Mar 152019

Today is the birthday (1851) of Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, FBA, a Scottish archaeologist and Biblical scholar. Although Ramsay was educated in the Tübingen school of thought (founded by F. C. Baur) which doubted the reliability of the Greek Testament, his extensive archaeological and historical studies convinced him of the historical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles. His work, unlike that of Biblical archeologists who worked primarily on the foundations of Israel in his day, is still respected (with qualifications).

Ramsay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest son of a third-generation lawyer, Thomas Ramsay and his wife Jane Mitchell (daughter of William Mitchell. His father died when he was 6 years old, and the family moved from Glasgow to the family home near Alloa. He studied at the University of Aberdeen, where he achieved high distinction and later became Professor of Humanity. He won a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class in classical moderations (1874) and in literae humaniores (1876), that is, Latin and Greek. He also studied Sanskrit under Theodor Benfey at Göttingen. In 1880 Ramsay received an Oxford studentship for travel and research in Greece. At Smyrna, he met Sir C. W. Wilson, then British consul-general in Anatolia, who advised him on inland areas suitable for exploration. Ramsay and Wilson made two long journeys during 1881-1882.

He traveled widely in Asia Minor and rapidly became the recognized authority on all matters relating to the districts associated with Paul’s missionary journeys and on Christianity in the early Roman Empire. Greece and Turkey remained the focus of Ramsay’s research for the remainder of his academic career. In 1883, he discovered the world’s oldest complete piece of music, the Seikilos epitaph. He was known for his expertise in the historic geography and topography of Asia Minor and of its political, social, cultural, and religious history. He was made a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1882. From 1885 to 1886 Ramsay held the newly created Lincoln Chair of Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford and became a fellow of Lincoln College (honorary fellow 1898). In 1886 Ramsay was appointed Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen. He remained affiliated with Aberdeen until his retirement in 1911.

Ramsay was known for his careful attention to 1st century CE events, particularly the Acts of the Apostles and Pauline Epistles. When he first went to Asia Minor, many of the cities mentioned in Acts had no known location and almost nothing was known of their detailed history or politics. Acts was the only record and Ramsay, skeptical, fully expected his own research to prove the author of Acts hopelessly inaccurate since no one author could possibly know the details of Asia Minor more than a hundred years after the events described therein (the dating of Luke-Acts in Ramsay’s day – since revised earlier). He therefore set out to put the writer of Acts on trial. He devoted his life to unearthing the ancient cities and documents of Asia Minor. After a lifetime of study, however, he concluded:

Further study … showed that the book [Acts] could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement. . . . I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.

When Ramsay turned his attention to Paul’s letters, most of which the critics dismissed as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters that claim to have been written by Paul were authentic. Contemporary scholars are a good deal more guarded on this point. There is nearly universal consensus in modern scholarship on a core group of authentic Pauline epistles whose authorship is rarely contested: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  Scholarly opinion is sharply divided on whether or not Colossians and 2 Thessalonians are genuine letters of Paul. The remaining four contested epistles – Ephesians, as well as the three known as the Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) – have been labeled pseudepigraphical (falsely bearing Paul’s name) by most critical scholars. The primary opposition to Pauline authorship for the contested epistles is linguistic: the Greek in them does not accord with Paul’s style, and, in the latter cases, contain numerous anachronisms.

Here is an Anatolian recipe for lamb with purslane and pulses that now uses New World ingredients (such as tomato paste and chiles), which I have eliminated to give something closer to an ancient recipe. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) was a common green in antiquity but is not so easy to find these days outside the Mediterranean, although it is used in Mexican cooking.  It is easy to grow. It has a slightly sour taste. Cooking times here are approximate. You must check the lamb when it is cooking to be sure it is tender before adding other ingredients.

Anatolian Lamb Stew

½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
¾ cup small brown lentils
¼ cup olive oil
5 oz boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 onion, peeled and
1 ½ lb purslane, thick stems discarded and leaves coarsely shredded
½ cup coarse bulgur
2 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
chopped spearmint, leaves
salt and black pepper

chopped green onions and lemon wedges (for serving)


In separate pots, cover the chickpeas and lentils with water, bring to the boil and simmer until cooked (about 1 hour). Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.

In a large, cast-iron pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook until browned. Stir in the onion, and cook until softened but not browned. Add ½ cup of water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding liquid if it becomes too dry.

Add the purslane, bulgur and ½ cup each of the reserved chickpea and lentil cooking liquids to the pot. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas, lentils, garlic and enough water to barely cover. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining oil. Add the spearmint and ground black pepper to taste. When the oil begins to sizzle, give it a stir and drizzle it over the stew. Stir once and let stand for 30 minutes. Serve the stew at room temperature or let cool, then refrigerate and serve chilled the following day. Serve the scallions and lemon at the table.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.