Simon the Zealot (Acts 1:13), Simon, who was called the Zealot (Luke 6:15), Simon Kananaios (Matthew 10:4) or Simon Cananeus (Mark 3:18) was one of the most obscure among the apostles of Jesus. A few pseudepigraphical writings were connected to him, and the theologian and Doctor of the Church, Saint Jerome, does not include him in De viris illustribus written between 392–393 AD.
The name Simon occurs in all of the Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts each time there is a list of apostles, without further details:
Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.
To distinguish him from Simon Peter he is called Kananaios or Kananites, depending on the manuscript (Matthew 10:4 Mark 3:18), and in the list of apostles in Luke 6:15, repeated in Acts 1:13, Zelotes, the "Zealot". Both titles derive from the Hebrew word qana, meaning zealous, although Jerome and others mistook the word to signify the apostle was from the town of Cana, in which case his epithet would have been "Kanaios", or even from the region of Canaan. As such, the translation of the word as "the Cananite" or "the Canaanite" is traditional and without contemporary extra-canonic parallel.
Robert Eisenman has pointed out contemporary talmudic references to Zealots as kanna'im "but not really as a group — rather as avenging priests in the Temple". Eisenman's broader conclusions, that the zealot element in the original apostle group was disguised and overwritten to make it support the assimilative Pauline Christianity of the Gentiles, are more controversial. John P. Meier points out that the term "Zealot" is a mistranslation and in the context of the Gospels means "zealous" or "jealous" (in this case, for keeping the Law of Moses), as the Zealot movement did not exist until 30 to 40 years after the events of the Gospels. However, neither Brandon, nor Hengel support this view, both independently concluding that the revolt by Judas of Galilee, arising from the census of Quirinius in 6 AD, was the ultimate origin of the Jewish freedom movement, which developed via the "Fourth Philosophy" group into the Zealots, even by the time of Jesus. Both of these researchers suggest that "Simon Zelotes" was indeed a Zealot belonging to this movement, and perhaps that other disciples were also. However, Hengel (in particular) concluded that Jesus himself was not a zealot, as much of his teaching was actually contrary to Fourth Philosophy views.
3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that Simon the Zealot may be the same person as Simeon of Jerusalem or Simon the brother of Jesus. He could perhaps be the cousin of Jesus or a son of Joseph from a previous marriage.
Another tradition holds that this is the Simeon of Jerusalem who became the second bishop of Jerusalem, although he was born in Galilee.
St. Isidore of Seville drew together the accumulated anecdotes of St. Simon in De Vita et Morte; the fully developed legend is presented in the Legenda Aurea (ca 1260).
In later tradition, Simon is often associated with St. Jude as an evangelizing team; in Western Christianity, they share their feast day on 28 October. The most widespread tradition is that after evangelizing in Egypt, Simon joined Jude in Persia and Armenia or Beirut, Lebanon, where both were martyred in 65 AD. This version is the one found in the Golden Legend. He may have suffered crucifixion as the Bishop of Jerusalem.
One tradition states that he traveled in the Middle East and Africa. Christian Ethiopians claim that he was crucified in Samaria, while Justus Lipsius writes that he was sawn in half at Suanir, Persia. However, Moses of Chorene writes that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Caucasian Iberia. Tradition also claims he died peacefully at Edessa. Another tradition says he visited Britain— In his 2nd mission to Britain, he arrived during 1st year of Boadicean War 60 AD. He was crucified May 10, 61AD by the Roman Catus Decianus, at Caistor, modern-day Lincolnshire, Britain, See The Drama of the Lost Disciples, p.159 by George F. Jowett. Another, doubtless inspired by his title "the Zealot", states that he was a member of the group involved in the Jewish revolt against the Romans, which was brutally suppressed. [See the paragraph above citing the work of Brandon and Hengel.]
The 2nd century Epistle of the Apostles (Epistula Apostolorum), a polemic against gnostics, lists him among the apostles purported to be writing the letter (who include Thomas) as Judas Zelotes and certain Old Latin translations of the Gospel of Matthew substitute "Judas the Zealot" for Thaddeus/Lebbaeus in Matthew 10:3. To some readers, this suggests that he may be identical with the "Judas not Iscariot" mentioned in John 14:22: "Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Our Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?" As it has been suggested that Jude is identical with the apostle Thomas (see Jude Thomas), an identification of "Simon Zelotes" with Thomas is also possible. Barbara Thiering identified Simon Zelotes with Simon Magus, however this view has received no serious acceptance. The New Testament records nothing more of Simon, aside from this multitude of possible but unlikely pseudonyms. He is buried in the same tomb as St. Jude Thaddeus, in the left transept of the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, under the altar of St. Joseph.
In art, Simon has the identifying attribute of a saw because he was traditionally martyred by being sawn in half.
Simon, like the other Apostles, is regarded as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church.
Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet of Islam. The Qur'an also speaks of Jesus' disciples but does not mention their names, instead referring to them as "helpers to the work of God". Muslim exegesis and Qur'an commentary, however, names them and includes Simon amongst the disciples. Muslim tradition says that Simon was sent to preach the faith of God to the Berbers, outside North Africa.
In the Gospel of Barnabas, a book dated to the late 16th century that recounts a life story of Jesus from an Islamic perspective, a list of the twelve apostles is registered. In this list the only apostle that does not match with one of the traditional apostles of Christianity is Simon the Zealot, naming in his place a person who identifies himself as Barnabas, who appears as author of the book.
In popular culture
- In the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, Simon Zealotes tries to persuade Jesus to stir hatred among the masses against the Roman occupiers.
- In the play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Simon the Zealot is a witness for the defense at the trial of Judas Iscariot in Purgatory.
- In the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, before joining the Apostles he is portrayed first as a member of the Zealots, hence his name.
- Simon the Zealot is a blacksmith in The Bronze Bow.
- Simon the Zealot is a supporting character in the science fiction time travel novel Corrupting Dr Nice by John Kessel.