Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ephesus: An Early Christian Community

We have come to Ephesus to visit a place that played an important part in the story of the early Christians.  Paul lived here from AD 52-52 and possibly wrote the first letter to the Corinthians from here.  The Gospel of John may also have been written from here.  Legend has it that Ephesus was the
place where Mary spent the last years of her life and our first visit is to the house that is venerated as the place she occupied.  It is a very spiritual place especially to Roman Catholics but I am surprised to learn that one of the longest verses in the Koran is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  As we approach, I step back to take a photograph of the house.  As I look through my lens and focus, a shaft of light breaks through the leaves and shines on the door…

No photos can be taken inside the house, but it is moving to be inside.  Of course much of the house has been re-built.  It is a tiny space and people kneel in prayer for awhile and move through to light candles outside.  We pass through a wall where people stop to drink from taps of that bring the mountain fresh spring water to this place.  We continue walking through a walkway where hundreds of
pilgrims have tied ribbons requesting God to deliver their wishes.  Health, Wealth and Love seem to figure in many of the request we turn over.  I wonder why no one really asks that they may be guided to discover their destiny…the purpose for their being.  I am not sure that God is really in the business of delivering bigger cars, bigger houses or money in the bank but today, the desires of people the world over seem to be materialistic rather than spiritual and a little different to those of the early Christians who came through these parts! 

Our travels have so far taken us through many of the communities that Paul travelled to and wrote to, after the death of Christ.  Here we are today, to discover the story of Ephesus.  Ephesus was the second largest city in the Byzantine Empire.  Paul, being one of the few Greek-speaking Apostles came to this
part of the world, because of the importance of these cities.  Ephesus is in Turkey today, but back then it was part of the Greek speaking Roman Empire.  It was along the Silk Road, making it a vibrant trading city where news and goods were exchanged with travellers from further east.

I am amazed to learn that 2000 years ago, the city was also at the mouth of an incredible harbour.   2,000 years of unsustainable agricultural practices, and the destruction of natural vegetation in the catchment has resulted in more than 8 km of the river that once flowed through here being completely silted up.  We stare at the valley in disbelief, while our guide tries to explain this could be a natural process! 

Paul spent about 2.5 years in Ephesus.  The Apostles John and Philip also passed through this place.  Growing up I have heard versus from the Ephesians read many times in Christian gatherings but until Household Code and instructions on many relationships including that of the male/female and master/slave. 
now, I never realised the historical context of those letters.  Back then, Paul was writing to a trading community who had recently converted to Christianity and he urges them to live a Christ inspired lifestyle.  He also gave them a

I sit back and reflect.  Not once in any of the Bible studies that I had attended in the past had we ever discussed what Paul might have written today.  2,000 years have passed since those letters were written and eventually translated to the version that is read and re-read by millions the world over.  The Ephesian’s of today are a completely different people.  The number one money-spinner of their economy today is tourism followed by agriculture.  People everywhere are looking to make a quick buck from the thousands of visitors to this special place.  The surrounding valleys have been totally cleared to give way to rows of oranges, figs, cotton and other crops.   The river is completely silted up.  If Paul were writing those letters today, might they also have included a message of about sustainable agricultural and environmental practices that would ensure human behaviour did not alter natural cycles. 

Ancient Roman ruins are fascinating places.  As I travel through Europe, the Middle East and Asia Minor I am slowly getting an appreciation for the extent of this vast Empire.  Much of the research Steve is engaged in is about the issue of private and public space and the business that is carried out in these spaces.  Our visit to the public toilets in the ruins of Ephesus is cause for a bit of mirth and a few squirms in our group.  The long row of squat toilets is evidence that men would seek out the public toilets just so they could sit within elbow reach of each other, chatting about politics and religion while they did their business.  The issue of privacy in this domain did not exist for a man.  In fact I am quite amused to find that back then men could actually do two things at one time!

The library is one of the most impressive of the structures that are in existence in Ephesus.  It stands right opposite to the brothel, just down the street from the hamman (Turkish bath).   These were of course the favourite pastimes of the men of those days.  Their leisure and pleasure activities all within a stone’s throw of each other.   The prostitutes, just like almost 90% of this population were all slaves.  The Ephesians were a very hierarchical society and the women had no place in the public domain.  An interesting sign engraved on the road from what was then the port points towards the brothel. 

Later we visit an area where once existed the Temple of Artemis – yes the one that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Today, there is lone pillar and crumbling blocks of marble to remind us of this once incredible structure.  In the distance we see a Church dedicated to the Apostle
John, a mosque and a castle.  These three structures have been built with the marble from the ancient Temple of Artemis.  Both the rulers of the Byzantine & Ottoman empires ransacked the Temple of Artemis to build their temples.  Given their common beliefs, the Ottomans did not destroy Byzantine structures but anything considered ‘pagan’ was considered fair game by both sets of rulers.  “It was a giant re-cycle”, says our guide.  “But what about heritage”, I ask.  Of course heritage was not considered something of value back then…

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Ephesus.  It was an amazing experience to be in such a historic place and to get a sense of what life was like for those early Christians.

No comments:

Post a Comment