Tag Archives: Early Christianity

Silly Romans

Our guide, G├╝lin, told us that someone once asked on one of her tours, “Why did the Romans build so many ruins?” (Chuckle…)

After five days of visiting ~15 ruins, we find ourselves facetiously asking the same question. But the cool thing about seeing one Hellenistic/Roman/Byzantine site after another is that you really start to picture where the church was born—not just the Christian parts, but the whole of society that early Christians took part in. It’s like going from translating English to Spanish one word at a time, to thinking in Spanish. I can feel my mind starting to “think in” Early Christianity.

In the past two days we have been to:
Pamukkale the “cotton cliffs” of mineral deposits and thermal pools.
Hierapolis 2km of tombs in a necropolis on the hillside… As strange as it sounds, playing around in this graveyard was one of my favorite stops yet!
Sardis the first place to mint coins, biggest synagogue up until the Jews were driven out in 600CE, most grand “YMCA” we’ve seen (and we’ve seen a lot!)
Temple of Artemis not to be confused with the Artemisian temple from Saturday.
Acropolis at Pergamon the most magnificent view of the Turkish countryside from the highest ruins—just amazing. It was especially cool to hear simultaneous calls to prayer from 5-10 minarets in the village below echoing off the mountains.
Asklepion with healing waters and a temple to the God of Health (of course I had a sip…)
The Red Hall a church with Egyptian influence.

And something purely cultural we did today… A visit to a rug making co-op in Bergama. We watched how they make wool yarn, how they make silk threads, how they make various colors of dye, how they weave different types of rugs—it was amazing. I wish my dad could have been there with me. I bought a rug that I think Jay and I will hang on the wall of our next home. What a day.

And now I’m sitting in our hotel along the Aegean Sea, ready for bed.

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Historical imagination & imaginary history

Here are some useful things to keep in mind while visiting ruins anywhere…

There are three approaches to excavating:
1. When you find something, leave it as it is.
2. When you find something, try to reconstruct it using your research and imagination.
3. When you find something, dig it all up to see if there are older or more valuable ruins beneath it.

We have seen evidence of all three approaches in the past few days. In Ephesus we saw some Byzantine ruins, but most of them had been ripped up to get to Roman ruins beneath. My professor who used to work on that site said that she recalls reading the journals in German and seeing the phrase, “then we brought in the bulldozers…” Ugh! So much history gained, but so much lost.

And then there’s the bit about using your imagination. We all do this every time we come to a site with only bits and pieces of buildings. But we can get carried away with our imaginations too. Today we went to a site in Laodicea where archeologists are making what seem to be wild claims. If they are correct, we just saw the earliest church known to humanity. And that would be awesome. I’m glad I saw it. The oldest church we’ve uncovered thus far dates late 400’s, this one claims to be 312. Discoveries like this take time, and the archeologists at Laodicea seem to be in a rush to finish. My hope is that they don’t get sloppy in their rush. In any case, it was especially cool to see a site being actively excavated and to get any idea of the work that goes into it.

Imagination comes into play in our spirituality as well. Yesterday’s trip to the House of the Virgin Mary, for instance—did Mary really spend her final days there? Catholics say yes, Orthodox say no. But whether she did or not, the place is religiously significant and spirit-filled based based on the millions who have made pilgrimages there, prayed there, been changed there.

So come to Turkey with a healthy dose of academic skepticism, but don’t let it close you off to the real wonders that have been and still are.

PS Aphrodesia was an amazing site as well—both because the ruins give you an especially vivid idea of what a typical Roman city looked like, and because the vistas are breathtaking.

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Emphasis on Ephesus

Today was a very full day in Ephesus. But one thing Ephesus was not full of: people. Turns out there are some perks to visiting Turkey in the winter!

We started at the Church of Mary–where it is thought the Third Ecumenical Council in 431 CE took place. The third council is where Bishops agreed on the title Theotokos or “God bearer” for Mary. There happens to be a great baptistry there as well that a few of us took turns getting into.

Next we walked up the “Harbor Road” from the harbor uphill into the town. It’s truly amazing to behold. You can see where stalls and shops would have been and just imagine the hustle and bustle of antiquity. A great theater seating 25,000 sits atop the hill. It may be the largest outdoor theater in the world. The scope is just breathtaking.

Hang a right and you’re on your way to the Roman Library of Celsus, originally constructed in 125 CE. This library would have housed 12,000 scrolls. The architecture is magnificent.

From the library the road goes up another hill, lined once again with shops and such. On the left side of the road is an extremely well preserved latrine. One of the few places our professor said she could be sure Paul visited, ha. Jay asked why such a thing would be preserved, and I can tell you that you’d understand why if you saw it. There must have been 40+ latrines lining the periphery of this single room at one time. Can you imagine all those men pooping together? And that was only the men that could afford it! How strange.

Across the street from the latrines is the entrance to some magnificent ruins of terraced houses. These houses are still being excavated, so they are covered from the elements (shielding us from the rain too!) It is so cool to see a live worksite. One of our professors worked on this very site back in 2009, so she was a wealth of information. I took particular interest in the eating areas since that is what I’m studying while I am here, but I’ll write more on that later when I have pictures handy.

Walking further up the road, we passed a number of bath houses. What is it about the Greco-Romans and their gyms and baths? It’s like a YMCA on every corner!

We saw another smaller theater for official announcements and the victorious goddess of Nike. We saw statues with crosses on the accompanying inscriptions indicating their Christian faith. We saw sheep on the hillsides and caves. It was like a 3-D backdrop to the Bible. So cool.

We stopped for a late lunch of home cooked food–the cook was expecting us. I bought her cookbook it was so good. Lamb meatballs, okra, spinach, chicken, beans, eggplant, stuffed peppers, yogurt, fried cauliflower, more eggplant, and some dessert made out of crushed walnuts and cinnamon. And apple tea.

Next we swung by the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Only one column remains of it now.

And finally we made our way to the House of the Virgin Mary–believed by Roman Catholics and others to be where Mary lived out her final days after John brought her to Ephesus. The Eastern Orthodox do not believe this to be where Mary lived, but people of many faith traditions make pilgrimage there regardless. I can say I was moved. I lit two candles and I bought two blue Mary medallions which I dipped in the Holy spring waters outside the house. (Spoiler alert, Mom… I knew you’d want one!)

A great day that will stick with me forever. Now if I can only get some sleep!

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