Tag Archives: Aphrodisias

Jews, Proselytes, and God-Fearers at Aphrodisias

In the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts and in the ministry of the Apostle of Paul, Jews, Proselytes, and God-fearers are mentioned (see for example Acts 2:11; 6:5; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).  Because of Paul’s activities in Asia Minor (= modern Turkey), Christian scholarship has been interested in finding evidence of these groups in that area.  Unfortunately, there is little archaeological indication of first-century Judaism in the region.  However, synagogues from the Late Roman Period have been found at sites such as Sardis, Priene, Andriace, etc.  And later inscriptions mentioning “God-fearers” have been discovered at Miletus and Sardis.

At Aphrodisias a unique find related to the Jewish presence in the city was discovered—that mentions all three categories noted above.  It is a 9 ft. tall marble block that was found during the construction of the Aphrodisias Museum.

This 9 ft. tall marble block lists over 120 donors to a synagogue. Click on this and following images to Enlarge and/or Download—and to read the Greek Inscription.

The marble block is engraved on two sides—both visible in the photo.  It is a list of over 120 donors to a synagogue and is composed of three categories of names—all males: Jews, recent converts to Judaism (proselytes), and unconverted members of the synagogue community (“godfearers;” theosebeis).  It evidently dates to ca. AD 350–500) and probably served as a doorpost in a synagogue.  (Please see below for sources used in this blog post)

There are about 121 names on this front side of the marble block.

This main list is divided into two sections—see the blank space between the upper and lower portions of the list. First come men who have distinctly Biblical names or names favored by Jews, such as Benjamin, Judas, Joseph, Jacob, Samuel, Zachary, and names such as Amantios (loving), Eusabatios (the good Sabbath).

The second portion of the list is headed with the word theosebeis (“god fearers” ΘΕΟΣΕΒΙΣ ) who are gentiles who have a strong chosen affiliation with Judaism but who are not themselves Jews. They have traditional Greeκ-Roman names such as Alexandros or Eutychos.

Several local councilors head the list of god fearers, and ten of the Jews and seventeen of the God-fearers list their professions. They are all tradesmen who range from food-providers to painters to leather-workers, to sculptors and builders. The pillar probably stood outside the local synagogue and is a striking testimony to the proud place of the Jewish community in the city, to continuing fluid religious interaction in the fourth century AD, and especially to the high valuation of craft professions among this group of like-minded monotheists. (from the description in the Aphrodisias’ Museum)

This is a view of the “side” of the inscribed pillar.

This side also lists the names of members of the Jewish community and includes “14 men with predominantly Hebrew names (including three proselytes) and two Godfearers.” (Chaniotis, p. 40)

Compare the quality of this side inscription with that on the front of it. Chaniotis argues the ‘these two distinct carving styles suggest that the inscription on the front face was carved first, when the stone was still lying flat on the ground and was fully accessible to the engraver, while the text on this side face was carved at a later date—once the pillar had already been installed in the synagogue and the engraving had to be completed from atop a ladder.’ (p. 40)

For detailed pictures of this Inscription see Here.


Chaniotis, Angelos. “Godfearers in the City of Love.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36, no. 3 (May/June 2010): 32–44, 77.

Fairchild, Mark R. Christian Origins in Ephesus & Asia Minor. Istanbul: Arkeoege, 2015.

Aphrodisias: The Theater and Its Artifacts

Like any respectable Greco-Roman City, Aphrodisias had a theater.  It is very well preserved because the “modern” village of Geyre was built on the theater and the acropolis and preserved what was underneath the village.  Geyre was moved to a different location around 1960 and some 120 ft. of debris under it was excavated away to reveal the theater.

View looking southeast at the interior of the theater at Aphrodisias, and beyond that, in the upper left of the image the Theater Agora.

In the theater, note that the seating area is slightly larger than a perfect semicircle.  This was characteristic of Greek, as opposed to Roman, theaters.  The brown semicircle is where the orchestra was located.  Note the high wall ringing it.  The orchestra was remodeled during the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180) and turned into a venue for animal and gladiatorial contests.  Left of the center of the image the remains of the stage area and behind it, the first of the three levels of the skene are visible—with the Doric columns.

Originally the theater could hold 10,000 people.  The lower portion of the cavea is preserved.  Note the staircases that the divide the cavea into sections (cunei).

The theater was originally built by Ioulos Zoilos, a slave that was freed by Octavian who became a benefactor of the city— in the first century BC.  An inscription on the stage wall describes this.

Although it is well-known that theaters were filled with statues, at Aphrodisias some well-preserved statues were found in the theater.  Some samples follow:

This is a larger than “life-size” statue of a marble Muse holding a theatrical mask.

Muses were thought of as inspirational goddesses of poetry, lyric songs, and myths—a fitting piece to be installed in the theater of Aphrodisias.

This is a statue of one of the leading citizens of Aphrodisias.

Leading citizens were always on the alert to promote their, and their family’s, status—so what better place than the frequently-visited theater to remind the people of the town of your beneficence!   The statue dates to the second century A.D.

This statue is of a “life-size” Diadumenos (diadem-bearer).  It is a copy of an original bronze statue by Polyclitus in the 5th century BC.

The theme is that of an athlete who is tying the ribbon on his head that marks the winner of athletic contests (a diadem).  The figure is contrapposto with his weight on his right leg and the left leg slightly flexed.  His head is slightly inclined to his right in a contemplative mood.  This marble statue of a young athlete was found in the theater of Aphrodisias and dates to around AD 200.  Some original color survives in his eyes and hair.

A photograph of a large statue of Nike, the goddess of victory that was found by the skene in the theater of Aphrodisias.

And of course, all of the theaters would have been adorned with statues of gods and goddesses.  This Nike dates to the late first century BC and is one of the earliest marble statues produced at Aphrodisias.


So now we can begin to visualize how the one theater mentioned in the New Testament might have been “decorated.”

Aphrodisias — City of Love and City of Marble

Aphrodisias — One of the most beautiful antiquity sites in Turkey.

The Monumental Gate (tetrapylon) at Aphrodisias. Click on images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Many groups that have visited Turkey have visited Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Revleation (chaps. 1-3).  While in the area they visit nearby Hierapolis and sometimes unexcavated Colossae.  However, because of time constraints, rarely is Aphrodisias visited.

Aphrodisias is an extensively excavated and beautifully restored Greco-Roman city that is located about 25 miles west southwest of Laodicea/Denizli in Turkey.  It was named after its patron deity—Aphrodite (= Venus, the goddess of love).  Because of its wonderful marble quarries, it was a center of sculpture carving for the Roman Empire.  Because of these things, it is sometimes called “the city of Love” and/or “the city of Marble.”  It was excavated in 1904-1905 and continuously from 1962 until the present.  The main excavator, Kenan Erim died and is buried at the site.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.   Over the next few posts, I would like to share with you some of the wonders of this site, as well as some insights that we can gain from it.

First of all, the city of Aphrodite must have a temple to the goddess of love—Aphrodite!

The Tetrapylon was a monumental gateway to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite built ca. AD 200.  This gateway led from a main north-south street into a large forecourt in front of the Temple.  Its decoration has a richness typical of the second century AD.  A complete scientific reconstruction (anastylosis) of the monument was completed in 1991.  It was made possible by the extraordinary preservation of the structure — 85% of its original marble blocks survive.

View looking northwest at the Monumental Gateway ( = tetrapylon) that was the main entrance into the Temple of Aphrodite Complex from the east.

The above image is a view of the exterior of the Tetrapylon.  The stone pavement in the foreground was the main north-south street that ran in front of the gate.  On the left, behind the gateway, where the person is standing, was the forecourt of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite.  Note the variety of columns on plinths: plain columns, spiral columns, and fluted columns.

The Temple of Aphrodite was the main temple of Aphrodisias and was begun in the late first century BC.  Zoilos, a leading citizen of Aphrodisias who also sponsored the construction of the Agora and Theater, paid for the initial construction.  In the second century AD, the temple was enclosed in an elaborate colonnaded court, framed by a two-storied columnar façade on the east, and by porticos on the north, west, and south.

View looking north northwest at the south side of a large Byzantine Church that was built over the former temple of Aphrodite.

The church was built around AD 500.  The church was constructed by reusing many materials from the temple of Aphrodite.  All the columns that are visible are from their position in the church.  In the lower-left foreground, the stubs of columns are from the portico that surrounded the church.  The church remained in use until the Seljuk conquest of the region around Aphrodisias in about AD 1200.

This larger-than-life statue of Aphrodite was found in the Bouleuterion (Council House).  It dates to the second century AD.

The head of Aphrodite was veiled and she wears a heavy casing (ependytes) on which are, from top to bottom, the Three Graces, the Moon and the Sun, Aphrodite on a sea-goat, and Eros figures sacrificing at an incense altar.

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and fertility (= Roman Venus). The original Aphrodite was done by Praxiteles for the city of Knidos in the fourth century B.C.  A much more common presentation of the deity is illustrated below.

Statue of Aphrodite with an inscribed shield.

This statue of Aphrodite is from Perga and is made of marble and is about 6.4 ft. high fand dates to the second century A.D. If you click the “Download” button the Greek inscription on the shield is clearly visible.

This “type” of Aphrodite is also found at Aphrodisias as the example from the Sculptor’s Workshop below shows.

This is an unfinished statue in marble of a naked Aphrodite seated on a rock.

This unfinished piece dates to the second or third century AD.

Previously, I have written briefly about the significance of the Temple of Aphrodite at Corinth in relationship to the Corinth that Paul visited—see Here.

For additional images of the Temple of Aphrodite and the Byzantine Church at Aphrodisias see Here. 

Worshiping the Roman Emperor

After preparing for, leading, and reflecting on some twenty trips to Turkey and Greece that emphasize the development of the early church there, it has become more and more evident that one of the “cutting edges” of scholarship has to do with how the Early Church came into contact and conflict with the common practice of “worshiping” the Roman Emperor.

This conflict has been examined extensively in connection with the New Testament book of Revelation, but it is now more evident that Paul and others interfaced with this cult to a much greater degree than was previously emphasized.

Questions such as to whom did early Christians owe their allegiance arose?

The Roman Emperor Claudius (nude as a deity in a divine epiphany with drapery billowing above his head; A.D. 41-54) portrayed as a deity receiving homage from the earth (cornucopia on the lower left) and the sea (ship’s steering oar lower right)
Claudius is presented as a “universal saviour and divine protector”
Original from the Sebasteion (below) now in the the museum at Aphrodisias

To the Emperor?  To a crucified peasant from a far eastern Roman province—namely Jesus?   How could these “Jesus is the King” people be loyal subjects to the Kingdom of the Emperor while at the same time being loyal subjects to the Kingdom of God?

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