Historical Notes on Ephesus (1)

(Acts 18:19-19:1; 20:31; Ephesians; 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:16-18; 4:14-19; 1 Cor. 15:32; Rev. 1:11; 2:1-7)


Historians use terms to describe the ancient city of Ephesus like “the supreme metropolis of Asia” which reflects evidence of a highly developed city. By the time of the New Testament it was a city that had become a cultural and religious memory, a yesterday romance, not unlike Paris in the modern world. Filled with the symbols of greatness, but struggling in the economics of a changing world and a troublesome silting harbor, the bustling city continued to play a significant role, but was fading with time.


Location: Ephesus was constructed on a river bend, that was eventually dredged into a full harbor near the mouth of the Cayster River, on the western coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey. Along the coastal plain between Smyrna to the north and Miletus to the south, the site is now about six miles from the Aegean Sea. The city shifted in five distinct locations over time, each within a small area. The Apostles Paul and John were familiar with the city that scholars have dubbed “Ephesus III” – the largest (in area) of the five. The areas where Ephesus is located are as follows:


Ephesus I: Aya Suluk (St. John Area); Ephesus II: Artemission area; Ephesus III: Port of St. Paul: base of Mount Koressos; Ephesus IV: north of Aya Suluk; Ephesus V: Selçuk area.

Because of the man-made harbor structure and the flow of the river, a backwash flow caused the harbor to frequently silt up (by 449 BCE we already read of problems documented about the silting. Later, Eusebius records that Ephesus honored Emperor Hadrian for dredging and making navigable the harbor). When cleared, Ephesus was in a location that justified a great seaport. The city sat at the convergence of three land routes with a shipping lane from the north via the channel created by the Island of Chios and an opening facing the cities of Macedonia. The land routes that converged on Ephesus included: 1) The Colossae / Laodicea road (travelling east), 2) The road to Sardis and Galatia (northeast), and 3) The Smyrna (north) main road.

From Tel Megiddo: The Bird’s Eye View of History

Standing atop the mound of Tel Megiddo, a sweeping view of the largest valley of the ancient Biblical landscape in Israel opens as an unforgettable vista for any visitor to the land. The grain fields and cotton plants rooted in this rich soil of the “bread basket” of Israel belies the violent history of this place. It was the quintessential battleground of the Bible, surrounded by the slopes of mountains filled with Biblical history. From Thutmose III’s defeat of the Canaanite rulers (recorded at the Temple at Karnac, Egypt) in about 1468 BCE to General Edmund Allenby’s lauded cavalry exploits to rout the Ottoman Turks in September of 1918, this peaceful valley has been the staging grounds for dozens of major battles.

From this platform we can turn westward and view the height of Mount Carmel, where every visitor can recall the powerful ministry of the Prophet Elijah before the hundreds false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). The entire scene, complete with the “slaughter to the River Kishon” is easily in our view. We can easily follow the line of the path of the prophet’s run to the city of Jezreel, miles east of our panorama viewpoint. A simple ribbon of asphalt roadway marks the line of an ancient road at the base of the Samaritan hills, as they meet this open valley at the southernmost point of the Galilee.

The road is not only important for the “Elijah marathon” story, but for an account from the Gospels as well. It was along the road “between Galilee and Samaria” (Luke 17:11) that Jesus encountered ten lepers. Though ten were healed by the teacher in the story, only one came back to say a word of thanks. This road fits the description and is a great visual setting to this simple story I learned as a youth.

Megiddo’s elevation affords us another important view to the north – the Nazareth ridge. A bustling Galilee city today, this city has become everything the ancient village with this same name was not. Once an obscure and probably un-walled village with a distant spring and tiny cave-style houses, the archaeology of the village has been important for Christian pilgrims since the days of the Byzantine Empire. The boyhood home of Jesus – it is no surprise that several thriving churches dot the landscape of the city, including Greek Orthodox and Catholic shrines. These churches service the largest Arab Christian community in the region.

Further east, as our eyes move across the panorama of the valley we cannot help but see the abrupt incline of the free standing Mount Tabor. Rising nearly 600 meters above the surrounding plain – this mountain was considered a symbol of strength by the ancient Psalmist (Psalm 89:12). Bible students immediately associate the mound with thee mustering place of the tribes of Isaachar, Zebulun and Naphtali to battle the king of Hazor (Judges 4:6). The ancient battle of the Israelites under Barak and the victory song of Deborah stirs even the modern visitor in the shadow of this mountain. Our vista also includes the swell of the hill of Moreh, a gentle slope that appears to peak (from our view) just above the modern city of Afula. The villages of the ancient hill are also the setting for memorable Bible stories. The Prophet Elisha stayed for a time in the chamber of a Shunemite woman (a village on the south slope of the hill), and even raised the child of this generous woman after he collapsed and died (2 Kings 4:32). Much later, the Gospels record a similar miracle by Jesus in the village of Nain, along the northern slope of the mountain.

On the extreme eastward view of our bird’s eye perch, we end our panorama visit at the steep slopes of  Mt. Gilboa. From Gideon to Saul, this mountain was the southern barrier of a number of significant battles. The limestone mountain is now a forest with several etched quarries – a beautiful green mountain rising off the Jezreel plain. How can anyone view this mountain and not recall the great battle that brought both the death of King Saul and his three sons (1 Samuel 31)?

From every direction, the Bible history of this landscape beckons young and old to reread these stories with new excitement and deeper understanding. Many places in this land do that, but perhaps none so effective as the panorama over this valley of history. It is a full day tour from one single perch!

Five Reasons for Christians to Visit the Holy Land

With thousands preparing to come to the Holy Land in the next year, there has never been a better time to see the world of the Bible come alive! A recent visitor commented, “It is difficult to imagine how much his trip has changed my understanding of my faith, and deepened my walk with my Savior!” For those who have never been here, you may ask, “How can visiting a place help me understand my faith?”

There are five important ways:

1. Illustrate the cultural world from which the stories of the Bible come.

The Bible comes from a specific time, and specific places. Reading the Bible is a cross cultural experience. We leave our time, our familiar setting, and enter the world of another time and culture. The writers never anticipated that there would be tour buses two thousand years later looking at remains of their villages, so they simply didn’t see a need to explain their culture. By looking at their ancient kitchens, theatres, workshops, shopping markets, etc. it is possible to understand more about the people in the stories that we cherish, and to bring those people out of the book and into life.

2. Understand the relationship of the places to one another.

In many cases, the Biblical writer assumes you know where places are, and where they are in relation to one another. When Jesus passed by Nain (Luke 7) and raised the widow’s son, the writer thought it was obvious that it was on the other side of the same mountain where Elisha had done the same thing years earlier (2 Kings 4), identifying Jesus as a great prophet. When the Capernaum official came to Jesus at Cana, begging for the healing of his ill child (Jn. 4:46ff), Jesus healed the boy. The writer assumes you know the distances and the time the travel between them involved. Because the man walked from Capernaum to Cana (7.5 hours) up a steep incline, but could have returned in 4 hours, the faith of the man in the words of Jesus becomes evident. He left early one morning to see Jesus, was told his son was well by 1 PM according to the Gospel account. Instead of rushing home, where he could have arrived by 5 PM, he waited until the next day to return, showing his incredible faith in the words of the Savior.

3. Capture some of the ideas the writers of the Bible thought you knew, so they didn’t explain.

The Biblical writer was eastern oriented in the way most of us are “northern oriented”. We hold a map with north at the top, but that was not true for them. In the ancient expression of the Hebrew language, to say, “I want to go north,” was “I will go to the left hand.” To go south, you would say, “I will go the right hand”. A simple understanding of the way the writer is oriented can help you understand the Biblical passages of journeys, where the writer appears confused about direction. For the Biblical writer, time is also expressed differently. His “past” in front of him, only his future is “behind” him (because he can’t see it!) In this way, the English word “before” captures two ideas: something in the past, and something in front of you. This word is a clue in our language that the idea still exists in the background of our words.

4. Stand in places where God acted on behalf of the Biblical characters.

Why did God instruct David and Solomon to prepare and build a Temple on the north side of Jerusalem, and not the south? Why did Jericho become the city that God called on the Israelites to leave desolate? Why did Jesus locate his ministry base near the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum, instead of a much larger city? Why was Bethlehem the place of the promise of the birth of the Savior? Places are important, and seeing the setting of the place is like identifying the stage and props of a great drama that is the Bible.

5. Confront in a new way the humanity of the Savior.

The Christian message of the life of Jesus is one of God becoming man. The drama of redemption is a very human story, with joy and sorrow, celebration and suffering. Standing in the square of Bethlehem, the village of Jesus’ birth, or viewing the shepherds in the fields nearby, you cannot help but recall the birth scene. The reality of the prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is striking when sitting amidst the olive trees in the grove near the place of the ancient olive press. Sitting on the stairs that once took thousands into the Temple to offer the lambs at Passover and recalling Jesus in the Temple is a stirring experience. There is nothing so gripping as being in the places where Jesus came, taught, healed and gave of Himself.

Where is Mount Zion?

Originally, the term referred to the small community of Jebusites attacked by the forces of King David (2 Sam. 5-7) and established as the second capital of the Davidic Kingdom. The term ZION, like many of the names of places around the Jebusite city had Amorite of Hittite names (probably from MB or LB Periods) and probably originally only referred to the Ophel ridge (between the Tyropoean and Kidron Valleys). The “City of David” was approximately 325’ x 1138’ (12.5 acres, same size of Megiddo, or about 50 dunams). (** Broshi 5 acres = 1,000 people based on study of walled city occupations, etc. Others say 2x the number.)

Zion appeared to be synonymous with David’s conquered city. The eventual expansion of the city to the north by Solomon, and later to mid way on west hill was by King Hezekiah, (725-700 BCE) expanded to accommodate the influx of refugees from the Northern Kingdom. The “stronghold of Zion” moved as the city expanded. (Magen Broshi argued evidences that Jerusalem grew 10 times its size in the years following the fall of the north, Israel Exploration Journal). Archaeological evidence shows that many houses were STILL outside the wall after Hezekiah’s wall is expanded.

Some argue that “faith moved the mountain” but it appears the expansion moved the identity of the name. It IS Mount Zion, but so are the other hills. Josephus felt comfortable using the terms for all of the hills inside the first wall, which he thought was Davidic (it was Greek). Later, in 333 CE, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux separated Micah 3:12 as two different places, not a multiple identity of the same hill. Burials in the bedrock of the western hill evidence a cemetery from C7-C2 BCE, incorporated into city C2 BCE to western edge of hill. Herodian walls (C1 BCE) incorporated the largest territory in the city’s history,  but Titus destroyed the largest part of that wall. The Roman wall was used when the fortifications were rebuilt by Eudokia in 444 CE, but Caliph El Aziz in C6 CE shortened length of wall because he felt his defenses were overextended. The generally accepted theory is that the current southern wall follows the line and foundation of the Legio Fertensis wall. The Crusaders and later Salah ed-Din enclosed the Cenacle building in a compound  wall of its own.

Genesis 28:10-32:3 The Story of Jacob's Three Stones

Overview: Like a great race, the journey of the patriarch Jacob from Canaan to Haran and back is marked by three stones:

1. The first stone (28:18), like a starting line of a great race. This stone in our reading is covered with oil and stood up at Luz to mark the place where God gave to Jacob the dream of the stairway.

The scene begins with Jacob, hot off the desert sands, 50 miles into the 400 mile trail to find a wife and to flee the anger of Esau. Tired of running, and with little to show for himself, he places a stone headrest below him and falls asleep. His slumber is disturbed that night by an incredible, life changing event. GOD MEETS JACOB THERE. In his sleep, Jacob’s eyes are spiritually opened wider than ever before. He is able to see the traffic filled stairway extending from Heaven to earth. In that place he hears the unmistakable voice of the God of His Fathers. The promise given to him includes:

  1. The land is yours, and you will have a seed that will inherit it.
  2. Your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and though scattered, they will have an inheritance.
  3. All the nations will be lifted by the presence of your scattered seed.
  4. Wherever you go, I will be with you, and I will bring you back home!

Jacob awoke a different man. The God of His Father and Grandfather had become the God of Promise to HIM. Awestruck that God had met with him, he began his journey with a PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, not just the faraway stories of adventures of His forefathers of the past. He took the headrest stone, stood it on end, and anointed it with the oil of consecration. He promised God that if this were truly a revelation of Himself to Jacob, Jacob was committed to follow Him!

2. The second stone (29:10), like a lap marker of a great race, as a huge well cap that Jacob removed to gather the water for Laban’s flocks.

Returning to our story, Jacob arose from place of consecration and continued on His journey with a new sense of purpose. He was no longer just fleeing a past, he was pursuing a revealed future. Filled with anticipation and hope, but with little in his hands, Jacob came upon a well near to his uncle Laban’s home. Joy filled him anew when the young Rachel came to get water from the well. Jacob presented himself, and kissed her. He rolled the stone that kept the well closed and dark, protecting the water’s purety in darkness. This stone was also anointed, this time with the sweat of the man who was strong enough to give even an angel a workout in a wrestling match twenty years later!   

This stone would represent the whole central portion of our narrative, because the whole section is anointed with the sweat and hardwork of Jacob. He worked seven years to gain his wife Rachel, only to be tricked into lying with Leah. Rachel would be then given for another seven years of work. All told, Jacob will spend 20 years with his uncle, and go thru no less than ten failed salary arrangements with this fickle boss.

As if the struggle with Laban wasn’t tough enough, Jacob will be further subjected to manipulation inside the tent of his own wives, who will bargain and manipulate for sex, just to compete for his affections in their children.

Leah’s eyes weren’t very good, but her womb was producive: she bore 1) Reuben: Look, a son! 2)Simeon: Hearing 3) Levi: attached 4)Judah: Praise! in a short succession.

Rachel would not be outdone: She gave Bilhah to Jacob to bear 5)Dan: justice  6)Naphtali: wrestling (alias, I beat my sister!)

Leah matched with Zilpah 7)Gad: fortune 8 ) Asher: happy

Rachel even swapped her spot in bed for mandrakes (an aphrodisiac), but Leah got the babies: 9)Issachar- reward! 10) Zebulun: dwelling

Rachel finally bore her own baby: 11) Joseph: may the Lord add. And later will die giving birth to the last of the sons: 12) Benoni (son of sorrow), changed by his Father to Benyamin (son of right hand).

Jacob’s house now full, and Laban- having son’s of his own and cancelling the adoption inheritance to Jacob, caused Jacob to want to move on. Laban saw the great blessing that was his because of Jacob, and negotiated a way to keep him there. The end of all the hard work was that Jacob grew to be a wealthy man, and Laban also prospered. The time came for them to part, and Jacob left in the night with all of his goods. Rachel, unfortunately, took also the teraphim of Laban- the guarantee of inheritance and blessing that once belonged to her husband, but was lost after her father had sons of his own.

3. The third and final stone (31:46), like a finish line of the race, brings us to the final scene of the Parashah (portion). It is no longer a single stone of a nomad with little but his strength and dreams, it is now the pile of stones of a successful and wealthy Patriarch of a family. It will not be anointed with oil, but with crumbs from the table of a meal covenant between Jacob and his father in law, Laban. It is a place of reconciliation that prepares Jacob for the great reconciliation with his brother, yet to come.

When Laban caught up to Jacob, Rachel, Leah, eleven sons and a caravan full of camels, flocks, herds and servants, he was angry, but controlled. God told him to watch his tongue. He searched for his inheritance pledge symbol, the teraphim, but Rachel was sitting on them, so he couldn’t find them. After a time, a settlement between them, filled with conditions and contracts that would please any lawyer, Laban and Jacob found themselves eating a meal covenant together, sitting atop a heap of stones.

Exodus 15-17: The God Who Provides

Me_and_the_camel God sometimes shows Himself in the most unlikely places to make a simple point to His followers – there have never been “God-forsaken” places or people. The stage for this lesson in Scripture was set amidst a brewing conflict with the desert tribal people called the Amalekites. The children of Israel were already tired by the beginning of the Amalekite conflict (Ex. 17:8). Part way through the fifty-day journey from Egyptian territory to the mountain of the law (recalled now in the 50 days between Passover or Pesach and Pentecost or Shavuot) they already neared exhaustion.

God’s Provisions in the Past

They had experienced God’s provision at the healed bitter waters of Marah (Ex. 15:23-26) and the refreshing oasis of twelve pools and ten palm trees at Elim (Ex. 15:27), yet they were compelled to move on to the mountain where God planned a meeting with Moses on their behalf. To the mountain they trudged, sheep and goats, carts and children.

Suffering hunger in the dry and barren wilderness, the Bible records that God rained upon them first bread, then quail from the heavens to fill their stomachs (Ex. 16). Their incessant complaining and overt disobedience led even God to ask, “How long will you refuse to trust Me?” (Ex. 16:28). Yet God continually provided, and the manna in a pot became the first of many memorials the children of Israel made. The pot was later placed beside the tablets of the law that Moses received from God and kept in the Tabernacle (Ex. 16:34).

Img0164 The Current Crisis

Journeying into the sand-filled fanlike fingers of the Wadi Feiran system of the Sinai desert (Ex. 17:1-7), a connected system of valleys with water in underground rivers beneath, the Israelites arrived depleted of water in their canteens and very thirsty. Though God had shown them His might at the parting of the Sea, the cloud and pillar of fire, and numerous supply demonstrations, the people again panicked.

The huge uplifted granite mountains of the Sinai peninsula sloped above them, and God directed Moses to take the elders to the slope of a mountain he knew well from his shepherding days (cp. Ex. 3:1). This was the shepherding territory of Jethro the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moses. Moses did not doubt that God could and would supply the water necessary for the people. He also knew how to get the water, because he lived in this desert before.

In areas of that desert where the metamorphic rock (sand stone and the underlying granite beds) meet sedimentary rock there are strata deposits of water. Shepherds of the ancient world, as the Bedouin Sinai dwellers today, knew exactly where these deposits of water awaited their needs. Even as we travel through the desert today on camel back through this Sinai landscape, we still see the places where the calcified deposits on the walls of the great Wadi Feiran have been pierced by sticks and rocks to access the water deposits that exists in those pockets behind the walls.

Moses knew the method, and had he had the time to look carefully, he could even predict with fair accuracy the location of water deposits. The appearance of small mosses and damp surfaces can be signs of water deposits. He was, after all, a skilled shepherd from the region before he led the children of Israel.

A modern discovery of this phenomenon by a westerner illustrates what a Near Eastern shepherd of this region knows well. This selection is taken from records of the British governor of the Sinai region of the 1930’s, Major C.S. Jarvis – today a part of the “Palestine Exploration Fund” records:

“Several men of the Sinai Camel Corps had halted in a dry wadi (river bed) and were in the process of digging about in the rough sand that had accumulated at the foot of a rock face. They were trying to get at the water that was trickling slowly out of the limestone rock. The men were taking their time about it and Besh Shawish – the color sergeant – said, “Here, give it to me”. He took the spade of one of the men and began digging furiously in the manners of NCO’s the world over who want to show their men how to do things but have no intention of keeping it up for more than a couple of minutes. One of his violent blows hit the rock by mistake. The smooth hard crust which always forms the weathered limestone split open and fell away. The soft-stone underneath was thereby exposed and out of its apertures shot a powerful stream of water. The Sudanese, who are well up in the activities of the prophets but do not treat them with a vast amount of respect, overwhelmed their sergeant with cries of ‘Look at him! Prophet Moses’!”

God commanded Moses to break the crust of deposit on the surface of the rock and cause the water beneath, pent up from rains of years gone by, to break forth on the dry landscape (Exodus 17:6). What a miracle God demonstrated at the rock! Though it is possible to get water in this way from the desert, the amount of water necessary to care for the children of Israel was excessive and unprecedented. Major Jarvis’ team had only a few gallons compared to the stream that would have cared for Israel’s thirst. Think about it, in order for such a large cask of water to have been stored in the rock ledge deposit, the rain waters would have begun to accumulate long before Joseph had even led the children of Israel into Egypt!

Mvc002sGod knows your need before you do

God may have instantly stored the necessary water, but there is no reason to believe He did not begin to supply the answer long before the question! It may well be that hundreds of years before rains began to form in the water deposit so that it was ready for God’s thirty children. It would be just like our God to create the solution before we face the problem. Is that not like His character?