Sunday, June 9, 2013

Greece: Athens and Corinth


Our cruise disembarked in Athens early June 3, and we immediately started learning about Greek history.  Interesting to note democracy came out of a dictator dying, his sons being either assassinated or exiled + civil war + cooler heads prevailing in saying "Men of Athens if we keep killing each other then no one will be left!!"  This all happened in the 5th century BC but that democracy did not last long due to the Persians.

Darius came with his force of 200,000 men and Athens freed all their slaves on the condition that they would fight for Athens rather than against her (as slaves often did in those days).  The Athenians met Darius' army at Marathon with only 10,000 men but prevailed in that battle with only 192 Greek deaths versus over 6,000 Persians deaths.  This is the battle where the person who brought the news to Athens ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to deliver the incredible news of victory...thus running the first 'marathon'

So, the age of democracy has its seeds in this time.  While it sprouted for a few decades, Darius' son wanted vengeance for his father's embarrassing defeat in Greece and brought an army of 1,500,000 men and destroyed Athens (after taking care of the famous '300' Spartans at Thermopyles).

Interestingly, Athens was not the most significant city in Greece when Paul came in 50-52AD.  That honor went to Corinth as it was a major port (see below).

Athens has grown massively in the past 100 years.  In the late 1800s its population was only about 10,000.  By 1920 it had grown to 60,000.  The major city full of Greeks at that time was Izmir (part of Turkey) but the Turks massacred a huge number of Greeks in the 1920s and only 10,000 made it out of Izmir.  These numbers may be inflated by the Greeks but there is no doubt that many atrocities occurred in Turkey and the 'under the surface' hatred still simmers between Greece and Turkey even 100 years later.  WWII was horrible for Greece as nearly 10% of its population died then a 5 year civil war happened, followed by a dictator, and finally democracy.

Today, Athens has a population of 5.5 million people which is nearly half the population of Greece.  Greece basically in a Depression right now with huge debt it cannot repay, unemployment of 30%, and youth unemployment near 70%.  There is grafiti all over the city including in the area of important monuments, and I usually take that to be a sign of a society that is marked with much hopelessness.  While we were in the city, a large demonstration occurred which turned violent.  I might add that the same thing happened in Istanbul this week in Taksim Square just around the corner from where we stayed.  There is much frustration in this part of the world right now.

Mars Hill - Where Paul spoke in Athens

Heading up the Athenian Acropolis, we arrived at Mars Hill.  Athens started using Mars Hill as the place where its Supreme Court met since the 7th Century BC.  When 'court' was out of session, the hill and its 'seats' were used by the men of Athens to debate, philosophize etc.  This is where the Apostle Paul addressed the men of Athens in The Book of Acts 17:22-34.  In the Bible the term used is "Areopagus" which has been translated to "Mars Hill" as Areo is equivalent to Aries aka Mars and 'pagus' means 'hill' in Greek (or so our Greek guide told me).

The staircase you see just above my head in the picture below was carved into the bedrock and has been there since the 7th century BC.  Those are the steps all the great thinkers of Greece would have walked up to address the people who attended various meetings there, and they were definitely the steps Paul would have walked up as well.

Looking down on Mars Hill from the Acropolis.

Our new friend Rob gave another speech on Mars Hill as the Apostle Paul.  I love what Paul said in Athens.  He looked around and noticed all the pagan Gods that the people worshiped.  But instead of saying "you all are going to hell for worshiping these Gods," he uses their worshiping nature to connect with them and open their ears to the Gospel.

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[a] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Thus ends a 90 second synopsis of the Bible!  Brilliant.  Just brilliant.  There was some resistance to the idea of resurrection because in their culture they believed the body was 'corrupt' and the soul wanted to free itself from the body.  But Paul did persuade the leader of the Supreme Court at the time, Dionysius, as well as Damaris and others.  One of the pastors on our tour said that Paul's mentor, Gamilee, had roots in Athens and thinks that Paul really looked forward to preaching the Gospel in Athens.

The Acropolis

S at the back of the Parthenon
The Acropolis of Athens was the first set of monuments built by free men.  No slave labor built these monuments.  Beauty and aesthetics took high priority as that is what free men do.  The Parthenon has so many curves in it that are subtle but important to the 'eye' for aesthetic pleasure.  For example, it curves slightly inward because if it stood straight there would be a perception by the eye that it was going to fall on someone walking up to it (thus producing a fearful reaction).  Instead, the curves of the building make it 'wonderful' (as our guide said) to the eye.  In fact, the entire base structure on which the building sits is slightly curved as well much like a football field where the middle of the field is a slightly higher elevation that drops off toward the sidelines to allow for better drainage.  The Greeks didn't build their buildings that way for drainage purposes.  It just 'looks' better to the eye!  

The Parthenon

The Parthenon was a place of worship to Greek Gods for nearly 1000 years.  It was a Christian church starting under Emperor Theodosius and later a mosque in the Ottoman Empire.  It has had quite a few makeovers over the years (as far as what was worshiped there) and it was getting another makeover while we were there.  The front was almost completely covered in scaffolding so we got pictures of the back....

Unfortunately, a Venetian General gave the order to shell the Parthenon in the 1600s and damaged it significantly.  Otherwise, I think this building may well have continued standing in its entirety.  Really amazing how well it was built!

Other pictures from the Acropolis....

Temple of Nike on the Athenian Acropolis

AJ and Daddy

The "knee pop" picture on top of the Acropolis.  The girls were doing the same poses as the Goddess statues in the background...


Corinth was one of the major ports of the ancient world along with Ephesus and Alexandria.  Known as the richest city of the ancient world, it had a population between 300,000 and 700,000 (no records were kept, thus the wide range).  It grew in prominence because geographically it sits on a little stretch of land only 4 miles wide that connects the Adriatic Sea and Aegean Sea.

To avoid sailing the treacherous 220 mile journey around the southern part of Greece (apparently very rough seas), ships would come to Corinth.  If the ship was small enough, they would take the entire boat out of the water, put it on rollers, and push it across the 4 mile stretch.  For larger ships, they would simply offload the cargo and transport it across the 4 miles to another ship on the other side.

Today a canal built in the 1800s with help from Hungarian engineers connects the two bodies of water.  It is hard to tell from the picture just how deep this canal is....but it is deep enough to have a bungy jumping company operating on this bridge....

On the Acropolis of Corinth stood the a massive temple devoted to Aphrodite, goddess of pleasure.  There were over 1000 female prostitutes (and some male prostitutes as well) who 'served' the temple.  They would come down from the acropolis into the city and look for 'worshipers'...and they would find plenty in this city, the Las Vegas of the ancient world.
The acropolis / hill of Corinth where the Temple to Aphrodite resided
A word 'Corinthinizing' emerged meaning 'all pleasure all the time.'  When someone lived a life of debauchery, they were said to have been Corinthinized.  With this in mind, it gives clearer meaning to this verse from 1 Corinthians...

1 Corinthians 6:18-20

18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body[a]and in your spirit, which are God’s.

In addition, our guide explained the verse from 1 Corinthians chapter 11 which speaks about women covering their heads in the church.  The temple prostitutes shaved their heads and, therefore, everyone knew who the prostitutes were in the city.  As those women started coming to Christ, there was a problem with judgment and looking down on those women.  Since it took so long to grow hair to a length where that kind of judgment took place, Paul instructed the women in the Corinthian church to cover their heads to bring unity to the body of Christ and create a comfortable place of worship for the ex-prostitutes.

The City and its Ruins

Corinth had a similar layout to other Roman cities.  Its Agora was on the left side of the picture below with the government offices and 'Bema' (see below) on the far left side of the diagram.  The temple at the top of the picture was for Imperial worship, the temple in the middle of the city was to Apollo while the commercial district was across from the government offices as well as on a street running down the bottom middle portion of the diagram below.  The theater on the right side was used as a marble quarry by invaders in later times so there is nothing left.  However, archaeologists found an interesting inscription confirming the identity of someone Paul references in his letters.

Our friend Rob gave another message as Paul in Corinth (acropolis in the background)...

He gave his lecture on the far left side of the map above where the government offices stood.  As you can see, the ruins at Corinth are no where near as impressive as the ruins at Ephesus (see earlier blog message on Ephesus)....

AJ played while 'Paul' spoke.  Open space of government agora can be seen in the background...

S in front of the commercial side of the government agora.  Remains of the temple to Apollo (center of map above) can be seen in the background...

Our guide spent A LOT of time explaining what a Bema was.  The Bema was a raised platform or raised part of a building where city leaders would make proclamations, stand above everyone for something like a parade, but most importantly this is where judgments were made and where public punishments would have been carried out.

ACTS Chapter 18:  12 When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia (my comment: Gallio was in Corinth when this happened), the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat (in Greek it says Bema here)13 saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”
14 And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. 15 But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.” 16 And he drove them from the judgment seat. 17 Then all the Greeks[b] took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.

The scene mentioned above happened right where the girls are standing.  That is the Bema in Corinth (or the remains of it) and the small pillar just to their right was where public punishments like scourging / beatings would take place in front of the public after a sentence had been handed down.  
The girls at the Bema in Corinth where the events of Acts 18:12-17 occurred
Stone which people would be chained to and whipped in public

Our guide mentioned many other poor translations where 'Bema' is translated to something like place of judgment or a courtroom.  He mentioned the the movie 'The Passion of the Christ' did a good job except for the part about being scourged in the Praetorium after being judged by Pontius Pilate.  That never would have happened in the Praetorium.  John 19:13 says "When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha."  

When John says Pilate 'brought Jesus out' and that he sat down on the 'judgment seat'....that was the Bema.  Pilate would have been on the Bema and Jesus would have been scourged in public chained to a stone similar to the one above in Jerusalem.

There were several other references to Bemas in the Bible from 2Cor 5:10 to Romans 14:10 which reads in Greek "we shall all stand before the Bema of Christ" versus "we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ" in most English version.  A funny note during this of the people on our tour read this passage from 'The Message' and the tour guide looked at him and said "That is absolutely the worst translation I have ever heard!"

Other points of of the reasons we know Paul was in Corinth late 50AD through early to mid 52AD is because archaelogy has found records indicating that is when Gallio was proconsul.  In addition, something called the Isthmian Games were in Corinth during this time (2nd most popular games with Olympics being the most popular).  These games would have given Paul a great reason to go to Corinth during this time as he was a tent maker.  With so many people coming to Corinth, his products would have been in high demand.

We moved out of the Agora area to the commercial street.  There was a massive fountain there which existed for over 1000 years.  In fact, you can still hear the spring water if you listened closely.  Locals came to draw water from here as late as World War II.  

The remains of the commercial street.  Shops used to line both sides of this street with covered sidewalks.

The temple of Apollo...built in 6th century BC with monolithic columns (ie each pillar is a single stone).  Apollo was devoted to a number of things but one of them was the God of 'ecstasy'  Our guide mentioned that the famous love verses in 1Cor 13 were likely motivated by the intense focus in Corinth on sensual pleasures and calling these things love.  Paul was writing directly to Corinthians about what love really was...

Corinthians mentions that Paul preached at the synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:1-8).  During excavations they found the synagogue and these are two of the stones from that area including one that clearly has menorah on it.

AJ getting tired in the museum....

I LOVED this museum piece.  There is a part of 1 Cor 13 that talks about looking into a mirror dimly that has never made sense to me.  A dim mirror?  They are all pretty clear to me unless they are really dirty.  But this is a mirror from the time of Christ.  In those days a mirror was a highly shined piece of copper.  So, even the best mirrors would be a bit dim.....

The museum had busts from ancient Corinth of various Roman figures...
The nutcase Nero

Caesar Augustus, Emperor at time of Jesus' birth

Julius Caesar
We headed down to the Theater area after the museum.  There wasn't much to see of the theater as the marble had been taken by other generations and used in other buildings.  I took this picture on the way down to the Theater area to show how little of Corinth has actually been excavated.  Only about 5% has been done.  The ancient city ran from the mountain to the sea.  The part that has been excavated is between the guide's fingers....

Paul mentions a man by the name of Erastus several times in his writings (Romans 16:23, Acts 19:22, 2Tim4:20).  He identifies him as the Treasurer of Corinth who would have been a very rich man.  Because Erastus sends greetings, he is a Christian.  In the 1800s 'rationalist' especially in Germany who didn't believe in the Bible pointed to this man Erastus as someone that Paul just made up trying to impress people in other parts of the empire.  There was no record of this man existing or holding such an important title as Treasurer of one of the most important cities of the ancient world.

And then the archaeologist found this while excavating the area in front of the theater...

First, this is written in Latin which clearly indicates it was something written by a Roman.  Second, the name Erastus was very rare in the ancient world.  Third, the inscription reads "In return (ie paying back) for the time he was Treasurer with his own money paved this area."  The archaeologists no longer question whether a man named Erastus was Treasurer of Corinth.  He was.  The Treasurer of Corinth would have been known far and wide and I highly doubt Paul would claim him as a Christian unless he was a Christian.  Anyway, I thought it was another interesting piece of information where various people doubt the Bible but evidence proves the Bible correct.

Final thoughts on Corinth...I'm glad we came here.  We learned so much about the history of the city and the context in which the church started growing here.  The best description I can think of would be Sin City.  It was the Las Vegas of the ancient times.  While the ruins were not nearly as impressive as Ephesus, it is a worthwhile stop for anyone traveling to Greece.  However, it is a place where I think a knowledgeable tour guide helps a lot.


On the way back to Athens, we stopped at the ancient city of Mycenae.  This set of ruins is a part of Greek history but is not mentioned in the Bible.  The lions gate was impressive (though AJ was 'out' by this point in the day....)

But the most impressive part of this area was the 'beehive' tomb...

This structure arched up and looked like a huge beehive from the inside.  The picture below gives a pretty good perspective at how large this place was as the people near the door are about 6 feet tall and look like dwarfs....

The acoustics were incredible.  One of the singers in the group started singing "Amazing Grace" and we all started singing...and then just kept singing.  When standing in the middle of the tomb and talking it sounded like you were speaking into a huge microphone.  Very cool way to end the day....

Next post will be about our trip north in Greece including stops at Berea, Thessoliniki, and Philippi.  Til then, God Bless!

Other Favorite Pictures

AJ near the Athens acropolis...

V and H goofing off at the top of the ancient city of Mycenae


  1. wow, totally coming to you guys when we want to plan a trip to Greece, or errm. anywhere!

  2. Fabulous to stand in the places where scripture took place. Funny I'd always thought of it more in Israel, but you've reminded me how far early Christianity spread. Enjoy and love to all!

  3. From email...First of all, love the hair cut , Andrew. I also love Rachel's baby belly! Baby Scott is looking good!!! So good to see some of Corinth in your pictures. Brings scripture to life! Thanks for including the references as you go. It puts it all in perspective. I just love seeing you guys. Greece and Corinth are now on my bicker list!!! Love to all! Heather


    Thanks Andrew,
    I look forward to reading and looking at all the awesome pictures you have taken ….it is like I am there with you!
    You certainly could put a top selling book together. John Sweeney


  4. Yes, Andrew, love the haircut. It's still a bit long... but it's a start. :-) Great stuff as always. Certainly miss you all and look forward to your return.



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