At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater. Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess. “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.”
Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.Acts 19:23-41
Who are the “they” who allowed their anger to surface? Quite simply in the opening verse Luke is still talking about the gathering of the Guild of Silversmiths and related trades. Little wonder they are angry. They are upset at the fact that they are likely to lose a significant amount of business. For them it is a financial issue, but they continue to couch it in terms of a religious matter. When they start shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”, they could really care less about Artemis or Diana or whatever her name is. It is merely a ploy to create a riot. The words they were chanting were the words used in a devotional formula to chant the name of the goddess in worship. I am sure you don’t need me to spell it out for you. You know full well the words that are chanted all over the world these days in similar circumstances in Islamic states. The effect would be the same as it was on this day in Ephesus.
Notice how quickly the situation went from a trade union meeting to a religious riot. We have been in cities where that has happened. It doesn’t matter what the cause of initial incident happens to be, within a short period of time it moves from being about money to being about the honour of the god or goddess. It takes a certain amount of commitment to shout something over and over for two hours. That is a long time to be shouting the same words sparked by religious furor. You would have to have a high degree of fanaticism to be able to keep that up. Easy to understand in our current world if not extreme. Now the situation has escalated to the point that Demetrius and his cronies desired. It was now no longer a complaint by a small number of people with vested interest but was now an issue of a religious mob hyped up by provocateurs in their midst. I am sure many in the crowd didn’t even follow Artemis. They were caught up in mob frenzy. These days people can be given money for attending by those orchestrating the mob frenzy. The amphitheatre in Ephesus is said to have been the largest such stadium in the then-known-world. It is certainly the largest such stadium to survive from antiquity. It has been estimated to hold up to 56,000 people. This building’s location, size and history has been excavated and is now a well-preserved feature of Ephesus where visitors can go to observe the ruins. I think it doesn’t take much imagination for us to picture the events of that day in Ephesus.
Once the groundswell of mob rule gathered momentum, people would have rushed to join in the demo. I have lived in a city where this behaviour was common place. But everyone caught up in the frenzy actually didn’t know what the issue was about. That works to the advantage of those who have started the riot. They can now shrink back and let mob rule take over. Luke sums it up well with the words: “Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.” You might ask how could something so mindless happen like that. Easily, believe me. Luke words are carefully chosen to highlight the bizarre or mindless nature of what happened. Most of them didn’t know why they were there but shouted none the less because everyone else was doing it.
How was it that Alexander was pushed forward to calm things down? As you read in the last Gem, we don’t actually know who this particular Alexander was. Alexander was a popular Greek name at the time. But this man most likely was a Jew who had taken a Greek name. Some commentators feel he was a bronze worker who was an eloquent speaker. You can see how such a person would be chosen to calm things down. But he was still on the wrong side of the fence to actually achieve anything and now we have a member of the Jewish minority added to the mix. Hardly likely to be a successful intermediary. He only inflamed things further. It was only after Alexander tried to calm, things down that the crowd kept up the Artemis chant for two hours. Quite a feat. Imagine it.
I need to address two more matters first before I can lay this Gem to rest overnight. How is that Gaius and Aristarchus were dragged into this? Simply because they were recognized as having been with Paul. Similar to what happened to Jason (17:6) and Sosthenes (18:17). You can be implicated in such matters on the basis of guilt by association. It’s how mob rule works. Best to stay away. Hence the advice of the “officials of the province” in Acts 19:31. These were members of the Aristarches, people who are charged with keeping religious peace not only in Ephesus but throughout the Roman Province of Asia. Furthermore, they were friends of Paul. These people had considerable clout in the Province and with the Roman authorities. But they too were wise enough not to involve themselves in a mob scene.
No one can be a voice of reason in the midst of a mob. Mobs don’t work that way. They are uncontrollable and mindless. Participants are likely to perpetrate any sort of mindless violence on innocent people simply because they can do so with anonymity. One has to wait for the mob mentality to abated before attempting to do anything. The official friends of Paul gave him the best advice possible. Don’t go near it; stay away. “Mobs” don’t take time to find out which side you are on or why you are even there. They strike first and don’t ask questions at all.
I remember a time in Sulawesi when during the Gulf War, an Australian was punched in the face by an Indonesian through the open window of a public vehicle while the perpetrator shouted, “Bloody American!” Then during uprisings in Dili when the Indonesian flag was burnt by Australian students, an American was punched, again in the face, by an Indonesian who shouted, “Bloody Australian!” Well at least we can say equilibrium was restored – kind of.
Time to step away and allow the dust to settle before the next Gem.
It’s easy to have a dream [conviction], but to live the dream requires boldness, extra hard work and persistency.Ribka Lucman
Purpose isn’t about making you famous or infamous. Rather it’s about the quest to find what makes life meaningful.Ian Vail
When people don’t have problems or something to complain about, they manufacture them. It’s how wars start.Ian Vail
If He has kept the universe in place since creation, I think I’ll let God be God and not follow after some god with a little ‘g’.Ian Vail
Stay away from situations where human beings are doing something without knowing what they are doing or why they are doing it, but are merely following what everyone else is doing. It will get you into trouble.Ian Vail