Pompeii and Sodom and/or Gomorrah

The July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has a very interesting article by Herschel Shanks about Jewish oracles relating to the destruction of Pompeii. A useful summary can be found in the Jerusalem Post, post alia:

[…] Shanks recently told The Jerusalem Post that the idea to examine a connection between the two events came to him on a tour of the ruins of the Roman city located in the vicinity of modern-day Naples.

“On my own visit to Pompeii, I tried to find out when the destruction of the Temple occurred,” Shanks relates. “When I learnt of the supposed date, I thought, ‘Hey I wonder if anyone has connected the two.’” Shanks, described by the The New York Times as “probably the world’s most influential amateur Biblical archaeologist,” said he called Harvard’s Shaye Cohen, who directed him to Book 4 of the Sibylline Oracles, a text composed by “mostly Jewish oracles” shortly after the eruption.

The book first mentions the destruction of the Temple, and then seemingly refers to the Vesuvius eruption: “When a firebrand, turned away from a cleft in the earth [Vesuvius] In the land of Italy, reaches to broad heaven It will burn many cities and destroy men.

Much smoking ashes will fill the great sky And showers will fall from heaven like red earth.

Know then the wrath of the heavenly God.”

The second piece of evidence cited by Shanks is ancient graffiti etched onto a fresco at a Pompeii building. The grafitti reads “Sodom and Gomorra.”

In Shanks’s opinion, the text is proof that a Jewish visitor to the ruins believed its fate followed that of the two sin cities that the Bible says were destroyed by God.

In any case, if the destruction of Pompeii was an act of divine retribution, then some Jews were also caught up in his vengeance. It is almost certain there were some Jewish individuals, perhaps a fullyfledged Jewish community in Pompeii, that perished along with the city’s gentiles.

Shanks said a fresco of King Solomon, the most ancient depiction of a biblical scene, is located not far from where the Sodom and Gomorra graffiti was found.

Also, relates Shanks, a vase with what some believe is an ancient kashrut stamp has been found in the famous ruins.

For Jews elsewhere, it is easy to imagine how news of the catastrophe at Pompeii would have been greeted with joy in light of the devastating defeat they had suffered only a few years earlier.

“It attacked the core of Roman society and, as if to emphasize the point, it extended all the way to Rome,” Shanks said. “You had the scary white and dark soot as far as Rome. There’s very good reason to conclude there was a perceived connection and in the eyes of some, God was clearly at work.”

It’s rather nice that the full article is also this particular issue’s freebie:

While I like the idea of the oracle as a retrojective prophecy, the thing I can’t buy into are the comments on the Sodom and Gomorrah graffito. The JPost summary gives the impression that people visited the site of Pompeii shortly after Vesuvius was done with its wrath. I didn’t think he really meant that but in the online version of the article:

One such person came back to a house in an area of Pompeii designated today as Region 9, Insula 1, House 26. After having walked through the desolation of the city, he (unlikely to be a “she”) looked about and saw nothing but destruction where once there had been buildings and beautifully frescoed walls. Disconsolate and aghast, he picked up a piece of charcoal and scratched on the wall in large black Latin letters:

... the citation for this is:

See Carlo Giordano and Isidoro Kahn, The Jews in Pompeii Heculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix 3rd ed., Wilhelmina F. Jashemski, trans. (Rome: Bardi Editore, 2003), pp. 75–76.

… which I don’t have at hand. Will someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always been under the impression that the site was covered with between four and six metres of ash and pumice. There was nothing to ‘visit’ and scratch graffiti on AFTER the eruption …

UPDATE (August 24): In addition to Mark Davidson’s comments below, see also Jim Davila’s coverage of this item over at PaleoJudaica, which includes a link to an article (also in BAR) from a few years ago by Theodore Feder about a fresco possibly depicting Solomon, Socrates and Aristotle. The excerpt from Feder (included at Paleojudaica, but not in the abstract at BAR) is much more realistic on this one …

Recreating the Heraia on Samos

From ANA:

Athletes and volunteers dressed as torch-bearers of antiquity participate in one of several events recreating an ancient festival in honour of the mythical goddess Hera (Heraion), which was held at the port of Pythagorion , on the eastern Aegean island of Samos on Friday 20 August 2010.

The ancient Heraia festival served as a sports event for women, and dates back to 200 BC. The games were organised every four years.

Female athletes would take part in a night race, following an ancient path, beginning from Hera’s temple and finishing at the port, where the lightning of the flame took place.

Ancient sports games for women recreated on Samos | ANA

Here’s Pausanias‘ account of the Heraia games (via Theoi.com):

[5.16.2] Every fourth year there is woven for Hera a robe by the Sixteen women, and the same also hold games called Heraea. The games consist of foot-races for maidens. These are not all of the same age. The first to run are the youngest; after them come the next in age, and the last to run are the oldest of the maidens. They run in the following way:

[5.16.3] their hair hangs down, a tunic reaches to a little above the knee, and they bare the right shoulder as far as the breast. These too have the Olympic stadium reserved for their games, but the course of the stadium is shortened for them by about one-sixth of its length. To the winning maidens they give crowns of olive and a portion of the cow sacrificed to Hera. They may also dedicate statues with their names inscribed upon them. Those who administer to the Sixteen are, like the presidents of the games, married women.

[5.16.4] The games of the maidens too are traced back to ancient times; they say that, out of gratitude to Hera for her marriage with Pelops, Hippodameia assembled the Sixteen Women, and with them inaugurated the Heraea. They relate too that a victory was won by Chloris, the only surviving daughter of the house of Amphion, though with her they say survived one of her brothers. As to the children of Niobe, what I myself chanced to learn about them I have set forth in my account of Argos.

Not sure where the modern Samian race is getting the torch thing (confusion with a male event during the Panathenia?); I can’t find any mention of a female torch race. Matthew Dillon, “Did Parthenoi Attend the Olympic Games? Girls and Women Competing, Spectating, and Carrying out Cult Roles at Greek Religious Festivals” Hermes 128, 457-480 mentions (on 462) that no inscriptions of victories by women survive from Olympia, but there are inscriptions recording the victories of women at other (presumably Heraia-like) competitions. A trio of sisters named Tryphosa, Hedea, and Dionysia won various competitions in the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian, Sikyonian, Epidaurian, and Athenian festivals in the second half of the first century A.D., by which time female participation in athletic competitions had apparently broadened in scope.. Most impressive (to me, anyway) is Hedea, who won the chariot-race-in-armour at the Isthmian games, the stade at Nemea and Sikyon, and the kithara-singing at the Sebasteia at Athens.

Inscriptions from Pompeiopolis

From World Bulletin … there seems to be a persistent misspelling of Pompeiopolis:

New inscriptions were unearthed during excavations in Pompeipolis ancient city in Taskopru in the northern province of Kastamonu.

Prof. Dr. Christian Marek, who has been examining inscriptions uncovered in Pompeipolis, told the AA correspondent that inscriptions were about festivals of Roman era.

Marek said that according to inscriptions, Roman emperors also participated in these festivals, most of which were religious. Marek said several competitions, shows and plays had been held within the scope of these festivals which had been started by Roman Emperor Alexander Severus.

Prof. Latife Summerer, a lecturer from Munich University, said that information on inscriptions were important and more would be uncovered in excavations in the ancient city.

The antique city of Pompeipolis is situated in the county of Taskopru of the province of Kastamonu. According to the historical records, the Romans after winning the battle against Mitridates. Pontus Pilate and his army in the northern valley of Gökirmak in 64 B.C. settled in this region. The Roman commander Pompeius built a city out of scratch on Zimbilli Hill and called the city Pompeipolis.

The antique city of Pompeipolis was discovered by Pascal T. Fourcade, who was the French consul during 1802 to 1812 at Sinop. It is claimed by the American and European archaeologists that the antique city of Pompeipolis is wealthier and bigger than the antique city of Ephesus in Izmir. The giant columns and the mosaic decorations found in the excavations conducted for the first time in 1910 in the antique city of Pompeipolis, remaining from the Byzantine era, were destroyed in the reconstruction of the town of Taskopru after four-thirds of the town was damaged by fire in the year 1927. The historical artifacts found in the excavations conducted by the governorate of Kastamonu in 1974 were placed in the Kastamonu Archaeological Museum for safekeeping. The excavation of Pompeipolis started again in the year 2006 under the leadership of Dr. Latife Summerer of the German Munich University.

As the archaeological excavation of Pompeipolis continues, a town museum or an archaeological museum must be built in Taskopru to protect and exhibit the artifacts discovered. With the historical artifacts to be discovered, the antique city of Pompeipolis will be the door opening the Black Sea to the world. If the antique city is well promoted and if the necessary investments for tourist visits are made, Pompeipolis, just like Ephesus and Zeugma, will become the symbol of the Black Sea within a short period of time and its name will take place among the sites to be visited in international tourism.

via: Inscriptions found in ancient Pompeipolis city in Turkey | World Bulletin

This seems to be a rather nice dig site … a few years ago they excavated a Temple of Augustus … the next season found mosaics and a marketplace … the spelling mistake seems to run in those reports too.

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