A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 13: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses

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by Roger Parvus

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

Previous post in this series:  Part 12: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (conclusion)

We finally come to the question of how my Simonian hypothesis would deal with the inconsistent Pauline position regarding the Mosaic Law.  Like resurrection, the Law was a subject about which Simon of Samaria’s teaching differed significantly from that of the proto-orthodox. So if the Paul who authored the original letters was Simon, we can expect to find in the canonical versions signs of proto-orthodox intervention aimed at the correction of his errors on that issue.

Most of what the Apostle wrote about the Law was in the context of its relationship to sin and justification. It is thought that Gal. 2:16 is the earliest mention in the letters of justification/righteousness/rectification (dikaioō; dikaiosynē) by faith apart from works of the Law. Teachers— again, apparently connected to the Jerusalem church—were pushing his Galatian faithful to receive circumcision and observe at least some parts of the Law. The teachers were likely preaching a justification that was in some way connected with the Law. The Apostle responded with a letter that put a different twist on this.


Justification and Law in the Apostle’s gospel 

quote_begin Justification becomes easier to understand if God’s beef was with the sinfully proud spirits who ruled the world. quote_end

Regarding justification by faith William Wrede long ago pointed out that:

The Reformation has accustomed us to look upon this as the central point of Pauline doctrine, but it is not so. In fact the whole Pauline religion can be expounded without a word being said about this doctrine, unless it be in the part devoted to the Law. It would be extraordinary if what was intended to be the chief doctrine were referred to only in a minority of the epistles. That is the case with this doctrine: it only appears where Paul is dealing with the strife against Judaism. And this fact indicates the real significance of the doctrine. It is the polemical doctrine of Paul, is only made intelligible by the struggle of his life, his controversy with Judaism and Jewish Christianity, and is only intended for this. (Paul, p. 123)

laurenceAscensioIsaiaeVatisBut if justification by faith was not at the center of the Apostle’s gospel, he did see it as at least a nonnegotiable implication. And this makes sense if, as I proposed in posts 7 through 9, the written source of his gospel message was the Vision of Isaiah. For the Vision foretells that preachers will be sent out into the whole world (Ascension of Isaiah 9:17, in the L2 and S versions), but does not say that the Law or Law observance will be part of what they preach. The Law is not mentioned at all in the Vision nor does it say anything about a distinction of Jews from Gentiles. It condemns the spirit rulers of this world and offers a life in heaven to their subjects, but gives no special prerogatives to the Jewish ones. The idea that the message must first be offered to Jews and only afterwards to Gentiles is absent.

One could easily conclude that if the Vision doesn’t require circumcision or Law observance as conditions for liberation from the rulers, it is wrong for preachers of the gospel to require such. Apparently all that is required to benefit from the preached message is to believe it and, while waiting for the imminent destruction of this world, to conduct oneself in a way pleasing to the God who graciously initiated the rescue.

Moreover, in the Vision the sinfulness that is spotlighted is that of the rulers of this world. It is their pride that God forcefully condemns. He sends his Son to

judge and destroy the princes and angels and gods of that world, and the world that is dominated by them. For they have denied me and said: “We alone are and there is none beside us.” (Ascension of Isaiah 10:12-13).

In the Vision men come across not as the guilty, but as the victims. Their plight is to live in a dark world run by rulers whose “envy of one another and fighting…” make it a place where “there is a power of evil and envying about trifles” (Ascension of Isaiah 10:29). The “angels of death” (10:14) keep those who have died locked in Sheol until the Son comes to free them.

In Galatians a similar emphasis has been noted by some scholars:

The redemption is, according to Paul, in a phrase which is brief and yet exact, release from the misery of this whole present world (Gal. 1:4). Every other conception of it, even release from sin, would be too narrow. The character of this present world is determined by the fact that men are here under the domination of dark and evil powers. The chief of these are the flesh, sin, the Law and death. (William Wrede, Paul, p. 92)

For Paul, the problem that needs to be addressed is not so much ‘sins,’ transgressions of divinely given commandments, as Sin, a malevolent enslaving and godlike power under which all human beings are held captive. (Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary, p. 35)

So it may be that the Vision of Isaiah holds the key to a correct grasp of what Paul meant by “justification.” Scholars have always had a hard time explaining that doctrine. A big part of their problem may be their belief that God and men were the parties at odds. Justification becomes easier to understand if God’s beef was with the sinfully proud spirits who ruled the world. In this case the Son’s intervention in the world not only vindicates God vis-à-vis these pretentious rulers, it also vindicates men in regard to them. God, by initiating the destruction of the world and its rulers, has in effect acquitted their subjects. His condemnation of the rulers has freed those they heavy-handedly ruled.

God's condemnation of the rulers freed those they ruled

God’s condemnation of the rulers freed those they ruled

A God-less Law  

quote_begin If we interpret Galatians in total independence of Romans (as its original readers had to do) . . . it looks like Paul denied God had anything to do with the Law. quote_end

In light of the above the disparagement of the Law in Galatians appears in a different light, especially the surprising statement at Gal: 3:19-20:

The Law was instituted by angels through an intermediary. Now a mediator does not represent one person, but God is one.

These verses seem to imply that God was not one of the parties directly involved when the Law of Moses was given. An intermediary was necessary because the party that gave the Law consisted of angels. The intermediary in question was apparently Moses, and he spoke not for God, but for the angels.

What Paul says here [in Gal. 3:19] has caused many a headache to interpreters, for by suggesting that the Law ‘was ordained by angels through an intermediary’, Paul is apparently denying the direct divine origin of the Torah, something that would be quite unthinkable to Jews, and that is difficult to reconcile with Paul’s own teaching elsewhere. (John W. Drane, Paul — Libertine or Legalist?, p. 32)


If we interpret Galatians in total independence of Romans (as its original readers had to do), it appears more likely that Paul intended the mention of angels to disparage the Law, and on the basis of this particular passage we can only conclude that here he was meaning to issue a categorical denial of the divine origin of the Torah. (Paul — Libertine or Legalist?, p. 34)

There are scholars who think that Gal. 3:19-20 is saying even more than this. They think that when the passage is read independently of Romans it looks like Paul was denying God had anything at all to do with the Mosaic Law, that it was

something God did not intend to happen (Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary, p. 230).

Full responsibility for it belonged to a group of angels who acted without his permission. Some identify those angels as being the “Elements of the world” (stoicheia) who are spoken of in the very next chapter of Galatians (4:3 and 9).

But from this theory, that the Law was given by angels, Paul draws inferences which are quite foreign to the other representations of the view. Whereas these do not go beyond saying that the Law was made known on God’s behalf by angels, he advances to the statement, which occurs only in him, that the obedience rendered to the Law was rendered not to God but only to the angels. By means of the Law men were placed in pupilage to the World-Elements (stoicheia tou kosmou, Gal. iv. 3, 9), who kept them in dependence upon themselves, until God, through Christ, set them free from the curse of the Law (Gal. iv. 1-5). Accordingly when those who had been heathens submitted themselves as Christians to the Law this means, according to Paul, nothing else than that, instead of serving solely the one God, they once more (though in another form) submit themselves to the World-Elements, now rendered powerless by Christ, observing the “days, months, seasons, and years” which belong to their service (Gal. iv. 8-11)

…. With his assertion that the Law signified the dominion of angels, and not the dominion of God, Paul took a step outside the Jewish world of thought and prepared the way to Gnosticism. (Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, pp. 70-71)

Now, those mainstream scholars who interpret Gal. 3:19-20 in these ways do not, of course, see Paul as being the radical figure that I think he is. I would be very surprised if any of them has ever given a moment’s thought to the possibility that the passage belongs to a Simonian letter that was later interpolated. Usually it is surmised that Paul may not have been serious or may have only temporarily embraced such a radical idea regarding the genesis of Law. After all, what he wrote about it in Galatians must still be reconciled with what he later wrote in Romans, right? So, for example, H.J. Schoeps says:

It is clear that in the heat of the contest Paul had allowed himself to be driven to make assertions which on calmer reflection he could hardly have maintained seriously, if only not to run the risk of ridicule (Paul, p. 183).

And Heikki Räisänen writes that

In light of the context and the fact that Paul never returns to this suggestion of the origin of the law it looks as if he were simply toying with an idea which, however, seemed rather too daring even to him — at least later on. (Paul and the Law, p. 133).

I myself am not convinced that the Apostle later abandoned his claim that the authority behind the Sinaitic Law was angelic, not divine. If he abandoned it, why in his later letter does he say that “the Law came in stealthily in order to increase the trespass” (Rom. 5:20, my bolding)? I am aware that most translations render the first verb simply as “came in” or “entered.” But the Greek verb “pareiserchomai” means “to enter in stealthily” or “with unworthy motives” (see Bauer’s Lexicon). The only other time the word is used in the Paulines is at Gal. 2:4, and there translators correctly render the meaning as: “false brethren… came in stealthily to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (my bolding).  I can understand that the Apostle would accuse the false brethren of coming in under false pretenses, but why, if he thought the Law was from God, would he say that it too entered in a sneaky manner?


Did Paul reconsider?

But let’s go right to the part of Romans that is usually touted as the unmistakable evidence that Paul accepted the divine origin of the Law: Romans 7. It is supposedly there that we can read what a less emotional Paul thought on the subject:

Christian exegetes have been repeatedly embarrassed when their Jewish colleagues cite Paul’s intemperate and quasi-gnostic comments about the Law in Galatians (e.g. 3:19-20). In the state of embarrassment more than one Christian interpreter has turned to the seventh chapter of Romans, in order to remind the Jewish colleagues that when Paul was in his ‘reasonable and balanced mind,’ he characterized the Law as holy, just and good. (J. Louis Martyn, “Apocalyptic Antinomies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians,” New Testament Studies 31, p. 410)

At first blush Romans 7 does seem to provide assurance that the Apostle acknowledged the Mosaic Law to be from God (Rom. 7:22) and that he accordingly held it to be spiritual (Rom. 7:14), holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12). I would point out, however, that these clear positives about the Law belong to a passage that is one of the most bizarre anywhere in Paul’s letters.

In the thicket of Pauline scholarship, Romans 7 is no doubt the center of its darkest, thorniest, and most disputed territory…  Readers of the New Testament from the second century onward have argued about Paul’s meaning. (Alan F. Segal, Paul the Convert, p. 224)

There is perhaps no chapter in the epistle which has given rise to so many divergent interpretations as this. The most disputed question is, When Paul in this chapter says ‘I’, what does he mean? Mankind? The Jewish people? Himself as a non-Christian Jew? Himself as a Christian? (C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 140)

It was the Sphinx of ancient times who posed a mysterious riddle to travelers on their way to Thebes. In the same way, Paul bequeathed a mysterious riddle to interpreters of Romans by introducing the enigmatic “I” of 7:7-25. (Kari Kuula, The Law, the Covenant, and God’s Plan, volume 2, p. 238)


Original 1611 KJV

The main section of the chapter (7:7-25) is “something of an excursus” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 424). The Apostle, fearing that his readers might have drawn the wrong conclusion from what he had written, interrupted his argument and asked:

What then can we say? That the Law is sin? Absolutely not! (Rom. 7:7)
It may have looked like Paul was identifying the Law with sin, but here in Rom. 7:7 we are assured that we can rule out that interpretation. It turns out that what he meant was: the Law was something good that was used by sin to kill him.

Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Without the law sin lies dead. I was once alive without the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? Absolutely not! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Rom. 7:7-13, my bolding)

Having exonerated the Law, the Apostle then goes on to say more about the real culprit: Sin dwelling inside him.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. I find, then, the law, that when I want to do right, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Rom. 7:14-25, my bolding)



quote_begin It is difficult to reconcile Paul the boasting righteous Hebrew with Paul the tortured soul. quote_end

Normally the use of ‘I’ refers back to the speaker. But many scholars understandably have a hard time accepting that in these passages Paul could be speaking about himself. Nowhere else in the letters does he give any indication of being such a tortured soul. And his proud assertion in Phil. 3:6 that “in righteousness based on law I was blameless” is difficult to reconcile with the description here of his inability to observe the Law. Strange too for “a Hebrew born of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5) are the words “I was once alive without the law, but when the commandment came …

As Douglas Moo notes,

there is little evidence that a Jewish child was ever considered to have so little responsibility for the law as to be said to be “without the law” (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 430).

Attempts to explain Romans 7:7-25

It can scarcely be the Paul we know from elswhere so does the passage speak of . . .

  • Adam?
  • the typical Jew?
  • the typical Gentile God-fearer?
  • Unregenerate humanity?
  • Everyman, including Christians?

So there are many who reject an autobiographical interpretation of Rom. 7:7-25 and propose instead that Paul is using a stylistic figure of speech. He is supposedly using it to more vividly portray the plight of Adam. Or, say others, the plight of a typical Jew. Or, according to others, the predicament of a typical Gentile God-fearer. Or of unregenerate humanity. Or of Everyman, including Christians. But as a glance at any thorough commentary on Romans will show, there are significant problems with each of these proposed solutions. And, in general, it can be objected that the Roman Christians Paul was writing to were people with whom he was not personally acquainted. So even assuming they would have recognized the kind of rhetorical device he was using, wouldn’t he have to say something to let them know who the “I” was? Could he really expect his unfamiliar readers to correctly figure out that key piece of information?

We have, then, what Thomas H. Tobin SJ refers to as a “kaleidoscope of interpretations” and, continues the Jesuit scholar,

one is tempted to give up in despair of ever understanding Paul’s purposes in writing this passage (Paul’s Rhetoric In Its Contexts — The Argument of Romans, p. 226).

Given this situation, I am not embarrassed to offer my own admittedly offbeat proposal.


Through the eyes of the interpolator

If it is hard for many to recognize Paul in the wretched man portrayed by Romans 7, it may be because this chapter was written by the proto-orthodox interpolator. That would be why the portrayal it contains does not match up well with the self-image of the Apostle that comes through elsewhere in the letters. Reread the puzzling passages and see how much sense they make as the work of an early interpolator who was trying to form a new Paul from the old one.

quote_begin According to Epiphanius, the Ebionites said Paul was a Greek born of Greeks, and only converted to Judaism as an adult. quote_end

From this perspective it would be the interpolator who, speaking in Paul’s name, makes him acknowledge in Rom. 7:7-13 that the Law is holy, just, good, and spiritual. And if he makes him say the words “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came …,” it may be because the interpolator believed that the real Paul was originally a Gentile and had lied about his Jewish background. Some have suspected that the Apostle was responding to that kind of accusation in 2 Corinthians when he protested that he was a Hebrew and an Israelite (2 Cor. 11:22). Likewise regarding his assertion in Philippians that he was “circumcised the eighth day…  of the tribe of Benjamin” (Phil. 3:5). According to Epiphanius, the Ebionites said Paul was a Greek born of Greeks, and only converted to Judaism as an adult:

They declare that he was a Greek… He went up to Jerusalem, they say, and when he had spent some time there, he was seized with a passion to marry the daughter of the priest. For this reason he became a proselyte and was circumcised. Then, when he failed to get the girl, he flew into a rage and wrote against circumcision and against the Sabbath and the Law. (Panarion 30, 16: 6-9)

The translation of this passage is Hyam Maccoby’s. I want to also include his caveat:

This account, of course, is not history. It is what Epiphanius declares the Ebionites were saying in the fourth century and is coloured both by Epiphanius’ hostility to the Ebionites and by the Ebionites’ hostility to Paul. Nevertheless, there is a core here that may well be true. (The Mythmaker — Paul And The Invention Of Christianity, p. 182)

The Ebionite information is interesting for another reason. It connects Paul’s first experience of the Law with his passionate desire to marry the daughter of the priest, and it says he turned against the Law when that desire was thwarted. Now compare that with Romans 7:7-8 where it is the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet,” that is singled out to illustrate Paul’s anguished situation:

I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.

Notice too the rhetorical questions and denials in the passage:

What then can we say? That the Law is sin? Absolutely not! (Rom. 7:7)

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? Absolutely not! (Rom. 7:13)

We have come across this style of argumentation before, in 1 Corinthians (see post 6), and there it appeared to be the interpolator’s:

Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Absolutely not! (1 Cor. 6:15)

In Romans 7, then, we may be reading the interpolator’s take on Simon/Paul’s troubled relationship with the Law of Moses, including the Apostle’s first unpleasant experience with it. It may be the interpolator’s perspective that we have here, not the Apostle’s.


“The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul.’”(Mk. 3:22)         

quote_begin Simon was said to be the first Christian heretic to be dismissive of the body and to teach deliverance from it. quote_end

As I see it, verses 14-25 too would make sense as the work of the interpolator. He would know that the real Paul was Simon of Samaria and that he claimed to be some kind of new manifestation of the Son who had suffered in Judaea. So the new Paul is forced to confess that he had a visitor dwelling inside him but it was not the Son:

For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18)

The one who had taken up residence was Sin in person:

So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me…  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me” (Rom. 7:17 & 20).

Scholars shy away from using “possession” for the state that is portrayed here, but read 7:14-25 again and notice how appropriate that word is. The interpolator, I submit, made his new Paul vividly confess to having been possessed.

In this scenario it is Paul/Simon of Samaria who is made to cry out in Rom. 7:24:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Simon was said to be the first Christian heretic to be wrongly dismissive of the body and to make deliverance from it an important part of his doctrine. The interpolator may be engaging in some subtle humor here, by intimating that the reason Simon/Paul was so anxious to get out of his body was because he was sharing it with Evil in person!

There may be subtle humor too in the interjected exclamation Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! On the lips of the interpolator these words could mean: “Thank God that Simon got his wish. He was released from his body—by death!” Sin killed him (Rom. 7:11).

Now, of course, if I am right about the humor, the only ones who would have understood and appreciated it were those who were aware of what the interpolator was doing to Simon’s letters. It was perhaps with those insiders in view that the interpolator says at Rom. 7:1:

I am speaking to people who know the law.

All others would have been baffled. If that was his aim, he succeeded. Recall Alan F. Segal’s observation regarding the chapter:

Readers of the New Testament from the second century onward have argued about Paul’s meaning” (Paul the Convert, p. 224).


Wringing one more concession from the Apostle       

quote_begin Simon/Paul may be the Simon/Atomus mentioned by Josephus in Antiquities (20, 7,2). If so . . . . quote_end

Before bringing this post to a close I want to take a quick look at the opening paragraph of Romans 7. It too contains an element that may be relevant to my proposal.

Do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to those who know the law–that the law is binding on a man only during his life? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. (Rom. 7:1-7, my bolding)

Scholars have long noticed that the bolded verses (Rom. 7:2-3) supply an example that doesn’t really fit the principle enunciated in 7:1. The passage is often brought forward as an illustration of Paul’s inept reasoning.

Paul is unable to distinguish between two quite different legal topics : (1) that a woman, after the death of her husband, is free to marry someone else; (2) that a person becomes free of legal obligations after his own death. Paul thinks that these two topics are equivalent, and slips from one to the other in a confused manner in elaborating his analogy to the abrogation of the law for Christians. (Hyam Maccoby, Paul and Hellenism, p. 138)

If the bolded verses are removed from the passage, the ones that remain would actually constitute a somewhat coherent argument: The law is only binding on someone while he is alive (Rom. 1:1). But a Christian, since he belongs to the body of Christ, has in a sense died with his crucified Lord (Rom. 7:4). Therefore, he is no longer bound by the law.

220px-drusilla-mauretaniaNow if indeed Romans 7 is interpolated, it would seem to be the interpolator and not the Apostle who supplied the inappropriate example in Rom. 7:2-3. When I ask myself why he may have done that, one possibility strikes me as plausible: He was forcing his new Paul to reject an egregious legal violation committed by the old one.  Simon/Paul may be the Simon/Atomus mentioned by Josephus in Antiquities (20, 7,2). If so, he at some point apparently went on Felix’s behalf and persuaded Drusilla to leave her husband and marry the procurator.  (Antiquities 20, 7, 2). In Rom. 7:2-3, then, just as in 1 Cor. 7:39 (see post 11), the interpolator’s aim may have been to make his new Paul clearly reject what the old one did. That the example didn’t quite fit his argument was not as important to him as making clear that his new Paul respected the indissolubility of marriage as stipulated by the Law.

I’ll stop here for now and in my next post will continue this discussion of Paul and the Law.


Paul before Felix and Drusilla


  • Giuseppe
    2014-09-17 15:08:04 UTC - 15:08 | Permalink

    Roger, I confess that after reading your posts, even with many doubts and suspects about your ready recourse to interpolation card, as least I am ”tempted to give up in despair of ever understanding Paul’s purposes in writing” these passages.

    At better of all we can say, the original Paul was Simon or Simon-like figure.
    At worst, we will never know if Paul was more proto-gnostic or more proto-orthodox in origin.

    I hope that at least the Gospel of Mark is regarded, in your future Simonian exegesis of it, not very far from what I think usually about it (that it was written as reaction and allegory of 70 EC). I can live happily together the idea of a Simon hidden behind ”Paul”. But with the idea of a Simonian allegory behind ‘Mark’???

    • Roger Parvus
      2014-09-18 16:01:16 UTC - 16:01 | Permalink

      Alas, Giuseppe, I think that what the proto-orthodox did to Simon/Paul’s letters they also subsequently did to a Simonian allegory about “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mk 1:1). In the Simonian allegory the Jesus figure allegorically represents Simon/Paul.

      So I go a step beyond what Tom Dykstra is proposing. As far as I know, Dykstra is not a mythicist. He thinks there was a historical Jesus, but he thinks the Jesus presented by GMark is a Paulinized version of the real one. He says that the author of that Gospel “deliberately created a literary Jesus whose words and actions parallel the words and actions of Paul” (“Mark, Canonizer of Paul,” p. 149). But as I see it, the reason GMark’s Jesus is so much like Paul is because he is an allegorical representation of him. And, as you know, I identify Paul with Simon of Samaria. So I think Simon/Paul was the “Jesus” who became God’s Son through the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, and who preached the gospel faithfully despite opposition from the Jews and from those who claimed to believe in the Son but misunderstood and ultimately abandoned him, i.e. the Twelve. The Gospel according to Mark was the first proto-orthodox effort to rework that allegory.

      As for the date of both the Simonian allegory and GMark: It is possible the allegory was written as early as the 70s or 80s CE. But I don’t think the proto-orthodox reworked it until around 130 CE, perhaps shortly after they had put out their reworked Simonian letters. They may have known about the allegory before that, but recognized it was just Simonian nonsense that had been added to the Vision of Isaiah’s crucifixion of the Son. At some point, though, someone recognized the potential of a reworked version. And then others tried their hand at it (GMatthew, GLuke).

      But I will get to that eventually.

      • Giuseppe
        2014-09-19 06:24:08 UTC - 06:24 | Permalink

        As for the date of both the Simonian allegory and GMark: It is possible the allegory was written as early as the 70s or 80s CE.

        I look forward about what I will write on this point. More than Dykstra, Paul Nadim Tarazi is very similar to your view about a radical conflict between Paul and Pillars that went allegorically reflected in GMark. But I would hope that you will frame this Mark theme (for the insiders) into the more general context of the Jewish War as the principal reason behind the author of GMark.

  • Stuart
    2014-09-17 17:30:53 UTC - 17:30 | Permalink

    The comments about Galatians 3:19-20 made me realize it could explain the origins of the Islamic myth of Gabriel dictating the Qu’ran to Mohammad. Just as the Marcionite allegorical interpretation (also followed by John’s author) of the two sons of Abraham could explain the Ishmael myth. It is curious then that the Angel of the Lord in Matthew 2:13 is identified as Gabriel in Luke. Hum.

  • Sili
    2014-09-17 23:20:18 UTC - 23:20 | Permalink

    What I don’t get, is that if the letters are so thoroughly redacted, why not get rid of the uncomfortable passages for example about the Law while the redactors were at it? Why add so much while leaving so much? We can of course not know what may in fact have been removed.

    • Phil W.
      2014-09-18 09:43:21 UTC - 09:43 | Permalink

      Because the later scribe might remove something by accident along with what he wants to remove. I believe it was commoner for things to be added, and thus to court contradictions, than for valuable information to be taken out and thus offend against the duty to preserve the essential parts of the tradition, which of course was ‘holy’ to the transcriber. I think that’s how it’s looked at by some scholars anyway.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2014-09-18 11:27:27 UTC - 11:27 | Permalink

        Yes, if one is wanting to contradict a certain view that holds up The Text as the authority, it seems more likely one would want to be able to claim that those with the “erroneous” ideas were not reading the full text or had only a truncated version of it — that the complete text was in other hands. To deny outright certain oft quoted passages even existed in the text would be more problematic, I’d think.

    • Roger Parvus
      2014-09-18 15:04:50 UTC - 15:04 | Permalink


      I shared some of my thoughts about this question in post 12. It seems to me that, by retaining as much as possible of the original, an interpolator risks leaving many rough edges, but this method also has advantages. The final product has a greater ring of familiarity to it. And it allows one to generously concede the existence of offensive passages and just contest their meaning: “Yes, I don’t deny that Paul said such-and such (the original passage). But he also said this (the interpolation). So to correctly understand him we must harmonize the two.” And doesn’t keeping the troublesome texts make the final product more believable? For, the thinking would go, “If someone was looking to deceive, they would have smoothed this out a whole lot better.”

      Something else to consider: It would not be surprising if the interpolator had a second intended audience. Assuming he belonged to a circle of like-minded friends, it would not be unusual for him to want to share with them what he was doing to Simon’s letters. And I can see him, for their sake, making choices about what to leave in and what to leave out. The more of the original that he could retain, the more daring, interesting, and entertaining his final product would have been to those who were in on his endeavor. The interpolator was, in a sense, doing artistic work. Artists like their work to be appreciated, especially by their fellow-artists. So I don’t think we can safely leave “entertainment value” out of the equation.

      (By the way, I sometimes wonder, assuming my Simonian hypothesis is correct, which of the two contributors to the letters—Simon or his interpolator—was the more gifted. And would Simon’s letters have survived on their own in their original form, or would they have perished with his sect? It may be thanks to the interpolator that his letters survived in any form at all.)

    • Scot Griffin
      2014-09-18 17:15:06 UTC - 17:15 | Permalink

      The focus on individual interpolations may be obscuring a broader syncretic effort. (The trees are making it harder to see the forest.)

      Again, I am focused on the Old Testament, but my efforts to understand the origins of Judaism led me to Eusebius’ Preparation for the Gospel, which contains most of the fragments we have of documents attesting to the Jews in antiquity. What struck me about the book was that, as much as it is a Christian apology, it targets both Greek philosophy and Jewish theology, first by asserting the latter’s priority over the former (and the former’s alleged plagiarism of the latter), then by asserting Christianity’s continuation and supersession of the latter. It seemed very important to Eusebius that he establish the ancient bona fides of the young Christian cult, which may explain why passages relating to the Law were not redacted (or were added): as a whole, the Christian canon as determined by the Catholic Church needed to demonstrate ancient Jewish roots. Whatever was added or redacted was added or redacted for a reason, and I don’t know that we can rule out that the “final” interpolations were driven by the Catholic Church itself when it established the canon.

  • Giuseppe
    2014-09-20 14:43:27 UTC - 14:43 | Permalink

    Roger, you say that the original myth (Isaiah), interpreted at letter, did not make selections of any kind regard who to evangelize in first time, if before the Jews and after the pagans, or only the Jews and not the pagans, or viceversa.

    The Law is not mentioned at all in the Vision nor does it say anything about a distinction of Jews from Gentiles. It condemns the spirit rulers of this world and offers a life in heaven to their subjects, but gives no special prerogatives to the Jewish ones. The idea that the message must first be offered to Jews and only afterwards to Gentiles is absent.

    But at the same time you recognize that for the Pillars the human killers of travested Son were the Romans, as marionettes into the hand of demoniac archons. It’s hard not to think that the same Pillars considered these marionettes as more or less unconsciously voluntary executioners of Son. The Romans were strongly hated from Essenes, and the Pillars were very similar to Essenes in their apocalyptic (even if ‘pacific’) hate of Romans.

    In the Epistle to Romans, Paul has to specify that the Roman autorithies are good and right. The human killers of Son were honest, for their beata ignorantia of the real identity of that crucified. Only the archons and the god of Jews were to condemn.

    I suspect that, if for Paul the human killers were honest Romans, the not-Roman presents at the crucifixion (thus Jews), even if all ignorant of real identity of crucified, were not honest. They were these that mock and scoff at the crucified, and this arrogance makes them ”more or less unconsciously voluntary executioners of Son” as a presage of future hostility that the same Paul will receive from Jews in general and Pillars in particular.

    Than I think that in original myth, when read with Simonian eyes, it’s present, at least in nuce, a replacement theology of old, corrupted Israel (the Jews and the Pillars), with the new, gentile, simonian ”Israel”.

    This is reverberated in GMark: the Jesus ministere is that identical of Paul. But the crufixion of Son is symbol of crucifixion of Israel and his re-birth into the pagan Empire, as Simonian Church. Jesus ceases to be Paul and becomes Israel from the moment that he is tried from priests and crucified. I see no place for the failed wannabe messiah in Mark’s final. But at the same time it’s difficult to see the Jesus of Markian Passion as the same Jesus/Paul of previous chapters. How can I resolve this riddle?

    Thanks for any reply

    • Roger Parvus
      2014-09-21 02:16:06 UTC - 02:16 | Permalink


      I’m not as confident as you that “the crucifixion of Son is symbol of the crucifixion of Israel.” I’m inclined to think Simonians saw it as a symbol of Simon. As you know, Simon claimed to be the Son who suffered in Judaea. And assuming he was Paul, he urged his followers to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). And he wrote, for example, “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 3:19); “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17); “We have become, and are even now, like the world’s garbage, the scum of the earth” (1 Cor. 4:13).

      Moreover, I think GMark’s account of the crucifixion still retains elements of the original Simonian allegory (Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus; Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the less and Joses, Salome; and many other women—looking on from a distance) that have nothing to do with a crucifixion of Israel. I will explain when I get to that part of the series.

      • Giuseppe
        2014-09-21 06:35:29 UTC - 06:35 | Permalink

        I deeply respect your point of view, but I think the transition (and turning point) from Jesus=Paul to Jesus=Israel is strongly represented by Last Supper.
        Last question (by now): About the Eucharist, you feel that where Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians (and corresponding point in Mark) is interpolated?


        • Roger Parvus
          2014-09-21 10:25:23 UTC - 10:25 | Permalink

          It’s a busy time for me right now. Traveling. Will respond when I get back later this week.

        • Roger Parvus
          2014-09-25 20:38:02 UTC - 20:38 | Permalink

          Hi Giuseppe,

          Several scholars have already argued that the first part of 1 Corinthians 11 (verses 2-16) is an interpolation (William O. Walker; L. Cope; G.W. Trompf). If my perspective on the Corinthian letters as a whole is correct (posts 9 thru 12), then it is likely that the Eucharist passage too (11:17-34) is the interpolator’s work. In it there is a reversion to the scolding and shaming of the Corinthian church that characterized chapters 5 and 6 of the letter. As you know, I think the condemnatory tone on display there is the interpolator’s, not Simon/Paul’s. Likewise for the rhetoric that returns in the passage: “Shall I praise you for this? I praise you not!”(1 Cor. 11:22). It is the interpolator, I suspect, who accuses the offenders (i.e., Simonians) of heresies (1 Cor. 11:18), and of getting drunk at the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:21). They are the “haves” who despise and humiliate the authentic Christians, i.e., the “have-nots” (1 Cor. 11:22), the “the poor among the holy ones at Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:26) being in view.

          I suspect too that we have more of the interpolator’s subtle humor in his comment that failure to “discern the body” (1 Cor. 11:29) is the reason “why many among you are weak and sick, and a good many have slept” i.e., died (1 Cor. 11:30). The real Paul was apparently weak and sickly (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 10:10). It was “through infirmity of the flesh” that he first preached to the Galatians (Gal. 4:13). He proclaimed: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30), for he was convinced that “God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27).

          The interpolator—playing to a second audience—says that the weakness and ultimate death of Simon/Paul and his followers was punishment for their failure to discern the body of the Lord. As you know, Simon of Samaria taught that the Son had only appeared to be a man, and had only appeared to suffer in Judaea. The interpolator corrects that mistaken notion. He makes his new Paul profess that the Eucharistic bread and drink are representative of the Son’s real body, real blood, and so real death. The blood is presented as blood of the “new covenant,” implicitly acknowledging that there had been a previous valid covenant between God and man. To fail to discern the body and blood is to eat and drink the Eucharist unworthily, and as punishment for that sin the new Paul threatens damnation (1 Cor. 11:29 & 34).

          Note that I am not claiming that the interpolator knew a written gospel that featured a public ministry for the Son. It may be that the only written “gospel” he knew was the Vision of Isaiah. But in 1 Corinthians 11 he is supplementing it with a supposed revelation in which the “handing over” of the Son to death is interpreted in proto-orthodox fashion. In that revelation the Lord himself institutes the remembrance ritual and interprets it. That revelation is later provided a historical setting in the Gospel according to Mark which is, as I see it, a proto-orthodox reworking of a Simonian allegory. The final meal Simon/Paul ate in Jerusalem before being betrayed and arrested becomes the scene of the Lord’s last supper.

          • Giuseppe
            2014-09-26 06:20:48 UTC - 06:20 | Permalink

            Thanks for this explanation. While I wait forward to your further posts, I see already that you are inclined to see a kind of chronological order in gMark that reflects in some obscure way real happenings of Paul’s life (and not only Paul’s view).

            • Giuseppe
              2014-09-26 13:10:33 UTC - 13:10 | Permalink

              Hi Roger,
              after a pause of reflections, ther would be some questions:

              1) you recognize the concrete possibility that the forgers didn’t know nothing about a historical Jesus and relative Gospels (even if they insisted on a true body of Christ against the cosmophobic gnostics)?
              in what cases, in Paul’s letters, do you think that a knowledge of the historicist Gospels was a must, a necessary prerequisite, for the forgers of the Pauline letters ?

              2) a more interesting question (but the reply will come surely in your further posts): I read Acts and easily recognize by now the obvious and amazing parallels between Paul’s arrest in Acts and the arrest of Jesus in Mark.
              But even so, I see (even with greater certainty) that the parallels between Paul and Jesus exist after the Barabbas’episode, too. In Acts, after the process, Paul is freed when he reveals to be a Roman citizen. But if my equation is right (Jesus = true Israel in Passion narrative of Mark allegory), then in GMark too ”Jesus”, during his death and resurrection, is symbol of Israel de-tribalized that dies at 70 CE and rises in Galilea of Gentiles, as ”ROMAN” (or fully gentile and not more Jewish). It cannot be a mere coincidence!

              I look with great satisfaction your future posts.


              • Roger Parvus
                2014-09-27 01:34:41 UTC - 01:34 | Permalink

                Hi Giuseppe,

                1) I’m not convinced there are any passages in the canonical versions of the Paulines (1 & 2 Thess., 1 & 2 Cor., Gal., Rom., Phil., Eph., Col., and Philemon) that definitely show knowledge of a historicist gospel. But on the other hand, I would not be surprised if “made of the seed of David” (in Rom. 1:3) and “made of a woman” (in Gal. 4:4) were inserted with knowledge of such a gospel. These may be anti-Marcionite interpolations.

                2) As you know, I think GMark is a reworked Simonian allegory. I don’t see how the Simonian allegory could have intended the dead and rising Jesus to symbolize, as you put it, a “true Israel… Israel detribalized that dies at 70 CE and rises… gentile.” Simon/Paul prided himself on his success among the Gentiles, but I doubt he saw his churches as some kind of new Israel. For him IsraeI was a mistake from the beginning. It had always been in slavery and didn’t know it. Simon/Paul preferred to skip over it altogether and establish continuity with the uncircumcised Abraham. Moreover, Simon had few plans beyond the immediate. He was preaching escape from this world, the sooner the better. It was the proto-orthodox who, in the second century, looked to establish a new, true and detribalized Israel in this world. So, at most, only GMark, as a proto-orthodox revision, would have the kind of symbolism you are talking about.

                But I don’t see that symbolism even in GMark. To me the example you give (return to Galilee at the end of the gospel) still makes better sense from a Simonian perspective. The return to Galilee gives a circular structure to the gospel and could just indicate that the last part of the Gospel was actually the earliest element (the Son’s crucifixion). Chronologically the crucifixion was followed by the Son’s preaching to the Gentiles through Simon/Paul (the Galilee ministry of the Jesus character). The circular structure could also be intended to intimate the Simonian transmigration cycle: after Simon’s death the Son returns to finish the preaching of the gospel through Simon’s successor, Menander. “Whatever Simon professed himself to be, this Menander equally affirmed himself to be” (Tertullian, Against All Heresies 1).

  • Giuseppe
    2014-09-22 09:13:59 UTC - 09:13 | Permalink

    Hi Roger,

    Feel free to reply how and when you desire.

    If in 70 CE the old, corrupted Israel is doomed to be replaced from new, faithful Israel, then the necessary conclusion is that if the Christians leaders in Jerusalem at Paul’s day (like James, ”the brother of Lord”) are corrupted too, then equally they are doomed to be replaced from true brothers of Lord, the Christian Paulines.

    The essentia of gospel of Mark concerns the ”handing over of the Human One [Son of Man] to the Gentiles”. The theme is developed in 8:31, 9:31 and 10:33. The unaware high priests were handing over their true Son of Man (the true Israel) to be killed by the Gentiles ‘unto death’. Their attempt was in vain.
    They could kill the body (ptoma) but not the soul (sôma). Paul and Paulines consciously would ‘hand over’ the Human One to the Gentiles ‘unto life’. The tomb story symbolizes to be “buried with Christ” in order “to rise with him”.

    The subtle difference between ptoma and sôma is explained from Karel Hanhart here.

    Taken from Daniel, the term ”Son of Man” alludes the elected people of Israel, thus a sacred community.

    Now, if I assume a priori the paradigm of Simonian origins of Christianity, my view about Mark may be the following.

    Mark converts the term ”Son of Man” to mean the gnostic concept of Man of Light, the Primal Man, image of divinity present in any individual indistinctly, pneumatics and psychics. Then, for the simonian author of Mark, the traditional, danielic meaning of Son of Man was wrong inasmuch it alludes to Israel ”kata sarka”, not the gnostic, spiritual Israel.

    Therefore the high priests/the disciples (respectively the Jews and the Christian Jews: the psychics) represent unaware marionettes into the hands of demiurgic archons: they attempt to eclipse the divine spark (the Spirit present in all us), persuasing the other people to adore the god of Jews. But their attempt was in vain. They could kill the body (Israel kata sarka) but not the soul: in simonian terms, they could kill the soul, but not the Spirit. Paul and Simonians would ‘hand over’ the Human One (=the divine spark inside all us) to the Gentiles ‘unto life’, liberating it to the pneumatics. The tomb story symbolizes to be “buried with Christ” in order “to rise with him”.

    So Price:

    The demiurge, imitating the ultimate godhead, of whom he was nonetheless ignorant, procedeed to create matter and a series of material creations, a kind of mud-pie substitute for the pleroma of light. He created a world, but it was inert and chaotic, ”without form and void”. To get some action going, he managed to steal some of the spiritual light from the pleroma. According to whichever Gnostic text you choose, this might have been accomplished by waylayng and dismembering the Man of Light, the Son of Man, Primal Man (Fourth Ezra 13:1-4), or another of the aions, or the light might have been taken from the reflected image of Sophia. In any case, the demiurge and his evil lieutenants, the archons (the fallen sons of God
    or angels from Jewish apocryphal versions of Genesis 6:1-6), used these sparks of alien right as something like DNA to program self-replicating order into the otherwise stillborn cosmos of matter.

    (Robert Price, The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 132-133, my bold)

    I’m sorry to disagree with Price when he doesn’t link the Eucharesty (1 Cor 11:23-32) explictly with the original recalling, in simonian communities, of myth of ”waylayng and dismembering the Man of Light, the Son of Man, Primal Man”. So Elaine Pagels:

    Paul reminds them of the tradition he received ”from the Lord” and passed on to the whole chommunity in common. The meal of bread and wine, recalling the ”body and blood” of the Lord, ”demonstrates his death” and anticipates his return. The initiate reader, recognizing this
    interpretation of the eucharist as psychic teaching, would perceive that Paul directs his warning to the psychis (11:27-34): they are to fear ”unworthy” participation, realizing that they face ”the Lord”’ judgment, and risk condemnation along with ”the cosmos”.

    (The Gnostic Paul, p. 77, my bold)

    Therefore during the Last Supper, in GMark, the psychics kata sarka, guilty of ”unworthy” participation to sacre past, are just the disciples into the figure of Judas -”one of Twelwe” – because they are unaware to eat the dissepta membra of Son of Man, i.e., to have inside them the Spirit of Alienus Deus, and then still they cannot recognize the true identity of Jesus: still they believe that Jesus is Israel kata sarka.

    Therefore I am inclined to think that the Jesus of simonian Mark is everywhere the allegory of true Son of Man (or Primal Man, of Man of Light) meant as the divinity inside all the men from their birth, a sacre spark that only the pneumatics can awake, without more etnical obstacles of any kind.

  • Giuseppe
    2014-09-27 07:06:32 UTC - 07:06 | Permalink

    Hi Roger,

    I recognize, as you say, that Simon didn’t see his churches as some kind of ”new Israel Torah-affected”. But he saw surely his true followers (+ himself) as the set of awaked divine sparks inside the prison of this world. Excessive individualism in religious practice is more a modern concept and then the ancient proto-gnostics were not individualists even if the divinity was inside their self. Therefore I don’t exclude to see a collective concept behind the crucified, dead and rising ”Jesus”. If you don’t call it ”Israel” you may call it ”the Son of Man”, or the Primal Man. I don’t exclude that even the Tertullian’s claim you have cited:

    “Whatever Simon professed himself to be, this Menander equally affirmed himself to be” (Tertullian, Against All Heresies 1)

    …may mean this: that not only the Simon’s successor Menander, but ALL the true Simonians affirmed themselves to be one and the same of Simon, i.e. the divine sparks, dissepta membra, of Primal Man (or Son of Man), rejoined again (like Helen was rejoined with Simon) after the awakening.

    In this sense, to be gentile (of ”Galilea”) means to be freed from archons. To be Jew (of ”Jerusalem”) means to be still slave of archons.


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