Category Archives: Church History

Flowers at Nicea (Iznik,Turkey)

This planter of beautiful flowers is one of several that adorn the entry to the Saint Sofia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik, Turkey. Iznik is the site of Nicea (Nicaea), the location of the famous Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and the Second Council of Nicea in A.D. 787.

Flowers in front of Iznik Ayasofya Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Flowers in front of Iznik Ayasofya Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Mosque has a long, typical history. Originally the site was the location of a Roman temple. Then in the 4th century A.D. the church of Saint Sofia was erected. In A.D. 1331 the building became a mosque. This is a common occurrence in the Middle East.

Bal’ama is thought to be Biblical Ibleam

We always wanted to travel through the hill country of Samaria (Manasseh and Ephraim) on our tours, but there were many years that this was not possible due to the political situation. When travel was possible we drove (from the north) through Jenin, the plain of Dothan, Samaria, Shechem (Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, Jacob’s Well), and other sites as time permitted. If we could not travel along the central mountain range we drove through the Jordan Valley.

Sometime when traveling through Jenin, our guide would mention that there is a tel (tell, archaeological mound) on the south side of the city, but we never saw it. Traveling in a bus normally provides a better view because one is sitting higher, but I now understand why we did not see this tel. The excavation report explains that the spring entrance at road level became visible only after the 1996-1997 road work. The road runs through the Wadi Bal’ama.

The site on the south side of Jenin is known as Khirbet Bal’ama, or Khirbet Belameh. Several 19th and 20th century archaeologists identified this site with Biblical Ibleam.

Ibleam was a Canaanite town in the territory given to the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. As the Israelites settled in the land, there were Canaanite cities that they failed to capture. One of them was Ibleam (Joshua 17:11). The Biblical text says,

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. (Judges 1:27 ESV)

Thutmose III was the ruler of Egypt (1504-1450 B.C.) during the 18th Dynasty. Some scholars place the beginning of his rule at 1490 and others at 1479.

Thutmose III at the Temple of Amum at Karnak. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Seated statue of Thutmose III at the Karnak Temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Thutmose made a military excursion into Canaan and left a record of it on the walls of the Karnak Temple. Our photo shows a few of the bound rulers of various cities. I don’t have a translation of the cartouches and do not know if Bal’ama is shown in this photo, but it is included somewhere on the walls of Karnak.

Part of the city list left by Thutmose III at Karnak Temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Part of the city list left by Thutmose III at Karnak Temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

My interest in Bal’ama was renewed when I read A.D. Riddle’s article in the Bible Places Blog here. Last April, 2016, I had this site in mind when we were able to drive through the West Bank from Galilee to Jerusalem. As we drove south of Jenin I caught a glimpse of the new sign marking the entrance to Bal’ama Tunnel. Note that the sign is in Arabic and English. I may be wrong, but I don’t think this sign was there in 2015 when I drove through Jenin, but I may have been looking to the east of the highway.

Bal'ama is marked as Bal'ama Tunnel on the west side of the road from Jenin to Dothan, Samaria, and Nablus (Shechem). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bal’ama is marked as Bal’ama Tunnel on the west side of the road from Jenin to Dothan, Samaria, and Nablus (Shechem). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are two information signs posted at the site of Khirbet Bal’ama. The first reads,

Khirbet Bal’ama is a Canaanite fortified city that occupied a strategic position controlling the historic route of Wadi Bal’ama which connects the Arraba Plain with Marj Ibn Amer (“Jarzeel [Jezreel] Valley”). In the ancient record, the site is identified with the name “Ibleam“, and was mentioned in the Egyptian Royal Archive in the 15th century B.C. With reference to the classical records, Bal’ama was known as “Belemoth”, and was mentioned as a major town during the Bronze Age and beginnings of the Iron Age. It was inhabited during the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic periods, also during the crusader/Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. Excavations at the site carried out by a Joint Palestinian-Dutch team between 1998 and 2000, revealed the water system and parts of a city walls dating back to the Bronze Age at the western perimeter of the site, ruins for houses dating back to the second Iron Age, a winery from the Roman period and remnants of a tower on top of the hill dating back to the crusader/Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. A cemetery on the southern top of the hill adjacent to Khirbet Bal’ama was discovered as well.

Khirbet Bal’ama is visible to the right of the new building on the slope. There are two entrances to the tunnel; one at street level and another at the level of the platform on the slope.

The site of Khirbet Bal'ama south of Jenin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The site of Khirbet Bal’ama south of Jenin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Riddle includes some nice photos of the site, but we can add one with the entrance to the tunnel system open.

Entrance to the tunnel at Khirbet Bal'ama. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to the tunnel at Khirbet Bal’ama. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Another sign on the entrance plaza describes the water tunnel system.

The water tunnel is located at the eastern foot of Khirbet Bal’ama. It was first described by Victor Guerin in 1874 and then by G. Schumacher [who had earlier excavated at Megiddo] in 1910. The rock-cut tunnel was dug to give access to the water source at the foot of the hill. It was designed primarily to be used in times of war and siege. The Bal’ama water tunnel system is one of the major systems in Palestine, like other systems found in Jerusalem, Tel el-Muteselim (Megiddo), Tel el-Qadah (Hazor) and Tell el-Jazari (Gezer). The tunnel consists of three parts, namely the archway at the lowest entrance, the rock-cut tunnel going upward to the west, and the upper stone-built narrow passage. The discovered tunnel is 115 metres in length; 105 metres of it is rock-cut and includes 57 stairs. Archaeological objects were found, such as pottery vessels, glass objects, coins, and some inscriptions.

And we can add a photo of the actual lower water tunnel. Riddle says,

The tunnel was apparently constructed in the Iron Age, though this is based largely on inference rather than clear, direct evidence

Beginning of the Bal'ama Tunnel on the east side of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Beginning of the Bal’ama Tunnel on the eastern (northeast, Riddle) side of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Due to lunch plans at Samaria and other sites on our schedule for the day we were not able to walk through the tunnel. Always a reason to return.

Riddle cites two excavation reports. He says the first may be difficult to access in the United States, but I am pleased to say that both documents are now available on Academia under the name of Hamdan Taha. This is for those who have a more technical interest in the site.

Taha, Hamdan and Gerrit van der Kooij. The Water Tunnel System at Khirbet Bal’ama. Archaeological Project Report of the 1996–2000 Excavations and Surveys, volume II. Ramallah: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage. 2007.

Taha, Hamdan. “Excavation of the Water Tunnel at Khirbet Belameh, 1996-1997.” in Proceedings of the First International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, Rome, May 18th-23rd 1998. 2000: 1587-1613.

Reformation Day 2016

October 31 is known as Reformation Day because it was on this day in 1517 that Martin Luther posted Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The Ninety-Five Theses were issues that Luther thought should be debated by the theologians. These questions were brought about due to the sale of indulgences and general corruption within the Roman Catholic Church.

The term Protestant was not used to describe those who aligned themselves with Luther for another 12 years, but the Protestant movement can be dated the the event at Wittenberg.

There are many issues on which I would differ with Luther, but I admit that I admire the man and the stand that he took against practices of his day which were departures from the Apostolic doctrine.

This statue of Luther stands in the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The official name of the town is Lutherstadt Wittenberg.

Luther Statue in the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Luther Statue in the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our Alpine Europe tour visited Worms, Germany, in 2015. At that time the park where the Luther Monument is located was under repair in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I was able to crop out the repair work and keep a nice photo of the Monument.

Luther Monument in Worms, Germany. This is the largest Luther Monument in the world. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This Monument in Worms, Germany, is the largest Luther Monument in the world. The park has been under repair for the 500th anniversary. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In preparation for that tour I found this description of the Luther Monument here. The link is now broken, but the site still includes a photo of the Monument here.

Description of the Luther Monument

The Luther Monument in Worms is the largest Luther Monument in the world. The elaborate sculpture group centers on Martin Luther, who is flanked by Frederick the Wise of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, two powerful princes who played a major role in the political success of the Reformation. Behind Luther are Johannes Reuchlin and Philipp Melanchthon, two important Protestant scholars, and at his feet are forerunners of the Reformation: Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus and Girolamo Savonarola. The seated women personify the first German cities to adopt Protestantism and between the wall and the statue of Luther are the names of other towns that played an important role in the Reformation.

We have photos and bits of information about other Reformation leaders scattered here and there on the blog. You may search for the Reformation, or some specific leaders such as Savonarola, Zwingle, Knox, Bullinger, Restoration Movement, etc.

Steven Braman, a friend and fellow-traveler/blogger, travels to Germany in his work. He has written several posts about the Reformation. Begin here and find a list of his most recent posts.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 7

The modern city of Iznik

The museum of Iznik is noted for its collection of Blue Tiles for which the city is famous. In 2014 I found many of the museums in Turkey, or certain exhibits, closed for remodeling. Even with a polite request we were not allowed to visit the various monuments displayed in the yard of the museum.

The museum of Iznik was closed for remodeling in 2014. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The museum of Iznik was closed for remodeling in 2014. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Missing the tile work for which the city is famous was not a great loss. Tile work from Iznik may be seen in the ceiling of the Blue Mosque, in the Topkapi Palace, and other buildings in Istanbul.

In the ceiling of the Blue Mosque is a good example of the tile of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The ceiling of the Blue Mosque is a good example of the Iznik tile. Photo by F. Jenkins.

One expects to see mosques in any Turkish city. I am including this photo of the Yeşil (Green) Mosque. The promotional tourism information includes this information about the mosque.

Recognised as the symbol of İznik, the Yeşil Mosque takes its name from the turquoise coloured İznik tiles and bricks of its minaret which are a fine reflection
of Seljuk minaret style in Ottoman art. Built by the architect Hacı Musa between 1378 and 1392 upon the request of Halil Hayrettin Pasha, this mosque is
undoubtedly the most magnificent of the single domed mosques of the Ottoman Period. Its unique minaret is on the right corner of the mosque. While its niche displays rich stone work, its body is covered with blue and green coloured tiles in zigzag mosaic style.

The Green Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Green Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Biblical Connection

The events we have described in this series on Iznik/Nicea are post apostolic, but the general area does have two connections to the New Testament.

  • On the outbound portion of Paul’s third journey he attempted to go into Bithynia, but was not permitted to do so.

And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:7 ESV)

  • We have already pointed out that the epistles of Peter were written to saints in various Roman provinces including Bithynia.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

I plan to show you one more famous landmark on the outskirts of Iznik as the eighth in this series.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 6

Nicea, now identified with Iznik, Turkey, was in the Roman province of Bythinia in Asia. A Roman lawyer named Pliny served as governor of Bithynia and Pontus (A.D. 111-113) and exchanged a series of letters with the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117).

The theater at Nicea was constructed while Pliny was governor of Bithynia. According to the tourism publication on Iznik the theater,

… was converted into a mass graveyard in the 13th century. The graveyard was later replaced by the ceramic kilns. Only some part of the cavea (audience section) of the ancient theatre have survived to the present day. It appears that its stones were used as construction materials especially in the restoration of the city walls.

The theater is estimated to have seated 15,000 persons.

Ruins of the theater dating to the time of Trajan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the theater dating to the reign of the Emperor Trajan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From the letters exchanged between Pliny and the Emperor Trajan we know that Christians were persecuted during his reign. (For more information see our post here.)

Emperor Trajan (A.D. 97-117). Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Emperor Trajan (A.D. 97-117). Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are ruins of a few churches (meaning “meeting places”) in Iznik. No doubt many ruins are under the buildings of the modern city, but the area pictured below marks the site of the Dormitian of the Mother of God (Theotokos = God-bearer). At the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 “Theotokos was approved as a right title for the Virgin Mary” (Peter Toon, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 344). Sources such as Philip Schaff provide much more detailed information for those interested.

Sign at site of Dormitian of the Theotokos, built by Hyakinthos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign at site of Dormitian of the Theotokos, built by Hyakinthos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you have traveled much in the Middle East you have likely seen several sites associated with the dormitian of Mary, the place where she went to sleep before being assumed into heaven, according to Catholic and Orthodox theology. Our guide for the day to Nicea/Iznik waits for us to make our photo before entering the few remaining ruins of the church.

Guide waiting to take us into ruins of the Dormitian church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Guide waiting to take us into ruins of the Dormitian church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This church was built by Bishop Hyakinthos in the 7th or 8th century. Only with flash and some work in Photoshop was I able to show this much of the structure. The Blue Guide Turkey “The Lascarid emperor, Theodore 1 (1204-22) was buried here.”

Dark remains of the Dormitian church of the Theotokos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dark remains of the Dormitian church of the Theotokos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In Part 7 we will move to a few of the modern buildings of Iznik.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 5

The Walls and Gates of Iznik/Nicea

Our first photo shows the Istanbul Gate from inside the city wall. The gates of the city are named much the same way many streets or highways are named in USA cities, to designate the next significant city in that direction.

The Istanbul Gate in the north wall of Iznik/Nicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A portion of the wall of Iznik/Nicea and the Istanbul Gate in the north wall. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A nice promotional brochure on Iznik, published by the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2011 has these comments about the walls and gates.

The pentagon shaped city walls that surround İznik are 4970 metres [about 3.1 miles] in length. Although these city walls were constructed in the Hellenistic era, they have lost all the characteristics peculiar to this era. Only the wall parts constructed in the Roman and Byzantine periods have survived to the present. In the 8th century, the city walls were made higher and the bastions were built by using the construction materials brought from the theatre.
Historic Gates   The historic gates in İznik were actually constructed as triumphal arches in the reigns of the Emperor Vespasianus (69–79) and Emperor Titus (79–81), and were restored to a large scale in the time of Emperor Hadrian [117-138]. The city walls were built by connecting these arches to each other. Reflecting the architectural technique and style of the Roman Period, the İstanbul, Lefke and Yenişehir gates still stand splendid today, although the remaining gate, the Göl Gate is in ruins. (p. 17)

From the outside we see a portion of the Istanbul gate as one enters Iznik.

The Istanbul Gate in the north wall of Iznik/Nicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Istanbul Gate in the north wall of Iznik/Nicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Yenişehir Gate, marking the south entry to Iznik, is still in need of considerable repair. Several of the old towers are visible at various places around the city wall.

The Yenişehir Gate on the south side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Yenişehir Gate on the south side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Lefke Gate on the east side of the walled city of Iznik is probably the most interesting one. First we see ruins of an ancient aqueduct.

The Lefke Gate Aqueduct on the east side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Lefke Gate Aqueduct on the east side of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Then we see the outer Lefke Gate. There are numerous examples of recycled materials in this gate.

The Lefke Outer Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Lefke Outer Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The first of the inner gates have Greek inscriptions showing that it was dedicated to the Roman Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 123.

Roman period inscriptions are visible in the Lefke Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman period inscriptions are visible in the Lefke Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There seems to have been no restoration of the Lake (Göl) Gate, but some portions of the towers and walls can be seen.

Ruins of the Lake Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the Lake (Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We will stop here and continue in the next post to show you a few other important structures in Iznik/Nicea.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 4

The Seventh Ecumenical Council

The first ecumenical council in the fourth century did not achieve unity among Christians. Oxford theologian Allister McGrath comments about doctrines concerning Jesus in Studies in Doctrine (23).

“Theology is often regarded as idle and pointless speculation about irrelevancies – a harmless, if somewhat pointless, pastime of frustrated academics and bishops with time on their hands. If any area of Christian thought has been characterized by apparently pointless speculation of this sort, it is Christology. Gregory of Nyssa [Nyssa was the ancient name of Nevşehir in Cappadocia.], writing in the fourth century, complained that it was impossible to go out shopping in downtown Constantinople without having to put up with speculation of this sort:”

“Constantinople [modern Istanbul] is full of mechanics and slaves, every one of them profound theologians, who preach in the shops and streets. If you want someone to change a piece of silver, he tells you about how the Son differs from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf of bread, you are told that the Son is inferior to the Father, if you ask whether the bath is ready, you are told that the Son was created from nothing.”

After five other councils, Nicea would again be host to the seventh and last ecumenical council in A.D. 787. This one would deal with the iconoclastic controversy. Fatih Cimok set forth the question,

“Was it right to make painted or sculpted representations of Jesus and the saints, and direct homage to such images?” (Biblical Anatolia: From Genesis to the Councils, 201)

The conflict remained a matter of doctrinal argument until Leo III enforced iconoclasm (removal of the icons – eikons – or images from the churches) in A.D. 726. Irene, the mother of the infant Constantine VI, wanted to restore the icons. Moving cautiously,

She decided to summon a second council in Nicaea. It was held in the church of St. Sophia, whose restored ruins still survive. Among other things the council declared that icons deserved reverence (Greek proskynesis) but not adoration (Greek latreia) which was due to God alone and condemned the iconoclasts. (Cimok, Biblical Anatolia, 202)

Our photo below show the present state of the building, but it has undergone many changes over the centuries. It is presumed to have been used as a place of Christian worship during the Byzantine period. After damages caused by earthquakes in the 11th century many changes were made in the building. After Orhangazi’s conquest of Iznik in A.D. 1331, the building was converted to a mosque. Notice the top of the minaret to the right of the Turkish flag. The latest remodeling was in 2007. The building now serves as a museum. (Info based on signs at the site.)

Haghia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. It is thought that the 7th Ecumenical Council met in the building at this site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hagia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. It is thought that the 7th Ecumenical Council met in the building at this site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is the modern entrance to the building. The names indicate the various historical periods. Ayasofya (= Hagia Sophia or Saint Sofia, the church); Orhan recalls the conquest by Orhan Gazi in 1331 when the building was converted into a mosque (= Camii).

The entrance to the restored Haghia Sofia - Orhan - Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The entrance to the restored Hagia Sofia – Orhan – Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows the interior of the building. In an enlargement of the apse one can see some faint drawings (icons).

Interior of the Haghia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Itnik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the Hagia Sophia Church (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The information at the site claims that this was seating for (some of?) the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Definitely not a plush assignment.

Seats for the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Seats for the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

After the second Nicean Council icons in the form of mosaics, paintings, or statuary became common in both the Eastern and Western Church. The example below shows the Deesis (enthronement, Christ Pantocrator) from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). The complete 12th century mosaic shows Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptism.

The Deesis from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows Jesus enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Deesis from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows Jesus enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next article will show you some of the wall and the gates of Iznik/Nicea.