Tag Archives: Sarcophagus

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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Jewish Presence at Hierapolis (Menorahs)

The important city of Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the New Testament.

Epaphras, who is one of you . . . is working had for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
(Colossians 4:12-13; NIV)

Epaphras evidently founded the churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis that are located in the Lycus Valley—possibly during the long stay of Paul at Ephesus.  For a variety of reasons we would expect some type of Jewish presence in these cities.

Although actual synagogues have not been found (Colossae had not been excavated) a variety of menoroth (menorahs; seven branch candlesticks) have been found engraved on tombs, a sarcophagus, and a column indicating a Jewish presence in the area.

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Tomb 163d Dating to the First Century A.D.
Note the menorah (seven branch candelabra) located
to the left and above the green plant
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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The family tomb on which the menorah is engraved
The remains of 31 individuals were found in the tomb
Click on the Image to Enlarge/Download

To view Tomb 148b with its very faint menorah and lulav Click Here.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

Marble lid of a Jewish sarcophagus with a menorah
and a faint Greek inscription
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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Herod “The Great’s” Sarcophagus?

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster)  and the architectural fragments of the mausoleum that I mentioned in my previous posts, the so called sarcophagus of Herod that is also on display in the Israel Museum.

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The Sarcophagus of Herod? Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The  display of the reconstructed main sarcophagus found at “Herod’s Tomb” at the Herodium.  It appears to be made out of local limestone.  Please notice that it although it is nicely carved with a rosette pattern on the end along with a floral pattern under the gable of the lid it is really not all the elaborate.

Compare for example the following sarcophagus.

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View of the side of the sarcophagus that depicts Abdalonymos, the person buried in the sarcophagus, fighting the Persians along with Alexander the Great!  From the 4th Century B.C.!  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.[Alexander the Great is the figure on horseback on the far left—Abdalonymos is on horseback in the center]

This sarcophagus was found at Sidon (just north of Israel) in 1887.  It dates to the last quarter of the 4th century B.C.—the time when Alexander fought the Persians at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C.  Abdalonymos was the King of Sidon at the time.  It was originally painted, and some of the pigments still remain!  The shape of the sarcophagus seems to be representing a temple.  Note the roof tiles, the “downspouts,” and the intricate carved detail!

This sarcophagus was crafted roughly 300 years before the death of Herod—so we know that this type of technology and craftsmanship was known and available to those living in the region of Herod—including Herod himself.  Would Herod really have been satisfied with such a “plain” sarcophagus as that found at the Herodium when the technology and craftsmanship  for something much more elaborate was available?

Again, did Ehud Netzer discover the “real tomb” of King Herod?  There are significant researchers who think not.  Although Netzer found a significant mausoleum and fragments of sarcophagi, neither the size of the mausoleum nor the  sarcophagi are overwhelmingly impressive—that is fitting for a king of Herod’s ego/stature (see conveniently the summary of Shanks below—and more on the sarcophagus in the next post).

Shanks, Hershel. “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2014): 40–48.

King Herod’s Tomb at the Israel Museum

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster) at the Israel Museum that I mentioned in my previous post, fragments from the roof of Herod’s Tomb at the Herodium are also on display in the Israel Museum.

HerodiumTombFragmentsOn the left notice the concave roof and on the right one of the acroteria (urn).  For both of these, compare the style of “Absalom’s Tomb” in the Kidron Valley that is slightly earlier in date than Herod’s Tomb.

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“Absalom’s Pillar” (2 Samuel 18:18) in the Kidron Valley. Note especially the “hat” that is similar to the fragments found at the Herodium.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note, this tomb is NOT from the days of David’s son Absalom (2 Sam 18:18), but was probably constructed in the first century B.C.  It is of mixed styles. The conical-shaped roof is Syrian style, while the columns on the lower portion are of the Greek Ionic style.  Behind, and to the left of, the “Pillar of Absalom,” is the so-called “Tomb of Jehoshaphat.” The grave markers scattered in the green grass are from the “modern” Jewish cemetery on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives.

model-of-herod-s-tombThis is the model of the reconstructed Tomb of Herod that is on location at the Herodium.  Note the “pilasters” (rectangular column–like protrusions) on the base portion and the five “acroteria” (urns) on the roof of it—see one of the originals above.  It is evident that those who made this reconstruction based it not only on the archaeological finds, but also on parallels like “Absalom’s Pillar” above and tombs found at Petra.

For permission to use any images please Check Here.

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The Treasury (Khasneh) at Petra. Note on the center top the “urn” (like that found at the Herodium) on the top of the tholos (circular structure at the top of the “temple/tomb”).  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The “Treasury” was probably constructed during the reign of the Nabatean ruler Aretas III Philhellene (82-62 B.C.).  Since Herod married a Nabatean woman it is probable that he was familiar with this structure—probably a temple and not actually a tomb.

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The “Monastery” (Deir; Arabic) at Petra—from slightly after the time of Herod the Great. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The Deir, or monastery, was probably built by the Nabatean ruler Malichus (40–70 A.D.)—thus slightly after the time of Herod.  In the upper center of the monument note the rounded tholos and the “urn” (like the one found at the Herodium) on the top of it.

It is also suggested that it dates to the time of King Rebal II in the early 2nd century A.D.  And because of its two side benches in the interior (and altar), that it was used for the meetings of religious associations.

In summary, the near parallel to the “tomb of Herod at the Herodium” is the “Pillar of Absalom” in the Kidron Valley, but its probable predecessor—known to Herod—was the “Treasury” at Petra, and its successor was the “Deir” at Petra.

Did Ehud Netzer discover the “real tomb” of King Herod?  There are significant researchers who think not.  Although Netzer found a significant mausoleum and fragments of sarcophagi, neither the size of the mausoleum and nor the sarcophagi are overwhelmingly impressive—that is fitting for a king of Herod’s ego/stature (see conveniently the summary of Shanks below—and more on the sarcophagus in the next post).

Shanks, Hershel. “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2014): 40–48.

The Farmer Sarcophagus — How Could a Farmer Afford This?

In the magnificent museum in Antalya Turkey there are many beautiful artifacts from sites such as Perge, Aspendos, Side, and others.  Among them are many beautiful sarcophagi such as the following:

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Sarcophagus from Perga in the Antalya Archaeological Museum — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Note the husband and wife on the lid of the sarcophagus and especially the erotic figures carefully carved on its side!  Many of the sarcophagi are intricately carved like this one!  While waiting to board our bus, I noticed a very plain sarcophagus near the parking lot.

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Note the farmer plowing with two oxen — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

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.  Note especially the detail of the plow and the “ox goad” (1 Sam 13:21; Eccl 12:11; Acts 26:14) in the hand of the plower!  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??

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Palestinian farmer plowing his vineyard — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

This Palestinian farmer is plowing his vineyard with a plow very similar to the one on the sarcophagus above!  This farmer is plowing in January to prevent weeds from growing.  Also note the vines lying just above the ground.

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A student learning how to plow at Neot Kedummim in Israel — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Jonah and the Great Fish

In recent days there has been a lot of discussion about the James Tabor’s new book The Jesus Discovery (see the web site The Jesus Discovery).  In particular the etching on an ossuary, that some have thought was a fish with Jonah in it mouth—a symbol of early Christianity, is being discussed.

Stone Monument (sarcophagus?) in Konya Museum with a depiction of Jonah and the Fish — Lower portion of the object

In the center note the laurel wreath that surrounds an anchor in the shape of a cross with two fish at its base.  Below it is a depiction of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish—a Christian symbol associated with the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 12:40).

Besides being interpreted as something similar to the above, the etching on the ossuary has been interpreted as part of a tomb (a nefesh) or a vase of some type (Gordon Franz).  Todd Bolen (Wednesday 29 February 2012) has collected many of the major articles that feature in this discussion.

For more details on the object above Click Here.