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Cyrene was an ancient Mediterranean (see The Mediterranean Sea) seaport city of Cyrenaica in north Africa (located to the west of Egypt, see map below), founded by Greeks (see Ancient Empires - Greece) in the 7th century BC, prior to the rise of the Roman Empire (see Ancient Empires - Rome), after which Cyrenaica became a Roman province. By the time of the New Testament, Cyrene also had a large number of Jews as citizens, as encouraged earlier by the Greeks who valued them for their scholarship. The Jews of Cyrene were significant contributors to the founding of Christianity, and one of them, Simon of Cyrene, carried the Messiah's cross (see Cross or Stake?).

Map Of The Roman Empire

Cyrene In Bible History

After being nearly beaten to death by the Roman troops (a pack of wicked cowards, beating a bound, blindfolded man) the Messiah was physically incapable of carrying the cross-member to the place of execution, so Simon of Cyrene, who happened to be there, was forced to carry it:

"Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the The Praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him they mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they spat upon Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe, and put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross. (Matthew 27:27-32 RSV)

Jews from Cyrene were present at the Pentecost founding of the Christian church:

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [see Speaking In Tongues], as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." (Acts 2:4-11 RSV)

Non-Christian Jews of Cyrene were involved in the martyrdom of Stephen (as was the then still-unconverted Pharisee Saul, later known as the apostle Paul - who wrote much of the New Testament), Stephen being a Jew who did recognize the long-awaited coming of the Messiah:

"And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen, as it was called, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth [see Nazarene] will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us." (Acts 6:8-14 RSV)

People from Cyrene were among the church at Antioch, where believers were first called Christians:

"But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians." (Acts 11:20-26 RSV)

Fact Finder: What influence did the Ptolemies have over the area of north Africa?
See The Ptolemies and Cleopatra

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