District in the north of Africa. The name "Libya" was often used by the ancients, sometimes to designate the whole of northern Africa (with the exception of Egypt), sometimes to denote a single province west of Egypt. According to Josephus ("Ant." i. 6, § 2), Libya was founded by Phut (comp. Gen. x. 6), and the eponymous hero Libys was a son of Mesraios, i.e., of Egypt. Another old tradition says that Eofres (i.e., Epher; Gen. xxv. 4) conquered Libya and that the land was called "Africa" after him (Josephus, l.c. i. 15; comp. Eusebius, "Præparatio Evangelica," ix. 20, § 2; "Chronicon Paschale," i. 66; Suidas, s.v. Ἄφροι; "Yuḥasin," ed. London, p. 233).
The Biblical data are more historical. Shishak (Shoshank), whose name is claimed to be Libyan, had Libyans in his army (A. V. "Lubims," II Chron. xii. 3); King Asa defeated a whole army of Cushites and Libyans (ib. xvi. 8; comp. xiv. 11); and the celebrated Egyptian Thebes also had Libyans in its pay (Nahum iii. 9). In all these passages the Septuagint has Λίβυες. In Dan. xi. 43, Egyptians, Libyans, and Cushites appear together.
In the Greco-Roman period Libya coincided approximately with Cyrene and the territory belonging to it. Jews lived there ("Ant." xvi. 6, § 1); and Augustus granted them certain privileges through Flavius, the governor of the province (ib. § 5). The Christian apostles also prepared themselves to extend their mission into Libya (Acts ii. 10). The great Jewish war of the year 70 had its aftermath in Libya; and the rebellious Jonathan was denounced to the governor of the Libyan Pentapolis (Josephus, "B. J." vii. 11, § 1). The Jews of Libya also took part in the rebellion under Trajan and Hadrian (see Cyrene).
Modern investigation is inclined to connect Lehabim (Gen. x. 13; I Chron. i. 11) with the Libyans, as did the Jerusalem Targum in rendering it by the Greek Λιβυκοί. Many proselytes came from Libya (Yer. Shab. 7b; Yer. Kil. 31c); hence Judaism must have carried on its propaganda there. The Rabbis mention beans (Löw, "Aramäische Pflanzennamen," p. 234) and asses from Libya (Bek. 5b; Shab. 51b).
The once flourishing province corresponds to the present Barka, which, under Islamic dominion, has become a desert.
- Knobel, Die Völkertafel der Genesis, pp. 282, 295-305, Giessen, 1850;
- Boettger, Topographisch-Historisches Lexicon zu den Schriften des Flavius Josephus, p. 163;
- Kohut, Aruch Completum, v. 5.