Simon of Cyrene
Simon of Cyrene // (Hebrew: שמעון "Hearkening; listening", Standard Hebrew Šimʿon, Tiberian Hebrew Šimʿôn; Greek: Σίμων Κυρηναῖος, Simōn Kyrēnaios) was the man compelled by the Romans to carry the cross of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus was taken to his crucifixion, according to all three Synoptic Gospels. "And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross."
Cyrene was located in northern Africa in eastern Libya. A Greek city in the province of Cyrenaica, it had a Jewish community where 100,000 Judean Jews had been forced to settle during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323–285 BC) and was an early center of Christianity.
Simon's act of carrying the cross, patibulum, for Jesus is the fifth or seventh of the Stations of the Cross. Some interpret the passage as indicating that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus. Others point out that the text itself says nothing, that he had no choice, and that there is no basis to consider the carrying of the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.
Mark 15:21 identifies Simon as "the father of Alexander and Rufus". Tradition states that they became missionaries; the inclusion of their names may suggest that they were of some standing in the Early Christian community at Rome. It has also been suggested that the Rufus (in Greek: Ῥοῦφον or Rhouphon) mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene. Some also link Simon himself with the "men of Cyrene" who preached the Gospel to the Greeks in Acts 11:20. On the other hand, Simon's name alone does not prove he was Jewish, and Alexander and Rufus were both common names and may have referred to others.
A burial cave in the Kidron Valley discovered in 1941 by E. L. Sukenik, belonging to Cyrenian Jews and dating before AD 70, was found to have an ossuary inscribed twice in Greek "Alexander son of Simon." It cannot, however, be certain that this refers to the same person.
Cyrene was supposedly the destination of many "Sicari" (lit. dagger men) who fled the Roman legions at the time of the Jewish Revolt. This was later to precipitate further Jewish insurrection in the area in the reign of Hadrian and Trajan.
According to the supposed visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Simon was a pagan. The Romans recognized he wasn't a Jew by his clothes and then chose him to oblige him to help Jesus carry the cross.
Mark 8:34 refers to Jesus saying to the multitude and his disciples: "Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Significantly, this is in the context of a conversation with Simon Peter, who later goes on to deny Jesus. So since Simon Peter fails to take up his cross, Simon the Cyrene does so instead. The Cyrenes were famous at the time as a sect of hedonistic, atheist philosophers, and as part of a failed military uprising (that it, a military messiah rather than a spiritual one).
Hence, figuratively, the military messiah and the human philosopher are put on the cross at this time when Simon the Cyrene takes up the cross.
Lending further credence to this is the naming of the two sons, Alexander and Rufus. There is no literal reason to mention them, nor are they mentioned elsewhere, despite the traditions alluded to in this article. But the most famous Alexander of the time was Alexander the Great, a symbol of military power. The most famous Rufus was Musonius Rufus who was a pacifist philosopher. According to Origen, Rufus was second only to Socrates in fame.
So, figuratively, the worldly offspring of Simon the Cyrene are military power and human philosophy. Mark is saying that neither way is correct and both should be sacrificed on the cross.
On a purely literal reading, it is strange that someone should be pressed into service by the Roman guards; that the person's name be recorded (here and nowhere else); and that the sons names are recorded (again here and nowhere else, and with no narrative reason for doing so). On a figurative reading, Mark reveals great brilliance. It mirrors Simon Peter's failure to "deny himself" and "take up his cross". It demonstrates the gospel's inclusiveness (anyone who takes up the cross, regardless of who they are, will be saved); and it shows this with respect to military power and human wisdom.
The Cyrenian or Simon movement in the United Kingdom and Ireland, takes its name from Simon of Cyrene. It has as its guiding principle "sharing the burden" which it uses to explain its approach to providing services to homeless and other disadvantaged groups in society, often using volunteers.
According to some Gnostic traditions, Simon of Cyrene, by mistaken identity, suffered the events leading up to the crucifixion, and died on the cross instead of Jesus. This is the story presented in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, although it is unclear whether Simon or another actually died on the cross. This is part of a belief held by some Gnostics that Jesus was not of flesh, but only took on the appearance of flesh (see also Basilides, Irenaeus, and Swoon hypothesis).
Basilides in his gospel of Basilides is reported by Irenaeus as having taught a docetic doctrine of Christ's passion. He states the teaching that Christ in Jesus, as a wholly divine being, could not suffer bodily pain and did not die on the cross; but that the person crucified was, in fact, Simon of Cyrene.
He appeared on earth as a man and performed miracles. Thus he himself did not suffer. Rather, a certain Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry his cross for him. It was he who was ignorantly and erroneously crucified, being transfigured by him, so that he might be thought to be Jesus. Moreover, Jesus assumed the form of Simon, and stood by laughing at them. Irenaeus, Against Heresies
In popular culture
Sidney Poitier was cast as Simon of Cyrene in The Greatest Story Ever Told that was directed by George Stevens and released in 1965. This can be considered believable due to the fact that the Synoptic gospels write of an outsider from North Africa who assists Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. On the other end, the contemporary King of Kings has had an African-American soldier in the scene of Jesus’ flagellation.
The film The Passion of the Christ portrays him as a Jew being forced by the Romans to carry the cross, who at first is unwilling, but as the journey to Mount Calvary continues, shows compassion to Jesus and helps him make it to the top.
- Mark 15:21-22
- Matthew 27:32
- Luke 23:26
- T.A. Bryant, compiler. Today's Dictionary of the Bible. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1982. Page 580.
- The liturgy for the fifth Station of the Cross at catholic.org
- D. A. Carson, "Matthew". In The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Regency (Zondervan), 1984. Page 575.
- Walter W. Wessel. "Mark." In The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Regency (Zondervan), 1984. Page 778.
- N. Avigad, "A Depository of Inscribed Ossuaries in the Kidron Valley," Israel Exploration Journal 12 : 1–12; cited in D. A. Carson, "Matthew". In The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Regency (Zondervan), 1984. Page 575.
- James H. Charlesworth (editor), Jesus and Archaeology, page 338 (Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006). ISBN 0-8028-4880-X
- http://www.jesus-passion.com/THE_PASSION_3.5.htm#CHAPTER XXXIII, retrieved May 1st 2017
- Richard Carrier, On the historicity of Jesus: Why we might have reason for doubt Ch 10.4
- Origen, Against Celsus
- "Edinburgh Cyrenians History and Development". Retrieved 2007-03-14.
- Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, eds. The Gnostic Bible. Boston: Shambhala, 2002. Pages 465, 469–470.
- Frank Leslie Cross, Elizabeth A. Livingstone (1997). "Basilides". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. p. 168. ISBN 019211655X
- Ehrman, Bart (2005). Lost Christianities. OUP. p. 188. ISBN 0195182499
- Kelhoffer, James A. (2014). Conceptions of "Gospel" and Legitimacy in Early Christianity. Mohr Siebeck. p. 80. ISBN 9783161526367.
- "Et gentibus ipsorum autem apparuisse eum in terra hominem, et virtutes perfecisse. Quapropter neque passsum eum, sed Simonem quendam Cyrenæum angariatum portasse crucem ejus pro eo: et hunc secundum ignorantiam et errorem crucifixum, transfiguratum ab eo, uti putaretur ipse esse Jesus: et ipsum autem Jesum Simonis accepisse formam, et stantem irrisisse eos." Book 1, Chapter 19
- Sheila Tully Boyle and Andrew Bunie. Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001, p.89.
- Aram Goudsouzian. Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon. Chapell Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004, p. 232.
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