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 2017-12-10 (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.

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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 2017-10-06: 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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