I’ve shared some photos and thoughts from an amazing day in Ancient Ephesus. It was profound — and mostly because I believe. We who know the scripture, who have faith to believe, tend to lose sight of the remarkable cultural transformation that the apostles sparked in their journeys to places like Ephesus, Athens, and Rome. Spending a few days in their footsteps this summer, I was reminded of the influence of mythology on the ancients. It was a dizzying array of gods and goddesses eventually displaced by Christianity.
It was particularly obvious in Ephesus, walking from Kuretes to Marble Street. We passed remnants of fountains, temples, monuments, government buildings, and stoa with a steady stream of gods and goddesses. Pagan culture was so pervasive.
The Grand Theater, built into the slopes of Mount Pion was the end point of our exploration. This amphitheater held 25,000 people and remains mostly intact. Originally constructed for the arts, populist interest and thirst for blood eventually brought the gladiator games to town.
We paused there, in the shade on the steps of the entrance to the Grand Theater, and gazed out upon the huge agora. It once bustled with merchants and the business of every day life. Perhaps Paul’s impassioned pleas echoed here; perhaps he spoke from this very spot? Quite likely, it seems. It was surreal to consider our paths crossing, except for a couple thousand of years.
It was here that the prosperous silversmith, Demetrius, nearly started a riot in defense of the goddess, Artemis. (Acts 19 ) The entire city was in an uproar, many gathered in the amphitheater to hear Demetrius praise Artemis and rage against Paul. (Spoiler alert: Artemis goes down!)
Fortunately, Paul’s companions persuaded him not to enter the fray. No doubt they saved his life. Not far away, however, is a hilltop structure in which he was later imprisoned. I can hardly imagine the oppressive heat and deprivation he suffered there. But so it went for him, from town to city, flogging to stoning, shackles to prison.
Yet He was fearless in his determination to share the good news of a known God and his son, Jesus. He had been transformed so powerfully that he could not help it! It struck me then, midst this journey to early Christendom: Paul, with personal experience of the power of a resurrected Savior was in many ways more a threat to the establishment than Jesus himself had been.
When the one God of the Jews spread his arms wide in a warm welcome to Gentiles, a cosmic blast of energy roared forth, rippling across time and space. Artemis was one of many casualties. Christianity was and is an amazingly disruptive force!
*Our brief visit to Turkey was infinitely more interesting in the company of a private guide, Bulent, through Sea Song Tours. An archaeologist who worked in his early career at Ephesus, his insider’s perspective and expertise, along with deep pride in his beautiful country, made a world of difference in our experience.