Category Archives: Inscriptions

Another Son of God? Pilate’s Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judea that condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18 and 19). He is mentioned 61 times in the New Testament.  He governed Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.

The Pontius Pilate Inscription from Caesarea Maritima—now in the Israel Museum.

Pilate was facing at least two major problems when Jesus appeared before him to be tried.  The first was that he needed to deal with any potential rebellion against Rome—what else would a “king of the Jews” do?

A second problem was how seriously should Pilate take the accusation that

John 19:7-8  . . .  he [Jesus] must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this, he [Pilate] was even more afraid,

Why was Pilate “more afraid” when he heard this charge?  Well, the dead “ascended” Augustus was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire as a deity.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry there were Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  that had been in existence for over 40 years!

And in addition, Augustus’ son, and now Emperor(!), Tiberius, was worshiped as the “son of god” (that is, the son of the deified Augustus)!  In this regard it is not often remembered that it was Pilate who built a temple for the worship of Tiberius as the “son of god” at Caesarea Maritima!  How could there be a “son of God” to compete with the Imperial “son of god?”  In addition Pilate was confronted with the potential accusation of the local leadership: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12).  Pilate had a “lot on his plate!”

In light of this, I invite you to check out the following description and discussion of the “Pilate Inscription” from Caesarea Maritima.


In 1961 by an Italian expedition that was excavating the theater at Caesarea Maritima discovered a Latin inscription that actually mentions him.

The “Pilate” Inscription from Caesarea Maritima

When people comment on this inscription they usually emphasize that now there is actual archaeological evidence for Pilate’s activity in Judea and that his title was “Prefect.”  This is fine,  BUT what about the word “Tiberieum” in the first line?  To what does “Tiberieum” refer?

This stone was used at least three ways.  First, it was probably a dedicatory inscription in a temple called a “Tiberieum.”  Pilate built this temple to honor the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37)—the current “son of god”!  This was then the second imperial cult temple in Caesarea—the first was the (probably much larger) Imperial Cult Temple that had been built by Herod the Great (37– 4 BC) for the worship of Augustus and deified Roma!

Thus it should be noted that at Caesarea Maritima the imperial cult founded by Herod the Great was still being practiced AND that Pilate as a good governor was also promoting the Imperial Cult—adding a structure for the worship of the ruling Roman emperor, Tiberius (14–37).  All of this going on during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (ca. 26–30)!

Secondly, the stone was taken from the temple and used as part of a well–head—note the half-circle on the right hand side.  Finally, it was used as a step in the fourth century Byzantine theater (where it was discovered).

Four lines of the Latin inscription are visible.

[_ _ _]S TIBERIÉUM
[_ _ PO]NTIUS PILATUS
[PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E
[_ _ _ _ _ ] É [_ _ _ _ _ _ _] (Taylor, p. 564)

[. . .] Tiberieum
[. Po]ntius Pilate
[Pref]ect of Judaea
[. . .]e[. . .] (p. 565)

Joan E. Taylor translates the inscription as:   “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, [made and d]e[dicated] the Tiberieum for the (Augustan) gods” (p. 570).

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 564–65.

Laodicea — Menorah and Cross

Laodicea is the last of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation (1:11; 3:14–22). In the letter there may be a number of allusions to the local setting of Laodicea: the lukewarm water, riches, gold, white garments, and eye salve! (see The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting by Colin J. Hemer; click here to view for purchase from amazon.com).

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Menorah with Flames Flanked by a Lulav and Shofar — Above it a cross was inscribed — Click (actually two clicks) on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above column was discovered while “cleaning out the nymphaeum” at Laodicea (Wilson, p. 251; see below).  The search for the Late Roman/Byzantine Jewish presence in Asia Minor is ongoing.  The above column attests to a Jewish presence at Laodicea but its relationship to the Christians there is ambiguous.  To this untrained eye it looks like the cross was added to the menorah.  Did this mean that Christians and Jews were peacefully coexisting at Laodicea?  Or was this an indication of Jewish Christians there?  Or that Christianity had “superseded” Judaism?

(Addition.   In the scholarly article mentioned in Mark Wilson’s comment below, Steven Fine comments on this artifact in light of the anti-Jewish Council of Laodicea that was held soon after the death of Julian the Apostate in A.D. 363. After a long discussion Fine draws attention not only to the “Christianization” of pagan shrines but also of Jewish synagogues and he concludes, “my own instinct, however, is to suspect the worst and to suggest that the kind of social distancing given expression by the Council of Laodicea adversely affected the local [Laodicean] late-antique Jewish community, of which our column is the only archaeological evidence.)

To view additional Menoroth with a lulav see  Hierapolis Tomb 148B, the steps of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, the plaque from the synagogue at Andriace (Turkey), a square post at Umm el-Qanatir (Israel, Golan Heights), and the mosaic synagogue floor at Sepphoris (Israel).  Menoroth with shofars are rather common.

LaodiceaMap4Laodicea is a very large mound located to the north of Denizli. It was founded by Seleucid kings during the third century B.C. By the New Testament era it was a very large and very important city. It had evidently replaced both nearby Hierapolis and Colossae as the most important city in the area.

It was located near good water sources although an aqueduct brought water to the city from the south. Most importantly it was located at a key road junction. The major road coming from the east (Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, India, China) came to Laodicea and from there one could continue west, 112 mi. [180 km.], to the port city of Ephesus, or head northwest towards Philadelphia from where roads headed either west to Smyrna, or continued northwest to Pergamum. From Laodicea, one could also travel southeast to Attalia, a port on the Mediterranean Sea.

It is probable that Epaphras was instrumental in establishing the church at Laodicea, and Paul writes that his letter to the church at Colossae (only 8 mi. [13 km.] distant) should be read by the believers at Laodicea (Col 2:1). Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Laodicea (Col 4:16). This letter has not been discovered, although many scholars speculate that the book called “Ephesians” was originally addressed to the church at Laodicea.

Mark Wilson’s Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor is the best up-to-date resource available on biblical sites in Turkey (amazon $35.35).

God Fearers in the Synagogue and Early Church — Evidence from Miletus

MiletusMap3In the New Testament the book of Acts 13-28 describes the spread of Christianity primarily through the efforts of Paul and his companions.  As they traveled throughout Asia Minor and Greece some Jews and many Gentiles adopted the new faith.  Some of these Gentiles where already interested in the God of the Jews and involved in synagogue worship.  This group is mentioned several times in the book of Acts (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

Clear evidence for the presence of a Jewish population living at Miletus, which Paul stopped at on the return leg of his Third Journey (Acts 20:15ff), is evidenced by an inscription that is located on the fifth row of seats on the southeast side of the large theater at Miletus (see below).

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Greek Theater Inscription
τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον”the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers” or
“the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers”
Click on image to enlarge/download

τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον

This inscription seems to mark “reserved seating” for Jews and possibly related “God–worshipers.” There are other “reserved seat” markings in this, and other, theaters.  As it stands the inscription reads “the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers.”

But some have suggested that whom ever wrote the inscription may have inverted the “τῶν καὶ.” If this is the case, then the inscription could refer to two groups of people, Jews and Gentile God–worshipers (= “the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers”). Compare the same categories found in the book of Acts, although not quite the same terminology (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

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The Theater at Miletus
The “God-Fearer” inscription is located where the two people are sitting near the center of the image
Click on image to enlarge and/or download

To View More Images of Miletus Click Here.

Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb

One of the least visited places in Jerusalem is the portion of the village of Silwan that is located on the lower western slope of the Mount of Olives—opposite the “City of David.”

The village itself is built over 50 tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. This necropolis – “city of the dead”  – was investigated by David Ussishkin and Gabriel Barkay between 1968 and 1971. Travel to this area is very difficult (= impossible) for the inhabitants of Silwan are normally very hostile to outsiders.

The two most famous tombs from this necropolis are “the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter” and the “Tomb of the Royal Steward.”

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Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
Note the door on the left — this important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken

Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village.  This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed.  The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).

IJOTIT07 Nahman Avigad translated the larger inscription as “This is [the sepulcher of . . . ] yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and no gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his amah with him. Cursed be the man who will open this!”

In the text the phrase “who is over the house” refers to a very important personage in the Judean government (about second to the king). His name, according to the inscription, was “. . . yahu.” Unfortunately the first part of his name is missing but many believe that the person who was buried here was none other than Shebna [yahu], the Royal Steward, whom Isaiah condemned for ‘hewing a tomb for himself on high’ – SEE Isaiah 22:15-17!

The amah (a female) mentioned in the inscription may also have been a very high functionary in the Judean government.

For a popular description of this necropolis see: Shanks, Hershel. “The Tombs of Silwan.” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 20, no. 3 (May/June, 1994):38-51

You also may be interested in viewing the First Temple Tombs found on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem – Click Here.

NT Inscriptions — Gallio Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12)

Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:12).

Acts 18:12     While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

Acts 18:14     Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you.  15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.”  16 So he had them ejected from the court.  17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever. (NIV)

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View of the “Gallio Inscription” found at Delphi. In the fourth line from the top, the Greek form of “Gallio” is clearly visible. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The inscription is written in Greek and is a copy, carved in stone, of a decree of the Roman Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41–54) who commanded L. Iunius Gallio, the governor, to assist in settling additional elite persons in Delphi—in an effort to revitalize it.

The inscription dates between April and July A.D., 52, and from it, it can be deduced that Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia in the previous year.  Thus Paul’s eighteenth month stay in Corinth (Acts 18:1–18) included the year 51.  This inscription is critical in helping to establish the Chronology of Paul as presented in the book of Acts.

To view all nine pieces of the inscription Click Here.

To view the “bema” in Corinth, before which Paul appeared in the presence of Gallio, Click Here.

For a brief description of Delphi Click Here.

Paul at Assos — Part 1

In a previous post, “Paul on the Road to Assos,” I shared some comments and an image of the road that led from Troas to Assos (Acts 20:5–12).

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The western road that led to Assos from the north—through the “necropolis”
The road was lined with funeral monuments honoring the élite of the city
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

As Paul approached Assos he probably would have come down this road that was lined with funerary monuments that honored the deceased of the city.

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View south at the Western Gate of Assos that dates to the Hellenistic Period
The road in the foreground is probably the one that Paul used to approach the city
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

He then would have entered this magnificent city gate that was built in the fourth century B.C. and is still standing to a height of 46 ft.!  Alternatively, he may have taken the road that skirts this gate to the west and descends directly to the harbor.

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Western Wall and Western Gate at Assos
Built in the 4th century B.C.
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The Hellenistic walls at Assos are some of the best preserved from ancient times.

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The remains of the Doric Temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Assos
It was built around 530 B.C. In the distance is the Island of Lesbos
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

At the time of Paul’s visit, the Temple of Athena was almost 600 years old.  It is situated on the Acropolis that towers 780 ft. over the Aegean Sea.

For additional images of the Temple of Athena Click Here.
For images of the walls, necropolis, and gates Click Here.

Warning to Gentiles from the Days of Jesus — Inscriptions

The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was surrounded by a fence (balustrade) that was about 5 ft. [1.5 m.] high.  On this fence were mounted inscriptions in Latin and Greek forbidding Gentiles from entering the temple area proper (image below).

One complete inscription was found in Jerusalem in 1871 and is now on display on the third floor of the “Archaeological Museum” in Istanbul.

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The Temple Inscription warning Gentiles not to proceed beyond this barrier—on threat of death. Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

The Greek text has been translated:  “Foreigners must not enter inside the balustrade or into the forecourt around the sanctuary.  Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”

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The first century Jewish historian Josephus mentions the barrier and inscription in two places:

(193) When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple, there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; (194) upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that “no foreigner should go within that sanctuary;” for that second [court of the] temple was called “the Sanctuary;” (Josephus Jewish War.5.5.1 [193–194]

(417) Thus was the first enclosure. In the midst of which, and not far from it, was the second, to be gone up to by a few steps; this was encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription, which forbade any foreigner to go in, under pain of death. (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 15.11.5 [417]

Compare the accusation against Paul found in Acts 21:28-29:

Acts 21:28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.”  29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)

There is also the possibility that this barrier is referred to by Paul when he writes:

Eph. 2:14     For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

 

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This six-line fragment of the Temple Warning was found by J. H. Iliffe east of the Old City of Jerusalem wall—near the Lion’s Gate.

 

Translation of the inscription from Elwell, Walter A., and Yarbrough, Robert W., eds.  Readings from the First–Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study.  Encountering Biblical Studies, general editor and New Testament editor Walter A. Elwell.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998, p. 83. Click Here to view for purchase from amazon.com.