Sunday afternoon I attended a session on Rome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue. The featured speaker was Karl Galinsky, a distinguished professor of classics from the University of Texas. His topic was The Cult of the Roman Emperor: Uniter or Divider. Galinsky began by saying that he was pleased to see that New Testament scholars had finally discovered the “historic context of the New Testament.”
Galinsky emphasized that the Emperor cult existed. He said that we must not think of it as the prominent cult, but as being intertwined with the other cults known throughout the Roman Empire. Another speaker, Barbette Stanley Spaeth, cited evidence of the emperor cult in Corinth. I found the information significant in the study of the book of Revelation as well as the epistles of Paul.
A Travel Note: The photo below shows an inscription which is now displayed in the garden of the archaeology museum in Bergama, Turkey (ancient Pergamum; Revelation 3:12-17). The inscription states that Pergamum was metropolis of Asia and twice NEOKOROS. This last word was the one commonly used when a city of Asia Minor was awarded the right to build a temple to the Emperor. This type of information must be taken into account when we consider the setting of the Book of Revelation.
Monday morning I attended another session on Biblical Lands and Peoples in Archaeology and Text. This one dealt with Samaria and the Samaritans. There were seven presenters. I especially enjoyed hearing Robert J. Bull of Drew University. Bull excavated a site called Tell er Ras on Mount Gerizim between 1964 and 1968 when it was under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I enjoyed seeing his photos, drawings, and explanations. His work uncovered evidence of Hadrian’s temple in the early second century A.D. In more recent excavations Y. Magen claims to have discovered the Samaritan temple destroyed by John Hyrcanus. Magen was not present. Some of the speakers indicated that a final report has not been made by Magen and they did not comment on the matter.
This whole area is of great significance to students of the New Testament. The conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samarian dealt with this issue.
“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20).