An Epistle from Ephesus


The theater of ancient Ephesus


We spent the day down at Ephesus.  This was Paul’s headquarters for three years.  He wrote a number of his epistles from the city, and, according to Acts 19, it was in Ephesus that Demetrius and the local silversmiths, whose lucrative trade in votive figurines was menaced by Christian preaching, led a mob to the theater, where they all yelled “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” — actually, they used her Greek name, Artemis — for roughly two hours, until a magistrate managed to disperse them.  John the Evangelist is supposed to have lived in Ephesus.  The famous pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus (“No man can step into the same river twice”; somewhat more dubiously, “All things flow” [panta rhei]) was born in Ephesus relatively late in the sixth century before Christ.  Three major councils of the Christian church were held in Ephesus (in AD 431, AD 449 [the so-called "Robber Council"], and A.D. 475.)  It is, with Smyrna/Izmir, one of the “seven cities” of Revelation 2-3.  Essentially of Greek foundation, it was the principal city of Roman Asia.


The Library of Celsus, at Ephesus


A view inside the “terraced houses” at Ephesus


After walking along the main street of the ancient city and through the “terraced houses,” we had lunch at a family restaurant just outside of nearby Selçuk, where my wife and I have eaten before.  Wonderful Turkish cuisine.  Then we visited the ruins of Justinian’s Basilica of St. John (a traditional burial place of the author of John’s gospel; but see the end of that gospel, as well as 3 Nephi 28:6 and Doctrine and Covenants 7:1-3), overlooking the place where the temple of Artemis once stood.  Leaving the basilica, we drove over to the archaeological museum of Ephesus, where, among many other finds, several versions of the famous Ephesian statue of Artemis are on view:


The statue of Artemis at Ephesus


This statue requires some comment.  The odd objects hanging in front of the goddess’s chest have been variously identified as either eggs or (ahem) breasts or (ahem again) the testicles of rams or bulls.  In any event, they’re connected with fertility.


Diana the Huntress


The Ephesus statue represents a far different view of the goddess than many shocked tourists are expecting when they first see it, and that seems significant.  The area around Ephesus was, from the most ancient times, a center of the worship of the mother goddess Cybele.  I think that explains why the worship of Artemis (who seems to have been a pre-Greek goddess assimilated into the Olympian pantheon) flourished in the vicinity, and why, when Artemis was assimilated into Roman Diana, that cult, too, found a warm welcome among the local population.  (The statue looks quite Middle Eastern, and not at all like the typical Greco-Roman goddess image of a very beautiful idealized woman.)  I wonder, too, whether the receptivity of the neighborhood, first to Cybele, and then to Artemis, and then to Diana, might not be connected with the subsequent veneration of the Virgin Mary that continues to this day in and around Ephesus:  A church dedicated to Mary sits near the theater of Ephesus, John is reputed to have brought Mary to the city late in her life, her traditional home sits in the hills nearby (we’ve typically visited this very attractive pilgrimage site, but, on the current tour, had too little time and too many other things to see), and little statuettes of Mary are sold in the archaeological museum right beside figurines of ancient Artemis.


A quick visit to the ruins of the ancient temple of Artemis/Diana provides a good opportunity to reflect upon the transience of human vanity:


An artist’s reconstruction of
the ancient temple of Artemis/Diana
at Ephesus


The lonely column to the right represents the majority of what remains of the ancient temple of Artemis/Diana — one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I’ve always been especially fond of the stork’s nest that sits atop it. The ruins of the Baslica of St. John can be seen on the hill in the background.


Posted from Izmir, Turkey.

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  • Eric

    Thanks for the ongoing reports! When I visited, I noticed that the Lord Jesus mosque below the Basilica of St. John incorporates fragments of the church and the Artemision. But my favorite part is the shop built into the base of *the mosque* that will sell you little figurines of the Madonna or even of Artemis! The same ones available at the museum, I’m sure.

    • danpeterson

      Funny, no?