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Vesuvius and PompeiiBaccchusandVesuvius

This fresco of Mt. Vesuvius with Bacchus, the god of wine from a house in Pompeii, shows the perfect conical point before the eruption. Pliny the Younger wrote the earliest known account of a volcanic eruption by witnessing the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Volcanologists today call eruptions similar to Vesuvius’ “Plinian eruptions” – the most recent being Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. Today, over two million people live in the shadow of Vesuvius. Experts say that Vesuvius could erupt at any minute – that it’s “on the move again.” A recent 6.3 magnitude earthquake in central Italy proves how seismically volatile that area is. Presently, Pozzuoli’s buildings are uninhabitable because of cracks in the foundations from frequent tremors.

Pompeii RuinsAs the ruins of Pompeii were being excavated, archeologists did not find any signs of Christians living there at the time of the eruption. I believe the reason is that Pompeii was very Roman and the Christians were afraid of persecution. There were temples and altars to the various gods on every corner. The only sign the Christians used at the time was the fish symbol more as security than marketing: one person would draw one arc and the other person would draw the second arc to form the shape of a fish. The cross was not used as a symbol of Christianity until the 4th century. The Christians in Pompeii were forced to meet secretly making it difficult to evangelize.

From natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanoes (most recently, Mt. Redoubt erupting in Alaska), we experience the tragedy, loss, stories of survival, recovery and rebuilding. Imagine in the first century with no cell phones, TV cameras or any other modern convenience. Imagine never having heard of a volcano since they didn’t have a word for it the Latin language. Most of the Romans didn’t even have God to turn to. When Vesuvius erupted, they couldn’t figure out which god they had angered or which one to pray to. The tragedy, as Deo Volente! tells it, was an opportunity for the Christian church to reach out to survivors showing that the world around us is temporary and only life with Christ is eternal.

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