Who is Simon of Cyrene? Matthew 27:32

After the priests charge Jesus with blasphemy, Jesus is led away to be crucified (Matthew 27:31-37). Jesus cannot carry his own cross, so Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry it to Golgotha (27:32). Four soldiers escort the condemned prisoner from Pilate’s residence to the execution site. If all three prisoners were sent together, there would be twelve soldiers escorting three condemned men. The prisoner was forced to carry the crossbeam to the execution site. This beam would be lashed to the person’s shoulders and arms by rope. Known as the patibulum, this heavy crossbeam was strapped to the condemned man’s shoulders with ropes.

Simon of Cyrene

Jesus was weak from several beatings in the last five hours and he is unable to carry the cross to the place of execution. The Roman soldiers, therefore, force Simon the Cyrene to carry it for him.  The verb ἀγγαρεύω means “requisition” or “forced into service” or “requisition” (BDAG), or “press into service” (BrillDAG). Matthew used it in 5:14, “if someone forces you to go one mile…”

Who was Simon of Cyrene?  All three synoptic Gospels mention Simon by name, although the name is a common Jewish name in the first century. Mark adds he is the father of Alexander and Rufus. Rufus is possibly mentioned in Romans 16, traditionally the sons of Simon go to Rome. Alexander is possibly to be identified in Acts 19:33. Both Alexander and Rufus are common names so some caution is required. The fact Mark does not mention many names with this kind of detail may imply he used Simon or his sons as a source for this detail of the crucifixion (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 100).

Undoubtedly Simon was a Jew. He has a Jewish name; Cyrene had a sizable Jewish colony (Jews from Cyrene were at Pentecost, Acts 2:10); he is in Jerusalem at Passover. Cyrene was a prosperous region in North Africa (modern Libya) with an excellent climate for agriculture (Gasque, “Cyrene (Place).” ABD, 1:1230). Josephus says Jews from Cyrene sent offerings to the temple (Antiquities, 16.6.5).

According to later traditions, Simon became a believer. This makes some sense since he probably would have stayed around the site of the crucifixion to see what happened, probably providing some witness to the believers in Rome.

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