Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being Jewish in Sardis and Lukewarm in Laodicea

Today we visited two more cities from the Seven Churches of Revelation, Sardis and Laodicea..

Sardis was interesting because archaeologists have found much evidence for Jewish life in the the city.There are a number of shops that were owned by Jews even one named Jacob.

What was really impressive was the 4th century synagogue. It was not only very large (the largest in Turkey), but it also has some interesting features. It has an altar that was clearly recycled from other places. For instance, there is an eagle on the side of one which probably came from a Roman monument at one point. This is the only example we have of Jews reusing pagan symbols in there places of worship.

Also interesting was the synagogues location. It is built in one of the side rooms of a Roman gymnasium. I found this unusual because Jews didn't often participate in the life of the gymnasium for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they were circumcised and everyone else was not. This often led to ethnic tension. In Sardis, however, the synagogue had taken over part of the gymnasium.

Synagogue in Sardis

Gymnasium in Sardis next to Synagogue

The real bonus for me today was Laodicea. We weren't scheduled to go there, but they made a special trip for us. I was thrilled since this is most likely the home of Philemon and Onesimus. The city was mostly unexcavated until 2003. Sincethen, however, a massive and fast excavation has taken place. Take a look at the "Syrian" street and reconstructed temple.

"Syrian" Street in Laodicea

Temple in Laodicea

In Revelation John says that the church there is neither not nor cold but lukewarm and that Jesus was going to spit them out. It is sometimes suggested that this picture is taken from a failed attempt by the city to bring in hot water from a thermal spring. By the time the water reached the city it had become lukewarm. But this explanation is problematic since there is no evidence for such an aqueduct

A better explanation may be found in the city's location. Behind it is two mountains that even now still have snow on it. This was a good supply of water for the city. On the other side of the city are hot thermal springs that leave white calcium deposits. It may be that John was talking about the city being located between the cold mountain snow water and the hot spring. The spiritual picture works either way.

Mountains with some snow behind Laodicea

Thermal Springs in front of Laodicea

Lori and me in the thermal springs


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