When I was a kid, I was a big fan of The Lone Ranger. It was my favorite show on TV, and I could not wait for the next episode (but back then you had to – not only was there no “On Demand,” but there were also only three channels!). The Lone Ranger had everything–a mysterious masked man, the fast gun, his great friend, Tonto, and a mighty “Hi-oh, Silver Away,” (but I’m still confused — was it “Hi-oh, Silver,” “Hi-yo, Silver” or “Hi-ho, Silver?). Plus, it had the William Tell Overture as its theme music! But my very favorite part of the show was at the end when whoever was rescued in that particular episode, cries out, “Who was that masked man?” Great memories. By the way, I just rewatched the first episode on Youtube. My memories are faulty. It was really awful. Really, really awful.  

But as bad as the show was, it still gives us the perfect lead-in to today’s question. She may not have been masked (or a man!), but exactly who was Artemis? In this blog series, we are interacting with Sandra Glahn’s great book, Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2023). My contention is that even though she is never mentioned outside of Acts 19, Artemis is the background to many New Testament books, especially to Ephesians and 1st and 2nd Timothy. Therefore, to understand these books in their original context, we need to understand Artemis and see the influence she had in the hearts of her followers, an influence that remained with them for quite some time, even after they came to Christ. And we can see this influence as we read Ephesians because Artemis is there lurking in the shadows. We may not see her or even hear her name, but she is there. How do we know? Because when we see who Artemis is, we can read Ephesians as Paul’s rebuttal to her worship and his contention that Jesus is far superior.  

But who was she? Glahn outlines four main characteristics. 

First, Artemis was the beloved goddess of the city of Ephesus. This almost goes without saying. The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and it was startling. Antipater of Sidon once wrote (Greek Anthology IX.58)

“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labor of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”

So, we have a beautiful temple to the goddess Artemis in a very important city. Just how important was Ephesus in the ancient Roman world? Very. Twice, Ephesus was awarded the distinction of being the temple warden for all of the Roman Empire. This was quite the honor, but Ephesus didn’t believe that this honor came only by their good effort. They saw it as a gift of the gods. More than that, they saw that it came with a divine obligation: they were to keep and protect the worship of the goddess Artemis. And that meant they were to keep her temple in pristine shape. And since they were protecting and caring for her temple, they believed that Artemis would protect and care for the city. In the ancient world, a goddess always wore on their head what they protected and loved.  Archeology has recovered many statues of the goddess. In many of them, Artemis is seen adorning a headpiece that is shaped like the city walls of Ephesus. Nobody loved Ephesus more than Artemis, they felt; and nobody blessed Ephesus more. Ever wonder why Paul starts the book of Ephesians the way he does? Now, we know. Paul writes (Eph. 1:3-8): 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” 

Ask anyone in Ephesus: who blesses the city beyond all blessings? They would tell you the answer is Artemis; that is, until Paul comes along and proclaims to the church that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Knowing the background gives us incredible insight into why Paul writes what he does. And this is the pattern for the whole book: following Jesus is far greater in every way than following Artemis.

Second, Artemis was not a stay-at-the-temple goddess. She was a warrior and an archer. There is a saga of Artemis that narrates an encounter Artemis’ mother had with the giant, Tityus. The giant was ruthless and was close to killing Artemis’ mother, but then, Artemis and her brother, Apollo, came to her rescue. They killed the giant with their bows and arrows. In the hymn of praise celebrating this victory, we read: “Lord Artemis hunted the giant down with arrows from her unconquerable quiver.” Artemis was an archer, but not just any archer. Interestingly, she not only fired arrows, but also fiery darts from her bow. And while everyone thought she was unconquerable, that was far from the truth. Paul writes (Eph. 6:13-17): 

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” 

See, Jesus conquers all his enemies so we do not need to fear the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Third, Artemis was not only mighty and strong, but she had magical powers which she often bestowed to her followers. We will talk more about this next week, but most of the statues of Artemis show her to be wearing dozens of pouches on her chest. These pouches were the prayers of her people asking for her either to heal the sick, divine the future or to curse their enemies. In other words, these pouches were filled with magical incantations. This also has relevance for us. When Paul comes to Ephesus, one of the first things God empowers him to do is miracles of healing.  We read in Acts 19 (11-12): 

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”

And as a result of these healings. all these mighty magicians who had been following Artemis, turned from the goddess and believed in Jesus. And they demonstrated their faith by burning all their magic scrolls. They knew who was the more powerful God. And then, in Ephesians, Paul says, “You want to talk about power?” Here is my prayer for you (Eph. 1:18-21): 

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” 

Everyone in Ephesus believed that Artemis was a miracle worker, but Ephesians speaks of a God who not only heals the sick, but who also raises the dead.  Once again, we see that following Jesus is far superior to following Artemis because Jesus is Lord, even over life and death.

Last, Artemis had many surnames. Surnames show devotion and breadth of skill and ability. We named our dog, Ragna. But he has many, many surnames. He is “The Big Dog,” “The Big Hunter,” “The Big Boy,” “Sweet Boy,” “Wolf,” and even “Beast” because he is all of these things and many more. As is expected, among the ancient gods, Zeus has the most surnames, but surprisingly in second place is Artemis. And her favorite designation was “Savior.” Over everything else, Artemis was seen as the savior. But Paul will have none of that. He writes (Eph. 2:1-9): 

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” 

Paul knows the truth. Jesus alone is the Savior, and his salvation is by God’s grace. It is a gift that is freely given and not earned. And now we know why the words “saved,” “salvation” and the theme of redemption figure so heavily in Ephesians and in Timothy—both are contrasting God’s salvation with the “salvation” offered by Artemis. Note the following verses about God’s salvation.

  • Eph. 1:13 — “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
  • Eph. 1:7 — “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
  • Eph. 1:14 — “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
  • Eph. 2:4-5 – “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
  • Eph. 2:8 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
  • Eph. 4:30 — And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
  • Eph. 6:17 — “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 — “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 — “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:15 — “But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:16 — “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:9 — “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:10 — “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
  • 2 Timothy 3:15 — “And how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I have no objective proof here, but it seems to me that there are a lot of verses in these three books about salvation. And for good reason, Paul needs us to know that God’s salvation is far superior to what Artemis offers.

Now, I know I have not fully proven my case that Artemis is the background to these books, but all the pieces seem to fit; and that is either coincidental or it means that Paul is intentionally (though subtly) comparing Jesus and Artemis to show that following Jesus is far better than worshiping Artemis. Horse sense tells me that this is intentional. Now, there are two more essential things everyone believed Artemis to be, but we will save them for next week. In the meantime, think about how Artemis shaped the writing of these books.  

Thanks for reading. More on Glahn’s book next week.