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The Christadelphian | December 2010

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial End of an Age
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Letters to the churches” | James A. Crossley
  • The Bible 4 Life 5 – Reading and preaching | Mark Sheppard
  • The Messiah in Zechariah Part 1 | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Jewish Clothing Relief | David & Jacqueline Griffin
  • Beginning at Jerusalem | Dudley Fifield
  • Ezekiel – prophet to the exiles 12 – I will remember my covenant | Andrew E. Walker
  • “In the parts of Libya about Cyrene” | John M. Hellawell
  • Workers together 3 – Aquila and Priscilla | John Boulton
  • “… cannot be my disciple” | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • Signs of the times Violence on the Korean Peninsula
  • Israel and their land A struggle over gas reserves
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

“In the parts of Libya about Cyrene”

TO borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, Simon of Cyrene came from “no mean city”. Situated on the north coast of Africa, some 120 miles east of modern Ben Ghazi in what is still Libya today, the ruins of the ancient city still create an impression of the might and power of the Roman Empire.

The city of Cyrene

Cyrene was founded by Greek emigrants around 630 BC who settled close to the perennial spring of Cyrene, a nature goddess whom later Greek tradition claimed as the bride of Apollo. The site of the ruins of the city is quite spectacular, located at the edge of a steep escarpment at a height of around 1,800 feet, below which there is a coastal plain and then a further steep slope to the sea.

The city is built on several levels: the Greek temple of Zeus (see cover picture) and the hippodrome are located on a higher part, and across a shallow valley is a large forum adjacent to a road with a small theatre and a number of magnificent Roman houses. That of Jason Magnus is very large and has wonderful mosaics and marble floors made up of geometric segments. The lower part of the city has the main source of water mentioned above, the fountain of Apollo. Lower still is the sanctuary of Apollo with a temple and baths. In fact, it has all the elements present in a Roman city.

Simon of Cyrene

The journey which Simon made to be present in Jerusalem for the Passover of AD 30 was considerable. If he travelled by sea it would require a short land journey to Apollonia, the port of Cyrene some twelve miles away, and a sea journey of about 750 miles to Caesarea or perhaps Joppa. The longer land route would have taken him along the coast of North Africa into Egypt, across the Nile delta, probably through Alexandria and then northwards through Gaza and up to Jerusalem.

We first meet Simon in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion:

“And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.” (Matthew 27:31,32)

Was the fact that Simon was impressed to carry the Lord’s cross evidence that he was not a Roman citizen even though he came from an important Roman city? One can only imagine how he felt. He had arrived in Jerusalem for Passover and was unexpectedly forced to participate in the Lord’s humiliating and painful death. He may have been totally unaware of the background of the events that led up to the Lord’s arrest, for it seems improbable that he would travel from Cyrene to Jerusalem each year.

Mark provides further information about Simon:

“And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.” (Mark 15:21)

Mark’s comment that he was passing by and had come out of the country implies that he had only just arrived when he became involved in the procession heading for Golgotha. What Mark tells us about his family is important, for it must be more than an identification to distinguish him from the many others who were called Simon. By the time Mark wrote his Gospel, Alexander and Rufus were well known to his readers. This is in accord with Paul’s comment at the end of Romans:

“Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” (Romans 16:13)

By this time the family, or at least part, is in Rome. Yet Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote Romans: it was his lifelong ambition. So, where had Paul met Rufus and received a mother’s love and care from Simon of Cyrene’s wife? We cannot answer this question but it does raise a fascinating fact, evident elsewhere in the New Testament (for example, Priscilla and Aquila), that there was considerable mobility within the Roman Empire.

Lucius of Cyrene

Simon was not the only disciple to hail from Cyrene, for in the church at Antioch among the list of eminent prophets and teachers, including Barnabas and Paul, was Lucius of Cyrene:

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” (Acts 13:1)

He may also be the disciple referred to at the conclusion of Romans:

“Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.” (Romans 16:21)

Once more we find a Cyrenian far from his home city, first in Syrian Antioch and, if the identification is correct, later in Corinth.

The progress of the Gospel message

As we have seen, Cyrenians were present at Antioch in Syria, and they were active in the preaching work taking the initiative created by the conversion of Cornelius and his family:

“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 11:19,20)

The use of “Grecians” in this passage is problematical. In Acts 6:1 the RV text gives “Grecian Jews” (margin: Greek, Hellenists) and clearly this is correct for this was the faction that complained about the welfare arrangements. However, here in Acts 11:20 the RV text has “Greeks” but some manuscripts have “Grecian Jews”, as the RV margin notes. Given the way in which this passage is written, making the contrast in verse 19 that initially the preaching was restricted to Jews only, it seems more likely that this comment is intended to indicate a new stage in the progress of the Gospel message. Peter had been commanded to preach to Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 10) and it would seem that this had not only reached Jerusalem (Acts 11:1) but it was soon known elsewhere, including the Cyrenians who arrived in Antioch.

Perhaps the spiritual perceptiveness of Cyrenians Jews, living at some distance from the centre of the infant Jewish Christian community, made them less insular and more receptive to the concept that the Gospel was for all mankind, including Gentiles. It must be significant that Cyrene is mentioned more frequently in the New Testament than one might first have thought.

John M. Hellawell


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