Tag Archives: Ancient Rome

The Catacombs of Rome have an apologetic value

The catacombs of Rome are the main sources of art by Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.

Markers often carry the image of a shepherd, lamb, anchor, fish, or some other symbol. The fish or the word fish was used to indicate a Christian or a place where Christians met in those days. The Greek word for fish is Ichthus. When used as an acrostic with each letter standing for a word or phrase the word means, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Savior.

It is estimated that as many as one hundred thousand inscriptions were carved on the walls of the catacombs. About 15,000 have been discovered. The pictures often combine a biblical theme with a heathen figure. The late R. C. Foster comments on this phenomenon :

But the very fact that the catacomb pictures are filled with heathen figures and conceptions intermingled with the Christian, shows that the simple faith had already begun to be corrupted, and that too much weight can not be attached to pictures which combine the Good Shepherd with flying genii, heads of the seasons, doves, peacocks, vases, fruits, and flowers.

Marker in one of the catacombs. Note symbols of anchor and fish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, 1973.

Marker in one of the catacombs. Note symbols of an anchor and fish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, 1973. Digitized from a slide.

Foster shows that there is an apologetic value to the catacomb inscriptions.

Although their faith, as witnessed on the walls of the catacombs, was imperfect, and at times confused, the modernists will have to chisel off these pathetic and challenging inscriptions before they can ever convince the world that Jesus of Nazareth is a myth (R. C. Foster, Introduction and Early Ministry, 29-32).

Fish, anchor, and Chi Ro symbols. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, 1975.

Anchor, fish, and Chi Rho symbols. Slide Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, 1975.

Pressing on toward the goal

Paul’s admonition to the brethren at Philippi is often used in sermons.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Most often we hear speakers compare what Paul said to the effort put forth by individuals running in a race. This is certainly not inappropriate. However, many years back I ran across a statement by E. M. Blaiklock that changed my thinking. Blaiklock was a noted classicist. This particular comment comes from Cities of the New Testament.

One mark of the Roman colony is perhaps to be detected in the letter which Paul wrote, over ten years later, to the Macedonian church which he had come to love. It is a hidden metaphor from the chariot race. Exhorting his Philippians to effort and single-minded endurance, Paul writes: ‘This one thing I do-forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to those before, I make for the mark, the prize of the upward calling’.

Commentators generally have not marked the fact that Paul appears to have in mind, not the athletic contests of the Greeks, from which he commonly drew illustration, but the chariot racing of Rome. He was writing to a Roman colony. He was writing also from Rome itself, and never was there such rivalry of racing colours, and circus fever than at that time. The common talk of the soldiers of the soldiers was of the chariot racing, and Paul would gain a vivid impression of this most perilous of sports.

Such a race as that which forms the substance of Paul’s figure is described well in Ben HUR. The charioteer stood on a tiny platform over sturdy wheels and axle. His knees were pressed against the curved rail, and his thighs flexed. He bent forward at the waist, stretching out hands and head over the horses’ backs. This is surely what he means by ’stretching out to the things before’. The reins were wound round the body, and braced on the reins the body formed a taut spring. It can easily be seen how completely the charioteer was at the mercy of his team’s sure feet and his own fine driving skill. Euripides, in his Hippolytus, tells how the hero fell and was killed in such conditions. Ovid describes the same disaster in Book XV of his Metamorphoses. In his intense preoccupation the driver dare not cast a glance at ‘the things behind’. The roaring crowd, crying praise or blame, the racing of his rivals, all else had perforce to be forgotten. One object only could fill the driver’s eye, the point to which he drove at the end of each lap.

Here is a photo that might help to illustrate what Blaiklock said. It was made at the RACE show (Romy Army and Chariot Experience) at Jerash, Jordan.

Chariot race at the RACE show in Jerash, Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Chariot race at the RACE show in Jerash, Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is a reprint from April 30, 2008, but with a different photo suitable for use in presentations. Click on the image for the larger photo.

Appian Way mile marker

Mile markers were commonly used in the Roman world. Over the past forty years I have seen several in Israel and Jordan. Many of them have disappeared or have been taken to a secure place.

The marker here is the first one south of the city wall in Rome. Just as we have markers on our highways to indicate distances, so did the Romans.

Mile marker on the Appian Way in Rome. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mile marker on the Appian Way in Rome. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way

Several ancient structures may be seen along the Appian Way south of Rome. One of the most impressive is the Tomb of Caecilia Metella. The woman for whom this tomb is named was the wife of a certain M. Crassus who shared power in Rome with Julius Caesar and Pompey.

The decorations on the tomb seem to date it to the beginning of the Augustan period (Wycliffe Historical Geography 538). I think we can safely conclude that Paul passed this structure on his way to Rome (Acts 28:13-14).

The Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Archeobus Tour on the Appian Way

While visiting the Appian Way in Rome I noticed the archeobus. I assume there may have been a guide with the group at the Tomb of Caecilia Metella. That is a neat idea on a dry day.

The Archeobus Tour on the Appian Way. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Archeobus Tour on the Appian Way. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Perhaps the next time I am in Rome I will look into this tour. Photographers were utilizing the beautiful sunny day and the ancient ruins to photograph some newly weds (to be?).

Wedding photography on the Appian Way. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wedding photography on the Appian Way. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I wondered if they knew that the Apostle Paul once passed this way (Acts 28).

The Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine was dedicated to the Emperor by the Senate and the People of Rome in A.D. 315. Constantine served as Emperor from A.D. 306 to 337. By the time of Constantine the church had made major departures from the New Testament pattern of church organization. The Emperor attended the Council of Nicea, but allowed the eastern bishops to preside over the meeting.

Grant comments on the question of Constantine’s conversion:

The question as to whether he was a “genuine” Christian or not depends on somewhat subjective definitions. (Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 227).

The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Helena, the mother of Constantine, was responsible for the construction of many of the well-known churches of the Holy Land. Rosenberg says,

Her role in church history was due to her partnership in Constantine’s program of church building at Bethlehem and Jerusalem and to her discovery of what she believed to be the true cross, both of which led to the revival of Jerusalem and the encouragement of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. (Encyclopedia of Early Christianity 417).

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius, erected in 43 B.C., is located in the Aurelian wall near the Gate of St. Paul in Rome.

Pyramid of Caius Cestius and the Gate of St. Paul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pyramid of Caius Cestius and the Gate of St. Paul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Caius Cestius was an insignificant first century B.C. magistrate, but it is possible that Paul saw his Pyramid.