famous Neolithic Tower at Jericho.

Temple A at Laodicea (turned into a “library”?) — Part 1 of 2 Parts

Rev. 3:14–17 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: . . . 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (NIV)

When we first visited the site of Laodicea in 1999 for all practical purposes the site had not been excavated and information about it was “sketchy.”  Since 2003 very large scale excavations have been taking place under the direction of Professor Celal Şimşek.

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Celal Şimşek (center, excavator of Laodicea), Tulu Gokkadar (left, guide), Carl Rasmussen (right, content provider to http://www.HolyLandPhotos.org) in front of Temple A.

One, of the many(!), outstanding finds is “Temple A.”

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View looking north at the reconstructed entrance to Temple A at Laodicea. Notice the steps leading up to the entrance, the four spiral columns on plinth, and the composite capitals (a combination of the Ionic and Corinthian orders)—all signs that this is a Late Roman phase of the Temple) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

According to the excavator, Celal Şimşek (on site verbal communication 2014; but see below), Temple A was established in the first century A.D. and was dedicated to Apollo (not to Zeus as some previously speculated). Soon the sister of Apollo, Artemis, was worshiped here and eventually Imperial Cult worship was also added (very early fourth century A.D.—during the reign of Diocletian).

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View (2008) of the vaulted substructure of Temple A not too long after its excavation. Note the arch and the springs of the arch (on both sides of the image) of the vaulting (typically Roman construction) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Previously there was some speculation that Temple A was dedicated to Zeus partially because of analogies with the Temple of Zeus at Aizanoi.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

The temple of Zeus at Aizanoi has a special subterranean temple below the main temple, as does Temple A at Laodicea — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

At Aizanoi Zeus was worshiped at the above ground temple while Cybele (mother goddess) was worshiped in the subterranean chamber (above).

More next time on some evidence as to the Apollo and Artemis connections at Laodicea.


According to an undated glossy brochure distributed at the site, Temple A was:

“. . . built in the Antonine period (second century CE) . . . [and] was heavily renovated in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (284–305 CE)”

“[The] Temple was used as [a] religious archive of the Ladoicea Church when Christianity was accepted as [the] official religion in the 4th century CE . . . and [the] temple was destroyed after the earthquake in 494 CE”

Steven Fine has noted that the Church at Laodicea was evidently anti-Jewish—as evidenced by the anti-Jewish Council of Laodicea that was held at Laodicea soon after the death of Julian the Apostate in A.D. 363.  See a previous post on a menorah and cross.