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.