(ci' pruhss) A large island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea mentioned most prominently in Acts. In the Old Testament scattered references refer to the island as Kittim (Chittim,
Jeremiah 2:10), although in some passages the term has a wider scope and includes lands other than Cyprus lying west of Palestine (Daniel 11:30). The island is 138 miles long east to west and 60 miles wide from north to south; it is eclipsed in size only by Sicily and Sardinia. Much of Cyprus is mountainous; the Troodos Mountains (5900 feet) dominate the western and central sections, while the Kyrenia Mountains (3100 feet) extend along the northern coast.
Historically Cyprus was important as a source for timber used in shipbuilding and copper, both vital commodities in the ancient world. The strategic position of Cyprus just off the coasts of Asia Minor and Syria coupled with the presence of favorable currents and reliable summer winds encouraged wide-ranging trade contacts. Evidence of trade with Cyprus between 2000 and 1000 B.C. has been found in Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria; contacts also were maintained with Crete, the Aegean Islands, and Greece. After 1500 B.C., Cyprus was influenced heavily by the Mycenean culture of mainland Greece which left an indelible stamp.
After 1000 B.C., several city-states, each ruled by a king, were the basis of the political structure on Cyprus. Among the most important cities were Salamis and Kition. The Phoenicians, a Semitic people who established a trading empire throughout the Mediterranean, colonized Kition about 850 B.C. Tyre and Sidon were the center of Phoenician trade, and the Old Testament underscores the connection between these cities and Cyprus in several passages (Isaiah 23:1-2,
From the time the kings of Cyprus submitted to Sargon II of Assyria in 707 B.C., the political fortunes of the island were determined by successive empires which dominated the Near East. Egyptian and Persian kings controlled Cyprus prior to the coming of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. After his death, Cyprus became a part of the Ptolemaic Empire (294-258 B.C.). During this period many Jews settled on the island, forming an important part of the population. In 58 B.C., Rome annexed Cyprus; with the establishment of the Roman Empire under Augustus, the island became a Senatorial Province in 22 B.C. governed by a proconsul from Paphos.
Cyprus is first mentioned in the New Testament as the birthplace of Joseph surnamed Barnabas, a Hellenistic Jewish convert who later accompanied Paul (Acts 4:36-37). As a result of the persecution associated with the martyrdom of Stephen in Jerusalem, Jewish Christians journeyed to Cyprus and preached the gospel to the Jewish community on the island (Acts 11:19-20). In A.D. 46 or 47, Paul undertook his first missionary journey accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 13:1). Arriving at Salamis on the eastern side of Cyprus, the group crossed the island to Paphos preaching the new faith. The reference to Paphos is to Neapaphos, “New Paphos,” founded in the fourth century B.C., and the center of Roman government on Cyprus. The conversion of the deputy, Sergius Paulus, was brought about in part by the blinding of the magician Bar-jesus. Whether Paul visited Paleapahos, “Old Paphos,” is unclear; Paleapaphos was an ancient city associated with the worship of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who reputedly emerged from the foam of the sea nearby.
John Mark and Barnabas returned to Cyprus a second time after parting company with Paul (Acts 15:39). Later, Paul twice passed by the island on voyages, once on a return to Jerusalem (Acts 21:3) and finally while traveling to Rome (Acts 27:4). See Kittim; Phoenicians.