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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Ephesus: The Early Church
February 16, 2000

After the last couple weeks of kingdom-hopping, Abeja and I felt pretty knowledgeable about the ancient peoples of this region. While the rest of the team is shivering in Central Anatolia and Istanbul, we're having fun in the sun down here along the Mediterranean-Aegean coast of Turkey. Every town we pass through has a history that stretches back into a distant past. Two thousand year-old sarcophagi standing as permanent fixtures in the middle of fields and along backstreets are a
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constant reminder of that fact. As you know, we've seen some amazing ruins: from sunken pirate hideaways, to enchanting cities to destined to be lost in the forests forever. It's been so awesome I thought my days of staring in wonder at the seemingly impossible accomplishments of my Turkish forefathers and mothers were finished. We'd surely seen it all by now, I thought. But I'd clearly spoken too soon, and Selcuk (sel-chook) was waiting to prove me wrong.

This Second Century masterpiece was built in 110AD. It is the grandest of all of the classical ruins. Once fallen, it has now been restored by the Ephesus Preservation and Restoration Project.

In order to fully comprehend all that Selcuk has to offer-from its high mountain backdrops to its fertile coastal valleys-we have to go back in time almost 3000 years. Today the town is a friendly community of small villages sprawled over the valley that lies between the Taurus Mountain Ranges and the Mediterranean Sea. At first glance there's nothing particularly interesting about the place. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that many secrets lie below the surface. No really, I mean that literally! Earthquakes and the dust of thousands of years have literally buried each of the ancient cities time and time again. Once buried, newcomers resettled the province and started the process anew. Now, as a result, there are layers upon layers of history here-seven at least, if we tried to count.

The layer currently at the surface of it all dates back to the Roman Era of First Century BC. The first inhabitants to settle the area, however, are thought to be the one-breasted, female-warrior Amazons. These women, if they really existed, would have founded the city around 2000 BC. The only hint historians have comes from sources found near one of the temples of the mother-goddess, Cybele. Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, replaced Cybele, who was worshipped by the first ancient peoples. Artemis became Diana to the Romans and remained a favorite until Christianity and the rise of the early church.

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During this era of Roman rule, the last Pergamese King-because he had no heirs-bequeathed his land to the Romans. The land spanned the majority of the coastal region of Anatolia. The Romans promptly took it over, as Pergamum was a strong and wealthy land. They made the prosperous Efes their capital city and controlled over 500 Anatolian towns from this new central locale. If the name Efes sounds familiar,it's probably because you've heard its more commonly known name, Ephesus. Yes, you heard me right. This was once Ephesus, as in Ephesians, the Tenth Book of the Bible's New Testament! But we'll get to that later. Two other Biblical characters made a home for themselves in Efes, long before the Apostle Paul came and wrote Ephesians.

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Saint John, who wrote the Bible's Book of John; and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, made their way to Ephesus and retired here from about 37 to 45AD. This fact alone made Ephesus a stop for Christian pilgrims from all over the world. In fact, over the site of St. John's tomb there once stood a magnificent church erected in his honor. Not much of St. John's Basilica still remains. The site, however, is just as frequently visited as it has always been. Not far from the Basilica is the house. Visited by Pope Paul VI in 1967, this site annually draws a substantial crowd. The day of August 15th has been set aside to honor Mary's life and her reunion with Jesus upon death. This major event is attended by Orthodox and Muslim clergy alike. Since Muslims don't believe that Jesus was the Son of God-like Christians do-I was surprised to find that Muslims observe this Holy day as well. What I found is that Muslims recognize Jesus as a great prophet; therefore, they honor Mary as Meryemana, or Mother Mary, the woman who bore the Isa Peygamber, Prophet Jesus.

The Memmius Monument was built in the name of the grandchild of the dictator Sulla in First Century AD. The upper part included statues of the members of the family. Do I pass as a granddaughter, perhaps? :)
After suffering great persecution in Rome, John returned to Ephesus for only a short time before his death. His struggles become apparent when you read the gospel according to John. The gospel was written only five or so years after the crucifixion; John's words were directed to a people who were wondering what to do now that Jesus was dead. In later years, around 53AD, Paul followed suit, delivering a similar message. Only his teachings were aimed at the churches that became established as a result of John's ministries. These congregations needed no more convincing and now readily accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. The small congregations believed that Jesus Christ died and was resurrected three days later to join God in Heaven. They felt that Jesus' death cleansed the sins of those who believed; thereby reserving a place by His side in Heaven. It was in Antioch, during Paul's first trip (47-49AD), that these followers of Christ were first called Christians.

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Paul made three missionary journeys through Asia Minor and Macedonia. He spent his years traveling to each of the new churches, teaching and encouraging a struggling people. Most of his contributions to the Biblical text are, in fact, letters he wrote to the early churches at that time. As a forerunner for Christ, he wrote to the Gauls in Galatia, the Philipians in Phillipi, the Corinthians, the Colossians and even the Ephesians. The Romans, a very powerful and influential people, still worshipped Artemis and did not take well to Paul's infringement on their market. Remember, Ephesus was the capital city of Roman Asia. The nation's success made Ephesus, with its population of 250,000 people, into an elite haven for the top scholars, artists, and politicians of the day. The infrastructure was built up into one of the most magnificent of its time. With marble streets, statues, temples, a grand library, running water, a tri-level bath house, three small theaters, a grand theater seating 25,000 spectators, and an even larger stadium, Ephesus attracted visitors from cities as distant and far away as Jerusalem and Athens.

During the Artemis festivals, which took place every April, crowds numbering one million poured into the city. It was a seemingly glorious time of theater, music, and exquisite luxury. Rumor has it that the stairs of the Grand Theater could be seen as far away as the coastal beaches back then. It's in this theater, however, that the fall of the Roman revelry began. It was 53AD when Paul, on his way through Roman Asia, stopped in to visit the popular and infamous capital city of Ephesus. He found a small Christian church and a large following of Artemesian disciples. His preaching immediately found itself attracting a growing population of Artemesian converts. So much so that local silversmiths joined together in the name of "Great Artemis of Ephesus," to defend her reign. Upset by the fall in sales of small statues of the goddess, the silversmiths purposely incited a march that resulted in Paul's being taken to court. Despite the fact that Paul and his companions were found innocent in court, he was compelled to leave Ephesus. The scene had gained too much negative attention. He hoped his departure would prevent the new church from suffering any more hardship due to his presence.

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Seven years later, in 59AD, Paul was arrested. He saw the shores of Anatolia for the last time as he was deported back to Judaea on the charge of inciting a riot in Jerusalem. However, he had fully accomplished his mission, and died a martyr's death. By the time he left the Seven Churches of Revelations, which were the Seven Churches of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodecia, and Thyatira, they were all well established. Even though this new faith would struggle for the next two hundred years, it was from these roots that Christianity spread throughout the world. Christianity finally began to see a rise in acceptance around 250AD. At the time, it posed a great threat to the Romans whose empire was dangerously near its demise. Decius, seeing no other way out, declared a general persecution of Christians. It was already too late, however: The tables had turned. In addition to the Christians, the Goths and the Persians took the opportunity to seize and conquer the Roman Empire. The Goths burned and destroyed both Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis in 262AD.

Soon thereafter, Constantine succeeded the throne. He built a great new city, which came to be called Constantinople, and dedicated it as the capital of New Rome in 330AD. He built Constantine on the site of Hellenic Byzantium, thus beginning a new era, the Byzantine. Constantine was a revolutionary leader. In his short time as Emperor of New Rome, he united the empire by declaring equal rights for all religions. He organized the first universal council meeting, which convened in 325AD.


bequeath - to leave or give by will

sarcophagus - a stone coffin, usually bearing sculpture or inscriptions

clergy - the body of men set apart in the Christian church, by due
ordination, to the service of God

revelry - boisterous merrymaking

silversmith - one that makes, repairs, or replates articles of silver

And there we have the story of the early church. Just think about how long Christianity has been in the works! We as trekkers followed the same path of Moses and the Israelites, from Egypt up to Mt. Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments, and into the Promised Land. We then made our way to Jerusalem, where Jesus was born and died, just as the Old Testament prophecies predicted he would. Now in Turkey, we visit Ephesus and the home of the early churches. The entire story has unfolded. Christianity is born, and its message of encouragement, peace, grace, love, and faith will live on in each of us who believes. Amen.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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