Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19)

Artemis of Ephesus was a tremendously popular deity; in fact, the Greek traveller Pausanias stated that she was the god(dess) most worshipped in private devotions in the Mediterranean world. Her cult idol was unusual – a stiff, elongated body with legs bound together in mummy-like fashion. The upper half of the front torsoe was covered with protuberances resembling human breasts, so that she was sometimes called the “many-breasted Artemis”. She wore a necklace of acorns, for the oak tree was sacred to her, and on her breastplate appeared the signs of the zodiac. On her forehead rose a high crown, often topped with the turrets of the city of Ephesus. This crown may have concealed a meteorite “which fell from heaven” (Acts 19:35). Frequently her skirt was decorated with rows of animals, an indicator of fertility, and along the sides were bees, depicted as both actual insects and as priestesses (“honey bees”), adorned with crowns and wings. Artemis herself was known as the queen bee, and her castrated priests were the “drones”.

Her image, said to possess particular sanctity, appears  on coins, papyri, wall paintings, reliefs, statuettes (cf. Acts 19:24) and in larger statuary. Some 50 stone statues of Artemis have been excavated at ancient sites in widely separated parts of the ancient world. It was said that six magical words were inscribed upon the image of the Ephesian Artemis, although these have never been found. Incarnations in the name of Artemis were said to have a powerful force (Acts 19:19), a claim attested by magical papyri.

The first idol to Artemis was said to have been carved of wood and set in an oak tree at Ephesus by the Amazons. The sanctuary was soon surrounded by a village as it became a site of pilgrimage. On the site one temple succeeded another in size and splendour, until the final shrine was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Thousands of personnel served within the immense confines of the sanctuary, and huge sums of money were entrusted to the keeping of Artemis. As a result the temple complex became the major banking centre of Asia. Not only was Artemis the guardian of Ephesus, but she also figured as saviour goddess in inscriptions. The dead were entrusted to her care, and she was thought to have lent her assistance to women in childbirth. Secret rituals known as “mysteries”, portraying both birth and death, initiated her devotees.

The book od Acts (19:23-41) records the first of many confrontations between the followers of Christ and those of Artemis. At last the cause of Christ prevailed: The great temple was demolished and the cult statues were hidden-

 

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