The “Horns of Moses”

June 14, 2018

One of the innumerable attractions in Rome which we were able to see last week was that of Michelangelo’s Moses, housed (among other artistic works/artifacts) in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. The statue of Moses was sculpted by Italian High Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, who created this work in the years 1513-1515. This sculpture was originally commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb.

Michelangelo’s Moses, in Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Moses is here depicted as seated, holding the two tablets of stone. Some suggest the intensity portrayed is meant to represent his holy anger when he cast down the stones upon being confronted with Israel’s idolatry.

But to the point of this post, Moses is seen here with two horns on his head. This is based on a rendering of Exodus 34:29 in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible in use during Michelangelo’s time. The English Standard Version renders the text, which speaks of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai after talking with God, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The Latin Vulgate renders the Hebrew word qaran, “to shine” as “horned.” Hence the horns on Michelangelo’s Moses.

The NET Bible contains this translator note:

The word qaran is derived from the noun qeren in the sense of a “ray of light” (see Hab. 3:4). Something of the divine glory remained with Moses. The Greek translation of Aquila and the Latin Vulgate convey the idea that he had horns, the primary meaning of the word from which this word is derived. Some have tried to defend this, saying that the glory appeared like horns or that Moses covered his face with a mask adorned with horns. But in the text the subject of the verb is the skin of Moses’ face.

The statue stands 8 feet, 4 inches and is made of solid marble.

Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem and the Role of the Spirit

May 16, 2018

As Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey draws to a close, the text states, “After looking up the disciples [at Tyre], we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). At first glance it would seem that the Holy Spirit is instructing Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Is that what the passage means?

View of Jerusalem, looking west, from Mt. of Olives. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Every passage of Scripture has a context. Previously Luke recorded, “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21, ESV). Then a few verses later, ” And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there” (20:22, ESV). We know that capitalization is supplied by the translators but you see that the English Standard Version, along with many others, indicate this is the Holy Spirit, not Paul’s spirit, in these texts, Who is directing Paul. Further, that Paul’s journey to Jerusalem was clearly endorsed by the Lord is seen in 23:11, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (ESV). Additionally, when Paul and his companions were forbidden by the Holy Spirit (on the 2nd Journey) to preach in Asia, Mysia and Bithynia, they did not resist the Spirit, but passed through those regions on to Macedonia (Acts 16:1-10). These passage furnish the surrounding context in which Acts 21:4 must be viewed.

J.W. McGarvey wrote, “We are not to understand that these entreaties [in our opening text, 21:4] were dictated by the Spirit; for this would have made it Paul’s duty to desist from his purpose; but the statement means that they were enabled to advise him not to go, by knowing, through the Spirit, what awaited him. The knowledge was supernatural; the advice was the result of their own judgment” (A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p.255).

Bob & Sandra Waldron explained, “The Spirit is telling Paul there will be trouble, but it is the people who are begging him not to go” (Go Tell the Good News, p.184).

I do believe that this gives the best explanation of Acts 21:4, as any other view would contradict the related texts immediately before and after the passage. I’m convinced this must be the approach when approaching a challenging text–explanations must be ruled out which contradict other plain passages of scripture.


Thessalonian Politarch Inscription & its Bearing on Acts 17:6,8

February 21, 2018

Acts 17:6,8 mention the “rulers of the city” of Thessalonica, who beat and imprisoned Paul and Silas. Luke, the inspired writer of Acts, is a most careful historian. Different cities/districts used specific words to designate their rulers. Here Luke uses the word “politarch” (πολιτάρχης) which was a “very rare title for magistrates” (see Schaff below). Was Luke correct or was he mistaken?

Last month in London I was able to photograph a very important inscription, the Politarch Inscription of Thessalonica, removed from a Roman gateway of the city.

Inscription from Thessalonica using the word “politarchs” to designate rulers, as found in Acts 17:6,8. Photo ©Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

Church historian Philip Schaff, in a section entitled “The Acts and Secular History,” wrote:

The “politarchs” of Thessalonica, 17:6, 8 (Greek text: τοὺς πολιτάρχας, i.e., τοὺς ἄρχοντας τῶν πολιτῶν, praefectos civitatis, the rulers of the city).

This was a very rare title for magistrates, and might easily be confounded with the more usual designation “poliarchs.” But Luke’s accuracy has been confirmed by an inscription still legible on an archway in Thessalonica, giving the names of seven “politarchs” who governed before the visit of Paul.

The Thessalonian inscription in Greek letters is given by Boeckh. Leake, and Howson (in Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Letters of St. Paul, ch. IX., large Lond. ed., I. 860). Three of the names are identical, with those of Paul’s friends in that region-Sopater of Beraea (Acts 20:4), Gaius of Macedonia (19:29), and Secundus of Thessalonica (20:4). I will only give the first line:

ΠΟΛΕΙΤΑΡΧΟΥΝΤΩΝ ΣΩΣΙΠΑΤΡΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΚΛΕΟ. (Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1910). History of the Christian church (Vol. 1, p. 735). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Inscription in its original setting in Thessalonica. Photo ©Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

Schaff earlier in that section mentioned the significance and importance of such artifacts as pertains to the book of Acts:

Bishop Lightfoot asserts that no ancient work [as that of Acts, L.M.] affords so many tests of veracity, because no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and typography, whether Jewish or Greek or Roman. The description of persons introduced in the Acts such as Gamaliel, Herod, Agrippa I., Bernice, Felix, Festus, Gallio, agrees as far as it goes entirely with what we know from contemporary sources. The allusions to countries, cities, islands, in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy are without exception correct and reveal an experienced traveler. Ibid.732)

In other words, time and time again, Luke has been proven to be right! You can trust the Bible!

The British Museum Curator’s comments are interesting:

This large stone was built into a wall at the Vardar Gate of Thessalonica and was removed in 1877. The stone has been assumed to name city officials of the era. The inscription is important to New Testament scholars because it is one of the few stones that attests the existence of the office of politarch, mentioned in the Bible (Acts 17:6 and 8) and in only a few other literary sources. It is also curious because it mentions the mothers as well as the fathers of two of the politarchs. How the number of politarchs in this inscription should be counted varies among the modern editions; the translation here presents the usual interpretation of the inscription (see vom Brocke). (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=398975&partId=1)

I should mention that this inscription is not regularly on display. It took three days to get an appointment to go into the room where is it housed, but it was worth it!

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“I Heard the Sound of Harpists Playing their Harps”

December 13, 2017

The Apostle John wrote, “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps” (Revelation 14:2). I heard this harpist playing her harp in Jerusalem, at the Damascus gate this past April.

Harpist in Jerusalem, Joppa Gate. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The context of Revelation 14 is that of the Lamb standing victoriously on Mount Zion with His people, those “having His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (v.1). What joy belongs to those described in the text! — “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (v.4).

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Nahal Ze’elim, and Job’s Word Picture

November 25, 2017

When Job was suffering so horribly, his “friend” Eliphaz “helped” by saying, “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it” (Job 4:8). I.e., You’ve brought this on yourself. Job responded to this and similar criticism, “My brothers have acted deceitfully like a wadi, Like the torrents of wadis which vanish” (6:15).

The wadi Ze’elim, near Masada, Israel. Ordinary this would be dry. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo shows Nahal Ze’elim, near Masada, Israel. This area is ordinarily dry. To our back this stream empties into the Dead Sea. A wadi such as this will carry water for a while, then vanish. This is the word picture Job uses to describe Eliphaz. Job was looking for “kindness from his friend” (6:14) but looked in vain! Like a thirsty man looking for water, but finding the stream had disappeared. A vivid illustration!

Ze’elim sign. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi . . . More Background for Esther

September 20, 2017

The restored treasury of the Athenians at Delphi:

The Athenian Treasury was a votive building in the form of a reduced scale temple, designed to hold the multitude of Athenian offerings to the Delphi oracle. The building was constructed entirely of Parian marble and had a Doric frieze decorated with 30 metopes. It is a distyle in antis building with a porch before the entrance to the cella, measuring 10 x 6 meters.

The metopes depicted mythological themes of Theseus, Heracles, and Amazons in high relief. It is believed that two Athenian sculptors carved the metopes, each representing a distinct style or generation: one from the Archaic period, and one from the Severe style of classical art (the transition from Archaic to High Classical art). The walls of the treasury were inscribed with various texts, among which are the hymns to Apollo which included melody notation (see below).

Several dates for its construction have been suggested (with Pausanias mentioning that it was built after the battle of Marathon), but it is widely accepted that its was created sometime between 510 and 480 BCE, a period framed by the founding of the Athenian democracy and the defining battle of Marathon. (http://ancient-greece.org/museum/muse-delphi-athenians.html)

Delphi of course is “home of the famous oracle of Delphi, known as the Pythia, and the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle presided” (Fant, Clyde E.; Reddish, Mitchell G.. A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, Kindle Locations 1180-1181).

Our photo here shows the treasury at left center:

Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the famous battle of Marathon, 490 BC, where the greatly outnumbered Greeks repelled and defeated the Persians, EyeWitnessHistory.com has the following info:

The battle of Marathon is one of history’s most famous military engagements. It is also one of the earliest recorded battles. Their victory over the Persian invaders gave the fledgling Greek city states confidence in their ability to defend themselves and belief in their continued existence. The battle is therefore considered a defining moment in the development of European culture.

In September of 490 BC a Persian armada of 600 ships disgorged an invasion force of approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry on Greek soil just north of Athens. Their mission was to crush the Greek states in retaliation for their support of their Ionian cousins who had revolted against Persian rule.

Undaunted by the numerical superiority of the invaders, Athens mobilized 10,000 hoplite warriors to defend their territory. The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens. The flat battlefield surrounded by hills and sea was ideal for the Persian cavalry. Surveying the advantage that the terrain and size of their force gave to the Persians, the Greek generals hesitated.

One of the Greek generals – Miltiades – made a passionate plea for boldness and convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persians. Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. Then – in an act that his enemy believed to be complete madness – he ordered his Greek warriors to attack the Persian line at a dead run. In the ensuing melee, the middle of the Greek line weakened and gave way, but the flanks were able to engulf and slaughter the trapped Persians. An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.

The remaining Persians escaped on their ships and made an attempt to attack what they thought was an undefended Athens. However, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persians. (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pfmarathon.htm)

In our title I suggested that these events give further background to the biblical book of Esther. In our post here we showed how in 480 BC, ten years after the Battle of Marathon, the Persian King Xerxes was building his forces to again attempt to subjugate Greece. The fact that Persia was still “smarting” after her humiliating defeat by Greece helps us to see the purpose and even urgency behind those opening verses of Esther (1:1-9), where Xerxes is meeting with officials from his 127 provinces, which ranged from India to Ethiopia.

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Jesus Walked through Bethphage

April 27, 2017

In the Final Week of Jesus’ ministry, Bethany and Bethphage (cities located on the slope of the Mount of Olives) are mentioned. It was from here that Jesus arranged for the donkey on which He would ride triumphantly into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1ff.). That final week would find Jesus walking back and forth from Bethany to Jerusalem.

Fig close up at Bethphage. Photo © Leon Mauldin.

An interesting event happened in this area at this time:

And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. (Matt. 21:17-19).

Unlike our photo above, that fig tree in our text received a curse because though it had a pretense of leaves, it was barren; there was no fruit. This was a great object lesson for Jesus’ disciples.

Here is a view of the terrain at Bethphage, with Bethany behind, and the Mount of Olives continuing to rise ahead.

Bethphage. Jesus passed through this area during His Final Week of ministry. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I was glad to have the opportunity to visit Bethphage yesterday. There are also several ancient tombs located there.

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