1 Corinthians 10 – The Idolatry in the Wilderness & The Lost Cities of South Asia and the Far East (4of 4)

The Serpent, Subtle and Brazen: Idolatry, Imagemaking, and the Hebrew Bible

Even the serpent managed to find a place on Noah’s ark.

We know because the serpent reappears in the wilderness, in the stark desert landscape that is Eden’s opposite.

This time, the serpent is not an agent of sin, but the model for a divine totem charged with the power to dispel a deadly plague among the wandering Israelites.

God’s most reviled creature, condemned to eat dust, somehow comes to occupy a salvific role.

In the New Testament, Jesus transforms this story into gospel by way of an analogy: “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (King James Version, John 3:14).

The serpent’s journey from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high is a peculiar development. Even more peculiar, though, for those familiar with the Old Testament, is the fact that it achieves this exalted status as a “serpent [made] of brass,” as a graven image that shines like an idol in the right light.

It is a truism of biblical scholarship to say that the Old Testament is a long screed against idolatry.

The commandments are explicit in this regard. So, then, what are we to make of a moment of idolatry that God does not condemn but instead actively condones?

As we consider the brazen serpent, we are faced with a situation in which all the usual restrictions and taboos—against serpents and against idols—seem to be miraculously suspended.

The next picture tells more.

Tomorrow we’ll look at…

1 Corinthians 10
The Idolatry in the Wilderness

1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;

“Under the cloud” – under God’s leadership and guidance. 

2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;

4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

“That Rock was Christ” – the rock, from which the water came, and the manna were symbolic of supernatural sustenance through Christ, the bread of life and the water of life (Jn 4:14, 6:30-35).

5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.

7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

“Idolaters” – referring to the incident of the golden calf (Ex 32:1-6).  The people ate a ritual meal sacrificed to an idol.

8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.

Refers to Israel’s joining herself Baal of Peor, participating in the worship of this god of the Moabites and engaging in sexual immorality with the prostitute virgins who worshipped this god.

9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

“Temptation” – temptation in itself is not sin.  Jesus was tempted (Matt 4:1-11).  Yielding to the temptation is sin.

“Bear it” – God’s enablement to resist the temptation to sin.

14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

“Flee from idolatry” – like that described in Ex 32:1-6.  Corinthian Christians had come out of a background of paganism. 

Man Even Turns Good Things to Idols, i.e., Bad Things.
The reformer John Calvin famously wrote that the human heart is an idol factory.

Humans have a proclivity to take things, even good things, and turn them into objects of worship.

As I was reading through 2 Kings last week I found a powerful example of this – one I had never caught before.

Throughout 2 Kings we are witness to a series of bad kings pushing the nation of Israel towards worshipping local gods and breaking God’s covenant with His chosen people.
But then, in 2 Kings 18:4, King Hezekiah comes along and has had enough.

“[Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).” – 2Ki 18:4

The Israelites took a good thing that God used (the bronze serpent) and turned it into an idol.

It happened slowly over time, but eventually a good thing God used replaced Israel’s worship of God Himself.

Temples for the worship of Apollo, Asclepius, Demeter, Aphrodite and other pagan gods and goddesses were seen daily by the Corinthians as they engaged in the activities of everyday life.

The worship of Aphrodite, with its many sacred prostitutes, was a particularly strong temptation.

15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?

19 What say I then? That the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything?

20 But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

You can’t expect God to honor you if you give to the poor and also commit adultery, it doesn’t work that way. 

For example, the some of the things the Catholic church does is good, things that Oprah Winfrey does is good, but they both also sin willfully which makes everything they do for Jesus moot.

22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Yes we do when we try and manipulate Him (Gal 6:7-8), or as v. 21 says.

23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

First Corinthians 10:12 is often quoted in the context of pride. “If you think you can stand, if you think you have it all together, if you think you’re untouchable—take heed that you do not fall.

To worship “ANYTHING” but Christ is idolatry. Even if you say you worship something in the name of Christ it is idolatry because you are not actually doing that.

Paul explains how Israel was “baptized into Moses.” They ate the same spiritual food, they drank the same spiritual drink, they experienced the same spiritual journey. But verse 5 lets us know that all was not well. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.”

How does their journey intersect with our lives? Verse 6 says, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” Paul wrote about their journey to help us avoid the same mistakes in our journey.

In verses 7-10, Paul points to 4 evil things they did:

“Do not be idolators” (v.7)
“Nor let us act immorally” (v.8)
“Nor let us try the Lord” (v.9)
“Nor grumble” (v.10)

We’re all guilty of these types of sins. If we do not see our involvement, we will rest in our innocence.

When we rest in ourselves instead of staying dependent upon God, it’s only a matter of time before we fall.

“All things are not expedient” – personal freedom and desire for one’s rights are not the only considerations.  One must also consider the good of his neighbor.

24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.

25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:

“Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat” – even if it has been sacrificed to an idol, because out in the public market it has lost its pagan religious significance.

26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.

27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:

“For his sake that shewed it’ – if the meat has been identified as meat sacrificed to idols and you eat it, the man – whether a believer or an unbeliever – might think you condone, or even are willing to participate in, the worship of the idols the meat has been offered to.

29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?

“My liberty” – the exercise of one’s personal freedom is to be governed by whether it will bring glory to God, whether it will build up the church of God and whether it will encourage the unsaved to receive Christ as Savior and Lord

We are supposed to do our best not to offend people.  Yet, if standing up for Jesus Christ offends someone then let them be offended.

30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?

31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

“All to the glory of God” – the all-inclusive principle that governs the discussion in chapters 8-10 is that God should be glorified in everything that is done.

32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

“Give none offence” – the particular case of stumbling Paul had in mind was that of eating meat offered to idols.  Living to glorify God will result in doing what is beneficial for others, whether Christians (“the church of God”) or non-Christians (“Jews, Gentiles”).

33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

“Please all men in all things” – Paul does not mean that he will compromise the truths of the gospel in order to please everybody, but that he will consider his fellowman and not cause anyone’s conscience to be offended by his daily life, thus keeping that person from receiving the gospel.

The Lost Cities of South Asia and
the Far East (4of 4)

Fujiwara-Kyo

Location: Asuka, Japan
Date of Construction: 682 C.E.
Abandoned: 710 C.E.
Built By: Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito
Key Features: Street Grid; Imperial Palace; Halls of State; Imperial Audience Hall; Suzaku-Mon (Main Gate); Ceramic Roofing; Yakushiji Temple; Inscribed Wooden Tablets and Coins

Japan is renowned as a nation where history and tradition are paramount, yet in some respects it has a relatively short history. Construction at Fujiwara-Kyo, effectively Japan’s first city, was only begun around 682 C.E.

While in the same period Japan’s rulers introduced several technologies commonly associated with civilization, which seem to have been absent until this point.

Despite coming to the party late, however, the builders of Fujiwara-Kyo – the City of the Wisteria Plain – produced an impressive and well-planned city dominated by a huge imperial palace complex that included the largest building Japan had ever seen.

The construction of Fujiwara-Kyo, also Japan’s first permanent capital (although this designation is ironic given that it was occupied for just 16 years before the imperial court and the rest of the city’s population were uprooted and transplanted to a new capital), was one of the most significant elements of a profound political, social and cultural transformation.

It marked and facilitated the transition of Japan from a disparate group of competing chiefdoms to a nation state and can only be understood when interpreted in this light.

Japan in Transition

Japan emerged relatively late from its prehistoric period and its protohistoric period extends up to the founding of Fujiwara-Kyo.

Asuka is a village located in Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture, Japan.

As of February 29, 2012, the village has an estimated population of 6,035, with 2,180 households, and a population density of 250.62 persons per km. The total area is 24.08 km².

Asuka is the land where ancient Asuka palaces were located. There are strict rules governing construction in this historic town.

Asuka can be reached from Okadera or Asuka Station on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line train line.
Although it’s outside Asuka, Kashiharajingū-mae Station in neighboring Kashihara has service on the Kintetsu Kashihara, Minami-Osaka and Yoshino Lines. By car, Asuka is on Route 169.

In the 4th and 5th centuries geo-political control was divided amongst the nobility, who comprised a number of powerful and constantly competing families or clans. Among them was the imperial clan from the Yamato region.

By the 7th century, however, most of the core territory of Japan had been consolidated under control of the imperial court (which itself was often controlled by one or more non-imperial clans).

The Asuka region had emerged as the locus of this control, but the site of the imperial palace, and therefore the de facto capital of Japan, shifted within this area. This period is now known as the Asuka Era.

As Japan became more centralized, it also developed its links to the mainland, to the sophisticated and dominant cultures of China and Korea.

The Asuka Era saw large influxes of immigrants from these areas and the introduction of Buddhism as the state religion, among many other Chinese and Korean cultural influences.

At the start of the 7th century the Soga clan controlled power, but in 645 the imperial clan reasserted its own dominance.

Under Prince Naka-no-Oe, who later became Emperor Tenji, it followed a twin course of adopting Chinese political and socio-economic models domestically, while pursuing a foreign policy designed to limit Chinese influence.

The former strategy was known as the Taika Reform, while the latter involved military adventures in Korea, allying Japanese armies with the Korean kingdom of Baekje, which was engaged in a struggle with the southeastern Korean kingdom of Silla and its Tang Chinese allies.

In 663, the imperial court sent an army of 27,000 troops to Korea to assist Baekje, but their combined forces wear defeated at the Battle of Hakusonko, and the Tang-supported Silla took control of the whole peninsula. 

Many Baekje took refuge in Japan and it was feared that the Tang would retaliate and follow on their heels.

Tenji pressed on with the domestic reforms aimed at transforming Japan into a viable, strong nation state, able to defend its borders against aggression from similar entities (i.e., Chinese).

The key reform was the introduction of ritsuryo, a system of penal and administrative law copied from China, as the basic legal code of the new state.

Under ritsuryo the entire population was subject to legal control – including taxation – from the center, with the emperor at the top of the pyramid.

Administering this new system required an ever-larger bureaucracy and by the 670s it was clear that the confines of the traditional and impermanent imperial palace were insufficient. 

There are many wonderful temples located within the relatively small confines of Nara City.

At Jurin-in temple, I encountered a stone image of Jizo-Bosatsu with a very mild facial expression. Jizo-Bosatsu is popular as a guardian deity for children.

I was particularly impressed by the offerings of a box filled with sand dedicated to victims of the tsunami in Japan’s Tohoku region.

Plans were put in motion for a new, permanent capital city, following Chinese models.

For the first time in Japan, a large settlement would be planned in advance and laid out accordingly.

Short-Lived Capital

Construction of the city was begun during the reign of the Emperor Tenmu. A site in the Asuka region was chosen – a plain between three hills in the present day Takadono district of Kashihara-shi, where three of Japan’s main roads converged: the Nakatsumichi, Shimotsumichi and Yoko-oji, which were to mark the east, west and north boundaries of the city, respectively.

The location had originally been known as Fujiigahara, or ‘plain of the wisteria well’, but later this was shortened to simply Fujiwara, ‘wisteria plain’ and so the city became Fujiwara-Kyo, ‘city of the wisteria plain’.

Canals were dug to allow timber and stone to be brought to the site (although these were later filled in before the city was actually occupied).

Tenmu’s death in 687 brought a temporary halt to construction, but the project was continued under his widow, the Empress Jito, and finally completed in 694, whereupon Fujiwara-Kyo served as her capital.

A poem composed by Prince Shiki records some of the emotions stirred by the move to the new city: ‘Asuka breezes that once curled back the palace maidens’ sleeves; seeing now the court so far, they blow without purpose.’

Fujiwara-Kyo was the capital of Jito’s successors, the Emperor Mommu and the Empress Gemmei, but in 710 the capital was relocated 9 miles north, to Nara.

The martial arts village of Yagyu in the northeast of Nara is known from “Yagyu Shinkage Ryu”, which was diligently practiced by famous samurai such as Yagyu Jubei with the aim of becoming strong.

Today, this is a rural area rich with nature, so I was genuinely surprised to find the Yagyu no Ittoseki stone here. Legend has it that the mysterious slash in this stone, which stands some 7 meters tall, indicates the results of samurai battles.

Fujiwara-Kyo was stripped of all recyclable materials and what remained may have been further devastated by a fire in 711. By the 9th century the site had largely returned to farmland and it was not definitively rediscovered until excavations began in 1934.

Chinese Model City

The city was laid out according to the jobo grid system, like a Go board, along the lines of Chinese cities like the Tang capital of Changan.

Although it could not compete with Chinese metropolises for size, recent excavations have revealed that it may have covered as much as 9¼ square miles, considerably bigger than traditionally believed.

The city was divided by orthogonal oji, or avenues, into twelve jo (north-south blocks) and eight bo (east-west blocks).

Whereas in later capitals the city blocks were delineated by numbers, at Fujiwara-Kyo each block had its own name – e.g. Ohari-machi and Hayashi-mach.

As many as 30,000 people may have lived here. One clue to the population comes from a document called the Shoku Nihongi, which records that in 704, 1,505 households in Fujiwara-Kyo received bolts of cloth.

Household registers (known as koseki) from the era – a device introduced as part of the ritsuryo system to help keep track of tax payers – show that each household numbered on average more than 16 people, suggesting a minimum population for the city of at least 24,000.

The focal point of the city was the Fujiwara-no-miya, the imperial palace. Like a Chinese palace this was actually a compound or complex of walls, plazas and buildings.

Genjo Sanzo is a protagonist of the famous Chinese classical novel entitled “Journey to the West”.

This is a tale of Genjo Sanzo’s journey from China to India in order obtain sacred texts, in which he battles with monsters with help from Songoku, the ghost of his monkey servant.

Some 1,300 years ago, various cultures came into Nara via the Silk Road.

Processions of masked people can be seen at the Genjosanzo-e Taisai Festival, which is held at Yakushiji Temple on May 5th every year, reminding me of ancient times in which Nara was connected via the Silk Road all the way to Europe.

Sited in the central north zone of the city, so that the monarch could symbolically look south to  survey his dominions, the palace was approximately 1/3 square mile and was surrounded by a 16½  wide outer ditch, wooden walls about 16½ feet high and then another, inner ditch.

There were three main gates; the main one, the Suzaku-mon, was in the south wall.

It led to the heart of the complex: the Dairi, the emperor’s personal residence and the Chodoin, the Halls of State, of which the most important was the Daigokuden, the Imperial Audience Hall. At 147½ feet wide, 69 feet deep and 82 feet high, this was the largest building in Japan.

The omiya dodan, or ‘earth platform of the great palace’ upon which the Daigokuden rested, still rises above the surrounding plain at the site.

Significantly the Audience Hall and other palace buildings were the first in Japan to be roofed with ceramic tiles – another innovation from China.

It is estimated that up to two million tiles were used on the palace. Also as in China, public buildings were cited in the midst of wide plazas to enhance their impact on the sovereign’s subjects.

Around the palace were the mansions of aristocrats and high-ranking officials. One such mansion near the Suzaku-mon covered 129,166 square feet. Lesser bureaucrats and commoners lived further out.

There were also several Buddhist temples in the city. One of them, Yakushiji, still exists, having been moved along with the capital to the new site at Nara, where it still stands today (although most of it has been reconstructed at one point or another).

Just as the city itself was an innovation, so its construction and habitation involved other innovations. Fujiwara-Kyo saw the first latrines yet found in Japan.

Analysis of their contents shows that the inhabitants ate raw vegetables and undercooked fish, such as carp and trout, which gave them worms. To help regulate and facilitate trade, the city also saw the first coins ever minted in Japan.

Tenji, in full Tenji Tennō, Tenji also spelled Tenchi, original name Nakano Ōe (born 625/626, Japan—died Jan. 7, 672, Ōtsu, Ōmi province), 38th emperor of Japan, from 668 to 672, and the ruler who freed the Japanese court from the domination of the Soga family.

Tenji implemented a series of reforms that strengthened the central government in accord with the Chinese model and restored power to the emperor.

In 1999, archaeologists found a cache of Fuhonsen coins, named for the two kanji characters on the front – fu and hon, meaning ‘wealth’ and ‘basis’, thought to be a reference to a legendary Chinese epigram, ‘the basis for wealth of the people is food and money’.

These coins, dating from the late 7th century and predating the previous earliest known Japanese coins of 708, are thought to represent another stage in the Taika Reform project to modernize Japan, transforming it into a nation state along Chinese lines.

It is even suggested that the coins were specifically designed to help educate the public about how to use money.

Another innovation from this period was the use of mokkan, inscribed wooden tablets or batons used to help administer the ritsuryo system.

They could be used as luggage or goods labels, as tallies to help keep track of taxes or as official documents.

Over 7,000 have been discovered at Fujiwara-Kyo, providing valuable insights into the business of government at this crucial period in Japanese history.

Moving Time

After expending so much time and effort to create a city from scratch, why abandon it after such a short time?

The relocation was probably down to political/symbolic reasons, with the new capital intended to provide an even larger and more impressive backdrop to the new system of government, one which was not associated with the traditional ruling region of Asuka (Nara was slightly further to the north).

But historian Hisashi Kano suggests that geomancy – landscape magic – may have played a part in the decision, with the hill directly to the south of Fujiwara-Kyo effectively disrupting the feng-shui of the palace.

Rather than the emperor overlooking his domain from the palace, the hill meant that his palace was itself overlooked.

…tongue-speaking in Christian and Pagan worship.

1 Corinthians 1 – Paul’s Thanksgiving & The Lost Cities of South Asia and the Far East: Angkor (3 of 4)

The Mekong is a trans-boundary river in Southeast Asia.
It is the world’s 12th-longest river and the 7th-longest in Asia. Its estimated length is 4,350 km (2,703 mi), and it drains an area of 795,000 km2 (307,000 sq mi), discharging 457 km3 (110 cu mi) of water annually.

From the Tibetan Plateau this river runs through China’s Yunnan province, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

In 1995, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam established the Mekong River Commission to assist in the management and coordinated use of the Mekong’s resources. In 1996 China and Burma (Myanmar) became “dialogue partners” of the MRC and the six countries now work together within a cooperative framework.

We’ve seen a lot of lost cities and each one of them was great.  I wonder if there are any cities that needed to be lost and buried, like Detroit, Michigan for example.

Tomorrow we’ll look at…

Corinthians 1
Paul’s Thanksgiving

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

3 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;

5 That in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;

6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:

7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

Giant Catfish from the MeKong river.
The Mekong River is still a relatively healthy, natural, free-flowing river.

It is one of the most biodiverse rivers on Earth (in terms of freshwater fish). Most of its habitats and connections between habitats are still intact. Remarkably, the Mekong is still capable of producing 2.6 million tons of fish a year, despite fishing pressures from millions of people who depend on the river for sustenance.

That makes it the most productive river in the world.

12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

“Apollos” – he had carried a fruitful ministry in Corinth.

“Cephas” – Peter.  It has been suggested that those who followed Peter in Corinth were Jewish Christians.

13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;

15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.

17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

“Not to baptize” – Paul is not minimizing baptism; rather, he is asserting that his God-given task was primarily to preach.  Jesus and Peter also had others baptize for them.

“Wisdom of words” – Paul’s mission was not to couch the gospel in the language of the trained orator, who had studied the techniques of influencing people by persuasive arguments.

18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

The quotation is from Is 29:14, where God denounced the policy of the “wise” in Judah in seeking an alliance with Egypt when threatened by King Sennacherib of Assyria.

“The wise” – Aristides said that on every street in Corinth one met a so-called wise man who had his own solutions to the world’s problems.

They’re still here, but no longer on the street corners.  These lunatics are now online and cover the globe or they are in politics.  If you don’t believe me take a look at the White House.

In about 750 CE, the Mayan city of Tikal had a population of more than 60,000 souls.
During its peak, archaeologists believe that the city center spanned almost six square miles, and further research tells us that Tikal’s population may have spread outwards from the center for at least 47 square miles.

The city remained a secret for more than a thousand years; Spanish conquistadores passed within a few miles of Tikal on their rapacious journey through the area, but never learned of its existence.

In 1848, the Guatemalan government made the first official expedition and report on the city; it was declared a National Park in 1995.

Today, modern Mayans celebrate their ancestors with pilgrimages to Tikal, which hosts more than 100,000 Guatemalan visitors each year.

20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

“Wisdom…foolishness” – Jesus expresses a similar thought in Lk 10:21.  It is God’s intention that worldly wisdom should not be the means of knowing Him.

“Foolish preaching” – not that preaching is foolish, but that the message being preached (Christ crucified) is viewed by the world as foolish and that is because the majority of the world are fools.

22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

1:26-31 – the Corinthian Christians themselves were living proof that salvation does not depend on anything in man, so that when someone is saved, he must glory in the Lord.

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.

30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:

31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

The Lost Cities of South Asia and
the Far East (3 of 4)

Angkor

Location: Cambodia
Date Of Construction: 802 C.E.
Abandoned: Largely Abandoned by 1431 C.E.
Built By: Khmer Empire
Key Features: Angkor Wat; Angkor Thom; Bayon Temple; Baray (Reservoirs); Lack of Non-Sacred Buildings

The great legacy of the Khmer Empire and arguably the greatest religious complex of all time, the city of Angkor is a remarkable collection of temples and canals, buried under thick jungle when it was first encountered by European explorers.

Recent hi-tech investigations have revealed its full, colossal extent and provided valuable clues about the self-inflicted environmental problems that may have caused its demise, but the authorities seem powerless to prevent the continual degradation of the ancient treasure by looters.

Angkor is a Khmer word derived from the Sanskrit term for “holy city”. It was the capital and religious center of the Khmer Empire, a state that flourished in Indochina from the 9th to the 15th centuries CE.

Bas relief from Angkor Wat showing dancing asparas — female spirits or divinities also known as sky-dancers or celestial dancers.
Overleaf: The colossal temple of Angkor Wat, viewed from across the wide moat that surrounds it. The moat symbolized the oceans, and the towers the peaks of sacred Mount Meru.

West of the Mekong River, near Tonle Sap – the largest lake in Indochina – on a wide, low-lying plain in the center of modern-day Cambodia, Angkor grew over the centuries into the largest – in geographical terms – pre-industrial city in history, with a population that may have numbered as many as a million.

But to the modern visitor there is little that resembles a city; instead there is a collection of temples and water features widely scattered around a scrubby plain interrupted by patches of thick jungle.

How could this strange landscape have supported such a vast population and what could have motivated the construction of such a profusion of religious architecture?

Seat of the Khmer God-kings

The region of Indochina known today as Cambodia was a collection of small states known to its northern neighbors, the Chinese, as Zhenia.

At the start of the 9th century CE the Khmer king Jayavarman II, ruler of Kambuja, united the fragmented principalities of the region and extended his sway over most of Indochina.

In 802 CE he declared himself to be devajara, meaning ‘royal god’ – effectively labelling himself as ‘god-king’ and establishing the royal personality cult as the central strategy by which the monarchy legitimized its rule – a strategy that was to lead to the incredible sacred architecture of Angkor.

In 889 CE Yasovarman I moved the capital of the Khmer Empire to Angkor and set about transforming it into a sacred landscape: a replica of heaven on Earth.

In the mythology of Hinduism, the state religion of the Khmers, the center of heaven was Mount Meru, the abode of the gods, which was surrounded by the oceans.

On Phnom Bakheng, the only natural hill in the area, Yasovarman built a pyramidal temple, symbolizing and recreating Mount Meru.

Within the temple a sacred stone, or lingam, represented Shiva, one of the supreme Hindu gods but also the Khmer god-king.

Angkor is a region of Cambodia that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire, which flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries.
The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit nagara (नगर), meaning “city”.

The Angkorian period began in AD 802, when the Khmer Hindu monarch Jayavarman II declared himself a “universal monarch” and “god-king”, and lasted until the late 14th century, first falling under Ayutthayan suzerainty in 1351.

A Khmer rebellion resulted in the 1431 sacking of Angkor by Ayutthaya, causing its population to migrate south to Longvek.

Thus the Khmer god-kings gave physical expression to their divine right to rule, legitimizing their authority through the very fabric of their capital.

To complete the early reconstruction of the cosmology, the temple at Phnom Bakheng was surrounded by a most, to represent the oceans, and this was fed from the first of two huge reservoirs, or baray, constructed at the site.

The Eastern Baray at Angkor is 5 x 1 miles in area and held up to 48, 400,000 cubic yards of water; the Western Baray is even larger. 

They were the largest manifestation of the massive and complex system of irrigation channels, canals, moats, and ponds – over a thousand of them – that underpinned life in Angkor.

With the network of water-management features the Khmer were able to tame the annual flooding of Tonle Sap, irrigating their rice paddies and making their agriculture highly productive.

A 13th century Chinese visitor to Angkor recorded that they could produce three or four crops of rice a year, making it possible to support a huge population spread across a vast urban sprawl.

Between 1992 and 2007, researchers using satellites, NASA radar imagery, light aircraft and more down-to-earth technology such as scooters, were able to show that at its height Angkor had covered 386 square miles, making it the largest pre-industrial city in history.

The next biggest rival, the Mayan City of Tikal was more than an order of magnitude smaller at 38½ to 58 square miles.

Angkor’s glory years came in the 11th to 13th centuries.  Under King Suryavarman I (reigned 1011-1050), the imperial palace-city of Angkor Wat, the most famous and the greatest of the temples at Angkor, intended as his mausoleum. 

According to an inscription in the temple, Suryavarman II won the throne after slaying a rival prince in battle, leaping onto his war-elephant and engaging him in single combat.

Like the earlier temples, Angkor Wat with its five towers was a version of the sacred Mount Meru, which according to the myth had five peaks.

The greatest of the Khmer kings and the last great builder at Angkor was Jayavarman VII (reigned 11 SI- 1220), who refurbished Angkor Thom, built temples to his parents, and, on adopting Mahayana Buddhism as his personal faith, constructed the Buddhist temple of Bayon in the heart of Angkor Thom.

It is famous for the giant faces peering out from its towers, representing King Jayavarman VII as the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara: thus the king contrived to maintain and even enhance the cult of royal personality despite the change in religion.

The Record of Zhou Daguan

Dinosaurs in ancient Cambodian temple.
The magnificent jungle temples of Cambodia were produced by the Khmer civilization, beginning as early as the eighth and extending through the fourteenth century A.D.

One of, if not the greatest monarchs and monument builders of this empire was Jayavarman VII, crowned supreme king in 1181. Portrait statues, depicting him meditating in the fashion of Buddha, have been found throughout the region.

These awesome temples were rediscovered by Portuguese adventurers and Catholic missionaries in the 16th century and many were restored in 19th and 20th centuries.

Ta Prohm, one of the most picturesque, was left in it’s natural state. It recently gained international attention as the setting for the first Laura Croft movie.

In 1296 a Chinese diplomat, Zhou Daguan, visited Kambuja and wrote an account of life in Angkor, A Record of the Customs of Cambodia, which provides an invaluable record of the medieval kingdom.

He described the main temples and also depicted a society governed both by pervasive religious devotion and the strict and oppressive hierarchies that fed off that devotion to maintain their status and prerogatives.

The elite emphasized the importance of subordination and owned hundreds of slaves who were often treated very poorly.

Yet in some ways life in Kambuja was easier than in China, with the result that there was a significant population of Chinese ex-pats who had fled their homeland.

The first thing that such a new arrival had to do, Zhou Daguan reported, was obtain a wife, because trade was an exclusively female preserve.

He also described the typical domestic set-up, offering a valuable clue to the mystery of why, beyond infrastructure such as canals and bridges, there seems to be little trace of the non-religious aspect of this heavily populated city.

The typical Kambujan home was apparently devoid of furniture and many of the implements and utensils they used were ‘disposable’ – for instance, ‘they use a tree leaf to make a little bowl and jiao leaves to make a little spoon to take the broth to their mouths.

When they have finished using these things they throw them away/ (Similar bowls are still used in parts of Cambodia today.)

Applied on a larger scale, this principle of using natural materials might explain why only the religious monuments are left.

Building in stone was reserved for the residences of the gods; apart from infrastructure, secular buildings, apparently up to and including royal palaces, were made from timber or even more perishable materials, which did not long survive the abandonment of the city thanks to the tropical climate.

The Loss and Rediscovery of Angkor

One of the animals enclosed in these circles is a stegosaurus.

After Jayavarman VITs death there was a brief return to Hinduism, which saw widespread defacing and desecration of Buddhist imagery, but eventually Buddhism was established as the state religion of the Khmers and many of the temples were converted to Buddhist shrines.

But there was also a general decline in the Khmer Empire (see below) and from the late 13th century it was threatened by the growing power of the Thai (or Siamese) kingdom to the west.

According to the popular history of the site, the end of Angkor came in 1431, when the Thai invaded the western provinces of Kambuja and sacked the city, at which point the Khmer fled to the new Khmer capital near Phnom Penh, taking their treasures with them.

In practice, historians have largely discredited this story, and substantial populations continued into the 16th century, possibly as lay support for communities of Buddhist monks based in the temples.

But the center of political gravity had shifted irrevocably and Angkor subsided until it was a shadow of its former glories.

By the 17th century, the population had diminished substantially, and in the tropical heat and humidity the jungle quickly reclaimed the site and the roots of fig trees and other plants wreaked considerable damage on the unmortar masonry, forcing blocks it arc threatening to bring the mighty temples low.

The extraordinary ruins of Angkor first became famous in Europe thanks to the writings and sketches of French explorer Henri Mahout, who visited the site in 1860.

The idea that the carving may have been added recently is simply not possible for at least a half-dozen reasons.
1. Patina is still obvious in the recesses.

2. The depth of relief on the carvings that cover every square inch of this column, is more than half an inch. Removing the imagined “original” carving would have left a recessed surface. Then, carving the stegosaur on the recessed surface would require still deeper recesses.

The above photograph clearly demonstrates that the carving is not recessed. It is flush with the other carvings. Since the plates on the back of the stegosaur protrude from the recessed background at least half an inch, it would not be possible to add them to the background by subsequent carving. The plates are an integral part of the rock surrounded by a recessed, patina covered background.

3. There is approximately 40 feet of overburden that would have been displaced in order to replace the entire block.

4. The blocks are held together, not with mortar, but with iron “staples” in the shape of a capital “I” typically about 8 inches long, 1.5 inches wide and 3/8 of an inch thick. An inset in the shape of the staple was carved into the surface of two adjoining blocks, across the abutment, one end in one block and the other end in the other. With the staple in the shaped recess, the next tier of blocks holds the staple in place. They are used horizontally and vertically.

5. It may sound presumptuous, but I am trained in petrology. (this is not me talking) I know rocks. If someone had altered this rock, years after the original carvings, I would see it immediately. It would also be obvious to other experts who have carefully examined this carving (documented below). I can tell you without the slightest doubt, this carving is not modern, it is contemporary with the other carvings of Ta Prohm.

6. It should also be mentioned that the mind-set in Cambodia is very different form ours. The people are still greatly intimidated by governmental authorities. The brutal execution millions for almost any excuse, is vivid in the memory of virtually all adults in this country. Some of the same government officials responsible for the slaughter of perhaps 1/4 of the population are still in power today in this communist dictatorship.

Consider this in connection of the fact that dozens of federal police with AK 47’s patrol the ruins day and night, daring anyone to deface or take “souvenirs.” It is simply not credible to imagine pranksters, defacing and re-carving these “sacred” temples, which are still actively used today for Hindu and Buddhist idol worship.

His account vividly depicts the impact of coming upon the cyclopean ruins draped in verdant growth, a sight “which presents itself to the eye of the traveler, making him forget all the fatigues of his journey, filling him with admiration and delight, such as would be experienced on finding a verdant oasis in the sandy desert”.

In practice, however, Mahout was far from the first European to visit Angkor, which was reported by the Portuguese in 1550.

But it was his account that catapulted Angkor to fame as an archetypal lost city, although the wonder and awe it provoked was not limited to Europeans.

When Mahout asked the local people who had constructed such marvels they told him it had been built by gods or giants, while Siamese scribes, writing just two centuries after the fall of the Khmer empire recorded that it was said that “angels from heaven came to help in building this magnificent city”.

The Mysterious Decline

Since serious scholarship into Angkor began, and particular since the institution of the Ecole Francaise D’Extreme-Orient in 1898, there has been much debate over the causes of Angkor’s decline.

While accounts of the fatal Thai raid of 1431 may be inaccurate, it is generally accepted that Angkor was in terminal decline by the 15th century and there are competing theories abop0ut why.

One line of argument is that the Khmer regime was exhausted both by continual warfare with its neighbors and by the tremendous demands of the monumental labor that had created Angkor’s sacred landscape.

King Jayavarman VII, for instance, is renowned as the greatest of the Khmer kings, but for his subjects his mania for construction must have been incredibly taxing.

Towards the end of the Khmer era the state religion became Theravada Buddhism and George Coedes, perhaps the foremost scholar of Angkor, argues that this form of the religion, with its emphasis on the denial of the reality of the individual, was not compatible with the cult of royal personality.

Coedes argues that the combination of this with the military and economic exhaustion of the state resulted in an erosion of central authority, which in turn led to a breakdown of maintenance of the irrigation system, with knock-on effects for the agricultural basis of the city’s existence.

More recently the water-management system at Angkor has come in for closer scrutiny as the ultimate rather than merely proximate cause of the city’s decline.

The recent project to map the full extent of ancient Angkor has led to claims that the city’s vast urban sprawl became self-defeating.

Mass deforestation to meet the demands of the population and the constant construction projects led to soil erosion, while at the same time the water management system simply became too large for effective management.

The result was that the irrigation canals became clogged with silt and ceased to function.

Other theories about the city’s collapse include climate change, with archaeologists from the University of Sydney pointing to the transition from the medieval warm period to the Little Ice Age as the trigger for the city’s water crisis, and disease, with the suggestion that breakdown of the irrigation system led to stagnant water, which in turn led to an explosion of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Unfortunately the ancient city’s decline continues to this day. Initially the fabric of the city was at risk from the encroaching jungle, but now this threat has been replaced with a human one.

Ever since it was uncovered Angkor has attracted the attentions of looters and art thieves, and even today professional teams of looters openly survey parts of the site for statues, facades and reliefs they can rip out and sell on.

Rapidly increasing tourism at the site could also pose problems.

…the City of Corinth when Paul was there.