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Who Was Simon of Cyrene?

The name Simon of Cyrene is first introduced in the canonical Gospels during the Stations of the Cross– also referred to as the Passion of Christ. According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Simon of Cyrene is the one called upon to help Jesus carry the cross.

    As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. (Matthew 27: 32)
    A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. (Mark 15: 21)
    As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus (Luke: 23: 26)

Mark references Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus, and then withdraws from offering any further explanation as to who these men were. The Christian writer Papias, who was alive during the 2nd century C.E, wrote that Mark originally wrote his gospel for the Roman Christian community. This would suggest that Mark assumed this community would already know who these two men were, thus implying that they formed part of the early Christian congregation in Rome.

Beyond these passing references, however, we are given very little information about this particular biblical figure. Of course, over the years, various scholars of the Bible have made assumptions about who Simon of Cyrene could have been. For example, because his city of origin – Cyrene – resides in Libya (northern Africa), some have stated that Simon of Cyrene was actually the first African saintly Christian.

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