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John 3 – Nicodemus Visits Jesus & Lost Cities of Africa: Leptis Magna (5 of 5)

Hands OutThe entire Bible is about Jesus, not just these four Gospels, but Paul’s epistles/books explain Him better than anywhere else in the Bible.

The most important thing to understand is who Jesus is. 

1 The most famous
The most famous of the mosaics of the Villa Buc Ammera is the Mosaic of the Gladiators, which consists of a set of sixteen square fields decorated with geometric designs or representations of several kinds of fish.

The edge is decorated with pictures of gladiatorial contests. It was the floor of a dinner room (triclinium). It offers important evidence for the way the ancient Romans organized gladiatoral contests in the circus.

Tomorrow we’ll look at some more…

John 3
Nicodemus Visits Jesus

1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

“Born of water” – this does not mean water per se, but to be purified by the Holy Ghost.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

2 Settled during the
Settled during the first millennium BC, Leptis Magna was originally a Phoenician port, Libya.

8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is sovereign, He works as He pleases in His renewal of the human heart.

9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

“Only begotten Son” – even though all believers are also called “sons of God” (2 Cor 6:18; Rev 21:7), Jesus is God’s one and only Son.  It is through our faith that we become sons of God, Jesus has always been the Son.

3 The Romans added
The Romans added the three cities of Tripolitana – Lepcis, Oea, and Sabratha – to their empire when they annexed Numidia, the kingdom of Jugurtha, at the end of the second century BC.

Two generations later, the Roman historian Sallust, who wrote a History of the War against Jugurtha, stated that Lepcis had been founded by Sidonians, who had left their home town because of civil discord (more…).

This statement is not unproblematic. When ancient authors describe migrations, they nearly always mention civil disorder as its cause; and this makes us hesitate whether we must believe Sallust. Things are not made easier by the fact that the Roman author Pliny the Elder, writing more than a century after Sallust, mentions Tyre as Lepcis’ mother town (Natural History, 5.76).

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.

“Aenon” – possibly about eight miles south of Scythopolis (Beth-shean), west of the Jordan.

24 For John was not yet cast into prison.

25 Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.

“Question…about purifying” – the Dead Sea (Qumran) Scrolls show that some Jews were deeply interested in the right way to achieve ceremonial purification.

26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.

4 Archaeological Site
Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, one of the Libya’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Leptis Magna is a unique artistic realization in the domain of urban planning. It played a major role, along with Cyrene, in the movement back to antiquity and in the elaboration of the neoclassical aesthetic.

The Phoenician port of Lpgy was founded at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC and first populated by the Garamantes. The city, which was part of the domain of Carthage, passed under the ephemeral control of Massinissa, King of Numidia.

The Romans, who had quartered a garrison there during the war against Jugurtha, integrated it, in 46 BC, into the province of Africa while at the same time allowing it a certain measure of autonomy.

27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.

The words are true of both Jesus and John (and of everyone).  Both had what God had given them, so there was no place for envy.

28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.

29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.

33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.

34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.

35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.

36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

“Hath” – eternal life is a present possession, not  something the believer will only obtain later.  So even though it is given to you and it is yours forever, that doesn’t mean you can’t lose it.  See Heb 6:4-6, 10:26-27).

Lost Cities of Africa (5 of 5) 

5 Leptis Magna
Leptis Magna, also known as Lectis Magna (or Lepcis Magna as it is sometimes spelled), also called Lpqy, Neapolis, Lebida or Lebda to modern-day residents of Libya, was a prominent city of the Roman Empire. Its ruins are located in Khoms, Libya, 130 km (81 mi) east of Tripoli, on the coast where the Wadi Lebda meets the sea. The site is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.

Leptis Magna

Location: Libya-Date of Construction: 1000 B.C.
Abandoned: C 6th Century C.E.
Built By: Phoenicians; Romans
Key Features: Arch Of Severus; Arch Of Trajan; Amphitheatre; Circus; Theatre; Villas And Mosaics

One of the best preserved of all ancient Roman cities is Leptis Magna (also Lepcis Magna), on the coast of what is now Libya 81 miles east of Tripoli. In its heyday it was the third most important city in Africa, after Alexandria and Carthage.

The remains of a range of public buildings, particularly of the theatre, amphitheater and a magnificent arch erected in honor of the city’s most famous son, the emperor Septimius Severus, bear testament to the splendor of the city in its heyday.

Of particular significance are the discoveries of exquisite mosaics at luxury villas on the outskirts of Leptis, which rank among the greatest Roman works of art ever produced.

6 Tripoli is the capital
Tripoli is the capital city and the largest city of Libya. As of 2011, the Tripoli metropolitan area (district area) had a population of 2.2 million people. The city is located in the northwestern part of Libya on the edge of the desert, on a point of rocky land projecting into the Mediterranean and forming a bay.

Tripoli includes the Port of Tripoli and the country’s largest commercial and manufacturing center. It is also the site of the University of Tripoli. The vast Bab al-Azizia barracks, which includes the former family estate of Muammar Gaddafi, is also located in the city. Colonel Gaddafi largely ruled the country from his residence in this barracks.

Tripoli was founded in the 7th century BC by the Phoenicians, who named it Oea. Due to the city’s long history, there are many sites of archaeological significance in Tripoli. “Tripoli” may also refer to the shabiyah (top-level administrative division in the current Libyan system), the Tripoli District.

While the material fabric of many other ancient cities has been lost because of quarrying by later inhabitants of the area, Leptis Magna largely avoided this fate because until recently there was no significant population center in its vicinity.

In addition, much of the city was constructed from high-quality, erosion-resistant hard limestone, sourced from a nearby quarry that supplied the city from the 1st century B.C. until the 2nd century CE (when it became more fashionable to build in marble).

Finally, the encroaching dust and sand of this desert region covered up much of the city, preserving it for modern archaeologists to rediscover.

Crossroads by the Sea

Although best known as a Roman city, Leptis Magna long predated the Romans.

Initially founded around 1000 B.C. as a Phoenician city, possibly on the site of a pre-existing Berber settlement (the Berbers were the indigenous peoples of the region), it later fell within the orbit of Carthage, the trading empire with its own roots in Phoenicia.

But Carthage clashed with Rome, suffering catastrophic defeat in the Second Punic War; the victors forced it to restrict its sphere of influence and Leptis increasingly became an independent city.

After Carthage’s final obliteration in the Third Punic War in 146 B.C., it fell to the Roman client king, Massinissa of Numidia, and then into the orbit of Rome, and was finally formally incorporated into the empire in the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE).

7 A triumphal arch
A triumphal arch is a structure shaped like a monumental gate, usually built to celebrate a victorious war. The tradition goes back to the Roman Empire , and several antique triumphal arches still exist in past and current Roman cities. Of the 22 triumphal arches that we know from ancient Rome , is four today.

The Roman triumphal arches were initially temporary, symbolic gates into the city, built of brick or hewn stone with an arched vault and adorned with weapons captured from the enemy.

Later it was raised more magnificent arches in marble with a large port in the middle and often two smaller on the sides, decorated with columns , bas-reliefs and statues . In the firmament could hang winged victory gods, with money in their hands, which would symbolically lowered into the victors’ heads when they passed through. Often triumphal arch decorated with reliefs that told about the campaign or kanpen and the win. It was also common to use parts from older monuments again, spoiler for eg to emphasize continuity.

During the 2nd century took to travel arches commemorating other than war happiness, for example. triumphal arch in Ancona, erected to celebrate Trajan repairing docks.

It has also been erected triumphal arches in the 19th and 20 century.

The Phoenicians had probably chosen to site a colony here because of Wadi Lebda, the seasonal river that reaches the coast at this point that provided a source of water in an otherwise largely arid region and by the site’s advantages as a natural harbor protected from storms by offshore islands.

Later it would gain greater mercantile/economic significance as a waypoint along the coastal highway that ran from Alexandria through Cyrene to (the refounded Roman colony of) Carthage.

As well as trans-African trade, Leptis was a major exporter of grain and olive oil to Rome and a shipping point for the constant stream of exotic animals demanded by the circuses of Rome.

Favorite Son

Under Roman rule Leptis Magna became increasingly prosperous. Local officials and rich citizens paid for major public buildings, like the amphitheater built in 56 CE or the harbor’s northern protective mole, also constructed around the same time.

Under the emperor Trajan (98-117 CE), the city was granted colonia status, being renamed Coionia Ulpia Traiana Lepcitanorium. This conferred major economic and political advantages *- for instance, all free-born male inhabitants became full Roman citizens.

Trajan was succeeded by Hadrian, whose taste for marble influenced the subsequent look of the city and under whose governance major new hydrological works were instituted.

Wadi Lebda, the main source of water for the city, could be unpredictable and occasionally dangerous when storms brought flash floods and Roman engineers had already constructed overflow channels and dams to help guard against flood damage, together with cisterns and basins for the storage of rainwater.

But the growing population of the city, which may have reached 80,000 at its height, together with the demands of agriculture, meant that still more water was needed and a new aqueduct was constructed to bring water overland from Wadi Camm, 12 miles away.

This additional supply helped to feed the massive new public baths complex – one of the largest outside of Rome – completed in 127 CE.

But the heyday of Leptis Magna was yet to come, for in 193 CE Septimius Severus was acclaimed emperor and went on to rule until 211 CE. Severus had been born in Leptis and came from local stock; he did not forget his roots.

8 The Amphitheater
The Amphitheater of Lepcis Magna was entirely excavated in a natural depression, or a former quarry, in the rocky terrace to the southeast of the city, close to the sea.

Behind it, closer to the sea, is the Circus, which is about a century younger. About 16,000 people could be accommodated in the stands. It was about a kilometer from the city.

He initiated a major program of public works and in 203 CE he visited the city and exempted it from property and land taxes.

This marked the zenith of Leptis Magna’s fortunes, for the stability of Severan rule was soon followed by a succession of weak and divided leaders, with civil war, barbarian invasion and economic turmoil in what is known by historians as the Crisis of the 3rd century.

International trade collapsed and cities like Leptis bore the brunt. The population declined and by the 4th century the city was weak and vulnerable to Berber raids. Worse was to come, with a massive earthquake in 365 CE levelling many buildings.

In 455 CE rampaging Vandals, pillaging their way through North Africa, conquered Leptis and tore down its walls, a move that was to prove short-sighted.

The Vandals settled down and established a kingdom based around Carthage, but Leptis had been left vulnerable and was razed in a devastating Berber attack in 523 CE, from which it never recovered.

Eleven years later the Byzantine general Belisarius destroyed the Vandal kingdom, recaptured Leptis and erected new walls, but, as the Byzantine chronicler Procopius records:

Not however on as large a scale as it was formerly, but much smaller, in order that the city might not again be weak because of its very size, and liable to capture by the enemy, and also be exposed to the sand.

Although it was designated the provincial capital, Leptis had suffered too much and by the time of the Arab invasion in the mid-7th century, the city was almost deserted but for its garrison of Byzantine soldiers.

9 Lucius Septimius
Lucius Septimius Severus (born April 11, 146 , died February 4, 211 ) was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211 , by Didius Julianus.

Septimius was an outstanding military leader and a skilled and conscientious, but rough administrator (the name Severus means the strict/hard).

The site was entirely abandoned to the encroaching dust and sand until excavations began in modern times.

Rough Guide
to Leptis Magna

Only a portion of the site has been excavated, but many impressive ruins still stand, while archaeologists have uncovered clues about other major buildings.

The basic plan of the city reflects its old and new parts, both with grid-like street patterns, but with the original Punic city at a slightly different orientation to the later Roman expansion.

The main axis of the Roman city was the Cardo Maximus, the main street, which ran from the old market area in the northeast to intersect with the main coast road, just outside the city limits to the southeast.

The latter formed the city’s Decumanus  (the other primary axis, which would normally run through the center of town).

At the junction of these two main roads is one of the most impressive monuments to be seen in Leptis Magna, the magnificent Arch of Severus.

Erected by the citizens to celebrate the accession of one of their own to the imperial purple, the arch is unusual in being a tetrapylon or quadrifrons,  i.e. having four pillars and four arches.

Although the current arch is a reconstruction from the 1920s, archaeologists have been able to determine that it was probably adapted from a pre-existing structure built long before the time of Severus.

And it seemed to have taken as long as eight years to complete, with work starting, halting and then being rapidly completed in anticipation of his visit to the city in 203 CE.

The decoration of the arch is unusual and in some places of very high quality. There are scenes of defeated enemies, identified from their clothing as Parthians, who Severus had campaigned against successfully at the start of his reign, as well as scenes of the imperial family.

10 Leptis Magna
Leptis Magna, Libya: Rome by the sea
Libya is not an easy country to visit, but the magnificent Roman site of Leptis Magna makes it well worth the effort, says Annabel Simms.
Leptis Magna, Libya
Image 1 of 2
Leptis Magna is astonishingly well preserved.

A majestic but forgotten Roman city overlooking the Mediterranean in North Africa? It sounded too good to be true when I first read about Leptis Magna in an article by Geoff Dyer in Prospect magazine 10 years ago. He had been haunted by it after seeing a background of columns by the sea on an old photo and the name acted on him like a summons.

Unfortunately it was in Libya, not the easiest country to visit then, so it took him some trouble to obey the call. But it was worth the effort. His article was about the mysterious pleasure of gazing at a Classical site that had not been seen by thousands of other eyes, implying that the soul is sucked out of a place by too much exposure to visitors, historic or modern. It also implied that Libya was a necessary evil en route to this magical spot.

The emperor’s wife and two sons, Caracalla and Geta, are shown, joining hands with the emperor in a scene representing the spirit of concord (somewhat ironically, given that Caracalla would have his brother murdered and his name officially condemned immediately on assuming power).

Other features of the arch are broken pediments (rare) and figures of Victory and local gods, such as Melqart, who the Romans identified with Hercules.

Features such as the broken pediments suggest that the arch was designed by someone from the eastern provinces, rather than Rome.

Along the Cardo Maximus to the northeast is the Arch of Trajan. To the left of this, partially cut into a hill, is the city’s theatre, the oldest and second largest in Roman Africa, built around 1 or 2 CE.

Until the construction of the amphitheater, it may have been used to stage gladiatorial combats. It features a temple, possibly constructed here to circumvent Roman strictures on theatres as immoral – with a temple on site the building became sacred and could not be torn down.

To the southeast of the Cardo is the Severan Basilica, or law courts, which became a church in Byzantine times. At its northeastern end the Cardo led to the Old Forum, the oldest part of town where the original Punic settlement was centered, where many temples were situated.

To the east of this was the harbor, including port buildings and even a lighthouse – a smaller replica of the great one at Alexandria.

A kilometer to the east of the city lie the amphitheater and circus. Little is left of the latter, which sat where the beach is today, but in ancient times it could seat up to 25,000 people, who came to watch chariot races and other sports.

The amphitheater, however, is largely intact. With seating for 16,000 people and an oval arena measuring 187 x 154 feet.  It was built in the bowl left by a former quarry.

Inscriptions reveal that the best seats, favored by the rich elite of Leptis, were those on the southeastern side, where a breeze from the sea helped to keep spectators cool.

Villas Fit for Princes

Some of the most remarkable finds have come from the surrounding countryside, where rich citizens lived in luxurious villas and displayed their wealth and taste through exquisite mosaics, some of which have survived.

11 A gorgoneion
A gorgoneion, or Gorgon’s Head – one of a series along a colonnade at Leptis Magna.

Gorgoneions were regarded as good luck charms and protective symbols, helping to ward off ill fortune and the evil eye, perhaps in a kind of magical inversion of the dread power of the Gorgon Medusa, whose gaze turned men into stone.

In 2000 the best mosaic yet was uncovered by archaeologists from the University of Hamburg, lining the cold plunge pool of the bath-house of a villa to the south of Leptis. The mosaic shows an exhausted gladiator, taking a breather while surveying his defeated opponent.

Speaking to The Times newspaper, Roman art expert Mark Merrony described it as:

Nothing less than a Roman masterpiece executed by the Sandro Botticelli of his day… I have never seen such a vibrantly realistic depiction of a human [in Roman mosaic art]

However, controversy erupted over the decision to cut the mosaic out from its site and transplant it to the local museum.

Detractors claim that the operation was clumsy and damaged the mosaic, but defenders insist it was the best move and point to wider problems with low levels of funding in Libyan archaeology and heritage.

This relates to wider concerns about the increasing impact of tourism on the heretofore little-visited Leptis Magna, which is not being met with increasing standards of stewardship of this ancient Roman treasure trove.

…quotes said about Jesus.

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