The Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt

October 24, 2019

The emphasis of the book of Exodus is that of God’s covenant faithfulness. ‘El Shaddai, God Almighty, who promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He would make of them a great nation, and give unto them the land of Canaan, now more fully reveals Himself as YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah. He would redeem His covenant people. This He did “with outstretched hand,” demonstrating to all the Egyptians, as well as to Israel that He was indeed the LORD.

Israel was a numerous people when the book of Exodus opens, and through His great power God brought them to Mt. Sinai, where they would be for about eleven months. During that time God gave the 10 Commandments as well as the accompanying laws and ordinances, the tabernacle was built, and the Aaronic priesthood was consecrated.

The events of Scripture do not happen in a vacuum; we always do well to consider the historical and geographical setting.  The setting for Exodus 1-13 is Egypt.

When you think of Egypt, you likely think of the pyramids. Sometimes people erroneously believe that the Israelites were used as forced labor to construct the pyramids. Actually the pyramids were built before Abraham! The Israelites built storage cities (Ex. 1:11, NASB).

The Step Pyramid, Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo shows the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the 3rd Dynasty by Pharaoh Djoser. This pyramid is actually a mastaba (Arabic for “bench”), meaning a structure in the “form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides.” The Step Pyramid consists of six distinct steps. This is the oldest of the pyramids.

The burial chambers were underground. Excavation was done by Jean-Phillipe Lauer. (Note: most of the above appeared in my post of May 13, 2011).

This photo with my daughter at the base of the pyramid helps give some perspective to the size of the pyramid. She and I spent eight days touring Egypt in 2003.

Author’s daughter, Alysha Mauldin Montgomery, at base of Step Pyramid. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I was noticing this morning some of the ancient history material some of my grandchildren are studying (homeschoolers). The information included on the Step Pyramid read, “It was copied after the Ziggurat of Sumer. The small temple rooms around it have become buried in the desert sand” (Streams of Civilization, p. 46). It occurred to me that I don’t think I knew that at their age!

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Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem

September 13, 2019

Luke 2 narrates the night of the Savior’s birth, when the good news was first announced to Bethlehem-area shepherds:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:8-18, NKJV).

Sign indicating location of Shepherd’s Field east side of Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When one visits Bethlehem there is the opportunity to see the area designated as “Shepherd’s Field,” the Franciscan site located  on the east side of Bethlehem. This helps us to visualize where the shepherds would have been that night when the angel informed them of Jesus’ birth in our text above.

Shepherds’ Fields, Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

On most other occasions when I’ve been here the fields were brown and dry. This past March 2019 they were green.

Our group gathered in a nearby cave.

Cave at Shepherds’ Field. Mauldin Group, 2019. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here we discussed the occasion of Jesus’ birth, and also took advantage of the natural acoustics to sing. Visiting Bethlehem gave us the opportunity to contemplate the wonderful plan of God, that Eternal Deity, the Eternal Word, became man! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

I’ve previously posted on Bethlehem: click here, here and here. Ferrell Jenkins provides a listing of articles he has written on Bethlehem. Click here 

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The Philopappos Monument, Athens, Greece

August 30, 2019

In Acts 17, when Paul preached at Athens, he was taken to the Areopagus where he was invited to explain what the Athenians called “this new teaching” (Acts 17:16-19). We have previously posted on Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus here and here.

In this post we want to notice one of the many sites you can see while standing atop the Areopagus. Here is the view looking to the southwest.

Hill of Philopappus, Athens Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Hill of Philopappus is also called Mouseion Hill. Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus (AD 65-116) was a prince from the Kingdom of Commagene (northern Syria), and a Roman consul and senator, as well as grandson of Antiochos IV. At his death a white Pentelic marble tomb monument was dedicated to him by his sister Julia Babilla and the citizens of Athens. Here is a closer view:

Funerary Monument of Philopappus. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This of course is just one of many major landmarks in Athens. Near the monument are the remains of a prison where it is claimed that Socrates was imprisoned and died.

Lonely Planet makes this observation regarding this hill:

Inhabited from prehistoric times to the post-Byzantine era, the area was, according to Plutarch, the area where Theseus and the Amazons did battle. In the 4th and 5th centuries BC, defensive fortifications – such as the Themistoclean wall and the Diateichisma – extended over the hill, and some of their remains are still visible. (Lonelyplanet.com).

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Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. A.D. 138-161)

August 27, 2019

In going through some of my photos of Athens, Greece, I came across a shot I had taken of a bust of Antoninus Pius.

Antoninus Pius. Reigned A.D. 138-161. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

My priority in the limited writing I’ve done on Roman Emperors has been to deal with those who reigned during A.D. 1st century, i.e., those that intersect with biblical history. For example, click here (“Roman Emperors During the Gospels and Acts) and here (“Emperor Galba: the Year of Four Emperors). But here we offer at least a brief introduction to the life and reign of this 2nd century emperor, Antoninus.

Antoninus Pius was born in A.D. 86 at Lanuvium in Latium. He spent his youth at Lorium, not far from Rome. He married Annia Galeria Faustina. When Lucius Aelius Caesar, Emperor Hadrian’s (r. A.D. 117-138) adoptive son and heir died in January 138, Hadrian then adopted Antoninus, February 25. Antoninus ascended the throne upon Hadrian’s death, July 138.

Michael Grant states that Antoninus’s “deferential attitude” to the Roman senators “prompted them to confer on him the unusual title of ‘Pius’, honouring (sic) his religious and patriotic dutifulness” (The Roman Emperors, 83).

Antoninus Pius. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the land and people of Judea, Grant writes:

There Antoninus Pius soon modified, without completely abandoning, his predecessor’s [Hadrian] veto on circumcision; that is to say he allowed Jews to circumcise their sons but forbade them to admit converts to the rite, thus weakening Jewish competition with the actively proselytizing Christians. Moreover, the ban debarring Jews from entry into Jerusalem was maintained, and indeed enforced by the construction of a ring of military posts round the city (86).

However, Grant’s last statement above is contradicted by Nigel Rodgers, who stated, “Later, Antoninus Pius (reigned AD138-161) quietly revoked his predecessor’s decree and allowed any Jews, who wished to, to return to the now utterly desolate site of Jerusalem” (Roman Empire, 219).

Interestingly, as emperor, Antoninus never left Italy (Rodger, 35); “Antoninus himself never once left Italy throughout the course of his reign” (Grant.86).

At his death, his adoptive son Marcus Aurelius said, “Remember his qualities so that when your last hour comes your conscience may be as clear as his” (Grant, 88).

Gibbons lavished much praise on the period which included the reign of Antoninus:

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honor of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom. (Gibbon, E. (2004). The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. (H. H. Milman, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

That kind of praise and honor somehow puts me in mind of Proverbs 21:2: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.”


In the Steps of Paul: Along the Appian Way

June 17, 2019

Yesterday (Sunday) between church services in Rome (AM) and Ciampino (PM), we had the opportunity to see portions of the Appian Way. This road was one of the earliest and most important Roman roads of the ancient republic, connecting Rome to Brindisi, in southeast Italy. It was constructed in the years 312–264 BC.

The Appian Way. Paul walked on this road on his way to Rome, Acts 28:14-16. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When Paul was traveled to Rome as a prisoner as recorded in Acts 28:11-16, he was met by Roman Christians who heard he was coming. They then walked with him back to Rome. This land portion of the journey was on this road, the Appian Way. In this photo you can see the original paving stone, scored by chariot wheels. Then in the upper portion of the road you can see reconstruction pavement.

Near this area of our photo there were burial sites, such as that depicted here.

A burial site along the Appian Way. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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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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Jesus, the Good Shepherd

May 24, 2019

The Gospel of John records several of the “I Am” statements of Jesus. In John 10 we have Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Good Shepherd:

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep (John 10:11-15).

The metaphors of the shepherd and the sheep are a common biblical motif. The shepherd of Luke 15 leaves the 99 safe sheep and goes after the sheep which is lost, “and when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (vv.4-5). Our photo helps us visualize the biblical text.

“Jesus the Good Shepherd,” Alexandria, Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I took the above photo in 2003, in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum. The statue is identified as “Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Date: Graeco-Roman Period, Roman Period (31 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance: Lower Egypt, Mersa Matruh
Material(s): Rock, marble
Height: 125 cm
Hall: Byzantine Antiquities

Sheep need a shepherd! “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Truly Jesus is the Shepherd who cares for the sheep, who laid down His life for the sheep, that we might have life. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).