Paphos in the New Testament
Pahos was the name of two towns, Old (Grk: Palaia Paphos, or Grk: Palaipaphos) and New Paphos Grk: Nea Paphos), situated at the southwestern extremity of Cyprus. Considerable confusion is caused by the use of the single name Paphos in ancient writers to denote now one, now the other, of these cities.
That referred to in Acts 13:6,13 is strictly called New Paphos (modern Baffa), and lay on the coast about a mile South of the modern Ktima and some 10 miles Northwest of the old city. The latter (modern Kouklia) is situated on an eminence more than a mile from the sea, on the left bank of the Grk: Diarrizo, probably the ancient Bocarus.
2. History of Old Paphos:
It was founded by Cinyras, the father of Adonis, or, according to another legend, by Aerias, and formed the capital of the most important kingdom in Cyprus except that of Salamis. Its territory embraced a considerable portion of Western Cyprus, extending northward to that of Soli, southward to that of Curium and eastward to the range of Troodus. Among its last kings was Nicocles, who ruled shortly after the death of Alexander the Great.
In 310 BC Nicocreon of Salamis, who had been set over the whole of Cyprus by Ptolemy I of Egypt, was forced to put an end to his life at Paphos for plotting with Antigonus (Diodorus xx. 21, who wrongly gives the name as Nicocles; see Athenische Mitteilungen, XXII, 203 ff), and from that time Paphos remained under Egyptian rule until the Roman annexation of Cyprus in 58 BC.
The growth of New Paphos brought with it the decline of the old city, which was also ruined by successive earthquakes. Yet its temple still retained much of its old fame, and in 69 AD Titus, the future emperor of Rome, turned aside on his journey to Jerusalem, which he was to capture in the following year, to visit the sacred shrine and to inquire of the priests into the fortune which awaited him (Tacitus History ii.2-4; Suetonius Titus 5).
3. History of New Paphos:
New Paphos, originally the seaport of the old town, was founded, according to tradition, by Agapenor of Arcadia (Iliad ii.609; Pausan. viii.5, 2). Its possession of a good harbor secured its prosperity, and it had several rich temples. According to Dio Cassius (liv.23) it was restored by Augustus in 15 BC after a destructive earthquake and received the name Augusta (Greek Sebaste). Under the Roman Empire it was the administrative capital of the island and the seat of the governor. The extant remains all date from this period and include those of public buildings, private houses, city walls and the moles of the harbor.
4. The Temple and Cult:
But the chief glory of Paphos and the source of its fame was the local cult, of which the kings and their descendants remained hereditary priests down to the Roman seizure of Cyprus. The goddess, identified with the Greek Aphrodite, who was said to have risen from the sea at Paphos, was in reality a Nature-goddess, closely resembling the Babylonian Ishtar and the Phoenician Astarte, a native deity of Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands.
Her cult can be traced back at Paphos to Homeric times (Odyssey viii.362) and was repeatedly celebrated by Greek and Latin poets (Aeschylus Suppl. 555; Aristoph. Lys. 833; Virgil Aen. i.415; Horace Odes i.19 and 30; iii.26; Statius Silvae i.2, 101, etc.). The goddess was represented, not by a statue in human form, but by a white conical stone (Max. Tyr. viii.8; Tacitus History ii.3; Servius Ad Aen. i.724), of which models were on sale for the benefit of pilgrims (Athenaeus xv.18); her worship was sensuous in character and she is referred to by Athanasius as the deification of lust (Contra Genres 9).
Excavation has brought to light at Old Paphos a complex of buildings belonging to Roman times and consisting of an open court with chambers or colonnades on three sides and an entrance on the East only, the whole forming a quadrilateral enclosure with sides about 210 ft. long. In this court may have stood the altar, or altars, of incense (Homer speaks of a single altar, Virgil of "a hundred altars warm with Sabean frankincense"); no blood might be shed thereon, and although it stood in the open it was "wet by no rain" (Tacitus, loc. cit.; Pliny, NH, ii.210).
On the south side are the ruins of another building, possibly an earlier temple, now almost destroyed save for the western wall (Journal of Hellenic Studies, IX, 193-224). But the fact that no remains or inscriptions have been found here earlier than the Roman occupation of Cyprus militates against the view that the sanctuary stood at this spot from prehistoric times. Its site may be sought at Xylino, a short distance to the North of Kouklia (D.G. Hogarth, Times, August 5, 1910), or possibly on the plateau of Rhantidi, some 3 miles Southeast of the village, where numerous inscriptions in the old Cyprian syllabic script were found in the summer of 1910 (M. Ohnefalsch-Richter, Times, July 29, 1910).
5. The Apostles' Visit:
After visiting Salamis and passing through the whole island, about 100 miles in length, Barnabas, Paul and Mark reached Paphos, the residence of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus (for the title see &CYPRUS). Here too they would doubtless begin by preaching in the synagogue, but the governor--who is probably the same Paulus whose name appears as proconsul in an inscription of Soli (D.G. Hogarth, Devia Cypria, 114)--hearing of their mission, sent for them and questioned them on the subject of their preaching.
A Jew named Bar-Jesus or Elymas, who, as a Magian or soothsayer, "was with the proconsul," presumably as a member of his suite, used all his powers of persuasion to prevent his patron from giving his adherence to the new faith, and was met by Paul (it is at this point that the name is first introduced) with a scathing denunciation and a sentence of temporary loss of sight. The blindness which at once fell on him produced a deep impression on the mind of the proconsul, who professed his faith in the apostolic teaching. From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed in a northwesterly direction to Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:6-13).
Paul did not revisit Paphos, but we may feel confident that Barnabas and Mark would return there on their 2nd missionary journey (Acts 15:39). Of the later history of the Paphian church we know little. Tychicus, Paul's companion, is said to have been marryred there, and Jerome tells us that Hilarion sought in the neighborhood of the decayed and almost deserted town the quiet and retirement which he craved (Vita Hilar. 42). The Acta Barnabae speak of a certain Rhodon, who was attached to the temple service at Old Paphos, as having accepted the Christian faith.
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).