Mark’s (Unclean) Bartimaeus and Plato’s (Honoured) Timaeus

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by Neil Godfrey

English: Close-up of Eric Gill relief, Moorfie...
English: Close-up of Eric Gill relief, Moorfields Eye Hospital The words here,’Domine, ut videam’ (Lord, that I may see!), comprised the answer, according to the Gospel of Mark, to Jesus’s question to the blind beggar Bartimaeus who called out to him in Jericho. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always been shy of accepting the argument one sometimes reads that the blind Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark came by his unusual name (along with the unusual manner of its explanation) from the influence of Plato’s Timaeus.

But a passage in Earle Hilgert’s chapter, “The Son of Timaeus: Blindness, Sight, Ascent, Vision in Mark”, in Reimagining Christian Origins has for the first time opened my mind to the possibility that Plato’s famous work could be behind the name after all. (I’m not saying I am sure it is. Only that I am more open to the possibility.)

After discussing the usual things I have read before in favour of the connection — that Plato’s Timaeus includes a lot of discussion about eyesight and its ability to lead us through observation of those mysterious moving lights seen above the world to come to know the great Eternal Truths of God — Hilgert writes this:

Runia has identified some dozen passages in Philo which are clearly influenced by this encomium, not to speak of its broader impact on Hellenistic thought. Of the Timaeus as a whole, he declares,

Its influence inevitably filtered down to men of letters and even those who had received only a smattering of learning. Indeed the Timaeus was the only Greek prose work that up to the third century A.D. every educated man could be presumed to have read.

In view of such widespread conversance in the Hellenistic world with the Timaeus and with its praise of eyesight, we should not be surprised if Mark reflects acquaintance with it. (pp. 190-191)

Now I’ve been trapped. I have been catching up with some background reading to Hilgert’s chapter — Burton Mack’s 1972 Studia Philonica article and chapters by Hilgert, Mack and others in The School of Moses: Studies in Philo and Hellenistic Religion — with a particular interest in the question of any direct or indirect relationship between what we read by Philo and in the Gospel of Mark. I had not till now fully appreciated the extent of the influence of the Timaeus apparently even in the time of the Gospel’s composition. I would like to track down the evidence on which Runia’s Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus. Hopefully the Google preview will give me enough detail to satisfy my curiosity.

A multilingual pun

Another detail Hilgert goes on to mention is something I know I must have read in Burton Mack’s Myth of Innocence some years ago but had unfortunately forgotten:

Scholars have for long puzzled over this seemingly strange name, half Aramaic and half Greek, a name which only Mark offers in telling the story of this healing. Since Gustav Volkmar over a century ago, a number of commentators have seen the name as meaning “son of the unclean,” either from the Aramaic br tm’ or Hebrew br tm’. Mack accepts this meaning as one of the “delightfully mystifying wordplays” characteristic of Mark’s Aramaisms. He points out also that since in Greek timaous means “honored,” huious timaiou could also be understood by an insightful reader as “son of the most honored.” This would convey a subtle message that the man who from the standpoint of his native context was considered unclean, from Mark’s and the reader’s perspective was really to be honoured. (p. 191)

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...
Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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27 thoughts on “Mark’s (Unclean) Bartimaeus and Plato’s (Honoured) Timaeus”

  1. Good one. NIV gives Mark 10:46 as “Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.”

    This is another one to chalk up as an esoteric cosmic reference in the Gospels, like the 153 fish of John 21:11 with its hint of Archimedes’ calculation of 265/153 as the square root of three, the proportion that forms the Christian Ichthys fish.

    Timaeus provides the source for the Christian Chi Rho Cross, a symbol also seen in the Mithraic precessional statue of Aion standing on top of a globe marked by the X. Plato in Timaeus 36 b6 said this X represented the same and the different, explaining that the same is the unchanging circle of the galaxy, and the different is the changing circle of the zodiac. He explains the great year of precession of the equinox as a “period of wonderful length and complexity not observed by men in general; a cycle or perfect year …To this end the stars came into being, that the created heaven might imitate the eternal nature.”

    Neil quotes Runia as saying “the Timaeus was the only Greek prose work that up to the third century A.D. every educated man could be presumed to have read.” We are therefore invited to ask how the Platonic context meant the formative esoteric theology of proto-Christianity saw the stars as imitating the nature of God. The symbolism in the name ‘Son of Timaeus’ used by Mark may be that Greek philosophy understood the Christ as cosmic symbol, but the Gospels present Christ as a historical man, incarnate in the world, that Mark was critiquing the mythicist cosmic sources as blind, and in need of a simple healing faith in Jesus.

  2. So is Greco-Roman culture being presented as “blind,” or as savior, in the NT, by Jesus? The text is rather ambivalent.

    Ironically, since the name “Timothy” was a quite Greco-Roman name (like Mark itself)? Then the salvation that would be offered might be either of two things. either 1) salvation from the Jews, to Greco-Romans, by a good Jewish Jesus. Though on the other hand? The 2) story of blind persons being healed, seems to have come in part from the Greeks, Plato, themselves; stories of “Timothy” and “Mark.” So that? It in effect might be said, conversely, that Christianity was highly Hellenistic – and even offers Hellenistic culture as the salvation of the Jews.

    Plato’s Timaeus in fact, presented to everyone in the ANE one of the clearest formulations of Plato’s central theory: which is called the Theory of Forms. The idea – found in Paul – that things here on earth, are just imperfect, perishable “copies” of the ideal, immortal forms in the “heavens.” Found in Tim.27.d-29.b, 37.c-d -38.b ff. Timaeus was an early Greek astronomer; and typically the idea forms or “models” as Paul said,in Heaven, were thought to be expressed prominently in the stars, their movements and organizations.

    So who was Bar-Timaeus, and what did he symbolize, in terms of cross-cultural interchange? He may have symbolized a Greek half-breed say; unclean to conservative Jews. But? He may also have symbolized Plato’s theory of forms; which was sometimes expressed in the allegory of a dark cave; the idea being that we live in the dark, as in a cave, seeing only “shadows” of real reality, outside the cave, in the light of day. In that sense, we are partially “blind.” While the Greeks like Plato, wanted to guide to to the “light.” To seeing the ideal forms, the ultimate realities behind superficial appearances. Deeper, immortal realities which were expressed perhaps in part, in math and astronomy. Two of Plato’s favorite sciences.l

    So did the NT borrow from the Greeks and Romans – and Plato? This particular example is not entirely clear. But in the NT in general, Jesus’ relationship to gentiles, goyem, is at least ambivalent. At times the NT seems to call Gentiles “dogs,” and “unclean,” oppressors who eat pork. Other times, Jesus congratuated the Roman centurion – and Bart – on their “faith.” And allowed them to regain sight. Either 1) himself saving, or allowing Greeks to be saved; while very indirecly 2) using Greek, even Platonic models, to do so. As it might seem here; but even more in Paul’s allusions to things here on earth being mere im”perfect” “copies” of the ideal “forms” or “models” in “heaven.”

    Paul we might expect to be quite Hellenized. But what about Jesus “himself,” as he was pictured in the texts? Specifically Jesus’ relation to the also at least half-goyem Samaritans was likewise, at least ambivalent. Jesus at times instructing his followers not to enter Samaritan tows. But himself taking water from a Smaritan woman. And then allowing that a Good Samaritan, could be a better neighbor, than a Jewish rabbi or a priest.

    THe character of “Jesus” was therefore pictured as … allowing that some considerable good could exist in Greco-Roman culture; even more than in even jewish priests and rabbis, in fact.

    So? Clearly from these few examples – and a hundred others – the text of the NT, Jesus “himself,” allows for considerable hellenistic, Greco-Roman influence in Christianity.

  3. By the way? A far, far more effective NT text, showing very, very clear references from Plato’s Theory of Forms – even describing and advocating the theory, using its key language and concepts – is Heb. 8.5 – 9; 9.23-24 -10.1. Paul telling us that Jewish priests offer only a “shadow” or “copy” of the ideal form in Heaven.

    The only change is that now the ideal form in heaven, is not the movement of the stars, say, or the Greek gods; but Jesus in heaven. Though rejecting, note, Jewish priests and their laws, their mere shadows of the truth. Paul rejecting Jewish culture – here at least – for Platonism.

  4. Careful about Hilgert’s assertion that Plato “praises eyesight.” Many (like say, Jowett’s intro to Timmy), make the opposite assertion: that Plato thought that many visible material things here on earth were just im”perfect” “imitations” of the invisible ideas or forms, known only to the intellect. What we see here is often just “shadows” of the truer, fuller realities.

    Socrates somewhere regards even science, looking at rocks and trees, to be inferior to sitting down and thinking, discovering the models of the mind or “intellect.”

  5. Neil?

    Often your first instincts are pretty good. So be careful about overruling them.

    I’ve noted in two of your more detailed explorations – here, 1) Bar-Tim, and earlier, 2) following N. on the mistaken rabbi – you’ve been exploring some obscure scholarly ideas. Where – as you yourself noted – you had some initial hesitations about the thesis they presented. And in these two cases? I think your first instincts were correct; and were better than the later scholarship.

    When confronting strange new ideas, its always a tossup between 1) going with your first instincts, which may be negative; vs. 2) giving new ideas an honest hearing.

    In the two recent cases cited here? I’d say Neil’s first instincts were better than the scholarship you were entertaining.

    So? Without becoming arrogant … maybe its time to have a little more confidence in yourself….

    Though perhaps you were enjoying the potentially self-critical aspects?

  6. Runia’s observation that “Indeed the Timaeus was the only Greek prose work that up to the third century A.D. every educated man could be presumed to have read” is interesting. Given that prominence, I submit the following interpretation of the Bartimaeus episode:

    It is an allegorical portrayal of the blindness of Greek philosophy in comparison to the insight that the teaching of the Jesus figure confers. The son of Timaeus figuratively stands for Greek philosophy. The cloak he casts aside is the philosopher’s cloak. His eyes that lack sight are not his physical eyes, for Bartimaeus is able to spring up and go to Jesus without assistance. (Luke realizes the problem and changes this so that the blind man is “brought” to Jesus). No, the beggar’s request not for money or food, but “that I may receive sight” (Mk. 10:51) should be taken as the philosopher’s desire for perception of ultimate realities: “We must be free from the body and must behold the actual realities with the eye of the soul alone” (Plato’s Phaedo).

    And it may be that the choice of location for the episode—-Jericho—-is intended as an allegorical stand-in for Hades. That is to say, we may have here another allegory about the Son of God’s descent to hell to empty it of the righteous souls there. Jericho was famous for the strong walls it once had. It may function as the Markan author’s equivalent of the “prison” in 1 Peter 3:19. For the Bartimaeus episode has Jesus approach Jericho with just his disciples but then, curiously, it immediately switches to his departure from the city with a great crowd:

    And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside (Mk. 10:46)

    And the addressing of Jesus as “Son of David” by Bartimaeus would fit such a harrowing-of-hell scenario. It is the only place in Mark where that form of address is used. If the Son of God was coming to “Jericho” fresh from his crucifixion as “the King of the Jews”, it would be understandable if some of its inhabitants initially mistook him as the Jewish messiah, a Son of David.

    That some Greek philosophers would be numbered among the righteous and saved should not cause surprise. Christianity was initially quite kind to people like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Only toward the end of the second century did it start to trash them as worthless. Before that, their thirst for knowledge was viewed as admirable. And Christian apologists were willing to concede that some Greek philosophers had glimpsed elements of the truth and were even followers of the Word. Thus, for example, from Justin’s First Apologia:

    If, therefore, on some points we teach the same things as the poets and philosophers whom you honor, and on other points are fuller and more divine in our teaching, and if we alone afford proof of what we assert, why are we unjustly hated more than all others? For while we say that all things have been produced and arranged into a world by God, we shall seem to utter the doctrine of Plato. And while we say that there will be a burning up of all, we shall seem to utter the doctrine of the Stoics. And while we affirm that the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence, we shall seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers…(20)

    We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that he is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived with reason (or “the Word”) are Christians even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them…” (46)

    And that you may learn that it was from our teachers—we mean the account given through the prophets—that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world… And the physiological discussion concerning the Son of God in the Timaeus of Plato, where he says, “He placed him crosswise in the universe,” he borrowed in like manner from Moses…(59, 60)

    And from Justin’s Second Apologia:

    And I confess that I both boast and with all my strength strive to be found a Christian, not because the teachings of Plato are different from the teachings of Christ, but because they are not in all respects similar, as neither are those of the others, stoics, and poets, and historians. For each man spoke well in proportion to the Word disseminated among men, seeing what was related to it… Whatever things are rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians… For all the writers were able to see realities darkly through the sowing of the implanted Word that was in them. (13)

    Last, I would note that the above Bartimaeus scenario is also compatible with my theory that UrMark was a Simonian allegory. For Simon not only viewed some passages from the writings of the Greek poets as possessing a kind of divine authority, he also did not hesitate to borrow a number of elements of his system from Greek philosophy. Hippolytus, in his description of Simon’s system, rightly notes that

    This is what Aristotle calls “in potentiality” and “in actuality,” and Plato the “intelligible and “sensible.” (The Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 9)

    But although Paul/Simon was “a debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians” (Rom. 1:14), he would have had a big problem with the Timaeus’ teaching about the fabrication of the visible world. In contrast to Plato, Simon would have attributed the subpar status of the sensible world to its being made by ignorant, inferior angels. And that may be one of the reasons the son of Timaeus is portrayed as blind.

    1. I’m inclined to change one part of my above Bartimaeus scenario. I still suspect the episode is a harrowing of hell allegory. Jesus enters Jericho only to immediately leave it with a great crowd of people. And unless the choice of Jericho was just random, it seems plausible that it was chosen for its legendary association with strong walls. Because of that, it can function as an allegorical stand-in for Virgil’s “triple-walled” Tartarus [Aeneid, 6, 549]. I continue, then, to view the Bartimaeus episode much like that of the Gadarene demoniac [See Vridar post with title “Jesus’ Journey into Hell and Back”]. And it may have been because Matthew recognized both episodes as pertaining to the underworld that he changed the beneficiary in each into a double figure. The doubling may be intended to convey the body-soul split that was believed to occur at death.

      But I am now wondering if, instead of blind Bartimaeus being a stand-in for Greek philosophy in general, he represents specifically the most unpopular of the Greek philosophers: Epicurus.

      My thinking is this:

      In Marcion’s version of the harrowing of hell, it was not the righteous but those viewed as the most irreligious who received Christ and benefitted from his descent to Hades:

      Cain and those like him, and the Sodomites, and the Egyptians and those like them, and people who had walked in great wickedness. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 27, 30)

      If, as I hold, gMark was Simonian and written in the mid-130s, it would be contemporaneous with the so-called Marcionite idea of a get-out-of-Hades-free card that had been offered to walkers in great wickedness. I say “the so-called Marcionite idea” of a get-out-of-Hade-free card because it may go back earlier than Marcion. The extant record says that when he came to Rome he fell under the influence of a Simonian named Cerdo. So the exodus of the irreligious from hell could be something that Marcion did not invent himself; he may have picked it up from Cerdo.

      Application of the wicked-reputation criterion to ancient philosophers would result in Epicurus winning first prize hands down. Although he first studied Platonism for four years (under Pamphilus), he ultimately rejected it and developed a new philosophy that came to be widely (though wrongly) viewed as impious and hedonistic. It slowly but surely earned him the scorn of almost all believers in god(s) whether pagan or Jew. Even as the Roman world was invaded with wave after wave of the Oriental mysteries and superstitions, the disrepute of Epicurus continued to hold steady. And Jewish disdain for him continued unabated, apparently even making it into the Mishnah itself: the “epikoros” who are said by the Mishnah to be excluded from the world to come are held by many to be epicureans.

      In the Jericho episode the unpopularity of Epicurus could be reflected in the crowd’s lack of sympathy for the son of Timaeus. They tell him to shut up: “And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent” (Mk. 10:48). And his portrayal as a blind man may reflect a common insult of Epicurus among second-century believers. For sure, Lucian says that when the mid-second century Alexander of Abonoteichus emitted an oracle commanding that the writings of Epicurus be burned, he called the author of them blind:

      Hear my command: To the flames with the thoughts of the blind old man (Epicurus) — Alexander the Quack Prophet, 47

      But I have not yet researched whether there are other writings from the same time period that denigrate Epicurus as “blind.” If any Vridar readers know of any and would like to save me some time, please comment back with the particulars.

  7. There’s one other allegory that can be tied to Bar-Timaeus. The Cave Allegory of Plato can liken the blind man to the people who stay in the cave…so being healed by Jesus is likened to opening his eyes to what’s outside the cave. Of course, with some concern that the Gnostics may have been the first ever Christians, contrary to what Rome tells us…then Mark adding in a clear allusion to Plato is interesting.

    1. Agreed. “Unfortunately” for this argument, however, the links with Hellenistic philosophical metaphors seem to be there in the background rather than explicitly identifiable through textual or literary analysis. If the methods of dating the canonical gospels were consistent with the way other ancient documents were dated — that is, not tendentiously and routinely dated to the earliest possible point as if this were the only option — then I am sure we would see opened a whole new discussion about the relationship of so-called gnostic ideas with those found in the canonical literature.

  8. Jesus enters Jericho only to immediately leave it with a great crowd of people. And unless the choice of Jericho was just random, it seems plausible that it was chosen for its legendary association with strong walls.

    Roger, not consider the possibility that Secret Mark explains the mention of Jericho (apparently useless)?
    For example, so does Roger Viklund:

    Now, what is the point of mentioning that Jesus came to Jericho if immediately afterwards he leaves the town without having done anything? But according to Clement after the sentence “They came to Jericho” Secret Mark has:

    “And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them.”

    Only with this additional information does Mark 10:46 make sense

    (source: http://user.tninet.se/~npt994z/jesuscharacter.htm )

    1. As I explained in my above comment, I am proposing that Jericho whose walls failed to keep Joshua out is an allegorical stand-in for Tartarus whose walls failed to keep the Son of God out. If this is correct, the entry of Jesus into Jericho followed by his immediate departure from it with a large number of its people is no longer puzzling, for the Son went to the underworld for no other reason than to lead its inhabitants out of that place.

      And, as you know, my preferred explanation for the origin of the Christian gospel is that the original kernel was the Ascension of Isaiah or something very much like it and that GMark was an allegorical and “Simonized” development of that kernel. Now, the Ascension (in its Latin and Slavonic versions at 9: 15-17)) has the Son descending into Hades to plunder it, so I myself would not be surprised to find allegorical portrayals of that incident in GMark.

      Regarding the letter of Clement to Theodore: I still have considerable doubt about its authenticity. But even assuming the authenticity of letter, I don’t see that it follows that Secret Mark was earlier than GMark. The letter itself says that Secret Mark was made by the evangelist *subsequent* to the composition of his gospel. That is to say, apparently neither Clement nor the Carpocratians ever claimed Secret Mark was earlier than GMark. It allegedly included explanations the evangelist later added “to his former book.” So, in that sense, Secret Mark would be little different from GMatthew and GLuke. These latter two can be considered proto-orthodox spins of GMark; Secret Mark was a particular gnostic spin of it.

      That said, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that canonical GMark was the earliest gospel to have a Jesus with a public ministry. That distinction I would award to a Simonian GMark (urMark). I think that just as the proto-orthodox authors of GMatthew and GLuke modified the character of the urMark’s Jesus figure by using material from and about John the Baptist and James, so likewise did the proto-orthodox redactor of canonical GMark. Similar procedure but nowhere near as extensive.

      1. Jericho whose walls failed to keep Joshua out is an allegorical stand-in for Tartarus whose walls failed to keep the Son of God out. If this is correct, the entry of Jesus into Jericho followed by his immediate departure from it with a large number of its people is no longer puzzling, for the Son went to the underworld for no other reason than to lead its inhabitants out of that place.

        while it is highly suggestive the hypothesis UrMark=allegoria (and reinforced by the fact that the midrash is present in that case too, and is not perhaps weakened by the subtle anti-Jewish parody by simonians), I am however convinced that if the first gospel were – of force majeure – to assign to Orthodox pen does not weaken – and does not change basically – your basic thesis (Paul = Simon of Samaria) on the letters. I want to understand – beyond the various hypotheses and their different degree of probability – if it can be demonstrated that at least one canonical Gospel – among the Synoptics – clearly contains a polemical response to Paul (or followers) that manifests a dramatic, latent, even mortal, sectarian conflict (and not only mere overriding of one Jesus with another). My suspect is that Matthew seems that who hates most of all his (pauline) enemies.


  9. Another view that does add coherent meaning to the Jericho reference within the parameters of the evidence we have (the Gospel and its known Jewish Scriptural sources) is that Jericho marks the natural point of entry to the “Promised Land” — or the land where Jesus is to fulfill his mission and enter/enable the entry of his followers into the Kingdom of God. Recently I posted some highlights from Rikki Watt’s book on Mark as a “New Exodus” making this point through literary analysis.

    The entry to Jericho forms a natural bracket to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus as a fulfillment of the first Exodus. We have all the midrashic typology thrust at us within just a few verses of the opening of the Gospel. After Jericho everything moves swiftly to his “exodus” from this word into the Kingdom.

    There are authenticity clouds hanging over Secret Mark. I have not seen a clear refutation of Stephen Carlson’s arguments that Morton Smith forged the document. (I am sure I have not read everything so I am open to being informed of good rebuttals.)

    The analysis of Rikki Watts to me, at least, made the first sense of the Jericho reference that I have encountered.

  10. Jericho marks the natural point of entry to the “Promised Land” — or the land where Jesus is to fulfill his mission and enter/enable the entry of his followers into the Kingdom of God.
    Beautiful interpretation, with the gift of synthesis.

    Sid Martin also, in his next book, sees Jesus as the personification of Joshua when he begins to preach in his promised land: the basic reason why I tend to forgive him for references too bold (because out of the Jewish context), at least judging from the preview of his book (for example, Golgotha=Capitol hill).
    So Carrier :

    Neil, would you admit the presence of elements that betray latent, sectarian conflicts in the Gospels (for example, anti-pauline elements), together with the harmonic (seemly pacific) construction of the midrash ?

    For example, Doherty says that the gospels are the natural syncretism of two distinct traditions. But the syncretism is not always pacific and harmonic, though natural, and that (hypothetical) conflict that we see in it could manifest itself, sooner or later, and not be labeled simply as ‘conspiracy’ (of us moderns)? Beyond the question of historicity of Jesus…


    1. The Jericho interpretation by Rikki Watts is made within the context of many other details in the literary whole that lend it coherence. Same with T. E. Schmidt’s arguments about Golgotha and Rome’s Capitol Hill. I first saw this allusion in the scholarly literature (see also Tarizi. Presumably Atwill and others are borrowing from the scholarly literature? Peppard further argues that the cry of the soldier at the foot of the cross is another reference to the inauguration of a Roman emperor. What lends further credibility to the claim is that Mark’s Gospel is chock full of such puns and Mark explicitly has Jesus say these are mysteries. Most of the place names and personal names have a theological pun or theological or midrashic reference, from John the Baptist right through to the young man sitting in the tomb. The fish are symbolic, so are the baskets full of food scraps, so is the time in the wilderness; so is the rock-hewn tomb. Jesus acts out the words and power of God himself. Matthew and Luke undo much of Mark’s symbolism and attempt to write a different midrash and in places a more natural (not symbolic) history.

      As for Mark being an amalgam of two Jesus cults, represented by Paul and Q, I don’t know. Burton Mack explores and argues that thesis in depth. Theodore Weeden argued that Mark was a polemic against the Christianity represented by the Twelve.

      But the more I explore the literary sources and related theological meanings of Mark the less room I see for some of these hypotheses. Watts, for example, is able to identify a very cogent explanation for Mark’s portrayal of the disciples as blind till the end from a source that he can explicitly and directly identify as one used by the evangelist. That is surely a stronger argument than a hypothetical opposition to a branch of Christianity identified with the Twelve.

  11. From Neil’s post about strong links Isaiah-Mark found by Watts:

    But notice another striking synchronicity:

    Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    Isaiah 53:11 (LXX) The Lord also is pleased to take away from the travail of his soul, to shew him light, and to form [him] with understanding; to justify the just one who serves many well; and he shall bear their sins.

    This is very striking! It removes, to my modest opinion, the necessity to see in that ”ransom for many” a gnostic/marcionite motive (contra R. Price) to privilege instead (the more old and Jew) Isaiah. I agree, Neil, that inasmuch as the midrash from previous sacred texts is more and more omnipresent, this excludes other (seemly ”realistic”) hypotheses about implicit conflicts.
    However, my perplexity about the risk to privilege, with midrash, a ”pacific” view of synchretism (excuse my personal simpathy for Doherty’s view), is more present in Matthew, when he (perhaps) has in mind Paul (or Paulines?) with the reference to ”iot of Law” that is not to transgress, or in the episode of ”indipendent exorcist” (to much ‘indipendent’ for Matthew view? Like Paul?).


  12. It bothers me that Roger Parvus’ interesting hypothesis is scattered among a few random posts and comment threads. Since he mentioned in another thread that he isn’t planning a book any time soon, might he be willing to write a post or post series systematically laying out his hypothesis of Simonian origins for Christianity?

    1. Neil asked me about a year ago if I would like to do a post on my Simonian theory. I declined at the time because I wanted to wait and see what ground Robert Price was going to cover in his The Amazing Colossal Apostle. That book has come out in the meantime and I’ve read it. I agree with Price both in seeing “Paul” as a later sanitized reworking of Simon of Samaria and in thinking that certain passages in the Paulines were tampered with by the proto-orthodox. But while Price also attributes a significant part of the development in that letter collection to Marcion and his followers, I would instead ascribe it to Simonians who lived after Simon (say CE 70) and before Marcion (say, CE 130). To me sixty years seems sufficient for the kind of development we see there, development that mainstream scholars often assign to a so-called “Pauline schooI.” And to me Marcion comes across as too honest for forgery and falsifying activity. I think it is telling that he didn’t try to put his book (the Antitheses) out under a false name or try to pass it off as belonging to an earlier time when so many other Christians were doing that. His editorial cutting appears to have been done straightforwardly as a critic who was convinced that Christian Judaizers had previously tampered with the gospel and the Paulines.

      Anyway, if Neil is ok with it, I would be happy to put my scattered Simonian comments into some kind of coherent post or posts. Time constraints prevent me from doing more than that at the moment. And also the fact that there are parts of my theory that are still works in progress. For instance, I would like at some point to show in detail how the Epistle to the Hebrews fits into my scenario. And in detail how GMatthew subtly mocks urMark. But I think the theory is substantial enough at this point to provide an overall plausible scenario of how early Christianity arose.

        1. Thank you, Neil. I had hoped to have the first post to you by now, but am running behind schedule. I expect to find some free time to finish it over the coming holiday weekend (Labor Day, Sept. 2).

  13. I read the book of Price on Paul, too: very good.

    Take all the time you want, Roger, don’t sorry 🙂

    For me, the episode of independent exorcist in Matthew – that obviously doesn’t point to an historical Jesus, because talks about disciples question – is very significant, about that latent conflict I would see, beyond all the possible Midrash from Septuagint.

    John son of Zebedee stands for Pillars, while the anonymous exorcist stands for Paul. ”Jesus” is only the voice of proto-orthodox Matthew, with the only function to pacify the ancient rivality between Paul and Pillars, overriding their respective (celestial) Christs with the actual ”historical Jesus” of orthodox Gospel of Matthew.
    It seems like if Matthew is so far distant from that ancient rivality, that for him it is not important to take position beetwen Paul and Pillars, but only to ignore the name of Paul: clearly only the name of Paul is still dangerous for orthodox Matthew’s ear, when that Gospel was written. But this is consistent with the strange (interested) assence of any reference to Paul in orthodox leterature of I and II century (except, obviously, the book of Acts).

    How do you explain this episode without wear the hated cloths of ”conspirazionist” (i.e., of who sees sectarian conflicts everywhere) ?
    (retoric question)

    This is, at least, because I talked before of ”dramatic synchretism” in course and not (only) pacific midrashical reconstruction…


  14. Roger, I read from you that Simon Megas becomes Simon Magus and then Paulus, a orthodox mockery as ”dantesque law of retaliation”.

    But I see that there are 3 possible options for the origin of name ”Paul”.

    1) your view: Paulus as insult to Simon.

    2) Paulus as true nick of Simon of Samaria, that ”Simon called Atomos” of which talks Josephus in Antiquities 20.7.2.

    3) an invention of Marcion. In the sound words of Detering:

    Bauer rightly calls attention to the theological significance in the concept of smallness… Where is the freely occuring, unannounced and unconditioned, election by grace better illustrated than precisely by the inferior, the incomplete, by a child, by a small one?
    (The Falsified Paul, pag.145-146)

    I sincerely prefer the 3 option.

    Why? Because Marcion had one secure motive to hide, though partially, the sinister memory already attached to Simon of Samaria, even before the orthodox defamation.

    So Price:

    Paul would have been, like Simon, an itinerant radical preacher who circulated among communities of followers, perhaps clandestine circles of admirers within synagogues or churches. As a Gnostic, he would have taught sexual radicalism, which may have amounted to either total celibacy or libertinism – or both!
    (The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 221, my corsive)

    That were true or false the voices of sexual libertinism about Simon (and Simonians) it doesn’t matter, the same libertinism was vituperated from Marcion (and after from apologists, too), him being first on the way of istituzionalization of his Church, against the previous centrifugal furces of original, more dogma-free, Simonians.
    The unique way Marcion had to rid of this particular defamation (libertinism) was to invent a new nick for Simon (among the others), and ”Paulus” was more apt due to theological (Gnostic) factors as very well described by my previous Detering quote.
    To sintetize, Marcion was not innocent at all: he, too, had interest to change or to occult uncomfortable aspects of Simonians (if not of same Simon): to do this, he had to present a new, semplified (i.e., marcionite, without any reference, allegorical or not, to Judaism) and purified (from charge of sexual impurity, against the later Simonian libertines) Simon, that is the Paul of Marcion.
    However more genuine than the later Catholic Paul.

    In short, Simon of Samaria re-enters into History first as Paul of Marcion, and after as Paul/Simon Magus.

    Free to reply my question when you want, Roger, I don’t want disturb.
    Thanks in ahead.


    1. I’ve gone back and forth on the question of who was responsible for the substitute name “Paul.” But although at times I think the forgery-loving proto-orthodox are the best candidates, for me Marcion has never been—-and still isn’t—-a serious contender. No, the other real contenders are the Simonians themselves. Hippolytus, in his description of them, seems to say that the name “Simon” became a kind of sacred name to them, a name they avoided using. He records that they even used the name “Zeus” for him instead of “Simon,” and that anyone who failed to use the substitute nomenclature was evicted by them on the grounds of being “ignorant of the mysteries.”

      Moreover, as you know, I think the Paulines are in large part reworked Simonian materials. And in line with that, I think there is a good chance that the “name that is above every name” in the Philippians hymn (2: 6-11) was originally the name “Simon.” According to the hymn the name in question was one that was given *after* the Son’s exaltation. So it would make better sense if it was “Simon,” for he was active *after* the death and resurrection of the Son. He claimed to be in some way a new manifestation of that Son. And the root meaning of the name Simon fits better the virtue of obedience that the hymn highlights: “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death… (Phil. 2: 8). The root meaning in Hebrew of the name “Simon” is “hear; hearken, obey” (as in the first word of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel…”). Simonians “said that he was called Simon, that is to say, the obedient, because he obeyed the Father when he sent him for our salvation”(Mansi, Coll. Conc. Tome 2, col. 1057). Now if the hymn was originally about someone named “Jesus” (salvation), one would expect it to express that the name was given because he saved men. But, again, what the hymn underlines is the Son’s obedience, not the salvation he wrought. And one last consideration: The hymn’s use of the words “form”, “likeness”, and “shape” to describe the Son’s manifestation corresponds much better with the claims of Simon: “And so he (Simon) appeared as man, when in reality he was not man. And likewise he suffered in Judaea as Son—-though not actually undergoing suffering, but appearing to the Jews to do so… “ (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6,19)

      But if in fact “Simon” was a sacred name to the Simonians, why would they have devised for him so diminutive a substitute as “Paul?” My suspicion is that it had something to do with Simon’s physical stature. Although “Megas” in spiritual stature, he may have been physically small. And there are reasons to think it was Simon himself who liked to draw attention to that contrast. In his Apophasis Megale he says that “small shall become great,” an idea that turns up allegorically in GMark (which I hold was of Simonian provenance) in the parable of the mustard seed which becomes the greatest of trees. And when the subject of greatness is broached in the Markan riddle (Mk. 9:33-37), the Markan Jesus responds by placing a child in the midst of his disciples and saying: “Whoever receives a child such as this in my name, receives me.” That part of the verse would be the pointer to his physical size, and the phrase “in my name” could be part of the wordplay. But the verse continues: “and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” There his spiritual size comes into the picture. Simon may have been small as a child in physical size, but great as the Father Himself in spiritual size. Who then is the greatest? The Small one, Paul, sent by his Father.

      If the above is correct, I see it as entirely possible that the Simonians themselves had already changed the name Simon in their written literature (including what would become the Paulines) over to “Paul” by the time that the proto-orthodox got their hands on the letter collection in the 130s. And this would mean that the change occurred before Marcion was ever on the scene. Thus, no need to accuse poor Marcion of duplicity.

      1. I agree with the Simonian invention of name Paul: to much theological – in a Gnostic way – that name to be the real nick of historical Simon of Samaria.

        This veneration of Simon like a demigod makes sense about these words of Price whereas he talks of

        …an early, virtually pre-Christian period in which Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ were rivals, distinct saviors, avatars, gurus, or gods.
        (The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 214)

        Then the original relation between Simon and Jesus, if I have learned well from you, is the seguent:

        Simon originally did revere the Son Jesus (with all his stages through the heavens and his very short break on heart behind the zealot’s death) but already in his original epistles he did emphasize so much his partial (all spiritual and interior) identification with the Son [and at the same time he exhorted his followers to do the same as well, learning from his example], at the point that his next followers – the Simonians -, after his death, did arrive even to identify him in person with the SAME spiritual Son Jesus of which he talked (starting the process of historicization of that Jesus, with UrMark, and naming Simon as ”Paul”, ”Zeus”, ”Megas”, ”the power of God”, ecc.).

        Roger, when you reports :

        the claims of Simon: “And so he (Simon) appeared as man, when in reality he was not man. And likewise he suffered in Judaea as Son—-though not actually undergoing suffering, but appearing to the Jews to do so… “ (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6,19)

        you intend that

        1) these claims were made from Simonians (i.e. on the wake to identify Simon, now becomed ”Paul” for theological reasons, with the Son Jesus) and ascribed to Simon (against his original will).


        2) these claims were made from the same Simon, like (or much more than) an other example of ”paradigmatic parallelism” of which talks Doherty: what did the god Jesus in his journey there and back, Simon and his fan did equally on heart.

        My difficult is that these words by Hippolytus (about the appearance of Son in Judaea like a man) have to be referred – for the original, genuine theology of Simon of Samaria – to the anonymous zealot mere instrument of Son Jesus. How did the same Simon to want for him that passive role? Or he was so megalomaniac to reserve for itself the same role and identity of god Jesus in person ??? (I hope this last possibility is excluded…)

        The Simonians were the first ”historicizers” of god Jesus, seeing in him the same Simon, or was the same Simon to proclaim itself Jesus, or another divinity besides Jesus?

        In short, however seeing in UrMark all the allegorical references to Simon, you are saying that these references were for 90% all added theological (and not historical) contribution by Simonians, i.e. not the same ipsissima acta and ipsissima verba made by historical Simon (that cultivated his interior, divine spark linked to Jesus and the more High God, but did not say never, directly or indirectly: ”I am that same Jesus that I pray in public”).

        Forgive my confusion – and relative lenght of my post -, but I’m close to correct my misunderstanding.

  15. It’s certainly interesting to wonder about the symbolism of the healing of a blind man, but as Adam Winn points out, two miracles were attributed to Vespasian in his bid to legitimise his claim to be emperor: healing a blind man and a man with a withered hand – both miracles copied by Jesus in Mark’s telling of the story.

  16. The blind men mistook Jesus for the Son of David properly because they were blind, unable to recognize his proper hypostatsis. In the Matthean version, more original than Mark’s, Jesus opens the eyes of the blind, which is the same effect as that of the consumption of the illegal fruit of the tree of knowledge in the paradise of Genesis.

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