Inscription to a High Priestess at Ephesus -- By: P. G. Nelson
Inscription to a High Priestess at Ephesus
I am writing this note to draw attention to a little-known inscription. This is a tribute to a high priestess at Ephesus, and is dated to the first century A.D. It reads as follows:
The tribe of Tethades to Flavia Ammon, daughter of Moschus, who is called Aristion, high priestess of the temple of Asia in Ephesus, president, twice crown-wearer, also priestess of Massilia, president of the games, wife of Flavius Hermocrates, for her excellence and decorous life and her devotion.1
This inscription shows that the high priestess played a prominent part in the life of the city and commanded considerable respect. It also supports Luke’s claim that the goddess of Ephesus (Artemis to the Greeks, Diana to the Romans) was revered throughout the Roman world (Acts 19:27): Ephesus is in modern Turkey, and Massilia (Marseilles) in France. Luke’s claim is also supported by the discovery of coins bearing the inscription Diana Ephesia in many countries.2
The inscription thus has considerable significance for the interpretation of Paul’s instruction to Timothy at Ephesus restricting the ministry of women (1 Tim 2:11–12). It shows that, far from conforming to contemporary culture, Paul was going against it. This explains why he felt the need to give reasons for the restriction (vv. 13–14), and why he carefully qualified it (v. 15).3
Many Christians today (at least in the UK) believe that, in restricting the ministry of women, Paul was conforming to contemporary culture.4 The inscription shows that they are mistaken.
The inscription also tells against the suggestion that the cult of Artemis promoted wrong ideas about women.5 Flavia Ammon was decorous and married.
1 Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, Women’s Life in Greece and Rome (London: Duckworth, 1982), Translation 258 (slightly modified).
2 New Bible Dictionary (ed. James Dixon Douglas; London: InterVarsity, 1965), 381.