Category Archives: New Testament

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!

Paul in the Cities: Where Did They Meet? 1

The cities of the Roman world were filled with small shops that were rented from their owners by the shop keeper.  Some shops were located on the ground floor of elite houses.  Some on the ground floor of an insula (more in later posts).  A number of such shops have been found at the well–preserved sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Ostia (all in Italy).

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This is a fullonica (from Pompeii). It is a large shop that was designed for the washing of dirty laundry. Note the modern staircase that leads to the “living room” above the shop. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The photo above is a view of the main entrance (just right of center in the light) to a wool processing/cleaning shop (a fullonica; see here for 5 additional images of this shop).  Note the pool in the lower left, and the modern staircase that led up an upper floor of this shop.  Jerome Murphy–O’Connor writes that typically merchants/craftsmen/etc. “. . . used the lower level for their shop and the upper level for living quarters” (see below for the important biblical discussion).

A fullonica was designed for the washing of dirty laundry and degreasing of fabrics. Based upon inscriptions it is believed that Stephanus was the owner of the fullery. He died during the eruption in 79 AD while trying to escape. The workers for Stephanus, almost all slaves, had to tread on fabrics and clothes for hours, placed in a liquid containing human and animal urine.  The urine was collected in pots placed along the streets.  The smell in a fullonica must have been “putrid” — but the shop was on a main street and houses (upper class) surrounded it!  To view more images of the fullonica with commentary Click Here.

Jerome Murphy–O’Connor wrote p. 48:

The first churches may have occupied the upper-level living quarters of shops like this [his picture is that of a thermopolium—see my previous post]. Shopkeepers typically rented such . . . rooms [from landlords], which opened onto the sidewalk, and then built a wooden platform halfway up to divide the room into two levels [see the picture above!]. They used the lower level for their shop and the upper level for living quarters. . . . .  Statements that Prisca and Aquila, at Ephesus and Rome, hosted “a church in their house” (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5), or more literally, “the group [of believers] which meets in their home,” suggest that the early Christians met in the living room above Prisca and Aquila’s shop. Such a room could probably accommodate 10 to 20 persons. This may explain why Paul, at Corinth, preached in the synagogue and later in the house of Titius Justus, rather than in Prisca and Aquila’s home, where he lived (Acts 18:3–7), as these locations could accommodate larger crowds than a room above a shop.

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View looking into the fullonica from its entrance. Note the large rinsing tub on the right side and the rooms and the frescos on the left side. In the distance is the atrium and the processing areas of the fullonica.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “Prisca and Aquila — Traveling Tentmakers and Church Builders.” Bible Review 6 (December, 1992): 40–51, 62.

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.

The Road to Emmaus — A Farewell

David N. Bivin, founder and editor–in–chief of the Jerusalem Perspective has produced a wonderful article A Farewell to the Emmaus Road.

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Curbing on the Roman Road to Emmaus — Luke 24 — in the valley on a hill to the east of Motza that Bivin discuses in his article.

Bivin writes:

The Emmaus Road narrative is the climax of Luke’s Gospel. In it, two of Jesus’ disciples encounter their resurrected Lord as they follow the road leading west from Jerusalem. Not only do the hearts of the disciples burn as they speak with their risen Master, the hearts of the readers burn as well, since, unlike the disciples, we know that it is Jesus himself who is accompanying them as the disciples relate the sad tale of how all their hopes for the redemption of Israel were dashed when Jesus was crucified outside the walls of the holy city. Readers feel almost as if they were present with the disciples on the road as Jesus walked and spoke with them.

In his article he evaluates the arguments for the two most prominent candidates for biblical Emmaus.  He rightly (IMHO) rejects the identification of biblical Emmaus with Emmaus/Nicopols and correctly argues for its identification with Qaloniyah (modern Mozah).

The materials from all the relevant sources are conveniently cited in the article along with a helpful map from Carta Publishers and a labeled aerial photograph 1917.  In addition, detailed footnotes are included.

Bivin states that:

I conducted an experiment to put this hypothesis to the test. On October 2nd of the year 1987, I walked with my son Natan from the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (the Kotel) to the springs at Motza following the route of the Roman road (on which, see below) as closely as possible in order to measure how long such a journey would take. It was the eve of Yom Kippur, so no vehicles were moving on the streets to slow us down, and we set out from the Western Wall at 6:10 p.m. under a full moon, walking at a leisurely pace. Together we covered the distance from the Western Wall to the Motza springs in one hour and twenty minutes.[18] My experiment proves that Jesus’ disciples could easily have made the trip down from Jerusalem to Motza-Emmaus and back again within the time frame Luke describes.

According to Luke, the two disciples who were heading to Emmaus set out from Jerusalem sometime after morning, for they knew of the women’s report of the empty tomb (Luke 24:22-24), but it could have been as late as mid-afternoon. The disciples did not head back to Jerusalem until after they had sat down for their evening meal in Emmaus (Luke 24:29, 33).

This is the most complete set of video clips and photos that I know of that document the road.

There are five short video clips:

  1. Josephus on Emmaus — 3:00
  2. Mishnaic Evidence on Emmaus — 3:00
  3. Emmaus Road erosion — 0:50
  4. Emmaus Road erosion 2 — 0:30
  5. Emmaus Road: Hope for the Future — 1:26

There are a series of photos of the road from different years that document its condition.

  1. 1992 — 14 photos
  2. 1997 — 7 photos
  3. 1999 — 11 photos
  4. 2003 — 20 photos
  5. 2007 — 16 photos
  6. 2016 — 19 photos

IMHO A Farewell to the Emmaus Road is well–worth the 15–20 minutes it takes to process.

A Monumental Herodian (Hasmonean?) Hall in Jerusalem — Behind the Scenes of the Western Wall

We recently took the 80 minute guided tour called “Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall.”  The main reason I signed up for this tour was to revisit a Monumental Hall  from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era).

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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 1970’s 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).

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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.

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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 my previous post, but originally they may have led to something else.

I believe that that 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)

I am away from my library and am on the road, and could not verify all of my musings above.  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).

 

Jerusalem: Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall — A Monumental Ritual Bath

We recently took the 80 minute guided tour called “Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall.”  This tour is run by the same group that operates the much more familiar “The Western Wall Tunnels” tour.

One of the interesting finds that we visited was a large ritual bath  from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era) that is located on the lower eastern  slope of the Western Hill—west of the Temple Mount proper.

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View of the large stepped ritual bath from the Late Second Temple Period. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note the steps that lead down into the ritual bath (miqvah).  Our guide suggested that this ritual bath may have been used by the priests that served in the Temple itself.  But, since it looks like it would have been difficult to immerse oneself in this bath/pool/basin, our guide said that an alternative view is that it was a place where ritual vessels were washed (purified?).  It seems to me that this bath/pool is very similar in design to the larger one that was found by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount.

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The very large Ritual Bath discovered by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount. Click on image to enlarge — and download if you wish

For a earlier discussion of Mazar’s bath/pool/basin see here.  For a view of a more typical ritual bath Click Here.

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Another view of the ritual bath/pool/basin at the Western Wall Excavations.

Next time, a monumental room from the Late Second Temple Period (New Testament era).


A personal musing follows:

These baths look a lot like the so-called “Balsam Soaking Pools” at New Testament (Herodian) Jericho.

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This is a view of a pool at Herodian (NT) Jericho that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  See here for a more complete discussion of this pool/bath.

 

3 Christmases in Bethlehem

On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics will celebrate Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics will be celebrating 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

On January 6, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 18 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 19 January
Click On Image to Enlarge/Download

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!