A large and important city in Cyrenaica, the district of Upper Libya on the north coast of Africa, west of Egypt. Cyrene was one of the five large cities that gave to this region the name of "Pentapolis" (compare Josephus, "B. J." vii. 11, § 1; Targ. Yer. Gen. x. 13, 14; Targ. I Chron. i. 12). Many Jews went from Egypt to Cyrenaica, for even Ptolemy I. Lagus sent Jewish settlers to Cyrene and other cities of Libya (Josephus, "Contra Ap." ii. 4). According to Strabo (cited by Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 7, § 2), the inhabitants of Cyrene at the time of Sulla (c. 85 B.C.) were divided into four classes: citizens, farmers, resident aliens, and Jews; and the extant fragments of the same author show that Lucullus was sent to Cyrene by Sulla to quell disturbances in which the Jews were taking a prominent part. When concessions to the Jews were recommended by the Romans to the various authorities of the East (I Macc. xv. 15-24), the city of Cyrene was among those that received such notification. In 74 B.C. Cyrene was created a Roman province; but, while under the Egyptian kings the Jews had enjoyed equal rights (ἰσονομία), they were now oppressed by the autonomous Greek population ("Ant." xvi. 6, § 1).

Several Jews of Cyrene are known to history, among them being Jason of Cyrene, whose work is the source of the Second Book of Maccabees (see II Macc. ii. 23), and Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus' cross (Matt. xxvii. 32; Mark xv. 21; Luke xxiii. 26). In the Acts of the Apostles several Cyrenians are mentioned as being present at the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts ii. 10), where they had their own synagogue (ib. vi. 9). Some, including Lucius (ib. xiii. 1)—said to have been the first Bishop of Cyrene—went to Antioch (ib. xi. 20).

The Jews of Cyrene were in close touch with their brethren in Palestine, and were free to forward their offerings to Jerusalem ("Ant." xvi. 6, § 5). Agrippa sent a letter written in their favor to the Cyrenians ("B. J." ii. 16, § 4). Three sons of a certain Ishmael—who was beheaded in Cyrene—were present at the siege of Jerusalem (ib. vi. 2, § 2); and after the war had been ended in Syria, the Romans still met withopposition in Cyrene, where the Sicarian Jonathan incited the Jews to a riot. The disturbance was, however, quickly suppressed by the governor Catullus ("B. J." vii. 11, § 1; "Vita," § 76).

More serious was the insurrection of the Jews of Cyrene under Trajan (117 C.E.). This was quelled by Marcius Turbo, but not before about 200,000 Romans and Greeks had been killed (Dio Cassius, lxviii. 32). By this outbreak Libya was depopulated to such an extent that a few years later new colonies had to be established there (Eusebius, "Chronicle" from the Armenian, fourteenth year of Hadrian). Bishop Synesius, a native of Cyrene in the beginning of the fifth century, speaks of the devastations wrought by the Jews ("Do Regno," p. 2).

The Targum (Amos i. 5, ix. 7) identifies Cyrene with the Biblical Kir; but this is suggested only by a similarity of sound, and is not warranted (compare Targ. II Kings xvi. 9, and Payne Smith, "Thesaurus Syriacus," p. 3564). Cyrene fell into ruins in Mohammedan times. The spot is now (1902) marked by the village of Grenne or Kurin, in the province of Barka.

  • Jahrb. Gesch. der Jud. ii. 296;
  • Böttger, Lexicon zu den Schriften Flavius Josephus, p. 97;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 25, 26, 359-361;
  • Smith and Porcher, A History of the Recent Discoveries at Cyrene, London, 1865.
G. S. Kr.
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