How Many of Your Favorite New Testament Books Were Popular Among the Early Christians?

Jimmy Akin:BodmerPapyrus

Obviously, taken as a whole, the books of the New Testament were quite popular. They were Scripture, after all!

But how popular were they individually?

People today have favorite books in the Bible–ones they go to all the time, and ones they only rarely look at.

This is a phenomenon that affects both the books of the Old and the New Testament, and it’s possible to get a sense of how popular particular books were in particular time periods.

One way of doing that–before the Bible was bound as a single volume–is by seeing how many copies there are of individual books…

Continue here.

 

The Apostle to the Gentiles


 

Sealed Under Turkish Mud, a Well-Preserved Byzantine Chapel

A fantastic find as reported today in New York Times:

DEMRE, Turkey — In the fourth century A.D., a bishop named Nicholas transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital.

One wall of the chapel has a cross-shaped window that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto an altar table.

A vibrant fresco that is unusual for Turkey was perfectly preserved.

Nicholas was later canonized, becoming the St. Nicholas of Christmas fame. Myra had a much unhappier fate.

After some 800 years as an important pilgrimage site in the Byzantine Empire it vanished — buried under 18 feet of mud from the rampaging Myros River. All that remained was the Church of St. Nicholas, parts of a Roman amphitheater and tombs cut into the rocky hills.

But now, 700 years later, Myra is reappearing.

Archaeologists first detected the ancient city in 2009 using ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies whose shape and size suggested walls and buildings. Over the next two years they excavated a small, stunning 13th-century chapel sealed in an uncanny state of preservation. Carved out of one wall is a cross that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto the altar. Inside is a vibrant fresco that is highly unusual for Turkey.

The chapel’s structural integrity suggests that Myra may be largely intact underground. “This means we can find the original city, like Pompeii,” said Nevzat Cevik, an archaeologist at Akdeniz University who is director of the excavations at Myra, beneath the modern town of Demre.

Mark Jackson, a Byzantine archaeologist at Newcastle University in England, who was not involved in the research, called the site “fantastic,” and added,“This level of preservation under such deep layers of mud suggests an extremely well-preserved archive of information.”

Occupied since at least the fourth century B.C., Myra was one of the most powerful cities in Lycia, with a native culture that had roots in the Bronze Age. It was invaded by Persians, Hellenized by Greeks, and eventually controlled by Romans.

Until the chapel was unearthed, the sole remnant of Myra’s Byzantine era was the Church of St. Nicholas. (The bishop, also known as Nicholas the Wondermaker, was a native Lycian of Greek descent.) First built in the fifth century A.D. and reconstructed repeatedly, it was believed to house his remains and drew pilgrims from across the Mediterranean. Today, Cyrillic signs outside souvenir shops cater to the Russian Orthodox faithful.

But Myra attracted invaders, too. Arabs attacked in the seventh and ninth centuries. In the 11th, Seljuk Turks seized the city, and the bones thought to be those of Nicholas were stolen away to Bari, in southern Italy, by merchants who claimed to have been sent by the pope.

By the 13th century, Myra was largely abandoned. Yet someone built the small chapel using stones recycled from buildings and tombs.

One wall of the chapel has a cross-shaped window that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto an altar table.

Decades later, several seasons of heavy rain appear to have sealed Myra’s fate. The chapel provides evidence of Myra’s swift entombment. If the sediment had built up gradually, the upper portions should show more damage; instead, except for the roof’s dome, at the surface, its preservation is consistent from bottom to top.

“It seems incredible,” said Engin Akyurek, a Byzantine archaeologist with Istanbul University who is excavating the site. He and his team dug down 18 feet to the base of chapel, where they discovered a few artifacts from the early 14th century. (At the time, Turks were gaining control of Anatolia, and after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the Ottomans ruled for nearly five centuries.)

In the layers of mud between the 14th-century ground level and the late-Ottoman level — which is just shy of the modern surface — they discovered nothing at all.

Ceramics unearthed at the chapel and at St. Nicholas Church indicate that Myra remained unoccupied until the 18th century. And while a sunken city “may sound romantic,” said Dr. Jackson, the British scholar, “this mud promises to have preserved a treasure trove of information on the city during an important period of change.”

How classical cities transformed into Byzantine cities during the Christian era, especially between 650 and 1300, is a subject of much scholarly debate.

“Each city was different,” Dr. Jackson said, “and so we need high-quality, well-excavated evidence in order to contribute to the debate about the nature of urban change in this period.”

The fresco in the excavated chapel is especially striking. Six feet tall, it depicts the deesis (“prayer” or “supplication” in Greek). This is a common theme in Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox iconography, but the Myra fresco is different.

Where typically these depictions show Christ Pantocrator (Christ the Almighty) enthroned, holding a book and flanked by his mother, Mary, and John the Baptist, whose empty hands are held palms up in supplication, at Myra both John and Mary hold scrolls with Greek text.

John’s scroll quotes from John 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Mary’s is a dialogue from a prayer for the Virgin Mary in which she intercedes on behalf of humanity, asking Jesus to forgive their sins. Dr. Akyurek said this scroll-in-hand version had been seen in Cyprus and Egypt, but never in Turkey.

The chapel is part of a larger dig that includes the Roman amphitheater — largely reconstructed in the second century after an earthquake leveled much of Lycia — and Andriake, Myra’s harbor, about three miles south. Long a major Mediterranean port, Andriake was where St. Paul changed ships on his way to Antioch (now Antakya). Finds there include a workshop that produced royal purple and blue dye from murex snails and a fifth-century synagogue, the first archaeological evidence of Jewish life in Christian Lycia.

Much of Myra is under modern buildings in Demre, so archaeologists are unsure where they will dig next. They are buying property from local residents to prevent illegal excavations, though judging from the paucity of artifacts found so far, looters might be disappointed: the last residents of Myra seem to have looked at the rising floodwaters and packed their bags before they left.

Ancient Rome & the Bible

The Bible records a number of ancient civilizations. Perhaps the most famous of these is ancient Rome.

By the time of the New Testament, Rome was the major world power, and it was in control of the Holy Land during the entire earthly life of Jesus and during the lives of his immediate followers.

Jesus was born during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus. He was crucified during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius. The book of Acts records the Roman emperor Claudius by name. And both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred at Rome by the Emperor Nero.

It is clear that the Romans were extraordinarily important to the world in which the New Testament was written.

All that makes it worth asking: Who were the Romans, and where did their civilization come from?



Read on here.

 

Fourth Century Christianity in Carinthia

Bread and Circuses:

Exciting news in the Austrian press about what is likely to be the oldest traces of Christianity in Carinthia, in Virunum. A church dating to the 350s was found a couple of years ago, but further excavation suggests that there was a bishop’s palace there – in other words that it was a much significant centre of Christianity than first thought. From Kleine Zeitung:

“Vor sechs Jahren haben wir bereits eine Bischofskirche aus dem vierten  Jahrhundert entdeckt.” Doch nach einer exakten Analyse der Daten könne  man nicht mehr nur von einer Kirche ausgehen. Die Ausmaße auf dem  spätantiken Areal nahe Maria Saal scheinen größer als bisher angenommen. “Wir haben eine weitere Kirche und sechs Klerikerwohnungen entdeckt.”  Zudem vermuten die Archäologen eine dritte Kirche auf der anderen Seite  der Hauptstraße. “Anhand des Grundrisses könnte es sich dort eine  weitere Kirche befinden”, sagt Dolenz. Ob es so ist, wird sich Ende  Oktober herausstellen. Denn dann sollen die neu gewonnenen Erkenntnisse  durch geomagnetische Untersuchungen untermauert werden.

There is more at Orf.at with a good number of photographs.

 

Excavating Early Scottish Christianity

Excavations on the Scottish island Eigg have uncovered a seventh century C.E. structure thought to be the monastery founded by St. Donnan, one of the first missionaries in Scotland. Also known as Donnan of Eigg, the priest traveled through northwest Scotland before settling on Eigg, where he was martyred in 617 C.E. The site features Pictish pottery in the graveyard as well as an oval enclosure and ditch, a characteristic of contemporary monasteries, which maintained a separation between sacred and exterior spaces. The Eigg History Society received funding from the Heritage Lottery to locate the monastery, and archaeologist John Hunter announced in The Scotsmanthat the findings surpassed his expectations. Donnan, the patron Saint of Eigg, evangelized the island and the Scottish archaeology discoveries memorialize and bear witness to a major figure in the dissemination of Christianity on the British Isles.

Scottish archaeology at Eigg has exposed a structure related to the seventh century C.E. St. Donnan, an evangelizing figure in early Scottish Christianity.

Read more in The Scotsman

Source

 

‘He Descended into Hell. . .’: Did Jesus Really Go To Hell?

In a Special Holy Saturday Podcast and Post over at The Sacred Page.

On Holy Saturday we meditate on one of the most obscure lines in the Apostles’ Creed: “he descended into hell.” What does this part of the Creed refer to? Is it biblical?

Moreover, what does it mean to say Christ “descended into hell”? Did he experience the torments of wicked?

Christ and the “Spirits in Prison”

In 1 Peter we read that Christ continued to save souls–even after his death.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:18–21)

According to this passage, after he died, Christ went to those who died in the flood judgment.

Where were these figures? The “hell of the damned”? Well, not quite.

Let’s look at this passage in light of ancient Judaism…

To continue, click here. The download is available at the bottom of the post. Well worth a listen today.

 

The Earliest Christian Graffito?

Writes  Prof Larry Hurtado:

In my previous posting I briefly described Roger Bagnall’s new book, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East, and I mentioned his lead chapter on a body of graffiti from ancient Smyrna. Among the items he discusses in this chapter, I was particularly (predictably!) intrigued with one that Bagnall confidently claims must be Christian (pp. 22-23).  Here are the basic data:

  • The graffiti in question are on plastered surfaces in the basement of a city structure, and there are multiple layers of plaster laid on across time.
  • One graffito includes a date, which Bagnall correlates to 125/126 CE.
  • The layer of plaster beneath the layer on which this dated graffito is written is partially exposed, and on this exposed plaster is “a most remarkable graffito, incised into the plaster rather than written with ink or charcoal.”   This graffito reads:

ισοψηφα

κυριος  ω

πιστις  ω

  • The first word, ισοψηφα, means “of equal value/number”, indicating that the graffito is an example of “isopsephy”, the ancient practice of comparing words of equal numerical value (by adding up the value of their letters).  The letters of each of the two words, κυριος (“Lord”) and πιστις (“faith”), = 800, which is expressed by the omega after each one (the omega = 800).
  • The distinguishing centrality of these two Greek words in early Christian vocabulary (as well as the interest in 8 and multiples of 8) combine to prompt Bagnall’s judgment that the graffito “can only indicate a Christian character” (22).
  • As this graffito is on a layer of plaster just beneath the layer with the dated graffito, it must be dated earlier than 125 CE, perhaps some years earlier.  This would make this certainly the earliest identifiable Christian graffito, and perhaps also likely the earliest artifact of Christian writing.

Perhaps because Bagnall doesn’t have a TV production company behind him, we haven’t seen this item in the daily news.  But, while we wait to see what scholars make of the Talpiot tombs, and whether in fact we have a fragment of a 1st-century copy of the Gospel of Mark, here we have a published artifact that has strong claims for anyone interested in the origins of Christianity…

More here, but we’ll have to wait for the book, or so it would seem.

 

Belief in the Resurrection in Ancient Context

Dr Christopher Rollston:

BELIEF IN THE RESURRECTION IN ANCIENT CONTEXT: LATE SECOND TEMPLE JUDAISM, EARLY POST-BIBLICAL JUDAISM, AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY

There is often a great deal of misunderstanding about this subject generally.  That is, people who do not work in ancient history or ancient religion often assume that a belief in a resurrection was some sort of distinctively Christian belief.  That, however, is a serious misconception.  The fact of the matter is that within various segments of Late Second Temple Judaism, as well as within Early Post-Biblical Judaism, the notion of a resurrection was warmly embraced by many.  The locus classicus in the Hebrew Bible is arguably the following text from the mid-2nd century BCE: “Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting peril” (Dan 12:2; notice here that the correlative of “damnation” or “hell” is also present in some fashion, of course).  Within the Old Testament Apocrypha, the notion of a resurrection is embraced at times as well, with the narrative about the martyrdom of “the mother and her seven sons” being a fine exemplar of this.  Thus, according to the narrative, one of the sons said during the torture that preceded his death: “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Macc 7:9).  Similarly, the mother herself says within the narrative, as an exhortation to her martyred sons: “the Creator of the world…will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again” (2 Macc 7:23).  2 Maccabees arguably hails from the first half of the 1st century BCE.   Regarding the dead, the Wisdom of Solomon also affirms that the dead “seemed to have died,” but “they are at peace,” and “their hope is full of immortality,” and they will ultimately “shine forth” and “will govern nations and ruler over peoples” (Wisdom 3:2-8 passim, with the Greek future tense being used here).  The Wisdom of Solomon arguably hails from the second half of the 1st century BCE.  Significantly, all of these texts antedate the rise of Christianity and they all affirm a belief in a resurrection.  In short, many Jewish people believed in a resurrection long before Christianity came along.  To be sure, a belief in a resurrection was not universally accepted by all Jewish people in the Second Temple period.  Some Jewish people did not believe in a resurrection.  For example, the traditionalist Ben Sira rejected the notion of eternal bliss for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked.  Thus, he wrote: “Who in the netherworld can glorify the Most High, in place of the living who offer their praise?  No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived; they glorify the Lord who are alive and well” (Sir 17:27-28).  In sum, although not all Jewish people of the Late Second Temple period accepted the notion of a resurrection, there are texts from this period that demonstrate that a fair number did…

Furthermore, the Jewish historian Josephus (lived ca. 37-100 CE) also discusses the subject of the perishability and imperishability of the soul, with regard to some of the major strands of Judaism during the first century of the Common Era…

Read on here.

And from the conclusion:

Thus, in the final analysis, the cumulative evidence is decisive: There is nothing distinctively “Christian” about a belief in a resurrection.  Rather, some segments of Late Second Temple and Early Post-Biblical Judaism believed in a resurrection and some segments did not.  Christianity, as an heir to apocalyptic branches of Judaism, was quite consistent in always affirming a belief in a resurrection, but the fact remains that belief in a resurrection is well attested prior to the rise of Christianity, and this belief also persists in certain segments of Judaism after the rise of Christianity.

Christopher Rollston

 

A History of the Roman Empire in 75 Seconds

Here is a visual survey of ancient Rome from the original city-state republic in 510 BC all the way through to AD 1453.

HT

 

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