Unsolicited Review of The Life of Levi

I found it terrific and intend to read it again.  Bill really deserves congratulations for this very illuminating book.  It must have been so rewarding for him to research these people — Oh, here’s Jesus, I said to myself!  And that’s Judas, I bet… and does the boy Alexander become Alexander the Great?  He has a good start in life.

The descriptions and the characters and the insights into the rough hewn lives all of the disciples led and so forth.  Totally amazing.  I hope it becomes a film – a major film – as it deserves it.

I loved the book and couldn’t wait to read on and on.

Etruscans-The National Museum in Tarquinia



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Here is the author in Tarquinia visiting the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia, Italy.  Last week, we discussed to some extent the Etruscan hypogea, that is burial tombs that are just a short drive away from this Museum.

Before moving on to the a discussion of the Museum and its artifacts, I wanted to make digression concerning the Etruscan burial habits.

At first, Etruscans apparently  cremated the remains of their dead.  It seems that a part of their religion was the concept that a deceased person should be provided in death with what they had in life.  Thus, in the earliest times, the Etruscans placed the cremated ashes of their dead, along with small items depicting things used in daily life, in a small sculpture which resembled the circular  huts in which they lived.  While, I did not see such a hut in the Museum in Tarquinia, Italy, there are fine examples in the Vatican Museum in Rome.


Etruscan hut urn (c. 800 B.C.E.), impasto (Vatican Museums)


It was later that the Etruscans turned to creating the burial tombs which were cover d in my last blog.

Turning to the  Museum,  it is housed in the splendid Palazzo Vitelleschi.  Built between 1436 and 1439 by Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi during the papacy of Eugene IV, it houses a superior collection of Etruscan artifacts.  Most of the collection  is composed of  items unearthed during excavation of the ancient Etruscan city and its rich, extensive necropolises.

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The Papal coat of arms graces the outside of the Museum, denoting its origins.


The Museum is known for its extensive collection of sarcophagi which are mainly located on the first floor of the museum.

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A typical Etruscan sarcophagus shows an Etruscan reclining.  We know that the Etruscans reclined while dining, which is presumably the source of the Roman custom.  One should note that women, as well as men, are depicted in this pose, which is one of the reasons why archaeologists believe the Etruscan society was one in which women were treated equally with men.

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Some are exquisitely and extensively carved, such as the one above.  This demonstrates a great deal of artistic sophistication and ability.

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As one can see from this sarcophagus, attention was paid to trying to make the gown of the woman appear with its pleats and folds, to make it look as much as possible like cloth.


Many of the sarcophagi have depictions of this two figures.  There is disagreement about these figures, but given the fact that they appear quite often on sarcophagi, it would appear that they were the guardians of the underworld.

All photographs in this article were taken by the author, except as otherwise noted.

In my next blog, I will continue with a review of the Museum and its collections.  After that, I will be taking you on a survey of Herculaneum.

The website for the Museum is : http://www.tarquinia-cerveteri.it/en/




Etruscan Burial Tombs of Tarquinia

Recently,  I had the opportunity to visit Tarquinia in Italy.  It is, de rigeur, of course, to visit the outdoor museum of Etruscan burial tombs.  As I have mentioned before, much of what little we do know about the Etruscans has been learned from their burial tombs and their contents.  The contents have been removed from the tombs and have been preserved in several museums, one of which is located in Tarquinia, only a few miles from the burial tombs.  We shall discuss the museum and its artifacts I another post.  I this post, we shall focus upon the burial tombs.

The tombs, from the surface, do not look like much.

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In this photograph, in the foreground, are carvings, by Etruscans which amount to tombstones.  The entrance to the burial tombs are the small buildings in the upper left corner of the photograph.   These buildings are of modern vintage and were designed to protect the stairways which lead down to the burial tombs.  This type of tomb is called a hypogea, which is a Greek word meaning that part of a building which is underground or a vault.


One climbs downstairs to reach the vaults.

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As you can see from this picture, the descent is quite steep.  This entrance hallway is called a dromos.  The hypogea are cut into stone which is well below ground.  The Italian Government has put in handrails and has covered the ancient stone steps with wooden steps.


In Tarquinia, unlike some other places, groundwater did not seep into the hypogea, and, thus, the painting are very well preserved.  Because the frescoes at Tarquinia are so well preserved, much of what we know about the Etruscans comes from these tombs.  This photo shows the camera, that is the main chamber of a tomb.

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The predominant color of the Tarquinia tombs is a red-ochre color.  The predominant decoration of the hypogea is geometric in nature.


Archaeologists believe that the tombs mirror Etruscan homes.  Thus, scientists believe that the Etruscans invented rectangular homes, having evolved from round shepherd huts.  The hypogea are mainly oriented southwest to northeast, which again scientists believe is because the next world was to be found in the southwest.


Other hypogea are decorated with beautiful frescoes of Etruscans involved in many activities, such as dancing and eating.  It is thought that the Romans copied the Etruscans in reclining to eat.

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Even those tombs with frescoes of figures of  Etruscans still have mainly geometric  designs gracing the tombs’ ceilings, in particular, but also the walls.  Note in the picture above the use of  blue color, as well as the leopards.  It should be noted that the artwork always seems to enhance the architectural features of the tomb.  The paintings appear to be been painted directly on the stone and without any undercoating.


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Another tomb with beautiful frescoes.  All photos were taken by the author.

There are any number of useful websites to explore these tombs further.  One is http://www.timetravelturtle.com/2013/11/etruscan-tombs-tarquinia-italy/

In my next blog, I will turn to the museum in Tarquinia.





Etruscans: How much of Rome’s Culture Comes from the Etruscans?

This is a complex question.  The Etruscans language is only partially understood and there are few Etruscan manuscripts.  Hence, we are left for written evidence to later Roman historians, who are universally negative on the Etruscan civilization.  Further, a great deal of what is know comes from tombs and their artifacts.  In the Tarquin Valley, outside of Rome, large numbers of Etruscan tombs have been found.  These tombs have beautiful frescoes which provide our best insight into Etruscan life.  These tombs were filled with artifacts many of which are in museums around Italy, including Museo Nazionale Archeologico in Florence, The Vatican Museum in Rome, and the Museo Nazionale Tarquiniese in Tarquinia, a small town of 90,000 outside of Rome.

In the next series of articles, I will provide photographs from my collection as well as other images collected from the internet to illustrate what is know about the Etruscans.

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy, during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, including the Campania region to the south

One could simply answer that some of the first kings of Rome were Etruscans and thus Etruscan culture naturally flowed into Rome.  This, of course, is true, but I do not think it is the whole story.  But let’s first explore the Etruscan kings.

First, one has to be aware that according to tradition, at least three of Roe’s seven kings were Etruscans.  Romulus, the first king was succeeded by Sabine kings until Tarquinius Priscus, (Tarquinius I) the first Etruscan monarch, succeeded Marcius as the fifth King of Rome. Tarquinis supposedly ruled from 616 – 579 BC.   According to tradition, each king’s reign is marked by specific achievements.  In the case of Tarquinis Priscus, he is credited with the foundation of the Roman games (Ludi Romani), the Circus Maximus and the construction of the great sewers (cloacae).  As we will see, Etruscans did indeed hold gladiatorial  games.  In addition, much of Rome’s military symbolism (the eagle, etc.) and civil offices is believed to have been developed during this period.  Because it was during this period that the Romans conquered several more neighboring Latin and Sabine tribes.  He is also credited with bringing the Etruscan military triumph tradition to Rome, and being the first to celebrate one in the city.

Servius Tullius followed Tarquinius and ruled as the sixth King from 578 to 534 BC. He is renowned for implementing a new constitution further developing the citizen classes. The Servian Walls (city walls of Rome) are attributed to him, but modern archeology indicates that the existing walls were built in the 4th Century BC, which clearly rules out the walls as having been constructed during his reign. He is also credited with the construction of the Temple of Diana on the Aventinus hill. He was assassinated by his daughter Tullia and her husband Tarquin known as Superbus..

The seventh and final King of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, (Tarquin the Proud) ruled from 534-510 BC. Under his rule, the Etruscans were at the height of their power, and the authority of the monarchy was absolute. He repealed several earlier constitutional reforms and used violence and murder to hold his power. His tyrannical rule was despised by the Romans and the final straw was the rape of Lucretia, a patrician Roman, at the hands of Tarquinius’ son Sextius. The Tarquins and the monarchy were cast out of Rome in 510 BC in a revolt led by Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus.

Etruscan culture was influenced by many factors.  Roman historians believed that the Etruscans had come from Anatolia.  This assertion is supported by modern DNA testing.  But the Etruscans derived elements of their culture from other sources.  We will explore these other sources in  the next article.

Etruscan art
Early Etruscan civilisation was heavily influenced by the Phoenicians and Greeks





Life of Levi: A First Look

As you may know, I am in the process of writing a novel about the evangelist, Matthew.

The book is going to open with a Greek merchant, Maes Titianus, somewhere in the desert, north of the toll booth of Capernaum.  Maes Titianus is a real historical figure.  More about him in a moment.

I have given him another Greek merchant named,  Peukestas, as a companion.  This name was the name of one of Alexander the Great’s generals who came from Mieza in Macedonia.  Peukestas saved Alexander’s life in India. He is one of Alexander’s thirty-three trierarchs (captains of a ship).  He was only one of three who won a golden diadem for his valor.   In ancient Greek, the name Peukestas (or Peucastas) means ‘one who is sharp’.

Maes Titianus is recorded as having travelled farthest along the  Silk Road from the Mediterranean world.  He  reached the famous Stone Tower, in Tashkurgan in the Pamirs,  Tashkurgan means Stone Tower in the Turkic languages and is located just over the border of China.  The Pamirs are the mountain chain at the junction of the Himalayas and the Tian Shun and other mountains in Asia.  Obviously, these are very tall mountains.

Almost our entire knowledge of  Maes Titianus is limited to a brief credit in Claudius Ptolemy’s Geography, 1.11.7.  This entry reads as follows:  “Marinus tells that a certain Macedonian names Maen who is also called Titian, son of a merchant father, and a merchant himself, noted the length of his journey (to the Stone Tower), although he did not come to Sera in person but sent other there.”

One other thing that also comes out is that Maes Titianus  apparently kept a journal of his travels.  This journal may have been published during the first century AD.  Although, there is some debate as to when he lived, it is clear that he reached the Stone Tower either before 50 AD or after 75 AD.  This is because the road became blocked during this era, due to an uprising of a nomadic people called the Kushan.  I have chosen to use the earlier date for purposes of my story.

Both of theses Greek merchants will figure into my story and will meet Matthew.  How and why, I shall leave to the novel itself.

The novel now is still very much in its a nascent form.  I am going to take a trip where I will learn how to ride a camel through a desert.  You might be able to guess why I need to acquire this skill or maybe just the experience of having done it!

The setting for much of the novel will be in and around Capernaum, which explains why I have been researching this town and area, some of my research I have shared with you.

I will periodically release research that I am continuing to do concerning Matthew and his Gospel.  There seems to be a great deal of interest in my research in this area, judging from the views of my blog.

I will  also continue to update you concerning my novel’s progress.

However, I want to address one question which has been posed to me:  Why do I write novels and not text books?  In a novel, I can weave into the story all of my research and hopefully bring to life the era, that is the context in which the people live and move, their experiences, the geography in which they live,, the food they ate, the jobs they did, and so forth.  It allows me to tell a story and to fill in details which may not otherwise have been verified by archaeology or other scientific means.  I am pleased that in the past some of the things which I have imagined have been later verified through archaeology and other scientific means.

Writing a text book, while appealing to me in one way, is also not appealing in many other ways.    There are other and better writers of textbooks alive.  I am best sited, I think to write fiction and to use my imagination.  I would not be able to do that in the context of a text book.  Although, I strive for the greatest possible authenticity in my novels, it is clear that in a text book, I would not be able to explore an interesting character, such as Maes Titianus, as a person-there is just too little known about him to do so.  But in a novel, I can explore him in depth, because I can use what is known about merchants of the era, what is known about Macedonian Greeks of the era, what is known about the travels that merchants did undertake as published in their journals, which became ‘bestsellers’ in the Roman world, and so forth.

So, I hope to keep you informed about where my novel is going and to give you some teasers in future blogs.





Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found?





I am republishing this article from Biblical Archaeology Review, because of its greats


significance.  I hope you enjoy.



Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found?

Jesus’ home in Nazareth

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015. It has been updated.—Ed.

The childhood home of Jesus may have been found underneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel, according to archaeologist Ken Dark.The excavation site located beneath the convent has been known since 1880, but it was never professionally excavated until the Nazareth Archaeological Project began its work in 2006. In “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” in the March/April 2015 issue of BAR, Ken Dark, the director of the Nazareth Archaeological Project, not only describes the remains of the home itself, but explores the evidence that suggests that this is the place where Jesus spent his formative years—or at least the place regarded in the Byzantine period as the childhood home of Jesus.

The excavation revealed a first-century “courtyard house” that was partially hewn from naturally occurring rock and partially constructed with rock-built walls. Many of the home’s original features are still intact, including doors and windows. Also found at the site were tombs, a cistern and, later, a Byzantine church.

The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook The Galilee Jesus Knew focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.

The remains combined with the description found in the seventh-century pilgrim account De Locus Sanctis point to the courtyard house found beneath the convent as what may have been regarded as Jesus’ home in Nazareth. Archaeological and geographical evidence from the Church of the Annunciation, the International Marion Center and Mary’s Well come together to suggest that this location may be where Jesus transitioned from boy to man.

Ken Dark also discusses the relationship between the childhood home of Jesus, Nazareth and the important site of Sepphoris. It has been thought that Sepphoris would have provided Joseph with work and Jesus many important cultural experiences. However, Ken Dark believes that Nazareth was a larger town than traditionally understood and was particularly Jewish in its identity—as opposed to the Roman-influenced Sepphoris. This is partially based on the result of his survey of the Nahal Zippori region that separates Sepphoris and Nazareth geographically.

For more on the childhood home of Jesus, read the full article “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” by Ken Dark in the March/April 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

——————BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” by Ken Dark in the March/April 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.