The “Farmer’s Sarcophagus” An Alternative Interpretation

In a earlier post I presented what I called a “Farmer’s Sarcophaus” that is located in the courtyard of the Antalya (Turkey) Archaeological Museum. (see end of this post for a new possible interpretation).

“Farmer’s Sarcophagus”?  Is it possible that this is an élite person who had the honor, using oxen, to plow the outline of the pomerium for an about-to-be estabished city?

At the time I wrote:

I have seen a lot of sarcophagi in our travels but never one with this theme on it!  Note the farmer plowing with two oxen and two roundels with (evidently) a husband and wife in each of them.  . . .  It is almost refreshing to see such a mundane and common activity represented on a sarcophagus—but it is surprising, for how did a FARMER afford having a stone sarcophagus made??

But in my readings about two months ago, I came across the concept of the pomerium.  What in the world is that?  Well . . .

The pomerium is the name given to the sacred boundary of an ancient Roman city founded with the help of omens.  It consisted of a wall and/or the sacred strip of land between the wall and the city’s outermost building: when a Roman colony was founded a simple ploughed forrow would encircle it n order to define the pomeriium.  Withing the enclosed pricincts, burials were forbidden. (conveniently Blue Guide, p. 88).

Evidently the walls of the city were established on the outer limit of the pomerium and no structures (theoretically) could be built on the pomerium.  In Rome the pomerium defined the limits of the city and there were prohibitions for armed troops to enter the city beyond this “barrior.”

My Musings: Given that sarcophagi were for the elite of society, it now seems more logical to me that what we have on this sarcophagus is an image of an elite “owner” who proudly was the person who was entrusted, with the oxen, to plow the pomerium for an about-to-be established city.

See Here for several reliefs of the plowing of the pomerium.

Alta Macadam, Blue Guide: Rome. Eleventh edition.  London, 2016.

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Where did Paul and Silas Appear Before the Magistrates at Philippi?

Did Paul and Silas really appear before the “magistrates” at the bema in Philippi—as is commonly thought (see quote at end of post)?  Probably not—see the following.

But if not, where did Paul and Silas really appear before the magistrates at Philippi? Well, in spite of the common misconception, the text of Acts nowhere mentions a bema in connection with Philippi.

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View of the Council House (Bouleuterion, Curia) at the northwest corner of the forum at Philippi. Paul and Silas may have appeared before the Magistrates HERE!

The word for “magistrates” that is used in Acts 16:20, 22, 35, and 38 is the Greek word στρατηγὸς that means “captain, commander; chief magistrate.”   Because Philippi was a Roman Colony settled by veterans, the magistrates would have been high-ranking military men, or descendants of them.

The magistrates (στρατηγὸς) of Philippi would have tried legal cases either in the Bouleuterion (Latin Curia) or the nearby Basilica—not at the bema, which was the “raised speaker’s platform.” It would have been that in one of these structures the Magistrates sent Paul and Silas to prison but later needed to “apologize” to them—after Paul “pulled the Roman citizenship card” on them.

Both the Council House (see above) and the Basilica (see below) are located at the west end of the forum at Philippi.

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View of the apse of the Basilica on the west side of the forum of Philippi. Paul and Silas may have appeared before the Magistrates HERE! In the upper left portion of the image the expanse of the forum is visible.


The customary bema interpretation is illustrated by the quote below:

The bema at Philippi, [as] the probable location where the Apostles Paul and Silas were tried before the magistrates (Acts 16:19–24). Bema is the Greek word for a raised speaker’s platform where proclamations were read, speeches made (Acts 12:20–23) and citizens tried before officials (Mat 27:19; Jn 19:13; Acts 25:1–12; Acts 18:12–17) (Franz)

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View of the bema—the speaker’s platform—at Philippi. But Paul and Silas did NOT appear before the Magistrates here. Please see above.

In this connection usually reference is made to the well–known bema at Corinth where Paul appeared before the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18).

Franz, Gordon. “Gods, Gold and the Glory of Philippi.” Bible and Spade 17 (2004): 115–22.

My Favorite Site in Israel

People often ask me “what is your favorite place to visit [in Israel]?”  This is a tough question to answer, for I am “in love” with many “sites” in Israel.  But when forced to commit myself, my favorite site is a not-too-well-known place called Omrit — a site that is located on the western slopes of the Golan—just east of the Huleh Valley.

Plaza and approach to the Imperial Temple at Omrit (Caesarea Philippi?)

 

Omrit Excavation Teams

One major reason for my “love” of Omrit is that here you can really clearly see the foundations and significant architectural pieces of  THREE temples that actually look like temples—including the one that Herod the Great built for the worship of the Roman Emperor Augustus and that was actually in existence in Jesus’s day!

Josephus says that Herod the Great built three such temples, one at Caesarea Maritima (but virtually nothing of the Herodian original is visible to today), at Sebastia (where significant remains of a second century AD rebuild are visible), but here at Omrit the foundations and architectural fragments of “Herod’s Imperial Cult Temple” still exist!

Earliest “Shrine” — that was later covered by two later temples!

Since 1999 J. Andrew Overman of Macalester College of St. Paul, Minnesota(USA) has been excavating the site.  He has discovered three successive religious structures—the earliest (a “shrine”) dating to the Early Roman Period.

Southwest corners of the:
First (slightly above and left of center) “Herodian Temple to the Emperor Augustus”
and the Temple from the time of Trajian (lower right)

Huge “composite” capital (combination of Corinthian and Ionic orders) and large base
Note the acanthus leaves

Overman believes that the first Temple was built by Herod the Great to honor his patron—the emperor Caesar Augustus (ruled 28 B.C. to A.D. 14).  Many believe that his temple was constructed in nearby “Panias” but Overman argues (I think correctly) that it was here at Omrit—”in the vicinity of Panias”—that it was constructed.  The second “Temple” was probably constructed during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajian (A.D. 98-117).  The finds here are so significant that the Israel Museum has a prominent display of them.

Upside down corner capital of the “composite” order

To view new images of Omrit Click Here.

Architectural Fragment

The Holiest Druze Site in Israel

On the road that leads to the top of the Arbel Cliffs, on the west side of Lake Galilee, there is a turn off that leads to the most sacred Druze site in Israel.  I have known about it for many years but only a month ago was I able to visit it for the first time.

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View from the Nabi Shu’ayb complex looking northeast. The Arbel Cliffs and the Sea of Galilee are visible in the distance.

This site is located on the lower northeastern slope of the Horns of Hattin and commemorates Nabi Shu’ayb (=”the prophet Shu’ayb” = Jethro).   The identification of Shu’ayb with Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses is a Muslim and Druze tradition.

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View of the entrance ways into the main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb.

In the picture above, note the man on the left who is putting on a gray cape that covers him from head to calf.  Of course, one removes their shoes before entering the room.  As a non-Druze I was not permitted to enter the tomb area via the main doorway, but had to enter and exit via a side door—I was escorted by a Druze elder.  I was not permitted to take pictures within the room.

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View of a courtyard with a fountain that is located west of main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb. No one used the fountain while I was visiting the site.

Since 1948 this shrine has been under Druze control (= holy property [wakf]).  It was rebuilt in the late 20th century and is a place of pilgrimage for Israeli Druze.  On April 25th, the Druze community has an annual meeting (celebration) here.  Usually new Druze soldiers in the Israeli army swear loyalty to the state at this site.

This is one of 4 or 5 places where Shu’ayb is said to be buried.  The main tomb of Shu’ayb is in Jordan and there are several candidates in Sinai.

To view 9 images of this sacred site Click Here.

For a quick overview of the Druze Religion Click Here.

A Solar Eclipse and Old Testament Chronology

Here in the United States there is much excitement about the total solar eclipse that will take place on 21 August 2017. But did you know that the solar eclipse of June 15, 763 B.C. holds the key to the chronology of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)?

Have you ever thought about how a Study Bible can, such as, date the rule of Solomon from 970 B.C. to 930 B.C.? Or supply the dates of the rule of any other biblical king? This is a complicated topic because the Bible itself does not give such dates—typically we find “relative” dates such as “in the fourth year of his reign, King Solomon began to build the temple” (1 Kings 6:1). But when exactly is the “fourth year . . .”? Some scholars have suggested 966 B.C. But how do they know that?

It is because scholars, such as Edwin R. Thiele, have been able to link the relative chronology given in the Bible to known dates from Assyrian records (Babylonian and Egyptian sources are used as well). But how do they know the dates of Assyrian rulers and events?

A collection of limmu stelae from Asshur in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul.

Well, I am glad you asked! It is because the Assyrians named their years after various officials, including the king. Such a person was called a limmu (don’t ask, just trust me). The Assyrians would then, in other documents, date an event (such as an invasion, a battle, the building of a temple, etc.) by the name of the limmu in which it occurred. It is fortunate that there are actually lists of limmus that can be joined to give a complete sequence from roughly 891 B.C. to 648 B.C.

But what we end up with is a sequence of limmus—giving us relative dates (“this limmu before that limmu,” etc.). How is it possible to turn this long sequence of relative dates to “absolute” dates? Well, some astronomical phenomena are tied to various limmus!

One item of unusual importance is a notice of an eclipse of the sun that took place in the month of Simanu, in the eponymy (limmu) of Bur-Sagale [name of a person]. Astronomical computation has fixed this as June 15, 763. With the year of the eponymy [limmu] of Bur–Sagale fixed at 763 B.C., the year of every other name of the complete canon can likewise be fixed. The Assyrian lists extant today provide a reliable record of the annual limmu officials from 891 to 648 B.C.; and for this period they provide reliable dates in Assyrian history. (Thiele pp. 41–42)

With this information, correlations with the Biblical text can be made, and Relative Biblical dates can be converted to what we now know as B.C. dates.

Thus, the solar eclipse on June 15, 763 B.C. has played a huge role in helping determine Biblical Chronology!

Disclaimer: this post is intended to express appreciation for all the time that scholars have put into trying to determine an accurate Biblical Chronology—it is far from a complete discussion of the many challenges met in trying to solve such a problem.

Thiele, E. R. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1965.

Beth Shemesh

Beth Shemesh is an Israelite site located 12 mi. west of Jerusalem in the Sorek Valley where it exits from the Hill Country of Judah into the Shephelah.

The tribe of Dan settled in this area and the main activities of Samson took place here (Judges 13–16).

Sorek Valley looking west from Beth Shemesh

During the period of the Judges the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites via Beth Shemesh (1 Samuel 4–6).

During the recent excavations, a huge “cruciform” cistern from the years of the Judean Monarchy was discovered.

Interior of the Israelite Cistern

For more free, high-resolution images of Beth Shemesh Click Here.

Dogs Eating the Crumbs – Matt 15:27 and Mark 7:28

In Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-31 there is the story of a “Canaanite woman” from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon who said:

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”  . . .  The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Matt 15:22–25 and compare Mark 7:26ff.

It seems that Jesus’ response was somewhat “off-putting” for the subsequent “conversation” went as follows:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”   Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
(Matt 15:26-28)

Dogs are not highly thought of in some of the Middle Eastern Cultures today but evidently in New Testament times they were kept as household pets.

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the crumbs that have fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (5th century BC.) found in the Asclepion of Piraeus (port of Athens).  It represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the right and a naked youth on the left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the food that has fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above votive relief  also represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the left and a naked youth on the far left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch waiting for crumbs from the meal — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (4th century BC.) found at Argos in southern Greece.  The god or hero is reclining on a couch with a woman on the left holding a tray with food.  On the far left is a nude boy drawing wine from a large krater.  Note the dog under the couch, waiting for crumbs!