a creative retelling of the story of the Apostle Paul in Ephesus: Much ado about (probably) nothing
The apostle Paul was in Ephesus, and some interesting events took place as his presence seemed to spark something of an uprising! Some would say a riot...This story retold centres on a guy called Demetrius who finds himself at the centre of this maelstrom.
I wrote it originally for an assembly in a school where I had been asked to tell the story, and draw out the point of the significance of the image of the cross for Christians.
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Demetrius folded his arms in front of the men, gathering himself to make his final point, having just waved those same arms around at the statues and statuettes that surrounded them all as they squeezed into his small foundry just behind the main street in Ephesus - a town known for its tourism and worship of the goddess Artemis.
Demetrius continued, as he had done for the last half hour, addressing the assembled Union of Artisans and Craftsmen about the terrible situation they found themselves in.
“Brothers,” (there were no women allowed), “Look to your families. Look to your livelihoods. These ‘ere...followers of the Way...’ave come to our town to discredit us and put us out of business! Businesses that we have worked long and ‘ard to build from nothing!
“Janus, you came ‘ere with only yer sandals, did ya not?” Janus, an old man who could barely walk but had the glint of one who knew the price of silver, nodded sadly, “And yet through fair means,” someone in the back coughed a little too loudly, “And yet by fair means,” repeated an irritated Demetrius, “Made a name for his-self as one of the foremost craftsman of Ephesus, in service of our goddess Artemis who we all worship. And enjoy her favour by making these ‘ere, dare I say, trinkets to sell to those who come to our fair city seeking to gain her wisdom.”
Everyone knew that Demetrius liked to go on. It was his way, being the leader of the union and all. Not that anyone had tried to stand against him! They knew that it was a worthless task, and the last person who did ended up missing an ear shortly afterwards, and it was never quite clear how that particular accident had happened.
Still, as one of the members of the union had once said, it was better Demetrius than someone who didn’t get the job done. Someone needed to look after their welfare, what with the Romans still in charge. That someone, at the moment anyway, was Demetrius. And if that meant occasionally listening to one of his rambling statements when he was pretending to be as good at public speaking as one of those orators in the Great Theatre of Ephesus, then so be it. At least if there was trouble then Demetrius would get most of it in his face.
An ugly face too! A smashed nose from fighting; eyes red from staring at the silver smelting fire and too much wine; topped off with curly red hair that blazed as bright as any furnace. Though it was a seemingly fitting face when you considered all six foot five of him, his too-big arms and hands, and his bowed legs that gave him the shape and gait of some monstrous nightmare.
Despite appearances, tonight the other artists, sculptors and silversmiths of the ancient city of Ephesus, seemed to be hanging on his every word. There is, after all, nothing more that will sharpen the wit of a man than the threat of his job being taken away from him.
Demetrius continued, to the encouraging “Aye”s and “Indeed”s of the crowd.
“Yes sir, you listen to me, every one of yer! That Paul and his cronies have led so many followers and visitors to the city away from true worship of the goddess, that business is down this week half of what it was last week! Starving to death I am!” This was not quite true. Demetrius still had a large belly and satisfied it with five square meals a day. It made something of an impact on his listeners, however, not all of whom saw that many meals in a week, never mind a day. “And it’s all on account of Paul telling those that will ‘ear ‘im that gods made by human hands don’t exist!” A rumble of disapproval went through the gathered brotherhood. “He’s been telling that tale all over the place, and encouraging people to follow some dead carpenter.
Demetrius paused for dramatic effect. He had heard the important officials in the Great Theatre use the word ‘moreover’ when they were looking to make some great final point in their argument, and every time they did the crowd went wild. Demetrius had been looking for a time when he could use it himself, and the time seemed right about now...
“Moreover, most of the whole of Asia has been convinced, and if this carries on then the goddess Artemis won’t have the respect she deserves. Not to mention the fact that,” he took a deep breath to literally scream his point home, and smash his hand onto the table in front of him so strongly that the silver shrines he had been casting that morning fell to the floor with a crash.
“Our trade will lose it’s name and reputation!”
Absolute pandemonium broke out. The gathered artisans screamed, and stamped, and yelled, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” over and over. Demetrius just stepped back, head bowed, pretending to be the humble servant-messenger, who having delivered his message was eager to return to what ever miserable duty he was only fit for.
The reality, of course, was that behind his down turned eyes a furious fire burnt that hungered for the blood of Paul and his friends, Gaius, and Aristarchus, and, perhaps, even a few of the Jews into the bargain. Who were they, these trouble makers? How dare they tread on his patch? These three had even dared to knock on his door and suggest that the statues he made were just, well, statues!
Ok, Demetrius knew that! He didn’t need telling that something made with silver couldn’t do anything other than look pretty and gather a bit of good old fashioned first century Ephesian dust, no matter what the priests in the temple of Artemis might say. But a business was a business after all, and if all the punters wanted to believe that they were buying actual images of the goddess-who-fell-to-earth, and praying to the statues and shrines might do some good, then so be it!
Which is why Demetrius right then was rather proud of his handiwork that afternoon amongst the devout members of the union. He had whipped them up into a frenzy. Oh yes, they were ready, baying for blood! And Demetrius wasn’t going to stand in their way. No sir. How many times had he gone and defended the aritsans’ right to make these images, to the Romans? To bale out such-and-such the last time they didn’t pay their taxes to Caesar? No, it was about time he got something in return, “After all,” he reasoned, “That’s justice, that is!” Instead of him standing between those weak men of the union and the power of Rome, it was time for some reckonin’ and they could stand for Demetrius for a change. Which is why the silversmith allowed himself a small smile as the angry crowd rushed out of his smithy, into the streets and started spreading the message of mayhem from door to door.
It didn’t take long either for the anger to take hold. Soon the whole city was screaming and raging against Paul and his friends. In such a situation it doesn’t take long for an out of control mob to locate at least two of their enemy - Paul’s friends Gaius and Aristarchus. When they did, they dragged them to the great theatre.
Demetrius sauntered in just as these two were made to stand in front of the crowd. Some people cheered him, but most were too focused on the matter in hand to notice the person who had actually done the original stirring. Some didn’t even have a clue why they were there, but it seemed something needed doing, and probably shouting about, so they had just come along for the ride!
It was then to Demetrius’ horror that he discovered that one person was missing, the very person who he most wanted to see either dead, clapped in irons, or at least sent far, far away. That man, Paul, was nowhere to be seen. Instead some other man was stood there, another Jew who was known to Demetrius as a regular speaker at the theatre called Alexander, trying to calm the crowd down.
It wasn’t working. The chanting just got louder and louder and lasted about two hours!
But still, no sign of Paul.
“Typical,” thought Demetrius later, as he drowned his thoughts in wine, “I might’ve known that that bald wimp would turn tail and scuttle out of here as soon as it got hard!”
This, unfortunately for Demetrius, was far from the truth. Paul had wanted to come and defend his views, as he had done already in so many other cities, but his friends had persuaded him not to on this occasion. It had been the right thing to do. Instead the city clerk had finally brought order to the situation, much to the annoyance of Demetrius who was hoping the crowd was so riled that not only would it kill off any sign of this “Christian Way” that seemed to have gotten a foot hold in the city, but also might have even spilled out to violence against the Romans. As the crowd’s temper had risen earlier, he had been imagining himself as the new self elected president of the State of Ephesus!
Now any such hope was dashed, because that miserable clerk had told everyone that there was no charge that could be made against Paul and his friends. Everyone had gone very quiet at that, and slowly the crowd had melted back to the streets to carry on with whatever they had been doing before the riot had broken out.
Bah! No charge?
What about the one that said that a carpenter from Nazareth was better than the goddess Artemis? And that the cross of the Romans, used to kill common criminals, was some kind of reminder of the love of the God of the Jews for everyone in the whole world?
“Next thing you’ll know,” said Demetrius out loud and slightly slurring over his goblet of wine, earning him some rather strange looks from the other patrons of the pub, “They’ll be ditching images of the goddess and hanging little crosses around their necks!”
He stopped, goblet half way to his mouth. A look came across his face, a thin smile played on his lips, and greed once more shone from his bloodshot eyes. There was, perhaps, always a silver lining to every cloud.
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