Category Archives: Museums

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)

PolitarchInscription

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.

The Thrill of Discovery—in a Museum!

The Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul contains a number of “world class” objects that were gathered by the rulers of the late Ottoman Empire from all over the Middle East—including glazed tiles from the Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon and a copy of the Treaty of Kadesh (between the Egyptians and the Hittite—late 13th century B.C.).

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“I am happy to meet you Mr. Lion!”
See below for the ferocious lion that this child is making friends with!
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Often times people tire quickly when visiting museums, but this January we observed one young visitor who was in the process of making friends with a ferocious looking lion that once guarded the approach to an 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli (ancient Samal).

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One of the pair of basalt lions that guarded the entrance
to the 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli
Note the detail of the mane and whiskers
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Oh, to see the world through a child’s eyes.  The joy of discovery/encounter!

The Galilee Boat

One of the very interesting archaeological discoveries related to the days of Jesus is the 27 foot boat that was discovered on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986.  The “carcass” of this unique boat is now on display in the Alon Museum on the grounds of the Kibbutz Ginnosar.  This is the only 1st century boat that has been found on the Sea of Galilee.  Possible Jesus and/or his disciples used a craft such as this one (for example Matt 13:18, 23–27; Mark 4:35–41; Luke 8:22–25).

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The Galilee Boat on display at the Yigal Alon Museum on the grounds of Kibbutz Ginnosar. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

A full scale version of this boat use to be visible at Kibbutz Ein Gev.  Unfortunately it is now wasting away on a trash heap.

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Full scale reconstruction of the Galilee Boat many years ago on the grounds of Kibbutz Ein Gev. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

As in a “mirror, dimly” 1 Corinthians 13:12

This past summer (2015) on a visit to the Israel Museum we were treated to a wonderful display of antiquities and ancient glass that Renée and Robert Belfer of New York have gifted to the Israel Museum.  Among the objects is “box mirror” decorated with a woman’s head in relief.

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A Bronze Mirror From the Belfer Collection on display in the Israel Museum. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It is made out of bronze, dates to the 4th-3rd century BCE and measures 8.5 x 6.5 inches. It swings open on the top hinge and the inside surfaces were polished in order to be used as mirrors. It appears that there was a latch—now broken—on the lower edge of the mirror.

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A view of the interior surface of the mirror.

This artifact well illustrates the type of object that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to the church at Corinth:

1Cor. 13:8   Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.  9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;  10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.  11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRSV)

Although it is not known where the mirror was found, we do know that Corinth was famous for the color and quality of the bronze objects made there.  “It [the bronze] had an unusually high tin content (14%) that gave it an unusual color” (Furnish below).  Indeed Josephus, the first century Jewish Historian, wrote of the gates of the Second Temple that:

Now nine of these gates were on every side covered over with gold and silver, as were the jambs of their doors and their lintels; but there was one gate that was without [the inward court of] the holy house, which was of Corinthian brass, and greatly excelled those that were only covered over with silver and gold.  (Jewish War 5.5.3 [201–205])


Furnish, Victor Paul. “Corinth in Paul’s Time—What Can Archaeology Tell US?” Biblical Archaeology Review 14, no. 3 (May/June 1988): 14–27.

Herod “The Great’s” Sarcophagus?

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster)  and the architectural fragments of the mausoleum that I mentioned in my previous posts, the so called sarcophagus of Herod that is also on display in the Israel Museum.

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The Sarcophagus of Herod? Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The  display of the reconstructed main sarcophagus found at “Herod’s Tomb” at the Herodium.  It appears to be made out of local limestone.  Please notice that it although it is nicely carved with a rosette pattern on the end along with a floral pattern under the gable of the lid it is really not all the elaborate.

Compare for example the following sarcophagus.

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View of the side of the sarcophagus that depicts Abdalonymos, the person buried in the sarcophagus, fighting the Persians along with Alexander the Great!  From the 4th Century B.C.!  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.[Alexander the Great is the figure on horseback on the far left—Abdalonymos is on horseback in the center]

This sarcophagus was found at Sidon (just north of Israel) in 1887.  It dates to the last quarter of the 4th century B.C.—the time when Alexander fought the Persians at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C.  Abdalonymos was the King of Sidon at the time.  It was originally painted, and some of the pigments still remain!  The shape of the sarcophagus seems to be representing a temple.  Note the roof tiles, the “downspouts,” and the intricate carved detail!

This sarcophagus was crafted roughly 300 years before the death of Herod—so we know that this type of technology and craftsmanship was known and available to those living in the region of Herod—including Herod himself.  Would Herod really have been satisfied with such a “plain” sarcophagus as that found at the Herodium when the technology and craftsmanship  for something much more elaborate was available?

Again, did Ehud Netzer discover the “real tomb” of King Herod?  There are significant researchers who think not.  Although Netzer found a significant mausoleum and fragments of sarcophagi, neither the size of the mausoleum nor the  sarcophagi are overwhelmingly impressive—that is fitting for a king of Herod’s ego/stature (see conveniently the summary of Shanks below—and more on the sarcophagus in the next post).

Shanks, Hershel. “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2014): 40–48.

Herodium Display in Israel Museum

When visiting the Israel Museum this past summer I was pleasantly surprised to find that a number of wonderful finds from the Herodium were prominently displayed in the Second Temple Section.

These included two wall paintings from the Royal Box that was associated with the theater.

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Naval Battle A wall fragment/painting from the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It depicts a naval battle with two ships with sails billowing the wind. On the deck are soldiers armed with shield and spears.

“The painting may represent the victory at Actium and possibly the beginning of Augustus’s rule following the conquest of Egypt. The choice of theme supports the possibility that the royal Room was decorated in anticipation of the visit of Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’s second–­in–­command, in 15 BCE, since he was the general responsible for the victory.” — From the description of the painting in the Israel Museum.

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Nature A wall fragment/painting from the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

“In this painting the artist depicts a sea view along with a bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree, and a boat, recalling sacred scenes from the time of Augustus while also alluding to the conquest of Egypt.

“The walls of the Royal Room were decorated with wall paintings in the secco technique [painting on dry plaster] and stuccowork. They were divided vertically by stuccowork pilasters and decorated with painted ‘hanging pictures’ that were suspended by imaginary ‘strings’ and ‘nails.’ [See the picture above] The pictures imitate windows with open shutters affording views of imaginary landscapes.” — From the description of the painting in the Israel Museum.

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The Royal Box in the spring of 2014.

Royal Box A view of the interior of the “Royal Box” above the theater at the Herodium. Note the well–preserved paintings on the wall.

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Hagia Sophia and Loeb Classical Series

Two items that struck me of interest.  The first is that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey—one of the most historic/grandest churches of Christendom—now a “museum”—is being “eyed” to be converted back to a mosque!  Recently the Koran was read within the “museum” and this may be the “nose of the camel inside of the tent!”

The current “Hagia Sophia” is the third structure to stand on this spot.  The first church was built by the son of Constantine the Great,Constantius.  It was burnt down in 404.  The second was built by Theodosius II, and it was burnt down in 532.

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View of the exterior of the Hagia Sophia. The minarets were 1,000 years after the first church was built here! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The present building was built by the great Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was dedicated on December 26, 537.  It took six years to build and over 10,000 men worked on it.  Although the dome has been repaired (rebuilt) a number of times, the church built by Justinian served as a Christian place of worship until Constantinople was captured by the Turk, Mehmet II on May 29, 1453.

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Interior of the Hagia Sophia—without scaffolding!! The roundels were added by the Muslims over 1,000 years after the church was built. The contain the names of Allah, Mohamed, and early Califs. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Mehmet II immediately turned the building into a mosque and it served as one of the major mosques of Istanbul until the reforms of Atatürk.  It reopened in 1934 as a museum.

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