Though there has been some hiatus in the series, let us continue our series on the Twelve Apostles   . Today, let us examine Simon Zealotes, who is known by a few names in the various lists of the twelve apostles but about whom nothing else is known for certain. Is it possible to be an anonymous apostle? One would think that all of the apostles were people who pushed to the forefront when it came to leadership, but this would be incorrect. The listing of the apostles included a great variety of people, and one type of people, who would appear to be a strong introvert in a crowd, as Simon Zealotes.
How obscure is the “other” Simon? There is not a single reference to this apostle aside from the four lists of the ranks of the apostles by name. It is possible that he could be included in some of the references to the groups of the apostles (and we do know that he, unlike Thomas Didymus, actually had seen the resurrected Christ), but he is never recorded as saying anything or asking anything whatsoever in the scriptures. This record of anonymity is rather striking. In the rankings of the apostles, he is listed as the 11th apostle in two of the lists and the 10th apostle in the other two lists. Intriguingly, each of the two references that place him as the 10th ranked apostle (paired with James (of Alpheus), who is 9th in all four rankings name him as Simon Zealotes, or Simon the Zealot as it is often translated. Each of the two references to him that place him as the 11th ranked apostle (paired with the treacherous Judas Iscariot) name him as Simon the Cananean, or Simon the Canaanite, as it is sometimes translated. In either case, he is solidly lodged in the third group of the apostles, buried at the back of the list of the apostles with other nonentities (James of Alpheus and Thaddeus/Judas of James) just ahead of the notorious traitor.
And that is all that is known about him from the scriptures whatsoever. This has not prevented a great deal of speculation about him. Some have tied him to Nathanael, ignoring the pairing of Philip and Bartholomew, based on a strained interpretation of a passage in Eusebius. Tradition says that he was martyred in Persia. But nothing whatsoever is said about him in scriptures by name aside from the listing of his names. We can gather that he was married based on Paul’s comments about his (and Barnabas’) bachelorhood in 1 Corinthians 9, since he can be lumped in with “all of the other apostles” who are married along with John and Peter. Once again, though, Simon blends in with all of the other apostles and is not pointed out by name as an individual. As the only thing we know about the other Simon is his name, let us examine the verses that mention him by name and comment on the name, as that is the only bit of information that the Bible provides about him (and even this information is highly ambiguous). Simon is truly the “mystery man” of the apostles , as many have noted. Matthew 10:4 calls him “Simon the Cananite,” while the NU-text, not generally reliable, calls him Simon the Cananaean. Mark 3:18 agrees with Matthew. Luke 6:15 says he was “Simon called the Zealot” and Acts 1:13 calls him “Simon the Zealot.” Since Simon’s name is all that we know about him specifically (aside from his being lumped in with everyone else), Simon’s name has attracted a great deal of speculation.
In the absence of firm evidence, let us comment somewhat on what this speculation means. Those who follow the NU-Text and call Simon a Cananaean rather than a Canaanite note that the root qana refers to zeal and enthusiasm. Being called a zealot (while it is often considered negative in these days and times) could be a reference to his particular zeal for God’s ways, or it could be a reference to his political identification with the Zealots, who were particularly hostile to Roman rule and who eventually rebelled against Rome in 67AD with tragic consequences for the Jewish nation, leading to the utter destruction of Second Temple Judaism. Whether Simon was a zealous and independent-minded Jew, or a person of Canaanite ancestry (perhaps among the people of Gibeon?) who had a passionate identification with God and with the people of God despite his own outsider background, if he was a Zealot in a political sense it would make for a tension between himself and Levi Matthew the tax collector. But as Simon’s name is ambiguous, it is impossible to say for certain what Simon’s name meant, given that is the only distinguishing quality about him. All we can say with a high degree of confidence is that Simon was known for his zeal and enthusiasm, and not known as an individualist at all. Every group needs an enthusiastic glue guy who cares more about the team than about himself, and it appears that in the rather fractious and ego-driven group of the twelve apostles, that Simon was one of those men. Let us praise and recognize him for that, as well as for the achievement of being the most anonymous of the apostles.