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.
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.
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).
John records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, including this visit to Jerusalem for Passover:
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” (John 2:13-16).
It is noteworthy that Jesus both began (above text) and concluded (Matt. 21:12-13) His ministry by cleansing the temple (hieros), “My Father’s house,” of its abuses–of its being turned into a “house of merchandise.”
I’ve thought of these biblical texts when walking through Old Jerusalem and seeing signs such as this one:
Money-changers in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
bankers who exchanged one nation’s currency, or one size of coin, for another. These people provided a convenience, charging a fee (often exorbitant) for their services. Some moneychangers operated in the temple area (the Court of the Gentiles), because all money given to the Temple had to be in the Tyrian silver coin. According to Exodus 30:11–16, every Israelite 20 years old or older was required to pay an annual tax of a half-shekel into the treasury of the sanctuary (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
Note the location is the hieros (temple area with its spacious courts, John 2:14-15) and not the naos, or sanctuary, where only the priests could go.
What do you think Jesus might do if He were to walk among “modern churches” today? (I know the church in the biblical sense is not the physical church building/meeting place, but rather is the people of God).
Troas is referenced several times in Scripture, beginning in Acts 16:8, where Paul received a vision of a man pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (v.9). Paul would make use of the harbor at Troas on several occasions in his travels in preaching the gospel message.
The ruins of a Roman temple, thought to be constructed during the reign of Augustus, may be seen at the agora. A head of the wine god Dionysos was found at the site. The info sign (written in Turkish and German) indicates that the remains uncovered here bear witness to the glorious temple facilities. A Roman aqueduct flows under the temple.
During the final week of the Lord’s ministry, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, the Jewish rulers, for their hypocrisy and for their basic rejection of truth. His last words before leaving the temple area were
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ (vv. 37-38)
As Jesus and the disciples left, the disciples pointed out the temple buildings to Him. His response no doubt greatly startled them: “”Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2).
Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley and came to the Mount of Olives and sat down. It was here that the “Olivet Discourse” occurred, in which the disciples asked Him to explain what He meant.
View of Temple Mount, Jerusalem from Mt. of Olives. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
From the Mount of Olives the disciples could have seen the temple area in Jerusalem as Jesus’ foretold its coming destruction.
Excavations which reached 1st century street level uncovered stones of the temple buildings hurled down from above. The destruction took place in AD 70, by Rome’s Tenth Legion.
Stones from temple buildings in Tyropoeon Valley in Jerusalem, from AD 70 destruction. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
At the highest point of the acropolis at Lindos, Rhodes, there are the remains of a temple devoted to the worship of the goddess Athena. It is said that architectural remains belong to a temple built in the late 4th century B.C.
Often the worship of Athena is associated with the city of Athens, and its Parthenon, but the worship of this goddess was geographically widespread. There was an important temple located at Pergamum, as well as Smyrna (two of the cities of the Seven Churches of Rev.2-3). There was a very visible temple devoted to Athena at the island of Assos (Acts 20:13).
One of the more striking impressions one receives in visiting the Bible lands is just how pervasive idolatry was. Even today, evidences of such are seen everywhere.
When the Gospel was preached in the 1st century, there were many, such as the Thessalonians, who “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thes. 1:9). There can be no fellowship with, no agreement of “the temple of God with idols” (2 Cor. 6:16). Wherever such temples as depicted in our photo existed, the charge was,
Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty (2 Cor. 6:17-18).
Natural beauty abounds at Rhodes. Below is a photo of the harbor at Lindos.
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)
Recent posts have featured biblically related artifacts from the Archaeology Museum at Istanbul. Yet another very important exhibit housed there is an inscription from the Herodian temple, (so called because of extensive renovations by Herod the Great, renovations which continued after his death). Stones with inscriptions (written in both Latin and Greek) such as this featured below were posted at regular intervals within the temple, to designate the point at which Gentiles could proceed no further:
Herodian Temple Inscription. Istanbul. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Thus far only one complete and two fragmentary copies (all in Greek) of this inscription have been discovered. The inscription translates as follows: “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.”
Visitors to the temple in Jesus’ day, and in Paul’s time, would have seen this stone and others like it. Paul in mind this separation of Jew and Gentile, symbolized by this inscription, when he wrote to the Ephesians, telling what a difference the Gospel had made.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation [emp. mine, L.M.], having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:14-22).
So the separation of Jew and Gentile no longer exists in Christ; Jew and Gentile are on an equal footing; both are sinners and must be reconciled unto God through the cross, in one body. This is the temple referenced in our text; a building made of people, living stones, Jews and Gentiles who have come to the Lord for salvation.
This morning we flew from Istanbul to Izmir to begin our visitation of the cities of the Seven Churches of Rev. 2-3. Modern Izmir is biblical Smyrna. We saw the harbor from Mt. Pagos, the acropolis of the city. Unlike the harbors of Ephesus and Miletus, which have long since silted up, the harbor at Smyrna continues to be operational; it is in fact Turkey’s 2nd largest port city after Istanbul.
We also saw the ancient agora (market place) which dates back to the 2nd century A.D.
A highlight of our day today was a visit to the temple of Athena. Actually the site is closed but we obtained permission to enter and take photos. This temple’s history dates back to the 7th century B.C. The site was quite overgrown, but we were very glad to be able to see it, from the standpoint of historical and biblical interest.
Temple of Athena in Smyrna. Photo by Leon Mauldin
New Testament Christians at Smyrna were surrounded by idolatry, and yet were expected by the Lord to have nothing to do with it. Not only was there the worship of various gods and goddesses, but also Smyrna was the center for Imperial worship. (Today we planned to see a statue of a priest of the Imperial cult in the Izmir Museum, but we learned it was temporarily on loan to Moscow!) There was also persecution brought on by unbelieving Jews. It was the church at Smyrna that received instructions in the midst of such trying circumstances to “remain faithful even to the point of death” (NET, Rev. 2:10).
Tomorrow we are to travel to Pergamum (Bergama), where there is much to see of biblical interest. From there we will travel to Thyatira (former home of Lydia of Philippi) . All in our group continue to be well, and for that we are thankful.