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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?

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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.

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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.