Isn't this fellow cute? He's pretty small, about the size of a baseball, and made out of iron, so he is probably quite heavy.  He comes from several centuries before Christ.

     This image, whatever its purpose, reminds us of a universal quality of humanithy: Humor. Think of him as a satyr or minor deity, maybe found in the kitchen. Regardless of who made him or why, we cannot look at him and not laugh (or at least chuckle).

     The point, for us, is that laughter is an important part of human life. Sometimes laughter is cruel, but good humor, that is not cruel, is much more important. We hope that this little statue was made out of a sense of good humor.

     There is even good humor in the Bible, and next month we might say a little more about that.

     You can see this statue in the Louvre (Paris), collection H. de Nanteuil, 1942, Br426. Photo by Richard Davies. As usual, feel free to use it, but do not use it for commercial purposes and give credit to the photographer.

August 2023

   This fellow is pretending to be the Egyptian god, Anubis, the god who supervised embalming the dead and who helped his mother, Isis, to recover the body of Osiris. He was a significant figure in the religion of Isis, and that religion was a signficant force in the Roman Empire.

   When Emperor Domitian was 17 years old, there was a team planning to assassinate him, but it was during an annual festival, and young Domitian was costumed as Anubis, just as we see in this statue. He was ever greatful to Isis for his escape from an early death, and favored the Isis religion. Domitian had been born about the time when St. Paul was in Corinth.

   St. Paul didn't like the Isis religion, and he said so in Romans 1:22-23, where he speaks about forsaking God and worshipping images of people, birds, animals, and reptiles. Ordinary Roman pagan worship turned to images of people, but the worship of animal images was Isis religion.

   Last September, in this blog, we looked at a gravestone for a woman who may have been a confused Christian, or an Isis worshipper, or may have simply liked dogs. Anyway, the Isis religion was a strong part of the Roman Empire for many centuries.

   You can see this statue in the Vatican Museums (Gregoriano Egizio). Photograph by Richard Davies. You may use it under a creative commons license, but give credit to the photographer and do not use it for commercial purposes.


July 2023

This photo is of someone's life savings.

The unfortunate person had buried this money to keep it for future use, but was never able to use it. The "hoard" was eventurally discovered in modern times in modern England. The "newest" coin in the hoard is from the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius I, who ruled during the time when St. Paul was active.

In other words, we have here a collection of coins like those that St. Paul could have earned and carried and spent.

Money was just as important in the ancient world as it is today, and I have added a page to this web site in which I present evidence that a day's wage in the Roman Empire had the same relative purchasing power as it has in our day. Navigate over to that tab and see if you agree with me.

These coins are displayed in the British Museum as "Hoard of early Roman coins." CM 1985, 10-7-14, 19, 22, 24, 30, 37, 40, 45, 46, 51, 54, 56, 61-64, 70-77. Photo by Richard Davies. You may use it as long as you give credit to the photographer and do not use it for commercial purposes.

June 2023

  In the Roman Empire, before and after the time of Jesus, most deities and emperors assumed the title "sotor," which is Greek for "savior." This man, Demetrios I of Syria, actually took "Sotor" as his last name. He didn't "save" anyone. He spent most of a 7-year reign in battle and he was likely murdered in such a way that those responsible could claim that it was an inevitable battle death.

  This coin is from Antioch, Syria (now the Turkish city of Antakya, site of a recent devastating earthquake). The coin was minted about 200 years before followers of Jesus were called "Christians" by the community in Antioch (Acts 12:26).

Question: Would anyone in Antioch have known anything about this failed ruler from two centuries earlier, a failed ruler who called himself "savior?" Maybe so, and if they knew this history, they would have very well understood that when Jesus was called "Savior," it was something entirely different from the many kings, emperors, and deities.

  You can see this coin in the Chicago Art Institute, Gift of Mrs. William Nelson Pelouze, 1923.1166. Photograph by Richard Davies. You have permission to use this photo for any non-commercial purpose, as long as you give credit to the photographer.

May 2023

 Last month we talkeed about winds. Here is a vase painting of Boreas, the north wind, abducting the daughter of the legendary founder of Athens, Greece. We get a sense of how fearful the event was when we look at the raised hands of the nymph and her companion.

  Why has brutality been such a constant theme in human history? Men fight with men. Men brutalize women. Nations go to war for little or no reason.

  Random rape wasnot acceptable in the ancient world, just as it is not acceptable today, but it happened. We have to wonder what the owner of this fine vase thought about the north wind and about this mythological rape. Why was this myth told and retold? We don't know. We can hope that those who saw pictures of brutality saw them as cautionary tales, rather than thinking that they would like to have been Boreas.

  The vase displayed in the British Museum, GR1836.2-24.68 (Vase E512). Photo by Richard Davies. You have permission to use the photo as long as you give credit to the photographer and do not use it for commercial purposes.

April 2023

  In Athens, Greece, you can see an ancient building called "The Tower of the Winds." It was an ancient weather station that had a weather vane to tell wind direction, along with other weather instruments.

  The Greeks identified eight personalities as winds, and each was considered to be some sort of deity. Today, in English custom, we call the winds by the compass direction from which they come: North, Northeast, East, etc. The Greeks gave them personal names to match their personalities: The North wind was the blustery Boreas. The West wind was the gentle Zephyros.

 The Tower of the Winds is octagonal, and at the top on each of the eight sides is a carving representing the appropriate wind. In this month's picture we see Zephyros on the left, emptying a sheet full of flowers. Next to him is the Southwest wind, called Lips. He is helpfully pushing the stern of a ship.

  On the opposite side, we would see the Northeast wind, called Kaikias, not so friendly. Kaikias drove St. Paul along the length of the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Malta (Acts 27).

  All-in-all, the winds were capricious deities, and a worshipper could only attempt to convince them to do what is right and just. This is not at all like God Almighty.

  Photo by Richard Davies. You have permission to use it, but not for commercial purposes.

March 2023

Two- or three-hundred years after Jesus was born, someone had serious health problems. Doctors couldn't do anything to restore the person to good health, so the person went to a local priest or magician and was given a tablet full of magical signs and sayings. It was approximately the size of a modern "smart phone."

We don't know what the person was to do with this tablet, but we can be pretty sure that it didn't do any good.

The tablet is in the top picture. Below it is a drawing of the words and symbols inscribed on it. This sort of thing was very common. If you knew the right words and symbols, you could force the gods to do your bidding. This idea that the gods (or God) could be forced by magic was something that Jesus and the Apostles had to forcefully oppose. It is very difficult to change cultural beliefs. Even today many people believe that God Almighty should do whatever they want done.

You can see this prayer tablet in the Louvre, Collection Messaksoudy, 1920, Bj 89. Photo by Richard Davies. You may use it if you give credit to the photographer. No commercial use, please.

February 2023

Last month we said a bit about the ancient musical instrument called a "kithra," and mentioned that "harp" may not be the best translation. Look at Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2. In each of these verses your Bible problably says that angels are playing "harps," but in Greek the word is "kithra." If it were supposed to be "harps," the word would probably be "lyre." (Revelation was originally written in Greek.)

  The ancient Greek travel writer, Pausanias, wrote about a temple in Laconia where both the lyre and the kithra were played. (Laconia 5:5.) Thus we know that they were different instruments.

  In this month's picture we see a woman playing something we might call a "harp" with a kithra hanging on the wall. Again, we see that they are different instruments.

  What do angels play in heaven? Maybe guitars.

  The vase in the picture is in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland. The picture is available to us by the terms of a creative commons license.

January 2023

Why do we imagine that angels are beautiful women with wings? Angels in the Bible are rough, tough warriors. Biblical angels are dangerous.

  We see this in the biblical book of Numbers, chapter 22, where a prophet-for-hire named Balaam meets an angel who is blocking the way. Balaam doesn't see the angel, but the donkey on which Balaam is riding sees him and avoids him. Balaam beats the donkey, and then sees the angel. The angel says, "If the donkey had not turned aside from me . . . I would have slain you."

   A lot of angels don't even look like people. For example, a cherub is not a human baby, but is a beast something like a lion.

   We probably get our idea that angels are women from Greek mythology. The goddess of Victory, known as Nike, was a women with wings, and in this picture we see her with a musical instrument, just like our idea of an angel.

   The musical instrument is a "kithra," and that is the instrument mentioned in Revelation 5:8, etc., where it is translated as "harp." Actually it was more like a guitar than a harp. Maybe in heaven you will hear a bunch of angels jamming on their guitars.

   The picture is from a book published in 1893, Percy Gardner, Catalogue of the Greek Vases in the Ashmolean Museum (Item 274, page 24). Since it is from 1893, it is a drawing of the image on the vase, not a photograph. Also, since it is from 1893, it is in the public domain. You may use if freely for any purpose.

December 2022

Here we see a small bronze statue of a seated woman (maybe 18 inches high). It comes from Rome, about the time when St. Paul was active. Her right hand is extended, and it probably held a libation pan, now lost. Her left arm is missing, but probably held a cornucopia (horn of plenty).

   She would be a goddess called "Concordia," meaning "concord" or "harmony" or "getting along with one another." The Roman authorities made deities out of the virtues and funded temples for the worship of those virtues. Their hope was that people would take the virtues seriously and behave well in public if the virtues were divine.

   St. Paul didn't agree that the virtues were deities, but he agreed that we should live virtuous lives. However his understanding of virtue included one that seemed strange to the Roman authorities. St. Paul taught that "humility" was one of the most important virtues.

   The world today seems to be abandoning respect for virtue. We don't want to return to the notion that virtues should be worshipped, but it would certainly be good for people to read a text such as Philippians 2:1-4, and see it as a true guide for life.

   This statue is in the Chicago Art Institute, Wirt D. Walker Endowment, 1965.402a-b. Photo by Richard Davies. Do not use the photo for commercial purposes, and if you use it, give credit to the photographer.

November 2022

In the Western world, October 31st is Halloween, a time to "celebrate" ghosts and witches and magic. In our time it is a children's holiday because we consider those things being celebrated as imaginary. In the Roman Empire these things were considered to be very real. 

In the New Testament, Acts 19:11-20, we are told about St. Paul, in Ephesus, being seen as a great magician, and in response people brought their magic books to be burned.

We have quite a bit of archaeological evidence of the ancient belief in magic, including magic words. There is a story about an Ephesian athlete who won every contest because he wore an amulet on his ankle on which were inscribed the secret "Ephesian words."

This month's photo shows part of a Greek headband (made of metal) inscribed with magic words. The words are nonsense. We don't know who wore it or why, but it was supposed to be magic.

You can see this and other headbands in the Louvre, Collection Hoffmann, 1888. Photo by Richard Davies. As usual, you can use it as long as you give credit to the photographer and do not use it for commercial purposes.

October 2022

This is a gravestone from the third or fourth centuries of the Christian era (200 - 400). The picture is likely the deceased woman, and she is depicted as praying. The ancient prayer position was to spread the arms and raise the hands. The woman is probably a Christian. Otherwise she would most likely be pouring a libation rather than raising her hands.

    Look carefully either side of her feet. She is flanked by jackals. (The one to her right is obvious, while the one to her left has been worn  down and is hard to see.) Jackals are the symbol of Anubis, Egyptian god of the dead. The Egyptian religion celebrating Isis was popular in the Roman Empire, but the woman's clothing does not suggest that she was a follower of Isis.

   Perhaps this is an example of people using old familiar symbols for a new belief, because they are not sure which symbols to use to represent the new faith.

   This gravestone is in the Byzantine Museum in Athens, Greece. Number BXM477. Photo by Richard Davies. You may use the photo freely as long as it is not used for commercial purposes and credit is given to the photographer.

Photo of the Month

September 2022

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