AN ATTEMPT TO VIEW MARK’S PARABLES FROM THE INSIDE
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.
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:
- 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
- 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. 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).
One big problem posed by chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel is that while it says that Jesus taught in parables—a method of illustration apparently common among Jewish teachers—what the text gives us are allegories, more popular by far in the Hellenistic world as a literary device. The Markan Jesus’ interpretation of the so-called “parable” of the sower is unmistakably allegorical, attaching significance not to just one feature of it, but to several. Scholars generally try get around this by claiming that during a supposed oral transmission stage of the gospel a changeover must have occurred from parable to allegory. Jesus was Jewish, they maintain, and Mark says he taught in parables, not allegories. So his parables must have been changed into allegories only after he was gone. But that solution is only a guess, and the embarrassing fact remains that in this gospel, widely acknowledged to be the earliest in writing, Jesus is an unabashed allegorizer. And not by accident. He uses that vehicle on purpose, to hide his proclamation of the gospel of God.
Now if I am right that a Simonian wrote urMark, the word “parable” would make sense as part of his disguise of Simon. It was one of the elements employed to make him pass on the surface as a Jewish messiah figure. It was one of the means used to cloak Simon’s allegorizing. And that Simon allegorized is clear from what Hippolytus says about him:
Now Simon in his paraphrasing of the Law of Moses speaks with artful misunderstanding. (RAH 6, 9, my emphasis here and where italics are used in what follows)
And he gives examples, for instance:
In speaking of the Garden, he says, Moses allegorically referred to the womb… (RAH 6, 14)
He ends his description of the Simon’s Proclamation with this summary:
So then Simon by such inventions got what interpretation he pleased, not only out of the writings of Moses, but also out of the writings of the (pagan) poets, by falsifying them. For he gives an allegorical interpretation of the wooden horse, and Helen with the torch, and a number of other things, which he metamorphoses and weaves into fictions concerning himself and his Thought. (RAH 6, 19)
And just as the proclamation of the gospel by the Markan Jesus is hidden, so too Simon says that his Great Proclamation is “sealed, hidden, concealed”. (RAH 6, 9).
There is another feature of the Markan parables that may betray Simonian provenance: the emphasis laid on “hearing”, “hearkening”. Twice in the chapter we read:
And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk. 4:9 and 23)
Corresponding to this in Simon’s Great Proclamation is the expression “those who have ears to hear” (RAH 16).
And the Markan version of the parable of the sower begins with the word ‘hear’:
Hearken! The sower went out to sow. (Mk. 4:3)
Both of the other Synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke), which I regard as proto-orthodox responses to urMark, drop the initial “Hearken.” The reason that suppression makes me suspicious is because Simon’s name is from the Hebrew word for ‘hear’, ‘’hearken’, as in the opening word of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). And Simonians attached great significance to the meaning of Simon’s name, interpreting ‘hearken’ in the sense of ‘obey’:
They (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., my translation from the Latin)
‘Hearken’, then, may be a cryptic identifier of who the sower was: Simon. And any subsequent proto-orthodox correctors of urMark who recognized that would not have been happy with the identifier.
Interesting too is that a similar situation is handled the same way in a later episode, when the Markan Jesus is asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” He replies:
The first is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk. 12: 29-30)
Is this a cryptic identification of ‘Hear’ with God? In any case, both Matthew and Luke, in their versions of the episode, delete “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one!”
The content of the Markan parables
But what I find particularly remarkable is that, despite how little is known about Simon’s Great Proclamation, there are many apparent points of contact between what we do have of it and the teaching that is conveyed by the Markan parables. Too many, in my opinion, to be mere coincidence. The parables, I suspect, are a cryptic version of Simon’s system, a version that would have been recognized by Simonians, but missed by almost everyone else. Here’s what I mean:
The theme of the parables in chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel is the Kingdom of God, but the nature of that kingdom is nowhere clearly described by them. The parable of the sower is about the growth of the kingdom. But what kind of kingdom is it that will grow? One might wrongly assume—and the author of urMark, by his use of kingdom language, likely intended to provoke such a false assumption—that the kingdom was to be an earthly messianic one, a terrestrial reign of God much like the one envisioned by the community that gave us the book of Revelation. But unlike that book, the Markan parables do not locate the kingdom on earth. They do not describe its dimensions, or its wealth, or its duration, or the battles that will introduce it, or its king. So we apparently need to look elsewhere to unlock “the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mk. 4:12).
Mark markets his products as parables of the kingdom but, in reality, what he gives us are allegories involving seeds, fruit, plants, and trees—all of which, as we shall see, loom large in Simon’s system. The Markan parables, I submit, are Simon’s system packaged with the “kingdom of God” wrapping of Jewish messianists.
In Simon’s Great Proclamation there is no earthly kingdom of God. And just as in the parable of the sower (Mk. 4:1-9; 14-20) growth is initiated by the seed of the word, so too in the Proclamation growth comes about by reception of an utterance. The Boundless Power is in man in potentiality, but needs to meet with “fitting utterance” in order to become perfected in actuality.
All ingenerables, he (Simon) says, are in us in potentiality, but not in actuality… And if they meet with befitting utterance and instruction… the Fire [i.e. God] will not have born to it husks and stocks, but perfect fruit, perfected in its imaging, as I said above, equal and similar to the ingenerable and Boundless Power (RAH 6, 16. According to Hippolytus, Simon’s use of the word ‘Fire’ for God was derived from Deuteronomy 4:24: “God is a fire burning and destroying”).
… that which is stored in them in potentiality, having obtained a fitting utterance, and an appointed place in which the utterance may be developed, starting as it were from the smallest spark, it will increase to all perfection, and expand, and be an infinite power, unchangeable, equal and similar to the unchangeable aeon, which is no more generated for the boundless eternity. (RAH 6, 17)
Notice how, as in parable of the mustard seed (Mk. 4:30-34), the smallness of the starting point is underlined: “starting as it were from the smallest spark”. Likewise, a bit earlier in Hippolytus’ account:
But if its imaging should be perfected and it should be generated from ‘an indivisible point’, as it is written in his (Simon’s) Proclamation, the small shall become great. (RAH 6, 14)
Notice too how Mark’s words in 4:25 (“To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”) make good sense if interpreted as a cryptic version of the Proclamation’s doctrine of potentiality and actuality:
But if it remains in potentiality only, and its imaging is not perfected, then it disappears and perishes… (RAH 6, 12)
And if potentiality does not become actuality, it is
exactly as if it had not existed at all; and on the death of man it perishes with him (RAH 6, 12).
Plugging that into Mk. 4:25 gives us:
“To the one who has” in actuality, “more will be given” for the perfecting of that actuality; “but from the one who has not” in actuality, “even what he has”, namely, his potentiality, “will be taken away”.
Interesting too is how the key words in Mark 4:22 (“For there is nothing concealed which shall not be manifested; nor is anything secret which will not come to light”) have a prominent place in Simon’s Proclamation. So, again, in Mark we may be dealing with a cryptic summary of Simon’s doctrine about the concealed and the manifested:
The Fire has a twofold nature; and of this twofold nature he (Simon) calls the one side the concealed and the other the manifested… And generally we may say, of all things that are, both sensible and intelligible, which he designates manifested and concealed, the Fire, which is above the heavens, is the treasure house, as it were a great Tree… and he considers the manifested side of the Fire to be the trunk, branches, leaves, and the bark surrounding it on the outside. All these parts of the great Tree, he says, are set on fire from the all-devouring flame of the Fire and destroyed. But the fruit of the Tree, if its imaging has been perfected and it takes the shape of itself, is placed in the storehouse, and not cast into the fire. For the fruit, he says, is produced to be placed in the storehouse, but the husk to be committed to the fire; that is to say, the trunk, which is generated not for its own sake but for that of the fruit. (RAH 6, 9)
Plugging this into Mark 4:22 would give us:
“For there is nothing concealed” (namely, the fruit, which in Simon’s system is the perfecting of our spirit as an extension of the Boundless Power) “which will not be manifested” once the visible, sensible world (including our bodies) is destroyed by fire. The concealed side of the Fire will come to light once the material world is destroyed.
And the way the Proclamation describes the “trunk, branches, leaves, and bark” as being generated only for the sake of Fire/fruit alone which will then be put in the storehouse once it has reached perfection has an affinity with the description of the grain in the parable of the seed growing secretly (Mk. 4:26-29): “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”
Intriguing too is the conclusion that Simon draws from the Scriptural verse, “A man of Judah is a well-beloved shoot” (Is. 5:7):
And if a man of Judah is a well-beloved shoot, it is shown, he (Simon) says, that a tree is nothing else than a man. (RAH 6, 10)
With that in mind, recall that in the Markan episode of the blind man of Bethsaida, Jesus heals the man in two stages. After his first application of spittle to the man’s eyes Jesus asks him, “Do you see anything?” The man replies:
I see men like trees walking. (Mk. 8:24)
Now, again, both Matthew and Luke have omitted this episode. It is usually claimed that they were probably embarrassed both by its magical aspect (use of spittle) and by the fact that the Markan Jesus apparently needed two tries to effect the cure. It is likely true that Jesus as a magus (magician) disturbed them, but I’m not sure they saw the use of two stages as a sign of weakness. Instead, they may have recognized the presence of Simonian doctrine in the episode. Jesus’ first application need not be viewed as a failure. From a Simonian perspective, seeing men as trees is evidence of the deeper insight that Simon revealed. That the healer goes on to give the man the same kind of sight everyone else has does not necessarily indicate an advance or progress..
There is one item in Mark’s treatment of the parables that does not correspond to anything in the Great Proclamation:
Is a lamp brought to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? (Mk. 4:21)
Other early sources, however, do establish a connection—a derogatory one—between some Simonians and lamps. They were accused of engaging in promiscuous activity at their gatherings after extinguishing or covering the lamp. As early as Justin Martyr’s writings we find indications of the rumor. In a chapter of his First Apologia devoted to Simon, Menander (Simon’s successor), and Marcion, he writes:
And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds—the upsetting of the lamp and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh—we know not… (ch. 26)
So, to my mind, it makes best sense to see Mk. 4:21 as one of the inserts made by the proto-orthodox when they converted Simonian urMark into canonical Mark. It is a cryptic proto-orthodox jab at the Simonians and their doctrine of the concealed and the manifest. It says, in effect, “We are not fooled. We know who you are. How fitting that you speak of the concealed and the manifest when, as everyone knows, you cover the lamp at your gatherings in order to conceal your immorality!”
To people who held such beliefs the system of Simon was blasphemous
I should clarify what I mean by “the proto-orthodox”. I conceive them to be adherents of the kind of religion practiced by the 2nd century apologists. Earl Doherty, in his Jesus: Neither God, Nor Man, describes it well as “a religion of Platonic and Hellenistic Judaism” (p. 476). And
There is no question that 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 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 the 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 Judaism. 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 mixed pagan and Jewish Diaspora circles which had immersed themselves in Greek philosophy.
To people who held such beliefs the system of Simon was blasphemous. It blurred the distinction between God and the human spirit by its claim that man’s spirit is potentially part of God. And its disparagement of the visible, material world was viewed as an insult to the maker of that world. I believe some of the proto-orthodox, in the 130s, decided it was time to do something about the blasphemy. They took on the project of remaking Simonian Christianity in their own image.
Canonical Mark was the response of one of their number. The Jesus of UrMark already resembled, by design, a Jewish messiah figure. And much of the clever ambiguity in his portrait was able to be left “as is”. But where necessary, the proto-orthodox made modifications to steal him away from the Simonians and make him one of their own..
Was Simon the imitator?
Even if one concedes a connection of some kind between the Markan parables and Simon’s system, it could be objected that Simon was the one who did the borrowing. The proto-orthodox acknowledged that Simon was already teaching a system of his own at the dawn of Christianity. And they acknowledged that he at some point became a Christian, albeit a phony one. But they claimed that Simon was the imitator, that he was the one who leeched off them, not vice versa.
That proto-orthodox claim seems very unlikely to me. The Great Proclamation was apparently an exposition of Simon’s system as it existed before he embraced belief in a crucified Son of God, for it contains no Christian content. The proto-orthodox claim cannot plausibly explain that fact. It is implausible to think that the Proclamation was subsequently de-Christianized. Justin admits that Simonians claimed to be Christians. So why would they have removed Christian content from the Proclamation?
I think that it is much more likely that Simon, after he became a Christian, did not abandon his doctrine, but instead meshed it—in private—with his new belief in “the Son who suffered in Judaea, although he did not really suffer, but only appeared to do so.” That would seem to be a normal progression. And I would take it one step further: his doctrine of the Boundless Power that is present and perfected in the spirits of believers developed—over the course of about twenty years as a Christian—into the one we see him propound in his later writings, the so-called Pauline letters. “Paul’s” doctrine of the body of Christ and its fullness (Pleroma) is a later, more mature development of the Boundless Power doctrine he taught in his Great Proclamation..
If the above scenario is correct, urMark was not, as is often supposed, a serious, straightforward exposition of the beliefs of an early Christian community. The Simonians did have internal writings of their own that were serious and straightforward. But urMark was not one of them. The mystification of the Sandmels of the world may have been the fun that the author had in mind when he sat down to write. He and his circle derived great amusement, I suspect, from the thought that so many people would “look and see but not perceive, hear and listen but not understand” their Gospel. I fear it was nothing more serious than amusement that was the motivation behind urMark. Basically: Disguise Simon as a Jewish messiah figure, make that figure ask, “Who do men say that I am?”, then sit back and enjoy the spectacle of outsiders being fooled by the disguise.
How many would figure it out? The expectation perhaps was “not one in a thousand, nor two in ten thousand” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 24, 6) . But, not surprisingly, the proto-orthodox did, in fact, find the key. Secrets are hard to keep secret. Sooner or later secret groups and organizations have disgruntled members who leave and spill the beans. I expect it was no different with the Simonans. One way or another, the proto-orthodox ultimately perceived and understood.
As already proposed, some of the proto-orthodox responded in kind to urMark. Canonical Mark, urLuke (and later canonical Luke), Matthew, and the document that underlies the Pseudo-Clementines are, as I see it, responses by proto-orthodox Christians to urMark. These take the Markan Jesus and make him unmistakably proto-orthodox.
And to add insult to injury, someone among them managed to get his hands on a collection of Simonian letters. These they touched-up and converted into letters of a proto-orthodox apostle they named Paul.
Simon had gone from being Megas (great) to being Paul (small)!
* Some related posts and comments:
- Comment at Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism . . . .
- See also comments beneath the post at Concluding My Response to Dr McGrath’s Review. . . .
- My comments at the Vridar post, Marcion’s Date
- And comment 3 to the Vridar post entitled “Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 27”
Latest posts by Roger Parvus (see all)
- A Simonian Origin for Christianity? — A few more thoughts - 2023-03-08 00:03:04 GMT+0000
- Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 4 / Conclusion – Historical Jesus? - 2019-03-07 00:35:19 GMT+0000
- Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3 - 2019-03-06 23:57:30 GMT+0000
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!
18 thoughts on “Mark’s Parables as Simonian Allegories”
What did the Christianity that Simon converted to look like?
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:
That is to say, I think the kata sarka view of Christ that this verse speaks about is not one that Simon held prior to his conversion; it is a post-conversion belief, one that he initially though only briefly embraced when the Jerusalem pillars gave him the right hand of partnership. He soon transformed that belief by meshing it with the system he had developed and taught earlier in Samaria. Then he took it further afield among the Gentiles. For a while the holy ones of Jerusalem paid little attention to him, so he was able to bring others to his own Christ doctrine with little interference. But in the 50s the Jerusalem church started to hear reports about some strange things he was teaching. Envoys they sent to Corinth and Galatia confirmed the rumors. It was only then that the difference between Simon’s pneumatic view of Christ and the kata sarka one held by the Jerusalem church became an issue.
The Christ of the holy ones in Jerusalem
As I see it, the Christ that the first-century Jerusalem church believed in was not a figure who had wandered around Galilee and Judaea preaching, healing, exorcising, gathering disciples, etc. (That Christ, I submit, was the second century allegorical creation of a Simonian). No, the original Christ was a divine figure, the Son of God, whom the Jerusalem church knew about only from various alleged visions and revelations. I think it is likely that some of those visions/revelations later found a home in the book of Revelation. But one of them in particular was latched onto by Simon. It had the Son of God descending briefly to this world to trick its princes into wrongfully crucifying him. The Son did this by coming down one day, transforming his appearance to the likeness of man, and then surreptitiously switching places with a failed Jewish Messiah who was being led out by the Romans for crucifixion. It was especially this revelation that Simon focused on and meshed with his Great Proclamation system.
Why Simon considered the Christ-beliefs of the Jerusalem community to be kata sarka
Simon’s Great Proclamation system was “unearthly” in the sense that it disparaged the visible, material world. Material realities were fit only for total and final destruction by fire. So he would not have been impressed by Revelation’s visions about a coming kingdom of God on earth. The amount of gold and precious stones that were going to be used to build it, the number of bloody massacres that would be needed to establish it, the amount of wealth that would afterwards flow into the new Jerusalem from the conquered nations—-these are all things that would have left Simon cold. Those who took such visions literally and saw Christ’s role as being the one who would establish such an earthly kingdom had a hopelessly kata sarka view of him.
I suspect that Simon, true to form, put an allegorical slant on visions/revelations of that nature. It may be that in the Corinthian letters he is attacking kata sarka Christianity when he insists, for instance, that there is no other foundation than Christ (“No one can lay down a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ” – 1 Cor. 3: 12-13). And when he says that it is believers themselves that are God’s temple (“If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” – 1 Cor. 3:17). Contrast that with Revelation’s description of how the holiest part of the Jerusalem temple will be protected from destruction (Rev. 11:1). And its description of how richly the foundations of the new Jerusalem will be decorated (Rev. 21:19-20).
And along the same lines, I think the Jerusalem church would have understood the vision of the crucified Son of God in a messianic sense. The vision’s interpretation really depends on how one identifies the Father who sent the Son down. If that Father is believed to be the God of the Jews, then the tricking of the princes of this world would be seen as an initial victory of the Jews over their enemies. But if Simon was true to his system, he would have-—at least in his private instructions—-identified the Father in the vision as a God who was higher than the God of the Jews. After all, the Jews themselves claimed that their God was the maker of the visible, material world. In Simon’s eyes, that was not a plus. He would have had to number the God of the Jews among the princes of this world, i.e., the makers-—or, to use the word Galatians uses-—the stoicheia of the world.
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. According to the later proto-orthodox heresy hunters, Simon apparently understood “in the likeness of man” to mean that “among men he (the Son) appeared to be 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). This, of course, is consonant with Simon’s view of the fundamental baseness of matter.
I suspect Simon hoped to buy as much time as he could to establish his communities. His decision to go to Jerusalem with a collection of money may be an indication of this. But I suppose it is just possible he still hoped the Revelation community could be weaned away from its kata sarka gospel (Rev. 14:6) and won over to his spiritual one. He may have hoped he could give their gospel an allegorical interpretation they could not resist, subjecting it to the same allegorical magic he worked on the Hebrew Scripture and the writings of the pagan poets. But it was not to be. And when he realized that, he likely reacted with the same anger we see in 2 Corinthians, calling their gospel a false one (2 Cor. 11:4), their Jesus too a false one (2 Cor. 11:4), and the apostles who preached that gospel and that Jesus “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13).
[By the way, I suspect the Markan multiplications of loaves and fish are allegories about Simon’s interpretation of Sacred Scriptures. By his allegorical interpretations he aimed to feed his flock with the true sense of those writings. “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” But men need someone to break up the Scriptural bread for them. And to warn them against harmful spiritual food, “against the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mk. 8:15). And the more spiritually immature they are, the more necessary are those functions:
Simon’s explanations were precious to his followers and became themselves a kind of Sacred Scripture, despite being “difficult to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Understandable then, that the leftover fragments were collected (Mk. 6:43 & 8:8).
Note too that for Simon the writings of the pagan poet Homer were a kind of Sacred Scripture. That may be why the Markan Jesus breaks both bread and fish. But if so, I have no idea why fish was chosen as the allegorical stand-in for Homer’s writings.]
There are some interesting parallels too, between Simon, and even the figure of Jesus himself. So that Simon’s early “Christ,” and his “Christianity,” has some points in common with the later prevailing vision of the New Testament. In spite of the partial rejection of him by Peter.
1) Simon was a Samaritan; Jesus rtoo was from northern regions that included many Samaritans. In fact, Jesus was once accused of having a demon ;; and being a Samaritan; he then denied having a demon … but apparently said nothing to deny he was a Samaritan in that passage. while Jesus accepts water from a Samaritan woman.
2) Thent oo Jesus was thought to be, like Simon, in the company of a Prostitute (Mary Mag in Jesus’ case; “Helen” in the case of Simon).
3) Simon was known (and partially refused by the disciples as) a magician; Jesus was accused of being a magican too (by later Jews; by Simon in effect).
4) Simon’s religion incorporated many elments of Christianity it seems. Though later considered a heresy.
5) Simon’s thoughts were said to have been deeply incorporated into (Mead says “corrupted”) local Christian believers.
6) Simon’s prostitute companion was named “Helen”; suggesting Hellenic influence.
To combine this with your own insights: possibly Simon indeed stood for an early, Hellenistic/Samaritan version of what was to become Christianity; Simon in effect being not only an early, partially-discredited (but surreptiously incorporated) “disciple.” But Simon even being – or presenting – an alternative Christ for many. One that seems rather magical (and more money-oriented) than some ideas of Jesus; though Simon’s interest in “wonders” or “miracles” reflects (and partially creates?) the miracle-working side of today’s Christ.
Mead says Simon was deeply influential even in the early Church, especially in Samaria; so were there any lasting influences, in spite of Simon being partially discredited.
The post here mentions possibly strong influence in molding our ideas of the apostles “Peter” (also known as “Simon”) and espectially “Paul.” But in addition, it seems at least possible that the tradition of Simon also infuenced the view of Christ that eventually triumphed worldwide; as being say a worker of wonders or magical-seeming “miracles.” As having a prostitute as a companion (like Mary). As having Samaritan connections.
Thanks for the explanation above. Will need time to digest and think some of it through.
Meantime another question: What do you make of the ostensibly crude literary style of Mark? MacDonald has suggested this may have been intended as an “anti-epic”, hence its “anti-literary” style. Does the style of Mark find any sort of explanation in your thesis?
I think the crude style may just be due to the nature of his product: a loose collection of allegorical episodes that both hide (from outsiders) but reveal (to insiders) the identity of the mysterious central character. To accomplish that he didn’t need to write a smooth, continuous, or strictly chronological account. Insiders would recognize which parts of each episode constitute the clue and which parts belong to the disguise. And outsiders, of course, wouldn’t:
I’d follow up Neil’s question with more about Mark. First, however we characterize the style, Canonical Mark appears to me to be a unitary literary composition with the possible exception of the episode of John’s execution and the Apocalyptic discourse. You posit an ur-Mark, so I’m curious to know: how extensive was the editorial activity, and did the proto-orthodox redactor/editor take pains to imitate the stylistic tics (frequent use of the historic present and kai and euthus transitions, as examples) and to integrate the additions into the programmatic typology of the narrative; or are those elements largely the creations of the later redactor? If the latter, whence the traces in Matthew and Luke of those elements?
I’m undecided about the extent of proto-orthodox editorial activity. I see it as quite possible in theory that it was minimal. For in my scenario the aim of the Simonian author of urMark was to disguise Simon by making him at times look like a Jewish Messiah, at other times like John the Baptist redivivus, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets. Those are all proto-orthodox figures, and so to the extent he effectively accomplished his aim, his product would have been acceptable to the proto-orthodox. And he also seems to have made use of deliberate, studied ambiguity. That too could have been left “as is.”
But it is still often hard to decide whether certain passages are part of the Simonian disguise, or are proto-orthodox correctives. I am thinking, for example, of the many Markan controversy episodes. They usually are ambiguous because they include both an exception to the rule as well as a more universal, radical principle. Without the exception to the rule Jesus looks more radical (like “Paul”/Simon). But with the exception he comes across as a loyal Jew just wanting to make room for special circumstances.
To illustrate: I think the bolded bracketed section in the following episode could have been part of original Simonian disguise. But it also could have been added by a proto-orthodox redactor to tone down a too radical dismissal of Sabbath observance:
Long story short: there is still a lot that I am mulling over.
You mentioned the apocalyptic discourse as a possible exception. But my initial impression is that it underwent very little proto-orthodox editing.
Many scholars hold that the discourse began as an independent Jewish or Jewish-Christian writing, a Jewish after-the-fact prophecy about the destruction of Judaea in the first Jewish War (66-70 CE). I tend to agree but I think that Luke has the apocalypse’s original trigger for fleeing: the appearance of enemy armies outside Jerusalem (Lk. 21:20). That seems more reasonable than urMark’s cryptic one:
I think the Simonian author of urMark incorporated the little apocalypse into his gospel but changed its trigger. The enigmatic character of his replacement trigger is in line with the overall purpose of his cryptic allegory about Simon: to amuse his fellow insiders by baffling those on the outside.
But, as I proposed at the end of my above post, the proto-orthodox authors of Luke and Matthew did ultimately figure out what urMark was up to. One instance where Matthew’s grasp of this comes through is in his correct solution to the trigger enigma: the text pointed to by “Let the reader understand” was indeed the book of Daniel (Mt. 24:15), and the place where the abomination of desolation ought not to stand was “in the holy place” (Mt. 24:15), i.e., in the Jerusalem temple.
As for the abomination of desolation himself: From Daniel we learn that, in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, the abomination of desolation was the presence of an altar of Zeus in the temple. So, what the Simonian author of urMark was indicating by his cryptic trigger, I submit, was that those in Judaea would have escaped the horrors of the Jewish War if they had fled when Zeus, i.e., Simon, made his last trip to Jerusalem and entered its temple.
Insiders would have known, of course, that “Zeus” was one of the names they used for Simon:
And they would also have known that the highlight of Paul/Simon’s last trip to Jerusalem was the ruckus he caused when he entered the temple, a ruckus that is allegorically portrayed by the so-called Cleansing of the Temple (in reality: the rejection of the temple). The Cleansing is sandwiched between his cursing of the fig tree (i.e., the Jewish nation) and its withering. And the Cleansing, according to Mark, was what moved the chief priests and the scribes to seek “to put him to death” (Mk. 11:18). They did not succeed. Paul/Simon was released (the release of Barabbas, the Son of the Father) and he ultimately made his way to Rome. There is a later, sanitized, proto-orthodox version of the temple ruckus, arrest, escape, and trip to Rome in the Acts of the Apostles (21:27 – 28:30).
Now, I don’t see that the proto-orthodox redactor who turned urMark into Mark would have had to change hardly any of this discourse. It was already Jewish or Jewish-Christian in origin (same community that gave us the book of Revelation?). And the identity of new Simonian trigger—-since it was enigmatic—-could always be plausibly denied. So the only change I suspect they made was to verse 19:
The clause “which God created” is awkward and tautological. The proto-orthodox redactor knew he was dealing with a Simonian gospel, and my guess is that he could not resist emphasizing that the maker of the world is God, and not—-as the Simonians would have it—-angels or stoicheia.
Matthew’s Gospel, in the parables that it places after the discourse, adds a number of proto-orthodox elements. For instance, a Last Judgment; and a kingdom on earth; and everlasting hellfire. These are all things that were not part of the Simonian/Pauline creed. But the proto-orthodox redactor of Mark apparently wanted to keep things simple, for he did not similarly supplement the discourse.
Roger, I find your essay exceptional. Incidentally, what is the full bibliographic reference for “Mansi, Coll. Conc. Tome 2, col. 1057”? Perhaps it’s this: Sanctorum conciliorum et decretorum collectio nova, seu Collectionis conciliorum (1748-52), OCLC Number: 49004869 (?). Thanks. . .
I myself am persuaded of a Simonian connection at the earliest stage of Christianity. The French mythicist Georges Ory was similarly convinced, and wrote about “The Simonian origins of Jesus” here: http://www.mythicistpapers.com/category/christian-origins/samaria-the-messiahs-homeland-ory/ (my translation from the French).
Thanks again for this,
Yes, your bibliographic reference is correct.
Thank you for the link to your translation of Ory’s “La Samarie, patrie d’un Messie.” Many interesting ideas there. And the list you have compiled of his writings is new information to me. Years ago I read his work on Marcion but had no idea he had written so many other tracts and books on Christian origins. I am interested in a number of them, and especially his other Simon-related ones. Is there or has there ever been a collection of his tracts between two covers? If so, please let me know title and publisher. I can read French, so an untranslated collection would not be a problem.
Curiously, Ory is almost entirely unknown, despite his considerable number of writings. I’ve made it a special mission to get as much of his writings as possible, and have even contacted the Cercle Ernest Renan in Paris, but to no avail as far as accessing their older material. . . Four of Ory’s books have been published (marked with an asterisk on the Ory page of the Mythicist Papers website). I have all except the one on the Essenes. Ory’s many short articles for the CER are very difficult to come by but probably available through ILL in the US. He’s written at least five tracts about Simon from 1955-56. I’ve been meaning to get and translate them when time. My feeling is Ory is spectacularly underappreciated, and to my knowledge his shorter tracts have not been collected.
Mk 2.23 ff evidences one of many conflicts between Jesus, and the jews. This supports the general idea that the tradition of “Jesus,” or perhaps even Jesus’ own thought (if any) was not entirely Jewish. But was influenced in the direction of allowing Gentile practices; preparing food on the Sabbath for example. This assimilation of non-Jewish traditions is not necessarily specifically Simonian or Samaritan. But could be. In general it seems Hellenistic; while Simon himself in Mead’s account seems Hellenistic/Platonic.
At the beginning of this post I explained that, 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 (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 Simon of Samaria, who claimed to be a new manifestation of the Son who had suffered in Judaea. The end-point of this part would be Mk. 15:15, the release of the Jesus Barabbas (Son of the Father).
Now in this scenario the chronologically earlier component appears last in the gospel. I don’t see that as a big problem if gMark was, as it seems, intended to be a riddle. Nevertheless, it may be that its author aimed to smooth this over too by giving the composite work a circular structure. Robert M. Price, in a paper he wrote for the Jesus Project, notes:
Doughty did not, of course, make his suggestion with my Simonian theory in mind. But it strikes me that if he is right about gMark having a circular structure, one could read it in its basic chronological order by entering the circle after the release of Barabbas.
from Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (by R.Watts, p.230 n.30) :
…structural parallels between: A) Bethsaida and villages of Caesarea Philippi, B) ‘Do you see anything’, and ‘Who do men say that I am?’, C ) the man sees clearly and Peter correctly identifies Jesus, and D) the man is forbidden to enter the village and the disciples are commanded to tell no one.
But in Parvus’view described in this post, the blind man sees the truth the first time (when he sees man-like-tree-walking, i.e. the Simonian identity man=tree): then, for induction, what does it mean ?
In parable of the mustard-seed “birds” symbolize Satan and his agents, but maybe the same 12 disciples. The actual word “birds,” is better rendered as “fowls”. In Genesis 15:11 we are told that the “fowls came down upon the carcasses” (the bodies of the sacrifices) and that “Abram drove them away.” Here they seem to prefigure the efforts of Satan to render null and void the sacrifice of the Lord; but this Abraham has prevented. The term occurs in Deuteronomy 28:26 and Revelation 18:2.
Then, in essentia, the ”fowls” are the symbol of unwhorty participation at sacre rite or sacre object.
The Last Supper is a sacre rite about the sacre dissepta membra of body of Jesus.
The disciples, the betrayer Judas in primis, are the ”fowls” of parable.
In parable of Sower, Mark interprets them as “Satan” devouring the seed when is weak (and Peter was rebuked ”Satan” from Jesus).
I suspect that that mustard-seed parable is a prophecy of Last Supper, since that ”episode” describes the moment when ‘Jesus’/Paul officially decides to become symbol of a collective group (giving as food his dissepta membra to his ‘psychic’ – and not ‘pneumatic’ – and therefore unworthy disciples), i.e. the Primal Man or Son of Man, and not more a mere individual. In some way, from that moment on, the outsiders, even if they never recognize the true identity of Jesus, are doomed to see and suffer at least the tragic effects (the destruction of Son of Man kata sarka = destruction of Jerusalem at 70 CE; the resurrection of Son of Man between the Nations = the set of all ”pneumatics” of world awakened from apostles like Paul) of that identity.
I suspect that Mark 13:26-27 does clear the future identification of Son of Man (v.26) with the ”his elect from the four winds” (v.27), an identity (that is an apparition, too) projected in future and realized at end of entire Gospel.
I’m going to suggest another way to look at this.
Mark or the first gospel AS an allegory.
It’s intriguing that Smon and Jesus are nearly-identical in their stories. After decades of having only Acts to go by on Simon Magus, it was intriguing to find out more on him (though the Clementines are something I tend to take cautiously). But especially when we hear of the “Great Proclaimation, that could look like a “Good News” type of idea.
This is one thing where I’ll avoid Irenaeus etc and the anti-hereticists and posit we may have the same story told about one person through two separate lots of eyes…and later, when we have the anti-hereticists involved, it splitting into separate people.
It’s intriguing that we have a Mark involved BOTH times.
As for Simon himself…aren’t there indicators it was NOT his real name? That it might be a title deriving from the idea of the ogdoad (that the number eight figured BIG in any form of Gnostic Christianity and even for Justin Martyr)? I still can’t shake the idea there’s not much difference between “Simon” and “shmone.”
There’s one OTHER person where there’s any hint of a “standing one” idea…and that’s Herod Agrippa (refer to my other comment on one of your other threads)…and Herod Agrippa was ALSO associated with the Two Powers in Heaven concept crucial to Gnostic Christianity.
Mark as allegory to anything to do with a Herod Agrippa (II is my guess)?
Unfortunately I edited out a line in the comment above…
Mark or Marqeh involved both times.
Common to both an early Gnostic christianity and especially in Alexandria as patron apostle…and in Samaritan culture as the person who wrote Memar Marqeh.
I go with first century for Marqeh, not fourth. He makes more sense as first-century. And once he’s there…that blows the field wide open.
Especially if Mark himself is one person seen from two separate sets of eyes.