Tag Archives: Roman Empire

Persecution of Christians in Pontus

Pliny. Pliny was the governor of the Bithynia and Pontus. According to The Dictionary of the Christian Church he was born c. 61 and died c. 112. He exchanged a series of letters with the Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117 A.D.). I have done some browsing in the older Loeb edition (revised by Hutchinson) of Pliny Letters. I see references to the Black Sea cities of Heraclea (now Eregli), Amastris (now Amastra), Sinope (now Sinop), and Amisus (now Samsun). I mention this to emphasize that Pliny was familiar with the cities of Pontus. He writes of Sinope being ill supplied with water and suggests a solution to the Emperor.

Roman Emperor Trajan in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Emperor Trajan in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pliny wrote to the Emperor saying that he was uncertain about how to deal with the Christians in his province. He said that he had not been present at any of the trials of Christians. He explains his procedure to the Emperor:

In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. (X.xcvi).

The Christians were ordered to offer wine and incense to the image of the Emperor. Pliny had been told that those who are really Christians would not make such an offering. Some of those who were questioned said they had quit serving Christ as much as 25 years earlier. Think about that date (about 85 A.D.). This gets us close to the date of Peter’s epistles (1 Peter 1:1).

Trajan answered Pliny:

The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those denounced to you as Christians is extremely proper. (X.xcvii)

He said that no search should be made for the Christians. If a Christian repented and demonstrated his repentance by “adoring the Gods” [offering the wine and incense to the image of the Emperor] they should be pardoned. I think this is the type of worship mentioned in the book of Revelation which was written a few years earlier to the churches of the Roman province of Asia (Revelation 13; 14:9-11).

Phil Harland comments on the charges brought against the Christians.

The addressees were faced with “suffering” primarily in the form of verbal abuse: they were spoken against, blasphemed, reviled, and falsely called “wrongdoers” (1 Peter 2:12; 3:9, 15-17; 4:3-5; 5:9). The reasons for this suffering stemmed from the Christians’ failure to participate in religious life in the same way as they had before: the Gentiles “are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild profligacy, and they abuse you” (1 Peter 4:4 [RSV]). Persecution of Christians, which was local and sporadic, was more often than not a consequence of denying the gods and goddesses of others, along with the social implications of non-participation in the rituals that honoured these deities

For more along this same line see Phil Harland’s post about Bithynia and Pontus here.

My intention is to turn next to the specific question of the route of travel taken by the messenger who delivered Peter’s epistles throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.

More famous Sinopeans

In addition to Diogenes and Serapis, Sinop in Pontus was the home of several other well known people in early church history.

Aquila. (Not the Aquila of Acts 18:2.) This Aquila, a native of Sinop in Pontus, is said to have been a relative of the Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138). He was converted to Christianity during a visit to Jerusalem, but was rejected because he refused to give up his studies of astronomy. Later he became a proselyte to Judaism.

Having become a disciple of the Rabbis, from whom he learned Hebrew and the rabbinical method of exegesis, he used his knowledge to make a revision of the Septuagint, bringing it into line with the official Hebrew text. It was soon adopted by Greek speaking Jews in preference to the LXX, which was used by the Christians. His translation, which was finished probably c. 140, was extremely literal, attempting to reproduce individual Hebrew words and phrases exactly. This procedure frequently obscured the sense; but the fidelity of Aquila’s version to the Hebrew original was admitted by the Fathers most competent to judge, such as Origen and Jerome. (Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. Cross & Livingstone, 94).

Tower and wall on the Black Sea at Sinop, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tower and wall on the Black Sea at Sinop, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Marcion (died c. 160 A.D.). We rarely read or hear the name Marcion without the word heretic attached to it. None of his writings have survived, but his success can be seen by the many early Fathers who spoke of him. (For a list of these see Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs.) This influential ship master of Pontus rejected the God of the Old Testament who he described as evil and vengeful. According to him, the Christian gospel was a message of love, and the Father of Jesus was not the God of the Old Testament. Many of his views were similar to those of Gnosticism. Marcion accepted only the Gospel of Luke among the Gospels, and the writings of Paul.

Marcion went to Rome about A.D. 140, but within 4 years he was excommunicated from the church. From Rome he spread his teachings all over the Empire.

Phocas (Phokas). Phocas was martyred at Sinop in A.D. 117 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

According to the Dictionary of the Christian Church (1282), a different man named Phocas “the Gardener” was martyred  during the persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in A.D. 303. I haven’t determined if he was associated with the port city of Sinop. Wilson seems to confuse these two persons (Biblical Turkey, 342).

The Sinop Gospels is not a person, but should be mentioned in connection with the Black Sea port of Turkey. This parchment document was dyed purple and written in gold ink. The uncial manuscript 023 contains 43 pages of the gospel of Matthew. The manuscript was discovered in Sinop in the late 19th century is thought to have originated in Syria or Mesopotamia in the 6th century A.D. It is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

A brief description in French, and a small image of two pages of the manuscript may be found here. The manuscript features small drawings to illustrate the biblical text. The displayed page shows Jesus healing a blind man.

Black Sea coastal town of Sinop

We drove the 100 miles from Samsun to Sinop today. The distance on the road map is deceptive. about one half of the distance is in serious mountain territory. The drive took three hours each way. We had a 6:15 p.m. flight from Samsun to Istanbul, so our time was limited. The drive was educational and helped us to understand some things we had only read about before.

I don’t have the time to explain the reasons for going to this town, except to say that it is in the region of the ancient Roman province of Pontus (1 Peter 1:1).

Later I hope to show you some photos and explain the importance of the town to the study of Peter’s epistles.

Homeward bound tomorrow after a great (nearly) four weeks in Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus.

Salamis was the first stop for Barnabas and Saul

Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit from Antioch. Their first stop after leaving the port of Seleucia was Salamis on the eastern coast of Cyprus. Here is Luke’s account.

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. (Act 13:5 ESV)

It is interesting to note that there are no accounts of conversions at Salamis. The city had a large Jewish population during the Roman period.

Why go to Cyprus? These facts might provide some suggestions.

  • Well, it was east of Antioch, and a first step toward going to the Gentiles.
  • It was also the home of Barnabas (Acts 4:36).
  • After the stoning of Stephen some had traveled to Cyprus preaching to the Jews (Acts 11:19).
  • Some men of Cyprus had come to Antioch preaching to the Hellenists (Greeks) (Acts 11:20).

Salamis is now located in the the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or as the folks in the south say, “the occupied territory.” This photo shows some of the foundation stones of the harbor where Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark landed. Breakwaters extend for some distance into the sea.

Ferrell Jenkins at the ancient port of Salamis.

Ferrell Jenkins at the ancient port of Salamis. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

We visited the gymnasium. Not to workout. Our workout came from walking over the large site. This gym was build in the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Salamis Roman gymnasium built in the time of Roman Emperor Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Salamis Roman gymnasium built in the time of Roman Emperor Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When I see one of these gymnasiums or palestras (exercise areas) I am reminded of what Paul wrote to Timothy:

for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV)

A short distance from Salamis is the Church of St. Barnabas. The church is now a museum of icons. Many traditions have grown up in Cyprus about Barnabas.

In the afternoon we returned to Nicosia and made a stop at the Cyprus (Archaeology) Museum. They have a nice collection of artifacts, including some of the statues from Salamis, but photos are not allowed. Museum’s often do not allow photographs in hope of selling more books in the gift shop. Allowing photos provides an opportunity for teachers and others to talk about their visit with others. It actually encourages others to visit the museum. Too bad they don’t agree with me.

This photo is a collection of statues from Cyprus in the Louvre.

Cyprus collection from the fifth century B.C. in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cyprus collection from the fifth century B.C. displayed in the Louvre, Paris. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It was a good day.

Millstones work better than concrete shoes

Jesus used the common millstone in one of his teaching illustrations.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2; cf. Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42 ESV)

The photo below shows a collection of millstones at the Roman ruins of Bosra in southern Syria, a few miles north of the border with Jordan, in a region known as Hauran. The area has seen much volcanic action in the past. These dark millstones are made of basalt. The region is described by Ulrich Hübner this way.

Bozrah lies on one of the fruitful and water-rich plains of S Haurān at the important intersection of the N–S route, which leads from Damascus through the Transjordan to the Hejaz, with the E–W route, on which one could travel from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia. (The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary)

Mill stones at the Roman town of Bosra, Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mill stones at the Roman town of Bosra, Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This Bosra is not to be confused with Bozrah in Edom (Genesis 36:33) or Bozrah in Moab (Jeremiah 48:21-24).

Millstones were significant in Bible times.

  • Used for grinding grain (even manna) (Numbers 11:8; Isaiah 47:2).
  • The work might be done by a slave girl (Exodus 11:5), or two women working together (Matthew 24:41).
  • Taking a person’s upper millstone as a pledge would deprive the person of his livelihood (Deuteronomy 24:6).
  • A woman at Shechem “threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull” (Judges 9:53; 2 Samuel 11:21).
  • In the LORD’S challenge to Job, He describes Leviathan with a heart as hard as stone, “Even as hard as a lower millstone” (Job 41:24).
  • The sinking of a great millstone is used in the Apocalypse to describe the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:21).

Paul spent a night at Cos (Kos)

Paul and his companions, including the physician Luke, made their way from Miletus to Cos (Kos).

And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. (Acts 21:1 ESV)

Cos is one of the islands belonging to a group of 12 called the Dodecanese. Patmos is also an island of this group. The Mycenaeans settled Cos in the 15th century B.C. In the centuries to follow the island came under the control of the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. In modern times the island has been under Turkish and Italian control, and German occupation. Since 1948 it has been part of Greece. My only visit to Cos was a brief stop en route from Patmos to Rhodes in 1984. Here is one of the photos I made.

The harbor on the Island of Cos in 1984. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The harbor on the Island of Cos in 1984. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the time of Paul, Cos was noted as the birthplace of Hippocrates, the “father of medicine.” Hippocrates was associated with the Asclepium, ruins of which can still be seen. A Hellenistic gymnasium and some Roman ruins, including portions of a Roman road, may also be seen. There is also an archaeological museum.

Howard F. Vos describes the island with these words:

One of the most beautiful ports of the ancient world, Cos not doubt was most famous as a health resort. It was the site of the first school of scientific medicine and the sanctuary of Asclepius (Esculapius). The island had a healthful climate and hot ferrous and sulfurous springs, which the great Hippocrates (ca 460–377 b.c.), the father of medicine, first used to cure his patients. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised.)

James Strahan, in the old Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, says,

It was renowned for its vines and looms, its literature and art, and above all for its temple of Æsculapius and school of medicine, which must have made it especially interesting to St. Luke.

According to Josephus, Herod the Great assisted the people of Cos with grain and other goods. (JW 1:424).

Two Other Good Sources:

Fant, C. E. and M. G. Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey.

Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey: A Guide to Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. This book deals with Turkey, but devotes ½ page to Cos as a Sidetrip.

Roman Volubilis — “Stunning with few tourists”

Ruins of Roman Volubilis in Morocco. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2000.

Ruins of the Roman City of Volubilis in Morocco. Slide by Ferrell Jenkins, 1980.

A feature at Seattlepi.com says that Morocco’s Roman ruins are “Stunning, with few tourists.” The article describes Volubilis,

The jewel in the crown of Morocco’s Roman ruins is certainly Volubilis, located at the foot of the Atlas mountains in a sweeping valley filled with olive and almond trees.

This city of 20,000 was the westernmost extremity of an empire that once stretched to the gates of Persia. The sprawling floor plans of its buildings and brilliant floor mosaics suggest great wealth.

The site is dominated by the remains of the grand public buildings around the forum, with the impressive arches of the Basilica courthouse arrayed in front of pillars of the temple to the god Jupiter — now topped by bushy stork nests. Every old ruin in Morocco appears to host its own of population of the large black and white birds, which soar over the sites or preen in their nests as tourists snap away with cameras.

Ruins of the Roman City of Volubilis in Morocco. Slide by Ferrell Jenkins, 1980.

Ruins of the Roman City of Volubilis in Morocco. Slide by Ferrell Jenkins, 1980.

Students of the New Testament realize that the Roman Empire was vast. Volubilis became part of the Roman province Mauretania Tingitania under the Emperor Claudius in A.D. 45. Claudius was Emperor from A.D. 41-54 during the time of Paul’s journeys to spread Christianity throughout the Empire (Acts 18:2).

And he [Paul] found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, (Acts 18:2 ESV)

Twice I have taken tours to Volubilis, about 20 miles from Meknes. Most of the ruins we see today date from the second and third centuries A.D.

Volubilis has been added to the list of World Heritage Sites because “this site is an exceptionally well preserved example of a large Roman colonial town on the fringes of the Empire.”

The feature about Morocco’s Roman ruins may also be read at CBS News here.

HT: Jack Sasson

“Beware the ides of March”

Bust of Julius Caesar in Vatican Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Julius Caesar in the Vatican Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shakespeare has the Sootsayer warn Caesar, “Beware the ides of March.” The ides of March was used to describe the 15th of March in the Roman calendar. It was on that day that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. As a result, the expression has come to have a sense of foreboding — a sense that something bad is about to happen.

Our photo below shows the place in the Roman Forum where a temple was built to honor Julius Caesar by Augustus in 29 B.C. The deification of rulers was already common in the eastern part of the Empire. This practice would become a serious problem for the Christians of the Roman Empire before the end of the first century A.D., especially those living in Asia Minor. This is one of the issues addressed in the Book of Revelation.

Ruins of the temple erected to Caesar in the Roman Forum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the Temple erected to Caesar in the Roman Forum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Athens — a “city full of idols”

While the Apostle Paul waited for his companions to come from Macedonia his spirit was provoked or upset because he observed “the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

There were many idols in Athens, but none more impressive than those on the Acropolis. The word acropolis means the “high point of the city.” The name was applied to any fortified strong hold or citadel overlooking a populated area. It served as a place of refuge and defense. The Acropolis is 512 ft. high.

The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has a nice exhibit of Greek artifacts and a helpful model of the Acropolis with its magnificent buildings. Click on the photo for an image suitable for use in teaching.

Athens - Acropolis - ROM, Toronto.

Model of the Acropolis at Royal Ontario Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is a list of significant monuments Paul might have visited:

  1. The Parthenon where the goddess Athena was worshiped was built between 447 and 438 B.C.
  2. Temple of Athena Nike (Wingless Victory, 5th cent. B.C.).
  3. The Erechtheion with its porch of Caryatids was built between 421 and 406 B.C. An olive tree beside the building commemorates the first olive tree planted by Athena.
  4. Temple of Rome and Augustus.

Temples were built to Athena all over the Roman Empire. This photo of a bust of Athena was made in the Archaeology Museum of Thessalonica (Thessaloniki, Greece).

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thesaloniki, Greece. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thesaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Paul described gods and goddesses like Athena as having been formed by man.

Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. (Acts 17:29 NAU)

As Paul writes to the Corinthians, he says,

For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords,  yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However not all men have this knowledge;  (1 Corinthians 8:5-7a NAU)

Herod the Great didn’t do it all

Archaeologists in Jerusalem announced yesterday a new discovery that changes popular thinking about the building of the walls around the Temple Mount. It is not much of a surprise. We already knew that the Roman Street found at the SW corner of the wall dates to the period just before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. The last paragraph of the press release mentions that what was found was in harmony with the account of Josephus.

I have understood John 2:20 to be saying that work on the temple precinct was continuing as late as A.D. 26/27. That is a major reason this is not a surprise.

Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 NET)

Here is a portion of the press release issued by the Israel Antiquities Authority. I am leaving it full width for easier reading.

— • —

Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority: A ritual bath exposed beneath the Western Wall of the Temple Mount shows that the construction of that wall was not completed during King Herod’s lifetime.

Who built the Temple Mount walls? Every tour guide and every student grounded in the history of Jerusalem will immediately reply that it was Herod. However, in the archaeological excavations alongside the ancient drainage channel of Jerusalem a very old ritual bath (miqwe [mikve]) was recently discovered that challenges the conventional archaeological perception which regards Herod as being solely responsible for its construction.…

In an excavation beneath the paved street near Robinson’s Arch, sections of the Western Wall’s foundation were revealed that is set on the bedrock — which is also the western foundation of Robinson’s Arch — an enormous arch that bore a staircase that led from Jerusalem’s main street to the entrance of the Temple Mount compound.

According to Professor Reich, “It became apparent during the course of the work that there are rock-hewn remains of different installations on the natural bedrock, including cisterns, ritual baths and cellars. These belonged to the dwellings of a residential neighborhood that existed there before King Herod decided to enlarge the Temple Mount compound. The Jewish historian Josephus, a contemporary of that period, writes that Herod embarked on the project of enlarging the compound in the eighteenth year of his reign (that is in 22 BCE) and described it as “the largest project the world has ever heard of.”

When it was decided to expand the compound, the area was confiscated and the walls of the buildings were demolished down to the bedrock. The rock-cut installations were filled with earth and stones so as to be able to build on them. When the locations of the Temple Mount corners were determined and work was begun setting the first course of stone in place, it became apparent that one of the ritual baths was situated directly in line with the Western Wall. The builders filled in the bath with earth, placed three large flat stones on the soil and built the first course of the wall on top of this blockage.

While sifting the soil removed from inside the sealed ritual bath, three clay oil lamps were discovered of a type that was common in the first century CE. In addition, the sifting also yielded seventeen bronze coins that can be identified. Dr. Donald Ariel, curator of the numismatic collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, determined that the latest coins (4 in all) were struck by the Roman procurator of Judea, Valerius Gratus, in the year 17/18 CE. This means that Robinson’s Arch, and possibly a longer part of the Western Wall, were constructed after this year – that is to say: at least twenty years after Herod’s death (which is commonly thought to have occurred in the year 4 BCE).

This bit of archaeological information illustrates the fact that the construction of the Temple Mount walls and Robinson’s Arch was an enormous project that lasted decades and was not completed during Herod’s lifetime.

This dramatic find confirms Josephus’ descriptions which state that it was only during the reign of King Agrippa II (Herod’s great-grandson) that the work was finished, and upon its completion there were eight to ten thousand unemployed in Jerusalem.

— • —

If you wish to see the complete press release click here.

Below are a few of the photos provided by the IAA. The first shows the lowest course of the wall resting on bedrock.

The first course of the wall resting on the bedrock. Photograph: Vladimir Naykhin.

The first course of the wall resting on the bedrock. Photograph: Vladimir Naykhin.

The next photo shows one of the coins dating to the time of Roman Procurator Valerius Gratus in the year A.D. 17/18. He was procurator A.D. 15-26, and followed by the better known Pontius Pilate (A.D. 26-36).

A coin of the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus, which helped in dating the construction of Robinson’s Arch.

A coin of the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus, which helped in dating the construction of Robinson’s Arch. Courtesy IAA.

The third photo shows some of the workers excavating the area.

Archaeologists working at bedrock below Robinson's Arch. Photo: IAA.

Archaeologists working at bedrock below Robinson's Arch. Photo: IAA.

After writing my post, I see that Todd Bolen accuses the IAA of being “desperate for headlines.” See his comments here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer