The Confusion of Patmos and Cyprus

Cyprus as the location of John’s exile in some medieval sources

According to a medieval Greek prologue to the Gospels, John wrote his Gospel “in Patmos of Cyprus.”[1] Of course, Patmos is quite a distance from the much larger island of Cyprus (see map below).

This prologue’s claim doesn’t appear to be isolated (forgive the pun). Richard of St. Victor (c. 1150), writing in Latin, claimed that Patmos was located “in the Syrian sea” (in mari syrico).[2] Cyprus, not Patmos, was located near Syria.

And according to a Geez (Ethiopic) commentary on Revelation, John saw his vision on “Fəṭmo, one of the islands of Sälagya of Antioch.”[3] This Sälagya is thought to refer to Seleucia, the port city of ancient Syrian Antioch. While there are no islands near Seleucia, Cyprus is about 80 miles away. Thus, this confusion seems to have been quite widespread, showing up in Greek, Latin, and Ethiopic sources.

This map of Paul’s first missionary journey shows Antioch, Seleucia, Paphos, and Patmos (source)

Patmos and Paphos

There is also the claim, found in some Greek colophons that “John composed the Gospel named according to him after he returned to Ephesus from Paphos”[4]

Paphos was a city on the western side of the island of Cyprus (see map above), but the narrative of John’s returning to Ephesus from there and writing his Gospel recalls the statements of Clement of Alexandria (Quis div. 42) and other early sources that John settled in Ephesus and wrote his Gospel there after his release from exile on the similar-sounding Patmos.

Accidental Confusion or Deliberate Conflation?

Were Patmos and Paphos simply accidentally confused? I think it is far more complex than that.

While I cannot fully address everything in this brief blog (this is all fully discussed in my book, The John also Called Mark), I can make a few observations.

A number of Greek (e.g. Acts of John by Prochorus, Book of John Concerning the Falling Asleep of Mary) and Syriac (e.g. Mingana 540, Codex 825) sources place John’s departure from Jerusalem to the province of Asia and his exile on Patmos in the decade of the 30s (I explain why in my book).

Yet many medieval sources exhibit a tradition according to which John journeyed to Antioch, Seleucia and Cyprus in the 30s and 40s.

I suggest that when the narrative of John’s exile and return to Ephesus was wrongly placed in too early, it was conflated with a tradition of John’s Syrian and Cypriot ministry which was contextualized in this period, resulting in the tradition of John’s exile to Cyprus.

Interestingly, many of the details of John the Evangelist’s early Syrian and Cypriot ministry correspond with the narrative of John/Mark found in the medieval Acts of Mark (not to be confused with the Martyrdom of Mark, sometimes referred to as the Acts of Mark as well–see Roger Pearse’s comments). And John/Mark’s itinerary (set before his introduction in the book of Acts) includes a visit to Antioch, Seleucia (where he was imprisoned), and Paphos (from where he sailed to Anatolia).

Concluding Thoughts

Such correlations (there are many more), along with the apparent placement of John/Mark in roles associated with the Beloved Disciple (e.g. being the only disciple who witnessed the crucifixion, host of the Last Supper), the attribution to John/Mark of a Gospel containing a Logos theology, and the reduplicated traditions shared by John and Mark (e.g. a father named Aristobulus), suggest, I argue, that John the Evangelist was once identified with John/Mark.

See also: The Confusion of John and Mark in Christian Sources


Footnotes

[1] Cited in Dean Furlong, The John also called Mark: Reception and Transformation Christian Tradition, p. 169.

[2] Cited in Furlong, John also called Mark, p. 178.

[3] Cited in Furlong, John also called Mark, p. 178.

[4] Cited in Furlong, John also called Mark, p. 169.

3 thoughts on “The Confusion of Patmos and Cyprus”

  1. I think the confusion comes from different Johns and the Beloved Disciple (Mary Magdalene of Bethany) getting confused together. I’ve increasingly come to think the John of Revelation is in fact Mark and that the vision may have actually been given on Cyprus possibly at Paphos and that Patmos was originally a reference to that and only became a lame for the island of Letois much latter.

    I think John son of Zebedee died the same day his brother did and thus didn’t write any book of the New Testament. If any of the Apostles involved in all this confusion was ever at Ephesus it was Mary.

    These are all things I believe regardless of the when of Revelation’s writing.

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    1. I argue that the Patmos (Letois) tradition was the original one, but that it became conflated with John/Mark’s earlier Cypriot ministry (as related in the Acts of Mark).
      I think the evidence rather points to John the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus both being killed around the same time (end of Claudius’ reign) in Jerusalem.

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