The roar of the crowd

OK, basketball junkies (if that’s not your sport, feel free to translate the following as needed). You’ve heard me say it more than once: I’m a Golden State Warriors fan.

How much of a fan?

Let’s see. I have an official Warriors mug, which is dutifully sitting next to me as I type this. I have a Warriors tumbler, and a couple of Warriors t-shirts. I’ve toyed with the idea of buying Warriors face masks. And I remain loyal to the team. Never mind their dismal record since the mind-bending rash of injuries and the departure of Kevin Durant. They’re still fun to watch.

After all, Splash Brothers gotta splash. At least when they get healthy. And we’re done with social distancing.

Just don’t expect me to paint my face blue and gold. I’m a fan, but not a fanatic.

Imagine with me: it’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals, winner take all. The Warriors are down two on their home court: Oracle Arena, known to fans as “Roaracle.”  With mere seconds left on the game clock, Steph Curry drives to the basket and draws a double-team; Klay Thompson runs out behind the 3-point line. Somehow, Steph rifles a no-look pass straight to Klay, who catches and fires the ball in one smooth motion. But Klay’s defender hits him on the arm and the shot misses. The buzzer sounds the end of the game.

And the referees don’t call the foul.

How does the crowd react?

Right. Trust me, you don’t want to be one of the refs.

With that image in mind, let’s head back to Ephesus.

As we saw in the previous post, a local silversmith named Demetrius had begun to stir up resentment against Paul. Playing on the fears of his fellow artisans, he claimed that Paul was dishonoring Artemis, and more importantly, threatening their livelihoods. What if people stopped worshiping the goddess? What if they stopped buying the little silver shrines they needed to bring as offerings? We’ll be out of business, Demetrius warned. We’ll lose our income and our place in the community.

Demetrius knew just which buttons to push. Luke describes the crowd’s reaction:

Once they heard this, they were beside themselves with anger and began to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The city was thrown into turmoil. They rushed as one into the theater. They seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from the province of Macedonia. (Acts 19:28-29, CEB)

The theater in question was a stadium cut out of one side of a nearby mountain, and is estimated to seat about 25,000 people. That’s more than the Hollywood Bowl or Staples Center; more than Madison Square Garden; more than Roaracle. Apparently, the Ephesians didn’t do things by halves. The stadium was used for ceremonial events, sports, and civic meetings.

But this was no ordinary civic meeting.

Luke is describing an angry mob, surging through the streets, drawing more people in its wake, snatching up any of Paul’s associates that they can find. Had Paul not been elsewhere with the local disciples, the mob would have dragged him into the theater as well.

When he got wind of what was happening, he wanted to go before the crowd, not being one to miss such an opportunity to preach the gospel. But the disciples held him back (Acts 19:30), probably fearing for his life. Even some of the local officials urged Paul to stay put (vs. 31).

The theater, meanwhile, was in chaos: “the assembly was in a state of confusion. Some shouted one thing, others shouted something else, and most of the crowd didn’t know why they had gathered” (Acts 19:32). Everyone knew they were supposed to be mad. But not everyone knew what they were supposed to be mad about.

The Ephesian Jews were probably worried that the rage against Paul might soon be directed toward them. At least some in the crowd would know that Paul was a Jew himself, and that he wasn’t the only one who thought Artemis was nothing more than a pagan idol.

The Jews therefore pushed one of their own, a man named Alexander, to the front, to make sure everyone knew that they had nothing to do with Paul. (One wonders if he volunteered for the job.) Poor Alexander tried to quiet the crowd, but they quickly figured out he was a Jew, and had no interest in anything he had to say. Instead, they took up their chant again: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

This went on, Luke tells us, for two hours. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great…” If Artemis had had team colors, there would have been a lot of fanatical, two-tone faces out there.

Follow Luke’s story to its logical conclusion: what’s going to happen next? Gaius and Aristarchus are lynched? The mob goes looking for Paul? Or will there be some kind of divine intervention? Maybe an earthquake from below or fire from above?

Not quite. Luke says this is when the city clerk stands up and speaks his piece. Then the whole thing peters out and everyone goes home.

Of course that’s what happened. 

Stay tuned.