The Cyrus Cylinder

March 20, 2021

“Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ‘ (Isa. 44:28)

I often say that every passage has a context; the greater context of our passage here, Isaiah 40-48, addresses the incomparable greatness of  YAHWEH. This is especially seen in these chapters as the true God is contrasted with the idols made by human hands. The gods created in the imaginations of men cannot see anything, or say anything, or do anything (cf. Isa. 44:9-20). But the God of Israel says,  “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them.” (Isa. 44:6-7).

One manifestation of the true God’s great power is that only He can foretell the future. So while the Assyrians were still the world power, God foretold through Isaiah (8th century BC) that it would be Babylon who would take Judah captive (Isa. 39). Then God foretold the return from Babylonian captivity (Isa. 48:20). But through Isaiah (prophetic work spanned 740-ca.690 BC) God called the future deliverer by name: it would be Cyrus, king of the Persians (r. 559-530 BC). Approximately two centuries before Cyrus ascended the throne, God called him by name, and foretold that he would be the one who would allow the Jews to return from captivity and rebuild their temple! 

The Cyrus Cylinder. British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In addressing the significance of the Cyrus Cylinder, the Lexham Bible Dictionary notes:

The Cyrus Cylinder is an important piece of external evidence for the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Written in Akkadian, the Cylinder is a building inscription celebrating the restoration of Babylon, which Cyrus king of Persia conquered. The Bible records that Cyrus’ conquest brought an end to the Babylonian exile and allowed for the exiled Judahites to return to their homeland (Ezra 1:3; 2:1–67). The Cyrus Cylinder does not explicitly mention the Judahites, but the book of Ezra opens with a decree from Cyrus that allows the Judahites to return from exile and promises Persian patronage for the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Krijgsman, M. (2016). Cyrus Cylinder. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Note how this ties in with Ezra’s opening verses that tell of the decree of King Cyrus:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.

Ezra 1:1-4

Indeed, the true God proclaimed “the things that are coming and shall come”!


Board Games: Royal Game of Ur

March 9, 2021

According to the British Museum:

The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest playable boardgame in the world, originating around 4,600 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia.

The game’s rules were written on a cuneiform tablet by a Babylonian astronomer in 177 BC. From this, curator Irving Finkel was able to decipher the rules – two players compete to race their pieces from one end of the board to the other. The central squares were also used for fortune telling.

https://blog.britishmuseum.org/top-10-historical-board-games/

This game-piece is dated to 2600 BC, consisting of inlaid shell and lapis lazuli, and is among the many artifacts excavated by Sir Leonard Wooley, in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, located in today’s southern Iraq. It is said to be similar to backgammon. The British Museum even provides a YouTube video on how to play. Click here.

The Royal Game of Ur, British Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Status Symbol? An article in BAS article suggests the following:

In the ancient world, board games, one of the world’s oldest hobbies, were played not only to pass the time, but also to signify the wealth and status of the players, according to a new study. Mark Hall, an historian with the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland, believes the process by which board games spread across the ancient world suggests they were passed along as elite gifts. “Many of the first board games appear to have been diplomatic gifts to signify status,” said Hall. “We have early examples of quite splendid playing pieces belonging to elite, privileged people.” Hall notes that many of the earliest board games from the ancient Near East, including the Mesopotamian game of Twenty Squares (similar to today’s backgammon) and the Egyptian game of Senet (which used a grid of 30 squares), were discovered as offerings or gifts in royal burials, such as the Royal Tombs of Ur and the tomb of King Tutankhamen.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/board-games-were-status-symbols-in-the-ancient-world/

Sir Leonard Woolley directed 12 seasons of excavations at the site of ancient Ur (Tell el-Mukay-yar) on behalf of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania.

Students of the Bible have an interest in Ur of the Chaldees as the home of the patriarch Abraham (Gen. 11:28,31; Neh. 9:6). Not all agree that Woolley was correct in his identification, but his excavations there are informative and fascinating, to say the least.


Sennacherib: a Pagan King vs. יהוה

March 5, 2021

The record of the pagan Assyrian king Sennacherib, who challenged יהוה, the LORD God of Israel, is found in three biblical texts: 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 37. The year was 701 BC. Israel to the north had already fallen to the Assyrians (722 BC). Now (at the time referenced in the above texts) only tiny Judah remained, with its King Hezekiah. At this point Sennacherib had taken forty-six fortified cities of Judah, lastly Lachish, and then came to Jerusalem “with a great army” (Isa. 36:2).

Sennacherib sent the Rabshakeh with the message to Jerusalem, who shouted out in Hebrew, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus says the king, Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Then it got worse: “But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (2 Kings 18:28-30; 32-35).

Hezekiah went to the house of God. He sent for the prophet Isaiah with the request, “Lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left” (2 Kings 19:4). The Lord’s answer: “Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!” (Isa. 37:23). Further: “Therefore, thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield, or throw up a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he will not come to this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake. Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh” (vv. 33-37).

One of the fascinating artifacts housed in the British Museum is Sennacherib’s Prism, otherwise known as Taylor’s Prism, named after the one who discovered it. This is King Sennacherib’s account of his victories. He specifically mentions Hezekiah, and the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem.

Sennacherib’s Prism, British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The text is in Akkadian Cuneiform, the international language of the time. The reference to Hezekiah reads, “

As for Hezekiah, the Judean, I besieged forty-six of his fortified walled cities and surrounding smaller towns, which were without number. Using packed-down ramps and applying battering rams, infantry attacks by mines, breeches, and siege machines, I conquered (them). I took out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep, without number, and counted them as spoil. He himself, I locked up within Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage.

(Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (p. 303). Leiden; Boston: Brill).

Sennacherib fails to mention why he did not take Jerusalem. He fails to mentions that 185,000 of his Assyrian soldiers died in one night. Why would he say only that he had Hezekiah locked up “like a bird in a cage,” but then fail to go on to record Jerusalem’s capture and that of its king? There can be only one explanation; he failed to do so, just as the Bible says. It is a case when the silence of the Assyrian record speaks volumes. This is after all, the same king who at his palace in Nineveh memorialized his conquest of Lachish with numerous carved stone wall panels which include graphic portrayals of the ramp and siege machines, also housed in the British Museum. But the pagan king did not fare so well when he challenged the LORD, the God of Israel.


Hezekiah’s Broad Wall

February 27, 2021

Isaiah prophesied during the reign of good King Hezekiah of Judah (r. 715-686 BC). Isaiah states, “Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem, And you tore down houses to fortify the wall” (22:10). This was done in response to the very real threat of Sennacherib of Assyria (r. 705-681 BC). , as he advanced toward Jerusalem. More details are given in 2 Chronicles:

Now when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, he decided with his officers and his warriors to cut off the supply of water from the springs which were outside the city, and they helped him. So many people assembled and stopped up all the springs and the stream which flowed through the region, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?” And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, and built another outside wall and strengthened the Millo in the city of David, and made weapons and shields in great number. (2 Chron. 32:2-5, NASB).

A section of Hezekiah’s Wall in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This wall was excavated by Nahman Avigad in 1969. Biblical Archaeological Review has the following info:

This massive wall, which once probably stood 27 feet high, provides the key to dating Jerusalem’s spread from the eastern to the western hill.

Before unearthing a 130-foot section of the wall, Avigad had already discovered remains of houses in the same area containing pottery and other artifacts datable to the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. The wall itself stood partly on bedrock and partly on recently built houses. Avigad reasoned that only a king could have ordered the building of so major a structure, and the fact that new housing had to be destroyed in the process indicates that the wall was erected during a crisis. Two passages in the Bible helped Avigad pinpoint the date and purpose of the wall: King Hezekiah, in 701 B.C.E., “saw that [the Assyrian ruler] Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem.… He [Hezekiah] acted with vigor, rebuilding the whole breached wall, raising towers on it and building another wall outside it” recounts 2 Chronicles 32:2–5 and Isaiah 22:10 states that Hezekiah “pulled houses down to fortify the wall.” Hezekiah, thanks in part to this wall, successfully repulsed Sennacherib’s attack.

From the angle in the wall and from data revealed by other excavations, Avigad argued that the wall enclosed more of the western hill of Jerusalem than previously believed; archaeologist Magen Broshi estimated that 25,000 people had lived within the wall’s boundaries in the eighth century B.C.E.

BAR18:03MJ1992

The Holman Bible Atlas has this interesting information:

Recent archaeological excavations have confirmed a western expansion of Jerusalem dating from the reign of Hezekiah (715–687 B.C). Archaeologists speculate that a population influx, in part of Israelite refugees fleeing the Assyrian invasions, made the expansion necessary. Clear evidence indicates the southwestern hill was now incorporated into Jerusalem’s defenses. A segment of a “broad wall” sixty-five meters long and seven meters wide, south of the Transversal Valley, has been unearthed by Nahman Avigad. Avigad attributed the wall to Hezekiah, who “counted the houses of Jerusalem, and … broke down the houses to fortify the wall” (Isa. 22:10). Indeed, Hezekiah’s wall was built on top of the foundations of houses visible under the outer edge of Avigad’s wall. This massive wall, made to withstand Assyrian siege tactics, enclosed the western hill; its line apparently turned south above the Hinnom Valley and continued eastward, joining the City of David’s fortifications near the juncture of the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys.

The “broad wall” enclosed an additional ninety acres of land, making the total fortified area of Jerusalem approximately one hundred and fifty acres. The area taken in included the mishneh—“Second Quarter,” where the prophet Huldah lived (2 Kgs. 22:14)—and the maktesh (the Mortar), probably a reference to the depression between the western and eastern slope (Zech. 1:11). Population estimates for the city at this time range from fifteen to twenty-five thousand.

Brisco, T. V. (1998). Holman Bible atlas (p. 145).

This photo gives a more detailed look:

Hezekiah’s Wall, detailed view. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Later in the days of Nehemiah, who returned from the captivity to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, it is stated, “. . . and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall” (Neh. 3:8; cf. 12:38). There is general consensus that the “broad wall” here is that built by Hezekiah.

It is fascinating to read of YHWH’s deliverance of Jerusalem against all odds (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32; Isa. 37).

Click images for larger view.


Landing at Syracuse (Acts 28:12)

November 3, 2020

The city of Syracuse, located on the southeast coast of Sicily, was founded in 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth. Some names associated with Syracuse include Aeschylus, considered the father of the Greek tragedy. The philosopher Plato was in Syracuse. Syracuse was the birthplace of Archimedes, the famous mathematician and most influential scientist of the ancient world.

But to the Bible student, it is its mention in connection with Paul’s journey (as a prisoner, among 276 passengers) to Rome that gives this ancient site special interest. Of that point in the sea voyage portion of the trip Luke writes, “And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days” (Acts 28:12). Here is a photo of the harbor.

Harbor at Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Syracuse is rich in archaeological remains, including Roman and Grecian.

The Roman amphitheater was built in/on a natural rocky outcrop. The building would have been crowned with a portico. The inscriptions on the marble parts of the balustrade designate the seats of the dignitaries from Siracusa. There were eight entrances from the crypta onto the arena.

Roman Amphitheater at Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Fodor’s Italy has this info:

The well-preserved and striking Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheater) reveals much about the differences between the Greek and Roman personalities. Where drama in the Greek theater was a kind of religious ritual, the Roman amphitheater emphasized the spectacle of combative sports and the circus. This arena is one of the largest of its kind and was built around the 2nd century AD. The corridor where gladiators and beasts entered the ring is still intact, and the seats (some of which still bear the occupants’ names) were hauled in and constructed on the site from huge slabs of limestone. (Fodor’s Italy 2014 Kindle Locations 21621-21622).

Another important site at Syracuse is the Altar of Hieron (perhaps dedicated to Zeus) built in the Hellenistic period by King Hiero II. It is the largest altar known from antiquity.

Grand Altar of Hieron II (275-216 BC), Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

The Lexham Bible Dictionary has info on this Grecian period of ancient Syracuse, including references to Hieron I & II.

Syracuse became prominent in the affairs of Sicily under the rule of Gelon from 485–478 BC and his brother Hieron I from 478–467 BC. It flourished after the establishment of a popular government in 466 BC (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, Hist. 11.68–72). The Syracusans successfully withstood the siege by the Athenians in 414 BC (Thucydides, Hist. 6, 7).

The most famous of the later rulers was Hieron II (275–216 BC). Perhaps the most famous resident of Syracuse, the mathematician and inventor Archimedes, flourished during Hieron’s rule. Under Hieron’s grandson and successor Hieronymus, the Romans under Marcellus conquered the city and it fell in 212 BC (Livy, History of Rome 24.21–33). After that, Syracuse was the capital of the Roman province of Sicily. Wentz, L. Syracuse. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary).

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Biblical Hebron

September 25, 2020

Hebron is mentioned more than sixty times in the Bible, the first of which is in Genesis 13:18: “Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the LORD.” Remains have been excavated at Hebron which pre-date the patriarch Abraham.

Hebron Excavations Sign. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Tel-Hebron consists of approximately twelve acres. It is located about twenty miles south of Jerusalem. Excavations have uncovered a stretch of wall that is dated to the Early Bronze Age, as seen at left in photo here. The well-preserved staircase is made of natural stone slabs, well worn by the city’s ancient inhabitants. Scholars suggest the path likely led to one of Hebron’s city gates. At right is an additional wall constructed at a later date than that on your left.

Hebron Walls and staircase. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Another important discovery at Hebron is that of an 8th century BC four room house. Some scholars date the house to the time of Judah’s King Hezekiah (r. 715-686).

Four-room house at Hebron. 8th century BC. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Yet another interesting discovery was several l’melech (“belonging to the king”) seals from pottery urns, which are also dated to Hezekiah’s reign.

Info Sign describing the LMLK (belonging to the king) stamps discovered at Hebron. ©Leon Mauldin.

Jeffery Chadwick notes that Hebron

seems to have settled into the role of regional center. This is demonstrated by the phenomenon of l’melekh handles. The term means “(belonging) to the king” or “property of the king.” The four-letter Hebrew designation (LMLK) was stamped into the wet clay of the handle of a certain type of storage jar at the end of the eighth century B.C.E. The jars were probably produced during the reign of King Hezekiah in preparation for the attack on Judah by Sennacherib’s Assyrian army, which occurred in 701 B.C.E.

L’melekh handles display either a two-winged sun disk or a four-winged scarab, but, more importantly for our purposes, they also include the name of one of four cities of Judah. One of these four cities was Hebron. (BAR 31:5, Sept/Oct 2005).

From Tel-Hebron one can see the Cave of Machpelah which Abraham purchased as a burial site. Herod the Great built the edifice which now covers the cave.

Cave of Machpelah as seen from Tel-Hebron. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I have previous posts on Hebron including here, here and here

Click on photos for larger view.

 


Rahotep and Nofret

September 18, 2020

This statue of Rahotep and Nofret was found in a mastaba (early Egyptian tomb, rectangular in shape) near the pyramid of Meidum, Egypt (south of Cairo), and is dated to Egypt’s early 4th Dynasty (ca. 2680-2544 BC). Cemeteries consisting of large brick-built mastabas (about a dozen) are located to the north and east of the pyramid. The pyramid was probably begun by Huni, the last ruler of the 3rd Dynasty, but it believed to have been completed by Snofru (Sneferu).

Rahotep and Nofret. Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Sept/Oct 1989 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (15:5) has this information:

Eerily lifelike, the superbly preserved, painted limestone statues of Rahotep and Nofret (see photograph) illustrate a pitfall in the use of artworks to assess racial characteristics. Rahotep’s reddish brown skin and Nofret’s yellowish white color, rather than being realistic portrayals, reflect artistic conventions of the Old Kingdom period (c. 2755–2230 B.C.E.). At that time, these were the usual colors used respectively for representations of men and women. Despite their skin colors, Rahotep and Nofret’s features are typically Egyptian.

Found in a private tomb near the pyramid of Pharaoh Sneferu (c. 2680–2640 B.C.E.), the sculptures depict a couple of the king’s courtiers. Prince Rahotep, probably a son of Sneferu, wears a wig and sports a thin moustache; his name and titles—High Priest of Re at Heliopolis, Director of Expeditions and Chief of Construction—appear in the painted hieroglyphs. Rahotep’s wife, Nofret, also wears a wig, and the hieroglyphs on her statue call her “one known to the king.”

I have several posts on Egypt. Go to search box on upper right and enter “Egypt.”

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Abel-beth-maacah in Northern Israel

August 8, 2020

In the tumultuous days of the Divided Kingdom, King Baasha (Israel) fortified Ramah, a border city (on the Israel/Judah border) on the main north-south road, as well as a location which controlled the route westward to the sea. King Asa (Judah) retaliated. Here is the story:

And Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.  Then Asa took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the house of the LORD and the treasuries of the king’s house, and delivered them into the hand of his servants. And King Asa sent them to Ben-Hadad the son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying,  “Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. See, I have sent you a present of silver and gold. Come and break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me.”  So Ben-Hadad heeded King Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel. He attacked Ijon, Dan, Abel Beth Maachah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali (1 Kings 15:17-20).

Judah’s King Asa gave a “present” to Ben-Hadad, king of Syria (Aram), that he would attack Baasha. The word for “present is šōḥad, meaning, “Bribe, present, gift, reward, gratuity, inducement” (TWOT, #2359). Related passages would include Exodus 23:8, “You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just” (NASB). Isaiah denounced the leaders of Judah with the words, “Your princes are rebellious, And companions of thieves; Everyone loves bribes, And follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, Nor does the cause of the widow come before them” (Isa. 1:23, NKJV). šōḥad is the word used to describe the bribe money that King Ahaz of Judah sent to Tiglath-pileser in a scheme like that of our present text, as he bribed the Assyrian king to attack Pekah (Israel) and Rezin (Aram/Syria) (2 Kings 16:8).

Syria’s king Ben-Hadad was very willing to take the money from Asa; he was being paid to do something he wanted to do! From his perspective he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. So as our text relates, “He attacked Ijon, Dan, Abel Beth Maachah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtal” (1 Kings 15:20). This gave Syria a great advantage; this gave them a clear route to the Mediterranean Sea.

For Asa, from a military standpoint, his actions were successful; it was good military strategy for the short term. But from Chronicles we learn that God was displeased. He sent the prophet Hanani to Asa and rebuked him because you “have not relied on the LORD your God” (2 Chron. 16:7). The prophet went on to say, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars” (v.9).

Back to our opening text of 1 Kings 15, one of Israel’s northern cities successfully attacked by Ben-Hadad was Abel-beth-maacah.

Abel-beth-maacah, in northern Israel. Map by BibleAtlas.org.

Here is a photo of Abel-beth-maacah. The large tel, at center.

Abel-beth-maacah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Recent excavations have been conducted at Abel-beth-maacah. An interesting artifact housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the head of a statue depicting a king, discovered in 2017 in a fortress at the summit of the tel. According to the museum info, this head is dated to the 9th century BCE, which would approximate the time of our 1 Kings 15 text (Asa r.911-870 BC; Baasha r.909-886 BC). (By their mention of King Ahab of Israel. r.874-853 BC, the IM is dating this artifact just slightly after the events of 1 Kings 15 re: Asa and Baasha).

Head of a stature depicting a king excavated at Abel-beth-maacah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The placard states, “Its elegant style leaves no doubt that it portrays a distinguished personage, probably a king, but since it was found of the border of three different ancient kingdoms, we do not know whether it depicts King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram Damascus, or King Ithobaal of Tyre, rulers known from the Bible and other sources. Additional questions regarding the statues’s material and style only heighten the mystery.”

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The River of the Water of Life–Illustration from Perga

July 3, 2020

The closing chapters of the book of Revelation describe for the reader “how beautiful heaven must be.” That heavenly, holy city, new Jerusalem where God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4, NASB). Moving on to the final chapter, John writes, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life– water as clear as crystal– pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:1-2, NET Bible).

What was lost in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, access to the Tree of Life, is regained in heaven! Oh how I want to be among that number there in that beautiful city! The Tree of Life, along with the Water of Life! This is depicting eternal life, the people of God at home with God.

In the text above, the imagery of a river of water flowing through the main street of the city brings to mind the layout of the city of Perga of Pamphylia (today southern Turkey) mentioned in the context of Paul’s First Journey (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25).

Watercourse in Perga. The water flowed down the main street of the city in Roman times. Photo © Leon Mauldin.

Our photo shows how Perga’s water supply flowed down the main street of the city, with the street on either side, to the sides of which various shops and businesses would have been located (where the standing columns can be seen). Images such as these help us to understand and visualize the description employed in our text. The two large structure at the far end are towers that stood at the gate that go back to the Hellenistic period, to the time of Alexander the Great.

To the side of the street a number of ancient columns are still standing.

Ionic column standing to the side of the street in Perga. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We took this photo of an Ionic column, which was one of the very popular styles in Greek and Roman architecture.  This is one of many still to be seen among the remains of Perga.

Click on images for larger view.

 


Knuckle-bones

April 24, 2020

Looking over some home-school material on the subject of ancient Greece, I saw an entry on “Feasting and Fun.” Such studies can help one enter the ancient historical world, and often aid in understanding the setting of the biblical world as well. As one reads of the importance of meals, social interaction, get-togethers for discussion of various topics, and playing games, in many ways one finds “there is nothing new under the sun.”

For example, “Games such as dice, or knuckle-bones, in which small animal bones were thrown like dice, were played at home or in special gaming houses” (Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, “Feasting and Fun” (224-227). This would be very similar to modern board games  which make use of dice.

In our Greece/Turkey 2015 tour, we included a stop at Amphipolis, Greece, where I photographed a display of knuckle-bones. (Amphipolis is mentioned in Acts 17:1; Paul, passed through Amphipolis on his way to Thessalonica, 2nd Missionary Journey).

Knuckle-bones, used like dice. Photo by Leon Mauldin. Archaeological Museum, Amphipolis, Greece.

We are reminded of the Roman soldiers who cast lots to see who would get Jesus’ garment (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; John 19:24). Also, we read of the casting of lots was used to show the Lord’s choice on who would take Judas’ place as an apostle (Acts 1:25,26). This may have involved the use of knuckle-bones/dice; this would have been one option.

The Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity (eds. Edwin M. Yamauchi & Marvin R Wilson) has some interesting information on our topic:

GAMES & GAMBLING. Children’s games and playing are universal to all cultures. Running games, jumping games, and hide and seek have been played since the beginning of time. Little girls “played house” and had dolls with moving limbs, preparing them for motherhood and domestic chores. Boys dressed like their conquerors who often were occupying forces, as counterintuitive as this may seem. Ball games that used balls constructed of hard, stuffed hides were also popular. Board games that used pieces and astragaloi (Gk. for the knucklebones of sheep or goats) or dice to move them were played in many societies over the millennia. Often these games involved gambling.

Mesopotamia. Many children’s toys have been found in Mesopotamia, including dolls (Akk. sing. passu) and miniature weapons, furniture, and chariots. Seals depict jugglers and balls. Rattles, spinning tops, and jump ropes (Akk. sing. keppû) were used (jump rope was called “the game of Ishtar”). Children, like adults, also played with knucklebones (Akk. sing. kiṣallu). Terra-cotta dice similar to Indian examples have been found at Tell Chuera, Tepe Gawra, Tell Asmar (Eshnunna), and Ur.

From earliest times, people have played board games, and such games are found in virtually every ancient archaeological setting. Evidence for board games dates as early as 9000 BC. Board games were inexpensive to make and easy to transport. They required only a board (which could be as simple as a flat surface); playing pieces; and a die, knucklebones, or throwing sticks to determine how many spaces a piece could be moved. Boards could be scratched into the dirt or etched in pavement stones. Many elegant game sets made of beautiful inset wood, shell, ivory and semi-precious stones have survived in burial contexts.

Greece. A favorite game at the men’s symposium, or banquet, was kottabos. While still reclining on their left elbows, the diners tossed the last drops of wine, or the lees, at a target, which could be saucers floating in water or an object that could be toppled. Women also played this game at their own parties. Women also played tops, striking them with whips. We have numerous statues and paintings of women and children playing with knucklebones. Artificial knucklebones were made of gold, silver, bronze, and glass. At a cave near Delphi, twenty-three thousand bone astragaloi were recovered, probably the dedications of boys and girls who relinquished their childhood toys when they came of age.

Rome. The Romans learned their gambling games from the Greeks. They called the knucklebones tali and the dice tesserae; the dice box was the fitullus. Games played with dice were aleae; they were played with pieces (calculi) on boards (sing. tabula, abacus, or alveus). A game board was a tabula lusoria. Hundreds of the latter were carved on pavements in Rome in the Forum, the Colosseum, and the House of the Vestal Virgins, as well as abroad at Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, and at Hadrian’s Wall in England, as such games with boards and dice were especially popular with soldiers. (Carroll, S. T. (2015). Games & Gambling. In Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity (Vol. 2, pp. 365–374). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Here are some of the excavations at Amphipolis which my group visited after leaving the museum.

Excavations at Amphipolis. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here is some of the pottery at the site.

Broken pottery at Amphipolis. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

See my earlier post for another entry on Amphipolis.

Click images for larger view.


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