We recently began a class study of Paul’s letter “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are of Colossae” (Col. 1:2) in our local congregation. Knowing somewhat of the geographical setting helps one to enter the biblical world as the text is studied.
Colossae (also spelled Colosse) was a city in the Roman province of Asia, located in the Lycus River Valley about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It was situated near the cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea (see map here).
I took a group to biblical sites in Greece/Turkey this past October, and Colossae was included on our itinerary.
During the Persian period, Colossae was a prosperous city, but by the time of the 1st century, it declined in importance, being eclipsed by Laodicea and Hierapolis. “Though commercially less successful, Colossae continued to be a place of importance in the Roman imperial period, as is shown by an inscription of this time and by second and third century A.D. coins that depict the usual city officials, showing that it had the rights of a city under the Romans” (Mare, W. H. (1976). “Archaeological Prospects at Colossae.” The Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin, 7, 43).
Back in 2006, Ferrell Jenkins and I made a personal study trip that included this site. Here is a photo from that occasion, giving a more distant shot than that above.
Unlike many of the recipients of Paul’s letters, Paul had not personally established the Colossian church, but apparently those who learned the truth of the Gospel during Paul’s stay at Ephesus (Acts 19:10), had taught and converted the Colossians.
Further, a comparative reading of Colossians with the personal letter to Philemon will show that Philemon was a Colossian also, so in reality two of the New Testament books were directed initially to this location.
Both letters were written when Paul was in chains.
Timothy joined Paul in both.
Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas & Luke joined in salutations.
Onesimus was one of the messengers by whom Colossians was sent.
Archippus is addressed in both.
Colossae has not been excavated as of yet. Click on photos for larger view.
Chephren was pharaoh during Egypt’s 4th dynasty, reigning ca. 2520-2494 BC. He was the son of Cheops (builder of the Great Pyramid), and builder of the second pyramid at Giza. He is also the creator of the Great Sphinx.
This life-sized statue is housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, having been discovered by Auguste Mariette in 1860, in Chephren’s valley temple at Giza. It is made of diorite, a high quality stone. On the stature throne are carved symbols of royalty, the lion paws on the front, and on the sides are displayed the symbol of the sema-tauy, representing the uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Chephren’s feet are bordered by his cartouche. On the back of the royal headdress is the falcon god Horus, god of dynastic divinity in Egyptian mythology. It was believed that Pharaoh was the representative of Horus on earth, while the god manifested himself in the person of the Pharaoh, the living Horus.
I have received the Photo Companion to the Bible on 1 & 2 Kings, from Dr. Todd Bolen. This is a portion of scripture on which I’m currently focused in study and writing, so it is a very welcome resource to me personally. I’ve made use of the BiblePlaces library for almost 20 years now, and am glad to highly recommend this most recent addition. More info and how to order is found here: https://www.bibleplaces.com/june-2022-newsletter/
The Books of Kings has long been an area of specialized study for Dr. Bolen, as explained in his newsletter.
This new resource has PowerPoint presentations on all 47 chapters of 1 & 2 Kings, with more than 7,400 slides! But this is not just a collection of photos–the descriptive text and explanatory notes are most helpful.
This type of resource is most helpful in giving the text of scripture its cultural and geographical context, and thus enhancing ones understanding of the Bible.
Thanks to Dr. Bolen and his colleagues for yet another great resource in this series!
Among the sites our group was able to visit in Corinth was the bema, the judgment seat, mentioned in Acts 18:12-17:
When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. 15 “But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.” 16 And he drove them from the judgment seat. 17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.
We also saw the Erastus inscription:
Paul wrote the New Testament letter of Romans from Corinth, 3rd Missionary Journey. In Romans 16:23 we read, “Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother.”
In 1929 an inscription was discovered at Corinth naming an Erastus as the one who paid for the paving of the street. The inscription reads “ERASTVS. PRO. AED. S. P. STRAVIT” which is translated, “Erastus in return for his aedilelship laid [the pavement] at his own expense.” It would seem that the Erastus of the inscription is the same as the one mentioned in the biblical text.
We also saw the famous ruins of the temple of Apollo.
Regarding this site BAS says,
The Temple of Apollo at Corinth was 700 years old by Paul’s time. On the hill directly overlooking the Roman city’s main forum, its sturdy Doric columns served as a dramatic reminder of Corinth’s ancient grandeur. But the temple was already in ruins; to Paul it would have served merely as a sermon illustration of the impotence of the Greeks’ “pagan” gods.
As noted above, the temple was in ruins in the days of Paul, but the centuries of pagan idolatrous influence was still very much there.
The Apollo temple originally had 38 columns of the Doric order. Today seven are standing.
We also drove to the base of the Acrocorinth. What a view!
Finally, time for lunch at the Corinth Canal.
This nice restaurant is on the eastern side of the Corinth Canal. You might see someone you know.
On our way to the archaeological site of Corinth our group made a couple of very important stops. The first was to see the Corinth Canal.
The narrowest point of the isthmus of Corinth is only 4 miles wide. A canal was engineered and completed between 1882 and 1893. Nero (A.D. 67) had the idea of building a canal at that exact route utilized by the modern engineers. He planned to use 6,000 Jewish prisoners as his work force, but the idea was abandoned.
The canal cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth, separating the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland. It connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Sea. On the site is a sign with info:
In ancient times there was a paved road that stretched across the isthmus, called the diolkos, which enabled cargo and smaller ships to be hauled overland, thus avoiding the dangerous circumnavigation of the Peloponnese.
Our photos below show two remaining portions of the western end of the diolkos. Photos are on the south side of the canal.
The BAS has this information re: this site in their collection, The Biblical World in Pictures commenting on their photo taken in the same area as mine above:
In Paul’s day a stone-paved sledway, called the Diolkos, was used to haul ships and their cargoes across the isthmus. At both ends of the road the pavement continued down beneath the waterline, allowing the shallow-draft ships to be floated onto and off of the sleds. The sleds were then pulled out of the water and across the isthmus by mule-power.
This view of the Diolkos is near the western end, looking beyond to the Gulf of Corinth (and the mountains along its northern coast sheltering the oracle shrine of Apollo at Delphi). At the right can be seen the western outlet of the modern canal. The stone pavement of the Diolkos clearly shows the ruts formed by sled runners over centuries of use. Corinth, of course, controlled the Diolkos traffic. Moreover, since ship crews and passengers using this route had to leave their vessels temporarily at Corinth anyway, they had less reason to make an additional port-call at Athens’ harbor on the Piraeus. Thus, many more travelers of the Roman era passed through Corinth than through Athens.
The Madeba Map (also spelled Madaba/Medeba) is made of colored mosaics, located at Madeba east of the Dead Sea, in today’s Jordan. It is not far from Mount Nebo, which Moses ascended to view the Promised Land of Canaan prior to his death (Deut. 34). The map was excavated in 1896 in St. George’s church.
From the Lexham Bible Dictionary:
One significant archaeological find in Madaba was the accidental discovery in the late 19th century of the sixth-century AD Madaba map, located in St. George’s church. The Madaba Map is a depiction of the Holy Land—with Jerusalem at its center (Donner, The Mosaic Map of Madaba)—and it explains how the Near East was perceived in the Byzantine period (AD 324–640). The map views the Near East from the vantage point of the Mediterranean Sea, and includes both Cisjordan and Transjordan. The Jordan River has often been thought of as a barrier between the territories west and east of the Jordan in both ancient and modern times. However, the Madaba Map was intended to be a record of the contemporary Near East in the sixth century, and it depicted it as a region whose cities—those on both the western and eastern sides of the Jordan River—were part of a shared culture.
Hawkins, R. K. (2016). Medeba. 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.
In our photo here, I have labeled at center Jerusalem, and above it, the Dead Sea. Jericho can be seen at left. Note the palm trees (cf. Deut. 34:3). The map is oriented east (instead of our usual north).
More info is available from BAR:
Cities, villages and topographical features of the Holy Land—many confirmed by recent archaeological discoveries—appear on this portion of the famous Madaba mosaic map. Discovered in 1884 on the floor of a sixth-century A.D. church in Madaba, Jordan (20 miles southwest of Amman), the fragment in the photograph is about half the extant portion of the map. Details Outside Jerusalem The Madaba map is a blend of whimsy, impressionistic rendering and precise attention to detail. Because the map is oriented with east at the top, the Jordan River flows horizontally from left to right into the Dead Sea. In the sea, two boats bearing sailors (only some hands and feet remain from the original mosaic) float high on the turbulent water. Several fish are swimming in the Jordan River. A fish at the southern end of the river seems to swim deliberately away from the sea after having tasted the heavy salt content in the water. Above the Dead Sea, the steep mountains of Moab are depicted in pink and yellow on their lower arid slopes and gray-green on their more fertile upper reaches. The Madaba map identifies Biblical events and places in its Greek text and also represents and names many of the physical features of the Holy Land during the late Byzantine period. Large red letters designate areas allotted to the tribes of Israel. On the far right is the word “Judah”; the large red letters at the bottom center are part of the phrase “[Lot] of Dan.” Historical notes and quotations from the Septuagint, a third-century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, appear in many places on the map (The red letters on the yellow background in the lower left corner of the map [part of the territory of Ephraim] read “Joseph ‘God shall bless thee with the blessing of the deep that lieth under’ and again ‘Blessed of the Lord be his land’” [Genesis 49:25, Deuteronomy 33:13].) Most of the Biblical site identifications on the map are based on the Onomasticon, a fourth-century Biblical geography written by the Christian scholar Eusebius, but the artist who produced the Madaba map was aware of other traditions as well. For example, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim appear twice, once near Jericho, where Eusebius placed them, and again in Aramaic, on either side of the Shechem plain, where Samaritan tradition placed them. Awareness of local details is seen in the representation of a small boat, probably a ferry, attached to a crossing rope extending from one side to the other of the Jordan River (far left), and most notably in the representation of Jerusalem (in the center of the map).
Jerusalem Details The importance accorded Jerusalem is indicated by its size; although the map was not produced to an exact scale, Jerusalem is portrayed at a scale approximately ten times larger than the scale of the rest of the map. The drawing shows Jerusalem, as though seen from the air, looking toward the east. However, the mosaic artist took liberties and sometimes showed the eastern, northern, or southern facade of various buildings and gates. On the north side of the city is the main gate (1), opening onto an oval plaza, in the center of which is a column, probably constructed by a Roman emperor, whose statue may once have stood atop the column, but in the sixth century it was long gone. Today the northern gate is popularly called the Damascus Gate, but the memory of the ancient column is preserved in the Arabic name of the gate, which means “Gate of the Column.” Running north south (horizontally) away from the oval plaza is the main street of sixth-century Jerusalem, the cardo . The colonnades along this street are shown as rows of columns, covered by red roofs, flanking the central roadway. The depiction of the cardo is interruption in the middle on the western (bottom) side by four white steps leading to the eastern facade of the red-roofed Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (In the Madaba map red-roofed buildings are usually churches or monasteries; yellow- or gray-roofed buildings are palaces or public buildings, and brown areas are public squares.) The Church of the Holy Sepulchre appears to be upside down. Three doors appear in the church’s facade (below the steps). Below the facade is a triangular pediment and below the pediment, the church’s roof. A. row of dark-colored tiles represents the courtyard that separated the basilica of the church from the rotunda (shown on the map by a gold semicircle). The golden dome of the rotunda stood over the traditional site of the tomb of Jesus, with its red roof and double doors facing west. At the southeastern end of the cardo is another famous church, the Nea, built by the emperor Justinian in the sixth century and dedicated in 542; the Madaba map was probably produced about 20 years later. The large red-roofed building with conspicuous yellow gates south of the cardo is one of the principal sanctuaries in Byzantine Jerusalem, a basilica on Mt. Zion called the “Mother of All the Churches.” On the western side of the city is the Jaffa Gate. A street, the decumanus, runs due east from the gate and intersects the cardo. A north-south street intersects the decumanus at right angles and parallels the cardo. The Armenian Street in modern Jerusalem follows the line of the street that ran parallel to the cardo. The curving, colonnaded street in the eastern part of Jerusalem was located where the street known as Tariq el Wad is today. This street runs along the Tyropoean Valley from the Damascus Gate to the Dung Gate. To the east of the Tariq el Wad is the Temple Mount; to the west, the Upper City. The Temple Mount is difficult to identify on the Madaba map. No buildings were located on the Temple Mount in sixth-century Jerusalem. The black line above the row of columns in the upper right may have been intended to represent the Temple Mount. The three parallel bands to the right of this dark line are interpreted as either the bridge connecting the Upper City with the Temple Mount, incorporating the arch called today “Wilson’s” Arch, or as a portion of the Western or “Wailing” Wall—part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount platform. Beginning in the fourth century, Jews were allowed to enter Jerusalem once a year on the ninth day of the month of Ab to commemorate the destruction of the Temple. It is likely that the site of their annual mourning service occurred at the wall represented here on the sixth-century Madaba map. The Golden Gate. which opens onto the Temple Mount, is shown in the eastern wall of the city. The name of the other large gate in the eastern wall is not known; many pilgrims to Jerusalem referred to this other gate simply as “the eastern gate.”
(1983). BAR, 9(6).
Biblical references to Madeba include Numbers 21:30, Joshua 13:9,16, 1 Chronicles 19:7 and Isaiah 15:2.
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.
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.
The Roman province of Pontus is mentioned three times in the New Testament in the following passages:
There were residents of Pontus (among many other) present for the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the day on which the Gospel message of salvation through the resurrected Christ was preached for the first time: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia” (Acts 2:9).
Paul’s dear friend and fellow-tentmaker Aquila, was from Pontus: “And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:2).
The Apostle Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter to Christians in Pontus (and other Roman provinces): “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. . .” (1 Pet. 1:1).
The coast of Pontus was colonized by the Greeks ca. 700 BC. Sinope was a major port city of Pontus located on the Black Sea. This is in Turkey’s territory today.
Diogenes, the Cynic philosopher (ca. 412 BC – 323 BC), was a famous resident of Sinope. He was notorious for carrying a lamp during the daytime in Athens, claiming to be looking for an honest man.
At the base of this statue is a plaque relating another legend about Diogenes and Alexander the Great.
Plutarch relates the story of what happened when Alexander sought out Diogenes at Corinth:
  And now a general assembly of the Greeks was held at the Isthmus, where a vote was passed to make an expedition against Persia with Alexander, and he was proclaimed their leader. Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to him with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise.  But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, ‘Yes,’ said Diogenes, “stand a little out of my sun.”  It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, “But verily, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.” (Plutarch’s Lives, Alexander, 14:1-3).
After the virgin Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel that by “the power of the Highest” she would conceive “and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS” (Luke 1:31,35), she then went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was at that time the 6-months expectant mother of John the Baptist. “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth” (vv. 39-40).
To be clear, the text does not specify which city of Judah in which Zacharias (the priest) and his wife Elizabeth resided. It was a city in the “hill country” of Judah. However the traditional site is that of En Kerem (spelling varies), located about 5 miles west of Jerusalem.
R. Riesner, in his entry entitled, “The Birthplace of John the Baptist” states,
To visit Elizabeth, Mary went “into the hill country [oreinē], to a city of Judah” (Lk 1:39). The Greek word describes the district around Jerusalem (Pliny Nat. Hist. 5.14). A literary tradition that can be traced back to the sixth century identifies the birthplace with En-Kerem (Arabic Ain Karim), seven kilometers west of Jerusalem (ELS 44ff.). Remains of two fourth-century churches indicate, however, that the tradition stretches back to a still-earlier time (GBL II.776). (Archeology and Geography. In J. B. Green & S. McKnight (Eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (p. 34). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).
Sign indicating our entry into the city:
This photo gives you a feel of the surrounding countryside:
The Church of the Visitation commemorates Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
Here is a view of the top of the Church of the Visitation:
Of course the point not to be lost is that when Mary heard the wonderful news that she would become the mother of the Messiah, she traveled from her home in Nazareth to visit Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias the priest, in a city in the hill country of Judea. There Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit,” and spoke, significantly, not about her own child (John) but about Mary, and the child she would have: “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Hopefully some of our photos can help visualize the area in which this important visit took place.
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.
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.
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.