Category Archives: New Testament

Paul at Assos — Part 1

In a previous post, “Paul on the Road to Assos,” I shared some comments and an image of the road that led from Troas to Assos (Acts 20:5–12).

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The western road that led to Assos from the north—through the “necropolis”
The road was lined with funeral monuments honoring the élite of the city
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As Paul approached Assos he probably would have come down this road that was lined with funerary monuments that honored the deceased of the city.

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View south at the Western Gate of Assos that dates to the Hellenistic Period
The road in the foreground is probably the one that Paul used to approach the city
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He then would have entered this magnificent city gate that was built in the fourth century B.C. and is still standing to a height of 46 ft.!  Alternatively, he may have taken the road that skirts this gate to the west and descends directly to the harbor.

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Western Wall and Western Gate at Assos
Built in the 4th century B.C.
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The Hellenistic walls at Assos are some of the best preserved from ancient times.

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The remains of the Doric Temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Assos
It was built around 530 B.C. In the distance is the Island of Lesbos
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At the time of Paul’s visit, the Temple of Athena was almost 600 years old.  It is situated on the Acropolis that towers 780 ft. over the Aegean Sea.

For additional images of the Temple of Athena Click Here.
For images of the walls, necropolis, and gates Click Here.

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2 Christmases in Bethlehem

Christmas Number 1 — On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem was broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

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Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Christmas Number 2 — On January 7, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
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On January 7 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

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An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 7 January
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For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  They are very interesting!

–   –    –    Personal Story Follows    –    –   –

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Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970’s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!

Beating the Air — 1 Corinthians 9:26

The Greeks were especially fond of “competition” and engaged in a contest known as pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling).

The Apostle Paul uses athletic imagery in 4 different places in his writings.  And in 1 Corinthians 9 he wrote:

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.

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). Click on images to Enlarge and/or Download.

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.

This statue was cast in several pieces: the head and left leg were welded to the bust, as are the arms at the armpits, while the right leg was cast in one piece together with the torso.  The forearms also originate from separate castings, as do the genitals and middle toes.  The metal is 80% copper, 10 % tin, and 10% lead.

The leather gloves that the boxers wore—sometimes with metal bands, as in this case—are clearly visible.

He is wearing elaborate leather gloves to protect his hands and forearms.  They consist of thick leather straps that bind four fingers, leaving the thumb free. Some believe it to be a representation of Amycus, king of the Bebryes, who had been in a fight with the divine Pollus, a super boxer!

Blows received during a match wounded his face, ears, and nose but there are no wounds on his body since the face was the main target. The reddish color of the lips, nipples, wounds and details of the gloves result from the intentional use of a specific copper alloy.  Inside the head, under the eye sockets, two hooks are still in place (not visible) to fasten the now lost eye balls, that were of either ivory, stone or glass paste.

The artist was inspired by the style of the Greek sculptor Lysippus, and many consider this piece to be an original Greek bronze of the first century B.C.

This piece was discovered in the March of 1885.  It had been purposefully buried upright and covered with sifted dirt in antiquity.  It is not known where it was originally placed although some believe that it may have decorated the Baths of Constantine (ca. A.D. 315).

Warning to Gentiles from the Days of Jesus — Inscriptions

The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was surrounded by a fence (balustrade) that was about 5 ft. [1.5 m.] high.  On this fence were mounted inscriptions in Latin and Greek forbidding Gentiles from entering the temple area proper (image below).

One complete inscription was found in Jerusalem in 1871 and is now on display on the third floor of the “Archaeological Museum” in Istanbul.

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The Temple Inscription warning Gentiles not to proceed beyond this barrier—on threat of death. Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

The Greek text has been translated:  “Foreigners must not enter inside the balustrade or into the forecourt around the sanctuary.  Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”

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The first century Jewish historian Josephus mentions the barrier and inscription in two places:

(193) When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple, there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; (194) upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that “no foreigner should go within that sanctuary;” for that second [court of the] temple was called “the Sanctuary;” (Josephus Jewish War.5.5.1 [193–194]

(417) Thus was the first enclosure. In the midst of which, and not far from it, was the second, to be gone up to by a few steps; this was encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription, which forbade any foreigner to go in, under pain of death. (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 15.11.5 [417]

Compare the accusation against Paul found in Acts 21:28-29:

Acts 21:28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.”  29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)

There is also the possibility that this barrier is referred to by Paul when he writes:

Eph. 2:14     For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

 

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This six-line fragment of the Temple Warning was found by J. H. Iliffe east of the Old City of Jerusalem wall—near the Lion’s Gate.

 

Translation of the inscription from Elwell, Walter A., and Yarbrough, Robert W., eds.  Readings from the First–Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study.  Encountering Biblical Studies, general editor and New Testament editor Walter A. Elwell.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998, p. 83. Click Here to view for purchase from amazon.com.

The Tomb of Philip the Apostle at Hierapolis (Turkey)

Early Christian tradition states that Philip the Apostle (= disciple of Jesus), along with his daughters, settled at Hierapolis.

Tradition states that Philip was martyred and buried at Hierapolis.  In July of 2011 it was announced that the very Tomb of Philip had been discovered.  In another release it is stated that the actual Church/Tomb was located on a hill 120 ft. [40 m.] from the Martyrium.

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Tomb of Philip (the Apostle) at Hierapolis
The Tomb is to the right of the center of the image
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View of Philip’s Tomb on the right side of the image.  It is built out of hewn stone and has a gabled roof.  The open area in the foreground is actually part of a basilica style fifth century church.  To the left of the church, notice the stairs that lead up the hill.

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Looking Down on to the Fifth Century Church
that is just to the west of Philip’s Tomb
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View looking southeast at the central apse, chancel, and nave of the fifth century Byzantine Basilica.  The benches in the apse (synthronos) were used for clergy.

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Recently some of the columns of the church have been re-erected.

To view (download if you wish) 25 high-resolution images (no charge) Clicking Here will take you directly to the images.

The Cave/Grotto of Paul and Thecla at Ephesus

One of the most interesting early extra–biblical stories is the one of Paul and Thecla (2nd century A.D.; Thecla is said to have been a female companion of Paul and eventually [for most of her life] a respected preacher of the Christian faith).

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From right to left: Theocleia (mother of Thecla), Paul, and Thecla
Fresco from the Grotto of Saint Paul at Ephesus
Click on Image to Enlarge

At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla).  It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus.  It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.

On the western wall of the grotto a painting portrays an event from the apocryphal book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla (ca. early second century A.D.).  The painting (5th/6th century A.D.) depicts the initial event described in the book, in the city of Iconium, where Thecla is looking from a window at Paul preaching while Thecla’s mother (Theocleia) looks on.  Thecla, against the wishes of her mother and her finance Thamyris, gave up her betrothal (engagement) in order to remain a virgin and to follow Paul.

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Detail of Thecla looking down from a window at Paul preaching
Paul’s raised hand is visible on the right
Click on Image to Enlarge

Eventually Thecla was separated from Paul and became a significant preacher and witness to her faith.  Her life and impact has been much discussed during the past thirty years and this painting has figured large in the discussions.

In addition, The Acts of Paul and Thecla contains the earliest physical description of Paul:

“And he [Onesiphorus] saw Paul coming [towards Iconium], a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”

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Paul and Theocleia (mother of Thecla) — Note the names spelled out in Greek
Also compare the artistic representation of Paul with the literary
Click on Image to Enlarge

The facial image of Paul in the fresco seems to match this description as do iconographic representations of Paul.

The cave seems to have served as a chapel from the early Byzantine period through the early 19th century.

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Vestibule to “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla” at Ephesus

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Plan of “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla”

The grotto is 50 ft. long 6.5 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. high gallery that was expanded to the south in the form of a “presbytery.”  It was excavated by Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna in 1995.

Not familiar with the fascinating story of Paul and Thecla?  You can get a Kindle version of the story for only $1.99 in the New Testament Apocrypha—along with 43 other stories!

To view additional images of this Grotto and Frescos Click Here.

Murder of a Jewish High Priest at NT Jericho

For the few tour/academic groups that visit New Testament Jericho usually, because of time constraints, the main (northern) site is viewed from the south of the Wadi Qilt, but an exploratory walk on the north side of the wadi does pay dividends.

One of the distinctive structures north of the wadi is a double pool that was built in conjunction with the Hasmonean Palace during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE).  It was refurbished by Herod the Great.

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View of the double swimming pool where the handsome, eighteen year old, Hasmonean High Priest, Aristobulus III was murdered by Herod’s colleagues. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Each pool measures 42 x 60 ft. and each is 10 ft. deep.  Note the staircases that lead down into the north (near) and south (far) basins.  A wide wall separates the two basins.

It was probably here, in 35 BC, that the brother-in-law of Herod, the young High Priest Aristobulus III, “accidently” drowned while “playing” with some of Herod’s youth.  His death marked the end of potential Hasmonean take over of Herod’s throne.

(53) Upon all this Herod resolved to complete what he had intended against the young man [Aristobulus III]. When therefore the festival was over, and he was feasting at Jericho with Alexandra, who entertained him there, he was then very pleasant with the young man, and drew him into a lonely place, and at the same time played with him in a juvenile and ludicrous manner.

(54) Now the nature of that place was hotter than ordinary; so they went out in a body, and of a sudden, and in a vein of madness; and as they stood by the fish ponds, of which there were large ones about the house, they went to cool themselves [by bathing], because it was in the midst of a hot day.

(55) At first they were only spectators of Herod’s servants and acquaintances as they were swimming; but after a while, the young man, at the instigation of Herod, went into the water among them, while such of Herod’s acquaintances as he had appointed to do it, dipped him as he was swimming, and plunged him under water, in the dark of the evening, as if it had been done in sport only; nor did they desist till he was entirely suffocated.

(56) And thus was Aristobulus murdered, having lived no more in all than eighteen years, and kept the high priesthood one year only; which high priesthood Ananelus now recovered again. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15:53–56).

This is the same Herod (r. 37–4 B.C.) who murdered his beloved wife Mariamne, a mother-in-law, an uncle, and three of his sons.  The Herod who was alive when Jesus was born (ca. 5 B.C.) and before whom the “Magi” asked “where is he who is born king of the Jews?” and who subsequently slaughtered the infants of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1–3, 16–18).

To view 18 high–resolution images of Herodian Jericho Click Here.