2007-02-14

Simon of Cyrene & Golgotha (Tarazi)

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by Neil Godfrey

Hoo boy, looks like Simon of Cyrene is as mutable as Proteas, and like the man in the raincoat at the funeral in James Joyce’s Ulysses — not to mention the young man fleeing naked in Mark (Kermode), with no end of attributable meanings.

Paul Naradin Tarazi in Paul and Mark sees a play between the Greek words for Cyrene and two other words, one of which is Gologotha (this seems so obvious when he points it out I suspect he’s not the first to notice this — but someone please correct me if I’m wrong).

“Of Cyrene/a Cyrenian” is the Greek Kyrenaios. Tarazi links this with the Hebrew qeren meaning horn, connoting power and leadership, including that of a messiah, and cites a string of verses from 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamentation, Ezekiel and Daniel.

Tarazi sees in this the author of Mark calling on the apostle Peter (Simon) to accept the Pauline gospel of the cross in order to become the new leader of the true Christian community, the Pauline gentile churches. While I find the symbolic meanings and puns of interest in what I see as primarily a work of literature I have some problems with Tarazi’s interpretation here. Elsewhere in this commentary Tarazi sees Peter rejecting Paul’s theology. Tarazi writes that the fact that Simon here was “compelled” to carry the cross allows for the difference here. (I’m tempted to dismiss the Hebrew pun in a Greek text for a non-Jewish audience, but there are other places in this gospel where there seem to be rather telling links between the Aramaic and Greek and will have to shelve this question for a future “to look at” date.)

But there is another pun or consonant play. Golgotha, where the crucifixion with Simon’s cross takes place, is translated in Mark as “the place of the skull” — kraniou topos.

Now that one looks interesting. That is surely an intentional link (in adjacent verses) being pushed before the readers in the form of an explanatory note. Kyrenaios – kraniou.

Now they compelled a certain man, Simon Kyrenaios, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear his cross. And they brought him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, kraniou topos. (Mark 15:21-22)

Okay Michael Turton, where are you when we need you? You once had much to write about Golgotha being some sort of metaphor for the Roman Capitol (Head/Skull).

One can also see Schmidt’s article online that I understand was initially responsible for seeing Mark’s crucifixion procession as a mock Roman Triumph culminating at the Temple on the Roman Capitol.

I have in another post here suggested that Simon of Cyrene was described by Mark as “coming from the country” in order to more directly link him with the role of executioner in that triumph.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • Roger Parvus
    2013-06-18 04:47:04 GMT+0000 - 04:47 | Permalink

    A recent reading of Neil’s post (from 2007) on Tarazi piqued my interest. Next trip to the library I borrowed a copy of Tarazi’s book and found some surprising insights in it. One in particular pleases me no end:

    Mark decided to create a ‘story of Jesus’ and intended it to serve as scripture, but what will have been the source for the overall outline of that story? Could he have created it from scratch, devising his own plan for fitting numerous vignettes about Jesus into a cohesive whole? I am convinced that he in fact utilized a story outline that had already been known among the Gentile churches… [I]n the minds of Paul’s disciples and communities, the ‘gospel story’ was already outlined: it followed the major contours of Paul’s life and activity as an apostle. (The New Testament: An Introduction, vol. 1, Paul and Mark, pp. 126-127)

    … the image of Paul shows through in Mark’s portrayal of Jesus. (p. 129)

    The literary structure of Mark can best be discerned precisely by paying attention to the way Paul and the issues facing his Gentile churches show through in the story of Jesus. (p. 129)

    The similarities between Paul and Jesus are always explained by claiming that Paul imitated Jesus. Until now I have never come across a biblical scholar who considered the possibility that that scenario may be backwards; that the Jesus story itself—-at least in its outline—-may be based on Paul. This was a first for me.

    Of course, I myself would go beyond Tarazi’s proposal in two ways. First, I think that Paul and Simon of Samaria were one and the same person. And second, it was not just the outline of GMark’s story of Jesus that was based on Paul/Simon’s life and activity as an apostle. It was the whole of the public ministry in GMark that was based on them. It was in reality an allegory/riddle about Paul/Simon; one that would be understood and appreciated by those on the inside (Simonians) and misunderstood by those on the outside. The question it posed was: Who is this mysterious Jesus figure? I think the correct answer is: Paul/Simon of Samaria.

    But, as I see it, Tarazi’s innovative thinking is a step in the right direction. I hope other scholars will give it some consideration.

    • 2013-06-18 05:47:47 GMT+0000 - 05:47 | Permalink

      Tarazi’s thought here was too radical for me, Roger. Maybe I should revisit it now you’ve drawn it back to my attention with a nudge that I might have been too stony-hearted back in 2007.

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