Cyrenaica, part 5: Simon of Cyrene

Simon of Cyrene

Simon of Cyrene

Cyrene was the hometown of many famous Greeks. Eugammon was the author of an important but lost poem about the events after the homecoming of Odysseus, the Telegony. Mathematician Theodorus of Cyrene developed the theory of irrational numbers. Another Theodorus was one of the founders of atheism. Callimachus was one of the most influential poets of Antiquity, while Eratosthenes was the first to measure the circumference of the earth. Philosophers of the Cyrenaean School taught that pleasure was the best thing in life.

They are all forgotten or almost forgotten. The best remembered Cyrenaean is a Jew named Simon, who is mentioned in the gospel of Mark (15.21).

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.

That’s all.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]

5 Responses to Cyrenaica, part 5: Simon of Cyrene

  1. Gert Knepper says:

    This is an interesting story indeed, and I would agree with most of it.
    Still I think there is something more, but also something something less to be said about our Simon. We can agree about the importance of Alexander and Rufus: obviously they played an (important?) role in the community Mark wrote for: a community that used to be identified with Rome, but is nowadays rather located in Syria or Galilee.
    But the suggestion that Simon was ‘coming from his work in the fields’ is problematic: that’s not what the Greek texts suggests. Ap’ agrou doesn’t mean anything more than that Simon was coming ‘from the countryside’, i.e. he was on his way to enter Jerusalem. So Mark portraits Simon as coming from the opposite direction, and doesn’t at all suggest he is coming from his work. Please note: I am not talking about some historical event, I am just interpreting a written text.
    This view, which from a philological point of view really is the most probable one, makes all speculations on whether Simon had been allowed (be it on the basis of Galilean or Judean Halacha) to work on a Friday superfluous: Mark just doesn’t tell us that Simon had been working. In passing we may note that the event takes place before noon, which is not the usual time form a farmer to return home. But this is no more than an additional argument, and by no means decisive.

    But there I also something more to be said about Simon from Cyrene: it is his name, and that from his sons, that may tell us something about him. Simon is a Jewish name. This means it is highly probable he was a Jew (Jona reached the same conclusion via a different path). I do not think we can conclude our Simon “accepted the new branch of Judaism”, or that “his life changed”: we just have no way to tell. I suggest the story of Simon carrying Jesus’ cross may well be pious fiction; in fact is his sons we meet in the story, and not their father; and I suspect Rufus and Alexander, and nobody but them, are the source of Marks story.

    But please consider the above as an addition, and not as a criticism of your rightful reminder of Simon the Cyrenaean.

  2. Thanks, this is the type of comment I love!

  3. Gert Knepper says:

    As an afterthought: while both Alexander and Rufus are introduced without further explanation (surely because they were known to Mark’s community), their father gets the indefinite ‘tina’ attached to his name: “a certain (further unknown) guy”. This also suggests he wasn’t remembered in the community.
    Moreover: the story of Simon carrying Jesus’ cross is based on only one source: Mark. Matthew and Luke did no more than copy Mark. So I suggest we’d be careful to assign historical value to the story too easily.

  4. Jack says:

    Reblogged this on Tome and Tomb.

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