Coin of King Aretas IV. Nabataea: Petra, a silver drachm 14 mm. My silver drachm of Aretas IV was minted at Petra, and is dated reliably to 24-25 A.D. It was a common coin of everyday use, and Paul could not have been in Nabataea (“Arabia”) without seeing and probably handling a drachm like this one. These silver coins would also have made their appearance in commerce at Damascus.
Coin of Tiberius. Syria: Damascus, a bronze 23 mm. This was minted in 16-17 A.D at the beginning of the emperorship of Tiberius. It features the goddess Tyche on the obverse and the winged goddess of Victory, Nike, on the reverse, with the inscription in Greek ‘Damascus’. Tyche was the city goddess. This is a large heavy coin that would have survived circulation very well for the ca. 17 years between minting and Paul’s arrival in Damascus.
CLAUDIUS Emperor 41- 54 A.D.
Ca. 38 to 45 A.D. TARSUS and CILICIA
“They brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus”. Acts 9:30b
The next big question is, ‘How do we date the length of time Paul stayed in Tarsus?’. We use the fact that after being found by Barnabas and brought to Antioch, he spends a year there before being enlisted, with Barnabas, to take monies to Judaea to provide famine relief for the Christians there. So, when was this famine? Fortunately we have Josephus’ history which says that the famine was “generally” in the time of the procurators Fadus (44-46 A.D.) and Alexander (46-48 A.D.). The date of 46 A.D. then is not “unreasonable”, as Pocket Guide puts it. This would mean that Paul had his domicile in Tarsus from about 38-45 A.D. (7 years). Then he spent a year in Antioch from 45-46 A.D.
We have little if any information on what Paul did for the seven years he was in Cilicia. We can’t even be sure that he lived in Tarsus, only that he had it as his destination after leaving Judaea. Paul tells us only that: “Then I came into the climes of Syria and Cilicia: and I continued to be unknown by face to the churches of Judaea, but they only heard say, ‘He that once persecuted us now preacheth the faith…’” (Gal. 1:21-23).
Paul of course had to support himself, and this may have been when he learned his trade as a “tentmaker” (or this may have occurred earlier during the three years in Damascus). And yet, given his unique and compelling experience of Jesus, his abortive attempt to preach in Nabataea, as well as his meeting with Peter, it would be out of character for Paul to simply live a quiet life! One biographer of Paul, Murphy-O’Connor (1996), has suggested an interesting hypothesis. Taking him at his word, it is possible that Paul did in fact spend some time in Syria. The implication is that he had some contact with the faithful in Antioch before he moved there. He may have even done some missionary work under Barnabas in both Syria and Cilicia; which is why Barnabas knew where Paul was when, in 45, he came and brought him to Antioch.
Tarsus was a strategically located city in the Eastern empire. It was the de facto capital of Cilicia, an important and rich region. It was within reasonable traveling distance to the great Roman city of Antioch and the rest of northern Syria to the east. And it sat at the gateway, through the Cilician Gates, to Cappadocia to the north, and Galatia to the west.
Coin of Claudius. Syria: Cilicia, Mopsus, bronze 24 mm. Claudius became emperor soon after Paul returned to Tarsus, and this coin honors the new emperor. It was minted at Mopsus in 42 or 43 A.D. Mopsus was a smaller city about 40 miles due east of Tarsus (a 2-3 days journey). During the approximately 7 years that Paul resided in Cilicia, he would have easily traveled short distances to nearby towns, either for trade and business purposes, or for prosyletizing. And, whilst as has been noted before, base metal coins did not circulate beyond the immediate vicinity of their municipality, because Mopsus is so close to Tarsus and is on the direct road from there to Antioch, I have included it as a “Paul coin”.
Coin of Claudius. Syria: Cilicia, Mallus, bronze 25 x 26 mm. The same reasoning applies to this coin as with the previous. Mallus was a smaller city about 20 miles due south of Mopsus and so also within easy reach of Paul. This coin can only be dated to the years of Claudius’ reign, i.e. 41-54 A.D., however, the portrait of Claudius appears youthful, being very similar to the Mallus coin’s portrait, so it could have been minted in the same early years of his reign. It could have been seen by Paul in his local movements, or he could have encountered it on his way to Antioch with Barnabas.
Circa 45 A.D. ANTIOCH
“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch”. Acts 11:25, 26a.
The importance of Antioch was this; after the general persecution of the followers of Jesus, and after the death of Stephen, many believers scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. In Antioch these Jewish believers were associated with those Gentiles who had been attracted to the general tenets of Judaism. They were called “those that fear God” or simply “God-fearers”. These two groups joined together and became a large and strong focus of believers in Jesus and His message. Regarding Barnabas’ decision to enlist Paul, Ramsay (1979) writes, “Mindful of his former short experience of Saul, Barnabas bethought himself that he was well suited to the peculiar circumstances of the Antiochian congregation”.
Coin of Tiberius. Syria: Antioch, bronze 25 x 28 mm. We are told that Paul stayed in Antioch “even for a whole year” (Acts 11: 26b). It is certainly conceivable that he would have seen this large coin, which was minted at Antioch in 31-32 A.D. The coin would have been only about 13 years old at the time and its size and mass would have helped preserve its circulation. The reverse inscription "SC" may be an abbreviation for Senatus Consultus (see below).
Circa 46 A.D. Famine and Trip to JUDAEA
After being at Antioch for a year, Paul accompanied Barnabas on the aforementioned famine relief trip to Judaea. We also do not know by what manner Paul and Barnabas traveled to Judaea. It may have depended upon whether the “relief” was in the form of actual food-stuffs, or in the form of money. I tend to think that the relief was food since in a famine food is dear at any price, if available at all. And given the difficulty of transporting large loads overland, it seems logical to conclude that the food was transported by boat. As already pointed out, Antioch had a fine harbor at Seleucia Pieria and the food could have been off-loaded at Caesarea Maritima and thence hauled overland.
Coin of King Agrippa I (also known as Herod Agrippa). Judaea: Jerusalem, 18 mm. This is another bronze prutah, and as with the prutah of Marcus Ambibulus (see above), it was the lowest denomination coin in circulation, the so-called “Widow’s Mite”. It is dated to the years of 41-42 A.D. Since this was about 4 years before the mission of Barnabas and Paul, these prutahs would have been quite common and new in Jerusalem at that time.
Paul and Barnabas spent time in Judaea necessary to administering their relief supplies. It was also an opportunity for Paul to re-connect with the Apostles and the other “original Christians”; he certainly had a splendid intermediary and advocate in Barnabas who was trusted by all in Jerusalem. Afterwards Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch.
FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY 46-49 A.D. PAUL (with Barnabas)
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers…while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul) for the work to which I have called them’…So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus”. Acts 13:1a, 2, 4.
Thus begins the account in Acts of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journey. Paul would make four journeys in all. This first was the only one on which Barnabas, as the senior evangelist, accompanied him. Afterwards, Paul was his own master. Seleucia, qualified with the name Pieria (as there were so many places called Seleucia) was the great port city for Antioch.