Biblical and ancient Ephesus

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By Luci Lizares

Friday, January 17, 2014

AS WE docked in Kusadasi, my main bucket list was to visit the home of the Blessed Virgin not realizing that there is also much more to learn about Ephesus.

Ephesus was an ancient Greek city, three kilometers southwest of present-day Izmir, Turkey. It was a 45-minute drive from where we docked and I was amazed of the vast expanse of archeological ruins. In the time of Ancient Greece, there would have been more than 300,000 residents in the area.

The city was famed for the Temple of Artemis or Diana (completed around 550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sad to say that we see none of that as in 268 AD, the Temple was damaged. What is left of it is a single pillar but not within the Ephesus ruins that we went to. The Temple was said to be four times bigger than the Parthenon. Artemis or Diana is the daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo or Mercury. She is the moon goddess, the goddess of hunting and the patroness of young girls. Artemis was minted in coins during the Roman period as a form of worship to the goddess. "For over a thousand years this goddess with her temple provided a focal point for the rich religious, economic, and cultural life of her worshippers.


What you can see from the ruins though are the gathering places called agoras, the theatre and the Library of Celsus, which despite the damage, its façade looks quite impressive. This library believed to be the largest in the ancient world (containing thousands of scrolls in parchment and papyri) was built by a son in honor of his father, Celsus, who was a Roman Senator and the Governor of Asia Minor. It was protected from dampness and worms by a double wall. Celsus was a lover of books and was given the honor of being buried, not only within the city, but in the vault of his own library among his books. On the first floor of its façade there stood four female statues representing wisdom, fortune, knowledge, and virtue.

The Agoras were the center of commerce in Ephesus. Aside from the marketing of goods, the slave market of beautiful girls brought from different places by sea was brisk. Ephesus was the second largest slave market of the Ancient World. There is also the State Agora which was not for commercial use but was a meeting place for government discussions.

Curetes Street runs from the State Agora to the Library of Celsus. It is believed that it was once lined with shops, workshops and inns. It is said that St. Paul probably had a tent making shop here. Curetes Street was both a main street and a processional route. The name Curetes means the college of priests who were in the service of Artemis. Many inscriptions and reliefs are seen along Curetes Street including one of Nike, the goddess of victory. Now, we know that the word translates to winning.

Down Curetes Street, is the Hadrian Temple. Emperor Hadrian was one of the Five of Good Emperors namely, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

The Odeon or the Theatre was constructed in the Hellenistic period but was enlarged during the Roman Period. The theatre was not purely for concert and plays but also for religious, political and philosophical discussions. Musicians played their flutes, lyres and citharas and poets recited from Homer in the Theatre. Gladiator and animal fights were also held here. Even for today’s standards, it is quite majestic.

Ephesus was once called Ephesus Lumen Asiae, The Light of Asia. It was a chief commercial city and the center of worship for the mother goddess Artemis/Diana. Because of its great harbor, Ephesus was the Gateway of Asia.

After the death of Christ and His Ascencion, Ephesus attracted many influential Christians most especially St Paul. As Ephesus was full of wizards, sorcerers and astrologers, it was an ideal site to establish his ministry.

Paul’s ministry flourished as his preaching of Christ drew many disciples. Even those enamored by magical powers and practices started burning their books publicly. But this did not sit well in a culture that was deeply rooted in the worship of Artemis for over a thousand years, and posed as an economic threat especially to the silversmiths who made pieces of jewelry in the image of the goddess and small offerings given to the goddess when devotees visited her temple. The enraged silversmiths grabbed some of Paul’s companions and dragged them to the theater as written in Acts 19.

Some scholars believe that sometime after, Paul was arrested and imprisoned in Ephesus. They also agree that he wrote four of his letters in Ephesus.

What a throw back in history, culture and religion Ephesus holds for us. It was a great privilege to have walked through these agoras, and streets, and enter the Library of one of the most important hubs of the Ancient World. Thank you LORD!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 17, 2014.


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