On December 6 the feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated and so I thought I would bring back this oldie but goodie.
On the outskirts of the Turkish town of Demre is a church that is associated with Saint Nicholas—Father Christmas, a.k.a. in northern Europe as Santa Claus!
St. Nicholas was born in nearby Patara about A.D. 300 and served as the bishop of Myra later in his life. A number of miracles are attributed to this revered bishop, including his providing a dowry to the three daughters of a local baker. Thus he is associated with “gift giving!” He was also the patron saint of sailors and was prayed to for protection at sea—note that Myra is very near the Mediterranean Sea. He died about A.D. 345.
It is said that he was buried in this church, but that his relics (bones) were taken to Bari, Italy, about A.D. 1088, although other claims are made that the Venetians took them.
View looking down at the altar area from the top of the synthronon Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download
Every 6 December, the feast day of St. Nicholas, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy here.
To view (or download) more images of the Church of Saint NicholasClick Here.
As we approached the area, the road was blocked by police. Our driver and guide explained where we were going and the police let us proceed to the very crowded parking lot. Much to our surprise we “happened” on to a rather unique local festival—the “Didim VegFest.” This is a festival that celebrates, yes, vegetables and vegetarian and vegan lifestyles! There were many booths where local, mainly homemade, products were sold, and there was a festive parade with music.
We had fun joining in the festivities as we made our way to our “goal”—the Temple of Apollo. I thought I would share a few photos of this unique experience. How many vegetable “costumes” can you identify??
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).
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!
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.
One of the premier museums in the world is the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul. For 5+ years a major portion of the museum has been closed—the large, and important, Classical Archaeology Section.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that it had reopened (visited: May 2022). The overall tenor of the displays is modern—low-lit rooms with LED lights highlighting the important objects. It does not have the feel of a “warehouse.” I like this, but because of the darkness, some of the explanatory signs are difficult, if not impossible to read—much less photograph!@#@!
It is easy to spend half of a day, just taking in all the wonderful objects on display in this section—there are other sections!
One of my favorite objects is the “Ephebos of Tralles” — a youth (ephebos) who is resting after exercising. Note the relaxed stance and the cape draped over his shoulders. The statue is from Tralles and dates to the first century B.C. or first century A.D.
A site with potential future discoveries for New Testament studies is Colossae
Many groups to Turkey don’t even bother to visit, since the ancient mound is virtually untouched, and only scattered remains can be seen on the ground. (BTW My groupsalways visit Colossae)
Tutku Tours is sponsoring a webinar on Sunday, February 27 entitled “Colossae, Colossians, and Archaeology: Digging for Answers at a Biblical Site,” with Mark Wilson moderating.
Here are the webinar times in US Eastern:
10:00-10:45: “Latest Archaeological Surveys in Colossae,” by Baris Yener, Pamukkale University
10:50-11:35: “How the Excavation of Colossae Could Help Illuminate Paul’s Letter to the Colossians,” by Clint Arnold, Biola University
11:40-12:00: Response: ”Archaeology and Interpreting Colossians,” by Anna Enberg, Lund University
12:00-12:30: Questions and Conversation
To join, go to the Zoom website and enter Meeting ID: 629 730 8579; passcode: tutku
The site of Colossae is located on the southern edge of the Lycus Valley near larger and more significant sites such as Laodecia, 8 mi. [13 km.] to the west, and Hierapolis, 13 mi. [21.5 km.] to the northwest. It is approximately 112 mi. [180 km.] due east of Ephesus.
Paul wrote two letters to Colossae, namely Colossians and Philemon. Paul evidently never visited the city (Col 1:9; 2:1), but rather his colleague Epaphras brought the gospel message to the three cities of the Lycus Valley, that is to Colossae, to Laodicea, and to Hierapolis. However, Paul hoped to visit the city, for he requested Philemon to prepare a lodging for him in anticipation of a visit (Phil 1:23).
The mound (Turkish: hüyük) of Colossae has not been excavated. It was said to have been a large city in the fifth century B.C. but for some reason, it seems to have lost some of its importance by the first century A.D. The reason for this is unclear, for its position on the major road running from east to west, from Pisidian Antioch to Laodicea, and from there to the Aegean Sea remained unchanged. Possibly the new, northwest to southeast route, connecting Pergamum to Laodicea and Laodicea to Attalia (Antalya) via Cibyra and Termessos, which bypassed Colossae, reduced its importance.
Greetings! Mary and I invite you to join us for an 18-day “study tour” to Turkey and Greece—following in the Footsteps of Paul: Turkey, Greece, and Patmos—May 15–Jun1, 2022. We have a handcrafted itinerary and excellent guides.
In addition, I will be giving mini-lectures along the way both on the bus and at the sites, drawing from my studies and from the 25+ trips that we have led to Turkey and Greece. We will relate what we are seeing to the New Testament and the Early Christian Church. Thus, it is not a mere tour, but a hands-on experience as we study the New Testament and its Greco-Roman background together!
Noteworthy! We will visit all 7 churches mentioned in Revelation 1-3 and places where 15 of the 27 New Testament books were written to and/or from! This year we are including a day trip to the Island of Patmos where John received his “revelation” (Revelation 1:9) and a visit to one of the “hanging monasteries” of Meteora.
You will be amazed at what you will be learning along the way and May and early June are perfect—not too hot, not too cool, and the wildflowers are still in bloom in some parts of the country!
After returning from our October 2021 tour Following in the Footsteps of Paul in Turkey and Greece people would ask me “what’s new?” The site of Laodicea in Turkey has been under intensive excavation and restoration for over 20 years and it seems like there is always something new to see. Our visit there in October did not disappoint! (see after this introduction the main reason for my excitement—be sure to see the last image and the site diagram)
One of the places that has recently been under intense excavation and restoration is the North (Sacred) Agora which is located north of the western end of the Syrian Street (the main street of Laodicea—site diagram below).
The North (Sacred) Agora is huge, almost 9 acres (3.6 ha.) in size—about equal to 6.5 American Football Fields. The three main entranceways are from the Syrian Street via monumental entrances. In the center of the Agora, there were two temples: one dedicated to Athena and the other to Zeus—along with associated altars.
The Agora was initially constructed during the reign of Augustus (r. 27 BC to AD 14). The temples were dismantled during the reign of Constantine (r. 306–337) and a church was constructed at the north end of the Agora. The earthquake of 494 destroyed parts of the Agora and it completely collapsed in the early seventh–century.
There are two porticos running north-south—one on the east and one on the west. Parallel to them, there were two long pools.
On the western side of the Agora the excavators have been busy restoring the wall that encloses the agora on the west.
This is a view looking west at the western Portico of the North Agora. The outer wall of the west portico is located behind the black fabric. The erected columns formed the agora side of the portico and a roof ran from the columns to the wall. This western portico was 980 feet long!
Well, I had to find out what was behind the curtain, and to my surprise . . . .
There it was—a two hundred foot long, 25 foot high Frescoed Wall! The archaeologists have reconstructed this wall using the rectangular frescoed travertine blocks that were found in the area. The rectangular carved stone blocks appear to be of travertine, covered with fresco painting.
To be frank, I could not believe my eyes with what I was seeing. I never imagined that ‘mere walls’ would be so elaborately decorated!
So you ask, where is the North Agora?
#27 is the Propylon, the entrance to the North Agora, mentioned at the beginning of this post. The North (Sacred) Agora, where all the above “goodies” are found, is located in the area between #27 and #42 — it has not yet made it onto the map.
For additional images and commentary about the North Agora Click Here.
Who knows what new items await us as we Follow in the Footsteps of Paul for 18 days in May 2022? For information about this trip, Click Here.
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.’
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.
In October 2021 we led a group of 30 trekkers Following in the Footsteps of Paul to Turkey and Greece. Along the way, we noticed a number of interesting changes and in the next few posts I will share some of them.
We noticed that at Sardis, and a few other sites in Turkey, the “authorities” were adding better amenities for the visitors. For example at Sardis, they had removed the ticket booths and the primitive restroom facilities. These upgrades will add to the visitors’ experience. [congratulations to the “Turkish Authorities”]
One of them was at the Synagogue of Sardis.
At Sardis a major change (upgrade?) is that the “authorities” are going to place a permanent roof over the Synagogue.
I am not certain if this change is “good.” But I assume that it will help preserve the important synagogue remains from the “elements.”
If you would like to explore the possibility of joining our 18-day Following in the Footsteps of Paul: Turkey, Greece, and Patmos (May 15–June 1, 2022), you are invited to contact me for details at email@example.com.
QUICK — what was the Lycian League? Not many of us know, but Alexander Hamilton and James Madison knew! Yes, the “Lycian Confederation” is mentioned four times in the Federalist Papers that were produced between 1787–1788 (#9, 16, 45). Over 2,000 years ago it met in Patara—the same place where Paul and Luke changed ships on their way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-3).
View of the exterior of the reconstructed Council Chamber (Bouleuterion) at Patara January 2014 — Click on Image to Enlarge/Download
So what was the Lycian Confederation/League? First, Lycia was/is a geopolitical region located along the Mediterranean Coast of modern Turkey, often called the Turquoise Coast because of its beauty! (see map below) The 23 cities that made up the Confederation/League were located along the Mediterranean coast or in the nearby rugged Taurus Mountains (but the number of cities varied from time to time).
View of the interior of the Council House at Patara Click on Image to Enlarge/Download
The Lycian Confederation is the first known republic union in history! One of the features of this Confederation is that they committed themselves to be governed by a central assembly (Greek: synedrion) that they themselves elected. However, in fairness, the larger cities were allotted more representatives than the smaller ones. Large cities such as Xanthos, Patara, Myra, Pinara, Tlos, and Olympos were allotted three representatives each (the maximum allowed).
The Lycian Confederation met at Patara—almost certainly in the Bouleuterion pictured above. It was thus here (at the out-of-the-way site of Patara) that proportional representative government first got its start. And, it was not until the founding of the United States (2,000 years later!!) that this concept was revived in the US House of Representatives (note the semi-circular seating arrangement of its chamber)!!
The Rugged Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Coast of Lycia The cities of the Lycian Confederation were located along the coast or in the mountains Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download
The league itself may go back to around 205 B.C. This early form of the league would have had the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances. In 168 B.C., while still under Roman control, the Romans allowed these cities to still assemble together to govern themselves as a unit—but the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances were now Rome’s prerogative.
This body elected persons who administered the Lycian League for a year at a time. The council elected judges. Voted proportional taxes. A league court decided disputes between the cities.
I have posted 5 photos of this historic meeting place on my web site,
both before and after it was excavated/reconstructed.