Simon of Cyrene & Simon Magus — revised (24th jan 07)

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by Neil Godfrey

I doubt it is possible to ever know the origins of Christianity. Another little intriguing “mystery” is the potential identification at some point of Simon of Cyrene and Simon Magus.

Irenaeus informs readers that Simon Magus taught that he had appeared in Judea and appeared to suffer crucifixion. The Catholic Encyclopedia’s online article on Docetism:

Simon Magus first spoke of a “putative passion of Christ and blasphemously asserted that it was really he, Simon himself, who underwent these apparent sufferings. “As the angels governed this world badly because each angel coveted the principality for himself he [Simon] came to improve matters, and was transfigured and rendered like unto the Virtues and Powers and Angels, so that he appeared amongst men as man though he was no man and was believed to have suffered in Judea though he had not suffered” (passum in Judea putatum cum non esset passus — Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, xxiii sqq.)

Irenaeus also informs readers that some Christians taught that it was Simon of Cyrene who in fact suffered crucifixion in Christ’s stead. Again, the Catholic Encyclopedia’s online article on Docetism:

According to Basilides, Christ seemed to men to be a man and to have performed miracles. It was not, however, Christ, who suffered but Simon of Cyrenes who was constrained to carry the cross and was mistakenly crucified in Christ’s stead. Simon having received Jesus’ form, Jesus returned Simon’s and thus stood by and laughed. Simon was crucified and Jesus returned to his father (Irenaeus, Adv. Char., 1, xxiv).

Robert Price in The Pre-Nicene New Testament observes that:

  • Simon of Cyrene was Phoenician
  • Simon Magus was from Gitta (=Gath, Goliath’s hometown) of Phoenicia (0r Samaria)
  • Phoenicia was called Kittim (easily confused with Gitta)
  • The synoptic gospels narrate that Simon of Cyrene carried Christ’s cross

The Gospel of Mark is often ambiguous in its narration and its account of who it was who was crucified is no less so to the attentive reader:

Now they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, 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, Place of a Skull. Then they gave him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but he did not take it. And when they crucified him . . . . (Mark 15:21-24)

The Gospel of John of course removes any room for ambiguity by insisting that Jesus carries his own cross! (19.17)

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