Pic of the Day 2017-12-14: Books are a Good Thing

This post and Pic of the Day is inspired by an article that I shared on Facebook earlier today. The article claims (and I am not going to argue with the premise) that a large personal library with an increasing number of unread books is a good thing. This made me feel better, as I am in the midst of organizing and integrating the ungodly quantity of books from my former office—too long in storage—into my home office (and the rest of the house by necessity).* Meanwhile that process had made me somewhat melancholy over the fading use of repositories of physical books in our increasingly digital society. With sadness I noted that I have even had difficulty giving away books to younger folks who assume that all knowledge is a click away.

With that thought, and keeping with the theme of my blog, I offer a couple of pics of lost libraries from the past. Of course, the supreme example of a lost storehouse of knowledge is the great ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt.1 Sadly, its exact location is lost, and more sadly, I have not been to Alexandria. So, and more appropriately, I present some lesser-known and more-forgotten ancient libraries.

The most-photographed of ancient libraries is no doubt the Library of Celsus at Ephesus (built about AD 135),2 as it is the most striking (and reconstructed) building in Turkey’s most popular archaeological site:

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Library of Celsus at Ephesus (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The crowds are too big at Ephesus, so I prefer the quiet surroundings of the rarely-visited library at Nysa, a lovely Roman city in the Meander Valley of Asia Minor (modern Turkey):

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Ruins of the Library at Nysa (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

A huge number of visitors walk by the remains of the library at Pergamum, also in Turkey. But they do so without notice of the nondescript remains and without realizing they are adjacent to the second greatest repository of knowledge in the ancient world:3

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The main reading hall at the library of Pergamum (there are three other rooms), with the remains of the Temple of Athena (goddess of wisdom) in the background (below the dark tower) (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

While the remains of the library at Pergamum are not so inspiring in themselves, the spirit of learning makes the site worth noting. Also . . . the view from just outside and around corner is better than any of the other libraries:

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Theater at Pergamum; the library is off screen to the left of the (same as in the previous pic) tower (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

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*Today’s Footnotes are all from physical books in my own library

1 See Roy MacLeod, ed., The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World (London: Taurus, 2004); and Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World (Berkely: Univ of California Press, 1989).

2 On this edifice, see Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (New Haven: Yale, 2001), 114-18.

3 Casson, 49-52; Canfora, 45-50.

Pic of the Day 2017-12-12: The Light of Freedom

Tonight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, so it seemed appropriate to dedicate a Pic of Day post to some Menorot (singular, Menorah) I have photographed in situ at ancient sites or in museums. I’ll include a few bulleted notes among the photos—some general info, and a couple of random observations I have made over the years.

  • The Menorah is closely associated with Hanukkah because of the miraculous burning for 8 days of a single day’s supply of consecrated oil (presumably in the Temple Menorah) at the Temple’s re-dedication.
Jerusalem; Israel Museum
Portions of a Menorah depicted in plaster from a Jerusalem house destroyed in AD 70 (now in the Israel Museum) and one of the oldest depictions known (photo: Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah is the major feast holiday of the Jews that is not specified in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. It is, therefore, less familiar and less understood to Christians.
Capernaum: Synagogue
Menorah and other Temple service items in relief on a capital from the 4th century AD synagogue (the “White Synagogue” at Capernaum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah means “dedication,” which is how the holiday is known in the New Testament (John 10:22). The holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration at the hands of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV and his suppression of Judaism—acts which sparked the Maccabean Revolt and resulting in the liberation and re-dedication for which the holiday is named.
Ostia: Synagogue
Menorah motif in the synagogue remains at Ostia, the port of Rome (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Even as a child, I noticed that every Christmas season, there was a seemingly-obligatory news story about Hanukkah, explaining that it celebrates the miracle of the 8-day burning oil. This provides the Menorah connection (and the alternate name Festival of Lights), but glosses over the real importance of the holiday—a celebration of deliverance from oppression and restoration of free worship. Making Hanukkah about burning oil is akin to making Christmas about giving gifts.
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Laura Scovel looks at a Menorah carving in the synagogue ruins at Priene in Asia Minor/Turkey (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • The Menorah appropriately became the symbol of Jewish identity as a minority people in the Roman world—perhaps all the more because of the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70.
Boğazköy Museum
A Menorah on a Jewish tombstone from north central Turkey, now in the Boğazköy Museum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Beth Shearim:
Large Menorah in the 2nd-3rd century AD “Cave of the Coffins,” a Jewish underground cemetery at Beth Shearim, Israel (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The Menorah represents many things;* among them is the light of freedom. May it illuminate our own times.

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*For further reading, try Steven Fine’s new-ish book, The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Harvard University Press, 2016).

Pic of the Day 2017-12-10 (and 2015-07-11): “Lord Help”

Ruins of the ancient city of Knidos (also Cnidus) lie at the end of a long peninsula jutting into the Aegean Sea from SW Turkey. In antiquity one came there mostly by sea, as did the Apostle Paul (Acts 27:7) while a prisoner en route to Rome.

Cnidus-Knidos: Apollo and Round Temple
Knidos: View west over the Apollo and Round Temple terraces (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

Exploring the site on a very hot July day in 2015, I literally stumbled across an inscribed marble block that caught my eye. The words ΚΥΡΙΕ ΒΟΗΘΕΙ (“Lord Help”) framed by crosses appear above the central feature: a carved labyrinth about 21 cm across. A larger cross just right of the labyrinth with an alpha and omega beneath its arms makes it clear this was an early Christian inscription. Other decorations include two palm trees and a bush(?) as well as a grapevine emerging from some kind of vessel.1

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The Knidos Labyrinth (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

Labyrinths have a long history of religious application, including Christian use.2 The Knidos Labyrinth is certainly one of the earliest known Christian examples. My image is not the greatest Pic of the Day example—it is hard to make out details and it is marred by two large drops of sweat I got on the stone before realizing I needed to photograph it. Nevertheless, I was inspired to post this because earlier tonight University Baptist Church (Hattiesburg, MS) announced the completion of a new Labyrinth at its monthly Celtic Worship Service. It is outside and integrated into the architecture and landscape of the campus. Again, not great pics, but the best I could do on the fly with low-light and my cellphone:

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The new labyrinth at UBC, Hattiesburg.
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The new labyrinth at UBC, Hattiesburg.

The Labyrinth and Celtic Worship service are perhaps a bit odd-sounding to most evangelical protestant Christians (including this one at first). Rather than attempt some full explanation in this short blog, I will merely note that both focus on prayerful contemplation, and this is a good thing in these raucous and distracted times. Beyond that, you might check the Celtic Worship link and give the Labyrinth a go. It is always open and much easier to visit than the Knidos Labyrinth.3

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The author excitedly showing his discovery to his colleague (photo by David C Maltsberger, used with permission).

Final words: the inscription on the Knidos Labyrinth first struck me a prayer for those lost in a maze (literally or figuratively). But a labyrinth of this type has only one winding path and no dead ends. One cannot get hopelessly lost on the path, but might tire of the changes in direction and despair of reaching the goal. Perhaps it is more appropriate to think of the inscribed words as the best general appeal for the twisting path and blind turns of life: “Lord Help.”

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Footnotes

1 Staffan Lundén, “A New Labyrinth at Knidos,” Caerdroia 33 (2003): 6-12.

2 For a nice overview of labyrinths and their recent revival, see The Labyrinth Society’s webpage.

3 Nevertheless, the Knidos Labyrinth has inspired several full-size versions; see Erwin Reißmann, “The Knidos Labyrinth,” BLOGMYMAZE LabyrinthBlog, December 17, 2008.

 

Pic of the Day 2017-10-08 (belated)

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia in the pre-sunset (6:03 pm) light (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

One of the most glorious things to do in Istanbul is take in the sunset and twilight light on Hagia Sophia. The proper vantage point is between the venerable church (then Mosque, then museum) and the nearly equally famous (but not nearly as impressive or historic) Blue Mosque, from which nice views of the latter can also be had. Patience rewards one with a transition of stunning views—and you can grab a durum döner to go at the adjacent Dervish Cafe and enjoy it with the changing light.

Hagia Sophia in the twilight
Hagia Sophia in the twilight, about 45 minutes later (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

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Pic of the Day 2017-10-06: Interfaith Interaction in Ancient Rough Cilicia?

This Pic of the Day post is 5 days delayed, but it is serendipitously appropriate in light of a fine talk I heard tonight at University Baptist Church on Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue as a “pillar” of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi—delivered by a former student and now CBF of MS Coordinator, Dr Jason Coker.

Of interest in current research by myself and David Maltsberger is Çatıören, yet another (of many) ancient ruins partly concealed by the jagged rocks and accursed (I have certainly cursed them) scrub oaks of aptly-named Rough Cilicia. The main attraction for us is a building that apparently served as a synagogue, owing to the Jewish menorah symbol carved on the lintel of the entrance door.

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Ancient synagogue at Çatıören; identified as such by the Menorah carved into the doorway lintel (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).
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Lintel with carved menorah over doorway of Çatıören synagogue (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The date of the synagogue is debatable. The building’s walls are of a Hellenistic style of masonry, but it is likely that its final use coincides with that of a nearby church and therefore probably 5th-6th centuries AD. The juxtaposition is all the more interesting when an equidistant pagan temple to Hermes is considered.

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Temple of Hermes in 2016, taken from the tower above the Jewish synagogue at Çatıören (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The Hermes Temple has symbols representing the caduceus of Hermes in relief prominently carved above the main doorway. Crosses, naturally, are found on the Christian basilica. Cilicia is known to have remained a mix of paganism and Christianity (and Judaism) several centuries into the Christian Era. The religious structures at Çatıören highlight this cosmopolitan situation.

Çatıören, viewed from the South
Çatıören, viewed from the South, with locations of the Temple of Hermes, Jewish synagogue, and Christian church indicated (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The carved symbols on those structures no doubt represent group identification in a period of pluralism; and perhaps even an attitude of exclusivism or tribalism, such as we see too often in today’s world. But it is also possible that they represent identification in a period of dialogue and mutual peace. Returning to tonight’s church discussion: Jason made the cogent observation that ecumenism and interfaith dialogue carry a certain risk—and that dialogue, understanding, and acceptance of others should not imply or include a loss of conviction in one’s own beliefs. There is no way to know for certain, but I would like to think that the residents of Cilicia in late antiquity carried on in such a manner. I found evidence of this ten minutes after leaving Çatıören in the necropolis (cemetery) of Korykos (modern Kizkalesi). There, sarcophagi (big stone coffins) with Jewish menorahs, pagan symbols, and Christian crosses lie next to each other with no hint of animosity—only symbolic proclamations of the faith under which they lived and died.

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A Jewish sarcophagus (with menorah on the “horn” of the lid) lies adjacent to a Christian one (cross on the side) in the Korykos Necropolis (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

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Pic of the Day 2017-10-05: Putting Man on a Pedestal?

Lost in the cursed scrub-oaks, jagged rocks, dusty unpaved roads, and small farm plots of Rough Cilicia, one finds (if one is really looking and knows where) Köşkerli—the modern name given to a scatter of ruins around an ancient Byzantine church.

Köşkerli
The church ruins at Köşkerli, with the oddly-placed chapel (with awkward water pipe laid across it) in the foreground (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The main door of the church is nearly blocked by an oddly-placed small chapel that seems out of place or an afterthought. In front of the chapel is a rather large single fallen column. On my first visit to Köşkerli, I didn’t think much of the arrangement. But while researching another issue about the site, I obtained the Turkish language report of the archaeological survey there.1 The author noted that the single column is too large to have come from the church itself and has no matching columns among the ruins. He speculated that it fell from the chapel (or immediately outside it) and was possibly a column for a Stylite, or “pillar-dwelling monk.” As it happens, Stylites were something of a feature of the eastern Asia Minor-Syria regions in the Byzantine period. I think the idea has merit. So, on a subsequent visit last year, and again this week I paid special attention to the column.

Köşkerli
Ancient Dan with the fallen single column at Köşkerli (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

It is tempting to make observations on the outcomes of elevating a man above others so his “holiness” can be observed, but I am trying to avoid politics and theology in this forum.

Köşkerli
Small chapel as seen from the door of the church at Köşkerli, with fallen singular column in center background (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

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Footnotes

1 Semavi Eyice, “Güney Anadolu’da bir ören yeri Köşkerli-Anadolu,” Araştırmaları 16 (2002): 227-39.

Pic of the Day 2017-10-04: An ancient garden statue center

Yesemek
A Sphnix statue in basalt at Yesemek (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

Yesemek is a rather unusual archaeological site in Turkey, 6 km from Syria. The “ruins” are really a workshop for production of standard Hittite (and Neo-Hittite) monumental statuary used to decorate palaces and public buildings.

Yesemek
Basalt carvings at Yesemek (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The basic forms were created here and then transported and perhaps detailed at the cities where they were installed. Hundreds of standardized forms still stand on the hillside, like the concrete statue places found outside of cities all over the world today.

Mountain gods
Mountain gods with moon discs; basalt statuary at Yesemek (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

 

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A lion-man (or is it a bear-man?) relief at Yesemek (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

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