Many archaeologists, historians, and even casual Bible readers become curious about foods mentioned in ancient sources. Often these folks have a desire to taste the foods and compare them with modern cuisine. However, this presents a difficulty as there are few recipes for ancient dishes, and when there are recipes they are often merely a list of ingredients without specifying amounts or methods of preparation. Sometimes the name of an ingredient cannot be translated as the modern equivalent is unknown. And of course the recipes do not contain cooking temperatures or times as ancients did not have the means to measure these.

mersuBut some are not deterred by these problems, and seek to recreate ancient foods by reconstructing recipes using information gained by archaeologists and cultural historians combined with personal knowledge of cooking techniques. One example is the Babylonian stew described in a post below. Another is the attempt by Megan Sauter (Associate Editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society) to make mersu, a type of cake or pastry. Ms. Sauter used a receipt recreated by Adam Maskevich who based his work on a recipe originally translated from the Babylonian by Jean Bottéro. The Babylonian recipe came from the site of Mari in Syria and dates from c. 1775 to 1761 B.C.E.).

Mersu is made of a basic dough using flour and a liquid. The dough is shaped into a ball and hollowed out. The center of the ball is filled with a mixture of fruit and nuts, and then baked. It sounds similar to a modern pie (with crust all around) or a popover (with a harder crust). It also sounds like it would be quite tasty. You can read Ms. Sauter’s article with full details for the recipe here.

Nicea, or Nicaea, is extremely important in the history of Christendom as the site of the first and seventh ecumenical (i.e. world-wide) councils. The First Council of Nicea convened in A.D. 325 to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in reaction to Arianism. A product of this council is the Nicene Creed, named after the council. The Nicene Creed is one of the three major creeds of the Church. (The Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed being the other two.) The Nicene Creed is an expansion of the Apostles’ Creed and incorporates specific language concerning the nature of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and their relation to God the Father. The less significant Second Council of Nicea (the seventh ecumenical council) in A.D. 787 restored the use and veneration of icons (i.e. holy images) which had been banned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V thirty-three years earlier.

ChurchOfNicea1Nicea was located in northwestern Anatolia, which today is part of Turkey. Nicea lies within the modern city of Iznik on the eastern shore of Iznik Lake, also known as Lake Ascanius. On the shore of this lake was a church, and it was in this church that the First Nicene council met. In A.D. 740 an earthquake struck the area, and the church was submerged beneath the lake. The exact site of the church was forgotten over time, and has been unknown for centuries. However, that has now changed.

Dr. Mustafa Şahin, a Turkish archaeologist, has searched many years for the ancient church of Nicea. He explored the area around Lake Iznik (known as Lake Ascanius in Roman times) without success. In 2013, the government began taking aerial photographs of the lake but the government did not share the photographs with archaeologists. Recently the government renewed the aerial photography and a member of the team thought of contacting Dr. Şahin. The photographs showed an ancient structure about 160 feet from shore and under about ten feet of water. Dr. Şahin immediately recognized the remains as those of a church and he was sure that his search was over. “When I first saw the images of the lake, I was quite surprised to see a church structure that clearly. I’d been doing field surveys in Iznik since 2006 and hadn’t yet discovered a magnificent structure like that,” Dr. Şahin told reporters.

ChurchOfNicea2Divers dispatched to explore the submerged building discovered several human graves and some Roman coins.

The site may become Turkey’s first underwater museum; Dr. Şahin hopes that wll be the case. Museum plans include a sixty-six foot tower which would allow the ruins to be seen from the shore, a walkway over the lake itself, and a submerged glass room at the nave allowing visitors to pray in the area enclosed by the original church. The museum would allow visitors to dive and get a closeup view of the structure. Construction may begin soon and the museum could open in 2019.

For more information on the find, as well as information on the controversy leading to the First Council of Nicene, read this article in the Daily Beast.

When one studies Biblical archaeology, one gets the feeling that all the great stuff has already been discovered: the Dead Sea scrolls, Megiddo, the Nag Hammadi texts, and Hezekiah’s Tunnel. However, archaeologists are always active at digs in the Holy Land and they often find significant artifacts. It takes time to investigate and authenticate remains so public announcements of discoveries can take years and even decades which causes us, the general public, to always be some years behind in our awareness and knowledge of these discoveries. Here’s one find which made the news this year, 9 years after it’s uncovering.

Archaeologists have excavated Ophel in Jerusalem for several decades. In 1986 and 1987, archaeologists discovered a building which probably served as the royal bakery for King Solomon and King Hezekiah. In 2009, further excavation of bakery area uncovered pottery fragments, figurines, and many other small items. Among these were jar handles with impressions and 34 bullae. A bulla is a seal impression stamped on a soft piece of clay. Most of the bullae found at Ophel are in Hebrew and are impressed with a seal bearing the name of the seal’s owner. One of the bullae found was impressed with the personal seal of King Hezekiah.

King Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the 13th king of Judah; he reigned from c. 729 to c. 687 BC, sometimes as coregent. According to the book of Kings, Hezekiah was a righteous king and instituted many reforms to purify the religious practices of the Israelites. Hezekiah is mentioned in the non-Biblical Sennacherib Prism or Annals containing the account of the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. The siege is mentioned in several books of the Bible including Isaiah chapters 33 and 36; 2 Kings 18:17; and 2 Chronicles 32:9.

Two other prominent Israelites lived during the time of Hezekiah: Isaiah and Micah. Isaiah is one of the major prophets, so named because of the size of the scroll, but Isaiah is also a major prophet in the sense of the importance of his writings. Isaiah is probably the best known of the prophets (after Moses), or least his writings are the best known prophetic writings among Christians. Isaiah is often quoted in New Testament writings, and passages from the book of Isaiah are used in lectionaries, liturgies, and songs throughout Christendom. Luke records that when Jesus began his public ministry, he did so by announcing it after reading aloud a passage from Isaiah (61:1,2) in the synagogue at Nazareth.

Isaiah_bulla.jpgAlong with the bulla bearing the seal of Hezekiah was one bearing the name “Yesha’yah[u] Nvy[?]”. When translated, the seal seemingly states that it is the seal of Isaiah the prophet. Since the bulla was found with a bulla bearing Hezekiah’s seal, it is no stretch to claim that the bulla bears the seal of the prophet Isaiah. This is certainly an exciting find, but like most archaeological items, the identification is not unanimous or without controversy. It is an exciting find, in fact the whole royal bakery area is exciting, and is sure to ignite more study. You can read about the Isaiah bulla in the Biblical Archaeology Review, the Times of Israel, National Geographic, the Smithsonian, and other places on the web — it’s big news. One of several articles which dispute the identification of the bulla with the Biblical prophet Isaiah is on the Remnant of Giants blog, titled “Why ‘Isaiah’ of the Isaiah Bulla is not the Prophet Isaiah“.

Whether or not the bulla is properly attributed to THE Isaiah, it is an interesting find, as are the other bullae, pottery fragments, inscribed jar handles, and various bits found on the site. Each piece found can guide us in filling in details of the history and everyday life of the Israelites. An item such as the bulla with the seal of King Hezekiah gives us a physical connection to the past and makes the figures of the Bible a bit more real to us. And maybe this is actually the seal of the prophet Isaiah, and those who touch it or see it are making a physical connection, however tenuous, with one of the great prophets of Judah.

So you’re invited to a team cooking event which will feature foods from around the globe and from different time periods. What do you do? Well, if you’re the team from Yale, you grab recipes from 4,000 year old clay tablets, and you make an ancient Babylonian meal.

You can read the article which accompanies the video here. I wish the article included the recipes. I think they would be interesting to read, and perhaps I would make one of the dishes. The lamb dish sounds interesting.

How does one say bon appétit in Akkadian?

I think that everyone, or at least nearly everyone, who engages in serious Bible study is aware of N.T. Wright.
N-T-Wright The Rt. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Thomas Wright (known to friends and colleagues as Tom) is the former Bishop of Durham (England) and is currently Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews (Scotland). He has lectured and written extensively on the New Testament, and has produced an English translation of the New Testament for use in studying the scriptures.

I have read, enjoyed, and used several of Bishop Wright’s works, including Surprised by Hope and volumes in the New Testament For Everyone series. I would recommend these, and his other works, to anyone interested in learning more about the scriptures and Christian theology. In addition to receiving accolades for his writings, Bishop Wright has a reputation as an engaging speaker and inspiring teacher. Few of us will have the opportunity to hear him in person or to enroll in his courses. Until now.

NTWrightOnline-400pxBishop Wright, in collaboration with David Seemuth, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Wisconsin Center for Christian Study, has established N.T. Wright Online to offer online courses. The courses are delivered through Udemy, and one can enroll through N.T. Wright Online or through Udemy. The courses feature video lectures by Bishop Wright with supplemental written material to enhance learning and online quizzes for review. As usual with online courses, there is an area for discussion with other students.

The courses are not inexpensive but are reasonably priced given the stature and depth of knowledge of the instructor. Current courses include: Paul: A Biography; The Acts of the Apostles; three courses on Romans; Philipians; Galatians; The Storied World of the Bible; and Simply Jesus. If you want to “try before you buy”, you can enroll in a free short course on Philemon. This will allow you to explore the format, engage in discussion, and help you decide whether to enroll in another course.

My experience is that the courses deliver what they promise: they are engaging and informative. Bishop Wright not only increases your knowledge but also trains you how to engage with Scripture. He strikes a good medium between the purely academic and meditative approaches to Scripture. You learn facts about history, culture, and language, but more importantly you learn how to apply Scriptural principles to your life.

P1120871_Louvre_stèle_de_Mésha_AO5066_2For several years the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has engaged in projects to make digital photos of items available on the Internet. One project which garnered much attention is the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, launched in December 2012 in collaboration with Google. This site allows one to view and search high-resolution images of the complete Dead Sea Scrolls archive. Recently the IAA announced the Rockefeller Museum Online project which makes available online digital images of all artifacts in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. This is the first time time that the whole collection of a museum will be available in digital images online. The museum, originally named the Palestine Archaeological Museum, was established with funds donated by John D. Rockefeller in 1938. The name was changed after the 1967 war. The effort to place the collection online is funded by a grant from David Rockefeller, the son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.