First century Rome, China, Africa, Europe, and the Americas
The classic work on Roman agriculture is the De Re Rustica (remember the word, rustic, for something quaintly rural) of 65AD, written by Junius Columella. He was a retired farmer who came from Spain. He tells us that the best lands were taken up by the villas of the rich, the next by olive orchards and vineyards, and finally, the worst was left to the farmer. The lowest slaves resorted to such farming, he laments, while the freemen were fleeing to better opportunities in the cities. He loved the soil and felt that it was a crime for men to abandon honest farming for what they would find in a city. In his writing he tried to persuade people to return to the soil, like good Romans should in his estimation.
It was during this period also that Pliny, the naturalist, wrote that the large farms had ruined Italy. Similar statements are made by such writers as Juvenal, Seneca, Lucan, Petronius, and Martial. Seneca complains about cattle ranches bigger than some kingdoms, like America would have had out west in the 19th century. Columella said that the masters of these ranches could not even ride around them to see how big they were. Pliny refers to one estate consisting of over 4,000 slaves and nearly 300,000 animals. Land distributions by Gracchi, Caesar, and Augustus had increased the number of small farms but most of these had been abandoned during the many wars and bought up by the rich. At the beginning of the first century it was realized that there were more profits to be made by cattle, oil, and wine than by growing grain and vegetables but by the end of the century that was being tested due to the rising costs of slaves. Thus began a long transition from slavery to serfdom, where an eventual peace time lack of captives for slaves led to the rich landowners breaking up their estates into smaller plots to rent to poor farmers who would have been called sharecroppers in the rural south of America a hundred years ago.
The tools of farming had not changed in 2,000 years. The plow pulled by oxen, the spade, the hoe, the pick, pitchfork, scythe, and rake were all still used just as they had been. Grain was ground in mills turned by water or animals. Horses were bred mostly for war or sport and did not usually pull the plow as the oxen had for two millennia. Olive orchards were numerous but vineyards were everywhere. Italy had 50 types of wine and Rome alone consumed 25 million gallons a year, two quarts per week for every man, woman, and child. Needless to say, many types of wine were not fermented and would be considered to be grape juice today. There was no sugar, as we know it, but bees were raised to provide honey for sweetening.
The ancient country home was also a small factory. Men and women produced produced leather and wooden farm and household implements, clay vessels, and tiles. A family was most successful when it provided all of its own needs and could sell its excess to the outside. Sometimes an artisan would set up shop in a village and serve many families but this did not change the independence of the individual family unit. The miller would grind grain for many people, bake the bread, and deliver it and over forty
bakeries were found in the ruins of Pompeii, the famous victim of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption. Everyone wore homespun clothing, only the wealthy were able to have it cleaned, bleached, and cut in a fullery. Some delicate woolen fabrics were made in factories.
Mining was done mostly by slaves and criminals in the gold and silver mines of Gaul and Spain, the lead and tin mines of Spain and Britain, the copper mines of Cyprus and Portugal, the sulphur of Sicily, the salt beds of Italy, iron of Elba, and marble in Luna with most of these enterprises owned by the state. The gold of Spain yielded the emperor Vespasian, whose son and heir, Titus, was the ravager of Jerusalem, approximately $80 million per year in revenue in today’s money. Tacitus tells us that it was the mineral wealth of Britain that was the prize of its conquest. The art of turning iron into steel had now moved from Egypt to the entire empire.
The building trades were organized into treebearers cutting and hauling lumber, woodworkers making houses and furniture, cement mixers, structores who laid foundations (note the similarity to the word, structure), arch builders, framers, plasterers, plumbers, etc. etc. Bricks and tiles were often provided by factories that made such and later emperors such as Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius made fortunes owning them. Tableware, dishes and the like, were mass produced and often of low quality. Glass, brick, tiles, pottery, and metalware were factory produced although there were only two factories in Rome itself, a paper mill and a dyeing establishment.
In the factories of central Italy, the managers and all of the workers were slaves while in northern Italy there were a greater quantity of freemen at work. The existence of slaves discouraged the development of machinery and as in the antebellum or pre-Civil War Southern United States inhibited the growth of industry in general. Having plentiful slaves lowers the level of ingenuity of the people and leaves a culture stunted in technology. As Booker T. Washington, a former slave himself, noted in his classic must read “Up from Slavery”, the slave culture degrades both master and slave and limits innovation and creativity, keeping a culture in a backward condition, even turning the elite into unimaginative and lazy people. Now, I am not classifying ancient Greece or Rome as lazy cultures, by any means, but merely saying that from Durant and Washington and Tacitus among others that one can see that for all the supposed glory of Rome and Greece, a civilization based on enslaving other human beings is a far step from what it could have been. Slavery breeds cruelty and even the Roman philosophers admitted that all cruelty is a sign of weakness, if I may paraphrase the brilliant Seneca, playwright and philosopher, who, although not a Christian, died during Nero’s wicked reign as did Paul and Peter.
Wheeled vehicles were forbidden in the city of Rome during the day. People walked and were carried by slaves on litters or chairs. For long distances they traveled on horseback or in carriages or chariots. Travel by public stagecoach could get you as much as 60 miles a day. Contrast that with the fact that you can drive that far in an hour or fly
that far by airplane in a few minutes. Caesar is said to have traveled by carriage 800 miles in 8 days, messengers bearing news of Nero’s death from Galba in Spain covered 332 miles in 36 hours, and Tiberius, riding day and night, is said to have traveled 600 miles in 3 days to be at his dying brother’s bedside. The mail averaged 100 miles a day. Augustus had modeled the postal system on the Persian system, carrying official correspondence at all hours of the day and night by horseback and carriage. Private individuals could only use it by special permission through a government diploma, meaning “double folded”, a passport entitling the bearer to certain privileges.
A more rapid means of communication was sometimes arranged by semaphores (a visual signaling apparatus with flags) flashing signals from point to point. It was by this method that Rome was notified when grain ships brought needed supplies to Puteoli on the coast. Merchants and private friends would deliver messages, also, and there is some evidence that under the empire private companies transmitted private mail. The speed of mail across Caesar’s Empire moved faster than it would across Europe until the advent of the railway system in the 1800’s.
The network of roads the Romans built was essential to communications and transportation then as they are today. One of the greatest problems that so-called third world countries have is the lack of those vital arteries of commerce and travel that crisscross more modern, civilized states. Until modern times, the highway system of Europe was inferior to that of the Romans. Italy had 372 main routes and 12,000 miles of paved roads. The empire itself had 51,000 miles of paved highways and many thousands of miles of secondary roads. Highways even ran over the Alps Mountains. One road called ‘the Appian Way’ can still be seen today. Magnificent bridges replaced ferry boats and at every mile on the consular roads a marker gave the distance to the next town. At certain intervals seats were placed for tired travelers. At every tenth mile a statio (note the modern word, station) offered a stopping place, where fresh horses could be rented and at every thirty miles was a mansio (note modern word, mansion) , an inn that was a store, a saloon, and a brothel.
In spite of what this sounds like it was still dangerous to travel alone. Innkeepers often robbed their customers, robbers and highwaymen were frequent dangers, and in spite of garrison of soldiers at each statio the wealthy preferred to sleep in their own carriages protected by their own slaves. Despite the difficulties and dangers there was more traveling than at any time before the modern era. Seneca spoke of how many people traveled great distances to see some remote sight and Plutarch spoke of “globe-trotters” who spent most of their lives at inns, on boats, and on the roads. The educated traveled to Egypt, Greece, and Asia, scratched their names on historic monuments, sought special climates and healing sites for health, enjoyed art collections at distant temples, studied under famous philosopher gurus, and grand tours around the empire were sold by merchants we would today call travel agents.
“Ancient Inventions”, by Peter James and Nick Thorpe, Ballantine books, 1994, tells us that the roads of Rome were only rivaled by the roads of China and China’s were not nearly as extensive. Shih Huang Ti, the great emperor who unified China, had created
nine lane highways, standardized the width of chariots at 5 feet, and made central lanes exclusively for himself, with anyone else using it being executed. The Incas of Peru after 1400AD had over 15,000 miles of roads for official and private use. But, the Romans were master road builders as they were creators of massive buildings and temples.
Rome had apartment buildings and public baths where patrons could sweat in the tepidarium (note modern word, tepid) and then jump into the cool waters of the frigidarium.
There are so many things you would recognize in ancient Rome that it might not take long before you felt at home there. Our modern appliances and power have replaced the dependence on human slaves but even today we buy clothing and products made by slave, prison labor in China or by the forced labor of children in third world countries who, if they were born here, would be going to school rather than working 12 hour days to provide the wealthy countries with everything from expensive athletic shoes to household decorations.
Now, let’s return to an interesting subject which I mentioned earlier; the Roman consumption of large quantities of wine. One might ask how a vital, thriving culture, such as Rome could have actually accomplished anything if every man, woman, and child were intoxicated much of the time from drinking wine. It is important to note that the 21st century assumption that all beverages referred to as wines are alcoholic and capable of getting one intoxicated is false. This has led to great confusion with regard to references to wine in the Bible as well, such as the erroneous assumption that Jesus turned water into a few hundred gallons of fermented wine called “good wine” in the text of John, chapter 2, with the possible result of getting a wedding party drunk out of their gourds. To quote one Bible commentator, Albert Barnes, from his ‘Notes on the New Testament’, written in 1875, but available on “amazon.com”; “Pliny, Plutarch and Horace describe wine as good, or mention that as the best wine which was harmless or innocent—poculis vini innocentis. The most useful wine—utilissimum vinum—was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine—saluberrimum vinum—was that which had not been adulterated by ‘the addition of anything to the must or juice.’ Pliny expressly says that a ‘good wine’ was one that was destitute of spirit. Lib iv. c.13. It should not be assumed, therefore, that the ‘good wine’ was stronger than the other. It is rather to be presumed that it was milder. That would be the best wine certainly. The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine; nor drugged wine; nor wine compounded of various substances such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape."(Page 197). Pliny clearly says in his ‘Natural History’ that wines are most beneficial when all their potency has been removed. Plutarch
remarks in ‘Symposiac’ that wine is much more pleasant to drink when it doesn’t get one drunk and this is accomplished by a filtering process.
Columella also goes into some detail in his writings on how various fruits are converted into unfermented wine or what we would call grape juice. Pliny remarks in ‘Natural History’ that due to the tendency of fermented wines to grow moldy and stink it is not always an easy process to make them successfully. Columella tells us that unfermented grape juice kept better than fermented wine. Cato, writing nearly two centuries earlier, in his work, ‘On Agriculture’, reviews some of the problems with the preservation of fermented wine. Quoting from the book, ‘Wine in the Bible’, by Samuel Bacchiocchi of Andrews University; “The custom of preserving grape juice by boiling it down into a syrup has survived through the centuries in the Near East and mediterranean countries. This beverage is known as vino cotto (boiled wine) in Italian, vin cuit in French, nardenk in Syriac and dibs in Arabic. In its article on "Wine," the John Kitto’s old but renowned Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature quotes several nineteenth century historians on the use of boiled grape juice in the Near East. One of them, Dr. A. Russell, in his Natural History of Aleppo, writes: "The inspissated juice of the grape, sapa vini, called here dibbs, is brought to the city in skins, and sold in the public markets; it has much the appearance of coarse honey, is of sweet taste, and in great use among the people of all sorts."
Similarly, Cyrus Redding, in his History of Modern Wines, states: "On Mount Libanus, at Kesroan, good wines are made, but they are for the most part vins cuits (boiled wines). The wine is preserved in jars." J. D. Paxton, who witnessed a vintage in Lebanon, also says: "The juice that was extracted when I visited the press was not made into (what is now called) wine, but into what is called dibs." The common use of unfermented, "boiled wine" in the Near East during the nineteenth century is also attested by several travel accounts.
Rev. Henry Homes, an American missionary to Constantinople, in his article on wine published in the Bibliotheca Sacra (May 1848) gives this account of his observations: "Simple grape-juice, without the addition of any earth to neutralize the acidity, is boiled from four to five hours, so as to reduce it one-fourth the quantity put in. After the boiling, for preserving it cool, and that it be less liable to ferment, it is put into earthen instead of wooden vessels, closely tied over with skin to exclude the air. It ordinarily has not a particle of intoxicating quality, being used freely by both Mohammedans and Christians. Some which I have had on hand for two years has undergone no change."
So, be careful when assuming that the two quarts of wine drunk by every man, woman, and child each week as referenced earlier from Durant created a population of roaring drunks who just happened to conquer the Mediterranean world or that Jesus got a wedding party plastered in the book of John. Look at the back of your hand. Now, turn it over and look at the palm. See, there are two sides to everything. I would be cautious
about a Christian who would argue vehemently for his right to consume alcohol as a recreational beverage and then say loudly, “well, Jesus turned water into wine, so there”.
But, I understand that you might disagree with me and I do welcome a good argument.
Now, let’s go back to Roman engineering. Durant makes this statement that sums it all up very neatly; “ The ships and roads that carried goods, the bridges that bound the roads, the harbors and docks that received the ships, the aqueducts that brought clean water to Rome, the sewers that drained the rural marshes and city’s waste, were the work of Roman, Greek, and Syrian engineers operating with armies of free labor, legionaries, and slaves.” They lifted heavy stones using cranes that were worked by windlasses or treadmills or the backs of men, they dredged harbors, emptied lakes, and drained swamps. Some of the most amazing public works ever made were performed under the first Caesars in an attempt to alleviate unemployment and to beautify Rome. Roman roads were so well built that many of them are still in use 2,000 years later.
The Roman bridge building was helped by their use of Egyptian learned principles of hydraulic engineering. With regard to the aqueducts, Pliny thought they were Rome’s greatest achievement, bringing fresh water in the amount of 300 million gallons per day a distance of 1300 miles. Due to his copious writing of books, Sextus Julius Frontinus was Rome’s most famous engineer. He also had served as a praetor, governor of Britain, and several terms as a consul.
Finally, banking and trading were also highly advanced in first century Rome.
In addition, I would say that if slaves had not been so plentiful that Roman inventiveness might have given us machinery that would have rivaled what was available at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Roman art of the first century owed a great debt to Greece but Rome’s greatest artwork was its architecture.
With regard to Religion, as the typical Roman became more wealthy, more in love with money, and more cynical there was evidence that he or she was more likely to show either a disdain for religion or a passing tolerance of it. Romans were expected to honor the goddess, Roma, as an expression of loyalty to the state, and eventually, as stated before, acknowledge the emperor as a deity to be worshipped. Other faiths were permitted as long as they followed these basic guidelines, as well. The emperor Claudius encouraged the worship of the Great Mother which we would know as Diana in Asia Minor, Ishtar, Minerva, and Cybele among other names. He established her feast around the vernal equinox, from March 15 to 27. Her chief rival was the Egyptian, Isis, which is simply another form by which the same deity is known and Caligula was the first emperor to appropriate public funds to build her a shrine. Domitian took part in the festivals of Isis and Commodus is even have said to have walked humbly behind the
priests with shaven head holding a statue of the monkey god, Anubis, in his hands. Another popular god was the the sun-god, Mithras. The Mithraic cult tended to secrecy and only its initiates were taught its secrets. December 25th was his birthday and his worship centered on Sun-day.
Moving to China, we have Wang Mang, the socialist emperor ruling from 5AD to 25AD. Buddhism comes to China around 67AD and around 100AD we have the first known manufacture of paper in that culture. The Han Dynasty flourishes from 206BC to 221AD.
Wang Mang was a reformer who was known as the consummate gentleman who distributed his income among his friends and the poor. He lived frugally himself but was a patron to scholars and the arts. He surrounded himself, not with politicians, but with scholars and artists as well as philosophers. He abolished all slavery remaining and nationalized land, dividing it into equal tracts among the peasants. He forbade the sale or purchase of private property and continued state monopolies on iron and salt and added to them government ownership of mines and state control of alcoholic beverages. In addition, he also fixed prices for commodities. The government itself made grants and loans for any productive enterprise.
However, Wang failed to understand man’s inherent greed and lust for power. He worked long hours to try to improve his kingdom and was heartbroken when social disorder prevailed. Natural disasters, so normal in China, continued to work against his planned economy. Revolts broke out among his people. These revolts were probably financed by the wealthy who resented his rule. The Hsiung-Nu, whom we know as the Huns in the west, overran the Northern provinces. These people, according to ancient historian Szuma Ch’ien, were descendants of Shun-wei, of the old Xia ruling family, although archaeologists dispute this due to the variety of Hsiung-Nu burial structures making any understanding of their origins complicated and difficult to confirm. Finally, the rich Liu family led a general rebellion and slew Wang Mang, annulling his reforms, and returning everything to its former corrupt state.
The Han dynasty ended in a series of weak emperors and chaos.
In Africa, many historians credit the first century with the beginning of the East African city-states that were so powerful and important until the great worldwide plague that devastated the ancient world 5 centuries later. The Kingdom of Axum or Aksum was listed by the Persian writer and Christian heretic, Mani, along with Rome, Persia, and China as one of the four great powers of his time in the third century AD. There is little record of established ancient kingdoms in West Africa at this time but this may be more due to the lack of a written form of language in these areas than a lack of activity.
According to J.M. Roberts’ “A History of Europe”, 1997, Penguin Books, the Celtic people of Central Europe, before they were conquered by Julius Caesar and their lands
made a part of the Roman Empire, were not quite the barbarians that the Romans portrayed them to be. Some of their languages still survive on the fringes of Europe. Also known as the Gauls, we today still have vestiges of the Irish and Scots Gaelic language. They were skilled iron workers, Roberts tells us, and attained a high level of technical ability and artistic achievement. They eventually covered Europe from Britain, to Spain, to even Northern Italy, where they came in conflict with the rising Latin state. The Greeks called them Keltoi while the Romans called them Gallii, both of which have come
down to us as Celts and Gauls for the same people. They were considered to be warriors of great ability and enthusiasm and the Romans often described them by their individual tribal names such as Belgae, Helvetii, and Allobroges among others. They shared physical characteristics such as the Celtic Roman heroine Boadicea’s red hair and may have felt some ethnic sense of brotherhood above the tribal level but there was never a political unity that had a chance of overcoming or resisting Rome. By the first century they had been, for the most part, conquered.
Russia, like Africa, did not come into great importance until much later due to scattered tribal loyalties and a lack of political cohesion plus the severeness of the climate and the variety of said climate and terrain over a vast territory. The Slavic people that we know today as the backbone of Russia were preceded by the Scythians mentioned by Paul in Colossians 3:11. We go to Nicholas Riasanovsky’s 1993 edition of his 1963 work, “A History of Russia” to learn the Scythians were defeated and overtaken by the Sarmatians. This Scytho-Sarmatian culture was heavily influenced by the Greek speaking world of Alexander and his political descendants. Eventually, a Germanic people known as the Goths overthrew these Slavic peoples. They divided into the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths and ruled Southern Russia from 200AD when they over ran the Scytho-Sarmatians until about 370AD when they were replaced by the Huns.
Northern Europe in the first century AD included Roman Britain, which took nearly the entire century to subdue, Gaul, now also under Roman authority, and the Germanic people north and just outside of Rome’s control but with a great deal of trading and interaction with Rome. Spain, also recently completely conquered, lies within the borders of the Roman Empire in the first century, having been completely conquered by Augustus’ deputy, Agrippa, in 19BC, according to Raymond Carr’s, “Spain; A History”. Augustus divided the peninsula into three provinces; Baetica, Hispania from which we get the word Spain, and Lusitania, which comprises modern Portugal. By 26AD the region was basically at peace and only one Roman legion maintained law and order there. In comparison, Britain required no fewer than three legions to police it. By 71AD Vespasian had granted the communities of Spain full rights within the Empire as citizens and Rome went on a fantastic building spree in this province. The Roman Empire’s impressive 119 arch aqueduct was built at Segovia and the Alcantara Bridge which crossed the Tagus River at the height of 150 feet (that’s 15 stories tall) was Rome’s highest bridge. Roman law ruled supreme in the first century. The Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, enforced by a legion of soldiers, helped Spain to prosper in a way it did not do again until its plunder of the Americas began over 1400 years later.
Turning to the book, “A History of the Vikings”, written by Gwyn Jones, we learn that Augustus had sent an expedition beyond the Rhine and around Jutland coming into contact with several Germanic and Scandinavian people. The Cimbri, among others, sent delegations to Rome and exchanged ambassadors. In Nero’s reign, another fleet entered the Baltic Sea. This was around 60AD. Pliny the Elder wrote in his Natural History that in the bay Codanus beyond Jutland, there were a great many islands, the largest of which
was Scadinavia, which scholars believe to be the southern part of the Scandinavian peninsula. By the end of the first century, Tacitus has identified a prominent tribe of this region as being the Suiones not only distinguished by their powerful warriors but by their impressive fleets of ships. Modern scholars assume these to be the Svea or the Swedes of the Uppland in Central Sweden. Fifty years later the geographer, Ptolemy, draws a rough map of the area and calls the furthest island of four beyond Jutland, Scandia. It is 400 years before anyone else attempts to understand what lies within the realm of what we call Scandinavia today.
Returning to the continent that bears the name of the Roman province that occupied a tiny part of its Northern border with the Mediterranean Sea called Africa. We have a similar situation in regard to Asia. The entire continent is named after a relatively small portion which occupies what is now called Asia Minor, or the country of Turkey. The province of Africa contained parts of modern day Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya which came under Rome’s control after the Third Punic War with Carthage.
Aegyptus was the Latin spelling of the Roman province of Egypt. There was a very interesting city in this province, named Alexandria, one of the many Alexandria’s founded by the tremendous ego of Alexander the Great. It deserves some attention in this course due to its importance in history and the great contrast between it and Antioch, in the propetorial province of Syria, where Christians were first called by that name as referred to in Acts 11:26.
According to Durant, a second century census of Alexandria, Egypt reveals that over 40% of the city’s population of 800,000 was Jewish. Occupying 2/5 of the city was the largest assemblage of Jews in the world at that time. With their initial settlement occasioned by a rebellious flight from divine punishment (see Deuteronomy 28:68 and read Jeremiah 42, 43), the later and larger waves of immigrants were enticed by the materialistic overtures of Alexander himself.
As one would expect, the strong intellectual temptation of Greek philosophy began its subtle encroachment with the climax of Jewish defection realized under the Jewish scholar, Philo, who lived from 20BC to about 50AD. He established a theological school to promote the integration of the Old Testament Judaism with Greek philosophy. I would recommend Dr. William Grady’s book, “Final Authority”, for more insight into the apostasy of Alexandria’s Jewish population. Dr. Albert Newman in his ‘Manual of Church History, Volume I’ says of Philo, and I am quoting;
“He was of the opinion that the Greeks had derived from the Jewish Scriptures all that was wise, true, and lofty in their thinking. It was his task, as it had been the task of others of his type, to show the complete harmony of the Divine revelation of the Old Testament with all that is best in Greek philosophy…The fact is that his modes of thought and views of life were fundamentally those of the Greek philosophy…and he undertook to show by applying the allegorical system of interpretation to the Scriptures that these were not as
they seemed to be , simple, unsophisticated narratives of the dealings of God with His people, but that underneath the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic representations of God and the uncouth representatives of the sins and follies of the heroes and worthies of Hebrew history, everything that was wise and exalted in Greek philosophy lay concealed.”
Later, the great Latin Church leader, called “father”, in direct disobedience to Christ’s admonition of Matthew 23:9 with regard to theological terms for teachers, Tertullian would also employ the allegorical method of scriptural interpretation. Justin Martyr, another early Christian leader, would also attempt to form a bridge between pagan Greek philosophy and the Bible. We can see by the efforts of these highly regarded men that Greek and other pagan philosophy was introduced into mainstream Christian thinking at an early time, a compromise with the world that reformers have always attempted to expunge. Read Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 2:17.
Edersheim, in his “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, Erdmans publishing, 1971, says of Philo;
“Everything became symbolical in his hands, if it suited his purpose: numbers (in a very arbitrary manner), beasts, birds, fowls, creeping things, plants, stones, elements, substances, conditions, even sex – and so a term or an expression might even have several and contradictory meanings, from which the interpreter was at liberty to choose.”
As a member of one of Alexandria’s leading families, seeing that his brother was a political leader in the city, Philo’s knowledge of Greek was so extensively better than his own native tongue of Hebrew that it was said of him, “Plato writes like Philo”, Durant tells us. He was also the chief spokesman for the city’s “Great Synagogue”, a building so huge that a system of relay signals had to be used to ensure a synchronized responsive reading. It is not surprising that most of the scholars I’ve read agree that Egyptian manuscripts from Alexandria in particular are invariably the most corrupt as evidenced by the fragments of papyri found. This will play an important part later in how two strains of the Bible came down to us; one pure and one tainted by corruption from Egypt.
Bible typology backs up this negative view of Egypt. The book of Hebrews presents Egypt as a type of the world: Joseph’s bones were not permitted to remain there (Exodus 13:19); God called both His nation (Exodus 15) and His Son (Matthew 2:15) from there; and He would not even accept the horses that were brought from there (Deuteronomy 17:16). The book of Acts records NO missionary activity to Egypt (which accounts for no
original autographs coming from there). The Bible’s first book ends with “a coffin in Egypt”. Egypt was a land obsessed with death, if you remember our earlier classes, a true land of coffins.
Alexandria was a magnificent city, there is no doubt. Durant says;
“Of Egypt’s 8,500,000 population its capital had now some 800,000, second only to Rome; in industry and commerce it was first . “Everyone in Alexandria is busy” says a letter, questionably Hadrian’s; “everyone has a trade; even the lame and the blind find work to do.” Here, among a thousand other articles, glass, paper, and linen were produced on a large scale. Alexandria was the clothing and fashion center of the age, setting styles and making the goods.”
The Emperor Hadrian settled the matter more clearly when he said, “Money was the people’s god.”
The city also had a library that was famous throughout history containing over 700,000 papyrus rolls, which the Moslem invaders several centuries later used to heat the city’s baths for several months when they burned them.
Alexandria was also noteworthy in that Durant tells us that an ancient commentator referred to Alexandria as the house of Aphrodite, dedicated to the worship of the great goddess known as Venus, Diana, Ishtar, and other names which is so prevalent in history, the feminine side of Satan, the great deceiver, and enemy of all that is good and holy.
In the late second century a theological school is established at Alexandria that will be the source of a great deal of corruption of Biblical manuscripts but we will discuss that later.
By contrast, Antioch, where Christians were first called as such, produced the first two Bibles in the middle of the second century which we might call complete Bibles in the Old Latin Bible, translated directly from the Greek manuscripts with regard to the New Testament and the Syriac Peshitta, meaning “simple” or “common”. Naturally, with such a great concentration of disciples living at Antioch and having such a direct link with the apostles themselves one would expect more reliable manuscripts, closer to the originals, to be found coming from there.
Another topic of interest of this time period was the Essenes, a sect of Judaism that existed from the second century BC to the first century AD at Qumran, a plateau in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea. A great many scrolls were discovered there in the late 1940’s that, to a great extent, back up the Bible text we have today, although one should be cautious when clinging to the “Dead Sea Scrolls” as they are called, for affirmation of the Bible due to the limited range of scholars and Christian church groups who have handled them, translated them, and published their findings. Scholars are in dispute, in
fact, as to who the Essenes actually were; a monolithic group of ascetics seeking religious purity or a general name given to a large assortment of radical fringe groups of Judaism. Even their location at Qumran is hotly disputed.
Now, we’ll wrap up the first century with a trip to the Americas. In Peru we pass from the time of the Nazca people who gave us the enigmatic desert drawings that only appear to make sense from the air, which is a mystery, to the Wari Empire, understanding that a great many of the designations made by archaeologists for pre-literate cultures are based on the discovery of varying types of pottery.
The decline of the Olmecs in Mexico resulted in the emergence of a culture based at Teotihuacan, a city first founded about 300BC that by the middle of the second century was the major metropolis of the Americas. To quote the online encyclopedia called Wikipedia;
“Its influence stretched across Mexico into Central America, founding new dynasties in the Mayan cities of Tikal, Copan, and Kaminaljuyú. Teotihuacan's influence over the Maya civilization cannot be understated: it transformed political power, artistic depictions, and the nature of economics.…. By 500 A.D., Teotihuacan had become the largest city in the world. Teotihuacan's economic pull impacted areas in northern Mexico as well. It was a city whose monumental architecture reflected a monumental new era in Mexican civilization, declining in political power about 650 B.C. -- but lasting in cultural influence for the better part of a millenium, to around 950 A.D.”
The cultures we have discussed, for the most part, are sophisticated in many respects, place a great show on scientific achievement and scholarly pursuits, have built magnificent structures, and have highly organized societies and mature religious beliefs and practices, but in keeping with the Bible’s statements in Daniel 4:17; Luke 4:5,6; and 2 Corinthians 4:4 are only held together by force and are under the operation of the enemy. The secular historian’s glorification of past human empires is in direct conflict with the Bible’s clear statements about mankind’s condition. Humanity’s greatest advances that affect the majority of people at any given time in history are improvements in communication and transportation which bring us all closer together, making the world smaller, confusing political and ethnic boundaries, and preparing the world for the inevitable one world rule. Every great event in history starts out with a man, becomes a movement, decays into a machine, and then ends in a monument. All civilizations in the mainstream of human events strive for power and empire and then wind up decaying and disintegrating. Some theologians have called this the “Law of Human Collapse” in that everything that mankind attempts to do without God’s blessing or in obedience to His written word is doomed to failure. All utopias without God’s active presence through the Lord Jesus Christ are mere fantasies of man’s rebellious imagination. Now, we have passed the most significant, the greatest point, in human history; the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, our only saviour.