Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Archaeology of the Council of Nicaea

Recent, under-informed assertions about the Book of Mormon and archaeology prompt this discussion.

Let's ask a simple question:
What archaeological evidence do we have that the Council of Nicaea ever took place?
Unlike Zarahemla, or the Mitanni capital of Washshukanni, Nicaea is a site whose location is known. It has been excavated. We know what is there.

Archaeologically, Nicaea (modern Iznik) is most famous for its ceramic tiles, but they date from the Ottoman period. On the other end of the time spectrum, some neolithic pottery has been found at Iznik (Machteld J. Mellink, "Archaeology in Anatolia," American Journal of Archaeology 89/4 (1985): 549).

The theater is 1st century, a typical Hadrianic style building that would have seated about 15,000 people. (Marie-Henriette Gates, "Archaeology in Turkey," American Journal of Archaeology 98/2 (1994): 276.)

The city wall is also first century with numerous renovations in later times.

The church at Nicaea is 6th century (William Tabbernee, "Asia Minor and Cyprus," in Early Christianity in Contexts, ed. William Tabbernee [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014], 307.) The Koimeisis Church dates to the early eighth century (SEG XLI 1099) or late seventh century (SEG XLIV 1007).

So all of the Christian structures date at least two centuries after the Council of Nicaea. This is problematic.

The epigraphic corpus for Nicaea is extensive: Sencer Sahin, Katalog der antiken Inschriften des Museums von Iznik (Nikaia), 4 vols. (Bonn: Rudolf Habelt Verlag, 1979-87). With four volumes of inscriptions plus numerous additions in the SEG (Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum), it is clear that Nicaea has more inscriptions than most Mesoamerican sites.

As far as epigraphic evidence we have:
1st century BC
  • a first century BC epitaph (SEG XXIX 1289).
1st century AD
  • an inscription of Nero (AD 54-68) regarding street repair (I Iznik I 13 = CIG 3743)
  • two first century AD dedications on the city gate to the Flavians (AD 70-79)  (SEG XXVIII 1028-29).
  • a building dedication to the Flavians (AD 78) (SEG LI 1709)
  • a statue of Domitian (AD 81-96) (SEG LVII 1275)
  • three first century inscriptions for Roman officals (SEG XXVIII 1025-27).
  • four first century epitaphs (SEG XXVIII 1032-33; XXX 1429; XLVII 1679) 
2nd century AD
  • an aquaduct inscription of Hadrian (AD 117-138) (I Iznik I 1)
  • an architrave inscription of Hadrian (AD 117-138) (I. Iznik. I 30a = SEG XXIX 1282).
  • an altar dedicated to Hadrian (AD 117-138) (I Iznik I 32 = SEG XXIX 1283). 
  • a dedicatory inscription from the reign of Hadrian (I Iznik I 56 = SEG XXXVII 1071 = SEG XLVI 1604)
  • three second century altars (SEG XXXIV 1263; SEG XLIII 897)
  • thirty-one second century epitaphs (SEG XXIX 1290-91; SEG XXX 1430; SEG XXXIV 1264-65; SEG XLIX 1789; SEG LI 1710-11; SEG LV 1346, 1348-56, 1358; SEG LVI 1392-93; SEG LVII 1278, 1281-88; SEG LVIII 1447).
3rd century AD
  • an honorary inscription from the reign of Elagabalus (AD 218-222) (I Iznik I 60 = SEG XXIX 1281).
  • a milestone of Julius Verus Maximinus (AD 235-38) (I Iznik 21 = CIL III 12226 = 13650)
  • two inscriptions of Claudius Gothicus (AD 268-70) regarding the rebuilding of the city wall (I Iznik I 11-12 = CIG 3747-48)
  • four third century dedications to Zeus (SEG LV 1337-39; SEG LVII 1276)
  • twelve third century epitaphs (SEG XXIX 1293; XXXIII 1080; SEG LI 1712-13; SEG LV 1344, 1357, 1359-63; SEG LVI 1394-95).
  • a fragmentary third century epitaph (SEG XXIX 1292). 
  • a milestone of Diocletian and Maximian (AD 286-293) (I Iznik I 22) 
4th century AD
  • a fourth century epitaph (SEG XXIX 1294).
  • a fourth century Jewish inscription quoting Psalm 135:25 (I Iznik II 615 = SEG XLVIII 1499) 
  • an undated dedication to Ti. Claudius Aelianos Sabinos (I Iznik I 35 = SEG XXIX 1284).
  • six undated dedications to Zeus (SEG XXX 1428; SEG XL 1144-46; SEG XLVII 1678; SEG LX 1338)
  • an undated dedication to Zeus, Hera, and Athena (SEG XXVIII 1030)
  • an undated altar dedicated to Apollo (SEG LV 1340)
  • an undated altar dedicated to Hermes and Apollo (SEG LV 1341)
  • an undated honorary inscription (SEG XLVII 1677)
  • an undated altar dedicated to Tadenos and Okkonenos (SEG LX 1339)
  • three undated altar inscriptions (I Iznik I 43 = SEG XXIX 1288; SEG LI 1709 bis; SEG LX 1340).
  • three undated fragmentary dedications (I Iznik I 36, 42, 66 = SEG XXIX 1285-87; SEG XXXVI 1153).
  • two undated fragmentary inscriptions (SEG XXIX 1343-44).
  • fifty-nine undated epitaphs (SEG XXVIII 1034; SEG XXIX 1295-1318, 1320-24, 1326-31, 1333-38; XXX 1431-34; XXXIII 1081-82; SEG XLVII 1680-81; SEG LX 1341-49) 
  • four undated Christian inscriptions (SEG XXIX 1339-42)
  • four undated Christian epitaphs (SEG XXIX 1319, 1325, 1331-32)
  • an undated testamentary regulation (SEG XLIX 1790)
There is no epigraphic evidence that Constantine paid the least attention to Nicaea. Furthermore, looking at the epigraphic evidence, we would conclude that fourth century inhabitants of Nicaea had converted from the worship of Zeus to Judaism, not Christianity. There is not a single inscription of Constantine's from the site.

There appears to be no archaeological evidence that Constantine was ever in Nicaea, nor that there was a Christian council held there in the fourth century, and, of course, no archaeological evidence for the content of the Nicaean Creed. Should millions of creedal Christians therefore abandon their faith? They cannot point to a single piece of archaeological or epigraphic evidence that the Council of Nicaea ever took place. No reputable archaeologist has ever produced any. I can find no record of any reputable archaeological journals that have published any archaeological evidence that the Council ever took place or that support the creed that it supposedly produced.

Anyone who has actually worked trying to integrate archaeological with historical data can spot the problems with this sort of analysis easily. Some people, however, want to apply a double standard applying different standards to the Book of Mormon than they do to other historical events.