Context Creates Life

My friends and I went to the Oregon Symphony recently and I was extremely pleased that the Conductor explained some of the background and history about the artists. Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen was suddenly more meaningful when set in the context of WWII and the destruction of the Munich Opera House. It was a nice reminder to me why context matters in everything.

As a Biblical Historian, I know that context is key when reading ancient tests. In order to really understand a text, you have to know as much as you can about the author, the audience, the sociopolitical situation, even the language and its nuances. The text holds more power when read in its correct context.

Context isn’t only relevant to ancient history. Mashable has printed an opinion piece on why context matters when judging images here. An image taken 5 minutes ago and tweeted can easily be taken out of context.

I can’t imagine travelling without understanding at least some of the context of the places I’m visiting. This can happen both prior to and during the trip.

When planning my trip to Turkey, I read news articles, histories, and travel books to understand more about the country.

While I was there, I learned the most from a private guide who I hired for a day in Cappadocia. From him, I learned that the gorgeous geological formations were formed from volcanic activity over a period of about 65 million years. Each of the unique formations and colors were created during a different eruption.


“Fairy chimneys” were formed when lava covering the tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) gave way along preexisting cracks of sloping areas and became isolated pinnacles. They can attain a height of up to forty meters, have conical shapes and consist of caps of harder rock resting on pillars of softer rock.


Each layer of rock was created by different volcanic eruptions over time, one on top of another.

Cappadocia was gorgeous, but with this information, it became both gorgeous and interesting. Have you noticed how context has made your life richer?


Ancient History

Ancient History. I’m a sucker for the really old stuff.  Of particular interest to me with this trip is the history of the Hittites, whose empire was strong between the 18th-12th century BCE.  The Hittes are mentioned in the Bible, supposedly Abraham purchased a cave from them, though it’s possible that the writers of the Biblical story of Abraham borrowed the name “Hittite” from their current history as it’s debatable that there were Hittites in Canaan during the time of Abraham. Regardless, it is true that the Hittites and the Egyptians had a lot of dealings with one another back in the day and there’s a ton of history that comes from their conflicts/relations.  For example, the very first known Peace Treaty in the history of the world was written between the Egypitans and the Hittites.  Luckily for me, it’s in Istanbul at the Archaeology Museum, so I’ll get to see it there!

I’m pretty excited about the museum in Istanbul, but it looks like there is a museum that has an even larger collection of Hittite artifacts in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.   I’m thinking about the possibility of stopping at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations on my way to Cappadoccia.  Maybe just one or two days in Ankara? Certainly it sounds like it would be a good introduction before going to Cappadoccia, which was a major settlement of the Hittites.

A random piece of history for you:  The Hittites were well known for being charioteers. In fact, they were very likely the first to utilize charriots during war!  They utilized their mechanical skills to improve the charriot and made it possible to carry 3 people as opposed to only 2.

Ancient or Old?

Being a Biblical Historian who focused on studying the development of the Torah, I am undeniably interested in things that are ancient.  If something isn’t AT LEAST 2000 years old, my curiosity is generally not piqued (and that’s being generous, I generally prefer at least 3000 years old).  The first time then I stepped into a Neolithic structure (about 5,000 years old), my heart was a flutter…

With this in mind, I’ve been just slightly disappointed to read that most history books date Istanbul to about 700 BCE (yes, I know this is old, but not old enough to make my hear flutter the way something 5,000 years old did).  The story is that it was settled by Gerek cononists. The leader, Byzas, was told by the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi that he should settle across from the ‘land of the blind ones.”  When sailing into what is now Istanbul, Byzas determined it to be what the Oracle meant because previous settlers must have been blind to have overlooked such a wonderful location.

But you see, I don’t buy it.  I know that most historical places are built upon older historical places.  (For a fun Historical-fiction on this idea, read “The Source” by James Michener).  So I did a bit more digging and found this little gem:

Istanbul’s Ancient Past Unearthed!  They claim to have found a burial sign from the 1600 BCE’s.  Now THAT’s what I’m talking about!  The article is very interesting. It points out that the Bosphorous Strait wouldn’t have been formed yet, which means the landscape and such would’ve been much different from today.  I’m going to have to do more research, but it would be interesting to know what happened between the time of those first settlers and when teh Greeks came.

I am delighted.

The home of Abraham

As a Hebrew Bible Scholar, I am of course drawn to ancient places, preferably places that are more than 2,000 years old.  Thus, I became more than a little excited when I found that one can visit Harran. It is believed that Harran is where Abraham’s family settled for some time (his father, Terah actually settled them there and then Abraham left to go to Canaan). See Genesis 11:31-12:4 if you care to.

Supposedly, when you visit modern day Harran, you can see the archaeological evidence of what was a major city that was first settled in the 3rd Millenium BCE.  That’s old.  That’s REALLY old.  When you visit, you can see the traditional beehive style adobe houses that would’ve kept the locals cool in a very very hot area of the world.  It’s likely that Abraham’s family lived in a house like these.  
Here’s a great site with some general information about Harran. 
So here I am, getting all excited thinking, “I can go to where Abraham was!”  Then I start to get suspicious….”hmmm, where exactly IS Harran?”  I know it’s not too far from Istanbul because it’s listed as one of the “off the beaten path” places to visit.  
Alas.  Harran is about 25 km from Syria.  
BUMMER.  You see my dilemma, right?  Probably NOT the best time to be considering a trip that close to a country in such distress.  
It’s also hard to know if I’m being overly cautious.  What are your thoughts?  Am I right for thinking that a trip to Harran is probably not a good idea? 
But look at how cool it is!!!