The city of Ephesus experienced a marked civic transformation in Late Antiquity. After having centered its settlements and economic fortunes on its proximity to a deep-water harbor for over a millenium, late antique Ephesus gradually shifted to an inland, fortified settlement on Ayasoluk Hill. While several factors undoubtedly informed this civic reorientation, the most commonly cited impetus for Ephesus’s late antique reorientation was the infilling of its deep-water harbor. This article argues that, in addition to this environmental cause, an important cultural shift correspondingly informed Ephesus’s late antique reconfigurations. Namely, the emergence and development of the tomb of John on Ayasoluk Hill, informed by an array of literary legends associating the apostle with the city, increasingly positioned this site as a cultic and economic focal point in Late Antiquity. This article argues that an important early strand in this cultural fabric was the Acts of John, a collection of apocryphal tales that narrate John’s exploits in Ephesus. Significantly, the Acts of John articulates a “counter-cartography” that disassociates Christian identity from prominent Ephesian cultic sites and accentuates the importance of spaces “outside the city” of Ephesus, including and especially the tomb of John. Through its own circulation as well as its influence on later Johannine narratives, the early Acts of John helped inform a shift in the cultural cartographies of Ephesus, where Greco-Roman polytheistic spaces were gradually devalued in favor of Christian sites, the tomb of John on Ayasoluk chief among them.
Environmental Change, the Acts of John, and Shifting Cultic Landscapes in Late Antique Ephesus*
The author wishes to thank The Ephesus Foundation (U.S.A.) for supporting the initial fieldwork research on which this article is based, as well as Kristina Sessa, the two anonymous SLA reviewers, and audiences at the SBL conference, Shifting Frontiers conference, the Ohio State University, Ball State University, and Wittenberg University for their valuable feedback on the project.
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Travis Proctor; Environmental Change, the Acts of John, and Shifting Cultic Landscapes in Late Antique Ephesus. Studies in Late Antiquity 1 May 2021; 5 (2): 176–215. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sla.2021.5.2.176
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