Assos, in Asia Minor

July 9, 2021

Today Assos is in a village called Behramkale, in the Turkish province of Çanakkale.The philosopher Aristotle lived at Assos 348-345 BC.

Craig Keener writes, “The temple of Athena in Assos may have been six centuries old by Paul’s day. The city also hosted the imperial cult.” (Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1–23:35 (Vol. 3, p. 2982). This of course serves as a reminder that idolatry was thoroughly pervasive in the biblical world, both that of the Old as well as the New Testament. Idolatry was truly everywhere! The Gospel entered the world in the first century to challenge that along with every false system, to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4,5).

Our photo below shows some of the remaining columns of the temple there at Assos, captured as the sun was setting. Note the little girl at lower right for a sense of scale.

Columns on the Doric order at Assos. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Former professor Ferrell Jenkins and I photographed Assos at evening and then again the following morning. This was in 2006, on a personal study trip.

Ferrell Jenkins on acropolis at Assos. Aegean Sea is in background.

Biblical mention of Assos is found in Acts 20:11-14: “Now when he [Paul] had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. And they brought the young man [Eutychus] in alive, and they were not a little comforted. Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene” ( NKJV).

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Diogenes of Sinope, Biblical Pontus

November 4, 2020

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.

Map showing Sinope on the coast of the Black Sea. In biblical times in the Roman province of Pontus. Today in Turkey.

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.

Statue of Diogenes in Sinope holding a lantern. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

At the base of this statue is a plaque relating another legend about Diogenes and Alexander the Great.

Diogenes’s famous statement to Alexander the Great. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Plutarch relates the story of what happened when Alexander sought out Diogenes at Corinth:

[14] [1] 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. [2] 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.” [3] 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).


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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The Greek Island of Samos

October 30, 2020

We are very sorry to learn of today’s earthquake in the Aegean which has resulted in multiple deaths, 12 in Izmir, on the western coast of Turkey, and 2 (teenagers) on the Greek island of Samos, as well as 400+ injuries. Our thoughts and prayers go out on behalf of those impacted by this tragedy.

The island of Samos is of interest to Bible students because of its mention in Acts 20:15, in the context of Paul’s return on his 3rd Missionary Journey, making his way back to Jerusalem.

Acts 20:14-15. Only biblical mention of Samos.
Acts 20:14-15. Only biblical mention of Samos.

Samos is a

Place-name meaning “height.” Small island (only 27 miles long) located in the Aegean Sea about a mile off the coast of Asia Minor near the peninsula of Trogyllium. In the strait between Samos and the mainland, the Greeks defeated the Persian fleet about 479 B.C. and turned the tide of power in the ancient Near East. Traveling from Jerusalem to Rome, Paul’s ship either put in at Samos or anchored just offshore (Acts 20:15). (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p.1438).

The rendering of the ESV on Acts 20:15 is: “And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched [emp. mine, L.M.] at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus.” They could have just stayed overnight in the ship in the harbor, departing the next morning, or they could have deboarded the ship to actually be on the island itself (briefly of course). The text does not say.

Though the biblical text only mentions Samos this once (Acts 20:15), I welcome the opportunity to visit such sites, and to be able to share photos and use such in teaching.

I had occasion to make a brief visit to Samos in 2006, along with friend Ferrell Jenkins, when we were en route to Kuşadasi. See his article here. Samos is just off the western coast of Asia Minor. There are impressive remains of a temple devoted to the goddess Hera at Samos (see Fant & Reddish, pp. 118-125), but our limited time at Samos that day did not permit our seeing this.

Location of Samos. Map by BibleAtlas.Org.
Location of Samos. Map by BibleAtlas.Org.
Samos, at modern harbor. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Samos, at modern harbor. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Mountains of Samos as seen from the Aegean Sea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Mountains of Samos as seen from the Aegean Sea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

On that trip we had flown from Athens, Greece to Samos, then we took the ferry from Samos to Kuşadasi, Turkey, which would serve as our “base” while we visited nearby Ephesus and other biblical sites.

Sunset at Kuşadasi. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Sunset at Kuşadasi. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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Mary Visits Elizabeth–Traditional En Kerem

October 16, 2020

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: 

En Kerem, Traditional Home of John the Baptism. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This photo gives you a feel of the surrounding countryside:

Hill country of Judah at En-Kerem. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

The Church of the Visitation commemorates Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

Church of the Visitation at En-Kerem. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Here is a view of the top of the Church of the Visitation:

Steeple Tower of the Church of the Visitation. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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.

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The River of the Water of Life–Illustration from Perga

July 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Empty Tomb

April 9, 2020

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.

This is the not tomb in which Jesus was buried; this tomb in our photo is located between Mt. Carmel and Megiddo in Israel, and dates back to the 1st century. It does however illustrate the type of tomb that would have been used. The Bible says that 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.

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).


Artifacts at biblical Corinth: Jewish Presence

December 18, 2019

Fant and Reddish make these interesting observations about biblical Corinth:

No city in the ancient world both benefited and suffered from its location more than Corinth. Situated on the main north-south route between northern and southern Greece, and with two good ports that linked it to Italy on the west and Asia Minor on the east, Corinth quickly became a center for commerce. But the location of Corinth also had its downside. The city often found itself caught in the middle between hostile neighbors, Athens to the north and Sparta to the south. Armies crisscrossed its streets as often as merchants, and more than once the city had to arise from ashes and rubble. Today only Athens attracts more interest in Greece for its historic antiquities than Corinth. It ranks as a must-see location for every traveler to Greece. (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, p.45).

Synagogue Inscription. There is a section of a lintel with a partial inscription, [Syna] goge hebr [aion], “Synagogue of the Hebrews.”

Synagogue Inscription at Corinth. Corinth Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

It is thought that this artifact is to be dated as late Roman or early Byzantine, and hence would post-date the time of the Apostle Paul.

But the Bible shows there was certainly a Jewish presence at Corinth in Paul’s day. In fact, upon Paul’s arrival there (2nd Missionary Journey), he stayed with fellow-tent-makers Aquila and Priscilla, who were Jews, and were there “because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:1-2). Claudius was emperor AD 41-54.

Roman Emperor Claudius. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The text in Acts 18 continues, relating Paul’s “reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath” (v.4), and also including brief notation of the conversion of Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue:

3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. (Acts 18:3-8).

 

Capital with Menorahs and Palm Branches. There is also on display at the museum there at Corinth a capital decorated with menorahs and palm branches. It is thought that this once decorated the top of a pillar, probably from the synagogue.

Capital with menorahs and palm branches. Corinth Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Paul’s one desire was to live in such a manner as to save as many as possible, whether Jews or Gentiles:

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Cor.  9:20-22).

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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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