Book Review: David deSilva, A Week in the Life of Ephesus

deSilva, David A. A Week in the Life of Ephesus. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 169 pp. Pb; $17.  Link to IVP Academic

The Week in the Life from IVP Academic asks New Testament scholars to imagine a story illustrating various aspects of Jewish or Greco-Roman culture. In this case, David deSilva sketches life in Ephesus in the final years of the first century. Domitian is the emperor and the city is building an imperial cult center dedicated to the emperor.

deSilva Week in EphesusdeSilva’s has a wide range of scholarly publications which form the background to this novel. For example, his 1991 Trinity Journal article on “The ‘Image of the Beast’ and the Christians in Asia Minor” examined the imperial cult as background for Revelation 13. His Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (IVP Academic, 2000) is a detailed study of the pursuit of honor (and avoidance of shame) which motivates the characters in this novel. In addition to these, deSilva published Introducing the Apocrypha (Second Edition; Baker 2008), New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (InterVaristy, 2004), Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation (WJKP, 2009) and commentaries on Hebrews (Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans, 2000) and Galatians in the NICNT series (Eerdmans, 2018). Finally, he wrote a novel published by Kregel, Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt (2015).

Both John Byron’s A Week in the Life of a Slave and Holly Beers’s A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman featured Ephesus, but during Paul’s time in the city (Acts 19). James Papandrea’s A Week in the Life of Rome took place before Peter’s arrival in Rome. deSilva’s book focuses on the struggles Christians in Ephesus faces to remain loyal to the one God who sent his son Jesus in a culture thoroughly dedicated to other gods.

deSilva sets his story just prior to Ephesus receiving the title neokoros, temple warden. The city rulers are finalizing plans to dedicate a temple to Domitian. The artificial plateau for this temple is just inside the Magnesian gate, only the foundation and stairs remain at the site today. The base of the altar and parts of the colossal statue of Domitian are in the Ephesus museum. Although some suggest the massive head and arm is actually Titus, the image serves to illustrate the awe-inspiring architecture of an imperial cult center.

The story begins with Serapion, a priest of Artemis, leading a sacred procession through the streets of Ephesus on the holy birthday of the divine Caesar Augustus. To be the priest of Artemis was a great honor for Serapion and his family, an honor Serapion has paid well for. Christians absent from the procession, including Serapion’s slave (who later received a severe beating for shaming his master in this way) and Amyntas, Serapion’s neighbor.

Both Serapion and Amyntas both in the terrace houses. Visitors to Ephesus ought to pay the extra ticket to visit these restored and preserved homes in order to understand how the wealthy citizens of Ephesus lived. There are several photographs in the book illustrating the design of these townhouses. When I first visited Ephesus with Mark Wilson, he pointed out the closeness of the homes meant the activities of a Christian congregation would be known to the neighbors. He suggested this may explain Paul’s reaching on tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. In deSilva’s story, Serapion knows his neighbor Amyntas is hosting a church since the meeting could not be hidden from the neighbors.

Serapion’s hatred for Christians leads him to a plot to shame publicly Amyntas. Serapion nominates Amyntas to serve as a neopoioi, an official of the imperial cult responsible for the administration of the cult center. This is an exceptional opportunity for Amyntas and would result in additional wealth and honor for his family. Amyntas has a tough decision to make. If he turns down the offer, he would dishonor Ephesus, the emperor Domitian and the imperial cult, putting his life in danger. Could he accept this honor as a Christian, knowing the gods are nothing?

deSilva introduces Nicolaus of Pergamum, an elite citizen who serves in the imperial cult in that city. Although it is not explicit in this novel, perhaps deSilva wants us to think of Nicolaus as the target of John’s condemnation of the Nicolatians in Revelation 2:6 and 2:15. Nicolaus encourages Amyntas to accept the position since it would give him great opportunity to share the gospel with other wealthy people. However, when Nicolaus visits the church in Amyntas’s home he is soundly condemned by many in the gathering.

This conflict illustrates two ways of expressing one’s Christian faith in the late first century. On the one hand, a Christian could attend an Artemis festival or serve the imperial cult knowing full well that Artemis is not an actual god or that the imperial cult is propaganda for the empire. Others refused any participation in cult activities. The final line of 1 John tells the readers to keep themselves from idols. One character in the book refuses to honor the gods of his trade guild. The master of the agora publicly ostracizes him and forbids him to practice his trade in Ephesus. Amyntas’s son expresses his monotheism at his philosophy class in the gymnasium and is soundly beaten by his peers.

There is a subplot in the book concerning Zeuxis, a Jewish wealthy shipowner and his old friend Demetrius, a Christian merchant selling wool in the agora. This gives deSilva opportunity to illustrate the similarities and differences between Jews and Christians at the end of the first century. The rapaciousness of Roman merchants is a cause for the Christian to reflect on economic justice.

The climax of the book is the arrival of a messenger delivering what we call The Book of Revelation to the Christian community. After the church gathers and hears the worlds of the Apocalypse they are shaken, knowing they have indeed forgotten their first love. This is not overplayed in the novel and deSilva does not deal with any of the details of the apocalypse. The recipients of Revelation understand the great whore is Rome and that the book is a solid condemnation of Christians who take part in the imperial cult.

Does Amyntas accept the honor of service in the imperial cult like Nicolaus of Pergamum recommended? I will not spoil the plot here, read the book and consider how this applies to modern demands for loyalty to the empire.

Scattered throughout the novel are text boxes with historical details on various aspects of the story. For example, deSilva discusses musical instruments in the Roman period, the title neokoros, the Jewish community in Ephesus, the staff in an imperial cult center, Christian worship, and many others on Roman culture. The book is illustrated with black & white photographs. Perhaps the book could have included a glossary explaining Greek and Roman terms scattered throughout the book.

Conclusion. That three books in this series use Ephesus as a backdrop underscores the importance of Ephesus as an archaeological site. Like Pompeii, what has been excavated at Ephesus illustrates many aspects of life in the Greco-Roman world. I highly recommend this novel as a way to understand how Christian and Culture often clashed in the first century.

For reviews of other volumes in this series, see my reviews of:

Although not part of this series, these are books are also in the genre “scholarly novel.”

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Turkey Day 7 – Ephesus

Our full final day included a walk through Ephesus. This is the highlight of any tour to western Turkey. Although Perge and Hierapolis were large sites with many restored buildings, Ephesus has more to see and it is a far more significant location historically. Paul spent up to three years in Ephesus, Timothy was in Ephesus when Paul wrote 1 Timothy to give him instructions on how to deal with elders who were defecting from the faith, John likely wrote his Gospel and the three letters of John from Ephesus and the Book of Revelation was written from Patmos and sent first to the church at Ephesus (Rev 2).

Artemis of EphesusSince we are staying in Kuşadası, we had a short easy drive to the Ephesus Museum. Why did we start at the museum rather than the archaeological park? There was a slight chance of rain in the morning, so by going through the museum first we were able to miss any sprinkles. Unfortunately one of our group was not feeling well and had to go back to the hotel. The rest of us walked through the museum. The museum has a large display of statutes from Ephesus, all very clearly arranged and labeled. A number of displays were dedicated to items discovered in the Terrace houses. These illustrate the lifestyle of the wealthy in the city. In the courtyard between the two buildings are several important inscriptions, but these lack transcription and translation.

The highlight is the room with two first century Artemis statues. Both are impressive, the smaller is slightly older and is in better condition, the larger has her full crown and is significantly larger.

Just beyond the rooms with the two Artemis statues is a display of items from the Imperial Cult, including a portions of a monumental statues of Domitian. Or is it Domitian? The head and forearm are usually identified as Domitian, but more recently scholars have suggested the head looks more like Titus. In fact, at the Imperial Temple site in Ephesus the sign has it both ways. I am intrigued by the possibility the statue is Titus since he was the general in charge of the destruction of Jerusalem. If John was influenced at all by the Roman Imperial cult in Ephesus when he wrote Revelation, then calling the emperor who destroyed Jerusalem “the beast” who was inspired by Satan has a bit more anti-imperial venom.

After the Museum we drove to the upper entrance to Ephesus at the Magnesia Gate. There is an Odeon dating to A.D. 150 just inside the entrance to the site, but the first thing to interest me is site of the Imperial Temple (dedicated to Domitian? Titus? the Flavian Dynasty?). The massive structure is an indication of the strength of the imperial cult in Ephesus at the end of the first century and the early second century. In this square is a  a reproduction of a Nike relief (the real on is in the Ephesus Museum). Be sure to see the caduceus in front of what would have been a health clinic near the entrance to the Imperial cult center. If you are interested in Greek inscriptions, there is a collection in this area although the main gallery is locked and you would need to have special permission to enter (which I did not have).

From this spot tourists can get a great photo of the sloping Roman street (the “Avenue of the Curate”) leading to the Library of Celsus and the Agora. There are several interesting things to see on this street, including a public toilet and bathhouse. The entrance to the bathhouse has inscriptions dedicated to both the Empire and Artemis. For some reasons people love to see the ancient toilets, although Ephesus has roped these off so tourists can no longer take awkward photos. The Hadrian temple has been largely replaced with replicas, but still offers a view of the imperial might of Rome in Ephesus.

Terrace House in Ephesus

Although an additional ticket is required, the Terrace Houses is a major highlight of a tour of Ephesus. Sadly, only about 1.5% of all visitors to Ephesus pay the extra ticket price to walk through the six residences are across from the Hadrian Temple. These are large homes for the wealthy and elite citizens of Ephesus, occupied as early as A.D. 25 through the seventh century. The houses look like modern condos, with open air courtyards, water pipes (and at least one indoor toilet). Many of the walls have the original art and a few have ornate mosaic floors. The entire complex is covered to protect it from the elements, and the stairs work their way up the hill, exiting with a view of the street which passes by the agora, leading to the large theater. From this point on the hillside you could hike to the Cave of Paul and Thecla, assuming you have arranged for the visit (and paid the fee and can make the hike. It is too muddy in March to even attempt to see the cave).

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus and Gate of Augustus

The Library of Celsus dates to the second century (completed about A.D. 114), so this is not the place Paul rented space from Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Although the library was destroyed in a earthquake in A.D. 262, the reconstructed façade of the library is spectacular, with replica statues of Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence) and Arete (virtue). The library was eventually converted into a bathhouse, although only a large pool remains.

Next to the library is the entrance to the entrance to the agora. This is the largest we have visited on this trip (525×240 feet), although very little has been excavated or restored. The Hellenistic agora sits lower than the street running from the Terrace Houses and the theater (Roman period). This theater seats up to 25,000 and is the location of the riot in Acts 19:21-34. Since it faces the harbor, the noise of the riot would not have been heard in the boule near the Magnesia Gate, explaining why it took some time for the town clerk to arrive. A street leads from the theater to the ancient harbor. Unfortunately for us there is an extensive renovation project so the area in front of the theater is closed, We sat on the steps and read through portions of Acts 19 and talked bout how Paul’s Gospel impacted the culture of the city, including the magicians of Ephesus.

Theater at Ephesus

Theater at Ephesus

We ate lunch at a Turkish rug factory. This is fairly typical of a tourist visit, and the shop gave a very interesting demonstration on how they obtained from the worms and how the women who make the rugs work the loom. They brought out about 50 rugs while we waited and I am glad someone in our group bought one to offset our free lunch. I would have preferred to skip the rugs and spend another hour at Ephesus, but that it was not a total waste of time.

We ended out day at the Basilica of Saint John, the traditional burial site of the apostle John. There are a few things of interest at this site, including the tomb of John and a large baptismal room. It is also a good place to see what is left of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus: a single reconstructed column (with a stork nest on top).

We start the long journey home tomorrow at 8AM, should back to Chicago in the late afternoon. This has been a good trip, but it was made greater by my traveling companions, the hard work of our tour guide and driver. Thanks to Tutku Tours for making out time in Turkey so memorable!

Acts 19:13-20 – The Magicians of Ephesus

Most people in the ancient world believed in the power of protective magic.  According to Clint Arnold, Jewish magic was famous in the ancient world (Acts, 193).  In his monograph Magic in Ephesus he details magical practices in the Ephesus as well as Jewish use of magic and talismans to ward off evil.  It is no surprise to find people in Ephesus who are not only using magical items, but that Jews functioned as exorcists and magicians may come as a shock.  Many Jews found a lucrative trade selling incantations and amulets in Ephesus.

Jewish exorcists are well known in the anEphesian Amulet 1cient world, especially in Ephesus (see for example, Josephus Antiq. 8.42-49) and Jews were especially famous for magic. Jewish names were especially thought to have magical powers, as is illustrated by Paris Papyri 574, “I abjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews,” and “hail God of Abraham, Hail God of Isaac, hail God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.”

Some of these Jewish exorcists have begun to use the names of both Jesus and Paul as “power words” to cast out demons. This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek ἐξορκιστής (exorcist) is used.  Sceva is identified as a chief priest (not the high priest), although it is his sons who are attempting to cast out this demon.  When commanded, the demon reverses the usual process and “exorcizes” the exorcists! This humorous scene shows that the God of Paul is not to be manipulated like the other gods of the ancient world.

The news of beating of the sons of Sceva spreads quickly.  The text says that the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor (μεγαλύνω).  This does not necessarily mean people became believers. The word appears in Acts 5:13 to refer to the reputation the apostles gained in Jerusalem (“held in high regard by the people”), but certainly in that context  people were not converted to Christianity.

Luke reports that many who were already believers openly confessed their sin of magic and publicly burned their scrolls. Luke uses the perfect tense to describe these magicians – they have already believed in Jesus and were saved, but they had not given up their magical practices quite yet.  Perhaps burning their scrolls is an act of “self preservation,” as Witherington puts it.  Other magicians and exorcists had to be amazed at what had happened to the sons of Sceva, even if they were not willing to have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts, 582).

Ephesian Amulet 2The people public confess their evil deeds.  This likely means they made public spells and magical words which were kept in secret.  Public confession would render them ineffective (Bruce, Acts of the Apostles, 412).  In addition to the public confession of guilt, many others bring magic texts to voluntarily burn. Public book burnings are common in the Greco-Roman world, subversive or dangerous texts were destroyed.  The best example is Augustus himself, who collected Greek Sibylline oracles and had them destroyed since they could be used to foment rebellion against the empire.

This points out that the new converts in Ephesus were not yet “de-paganized.”  Like the Corinthians, the converts in Ephesus struggled to integrate Christ and their culture.  What strikes me as odd is that the disciples of John the Baptist were not Christians because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, but these magicians were in fact Christians (having received the Spirit), despite the fact they continued in a pagan practice after becoming “in Christ.”  I seriously doubt that Paul and the other missionaries approved of the practice, but there must have been some toleration at first since it took some time before the magicians renounced their trade.

What are the implications for modern evangelism, either in America or in other missions work?

Further reading in Magical Papyri: H. D. Betz, “Introduction to the Magical Papyri,” in The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).

Acts 19 – The Ephesus Residency

Paul’s years in Ephesus are perhaps his most fruitful times in ministry. Witherington comments that Luke intends this unit to be a “lasting model of what a universalistic Christian mission ought to look like” (Acts, 573). It is perhaps strange to think of this as the third missionary journey, since Paul stays in Ephesus for three years. This is Paul’s longest period of settled ministry and perhaps the most fruitful time in his entire career.  Christianity does in fact spread throughout Asia Minor and Ephesus becomes a center for Christianity into the early middle ages.

EphesusAs is his usual pattern, Paul begins at a synagogue (19:8-9). As we have come to expect by this point in Acts, Ephesus had a large Jewish population as well (Josephus, Antiq. 14.225-227, 16.162-168, 172-173). That Paul meets several important Jewish Christians in Ephesus (Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos, as well as some disciples of John) indicates the importance of Ephesus to the Jews.

Paul is able to spend three months in the synagogue arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. Paul is described as speaking freely (παρρησιάζομαι), the same verb used to describe Apollos in the synagogue (18:26) as well as Paul and Barnabas in the synagogue in Psidian Antioch (13:46).  The word refers to boldness or fearlessness in speech. Paul is not holding anything back in his time in the synagogue. The phrase “kingdom of God” likely refers to a whole range of topics Paul preaches on in synagogues. This would include arguing Jesus is the messiah, but also that the messiah would die and rise again.

Luke chooses an important word to describe the negative response of the synagogue to Paul’s preaching.  The NIV’s “obstinate” (σκληρύνω) is used in the Septuagint to describe hard-heartedness toward the word of God. For example, this the word used in Exodus for Pharaoh’s hear (4:3). In LXX Jer 7:26 the prophet describes resistance to the word of the Lord as “stiffening the neck.” In the Second Temple period, the writer of PsSol 8:28-29 says the nation “stiffened their neck” and was sent into exile as a result.

These Jews are acting like their forefathers, a point made also by Stephen in Acts 7.  The word describes a choice not to believe something, but also the fact that this stubbornness leads to a stronger unbelief.  This can be seen in the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus (or Rom 9:18).  He chose to be stubborn, and then the Lord increased his stubbornness as judgment.

Unlike Paul’s previous experience in Philippi or Thessalonica, he is able to remain in the city of Ephesus for a long time, perhaps as long as three years.  In fact, Paul’s time in Ephesus might be his most successful ministry described in the book of Acts. What contributes to this success? Does Paul do anything different in Ephesus? Or is this a matter of being at the right place at the right time?

A Day at Ephesus

Our full final day included a walk through Ephesus. This really the highlight of any tour to western Turkey. Although Perge and Heriopolis were large sites and restored very nicely, Ephesus has more to see and it is a far more significant location historically.

The drive from Izmir approaches the city at the upper entrance at the Magnesia Gate. There is an Odeon dating to A.D. 150 just inside the entrance to the site, but the first thing to interest me is the Square to Domitian, an indication of the strength of the imperial cult in Ephesus at the end of the first century and the early second century. In the Square to Domitian there is a reproduction of a Nike relief (the real on is in the Ephesus Museum). From this spot tourists can get a great photo of the sloping Roman street (the “Avenue of the Curate”) leading to the Library of Celsus and the Agora.

There are several interesting things to see on this street, including a public toilet and bathhouse. The entrance to the bathhouse has inscriptions dedicated to both the Empire and Artemis. For some reasons people love to see the ancient toilets, although Ephesus has roped these off so tourists can no longer take those awkward photos. The Hadrian temple has been largely replaced with replicas, but still offers a view of the imperial might of Rome in Ephesus.

Although an additional ticket is required, the Terrace Houses were a highlight for me. These six residences are across from the Hadrian Temple and demonstrate how the wealthy and elite citizens of Ephesus lived in the Roman period. These houses look like modern condos, with open air courtyards, water pipes (and at least one indoor toilet). Many of the walls have the original art and a few have ornate mosaic floors. The entire complex is covered to protect it from the elements, and the stairs work their way up the hill, exiting with a view of the street which passes by the agora, leading to the large theater. From this point on the hillside you could hike to the Cave of Paul and Thecla, assuming you have arranged for the visit (and paid the fee).

Terrace Houses at Ephesus

Terrace Houses at Ephesus

The Library of Celsus dates to the second century (completed about A.D. 114), so this is not the place Paul rented space from Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Although the library was destroyed in a earthquake in A.D. 262, the reconstructed façade of the library is spectacular, with replica statues of Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence) and Arete (virtue). The library was eventually converted into a bathhouse, although only a large pool remains.

Next to the library is the entrance to the entrance to the agora. This is the largest we have visited on this trip (525×240 feet), although very little has been excavated or restored. The Hellenistic agora sits lower than the street running from the Terrace Houses and the theater (Roman period). This theater seats up to 25,000 and is the location of the riot in Acts 19:21-34. Since it faces the harbor, the noise of the riot would not have been heard in the boule near the Magnesia Gate, explaining why it took some time for the town clerk to arrive. A street leads from the theater to the ancient harbor.

After our tour of Ephesus, drove a short distance to what is left of the temple of Artemis. There is not much to see, only a single pillar and a few stones remain. The temple of Artemis at Sardis was a far better was to see the grandeur of this kind of temple.

Following Artemis, we ate lunch at a Turkish rug factory. This is fairly typical of a tourist visit, and the shop gave a very interesting demonstration on how they obtained from the worms and how the women who make the rugs work the loom. They brought out about 50 rugs while we waited and I am glad someone in our group bought one to offset our free lunch. I would have preferred to skip the rugs and spend another hour at Ephesus, but that it was not a total waste of time.

We tried to visit the Basilica of Saint John, the traditional burial site of the apostle John. Despite a sunny morning during our walk through Ephesus, a serious rain storm rolled in while we were entering the church as we needed to retreat to the van.

It was much warmer in the Ephesus museum, and there is a great deal to see there. The museum houses some of the major finds from Ephesus, including two statures of Artemis, one dating to the first century.  These are on display at the very end of the walk through the museum along with the gigantic head and forearm from a statue of Domitian (or possibly Titus). In addition to these more spectacular displays, the museum has a large display of statutes from Ephesus, all very clearly arranged and labeled. A number of displays were dedicated to items discovered in the Terrace houses. These illustrate the lifestyle of the wealthy in the city. In the courtyard between the two buildings are several important inscriptions, but these lack transcription and translation.

 

 

Why Not Ephesians?

Ephesians is one of the books in the Pauline collection which is frequently assumed to be pseudonymous.  Despite the fact that Paul refers to himself four times in the letter (1:1, 3:1, 4:1, and 6:19-22), the majority of scholarship in the last 150 years denies the authenticity of the letter. Rather than written by the “historical Paul,” the letter was created in the late first century, perhaps as a companion to the book of Acts.

P49 Verso

While there are many variations on this argument, many introductions to Paul reject the letter as authentic on the basis of vocabulary, style, and theology.  For many, the letter does not sound enough like Romans, Galatians, or 1-2 Corinthians to be accepted as authentic.  Usually the letter of Ephesians is thought to be a post-Pauline compendium of Paul’s theology.  It was written by a disciple of Paul (“Paul’s best disciple,” Brown, 620).  Sometimes the reconstruction of the circumstances are quite complex. For example, Goodspeed suggested that Onesimus returned to Philemon, was released from his slavery and eventually became the bishop of Ephesus. After Acts was published, there was a great deal of interest in Paul, so Onesimus gathered all the various letters Paul sent to the churches of Ephesus as an introduction to Paul’s theology.  As Brown says, this is interesting but “totally a guess.”

There are some differences between Ephesians and the other Pauline letters.  For example, the common Pauline term brethren is missing (except 6:23), and the letter never calls the Jewish people “Jews” in the epistle, even though the Jews are an important part of his argument.  More surprising is the fact that the verb “to justify” is not used, even though while it is common in Galatians and Romans and might have been useful in the argument of 2:11-22.

Does it matter if Paul did not write the letter himself?  If the letter contains the actual “voice of Paul” then the letter can be considered Pauline.  By way of analogy, in the study of the Gospels there is a great deal of discussion over the words of Jesus.  When I read the words of Jesus in my ESV Bible, can I know that these are the real words of the historical Jesus?  The answer which satisfies me is that the words of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels are true “voice of Jesus,” even though they are not the actual words Jesus’ words were originally spoken in Aramaic, translated to Greek and then to English for me to read!

In the same way, even if Ephesians was not written by Paul, the true “voice of Paul” can be found in the letter.  As it happens I think Paul did write Ephesians, albeit much later in his life during his Roman house arrest.  The letter was intended to go to all the house churches in Ephesus and there is no burning problem which Paul has to address (as in Galatians or Corinthians).  This explains why the letter is generic in terms of theology and practice.

Considering Ephesians to be an authentic Pauline letter may change the way we envision Paul’s  theology.  While Romans and Galatians are concerning with justification and the struggle to define the Church as something different than Judaism, Ephesians is a witness to the universal church which includes Jews and Gentiles in “one body.”  Unity of the church seems to be Paul’s main theme in the letter.  Rather than drawing lines, Paul is arguing for unity among those who are “in Christ.”

How might taking Ephesians seriously change the way we think about various elements of Pauline Theology?

Acts 19:13-20 – Sons of Sceva and the Magicians of Ephesus

Most people in the ancient world believed in the power of protective magic.  According to Clint Arnold, Jewish magic was famous in the ancient world (Acts, 193).  In his monograph Magic in Ephesus he details magical practices in the Ephesus as well as Jewish use of magic and talismans to ward off evil.  It is no surprise to find people in Ephesus who are not only using magical items, but that Jews functioned as exorcists and magicians may come as a shock.  Many Jews found a lucrative trade selling incantations and amulets in Ephesus.

Jewish exorcists are well known in the ancient world, especially in Ephesus (see for example, Josephus Antiq. 8.42-49) and Jews were especially famous for magic. Jewish names were especially thought to have magical powers, as is illustrated by Paris Papyri 574, “I abjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews,” and “hail God of Abraham, Hail God of Isaac, hail God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.”

Some of these Jewish exorcists have begun to use the names of both Jesus and Paul as “power words” to cast out demons. This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek ἐξορκιστής (exorcist) is used.  Sceva is identified as a chief priest (not the high priest), although it is his sons who are attempting to cast out this demon.  When commanded, the demon reverses the usual process and “exorcizes” the exorcists! This humorous scene shows that the God of Paul is not to be manipulated like the other gods of the ancient world.

The news of beating of the sons of Sceva spreads quickly.  The text says that the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor (μεγαλύνω).  This does not necessarily mean people became believers. The word appears in Acts 5:13 to refer to the reputation the apostles gained in Jerusalem (“held in high regard by the people”), but certainly in that context  people were not converted to Christianity.

Luke reports that many who were already believers openly confessed their sin of magic and publicly burned their scrolls. Luke uses the perfect tense to describe these magicians – they have already believed in Jesus and were saved, but they had not given up their magical practices quite yet.  Perhaps burning their scrolls is an act of “self preservation,” as Witherington puts it.  Other magicians and exorcists had to be amazed at what had happened to the sons of Sceva, even if they were not willing to have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts, 582).

The people public confess their evil deeds.  This likely means they made public spells and magical words which were kept in secret.  Public confession would render them ineffective (Bruce, Acts of the Apostles, 412).  In addition to the public confession of guilt, many others bring magic texts to voluntarily burn. Public book burnings are common in the Greco-Roman world, subversive or dangerous texts were destroyed.  The best example is Augustus himself, who collected Greek Sibylline oracles and had them destroyed since they could be used to foment rebellion against the empire.

This points out that the new converts in Ephesus were not yet “de-paganized.”  Like the Corinthians, the converts in Ephesus struggled to integrate Christ and their culture.  What strikes me as odd is that the disciples of John the Baptist were not Christians because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, but these magicians were in fact Christians (having received the Spirit), despite the fact they continued in a pagan practice after becoming “in Christ.”  I seriously doubt that Paul and the other missionaries approved of the practice, but there must have been some toleration at first since it took some time before the magicians renounced their trade.

What are the implications for modern evangelism, either in America or in other missions work?

Further reading in Magical Papyri: H. D. Betz, “Introduction to the Magical Papyri,” in The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).