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Angel Howard Finster 2

Last month we looked at a picture of a mould for clay (terra cotta) figures. This month we look at an interesting statue--interesting for several reasons.

   First, the statue is quite compex, and must have been molded in several sections, with the sections then put together before firing. Statues of deities were available to fit all pocket-books. The wealthy might have a bronze or marble statue. The less wealthy could have a very complex terra cotta statue, or a simple (inexpensive) one.

  Second it is Aphrodite/Venus, an unbelievably popular deity. Notice that even though she is absolutely nude, she is wearing a fancy hat, crown , or something. We see this over and over. She had to wear fancy headgear.

    Third, this statue was discovered in a kiln. There must be a story behind that fact. The kiln was in Pella, the ancient capitol of Macedonia, and Macedonia was taken over by the Roman Empire in 168 BCE. The city of Pella was looted by the Roman Army. We can imagine the factory workers running for their lives, leaving behind the fine pottery and terra cotta statues that had recently been fired. The Roman soldiers were not interested in the kilns, so the objects in them rested for almost 2,000 years before some curious person found them.

   Today you can see this statue in the Pella Archaeological Museum in the Greek province of Macedonia. Photo by Richard Davies. You can reproduce it under a Creative Commons license. Please no commercial use, and please give credit to the photographer. 

August 2022

 In the Roman Empire people loved to have small clay (terra cotta) statues. They were mass produced in molds (or moulds) and were inexpensive.

 Many of these statues represented deiies, and you could purhcase whatever statue represented your favorite god or goddess. Here is a mold found in central Gaul (France), along with a statue made from the mold by modern museum staff. The mold is from the second century, CE. The goddess is Venus.

 St Paul repeatedly instructed us that we should avoid being "conformed" to this world. We should be "transformed" into something resembling Christ. (Rom. 8:29; 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18, Phil. 3:21.) His audience would have thought about these molds. You are not a lump of clay. Don't be molded into the form of a strange god or goddess. Instead, be spiritually molded into the form of Christ.

 You can find many molds displayed in various archaeological museums. This one is displayed in the British Museum, GR1860.9-8.6, terracotts E48. Photo by Richard Davies. Don't use it commercially and give credit to the photographer.



July 2022

It is always easier to notice what is than what isn't. We have a difficult time seeing whatever is not in a scene.

   This is also true with the Bible. Some things that have been significant in human life for thousands of years are only slightly (and maybe only tangentially) mentioned in the Bible.

   Have you noticed how little is said about gambling in the Bible? The most obvious example of gambling is when soldiers gambled for possession of the robe that Jesus had worn before he was crucified. They might have thrown dice (excatly like our modern dice) or they might have thrown "knucklebones," a popular alternative to dice.

   In this picture we see Aphrodite/Venus playing knucklebones with Pan. Maybe he is accusing her of cheating. Apparently she liked to gamble, and this may be a clue to why gambling does not come into the biblical story. The picture, inscribed on a mirror cover, is from Corinth, and is in the British Museum, GR1888.12-13.1.


June 2022

St. Paul said, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church." (1 Cor. 14:4) Later he said, "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (1 Cor. 14:26) We might extend this to say that whenever we meet with others, we should seek to "edify," or "build up" another person and/or the entire group.

   Paul lived during a period of great construction throughout the Roman Empire. Everywhere he traveled he found construction cranes. Great monuments were being built in all cities of the Empire. When we visit the ruins of these ancient cities, we do not see what Paul saw, because the great buildings were completed later. However the construction had begun during his lifetime.

   That is why the metaphor of "edification" or "building up" was natural for him. If we can build monuments, we can also build people.

   The Colosseum in Rome is an example. It was dedicated 15 or 20 years after Paul's death, but it represents the monumental construction that was going on during his life.

   This photo is by Richard E. Davies. You may use it as long as you do not use it for commercial purposes and as long as you give credit to the photographer.

May 2022

Here we see a coin issued during the reign of Julius Caesar that is pure propaganda.

The picture is Hercules holding a woman on his left shoulder and a small figure in his right hand. It seems likely that the woman on his shoulder is Roma, the goddess who represents Rome and its Empire. Who or what is on the right hand? Maybe a representation of Nike or Victory.

The word on the coin makes it clear that the standing man is not really Hercules, even though he is clearly as strong as Hercules. The strong man is Caesar, and Caesar single-handedly supports Rome and the Empire. He can do this because of his strength and because Victory is literally "in hand."

Since everyone had to use coins, they made a good tool for propaganda.

This coin is displayed in the Roman National Museum, Plazzo Massimo in Rome. Photo by Richard Davies.

April 2022

If you look at last month's photo, you will see that the goddess is carrying a wreath. Today, many of us associate wreaths with Christmas, but for the ancient Romans a wreath was a symbol of empire.

In this month's photo we see the gravestone of an ordinary woman who had been freed from slavery. She was a simple fish merchant. Why does her gravestone feature a wreath? Perhaps it is a symbol of patriotism.

It is worth thinking about the possible connection between Christmas wreaths and Roman imperial wreaths. Does our modern use of Christmas wreaths reflect a belief in the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about?

This grevestone is in the Roman National Museum, Baths of Diocletian. Photo by Richard Davies.

March 2022

The fat guy is the Emperor Nero, and the coin is a silver denarius. It is small, about the size of a U.S. dime, but it was an ordinary daily wage for a worker. (For a lot of information about Roman money, see Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2nd ed.) p. 85.)

   What does that mean today? If a U.S. worker is paid $20 per hour and works an 8 hour day, a denarius is $160.

   The denarius is quite important in the N.T. Gospels. In John 6:7, we are told that it would take at least 200 denarii to feed 5,000 people. Do the math, and it comes to about $6.50 in today's U.S. dollars. This is quite close to the cost of a basic meal in a fast-food restaurant.

The idea that a daily wage today is about equivalent to a daily wage in the Roman Empire works out pretty well.

   Another sum of money that shows up in the New Testament is the Talent. This is about 6,000 denarii, and it weighs about 80 pounds avoirdupois. In today's money, one talent would be almost one million USD. (A talent would pay an ordinary worker's expenses for about 20 years, and that is also true of one million USD.)

   When Jesus told the "Parable of the Talents" (Matt. 25:14-30), he was intending to astound his audience with the amount of money involved. In the parallel story, Luke 19:12-23, the amount (a Roman mina) would be about $16,000, still a significant sum.

   This coin is in the British Museum, CM1860-3-30-44/BMC Nero 91. Photo by Richard Davies, with the usual restrictions.



November 2021

This month I have had to borrow a picture because I don't have any photos from Ephesus. (That's a story for another day.)

When you tour Ephesus you will see this carving of the goddess Nike. It used to grace an arch, but now it is simply propped up for tourists to see.

Campare this carving with last month's painting of an angel. The comparison is striking. It has to do with the fact that humans have a limited imagination regarding divine (or heavenly) things.

Nike was goddess of victory, a special goddess for the Romans who didn't like to admit defeat, even though their Legions were sometimes defeated.

We know that God Almighty doesn't guarantee us victory, but guarantees a loving and just presence. An angel is not a goddess, but a messenger from God.

This photo is here under a creative commons license. No commercial use allowed. If you use it, identify the photographer. Share and share alike. The phtographer is Red razberries42, and it was posted on Flickr.com.


February 2022

Last month we looked at a denarius. This month we look at another denarius, this one from the reign of Julius Caesar. Notice that it is inscribed (in English), "Divine Julius," that is, "the god named Julius." There is also a picture of a warrior who is probably Julius, himself.

   But the main feature is a radiant star. Kings and rulers had their special stars.

   In Christian communities around the world, December celebrations of the birth of Jesus feature stars, and the symbolism is not accidental.

   This coin is displayed in the British Museum (DeSalis Collection). It was issued in Spain.

   Feel free to use this photo as long as it is not used for commercial purposes and credit is given to the photographer, Richard Davies.

December 2021

As we begin the year 2022 we look at one man's vision for the future. It is obviously not an ancient artifact, but it rests on an ancient idea, the idea that God created beings that link humanity to God. The root of the word "angel" is "messenger," so an angel connects us with God.

This "folk art" painting was done by Howard Finster in the late 1980s. (Finster died in 2001.) He felt that God had called him to paint his visions, so he painted and painted. This was his 10,000th painting.

Finster was from the U.S. State of Georgia, and was acquainted with the Georgia band, REM. They wrote a song called "Maps and Legends" to honor Finster, and one of the lines in the song says, "And he sees what you can't see. Can't you see that?"

Most of Finster's paintings include Bible verses, and here we see Psalm 34:7, followed by a short sermon: "To have peace in this world is to make peace with God." This angel of peace has wings that display the world as high-rise buildings and people clustered and piled up.

Our prayer is that God will help us find peace.

The painting is displayed in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, USA (T. Marshall Hahn Collection, 1997.75)

January 2022

September 2021

Photo of the Month

"The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil . . ." Psalm 121:5-7.

     When we read the Bible, we find that it usually refers to the Moon as a gift from God, giving us light at night. However most ancient people thought the Moon was a manifestation of evil, perhaps a demon. Witches tried to access the Moon's power.

     Hecate was a strange goddess in ancient Greece and Rome. She was an underworld goddess who had the powers of the Moon. Often she is represented as three women standing around a pillar with their backs to the pillar. Sometimes she was represented as a woman with three heads. One of the three images was Artemis/Diana, goddess of the Moon, and that's what we see here. Notice the crescent in her hair. There are various explanations for the other two heads.

     She was the goddess of witches and ghosts, etc. We can be glad to read the promise that God will protect us from such deities.

     This photo is of a statue in the Vatican Museums. The statue is at least ten feet tall. If you want to use this photo, give credit to Richard Davies, photographer.

October 2021

The song says, "Don't know much about history . . .," but everything is "history." We really should pay attention to history. The people of the Roman Empire knew that there were serious consequences for not paying attention to the lessons of history.

     The picture is of "Clio," the muse of history. There were only seven muses, so it is significant to think that one of them specialized in history.

     Today historians debate what constitutes "history," and in the writings from the time of the Roman Empire we find several approaches to deciding what to record as history and how to record it. The New Testament Book of Acts is history by ancient standards and we should pay attention to it.

     The picture of Clio is in the Roman National Museum Plazzo Massimo in Rome. Photo by Richard Davies. Please give credit to the photographer and do not use the picture for commercial purposes.

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