Monday, March 31, 2008

Wake up, and Strengthen What Remains...

Capitals, pedestals, columns, inscriptions, mosaics...over and over again.  But each site has just enough variety to fascinate us.
Yesterday we visited Pergamum and Sardis...two of the seven churches of Revelation chapters two and three.  All seven stood on an important circular route that brought together the most popular and prosperous part of Asia Minor.  Their order in Scripture is the same as you find them on the Roman Road, between 26 and 98.5 miles apart.
Pergamum was one of the most beautiful cities in Asia Minor...being built on terraces 1165ft above sea level, which led up to the acropolis.  The city included an altar to Zeus (now in the Berlin Museum), a temple to Athena, and a theatre and Ampitheatre dedicated to the gods of wine and the arts.  This, and the fact that Pergamum allowed the Roman government to take over their city, could be what the angel is speaking of when he mentions that "Satan's throne is there"...and that some held to the teaching of Balaam...eating food offered to idols, and practiced immorality.
Above, was the library, which was second to the one in Alexandria, Egypt.  In fact, the Egyptians were so jealous of the competition, that they refused to send more papyrus for the making of "books", so allegedly, the founder of the Pergamum library invented "parchment" which was made of goat's skin stretched thinly for a writing surface.
Nearby, we wandered through the Asklepieon, or health center of Pergamum, which was dedicated to the god of healing, Askclepios, and his daughter Hygiena. (Are you understanding why Christians had such a difficult time with idol worship?  It was all around them, every day and in every way...)   One was allowed in to the center only if his disease was "cureable", so as not to discredit the gods!  Mud baths, sound of running water,  meditation, and comedy shows in the theatre, were all therapies used in the healing of various conditions.  At one point, the priests (doctors)  would tell jokes to the patients who walked below them in the passageway through holes in the stone structure!  When one was healed, he would have his name inscribed on a white stone, with the description of the disease he was released from.  The angel to the church in Pergamum says "to him who overcomes, I will give him...a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who recieves it."  Could it be that our new name will signify the besetting sin that we have overcome with the Lord's help?  It's exciting to consider...
Sardis was known as the "great, wealthy and impregnable city against which no one could strive and prevail", but it was hard hit by an earthquake in AD 17, and never quite recovered.  It was also broken into because the guards were lazy at their watch.
The two structures remaining, located in opposite parts of the city, were the Temple of Artemis (yes, another one) with a stone church backed against it, and a gymnasium, where young and old men would work out to make their bodies "strong and handsome", and a place to chat and debate, to strengthen the mind.  It was more like a social club.  Curiously, a synagogue was built as an extention to the gym. It was a dangerous mix of "God of the Universe" worship adjacent to god, godess and bodily worship.  Maybe that's why the angel to the church of Sardis accused them of being asleep, because of their confidence, and of soiling their clothes with worldly influences.  Such lessons are appropriate for the church today!
It's been tough to keep up with the blogs, with such a busy schedule...what we have seen has been overwhelming at times, but totally worth the trip.  Because of internet time limits, I have only shared a few highlights...there is so much more.
One addendum to Istabul, which is on the Bosphorus, dividing the city into European and Asia sections...Turkish, we found out, is a curious mix of Finnish, Hungarian, and, of all things, Japanese.  We were assured that if you learned one, you could easily understand the others.  That, in itself, is amazing to me.
Ephesus was absolutely the best preserved site of was an extremely full day.  More on our tour tomorrow...

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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel