Touring Ancient Ephesus, Part 2

Touring Ancient Ephesus, Part 2 September 15, 2011

Part 4 of series:
Ancient Ephesus and the New Testament

Touring Ancient Ephesus, Part 2

A tour of Ephesus usually begins, as I explained yesterday, at the eastern end of the city because from there you walk downhill rather than uphill. In the map to the right, the tour would begin just to the right of the civic agora. On this map, you can see several of the major features of the ancient Ephesus, including the two agoras (public gathering places), the theatre, and the Library of Celsus. When you’re walking through Ephesus today, it seems small, like a town that might have had 5,000 residents. In fact, ancient Ephesus had perhaps as many as 200,000 residents. Many of their homes have not been excavated or refurbished. But even with all the original structures intact, a person today would be impressed by the extent to which people were crowded together in this city, as in others throughout the Roman Empire.

The Library of Celsus is the most beautiful of the restored buildings in Ephesus, and is often the place of evening concerts and other festivities. This library, which was once one of the largest in the ancient world, was not built during the first century AD, the time of greatest interest for New Testament scholars. It was constructed in AD 135 by a man who built it in honor of his father, Celsus, who had been a governor of Asia Minor (the location of Ephesus in the Roman Empire). Today, the library consists of a rebuilt façade, without the rooms that once contained thousands of scrolls.

For students of the New Testament and early Christianity, the Library of Celsus contains an easily overlooked treasure. It was, in fact, overlooked by many of the archeologists who painstakingly rebuilt the facade of the library. On the steps leading up to the entrance of the library, there is an easily missed carving, perhaps a piece of ancient graffiti. You can see it in the photo to the right. It is a menorah, a Jewish symbol. It was carved into the steps by some unknown Jewish resident of Ephesus sometime after the building of the library. Why is this unimpressive carving so important? Because it is the only archeological evidence we have for the existence of a Jewish community in Ephesus. The book of Acts testifies to such a community and their synagogue. But, as of this time, evidence of the synagogue has not been found.

If your tour begins in the eastern end of Ephesus, you first walk into one of the two agoras (or public squares) of the ancient city. There’s not much left of this civic agora, the place where the official business of Ephesus was once conducted. One of the buildings alongside the civic agora was the Prytaneion. This building was the center of city business. It was dedicated to the goddess Hestia, and contained the city’s sacred flame that was never allowed to go out. There is not much left of the Prytaneion, apart from a couple of rebuilt pillars. It was in this location that two statues of the goddess Artemis were discovered. They are now found in the Ephesus museum. I’ll have more to say about them later.

One of the highlights of the Ephesus tour is the men’s toilet, found along Curetes Street. This bathroom, as we’d say in the USA, once contained about twenty places for men to do their business. It had a running water sewage system in its day. Perhaps the most surprising part of this bathroom is that the seats were placed very few inches apart, without any barriers. So a man might find himself sitting next to another man, almost touching as they used the facilities. Apparently, men used this as a place to socialize. There certainly wasn’t much privacy, that’s for sure. In 2007, you could sit on the ancient toilets. Today, they are now off limits so as to preserve them.

Rather than continue this blog “tour” of Ephesus, I’m going to change gears in my next post and begin to make connections between the New Testament and the ancient city.

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