Everyone has a favorite city. And cities often have favorite fun facts. For instance, here’s my favorite fun fact about the city of Seattle. It not only has the highest percentage of residents with at least a college degree, but it also has more households with pets than households with children. Fun fact: The city of Paris has no stop signs. If you come to an intersection without a traffic light, you’d better look before you leap! Fun fact: The city of Berlin has roughly 170 museums. But that is not as impressive as it sounds. At least one of those museums is for curried sausage; and if one can be profaned, they all can. Fun Fact: Based on population, the third smallest city in England is the city of London. Now, that is weird, but technically, the city of London only constitutes the financial district; and while over 500,000 people commute into the city each day, only 8,000 live there. And that is good because the actual city is only 1.12 square miles. My last fun fact: The second oldest European city is not Rome, it’s Lisbon (Athens is the oldest). In fact, Lisbon is 400 years older than Rome! Who knew?  

For weeks now, we have been talking about Ephesus, but we have not provided any fun facts. We will fix that right now. Fun fact: Ephesus was founded by a tribe of Amazons. Now, for years this fact was considered a baseless myth, but in the last hundred years its historicity has been confirmed. Second fun fact: These Amazons loved Artemis, and that devotion shaped the character of the city. I’ll put it crassly: If you were a woman and you wanted to be great in Ephesus, you had to model yourself after these Amazons.

Third fun fact (not about Ephesus, but about this series): If there is anything in these posts that sounds wise, intelligent, or insightful; if anything speaks of history or scholarship, or if anything shines with original research and exceptional analysis it is from Sandra Glahn and her book, Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2023). Yes, I researched the fun city facts, but anything else in this series has Glahn’s imprint on it long before I wrote this blog. In short, this whole post paraphrases Glahn’s excellent work. And Glahn argues convincingly that Amazons founded Ephesus.

She writes on page 41:

“Many scholars have downplayed any Amazon connections, but open-air stone carvings in a temple in Ephesus dedicated to the emperor Hadrian tell a different story.  These reliefs date to about 138 CE—within 100 years of Paul and Timothy—and they feature Amazon women as integral to the city’s origins.”

Here’s an updated understanding of the history of Ephesus. Sometime between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE, a group of warrior women from the area around the Black Sea moved south and founded the city of Ephesus. For years, these warriors were considered myth, but in the 1990’s archeologists uncovered some graves of these women. The graves not only contained the body of the Amazon, but also her weapons, including bows, arrow heads and daggers.

In April, 2014, the Smithsonian Magazine featured an article about this amazing archeological discovery.  It was written by Amanda Foreman who explained: 

“There were graves of warrior women who had been buried with their weapons.  One young female, bow-legged from constant riding, lay with an iron dagger on her left side and a quiver containing 40 bronze-tipped arrows on her right. The skeleton of another female still had a bent arrowhead embedded in the cavity. . . . On average, the weapon-bearing females measured 5 feet 6 inches, making them preternaturally tall for their time. . . . To the Greeks, [these] women must have seemed like incredible aberrations, ghastly even.”

In other words, these women were not what the Greeks of that day would call “ordinary.” They were tall, strong, brave and independent. Today, there are over 1,300 images in which we see an Amazon engaged in a fight to the death. Normally, we find depictions of vanquished warriors begging for their lives, but not here. Out of all of those images, maybe two or three show an Amazon pleading for mercy. The rest show vicious and capable warriors who were courageous and powerful. These were not weak women. They were strong and independent women; and compared to the Greek ideal of a woman’s role, they were super strong and super independent. Hold on to that thought. 

We can now retell the story of the founding of Ephesus. These Amazon warriors made their way into the area and decided to make it their new home.  We do not know why they came or why they decided to stay, but they did. Early after their arrival, they made their way to a nearby grove. They believed this site to be sacred, and they wanted to give thanks for their success. This grove, however, was more than sacred. It was perceived to be the birthplace of Artemis (and contrary to what I said last week, the Ephesians believed it is also the birthplace of Apollo). It was in this grove that the Amazons made the first image to Artemis. They placed the image behind a large oak trunk and worshiped. But words were not enough to convey the deep sense of gratitude they felt for Artemis’s hand of protection. And so, the queen of the Amazons danced in worship before the image. But this was not just any dance; it was a warrior’s dance. Covering her body, the queen wore armor, and she danced with a shield in one hand. This dance moved Artemis deeply and in response, she promised to protect this new city, the city of Ephesus, forever. See, everyone has a favorite city.  And for Artemis that city was Ephesus. 

But there are more connections between Artemis and the Amazons than an old tale. Archeologists have discovered evidence that there were numerous statues of Amazon warriors inside the Temple of Artemis. One of these pieces of evidence comes from Pliny the Elder who tells us that there were five bronze statues of Amazons in the Artemision (temple) of Ephesus. But there is a backstory here that should not be missed. Glahn writes: 

“Artemis’ temple, the Artemision, once stood adjacent to the city, crowning the main harbor. The first such temple dedicated to Artemis dates to 550 BCE. That temple burned down in 356 BCE, leaving people to speculate as to how such a thing could happen. Plutarch quotes someone who posited that Artemis could not protect her temple because she was away fulfilling midwifery duties as she officiated the birth of Alexander the Great.”  

After the fire destroyed the first temple, it was rebuilt so that it was even bigger and better than the first. It was inside this new temple that the statues of Amazons were placed. These statues stood for centuries and, according to archeologists, would have been present when Paul and Timothy walked those streets. In other words, even centuries after the founding of the city, Amazons were still connected deeply to Artemis. In the theology of Artemis, the Amazonian woman represented the ideal for women everywhere.  

There is another story that should be told. Euripides tells the story of the goddess Aphrodite and the son of an Amazon woman. Aphrodite noticed that this man was devoted to Artemis, and Aphrodite became increasingly jealous. But this man (who was named Hippolytus) did not just speak of his affection to Artemis. He showed it in his lifestyle. He dedicated himself to be celibate and rejected all thoughts of marriage and sex. He worshiped Artemis and believed her to be the greatest of all the gods (and not just of the goddesses). As a result, Hippolytus and Artemis became close friends and often went hunting together. This was too much for Aphrodite. She felt that Artemis’ friendship with Hippolytus was inappropriate since he was human and she was a goddess and that by choosing Artemis over her, he was intentionally showing contempt to Aphrodite. Such a lack of respect must be punished, and so Aphrodite promised to get her revenge and went out and killed Hippolytus. After his death, Artemis went to Zeus and poured out her heart to him, saying:

“Those of us who prize virginity, consider the enemy we find [Aphrodite] most hateful.” 

Note three things here. First, here is yet another connection between Artemis and the Amazons in that Hippolytus was the chaste son of an Amazonian. Second, it is important to realize that Artemis did not despise men. True, she normally associated with young virgins, but there were times when she was found in the company of man, IF that man was celibate. Third, of all the virtues Artemis could have embraced as being the most important, for her and her followers, celibacy was at the top of the list. Those who were devoted to Artemis were chaste. Plato underscores this fact. In describing Artemis, he said she was vigorous, a virgin and that:

Her very name may be rooted in her hating sexual intercourse.”

We are beginning to see why Artemis and the Amazons were so connected. Neither needed male companionship. They were all strong in their identity as women and could easily live without the help of a man. This is seen in the fact that Amazons often had children, but rarely husbands. Glahn writes: 

“Artemis has a connection with the Amazons. Like them, she is unmarried and carries a weapon.” 

Perhaps, this explains the situation in Ephesus when Paul wrote to Timothy. I think Paul valued strong and independent women (see Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe and Nympha), but there was a line over which a virtue became a vice and Artemis and her Amazon followers had crossed it. At the heart of Christian living are these truths: We need each other. We are called to love one another. We are called to honor one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds. But women in Ephesus were given another model to follow to express their femininity. They were to be like the Amazons and have no need for men, for their partnership, or for their input or help. 

When we read 1 Timothy, we see Paul talking about a church that was struggling. I would like to suggest that many of the issues there were as a result of Artemis’ influence on the women of Ephesus.  These women had grown up worshiping Artemis and following the Amazonian ideal, but had now come to Christ and yet, could not put aside years of indoctrination in the ways of Artemis.  As a result, they were generally unwilling to submit to the leaders of the church. They refused to be pupils and, instead, wanted to be the leaders (even though they knew very little about what it meant to follow Jesus). They had no desire to be instructed, instead they wanted to be in control.  They did not feel the need to be taught about proper behavior, especially from a man and especially they already knew what to do. These were not just strong and independent women. These women were autonomous and antagonistic, self-sufficient and self-asserting.  

Paul describes the false teachers that were causing the dysfunction in Timothy’s church throughout the book of 1 Timothy. Read this list and ask yourself if he is not describing followers of Artemis and the Amazons. Paul says these agitators went from house-church to house-church, teaching philosophies that were, in Paul’s thinking, pure nonsense. These women were

  • Devoted to myths
  • Promoted controversial speculations 
  • Engaged in meaningless talk
  • Wanted to be teachers (immediately and now; not after they had been trained)
  • Forbid people to marry 
  • Demanded that everyone abstain from certain foods 

To me, the connection is clear. Followers of Artemis who embraced the lifestyle of the Amazon woman had come to Christ, but had not yet learned that to live for Christ is to die to the old self. For them, the old self was still very much in power and they liked it that way.  But as Bonhoeffer said: 

“When Christ calls a person, he bids them come and die.”

And if this is the proper background to 1 Timothy (who lived in Ephesus), doesn’t it make sense that it is also the proper background to Ephesians?  

But before we go, we should ask ourselves what beliefs, values, perspectives, and attitudes we have that are deeply ingrained in us from our culture to which we need to die as part of our discipleship.  My guess is we are not so different from the women in Ephesus in this: We like our way of living, and we don’t ever want to give it up.

One more fun fact, this time about the city of Thessaloniki in Greece. While the city repeatedly tries to construct an underground metro system, they continually run into the same problem. They keep unearthing ancient ruins. See, sometimes, if you keep digging, you find all sorts of old things—old backgrounds, old attitudes, old resentments and old ideas about how things ought to be run when it comes to our lives. Glahn dug and discovered Amazons. What is down deep in your heart?