Simon of Cyrene

The fifth Station of the Cross, showing Simon of Cyrene helping Christ carry his cross. This particular station is located within St. Raphael's Cathedral, Dubuque, Iowa.
Painting by Rubens depicting scene from Luke 23:26–28: "And as they led him away they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. And there followed him a great company of people and of women which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said "Daughters of Jerusalem weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children". (King James Version). Alte Pinakothek, Munich

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 as Jesus was taken to his crucifixion, according to all three Synoptic Gospels.[1][2][3]

And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.[2]

His home town, Cyrene, Libya, was located in northern Africa. Cyrene, a Greek colony, also 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.

Cyrene was supposedly the destination of many "Sicari" 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.

The Cyrenian Jews had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts.[4] Tradition states his sons Rufus and Alexander became missionaries; the inclusion of their names in Mark 15:21 may suggest that they were of some standing in the Early Christian community at Rome. It has also been suggested that the Rufus (Ῥοῦφον Rhouphon) mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene.[5] Some also link Simon himself with the "men of Cyrene" who preached the Gospel to the Greeks in Acts 11:20.[4] On the other hand, Simon's name does not prove he was Jewish, and Alexander and Rufus were both common names and may have referred to others.[6]

Simon's act of carrying the cross for Jesus is the fifth or seventh of the Stations of the Cross.[7] Some interpret the passage as indicating that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus.[4] 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.[6] The Passion of the Christ film 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.

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.[8] 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).

A burial cave in 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.[9][10]

Cyrenian movement

The Cyrenian or Simon movement, centered 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.[11]

Crucified instead of Jesus

Basilides in his gospel of Basilides is reported 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.[12][13]

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.[14]

Poet Ridgely Torrence wrote a play about him titled Simon the Cyrenian. A 1920 YWCA production of this play was directed by Dora Cole, sister of composer Bob Cole, and starred Paul Robeson.[15]


  1. Mark 15:21-22
  2. 1 2 Matthew 27:32
  3. Luke 23:26
  4. 1 2 3 T.A. Bryant, compiler. Today's Dictionary of the Bible. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1982. Page 580.
  5. Walter W. Wessel. "Mark." In The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Regency (Zondervan), 1984. Page 778.
  6. 1 2 D. A. Carson, "Matthew". In The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Regency (Zondervan), 1984. Page 575.
  7. The liturgy for the fifth Station of the Cross at
  8. Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, eds. The Gnostic Bible. Boston: Shambhala, 2002. Pages 465, 469-470.
  9. N. Avigad, "A Depository of Inscribed Ossuaries in the Kidron Valley," Israel Exploration Journal 12 [1962]: 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.
  10. James H. Charlesworth (editor), Jesus and Archaeology, page 338 (Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006). ISBN 0-8028-4880-X
  11. "Edinburgh Cyrenians History and Development". Retrieved 2007-03-14.
  12. Frank Leslie Cross, Elizabeth A. Livingstone (1997). "Basilides". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. p. 168. ISBN 019211655X
  13. Ehrman, Bart (2005). Lost Christianities. OUP. p. 188. ISBN 0195182499
  14. Kelhoffer, James A. (2014). Conceptions of "Gospel" and Legitimacy in Early Christianity. Mohr Siebeck. p. 80. ISBN 9783161526367.
  15. Sheila Tully Boyle and Andrew Bunie. Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001, p.89.
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