Meditations from the Classics

Apuleius (124-170 AD)
Golden Ass 11

The custom of going into a temple or house of worship, standing at the pulpit and speaking sacred words, was an established practice in Biblical times.  Paul often took the podium in synagogues where he traveled.


Ancient Jewish synagogue

Jesus stood in the bema (a raised platform with a lectern), at the synagogue of Nazareth.  He read from the Scriptures and then delivered his message.  The people listened attentively but grew restless and eventually angry at His words.  Then,

“… they rose up and cast Him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff” (Luke 4:29).

A similar custom was practiced in temples of the ancient world.  Apuleius gave us this description of a day at a temple in Corinth:

“On arrival at the temple, the high priest, those who bore the divine figures, and those who had been admitted into the inner light of the cult, collected in the sanctuary of the goddess.  First, they put back the breathing images into their right places: then a man (whom all entitled the scribe) took his stand in a high pulpit before the doors, and the Society of the Pastophori (such is the name of the sacred college) was convoked.  The scribe thereupon read out of a book a set of patriotic prayers for the great Prince, the Senate, the Equestrian Order, the Roman people, and all sailors and ships which come under the jurisdiction of Rome.  After that, he pronounced in the Greek tongue and manner the ‘Laois aphesis’.  The people were then dismissed” (Golden Ass, 11).


Temple of Apollo in ancient Corinth


I can’t help but notice the way the people left their service in contrast to the Lukan dismissal.  When Jesus finished, the people escorted Him out to a cliff to dispose of Him.  In other words, angry to excess.

But in the pagan temple service it was quite different:

   “The shout that followed showed the popular approval of the day’s proceedings a; and the congregation began to file out, beaming with joy, carrying boughs of olives and other votive wreaths, and garlanded with flowers.  As they left the precincts, they one and all stopped to kiss the feet of a silver image of the goddess that stood on the steps.”

Two speakers.
Two readings from different pulpits.
Two reactions.

Jesus preached the truth, and the congregation lynched Him.  The other priest preached patriotism and the listeners responded with frenzied applause.

 David R. Denny  Ph.D.
1.  Ancient synagogue:  http://dsbiblecentre.org/index.py?lang=en&page=Showbible&index=00176
2.  Temple in ancient Corinth:  http://www.pics-about-space.com/temple-of-apollo?p=3#

Joyful Noise


Psalms 100
Joyful Noise

11_kids_parade The homespun instruments were spread out on the sanctuary podium like dueling pistols awaiting a dawn adventure.  There was the cornet mouthpiece that you play like a kazoo.  Next to it was the toy drum and rattly toy tambourine.  Two tiny cymbals rested beside several dinner spoons serving as cymbal thumpers.  There were three recorders, a homemade dulcimer with a single twangy string, two cha cha Mexican shakers and a two-bit brass bell the size of a baby’s fist that I bought just the day before at a Saturday sale.

It was children’s church time in the morning worship service.  The kids sat in the front row twitching nervously, mischievously, as they looked first at the instruments then at the adults and then back at the instruments wondering if this was too good to be true.  That they could make noise, loud noise, wanton, reckless and uninhibited noise on Sunday morning was too much to grasp.

When the signal came, they surged forward, each child with an eager hand out hoping for just the right melody maker.  The bell went here, the cha chas went there, the cymbals to this one, the recorder to that one until every child had something.

Then they marched around the sanctuary.  Marching and playing.  Playing and marching.  The adults leaned sideways parting like the Red Sea as the parade passed.  Marching, smiling, smashing, blowing, tinkling, laughing, drumming and making happy childhood memories of being in church.


“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands” (Psalms 100).


David R. Denny  Ph.D.
Cartoon by:

Triumphal Entry

Meditations from the Classics

De Rerum Natura: 2  (Written 50 B.C.)
(Nature of Things: Book Two)

Do you hear the drums and the clash of cymbals?  It’s getting closer.  What is it?  Oh, yes, there it is.  It’s the procession for Mother Earth, (Cybele) the goddess of the ancient world as she enters another town surrounded in a glorious frenzy by her followers.  It’s like a triumphal entry.

A thunder of drums attends her, tight-stretched and pounded by palms, and a clash of hollow cymbals; hoarse-throated horns bray their deep warning, and the pierced flute thrills every heart with Phrygian strains.  Weapons are carried before her, symbolic of rabid frenzy, to chasten the thankless and profane hearts of the rabble with dread of her divinity.  So, when first she is escorted into some great city and mutely enriches mortals with wordless benediction, they strew her path all along the route with a lavish largesse of copper and silver and shadow the Mother and her retinue with a  snow of roses (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura: 2).



Earth: triumph of Cybele, sitting between Bacchus and Ceres in a chariot drawn by two lions and surrounded by satyrs, putti and women carrying baskets of fruits and flowers (1721 etching–British Museum).

Quite a show, isn’t it?
But wait.  Another parade is approaching.  Who is it?  A great crowd is gathering.  The sounds of Hosanna echo up and down the country road.  It is Jesus, the creator of Earth.  See how humbly He comes?  Riding a donkey!  There are no weapons before Him to frighten the masses into submission.  He is not some stiff and frozen statue nailed to a mobile platform.  He is alive.  He beckons the people to come to Him.

And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them on the road.  And the multitudes  going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!’
(Matthew 21:8-9).

Two spectacular triumphal entries:

The first was led by Cybele whose wooden face and painted smile betrayed her wooden heart.  The second was led by Jesus who blessed the masses and healed the lame and gave His life a ransom for many.

Go ahead.  Gather your things and join the throngs.  But choose carefully which triumphal procession you will join.

David R. Denny  Ph.D.

Image from the British Museum




John 13

After the introductory expressions of courtesy: the greeting, and the kiss, the Eastern guest was offered water for cleansing the feet.  Traveling down country roads made it hard to keep clean.  So it was customary for a host to provide this courteous ritual.  Servants would pour water upon their feet over a copper basin and then wipe them clean using a towel.  The best place to see this custom in action is in the upper room scene in John 13.

washing feet

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciple’s feet…”(John 13:5).

It was the evening of the Passover meal when the disciples entered the room selected for the occasion.  The memories of Bethany behind them now, the circle of disciples gathered to dine and wonder at the Savior’s intentions.

The table was set, and Jesus’ followers reclined around the triclinium.  Everything seemed ready.  The food was on the table and the evening seder was in progress ( καὶ  δείπνου  γινομένου).  Candles held back the darkness gracefully.  But where was the servant?  The pitcher was on the table near the entrance.  The water basin waited, untouched next to the linen cloth  (λέντιον) used for drying the feet.

But where was the servant?  A long and uncomfortable silence settled over the disciples.  It was the custom for a servant to wash their feet before they ate.  There was no servant.  No one moved.  How could they?  This task demanded a slave.  They were the future rulers of the new kingdom of Jesus.



The triclinium of ancient Rome.

They grew impatient.  Furtive glances left and right brought no relief.  Someone would have to act, to go and find the tardy slave.

Scripture is majestic in its brevity here.  The text says simply that at this moment of crisis, in the servant’s absence, “Jesus rose from the supper.”  He knew His hour was here.  The Cross confronted him.  Time was accelerating now and the years of preparation thrust Him forward for life’s final crescendo.

Having yet to feel the cut of the spear’s cold edge and the calloused cries of the Roman soldiers, he knew these atrocities were near.  He knew yet He rose from supper and laid aside His garments.  He rose to gird Himself for this menial yet meaningful expression of spiritual intimacy.

The disciples noticed His preparation for the menial task immediately.  They knew His intentions, but no dared to stop Him at first.  Jesus removed His tunic.  He wrapped the long linen towel about His waist.  No one protested.  The light splash of water in the copper basin elicited no outward outrage.  The Son of God and right King of Israel became the absent servant.  In the flicker of the candle light, Jesus passed from king to servant.

Peter protested but quickly learned the higher lesson and relented embracing the touch of His master.  With a tenderness natural in solemn farewells, Jesus lingered before each man.  He poured the water, rubbed and dried the feet of each disciple.  And in this intimate expression of a Savior’s love for His closest friends, He pledged Himself anew to them all.  No words or oaths were sworn.  But there was a commitment extended that would span the ages.  In this solemn act, Jesus confirmed each disciple and conveyed the same love He offers to us each day.

David R. Denny  Ph.D

 Artwork from:





The Boat

Meditations from the Classics

Carmina  (Poem 4)
The Boat


The Phaselus or boat described by Catullus.

Once there was a boat, said Catullus.

And what a boat it was! It knew, even while it stood among its fellow trees on a high mountain summit, long before it was ever cut and shaped into the form of a sleek ocean traveler, that it would be great.

Those ‘summit’ days were dreamy ones for the boat to be. Gazing out over the cliffs to the distant sea, it tasted the salt and felt the breezes sifting through its sails.

Then, as dreams are wont to do, the boat was born. Skilled artisans formed its hull, planted a tall mast on the firm deck, and raised its sails to the heavens.

Once the vessel hit the water

“…it flew upon the sea
and, birdlike, fled more rapidly
than all the rest. Swift ships have failed
to catch it when they raced with oar and sheet.
All met with quick defeat.”

     What a ship! said Catullus. It weathered all the storms with ease. Never beaten or conquered, it sailed with high spirits until, in time, it retired in a peaceful harbor at rest.

“She made her final odyssey
to this calm lake where she will stay
and age in peace and where she may
repose protected from the sea.
Sacred to Castor and his twin, this ship
has made her final trip.”

     In a way, the noble ship symbolizes the active Christian life. You sail through all life’s storms with eyes locked on the prize, depending on God to steer you safely to that place of rest. At times you might be unable to see the shoreline but remember that Jesus slept with repose in a boat on the stormy Galilean Sea, and you too can experience peace as the journey unfolds.

     “There remains, therefore, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:9-10).

David R. Denny  Ph.D

Photo credit:  https://latunicadeneso.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/la-reconstruccion-del-phaselus-un-barco-de-la-antigua-roma/

Prayer in Troubled Times



Elijah restores the widow’s son in Zarephath.

Prayer in Troubled Times
I Kings 17:17-24

The widow clung to the lifeless body of her son. All was gone now. The long sustained drought had wrung her soul dry leaving it crusted and crumbled. But at least through that horror, she had her son. But now he too was gone. The child had been her morning smile, her evening laughter, a reason for living. But now barren rooms in the small house were silent. He was gone, taken by some hideous sickness that struck without warning or mercy. And so all she could do now was to pace restlessly back and forth across the floor as if trundling from wall to wall could somehow erase the pain.

When Elijah stepped into the room, the widow’s reaction was instantaneous. She exploded, channeling a pent up rage at the prophet. “You call yourself a man of God? Look what has happened. My only son is dead. I took you in and look how you repaid me. It’s your fault he’s dead. You brought me bad luck. You put my son to death!”

The little widow turned the Prophet wanting only to be alone with her grief. Elijah, taken by surprise, paused for second to two and then stepped up to the woman. “Give me your son,” he demanded in a stern tone, indignation evident on his face. Elijah took the boy from his mother’s protective bosom and carried him upstairs to the upper room where he was living and laid him on his bed.

“Why, Lord, why did this happen?   Did you slay the boy?” The prophet pelted the Lord with edgy questions. He didn’t play games with God. He just wanted to know what happened, and he sought the core of the conundrum.

But then when the questions were exhausted, Elijah put aside his cross- examination of the divine mysteries and stretched himself upon the child three times. This time, he approached the Lord with a new intention. This time, he prayed. “O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him.

F. S. Webster said in his sermon Out of the Depths, “There are deep mysteries in life which yield to nothing but prayer.” And so it was that God heard this prayer and responded by breathing life back into the boy.

Elijah’s pattern of prayer is valid for us today. He prayed with a measure of frustration laced with honesty and doubts. Then he paused and prayed again with faith asking specifically for life.

So no matter how burdened your heart may become, let your final exhalation always be a prayer of faith and hope.

 David R. Denny Ph.D.
(Art credit:  http://bibleencyclopedia.com/pictures/1_Kings_17_Elijah_with_the_widow’s_Son.htm

Life in the Ghetto

Meditations from the Classics

Life in the Ghetto
Ancient Rome
Juvenal, Roman, AD 55-138
Satires III


Subura–A neighborhood in first century Rome.

 Juvenal, a first-century Roman poet who relished satire and found delight in mocking the Roman customs, described one of the blue collar neighborhoods just outside of downtown ancient Rome. Called Subura, he lived there for a while and hated it. Julius Caesar had a little house in Subura before becoming famous. Nobody lingered here longer than he had too. But alas many of the working poor had no escape.

Juvenal described it as a busy, crowded, noisy, dirty area brimming with crime, prostitution and endless trades such as shoemakers, iron-mongers, wool merchants, cobblers, etc.

One thing he particularly despised were the wave, of Greek immigrants that flooded this neighborhood seeking a new life.

“What I cannot endure, my countrymen, is Rome turned Greek!”

Juvenal looked down on these aliens. He said they couldn’t be trusted. They would do anything to please their masters in hopes of gaining power and possibly inherited wealth. They’re sneaky, and they like to become all things to all people just to reach their goals, he said.

            “He is anything and everything you please, all in one. Grammar, rhetoric, geometry, painting, or wrestling, prophesying, rope-dancing, medicine, and magic—he is master of them all. Give the word, and your hungry Greekling will climb the clouds.”[1]

As I read these lines over a few times, I thought I could hear a faint Pauline sentiment in the back of my mind. I thought a little more and then I pegged it: Paul said:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more…I have become all things to all men,[2] that I may by all means save some” (1 cor. 9:19, 22).

Say what you will but it sounds like the Greeks of ancient Rome were pretty versatile and ingenious. Paul seems to have done something pretty similar–blending into his surroundings to be more effective as a messenger of the Gospel.

Maybe we should all break out of our limitations and find more common ground with the world about us.

David R. Denny Ph.D.
[2] τοῖς  πᾶσιν  γέγονα  πάντα…



Philemon 1:10:  “…that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,b who became my son while I was in chains.”

runawayOnesimus was a man in flight.  A runaway.  He felt caged at Colossae where he had lived as a slave in a Roman world.  Though he wore no chains, life’s limitations smothered him.  Considered nothing more than chattel, he served solely at the master’s whims and commands.  Life was a brutal monotony of ‘do this, do that’, bowing and scraping, honoring the fateful code of a sycophant, smothering beneath life’s limitations.

For weeks Onesimus lay awake at night scheming, thinking escape.  He knew the risks.  Punishments were severe for runaways. The slave hunters (Fugitivarii) would be searching for him.  If found, they would brand him on the forehead with the letters (FUG), an abbreviation for “fugitivus” meaning runaway.”  His bones would be broken to prevent any future attempts at escape.  (http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-life/slave-punishment.htm).  None of this stopped him.  Freedom called.  Its voice was sweet.  The temptation to discover a personal liberty, a future with options, was too strong.

So he fled.  He stole some money from Philemon and ran toward Ephesus 100 miles away.  Each mile was a milestone.  Past, Laodicea.  Past Hieropolis.  He followed the Meander River as it rolled through the Lycus Valley seaward to Ephesus.  After days of overland struggle, he arrived and caught a ship for Rome, the furthest place on his map.  No one would find him there.

Onesimus ran from life’s tortuous ignominy.  But somehow in a  city of nearly a million residents, he met Paul, the slave of Christ, the prisoner of Rome and in this serendipitous encounter found his ultimate freedom.  He and Paul become best friends united in Christ.  Paul considered him a unique son (ὃν  ἐγέννησα  ἐν  τοῖς  δεσμοῖς, –birthed while he was in chains).

If your life is tough and you can’t breathe and you’re thinking about running remember the story of Onesimus and draw comfort. Somewhere out there is a Paul, a friend who understands your grief and who wants to help you.  And in your lowest moment when all hope is gone, turn your heart to Jesus who knows the meaning of pain and isolation and who longs to be  your friend and Savior.

David R. Denny  Ph.D






Singing the Blues

Meditations from the Classics

Singing the Blues
Aristophanes, Knights



(Greek comedy, 424 BC)
Acts 16:22-30

Demos, an elderly Athenian master, enraged by the gossip of a new slave he had recently purchased, turned his wrath on two veteran slaves, Nicias and Demosthenes. He beat them furiously. The new slave in the house, Cleon, had gained favor with the boss and told him a bunch of lies about the old-timers. Listen to them gripe and whine as they run from their most recent beating by the master:


“Ouch! How I hurt! …Oh, Lord! Goodness me!
That Cleon our master lately bought…
Confound him anyway, and all his tricks!
For, since the day he got into this house,
There’s been a perfect itch of beatings here…
How do you feel, my boy?”


“No worse than you, I’m sure.”


Let’s sing a sob duet to Olympus’s tune.”


“Boohoo, boohoo, boohoo.”
(μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ.)

 Poor fellows. Two Athenian slaves who had it bad. The best they could summon within them was to break down and sob in perfect harmony with their pain. They remind me of two other men, slaves to a higher master as well, who likewise were rudely and improperly beaten. They too sang their pain away. But when Paul and Silas sang, it was a joyful duet about the majesty of God. Listen in—

     “And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. 23And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: 24Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God…”(Acts 16:25).

What’s the name of your tune? “Sobbing the Blues” or “Praising the Lord.”

David R. Denny  Ph.D




Acts 13:6  They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus,…”

Every Christian journey has its share of obstacles. When Paul set out on his first missionary adventure, it wasn’t long before he stood face to face with an obstinate official named Bar-Jesus (Elymas).


This reminds me of my old grandma’s outhouse in Georgia. When I was a kid, my family would visit Essie and I would have to get use

d to old time country ways, including the use of the outhouse. During the day it wasn’t so bad, but at night, without lights, the trip to the twilight zone was quite treacherous.

First, I had to step onto the back porch in the pitch black. With rotten boards and rickety steps, I took a real chance of falling through to the wet worm-patch below the porch. In the yard, there was a low-hanging clothesline

just waiting to hang any cavalier nightwalker out for a lark. There were holes in the dirt yard, big wood chips, and ax handles, and chickens to step over or around. And when I did get to the ramshackle outhouse, I ran the risk of snakes, or spiders, or worse–no paper.

Obstacles. That’s what these were. And in a way, that’s how it is for all who journey for the Lord today. Paul overcame this obstruction in Acts 13 by having the courage to face Elymas with faith and reliance in God. You can do the same things.

Happy journeys (and safe back-porch excursions).

David R. Denny  Ph.D.