by Stafford North
The first city of Ephesus was founded sometime near 2000 BC because it offered a nearby harbor, a site along trade routes, and the surrounding area was fertile for crops. This city was associated with the goddess Cybele, later called Artimis. Because the harbor silted up, about 1000 BC the city was moved about a mile away so a different harbor could be established. This is called Ephesus II. This new city was closely associated with the goddess Artimis or Diana and they built a temple to her, now called the archaic temple to distinguish it from a later one. In 356 BC, a madman burned down the temple just to make a name for himself. That very night, so goes the story, Alexander the Great was born. When he came to Ephesus in 334 and was told this story, he offered the funds to rebuild the temple. He fulfilled this pledge by diverting their taxes back to build the temple. Around 300 BC, the city had to move again because of the silting of their port, thus Ephesus III.
After being under various rulers of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the city came under Roman domination in 133 BC. In the first century BC, Ephesus was the second largest city in the world with more than 250,000 in population and it was the most important city in Roman Asia. Most of the ruins seen today are from the first century BC and first century AD.
Paul came to Ephesus in 51 AD on his third missionary tour and Ephesus became a center for spreading Christianity throughout Asia Minor. As recounted in Acts 19, it was here that he re-taught twelve disciples who had heard only the baptism of John, probably from Apollos who had been there earlier. During a period of two and a half years, Paul taught in the synagogue, in the school of Tyranus, "publicly and house to house" (Acts 20:20 ). Many of the Ephesians who had become Christians burned their magic books and, as more Ephesians became believers, Demetrius, a silversmith, started a riot in the theater where, for two hours, the crowd shouted "Great is Artimis of the Ephesians." Aquilla, Priscilla, Timothy, and Luke were there during the Bible story and history indicates that the apostle John and Jesus mother, Mary, were there later. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church from his Roman prison and also wrote his personal letters to Timothy who was working with the church in Ephesus .
Ephesus is the first listed among the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2. Jesus commends them for their toil and perseverance and their care in not allowing false teachers to lead them astray. He condemns them, however, for leaving their first love and thus not serving as they had done earlier. He urges them to repent and do their first works or else he will "remove their lampstand," which means they will cease to exist as a church. Imagine a church where Paul had spent over two years in ministry and a church where the apostle John had been. Yet, their love was growing cold.
One visiting Ephesus today will want to note the following special points of interest.
1. The second temple of Artimis or Diana was built about 330 AD and was recognized as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, along with the pyramids, the hanging gardens of Babylon, and the Colossus o f Rhodes. This temple had 117 columns that were 60 feet tall, the lower few feet of 36 of them being decorated with life-size human figures. The temple itself was 377 feet by 180 feet, four times larger than the Parthenon. Such temples were not built to house the people for worship, but to house the statues of the god or goddess and to provide a place for priests. Within this temple, then, was housed the great statue of Artimis, said to have fallen from heaven. She had three rows of breasts, sign ifying that she was the goddess of fertility. The temple was also used as a bank where people could store their valuables. It was destroyed in 263 AD in the attack by the Goths.
Today, one can see the place where the temple stood and a few of the remains. John T. Woods discovered this place, buried under 20 feet of silt, in 1869 and took most of what he found to the British Museum in London. One column, made of pieces of former columns, stands to mark the site.
2. The Roman Baths. The public baths were part of every Roman city to provide place not only for bathing but also for socializing. There were typically three parts to the bath: the hot room (caldarium), the mild room (tepdarium), and the cold room (frigidarium).
3. Market Places. Two market places, and upper and a lower, may still be seen in Ephesus. These were places where goods were sold, where political and social issues were discussed. The State (upper) Agora is some 175 yards long and 80 yards wide, almost equaling four football fields in size. The other agora adjoins the Library of Celsus and is about 120 yards square. Other market places were found in different sections of the city.
4. The Temple to Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. This trio of Roman Emperors, a father, Vespasian, and his two sons, were honored by a huge temple in the heart of ancient Ephesus. Titus was the Roman general who led in the destruction of Jerusalem . The temple was three stories high with the actual place of worship above the third level. It occupied a space about 60 yards wide and 550 yards long. One set of two columns, extending to the second story, has been re-constructed. The head and arm from Domitian's statue at this site may be seen in the Ephesus Museum. Domitian was the Roman emperor (81 to 96 AD) who helped make emperor worship an important part of Roman life. It was this emperor worship that placed Christians of the late first and the second and third centuries in the difficult position of either accepting the emperor as god, thus denying Christ, or confessing Christ and thus being subject to terrible persecutions. The book of Revelation was written to Christians facing such persecution to help them remain faithful. This huge temple to three Roman emperors placed in the very center of Ephesus speaks to the magnitude of the emperor worship problem which led to the greatest persecution the church has experienced since its beginning.
5. There are also places of worship for Roman Emperors Trajan (98-112 AD) and Hadrian (117-128 AD). These only add to the understanding of the problem early Christians faced about emperor worship.
6. Curetes Street. A marble street which leads to the Library of Celsus. Shops faced this street which offered both a walkway and good drainage. Notice the beautiful mosaic work along the sides of the street.
7. The Library of Celsus. Partially restored, this library once housed nearly two thousand scrolls, making it the third largest library in the ancient world, Alexandria having the largest and Pergamum second. It dates to the second century AD and so would not have been built until after Paul was there, but it illustrates the high degree of ornamentation and skill workers of workers of that time. No doubt buildings like it were familiar to Paul. Notice the niches for statuary and the beautiful Ionic columns.
8. The Marble Road. The road stretching from the Library to the amphitheater is called the Marble Road. Along its sides were also shops.
9. The Amphitheater. Built into the side of Mt. Pion, lies an amphitheater which could accommodate 25,000. Its acoustics are excellent for one in the top row can easily hear another speaking in th e orchestra. It is still used for concerts today. This undoubtedly was the site of the riot mentioned in Acts 19 where Demetrius aroused a crowd of supporters of Artimis over the threat he believed Christianity posed to the worship of Artimis. Paul wanted to go into the theater and speak to the crowd but his friends would not allow him to do so.
10. Recently, homes of the wealthy have been excavated and opened to the public. These show the rich ornamentation and vivid colors used on the walls a nd give some sense of the elegance among which some in Ephesus lived.
11. Harbor Street. The street leading from the amphitheater toward the sea is called Harbor Street. Many of its columns are still standing. Stores were located along its sides and one can see the remains of some of them today.
12. The Basilica of St. John. This is thought to be the burial place of John the Apostle, and there is good evidence to support this. During the second century, a small chapel was built here but it was greatly expanded by Justinia n about 550 AD.
13. Ephesus Museum. On the hill overlooking the site of the ancient city is a fine small museum which contains remains from the city of Ephesus including the head and arm of Domitian and some statues of Artimis.
The extensive ruins of Ephesus show the nature of the city in which Paul was planting Christianity. It was one of the main cities of the ancient world and was filled with idolatry and immorality. Paul never shrank from such a challenge and, rather, welcomed the opportunity to contrast such religions with Christianity. Although he had opposition, from here he brought many to Christ both in Ephesus and in the surrounding area. This remains of this city show it was a city given to idol worship and later to emperor worship and, from this, we get a good idea of the challenges many early Christians faced to hold their faith.
For more information, contact:
Dr. Alan Martin