Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Letter to the Church at Pergamos in Revelation and the Pergamon Altar to Zeus

"I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. 
Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith
even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, 
who was killed among you, where Satan dwells."
Revelation 2:13

        A symbol of great evil sits on Museum Island in Berlin: the Altar of Zeus taken from Pergamos in Asia Minor. Discovered by the German archaeologist Carl Humann circa 1880, the Pergamon altar served as the inspiration of Albert Speer for the Nuremberg stadium (the Zeppelinfeld) used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. It served as part of the design for Lenin's tomb. And, perhaps unaware of the reference in Revelation Chapter two to this temple, an American president was so impressed by it when he visited Germany that he had a copy made for his inauguration in 2008 at Denver. 
        In recent times many have taken note of the strange reappearance of the symbolism of Zeus in Europe with depictions of Europa riding the Bull (Zeus) on coins, on postcards, on magazine covers, in live performance at the opening ceremony of the European games, and on sculptures outside of the E.U. headquarters in Strasbourg and in Brussels as well. Europe has indeed been swept away in a new Union that seems to be, in a futile attempt, trying to build another tower of Babel.
        Why was this ancient Greek altar called the "throne of Satan" by Jesus Christ in His letter to the church of Pergamos? It was Antiochus Epiphanes who, in the second century BC, killed more than a million Jews attempting to force them to worship Zeus... a god of thunder, lightening and clouds... just as was the false god Baal of Old Testament times. Thus the ancient equation was that Baal and Zeus were one and the same.  It was Pompey who killed perhaps ten thousand priests in putting down a rebellion because he put the eagle (symbol of Roman Jupiter who is simply the Roman version of the Greek god Zeus). Ultimately Hadrian would build a temple to Jupiter in Jerusalem in place of the Jewish temple that had been earlier destroyed by Titus (AD 70).
         In literary references to Pergamos, there were de­scriptions of a great altar that was dedicated to Zeus.  As the pyramids in Egypt and the temple of Artemis in Ephe­sus, the Altar of Zeus at Pergamos stood out as a major territorial landmark.  Contained within an ancient let­ter, in which the Roman writer Ampelius compiled a list of inter­esting things for his friend Macrinus, the "Altar of Perga­mon is mentioned also among the world won­ders."[1]
        After having repelled Antiochus of Syria with help from the Romans in 190 B.C., Eum­enes II erected the enormous temple complex and dedicated it to "Zeus Soter and Athena Nice­phoros."[2]  On the base of the gigantic Altar of Zeus were frieze plates depicting the mythical battle between the gods and the giants.[3]  They are locked together in combat and slightly bowing or kneeling toward Olympian Zeus depicted on the platform above them. All of these figures were sculpted lar­g­­­er than the size of a hu­man.  The roll call of pagan divin­i­ties depicted here is quite astounding.  Aphrodite, Otus, Porphyrion, Artemis, Moira, Nereus, Phoebe, Tityus, Alcyone­us, Triton, Dione, Nyx, Hec­ate, Oceanus, Tethys, Nerius Doris, Amphitrite, Dionysus, Rhea, Adrasteia, Eos,Hephaestus, Helios, Theia, Selene, Aether, Hyperion, Themis, Asteria, Leto, Apollo, Hercules, Zeus, Nike, Athena, and others were carved into the massive frieze plates.[4]  The frieze at the base of the altar was over 370 feet long.[5]  Many of these plates were removed in the tenth cen­tu­ry to build a defen­sive wall against the Moham­medans.[6]  From the time of that siege until Humann's spade work in 1878, the acropo­lis of Pergamos was known to the world through liter­ary sources alone.
        Because of the shape of the colossal altar, like that of a giant throne, even non-Christian writers have identi­fied it with the "throne of Satan" refer­ence of Reve­lation 2.[7]  Barclay wrote of the impression that this huge altar must have made in the days of John:

            All day long this altar smoked with the smoke of count­less sacrifices to Olympian Zeus.  It dominated the city.  No one could fail to see it; the eye of anyone living in Pergamos was drawn to it.  As it stood there on its jutting ledge on the hillside, it would look like nothing so much as a great seat or throne.[8]

Satan was re­ceiving worship at Pergamos through the sacri­fic­es at the giant altar and the attendant immorali­ty at the adjacent temple to Athena. Nike, after all, was depicted standing in Athena’s hand with the laurel of victory outstretched—as at Athens, so at the Pergamene temple. The Nicolaitanes (which literally means "the people of Nike" or "the people of victory") were simply those who participated in these sacrifices to idols and the attendant immorality.
        Antiochus Epi­phanes pro­faned the temple area at Jerusalem by dedi­cating it to Zeus.[9]  The Roman eagle, sym­bol of both the empire and the god Jupi­ter (who is synon­y­mous with Zeus), was raised in Jerusalem from the time of Pompey.[10]  In the days of Vespasian and Titus, the temple at Jerusalem was des­troyed; and later the temple precinct was dedicated to Jupi­ter.[11]  Thousands of Jews died each time the pagans imposed the worship of Zeus in the temple of Jerusalem .  It should be no won­der that the greatest struc­ture dedi­cat­ed to this god, situated at Pergamos, was called the throne of Satan by the Lord Je­sus.  Was it merely ironic that the Altar of Zeus from Per­gamos was moved, stone by mono­lithic stone, to the Ber­lin museum in the 1930s by Hitler's regime?­[12]
        Pergamos was a type of the kingdom of Satan in this present world, a place where professing Christians were led astray by the satanic doctrine that rationalized fornication and idolatry.  The Lord warned them to repent.  Possibly some did.  Those who did not fell into the category of apos­tates that John defined in 1 John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." 
        The Lord Jesus exhorted those in Pergamos, as did the writer of Hebrews in the face of apostasy in Hebrews 6:12, to be "followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."  In this capital of Asian idolatry where they were dwelling, they were to be light that exposed the evil.  They were to stand, as did Antipas, against all of the wor­ship and works of darkness.

        [1]Evamaria Schmidt, The Great Altar of Pergamon. (Boston: Boston Book and Art Shop, 1965), p. 5.
        [2]A. W. Lawrence, Greek and Roman Sculpture (Lon­don: Jonathon Cape, 1972), p. 227.
        [3]Lawrence, p. 227.
        [4]Schmidt, pp. 35-37.
        [5]Pierre Devambrez, Greek Sculpture (New York: Tu­dor Pub., 1961), p. 161.
        [6]Schmidt, p. 5.
        [7]Guy Dickens, Hellenistic Sculpture (College Park, Md.: McGrath, 1971), p. 12.
        [8]Barclay, p. 44.
        [9]Peter C. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Histori­cal Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (Berkeley: University of California , 1990), p. 516.
        [10]Green, p. 524.
        [11]Uuras Saarnivaara, Can the Bible Be Trusted?: Old and New Testament Interpretation (Minneapolis: Osterhus, 1983), p. 595.
        [12]Schmidt, p. 6.

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