Tuesday, June 19, 2012

He is Lord! The Emperor's Temple in Pergamum

We were in Troy yesterday which is not a biblical site and my internet connection was fairly poor so I was unable to post for the day.

Today we traveled to Pergamum. This is one of the seven churches to which John writes. We read about this church in Revelation 2:12-17. If John had not written to them we would know very little about the existence of this church. 

The city is impressive. The acropolis is built on the side of a high hill with a theater suspended on the side (See pic above). Below is the modern city of Bergema, but there is also an ancient Asclepium, a center for healing. The well-known Roman physician  Galen worked and wrote here.

In John's short missive to this church he notes that they live where the throne of Satan is located.  Some suggest that this a reference to the large temple and altar to Zeus that was there, now in Berlin. But others suggest that it is a reference to the temple to Caesar Augustus that was there and that John was accusing the people of becoming involved in the Imperial cult. I am convinced more by the latter.

What causes me to lean towards this interpretation is the presence of a temple and inscription dedicated to the Emperor Trajan. Although Trajan was emperor a bit later than when John was writing, I think his temple and inscription provide a good context.

The temple to Trajan, finished by Hadrian, was built at the highest point of the acropolis. It is on the side of the hill and required supporting arches to create a false platform (see pics). The result is that everyone who came towards Pergamum could see the temple to Trajan which was higher than that of Zeus and Athena.

Temple to Trajan

Supporting Arches for Temple Platform

The other thing is this inscription in which he is declared Lord of the land and the sea.

Again, although Trajan was emperor just after the time John wrote Revelation I think it suggests a good context for understanding the "throne of Satan" comment. A temple to Augustus was erected here in 29 BC and was the first like it in Asia Minor. John may have been alluding to that temple and the practice of emperor worship there when he chastised the people in Pergamum for their actions. Since the emperors were called "Lord" John is telling the believers there that only Jesus is Lord. 


  1. This post reminded me of how revolutionary your lecture on Revelation became to my understanding of scripture (the standard NT501 revelation lecture). Now, as I stand looking back over the past 5 years, I can't imagine had my understanding continued on the same trajectory. Thanks again!

  2. Through the years I've had an interest in the seven churches and the historical situation of these believers. Your posts are interesting and informative. Thanks!