Simon of Cyrene featured prominently among early Christians. My main contentions about him are as follows:
- Prior to his scene in Mark 15, Simon was earlier in the field, which was a reference to the “New Jerusalem“
- He was a cipher for the Apostle Paul
- He was believed either to have been crucified in place of Jesus, or to have received the Christ Spirit prior to Jesus’s crucifixion
- His forced labor by the Romans was allegorical for Paul’s slavery to the Spirit
- His role as the cross bearer was necessary because it gave a plausible way for a non-Apostolic tradition to travel outside of Judea (Mark’s Gospel paints the Apostles as know-nothing dunces, and this polemical characterization was surely by design).
The New Jerusalem was the place where the Spirit would return to Earth; the current holy city was a stand-in for a more divine promise which would replace the ruined Jerusalem. In Revelation, the city was a bride adorned for her groom (Rev 21), and she replaced the scarlet-clad harlot, who had previously replaced the mother of the messiah (Rev 12). New Jerusalem would house the lady who was purged from the 1st temple, and who was chased out of heaven by the dragon in Revelation.
Mark’s Gospel seems to have several allusions to underlying historical references. In this framework, we can analyze is why particular choices were made in the Gospel. For instance, why does Jesus go out of his way to travel to Tyre (Mark 7:24-30)? If we liken Paul to Simon Magus, we might presume Jesus went to Tyre to pick up Helen, who was from there.
Why does Jesus call Peter Satan (Mark 8:33)? This is simply one more reference to the anti-apostolic sentiment pervasive across Mark.
Cyrene: Why was Simon the cross-bearer from Cyrene?
Early Christians had a penchant to link their mysteries to female Greek mythological figures. Apelles, the Marcionite, had a female companion named Philumene, who was presumably named after Philomela – the Greek character who was raped by her brother-in-law, and later chopped her sister’s baby and fed him to her assailant (the boy’s father). Irenaeus made no secret that Simon Magus’ Helen was named after Helen of Troy. Both these figures prominently featured birds – Philumene turned into a bird after her assailant chased her. Helen met Zeus when he was transformed into an eagle.
In Greek mythology, Cyrene was a female figure. She was the daughter of Hypseus. The Greek term Κυρήνη means “sovereign Queen”. Cyrene married the sun God Apollo and had two sons. Simon’s hometown, Cyrene, Libya was named after her. Her final fate was to become a water nymph, and eventually integrated with the waters there.
We must leave open the possibility that this portion of the story is true. Another possibility is that Cyrene was a formulated pointer – the famous church father Tertullian was from Libya, and so it might be the case that this portion of the story was in reference to Tertullian (more likely one of his Libyan predecessors). Cyrene may have also been reference to events of the day. Cyrene was the site of a violent Jewish uprising against Greeks and Romans there around 115CE.
In the more likely scenario, though, most obscurities in the Gospels were carefully selected subtle references to deeper elements of the mystery.