Thursday, November 7, 2013

Amazing Ephesus

Our visit to the ancient biblical city of Ephesus 
This September, Spouse and I enjoyed a wonderful 35th wedding anniversary Mediterranean cruise which took us to five European countries in 15 days.

I'll be blogging more stories about our adventures (and posting some incredible pictures) later but I just had to share with you one of the most spiritually moving parts of our trip.

Our trip to Ephesus.

Our view toward the coast en route by bus to Ephesus
Ephesus (location of one of the first ever Christian churches Paul wrote to in 1 and 2 Ephesians) is no longer an operational city and getting to it entailed riding a bus nearly an hour through the rural valleys and hills of modern day Turkey from our ship's port in Kusadasi. In biblical days, Ephesus was on the coast, but today, due to significant geological changes because of natural disasters, it's nearly 5 miles inland.

At some point (I'm not sure of the year), landslides from severe earthquakes buried the entire sprawling metropolis under tons of rock, dirt, and debris from the surrounding mountains. Archaeologists have only recently begun digging it out, and gigantic chunks of regal pillars, beautiful statues, ornate temples, stone trade centers, an enormous amphitheater, and private homes litter the ground like enormous jigsaw puzzles waiting to be pieced together.

Carved symbol on certain house entrances
As we toured the ruins of the once thriving and highly populated city, I noticed several recurrent symbols carved into the doorposts of certain buildings, or crudely scratched onto entrance stepping stones. One, the fish symbol, or ichthus, which was a clandestine symbol of early Christians to avoid punishment and ridicule by the Artemus (Diana)-worshiping society of Ephesus, I recognized immediately. But the other, something that resembled a wagon wheel with spokes, stumped me completely.

I questioned our tour guide about the meaning of the crude emblem that seemed to be turning up in strange places all over the city, but she smiled mysteriously and said, "Just wait. You'll see."

After we walked and walked around the dry, dusty streets and visited ancient toilets and bakeries and massive pagan temples, I asked her again about the circular symbol we kept running across tucked here and there, usually discreetly, in various odd locations around the city.
Road leading to Amphitheater at Ephesus

Our guide, in heavily accented English, began telling us of the persecution and ridicule endured by the first Christians of Ephesus in AD 60-70, after Paul's visit on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:18-19). The leaders and artisans associated with the great temple of Artemus located there were not at all happy with the enthusiastic newfound Christians poisoning their bustling idol business, which also deepened the schism between traditional Jews and Gentile converts to Christianity.

Temple of Artemus
As she spoke, our guide began drawing in the loose sand at her feet with a long stick. It actually gave me chill bumps because it reminded me of the story of the adulterous woman about to be stoned by the furious mob when Jesus began drawing in the sand before at the temple in Jerusalem uttering the crowd-dissipating challenge, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8).  

Our guide first drew the fish (ichthus) symbol, filling in the center with the Greek letters I, X, O, Y, E (sorry - that's as close as I can come to the Greek alphabet with this keyboard), which roughly translated, means Jesus Christ God's Son Savior. Then she pointed to each letter separately, beginning with the I, and drew it with her stick in the sand, superimposing them one on top of the other. When she was finished, to my amazement, there was the exact wagon wheel symbol we had been seeing. It, too, was a secretive symbol of Christianity that was used to identify Jesus-followers without blowing their cover.

These Greek letters (center) superimposed upon each other create the top symbol

Incidentally, on his third missionary journey, Paul stayed in Ephesus, the commercial, political, and religious center of what was then Asia Minor for about three years, and then left Timothy in charge of the church for a time before the apostle John later made Ephesus his headquarters.

Tradition has it that John brought Mary, the mother of Jesus, back to Ephesus with him to take care of her until her death. We were able to visit the small house, now tended by nuns, set back in the wooded hills where she was supposed to have lived (below left). I'll try to squeeze another picture or two of Ephesus in here before this post overflows.
Mary's small stone cottage in the hills outside Ephesus
Deb on the original stone road at the Ephesus gate

No comments: