St. Paul's Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology

By Jerome Murphy-O'Connor
Collegeville, Minn : Liturgical (2008). xxi + 289 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
20.2 (Fall 2009) : 277-278

For over 40 years Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has been Professor of New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem and one of the best-known authorities on the historical backgrounds of Bible, particularly the main cities. His archaeological survey, The Holy Land (Oxford, 1998), is perhaps the best work of its kind currently in print.

The current work follows the line of his St. Paul’s Corinth (Liturgical, 2002). He examines the writings of 26 ancient writers (which he divides into Historians and Poets/Novelists) and in the second section of the book into a “Quick Visit to Ephesus” and “A Walk with Paul through Ephesus” (183-97). The last part of the book is an examination o f Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

The importance of the Ephesus in the NT era can hardly be overstated. After Rome and Alexandria it was called “the third city of the empire”; Caesar Augustus called the city the “First and Greatest Metropolis of Asia.” All the mile markers of the Roman roads in the area all were measured in relation to Ephesus. The significance of Ephesus in NT studies is evident. The city served as Paul’s base of operations for over two years; one of his letters is addressed to the Ephesian church, the first of the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2–3; and into the Patristic era it was the site of the Third Ecumenical Council in A.D. 431. Besides Paul, the apostle John and Timothy had connections with the city.

Murphy-O’Connor presents the works of ancient writers who comment on all aspects of life in Ephesus, from Strabo and his geographic insights to Vitruvius’ description of the architecture (especially of the Temple to Artemis) to Philostratus’ descriptions of daily life in the city. His interweaving of comments with quotations from these Classical writers is excellent, and the text is exceptionally readable and detailed in its presentation of factual information. The book is not rich in illustrations, but its maps and diagrams are excellent and helpful.

It culminates in the author’s reconstruction of the life of Paul in relation to Ephesus. He details his visits and extended ministry there as recorded in Acts 19. He is perhaps overly speculative at times (e.g., his idea of Timothy’s reaction to Paul’s rebuke of his opponents in Corinth, 238-39), but the section brings to life Paul’s activities in Ephesus.

The author’s intention was obviously to center on the relation of Ephesus to Paul, but it is odd that he does not mention Rev 2:1-6 or attempt to bring some of his enormous background material to bear on the passage. However, this is a small fault in an otherwise thorough work.

This is the real must-have work for the student of the NT. The amount of material collected and made available (particularly the Classical literature) is invaluable. For anyone preaching through the Book of Ephesians, the Book of Acts, or the life of Paul, this volume will be a resource of exceptional value.