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CRETE, CRETANS (Gr. Krētē, Krētes, Acts.2.11; Titus.1.12). An island in the Mediterranean Sea with Cythera on the NW and Rhodes on the NE, forming a natural bridge between Europe and Asia Minor. Crete is about 156 (260 km.) miles long and from 7 to 30 miles (11 1/2-50 km.) wide. Despite its enviable geographical position, Crete has never attained a prominent place in history, partly because of internal dissensions and, in more modern times, because of its acceptance of Turkish rule and the Islamic faith until a.d. 1913, when it was formally incorporated into Greece in which the Orthodox church predominates.

In mythology, Mount Ida is the legendary birthplace of Zeus, the head of the Greek Pantheon. King Minos, a half-historical and half- mythological character, alleged son of Zeus, was an early ruler of Crete. Both Thucydides and Aristotle accepted the existence of King Minos and claimed that he established maritime supremacy for Crete by putting down piracy. Aristotle compares the institutions of Crete to those of Sparta. Crete is said to have been colonized by the Dorians from Peloponnesus. The most important of the ancient cities of Crete are Knossos, excavated by Arthur Evans; Gortyna near the gulf of Messara; and Cydonia. Around 140 b.c. the Jews established a large enough colony on this island to be able to appeal successfully to the protection of Rome.

In the OT the Kerethites (1Sam.30.14; Ezek.25.16), held to be a group of Philistines, are identified as Cretans. In the NT a number of Cretans are represented as being present on the Day of Pentecost. Paul visited Crete and left his assistant Titus in charge. In the opinion of the apostle Paul, even the Christians in Crete were not of high moral character: “Cretans are always liars....” (Titus.1.12). The first words of this quotation are to be found in the hymn to Zeus by Callimachus. The particular lie of which the Cretans were always guilty was that they said the tomb of Zeus, a nonexistent personage, was located on their island. Laziness and gluttony also characterized them. Titus is charged sharply to rebuke them (Titus.1.13). A storm on his journey to Rome forced Paul’s ship into the port of Cnidus (Acts.27.17). The narrative does not specifically indicate that Paul actually landed on the island.

CRETE kret (Κρήτη, G3207). A large island in the eastern Mediterranean SE of the Gr. mainland.

The island is 160 m. long and seven to thirty-five m. wide. It is dominated by four mountain ranges, but in the eastern half there are fertile plains and upland basins which furnish summer pasturage. For this reason only the eastern half was settled in prehistoric times.

First settled by Neolithic people, Crete enjoyed great prosperity during the Middle and Late Bronze (Minoan) Ages. The unfortified cities first formed a thalassocracy under the semi-mythical King Minos. Extensive trade was carried on with Egypt, the Gr. mainland and the E. The glories of the culture are revealed in gigantic palaces (labyrinths), magnificently decorated vases, frescoed walls, and enormous storage jars for the oil, wine and grain of the bureaucracy. During the Late Minoan period the island was conquered by the Mycenaeans of the mainland and went into decline soon thereafter. The Palace of Minos at Knossos has been excavated and partially rebuilt by the efforts of Evans and Pendlebury. American archeologists have excavated on the islands and the mainland in the vicinity of the Gulf of Mirabello. Gordon has theorized by the partial decipherment of Linear A that the Minoans were W Semites. Others have looked for similar eastern origins for them.

During classical times Crete was largely a recruiting area for mercenary soldiers, particularly archers. Numerous Jews lived there in the 2nd cent. b.c. In 141 b.c. Simon Maccabeus interceded with the consul Lucius for the protection of the Jews of Gortyna. Conquered by the Romans in 68-66 b.c. it was joined with Cyrene as a province. Gortyna is the only Rom. city that has been excavated. Numerous large public buildings have been uncovered as well as the ruins of the church of Agios Titos.

Jews from Crete were present at the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:11). Paul sailed on a grain ship along the southern coast on the way from Lycia to Rome. The ship anchored at Fair Havens just E of Cape Matala then sailed to the harbor of Phoenix and the protection of the island of Clauda. It is not known who founded the churches on Crete. Paul implied that he did so when he stated that he left Titus on Crete to correct the churches and appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5).

The Cretans were proverbially depraved. Paul quoted the poet Epimenides c. 600 b.c., “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12), an opinion shared by many of the ancients.


J. D. S. Pendlebury, The Archaeology of Crete (1939); R. Matton, La Crète Antique (1955); R. W. Hutchinson, Prehistoric Crete (1962); L. R. Palmer, Mycenaeans and Minoans (1962).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An island bounding the Aegean Sea on the South. It stretches from 34 degrees 50’ to 35 degrees 40’ North latitude and from 23 degrees 30’ to 26 degrees 20’ East long. With Cythera on the North and Carpathos and Rhodos on the Northeast, it forms a continuous bridge between Greece and Asia Minor. The center of the island is formed by a mountain chain rising to a height of 8,193 ft. in Mt. Ida, and fringed with low valleys beside the coast. There are no considerable rivers; the largest, the Metropole, on the South, is a tiny stream, fordable anywhere. An island of considerable extent (156 miles long, and from 7 to 30 miles broad), in several districts very fertile and possessing one or two good harbors, it seems marked out by its position for an important role in the history of the eastern Mediterranean. But never since an age which was already legendary when Greek history began has Crete occupied a dominating position among the powers of the surrounding continents. Internal dissensions, due in ancient times to the diversity of races inhabiting its soil (Eteocretans--the original inhabitants--Pelasgians, Acheans, Cydonians and Dorians), and in modern times to the fact that a large minority of the population has accepted the Ottoman religion along with Ottoman government, have kept Crete in a position of political inferiority throughout the historical period.

1. Early History:

Mt. Ida in Crete was famous in Greek legend as the birthplace of Zeus. The half-legendary, half-historical King Minos was said to be the son of Zeus, and to have derived from his father the wisdom to which, by a type of myth common in Greek lands, the constitution of the Cretan cities was ascribed. Minos was accepted as a historical personage by Thucydides and Aristotle, who say that he was the first dynast in Greece to establish dominion on the sea. One of his exploits was the suppression of piracy in Cretan waters, a feat which had to be repeated by the Roman Pompeius at a later period. Aristotle compares the Cretan institutions with those of Sparta; the island was said to have been colonized by Dorians from Peloponnesus (Politics ii.10). The most important cities in Crete were Knossos (whose palace has been excavated with fruitful results by Mr. Arthur Evans), Gortyna, near the Gulf of Messara, and Cydonia, with its river Iardanus. The excavations of Mr. Evans at Knossos and of the Italians at Phastos (near Fair Havens) prove that Crete was a center of Mediterranean civilization in an early age. In the Homeric poems, Crete is said to have contained an hundred cities; at that period the Cretans were still famed as daring sailors. In the classical age of Greek history they never held a leading position. They are mentioned chiefly as traders and mercenary soldiers, skilled especially in archery. During the Hellenistic period Crete remained free. Demetrius Nicator made the island his base of operations before his defeat at Azotus in 148.

2. The Jews in Crete:

In 141, the Cretan Jews were influential enough to secure the patronage of Rome. They were being oppressed by the people of Gortyna, and appealed to Rome, which granted them protection. In strengthening the position of the Jews, the Romans were copying the Seleucid policy in Asia Minor; both the Seleucids and the Romans found the Jews among their most devoted supporters in their subject states. This interference of Rome in the interest of her future partisans paved the way for her annexation of the island in the following century. From this date, there was a strong and prosperous body of Jews in Crete, and Cretans are mentioned among the strangers present at the Feast of Pentecost in Ac 2:11. Its alliance with Mithradates the Great, and the help it gave to the Cilician pirates gave Rome the pretext she desired for making war on Crete, and the island was annexed by. Metellus in 67 BC. With Cyrene on the North coast of Africa, it was formed into a Roman province. When Augustus divided the Empire between the Senate and himself, Crete and Cyrene were sufficiently peaceful to be given to the Senate.

3. Later History:

They formed one province till the time of Constantine, who made Crete a separate province. The Saracens annexed Crete in 823 AD, but it was recaptured for the Byzantine Empire by Nicephorus Phokas in the following century. From the 13th till the 17th century it was held by the Venetian Republic: from this period dates its modern name "Kandia," which the Venetians gave to the Saracen capital Khandax, and afterward to the whole island. After a desperate resistance, lasting from 1645 to 1669 AD, Crete fell into the hands of the Turks, who still exercise a nominal suzerainty over the island.

4. Crete in the Old Testament:

In 1Sa 30:14; Eze 25:16, and Ze 2:5, the Philistines are described as Cherethites, which is usually taken to mean Cretans. The name is connected with Caphtor and the Caphtorim (De 2:23; Jer 47:4; Am 9:7). The similarity between the river-names Jordan and Iardanos (Homer Odyssey iii. 292) "about whose streams the Kydones dwelt," has suggested that. Caphtor is to be identified with Cydonia; or possibly it was the name of the whole island. Tacitus believed in an ancient connection between Crete and Palestine; the Jews, he said, were fugitives from Crete, and derived their name Iudaei from Mt. Ida (Hist. v.2). Crete is mentioned in connection with the campaign of Demetrius Nicator, referred to above, in 1 Macc 10:67.

See Caphtor; Cherethites.

5. Crete in the New Testament:

Crete owes its connection with Pauline history to the accident of a gale which forced the ship carrying Paul to Rome to take shelter on the South coast of the island. In the harbor of Myra, on the coast of Lycia, the centurion in charge of Paul transferred him from the Adramyttian ship which had brought them from Caesarea, to a ship from Alexandria in Egypt, bound for Ostia with a cargo of grain. The fact that the centurion was in virtual command of the ship (Ac 27:11) proves that it was one of the vessels in the imperial transport service. Leaving Myra they came opposite Cnidus with difficulty, against a head-wind. The ordinary course from Cnidus in good weather was to steer straight for Cythera, but on this occasion the West or Northwest winds made this route impracticable, and they sailed under the lee of Crete, whose South coast would shelter them from a Northwest gale, and afford occasional protection from a West gale. They passed Salmone, the Northeast corner of Crete, with difficulty, and worked round the coast to Fair Havens, a harbor somewhat to the East of Cape Matala. The great Feast fell while they were at Fair Havens; in 59 AD it was On October 5, in the middle of the season when the equinoxes made sailing impossible. Paul advised the centurion to winter in Fair Havens, but the captain wished to reach Phoenix, a harbor farther to the West, where ships from Egypt were accustomed to put in during the stormy season. It was decided to follow the captain’s advice; but on its way to Phoenix the ship was struck by a Northeast wind called Euraquilo, which rushed down from Mt. Ida. The ship was carried out to sea; it managed to run under the lee of Cauda, an island 23 miles West of Cape Matala, where the crew hauled in the boat, undergirded the ship, and slackened sail. On the fourteenth night they were driven on the coast of Malta, and wrecked.

The narrative does not state that Paul landed in Crete, but as the ship lay for some time at Fair Havens (Ac 27:8,9) he had plenty of opportunity to land, but not to travel inland. The centurion gave him permission to land at Sidon. Paul left Titus in Crete (Tit 1:5); tradition made the latter its first bishop, and patron saint.

6. The Cretans:

Cretans were present, as noted above, at the Feast of Pentecost (Ac 2:11). Paul’s estimate of the Cretan character (Tit 1:10-16) was the one current in antiquity. Paul quotes (Tit 1:12) a well-known line of the Cretan poet Epimenides (who lived about 600 BC) on the mendacity of the Cretans. The sentiment was repeated by Callimachus (Hymn to Zeus 8). Other ancient witnesses to the detestation in which the Cretan character was held are Livy xliv.45, and Plutarch Aemilius section 23.


Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of Paul; Ramsay, Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, 320-30. On Crete in Greek and Roman times, consult e.g. Grote, Holm, and Mommsen. A succinct account of the prehistoric archaeology of the island is given in Burrows, The Discoveries in Crete, and Bailkie, The Sea Kings of Crete.