Years ago, before I even started teaching, I went on “The Best Cruise Ever!” around the Mediterranean Sea with some amazing friends – eleven of my favorite friends from college, to be exact. This cruise was a mini journey through history – stopping at places like Rome, Athens, and Alexandra. One of the lesser known port cities we stopped at was Kusadasi, Turkey.
The port city of Kusadasi is near Ephesus. Yes, Ephesus is the same place that you are thinking of – it’s the place that is in the book of Ephesians from the Bible, like the place that the Apostle Paul wrote letters to, and the place that was reluctant to accept the grace offered by Jesus because of their heavy polytheistic Greek influence. The people of Ephesus believed in the Greek goddess of the hunt, wilderness, childbirth, virgins, and the moon – Artemis. In fact, they were so hard core about the multi-talented Artemis that they even built a temple just for her, aptly named the Temple of Artemis (which also happens to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).
When the Apostle Paul arrived in Ephesus and started preaching that “gods made by human hands are no gods at all” (Acts 19:26) the people of Ephesus started freaking out. That’s some powerful stuff he’s saying to a crowd of people who have no problem worshipping idols. This was especially concerning to the silversmiths who made their living off of silver shrines of Artemis (Acts 19:23-41). Paul was also speaking of what was called “the Way” or that the only way to have salvation was through a relationship with Jesus, as seen in his book of Ephesians. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) The people of Ephesus’ minds were blown. God wants to make us alive and save us from the things that bring us down. Some of the Ephesians were so admitantly against Paul’s teachings that a mini riot almost broke out in the Great Theater. Paul didn’t let this discourage his teachings, he even met up with some of the elders of the early church and encouraged them to keep teaching that for both the Jews and Greeks should “turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21). What blew my mind was wandering around the actual grounds where all this took place! The place where the Holy Spirit was alive and active, empowering Paul to speak truth to a people who were openly opposed. So good.
Yep, that’s me standing in the Great Theater where many of the local non-believers chanted against Paul’s teachings. They shouted over and over again that the Greek goddess, Artemis, was the true god of Ephesus and not the God of Paul.
This whole area is full of magnificent Greeco-Roman ruins as well. The Library of Celsus (Roman influence) was hands down, the main reason I went on this excursion – despite all the chill bump raising, awesome biblical history (which honestly, I learned more about after the trip than beforehand). I saw a photo of the Library of Celsus while researching the possible excursions and desperately wanted to relieve an Indiana Jones moment. I know it’s not the same as the ending of the Last Crusade, as that place is actually Petra in Jordan, but it’s the closet I’ve gotten thus far and I bet many of my students wouldn’t even know the difference!
Post tour of the ruins, we were dropped off at a a Turkish Rug store – which I happened to have a similar experience while visiting Morocco. It was a time of flying carpets, fast talking salesmen, a bunch of people not that interested in buying expensive rugs but brought there on a tour anyway…
Another thing that was prevalent in Turkey were these blue eyes. Apparently these charms are used to ward off the “Evil Eye.” These eyes were found in Greece and Turkey on necklaces and bracelets to large charms found in the brick sidewalk. Such an interesting religious history, past and present in Turkey.