A Week in the Life of Ephesus (A Week in the Life Series), David A. deSilva. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.
Summary: A historical novel exploring the religious and cultural context of Ephesus during the reign of Domitian c. 90 AD.
The latest installment in the IVP Academic “A Day in the Life Series” acquaints us with the religious and cultural context during the reign of Domitian, around 90 AD. Like other books in the series, David deSilva uses a historical fiction approach centering around Amyntas, a prosperous Christian landowner in a context becoming increasingly hostile to Christians, who were considered atheists because they did not join in the worship of the pantheon of deities, from local deities to the cult of the Roman Emperor Domitian.
Amyntas hosts a gathering of Christians in his home. Some community leaders, who are also involved in the various religious cults, including that of the Emperor Domitian, for whom Ephesus has been designated a regional center, collude in a plot to trap Amyntas. They invite him to become a neopoios for the temple of Domitian. This is a kind of caretaker or trustee position, that on the face of it is an honor and would make him an insider. But it would either compromise him, or “out” him as a Christian, leading to his being ostracized, or worse. A close friend, and then his own son, are beaten up for their Christian beliefs.
A Christian friend from Pergamum suggests that he “go along to get along.” After all, “idols don’t really mean anything.” The contacts he would make, and the influence he would wield, could help the Christians. People from his house church disagree, and even ask Amyntas’ friend to leave. Amyntas struggles to decide. It becomes more complicated when a letter arrives from the John, in exile on the isle of Patmos.
Through the narrative and sidebars, we learn about the pantheon of gods, and emperor worship, and how Christians worshiped. An underlying theme is the power of imperial Rome and how that power was projected through the imperial cult, and how imperial Rome was a drain on the rest of the empire. Although set two millenia ago, the narrative raises questions about what Christian faithfulness looks like in relation to the competing claims of empire. We are forced to consider what we would do, or perhaps are doing, when faced with the conflicting claims to allegiance of empire, and the kingdom of God. David deSilva portrays the subtle guise in which the temptation may come, the allure of the inner ring, the justifications one may use, and the real consequences of Christian faithfulness many through the ages have faced.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.