Category Archives: New Testament

Paul in the Cities — Where Did They Eat?

The Apostle Paul resided in many cities of the Roman Empire including Tarsus, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Rome.  As I lead tours to these ancient cities, we often wonder what life was like in them in the first century A.D.  One of the interesting “institutions” are the thermopolia—”fast food establishments” that were found in every large city.  For example, eighty–three thermopolia have been discovered at Pompeii, and more have been discovered at nearby Herculaneum and at Ostia—the port of Rome.  (be sure and see the final two paragraphs of this blog)

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View of a Fast Food establishment (thermopolium, popina, taberna) at Pompeii. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This is the Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus (aka T. of Asellina) that is located on the lower floor of his house in Pompeii (Italy).  It is situated on the main street of Pompeii, the via dell’ Abbondanza.  Food and drink were sold and consumed here.  Note the large storage jars that are built into the masonry and marble counters.

On the back wall is a well–preserved lararium—a shrine dedicated to the household gods.   Among others Mercury, the god of trade, and Dionysus, the god of wine are depicted (maybe assisted sales?!).  A hoard of 6.6 lbs. of worthless coins were found in one of the jars.  It was evidently left behind when the owner fled Pompeii as ash rained down from the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius (picture below).  In the back of the shop, not visible, was a slightly more private eating area.  A staircase led to guest rooms on the second floor—a brothel?  These thermopolia were situated street side on the ground floor of apartment buildings and even elite houses.

The thermopolia were visited primarily by the lower classes as the upper classes would dine in the luxurious surroundings of their own homes.  The houses of lower classes of people rarely had kitchens, thus they would eat at an establishment such as this, or they would “carry out” the food to take back home.

Since many (most?) of the early Christians were from the lower classes, they probably frequented places like the local thermopolium.  And, it is very probable that Paul and other leaders of the Early Church did so as well in the cities that they resided in!  Is it not possible that in establishments like this that the Early Christians shared their belief in “Jesus is Lord”—rather than “Caesar is Lord?”

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A Thermopolium from nearby Herculaneum—also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius.

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Mount Vesuvius that erupted in August of A.D. 79 covering Pompeii with ash and Herculaneum with a pyroclastic flow.

For use or publication of any of these images please see this link.

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Paul in the Cities: Where did They Meet? 2 (Ask Eutychus! Acts 20:9)

Alexandria Troas — Paul on His Return to Jerusalem
on His Third Journey

Acts 20:7     On the first day of the week . . . Paul spoke to the people . . . and kept on talking until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.  9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.

What kind of building was this group of believers meeting in?  Probably an “apartment building” (insula).  After 2,000 years do any still exist?  Yes!

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High Density Roman Housing at Ostia — the Port of Rome  View of a street on which the Casa di Diana is located. On the left side of the image note the high–density housing (insulae). There were at least three floors, with rooms arranged around a central courtyard where there was a communal fountain.  The upper stories were probably made of perishable materials such as wood.

The term insula refers to a multi–story housing block, that was subdivided into apartments for rent with shops on the ground floor.  Windows and balconies were the principal light sources for the tenants.  The insulae were probably first built of wood and thus susceptible to destruction by fire—a big problem!  (I am not aware of the preservation of any wooden insula)  Often times they were constructed of baked Roman bricks—like this example at Ostia.

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View of a street lined with apartment buildings (insulae) near the via Della Fontana at Ostia. The staircase on the left led up to the upper floors of the building—at least 3 stories high.  This large structure was probably owned by one person who rented apartments, shops, and workplaces to tenants.

The ground floor of insulae were usually shops and stores.  The best apartments were on the lower floors and sometimes were decorated with simple paintings and mosaics.  The upper apartments (on floors 2 and 3) were smaller, more difficult to reach, and dangerous (fire!)—because they were built out of wood!  The upper storeys were typically without heat, running water, and toilets.  The poor, who lived there, would sometimes dump trash and human excrement out of the windows into the street below!  Most of the people, poor and “middle class,” would live in these structures.

New Testament Importance:
Since Acts 20:9 mentions Eutychus falling from a third floor, the group of Christians that Paul was speaking to must have been meeting in a cramped, lower class apartment such as the above.  But to date, no such insulae have been found at Alexandrian Troas, but they were probably built of wood and have perished over the last 2,000 years!

Sagalassos — Upper Agora

Of the many archaeological remains at the Turkish site of Sagalassos a good number of them are located around the Upper Agora.  An agora is a Greek term for the large open space in a typical Greek polis.

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The Upper Agora at Sagalassos
See the image below to locate structures
Click on Image to Enlarge

During the Roman period the Latin term forum is often used to refer to this space.  In both the Greek and the Roman worlds people would meet here, goods and services were offered for sale, and on their perimeters temples to a variety of deities (and often emperors), law courts (Acts 16:19), council houses (Bouleuterion), monumental water fountains (nymphaeum) and honorific monuments (touting leading citizens of a polis) were common.

SagUpperAgora03The Upper Agora at Sagalassos is no exception.  It, and surrounding structures, have been excavated and partially reconstructed—thus allowing visitors to the site to easily enter into the life of the ancient city.

It was in agoras and forums around the Roman World that philosophers would teach their students and it would have been there that the Apostle Paul (Acts 17:17), Barnabas, Silas, Phoebe, etc. would have had the opportunity to share their faith.  The term agora is used 11 times in the New Testament (9 of the uses in the Gospels).

Our Turkish friends in front of the reconstructed Nymphaeum at Sagalassos.

Click on the city names to view agoras at: Perge, Athens, Thessaloniki, Smyrna, Corinth, and Philippi.

Palm Sunday and “Holy Week”

On Sunday, 25 March, Christians will be remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

For those of you who might be looking for High Resolution images related to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper in the “Upper Room,” and the events clustered around the final week in his earthly life I will be posting some useful links in the days ahead.

To view 10 images (with commentary) of a modern procession commemorating this event Click Here.

Use the following links to find High Resolution images related to Gethsemane, the Upper Room, a Rolling Stone Tomb, Gordon’s Calvary, the Garden Tomb, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Jesus’ Crown of Thorns

For Christians: the Beginning of an Advent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Resurrection Day series.

The Roman soldiers (Matt. 27:29) . . . twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.

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A “Crown of Thorns” made from a branch of a tree just outside of Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Mark 15:17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.

John 19:2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe . . . John 19:5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

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View looking west over the Old City of Jerusalem from within Dominus Flevit. The “golden” Dome of the Rock is visible beyond the cross, and to the right of the Dome the grey Domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are visible. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

You can view/download 10 images of Dominus Flevit  Here.

The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

As Easter approaches I thought I would share a few related blog posts that contain some images that some of you might find useful for Easter presentations.

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View Looking East at the Entrance to the First Century A.D. Tomb

View looking east at the entrance to the tomb. The rolling stone was 6 ft. [1.8 m.] in diameter and 1.3 ft [0.4 m.] thick. It was placed between two walls, each built of hewn stone. When discovered, it still rolled in its trough!

The tomb itself was in use during the Roman Period — up until A.D. 135.

In my estimation, it was the best example of a rolling stone tomb in the country of Israel. It seems to illustrate well passages from the Gospels which speak of Jesus’ tomb as being closed by a rolling stone. See especially Matthew 27:57-66; 28:1-2; Mark 15:42–47; 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–2, 10–11; and John 20:1, 11–18.

MidrasMap3Horvat Midras (Hebrew) or Khirbet Durusiya (Arabic) is located 19 mi. [30 km.] southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah. The ancient remains are spread over hundreds of dunams in the area. The site dates to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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View of the Courtyard of the “Rolling Stone Tomb” at Khirbet Midras—prior to its destruction

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990’s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals!#%$@!!

BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

To view 3 additional image of the tomb Click Here.

For images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher see: Calvary and Tomb.

Click to see images of Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

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

On a visit to the Israel Museum in 2015 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.