East Berlin and the Ancient Near East
By “Awake!” correspondent in West Germany
EAST BERLIN—What does mention of it bring to your mind? Perhaps you think merely of a modern European state under Communist domination where atheism predominates.
Did you realize, though, that East Berlin contains a wealth of information about the ancient Near East, some of it corroborating parts of the Bible? These materials are located in the famous Pergamum Museum, which ranks third, next to the British Museum and the Louvre, in collections from the ancient Near East.
Would you enjoy learning about some of this museum’s storehouse of treasures? Let us begin with materials from Pergamum itself.
Finds from Ancient Pergamum
This museum contains a reconstruction of an altar to Zeus known as “the Pergamum altar.” The altar of burnt offering itself is located in an enclosure atop an “altar building.” To reach the altar one must ascend a 65-foot-wide stairway of 24 steps, as if one were approaching a throne room. On either side of the stairway are stone reliefs engraved with mythological figures. But why is this relic of ancient pagan worship of interest today?
Dr. Elizabeth Rode, who directed the work of rebuilding it, comments in Pergamon, Burgberg und Altar (Pergamum, Castle Mound and Altar): “It is believed that the oldest written testimony about the altar can be found in the words of the evangelist John.” What “words” of the apostle John did this author have in mind?
Evidently she was thinking of what appears in the Bible at Revelation 2:12, 13: “And to the angel of the congregation in Pergamum write: ‘ . . . I know where you are dwelling, that is, where the throne of Satan is; and yet you keep on holding fast my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas, my witness, the faithful one, who was killed by your side, where Satan is dwelling.’”
Was Pergamum’s throne altar to Zeus the reason why the Scriptures say that “the throne of Satan” was at Pergamum? Dr. Rode continues:
“Sad to say the question goes unanswered as to whether early Christianity considered the ‘Throne of Satan’ to be this old altar of the gods which is rooted in tradition, or whether this expression was used with reference to the honored Augustus altar located in Pergamum, but hated by the Christians, because they were here forced to sacrifice to Caesar.”
Pergamum’s “castle mound” is another interesting item. A look at its restoration here reveals that worship of the State was a prominent feature of this ancient city. For instance, the Athena national sanctuary contains a statue of Pergamum’s King Attalus I. An inscription indicates that this sanctuary too contained an altar. The castle mound also features a temple begun by the Roman emperor Trajan and completed by his successor Hadrian. Both were worshiped there. And there is another temple in this location, an Ionic one with a theater terrace that is dedicated to Caesar Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Antonius).
The powerful grip of pagan religion on ancient Pergamum is further evident in the hall where sculptures are displayed. There is one of Aesculapius, god of medicine, who was worshiped by means of a living snake kept in a temple. Another sculpture displays Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and sensuousness, sitting on a turtle. There are also the great “mother goddess,” Meter, the Egyptian Isis and many other gods, Greek and Roman, as well as ones from Asia Minor. Indeed, Christians at Pergamum were under pressure to ‘deny their faith in Jesus Christ.’
A Look at Babylon
Another feature of the Pergamum Museum is the restoration of Babylon’s “Procession Street,” built by Nebuchadnezzar 11 for the god Marduk. A cobblestone taken from it bears the inscription: “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon am I. The Babel street I have paved for the procession of the great Lord Marduk with Shadu-cobblestones.”
Picture yourself walking along this passageway to the Ishtar Gate. On each side of you tower massive fortress walls. Can you imagine how difficult it would have been for enemy forces to enter Babylon through this street? Professor R. Koldewey, who directed excavations at Babylon, explains in Das wieder Erstehende Babylon (Babylon Rises Again):
“When the defenders were on the wall the street became a deathtrap for any intruder. This impression of horror and shock, which the walls as such made upon the intruder, and even exerted upon the peaceful newcomer, was substantially augmented by the impressive decoration of long rows of lions striding toward the stranger. These were of glazed enamel colors in flat relief on the brick walls.”
Toward the end of Procession Street is a full-size reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, another impressive reminder of ancient Babylon. This brick structure, containing an arched entranceway straddled by two huge towers, stands some fifty feet high. The sides of the archway and the towers are adorned with an interesting pattern in which rows of bulls alternate with rows of a “serpent dragon.” The latter appears with the head of a serpent, a lionlike body and hind feet of an eagle. Ishtar, whose name this gate bears, was the goddess of sex and fertility and was worshiped in Uruk as mother-goddess and queen of the heavens.
Musing about processions that had taken place on Babylon’s Procession Street, archaeologist Koldewey made an interesting comparison: ‘I once saw appear in the portal of the cathedral at Syrakus (a city on the island of Sicily) a larger than life-size silver image of Mary, loaded with dedication gifts, rings, gems, gold and silver, being carried by 40 men on a litter high above the heads of the swarming crowds. In a festive parade accompanied by noisy music and the fervent praying crowds it was brought to the Garden of Latomien. Similarly I can imagine a procession bringing the god Marduk on his triumphal march along the procession street through Babylon.’
Confirmation of a Bible Account
Work at reconstructing these treasures turned up some interesting corroboration of the following Bible account about Jehoiachin, one of the kings of ancient Israel:
“[Nebuchadnezzar] took Jehoiachin into exile to Babylon . . . And it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin the king of Judah . . . that Evil-merodach the king of Babylon, in the year of his becoming king, raised up the head of Jehoiachin the king of Judah out of the house of detention . . . And he took off his prison garments; and he ate bread constantly before him all the days of his life. As for his allowance, an allowance was constantly given him from the king, daily as due, all the days of his life.”—2 Ki. 24:15; 25:27-30.
During efforts to assemble and rebuild the vast collection of ancient Near Eastern relics, some three hundred cuneiform tablets were discovered. These had been in buildings next to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.
Most of them concerned merely deliveries or distributions of foodstuffs. Interestingly, though, some of these tablets contained the name Jehoiachin. As to the value of this discovery, Hans Bartke comments in the book Bibel, Spaten Und Geschichte (Bible, Spade and History):
“These tablets are not of great importance nor do they give much information. But chiefly they certify that Jehoiachin was actually in Babel, lived in the King’s palace and received his portion of foodstuffs. . . . these tablets represent a corroboration of the Biblical report. They are therefore suited to strengthen confidence in the Biblical record.”
Space does not permit a more extensive investigation here of the Pergamum Museum’s collection of relics. However, in recent years governmental agreements have made it easier for residents of Western countries to enter East Berlin. Are you planning a trip to Germany soon? If so, you may find it to be well worth your while to visit this museum of East Berlin and peruse its treasures from the ancient Near East.
[Picture on page 10]
Reconstruction of a monument containing an altar to Zeus, located in the Pergamum Museum, East Berlin