Ephesus is an ancient Greek city about halfway down the western coast of what is now called Turkey. It is where the Ephesians of the Bible lived. Paul preached there. It is where John wrote his gospel and they say that it is where the Virgin Mary went up to heaven. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus comes from Ephesus.
In our time Ephesus is just some broken-down remains of ancient buildings near the sea.
In Greek and Roman times, Ephesus was:
- The centre of the Roman slave trade from -100 to +100;
- The centre of the cult of Diana, the virgin goddess, known as Artemis to the Greeks;
- One of the main ports of the Mediterranean Sea;
- The main city in Ionia;
- The capital of the Roman province of Asia.
It reached its height about -150 when it had 300,000 people – a giant city in those days, though not as big as Rome or Alexandria.
Giant is right: it had the largest theatre in the Roman empire, one with 50,000 seats. And its Temple of Diana was huge too. One visitor said it “mounted to the clouds”. It took 120 years to build.
The Temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the centre of Diana’s worship. Inside the temple was a big black rock that fell from the sky. (The Kaaba, that square building in Mecca, also has such a rock.) The temple of Roman times was built in -550, but there had been a temple there since the days of Troy.
The temple is gone. In the 300s the Roman Empire became Christian, so the temple was shut down in 381 and destroyed in 405. And then, in 431, all the top bishops of the Church came to Ephesus for the famous Council of Ephesus. In order to stamp out Nestorian Christianity, they said that the Virgin Mary was the “Mother of God”. (The Nestorians said that made no sense, but that is another post.)
Not only is it strange how the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, took the place of Diana, a virgin goddess, but even the old name of the city, Apasas, means “city of the mother goddess.”
The Virgin Mary and Ephesus: When Jesus was on the cross he gave the care of his mother into the hands of John. That much is in the Bible. But there are old stories that go on to say that he went to Ephesus to live and brought Mary with him. And so there is a house on a hill near the city that they say was hers. It has become a place where both Christian and Muslim pilgrims go. August 15th is a special day there – the day they she went up to heaven.
Ephesus was killed by mud, malaria and Christianity: without the temple one of its main industries was lost. Then mud filled up the river on its way to the sea, creating a marsh that spread malaria. The rise of Constantinople to the north did not help either.
– Abagond, 2008.