This is the third post in the series: A Simonian Origin for Christianity.
From the previous post:
Cerdo, from Antioch, learned his doctrines of two gods from the Simonians. (Irenaeus: Against Heresies, 1.27,1).
Cerdo, like Marcion after him, also believed that the Pauline letters had been interpolated and some forged. (Tertullian: Against All Heresies, 6.2).
Cerdo arrived in Rome shortly before Marcion. Marcion incorporated much of Cerdo’s teaching in his own work, Antitheses. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 7,25)
In the previous post I showed how my hypothesis would tie the inconsistencies in the Pauline letters to the early conflict between Simonian and proto-orthodox Christians.
- The inconsistencies would have resulted from proto-orthodox interpolations made to letters that were of Simonian provenance.
- The intent behind the interpolations was to correct Simonian errors.
- I noted how the earliest known Christian to claim that the Paulines had been interpolated was someone associated with a Simonian from Antioch.
- And I provided from the first chapter of the letter collection an example of an interpolation that appears to have Simon in view.
In this post I want to show how the three earliest Deutero-Pauline letters would fit into my hypothetical scenario.
I will show how Simon’s successor, Menander, makes a good candidate for author of the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians.
Three Deutero-Paulines: Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians
Colossians and Menander
Even though what the extant record says about Menander is meager, the little it does provide is sufficient to show that he should be considered a good candidate for author of Colossians.Justin, our earliest source on Menander, says that he, like Simon, was originally from Samaria but “deceived many while he was in Antioch” (1st Apologia, 26). His activity in Antioch occurred presumably in the last third of the first century. And the theological development that occurred within Simonian Christianity when Menander succeeded Simon looks very much like what took place between the seven so-called undisputed letters and Colossians, the earliest of the Deutero-Paulines..
In Colossians, someone claiming to be Paul says that those who have been baptized into Christ have already experienced a kind of spiritual resurrection. . .
This is something the author of the seven undisputed letters never says. For him, resurrection is something he is striving to obtain.
There are many considerations of both writing style and theological content that have led scholars to recognize that Colossians is a pseudepigraphon. But one of the most easily-noticed ways it differs theologically from the undisputed letters is in its eschatology. In Colossians, someone claiming to be Paul says that those who have been baptized into Christ have already experienced a kind of spiritual resurrection. He tells his readers that God “made you alive with him [Christ]” (Col. 2:13). They were “raised with Christ” (Col.2:12 and 3:1). And he locates this resurrection in baptism (Col. 2:12).
This is something the author of the seven undisputed letters never says. For him, resurrection is something he is striving to obtain: “if somehow I might obtain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:11). It is part of a salvation that will be obtained in the future.
Paul’s theology contains what we would call a “reserved eschatology.” He taught that Christians had been “justified,” but they had to await “salvation.” Therefore, although he repeatedly puts “justification” in the past, he almost never says that Christians have been “saved.” He says that Christians “have been justified,” and so they “will be saved” (Rom. 5:9). For Paul, “salvation” is something that is “near” but has not yet arrived (Rom. 13:11). “Salvation” is something for which Christians “hope” (1 Thess. 5:8). These are just a few citations. Paul many times speaks of “salvation,” but he conceives of it as still in the future. (New Testament History and Literature, by Dale B. Martin, p. 255)
So in Colossians, then, is seen the first evidence of Christian belief in a realized eschatology, one in which the resurrection of believers has already occurred through baptism. This new development is no small matter. Bart Ehrman puts it this way:
In other words, precisely the theological feature of the letter that suggests it was not written by the Paul of the undisputed letters (the realized eschatology) is the feature that figures most prominently in its exposition of the superiority of the Christian faith, the central tenet of the letter. The non-Pauline eschatology is not a subsidiary matter tacked onto a letter dealing with other things; it is the centerpiece of the letter and the key to understanding its polemic. For this author, the believer’s resurrection is a past, realized, spiritual event.” (Forgery and Counterforgery, Bart Ehrman, p. 181)
Now it strikes me that this new development looks quite similar to the one that occurred in Simonianism under Menander. Simon’s eschatology was reserved: “He pledged himself to dissolve the world and to free those who were his from the rule of those who made the world” (AH 1, 23, 3). But the eschatology of his successor, Menander, was of a “realized” nature, involving a resurrection that had already occurred and was located in baptism:
His disciples received resurrection through baptism into him [Menander], and they can no longer die, but remain without growing old and immortal (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 23, 5, my emphasis ).
And he [Menander] persuaded his followers that they would never die. And some of his followers who believe this are still around (Justin’s 1st Apologia, 26).
Identifying the Stoicheia
Moreover, positing Menander as the author of Colossians opens the way to a plausible identification of the teaching attacked in the letter. As the author saw it, his opponents were promoting the worship of stoicheia angels (Col. 2:8 and 18), lower divine beings in some way associated with the four elements out of which the visible world was made. James Dunn writes that
the long debate about the meaning of stoicheia should almost certainly be regarded as settled in favour of the elemental substances of which the universe was usually thought to be composed (earth, water, air, fire).” (The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p. 108)
Dunn notes that “this is by far the most common usage in literature prior to Paul” (p. 108, my italics).
But by at least the first half of the first century CE the elements started to be viewed as personal spiritual powers. Charles Talbert gives some examples:
Wisdom of Solomon says that the Gentiles “supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world” (13:2).
Philo knew that earth, water, air, and fire could, in his time, be understood as spirits or could be given the names of deities: “some people revere the stoicheia, earth, water, air, fire and have given them names like Hephaestus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter” (Contempl. 3; cf. Decal. 53). First Enoch charges Gentiles with erroneously taking the stars themselves to be gods (80.7)… Numerous Jewish sources associate angels with air, fire, earth, and water (e.g., Jub. 2.2) and with the stars (e.g., 1 En. 75.1-3; 2 En. 4.1). All these examples are earlier than the latter part of the first century AD. (Ephesians and Colossians, p. 211, my bolding)
And, in part, for that reason:
[M]any interpreters think the term refers to personal spiritual beings, the equivalent to the power (exousia) of darkness (1:13) and the rulers and authorities (archas and exousiai; 2:15). – p. 211
The stoicheia, according to Colossians, were on a far lower level of divinity than the Son in whom “all the fullness” (pleroma – Col. 1:19) of divinity was pleased to dwell. And as element-angels, they would be situated right at the boundary where invisible spirit involves itself directly with formless visible matter to fashion it into the elements. As such, I submit, they should be identified with those angels who, according to the teaching of Simon and Menander, made the world:
The world was made by angels, whom he [Menander] too—like Simon—said had been brought forth by Ennoia. He added that he brought it about through the magic knowledge that was taught by him that he conquered the angels who made the world. (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 5)
Notice that for Simon and Menander the world was made by angels (plural). Similarly, the author of Colossians says his opponents worship element-angels (plural). And Menander considered the world-making angels to be malevolent, for he claims to have “conquered” them. Correspondingly, the author of Colossians considers the stoicheia angels to be malevolent, for the Son “disarmed” them and “put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15). And in both cases attention is given to some kind of “gradation of divinity.” The Simonian world-making angels were “brought forth” from Ennoia, and were therefore presumably inferior to her, while the stoicheia of Colossians were “lower divine entities on the celestial scale, far below the Christ celebrated in chapter 1 as he in whom the ‘fullness’ of the divinity completely dwells” (Ehrman, Forgery and Counterforgery, p. 180).
Moreover, Simonians claimed it was the world-making angels who, to enslave men, instituted at least certain parts of the Law. Correspondingly, the worship of the stoicheia that the author of Colossians condemns looks very much like Judaism. It involves observance of festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths (Col. 2:16), which listing corresponds to the special religious days of Judaism: “the festivals, the new moons, and the Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 45:17); “I will put an end to her festivals, her new moons, and her Sabbaths” (Hosea 2:11). In Galatians these “special days and months and seasons and years“ (Gal. 4:10) are mentioned too alongside circumcision and are condemned as being a form of slavery to the stoicheia. Colossians adds to the picture precepts—“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col. 2:21)—that can be understood as pejorative references to Jewish dietary and purity laws.
Of course, few mainstream scholars will venture to seriously consider what appears to be the obvious conclusion: that the worship that is being condemned is Judaism. For the Paulines elsewhere speak with too much respect of Judaism. Or, as I would put it, there are Pauline zags that offset the zigs. So the most that is generally conceded by mainstream scholarship is that the religious practices of the Colossian angel-worshippers “may have been borrowed from Jewish cult.” (Ehrman, Forgery and Counterforgery, p. 180)
My hypothesis, of course, is not bound by that restriction. It allows me to propose outright that Hyam Maccoby was correct in his claim that the worship envisioned in these passages is simply
the continued practice of Judaism viewed in a pejorative light. Thus the accusation of ‘angel-worship’ should be understood in the light of Paul’s doctrine that the Torah was composed by angels.” (Paul and Hellenism, p. 44)
The Paul and Timothy of Galatians and Colossians, then, who accuse the Jews of angel-worship, are, I maintain, one and the same as Simon and Menander. The extant record nowhere explicitly says Simon and Menander made that precise accusation, but it says it equivalently.
For Simon certainly knew that Jews believed that their God made the world. And he certainly knew that Jews worshipped that world-making God. Yet that did not stop him from putting forth his own doctrine that the world was made by lower and malevolent angels. I don’t see how one can avoid the conclusion that, according to Simon, the God worshipped by the Jews was only one of those angels. And, in other words, that the God of the Jews was inferior to a higher God.
In the extant records of the proto-orthodox heresy-hunters, it is Menander’s disciple, Satornilus of Antioch, who is the first individual tied to an explicit assertion that the God of the Jews is only an angel:
Satornilus, like Menander, taught one Father unknown to all, who made angels, archangels, powers, and authorities. The world and everything in it was made by seven angels, and man too was made by the angels… And the God of the Jews, he [Satornilus] says, was one of the angels. (Against Heresies, 1, 24, 2)
For he [Satornilus] says, speaking of the angels, that even the God of the Jews is one of them, and that he and they separated from the upper Power… (Epiphanius, Panarion, 23, 2, 2)
But, as indicated above, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the first Christian to hold that belief was Simon/Paul. And that it was also taught by Menander his successor.
If the above hypothesis is correct, the true nature of the controversy at Colossae comes into focus. Bart Ehrman is indeed right in describing it thus:
[T]he issue in the controversy has to do with the adequacy of Christ. For this author, he is the embodiment of the fullness of divinity itself. He alone should be worshiped. There is no need for worship of lower beings of any sort, however powerful or important. And no need of secondary ascetic practices. Christ is all one needs. Adding anything to the worship of Christ is empty deceit, merely human “philosophy,” pointless and unnecessary religious exercise, and even, he suggests, the worship of malevolent beings. (Forgery and Counterforgery, p. 181)
But my hypothesis sees these lower, malevolent beings as the makers of the visible world, and includes in their number the God of the Jews. The secondary, ascetic, pointless, and unnecessary religious worship of them is Jewish worship. And the opponents who are trying to get the Colossians to embrace that worship are Jewish Christians. Judaism, which is called a philosophy by both Philo and Josephus, is also a “philosophy” for the author of Colossians (Col. 2:8). But it is not a philosophy from Christ. It belongs to this world and its makers. It has an “appearance of wisdom” (Col. 2:23) but, I submit, it is the same “wisdom of this world” that Simon/Paul had already exposed previously in 1st Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:20). Like the Corinthian opponents who put undue emphasis on visions (2 Cor. 12:1), the Corinthian angel-worshippers too “go on in detail about visions” (Col. 2:18). And like them too they are puffed up by their sarkic mind (Col. 2:18).
Every Unacceptable Zig Receives a Corrective Zag
But if the stoicheia of Colossians were world-making angels, why didn’t the proto-orthodox redactor erase them from the letter?
The answer, I submit, is that he didn’t need to. All he needed to do was make sure that his readers didn’t recognize they were world-makers. And in large part he could accomplish that by simply having recourse to his usual method: interpolation. A well-placed proto-orthodox zag would insure that the Simonian zig would be harmless. And so in the first chapter of Colossians there was added a corrective section which asserts that the beloved Son is “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). And that “in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible… all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
Almost all scholars recognize that there is some kind of insertion in Col. 1:15-20. There is difference of opinion about whether all five verses belong to the insertion, and whether it incorporates a pre-existing hymn, at least in part. At a minimum, it would seem that the verses about creation are imported. At Col. 1:14 the letter was dealing with redemption, and it reconnects with that subject again at 1:18, calling the Son “the firstborn from the dead.” So at least the section that interrupts this to also make the Son the “firstborn of all creation” seems to be some kind of an insertion. But what kind?
My hypothesis is that the insertion was not the work of the original author of the letter. It is a proto-orthodox interpolation that was added in order to pre-emptively establish that the visible world was made by the Son. The interpolation insures that, when the reader meets the stoicheia in chapter 2, there is no danger he will identify them as world-makers. The proto-orthodox zag takes care of that by previously assigning the world-making function to the Son.
Similarly, one could wonder why the proto-orthodox redactor did not remove the dangerous verses that refer to Jewish religious practices as self-abasing “worship of angels” (Col. 2: 16-23). I maintain, again, that a well-placed interpolation has averted the danger. Right after the warning by the author of Colossians that “no one pass judgment on you regarding matters of food or drink, or with regard to a festival, or a new moon, or a Sabbath” (Col. 2:16), the interpolator has added:
These are a shadow of coming things, but the body is of Christ. (Col. 2:17)
This idea—that the regulations in the Jewish Law foreshadow Christ—is proto-orthodox. It receives extensive treatment in the proto-orthodox Letter to the Hebrews (see, e.g., Heb. 10:1). In Colossians it serves to firmly connect Jewish regulations regarding food and special days to Christ. Just as a body’s shadow discloses the coming of the body itself, so the practices of Judaism served to announce the coming of Christ. By inserting that principle into the text, the proto-orthodox interpolator has made sure that no one will identify the condemned angel–worshippers of Col. 1:18 with Jews.
But any other identification is okay.
According to J.J. Gunther, at least forty-four different identifications have in fact been proposed by scholars (St. Paul’s Opponents and Their Background).
Forty-four attempts and counting to harmonize the zigs with the zags!
I will finish this section on Colossians by adding one other consideration. The letter’s greeting names Paul and Timothy as its authors. But in 1:23 the author refers to himself as “I, Paul” and at the end of the letter writes: “The greeting is in my own hand, Paul’s” (Col. 4:18). This peculiarity of the letter is understandable if Menander was its author. For it appears that, just as Simon claimed to be the Son, Menander did the same after Simon’s departure from this world.
He [Menander] said that… he himself was the one who was sent by the invisible as a savior for the salvation of men (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 5).
Now there is no indication in the early record that Menander ever turned against Simon, or claimed that a second savior was necessary. So to me Menander’s assertion makes best sense if he was claiming that the Son who was in Simon had returned to this world and had now made Menander his abode. Thus, Menander apparently saw himself as a new parousia of Simon, a Simon redivivus, who returned to this world to accomplish in Menander the redemption that he, as Simon, had previously promised. He accomplished it by giving resurrection through baptism into him. All that remained after that was the ultimate dissolution of the visible world.
The early record testifies that there was a history among Simonians for this kind of transmigration belief. Simon taught that his First Thought had been transmigrating ever since she generated the angels who made the world.
Through the ages she transmigrated as from one vessel to another, into other female bodies.” (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 2, my bolding)
And, according to Simon, his First Thought was at one point “in that Helen” because of whom the Trojan war was fought (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 2). So if the Son of God too had previously been “in Simon/Paul” (“God…who revealed his Son in me”- Gal. 1: 15-16; “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” – Gal. 2:20; “… proof of Christ speaking in me” – 2 Cor. 13:3, my bolding), there would seem to be nothing from preventing him from subsequently taking up habitation in Menander.
But if this was so, how would anyone know—when Menander spoke—whether it was he or Simon/Paul speaking? My guess is: by clarifications like, “I, Paul” and “The greeting is in my own hand, Paul’s.”
I will only say a few words about two other Deutero-Pauline letters—Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians—just enough to explain how they fit into my hypothesis.
Pretty much everyone agrees that Ephesians is closely related to Colossians. As much as a third of Colossians turns up in Ephesians in one form or another, and most scholars hold that the latter used the former as a source. Just as in Colossians, the author of Ephesians makes a point of repeatedly saying that he is Paul. And the realized eschatology of Colossians is present in Ephesians too.
But Ephesians also borrows many words, phrases, and ideas from the earlier Pauline letters. (Robert M. Price’s The Amazing Colossal Apostle contains a list of the borrowings). And it appears Ephesians was intended to be a circular letter. The words “in Ephesus” are missing from the opening verse in the earliest manuscripts. The letter does not seem directed to any specific group of people or deal with any particular local issues. To me, this combination of features is understandable if the letter’s author was Menander. Believing he was Simon/Paul, it is understandable that Menander would want to send to all Pauline communities a letter in which his doctrine is meshed with that of the original Apostle. Such a circular letter by someone claiming to be Simon/Paul would, at a minimum, be expected to contain a significant number of words and phrases that the original letter writer used.
Furthermore, the person claiming to be Simon/Paul would presumably want readers of his circular to actually be able to see how his words and phrases correspond to the vocabulary of the earlier letters. And a good way to do that is to make the new letter a cover letter for the whole collection. So I am inclined to buy into the Goodspeed-Knox theory that Ephesians was at one time a cover letter for the Pauline Corpus. Ephesians does seem to refer to some other writings “from which, as you read it, you can see for yourselves my grasp of the unfolding mystery of Christ…” (Eph. 3:4).
And, as David Trobisch has pointed out, in the present arrangement of the ten earliest Pauline letters, Ephesians is the one outlier. The letters go from longest to shortest except for Ephesians. It is longer than Galatians but follows it. So I would not be surprised if it was an introductory letter in the original Simonian collection.
Now, of course, if you want to make your letter a cover letter, you need to have a collection of letters that it will be a cover for. So, assuming my hypothesis is correct, it would appear that Menander/Timothy not only wrote Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians, but was also the one who decided to collect the earlier letters. He stood to gain the most from such a collection. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he did the actual collecting. If, as appears to be the case, he was in prison when he wrote Colossians and Ephesians, he would have needed the services of someone else to obtain the letters and fragments of letters. Goodspeed has proposed Onesimus as the collector. If so, when Menander hints in the letter to Philemon that he wants to retain Onesimus’ services (Philemon 13), the service envisioned could be the collecting and preparation of the letters. And that would explain why such an apparently insignificant letter as Philemon was allowed to be part of the collection.
The author of 2 Thessalonians modeled his letter on 1 Thessalonians, but not because he wanted the two to sit alongside each other. He presents his letter as a replacement for the earlier one. I think he knew of a Simonian letter collection and was, in effect, saying: “You’ve got a bogus letter in your collection. It’s the letter to the Thessalonians. Replace it with this one here. This letter is the authentic one.”
But why? What was his motive?
Many scholars think the author of 2 Thessalonians was motivated by eschatological concerns. He saw the eschatology of 1 Thessalonians as faulty and was looking to replace it with one that would make provision for the delayed parousia of Christ. But that scenario is merely a guess that reflects the assumptions of scholars, assumptions that can be wrong. And since that is so, I am not embarrassed to offer a guess of my own, one that reflects my own scenario of a Simonian origin for Christianity.
Now, the one section in 2 Thessalonians that is not present in 1 Thessalonians is the warning about the lawless one (2 Thess. 2:1-12). This passage says that the day of the Lord will not come
unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called god or that is worshipped, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God…. And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the brightness of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so to be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
This passage comes into focus when it is read as a prophecy about Simon/Paul made in the early 60s CE by an enemy of his. Simon/Paul is the lawless one (see, for example, chapter 2 of the Letter of Peter to James). He earned that epithet by calling the Jewish Law a slavery instituted by lowly world-making angels who should be ignored. The apostasy he initiated was an apostasy from Judaism. His claim to be the Great Power of the supreme God is denounced by his enemy as the blasphemous exaltation of oneself above all that is called God and is worshipped. To his enemy, Simon/Paul’s going up to Jerusalem and entry of the temple there was viewed as an attempt by the lawless one to take his seat in the temple of God. But the son of perdition was arrested and—when the prophecy was written— was still in prison. Thus, it is the Roman Empire and its emperor that are the restraining forces, but the prophet foresees that once the reigning emperor is out of the way, Simon/Paul will be released and will continue his work of lying deception. Not to worry, however, for the Lord Jesus is coming soon and, when he does, he will kill Simon/Paul.
As I see it, the author of 2 Thessalonians has made use of an earlier anti-Simonian prophecy. This tactic makes best sense if the name “Paul” had already been substituted for that of “Simon” in the other letters in the collection. That way, Paul could be made to condemn Simon. But the author was not necessarily proto-orthodox. He could have been a surviving member of the community of the pillars and have written his bogus letter around CE 100. His reference to a rumor that “the day of the Lord has come” would make best sense during the period that Menander was claiming the resurrection had occurred. And the words at the end of his letter (“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand” – 2 Thess. 3:17) may betray knowledge of how Menander ended his letter to the Colossians.
So I am inclined to date the letter to around CE 100 and to think that it was never part of the original Simonian collection of letters. Simonians would have recognized immediately who the lawless one was and that the letter was bogus. If this is correct, it would have only been later (CE 130?), when the proto-orthodox reworked the entire collection of Simonian letters, that 2 Thessalonians was added to it. In fact, it may have been from 2 Thessalonians that the proto-orthodox got the idea of co-opting Paul. And the earlier use of the anti-Simonian prophecy in the fabrication of 2 Thessalonians may have been the inspiration behind their own insertion of the anti-Simonian tract in the letter to the Romans (Rom. 1:18-2:29; see 2nd post in the series).
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