🔼The name Rufus in the Bible
It's not clear how many men named Rufus there are in the Bible. Two are mentioned but many commentators generously submit that these are "probably identical" (in the words of Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary, New Testament). It may, however, not be that simple:
- The first Rufus we hear about is one of two sons of Simon of Cyrene, who was pressed into carrying Jesus' cross to Golgotha (Mark 15:21). Rufus' brother was called Alexander, and the fact that we know about them strongly suggests that the three of them were well known players in the Jesus movement.
- This in turn opens the possibility that the previous Rufus is the same as the Rufus to whom and whose mother Paul sends his greetings at the conclusion of his letter to the Romans (Romans 16:13).
However: the name Rufus was a very common Roman cognomen (a formal nickname) and it wouldn't have been too difficult to find two of them between Jerusalem and Rome, also since there are roughly 25 years between the crucifixion and Paul's letter to the Romans. And why were Rufus and his mother in Rome and not in Cyrene (or Jerusalem)? And finally, why did Paul add a long list of howdies to folks all over the eastern Roman empire to a letter he was sending west to Rome? Why indeed would Paul have sent such an incriminating list of the personal names of illegal Christians quite literally into the lion's den?
The New Testament is riddled with a kind of literary code that allowed Christians to transmit sensitive data hidden in plain sight (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). In fact, to the occupied nations of the Roman empire, the gospel of Jesus Christ was nothing short of a manifesto of peaceful resistance against Roman totalitarian rule and its insane imperial cult — read our articles on Onesimus and Pilate for a more detailed discussion of this.
In our article on the name Cyrene we show how Cyrene was home to an extensive Hellenistic and Jewish learning center. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that Simon represents Cyrene-based Jewish intellectual resistance against Roman totalitarianism, and his sons Alexander and Rufus similar movements in the Greek and Roman worlds respectively.
The name Alexander is obviously reminiscent of Alexander the Great, who not only conquered the world but also "converted" it to Aristotle's philosophy. It's often overlooked that if scholars had only stuck with Aristotle's scientific method and rejected the allures of Plato's speculative philosophizing, the industrial revolution might have happened 1,500 years earlier (see our articles on the names Zenas and Antichrist).
🔼Rome über alles
History has traditionally looked kindly upon Julius Caesar and Augustus for the simple reason that they won. Had they lost, they would have been remembered like Adolf Hitler, who besides a similar taste in symbols, propaganda and military conquest also largely agreed with the Caesars on the nature of mankind and the best way to run it — namely by killing everybody who thought outside the imperial box, which meant predominantly Jews and Christians before Christianity itself became imperial thanks to Constantine (see our article on the name Caesar for more on this).
From the beginning of the last century BC, the Roman republic's elite began to crystallize into two main parties:
- The republicans, who believed in democracy and human rights for everybody, ultimately even for slaves and foreigners. These people believed that true peace could only be achieved through individual freedom.
- The totalitarians, who believed that they were right and the rest was wrong. They believed that only a rigid dictatorship could create order out of human chaos, and were convinced that peace could only exist when opponents of their regime were killed and the rest made compliant slaves.
The first group, remarkably, appears to have been the largest, but they were out-gunned (or out-sworded) by the second group, and that's why the second group finally won, and will always win as long as the first group doesn't devise ways to disarm them before they can become violent.
🔼People named Rufus
The name Rufus is a fairly common word that means "red". Pretty much every modern commentator subsequently assumes that this nickname would customarily be attached to anyone who with red hair or a ruddy complexion, but that's an assumption with little merit. There were simply too many people named Rufus or Rufia. A concise selection:
- Quintus Pompeius Rufus was elected consul in 88 BC. There were always two of those (to prevent tyranny) and the other was soon-to-be tyrant Sulla. When the war broke out Pompeius stayed by Sulla's side, but was later killed during a mutiny.
- Servius Sulpicius Rufus was a talented lawyer, who reluctantly joined Julius Caesar's camp and dined with him on the eve of Julius' invasion of Rome (49 BC).
- A rather volatile politician named Marcus Caelius Rufus proposed a program of debt relief and was subsequently dismissed by the Senate. In 48 BC he joined a rebellion against Julius Caesar and was killed.
- General Salvidienus Rufus was from much noted humble origin, was singled out by Octavian but sided with the latter's nemesis Mark Anthony. Octavian became emperor Augustus and general Rufus was executed.
- The prefect of Judea from 12-14 AD, that's during the youth of Jesus, was called Annius Rufus.
- A first century historian was called Quintus Curtius Rufus. He had written a biography of Alexander the Great, most likely in the splendid library of Alexandria, and was probably the same as the elusive, early first century magistrate known only as Curtius Rufus.
- Consul and historian Marcus Cluvius Rufus had been part of the conspiracy that killed emperor Caligula but continued his political career until well into the reign of Vespasian.
- Faenius Rufus was a conscientious non-profiteer provisions-prefect of Rome from 55 to 62 AD. In 65 AD he was executed for his part in the attempt to assassinate Nero.
- Gaius Musonius Rufus was a Stoic philosopher who was exiled from Rome in 65 AD because of his teachings. The chances are excellent that Paul and he knew (of) each other.
- A man named Lucius Verginius Rufus was consul under Nero in 63 AD. He defeated Vindex, one of the emperor's many enemies, but famously declined the honor of becoming the next emperor after Nero's. He died in 97 AD and on his tomb was engraved: "Here lies Rufus, who after defeating Vindex, did not take power but gave it to the fatherland".
🔼Rufus the resistant
The beginning of the chain of events that would ultimately lead to the collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of the monstrous and widely-hated Roman Empire, were the actions of two men named Publius Rufus (literally meaning: Public Redness or the Redness Of The People):
- Publius Rutilius Rufus was a military commander and statesman who opposed the increasing tendency of the economical elite to extort the working classes. In 92 BC he was disgraced and exiled but the cat was out of the bag.
- Not too long after, a tribune-of-the-plebs named Publius Sulpicius Rufus tried to introduce laws that would empower ordinary folks and protect them from the greed of the rich. But his attempts ignited a revolt, which required military intervention to be subdued.
The pleasure of bludgeoning his competing countrymen into submission befell general Sulla, who went on record as the first Roman general to conquer Rome. The last to do this was Julius Caesar, and when he was assassinated by a conspiracy of senators who called themselves the Liberators (namely Rome from totalitarian enslavement), his adopted son Octavian (later Augustus) killed whatever armed resistance was left. The last of the Liberators were defeated and killed at the Battle of Philippi.
🔼Etymology of the name Rufus
The name Rufus is not Latin but rather Osco-Umbrian or Sabellian, which is a language group that existed in Italy prior to the Roman conquest. The comparable name Rufrae or Rufrium belonged to a Samnite town that was conquered by the Romans in 326 BC, during the Second Samnite War. The Samnites resisted Roman rule to the bitter end, and quite possibly beyond that. Pontius Pilate — who was prefect after Valerius Gratus who had succeeded Annius Rufus — was most probably a Samnite and in our article on the name Pilate we take a close look at the possibility that Pilate was a closet Rome-hater and saboteur.
In short: Samnia was to Rome what Scotland is to England, and assuming a typical Sabellian or Samnite name in Rome's most troubled time was like assuming a typically Scottish name in 14th century England. Shorter still: Rufus was a name of born-again resistance.
The word rufus was cognate with the Latin word ruber, from which comes our word "ruby". But the color red has since antiquity had a very special meaning, namely that of beginnings and primitivity. Our English word "red" comes from an ancient proto-Indo-European root (namely reudh-) that has left its traces in languages from Russian to German, and it's the only color for which such an old word still exists. That means that the human experience of the color red is truly ancient, and is hence associated with antiquity, and thus both with the dignity that comes from time-honored institutions (hence red as royal color), as well as with the opposite of sophistication and refinery.
The name of über-ancestor Adam means red, and is closely related to the name Edom, which was the nickname of the proverbially boorish brother of the sophisticated Jacob. The body of water around which urban culture first arose had been dubbed the Red Sea since deep antiquity. Our words "rude" and "rudimentary" come from the Latin rudis, meaning unlearned or unsophisticated. It's not clear where this word comes from, but the root reudh- is a good candidate.
Members of high society love to distinguish themselves from the general populous and although this may seem like a rather old-fashioned stance, it's clearly bred into our language: the obviously tainted word "vulgar" stems from the ordinary Latin word for common people. So do the words plebs and plebian. In Dutch the word ordinair means vulgar, and the word "ignoble" denotes folks that, well, aren't dukes and earls, the folks who don't have "blue" blood, namely the rednecks and red-handed ruffians.
But not everybody always considers high society a thing to be desired, especially when this high society is upheld by means of the exploitation of the red masses (Diogenes of Sinope is a good example). It's no coincidence that the proletarian revolutions of the 19th and 20th century assumed the color red as their standard, and it's also no coincidence that Rome's internal resistance movement blatantly flirted with the name Rufus.
The name Rufus means Red but red is the color of resistance against any oppressing high society. In that sense, the name Rufus means Bourgeois or Proletarian.