Pergamum

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

Revelation 2:12-17

This is fifth of (hopefully) seven articles on the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.
Part I: Laodicea
Part II: Philadelphia
Part III: Sardis
Part IV: Thyatira

The kingdom of Pergamon existed for nearly one hundred and fifty years, with its seat of power in Pergamum, until it was willed by its King Attalus III to Rome upon his death in 129. Today, the ruins of Pergamum are found on a large rocky hill overlooking the Caicus River, about 20 miles from the Agean Sea. Its architecture is amazing to behold, even today, and one can only imagine how majestic it must have been 2000 years ago. (For you Lord of the Rings fans, think of Minas Tirith…) It was the seat of political power in Asia Minor (Ephesus was the commercial center), and it was also home to the frumetaria, a Roman garrison that protected food shipments through the major trade route from the Agean into Asia Minor.

Where Satan has His Throne

Temple of TrajanWhen we read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum, we must wonder why John twice refers to this city as a place where Satan rules. When we examine the city in its first century context, the possibilities abound.

One possibility lies in with the series of kings Attalus I – III and Eumenes I-III, alternating. The people of Pergamum may have been some of the first to deify their kings upon death, constructing Heroon (places of hero worship) upon their tombs. Many scholars believe that the Caesars were impressed by this practice in Pergamum, and that it led first to the deification of the Caesars in the outlying provinces, and then to the deification upon death of Caesars in all of the Empire – including Rome, and finally, with Domitian, to the deification of Caesar while still living. At Pergamum, upon the highest height of the Acropolis (the place where the greatest god was worshipped), are the ruins of a once great temple to Trajan Caesar (Emperor from 98 – 117 AD). With the atrocities conducted against early believers who refused to bow to Caesar, this is one possibility why this might be “Satan’s Throne”.

Another possibility lies in the agora (marketplace) on the Acropolis of Pergamum. It is here that the practice of burning incense to Caesar in order to be able to buy and sell in the market may have first begun. This practice later spread to Ephesus and became so pervasive that one could not buy or sell, get fire or water, or acquire meat without declaring Caesar was god, and to refuse could mean death to the believer. It is very likely that this is the practice referred to in Revelation 13:16-17, with the “beast” representing Nero or Domitian (most likely):

He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)

The Theater at the Pergamum AcropolisBecause Pergamum was the seat of power in Asia Minor, and because of the evil practices in the worship of this power, this is another posibility of Satan’s throne.

A third possibility may have been in the Theater, which was of primary importance in Pergamum. The purpose of the theater was to make its views the peoples’ views. (Does this sound familiar?) The 10,000-seat theater on the Acropolis in Pergamum, the largest of several in the city, was dedicated (as all hellenistic theaters were) to the god Dionysus, the god of wine and orgy. Right next to the theater was the temple of Dionysus, and just before each performance, the people would go and partake of all the free wine they wanted (donations accepted, though), before watching the day’s performance, often performed in the nude, and sometimes “interactively”.* After the performance, many of the people would go next to the theater to participate in the vomitorium, where people would drink as much wine and eat as much raw meat as they could, before throwing up into the lowered center of the room and then partaking more drink and food. This would put them into an ecstatic state where they could have “visions” from Dionysus, after which they would leave the vile place and partake of the Dionysus temple prostitutes.

Regardless of whether it was hero worship, power or gross epicureanism, Pergamum received these words from Jesus, through John:

I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

While we will cover the Nicolaitans when we get to Ephesus, the mention of Balaam is an interesting one. In Numbers 22-24, Balaam was called on to curse Israel so that Balak (a Moabite king) could defeat them with his military might. However, Balaam could only bless the people of Israel (with the story of his ass in there, as well). So how did Balaam entice the Israelites to sin, as John refers to here? In Numbers 25, we find the people of Israel involved in sexual immorality and idol worship with the Moabites – what Balak could not do militarily, he did culturally. This is a warning to us, today, as well.

The Mayo Clinic

White StonesDr. Tim Brown refers to the asclepieion of Pergamum as the “Mayo Clinic of the Ancient World”. It was here that the famous Greek physician, Galen**, practiced his arts in the gardens of the god Asclepius. Roman citizens from all over the empire would come to the asclepieion of Pergamum for healing, where they would stay through their illness and then, sometimes, even years after they were healed. Once healed, the grateful parishoner would carve out a large white stone, detailing how Asclepius healed him or her, and would include his name upon the stone.

And so it is that John writes

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

He is telling the church in Pergamum that they won’t need a frumetaria to protect their food or to debase themselves (like the Nicolaitans) to receive food, and that if they can overcome, they will receive their own white stones – not from Asclepius, but from Jesus.

So What?

In America, today, we have far more to eat than we need. We drink far more than we should. We also engage in cheap sex and worship of the culture in ways less blatant, but no less sinful, than those in Pergamum. While we in the church have withstood the physical persecution of the ages and now reside in physical safety, we forget the lesson of Balaam, and fall victim to the idol worship and immorality which has crept up on us.

The vomitoriumI may not bow down to an idol of wood and stone, but do I bow to one made of pigskin? I may not sleep with prostitutes, but I certainly don’t turn away that fourth helping of lasagna. I may not sell my soul for the right to buy and sell, but do I sell it to climb the corporate ladder to get the money I use to buy and sell?

Living in the world and being enough of a part of the culture that I can be salt and light – interacting regularly with “sinners” – is difficult to do. It is even more difficult to do so without sinning right along with them – but that is where I am (and all of us are) called – to be out there in the world, but not a product of it.

Grace & Peace,

Chris
________________________

*As an interesting side-note, all theater performances began with a rhetor announcing to the crowd “May all that is done in word and deed, be done in the name of our lord, Dynonisus” – which Paul would later borrow for good in Colossians 3:17; “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

**Galen, it should be noted, despised the Jewish account of creation and the Judeo-Christian world view which said that God created the world from nothing (whereas the Greek gods took evil matter, and by their work created something good). In his mind (and in the Greek/gnostic world view), physical matter was evil, and for God to create and call what He created “good” was blasphemy. His most famous work, Deuxus Pardiem (”On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Human Body”), was an attempt to refute this, and – interestingly enough – was quoted by Charles Darwin in his Origin of the Species.




Comments

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 at 7:59 pm and is filed under Hebrew Context, Lessons, Religion/Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Comments so far

  1. Roger Robertsen on June 20, 2007 1:26 am

    Where do I find more information regarding the practice of carving the name on a white stone at Pergamum mentioned above (”Once healed, the grateful parishoner would carve out a large white stone, detailing how Asclepius healed him or her, and would include his name upon the stone”).
    Sincerely
    Roger Robertsen

  2. Chris L. on June 25, 2007 9:59 pm

    Roger,

    Sorry I took a bit to moderate, as I’ve been out of town. My primary source for Pergamum is lectures by Dr. Tim Brown of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI. I am not sure what sources he used, though I have heard Ray VanderLaan mention this particular practice in Pergamum, as well, during his seminar on ‘The Land, The Culture and The Book’.

  3. 5 kandidater til Satan i Pergamon | hordnes.info on November 30, 2009 2:45 pm

    [...] undergrunnstunnel som ledet til et stor behandlingsrom hvor de gikk for å sove, sannsynligvis etter de hadde blitt dopet ned. Pasientene skulle så vente for å motta et syn av hvilken behandlingsmetode de fikk fra Asclepius. Deretter skulle de fortelle det til prestene, som igjen skulle foreskrive behandlingen. Hovedbehandlingsformen var relatert til vann. Det var vanlig at pasientene måtte gjennomføre gjørmebad eller drikke hellig kildevann. Trening, matdietter, hvile og teaterbesøk var også ulike behandlingsformer. Når pasientene var helbredet, måtte de bøye kne for statuen til Asclepius, takk ham og gi ham gaver. Tilslutt fikk de innskrevet sitt navn og hva de hadde blitt helbredet fra på en stor stein, som vanligvis var hvit, til ære for guden.((Aktuelt skriftsted: Joh 5:1-13))10 [...]

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