Archaeology and Paul’s Tour of Cyprus Part I -- By: Merrill F. Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 117:467 (Jul 1960)
Article: Archaeology and Paul’s Tour of Cyprus Part I
Author: Merrill F. Unger


Archaeology and Paul’s Tour of Cyprus
Part I

Merrill F. Unger

[Merrill F. Unger is Professor of Semitics and Old Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

[Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series of three on the general subject, “Archaeology and the Cities of Paul’s First Missionary journey.”]

Paul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus from Antioch’s port Seleucia Pieria in the year A.D. 45. It is highly probable that the two pioneer missionaries started at the commencement of the navigation season (the first week in March) since their destination was the 130-mile trip southwest to Salamis on the east coast of the island. Had they set out later the westerly winds which blow throughout spring and summer would have compelled them to resort to a circuitous course skirting the Cilician coast and then, with the aid of land breezes and ocean currents, to head south to the north coast of the island.

Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, about 148 miles long and from fifteen to forty miles wide, was the fatherland of Barnabas. Its principal physical features are a mountain range along a large part of the northern coast and a parallel range occupying a considerable portion of the south, with a broad tract of plain, known as the Mesaoria between, extending on either end to the sea. As a native, Barnabas knew the island well, and doubtless his love for his homeland was one of the factors in deciding to head in that direction. He was still the leader and desired his native country and his relatives and friends there to hear the gospel.

In choosing Cyprus as the starting point of their missionary endeavors Paul and Barnabas (with John Mark, the author of Mark’s Gospel, as helper) were entering a country with a long pagan cultural history. The island first appears in history in the fifteenth century B.C. when it was listed among the conquests of the great Thutmose III of Egypt.1 By the twelfth century B.C. Phoenician colonists established themselves in the land, introducing their art and their religion in the form of Astarte. When Greek colonists followed, the licentious cult passed into the worship of Aphrodite, who

spcialized in sex and war, and whose temples were places of legalized vice in the form of sacred prostitution.

In the heyday of Assyrian power Cyprus was under the rule of “the giant of the Semites” as Assyria was called. In 550 B.C. it once more reverted to Egypt, then came under Cambyses II in 525 B.C. and annexed to the Persian Empire. Under Ptolemy Soter it again reverted to Egypt as a dependency toward the end of the fou...

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