🔼The name Cyprus: Summary
- Enclave, Redeemed
- From the verb כפר (kapar), to cover over or to atone, the derived noun כפר (kapar), village, or כפר (koper), price of freedom.
🔼The name Cyprus in the Bible
The name Cyprus occurs 5 times in the New Testament (see full concordance), and the ethnonym Κυπριος (Kuprios), or Cypriot, occurs an additional 3 times (in Acts 4:36, 11:20 and 21:16 only). The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel speak of (the land or coast of) Kittim (Isaiah 23:1, 23:12, Ezekiel 27:6), although that name appears to have applied to a broader population of coastal dwellers in the region.
The specific name Cyprus belongs to the third largest island in the Mediterranean — with a surface of 9,251 km2, second to Sardinia, 24,090 km2, and Sicily, 25,711 km2, both off the coast of Italy. It's located in the upper-east corner of the Mediterranean, where the east-west coast of Turkey bends southward to the north-south coast of Syria.
Together with Crete (8,450 km2), directly south of Greece, Cyprus has dominated the area since humans first settled there in the 10th century BC, which means that it was continuously influenced and often invaded and controlled for its entire modern history by whichever power was the dominant one: the Minoans, the Tyrians, the Mycenaean Greeks, Assyria, Egypt, Persia, the Greeks again under Alexander, the Ptolemies after that, and then in 58 BC (5 years after the invasion of Judea) the Romans (followed by the Muslim Arabs, French, Venetians, Ottomans, the British; in the present, Cyprus is controlled in parts by Turkey, Greece, the UK and the UN).
Classical Cyprus is celebrated as the birthplace of Aphrodite (from αφρος, aphros, foam, see Luke 9:39, hence also the name Paphos, of the capital of Cyprus), the goddess of love and beauty whom Homer referred to as the Cypriot, who became Venus in Rome and had been Astarte in Phoenicia and Ashtoreth in Israel. Aphrodite's dazzlingly handsome lover Adonis (from אדון, 'adon, lord, closely comparable to the noun בעל, ba'al, hence the theonym Baal, meaning Lord) was also said to have been born on Cyprus. Another mythological Cypriot of note is Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with the milky-white marble statue of his own creation, lovingly called Galatae (see Galatia).
All these stories demonstrate that the Cypriots were deep into the arts and devoted much of their time pursuing beauty, love and pleasure. Rather similar to Helen of Troy (whose proverbial beauty promised to Paris triggered the famous decade long war; see our article on Hellas), the Hebrews too appreciated beauty (Genesis 6:2; Sarah is called beautiful in Genesis 12:11, Rebekah in 24:15, Rachel in 29:17, Joseph in 39:6, Moses in Exodus 2:2, king Saul in 1 Samuel 9:2, Esther in Esther 2:7), but deemed nothing as beautiful as YHWH (Psalm 27:4, Isaiah 28:5), the Word of God (Isaiah 4:2), wisdom (Proverbs 4:9), the Bride (Song of Solomon 1:8, Ezekiel 16:14, Ephesians 5:27, Revelation 21:2) and the bringers of good news (Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15).
What few people realize is that the name YHWH is synthetic and represents both the three Hebrew vowels and the entire alphabet (quite like our word alphabet, or alpha-beta, or A-B-C). Likewise the name Logos refers to the written rather than the spoken word. And that means that the Hebrews pursued information technology (all script is information technology, and all information technology is God-breathed; Acts 13:35-37, 2 Timothy 3:16). The Hebrew alphabet was completed in the time of David — hence all the Psalms and poetry, which are really the "Hello World" scripts of their time, albeit bafflingly more complex than anything we write today (see our remarks on the difference between speech-based and thought-based script in our article on πνευμα, pneuma, spirit). Hence too the Temple of YHWH, a world-wide center of learning (see our article on αζυμος, azumos, meaning unleavened or culturelessness), which was built as a joint venture between king Solomon of Judah and king Hiram of Phoenician Tyre (1 Kings 5:1). The Tyrians, as you will recall, were also on Cyprus at the time.
Isaiah wrote: "Arise, cross over to Kittim" (Isaiah 23:12), and ostentatiously used the word עברי ('eberi), which is identical to the name Hebrew (a pun lavishly copied by other authors: Song of Solomon 2:10, Mark 5:41, Acts 9:40). Isaiah also famously wrote of a Virgin to be with Child, which nobody in his original audience would have understood to refer to anything other than the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena, who was widely known as παρθενος (parthenos), or Virgin (see our article on Mary for a more elaborate look at this).
Isaiah's interest in Cyprus, even his obvious suggestion that the Cypriots were brethren of Israel (indeed, both "sons of Eber"), doubtlessly has to do with the Cypriot syllabary: a script of an astonishingly compact 56 symbols, albeit not yet based on a proper alphabet but on syllables, derived from Linear A (of the Minoans of Crete). This highly advanced Cypriot script was eventually replaced by the Greek alphabet (itself an adaptation of the Hebrew one) by a fourth century BC king of Salamis, which is blatantly hinted at in Acts 13:5-6.
Another item the Cypriots, or their overlords, pursued was copper (the word copper, or cuprum in Latin, actually derives from the Latin genitive of the name Cyprus, namely Cyprium, "of Cyprus"). As we discuss in more detail in our article on χαλκος (chalkos), copper, the beginning of metallurgy marked the start of society based on technology, including information technology (Exodus 31:2-11), and copper became widely known as synonymous with technological wisdom and thus writing (as said earlier: writing is a technology). Copper was the first smelted metal, and particularly when it was mixed with tin to make bronze, much more useful than stone and clay — and thus, with very little poetic imagination, rather comparable to the Cypriot syllabary — even though bronze was ultimately destined to be surpassed by iron in usefulness and silver and gold in value.
The noun λεπτον (lepton), literally describes a spark, small flake or small chip, but was used to denote a copper coin of proverbial low value (Mark 12:42). It stems from the verb λεπω (lepo), to peel or de-bark (of trees), from which also stems the noun λεπις (lepis), meaning skin-scale (what fell off Paul's eyes, so that he regained his sight; Acts 9:18). Another noun from that same verb is λεπρα (lepra), meaning leprosy. The name Paul means Small or Little and is not unlike the noun λεπτον (lepton). But "consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark" (James 3:5).
Two famous Biblical Cypriots are Mnason (Acts 21:16), who is called an "old disciple" but probably embodies a Cypriot movement akin the Jesus movement among the Jews. The other is the Levite Joses Barnabas (Acts 4:36), who becomes Paul's first missionary partner, until they fall out, Barnabas takes John Mark with him to his homeland Cyprus and Paul continues with Silas to Syria and Cilicia. Also worthy of note, Paul was named Saul until his encounter with Bar-Jesus, at the house of Sergius Paulus, the Roman consul of Cyprus (Acts 13:7). Suspiciously like the historian Josephus (and see our article on Silas for a more elaborate discussion of this), Saul assumed the name of his host and continued on as Paul.
Yet another famous Cypriot, who is only indirectly mentioned in the Bible, is Zeno of Citium. And Citium, or Kition, presumably and ostensibly after the Kittim, was located on the southern shore of Cyprus. Zeno was a celebrated philosopher and his followers became known as the Stoics, whom Paul debated in Athens (Acts 17:18).
🔼Etymology of the name Cyprus
The origin of the name Cyprus is a mystery. It's been in use in Mycenaean Greek since at least the 15th century BC, which is prior to the Bronze Age Collapse, the Trojan War, the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, and five centuries before the completion of the Hebrew alphabet. Since the Mycenaeans came to Cyprus when it was still Phoenician — and in those days prior to standing professional armies, peoples tended to trade and get along rather than form militia and raid each other — the chances are excellent that the Mycenaeans adopted the existing name for the island, which was thus probably Semitic and possibly appreciative of the Minoans, the widely traveling early Cretens and inventors of Linear A, from which came the Cypriot syllabary.
The Minoans are known in Hebrew as the Caphtorim, whose name is thought to relate to the root כפר (k-p-r), which shares its three consonants with those of the name Cyprus. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but we would guess that our name Cyprus came from the verb כפר (kapar), meaning to cover over or to atone. Remember that Aphrodite embodied love, and love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8, James 5:20, Isaiah 11:9). The name of the cover of the Ark of the Covenant (a.k.a. Mercy Seat), likewise, comes from this root:
The verb כפר (kapar) describes the formation of any sort of protective perimeter around any sort of vulnerable interior.
Noun כפר (koper) describes the price of a human life, i.e. the purchasing price and maintenance costs of keeping a person out of slavery. This is not simply a single sum of money but rather an economic protective layer of all sorts of hedges and investments. The noun כפרים (kippurim) is in fact a plural of the previous and denotes a massive free-buying and free-keeping of many people at once. Noun כפרת (kapporet) is the technical term for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant; the Mercy Seat.
Nouns כפר (kapar) and כפר (koper) mean village, but emphasize not the mere huddling together of folks, but rather any rudimentary social stratification that mimics the natural formation of eukaryotic cells, with cell walls, organelles and a nucleus that hosts the wisdom tradition.
Long before silver assumed that role, copper was synonymous with money. The noun כפר (koper), price of freedom, occurs in Greek as the verb εξαγοραζω (exagorazo), to buy out; not merely conveying a purchasing price but also paying for the freed slave's long-term maintenance. Paul wrote that it is for ελευθερια (eleutheria), or freedom-by-law, that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), and law (whether a human legal code, an artist's mastery of her medium, or a scientific understanding of natural law) is impossible without information technology. Cyprus represents the youth of information technology: brilliant, beautiful, but faulty (Job 13:26) and utterly forgiven (Psalm 25:7).
Not only the name Cyprus resonates with the root כפר (k-p-r), also the names of a couple of trees: κυπαρισαος (kuparissos), or cypress, and κυπρος (kupros), the henna tree. This is not too surprising, since the name Phoenicia relates to φοινιξ (phoinix), or date palm, a symbol of immortality and victory. As we note in our article on the name Habakkuk: "trees in the Bible almost invariably refer to systems of government."
Yet another word that may have been derived from our root כפר (k-p-r) is the noun καπνος (kapnos), meaning smoke. Even though Cypriot wisdom was translated into Greek and is still with us today, the Cypriot syllabary in which it was originally written would ultimately not survive (or would not find salvation, to use Biblical parlance; Revelation 9:2, see 1 Corinthians 3:15):
The noun καπνος (kapnos) means smoke, which is a phenomenon that occurs when πυρ (pur), fire, isn't hot enough to burn all fuel, or when there's not enough oxygen to accommodate a complete καιω (kaio), combustion. Since in the Bible fire and light are synonymous to reason and wisdom, an incomplete combustion process, and thus the production of smoke, is also a thoroughly recognizable effect in the world of cognition.
The name Cyprus may simply mean Enclave or Fortified Settlement, and stem from a time when the island was mostly agricultural and visiting merchants built the trading post that would ultimately give its name to the island (not unlike the mechanism that would create the familiar names Neapolis and hence Naples or the many New Towns and Newtons of our world).
But Isaiah wrote: "Was it not You who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; Who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed (from גאל, ga'al, to redeem) to cross over?" (Isaiah 51:10). And in that context, the name Cyprus also means Redeemed or Atoned For and relates closely to the kippur-part of the familiar name Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement.