Turkey Day 7 – Ephesus

Our full final day included a walk through Ephesus. This is the highlight of any tour to western Turkey. Although Perge and Hierapolis were large sites with many restored buildings, Ephesus has more to see and it is a far more significant location historically. Paul spent up to three years in Ephesus, Timothy was in Ephesus when Paul wrote 1 Timothy to give him instructions on how to deal with elders who were defecting from the faith, John likely wrote his Gospel and the three letters of John from Ephesus and the Book of Revelation was written from Patmos and sent first to the church at Ephesus (Rev 2).

Artemis of EphesusSince we are staying in Kuşadası, we had a short easy drive to the Ephesus Museum. Why did we start at the museum rather than the archaeological park? There was a slight chance of rain in the morning, so by going through the museum first we were able to miss any sprinkles. Unfortunately one of our group was not feeling well and had to go back to the hotel. The rest of us walked through the museum. The museum has a large display of statutes from Ephesus, all very clearly arranged and labeled. A number of displays were dedicated to items discovered in the Terrace houses. These illustrate the lifestyle of the wealthy in the city. In the courtyard between the two buildings are several important inscriptions, but these lack transcription and translation.

The highlight is the room with two first century Artemis statues. Both are impressive, the smaller is slightly older and is in better condition, the larger has her full crown and is significantly larger.

Just beyond the rooms with the two Artemis statues is a display of items from the Imperial Cult, including a portions of a monumental statues of Domitian. Or is it Domitian? The head and forearm are usually identified as Domitian, but more recently scholars have suggested the head looks more like Titus. In fact, at the Imperial Temple site in Ephesus the sign has it both ways. I am intrigued by the possibility the statue is Titus since he was the general in charge of the destruction of Jerusalem. If John was influenced at all by the Roman Imperial cult in Ephesus when he wrote Revelation, then calling the emperor who destroyed Jerusalem “the beast” who was inspired by Satan has a bit more anti-imperial venom.

After the Museum we drove to the upper entrance to Ephesus at the Magnesia Gate. There is an Odeon dating to A.D. 150 just inside the entrance to the site, but the first thing to interest me is site of the Imperial Temple (dedicated to Domitian? Titus? the Flavian Dynasty?). The massive structure is an indication of the strength of the imperial cult in Ephesus at the end of the first century and the early second century. In this square is a  a reproduction of a Nike relief (the real on is in the Ephesus Museum). Be sure to see the caduceus in front of what would have been a health clinic near the entrance to the Imperial cult center. If you are interested in Greek inscriptions, there is a collection in this area although the main gallery is locked and you would need to have special permission to enter (which I did not have).

From this spot tourists can get a great photo of the sloping Roman street (the “Avenue of the Curate”) leading to the Library of Celsus and the Agora. There are several interesting things to see on this street, including a public toilet and bathhouse. The entrance to the bathhouse has inscriptions dedicated to both the Empire and Artemis. For some reasons people love to see the ancient toilets, although Ephesus has roped these off so tourists can no longer take awkward photos. The Hadrian temple has been largely replaced with replicas, but still offers a view of the imperial might of Rome in Ephesus.

Terrace House in Ephesus

Although an additional ticket is required, the Terrace Houses is a major highlight of a tour of Ephesus. Sadly, only about 1.5% of all visitors to Ephesus pay the extra ticket price to walk through the six residences are across from the Hadrian Temple. These are large homes for the wealthy and elite citizens of Ephesus, occupied as early as A.D. 25 through the seventh century. The houses look like modern condos, with open air courtyards, water pipes (and at least one indoor toilet). Many of the walls have the original art and a few have ornate mosaic floors. The entire complex is covered to protect it from the elements, and the stairs work their way up the hill, exiting with a view of the street which passes by the agora, leading to the large theater. From this point on the hillside you could hike to the Cave of Paul and Thecla, assuming you have arranged for the visit (and paid the fee and can make the hike. It is too muddy in March to even attempt to see the cave).

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus and Gate of Augustus

The Library of Celsus dates to the second century (completed about A.D. 114), so this is not the place Paul rented space from Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Although the library was destroyed in a earthquake in A.D. 262, the reconstructed façade of the library is spectacular, with replica statues of Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence) and Arete (virtue). The library was eventually converted into a bathhouse, although only a large pool remains.

Next to the library is the entrance to the entrance to the agora. This is the largest we have visited on this trip (525×240 feet), although very little has been excavated or restored. The Hellenistic agora sits lower than the street running from the Terrace Houses and the theater (Roman period). This theater seats up to 25,000 and is the location of the riot in Acts 19:21-34. Since it faces the harbor, the noise of the riot would not have been heard in the boule near the Magnesia Gate, explaining why it took some time for the town clerk to arrive. A street leads from the theater to the ancient harbor. Unfortunately for us there is an extensive renovation project so the area in front of the theater is closed, We sat on the steps and read through portions of Acts 19 and talked bout how Paul’s Gospel impacted the culture of the city, including the magicians of Ephesus.

Theater at Ephesus

Theater at Ephesus

We ate lunch at a Turkish rug factory. This is fairly typical of a tourist visit, and the shop gave a very interesting demonstration on how they obtained from the worms and how the women who make the rugs work the loom. They brought out about 50 rugs while we waited and I am glad someone in our group bought one to offset our free lunch. I would have preferred to skip the rugs and spend another hour at Ephesus, but that it was not a total waste of time.

We ended out day at the Basilica of Saint John, the traditional burial site of the apostle John. There are a few things of interest at this site, including the tomb of John and a large baptismal room. It is also a good place to see what is left of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus: a single reconstructed column (with a stork nest on top).

We start the long journey home tomorrow at 8AM, should back to Chicago in the late afternoon. This has been a good trip, but it was made greater by my traveling companions, the hard work of our tour guide and driver. Thanks to Tutku Tours for making out time in Turkey so memorable!

Turkey Day 6 – Didyma, Miletus and Priene

This day was a series of firsts for me since I have not visited any of these three locations on previous tours of Turkey. Since this is a “missionary journeys of Paul” tour I wanted to include Miletus, the location of Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20), although we will not be visiting Ephesus (Acts 19) until tomorrow morning. Since we are driving all the way over to Miletus, it made good sense to start the day in Didyma, then visit Miletus and Priene after lunch.

Temple of Apollo at DidymaUnfortunately, it rained heavily on the drive from Izmir to Didyma on the Aegean Sea. Although it was barely sprinkling when we arrived, we had to deal with mud and slippery marble while exploring the Temple of Apollo and Artemis (the twins implied by the name Didyma). The Temple was founded sometime after Alexander the Great took the territory from the Persians, the temple was designed by the same architect as the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. A ten-mile sacred road connects Miletus and Didyma.

Even though the temple was not completed it functioned as an oracle. This gave me an opportunity to talk about how oracles functioned in the Greek world and I related this to Paul’s encounter with the slave girl in Philippi (Acts 16:16-18). Alexander the Great, Seleucus I and Seleucus II all received oracles from the temple at Didymas. The temple was finally closed by under Theodosius I (A.D. 379-395).

One of the nice side-benefits to this day is the drive through the countryside of the south western end of Turkey. The area between each of these sites is largely agricultural (cotton, but also fruit trees and olives).

At Miletus we walked from the parking area to the theater. Once again, it rained while we were driving, but as soon as we got out of the minibus the rain stopped and for most of our visit it was sunny. The main thing to see in the is a seat with a Greek inscription mentioning the God-fearers. The God-fearers were Gentiles who chose to worship the God of the Jews and even keep most of the Law, although the men stopped short of full conversion because of the stigma of circumcision. Both Cornelius (Acts 10) and Lydia (Acts 16).

Theater at Miletus

After lunch (a lamb kabob), we drove back to Priene. This is a beautiful site but is a long steep hike from the parking area to the Hellenistic city. The first half of the hike is on a broad, smooth path, but eventually the path becomes a stairway of Roman stones, very uneven and rough. But the hard walk is worth it since this is one of the more beautiful archaeological sites I have visited. There are pine trees shading most of the area and there is a constant view of the a forbidding Mount Mycale behind the city and the fertile plain below.

Temple of Athena at Priene

There are several highlights, including a small theater. Even though it is small, there are five thrones for elite members of the audience right at the floor level. Each has animal feet carved into the base and inscriptions below the seat (I took photographs to work on later). From the theater we moved into a later Byzantine church and made our way to the temple of Athena. Like the temple at Didyma, this impressive structure was initially sponsored by Alexander the Great but never completed. It is comparable to Didyma or Sardis, but only five of the massive pillars have been re-assembled. The whole area of the temple is a maze of pillar drums, although I cannot imagine how anyone could do a major restoration project on the top of this hillside. Nevertheless, the Temple is very impressive. Prine also has a small synagogue with two or three small graffiti menorahs. Other than these marks, there is little in the building to hint at the use as a synagogue.

We are staying at a very nice hotel right on the Aegean Sea (an advantage of off-season travel) and will visit Ephesus in the morning.

Turkey Day 5 – Pergamum

The cryptoportico at the Asclepion at Pergamum

The cryptoportico at the Asclepion at Pergamum

Today we headed to the city of Pergamum. For those who have visited this impressive Roman site in the past, you might recall the sky-tram running from the base of the mountain to the park entrance. At this time, the system is being repaired so the larger busses have to hire a series of cabs to ferry people to the top. Since we are a smaller group traveling in a van we went up the winding road ourselves. There was one larger group ahead of us, otherwise we had the acropolis to ourselves. 

The city has a rich history. Pliny the Elder considered the city “the most important in the province” (Naturalis historia 5.126). Pergamum was the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon 281–133 BC; in 133 BC Attalus III died without an heir and gave the kingdom of Pergamon to Rome in his will. 

Although Pergamum was the site of the first imperial cult in Asia under Augustus, the imperial cult site at the acropolis was redesigned for Trajan (who died before it was completed) and Hadrian. The city reached its peak population of about 200,000 at this time. 

One of the main points of interest is the platform of the Temple of Zeus. The temple itself was dismantled and moved to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, but one can still imagine how impressive the building would have been sitting at the time of the acropolis. For many interpreters, Revelation 2:13 refers to this temple as the “place where Satan has his throne.” For others, this is a reference to the imperial cult, although the impressive imperial Temple was not constructed until after Revelation was written. A few have suggested Satan’s throne is the Asclepium (see below).

Imperial Cult Temple at Pergamum

Imperial Cult Temple at Pergamum

The imperial temple has been partially reconstructed. There are a number of impressive pillars and the vault system is open to visitors. A partial statue of Trajan is still standing, everything else has been moved to a museum. In a small open-air collection of inscriptions next to the imperial temple is an inscription honoring Trajan. After listing many of his imperial titles, the main part of the inscription ends with the words, “of the earth and the sea, Lord.” This is the imperial claim that the Emperor was the Lord of the Land and Sea, probably reflected in Revelation’s beast of the earth and beast of the sea (Revelation 13).

The theater is the steepest in the ancient world. The 78-rows could hold up to 10,000 people. Pergamum also boasted a large library containing as many as 200,000 volumes. 

One member of our group grabbed a wooden handrail and was skewered by a massive splinter. After a brief detour to the hospital for stitches, we spent some time at the Asclepion. (I suppose we could have waited for the healing waters of Asclepius, but we thought a tetanus shot was a better idea). 

Theater at Pergamum

I had not visited the this site in my two previous trips to Turkey, I was really looking forward to seeing this center of healing in the Ancient world. Asclepius was the god of medicine and the Asclepion was equal parts cultic center and medical center. Certainly the sick  benefited from medicine and hygiene, but they were also encouraged to sleep in the presence of the god and listen for his voice in the night suggesting medical treatments. The famous ancient physician Galen worked at the Asclepion in Pergamum for many years, 

We had a late lunch and a visit to an onyx shop (many contributed to the local economy) before heading back to the hotel for our last night in Izmir. 

Turkey Day 4 – Sardis and Smyrna

We left our hotel and headed to Sardis. Two of the cites of Revelation do not have much to see, Philadelphia and Thyatira. The problem is both of these locations have modern cities built over them, making the kind of archaeology seem at Hierapolis or Laodicea impossible. I read the letter to Philadelphia as we drove past in our van rather than make the stop. This also freed up time to spend at Smyrna later in the day.

Synagogue at Sardis

Synagogue at Sardis

The highlight of the day was Sardis. This is not a large site, but it has three very significant features. First, there is a large synagogue dating to the fourth century A.D. The mosaic floors are partially restored including several mentioning the donors who contributed to the synagogue. There are two niches which could have been used to store a Torah scroll or possibly individual scrolls of the Septuagint.

Although is is surprising to see a synagogue in Turkey, Sardis is probably mentioned in Esther 3:12-14 and Josephus reports Antiochus III moved a large number of Jews to Sardis (Ant 12.148–49). This synagogue dates at least 400 years after that time and there are several odd things about the Synagogue, First, a Lydian stone table with lion motif have been placed near the front of the synagogue, Our guide suggested this table was a sacrificial / cultic table which was reused by the synagogue for Torah readings. This strikes me as odd, especially since it is really too tall for that purpose. It is certainly possible this table was use for Torah readings, but the reader would need a step-stool! Second, there are no benches along the walls as in other early synagogues, but rather a set of seats which looked more like a Greek boule to me. These seats are on the far end of the room, behind the table. I suppose the reader could face this semi-circle and men could sit there and hear the Torah, but there is room for only a small audience and the whole building could accommodate several hundred people.

Gymnasium at SardisThe second impressive feature of Sardis is the façade of the gymnasium restored by a team from Harvard. Although much is not original, the reconstructed façade give the visitor a sense of the grandeur of the building. The inscriptions on the cornice pieces appear to have been colored in so they are more clearly visible, as they would have been when the building was new.

Temple of Artemis at Sardis

Temple of Artemis at Sardis

The third important feature of Sardis is a huge unfinished Temple of Artemis. This is a short drive from the main city and could be overlooked by a visitor, but for me this is really a treat. Since there is nothing left of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, this temple will give the visitor a taste of the immense size of an Artemis Temple, you can tell it was unfinished because the bases of several of the huge pillars have not been trimmed and several have incomplete or missing decorations. Like the temple of Artemis at Jerash (in Jordan), several massive pillars have stood since construction stopped. A small Byzantine chapel was eventually built on the sight and there are several examples of Christian graffiti on the temple walls.

After an excellent lunch (lamb kabob and a Turkish coffee) we drove all the way to Izmir to visit the Smyrna agora. Like Philadelphia and Thyatira, Smyrna is under the modern city of Izmir, with the exception of a portion of the agora discovered under an Ottoman era cemetery, The graves were relocated and excavations are ongoing. The highlight of the Smyrna agora is the underground vaults, but unfortunately we were not able to visit the closed section where archaeologists have preserved a large number of Greg-Roman graffiti. As odd as that sounds, these scribblings on the wall can tell you a great deal about what average people were like in the second century A.D.

The Agora at Smyrna

Under the Agora at Smyrna

We are staying at the Mövenpick hotel in Izmir, an excellent hotel right on the bay. Since we arrived at the hotel a bit earlier than other nights on this trip, most of our group headed out to explore the city and seaside promenade (while I dutifully updated this blog!) The wifi is quite fast at this hotel, so I was able to add a few more pictures here and on yesterday’s post, Turkey Day 3 – Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. Check it out.

Turkey Day 2 – Perge and the Perge Museum

Out second day in Turkey started with a short flight from Istanbul to Antalya. I don’t think I mentioned it before, but we are using the all-new airport in Istanbul (which does not seem to have a name yet). This is a huge airport with all the modern amenities you might expect. Or it will have them all when everything is finished up. Still, we checked in fine and made the hour flight south in comfort.

Our new driver picked us up in the shiny new Tutu mini-van. Since there are only ten of us, this is the perfect vehicle (and we even fit inside with all our luggage). We drove from the airport directly the the Perge Archaeological site. There is only a small but important biblical significance for Perge, Paul passed through the city on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14). After leaving Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas traveled north to Psidian Antioch, passing through Perge.  This is where John Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem. This will eventually lead to the break between Paul and Barnabas after the Jerusalem Council. In Acts 14:25 Paul and Barnabas “spoke the word” in Perge, but Luke does not mention the founding of a church as he did in other cities on the first missionary journey.

Ward Gasque comments in his Anchor Bible Dictionary article that the remains of Perge “are second only to Ephesus among the cities associated with the apostle Paul” (ABD 5:228). He is correct, although the site is not as well-maintained as Ephesus, probably because it is not nearly as popular with tourists. Nevertheless, this is an excellent visit which illustrates many of the features of a Greco-Roman city. 

The first gate was built to honor Hadrian and a second Hellenistic gate with two round towers. On the back side of the Hellenistic gate are niches which once held statures. Some aches still had bases with inscriptions, but the scaffolding which used to be built around the gates has been stacked inside this area and we could not get very close enough to inspect them. Just inside the city is a large Roman bath with a palaestra (an exercise yard), although neither is fully reconstructed. At least on this tour, it is the only bath house we will have a chance to see.

We walked up the main road (the cardo) through the center of the city. Although some of the columns have been replaced, the site has not been well-maintained and there is a good grip of weeds growing on the cardo. There is a small shop about half way down the road out of Perge which has a fascinating mosaic floor with Agamemnon and other characters from Homer. There is a sign explaining the mosaic (“possibly a religious function” but that is not at all clear).

We back-tracked to the partially reconstructed agora. There is an unexplained round structure in the center (again, explained as a possible religious site). The stadium has some magnificent vaults on one side and has been partially reconstructed on one end. Although the theater appears to be open now, we were not able to visit it on this tour. 

After Perge, we made a short stop at the St. Paul Cultural Center in Antalya for snacks and coffee. It was good to chat with the people who run the shop and hear about the what they are doing there.

HadrianThe rest of the day was spent at the Perge Museum. This is one of the better museums you will even visit in terms of artifacts on display (perhaps better than the Ephesus Museum although there are a few things in Ephesus which are more important). Many of the statues which were recovered from the main gates and the theater are now in this museum. One gallery is dedicated to the statues and friezes from the theater, including a massive Hercules statue. 

In addition to the statues, the museum has an extensive collection of tombs, many in excellent condition. Most tourists like the small basket made for a pet Dog, Stephanos. 

On the third floor is a nice collection of Greek icons and I enjoyed a short time with two people from our group trying to figure out who is who on these icons. I believe they have misidentified John of Patmos with John the Baptist (the seven headed dragon is a give-away). 

We have a long drive tomorrow from the warm and sunny coastal city of Antalya to visit Colossae, Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Pamukkale. 

Turkey Day 1 – Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and the Museums

I am currently leading a “Missionary Journeys of Paul” tour in western Turkey. I have been planning this trip for a long time and I am very happy to be traveling with some good friends. I am using Tutku Tours, the same company that helped me with the May 2019 Israel trip. They did a great job helping me plan the itinerary and (so far) everything has gone according to plan. 

To answer your first question: Yes, we are quite safe. We are traveling almost exclusively in southwest Turkey, very far from anything which might be considered troubling, And there is less risk of getting sick here than in the States, at least at the moment. Sadly the paranoia about the Corona Virus has reduced tourism greatly. We are the only group staying in this hotel and most of the usual tourist sites are not as crowded as expected.   

Hagia SofiaOur day started with a drive through Istanbul traffic to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more popularly known as the Blue Mosque, is currently under renovation and many of the beautiful mosaic domes are unfortunately not visible. When I visited in 2018 the Mosque was totally closed, at least we could get inside this year. There is scaffolding blocking the view of the main dome, which is unfortunate. The mosque is  know for its 20,000 hand-painted glazed ceramic tiles, which we were able to see in the main gallery.

The Hagia Sofia is just a short walk from the Blue Mosque. Built in A. D. 537 by the emperor Justinian, the church is known for its dome and many mosaics. There are a number of stunning mosaics in various parts of the church as well as four seraphim in each corner. After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the church was converted to a mosque. Fortunately the mosaics were plastered over rather than destroyed. After Atatürk converted the mosque into a museum in 1935, this plaster was carefully removed and many mosaics were restored. Other than a few large groups of school children, the usually crowded site was not very full at all. 

Basilica Cistern After Hagia Sofia, we crossed the street and made a short visit to the Basilica Cisterns. The cistern is about 100,000 square feet at has capacity for about 21 million gallons of water, although most of the water is now drained for cleaning. Last time I was there the water was a few feet deep and there were large fish. Most of the columns in the cistern are recycled from other places, so there was a need for bases of varying sizes to support the columns. The most interesting of these are two blocks featuring medusa heads. I noticed one block which looked like it had been dressed for an inscription, but was never actually inscribed (a factory reject?) If none of this interests you, the Basilica Cisterns were featured in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love and the film, Inferno, based on the Dan Brown book.

We ate lunch at the famous Pudding Shoppe, always a good lunch with great service. If you do not know why it is famous, read this.

After lunch we made a short walk to the Istanbul Museum. Like everything else in Istanbul, large portions of the museum are being renovated. Unfortunately this meant we were not able to visit the floor with many important archaeological finds from Israel, including the Siloam Inscription and the Gezer Calendar. The whole section for Greco-Roman archaeology was also closed, I do not know how long this area will be closed, but if you are planning a trip to the museum you might want to check to see what is actually open at the time. The Museum book store had a number of very good books on archaeology sites in Turkey, I managed to restrain myself and selected only two published in Turkey (one on the Terrace Houses in Ephesus and another on Luwian history). 

Ishtar GateThe Ancient Near Eastern museum was open and is well-worth a visit. There is a nice collection of Hittite, Assyrian and Babylonian items, including panels from the neo-Babylonian period Ishtar Gate and a collection of uniform documents. In the main museum, several new displays (to me) were open. Although they they were nice, they did not make up for my disappointment at missing the biblical archaeology. The section of Greco-Roman tombs is always interesting.

Tomorrow, we fly to Antalya and begin tracking the first missionary journey of Paul at Perge.

Israel / Jordan 2019

Pwetra Group Picture

In May 2019 I traveled with 27 students, parents and friends to Israel and Jordan. Professor Scott Shaw was a co-leader; without his help it would have been impossible to manage a group of this size. The students were remarkable – very attentive and inquisitive and (almost) always on time. I wrote these posts while in Israel or Jordan on my iPad, so think of them as “live reports from the field.” I revisited them once I was home to add additional photographs when internet was bad and correct some typos.

I have two tours planned with Tutku Tours in 2020, if you are interested in my “Missionary Journeys of Paul” tour in March 2020, check out the brochure on the Tutku website. If you have questions about the 2020 tour, contact me directly via email or a direct message on twitter @plong42

Day 1 – Grace Christian University Tour of Israel and Jordan 2019

Day 2 – The Old City of Jerusalem

Day 3 – Yad VaShem and the Israeli National Museum

Day 4 – Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives

Day 5 – Caesarea, Megiddo, and The Sea of Galilee

Day 6 – Jesus in Galilee

Day 7 – Jerash, Amman, Mount Nebo

Day 8 – Visiting Petra

Day 9 – From the Red Sea to En Gedi

Day 10 – Masada, Arad and the Dead Sea

Day 11 – En-Gedi, Qumran, and Qasr al Yahud