April 2013


In March I was able to travel to Greece and Turkey with my brother.  I am continuing to process each place we visited, share some of our adventures, and take what I can from having been there.  For a preview of the trip, read the A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey entry and read my thoughts on Athens and Corinth.

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After spending about four days in Greece, we hopped a plane to Istanbul, Turkey and caught a connecting flight to Izmir.  From the Izmir airport, we took a train about an hour south to the town of Selçuk.  Unfortunately, the sun had already set, so there was not much to see.  Arriving in Selçuk, we found our hotel and were warmly greeted with some tea and good conversation with a man named Lucky.  I liked this place already!  Selçuk is a nice little town where shop owners want to sit and talk with you.  There are good places to eat, coffee shops, and sweet shops as well.  Right outside of the town, sits the site of Ephesus.  Many tourists come from the cruise ship port not far from Ephesus, but increasingly travelers are discovering that Selçuk is a great place to spend a couple of days away from the tourist town of Kusadasi.

PrieneNeither my brother or I are big on guided tours – they are always moving you on to the next stop before having adequate time to explore the present stop and the lunch buffets are usually pretty bad – but about the only way to see the ancient sites of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma was via guided tour.  Priene is the home to the Temple of Athena, which rests at the base of an imposing cliff face.  The site was abandoned when the shoreline receded.  The remote nature of the site means that much of the building material is still there, resembling a jigsaw puzzle dumped out over the site.  It is not mentioned in Scripture, but its proximity to Miletus suggests that the early church nearby would have had contact with Priene.

Across what used to be a bay, sits the site of Miletus.  Miletus boasted three harbors in its day, along with a 25,000 seat amphitheater, much of which is still intact.  The rest of the site was unfortunately flooded for the most part, but a large Roman bath complex is still there.  It must have been impressive in its day.  Miletus is mentioned in Acts 20: On Paul’s Third Journey, he sailed into Miletus where he met the elders from Ephesus, wanting to avoid getting delayed on his way to Jerusalem.  Today Miletus is about five miles inland from the coast and suffered the same fate as Ephesus and Priene when the river silted up, cutting the city off from the coastline.IMG_1110

The final stop of the day was Didyma, which wasn’t so much a town in Paul’s day as it was a temple complex to Apollo.  Today it is odd to see a town built up around the site, with kids and dogs running around and ruins lying in people’s backyards.  DidymaThe Temple of Apollo was the third largest Greek temple of its time and would provide some perspective to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, given that little remains of what would have been the largest temple.  Walking among the ruins, we felt like we were on a movie set constructed for giants.  Didyma was linked to Miletus via a 12-mile sacred processional way.

The next day we walked through the site of Ephesus.  Having walked through many archaeological sites at this point, the prominent feature of Ephesus is just how large an area the site is.  From the upper entrance, you can walk through a marketplace, small temples, archways, an Odeon, only to realize you have not yet reached the main road through the city.  Curetes street leads you past several structures to the terrace houses (which are worth the extra admission price) and finally leaves you facing the Library of Celsus.  The main agora itself covers the area of two football fields, then you are awed at the 25,000-seat theater.  The theater overlooks Harbor Street that would have led to the docks.

Celsus LibraryThere are many areas that remain unexcavated or have not been kept up.  Ephesus had a population of 250,000, by some accounts the third largest city in the Roman Empire behind Rome and Alexandria.  Walking through the city, the surrounding hills – now just grassy hillsides – must have been covered with houses and shops.  Paul had truly entered the big city!

And you still would not have come upon the primary identity of the city: the Temple of Artemis, the largest temple in the empire.  We made our way through an orchard back to the main road and found the site of the temple.  There is little that remains, only its enormous footprint in the earth and a single reconstructed column.  I am glad we were able to visit Didyma to appreciate what it must have looked like.

There are many insights that can be gained by walking through these sites.  I hope to fill a book with them one day, but in the meantime here are some impressions:

Insight #1Pagan temples dominated the landscape of Asia Minor.  While pagan temples were an important part of every ancient city, the identities of the cities in Asia Minor were forged by their temples.  I admit that this is just my impression, but I got the sense that cities like Rome, Alexandria, and Athens would have continued on if you removed their temples.  But in Asia Minor, if you removed the temples you would be stripping places like Miletus, Priene, and Ephesus of their very identity.  Ephesus and Miletus (Didyma) were rivals primarily because of their rival temples.  So when Paul strolls through town and announces that “in [Jesus] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple” (Ephesians 2:21), that announcement was challenging the very power structures and the livelihood of these cities.  This is especially true in Ephesus…

ArtemisInsight #2The Temple of Artemis and its influence on Ephesus.  It is difficult to overstate how much the identity of Ephesus was inextricably tied to the Temple of Artemis.  It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World for a reason.  Jerome Murphy-O’Connor notes that, “Artemis was part of the fabric of Ephesus, and the city was unthinkable without her.  Ministry in Ephesus, Paul mused, was going to be very different.”  In Athens when Paul announced that God does not live in your magnificent temples, the philosophers perhaps raised an eyebrow.  In Ephesus, that sentiment morphed its citizens into a violent mob.  This led to the uproar in the Great Theater.

Insight #3The scene at the Great Theater.  The Temple of Artemis contributed greatly to the economy of Ephesus.  Just as a modern-day sports team would draw fans throughout the region on game day contributing to the local economy, Artemis drew pilgrims from the region on a continual basis.  An entire industry sprang up around the production of small shrines of the temple and Artemis (available in the gift shop, no doubt) of which several have been unearthed in the region.  So Paul’s message was not just perceived as a religious threat to paganism, but also an economic threat to the livelihood of the city.Ephesus

This is what sparks the riot in Ephesus that spills into the Great Theater.  Acts 19 records that as the mob filled the theater, “they all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'”  Order was eventually restored but Paul was clearly shaken by the event.  Writing from Ephesus to the church at Corinth, Paul notes, “If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained?”  Later, Paul would write,

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.

There is little doubt that seeing his colleagues being dragged into the Great Theater and he, himself being threatened, this event left an indelible mark on Paul’s psyche.

There is much more that could be said about Ephesus.  In fact, my next project is exploring these very themes in the letter of Ephesians.  But this will suffice for a trip update.

Next up: Cappadocia!

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Last month I was able to travel to Greece and Turkey with my brother.  I wanted to share my experience in each city, as well as some insights gained.  For a preview of the trip, read the A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey entry and read my thoughts on Athens.

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AcrocorinthThe Biblical city of Corinth is about an hour train ride from Athens, though for the Apostle Paul it may have been 2 or 3 days journey.  From the train station, we took a taxi to the Acrocorinth.  The Acrocorinth is an 1,800 ft. high natural rock fortress that serves as the backdrop to many photos of the ancient city.  It strategically oversees the narrow strip of land that separates the Peloponnesian Peninsula from mainland Greece, and thus gave Corinth an elevated military and economic status. Oddly, most tourists skip the Acrocorinth and head straight for the ancient city.  This is a mistake!  I had read that we were likely to have the walled fortress to ourselves and that was indeed the case.  We spent a good hour (and could have spent more) exploring the citadel’s three gates that offered the only access to the top, the mostly intact walls encircling the summit, and various structures representing different eras of occupation over the past 2,500 years.

In the middle of an overgrown patch of ground at the top, one can see the foundation of a temple to Aphrodite.  Strabo wrote that this temple was once home to a thousand temple prostitutes.  More on this below, but it is difficult to capture the full impact of Corinth if you skip the Acrocorinth.

CorinthAfter overcoming a small language barrier (tip: when the taxi driver quotes you 15 Euro to shuttle you around Corinth, it is best to confirm in writing that he is not actually quoting you 50 Euro) we were dropped at the site of the city of Paul’s day.  The first thing you notice is the remaining columns from the Temple of Apollo, dating back to the 6th-century BC.  We began with the museum, which houses numerous artifacts discovered at the site and gave a flavor for what the city must have been like when Paul arrived from Athens.  Two main streets, the city agora, and other temple sites allowed us to wander and explore far more than can initially be observed from the entrance.  An adjacent site across the parking lot offers a glimpse of the ancient theater and the Odeon.

Corinth CanalThe final stop in Corinth was the Corinth Canal.  The canal cuts through rock across the 4-mile strip of land that connects the Gulf of Corinth to the Aegean Sea.  It was completed in 1893 but soon became unworkable for modern ships.  Yet it still represents an impressive feat of engineering.  It is also the location for several ancient attempts to bridge the two bodies of water at the Corinth harbor.  Julius Caesar began plans to dig a canal here before his assassination.  Caligula revived the plan, but it was not until Nero that the project got underway.  The huge effort stalled and eventually became a road that transported smaller vessels across the strip of land.

The archaeological site corresponds well to Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian church.  Here are just a few of the points of contact:

Insight #1The Temple of Aphrodite.  As noted above, the Acrocorinth was home to the Temple of Aphrodite.  Corinth was also a harbor town with a constant influx of sailors.  It is debated whether worshippers would have made the trek up to this temple or if it simply served as a backdrop to the sacred prostitution in the city itself.  Regardless, there is little doubt that the Temple of Aphrodite atop the Acrocorinth would have literally cast a shadow on the town below.  Corinth became synonymous with sketchy behavior.  Undoubtedly, this explains why Paul spends a considerable amount of space warning the Corinthians about sexual immorality:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!

The practice was not simply one that offered temptation if you wandered into the wrong section of town, but it hung over the city like a cloud.  All you had to do was look up anywhere in the city and you were reminded of the city’s notoriety.

Insight #2Temple of Asclepius.  There is a room in the museum at Corinth where you will find replicas of an assortment of body parts.  These have been found at the site of a nearby temple to Asclepius.  Asclepius was a deified Greek physician, whose symbol of entwined snakes still represents the medical community today.  The site included dorms and baths where the sick would come to heal and recover.  People would also offer these replicated body parts analogous to their illness as votive offerings for healing.  One cannot help but see these and reflect back on Paul’s imagery of the body when writing to the church at Corinth.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

It is possible that Paul may have seen these votive offerings being sold in the local market to the sick headed up to the Asclepion.  While all these body parts look a little creepy, when fully assembled and animated with life, the body become a marvel.  Is this what Paul envisioned when he was speaking of the church?  Elsewhere Paul encourages believers to offer their whole body – all its parts – as a living sacrifice, perhaps as opposed to votive offerings to Asclepius.Asclepion

ErastusInsight #3The Erastus Inscription.  As you make your way across the parking lot of the site down to the theater grounds, you will notice a sectioned-off area on the stone pavement below.  A large inscription on the stone reads, “Erastus, in return for his aedileship, paved this at his own expense.”  This is known as the Erastus Inscription and is an important find, as it may refer to the same Erastus mentioned in Romans 16:23, “Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.”  It is one of only a couple inscriptions that can be linked to a reference from Paul and the New Testament.

Insight #4The Isthmian Games.  Corinth was a sports town, as we might say today.  Corinth hosted the Isthmian Games, second only to the ancient Olympic Games, for several centuries.  By the time Paul arrived in Corinth, the games already had a 500-year history.  There are several tantalizing metaphors along these lines that Paul utilizes in his letters to the Corinthians.  We stood on a long road next to the ancient agora that served as a race course lined with box seating for dignitaries.  If Paul sold his leather-goods and tents in the agora he would have been familiar with this path.  His time in Corinth may have overlapped during one of these games, as they were held every two years.  The winner of an event would have received a garland of a type of celery, which quickly wilts after being plucked from the ground.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

These are only a couple of references Paul mentions throughout his letters to running a race and winning a crown or claiming the prize.  Quite fitting for a sports town!

The next stop is Ephesus!

I was saddened to read this past Saturday that Brennan Manning passed away.  He was one of my favorite authors.  His writings had a way of extending the grace of God to me in a way that I have needed to receive over and over again.  When I found myself in image management mode, Manning gave me permission to accept who I was and live in the grace and forgiveness of God.

Ragamuffin GospelAccording to his website, he was ordained to the Franciscan priesthood in 1963.  During his work with the poor, he traveled to Spain where for a time he became a solitary reflective, secluded in a remote cave for six months in the Zaragoza desert.  After returning to the states, he experienced a battle with alcoholism.  That battle prompted him to begin writing, encouraging people everywhere to accept and embrace the good news of God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ.  Among his most popular books are The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, and The Signature of Jesus.

Abba's Child

Back in September of last year, I wrote about the Top 5 Books That Have Influenced Me, and Abba’s Child was among my top 5.  One of my favorite quotes from that book is,

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion.

The first part of that quote graced the wall in my office and a friend gave me a journal with that quote printed on the first page.  Is has become one of my life’s mottos.

From The Ragamuffin Gospel, one of my favorite quotes is,

In Christ Jesus freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we really are.

Signature of JesusAnd from the Signature of Jesus,

The question is, do I worship God or do I worship my experience of God?  Do I worship God or do I worship my idea of him?

Aside from reading many of his books, I got to hear him speak a couple times and count myself fortunate to even have had lunch with him along with a couple other people on one occasion.  Whether through his writing, speaking, or sitting across a table from him he was always both challenging and refreshing to hear.  May he truly rest in the grace of God!

Easter weekend brought another showing of the movie, The Ten Commandments.  I confess I had to watch Charlton Heston, err…rather Moses, lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and safely across the Red Sea.  It’s one of those movies that I always have to stop and watch at least a couple of minutes, even though I have seen it numerous times.

This past week, I was playing around with some Google features and ran across an article by Bruce Feiler –   who I enjoy as an author – entitled “Ten Secrets of The Ten Commandments.”  At first thinking it was some insight into the commands given to Moses recorded in Exodus, I soon discovered the ten secrets were about Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 movie.  One that particularly interested me was this:

As part of his plan to spread biblical values, DeMille persuaded Paramount to pay for granite monoliths of the Ten Commandments to be placed in public squares across the country. Over 4,000 were made. One of these monuments, in Austin, Texas, became the basis for the Supreme Court decision in 2005 that allowed the Ten Commandments on public property if they had a secular purpose. A publicity stunt for The Ten Commandments became the basis of landmark U.S. law.

You can read my thoughts on the public display of the Ten Commandments and the other secrets mentioned in the full article, but I wonder if it would change the conversation to know that some of the monuments being fought to preserve were remnants from a marketing campaign – albeit perhaps a well-intentioned campaign – to promote the movie?

Last month I was able to travel to Greece and Turkey with my brother.  I wanted to share a snapshot (and snapshots!) of each city, as well as some insights gained.  For a preview of the trip, read the A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey entry.

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Caryatids

The first stop on our trip was the city of Athens.  Upon dropping our bags in our room, the first thing we did was take an evening stroll around the Acropolis.  Initially, what strikes you is how elevated the Acropolis is above the rest of the city.  It is not difficult to imagine a commoner straining his or her neck looking up the dramatic slopes of the rocky plateau, only imagining what must be taking place there.  Surely it was a mystical, awe-inspiring place.  The next morning, we walked through the Acropolis site, taking in the Theater of Dionysus, climbing the grand entrance steps, passing the Temple of Nike, marveling at the impressive sculpted caryatid columns of the Erechtheion, and finally gazing at the Parthenon.  The Acropolis gives a wonderful view of the surrounding city, encircled by ocean and large hills.  The Acropolis does not disappoint!

On StrikeLater that day, we surveyed the city again from the top of Mount Lycabettus, which is actually higher than the Acropolis.  (Of course, the Greeks had a mythic explanation for this.)  The next day we set out for more sites, but encountered the soon-to-be familiar “On Strike” sign, announcing various historical sites closed for the day – frustrating for a visitor with limited time in the city!  We did manage to discover Mars Hill and the Areopagus (literally standing on top of it, trying to figure out exactly where it was).  The final day before we left for the airport, we did a quick pass through the Ancient Agora and took one last look at the Acropolis.

Parthenon

Besides the old stuff, one thing you quickly notice is the many stray dogs that roam the city.  Most however, seem well-fed and even have de-facto owners who care for them.  In the National Gardens we observed a couple police officers call for all the dogs – about 8 or 10 responded – and led them out of the park at closing.  You will also notice graffiti everywhere.  We even ran across a shop that specialized in all your graffiti needs – paints, stencils, as well as tips and tricks!  I read some speculation that given the economic climate of Greece, graffiti may be the cheapest form of advertising your business, though I didn’t gather that from what we saw.  There is little doubt that the economic climate has people frustrated, both at the politicians and at those who think the problem should be solved as long as someone else foots the bill.  I would look forward to visiting Athens again when it has its economic house in order.

As far as historical/Biblical insights, here are some more thoughts on Athens:

Mars HillInsight #1Athens isn’t nearly as important to the Apostle Paul as other cities.  Visiting Athens versus Corinth today, we might naturally assume that Athens was a key city in reaching the Gentiles.  As I mentioned in a previous post, for all its influence Athens does not stand out in the New Testament.  Paul quickly moves on to Corinth.  But his sermon delivered on Mars Hill is recorded in Acts 17, thus giving Athens a lot of air time.  I imagine one reason that Athens is not predominant in Paul’s thinking can be found in Acts 17: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”  The picture we get is that Paul could have had many great discussions with the lovers of philosophy in Athens, but would have seen very little transformation take place.  A few did accept Paul’s message, but Athens isn’t mentioned again.

Temple of HephaestusInsight #2What is recorded in Acts 17 rings authentic.  Despite the relegated role Athens takes on Paul’s journeys, his message in Acts 17 does capture the spirit of the city.  Acts 17:16 says Paul, “was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”  The city today is still littered with temples, statues, and monuments from that time.  I can only imagine what it must have looked liked to Paul.  Yes, every city of any size in Paul’s day outside of Judaea would have had a temple or two to various deities, but even for Paul the amount of it in Athens distressed him.   Yet at the beginning of his sermon, he chooses to identify this with spiritual hunger: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.”  Athens was a city of learning, ideas, and spiritual hunger!  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” Paul would go on to say.  The Parthenon, the Temple of Nike, Hephaestus, Dionysus, Zeus, the Erechtheion – they were all amazing sites.  But for all their glory, past and present, they are not where you will find God.  I imagine that must have stung a bit, “God does not live in your magnificent temples.”  The good news was – and is – that though God does not live in these temples, “he is not far from any one of us.”

Greek StatueInsight #3Greek mythology reveals much about how the ancients understood the world beyond.  I’ll comment more on this in a future post as I process it more, but one of the things I wanted to do in preparation for this trip was to better understand Greek mythology.  And although I enjoyed it, I wasn’t sure what to do with it.  I was going to write a post on one of the books I read, but honestly didn’t know what to say.  But having immersed myself firsthand in the subject matter for a couple of weeks – walking through it, touching it, breathing it – I have come to appreciate it much more.  It circles back to Paul’s own observation: “I see that in every way you are very religious.”  And I have concluded that my own life could use more of the mythic – that attempt to understand the spiritual world and connect to the larger story  – not less!

Check back for the rest of the sites on my journey!  Corinth is next.

This is the second part of the Sixth Commandment taken from the book Ten Essential Words.

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As an example of how these commandments related to the kingdom of God, Jesus expounds on this Sixth Commandment prohibiting murder:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  (Matthew 5:21-22)

“You know the commandment,” Jesus begins, “and you know the penalty.”  The Sixth Commandment had been fairly clear up to this point, and everyone would have been familiar with it.  My guess is that Jesus even chooses the most straightforward commandment to make his point.  For it is his next statement that would be initially difficult to comprehend, “I tell you that anyone who has ever been angry is guilty.”  Forget the actual act of murder, forget intent and premeditation; anyone who has been angry with another person has violated this commandment.  Let me ask you a question: have you ever been angry with someone?  Ever?  Yep, me too!  According to that statement by Jesus, we are all guilty – and that is exactly the point Jesus is trying to make.

As has previously been suggested, debates around issues of interpretation of the Law were common at that time.  Different rabbinic interpretations had arisen over the extent of each commandment and what constituted breaking each commandment.  Arguments arose over the enforcement of these commandments, given Roman jurisdiction and Rome‘s own set of legal codes.  As can be the case today, the common person often got caught in the crossfire of many of these philosophical debates.  So Jesus took this opportunity to remind everyone of what was being lost in the midst of these debates: there was a difference between the legal enforcement of the commandments and the moral underpinnings of each commandment.  God was ultimately concerned with the moral underpinnings – the righteousness – underlying each commandment, and that is what would be important in God’s kingdom, regardless of who had legal jurisdiction over Judea at the time.

Jesus was making clear that most of these debates focused only on the external enforcement of the law, while overlooking the core of each commandment.  At their core, these were God’s standards for righteousness.  And when we peel away the external conformity of the commandments to the core, therein lies the problem: we are all guilty.  This would be a common theme as Jesus continued to unpack the Law in the Sermon on the Mount.

I’ve been on a bit of a break from these chapter previews.  I ran a series this spring on the Fruit of the Spirit, as well as did some traveling.  So I’ll be returning to the chapter previews, as well as posting other news and thoughts surrounding the Ten Commandments.

The Sixth Commandment simply reads, “You shall not murder.”  The following is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Ten Essential Words.

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What does it mean to be made in the image of God?  The creation story stressed some of the sacredness of this honor:

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:26-27)

 For starters, being made in the image of God differentiates human beings from the rest of God’s creation.  Plants and animals were pronounced “good” after God created them, but human beings were pronounced “very good” and given charge to manage the rest of creation.  Human beings were the only part of creation that was made in God’s image.

Karnak TempleThere may also be a more tangible aspect to being image-bearers of God.  In all other occurrences of the word image used in the Hebrew Scripture, it was referring to an idol or a statue.  As we have already seen, the Second Commandment explicitly forbids any of these images replacing Yahweh.  This same Hebrew word image would be used to describe the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, which this king of Babylon himself commissioned and had everyone bow down to in the book of Daniel. “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:1).  The purpose of such an image in ancient times was to make clear to all who laid eyes on it whom this land belonged to and who ruled this kingdom.  In Egypt, Karnak Temple still houses towering statues of Rameses II, among other pharaohs.  Rameses II also constructed an impressive monument at Abu Simbel – the border of Egypt and ancient Nubia – to state in no uncertain terms where Egypt began and Nubia ended.  Likewise, the image of Caesar could be found all throughout the Roman Empire.

So when the Bible says that we are made in the image of God, it is saying quite literally that we are living, breathing, royal statues making clear to all who is king and whose kingdom we belong to.  To be an image-bearer of God carries with it a job description: to announce the reign of God to the world around us.  Now to deface one of these royal statues would be to defy the ruler whose image the statue bore.  No doubt, the defacer would incur a stiff penalty.  So it would be this same level of offense to deface the image of God by taking the life of someone created in God’s image.