by Gordon Franz
The 2014 Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) Study Tour of Biblical Greece is, as they say, history. Biblical Greece is more than just the sites visited by the Apostle Paul and his teams when he was on his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th missionary journeys. The Apostle Peter was in Greece on several occasions. Events associated with the books of Daniel and Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures also occurred in Greece. In the background were three kings: Xerxes; Philip II; and Alexander the Great. The ABR study-tour was a learning experience for one and all, myself included.
We had 23 people in the tour group, plus the two hosts: Robert Sullivan, the president of the ABR board, and myself. The average age of the group was about 70 years old, so we moved a bit slower than I am used to. But even with our diversity of backgrounds and age, we blended well as a family.
We also had an excellent tour guide, James Nikolopoulous. James is a young, energetic, and very knowledgeable guide. He also has a great sense of humor. This was the second time I worked with him and it was again a delight. We “tag-teamed” on the teaching and complimented each other well.
I will not bore you with a stop-by-stop description of everything we did at each site, but rather, will highlight some of the more unusual things we got to do. When we got off the plane in Thessaloniki the first thing I noticed was the warm sunshine, clear blue skies, green grass, and profusion of wildflowers! After a long and brutal winter in the northeast, these were welcomed sights! 🙂
On our first two nights we stayed at the Hotel Lydia on the edge of Philippi (Acts 16:12-40). This hotel was chosen because of location – location – location. At the end of our first day of touring we were scheduled to hike to the top of the Acropolis of Philippi. I think our jet-lag caught up with us! Instead, I walked around the walls of ancient Philippi.
On the second day we stopped at the ancient site of Amphipolis (Acts 17:1). Usually tour buses only stop at the famous lion of Amphipolis, but we visited the museum and the acropolis as well. This was only the second time I had visited the latter two and was able to discern some Biblical associations that will be helpful for an article that I am writing on the ancient city of Amphipolis. There are on-going excavations at a large tumulus near the site that may produce some very important discoveries, but patience is the order of the day. After, we stopped at Apollonia (Acts 17:1). Only a few squares have been excavated at this site, but there is really nothing to see. At least we could say, like the Apostle Paul: “Been there, done that!”
At Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great and the capital of ancient Macedonia, Rob Sullivan gave a discourse on Macedonia (Greece) in the book of Daniel. Hundreds of years before Alexander the Great was born, the prophet Daniel predicted Alexander’s role in human history.
There was a large Jewish community living in Berea (Verea in modern Greek) up until World War II. During the war, a number of the Jews were taken to concentration camps. Today there is only one synagogue left in the city and a small Jewish community. We happened to visit the synagogue on Shabbat and much to my surprise, the door was open. There was a small group of Israelis visiting the synagogue so we got to visit it as well. I sang the Shema (Deut. 6:4) while inside.
Our guide told us an interesting account that appeared in a Greek newspaper in the 1950’s. According to the article a 2nd century BC Torah scroll was taken from the synagogue of Berea during World War II. After the war the scroll was bought by a Jewish philanthropist. In the margin of this Torah Scroll was a notation that Rabbi Sha’ul from Jerusalem visited the synagogue, a reference to the Apostle Paul (Acts 17:10-15). I am planning to follow-up on this article and write up my observations.
We visited the site of the battle of Thermopylae between the 300 Spartan soldiers and the Persian army in 480 BC. The topography of the battle became clear when we stood on the site and saw the terrain. There is nothing like seeing a site first hand to help visualize the battle and history. This is especially true with Biblical sites and Bible history. A few days later we took a water-taxi ride from Piraeus, the commercial harbor of Athens, to Salamis and were able to see the geographical setting for the famous battle of Salamis, the battle that changed the course of western civilization. This battle stopped the Persian advance into Greece in 480 BC. Biblically, this event took place before three words in the book of Esther: “After these things” (Esther 2:1a).
All the national parks in Greece were closed on Independence Day (March 25). Because of that, we had to leave Delphi, the home of the famous temple of Apollo, out of our original program. Thanks to our driver, Christos, and guide, James, we were able to rearrange our original schedule and put Delphi back into the program. That was a bonus because we got to see the important Gallio inscription in the museum (cf. Acts 18:12), as well as the excavations.
A short stop at the Church of St. Luke in Thebes allowed us to discuss the ministry of Dr. Luke, the gospel that bears his name, and the book of Acts. Recently a rib-bone, presumably from Dr. Luke, was returned to Thebes from Italy. Sorry, but that’s another story, for another time! 🙂
Corinth was a busy day. Our first stop was Isthmia and we discussed the Apostle Paul’s use of athletic terminology; then hiked to the top of the Acrocorinth and visited the shrine to Aphrodite and enjoyed a spectacular view of the region. The important inscription of Erastus was visited as well as the museum and excavations of Corinth. Recently the Bema was repaired and reopened so tourists can walk up and stand where Gallio passed judgment on the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:12-17).
Our final two days were taken up with touring in Athens and also some book shopping.
We flew Turkish Airlines to and from Greece. The service was excellent. It is no wonder they have been chosen the best airline in Europe three years running. They deserved it. Service was their priority.