Tag: New Testament in Context

If I eat a chicken, and a duck in Turkey is it a turducken?

I thought about going with a “Turkish Delight” heading for this post, but that pun is too hackneyed even for me. Turkey is amazing, though we have reliable and constant internet access in our hotel, I’ve discovered that hotels are much better for sleeping in than for blogging.

Modern Turkey, at least in the cruise friendly port town of Kusadasi, is very civilised. Except for the countrywide ban on YouTube.

The streets are filled with bazaars in which bargains can be had if you possess a little bargaining nous. I bought some stuff. Cheap stuff.

Ancient Turkey is pretty amazing. Ephesus leaves Corinth in its dust. Corinth might be a Roman colony, laid out in gridlike Roman efficiency (the grid pattern, called centuriation, was designed to reflect the order of creation), but Ephesus is something else. It’s massive. It was once a port, but the landscape has shifted so now there is low lying ground at the entry to the main street. A column laced street that heads directly into town.

The whole way along the road you are confronted by the incredibly well preserved theatre – the theatre that hosted a riot in Acts 19, when Paul’s preaching of a monotheistic God threatened to turn the tables on an idol trade that still thrives in the bazaars and souvenir shops.

Here’s the story.

23About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis,(AM) brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25(AN) These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people,(AO) saying that(AP) gods made with hands are not gods. 27And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the(AQ) great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

28When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out,(AR) “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and(AS) Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s(AT) companions in travel. 30But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31And even some of the Asiarchs,[e] who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32(AU) Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander,(AV) motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice,(AW) “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

The theatre would comfortably seat 24,000 people. Having sat through a couple of Wallabies tests and a State of Origin at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, which is twice the size, you can get some idea of the noise that 24,000 people engaging in sustained and repetitive chanting would have made.

Evidence suggests the governor’s house was on the hill behind the stadium, which provides an interesting insight into this part of the Acts recount.

35And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from(AX) the sky?[f] 36Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37For you have brought(AY) these men here who are neither(AZ) sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are(BA) proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39But if you seek anything further,[g] it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

Artemis, or Diana (depending on your translation), was a god of many hats, most famous for her role in fertility – a role represented by her physical depiction as a woman with many testicles. That is, apparently, what the bulbs in this picture represent.

Her temple, now rubble, was of a grand scale, though a few kilometres out of the heart of the Ephesian CBD. A solitary pillar survives, there were apparently 127 of them. It would no doubt have been an impressive site decked out and paved in marble.

Everything in these cities is marble. They would have been quite incredible. The facade of a magnificent Ephesian library still adorns the city. It is still impressive now, it basically had a ducted air system to preserve the books.

There are other impressive facades and well preserved buildings throughout the city.

Our time in the houses of Ephesus was well worthwhile – both to see the size and scale of the homes of the first century churches – churches Paul was said to have ministered to during his time in the city – and to see the jigsaw like reproduction project going on on-site. These men are gluing hundreds of thousands of pieces of fractured marble together bit by bit. Matching them by colour and shape.

The houses are decorated with mosaics and painted frescos, they too were largely marble structures until a couple of earthquakes caused a change in production values.

One of my favourite bits of the day was spotting this chameleon.

We spent today in Aphrodisias, which isn’t biblically significant but provided some insight into Roman culture and the prevalence in the daily realities of citizens of the Roman imperial cult. But that’s a story for another day. Normal service should resume on Wednesday.

Wrapping up Greece

We’re in Turkey today, and for the rest of this week, and possibly have a more reliable in hotel wifi connection, so we’ll see if blogging improves.

We spent a couple of days in Greece touring first century entertainment precincts to get a feel for the cultural life of the citizens Paul addresses in his letters. Roman culture was entertainment heavy. The entertainment, like everything else, was filled with cultural propaganda and designed to reinforce, in the regions, the supremacy of the emperor.

Sport was a massive deal. In fact, the highest paid sportstar of all time was a second century Roman charioteer.

The very best paid of these—in fact, the best paid athlete of all time—was a Lusitanian Spaniard named Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who had short stints with the Whites and Greens, before settling in for a long career with the Reds. Twenty-four years of winnings brought Diocles—likely an illiterate man whose signature move was the strong final dash—the staggering sum of 35,863,120 sesterces in prize money. The figure is recorded in a monumental inscription erected in Rome by his fellow charioteers and admirers in 146, which hails him fulsomely on his retirement at the age of “42 years, 7 months, and 23 days” as “champion of all charioteers.”

His total take home amounted to five times the earnings of the highest paid provincial governors over a similar period—enough to provide grain for the entire city of Rome for one year, or to pay all the ordinary soldiers of the Roman Army at the height of its imperial reach for a fifth of a year. By today’s standards that last figure, assuming the apt comparison is what it takes to pay the wages of the American armed forces for the same period, would cash out to about $15 billion.

Here’s a picture of a first century sporting superstar.

Here’s a reenactment.

Roman bathhouses would have been a hotbed of political and social intrigue – and an important part of the daily routine of the elite. Everyone went to the baths, the time of day you arrived (and the heat of the water) was determined by your social status.

We saw some bath houses at Isthmia, as well as the famous Corinthian Isthmus, which gave the nation controlling the city of Corinth control of trade in the region.

We stopped at Cenchria where we may or may not have walked through the fenced off ruins of a house that may or may not have belonged to Phoebe (a patron of the city who looked after Paul). We looked for some of Paul’s hair, because he had a haircut there as he departed.

Epidaurus has an immaculately conserved theatre, where the acoustics are demonstrably impressive. A tour guide from another group dropped coins in the centre of the circle, and tore paper, and we could hear it sitting in the back row.

In Athens we stood atop Mars Hill, an experience that supports Bruce Winter’s contention that the Areopagus Council probably met in a room in the marketplace rather than on the hill, which was also used for execution by fatal drop.

This is the spot Bruce suggests the council, whose job it was to introduce new gods to Greek life, would have met.

The Acropolis was amazing. Athens was doubtless a city dominated by religion. The Parthenon overlooked the metropolitan sprawl and would have been visible from all corners. The hill was dotted with alters and minor temples, including a small Imperial Cult temple next to the Parthenon, the Romans had a separate marketplace which was home to the architecturally significant temple to Roma, and a public latrine.

Here’s the latrine.

Some pictures from the Acropolis…

The Athenian theatre was renovated by Nero to celebrate his victories in some oratory competitions.

The agora is dotted with religious and political propaganda. Here is another temple, still standing, that overlooks the shopping precinct.

We finished our time in Greece with a spot of souvenir shopping in Corinth.

Capturing the fort Spartan style.

We’re going to wear these helmets to the Presbyterian Assembly when we’re all grown up.

And then caught the slow boat to Turkey.

We’re all feeling slightly more angelic as a result of our time treading the footsteps of Paul.

Turkey feels like being back in the first world, Greece, thanks to the Global Financial Crisis, is a country of empty billboards and layabout retirees sitting in cafes. The economy is stagnant. It feels like a first world country slipping into the third world.

My Big Fat Greek Adventure: Day Two

We hit Ancient Corinth on day two in Greece – our visit to the site was sponsored by the Bishop of Corinth. His minion who wore black, carried worry beads and looked like a gangster watched our trek around the site, before we made our way to a newly minted “St Paul Centre” for an absolutely opulent (and free) lunch put on by the Bishop.

The site itself is amazing. There’s a museum filled with relics that have been uncovered in the dig. The chief archeologist gave us a run down of the landscape. The city of Corinth sits under a pretty impenetrable fort (more on that later) atop the Acrocorinth, it has a steady supply of water, is resource rich, and sits beside the Corinthian isthmus, a vital trade link between two major oceans.

The city was pulled apart by the Romans, who later rebuilt over the top of the Greek foundations in the late BCs. The dig has uncovered much of Roman Corinth, and gone deeper into Greek Corinth. One of the best bits from the head digger was a look at a little secret passage that they found in an underground Greek temple (no longer underground).

On the Roman Corinth front, the city puts the New Testament into real perspective – which I guess is the point of the visit. Standing in the centre of the city square you’re struck by the intersection of commerce, justice and religion. Roman business and Roman Law were inextricably religious. And the construction of the city and placement of idol statues (especially of deified emperors) hammered that home. The temple of Apollos is pretty impressive (some of its pillars still stand) but the imperial temple dominated the landscape, and could be spotted from just about anywhere in the city.

The imperial temple – the pillars have been slightly rebuilt, though much shorter than they would originally have been.

The temple of Apollos

The coolest bit of the trip (Bible wise), was standing in front of the Bema, or justice seat, where Paul appeared before Gallio in Acts 18.

12 But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before (AC)the judgment seat,

13 saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”

14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you;

15 but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.”

16 And he drove them away from the judgment seat.

This is one of the only geographic points we have for Paul’s visit – so as we stood here and looked around, not only could we imagine the streets alive and an impending riot being quelled by Gallio’s prudent judgment, but we were standing somewhere where Paul himself stood, and where an event of some significance in the New Testament occurred. Gallio’s judgment, and reputation as a juror, meant Christianity was suddenly a legal religion in the empire.

There have been a couple more “aha” moments that will doubtless be the subject of subsequent posts. Stay tuned for our visit to a real castle. It was incredible.

My Big Fat Greek Holiday: Post One

Day One of our “New Testament In Context” trip involved flying. Lots of flying. 24 hours of flying with Singapore Airlines (albeit with a stopover in Singapore). I slept a bit, watched a couple of movies I’d been hoping to see (Robin Hood, Kick-Ass, and the A-Team), and tried to avoid deep vein thrombosis. The service on Singapore Airlines was pretty spectacular.

When we arrived in Athens we went from plane to train to automobile. After a few little travel dramas we made it to our accommodation, checked out a cafe in the heart of Old Corinth (next to the archeological dig), and tried to stay awake for dinner. Dessert was a pretty spectacular piece of baklava.

Greece is pretty cool. Toilet paper isn’t allowed to be flushed so all the toilets have little bins next to them. They smell bad. There are stray dogs wandering the streets at every turn. People ride scooters and motorbikes without helmets. The coffee is interesting. I ordered a cappuccino and received some sort of iced coffee with cream and milk that had been whipped in a milkshake maker.

The men gather in the streets after dark to sit in restaurants together. They all look old and stereotypically Greek.

Bruce, our principal, is a minor local celebrity. The lady who owns the restaurant we’re frequenting remembers his name from four years ago.

The souvenir shops have cool Greek helmets and stuff. I want to buy one to wear to Presbyterian Assembly in a few years.

I’m putting photos in this gallery on Picasa, and I’ll post some stuff about how Corinth fits in with the New Testament in subsequent posts.

We had lunch courtesy of the Orthodox Bishop of Corinth yesterday, it was amazing. The bishop looks a lot like Kutz’s dad, so I took a photo.

Here’s a little piece of Biblical “lost in translation”…