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.

19 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  9. I enjoyed reading this post as two of my daughters are studying ancient Greece and Greek mythology in their respective studies. Additionally, as a school librarian, I have seen a resurgence of interest in the Greek gods thanks to books such as the Percy Jackson series. On a literary level, it can be very entertaining to read about the deities and demigods. However, to think that this was not simply entertainment in the ancient world, but that people truly believed in these “gods” is so interesting, and not a little baffling. Especially when you read Greek mythology and the often-absurd stories, I am always amazed that people truly thought these were deities worthy of worship. The information about Artemis really gives insight into what Paul was facing in his ministry. It is clear through the story of Acts 19:23-41 that Paul was making an impact in Ephesus, enough for Demetrius to actively gather others to violently protest him. It seems that Paul’s message was clearly hitting home, even to those who were actively resisting it, if Demetrius is fearful not just for his livelihood but for Artemis as well. Polhill states that people flocked to Ephesus from all over Asia and the world to worship Artemis (2127). It is clear then, that even though this could (and would) prove to be a dangerous location for Paul to speak the truth of God, he knew how important it was. This story was eye-opening into just how much Paul not only trusted God, but continued to willingly enter potentially dangerous situations, all for the sake of bringing as many to Christ as possible.

    Polhill, John B. (Ed). The Acts of the Apostles. In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

  10. The Greek mythology that was and remains to be practiced in some parts of the world is very interesting. I think that there are so many gods and goddesses that the believers do not even know them all. The fact that these women worship this goddess but fear her so intensely because she has great power of their reproductive health and the health of their children is quite interesting. While Christians are taught to fear the Lord, it is desired to have a healthy fear, or more likely viewed as healthy respect of the Lord opposed to the fear that these women held of Artemis. Christians are taught in Proverbs 1:7 that fearing the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but the Bible is not talking about the same fear that these women who fear Artemis are experiencing. It is evident in Acts 19 how highly the people in Ephesus value the approval of Artemis and despise Paul because he refuses to accept and follow her. The Ephesians are so passionate about their beliefs that they begin to riot and destroy their city and are willing to kill anyone who blasphemes against their goddess or her statue that fell from the heavens. These Ephesian people are so blinded by their passion and fear that they do not understand what Paul and Alexander have to say to them. What is even stranger than the Ephesian’s behavior is the fact that Paul is almost punished for their poor behavior by the authorities.

  11. I was reading up on Artemis and learned that most of the time her shrines were made outside the city near water. The City of Ephesus was the one and only City that they know of that is a shrine for her. The reason i believe is because of the verse And when the town clerk had quieted 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). They believed that part of Artemis fell from the sky. We do not know what exactly that looked like. Some believe that it was a blacksmiths tale/buying point. Others think it could of been an artifact that was so old people had forgotten where it come from. No one knows for sure. But Artemis was their leader and Ephesus was the leading place for her worship.

  12. It is important to know the significance of the Greek goddess Artemis to understand the effect of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Artemis was the Greek goddess that was most famously worshipped in Ephesus. “Artemis was considered Ephesus’ chief god” (Long 2019). Artemis was involved in many aspects of the Ephesian culture. She influenced their religion, economy, architecture, etc. Ephesus was one of the biggest cities during that time. Their location had both land and water benefits. The people also believed that this prosperity was due to Artemis protection and nurture (Brinks 2009). This was part of Demetrius concern when Paul came to talk against their goddess. Polhill adds that, “Demetrius was not wrong in linking Artemis with the civic, economic, and religious interests of the city” (Polhill 2127). Paul’s speeches to worship the one true God and not Artemis would not only effect religious beliefs, but also Ephesus’ whole worldview. Worshipping Artemis was all that they knew and what they were taught. Paul introducing the Gospel would cause people to become defensive and want to make a case against it. Their choice to riot may not have been the best method to demonstrate their concern which we hear from the town clerk after he quieted the crowd. Overall, Paul preaching about the Gospel and believing in God and not idols holds a greater significance when you understand who Artemis was and her influence on the Ephesian culture.

  13. I think background knowledge is such an important key to use and understand when studying the Bible, but also spreading the gospel. Growing up I was fascinated with Greek mythology, part of the reason why I picked this blog post to write about, but I also think it is a good foundation to understand Greek culture some more, and study why Paul did what he did, and the uproar that followed. Understanding other cultures, like Paul understood the Roman and Greek culture, is a big advantage when it comes to spreading the Gospel. We know that Paul studied in Taurus, a vibrant city that was an elite city in the Roman Empire. Obvilsoy Paul knew who the god athens was, not believing in her, but understand why her existence is real. Paul understood Greek and Roman beliefs and culture because he was emerisenced in it. Understand this he knew what was likely to come when he choose to go into the gentiles temples and preach of a new God, the true God, that goes against hundreds of years of Artemis statues and business formed on the profit of false Gods.

  14. It is always interesting to learn more about the culture, religion, and economy structure of different Biblical cities. Because for many modern, Westernized readers of the Bible, the significance of the mentioning of a temple or particular god means very little to us. Therefore, some might wonder why the Ephesians repeatedly called over and over “Great is Artemis!” for two whole hours. In Acts 19 we learn that there was a man who made “silver shrines” for the god Artemis, which allowed silversmiths or other craftsmen to flourish financially (v.24). Therefore, this god not only brought wealth to the craftsmen, but the great temple itself in Ephesus brought worshippers from afar, with the temple also being like a bank in the ancient world. Therefore, with the economy balancing on the worship of Artemis, this could be why the silversmith Demetrius and others wanted to start a riot (v.28). If Paul proclaimed that there was only one true God, then temple worship of Artemis would come crashing down, along with the economy and livelihoods of these men. Another reason why the crowds and these craftsmen wanted to protect the worship of their god was their belief that she was one of the most powerful gods and ruled over fertility, the moon, and animals. The people were in awe of her but also in fear of her since she was not known as a gracious god. With Paul coming into Ephesus and trying to change the whole trajectory of the city was gutsy and dangerous.

  15. “While Ephesus is known to have worshiped as many as 25 other gods, Artemis was considered the city’s chief god” (Long). Artemis was important to the people of Ephesus. They upheld her for so many things, and not only were they loyal to her, but it was through her that they found their pride. Having Artemis as their chief god was something to be proud of for the Ephesians—and nobody could take that away. Well, at least not until Paul came along and ruined everything.
    The riot at Ephesus starts with Demetrius, a silversmith who made little statues of Artemis to sell. And it brought “no little business” to him (Acts 19:24). Demetrius wasn’t concerned about his dear god, Artemis being ignored and overlooked because of Paul’s message. Demetrius was concerned about his business. If no one believed in Artemis anymore, he wouldn’t have anything to sell. Losing Artemis as the chief god would be detrimental economically to people like Demetrius. Polhill (2008) agrees and adds that Demetrius added more accusations that stirred up civic and religious pride as well—he took the way Paul was harming his business and thrust it on others, creating a riot. And Demetrius wasn’t wrong, Artemis was intertwined with every aspect of the city, religious and economic. To lose Artemis was to lose the one thing their city stood so proudly for. It would be a disaster. Paul was facing an extremely difficult situation no matter how he approached it. There was nothing he could do to give the message of Jesus lightly because anything he said went directly against the city’s assumptions of religion.

  16. Reading Long’s blog post reminded me of a lot of my research on Corinth and the temples of Apollo and Aphrodite. Because Artemis was very important to the people of Ephesus, it is so important to understand how everyone saw Paul’s ministry as a huge threat. Since temples were used as a big marketplace which ended up being a huge source for the good economy if Jesus and Paul’s teachings were true, it could pose a threat to their economy and they would lose a lot of jobs. As mentioned by Long, they would even host festivals during the month that supported Artemis: Artemision month. You can clearly see this in the fact that the temple of Artemis was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Another way that Ephesus was “under attack” by Christianity is the threat of culture being changed. Culture is a very important societal structure, even in ancient Ephesus. From having many prostitutes to having many cultural mannerisms or ways of life because of the greek gods, if Christianity were to set fire to Ephesus, many people would have to change their entire way of life and Ephesus would lose their culture and economy that had known for their whole lives.

  17. Throughout this class, my topic of choice has been the study of Ephesus and more specifically Artemis herself. Therefore, I have researched Artemis quite a bit. I have learned that the Artemis the Ephesians worshipped was slightly different than the Artemis known in other parts of the world (Glahn, 2015). This article suggested that most viewed Artemis as a virgin goddess, while the Ephesians worshiped her as not only a protector, but also the goddess of fertility. Now that I have done research on Artemis, I believe it is important to understand the impact Artemis had on the Ephesians. Understanding this helps readers understand why the Ephesians reacted how they did to Paul’s teachings. Artemis was a huge part of their culture. Even today, the temple in Ephesus is considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.

    Glahn, Sandra L. (2015). The Identity of Artemis in First-Century Ephesus. Bibliotheca Sacra,
    BSAC 172:687, 316-334.

  18. I believe there may be a small lesson to be learned from Paul’s experience here, as well as what we see with many of the cities he visits. In this city particularly, It is evident that Artemis was a prominent piece of Ephesian culture while Paul was there. Not only was worshiping her a large part of their lives, they likely held pride in being the city that got to have the temple, Artemision, dedicated to worshiping and sacrificing to her. “The city of Ephesus was not only the site of the Artemision, it held the title of “temple keeper” (νεωκόρος, neōkoros) of Artemis” (Lokkesmoe). With the title “Temple Keeper”, it is to no surprise that riots ensued following Paul’s insults to the “man made” (19:26) gods. Fortunately for Paul, while unfortunate for the delivery of his message, the town clerk decided that he technically was not in opposition to their main god, Artemis as she fell as a rock from heaven and was therefore not man made. This is another example of how it seems like Paul was continually striking out with the several cities of his missionary journeys. Perhaps a side lesson that we can take away here then, is the faithfulness and the power of the work of the Holy Spirit. As we see Paul being led by the Holy Spirit throughout these journeys, it seems like he is constantly causing riots, being misinterpreted, and/or being kicked out of the city. In hindsight, we know that these cities that he visits are some of the pillar church communities that the New Testament has and helps launch the spread of Christianity throughout the whole world as we know it today! That is the power of following the Holy Spirit.

    Lokkesmoe, Ryan. “Artemis.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, edited by John D. Barry et al., Lexham Press, 2016.

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