Category Archives: New Testament

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum

As Christianity spread into the Roman World, one of the major, growing, cults that it faced was the worship of the ascended, deified, Roman Emperors—and eventually the worship of living Emperors.  It is well–known that this practice forms part of the background for the book of Revelation and also for many additional passages found in the New Testament.

So, where did all this take place?  To my knowledge, there is only one almost completely preserved structure known where this occurred.  It is called the Sacellum (chapel/temple) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship) that was excavated at Herculaneum—near Pompeii.  In this and the following post, I will share some images of this very unique structure.

View looking west at the major room of the interior of the Sacellum of the Augustales. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This building is a large space with a central nave and two side aisles.  The four columns outline the central nave and above it was a clerestory that let in outside sunlight.  Directly ahead, on the west side is the central shrine where a statue, or bust, of the emperor was venerated.  In the foreground, there are two square pedestals attached to the columns.  On them stood statues of prominent priests that served the imperial cult (=Augustales).

View looking west into the cult room of the Sacellum of the Augustales where the deified Emperor was worshiped. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

As you look directly ahead you see a vertical rectangular podium on which a statue, or bust, of the emperor was venerated.  The white, faded, paint above the podium was the latest style—based upon Neronian examples found in Rome.  The light blue paint in and above the arch was made of a substance that included lapis lazuli that was imported from Afghanistan!

On both side walls are two different frescos of Hercules—see images in the next post.  Below the frescos is barren plaster that previously was covered with marble sheeting—removed during the early tunneling/mining expeditions.  On the floor is a well–preserved marble floor—see image below.

This Latin Inscription was found on the floor of the Sacellum of the Augustales. It mentions that Aulus Lucius Proculus and his son gave a dinner to the (priests), the Augustales, and to the city council at the dedication of this building.

Steven Tuck’s translation of the six-line inscription follows:

Sacred to Augustus
Aulus Lucius     MEN = voting tribe
Proculus and his son Julianus
P . . . S [= Pecunia Sua = “with their own money”] [CR: compare the use of “P   S” in the Erastus Inscription from Corinth]
[Lower two lines: ] they gave a dinner to the Augustales and to the city council at the dedication of this building [= large public dinner]

Tuck notes that the name Aulus Lucius Proculus indicates that this person was a freed slave who became very wealthy and had become a priest in the organization of the Augustales (= those priests that supervised the Emperor cult).  Talk about upward mobility!

This marble floor is found in the cult room of the Sacellum of the Augustales.

Cut marble floors were very expensive! Even more expensive than mosaic floors! Note the wonderful variegated colors!

Herculaneum is a city that was located on the Italian coast west of Mount Vesuvius.  It was destroyed in August A.D. 79 when Vesuvius erupted.

Because it was buried by 50–60 feet of pyroclastic material, the buildings and their contents are actually better preserved than those found at nearby Pompeii.  It was probably 1/4 the size of Pompeii.  It is estimated that only 25% of the town has been excavated.

Some scholars have suggested that it was a small fishing village, but because of the finely built houses, and their lavish decoration, it seems more probable that it was a sea–side playground for the elite!

Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this particular structure was renovated shortly after the death of Vespasian in A.D. 79, early in the reign of Titus—which implies that the room was soon buried by the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius—ca. 24 August 79—and that is why the decorative elements are so well–preserved.

I am indebted to the explanatory comments of Steven L. Tuck in his engaging “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

 

A Large Inscribed Tablet from Assos — Who is god/God?

One of my favorite places to visit is Assos, in northwestern Turkey on the Aegean Sea (Acts 20:13-14). Often times our groups have stayed at a hotel that is part of the fishing harbor there. When we visit the acropolis, with the magnificent remains of a Temple to Athena, I take time to read a “decree” that the citizens of Assos made, and sent to Emperor Caligula—pledging their loyalty to him!

By this point in our trips, we have often discussed the importance and pervasiveness of the Imperial Cult and the conflict between the grand Kingdom of the Roman Emperors and Paul’s preaching of the “Kingdom of God” (Acts 8:1-2; 14:22; 19:9; 28:23, 28).

The Assos “Tablet” — Translation at the end of this blog.

I had tried, in vain, to track down the location of this tablet. For some reason, I thought it was in a museum in Boston! Well, when walking through the remodeled Archaeology Section of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, I walked around the wall of a display, and there, right in the center of the opening into the next room, was this large (I am guessing that it measures 1.5 x 2. 5 feet), glistening, bronze “tablet” in front of me. What was it? Looking at the very brief description I realized that this was the “Assos Tablet” that I had been quoting all of these years! Yes, I was very excited!

Upper portion of the “Tablet”
Lower portion of the “Tablet”

This bronze tablet was found in 1881 at Assos in which inhabitants of Assos swore to emperor Gaius [Caligula] when he gained power.

In the following translation from Elwell and Yarbough, note the bold faced words and compare how similar they sound to the gospel message that Paul was preaching.

Under the consulship of Gnaeus Acerronious Proclus and Gaius Pontius Petronis Nigrinus [A.D. 37].

Decrees of the Assians by the Vote of the People

Since the announcement of the coronation of Gaius Caesar Germanicus Augustus (Caligula), which all mankind had longed and prayed for, the world has found no measure for its joy, but every city and people has eagerly hastened to view the god, as if the happiest age of mankind [the Golden Age] had now arrived:

It seemed good to the Council, and to the Roman businessmen here among us, and to the people of Assos, to appoint a delegation made up of the noblest and most eminent of the Romans and also of the Greeks, to visit him and offer their best wishes and to implore him to remember the city and take care of it, even as he promised our city upon his first visit to the province in the company of his father Germanicus.

We swear by Zeus the Savior and the god Caesar Augustus [Octavian] and the holy Virgin of our city [Athena Polias] that we are loyally disposed to Gaius Caesar Augustus and his whole house, and look upon as our friends whomever he favors, and as our enemies whomever he denounces.  If we observe this oath, may all go well with us; if not, may the opposite befall.

Translation and commentary from Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough eds. Readings From the First–Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998 pp. 136-37.

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.

ICSHMD20

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.

ICSHMD03

ICSHMD01

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 images 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.

A Monumental Herodian (Hasmonean?) Hall in Jerusalem — Is this where the Sanhedrin Met?

Near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, there is a Monumental Hall that dates to the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era).  There is some speculation that the Sanhedrin may have (occasionally) met here—see below.

herodianhall-0007

View looking northwest at the northern and western walls of the hall. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note the finely finished stones in both walls as well as the chest-high decorative horizontal ridge/railing that separates the lower and upper portion of the walls.  Near the corner of the west (left) wall note the delicately carved protruding pilaster.

I visited this all in the 1970s with Gabi Barkai and I thought he said it might be Hasmonean.  But our guide said it was Herodian (37–4 B.C.) with possibly some Hasmonean elements.

I am not sure of its function but it certainly is “monumental.”  In my Zondervan Atlas of the Bible I labeled it as a “Public Building” (p. 250).

herodianhall-05171

View of the northeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

In the above image note, the delicate protruding pilaster to the right of the center of the image and to the left of center note the well–defined horizontal “railing” that is about chest high that separates the lower and upper portions of the wall.

herodianhall-05134

View looking at the southeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

On the left (east) wall there are two huge doorways.  Note the large carved doorposts and the huge lintels.  Currently, these doorways lead to the ritual bath that I described in a previous post, but originally they may have led to something else.

I believe that the far wall, with a doorway and other openings, is secondary, and that the original hall extended farther south.

Could this have been the hall where the Sanhedrin met?  If so, possibly Jesus, some apostles, Stephen, and/or Paul appeared here. (Unconfirmed speculation)

The early explorer Charles Warren called this structure the “Hall of the Freemasons (see below).  Additional comments/suggestions/correction are appreciated.

Not my “cup of tea” below.


From the Gallery of Masonic Sights from Israel
Hall of the Freemasons, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel.
Discovered and named by the Freemason, Bro. Lieutenant Charles Warren [!] during the excavations of the late 1860’s near Wilson’s Arch.  Second Temple construction by Zerubbabel (536-516 BCE).

Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta: Anchor Stocks—Part 1

During a stay on the Island of Malta where Paul was shipwrecked and then spent 3 months on the island before being transported to Rome for trial (Acts 28:1, 11) one of the highlights was a visit to the Malta Maritime Museum.

View looking northeast at the exterior of the Malta Maritime Museum.

The museum is housed in the former Royal Naval Bakery that was built in the 1840. The bakery supplied naval personnel of the British Mediterranean Fleet. The main part of the collection (97%+) includes boats, models of ships, anchors, amphorae, cannons, etc.  But I had come to see the Roman Anchors that figure so prominently in the discussion of where exactly Paul’s ship ran aground and was broken up (see Franz below for a discussion).

Acts 27:29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow.

Acts 27:40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.

After spending over an hour looking at interesting, but not too relevant displays, I had not found the anchors that I was looking for.  So I asked the attendants at the entrance about these anchors.  Well, it turned out that the display of the ancient anchors was in transition and they were collected in a rather small corridor near the entrance to the museum. The plan being executed will eventually display these precious artifacts in a wonderful display. However, when I was at the museum, they were not on “public” display so please, cut the museum a bit of slack for how the anchor stocks look in these pictures! But I had traveled 5,262 miles and was thrilled just to be able to see these anchors—and they were kind enough to allow me to take pictures (without flash of course).

Temporary “home” for the Roman Anchor Stocks that are in the Malta Maritime Museum.

In this temporary “home” 11 Anchor Stocks were collected.  Ok, so what is an anchor stock?

In the above (from the Museum) all the parts of this “ancient anchor” are modern except the lead “Stock.”

The “Flukes” are the parts of the anchor, usually wooden and sometimes tipped with copper, that dig into the bottom of the sea. At the top of the wooden shank (right) a rope connects the anchor to the ship. The “stock” is made out of lead and often has a wood core,. It helps the anchor to sink and helps to position the anchor so that the “flukes” dig into the sea bottom.

anchorreconstruction

Ok, are any of these Anchor Stocks from Paul’s wrecked ship?  See the following blog posts.


For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

Istanbul Airport — Museum!

On the way home from a recent trip to Turkey and Greece (October 2022) Mary and I had a transit layover at the Istanbul Airport. During the trip, we noticed that a number of our favorite artifacts were no longer on display in their “normal” museums (grr). The signs in the museums said ‘on display at the Museum in the Istanbul Airport.’

The display of Emperors and their Wives

Well, since we had time in the Istanbul Airport we sought out the new Airport Museum. It is on the second level of the transit area. After paying an entrance fee, we found ourselves touring the rooms with one other person. They have collected famous artifacts from all over Turkey, from the earliest periods up through the Ottoman Period. The displays are very “modern” and the rooms a very dimly lit—modern, but not too good for photography. Many of the magnificent pieces were on display were previously in local museums scattered around Turkey. Not very many non-Turkish travelers would be able to visit all of those museums, and so it is convenient to have them collected here. Samples of the collection follow.

A Diorama illustrating the construction of the 9,600 B.C. site of Gobleki Tepe.
Head of Alexander the Great from Pergamum — Second Century B.C.
Previously in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Roman Emperor Hadrian — From Sagalassos
Formerly in the Museum in Burdur Turkey
The only complete statue of Emperor Caracalla — from Perga
Formerly in the Museum in Antalya Turkey

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).

TWCSEPPT04

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.

TWCSEPPT06

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.”

TWCSEPPT03

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.

TWCSEPPT01

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

TheclaCave01-2

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.

Why Corinth?

CorinthIsthmus04

See the full size image below!

At the time of Paul’s visits to Corinth it was a thriving commercial city of over 200,000 people.

Corinth was situated in the northeastern corner of the Peloponnese — very near the narrow land bridge (isthmus) that connected the Peloponnese to the mainland of Greece. Its strategic location was enhanced due to its proximity to the diolkos — the stone-paved roadway that connected the Saronic Gulf with the Gulf of Corinth. By using this overland passageway, passengers and cargo avoided the difficult and time-consuming trip around the southern end of the Peloponnese.

aerial-of-isthmus

The Isthmus of Corinth from the air. For comments on this image, see above. To Enlarge and/or Download Click on Image.

The Greek city of Corinth had been (partly) destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C., but the rebuilding process, as a Roman city, had begun by 44 B.C.  For a long time it had been famous for its immorality (think prostitutes associated with the Temple of Aphrodite) and its commercial character. Its two harbors were Lechaion (Gulf of Corinth) and Cenchreae (Saronic Gulf). Every two years important games were held at nearby Isthmia.

Paul spent 18 months here on his second journey and maybe three months on his third. The letters of first and second Corinthians were written to the church here, and Paul probably wrote first and second Thessalonians and Romans while in Corinth.


To view important artifacts from Corinth, including the Erastus inscription, a menorah, and others, Click Here.

Excavations have been conducted at Corinth for over 100 years. Major finds have helped us understand the history and culture of the city that Paul spent so long ministering in. See the images included in this section and John McRay’s Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991.  To view for purchase Click Here.

Suggestion:  You may also be interested in the images of the Corinth Canal, the diolkos, the port of Cenchreae, and the Acrocorinth.

God Fearers in the Synagogue and Early Church — Evidence from Miletus

MiletusMap3In the New Testament the book of Acts 13-28 describes the spread of Christianity primarily through the efforts of Paul and his companions.  As they traveled throughout Asia Minor and Greece some Jews and many Gentiles adopted the new faith.  Some of these Gentiles where already interested in the God of the Jews and involved in synagogue worship.  This group is mentioned several times in the book of Acts (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

Clear evidence for the presence of a Jewish population living at Miletus, which Paul stopped at on the return leg of his Third Journey (Acts 20:15ff), is evidenced by an inscription that is located on the fifth row of seats on the southeast side of the large theater at Miletus (see below).

TWCSML06

Greek Theater Inscription
τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον”the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers” or
“the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers”
Click on image to enlarge/download

τόπoς Ειουδέων τῶν καὶ Θεοσεβίον

This inscription seems to mark “reserved seating” for Jews and possibly related “God–worshipers.” There are other “reserved seat” markings in this, and other, theaters.  As it stands the inscription reads “the place of the Jews who are also God–worshipers.”

But some have suggested that whom ever wrote the inscription may have inverted the “τῶν καὶ.” If this is the case, then the inscription could refer to two groups of people, Jews and Gentile God–worshipers (= “the place for the Jews and the God–worshipers”). Compare the same categories found in the book of Acts, although not quite the same terminology (Acts 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).

TWCSML04

The Theater at Miletus
The “God-Fearer” inscription is located where the two people are sitting near the center of the image
Click on image to enlarge and/or download

To View More Images of Miletus Click Here.

Bone Box of Caiaphas the High Priest

Caiaphas, the High Priest, is mentioned 9 times in the Gospels and is one of those before whom Jesus appeared before being condemned to death by Pilate (Matthew 26; John 18).  A few years ago a “bone box” (ossuary) was found, along with 11 others, in a Second Temple tomb located two miles south of Jerusalem on a hill that today is called “the Hill of Evil Counsel” (John 11:49–50).  On it, the name “Joseph ‘son’ of Caiaphas” was inscribed!

The Joseph “son” of Caiaphas Ossuary. In the Israel Museum. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.  See below for the inscription.

The ossuary has a slightly curved cover that is etched with designs.  The front of the soft limestone ossuary is beautifully carved with rosette and leaf designs.  Note the red paint is still visible in some places.

The bones of six(!) individuals were found inside of the ossuary: 2 infants, 1 child, 1 teen-aged boy, 1 adult woman, and a man—approximately sixty years old.

View of one of the Aramaic inscriptions on the Ossuary [bone box] of “Joseph ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”

On one of the short sides, and on the back, the name Caiaphas had been etched into the stone with a nail—see the image.  It is evident that the ossuary was prepared in a workshop, but then when the bones were placed inside the name was inelegantly scratched on it.

The Aramaic inscription on this side of the ossuary reads “Joseph the ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”

 יהוסף בר קפא 

Most scholars believe that the Caiaphas mentioned here is the same one that is mentioned six times in the New Testament as well as in Josephus.  Ronny Reich argues that the person was named “Joseph” and had a nickname “Caiaphas.”  Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 to 36 CE and was the one before whom Jesus was tried and is famously quoted in John 11:50

For an accessible discussion of the name Caiaphas, plus others appearing on ossuaries, see Reich, Ronny. “Caiaphas name Inscribed on Bone Boxes.” Biblical Archaeology Review 18, no. 5 (September/October 1992): 38–44.