Category Archives: Paul

Can Notre Dame Be Rebuilt? Yes!

Recently we have witness the catastrophic fire in the Cathedral of Notre Dame—and it’s loss to Christianity and Western Culture in general.  I have seen many sources dealing with the “traumas” that Notre Dame has suffered though its long history but I was surprised by “it will be rebuilt.”  Is this realistic? Or just wishful thinking?

Well, many churches have suffered sever damage through out their history, but to use an example of one in Rome, let me mention the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Rome — the remains of Saint Paul Outside the Walls after the fire of July 1823.

This is the church where, according to very early Christian tradtion, the Apostle Paul was buried after his martyrdom.  Constantine built the original church, but Theodosius built a new church in this spot around A.D. 390.  This church lasted until July 15, 1823 when it was destroyed by a fire caused by careless workmen who were repairing the roof.  This church had been standing for about 1,400 years before it was destroyed!  Much longer than even Notre Dame (ca. 800 years).

the interior of the church after its reconstruction in 1840.

View looking east down the central nave of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside of the walls. The nave is flanked by double aisle on both the north and the south.  At the far (east) end is a triumphal arch that is a relic of the old pre–fire of 1823 that is supported by two granite columns.

View looking east at the mosaic at the top of the Triumphal Arch. Although heavily reconstructed this is a relic of the old pre–fire of 1823 arch.

On the top is a “grim–faced” Christ holding his hand blessing in the Greek manner. The four winged creatures above him have “faces” that represent the four Evangelists—gospel writers. Below them are figures representing the saints of the Apocalyse (book of Revelation). On the lower left side of the arch is St. Paul with a sword (of the spirit/word) and to the right St. Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

View of the “Grotto” (Confessio) that is located below the High Altar

Notice the grating and behind that, a small portion of the sarcophagus that is said to contain the remains of Saint Paul is barely visible.   During the reconstruction of the church two slabs were found with the inscription “PAULO APOSTOLO MART” (to Paul, apostle and martyr).  Below the glass floor are rock carvings and a portion of the apse of an earlier church.

The familiar couryard of the church.

View looking east through the courtyard (Quadriporticus) of the  Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  The statue on the left is that of Saint Paul.   Notice the beautiful mosaics of the church.

If this wonderful church can be rebuilt, certainly Notre Dame can as well!

For 21 images of the important Basilica, Click Here.

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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.

NT Inscriptions — Gallio Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12)

Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:12).

Acts 18:12     While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

Acts 18:14     Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you.  15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.”  16 So he had them ejected from the court.  17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever. (NIV)

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View of the “Gallio Inscription” found at Delphi. In the fourth line from the top, the Greek form of “Gallio” is clearly visible. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The inscription is written in Greek and is a copy, carved in stone, of a decree of the Roman Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41–54) who commanded L. Iunius Gallio, the governor, to assist in settling additional elite persons in Delphi—in an effort to revitalize it.

The inscription dates between April and July A.D., 52, and from it, it can be deduced that Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia in the previous year.  Thus Paul’s eighteenth month stay in Corinth (Acts 18:1–18) included the year 51.  This inscription is critical in helping to establish the Chronology of Paul as presented in the book of Acts.

To view all nine pieces of the inscription Click Here.

To view the “bema” in Corinth, before which Paul appeared in the presence of Gallio, Click Here.

For a brief description of Delphi Click Here.

Rome: The Basilica Julia — Is this where Paul was condemned to death?

All visitors to Rome will visit the ancient heart of Rome—the Roman Forum.

View looking southeast at the west end of the Roman Forum. The Basilica of Julia is just to the right of the center of the image—to the left of the multiple columns on the right side of the image.

The Roman Forum was the central civil, commercial, and religious center of Ancient Rome.  Originally, it was a marshy swamp located below the Palatine and Capitoline Hills.  This stagnant area was drained by the Etruscan king Servius Tulius (6th century B.C.) when he constructed the Cloacae Maximus, a large drain system that diverted water into the Tiber river—it still is functioning today!

The Roman Forum grew during the Regnal, Republican, and Imperial Periods—expanding from the Capitoline Hill in the northwest toward the southeast.  Eventually, it was used for political and religious purposes—commercial enterprises were moved to a variety of fora to the north of the Roma Forum.

It fell out of use during the Medieval Period and was used for grazing animals, and as a source of building materials—some of the precious marbles were burned in kilns for lime (sigh).

View looking east over the west end of the Forum. The Basilica of Julia is on the right (south) side of the image.  The Basilica of Julia may well have been the place where Paul was tried and condemned to death—see below.

Only rows of column stubs, flooring, and steps of the large Julia Basilica have been preserved. The central nave is the large rectangular area with green grass—at the far end are three columns from the Temple of Castor and Pollux. To the left (north) of the nave, two long aisles are visible—the view of the southern aisles is blocked by the three arches in the lower right of the image.

The basilica was begun by Julius Caesar in 54 B.C. and completed by Augustus. All totaled, there were 5 versions of a basilica on this site over the centuries!

The Basilica Julia was known as a great center of Roman law, and it contained four law courts.  It is very likely that it was here that the apostle Paul eventually heard the sentence of death pronounced upon himself. (Finegan, p. 223)

The book of Acts ends with Paul under arrest, guarded by a soldier (Acts 28:26) in chains (v. 20) staying in his own “rented quarters” (v. 30) for two years.  Although it is not possible to know if he was tried and released, or merely released, much modern scholarhip believes that he was released (say from A.D. 62—67) and that he was rearrested and tried at the end of Nero’s reign (ca. 67/68).

Was The Basilica Julia
the Place of Paul’s Trials?

Although the final trial, condemnation, and execution of Paul are not mentioned in scripture, tradition and modern scholarship place the execution of Paul near the end of Nero’s reign—ca. A.D. 67/68.  No matter the date, being a Roman Citizen, Paul would have had a right to a trial in the courts of Rome, if not in front of the Emperor himself.  Since the Julia Basilica was the place where trials took place, it is very possible that the Apostle Paul, being a Roman Citizen, was tried and condemned to death by a Roman Court meeting in this structure!

On the other hand, tradition also places the martyrdom of Peter in Rome.  But Peter was not a Roman Citizen and thus his “legal rights,” if any, were very different than those of Paul.


Finegan, Jack. The Archeology of the New Testament: The Mediterranean World of the Early Christian Apostles. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981.

Paul at Assos — Final Part (Asia Minor/Turkey)

In two previous “posts” I described “Paul on the Road to Assos” (Acts 20:5-12) and “Paul’s Arrival at Assos” and the Temple of Athena at Assos.  The Assos that Paul visited was a well–established Greco Roman city.  Indeed, at one time the philosopher Aristotle had lived and taught in the city (ca. 347–343 B.C.).

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Ancient Theater at Assos with the Aegean Sea Below
Click on Image to Enlarge

As in other Roman cities, the citizens of the city would assemble as the ekklesia in the theater to discuss and debate civic affairs.

The city itself, like other Roman cities, were active in honoring/worshiping the Emperor, his family, and his predecessors.  In fact, in 1881 a bronze tablet was found at Assos that dates to A.D. 37—roughly 20 years before Paul’s visit.  This tablet “records the oath of allegiance that Assos’s inhabitants swore to the emperor Gaius [Caligula] when he gained power.  It reads:

“… Since the announcement of the coronation of Gaius … (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 [Caligula], as if the happiest age for mankind had now arrived.

It seemed good to the Council, and to the Roman business men here among us, and to the people of Assos, to appoint a delegation … to visit him and offer offer their best wishes and to implore him to remember the city and take care of it ….

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.
(reference below)

Thus again, Paul and his companions encountered the veneration (worship) of the Emperors even here at Assos.

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The Modern Port of Assos

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The modern harbor at Assos
The hotels on the right are located at the foot of the acropolis
Click on Image to Enlarge

Today the harbor as Assos serves the fisherman and a number of boutique hotels line its dock [on our tours we typically stay in one of these hotels].

However, the harbor that Paul left from for Mytilene was located a bit to the east of the modern harbor.

AssosHarborDiagNote the locations of the Modern and Ancient Harbors.

AssosAncientHarbor-01-2To view additional images of the site of Assos Click Here.

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

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
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

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
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

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
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

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.

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).