There is a remarkable passage in Acts 11:19-22
It relates to men from Cyprus and Cyrene who were responsible for spreading Christianity to the non-Jewish Greeks. This theological dispersion was occurring specifically in Antioch, and (per usual in Acts), a liaison (Barnabus) was sent:
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch…Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch
Acts 13, which follows Barnabus’ earlier partnership with Saul, begins in Antioch with Barnabus, Saul (Paul), Simon the Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene (whom Origen identified as Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel*). They were called by the Holy Spirit to go to Cyprus, an island off the coast of Greece and Turkey.
*Note: Origen’s claim is of course not true, but an interesting link is that the earliest consumer of the Gospel of Luke appears to be either Carpocrates or Marcion, who were both consumers of Luke and a subset of Paul’s letters
They traveled around the island, and met Elymas bar Jesus, a magician and assistant to the governor Sergius Paulus. Elymas bar Jesus (of Cyprus) gave pushback to Paul, and Paul told him that he was full of “deceit and trickery”.
This is curious phrase for Paul to have used, considering (evidently) his similar usage in 2 Corinthians 16:
Be that as it may, I was not a burden to you; but crafty as I am, I caught you by trickery.
Consider Acts 8, when Peter who relayed a similar sentiment to Simon Magus. One gets to wonder (and I do) if Elymas bar Jesus of Cyprus was the same person as Simon Magus of Samaria, and one of the two stories was modified to sanitize Paul. Of course, the motivation here would have been that the original authors of Acts had an antipathy towards Paul, a characteristic of the Ebionites, as Irenaeus points out (AH i.26.2).
As Paul’s confrontation of Elymas son of Jesus in Acts 13 ends, Paul tells bar Jesus he will go blind, a parallel to Paul’s fateful trek through Damascus in Acts 9, where he was made blind by the Spirit due to his persecution.
The curiosities do not end there. Consider again that men from Cyprus and Cyrene who were said to be catalysts for Christianity’s spread to non-Jews in Antioch (where evidently Christianity was first so-called). In Acts 13, Simon (who was called Niger) was in Antioch spreading the word.
Is Acts 13 saying Simon the Niger was from Cyrene? And Simon of Cyrene, the man who bore Jesus’ cross, went to Antioch with Barnabus to spread Christianity?
If so, one might (and probably ought to) imply that Simon of Cyrene and the Apostle Paul were the same person!
Consider Galatians 2:11-13, where Paul describes his fight with Peter:
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
In Galatians, Paul and Barnabus were in Antioch, preaching Christianity, and fighting about how Jewish (men from James) Christianity should be. Barnabus was even led astray from Paul’s pushback against Judaism, into a more Jewish practice.
Yet it was in Antioch that the Cyrenians and Cypriots who were the ones specifically preaching to non-Jews.
In this context, at least according to Acts, the place where the cult members were first called Christians was originally inhabited and populated by non-Jewish, Greek Christians.
Consider how Simon of Cyrene came to be viewed by (perhaps proto) Gnostic Christians, such as Basilides. Here is Irenaeus’ description of Basilides’ view of Simon of Cyrene:
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
According to Basilides, Simon of Cyrene absorbed (or inherited) the Christ (alternatively, Jesus and Simon shape-shifted and switched positions so as to fool the Roman soldiers). Again, this fits the adoptionist/Docetic view that was probably the earliest view in Christianity.
The Gospel of Mark says Simon of Cyrene was the father of Rufus and Alexander. A cynical person might presume that Mark’s original writer(s) might have been so named, and this critical point in the story (which would have been understood by Mark’s original readers as being the point at which the Spirit left Jesus’ body) specifically makes reference to the revered sect leader(s).
Interestingly, we find a Rufus in Romans 16:13:
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too
In Romans, Rufus has a mother who was a mother to Paul, as well. Did Paul not have a mother? Why should he need another? Of course, we can explain this sentiment away by assuming Rufus’ mother must have had a motherly personality, even to men who were not her biological sons.
But if we believe what Paul says in 1 Corin 15, we might presume that he was making this statement in support of the claim he did not have a mother:
…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul relays a similar sentiment in Galatians 1:15-16:
But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles
How fascinating that Paul’s statement in Galatians was that God set Paul apart from his mother’s womb, in light of the Eastern Valentinian view (remember, Valentinus was said to have received revelation from Theudas, Paul’s supposed disciple, and in my opinion, a doppelganger for John the Baptist) that Jesus Christ’s body was spiritual, and that he was born from Mary as through a pipe, never making contact with her.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe this was an allusion to a proto-Paraclete prophesy found in the Gospel of Thomas (although not necessarily originating in it). What I think the Gospel of Thomas says is that the Paraclete (and not the original Christ) will have had an abnormal birth (I suspect the Paraclete’s virgin birth [or abnormal birth] was the original view, as opposed to the notion that the original Christ-on-Earth will have been born to a virgin, as is offered in Matthew and Luke)
Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.”
A more outrageous speculation is that Paul’s greeting to Rufus and his Mother was actually Paul reaching out to his biological son, and his son’s mother who acted as a mother to her lover (note that Paul did not make reference to Rufus’ father).
Irenaeus described many heretics in Against Heresies, which most of the later heresy hunters relied on for their formulations. Many of those heretics held almost exactly the same views as each other, and perhaps were simply duplicates of one another.
For instance, consider Marcus the Magician (AH i.13) who seduced a Turkish Deacon’s wife and used love potions; compare Marcus to Simon the Magician who seems to have been borrowed from Josephus’ Antiquities (Book 20) – Felix’s friend who “convinced” Herodian Princess Drusilla to marry him – the most obvious speculation is that Josephus’ Simon was versed in how to argue on behalf of Felix because he was Jewish; my alternative speculation is that Felix recruited Simon to make and disperse love potions (which might have been antiquity’s version of the modern hallucinogen). The detail which makes these two characters connected is that Procurator Felix and Drusilla had a son named Marcus – could it be that the invention of Marcus the Magician was simply a polemic Irenaeus (or his predecessors) invented to simultaneously claim that Felix’s son Marcus was Simon’s biological son AND that Simon’s bastard son was actually infesting Christian sects? Also note Carpocrates’ use of love potions in AH i.25, and the fact that he seemed to use the Romans epistle and the Gospel of Luke.
There are other encoded messages in Acts. For example, in Acts 21, Paul is detained by Roman soldiers, and asked if he was an Egyptian who led a revolt:
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
Close readers might notice Paul did not deny being an Egyptian who led a revolt. Clearly the commander was referring to the “false prophet” Egyptian Josephus described in Wars. The Egyptian ran when Felix attempted to make war with him and his followers:
But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place; and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison and the people, he intended to domineer over them by the assistance of those guards of his that were to break into the city with him. But Felix prevented his attempt, and met him with his Roman soldiers, while all the people assisted him in his attack upon them, insomuch that when it came to a battle, the Egyptian ran away, with a few others, while the greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken alive; but the rest of the multitude were dispersed every one to their own homes, and there concealed themselves.
The story of the Egyptian prophet even includes the Mount of Olives, which is referenced in Acts 1 as being the place where Jesus ascended to heaven.