At the beginning of March an email went out to all current Briercrest College and Seminary students announcing a 17-day study tour of Turkey and Greece in 2013. The tour will focus on Greco-Roman sites related to the journeys of Paul and the churches of Revelation. With stops in Troy, Athens, Corinth and Delphi, the trip will also be of interest to students of Classical Greece. I can say from experience that Turkey is amazing, and I can't wait to go back and see Greece as well!
My purpose in this post is not to describe the tour in detail—for that you’ll want to see the official tour website (http://www.briercrest.ca/studytour/). Instead, I want to explore how experiencing the geography of the Bible can shed light on the text and issues related to its interpretation. What follows is from the “Turkey Travelogue” that I posted to my blog after returning from Turkey in 2007:
Commentaries on the book of Revelation routinely explain how knowledge of the historical and geographical contexts of ancient Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea sheds light on obscure details mentioned in the letters to these seven churches in chapters 2 and 3.
In the letter to the church at Pergamum, Jesus declares, "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is, and you hold fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives" (Rev 2:13 NRSV). While the archaeological record does not help us identify Antipas, or the Nicolaitans mentioned a few verses later, you might think that after more than a hundred years of digging, archaeologists would have uncovered Satan's throne. Perhaps they have, but which, if any, of the proposed locations is the correct one?
Since Athena was the patron deity of Pergamum, one option is the Temple of Athena, originally built in the 4th century B.C., and located just within the walled Acropolis. The massive precinct of Athena (and a tree) can still be seen in the picture below.
The temple of Dionysus is a less likely choice because of its relatively more secluded location at the north end of the theatre terrace. Still, the god of wine was a popular deity in the Roman period. The ruins in the picture below date from the 3rd century A.D., but the temple was originally built as early as the 2nd century B.C.:
The problem with identifying "Satan's throne" with the temple of Athena or the temple of Dionysus is that they are so unremarkable. All the cities mentioned in Revelation 2-3 had temples in abundance. Why single out Pergamum as the site of Satan's throne?
One common proposal that attempts to correlate "throne" with a physical throne-like structure is the Great Altar to Zeus, built by Eumenes II during the early 2nd century B.C. and designed to line up with the Temple of Athena 25 meters above it. Perhaps. The altar at Pergamum was certainly famous for its size, but "[i]ndependent altars on a spectacular scale are a feature of the Hellenistic age" (Oxford Classical Dictionary, 68). Would the Great Altar have been distinctive enough to merit the epithet, "Satan's throne"?
All that remains of the altar in Pergamum is the podium and two large trees:
If you want to see what the altar looked like, you will need to go to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, where the remains of the altar were carted off by "archaeologists" (or treasure hunters) at the end of the 19th century. Or click here for someone else's photograph.
Another common suggestion is that "Satan's throne" refers to the Roman ruler-cult centred in Pergamum. Crowning the Acropolis are the remains of a huge temple dedicated to the emperor Trajan (98-117 A.D.) and his successor, Hadrian (117-138 A.D.):
We do know that the imperial cult was popular in Asia minor, and that a temple to the Emperor was built in Pergamum as early as Augustus (d. 14 A.D.), but--assuming that the book of Revelation was composed in the late first century A.D.--we can be sure that this particular temple is not the "throne of Satan" mentioned in Rev 2:13 because the Trajaneum was constructed during the second century A.D.
Others have identified Satan's throne as the Asclepion because the serpent associated with the worship of Asclepius could be identified with Satan, who is depicted as that "ancient serpent" in Rev 20:2.
My (unoriginal) guess, for what it's worth, is that the "throne of Satan" was suggested by the Acropolis itself--a prominent geographical feature of the city which was also home to a majority of the city's temples: