Beware Of The Dog

Beware Of The Dog

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

Worry not. I am not writing an article about the 2021 National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, even though that is an article I had wished to write for decades. No, I am thinking of an archaeological discovery made in a Pompeiian house (“House of the Tragic Poet”) renowned for its exquisite frescoes and mosaics. Within the house’s vestibule, there is a dog mosaic. Below the dog, there are also these two words in Latin: “Cave Canem.” I imagine you have guessed from the context of our title what those Latin words mean. Yes, they read, “Beware of the dog.” (Literally, “Beware the dog.”) The mosaic dates to the second century BC.1  

Did you imagine that the ancient Romans had “Beware of the Dog” signs? I admit being unaware of this until I stumbled upon a bit of clickbait on social media promising interesting archaeological finds. OK, so maybe this “sign” wasn’t the most breathtaking discovery ever. But it was interesting. It serves as an example of Solomon’s inspired truth that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1.9).  

Typically, we think of the “Beware of the Dog” sign as a warning to unwanted visitors. It says, “We have a dog, and it may bite you.” However, scholars believe that the sign’s original purpose was the opposite. Visitors did not have to worry about dog attacks but needed to avoid trampling the family dog. “When you come inside, you will encounter a small animal we cherish. Please be mindful of him.”  

The Italian Greyhound, for example, is an older breed originating more than two thousand years ago. It is the smallest of the sighthounds. The AKC states that breeders bred them as “noble companions.”That fits what we know of Pompeii, a resort town for wealthy Romans who would surely own such canines. Indeed, the House of the Tragic Poet was not the only house in Pompeii with a “Cave Canem” mosaic. It was just the first one excavated.  

Now, why would I spend so much time within a religious forum talking about a “Beware of the Dog” sign? It so happens that Paul used that expression in Philippian 3.2: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision” (all ref. NASB1995 unless otherwise indicated). In Koine Greek, that is “Βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας.” As odd as it sounds to the dog-loving United States today, Arabs and Jews were more likely to despise dogs. Remember that even Jesus cautioned us, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs…” (Matthew 7.6).  

Dogs were often wild and roamed in packs in ancient Judea. There was no archaeological evidence of pet dogs in the region until the post-exilic era.3 In their nondomesticated state, these dogs would do disgusting things like eating the bodies of the dead (e.g., 1Kings 14.11). These reasons are why generic Biblical scholarship believes Jews and Arabs dislike dogs and use the term as a byword for detested people. (Indeed, Western languages now likewise use “dog” in a derogatory manner, but it doesn’t impact the Western perception of the animal.)  

Paul didn’t straddle the fence when it came to the truth, but he did straddle a cultural divide. He who was the “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3.5) would be the Apostle ordained to take the Gospel to the gentile world (Acts 8.15). That is why as outrageous as it sounds, we benefit from “Cave Canem” since knowing cultural concepts helps us better understand a verse’s context.  

So, what was Paul saying here? To the Gentile, being asked to “beware of the dog” meant looking out for him,  lest you trip over him. To the Jew, “beware of the dog” meant being wary of the one with a vile nature, fitting with their cultural perception of a dog. So, Paul begins with a Jewish insult. The third noun, translated as “concision” (KJV) or “false circumcision” (NASB1995), actually means “mutilation.” Would those Judaizers insisting that Gentiles be circumcised to become Christians enjoy being called a “mutilator?”  

It sounds less like we are talking about multiple groups troubling the church at Philippi and more like Paul describes one group by using three noun descriptions. Two of the nouns speak more loudly to one cultural group. So then, what of the “evil workers?” Would this not also describe the same “mutilating dogs?” That seems to fit the context better. This second noun and its adjective also remind one of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7.23, particularly in the King James Version: “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” These latter “iniquity workers” felt they had done laudable things but discovered they neglected to do God’s Will (Matthew 7.21-23). We can make the case that such was true of the Judaizer also.  

Lest anyone interpret this sentiment as anti-Semitic, we emphasize that the three nouns used by Paul work as well for any false teacher. Yet, the Judaizers were a thorn in Paul’s side as he fulfilled his ministry. And even though Gentiles doubtlessly read the words of this epistle, their Jewish brethren in this cosmopolitan congregation of Philippi could provide greater meaning while also helping their Gentile brethren be wary of the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (cf., Matthew 16.6)  

In conclusion, although the Bible serves as its own best commentary, we note we can obtain understanding through additional sources of information. Sometimes those sources can be surprising, like a dog mosaic in the vestibule of a Pompeiian house. Yes, there might be some put off by this idea that it takes effort to delve deeper into the word of God as we look for answers within God’s Word and without, in sources like archaeology. However, the proper mindset makes Bible study more attractive, even fun. You can find faith-building things everywhere. Just think about that the next time you see those words, “Beware of the Dog.”   

Sources Cited  

1 Arellano, Anastasia. “Ancient Mosaic ‘Beware of Dog’ Sign Found Dating Back 2,000+ Years.” Dusty Old Thing, Great Life Publishing, 4 Mar. 2021, dustyoldthing.com/pompeii-ancient-beware-of-dog-sign/

2 “Italian Greyhound Dog Breed Information – American Kennel Club.” American Kennel Club, The American Kennel Club, Inc,www.akc.org/dog-breeds/italian-greyhound/.  

3 White, Ellen. “No, No, Bad Dog: Dogs in the Bible.” Biblical Archaeology Society, Biblical Archaeology Society, 28 Sept. 2021,www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/dogs-in-the-bible/

“Dia dhuit. Hoi. Shalom. Konnichiwa. Marhaba. Namaskar. Zdravo. Ahoj…”

“Dia dhuit. Hoi. Shalom. Konnichiwa. Marhaba. Namaskar. Zdravo. Ahoj…”

“Hello!”

There are many ways to say it, but all of them are meant to be warm and welcoming. While I have been privileged to visit 22 countries around the world, so many of you have visited me from all over the globe. In the last month, you have “stopped in” from the following countries (in addition to the United States):

Algeria                       India                    Poland
Australia                    Indonesia           Portugal
Austria                       Ireland                Qatar
Bahamas                    Italy                     Romania
Belgium                     Jamaica               Russia
Brunei                        Japan                  Saudia Arabia
Burundi                     Kenya                  Sierra Leone
Cambodia                  Kuwait                Singapore
Cameroon                  Latvia                 Somalia
Canada                       Lebanon            South Africa
Cayman Islands        Lesotho              South Korea
China                           Liberia               Spain
Colombia                    Madagascar       Sri Lanka
Croatia                        Malawi                Sudan
Dominican Republic   Mexico              Sweden
Egypt                           Moldova              Tanzania
Fiji                               Morocco               Thailand
Finland                       Myanmar             Trinidad & Tobago
France                         Namibia               Turkey
Germany                     Nepal                    Uganda
Ghana                          Netherlands        Ukraine
Greece                          New Zealand      United Arab Emirates
Grenada                       Nigeria                 United Kingdom
Guyana                         Pakistan               Vanuatu
Hong Kong                   Peru                      Vietnam
Hungary                       Philippines           Zambia
Zimbabwe

I do not know how many languages or religions you represent, but I am thrilled you are interested enough to read this blog. It is dedicated to New Testament Christianity, built upon the belief that the Bible is the Word of God and communicates His complete will for all people everywhere. If you have any Bible questions and I can be of service, please do not hesitate to reply to the blog. I will do my best to answer it at quickly as possible. All of us are looking for answers to life’s biggest question. I am convinced the Bible has the answer to any question that ultimately matters. And, please, come back to the blog any time! 

How To Unite In A Culture Of Division

How To Unite In A Culture Of Division

Neal Pollard

It’s no news flash to observe that our culture seems hopelessly divided along political lines. That seems to impact race, gender, and other lines, too. The most tragic consequence of this is that it has not left the church unaffected. Social media is often a barometer for how emotional and passionate brethren on both sides of this divide can become when discussing some specific aspect of this. We cannot hope that social media will provide the answer. Who your friends are and what their leanings are on political issues influence what shows up on your homepage as they share politically or socially charged blogs, videos, and the like. Pundits have, for a few years, theorized and analyzed the reality of a “political social media bubble.” Barton Swaim, in an August 1 article on The Weekly Standard online, said, “more than any other social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter are avenues for the kind of acrimony that has embittered our politics and poisoned reasonable dialog” (https://www.weeklystandard.com/barton-swaim/a-political-social-media-bubble). It’s not just conservative publications making that observation. Google the term “political social media bubble” and conservative, moderate, and liberal outlets can at least agree about its existence (a trip to The Guardian, New York Times, National Review, et al finds plenty of material if written from different points of view drawing different conclusions).  Too often, God’s people get drawn into this hurtful, messy arena and turn on each other like gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. The God of heaven must certainly weep.

This weekend, I visited the Lord’s church in Chesapeake, Virginia, a state that is often a political cauldron boiling hotter than many other places. I’m not sure how many congregations were represented, but we had to have had close to half white and half black people attending (with various Asian and Hispanic visitors there, too). Politics were mentioned a few times, but only in the sense that they have too often become a stumbling block and distraction in the Lord’s church and that they cannot solve our nation’s problems. But I was beholding the answer without it having to be pointed out. Those in attendance had a thirst for a “thus saith the Lord.” People of different colors lovingly, naturally worshipped, fellowshipped, visited, laughed with, and enjoyed each other throughout the weekend. It was genuine. It was deep. It was powerful. And it was neither contrived nor manipulated. Its glue and bond was the blood and body of God’s Son. Christ is the great uniter. As we unite on His terms and His way, we destroy barriers. That’s by design.

What Paul says to Jew and Gentile in Ephesians 2:14-18 can have application between black and white, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, male and female, or however our country wants to erect barriers. Christ is our peace and can break down the barrier of any dividing wall. He helps us view each other as “fellow citizens” and “family” (2:19) who are “together” (2:21,22). When we get ahold of that, nothing can keep us apart!

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At yesterday’s PM worship services at the Chesapeake church of Christ

Pilgrims And Strangers

Pilgrims And Strangers

Neal Pollard

The two Sundays Kathy and I spent in Israel were with the church in Nazareth, about two hours north of where we are staying near Jerusalem. An interesting fact in a nation where an overwhelming majority of citizens are either Jews, the largest group, or Muslims, still a significant, but smaller group, is that there is a fairly small number of those professing to be Christians. The congregation in Nazareth, which has around 40 members, is comprised almost entirely of Arab people. As I spoke with one of the men yesterday, he said something that will stay with me a long time. He talked about how Arab Christians are viewed by their fellow-citizens. If Jews sees him standing beside a Muslim, they think he’s a Muslim. As most Arabs in Israel are Muslim, that seems logical. They see him as a potential threat and enemy. But, Arabs who find out he’s a Christian, and there are so many ways to readily see he’s not a Muslim–clothing, customs, etc.–see him as infidel or even a traitor. His remarks were in response to the sermon I preached from 1 Peter 2:21-25 on how Jesus handled persecution. He says that the Arabic Christians can tend to feel like people without a country.

Now, while you and I do not share the unique circumstance of Arab Christians in Israel, there is a similarity we see from earlier in 1 Peter 2. Peter tells Christians, “ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (11-12). We’re going to “look” different, abstaining from fleshly lusts. We’re going to “act” different, keeping our behavior excellent doing good deeds. Whether we physically look like the people who observe us or we look different from them, our Christianity will be noticeable and observable. That’s not the same as doing your works in order to be seen of men (Mat. 23:5). Instead, living the Christian life–no matter what–will inevitably catch the attention of the people around us. 

I’m grateful for the object lesson I received. Pray for our Arab brethren, men and women in a spiritual sense who are “without a country.” Pray for our brethren in places where their faith in Christ is scorned and more overtly persecuted. Pray for us, that we will be salt and light which stands out and stands up for Jesus in our daily places where darkness persists.

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John and Carla learning a few Arabic words and phrases from the local Christians.