Simon the Zealot or Simon the Canaanite/Cananaean is possibly the most obscure of the disciples. Although his name appears on a list of the disciples mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John and the Book of Acts, he does not play a named role elsewhere.
To distinguish Simon from Simon Peter, Matthew and Mark use the term “Simon the Canaanite” (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18 KJV). Luke and Acts, on the other hand, calls him “Simon Zelotes” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 KJV) or “Simon the Zealot” (NIV) depending on the translation. The term “Canaanite” has led people to assume Simon was from Canaan or Cana, however, the Hebrew text proves this to be a mistranslation. In Hebrew, Simon was referred to as “qanai”, which means “zealous”. The reason for the Canaanite confusion is easy to forgive since the term stems from the same Hebrew word. Unfortunately, no one knows why Simon was singled out as being zealous. Although, in contemporary English zealous means enthusiastic or having a strong passion, in Greek, it was also a synonym for jealous.
Catholic scholars have attempted to identify Simon the Zealot with both Simon the brother of Jesus and Simeon of Jerusalem, although there is no evidence in the Bible for either claim. The names of Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in Mark 6:3 “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?” Simeon of Jerusalem or Saint Simeon, however, does not appear in the Bible.
According to tradition, Saint Simeon was the second Bishop of Jerusalem who was appointed by the Apostles Peter, James and John. He is also said to be the son of Clopas and, therefore, potentially a cousin of Jesus. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)
As you may recall from my previous article, the “Judas” mentioned in Mark 6:3 may have been the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus, and the “James” was potentially James the Less. So, it is possible, as it says in the Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Varagine (1230-1299), "Simon the Cananaean and Judas Thaddeus were brethren of James the Less and sons of Mary Cleophas, which was married to Alpheus." The names Clopas and Cleophas refer to the same person depending on the Bible translation.
The Bible does not record how Simon was called to be a disciple, however, a book of the Apocrypha, if it is to be believed, might shed some light on this. The Syriac Infancy Gospel, which supposedly records the childhood of Jesus, contains a story about a boy named Simon who was bitten by a snake. Jesus, who was only a child himself, healed the boy and said, "you shall be my disciple." The story is concluded with "this is Simon the Cananite, of whom mention is made in the Gospel."
There are various speculations about Simon’s actions after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some say he visited the Middle East and Africa. Another tradition claims he visited Roman Britain during the Boadicea’s rebellion in 60 AD. Likewise, there is more than one version of his death. Stories relate Simon being crucified in Samaria, sawn in half in Persia, martyred in Iberia, crucified in Lincolnshire and dying peacefully in Edessa. Traditionally, in art, Simon is portrayed with a saw, suggesting he was sawn in half.
Simon the Zealot, like all the apostles, is regarded as a saint and shares a feast day with Saint Jude: 28th October. He is the patron saint of curriers, sawyers and tanners, perhaps alluding to his profession. Just for fun, here are some of the attributes he appears with in artworks:
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon