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.

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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.

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Judah’s Captivity 597 BC; the Babylonian Chronicles

April 17, 2020

Some of my current studies include 2 Kings 24-25, which tell of the reigns of Judah’s last three kings: Jehoiakim (r. 609-597 BC), Jehoiachin (597 BC), and Zedekiah (597-586 BC). For so long down to that point in time, God’s people had repeatedly turn to idols, such as Baal (other names included Teshub, Hadad, etc.), the cultic fertility god who (supposedly) supplied rain for the crops. The contest with Baal prophets and Elijah should have manifestly demonstrated that Yahweh, not Baal, controls the rain, or lack there of (1 Kings 18). They forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and worshiped and served Baal. It was for this determined apostasy that divine judgment was inevitable.

 

Storm-god (Teshub). From temple at Carchemish, South-eastern Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

The “point of no return,” the inspired historian explains, was reached earlier in the days of Judah’s King Manasseh (r. 695-642 BC): “Surely at the command of the LORD it [the punitive destruction] came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; and the LORD would not forgive” (2 Kings 24:3-4). Though there were great and extensive reforms under good King Josiah (r. 640-609 BC), Jeremiah lamented, “‘Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,’ says the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:10). Thus Judah went into Babylonian captivity for seventy years, beginning with a 605 BC invasion, then a second one in 597 BC, and a third and final in 586 BC, at which time the temple was burned and looted, and Jerusalem destroyed.

Our present article makes note of Jehoiachin (597 BC). He only reigned 3 months (2 Kings 24:8). At this time Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem. King Jehoiachin surrendered, and he, along with others, was deported to Babylon. It was during this deportation that the prophet Ezekiel was also taken captive, and would live and work among the other Judean captives by the River Chebar in Babylon, “in the land of the Chaldeans” (Ezekiel 1:1-2).

2 Kings 24:8-14 tells the story:

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done.  At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon went up to Jerusalem, and the city came under siege.  And Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it.  Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he and his mother and his servants and his captains and his officials. So the king of Babylon took him captive in the eighth year of his reign.  He carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, just as the LORD had said.  Then he led away into exile all Jerusalem and all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land.

It is fascinating when artifacts are located that have a bearing on the biblical record. Such is the case with this Babylonian Captivity of 597 BC, in the Babylonian records known as the Babylonian Chronicles. Several of these tablets are displayed in the British Museum. This one featured here records the Babylonian account of the 597 BC invasion referenced in the Bible.

Babylonian Chronicle which records the 597 BC Babylonian Invasion of Judah. Photo by Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

This tablet was among others translated by scholar Dr. Donald J. Wiseman. An article in Biblical Archaeology Review has this information on this tablet:

Saved from the obscurity of the British Museum’s storerooms, this 3.25-inch by 2.5-inch clay cuneiform tablet is one of nine published by author Wiseman in 1956. The nine are part of the Babylonian Chronicles, an accurate record of the historic events in each king’s regnal year. They are just a tiny portion of the 90,000 tablets received by the British Museum between 1872 and 1889—a time when that famed institution did not even have the staff to catalogue the tablets.

The tablet’s obverse side recounts Babylon’s defeat of the Egyptian army at Carchemish in 605 B.C. and its conquest of Syria; Nebuchadnezzar’s succession to the Babylonian throne that same year and his acceptance of tribute from the kings of Syro-Palestine in 604 B.C.; the sack of Ashkelon in 603 B.C.; and the hitherto-unknown battle in 601 B.C. between the Babylonians and the Egyptians that ended inconclusively and which caused Jehoiakim, king of Judah, to align himself with Egypt. That proved a disastrous decision in light of subsequent events.

A paragraph on the reverse side of the tablet tells us just what those subsequent events were: “In the month of Kislev of his seventh year the king of Babylon [Nebuchadnezzar] mustered his army to march to Hatti-land [Syro-Palestine] and besieged the city of Judah [Jerusalem] and on the second day of Addar [15/16 March 597 B.C.] captured the city and seized its king [Jehoiachin]. He appointed there a king of his own choice [Zedekiah/Mattaniah] and took vast tribute, bringing it back to Babylon.” (Translation by Donald J. Wiseman.) A failed revolt ten years later in Judah ended in the utter destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and in the exile of most of the population to Babylon. (BAR Sep/Oct 1990, H. Shanks ed.).

Such artifacts as these (and so many others) lend credibility to the historicity and accuracy of the Bible.

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Recommended Resources on Bible Places

January 28, 2020

In the current BiblePlaces Newsletter (Vol 19, #1) Todd Bolen gives a brief history of his photo collections of Bible places, which has been now 20 years in the making.

Collection of photos of Bible places, by Todd Bolen.

I have been making use of Dr. Bolen’s materials since 2003, which are useful not only because of the photos themselves, but sites are labeled and helpful notes are included. Photos are organized by country, specific regions, cities, (and much more) and PowerPoint presentations are included. I highly recommend these resources. To select and purchase, visit bibleplaces.com.

Ferrell Jenkins currently has a very nice (and informative) post on his blog here with more info re: this good material. It was Mr. Jenkins who introduced me to Dr. Bolen’s work.


Paul’s Usage of Isthmian Games as Illustration

December 11, 2019

The Apostle Paul asked and answered a rhetorical question:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27-27).

To illustrate the great effort and focus that should be expended and maintained for what Paul terms “an imperishable crown,” he points to the games (apparently the Isthmian games) as an example. The Isthmian Games were similar to the Olympic Games, and took place every two years at Isthmia near Corinth. This illustration would have struck home to Paul’s Corinthian audience.

Location of Isthmia in proximity to Corinth. Wikimedia Commons.

Our photo shows the ancient site of Isthmia. In addition to the excavation that may be seen here, at center (and slightly right, indicated by vertical metal stakes) you may see the Classical stadium starting line for the runners.

Ancient Isthmia. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Isthmian Games occurred every two years and should have occurred during Paul’s stay (Acts 18:11); they were held in the spring of 49 and 51 C.E. When combined with the imperial games every fourth year (i.e., every other celebration of the Isthmian Games), the Isthmian Games were the Great (as opposed to the Lesser) Isthmia. There were four Greek games, often mentioned together: the Olympic, the Pythian, the Nemean, and the Isthmian. The Isthmian “were the most splendid and best attended” of the pan-Hellenic festivals next to the quadrennial Olympics.

Whether or not Paul attended the Isthmian Games, which would have occurred during his stay there, he would have known about them, and it seems plausible that he would have made use of them somehow to reach people passing through, as Diogenes the Cynic reportedly did. The Isthmian Games were well known among educated urban people throughout the Roman world. Large numbers would gather from many diverse cities, discussing current events, at the Isthmian Games (Polyb. 18.46.1). (Both genders would also be present.) Many gave readings and orations besides other entertainments; a local preacher might be ignored by the Corinthians, who were accustomed to him, yet draw a crowd of visitors. It was a strategic place to make announcements that would reach all Greece. (Keener, C. S., 2014. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1–23:35 Vol. 3, pp. 2758–2760. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic).

Paul referred to the “perishable crown” that was awarded to the winner of the race. This may be visualized by our photo here:

A “perishable” crown. Wreath given to the victor, a Greek athlete. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo features a close up of the head of a running athlete and dates back to the late Hellenistic period. This statue was retrieved from the Aegean Sea off the coast of Kyme, and is displayed at the Izmir Museum (biblical Smyrna).

Salvation is by grace through faith. At the same time God rightfully expects total commitment and devotion to Him.

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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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