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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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CYRENE (Κυρήνη) was a Greek settlement on the north coast of Africa, in the district now called Benghazi or Barca, which forms the E. part of the modern province of Tripoli. It was founded b.c. 632. It was the chief member of a confederacy of five neighbouring cities; hence the district was called either Pentapolis or Cyrenaica. Under the first Ptolemy it became a dependency of Egypt; was left to Rome by the will of Ptolemy Apion, b.c. 96; was soon after formed into a province, and later, perhaps not till 27, united with Crete, with which under the Empire it formed a senatorial province, under an expraetor with the title of proconsul. It was noted for its fertility and for its commerce, which, however, declined after the foundation of Alexandria. It produced many distinguished men, such as the philosophers Aristippus and Carneades, the poet Callimachus, and the Christian orator and bishop Synesius.

Jews were very numerous and influential there. The first Ptolemy, ‘wishing to secure the government of Cyrene and the other cities of Libya for himself, sent a party of Jews to inhabit them’ (Josephus, circa (about) Apion. ii. 4). Cyrenian Jews are mentioned in 1 Maccabees 15:23, 2 Maccabees 2:23 (Jason of Cyrene). According to Strabo (ap. Josephus Ant. xiv. vii. 2), the inhabitants of Cyrene were divided into four classes—citizens, husbandmen (i.e. native Libyans), sojourners (μέτοικοι), and Jews. The Jews enjoyed equality of civil rights (Ant. xvi. vi. 1, 5). An inscription at Berenice, one of the cities of Cyrenaica, of prob. b.c. 13, shows that the Jews there formed a civic community (πολίτευμα) of their own, under nine rulers (CIG [Note: IG Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum.] iii. 5361). The Cyrenian Jews were very turbulent; Lucullus had to suppress a disturbance raised by them (Strabo, l.c.); there was a rising there at the close of the Jewish war, a.d. 70 (Josephus BJ vii. xi.; Vita, 76); and a terrible internecine war between them and their Gentile neighbours, under Trajan (Dio Cass. lxviii. 32; Euseb. Historia Ecclesiastica iv. 2).

Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus [wh. see]), who was impressed to bear our Lord’s cross (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26), was doubtless one of these Jewish settlers. Other NT references to Cyrenian Jews are: Acts 2:10 (at Pentecost), 6:9 (members of special synagogue at Jerusalem, opposing Stephen), 11:20 (preaching at Antioch to Greeks [or Hellenists]), 13:1 (Lucius of Cyrene, probably one of these preachers, a prophet or teacher at Antioch).

Literature.—Rawlinson’s Herodotus, iii. p. 130 ff.; Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Geography; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. ii. 283, ii. ii. 230 f., 245 f.; Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung (1881), i. 458 ff.; art. ‘Diaspora’ (by Schürer) in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Extra Vol. p. 96b.

Harold Smith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Cyrene'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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