Category Archives: Jews

Jews, Proselytes, and God-Fearers at Aphrodisias

In the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts and in the ministry of the Apostle of Paul, Jews, Proselytes, and God-fearers are mentioned (see for example Acts 2:11; 6:5; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).  Because of Paul’s activities in Asia Minor (= modern Turkey), Christian scholarship has been interested in finding evidence of these groups in that area.  Unfortunately, there is little archaeological indication of first-century Judaism in the region.  However, synagogues from the Late Roman Period have been found at sites such as Sardis, Priene, Andriace, etc.  And later inscriptions mentioning “God-fearers” have been discovered at Miletus and Sardis.

At Aphrodisias a unique find related to the Jewish presence in the city was discovered—that mentions all three categories noted above.  It is a 9 ft. tall marble block that was found during the construction of the Aphrodisias Museum.

This 9 ft. tall marble block lists over 120 donors to a synagogue. Click on this and following images to Enlarge and/or Download—and to read the Greek Inscription.

The marble block is engraved on two sides—both visible in the photo.  It is a list of over 120 donors to a synagogue and is composed of three categories of names—all males: Jews, recent converts to Judaism (proselytes), and unconverted members of the synagogue community (“godfearers;” theosebeis).  It evidently dates to ca. AD 350–500) and probably served as a doorpost in a synagogue.  (Please see below for sources used in this blog post)

There are about 121 names on this front side of the marble block.

This main list is divided into two sections—see the blank space between the upper and lower portions of the list. First come men who have distinctly Biblical names or names favored by Jews, such as Benjamin, Judas, Joseph, Jacob, Samuel, Zachary, and names such as Amantios (loving), Eusabatios (the good Sabbath).

The second portion of the list is headed with the word theosebeis (“god fearers” ΘΕΟΣΕΒΙΣ ) who are gentiles who have a strong chosen affiliation with Judaism but who are not themselves Jews. They have traditional Greeκ-Roman names such as Alexandros or Eutychos.

Several local councilors head the list of god fearers, and ten of the Jews and seventeen of the God-fearers list their professions. They are all tradesmen who range from food-providers to painters to leather-workers, to sculptors and builders. The pillar probably stood outside the local synagogue and is a striking testimony to the proud place of the Jewish community in the city, to continuing fluid religious interaction in the fourth century AD, and especially to the high valuation of craft professions among this group of like-minded monotheists. (from the description in the Aphrodisias’ Museum)

This is a view of the “side” of the inscribed pillar.

This side also lists the names of members of the Jewish community and includes “14 men with predominantly Hebrew names (including three proselytes) and two Godfearers.” (Chaniotis, p. 40)

Compare the quality of this side inscription with that on the front of it. Chaniotis argues the ‘these two distinct carving styles suggest that the inscription on the front face was carved first, when the stone was still lying flat on the ground and was fully accessible to the engraver, while the text on this side face was carved at a later date—once the pillar had already been installed in the synagogue and the engraving had to be completed from atop a ladder.’ (p. 40)

For detailed pictures of this Inscription see Here.


Chaniotis, Angelos. “Godfearers in the City of Love.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36, no. 3 (May/June 2010): 32–44, 77.

Fairchild, Mark R. Christian Origins in Ephesus & Asia Minor. Istanbul: Arkeoege, 2015.

A Catalogue of Synagogues in the Land of Israel

The research into the synagogues of Ancient Israel is a fascinating subject. For example in this blog see: Magdala, Umm el-Umdan, Deir Aziz, Qanatir, Baram, and Umm el-Amud.

The Synagogue at Baram.

The following looks like a very useful site for those interested in Synagogues in the Land of Israel.  The site description follows:

The main goal of The Bornblum Eretz Israel Synagogues website is to display the world of synagogues from the Land of Israel for the scholar, student and layperson.  This website provides information such as bibliographical references, geographical location, photos, plans and brief descriptions of ancient synagogues from the Roman and Byzantine periods in the Land of Israel.  It also presents information on selected historically significant synagogues from the Middle Ages through the beginning of the 20th century.  This site will be constantly updated including the latest relevant research news and scholarly works. A search of bibliographical references is currently in preparation.

Public structures in the Land of Israel dating as early as the beginning of the 1st century BCE have been identified by excavators, surveyors and researchers as synagogues. This region contains the largest concentration of identified ancient synagogues in the world.  The number of identified ancient synagogues reaches a peak in the Roman and Byzantine periods, mainly from the 3rd through 7th centuries CE, and decreases during the 7th through 10th centuries with the collapse of the Jewish population. From the Middle Ages to the early modern period, the size of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel was relatively limited, and usually perceived as secondary to the major thriving Jewish communities in the diaspora. The relatively few synagogues, which were established and functioned in the Land of Israel during this period, had a significant social and spiritual status. From the beginning of modern times, the number of synagogues serving the different Jewish communities grew gradually to over 500 by 1948, and were diverse in terms of their appearance, social significance and liturgical nature.

A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where Did the Temple Treasure Go? Part 1

The Arch of Titus (Roman Emperor A.D. 79–81) is located in Rome on the east end of the ancient Roman Forum not too far from the Colosseum.  The emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) built it soon after the death of Titus in A.D. 81.

View looking west at the Arch of Titus from the east. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

The arch commemorates the victories of Vespasian (A.D. 69–79) and his son Titus—particularly their putting down the Jewish revolt in Judea and the capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

It is well to remember that this commemorative arch was built by Domitian, to commemorate a triumphal parade of the previous emperor Vespasian and his son Titus who was the actual conquer of Jerusalem.  On the south inner side of the arch, Roman soldiers carry the booty from the Jerusalem Temple in triumph into Rome—see end of blog for quote from Josephus.

View looking southwest at the relief carved on the southern pier of the Arch of Titus in Rome that depicts the procession of booty taken from Titus’ capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

From right to left note the representation of a Triumphal Gate with two chariot groups on top of it (enlarge the image to view details).  To the left of this are two crossed (silver) trumpets taken from the Temple in Jerusalem.  Faintly visible (enlarge image) is a representation of one of the tables that held the “show bread” in the Holy Place of the Temple.

On the left side of the image one of the seven-branched candlesticks (menorah) from the Jerusalem Temple.  This is one of the earliest representations of a menorah in existence!  Also visible are several rectangular placards on poles.  These probably were painted with inscriptions naming either cities or peoples conquered—or identifying the objects that were being displayed in triumph.

One of the seven-branched candlesticks (menorah) from the Jerusalem Temple.  Note the figures on its base!  This is one of the earliest representations of a menorah in existence!

Josephus, who was probably an eye-witness to this Triumphal Procession describes it as follows:

(148) and for the other spoils, they were carried in great plenty. But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of: (149) for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews; (150) and the last of all the spoils was carried the Law of the Jews. [= Torah scroll(s)?] (151) After these spoils passed by a great many men, carrying the images of Victory, whose structure was entirely either of ivory or of gold. (152) After which Vespasian [Emperor at the time] marched in the first place, and Titus [son of Vespasian] followed him; Domitian [son of Vespasian] also rode along with them, and made a glorious appearance, and rode on a horse that was worthy of admiration.  (Josephus War 7.148-152 [7.5.4])

Evidently, all this booty, along with other treasures from Judea, were deposited in Vespasian’s “Temple of Peace!”

What is the “Temple of Peace” you ask?  We will take a look at that in my next blog.


Click Here to view additional images of the Arch of Titus.

More Interesting Viewing

Here in the USA the Public Broadcasting System is airing Ancient Invisible Cities — three one hour programs on the cities of Athens, Cairo, and Istanbul.  This past week I saw the one on Athens and it was very interesting.  It took me to places that I had not seen before and used computer graphics to investigate a structure such as the Erechtheum on the Acropolis.  It is available online right now at:

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

And, the folk at Jerusalem Perspective have placed on line a 54 min lecture (with pictures) by Ronny Reich entitled “The Mikveh and Ritual Immerson in the Second Temple Period.”  Ronny Reich is of course famous for many excavations—but especially at the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.

This is an informative lecture about the archaeology and literary sources that describe miqvaoth.  You will want to have pen and paper at hand to take notes.  Around 14:00–26:00 he describes the minimun requirements for a miqveh.  And talks about miqvaoth discovered in the Jewish Quarter by Avigad and near the Temple Mount by Mazar.  Also ones at Gamla (33:00), Jericho (41:45), Masada (48:20), and Qumran.  I always wondered how they cleaned them and exactly how an otzar worked—here I found out.  But remember, this is as of 2006, before the discovery of many additional ritual baths such as the ones at Magdala.


Here are two miqvaoth samples from Jerusalem that are not discussed by Reich and one question (from me) from Jericho.

This ritual bath (miqveh) is located in Benjamin Mazar’s excavations south of the Triple Gate of the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif) area.

Ritual Bath recently discovered in the Rabbinic Tunnel Complex near the Western Wall.

Note the steps that lead down into the ritual bath (miqvah).  Our guide suggested that this ritual bath may have been used by the priests that served in the Temple itself.  But, since it looks like it would have been difficult to immerse oneself in this bath/pool/basin, our guide said that an alternative view is that it was a place where ritual vessels were washed (purified).  It seems to me that this bath/pool is very similar in design to the larger one that was found by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount.

This large ritual bath is from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era) and is located on the lower eastern  slope of the Western Hill—west of the Temple Mount proper.


My Question: is this a Balsam Processing Pool?  It looks like one of the above Ritual Baths.  Also, see here!

Okay, from Jericho. Is this a Balsam processing pool? Or a Ritual Bath?

This is a view of a pool that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  To harvest it I believe that usually not-too-deep slits were cut into the branches of the bush with either a sharp bone or piece of glass—never with a metal knife.  The sap that came out was processed for its scent.

Evidently, another method included the cutting and soaking of crushed branches, in a pool such as this, but I am not certain how that process actually worked.  I am guessing that the finished product, although valuable, was not as good quality as that produced by the method described above.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 42–80.

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).

Jerusalem: Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall — A Monumental Ritual Bath

We recently took the 80 minute guided tour called “Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall.”  This tour is run by the same group that operates the much more familiar “The Western Wall Tunnels” tour.

One of the interesting finds that we visited was a large ritual bath  from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era) that is located on the lower eastern  slope of the Western Hill—west of the Temple Mount proper.

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View of the large stepped ritual bath from the Late Second Temple Period. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note the steps that lead down into the ritual bath (miqvah).  Our guide suggested that this ritual bath may have been used by the priests that served in the Temple itself.  But, since it looks like it would have been difficult to immerse oneself in this bath/pool/basin, our guide said that an alternative view is that it was a place where ritual vessels were washed (purified?).  It seems to me that this bath/pool is very similar in design to the larger one that was found by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount.

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The very large Ritual Bath discovered by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount. Click on image to enlarge — and download if you wish

For a earlier discussion of Mazar’s bath/pool/basin see here.  For a view of a more typical ritual bath Click Here.

wwritualbath-05138

Another view of the ritual bath/pool/basin at the Western Wall Excavations.

Next time, a monumental room from the Late Second Temple Period (New Testament era).


A personal musing follows:

These baths look a lot like the so-called “Balsam Soaking Pools” at New Testament (Herodian) Jericho.

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This is a view of a pool at Herodian (NT) Jericho that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  See here for a more complete discussion of this pool/bath.