The ancient city of Ephesus (near modern Izmir) was originally established in the 10th century BC as a Greek city by colonists from Attica and Ionia. Although an earlier city, Apasa the capital of Arzawa, had existed at the site for centuries prior. Ephesus came under the control of the Romans in 133 BC, and even though it was made the capital of Asia Province by Augustus in 27 BC, rather than being designated a Roman colony like some of the other major cities of Asia minor, it had been granted special status as a free city. Further, since Asia was a senatorial province, the Emperor did not apply direct rule, and less control was exercised over it from the central government in Rome, meaning that the culture and economy of Ephesus was more independent from Rome. By the time Paul arrived in the 1st century AD, Ephesus was the capital of the Province of Asia, had an estimated population of about 200,000, and was one of the greatest cities in the Roman Empire, eclipsed only by Rome and Alexandria, with Antioch and Corinth close behind (Strabo, Geography; Acts 18:19, 19:1). Located at the mouth of the Cayster River and the Mediterranean Sea, it was a center of commerce with roads radiating out to cities near and far. Its strategic positioning as a premier port contributed to its rise as one of the most wealthy and influential cities in the Roman Empire, and travelers such as Paul used the port to set sail to other coastal cities (Acts 18:21). However, the harbor, which made the city a major center of trade and travel, became covered with silt long ago. In the Roman period, it required constant clearing to prevent the river from blocking it with silt, a problem common to Mediterranean ports because of the small tides (Strabo, Geography; Tacitus, Annals). Now, the coast is about 6 miles from the ancient city. Mentioned by numerous writers of antiquity such as Herodotus and Xenophon, and excavated for over 100 years, much is known about Ephesus and the history that occurred there.
After an initial visit, Paul went back to Ephesus in about 52 AD during the reign of Claudius, making it his temporary home (Acts 19:1-20:1). During his approximately 30 years of traveling ministry, Ephesus was one of the places in which Paul stayed the longest time. On his second visit to Ephesus, Paul lived there for over 2 years and 3 months, perhaps 3 years in the Province of Asia (Acts 19:8-10, 20:1, 31). In this premier city of Asia, Paul brought the Gospel, taught extensively, helped start the local church, mentored church leaders, performed miracles, opposed paganism and magic, wrote 1 Corinthians, and may have even faced wild beasts in the arena (Acts 18:19-20, 19:8-20:1; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 4:12). A tradition suggests that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from the “Paul Tower” near the harbor, but even if he was imprisoned for a short time in Ephesus, it is more likely that he would have been in a house arrest situation similar to Rome.
During Paul’s absence, Aquila and Priscilla had stayed in Ephesus after meeting Paul in Corinth, becoming Christians, and traveling there with him (Acts 18:18-26). When Apollos of Alexandria arrived in the city, preaching what he knew about Jesus, the couple instructed him more accurately on what had come to pass, and Apollos soon became an influential evangelist and teacher in the early Church (Acts 18:24-28). Apollonius, the full version of the name, was a name found frequently in Alexandria and other parts of Roman Egypt, but almost never elsewhere (Witherington, Acts of the Apostles). Perhaps Apollos had heard the teachings of, or at one time had even been a student of Philo of Alexandria before he left Egypt and became a Christian and colleague of Paul. In addition to Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, Erastus, who Paul met in Corinth, may have also been with Paul for a while in Ephesus (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23; 2 Timothy 4:20).
When Paul arrived back in Ephesus in about 52 AD, there was already a small Christian community developing. Ephesus, as the largest and most important city in Asia Minor, preoccupied with wealth and steeped in paganism, would present obstacles for the Christians and the spread of the Gospel, but ultimately the church there would become strong. As was his typical practice, Paul went to the synagogue to teach and reason that Jesus was the prophesied Christ, building on the knowledge of the Bible that the Jews and God fearers there had (Acts 19:8). A substantial community of Jews resided in Ephesus and had been there since as early as the 3rd century BC, implying that there was at least one synagogue (Josephus, Antiquities and Against Apion; Acts 18:19, 19:8). Although the building itself has not yet been identified, a later inscription mentioning a synagogue ruler was found at Ephesus, demonstrating that a synagogue existed there (I. Eph. 4.1251). A menorah symbol was also carved into one of the steps leading up to the 2nd century AD library of Celsus, which at least implies the presence of practicing Jews in the Roman period. Although the library of Celsus was magnificent, it was finished in 135 AD by Julius Aguila in honor of his father, Celsus, a former Roman senator and governor of Asia Province, long after the time of the New Testament. However, it is possible that Paul could have met this Celsus or his family while he was in Ephesus, but Celsus would only have been a boy of about 10 years old. The Callippia Spring, which is inside the city, has also been suggested as a place that the synagogue would have been located near due to the desire for moving water in ritual cleansing, but as one can see from Roman period Jerusalem, this is unnecessary (Pliny, Natural History). However, as had happened in many other cities, some of the Jews opposed the Gospel and began to slander Paul and Christianity, prompting Paul to make a change of venue (Acts 19:9).
Because the synagogue was no longer a viable place for Paul to teach, he moved to the “school of Tyrannus,” where he taught daily for 2 years (Acts 19:9-10). It is possible that Paul taught in this “school” or lecture hall, as other scholars of the period would have, from the 5th hour to the 10th hour (about 11am to 4pm) according to the addition of a few ancient manuscripts of Acts, for those were typical teaching hours of schools in antiquity, beginning after the normal Roman business day had concluded, which occupied the first 4 or 5 hours of the day (Metzger, Textual Commentary; Codex Bezae; Martial, Epigrams). Although the New Testament does not elaborate on this “Tyrannus,” it was probably the name of the man who owned the school or lecture hall. Although the individual in Acts cannot be positively identified at this time, several people with the name Tyrannus have been discovered in inscriptions from Ephesus, including at least three from the 1st century AD who could have owned a school or lecture hall (Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History; Tyrannus, son of Apollonius, the priest of Ares IEph. 3417; M. Pacuvius Tyrannus the Curator IEph. 1001; L. Tarutilius Tyrannus the Curator IEph. 1012 and 1029; I. Eph. 20B.40 from 54-59 AD; 1012.4 from 92-93 AD on a column in the Prytaneum as one of a list of Curetes). There is also a fragmentary inscription mentioning a Tyrant, another tentative interpretation of the name, but this is unlikely (IEph. 1377). As for the location of the lecture hall, two known buildings have been suggested. Adjacent to the Library of Celsus, a building designated as an “auditorium” or lecture hall by a 3rd century AD inscription could be a possibility, although some scholars argue that it was used as a courtroom for the proconsul (Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History). A less likely possibility is the “Neronian Hall” near the auditorium area, hypothesized to have been called the school of the Tyrant, in reference to Nero. However, not only was Claudius in power when Paul began teaching at the school, but since the name Tyrannus is attested at 1st century Ephesus, this idea is very tenuous. If it is assumed that one of the prominent men in Ephesus named Tyrannus owned the school, it is still unknown how Paul was able to use this venue to preach the Gospel and teach the Word of God. Only educated guesses may be made, but perhaps this Tyrannus became a Christian, or perhaps he sponsored Paul as a curiosity, or perhaps Paul paid to rent the hall. As at Athens and Corinth, Paul continued to work in the agora as a tent maker, earning money so that he could carry on his ministry.
During the time that Paul was teaching in the school, he would have been working at the commercial agora of Ephesus in the mornings, interacting with customers, artisans, and citizens on their way to and from other parts of the city. In Ephesus there was both a state agora and a large commercial agora, which measured 360 by 360 feet and was located near the theater. Ephesus in the 1st century also had bath complexes (at the state agora), a monument fountain built by Caius Sextilius Pollio from 97 AD, a stadium, a gymnasium, a centrally located brothel with gambling tables, a temple to Augustus in the center of the state agora, complete with an inscription mentioning Augustus, Tiberius, and Artemis (McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament), a temple to Roma and Julius Caesar, a temple of Domitian (one of the largest temples in the city which also had a statue of Domitian thought to be about 23 feet tall when it was still intact), a “portico of the Bankers (I. Eph. 3065), paved streets, the largest theater in the Roman Empire, houses with multiple stories, some of which included mosaic floors, marble walls, heated bathrooms, and running water, and of course the famous temple of Artemis. Many features of Roman period Ephesus, such as the Odeon, were not built until the 2nd century AD or later.
In this Hellenistic city of paganism and mysticism, Paul encountered those who practiced magic and attempted to control demons (Acts 19:13-19). One of these men, a Jew named Sceva (from Greek skeuos meaning “vessel”?) who called himself a high priest and had 7 “sons,” possibly a professional designation, was a “priest” of magic who dabbled in the occult, to his own peril. Certain sects of 1st century Judaism had tendencies to practice magic and the commanding of demonic spirits, so this is unsurprising (Josephus, Antiquities; Acts 9:13-16; Luke 11:15-20). In 1st century Ephesus, the practice of magic, divination, and astrology were extremely popular and demonic activity was common, and even Artemis herself was associated with magic spells (Philo, Natural History; Brinks, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”). An altar found in Ephesus was dedicated to both Artemis “savior” and “the good daimon” (I. Eph. 1255; cf. Acts 19:24-27). In the Roman world, magic and astrology were more common among the lower classes of society, who Paul interacted frequently with in the agora (Philostratus, Vitae Sophistarum and Vita Apollonii). Although people in antiquity believed in natural causes of sickness and natural remedies, they also believed in the supernatural, which they often thought could be appeased or manipulated through magic or sacrifice. Many of these magical formulas and spells were written on scrolls and codices, and their purpose was to command or manipulate deities, spirits, and supernatural powers. In contrast, Paul and the other Christian Apostles made it clear that God could not be forced or manipulated, but instead that prayer to God for needs, guidance, and healing was the practice of Christianity (Acts 9:40, 12:5-7; Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18; James 4:14-15). Magic writings, magical words spoken or inscribed, rings, amulets, bracelets, and necklaces thought to have powers were all common (Keener, Acts). The price of these magical documents and items varied, but great wealth was probably expended in the agora in exchange for them. One type of magic formula was even called “Ephesia grammata” in reference to Ephesus (Plutarch, Moral; Clement of Alexandra, Stromata). Syncretism was a problem in Ephesus, like it was in Corinth, but in Ephesus it took the form of magic, Artemis worship, and Emperor worship (Acts 19:18). However, after Christianity had spread through Ephesus and people understood the falsehood of their syncretistic practices, many of the owners of these magical scrolls and codices, amounting to about 50,000 drachmae, burned the texts in sight of everyone in Ephesus, probably in the middle of the commercial agora (Acts 19:17-19).
During the more than 2 years of ministry in Ephesus, which is only briefly covered, Paul and the Christians probably encountered other obstructions and persecutions, which were not recorded by Acts. It is even possible that Paul was briefly imprisoned in Ephesus, or at least that he was condemned to battle wild animals in the arena. In his letter to the Corinthians, written from Ephesus, Paul stated that he “fought wild beasts at Ephesus,” and that he and the Apostles had been exhibited as men condemned to death, and as a “spectacle” to the world (1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Corinthians 4:9; the Greek word refers specifically to beast fighting in the arena, not to any general fight with animals). In his next letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote that in Asia Province he and the brethren despaired of life, but God delivered them from death (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). Later, in a letter to Timothy, Paul stated that he was rescued out of the lion’s mouth, although this was probably in reference to later events in Rome (2 Timothy 4:17). From antiquity until modern times, the statement about fighting wild beasts at Ephesus has been interpreted as either an actual arena fight against lions and other wild animals, or as a figure of speech used to describe people violently opposed to the Gospel. It is possible that in using the language of fighting beasts, Paul may have been referring to episodes similar to the rioting, fanatical followers of Artemis that tried to lynch him as “wild beasts” he had to contend with, since the word is found in figurative usage (Malherbe, “The Beasts at Ephesus”). However, the event of the rioting mob took place just before Paul left Ephesus and probably would not have been included in 1 Corinthians, suggesting a reference to an earlier episode, and possibly his being displayed as a “spectacle” in the arena at Ephesus. Further, many ancient church scholars considered the passage to be referring to an actual battle with beasts (Hippolytus, Ambrosiaster, Theodoret of Cypus). Early Christian apocryphal literature also recorded that Paul fought with beasts, and specifically a lion, in the stadium at Ephesus (Acts of Titus; Acts of Paul). While apocryphal literature of the early Church often contains divergent theology or fictional stories, sections expanding on historical events mentioned in the New Testament could contain accurate and useful information. About 108 AD, the church leader Ignatius of Antioch was forced to go to Rome in chains and fight with wild beasts in the arena, although he also spoke of the beasts figuratively as his human opponents (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians). Many of the early Christians suffered such a fate. In the Roman Republic and Empire, a bestiarius was a person who went into arena combat against a powerful wild animal, either as a form of execution or a combat competition similar to gladiators. The animals were typically lions or bears, which were hungry, angry, and ready to kill any human near them. According to Cicero, one such lion successfully “dispatched” 200 bestiarii. When a person was condemned to death ad bestias as an enemy of the state, they were forced into the arena unarmed and often chained, with virtually no hope of survival, especially if multiple beasts were available to be sent against the condemned. During times of persecution, many Christians in the Roman Empire were sentenced to death by beast as a spectacle in the arenas, probably beginning in the reign of Claudius. A 1st century oil lamp from Asia Province depicts a man, condemned ad bestias, being attacked by two lions. Similar artwork, including a marble relief, has also been discovered at Ephesus, and a wall painting depicting gladiators and lions in the arena was found in the theatre at Corinth (Osborne, “Paul and the Wild Beasts”). According to Roman accounts, including a letter to Cicero, Roman citizens and persons of distinction were even thrown to the beasts, even though technically it was unlawful (Bowen, “I Fought with Beasts at Ephesus”). Therefore, Paul as a Roman citizen could certainly have been sentenced to this torture, especially if the mob had been demanding his death to the government of Ephesus. Numerous times Paul endured punishment that was not supposed to be carried out on a Roman citizen, such as being beat with rods on three separate, known occasions. Roman documents record stories of prisoners committing suicide rather than facing death by wild animal. Early Christians such as Tertullian and Cyprian described the practice as perverse, inhuman, and repulsive. Perhaps when Paul was at Ephesus and his enemies opposed his preaching and teaching, he forced into the arena at the Ephesus stadium as a bestiarii, but he survived and carried on his mission. Arguments have been made that Paul was never arrested or imprisoned in Ephesus, and although there is nothing explicit about this in the Ephesus narratives, Paul does refer to his multiple imprisonments even before Rome, and non-canonical literature records the event, allowing the possibility of an actual beast fight in Ephesus (2 Corinthians 6:5, 11:23).
Near the end of his time in Ephesus, Paul faced severe opposition from artisans and supporters of the cult of Artemis, due to the rising influence and impact of Christianity in Ephesus and beyond (Acts 19:23-35). The leader of the opposition, a silversmith named Demetrius, probably encountered Paul on a regular basis in the agora. Archaeological investigations at Ephesus revealed that in the commercial agora, shops belonging to silversmiths have been found along “Arkadiane Street,” which ran from the theater to the harbor (I. Eph. 547). Various Roman period inscriptions in Ephesus specifically document silversmiths, and even mention a head of the silversmith guild and a silversmith who was also the temple warden for Artemis, which may have been positions held by Demetrius the silversmith (I. Eph. 425.10; I Eph. 2212.a.6-7; I Ephes. 636.9-10, M. Antonias Hermeias, silversmith and temple warden; McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament; Witherington, Acts of the Apostles; Keener, Acts). In fact, a Demetrius, son of Menophilus, is known from inscriptions as a temple warden in the middle or late 1st century AD (I. Eph. 1578a; Filson, “Ephesus and the New Testament”). Although we do not know if this was the same Demetrius mentioned in Acts, his name, position, date, and prominence suggest the possibility. These silversmiths apparently made silver shrines containing an image of Artemis, not silver statues of Artemis (Acts 19:24). Small terracotta images of Artemis were probably purchased by those who could only afford the most inexpensive cult objects, but silver and gold statuettes of Artemis are also known, including a donation to Ephesus by Vibius Salutaris in about 103 AD (IGRR 1.467; Keener, Acts). Perhaps even more applicable is a 1st century BC bronze mold of a miniature Artemis temple with her statue inside, which could have been filled with molten silver to make these shrine (Metropolitan Museum). As followers of Artemis and as craftsmen, the silversmiths saw a legitimate threat to their cult and their business if people continued to accept Christianity and reject the worship of Artemis (Acts 19:24-27). Artisans were considered part of the lower classes, and their status and lifestyle depended on the money obtained through their craft (Plutarch, Pericles; Acts 19:25). In Ephesus, anyone threatening or interfering with the cult of Artemis was taken quite seriously, demonstrated by the execution of 45 people from Sardis for interrupting an Artemis festival (I. Eph. 2; Sokolowski, “A New Testimony on the Cult of Artemis of Ephesus”). Therefore, the riot with probable intent to lynch Christians in the theater was quite within expectations for 1st century Ephesus (Acts 19:28-40). In the midst of this riot, Alexander, who was put forward by the Jews, perhaps to explain that they were not with Paul and these Christians, seems to have been a coppersmith in Ephesus and was also greatly opposed to Paul and the Gospel (Acts 19:33-34; 2 Timothy 4:12-15).
Dragged into the great theater by the frenzied rioters and followers of Artemis, probably down what was later called Arkadiane Street from the nearby agora, a paved boulevard about 36 feet wide and more than 1700 feet long, Gaius and Aristarchus from Macedonia were faced with thousands of angry Ephesians. This theater was the largest in the Roman world, accommodating about 24,000 people at the time of this episode in Acts, having been remodeled and expanded during the reign of Claudius, with further remodeling done during the reigns of Nero and Trajan (Trebilco, “Asia”). Built into Mount Pion and measuring 495 feet in diameter the theater hosted not only performances, but according to inscriptions found at Ephesus, this theater was also the official meeting place of the city for public speeches and assemblies, and therefore the logical place for the rioters to hold a public assembly about their concerns with Paul and Christianity. Paul, who wanted to join the assembly, was prevented by disciples and some of the “Asiarchs” who were friends with him (Acts 19:30-31). An “Asiarch,” or “Ruler of Asia Province,” was a locally appointed official who served as a leader of the political organization of the Roman province (Strabo, Geography; Kearsley, “The Asiarchs”). The 1st century scholar, Strabo, actually mentions Asiarchs (plural) from Ephesus, just as Acts does (Strabo, Geography). Although scholars discovered that Asiarchs also oversaw administration of the Imperial cult, this added duty was not until later in the 2nd century AD, and therefore the political motives of keeping the peace in Ephesus were primary, rather than disagreement with religious beliefs. Those in the theater were then confronted by the “town clerk” (grammateus), the title for the chief executive magistrate in Roman period Ephesus, attested in inscriptions of the 1st century AD found at Ephesus (Acts 19:35-41; Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History). These officials, directly responsible to the Romans, kept records, oversaw the deposit of money into the temple, and served as a registrar (Apollonius of Tyana, Letters). They were so powerful that some of them even appear on coins of Ephesus from the reign of Augustus. If unlawful assemblies occurred, including riots that might end in illegal executions, the “town clerk” knew that according to Roman law and practice in Asia minor, severe repercussions would come to the city, and to the clerks personally (Witherington, Acts; Dio Chrysostom; SEG 28.863). Therefore, it was in the best interest of Ephesus and the town clerk to gain control of the riot, persuade them to calm down, and disperse them (Acts 19:35-41). In his speech, the town clerk appealed to the rule of law, and suggested that they appeal to the proconsuls in the Roman district courts of Asia, one of which was located at Ephesus (Pliny, Natural History). The reference to proconsuls (plural), appears to reflect a specific situation that was in effect during the end of 54 AD and the beginning of 55 AD (Acts 19:38). According to Roman records, when Claudius died and Nero took over as Emperor, the proconsul of Asia, M. Junius Silvanus, was poisoned by his opportunistic subordinates Helius and Celer, who then served as acting proconsuls until the arrival of a new, offically appointed proconsul (Tacitus, Annals; Dio Cassius, Roman History). This would place the riot around early 55 AD, which agrees with other chronological markers found in Acts, and further demonstrates the historical accuracy with which Luke recorded the events of Acts. While the town clerk appealed to the rule of law, he also engaged in the discussion concerning the great Artemis of Ephesus and her temple, which for most of those in attendance was probably the primary concern (Acts 19:35-37).
The cult of Artemis in Ephesus had a powerful and ancient following, with followers so dedicated that religious life in Ephesus was unique. Established more than 1000 years before Paul arrived in Ephesus, the worship of Artemis was not one that could be ignored or easily overturned. Worship of the goddess was allegedly more ancient than the Greek migration to the city, which was named after one of the founders (Pausanias Description of Greece). These Greek settlers who founded Ephesus on the site of former Apasu seem to have simply renamed the Anatolian mother goddess as Artemis and continued her cult, adding in Greek components (Pausanias, Description of Greece; cf. similarities to Cybele, Astarte, and Ishtar). The cult of Artemis had become so powerful and popular even outside of Ephesus, that during the Roman period, there were at least 33 temples to Artemis in the Empire, and prominent generals and politicians often offered sacrifices at the temple (Strabo, Geography; Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War; Acts 19:27, 35). Although many other gods were worshiped at Ephesus, including deified Emperors, she was by far the most important deity in the 1st century. Even in the 2nd century AD, after Christianity had been well established in the city, the worship of Artemis was still the most prominent in Ephesus (Pausanias, Description of Greece). Although an early cult center must have existed, attributed to the Amazons, the exact date of this is unknown (Callimachus, Hymn to Artemis). In the 7th century BC, this ancient temple to Artemis was destroyed by a flood, but under orders from King Croesus of Lydia it was rebuilt, out of marble, around 550 BC. Destroyed by a fire in 356 BC, it was rebuilt yet again, but on an even grander scale, taking 120 years to finish and called one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (Pliny, Natural History; Antipater of Sidon, Epigrams). This magnificent temple was one of the largest and most impressive in the Hellenistic world, and about four times as large as the Parthenon in Rome. In the time of Paul, the Temple of Artemis was the most important building in the region. After years of searching, the ruins of the temple were rediscovered in 1869 by J. T. Wood, but alas all that remained were column fragments and some foundations. Situated on a platform about 425 by 239 feet, the temple itself was 342 by 163 feet with 127 columns that were 60 feet tall and over 6 feet thick, 36 of which were sculptured and overlaid with gold (Pliny, Natural History). Built northeast of the city near the Selinus River, on marshy soil to protect the structure from earthquakes, at one time the waves of the Mediterranean would come up to the temple (Strabo, Geography; Pliny, Natural History).
Artemis was a mother goddess associated with virginity, fertility, magic, astrology, and hunting. Inscriptions from Ephesus also describe Artemis as a savior and a goddess who was able to answer prayers (Trebilco, “Asia”). Animal bones have been discovered around the temple, indicating that sacrifices were made to her at the over 30 foot tall altar and the statue of the goddess, located in the central courtyard (Bammer, “Recent Excavations at the Altar of Artemis in Ephesus”). Statues of Artemis from the 1st century AD have been discovered at Ephesus, including a nearly intact human sized marble statue which was carefully packed in dirt inside the Hestia sanctuary, giving an idea of the statue which once stood in the temple of Artemis (Wotschitzky, “Ephesus: Past, Present, and Future”). However, the Roman period temple apparently housed a large image of Artemis that had been carved out of ebony, not marble (Pliny, Natural History). The known statues of Artemis are decorated with a zodiac necklace, animal figurines, and unidentified objects on the chest and stomach of the image, with various theories suggesting breasts, bull testicles, eggs, or fruits, but nearly all agree that they are representative of fertility (Edwards, “Paul’s Ephesus Riot”). Yet, Artemis was also known as a perpetually virgin goddess, and her cult was quite different from that of Aphrodite which was known in Corinth (Brinks, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”; 1 Corinthians 6:15-16).
Artemis and her magnificent temple functioned as the focal point of Ephesus, and threats to it would be responded to with fervent action (Acts 19:27, 35). The allegations such as robbing the temple, although false, would also have been taken seriously by the citizens of Ephesus, as the temple of Artemis also functioned like a bank (Acts 19:37; Dio Chrysostom, Orations). The true problem for Artemis worship from Christians, however, was spiritual and ideological. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they were a temple of God, in contrast to the temple of Artemis in their city (Ephesians 2:19-22; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 2 Corinthians 6:16). The city of Ephesus also considered itself the “guardian” of the temple of Artemis (Acts 19:35). In Acts, Luke used the Greek word neokoros, meaning temple guardian or caretaker (Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon). A few scholars have claimed that the use of this title for Ephesus is anachronistic, but a coin of Ephesus from the rein of Nero, who began his reign just before the riot, calls Ephesus the neokoros, demonstrating that “neokoros” was used during the time of Paul in relation to Ephesus being the temple guardian of Artemis (Biguzzi, “Ephesus, its Artemision, its Temple to the Flavian Emperors”; I. Eph. 300; Coin of about 65 AD, Nero began rein in 54 AD).
Paul also stated that gods made from hands are not gods, which was a direct attack on two beliefs of the followers of Artemis (Acts 19:26). First, the Ephesians obviously believed that Artemis was real, and that she was a goddess. Second, a legend had developed from ancient times that a sacred “stone” (diopetes) image of Artemis had actually fallen down from Zeus (Acts 19:35). The practice of worshiping a stone image of Artemis thought to have fallen from heaven was known from other areas, such as the nearby Taurus mountains (Euripides, Iphigenia in Taurica; Cicero, In Verrum; Witherington, Acts of the Apostles). One such alleged “meteorite” from heaven was even discovered at Ephesus. Subsequent studies, however, have shown that these supposed “meteorites” that fell from Zeus were in fact very ancient carved stones which took on a legendary origin, including the “stone from heaven” at Ephesus, which was examined and found to be chloritic schist originally made into a special tool or weapon (Oakley, “The Diopet of Ephesus”). A 3rd century AD coin from Myra even depicts one of these stones as a sacred image. While the pagans in the Roman period regarded their sacred stone of Artemis as fallen from heaven, and perhaps even the wooden statue Artemis as also from heaven, Paul knew that these were merely objects made from human hands. The cult of Artemis was prolific in Ephesus until the influence of Christianity eclipsed it over the next 200 years. The temple was destroyed by the Goths in 262 AD, the worship of this goddess eventually faded into obscurity, ruins of the temple were reused in other building projects, and today only foundations and today only column fragments remain of what was once the center of one of the most popular cults in the ancient world.
Several years later, around 61 or 62 AD while imprisoned in Rome, Paul could not visit Ephesus, but he wrote the letter to the Ephesians, which became one of the books of the New Testament (Ephesians 1:1, 3:1, 6:20). P49, a papyrus fragment of Ephesians from about 250 AD, is currently the earliest known surviving copy of this letter. A few years later, the disciple turned Apostle John was living in Ephesus, perhaps moving there when the revolt broke out in Judea (Irenaeus, Adversus Haeresus “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia”). It was in Ephesus that John wrote the Gospel of John, and perhaps also the 3 epistles of John. Many of the early leaders of the Church, including those writing at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, stated that John the disciple and later Apostle lived at Ephesus, wrote the Gospel of John there, and that he was also the author of the epistles of John and Revelation (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho; Papias; Ignatius; Clement of Alexandria; Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History; Jerome, Lives; Swete, “John of Ephesus”; Galatians 2:9; Revelation 1:1). In 3 John, he even addresses the letter to Gaius, who was present in Ephesus at one point and must have known John, although Gaius seems to have moved to Corinth by this time (3 John 1:1; Acts 19:29; Romans 16:23).
Late in his life, John was living at Ephesus during a time in which not only was the worship of Artemis thriving, but the Imperial cult and Emperor worship was increasing in the city, being home to at least 3 imperial temples and numerous statues of emperors (Biguzzi, “Ephesus, its Artemision, its Temple to the Flavian Emperors”). Opposition to idolatry and paganism is a theme found often in Revelation, particularly in the letters to the 7 churches of Asia. In Revelation, the Ephesian church was listed first, as Ephesus was a port city and the beginning of a highway, which connected to the next six cities. The church at Ephesus was praised for its perseverance, opposition to evil, and its rejection of false apostles and the pagan practices of the Nicolaitans, but they were also criticized for leaving their first love and needing to repent (Revelation 2:1-7). The eating of the tree of life may have been mentioned specifically to the Ephesians in contrast to the sacred date palm of Artemis, known from coins of Ephesus (Revelation 2:7). As Christianity is incompatible with these pagan systems, and since John was one of the foremost leaders of the Church at this time, Domitian (81-96 AD) saw him as a threat, attempted to have him tortured and killed, and then exiled him to Patmos where he thought that John would die in obscurity (Irenaeus; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History; Revelation 1:9). Banished to Patmos, which was a common area for the Romans to exile undesirables, John wrote Revelation on the island (Pliny Natural History 4.69-70; Tacitus Annals 4.30; Revelation 1:9). However, he was allowed to leave exile on the island a few years later when Nerva became Emperor and pardoned him, and he returned to Ephesus. John died in time of Trajan, which was after 98 AD (Irenaeus; Polycarp; Revelation 1:9). A 2nd century AD source mentions that John died, or specifically was killed by Jews, seemingly fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus, then buried at Ephesus, although the testimony of this martyrdom is often questioned (Papias of Hierapolis; Matthew 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-40).
According to early Church history, the first bishop of Ephesus was Apostle Timothy, student of the Apostle Paul (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History; 1 Timothy 1:3). He may have died about 97 AD, soon after John returned to Ephesus. The apocryphal Acts of Timothy states that in the year 97 AD, Timothy tried to stop the yearly sacred procession “Artemision,” in which the dressed and decorated statue of Artemis was paraded through the streets, by preaching the gospel Xenophon, Ephesiaka; Knibbe, “Via Sacra Ephesiaca”). Angering the followers of Artemis, they beat him, dragged him through the streets, and killed him. Onesimus was mentioned as the leader of the church in Ephesus just after 100 AD and the death of John (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians). It is possible that this could be the same Onesimus who had lived in Colossae before fleeing and then being freed after his return by his former master Philemon (Colossians 4:9; Philemon 10).
The “ichthus” wheels seen at Ephesus, which are 8 spoked wheels supposedly representing the Greek letters for ichthus/fish as an acrostic of Jesus Christ God Son Savior, look similar to the 6 spoked wheel symbol associated with Jupiter. Although these may have been symbols carved by early Christians, it is doubtful if any of them found at Ephesus predate the 3rd century AD.
In the 4th century AD, a rumor that Mary may have spent the last years of her life in Ephesus was recorded, although it also states that Mary was buried in Jerusalem (Epiphanius of Salamis). This seems to have arisen from John living at Ephesus, and the instruction of Jesus that John was supposed to care for her as his own mother (John 19:26-27). However, no early source mentions Mary going to Ephesus with John, and she had probably already died by the time he moved there. Since the 19th century, after alleged visions of a nun published after her death, an old stone building now called “The House of the Virgin Mary” outside of Ephesus has been visited by many pilgrims. No evidence exists for its authenticity.
In the 6th century, Justinian tore down and rebuilt a dilapidated ancient church to commemorate John, which Procopius stated had been set up in early times (Procopius, Buildings; Plommer, “St. John’s Church, Ephesus”). The evidence suggests that originally a tomb or church built over a tomb, perhaps that of John, had been built in the 3rd century or earlier, followed by a Byzantine church constructed by Theodosius in the 4th century. In the Byzantine period, Ephesus was the most important city after Constantinople. However, an earthquake in 614 AD destroyed much of the city, then Islamic attacks in 654, 655, 700, and 716 AD assured its decline to a sparsely populated village.