Category Archives: Museums

One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Besides constructing a Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate issued a series of bronze coins—perutahs honoring the Emperor Tiberius.  He minted these coins in Jerusalem between 29 and 31 (Taylor, 556; Jesus was tried before this same Pilate in AD 30 or 33).

Obverse of a bronze perutah, minted in Jerusalem, by Pontius Pilate
Note the “augur’s staff” called a lituus — the coin is inscribed
Click Image to Enlarge

The above is a sample of one of the two types of coins.

Bronze perutah minted in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate

The inscription on this coin reads “of Tiberius Caesar.”  This type of coin features a lituus on the obverse side of the coin.

The lituus was a wooden staff (or wand) with a curled end, made of a branch of either ash or hazel … The lituus was held in the right hand of the augures and was the augures’ identifying emblem.  (Taylor 559-59)

The lituus was used by augurs who were priests that interpreted the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds (size of flock, noises made, direction of flight, etc.).

[The lituus] was also raised to the sky when they invoked the god and made predictions.   It was used to mark out regions of the heavens when assessing the placement of sacred space on earth (Taylor 559).

Taylor continues, that these two types of coins (only one is covered in this post) honor priests

who were representatives of Roman religion in the two imperial cult temples of Caesarea Maritime and in Sebaste, located in the province he [Pilate] governed (565).

And she concludes:

In using exclusively Roman cultic items in his coinage designed for a province largely composed of Jews and Samaritans, Pilate was promoting Roman religion, manifested largely in the imperial cult, in an environment in which there were strong sensitivities (565).

Thus it is evident that the person who condemned Jesus to death was active in promoting the Imperial Cult via the coins that he issued and the Tiberieum that he built at Caesarea!

In light of the above, imagine what was going through Pilate’s mind when he heard the words:

“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)

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 555–563.

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It should be noted that coins from cities/areas outside of Judea — with images of deities or emperors on them — circulated in Judah.  See Mark 12:13-17 and parallels.

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.

Olympics and Statues from the Time of The Apostle Paul

With the Olympic games in progress and Bible History Daily featuring a 2004 article entitled “Ancient Combat Sports” my mind drifted back to a trip to Rome in which seventy(!) world-class statues from all over Italy had been gathered in the hallways of the Colosseum in Rome.  The display was called “Nike. Il gioco e la vittoria”   (Nike, joy and victory)—it had nothing to do with the shoe company!  The following are three of the 23 images that I have posted on my web site.

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Discus Thrower (Diskobolos)

This is a first century A.D. life-size (61 in. [1.54 m.]) marble statue copied from a bronze statue originally done by the sculptor Myron of Greece ca. 450 B.C.  This piece is normally displayed in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.

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View of the “Terme Boxer” (Pugile delle Terme).  This contestant participated in pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling)

This bronze statue of a boxer, a pugilist, is signed by Apollonius.  He is seated, weary, and battered.  The realism of this statute is characteristic of the Hellenistic period.  It was found in Rome.  It is a first century A.D. copy of a third or second century B.C. original.  If you enlarge the image the leather gloves that the boxers wore—sometimes with metal bands, as in this case—are clearly visible.

1 Cor. 9:26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

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Runners (Corridoi)

Two bronze runners from the villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.  These are first century A.D. copies of third century B.C. statues.

“Cupping” Ancient and Modern

There is quite a “buzz” about the round marks evident on the worlds’ best swimmer, Michael Phelps, as he participates in the Olympics in Rio.

PhelpsCuppingHe is practicing an ancient therapy called “cupping” where by cups are place on the skin to produce a local suction on the skin.  This is believed to assist the flow of blood in order to promote healing.  The “suction” can be created by placing heated cups on the skin—or in modern times by using mechanical suction.

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A rectangular marble statue base in which are carved Physicians’ implements. On each side are cupping glasses, and in the middle is a case of medical instruments of various types.  It was found in the Asclepion in Athens—below the acropolis.

This technology was actually used by the Greeks as far back as the Hellenistic Period as the above statue base gives evidence!  The above object dates to the 3rd or 2nd century B.C. and is located in the National Museum in Athens.

See Here for a good article on modern “Cupping.”

The Roles of the Roman Emperors

Groups traveling to Turkey will often fly into Istanbul and spend a day or two there before continuing on to other parts of the country.   One of the stops in Istanbul is typically the world-class Archaeological Museum located near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  For students of the Bible it houses some extremely important artifacts.  The main ones are located on the top floor of the museum including the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, The Second Temple Warning Inscription, and the Gezer Calendar (the first two from Jerusalem).

Bronze Statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138)
In Toga depicting him as “the first citizen” of Rome
Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
For additional information about this statue Click Here

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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.

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!