Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Epiphany in Ephesus

Travel enlightens.  The time line of history takes shape and pieces of the world puzzle fall into place.  How did we get from there to here?  That is why I enjoy traveling to historical sites like Ephesus, where the stories and myths blend and evolve through time to serve a purpose--usually a political one.

Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Asia Minor in Turkey.  Famous for its Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was also a big, cosmopolitan city and important trading center.  Goods from Asia passed through here on their way to Greece, Italy and beyond.

It continued to prosper during the Roman era.  Its population, in fact, exploded, making it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean.  The Virgin goddess Artemis became known as Diana.
That Paul should decide to make Ephesus his base for establishing the new religion of Christianity makes strategic sense.  He spent three years here, writing, preaching and stirring up a lot of trouble.  When the citizens of Ephesus realized their beloved Diana was being blasphemed, he was given the boot.  However, the Roman Empire had far more worries on hand.  Corrupt emperors.  An unhappy populace.  The time was ripe for yet another religion to replace the old one.  Paul's teachings had taken root.  For the next three centuries, Ephesus, along with Antioch, become a center of Christianity in Asia Minor.
The beautiful Temple of Diana was finally destroyed in 401 CE by a mob of rabid Christians.  Thirty years later, the Council of Ephesus sanctioned the cult of Mary.  The Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Christ and of God, had replaced Artemis and Diana.
In 1812, a bedridden German nun had a vision that the stone building where Mary spent her last years was in Ephesus.  Other stories, now clouded in myth, prevailed.  John purportedly lived and wrote his gospel here.  Mary Magdalene died here.  Scholars continue to scrutinize such claims, but people will believe what they want to believe.
It is in Ephesus where I finally began to question the stories of my Catholic upbringing.   Mary's virgin birth always bothered me.   I continue to be fascinated by such stories, but they are not to be taken literally.  Their purpose was not to explain the meaning of our existence, but to establish another power base--one of many on that time line of history.

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