Paphos Cyprus — Did Paul “preach” to Sergious Paulus here? (Acts 13:6–12)

CyprusMapCyprus  is mentioned 3 times in the Old Testament and 7 times in the New Testament.  It was the home of Barnabas (Acts 4:36) and was visited by Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark on Paul’s first missionary journey.


View looking west northwest at the Atrium of the “House of Theseus” (= Proconsul’s Villa) at Paphos. In the center of the Atrium (there are several in the villa) is a small sunken pond. In the upper left of the image is an apse—an “exedra” used for gathering. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The “House of Theseus” is named after its main mosaic—that of Thesesus killing the Minotaur (at Knossos on Crete).  It is the largest Roman house discovered on Cyprus and an earlier version of it may very well have been the residence of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul (Roman governor of Cyprus), who is mentioned in Acts 13:4–12, and who was converted to “Christianity.”


View looking southwest at one of the Audience Halls of the “House of Theseus” (= Proconsul’s Villa) at Paphos. Note the mosaic “carpet” of the hall.


Theseus is the central figure in the mosaic with the raised club. He is slaying the “Minotaur” (half bull half human being that inhabited the Labryrinth of Knossos (on Crete)—thus making him eligible to marry the daughter of the king of Knossos, Ariadne. The Greek inscriptions clearly show Ariadne in the upper left part of the image, Crete in the upper right, “Labyrinth” in the lower left, and the name of “Minotaur” in the lower right the Minotaur part of the mosaic was destroyed in antiquity.

The “House of Theseus” is named after its main mosaic—that of Theseus killing the Minotaur (at Knossos on Crete).


Cyprus is located at the northeastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.  It is the third largest Mediterranean Island with a population of 800,000 people.  80% are Greek Cypriots, 11% Turkish Cypriots, and 9% are foreign residents.  It is about 3,572 sq. mi. [9,251 sq. km.] in size—about half the size of the US state of New Jersey.  This palace has been under excavation by a Polish team since 1966.

Tarsus — A Very Unusual Roman Building

Very few tour groups have a chance to visit Tarsus and if they do, they typically visit only the excavations in the center of town (see previous post) and the associated “Well of St. Paul“).  However, there is a very very massive building that is hard to locate and is situated on the edges of residential and industrial neighborhoods.  It is called the “Donuktash” (Turkish for “frozen stones”).  The foundation seems to be composed of a hardened conglomerate of medium size pebbles.


View looking north along the eastern wall of the Donuktash. The preserved portion of this foundation reaches to a height of about 15 ft. [4.6 m.]. This foundation wall is 335 ft. [102 m.] long — about the length of a football field! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This mysterious and massive structure is apparently the foundation of a large, second century A.D., Roman Temple.   The exterior core of the temple remains, as do some significant interior foundations—for the marble and stone facing have been stripped away during the centuries.


View looking south at the current interior space of the Donuktash. It is longer than a “football field!”  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The exterior walls are visible on the right (west) and left (east) sides of the image.  In the far center is a massive foundation upon which the central building (cella) of the temple probably stood.  Even though this picture was not taken from the extreme north end of the Donuktash, it does give some perspective to its size—335 ft. [102 m.] long. The whole structure awaits excavation.

The Donuktash may have been an Imperial Temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Commodus (A.D. 177–192).

To view additional images of the Donuktash Click Here.

When we visited the site the gate was locked (it always is) and it seemed impossible to find a way in.  I thought to myself that there was no way to keep out the local children, so I asked our guide to ask the neighbor “how to the kids get in?”  Well, the answer was, “there is a ladder around the back!”  So, we climbed the latter to examine the interior!  (remember the walls are 15 ft. high!)


Students checking out the “cella” of the building.


Investigating the walls of the Donuktash.


Exiting the Donuktash.

Tarsus — Birth Place of Saul/Paul

TarsusMap3Tarsus was the birthplace of Paul the apostle(Acts 22:3). It is located at the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, about 9.5 mi. [15 km.] inland along the Cydnus River. In Paul’s day the city was one of the top five intellectual centers of the Roman world — a center for the Stoics. In Paul’s day possibly 100,000 people lived there.


View looking northwest at the current excavations at ancient Tarsus—at the Cumhuriyet Alani. The 23 ft. [7 m.] wide road dates to the second century B.C. while the colonnade (visible on the right, northeast, side of the road) probably dates to the third or fourth centuries A.D. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Not much of ancient Tarsus is visible on the surface.  However, in the wake of urban development in downtown Tarsus, an ancient street and associated structures were found.  The street itself was in existence in Paul’s day.  Tarsus was an important center for east-west transit traffic.

Paul was actually a citizen of this distinguished city (Acts 9:11; 21:39—he was also a Roman Citizen). Since he was sent to Jerusalem at an early age, to be trained there under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, it probably wasn’t until after his conversion that Paul interacted with the Greco-Roman culture of Tarsus — spending some 12–13 years there before embarking on his first missionary journey.


View of the waterfall (Turkish: “Selale”) on the river that runs through Tarsus. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Paul probably passed though Tarsus as he began his second and third missionary journeys.

A Stone Seal from Davidic Era from Temple Mount

The Times of Israel has an article entitled “Tiny stone seal from King David era found in Temple Mount fill.”


A cone-shaped seal found in the rubble excavated from the Temple Mount believed to date to around the 10th century BCE (Zachi Dvira, Temple Mount Sifting Project.”

Much of the information in the article in the Times of Israel comes from a telephone conversation with Gabi Barkay, a founder of the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Barkay said the seal’s discovery attests to ‘the administrative activity which took place upon the Temple Mound during those times.’

It is amazing to think that something such as this was found on The Temple Mount itself. Although there are bound to be disputes about the dating of this object, it was not found in situ, Barkay’s judgments on such matters are typically widely accepted and sound.

Click on the link above for the full article with additional pictures.


Gabriel Barkay peering into the repository of one of the “Ketef Hinnom” tombs.


Philippi (Greece) — Baptismal Site

Soon after Paul’s arrival at Philippi on his second missionary journey—on the Sabbath—he “went outside the gate to a riverside, where we [Luke included] were supposing that there would be a place of prayer”  (Acts 16:14).  There a woman named Lydia from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics” was converted to Christianity and was baptized (Acts 16:14–15).

Krenides River

The exact site of this event is not known, but its memory is preserved just north of the Krenides gate of Philippi, about 0.5 mi. [0.8 km.] west of the archaeological site.

Baptismal Church of Lydia

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Did Paul Visit Albania?

On his Third Missionary Journey Paul wrote the following to the Church in Rome.

Rom. 15:18–19 “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”

AlbaniaMapPart of the heartland of Illyricum included modern day Albania.  When would Paul have visited Illyricum—such a visit is not mentioned in Acts?  Possibly on his Second and/or Third Missionary Journeys.  How would he have gotten there?  It seems logical to assume that he would have traveled  on the via Egnatia—as he did on his Second Journey from Philippi to Amphipolis, to Appolonia, to Thessalonica, etc.  And from Thessalonica he could have continued on the same road west to Illyricum.

In May of 2015 my wife and I had the privilege of joining a group led by Dr. Mark Wilson that traced the route and stopping points along the via Egnatia—the Roman road that led from Dyrrhachium and Appolonia on the shore of the Adriatic Sea to Byzantium.  The construction of the via Egnatia began in the second century B.C. and it eventually reached a length of 696 miles.


View of the remains of Ad Quintum (“At Five [miles]”)—a place where riders would change their horses (mutatio). The row of arches in the center of the image are evidently remnants of a monumental water fountain (nymphaeum) that was built into the hill. On the left, with some protective covering, is the area where there was a Roman Bath.

A Roman bath at Ad Quintum, a change–over station (mutatio) on the via Egnatia, is very well–preserved. It was discovered after a landslide in 1968. It was listed in the Bordeaux Itinerary of A.D. 333.   Although “change-over stations” (mutatio—where horses were changed by official couriers) are well­–known from literary sources, but only few have been identified archaeologically.  Ad Quintum is located a few miles west of the modern Elbasan (ancient Scampis) in Albania.


View of the remains of the interior of the Roman Bath at Ad Quintum (“At Five [miles]”)—a place where riders would change their horses (mutatio). Note the frescos on the wall, the steps, and the terra cotta brick work of the arches above the doors.

The current ancient constructions at Ad Quintum are thought to date to the 2nd–4th centuries A.D. (Note from Dr. Mark Wilson).  To view additional images of the remains at Ad Quintum Click Here.

EgnatiaAramcoThe above map of the via Egnatia is from a wonderful article in AramcoWorld.

To view a Roman Bridge on the via Egnatia Click Here.


What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.


The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge


Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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