Bodrum to Gallipoli – A week’s wandering in Aegean Turkey

A major benefit of receiving visitors from abroad – apart from the happiness of catching up with family and old friends – is the motivation they provide for getting out and seeing the sights of Turkey through fresh eyes. We had a family wedding in May which brought guests from the USA, and took us down to Bodrum a month or so earlier than usual. Then some old neighbours arrived from New Zealand, and together we took a slow trip through the Aegean region back to Istanbul.
Here are a few highlights:
Myndos is the ancient name for the modern village of Gümüşlük-by-the-Sea where our journey began. There is no evidence to indicate that it had much more importance in those days than it has today – which is perhaps its saving grace. The Bodrum Peninsula is in serious danger of succumbing to the curse of over-development, but the existence of classical ruins beneath its humble surface has so far saved Gümüşlük from the worst depredations. Its small natural harbour and sandy beaches lined with atmospheric fish restaurants and small shops selling tasteful handcrafts, and jams and marmalades made from locally-grown fruits, attract visitors desperate to escape the English breakfasts, English football and Turkish nightclubs that blight other resorts on the peninsula.
Recently archeologists from Bursa’s Uludağ University have been fossicking around remains of temples, churches, theatres and bathhouses – and council workers laying pipes accidentally turned up a Roman necropolis. So far, fortunately, nothing’s been found that’s likely to attract coachloads of tourists or titanic cruise liners.
Magnesia-on-the-Meander. Certainly there are other sites on the road deserving a visit, but this one is a little publicized gem. My previous visits had been in the heat and dust of July or August, so carpets of red, purple and yellow spring flowers made for an extra delight. The city was renowned for its temple to Artemis Leucophryeno which, in its heyday, was little inferior to the better known temple at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sadly, not much remains today, but a short walk will take you to a 20,000-seater stadium, wonderfully preserved as a result of being buried for centuries under a landslide caused by a 7th century earthquake. Incidentally, our word ‘magnet’ is said to come from lodestones found in Magnesia.
The modern town of Selçuk is a popular base for tourists wishing to visit Ephesus and other neighbouring cities of classical antiquity. Americans and touchingly credulous Roman Catholics climb a nearby mountain to pay their respects at a site purported to be built over an earlier house once inhabited by Mary, mother of Jesus (or of God Himself, if you are of that persuasion). The ‘purporter’ was apparently a stigmatised ecstatic visionary German nun who, despite never having left her home territory of Westphalia, provided directions to the said house, delivered to her in a visitation from the said Mary.
If you do go to Ephesus, I recommend shelling out a few extra dollars for admission to the terrace houses, a work in progress recreating the lives of well-heeled Ephesians back when the apostle Paul was writing to them (well, maybe not to those Ephesians). An international crew of dedicated archeologists is carrying out unbelievably painstaking work reassembling wall frescoes and floor mosaics from thousands of fragments that you and I would probably not even notice.
It is generally understood that carpet-sellers in Turkey are a local hazard to be avoided at all costs. However, an exception to the rule is a government-sponsored co-operative located behind the (currently closed) Selçuk museum on the back road to the 13th century Mosque of Isa Bey. We stumbled upon it by accident and allowed ourselves to be inveigled in. It did, however, turn out to be a worthwhile mishap. Apart from providing a place for master (or mistress) weavers to work and train young apprentices and market their wares, the centre also gives insights into the age-old art of silk production. One interesting fact I learned – the ancient Egyptians used silk threads to cut the stones used for pyramid building. Well, true or not, I have always wondered how those artisans of old were able to accurately cut thin sheets of marble for lining their temples and churches.
It’s a bit of a trek from Selçuk – and probably you need a vehicle of your own – but Aphrodisias is a magical site well worth a visit. At this point I have to give a plug to my friend Adrian. We were fortunate to find him in town, sipping a cold ale at Eksellans Bar on Saturday evening, and he was gracious enough to let us tag along on his Sunday tour. Aphrodisias is, of course, named for the goddess Aphrodite, since there was a major cult of followers located in the city in ancient times. I wouldn’t be the first to suggest a connection between the Greek goddess, earlier Aegean deities Cybele and Artemis, and the cult of the Virgin Mary that subsequently developed when Christianity became the state religion in these parts.
For my money, Aphrodisias is a more atmospheric site than the better known, and more accessible Ephesus. Precisely because of its lesser accessibility, of course, you will find fewer tour buses from the cruise liners of Kuşadası. The on-site museum is a treasure house of fabulous sculpture, and the almost intact stadium redolent of Russell Crowe’s ‘Gladiator’. If you are lucky enough to have Adrian in your party, you will be treated to translations of the many inscriptions for which this site is renowned.
The modern Turkish town of Bergama is located at the foot of the acropolis of the ancient city of Pergamon. Many of the best finds are more likely to be seen in the eponymous museum in Berlin, but still it’s a spectacular site with a breath-taking theatre built on the precipitous hill. Roman engineers brought water by aqueduct from 40+ kilometres away, and some local inventor came up with the idea of parchment. Apparently commodity traders in Cairo had started stock-piling papyrus in anticipation of a shortage thereby creating a shortage, and got their come-uppance in a big way!
A brisk walk from the bottom of the hill will bring you to the Asklepius Medical Centre, whose residents included the famous physician Galen. Among its patients were some with psychiatric disorders, who were treated with music, dream interpretation and the sound of a sacred spring burbling down the corridor. Incidentally, if you’re looking for place to stay with a little ambience I can recommend the Athena Pension, an old Greek house with a view of the acropolis from its walled garden.
Following our hosts’ recommendation, instead of retracing our steps, we took a back road through Kozak – according to locals, the richest town in Turkey because of its trade in pine nuts. The road brought us out a little north of Ayvalik where we stopped for lunch at a delightful little place called Zeytin Altı Kır BahçesiA Country garden under the Olive Trees. As with many of the best Turkish eateries, its menu was limited to what they do best: grilled köfte and gözleme, both of which were delicious! We also picked up a few local products, fruit juice and a kind of molasses (pekmez) made from mulberries, and some tasty sliced olives in tomato sauce.
Our final stopover was the town of Çanakkaleon the southern coast of the Dardanelles, where we booked a tour to the killing fields and cemeteries of Gallipoli, that long-ago exercise in military futility that has nevertheless bequeathed a sense of identity to Australia, New Zealand and the modern Republic of Turkey. My guests and I felt a strong admiration for the Turks who have allowed former invaders to maintain cemeteries to their fallen heroes, to build a large memorial on the crucial ridge of Chunuk Bair, and have even erected a signpost directing visitors to Anzak Koyu (Anzac Cove).
One of our fellow travellers on the tour bus was a young Maori lad who told us that he intended to perform a haka in honour of his ancestors who had fought and died for a king and empire to whom they had little cause to feel obligated. It was an impressive one-man performance that brought a tear to my eye – and a little anger against an elderly Anglo-Australian woman who demanded indignantly to know why we had to be subjected to such a spectacle.
A curious incident occurred as we were about to board the ferry that would take us across the water to the town of Eceabat. One of our guides, a young Turkish lass calling herself Zuzu, with a Goth hairdo and numerous body piercings, announced that we would in fact take a later boat because there were a few Turkish police on our intended ferry, and ‘they kill people’. I wonder what what the short-stay tourists made of that.

Excommunicating Greg – Who’s weirder, Muslims or Christians?

One of my favourite books while studying English literature at Auckland University was ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy’, a quirky work of fiction by 18th century writer Lawrence Sterne. Generally regarded as a novel for want of a more appropriate category, the book doesn’t have much of a plot. We learn the circumstances surrounding young Tristram’s conception and the inauspicious christening where he was misnamed. Apart from that we learn more about the idiosyncrasies of the baby’s father Walter and Uncle Toby than those of Tristram himself.
An episode that stuck in my mind was where the doctor attending Tristram’s birth suffers a small accident and begins to curse the servant whose negligence led to his discomfort. Walter Shandy offers to assist him by supplying Dr Slop with what he claims is the most comprehensive and effective curse of all time, provided the doctor will read the entire text – which he agrees to do. It turns out that the document he is obliged to read is the text of a Roman Catholic service of excommunication attributed to a certain 9th century Bishop Enulphus. Sterne prints the document in full in the original Latin version with accompanying English translation, which together take up all 14 pages of Chapter 11, Volume 3. Check it out online – you may find a use for it yourself one day.
Greg Reynolds
with his document of excommunication
Well, Lawrence Sterne, back there around 1760, was ever so politely poking fun at the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for its archaic, anachronistic practices. 250 years on it seems little has changed. Last month news media informed the world that a 60 year-old Australian priest had received a New Year present from Pope Francis and his Doctrinal Congregation in the form of a lengthy document, written in Latin, informing him that he had been excommunicated.
Pope Francis
looking distinctly unimpressed
Maybe it’s something a new Pope has to do early in his term of office, to stamp his authority on the world of Roman Catholicism. This was Pope Francis’s first such act, and it was done, apparently, because the gentleman concerned, Greg Reynolds, an ordained priest, had been publicly advocating the ordination of women to the priesthood, and celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion without proper authority. According to an official RC source, Reynolds had resigned his position as parish priest and had his priestly faculties removed, but continued to celebrate the Eucharist and expound his unorthodox views, leaving the Holy Father with no alternative but the ultimate sanction – excommunication.
You can see his point. Rules are rules, and if you want to be a member of my club you have to toe the line. When William Webb Ellis, in the Year of Our Lord 1823, grasped a football in his arms and ran with it, he is said to have initiated the game of rugby football. Whatever game he was actually playing at the time (and there seems to be some uncertainty about this), that specific action was evidently frowned upon. The implication, at least in rugby circles, is that, if you want to be a man, run with the ball in hand, jump on opponents and be jumped on, you’d better join a rugby club and leave soccer to the girls.
So with Mr Reynolds. He may be perfectly justified in his belief that gay couples should be entitled to get married, and that women have as much right as men to serve as priests – but RC doctrine decrees otherwise. Pope Francis would probably have left Reynolds alone if he had been an ordinary parishioner keeping his unorthodox views to himself or sharing them with close friends in a Fitzroy pub. It’s a bit unreasonable on his part, it seems to me, to expect church authorities to tolerate his preaching those views from the pulpit.
Still, the whole business aroused my interest, and I did a little reading round the subject. It seems Aussie Greg has joined a rather elite band of 105 souls excommunicated by the Catholic Church[1]during its two thousand year history. Admittedly twenty-six of those have been added to the list in the last 114 years, so some might argue that its value has been somewhat eroded over time. On the other hand, church authorities don’t have the same powers of persuasion they once enjoyed, foot-roasting and burning-at-the-stake having become less acceptable in recent years.
Even so, I can’t help feeling, were I in Greg Reynold’s shoes, rather than being miffed at my fate, I would feel a certain pride in having been elevated to such august company, since it implies that the Pope and his inner circle are taking my views seriously and even feeling threatened by them. I won’t try your patience by itemizing the entire list of 105, but let’s just take a random sample. Father Greg Reynolds, a humble (ex-) parish priest from Melbourne, Australia, can now claim comradeship with two kings of France and one king of Scotland (Robert the Bruce). Several monarchs of England made the cut, including, as we know, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The list also includes five Holy Roman Emperors (one of whom apparently made it twice), one Byzantine Emperor and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1054 CE. Demonstrating the Church’s even-handedness with respect to women, French heroine Joan of Arc was excommunicated andburnt in 1431 – though later forgiven and even canonized. In 1577 an entire monastery of Carmelite nuns suffered the punishment, although it was revoked the following year – suggesting that even celibate Holy Fathers have a soft spot for the ladies. According to Wikipedia, Fidel Castro himself was excommunicated in 1962 – but even the US government didn’t manage to have him burnt.
One thing that struck me, as I perused the list, was that there seems to have been a diminishing of social status among recipients of the honour since the glorious days of the Middle Ages, when most seem to have been kings and emperors, or at least bishops and other members of the European aristocracy. Not to detract from Greg’s achievement, but it doesn’t really bear comparison with William I of Sicily who, in the 12th century, attracted the ire of Pope Adrian IV by waging war against the papal states and raiding pilgrims on their way to the tombs of the apostles.
I can’t help feeling there seems to be a tendency these days for Papal authorities in the Vatican to direct their awful power on more humble adherents to the faith, at the risk of demeaning their own majesty and credibility. It may be true that God in Heaven is convinced that abortion, family planning, gay relationships and women priests are abominations – but how can you really know? At the very least, you might think that a more enlightened approach by the Pope and his Holy Cardinals to such matters would endear them to the world community of Roman Catholics, and lure some of those lapsed bums back to the seats of parish churches and monumental urban cathedrals.
In 2009, Margaret McBride, administrator at St Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Centre in Phoenix, Arizona, authorised an abortion for a 27-year-old woman pregnant with her fifth child and suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Her doctors believed that her chances of dying if the pregnancy continued were close to 100%. McBride was excommunicated – though subsequently reinstated after a public outcry.
A group of Canadian Catholics calling themselves the Community of the Lady of All Nations was excommunicated en masse in 2007. Apparently they believe that their founder, 92-year-old Marie Paule Griguere is the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. The Church begged to differ on the grounds that: A, reincarnation does not exist, and B, ‘Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven by God, and therefore Mary’s soul is not separate from her body, so that if she were to appear, it would have to be as herself, not a reincarnation.’
Well, what can you say to that? Medieval Christian scholars are said to have debated how many angels could dance, or at least sit, on the head  (or point) of a pin (or needle). That may or may not be true, but it is certainly true that arguments over the physical, spiritual and or metaphysical nature of Jesus Christ, as well as the question of whether the bread and wine in the sacrament of Communion actually became His flesh and blood, led to excommunications, major divisions in the Church, horrific violence against individuals, and even catastrophic wars.
If you are of the Roman Catholic persuasion, you may like to consider that any of the following can get you automatically excommunicated[2]:
  • Procuring of abortion
  • Apostasy: The total rejection of the Christian faith.
  • Heresy: The obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth, which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith – such as rejection of contraception, gay marriage and the ordination of women as priests.
  • Schism: The rejection of the authority and jurisdiction of the pope as head of the Church.
  • Desecration of sacred species (Holy Communion).
  • Physical attack on the pope.
  • Sacramental absolution of an accomplice in sin against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments – against murder and bearing false witness, which you might think leaves Tony Blah’s local confessor in a difficult position.
  • Unauthorized episcopal (bishop) consecration.
  • Direct violation of confessional seal by confessor.

The following offenses warrant excommunication as a result of a judgment from a church authority:
  • Pretended celebration of the Holy Eucharist (Mass) or conferral of sacramental absolution by one not a priest.
  • Violation of confessional seal by interpreter and others.

Well, you may think you’re on safe ground with most of those, and anyway, what the Holy Father doesn’t find out won’t worry him unduly. On the other hand, you might want to drop Greg Reynolds down there in Melbourne a note offering a little encouragement and support.

A New Pope for Easter

Turkish is a fascinating language, and a challenge for the well-meaning holidaymaker who thinks to pick up a little for the sake of international goodwill. One of its peculiarities is a feature known to linguists as agglutination, whereby grammatical functions are constructed by adding suffixes to a lexical root. There is in theory no limit to the number of suffixes that can be agglutinated, and Turks take pride in the following word: ‘Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmısınız?’which has eleven suffixes, and can be rendered into English as ‘Are you one of those whom we have been unable to make Czechoslovakian?’

Of course every country and culture likes to feel that it is the best at, or has the biggest, longest, whatever, of something – it’s a natural human (or at least a male) thing. So as native speakers of English, we understandably dredge our memories for the longest word we know – and maybe come up with ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’. It doesn’t quite measure up, but it does at least have a useful and significant meaning (unlike its longer Turkish counterpart): ‘opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England.’ 

Why am I telling you this? Because ‘establishment’ in this context means that Anglicanism is the official state religion of England, which, in turn means that England is not strictly speaking a secular state. The main precedent for this is the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire by the Emperor Theodosius I in 380 CE. You might think that the world has moved on a little in the intervening 1630 years, but the English Parliament (wherein twenty-six seats are reserved for senior bishops) is holding the line.

What got me thinking about this was the recent election of a new Pope to preside over the international community of Roman Catholics – more specifically, a couple of discussions that surfaced in a circle of history buffs I follow online. The first was prompted by someone asking the question: If Benedict XVI was not the most intelligent head of state ever, who was?” Now I have to confess, it’s not a question that would ever have occurred to me – not least because I never really think of high intelligence as being a major requirement for a head of state. Nevertheless, once the question was posed, it got me thinking. Is being highly intelligent compatible with being a Catholic? Is the Pope actually a head of state?

Pope Gregory XII, resigned 1415
Well, probably the second question is the easier of the two, so let’s look at that one first. It seems that international law gives diplomatic recognition to two institutions of the Catholic Church: the Holy See and Vatican City. The latter, I was interested to learn, was actually established as an independent state by an agreement, in 1929, between Pope Pius XI and Italy’s ‘Duce’, Benito Mussolini. According to Wikipedia, “Vatican City is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state, ruled by the Bishop of Rome—the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergymen of various national origins. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See (Sancta Sedes) and the location of the Pope’s residence, referred to as the Apostolic Palace.” If that sounds positively archaic to you, it’s not surprising. A ‘See’ in RC parlance was originally the chair in which a bishop sat, but has come to mean the area over which the seated bishop has episcopal authority. Twelve of these gentlemen are said to derive their authority from an unbroken succession going back to Jesus’s twelve apostles. One of them, The Holy See, claims pre-eminence on the basis of direct descent from St Peter himself, and its official existence seems to date from some time in the 5th century.

Fine and dandy. I have no problem with Roman Catholics adhering to whatever beliefs give them comfort in the long dark teatime of their souls. Only I don’t quite understand why they get to have international recognition of statehood on the basis of their strange beliefs and their Pope’s alliance with a fascist Italian dictator in the 1920s. If Catholics, why not Presbyterians? Which brings me to the question of intelligence – and I suppose you’d have to admit that people who can pull that kind of stunt on the international community must be pretty smart characters.

It’s self-evident that you do need some kind of smarts to get yourself elected or appointed to a leadership role at that level of society. After all, the Roman Church does claim to have 1.2 billion adherents, even if 1,199,999,880 of them don’t actually have any say in choosing the new fella. But as for intelligence, that’s a curly one. IQ (Intelligence Quotient) used to be thought of as a way of measuring human intellectual capacity, but has gone out of favour in recent years. Former world chess champion Bobby Fisher (IQ 187) probably contributed to that as his genius for chess descended into vitriolic diatribes against the United States and the Jewish people. These days most discussions of intelligence recognize nine different types, one of which, linguistic, may be what Benedict XVI had.

The big thing for me is that intelligence can’t exist in a vacuum. It manifests itself in outcomes, and from those we will judge the mental capabilities of the individual. So it seems to me we can look at the ex-Pope’s intelligence in three ways. First, the guy is undoubtedly smart, and, discounting Tony Blair’s miraculous conversion, I reckon it must be pretty tough to be intelligent and to believe all that stuff that Catholics are expected to believe. So full points to the ex-Holy Father for being able to compartmentalize knowledge, if that’s what he did. On the other hand, it may be that early in his academic life, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger decided that he wanted power, and thought the Church was a good career path, so he mouthed the mumbo jumbo in order to get where he wanted to be – another sign of a certain kind of intelligence, for sure. Then there’s the fact that Benedict resigned – the first Pope to do so since Gregory XII in 1415. Undoubtedly, for believing Catholics it’s a disappointment, and not at all the done thing – but in the greater scheme of things, we may think Father Joseph finally saw the error of his ways – and being able to admit your mistakes may be a another indicator of intelligence.

That last comment may seem unduly harsh, but take a close look at the history of Roman Catholicism and you’ll see what I mean. Here I want to touch on the second topic being discussed by my online friends, which involved some scholarly debate on the definition of ‘heresy’, and whether it differed from ‘dissent’, in the context of Christianity. In the course of my Euro-centred Christian-oriented education, I learned that the early followers of Jesus were strong-minded innocent souls suffering terribly at the hands of Roman Emperors, who employed various methods, of which feeding to lions was a favourite, to discourage the spread of the new religion. What I didn’t learn until much later was that, once those Roman Emperors, for reasons of their own, which may or may not have had much to do with actual spiritual experience, decided to ‘establish’ Christianity as the state religion, the apparatus of institutional persecution was turned on those who failed to toe the official Christian line.

The process, essentially was this: the emperor and his sacerdotal henchmen gathered together in various ecumenical councils, most of which were held within the territory of the Eastern or Byzantine Roman Empire (in modern Turkey) and formulated a doctrine, or set of articles which would thereafter be required beliefs for ‘orthodox’ Christians. These councils, by the way, were convened 300 years or more after the death of the church’s namesake. The articles of ‘faith’ were designed to include elements which made it relatively easy for adherents of earlier pagan and folk religions to find points of contact with the new official system, while, at the same time, provided a basis for getting rid of troublesome parties who might foster dissent from within. The result was a creed, or creeds, containing ‘truths’ never claimed, as far as I am aware, by Jesus himself, and closing debate on matters that a reasonable human being might consider highly debatable, even irrelevant to the essence of the business.

As an illustration of this, let me include an excerpt from the Athanasian Creed, which came into use in the 6th century, and is apparently still, I understand, subscribed to by mainstream western Christian churches, though, perhaps understandably, no longer much used in everyday worship:
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible .  . . . So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”
Says who? you may ask. Well, I have to agree, you need a certain kind of intelligence to get your head around that, or even to want to think about trying. You might also suppose the word ‘incomprehensible’, included five times in that text, and rightly applied to any entity worth worshipping as GOD by an intelligent human being, would let you off the hook – but not so. Those words were carefully and specifically chosen to allow authorities to weed out deviants from the true path. The Wikipedia entry on heresieslists fifty-four distinct ideas that have qualified as such over the years under ‘established’ church law, the most recent of which involved a nonagenarian lady in Canada whose followers believed she was a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, and were duly excommunicated by the Pope in 2007. Early heresies tended to focus on what Jesus actually was, given the church’s insistence that his mother was a virgin and his father was the Lord God Almighty. Clearly an incomprehensible God would need an equally incomprehensible agent to carry out such worldly activities, hence the Holy Spirit (or Ghost, if you prefer). Then the debate tended to get entwined in arguments over whether Jesus’s body was actually like yours and mine, or made of some less corporeal stuff; whether he had a normal soul like other mortal men; and whether there was some kind of divine substance in there too, setting him apart from the rest of us.

The consequence of all this was the establishment of a state religion with a very strict code of ‘beliefs’, and the expulsion, excommunication and persecution of dissenters from the party line (labeled heretics, which has a more resonant ring to it, the better to justify punitive action). The big winner was the Roman Empire, by this time, centred on the eastern capital of Constantinople, especially after the fall of western Rome to the barbarians in 476 CE. It’s also pretty obvious that most of the early action in the birth and evolution of Christianity took place in eastern lands, with the West a relative latecomer on the scene.

Still, once they got going, Western Christians set about making up for lost time. Early convocations of bishops formulating the creeds of the established church took place in eastern cities, Nicaea, Chalcedon and Ephesus, and you couldn’t really deny their conclusions without getting yourself out on an insecure limb. What you could do, however, was sneak an extra word or two into the text (in Latin so the ordinary Joe wouldn’t notice), then, when the time was right, insist that your version was the correct one, thereby creating a doctrinal split, giving you grounds to excommunicate the other side and set yourself up as the true church. Which is more or less what the Romans did. It’s known in theological circles as the ‘filioque’ controversy, and relates to a word inserted into the 4th century Nicene Creed in Spain some two centuries later. By the 11th century, Western Christendom felt itself strong enough to challenge Constantinople for supremacy, and that word provided doctrinal justification for the Great Schism of 1053.

Not long after, in 1071, Seljuk Turks defeated the Eastern Romans in battle and began serious incursions into territory long-considered part of the European sphere of influence. Pope Urban II’s launching of the First Crusade in 1096, and subsequent Crusading invasions by armies from Western Europe may have been ostensibly aimed at freeing the so-called Holy Lands from the clutches of Muslim unbelievers; but subsequent events suggest that uniting Europe under Papal and Roman Imperial authority played a major part; as did a desire to expropriate and/or plunder wealthy eastern lands and cities; and to demonstrate to Eastern Christians where the real power in Christendom now lay.

Things didn’t work out exactly according to Papal plans, of course. The Holy Roman Empire never really got off the ground. The   Byzantine Empire fell, but to the Ottoman Turks. It was another five centuries, nearly, before those Holy Places returned to Western control, by which time they had been in Muslim hands for most of the previous two thousand years, and continue to cause severe headaches for all concerned.

Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church had ‘established’ itself as a dominant player in European power games by the beginning of the second millennium, and the concept of heresy was the major tool in its box of tricks for ensuring compliance. It was obvious to many, even in those days, that the search for temporal power had resulted in an organizational structure that had more interest in matters material than spiritual. For four hundred years before the successful emergence of Protestantism in the 16thcentury, various groups (Catharsand Waldensians in France, for example) were challenging the materialism of the established Roman Church, and being viciously suppressed for their idealism.

The Inquisition was not a peculiarly Spanish invention, but it achieved notoriety during the 15th century as the mechanism whereby the Iberian Peninsula was ‘reclaimed’ for Christendom. Muslims and Jews were forced to convert or leave, and the backsliding converted were ruthlessly hunted out. Some modern Catholic sources suggest that there wasn’t as much burning at stakes as we had been led to believe – but the existence of the threat may have been enough to overcome the reluctance of some; and if not, there were less fatal but nonetheless exemplary methods of persuasion, among which foot-roasting was apparently popular.

An interesting concept I came across recently is something referred to in RC literature as ‘The Black Legend’, which argues that most of that Inquisitorial unpleasantness didn’t actually happen, and that stories about events in Spain and Spanish conquests in Central and South America were concocted and spread by Protestants keen to discredit their religious rivals. To me it sounds rather akin to Holocaust Denial. What was the reason for all those Spanish Jews uprooting themselves from their homeland of centuries and resettling thousands of kilometres away in the Ottoman Empire in the 1490s? Maybe they just felt like a change of scenery?

As we head into another Easter weekend, I find myself wondering again about the strangeness of that central event in the Christian calendar. As far as I can learn, the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 CE determined the date of Easter to be the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox, which is why the holiday moves around from one year to the next (a moveable feast, in technical parlance). But you’d want to ask, why would they do that? If you’re commemorating the date Jesus Christ was crucified, why not go for the actual date, or at least fix a date and run with that? Could it have been that a lot of the local populations were partying up large at spring fertility or seed-planting celebrations and the Jewish Passover at that time of year, and the machinery of state decided to make a virtue of necessity? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and then gradually shift the official emphasis. Makes a lot of sense.

Similar theories have been advanced as origins for the stories of Jesus’s virgin birth at the winter solstice, his crucifixion and resurrection at the spring equinox, and the cult of his mother, Mary. Just down the road from the supposed House of the Virgin Mary near the town of Selçuk in Aegean Turkey are the remains of the classical Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Greek goddess Artemis is linked to the Phrygian female deity Cybele, and the generic Anatolian mother goddess. Virginity was one of their characteristics, as was, paradoxically, a quality of universal motherhood. Associated with Cybele was a young man, Attis, born to a virgin mother who may or may not have been Cybele. Whatever the case, week-long festivities in their honour were being conducted well into classical times, and may have inspired those early church authorities to add sympathetic embellishments to their own creeds.

Well, who knows? It’s all too long ago for anyone to be able to demonstrate sure proof of what actually went on. What we can say with some certainty is that a good deal of what passes for Christian ‘belief’ was determined by power-hungry gentlemen in days of old with very secular imperial aspirations, and a fair amount of rather nasty coercion was applied to ensure that dissidents were silenced or removed to a safe distance. That’s the reason that ‘disestablishment’ movements have constantly resurfaced over the centuries. In the end, the search for truth starts and ends in your own heart. If the new Pope’s ok with that, then I’m ok with him.

The Mosaic of Turkey – untangling the Gordian Knot

One of the pleasures of summer is breakfasting on our terrace overlooking the blue waters of the Aegean Sea: or relaxing in the evening with an ice-cold beer as the sun sinks into the same waters, now turned fiery orange. Mostly the sea is empty, but occasionally the luxury schooners and motor yachts of the rich and famous pass by – and I imagine a time when the same seas would have carried galleys of the Ionian League, of Imperial Rome or the Byzantine Greeks, to marble cities up and down the coast, as they pursued their business of trade or conquest.
The biggest problem most outsiders have in coming to grips with the reality of modern Turkey is its location on a patch of earth which has seen the procession of so many civilisations, a normal human brain switches off from information overload. Mesopotamia has long been known as the cradle of civilisation. If that’s true, the land of Turkey/Anatolia/Asia Minor must, in addition, be kindergarten, primary school, junior high and high school. Archeological excavations at Göbeklitepe in Southeast Turkey have unearthed religious structures erected in the tenth millennium BCE. From then on, one civilisation succeeded another, with the last major world empire here, that of the Ottomans, surviving through to the twentieth century.
Once again, this July, I found myself in the town of Selçuk, visiting an English friend who has made his home there. It’s a very tourist-friendly place, as witnessed by the plethora of visitor accommodation. I passed by hotels and pensions with the enticing (at least to an antipodean like myself) names of Canberra, Wallabies, ANZ, Kiwi, Outback, and Boomerang, settling finally on Jimmy’s Place, with the added attractions of WiFi internet and air-conditioned rooms.
Selçuk çastle, Ayasuluk Hill
Well, it wasn’t my first visit to Selçuk, so I had no need to jostle with tourist crowds at the well-known attractions – but for those of you yet to discover the historical and cultural delights of Aegean Turkey, let me mention a few. Most visitors with an interest in history come to explore the ruins of Ephesus, a major port city of classical Greek and Roman times, and one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean region in those days. With its paved streets, impressive library, open-air theatre, luxury villas and well-preserved public toilets, Ephesus has much to excite the imagination. A short distance down the road is the site of a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. There’s not much left of it these days, but in ancient times it featured on the list of the World’s Seven Wonders.
Those with a more specialized interest in religious history tend to focus on later days when Ephesus was home to an early Christian community, to whom the Apostle Paul addressed one of his famous epistles. It seems likely that Jesus’s mother Mary spent her last years here, having been entrusted by her dying son to the care of the disciple John. There is some uncertainty over the authenticity of the House of the Virgin Mary, located on nearby Bülbüldağı (Nightingale Mountain), although Pope John Paul II did see fit to drop by and pay his respects in 2004. Less open to debate is the ruin of the huge 6thcentury basilica, supposedly built over the grave of St John, and one of the holiest churches of the Byzantine Age.
Christendom began to lose its grip on Asia Minor after the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine Emperor’s army in a major battle in 1071. Before the Ottomans rose to prominence, the Selçuk area fell under the sway of a local clan known as Aydınoğulları. One of its members, İsa Bey, had a mosque built in 1375 which students of Islamic architecture consider important for reasons we needn’t go into here. An interesting side issue, however, is the fact that certain elements from the Artemis Temple, including some of the columns, were apparently used in its construction.
It’s not easy for people like me, from New World nations whose recorded history emerged from the mists of prehistory two to four centuries ago, to fully appreciate the time-frames in which Anatolian civilizations appeared and disappeared. The Mosque of İsa Bey itself fell into disrepair for many years, even converted to a caravanserai at one stage. It is still not fully restored. When it was built, more than six centuries ago, the famous temple from which the columns were taken had been deserted and derelict for perhaps a thousand years, its pagan worshippers long-forgotten.
These are some of the highlights of Selçuk itself. However, visitors often use the town as a convenient base from which to explore ancient sites further afield: the famous lime-stone terraces of Pamukkale and the associated ruins of Hierapolis; the ancient city of Aphrodisias with its remarkably intact 25,000-seat gladiatorial stadium; the impressive excavations of Priene and Miletos, and the remains of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma.
Less well-known, perhaps, is the site of Magnesia on the road from Selçuk to Söke. I was lucky to go with my English local guide, Robert, who was able to point out details and inscriptions which would undoubtedly escape the notice of the casual visitor. The city was known by the Romans as Magnesia-on-the-Meander (source of the English word meaning to wander aimlessly) to distinguish it from the other Magnesia further north from which sprang the modern Turkish town of Manisa. It was a city of some size in ancient times, located in a fertile region with commercial and strategic importance. Currently archeologists are working to excavate a large stadium long buried by a huge landslip, and consequently very well preserved.
I too have made my home in Turkey, though my base is the megalopolis of Istanbul. I do try, in my spare time, to keep up with archeological developments around the country, and even to visit sites of special interest. The task is endlessly challenging and full of interest, but ultimately hopeless, as a small selection of recent news items will demonstrate.
Archeologists from several nations apart from Turkey are currently engaged in extensive digging in numerous sites around the country. Like me, you may not have heard of the ancient city of Kibyra, but I can now tell you that it was a city in Southwest Anatolia near the modern Turkish town of Gölhisar. It is believed to have been founded by the Pisidians about whom you may also, understandably, be a little hazy) in the 3rdcentury BCE. During its five hundred years of prominence, it became one of the largest urban centres in the region, with a cosmopolitan population of Phrygians, Lydians, Lycians and Carians, reaching perhaps 200,000 at its peak. So it’s not altogether surprising that archeologists have recently uncovered a pavement which they believe may prove to be the world’s largest mosaic.
Another spot you may not be familiar with is the mound of Kuriki, near the Southeast Anatolian city of Batman. If you are new to the geography of Turkey, you may be sceptical that such a city exists, but I assure you, it’s true. Excavations here, in the upper reaches of the Tigris River, have been under way for three years and have established that human occupation was continuous from the late Chalcolithic Age (around 5500 years ago). Just last week, archeologists from Turkey’s Çukurova University brought to light a necropolis from the period when imperial Rome was engaged in a struggle with the neighbouring Parthians (of whom I have written elsewhere). So far, finds have included copper jewellery and pottery jugs and containers.
Hittite statue of Suppiluliuma
News of the day in our local paper on 29 July was the discovery, in excavations near Hatay, of a one-and-a-half tonne statue of a Hittite King, believed to be Suppiluliuma. Now I don’t presume to understand how these people can possibly know that, but at least the Hittite language is of Indo-European origin, which makes it more closely related to English than modern Turkish. Still, the Hiitites built an extensive empire that peaked in the 14th century BCE, which is probably why Suppiluliuma is not such a common name in English-speaking countries today. The chief city of the Hatay province, incidentally, is Antakya, the Turkish version of a place Westerners may know better as Antioch. It’s peripheral to my present purpose here, but Antioch was founded by one of the Great Alexander’s generals around 300 BCE, and grew in a short time to rival Alexandria in size and importance.  It is said to be the place where Christians were first called Christians, and visitors can check out the grotto church founded by the Apostle Peter in the first century of the Christian era . . . but that’s recent history compared to the Hittites.
As you can see, archeologists have much work ahead of them, without the need for any new discoveries. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, almost every new construction, large or small, turns up previously unknown and unexpected links with the past. I mentioned above the Turkish city of Manisa, not far from Turkey’s third largest urban centre, Izmir. Labourers working on the foundations of a road underpass last week came across the remains of a necropolis, tentatively dated to the classical Roman period.
Again, perhaps, the find is not totally surprising, given that the ancient city of Sardis is just up the road. Sardis was capital of the kingdom of Lydia, whose 6th century BCE ruler, Croesus, has come down to us as a byword for serious wealth. The city retained its importance under Persian occupation, and the discovery there of a large synagogue apparently obliged historians to reconsider their views about the place of Jews in the later Roman Empire.
Well, if you have followed me this far, and your mind is not thoroughly boggled, congratulations. As I said above, one of the principal reasons outsiders struggle to understand Turkey, and perhaps Turks themselves find their own identity a little confusing, is the incredible mosaic of races, cultures, languages and civilizations that represents the heritage of those who inhabit this patch of the Earth’s surface. I think, if I were a young student in Turkey today, I would give serious thought to embarking on a career in archeology. Perhaps I wouldn’t become as rich as Croesus, but it’s hard to imagine the spectre of unemployment being a serious threat.

A Christmas Message – Origins of Christianity

A few years ago I was travelling through central and eastern Anatolia on a personal expedition to see some of the less accessible sights of Turkey: the Tomb of the Sufi mystic, Mevlana, in Konya; the statues of the ancients gods on the summit of Mt Nemrut; the sun setting on the waters of Lake Van; the snow-capped peak of Mt Ararat . . . and I spent a couple of days in the eastern city of Malatya. There weren’t many tourists around at the time, and I don’t look much like a Turk, so I attracted a certain amount of interest among the locals – especially when they found I could speak a bit of Turkish.

I was wandering around the bazaar, and one of the stallholders invited me to drink tea. I accepted, and soon a small crowd gathered, one of whom, it turned out, was a Hadji, a much-respected older gentleman who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and was clearly something of a theological authority. It was also soon clear that here was a rare opportunity to corner a Christian and interrogate him about the peculiarities of his religion. Muslims in Turkey are quite accepting of Christians and Jews, since we are all members of the same monotheistic family. Nevertheless, there are some perplexing issues. ‘What’s this business about Jesus being the son of God?’ ‘Can you just briefly explain that Holy Trinity thing?’ Well, I know my Turkish wasn’t so good at the time, so maybe I didn’t do total justice to my western Christian heritage. I certainly felt it was a little unfair that I should have been chosen as the spokesman and apologist for my religion and culture in that small group of hospitable but genuinely curious Turkish Muslims.

My old Sunday School – Takapuna, NZ

I was brought up in a good Christian family. I was sent off to Sunday school by church-going parents who contributed generously to the weekly collection, and even served on committees. I did my best to make sense of the stuff they used to tell us in Sunday School and Bible Class, until the age of about 12 or 13, when the questions seemed to demand more than the old superficial answers. I’d find myself mouthing the words of one of those creeds (Apostles’ or Nicene) and wondering if I was the only one harbouring secret doubts about all those affirmations that, one assumed, one was expected to believe if one was to call oneself a Christian:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Well, it’s a big ask, isn’t it! There’s some fairly demanding stuff in there, wouldn’t you say? ‘Son of God’, ‘Born of the Virgin Mary’, ‘resurrection of the body’ . . . It’s a challenge worthy of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts, who trained herself to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Not easy without that kind of determination. In fact, only two of the four Gospel authors, Matthew and Luke, make that claim about the Holy Spirit’s paternity – and you can’t help feeling, as you read their words, that they have the ring of something written after the fact; which, of course, they were . . . at least 60 to 80 years after.
And what about Jesus himself? Did he believe his mother was a virgin? References to ‘my Father’ don’t count for much, because God was pretty much everybody’s father figure in those days. Jesus was more inclined to talk about the ‘son of man’, which is a rather more modest claim, and probably has pretty much the same meaning as ‘human being’.
So where do these so-called ‘creeds’ come from? Who concocted them? And who decided that accepting them holus bolus was the sine qua non of being a Christian? I remember one church minister, more adventurous and intellectually credible than most, making some attempt, from the pulpit, to reassure inquiring minds in his congregation that the words of the creed, seen in the correct light, were not as outrageous as they might at first appear. But in the end, the words are there, aren’t they?  You can’t really weasel your way around ‘descended into hell’ and ‘on the third day he rose again’, can you? And, of course, that’s exactly what the writers intended! But who were those writers?
I guess I’d put all such questions on to the mental back burner long before I came to Turkey. I came here to work, unlike some who come on a search for spiritual truth: the touchingly naïve Americans who, from time to time, embark on expeditions to Mt Ararat hoping to excavate the remains of Noah’s Ark; or others convinced that they are praying in the house once inhabited by the Virgin Mary. However, the very existence of such places brought those questions back to mind . . . and, surprisingly, provided unexpected answers to fundamental questions about Christianity, in a country whose population is reportedly 99% Muslim.
One thing you can’t escape from in Turkey is the reality of the early Christian church, and all those places and people: Peter, Paul, John, Mary, Ephesus, Antioch, Galatia . . . At the same time, you come to see also how much the development of Christianity was tied up with its acceptance as a state religion by the Roman Empire centred on Constantinople, and the political realities of that time and place. So, it’s an interesting paradox. On the one hand, you are confronted with the undeniable reality of people, places and events that gave birth to the Christian religion. On the other, you also see that much of the dogma of that religion, the articles of faith which one was expected to espouse as a true believer, were formulated and codified long after the founding events by committees of priests and politicians, for what might often have been pragmatic rather than spiritual reasons.
So let’s start with the real places and people. The Tigris and Euphrates are branches of the river that, according to Genesis, flowed out of the Garden of Eden – and both rise in eastern Anatolia. You’ll be unlikely to find remains of Noah’s Ark, but Mt Ararat can definitely be seen rising to 5185 metres near the border of Turkey and Iran. Head south and west and you will come to the city of Urfa, where you will find a queue of faithful Muslims waiting to enter a cave deemed to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham.
OK, that old stuff, you may say. But what about the New Testament, the actual Christian business? Well, keep heading west towards the Mediterranean coast and you will find yourself in Antakya, the ancient city of Antioch, the base of St Paul’s missionary activities. You can visit the grotto-church of St Peter, in this city where Christians were, so the story goes, first actually called ‘Christians’. Somewhat more accessible to the tourist resorts of Aegean Turkey lies the town of Selçuk, a short drive or a middling walk from the site of Ephesus, one of the best-preserved cities of the ancient world. It was also the location of one of the Seven Churches of Revelation, all of which are to be found not far away in other parts of western Turkey. There is a widely accepted tradition that the apostle John, charged by the dying Jesus with the care of his mother, Mary, took her eventually to Ephesus, where they both drew their last breaths. Certain it is that the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I had a basilica church built there in the 6th century over what was believed to be John’s final resting place – not far from a restored house held by many to have been the last dwelling of Jesus’s mother, Mary.
I could go on, but you get the point. It was a long time ago, but these are real people, and real places we are talking about here. However, things start getting a little murky when you move from history and geography, into the realms of faith, theology and dogma. Certainly the new religion took off, for one reason and another, and began to be seen by the Romans, who controlled most of the Mediterranean world (and much of Europe) in those days, as a threat to their established way-of-life. The story of the violinist-Emperor Nero is well known – he is said to have passed blame for his own torching of the Imperial City on to the Christian community, which then justified an orgy of bloodthirsty torture and execution lasting from 64-68 CE. More open to debate is the theory that, far from terminating the new religion, Nero’s excesses of violent persecution actually aroused sympathy for the oppressed Christians, and gave the movement strength.
Persecution continued, however, until the reign of Constantine I. He it was who founded the city of Constantinople in 330 CE, and is called ‘the Great’ on account of being the first Christian Roman Emperor. Again, there is some debate about how he acquired his new faith, but clearly, by this point in history, being a Christian had become rather more socially acceptable. The special relationship of a man with his mother is proverbial in the Mediterranean world, and it is known that Constantine’s mother was a Christian. A grander, and rather more ‘imperial’ tale asserts that, on the eve of the battle against his rival Maxentius, to unite the Empire after a period of division, Constantine had a dream instructing him to display the symbolic letters of Christ on his soldiers’ shields. His troops won the battle, and the rest, as they say, is history.
From here began the majestic pageant of Christianity leading to its eventual cultural domination of the world – or its downward slide into politics and corruption, depending on your point of view. Clearly, once Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire, there was a need for an orthodox position and a clearly delineated set of beliefs. The first problem that required solving was what to do about the bishops and other high-ranking churchmen who had not only recanted their faith during the years of persecution, but, in some cases, to save their own skins, had actually dobbed in members of their own congregations. Certain purists, known as ‘Donatists’, were, apparently, of the opinion that such turncoats should not be allowed back into the church now that the bad times were over. As we might imagine, however, there is advantage to an emperor in having high-ranking subordinates who can be relied on to toe the party line – and not only were the former apostates allowed back, but many of them returned to high office. Needless to say, there would have been unhappiness in some quarters with this decision.
Nevertheless, having established a coterie of bishops to lead his new institutionalised state church, Constantine called them together in the city of Nicaea in 325 CE. Nicaea, incidentally, still exists as Iznik in modern Turkey, and was the location of a major ceramics industry during Ottoman times. But not to digress, the Council of Nicaea was charged with laying down a code of beliefs for the Church, and in doing so, to alienate heretics who might threaten the state monopoly. The ‘heresy’ of Gnosticism had already been dealt with in the previous century; Gnosticism being a mystical religious philosophy predating Christianity, which tended to avoid the more literal-minded excesses of mainstream Christianity. Having got rid of this threat, it was really just a matter of haggling over details, though these details did cause some serious splitting of the one ‘holy catholic church’.
The Nicene gathering had to deal with the so-called ‘Arian’ heresy. Well, I have no intention of trying to explain this or any of the subsequent theories in a similar vein which these and later holy fathers debated at great length, and, in their infinite wisdom, handed down decisions on. Some of them concerned the perplexing doctrine of the Holy Trinity – in particular, what exactly was the nature of the three beings, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; and what were their relationships to each other, if, that is, they were actually separate at all, which they weren’t, or aren’t. As Spike Milligan used to say, ‘It’s all rather confusing, really!’
Now you might think, with me, that some matters are better left alone, as being beyond the powers of mere mortals to comprehend; and the details might safely be left to the individual understanding of willing believers. Not so, however. The all-knowing holy fathers apparently felt themselves quite capable of making pronouncements on such matters, and began the tradition of formulating creeds for the guidance of future generations. And the wording of these creeds, far from being broad enough to encompass a spectrum of individual beliefs, was, on the contrary, agonised over at great length, so as to specifically proscribe any deviation from the ’true path’, as determined by the aforesaid holy fathers.
Well, it’s a complex but interesting business. Clearly, the process I have touched on here did not end in 325 CE at Iznik. It continued at Chalcedon (modern Kadıköy) in 451 CE, and at other councils throughout the days of the Byzantine Roman Empire. The situation was further complicated by the ‘Great Schism’ of 1054 CE, when Western and Eastern Christendom decided to go their separate ways; and again in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation of the 16thCentury – but we can leave those discussions for another day.
In summary, however, what I want to say is this: I feel a whole lot more comfortable about my Western religio-cultural heritage since coming to Turkey. I have a better understanding of the relationship between the world’s three great monotheistic religions. I have visited places which have added a sense of reality and objectivity to the traditions and culture which I absorbed with the air I breathed through my childhood and education. I have come to see that much of what bothered me, as an inquiring adolescent, about the Christian Church, is, to say the least, of questionable relevance to the philosophy and message of its eponymous founder. And if anything I have said makes you feel a little better in the coming weeks of the festive season, then I will feel my time has been well spent.