Barnabas and Saul set out from Antioch to Seulcia, a port about 16 miles from Antioch. From there they sail to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean about 100 miles from Selucia.
Why Cyprus? As Keener says, is simply makes sense for Barnabas to begin a mission by going to Cyprus since that was where he was from (2:1998). On the other hand, Cyprus had a large Jewish community dating to the second century B.C. (1 Mac 15:23). Both Josephus (Antiq. 18.31) and Philo (Legat 282) describe a large and wealthy Jewish population. Herod the Great was given half the income of Cyprus copper mines by Augustus (Antiq. 16.127-129). The Talmud indicates that Cypriot Jews regularly donated wine used for the incense offering on the Day of Atonement (y.Yoma 4:5; Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2:1078).
Acts 11:19-20 indicates there were early Jewish Christians from Cyprus who began to do ministry in Antioch. Barnabas himself was from Cyprus (4:36-37). All this implies a Jewish-Christian presence on Cyprus before Acts 11:19, and possibly as early as Pentecost. Barnabas and Saul were going to an area already prepared for the Gospel.
Cyprus is also central to travel to the Mediterranean world. The island was a prosperous and many good harbors (Strabo 14.2.10, 14.6.6, Keener 2:1999). Salamis was a major port city on Cyprus. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 15 B.C., and rebuilt by Augustus and renamed Sebaste Augusta. Paphos was about 93 miles (150 km) from Salamis and was the seat of the Roman government on the Island. The old city was home to the most famous temple of Aphrodite in the ancient world, still attracting pilgrims even in the first century (ECM, 2:1082).
Luke tells us Barnabas and Saul visit synagogues in Salamis and Paphos, but they likely visited other locations as they traveled the length of the island. This is Paul’s regular missionary method, going to the synagogue first. While this may reflect Romans 1:16 (“to the Jew first, and then to the Greek,” it is also a practical strategy. By going to a synagogue first, Rabbi Saul will meet people who are already well-educated in the Scripture and (perhaps) anticipating the coming of the Messiah.
Paul will also find a few Gentile God-fearers in most of the synagogues. It is possible Paul targeted these Gentiles who want to worship the God of Israel without fully keeping the Law. His Gospel would have been very attractive to these Gentiles.
There is no report of success (or lack thereof), but we know that Barnabas and John Mark return to Cyprus later, perhaps indicating some churches had been established. A bishop from Cyprus attended the council of Nicea; by A.D. 400, Jerome reports that there are 15 bishops on Cyprus (ECM, 2:1080).
Are there any other motivations for this trip to Cyprus? What is Luke doing on a literary/theological level by describing a pair of missionaries going out from Antioch?