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The Book of Acts—Paul's Later Travels

Thanks to the modern tools of archaeology, researchers have found much cultural, historical and geographical background material that supports the biblical account of Paul's trips through the Mediterranean world.

In the last two installments in this series we covered events from the start of the Christian Church to Paul's first travels through the Mediterranean world. In this article we conclude our discussion of the book of Acts by covering Paul's trips to Ephesus, Jerusalem and Rome.

The Ephesian scripts

After visiting Corinth Paul began his return journey to Jerusalem by way of Ephesus, an important city of Asia Minor.

"And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus ... And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed" (Acts 19:1, 18-20, emphasis added throughout).

The Greek word used here for "books" is biblos. The word originally referred to "the inner part ... of the stem of the papyrus [plant]" and later "came to denote the paper made from this bark in Egypt, and then a written 'book,' roll, or volume" (W.E. Vine, Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, "Book").

Since the 1870s archaeologists have made intensive efforts to find ancient papyrus scrolls, especially in Egypt, where the desert climate can preserve such fragile treasures. They have realized remarkable success, finding scrolls dating back to New Testament times. Among the papyrus scrolls discovered are some containing the wording of magical spells; these scrolls were used as amulets (charms).

"A number of such magical scrolls have survived to our day," notes F.F. Bruce. "There are especially famous examples in the London, Paris and Leyden collections. The special connection of Ephesus with magic is reflected in the use of the term 'Ephesian scripts' for such magical scrolls. The spells which they contain are the merest gibberish, a rigmarole of words and names considered to be unusually potent, arranged sometimes in patterns which were part of the essence of the spell, but they fetched high prices ... The closest parallel to the Ephesian exorcists' misuse of the name of Jesus appears in the Paris magical papyrus, No. 574, where we find an adjuration beginning on line 3018, 'I adjure thee by Jesus the God of the Hebrews'" (The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Acts, 1974, pp. 390-391).

The value of such scrolls that were destroyed is given in the Bible as "fifty thousand pieces of silver" (Acts 19:19), a sum scholars say would be worth around $48,000 in modern currency.

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world

Paul's preaching in Ephesus caused many to turn away from their idols and pagan practices. This led to an uprising among the craftsmen who made their living making statuettes of the goddess Diana and her temple.

"And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen.

He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said, 'Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands.

"So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship. Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians.' So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's travel companions" (Acts 19:23-29).

The temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Its ruins were brought to light by the British archaeologist John T. Wood in 1869. Later he found, in remarkably good condition, the huge theater mentioned in Acts 19:29, which could seat more than 24,000 people.

William Barclay comments about the temple of Diana: "It was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide by 60 feet high. There were 127 pillars, each the gift of a king. They were all of glittering marble and 36 were marvelously gilt and inlaid. The great altar had been carved by Praxiteles, the greatest of all Greek sculptors. The image of Diana was not beautiful. It was a black, squat, many-breasted figure, signifying fertility; it was so old that no one knew where it had come from or even of what material it was made. The story was that it had fallen from heaven" (Daily Study Bible, 1975, comment on Acts 19:1-7).

Another reference work adds: "Thousands of pilgrims and tourists came to it from far and near; around it swarmed all sorts of tradesmen and hucksters who made their living by supplying visitors with food and lodging, dedicatory offerings, and souvenirs. The Temple of Artemis [Diana] was also a major treasury and bank of the ancient world, where merchants, kings, and even cities made deposits, and where their money could be kept safe under the protection of deity" (Richard Longenecker, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, 1981, p. 503).

It is not surprising that a lucrative trade of small statues of Diana and her temple existed in Ephesus. Commenting on verses 24 and 27, A.T. Robertson explains: "These small models of the temple with the statue of Artemis [Diana] inside would be set up in the houses or even worn as amulets ... Temples of Artemis [Diana] have been found in Spain and Gaul [France]" (Online Bible software, 1995, Word Pictures of the New Testament).

Throughout Europe archaeologists have found many statues of the many-breasted goddess Diana (or Artemis, as she was called by the Romans). In 1956 an impressive statue of Diana was discovered in Ephesus; it stands prominently in the museum there.

Into this scene of popular paganism entered the apostle Paul. Demetrius had accused him of teaching that "man-made gods are no gods at all" (Acts 19:26, New International Version). In other words, Paul had fearlessly taught keeping the Second Commandment and avoiding worship of religious images. Thanks to the help of friendly government officials in Ephesus, Paul was protected and the crowd was finally dispersed.

It is a bit ironic that, although the cult of the goddess Diana gradually died down, another cult eventually replaced her in Ephesus. "Christianity," says historian Marina Warner, "fastened on her [Diana] and added such typical feminine Christian virtues as modesty and shame to her personality ..." (Alone of All Her Sex, 1976, p. 47). Diana, continues Warner, "was associated with the moon ... as the Virgin Mary is identified with the moon and the stars' influence as well as with the forces of fertility and generation" (p. 224).

At the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 the veneration of Mary became an official element of the Roman church. Warner says about Diana: "Memories of her emblem, the girdle, survived in the city [Ephesus] where the Virgin Mary was proclaimed Theotokos [Mother of God], three hundred and fifty years after the silversmiths, who lived by making statuettes of Diana, rebelled against the preaching of Paul and shouted, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians' (Acts 19:23-40). There could be, therefore, a chain of descent from ... Diana to the Virgin, for one tradition also holds that Mary was assumed into heaven from Ephesus ..." (ibid., p. 280).

Paul's arrest in Jerusalem

From Ephesus Paul hurried to Jeru-salem to stay there "if possible, on the Day of Pentecost" (Acts 20:16). When he arrived he soon went to the temple to worship and fulfill a vow along with four other Jewish Christians.

"Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, 'Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.' (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they had supposed that Paul had brought into the temple)" (Acts 21:27-29).

Paul was arrested on a false charge of having taken a gentile (a non-Israelite) inside the temple. Next to each temple entrance was an inscription warning everyone that only Israelites were permitted to enter.

Bruce explains: "That no Gentile might unwittingly enter into the forbidden areas, notices in Greek and Latin were fixed to the barrier at the foot of the steps leading up to the inner precincts, warning them that death was the penalty for further ingress. Two of these notices (both in Greek) have been found-one in 1871 and one in 1935-the text of which runs: 'No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death" (The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Acts, 1974, p. 434).

Paul's Journey to Rome

After Paul's arrest in Jerusalem, the Roman authorities discovered a plot to kill him and hurriedly sent him to nearby Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea. Since he was a Roman citizen, a rare and prestigious designation in those days, he was entitled to full military protection. In Caesarea he submitted to several preliminary hearings that left him unsatisfied, so he exercised his right as a Roman to appeal his case to the emperor in Rome.

The voyage to Rome, on a cargo ship, was harrowing. Luke accompanied Paul on the trip. His narrative is a masterpiece of accuracy down to tiniest details. "Luke's account of Paul's voyage to Rome," explains The Expositor's Bible Commentary, "stands out as one of the most vivid pieces of descriptive writing in the whole Bible. Its details regarding first-century seamanship are so precise and its portrayal of conditions on the eastern Mediterranean so accurate ... that even the most skeptical have conceded that it probably rests on a journal of some such voyage as Luke describes" (Longenecker, p. 556).

The remains of several ships similar to the one described by Luke have been found on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. They corroborate the precision of Luke's account. "These grain ships were not small," notes Barclay. "They could be as large as 140 feet long and 36 feet wide. But in a storm they had certain grave disadvantages. They were the same at the bow as at the stern, except that the stern was swept up like a goose's neck. They had no rudder like a modern ship, but were steered with two great paddles coming out from the stern on each side. They were, therefore, hard to manage. Further, they had only one mast and on that mast one great square sail, made sometimes of linen and sometimes of stitched hides. With a sail like that they could not sail into the wind" (Daily Study Bible, comment on Acts 27:21).

On the voyage to Rome, Paul and his company were shipwrecked near the island of Malta and barely made it to the beach without drowning. There they waited several months until another ship took them to Rome.

The Appian Way

Luke's account continues: "And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns" (Acts 28:14-15).

According to archaeological and literary evidence, Luke accurately recounts the way stations to enter Rome from the west, the shortest route from the nearest seaport. "At Neapolis, Paul and his contingent turned northwest to travel to Rome on the Via Appia -the oldest, straightest, and most perfectly made of all the Roman roads, named after the censor Appius Claudius who started its construction in 312 B.C. During the seven-day stopover at Puteoli, news of Paul's arrival in Italy reached Rome. So a number of Christians there set out to meet him and escort him back to Rome. Some of them got as far as the Forum of Appius (Appii Forum), one of the 'halting stations' built every ten to fifteen miles along the entire length of the Roman road system ... Others only got as far as the Three Taverns Inn, another halting station about thirty-three miles from Rome" (ibid., comment on Acts 28:15).

Luke thus provides us with a detailed and accurate account of Paul's apostolic missions during the first decades of the Church. The book of Acts ends with Paul waiting for his case to be heard by the emperor. From later historians we learn that he was set free and continued his apostolic journeys for several years until he was again arrested, imprisoned and ultimately beheaded in Rome.

We will continue this series with a look at archaeological evidence that illuminates details of some of Paul's many letters to congregations and members of the early Church.

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