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Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Verses 12-17:
To the angel of the church in Pergamum, write this:
The one with the sharp two-edged sword says this:
I know that you live where Satan’s throne is, and yet you hold fast to my name and have not denied your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was martyred among you, where Satan lives. Yet I have a few things against you. You have some people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the Israelites: to eat food sacrificed to idols and to play the harlot. Likewise, you also have some people who hold to the teaching of [the] Nicolaitans. Therefore, repent. Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and wage war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it.
Finally, finishing Pergamum as a type for the church during the Early Middle Ages (roughly 313 AD to 1,000 AD) with the white amulet as a sign of Baptism.
From the earliest days of the Church, Christian worship services started with preaching, teaching and prayer open to all, but the second part at which believers shared the Lord’s Supper was restricted to baptized believers only. During the Early Middle Ages, the Church defined the doctrine of Original Sin which in turn made it necessary to define Baptism as necessary for salvation.
I want to talk briefly about “a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it” because it’s quick, which the white amulet is not. Bible readers will be familiar with what a big deal God makes about names and naming. It starts right at the beginning with God giving Adam the right to name all the creatures. Later on, God gives new names to some as a sign of a change in their status or calling. E.g., Abram-Abraham, Sarai-Sarah, Jacob-Israel. Then, there’s the huge deal with Moses wanting to know God’s name. Apparently, there was a tradition that knowing a person’s true name gave you power over them.
Infants are named at Baptism; adult converts often take a new name at Baptism. Jesus says in the letter to Pergamum that He is going to personally give victors extra heavy duty special names which only He and they will know! I love that!
About the white amulet … most of the Bible translations I checked use the word stone in this spot. A couple use pebble or counter. Only the New American Bible seems to have chosen amulet, but there’s nothing in the footnotes about why. However, the commentaries I found likened the stone/pebble to such a wide range of objects and uses that I’ve ended up thinking amulet was an inspired choice. In English, stone and pebble don’t have many referents; in the original Greek, there were a lot of meanings with broad cultural references about objects imbued with meaning (i.e., amulets).
For example, in New Testament times there was a custom in which jurors cast their votes by means of a stone. A white stone signified acquittal, a black one condemnation. In Acts 26:9-10, Paul talks about his own persecution of the Christians before his conversion:
“I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them.”
According to http://whitestoneweb.com/index.php/archives/238, the word used for vote in this passage is the same word used for stone in the letter to Pergamum. In other words, the victors will get Jesus’ vote for acquittal on Judgment Day. Very apropos for our Baptism reference.
Stone could also mean any of a variety of things, many that were also called tessera. In early antiquity, mosaic artwork was made from naturally-formed colored stones – i.e., pebbles. But by 200 BC, it had become common to cut marble or limestone into small cubes which were called tesserae (probably from the Greek for four, because of the corners).
Stone and tessera got used for all kind of small objects made from a variety of materials and in many shapes. These were used in ways we would use paper now. E.g., as tickets to the games or theater. Permission to enter … a very nice reference for Baptism, no? There was also the tessera frumentariae which were issued to the poor like food stamps or welfare checks. Another excellent reference for God’s free gift of salvation and the Baptism that allowed converts to attend the Lord’s Supper!
Tesserae militaris were used by Roman commanders to circulate orders and each night’s new password to the troops. The war and victor references in the passage we’re studying make this one particularly pertinent. I especially like the password “permission to enter” thing.
Probably the most powerful of referents for our white amulets were the tesserae hospitalis which were used to seal and signify a compact of mutual friendship and hospitality between two persons. These objects and the bond they represented was one of the oldest and most sacred known among the Romans and was scrupulously observed. How beautiful is the image of Jesus giving each victor a token that guarantees entrance into eternal life!
Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]
The New Bible Dictionary [Eerdmans Publishing, 1962]
New American Bible online @ http://www.usccb.org/bible/
Roman mosaic to illustrate tesserae @ http://newsroom.unl.edu/releases/2012/09/18/UNL+archaeological+team+unearths+giant+Roman+mosaic+in+southern+Turkey
Jesus photo mosaic @ http://www.picturemosaics.com/gallery/zoom.php?i=160&rows=3&page=1&term=jesus
Tessera Hospitalis @ http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/10/?event_id=5476
Tessera Hospitalis @ http://www.bible-history.com/ibh/Roman+Travel/Travelling+Customs/Tessera+Hospitalis
Various types of tesserae @ http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Tessera.html
Tessera frumentariae @ http://www.biblicalartifacts.com/items/808151/item808151biblicalartifacts.html
Tessera militaris @ http://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/17-roman-military-history-a-archaeology/287646-tessera-militaris.html and http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Castra.html#discipline.watchword