Tag Archives: Simon Magus

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 12: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (conclusion)

In this series I have been examining passages in the Pauline letters from a particular angle. Marcion claimed that the man who wrote the originals was someone who did not believe the god of the Old Testament to be the supreme God. And the letters, said Marcion, had been interpolated by someone who aimed to Judaize them. These claims combined with certain commonalities between Paul and the infamous Simon of Samaria—a man whose teaching allegedly did place the god who made the world far below the highest God—are what led me to consider whether the author of the original letters could have been Simon. Was the name Paul, i.e., the little one, a name that Simon who claimed to be “somebody great” (Acts 8:9) either at some point adopted himself or had given to him by followers or enemies? And could the many inconsistences in the Paulines have been caused by an early interpolator whose insertions were meant to make the original letters compatible with his proto-orthodox beliefs and more moderate toward Judaism?   

It is with these possibilities in mind that I have been re-reading the letters. I want to separate the apparent zigs from the zags, and then look to see if the zigs are plausible as expressions of Simon’s teaching and the zags as proto-orthodox insertions.

quote_begin In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body. quote_end


English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with th...

English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with the beginning of the 1. Epistle to the Corrinthians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This approach will be continued in this post on chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, a passage in which—if my Simonian scenario is correct—I would expect to find proto-orthodox intervention.

For the main subject of the chapter—the resurrection of the dead—is one about which proto-orthodox belief differed from that of Simon. The Father of Gnosticism is said to have taught that man’s spirit is the only part of him that is from the highest God and, as such, is the only part that can survive the coming destruction of this world. Man’s body is the inferior work of the inferior angels who made the visible world and is radically unfit for the highest world.

In contrast, the proto-orthodox held that this world including the human body is fundamentally good, having been made by the one true God, the God spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. The body, as God’s work, possesses a definite dignity, a dignity that can be marred by sin but can also be restored by him.

Thus proto-orthodox resurrection of the dead is resurrection of the whole man, including the body. For the proto-orthodox, denial of the resurrection of the body is the same thing as denial of the resurrection of the dead. And such denial is incompatible with really being a Christian.

For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians … who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians… (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 80)

In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body.


Initial observations 

quote_begin Is it plausible that the real Paul would have failed to have his gospel summary make explicit mention that the death was by crucifixion? quote_end

I expect that many readers of Vridar are already familiar with Robert M. Price’s article in which he argues that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is not a window… into the earliest days of Christian belief,” but rather a “piece of later, post-Pauline Christianity” (“Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation”, in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery J. Lowder, p. 69 ) The article can be read online at Prices’s website: www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com.

Contradicts Galatians
Among the reasons Price gives for rejecting the authenticity of the pericope is its contradiction of Galatians 1:1, 11-12. In the Corinthians passage the Apostle has apparently been taught his gospel by human predecessors, but in Galatians he says he did not receive it from man. Thus it would seem, as Price points out, that

If the historical Paul is speaking in either passage, he is not speaking in both. (p. 74)

Suspicious Christophanies
Price also has numerous issues with the pericope’s list of Christophanies. And he proposes that in reality verses 3 and 9-11 are

part of an apologia for Paul made by a spirit kindred to the writer of the Pastorals. The writer wished to vindicate Paul’s controversial heresy-tinged apostolate in the eyes of his fellow “early catholics” by doing what Luke did at about the same time: assimilating Paul to the Twelve and James. (p. 90)

I basically agree with Price on the above points and would add a few other observations.

Overlooked crucifixion
For one thing, the gospel summary in the passage simply says

that Christ died (15:3)

Christ crucified

Christ crucified (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

without specifying that the death was by crucifixion.

But earlier in the same letter great emphasis is placed on the manner of the death. The Apostle proclaimed

Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:22)

and insisted that when he was among the Corinthians he

resolved to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

Given the circumstances, is it plausible that the real Paul would have failed to have his gospel summary make explicit mention that the death was by crucifixion?


It is unrealistic to think that the afterlife only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. . . .

The passage would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body like the one the risen Christ has.


Omitted teaching
And at face value the passage would have us believe that the Apostle had previously neglected to tell the Corinthians what their afterlife existence would be like.

The passage does not say that the Apostle had preached the resurrection and that his hearers had not understood it; nor does it reproach them for forgetfulness.

It is important to realize this: the passage does not say that the Apostle had preached the resurrection of the dead and that his hearers had not understood it. Nor does it reproach them with forgetfulness of what he had said about that doctrine.

What it says is that the Apostle had preached the gospel to them—a gospel that included the resurrection of Christ—but it makes no claim that he ever addressed the nature of their own afterlife in any of his instructions. This passage together with the defense of resurrection that follows it would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body that is like the one the risen Christ has. It wants us to believe he had wrongly assumed all of them would deduce that on their own, and so he had never expressly said a word about it.

To me this supposed omission on the Apostle’s part is suspicious. The nature of the afterlife is just too central and important a matter to have been completely left out by him. It is unrealistic to think that it only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. It is the kind of thing that would have come up from the beginning in all kinds of discussions about Christian hopes and expectations.

read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 11: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (continued)


The previous post in this series was focused on chapters 1 – 4 of 1 Corinthians. I proposed that the theme of the disruptive wisdom at Corinth was eschatological and that it featured an earthly kingdom of God. And I suggested that the points of contact between the wisdom discussion in Corinthians and the earthly kingdom described in the book of Revelation may indicate that the party of Cephas at Corinth had some connection with the Revelation community. I also showed how Paul’s resistance to a reign-on-earth doctrine is compatible with my hypotheses that he was Simon of Samaria and his gospel was the Vision of Isaiah.

This post will look at chapters 5 through 7. These abruptly introduce a new subject and present a picture of the Corinthian church that is very hard to accept at face value. Supposedly it was a church composed of Christians whose bizarre ethics somehow combined extreme sexual libertinism (chapters 5 and 6) with strict sexual asceticism (chapter 7)! Not only are some Corinthian Christians going to prostitutes, the community as a whole is apparently boasting about the incest of one their own who has his father’s wife. Yet at the same time some of them are considering a life of virginity. The Apostle has to tell them that it is no sin to get married. And he has to advise those already married not to abstain from sexual intercourse with their spouses.

quote_begin This scenario of such widely divergent sexual attitudes peacefully co-existing in the church founded by the Apostle makes me suspicious. My Simonian hypotheses offer an alternative explanation for the juxtaposition . . . . quote_end

This scenario of such widely divergent sexual attitudes peacefully co-existing in the church founded by the Apostle makes me suspicious. My Simonian hypotheses offer an alternative explanation for the juxtaposition, one that reasonably squares with the Corinthian controversy as a whole. We are dealing with two authors, not one. The author of the original letter was Simon/Paul; the author of chapters 5 and 6 was the second-century proto-orthodox interpolator. These two chapters express the interpolator’s negative assessment of the Simonian church at Corinth. They interrupt, as I will show later in the post, the original situational continuity that existed between chapters 4 and 7 (whether or not this latter chapter was part of the original letter or just a follow-up response to questions provoked by it).

Chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians ended with the Apostle offering himself as an example to be imitated (1 Cor. 4:16). He promised to send Timothy to the Corinthians “to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:17). But the proto-orthodox disapproved of many of Simon/Paul’s “ways,” and chapters 5 and 6 were inserted to register that disapproval. Whereas he wrote to his flock “not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14), that was not the case with the interpolator. He is blunt: “I say this to shame you” (1 Cor. 6:5).


The man who reportedly had the father’s wife

Allegory of Divine Wisdom

Allegory of Divine Wisdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter 5 begins by saying that it is “widely reported” that among the Corinthian brethren there is sexual immorality “of a kind unheard of even among Gentiles,” namely “a man has the father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). The command is given to expel the man from the community and to deliver him to Satan “for the destruction of his flesh,” (1 Cor. 5:5). Yet the Corinthian church has apparently not been concerned about the situation. They were even proud of it: “You are puffed up” (1 Cor. 5:2). Their attitude is all the more puzzling in that the Apostle says he told them in a previous letter not to associate with whoremongers, avaricious people, extortioners, idolaters, revilers, or drunks. He offers a belated clarification that he meant brothers who are such, not non-Christians.

I find it hard to accept that there could have been that kind of disconnect between the ethical understanding of the founder of the Corinthian church and his flock. And the reference to an earlier letter could just be a fabricated excuse for the implausible disconnect. Did the Corinthian church really think that it was ok to associate with Christian idolaters and whoremongers but not with pagan ones? I doubt it. The situation described in chapter 5 is not only impractical (as the passage itself concedes: “You would have to go out of the world” – 1 Cor. 5:10), it is also unrealistic. Something else is going on here.

The nature of the “widely reported” incest is that “a man has the father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). That description, it strikes me, is how a proto-orthodox Christian could view Simon’s outrageous claim that his companion Helen was divine Wisdom. To the proto-orthodox, Wisdom was personified as some kind of female consort of God who assisted him with the work of creation:

Does not wisdom cry out? And understanding lift up her voice? She stands at the top of the high places… I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was… When he established the heavens, I was there… When he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep… then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always…. And now, my sons, listen to me. Blessed are they who keep my ways… For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 8)

So when Simon came along and divulged to certain initiates of his that the woman he was taking around with him was divine Wisdom, was he not a man who reportedly had the Father’s woman?

read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 10: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy


When I finished the previous post of the series, I expected to go on to a discussion of the eschatology in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. But while working on that, I quickly realized that chapters 1 through 4 of the letter should be examined first. They provide some necessary background on the situation in the church at Corinth.

So this post will consider these earlier chapters from the perspective of my hypotheses that the Paul who wrote the Corinthian letters was Simon of Samaria, his gospel was based on the Vision of Isaiah, and his letters were subsequently interpolated (as late as 130 CE) by a proto-orthodox Christian.

I have already discussed 1 Cor. 2:6-9 in part 7 of the series. My interpretation of that passage will be incorporated here into a view of the Corinthian controversy as a whole.



Disruptive Wisdom in the Church at Corinth

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters in which the Apostle expresses concern about some kind of wisdom that, in his absence, was being put forward by certain Christians at Corinth and was giving rise to factions in the church there. The nature of the troublesome wisdom is unclear but, from a consideration of the entire Corinthian correspondence, it seems to me most likely that it was the product of people laying claim to the gift of prophecy. Its proponents likely believed that their wisdom, like the Apostle’s own (1 Cor. 2:6-9), was revealed by God.

ellisAs we saw above, in the Pauline letters, and especially in 1 Corinthians (2, 12-14), certain believers have gifts of inspired speech and discernment. They are called pneumatics and, broadly speaking, they exercise the role of prophets. Among other manifestations they are said to speak ‘wisdom of God’ (2,7,13) or to be ‘wise’ (3,18; 6,5; cf. 14,29 diakrinein) or to have a ‘word of wisdom’ (12,8) and to speak ‘in knowledge’ or to ‘have knowledge’ or ‘a word of knowledge’ (8,10; 12,8; 14,6). The terms wisdom and knowledge are used of pneumatic gifts in other parts of the Pauline literature and occasionally they appear in tandem, both in Paul and elsewhere. (E. Earle Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity, p. 50)

The Apostle refers to the purveyors of the wisdom as fellow workers, but it becomes clear in the course of his presentation that he views at least some of them as competitors and has serious reservations about whether their teaching is in harmony with the gospel.

That gospel, as I proposed in parts 7 through 9, was likely derived from the Vision of Isaiah, and for the Apostle its truth was confirmed by the divine revelation that he himself had received. He has no comparable assurance for the suspect wisdom. Those pushing it apparently accepted, at least initially, the Apostle’s gospel beliefs, for without that minimal commonality it is hard to see how he could have allowed them to operate at all in his community. And he does say that they were building on the foundation— Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11, 1:23 and 2:2)—that he himself “as a wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10) had laid down in Corinth. He makes clear that use of that foundation is non-negotiable:  “No man can lay a foundation other than the one that is there” (1 Cor. 3:11).  To try to substitute another would in effect destroy the edifice, and “if any man destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that man; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor. 3:17). But building on the right foundation is not enough. What is built on it must be able to survive the coming conflagration and the Apostle seems to doubt that the materials being used by his competitors at Corinth will pass that test.

quote_begin Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God. quote_end

The Apostle’s repeated belittlement of mere “wisdom of word” and “wisdom of man” and “wisdom of the world” seems to be an indirect putdown of what his competitors are teaching. His wisdom is from God. He is not so sure about the source of theirs.

Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:17)

We have not received the spirit of the world but the spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by the wisdom of man, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. (1 Cor. 2:12-13)

We speak wisdom among the perfect, but wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, that hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this world understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’  (1Cor. 2:6-9)

The “wisdom of man,” as the Apostle uses the expression, is an inferior wisdom whose source is merely “the spirit of man that is in him” (1 Cor. 2:11). And the source of the “wisdom of this world” is “the spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2:12), i.e., the ignorant angel who together with his spirit underlings are the “rulers of this world” (1 Cor. 2:6). Later, as the situation further deteriorates at Corinth and the Apostle comes to view the competing wisdom as “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4), he supplies the name of the angel. He is “Satan” who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God.


The Eschatological Theme of the Wisdom of this World

read more »

Mark’s Parables as Simonian Allegories


Samuel Sandmel, in his The Genius of Paul, made this observation:

The parable of the sower in Mark (and in Matthew and Luke) is so presented in the Gospels as to have us believe that, clear as it was, the disciples did not understand it and they require explanation in private. The Gospel would have us suppose that there was more in the parable than meets the eye. Unhappily, there is not. The same is true in page after page of the Gospels. (p. 214)

Mark’s presentation of the parable of the sower does hint quite loudly that there is more to it and its gospel (“all things”, Mk. 4:11) than meets the eye. Its author asserts that his Jesus deliberately hid his meaning from those “on the outside”. And even though he makes his Jesus give a “private” explanation of the parable, his letting any and every reader and hearer of the narrative have access to that explanation shows that the beans have really not been spilled at all. Furthermore, he warns us that just reading or hearing the parable and its explanation will not be much help, for there are many who “look and see but do not perceive, hear and listen but do not understand” (Mk. 4:12). And he drives that point home in the rest of his gospel by relating how the Twelve themselves—even after being given their private explanation—still failed to perceive or understand.

To know what if anything is hidden [in the parables], one would first have to know who the Markan insiders were. Their identity is the key to correctly understanding their gospel.

But I think that Sandmel is wrong to rule out that there is really something more below the surface. To know what if anything is hidden there, one would first have to know who the Markan insiders were. Their identity is the key to correctly understanding their gospel. And, unfortunately, the provenance of Mark’s Gospel has never been securely determined.

I have explained in comments on a few other Vridar posts* why I think the Markan insider circle was Simonian, i.e., composed of followers of “Paul”/Simon of Samaria. As I see it, canonical Mark is a proto-orthodox reworking of a Simonian gospel, urMark, that sometime between the end of the first century and 130 CE was put together using two components:

  1. an earlier succinct myth about a divine figure, the Son of God, who briefly descended to this world to trick the princes of this world into wrongfully crucifying him. He did this by transforming himself and surreptitiously switching places, as Simon Kyrenaios, with a failed Jewish Messiah being led out by the Romans for crucifixion. To this was prefaced
  2. a cryptic allegorical portrayal of the apostolic career of “Paul”/Simon of Samaria.

The seam between the two parts is Mk. 15:15, the release of the Son of the Father (Barabbas).

That a Simonian would compose such a two-part life of the Son of God was fitting, for Simon claimed to be a new manifestation of the Son “who seemed to suffer in Judaea” (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 19).

In this post I conduct a kind of experiment. . . . If the creators of the parables were Simonian, what was it they were looking to express by them, and what was it they were looking to hide?

In this post I conduct a kind of experiment. I assume— just to show where it can plausibly lead—that my identification of the insiders as Simonians is correct, and I examine how that identification changes our perspective of the parables in chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel.

I attempt to answer the questions: If the creators of the parables were Simonian, what was it they were looking to express by them, and what was it they were looking to hide? What was it they wanted outsiders to see but not perceive, hear but not understand?


Hippolytus, in a few short chapters of his The Refutation of All Heresies (which I will abbreviate, going forward, as RAH), describes the teaching of Simon of Samaria as it was presented by his Great Proclamation (the Apophasis Megale). Hippolytus’ exposition, short as it is, is the fullest explanation of Simon’s system that is extant. It provides enough, I submit, to reveal what the Markan parables are really about. The translation of the RAH I will use is that of G.R.S. Mead in his Simon Magus (link is to full-text online). read more »

Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 3 — the pre-christian date

How old is the Gnosticism described in the first two posts?

Schmithals holds that the Apophasis (c.f. Apophasis) attributed to Simon and from which (or from a summary or paraphrase of which) Hippolytus apparently drew his information was not itself written by Simon — at least according to what we can understand from the way Hippolytus speaks of it. Three points are singled out:

  1. New Testament quotations are included in the Apophasis [VI.9.10 = 137.11ff; VI.14.6 = 140.3.4; VI.16.6 = 142.23 ff.]
  2. The second century Galienus is perhaps used [VI.14.8 = 140.15 ff.]
  3. The Apophasis appears not to have been a unitary work in all respects.

I don’t have access to a copy of Hippolytus with either of these numbering systems so am unable to pull out the quotations. The NT ones in particular could be significant — are they from Paul’s epistles or elsewhere?

But the question is not the age of the Apophasis but the age of the system of Gnosticism described in it. And that is the theme of this post.

Schmithals begins with another account of Simon’s teachings that they share the terminology we find in Hippolytus’ account but that differ significantly in other respects. read more »

Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 2

Continued from post 1.

To sum up the significant themes I will sometimes paraphrase and sometimes repeat the words of Walter Schmithals on pages 39 to 40 of Gnosticism in Corinth.

The Gnostic system described in the previous post is attributed to Simon (i.e. the Simon Magus of Acts 8:9ff).

Hippolytus tells us that all of this was written out in a work attributed to Simon, the “Apophasis Megale” or Great Revelation.

In this Revelation Simon speaks with divine authority: “To you then I speak what I speak and write what I write. The writing is this.”

“His authority is of the great power in general, which he himself is as well.”

Now we know from Acts and other early sources that Simon is infamous for having claimed to be the great power. read more »

Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 1

Last week my copy of Gnosticism in Corinth by Walter Schmithals arrived in the mail and the first thing that hit my attention about it was a discussion in the “Introduction A” chapter of pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism. This looks interesting for the obvious reason that it just might throw some light on one particular interpretation of the New Testament epistles — that they know only a spiritual Christ who bears no relation to the Jesus of the Gospels.

Schmithals’ is always a densely packed read so I know I need to step out of character and be patient and read this slowly. And since I know I’m not the only one interested in this I have decided to take the time to type up blog notes as I go through this section. (I sometimes freely copy phrases of the translated Schmithals in what follows.) This topic is new to me and understanding gnostic thought is not easy. I welcome feedback about any mistakes or misunderstandings in what follows.

One interesting remark by Schmithals reminded me of the question of Paul’s knowledge of details of a Christ myth. He writes:

In general one may say that an excess of mythological speculation is always a sign of diminishing existential tension — and conversely . . .  (pp. 29-30)

Food for thought here, I think, about the question of the emerging mythological details that accrued around the Christ Jesus as the years progressed.

Schmithals describes what he sees as a pr-Christian system of Jewish Gnosticism.

He begins with a discussion of the thought system of Simon (Simon Magus in Acts) as described by Hippolytus. This surprised me since other scholars (e.g. Birger Pearson, Ancient Gnosticism) dismiss the account of Hippolytus as a description of a much later — very post-Christian — development of Simon’s thought. But Schmithals does present a number of reasons to think that what Hippolytus is depicting is, rather, very early — pre-Christian — Jewish Gnosticism. (I am sure Pearson has read Schmithal’s works so I would like to read his responses. If anyone can point to his or other reviews I’d be grateful.)

Schmithals then describes similar Jewish Gnostic systems that he sees as related to the thought-world of the Simonians and shows how they embraced a Christ idea that is quite unlike the concept of Christ in the later (very Christian) Gnostic thought. Schmithals shows the way the Jewish Christ was reinterpreted to identify the Primal Man, or the Great Power that generated all.

It is difficult not to see overlaps here with passages in the Pauline letters. (But Schmithals clearly distinguishes Paul’s thought from that of this early Gnosticism.)

I don’t know if I will finish all of Schmithal’s discussion in a few blog posts but I can at least start with good intentions. read more »