(Cy·reʹne), Cyrenian (Cy·reʹni·an).
Cyrene was the original ancient capital of the district of Cyrenaica on the N coast of Africa, nearly opposite the island of Crete. It was situated some fifteen miles (24.1 kilometers) inland and lay on a plateau 1,800 feet (548.6 meters) above the Mediterranean Sea.
Cyrene was apparently first settled by the Greeks in the seventh century B.C.E. and came to be considered one of their greatest colonies. By 96 B.C.E. Cyrene was under Roman political control, and in 27 B.C.E. the district of Cyrenaica and the island of Crete were united to form a single province governed by a proconsul. According to the geographer Strabo, about the start of the Common Era, Jews constituted one of the four recognized classes (along with citizens, husbandmen and strangers) of Cyrene. Certain historians believe the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 115-116 C.E. during the rule of Trajan radiated from Cyrene’s Jewish community.
Simon of Cyrene (perhaps a Hellenistic Jew), who was pressed into assisting in the carrying of Jesus’ torture stake, is called a “native” of that city. (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) It may be that, though born in Cyrene, Simon later settled in Palestine. On the basis of Acts 6:9 concerning the “Cyrenians” that disputed with Stephen, many authorities believe that there were sufficient numbers of Jews from Cyrene regularly residing in Palestine for them to have established their own synagogue in Jerusalem.
On the other hand, Simon, “a native of Cyrene,” may have been among the other foreigners who crowded into Jerusalem at Passover time, as is shown to have occurred in similar manner, fifty-one days later, when a large number of “reverent men, from every nation,” were in attendance at the Jewish festival of Pentecost, including some from “the parts of Libya, which is toward Cyrene.” (Acts 2:5, 10, 41) Some of these latter ones were likely among the “about three thousand souls” that were baptized after the outpouring of the holy spirit and Peter’s subsequent discourse, and may have thereafter carried the message of Christianity back to their homeland.
A few years later, after Cornelius’ acceptable Christian baptism, men from Cyrene assisted in spearheading the introduction of “the good news of the Lord Jesus” at Syrian Antioch among those referred to (by most Greek texts of Acts 11:20, 21) as Hel·le·ni·stasʹ. Since this same Greek word is translated “Greek-speaking Jews” (AT, NW) at Acts 6:1, some have concluded that those preached to in Syrian Antioch must also have been circumcised Jews or proselytes who spoke the Greek tongue. However, while the preaching to Greek-speaking Jews and proselytes had been going on since the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., the conversion of the large numbers at Antioch appears to have been something new and unusual, since Barnabas was dispatched to that city likely to investigate as well as encourage the work there. (Acts 11:22, 23) Also indicating that this was a change in discipling procedures is the fact that the work done by the Cyrenians and their co-workers (vs. 20) seems to be set off in contrast to the preaching among the “Jews only” (vs. 19) done by others who had traveled to Antioch. In view of this, and also the fact that a number of reliable ancient Greek manuscripts use the word Helʹle·nas (meaning “Greek,” as at Acts 16:3) instead of Hel·le·ni·stasʹ, most modern authorities refer to those converted with the assistance of the men from Cyrene as “Greeks” (AS, AT, Da, Fn, JB, Mo, RS), though others prefer “heathen” (CKW), “Gentiles” (TEV), or “pagans” (NEB), all terms indicating that the ones at Antioch were not adherents to the Jewish religion. However, some scholars acknowledge the possibility that these at Antioch may have been both Jews and Gentiles familiar with the Greek language, and so describe them with explanatory expressions as “Greek-speaking people” (NW) or “those who spoke Greek” (TC). “Lucius of Cyrene” was listed among the teachers and prophets in this Antioch congregation when Paul started on his first missionary tour in 47 C.E.—Acts 11:20; 13:1.
Of incidental Biblical interest is Herodotus’ account of Pharaoh Hophra’s (Apries’) disastrous expedition to Cyrene to help the Libyans against the Greeks in the sixth century B.C.E. Herodotus relates that Hophra’s troops revolted against him, resulting in his eventual death when he was given “into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those seeking for his soul,” as Jeremiah had prophesied.—Jer. 44:30.
Ancient Cyrene is today a mass of uninhabited remains standing near the modern city of Cirene in Libya.