Category Archives: Book of Acts

The Empty Tomb

The Gospel of Mark provides a brief account of the events of the first day of the week after the crucifixion of Jesus. The women went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. The approach of the Sabbath did not allow this on Friday.

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

These grieving women were concerned about the removal of the large stone that had been rolled over the tomb opening and sealed by the Roman authorities. They were surprised when they discovered that the stone had already been removed.

3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back–it was very large.

Perhaps they thought that some others, unknown to them, had come to provide the same service. They were alarmed to see the young man in a white robe.

5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.

The message was an unexpected one, but one that they were to share with his disciples and Peter and to tell them to update their appointment calendar to include a meeting with Jesus in Galilee.

6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8 ESV)

The message that these women took with them was that the tomb was empty and that Jesus had risen from the grave. From this time forward He would be acknowledged by believers as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

An empty Roman period tomb with a rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An empty Roman period tomb with a rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is a rerun from April 8, 2012, but I think it is one that is still relevant.

Visualizing Isaiah 25: “on this mountain”

Isaiah continues the apocalyptic description of the judgment of the LORD and the return from captivity. The city that will be destroyed by the Babylonians will become a place of great feasting for all nations.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.(Isaiah 25:6 ESV)

Early in the book Isaiah has informed us that “the mountain of the LORD” would become a place for blessing all men through the word which would go forth from Jerusalem.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV)

Jerusalem is not directly on the top of the central mountain range that runs from the north to the south in the land of Canaan/Israel. It is situated on the eastern slope of the mountain ridge. Even then there are mountains that are higher. In the photo below you see the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Temple of Solomon once stood. But you see that Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives are higher than Jerusalem. In God’s plan Jerusalem would become the highest of all. We see the fulfillment of this in Acts 2.

Notice Jerusalem in the mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notice Jerusalem in the mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo above was taken from the Haas Promenade south of Jerusalem. Click on the photo for a larger image and a better view of the city.

Purple fabric dyed from Murex found in Judean desert

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced last week the discovery of two pieces of fabrics found at Wadi Murabba’at on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

Thousands of fabrics dating to the Roman period have been discovered in the Judean Desert and regions of the Negev and the ‘Arava. So far only two were colored with dye extracted from the murex snail. Now, within the framework of a study conducted by Dr. Na‘ama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority, three other rare fabrics belonging to pieces of prestigious textiles were exposed that might have been used as clothing in the Roman period. …

These prestigious textiles, from the Wadi Murabba‘at caves located south of Qumran, were revealed in a study that analysis the dye of 180 textiles specimens from the Judean Desert caves. Among the many textiles, most of which were dyed using substances derived from plants, were two purple-bordeaux colored textiles – parts of tunics that were double dyed utilizing two of the most expensive materials in antiquity: Murex trunculus (Hexaplex trunculus) and American Cochineal insect.

Purple fabric discovered at Wadi Murabba'at at caves south of Qumran. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Purple fabric discovered at Wadi Murabba’at at caves south of Qumran. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The valuation of the Murex purple in the ancient world is explained.

Of all of the dyes that were in use, purple is considered the most prestigious color of the earlier periods; however it seems the public’s fondness for this reached its peak in the Hellenistic-Roman period. The purple dyed fabrics attested to the prestige of the garment and the social status of its owner. There were times when the masses were forbidden from dressing in purple clothing, which was reserved for only the emperor and his family. These measures only served to increase the popularity of that color, the price of which soared and was equal to that of gold.

The photo below shows two Murex shells that I collected at the ruins of the ancient Phoenician site of Tyre.

Murex shells from Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murex shells from Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Purple is mentioned in several New Testament texts. Notice these:

  • A rich man who habitually dressed in purple and fine linen (Luke 16:19).
  • Jesus was dressed in a purple garment to make him look like a king (Mark 15:17).
  • Purple was one of the products commonly traded and transported in the Roman Empire (Revelation 18:12).

If you are interested in more information about the Murex and the color Purple put the word Murex in the search box. You should locate six posts on this topic.

For the purple made from the madder root sold by Lydia (Acts 16:14), see here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Caesarea Maritima – the Lower Palace

A few columns of the Palace of the Procurators have been restored at Caesarea. The late Jerome Murphy-O’Connor describes the lower level of the Palace.

From the west colonnade one can look down to the sea shore at a point where its dominant feature is a rectangular rock-cut pool (35 x 18). There are channels to the sea on both sides. A square statue base can be discerned in the middle. The colonnaded pool was originally the centerpiece of a two-storey building (83 x 51 m) which surrounded it on all sides. Presumably it was here that the Roman procurators lived. Wave action and the activities of stone robbers have ensured that virtually nothing remains. A staircase in the north-east corner gave access to the upper level. (The Holy Land, Fifth Edition, p. 243)

Our photo below shows this area. In the foreground you will see portions of some mosaics.

The lower level of the Place of the Procurators. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The lower level of the Place of the Procurators. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This was not a bad place for the Roman procurators to live a luxurious life while the Apostle Paul was held in custody nearby (Acts 23:23 – 26:32).

Procurators associated with Caesarea in the New Testament include…

  • Pilate (A.D. 26-26) – John 18, et al.
  • Felix (A.D. 52-59) – Acts 23-25
  • Festus (A.D. 59-61) – Acts 24-26

The Jewish rulers associated with Caesarea include…

  • Herod the king [Agrippa I] (A.D. 37-44) – Acts 12
  • Herod Agrippa II (lived A.D. 27-100) – Acts 25-26

The Hippodrome at Caesarea Maritima

Herod the Great built a hippodrome along the Mediterranean coast at Caesarea Maritima in 10 B.C. to celebrate the opening of the city. In the second century A.D. the south end of the hippodrome was reconstructed as an amphitheater to be used for gladiatorial contests.

The seaside Hippodrome at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The seaside Hippodrome at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The apostle Paul was in prison at Caesarea for two years between A.D. 58 and 60 (Acts 23:23 – 26:32).

We discussed Paul’s possible use of the charioteer in Philippians 3:12-14 here.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor – 1935-2013

The École Biblique et Archéologique in Jerusalem announced Monday the death of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (1935-2013).

Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., passed away peacefully on Monday, November 11, 2013. He was 78 years old.

Fr. Murphy-O’Connor taught for more than four decades at the École Biblique et Archéologique. He was a world-renowned biblical scholar and author of numerous books on St. Paul and the Holy Land. Many throughout the world counted him their friend.

The writings of Murphy-O’Connor have been helpful to me. I have especially enjoyed The Holy Land An Oxford Archaeological Guide which is now in its 5th edition. In my recommendations of books for those traveling to Israel I have annotated this book with the words “Excellent. The Best.” I am pleased to say that I have seen several tour members using their copy of the book. I see the book is now available for the Kindle.

Holy Land

St. Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology (Good News Studies, Vol. 6) has been helpful in studying about Corinth. His article about traveling conditions in the first century in the second issue of (the now defunct) Bible Review has been extremely helpful in studying Paul’s journeys. (Murphy-O’Connor. “On the Road and on the Sea with St. Paul.” Bible Review 1:2 (1985).

HT: Jack Sasson; Bible Places Blog.

Caesarea Maritima – Palace and Hippodrome

Caesarea Maritima was a first century Roman capital and seaport. The gospel was first preached to the Gentiles here when Peter came from Joppa to Caesarea to tell Cornelius words by which he could be saved (Acts 10, 11).

Herod the Great built a city on the site of Strato’s Tower and named it Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus. It became a center of Roman provincial government in Judea. The city had a harbor and was located on the main caravan route between Tyre and Egypt. This city is called Caesarea Maritima (on the sea) to distinguish it from Caesarea Philippi.

The setting of the city on the Mediterranean is beautiful. The photo below shows the south end of the excavated hippodrome and the palace of the procurators.

Palace of the Procurators and the south end of the Hippodrome. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Palace of the Procurators and the south end of the Hippodrome. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An inscription with the name of Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, was found during the reconstruction of the theater June 15, 1961.

The Apostle Paul used the harbor at Caesarea several times. He was imprisoned here for two years before departing for Rome (Acts 24:27; 27:1), perhaps in the palace of the procurators.

The Erastus inscription at Corinth

Even though the relationship between the Apostle Paul and the Corinthians was always a strained one, we know the names of numerous saints at Corinth who were helpful to Paul in his ministry.

Paul calls attention to a person named Erastus who was a “city treasurer.” He would be one of the few (“not many”) Christians who were among the socially elite at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:26). A person named Erastus is mentioned three times in the New Testament. Whether these are two or three different persons, or all the same person, I do not know. Here are the biblical references:

  1. “And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.” (Acts 19:22 ESV)
  2. “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.” (Romans 16:23 ESV) [We understand that Romans was written from Corinth. The Greek term for "city treasurer" is oikonomos.]
  3. “Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.” (2 Timothy 4:20 ESV)

It is of interest that during the 1929 archaeological excavation of the area near the theater (see here), a plaza was located that contained a stone inscription bearing the name of Erastus and indicating that he was a public official.

Ferrell Jenkins points to the Erastus Inscription at Corinth.

Ferrell Jenkins points to the Erastus Inscription at Corinth.

John McRay says the pavement in which this inscription was found dates to before A.D. 50. The letters are 7 inches high. The complete inscription reads:

ERASTVS-PRO-AEDILIT[at]E S-P-Stravit
In full: Erastus pro aedilitate sua pecunia stravit.

The English translation of the inscription is, “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.” (Archaeology and the New Testament, 331).

Originally the letters were filled with bronze, but most of that was removed long ago. The name ERASTVS is seen in the closeup below.

The name Erastus in the inscription near the theater. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The name Erastus in the inscription near the Corinth theater. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For those who have interest in a more technical discussion of this inscription may find it in David W.J. Gill, “Erastus The Aedile.” Tyndale Bulletin 40.2 (1989): 298. Gill asks,

Are we to identify the Erastus inscription with the Erastus of Romans? It needs to be pointed out that the evidence will not allow a certain identification or a certain rejection.

We are not able to answer the question with certainty, but the possibility that this man was among the disciples at Corinth, and a friend of Paul, is intriguing.

Paul stood before Galilo at Corinth

Luke records, in the book of Acts, an important historical event involving Paul during the 18 months he worked at Corinth

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal,
13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”
14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint.
15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.”
16 And he drove them from the tribunal.
17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Acts 18:12-17 ESV)

The photo below shows the actual platform or bema mentioned in Acts 18. Popular English versions use the terms tribunal, judgment seat, place of judgment, or judge’s bench.

The bema in the agora of Corinth. The Acrocorinth is in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The bema in the agora of Corinth. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The bema dates to A.D. 44, but could be as early as the time of Augustus (Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth, 28).

An inscription found at Delphi names Gallio the proconsul of Achaia. Gallio was the brother of the famous Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. Gallio’s terms as proconsul of Achaia is usually dated to either A.D. 51/52 or 52/53. This is an important chronological help in our study of Paul’s journeys. In the largest fragment of the inscription, the name of ΓΑΛΛΙΩ (GALLIO)  may be seen in the center of the third line from the top.

The Delphi (Gallio) inscription. Photo by David Padfield.

The Delphi (Gallio) inscription. Photo by David Padfield.

I have been to Delphi at least two times, but the broken pieces of the Gallio Inscription were in a storage room. I did have written permission to see the fragment, but the slides I made were of poor quality. Thanks to David Padfield for permission to use the nice photo above which is now displayed in the museum at Delphi.

The theater at Corinth

The theater at Corinth is a short distance from the agora and the Temple of Apollo. Reddish and Fant describe the theater:

The theater dates from the 5th century B.C.E. and later was rebuilt by the Romans, who added a multistory stage building . In Paul’s time it seated approximately 14,000 spectators. (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, p. 59)

According to the same source, both the theater and the odeion, “were later used for gladiatorial spectacles; the theater was even fitted for mock sea battles.”

Ruins of the theater at Corinth. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the theater at Corinth. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The theater is not on the typical tourist route at Corinth, but it can be reached along a rugged path north of the major excavated area.

The Apostle Paul spent 18 months among the Corinthians.

And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:11 ESV)