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/

Persecution And Hope (Part One)

Persecution And Hope (Part One)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-120) wrote two secular historical works describing the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and Gabba, Otho, Vespasian, and Vitellius (Annals and Histories).
 
He was the son-in-law of Agricola, the Roman General responsible for Roman expansion throughout Europe, especially northern Britain. He was not a Christian by any means, but a patriotic Roman with a family heritage tied to its conquests.
 
In the following excerpt, Tacitus mentions Jesus (referred to as Christus) and details the persecution of early Christians. I have abbreviated some of the excerpt (ellipsis), given contextual explanation (brackets), and added emphasis (bolded text). The information in his writings is fascinating, but I found the following to be shareable.
 
“…The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods [because of the burning of Rome], and recourse was had to the Sibylline books… But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order.
 
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition [of resurrection], thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…
 
Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
 
Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”
 
Annals of Tacitus Book XV
“Received Up Into Heaven” 

“Received Up Into Heaven” 

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

With the death of Nero, a path to the imperial throne was opened to Vespasian by those soldiers serving under the former’s command. Vespasian had made a reputation for himself in the conquest of Britain and the subjugation of Jewish revolts beginning in AD 66. Thus, given the opportunity by his men, Vespasian founded the Flavian Dynasty, which his son, Titus, would succeed. As emperor, Vespasian left the task of quelling the Jewish rebellion to his son, Titus. Thus, Titus remained in the theater of conflict while his father returned to Rome.

In AD 70, Titus crushes the Jewish rebellion by destroying Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Vespasian dies from an illness within a decade, opening the throne to his son, Titus. As emperor, Titus completed the Roman Colosseum and dealt with the crisis of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Upon his death, Titus’ younger brother, Domitian, became emperor and built the Arch of Titus in AD 81 to commemorate Titus’ conquest of Jerusalem. Titus serves only about three years as emperor.

It is of note that the triumphant arch Domitian dedicates is to Titus, who only completes his father’s work in Judea and Jerusalem. No doubt, Vespasian would have approved seeing as he desired to lay the foundation for his family’s rule. In life, Vespasian had likewise sought to emphasize his son’s actions. In other words, though ambitious, Vespasian was generous enough to share the spotlight with his son to further his machinations. As homecomings go, Titus was a son well-received by his father. One can question if the son was as accomplished as his father, given the brevity of his reign. If for no other reason than establishing the desired optics, though, Vespasian knew to give Titus a grand reception upon the completion of his task on the battlefield, since it glorified himself as well.

I recently completed a study on the Harmony of the Gospels; that is, the complete narrative one finds when fleshing out the revealed narrative of Christ by coalescing all four gospel accounts into a single account.  I noted that despite being the shortest gospel, only Mark ends in a manner consistent with the once-coveted literary “happily-ever-after.” Indeed, Mark 16.19-20 has Jesus returning to the Father and the disciples carrying out their Master’s work. Matthew ends his gospel with our Lord’s promise to remain with us. Luke ends his thoroughly-researched gospel by showing the rejoicing disciples continuing in their praises to God. John ends the last written gospel by telling us that despite not having a complete record of Christ’s life, we have enough information to develop a saving faith.

As a Christian, I appreciate the perspective of each inspired gospel author. I have always been partial to John’s gospel with its unique approach, but now find myself most enamored by Mark’s inspired conclusion. In stark contrast to the prodigal son, in which a rebellious son squanders his father’s inheritance in the far country, but finds a gracious, welcoming father upon his repentance, we have in Mark’s closing an obedient Son returning triumphantly to the deserved adulation of His Father. The text is simple enough. The New American Standard Version states, “…He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16.19).

That was what Jesus eagerly anticipated. The Hebrews writer said it was this impending joy enabling Him to endure the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12.2). If Titus deserved a triumphant arch for doing his father’s bidding, shouldn’t a much more deserving Son receive from His Father the name above all names? (Philippians 2.9-11) No Christian doubts Jesus was worthy of this honor, but is there not something uplifting about reading the confirmation Mark provides? Given what Jesus accomplished, we relish this affirmation since we know His vicarious sacrifice enables us likewise to join Him in His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6.3-5,8-9). We can see by faith Stephen’s vision granted him before his martyrdom of the Christ standing at God’s right hand, looking at human events intently (Acts 7.56). Truly, He is our great High Priest (Hebrews 4.14-16), interceding for us (Romans 8.34).

Further Reading:

Wasson, Donald L. “Vespasian.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 11 Aug. 2020,www.ancient.eu/Vespasian/.

Chilver, Guy Edward Farquhar. “Vespasian.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 June 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Vespasian.

Wasson, Donald L. “Titus.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 11 Aug. 2020, www.ancient.eu/titus/.

“Arch of Titus.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 June 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_of_Titus.

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Even When You’re Alone, You’re Not

Even When You’re Alone, You’re Not

Neal Pollard

If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4.  Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me.  It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine.  There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy.  Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21).  He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship.  Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15).  Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16).  Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air.  Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18).  These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!

This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:

  • The Lord stood with him.
  • The Lord strengthened him.
  • The Lord spoke through him.
  • The Lord saved him.
  • The Lord was steering him.

You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us.  He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4.  Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”