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Amazing day in Ephesus

There was only one item on our agenda today and that was Ephesus. Ephesus contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. It played a significant part in the life of the early church with both Paul and John ministering there. According to Acts 19 Paul spent two years there and the tradition is that the Apostle John both lived there for some time and died there (there is also one about Mary that she accompanied John there and that she died there as well but there remains no historical or ancient tradition that Mary’s life ended in Ephesus)

The group were planning to spend the morning in Ephesus, go for lunch and then go back to the hotel. So, this was my chance to spend the day there without missing anything else. I won’t bore you with everything (I took nearly 700 photos!) but I hope I can give you a small flavour of what we saw and learnt.

Ephesus was one of the major cities of the Roman Empire in the 1st century being the fourth in size with a population of about 250,000 people. It was also renowned for being the neokoros (the temple keeper) of the great Artemis and was the largest Temple in the Hellenistic world measuring some 220 x 425 ft (67 x 130m). Pliny says that it had 127 columns and it was thronged with thousands of pilgrims each spring for the annual Artemisia festival.

Ephesus is the most excavated site in Turkey and one of the biggest archaeological digs anywhere in the Mediterranean and there was certainly lots and lots to see. It went into decline in the Byzantine era due to the silting up of the harbour and now is some km inland from the sea. This meant that unlike Smyrna (modern day Izmir)  it hasn’t been built over and therefore there is still so much more still to excavate (estimates vary that between 10-125% of the city has been excavated).

Christianity grew in importance there and Acts 19 tells us of the first clash between some Ephesians and the Apostle Paul. The clash came out of the fear that some of the producers of statues of Artemis that this new religion will undermine their business and so they cause a riot and drag two of Paul’s companions into the Theatre. The Agora (or marketplace) is very near the main theatre which could hold over 20,000 people. It must have been very frightening to be dragged in by such a large mob shouting for over two hours “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. Paul was ready and willing to face such a crowd but the Christians there wouldn’t let him and even the social and governmental elite sent him messages not to go. It is very interesting that Paul was acquainted with the elite here and that they were trying to look out for him. It shows that he put big store on not attacking others.

One of the things that you get when you visit the city is how sound works. The theatre faced West and although the sound would have been great it wouldn’t have been heard in the upper city where the town clerk was located in the Prytaneion. That along with clogged streets makes it understandable as to why it too so long for the town clerk to get to the theatre.

Sadly we don’t know where the Hall of Tyrannus was located but the fact that Paul could hire it in the afternoon (more people were asleep at 1pm than at 1am in the morning!) does show that his speaking methods were engaging enough for people to stay awake!

Paul leaves Ephesus after the riot and doesn’t come back. When he passes nearby he goes to Miletus instead and asks the church leaders to meet him there. We aren’t sure why but when you see the geography you can understand how people might recognise him as the harbour in Ephesus is near the marketplace (agora) and the main harbour road leads directly to the theatre past the marketplace.

The Apostle John writes to the church at Ephesus some decades after Paul. He writes at the command of the vision of Jesus that he has seen. The Ephesian church is commended for its faithfulness and perseverance and the fact that it hasn’t tried to integrate the practise of the Temples with the Christian faith. But they have forgotten the love that they had at first. It’s a charge that many of us have experienced. We come to Christ but we can become dry and forget that love is the way of Christ – we focus on doctrine and disputes rather than living out what we believe through the way of Christ’s love.

In Domitian Square is a flying Nike (not the shoe!) the Greek goddess of victory holding a wreath and a palm branch. These elements are important in the book of Revelation where they are taken but used to tell Christians that they will have the victory (Smyrna is promised the wreath for example) and the rewards of Christ’s victory.

After wandering down to the docks (off the beat and track down past the church dedicated to Mary and where one of the early church councils was held that defined Mary as Theotokis – God-bearer) it was time to leave Ephesus. But I hadn’t seen the Temple of Artemis. I felt I couldn’t spend the day (I had been there about 6 hours at this point) and not see it. So, I set off out of Ephesus. The bus had gone 3 hours previously but I had been told it was just the other side of the main road which was about a Km away. Readers it’s a long walk! Thankfully I had just bought some more water. It was probably more like 2-3 km outside Ephesus. Which I thought interesting given its connection to Ephesus (it was because Ephesus had been moved once). All that it left of the Temple is a few stones and a pillar (and lots of hawkers trying to sell me “ancient coins” – which reminds me of the sign over some shops “Genuine Fake Watches”!)

It was then off to Selcuk to find a bus to take me home. As I arrived in Selcuk I saw a sign to St John’s Basilica. As I was there and it was only another 1km round trip I decided to go and find it. Taking a few wrong turnings I eventually climbed the hill where it was. It’s part of a fort now and so after paying to go in I had a short look around. Originally it was a very impressive 6th century Byzantine church built over a much earlier smaller structure commemorating John’s place of burial.

Then it was done to the town centre sit and have a drink before getting one of the small buses back to Kusadasi. The buses are great. You can hail them anywhere and full of all sorts. There was a bunch of South Africans on mine, a conservative religious woman who wouldn’t sit on the same row as a man (I moved to allow her to sit but then two Turkish guys got on and she was left looking very uncomfortable!), and someone loading all the goods that they hadn’t sold that day. A great mix of people.

Then back to the hotel and a swim – an exhausting but great day.

I have added comments to the pictures which I hope will give you a sense of the city and the events. To see and read them click on a picture (you can then page through the pictures to read all the comments – or not!)

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2 comments on “Amazing day in Ephesus

  1. Michael Carr
    June 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Will,
    As we will be in Istanbul for the remainder of our trip in Turkey we found your description and pictures of Ephesus to be fascinating and very informative. We will surely make it our first stop on next trip to the region. Thank you so much. Michael & Judy.

    • Will Cookson
      June 16, 2013 at 7:43 am #

      Michael & Judy,
      Thank you so much for the kind words. Hope your conference in Istanbul goes well.

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