The Winners’ Prizes — Dead Vegetation?

In a previous entry I shared some pictures related to “Running the Race.”  The winners of such competitions were awarded, among other things, victory crowns—the composition of which depended upon the games.

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Modern Recreation of Victory Wreaths — On the left a Pine Wreath for the winner of an event at the Isthmian Games and on the right a Laural Wreath for the winner of an event at the Olympic Games — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The games at Isthmia were held twice during the four year Olympic cycle.  The city of Corinth was in charge of these games and Isthmia was only 6 miles from Corinth.  The games included athletic as well a music contests.  It is very probable that the games were held during Paul’s stay at Corinth.  Indeed, he writes to the church at Corinth:

1Cor. 9:24     Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  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. (NIV)

One of the prizes at the Istmian games was a wreath, sometimes made of pine branches (see picture above) and at other times of wilted(!) celery leaves.  Thus Paul’s “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” certainly rings true!

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The grave stela of an unnamed athlete who won games at at least 8 different venues. Inside of the crowns are the names of the games. In the upper left wreath “Olympia” is noted and in the lower right “Pergamum.” Note the variety of “wreathes.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

To view additional images of this and other stelae from Isthmia Click Here.

The terms “prize,” “victor’s wreath,” etc. are common in New Testament imagery.

Running the Race

In seven  passages the apostle Paul compares the Christian life to running a race.  The athletic games, that were initiated by the Greeks consisted of running, discus, jumping, javelin, boxing and fighting events.  Not to mention musical, oratory, and drama contests.

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The Stadium at Nemea in the Peloponnese of Greece — One of the four pan Hellenic Games was held here, the other places being Olympia, Isthmia (near Corinth) and Delphi — The stadium at Nemea was 161 yards long — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

A variety of foot races were held but the basic one was the length of the stadium—close to 200 yards.  The length of the stadia varied from place to place.  The stadium at Nemea above is well–preserved.  Notice the starting area in the foreground and the embankments on both sides where the male spectators sat.

Paul wrote (also in other places):

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith

It is interesting that Jesus, in his Judean/Galilean context never uses the image of running the race—but Paul, in a Greco-Roman context does.

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Two bronze runners from the villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum (near Pompeii) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The races took place in the nude.  The above are first century A.D. copies of third century B.C. statues.

And the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

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A “krater” (jar used for wine) — Found at Olympia — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a representation of a runner prepared for the start of the race.  the pole in front of him may represent a turning pole or a finish line at the far end of the stadium.  Between the runner and the turning pole is a strigil—a scraper that was used to remove olive oil, sand, dirt, and sweat.

To view more images of Nemea Click Here.

Bethsaida (el–Araj) Flooded

This past fall (2019) we had a chance to visit el–Araj—the “real” Bethsaida—on two occasions (see here for a report).  This past year Israel has received heavy rains and the Sea of Galilee has risen to about -686 ft.  The first-century harbors around the Sea of Galilee were roughly at the -696 ft. level.  On May 11 our guide, Ofer Drori, had a chance to visit the site and found that the water had infiltrated the site and has given me permission to share some of his photographs.

Compare the November 2019 and May 2020 photos of the same area.

Excavations at el–Araj in November 2019.

Excavations at el–Araj in May 2020.

Excavations at el–Araj in May 2020. Photo courtesy of el–Araj excavations (see below).

Excavations at el–Araj in May 2020.

The bus “parking lot” at el–Araj.

Ofer described his visit — ‘splashing my way into el–Araj via swamps, marshes and the lagoons of the mighty Jordan delta — stepping on schools of Saint Peter’s fish and Catfish.  Noting egrets, herons, cormorants, and jackals along the way.  The site is almost an island.  Water fills the pits of the excavation area.’


The official el–Araj Excavation can be found here.

To contact our guide Ofer, click Here.

For helpful information on the site please see the following:

Notley, R. Steven and Mordechai Aviam. “Searching for Bethsaida — The Case for El–Araj.” Biblical Archaeology Review 46, no. 2 (Spring, 2020): 28–39.

Nun, Mendel.  “Has Bethsaida Finally Been Found?” Jerusalem Perspective no. 54 (July–September, 1998): 12–31.  For a pdf of this article see Here.

 

Artemis of Ephesus

In the July/August 2016 edition of The Biblical Archaeology Review there is a survey article entitled “Archaeology Gives New Reality to Paul’s Ephesus Riot” by James R. Edwards.  The article deals with the riot that is described in Acts 19:23–41.

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The BAR article is very informative, but it is to be noted that the recent book by Gary Hoag Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus is not mentioned.  Hoag’s book is considered as a “game changer” that goes into the details of how Artemis was worshiped at Ephesus AND it deals with some very problematic passages in 1 Timothy (2::9–15; 3:1–3; 6:1–2a; 6:2b–10; 6:17–19)!

The book is expensive and will be of interest to scholars—but it is also accessible to an informed layperson.  For a great overview of the content of the book and some of its conclusions see the review by Lucy Peppiatt that was posted by Scot McKnight.

I was particularly interested in how actual data related to the site of Ephesus helps in interpreting the following:

1Tim. 2:9     I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,  10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

1Tim. 2:11     A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.  13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

I totally agree that the book is a “game changer” and for starters, commend Peppiatt’s review as a starting place.

The Roles of the Roman Emperors

Groups traveling to Turkey will often fly into Istanbul and spend a day or two there before continuing on to other parts of the country.   One of the stops in Istanbul is typically the world-class Archaeological Museum located near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  For students of the Bible it houses some extremely important artifacts.  The main ones are located on the top floor of the museum including the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, The Second Temple Warning Inscription, and the Gezer Calendar (the first two from Jerusalem).

Bronze Statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138)
In Toga depicting him as “the first citizen” of Rome
Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
For additional information about this statue Click Here

When walking up to visit the gallery containing these precious objects you will usually pass a bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.   Because the lighting in the room is typically not too good, and the room really looks “dated,” most groups will bypass this statute.

However, it is worthy to pause for a minute or two to view it.  First of all, it is very rare to have a statue preserved in bronze from ancient times!  Most of the statues that are preserved are marble copies from the Roman Period—but here a real bronze original is on display.  And secondly, it is worthy to notice the dress of the emperor—in a toga that depicts him as the first among Roman Citizens.

On other statues, for example several on display in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya,

Roman Emperor Hadrian in Military Garb
Depicting him as the head of the Roman armies
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge — Second Century AD
For additional information about this image Click Here

Hadrian is depicted in military garb as the head of the Roman army

Roman Emperor Hadrian in the Nude — Reflecting His Divine Status
Antalya Archaeological Museum
From Perge – near Antalya
For additional information about this statue Click Here

and in others he appears in the nude—depicting his divine status!

Thus back at the bronze statue in the Istanbul Museum, this is a great place  to begin to introduce your group to the various roles played by the Roman Emperors—for certainly you will be “bumping into them” again and again in your travels in Turkey.

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum Part 2

In a previous post I shared some images and thoughts on what I believe is the only completely preserved building dedicated to the worship of Roman Emperors in the First Century A.D.  I want to complete the posting of images from the main room where the statue of the Emperor was located.  In these two frescos, the Emperor is portrayed as the mythical hero Hercules!

On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.

View looking at the north wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.  The nude figure next to him is a river deity that is attempting to snatch away Hercules’ wife, Deianeira.  Hercules is about to rescue her!  Tuck suggests that this is a metaphor for the Emperor as Hercules who protects/rescues his people.

Flanking the central piece are “windows” that look out on to the world.  Note especially the two chariots with horses in the upper two corners.

Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude. The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.

View looking at the south wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude.  The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.  Tuck believes that this is a representation of Hercules about to be taken up to be with the gods (= apotheosis) and that he and Hera are here reconciled—Hera had attempted to kill him.  Tuck believes that this is a metaphor for the apotheosis (- ascension?) of the Emperor—being represented as Hercules.  In other words, Vespasian, like Emperors before him, was taken to be with the gods—and thus became a god!  And of course, the Emperor’s successor (even if adopted), would be “a son of god.”

To view 6 images of this important room Click Here.


Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this room 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.

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.

 

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.

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls and COVID-19

An articleThe Dead Sea Scrolls are in self-isolation – but they mean more than ever in Forward, contains quite a bit of unique and interesting information regarding the display and storage of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which include some of the earliest biblical texts, are considered the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century. [the curator, Hagit] Maoz is one of the people charged with their safekeeping . . . knows exactly where the museum’s scrolls are: behind five locked doors in a humidity and temperature-controlled vault at the Shrine of the Book.

The Dome covering the central display area of the Shrine of the Book. In the background the Israeli Kenesset (Parlament). To the right, the black wall. Note the contrast, the light vs. the darkness.

Many of you have visited the exhibit inside the Shrine of the Book.  The article states that it takes four days to clean the ceiling inside the “dome” of central display area and they have done it this year (2020)

This [year, 2020] marks the first time since a 2004 renovation that all of the scrolls have moved into the vault.

In the article, the move of the scrolls from under the dome is described in detail—and worth a read in the article.  From under the dome two people

. . . slowly walked the scroll section into the vault, passing through five open doors to place it onto a shelf in the innermost room, so secure that only Maoz and three other museum employees have permission to enter. When they returned, they closed the case, opened the next one, and started the process over again. The vault is just 10 or so yards from the exhibit, but it took around 90 minutes for them to complete the task.


Since they do not allow photography in the Shrine of the Book, here is a sample of a Qumran Scroll from the Archaeological Museum in Amman, Jordan.

This is one of the very important Hebrew texts that was discovered in Cave 1 in 1947 (1QSa/1Q28a).  It is related to the longer “Rule of the Community Text.”  The two preserved columns describe the community in “the Last Days” and include information about a communal meal and a startling (and controversial) passage on how G-d will “father” the Messiah (descendant of David), thus “if the traditional reading is correct, then this Qumran text is describing a messianic figure who is in a special way a ‘son of God'” (Wise, p. 144)!

For a translation and commentary on this text please see Michael Wise, pp. 143–147 in Wise, Michael O., Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

This text is/was on display in the Jordan Archaeological Museum located on the Citadel in Amman.

 

One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Besides constructing a Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate issued a series of bronze coins—perutahs honoring the Emperor Tiberius.  He minted these coins in Jerusalem between 29 and 31 (Taylor, 556; Jesus was tried before this same Pilate in AD 30 or 33).

Obverse of a bronze perutah, minted in Jerusalem, by Pontius Pilate
Note the “augur’s staff” called a lituus — the coin is inscribed
Click Image to Enlarge

The above is a sample of one of the two types of coins.

Bronze perutah minted in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate

The inscription on this coin reads “of Tiberius Caesar.”  This type of coin features a lituus on the obverse side of the coin.

The lituus was a wooden staff (or wand) with a curled end, made of a branch of either ash or hazel … The lituus was held in the right hand of the augures and was the augures’ identifying emblem.  (Taylor 559-59)

The lituus was used by augurs who were priests that interpreted the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds (size of flock, noises made, direction of flight, etc.).

[The lituus] was also raised to the sky when they invoked the god and made predictions.   It was used to mark out regions of the heavens when assessing the placement of sacred space on earth (Taylor 559).

Taylor continues, that these two types of coins (only one is covered in this post) honor priests

who were representatives of Roman religion in the two imperial cult temples of Caesarea Maritime and in Sebaste, located in the province he [Pilate] governed (565).

And she concludes:

In using exclusively Roman cultic items in his coinage designed for a province largely composed of Jews and Samaritans, Pilate was promoting Roman religion, manifested largely in the imperial cult, in an environment in which there were strong sensitivities (565).

Thus it is evident that the person who condemned Jesus to death was active in promoting the Imperial Cult via the coins that he issued and the Tiberieum that he built at Caesarea!

In light of the above, imagine what was going through Pilate’s mind when he heard the words:

“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 555–563.

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It should be noted that coins from cities/areas outside of Judea — with images of deities or emperors on them — circulated in Judah.  See Mark 12:13-17 and parallels.

Emperor Worship In “Israel” in Jesus’ Day

When Christian tour/academic groups visit the area of Galilee it is natural to ask “what was Galilee like in Jesus’ time?”  This is actually a tricky question to answer for what is meant by “Galilee?”  I think it is best to let Josephus define it (War iii.3.1-2 [35–43]) and if this is the case then it was very limited in size and actually surrounded by Gentile populations! (see for example the map on p. 212 of The Zondervan Atlas of the Bible)

Foundation of the Temple to Augustus that Herod the Great built in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi—at Omrit
The southwest corner
Note the delicately carved molding and the remnants of fresco on the wall

Archaeological excavations in Galilee — Galilee as defined by Josephus, and pre- 70 CE — show that it was  Jewish in nature and was not yet greatly influenced by Greco- Roman culture (except for some frescos at Yodfat and Herod Antipas’ new city of Tiberias).  Indeed, the archaeological remains (ritual baths, stone vessels, lack of pig bones, shaft graves) at most sites in Josephus’ Galilee seem to indicate that Jews were living in small villages that were rural in nature.  Most tour leaders/guides will rightfully expound on the Jewish context of Jesus’ upbringing and focus of ministry, and will also reference the close proximity of Greco- Roman culture via the caravan routes that ran around and through Lower Galilee.

In two previous posts I have commented on the archaeological finds at Omrit and the Imperial Cult (worshiping the Roman Emperor) in Asia Minor.  IMHO we also need to give emphasis to the fact that Herod the Great had built  three Imperial Cult Temples — all less than 40 miles from Nazareth/Capernaum.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry these Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  had been in existence for over 40 years!

When tour leaders/guides expound upon “Peter’s Great Confession” at/near Caesarea Philippi — “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16; etc.) — usually the emphasis is upon “Christ” as the Greek word for Hebrew Messiah/Mashiach and Jesus as the fulfillment of the divine promise that had been made to David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7).  In addition, often reference is made to failed messiahs and rebel leaders that lived before, during, and/or after the days of Jesus — and that Jesus’ “kingdom” was of a different nature than the typical expectation of these folk.

But when Peter’s confession is made within 5 miles (or less) of  one of the three Imperial Cult Temples that had been dedicated to Roman Emperor Augustus — who was to be worshiped as a god, or at least the “son of god”  — the confession takes on all kinds of additional overtones!  And one of the first thoughts of many of the hearers of the Gospels (living in a Greco- Roman context in Asia Minor, Greece, North Africa, and Italy) had to have been, how could anyone ever think that  a crucified Galilean Jew named Jesus could be “the Son of the Living God?”   There already was a “son of god!”  Namely the reigning Roman Emperor who was worshiped as a “son of god” by (almost) all his subjects at Imperial Cult Temples scattered throughout his kingdom—not to mention previously deceased emperors (and some family members) who had ascended to heaven and were worshiped “as gods!”

The above just hints at some of the topics that could be thought through and expanded upon, and what better place to do this than at Omrit—where the foundations and some artifacts of the Herodian Imperial Cult Temple are still there in all their glory!

Directions to Omrit
Left is north in the image.
The road running from left (north) to right (south) in the bottom of the image is Hwy 918

It is easy to travel to Omrit by driving south on Hwy 918 (from the junction of Hwys 99 and 918) and turning east on the paved road just before (north) of the Bezek antenna.  To visit this unique site you need to budget about 90 minutes or so once you turn off  highway 918, but IMHO it is well worth the time!