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Sunday, September 17, 2017


Ephesus as conceived by an artist, seen from the city's amphitheater, where Paul was nearly run out of town by a mob for his preaching.
For anyone wishing to, in effect, travel back in time to get a feeling for what life was like in the first century during the time of the Apostle, Paul, and the birth of Christianity, there is no other place on earth more authentic than trekking through the Ephesian ruins of ancient Turkey. Virtually every other major venue dating from biblical times either no longer exists or has been largely overrun by 21st-century life. Ephesus is located near the western coast of Turkey and the Aegean Sea, has not. Ephesus today is the result of an ongoing archaeological dig--a search for a city abandoned since the 16th century, even its exact location forgotten until modern times. Only Pompeii comes close to it in importance; but that city was definitely not Christian.
Ephesus as seen today from the same amphitheater. Notice the absence of the harbor, one of the chief reason for the city's decline.
In visiting Ephesus during April of 2010, one of my first questions was why the second largest city in the Roman empire (after Rome itself) fell from an estimated population of well over 100,000 inhabitants to virtually zero in little over a thousand years. The answer is long and complex but basically starts with a century or more of clear-cutting the surrounding forests for wood to build the city, not the least of which went into the roof of the Temple of Artemis, the city's main claim to fame during the Roman era. As any agronomist will tell you, no trees means a heavy soil runoff, which gradually filled not just Ephesus' harbor (which was never that big to begin with) but the entire bay connecting it to the sea. The map below gives a better idea of the extent of the topographical disaster than I can describe.
Compare the enhanced satellite maps, the top one showing the biblical map of the area and the extent of the silting. The lower map indicates the location of the present-day ruins and the Cayster River which drains the area leading from the old harbor to the Aegean Sea.
The Temple Artemis is at top-right.
The harbor is at the lower-left.
The ancient city of Ephesus developed in a kind of "U" shape around the three sides of a hill called Mount Pron. Today's tourists coming from the port of Kasudasi enter by way of the right arm of the "U" shape to trek down the main thoroughfare past the ruins (some slightly reconstructed) of temples basilicas, palaces, an agora (marketplace)--the city boasted two of them--and various baths. In fact, there is one called Varius Baths. It's a journey of about one km. The Celsus Library is at the end of the street where one makes a right turn.

The white triangle at bottom-center is metal canopy covering a privately funded archaeological dig to uncover the "terrace" houses built by wealthy Ephesians during the Roman era.
The "main drag" down through a street
lined with ruins leading to the Celsus
The Celsus Library (below) is one of three major landmarks in the city, and by all ac-counts, the most recent (if you count 125 AD as recent). It was not in existence at the time Paul visited the city during the first century. The façade of the library has been carefully reconstructed from original pieces. It was built in memory of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, a Greek who served as governor of Roman Asia from 105 to107. Celsus paid for the construction of the library with his own personal wealth and is buried beneath it. The library was mostly built by his son, Gaius Julius Aquila and once held nearly 12,000 scrolls. Historians speculate that it was designed with an exaggerated entrance so as to enhance its perceived size. On that score the design was a success. The structure is not nearly as big as it looks.

Built into a hillside, the structure is about two rooms deep and was originally two stories tall. The design suggests that by the second century, Roman architecture was becoming quite visually complex--almost Baroque.
The Preaching of St. Paul at
Ephesus, 1649, Eustache Le Sueur
The broad base of the "U" shape is a street paved with marble which passes between main agora where the apostle, Paul preached, and several brothels, before reaching city center and the amphitheater where Paul was per-suaded not to speak in lieu of the fact that his earlier preaching had aroused the ire of silver and goldsmith making a handsome profit from casting small images of Artemis (Diana). The amphi-theater is quite well preserved and is said to have seated 25,000--the largest in the ancient world. Built into the Mt. Pron hillside, it's built slightly off center but nonetheless faces down the broad central avenue toward the harbor. The opening photos (top) give some idea of its size.

Burned once, damaged and rebuilt numerous times, the Temple of Artemis is something of an anticlimax. Today only a single, reconstructed column remains, serving as a glorious base for a pelican bird nest.
Artemis was the goddess
associated with fertility and
the newborn. Her worshippers
apparently had a breast fetish.
Ephesus was once the home of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the astounding, Temple of Artemis which occupies the end of the left "arm" of our "U-shaped" layout. Not only was it the largest such temple in the world at the time, it is described as the most beautiful, some would say, even by modern standards. Today the Temple of Artemis is a quiet stop just outside the city of Selcuk in Turkey on your way to (or from) the ruins of ancient Ephesus. The outline of the massive temple is mostly visible and completely encom-passes a little pond. Roman contemporaries describe a temple with extensive décor-ations. The pediment friezes have been lost but both archaic and classical Greek carv-ings have been found suggesting a long period of construction, reconstruction, or at least the incorporation of former decorative elements into the newest iteration of the Temple

The Temple of Artemis (in red) was almost twice the size of
Athens' Greek Parthenon (in black).
The Temple of Artemis had a legendary end. In 356 AD, a young man named Herostratus set fire to the temple in an attempt to gain fame. Because of its wooden roof, the temple was almost completely destroyed. The people of Ephesus sentences him to death and vowed to punish anyone who repeated his name. Of course, the story of the Great Temple’s destruction and its arsonist were recorded by contemporary historians which in essence giving Herostratus his wish in that we remember his name today.

The most recent archaeological exploration involves what have become known at the Terrace Houses, a group of what we'd call townhouses today, spacious and lavish in their décor, allowing us some idea of how the more well-to-do lived during the classic period of Roman rule.
The ruined interior of the Jewish Synagogue
at Ephesus. Was Paul a "guest speaker" here?


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