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The Legacy of Joseph Barnabas in Cyprus

Paul's mentor and missionary traveling companion

Total Eclipse of a Full Moon over Cyprus—and history

December 11th, 2011

Saturday night we witnessed from our veranda the total eclipse of a full moon. I set up my camera on a tripod and used my telephoto lens to zoom in on the spectacular event. With great care I took many photos, hoping to chronicle the stages of the eclipse. And not one of the pictures is worth posting on my blog. They are all blurry. Grrrr.

During my time of watching the eclipse, I could not help but notice people scurrying along the streets below CAARI. They all were apparently completely unaware of the rare event occurring right above their heads. Low on the horizon, the full moon was shrouded in the earth’s shadow and then emerged again. But people did not even notice.

How often, I wonder, are we so unaware? We busily go about our lives, focused on our tasks, oblivious to events that are begging to be acknowledged. One does not see a total eclipse of the moon very often. And this one happened early in the evening. We did not even have to get up in the middle of the night to witness it.

History is full of illuminating events if we take the time to notice. During the past three months in Cyprus, I have been shining lights in dark, historical corners, and some fascinating things have been illuminated.  Thursday evening, during a formal lecture at CAARI, I will present the results of my research. Some in the audience will be very displeased to hear my report.

Some of what we assume to be true about history—particularly the history of our own groups—has little or no basis in history. But hearing something different can be very upsetting, because it is so disorienting. As my colleague, Joseph Huffman, told me in a recent email, “Historians are just irritants because they root around in the past and then come back to tell everyone ‘inconvenient truths’ that the past was not always actually as we have chosen to remember it.”

During my time in Cyprus, I have experienced the personal connection that Cypriots have with their cultural history, which is deeply imbedded in Orthodox Christianity. Thursday night, I will point out problems with some common beliefs about Barnabas and the history of Cyprus. I imagine that discussion following the lecture will be animated.

Monday night, at 7:00 PM, a local reporter will interview me about the results of my research. This live, radio interview should prove to be interesting. Perhaps it will generate a larger audience for my lecture on Thursday. Please pray that my work will facilitate productive discussion among Cypriots about the political implications of their perceptions of the history of the island.

Here are two introductory paragraphs in my lecture on Barnabas.

“In the first years of the church, followers of Jesus were nearly all Jews. But that changed with the efforts of men like Barnabas. Change often is difficult, particularly if it involves religious and cultural beliefs. People get angry—sometimes violently so—when someone challenges cherished beliefs. Barnabas was an agent of change. He did not merely argue for maintaining the status quo—the way things always had been.

“Together with Paul, he developed the theological basis for Gentiles being legitimate members of the church without having to obey the laws of Moses. He was a Jew, but he worked with Gentiles. Many Jews considered him a traitor—someone who loved and aided outsiders who had disgusting practices. He was an innovative leader who worked out compromise solutions to difficult theological and cultural issues. Compromise involves the ability to understand and appreciate an opponent’s perspective so that progress can occur on a solution to conflict. Evidently, Barnabas was good at it.”

With respect to immensely important issues concerning the occupied northern part of Cyprus, selective memories and entrenched perspectives make compromise virtually impossible.

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