Archaeology, Main, z366
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Cyprus and its ancient sorcerers

Roman ruins on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus

It’s funny how it works for those who are antagonistic to the Bible. If the Bible records an incident it can’t be believed, but if Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, philosopher, naval captain, and naturalist, who lived between 23 AD to 79 AD, mentions it in his writings then it must be true.

And this leads to the interesting story recorded by Luke of the Apostle Paul’s visit to the island of Cypress located in the Mediterranean Sea.

In this account, recorded in Acts 13, we read how the missionary team encountered a sorcerer who was influencing the governor of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus:

They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. (Acts 13:6-12 NIV)

When Paulis wanted more information on the gospel, this sorcerer called Bar-Jesus tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

This resulted in Paul rebuking the Jewish sorcerer, resulting in him going blind, and it appears that Sergius Paulus became a believer in Jesus as a result (Acts 13:12).

Luke calls Sergius a proconsul, which means he basically functioned as the governor of a province, in this case, the Island of Cyprus.

And Pliny the Elder, in his book Naturalis Historia (Natural History, a Roman encyclopedia), confirms the existence of both sorcerers on the island and Sergius Paulus writing:

“There existed different groups of magicians from the time of Moses such as Jannes and Lotape, of whom the Jews had spoken of. And in fact many thousands yearly follow after Zoroastrian ways especially during recent times on the Island of Cyprus.”  

The fact that Pliny goes into such detail on Cyprus’ sorcerers, tells us that there were many, and they were obviously influential.

Though we don’t have a mention of Sergius Paulus in Pliny’s description of Cyprus’ sorcerers, it shows up in an even more unique way.

Because in his books, Pliny regularly provided the sources of his information. Now he just listed names, but in the section where we find the text about Cyprus, a man by the name of Sergius Paulus, along with several other names, is listed as a source.

Is this the same Sergius Paulus mentioned in the Bible? Well, we know from his writings, that Pliny hobnobbed with the rich, famous, and politically connected, so probably yes,

All the Bible did was provide more details of how Sergius Paulus became an expert on sorcerers since one of his advisors was one.

But there is another odd twist about Pliny’s description. Did you notice how he references two magicians from the time of Moses, Jannes and Lotape, and then adds that the Jews spoke of these two men?

Jannes is particularly interesting because he is thought to be one of the unnamed Egyptian sorcerers who the Pharaoh used to oppose Moses after the plagues started.

These Egyptian sorcerers were able to mimic two of the plagues brought against Egypt, including turning water into Blood (Exodus 7:21-22) and initiating a pandemic of frogs (Exodus 8:7). But they were not able to mimic the other plagues (Exodus 8:19).

Though the Exodus does not provide their names, two of them, Jannes and Jambres, are mentioned by name in the Talmud, an ancient Jewish commentary.

We know their names because the Talmud says that these two Egyptian sorcerers left with the Jews during the Exodus, as the Bible hints that they acknowledged that Jehovah was the true God (Exodus 8:19).

The Apostle Paul even cites the names of these two sorcerers in his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:8).

This leads to the obvious question, how would Sergius Paulus be able to provide Pliny with information on ancient Jewish sorcerers?

The only way he would have familiarity with this obscure piece of Jewish history is if one of his personal sorcerers just happened to be Jewish, which, of course, the Book of Acts confirms.

It’s even reasonable to presume that the Jewish sorcerer who provided this information to Sergius and then to Pliny was none other than Bar-Jesus.

There also have been archaeological finds on Cyprus confirming that there was a proconsul by the name of Paulus.

In 1877, an archaeological dig led by Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who would later serve as a curator at the New York Metropolitan Museum, discovered an inscription that mentions a Proconsul by the name of Paulus.

The inscription was discovered at Paphos, which the Bible says is where Paul had the encounter with the proconsul and the sorcerer.

It reads:

“Apollonius to his father … consecrated this enclosure and monument according to his family’s wishes … having filled the offices of clerk of the market, prefect, town-clerk, high priest, and having been in charge as manager of the records office. Erected on the 25th of the month Demarchexusius in the 13th year (of the reign of Claudius). He also altered the senate by means of assessors during the time of the Proconsul Paulus.

So not only is the Bible providing accurate historical information, it is connecting the dots and filling in details that we otherwise wouldn’t have known.

READ: CYPRIOTS, SORCERERS, AND SERGIUS AND Sergius Paulus: Bible History AND Who were Jannes and Jambres?

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