Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, Europeans feared the tomato because they believed the tomato was a deadly killer.  Now, this would make perfectly good sense if they had seen the 1978 movie, “The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” because there, tomatoes WERE deadly killers (that one line in the theme song said it all: “I’m really going to miss her, a tomato ate my sister.”).  However, most people today dismiss the impact of this movie on our European friends since the movie came out 200-plus years after this panic and because it was a really bad movie. Nevertheless, in 1700’s, the tomato was believed to be extremely poisonous and responsible for numerous deaths. You may scoff at this idea, but the evidence was pretty overwhelming. Many aristocrats, after eating a side dish of tomatoes, became very sick and many died. After eliminating all other possible suspects, the authorities concluded that tomatoes must be the culprit and banned the fruit. It was even given the moniker, “the poison apple,” which really hurt grocery sales. Only years later was the poor tomato exonerated. Apparently, wealthy Europeans back then used pewter plates, plates which were incredibly high in lead content. Tomatoes back then (and still today) were incredibly high in acidity.  And when served on a pewter plate, the acid of the tomato would leach the lead into the fruit so that, whoever ate it, would get terribly sick. But not from tomato poisoning—from lead poisoning! For years, our good red friend was accused of being something it definitely was not. But now we can understand why the movie had to be made. After years of being falsely accused, the tomato had to exact its revenge.*

False accusations abound. Consider the case of Artemis. If you know anything about Artemis, you probably know this one thing (and if you are really good, you probably know a second thing).  Everyone who has any inkling about who Artemis was, knows she was a mother (and also a fertility goddess). Unfortunately, neither one is right. Now, you can’t really blame archeologists for spreading this lie, but even if it is done unintentionally, a false accusation is still a false accusation. But it is understandable. Archeologists have uncovered hundreds of statues of Artemis which featured one startling characteristic. She was covered in breasts. If you do a Google search on “Artemis of the Ephesians” you will see what I mean. On some statues, Artemis has 15 breasts. On others, she has closer to 18. In any case, I think we would all agree that is way too many. And this super-abundance of breasts has led archeologists to argue that Artemis must have been a mother, as well as a fertility goddess. Once this idea is established, it is an easy hop, skip and jump to say that, since 

Artemis was all about nudity and sex, her temples must have followed suit and overflowed with temple prostitutes. And for years, scholars have held these beliefs—that Artemis was a mother, a fertility goddess and her temple was populated with temple prostitutes. These three characteristics formed her core identity. And all of these were based on one obvious fact: Artemis had a chest full of breasts. But sadly, that was not true.  

We are looking at Sandra Glahn’s book, Nobody’s Mother (InterVarsity Press, 2023), in an attempt to see how it shapes the book of Ephesians. Now, I bet when you were first introduced to this book, you thought the title was a little odd, but now it should make sense. Glahn’s big idea is that Artemis was not a mother and was not a fertility goddess. She didn’t even have a temple that employed prostitutes. In short, everything we “know” about Artemis is wrong. But let’s not stop there. She also wants to argue, contrary to popular opinion, those things on the front of Artemis were not breasts. Now, one would think she would be hard pressed to prove that point, since our Google search lets us see all 18 exhibits of evidence for ourselves. But Glahn insists we are mistaken (this reminds me of the famous Groucho Marx question: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”). Now, if Glahn is correct and what we see is not what we think, then the whole mother, fertility goddess and prostitute trail is derailed. In other words, everything rides on this one question: “What are those things on the front of Artemis?” Glahn makes five arguments against the breast assumption.  

First, Glahn writes: “No evidence exists in the literary and epigraphic sources to link Artemis with sex, mothering, or reproduction/fertility” (pg. 104). Now, one would think that if Artemis was perceived to be a fertility goddess or a mother, that fact would be found somewhere in the literature. But there is no trace of it. And if there is no record saying that Artemis was a mother, then there is no need to see these bumps as breasts.  

Second, the earliest records we have that describe Artemis as multi-breasted are surprisingly late.  Instead of being from the first century, they come from the third- and fourth-century CE. For instance, Jerome (died 420 CE) wrote: “The Ephesians honor Diana, not the famous hunter, but Diana-of-the-many breasts whom the Greeks call polymaston, so as to make people believe by this image that she nourishes all animals and all living things.”  If you read between the lines here, you can see that Jerome is intending to discredit Artemis and her worship by ridiculing her and her myriad breasts. And this was where the idea of Artemis-of-the-many-breasts came from—not from history, not from facts, and not from any evidence, but from Christians trying to throw shade on Artemis and her followers.  

Third, whatever these protuberances are, they are clearly, not skin. See, Artemis’ skin is ebony.  Her face is ebony. Her hands are ebony. Her feet are ebony. The protrusions, though, are white. And that would seem to indicate that whatever these things are, they are not part of her body, but something she is wearing. And if that is true, that changes everything. 

Fourth, not only are they the wrong color (which says they are not skin), they are also misplaced.  They are too low. Instead of adorning her chest, they seem to be decorating her stomach. If you were still holding on to a glimmer of the traditional position, almost all hope is now gone.

And now the death knell. Fifth, several statues of males from the ancient world have them. Glahn writes: “Male figures, such as Zeus, bear similar frontal imagery without having maternal properties.” (page 106). And that proves it. The idea that Artemis is a mother cannot be held.   

And that leads us to the main question: If they weren’t breasts, what are these things? Answer: They are pouches. And why does Artemis wear 18 pouches? Because in these pouches were magical incantations. As we said last week, not only was Artemis mighty and strong, but she had magical powers. And inside these pouches were the prayers of people asking for Artemis to curse their enemies, to divine the future or to heal the sick. See, everyone in Ephesus believed Artemis was powerful, but Paul wants everyone to know that Jesus is far more powerful than Artemis could ever hope to be. That’s why Ephesians 2 speaks repeatedly about God’s power; his power to raise the dead (Eph. 2:1 and 4-5: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. . .  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ. . .”); his power to raise us up into the heavenly realms (Eph. 2: 6: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. . . .”); his power to reconcile people together (Eph. 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…”); his power to create a new humanity (Eph. 2:15: “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace. . . .”); and his power to give us access to God (Eph. 2:18: “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”). Artemis may carry magical incantations everywhere she goes, but Jesus is the power of God.  

Okay, so Artemis wasn’t a mother and she was not a fertility goddess and she certainly did not have temple prostitutes adorning her temple.  Instead, she exercised power through magic.  She protected the city.  She was a warrior and an archer. She was many things, but she was not a mother. 

But that only tells us what Artemis wasn’t and while we now know she wasn’t a mother; we still have this sneaking suspicion that she was a fertility goddess with rather loose morals.  But that is also not true.

When we lived in Canada, Ontario passed a law that allowed women to go topless throughout town, as long as it was not in a sexual setting. They felt that since men could go topless anywhere, women should have the same right. So, if a man wanted to mow his lawn without a shirt, a woman could mow her lawn shirtless, too. Now, Jo and I agreed that the law should not discriminate against one gender in favor of another, but our solution was far simpler and pragmatic. For the sake of equality, prohibit men from taking off their shirts in public (trust me, everyone would be happier if we did this).

Somehow, we have inherited the notion that Artemis was some hussy and that she would often appear topless on Mount Olympus. That’s just the type of woman she was. But that is not close to the truth. Artemis was not going topless anywhere. She was not that type of woman. Instead, she was the exact opposite. Here is Artemis’ core identity. S.M. Baugh writes: 

“Artemis is the ever-virgin consort of wild forest nymph,
who spurned marriage and relations with men.
Her devotees were distinguished by perfect chastity.”

Glahn adds these words: 

“Artemis is the lord of virginity, who wears a gold belt,
drives a golden chariot, and sits on a golden throne.”

And another scholar, Lilly Nortje-Meyer writes: 

“The only man Artemis had romantic feelings for was Orion.
After his death, she never loved another man.
It does not speak of a promiscuous goddess,
but of a strong woman who allowed herself to experience true love,
but not be dependent on the love of a man.
The high value Artemis placed on virginity
should be seen not only as the absence of sexual relations,
but rather as the completeness of her female identity.
She did not need a man;
she could be complete without male companionship.”

Artemis was not a mother. She had no need for men in her life.
Artemis was not a fertility goddess. She was a virgin queen.
Artemis was not surrounded by temple prostitutes. Her devotees were distinguished by perfect chastity. And that paints a whole different picture of this goddess and her impact on Ephesus and on the book of Ephesians. And there it is, Artemis is nobody’s mother.

Thanks for reading. More next week. And let’s never talk about this in public ever again.

*For more details on the storied past of the tomato, please see the article by K. Annabelle Smith
in the June 18
, 2013, edition of the Smithsonian Magazine. It’s also online.