Debating the Place of the Ignatian Letters in Christian Origins: Doherty & Parvus

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by Neil Godfrey

I and many other readers have been interested in Roger Parvus’s alternative explanations for some aspects of Earl Doherty’s arguments. Roger has posted a detailed comment on Earl’s Part 12 Response to Bart Ehrman but I am repeating it here as a post in its own right. Where Earl argues that the incipient docetism addressed in the Ignatian letters is best explained as an early variant of the emerging belief that Christ came down to earth, Roger finds the simplest explanation in the Ignatian letters being written as a reaction against Marcionism — but not an “orthodox” reaction. Rather, Roger has argued that the Ignatian correspondence originated in the major Marcionite schismatic movement led by Apelles.

Before posting Roger’s comment in full here is the outline of Earl’s argument in Part 12:

  • Are the Ignatian letters forgeries?
  • What does “truly” mean for Ignatius:
    • anti-docetism?
    • historical fact?
  • Ignatius knows no Gospels, even in 110 CE or later
    • implications of this
      • This is the year 110 (or later if the letters are forgeries) in Antioch, a stone’s throw from the Syrian-Galilean region where Jesus conducted his ministry, where the evangelists Mark and Matthew wrote (Matthew is commonly dated c.80 CE with a suggested provenance in Antioch itself!), and yet the bishop of that city does not possess a copy of a written Gospel?
    • rumours of an allegorical tale interpreted as history
      • [This can be explained if] Mark was originally written as a piece of symbolism, not meant as history, and it took . . . decades for the story’s basic features to filter out to the surrounding Christian world, through rumor and missionary contact, through expansion and redaction of the story in other nearby communities, eventually to be accepted by some as historical fact — particularly those who would have found it appealing and useful.
    • no teachings of Jesus, no miracles,
    • no apostolic tradition
      • Not only does Ignatius not possess a copy of a Gospel, he also argues from a position which lacks a few other things. One of them is apostolic tradition, another is an appeal to simple history within his faith movement: the argument that “Christians have believed these things for generations.”
  • Why did docetism arise in Ignatius’ time?
    • two reactions to the historical Jesus
      • The whole issue of docetism is a perplexing one. Why, whether here or in a developing gnostic community, would it suddenly appear after almost a century of traditional belief in an historical Jesus, during which no one voiced any objection to believing in a divine son of God who had actually suffered in flesh, who actually partook of human nature?
      • The traditional view of docetism sees it as a sudden about-face by certain Christian teachers and thinkers, the complete rejection of a presumably universal view of Jesus held for three-quarters of a century as a human being born of a human mother and suffering in human flesh. What would explain this throwing of the Christian faith train into reverse?
      • The solution is to realize that prior to the end of the first century, no one had believed the opposite. Christ was a heavenly figure who suffered, died and rose in the spiritual dimension. But at precisely the time when the first idea that Christ had been on earth arose (largely through an evolution within the Q sect and a misunderstanding of the Gospels which grew out of it) we find the first objections to a human Jesus, a philosophically-based resistance but one dependent on the new claim that the heavenly Son of God had been on earth in a human incarnation.
      • This is why a type of docetism could arise in a ‘traditional’ Christian community (of the Pauline type) which had nothing to do with Gnosticism, and why it had not arisen earlier. It is why Ignatius cannot appeal to traditional belief, because both outlooks — an historical Jesus and a docetic Jesus — are of recent vintage, competing on the same level playing field.
  • A Christ myth in Ignatius’ Ephesians

Roger Parvus’s response

As some Vridar readers are aware, my own theory is that the original author of the so-called Ignatians was Peregrinus and that he was a follower of the ex-Marcionite Apelles. And I think the two groups of opponents in the letters should be identified as Marcionites and proto-orthodox Christians—Marcionites, of course, being the docetic adversaries, and the proto-orthodox being the Judaizers.

I hold that Peregrinus wrote the letters in the early 140s with his execution at Antioch in view—a martyrdom that was thwarted when he was instead released by the governor of Syria. Peregrinus’ subsequent apostasy from Christianity rendered his letters unusable by Christians. That changed when later, toward the end of the second century, a proto-orthodox Christian made modifications to them, turning them into letters of “Ignatius.” (Those interested in a fuller exposition of the theory can find it on this Vridar site in a series of posts entitled “The Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius of Antioch”).

Earl Doherty makes some excellent observations regarding the Ignatians. He has noticed not just one but several peculiarities that, to my knowledge, have been overlooked by patristic scholars. I maintain, however, that my theory can plausibly account for the curious features. They in fact confirm the identifications I have made above of the principal parties involved.

Here’s what I mean:

1.  Non-gnostic docetism

Earl points out

that Ignatius is also dealing with an issue of docetism, although it seems not to be within any gnostic context . . .  and no other doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism contribute to raising his ire.

To me this feature is an additional confirmation that the prisoner’s docetic adversaries were Marcionites. Marcion’s system lacked many doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism. It didn’t include, for example, the many divine emanations that were a part of so many Gnosticisms. Or, another example, the fallen sparks of divinity in man. Earl is aware of this Marcionite peculiarity. On page 293 of his book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man he writes: 

Ironically, the most famous ‘Gnostic,’ Marcion, almost fails the Gnosticism test, since he lacked more than one essential feature of that generality.

But perhaps because Earl dates the Ignatians to no later than the third decade of the second century, he appears not to have considered the possibility that the docetists in question were Marcionites.   

In my series of posts on the Ignatians I provide some other reasons to identify the docetic opponents as Marcionites. I would like to add one here that I left out: In the letter to the Smyrneans it is said that they praised the prisoner, apparently for his willing embrace of martyrdom (IgnSmyr. 5:2). Now, if Irenaeus can be believed, Gnostics generally denied the value of martyrdom (see Against Heresies, 3,18,5).  But the extant record does include a notable exception: Marcionites. Proto-orthodox literature itself is witness that that there were Marcionite martyrs. 


2.  No apostolic tradition or history

Earl wrote that Ignatius

also argues from a position which lacks a few other things. One of them is apostolic tradition, another is an appeal to simple history within his faith movement: the argument that “Christians have believed these things for generations.”

Earl is right about this. In fact, the letters do not give the impression that the communities had much of a history at all. The single reference that could be interpreted as referring to their existence in earlier days is in IgnEph. 12:1. But even there, it appears that Ignatius/Peregrinus is just calling attention to the fact that Paul mentions Ephesus in his letters. Otherwise there are no indications that the addressed communities were in existence even a generation ago, let alone apostolic times.

In praising the bishops of the communities (Onesimus, Damas, Polybius) the prisoner says not a word about any predecessors of theirs. There is no admonition to any of them to continue in the footsteps of their exemplary predecessor so-and-so. And the communities are never praised for fidelity to any belief — not just one related to docetism — that an earlier generation of members had handed on to them.

In short, the letters contain nothing to rule out the possibility that the faith community in question was recently established. My theory can account for this: It was Apellean, and so had no continuity with earlier—let alone apostolic— times. In fact, it had scarcely any attachment even to the Old Testament Scriptures. Marcion and Apelles held that the church had gone wrong almost from the start. They viewed their work as a work of restoration, but a restoration based largely on their understanding of Paul and his letters, not on any unbroken tradition or succession of teachers in the past.

Apelles, however, also based some of his teachings on the revelations of his prophetess associate Philumena. So when Earl writes that the Smyrneans 3 “touch me” post-resurrection scene could be “some Christian prophet’s invention”, he may very well be right. As I see it, it may be a revelation of Philumena’s that shortly afterwards—when the proto-orthodox sanitized the Apellean gospel—became the doubting Thomas scene of the newly created Fourth Gospel.  


3.  “True” happenings

Earl argues that a distinction should be made among the statements that say something “truly” happened. He writes that some of them

can also fit a claim that something was true in actuality, that it really existed or took place.

In fact, some of them seem to require that meaning, rather than an anti-docetic sense of “genuinely, as opposed to illusory”.

I think the distinction Earl has picked up on really exists in the letters, but I would account for its presence differently. In part it is due to the nature of Apellean engagement with proto-orthodox belief. That is the context of one of the passages Earl brought forward, IgnMag. 11:1, where it does indeed appear that the in actuality historical fact of the passion and resurrection are emphasized. They are said to be things that not just “truly” happened, but “truly and certainly”.

But it is important to notice the circumstances:  the prisoner is putting his readers on guard against his Judaizing opponents, i.e. the proto-orthodox. In the eyes of the Apelleans the proto-orthodox were Judaizers because they made full use of the Old Testament to support their teaching. Apelles, on the other hand, taught that the writings of Judaism were in large part fables and falsehoods. This Apellean dismissal of the Old Testament protrudes earlier in the Magnesians letter, in IgnMag. 8:1, where Judaism is described as “falsehoods and old fables which are worthless.” So the contrast that is being made in the later Magnesians passage is between the passion and resurrection that really happened and the empty, baseless stories of the Old Testament that didn’t.

We find a similar contrast in the Philadelphians letter where the prisoner is again in discussion with Judaizers. Whereas they would base their faith on the “archives” (i.e. Old Testament), he instead would base it on something solid:

But for me the archives are Jesus Christ, the inviolable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and faith through him (IgnPhil. 8:2).

As I see it, the prisoner, in his engagements with the proto-orthodox belief, emphasized that the crucifixion and resurrection really happened in order to clearly distinguish those events from the false and fabulous things related in the Old Testament. 

But that is only part of the solution. In some of the instances the in actuality items are additions inserted by the interpolator in order to make up for beliefs missing from the teaching of Apelles. Apelles’ brand of anti-docetism was unique. He taught that

Christ allowed himself to suffer in that very body, was truly crucified and truly buried and truly rose, and showed that very flesh to his own disciples . . . (Panarion, 44, 2, 7-8, my emphases)

But his insistence on the reality of Christ’s flesh revolved around that flesh’s crucifixion and resurrection. That is, he retained from his days as a Marcionite the belief that Christ descended to this world as an adult. Thus his anti-docetism did not extend to any nativity of Christ or childbearing by Mary. Apelles held that

He (Christ) has not appeared in semblance at his coming, but has really taken flesh; not from Mary the virgin, but he has real flesh and a body, though not from a man’s seed or a virgin woman.  (Panarion, 44,2,2,)

As I see it, that distinction posed a problem for the later proto-orthodox interpolator of the Ignatians. He had letters by an Apellean in which there was emphasis on the real bodily suffering and resurrection of Christ, but no mention of the childbearing of Mary, birth of Christ, or descent from David. Those missing items were important elements of proto-orthodox belief in the incarnation of Christ. So as part of the conversion of Apellean Peregrinus into the proto-orthodox Ignatius, the missing items were inserted.    

The added items appear in passages that Schoedel characterizes as semi- or quasi-creedal (Ignatius of Antioch, pp. 84, 152, 220). I think that the interpolator was doing his work around the same time (late second century) that the Roman proto-orthodox church was in the process of forming its creed (the so-called Apostles Creed). The quasi-creedal additions were meant to supply for any perceived deficiencies in the beliefs of the Apellean author of the original letters.

4.  The Ephesians hymn

There is one item that Earl does acknowledge as superimposed. In regard to the hymn in IgnEph. 19 he writes:

Upon that highly mythological ‘hymn’ Ignatius has superimposed one obvious Gospel element: the ‘virgin’ to whom the Lord was born was named Mary, an item Paul never gives us.

Earl is not alone in seeing superimpositions in the hymn. The biblical scholar Alfred Loisy held that two of the three mysteries in the hymn were insertions: Mary’s virginity and her childbearing. But I myself would argue that it was the later interpolator who did the superimposing. And I think I know why he did it.

If we ignore the hymn’s apparently superimposed items its true character emerges: it is a hymn about Christ’s Ascension. The astonishing “star” is not some kind of marker of the spot where the Son was born on earth, it is the Son himself ascending through the lower heavens back to his heavenly Father. (Earl too identifies the star as the Son: “The ‘star’ no doubt represents God’s emanation the Son . . . ”  – Jesus Neither God Nor Man, p. 304. But he appears not to have recognized the Ascension character of the scene.)

Now the extant record informs us that the Ascension belief of the Apelleans was unacceptable to the proto-orthodox. According to Apelles, Christ rose from the dead in his flesh, but he did not ascend to heaven in it! He set aside the elements out of which he had constructed his real human body and returned to heaven without it

And thus, after again separating the body of flesh from himself, he soared away to the heaven from which he had come. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 44, 2, 7-8)

This scenario was unacceptable, of course, to the proto-orthodox:

And tell me, what was the point of his abandoning it (his body) again after the resurrection, even though he had raised it? … If he raised it to destroy it again, this is surely stage business, and not an honest act… They (the disciples) did not see his remains left anywhere—there was no need for that, and it was not possible. And Apelles and his school of Apelleans are lying. (Panarion, 44, 3, 9 and 44, 5, 10)

I submit that the proto-orthodox interpolator, by inserting Mary’s virginity and childbearing into the Ephesians hymn, aimed to convert the star of an unacceptable Apellean Ascension scene into something bearing at least a slight resemblance to the proto-orthodox star of Bethlehem.

To the same end the interpolator added “as man” at the end of the hymn (“Thus God was manifested [as man] . . .).

It is those  additions that are responsible for the problem Earl calls attention to on page 304 of JNGNM

Some scholars have attempted to see this myth as referring only to God’s “preparation” for the Jesus event on earth, but the effects the ‘star’ brings about have happened — they were “brought to pass” — and they can only have come about as a result of the event already having taken place.


5. The Prisoner’s Gospel

Earl writes:

A single passage in the letters resembles a Gospel scene. In Smyrneans 3, Ignatius offers a “touch me” post-resurrection scene to ‘prove’ that Jesus rose in the flesh of his former body and was not a phantom. But here, too, he does not point to a document as his source, or even to apostolic tradition. Scholars like Schoedel (op.cit., p.225) tend to judge that he is not deriving it from Luke’s similar scene, nor from John’s ‘doubting Thomas’ scene, but either from something of his own or some Christian prophet’s invention, or from a floating oral tradition.

The prisoner’s failure to directly appeal to a written gospel doesn’t particularly bother me for this reason: No one has the least doubt that he knew of written Pauline letters but he doesn’t appeal to those either. We don’t find in the letters: “As Paul says…” or “As is written in 1 Corinthians…” That’s not the prisoner’s style. Instead he here and there mixes words and phrases from the Pauline letters with his own words. And many scholars hold that he has followed the same procedure in his use of his gospel. They see, for instance, the following as inspired by the Fourth Gospel

Yet the Spirit is not deceived since it is from God. For it knows whence it comes and whither it goes, and it exposes the things which are hidden. (IgnPhil. 7:1)

There is no fire within me for material things; but only water living and welling up in me, saying from within me, ‘Come to the Father’ . . . I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ. (IgnRom. 7:2-3)

As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united with him . . . (IgnMag. 7:1)

. . . through Jesus Christ his Son… who in all things was pleasing to him who sent him. (IgnMag. 8:2)

In my series of posts on the Ignatians I give additional reasons to see the Fourth Gospel as a proto-orthodox reworking of the gospel of Apelles, the Manifestations. If the Manifestations was extant, I expect we would recognize many more echoes from it in the Ignatians. It should be kept in mind too that it may still have been a work in progress in the early 140s, based as it was on the ongoing revelations of the prophetess Philumena.  

And because of the above Johannine connection I am not surprised that the prisoner, in his arguments against docetism, doesn’t use Mark’s passion account. Earl writes that

Mark’s passion account alone, with its scene of a tortured Jesus in Gethsemane and the despairing cry from the cross, would have been perfect ammunition against those who were claiming that Jesus did not suffer.

True enough. But the Johannine/Apellean tradition is at times at odds with the Markan one. The time when Christians would accept four gospels and blithely explain away the contradictions between them had not yet arrived. The Johannine Jesus is calm, dignified, majestic and far above the making of despairing cries from the cross. In fact, many scholars think that Jn. 12:27-28 was written expressly to repudiate the Markan Gethsemane scene:

And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.

As I see it, the Johannine/Apellean perspective on the passion is better reflected by passages like IgnEph 15:1.

Now there was one teacher who spoke and it was accomplished. And the deeds which he did in silence are worthy of the Father.

Jesus at one point kept silent before Pilate:

Jesus did not answer him. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’

And on the cross the Johannine Jesus says

It is accomplished.

And I see no reason why the Smyrneans 3 post-resurrection scene could not be from Apelles’ Manifestations gospel. The intent of that scene is to prove that Jesus rose in the flesh of his former body and was not a phantom. Such an anti-docetic intent squares with what is known about Apelles own priorities. As Hippolytus relates: Apelles taught that

Jesus showed them (his disciples) the prints of the nails and the wound in his side, desirous of persuading them that he was in truth no phantom, but was present in the flesh (The Refutation of All Heresies, 7,26).


So, to sum up: Earl’s insightful observations have unquestionably added to our knowledge of the Ignatian letters. But, in my opinion, the curious features he has called attention to are best explained by my Ignatian theory. Of course, on the larger issue of whether the Ignations can be regarded as an independent witness to a historical Jesus, both of our scenarios reach the same conclusion: No!


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16 thoughts on “Debating the Place of the Ignatian Letters in Christian Origins: Doherty & Parvus”

  1. Roger,

    I am always very curious to read all your comments on Vridar.

    I find only one potential error in your view.
    you wrote:

    And then there is the matter of how the crucified Son’s appearance “in the likeness of man” would have been interpreted. How the Jerusalem church understood this expression is nowhere spelled out. But if they held the view that later, in the 130s, was standard in the proto-orthodox community—-namely, that there was nothing unseemly about Christ’s having a human body-—then that too would have earned them Simon’s scorn.

    But then there are only 3 possible cases for the unkown ”gospel of Pillars”:

    1) their Son of God died in sub-lunar realm.

    2) their Son of God died only seemly on heart, same view held by Simon of Samaria and by Ascension of Isaiah

    3) their Son of God was very man and very god on heart from infancy to death.

    Now, if the Pillars held the view (1), then your theory is only a particular variant of Earl Doherty’s : your original change, respect Earl’s view, is only that Simon of Samaria was the first ”instantiater” of god Jesus on heart, though only for few hours (and the orthodox fill entirely the picture on heart).

    If the Pillars held the view (2) this is very improbable and implausible, for the same ”rules of game” that you have outlined, when you wrote:

    I think the Jewish sect to which Simon/“Paul” attached himself was one whose views of Christ he characterized, fourteen years later, as being kata sarka:

    Even though we once regarded Christ kata sarka, we regard him thus no longer (2 Cor. 5:16).

    Finally, if the Pillars held the view (3) your view is the exact, mere repetition of that Eisenman/Maccoby’s : Jesus was entirely historical (probably a zealot) and Paul/Simon Magus was only the eretic infiltrated among essene ranks to sow zizzania and convert ”mephistophelically” the zealot nature of first Christians in a pacific and filo-roman nature more pro-gentile and anti-Torah.

    I think your view’s originality is saved from being a mere repetition of Doherty’s or Maccoby’s view, only if you think the visions of Book of Revelation (essence of which IS the gospel of Pillars) like happening in the future and not in the past: their authors, in other terms, describe what they see NOW on sub-lunar realm (à la Doherty) only what will happen AFTER on heart in the imminent future (Son’s death included)… …and then Simon of Samaria wanted only to advise them saying: ”these facts are already happened in the spiritual realm: the Son is indeed just ascended to high realms after his being crucified for few hours on heart. Your Pillars are mistaken if you still wait Son’s DEATH and resurrection on heart in the next future.”

    I am very curious how do you reply. Thank you, Roger!


    1. Giuseppe,

      I choose number 2. Let me explain:

      I doubt that the original myth (chapters 6-11 of the Ascension of Isaiah?) said anything explicitly about whether the Son’s being “in the likeness of man” entailed flesh or not. And I doubt that issue became an issue until later when Simon began to teach that the material world was the work not of the highest God, but of lower, creator angels whose chief was the Jewish god. Before that, Simon and the pillars were likely on the same page as far as viewing the Son’s brief visit to earth in the same light as, say, the brief visit of the heavenly figures to Abraham and Lot in Genesis. As far as we know, Jews did not understand that episode to mean that the divine figures fully became men or incarnated, either temporarily or permanently.

      Or take the case of the archangel Raphael who in human guise visits Tobit. The archangel says, “I seemed indeed to eat and drink with you, but I use an invisible meat and drink which cannot be seen by man” (Tobit 12:19). Isn’t this really the same kind of thing Simon claimed regarding the Son of God: “Among men he appeared as a man, though he was not a man. And he seemed to suffer in Judaea, though he did not suffer” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 23, 3). So I think that anyone’s opinion regarding the nature of these appearances-—including denial that these figures had become fully human–would have been considered quite acceptable to Jews as long as it did not clash with any inviolable beliefs of theirs.

      My guess, in fact, is that the original belief of the pillars regarding the Son and his crucifixion on earth was—-strangely enough-—what would later be labelled “docetic”. And that they only began to insist on a “real flesh” Son later, as a way to counter Simon/Paul’s disparagement of the material world. The Son’s assumption of flesh, they believed, could be used to confirm that the bodies the Jewish god created for men were fundamentally good.

      What then did I mean by saying that “the Jewish sect to which Simon/“Paul” attached himself was one whose views of Christ he characterized, fourteen years later, as being kata sarka.” As I explained in my comment, I think the church of the pillars may have understood the vision of the crucified Son of God in a messianic and apocalyptic sense. That is to say, they viewed the Father in the Ascension to be the God of the Jews, and the tricking of the princes of this world was seen by them as the beginning of the final victory of the Jews over their enemies. It was the sign that the reign of Christ on earth was imminent. Perhaps too the fact that that it was some kind of zealot that the Son chose to switch places with was viewed by them as another indication of his approval of that cause.

      And I think that Simon/”Paul”, when he first came to believe in the vision of Isaiah, embraced it in that earthy messianic sense too. But at some point that changed: “Even though we once regarded Christ kata sarka, we regard him thus no longer” (2 Cor. 5:16). Given his growing disdain for the material world, it was almost inevitable that it would come to affect his estimation of the Jewish god who Scripture says created it. And so he came to identify the Father in the vision of Isaiah as a God who was higher than the God of the Jews. And the Jewish god as one of the spiritual princes of this world that the Son fooled by his trick. Simon’s Son of God was not interested in setting up something so mundane as a reign on earth. His Son had in view something far better, along the lines of Simon’s original pre-Christian Apophasis Megale. Instead of retaining a messianic kata sarka view of the Son, Simon/”Paul” meshed him with his earlier much more spiritual system.

      (I’m sorry but I don’t have time right now to respond to the other comments you posted today. I will try to find time in the next day or two).

  2. Is problematic, even counterproductive for mythicism, the very ”dangerous” idea – held by Eisenman/Maccoby – about a dramatic ”mortal” contrast Paul/Simon Magus versus James/Pillars even on basic themes. The risk is everywhere sow doubt in what ‘Paul’ says:

    The rethorical thrust of Paul’s self-defence in Galatians suggests that the pillars approved the very kind of teaching contained in Paul’s authentic letters. Admittedly, we do not possess a source for the viewpoint of those pillars, but my assertion is not to be dismissed as an argument from silence; rather, it is an argument from the plain sense of the text. Paul fully expects his opponents to concede this one point, if nothing else, for otherwise there is no value for his narrative at all.
    (Kurt L. Noll, Investigating Earliest Christianity without Jesus, in Is This Not The Carpenter?, p. 251, emphasis added)

    …then at least there must be something in common between the view of Paul and the view of the Pillars (i.e. the essence of what will become the Book of Revelation).

    Roger suspects – rightly, like Maccoby, like Eisenman – that Simon had no sympathy for the zealot.

    I suspect that the Son of God had no real sympathy for the zealot cause but—-in order to trick the powers that be into killing Him—-He descended one day and surreptitiously switched places with a zealot who was being led away for crucifixion. Like Paul, we should not blame the Romans for that deed. They were just doing what they were supposed to be doing: punishing apparent evildoers. Mere humans cannot be expected to see through the disguise of the Son of God.

    (taken from http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4090/comment-page-1#comment-48148 )

    But if on the contrary the Pillars had sympathy for the zealots (and essenes?) – in virtue of the common expectation of a future Jerusalem kata sarka – then it would have been more logical for them to raise – from a theological perspective – the ‘divinity status’ of the anonymous, failed Messiah in which the Son incarnated to deceive the archonts, contrary to Simon, and probably not only for few hours.

    Exists the concrete possibility that what for Simon was a mere exterior wrapping of flesh, for the Pillars was the historical Jesus about to be covered by the myth, even if to do this succesfully were not the Pillars, but later the orthodox ?

    This is pure storicity, or not? What is different this conclusion from what basically says Eisenman or Maccoby?
    Why the Pillars would not have had in mind a historical Jesus, as opposed to Docetic Christ of Simon?

    Thank you in advance for your reply, Roger.


  3. While waiting for a response from Roger Parvus, I want to congratulate him for having discovered that the opponents of Paul in Corinth had as a personal manifesto the book of Revelation.

    The fathers of these Corinthians (opponents of Paul) were probably the 6000 Jews captured by Vespasian and used by Nero for the excavation of the Isthmus of Corinth, as we teach Josephus and Suetonius.

    Among such people, it was natural that there were anti-Roman feelings, as well expressed in the book of Revelation.

    It could serve the cause
    “Paul = Simon the Sorcerer = antichrist”
    the fact that the number of
    “beast rising from the earth” (Book of Revelation)
    indeed may be the 616
    (in Greek is XIC)
    and not the 666 currently reported in the Gospels?

    Because if it were 616
    by gematria
    it may correspond to the Holy Spirit,
    called paraklhtoj
    In fact we have:
    p (80) a (1) r (100) (1) k (20) l (30) h (8) t (300) or (70) j (6)

    But if it were the Holy Spirit,
    this would also be one of the nicknames
    with whom Simon Magus called himself.

    Irenaeus knew the number 616 and raging said it was practically heresy
    going to consider this 616 (and that you had to consider only the 666).

    And Irenaeus was even before the papyrus


    In the third line of the fragment reads exactly the letters XIC that Irenaeus wanted to recant. Now we know why he did it, confirming his reputation as a liar. He, who perhaps wrote in the second century and then close the work of John, knowing that he could not name which hid those figures, and are therefore attributed to him the first attempts to hide even changing the original text of the Apocalypse, that the number of the Antichrist was 616.

    I should not wonder if Roger Parvus is already aware of these things (that the Antichrist was Simon Magus!).

    1. The gematria for paraclete is interesting but I think it more likely that the 666 is a cryptic reference to the first beast, not the second. The text is not as clear as we could wish, but to me it still seems to indicate that the second beast serves the first beast and gets the people to have the number of the first beast stamped on them. And the identification of that first beast as Nero is quite plausible. This explanation can also account for the additional “50” inasmuch as Nero’s name was sometimes spelled with a final “n.”

      But I am inclined to agree with you that the second beast is Simon of Samaria. The author of the beastly vision was apparently convinced that the deceiving Simon would shortly put himself at the service of Nero when that emperor returned to life and claimed his throne. I’m not sure who the first scholar was to propose the identification of the second beast as Simon, but I know Alfred Loisy does so in his commentary on the book of Revelation. (If that identification is correct, by the way, it would seem to indicate that Simon/Paul was still alive after Nero’s death).

      And I think too that “the man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is Simon. My view is that the letter was forged in imitation of 1 Thessalonians by a proto-orthodox Christian who appreciated the humor of making “Paul” condemn his alter ego.

  4. That is to say, they viewed the Father in the Ascension to be the God of the Jews, and the tricking of the princes of this world was seen by them as the beginning of the final victory of the Jews over their enemies.

    I understand. The key of question (i.e., the apple of discord thrown by Simon) is realize WHO was the Father in the Ascension, if the God of the Jews or the Deus Alienus, and NON the ontological status (docetic or real) of Son’appearance on heart.

    It makes sense and resolve the other previous questions, too.

    But remains a little problem.

    Some of those visions/revelations held from both Simon and the Pillars (before the clash), later found a home in the book of Revelation.

    You say in the previous post :

    And that they [the Pillars followers] only began to insist on a “real flesh” Son later, as a way to counter Simon/Paul’s disparagement of the material world. The Son’s assumption of flesh, they believed, could be used to confirm that the bodies the Jewish god created for men were fundamentally good.

    How do you explain that in the Book of Revelation there are no clues — contrary to the Epistle to Hebrews (which is perfectly consistent with your view, for me) — of an emphasis, contra Simon, about the Son’s assumption of flesh ?

    In the Book of Revelation there is clearly the total aversion against those ”that say to be Jews, but aren’t Jews” (i.e. the Paulines of Simon) but the Son is born from woman only in a celestial realm (à la Doherty) : perhaps I am mistaken, but Revelation is lacking the Son’s ”storicity” as remedy and cure to eresy of Simon.

    The total storicity of Son seems to be an later invention (anti-Simon) exclusively by orthodox filo-romans (not by circles around the book of Revelation, that are fiercely against Roma).

    What do you think about this?

    P.S. Do you intend to write a future book, Roger, about your views? I can’t wait to read it!

    best whises from Italy,


    1. Giuseppe from Italy,

      Yes, I should have said that the insistence on “real flesh” as part of a response to Simonianism was the idea of the proto-orthodox around 130 CE. And although the proto-orthodox had knowledge of the conflict between the pillars’ community and Simon/Paul, they had no physical continuity with that community which had perished in the 66 – 70 CE war with Rome.

      I see the founders of proto-orthodoxy as Jewish proselytes or Gentile God-fearers. And I think that prior to their decision around 130 CE to co-opt Simonian Christianity, their beliefs were largely a blend of Platonism and Judaism. I would describe their original religion with the words Earl Doherty used to portray the religion of the 2nd century apologists:

      What was this ‘Christian philosophy’ as presented by the apologists? There is no question it had roots in Judaism. It preached the monotheistic worship of the Jewish God, a God presented as much superior to those of the pagans. For information about this God it looked to the Hebrew scriptures. It placed a great value on a mode of life founded on Jewish ethics—again something presented as superior to the ethical philosophy of the pagans. At the same time, it derived from Platonism the concept of a Son of God, a ‘second God’ or Logos (Word), a divine force active in the world and serving as an intermediary between God and humanity. In the 2nd century even more so than in the first, this idea of the Logos was floating in the air of most Greek philosophies as well as Hellenistic Judasim. For the apologists, this Logos was the emanation of the Jewish God, his “Son.”

      Thus the religion of the apologists has been styled “Platonic-biblical” or “religious Platonism with a Judaistic cast,” although it was in the process of wresting away from those Jews the ancient promises of their God and even their own scriptures. It would seem to have grown out of the mixed pagan and Jewish Diaspora circles which had immersed themselves in Greek philosophy. (Jesus Neither God Nor Man, p. 476).

      It was some of these people, I maintain, who turned their attention to Simonianism around 130 CE. They found offensive its attack on the Jewish God and the world he created. They decided to produce a version of it that restored this God and his world to their rightful places. The Epistle to the Hebrews may have been their first writing to attempt that restoration. But other more substantial efforts followed, especially a reworking of a collection of Simonian letters. In their hands those letters became the Paulines. And by reworking the Simonian gospel (urMark)—-including ample use of sayings by and about Simon’s original opponents (John the Baptist and James)—-they created GMatthew and GLuke.

      So, as I see it, Simonian Christianity’s first conflict was with James and the community of the pillars in the first century. Its second conflict was with 2nd century proto-orthodoxy. It won the first but ultimately lost the second.

      p.s. – No plans for a book any time soon

  5. p.s. – No plans for a book any time soon
    Oh, I’m sorry 🙂

    From what I have understand, Roger, your view is mythicist at all, because to move the first apostles to remember about the crucifixion on heart of an apparent failed zealot, was not the past of this zealot or the will of revenge by his followers, but only and exclusively the conferm, by celestial revelation at present time, of the ancestral prophecy in the Ascension of Isaiah. The outer wrapping of god Jesus (i.e., the zealot) must be useful only to hide the god behind man from the view of evil archonts and their correspondent humans: was the god Jesus to be crucified in the matter, not the zealot.

    I can talk of ”historicity” only if I would see some causal link beetwen that failed zealot and the later Myth, but it is not clearly your case, where is the original Myth/prophecy about to be interpreted (by a new fondative Myth), and NOT the zealot (which part, in the original, theological drama, was passive at all).

    The causal link (prophecy of Son of God —->Jesus, the failed messiah —-> Myth of Christ) was total orthodox invention/addition.

    last indiscreet question, though has nothing to do with the historical-critical method. Can I ask you whether you are a believer or non-believer? I confess to be personally curious, but not to expose alleged agendas behind the mhyticist, as some christian apologists -with Bart Erhman – would like to think.

    That’s all, Roger. Very Thanks!


  6. your original vision seems for me to require more ad hoc hypotheses than that of Doherty : however, it explains some latent sectarian conflicts between the lines (and especially the very strange zigzag of ”Paul”) in a manner that Doherty does not, peraphs for the sake of discussion with the apologists.

    Mythicist yes, believer no.
    this is very obvious (Brodie apart), but are you atheist, agnostic, deist or pantheist (though this is apart from any historical method)?

    best regards,

    1. I agree with your assessment. Neil once asked me what I considered the weakest elements in my Simonian theory. My answer is in the comments section of the 9-5-2011 post: “Creativity with the Name of Jesus the Healer in the Gospel of Mark.” But despite its weaknesses, I think my theory still explains better than any other the polemics that characterized Christianity from the beginning and many anomalies in the early record.

      To your other question: I lean towards pantheism but without much conviction.

  7. Very thanks for that link: I didn’t read it.

    I see that in your case too (as that Doherty’s), even if a different, best explanation will be given about the genesis of Gospels – but I doubt – or even if you will not prove definitely the existence of an original ‘docetic’ Son in the early myth – however you will have good grounds to think impossible that ”Paul” did know an historical Jesus: however the Jesus Myth will be more probable than historicity.

    Always happy to read your future posts and comments on Vridar (and specially your next book, when ready), Roger, Thanks!

  8. Fun to read again:

    “How Ignatius Cut Christianity Off From its Jewish Roots”
    …which takes you to:

    “Debating the Place of the Ignatian Letters in Christian Origins: Doherty & Parvus”

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