Category Archives: Church History

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about Nicea, the site of the first and seventh ecumenical councils.

My travels in Turkey – A brief survey

A couple of years ago I wrote a little piece here about why a Bible student should want to visit Turkey. In a category entitled Post New Testament church history I said,

The Ecumenical Councils met in the place we now call Turkey in the following cities: Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon.

My first trip to Turkey was in 1968 when I visited the area of the seven churches of the book of Revelation and the city of Istanbul. It was not until 1984 that I went back to the area with Melvin Curry and Phil Roberts, a couple of teaching colleagues, for a more detailed study. We also visited several of the Greek islands mentioned in the Bible. Then in 1985 I put together a tour I called, from that time forward, Steps of Paul and John. This tour included biblical sites in Greece and Turkey. At the end of that tour Raymond Harris, a fellow preacher, and I visited all of the sites associated with Paul’s first journey with the exception of Cyprus – a place I had already visited.

Melvin Curry, Ferrell Jenkins, Phil Roberts in Heraklion, Crete.

In Heraklion, Crete, we stayed with a former student and her family during the 1984 trip. My recollection is that she made this photo as we left for the airport to go to Athens. Left to right: Melvin Curry, Ferrell Jenkins, Phil Roberts.

In 1987 I conducted my first Ancient Crossroads tour to include the Hittite territory of Anatolia, Cappadocia, and the sites associated with Paul’s first journey. In 1995 the Steps of Paul and John tour included a cruise of the Greek islands. This cruise, touching at places like Patmos, Rhodes, and Crete, would be repeated several times over the years.

I had been able to visit most New Testament sites in Turkey, but certain Old Testament sites had eluded me because they were far away in eastern Turkey near the borders of Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Soviet Union (now Armenia). In 1995 I was joined by Curtis Pope with whom I taught, and his brother Kyle, for a visit in eastern Turkey. We picked up a car in Adana, visited sites associated with Abraham and the Patriarchs, and went through the region of Urartu as far as the traditional Mount Ararat.

That is an excursion I would repeat in more detail in 2007 with Leon Mauldin, David Padfield, and Gene Taylor. Leon and I went back to the region of Paddan-Aram in 2014. In 2007, we had visited the Black Sea region of Turkey to explore the cities that might have been visited by the messenger who delivered the Epistles of Peter. See this Index of Articles dealing with this subject. This included the Roman provinces of Pontus and Bithynia.

Eastern Turkey tour by Padfield, Mauldin, Jenkins, and Taylor (left to right). Carchemish in the background.

Eastern Turkey tour by Padfield, Mauldin, Jenkins, and Taylor (left to right). Carchemish is in the background center. We joked that we were out, standing in our field.

Now it was time to visit the site of two of the Ecumenical Councils in Bithynia. Leon and I arranged to do this in 2014. From Istanbul it is possible to rent a car and travel to Iznik (Nicaea, Nicea) across one of the bridges connecting Europe with Asia. That would take a lot of time. We decided to hire a guide/driver to pick us up at our hotel in Istanbul in Europe, take a ferry across the Sea of Mamara to the Asian side into ancient Bithynia, and visit Iznik in one day. This excursion would cost us almost $900.

The return ferry from Nicea to Istanbul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The return ferry from Nicea to Istanbul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is where I hope to pick up in the next article and begin to tell you about the visit to Iznik. There will probably be about seven articles in the series, with lots of photos. I trust you will find them interesting and profitable.

Divers make spectacular discovery in Caesarea harbor

Divers Ran Feinstein (R) and Ofer Ra'anan after discovery. Credit: The Old Caesarea Diving Center.

Divers Ran Feinstein (R) and Ofer Ra’anan after discovery. Credit: The Old Caesarea Diving Center.

The Israeli papers are ablaze today with photos of a discovery made by two divers in the ancient port of Caesarea in the Caesarea National Park. The official news release of the Israel Antiquities Authority reads in part:

As soon as they emerged from the water divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan of Ra‘anana contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority and reported the discovery and removal of several ancient items from the sea.

A joint dive at the site together with IAA archaeologists revealed that an extensive portion of the seabed had been cleared of sand and the remains of a ship were left uncovered on the sea bottom: iron anchors, remains of wooden anchors and items that were used in the construction and running of the sailing vessel. An underwater salvage survey conducted in recent weeks with the assistance of many divers from the Israel Antiquities Authority and volunteers using advanced equipment discovered numerous items that were part of the ship’s cargo.

Many of the artifacts are bronze and in an extraordinary state of preservation: a bronze lamp depicting the image of the sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna, a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave, fragments of three life-size bronze cast statues, objects fashioned in the shape of animals such as a whale, a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head, etc. In addition, fragments of large jars were found that were used for carrying drinking water for the crew in the ship and for transportation at sea. One of the biggest surprises in particular was the discovery of two metallic lumps composed of thousands of coins weighing c. 20 kilograms which was in the form of the pottery vessel in which they were transported.

Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the IAA, and Dror Planer, deputy director of the Unit, comment:

“These are extremely exciting finds, which apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance. The location and distribution of the ancient finds on the seabed indicate that a large merchant ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated recycling, which apparently encountered a storm at the entrance to the harbor and drifted until it smashed into the seawall and the rocks”. A preliminary study of the iron anchors suggests there was an attempt to stop the drifting vessel before it reached shore by casting anchors into the sea; however, these broke – evidence of the power of the waves and the wind which the ship was caught up in”.

Sharvit and Planer stress, “A marine assemblage such as this has not been found in Israel in the past thirty years. Metal statues are rare archaeological finds because they were always melted down and recycled in antiquity. When we find bronze artifacts it usually occurs at sea. Because these statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and were thus ‘saved’ from the recycling process”. Sharvit and Planer added, “In the many marine excavations that have been carried out in Caesarea only very small number of bronze statues have been found, whereas in the current cargo a wealth of spectacular statues were found that were in the city and were removed from it by way of sea. The sand protected the statues; consequently they are in an amazing state of preservation – as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago”. The coins that were discovered bear the image of the emperor Constantine who ruled the Western Roman Empire (312–324 CE) and was later known as Constantine the Great, ruler of the Roman Empire (324–337 CE), and of Licinius, an emperor who ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire and was a rival of Constantine, until his downfall in a battle that was waged between the two rulers.

The harbor at Caesarea. The Apostle Paul used this harbor many times during his preaching tour, and from here was taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The harbor at Caesarea. The Apostle Paul used this harbor many times during his preaching tours, and from here was taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. A.D. 265–c.339), often designated “The Father of Church History,” was active at Caesarea at the time this ship sank.

Here are photos of some of the items discovered.

A figurine of Dionysus, the god of wine. Photo: courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A figurine of Dionysus, the god of wine. Photo: courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

And, a new way to preserve your money.

Lumps of coins that were discovered at sea, weighing a total of c. 20 kilograms. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Lumps of coins that were discovered at sea, weighing a total of c. 20 kilograms. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Decorated lamps with twice the light.

A bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The view under water.

Fragment of a bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol, as discovered on the seabed. Photo: Ran Feinstein.

Fragment of a bronze lamp decorated with the image of the sun god Sol, as discovered on the seabed. Photo: Ran Feinstein.

And the nicest thing about all of this…  According to the release, the two divers will be invited to tour the storerooms of the National Treasures. I may take up diving.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Ram statue discovered at Caesarea Maritima

The IAA announced last Thursday the discovery of the statue of a ram at Caesarea Maritima. The announcement says,

The statue … might have been part of the decoration of a Byzantine church from the sixth–seventh centuries CE at Caesarea. By the same token it could also be earlier, from the Roman period, and was incorporated in secondary use in the church structure.”

The photo below seems to have been made in a metal storage shed and provides some idea of the size of the ram whose front legs are missing.

Ram discovered at Caesarea. Photo: Vered Sarig, The Caesarea Development Corp.

Ram discovered at Caesarea. Photo: Vered Sarig, The Caesarea Development Corp.

In the next photo the ram looks much larger than it is because of the relationship to the camera.

Ram discovered at Caesarea. Photo: Vered Sarig, The Caesarea Development Corp.

Ram discovered at Caesarea. Photo: Vered Sarig, The Caesarea Development Corp.

The aerial photo below will help you put the discovery location in perspective. It shows the area of the Byzantine church that was built on the site about A.D. 525. Kenneth Holum of the University of Maryland announced in 1995 the discovery of Herod the Great’s enormous temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Augustus underneath the ruins of the Byzantine church.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing area of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the area of the Byzantine church ruins. The view also shows the Crusader wall. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When the Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus received sinners and ate with them, He told them a parable that we call the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7).

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.  (Luke 15:4-7 ESV)

“When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder, rejoicing.” This describes the work of good shepherds and a practice that was well known to those who heard Jesus. On another occasion Jesus called Himself the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14).

The motif of the good shepherd with the sheep on his shoulder became common in later Christian iconography. For some examples of Good Shepherd statues/statuettes from the Byzantine period see our post here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

The real story about Saint Nicholas on Amazon Prime

You have read on this blog and other places about the Saint Nicholas of Myra, a town on the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Recently I learned of the video featuring Dr. Mark Wilson and Dr. Adam English now available free for those who have access to Amazon Prime. The 55-minute video is high quality.

The video provides information about the priest by the name of Nicholas and his work in and around Myra. As Bishop of Myra, Nicholas defended the doctrine of the trinity at the Council of Nicea (Nicaea) in A.D. 325. There is a strong claim that he is buried in Bari, Italy.

I think you might enjoy the film and learn something about Church History in the process.

If you have Amazon Prime you can search for Saint Nicholas: the Real Story, or use this link: Saint Nicholas: the Real Story.

The town of Myra is known to students of the New Testament as a place where the apostle Paul transferred ships while he was being taken to Rome for trial before Caesar (Acts 27:5). My most recent post about the city is available here.

Modern statue of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Modern statue of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Index of articles on Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus

Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus.  Our total number of posts has now grown to more than 1800 and this makes it difficult to locate a post you may need. This index is prepared to assist you in your study of the birth of Jesus in ancient Bethlehem. Most, if not all, of the posts include at least one photo illustrating the lesson.

Fountain at Franciscian Custody Shepherd's Field near Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fountain at Franciscan Custody Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem.

Sheep at fountain of Franciscan custody Shepherd's Field near Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sheep at fountain of Franciscan custody Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem.

Other places near Bethlehem. Most of the links below are related to Herod the Great and the fortress he built near Bethlehem. I see that I have normally used the spelling Herodium, but sometime Herodion.

Historical Connections to Modern Christmas Celebrations. These post are post-biblical, historical references to customs associated with Christmas.

When other posts on this subject are written I will try to remember to update the list.

Note: This post is a repeat from Dec. 12, 2014

What’s under your living room? Unique find in Ein Karem

Tradition has it that John the Baptist was born in En Karem (or Ain Karim; Ein Kerem) in the hill country of Judea. According to Shimon Gibson, the earliest document linking John to En Karem is a legendary account dated to A.D. 385-395 (The Cave of John the Baptist, 30). In that account En Karem is said to be “in the mountain” and with a “spring of water” (31). From the sixth to the eighth centuries the traditions multiply.

Ein Karem is about 5 miles west of Jerusalem. This photo shows a general view of the hill country of Judea. En Karem is in the valley below.

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The Israel Antiquities Authority  announced today that a family in En Karem discovered a ritual bath under the floor of their house dating to the Second Temple period (meaning Herod’s Temple).

— “ —

An ancient ritual bath (miqwe) found during renovations in a living room in ‘En Kerem reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement located in the vicinity during the Second Temple period
An ancient, two thousand year old ritual bath (miqwe) was discovered below a living room floor during renovations carried out in a private house in the picturesque neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. Archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority were amazed to discover that a pair of wooden doors beneath a stylized rug in the middle of a pleasant family’s living room concealed an ancient ritual bath.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug. Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Wednesday the owners of the place were awarded a certificate of appreciation by the Israel Antiquities Authority for exhibiting good citizenship in that they reported the discovery of the miqwe and thereby contributed to the study of the Land of Israel.

The miqwe, which is complete and quite large (length 3.5 m, width 2.4 m, depth 1.8 m), is rock-hewn and meticulously plastered according to the laws of purity appearing in the halacha. A staircase leads to the bottom of the immersion pool. Pottery vessels dating to the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) and traces of fire that might constitute evidence of the destruction of 66-70 CE were discovered inside the bath. In addition, fragments of stone vessels were found which were common during the Second Temple period because stone cannot be contaminated and remains pure.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Steps leading into the ritual bath..Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archaeologist, “Such instances of finding antiquities beneath a private home can happen only in Israel and Jerusalem in particular. Beyond the excitement and the unusual story of the discovery of the miqwe, its exposure is of archaeological importance. ‘Ein Kerem is considered a place sacred to Christianity in light of its identification with “a city of Judah” – the place where according to the New Testament [See Above], John the Baptist was born and where his pregnant mother Elisabeth met with Mary, mother of Jesus. Despite these identifications, the archaeological remains in ‘Ein Kerem and the surrounding area, which are related to the time when these events transpired (the Second Temple period), are few and fragmented. The discovery of the ritual bath reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement from the time of the Second Temple located in the region of what is today ‘Ein Kerem.”

The owners of the place said, “Initially, we were uncertain regarding the importance of the find revealed below our house and we hesitated contacting the Israel Antiquities Authority because of the consequences we believed would be involved in doing so. At the same time, we had a strong feeling that what was situated beneath the floor of our house is a find of historical value and our sense of civic and public duty clinched it for us. We felt that this find deserves to be seen and properly documented. We contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority at our own initiative in order that they would complete the excavation and the task of documenting the discovery. Representatives of the IAA arrived and together we cleaned the miqwe. To our joy and indeed to our surprise, we found them to be worthy partners in this fascinating journey. The IAA archaeologists demonstrated great professionalism, interest and pleasantness. They were solely concerned with preserving and investigating the finds.

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The issue of purification was a live one during the ministry of John the Baptist.

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. (John 3:25 ESV)

See also Luke 2:22 and John 2:6.

For more information about Ein Karem see this post.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Arson suspected at Tabgha, Church of Multiplication

Haaretz reports (here, premium edition) this morning the suspected arson at the Church of the Multiplication on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee at Heptapegon (= Tabgha). A storage room and offices were damaged in the fire.

The church is claimed by Catholics to be the site of the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes by Jesus (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6). Egeria described the site in her fourth century travel diary and claimed it to be the site of the feeding of the multitudes. Some also claim that this is the site of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10).

I am among those who are uncertain that the area of Tabgha is the site of Dalmanutha, and rather certain that this is not the site of the feeding of the Five Thousand. It is, however, a beautiful location where one can study and meditate about the Biblical miracle.

Our photo shows the location of the property associated with the Church of the Multiplication. Perhaps even more significant is the clarity of this view as it shows the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights.

A view of the area of Tabgha from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view of the area of Tabgha from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are many ancient mosaics in the floor of the church. The most famous one is the mosaic of the loaves and fishes.

The mosaic of the loaves and fishes at Tabgha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The mosaic of the loaves and fishes at Tabgha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Archaeological Store Rooms Damaged. In a related matter, two days ago The Times of Israel reports (here) the arson of storerooms containing 4,000 year-old artifacts from an emergency excavation at Tel Kishon near Mount Tabor.

Bronze age tools and artifacts damaged in the fire. Photo: Israel Antiquites Authority

Bronze age tools and artifacts damaged in the fire. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

When we destroy that of which we are ignorant we reflect lack of appreciation of any history. It happens all over the world. If we destroy that with which we disagree, what will happen when someone disagrees with us?

Jesus spoke about that when Simon Peter tried to defend Him with a sword.

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52 ESV)