Selcuk (Ephesus)

It’s been a long day. Started with a long night. Jet lag hit with a vengeance—I was up at 2:00 and read until 5:00, slept a couple hours more, and then started the day.

It was chilly this morning—maybe in the 40’s? The temperature warmed quickly, however (into the 60’s), and the drive north was beautiful: great sea vistas, looming mountain ranges, fields newly planted and orchards of olive trees. The landscape is so like Greece. In the ancient world, this area was called “Ionia” and was settled extensively by Greek expats—merchants, farmers, sailors, and soldiers. Must have seemed like home to them.

It was the settlements of Ionia that started all the trouble with Persia in the late 6th/early 5th centuries B.C. They rebelled, suffered the predictable consequences, and rallied their Greece compatriots (notably the Athenians) to their cause. The ruins of this area are very like the ruins of Greece—same architecture, same pantheon of gods, same civic structures.

I drove from Bodrum north to Didyma—the Twin—the site of one of the largest temples in the ancient world: The Temple of Apollo (who was the twin of Aphrodite—hence the name). The site itself was something of a disappointment—small, limited primarily to the temple itself. The temple was worth the trip, however. It was huge, with 60 foot-tall pillars (that’s a six-story building!), two vaulted walk-ways leading down to the exedra (the open-air center of the temple), and massive porticos all around. The detail work (entablature, bas reliefs, decorations on the pedestals and capitals of the columns) was first rate.

I spent an hour or so, walking around the ruins, bought an ice cream, and hit the road again. North once more. 10-12 miles to Miletus—one of the largest and most important cities in the ancient world. Paul visited here twice—that we know of.

The first visit (noted by Luke in Acts 20) was at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. He was headed home from Corinth (a difficult and contentious visit), sailed across the Aegean to the Roman province of Asia Minor (that includes Ionia and is roughly equivalent to modern-day Turkey), and needed to see the elders of Ephesus. But he couldn’t afford to stop in Ephesus: too many connections … too many people who would delay his trip to Jerusalem. So he sailed down the western coast of Turkey and stopped at Miletus—about 20 miles aways—sending a message to the elders to meet him there. It was at Miletus that Paul said his wrenching goodbyes to the men he had entrusted with the spiritual health of the church in Ephesus, charging them to be the shepherds the Holy Spirit had called them to be, and warning them of future problems in the church—many of those problems originating among the elders themselves!

The second visit involved one Trophymous—a companion and work-mate of Paul—who fell ill at some later point in Paul’s travels (that presumably occurred after the conclusion of Acts and Paul’s “appeal to Caesar”) and had to be left behind “at Miletus” (see 2Ti 4).

The ruins are a wonder. They are dominated by a theater that once seated 15,000 people (some scholars say 25,000!). The theater is well-preserved and includes a well-defined “orchestra,” a columned seating area for visiting Emperors (among them Caesar, Augustus, and Tragen), and huge access tunnels that allowed spectators to move quickly and efficiently to their seats. There is an inscription here (“For the Jews and Godfearers”) that reserves a block of seats. This is surprising since Hebrews did not usually dabble in theater. However, the diaspora Jews were more liberal than their Judaean counterparts and could have overcome their thesbi-phobia. (They probably had praise teams in the synagogue as well!)

Around the theater are the remains of an ancient palace structure, a heroon (ancient tomb and shrine), and a barracks for soldiers (rulers in the old days liked to keep their troops close). Beyond the theater are the skeletal protuberances of temples, gateways, stoas (ancient porches), and agoras—all framed by pools of stagnant water, the echoes of the sea that once lapped at the feet of ancient Miletus. Miletus was a thriving port city, sited at the mouth of the Meander River (whose wandering course gave us the word “meandering”). But the river silted in, stranding Miletus 4-5 miles from the sea, and ending the wealth that flowed from trading and, hence, its dominance of the area.

Oops. I’m about 50 yards away from a mosque and the time for prayer is just being sung. They broadcast this call over loudspeakers from the minarets that grace each mosque—loudly! It is so out of character—this religiously dominated culture—for those of us accustomed to the secular nation and the separation of church and state. Odd. Arresting.

One of my primary memories of Miletus will be auditory: the hum of bees (they were everywhere, feasting on the flowers and hedges that were in profuse bloom), the quarcking of frogs (the waters of the swamps drew them by the thousands), the voices of ghosts haunting this site, speaking of things Greek and Roman and human.

I’m sitting on a roof-top café near my hotel in Selcuk, just a couple of miles from Ephesus. I go there tomorrow.

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.