Monthly Archives: November 2013

Excitement at Carchemish

It must have been exciting to be at Carchemish in 605 B.C. when Pharaoh Neco came all the way from Egypt to this city now on the border between Syria and Turkey. On an earlier excursion from Egypt to Carchemish in 609 B.C., Neco killed Josiah, king of Judah, at Megiddo.

Pharaoh Neco came to assist the Assyrians as they fought the Babylonians. But the emerging world power from the southern Euphrates city of Babylon overpowered the Assyrians and the Egyptians and sent Neco running back to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, chased Neco to the border of Egypt.

It is still exciting at Carchemish. I have been within sight of Carchemish once. The military installations were clearly visible on top of the tell. The tour operator handling my tour in Turkey a previous time advised me not to go to Carchemish (Karkamis) because it is “zero on the border” of Turkey and Syria.

Carchemish with a Turkish military base on top. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2007.

Carchemish with a Turkish military base on top. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2007.

We were excited to learn that new excavations had begun at Carchemish. That was before the recent “uncivil war” in Syria. Now, two reports give a little glimpse into the archaeological work there.

The first report from the WorldBulletin reports:

What could be the largest discovered inscribed tablet (stele), dating to the reign of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II between 605-562 BC, has been discovered in the Turkish city of Karkamis on the military zone along the Turkey-Syria border.

Noting that the excavations sites are untroubled despite their proximity to the Syrian civil war, Dr. Nicola Marchetti said the Karkamis archeological museum is scheduled to open next year.

“Excavations are right on a military zone with 55 hectares in Turkey and 35 in Syria,” said Marchetti, the head of the Turkish and Italian excavation teams, at a press conference held in the Assembly Hall of the Metropolitan Municipality.

Excavations this year also unearthed a cuneiform tablet at the palace of Carchemish king Katuwa dating to 800 BC, as well as over 300 sculptures, a Luwian hieroglyphic inscription and a mosaic.

Read the full report here. I assume the work described in this report is somewhere other than the top of the high mound.

A report from ANSAmed used a few more words about the stele dating to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.

Marchetti is proudest of a stele, or commemorative slab, carved with the face of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the conqueror of Karkemish. He destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of Salomon in 587 BC, and built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which were the seventh wonder of the ancient world.

”It’s a beautiful, compact piece of limestone”, Marchetti enthuses of this unique, historic find.

This report may be read here. It continues to tell about some recent al-Qaeda activity near the border in Syria affected by the excavation.

While it’s an almost peaceful cohabitation, it is also true that the dig is within a Turkish military base. This offers the Italians a relative sense of safety – except on September 3, when al-Qaeda attacked the Syrian town of Jarabulus, eventually wresting it from the ”official” anti-Assad Free Syrian Army (FSA) insurgents. ”It was hell on earth. Bullets were flying everywhere”, says Marchetti, who teaches Near Eastern archeology at Bologna University.

”Luckily, archeologists dig holes. We dove in. We kept digging inside the deeper ones. The Turkish military kept telling us, stay down”. Calm was restored once the FSA fighters gave themselves up to the Turks in order to flee al-Qaeda. An armed truce has held since, allowing the Italian team to unearth new treasures.

Now we know why archaeologists dig trenches and holes.

I look forward to seeing that new archaeological museum at Karkamis. Karkamis is a small town of less than 5000 population.

HT: Jack Sasson

The Meat Market at Corinth

Paul taught the saints at Corinth to,

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (1 Corinthians 10:25 ESV)

The Greek word used here for “meat market” is makellon. Archaeological discoveries at Corinth include inscriptions mentioning the meat market and the fish market.

Henry J. Cadbury writes about visiting the Corinth excavations in July, 1933. He says he especially wanted to see “first hand the Erastus inscription….” Some of his comments in the article are still interesting today.

But what was particularly unexpected by me was to note among the inscribed fragments of marble in the new museum one containing quite clearly MACELLV.

As the piece has only seven other letters and these quite unintelligible the discovery of this single word is extremely tantalizing. But since the fragment in question was found in 1898, now thirty-five years ago, while so far as I know its one clear word has never been brought into connection with Paul’s reference to a Corinthian macellum, it is worth while now to do so. And the fragment does not stand quite alone; nine other fragments of the same inscription have been found, and furthermore another copy apparently of a similar inscription is represented by eleven fragments.

Citing A. B. West and L. R. Taylor, Cadbury says the various inscriptions mentioning the macellum at Corinth date to the “last years of Augustus or to the reign of Tiberias.”

In my earliest years of traveling to Corinth I saw this inscription each time I was there. Below is a digitized slide photo from 1971. This inscription was in an open hall surrounding the courtyard of what Cadbury called in 1934 “the new museum” at Corinth. At some point, perhaps in the 1990s the inscription was no longer on display. My guide at the time was well informed and had likewise seen the inscription. Inquiry in the office of the museum provided no information. Finally, a few years ago (probably 2008 or 2012) I found one of the workers preparing for the renovation of  a “newer” museum at Corinth. She informed me that the inscription was in their storeroom and that it would eventually be displayed again.

In the photo below you will see the Latin word MACELLV[M] in the fourth line from the top. Paul used the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 10:25.

Makellum inscription at Corinth Museum in 1971. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Makellum inscription at Corinth Museum in 1971. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cadbury refers to published inscriptions from Corinth. This is No. 124. It is thought to have consisted of three blocks. The beginning of the five lines in the first block of No. 124 reads as follows:

Q . C O
I N E A . L O C

New Testament Christians did not live in a vacuum, and the books of the New Testament were not written in a vacuum. Understanding the historical and social context of these writings helps us to better apply them to our own time.

Documentation: Henry J. Cadbury. “The Macellum of Corinth.” JBL 53:2 (1934): 134-141.