Thursday, 18 December 2008

House of Gold

The “Library of Celsius” on a hot day last summer – given the decadent reputation of Ephesus at the height of its prosperity I have no doubt the library shelves once held some hot topics (Photograph © PatrickComerford 2008)

The latest edition of the Dublin Review of Books, Issue Number 8 Winter 2008-09, includes my review of the latest book by the Cork-born biblical scholar, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor:

House of Gold

Patrick Comerford

St Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology, by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier, 289 pp, $29.95, ISBN 978-0814652596

Strolling down the paved Priests’ Way, or Curetes Street, in Ephesus at the height of the summer, our guide happily pointed out the vista ahead of us, including – in his own words – the “Library of Celsius”. Well it was a scorching hot day – and given the decadent reputation of Ephesus at the height of its prosperity I have no doubt the library shelves once held some hot topics.

Ephesus is one of the most stunning and intact archaeological sites in the Eastern Mediterranean. Pompeii aside, it is the largest and best-preserved ancient city in the Mediterranean, and after Istanbul the most popular tourist site in Turkey. The city owed its early growth and prosperity to its proximity to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World – according to Pausanias, it was the largest building of the ancient world – where the Greek goddess Artemis and the Anatolian goddess Cybele were worshipped.

Today its most inspiring wonders are the Theatre, where Saint Paul preached, and the Library of Celsus, built ca 110-135 AD by the consul Gaius Julius Aquilus in honour of his father, Julius Celsus Polemaenanus. The library is a magnificent and imposing two-storey building with a finely-crafted facade, four niches for statues personifying Virtue, Wisdom, Fate and Genius – long removed to Vienna – a spacious paved courtyard, and reading rooms with cavities to keep over 12,000 papyrus scrolls. The building faced east so that the reading rooms could make the best use of the morning light.

Ephesus is of particular interest to Christians because of its associations with the Apostle Paul, who made it the second major centre of his missionary work, after Corinth. He spent two or three years there between 52 and 54. He wrote at least one Letter to the Church in Ephesus – his Epistle to the Ephesians, probably from prison in Rome – while his letters from Ephesus make his time there the best documented period of his career. Ephesus was equidistant from his churches in Achaia, Macedonia and Galatia, and from there he wrote his Epistles to the Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, his First Letter to the Corinthians, and a lost Letter to Laodicea. Some were written from his prison cell in a tower near the western end of the city walls.

To read the full book review in the Dublin Review of Books (drb), use this link to the Full Article.

The other contributors to the current edition of the Dublin Review of Books include Enda O’Doherty, Terence Killeen, Paul Bew, Patrick Maume, George O’Brien, James Moran, Manus Charleton, Kevin Stevens, John Sweeney, Martin McGarry, Brian Earls and Eunan O’Halpin.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin