Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

Artemis Of Ephesus

Posted by foryourfaith on April 20, 2011

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In his third missionary journey (about AD 53-58), Paul went to Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia; he spent nearly three years there, teaching “both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Ephesus was in ancient times a major on the trade routes between Greece and Asia Minor. It was there that Paul caused “no little stir” (19:23) among members of one of the most venerated pagan cults, that of Artemis.

The city of Ephesus was probably founded in the 11th century BC by Ionian Greeks, but even before their coming, the cult of a goddess identified with Artemis existed in the area. It is likely that the worship of Artemis spread outward along the trade routes.

The Ephesian Artemis was a form of the ancient Asian and Anatolian mother-goddess; as such, she was revered throughout much of the Mediterranean world. The Greeks identified her with their Artemis (Roman Diana), daughter of Zeus and Leto and sister of Apollo. But she was different from this virgin huntress, moon goddess, and protector of chastity. Rather, the Ephesian Artemis was a patroness of fertility. She was represented in sculpture as having what seem to be numerous breasts, and her garments were adorned with animals and birds.

Though Artemis was revered in many parts of the Roman Empire, the most important center for her worship was in Ephesus. In the sixth century BC, the Cretan architect Cherisiphron erected a great marble edifice in honor of Artemis. After this structure burned down in the fourth century BC, it was rebuilt and was even larger and more splendid than before. The temple became famous as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Acts 19:35 calls Ephesus “temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky.” This stone may have been a meteorite associated with the goddess and kept in her shrine.

The Book of Acts recounts St. Paul’s difficulties in bringing his message to Ephesus (19:23-41). The silversmiths and craftsmen there, whose livelihood depended on the sale of silver objects associated with the worship of Artemis, feared that Paul’s preaching of a rival religion would threaten their jobs. Worse, it appeared to them that Christianity threatened the goddess Artemis herself by denying her divinity: “she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

On one occasion, the opponents to Paul and his missionary companions nearly started a full-scale riot, which would of necessity have involved the Roman authorities. This was averted through the intercession of the town clerk, who succeeded in pacifying the mob that had gathered. However, perhaps because his mission to the pagan population of Ephesus could no longer be safely pursued, Paul left for Macedonia.

The temple of Artemis at Ephesus endured well into the third century AD, but its importance began to lessen with the expansion of Christianity. The temple was finally destroyed by the Goths around AD 262, and very little of it remains today. Around the fifth century, a statue of the goddess near the marketplace was taken down by a Christian and replaced with a cross. On the base was an inscription stating that he had “removed the deceitful image of the demon Artemis.”


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