At Pergamum, the god Asclepius

May 25, 2010

We have been looking at the biblical city of Pergamum, the city where one of the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3) was located.  Our last post featured photos from the Asklepieion, where the god of healing, Asclepius, was worshiped. There were other famous temples dedicated to this medicine god at Epidaurus in north-eastern Peloponnese, also on the island of Kos, as well as Trikala, and Gortys.

This photo is a statue of  Asclepius on display at the Athens Museum.  Notice the serpent intertwined on his staff.

Asclepius. Athens Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The museum at Pergamum, modern Bergama, displays a serpent, symbol of Asclepius, along with votive offerings left by those who traveled there for healing.

Serpent, symbol of Asclepius. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Here is a shot of body parts, left as votive offerings to the god Asclepius.

Body Parts, as Votive Offerings for Asclepius. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Temples devoted to Asclepius served a dual purpose, as not only a place of worship for the god, but also a luxury health spa of sorts, i.e., supposedly a healing center.

The patients would travel through the sacred passageway, seen in photo below.

Sacred Passageway. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

You see the openings which let in light.  Also it is suggested that “physicians” may have spoken down to the patients as they moved through the passageway, speaking encouragement with their incantations, etc.

Asklepieion Sacred Passageway, top. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

When Jesus wrote the church at Pergamum, He described the Christians there as dwelling “where Satan’s throne is” (Rev. 2:13).  Some see in that a specific reference to Asclepius, with his serpent symbol. Satan appeared in the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent.  He is called “that serpent of old, the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world” (Rev. 12:8; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3).  Others suggest that Jesus is referring to the prominent worship of Zeus there at Pergamum. Still others would say that it is Pergamum’s position as a center for imperial worship that is under consideration.  Not to mention Bacchus, the wine god!  It is possible that Jesus had in mind specifically  one of these false systems, but it may well be that it is a combination of all of the above that gave rise to His description.

It is instructive to consider what Jesus does NOT tell the church to do.  He doesn’t tell them to pack their bags and move to some other location where it would be easier to live the Christian life.  He expected them to be faithful where they were, to be lights in that world of darkness, to do what was right, even when they lived next door to Satan!


At Pergamum, the Asklepieion

May 21, 2010

Pergamum was the principle seat of the worship of the god Asklepios, the Roman god of medicine and healing.  An elaborate complex devoted to healing was constructed downhill from the upper city. Our photo below was taken from the Asklepieion looking up to the acropolis of Pergamum.

Asklepieion with view toward Pergamum acropolis. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Look at the center of the upper city.  The white ruins are those of the temple of Trajan, featured in an earlier post.

So many people came from so many places to the Asklepieion, that a library and theater were provided.  Included in that number were Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Caracalla, both of whom traveled here to be healed. The photo below shows the site of the library and the theater. The theater would seat 3,500.

Asklepieion Library and Theater. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In the foreground of our photo you see the the column features serpents, the symbol of Asklepios.

At the Asklepieion there were fountains and pools, where patients could bathe, as well as drink what was thought to be sacred water.

Asklepieion Sacred Fountain. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Remember to click on photos for higher resolution.

I plan to follow-up with another post on the Asklepieion, so stay tuned.

On a personal note, I have just concluded a 6-day series of lessons on the History and Geography of the Bible with the church of Christ at Clayton, N.C. William Dickinson is the preacher here.  It has been a good week.

At Pergamum, the Red Hall

May 18, 2010

Among the many sites in Pergamum devoted to idolatrous worship was the Red Hall.  The Egyptian religion reached out into many areas in the Roman world. The complex in our photo below is the Red Hall, devoted to the worship of the Egyptian god Serapis.

Red Hall, Pergamum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

It is known as the “Red Hall” because of its red brick walls.  Here is a view of the temple of Serapis, looking east.

Red Hall, Pergamum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Alexandria, Egypt has a nice museum, featuring a bust of Serapis.

Egyptian god Serapis, Alexandria. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary notes,

…this Egyptian-Greek sun deity was worshiped first at Memphis along with the bull-god, Apis. Serapis was introduced to Egypt by the Greeks and was worshiped originally as a god of the underworld. The temple to him at Alexandria was the largest and best known among several. Serapis came to be revered also as a god of healing and fertility, and his worship spread throughout the Roman Empire via the trade routes.

More to come.

At Pergamum: Temple of Dionysus, the Wine god

May 16, 2010

In Greek mythology, Dionysus, a son of Zeus, was the wine god.  He was also known as Bacchus, his Roman designation.  As we continue to post photos of Pergamum, today we include the temple of Dionysus. The photo below shows the remains of the temple in the center, to the right of the theater.

Temple of Dionysus at Pergamum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The placement of the temple in relation to the theater was not accidental. Dionysus was the patron deity of the theater (as well as agriculture). There was an intimate association of Dionysus with drama and public celebrations.  Here is a closer view:

Temple of Dionysus at Pergamum, closer view. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Worship of this deity predictably included wild drinking and drunkenness. Below is a view showing the approach to the temple.  Twenty five steps led up to the porch.

During the intertestamental period, Antiochus IV severely persecuted the Jews in his effort to Grecianize his subjects and destroy Judaism, with its distinctive features.  Among his atrocities was to force the Jews in Jerusalem to take part in festivities designed to honor the god Dionysus.  We read in 2 Maccabees 6:7:

On the monthly celebration of the king’s birthday, the Jews were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when a festival of Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to wear wreaths of ivy and to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus.

Sometimes people say that the Bible was fine for the culture of the 1st century, but not for the 21st century. In reality, the Bible did not conform to the culture of the 1st century at all. God’s word then and now calls for people to be His own special people, not conformed to the world, but transformed (Rom. 12:1-2).

Dionysus/Bacchus, the wine god. Izmir Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

It is sad that so many today in reality worship the wine god in their abuse of alcohol! (cf. Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11)

At Pergamum: The Library

May 15, 2010

During the reign of Eumenes, Pergamum and Alexandria were competing for the biggest and best library in the world.  Egypt controlled the paper industry, made from the papyrus plant.  Bible and Spade quotes Pliny the Elder:

…when owing to the rivalry between King Ptolemy and King Eumenes about their libraries Ptolemy suppressed the export of paper, parchment was invented at Pergamum; and afterwards the employment of the material on which the immortality of human beings depends spread indiscriminately. (Vol. 5, Num. 2, p.51).

Parchment was made from the skins of goats and sheep.  It is much more durable than papyrus.  Biblical manuscripts were written on both parchment and papyrus, but the parchment tends to fair better with the passing of time.

The Latin pergamena means “paper of Pergamum.”  Paul wrote Timothy, “When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13, NET).

Today’s posts features two photos of the site of the famous library of Pergamum.  In this first photo we are standing with the sanctuary of the temple of Athena at our back; the foreground captures part of the court of the temple.

Pergamum Library. Photo by Leon Mauldin

The legend is that Mark Antony gave the 200,000 volumes housed in this library to Cleopatra in 41 B.C.

Pergamum Library close up. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Click on image for higher resolution.

At Pergamum: The Heroon

May 14, 2010

As we continue to view the ruins at biblical Pergamum, today we look at the Heroon. Fatih Cimok, whom we referenced in our previous post, explains that the heroon was “a shrine dedicated to a deified or semideified dead person” (Pergamum, p.7). The heroon at Pergamum was built to honor the Pergamene kings, including Attalus I (241-197 B.C.) and Eumenes II (197-159 B.C.).

Heroon at Pergamum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Heroon pictured above is on your left as you walk up from the parking area, making your way to the acropolis.  In the distance of our photo where the trees are located (top, center) you are seeing the site of the altar of Zeus.

If you lived in Pergamum in the first century, you would have some choices to make.  Could you burn incense to the emperor at the imperial temple, and say “Caesar is Lord,” or would you say that there is one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ?  Would you worship these deified kings at the Heroon, or would you take the stand that Jesus did: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt. 4:10)?  Neutrality then, as now, was and is impossible (Matt. 12:30).

More to come!

At Pergamum, Trajan’s Temple

May 11, 2010

As we continue to look at biblical sites, especially in Turkey, we want to call attention to some points of interest in Pergamum, located at modern Bergama.  Fatih Cimok writes, “The word Pergamum is thought to have been from a pre-Hellenistic tongue and meant ‘citadel’ or ‘stronghold'” (Pergamum, 2009 ed., p.7).

Pergamum has an interesting history.  In ancient times, it wasn’t just the city of Pergamum, it was actually the kingdom of Permamum, which extended from Bythinia to Cappodoccia.

Pergamum came under Roman rule in 133 B.C., when King Attlos II died. He had bequeathed Pergamum to Rome in his will. It was during Roman times that a temple was built and dedicated to Emperor Trajan and his adopted son Hadrian. Todd Bolen observes, “The Trajan temple was the jewel of Pergamum.”

Today’s photos depict some of the ruins of the Trajan temple. Restoration has been done by the German Archaeological Institute.  Click on images for higher resolution.

Tragan Temple in Pergamum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Trajan reigned A.D. 98-117, and Hadrian reigned A.D. 117-138.

Tragan Temple in Pergamum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Pergamum became a center for the Imperial Cult, for emperor worship. Cimok writes:

Having an imperial temple would also bring many visitors to a city like Pergamum during the festivals held for the imperial cult, and consequently economic benefits; thus the cities on Roman soil (including Pergamum and Ephesus) competed over building imperial temples. (Ibid.17).

More to come on Pergamum. See also our previous posts on Emperor Worship at Ephesus April 10,11, and 14.

Pergamum, where Satan’s throne was located

March 12, 2010

Today we visited the sites of Pergamum and Thyatira.  En route to Pergamum Harold Comer read the text from Rev. 2 which contains the letters to the churches in those respective cities, and made appropriate comments.  Jesus said that Pergamum was the place where Satan’s throne was.  He may have had reference to the altar of Zeus which was so prominent in the city.  Others suggest that the worship of Roman emperors was meant.  There were also temples to Athena, Dionysus, Serapis, Asclepius and others, so it could be that all of these combined meant that Satan’s influence was deeply entrenched there. Sometimes people are heard to say that if they had lived in the 1st century it would have been much easier and simpler to be a Christian then; that is simply not true!  Christians at Pergamum were called upon to live holy lives in the midst of idolatry, immorality, and false religion.

Here is a group shot which shows the temple of Emperor Trajan (reigned A.D. 98-117) in the background.

Group Shot at Pergamum.

The altar of Zeus would have been seen for miles around.  The friezes of the battle scenes were disassembled and removed to Berlin where they are on display. You can see the steps leading up to the altar as well as the square outline of its parameter in this photo:

Altar of Zeus at Pergamum. Photo by Leon Mauldin

Altar of Zeus. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Pergamum has the steepest theater in the world; it follows the natural incline of the slope.

Pergamum Theater. Photo by Leon Mauldin

Tomorrow we are to continue our biblical study tour as we journey to Aphrodisias, Philadelphia, and Hierapolis.

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