The Message to Pergamum
To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: "This is the message from the One who has the sharp two-edged sword:
I know where you live, there where Satan has his throne. You are true to me, and you did not abandon your faith in me even when Antipas, a faithful witness for me, was killed there where Satan lives.
But there are a few things I have against you: there are with you some who follow the teaching of Baalam, who taught Balak how to cause the people of Israel to sin by eating food that had been offered to idols, and by committing immoralities.
In the same way, you have people who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans among you.
Turn from your sins then! If not, I will come to you soon and fight against these people with the sword that comes out of my mouth.
If you have ears, then listen what the Spirit says to the churches!: To those who have won the victory I will give some of the hidden manna. I will give each of them a white stone, on which a new name is written, which no one knows except the one who receives it".
Rev. 1, 12-17
Pergamum had a significant place of its own in all Asia-Minor. In the ancient world it was known by both forms of its name: Pergamos (Greek) and Pergamum (Latin). Historically the city was the capital of the greatest kingdom that existed in this region. The city is situated at 110 kms north of Izmir. The Roman historian Pliny called it: "By far the most famous city in all Asia".
The cause for this importance was this: When John wrote his letter, Pergamum had been a capital city for almost four hundred years. After the mythical times, Pergamum had been the scene of several cultures, ranging from those of the Stone and Bronze Ages until the Archaic and Classical Periods. Its political influence however, began with Lysimachos, one of the generals of King Alexander the great.
In 283 B.C., Philetaeros, the governor of the fortress where Alexander had concealed part of his treasures, built a new fortification on the Acropolis, rebelled and founded a new dynasty of a principality named "The Kingdom of Pergamos". His successors, belonging to the Eumenes and Attalos families, ruled the state that lasted as an independent kingdom for some 150 years.
Among the temples, palaces and agoras, the Asclepion, which were constructed in the course of one century, belonged the big Zeus Altar and the Parchment library. They stand as the most brilliant works of art of the fourth and third century B.C. in Anatolia. The Parchment Library housed the most famous collection of books of that time, written on a type of processed lamb and goat skins. This was a process invented in Pergamos, when the rulers of Ptolemean Egypt embargoed the export of Egyptian papyrus sheets to Pergamos. For the library of this city became by and by a serious competitor of that in Ptolemean Alexandria. Other magnificent buildings of this period are the Temple of Athena and those of Demeter and Dyonisos.
In 133 BC. the last king of Pergamos, Attalos III, bequethed his kingdom to the Romans, who were his allies then. They transferred a part of it into a Roman province under the name of "Asia". Pergamos, now renamed Pergamum, that had in that time a population of some 160,000, continued to rank for another two hundred years as a capital and subsequently, together with Ephesus and Smyrna, to be one of the three major cities of the province. From this Roman period, that lasted for more than four centuries, date the great works of architecture as the Temple of Trajan, a Roman Emperor who had it erected in his name, that of Bacchus or Dyonisos, and that of Serapis, the Egyptian god of health. Further the Gymnasium and the Theatre. In this period the famous Roman medical scholar Galenus lived in Pergamum, where he wrote some 500 books on various medical subjects. For Pergamum had also grown into a famous medical center, due to the existence of mineral springs, like Epidaurus on Continental Greece and the island of Kos.
During the Byzantine period, that lasted for about one thousand years, the Basilica built on the site of the Sarapis temple, became one of the Seven Churches. The Christian church had already been founded here some three hundred years before John the Apostle, but after the martyrdom of Antipas, probably the bishop, the city had been known as a doomed place, where Evil had his throne. In the seventh century the city was burned down by the Arab armies which made their first campagne in Anatolia then to propagate Islam, but the Byzantines held the region for the some four hundred years that followed. But in the fourteenth century A.D. the destiny of the city turned once more when it was conquered, first by the Seljuk Turks. They destroyed and rebuilt the town; this marked a new step in its history. Later on, the Ottoman Turks continued the work initiated by their predecessors. From this time the town, now named Bergama, is all-Islamic. Many mosques, both large and modest, inns, Turkish baths, and jewellery stores, were built during the Turkish period. These buildings can be visited here even today.
Bergama is still an administrative and commercial center of importance. Its geographical situation made Pergamum even more im-perssive. In the ancient world the city was famous for two important shrines: a. The Altar dedicated to the Supreme God Zeus, dominating the Acropolis of the city. By the Christians it was called: "The Throne of Satan". Relics of its sculpture work are now displayed in a major Archeological Museum in East-Berlin, Eastern Germany, b. The worship of Asklepios, and its medical cult. Asklepios was known under the name of "The Pergamum God of Health".
In ancient times there were in this part if the world three favourite religious shrines and holy places. They were: the Artemision of Ephesus, the Apollo cult of Delphi, that had been recreated in Anatolia, and that of Asklepios of Pergamum. Though there were other places where Asklepios was worshipped also, this Pergamum center was the most important of them. Asklepios, the deity of health and medicine served the people of the ancient world for several hundred years, as a saviour (Greek: Soter); thus making Pergamum a medical center of very great importance.
Famous medical scholars, like Hippocrates and Galenus, were born in Pergamum or worked here. Roman emperors like Marcus Aurelius and Caracalla came here to be cured from their diseases. Pergamum had, and Bergama still has, several healing mineral springs; the waters of it were used for medical treatment. There were also mud bath treatments. And the priests and medical doctors of the Asclepion applied also some psychology by having their patients run down through dark" tunnels in which the patients listened to what they believed were encouraging messages from the gods, but which were in fact shouted by the priests themselves through holes perforated in the ceilings of the tunnels.
It is not correct to call the temple of Asklepios "the Throne of Satan". It was helpful to the ill people by giving or restoring them health, happiness and prescence of mind. For this reason, and with its many other advantages, Pergamum was another suitable place for Christians to live here. And they could prove, and indeed made clear, that is was perfectly possible to live as Christians under such circumstances.
However, Pergamum was the safety doom for Christians. The cult of the Divine Emperor, seen as a descendant of the supreme deity Zeus, and symbolising the power of the State in all public affairs, even religious, were the crucial point to them, who, in conscience, were unable to follow these practises. To them the Risen Christ says and comforts them with: "I will wage war to save my faithful people". But he warns them also, not to pollute themselves with going too far in tolerance with their pagan environment, like the "Nicolaitans" do, the same sect that is described as a danger for the church in the letter to the Church in Ephesus. These heretics are compared with Bile'am or Baalam, a false prophet, mentioned in the Old Testament in the Book of Numbers, who advised in very olden times the Moabite king Balak to seduce the invading Israelites into committing severe sins, like fornication and eating from the offerings dedicated to the idols, and other immoralities and abominations. For the Israelites, under way to their Promised Land this event meant a serious weakening of their holy war potential and stem condemnation by God.
But to the faithful, Christ promises that Pergamum should be the Bread of Life from Heaven. In the letter to this Church He promises two things to those who will overcome. He promises them a share of the "hidden manna"; this is the "Bread of Life", which is not only the bread of the Sacrament of Eucharisty symbolising it, but also a promise for the everlasting life with God.
According to the Old Testament, a jug filled with manna that had fed the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert for forty years, was taken and enshrined into the Ark of Covenant. It was in this way displayed before God in the most Holy Place, first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. See Exodus 16. 33, 34 and Hebrews 9, 4. According to an old Jewish legend, the Ark and within it the jug with manna and the Stones of the Ten Words Commandments was hidden by Jeremiah the Prophet, early in the sixth century B.C., when the Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians. The manna was called "Bread from Heaven", spiritually it is compared with the Bread of Life that the Christian taste when they eat the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or Eucharisty. When Jesus was on earth, He made for Himself this great claim: "I am the Bread of Life". See John 6, 22, 59.
Therefore, the Christians decided to erect their third Basilica in Pergamum, where Antipas, the faithful martyr, was slain "there where Satan lives". This largest building in ancient Pergamum was first the temple dedicated to the Egyptian "Soter, or Healer, Saviour, the god Serapis. Today it is known popularity as the "Red Courtyard" (in Turkish: Kizil Avlu), but it is now in ruins. The original Serapis Temple was erected during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. During the Byzantine Era, the main building of it was converted into a Basilica and dedicated to the Apostle John. Thinking of all the conquerors in the past and comparing them with the victorious,
Christ, a poet wrote:
Then all these vanished from the scene,
Like flickering shadows on a glass.
But conquering down the centuries came,
The swordless Christ upon an ass