Who were the Cyrenian Jews in the Bible?

In Ancient times, the Cyrenian Jews were a large Hebrew population that lived in Cyrene, a city of Libya in North Africa, between Egypt and Carthage. Cyrene was a chief city on the Mediterranean Coast. Also the Jewish community that lived there consisted of 100,000 inhabitants.

Background

Ptolemy Soter (323–285 BC) deported the Jews from Palestine and forced them to live in Cyrene (Josephus Against Apion ii. 4 [44]). The city’s culture was chiefly Hellenistic. Josephus (Antiquities xiv. 7. 2 [115]) quotes Strabo, the classical geographer, as stating that there were four classes of citizens in the state of Cyrene.  And the Jews were one of them.

The Cyrenian Jews sent liberal gifts to the Temple in Jerusalem. They had petitioned Augustus Caesar to guard them against wrongdoings in the taxes forced by governors of the province. And these leaders had also attempted to seize their gifts (ibid. xvi. 6. 5).

Bible accounts

The Bible record tells us that Simon came from Cyrene (Luke 23:26). The Romans forced him to carry the cross of Jesus when He was taken to His crucifixion. “Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross” (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 14:27).

Also, we read that Cyrenian Jews were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). For there was a synagogue in Jerusalem that was dedicated for them and others. “Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen” (Acts 6:9). These “Freedmen” may have been the offspring of Jews who had been taken captive from Palestine to Rome by Pompey in 63 B.C., and who had later been set free (libertini) by their imprisoners.

Further, from Cyrene, there came missionary-minded men that preached the gospel to the gentiles in Antioch of Syria. Who were these men exactly? We can only guess. It is possible that Lucius of Cyrene, who appears in the list of prophets in Acts 13:1, was one of them. It is also possible that Simon of Cyrene, was also another disciple of Christ (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21). Apparently, these men had great success in their evangelism that Barnabas and Paul went to help them (Acts 11:19–26).

The Cyrenian Movement

Today, the Cyrenian or the Simon Movement in the United Kingdom and Ireland, is founded after Simon of Cyrene. This movement was established on the principle of “sharing the burden.” And it is renowned of its charitable services to the homeless and other underprivileged groups in society. And their activities and work are carried on by volunteers.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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