Simeon was called Niger, does that prove the Israelites were black?
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In the Book of Acts Simeon is called Niger.
Acts 13-1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
This verse is often used by Hebrew Israelites as evidence that the Israelites were black. With the claim Niger means Black so Simeon was black thus proving the ALL Israelites were black. There is a rather large appeal to circle reasoning here. It should not be overlooked that this is AFTER the death burial and resurrection of Jesus. In the late 1st century AD….hardly evidence that Israelites including Moses were black.
As always we do need analyze the verse and see if it does what it is claimed it does.
The verse does not say that Simeon WAS Niger (Black) it very clearly says he was CALLED Niger( Black) There is NO reason to assume this was based on his skin colour, this is simply interpreted into the verse.
However it’s logical to assume that IF Simeon was in fact called Black because of his skin colour that actually this would rather be singling him out. It would be pointless to refer to one specific person as the black man, calling one person black based on their skin colour if ALL the other Israelites were black as well. Simeon had gone to Antioch with other disciples who were also Israelites. If these other ISraelites were also black then Simeon being called black would not in fact have been singled out.
Calling Simeon black based on him being black would only have made sense if the church at Antioch in which he taught and the other disciples, Israelites, that were with him were themselves not black.
This rather than supporting the belief that the Israelites were black would rather make it the exception. This then is the epitome of the token black guy.
Now we must also notice that Simeon was not the only teacher there. There were 3 other teachers. Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Barnabas.
Now we know for a fact that Barnabas was an Israelite. He was a Levite.
Acts 4-36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
If Barnabas was an Israelite and Israelites were black then again calling Simeon black based on skin colour makes no sense.
Now some will claim that Niger was actually where Simeon was from and it was a reference to his homeland.
BUT…… It must also be noticed that Lucius who is also mentioned in the same verse is referred to as OF Cyrene. The Greek is Λούκιος ὁ Κυρηναῖος, Loukios ho Kyrēnaios or in literal translated English Lucius THE Cyrenian
So very clearly when the person is being referred to as of that land they are referred to as (Lucius) THE (Cyrenian)
Acts was written by Luke. So let’s have a look at how Luke used Greek. In Luke 4-27 we find a reference to Naaman who was from Syria.
Luke 4-27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
When Luke wanted to refer to someone as from somewhere he referred to them as THE Cyrenian or THE Syrian.
Furthermore Simeon as already pointed out is very clearly CALLED Niger.
The Greek for called is Kaleó καλέω which means to called, named. It can mean to invite also.
This is the EXACT same word used for Mary Magdalene in Luke 8-2
Luke 8-2 And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,
So Mary was CALLED Magdalene referring to…..her SURNAME. Clearly this wasn’t a reference to where she was from. Simeon was CALLED Niger…..his name was Simeon Niger just as we know Mary’s name was Mary Magdalene.
This is even more highlighted later in Luke when Kaleó καλέω is actually translated as SURNAMED in relation to Judas SURNAMED Iscariot
Luke 22-3 Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve
If we look at the Blue letter Bible it states
Outline of biblical usage
Niger = Black
SURNAME of the prophet Simeon.
This verse does not prove that Simeon was or indeed the Israelites were black.