Acts 19 – Who is Artemis?

The chant of the Ephesians in Acts 19 is “Great is Artemis!”  In order to better understand the impact of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, it is a good idea to know a few things about this important god.  Since footnoting is difficult in the blog format, I will simply state that the following essay draws on a number of sources, including appropriate articles in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, The Dictionary of Deities and Demigods, and Ben Witherington’s commentary on Acts.

Artemis / Diana

Artemis / Diana

The goddess Artemis was a virgin huntress and was worshiped throughout the ancient world.  She is the daughter of Zeus by Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo and is usually included in the 12 Olympian gods.   The origin of her name is disputed; it may come from the Greek artamos, “butcher,” or arktos, “bear.”  On the other hand, Pausanias lists 64 different local variations on the name of Artemis (By way of comparison, Zeus has 67 local variations, Athena has only 59). The Latin Vulgate used the Latin form of her name, Diana; the form appears in Luther’s version and the KJV as well.  She has the ability to turn people (or gods) into animals.  In one legend she changed here hunting companion (Callisto) into a she-bear.  When Orion tried to rape her, she transformed him into a scorpion.

She is usually depicted with a bow and accompanied by deer, and was extremely beautiful.  She is also often combined with the “mother goddess” and therefore a fertility goddess and protector of young children.   But in fact she is rarely portrayed as a helpful goddess. This aspect has a dark side, since Artemis is given the right to kill women at childbirth (Iliad 21.479-488), and she is sometimes combined with Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. She is usually shown wearing a crown with 12 stars, indicating her power over fate (ie., the zodiac). While women called on her for protection during childbirth, they also feared here because the goddess may cause the death of a child as well as she might protect it.  Since she is associated with women, Artemis is sometimes associate with the moon and menstruation.  In the earliest legends (Hesiod, for example), Helios (the sun god) and his sister Selena (the moon god) are roughly equivalent to Apollo as the sun god and his sister Artemis.  Philo of Alexandria calls Artemis the moon god (De decal. 54) When boys and girls came of age they sacrificed a hair-lock to the goddess on the third and last day of the Apatouria or clan festival.  Girls made a similar sacrifice when they married, boys when they entered into their father’s clan.

Artemis was worshiped in many locations, but the temple in Ephesus was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. While Ephesus is known to have worshiped as many as 25 other gods, Artemis was consider the city’s chief god.  An inscription calls her “the goddess who rules our city” (SIG 867,29).  Artemis was worshiped from Spain to Syria, Strabo (Geog 4.1.5) lists thirty three other temples of Artemis in the ancient world.  Inscriptions from Ephesus describe Artemis as a goddess who answers prayer (I.Eph 26.1, 18) and she is called “savior” (I.Eph 26.4, 18), although this salvation is likely healing from sickness and disease.

The temple at Ephesus was used as a bank.  “Dio Chrysostom of Prusa describes it as a place where people from all over the Roman empire, private persons, allied kings and townships, had deposited large sums of money (Or. 31, 54).”  It is possible money was lent by the temple as well, although this is disputed.

The temple hosted festival and processions during the month of Artemision.  Every day during this month was a holy day and all judicial activity was to cease during the month.  The image of Artemis would have been dressed and adorned beautifully, and placed in a cart to travel through the city, accompanied by the worshipers. Little is known about the nature of the sacrifices, although there were many during the month long festival.  It may be that Artemis was particularly identified with magic, since she was often identified with Hecate, the goddess of magic.  Tatian in the second century simply states: “Artemis is a magos” (Or. ad. Gr. 8, 2).

Since Artemis was such an important part of Ephesian culture, the success of Paul’s gospel would be interpreted as an attack on the culture and economy of the city.

9 thoughts on “Acts 19 – Who is Artemis?

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  2. Artemis is a god in the ancient culture and known through the majority of the world. Specifically, the city of Ephesus worshipped this god as their main god. We in modern society experience religion differently. There was no separation between religion, education, government, and economics in this Ephesian city. Thus, the Ephesians were heavily invested in their worship of the god Artemis. In addition, since the Ephesus temple to Artemis was so great, many great wealthy people gave money to the temple, and thus functions as a bank in many ways. The temple is what united the people of Ephesus. In the ancient world the temple of Artemis is one of the greatest beauties. Therefore, when Paul arrives on the scene he spent his time reasoning with them. For 3 months Paul spoke freely about the gospel. The problem comes when this gospel became known and really started to change the culture.

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  3. I think understanding the importance of Artemis to the people of Ephesus is crucial to fully know the weight of Paul’s ministry there. There is obviously a social effect that denouncing Artemis has since a large majority of the people in Ephesus worshipped at the Artemisian. And if they did not worship there, they at least liked the fact that one of the seven wonders of the world was in their own city. I think that a violent response to Paul’s attack on something that almost everyone found pride in is pretty predictable. But what really seems to be grounds for the riot is the economic consequences of hand made Gods being declared as worthless. Demetrius is able to stir up some trouble by essentially suggesting that their sales have drastically dropped due to Paul’s blatant disrespect of their beloved goddess. He ties in really well both the social disrespect to a generally loved goddess with the effect on his own business and the economic business of some others as well.

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  4. It is clear just by reading the portion of Acts that Artemis was an important part of the city of Ephesus. One evidence of this was that the threat of Christianity reducing her influence over the people in and visiting the city was able to stir up a crowd big enough to be addressed by the town clerk and also caused Paul to flee the city. Through this semester’s Acts class, I chose to write my major paper about the portion in Acts about Ephesus and Artemis is a big of this. From what I learned, the temple of Artemis was a huge factor for the city’s economic success. As this post mentioned, the temple of Artemis was extremely large, as being described as one of the seven ancient wonders. Ephesus itself was often referred to as the ‘warden’ or ‘keeper of the temple of Artemis’. Because of the size and the influence, the cult of Artemis had, the temple was the location of the city’s treasury. The temple also attracted many tourists. These tourists would promote success for local businesses, some of which presumably would be, inns and food vendors, as well as craftsmen. This is likely one of the biggest reasons for the animosity between the people in Ephesus and the Church established there. A significant evidence of this is the reasons for the revolt described in the passage in Acts. All in all, Artemis was a very prominent part of the Ephesus economy and culture.

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  5. Worshipping Greek gods was a major part of Greek culture. The city of Ephesus had the largest temple devoted to Artemis. Artemins was the top god of Ephesus, above all the other gods of city. The city boasted that their temple to Artemis was the most grand and beautiful temple there was. People came from all over Asia Minor to visit the temple. The temple of Artemis was listed as being one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. This brought in many visitors to the city. Which generated a great amount of money for the tradesmen in the area. The silversmiths’ made small souvenir replicas of the Artemis statue that they sold.
    Paul was preaching the Gospel of Christ and those who heard his preaching turned away from paganism and became believers of Christ. One day a man named Demetrius, who was one of the silversmiths’ who sold souvenirs of Artemis noticed that he wasn’t selling that many as he used to. He became angered and called together a meeting of the tradesmen. He spoke to the other men about what Paul had been preaching. He was telling them that if Paul continues to preach then they will be out of jobs and everyone will stop worshipping Artemis. So then the whole city begins to riot. Because of this everyone rushes into the theater to see what all the excitement is about. Paul wanted to speak but the city officials would not allow him to speak because they feared for his life. Then the crowd begins to shout “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:34).” Finally the city clerk silences the crowd and tells them unless Paul or his companions have done anything wrong there is nothing that can be done about them. And the city clerk tells the crowd that if they don’t knock it off and leave then the whole city could be charged for rioting, and then everyone quiets down and dismissed the crowd.

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  6. As stated to really understand the ministry of Paul, the people that he is preaching to should be known. Artemis being a huge part and influence of the city would have heavily affected how the people viewed Paul and his mission. With many people turning to Jesus it is understandable why the people were so aggravated. With Artemis being such a huge part of their society, with the bank being in the temple, many festivals being around this god, worship, lifestyle everything was influenced by this god. If people stopped believing in it the city was in danger of losing its original social culture and status. For the people there that stilled believed in Artemis the new Christian believers were seen as a threat to their lifestyle and economy. Hence the reason the blacksmiths that were making the idols were so angry when less and less people would buy the Artemis statues. This was affect their way of life and how they could afford to live. They were scared to lose their lifestyle that they have known for generations.

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  7. So, Artemis being the God of the hunt but also considered a fertility these things were not her only roles in mythology. She also is considered connected with the Goddess of witchcraft which might just explain magic issues in Ephesus. If Artemis was the chief God that those in Ephesus worshiped and also the Goddess of magic, then how better to serve her than to practice magic? I find it interesting that it would appear she was not seen as a Goddess that was very helpful in fact, she seems to be the type to do as she pleases good or bad. The fact is Artemis was worshiped across the ancient world and yet she was worshipped strongest it would seem in Ephesus even though she was known to be the reason both children and mothers died during childbirth. The fact that she is considered a fertility Goddess seems odd in the light of that context but I suppose being able to become pregnant and having a healthy child are two different things entirely.

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  8. Throughout the ancient times, the various temples seem to have all been major economic hubs. Even the temple in Jerusalem was an economic hub. With people selling animals for sacrificing and all the money changers and what not. That was clear with Jesus’ anger and actions in the temple. So in Acts, it would be reasonable that the people of Ephesus would be upset that someone (or a group) was metaphorically tearing down the temple of Artemis. Preaching against this idol, driving away the sales that put food on the table. The Greco-Roman world had a lot of gods, so I doubt that introducing one more would have been cause for so much as a second thought. Saying that all other gods were false and shouldn’t be worshiped would cause an economic catastrophe.

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