Category Archives: Photography

Pilate used coins to promote the Emperor Cult

After the death of Herod the Great, his son Herod Archaelaus (Archelaus, Matthew 2:22) ruled over Judea until AD 6. His misrule prompted Rome to appoint a series of prefects or governors over Judea. There were 15 governors appointed from Coponius (AD 6-9) to Gessius Florus (AD 64-66).

Pontius Pilate served as Governor of Judea from AD 26-36 (Matthew 22:7; Luke 3:1).

Carl Rasmussen called my attention to an excellent article by Joan E. Taylor in New Testament Studies dealing with the part played by Pilate in promoting the Imperial Cult. Taylor, now Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College in London, says that the coinage of Pilate and the Pilate inscription from Caesarea,

“indicate a prefect determined to promote a form of Roman religion in Judaea” (Taylor, Joan E. “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52. 2006: 555-582.)

Pilate minted two types of coins. The first coin, minted in AD 29, shows three bound ears of barley on the obverse. The inscription reads “Julia, of Caesar.” After the death of Livia, wife of Augustus, and mother of Tiberias, she was given the name Julia. One ear of barley is standing and two are drooping. On the reverse we see a libation ladle (simpulum) used by Roman priests to pour wine over sacrificial animals. The inscription reads, “TIBEPIOY KAICAROC (of Tiberius Caesar) and date LIS” (Hendin).

Coin minted by Pilate in A.D. 29.

Coin minted by Pilate in AD 29.

The second coin, struck in AD 30, shows a lituus, a wooden staff or wand used by Roman augures to signify their authority. The inscription on the obverse reads TIBERIOY KAICAROS (Tiberius, Caesar). The reverse shows a wreath with the date.

Coin minted by Pontius Pilate showing a lituus.

Coin minted by Pontius Pilate in AD 30 showing a lituus.

Taylor describes the coins of Pilate’s predecessors as showing primarily agricultural images. She says,

Pilate’s coins, by contrast, depict two key items of specifically Roman religious spiritual use: the lituus and the simpulum. In depicting these instruments on the Judaean coinage Pilate advertised particular rituals of exclusively Roman cult. These instruments were not generic to all cults in the Empire, which now embraced the Hellenistic world, let alone to Jewish or Samaritan rituals, but had emblematic and ritual uses within Roman rites alone. The ritual instruments themselves are described by terms not used for profane utensils, even when these utensils are quite similar (see Arnobius Adversus Nationes XXTV.1-6). They were entirely sacred implements, and they were cared for and stored in sacred space. (558-559)

Carl Rasmussen discusses Pilate’s coin showing the lituus here.

Roman coins and the Imperial Cult

Coins were important in the time of Jesus, and were more significant than their face value. On one occasion the Pharisees plotted against Jesus in an attempt to entangle Him in His words. They sent some of their disciples to Jesus to ask, “is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Tiberius in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Tiberius in the Louvre.

When Jesus asked them to show him the coin used for the tax they brought Him a denarius. The denarius of that time would likely be one minted by the Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37). Jesus asked, “Whose likeness [eikon] and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Jesus responded, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Read the full account in Matthew 22:15-22).

The photo below shows a Denarius with the image of the Emperor Tiberius. The inscription on the obverse (heads) reads “TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AUGUSTVS” (Tiberius, Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus).

Denarius minted by Emperor Tiberias.

Denarius minted by Emperor Tiberius.

David Hendin (Guide to Biblical Coins, 1st. ed, 170-171) describes the reverse (tails) of the coin: “Female figure sits on a plain chair to right, she holds olive branch in her left hand and long sceptre in her right.” The inscription PONTIF MAXIM means High Priest, which Hendin says is “another of the emperor’s titles and later a title of the Bishop of Rome.”

This coin clearly demonstrates the Emperors’ claim to being the son of the divine Augustus, and to being High Priest in the Imperial Cult.

Florence Aiken Banks says,

It is not surprising that this Tiberius denarius–popularly known as the “tribute penny”–is of all coins the one most in demand by collectors who cherish their New Testaments. (Coins of Bible Days, 99)

In the next post I plan to discuss Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, and what we can learn about the Imperial Cult from his coins and the inscription bearing his name at Caesarea Maritima.

Special Note About Coin Images. For many years I have included several links to coin and coin collectors under the Bible Places page at the Biblical Studies Info Page. I have found that these web sites come and go. If I use the image of a coin that rightfully belongs to another photographer I will be pleased to give credit if you will point me to the site.

Herod built a temple to Augustus at Samaria

Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, was well known in Old Testament times. In New Testament times the term Samaria seems to be used of a region rather than a city. See Luke 17:11; John 4:4-7; Acts 1:8; 8:1,9,14; 9:31; 15:3.

The city of Samaria had been rebuilt by Herod the Great and named Sebaste in honor of the Emperor Augustus. The modern name of the small town of Samaria is Sebastia.

Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus with a monumental staircase over the palace area of the Israelite kingdom. The temple was destroyed, but later rebuilt along the same plan by Septimius Severus (Roman emperor, A.D. 193-211). The monumental staircase still stands at the top of the tell.

Monumental steps mark the site of Herod's Temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Monumental steps from the time of Septimius Severus mark the site of Herod’s Temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some remnants of column capitals rest at the top of the steps.

Remnants of some of the columns rest at the top of the staircase. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Remnants of some of the columns rest at the top of staircase. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This was the second of three temples erected by Herod in honor of Augustus. In two previous posts we have discussed the temple at Caesarea Maritima and the one in the district of Caearea Philippi (perhaps Omrit).

Carl Rasmussen wrote about the Imperial Cult a few months back on his Holy Land Photos’ Blog here. He says,

IMHO we also need to give emphasis to the fact that Herod the Great had built  three Imperial Cult Temples — all less than 40 miles from Nazareth/Capernaum.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry these Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  had been in existence for over 40 years!

In my recent lecture at the Florida College Lectureship I discussed two texts from the ministry of Jesus that may be understood in the light of the Emperor worship prevalent in the country. One was the location of Peter’s confession of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). See a discussion here. The second text I used was the one involving the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). More about that in a post to follow.

Dust storms afflict Egypt, Palestine, and Israel

Almost four years ago I wrote a post about the strong East winds of the Middle East, also calling attention to the winds from the south. Several bloggers have called attention to a recent occurrence of the winds affecting Egypt, Palestine, and Israel in particular. I thought it would be appropriate to reprint some of that earlier material here with an update.

— • —

Almost everyone who has visited Israel has learned of the West winds that make their way through the depressions around the Sea of Galilee and create storms on the Sea. Unless you travel in the “transitional season” or in the (dry) summer season you may not have learned about the East wind. This wind is called the sirocco. In Egypt it is known as the khamsin, and in Israel as the sharav.

Denis Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1974 ed., pp. 51-53), explains these winds. He says they occur in the transitional seasons from early April to mid-June, and from mid-September to the end of October. Baly says,

It is this intense dryness and the fine dust in the air which are so exhausting, for other hot days, though troublesome, do not have the same effect. People with a heart condition, nervous complaints, or sinus trouble are particularly affected, but even the mildest-tempered person is apt to become irritable and to snap at other people for no apparent reason. Tourists find the sirocco especially frustrating, for not only does travel become fatiguing, but the fine yellowish dust which fills the air drains it of all color, blots out all but the immediate vicinity, and makes photography a mockery.

Here is how Larry Haverstock described his day walking the Jesus Trail in an Email to me.

No blog last night because of the storm. I woke to high winds from the east which dusted up the air so badly that photos were mostly useless. Worst part was that it was directly against me and really HOT. Pushing against 20+ mph winds really took the steam out of me. By the end of the day I was utterly exhausted.  Drank my full 3 litres and had good dinners and breakfasts, but energy levels are still very low.

The photo below is one of the aerial shots Larry and I made a week earlier. It was made while flying over the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, with the view to the west. You can see Mount Arbel and the Wadi Hamam below. The Via Maris runs in this valley which is also called the Valley of the Doves. You will notice two lines of mountains further west.

I am rather sure that this is the route Larry was walking. Larry lived in Washington state for many years. I think he is not bothered by the sudden rains, but the intense heat and strong wind from the east may be another matter. I want you to think about the fact that all of the biblical characters from the Patriarchs to Jesus and His disciples encountered conditions similar to these (and worse).

Aerial view of Arbel, Wadi Hamam, and the Via Maris. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Arbel, Wadi Hamam, and the Via Maris. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Baly cites several biblical references to the east and south winds that bring in the hot air and the dust storms. He says, “Where the mountains come close to the sea a strong sirocco pours down the slopes like a flood, at 60 miles an hour or more, stirring the sea into a fury.”

By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish. (Psalm 48:7 ESV)

In the prophecy against Tyre, Ezekiel says,

“Your rowers have brought you out into the high seas. The east wind has wrecked you in the heart of the seas. (Ezekiel 27:26 ESV)

Notice Elihu’s comments to Job about the south wind.

Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,  you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind?  (Job 37:16-17 ESV)

Jesus also observed the effect of the south wind:

And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. (Luke 12:55 ESV)

Do you remember Jonah’s problems after enjoying the shade of his plant?

When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:8 ESV)

Baly calls attention to the effect of the spring siroccos on the crops.

The spring siroccos destroy the winter grass and may damage the crops if they come too soon, and hence they appear constantly in the Bible as a symbol of the impermanence of riches or of human life.

Note these additional references in your own study: Psalm 103:16; Isaiah 40:6-8; Hosea 13:15; Ezekiel 17:10; James 1:11. In a recent post Barry Britnell (Exploring Bible Lands) add Deuteronomy 28:15-24 here.

Larry Haverstock’s own description which he later wrote here in his blog is included here. (There are some great pictures of his descent from Mount Arbel.)

It was while making this first effort of the morning that I encountered my nemesis for the rest of the day.  It was only 10 o’clock but already a hot wind was blowing in my face.  What I couldn’t know at that moment was that as I climbed the western slope the mountain was acting as a shield so that I wouldn’t feel the brunt of this wind until I summited.  As soon as I stepped out upon the actual heights of Arbel I knew I was in for an unusual day.

The view was phenomenal and despite the dust in the air I got the following shot of the Plain of Gennesaret.  This is the Northwest corner of the Sea.  Just out of sight on the waterfront to the right are the ruins of ancient Magdala from whence one very famous Mary came.  All the rest of the shoreline is the area in which Jesus spent a tremendous amount of time, preached some of His very most famous sermons, worked many miracles, and made His home in Capernaum which is along the shore as it turns the corner and heads off to the right in the distance.  Much food for thought when you stand in this place.

Unfortunately, the wind was howling and dangerous here.  I don’t have a weather report, but guess it was in the vicinity of 40 miles an hour since I was actually being pushed off balance and forced to take a step now and then to keep from falling over.  It did give me pause, but I was determined to take the shorter, harder, steeper trail down, so I spent about 20 minutes re-rigging my equipment.  Fearing the monopod “sword” might jam itself on the rocks somehow I removed it from the under arm position and strapped it vertically to the back of the pack.  Then, using the extra leather chin strap rope I’d brought along for emergency, I took off my hat and lashed it on the back of the pack too.  This hat had a very wide and stiff brim which had helped shield my face from the gale on the way up, but was now a liability, capable of catching the wind and pulling me off balance, so I stowed it.  Then I took the pack’s belly straps and lengthened them so that rather than directly clutching my stomach, they came out and over the front pack so that I could tightly restrain it from swinging.  Having thus reduced my exposure to the wind I started down.

It was now man against mountain, rather than nonchalant tourist with a camera time.…

Shortly afterwards I called attention to the comparative photos that Dr. Carl G. Rasmussen has included in his Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, and on his Holy Land Photos website here. These photos provide a vivid contrast that the dust storms make.

In today’s Weekend Roundup at Bible Places Blog, Todd Bolen calls attention to the current article in The Jerusalem Post here, and the 25 or so outstanding large photos from Egypt, Palestine, and Israel in London’s Daily Mail here. Be sure to look at these photos.

I have experienced a delayed flight in Egypt due to the sand storms, and the scorching hot wind with dust in Israel, but nothing like these photos reveal.

Herod’s temple to Roma and Augustus at Caesarea Maritima

We began this theme in the previous post with the temple Herod the Great erected to the emperor Augustus in the region of Caesarea Philippi. We pointed out that Herod had already built temples to the Emperor at Caesarea Maritima and at Sebaste (= Samaria).

Caesarea Maritima was built on the site of Strato’s Tower and became a center of Roman provincial government in Judea. It was located on the main caravan route between Tyre and Egypt. The harbor at Caesarea was built by Herod and named Sebastos (Greek for Augustus) in honor of the Emperor.

Our photo below shows the harbor and the location of the Imperial temple indicated by a red oval. The inner harbor extended over the grassy area, almost to the steps of the temple. When we first began visiting Caesarea it was thought that another building, north of the inner harbor, marked the site of the Augustus temple. It is now identified as a nymphaeum.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The excavation of the Temple Platform began in 1989 under the direction of Kenneth G. Holum of the University of Maryland. Holum says the temple of Augustus was torn down about 400 A.D. with most of the stone being used in others buildings. The scant ruins enable the archaeologists to determine that the temple measured 95 by 150 feet. He says it towered “perhaps 100 feet from the column bases to the peak.” The temple was made of local sandstone, called kurkar, and coated with a white stucco.

The Temple Platform was covered by an octagonal Byzantine church in the 6th century. Those are the ruins we see today within the Crusader city.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the site of the Temple, already stained in 2005, provides some indication of the appearance of the building.

An artists' reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An artists’ reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Like the Temple Mount [in Jerusalem], Caesarea’s Temple Platform would have been enclosed at least on the north, east and south by columned porticoes marking the sacred precinct (the termenos). and in the center, uipon a high podium, would have risen the temple that Herod dedicated to the goddess Roma, embodiment of imperial Rome, and to the god-king Augustus. (Kenneth G. Holum)

The article by Kenneth G. Holum appeared in an issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 2004) devoted to “Herod’s Fun City.” His article is entitled “Building Power: The Politics of Architecture.” There are numerous photographs and diagrams.

Charles Savelle left a comment to the previous post in which he called attention to a few additional sources here. I was especially pleased to see a reference to Caesarea Philippi: Banias the Lost City of Pan by John Francis Wilson. Speaking of the temple at Paneion, he says that the building itself would be scandal enough from the point of view of the Jews in the area.

Wilson states that Herod set the course for Imperial Worship in the east.

“Herod’s strategy in erecting this temple extended far beyond the symbolism represented by the structure itself. He was among the first of all provincial rulers in the empire to commit to the cult of Augustus. His Augustan temples, and the elaborate priesthood they required, may even have been influential in setting the course of imperial worship throughout the Eastern empire. While ostensibly the act of erecting these temples represented loyalty and commitment to Rome, it also furnished a basis for the social and political organization of diverse populations such as those in Herod’s kingdom. At the same time, because the new cult left the traditional local cults intact, it represented no threat to them. In fact, it symbolized an interest in protecting the local culture.” (p. 13)

When we think of Caesarea we recall the major events recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The residence of Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea (A.D. 26-36), though there is no reference to this fact in the New Testament.
  • The visit of Peter to preach the gospel to the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10-11).
  • The visit and death of Herod Agrippa I (A.D. 37-44; Acts 12).
  • Paul’s return from his preaching journeys (Acts 18:22; 21:8)
  • The imprisonment of the apostle Paul (A.D. 58-60; Acts 23-26).

We plan to say more about Pilate and his role in upholding the Imperial Cult in Roman Palestine in another post.

Herod the Great and the Emperor Cult

Herod supported Mark Antony against Augustus in the Roman civil war. When Augustus was victorius at the battle of Actium (31 B.C.), Herod convinced Augustus that he was loyal to him. Herod, who already ruled Judea, was granted authority over Galilee and Iturea.

 “In turn, Herod ingratiated himself to Augustus by building monuments and temples in the emperor’s honor. Temples dedicated to the emperor in the early Roman period (20 B.C.E.–120 C.E.) were part of an empire-wide phenomenon known as “the emperor cult.” This Roman imperial institution played a pivotal role in spreading imperial propaganda and encouraging allegiance to the emperor, who was portrayed as a god, or imbued with the spirit of a deity. (Overman, Olive, and Nelson,“Discovering Herod’s Shrine to Augustus.” BAR 29:02).

Herod erected three temples to Augustus: (1) Caesarea Maritima; (2) Samaria, which he named Sebaste, Greek for the Latin Augustus; (3) Near Paneion (Caesarea Philippi; Banias] at the fountain of the Jordan (JW 1:404).

Josephus says,

So when he had conducted Caesar to the sea, and was returned home, he built him a most beautiful temple, of the whitest stone, in Zenodorus’ country, near the place called Panion. This is a very fine cave in a mountain, under which there is a great cavity in the earth, and the cavern is abrupt, and prodigiously deep, and full of a still water; over it hangs a vast mountain; and under the caverns arise the springs of the river Jordan. Herod adorned this place, which was already a very remarkable one, still further by the erection of this temple, which he dedicated to Caesar. (Ant 15:363-364)

We are concerned here with the third temple near Panion (Paneion). We know the same site as Caesarea Philippi because the city was built by Herod Philip and named to honor Caesar and himself. Excavators at Caesarea have identified a structure there, at the entrance of the cave, as the temple to Augustus. Other scholars suggest that this is part of a monumental entrance to the cave of Pan.

Josephus’ expression “near the place called Panion” [Banias, later Caesarea Philippi] indicates a place closer to the Pan temples. However, the Greek term used in Matthew 16:13 (meros) can be translated district, region, or geographical area.

In the drawing below we see an artistic reconstruction of the Pan temenos at Panias (Banyas). The Temple to Augustus is the building on the left that backs up to the cave.

Reconstruction of the Pan temenos at Panias. From Archaeological Sites in Israel, published by the Israel Information Center, Jerusalem, 1998.

Reconstruction of the Pan temenos at Panias. From Archaeological Sites in Israel, published by the Israel Information Center, Jerusalem, 1998.

Archaeologists from Macalester College and Carthage College, working since 1999, have suggested that the third temple was built at Omrit, about three miles southwest of Banias on a bluff overlooking the Hula Valley from the east. If this is correct, then this may be the site of Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16:13; Mk. 8:27).
Currently the site of Omrit is practically impossible to reach by car, but you can reach the area and then walk to the excavation.

View of the site of Omrit from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the site of Omrit from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If we look West from Omrit we have a good view of the northern end of the Hula Valley.

A view NW to the Hula Valley from Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view NW to the Hula Valley from Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

According to the excavators, a total of three ornate Roman temples were built at Omrit over a period of about 120 years. The steps we see below belong to the third temple erected near the end of the first century A.D.

Temple steps at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Temple steps at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo below looks below the ground level to the earlier temples or monumental buildings that are now covered to protect them.

The earlier temples at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The earlier temples at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A brochure, Omrit A Unique Archaeological Site in the Upper Galilee, is available in PDF here. Note that it presents the viewpoint of the excavators that this is the site of Herod’s Augusteum (p. 5).

In “Debate: Where Was Herod’s Temple to Augustus” BAR 29:05 (Sept./Oct. 2003), Andrea Berlin argues that Banias is still the best candidate for the Augustan temple. Overman, Olive, and Nelson reply and reaffirm their preference for Omrit.

A third suggestions is made by the late Ehud Netzer that an opus reticulatum (latice-type stone work) building at Banias is the site of Herod’s temple to Augustus. This site is about 100 yards west of the Cave of Pan.

Carl Rasmussen calls Omrit his favorite site in Israel here.

Post-traumatic stress as early as 1300 B.C.

A team of scholars at Anglia Ruskin University in the East of England released a report showing evidence of post-traumatic stress as early as 1300 B.C. The study involved documents from ancient Mesopotamia.

Accounts of soldiers being visited by “ghosts they faced in battle” fitted with a modern diagnosis of PTSD.

The condition was likely to be as old as human civilisation, the researchers concluded.

Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, a former consultant clinical psychologist for the Ministry of Defence, said the first description of PTSD was often accredited to the Greek historian Herodotus.

The brief notice is available at BBC here. I found it interesting that the photo associated with the article shows an Assyrian king of the 9th century B.C. with a bow and arrow, and two others with javelins. In fact, this is not a war or battle relief. A view of the entire relief shows that it was the king is on a lion hunt. But, that has nothing to do with the validity of the report.

Several examples of the cruelty of war in ancient times is the limestone relief of the siege of Lachish which was found in Sennacherib’s (704-681 B.C.) palace at Nineveh. A replica of the relief may be seen in the Israel Museum, but the original is in its own designated room in the British Museum.

An Assyrian warrior kills one of the locals at Lachish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An Assyrian warrior kills one of the locals at Lachish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Bible mentions the siege of Lachish in several places, including 2 Chronicles 32:9-10.

After this, Sennacherib king of Assyria, who was besieging Lachish with all his forces, sent his servants to Jerusalem to Hezekiah king of Judah and to all the people of Judah who were in Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, ‘On what are you trusting, that you endure the siege in Jerusalem? (ESV)

Counting the heads of the dead at Lachish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Counting the heads of the dead at Lachish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some scholars suggest that the next panel portrays the Assyrians flaying the Judeans.

Bodies of the dead at Lachish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bodies of the dead at Lachish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One panel shows local citizens being impaled on poles. After a day of impaling, beheading, or counting heads, it might be easy enough to see “ghosts”.

We can desire that all men come to accept the teaching of Jesus when one of His disciples used a sword to advance the cause of the Lord.

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)

HT: Agade list