A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 1

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Roger Parvus


A Vridar reader, Chris S, recently expressed interest in my hypothesis that Christianity was Simonian in origin but pointed out that it would be helpful to have it laid out systematically in a post or series of posts. As it is, my proposals are scattered among random posts and comment threads. So this series will provide an overview of the hypothesis. I will first summarize the main ideas and then briefly defend them and show how they fit together.


A Simonian Origin for Christianity


Status of the Hypothesis

I want to acknowledge up front that my hypothesis is not completely original. It builds on the identification of Paul as a reworked Simon of Samaria that has been argued by Hermann Detering in his The Falsified Paul and by Robert M. Price in his The Amazing Colossal Apostle.

And I want to be clear that my hypothesis is still a work in progress. There is much that I continue to mull over and much that needs to be added. I am aware too that it is speculative. But, as I see it, one of its strengths is that it draws from the earliest extant descriptions of the internal quarrels that plagued Christianity at its birth and can plausibly account for a remarkable number of the peculiarities in those records.


State of the Evidence: The Problem

The proto-orthodox claimed that their brand of Christianity was the original, and that their earliest Christian competitor, Simon, was the first who corrupted it. But there are good reasons to doubt their veracity. Their many known forgeries, false attributions, fabrications, plagiarisms, and falsifications are acknowledged even by mainstream scholars (see Bart Ehrman’s Forged for examples). Their one canonical attempt to write an account of primitive Christianity—the Acts of the Apostles—fails miserably to convince. It is widely recognized that its description of Paul and his relationship to the Jerusalem church is a deliberate misrepresentation.

The proto-orthodox claim to unbroken continuity with the Jerusalem church doesn’t add up. . .

Did the proto-orthodox have no one to stand up to Simon’s successors between 70 and 140 CE?

They concede a continuous line of succession for heresy . . . yet are at a loss to tell us who prior to Justin undertook to refute those heretics.

And their claim to unbroken continuity with the Jerusalem church doesn’t add up.

If they were in existence earlier than the 130s, why is Justin their first known heresy-hunter? Justin names no predecessor for that function in the generation before him. Nor do Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus. Did the proto-orthodox have no one to stand up to Simon’s successors between 70 and 140 CE? They concede a continuous line of succession for heresy (Simon, Menander, Basilides and Satornilus), yet are at a loss to tell us who prior to Justin undertook to refute those heretics.


The Question to Investigate

So I think it is entirely justifiable to question whether the proto-orthodox were in fact the first Christians. Basically, what I am doing is taking the few bits of information they let slip about Simon of Samaria, and seeing whether the birth of Christianity makes more sense with him as its founder.

I am investigating whether it makes more sense to see proto-orthodoxy as a second-century reaction to a first-century Simonianism that had grown, developed, and branched out.


The Hypothesis

In summary form my hypothesis is this:

The Original Paul

Paul was originally a substitute name for Simon of Samaria. It was likely chosen by Simon’s later followers when, out of reverence for the given name of their founder, they began to use substitutes. In the early 130s the proto-orthodox took advantage of the multiplicity of names to create a Paul who was someone clearly distinct from Simon. They made the new Paul proto-orthodox.

Paul’s letters

The earliest parts of the original collection of Paulines were written between 50 CE and 130 CE by Simon of Samaria and his successor, Menander. Simonians were secretive, so the collection was likely intended for their use only. But by the early 130s some proto-orthodox Christians came to know of it and, by making certain additions and modifications, attempted to co-opt it for proto-orthodoxy.

The Vision of Isaiah

The original gospel that Simon/Paul embraced was the Vision of Isaiah, i.e., chapters 6 – 11 of the Ascension of Isaiah. It depicted a Son of God who descended to Judaea for a few hours and—in order to trick the powers that be into killing Him—transfigured himself to look like a man, then surreptitiously switched places with a messiah-wannabe who was being led away for crucifixion. No birth, no public ministry, no prolonged stay for the Son; just the kind of limited, particular task that we find disguised gods or angels performing in other Old Testament and intertestamental literature (e.g., Abraham and Lots’ heavenly visitors; the angel Raphael in Tobit). Then, after having returned to heaven, the Son appeared to certain chosen individuals, revealed to them the redemptive trick he had played, and commissioned them to tell others.

The First Gospel

The earliest written gospel that contained a public ministry for its central character was a Simonian allegory (that I will refer to as urMark) written sometime between 100 and 130 CE. That gospel’s public ministry was an allegorical portrayal of the apostolic career of Simon of Samaria. The allegory was intended to be a riddle that would be understood by Simonians, but befuddle “those outside” (Mk. 4:11). As a riddle, it was intentionally cryptic, giving enough hints for Simonians to recognize the real identity of the Jesus figure (i.e., Simon/Paul), but at the same time written in such a way that those outside would “look and see, but not perceive; hear and listen, but not understand” (Mk. 4:12). To the public ministry urMark joined the earlier Vision of Isaiah’s succinct myth about the crucified Son of God, for Simon claimed to be some kind of reincarnation of that Son. The seam that separates those two manifestations of the Son is the episode of the release of Jesus Barabbas in Mk. 15:15.

John the Baptist, James and the Synoptic Gospels

GMark, GMatthew, and GLuke were proto-orthodox reactions to urMark. Their authors solved the Simonian riddle and responded by attempting to turn it against the Simonians. They turned the tables by taking urMark’s allegorical Jesus and making him proto-orthodox. One of the principal ways they did this was by putting sayings (Q) about and by John the Baptist and his successor James into his mouth. The authors of the Synoptic gospels never belonged to the community of those two pillars. That community was long gone, a victim of the 66-70 CE war with Rome, by the time these three gospels were written in the 130s. They belonged to a group of Jewish proselytes or gentile God-fearers who had some knowledge of John the Baptist and James, and whose sympathies were with them rather than their heterodox competitor, Simon/Paul, who had broken with the pillars to start his own communities among the gentiles. The Synoptic authors, by manipulating urMark’s allegory in the way they did, created a riddle of their own, one that provided a kind of vindication to John. They made him speak again—through Jesus. He was made into a forerunner of… himself! John, in a sense, has indeed risen from the dead (Mk.6:16).

Allegory or History?

Although the proto-orthodox authors of the Synoptic Gospels knew they were rewriting a Simonian allegory, their works were probably received as history from the beginning. The misunderstanding was facilitated by the fact that belief in a Son of God who had descended to get crucified went back over a hundred years to the Vision of Isaiah. And the first gospel to possess a Jesus engaged in a public ministry (urMark) was an allegory about a figure (Simon of Samaria) that its author presumably viewed as historical. Once that gospel became public, Simonians would not have had a problem about speaking of “Jesus” as historical for, according to Irenaeus and Hippolytus, they had no problem using substitute names for Simon. And the proto-orthodox too would not have had a problem about referring to Jesus as historical as long as the doctrine he taught was one they approved of.

The Gospel of John

Finally, the gospel that underlies GJohn was written about a decade afterwards by the ex-Marcionite Apelles and his prophetess associate Philumena. It was turned into GJohn in the 150s. Apelles and Philumena no doubt accepted the Jesus story as historical. Its historical nature was confirmed to them, so they thought, by the phantasma who appeared to Philumena and was her source of new gospel information.



Before continuing on to a more detailed examination of the above scenario, I want to provide a list of the approximate dates I go by for the composition of certain books of the New Testament and writings of the Apostolic Fathers. I ask the reader for patience in regard to my defense of these dates. For now let it suffice to know that all of the below dates have already been proposed by at least a few bona fide scholars at one time or another. I will be happy once my scenario has been sufficiently presented to defend each of the dates specifically.

50 – 130 CE: The 10 principal Pauline letters

30 – 60 CE: A collection of sayings by and about John the Baptist and James; (Q, if you will)

Sometime between 100 – 130 CE : urMark (a Simonian allegory)

c. 130 CE: The Epistle to the Hebrews

130s: GMark, GMatthew, urLuke, and the earliest source underlying the Pseudo-Clementines

140s CE: 1Clement; the Gospel of Apelles; the Letters of Peregrinus (which, towards the end of the century, were converted into the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch)

150s CE: GLuke and Acts of the Apostles; GJohn (a reworked version of the Gospel of Apelles) and the Letters of John; the Pastoral Letters.



My hypothesis is that Paul was originally a substitute name for Simon of Samaria. It was likely chosen by Simon’s later followers when, out of reverence for the given name of their founder, they began to use substitutes. In the early 130s the proto-orthodox took advantage of the multiplicity of names to create a Paul who was someone clearly distinct from Simon. They made the new Paul proto-orthodox.

Peter's conflict with Simon Magus by Avanzino ...
Peter’s conflict with Simon Magus by Avanzino Nucci, 1620. Simon is on the right, dressed in black. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The case for identifying the proto-orthodox character Paul as a 2nd century sanitized reworking of the 1st century Simon has already been made in some detail by the biblical scholars Hermann Detering (in The Falsified Paul) and Robert M. Price (in The Amazing Colossal Apostle). So, in this part of the post I will just briefly present the combination of indicators that, in my opinion, point strongly to Paul as being a modified version of Simon.

1. In the Pseudo-Clementines, whose textual sources are held by many to date to the second century, there is no explicit mention of anyone named Paul. But Peter speaks of Simon of Samaria in a way that clearly identifies the man as Paul.

2. Both Simon and Paul were called apostles by some, and both are said to have had ministries to the gentiles that took them ultimately to Rome. Now Paul was a jealous man and the gentiles were his self-claimed domain. I expect there would have been serious competition between him and an intruder as supposedly notorious as Simon. Yet in the first and second century Christian literature there is not a single recorded confrontation between these two. Simon never faces off with Paul. But, curiously, they are each portrayed as having confrontations with Peter. On the one hand, Simon and Peter square off in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Pseudo-Clementines; on the other Paul confronts Peter at Antioch and confronts his party at Corinth. One explanation for this situation is that Peter had a running feud with one and the same individual who was at some point known by two different names.

3. There is a distinctive similarity in the key teachings of Simon and Paul regarding grace, the angels who instituted the Torah, and the reason for the works enjoined therein.

  • According to Irenaeus, Simon taught that “men are saved by grace and not by just works.” Note how close this is to the words of Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith… it is not from works.”
  • And, again according to Irenaeus, the works that Simon dismissed were ones that were “decreed by the angels who made the world, and who desired by commandments of this kind to bring men into slavery.” This seems to jibe with the teaching of Galatians where certain works of the Law are said to have been ordained by stoicheia (element angels) in order to enslave men.

4. The teachings of both figures contain items that can be considered incipient or proto-gnostic. To the proto-orthodox heresy hunters Simon was the father of gnosticism and of heresy. But Tertullian also recognizes that Paul was the favorite apostle of the heretics. And many scholars have called attention to apparent gnostic terminology and ideas in the Paulines. Richard Reitzenstein, in his classic Hellenistic Mystery-Religions, goes so far as to say that Paul is perhaps “the greatest of all the gnostics” (p. 84).

Furthermore, many teachings of the earliest gnostics bear a family resemblance to those of Simon, yet they explicitly claim descent from Paul or one of his disciples. Irenaeus viewed this as deliberate deceit: “They do not confess the name of their master (Simon) in order all the more to seduce others, yet they do teach his doctrines” (Against Heresies 1, 27, 4). But another explanation for this anomaly is available. Hippolytus, in his description of Simonians, seems to say that the name “Simon” became a kind of sacred name to them, a name they avoided using. He records that some even used the name “Zeus” for him instead of “Simon” and that, if anyone failed to use the substitute nomenclature, he was evicted by them on the grounds of being “ignorant of the mysteries.” Irenaeus too concedes that Simon “was willing to be called by whatever name men call him” (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 1). So those who Irenaeus berates for not confessing a “Simon” as their master may have refrained from doing so out of reverence for his name.

But why “Paul” as a substitute name? That’s next.

Simon, already in his pre-Christian system, saw himself as transitioning in some way from smallness to greatness. . . .

Did the Megas also claim to be a magus? Probably not. Gerd Lüdemann has suggested that it was the author of Acts of the Apostles who demoted Simon to magician status

5. The contrast between Simon who claimed to be “someone great” (Greek: megas) and Paul whose name means “small” (from the Latin: parvulus) seems more than coincidental. Simon, in the extant fragments of his Great Announcement (his apparently pre-Christian Apophasis Megale), claims, as in Acts 8:10, to be the Power of God that is called Great. And he explicitly says that “if its imaging be perfected and generated from an indivisible point, the small shall become great (my emphasis). What makes this interesting is that in some manuscripts of Josephus, the account of Simon the magician (who may well be our Simon) contains the name Atomus, meaning “indivisible,” instead of Simon (Antiquities of the Jews 20.7.2).

Thus it seems plausible that Simon, already in his pre-Christian system, saw himself as transitioning in some way from smallness to greatness. He may have been short physically and attempted to compensate for that by claiming to be great in spiritual stature. Did the Megas also claim to be a magus? Probably not. Gerd Lüdemann has suggested that it was the author of Acts of the Apostles who demoted Simon to magician status (“The Acts of the Apostles and the Beginnings of Simonian Gnosis,” New Testament Studies 33, 1987). I suspect it happened earlier than that. Simon no doubt had enemies early on and the wordplay involved for them to turn the Megas into a magus seems simple and natural enough.


It is simply inconceivable that Justin could have defended Christianity to a Jew for one hundred and forty-two chapters, yet never once bring up the number one influential and early Christian with whom so many of them had a major problem.

6. Another reason to see Paul as a variation of Simon is the failure of Justin to mention Paul anywhere in his writings. Justin knew and wrote about Marcion, so Justin had to have known about Paul and his letters. Marcion was the great Paulinist. His whole religion revolved around Paul’s gospel and letters. So since Justin knew about Marcion, he also certainly knew about Paul. Yet he never names him.


To explain Justin’s glaring omission mainstream scholars sheepishly say he must have felt that Marcion’s advocacy of Paul had compromised the Apostle. But this solution just doesn’t hold up. And for at least two reasons.

  • First, in Justin’s longest work—the Dialogue with Trypho—he discusses with a Jew practically every objection that Jews had to Christianity. And long before Marcion’s time Jews had objected to Paul and his teaching. From the beginning and right up to the present time Jews have had far more difficulty stomaching Paul than the Jesus of the Gospels. So to me it is simply inconceivable that Justin could have defended Christianity to a Jew for one hundred and forty-two chapters, yet never once bring up the number one influential and early Christian with whom so many of them had a major problem. In such an extended mid-second century dialogue with a Jew, Justin must have brought up the matter of Paul, to defend him, explain him, or excuse him. The subject matter of the Dialogue called for it.
  • Moreover, Justin several times brings up issues about which there is controversy among Christians. He is not embarrassed, for example, to let Trypho know that good Christians are divided about whether there will be a thousand year reign in Jerusalem. And he is not embarrassed to admit that there are bad Christians, Christian in name only, for they act immorally or even “teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistic and foolish” (Dialogue 80). We know that Justin considered Marcion to be one of those bad Christians. So why not just denounce Marcion’s supposed distortion of Paul and defend the real Paul to Trypho? Paul was controversial from the beginning. If Marcion’s advocacy of him made him even more controversial, all the more reason for Justin to acknowledge it and, again, explain his position to Trypho. I see no good reason why Justin would have refrained from handling the controversial Paul just as he did other controverted matters: “Some say this, others say that. My own position is such and such.”

No, the far more likely explanation for Justin’s glaring omission is the interchangeability of Simon and Paul. That is to say, Justin did bring up the subject of Paul—and not just in his Dialogue with Trypho. He mentioned him in all three of his undisputed writings. And each time he disowned him without hesitation. But he disowned him under his original name: Simon (1st Apologia 56; 2nd Apologia 15; Dialogue with Trypho 120). And because he disowned him, any use he made of ideas from Simon/Paul’s letters was done without any acknowledgment of the source.


An Objection

These then are some of my reasons for thinking that the 2nd century proto-orthodox Paul was formed from the 1st century heterodox Simon of Samaria. There are, of course, objections that can be raised to this identification. They will receive responses in the course of this series of posts. But there is an apparently obvious problem that should be addressed immediately: Simon is said to have made some outrageous claims, even after his embrace of belief in a crucified Son of God. He claimed to be the Son or highest power of God. It seems hard to believe that the person who wrote at least part of the Pauline letters could have made a claim like that.

In response, I would first point out that we do not know the manner in which Simon made his claim. According to the Pseudo-Clementines, Simon did not go around openly proclaiming himself the Son of God. He was discreet, even secretive. Peter says this:

You evidently, Simon, do not understand it, and yet you do not wish to confess your ignorance, and thus be proved not to be the Standing Son. For you hint at this, though you do not wish to state it plainly. And indeed, I who am not a prophet, but a disciple of the true Prophet, know well from the hints you have given what your wishes are. For you, though you do not understand even what is distinctly said, wish to call yourself Son in opposition to us. (Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, 18, 7, my emphasis)

So Simon could have made his claim in much the same manner that the Jesus figure does in GMark. The Markan Jesus does not go around preaching “I am the Son of God.” He dropped hints and then let people figure out on their own that he was the Son of God.

Did the author of the Paulines do the same? We can say this: He too was accused of having a secret gospel, of being deceptive, and of preaching himself. And he does at times say things that are at least open to being the kind of claim that Simon made. For instance, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20); “But when [God]… was pleased to reveal his Son in me…” (Gal. 1:15-16); “In my flesh I fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…” (Col. 1:24).

The mystery hidden for ages, but now revealed to the saints is this: “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27), which words can also be translated: “Christ among you.” Understood in the latter sense, the warnings of the gospel Jesus about those who will claim that the Son is back among us become relevant: “If they say, ‘He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Mt. 24:26-27).

In addition, as Earl Doherty, in his Jesus: Neither God Nor Man has brought out so well:

When Paul speaks of his work as an apostle, there is no sense that he regards himself as building on the work of Jesus. It is Paul who has received from God “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19); it is he whom God has qualified “to dispense the new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:5). Paul’s disregard for Jesus’ own ministry of reconciliation and dispensation of the new covenant is quite astonishing. He goes on to offer a parallel to Moses’ splendor in the giving of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:7-11). Typically, it is not Jesus’ recent ministry he points to, but the splendor of his own ministry through the Spirit (pp. 49-50).

Finally, we need to remember that Paul himself acknowledges in one passage that there is something unutterable that he is keeping back:

I know a man in Christ who… was caught up to the third heaven… And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter… About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast… (2 Cor. 12: 2-5).

What secret is Paul holding back? It is not that he has seen the risen Christ. He speaks about that openly. Nor that the risen Christ has made him an apostle, has given him the ministry of reconciliation, qualifying him to dispense the new covenant whose splendour surpasses that of Moses. He’s open about all that too. So what was his secret? Why tease his readers by telling them he has heard some words, but can’t tell them what they were? He must have known his followers would wonder. Was that perhaps his intent?

We may have a clue to the secret in that, after hearing the unutterable words, Paul receives an angel of Satan to harass him. And three times he begs God for relief from that angel. This is reminiscent of the gospel Jesus who, after hearing the words “You are my beloved Son,” is tempted three times by Satan. Could those be the secret words that Simon/Paul heard too?

In my opinion there are enough intriguing passages in the Pauline letters for us to legitimately wonder whether their author not only preached the crucified Son of God, but also intimated to his closest followers that he himself was “the Son who appeared to suffer in Judaea.” All Christians are “in Christ,” but Christ was in Paul in a special way. The next post will be about the collection of his letters.

The following two tabs change content below.

Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus is the author of this post. Roger is the author of A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Other Apellean Writings and two series of Vridar posts: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius and A Simonian Origin for Christianity. In a previous life Roger was a Catholic priest.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

54 thoughts on “A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 1”

  1. Fascinating. Thank you for putting this together. I have been despairing lately of making any headway in determining Christian origins. While the reliable facts have been few, the possible elements and their configurations have been manifold. At least this provides an interesting new map we can sit around, point at, and argue over.

    This thesis has the advantage of working with a long-voiced and plausible suspicion that proto-orthodoxy is a late effort to mix two antecedent streams: (proto-)gnosticism and Torah-centered Judaism. It explains why the gnostics are at first accepted (Valentinus and Marcion achieving prominence in Rome) or dominant (Egyptian Christianity) before the house-cleaning begins. It fits with the traditions that Simon was a disciple of John the Baptist as well as the apparent conflation of the figures of Jesus and John in various places, most notably the medieval Gospel of Barnabas.

    Some questions that come to my mind that may be addressed as the discussion continues:

    1. If James represents a lineage that remains more traditionally Jewish, how is it that he also becomes a revered progenitor in gnostic texts?

    2. Are you identifying the Jamesian Jewish proselytes with the Ebionites? How do they fit in this picture? Do they have any relation with the supposed pre-Christian Nasarenes mentioned by Epiphanius?

    3. The Babylonian Talmud names the religious figure Yeshu ha-Notzri who was executed in the reign of Alexander Jannaeus. Could this be a historical person who plays a role in these developing traditions somehow, perhaps as the one Simon has in mind when he says he appeared before as the Son who was crucified in Judea?

    Looking forward to the next post!

    1. “1. If James represents a lineage that remains more traditionally Jewish, how is it that he also becomes a revered progenitor in gnostic texts?”

      One possible link is Cerinthus:


      It may be too simple of an answer, but he’s an interesting candidate for a being link between these groups.

      As for later gnostics use of James, I would chalk that up to their using alternative figures and their “teachings” to bolster their way of looking at things.

      The Gospel of Thomas is also considered “Q”-like but has a gnostic redaction, so that’s worth looking at too.

      1. “3. The Babylonian Talmud names the religious figure Yeshu ha-Notzri who was executed in the reign of Alexander Jannaeus. Could this be a historical person who plays a role in these developing traditions somehow, perhaps as the one Simon has in mind when he says he appeared before as the Son who was crucified in Judea?”

        I think the fact that Alexander Janneaus was an enemy of the Pharisees (and crucified 800 of them, IIRC) should be taken into consideration here. I imagine that this was a stand out event (it’s even condemned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, who were otherwise strongly opposed to the Pharisees) that could not have been far from the minds of any Pharisee living after it whenever the subject of crucifixion in general arose.

        And the fact that the Pharisees were enemies of early Christianity makes me think that the essence of this relatively late Talmudic account is that it’s simply an attempt to deflect blame for Jesus’ death from themselves to someone else, someone who just so happened to have been *their* greatest enemy. I don’t think the account “means” much more than this (not to say that’s not an interesting one or entirely devoid of historical value).

    2. Chris,

      I’m glad this is the kind of overview or map you wanted. But if it is ok, I would prefer to hold off on answering the questions you asked. I think they will be answered, at least in part, by the posts that follow. And I am afraid of getting sidetracked if I depart too much from the order I have planned for the posts.

      But I promise that if the full series of posts doesn’t answer your questions, I will come back to them.

  2. It seems hard to believe that the person who wrote at least part of the Pauline letters could have made a claim like that.

    You read before in my mind and then make a strong case for your argument.

    The words of Bob Price about Doherty book describe my feelings while reading your posts:

    I felt like the disciples on the road to Emmaus:
    ”Did our hearts not burn whitin us as he opened the scriptures to us?”

    The authors of the Synoptic gospels never belonged to the community of those two pillars. That community was long gone, a victim of the 66-70 CE war with Rome

    Roger, what you think about the links James/Righteous Teacher and Simon or ”Paul”/The ”Liar” of Scrolls ?
    The community of Pillars can be viewed as the Qumran community ?
    There is an analogous conflict between the free-Torah conduct by the ”Liar” philo-Roman (Simon?) against the Righteous Teacher (James?) philo-Zealots.

    …an allegory about a figure (Simon of Samaria) that its author presumably viewed as historical.

    I have not clear a question of strict terminology (but a idiot question). If the ”Jesus” of Gospels is viewed ab initio like the composition of 2/3 historical figures (John the Baptist, Simon and a failed messiah), can we call Simon or the failed messiah or John the ”Historical Jesus” ? Or the earliest ”Jesus” was only the name of spiritual Son worshipped by Pillars community and predicted from Ascension of Isaiah? Where is the earliest appareance of name ”Jesus” in your view? Among Pillars or even before?


    1. Giuseppe,

      Same response as to Chris above. In this post I provided a summary overview of the whole hypothesis, but I do want to go through it a step at a time in an orderly manner. By the time I get to the last post you should have answers to some of your questions. And then I will come back to the others.

  3. To me your explanation for Justin Martyr’s silence doesn’t sound terribly convincing either. If JM believed Simon and Paul were the same person, why didn’t he mention that simple fact? This is not something that could have been silently assumed as known by Trypho / JM’s readership?

    1. I think Justin knew that Simon and Paul were two names for the same person but didn’t see any compelling reason to inform Trypho of all or any of the Simon’s various titles and names, including ‘Paul.’ Justin and Trypho were in total agreement that any belief in a God higher than the God of Jews was false. So Justin, having said that those who trust in Simon as the highest God are wrong, obviously got no objection from Trypho and so just moved on to something else.

      But, assuming my scenario is correct, I do wonder why Justin didn’t try to sell Trypho on the new Paul-who-is-separate-from-Simon that some of his co-religionists had created. Did he just see it as a needless complication to his argument? Or was he against the maneuver altogether as being fraudulent? I don’t expect that all the proto-orthodox would have immediately got on board with the decision to co-opt Simonian Christianity. Or that all agreed on the means to carry it out. But maybe Justin just wasn’t sure enough that the tactic would succeed. There was no guarantee it would—especially with Cerdo and Marcion already crying “foul!” Hard to know.

  4. I have to agree, Roger, that there is a lot of speculation in your theories. But for the moment, let me ask one basic question. What case can be made for the actual existence of Simon in the mid-first century? It seems that you and others are very ready to reject an historical Paul from that time period (despite having writings in his name), yet simply assume the existence of a Simon who seems to be witnessed only from the time of Justin and Irenaeus, and from whom we have no alleged writings. Why cannot their Simon be a construct to explain the rise of the gnostic heresy which Justin and Irenaeus were condemning?


    1. Earl

      The only 1st century reference to him would arguably be that of Josephus to the magician Simon/Atomus (regarding which see Robert M. Price’s The Amazing Colossal Apostle, pp. 199-200).

      But please understand that I really don’t see myself as rejecting an historical Paul. I do reject the proto-orthodox version of him. But I think Paul was historical and that his given name was Simon.

      As a rough illustration: it would be as if I were to argue that certain letters that have Mark Twain’s name on them were written by someone who was also known as Samuel Clemens. That wouldn’t be rejecting an historical Mark Twain—just identifying him under another name of his. (And I realize, of course, that it is far easier to prove that Mark Twain and Sam Clemens are the same person than to prove that Paul was Simon.)

      Yes the Paulines have the name “Paul” on them. But I think you would agree that there can be considerations that even outweigh the presence of a name on a letter. For instance, many scholars think that the evidence militating against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral letters outweighs the presence of Paul’s name on them. If I recall correctly, you agree, no? Well, I will argue that there are also good indications that the author of parts of the so-called undisputed letters was Simon. That is to say, I will show how authorship of the letters by a person who fits the proto-orthodox description of Simon can plausibly explain a number of peculiarities in them.

    2. Precisely what is my mind while I am reading this text so far. Is there any historical text from before the fall of Jerusalem that mention Simon? I have to go back to Josephus.

      1. Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, early in the reign of Vespasian. They make a very good case (independently, I believe) that GMark is best understood as counter-propaganda to Vespasian’s claim to be universal ruler (‘messiah’) foretold in Jewish prophecy.

  5. Having just read Detering’s book, which Roger’s theory is inspired by, it sets me wondering how, if the letters traditionally ascribed to Paul are in fact from mid-second-century Marcionite originals, they can be so mythicist, as per Earl Doherty’s theory? If both theories are right, then must we see Marcion as a mythicist instead of as a docetist?

    1. Hi Emma,

      I just want to clarify that I think Detering is right that Paul is Simon, but I don’t agree that the Paulines are Marcionite. As I indicated in my post above, my hypothesis is that:

      “The earliest parts of the original collection of Paulines were written between 50 CE and 130 CE by Simon of Samaria and his successor, Menander. Simonians were secretive, so the collection was likely intended for their use only. But by the early 130s some proto-orthodox Christians came to know of it and, by making certain additions and modifications, attempted to co-opt it for proto-orthodoxy.”

      So, as I see it, the proto-orthodox reworking of the Simonian letter collection had already been carried out by the time Marcion arrived on the scene in the late 130s. I am going to get into this a bit in my next post and even more in the third.

      And, for what it’s worth, I think Marcion believed in an historical but docetic Jesus.


      1. “As I see it, the proto-orthodox reworking of the Simonian letter collection had already been carried out by the time Marcion arrived on the scene in the late 130s.I am going to get into this a bit in my next post and even more in the third.”

        Correction: “… and even more in the fourth”.

  6. Roger,

    I write here a question, hoping in a answer in your future ”ufficial” posts, if not now.
    I see that a ”docetic” (and mythicist) view fits perfectly with a gnostic ”Paul”.
    But I have some doubts that the same happened for Pillars.
    The Pillars were dualists (YHWH versus Beliar, true Israel versus Roma) but were not gnostics.
    While Paul can despise the temporary ”human container” of the Son (in virtue of dualism spirit/flesh), the Pillars had all the interest to value somehow that failed messiah in a very similar manner to an ”historicist” version of story, making your view more close to Eisenman’s position (HJ Zealot eclipsed by Paul) than to Doherty’s (Jesus Myth).
    I agree that in your view, ”Paul” and Pillars believe IN a Son of God, not that someone WAS the Son of God (Doherty’ words). But I don’t see any theological point in a ”docetic” view held by people that are not gnostics but only dualists.
    In Book of Revelation, a book very similar to an hypotetical ”Gospel of Pillars”, can I see ”docetic” clues?
    For example:
    Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne


    1. Giuseppe,

      I will be addressing this when I get to the nature of Simon/Paul’s gospel. But I’m glad you are asking now because it does make me aware of what I must be sure to include in the post. (I have a feeling, though, that you and I already discussed this matter previously, no? I looked quickly but could not find the thread.)

  7. I agree with Earl here. There are definitely some interesting connections, but to say that Simon was the historical Paul is reading too much into it, imho. There is nothing concerning Simon before we get into the second century and we cannot be ultraskeptical of these proto orthodox guys without treating the gnostics the same way. Especially, it bears noting that the elaborate theology presented in The Great Declaration is a far cry from even the protognostic sounding passages in Paul’s letters. I find it much more straight forward to view Simon as a literary construct to rival Peter (and represent Paul’s teachi g without slamming him, as he was in the process of being assimilated to orthodoxy). Second century gnostics then ran with the figure as a historical figurehead (and beyond him, John the Baptist). Not to mention the ripple effect of pushing some of the letters like 1 Corinthians as well as Mark and Matthew into the mid 2nd century. is quite substantial and requires we believe practically everything before Iraneus is a forgery…it’s just asking too much.

    1. Why would Simon be constructed to rival Peter (and represent Paul’s teaching) if those doing so didn’t want to “slam Paul” and wanted to “assimilate him to orthodoxy”? I don’t follow that logic.

      Which second century gnostics “ran with Simon as a historical figurehead” and why would they do this if Simon had been constructed by the proto-orthodox?

      1. Simon would have been a way to condemn certain doctrines and alleged practices of Paul without badmouthing Paul himself, whose followers they were trying to appeal to. As we have it in Acts, Peter and Paul are portrayed as basically doing and preaching the same things. Proto-orthodoxy could split the difference and concede on some of Paul’s major points (such as the lack of circumcision as a requirement), but other, less palatable doctrines, would be attributed to Simon.

        The Simonians held Simon as their historical founder. Whether we want to label them as proper gnostics or not is up for debate. As for why they would latch on to a construct, the same question could be asked of those who hold that proto-orthodox Christians latched on to a gnostic Jesus or Paul. Something obviously appealed to people in Simon – whether it be they had an ax to grind with the “heresy hunters” or they had heard something about him being a disciple of John the Baptist…who can say, really? Or it could be that Simon actually was historical in some sense, but the way he is portrayed in Acts and the Clementine Homilies, as spouting Pauline doctrine, is for the purpose of the narrative rather than a historical memory.

    2. Matthew,

      You write: “There is nothing concerning Simon before we get into the second century…”

      Pretty much, yes. So the question becomes: Is what the proto-orthodox heresiologists tell us about Simon reliable enough to be used? What I have found interesting is that when I work with what they tell me about Simon, the result is a much more believable origin for Christianity than the one the proto-orthodox themselves are selling (Acts of the Apostles). In other words, just using what the heresy-hunters give me, I find the most plausible conclusions are the ones they try to steer us away from. Which leads me to think their information—once bias and insults are left aside—is usable.

      It’s like buying a Chevy after getting a questionable sales pitch from a Ford salesman. You glean enough information both from the tidbits he lets fall about his competition as well as from what he says about his own vehicle to realize that his competitor’s vehicle is better.

      Now, both Earl and I agree that the ten-letter collection of Paulines were composed, at least in large part, in the first century. But despite the best efforts of the proto-orthodox, what they let fall about Simon leads me to believe he is Paul under another name.

      Regarding Simon’s Great Declaration: First, remember it represents his pre-Christian system. It is something he was teaching before he embraced belief in a Son of God who descended and suffered in Judaea. Second, the extant text of the Great Declaration is largely Hippolytus’ description of Simon’s system. There are only a few short quotes in it that scholar’s think are Simon’s actual words. So, what we need to ask ourselves is this: Could the man who wrote those quotes be the same one who twenty years later, after embracing the beliefs of an apocalyptic sect, wrote some of the lines we find in the Pauline letters? That is hard to answer. From my own experience, I can say that I’ve come across things I wrote twenty years ago and had to think hard to verify the words were mine.

      You wrote: “I find it much more straight forward to view Simon as a literary construct to rival Peter (and represent Paul’s teaching without slamming him, as he was in the process of being assimilated to orthodoxy). Second century gnostics then ran with the figure as a historical figurehead.”

      Actually no. That’s part of the problem. They didn’t run with someone they called Simon. They ran with someone they called Paul. Irenaeus reproached them for that.

      You wrote: “Not to mention the ripple effect of pushing some of the letters like 1 Corinthians as well as Mark and Matthew into the mid 2nd century.”

      Just one clarification to make here: I wouldn’t date the original 1 Corinthians to the mid 2nd second century. I think it was 1st century Simonian, parts of it going back to Simon, parts to Menander. I do think the proto-orthodox sanitized it around 130 CE. I will discuss this in my next two posts.

      You wrote: “it requires we believe practically everything before Iraneus is a forgery…it’s just asking too much.”

      New Testament scholarship has come quite far already. Just with the Paulines, many scholars now recognize that Hebrews, the three Pastoral letters, and Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians were not written by Paul. And Bart Ehrman says this about James: “Whoever wrote it claimed to be James, because that would best accomplish his objective…” (“Forged, p. 198); Jude: “… in his attempt to attack falsehood, the author himself has apparently committed deception” (p. 187); 1 Peter: “Here we have a forger who wants to insist that the two great apostles of the church were completely on the same page in their understanding of the gospel…”(p. 200); 2 Peter: “In this case the author goes even farther out of his way to insist that he is Peter…” (p. 201); Acts of the Apostles: “How could he have been any more successful at deceiving his readers? …the author succeeded in producing a forgery that continues to deceive readers down to the present day.” (p. 209).

      So I personally would not be surprised if the final discovery should turn out to be that proto-orthodoxy also falsified the so-called undisputed Paulines and the Simonian gospel.

      1. I appreciate the detailed response, Roger. Much of it I do agree with, such as the undeniable practice of forgery by early Christians. I’m a bit tired and bogged down with work, so please forgive that I must save a more in-depth engagement with your work for a later time. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on one particular topic, however. As I have read, Simon taught a sort of “free-love” doctrine that seems entirely irreconcilable with the prudish teaching found in the Pauline Epistles. Even taking for granted some catholic redaction, it seems hard to believe we are talking about the same guy. Of course, it is possible that this doctrine has been completely reversed in the orthodox sanitation efforts, but we simply don’t have any proof or indication of such.

        In any case, I look forward to your future posts, as the issue no doubt warrants exploration. I’ve actually found some interesting connections between Simon Magus and Simon Peter that perhaps I shall compile eventually. I’ve even wondered if Peter and Paul are not themselves doublets, split from a once single character. It would make sense of certain peculiarities, but there are difficulties that arise from such a suggestion, as with many of these hypothetical reconstructions…

        1. Matthew,

          The claim by some of the proto-orthodox that Simon taught a “free-love” doctrine is in fact a great example of the kind of “sales pitch” I was referring to. It’s one from which we can easily glean the truth despite the intentions of the one making the claim.

          In chapter 26 of Justin’s 1st Apologia he writes about Simon, Menander, and Marcion. And he says: “And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds—the upsetting of the lamp, and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh—we don’t know.”

          Now the proto-orthodox themselves acknowledge that Marcion was an ascetic, so it would seem to be either Simon, Menander, or both who were rumored to being doing the shameful deeds mentioned. But for Justin to admit he doesn’t know whether the rumors are true must mean, at a minimum, that Simon and Menander were not openly teaching “free love.” And I think we can also reasonably conclude that they weren’t teaching it privately either. For Justin is writing at least fifty years after the two figures in question were active. It is hard to believe the truth would not have come out in that time. Since Justin clearly despised what these two had taught, I think he would have loved to tie them if he could—at least through their followers—to immorality. Something like: “I don’t know if Simon and Menander were promiscuous, but we know that the members of their communities are!”

          We can also confirm the truth on this matter from what Hippolytus tells us about Simon. For right before accusing the Simonians of being sexually promiscuous, he writes:

          “And the imposter [Simon], having fallen in love with this strumpet called Helen, purchased and kept her, and being ashamed to have it known by his disciples, invented this story.” (Refutation of All Heresies 6,19)

          Notice that what Hippolytus says doesn’t add up. How can you accuse the Simonians of being promiscuous, but just a few verses earlier say that the reason Simon concocted his story about prostitute Helen was because he was ashamed of his association with her. A teacher of “free-loving” wouldn’t be ashamed of his free-loving. And disciples of a free-loving teacher would not be scandalized by his free-loving. Hippolytus’ accusation doesn’t make sense.

          Moreover, Hippolytus inadvertently lets fall some information that could plausibly explain one of the ways the rumor got started. He writes:

          “But, again, those who become followers of this impostor–-I mean Simon the sorcerer-–indulge in similar practices, and irrationally allege the necessity of promiscuous intercourse… they even congratulate themselves on account of this indiscriminate intercourse, asserting that this is perfect love, and employing the expressions, ‘holy of holies,’ and ‘sanctify one another.’ For (they would have us believe) that they are not overcome by the supposed vice, for that they have been redeemed.”

          Now the expressions ‘holy of holies’ and ‘sanctify one another’ are not word-for-word NT quotations but do appear to be derived from 1 Corinthians 7:14. That passage argues that the Christian party to a mixed marriage (i.e. marriage to a non-believer) should not seek divorce, for “the unbelieving husband is made holy by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy by the brother.” [= ‘sanctify one another’] “Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy” [= ‘holy of holies’; i.e., a holy child comes from holy parents].

          Of course, the first thing I find interesting here is that, according to Hippolytus, followers of Simon appealed to a Pauline text to justify their behaviour. If Simon and Paul were really two different people, wouldn’t followers of Simon appeal to Simon? Or did they suddenly abandon Simon for Paul? In my opinion, it is far more likely that they considered 1 Corinthians 7:14 to be a text of Simon; and knew that Simon and Paul were the same guy.

          But in any case, the Simonians were apparently not as promiscuous as Hippolytus would like us to believe. It looks like they appealed to 1 Corinthians 7:14 to explain why Christians need to remain in a mixed marriage. Their enemies twisted that into a “need for promiscuous intercourse.”

          Finally, I will add that in the gnostic texts that were found at Nag Hammadi the gnostics do indeed come across as quite prudish.

    3. It is not asking too much, but absolutely necessary — if not too little, in virtue of the possibility that Ireneus is largely forged and interpolated by later historians such as Eusebius to feign an earlier commencement of the church, specifically an early history of martyrdom.

      1. Can you give us some citations to follow up for the possibility that Eusebius and others largely interpolated the writings of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr? A long time ago I did read such things about the writings of Justin, one particularly focusing on an argument that the sections in Justin’s writings referencing the Memoirs of the Apostles were interpolations, but can no longer recall the source.

  8. Roger,
    It’s true. Part of your answer I waited is securely here.


    But my doubts are others. It’s OK, at least for me, the equation ”Paul”=Simon but I remember that the *historicist* Robert Eisenman too (and Hyam Maccoby with him) — and Bob Price quotes him in his book The Amazing Colossal Apostle –, is opened to this identity.

    To think that Paul is Simon does not ipso facto imply a Mythicist conclusion.

    Simon was not the Antichrist hated by Irenaeus, but nevertheless he was not a saint: he can have eclipsed an historical Zealot Jesus with the same rapidity (and probability), being an heretical intruder in the original community of Pillars.

    Then my Big Question is this: if Simon became enemy of Pillars, the object of dispute was the true identity of the Father that sent the Son to death (the God of Jews versus Deus Alienus of gnostics) or the *ontological status* of an hypothetical Essene/Zealot HJ (Eisenman and Maccoby thesis) ?

    Doherty didn’t have this problem, because he, with Consensus (a sin? 🙂 ), doesn’t see (contra Burton Mack) so exaggerated the dramatic conflict between Paul and Pillars: for Doherty, the Pillar James was only a ”historical clone” of Paul in terms of what would be the minimal shared Gospel, i.e. that the spiritual Son of God (of Jews) is died and risen. Stop. Quarrel between Paul and James is nothing of important, not in such a way to cause schism to these immane proportions seed by R. Parvus : ”Paul” & company the second Beast of Revelation!
    To hate the harlot ”Babilonia” (i.e.Roma) is to hate Simon Magus, too!

    My problem is that, IF we cannot believe to sincerity of ”Paul”’s words when he uses good terms about James and the ”poors” of Jerusalem, because there is *a priori* gigantic ”conflict of interests” between him and Pillars, THEN we cannot know (with the same facility of Doherty) if behind the Pillars there was another spiritual Son ”Jesus” instead of an eclipsed HJ Zealot crucified by Romans (Maccoby positions).

    In conclusion, Roger has yet to persuade completely me — contra Eisenman & Maccoby — that the Pillars were not ” Jesus historicist” Judeo-christians (à la ebionites) but were ”Jesus Docetics”, having in mind this Crucial Difference from Doherty’s view that I hope to have cleared (in spite of my bad English, I’m sorry).

  9. Roger,

    the crucial point from your previous (high suggestive) comment


    is this:

    That is to say, they [the Pillars] viewed the Father in the Ascension to be the God of the Jews, and the tricking of the princes of this world was seen by them as the beginning of the final victory of the Jews over their enemies. It was the sign that the reign of Christ on earth was imminent. Perhaps too the fact that that it was some kind of zealot that the Son chose to switch places with was viewed by them as another indication of his approval of that cause. (my bold)

    That is, you think that the Pillars KNEW personally that PARTICULAR specific individual that was the Son during the few hours of his death by Roman crucifixion but they ignored him (the real historical man) – did not care for burying his corpse, for example – because they were already thinking to the future, imminent, arrive of Son Celestial Warrior.

    But what cause them to link that PARTICULAR specific historical man – and not others – to the spiritual Son of (Jew) God ? What did that PARTICULAR specific historical man — respect to others — to attract the attention from Pillars and to move them to remember that the Prophecy (chapters 611 of the Ascension of Isaiah?) was NOW — and only NOW — realized ?

    The feeling is that somehow that PARTICULAR specific historical man did something of historically important and ORIGINAL, to trigger the Pillars to re-interpret the original Myth (chapters 611 of the Ascension of Isaiah).

    Why the god Jesus took the appearance, and only the appearance, of that PARTICULAR specific historical man — and NOT of others — during the few days that the sacred drama lasted ?

    I hope I have clarified the critical point. I note that Edouard Dujardin was thinking the same thing about the ”docetic” view of Paul, but unlike Roger for him to come apparently” crucified” in historical reality was only the actor of a sacred drama (who personified the god Jesus) repeated thousands of times, not one, and only one, by a failed messiah/zealot (Roger’s view).

    About Dujardin:


    ….. http://www.kilibro.com/en/book/preview/1310445/ancient-history-of-the-god-jesus [Link no longer active, 17th August, 2015 — Neil. Try https://books.google.com.au/books?id=WebwDM4TCK4C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false ]

    I hope to find a good answer – as always – in next Part II.


    1. Giuseppe

      No, I do not think that the Pillars knew the particular individual who the Son, according to the Vision of Isaiah, was to switch places with. And I’m not convinced the particular individual was of any importance to the author of the Vision either. I think his main concern may have simply been to have the powers-that-be tricked into wrongly crucifying the Son of God. For that to happen, he could just as easily have made the Son switch places with, for instance, some troublemaking philosopher who was being executed. And had that happened, Reza Aslan’s book would be entitled “Philosopher” instead of “Zealot.”

  10. But then I got it wrong! The Pillars simply believed in the fulfillment of their prophecy only on virtue of personal heavenly revelations of the present moment. The failed crucified messiah could be randomly any of the many crucified by the Romans with the same probability: he was never known by pillars.

    the metaphor that you’ve done here had me fooled:


    in particular:

    And even if the dead body of a homeless man could be found, it would not really constitute any kind of proof that the Son of God had switched places with him.

    but now I can appreciate better when you point out:

    The Son’s choice of homeless man was random.

    And had that happened, Reza Aslan’s book would be entitled “Philosopher” instead of “Zealot.”

    I can see the irony of your words, and laugh heartily 😀
    Very Thanks,

  11. Hey Neil — great posts (a bit over my head, but I am trying):
    Some thoughts:
    (1) When reading your last few posts I often have trouble figuring out the sources of your quotes.
    For example, your first quote in pink here: “The proto-orthodox claim …” was writen by who?
    May I suggest putting the source of a quote right after the quote.

    (2) Have you posted on what “Proto-Orthodox” means in your terms — sources, etc. How would it differ from “Orthodox”. Are they some of the first ‘sanctioned’ Church fathers?

        1. Sabio,

          1. The centered quotes in large quotation marks are from the post itself. Feel free to mentally insert “Roger Parvus” after them. They are a way to call attention to what will be found in each new section. They are also intended to help prevent the post from becoming “a wall of text.” I pretty much rely on Neil to decide what to highlight by this method. And he finds appropriate graphics for the posts too. Thanks to him my bland prose is more reader-friendly and less likely to bore Vridar readers to death.

          2. By “the proto-orthodox” I mean the earliest group of Christians whose version of Christianity developed and eventually won out over competing ones, becoming in the late fourth century the state sanctioned Christian church. Some early Christians whom I consider to be proto-orthodox were Clement of Rome, Justin, Polycarp, and Irenaeus.

          I think that proto-orthodoxy started out as a kind of philosophical movement in the early second century. We find it in a purer form in many of the writings of the second century apologists. Earl Doherty describes the religion of those apologists well:

          “What was this ‘Christian philosophy’ as presented by the apologists? 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 an intermediary between God and humanity. In the 2nd century even more 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.” (“Jesus—Neither God Nor Man,” p. 476)

          To those who held such beliefs the teachings of Simon of Samaria would have been offensive. I think this is what led some of them, around CE 130, to take on a new project: the co-optation of Simonian Christianity. They aimed to create a proto-orthodox version of it and make the claim that their version was in fact the original. This involved reworking a collection of Simonian letters and a Simonian allegory about Simon.

          I expect that not all the proto-orthodox were on board with this at first. Some may have only gone along with the creation of proto-orthodox gospels. Some may have felt it was too risky to attempt to take over Simon’s correspondence. Justin, for example, never mentions an apostle named Paul or quotes from his letters. But at some point later in the second century it likely became clear to all that the takeover could in fact succeed. And ultimately it did.

  12. My problem with this concept starts with the very real possibility that Irenaeus AH 1.23.1 and 1.23.4 (plus the first sentences in 1.23.2 and 1.23.5) could be an interpolation from the 4th century. The rest of 1.23.2-3 appears to be a continuation of the system of the Marcosians in AH 1.20-21, picking up on the Demiurge’s speaking about Sophia the mother of all. Simon was added, and is the only “heretic” taken from NT text. Highly irregular and inconsistent with Irenaeus work otherwise – he does not use scripture as source for any other heretic.

    In general what I am trying to say is that the Simon story seems to have been picked up in the anti-Manichean writers in the late 3rd to mid 4th centuries. Simon was seen as a fitting archetype that mapped well to Mani. A Christian who is not a Christian, the arch heretic of Acts time, and now in the current late 3rd to early 4th century. The Simon literature in the Clementines, and I argue in Irenaeus and the similar interpolation in Justin, are from this era when Manicheanism was a real competitor with Christianity for the State religion of the Empire.That the Manicheans appear to have picked up a sort of expanded Marcionite Bible (has John at least), freely quoting the Antithesis (e.g., Act Archeleus 40, and passages in Clementines and Augustine) and borrowed many concepts such as Jesus being docetic, and the OT and Law invalid, part of the Demiurge’s realm.

    This made Simon an appealing candidate for the arch villain, but there was no need for hos story and battle with Peter before Mani. It is my opinion therefore that Simon as Paul is a mirage, and this is a dead end.

    FYI, I did pursue the idea a few years back. I was working on the premise that Peter in the Gospels, who is mostly Simon Peter, and sometimes just Simon (the one who hears), and was paralleled by Simon of Cyrene, and other people named Simon, really mapped to Paul. The Gospel was thus meant as a revelation to Simon (Peter), who was in fact Paul of the Epistles. Thus Simon = Peter = Paul; the Catholic hero Peter was then simply their version of the heretic hero Paul. This might still be an idea worth investigating, but Simon Magus is not that Simon.

    Simon starts his being in Acts 8:9-24, but even here it appears to be two stories conflated; Acts 8:9-13 he is somebody converted by Phillip; but in 8:14-24 apostles Peter and John from Jerusalem arrive and Phillip vanishes until 8:25. Somehow Peter and John have heard the news which is not reported until verse 8:25 in verse 8:14. So the entire Simon as a false Christian seems to be a different story. Now that is curious.

    1. I’m afraid I’m not on board with seeing Simon as a late response to Mani. But be that as it may, in this series I am assuming, for my test of sorts, that the proto-orthodox information about Simon is basically correct, including a date for him in the first century. And I’m combining that with the early confusion between Simon and Paul to see if it can explain, among other things, the present inconsistent state of the Pauline letters and Marcion’s contention that they had been interpolated. Perhaps if you continue on to posts two through six of the series you will understand better the first part of my hypothesis.

      1. Simon using the Vision of Isaiah as his gospel……Does this info come from Church father writings?? I believe you are on point just would like to know where you got this info..


  13. The more I consider this, the more I like it as an explanation for Christian origins. It occurs to me to amend or expand on one or two points.

    1. The idea that Simon would be given epithets simply out of reverence – I’d expand this in two directions. For one, having additional names that we would regard as epithets, I think, probably has a different status in the Near East and Middle East of antiquity up through today. I once had an Iranian mother-in-law who had multiple names. And in the history of Islam, for example, we have names-as-epithets everywhere. So on the one hand, there was perhaps a greater ease, a greater tendency to confer these additional names that would contribute to why a Simon would also be registered under all these other names.

    Second, and as the presentation shows to some extent, there was a *doctrinal* basis. If Simon argues that the power of God when focused down to the smallest point (an indivisible point or atom) can still take over the world, one can see him resolving the cognitive dissonance in the minds of his followers as to how he can be the Great Power and yet still be one man struggling to gain followers, struggling against other factions, etc. I suspect that if Simon was advancing himself as Megas and yet also using a name like Paul to mean ‘small’, it was because he posited a dialectical equivalence between his (invisible) greatness and his (manifest) smallness. I find this more persuasive than that he was a small man with a Napoleonic complex, etc.

    2. Wouldn’t this latter, then, make sense of the name ‘Marcion’? Rather than the diminutive being an insult that originated with the so-called proto-Catholics, if Marcion was a latter-day Simonian, perhaps the Simonian practice of taking on small, humble names was still going, and perhaps ‘Marcion’ was a diminutive that the real Marcion adopted – which was only after used derisively by the proto-Catholics.

    The question in my mind then becomes: how do we make sense of the situation with urMark (a Simonian document or collection of esoteric vignettes) and Marcion’s reported used of a stripped down GLuke? Maybe Marcion ‘presented’ an urMark-like document to the church at Rome, which was rejected. This spurred on the development of GMark, GMatt, GLuke. After some interval, GLuke came into Marcion’s hands, and with his aversion to the Hebrew Bible, he hacked out pieces that were obvious to him and his followers as being geared toward the Old Testament. There would have been a difference then between a gospel he might have inherited (an urMark) and one he ‘created’. The Marcion milieu can be imagined as already being a couple generations removed from its original Simonianism, and geographically removed as well, on the one hand retaining some of its esoteric origins, but on the other (especially under Marcion’s new wealthy leadership) offering a streamlined, Gentile-oriented religion with a prevailing Platonic disapproval of any creator God (‘demiurge’), etc.

    As a P.S. on GMark: the urMark that Marcion presented might have been rejected for church purposes, but not destroyed. And as it was reworked by the proto-Catholics it continued to bear the name of the one who’d presented it to the church of Rome – Marcion – minus the diminutive. Thus a nameless Simonian proto-Gospel carried to Rome by Marcion gained after some interval the name ‘Mark’.

  14. Religious Platonism with a Jewish cast. I think you have it. The Trajin Pliny letters are a a flat out give to me that this religion originated in Asia Minor. We have Roman officials that have no clue to who these people are. So no Nero and or Acts persecutions . This would mark the first Roman notice. There is no Jewish notice until the second century. I find this odd since we have Christian claims of their origin. These sprse references make sense if its an early first century neo platonism that adds a Jewish cast mid century.

    1. Who was it who said (paraphrasing) that gnosticism was Platonism run amok?

      When certain scholars look at the gospels, they see historical chronicles that just got a bit garbled – basically reliable accounts peppered with certain inexplicable bonehead mistakes (e.g. miracle stories) made by ignorant, superstitious ancients.

      When one looks at gnosticism and its use of Platonism, one is tempted to see the same thing – a laughably absurd set of misunderstandings, and then look no further.

      I rather suspect gnosticism was sort of the new popular religion of the time, similar to our giant self-help literature today. There was a lot of social ‘modernity’ owing to changes in the empire(s), and so the old gods and the static rituals originally at home in single city-states no longer cut it. The response was gnosticism. They looked to the most heady, ancient, and yet accessible texts of the day – by Plato and followers – and took from that body of literature and practice however they felt necessary.

      But more than this – at least, this is my feeling – what they did to Platonism is very different in one respect from what we can easily imagine today. In an illiterate society infused with magical thinking – one reliant on spells, curses, and so on, as well as gematria – the written word itself was in a sense magical and ‘holy’. Thus, taking Platonic texts and applying what we today would regard as a non-philosophical religious exegesis was fair game: these texts for being old and magical were in a sense also scripture, possessed of supernatural energy.

      So on the one hand, you have the old gods more suited to localities or, at best, monoculture(s). Then you have the new fact of Mediterranean-wide empire, mixing of cultures, and commerce. And as result, you have the worship of the old gods feeling less and less right. What did feel right, though, was a new syncretism that took the form of the various gnosticisms.

      Now on the other hand, in the Near East you have the Jerusalem-centered Yahweh cult factions. By historical circumstance, their doctrine (at least at the highest levels) had become monotheistic or monolatrous. There was also an usual degree of zealotry associated with that ‘god’. You also had the unusual dictates about not creating a likeness for the god, etc., which aligned it neatly with a Platonic unknowable highest power. – All of these things, and more, would have made a Judaism appealing to Roman empire cosmopolitans who were feeling the worthiness (and power) of their own gods less and less. (And thus you had a surprising number of non-Jewish converts to Judaism.)

      There were Jews throughout the eastern part of the Empire, especially after the destruction of the temple. But among them you had generations of Jews who had lived outside of Jerusalem who almost certainly had mutated beliefs and practices. Indeed, at a certain point, if I remember hearing right, there may have been more diaspora Jews outside Jerusalem than in it. These Judaisms outside Jerusalem would have had all sorts of strange features and compromises with local beliefs and practices – whether in Egypt or modern-day Syria and Turkey.

      I suspect that in this environment of a weakened Greco-Roman style polytheism, and a dispersed, cosmopolitanized Judaism with all sorts of variants and orientations around certain scriptures, a group (James faction?) that was already in rebellion against a more dominant faction, and one in which a certain zealotry and confidence in ‘rightness of cause’ was evident, was based outside of Jerusalem. Then enter into the mix an ambitious Simon Magus-like figure, who for his ambitions, goes north into Samaria (maybe he is originally from there, making it easy and natural to do so) where he starts to ‘convert’ his Jewish cousins. Samaria itself at the time seems to have been culturally split – to some extent comprising a cosmopolitan, heavily Greek-influenced coast and a more rural, classically tribal inland.

      Simon’s doctrine, consistent with the various accounts of spiritual possession of the time, held that among other things – broadly speaking – one could be possessed by the spirit of God or the spirit of the son of God in whatever form of Christology that was. But regardless of doctrine, the deeper phenomenon spread – providing as it did a sort of secret form of community in an empire in which community was dissolving. Simon was probably not alone in fulfilling this need. Others – Apelles? Peter? – who were wandering holy men, some associated with the James faction, some not, fit the same type. Simon, however, appears to have been a special personality giving his group/school a little extra umpf.

      This is where ‘Christianity’ met the empire – where Syria meets Turkey today. This is where the ‘community organizing’ stage of Christianity began. If you read the Pliny letter, where he says he tortured the two women, he seems to say that at the point of maximum pain and pressure to explain their beliefs, they just unloaded a lot of superstitious nonsense. And he stops before explaining exactly what their superstitions were. It leads you to believe what he heard was either incomprehensible to him or nonsense. It’s possible to imagine that what he heard was a lot of folk tradition that would appear totally alien to what we picture as Christianity today.

      I suspect that there was not a lot of stable doctrine or Christology in early Christianity, and it was simply an expression of the social conditions. People ‘joined’ not because of any high doctrine – still less a theology – and not because of any one primary principle or belief. They joined for the same reason people always join – because there is reason to. The beliefs were only a matter for those at the very top, and they were as busy convincing themselves as others.

  15. This thesis itself ironically takes at face value too much of what what the “Proto-Orthodox” claim about Simon Magus.

    If Simon had any continued career as a would be prophet beyond the events recorded in Acts 8, it was not anything that could be considered a heretical form of Christianity. He seems to have started out claiming to be the Taheb the Samaritans are waiting for. And the idea he ever went to Rome is base don a misreading of a statue on an island in the Tiber to an old Roman deity.

    The later traditions about Simon are merely a desire of Fan Fiction writers to personify later heresies in an enemy the Apostles faced.

  16. While it may be an interesting theory, it is more likely that Simon Magus, or Simon the Samaritan, imitated Simon Peter.

    From what I am seeing online in Non-Catholic writings about Simon Magus, is that this Simon pushed for a “Catholic” or “Universal” organization or religion. This would also explain why Catholics almost worship “Peter” as their “Prince of the Apostles” and the “first pope”! Even though the Scriptural Peter considered himself an elder among his fellow elders.

    What is also interesting is that the Simonians seem to disappear from history around the fifth century, around the time when Catholicism was absorbing pagans… Before the third century you had the Montanists and the Novations that would be Anabaptistic, and around the time that Catholicism was forming, the Donatists were separating from what would become the Catholics.

    The Novations and the Donatists would never join with Rome, but would instead migrate to and become the Waldensians or the Vaudois. The Waldensians would split, some joining with the Protestant movements, while others would join the Anabaptists, which would become the Baptists.

    So while it may be accurate to say that Simon Magus, aka Simon the Samaritan, was the foundation for Catholicism, he was NOT the founder of “Christianity”!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading