Smyrna, the Poor, Rich Church

April 27, 2010

In Rev. 2 we have the letter to the church at Smyrna (modern Izmir).  This church received the shortest of the seven letters (Rev. 2:8-11), and it consists only of commendations.  Smyrna was one of the wealthiest cities of the Roman province of Asia, but the Christians there were poor; Jesus wrote, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)” (Rev. 2:9).   Their poverty may have been in large measure due to their unwillingness to compromise their convictions.  Christians who were exclusively loyal to Jesus Christ could not worship other gods, nor could they take part in emperor worship.  It may be difficult for us to imagine how pervasive idolatry was in the first century.  When the New Testament church came into existence, the residents of Smyrna had for centuries been worshiping the goddess Athena.  The ruins of her temple are pictured here:

Athena Temple in Smyrna. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The goddess Athena was in fact widely worshiped. Her image below is in the Izmir Museum:

Image of goddess Athena. Izmir Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Imperial worship was deeply entrenched at Smyrna, the practice of burning incense to Caesar and saying that “Caesar is Lord.”   Here is an image of one of the priests of the Imperial Cult, representative of the men who served in such temples and expedited emperor worship.

Priest of Imperial Cult. Izmir Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Those who made up the church at Smyrna were told, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). We learn that the faith that pleases God is based not on convenience, but on deep and abiding conviction.  What Jesus required in the 1st century He requires in the 21st century.

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Jewish Inscription at Miletus Theater

April 22, 2010

Our last couple of posts have been on the biblical city of Miletus.  Remember it was here that Paul met with the Ephesian elders as he was finishing up the 3rd missionary journey and en route to Jerusalem (Acts 20:17ff.).

Any city of significance of biblical times had a theater.  Here is the theater of Miletus:

Miletus Theater. Photo by Leon Mauldin

One interesting discovery in the theater is an inscription which indicated the seating section for the Jews.  It is in the 5th row from below, and in the second section from the west.  The inscription is four feet long, with letters measuring 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches in height.

Jewish Inscription. Miletus Theater. Photo by Leon Mauldin

The inscription is written in Greek.  Transliterated it reads: “topos eioudeon ton kai theosebion.” Translation: “Place of the Jews, who are also called God-fearing” (Light from the Ancient East, by Adolf Deissmann, p. 451). In the book of Acts, “those who fear God”  are typically Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:26).  On this text in Acts, the NET Bibles notes,

“and those among you who fear God,” but this is practically a technical term for the category called God-fearers, Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel and in many cases kept the Mosaic law, but did not take the final step of circumcision necessary to become a proselyte to Judaism. See further K. G. Kuhn, TDNT 6:732–34.

However the term as found in the inscription at Miletus does not seem to mean Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, but rather uses “God-fearing” to describe the Jews.  Adolf Deissmann writes,

As I read the actual inscription there at Miletus I wondered that it did not run “Place of the Jews and of those who are called God-fearing.” But there can be no doubt that “God-fearing” is here an appellation of the Jews (Ibid.452).

The inscription does not seem to imply segregation, but rather indicates “reserved seating.”  It further gives proof that there was a Jewish community there in Miletus in Roman times.

Topos Eioudewn twn kai Qheosebion


Miletus Agora, Two Views

April 22, 2010

At the biblical site of Miletus one can view the agora (market place). Looking across you can see the ionic stoa, a public building; to the right you can see the ruins of the Roman Nymphaeum (fountain).

Miletus Agora and Public Building. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The photo above was taken in summer 2006.  Our photo below (March 2010) shows the same area with the agora under water.

Miletus Agora Under Water. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

More to come on Miletus.


Miletus

April 20, 2010

Miletus was a seaport on the Mediterranean, on the Bay of Latmus. Because of silting filling the gulf, the site is now more than five miles from the coast. The modern name of Miletus is Yeni-Balat. Miletus was a leading harbor during the Persian and Greek periods. Miletus was still an important trade center in Roman times. A temple devoted to the worship of Apollo was located at Miletus.

I had the opportunity in summer of 2006 to visit Miletus.  The photo below shows the ruins of the harbor, and the harbor monument. The circular base in center of photo is the foundation of the great harbor monument.

Miletus Harbor. Foundation of Great Harbor Monument. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Again I had the occasion to see Miletus last month.  This is a shot of the same area, but reflecting winter and spring rains.

Miletus Harbor March 2010. Monument foundation under water. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Note the building which can be seen in both photos, upper right.  This is the ruins of a synagogue.  There is no record of a church at Miletus in the context of Acts 20.

Bible and Spade has this to say regarding Paul’s brief stay at Miletus:

At the head of the harbor Paul would have landed on the marble paved street in front of the harbor stoa, stretching 525 feet along the south end of the bay. On his right he would have seen the large harbor monument built to honor the Emperor Augustus shortly after 31 B.C. The foundations of the Harbor Stoa and Monument are still there today, and not far from them is a partially excavated synagogue, which Paul may have visited. Had the Apostle walked through the center of town, as he no doubt did, he would have passed the Delphinion, the city’s chief religious center, where Apollo was worshiped. After walking 325 feet down the processional road he would come to the great South Agora, equal in size to some sixteen city blocks and surrounded by something like one hundred shops (Vol.2.4.103).

Biblical Significance. On the return route of the 3rd missionary journey, Paul asked the Ephesian elders to meet him here at Miletus (Acts 20:17). Miletus was 37 miles south of Ephesus. The elders accommodated Paul, and thus enabled him to stay near the harbor so that he would not miss the ship going on to Israel. It was here that he poured out his heart to them, admonishing them to take heed to themselves, and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). They prayed and wept freely; then he departed on the ship, sailing to Cos and the following day to Rhodes (one of the islands included on our tour). Reference is later made to Miletus in Paul’s final letter, in 2 Tim. 4:20, as he notes having left Trophimus there due to sickness.

Archaeological work has been conducted mostly by German teams from 1899-1914, 1938-9 and since 1955. We plan to share more photos of Miletus within the next day or two, including some of the areas referenced above in the Bible and Spade quote, so be sure to check back for more.


Weighed in the Balances

April 18, 2010

One artifact of interest (among hundreds of others!) in the Athens Museum is a set of scales, which according to the accompanying info sign, dates back to the 15th century B.C., and was among some items belonging to the Vapheio Tholos tomb, Lakonia.

Set of Scales. Athens Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Perhaps because this set of scales was found in a tomb, the sign states further, “Bronze scales and lead weights either for practical use, or symbolic of the weighing of the souls in the after-life.”

These scales put me in mind of several passages, including Dan. 5, which tells of King Belshazzar of Babylon, who literally saw the “handwriting on the wall.”  Belshazzar was co-regent with his father Nabonidus, who was more interested in the arts and culture than administration, and consequently spent most of his time in the latter years of his reign outside Babylon.  Belshazzar had called for the vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple (586 B.C), and along with his officials was drinking wine, praising “gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone.” It was at this point that the king saw the fingers of a man’s hand writing on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and subsequently Daniel, at this point an old man, was called to interpret the writing. The text reads,

And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians (vv. 25-28).

The NASB renders v. 27, “…you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.” That very night King Belshazzar died, marking the end of the Babylonian Empire, and the beginning rule of its successor, the Medo-Persian Empire (539 B.C.).

Other Passages. There are numerous passages which speak of God’s delight in honest scales. Proverbs 16:11: “Honest weights and scales are the LORD’s; All the weights in the bag are His work.” The NET Bible notes, “The law required that scales and measures be accurate and fair (Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:13). Shrewd dishonest people kept light and heavy weights to make unfair transactions.” Amos the prophet rebuked the Israelites who were saying, “When will the new moon festival be over, so we can sell grain? When will the Sabbath end, so we can open up the grain bins? We’re eager to sell less for a higher price, and to cheat the buyer with rigged scales!” (Amos 8:5, NIV).

Isaiah the prophet eloquently spoke of the incomparable greatness of Yahweh in contrast to the idols. “Who has measured out the waters in the hollow of his hand, or carefully measured the sky, or carefully weighed the soil of the earth, or weighed the mountains in a balance, or the hills on scales?” (Isa. 40:12).

One final and sobering passage:  “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2).

  • On a local note, we are looking forward to David Thomley’s special series, “Fighting For Our Families.”  This series of lessons will be presented at the meeting house of the Hanceville Church of Christ, 812 Commercial St NE, Hanceville AL. Services will be nightly Mon-Fri, April 19-23, at 7:00 PM.  Everyone is invited!

Biblical Ephesus: Harbor Street and Artemis Temple

April 16, 2010

The main street providing access from Ephesus’ harbor to the city is known as the Harbor Street, also the Arcadian Way, after Emperor Flavius Arcadius (reigned A.D. 395-408).  When Paul boarded a ship from Ephesus, or landed at Ephesus and then went into the city, this is the street he would have used.

Harbor Street Ephesus. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Not much is left of the temple of Artemis, what was at one time one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  A lone column remains, with a stork’s nest on the top.  You can see somewhat of the basic rectangular outline of the temple in our photo.

Artemis Temple. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In the Ephesus Museum one may see some of the Artemis’ statues, such as the one in this photo:

Artemis Statue. Ephesus Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.


Ephesus: Library and Agora

April 15, 2010

One of the more impressive sites at Ephesus is the Celsus Library.  It was originally built in A.D. 110, by Consul Gaius Julius Aquila, in honor of his father, Gaius Julius Celsu Polemaeanus, governor of Asia A.D. 105-107.

Some suggest that the school of Tynannus may have been located to your left (Acts 19:9).
Next we look at the commercial agora (market place), where the craftsmen, including silversmiths and others, would have had their shops.
Apparently it would have been in this area, for example, where Demitrius the silversmith worked.  Luke tells what happened in Acts 19:
24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought a great deal of business to the craftsmen. 25 He gathered these together, along with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity comes from this business. 26 And you see and hear that this Paul has persuaded and turned away a large crowd, not only in Ephesus but in practically all of the province of Asia, by saying that gods made by hands are not gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that this business of ours will come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be regarded as nothing, and she whom all the province of Asia and the world worship will suffer the loss of her greatness.” (NET)
One lesson which continues to be reinforced as we visit biblical sites is the reliability of the scriptures.  Always remember that the Bible deals with real people, real places, and real events.  The Bible is fact, not fiction!