St Paul’s Correspondents


Hmmm. Where to begin? Maybe here. The happy foursome with a Trojan horse, a Brad Pitt Trojan horse. An Eric Bana Trojan Horse. [In fact a prop from the film ‘Troy’, at Canakkale.] No real Trojan horse ever looked so good.

IMG_0372For example, the Trojan horse of Troy, an amiable but unimaginative threat to the well-being of Priam and his community that wouldn’t have fooled anyone. IMG_0382

This whole business of course is a feat of the imagination, but looking out to sea at Troy through Schliemann’s cut (at right), I could see Achilles dragging Hector’s body around these plains, Hector being tethered to Achilles’ chariot, ironically enough, by straps passed between his Achilles tendons and his tibia. Despite suffering this for 12 days in a row Hector’s body remained completely undefiled, protected as it was by Aphrodite and Apollo. … Ah, those were the days.

[Hector’s body being returned to Troy: from a Roman sarcophagus.]250px-Hector_brought_back_to_Troy

That said, in those days these plains would have been part of the Aegean Sea. Over time silt brought downstream by the Scamander has shifted the coastline some kilometres west.

It could have been because of the quality of our guide (very high) that Troy staggered meaningfully into life. It reportedly poses problems for tourists. I think the reasons might be that is too small, smaller than one envisions perhaps, and too complicated with nine major levels each representing a differing period of habitation. There are also subdivisions of the levels. Homer’s Troy, for example, may have existed during level VIIa (1300-1190BC), and this may have been the way in to the Troy of that era. That excites me.IMG_0386

St Paul visited the area in which Troy is sited. He called it Troas. He asked Timothy who lived in Ephesus 360 k.s away to pick up the coat he had left there and bring it to him (2 Timothy 4, 13). He was in prison in Rome at the time. In the Year of Our Lord 64 that’s a six-month task. There must have been something else going on. Must have been. Maybe he had left some important stuff in the pockets.

But we were in Pauline

For our route, stick to the middle: Troas, Assos, (insert Pergamom), Ephesus, Samos. Go left and up: Athens, Thessalonica.

It is tempting to talk about the Greeks here, or the Turks; but we are immersed in the period of city states. The Aegean islands were named as they are today, but the coastline regions were those of Troad, Mysia, Aeolis, Lydia, Ionia, and below the river Meander (you heard it here first) Caria and Lycia. As their names suggest these are often peoples associated with the Pelopponesian Peninsula (‘Greeks’), remnants of Alexander’s conquests, the littoral of the Pergamom empire or simply inhabitants with roots going back several hundred years. The locals are speaking Greek, and some would claim these are the sites of high Classical Greece.

[A section of the pediment of a Greek temple at Pergamom]IMG_0423The Turks (‘Turcae’) are mentioned by Herodotus in the 5th century BC as living above the Sea of Azov which today would make them Ukrainians. Chinese sources of the same period locate them in western Mongolia and Tajikistan, on their way to the Turkmenistan of today. It wasn’t until the 11th century AD that Turkish-speakers ventured into Anatolia (the big lump of Turkey on the eastern side of the Bosphorus/ Sea of Marmara/ Dardanelles).

The dominant mob in Paul’s time was of course the Romans, but this didn’t have a major impact on the makeup or ethnicity of these cities, although there is evidence in the case of Ephesus at least that it made them large (c. 50,000) and prosperous. There may however have been the question of taxes and if certain types of religion were going to play a part in insurrection you might find yourself in chains in gaol in Rome — as Paul did. But before that he travelled extensively and by some lights quite freely, although clearly he did suffer for his cause, a zealot in the literal sense for his god.

After finding some disciples at Ephesus not quite on top of their situation, he spent two years there, correcting, cosseting — and arguing. 

‘He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyrannus [a school]. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia [Minor] heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.’ [Acts 19, 8-10. The next ten verses are also worthy of attention.]

During that period it is believed that he preached three times at this amphitheatre.IMG_0486

Whoops. Right place, fabulous but wrong photo. (For whatever reason they were trying to take an ‘Oh what a feeling’ jumping photo to post on Facebook. I took one too.)

Here. This one. Capacity: 3,000. Filled it three times. Little wonder that he had some correspondence to attend to.IMG_0490

We will come back to that issue shortly; but at Ephesus there are several things to note in addition. Just to the right out of sight are the remnants of the market, a very big affair. You could easily tell where all the shops had been but only a former President of Business Educators Australia could immediately see the point of access for goods and the nature of the wholesale/retail transition process. I was honoured to be in his company.

And together we saw this which not many other people have.IMG_0458The main street of Ephesus with almost no one in it. Just one figure in the far distance. Luck. About 8.45 on a Sunday morning before the cruise ships had unloaded.

Mostly they would have been coming to see this, the Library of Celsius.IMG_0483
IMG_0482Which can also be draped.

Elsewhere it is possible to find things of this nature (below).IMG_0456




The explanatory tag says, inter alia: The MEMMIUS MONUMENT ‘Built between 50 and 30BC at a particularly prominent site, it is an honorific monument for Gaius Memmius, a grandson of the Roman Dictator Sulla … At present there is no reconstruction at the site, but instead a Cubistic modern architectural collage.’ A Cubistic modern architectural collage eh? So much to learn; so little time.

But on the opposite side of the promenade is a big surprise, something I hadn’t anticipated: an excavation of something like a giant pile of condominiums, where the better off Ephesians lived.IMG_0476

You are looking at several houses here, separated by walkways a metre or two wide. The decoration is startling in its modernity. The women figures wear makeup which wouldn’t be out of place in Flinders Lane. The functions of the house are instantly recognisable. But why should that be a surprise? What’s 2000 years between friends?

Just before we leave the wonders of Turkey …

You climb up to the ruins of Assos via this narrow, rocky street. Not one person invited us to buy anything. Not one.IMG_0389The ruins of Pergamom were great but time spent in the modern city, Bergama, was better. We were sitting down at lunch in a kebab joint and a class of 8 year-olds with minders swarmed in. Very well behaved but hungry kids. Great fun. The wonders of the normal world were generally on offer.  Below, he was banging the bits of fibre glass off the awning with a stick, officially an Occ Health and Safety matter. IMG_0441 •• •• •• •• ••



See the bloke talking to me, well he’s been to every one of the 116 grounds used by teams in the English Football Association’s top five leagues. He’s a keen Southampton Saints fan and has seen every match this season, in every part of the country. He’s also a member of the Barmy Army and has been to every test ground in Australia and South Africa. He thinks Melbourne is quite fair enough and liked the atmosphere at the MCG on Boxing Day, but it doesn’t really stack up against an English football crowd. He doesn’t want to go to India because he is confident that he would get food poisoning. ‘They [unclear referent] all do.’ He has tickets for every Ashes test in the 2015 season. He doesn’t like people who drink wine in a shout. He drives a BMW M5, the 412kW model which can do 2oo plus miles per hour, although he has had trouble finding places to confirm that. He has been on 18 cruises. (Count them. 18. His deceased wife got him on to them. They were ‘her idea of heaven’.) The thing he likes best about them is the food and that you don’t have to think about anything. He used to own 17 cabs but now he’s given that over to his daughter. Just takes a third of the profit each year. The British election had not taken place, but he looked forward enthusiastically to Cameron and the Tories getting back in. The other crew? A joke! He also knows quite a lot of somewhat pedestrian jokes, and has a way with a well-rehearsed bon mot. Anything else? Just ask. It’s a pleasure.

•• •• •• •• ••
IMG_0518At its closest, the Greek island of Samos is just a few hundred metres off the Turkish coast. But the ferry takes a very pleasant hour round the eastern point. I don’t know what sort of time Paul would have had there. A swim perhaps? A few great meals washed down with some of the island’s famous, and wonderful, muscat? Bit of arguing down the street?IMG_0520

There was a basilica in Samos the town, in Karlovassi the biggest town and maybe in Pythagorio, birthplace of Pythagorus. Orthodox of course. I have no idea what Paul would have made of the Councils of Nicaea. He may have felt it was time to move the Pharisees out of the temple again. Interesting how as a recurring phenomenon they are harder to eradicate than Cape Weed, always festering away.

IMG_0517Our hostess at Kokkari described her sybaritic life as ‘perfect. [pause] For seven months of the year. The rest of the time it rains and there is no one here.’ Her hotel had a huge pool and a monster view and a beach you could swim at and, after a short walk, you could dine at Cafe Mythos where we consumed what could have been the best food in two months.IMG_0523This photo has all the appropriate colours, and the representative icons of the beach at least. I don’t have a suitable photo of the verdant hills, burdened with produce: olives, grapes, fruit, bee hives, goats, egg plants, peppers, hosts of other vegetables, maybe a cow or two. But you could live here. I understand about the Greek islands in a way I didn’t before. Ah how travel broadens one.

IMG_0542Up in the hills driving aimlessly we stumbled into a small village which Lord Rowland pronounced authentic as only he can. We found the square, ordered some coffee and fresh fruit juice (it must be said that the owners of one of the properties had lived in Springvale for 10 years, but, you know, c’est normale …) and a minute or two later he said, now all we need is some old men chatting over their coffee.IMG_0544

I like to make sure he gets what he needs.

•• •• •• ••

Paul’s letters provide succour, and direction, to the faithful (and wavering: so many paths, so many maverick offshoots). He’s building an earthly institution with heavenly bricks which is not a task for everyone.

Commentary suggests that what he’s got to say to the Ephesians is meant to apply generally — no personal greetings, generalist in tone, carefully structured and highly polished. And right here in Chapters 1-4 is the dominant language of many forms of contemporary Christianity, laid out with some care but no exposition, plunged straight into use, as though anticipating complete understanding of the mysteries of terms like blood, flesh, spirit and Spirit, cleansing, sanctification, redemption and grace. And this is the ultimate statement about grace. We are being saved from our status as children of wrath, the passion of the flesh, and the desires of body and mind. Rich in mercy, God will save you. This is it. This is the deal.

The other two chapters shift tone and offer some more down home advice: ‘Look carefully how you walk … do not get drunk with wine … wives, be subject to your husbands … the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church … husbands love your wives … children, obey your parents … fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger … slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters …  Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’ The Epistle finishes with a wonderfully poetic plating up: loins, breast and feet, adding shield.

Understanding chapters 1-4 is a matter of faith. They have a cosmic grandeur that, regardless of what is argued in the halls of Tyrannus’s school, you will either go with or be puzzled by. Chapters 5 and 6 however seem to me to provide a very clear message. There is a balance undeniably: wives be obedient, husbands love your wives; kids don’t play up, parents don’t give them cause to, and so on. But the clear message is: Know your place. Don’t rock the boat.

I don’t know how the first century cultural context would qualify and frame this idea; or whether, as well as the Ephesians, Paul is dropping the Romans an incidental line suggesting that this movement, this crusade for new belief, is not dangerous. His Lord did suggest rendering to Caesar that which was Caesar’s. Knowing your place might also be a pretty useful promulgation for someone who is trying to set themselves up as lead director of a new organisation. But I think it probably transcends time as a doctrine. These are ideas absolutely fundamental to any discussion of human behaviour, and in these matters at least he — or whoever wrote this, there is some question — has come down firmly on the side of keeping the status quo in order.

What do Christians do with that? We know the Pope is a Catholic, but is he really infallible for example? Is anyone? Should Christians be unhesitatingly subject to their leaders and, if so, of what are their leaders (husbands, parents, slave masters) made? Is this actually the answer, the thing that will see us right — just shut up and absorb whatever comes, and everyone will be happier? There’s a very big school of thought (led perhaps by husbands, parents and slave masters) coming in behind that as the way to go.

These, of course, are the sorts of tangles you get into when you move from the cosmic to the concrete, and when you move from doctrine to institution. (An ‘intellectual, recognisable as such by his simple himation.’ Thessaloniki’s Archeological Museum)IMG_0562

What did Paul have to say to the Thessalonians?

In Paul’s time Thessaloniki was a Roman ‘free city’, and an important trade hub with a very busy port, a major stopover on the Via Egnata, the main road from Rome (including a sea voyage) to Byzantium (subsequently Constantinople/ Istanbul), still one of the two main drags through the city.

It is known that Paul preached three times there in the Jewish synagogue, the site of which as it happens was 100 metres from our hotel. It was always an important Jewish city and became more so after the Sephardic Jews were driven out of Spain in the late 15th century. Many, even most, found a new home in Thessaloniki. By 1520 they were the majority ethnic group.

The smarties of this group reminded Suleiman (the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan of the time) of Mehmet’s proclamation of religious freedom in 1358, and in the process generated an agreement whereby they were able to pay sub-wholesale prices on goods as long as they took on the task of making Thessaloniki a trade centre. Well they thought about that for a fair while and ummed and ahhed … no they didn’t. They realised all their Hanukkahs had come at once. Over time this agreement made Thessaloniki an extremely important financial centre as well as responsible for the trade of 55% of the tobacco consumed across the world. As ever, the good times weren’t to last, but that’s another story. IMG_0596

This information and this photo come from the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki. The city also has two very good museums devoted to Archeology and Byzantium. And great food. And good hotels. And all in all was a very good place to visit. (And just by the way is also the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as well as the heartland of the Bulgarian Revival Movement.)IMG_0595

What did Paul have to say to the Thessalonians?

Maybe … Weren’t we good to you when we came to stay? ‘Like a nurse taking care of her children?’ We worked really hard separately, and together, didn’t we; and we are missing you terribly. I was worried. That’s why I sent Timothy down to check how things were going and I’m thrilled to hear you’re all sticking with it. Keep it up. Great. Just in case you were wondering, if you don’t ‘sudden destruction will come upon [you] as travail comes upon a woman with child and there will be no escape.’ We are sons of the light not darkness. ‘Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.’

The second letter contains some material in the same vein — good on you, we’re so proud, we’re talking up the Thessalonian church all over the place. The aeschatology is slightly more florid in its expression, with ‘mighty angels in flaming fire’ on our side, but ready to do some serious damage to the unbeliever. However the main purpose of the letter seems to be to reassure the faithful that the Last Days are not imminent and that anyone who says otherwise is, well, ‘a son of perdition.’… ‘If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him that he may be ashamed.’

If you go and see a film called ‘Going Clear’ you can watch this in action. Very hard work setting up an organisation, particularly one based on system of belief rather than a concrete operational program with tangible product. And do you have any choice but disconnection? That’s a serious question. Banishment is more lingering but seems more humane than slaughter.

And here we were in Greece in the middle of all the carry on about the ‘Grexit’. I can imagine the letters being sent from Germany and France to Mr Tsipras and the even more racey ones going until recently to Mr Varoufakis.If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him that he may be ashamed.’ And so it goes.

‘That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.’ A. Huxley. No fool.

•• •• •• ••

We saw icons to burn in Thessaloniki, although given its appalling history with fire that is an inapposite thing to say. Icons both ancient and modern.IMG_0571IMG_0582IMG_0589IMG_0581










And yes it’s Elsa from ‘Frozen’ and she’s a cake. We know that because we have grand daughters, and we live in the modern world. Heaven knows what Paul would have made of it all. 

How was Thessaloniki? Buzzing, happy, apparently prosperous, a delight to visit. Like this.IMG_0576

But there are some things you can never leave behind. Eeeeeeeeeeeee …IMG_0598

To Belgrade, to Beograd, to meditate on what it means to be a Serb.

2 thoughts on “St Paul’s Correspondents

  1. Pingback: Gallipoli: Two Stories | mcraeblog

  2. Pingback: Blog 99 | mcraeblog

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