During the Second Temple Period, many Jews lived outside of Israel. And the city of Cyrene in Northern Africa was one of the major Jewish Diaspora centers. Many people have not heard about this city for its glory has disappeared from the pages of history. But the presence and the influence of Jews from Cyrene is reflected in several New Testament passages. Consider the famous Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross (Matt 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26).
Many Bible readers assume that Simon was a native-born African. Therefore the depictions of Simon of Cyrene in church iconography imagine him as a dark-skinned man with traditional African features. He often looks like an Ethiopian and not very Middle Eastern. Naturally, the Bible does not tell us what he really looked like so all the images we have are the results of artistic imagination.
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