The Basilica of Aquileia, Udine Province, Italy

June 10, 2019

Aquileia is located in Friuli-Venezi-Giulia (Udine Province) Italy, and is listed as a UNESCO site. Construction of the Basilica began in the years following AD 313 and continued over the years through the 14-15th centuries.

Basilica of Aquileia. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Inside are 760 square meters of mosaics of what is said to be “the largest Paleo-Christian mosaic of the western world.” These date to the late 4th century AD. The mosaic was covered by other flooring over the centuries, and was not uncovered until the years 1909-1912.

Of the many scenes depicted, I wanted to share this photo of the “Good Shepherd.” The on-site brochure states, “Christ is portrayed as a beardless young man bearing the lost lamb upon his shoulders. In one hand he holds the syrinx (the shepherds’ flute), symbol of the gentleness he takes care of his flock with.”

Christ the Good Shepherd. A scene from the mosaic floor. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I was also impressed with the baptistery in which immersion took place.

Baptistery at the basilica of Aquileia. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here is a view inside the baptistery.

A view looking down inside the baptistery. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I recently posted on the Good Shepherd motif here.

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He Is Risen

April 20, 2019

As one descends Mt. Carmel going toward Megiddo, there is a rolling stone tomb whose usage dates back to the first century.

Rolling Stone Tomb Near Carmel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This tomb was discovered during road construction.  It so well illustrates the biblical texts that narrate the burial of Jesus.  Joseph of Arimathea had a new tomb (one which had not been previously used, John 19:38-42).  Assisted by Nicodemus, Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean linen cloth, “and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed” (Mt. 27:59-60). The tomb in our photo was hewn out of the rock, and you can see the large stone positioned to the left of the opening.

On Sunday, the 1st day of the week when Jesus was raised from the dead, the text says this about Peter and “the other disciple:”

So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. (John 20:4-8).

Note the record says the disciple stooped down to look in.  The tomb in our photo shows how this would of necessity be true.

Rolling Stone Tomb. Stooping to Look Inside. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Note that we are not suggesting that this is the tomb in which Jesus was buried; it does however illustrate the type of tomb that would have been used.

For New Testament Christians, each first day of the week is significant.  Christians assemble in the name of Jesus Christ to partake of His memorial feast, the Lord’s Supper.  That Supper points back to His death, His body and His blood.  But we serve a risen Savior!  We proclaim His death till He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).

(Note: this is a re-post from April 4, 2010).


Her House Leads Down to Death

January 22, 2019

The book of Proverbs is especially written for young people, to impart wisdom as decisions are being made that will impact the rest of their lives, as well as for eternity. The structure of Proverbs 2 is that of the godly father addressing his son (2:1). After his urgent exhortation to the son to aggressively seek for wisdom, and to treasure it, the father speaks of the benefits of wisdom. Some benefits are positive (vv. 6-9). Others are negative, keeping the son from the paths of evil, and specifically including the immoral woman:

To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress who flatters with her words; That leaves the companion of her youth And forgets the covenant of her God; For her house sinks down to death [מָוֶת] And her tracks lead to the dead [רְפָאִים]; None who go to her return again, Nor do they reach the paths of life (Proverbs 2:16-19).

While preparing for a recent opportunity to teach this text (in our local congregation) I was put in mind of some of the burial sites which may be seen by the visitor to Bible lands. Such examples as this here below help us to visualize the word picture employed to warn of the destiny of the path of the immoral woman.

Approach to Herod’s family tomb in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

King Herod the Great was buried at the Herodium, but according to Josephus some of his family members were buried in Jerusalem. This tomb has been identified as Herod’s family tomb. BTW, note the rolling stone at center.

Herod’s family tomb in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Biblical Archaeological Society notes:

Since its discovery in 1892, a tomb near the King David Hotel, west of Jaffa Gate, has been listed in many guidebooks and shown to multitudes of pilgrim tourists as “Herod’s Family Tomb.” The architectural style of the tomb certainly dates it to the right period. This exterior view, for instance, shows the typical arrangement of the time for a tomb entrance: steps cut into bedrock lead down to a vertical doorway guarded by a huge, cylindrical rolling stone. The suggestion that this was actually the royal family tomb came from what was found beyond this entranceway. The tomb was large; five rooms arranged in the shape of a cross had been hewn out of the bedrock. More significantly, portions of the walls were faced with finely carved ashlar (an ashlar is a rectangular building stone with surfaces trimmed at right angles) stone blocks in the style typical of Herod’s monumental building projects, such as the Temple Mount additions (emphasis mine, LM) (see SNT34: Southern Extension of Temple Mount, Reconstruction Peter; SNT35: Monumental Walls at Tomb of Abraham). This was structurally unnecessary and was a most unusual feature; in other tombs of this period, room walls consisted simply of bedrock, chisel dressed to achieve a flat surface. (The Biblical World in Pictures; BAS Biblical World in Pictures. (2003). Washington D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society).

(It should be noted that some archaeologists/scholars such as the late Ehud Netzer, believed Herod’s family tomb to be near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem).

Using the wording of the Proverbs text, in an article entitled, “None Return Again,” Frank Himmel observed:

No man who becomes involved in adultery will ever be the same again. He cannot return to where he was. He can be forgiven by God. He can be forgiven by his mate. He can be forgiven by the spouse of his partner in adultery. But things can never be quite the way they were.

The implicit trust his mate placed in him has been broken. The special intimate relationship between husband and wife has been violated. The painful memory of the act remains in the consciences of all involved, try as they may to remove it. The feelings of guilt are still there. To the extent the sin is known to others the reputation is damaged. If those involved are Christians the Lord’s holy name is reproached. If they have children who know of the affair the confidence of those little ones is shaken. Time will aid in healing these wounds, but it cannot completely erase the them. (Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 13, pp. 385, 407, July 2, 1992).

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The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription in Jerusalem

September 18, 2018

An interesting artifact displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the dedicatory inscription, written in Greek, from the synagogue of Theodotos in Jerusalem. This inscription, made of limestone, was discovered in 1913 by Raymond Weill during excavations in the City of David.  Fant and Reddish note: “If its pre-70 C.E. dating is accurate, then this discovery provides solid evidence of a synagogue building in Jerusalem that was built during the end of the first century B.C.E. or early part of the first century C.E. (Lost Treasures of the Bible, Kindle Locations 4613-4614).

Theodotus built the synagogue “for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments.”

Hundreds of synagogues stood in ancient Jerusalem before their destruction by Titus’s Roman forces in 70 A.D.; in one of them hung the following Greek inscription, carved prominently into the 25-by-17-inch limestone slab shown above: “Theodotus son of Vettenus, priest and synagogue leader, son of a synagogue leader, grandson of a synagogue leader, rebuilt this synagogue for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments, and the hostelry, rooms and baths, for the lodging of those who have need from abroad. It was established by his forefathers, the elders and Simonides.” The fact that the language of the inscription is Greek, not Hebrew, and its allusion to “those who have need from abroad,” suggest that this synagogue was used by Jews from the Diaspora, and that it housed large numbers of visiting pilgrims. Some scholars have identified it with the Synagogue of the Freedmen (former slaves in the Roman Empire), mentioned in Acts 6:9 (Shanks, BAR 29:4 July/Aug 2003).

The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription. Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The term archisynagogos, “ruler of the synagogue,” is significant. Regarding this title held by Theodotus  and his grandfather, Fant & Reddish note:

Not only did Theodotus hold this office in the synagogue, but according to the inscription so did his father and his grandfather. If the traditional dating of the inscription is correct, then Theodotus’s grandfather would have been archisynagogos sometime during the first century B.C.E. This is the earliest known use of this title for the person who served as the leader of the Jewish synagogue, pre-dating by approximately fifty years other examples of a similar use of this term. (Treasures 4615-4616).

This term archisunagogos is found in the following passages in Acts:

  • ESV Acts 13:15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.”
  • Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
  • Acts 18:17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

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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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Heket, the Goddess of Childbirth

February 8, 2018

Among the fascinating artifacts displayed in the British Museum is this andesite porphyry statue devoted to the frog goddess Heket. In Egyptian mythology, the “frog goddess Heket, at one time regarded as the consort of the creator god Khnum, acted as the divine midwife and was said to attend royal births” (Oakes & Gahlin, Ancient Egypt, p.347).

The frog goddess Heket. British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The accompanying museum placard states, “The frog goddess Heket watched over childbirth, a connection forged by the myriad tadpoles visible on the Nile banks . . . [this is] one of the few sizable animal sculptures surviving from the Early Dynastic period.” That would be c. 3100 BC.

When I photographed this display last month I was reminded of the ten plagues which brought Egypt to its knees (Exodus 7-12). Though some try to explain these events as the result of natural phenomena, the Bible is clear as to the Lord’s involvement and intention. These were divine acts of judgment not only designed to humble the mighty Pharaoh, but also to demonstrate that YHWH was the true God; these were judgments against the gods of Egypt. Note the following biblical texts:

Exodus 6:6- “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment.

Exodus 12:12- “against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.”

Numbers 33:4- ” Also on their [the Egyptians] gods the LORD had executed judgments.”

Psalm 78:45- “He sent swarms of flies among them, which devoured them, And frogs, which destroyed them.”

Gods and goddesses such as Heket had no power at all. The true God brought the hoards of frogs, and when He was ready He destroyed them (Ex. 8:2ff).

Initially when Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh with the request, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness,'” Pharaoh arrogantly responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go. (Ex. 5:1-2). The ten plagues were his Ten Lesson Course. Pharaoh, and all of Egypt, would come to know that the LORD is God, the God of all the earth.


Jerusalem, SW Temple Mount Panaroma

January 26, 2018

A panoramic view looking toward the SW corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Panorama of Jerusalem, SW corner of Temple Mount. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

At the base of the ancient wall on your left (western side) you can see stones lying in place. These were from the Herodian Temple of Jesus day, falling down to their present position in the 70 AD Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Though seemingly small in our photo, some of these broken stones weight tons.

The view straight across shows southern side of temple mount. The distant view at right center is the Mount of Olives, across from the Kidron Valley (which cannot be seen from this view.

This photo is from Spring, 2017.

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