Ezekiel 36 – A Prophecy of Israel & Lost Cities of the Near and Middle-East: Pergamum (6 of 8)

Asclepeions (Ancient Greek: Ἀσκληπιεῖον Asklepieion; Ἀσκλαπιεῖον in Doric dialect; Latin aesculapīum) were healing temples located in ancient Greece (and Rome), dedicated to Asclepius, the first doctor-demigod in Greek mythology.

Asclepius was said to have been such a skilled doctor that he could even raise people from the dead. So stemming from the myth of his great healing powers, pilgrims would flock to temples built in his honor in order to seek spiritual and physical healing.

Asclepeion included carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing and fulfilled several of the requirements of institutions created for healing. In addition to these spaces, excavated remains show that sanctuaries included a stadium, gymnasium, library, and theatre; access to these amenities promoted self-therapy through rest, relaxation, and exercise.

Treatment at these temples largely centered around promoting healthy lifestyles, with a particular emphasis on a person’s spiritual needs. Signature to Asclepeion was the practice of incubatio, also known as ‘temple sleep.’

This was a process by which patients would go to sleep in the temple with the expectation that they would be visited by Asclepius himself or one of his healing children in their dream. During this time, they would be told what it is that they needed to do in order to cure their ailment. At the very least, they would wake up having not been directly visited by a deity and instead report their dream to a priest. The priest would then interpret the dream and prescribe a cure, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium.

All the billionaires around the world should build something like the Asklepieion, but they’re too selfish and greedy.  Just like the rich guy that had asked Jesus how to have an eternal life?

“And behold, one came and  said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?

And he said, why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

He saith unto him, Which?  Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false wetness,

Honor thy father and thy mother: and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept form my youth up: what lack I yet?

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

But when the young man heard that saying he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Then said Jesus to his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:16-24).

That’s the same way most of  these rich folks are today.  The more money they get the greedier they become and what they love the most than is money. 

Thinking of that, one the seven churches in the Book of Revelations was good in that they hated the Nicolaitans just like Jesus did, but then their heads swelled up and they stopped loving Jesus. 

So I would like to look at…

Ezekiel 36
A Prophecy of Israel

The Great Altar of Pergamon, a massive stone podium about one hundred feet long and thirty-five feet high, was originally built in the 2nd century BCE in the Ancient Greek city of Pergamon (modern day Bergama in Turkey) in north-western Anatolia, 16 miles from the Aegean Sea. The Great Altar of Pergamon has figured in lists of the Wonders of the World.

It has long been assumed that the magnificently-scaled and opulently decorated open-air altar (it is not a temple) was dedicated to Zeus.

The altar appears to be mentioned in Rev 2:12-13: “In Pergamos where Satan’s Throne is.”

1 Also, thou son of man, prophesy unto the mountains of Israel, and say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD:

36:1-15 – the comforting counterpart to chapter 6.  Verses 1-7 announce punishment for the nations, vv. 8-15 restoration for Israel.

2 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the enemy hath said against you, Aha, even the ancient high places are ours in possession:

“Ancient high places” – the promised land of which the elevated region between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean coast was the central core.

3 Therefore prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because they have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side, that ye might be a possession unto the residue of the heathen, and ye are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people:

“Residue of the heathen” – all nations that in the past had conquered parts of Israel – until finally they took full possession.

“Idumea” – or Edom, singled out because of their long-standing hostility to Israel.  For Edom in the Day of the Lord, see Amos 9:12; see also Oba, where Edom so used as a catch word to connect the two books and their theme of the coming day.

4 Therefore, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD; Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes, and to the cities that are forsaken, which became a prey and derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about;

Dionysos (or Dionysus) was the great Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure and festivity.

He was depicted as either an older bearded god or a pretty effeminate, long-haired youth. His attributes included the thyrsos (a pine-cone tipped staff), drinking cup, leopard and fruiting vine. He was usually accompanied by a troop of Satyrs and Mainades (female devotees or nymphs)

5 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea, which have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds, to cast it out for a prey.

6 Prophesy therefore concerning the land of Israel, and say unto the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because ye have borne the shame of the heathen:

7 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I have lifted up mine hand, Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame.

8 But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.

9 For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown:

10 And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded:

11 And I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bring fruit: and I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

12 Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of men.

13 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because they say unto you, Thou land devourest up men, and hast bereaved thy nations;

14 Therefore thou shalt devour men no more, neither bereave thy nations any more, saith the Lord GOD.

15 Neither will I cause men to hear in thee the shame of the heathen any more, neither shalt thou bear the reproach of the people any more, neither shalt thou cause thy nations to fall any more, saith the Lord GOD.

16 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

The “Red Basilica” (Turkish: Kızıl Avlu), also called variously the Red Hall and Red Courtyard, is a monumental ruined temple in the ancient city of Pergamon, now Bergama, in western Turkey.

The temple was built by the Roman Empire, probably in the time of Hadrian and possibly on his orders. It is one of the largest Roman structures still surviving in the ancient Greek world.

The temple is thought to have been used for the worship of the Egyptian gods – specifically Isis and/or Serapis, and possibly also Osiris, Harpocrates and other lesser gods, who may have been worshipped in a pair of drum-shaped rotundas, both of which are virtually intact, alongside the main temple.

36:16-38 – summarizes all that Ezekiel prophesied concerning Israel.

17 Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings: their way was before me as the uncleanness of a removed woman.

18 Wherefore I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for their idols wherewith they had polluted it:

“Blood…for their idols” – a summary reference to Israel’s social injustice and idolatrous religious practices.

19 And I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them.

20 And when they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the LORD, and are gone forth out of his land.

21 But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went.

22 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went.

“I do not this for your sakes” – not because God didn’t care for Israel, but because they didn’t deserve what He was about to do (cf. Deut 9:4-6).

23 And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.

Babylonian clay brick from sixth century BC cuneiform inscription “Nebuchadnezzar support Esagila temple and temple A-Zida (Borsippa). Eldest son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon.

“The heathen shall know that I am the LORD” – the ultimate purpose of God’s plans with Israel is that the whole world may know the true God.

24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.

36:24-30 – there are four stages of restoration in this central passage of Ezekiel:

1. Return of the exiles,

2. Cleansing from sin,

3. Enablement by God’s Spirit to live God’s way, and

4. Properity in the land.

25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.

“A new spirit will I put within you” – transform your mind and heart.  Here and in 11:19 God declared that He would bring about the change.  In 18:31 He called on His people to effect the change.  What He requires of His people He always provides.

“Heart out of your flesh” – “Flesh” in the Old Testament is often a symbol for weakness and frailty, for example, Is 31:3. 

In the New Testament it often stands for the sinful nature as a God-opposing force, as in Rom 8:5-8.  Here it stands (in opposition to stone) for pliable, teachable heart.

27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Statue of Gudea, Prince of Lagash (c. 2150 BC) diorite – from Tello (formerly Girsu).

“My spirit” – God bestowes His Spirit to enable the human spirit to do His will.  This I can vouch for, not meaning that I’ve ever done any big for God, but little things that I couldn’t have done without His assistance.  As Jesus had said:

“…without me ye can do nothing (Jn 15:5).

28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

29 I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you.

30 And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen.

31 Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.

32 Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord GOD, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel.

Pergamum was the principle seat of the worship of the god Asklepios, the Roman god of medicine and healing. An elaborate complex devoted to healing was constructed downhill from the upper city.

So many people came from so many places to the Asklepieion, that a library and theater were provided. Included in that number were Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Caracalla, both of whom traveled here to be healed.

33 Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded.

34 And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by.

35 And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited.

36 Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it.

37 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock.

I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel” – allowing petitions to come to Him again, God reversed His earlier refusals to hear (cf. 14:3, 20:3, 31).

Anyone that believes in Jesus has the right to request God of anything:

“And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him (1 Jn 5:15).

One thing I’ve noticed about You, is that You never ask anyone to do anything without You providing them with whatever it is they need to do it.

38 As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts; so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men: and they shall know that I am the LORD.

Lost Cities of the Near and Middle-East:
Pergamum

Location: Northwestern Turkey, near the Aegean coast date of construction: c 300 B.C.
Abandoned: c. 8th century B.C.
Built By: Attalid Greeks
Key Features: Acropolis; Altar of Zeus; Library of Pergamum; Asklepieion; Amphitheatre; Ttrajaneum; Red Basilica; Statuary and Friezes

Renowned as the most graceful and cultural city of its era, the city of Pergamum was famed for the scholarship of its library, the artistic achievements of its architects and sculptors, the enlightened model of its governance and the medical and therapeutic powers of its great Asklepieion.

Asclepius may first have been worshipped as a hero in Troika, Thessaly, which ancient mythographers generally regarded as the place of his birth, but to date archaeological excavations have yet to uncover his sanctuary there. Epidauros, on the other hand, was the first place to worship Asclepius as a god, beginning sometime in the 400s B.C.

Historically it bridged the divide between Classical Greece and the age of Rome.

Pergamum, also spelt Pergamom and Pergamon, was an ancient Greek city-state in Mysia, in northwestern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), which came to rival Athens and Alexandria as centres of Hellenistic achievement and renown.

The city was based around an acropolis built on a 1,165-feet high spur between two tributaries of the River Caicus (today known as Bakirgay), not far inland from the Aegean.

It was a minor settlement until the early 3rd century B.C., when Lysimachus made it a fortress for the safeguarding of his treasury.

Lysimachus had been one of Alexander the Great’s generals and had taken control of Anatolia following the great man’s death, contending with Seleucus of Syria for control of Asia Minor.

When Lysimachus was killed by his eastern rival in 281 B.C. (at the battle of Corupedium), Philataerus, the man he had appointed to control the fortress, seized control of the treasure and established a power base at Pergamum.

The river Caicus, or as the Turks now call it, the Bakırçay river, has undergone many name changes and even the course of its flow somewhat. Plutarch said that the name of the river was originally Astraeus but was changed after Caicus, a son of Hermes, threw himself into it after sleeping with his sister Alcippe.

The Attalids

Philataerus established the Attalid Dynasty, named after his father Attalus. His successor, Eumenes, secured the city, but it was his nephew Attalus I (269-197 B.C.) who achieved eternal renown for Pergamum by defeating the Galatians – Celts from Thrace who had crossed over to Asia Minor in 278 B.C. and terrorized the Greek states of the region with decades of raids and plundering.

Most rulers bought them off with tribute, but Attalus I refused to pay, instead destroying the Celtic armies in a great battle. The famous sculpture known as The Dying Gaul was originally erected at Pergamum as a monument to this victory.

Hailed as the savior of Greek Asia Minor, Attalus took the name ‘Soter’ (‘Savior’) and declared himself king. He also forged close links with the rising power to the west – Rome. 

His son, Eumenes II, who ruled from 197-159 B.C. engaged in a major program of building and established Pergamum as one of the pre-eminent cities in the Greek world – a new Athens in architectural, cultural and political terms.

Its population increased to over 200,000. Later rulers gained power through close alliances with Rome, eventually gaining control of most of Asia Minor.

Roman Pergamum

Attalus III had no heir and to avoid civil conflict over the succession he bequeathed the kingdom to Rome. Upon his death in 133 B.C., Pergamum became a Roman possession.

But with the Romans distracted by domestic political issues, a local prince named Aristonicus, an illegitimate son of Eumenes II, made a bid for power with the backing of the slave and serf classes, in what has been described as one of the first attempts at a popular revolution.

Declaring himself Eumenes III, he promised to establish a state called Heliopolis where all would live free, but he was defeated by a Roman army and taken back to Rome to be executed.

The Battle of Corupedium, also called Corupedion or Curupedion (Ancient Greek: Κύρου πεδίον or Κόρου πεδίον, “the plain of Kyros or Koros”) is the name of the last battle of the Diadochi, the rival successors to Alexander the Great. It was fought in 281 BC between the armies of Lysimachus and Seleucus I Nicator.

Pergamum passed into Roman control, but on the whole the Romans respected Pergamum property and autonomy, making the city the capital of the province of Asia Minor.

In recognition of its influence and status the city was granted permission to build temples to the imperial cult, including ones in honor of Augustus and Trajan.

It continued to flourish under the Roman aegis for several centuries, maintaining its reputation as a center for academia and education, arts and architecture, and healing and medicine.

The city declined under the Byzantines but was still inhabited by the time of the Arab invasion in the 8th century B.C.

The Acropolis

The site of most of the important buildings of Pergamum was the acropolis, extending down the sides of the steep central hill, which was cut into a series of artificial terraces. At the top were the king’s palaces and the arsenals (barracks and military storehouses).

Descending the hill from west to east, lower terraces housed the temenos or sacred precinct, which included temples to the Roman emperors, then the famous library and its associated Sanctuary of Athena, then the Altar of Zeus and below that the agora (forum/marketplace).

In front of these, facing south over the plain and still dominating the prospect of the city today, a great amphitheater with seating for 10,000 people was cut into the steep hillside.

Next to it was a temple to Dionysus, god of wine and entertainment, while running along its base was a giant stoa (pillared portico) 810 feet long.

Other features of the Acropolis include the heroons or royal tombs, and the Propylea or monumental gate.

This is a Roman copy of one of the statues from the victory monument erected by Attalus I at Pergamum soon after 230 B.C., in commemoration of a series of victories which he had won over the Gauls who had invaded Asia Minor.

It depicts one of the chieftains of the Gauls, dying from a wound sustained in the fighting. Before its connection with Attalus was recognised, the statue was believed to represent a dying gladiator.

Below the acropolis was a gymnasium – a center for the physical, intellectual and moral training of the city’s youth. Measuring 656 x 492 feet, it was the largest gymnasium in the Greek world, reflecting the importance of education to the Attalids (they also sponsored educational establishments in other Greek cities as a way of boosting their profile and status).

It had three levels, each assigned to a different age group, with exercise yards, a lecture hall, its own library, baths and a temple. From the lower levels of the city a sacred way ran off to the southwest, towards the Asklepieion.

The Altar and Other Temples

Pergamum hosted temples to the cult of Augustus (the first Roman emperor, who courted considerable controversy back home by allowing himself to be deified during his own lifetime) and Trajan.

His temple, the Trajaneum, a white marble building with 54 columns completed by his successor Hadrian, is being restored by German archaeologists. Building such temples had financial and political benefits, attracting patronage from emperors and fostering closer ties with Rome.

To the south of the acropolis, in the main town, was a Serapeum – a temple to the Egyptian god Serapis, which later became the site of a Christian church known as the “Red Basilica”. The Christian community at Pergamum was one of the Seven Churches of Asia to which the Book of Revelation (chapters 2-3) was addressed.

The most religious building in Pergamum, however is no longer there, having been removed whole-sale by German archaeologists between 1879 and 1904.

Heliopolis (“City of the Sun” or “City of Helios,” “Eye of the Sun”) was one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt, the capital of the 13th Lower Egyptian nome. It is now found at the north-east edge of Cairo.

Heliopolis has been occupied since the Predynastic Period, with extensive building campaigns during the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Today it is mostly destroyed; its temples and other buildings were used for the construction of medieval Cairo. Most information about the ancient city comes from textual sources.

The only surviving remnant of Heliopolis is the Temple of Re-Atum obelisk located in Al-Masalla of the Al-Matariyyah district. It was erected by Senusret I of the Twelfth dynasty, and still stands in its original position. The 68 feet high red granite obelisk weighs 120 tons.

This is the Altar of Zeus, also known as the Pergamon Altar, now housed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. 

Erected by Eumenes II after victorious campaigns against the Galatians, it ostensibly commemorated his father’s famous defeat of the same foes, although it also encoded a wider message about Pergamum’s status in the Greek world.

It was  a stepped square podium mounted to a terrace with a central altar surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped colonnade, upon which was mounted a huge 371 feet long frieze of the Gigantomachy or war between the Olympian gods and the Titans, along with the other mythological scenes.

After the sculptures of Phidias from the Parthenon, this frieze is considered to be the highest achievement of Classical Greek sculpture (Pergamum was famous for its sculpture). 

In the Gigantomachy, the Olympians triumph over the forces of chaos (the Titans), bringing order and harmony to the world. 

The Pergamenes intended this to symbolize their role as the protectors of the Greek world order, a mantle they had assumed from the now declining Athens.

The altar also included a frieze of the story of Telephos, a mythical founder of Pergamum.  This was an attempt to assert the prehistoric divine antecedents of the city and its rulers in the face of the wider Greek view that they were parvenus.

The Library

Pergamum’s primacy attracted many scholars, poets, philosophers and scientists, and the Attalids themselves were keen collectors of scrolls and books.  The center of this intellectual activity was the Library of Pergamum, second only to its fierce rival the Library of Alexandria.

Ancient writers claimed that it housed 200,000 scrolls, although this is probably a substantial exaggeration, with the existing ruins suggesting a more modest 17,000.

The library included reading rooms and document storage shelves, and was said to have a built-in air conditioning system of vents to help keep the scrolls and books dry.

Supposedly it met its demise when Mark Anthony had the entire collection removed and given as a wedding gift to Cleopatra, to replenish the Library of Alexandria.

Another popular legend attached to the Library of Pergamum derives from Pliny, who claimed that parchment (also referred to as vellum – paper made from treated, scraped and stretched animal hides, which could be folded repeatedly to make books) was invented at Pergamum when Ptolemy of Egypt decreed that papyrus would no longer be exported, and that this is how parchment got its name (by derivation from the city’s name).

In practice, parchment had long been in use before Ptolemy, but it is possible that Egyptian shortages forced the Pergamenes to start using parchment or refine their production of it.

The god Serapis, the Egyptian god of healing, was widely worshiped, and far beyond the territory of Egypt.
Worshiped at Pergamum in biblical Asia Minor, where the ruins of his impressive temple can be seen.

The Asklepieion

A few kilometers to the south of the main city was the Asklepieion, a sort of spa-hospital complex, including a temple to Asklepios – god of healing, baths, apartments, a theatre, treatment rooms, a library and a dream incubation facility.

Developed to its fullest extent under the Romans, especially Hadrian, the Asklepieion was accounted one of the wonders of the Roman world, attracting patients and scholars from all over, including famous names such as Aristides and Galen (the 2nd century B.C. Pergamene physician whose works formed the basis of Western medicine for the next 1,600 years).

Therapies on offer included hot and cold baths, mud treatments, prayer and all the benefits of Greco-Roman medicine.

 …the lost city of Ephesus.