The Acts of Barnabas – Apocrypha or based on History?

Icon of St BarnabasIcon of St Barnabas at the Barnabas Monastery

Though Acts of Barnabas is considered an apocryphal work of the 5th century by many, some believe that it is a copy of a much earlier document that offers insights into the life and proselytizing efforts of this often forgotten giant of the early church, Barnabas.

John Mark says that he is the author of Acts of Barnabas.  It is an eyewitness account of the last stage of Barnabas’ life, starting when John Mark returns to Antioch from Pamphylia.

Severus Ebn-El-Mokafa (955-987AD) Coptic Bishop of Hermopolis Magna wrote John Mark’s biographyLife of the Apostle and Evangelist Mark.

Acts of Barnabas picks up where the Acts of the Apostles finishes at 15:36.

Following the route of St. Barnabas around the island on his second mission by using this work gives great credibility to the fact that it could well be a valid history of the early church in Cyprus.

A hundred years ago Alexander Walker, Bible scholar and translator of the work says:

“This book has more an air of truth about it than any of the others.  There is not much extravagance in the details, and the geography is correct, showing that the writer knew Cyprus well. It seems to have been written at all events before 478 in which the body of Barnabas is said to have been found in Cyprus.”

Acts of Barnabas begins in Antioch; Paul was angry with John Mark and wanted nothing to do with him.  John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had stayed there too long, for two months. John Mark had also left important parchments in the city instead of taking them back to Antioch.

Barnabas tried to reason with Paul, and John Mark apologized, but no pleading would change Paul’s mind. Finally, the apostles had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.


Icon of St MarkIcon of St Mark from the Barnabas Monastery

Wreck of the Kyrenia Ship at Kyrenia CastleWreck of the Kyrenia Ship, typical of the Roman era

They took a boat in winter to Cyprus, but the wind was against them, so the craft had to skirt the southern coast of Turkey stopping at various ports along the way.

Some of the ports are recognizable today:  Corasium has the same name. Isauria was part of Cilicia, Island of Pityusa (Island of Pines, there are two islands heavily forested), and Aconesiæ which is not known, then on to Anemurium, Anamur today. They left Turkey and sailed by night to Crommyacita (today Kormakiti, a Maronite Village) on the north coast of Cyprus.

The ports are in the right sequence for a boat to sail to Cyprus against the wind at that time of year.

They traveled east to Lapithos where an idol festival was going on; it was a major cult center. At Lapithos they picked up the mountain road and headed south.

They stopped at Lambadistis where they found Heracleius who was from Tamasos. Barnabas and Paul had met him in Kition on their first trip. Barnabas ordained him Bishop of Cyrpus. Was there an arrangement to meet in Salamis because Heracleius was waiting for Barnabas there?

While there is a chapel in his name at Lambadistis, Heracleius himself is buried at the St. Herakleidios Monastery in the village of Politiko.

Exterior of Ayios Ioannis Lambadistis Ayios Ioannis Lambadistis Monastery 

Aios Ioannis Lambadistis Courtyard

They passed the mountain called Chionodes (the old name of Mt. Olympus of Cyprus) taking the road to the southern coast.

The trip was uneventful until they reached Paleopaphos on the way into Nea Paphos the seat of Roman government on the island. They were met by a gang of Jews led by Barjesus (Elymas) who kept them from going into town to see the new proconsul, the place of Paul’s first miracle.  Elymas would not allow Barnabas to preach the miracle in the Paphos synagogue and tell how he was struck blind by Paul.  Elymas was determined to stop Barnabas at any costs.

So Barnabas didn’t go into Paphos, he turned around and headed east to Kourion. From that point on, the missionaries were stopped from entering every city along the coastal road built by Augustus. The Jews must have traveled on horseback or in carts since they were always ahead of Barnabas and his group who went on foot.

Aerial view of Kourion StadiumIt is noteworthy that at Kourion Mark tells of ‘a certain abominable race’ that made Barnabas irate because he witnessed naked women and men running on the road near the stadium. (the road to the right is over the Roman road)

The famed 'Bikini Girls' Mosaic at the Villa Romana di Casale in Sicily

Women athletes competed in ‘bikini-style outfits’…Was this considered ‘naked’ by Barnabas ?

Courtesy of Regione di Sicilia

The partially restored Temple of Apollo

The locations exist today exactly as described: the stadium, the entry to Kourion, the Temple of Apollo are all next to the Roman road they would have traveled.

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