Monday, August 27, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 7b - Hierapolis Highlights

The city of Hierapolis was most likely founded by the Seleucids during the 3rd century BCE, before being taken over by the Attalid kings of Pergamum (2nd century BCE), and then by Rome (129 BCE), and finally by the Selçuk Turks in the late 12th century CE. All the surviving ruins are Roman, perhaps because the original city was destroyed by the same earthquake that destroyed nearby Laodicea and (most likely) Colossae in 60 (or 64) CE. Hierapolis was home to Epictetus, a famous stoic philosopher; Papias, whose five volumes on the Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord we all wish had survived, was bishop here in the early 2nd century.

The city had the usual assortment of monumental Roman buildings, including a 15,000 person theatre (our 5th) which is dated to the 2nd century CE:
(This theatre was nice because archaeologists left the stage pieces in place instead of moving them to nearby or faraway museums. It also affords a great view of the rest of the site and, on good days, of the Lycus river valley.)

There is also the 3rd CE remains of a temple to Apollo, the city's patron diety. The next picture is what we thought must be the temple after our experience viewing the massive temple of Apollo in Didyma:
After several minutes close inspection, we realized it was just a monumental fountain. The real temple seems rather small by comparison:We were especially interested in the temple because the Blue Guide reports that "During the excavation, work was impeded considerably by noxious gas which seeped from the foundations. It was found that this gas originated in the Plutonium...a sanctuary dedicated to Pluto, the god of the underworld." The poisonous gas emanating from the Plutonium was well-known in antiquity. In the late 2nd or early 3rd century the Roman historian, Dio Cassius, "tested its lethal properties on birds" and "remarked also on the apparent immunity enjoyed by eunuchs" (Blue Guide 277).

After what the guide books had to say, I imagined the Plutonium would be quite the tourist attraction, but the site is now overgrown with grass and is not exactly well-marked. The Lonely Guide comments that the gas "is still deadly poisonous. Before the grate was installed there were several fatalities among those with more curiosity than sense." Suitably warned, I took this picture using my camera's telephoto lens.
Another highlight of our trek through Hierapolis is the 5th CE Martyrium of St. Philip, up the hill to the north of the ruined city, whose octagonal design is much more striking in person than it is in the next picture:
The Chi-Rho in the top right corner of this blog was on one of the Martyrium's arches. Click on the next picture for a description in Turkish, Italian or English:
We didn't get a good picture of the Martyrium from below, so here is a picture of the view from the Martyrium itself:
Just before we left for Turkey I finished an article in the Journal of Jewish Studies by Philip Harland (available here) about what we can learn about the Jews of Hierapolis from the many inscriptions discovered in the city's extensive necropolis. Since we made it to Hierapolis, I thought it would be fun to find the tomb of Glykon featured in the article--a scavenger hunt, if you will. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down the description of the tomb's location and I was entirely unprepared for the sheer number of sarcophagi. Once you pass through the monumental arch of Domitian...
the city's north necropolis extends for another 2 km on both sides of the street. t. wisely decided to wait at the entrance to one of the tombs...
while I continued on my quest for Glykon or any other of the 23/360 published Jewish tomb inscriptions:
No luck. By the time we arrived back at the main part of the city the "excellent" museum had closed for the afternoon. Back in Canada I discovered the tomb is actually located by the Martyrium of St. Philip.

Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jubilees and the Age of Isaac at the Akedah

Update: Apparently, I have trouble with basic math. The Jubilees section below has been changed significantly.

The Bible doesn't say how old Isaac was at the Akedah (the 'binding' of Isaac)--at least not in so many words. To find a definite answer, you need to consult the literature of early Judaism, whose authors, like some modern readers, were curious about the question, and searched the text for any clues it might provide.

It turns out there are several different definite answers:

One common rabbinic suggestion, apparently first attested in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (3rd cent. CE+??), is that Isaac was 37 years old. It's pretty simple really:
  • Sarah was 90 years old when she conceived Isaac (Gen 17:17).
  • Sarah was 127 years old when she died (Gen 23:1).
  • Since Sarah's death is mentioned in Gen 23:1 immediately after the account of the Akedah, it follows that Sarah died when she heard about Isaac's near-death experience.
  • Subtract 90 from 127 and you have 37 years.
(N.B. It is notoriously difficult to fix the date of the Targumim. There may be other different rabbinic suggestions, but I can't find them online and don't have time to do any more digging.)

Josephus, writing toward the end of the first century CE, states baldly that Isaac was 25 (Ant. 1.227).

How far back do these traditions go in our extant literature? In a recent article that discusses references to the Akedah in the 2nd BCE book of Jubilees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Targumim, Joseph Fitzmyer claims that speculations about Isaac's age "appear for the first time in the Christian era [i.e. in Josephus]" ("The Sacrifice of Isaac in Qumran Literature," Biblica 83 [2002]:222).

This may be true for direct statements, but an earlier answer is found already in Jubilees:

Jubilees, is concerned, as one might expect, to date the events narrated in Genesis by 49 year Jubilee cycles. Jub 15:1 dates Isaac's conception to the 6th month of the 6th year of the 4th sabbatical week of years (cf. 16:16)--in other words, the 27th year of that particular jubilee cycle. Presumably Isaac was born in the 7th year of the 4th sabbatical week of years (that is, in year 28). Jub 17:1 says he was weaned in the first year of the 5th sabbatical week (i.e., year 29). According to Jub 17:15, God tested Abraham in the first year of the 7th Sabbatical week (year 43). This means that Isaac was around 16 years old at the Akedah.

(N.B. Although my earlier total of 13 was more exciting, it was also incorrect. My numbers now agree with James C. VanderKam, "Studies in the Chronology of Jubilees," pages 522-544 in From Revelation to Canon [ed. James C. VanderKam; Leiden: Brill, 1999]. I take comfort in the fact that VanderKam points out several chronological errrors in Jubilees itself.)

I would not have bothered to (try to) do the math if I had not been working on an edition of the Greek textual evidence for Jubilees for the Online Critical Pseudepigrapha. What I originally imagined would be a straightforward project consisting of the rearrangement of the excerpts presented in Denis' Fragmenta, became more complicated when I realized that many of the texts do not actually quote Jubilees. This sent me looking for the texts of the Christian Greek authors who preserve Jubilees traditions--a few of which I have found on Google Books. I am still using Denis, the standard printed collection of Jubilees references, as a starting point, but I am also looking at the wider context in the source text, and frequently adding additional parallels. This means that I have to scan the Greek text I am transcribing and then read parts of Jubilees more carefully than I have before.

So when I found Cedrenus, an 11th century Byzantine chronicler, stating Isaac's age explicitly I decided to see whether Jubilees does the same. Cedrenus, by the way, asserts that Isaac was 25 at the Akedah. I presume he got this information from Josephus.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Scholarship and Community

It took me a long time to realize scholarship is a social enterprise. You don't make your way in the field (only) by hiding out in your study doing research and then taking the academic world by storm. You make friends, you connect at conferences, you--well, you socialize.

The reason: Too much is published for anyone to read all that is important in their own areas of research interest, let alone all that is important in the field. As Markus Bockmuehl puts it, "the sheer flood of both printed and electronic publication has massively advanced the balkanization of a subject that any commonsense observer would regard as concerned with a fairly manageable source text--a mere 138,000 words" (Seeing the Word, 34). In a recent interview, on Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds blog, Peter Williams commented: "It may be disheartening for PhD students to learn, but it is not particularly likely nowadays that many people will read their dissertation." I am not particularly hopeful about the fate of published dissertations either. Here's another comment by Chris VanLandingham, whose Ph.D. dissertation just came out with Hendrickson:

"When I sent the manuscript to Hendrickson four years ago, I had hoped that a book-length publication on my résumé would lead to an interview for a tenure-track position teaching in my field of early Judaism and Christian origins. By this time I had applied for over 250 such positions, but had not been invited to a single interview. I am still waiting for that first interview. So, my hopes are actually quite mundane. Otherwise, my book is one of 100,000 published this year, so in reality I don't expect my thesis to achieve anything of significance. Personally, though, it sure feels good getting one's thoughts down on paper." (The full interview can be found on Chris Tilling's blog, Chrisendom, here.)
To cope with this onslaught of verbiage, people read what their friends write, or their friends' friends, or the friends of their teachers, or the friends of their teachers' friends. Sometimes they read what gets press in the blogosphere. (VanLandingham's book, Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul, actually sounds interesting, so I ordered a copy. Whether I will actually get around to reading it is another question.)

If you have published something in a well-known series or journal, others scholars who work in your particular sub-specialty will hopefully skim what you have written--especially if it is well-written and the title describes the topic. But from time to time a reality check is in order. Some people are famous in a sub-specialty of five or twenty-five or five hundred. (Honestly, how many people are interested in the reception history of Malachi 3?) No non-academics care.

A very few are fortunate enough to write something important that gets recognized. And they, more often than not, are well-connected.

Update: More here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Post Office Lady: "So...are you getting ready to go back to school again?"
d.: "Um...I'm actually on faculty."
POL: "Oh! Ho ho ho! You'll appreciate that in a few years!"

Three years after moving to this small community, our local post office lady has realized I'm a college professor, not a college student.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 7a - Pamukkale (June 10)

Apart from a long early wait at the Kusadasi bus office--we showed up when the lady insisted we needed to be there and the bus arrived when we thought it would--I don't remember much of our trip down the Meander river valley to the major city of Denizli, and from there to the tourist town of Pamukkale. It rained, I slept, t. was jostled uncomfortably along the bumpy highway. As was our usual, but unintentional, practice, we took rooms in the first pension we looked at. This time we were helped out by a friendly girl who started talking to D&D on the bus from Denizli, and whose parents just happened to run the pension where we decided to stay. (As usual, I didn't think to take any pictures of the town or the pension.)
Pamukkale (Turkish for "Cotton Castle") is named after a stunning white backdrop of calcium-rich travertine rock, formed by the mineral water that pools and spills over the cliffs to the north of town. On top of the cliffs is the site of ancient Hierapolis (Greek for "Holy City"), mentioned in Colossians 4:13.

It started raining hard shortly after we arrived, so we had some lunch and took a nap. When we awoke around 3 p.m., the rain had let up enough for us to venture out to see the ruins.

We took a side route on the way up, stopped to look at a sarcophagus (the first of many)...
And eventually found ourselves walking along what we thought was the old city wall, but later realized was a channel for the mineral water:
Close up of the fig tree:
About four hours later, we did the barefoot touristy walk through the travertine pools on our way down...
Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Blogging Life Update

There would be no גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב if I subscribed to the dictum that blogs must be updated on a daily basis to be successful--or, I suppose, if I were committed to maintaining a popular blog. I have also successfully resisted the impulse to apologize for not blogging when life intervenes.

So this is not an apology to my handful of regular readers, it is simply a notice that I have a backlog of ideas and things to blog about when life stops intervening.

This week we spent 2-3 days moving out of our summer house-sitting arrangement in Saskatoon, and settling back into our home in Caronport. That was more time than I had planned to take off from working on the four syllabi I need to have prepared by the end of August.

Meanwhile, I wish I had time to work out some thoughts that have been gestating for the last year or so about scholarship and community. I'm looking forward to thinking aloud about possible jubilee traditions in Luke-Acts as well as the pseudepigraphal book of Jubilees itself. Of course, I also want to finish the Turkey Travelogue. And I'd like to do all this without neglecting more important things like my sabbatical research project (or my wife).

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 6d - Didyma

Under construction for 500 years but never finished, the temple of Apollo at Didyma was a major oracular site that apparently rivaled Delphi in importance. The Blue Guide paints an idyllic picture:
The best time to visit the temple is just after sunset. Most of the tourists have departed by then and only a few silent figures linger among the giant columns. The walls, glimmering in the ghostly afterglow or pallid under a gibbous moon, are home to flocks of rooks which rise, circle then settle above the empty shrine. Only their harsh calls are heard. The oracle is silent.
We arrived in the mid-afternoon heat to find a ruined structure surrounded by tourist shops. My impression from reading the Lonely Planet guide was that the temple was located by the coast, but the sea was nowhere in sight. The visit was worth it, however, because Didyma is an excellent walk-around model of a typical Greek temple--typical, that is, in layout, but not in size:
Most ancient visitors would not have been invited inside, as we were. After washing in the sacred well, those who wished to consult the oracle would sacrifice on the altar before the temple entrance (see the circular area to the left of the next picture):
They would then ascend the stairs to the porch in front of the temple (pronaos) and put their queries to the priests:
From a gap in the wall, they could make out the open-air inner sanctuary (the adyton), which contained the naiskos, the smaller temple structure which held the statue of the god,...
...but they presumably would not have descended through the unusual tunnels on either side of the temple into the adyton itself:
The oracle could not always be 'in' because the prophetess, who served as the mouthpiece of the god, had to fast for three days before each oracular session. During this time of preparation she appears to have stayed within the adytum. After her three-day fast she would enter the naiskos (the rectangular foundations of which are visible toward the end of the sanctuary), sit suspended over the sacred spring on a piece of wood, dip either her foot or her dress into the water, and then provide answers to the questions given to her:
Her responses were then taken up the monumental staircase to the chresmographeion where the priests would convert them into hexameter verse and deliver them in writing to the waiting supplicants:
At least that is one common reconstruction (based primarily on the Oxford Classical Dictionary; see also this useful site). In reality, many details about the oracle's operation remain unclear.

Outside the temple are several inscriptions that mention prophets...
...and "good luck" (ΑΓΑΘΗ ΤΥΧΗ):
Didyma's luck ran out early in the 4th century AD, when the oracle advised "Diocletian to initiate his empire-wide persecution of the Christian church.... Constantine I closed the oracle, and executed the priests; it appears not to have functioned thereafter" (OCD, 467).

Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Update: Ephesus, Miletus and the Ancient Aegean Coastline

In an earlier post, I talked about how the silting up of the Meander river left the ancient port of Miletus high and dry 14.5 km from the Aegean Sea, in much the same way that the ancient harbour of Ephesus is now nowhere near the sea. But I couldn't find a good map that showed what the ancient coastline looked like. Now I have.

On a recent visit to the University of Saskatchewan library, I stopped to consult--and then came back to photograph--the page in The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World that shows how the shoreline around Miletus has shifted over the centuries. This first map shows the shoreline as it existed in the late antique period (ca. 300-600 CE). As always, you can click on the picture to see a larger image:

The second map shows Miletus as it existed in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (up to 300 CE) on the tip of a peninsula:
And for the sake of comparison, if you click on this satellite map you can see where Miletus lies in relation to the coastline today:

This was my first experience with the Barrington Atlas, and I was blown away.

I've added it to my amazon wish list in the sidebar just for fun. The price tag almost seems reasonable when you consider that the atlas took twelve years and cost 4 million dollars to produce, but at $350, it is still well out of my range--especially for a book I would only consult from time to time. For now, I'll keep dreaming I'm content to use the library's copy.
Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 6c - Priene (June 9)

The prize for "favorite Turkish ruins experience" goes to Priene:
  • A steady breeze and lots of pine trees reminded us of central Oregon and kept us cool on a very hot day.
  • There were very few other people at the site while we were there.
  • Thanks to some excellent town-planning in the first millennium BCE., we were able to get our bearings quickly and navigate the site easily...once we found out where the excavated area started. The city grid, with main streets running east to west, is still visible on Google Earth's remarkably clear satellite photo of the ruins:
  • The site is in an excellent state of preservation, and unlike Pergamum and Ephesus, the majority of the ruins reflect their Greek (rather than Roman) origin: "Apart from some minor alterations to the theatre and some of the other public buildings, the Hellenistic city [built in the 4th cent. BCE] was left untouched by the Romans....the modern visitor walks through the 2C BC" (Blue Guide, 232).
Like most other major Greco-Roman archaeological sites, Priene has its compliment of public buildings. These include a 5,000 person theatre (small by comparison with Ephesus and Pergamum):
A well-preserved Pyrtaneion:
The Pyrtaneion--I now know after seeing several examples and doing a little background reading--was the administrative center of the Greek city, "housing its communal hearth...eternal flame [dedicated to the hearth goddess, Hestia], and public dining-room where civic hospitality was offered" (OCD 1268).

Next to the Pyrtaneion is the Bouleterion or city council chamber:
Near these buildings is a Greek inscription:
(Curious about the Greek script? Interested in a transcription? See this post over at Evangelical Textual Criticism by Dirk Jongkind, who appears to have visited Priene shortly after we did.)

There were also several temples, the largest of which was the temple to Athena, now in some disarray:

The (reconstructed) pillars are still impressive, however. According to the Blue Guide, this temple "became the model for Ionic architecture":
But there are also signs of more ordinary life as you walk down the city streets...

...and gaze into the ruins of cookie-cutter, symmetrical houses, most of which were smaller than this large private dwelling:
The town plan was built around square "insulae" units, most of which contained four private houses. Here's the Blue Guide again:
These 3C and 4C BC houses have been compared with the 1C AD houses discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum. they have many features in common. Both the Hellenistic and Roman builders used a design which proved itself effective all over the Mediterranean. Their houses were built to protect the occupants from the fierce heat of the summer sun and from the cold of winter.
The houses were also very small by modern standards; their close proximity to each other illustrate how different our modern Western conceptions of personal space are from those of the ancient world.

Assuming the first Christ-believers met in houses, perhaps we should also consider how very different church in the first century would have been from most Christians' experience of church today.

Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.