5/26 – Trouble in Laodicea
We started the day in the ancient city of Hierapolis, home to a sizable Necropolis, which means “city of the dead” – basically a city cemetery. We shot a video talking about the resurrection; it seemed appropriate to nod to the God of the living in the land of the dead. Hierapolis boasts a beatiful white mineral mountain, created by the hot springs I mentioned yesterday. (Lots of European men with swimsuits I’d rather not talk about.) We then walked through the agora or marketplace, which is where all the ancient different traders set up shop and provided goods and services.
From Hierapolis we moved on to Laodicea, one of the seven cities to whom Revelation was delivered. Laodicea sits in a valley between Hierapolis and Colossae. Ancient Colossae had natural cold springs that met Hierapolis’ hot springs outside Laodicea and resulted in lukewarm water that flowed through the city. On top of being completely useless (can’t drink it or wash in it), it smelled nasty. So when Jesus said to the Laodicean church, “I wish you were hot or cold. Because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth,” the metaphor would have hit home quite putridly.
Laodicea is the closest we’ll get to Colossae on this trip, since in the early sixties AD an earthquake ruined Colossae and now it’s 10-20 feet underground. (This was right around the time Paul wrote Colossians actually.) So we hoped to shoot a couple of video teachings. But about two minutes into the first one, we got shut down. Unable to film, we rejoined the group at the Laodicean temple to the goddess Artemis, where we all sang There’s Just Something About That Name together. It was beautiful.
We then visited Sardis, another of the cities of Revelation. We were able to shoot there behind another temple to Artemis (this one with quite a few stones still up). Then we gathered in an ancient sanctuary and sang How Great Thou Art. Beautiful again. We also prayed for our tour guide Attahan, whom we have all grown to love (and who has been on his own spiritual journey as he has guided us through Turkey). Dan and I jumped through a window and stood together in a room where ancient Christians worshiped together.
That night in Izmir (ancient Smyrna) a bunch of us made our way to the western part of town and ate Domino’s Pizza with our feet dangling over the Aegean Sea. And of course we spent some time at the nearby Starbucks. That night Jason, Dan, and I stayed up until 2am talking. Not sure that was 100% wise in terms of keeping our attention up during the day, but it was very much worth it! (And none of us are fully adjusted and sleeping great anyway.)
5/27 – Ephesus
Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation were all written to the church(es) in Ephesus. So it’s an understatement to say that Ephesus matters for study of the New Testament. When you add to this to the overwhelming size and amount of remains uncovered there, there’s no way I could hope to cover everything! Paul started the church there in Acts 19 (more on this in a bit), but it was the apostle John who lived there for many years toward the end of his life. Based on John’s commitment to take care of Mary, we began our day at what is supposed to be her home. It’s high in the mountains today, but in ancient times the city would have stretched from the valley all the way up the mountain, so it’s not completely unreasonable. Then we visited St John’s Basilica, a church over 1500 years old where mass was being celebrated. We had our own church service toward one corner of the wall, overlooking the remains of Ephesus’s temple to Artemis. They boasted the largest Artemis temple anywhere and it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But today it is literally one column in the middle of nothing else. Pretty ironic.
We headed to the site of ancient Ephesus, and the seemingly huge area we covered was only 2% of the ancient city. The marble streets were beautiful and the architectural detail of the stonework stunning. This is the part that’s impossible to capture, so I’ll share a couple highlights, each related to different biblical texts.
Temple to Domition – Revelation 4
The most popular “religion” in Jesus’ day was centered on devotion to the emperor. Most emperors refused to be outright worshiped until they were dead, but some demanded worship even while alive. Domition fit into the latter category, preferring to be called “Lord and God” (Latin Dominus et Deus). Worship and politics were very mixed to the extent that refusing to participate was considered anti-patriotic and a violation of the allegiance due Rome. But the Christians refused to fall in line. Revelation 4 centers on John’s vision of God on the throne, surrounded by humans and various other creatures bowing before him. Many believe that this worship scene intentionally mocks the ceremonies Domition designed for himself. So we stood in front of the remains of the temple to Domition and had Jason read Revelation 4. Pretty awesome.
Ephesus Theater – Acts 19
We spent some time in a huge theater that seated up to 25,000 people – the actual theater that plays a central role in Acts 19. The short version is that Paul was preaching the gospel of Jesus and consequently confronting the idols of their world, most notably Artemis. As confrontation of idolatry should and often does, this had a negative economic impact on the city, in particular those who sold silver Artemis figurines. They raised a ruccus, gathered a riot of 20,000 people, and marched through the city and into the theater. For two solid hours a theater full of people shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Paul, of course, wanted to go in and settle down the crowd. Sometimes Paul overestimated his abilities, but thankfully his friends wouldn’t let him in. Eventually the city clerk quieted the crowd by reminding them that there’s no way these Jesus people could outlast the worship of a goddess as great as Artemis. Standing in this very theater gave us a sense of the scene, and we found it especially ironic that today the only people who know the name “Artemis” are ancient historians and people who still worship Jesus. Guess she wasn’t that great, after all.
5/28 – After Ephesus
Today it rained. A lot. And honestly, it was awesome. Rain not only gave us a fun shared story to tell, it also gave us a sense of what a rainy day would have been like in Pergamum long ago. For instance, and be prepared because this really is sad, one of our group members broke her wrist because she fell while walking on the wet stones of the theater. She is okay (praise God), so it’s okay to say that her falling illustrated to some degree the real danger presented by weather. In Pergamum we saw a massive temple to Trajan with probably the coolest stone inscription we’d seen. I’ll translate later when I have a picture, but essentially it presented the emperor as divine and gave him titles we reserve for God and/or Jesus. We also saw the remains of temples to Athena and Zeus, the latter most likely being the “throne of Satan” mentioned in Jesus’ message to Pergamum in Revelation. Also in (or near) Pergamum we visited the world’s first “hospital,” an Asklepion or healing shrine assocated with the god Asclepius. The best part was the sleeping chamber, where stressed out leaders would come to get some rest in a cool quiet atmosphere.
Next we bussed to Troas (near the ancient city of Troy), which is an important site for world history. Why? Because it is the place where Paul heard a call to first take the gospel to Europe. He and his entourage stationed in Troas at the beginning of Acts 16 and waited for God’s signal on which way to turn. After receiving No’s in every other direction, he saw in a dream a vision of a Macdeonian man bidding him westward. So they listened, and to this day we’re living the results. Mark gave a great teaching and we had some time on our own at a non-commericalized site to take it all in. Ended up being one of the most powerful moments for the group as a whole, from what I can tell.
5/29 – To Neapolis (Kavala)
Today was a light day, mostly travelling. We ferried across the Aegean Sea and landed at Kavala (ancient Neapolis). This is the site where Paul first set foot in Europe as recorded in Acts 16. It was quite something to travel the same body of water the apostle Paul crossed to bring the gospel to my own ancestors. We spent some time exploring Kavala, including the spot where Paul was believed to tied off his ship. It is a beautiful Greek city – the kind you’d expect to see on a brochure – and after a week of traveling, taking in sights, and learning new information, it was a great place to relax. After dinner about 20 of us walked to a cafe out on the water for coffee and conversation. Less than five minutes after we arrived, we experienced an Aegean rainstorm at its finest. After a couple hours we gave up waiting and called taxis. It was definitely memorable!