Category Archives: Inscriptions

The Divine Name — YHWH — at Mt. Gerizim

I have posted on my web site some images of the archaeological remains that have been excavated on Mount Gerizim—the Samaritan’s holy mountain.

Mount Gerizim on the left (south) and Mount Ebal on the right (north)
For a higher resolution version of this image Click Here

In addition to the images of the archaeological remains, I have posted three images of inscriptions, among many,  that were found on Mount Gerizim and that are now on display in the Good Samaritan(!) Inn Museum—on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

The Divine Name YHWH carved in stone — from the excavations at Mount Gerizim

One of these stone inscriptions actually contains the divine name Yhwh in Paleo-Hebrew script and might be of interest to some of you.

To view additional images of the remains on Mount Gerizim Click Here.

I am a Pagan — A Rare Papyrus from A.D. 250

I have frequently heard and read about how there were “tests” to see if people were Christians or not.  Usually the tests consisted of invoking the gods and offering a prayer and wine to the image of the Emperor (see my previous post for this type of test by Pliny and the relevant text from A.D. 112).

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P.Luther 4 — Owned by Luther College Decorah Iowa — A Decian Libellus — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above papyrus document is from the ancient village of Theadelphia that was located in the Fayum of Egypt.  It is a document drawn up by a man (Aurelious Sarapammon) to attest that he had “sacrificed, poured the libations, and tasted the offerings” according to a decree of the Roman emperor Decius (ruled A.D. 249–251).  This document was then signed by two local officials to attest that he had done so.  There are only about 45 such “Decian Libellius” documents in existence.

Christians, both lay and leadership, had difficulty performing such acts and thus could be subject to torture and execution—see conveniently the Wikipedia article on Decius and his persecution of Christians.

The above text reads:

To those who have been selected to take charge of the sacrifices, from Aurelius Sarapammon, servant of Appanus, former exegetes of the most–illustrious city of the Alexandrian, and however he styled, residing in the village of Theadelphia.  Always sacrificing to the gods, now too, in your presence, in accordance with the orders, I sacrificed, poured the libations, and tasted the offerings, and I ask that you sign below.  Farewell

(Second hand) We, Aurelius Serenus and Hermas [way you sacrificing …

Translation by W. Graham Claytor, University of Michigan in the “Qualley Papyri Exhibit” at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. — Date of document ca. June12–July 14, 250 C.E.  My emphasis.

The above document was on display a number of papyri that were found in the ancient village of “Theadelphia” in the Fayum of Egypt was on display at Luther College (Decorah, IA) during a Homecoming Celebration.

For the official on-line publication of  “The Orlando W. Qualley Papyrus Collection” at Luther College, including other images) see the Luther Web Site where there are also additional notices.

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).

A Jerusalem Synagogue Building from Jesus’ Time?

In 1913 Raymond Weill excavated in the “City of David” and found a large limestone block—ca. 30 in. x 16 in.—that contained a clear 10 line Greek inscription.

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“Theodotus Synagogue Inscription” found in Jerusalem. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The inscription reads:

“Theodotos, son of Vettenos, priest and head of the synagogue, son of the head of the synagogue, who was also the son of the head of the synagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and for the study of the precepts, as well as the hospice [inn or temporary residence] and the chambers and the bathing–establishment, for lodging those who need them, from abroad; it (the synagogue) was founded by his ancestors and the elders and the Simonides.” (Translation from a sign in Israel Museum where the object is on display)

Most scholars date the inscription to prior to AD 70—that is before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  If this dating is correct, then this inscription provides clear contemporary evidence of at least one synagogue building in Jerusalem even while the Temple was still standing!

The term “synagogue” is used 43 times in the Gospels in association with the ministry of Jesus.  In one instance, Luke 7:1–8, there is a clear reference to a building—not merely a “gathering.”  But archaeologically, not many first century AD synagogue buildings have been found—thus the importance of a synagogue building being mentioned in this first century inscription.

According to this inscription it is also clear that the Torah was read and the “precepts” were studied (= teaching of the commandments) in the synagogue.

Note, that there is no mention of prayers and/or singing!  Note too that neither praying nor singing are mentioned in Jesus’ experience in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–30), nor in Paul’s experience in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, ca. AD 37 (Acts 13:14ff).

In addition there was an “inn” with auxiliary rooms and installations near the Jerusalem synagogue.  This was for the use of Jewish pilgrims from “abroad”—note the 15 different people groups that were in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:7–12).


For an accessible discussion of this inscription see:   Fant, Clyde E., and Mitchell G. Reddish, “Theodotus Synagogue Inscription,” pp. 358–60.   Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.  They also have provided a translation of the inscription on page 358.

For a detailed discussion of this inscription see:  Kloppenborg, John S.     “The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription and the Problem of First –Century Synagogue Buildings.” Pages 236–82 in Jesus and Archaeology. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.

Politarchs (Acts 17:6, 8): Luke gets it right—as usual!

Acts 17 describes the arrival of Paul and Silas in Thessalonica, on Paul’s Second Journey, and how that after preaching in the synagogue on three Sabbath days that

4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

Acts 17:5     But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.  6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials [politarchs], shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here,  7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”  8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials [politarchs] were thrown into turmoil.  9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. (NIV)

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This inscription, dated to the second century A.D., lists six Politarchs (“Rulers of the Citizens”) among other officials. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This term, “politarch,” is used (correctly!) by Luke in Acts 17:6, 8 of officials in Thessalonica.

These “ruler of the citizens” were the chief magistrates of the city and were appointed annually.  “They performed administrative and executive functions, as well as exercising judicial authority . . . of the more than sixty known inscriptions that mention politarchs, three–fourths of them are from the Macedonian area of Greece, with approximately half being from Thessalonica itself.”

The inscription is from an old Roman arch that was part of the old Vardar Gate that was torn down in 1876.  The inscription was given to the British Consulate and eventually presented to the British Museum.

Explanatory information from Fant, Clyde E., and Mitchell G. Reddish, “Politarch Inscription at Thessalonica,” pp. 366–70.   Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.  They also have provided a translation of the inscription on page 367.

To view/download 12 high resolution photos of Thessalonica Click Here.

Gortyna and Paul’s Fourth Journey

GortynaGortyna was the capital of a Roman province and the seat of the first Christian bishop of Crete.  During the Roman period it was the chief city of Crete—its population may have reached 100,000 people.  The site is huge—its city walls are about 6 mi. long!

Many believe that Paul made a Fourth Journey (not recorded in scripture) after his first Roman imprisonment and in the process visited Crete.  According to Titus 1:5 Paul left Titus on Crete to deal with some church affairs that were still outstanding.

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The Basilica of St. Titus at Gortyna
View of the Nave and the Apse of the Basilica
According to tradition St. Titus was martyred here
Click on Image to Enlarge

The Basilica of St. Titus at Gortyna preserves the memory of Titus’ ministry on the island (Titus 1:5).

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Details of the Fifth Century B.C. Law Code at Gortyna
It is read from “right to left” and then “left to right” — as an ox plows a field (boustrophedon)
Click on Image to View Details

At Gortyna there is also a famous well-preserved Greek law code called “The Twelve Tablets” that dates to the fifth century B.C.  It is written in “boustrophedon” style—(“as the ox plows”) namely from “right to left” and then “left to right.”

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Outer Corridor of the Odeon at Gortyna that uses stones from the Fifth Century B.C. Law Code for its walls!
Click on Image to Enlarge

Many of the original stones are now reused in a wall of the second century Odeon at Gortyna.  At the times of Paul’s and Titus’ visits the code would have been in its original format.

To view additional images of Gortyna Click Here.

For introductory information on Paul’s Fourth Journey see the map and commentary by 1 Timothy 2 in The NIV Study Bible and the Introduction to Titus.

A Fragment of a Sphinx Found at Hazor – Update

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Base of Sphinx Found at Tel Hazor
Photo from Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman
Hebrew University Press Release

Update: in an NPR Radio interview Ben-Tor said that originally the sphinx was about 6 ft. long and 2 ft. high.

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