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PHOENIX (fē'nĭks, Gr. Phoinix). A town and harbor on the south coast of Crete (Acts.27.12). It has been identified with Loutro, the only harbor west of Fair Havens large enough to accommodate a galley as large as the vessel in the account. Some difficulty in this identification arises from the fact that Luke speaks of the harbor as “facing both southwest and northwest.” Loutro faces east, and the ERV resolves the difficulty by taking the text to mean “in the direction in which the south-west and north-west winds blow.” There is no proof for this assumption.

PHOENIX fē’ nĭks (φοι̂νιξ). 1. A mythical bird believed to arise from the corpse of its parent. Some early Christians (Tertullian, De Resurr. xiii. 6; 1 Clement xxv) saw an analogy to the resurrection in this myth and used Psalm 92:12 in support (LXX 91:13) on the basis of Gr. φοι̂νιξ “palm tree.” The phoenix and the palm tree became regular features of Christian art.

2. A harbor in Crete (KJV PHENICE) on the western end of its southern shore. According to Acts 27:12, it provided a safer shelter in winter than Fair Havens, the place where the Alexandrian grain ship carrying Paul had anchored. Rather than risk the safety of the ship and the lives of the 276 passengers (some texts read 76) the master of the ship decided to leave Fair Havens when the wind seemed favorable, and to proceed farther westward to the better harbor. The ship was caught in a sudden NE storm, which carried it past the island of Cauda (27:16) and westward toward Malta, where it was wrecked (v. 41).

The location of Phoenix has caused some debate. Strabo (Geography, x. 4. 3) places it on the S side of the narrower part of the island. Ptolemy the Egyp. geographer (3. 17. 3) lists places from W to E along the S coast of Crete. The information he gives suggests a site in the neighborhood of the small rocky peninsula of Cape Mouros, which projects about a m. from the coast. On the E side lies the village of Lutro with a deep harbor, and on the W is a larger and more open bay. Evidence seems to favor the western bay. Ptolemy in his list puts the harbor of Phoenix to the W of the town. This western harbor still retains the name of Phineka. The description of its aspect in Acts (27:12) “looking northeast and southeast” suggests “facing west.” The terms used here for “east” and “west” are strictly “southwest wind” (Gr. κίψ) and “northwest wind” (Gr. χωρος) and the phrase means “down the south west wind and down the northwest wind” (ASVmg.). Today, the W side of the peninsula is abandoned. Earthquakes in the 6th cent. a.d. raised the sea bed and the harbor today is on the E. The E harbor facing SE is unsafe from November to February because of the prevailing winter winds from the N and E. The W harbor, which was much deeper in Paul’s day, was a much more sheltered area and was the goal of the master of Paul’s ship (Acts 27:12). The prevailing E wind, however, caught the ship before it could reach Phoenix and drove it past its desired haven. It should be said that some commentators argue for the E harbor.


F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (1954), 507, 508; R. M. Ogilvie, “Phoenix,” JTS, N. S. IX, 2 (1958), 308-314, argues for the W harbor; F. V. Filson, “Phoenix,” IDB III (1962), 805, argues for the E harbor.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A harbor in Crete (Ac 27:12). The Alexandrian corn ship carrying Paul and the author of Acts, after it left Myra in Lycia, was prevented by adverse winds from holding a straight course to Italy, and sailed under the lee of Crete, off the promontory of Salmone (kata Salmonen). The ship was then able to make her way along the South shore of Crete to a harbor called Fair Havens (Kaloi Limenes), near a city Lasea (Lasaia). Thence, in spite of Paul’s advice to winter in Fair Havens, it was decided to sail to Phoenix (eis Phoinika, limena tes Kretes) bleponta kata liba kai kata choron, a description which has been translated in two ways:

(1) "looking toward the Southwest wind and toward the Northwest wind, i.e. looking Southwest and Northwest";

(2) "looking down the Southwest wind and down the Northwest wind, i.e. looking Northeast and Southeast" On the way thither, they were struck by a wind from the Northeast, called Euraquilo, and ran before it under the lee of an island, called Cauda or Clauda (Kauda (Codex Sinaiticus (corrected) and Codex Vaticanus and the Old Latin) or Klauda (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus, etc.)) in Ac 27:7-17. It will be convenient to discuss those places together. The following account is based on Smith’s elaborate study in his Voyage and Shipwreck of Paul, which has been followed by all later writers.

The ship, when it left Myra was obviously making for Italy (Puteoli or Ostia) by the shortest route, round Cape Malea, but off Cnidus it encountered a Northwest wind and had to sail for shelter under the lee of Crete. Salmone, now called Cape Sidero, was the promontory which forms the Northeast corner of the island. Thence along the South shore of Crete, as far as Cape Matala, a sailing ship is sheltered by the mountains from the violence of the Northwest wind; West of Cape Matala, where the coast turns toward the Northwest, there is no such shelter. Fair Havens must therefore be looked for to the East of Cape Matala, and there is a harbor, lying 6 miles East of Cape Matala, which is called Fair Havens by the modern Greek inhabitants of the island. There is no doubt that this is the harbor in which the Alexandrian ship took shelter. It is sheltered only from the North and Northwest winds.

The ruins of a city which has been identified with Lasea have been found 5 miles East from Fair Havens, and 12 miles South of the important city of Gortyna. It has been suggested that Paul’s desire to winter at Fair Havens (Ac 27:10) may have been due to its proximity to Gortyna, and the opportunity which the latter city afforded for missionary work. There were many Jews in Gortyna.

See Crete.

From Fair Havens, against the advice of Paul, it was decided to sail to Phoenix, there to pass the winter. While the ship was on its way thither, it was struck by a violent Northeast wind from the mountains, called Euraquilo, and carried under the lee of an islet called Cauda or Clauda. When this happened, the ship was evidently crossing the Bay of Messariah, and from this point a Northeast wind must have carried her under the lee of an island now called Gaudho in Greek and Gozzo in Italian, situated about 23 miles Southwest of the center of the Gulf of Messariah. The modern name of the island shows that Cauda (Caudas in the Notitiae Episcopatuum), and not Clauda is the true ancient form.

The writer of Ac never saw Phoenix, which must have been a good harbor, as the nautical experts decided to winter there (Ac 27:11). Now the only safe harbor on the South coast of Crete in which a ship large enough to carry a cargo of corn and 268 souls could moor is the harbor beside Loutro, a village on the South coast of Crete, directly North of Cauda. All the ancient authorities agree in placing Phoenix in this neighborhood. The harbor at Loutro affords shelter from all winds, and its identification with Phoenix seems certain. But a serious difficulty arises on this view. The words describing the harbor of Phoenix ordinarily mean "looking toward the Southwest and the Northwest," but the harbor beside Loutro looks eastward. This led Bishop Wordsworth to identify Phoenix with an open roadstead on the western side of the isthmus on which Loutro stands. But this roadstead is not a suitable place for wintering in, and it is better either to take the words to mean, in sailor’s language, "looking down the Southwest and Northwest winds"--a description which exactly fits the harbor at Loutro--or to assume that the reporter of the discussion referred to in Ac 27:10-12 or the writer of Ac made a mistake in describing a place which he had never seen. An inscription belonging to the reign of Trajan found at Loutro shows that Egyptian corn ships were wont to lie up there for the winter.