Meltem-TRT-interview-Basilika-Therma-900px

The Serendipities of Archaeological Travel with BAS

Basilika Therma. Photo: Mark WilsonOrganizing and leading archaeological tours in the Middle East can be challenging, given its unstable political situation. Two years ago when I planned that the BAS Abraham Country’s tour begin in southeastern Turkey, I was unable to divine that in mid-September 2013, a perfect political storm would develop. Ten days before the tour was to begin, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning that strongly discouraged nonessential travel to the region. The American embassy in Ankara told me by phone that the consulate in Adana was closed and that there would be no support in the region should an incident occur. The reason: the anniversary of 9/11, the anniversary of the consulate deaths in Benghazi and the threatened air strikes in Syria. So we were forced to cancel the Urfa-Tarsus portion of the tour. I quickly revised the itinerary, and Tutku Tours scrambled to make new domestic flight and hotel reservations. Needless to say, the registrants were greatly disappointed that these last-minute adjustments had to be made, because they had looked forward to visiting the archaeological wonders of southeastern Turkey. Despite this, 21 of 23 of them still decided to come.

Basilika Therma. Photo: Mark Wilson

The upside was that the group got to see other significant archaeological sites. At Limyra, Austrian archaeologist Martin Seyer gave a personal tour of the site, including a look at a possible synagogue discovered at the city’s East Gate. A visit to the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük helped assuage the disappointment of not seeing Göbekli Tepe. Ours became the first American group to visit the new excavations at Derbe with a personal tour provided by student archaeologists from Konya University. Our “brief” stop at the Roman bath complex at Basilika Therma (Sarıkaya) turned into an interesting cultural experience. The local Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) reporter showed up and interviewed our guide Meltem Çiftçi and me. According to the archaeologist from the Yozgat Museum, we were likewise the first American group to visit this new excavation.

The BAS tour was the first American group to visit the excavations at the Lycian city and New Testament site of Derbe.

The final stop on Day 5 was at the nearly mile-high fortress of Kerenes Dağ (Mountain), tentatively identified by its excavators as ancient Pteria of the Medes, a city best remembered from Herodotus’s accounts of the campaigns of the legendary king Croesus. The Medes are well known from the Bible with Darius their most famous king (Daniel 5:31; 11:1). In 612 B.C.E., the Medes allied themselves with the Babylonians and overthrew the Neo-Assyrian kingdom. They then expanded westward into central Anatolia. Led by King Cyaxares, they engaged the Lydians under Alyattes II in a five-year war that culminated in the “Battle of the Eclipse” on May 28, 585 B.C.E. The eclipse was interpreted as a heavenly sign that hostilities should cease, so a peace treaty was brokered. The Halys (Kızılırmak) River became the Median kingdom’s western boundary and Pteria its western capital. Kerkenes Dağ is the largest Iron Age city discovered on the Anatolian plateau. As our group climbed into the city, we could see part of its 4.4 mile-long defensive wall made of solid, uncut stone that is visible from space. Most impressive was the excavated Cappadocian Gate with its glacis walls and entrance with five towers. The city is believed to have been burned and abandoned a generation after its founding, when the last Median king Astyages was overthrown by Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C.E. The Medes were then absorbed into the Achaemenid Empire, and with the Persians became its two most important peoples (Daniel 5:28; 6:8, 12, 15).

None of the aforementioned sites were in the original itinerary. By the tour’s end, the participants expressed enthusiasm with the new agenda and the outstanding sites they had seen. So the serendipities of archaeological travel can sometimes provide alternative gems.

hoards-900px

Treasures in Clay Jars

Earlier this year a well-known New Testament scholar visited Antalya, Turkey. The two of us spoke to a group of pastors and their spouses from international churches in Europe and the Middle East.

A coin hoard stored in a clay jar at the Aydın Museum. Photo: Mark Wilson.

During one session my friend spoke about a familiar text written by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” The Greek word for clay is ostrakinos, from which the archaeological term “ostraca”—pottery sherds—is derived. He argued that the references to light in verses 4 and 6 strongly suggest that clay lamps were the ceramic objects in Paul’s mind when he wrote this passage. So Paul developed his analogy about the fragility of the human body from the clay lamps used in antiquity to provide light. Such lamps are discovered regularly at archaeological excavations. My friend’s idea seemed plausible, but because Paul used the general word vessel (skeuos) and not the specific word for lamp (lychnos), I was not totally sold on this interpretation.

On the post-conference tour we joined a group traveling to Cyprus. There we visited the Cyprus National Museum in Nicosia, which houses a small but rich collection of artifacts. One display in particular jumped out at me—a clay pot lying on its side with a bunch of coins spilling out of its mouth. The description said it was a coin hoard found nearby dating from the first century C.E. The topic of coin hoards caught my interest, and I discovered that archaeologists and treasure hunters working in the Greco-Roman world have found thousands of such hoards. The size of these hoards ranges from fifty to fifty thousand coins. The coins were buried in clay jars for safe keeping, often in times of warfare or instability. Coins were also hoarded for ritual purposes as votive offerings. The phenomenon was so well known that Jesus told a parable about a man who found such a hoard and sold all his possessions to buy the field (Matthew 13:44). The Greek word for “treasure” (thesaurus) used by Jesus is the same word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 4:7. So they seem to be talking about the same thing!

Coin hoards can be seen in many archaeological museums in Turkey. One of the most famous—the Elmalı Hoard—is now on display in the Antalya Archaeological Museum. In 1984 three Turks with a metal detector discovered a clay jar buried in a muddy field. The jar contained some 1900 silver coins struck by the Attica-Delos League. The hoard included fourteen rare, medallion-sized decadrahmi produced by Athens to celebrate its victory over the Persians. The hoard was smuggled illegally out of Turkey and sold to collectors, much of it going to the wealthy American businessman William I. Koch. After a decade-long lawsuit initiated by the Turkish government, Koch returned 1,661 coins to Turkey in 1999. While visiting the new archaeological museum at Aydın (ancient Tralles) recently, I saw two coin hoards on display. The hoards were found at excavations nearby and consisted of Hellenistic bronze coins (4th century B.C.E) and silver Roman coinage (40–270 C.E.). The clay jars that contained these hoards were well-preserved and displayed next to the coins (see one in photo).

The ubiquity of hoards in antiquity, both in time and region, suggests that the phenomenon was so well known that Paul could reasonably use it as an analogy. However, these treasures—the coin hoards mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:7—were never placed in clay lamps but rather in clay jars.

Temple-of-Artemis-AC-900px

Destroying a Temple

The burning of the Ephesian Temple of Artemis by Herostratus

The apostle Paul, writing from Ephesus to the Christians in Corinth, warned: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17).

The remains of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The magnificent structure was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Photo: Mark Wilson.

July 21 marked the anniversary of one of the most infamous destructions of a temple in history. On that night in 356 B.C.E., an Ephesian named Herostratus set out to make his mark in history. He walked to the Temple of Artemis with fire and flammable materials with the intention of burning it down.

The construction of this temple, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was sponsored in part through the benefaction of Croesus, the wealthy king of the Lydian empire. Begun around 550 B.C.E. under the direction of the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes, 36 of its columns were decorated with relief carvings, according to Pliny the Elder. A massive structure—it was 377 feet long and 151 feet wide, the size of a football field—it was supposedly the first Greek temple built of marble.

Herostratus must have been an unhappy man who had failed to achieve honor and status in Ephesus. So he became determined to put his name in the history books. Herostratus knew that he could not do much damage to the marble itself. However, if he could get to the wooden furnishings inside the temple, he would have a great chance of success.

Sneaking past the temple guards, Herostratus placed the rags in key places inside the naos, the inner sanctuary. He then lit each one, probably using the small flame from the olive oil lamp he would have carried. Soon fire was raging with flames climbing up the wooden beams to engulf the wooden ceiling. Even the cult statue of Artemis, made of ebony or grapewood by the noted Athenian sculptor Endoios (also spelled Endoeus), was burning. By morning all that remained was a smoldering ruin of 40-foot high columns.

The Ephesian Artemis. Ephesus Museum, Selçuk, Turkey. Photo: Mark Wilson.

Instead of fleeing the scene, Herostratus was boastful about his deed. He surrendered to the temple authorities and was imprisoned. Ephesian officials, to discourage similar acts in the future, quickly executed Herostratus and attempted to remove his name from memory by forbidding its mention under penalty of death. However, an ancient historian named Theopompus recorded Herostratus’s arson in his book Hellenics. The arsonist’s name that the Ephesians had tried to erase has thus been preserved to this day.

Later Greek and Roman tradition states that Alexander the Great was born in Macedonia on that same night, July 21, 356. The Roman historian Plutarch suggested in his Life of Alexander that the goddess Artemis was so busy attending to Alexander’s birth that she failed to protect her temple. Alexander later tried to pay for the temple’s rebuilding, but was told by Ephesian officials that it was not right for a god to build a temple for another god.

Herostratus’s destruction of the Temple of Artemis led to the coining of the phrase “Herostratic fame” meaning someone who commits a criminal act in order to receive the notoriety that follows. And reference to him and his arson has appeared in the works of noted authors such as Chaucer, Cervantes and Sartre.

The Temple of Artemis that stood during Paul’s visits to Ephesus was the successor to the one Herostratus had burned down. Is it possible that Paul and his audience in Corinth knew the story of Herostratus and his infamous destruction of the Temple of Artemis? I think it is probable that this incident was in mind when Paul wrote the well-known verse (quoted above) to the Corinthians. He was accusing them of perpetrating a similar shameful act: destroying the temple of God in Corinth—the church—through their immature and immoral behavior.

Inci-1-900px

Money Talks through Ancient Coins

Usually I have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to attend a conference. But recently, one was held near my office here in Antalya, Turkey, at the Ramada Plaza Hotel. Sponsored by the local Research Institute on Mediterranean Civilizations, it was titled the “First International Congress on Anatolian Monetary History and Numismatics.”

The First International Congress on Anatolian Monetary History and Numismatics.

Numismatics is a unique scholarly discipline that spans archaeology, ancient history and epigraphy. It seems the axiom “money talks” is true. Much information can come from an ancient coin: the name of a king or emperor as well as his regnal titles, the names of governors or elite citizens and a city’s symbols, local gods and goddess and foundation myths. Coins are also one of the primary means of dating archaeological remains. Sealed in a stratum, they can provide conclusive evidence for the date of that level.

I was eager to learn about new discoveries and developments in the field. One of the speakers was the French authority Michel Amandry, whose work on Roman imperial coinage I had consulted during my doctoral research. In Biblical studies the field of numismatics helps to illustrate the influence of Roman imperialism. Even Jesus discussed coinage on one occasion with the Pharisees and Herodians. He asked whose image and inscription (Greek: epigraphē) was on the denarius, and they replied that it was Caesar’s (Mark 12:16).

Roman Coins with Prof Kevin Butcher – Render unto Caesar

But which Caesar was it? Numismatics has provided us with an answer. One of the congress’s speakers was Kevin Butcher, an authority on Roman Syria, who has discussed the “Jesus coin” in above video. He explains why the image on the coin could only be that of Augustus, contrary to some popular opinions. His research has shown that denarii of Tiberius, the emperor who lived during the time of Jesus, never circulated in Judea.

A denarius from the reign of Augustus. Eretz Museum, Tel Aviv.

Something that struck me during the congress was the presentation of unprovenanced coinage sold at auctions. Various galleries and images connected to coin dealers were cited. I asked two of the numismatists at the congress about this. Readers of BHD know, some archaeological publications refuse to cite or publish unprovenanced material.* Both scholars told me that to ignore such coins would be to severely limit our understanding of ancient mints and coinage types. And they also believed that ignoring illegally excavated coins would not stem the flood of unprovenanced coinage entering the market.

In Turkey it is illegal for anyone except registered collectors to possess ancient coins. These collectors must maintain a detailed inventory that is reviewed regularly by a local museum. Because of Turkey’s numerous ancient sites, old Greek and Roman coins are frequently found, and many are collected clandestinely or sold on the antiquities market, from where they are shipped overseas. Turkish museums try to purchase ancient coins, particularly hoards, when they are found. Since most local museums display coins from the area, they usually have funds to purchase these coins. But the prices paid on the illegal market are often higher, especially when the coins are made of precious metals.

A final bonus at the congress was to see my friend, Inci Turkoğlu, give an outstanding presentation on the coins of Chalcedon, an ancient city located on the Asian side of the Bosporus in Istanbul. Numismatics is one portion of her doctoral dissertation being written on Constantinople’s sister city and the site of the Fourth Ecumenical Church Council in 451 CE. I walked away from the congress with a fresh appreciation for this specialized discipline and grateful for the contribution of these numismatists who helped me better understand the ancient world.

pirates-and-virgins-1-900px

Of Pirates and Virgins: Greek and Turkish Scholars Colloquiating

The invitation to attend the Second Greek-Turkish Symposium on Epigraphy in May was one I couldn’t turn down. It had been extended by Mustafa Adak, the chairperson of the epigraphy and ancient history department of Antalya’s Akdeniz (“Mediterranean”) University. Not only was I interested to hear the presentation of some of the thirty papers, I was also curious to see how these scholars from similar, yet politically rivaling, cultures would get along. Recent news stories highlighted the controversy over who had invented baklava—the Turks or the Greeks. And what should that thick, hot drink with grounds in the bottom of the cup be called—Greek or Turkish coffee? However, the three-day colloquium turned out to be a model of peaceful relations as the scholars set aside their nationalistic differences for the sake of epigraphy.

Angelos Chaniotis

The symposium was held at the university’s conference hotel, set amidst the idyllic Lycian coast beneath Mount Olympos. In the first century B.C.E. the pirate Zenicetes overran the nearby ancient cities of Olympos and Phaselis and established his base there. When the Roman general Servilius Isauricus cornered the pirates in their stronghold in 77 B.C.E., Zenicetes and his followers committed collective suicide, much like the Sicarii did over a century later at Masada. So the natural and historical setting was ideal for scholarly endeavors. Another plus for me was that most of the presentations were in English.

The Roman Harbor at Phaselis on the Lycian Coast

The Roman Harbor at Phaselis on the Lycian CoastA speaker whom I particularly wanted to hear was the Greek epigrapher Angelos Chaniotis. Chaniotis had authored a recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review on the Jews and Godfearers in Aphrodisias. In his presentation, Chaniotis discussed a 2nd-3rd century C.E. funerary inscription of a young Aphrodisian woman named Melition Tatis. My ears perked up when he mentioned that she was called a parthenos in the inscription. The proper translation of this Greek word is still debated in several Biblical texts. Is the meaning in Isaiah 7:14 “virgin” (niv) or “young woman” (nrsv)? However, all translations of Matthew 1:23, which quotes the verse from Isaiah and speaks of Mary, read “virgin.” So I was intrigued whether this newly found inscription might help us understand better how parthenos was used in antiquity.

In Chaniotis’s handout, the word was translated “virgin.” But he suggested verbally that it was better understood as a class of young women. Chaniotis shared with me later that such a use was not just localized to Aphrodisias. And I learned that parthenos and its derivatives could even be a female name, probably indicating the person’s youthful appearance rather than her status of virginity or being unmarried. Chaniotis’s research has revealed that parthenos has three closely related yet distinct meanings: virgin, unmarried, and young/unmarriageable. While it may not always be possible to distinguish among them, an awareness of this difference can help us better understand Biblical texts. For example, the niv and nrsv both use “unmarried” in Acts 21:9 to designate Philip’s daughters, a better translation of parthenos than “virgin.” Listening to Chaniotis, I was reminded again of the importance of context in translating and interpreting Greek words.

This intercultural scholarly gathering was a great success. All agreed that a third Greek-Turkish epigraphy symposium should occur. However, a date could not be set because Greece’s economic situation may preclude its scholars from hosting one in the near future. So hopefully a sponsor will be found. Nevertheless, I look forward to colloquiate again with these epigraphers and to drink some more Turkish (or is it Greek) coffee?

Pella-Odeion-Church-900px

Pella: A Window on Survival

Before writing my doctoral thesis two decades ago, the only Pella that I knew about was a small town in south central Iowa famous for its windows and doors. But in the course of my research, I discovered fascinating data about another Pella located in the Perean foothills of the Jordan River. In March I finally had the opportunity to visit the Pella located in northwestern Jordan.

Mark Wilson describes a visit to Pella, an ancient city located in the Perean foothills of the Jordan River where Jesus’ followers sought refuge while escaping Jerusalem’s destruction.

Jesus, while looking over the temple mount in Jerusalem shortly before his death, prophesied that its beautiful stones would be thrown down within a generation. He warned that the residents should flee Jerusalem to the mountains when they saw the Roman armies surrounding the city. Jesus’ admonition is found in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24:15–22; Mark 13:14–20; Luke 21:20–24). Perhaps Jesus visited Pella during his visit to the Decapolis (Mark 7:31) and Perea (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1), and recalling its secure location, cryptically referred to it in this prophecy. Eusebius’s Church History (3.5.3) recounts that the Jewish followers of Jesus heeded his warning and fled to Pella for safety before Jerusalem’s destruction. Birgil Pixner believes that, after the city’s destruction, they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their Jewish-Christian synagogue on Mount Zion.*

Today, Pella sits outside Tabaqat Fahl, twenty miles south of the Sea of Galilee. I was eager to see the geographical setting of the site to find out whether it qualified as a mountainous retreat. The University of Sydney has been conducting excavations at Pella since 1979. Remains from the Natufian through the Islamic period have been discovered – a period spanning over 10,000 years. But my interest was on structures that would have existed in the late first century C.E. However, few Roman buildings from that period remain because massive construction projects in the Byzantine period destroyed them. However, there are remnants of a Roman odeon, bathhouse and necropolis. Roman milestones found in the nearby hills show that roads directly connected Pella was with the important Decapolis city of Gerasa, modern Jerash.

Some scholars believe that the escape of the women’s offspring into the wilderness in Revelation 12:6, 14–17 uses mythological language to describe the flight of the Jerusalem church to Pella. While Revelation 12 is difficult to interpret, there does seem to be a historical basis for the events it describes. The dragon’s attempt to destroy the Jewish Christians, first in Zealot-controlled Jerusalem, and then while crossing the Jordan during the winter floods, came to naught. Instead, the Gentile churches of the Decapolis rescued and aided the Jewish-Christian refugees. With the Jerusalem church safe, the dragon next gave his attention to making war against the rest of the saints (12:17). While a bit fanciful, such a reconstruction must be taken into consideration, since others have little to commend them.

Although Pella is only in the foothills of the Transjordanian Mountains, the site seems to fulfill Jesus’ prophecy of a city of refuge. Standing in the upper basilica, the view across the Jordan Valley is spectacular. Mount Gilgal rises to the northwest, Beth-Shean/Scythopolis looms on the northeast. It was easy to imagine a weary company of refugees arriving in this city in the late 60s while attempting to survive the chaos falling upon Jerusalem.

Interestingly, the Pella in Iowa was founded in 1847 by 800 Dutch immigrants seeking religious freedom. Their minister Dominee Hendrik P. Scholte knew his church history and decided to name the new city after its Perean counterpart. Pella, old and new, still stands as a symbol of refuge and hope in a time of great crisis.

* In the article “Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion”, Bargil Pixner writes “The Judeo-Christian community in Jerusalem escaped this terrible catastrophe by fleeing to Pella in Transjordan and the countryside of Gilean and Bashan in expectation of the Parousia, the second coming of Christ.

When this did not occur and they realized that the time of Jesus’ return was not yet at hand, they decided to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild their sanctuary on the site of the ancient Upper Room—where the Last Supper had been held, where the apostles returned after witnessing Jesus’ ascension on the Mount of Olives and where Peter delivered his Pentecost sermon as recorded in Acts 2. It was this site on which they made their synagogue. They were free to do this because they enjoyed a certain religious freedom from the Romans (religio licita) inasmuch as they were Jews who confessed Jesus as their Messiah, and not gentile converts.”

Read “Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion” as it appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1990.

antipatris-herodian-street-900px

Antipatris: Another Pauline Site Off My Bucket List

Mark Wilson Follows Paul’s Footsteps

Several years ago Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson brought the subject of “bucket lists” to our attention via a movie by that name. In case you didn’t see it, Nicholson’s billionaire character assists Freeman’s in fulfilling a number of wishes before he “kicked the bucket.” While I have not prepared a formal bucket list, I certainly have an informal one.

Antipatris Herodian Street
Ancient visitors would have approached the magnificent walls of Antipatris on this Herodian street. Biblical scholar Mark Wilson describes the road into Antipatris. “My imagination was stirred to picture Paul mounted on a horse and riding into Antipatris under the protection of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen.”

One wish is to visit all the sites related to Paul in the New Testament. Living in Turkey is certainly a boon to make that happen. So far, I have visited all the Pauline places in Turkey, Italy, and mainland Greece. In Israel the only place I hadn’t visited was Antipatris. Paul made an overnight stop there while being escorted by Roman troops en route from Jerusalem to Caesarea (Acts 23:31-32).

An opportunity to visit Antipatris presented itself in late February when I was leading a tour in Israel for my Regent University students. So my wife Dindy and I flew to Tel Aviv a day early and picked up a rental car at Ben Gurion airport. Since I drive in Turkey, I figured that driving in Israel wouldn’t be much different. In fact, the drive to our hotel in Yafo (Joppa) was a piece of cake, since we arrived on Friday afternoon, the eve of Shabbat, when the roads are largely empty.

Antipatris Mark Edited
Antipatris was one of the few Pauline sites that Biblical scholar Mark Wilson had yet to visit. By standing on this Herodian Street, Mark Wilson became familiar with yet another ancient city in Paul’s world. In addition to his research, Wilson guides BAS readers through Paul’s footsteps in Turkey.

Antipatris was one of the few Pauline sites that Biblical scholar Mark Wilson had yet to visit. By standing on this Herodian Street, Mark Wilson became familiar with yet another ancient city in Paul’s world. In addition to his research, Wilson guides BAS readers through Paul’s footsteps in Turkey.

Saturday morning we set out for Antipatris, today part of a national park called Yarkon. I plotted the route on a highway map, and it didn’t look too difficult. However, in Petak Tikva we missed a turn and wandered around for an hour. Fortunately, most Israelis speak some English so periodically we got redirected. One young man marveled that I was trying to find the place without the aid of a smart phone or GPS navigation system. Well, I happen to be old school when all we had were maps, and they usually work well enough.

Down the road I saw a sign pointing to Afek. Well, I knew that Antipatris was called Aphek in the Old Testament. Here the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant in a great battle with the Israelites (1 Samuel 4:1-11). So, thinking we were close, I turned–only to arrive at the Afek Industrial Park. Once again we retraced our route to the main road as my wife smiled patiently from the navigator’s seat.

Soon we spotted the massive walls of the 16th century Ottoman fort perched on Tel Afek’s summit. We found many Israelis in the park relaxing amidst the lush greenery under massive eucalyptus trees. Water flowed from the springs at the source of the Yarqon River; no wonder it was called Pegae (“the springs”) in the Hellenistic period. Herod later named the city Antipatris after his father.

Excavations have exposed a few rows of an odeon as well as part of the agora. But most thrilling for me was the ability to walk on the Herodian street that led into the city. My imagination was stirred to picture Paul mounted on a horse and riding into Antipatris under the protection of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen. Unlike our leisurely excursion on a sunny winter afternoon, Paul’s visit was stressful as he fled for his life. However, being a Roman citizen was a good perquisite for times like this.

Later our Israeli guide told me he had never visited Antipatris with a group. Was it worth the hassle of getting lost to find this out-of-the way place? Definitely! And now my bucket list of Pauline places has one more site checked off.

Pamphylia-inscription-900

Who Governed the Roman Province of Lycia-Pamphylia?

One thing I enjoy about living in Turkey is the serendipitous discoveries waiting to be found. Last year as my wife and I were returning from the grocery store, I looked into a garden and saw an ancient stone standing there. The top had later been hollowed out as a basin. As I walked through the gate, my heart was racing in anticipation: Would there be an inscription on its face? Sure enough there was! In well-cut Greek letters five lines stood out (the remainder of the inscription was buried beneath the tiled walkway). Two words jumped out in my initial examination: anthupaton Pamphylias, that is, “the governor of Pamphylia.”

Here I am with my wife Dindy (center) and Dr. Nuray Gökalp (right), proudly posing with the early-third-century C.E. Greek inscription that mentions Julius Tarius Titianus, governor of Pamphylia.

Anthupatos is the Greek word for the proconsul who governed a Roman senatorial province. Acts 13:7 describes how Paul and Barnabas met Sergius Paulus, the anthupatos of Cyprus.

Pamphylia means “land of all tribes” and originally designated the southern region of Asia Minor along the Mediterranean Sea. Later it became the name of a Roman province. Jews from Pamphylia were among those in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Paul and Barnabas, after leaving Cyprus, made landfall at Perga, a major city of Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). At the end of the apostles’ first missionary journey they departed from another Pamphylian city, Attalia—modern Antalya—where I live (Acts 14:25). Like many civic degrees the demos and boulē (“the citizens and the council”) were the dedicators of this inscription, in this case for an eminent governor of the province, Julius Tarius Titianus.

To learn more about this inscription, I contacted the epigraphy department of the local Akdeniz (“Mediterranean”) University. There I was put in contact with Dr. Nuray Gökalp, an epigrapher presently preparing the corpus of inscriptions for Attalia. I emailed her pictures of the stone, and she quickly acknowledged that the inscription was unknown to her. Two days later we arranged a meeting. She brought a colleague, and it was exciting for me to see their excitement as they saw the inscription for the first time. Dr. Gökalp suggested at the time that the next line, now buried below ground level, undoubtedly said “and Lycia.” This region, west of Pamphylia, had been a double province with Pamphylia for over a century. After cleaning and wetting the stone, the epigraphers made a squeeze, a process that uses special paper to produce an impression of the surface’s texture. As we said our goodbyes, Dr. Gökalp promised to share the results of her investigation with me.

Who Governed the Roman Province of Lycia-Pamphlyia?
The squeeze that was made of the inscription.

Those results have just been published by Dr. Gökalp in a short essay in the journal Gephyra. The inscription is now firmly dated to the early third century C.E. The governor’s name was first found in the 19th century on an inscription dating to 202–205 C.E. in a bathhouse at Takina.

The noted archaeologist William Ramsay was one of the first scholars to publish this inscription. Until now, however, it was unknown whether Takina was in the province of Lycia-Pamphylia or in Asia. Most scholars thought the latter. The new inscription now definitely proves that Takina was in Lycia-Pamphlyia and that Tarius Titianus was the governor of this province and not of Asia. Another inscription mentioning Tarius Titianus, dating after 210 C.E., was recently found in Hippos, a Galilean city that was part of the Decapolis.* It turns out that he later served as the governor of Syria–Palestina. It is amazing to me that five lines of text with only 11 Greek words can tell us such a story. And to think that there are many more such stones still awaiting discovery. So my eyes are always on the lookout, waiting to find another one.

* For Hippos, see Arthur Segal and Michael Eisenberg, “The Spade Hits Sussita,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2006, and Michael Eisenberg, Archaeological Views, “What’s Luck Got to Do With It?” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2010.

Devotions-on-Greek-NT-900

Quench or Extinguish: What are We Not Supposed to do to the Spirit?

“Quench or Extinguish: What are We Not Supposed to do to the Spirit?”
1 Thessalonians 5:19

One of my favorite moments is to sit around a crackling campfire on a cool evening, to warm my hands in its heat and to watch the sparks disappearing into the darkness. Once the embers have died down, I’ll roast some marshmallows and maybe even make a few sticky Smores with graham crackers and chocolate bars. Finally, before going to bed, I’ll douse the glowing coals with water to ensure that the fire is out.

to. pneu/ma mh. sbe,nnute
From Devotions on the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 2012), 104-106

The NIV translation of this verse favors the literal interpretation of sbe,nnumi in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” To “extinguish” or “put out” is, in fact, the predominant meaning for the word in both the Septuagint and the New Testament. For example, Hezekiah faulted Judah because the priest had “put out the lamps” in the temple (2 Chron. 29:7). And Paul wrote that the purpose of the shield of faith is to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16).

This is the only verse in the Greek Old Testament or the New Testament where the Spirit is the direct object of sbe,nnumi. A literal understanding suggests that Paul is worried that the Thessalonians might extinguish or put out the Spirit in their lives. If that were the proper interpretation, the apostle must envision a group close to falling away from the faith. However, even a cursory reading of this pericope shows that the Thessalonians, while in need of some exhortation, are not in danger of putting out the Spirit. These exhortations in verses 16–22 consist of eight commands in the imperative mood: six are positive with verses 19 and 20 being the only two negative ones.

A majority of other translations translate sbe,nnumi figuratively using the gloss, “quench.” Again there is a precedent for this in the Septuagint. Song of Songs 8:7 opines that “Many waters cannot quench love.” A cognate verb katasbe,nnumi, used in 4 Maccabees 16:4, portrays a devout mother who had “quenched” her many great emotions. BDAG suggest “stifle” and “suppress” as alternate English translations that suggest this figurative meaning.

One challenge in using “quench” today is that the word typically brings to mind a commercial for some soft-drink. Some tanned surfer with his blonde girlfriend is totally refreshed by drinking a particular brand of thirst-quenching drink. In John 7:37–39 Jesus compares the Spirit to a stream of living water that will quench the spiritual thirst of all who drink. However, in 1 Thessalonians it is those who have already drunk of the Spirit who are warned not to “stifle” him.

The second negative command in the passage may provide a clue for how to interpret what stifling the Spirit might be. The Thessalonians are commanded not to despise prophecies in verse 20. Since the Holy Spirit is always viewed as the source of prophecy in the New Testament, to despise prophecy would be to hold in contempt the source of the prophecy. Indeed if prophecy were despised, it is natural that it would be suppressed in the public meetings. Thus the figurative meaning of sbe,nnumi seems better to suit the context of the passage.

But how is the Spirit quenched today? Certainly churches and denominations adopt policies and practices that sometimes suppress the Spirit’s activity. In our personal lives we can become so busy that living in the Spirit is stifled in our daily lives. Family and work responsibilities, answering email, keeping up with social networks like Facebook— all conspire to quench the presence of the Spirit. Thus Paul’s admonition is still appropriate for us: “Don’t to put a lid on the Spirit” (my paraphrase).

Devotions-on-Greek-NT-900

Paul: Bound in the Spirit for Jerusalem

“Paul: Bound in the Spirit for Jerusalem”
Acts 20:22

In 2004 my wife and I made the decision to relocate to Turkey. After a time of prayer and fasting, we felt that the Holy Spirit gave us the green light to move. As we began to share our plans with friends and family, this decision was met with skepticism, even fear, from some. In the post 9/11 environment they were concerned about what might happen to us in a Muslim country where Americans and Christians were presumed to be hated. While we thanked our loved ones for their concern, we felt compelled to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit regarding this relocation.

Kai. nu/n ivdou. dedeme,noj evgw. tw/| pneu,mati poreu,omai eivj
From Devotions on the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 2012), 54–55

Paul was at a critical phase of his public ministry at the end of his third journey. Traveling with a group of eight companions including Luke, he was carrying the collection from the Gentile believers to Jerusalem. At Miletus Paul summoned the Ephesian elders, and there he delivered the speech found in Acts 20:18–35.

In the midst of his message our target verse is found. The NIV translates verse 22: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem” while the NLT translates the first clause, “And now, as a captive to the Spirit….” Both the Louw and Nida and Thayer lexicons suggest “compel” as a legitimate translation for de,w, giving a metaphorical sense to the verb.

However, de,w, in its literal sense continues as an important catchword in Acts. In 21:11 the prophet Agabus came down to Caesarea from Jerusalem to meet Paul. Binding his own hands and feet with Paul’s belt, he declared, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ” This prophetic act coupled with a prophetic word confirmed what the Holy Spirit had been speaking to Paul along the journey. He referred to this in verse 23 of his speech at Miletus. At Tyre believers there had also urged Paul through the Spirit not to visit Jerusalem (21:4). Nevertheless, after Agabus’ warning, the apostle reiterated his determination to continue, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem” (21:13).

In Jerusalem Paul soon found himself in trouble with a crowd at the temple. The Roman commander arrested him and had him bound with two chains (21:33). In his speech before the crowd Paul noted the irony of his situation. Some two decades before he was the one binding believers in Damascus to bring them to Jerusalem for punishment, and now he was the one bound. When the Roman commander was interviewing Paul, he realized that Roman law had been violated because he had bound a Roman citizen (22:29). Paul was later back in Caesarea, but this time bound as a prisoner of the Roman governor Festus (24:27).

Somewhere along his journey, perhaps on the solitary walk to Assos (20:13–14), Paul had submitted himself to God’s will for whatever lay ahead. Thus he was bound in the Spirit long before anyone bound him in Jerusalem and Caesarea. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is a pervasive theme throughout Acts, and it reminds us that we can never be successful in life or ministry without his direction.

Yes, my wife and I have encountered challenges living in a Muslim culture very different from our own. But, like Paul, we can look back and see how the Holy Spirit had directed us to take that step. There is peace and comfort knowing that it was God’s Spirit who had bound us in our task of advancing the kingdom even before we had arrived in Turkey.