Friday, October 10, 2008

Pergamum and a Soapbox

We went to Pergamum, the site of many things fascinating and classical. Lysimachus ‘inherited’ it from Alexander the Great after the civil wars following his death. He did much to enrich Ionia, and Pergamum was a prime example. We only had time to see two sights. We went to the Church of Pergamum (of Revelation (New Testament) fame), a basilica surrounded by a larger building, and to the medical complex of Galen. Trina will have more to tell you about Galen.

Finding sites not only mentioned in the bible, but having studied antiquity and being a Christian, this is especially meaningful. The early church underwent a great deal of persecution, and their sense of their own apocalyptic role was very different from the Church of today, in my opinion. Their mission and their context were at the same time at odds and mutually transformed by one another.

The Roman world, despite all its success, was in many ways a squalor compared to today. It is thought that many of the cities were more dense than Manhattan, with buildings usually no more than three stories high. You can imagine how much square footage that would leave a person (and the Romans had their communal areas, so subtract that from the areas for housing). Sewage systems, although they existed, were by no means ubiquitous, and so you can imagine the pestilential context. Christianity is thought by some sociological scholars to have thrived because it offered a mission of care, as opposed to the meaning making structures of paganism. The idea of helping the sick and the dying, the wounded and the lonely, actually greatly strengthened these communities physically as well as spiritually and psychologically. It transformed lives and communal life, and ultimately the Roman Empire (some have argued that it undermined the empire as well).

That said, it cut both ways. As Christianity transformed the empire, it was transformed into a bit of an empire today. Worldly “powers” are in many ways at odds with the fundamental loyalties and love of one who calls herself a Christian. Powers, politics, nations and ideologies all compete for our ultimate loyalty, and that is supposed to be reserved for One. That said, in many ways, Christianity has had a very hard time stripping itself of the “powers” inheritance. The Anabaptists do seem to be a more obvious exception.

But I digress. Being in Pergamum, seeing the early church, seeing as I mention in another place where Paul was jailed, lived, and preached, where John wrote and lived and possibly where Mary the mother of Jesus lived is awe-inspiring, thought provoking, and just plain fun.

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