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Jesus Archaeology # 2 Did Jesus Meet This Man?

Updated: Apr 26


Video from James Tabor


Jesus Archaeology # 2 Did Jesus Meet This Man?

"The story of Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross of Jesus as related in the gospel of Mark is quite remarkable for both its brevity and its content. It is conveyed in a single verse in Mark 15:21 as Jesus is being led away by the Romans to be crucified.

Even more remarkable is that his sons are mentioned by name--Alexander and Rufus. It seems clear that they ended up part of the Jesus Movement since the author of Mark mentions them as if his readers would readily recognize their names. There is also evidence that Rufus, one of the two sons, is a Roman citizen. As I related in the first video of this series on the "Ten Jerusalem Tombs and the Tales they Tell," there was an ossuary with the names of Simon & Alexander, from Cyrene, discovered in a tomb in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem in 1941, one of the great overlooked discoveries related to our understanding of the early followers of Jesus.

This ossuary comes from a fully provenanced excavation of a first-century Jerusalem tomb, carried out by two respected archaeologists: Sukenik and Avigad.

We learn much about this family from the ossuaries and other evidence in the tomb. The ossuary is in a storeroom at Hebrew University, drawing little attention. Included at the end of this video is a photo collage of our visit there in 2005 with a film crew headed by Simcha Jacobovici. There are of course "minimalists" who will say--well who knows if these are the father and son mentioned by Mark--but the correspondence is remarkable and the likelihood high. I have discussed this in detail in my book, The Jesus Discovery, linked here:

https://amzn.to/3vlGHty" from the video introduction


Who was Simon of Cyrene?

Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in three of the four Gospels as the man impelled by the Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross out of Jerusalem. His place of origin has led many to wonder if he was of African descent (and therefore black), or if he was simply born there as were many others of Greek, Roman, and Jewish descent.

Cyrene was situated in modern-day Libya, on the northern coast of the African continent. Settled by the Greeks in 630 B.C. and later infused with a significant Jewish population, Cyrene was the capital of the Roman district of Cyrenaica at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. By then, Cyrene was home to a large number of Greek-speaking, or Hellenistic, Jews.

Many Jews from Cyrene had returned to their native Israel and were part of a community in Jerusalem called the Synagogue of the Freedmen comprising Jews from many other provinces including Alexandria (Egypt), Cilicia and Asia (Acts 6:9). Luke records men from Cyrene being among those converted at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). After the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7), believers from Cyrene were among the first to be scattered by the persecution in Jerusalem; arriving in Antioch, they preached to the Gentiles there (Acts 11:20). These believers were instrumental in the formation of the church at Antioch, where, for the first time, “the disciples were called Christians” (Acts 11:26).

Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew only records his name and place of origin (27:32), but Mark and Luke say that he was “on his way in from the country” (Luke 23:26). Mark, uncharacteristically, provides the most information about Simon, adding that he was “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21), men obviously well known to Mark’s readers. It is speculated that the Rufus mentioned here may be the same man Paul greets in his letter to Rome, whom he calls “chosen in the Lord” and whose mother “has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:13). Paul’s knowledge of Rufus’s family indicates that at some point they lived further east.

So does any of this indicate whether Simon was black? Ultimately, we don’t know for sure. There is always the possibility that Simon was an African who converted to Judaism, or that he was of mixed descent. However, considering that people of Jewish lineage lived throughout the Roman Empire, it is also possible that Simon of Cyrene was olive-skinned." from the article: Who was Simon of Cyrene?


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