The Apostle Paul Was Simon of Cyrene

I alluded to the notion that Paul and Simon of Cyrene were the same person in my post yesterday, but I thought the idea deserved its own post.

Simon of Cyrene bearing Jesus Christ’s cross

This equivalence between Paul and Simon of Cyrene is an idea I have circled around for some time, but the conclusion became quite obvious to me when I recently re-read Acts of the Apostles.

My assertion with what I see as a foreshadowing of Simon of Cyrene was put in Mark 9:38-40

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,  for whoever is not against us is for us.

The fact that this loose end is never tied up raises the question:  was the loose end implicitly tied up?  Does the mystery which originally shrouded these Gospel texts obfuscate a detail which would have been obvious to an original consumer?  If so, my conjecture is that the most likely literary device that was being used in Mark was foreshadowing.

This foreshadowing relies on an expectation Mark’s author would have expected the reader to have:  someone will receive the Spirit from Jesus – they will next encapsulate the Spirit and become the Paraclete.

The reason Mark’s author would have expected his readers to have this expectation is because the whole purpose for writing the Gospel was to demonstrate that Spirit ownership was fluid – it bounced from person to person, presumably based on some sort of material catalyst.  In this context, Jesus Christ’s catalyst was John’s baptism, and he was one of the first people to have received the Spirit.

The hopping adoptionism idea that is hinted in the Gospel of Mark can be found within the Basilidean view that the Spirit jumped from Jesus to Simon of Cyrene during the time that Simon carried Jesus’ cross.  Irenaeus also implies that the Basilidean view was similar to the Cerinthian view, as Cerinthus (and the Ebionites) believed the Christ left the man prior to his death.  Both Basilides and Cerinthus might very well have used the Gospel of Mark, or something like it.  I have made the case that the proto-Synoptic Gospel later diverged into Mark and Matthew, but the original one lacked the virgin birth.

When one factors in the Gospel of Matthew’s treatment of Mark 9:38 (in Matthew 7:22-23 and 12:30), coupled with the fact that Irenaeus explains in Against Heresies i.26.2 that the Ebionites used the Gospel of Matthew and hated the Apostle Paul, it becomes evident that Matthew’s author (and therefore the Ebionites) were vociferously opposed to this aspect of Mark’s Gospel about the man who was driving out demons.  One obvious person who fits the profile of this demon-chasing man (and this would have been evident to a Matthew reader who had also read the proto-Mark Gospel) is the Apostle Paul:

Matthew 7:22-23
Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you;depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness

Matthew 12:30
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters

This antipathy towards Paul is also evident in Matthew 5:19

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

In Mark, not everyone had the ability to cast out demons – Jesus had to specifically grant the apostles authority over impure spirits in Mark 6:7; even Jesus seems to have only recently gained the ability after his baptism.  How then did this demon-casting anonymous stranger get the ability to cast out demons if Jesus did not give it to him?!?  The implication must be that either he got it secretly from Jesus, or he got it from the same place that sent the Spirit to descend on Jesus in the form of a dove after his baptism.

This implication ties in with the Paraclete, who, according to the Gospel of Thomas, would have been born under special circumstances.

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.”

Compare this detail to Galatians

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.

Consider Paul’s curious claim to have been born as a result of a miscarriage (ektroma) in 1 Corinthians 15:8

And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one of untimely birth (born from a miscarriage).

In the Gospel of Mark 15:21, Simon is featured briefly, but he is given some backstory.  He had two sons, which a cynical reader might interpret as the author(s) taking literary license to inject themselves (or their predecessors) into the historical narrative they were crafting.  Simon of Cyrene is then forced to carry Jesus Christ’s cross.

Mark 15:21

Now Simon of Cyrene,the father of Alexander and Rufus,was passing by on his way in from the country,and the soldiers compelled him to carry the cross of Jesus.

Compare Matthew’s treatment of the same scene in 27:32:

Matthew 27:32

Along the way they found a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they compelled him to carry the cross of Jesus

There are two major differences between Matthew’s and Mark’s depiction of Simon of Cyrene:

  1.  In Mark, Simon was coming back from the country.  The Greek term is also translated as the field – could this agricultural reference be a reference to the wilderness Jesus had to endure in Mark 1:13?  Or could it be the field referenced in 2 Esdras 9-10, where the grieving woman, who was a metaphor for Zion, turned into the new Jerusalem? In Matthew, the soldiers simply found Simon, and give no indication of where he was coming from or what he was doing
  2. Matthew omits Rufus and Alexander from Simon’s backstory, as if Matthew does not know Simon of Cyrene

The are 2 reasons I speculate Matthew’s author omitted mentioning Simon’s sons:

  1.  Matthew’s author recognized that Mark was referring to a specific person (that the Ebionites or other Matthew consumers did not like) who had sons named Rufus and Alexander
  2. Rufus was mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13.  Matthew’s author(s) recognized this detail in Mark as being a pointer to Paul’s epistle.

Romans 16:13:  “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too”

In Romans 16:13, Paul suggests some sort of quasi-familial relationship to Rufus and his mother.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I propose Paul was Rufus’ biological father, and that his lover (Rufus’ mother) compensated for Paul not having a mother; the Paraclete, after all, would have had unusual birth circumstances.  Consider again that the Gospel of Thomas references this aspect of the Paraclete in Saying #15 when Jesus says

When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.

This unusual birth aspect is why the Ebionite pseudo-Clementines make reference to Simon Magus claiming to be born of a virgin; it is because Simon Magus recognized this detail as an element of who the Paraclete would be.  Moreover, the implication of this aspect of the Paraclete (coupled with a reasonable grasp on reality) is that the Paraclete would not be local to the Christian community where he claimed to be the Paraclete, as people who knew the Paraclete intimately would also know their parents.

The link between Paul and Simon of Cyrene becomes more obvious in Acts 11:19-20 and Acts 13:1

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.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul

It is clear that we should imply that Simon the Niger is either from Cyprus or Cyrene, as he is at the church in Antioch, where there are no Jewish Christians – only Greeks.

Of course, if Simon the Niger is from Cyprus, he becomes a likely reference to Josephus’ Simon in Antiquities 20 (who was a friend of Felix the procurator, who tried Paul in Acts 24)

While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, one of his friends; a Jew he was, and by birth a Cypriot

But if Simon the Niger is from Cyrene, then he is clearly Simon of Cyrene, who already has a history of casting out demons.  Either way, both were later transformed into Simon Magus who is depicted in Acts 8 as trying to buy the Spirit from Jesus Christ’s “true” apostles Peter and John.

Compare the statement in Acts 11 and 13 to Galatians 2:

James, Cephasand John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face…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…The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Paul is saying that he went to Antioch to preach to non-Jews with Barnabus.  It was only after the “men from James” (the Ebionites) came into Antioch that they began to ruin his work by injecting their version of Judaism into his Greek-friendly Christianity, thereby leading astray Peter and Barnabus.  Of course, Acts’ injection of Saul (who I think refers to villainous Saulus in Antiquities 20.9.4) obfuscates this detail because it increases the number of possible people that we can link to Paul.

If Saul was injected into Acts as a passive-aggressive swipe at Paul (Simon of Cyrene), and the writers used the frequently-used literary device within early Christian history to make characters within the community analogous to Josephus characters, then we might presume that Saul wasn’t there at all – he was simply a device used to vilify Simon, in the context of the political need to integrate the Pauline Christianity into the emerging (or hopeful) Orthodoxy, which later became known as the Nazarenes.

In this speculation that Paul and Simon of Cyrene were the same person, consider how a Mark reader would read Paul’s Galatians 6:1 within this framework (and with the common knowledge within the mystery that Paul and Simon are the same person):

Galatians 6:1:  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

Last updated:  20170330


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

23 thoughts on “The Apostle Paul Was Simon of Cyrene”

    1. 1. Simon was called Simon Magus because they considered it an insult (and heresy) to be a magician; it was also probably an insider joke to link him to the Herodians, which Simon the magician in Josephus certainly was – Robert Eisenman elaborates quite a bit on how Paul looks very Herodian.
      2. Simon of Cyrene might very well have been his real name
      3. The link between Paul and Simon of Cyrene is actually more obvious if you only have the Romans epistle and a synoptic looking Gospel where Simon of Cyrene’s son’s name was Rufus. Carpocrates fits this bill, and as I’ve mentioned in other posts, I think Carpocrates was a pre-Marcionite (or maybe he was Marcion).
      4. The Ebionites hated “Paul”, which evidently carried into the Orthodoxy – remember many scholars consider the Nazarenes to be an extension of the Ebionites, except they believe in the Virgin birth (which I think was an Eastern Valentinian invention); yet, some Valentinians love Paul (AKA Simon of Cyrene), as did (what appears to be) the majority of Christians.
      5. The inclination among the early Christian writers was to duplicate people into 2 or more characters within their stories, hence you get Simon Magus in Acts 8, and the sorcerer Elymas bar Jesus in Acts 13. This duplication served as a sanitization process, where one of the characters suited one purpose, and the other character might have been something like the scape goat. We also see several examples of this in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, where Carpocrates, Simon Magus, and Marcus the Magician all appear to be the same person. They also did this by mentioning Theudas in Acts, and creating separation between he and John the Baptist, who I think are clearly based on the same person.

      One of my more wacky ideas is that the Egyptian false prophet Josephus mentions in Wars is actually intended to be the same person as Paul in Acts…although I doubt they were the same person. But again, there was disdain of Paul (Simon) by the Acts writers, but it was politically expedient to integrate him and his letters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wouldn`t be surprised. Growing up Catholic I often forget the U.S Evangelical is heavily into Paul, so much so that they`re really Paulanites, not Christians.


  1. I’ve read one author who postulated that Simon of Cyrene was bar Kochba, who also had a son named Rufus. Whether or not that aspect is indeed the case, Matthew is clearly alluding to him with the inclusion of the nativity and the star in the east. And with how Matthew seems to denigrate the man casting out demons would suggest that Mark was sympathetic towards bar Kochba. If we entertain this speculation, the question becomes: why would Mark endorse bar Kochba? What political aspirations was he aiming to achieve? There is also the Man of Lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians, who is probably alluding to bar Kochba also, yet is of the same mind as Matthew. What were the theological implications which bar Kochba posed to the early Christians? Justin Martyr maintains that he had threatened Christians to renounce Jesus of Nazareth under threat of torture. But how true that statement is is speculative as it’s very unlikely that the Christianity Justin is familiar with didn’t exist at that time.

    Was bar Kochba Marcion? Doubtful but I’ll keep in in my the back of my mind until I can substantially prove or disprove it.


    1. Simon bar Kochba definitely adds an extra layer of complexity. There seem to be bar Kochba references in many Christian texts, but it’s difficult to know how much was being added to these texts by that point (C 132CE). I tend to gravitate towards much of the fodder for the extant texts existing by that point, and that these bar Kochba references were interpolations of pre-existing texts.

      Rather, I think the allusion to the demon-casting man was simply an element of the theology: who was the Paraclete? In Christian evolution, I think there was a process where the notion of the Spirit became more robust, and became a heavenly man revealing stuff, as in Revelation. Simultaneously, there was a Paraclete on Earth capable of receiving revelation and orally transmitting it. After that, the Gospel stories developed to tell who the first Paraclete was, and the mechanism by which the Spirit transferred from body to body…

      That being said, it might very well be that some Christians came to see Simon bar Kochba as the Paraclete.


  2. I don’t know if I’l agree with Simon of Cyrene being identified as Paul just yet. I don’t see a reason why would the gospel writers obfuscate a person like Simon Magus/Paul/Marcion with a gospel character like Simon of Cyrene. The distance to travel from Pontus/Sinope to Cyrene, Libya is approximately 2100 miles by land.

    I found an interesting blog entry from Neil Godfrey’s Vridar entitled “A Simonian Origin for Christianity” by Roger Parvus. He mentioned Simon of Samaria in one of his posts:

    But are such pretenders really “otherwise unknown to us?” Is there really a total lack of evidence elsewhere? Hard evidence, yes, but there is the fact that all of the earliest proto-orthodox heresy hunters consistently name Simon of Samaria as the first and most notorious false Christ. And according to Irenaeus, Simon claimed to be “the Son who suffered in Judaea” (Against Heresies, 1.23). And after Simon’s death a disciple of his named Menander made the same claims that Simon did: “After him Menander, his disciple (likewise a magician), said the same as Simon. Whatever Simon had affirmed himself to be, this did Menander equally affirm himself to be…” (Pseudo-Tertullian, Against All Heresies, c. 1). So in my opinion these two have to be considered the likeliest candidates for the false Christs “foretold” by the eschatological discourse. True, in Mark 13:6 Jesus says that “many” will come in his name. But if this oracle was emitted after Menander had succeeded Simon, the emitter would have had reason to believe and fear that a precedent had been set, and that other successor Christs would follow. The oracle may have been worded so as to cover that eventuality.

    Could Simon of Samaria be the same with Simon Magus? It could may well be. Although I’m not really dismissing anything just yet especially when there are indications of it as you thoroughly provided.


    1. When you couple Acts 8, Acts 13, Galatians 2, and Josephus’ Antiquities 20.7, I think it starts to come together…Of course, the problem becomes Samaria. Clearly Samaria is playing into the formulation here – the Ebionites hated the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5), and whatever groups who fed into the John tradition liked them. Another link, I suppose, is that there were Samaritan Essenes, according to Epiphanius of Salamis.

      It could be that the link is John the Baptist (who I think was Theudas). Simon Magus fought for power in the John the Baptist cult. The Valentinians were heavy users of John’s Gospel, and Valentinus was said to have received instruction from Paul’s student Theudas…granted, it’s not clean, but it is in-line with the sort of encryption these people seemed to have used.


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