Monday, December 3, 2012

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople

Patriarch Bartholomew's encyclical of September 1st, 2012 and commitment to environmental activism is the subject of a recent article in the New York Times.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the encyclical:

Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,
         Our God, who created the universe and formed the earth as a perfect dwelling place for humanity, granted us the commandment and possibility to increase, multiply and fulfill creation, with dominion over all animals and plants.
         The world that surrounds us was thus offered to us as a gift by our Creator as an arena of social activity but also of spiritual sanctification in order that we might inherit the creation to be renewed in the future age. Such has always been the theological position of the Holy Great Church of Christ, which is the reason why we have pioneered an ecological effort on behalf of the sacred Ecumenical Throne for the protection of our planet, which has long suffered from us both knowingly and unknowingly.
         Of course, biodiversity is the work of divine wisdom and was not granted to humanity for its unruly control. By the same token, dominion over the earth and its environs implies rational use and enjoyment of its benefits, and not destructive acquisition of its resources out of a sense of greed. Nevertheless, especially in our times, we observe an excessive abuse of natural resources, resulting in the destruction of the environmental balance of the planet’s ecosystems and generally of ecological conditions, so that the divinely-ordained regulations of human existence on earth are increasingly transgressed. For instance, all of us – scientists, as well as religious and political leaders, indeed all people – are witnessing a rise in the atmosphere’s temperature, extreme weather conditions, the pollution of ecosystems both on land and in the sea, and an overall disturbance – sometimes to the point of utter destruction – of the potential for life in some regions of the world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Orhan Pamuk Interview in the New York Times

Orhan Pamuk was interviewed by the NY Times on Nov 8th. When asked, "What book is on your nightstand right now?" Pamuk replied "Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, subtitled "The Persian Book of Kings" now available in a Penguin CLassics edition. He continues that this book is "a great ocean of stories" that he browses from time to time. At the heart of the epic "is the great warrior Sohrab's search for his father, Rustum (Rostam) who, without knowing that Sohran is his son, kills him in a fight."

The interview continues...
You can bring three books to a desert island. Which do you choose?
Encyclopaedia Britannica’s 1911 edition, the first edition of “Encyclopaedia of Islam” (1913-1936) and Resat Ekrem Kocu’s “Encyclopedia of Istanbul” (1958-1971), which I wrote about in my book “Istanbul,” will keep me busy for 10 years. My imagination works best with facts — especially if they are a bit dated. After 10 years they should pick me up from the desert island to publish the novels I wrote there. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Seven Angels of Revelation by Tiffany

One of the people in our group going to Turkey in January 2013 saw an exhibit recently on the seven angels of Revelation. Thanks to Kerala Snyder for pointing out "In Company with Angels" at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York. The pictures can be seen here. The exhibit next goes to Urbana University in Ohio.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reading Material for Our Trip

Dear Turkey Traveling Friends,

While we are still several months away from our departure, I thought I would give you a little "preview" reading material for those who are interested. As you know, the trip itself will be an introduction to the historical, social, political, and cultic context of the world out of which the New Testament and early Christianity emerged in Asia Minor. We'll immerse ourselves in archaeological ruins from the first through sixth centuries ce, and think together about how our  experience of ancient spaces and images will shape our readings of New Testament texts.

Below are a few highly recommended books for your perusal. You can see if your local public library has them (sometimes public libraries have great guidebook sections). You can also order them books from your locally owned bookstore or even directly from the publisher. All of these titles are also available through mass online book distributors (read: Amazon, Barnes&Noble).

Everyone should look at Joerg Rieger's Traveling: Christian Explorations of Daily Living. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011). This short volume will help us think theologically about our travels, early Christians' travels, and our own spiritual journeys.

If you would like a guidebook or two in which to look up different spots on our itinerary, Mark Wilson and Ege Yayinlari, Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. (Istanbul: Umraniye, 2010) is one option.This book is not a traditional guidebook, but rather contains photos, maps, excerpts from ancient texts, and descriptions of many of the sites we will see on our trip. It is a good, accessible reference. Some participants will find this book sufficient for referencing ancient history. Others will find Bernard McDonagh, Blue Guide Turkey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995) more helpful. It is a "nerd's" travel-guide to Turkey and focuses on the ancient history of the sites we will see and much, much more. Copies of the Blue Guide are easily shared among fellow travelers. I will have one with me if you'd like to borrow it on the trip.

Be in touch with questions, discoveries, or inquiries about further reading. I've got a whole library to share and we've got the whole wide-world of western Turkey to explore!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Visit to Patriarchate by Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate

Exciting new developments on the religious front include the news today that Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul to discuss, amongst other things the  re-opening of the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary.

During the meeting, Mehmet Görmez gave his full support to the issue of reopening Halki Seminary on Istanbul’s Heybeliada Island, while Patriarch Bartholomew said the Patriarchate is ready to open the school. Görmez said the fact that a religious community in Turkey currently needs to recruit and train their religious staff in another country was not appropriate.
“In this country, a religious community’s need for other countries to raise their own ecclesiastics does not comply with the greatness of this country. The continuation of their [religious communities’] existence in the framework of law and legislation is more suitable to this greatness, as it has always continued throughout history,” Görmez said in a statement made after the visit.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sinan the architect

Today's NY Times Travel section has an article on Mimar Sinan with pictures of some of the mosques he designed in and around Istanbul. The first one mentioned is the Şemsi Pasha Mosque located in the district of Üsküdar on the Asian side of the Bosphorus right on the shoreline. This area of Istanbul is opposite the Golden Horn.

The article has useful introductory information about Mimar Sinan which can be supplemented by other reading. Here is an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica which describes the importance of the central dome in mosques he built. 

Starting with the Byzantine church as a model, Sinan adapted the designs of his mosques to meet the needs of Muslim worship, which requires large open spaces for common prayer. As a result, the huge central dome became the focal point around which the design of the rest of the structure was developed. Sinan pioneered the use of smaller domes, half domes, and buttresses to lead the eye up the mosque’s exterior to the central dome at its apex, and he used tall, slender minarets at the corners to frame the entire structure. This plan could yield striking exterior effects, as in the dramatic facade of the Selim Mosque. Sinan was able to convey a sense of size and power in all of his larger buildings. Many scholars consider his tomb monuments to be the finest examples of his smaller works.

Other innovations of his unmentioned in the article are light and sound. See also this article which discusses Sinan's creation of acoustic space in the architecture of later mosques. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Holy Land Photos (Turkey) (2012) has a website with photographs from Turkey including Ephesus, Miletus, Pergamum and Sardis which are free to look at. They have plans to add more material so it's an expanding site. The site itself has more material than Turkey (here's a link to browsing through countries like Israel, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt) so have a look around. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cinema in Turkey

Lincoln Center is about to start showing 29 movies from Turkish Cinema (April 27-May 10). Rasit Celikezer who has made several movies including "Can" (2011, shown at the Sundance Festival where it received the "World Cinema Dramatic Prize for Artistic Vision") describes the series and the showing of his movie in the series here In the link to the Lincoln Center series, the title of the movie identifies the date it was released with the director so anyone might be able to find these movies in Netflix or online or in a local video store. There's also a free panel discussion on April 29th at 2.45pm on Turkish Cinema today. For a general overview of Cinema of Turkey, see this article.

Our local video store here in Chelsea, Alan's Alley, has several movies from the director Fatih Akin. These include "Heads-On" (2003, also titled "Gegen Die Wand") and "Crossing the Bridge--the Sound of Istanbul" (2005). I know local video stores vary in their holdings.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Byzantium & Islam at the Metropolitan Museum

The exhibit "Byzantium & Islam" at the Met Museum until July 8th, 2012, focuses on the transitions and adaptations resulting from interactions between Jews, Orthodox, Coptic and Syriac Christians and others in the southern provinces of the Byzantine Empire in the westward spread of the Islamic world. By the 9th Century, authority was transferred from the Byzantine Empire to the new Umayyad and later Abbasid dynasties. The exhibit shows permutations in the adaptations and transformation of religious images and identities.

Here's a review of the exhibit from the NY Times.

On the left is an ivory of St Mark preaching. In it, we can read the opening of Mark's Gospel in Greek. In Coptic Christian tradition, Mark is the first patriarch who brought the gospel to Alexandria. Coptic Christianity bequeathed to the world a rich monastic literary tradition associated particularly with Apa Shenoute 348-465 (see image and Coptic inscription).

One example of transformed shapes and their religious meanings can be seen in three pyx of the exhibit (one on loan from Berlin), here set together side by side, another one of which is 7-8th C carved out of ivory from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Here is a Byzantine ivory pyxis of the 5th Century with images of women at the tomb of Christ. This pyxis may have been used to carry consecrated wafers to those too sick to attend mass.

Compare with Iberian Islamic pyxides like this one from the Cloisters probably used to store jewelry and cosmetics. An ivory pix from the Walters Museum in Baltimore seems to have been created by Muslim artists in Sicily for Christian Norman rulers in the 11-13th Century to contain perfume and jewelry. It is decorated with typical Islamic geometric designs and motifs. Many such small boxes in Europe could take on a Christian function containing the consecrated host or communion wafers. The Walters description points out that these examples of secular Islamic art were copied by European artists making Christian items.

To see this exhibit is to understand that borders and boundaries are not fixed and that ideas and motifs exist in divers ways in different contexts.

Monday, April 2, 2012

As promised, here are a few of the pictures from the 23.March Webinar. For those of you who were unable to join, these give a fore-taste of the archaeological feast to come in January 2013.

The Temple of Apollo in Didyma is one of the largest temples from the ancient world. It is also one of the few interior temple spaces that remain in tact.

The ruins from Ephesos are some of the most impressive in Turkey. We will have the opportunity to explore the Terrace Houses (ancient urban condos) which are as impressive as the better known houses in Pompeii.

Hierapolis is the city where Phillip and his prophetic daughters were said to have come to missionize. The travertine cliffs add incredible natural beauty to a historically rich city.

Sardis was the home of a large Jewish community that built one of the largest synagogues excavated outside of Israel. The synagogue was built in the 6th century CE.

Pergamon is known from the book of Revelation as the throne of satan. It was the capitol city of the Roman province of Asia as well as the site for the Great Altar with homeric reliefs, a well-known Asklepios complex, and a temple to the Roman Emperor Trajan.

We will see many, many more sights both great and small on our trip. Hopefully, these images have whetted your appetite!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Photos from last Friday's Webinar

Celsus Library in Ephesus

Synagogue at Sardis

Temple of Artemis at Sardis
 Here are a few photographs from Deirdre's part of the talk in the webinar last Friday March 23rd.
Katherine's talk was on Ephesus so she will add her pictures later with descriptions.

The 3rdCentury CE synagogue at Sardis is the largest in Asia Minor and is over 300 feet in length. The synagogue floors were paved with mosaics some of which can still be seen today thanks to restoration by Jewish communities in the US and elsewhere. The walls are inset with marble panels of floral and animal designs. It indicates a wealthy and publicly active Jewish community at Sardis with seats on the city council.
Hagia Sophia
The temple of Artemis at Sardis is the 4th largest Ionic Temple in the world. Built around 300BCE, it was restored by the Romans in the 2nd Century CE as a result of Sardis' enhanced status. In the front left foreground of the photograph, you can see a small Christian chapel of the 4th Century CE. This will enable us to reflect on the continuity of religious traditions in sacred buildings.

Our trip will end in Istanbul where we will see Aya Sofia (Hagia Sophia) perhaps even in a light dusting of snow! Built on older constructions, and near the hippodrome and the Great Palace of the Emperors, the Emperor Justinian had material for the Byzantine church brought from everywhere in the Empire: hellenistic columns from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, for example. Nothing like it existed. A domed basilica, the building was dedicated in December 537. It is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture and influenced the shape and constructions of religious buildings for centuries to come. Further architectural details here.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans, the building became a the first Imperial mosque of the Ottoman Empire. Subsequent Sultans restored and enhanced the building. And great architects like Mimar Sinan (1489-1588) used and developed the roof design of Aya Sofia as a model for many other buildings including like Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul.

In 1953, President Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, declared the building a museum.

Deesis in Hagia Sophia

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Welcome to everyone interested in travel to Turkey!

From January 9-20, 2013, Professor Katherine Shaner and I will co-lead a trip to Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The trip is organized by Illume Travel of Boston and details (including costs and registration) are here.

The purpose of this blog is initially to provide information about the trip. Prior to the trip, participants can get to know each other and the group as a whole through the blog. We will then hold a webinar nearer to the departure to cover final details.

We will fly into Izmir (ancient Smyrna) and travel south to Miletus and Didyma before we visit Ephesus for a day and a half.

Then we will travel through Aphrodisias, Laodicea and Hiearapolis after which we will visit the largest synagogue in Asia Minor at Sardis. We will continue travelling north through ancient Troy and conclude the trip with 3 days in Istanbul to take in Byzantine churches that are now museums (Hagia Sophia and the Church of Our Savior in Chora), mosques (Blue Mosque), TopKapi palace, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.

To help participants prepare for the trip, we will cover each site in a different blog post and supply appropriate bibliographical resources and links.

Plans for the blog
I want to end the first post of this new blog by sharing more information about Hagia Sophia. This link comes from a blog post of March 23rd (last Friday) attached to a current exhibit, Byzantium and Islam at the Metropolitan Museum of NYC, on display until July 2012. I will blog the exhibit --which I have now visited twice-- in a future post.

Also in future posts, Prof Shaner and I will create an FAQ about the trip and visiting Turkey; information about Turkish history and Turkey today (ranging from politics to football and food); rudimentary Turkish and useful phrases to know.

In the meantime, please post comments and questions you might have. Thanks!