Saturday, June 23, 2012

From Perga and Back Again

Today we went to Perga. It is a Greco-Roman city located not far from the center of modern day Antalia. The city figures into the life and ministry of Paul twice in the book of Acts.

The first is in Acts 13:13-14 where we read.

From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. (TNIV)
At this time it doesn’t appear that Paul preached in Perga. He seems to have merely landed nearby and used Perga as a launching point for concluding what we now know as his first missionary journey. But we do get an interesting side comment here about how John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin according to Col 4:10, left the two in Perga and returned to Jerusalem. We are not told we he did this, but we do know that it irritated Paul enough that he and Barnabas eventually went their separate ways over John Mark accompanying them at a later time (Acts 15:36-40).  Although Paul never mentions his irritation with John Mark in any of his letters we do know that they eventually reconciled.

The next time we read about Perga is in Acts 14:24-25 when Paul returns there towards the end of his first missionary journey. We read that.

After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

Paul preaches in Perga this time, but we are not told whether he was successful or started any churches there. We don’t even know how long he stayed there. His final stop before returning to Antioch was in Attalia, which is where I am writing the blog post today. Ancient Attalia is modern Antalia.

Here are some pictures from Perga that I took.

The gate into Perga.

The Roman street complete with reflecting canal.

Statue of Hercules recently returned to Turkey from a museum in Boston.

A frieze depicting sacrifice.

Tomorrow we head to Cappodocia, land of Galatia.

Friday, June 22, 2012

From Lowly Slave to Wealthy Benefactor: The story of Zoilos of Aphrodisias

Today we visited Aphordisias. It is a Roman city located about one hour drive to the south of Laodicea. I am unsure of the exact distance between the two cities since I am not driving and don’t have a very accurate road map in front of me. But no matter how short the distance the travel time is lengthened by the mountains that stand in between. Yesterday I noted the high mountains that stand behind Laodicea and provided it with fresh, cold water from the winter snows. We crossed those mountains today on our way out of the Lycus valley to Aphrodisias. At times there were some steep drop-offs as we wound our way through the mountains.

Although Aphrodisias is not a biblical city I found it interesting because of the window it provides for us into the social structure of the Roman Empire. We can learn something about life and society in Roman times through the life of one C. Julius Zoilos who left behind a number of buildings to which he attached his name.

Zoilos’s story is an interesting one. Although he was born a native of Aphrodisis in the first century BCE, he did not stay. He became a slave owned by owned Julius Caesar. I am not sure how or why he became a slave, but he did spend much of his early life away from the city. At some point he was freed from slavery and gained the status of freedman and became a trusted agent of the next emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus.

Zoilos eventually returned to Aphrodisias in 40 BCE and became a very wealthy man. He played an important role in the life of the city. And to this day we remember Zoilos because his gifts to the city and his name displayed in several places.

This is the city’s theater that Zoilos donated to the city. His name was displayed in a dedicatory inscription over the entrance.

This is what remains of the agora (marketplace) for which he donated a portion of the funds.

And this is the temple to Aphrodite that he built for the city.

To honor and thank him when he died sometime after 28 BCE the city built a large mausoleum with a monument and set of friezes. The friezes depict Zoilos in very forms of dress performing different civic functions.

Zoilos’s life is the kind that we all like to read about it. He is the guy who made it up from the bottom and ended life on top. And his life in slavery adds the kind of twist to the story we all enjoy.

But we need to remember that his is the unusual life. For every Zoilos there were probably thousands of slaves who never lived as long as he did, never escaped slavery and never became wealthy members of an important Roman city. And we don’t remember their names today like we do Zoilos.

 I am reminded of another slave living not far to the north of Aphrodisias about 80 years later. While we know that this slave’s name was Onesimus and we remember him because of the letter Paul wrote on his behalf, we have no evidence for him becoming rich. We don’t even know the outcome of that letter. Did Philemon release him or not? It’s hard to say. And for every Onesimus there were thousands who never had anyone intercede on their behalf. Slavery was a horrible life for most and many are long forgotten.

But Zoilos stands as the story of that one who came up from slavery. And we are lucky to have evidence for his story so that we can see what it was like for the few who did make it out of slavery to a better life. He was a generous benefactor of his city and left behind a legacy that has been recovered for us through the archaeological process. 

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


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

So Many Gods to Choose From: Ephesus

Today we visited Ephesus. We were here before in 2007, but spent much more time here today. As we walked through the site and the museum I was reminded of Paul's time here and how for three years he lived and taught in the city.

Once again it was the religious context that impressed me the most. Everywhere one looks there is an altar to a god or an emperor. And if there isn't an altar there is some sort of symbol. It reminds me how much of an uphill battle it would be for Paul to preach a gospel about Jesus and the One God of Judaism to a population that was accustomed to having so many gods. Here are some examples that date from the time of Paul or just after.

Here at the gate is a set of carvings of Aesculapius and Hermes.

Just to the left inside the gate was a temple to the emperor Domitian. And here is a picture of me standing next to what remains of his statue.

This is a carving of Nike, the goddess of victory.

A little further down the street is Hercules.

On the right, a temple to Trajan. The ball in the one photo is his foot standing on the globe, which reminded me of the inscription in Pergamum that declared he was Lord of the land and the sea.

Finally, there is the goddess Artemis who got Paul into so much trouble in Acts 19.

Again, as I look at all of the gods that I encountered on such a short walk on just one street in ancient Ephesus it struck me that the early Christians had quite a challenge not only trying to proclaim the gospel, but also to live it. Living in a city where it seems like every other space was dedicated to a god, it must have seemed strange to be worshiping a god who forbid images and claimed that there were no other gods.

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. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Hagia Sophia and some Greek I can't quite decipher

Today was a full day here in Istanbul. Among the many sites we saw on our ten hour walking tour was the Hagia Sophia basilica built by the Emperor Justinian. It was turned in to a mosque when the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1454 and then in to a museum when the secular democratic republic of Turkey was found in 1923.

One thing that really struck us was the Deesis mosaic which was rediscovered in 1931. It depicts Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. The features on the face in this mosaic are very life like.

One thing I had a hard time making out was the last Greek word on the right . I see that altogether it says Mary mother of God, Jesus Christ, Saint John. But what is the last word? I don't see how it could be "baptist." Here is a close up.

Ca any decipher this one?