Dictionary of Bible Names

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Bible Meaning: A flat basket
Strong's Concordance #G5018, #G5019

Tarsus was the chief city and capital of the Roman Province of Cilicia that was located in the eastern part of Asia Minor. It was known for its wealth and schools of learning, which is why Apostle Paul described it as "no insignificant city" (Acts 21:39).

According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, Tarsus and the region that surrounds it were first populated by a grandson of Japheth named Tarshish (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 6). Japheth was one of Noah's three sons who survived the great flood in the ark.

In its article on the city, the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia states the following.

"It was important on account of its commerce and its textile products, and was famed for its schools of rhetoric. In Tarsus, as in Cilicia generally, the original population was Semitic, a fact reflected in the tradition that the city was a Phenician colony."

Location of Tarsus in Ancient Asia Minor Map
Tarsus, Capital of Roman Province Cilicia

Paul's Hometown

Paul (originally named Saul) was born in Tarsus around 2 A.D. to a family who were descendants of the tribe of Benjamin and who maintained an orthodox Jewish background (Philippians 3:5 - 6). Although he was a Jew, his birth in this Roman "free city" granted him the privilege of Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28), a status that was highly sought after not only by slaves but also by those in the military.

Paul's skills as an evangelist and zeal to preach the gospel quickly get him into trouble early in his ministry. After spending a few years in Arabia, he visits Jerusalem. Soon after his arrival, his preaching so confounds Hellenistic Jews that they seek to murder him (Acts 9:29)!

Paul's presence in Jerusalem causes so much turmoil for the early church that brethren send him back home (Acts 9:30)! He stays in his hometown for four years (summer of 36 A.D. to 40 A.D.) until he was needed to help new believers in Syrian Antioch (Acts 9:29 - 30, 11:25 - 26).

Important Verses

Acts 9:10 - 11
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth . . .

Acts 9:29 - 30
And he (Paul) spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.

Acts 11:25 - 26
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

Acts 21:37 - 39
And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar . . .

But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.

Acts 22:1, 3
Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you . . .

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

Additional Studies

Dictionary of Biblical Names
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Series Notes
References are based on the
King James Bible translation (KJV).