I have another history (my favorite subject) lesson for you! I really like the writings of Luke. He always pays such close attention to historical detail. For this blog, we will be turning to the Book of Acts. In chapter 19, Luke tells of a riot that took place in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the temple to the goddess Artemis, the goddess the Romans called Diana. “A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen.” (vs. 24) Archeologists have discovered an inscription from the time period that refers to a shrine-maker by the name of Demetrius. Demetrius was a common name at the time, so we can’t be sure the Demetrius in the inscription was the same person Luke refers to. Anyway, Demetrius complained that the rise of Christianity in Ephesus was hurting his business. This is not the only time Christians will be blamed for hurting pagan business. In the second century, the Roman governor of Bithynia, Pliny, complained in a letter that the business of supplying fodder for sacrificial animals was rapidly declining because of Christianity. Demetrius stirred the people of Ephesus in to an anti-Christian frenzy. “The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater.” (vs. 29)
As the crowd converged on the theater, they shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (vs. 28) Ancient inscriptions in Ephesus have been discovered that use this phrase as a motto. Archeologists have uncovered an open-air theater in Ephesus that could hold twenty-five thousand people! Paul wanted to go to the theater to address the crowd, but his disciples and local government leaders urged him not to go. (vs. 30-31) It is interesting that these government officials were considered friends of Paul. It points to the early date of this writing. Later, the persecution of Christians will begin, and no government official would dare befriend a Christian.
At this time of great confusion and chaos, it was the city clerk who quieted the crowd. (vs. 35) Other historical evidence points to the title of “People’s Clerk” as the official title for the leader in Ephesus. He would be elected annually by representatives of the people. The clerk reminded the people that they were the guardians of the temple of Artemis. Archeologists have discovered an inscription stating the city is the ‘Warden of the Temple’. Again, we get an indication of how early this event took place and recorded by Luke. By the second century, city assemblies in the Roman Empire, would no longer have authority. They would serve only to enforce edicts from Rome. The clerk was able to appease the crowd by rightfully warning them that their actions could cause Rome to come down hard on them. (vs. 40) Clearly, they couldn’t refer to what was happening as a riot! Notice the last verse in the chapter. “After he (the clerk) had said this, he dismissed the assembly.” In verse 40, the clerk downgrades the event from a riot to a “commotion”. Isn’t it interesting how the Apostle Paul and his disciples were spared, thanks to the work of this clever city clerk? They didn’t have to say one thing in their own defense. How great is our God!!
About The Author
Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, Dan is a graduate of Otterbein College (now University). He graduated with a degree in education. From time to time Dan still substitute teaches. His interest in history led him to investigate the historical accuracy of the Bible. This, in turn, led to a full investigation of Apologetics.