Yesterday I posted a brief reflection on the nineteenth chapter of Acts—a portion of Scripture that has often struck me as a hilarious commentary on human nature. Earlier this week, as I was reading through Phillip Ryken’s commentary on 1 Timothy, I found some thoughts he wrote about this portion of Scripture and immediately marked it as something worth sharing. Today seemed a logical time to do so.
Demetrius was right to be worried. The Ephesian silversmith made shrines for the goddess Artemis, and what kept him up at night—worrying about his job security—was the rapid growth of Christianity in his city.
Up until a missionary named Paul arrived, the silver trade in Ephesus had been rather lucrative. The worship of Artemis “brought no little business to the craftsmen” (Acts 19:24). But Christianity meant the end of the idolatry, and this posed a real threat to their livelihood. So Demetrius called the silversmiths together and said:
These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship. (Acts 19:25-27)
The silversmiths wanted to defend the honor and majesty of their queen. More importantly, they wanted to keep their jobs. So “when they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ So the city was filled with the confusion” (Acts 19:28-29). A massive protest was held in the giant theater of Ephesus. For two straight hours, as many as twenty thousand people shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:34).
Eventually the city clerk was able to quiet the crowd. He said: “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?” (Acts 19:35). Yes, the whole world did know this, for the temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was 425 feet long and 220 feet broad, with 127 columns of white marble, each 60 feet high. It took two centuries to build it. Edwin Yamauchi calls it “the largest structure in the Hellenistic world, and the first of such monumental proportions to be build entirely of marble.” Inside stood the ancient and enormous statue of Artemis herself.
The goddess seemed immortal, but Demetrius was right to be worried. The coming of Christ meant the end of Artemis. She has now been tossed on the scrap heap of history. With the exception of a few scattered columns on a plain near ancient Ephesus, the last fragments of her temple—a handful of coins and a few broken columns—are now on display in the basement of the British Museum of London.
Ironically, Artemis is now known to most people only through the Bible, which contains little more about her than the description of her vast popularity and supposed immortality. The broken, decrepit bits of her temple, a wonder of the ancient world, are relegated to the basement of a museum.