Capital of Ionia, Asia Minor, and later, under the Romans, capital of Asia Proconsularis. Many Jews lived in this large Greek city during the whole of the Hellenistic period. Josephus (“Contra Ap.” ii. 4) traces the granting of citizenship to the Jews of Ephesus and of entire Ionia back to the Diadochi; but as the Greeks themselves, in their dispute with the Jews, ascribed the regulation of their affairs (idem, “Ant.” xii. 3, § 2) to Antiochus II. Theos (261-246 B.C. ), it is probable that the granting of equal rights to the Jews likewise dates from that period.
In 49 B.C., when the consul L. Lentulus recruited Roman citizens in Asia Minor for the legions of the party of Pompey, the Jews of Ephesus, although Roman citizens, were exempted from military service in deference to their laws (“Ant.” xiv. 10, § 13); and in 43 B.C. Dolabella, at the instance of Hyrcanus II. ( ib. § 12), granted them the same exemption. Dolabella directed the Ephesians to make this known in other cities also; and the privilege was carried into effect in Alexandria, Sardis, and throughout Asia Minor (ib. §§ 14-17). Another decree of the Ephesians assured the Jews rest on the Sabbath and the observable of their laws (ib. § 25). Under Augustus, the Ephesians demanded that, if the Jews deemed themselves the equals of the Ephesians, they should worship the gods of the Ephesians. The advocates of the Jews in this matter were Nicholas of Damascus, who later became a historian, and M. Agrippa, who at that time (10 B.C.) governed the East.
Agrippa wrote to the Ephesians that the Jews throughout Asia should be permitted to send gifts to the Temple at Jerusalem and to observe the Sabbath ( ib. xvi. 6, § 4). The proconsul C. Norbanus Flaccus (Philo, “Legatio ad Caium,” § 40) and Julius Antonius (“Ant.” xvi. 6, § 7) wrote in like terms to the Ephesians.
Paul preached Christianity in the synagogue of Ephesus during his first visit to that city (Acts xviii. 19); Apollos, a learned Jew from Alexandria, assisted by Priscilla and Aquila, proclaimed it in the same place (ib. xviii. 26). Paul, on his second visit, again preached in the synagogue; but when some Jews rejected his teaching, he went to preach in the private synagogue of a certain Tyrannus (ib. xix. 9).
The Jews of Ephesus were completely Hellenized, and the inscriptions on the Jewish tombs found there are written in Greek: one stone commemorates a certain “Mar Maussios,” i.e., Rabbi Moses; another, a leading physician. Josephus often cites a certain Menander of Ephesus, whose history seems to have included that of the Jews. The city was the scene of the dialogue that Justin held with the Jew Tryphon.