The Artemesian City of Ephesus
June 25th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
THE ARTEMESIAN CITY OF EPHESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-25-61 10:50 a.m.
On television and on the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Artemesian City of Ephesus. In the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation:
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…
Remember—remember from whence thou art fallen, and turn, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou turn.
There were seven great wonders in the ancient world: one was at Pharos, the Lighthouse near Alexandria, Egypt; the second, the Great Pyramid near the modern city of Cairo; the third, the wall and the Hanging Gardens in Babylon; the fourth, the Tomb of King Mausolus in Halicarnassus; the fifth, the great statue, the Colossus at Rhodes; the sixth, the sculptured Statue of Jupiter, of Zeus by the incomparable Greek artist Phidias at Mount Olympus where the Olympian games were held; and the seventh, the Temple of Diana in the city of Ephesus.
And of the seven wonders of the ancient world, far and away the most beautiful and the most impressive and the most magnificent was the ancient temple at Ephesus. There was never a structure reared by the hand of man in the story of humanity as beautiful, as lavish, as impressive as the temple in the city of Ephesus. It was larger and more famous than the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Pausanius said, “It surpasses every structure raised by human hands.” And another ancient Greek author said, “I have seen the walls and the Hanging Gardens of old Babylon, the Statute of Olympian Jove, the Colossus of Rhodes, the great labor of the lofty pyramids, and the ancient Tomb of Mausolus. But when I beheld the temple at Ephesus, towering to the clouds, all these other marvels were eclipsed.” In his list, this ancient writer says he has seen six of those wonders. The one he left out was the lighthouse Pharos near Alexandria. But of them all, he says there is nothing approaching in splendor and beauty and magnificence this incomparable temple in Ephesus.
A man by the name of Edward Faulkner wrote a book entitled The Lost Temple, and in it he made a conjectural reconstruction of what it looked like. He was referring to this temple in Ephesus. For centuries and centuries and centuries, it was lost to the world. Where it was built, how it was built, what it looked like, outside of descriptions found in ancient literature, they had no evidence whatsoever. There was a Victorian by the name of J. T. Wood who read that book, The Lost Temple, and, financed by the British Museum, he went to the ancient site of Ephesus to find it. For six solid years, he dug pits all through the vast ruins of that ancient city with no shadow of success; not any intimation of where the great temple once was built.
Then, digging in the theater, the theater of which you read in the Book of Acts, where the great riot was held [Acts 19:24-41], digging in that theater, he came across a Roman inscription. It was placed there in tribute to a Roman by the name of Caius Vibius Salutaris. And this man Salutaris had given several images made out of gold and silver, that weighed each about six or seven pounds, to the temple. And in order for the most people to view his magnificent gift, he also left a trust fund to keep them polished, and shined, and cleaned, and beautified, and in order, and then directed that they be placed on exhibition; when they are taken to the theater for the people to see, that the exhibition be taken through the Magnesian Gate, and then, in the return journey, through the Corresian Gate. That was in order for the most people to see the munificence of this philanthropist.
So when J. T. Wood saw that inscription, found it there in the heaps of the theater, immediately he saw its importance. If he could establish where the Magnesian Gate was and where the Corresian Gate was and then follow the roads, they will converge on the temple. First he found the Magnesian Gate. Then he found the Corresian Gate. Then he followed the roads down, and there, twenty feet beneath the alluvial silt of the Cayster River, he found the ancient temple. It had an unusual architectural characteristic about it: the only Greek temple that was ever made whose great columns were sculptured in deep relief up above the height of a man’s head was this one there in Ephesus. And he found those great sculptured drums. The British Navy came, hauled them off; they’re in the British Museum and you can see them there today, this greatest piece of architectural wonder the world has ever seen.
Now today we’re going to the city of Ephesus. We’re going there in the days of the apostle Paul, who visited from 54 AD to 57 [AD], and we’re going there in the days of the apostle John, who visited the city, who lived in the city, who was pastor of the church in Ephesus from 69 AD to about 100 [AD]. Ephesus was a great commercial city. It had a port. The ships from the Mediterranean came up the Cayster through a canal, through a man-made turning-basin and docked in the very city itself. And it was served by four great roads: one from the north, from Pergamos and Smyrna, down to Ephesus. And one from the northeast—from the ancient capital of Lydia, Sardis—and poured into Ephesus all the revenue and the mercantile trade of Galatia and Phrygia, and all of the interior of Asia Minor. Then it had a road coming from the Euphrates that went by Colosse and Laodicea and poured into Ephesus the great revenues and mercantile trading of all of the Orient. And then it had a road coming from the south, from Miletus and the great river basin of the Meander. It was one of the great commercial cities of the ancient world.
Then it was a great political center. It was a free city. It had its own right of self-government, granted by the Romans themselves, and it was an assize city; that is, it was a place where the Roman courts were held and justice was meted out to the province of Asia. And it was a great political city in the sense of it being a center for the gathering of pilgrims and of citizens all over the Mediterranean world. The Olympic games were held up there in Hellas. Next to the Olympic games, the greatest center of activity, centered around a political and cultural unit, was in the city of Ephesus in the great Artemesian games. The Greek word for the goddess inside of that temple was Artemis, and in the month of May they dedicated to Artemis the great Artemesion: the world-famous games and dramas and pageantry and spectacle, the glitter and brilliance of the whole Greco-Roman empire. The Greek word for the month of May is Artemesion, dedicated to Artemis, and those great convocations were held for a month in extent in the city of Ephesus.
For example, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8, “But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost,” that is, until after May, and the reason for his wanting to remain in Ephesus throughout the month of May is very apparent. He could stay there in that city and preach the gospel as a missionary to the entire civilized world, as pilgrims poured into the city from every part of the Greco-Roman empire. He didn’t get to stay because of the riot that you read about in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts that sent him away [Acts 19:24-20:1].
But that’s Ephesus, a teeming center of political and commercial interest and activity. But Ephesus was first of all and famous for all of everything else, because it was the center of the greatest religious shrine in the world. And the most sacred image, supposed to have fallen from Jupiter out of heaven—the most sacred image, the most sacred goddess, the most sacred idol in all of the world was in the temple there in Ephesus.
Now for us, let’s go into the city of Ephesus by boat, from the Mediterranean into the mouth of the Cayster, through a man-made canal, to the docks and the turning basin, and we’d see the city rising, a vast city rising on the hills to the right. And then to the left about a mile from the hills on the plain of the River Cayster, there rises before us the most gorgeous, breathtaking architectural spectacle the world has ever looked upon. Its gorgeous hues and brilliant colors by which that Parian glittering-white marble is decorated, its golds and its blues and its purples and its scarlets, seem to be the very gift of God from heaven itself.
It was an enormously proportioned temple. It was 425 feet long. It was 225 feet wide. And those great columns rose to the massive height of 60 feet; each one was the gift of a king. And it was decorated, as I have described, like no other temple in the world, with those high sculptured reliefs on each column, up to the height of a man’s head. And 37 of those beautiful columns—130 of them in number all the way around; two of them, two rows, all the way around—37 of those columns were decorated, overlaid with gold, and were covered in jewels, and were intricately carved, the gifts of some of the greatest kings of the ancient world.
Now as we went up the steps and then beyond the columns, there in the inner shrine was a famous altar, which was sculptured by the greatest Greek sculptor next to Phidias: Praxiteles. And an architect said, “That’s not right.” Praxiteles, P-r-a-x-i-t-e-l-e-s, Praxiteles—I can’t say it. That architect is going to have to forgive me. He said, “Preacher, when you preach this morning, be sure and say that name right because all these architects will know it.” He was a great, great Greek sculptor, and that altar was his work. And beyond that beautifully carved altar was a veil, beyond which was the goddess herself, and beyond the goddess was an inner shrine which became a deposit for all of the valuables of the Greco-Roman world; kings and rich men who brought them there for safekeeping.
Now the great temple was first a museum. Through the course of the centuries, many, many rich people brought to it gifts and dedicated them to the goddess. For example, one of the great, great paintings of all time, Apelles’ picture of Alexander the Great holding a thunderbolt in his hand, he gave that beautiful painting to the goddess there in Ephesus.
And it was an asylum. If any man committed a crime anywhere, he could flee from the arrest of the law or from the blood vengeance of the family, and if he escaped to the temple of Ephesus, he was without molestation. And he was free. They had the choicest collection of criminals in the ancient world there at the temple of Ephesus. And from time to time the boundaries of the precinct were extended—first by Mithridates, then by Mark Antony—and finally constrained and circumscribed by Augustus Caesar, who built a wall around it. But any criminal in the world that could get to that temple in Ephesus was free from arrest.
And then it was, as I said, a great bank. Temples were not violated, and the safest place in the world for a man to place his deposits was in that temple at Ephesus, and the world fame of its treasures drew to it all of the great of the world.
And then it was a tremendous business. It was something like you only see in one place in all of the world today. People came there, especially during the Artemesion, and they bought little shrines that were blessed by the priests, and they put them on their chariots and in their vehicles, and they put them on the walls of their houses, and they wore them as medallions around their necks. They were charms, and they were supposed to bring mercies for the journey, and freedom from disease and danger and death, and good fortune, and prosperity in work. And in all of these things and ways, if you had a charm, if you had a little idol, if you had a little shrine from the great temple of the Ephesian Diana, why, it brought to you all of the gifts that a man could want.
I see them everywhere today, those little idols that are on the wall of the house, those little idols that are in the automobile, and those little medallions that are worn around the neck, and in other places I see them: that’s where they came from. It was the gross, dark superstition of men back there in that ancient day that made them look upon those things as fetishes. If they could have a little idol that was blessed by the priest there in the temple of Diana, they were invulnerable to disease, or to disaster, or to accident, or their family was blessed, or their children were kept safe in the way. And that superstition and that ignorance and that idolatry came over into the modern world when Constantine married the church to the ancient, idolatrous worship of the Greco-Roman world, and you see it everywhere about you today. That is where it came from; that is what it is. Because the Lord God said in the great second commandment given by Moses, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” [Exodus 20:4], and you’ll not find it in true Judaism, and you’ll not find it in the Muslim, Islamic religion, and you’ll not find it in true Christianity. The only place where you ever find it is in those people who have inherited, from these idolatrous worshipers at Ephesus and in other places of the Greco-Roman empire, those persuasions that if I have a little idol in my car, or in my house, or hanging on my wall, or around my neck, or bestowed upon my child, then my house, and my home, and my car will be blessed from heaven. That is the darkness of superstition!
There was always an idol temple at Ephesus. The ancient Amazons, those half-mythological warrior women who first inhabited that place in the dawn of history, believed that the mother-goddess of the earth was born there. And they built a temple there, and they worshiped their goddess. And when the Greeks came in the eleventh century under Androclus, and with his Ionians he conquered the city and the Amazons, they found there that idol. The Amazons were great warriors, those women, and they were hunters, they were huntresses. So in order to Hellenize the worship and to make it Greek, why, they gave the name of the beautiful swift sister of Apollo, Artemis, they gave the name of Artemis to that idol. And then when that temple was destroyed by a man, Herostratus by name, who wanted to achieve immortal fame by even by a monstrous crime, why, it was rebuilt. It was burned down on the night of Alexander the Great’s birthday, the day he was born in 356 BC, and when it was reared, Alexander the Great offered to pay the cost of it when he saw them building it, if only they would inscribe his name on it. But they said, no, it is dedicated to this goddess whose image fell down out of heaven. And they raised the money themselves, and the great Grecian and Asian cities of the world poured their money into it. The women of the city gave their jewels, and out of the great, vast wealth of the Greco-Roman empire arose that marvelous temple and that shrine.
What kind of a goddess was she? What did she look like? To us—and I’ve seen a picture of her; there is a statue of the Ephesian Diana, Artemis, in the museum at Naples, and in ancient art you will find her depicted. She is nothing like the beautiful sister of Apollo, Artemis. She looks like some dark Asiatic ogre from the superstitious mind of man in the mystic mythological past. From her waist upwards, she is covered with rows of breasts. From her waist downward, she looks like a mummy with all kinds of hieroglyphic, unknown, symbolic writing, carved over her feet and her lower extremities. Nobody knows where the thing came from. Nobody knows exactly what it was made of. The conjecture is that doubtless at first it was a meteorite that fell out of the sky from heaven, and that the superstition of the mind of men felt that it had miraculous powers. And somebody substituted for the meteorite that hideous, ugly idol, and that was the greatest goddess and the greatest god and the greatest shrine of the ancient world.
And the worship was the hysterical, frenzied sort of a business that is indescribable. They had their throngs of priests who dressed like women, and they had thousands of priestesses, and the number is never given of how many temple prostitutes. And they worshiped her by music and by dance and by frenzied shouting and wailing, until the people were worked up into an indescribable orgy and then mutilated themselves and worshiped the god in their temple prostitution. To us, it is untranslated. It is not to be said. You could not mail through the United States Post Office the description of the temple of the worship in Ephesus. One of the most famous citizens of the ancient world was the Ephesian Greek philosopher Heraclitus, and he was known throughout the world as the weeping philosopher. It is said that he never smiled. And there exists a letter that is attributed to this Greek philosopher Heraclitus who lived in Ephesus, and in it, he says, he says that the darkness of the approach to the altar of the temple of Diana is the darkness to vileness. He says that the morals of the temple were worse than morals of the beasts, for even promiscuous dogs do not mutilate each other. And then he said that the inhabitants of Ephesus were fit only to be drowned, and that the reason why he could never laugh or smile was because he lived amidst such terrible uncleanness.
And yet that is the place where Paul held his greatest meeting, and he stayed there longer than any place and city in the Roman Empire. And there were won the greatest victories of grace for God. And there were the staunch Christians who were pastored by the sainted John himself. And when we get discouraged and are inclined to think that it is hard and difficult to carry on God’s work in this modern, industrialized, competitive civilization, just remember that in Ephesus there were Christians in the vilest scum of the whole ancient world.
Now, what has become of the city? And what is become of the temple? In 252 AD the Goths destroyed the city and destroyed the temple. And for the centuries that followed, they beautified Constantinople, Byzantium, using Ephesus as a quarry for their fine, beautiful, Parian white marble. And it was used as a source of marble for the Turkish conquerors and for the medieval Italians. It is a vast, vast, vast waste. The city must have covered miles, and there are pieces of sarcophagi, and column, and capital, and frieze, and inscription, and drum of great column, and pieces of marble everywhere, everywhere. It is a lost section of the story of mankind, for malarial mosquitoes have driven all humankind away. In the days of Paul and John, there was a beautiful lagoon at the mouth of the Cayster River where the sea formed an estuary. Today that is filled up; it is a marsh, and it’s filled with wiry grass and with reeds, and the thing breeds the mosquitoes that drive humanity away.
And the great amphitheater, the stadium, is now just a big waste of an oval hewn out in the solid rock. Paul says here, for example, in 1 Corinthians 4:9, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” And the great emphasis of that word is “last.” “For God hath set forth us the apostles last, appointed unto death to be a spectacle unto the world and to men and to angels” [1 Corinthians 4:9]. You see, in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he said, “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus” [1 Corinthians 15:32]; in that very arena, in that very amphitheater, in that very coliseum it may have been—though it may be a figure, a metaphor—it may have been that Paul fought with beasts in Ephesus. If so, how God miraculously preserved his life, we do not know.
But in that place, in that place, Paul uses this figure: “God has sent us the apostles last, appointed to death: to be made a spectacle” [1 Corinthians 4:9]. He has seen those great Artemesian games. And after the athletic contest of chariot racing, and physical effort, and all of the other things that enter into it, always the last thing for the closing of every day was the leading out of the prisoners that were condemned to death. They were stripped naked and they were paraded around the amphitheater. Then the cages were opened, and the doors were opened, and the lions and the wild beasts, who were starved to make them ferocious, were let out. And there, amid the glee and cheering and the rejoicing of the people in the great stadium, they saw those beasts tear those helpless men and women and children to death. If you have ever seen a picture of the Coliseum, which was not built in Paul’s day—Paul had been martyred before the Coliseum was built—if you ever have seen a picture of the Coliseum, and the Christians there in the midst, and their pastors standing, and their group in prayer, the only thing that the artist didn’t draw that is true: he clothed those Christians. But in those terrible and crude and barbaric days, they were thrown into those sanded floors of the stadium naked and were torn asunder by those wild beasts. And Paul had seen that, and he writes that. “We apostles are last in the parade. Everybody else,” he says, “God puts first, but we suffer most and pay the greatest price. We are last, appointed unto death, made a spectacle unto the world, and unto men, and unto angels. “
That now has fallen into a vast incomparable ruin, and where the great temple was is nothing but a pond, a stagnant, malarial-breeding mosquito pond. Excavating it, after they’ve dug the debris and the filth of the Cayster River there away, gathered there by the centuries—it was filled again with water and a heavy scum over it, and the frogs, when a fellow passes by, the frogs by the thousands and the thousands seemingly begin to croak and to keep that refrain alive: “Great, great is Diana of the Ephesians! Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” [Acts 19:34].
Maybe someday, two thousand years from now, somebody will be walking around among the malaria-infested marshes of the Thames River trying to locate Ludgate Hill, and to find some relic of a great temple there named St. Paul. And maybe someday, two thousand years hence, there will be an archaeological student of American history who will be walking around some of the mounds on the banks of the Trinity River in a place that used to be known as Texas, trying to see if there was such a city by the name of Dallas, and what was its extent, and what was its advancement in commercial and cultural and civic life. For had you been in Ephesus in the year two thousand years ago, when Paul was there and when John was there, had you been in Ephesus, it would never have occurred to you, nor to any other citizen of the Greco-Roman world, that in the years to come, that great and magnificent and incomparable temple would be nothing other than a stagnant, malaria-breeding, green-covered scum of a pond!
For said the Lord God, “Remember from whence thou art fallen, and turn; or else I will come unto thee, and remove thy lampstand out of its place” [Revelation 2:5]. These things by which man seeks to erect great monuments to himself, and these things by which man seeks to protect himself, are all as dust blown by the wind. They are as chaff before a hurricane in the great imponderables of Almighty God. One of the most famous and one of the most beautifully written of all of the sonnets of the world is this by Shelly, named “Ozymandias.” He had a friend who had come back from Egypt and had told him about this statue, headless and trunkless, scattered out there on the wasting sand of the Sahara desert. And this is the sonnet that Shelley, the singer of England, wrote:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear –
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing else remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
[ “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelly]
“Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair. My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,” and as far as the eye can see, nothing but the boundless sand stretches far away. Whether we live or whether we die, lies in the imponderables of God. With all of our vaunted strength, and with all of our mighty navies, and with all of our atomic weapons, and with all of our Polaris submarines, and with all of the commercial might and economic prowess, and with all of the political glory of our America, our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, our liberties, whether we live or whether we die lies in the elective purposes and the choices of God. If our people fall away, and if our people become heathen and pagan and materialistic, and if our people worship the gods that are made by hands, then He will come and remove our lampstand out of its place [Revelation 2:5].
And there will come antiquarians and archaeologists and all of these learned men who will live in some future generation, if the Lord lets this world stand, and they will be probing around the debris of a known island called Manhattan, and of a harbor called San Francisco, and of a city called Dallas, to see if they can find some trace of the kind of life and civilization we used to live here in the year 1961 AD. When Alexander the Great with his army passed over the Tigris River to do battle into India, under his feet were the remains of the great city of Nineveh, and Alexander the Great and his army had no idea of it when they marched over the ground. These things are in the hands of God.
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
[ “O Beautiful, for Spacious Skies,” Katherine Lee Bates]
Land where our fathers died,
Land of our pilgrim’s pride,
Let there reign from side to side,…
Our fathers’ God to thee.
[from “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” Samuel F. Smith]
A great nation under God; a people of prayer, a people of dedication, a people of churches, a people of Lord’s Day observance, a people of the Book, a great Christian nation. And if our nation thus worships God and follows in the way of the Lord, all the bombs that enemies may make and all of the rockets and missiles that genius on the other side may contrive could never reach the heart, and the soul, and the destiny, and the life of America. But if our people refuse the great inheritance we receive from the hands of God and turn to idols, and turn to materialism, and turn to the rejection of heaven’s proffered mercies, then America will be one in the long story of the nations who have fallen: Chaldea, and Assyria, and Egypt, and Byzantium, and Greece, and Rome, and our beloved land. This is a time for turning. This is a time for giving heart and life and soul to God. This is a time of grace and of salvation.
And that is the offer that we make to your hearts this beautiful and blessed and precious Lord’s Day morning. In the balcony round, somebody you; on this lower floor, somebody you; a family you, giving your heart to Jesus, coming into the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word, and as the Spirit of Jesus shall lead the way, would you come and stand by me? Into that aisle and down to the front: “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God” [Romans 10:9-10]. There is a stairway at the back. There is a stairway at the front. Come and stand by me. “Preacher, here is my whole family”: a family like that came this morning at the first hour. “This is my whole family. This is my wife and these are my children. We’re all coming today.” While we sing this song of appeal, would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.