An August Mausoleum or August?

The first Emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, died on this day, 19 August, AD 14.[1] Occasioned by the 2005th anniversary of that event, this post is a brief follow-up to “Monuments to Dead Romans: The Şekerhane Köşkü,” featuring a probable Temple to the Deified Emperor Trajan (d. AD 117). Since that entry (first in a new occasional series) was posted on the most likely day of Trajan’s death, this one too is timed for the anniversary of the Emperor’s death.

The Mausoleum of Augustus as reconstructed in the Model Plastico di Roma, a 1:250 scale model of Imperial Rome now in the Museum of Roman Civilization, which is . . . closed now, for several years (pic shamelessly appropriated online because Ancient Dan cannot access the actual model)

Like Trajan after him, Caesar Augustus died on his way back to Rome. His ashes were placed in the huge tomb Octavian (his given name) prepared for himself already in 28 BC, before he even obtained the title Augustus by which he is remembered.[2] It was a huge circular Mausoleum built of concrete and tufa reticulate (small blocks of volcanic conglomerate in a diamond pattern, often as a form for the concrete). The outer of six concentric structural walls measured 300 Roman feet (c. 89m) in diameter, and the 40 Roman feet (c. 12m) high. The 2nd and 3rd walls were consequtively higher and bonded with the outer, making 25m thick ring. A single entrance on the south pierced the outer walls, opening to a vaulted corridor around the 4th wall, through which 2 entrances led to another corridor around the 5th wall, with a single entrance to the burial vault (for urns, as the Romans practiced cremation). The ruined state of the building makes the superstructure details unclear and several reconstructions have been imagined, most assuming a finished overall height of 150 Roman feet (40-45m).

The Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome, currently still closed, as seen from an open portico in the building to the south (the only way to see the entrance); the entrance passes through the 3 outer wall rings, which are linked by buttresses as seen at left; the ruins of this outer ring support the ring of current trees (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-11-11)

According to Strabo, the Mausoleum was the most impressive of local monuments, “which consists of a mound of earth raised upon a high foundation of white marble, situated near the river, and covered to the top with ever-green shrubs. Upon the summit is a bronze statue of Augustus Cæsar, and beneath the mound are the ashes of himself, his relatives, and friends” (Strabo 5.8.3). One would expect such an impressive monument would be remembered, respected, restored, and revered.

The Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome in its present state; the best view of the full width of the sides, obtained by shooting from an opposite street corner (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-11-11)

Sadly, that has not been the case. The Mausoleum was converted into a fortress in the medieval period, destroyed in 1167, and robbed for building stone. The building became an ornate garden in the 16th century, an arena for bullfights in the 18th, a theater and circus arena in the 19th, and a concert hall with 3,500 seats in the early 20th century.[3] Thereafter the site fell into total neglect, became overgrown, and deteriorated even after some attempt at clarifying it with a surrounding plaze by the Fascist government in the late 1930s.

A better view of the outer ring wall of The Mausoleum of Augustus, now stripped of decorative white marble/limestone; the staircases were added by the Fascist government of Mussolini in the late 1930s (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-11-11)

The original white limestone facing was robbed along with other usable limestone within. Trees dominate the upper surface of the ring defined by the outer walls today, perhaps simulating hinting at the appearance described by Strabo (above). The site has been closed for some time, and restorations were supposed (by one report) to be completed in April of this year. At last check, the Mausoleum is still inaccessible, but Google Earth photos give some hope of progress.

My advice: if you get to choose whether to have a month named for you or have a fantastic monument . . . take the month.


[1] The month August was named in his honor—a non-physical and more enduring “monument.”

[2] Bonus for footnote readers—because I never get to share this one in class anymore: if you ever have to watch Disney’s Cinderella (original animated), as I have with two daughters and then two granddaughters, you might notice that when the new fat mouse is discovered, he gives his name as “Octavius.” But Cinderella says, “we’ll call you ‘Gus’ for short.” How does Octavius become Gus? Octavius = AuGUStus. This almost makes up for the annoying music.

[3] Most details from Amanda Claridge, Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford: University Press, 1998), 181-84. BTW, this series is the most helpful and undersold of archaeological guides; the new edition of Rome is here.

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Trump’s Ultima Thule (and some seemingly unrelated Pics of the Day)

Most of my posts result from a combination of visits I have made to odd places, some latent interest sparked by a random input, and bizarre current events. This is one of those posts. The stimuli, respectively, were a recent visit to the Orkney Islands, my 26 July A.Word.A.Day (AWAD) email featuring ultima Thule, and President Trump’s bid to purchase Greenland.

Despite being a great idea (and not a new one); the latter is NOT going to happen, notwithstanding any confident flaunting of “the art of the deal.” Ultima Thule may require a little explanation—at least to get to the real topic of this post . . .

We begin sometime between 320-300 BC when Pytheas, an explorer from the Greek colony of Massalia (modern Marseilles, France), became the first known Greek to sail past the Carthaginian blockade at the Straits of Gibraltar. His apparent goal was the tin mines of Cornwall, but he also circumnavigated Britain and described its triangular shape accurately. In northern Scotland, Pytheas heard from the locals of a mysterious island called Thule (Θούλη).  He reported of Thule that: it was “the most northerly of the Britannic Islands”; “there the circle of the summer tropic is the same as the arctic circle” (Strabo 2.5.8); it lay six days sailing north of Britain (Pliny Natural History 2.186-87); and “there is neither sea nor air, but mixture like sea-lung, in which earth and air are suspended; the sea-lung binds everything together” (Polybius 34.5.3-5).[1] Sea-lung? This got weird. Although the words used are the same as those for jellyfish, Pytheas is using a strange metaphor at minimum.[2] For this and other reasons, many ancient geographers dismissed Pytheas entirely, or accepted his description of Britain and drew the line at Thule.

The 1539 Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus, showing Thule (labelled “Tile”) NW of the Orkneys and S of Iceland; Greenland (ultima Thule) appears in the upper left inset (Composite from 1949 facsimile; public domain)

Thule’s actual existence was debated for centuries, its possible real identification even still today, and the name Thule eventually came to mean the most northerly occupied place. The name was attached to Greenland when explorer Knud Rasmussen founded a trading post in the far NW corner of the island and named it “Thule.” The United States Air Force cemented the name by building Thule Air Base nearby in the mid-1950s.[3] Meanwhile, the term ultima Thule developed as a literary extension of the geographic idea, meaning “the farthest place” or “a remotely distant goal.” Thus, the title of this post . . . which, admittedly, does not obviously reveal the pictorial topic.

Ring of Brodgar in Stenness, Orkney; a stone circle combined with a henge, the largest stone circle in Scotland and the 3rd largest in the British isles (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-07-15)

If Thule was a real place, where was it? Some in the past have identified Thule with the Orkney Islands. That is good enough for me to use this weird thread of logic to feature some pics from the center of Mainland, the central island of the Orkneys.

Ring of Brodgar from above; unlike Avebury, there are no stones within the henge (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-07-15)

I rather liked Orkney. Crowds at important places could be minimized, even at the height of the tourist season. This is partly due to the relatively limited accommodations there. One could find huge clots of tourists, but they came for organized day-trips via ferry from the north tip of Scotland. Stuck on bus-tours, they were predictable and easily avoided. The other great secret is something mentioned by Pytheas: “For it was the case that in these parts the nights were very short, in some places two, in others three hours long, so that the sun rose again a short time after it had set” (Geminus, Introduction to the Phenomena 6.9). Indeed, in Orkney in early July, the sun set around 22:30 (10:30 pm) and rose around 04:00. Tourists seem to arrive about 10:30 and depart around 16:00, leaving lots of time to see stuff in the early morning or late afternoon-evening unencumbered.

Ring of Brodgar with a clearly-related outlying stone in the foreground; you don’t get this pic at 06:00 with a bus tour (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-07-15)

In the heart of Mainland, Orkney lies a fantastic collection of megalithic monuments. The crown jewel is the Ring of Brodgar (built 2500-2000 BC), the largest stone circle (103.6 m/340 ft) in Scotland and the 3rd largest in the British Isles. It is unusual in that the perfect stone circle is combined with a henge, much like Avebury in England. The site is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and very much the signature location in Orkney. It is crawling with bus loads of day-trippers during the main hours, but I did not see another living human between 05:30-07:00.

The Stones of Stenness; with the monolith Watch Stone adjacent to near end of bridge in back right, and the Ring of Brodgar somewhat visible in distant background with right edge above the standing stone and left above adjacent utility pole, about a mile away (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-07-15)

The Ring of Brodgar dominates a narrow peninsula separating the lochs of Stenness and Harray. A mile to the south are the Stones of Stenness, four huge megaliths that remain of an earlier stone circle. The site has an eerie magnificence with its giant standing stones (up to 19 ft high) with sheep dozing or eating at their bases. An outlier monolith called the Watch Stone (also 19 ft) dominates the near end of a bridge on the road that leads to the Ring of Brodgar.

The Barnhouse Settlement; with several Neolithic houses, the largest of which is Structure Two at right center; the larger Structure 8 seems to postdate the village and probably has a ritual function (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-07-15)

Near the Stones of Stenness are the excavated remains of the contemporary Barnhouse Settlement, a Neolithic village of 15 or so houses, including one (Structure Two) that is larger than the others. Past the Watch Stone and across the bridge are continuing significant excavations of more Neolithic structures, called the Ness of Brodgar, that continued after Barnhouse was abandoned. In that later period, Structure Eight, probably for cultic use, was built by the ruins at Barnhouse. It seems to be oriented—as is another standing stone—with the largest chamber tomb in the region, Maeshowe (and another target of many of those bus tours). These interesting sites are all within a linear mile and a half. There are other significant Neolithic sites and other wonders in the Orkneys, but they will have to wait. Like Greenland.

Maeshowe Chambered Tomb (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-07-14)

One more thing: is there any chance Orkney is the Thule of Pytheas? Almost certainly not. Tacitus’ biography of his father-in-law and Roman governor of Britain from 78-84, Julius Agricola, claimed the Roman fleet circumnavigated Britain and, “thus established the fact that Britain was an island. At the same time it discovered and subjugated the Orkney Islands, hitherto unknown. Thule, too, was sighted, but no more; their orders took them no farther” (Tacitus, Agricola 10). This eliminates Orkney as Thule, but brings the Shetland Islands and possibly the Faroe Islands into play. Modern scholarship ignores them and prefers either Iceland or Norway. I should like to travel to all possibilities, but for now this desire is my own ultima Thule.


[1] Astute readers (obviously you, because you are reading the footnotes) may have noticed that I am not quoting Pytheas himself, but rather other classical authors. This is because Pytheas’ writings are lost, save their quotations by others.

[2] “Sea-lung” renders πλεύμονι θαλαττίῳ in Strabo 2.4.1.

[3] My first knowledge of Thule came as a young child when my Dad, a USAF pilot, used “sent to Thule” as a jovial reference to the worst potential disciplinary reassignment during the Cold War.


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Monuments to Dead Romans: The Şekerhane Köşkü (Pic Of The Day, 2019-08-08)

I have always been fascinated by monuments or memorials to the deceased and the psychology behind them, as well as the physical structures themselves. This post is triggered in part by the most recent of the all-too-familiar temporary memorials that appear at scenes of horrific mass shootings in my own country. But not to dwell on that depressing and unfortunately ubiquitous topic, I hereby initiate an occasional series on monuments to long-dead Romans and other figures of antiquity.

Actually, a precursor to this theme appeared in my post “The Hazards of Tax Day,” which featured the Temple to the Deified Julius Caesar in Rome. Tonight’s subject is a presumed cenotaph for the Emperor Trajan, erected in the city of his death and at the spot of his probable cremation on or about this date (8 August) in AD 117.[1]

The structure known locally as Şekerhane Köşkü; very likely the platform for a temple of the Deified Emperor Trajan, who died in Selinus in AD 117 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-27).

Trajan excelled in his 19-year reign and was highly regarded in life, death, and by Renaissance and early modern historians. Already having made significant military conquests in Dacia, in AD 114 he set out for campaigns on the eastern frontier. The problem there was agitation by the Parthian Empire (originating in Persia—modern Iran—another connection of this story with contemporary events!). Trajan was incredibly successful in his initial campaign, taking the Parthian capital Ctesiphon and gaining a foothold on the Persian Gulf. But reduced success and troubles elsewhere in the Empire caused him to return towards Rome in 117.

Our main source for Trajan’s last days is Cassius Dio. Already suffering in health, which he attributed to poison, the Emperor suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. In early August he sailed for Rome from Antioch. When Trajan’s health deteriorated the ship put in at the nearest port, Selinus in Cilicia, where he “suddenly expired” (Cassius Dio 68.33). Selinus was subsequently renamed Traianopolis in the Emperor’s honor and memory. Details on the exact disposition of his body are not given, but his “remains” were transported back to Seleucia, the port of Antioch, for viewing by his successor, Hadrian, and then to Rome.

Interior of the Şekerhane Köşkü, likely the platform for a Temple to the Deified Emperor Trajan, who died in Selinus in AD 117 and was probably cremated in a structure incorporated in the building’s walls (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2011-05-24).

On the outskirts of the Turkish city Gazipaşa are the ruins of Selinus/Traianopolis, and on the landward outskirts of them stands a lonely structure known locally as the Şekerhane Köşkü, which refers to the building’s use as a hunting platform for elites during the Seljuk Period. Early western explorers of the area identified it as having a sepulchral function and likely built as a cenotaph (a tomb structure without the honored person’s actual remains) for Trajan. Trajan was the only personality of his magnitude known to have died there and a memorial to him is a logical outcome although the written sources do not mention such. The roof of the edifice was covered in soil and produced wheat and other crops that were grown around it. This layer was cleared in the early 2000s revealing the foundation outlines of a temple-like structure with a place for a cult statue. These and other details now make it likely that the building was not a cenotaph but rather a platform for a temple to the deified Emperor Trajan.[2]

The Şekerhane Köşkü, with the foundation outlines of a temple-like structure on the recently-cleared roof; the door opening in the front and cut block exterior are modification of the platform during the Seljuk Period, when the building functioned as a hunting platform (aerial image by Tıröd Ğnihcnüh; © AncientDan.com).

Coins issued in Selinus from the late 2nd-mid 3rd centuries featured a temple to Trajan on the reverse. There is no other suitable candidate for this temple in the extant remains apart from the Şekerhane Köşkü. Further, there are striking parallels to coins featuring the Temple of the Deified Julius Caesar (mentioned above) in Rome, which was situated at the spot of Caesar’s cremation. One of the walls of the Şekerhane Köşkü incorporates an earlier square structure, arguably the cremation pit where Trajan’s corpse was burned—an essential step in Apotheosis (elevation to divine status) for both Caesar and Trajan.[3]

Trajan’s Column in his forum at Rome (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-11-10).

The Emperor’s ashes were eventually transported to Rome where they were placed in a special chamber at the base of Trajan’s Column, a magnificent and still-standing 30 meter (98 ft) high column depicting the Emperor and his troops during the Dacian wars and showing painstaking detail of the Roman army in action. Trajan’s Column anchors one end of the extensive Forum of Trajan, the last of the Imperial Fora in Rome.

In addition to physical monuments, Trajan’s legacy includes other honors. He was universally lauded by contemporary writers and posthumously declared by the Senate optimus princeps, “the best ruler.” He was considered by some Christian theologians to be a “virtuous pagan,” and Dante depicts him in Jupiter’s Heaven in The Divine Comedy. Modern historians have sometimes questioned Trajan’s accomplishments, and his successor Hadrian (who did relinquish Trajan’s gains against Persia) now gets better press.

Next in the series: The Mausoleum of Augustus.


[1] Some sources place Trajan’s death a day earlier or later, on 7 or 9 August; e.g., Chris Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Emperors (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995), lists 7 August as the date of death in the box at the beginning of the entry for Trajan (p. 90), but 9 August in the text (p. 97); therefore, I am taking the middle road in posting this on the evening of 8 August.  

[2] This argument is effectively made by Michael Hoff, “The Şekerhane Köşkü at Selinus (Cilicia): The Temple of the Deified Trajan,” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 10 (Sept 2016): 56-68 [this is a special issue also titled Ex Terra Scientia: Papers in Honor of David Soren, eds. R.H Wilkinson and P.P. Creasman]. For the nerds that read footnotes: I actually obtained this issue recently for a current research project and was pleased to find this article there. Ironically, Michael Hoff (the author) had graciously received my research colleague and I at his impressive excavation site within an hour of our most recent visit to the Trajan Temple site.

[3] Hoff, “The Şekerhane Köşkü at Selinus (Cilicia): The Temple of the Deified Trajan,” 62-64.

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The Ark: A Refuge . . .

It has been almost 40 days and 40 nights since my last post and it is Father’s Day . . . so, obviously, that calls for a post about Noah’s Ark! But, alas, I have not visited Noah’s Ark—and Ancient Dan, out of principle, does not post about things without direct contact. However, I have recently visited the “Ark Encounter” and (surprise!) have some thoughts about it.

The Noah’s Ark replica at the Ark Encounter theme park (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

For the uninformed: The Ark Encounter is a Christian creationist theme park[1] in northern Kentucky. It is owned and operated by Answers in Genesis (AiG),[2] a young-earth creationist non-profit founded and directed by Ken Ham, a master purveyor of pseudoscience. AiG also operates the Creation Museum nearby. The Ark Encounter was developed by AiG’s for-profit partner, Ark Encounter LLC (whose corporate office is in the Creation Museum),[3] with the benefits of huge and controversial local tax incentives. AiG, like many other “non-profit” Christian institutions, has plugged into the “business model” and is not shy about commercialization. From the moment one enters either attraction ($48 for the Ark, $35 for the Creation Museum), there are endless opportunities to spend more money on overpriced food, trinkets, and propaganda. Among other things, the Ark [Encounter] certainly provides a refuge from taxes.

View of the Ark replica from the bow end, showing the entrance queue (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

How did I end up there? I would never have done so on my own, but three other long-time friend couples planned a trip to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter. So Mrs. Ancient Dan and I joined them—fellowship with good friends, curiosity, and the principle of direct experience before commentary overcoming my reticence to give money to AiG.

Time, space, and decorum preclude any full systematic reaction to the exhibits at the Creation “Museum” and Ark Encounter. Rather, I will offer here a couple of observations on the presentation that struck me as important.

Vertical panorama of the Ark replica mid-line showing all three decks (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

I expected a barrage of pseudoscience-based arguments, but there was not as much of that as I anticipated. Other aspects of the presentation, however, troubled me more. After my visit, I discovered that Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) had a similar reaction.[4] The Science Guy noted, “every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong; not just misleading, but wrong.”[5] But that is not the disturbing part. The presentation made no serious attempt to document its claims apart from woefully out-of-context biblical references. Some might suggest that the curators of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter are incapable of proper argumentation and citation; but I don’t think so (although one exhibit had undecipherable English syntax). Ken Ham is no scientist, but he is a crafty presenter and an able politician. The exhibits do not seek to educate; rather they aim to confirm the views of those already on board with the ark, so to speak. Preaching to the choir works! But it also erodes the choirs’ ability to think critically or for themselves.

The crowds at both facilities were themselves an exhibition of credulity. Their faces and T-shirts proclaimed a desire for confirmation of heartfelt views and a yearning for refuge from that threatening outside world—the world of science. The latter was characterized throughout the displays as the “Evolutionary World View” and tacitly blamed for the ills of human society. The Ark [Encounter] is thus a refuge from the deluge of the modern world; a place where one can be comforted that God is in control despite the chaos outside. Is there anything wrong with that? As a late secular songwriter declared: “It don’t really matter to me . . . you believe what you want to believe.” The insightful words are “what you want to believe.” The main point of the song, however, is in the next line: “you don’t have to live like a refugee.”[6] Still, is there anything wrong with seeking psychological refuge from a scary world?

Panorama of Deck 2 of the Ark replica, with Mrs Ancient Dan and a reconstruction of storage magazines that would be the envy of any “prepper” (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

Unfortunately, the Ark also provides a refuge from facts. One example will suffice here. Fundamentalist Christians are (in my opinion, unreasonably) disturbed by the notion of evolution. The Flood story provides a potential avenue to explain away all those pesky and undeniable fossils (which support the “Evolutionary World View”). But if the fossils were all the result of the single Flood event, all the weird lifeforms represented in them must have coexisted with humans at the time of Noah and the Ark. The “biggest” obvious (but certainly not the only) problem, then, would be the dinosaurs. A challenge for the young-earth creationist view is the cynical question, “were there dinosaurs on the Ark?” Ken Ham’s answer to that is: “absolutely.” So the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter go to great lengths to create a narrative in which dinosaurs lounged around with Adam in the Garden of Eden (display in the Creation Museum) and had quarters on the great boat. Indeed, an inordinate percentage of the animal replicas in the Ark Encounter are dinosaur or other paleo- “kinds.”

Strange creatures on the Ark (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

At this point I should note that the craftmanship of the Ark replica is top-notch, the grounds are beautiful, and presentations are slick and high-tech. It is, in a word, impressive. The result is a massive container for a story that provides limited details. To flesh out visitors’ Encounter experience, numerous entertaining displays answer those idle questions that come with a literal understanding of the account. For example, names of Noah’s daughters-in-law are provided along with their specialized contributions (and ethnic features to match their assumed descendants). Living quarters of unexpected luxury are recreated and set the stage for other “poetic license” additions, like the library of written records (in a bizarre imaginary script). Viewers are thus invited into a storyland world not so unlike Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, the Christian fiction genre, or other fantasy theme parks.

Shem (the putative scholar of the group) kicks back with a scroll in his quarters aboard the Ark Encounter (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

What I find troubling is this: with the help of the theme park atmosphere, the visitor is encouraged to accept the presence of dinosaurs on the Ark as naturally as they might expect a huge clothed hi-pitched bipedal rodent interacting with visitors at Disneyworld.

I return to the question: is there anything wrong with all that fantasy? Not in principle; but the ability of the public to evaluate information has always been suspect. In this “Dis-information Age,” flashy presentation, repetition, and volume make discernment more of a chore (see “Russia and the 2016 election”). The real peril of Ken Ham’s efforts are a weakening of critical thinking and an indoctrinated distrust of “science.” This is already a huge problem in America, as the Anti-Vaxxer movement and the current resurgence of Measles highlight.

Ironically, Ken Ham does what the original writer of the Noah’s Ark account in Genesis did: creates a retelling of a well-known and beloved account infused with new details that support a particular theological view. Flood stories were written adapted in Mesopotamian cultures long before the composition of the Torah (even if one assumes the most conservative view of Mosaic authorship). Those accounts feature conflicting actions of multiple gods with humans as simple annoyances. The Genesis author was concerned with eliminating the other deities from the narrative, leaving the one God of Israel in control with a focus on human morality. Ken Ham’s retelling is concerned with eliminating the established fossil record, scientific method, and critical thinking.

Japheth (the musical one in this telling) and his conspicuously white-skinned wife, “Rayneh” (the artistic one) in their quarters aboard the Ark Encounter reconstruction (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

What does any of this have to do with Father’s Day? The Genesis Flood story presents Noah as the father of all mankind through his three sons, Shem, Ham (not Ken!), and Japheth.[7] Unsurprisingly, the Ark Encounter takes up this approach. This is a danger zone because literal views of the Shem, Ham, and Japheth division was used to justify slavery in this country (primarily through interpretations of Gen 9:20-27). Happily, Ken Ham denounces racism in numerous displays—which I wholeheartedly applaud. So the Ark should be a refuge—from bigotry and hatred, because we are all in this boat together.  

Happy Father’s Day!



[1]  I felt a little bad about this characterization until I saw that Wikipedia uses the same phrase; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_Encounter (accessed 15 June 2019).

[2] “Ark Encounter Media Resources,” https://arkencounter.com/press/ (accessed 15 June 2019).

[3] “Company Overview of Ark Encounter, LLC,” Bloomberg,  https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapid=134385996 (accessed 15 June 2019).

[4] I am gratified that Bill Nye also felt the need to see it first hand—and would like to think that our common engineering backgrounds are the reason for our similar approaches.

[5] Erik Ortiz, “’Absolutely Wrong’: Bill Nye the Science Guy Takes on Noah’s Ark Exhibit, NBC News, 16 July 2016; https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/absolutely-wrong-bill-nye-science-guy-takes-noah-s-ark-n608721.

[6] Tom Petty (and Michael W. Campbell), “Refugee,” 1979.

[7] BONUS FOR PEOPLE THAT READ FOOTNOTES: The earlier Mesopotamian flood epics mentioned above have undeniable parallels to the Genesis account in terms of building details, the releasing of birds, and a post-flood sacrifice. But the Mesopotamian stories do not emphasize the notion of the variously-named boat builders populating the world. This aspect of the tale is found, however, in the less well-known Greek flood myth of Deucalion, where the hero repopulates the world through three sons. A new study of these parallels is found in Guy Darshan, After the Flood: Stories of Origins in the Hebrew Bible and Eastern Mediterranean Literature [Hebrew], Biblical Encyclopedia Library 35 (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2018).

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Lystra: Human Nature on Display (Pic Of The Day, 12 May 2019)

A follow-up to my previous Pic of The (special) Day post is in order. Last week, I held forth on the “Genesis of the Accepting Church” using the Apostle Paul’s first visit to the city Antioch of Pisidia, as narrated by Acts 13. This was occasioned by my use of the passage for a special combined Sunday School session on the 60th anniversary of University Baptist Church’s own Genesis. As it happens, the Narrative Lectionary used by UBC covers Paul’s continued work on the same journey in the cities of Lystra and Derbe, also in the Roman province of Galatia. If you haven’t read the one about Antioch of Pisidia, it might be helpful and can be found here.

The mound, or Hüyük of Lystra, with random students distributed for scale (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Immediately after Antioch of Pisidia, the same sequence of events is reported at Iconium but with far less detail: Paul going to the synagogue, having an opportunity to preach there because of his status, resistance by unbelieving synagogue Jews, and eventual persecution and departure (Acts 14:1-7). From Iconium, they moved on to nearby Lystra. Today Lystra remains a largely un-investigated and non-descript ruin in the Lycaonian plain. The site is dominated by a large hüyük; a mound of ruins built up over centuries or millennia of human occupation (more familiar by the Arabic word tell). The active agricultural fields surrounding the mound are devoid of architectural features, but abound in those indicators of an ancient site: sherds of broken pottery and small stone objects turned up by the plow. It is a prototypical example of an unpreserved and unexcavated ancient site.  

View from the crest of the mound at Lystra with not-so-ancient-Daniel and worked fields below (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-05-21)

At Lystra the biblical narrative focuses on Paul’s healing of a cripple—very possibly at the synagogue where Paul was speaking (Acts 14:8-10)—and the aftermath of that miraculous event. Some of the locals, amazed by what Paul had done, declared him and Barnabas to be “the gods” in human form. Paul, “since he was the chief speaker,” was called Hermes (the messenger of the Olympian Greek gods) and Barnabas—apparently more quietly dignified and stately(?)—was deemed to be Zeus! The priest of Zeus brought out “oxen and garlands” to offer a sacrifice, but Paul and Barnabas declaimed that they were mere men and scarcely managed to avert the sacrifice (Acts 14:11-18). Then, with no indication of time passed after the previous scene, the reader of Acts is told that Jews from Antioch (of Pisidia) and Iconium came and “persuaded the people,” so that “they stoned Paul dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (v. 19). How could the same people declare Paul and Barnabas to be gods worthy of sacrifice and in the next verse stone Paul and leave him for dead? The answer, I sadly conclude, is human nature.

A modern recreation of the stoning of Paul just outside of Lystra; note the stone in flight at left center (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17) [NOTE: no Charlies were injured in the creation of this picture]

We, as most mammals do, have something of a pack mentality which causes us to readily accept a potential leader who demonstrates (or sometimes only claims) an ability to “save” us from whatever we may fear. This desire leads to irrational beliefs and actions. We see as much in this story; but also throughout history, in politics, in sports, and even entertainment. In the Roman world, the practice of worshiping the emperor as divine may strike us as “ignorant,” but it operated on the same psychology. And it worked! —as seen in the impressive temple to Augustus at Antioch of Pisidia (pictured in my previous post) complete with an entablature featuring bulls decorated with garlands, the very items brought out for sacrifice in our story.

Antiochia Pisidia: one of the many bull and garland fragments from the Temple of Augustus (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Apparently refusing the role of physical/political savior, failing to provide what the crowds demand, or not being what people first hoped, is a dangerous business. This is the human side of what physically happened to Jesus; and Paul’s experience is an echo. The Lycaonians of Lystra demonstrate, in the extremes of their actions, the foibles of human temperament.

Happily, we don’t have to leave Lystra (or this blog) completely depressed about humanity. Paul returned to the city on the so-called “Second Missionary Journey” (Acts 16:1-3) and found the good side of people and their instincts. In Lystra Paul met a disciple named “Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.” This Timothy was the product of a mixed marriage, which may have been a social burden and certainly created the potential for theological discrimination (Acts 16:3). It might be argued that Timothy’s mother is only mentioned because of her contribution to his mixed heritage, but note that only she is cited as a believer. And, assuming we can take it as authentic (many do not), 2 Timothy 1:5 has Paul remarking to Timothy about his faith: “a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.” Timothy clearly received much more than Jewishness from his mother and his grandmother.

Lystra with a bouquet of wildflowers
Lystra in full Spring bloom; the hüyük rising in the background (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

The love and nurture of a mother reveals and passes on the best part of human nature. We see it at Lystra in this story, and I feel it in my own life and in the lives of my children. As Tim[othy] might have said, “God bless[ed] us, every one!”

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Pisidian Antioch: Genesis of the Accepting Church

This post is the result of my being asked to teach a special combined Sunday School session for University Baptist Church’s 60th anniversary, 5 May 2019. I decided to cover the Acts 13 passage in which the Apostle Paul established the first Christian church in Antiochia Pisidia, “Antioch of Pisidia.” And, I’ll take any opportunity to put pictures of a place to a story. Hence this “Pic of the (special) Day” entry.

The mountainous backdrop of Antiocha Pisidia in the Anatolian highlands; with the platform and remains of a Temple of Augustus, cut from the living rock in an apsidal recess at the end of a long courtyard (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Antiochia Pisidia is one of several cities named “Antioch” in the Greco-Roman world, and distinct from the Antioch for which so many rural protestant churches are named in the American Bible Belt region. That earlier Antioch is often called “Antioch on the Orontes” or “Antioch of Syria,” and it is where the early Christian church made its breakout in the Hellenistic world (Acts 11:19-26). It is also the “home church” for the so-called “Missionary Journeys of Paul—the first of which brings the Apostle to the Antioch of Pisidia.

Ancient Dan’s daughter, Rachel, inside the well-preserved baths at Antiocha Pisidia; note the aqueduct visible through the back door (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Paul had assumed leadership of the First Journey, originally led by Barnabas, it seems (Acts 13:1-4), as the group left Cyprus and arrived in at Perga Asia Minor (Acts 13:13). No work is described at Perga and, for reasons unexplained by the biblical text, Paul continued inland an appreciable distance to Antioch of Pisidia. Antioch was made a Roman colony by the Emperor Augustus, to whom an impressive temple was built. Augustus also established the Via Sebaste, a major road that connected Antioch with Perga to the southwest and Iconium and Lystra to the east, all cities visited by Paul on that First Journey.

Antiocha Pisidia; Aqueduct above the city (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Antioch of Pisidia was a typical Roman-Hellenistic city, with the usual institutions and structures: the Temple of Augustus, public fountains and baths powered by an aqueduct, and a minority community of Jews with a synagogue. As in many Roman cities, some number of non-Jews (Gentiles) attended the synagogue because of their interest and belief in the one God of Judaism. Such Gentiles were called “God Fearers” and were part of the synagogue community, but not considered Proselytes (converts)—no doubt because of the difficult requirement of circumcision for full conversion.

Antiocha Pisidia: the large basilica known as the St. Paul Church; claimed by one archaeologist who worked at the site to be built over the synagogue, but this view is not widely held (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Paul and his company went to the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia on the sabbath day (Acts 13:14). This is the first city to which the missionary group arrived with Paul in the full leadership position, and the author (traditionally Luke) gives a rather complete outline of what occurred. The account provides an outline of Paul’s procedure/experience in each succeeding city with only minor variations. Because of his rabbinical training under Gamaliel, the most respected Rabbi of the period, Paul would automatically be asked to deliver a homily after the Torah and other biblical readings in the synagogue service. This is what is described (Acts 13:15-16), and Paul delivered a sermon (vss 16-41) that was well-received by some Jews and God Fearers alike (42-43). The next sabbath many more people appeared at the synagogue (44). These were no doubt other Gentiles who came because of reports from the God Fearers who had heard Paul the previous week. The unbelieving Jews were “filled with jealousy” when they saw the crowds—people different from them, from which the synagogue was something of a refuge. They contradicted Paul, which is to be expected as theological debate and argumentation over the Law is a well-established Jewish tradition. But more alarmingly they “reviled him” (45), leading me to the conclusion that this was not just about theology: they used theology as an excuse and a tool for exclusion of those who were different—in this case the Gentiles; especially those not in conformance with the Jewish Law.

Antiocha Pisidia: the distinctive Byzantine basilica apse of the St Paul Church (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2012-05-23)

Paul’s reaction at Antioch of Pisidia, as in every other city save one, was to leave the synagogue and form a new faith community—a church—with the believing Jews and God Fearers (46). It was successful and grew (48-49). Its eventual persecution by the synagogue Jews underlines the latter’s attitude and my conclusion that, here and in many similar situations (ancient and modern), theology divides while inclusion builds community.

Paul went on to repeat the same basic sequence at other cities of the First Journey, all of them (with Antioch of Pisidia) in the Roman province called Galatia. There is considerable debate but, for purely logical reasons, I maintain that Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to those churches founded on the First Journey about the time of the “Judaizing Controversy” (Acts 15), in which the “Judaizers” attempted to force Gentile Christians to keep the Jewish Law as a condition of salvation. The letter to the Galatians is clearly in the context of this controversy and lays out the case that Gentiles are not required to keep the Jewish Law (of which circumcision is the most painful prescription). In that letter occurs the “focal verse” of University Baptist Church, Galatians 2:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is worth noting that “Greeks” (Gentiles/God Fearers) were separated from full Jewish males in the synagogue, as were women of any persuasion. The verse focuses on the elimination of distinctions—distinctions which continue to arise through Christian history. It is refreshing to belong to a congregation that understands this foundational tenet of building truly Christian communion.

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The Hazards of Tax Day (Pic Of The Day, 2019-03-24)

I was considering some sort of “seasonal” post relating to that hazard of early Spring in the USA: the looming April 15 tax deadline. I have not dealt with my complicated tax situation for 2018 yet and need to get on it. Anyhow, my consideration of a tax theme turned to resolve at University Baptist Church this morning; a result of the New Testament passage (Matthew 22) and related sermon on the question posed to Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. More about the connection below, but stay with me . . .

Panorama of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill; the subject of this post is at left center (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

In the heart of Rome one can visit the preserved remains of the ancient Forum.  Near the center of the Roman Forum lie an often overlooked and nondescript ruin. It is the foundations of the Temple of Divus Julius; that is, the Temple to the deified Julius Caesar.

The central Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill; the Temple of Divus Julius is the ugly brown mass at lower center with idlers milling about in front, as usual (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, while exiting the Senate Chamber. At his public funeral in the Forum, Marc Anthony’s famous speech incited the crowd who then took over. Instead of the planned pyre on the Campus Martius, Caesar was cremated by the crowd across from his office as pontifex maximus (chief priest) at the Regia. A monument was hastily constructed there with an altar, but this was removed by the anti-dictator Liberator party. But two years later Caesar’s heirs (Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus) decreed that a temple would be built on the spot. Thus, Julius Caesar was officially deified and a cult established in the name Divus Julius.

The remains of the Temple to Divus Julius (foreground) in the Roman Forum; it is hard to get a pic clear of people because the railing in front of the nondescript ruins make a convenient spot for groups to wait around (as you can see here, unaware of the significance); note the later Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina (converted to a church) in the background (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

The Temple’s size (with 40-foot columns on a high platform) is belied by the meager ruins today. Like other Forum monuments, it suffered from robbing and spoilage by the building programs of later holders of the title pontifex maximus (the popes). The entire superstructure and almost all original cut stones of the podium are now missing. A round altar (perhaps a rebuilding of the original crowd-sourced altar) in a recess of the podium is now closed in by a later wall, through which you must pass to view it. Despite its obscurity to the average tourist and somewhat hidden nature, however, I have never seen the altar without fresh floral offerings on top. Caesar was, and remains, a popular figure.

Altar associated with the Temple to Divus Julius, concealed from the crowds by the wall on the right; note the floral offerings on top, and many coins wherein folks apparently “rendered unto Caesar” (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

What does all of this have to do with tax season? Above, I note that Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Most people don’t know that date, but many can answer the question “when was Caesar killed?” with the well-known day, “the Ides of March.” The Romans counted days of months differently than we do. The “Ides” was the middle day of the month; so, the Ides of March was March 15. The Romans also generally specified due dates for financial obligations by the Ides and, since they allowed a quarter to get previous years’ corporate debts to the government, March 15 was the day such debts were due. It was, essentially, “tax day.” Ironically, this became true under Julius Caesar as he instituted the “Julian Calendar,” which moved the traditional New Year’s celebration to January 1 from—even more ironically—March 15! While it is true that Caesar was supposed to depart Rome on the 18th and the Liberators had to act before then, what better day to choose than the one on which former happy celebrations were now replaced by debts due to the victim? The day very well may have been planned to minimize public retaliation (somewhat akin to issuing unpopular notices at work on Friday afternoons). Certainly the days after the assassination were used by both sides to curry public opinion, as in Antony’s speech and—on the other side—in a coin issued by the famous Liberator Brutus extolling the day’s act.

Silver denarius issued by Brutus (on obverse); with (reverse) “Ides of March” under Pileus (freedom cap) and two daggers (photo: British Museum)

While the Liberator conspirators’ act ultimately backfired and resulted in the deification of the one they wanted to eliminate, the whole affair highlights the political business of public perception. For more on that, and the connection to Jesus’ answer to the question posed to him on paying taxes to Caesar, stay tuned for the next post. For now, I have to go work on my taxes . . .

BTW; “tax day” in the USA used to be March 15 (from 1918 to 1954), but was extended to the “Ides of April”—April 15—two years before my birth. At this moment I am glad.

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