Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 3c - Locating "Satan's Throne" (Rev 2:13)

Commentaries on the book of Revelation routinely explain how knowledge of the historical and geographical contexts of ancient Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea sheds light on obscure details mentioned in the letters to these seven churches in chapters 2 and 3.

In the letter to the church at Pergamum, Jesus declares, "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is, and you hold fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives" (Rev 2:13 NRSV). While the archaeological record does not help us identify Antipas, or the Nicolaitans mentioned a few verses later, you might think that after more than a hundred years of digging, archaeologists would have uncovered Satan's throne. Perhaps they have, but which, if any, of the proposed locations is the correct one?

Since Athena was the patron deity of Pergamum, one option is the Temple of Athena, originally built in the 4th century B.C., and located just within the walled Acropolis. The massive precinct of Athena (and a tree) can still be seen in the picture below.
The temple of Dionysus is a less likely choice because of its relatively more secluded location at the north end of the theatre terrace. Still, the god of wine was a popular deity in the Roman period. The ruins in the picture below date from the 3rd century A.D., but the temple was originally built as early as the 2nd century B.C.:
The problem with identifying "Satan's throne" with the temple of Athena or the temple of Dionysus is that they are so unremarkable. All the cities mentioned in Revelation 2-3 had temples in abundance. Why single out Pergamum as the site of Satan's throne?

One common proposal that attempts to correlate "throne" with a physical throne-like structure is the Great Altar to Zeus, built by Eumenes II during the early 2nd century B.C. and designed to line up with the Temple of Athena 25 meters above it. Perhaps. The altar at Pergamum was certainly famous for its size, but "[i]ndependent altars on a spectacular scale are a feature of the Hellenistic age" (Oxford Classical Dictionary, 68). Would the Great Altar have been distinctive enough to merit the epithet, "Satan's throne"?

All that remains of the altar in Pergamum is the podium and two large trees:
If you want to see what the altar looked like, you will need to go to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, where the remains of the altar were carted off by "archaeologists" (or treasure hunters) at the end of the 19th century. Or click here for someone else's photograph.

Another common suggestion is that "Satan's throne" refers to the Roman ruler-cult centred in Pergamum. Crowning the Acropolis are the remains of a huge temple dedicated to the emperor Trajan (98-117 A.D.) and his successor, Hadrian (117-138 A.D.):
We do know that the imperial cult was popular in Asia minor, and that a temple to the Emperor was built in Pergamum as early as Augustus (d. 14 A.D.), but--assuming that the book of Revelation was composed in the late first century A.D.--we can be sure that this particular temple is not the "throne of Satan" mentioned in Rev 2:13 because the Trajaneum was constructed during the second century A.D.

Others have identified Satan's throne as the Asclepion because the serpent associated with the worship of Asclepius could be identified with Satan, who is depicted as that "ancient serpent" in Rev 20:2.

My (unoriginal) guess, for what it's worth, is that the "throne of Satan" was suggested by the Acropolis itself--a prominent geographical feature of the city which was also home to a majority of the city's temples:
Update here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 3b - Pergamum's Acropolis

Pergumum came to prominence after the death of Alexander the Great as the capital of a region ruled by one of Alexander's successors. The kingdom reached the height of its power during the reign of Eumenes II (197-160 BC), who, with Roman help, defeated the Seleucid armies of Antiochus the Great and extended his realm across much of Western Turkey. This territory was lost less than 30 years later, when Eumenes' nephew, Attalus III, bequeathed the kingdom (but not the city) to Rome.

Though the Romans chose Ephesus rather than Pergamum as the capital of the province of Asia, Pergamum was still a major city during the first century A.D. Most of the populace apparently lived in the Lower City around the Asclepion and under the modern city of Bergama. We gladly rented a taxi for the 15 min drive up to the now uninhabited Upper City, where archaeologists have uncovered several temples, Hellenistic palaces and other monumental buildings:
The site's mountain top location makes it confusing for beginners to navigate.
For one thing, the guide book map did not clearly indicate that the precinct of Athena (tree at top left of next picture) was considerably higher than the great altar to Zeus (two trees in the top center), or that the "Upper Agora" was lower still--at the bottom of the magnificent and steep 10,000 person theatre.
For another, to the untrained eye, the older remains such as Hellenistic Palace I, II, III, IV and V, look a lot like heaps of ruins. I was especially disappointed not to be able to identify with confidence the famous library of Eumenes II, that is said to have rivaled the library of Alexandria. I'm now pretty sure this was it, however:
Tired of nondescript rubble? Take a look beyond the Hellenistic palaces off the northern edge of the acropolis, where there is a fabulous view of the recently dammed Caicus river:

Turkey Travelogue 3a (June 7) - Bergama/Pergamum

One of the most surprising things about Turkey was all the people (and their apartment buildings). My mental image of Bergama, derived from the tiny map in the Lonely Planet guide and my preoccupation with historical sites, was of a small flat town dwarfed by the soaring ruins of ancient Pergamum. Instead, the bus deposited us in the middle of a city of some 50,000 people, with ruins nowhere to be seen. The main ruins are, in fact, on a mountain to the northwest of the modern city, but it was dusk, we were surrounded by apartment buildings, I didn't know which direction to look, and our immediate concern was finding a place to stay for the night.

The picture of modern Bergama (above) was taken from the acropolis, but our first stop in the morning--after the rain let up--was the Asclepion. (Imagine a medical centre-temple-spa combination, with dream treatment thrown in for good measure.) The complex is located a couple kilometers up a hill to the west of the city (near the big white buildings near the right side of the first picture). Pergamum's Asclepion was a large complex with a theatre of its own: It is worth seeing now for its well-preserved ruins, which you can admire in relative tranquility:
In antiquity, it was a popular centre, famous for its size and, eventually, because the physician Galen (AD 129- ca. 200) spent time there.

In addition to a theatre, it had a library with a gap between the walls, presumably (?) to protect against moisture damage. After posing for the next picture, t. looked down and noticed she was standing over a wet and bedraggled mama dog, lying between the walls, nursing her progeny.
Archaeologists have uncovered remains of two circular buildings, one of which is thought to be a temple to Asclepius. The other, pictured below, is sometimes identified as the temple of Telesphorus, sometimes as the treatment centre, and sometimes--with greater caution--as "Circular Building."
That the circular building functioned in some way as a treatment centre is indicated by the bath-like structures inside... well as a tunnel leading from the circular building to the courtyard of the Asclepion:

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 2 (June 6) - To Bergama

One of t.'s favorite Turkey experiences was Turkish breakfast every morning. Turkish breakfast typically include a hard boiled egg, olives, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and a selection of fruit, along with loads of fresh Turkish bread and a cup of tea (çay). Instead of a hard-boiled egg, the Apricot Hotel offers scrambled eggs; instead of fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice. We aren't in a position to evaluate the hotel's claim that they offer the best Turkish breakfast in Istanbul, but it was the best we had in Turkey!
Breakfast is served on the Hotel's rooftop terrace overlooking the Mamara Sea:
After enjoying our first Turkish breakfast, we struck out for Eminonu, where we had been instructed to catch a ferry across the Bosphorus to Uskudar, a suburb on the Asian side of the city. The ferry we were on looked a lot like the boat on the left side of the next picture:
The old building in the next picture is Kiz Kulesi (Maiden's Tower). According to the Lonely Planet guide, "In ancient times a predecessor of the current 18th-century structure functioned as a tollbooth and defence point; the Bosphorus could be closed off by means of a chain stretching from here to Seraglio Point [the peninsula visible in the previous picture]."
On our return to Istanbul we found part of the chain on display at the Istanbul Archeaological Museum:

In Uskudar, we met up with our two traveling companions, and after a short wait, boarded our (very nice!) bus bound for Bergama. Bus travel appears to be a big (and competitive) industry in Turkey and the service on this trip was impressive: There were three staff people on the bus--a driver, a baggage manager, and a very friendly beverage and snack attendant who tried to teach me Turkish.

About 9 hours later we arrived in Bergama and, after some exploration, found a Pension (something like a B&B in North America) for the night. There's a story to tell about this particular pension--the chain-smoking elderly gentleman who greeted us when we arrived should have been a clue--but I'll leave that for another time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 1 (June 4-5) - Culture Shock

Scene 1: A friendly interchange with an immigration officer on our arrival in Minneapolis reminded me of a conversation I had had the previous week with a Canadian NT scholar who teaches in the U.S. Canadian disdain for Americans, she said, boils down to prejudice. So perhaps I need to think twice before I attribute the following to typical small-minded American swagger:

Border Guard (BG): Where do you live?
d.: Caronport, Saskatchewan
BG: Where are you going?
d.: Turkey
BG: Why Turkey?
d.: Vacation
BG: Why don't you vacation in the U.S.?
d.: smile
BG: What do you do in Canada?
d.: I teach at a college.
t.: And I'm a student.
BG: Not his student I hope?
d. and t.: NO!
BG: Have a good trip.

No doubt there are typical Americanisms, but the charge of prejudice rings true when I react negatively to people merely because their accent reminds me of the border guard.

Scene 2: The airport was loaded with army personnel dressed in military fatigues. It reminded me of Israel--with the crucial distinction that these weren't packing automatic weapons. I noticed one soldier sporting a small American flag from her backpack. Also hanging from her backpack was a teddy bear.

Scene 3: After several hours in the airport we discovered a quiet sitting area away from the maddening crowd. t. found the sofa more conducive to a nap than the floor.

Scene 4: Over 24 hours after leaving home, with a 6 hour layover in Minneapolis and another 3 hours in Amsterdam's smoky Schiphol airport, we landed in Istanbul, paid for our $20 U.S. visitors' visas (the visa for Canadians is $60 U.S.), and made our way by LRT and streetcar to the old Sultan Ahmet area of the city,
and, finally, to our air-conditioned room at the Apricot Hotel:

P.S. In case you were wondering, there is UPS service to Sultan Ahmet: