Simon of Cyrene?


I was reading the gospels the other day, and a character really drew my attention, one who I often overlooked in the past: Simon of Cyrene.

He is not in the gospels much, and only appears to help Jesus carry his cross.

No doubt he was a real person. But isn’t there also a lesson, a metaphor to be taken from Simon’s character and his actions? Of how all of us should be prepared to help our neighbors with their crosses?

Simon was likely not thrilled to be press ganged into helping Jesus with his cross. It was uncomfortable, humiliating, and probably felt horrible for Simon at first. Yet Simon apparently found himself in circumstances beyond his control and helped Jesus with his cross. As hard as it was ( I believe) Simon eventually felt great compassion and sympathy for Jesus and made his whole ordeal slightly less painful, by providing both physical and moral support during Jesus’ difficult time:blush:.

I suppose it speaks to me because I am in law school now with a lot of stressful finals, and at times find the whole ordeal somewhat stressful, dispiriting and a bit lonesome.

In spite of these thoughts and feelings though, I guess I should just willingly take up these crosses of mine, and be sure to help people with theirs, as Simon did himself, ( even if perhaps not enthusastically at first!)

Is this a fair analysis of Simon’s character and his place in the gospels?


Yes I think this is a fair analysis since Simon’s sons Alexander and Rufus became known in the early Roman Church.
Simon of Cyrene also may have been Simeon Niger in the book of Acts. The term Niger may have come for his dark complexion.


Some of the things I have considered are that when a person is named in the Gospel, that is a very great honor. So I would consider Simon of Cyrene an important character in the Gospel, as well as the early Church.

Another thing I think about, is how this act of Simon of Cyrene is a parable on how we contribute (by the Will of Jesus) to our own Redemption, by uniting ourselves to His Cross.

I am not so sure Simon of Cyrene was an unwilling volunteer. The Gospel does not imply that. If he was, it must have been a transformative event for him.


That is a great analogy!

True, the gospel does not imply that. However I think that was Mel Gibson’s interpretation for the Passion of the Christ.

It would make sense if Simon didn’t initially want to. He may not have known who Jesus was, and it was definitely no great honor to help a condemned man march his way to his crucifixtion. Simon knew he would likely receive some of the jeers and abuse meant for Jesus, and he would be party to a horrible means of execution, it would have been kinder (to the ignorant person) to let Jesus just die of exhaustion.

I just get the sense that the Romans needed a strong man to help Jesus get to golgotha. They saw Simon, so Simon would do.

I don’t know if my interpretation is correct, yet I do think my interpretation is a good metaphor for those of us who must bear these crosses in our life. We do not always want it and we often accept them and the crosses of others reluctantly. But by suffering with other people, sharing their suffering with them… we can grow. Just my two cents :shrug:


Simon’s action is also an example of Paul’s words in Colossians 1:24
*“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh **I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions **for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” *
Simon’s act aided Our Lord in the sacrificial suffering and death Jesus endured in order to save us from eternal damnation.

Like Our Lord, any pain Simon endured as he helped Jesus was undeserved. Neither of them had done anything that merited punishment by the Romans. **It is especially when we experience underserved pain and suffering **(of whatever sort) that it is most important to unite it to Our Lord’s suffering for the salvation of souls


Could be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Simon of Cyrene was Sub-Saharan (i.e. what we commonly think of when we say ‘black’). There was a large Jewish population in the Cyrenaica region (modern northeastern Libya): Josephus claimed that waves of settlers came there during the reigns of Ptolemy I (323-283 BC) and Ptolemy II (283-245 BC). In the Middle Ages, Jews in the area claimed that they were there since the time of Solomon; while that is doubtful, we do seem to have traces of them living there since the 4th century BC at the latest, even before the time of the Ptolemies.

Speaking of which, there was an ossuary found in the Kidron Valley in the 1960s which has the name ‘Alexander (son of) Simon’ scribbled twice in Greek and a Hebrew/Aramaic version ‘Alexandros QWRNYT (the Cyrenian?)’ on it. The funny thing is, the tomb where this was found seem to have belonged to a Jewish family that came from, or had strong links with, Cyrenaica. (Another ossuary was found in the same tomb: that of a woman named Sara (a common name in Cyrenaica) identified as coming from Ptolemais (there was a Ptolemais in Cyrenaica) and a daughter of Simon, which makes her (probably) this Alexander’s sister. In fact, some of other names found in the tomb - Greek-sounding ones like Philiskos, Sabatis, Damon, Thaliarchos, Mnaso - were rare or practically nonexistent in Palestine (this was the first time these names were found on ossuaries) but attested in Cyrenaica.)

It was because of these factors that some scholars think that it’s likely that this particular Alexander was Simon of Cyrene’s son.


I don’t think you have to look far for the metaphor/lesson: it’s right within the gospel itself.

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you bare not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In Mark’s version, there’s a dramatic irony at play here.

A ‘Simon’ literally takes up the cross, but it’s not the ‘Simon’ that we would have expected to see here (Simon Peter). A complete stranger does what Jesus had once admonished His disciples to do - while those very same disciples are nowhere to be found. This ties in with Mark’s portrayal of the male disciples as sort of bumbling idiots / failures: in the end, a random stranger becomes a model disciple more than the chosen Twelve do.


Well he might have been black. 75% chance.


How do you know? :wink:

If not a descendant of those Jewish colonists, who’s to say he wasn’t, say, a Berber or a Tuareg? I mean, not everybody in Africa is black (i.e. Sub-Saharan).


Those ossuary boxes all seem to be empty.

Didn’t they find Caiaphas’ not long ago?

Too bad they never find bones in them.

A modern DNA analysis would be interesting.


Well, not all ossuaries are. Jehohanan’s bones (that crucified guy with the ankle bone sticking out of one of his heels) were found in an ossuary. Actually, it was him plus a couple of other people’s bones (one was a kid) sharing the same box.


Just to add what we know of this tomb:

This tomb is located on the southwestern slope of the Kidron Valley, at Karm esh-Sheikh, south of the Palestinian village of Silwan. (To correct myself, this tomb was actually discovered in 1941, not the 1960s.)

Burial in this tomb, based on the Herodian-period pottery, occurred somewhere during the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD, before the destruction of the Second Temple. Since the burial cave was plain (the plaster used was very poor quality, for example) and the ossuaries were all simple and without any decoration, we might infer that the owners were not very well off.

Eleven ossuaries were found in total, of which nine had inscriptions. Out of twelve proper names eight are Greek (Alexandros, Mnaso, Philiskos, Thaliarchos, Dositheos, Damon, Arristobola, Horea), three are Semitic names transcribed in Greek (Sara/Sorra, Sabatis, Simon) and one is in Hebrew/Aramaic (Jacob).

Ossuary 1: Arristobola / Sorra Arristobola
Ossuary 3: Philiskos
Ossuary 4: Sabatis mother of Damōn (note: Sabatis is likely the Greek feminine form of the Hebrew name Shabbatai)
Ossuary 5: Sara of Simōn, of Ptolemais / Of Sara
Ossuary 6: Thaliarchos, age 20, son of Dōsitheos / Thaliarchos, age 20
Ossuary 7: Of Mnasō (feminine form of Mnasōn, a variant of ‘Jason’)
Ossuary 8: Hōrēa (feminine form of Hōraios ‘beautiful’)
Ossuary 9: Alexandros of Simōn (Greek) / Alexandros the QWRNYT (Hebrew)
Ossuary 11: Ya’aqov (Hebrew)

Most of the ossuaries are kept in the Rockefeller Museum (as is most of the pottery); Ossuary no. 9 is in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Except for ‘Simon’ (which can either be a Jewish or Greek name), the three other Semitic names were little used in Palestine (in fact, these are the first instances of these names in the ossuaries) but common in the Diaspora - Egypt and Cyrenaica in particular. The same goes for many of the Greek names.

  • Mnasō(n) is attested in a Jewish tomb inscription from Cyrene; it doesn’t occur in the Palestinian Jewish ossuaries.

  • Thaliarchos is another unknown name on ossuary inscriptions but recorded quite frequently in Cyrenaica. The indicator of age in the inscription is a symbol (∟) that looks like the letter L (standing for the word for ‘year’); this symbol is used to denote either the date or a person’s age. The symbol is apparently rare in Palestine, but is frequently used in Egypt and Cyrenaica. In Cyrenaica the date is placed regularly at the beginning of the epitaph, and the deceased’s age at the end of it, which fits in with the usage in the Thaliarchos epitaph. (In fact, the Thaliarchos inscription is the first known ossuary inscription to mention the age of the deceased, the first time that the ∟-symbol was found used for this purpose in any Palestinian burial inscription.)

  • Dositheos is another common name in Egypt and Cyrenaica.

  • Damon appears in a Jewish tomb inscription in Cyrenaica; it is not previously found in Jewish Palestinian inscriptions.

  • Philiskos is yet another very common Cyrenaican name which isn’t attested in Palestine.

These factors, as well as the mention of Ptolemais (which judging on the context, is more likely to be the Ptolemais in Egypt or the one in Cyrenaica rather than Acre, Israel) indicates that the tomb was used by Jews of diaspora origin.



Alexander (lid inscription)


How do you know? Jews might have mixed in with the people there. And there were actually black Berbers.


I’m not saying that he wasn’t black or couldn’t have been black. I’m just saying that your claim of a “75% chance” of him being black is too high. There is a likelihood that Simon could have been Sub-Saharan, but I wouldn’t put the chances at ‘75 percent’, especially if we consider the other factors. (A lot of people had been in Cyrenaica and in Libya as a whole: Berbers, Phoenicians, Jews, Greeks, Tuaregs, Tebou - who were black.) I mean, this is what modern Libya looks nowadays.


I’ll just add this comment:

Human bones (especially those identified as Jewish) are really hot potato in the Holy Land, because you’ve got these ultra-orthodox Jewish groups in Israel who protest (sometimes violently) against what they see as the disturbance of the dead’s repose. In fact, it can sometimes get nasty: some ultra-orthodox groups have been known to hold public protests and even harass or attack archaeologists. So even if diggers in Israel do find bones, what often happens is that they rebury it or hand them over to ultra-orthodox groups for reburial as soon as they’re done with them. That’s why ossuaries that end up in museums or in storage rooms are empty: any bone that would have been there - if there were bones in them in the first place - have already been reburied.

To go back to Jehohanan (that crucified guy), that’s the reason why his heel bone with the nail seems to be the only body part of his that’s really ‘available’ now. After some study was done on the bones, most of them - heel with nail excepted - were reburied. All that really remains are photos of those bones.


There were actually black Berbers.


I heard you the last time. :wink: So…?


Some of the tribes there might have come from other places in later times.


We shouldn’t let the topic of Cyrene pass without a mention a famous death that occurred there sometime during the Jewish revolt- probably early in A.D. 66 or so.

The High Priest of the Second Temple, Ismael ben Fabi, resigned his appointment in late A.D. 61 or thereabouts. This was astounding to the Jews, but Ismael had received an “invitation” to become part of the Salon of Poppea in Rome, who was the wife of Nero and into the occult, astrology, and foreign religions.

There is probably a link between Ismael’s presence in the Royal court in Rome two events of significance.

The lesser link would have been in A.D. 62-63, when the famous Jewish historian Josephus as a wealthy young aristocratic priest of the Second Temple traveled to Rome to get the release of several Jewish priests who were imprisoned there for some reason- maybe sent by Felix years earlier. Josephus hung out with Poppea when he was there.

A greater link would be- COULD be- the persecutions against the Christians that began in A.D. 64 in Rome ordered by Nero. The Christian targetting could have been facilitated by Ismael’s influence over Poppea and possibly Nero. What great scapegoats!!

Now for an additional mystery. Josephus tells us that Ismael was in Cyrene early in the Jewish Revolt, where he was caught up in the violence of the Jewish Zealot faction there and beheaded.

Now, just what the heck was Ismael doing there? Was he on a diplomatic mission to quell the insurgent Jews? Did Nero think he could be of some use there? Did he make the trip on his own to protect the greater Jewish population who did not want to revolt?

An interesting place, for sure…


I think orthodox Jews don’t WANT any DNA analysis done- the finding might have political implications.

I had my genome analyzed. I found out I am 2% European Jew, and less than 1% Middle Easterner.

So don’t call me an anti-Semite for saying the NT is correct in being tough on the Jews as persecutors of Jesus and the early Christians. I AM a Semite.

I still could be called a self-loathing Jew, however.

I take solace that I could be related to Jesus. But…I could also be related to Judas!

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