Petitions for the Diolkos and the Mandaeans

27 01 2008

Here are two petitions worthy of attention.  Each one is very different.  One is oriented to saving the past (an archaeological monument), and the other helping a minority group under persecution in the present.  The first petition is to help bring pressure on the government of Greece in order to preserve the diolkos.  For those who know the ancient backgroud of Corinth, the diolkos was the stone roadway built in order to transport cargo and small boats across the isthmus.  It was originally built in the 6th century BCE and served into the time of first century (and beyond) as a major way to move goods across the isthmus.  For more information about its state of deterioration because of erosion and neglect, see the following website from the “Hellenic Underwater Times” (I know it seems strange to have a publication with this title.  Who is reading the “Underwater Times?”  Fishes?)  Here is the petition website:  Save and Restore the Ancient Diolkos

The second petition is related to the Mandaeans which is a religious group tracing its roots back to antiquity.  Mandaeans are perhaps the last surviving sect of Gnostics.  They have great respect for John the Baptist, and they continue to practice rituals of baptism.  While many Mandaeans are scattered around the world, at one time a large community existed within Iraq.  The war, which has caused so much suffering for many, has inflicted great hardship upon this group.  It has been estimated that only 5000 to 7000 are still in Iraq and that many Mandaeans have fled as refugees to Syria and/or Jordan.  One of the problems faced by Mandaeans is that they are truly a minority since they are not a part of Christianity, Judaism or Islam.  So if they are not on the receiving end of prejudice and persecution, they are simply neglected.  There are few people to speak and lobby on their behalf.  This petition is focused upon helping Mandaeans to receive asylum in the United States.  An excellent podcast about the Mandaeans and their beliefs is by Jorunn Buckley.  It is located on the Bowdoin College website and entitled “Discovering the Mandaeans.” The website for the petition is Assistance to the Mandaean Community of Iraq.

Dating of Revelation–Numismatic Evidence

24 01 2008

An excellent article on the dating of Revelation is by George H. van Kooten, “The Year of the Four Emperors and the Revelation of John:  The ‘pro-Neronian’ Emperors Otho and Vitellius, and the Images and Colossus of Nero in Rome,” JSNT 30.2 (2007) 205-248.  Van Kooten proposes an early date for the composition of Revelation.  He even narrows the dating down to the reign of Vitellius (April-December 69 CE).  I have a great deal of sympathy for an early date for Revelation, and van Kooten brings in some interesting evidence to support his premise.  There are several issues I would take with his evidence, however, let me deal with only one because it deals with ancient numismatics.

Van Kooten suggests that the image of the beast referenced in Revelation is an allusion to the colossus statue that Nero had commissioned.  He writes, “The intertwining of Nero’s identity with that of the Sun was expressed in the Colossus.  As we know from the only known representations of the Colossus, on coins issued in the reigns of Severus Alexander (222-235) and Gordian III (238-244), at the time when the Colossus was still standing, Nero’s head was adorned with sunrays and his left arm was bent to hold a globe” (p. 217).  Here is a positive example of attempting to use numismatic evidence, and also a negative example of not having the expertise.  The above section from van Kooten is drawn from two sources, both of which are not numismatic references.   One of the errors is that the coins of Severus Alexander and Gordian III may not be the only known examples of this statue.  In fact an example much closer to the time period was minted by Vespasian and also by his son Titus.    Here is the example of a denarius. 


On the obverse is the head of Vespasian, laureated, right.  The inscription is IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG.  On the reverse is a radiate figure, standing on a column and holding a vertical spear in the right hand.  Three ‘rostra’ are projecting on either side of the column.  The inscription is TR POT X COS VIIII.  This coins was minted in 79 CE before Vespasian’s death in June.  In Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, Vol. II, Vespasian to Domitian, the author Harold Mattingly suggests that this figure represents the colossus “. . . with the features of Nero or of Titus, set up in 75” (p. xlii).

Van Kooten also notes that in the later depictions of the statue, which now seems to represent Sol, the right hand holds a globe.  This is true in some of the types for Severus Alexander.  However, there is another frequent type that has Sol sans globe and with a whip in the right hand.  Here is a sestertius example.


The obverse is a laureate draped bust right with the inscription IMP ALEXANDER PIVS AVG.  The reverse is Sol standing left with a hand raised and a whip.  The inscription is PM TR P XII COS III S-C.  This coin was minted in 233 CE.

Ancient numismatics is an excellent lens for for reading Revelation, however, care needs to be taken in its use.

Ancient Numismatics and the New Testament

22 01 2008

I mentioned in my first post my interest in utilizing numismatics in the study of the New Testament, and so I thought I might follow up on that interest. Richard Oster in a 1982 article, “Numismatic Windows into the Social World of Early Christianity: A Methodological Inquiry” (JBL 101 [1982]) notes that biblical scholars have overlooked and given insignificant attention to numismatic evidence when examining early Christianity. Unfortunately, little has changed since the publication of this seminal article. One notable exception is the book by Larry Kreitzer, Striking New Images: Roman Imperial Coinage and the New Testament World (JSNTSup 134; Sheffield Academic Press, 1996). Yet fourteen years after Oster’s article, Kreitzer notes, “. . . New Testament scholars have been slow to embrace the contribution that numismatic evidence has to make to their discipline” (p. 101). The trend continues today.

There are probably several reasons for this neglect. There is a lack of focus on ancient numismatics in colleges and universities. No degrees or majors are offered in ancient numismatics by any major college or university in the US. Therefore individuals are not trained in utilizing numismatic resources for historical research; numismatics is a complicated field of study. No doubt there are other reasons also.

Whatever the reasons, ancient numismatics can yield a wealth of information for the interpretation of the world of the New Testament. Some of my own personal research is on Revelation and how the symbols in that book correspond with the symbols on Roman coins. Many of the images and symbols in the Apocalypse, e.g., thunder, eagles, horses, stars, sun, moon, lamb/ram, serpents, women, thrones, crowns, and many others are also found on Roman imperial and provincial coins.

I hope from time to time to illustrate some of the ways that coins can help interpret the New Testament world.

A Beginning

5 01 2008

This blog is an experiment that I will attempt for a year and then evaluate.  I hesitate to enter the world of bloggery for many reasons.  There is always the factor of time.  If something is to be done well, it takes time.  Being a professor of NT at a small theological seminary with all the responsibilities related to courses, writing, and committees, it raises the issue of time commitment.  It seems that a blog is much like a plant.  It needs to be watered and fed on a frequent schedule.  Just as I would not want a brown and shriveled up plant, I would not want the guilt of a neglect blog.   

A greater concern, perhaps, is whether another voice is needed in the e-webscape.  Henry David Thoreau, when confronted with the new technologies abounding in his day, wrote in his book Walden, “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys which distract our attention from serious things.  They are but improved means to an unimproved end . . . .”  Specifically in relationship to the technology of communication, Thoreau was prescience about how the content often contains nothing of substance.  He dryly noted, “We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but prechance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”  While this point is true for much communication, I must say I have been on the receiving end of helpful insights into biblical studies via blogs and websites.  For this reason, I will try this experiment. 

The focus of this blog will be on all things related to the New Testament.  I am particularly interested in the social and cultural worlds of the NT and the use of models from the social sciences.  I also have a particular interest of late related to the use of artifacts (particularly numismatics) in understanding the biblical world and text.  However, depending on issues that interest me, from time to time I will venture into other realms, but always with the hope that they in someway circle back for an enriching and engaging study of the New Testament.