Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Travel Reflections, Part 1: Data Dump... Get Thee to Asia Minor!

I am back in the USA and pretty overwhelmed by trying to process everything that's happened in the last couple of weeks. On every front, really. Add to that a fun, but crazy, wedding weekend, and two of the most brutal work weeks in recent memory, and you have a reeling and exhausted Frankie.
But considering how significant my time abroad was, and that I want to persuade everyone to follow suit and get themselves to Turkey, I want to be faithful to document some of my thoughts while they are relatively fresh.
So to that end, I am snuggled up under my blanket on this rainy Saturday, eating chicken fried rice, watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and mulling on how to share everything in my mind.
I guess I can break what I'm thinking about into three categories: what I've learned about the Bible, what I've learned about Turkish/Islamic culture, and what I'm learning about myself. Let's start with la Biblia- I cannot believe how much I've learned in the last 2 weeks. You know, I've always wanted to go to Israel. I guess as a pilgrimage - the feeling of walking in the same place that Joshua, David, Jeremiah, John, Jesus, Peter, and Paul, of being where they were, of seeing what they saw. I've always seen the value and privilege of that.
But what I had never fully computed was the "educational value," for lack of better term, of physically being in the same place that the people and events inhabited that space. I'm not sure why this never completely registered for me, since being in Athens showed me so much about Paul's address on God among many gods.
The sheer volume of Biblical sites drove this reality right down my throat; and I feel like I have to share the wealth




Ephesus (Ephesians; Acts 15:19-24, 19:1-35, 20:16-17, 21:29; I Cor. 15:32, 16:8; I Tim. 1:3; II Tim. 1:18, 4:12; Rev. 2:1-7)
    1. If Rome was the DC of the Roman Empire, then Ephesus was the NYC - called "the Jewel of the Aegean," it was the cultural center of the empire, situated on a massive and hugely wealthy harbor. This was an extremely busy, wealthy city
    2. This is the epicenter of mother goddess worship, which spans back for thousands of years. The Amazons, the Hittites, the Lydians, the Greeks- on and on, there has been an astonishing tradition of mother goddess worship here, culminating into the cult of Artemis and her temple. Actually, I learned more about mother goddess worship than I ever knew there was to learn. Anyways, this fact is CENTRAL in understanding how Paul/Peter address the women in this region. Seriously - they are used to be revered as priestesses with a more spiritual nature than men, participating in sometimes highly debaucherous and frankly gross ceremonies. Also, many think that the declarations from the Robber Council are a derivative from this deep seeded tradition. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robber_Council)
    3. Artemis herself is an amalgamation of all the incarnations of goddess is seen in Artemis of Ephesus... she has gotten more queenly over time (she started off as a gigantic blob with placenta hanging between her legs - yesh. I almost ralphed in the museum). By Paul's time, she is covered in various groups' fertility symbols, notably all of the eggs all over her chest
    4. The sea began to recede and several engineering projects attempted to slow the tide were to no avail in stemming the silting in (removing the lampstand?)
    5. Besides the cult of Artemis, there were 2 main other gods- Nike, goddess of victory (Rev. 2:7), and the snake of the healing staff, which evolves and gains more popularity as gnosticism picks up steam throughout the Roman world --> Gnosticism changes the Eden story to glorify Eve (mother goddess!) & the snake for seeking knowledge (Rev. 2:7)
    6. Ephesus is commended for their diligence (not getting sucked up in the hustle and bustle of their city) and their love of the truth/battle against gnosticism (Nicolaitans) 
    7. Ephesus is called out for losing their passion/drive to love and serve the Lord with their full heart - this is a church struggling with how to keep passion in the 2nd generation
    8. Ephesus is John the Beloved's bishopric seat
    9. Demetrius in Acts 19 can be seen as a union president or labor organizer - you can see the view from the amplitheater's entrance into the agora below

Smyrna (Revelations 2:8-11)


  1. This coastal town has existed since antiquity, moving several times before modern placement. When the Hittites came, it is believed that the Amazons were the group that were unseated from the site (again, mother goddess worship). The city continued on, but then greatly dwindled, to the point of death
  2. Alexander the Great conquered the "city", though it had basically died out (Rev. 2:8) and had a dream from Apollo while he was there, telling him to place the Acropolis on modern location on Mt. Pagos (this is where the word "pagan" comes from, since the Acropolis was a massive pantheon, teeming with various temples and gods). Consequently, Smyrna has always been a very Greek, sophisticated city, even into modern times. It was called "the Crown of the Aegean" (Rev. 2:10)
  3. Polycarp was John's pupil, bishop of Smyrna, & was martyred on Mt. Pagos for refusing to call the Emperor god (those who wouldn't take this worship could not be in the guilds). He was dragged through the streets. They begged him to recant, because he was evidently a beloved old man, but he wouldn't bow to the Emperor. Legend has it that the local synagogues turned him over because they were afraid that their exemption from Emperor worship was going to be revoked, though there is inconsistent historical evidence on this score
  4. Jesus has no condemnation for this church ... a church persecuted for righteousness is a healthy one. The curhc has existed in some form in Izmir since Paul, so they can be seen as having kept their lampstand
  5. The fire of Izmir in 1923 was a genocide of the Greek/Armenian Christians, which drove out nearly all the Christians in the country, leaving only the few native believers
Sardis (Revelations 3:1-6)


  1. Sardis was the site of the richest man in the world at one time - the Lydian King Croateus - because of their abundance of precious metals. This was an immensely wealthy city (the first to mint coins) and had a virtually unscalable Acropolis (you can see it in the left had side of the photo above). Reputation was a of a wealthy, unconquerable city (Rev. 3:2)
  2. The city was famously lost to Persia when the king carelessly left part of the Acropolis wall unguarded and the city was sneak sacked in the night when they weren't being vigilant. The city was lost again much later, to much less formidable enemies - again, because of carelessness. Two time were defeated by stealth because of their own carelessness (Rev. 3:4)
  3. Mother goddess worship was big here, as well, surprise, surprise, and above you can see a never finished temple to Artemis. The site was deconsecrated by the Byzantines and a chapel was built.
  4. Rev. 3:5 - White garments signify conquering and/or innocence (a judge would appear in court in white robes to announce a "not guilty" verdict); "book of life" is the book of citizenry for a city and if your name was blotted out, it was very difficult to restore
Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13)


  1. A small town, even in Biblical times, & remains so to this day. It is situated at the beginning of a marked geographic change in landscape as Phrygia begins... the open door? (Rev. 3:8)
  2. This is a town known for its loving deeds; it got it's name because the king refused to make an alliance against his nearby king brother
  3. Rev. 3:12 - pillars would be dedicated to honored citizens and their names would be carved on them
  4. Like Smyrna, Jesus has no condemnation for them - He commends them for their perseverance with the little that they have
Colossae (Colossians)
  1. Modern day, near Denizili, Hierapolis/Pummukale, and Laodicea 
  2. Had a cold spring
  3. A rural gospel for a rural area; these were not the sophisticated Aegean Turks
  4. Beginning of a region with a lot of folk religion (i.e. Konya/Iconium)
Hierapolis (Col. 4:13)



  1. Home to the famous calcium deposits/mineral thermal springs, which made it a bustling vacation/spa/party locale for the Romans, the hot mineral springs that bubbled up from beneath the rocks form the beautiful white encrusted peaks that are visible across the river valley
  2. Also, home to some of the most exuberant, orgiastic Phrygian worship practices, specifically to Dionysus, who is generally portrayed as ambisexual. Women were seen as the more spiritual beings and thus often acted as the priestesses in debaucherous ceremonies, where they would slaughter animals and drink their blood to take on their traits, which becomes a problem when these women try to serve Communion (Paul's letter to Timothy). This cult also led to women refusing to have women to increase their power; Gentile women's worship behavior became increasingly outlandish as this spread from Phrygia into the rest of the Roman empire
  3. Phillip was martyred on the far hill of this city
  4. Christian message was basically antithetical of what this city was about
Laodicea (Col. 2:1, 4:13-15; Rev. 3:14-22)
  1. Across the river valley from Hierapolis, this very wealthy city could see the white calcium peaks. They wanted the hot springs, so they tried to build a pipeline to tap it, but it was only tepid by the time it got through the valley (Rev. 3:15-16). They also were near Colossae's cold springs.
  2. They were renowned for their gold trade, black wool industry, and eye salve cures (Rev. 3:17-18)
  3. The door of Phrygia again? (Rev. 3:20)
  4. Jesus has no commendation for this church

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