The Pantheon in Rome

July 8, 2021

The Pantheon was built to honor all gods of Rome. It was rebuilt (having previously burnt) by Emperor Hadrian AD 126. The dome measures 142 feet high by 142 feet wide, and was the largest freestanding dome until the 20thcentury.

Pantheon in Rome by night. Photo from 2014.

Completed by the emperor Hadrian c. AD 125, the Pantheon has now stood for almost 1,890 years, one of the most magnificent architectural monuments of antiquity. Even today its domed interior space (the Rotunda) inspires a special awe, not just because of its size (the dome held the world record for a concrete span until the CNIT building in Paris in 1958) but also the quality of the light, the colour, and sound. The building owes its survival partly to the fact that it was converted into a church in AD 608 (St Mary of the Martyrs) but even more to the extraordinary strength and stability of its construction. It was the third ‘Pantheon’ on the site. The first, built by Marcus Agrippa in 27–25 BC, was destroyed in the great fire of AD 80. Replaced by Domitian, it then was struck by lightning in AD 110 and burned again. Plans for rebuilding were probably put in hand immediately by Trajan and work may have been fairly well advanced by the time he died in AD 117 but not actually finished. Hadrian (as was his practice in all the buildings he restored or rebuilt in the city, with the exception of the Temple of Deified Trajan) did not dedicate the new Pantheon in his own name but in that of the original dedicant: thus the bold inscription on the front: M. AGRIPPA L. F. COS TERTIUM FECIT (Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, thrice consul, made this). Faintly legible beneath is a two-line inscription in small letters which refers to renovations by Septimius Severus and Caracalla in AD 202: pantheum vetustate corruptum cum omni cultu restituerunt (with every refinement they restored the Pantheum, worn by age) but it seems that no rebuilding was involved. The structure comprises two distinct parts: the front porch and the circular drum, which share the same low plinth (1.3 m, 4½ RF high) but are architecturally in strong contrast—even conflict—with each other. The porch belongs firmly in the Classical tradition of monumental entrances, its pedimented front supported on Corinthian columns with monolithic shafts of Egyptian granite and bases and capitals of white Greek (Pentelic) marble, its exterior also once clad in white marble. The design of the Rotunda, on the other hand, although once coated in white stucco to look like a marble building on the outside, comes from the purely Roman world of concrete bath buildings and palatial halls. (Claridge, Amanda. Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guides, 226-227).


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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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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Baal Worship, a Perpetual Problem in Ancient Israel

February 7, 2020

A primary distinction between Israel and all the other nations was embodied in the first two commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:3,4). Idolatry in its varied forms, with many gods, permeated the ancient world. Even though a nation or region might have its own “special” deity, the belief that there were many other gods was universal. The premise that there is but one true God, and all others are false, surely made Israel unique as a nation.

But unfortunately, the nation of Israel often looked to the nations round about them, and were thereby influenced in many ways instead of holding fast to their relationship with YHWH.

The god Baal. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

In the biblical period of the Judges we read, “and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12-13). Our photo of Baal seen here was taken at the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa, Israel (as well as the other photos included in this post).

You will notice that our biblical text also includes the “Ashtoreths” which would essentially be the female counterpart to Baal. The New Revised Standard renders, “They abandoned the LORD, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes.” This deity, Astarte, was also displayed at the Hecht Museum.

Astarte, Phoenician Fertility Goddess. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Baal worship that was seen in the period of Judges repeated itself throughout the period known as the Divided Kingdom. In the chapter that tells of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Bible says, “They abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God. They made for themselves molded images– even two calves– and an Asherah pole. They worshiped the whole heavenly host and served Baal” (2 Kings 17:16, CSB).

H. F. Vos has the following basic information about Baal:

Name of the most prominent Canaanite deity. As the god of fertility in the Canaanite pantheon (roster of gods), Baal’s sphere of influence included agriculture, animal husbandry, and human sexuality. The word Baal occurs in the OT in combination with other terms, such as place-names (Baal-peor, Hos 9:10; Baal-hermon, Jgs 3:3), or with other adjuncts as in Baal-berith (Baal of the covenant, Jgs 8:33). Use of the name in connection with a local place-name may indicate a local cult of Baal worship.

Baal worship became prominent in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the days of King Ahab (9th century BC) when he married Jezebel of Tyre, a city in Phoenicia (1 Kgs 16:29–33; 18:19–40). It later infiltrated the Kingdom of Judah when Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, married King Jehoram of Judah (2 Kgs 8:17, 18, 24–26). Places for worship of Baal were often high places in the hills consisting of an altar and a sacred tree, stone, or pillar (2 Kgs 23:5). The predominantly urban Phoenicians built temples to Baal; while Athaliah was queen of Judah, even Jerusalem had one (2 Chr 23:12–17) . . .

the Canaanites engaged in orgiastic worship that included human sacrifice as well as sexual rites (Jer 7:31; 19:4–6). Sacred prostitutes evidently participated in the autumnal religious ritual.  Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 239).

I mentioned the fall of northern kingdom of Israel above in our 2 Kings text. Jeremiah was a prophet in the days of the next biblical period, Judah Alone. From his writings we see that unfortunately, many in Judah did not learn from the example of God’s displeasure of Israel’s worship of Baal. This false system was also perpetuated in Judah, even including the sacrifice of their children (as noted above by Vos): “They have built places here for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices are something I never commanded them to make! They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind!” (Jer. 19:5, NET).

Not only were there the larger images that would be housed in temples or otherwise displayed for public worship, but smaller, “household” gods and goddesses were common.

Astarte, Household Fertility Goddess, 8th century BC. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We have previously posted on Baal worship here and here.

We close with the words of Jesus, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Mt. 4:10).

(Click images for larger view).


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