New Testament World

A communicative moment


On the day after an election it is good to remember the difference between power that is temporary and power that is eternal!

I stand before Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mura) and look up. The façade of any building is one of its most important features. Designers know that every one who enters will raise his/her eyes; it is a prime communicative moment that speaks in the language of architecture and symbol.

19th century artists Filippo Agricola and Nicola Consoni decorated the façade of St Paul’s using mosaic in three registers. Their work was based on the original 10th century mural that was destroyed by a fire in 1823.

On the bottom are four figures. These are evenly spaced between three windows. The figures represent the four Major Prophets of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Each holds a scroll suggesting that the Messiah was anticipated by the Old Testament.

In the center is a key symbol of the Messiah. A lamb reclines on a mound from which four fountains (four gospels?) flow. The flock gathers at the water. The symbol of the lamb is an old one going back to the Gospel of John (1:29).

The central figure at the top, in the pediment, is the enthroned Christ. On his right is the Apostle Peter holding a key. On his left is the Apostle Paul holding a sword.

The original structure here was situated over the tomb of Paul. Paul was beheaded in Rome in AD 67. The 4th century historian Eusebius states that the place of Paul’s burial was known and marked (Eccl Hist. 2.25, see here).


We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at

The river of a galling folk

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The River Adour is born in the snow of the Pyrénées and flows down to the Bay of Biscay. Here in Bayonne, France, it is broad and powerful. It surges under the bridge where I am standing and in just a few miles will mix with the salty Atlantic.

In the Roman period this was the homeland of a salty people-group known as the Tarbelli. They called the river Aturis. Their land was desired for its gold. Strabo tantalizes us with the observation: you can pick up nuggets here "as big as a fist." They are easily found and require very little refining (check out this link to Strabo's Geography 4.2.1).

According to Julius Caesar, the Tarbelli are one of several groups in Gaul that surrendered to Crassus in 56 BC and sent hostages to Rome (De Bello Gallico 3.27.1). All of these Gallic folk appear fussy and hostile, but much more human than the crazy Germans in the north. Eventually the Tarbelli were "Romanized" as a part of the province of Aquitaine.

Buen caminó!

I posted another picture of Bayonne a while back. See here.


This is your last call to join us for this year's cruise on the Mediterranean. We will be traveling by sea from Rome to Athens and back again. See the link here for details. Ports of call along the way include Sicily, Malta, and Santorini. If you are interested, you'll need to hustle. The Celebrity Reflection is about to sail!

Vineyards as far as the eye can see


The trail into Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain, passes through some of the most stunning country on the Camino Francés. Rolling hills are draped with vineyards and distant mountains are crowned with trees.

The mountains are a part of a range known as the Sierra de los Ancares. The Ancares, while not huge, are formidable enough to have isolated the small Galician villages that dot the region. It was not until the roadbuilding of the mid-20th century that these isolated villages became more widely accessible. To this day the Ancares represent rural Spain at its best.

The Romans came to Villafranca to mine gold from the mountains. They stayed to raise grapes. Much later, in 1070, a monastery was founded to continue the agricultural art. A Frankish community gathered around it, hence the name "Frank-ville."

Buen caminó!


We are hiking another beautiful area in 2019. Jan 8-16 will be spent walking in Galilee, Israel! You are invited to join us. The Jesus Trail passes from Nazareth to Capernaum and stops at sites like the one pictured here: Magdala. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is a bargain at only $2,588 from New York. For more details click here or contact me at

The storm brews


A thunderstorm brews over the town of Los Arcos in the region of Navarre. We were fortunate to have found cover before it let loose. Hail and rain were dumped from the sky and pounded the streets.

The Church of Santa María has weathered a few storms in its time. The original stone structure was raised in the 12th century. Efforts to expand and maintain it produced the form we see today. It is a hodge-podge of styles.

It is possible that the site of Los Arcos represents the legacy of Roman Curnonium, a city in the region mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography.*

Buen caminó!

*For a discussion of the remains and extent of the ancient town see the article by Javier Armendariz Martija posted here.


Calling all Bible Land Explorers. Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail between Nazareth and Capernaum and do some additional sightseeing in Israel-Palestine. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is priced at $2,588 from New York. Dates are Jan 8-16, 2019. Space is limited. For more details click here or contact me at

The bridge of meeting


Yesterday I posted a photograph down the main street of Puente la Reina, Spain (see here). That path continues to the edge of town where it crosses the Arga River by means of this 11th century Romanesque bridge. The elegant span of stone is more than 100 meters long. It bequeathed a name to the village: Puente la Reina means quite literally "the bridge of the Queen." No one is sure of the identity of this queen, but many guesses have been made.

Puente la Reina is a significant waypoint in the Camino network. It marks the meeting place of two ancient pilgrim routes. The Camino Francés crosses the Pyrénées via St. Jean Pied-du-Port (the path I am on) before dropping into Puente la Reina. The voie d'Arles or "Arles route" drops into Spain from a point further east. Pilgrims from Italy would come this way. It is possible that St Francis of Assisi crossed this bridge when he walked the Camino in the year 1214!

These two roads merge in Puente la Reina, pass over the Arga River, and continue westward.

Buen caminó!


Calling all Bible Land Explorers. Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail between Nazareth and Capernaum and do some additional sightseeing in Israel-Palestine. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is priced at $2,588 from New York. Dates are Jan 8-16, 2019. Space is limited. For more details click here or contact me at

About here somewhere

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Bible Land Explorers Joy and Sonia help me fix our location.

The summer haze makes flying by visual flight rules (VFR) difficult. The map helps. We are standing on top of the Masada mesa with the Dead Sea Basin hiding behind us (you'll just have to take my word for it).

The site of Masada plays a rich role in the history of the region. Herod the Great (the "Baby-killer" of the Christmas story) built a wondrous fortress-palace here. 

Joy and Sonia are part of a study-group from the Cumberland Community Church in Smyrna, Georgia.

Intrepid travelers who desire a more intimate view to the landscape of the gospels should consider walking across Galilee on the Jesus Trail, January 8-16, 2019. Vehicle support is provided and will return the group each night to the hotel. Contact me directly at if interested. The trip is priced from New York at $2,588. See itinerary here.

Toilet humor

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From the looks on these three faces someone is about to get in trouble.

These very public toilets were found in the ruins of Scythopolis (Beth She'an), Israel, just outside the theater area. Beth She'an was a leading city of the Decapolis, a league of Gentile cities mentioned in the New Testament.

I can't remember any details of the conversation captured here but it likely involved flatulence, circumcision, or sponge-sticks. Possibly all three.

Photo by YoungLan Ye.

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Interested in visiting Israel/Palestine at a deeply discounted price? Pastors, professors, and their spouses are invited to participate in a unique experience for less than $1,500. Join us on January 8-15, 2019 for a rich engagement that introduces leaders to the potential and pitfalls of group travel in this exciting part of the world. Contact me at

Jumbo pool noodles?


The waterpark at the base of the Herodium (Jabal al-Fureidis > "Paradise Mountain") is extravagant.

Begin by acknowledging that the site chosen as a pleasure palace by Herod the Great (the baby-killer of the Christmas story) is located on the edge of the Judean Wilderness. Water is in short supply here.

Add to this context an engineering effort that constructed a reservoir twice that of an Olympic-size swimming pool. It was 10 feet deep! In the center was a circular island, likely presented in a classical tholos design. One could swim or even boat to the island in such a desert "lake."

Finish it by surrounding the installation with courtyards. These culminated in rows of columns with Ionic capitals and stucco painted walls.

I wonder where they kept the jumbo pool noodles?

This is extravagance. First century Herodian extravagance.

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Interested in visiting Israel/Palestine yourself?  Pastors, professors, and their spouses are invited to participate in a unique experience. Join us Jan 8-15, 2019, for a rich engagement with the Land of the Bible. Priced at a deep-discount level, this trip introduces leaders to the potential and pitfalls of organized travel.

On Jordan's Stormy Banks

The Wadi Kharrar intersects the Jordan River about five miles north of the Dead Sea. As pictured, tourists, worshippers, and the curious are permitted down to this famous river that serves as an international border. 

Masada survivors

Tristram's starling or grackle (Onychognathus tristramii) are among the last true residents of the Masada mesa. They are named after Henry Baker Tristram, a naturalist, archaeologist, and missionary to Palestine in the 1860s and 1870s.

Journey up the "Jesus Stairs"

Excavations in the archaeological park adjacent to the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem have revealed features from many different periods. Among the most interesting is the monumental stairway pictured here. The use phase of this construction corresponds with the time when the limestone platform above contained the (Second) Temple of YHWH. These stairs were used by worshippers approaching the temple complex from the south.

The sounds of music

Human disturbances and earthquake activity obliterated much of Aphrodite's sanctuary at Palaepaphos, Cyprus. Still, remains from the Roman era are sufficient to suggest that the site maintained its character as a courtyard-style sanctuary

Her town

Palaepaphos or "Old Paphos" rests on a plateau about two miles from Petra tou Romiou, the beach connected with mythology of Aphrodite's birth (see posts here, here, and here). Portions of the site have been revealed in excavations that that been conducted here since the 1950s. Other portions of the site, like the areas covered by these springtime weeds, have not yet been touched.

Excavations have revealed a sanctuary honoring the goddess Aphrodite. This cultural significance, underlined by impressive remains, put Palaepaphos on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

Palaepaphos is a short drive of 9 miles from Paphos, located on the southwestern corner of the island of Cyprus.

A foamy floozy


As suggested in recent POTD posts, the site of Petra tou Romiou on the island of Cyprus is traditionally associated with the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (Roman Venus). That story is recounted by the poet Hesiod in grizzly detail. The short end of it is that wily Cronos castrated his father Uranus with a sickle and threw his lopped-off genitals into the sea. Foam developed around the immortal parts and out of that foam Aphrodite emerged. The scene of her birth is a favorite among classical painters and has been endlessly analyzed by art historians.

Incidentally the Greek term for "foam" is ἀφρός (aphros), hence Hesiod's explanation of the name Ἀφροδίτη (Aphrodite) as one who comes from the foam (Theogony 195). Scholars generally regard Hesiod's explanation as folksy, preferring a still older Near Eastern origin for this goddess favored by salty sailors and prostitutes across the Mediterranean world.

There are several other nicknames for Aphrodite. These include Cyprogenes (because she was from Cyprus) and Philommêdês (ahem, "genital-loving"). The latter is thought to be a coy play on Philomeidês ("laughter-loving").

While Aphrodite doesn't appear by name in the Bible, a place devoted to her sure does. Anyone heard of Corinth?

Acts by the sea

A Franciscan church dedicated to St Peter overlooks the Mediterranean Sea in Jaffa (Yafo), Israel. Its stepped bell tower rises from the shoulder of a tell (ruin-mound) evincing maritime life on the spot going back to the eighth-millennium BC.

The church is, by such standards, brand new. The footprint dates to the time of the crusader King Louis IX (13th century), while the structure seen today was largely constructed in the late 19th century. Curiously, the old citadel of St. Louis served as a temporary home for Napoleon during his Eastern Campaign with the the Armée d'Orient in 1799. The fingerprints of empire are everywhere!

Jaffa's association with St Peter is drawn from two stories found in the book of Acts. In the first (read it here) Peter raises a disciple of Jesus to life. In the second, Peter has a dream that eventually leads him up the coast to Caesarea Maritima (read it here).

Christianizing folks

Caesar Augustus or Octavian (left) is often considered the first Roman emperor. He ruled between 27 BC and AD 14 and initiated the "peace of Rome." His name appears in Luke's account of the birth of Christ (read here). He was a shrewd and able politician who used traditional Roman religion to his advantage and was himself known as "Savior" and the "Son of God."

Livia (right), was already mother to future emperor Tiberias and pregnant with a second child when she met Octavian. Octavian fell in love with her immediately. Tradition has not been kind to her however. She is remembered as an unsavory character, responsible for poisoning more than a few friends and relatives (and possibly Augustus himself!).

These images of both Augustus and Livia were found amid the rubble of Ephesus. Their statues were likely "Christianized" and broken during the Early Byzantine Era. When found, crosses were carved into their foreheads. The practice is not unique. Is it wishful thinking on the part of Christians, an act of purification, exorcism, or something else?

You can find these artifacts as I did in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk, Turkey.

For more on cross-marks, see T. M. Kristensen and L. Stirling, The Afterlife of Greek and Roman Sculpture: Late Antique Responses and Practices (University of Michigan, 2016): 145-146.

Don't let this happen to you

This rubble ramp thrown against Masada was the means by which Lucius Flavius Silva and the Roman Legion X Fretensis gained access to the mesa summit in AD 73-74. An ironclad seige tower was dragged to the top of the ramp and a battering ram was used to breach the perimeter wall. This story, and the subsequent mass suicide of the rebels on the mesa, is told by Josephus in his Jewish War (here is a link to an English translation). 

The account of the breach is described by Josephus in this way: The Romans set fire to a wooden wall erected by the rebels to stop the battering ram sitting atop the ramp. The wind blew the fire back toward the siege tower and threatened to undo everything the Romans had so far accomplished. But then "the wind changed into the south, as if it were done by Divine Providence, and blew strongly the contrary way, and carried the flame, and drove it against the wall, which was now on fire through its entire thickness. So the Romans, having now assistance from God, returned to their camp with joy, and resolved to attack their enemies the very next day" (War 7:304).

The narrative functions as the closer for the account of the First Jewish Revolt. For Josephus these rebels are not heroes, but tragic individuals responsible for the destruction of their own country. They fought against God himself and offered testimony to the danger of radical nationalism. 

By the way, it is much easier to walk down the ramp than it is to walk up. Just sayin'.

A few laps

The stadium at Aphrodisias, Turkey, begs the legs to run. Our students couldn't resist.

The straightaway is lengthy: 225 meters. The turn at is tight. 

I previously posted an end-view of this structure here.

Details of the stadium are published by Katherine Welch in American Journal of Archaeology 102/3 (1998): 547-569.