Thursday, 1 November 2012

The table of content of the book Antioch on the Orontes

A History
      1.   The beginning
      2.   The Seleucids
      3.   The Romans
      4.   The Byzantines
      5.   The Muslims
      6.   The Crusaders
      7.   The Norman Principality of Antioch
      8.   The Mamelukes
      9.   The Ottomans
      10. After World War I
A Guide
11.  Seven tours
12.  The religions
13.  Myths and legends
14.  Modern Antakya
A.    Lord, god and logos
B.     Monarchianism
C.     The School of Antioch
D.    The Church of St. Peter
E.     Topography
F.      Languages

Monday, 29 October 2012

Antioch on the Orontes - A History and a Guide


My book Antioch on the Orontes - A History and a Guide is finished and can be ordered:

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Cherubim Gate and the carob trees

In second century Antioch there was a gate at the southwest extreme of the Colonnaded Street called the Cherubim Gate.[1] Outside this gate was the settlement of Kerateion and after this the settlement of Rhodion on the eastern side of the torrent Phyrminus.
A map of old Antakya. The location of the Cherubim Gate is marked with an x. Ouard is the Arabic name for rose, So we maintain that this quarter is what was called Rhodion. Today it is called Güllü Bahçe (Ros Garden). Kerateion was very like identical with Mahsan.
The story goes that the Roman general Titus after destroying Jerusalem in 70 CE put up representation of cherubs (angelic beings) taken from the temple in Jerusalem at this gate to annoy the Jews living in this neighbourhood. The cherubs are thought to have been similar to those who had been placed on the Ark of the Covenant in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. However, at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, this room was empty. Consequently, it is uncertain what the cherubs at the gate were supposed to have been.
We have this story from the Byzantine chronicler Ioannes Malalas who died in 578, about five hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem. He writes:

Titus, having celebrated a triumph for his victory, departed for Rome; and Vespasian from the Jewish spoils built in Antioch the Great the so-called Cherubim before the gate of the city. For there he fixed the bronze Cherubim which he found fixed in the Temple of Solomon; and when he destroyed the Temple he took them thence and carried them to Antioch with the Seraphim, celebrating the triumph for the victory over the Jews which had taken place in his reign, setting up above a bronze statue in honour of the Moon with four bulls facing Jerusalem, for he had taken it at night when the moon was shining.[2]
The trouble with Malalas, though, is that he has a tendency to mix hearsay into his writings. Thus, Jerusalem was not taken by night as claimed in the quotation. This, of course, would not exclude that Titus set up statues of some sort at the gate.

The gate is also mentioned by a biographer of Symeon Stylites the Younger in connection with a plague that hit the city in the sixth century:

The destroyer went toward the gate at the south, which issues towards Daphne, and there rose from the so-called Cherubim, and as far as Rhodion, in all the quarter called Kerateion, a great cry and mourning and much lamentation.[4]
According to this, the quarter called Kerateion was situated outside the Cherubim Gate, between the gate and the quarter of Rhodion.

On the other hand, Procopius gives us the following information about the situation of Kerateion (or Cerataeum):

So, then, after the city had been destroyed, the church was left solitary, thanks to the activity and foresight of the Persians to whom this work was assigned. And there were also left about the so-called Cerataeum many houses, not because of the foresight of any man, but, since they were situated at the extremity of the city, and not connected with any other building, the fire failed entirely to reach them.[5]
According to these two quotations, Kerateion was situated outside the Cherubim gate with sufficient distance to be unharmed by the fire inside Antioch. It should be mentioned, though, that the wind in Antakya is mostly in the west. If this was the case when the Persians burnt the city, flames and sparks would blow in the opposite direction of Kerateion. The space between the city inside the Cherubim Gate and Kerateion may not have been extremely wide.

It also seems that there was a quarter called Cherubim in ancient Antioch.[6] Naturally, this could have been a quarter inside the gates, or it could have been between the Cherubim Gate and Kerateion.

However, the quotation from the biography of Symeon Stylites the Younger seems to indicate that the quarter of Cherubim was outside the gate. And Procopius' story about the fire leaves us with in impression that there was no other quarter between Kerateion and the city. This seems reasonable as the distance between the old site of the Cherubim Gate and the quarter called Rhodion (today Ward [rose] in Arabic and Güllü Bahçe [rose garden] in Turkish) can be walked in less than five minutes.

The area south of the Cherubim Gate in modern Antakya.
The gate does not exist anymore.
There is another explanation, although it admittedly is based on abduction.

Here in the Middle East mythopoeia is a common phenomenon. Over the Cave Church of St. Peter, for example, you find the rock-hewn bust of Charon, the character that, according to Greek mythology, took the souls of the diseased over the River Styx. Locals will tell you that originally it is the Virgin Mary. To them Charon looks like a woman and he is carved into the rock over the church, so why not?

But back to the Cherubim Gate.

As mentioned above the word cherub is a Hebrew word (כרוב: kerûb). The plural of this word is kerûbîm. The Greeks in Antioch would write is as χερουβιμ while the Arameans would either use the Hebrew form above or their own kerûbîn.

Now the word kerûb is pronounced nearly as the word for carob in Hebrew and Aramaic (חרוב, cherub or kherûb).[7]

In the Hebrew translation of Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15, the Greek word for carobs in verse 16 has been translated by the word cherûb in plural (חרובים).[8] In the original Greek text the word is κεράτιον (keration). According to a Greek dictionary, κερατωνια (keratwnia) and κερατεα (keratea) are names of the carob tree. Please notice how close these words for carobs are to the name of the quarter of Kerateion between the Cherubim Gate and the quarter of Rhodion.


Consequently I suggest that we dismiss the story of Malalas about cherubs set up by Titus at the south-western gate of Antioch.


Indeed, there may have been statues or similar objects at the gate, and they may even have been placed there by Titus. But as people did not know what they represented - or they knew, but later generations forgot it - the Aramaic and Hebrew name of the quarter between the gate and the quarter of Rhodion, the Quarter of Carobs, was believed to mean the Quarter of Cherubs (Cherubim), and the gate was named accordingly. This process would be similar to the one that has happened to Charonion, by some believed to represent the Virgin Mary.

The Greek speaking populace, however, continued to call the quarter by its original name Kerateion ([the quarter of] carobs) while they started to use the Hebrew name on the gate.

In this connection it should be remembered that the Jewish quarter was situated at the gate, probably outside it, in the quarter of Kerateion (between the Jewish synagogue and the point where streets Oğuzlar Caddesi and Kurtuluş Caddesi today meet). It is therefore natural that it was the Hebrew version (cherûbîm) and not the Aramaic version (cherûbîn) that became common.





The fruit of the carob tree is often associated with John the Baptist. In German it is called Johannisbrot, in Danish johannesbrød, in Swedish johannesbröd, in Dutch Johannesbrood, in Finnish johanneksenleipäpuu.

The story goes that the Medieval ascetics did not like the idea that John the Baptist used to grashoppers. He was not supposed to eat meat, they thought. Consequently they insisted that the grashoppers mention in the New Testament account were in fact carobs.[9]

Now, inside the Cherubim Gate there was a church dedicated to John the Baptist. Symeon Stylites the Younger, who was living in the quarter of Cherubim, was baptised in this church. Consequently the Church of John the Baptist and the quarter of Cherubim cannot have been far apart.

Today this church is the Habib-i Neccar Mosque, and inside the mosque, a few steps from the former quarter of Kerateia, there is a room with a sarcophagus claimed to contain the bones of John the Baptist (called Yahya in Turkish and Arabic).


[1] Cherûbîm is the Hebrew word in plural.
[2] Ioannes Malalas, Chronographia (Bonn: Impensis Ed. Weberi, 1831), 260-61. The translation has been taken from Christopher Ecclestone, "The Cherubim Gate," Antiochepedia, December 16, 2008, accessed August 28, 2012,
[3] Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961) 206 fn 25.
[4] Quoted by Glanville Downey. Ibid., 614.
[5] Procopius, History of the Wars, Book I and II (London: William Heinemann; New York: The Macmillan Co. 1914), 345.
[6] Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria, 614.
[7] Please compare: "Carob," Balashon – Hebrew Language Detective (accessed August 29, 2012,, Genesis 3:24 in the Septuagint version, and the Gospel of Luke 15:16 in a Hebrew translation.
[8] Torah, Nebî'îm, Ketûbîm, Berîth Hadashah (Jerusalem: Hôtsi'ath Qeren Achawah Mashîchîth).
[9] Sebastian Brock, St John the Baptist's diet – according to some early Christian sources (Greek and Syriac), accessed September 1, 2012,

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Cave Church of St. Peter in Antioch – Documentation

A shown in an earlier post ( a cave in modern Antakya is by some regarded as the first church in history. Interestingly, this grotto is not mentioned in early sources.

The oldest church found is, apart from so-called house-churches, the Megiddo Church from the third century. In fact, even this may be regarded as a house-church. [1] Only after the Edict of Milan in 313 CE church building really started. [2] This edict issued by Licinius and the Constantine the Great permitted Christians to practice their religion without the interference of the State. Constantine himself, who by the way was a pagan, took steps to having churches built. Thus, he had the church of Hagia Eirene in Constantinople (now Istanbul) built on a spot where a pagan temple used to stand.

Constantine also took steps to have a church built in Antioch. It was located on what is now the eastern bank of the Orontes opposite the stream now called Kavaslı. The only reason this is interesting in this context is the words of the French traveller Jean de la Roque, who visited the city in 1688:

The Christians of Antioch still see with pain what is left of the famous basilica now collapsed that had been dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles by the Emperor Constantine and described so beautifully by Eusebius. It was in this house of worship it is believed that they found the tip of the spear that pierced the side of the Saviour. [3]

This would give us the impression that a basilica dedicated the Apostle Peter had been erected in Antioch on the order of Constantine. However, if we look at the description of Eusebius mentioned by Jean de la Roque, we find something else:

He [Constantine] also decorated the principal cities of the other provinces with sacred edifices of great beauty; as, for example, in the case of that metropolis of the East which derived its name from Antiochus, in which, as the head of that portion of the empire, he consecrated to the service of God a church of unparalleled size and beauty. The entire building was encompassed by an enclosure of great extent, within which the church itself rose to a vast elevation, being of an octagonal form, and surrounded on all sides by many chambers, courts, and upper and lower apartments; the whole richly adorned with a profusion of gold, brass, and other materials of the most costly kind.[4]

Evidently, what Jean de la Roque had seen may have been the ruins of the Octagonal Church, also called the Great Church, not the Church of St. Peter.
In fact, the fourth century is well documented, as far as Antioch is concerned; but nowhere in the homilies of the cleric John Chrysostom or in the writings his teacher, the pagan philosopher Libanius, any church of St. Peter is mentioned, nor is any grotto bearing his name.

This is odd indeed as the third century saw a virtual "explosion" in veneration of saints, and churches bearing their names were built.
The first church we have been able to find in Antioch with any reference to the Apostle Peter is the Church of Cassianus (Kusyan or Kusian). This was the place where the body of Symeon Stylites the Elder was placed after his death until it was moved to the Great Church mentioned above. [5]
It is unclear who Cassianus was. There was a certain John Cassianu, an ascetic whodied in Marseille, France, in 435. Symeon died in at his place between Antioch and Aleppo in 459, and it is unlikely that a church bearing Johns name had been built by then.
Where history is weak, myth comes to the rescue. After visiting Antioch 1051,  the Christian physician Ibn Butlân gave this description:
In the centre of the city is the church of Al Kusiyan. It was originally the palace of Kusiyan, the king, whose son, Futrus (St. Peter), chief of the disciples, raised to life. It consists of a chapel (Haikal), the length of which is 100 paces, and the breadth of it 80, and over it is a church (Kanisah), supported on columns, in which the judges take their seat to give judgment, also those sit here who teach Grammar and Logic. At one of the gates of this church is a Clepsydra (Finjân), showing the hours. It works day and night continuously, twelve hours at a round, and it is one of the wonders of the world. [6]
The same church is mentioned by the Persian geographer al-Istakhri, who visited Antioch a hundred years before Ibn Butlân. He also mentions other churches, but not any Grotto of St. Peter.

The Arab historian al-Masûdi, who came to Antioch about the same time, tells us that the Church of al-Kusyân was one of the most important churches is the city. He does not mention any cave church of St. Peter. [7]

In 1098 the Crusaders captured Antioch and established the Principality of Antioch. And now a certain Cathedral of St. Peter is mentioned frequently in our sources. According to the description given, however, this church was not in a cave.

A chronicle of the First Crusade called Gesta Francorum has this to tell about finding the lance that supposedly had been used on Jesus Christ:

Accordingly, upon hearing the statements of that man who reported to us the revelation of Christ through the words of the apostle, we went in haste immediately to the place in the church of St. Peter which he had pointed out. Thirteen men dug there from morning until vespers. And so that man found the Lance, just as he had indicated. They received it with great gladness and fear, and a joy beyond measure arose in the whole city. [8]
It is unlikely that thirteen men can dig half a day in the floor of the cave church. The description simply does not match.

Furthermore, in 1149 Prince Raymond of Antioch was buried in the vestibule of St. Peter's, in 1170 part of the church collapsed over the Greek Orthodox Patriarch,  in 1189 King Frederic Barbarossa was buried there, and in 1194 the citizens met in the court-house of the church to discuss the future of the city. [9] Nothing of this would match the grotto.

There is all reasons to believe that what was former known as the Church of Kusyân (or Kusiyân) was now known as the Cathedral of St. Peter. [10]

In 1268 Antioch was destroyed by the Egyptian Sultan Baibars, and whatever churches he may have left standing were transformed into mosques. Nevertheless, in 1580 the Muslims donated the cave to the Christians in Antakya (Antioch),[11] and when travellers from the West eventually started to arrive, they found no churches, but the  local Christians showed them this cave.

The anthropologist Richard Pococke has the following to tell us from his visit in 1738:
Towards the iron gate, is the church of St. John, which is hewn out of the rock, being a sort of grotto open to the west; there is no alter in it; but the Greeks, who have their service there every Sunday and holiday, bring an alter to the church, and near it they bury their dead.[12]

Not the Church of St. Peter, but the Church of St. John!

In 1816 the Englishman James Silk Buckingham passed by. He writes:

The Christians have made several unsuccessful efforts to build a church for themselves here; but, though they are not wanting in wealth, and successive firmans have been obtained from Stamboul for that purpose, yet, the fanaticism of the Turks and some unfortunate fatality which they think attached to the town itself, has hitherto always obstructed its execution. They resort, therefore, to a cave on the east of the town for the performance of their religious duties.[13]

Evidently the Christians met in the cave, not because of any association to any saint or apostle, but because they had no other choice.

In 1847 the English gentleman Frederic Arthur Neale stayed in Antioch for some months. He describes the Orthodox church and the Catholics in the city, but he does not mention any cave church.[14]

Shortly before 1860 Emily Beaufort visited Antioch. She writes:

The wall descended from the Iron Gate into the plain, passing below the ancient Church of St. John, lately purchased by the French with a piece of ground for a cemetery. This church is in fact a very ancient excavation from the living rock – two pillars have been left standing in front as a portico. In the corner, besides the altar, is a small well, and the grotto seems to have been excavated some way further.[15]

This is no doubt a description of what is now called the Church of St. Peter. Until the middle of the nineteenth century it was called the Church of St. John. No story about the Apostle Peter, his preaching in Antioch, or the use of the name Christian was associated to it.

In 1856 the cave was purchased by the French consul in Aleppo and donated to the Catholic Church. Only after this, the cave was associated with the Apostle Peter and the first century Christians.


[1] Vassilios Tsaferis, "Inscribed 'To God Jesus Christ,'" BAR Magazine (no date), accessed August 20, 2012,

[2] "House church," Wikipedia, accessed August 21, 2012,

[3] Jean de la Roque, Voyage de Syrie et du Mont-Liban (Paris: Andre Cailleau, 1722), 245, 246.

[4] Philipp Schaff ed. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine,

Oration in Praise of Constantine (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890)1020.

[5] Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961) 481.

[6] Gui Le Strange, Palestine under the Muslims; a description of Syria and the Holy land from A.D. 650 to 1500. Translated from the works of mediaeval Arab geographers. London: Published for The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund by Alexander P. Watt, 1890. 370, 371.

[7] Ibid. 368.

[8] "Gesta Francorum," August C. Krey, ed., The first crusade; the accounts of eye-witnesses and participants (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1921), 176.

[9] E. S. Bouchier,  A Short History of Antioch — 300 B.C. – A.D. 1268 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1921) 257-64.

[10] Ibid. 207.

[11] M. Grazia Zambon, Domenico Bertogli and Oriano Granella, Antioch on the Orontes (Parma: Edizionei Eteria, [no year]), 55.

[12] John Pinkerton, ed., A general collection of the best and most interesting voyages and travels in all parts of the world, Vol. X. 561.

[13] James Silk Buckingham, Travels among the Arab tribes inhabiting the countries East of Syria and Palestine (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825), 556–567.

[14] Frederic Arthur Neale, Eight years in Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor, from 1842 to 1850, Vol. II (London: Colburn and Co., 1852) and Evenings at Antioch; With Sketches of Syrian Life (London: Eyre and Williams,1854).

[15] Emily A. Beaufort, Egyptian Sepulchres and Syrian Shrines (London: Longman, green, Longman, and Roberts, 1862), 311

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Grotto of St. Peter

In Mount Staurin across from the torrent of Parmenius you find the Grotto of St Peter facing the west.
The grotto is located on the slopes of Mount Staurin in the centre of the picture. The populated area in front of it was the Forum of Valens in Byzantine times. On the left side of the highway, behind Mount Staurin at the crossroad, mosaics from prominent buildings have been found indicating that this area was an important place in town.
Each year this grotto, also called the Church of St Peter, is visited by thousands of tourists and pilgrims. According to a CD from the governor's office in Hatay,[1] the grotto was proclaimed a "site of pilgrimage by Pope Paul VI" in 1983. Furthermore, it is claimed that this cave was used as a church by the first Christians and that it probably was here the word Christian was used for the first time.

One of the local stories goes that Peter when arriving coming to Antioch decided to found a church there and found the cave fitting for this purpose. It is held that the grotto was chosen because it was a suitable hiding place for the persecuted Christians.[2] Thus university lecturer Dr. Uysal Yenipınar writes:
St. Peter held his frst meeting and performed his first baptism in Antakya in the grotto church at the skirts of Mount Staurin. Those who assembled in this grotto at the border of the Jewish quarter received for the first time the name Christian in this grotto, meaning that they adhered to the teachings of Hıristas, Jesus Christ. St. Paul and St. Barnabas gave their first sermons to the Christian congregation in this grotto.[3]

The same story is found in the book XIX. Yüzyılda Bir Osmanlı Şehri Antakya[4] and the story is repeated to every tourist who cares listening to a guide.
The homepage of the Catholic Church in Antakya (Antioch), however, is more cautious:
Clearly this was a site of pagan worship which the Christians, rather than destroying, later transformed into a site of their own religion, and assigned it the name of an Apostle.
Naturally, this religious transformation must date from the time when this became possible, namely when the Emperor Theodosius the Great [AD 379-395], in the Edict of Thessalonica, proclaimed Christianity the state religion. ...
It would be fair to conclude that the mountain was a sacred place for the city, dedicated to some pagan god.
There were two aqueducts fed from the streams that ran down to the thermal pools which were below and to the right of the small incline which leads to the Cave.
It is also probable that it was in the time of Theodosius the Great that this pagan site was transformed into a place of Christian worship. History tells us in fact that from 388 AD onward any places of pagan worship which were not destroyed were turned into places of Christian worship as if they were ‘baptised’.[5]

This is in line with what Glanville Downey observed in his scholarly book on Antioch: "A grotto on Mount Silpius has traditionally been called the grotto of St. Peter, where he is supposed to have preached and baptized, but there is no satisfactory proof of this association."[6]

            In fact, even in the well documented fourth century we hear nothing of some grotto dedicated to the apostle Peter. Although the quest for "holy relics" had become a fashion, nobody seems to have believed that the city possessed one of the most important sites in Christendom.

And why, anyway, should the local Christians at the time of the apostles assemble in a cave? "To hide from persecutors!" the story goes.

It should be remembered, though, that early Christians fled from Jerusalem to Antioch to avoid persecution when a Christian named Stephen had been lynched there. As the Bible book of Acts relates:
Then those who had gone away at the time of the trouble about Stephen, went as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus, preaching to the Jews only. But some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, when they came to Antioch, gave the good news about the Lord Jesus to the Greeks. And the power of the Lord was with them, and a great number had faith and were turned to the Lord. And news of them came to the ears of the church at Jerusalem: and they sent Barnabas as far as Antioch."[7]
            In fact, there is no report of any persecution of Christians in Antioch until the end of the first century.[8] However, even if there had been persecution of Christians at the time of the visit of Peter, the grotto would have been a very bad place to hide. During the first century, and many centuries to come, the grotto was located in the centre of Antioch, not far from the theatre and the Colonnaded Street.

On this map drawn by the Italian scholar Giovanni Uggeri,[9] I have marked the Grotto of St. Peter with red, the East Gate with blue and the Cherubim Gate with green.

To try to have secret worship in a cave in the centre of Antioch would be like having clandestine meetings on Times Square in New York. Why use a place so conspicuous when you could use one of the thousands of houses in downtown Antioch where you could have you meetings without any interference!

            First time we hear of a Church of St. Peter in Antioch is at the time of the Emperor Constantine who was also called the Great (306-337). This, however, was evidently not the grotto. At the time of the Crusader Principality (1199 – 1268) there was a Cathedral of St Peter. The grotto is not mentioned and later visitors say that the locals call the grotto the Church of St John.

            Whatever the case, it is not at all unsafe to conclude that the apostle Peter had nothing to do with the grotto bearing his name, although he may have known about its existence.


[1] Hatay, the Cradle of Civilizations, (Hatay: Hatay Provincial Administration General Secretariat, [no year]).
[2] Sic.
[3] Uysal Yenipınar, Antiocheia – Orientis Apicem Pulcrum – Mitolojik ôyküler – Hatay (Izmir: Etki Yayınları, 2010), 246.
[4] Adem Kara, XIX. Yüzyılda Bir Osmanlı şehri Antakya (Istanbul: IQ Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık, 2005), 59.
[5] Chiesa Cattolica Antiochia, "Grotto of St. Peter in Antioch," accessed 20.03.2012,
[6] Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 284, note 47.
[7] Acts chapter 11 verses 19-22. (The Bible in Basic English)
[8] E. S. Bouchier, A Short History of Antioch (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1921), 80, 81.
[9] Christopher Ecclestone, "The Uggeri Map," Antiochepedia, accessed April 23, 2012,


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Does honour killing have a religious background?

It is a common Western misunderstanding that honour killing or honour murder is a Muslim phenomenon. This delusion very likely has its roots the massive immigration of Muslims to Western Europe during the last fifty years. In the Middle East the murder of women because of "honour" as all too widespread and unfortunately this atrocious habit was taken along to the West with the immigration of the Middle Easterners.

The philosophy behind honour killings – or should we call it shame killing – is that a feudalistic community operates with two separate concepts of honour: the honour of women and the honour of men.

The honour of women, in Turkish called namus (decency, chastity) and in Arabic عرض , is preserved by a conduct that does not cast doubt on their chastity. If this happens, they lose their namus and her husband or father loses his honour, in Turkish called şeref which is the same as the Arabic شرف . In this case the man who is regarded as the one responsible for the honour of the family has to prove his honourableness and that of his family by washing away the shame brought upon them. This is normally done by shedding the blood of the woman who is regarded as a source of shame.

In Islam there has been some discussion about what to do with women who commit adultery. In the Quran we find the following commands:

"As for those of you women who are guilty of lewdness (الفاحشة ), call to witness four of  you against them. And if they testify then confine them to the houses until death take them ( الموت يتوفّاهنّ ) or Allah appoints for them a way." Sura 4; 15.

It seems that this text does not warrant a death penalty passed by any family council in the absence of the perpetrator. Evidently official legal action with at least four witnesses was required.[i]  provides us with this information:
Chapter 24 of Islam's holy book, the Qur'an, explicitly instructs believers to whip those found guilty of adultery. A leading Muslim scholar, Maulana Muhammad Ali noted that 'stoning to death was never contemplated by Islam as a punishment for adultery.' Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Dr. Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, said that the 'official text of the Qur'an only sanctions a punishment of so many lashes for such an offence not stoning to death...[the] punishment of stoning was introduced later by Omar, the second Calif for reasons best known to him." 6 Many Muslim scholars and judges agree that the Qur'an does not refer to executions by stoning.'[ii]
                 It therefore seems that honour killing is not a religious but a sociological phenomenon peculiar to feudalistic communities. Consequently it is not surprising that this menace is also found among professing Christians who are living in or have their roots in patriarchal or feudalistic communities.
            The following is a quotation from an article on the web site Stop honour killings!:
So-called honour killings are also part of Italy's legal history, where the idea was an admitted defense until 1981.

Prior to its reversal, an article existed in the Italian Criminal Code that provided a reduced penalty of imprisonment of only three to seven years for a man who killed his wife, sister or daughter to vindicate his or his family's honour.

Such crimes were once a fairly widely accepted feature of highly traditional communities in southern Italy - and even sparked an Oscar-winning 1961 comedy called Divorce, Italian Style, starring Marcello Mastroianni.

The Mafia, clinging to the past, has much more recently killed women who 'strayed' sexually or had children without being married.[iii]
            The latest example on honour killing done by confessing Christians is a case from Turkey. Here is the story as told by UPI:
ISTANBUL, Turkey, April 17 (UPI) -- A criminal court in Turkey handed a sentence of life in prison Tuesday to a man convicted in the execution-style slaying of his sister and brother-in-law.

The young couple were found shot to death in their car 10 days after they married against the wishes of the bride's family, Today's Zaman reported.

Sonay Ogmen, 26, and Zekeriya Vural, 29, each died from a single bullet to the forehead.

Police determined the couple had been killed by someone they knew sitting in the back seat of their car.

"I shot both of them," the bride's brother, Gonay Ogmen, told police after he was arrested. "We didn't want that groom."

The groom's uncle, Cemal Vural, said the bride's family opposed the marriage because she was Christian and Zekeriya Vural was Muslim.[iv]

[i] Marmaduke Pickthall, trans., The Glorious Qur'ân, Istanbul: Çağrı Yayınları, 1999, 80.

[ii] "Punishment for non-marital sex in Islam," Religious Tolerance, accessed April 20, 2012,

[iii] Joanna, "Mafia still think they 'own' women," Stop honour killings! accessed April. 22, 2012,

 [iv] "Turkish newlyweds slain over religious difference," UPI, accessed April 22, 2012,

Monday, 2 April 2012

Theatre in Antakya

In ancient Antioch the theatre was a very popular place of entertainment. It seems that some Seleucid kings also tried to introduce gladiatorial games, but this sort of entertainment did not appeal to the Antiochenes. Their taste was more "refined."

We do not know what sort of play was the most popular. No doubt the Greek tragedies were played, but we can be equally sure that the comic theatre was even more popular. Especially the so-called New Comedy of the Hellenistic period must have been appreciated.

The theatre was located close to the city centre, most probably in Epiphanea, the quarter added to Antioch by Antiochus Epiphanes. According to Leblanc and Poccardi it was located close to the tetrapylon on the Colonnaded Street (up behind the present Hotel Savon in the quarter of Dörtayak, "Four Legs").[1]

In Daphne (Harbiye) there was another theatre. This theatre was evidently located some hundred metres east of the present city centre of Harbiye, a kilometre or so before you arrive at the waterfalls. Today there is a water tower at the spot.

Today there is no proper theatre in Antakya. When theatre is played by local companies or guests, they are usually shown in Hatay Kültür Merkezi (Hatay Cultural Centre) or in Meclis, the old parliament building on the western bank of the Orontes at the Bridge.

This week actors from Adana showed The Lesson of Eugene Ionesco in Hatay Kültür Merkezi. This piece, regarded as one of the important works of the Theatre of the Absurd, is not new in Turkey. In the eighties we saw it on the national scene in Ankara. This time, however, the play was even more absurd, partly because of the ingenuity of the troupe partly because of its physical context.

The plot of the play is as follows:

The play takes place in the office and dining room of a small French flat. The Professor, a man of about 50 to 60, is expecting a new Pupil (aged 18). The Professor's Maid, a stout, red-faced woman of about 40 to 50, worries about the Professor's health. As the absurd and nonsensical lesson progresses, the Professor grows more and more angry with (what he perceives as) the Pupil's ignorance, and the Pupil becomes more and more quiet and meek. Even her health begins to deteriorate, and what starts as a toothache develops into her entire body aching. At the climax of the play, the Pupil is stabbed and murdered by the Professor, after a long bout of non sequiturs (which are frequently used in Ionesco's plays). The play ends with the Maid greeting a new Pupil, taking the play full circle, back to the beginning."[2]

The plot, sufficiently absurd as it is, was improved by a rather surprising innovation: The professor was a woman, a very teacher-like lady in a tight-fitting dress, high-heeled shoe, with an old-fashioned hairstyle, and looking as if about fifty years old. At first this sight was slightly shocking as I expected to see some distinguished gentleman. But honestly, we had to capitulate. What this lady could do was amazing. She was climbing a table and jumping down in her pedagogic enthusiasm, throwing armchairs around in fits of fury and even carrying her grown-up student around on her shoulders in fits of anger, all of it in her high-heeled shoes and without ruining her hairstyle. We were taken aback.

Unfortunately people in Antakya are not as interested in the theatre as were their forebears. The auditorium was not empty, but not filled either. Nearly all the audience were under thirty. I do not remember seeing anybody from the 'comfortable classes' of Antakya. There was a whole school class – or so they looked. I wonder what they thought of the sort of educational theory and practice they saw on the scene. Perhaps they started to appreciate their own teachers, who at least do not kill them because of their oafishness.

One part of the play was especially interesting. At a certain point the teacher asked the student to multiply two colossal numbers, and, for a change, the student gave the right answer. When the teacher dumbfounded asked how the student managed to work out this calculation, she answered that, as multiplication is a difficult art, she had learned by heart all the possible results of the total number of possible calculations.

This is where I found the situation of the play absurd. In good old days when I studied Arabic at the University of Ankara everything was learned by heart. The professor asked us to write down the Arabic text and its translation whereupon the students went home and learned it by rote. If you wanted a more linguistic approach, you were welcome to figure it out yourself.

I do not know which school the kids in the theatre came from, but I hope they got the point.

[1] Jacque Leblanc & Grégoire Poccardi, “Traces urbains et ruraux antiques a Antioche,” Syria T.76, Institut français du Proche-Orient (1999), 91-126.

[2] "The Lesson," Wikipedia, accessed April 1, 2012,

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Citadel of Antioch (Antakya)


A view from a point besides the Habib-i Neccar Mosque.
The citadel is on top of the mountain to the right.
We do not know when the citadel on the top of Mount Silpius was originally built. Glanville Downey, though, has the following comment: "There is no specific literary or archaeological evidence for such a citadel, but the presence of citadels in the other major Seleucid foundations makes it almost beyond question that there was one in Antioch."[1]

According to Libanius, Alexander the Great himself had a citadel built at a site called Emathia, but it is not clear where it was situated. At the time of the First Crusade, the citadel was there and the Crusaders tried to get inside, but to no avail. When the Crusaders finally took Antioch, the citadel remained on Muslim hands until they finally surrendered.

When the French traveller and orientalist Jean de la Roque came to Antioch about three hundred years ago, he visited the citadel. He claims that he saw remains of a temple up there.

Another visitor mentions a big pool or cistern between the citadel and the summit of Mount Silpius. This pool can still be seen inside the old city walls.

The ruins can be visited, but the approach is difficult. It is worth the effort, though. For obscure reasons nobody has sought to facilitate the ascent to the place. Consequently visitors are few.
Construction inside the citadel
 A view from the citadel
Another view
The wall descending towards the Iron Gate

Looking down from the citadel. The torrent of Parmenius is in the centre of the picture. To the right you have Mount Staurin with the Grotto of St Peter. To the left is the area of the Forum of Valens. On top, on the other side of the street the Hilton Museum Hotel is being built. Lots of mosaics were found there.
The cistern

[1] Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961) 71.