EPHESUS (ĕf'e*ch-sŭs, Gr. Ephesos, desirable). An old Ionian foundation at the mouth of the Cayster. Greek colonies that surround the Mediterranean and Black Sea were primarily trading posts. Migrant communities of Greeks did not seek to dominate the hinterlands, but to secure an emporion or “way in,” a bridgehead for commerce and enough surrounding coast and territory to support the community. Great cities grew from such foundations from Marseilles to Alexandria, some of them royal capitals. And in all cases colonies became centers or outposts of Hellenism, distinctive and civilizing.
Ephesus displaced Miletus as a trading port; but when its harbor, like that of Miletus, in turn silted up, Smyrna replaced both as the outlet and emporion of the Maeander Valley trade route. In the heyday of Asia Minor 230 separate communities, each proud of its individuality and wealth, issued their own coinage and managed their own affairs. The dominance of Persian despotism, wide deforestation, and the ravages of war on a natural bridge and highway between the continents slowly sapped this prosperity; but in early Roman times, as in the days of its Ionian independence, Ephesus was a proud, rich, busy port, the rival of Alexandria and Syrian Antioch.
Built near the shrine of an old Anatolian fertility goddess, Ephesus became the seat of an oriental cult. The Anatolian deity had been taken over by the Greeks under the name of Artemis, the Diana of the Romans. Grotesquely represented with turreted head and many breasts, the goddess and her cult found expression in the famous temple, served, like that of Aphrodite at Corinth, by a host of priestess courtesans.
Much trade clustered round the cult. Ephesus became a place of pilgrimage for tourist-worshipers, all eager to carry away talisman and souvenir, hence the prosperous guild of the silversmiths whose livelihood was the manufacture of silver shrines and images of the meteoric stone that was said to be Diana’s image “fallen from heaven.” Ephesus leaned more and more on the trade that followed the cult, and commerce declined in her silting harbor. Twenty miles (thirty-three km.) of reedy marshland now separate the old harbor works from the sea, and even in Paul’s day the process was under way. Tacitus tells us that an attempt was made to improve the seaway in a.d. 65, but the task proved too great. Ephesus in the first century was a dying city, given to parasite pursuits, living, like Athens, on a reputation, a curious meeting place of old and new religions, of East and West.
The chief city of the Roman province of Asia, it stood at the crossroads of the coast route between Smyrna and Cyzicus and the interior route up the Maeander and Lycus valleys. It has a long history traceable to one of the twelve cities of the Ionean Confederation, first founded by early Greek colonists about 1044 b.c. About 560 b.c., the city was relocated to low ground and henceforth the great temple of Artemis became a focal feature of Ephesus. In 287 b.c. the city site was changed again, and this Hellenic foundation lasted for another thousand years. The plan was shaped like a bent bow between Pion and the hill of Astyages. Many fine buildings were added by the Romans, especially in the time of Augustus when a destructive earthquake in a.d. 17 had occurred. At its peak Ephesus possibly reached 500,000 inhabitants. By the tenth century a.d., however, the city had become completely deserted.
Christianity possibly first reached Ephesus with the visit of Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla (Acts 18:18,19). On his third missionary journey Paul stayed there for two years (Acts 19:8,10), attracted no doubt by its strategic importance, its large Jewish colony, its nodality and wealth. During this second visit, Christianity spread to the other churches of the Lycus valley (Col. 1:7; 2:1). At Ephesus the cult of Artemis was extremely popular. It is a cult known from archaeological evidence to have been widespread in over thirty places of the ancient world, but her temple in Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The temple's riches were such that it was the biggest bank of Asia (cf. Acts 19:27). It is no wonder that the economic effects of Paul's preaching there are highlighted (Acts 19:10,26), and a large church established (1 Cor. 16:9).
W.M. Ramsay, The Historical Geography of Asia Minor (1890) and The Letters to the(1908); D.G. Hogarth, Excavations at Ephesus. The Archaic Artemisia (1908); E.F. Campbell and D.N. Freedman (eds.), The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, vol. 2 (1964), pp. 331-52.
EPHESUS ĕf’ ə səs (̓́Εφεσος, G2387, possible meaning, desirable). The city of Ephesus lay at the mouth of the Cayster, between the Koressos Range and the sea, on the western coast of Asia Minor. Like all the river valleys around the great blunt end of the Asian continent’s westward protrusion, that of the Cayster was a highway into the interior, the terminal of a trade route that linked with other roads converging and branching out toward the separated civilizations of the E and the Asian steppes. This was why Ephesus was chosen by the early Ionian colonists from Athens as a site for their colony. The Greeks called a colony an “emporion,” or a “way in,” because their concept of such settlement was that of a gateway by which an active self-governing community could tap the trade and resources of a foreign hinterland. Ephesus filled the role precisely.
By NT times, however, the great days of Ephesus’ trade were long past. Like her rival Miletus, similarly located at the end of the Maeander Valley thirty m. to the S, Ephesus had difficulty with her harbor, the essential gateway to the sea. Deforestation was mankind’s ancient folly, and no part of the Mediterranean world suffered worse than Asia Minor. The quest for timber and charcoal, the result of overgrazing, and the destructiveness of the Mediterranean goat, eternally nibbling and trampling the regenerating forest, denuded the hinterland. Topsoil slipped from the bare hillsides reft of their cover, streams became swamps, and the storm waters reached the sea laden with silt that choked the harbors. The harbor works of Ephesus may be traced today seven m. from the sea. Where once a sheltered gulf and waterway formed a safe haven for ships, there is now a reedy plain. Sir William Ramsay, most factual of archeologists, speaks in awe of the “uncanny volume of sound” which, in his day at the turn of the cent., greeted the evening visitor to the desolate levels where Ephesus once harbored her ships.
She was, none the less, over many centuries, fortunate in her engineers. The winding Maeander was silting up the harbor of Miletus as early as 500 b.c., and when that city suffered irreparable damage in the Pers. suppression of the great revolt of the Ionian Gr. cities, the choking up of her waterway passed beyond repair. It was Ephesus’ opportunity, and a succession of rulers promoted the maintenance of the harbor facilities that the increased volume of trade and traffic demanded. The kings of Pergamum, most dynamic and powerful of the lesser successor states of Alexander’s divided empire, did much for Ephesus, and when the Romans inherited the kingdom of Pergamum by the will of its last ruler, Attalus III, they continued the policy of promoting Ephesian trade. The Romans assumed the legacy of Pergamum in 133 b.c. and used Ephesus as the proconsul’s seat. The city was proud of its name, “the Landing Place,” and the title is found on a coin as late as the 3rd cent. of the Christian era. It is, perhaps, not without significance that the same coin bears the image of a small oar-propelled boat, an official’s “barge,” not the deep-hulled merchantmen that mark the city’s pride in her sea-borne trade on the coins of earlier centuries. Paul’s ship made no call there in a.d. 57. Domitian, at the end of the 1st cent., appears to have been the last ruler to attempt to repair the harbor of Ephesus, but trade had obviously declined two centuries before. By the time of Justinian, five centuries later, the battle with sand, silt, and mud was lost, and Ephesus was falling to ruins in a swampy terrain. Justinian, to be sure, built a church to Saint John on the site, in part compensation perhaps for the looting of the columns from the temple of Artemis for St. Sophia in Byzantium, where they may still be seen in the vast basilica. It is significant that the church of Saint John gave its name to the place. The Apo stle John was called in Gr. “Hagios Theologos”—“The Holy Theologian.” This was corrupted into Ayasoluk, the modern Turkish name for the village that stands near the site of ancient Ephesus.
Deepening economic depression and decline must have been a feature of Ephesus’ life over the last cent. b.c. The city turned, as any anxious community might in such circumstances, to the equivalent of her tourist trade. Multitudes came to visit the temple of Artemis, a cult that requires explanation.
When the son of Codrus, last king of Athens, founded the city, he placed his colonists near the shrine of an ancient Anatolian goddess whom the Greeks, following the religious syncretism common in the ancient world, called after their own goddess Artemis. This was perhaps in the 10th, 11th, or 12th cent. b.c., so uncertain are dates in this borderland of legend and history. The cult thus recognized was that of a nature-goddess, associated with carnal fertility rituals, orgiastic rites, and religious prostitution. The peculiar feature in the case of Ephesus was that the cult was associated with a meteoric stone, the “image which fell down from Jupiter” of the guild-master’s clever speech reported by Luke (
It was Croesus of neighboring Lydia (he reigned from 564 to 546 b.c.) who promoted the construction of the first temple to Artemis. Fragments of the columns that he donated, inscribed with his name, are in the British Museum. At the time, Croesus’ temple was the largest of Gr. temples, and perhaps was some consolation for the loss of her independence, for it was Croesus who made Ephesus subject to Sardis. She was never, in fact, independent again. This temple, first sign of the international importance of the Artemis cult of Ephesus, stood right through the Pers. imperial dominance of the Aegean coast of Asia Minor. It was maliciously burned in 356 b.c. on the very night, the makers of omens later noted, that was born of Olympias in distant Macedon.
Alexander, into whose control Ephesus passed in 334 b.c. at the beginning of his mighty “drive to the East,” contributed largely to the new temple, which was destined to be a shrine of unrivaled splendor and to rank as one of the wonders of the world. It endured until the Goths sacked Ephesus in a.d. 263. The ruins have been identified in a marsh, one and a half miles NE of the city, after the discovery of Ephesus’ main boulevard in 1870. It is said that the building was four times the size of Athens’ magnificent Parthenon. Pheidias, Praxiteles, and Apelles all adorned it. It was widely depicted on coins. The general impression left with the archeologist and historian, who peer into the crowded past of the great city, is that the guild-master was not unjustified in his claim that “all Asia and the world” (
The preaching of Christianity in the school of Tyrannus was hitting the Artemis cult hard, so hard that the turnover in dependent trades was visibly showing the adverse effects. A riot ensued, so vividly and ironically described in
Led by the silversmiths, the mob poured down this highway. The text of Beza sometimes supplies a detail that has a ring of authenticity, and his unorthodox text adds a phrase to
It is, as Ramsay says (St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, p. 277, 278), “the most instructive picture of society in an Asian city at this period that has come down to us....In the speech of Demetrius are concentrated most of the feelings and motives that, from the beginning to the end, made the mob so hostile to the Christians in the great oriental cities.” It required all the political art of the grammateus, no mere “town-clerk,” but the city’s leading official and obviously a most able man, to restore quiet and order. One phrase in his clever speech would appear to date the incident with some precision. If anything illegal had been done to rouse the just resentment of the silversmiths’ guild, he said “there are proconsuls” (
Another phrase in the story is illuminating. Why did the “Asiarchs” seek to protect Paul? (See Asiarchs.) These officials were members of a corporation, built on the model of an earlier Gr. institution, and charged with the maintenance and protection of the Caesar cult (see Emperor Worship) in Asia. It would appear probable that there was a measure of rivalry between those in charge of the newer ritual, a cult that was not yet deeply founded in Ephesus, and the custodians and champions of the vast commercialized worship of Artemis. Perhaps the Asiarchs, not yet aware of all the implications of Christianity, and as yet unhampered by any anti-Christian legislation, were not disturbed by damage to their rivals. Paul’s Rom. citizenship may have weighed a little with the officers of Caesar. Whatever happened, Paul was rescued and, perhaps under some official pressure, withdrew before the irate guildsmen had the opportunity to file a formal indictment. It may also have been a consideration that weighed with Paul—that such an indictment would have had scant chance of a just hearing before such scoundrels as Publius Celer and the freedman Helios, if indeed they held brief authority in the city at the time.
It is possible from the NT to gain some idea of the progress of the Ephesian church. Although there is not the intimate insight into the doings and problems of the Ephesian Christian community, as the Corinthian epistles give, the NT provides a series of glimpses of considerable interest. First, there is the vivid story already examined. Another incident is the apostle’s advice to the elders. He passed along the Asia Minor coast three or four years after the riot in Ephesus. He invited the leaders of the church to meet him at Miletus (had he given some promise to the Asiarchs not to return to Ephesus?). Paul conversed with them, and from the intimacy of almost three years’ experience, warned the little community of tensions to come. That the trouble came is evident from John’s letter to the Ephesian church, most prob. written when Domitian’s persecution was raging.
John’s letter was one of seven addressed to the Asian circuit, and prudently couched in the style of Jewish apocalyptic lit. Ephesus, as was proper, was the first church addressed, and the subject matter is light on the city, and its church, a generation after its founding. Three years of Paul’s teaching in the school of Tyrannus, the nature of which may be partly glimpsed from Paul’s own letter, had laid a firm basis for growth. There was much for which John could commend the Ephesian Christians; their toil, endurance, discernment, and vigor. Their lapse from first ardor and enthusiasm was due, according to Ramsay’s famous thesis, to an infiltration of the Christian minority by the weariness of a civic community that had passed its prime and was living on its fading splendor.
It was natural enough in the religious capital of Asia that the sect of the Nicolaitans should be in evidence. Of this group it is fair to assume that they were Greeks who saw in their own cults a measure of true revelation, a position that might have arguments to commend it, but who carried this belief to the point of advocating unwise compromise with the debased forms of those cults in such prominence around them. Perhaps, too, they saw in the Caesar-cult only a harmless ritual of loyalty, and not an issue of man-worship on which a Christian need stake life and livelihood. Ephesus, taught by two apostles, rejected all accommodation with paganism and those who advocated the softer policy.
The question remaining is this: Was John too rigid, too extreme? Need the church, for instance, for the sake of a pinch of incense, have been exposed to the bitterness of persecution? History gives the answer. Those who accepted John’s rigid rule came through that persecution refined and strengthened. They became the forefathers of all true Christianity. They laid in their suffering the foundations on which all true religion has since built. To compromise would ultimately have set Christ, where Emperor Severus ultimately placed him—in a chapel along with the images of Jupiter, Augustus, and Abraham. “The historian,” writes Sir William Ramsay, “must regard the Nicolaitans with intense interest, and must deeply regret that we know so little about them....At the same time he must feel that nothing could have saved the infant Church from melting away into one of those vague and ineffective schools of philosophic ethics except the stern and strict rule that is laid down here by St. John. An easygoing Christianity could never have survived; it could not have conquered and trained the world; only the most convinced, resolute, almost bigoted adherence to the most uncompromising interpretation of its principles could have given the Christians the courage and self-reliance that were needed. For them to hesitate or to doubt was to be lost” (Ramsay, The Letters to the, 300).
The last glimpse of Ephesus in the NT reveals an aging church in need of an infusion of new life, hence, the closing detail of imagery in the apocalyptic letter (
Archeology, none the less, has shown that the prestige and magnificence of the city long outlived its declining usefulness as a seaport. Ramsay, broadly correct in his main thesis of Ephesus’ decline dates its disastrous impact too early. Under Claudius in the middle of the 1st cent. and under Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd, the great theater was remodeled. Under Claudius the monumental Marble Street was built. Nero gave Ephesus a stadium. Domitian widened and beautified the great central boulevard. Adorning continued till the days of the Gothic raid in a.d. 263. (See Archeology.) It is obvious that Paul’s vision had picked one of the strategic centers of the world.
W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches (1904); A. H. M. Jones, Cities in the Eastern Provinces (1937); E. M. Blaiklock, The Christian in Pagan Society (1951); The Cities of the(1965).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
A city of the Roman province of Asia, near the mouth of the Cayster river, 3 miles from the western coast of Asia Minor, and opposite the island of Samos. With an artificial harbor accessible to the largest ships, and rivaling the harbor at Miletus, standing at the entrance of the valley which reaches far into the interior of Asia Minor, and connected by highways with the chief cities of the province, Ephesus was the most easily accessible city in Asia, both by land and sea. Its location, therefore, favored its religious, political and commercial development, and presented a most advantageous field for the missionary labors of Paul. The city stood upon the sloping sides and at the base of two hills, Prion and Coressus, commanding a beautiful view; its climate was exceptionally fine, and the soil of the valley was unusually fertile.
Tradition says that in early times near the place where the mother goddess of the earth was born, the Amazons built a city and a temple in which they might worship. This little city of the Amazons, bearing at different times the names of Samorna, Trachea, Ortygia and Ptelea, flourished until in the early Greek days it aroused the cupidity of Androclus, a prince of Athens. He captured it and made it a Greek city. Still another tradition says that Androclus was its founder. However, under Greek rule the Greek civilization gradually supplanted that of the Orientals, the Greek language was spoken in place of the Asiatic; and the Asiatic goddess of the temple assumed more or less the character of the Greek Artemis. Ephesus, therefore, and all that pertained to it, was a mixture of oriental and Greek Though the early history of the city is obscure, it seems that at different times it was in the hands of the Carians, the Leleges and Ionians; in the early historical period it was one of a league of twelve Ionfan cities. In 560 BC it came into the possession of the Lydians; 3 years later, in 557, it was taken by the Persians; and during the following years the Greeks and Persians were constantly disputing for its possession. Finally,took it; and at his death it fell to Lysimachus, who gave it the name of Arsinoe, from his second wife. Upon the death of Attalus II (Philadelphus), king of Pergamos, it was bequeathed to the ; and in 190, when the Roman province of Asia was formed, it became a part of it. Ephesus and Pergamos, the capital of Asia, were the two great rival cities of the province. Though Pergamos was the center of the Roman religion and of the government, Ephesus was the more accessible, the commercial center and the home of the native goddess Diana; and because of its wealth and situation it gradually became the chief city of the province. It is to the temple of Diana, however, that its great wealth and prominence are largely due. Like the city, it dates from the time of the Amazons, yet what the early temple was like we now have no means of knowing, and of its history we know little except that it was seven times destroyed by fire and rebuilt, each time on a scale larger and grander than before. The wealthy king Croesus supplied it with many of its stone columns, and the pilgrims from all the oriental world brought it of their wealth. In time the temple possessed valuable lands; it controlled the fishcries; its priests were the bankers of its enormous revenues. Because of its strength the people stored there their money for safe-keeping; and it became to the ancient world practically all that the Bank of England is to the modern world.
In 356 BC, on the very night when Alexander the Great was born, it was burned; and when he grew to manhood he offered to rebuild it at his own expense if his name might be inscribed upon its portals. This the priests of Ephesus were unwilling to permit, and they politely rejected his offer by saying that it was not fitting for one god to build a temple to another. The wealthy Ephesians themselves undertook its reconstruction, and 220 years passed before its final completion. Not only was the temple of Diana a place of worship, and a treasure-house, but it was also a museum in which the best statuary and most beautiful paintings were preserved. Among the paintings was one by the famous Apelles, a native of Ephesus, representing Alexander the Great hurling a thunderbolt. It was also a sanctuary for the criminal, a kind of city of refuge, for none might be arrested for any crime whatever when within a bowshot of its walls. There sprang up, therefore, about the temple a village in which the thieves and murderers and other criminals made their homes. Not only did the temple bring vast numbers of pilgrims to the city, as does the Kaaba at Mecca at the present time, but it employed hosts of people apart from the priests and priestesses; among them were the large number of artisans who manufactured images of the goddess Diana, or shrines to sell to the visiting strangers.
Such was Ephesus when Paul on his 2nd missionary journey in Ac (18:19-21) first visited the city, and when, on his 3rd journey (19:8-10; 20:31), he remained there for two years preaching in the synagogue (19:8,10), in the school of Tyrannus (19:9) and in private houses (20:20). Though Paul was probably not the first to bring Christianity to Ephesus, for Jews had long lived there (2:9; 6:9), he was the first to make progress against the worship of Diana. As the fame of his teachings was carried by the pilgrims to their distant homes, his influence extended to every part of Asia Minor. In time the pilgrims, with decreasing faith in Diana, came in fewer numbers; the sales of the shrines of the goddess fell off; Diana of the Ephesians was no longer great; a Christian church was rounded there and flourished, and one of its first leaders was the apostle John. Finally in 262 AD, when the temple of Diana was again burned, its influence had so far departed that it was never again rebuilt. Diana was dead. Ephesus became a Christian city, and in 341 AD a council of the Christian church was held there. The city itself soon lost its importance and decreased in population. The sculptured stones of its great buildings, which were no longer in use and were falling to ruins, were carried away to Italy, and especially to Constantinople for the great church of Saint Sophia. In 1308 the Turks took possession of the little that remained of the city, and deported or murdered its inhabitants. The Cayster river, overflowing its banks, gradually covered with its muddy deposit the spot where the temple of Diana had once stood, and at last its very site was forgotten.
The small village of Ayasaluk, 36 miles from Smyrna on the Aidin R. R., does not mark the site of the ancient city of Ephesus, yet it stands nearest to its ruins. The name Ayasaluk is the corruption of three Greek words meaning "the Holy Word of God." Passing beyond the village one comes to the ruins of the old aqueduct, the fallen city walls, the so-called church of John or the baths, the Turkish fort which is sometimes called Paul’s prison, the huge theater which was the scene of the riot of Paul’s time, but which now, with its marble torn away, presents but a hole in the side of the hill Prion. In 1863 Mr. J. T. Wood, for the British Museum, obtained permission from the Turkish government to search for the site of the lost temple of Diana. During the eleven years of his excavations at Ephesus, $80,000 were spent, and few cities of antiquity have been more thoroughly explored. The city wall of Lysimachus was found to be 36,000 ft. in length, enclosing an area of 1,027 acres. It was 10 1/2 ft. thick, and strengthened by towers at intervals of 100 ft. The six gates which pierced the wall are now marked by mounds of rubbish. The sites and dimensions of the various public buildings, the streets, the harbor, and the foundations of many of the private houses were ascertained, and numerous inscriptions and sculptures and coins were discovered. Search, however, did not reveal the site of the temple until January 1, 1870, after six years of faithful work. Almost by accident it was then found in the valley outside the city walls, several feet below the present surface. Its foundation, which alone remained, enabled Mr. Wood to reconstruct the entire temple plan. The temple was built upon a foundation which was reached by a flight of ten steps. The building itself was 425 ft. long and 220 ft. wide; each of its 127 pillars which supported the roof of its colonnade was 60 ft. high; like the temples of Greece, its interior was open to the sky. For a further description of the temple, see Mr. Wood’s excellent book, Discoveries at Ephesus.