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A Riot in Ephesus

by Tim O'Hearn

Demetrius is a troublemaker. Those of us who live in Ephesus know that. Apparently, the man called Paul did not.

We Ephesians are a proud lot. After all, we live in the second largest city in the Roman Empire. Our position on the coast of Asia Minor makes us important, and wealthy. Marcus Antonius spent some time here before losing in battle to Emperor Augustus. Most importantly, we are listed in Antipater’s guidebook of seven sights of the world. In fact, he wrote, “when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.”

The Artemesia had been destroyed once. It happened on the day that Alexander was born. A man whose name is forbidden to be mentioned set fire to the temple, and some say Artemis was too busy with the birth of Alexander to save her own temple. We rebuilt the temple larger than the first, and that is the one listed among the “seven sights.” Demetrius was a troublemaker, but some say he was only defending the honor of our great temple.

This man Paul came to Ephesus, preaching a new message. At first, he went only to the Jews, and that was fine. They keep to themselves anyway and are no threat to Artemis. But then he started teaching anyone in Ephesus about a man named Jesus who had died and come back to life. He argued that everyone was a sinner in the eyes of his God, and this man was the only way people could be saved from their sins.

Demetrius saw that as a threat to Artemis. On a more personal note, Demetrius saw that as a threat to his livelihood, because he survived by smithing silver images of the goddess. He called the craftsman guild together.

He said, “You see how in not just our city, but throughout Asia, this Paul is convincing people that there are no gods made with hands. He is threatening our whole craft. Not only that, he is bringing discredit on the temple of our great Diana. People will stop coming to Ephesus to see the temple. Antipater or not, the tourism business will suffer as well.”

They came marching out of their meeting house shouting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Diana and Artemis are pretty much the same, you know. They couldn’t find Paul, but did find his companions Gaius and Aristarchus, and took them to the amphitheatre. They kept shouting. I doubt that half of us knew what we were shouting about. This went on for about two hours.

Rumor has it that Paul tried to enter the amphitheatre. His friends wisely held him back. He would have been killed by that crowd.

Finally, the scribe took the stage. He was a man who knew law and was respected. People finally got quiet enough for him to speak. He was a reasonable man.

“You all know that Artemis can defend herself. Now if Demetrius has a legal complaint, he should file it. But you all are liable to be fined for breach of the peace. Calm down; go home. Let Demetrius fight his own battle.”

In the end Demetrius felt he had won. Paul left town right after this. Of course, he came back, but that was after things had calmed down and there were more converts to the Way. So Demetrius also lost, because he could not fight against the teachings of this Paul. It seems nobody can.

(Taken from Acts 19)