As Gentiles heard the Gospel and obeyed it, the new Christians faced problems that had not been faced by the Jewish converts. At Lystra a man lame from birth was healed by Paul. So effective was this miracle that the crowd began saying in their own Lycaonian language,
“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:11-12 ESV).
Zeus was considered by the Greeks to be the chief god of the pantheon of gods. Among the Romans he was known as Jupiter. Sometimes he was known as Olympian Zeus because he is said to have resided in Mount Olympus.
View of Mount Olympus from Dion, Greece. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
There may have been several temples dedicated to Zeus in Asia Minor. One outstanding one was the temple at Pergamum. But more about that one later.
This bust of Zeus is displayed in the museum at Ephesus
A bust of Zeus, the chief of the pagan gods, displayed in the museum at Ephesus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
In the letter to the church at Pergamum it is said that they had some who hold the teaching of Balaam, “who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14; see also 2:20; 9:20; 21:8; 22:15 ESV).
For many workers in the ancient world participation in banquets where food was sacrificed to idols was expected and the practice of sexual immorality apparently was common.
At Ephesus the most popular god was Artemis or Diana as she was known to the Romans. There were temples dedicated to her in other cities of Asia Minor. Sardis, for example. Paul’s preaching the gospel of Christ ruined the business of the silversmiths who made small images of Artemis at Ephesus. The outrage brought about the massive gathering in the theater at Ephesus (Acts 19).
We have only a few remains of the Artemis temple at Ephesus, but enough remains to determine the size of the temple where the statue of Artemis was displayed. Pausanias said the temple of Artemis surpassed every structure raised by human hands. One of the best displays of artifacts relating to the temple is in the British Museum.
Model of the Temple of Artemis/Diana. Located in the Ephesus Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Artemis is said to have been worshiped “in all of Asia and the world.” She is described as magnificent and great (Acts 19:27-28). Artemis probably would not have fared well in a modern beauty contest. She was not a lovely figure, but originally she was a “black, squat, repulsive figure” covered with many breasts. It is thought that originally she might have been carved from a meteorite. The final form of Artemis is seen in our photo below. Suggestions regarding her appearance include multiple breasts, ostrich eggs, bunches of dates, ova of bees, testicles of bulls, (bunches of grapes). It is agreed that Diana was the mother of fertility.
Artemis statue from Ephesus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
If everyone in town adored Artemis it would be more of a temptation for the new Christians to leave their love for Christ and return to the former practice. The Lord told the Ephesians, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4 ESV).