Who was Simon of Cyrene? Whoever he was he has been made famous now by his chance encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. Was this indeed a chance encounter or not? Simon is a popular name among the Jews. The name is a derivative of the verb to hear. Hearer or one who hears. It is interesting that Simon is on the way into the city while Jesus and those with Him were on their way out of the city to Golgotha. In Mark’s gospel he records the words “just then” when referring to the encounter with Simon of Cyrene. These two people, Jesus and Simon were heading in opposite directions but both were being forced. Jesus was being led to His death and Simon was coerced into carrying Jesus cross. Was this a chance encounter or did God ordain it?
Many assume that Simon was a black African man. Cyrene is located in what is present day Libya on the north African coast. So if he lived in north Africa then he must have been a black man. But that is not necessarily the case. There a number of assumptions that have been made about Simon of Cyrene. Most of us think Cy-what? Cyrene was located about 10 kms from the coast and the Mediterranean Sea on an upland plateau. While that much is true, to assume that Simon was a black man was to assume all people from this region were black. But in fact this area between Cyrene and Alexandria in Tunisia was to become an enclave of Christianity in future years. There was a sizable population of Jews located here. There are two Cyreneans who were mentioned in the New Testament – Simon and Lucius who is mentioned in Acts 13:1 as a Christian teacher in Antioch. We are told by Mark (15:21) that Simon was the father of Rufus who is mentioned in Romans 16:13 as a part of the body of Christ in Rome.
Why the emphasis on Simon of Cyrene coming into the city?
Many assume it is because Simon the Cyrene was a rural worker who was coming into the city from the rural hinterland. This man was less likely to be a farm worker if he is the father of a teacher of Christian doctrine in Rome. The fact that Simon is coming into the city from country does not necessarily mean he was a farm worker. There was considerable movement between cities in those days especially in the case of those from Jewish population centres who headed back to Jerusalem for the Passover. Therefore it is less likely that Simon the Cyrene was coming into Jerusalem from the fields and more likely that he was arriving in Jerusalem from Cyrene for the Passover. Simon was most likely a Jew from Cyrene. It is therefore unlikely that Simon was working in the fields at Passover time and even more unlikely to have been coming in to town from the fields at 9.00 am.
Why do the soldiers force Simon to carry the cross?
A Roman soldier had the power to force a citizen of the city to help him with a task. It was called “requisitioning”. Any citizen could be forced to carry anything for at least a mile. At the end of the mile the citizen could put down the burden whereupon the soldier would simply requisition a new labourer. Having gone without food for hours and having been whipped / scourged Jesus was in no fit state to carry the cross. So Simon was enlisted to carry it for him. Curious isn’t it that all the synoptic gospels say Simon carried Jesus’ cross whereas John says He was carrying His cross Himself. So which is it? Someone has to be wrong. Not necessarily. A condemned man was normally forced to carry the cross beam of the cross, that was heavy enough. But on occasions the both pieces were already fastened and the condemned was made to carry both pieces joined together. It is highly likely that Jesus carried the complete cross at first and then when he struggled with the weight of both pieces that He was made to carry the cross beam. Or that Simon was forced to carry the complete cross from the change over point. Either way it is possible to say Jesus carried the cross by Himself and then later also possible to say that the soldiers put the cross on Simon and made him carry it behind Jesus. Whether Jesus carried the cross beam while Simon carried the upright is hard to say. I suspect Jesus carried all of the cross by Himself and when he succumbed to exhaustion Simon then carried it all the rest of the way. The Via Dolorosa was approximately 600 meters about 2/3 of a mile, so Simon would have been forced to carry the cross for the full distance remaining.
As an interested aside, there was an ossuary found in 1941 by E Sukenik in a burial cave belonging to Cyrenean Jews which is dated to AD 70 and bears the inscription – Alexander, Son of Simon. But that is by no means certain that it is the same Alexander, son of Simon of Cyrene but it could be. There is much speculation about what happened to Simon after the cross event. Was this a chance encounter between two men heading in the opposite direction or not? Well seemingly not if the above is to be believed. It appears that Simon became believer and influenced his son Lucius so that both are recorded in the New Testament and named among the believers from Cyrene and the body of Christ in Rome. Nothing in life is a coincidence when God is in it. But we are not absolutely sure that all of these little facts are related to the same people. But it makes a nice story.
An even more embellished story is the one concerning what happened to the purple robe or royal robe that Jesus was clothed in at the Cross. The one Herod and the soldiers placed on Him. There a many versions of this story. The first to be made popular is derived from the book, The Robe by Lloyd C Douglas and later made into a movie of the same name starring Richard Burton. No I am not going to re-tell this story because it is entirely fictional and comes to life only from Douglas’ novel and the later Hollywood interpretation of the book. There are other stories which abound and all are related to so-called relics which abounded in Catholicism during the Middle Ages. There are multiple claims to having the original relic of the robe Christ wore at the cross. There are numbers of Cathedrals of Europe which claim to have the original robe of Christ with His blood on it. One is in the Cathedral in Trier and supposedly given by Helena the mother of Constantine, found in Israel in 327 AD. There is a second robe in the Benedictine Church of Argenteuil. This was supposedly brought to the cathedral by Charlemagne. Archbishop Hugh testified that it was genuine in 1156. During the French Revolution it was said to have been cut into four pieces by the Benedictine monks. The pieces were returned to the Cathedral in 1795 if the story is to believed.
Another variation on the theme is more complicated and splits into two versions of how the robe of Christ came to Russia. In one story the soldier who won the robe by drawing lots took it to Russia and that version suggests a Jew named Elias bought the robe from the soldier and took it to Russia where it remained in the Church in Georgia until the 17th Century. That’s Georgia, Russia not Georgia, USA in case the thought crossed your mind. The robe then went to one of the Tzars and it was kept in the Cathedral in St Petersburg until 1917. The robe was confiscated under Communist rule and was divided and the pieces subsequently ended up in many different churches in various cities throughout the Soviet Union.
All of these relics are revered and almost worshipped. All are beautiful pieces of royal cloth and are all claimed to be the robe of Christ. It’s an impossibility for all to be the authentic robe of Christ. If it were so then a robe was massive as that would have weighed Him down to the point where it was hard to walk. This all fits the tendency to find relics of Christ everywhere throughout the Catholic world in Europe especially. They can’t all be the robe of Christ, but nonetheless all claim authenticity.
However allow me to draw your attention to what Mark wrote once more.
Mark 15:20 When they were finally tired of mocking Him, they took off the purple robe and put His own clothes on Him again. Then they led Him away to be crucified.
I coloured it purple not because it comes from John’s Gospel, but because it is relates to the purple robe. I have a tendency to always go back to Scripture when I am seeking the facts about an event. I would rather know what God said about it in His Word than what human tradition or historical records tell us. I also confess to have a huge scepticism when it comes to the relics of Catholicism. There was too much monetary motivation attached to those early relics. Many of them were developed into something similar to stigmata which became “holy” objects and it is claimed that when touched brought healing. Which then increased their monetary value of course. Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to healing neither do I shun the possibility of God using objects in order to heal. I am just simply stating my position in this case. I tend to rubbish it all in the light of Mark’s statement which clearly indicates the purple robe, which Luke refers to as the royal robe (the expensive shining one) was taken from Jesus before He went to the cross and before Simon carried that same cross. Hence I would ask, how is that Herod Antipas’ old robe finds its way to the foot of the cross to be won in the drawing of lots by the Roman soldier? Time for you to come to your own position on all of this carry on.
There is more to come and it’s more significant than the theories, claims and counter-claims as to what happened to The Robe. If you want a good yarn then get hold of Lloyd C Douglas’ book The Robe or if you can’t be bothered with books then watch the Burton movie. But let me remind you that Douglas set out to write a fictional novel. Don’t let any ideas of Dan-Brown-like-speculation make you think otherwise. Just enjoy the story. If you can’t find a copy of it (the movie was made in 1953) then ask to borrow mine or get it on Kindle through the Internet.
Don’t think outside the box. There is no box!Anon
Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.Nelson Mandela
Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.John Lennon
So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.Helen Keller