A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 16:  Mark as Allegory

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by Roger Parvus

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

It has been more than a year since I wrote the previous installment in this series. I have some excuses: new location, new job, and separation from well-stocked libraries. And also, I must admit, something unexpected happened during the break: I started losing interest in the early history of Christianity. So I have decided I had better try to bring this series to a close before I’m tempted to put it off altogether.

I have devoted most of the series to the Pauline letters. By now readers understand my general approach to those. I am still inclined to think that approach is correct, but I can’t say I am really comfortable with some of the particulars. Perhaps I will revisit the letters at some point. For now I want to skip ahead to the part of my theory that addresses Mark’s gospel. For me the biggest question is: where did the public ministry of the Markan Jesus come from? Paul, I have proposed, drew his beliefs about Jesus primarily from some version of the Ascension of Isaiah (see parts 7, 8 and 9). But in both extant versions of that work, and in the speculative alternative I offered, there is either no public ministry for Jesus at all or only one that is described by a single sentence. So it would seem that it was the author of Mark who first composed a public ministry for Jesus. Why did he put it together the way he did?.

Even though what follows is admittedly speculative, to my mind it seems the most likely scenario. In brief, I think the author of Mark was a Pauline Christian and his gospel was an allegory that presented Jesus as the forerunner of Paul.


Volkmar’s thesis

The idea that Mark is an allegory about Paul is not new. Gustav Volkmar first argued the case for this in 1857 (Die Religion Jesu) and again in 1870 (Die Evangelien, Oder Marcus und die Synopsis der kanonischen und ausserkanonischen Evangelien nach dem ältesten Text mit historisch-exegetischem Commentar). He was soon followed by others. Carl Holsten, for instance, and Moritiz Herman Schulze “approached the issue from different angles but agreed with Volkmar on the idea that the second Gospel is an apology for Paul by transferring Pauline theology ‘back’ into the sayings and doings of Jesus.” (Heike Omerzu, “Paul and Mark — Mark and Paul,” in Mark and Paul: Comparative Essays Part II — For and Against Pauline Influence on Mark, edited by Becker, Engberg-Pedersen, and Mueller, p. 52).

Volkmar’s thesis ultimately drove  a wedge into German biblical scholarship . . . Werner perceived Volkmar’s work to be in line with other recently published books which treated Jesus as a purely mythical figure.

Volkmar’s thesis ultimately “drove  a wedge into German biblical scholarship; Adolf Jülicher (1857-1938) and William Wrede (1859-1906) both appreciated Volkmar’s work, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) and his student Martin Werner (1887-1964) did not” (Anne Vig Skoven, “Mark as Allegorical Rewriting of Paul: Gustav’s Volkmar’s Understanding of the Gospel of Mark,” p. 14, from the same collection of essays referenced above). In 1923 Werner felt the need to write a book entirely devoted to refuting Volkmar’s views regarding Mark. He argued that Volkmar was guilty of allegoresis and that his work lent support to those who denied the historical existence of Jesus (although Volkmar himself never explicitly went that far).

In the preface to his book, Werner explains his worries about the consequences of Volkmar’s line of thought. Werner perceived Volkmar’s work to be in line with other recently published books which treated Jesus as a purely mythical figure. (Anne Vig Skoven, “Mark as Allegorical Rewriting of Paul: Gustav’s Volkmar’s Understanding of the Gospel of Mark,” p. 25)

Interest in Volkmar’s thesis did subsequently subside, although that may well have been due more to the advent of form criticism than to Werner’s rebuttal:

It has been suggested that Werner’s monograph put an end to the idea of Paulinism in Mark. I would argue that it was not so much Werner’s refutation itself as the rise of form criticism that sidetracked the line of inquiry that Volkmar had initiated. As we know, form criticism concentrated on the individual pericopes and traced their history backwards in search for their Sitz-im-Leben, but it took no interest in the gospels as complete works. It is quite telling that the interest in the relationship between Paul and Mark surfaces again with redaction criticism. Anglo-American scholars inclined toward literary readings like Joel Marcus and William Telford have long advocated for ideas that resemble Volkmar’s readings. (Anne Vig Skoven, “Mark as Allegorical Rewriting of Paul: Gustav’s Volkmar’s Understanding of the Gospel of Mark,” p.26)

dykstra1I have not read the books by Volkmar, Holsten and Schulze. My knowledge of German is so rudimentary that it would take me quite a while to work my way through those volumes. Maybe once I retire. But I have read an excellent book published in 2012 in English that reaches conclusions similar to theirs.  Tom Dykstra, in his Mark, Canonizer of Paul, convincingly presents “the evidence for a literary relationship between Mark and Paul’s letters” (p. 27). He examines this relationship in a number of themes shared by Mark and Paul, especially their defense of the Gentile mission, their emphasis on a crucified Christ, and their discrediting of Jesus’ disciples and family. He argues too that there are allusions to Paul in the main parables and ending of Mark, as well as appropriations of Paul’s language and examples throughout that gospel. Dykstra concludes that Mark has in effect modeled his Jesus after Paul:

Mark deliberately created a literary Jesus whose words and actions parallel the words and actions of Paul. Mark’s Jesus defends the Gentile mission before the fact, in the face of opposition from his disciples, just as Paul defended his Gentile mission in the face of opposition from the ‘pillars,’ some of whom were reputed to have been among those disciples. To make this connection Mark portrayed Jesus leading reluctant disciples to Galilee, visiting other Gentile lands, interacting positively with individual Gentiles, performing miracles of feeding for mixed Jewish-Gentile crowds, insisting that recalcitrant disciples stop preventing children from reaching him, narrating parables, and so forth. (pp. 149-150)

Mark’s portrayal of Jesus was fashioned to provide a divine advance validation for Paul and his teaching

I cannot here do justice to all the parallels Dyskstra uncovers between Mark and Paul. I urge those interested to read his book. I find myself in agreement with much of his analysis. Like him, I think Mark’s portrayal of Jesus was fashioned to provide a divine advance validation for Paul and his teaching. As I see it, however, the Jesus episodes were intended to function more like prefigurations or foreshadowings of Paul. Some of them were intended to be within the reach of any Christian. Others were meant to be fully understood only by members of the Markan community. As an example of the first type I offer Jesus’ eating with Jewish sinners (Mk. 2:16). It likely served to prefigure/foreshadow Paul’s extension of this conduct to meals with Gentile sinners (Gal. 2:12 & 15). Similarly for Jesus’ breaking of Sabbath regulations (Mk. 2:24) and Paul’s extension of this to disregard for observance of all Jewish holy days (Gal. 4:10-11)  Likewise for Jesus’ dismissal of defilement by foods (Mk. 7:15) and Paul’s lack of any fundamental problem with eating even meat that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-7). But, as we will see, there are many other episodes that seem to be deliberately shrouded in secrecy.

This could explain a puzzling feature of Mark

Now in all these cases Paul never tries to justify his conduct by appealing to similar precedents set by Jesus. With Dykstra, I think the reason is because there were no precedents. As I see it, the author of Mark sought to remedy this situation by creating Jesus episodes that foreshadow, prefigure and thereby validate what Paul did and taught. This could also explain a puzzling feature of Mark: “the way it consists of a number of unrelated paragraphs set down one after another with very little organic connexion, almost like a series of snapshots placed side by side in a photograph album” (The Gospel of Saint Mark, by D.E. Nineham, p. 27). To account for this most scholars, including Nineham himself, have recourse to a tradition hypothesis. Mark, they surmise, was probably working with collections of traditional material about Jesus that consisted of essentially independent stories. But it seems to me that the disconnected character of Mark would be explained equally well by Volkmar’s allegorical hypothesis. In this scenario Mark’s primary focus was on Paul, not Jesus, so he had no interest in providing a connected and developed portrayal of Jesus. His focus was on constructing Jesus episodes whose value lay in the various ways they pointed to Paul. (For a good discussion about the problems with the oral tradition theory, see chapter 3 of Dykstra’s Mark, Canonizer of Paul).

Scriptural Mark

Rubens: Sarah and Hagar
Rubens: Sarah and Hagar

And taking the Markan Jesus as a prefiguration of Paul could explain why Mark was written in a Scriptural style and, like Scripture, with an authoritative voice yet without identifying its author.  Scriptural texts were acknowledged by believers to be prophetic. They pointed to things beyond what their immediate context indicated. Thus they had more than one level of meaning. This is why they could be mined so easily for allegorical arguments. One sees this, for example, in Galatians where Paul builds an allegorical argument on a passage from Genesis (16:1-16 and 17:15-22). First he says that the two women in the story, one a slave, one free, are two covenants: “Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants” (Gal. 4:24). He then extends this further so that the women are also two Jerusalems: The slave woman “corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children,” while the free woman “corresponds to the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:25-25). The whole three-level interpretation is held together very flimsily, resting just on “slavery and freedom” as the common elements. And yet, because those elements are taken from Scripture, Paul could feel satisfied that he had made a case his flock would take seriously.

So I would suggest that one reason Mark infused his gospel with Scriptural flavor was because he wanted his readers to use it in Scriptural fashion as a text that has more than one level of meaning. Certainly he wants them to interpret Jesus’ parables that way. He explains the parable of the sower as an allegory: the seed is the word, the bird is Satan, the rocks are troubles or persecutions, the thorns are desires. And then he holds that parable up as some kind of key to understanding the rest of his parables: “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables?” (Mk. 4:13) And Mark says that Jesus taught in parables regularly (Mk. 4:34) and did so deliberately in order to hide his meaning from outsiders (Mk. 4:11-12).

But it is not just Jesus’ parables that should be approached like Scripture. Mark presents Jesus’ actions too as possessing a deeper level of meaning. We see this clearly, for instance, in regard to the two multiplication-of-food episodes.

We must begin our examination by noting that there are strong indications that the feeding accounts are very important events for Mark. For one thing, in the next episode (6:45-52) the disciples are said to have failed to perceive something crucial in the feeding of the five thousand, and for this reason they react wrongly during the sea miracle (cf. Matt. 14:22-33). Even more emphatically, 8:14-21, with all its mystery, at least indicates that both feedings disclose something terribly important, for the disciples are sternly rebuked when they fail to understand what it is. Further, even the very fact that Mark has two feeding accounts is evidence that he considered the accounts are intended to convey more than the simple point that Jesus could perform such a miracle; one feeding account would have been adequate to make that point. (Larry W. Hurtado, New International Biblical Commentary — Mark, p. 99)

Thus, not only what Jesus says is allegorical. What he does is allegorical too. (I’m using “allegory” here in the sense of a story that deliberately aims to convey more than one level of meaning). So one cannot help but wonder: Is the whole of Mark allegorical? As Dykstra says:

would an author who in some places chooses to write allegory rather than ‘history’ necessarily feel bound to strive for ‘historical accuracy’ everywhere else? In other words, if Mark consciously wrote allegorical text anywhere, why should we assume he would not do it everywhere? (Mark, Canonizer of Paul, p. 231).

That is certainly worth considering. Mark may be allegory throughout.

  • If Mark makes Jesus an itinerant preacher, it may be because Paul was.
  • If he gives Jesus a troubled relationship with the Twelve, it may be because Paul didn’t get along with them.
  • If he has Jesus rebuke Peter, it may be because Paul did.
  • If he has Jesus pray three times for a cup to pass, it may be because Paul prayed three times to be freed from his thorn in the flesh.
  • If he makes Jesus go up to Jerusalem and cause a ruckus in the Temple, it may be because Paul did that.
  • If he puts Jesus on trial before Jewish and Roman authorities it may be because Paul underwent that.
  • If at the end he tells us Jesus went to a hill called ‘place of the skull’ (Mk. 15:22), it may be because Paul ultimately went to the Roman hill called Capitoline (from the Latin word for ‘head.’)

In my opinion, even the apparent holes in this scenario can be plausibly filled once we view Mark as a Pauline allegory. By “holes” I mean important Pauline items that seem to be missing from Mark. For instance, where is Paul’s fight against a circumcision requirement for Gentiles? That was the main reason he wrote Galatians. I would expect that to turn up in any allegory about Paul.

The Markan sandwich episode of the paired healings easily lends itself to the kind of allegorical interpretation Paul gave to the slave and free women in Galatians.
From https://friarmusings.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/crossing-over-context/

But is it really missing? If Mark is a Pauline allegory its fifth chapter contains a good candidate for the circumcision controversy: the paired healings of the woman who had bled for twelve years and of the dying twelve year old daughter of a leader of a synagogue (Mk. 5:21-42). By means of Mark’s sandwiching technique and the several parallels he establishes between the two healings Mark shows that he wants them understood as a composite. Touching is an element in both: The synagogue leader asks Jesus to lay his hands on the dying girl (5:23), and Jesus does grasp the child’s hands (5:41); in the case of the bleeding woman, her touching of Jesus’ clothes is referred to four times (verses 27, 28, 30 and 31). And both “daughters” (5:23 and 34) are “saved” (5:23 and 34) by faith (5:34 and 36). In regard to their common number twelve, Mary Ann Tolbert says “it is very tempting to note that the only use of twelve prior to their appearance” (in these healings) “is related to the disciples, the Twelve” (Sowing the Gospel, p. 168, n. 58).

Now it strikes me that this Markan episode easily lends itself to the kind of allegorical interpretation Paul gave to the slave and free women in Galatians. Something along the lines of: “Now this is an allegory. The dying daughter of the leader of a synagogue corresponds to the Twelves’ mission to the Jews. That mission died or nearly died (after 70 CE?). The woman who had bled for twelve years corresponds to the Gentile mission. She is portrayed as bleeding because the Twelve were insisting that Gentile converts be circumcised.  Jesus’ action in saving the bleeding woman by faith prefigures Paul’s preaching of salvation by faith and his refusal to allow his Gentile converts to be circumcised. And Jesus’ raising back to life of the daughter of the synagogue leader prefigures Paul’s ultimate saving of the mission to the Jews.”

One could perhaps attach allegorical significance to other details in the story. For example, the woman “spent all she had, yet was no better, but had become worse” (Mk. 5:26). Was the “spending” a reference to Gentile collections for the Jerusalem church. I don’t know. But I think Richard Carrier is right when he says that “The integration of these tales obviously had some symbolic importance to Mark, even if we cannot discern it now” (On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 411). In light of the other Pauline parallels in Mark, I suggest that the symbolic importance was most likely related to Paul.


The Key

Van Gogh: Sower, 1888
Van Gogh: Sower, 1888

Some other holes will be looked into shortly. But first I want to go back to the parable that Mark presents as the key to the others: the parable of the sower. As already noted Mark treats it as an allegory.  In his explanation, however, there is an interesting omission.  He identifies all the major items in the allegory except one.  He never tells us who the sower is. Some think this was not an oversight. Joel Marcus, for instance, suggests that the puzzling omission “is probably an intentional ‘gap’ in the narrative—a point that has been left obscure to engage the reader’s attention and thought and to point to the central concern of the parable” (p. 311) He proposes that on one level the sower is God, on another he is Jesus, and on a third level he represents the preachers of the Markan community.

I too see more than one level of meaning for Mark’s sower, but I would argue that the main mystery man is Paul.  There appear to be hints pointing to him in the parable and in the material that follows it. First, there is the content of the parable. As Dykstra observes:

Considering that Paul used seeds and sowing and plant growth as his central metaphor for spiritual progress, it can hardly be a coincidence that a text written many years later to support Paul’s Gentile mission and apostolic authority would adopt the same metaphor for its central parable. The direction of the borrowing from Paul to Mark rather than from Jesus to Paul to Mark is suggested by the fact that Paul never once attributes his seed and sowing metaphor to Jesus. (Mark, Canonizer of Paul, pp. 127-8)

And then there is the purpose that Jesus assigns to his parables. They are meant to hide his meaning: “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” (Mk. 4:11-12)  Now many scholars believe, based on 2 Cor. 4:3, that Paul’s Corinthian opponents accused him of preaching a “veiled” gospel.

Compare Mark’s Parables as Simonian Allegories by Roger Parvus (2012)

But if I am correct that Paul was Simon of Samaria there is much more going on in the Sower parable. (This idea, I want to be clear, is my own tangent. Dykstra does not argue that Mark is Simonian. His argument is that Mark is Pauline. It is I who suspect that Simon and Paul were the same person. See the first post in this series.) Now in Hippolytus’ account of Simon’s Great Declaration we see that Simon engaged in allegorical interpretation of Scripture and that growth metaphors together with a concealment/manifestation motif were prominent features in his system. Moreover, his teaching parallels the Markan seed parables in a number of other ways.

  1. First, soil has a significant role to play in the Sower parable. In fact, some scholars have suggested that it would be better characterized as the Parable of the Soils. Correspondingly, in Simon’s Great Declaration “God fashioned man by taking soil from the earth. And he made him not single, but double, according to image and likeness. And the image is the spirit…” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies [hereafter abbreviated to RAH], 6.14).
  2. Next, in the Sower parable it is the meeting of good soil and seed that initiates growth. The seed, we are told, is code for the “word” (logos; Mk. 4:14)). Likewise, in the Great Declaration man’s potentiality must “meet with befitting utterance (logos) and instruction” in order for it to produce “not husks and stocks, but perfect fruit, perfected in its imaging.” (RAH, 6.16).
  3. Atomus the magician? (from http://members.shaw.ca/rfellows/Site/Elymas.html)
    Atomus the magician? (from http://members.shaw.ca/rfellows/Site/Elymas.html)

    And in the Sower parable the increase that occurs in the good soil is prodigious: “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Mk. 4:8). In the Great Declaration the outcome is even more spectacular: “that which is stored in them” (man and woman) “in potentiality, having obtained a fitting utterance (logos) and an appointed place in which the utterance may be developed, starting as it were from the smallest spark, will increase to all perfection and expand, and be an infinite power… ” (RAH, 6.17). Notice the contrast, as in the parable, between the small beginning and the incredible result. The same contrast shows up a second time in this form: “But if its imaging should be perfected and it should be generated from an indivisible point” (atomus)… the small shall become great. And this great shall continue for the boundless and changeless eternity, in as much as it is no longer in the process of becoming” (RAH, 14). [Recall, as I mentioned in the first post of this series, that the word for indivisible point —atomus—is the same word that is used at 20.7.2 in some manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities for a certain magician who is named Simon in other manuscripts.]

  4. The Sower parable’s contrasting of small and great is elaborated in one of the two other parables that accompanies it: the parable of the mustard seed. There it is said that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds yet becomes the greatest of shrubs, “putting out such large branches that the birds of the air can build nests in its shade” (Mk. 4:32). Many Markan commentators think the language here is deliberately echoing what the book of Daniel says about Nebuchadnezzar’s tree (e.g., the commentaries on Mark by Morna Hooker, p. 136; C. Clifton Black p. 128, Joel Marcus p. 324, Eduard Schweizer p. 105). Now that tree turns up in Simon’s Great Declaration too. There God is “as it were a great Tree, like that seen by Nebuchadnezzar in vision, from which all flesh is nourished” (RAH, 6.9). And Simon, appealing to a verse from Isaiah, presents man as some kind of extension of that tree: “And if a man of Judah is a well-beloved shoot” (Is. 5:7), “it is shown, he says, that a tree is nothing but a man” (RAH, 6.10).

So I suspect that Mark has deliberately given Jesus a hidden doctrine that points to Simon/Paul’s. In regard to the Sower parable Samuel Sandmel once wrote that “The Gospel would have us suppose that there was more in the parable than meets the eye. Unhappily, there is not.” (The Genius of Paul, p. 214) I myself am not so sure.


By Angi-Kat at DeviantArt.com
By Angi-Kat at DeviantArt.com

[Let me add here that the Simonian viewing of men as trees may be pertinent for correctly understanding some other enigmatic Markan passages. For example, Mk. 8:22-26 relates an episode that many commentators think is either a recapitulation of the first section of Mark’s gospel or the beginning of a second major section. It is Jesus’ first healing of a blind man and, as such, it seems to hearken back to the blindness Jesus first spoke about in connection with the growth parables. Now I would suggest that, as with the parables, there appear to be two levels of vision involved in the healing. When the man first recovers his sight he sees “men—they look like trees, walking” (Mk. 8:24). Translators regularly translate the first recovery with the words “looking up” because they consider the healing to have only been partial. But the Greek word in question is the same one that in Mark 10:51 clearly means recovery of sight. So it would seem that the sense is not that Jesus struggled and needed two tries to completely heal the man. Instead, from a Simonian perspective, the healing was deliberately twofold in order to illustrate the two levels of vision: one that is ordinary and shared even by those on the outside; and another that penetrates deeper and sees that “men are like trees walking”.

Paul before high priest Ananias
Paul before high priest Ananias

Another example: In chapter 11 of Mark’s gospel Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and on its outskirts curses a fig tree. From the Simonian perspective of “men are like trees” the fig tree could function as a foreshadowing/prefiguration of the man whom Paul cursed in Jerusalem: the high priest Ananias (Acts 23:3-5). In both cases the curses were related to temple incidents. In Mark, the fig tree curse sandwiches Jesus’ “cleansing of the temple.” As part of that cleansing Jesus quotes Scripture to the effect that the temple should be “a house of prayer for all the nations” (= Gentiles). In Acts, Paul presence in the temple provokes a riot. One of the accusations made against him is that he defiled the temple by bringing a Gentile into it. And according to Acts it was the cursed high priest Ananias who took a lead role in pursuing Paul for that defilement (Acts 24:1).

I realize, of course, that Acts is not reliable history. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that its author wasn’t working with facts about Paul. At those points where the Paul of the Pauline letters can actually be compared with Acts’ portrayal of him, the latter often twists the information of the former in order to make the Apostle unswervingly Torah-observant. One would assume that, if its author had access to any facts about Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, he likely continued on in the same vein, twisting the facts where possible in lieu of complete fabrication. If so, it may be that Paul did in fact bring a Gentile into the temple and did curse the high priest. The sanitization would come in where Acts says (1) that some people mistakenly thought that Paul had brought a Gentile into the temple (Acts 21:29); and (2) Paul was not aware that the man he cursed was the high priest, and would not have done it had he known who the man was (Acts 23:5).]



So who is the Sower?


One other feature of Mark’s allegorical seed teaching should be noticed. For some reason Mark wants his readers to focus on the word “hear”. Within the space of thirty-four verses he uses some form of that word thirteen times. He opens with “Hear! See!”, twice trumpets the proverbial saying “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear!” (4:9; 4:23), continues on with “See what you hear!” (4:24), and finishes with yet again another reference to hearing: “And with many such parables he used to speak the word to them, as they were able to hear” (4:33). Mark seems to be prodding us to notice something beyond what his words convey. But what? The most common suggestion is that the opening “Hear!”:

echoes the opening word of Deut. 6.4, known as the Shema, which was recited daily by the pious Jew as a reminder of the core of his faith. The word is derived from a Hebrew verb which means not only ‘to listen’ and ‘to hear’ (v.9), but also ‘to obey’, and thus implies an active response to what is heard. (Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, p. 122)

But if that is the connection that Mark is making, it seems odd that that the very Jewish Matthew apparently missed it. He omits the “Hear!”, and so does Luke. Both also drop the “See what you hear!” verse.

If Mark is a Simonian riddle, however, a different solution becomes available. The expression “those who have ears to hear” is present in Simon’s Great Declaration (RAH, 6.16). And Simon’s name is derived from the same word as the Shema, and thus means both ‘hear’ and ‘obey’. Moreover, the meaning of Simon’s name was apparently something that Simonians called attention to:

They (Simonians) said that he was called Simon, that is to say, the obedient, because he obeyed the Father when he sent him for our salvation. (Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, vol. 2, col. 1057, my translation)

I am wondering, then, whether Mark’s obsessive repetition of the word ‘hear’ is his clue to the riddle of the sower’s identity. It would be one of those clues that is hidden in plain sight: “Hear! See!” “See what you hear!”

[Is the “straightway” that Mark uses forty-one times some kind of similar hint? In Acts a converted and blinded Paul has a vision on Straight street in Damascus (Acts 9:11) and then, for the first two times in Acts, the word “straightway” is used: the scales fall “straightway” from Paul’s eyes (Acts 9:18) and he “straightway” preaches Christ in the synagogues (Acts 9:20)]

In any case, identity continues to be an issue in the miracle that follows the seed allegories: the stilling of the storm. Mark situates it as occurring later on the same day as the teaching session and makes it provoke the question, “Who is this?” (Mk. 4:41) In the brief episode the emphasis shifts to ‘greatness.’ First, the storm is “great” (4:37); then the stillness is “great” (4:39), and then the fear is “great” (4:41).  Joel Marcus observes that “The repetition of megas implies that the disciples are threatened by a devastating superhuman power, but that a greater power than it comes upon the scene in the person of Jesus, who conquers it and inspires overwhelming awe” (Mark 1 — 8, p. 336). If so, one fitting answer to the question “Who is this?” would be:  “Somebody great” (Acts 8:9). Or: “the power of God that is called great” (Acts 8:10; Great Declaration, RAH 6.18). “For even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mk. 4:41).


I will go before you

Viewing Mark as a Simonian allegory changes our perspective on a number of other passages. For instance, in Mark 14:28 Jesus says “After I am raised, I will go before you into Galilee.” And in 15:7 the women at the empty tomb are told to “go and say to his disciples—and Peter!—’He is going before you into Galilee; you will see him there, just as he told you.” It is a prophecy that remains unfulfilled in Mark’s story. But a Simonian could see this as pointing to Simon. He claimed to be the Son who suffered in Judaea. And Peter, according to some accounts, pursued Simon all the way to Rome. It was in Galilee of the Gentiles that Mark situated the beginning of his narrative; the return to Galilee could signal that the prefiguration stage had ended and the fulfillment part of the cycle was about to begin. If Mark professes to only give us “the beginning of the gospel” (Mk. 1:1) and seems to underline that by his frequent use of the “began + infinitive” construction throughout his work, it may be because his Jesus was intended to function as the forerunner of Simon.

Bringing Simon Megas into the Markan picture also provides a solution to one problem with Volkmar’s thesis: the relative absence of the Spirit in Mark. Étienne Trocmé, in his The Formation of the Gospel According to Mark, notes that:

The idea of a gift of the Holy Spirit to men is only to be found in embryo in Mark. This is indeed one of the strongest reasons for denying that any influence was exercised by Paul on the author of this Gospel. (p. 188)

Helen of Troy

To this objection I would first respond that in Mark even the Pauline themes that are more developed are still not full-blown. To validate Paul’s ministry it is enough that they be there at least in embryo. But secondly, if Paul and Simon Megas were the same person, the Holy Spirit may be present in Mark more than meets the eye. For according to Simon, it was not the Son in his manifestation as Jesus who promised a sending of the Holy Spirit. It was the Son in Simon who released the Spirit. In the Simonian scenario the Spirit had been held captive for some time by the very angels she had generated. They had locked her into successive bodies, the most famous of which was Helen of Troy’s. At times the confining bodies were even those of animals. And when Simon finally came to rescue her she was being held as a prostitute in a brothel in Tyre. If Mark is a Simonian allegory we should expect prefigurations of this Spirit scenario in it.

As luck would have it, Tyre does turn up once in Mark (at 7:24-30). Jesus leaves Galilee and goes off alone to Tyre where he enters a house and doesn’t want anyone to know it. But a certain woman approaches him and asks him to free her daughter from a demon possessing the girl. Mark makes a point of telling us that the woman is “Hellene.” Jesus first refuses the request, saying that it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. But then he relents and drives the demon out.

The number of points of contact (i.e., Tyre, Hellene, demon, house, animals) leads me to think that this episode could function as an allegorical prefiguration for Simon’s release of the prostitute Helen. There are many Christian allegories that have been built on far less. (Note too that Matthew’s version of the episode has Jesus say: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” According to Hippolytus, Simon “said that the latter (Helen) was the lost sheep… After he had purchased her freedom, he took her about with him, pretending that she was the lost sheep…” – RAH 6.19)

[Mark] makes Jesus effusive in his praise of the woman’s deed but keeps her nameless. Oversight or deliberate riddle?

Another episode that catches my eye is the one in which a woman anoints Jesus’ head (Mk. 14:3-9). The mystery here has always been: Why doesn’t Mark tell her name or, if he didn’t know it, at least provide her with one. There are plenty of names in his gospel, some of which scholars suspect are symbolic. Yet here he makes Jesus effusive in his praise of the woman’s deed but keeps her nameless. Oversight or deliberate riddle?

anointing-js-head1Jesus describes the woman’s deed as “a beautiful work” (kalon ergon). Then he says something that “reads very oddly in Greek, meaning literally ‘what she had she has done'” (Hooker, p. 330). Since what she did was a beautiful work, I am wondering if what she had was beauty. If so, we may have here another prefiguration of Helen whose beauty was legendary. According to Hippolytus, Simon touted Helen’s beauty as “unsurpassable” and said that it threw the powers of the world into such confusion “that there arose faction and war among those nations to whom she was manifested” (19). In the anointing incident the woman’s beautiful deed likewise causes dissension among onlookers. Jesus steps in and suppresses it, saying that what she has done will be remembered wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world. Could her beautiful anointing of Jesus foreshadow an anointing of Simon by the beautiful Helen, the Holy Spirit?

And I am curious too about the female helpers who—we find out only at the end of Mark—had been accompanying Jesus all along. They can easily be made to correspond to features and titles held by Helen.

  • One of Helen’s titles was Wisdom and Simonians sometimes called her Athena after the goddess of Wisdom. Salome is the female form of the name Solomon who was legendary among the Jews for his wisdom.
  • Another of Helen’s titles was “Mother of All.” To this might correspond the Mary who is described by Mark as being the mother of James the small and Joses.  Joses/Joseph is thought to mean ‘exalted’ so this woman in effect was the mother of small and great. A Scriptural way of saying “all” is by saying “small and great” (see, for example, 1 Sam. 5: 9; Psalm 115:13; Rev. 11:18; 20:12).
  • And last there is the Mary referred to as the Magdalene. This word is derived from the word for ‘tower’. Now Simon, according to Epiphanius, claimed that “Homer was compelled to portray her (Helen) as standing on a tower” (Against Heresies, 2,3). In Mark, Mary the tower woman is portrayed as looking on from a distance (Mk. 15:40).

So, again, if Mark is a Simonian allegory, it seems to me that these three women could function as allegorical prefigurations of Helen. Helen could rightfully be represented by “many” women (Mk. 15:41), for in her long history she had transmigrated “from female bodies into different bodies, both of the human kingdom, and of beasts and other things” (Epiphanius, Against Heresies, 2,2).



The Multiplications of Food

As is the case with a number of episodes in Mark, the mysterious multiplications of loaves and fish are presented as possessing some deeper significance but no one is really sure what that significance is. Is the intended symbolism Eucharistic? But fish is not distributed at the Eucharist. And where is the eucharistic cup? Is the scene meant to represent God’s provision of manna for Israel in the desert? But God made that food from scratch; here Jesus needs to first scrape together some bread and fish to work with. But didn’t the prophet Elisha once do something similar? Yes, but aren’t two feeding stories a bit much if all Mark wants to convey is that Jesus is like Elisha? Perhaps the feedings are supposed to bring to mind an eschatological messianic banquet? The fare seems too meager for that. And there’s nothing to drink and nowhere to sit but on the ground. Not much of a party. The people don’t whoop it up a bit. In fact, there is not even any of the astonishment that usually accompanies Jesus’ miracles.

Many scholars think too that the specific numbers in the stories mattered to Mark: five loaves, five thousand people, twelve baskets of fragments at the first feeding; then seven loaves, four thousand people, seven baskets of fragments at the second. Don’t forget it, for Jesus knows the numbers and reels them off impatiently (Mk. 8:19-20) when his disciples still think the feedings are just about bread. “Jesus appears frustrated. So do his disciples. So, too, may be Mark’s readers” (C. Clifton Black, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries — Mark, p. 187 I

Since there is so much uncertainty about the meaning of the feeding episodes I don’t feel bad offering my own speculative solution. I am thinking that, if Mark is a Pauline/Simonian allegory, the broken bread and fish could represent Simon/Paul’s writings. They would be his teaching in a tangible form, a form that would multiply the material taught, could be copied and shared, and could be gathered up and carried to distant places. In a sense teachers “break up” their material in order to make it easier for their pupils to understand, but their explanations add to the bulk. And in a sense teaching is food for mind and soul (1 Cor. 3:1-2). Since the feeding episodes take place in the context of teaching (“… and he began to teach them many things” – Mk. 6:34), the distributed food could represent the extension of teaching in a written form.

And the feedings as described make a good analogy for writings in another way. Jesus starts the feedings off with a blessing or thanksgiving (Mk. 6:41; 8:6), uses assistants (Mk. 6:41; 8:6), and at the end dismisses his guests (Mk. 6:45; 8:9). In Paul’s letters he usually starts out with a blessing or thanksgiving, uses assistants, and ends with farewells. Even in writings that were not letters, ancient authors often began by invoking or thanking a Muse, used assistants, and ended with a word of farewell to their readers.

In my proposed scenario the material that is taught (the unbroken bread and fish) would be Sacred Scripture. Perhaps the five loaves represent the five books of the Torah, while the two fish represents the other two categories of OT writings: the Prophets and Wisdom books. Or it may be that the loaves represent the Jewish Scripture and the fish the pagan poets. Hippolytus accuses Simon of mangling both: “So then Simon by such inventions got what interpretation he pleased, not only out of the writings of Moses, but also out of those of the (pagan) poets, by falsifying them” (RAH,  6.19).

The first feeding in particular seems well-suited to represent Paul’s letters to his churches. The people are arranged in groups of fifties and hundreds, numbers that could reasonably reflect the typical sizes of Paul’s churches at about the time Mark was written (the last third of the first century CE). And the word used for the “groups” in Mk. 6:40 is literally “garden plots”, again fitting since in 1 Corinthians Paul views the Corinthian church as a plant: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). The audience is described as consisting of people who lived in distant “cities” (Mk. 4:33) and who were “like sheep without a shepherd”, circumstances that would fit the many occasions that Paul was on the road and separated from his flock. And since Paul’s letters combine the features of letters and epistles, they can fittingly be regarded as spiritual Christian food: “Paul clearly wrote out of a sense of his own apostolic authority. Paul did not see himself expressing merely personal opinions and preferences, but as articulating the normative meaning of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.” (Leander E. Keck, Paul and His Letters, p. 21)

Now, if the first feeding does prefigure Paul’s letters the twelve baskets of fragments would likely refer to some twelve-fold collection of letters. That wouldn’t necessarily mean that Paul wrote only twelve letters to his churches. Some of his known letters are recognizably compilations of fragments from several letters. And he makes reference to letters that have apparently not survived. In the second feeding the audience is smaller (4000) and there is no mention of arrangement by garden plots. Perhaps this points to other writings by Simon/Paul that were addressed to a different audience. There is the Great Declaration, of course, only fragments of which survive. But Simon may have authored other works, for Jerome, in his Commentary on Matthew, makes a passing reference to Simon’s “volumes.” There was also a Simonian gospel with the title The Four Quarters of the World but its contents are unknown and likewise whether it was written by Simon or just by his followers.


Payments to Caesar

Another Markan episode I would like to comment on is situated by Mark as part of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem. Jesus justifies the paying of taxes to Caesar on the grounds that Caesar’s image was on the coinage in use: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Mk. 12:17). From the perspective of my scenario for Mark, I am wondering if this response was intended to provide advance justification for a Pauline payment to Caesar, a payment made to insure that Paul would survive if things went wrong during his last visit to Jerusalem. Here’s what I mean.

The author of Acts is going out of his way to tell us that Paul did not purchase his Roman citizenship . . . . There is an element of ‘protesting too much’ …

According to Acts of the Apostles, when Paul was taken into Roman custody in Jerusalem he avoided a flogging by informing his captors of his Roman citizenship. The episode includes this exchange between Paul and the commander Claudius Lysias:

The commander said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes,” he answered. The commandant replied, “I acquired this citizenship for a large sum of money.” Paul said, “But it was mine by birth.” (Acts 22:27-28)

First off, it seems a little strange that out of the blue the Roman commander here shares some of his personal history with Paul. But there are more reasons to be suspicious. Not only does Paul never mention his Roman citizenship in his letters, he says something that seems to cast doubt on it: three times he was “beaten with rods” (2 Cor. 11:25). Moreover, as the report of the Acts Seminar notes:

Roman citizenship was based on wealth and status, of a level that is highly improbable for Paul, even the Paul of Acts, who is pictured as a craftsman (Acts and Christian Beginnings — The Acts Seminar Report, p. 276).

Paul’s rescue from the mob

There may, however, be a way to plausibly sort this out without accusing Acts of total fabrication. It may again be a case that the author of Acts has just twisted the facts. Hyam Maccoby, in his The Mythmaker — Paul and the Invention of Christianity, proposed that Paul may have obtained his citizenship right before going up to Jerusalem (pp. 159-164). For some time Paul had been collecting money in his churches to bring to the church in Jerusalem. Paul knew he was going into a hornet’s nest, and Maccoby thinks it would have been natural for him to use some of that money to purchase Roman citizenship. That way Paul could call upon Roman help if the hornets attempted to sting. Such a use of money could be easily justified on the grounds that Paul’s protection from his enemies in Jerusalem was vital to the survival of his churches.

Maccoby thinks Paul had already made arrangements to inform the Romans of his citizenship sometime before he was attacked, for Acts portrays the Romans as acting very quickly to extricate Paul from his attackers. “Otherwise,” says Maccoby, the Roman commander “probably would not have intervened at all, since the Romans were not so conscientious in their duties as police as to be much concerned whether some Jew was killed or beaten in a religious squabble.” (p. 160). Note too that Acts has the commander say that he intervened because he learned that a Roman citizen was involved:

This man, seized by the Jews and on the verge of being murdered by them, I rescued by intervening with my troops, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. (Acts 23:27)

So Maccoby is not much impressed with the conversation related in Acts 22:27-28:

This whole conversation is spurious, as argued before, since Paul had really been known to be a Roman citizen before he was rescued by the Roman commandant, and otherwise would not have been rescued at all. So what is the purpose of the insertion of this conversation? It is as if the author of Acts is going out of his way to tell us that Paul did not purchase his Roman citizenship, a possibility which might not otherwise have occurred to us. There is an element of ‘protesting too much’ in this fictional insertion. It should be remembered that this alleged assertion of Paul’s, ‘But it was mine by birth,’ is the only evidence in existence that Paul was born a Roman citizen, which is prima facie unlikely. (p. 163)

If Maccoby’s proposal is correct, it would also explain Acts’ downplaying of the collection. The only mention of it is at Acts 24:17 where Paul in Caesarea says to Felix: “After many years I came to bring alms for my nation and offerings” (Acts 24:17). If part of the collection had been used to buy an expensive citizenship there may not have been much left over for alms. From the perspective of my own scenario, the meagerness of the offering may have been allegorically foreshadowed by the meager offering of the poor widow in Mk. 12:41-44. Her small offering to the temple treasury would be the Gentile mission’s offering to the Jerusalem church, an offering presented as being small in comparison with that of the wealthy but larger than theirs when considered in relation to what the givers possessed.


From Proto-Mark to Canonical Mark  

In this post I have been referring to the gospel of Mark as if it was originally a Simonian/Pauline allegory that featured Jesus as the forerunner for Simon/Paul. I need to now clarify. I think, more precisely, it was a Proto-Mark that was that allegory, and the Markan gospel that is in our New Testaments — canonical Mark — was the first reworking of it. The Jesus in canonical Mark is no longer a forerunner. He himself is given one, John the Baptist, and the image of Jesus has been reshaped into a John the Baptist redivivus. In my next post I will discuss that reshaping.


(Some of the formatting in the above post is my own — Neil)

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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.

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98 thoughts on “A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 16:  Mark as Allegory”

  1. Nicely written.

    Yet, highly implausible.

    Mark would have to have been the greatest writer to be able to work back-words from Paul’s writings
    to compose his Gospel to make Paul’s previous writings match up superbly with his creation of the Gospel.

    [Rather like JFK Assassination Theories where every missing fact/oversight is a sign of conspiracy. ]

    Why would Matthew/Luke/John ever follow/rely/imitate Mark if they knew that it did not represent the
    Jesus they knew/heard about ?

    If A implies B, then there is probably a lot in B that can lead you back to A.

    1. Creating characters based on other people is one of the oldest crafts in literature. There is nothing controversial about the idea that it could be done. Few scholars believe that the Socrates said and taught the things he is made to say in Plato’s writings. Plato has put his own teachings into Socrates mouth. Historical characters commonly are made to take on anachronistic values, ideals, acts, that serve the interests of later generations.

      Far from being “the greatest writer” to achieve something like that one needs only to be just like untold numbers of other writers who have done just that sort of thing.

      Notice that scholars who were persuaded by Volkmar’s thesis appear to have understood this truism about literature.

      Have you read any of the previous posts in this series?

    2. Stephen,

      I don’t think there was any substantial public ministry for Jesus before Mark composed one. And if he was the first to create one, he didn’t have to worry much about it being in conflict with some other widely known version.

      In the case of John: I think that gospel was written in the second century, so the Jesus known and modified by its author was likely the Synoptic Jesus.

  2. Hi Roger. Great to see this installment after a long time! I also read Dykstra’s book but I’m afraid I found his argument very underwhelming. If GMark is a Pauline myth largely directed against the Jerusalem apostles, then where are the elements of Paul’s Galatians polemic: eating with Gentiles? denunciation of circumcision? denunciation of the ritual calendar? rejection of the old covenant? The sayings and behaviour of the Markan Jesus seem too tamely Jewish to me to be Pauline: “go, show yourself to the priest”, “I come only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”; nor does he condemn the law as the source of sin, as does the Paul of Romans, but rather relies on arguments to uphold its spirit while rejecting the letter. This makes me think GMark may be the product of a non-Petrine, non-Pauline school.

    1. The great central task of the New Testament, is reconciling Jews to their new overlords since 64 BC: the Romans. Various efforts to do this, like Paul’s, and 2 Mac. 5, were at times too thoroughly Greco Roman. Such a figure would not be accepted by local Jews.

      And so it was politically necessary to also have – in addition to the 14 or so books of Paul, and the Roman Paul of Acts – another, more Jewish central character. Who would seem quite Jewish, and loyal to the Jewish fathers. But who would also teach meek submission. Turning the other cheek, even to enemies.

    2. Hi EmmaZunz,

      As I indicated in my post, I think the Markan Jesus was put together to cryptically foreshadow and prefigure Paul. That does not mean he is a full-blown and unambiguous Paul. In regard to eating with Gentiles: the Markan Jesus eats with “tax collectors and sinners” (Mk. 2:16). To me “sinners” is ambiguous enough that it could function as permission to eat with anyone, including Gentiles. In Galatians 2:15 Paul refers to those “who are Jews by nature, and not Gentile sinners” as if being a Gentile somehow entails being a sinner. In regard to denunciation of circumcision: I offered a suggestion regarding this in my post. In regard to denunciation of the ritual calendar: the Markan Jesus breaks the Sabbath. If breaking the Sabbath is okay, why not the rest of the ritual calendar? And, of course, the Markan Jesus declares all foods clean (Mk. 7:19). So what really remains of the old covenant. Not much.

      [One small correction to your comment: the words “I come only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” are not Markan. They are Matthean.]

      1. Hi Roger. Thanks for your reply. I see what you are getting at. Unfortunately, the more cryptic the connection the less persuasive the parallel. I wonder why a follower of Paul, who himself was so forthright in his views, at least in letters to congregations, would want to more or less disguise them in allegorical fiction as Mark does.

        1. I wonder too, though I question whether Paul was initially all that forthright, especially with Jewish Christians. If Paul and Simon of Samaria were the same person, he appears to have been secretive and to have interpreted Scripture allegorically. So perhaps the author of proto-Mark thought it was only fitting to portray Simon/Paul’s forerunner as a divine secretive riddler.

          1. Mark uses the “disguise” of allegorical fiction so as to have a “Jewish” Jesus canonize Paul’s Gospel. No doubt Mark and the Gentile Churches felt keenly the priority and authority of the original Jerusalem Church. And Mark is out to diminish that authority and promote Paul’s Gospel to the Gentiles and Paul’s Jesus. And the best way to do that is to retroactively have the original founder of the Jesus movement bless Paul’s Gospel and Paul’s Jesus, and at the same time have that founder diminish the original Jewish disciples and the Jerusalem Church and its “chief priests”. Had Mark’s Gospel been too obvious then it would not have been as effective, because it would have been invested only with the authority of Mark and not with the authority of the original founder of the Jesus movement.

    3. The author of Mark is specific about the teachings being esoteric, as in Mark 4:11-12. I haven’t read Dykstra’s book yet, but my understanding is that his account is that Mark is a story about the teachings, rather than containing the teachings itself. In other words, it is intended as a companion and introduction to the Pauline epistles, and deliberately leaves it to Paul’s earlier writings to make the key points.

      However, it’s certainly valid to point out that the author of Mark could just as well have given us straightforward situations that put the issues, such as Gentile circumcision, on the table, rather than accomplishing the same thing by means of coded allegories. It does seem to be the case that the author likes using coded allegories. He may have felt that this was a superior way of getting his point across. It’s inarguable that his style makes it much harder for us now to know for sure what his real point was, e.g. whether or not he was a Paulinist.

  3. The problem I see with Mark basing his Gospel on Paul is that Mark’s Jesus does not much resemble the earthly avatar of a cosmic Christ found in Mark. I see Mark as an allegory of the history of salvation. Jesus is the personification of Divine Salvation, which is what the name Jesus means. Jesus is identified with whomever or whatever Mark sees as the instrument or embodiment of salvation at any given point in time. Jesus stands for a series of savior figures from Joshua on. Jesus as a symbol of salvation became merged with Paul’s avatar and possibly Q’s wisdom teacher and the Gnostic source of saving knowledge to form differing currents of what became Christianity. A specific person named Jesus at the time and place of the Gospel setting is unlikely though not impossible. My theory of the Markan Jesus is presented in my book, Secret of the Savior: The Myth of the Messiah in Mark from University Press of America.

    1. Possibly there is no real conflict here. Gnosticism offered, as its very heart and core, a path to salvation. Systematically outlining layers of reality, the earth and the heavens, that we need to penetrate, before creaching enlightenment, or ultimate reality.

  4. The parallels between the gospel of Mark and Paul’s life and words can be explained by postulating that the person who wrote Mark was in fact Paul. There is support for this in Galatians where Paul says he went to Jerusalem after 14 years (plenty of time to write a gospel) “because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.” From Mark, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…” Circumcision isn’t mentioned in the gospel for fear of offending the Jewish-Christians. Also the affliction that Paul suffered from was poor eyesight. “For I testify about you that if it were possible, you would have pulled out your eyes and given them to me!” Hence the detail about seeing men like trees walking.

  5. Thank you very much, Roger. I found this post very useful. As you say, it contains much that is speculative but those speculative sections at least demonstrate that traditional ways of reading the gospel do not have to be set in stone and that other possibilities do lie behind what we have today. Of course possibility alone does not translate into probability but possibility does keep us mindful of alternatives and how little we do know of what led to the creation of the gospels.

    The largest obstacle to my ability to embrace the Paul-Mark connection has been Mark’s opening chapter with John the Baptist, the baptism, etc. so I look forward to your next post.

    Something as new and different as your thesis is not something I can take in quickly. I find myself wanting to return to earlier posts and look forward to future ones. What I would like to do is to take time to sift out core arguments from your series and set them up in a diagram format to facilitate an overall grasp more easily.

    1. Hi Neil,

      I agree. If the John the Baptist passages were part of the original I too would have to pass on Mark being a Pauline allegory. But there are some reasons to think that John could be a subsequent insertion, as I’ll explain in my next post. With John removed, Jesus’ opening experience would be similar to Paul’s: As he was walking along the heavens opened and he heard a voice. After the experience he immediately went off into the wilderness. Something along the lines of:

      “As Jesus was coming from Nazareth in Galilee, he straightway saw the heavens ripped open. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.” And straightway Jesus went into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

      1. So maybe when redactors, editors, went looking for some “historical” foundation for Paul’s and the many other rumors of this or that savior? They followed up first, rumors about crazed cynic prophets or holy men eating bugs in the wilderness. E.g. John.

        There was an existing John cult. So John was therefore considered as a possible Christ for a while. But when redactors settled on/manufactured another better figure? They showed John. But as passing on the torch to a preferred, related figure: “cousin” “Jesus.”

        Who also went to the wilderness. But who hopefully at least, didn’t eat bugs.

        : )

    2. What is the difficulty presented by the JtB passage? I can see it as allegorically exemplifying Christ humbling himself, then being declared (whatever he is) on being raised–while at the same time marking for new believers their baptism as a time of adoption as sons of God.

      1. One difficulty it presents is that JtB would become the forerunner of a forerunner. Another is that I doubt JtB was of any importance to Pauline/Simonian Christians. There are some other problems that I will discuss in the next post.

        1. Is the character of Jesus in the Simonion Ur-Markus a forerunner? Per Dykstra, the story is itself a prologue to Paul’s teachings. I may be working from the assumptions of an out-of-date version of the Simonian origin, but I thought the idea was that original Mark is an allegory depicting Jesus’ saving mission, full stop. In terms of the allegory, Jesus is the God-Man descended from the highest heaven. This represents Simon because Simon was the medium for Jesus on Earth. What is either the forerunner of? In theory, Jesus’ crucifixion occurred in a separate bodily descent to earth, but that was ostensibly prior to Simon’s public ministry and possession by Jesus, rather than being foreshadowed by it, right?

          1. Greg, you wrote: “I thought the idea was that original Mark is an allegory depicting Jesus’ saving mission, full stop.”

            I think the original Mark was a Simonian allegory depicting the beginning of Son’s saving mission. Or, in other words, it depicted the first stage of the saving mission, a stage the Son accomplished as Jesus. But it depicted that first stage in such a way that the sayings and doings of Jesus foreshadowed/prefigured an important second and final stage, one that the Son carried out in Simon/Paul. It was expected that those familiar with Simon/Paul’s life and teaching would recognize the foreshadowings/prefigurations. Similar to the way Old Testament stories are believed by many to point to Christ, so, I suspect, the original Mark intended that his account of Jesus point to Simon/Paul.

            So, yes, the Markan Jesus comes to accomplish his saving act but, just as importantly, he comes to prepare perceptive hearers for Simon’s preaching and teaching about that act. Salvation is obtained not solely by means of Jesus’ saving act, but also by believing with the kind of belief defined and demanded by Simon/Paul. I think that, in that sense, the Markan Jesus functions as forerunner for Simon/Paul.

            1. I think I get it. The Simonians had begun to present the Beloved of God’s crucifixion on earth as precursor to Simon’s possession and “filling up what is lacking”, and, conversely, they had begun to present the latter as the main event.

              I’m not sure I agree that this perspective militates even weakly against the inclusion of John the Baptist in the story. The allegory seems to be deliberately combining traits of the forerunner and the main event. It might then make sense to the author to give the forerunner its own forerunner, presaging the anteriority & posteriority that were to come. That said, I don’t take issue with your other argument against John the Baptist, so your conclusion holds regardless.

  6. Salome is the female form of the name Solomon who was legendary among the Jews for his wisdom.

    I wonder if, in Mark, the Salome at the cross contrasts the Salome (unnamed but implicit) daughter of Herodias, a witness of another death (without resurrection). In that case the ”wisdow of this world” contrasts the wisdow of another world.

    Along the lines of that contrast, I follow Dennis MacDonald whereas he thinks that the woman at the cross are not the same mother and relatives of Jesus.
    Only some suggestions by me. Very thanks for the post.

  7. Hi Roger,

    I would have a question, about Mark as a simonian allegory as an entire.

    Often I listen, by some historicist scholar (for example, this), something as:

    …I take the gospels serious as literature, which reflects historical events. …

    Do you think that a simonian allegory may be considered serious as literature by its same original readers? Assuming as ‘serious’ any leterature which reflects historical events or religious truths, etc ?

    I make this question because I want to know to what extent you think ur-Mark was meant seriously, especially in light of the points in ur-Mark where clearly the figures of a rival sect (the Pillars, Peter) are continually exposed to the worst scorn worthy of Charlie Hebdo.

    By extension, an anti-religious satire like Charlie Hebdo is considered serious literature? Was ‘Mark’ just as satirical and caustic in some cases?

    I fear that my question is too abstract, but I’d be curious to hear your opinion about it.


    1. Hi Giuseppe,

      I think the author of proto-Mark was serious about his devotion to Paul, and it was that devotion that motivated him to write, not scorn for Paul’s enemies. He has created a Jesus worthy of being Paul’s forerunner. I see his gospel as polemical only in the sense that it aimed to allegorically reflect Paul’s polemics.

      1. Hi Roger,
        Your answer is very intriguing.

        I had thought that the argument of Dykstra etc about the relation Paul – ‘Mark’ was something as this:

        1) ‘Mark’ was serious about his devotion to Jesus Christ
        2) but Jesus Christ was reflected only in the man Paul, according to ‘Mark’
        3) therefore: Mark has created a Jesus worthy of being Paul’s forerunner.

        In other terms, I saw the use of Paul’s life, polemics etc in the gospel of Mark as a easy way to achieve a goal. Mark made use of Paul as a mirror to look at the true face of Jesus. This raises the question: there were no other mirrors of the true face of Jesus, for Mark? Or even: why to use a mirror to see Jesus? Maybe that Mark did not know Jesus more concretely? it would be as though to see the Sun (Jesus), I (Mark) would be obligated to see only his mere reflection on the Moon (Paul), to use a metaphor.

        But your answer assumes the opposite:

        1) ‘Mark’ was serious about his devotion to Paul.
        2) but Paul did want to be remembered as possessing Jesus Christ in himself, according to ‘Mark’
        3) therefore: Mark has created a Jesus worthy of being Paul’s forerunner.

        Is this the basic difference between your view and Dykstra’s view?

        1. Hi Giuseppe,

          There are a number of differences between my view and Dykstra’s. For instance, as I wrote in the post: “Dykstra does not argue that Mark is Simonian. His argument is that Mark is Pauline. It is I who suspect that Simon and Paul were the same person.” So for a Simonian there would be no conflict between Jesus and Simon/Paul. The Son of God’s first manifestation as Jesus prepared the way for his subsequent manifestation in Simon/Paul.

          In my post I also wrote: “I cannot here do justice to all the parallels Dyskstra uncovers between Mark and Paul. I urge those interested to read his book. I find myself in agreement with much” — not all — “of his analysis. Like him, I think Mark’s portrayal of Jesus was fashioned to provide a divine advance validation for Paul and his teaching. As I see it, however, the Jesus episodes were intended to function more like prefigurations or foreshadowings of Paul. Some of them were intended to be within the reach of any Christian. Others were meant to be fully understood only by members of the Markan community.”

          If you have read Dykstra’s book, you have no doubt noticed other differences.

  8. In what ways has Jesus’ death been modeled after Paul? (Forgive me if I am overlooking a point that has been covered.) And then his resurrection? We know of Schmidt’s argument for allusions to a Roman triumph and you may suggest we should think of Paul/Simon in Rome?

    1. I think that the crucifixion and resurrection were the original nuggets that came from the Ascension of Isaiah. Pretty much everything else would have built around those by the author of Proto-Mark. If so, Jesus’ crucifixion itself would not have been modeled after Paul for, as far as we know, Paul did not die by crucifixion. But the attendant circumstances of the crucifixion could have Pauline/Simonian significance. In this scenario Barabbas’ (Son of the Father’s) escape from execution may be Proto-Mark’s way of foreshadowing Paul escape from such. Barabbas also misses out on the flogging “Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus flogged, handed him over to be crucified” (Mk. 15:15). In Acts, the arrested Paul too misses out on a flogging, because his Roman citizenship comes out. And I think that the Simon Cyrenian incident with its ambiguous pronouns may be the way Proto-Mark foreshadowed that Paul was still to be mystically “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).

      In regard to the resurrection: Again, the nugget would be from the Ascension of Isaiah. But that work doesn’t have anything about an empty tomb. I am wondering if that was a creation of Proto-Mark’s to foreshadow something Simon/Paul did. Hippolytus says that Simon “said, that if he were buried alive, he would rise again on the third day. And he did actually order a grave to be dug by his disciples and told them to bury him. So they carried out his orders, but he has stopped away until the present day, for he was not the Christ” (Refutation of all Heresies, 6,20). This incident sounds crazy but we have no way of knowing how crazy things may have become in Simon’s later years. Assuming he was Paul, we lose track of him after the last of his authentic letters. He couId have lived another ten or fifteen years after that and really went off the deep end at some point. Who knows?

  9. Some suggestions:

    Acts of Peter:

    “And lo and behold, he (Simon) was carried up into the air, and everyone saw him all over Rome passing over its temples and in hills; while the faithful looked towards Peter. And Peter, seeing the incredible sight, cried out to the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘Let this man do what he undertook, and all who have believed on thee shall now be overthrown, and the signs and wonders which thou gavest them through me shall be disbelieved. Make haste, Lord, with thy grace; and let him fall down from this height, and be crippled, but not die; but let him be disabled and break his leg in three places!’ And he fell down from that height and broke his leg in three places. Then they stoned him and went to their own homes; but from that time they all believed in Peter.”

    Some similarities with Mark 15:29-32 ?

    And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,
    Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
    Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
    Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

    While Simon Magus is flying, all see (the apparently loser) Peter. Does this remember Mark 14:66-72 ?

  10. It is very important to determine if Mark read Paul. For instance, I disagree with William Lane Craig’s idea that we can be sure of “Multiple Attestation” on the issues of the “Crucifixion,” “Empty Tomb,” and “Resurrection Appearances.” Paul said “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (1 Cor 15:3-8).” If Mark read Paul, and John read at least one of the synoptics, then there may only be one source (Paul) for all of these.

    1. And I’m wary of the way New Testament scholars liberally posit multiple sources to explain innovations from authors. For instance, Ehrman explains the material unique to Matthew by imagining there was an “M” source that Matthew had access to. In this case, I would say Matthew’s gospel shows itself to be a Judaizing of the gentile gospel of Mark, so there is no reason to think Matthew has an independent source here, let alone that it can be traced back to the historical Jesus. Something similar might be applicable to “Q.” Burton Mack argues for a stratified Q, Q 1 being the earliest. But Q 1 simply reflects sayings that have a common cynical tang, and hence do not need to come from one sage, let alone Jesus.

      1. One last point:

        Luke and Matthew borrowed from Mark. Most scholars posit a “Q” source that was shared by Matthew and Luke (for the material common to them that we don’t find in Mark), although some maintain that Luke borrowed from Matthew (Goodacre and Carrier argue this latter position). Where I raise my eyebrow is when scholars like Ehrman go one step further and posit a myriad of sources every time a gospel author has material unique to them. Ehrman might be right about this, but I don’t think there is any reason to think so. The gospel writers may just have been inventing the material that was unique to them: We have ample evidence with the apocryphal gospels about Jesus and the forged pseudo-Pauline epistles that the writers of that period were more than willing to invent material to suit their purposes, so it is perfectly reasonable to think that this was going on in the canonical Gospels as well.

        1. Comparison of similar synoptic material and some of the gap-fillers could lead equally to the view that there were quite a number of blocks of material used variously by the three synoptics, rather than a direct sequential line, such as Mark ~ Matthew ~ Luke, though this has always been a minority opinion, proposed notably by several perfectly competent RC scholars. Much basic material and some writer-unique material may well have been fictional inventions. Items unique to the extant Matthew, Mark & Luke may be worked out by the editorial basis or literary-theological tendencies shown in any event by these particular writers. The whole thing is a tangle of complexities which no end as yet in sight.

          There have likewise been various attempts to dispense with Q, and even to reassert the priority of Matthew or at any rate an earlier Aramaic draft. If you have the patience, one reasonable starting-point would be David J. Neville, “Mark’s Gospel – Prior or Posterior?” (London: Sheffield Academic, 2002). Of course, so far as non-Christians go, who really cares?

            1. What was available anywhere and what was used somewhere are two different things, and one can only speculate as to why someone did not put everything possible in any given piece of writing, especially a particular letter.

              Suppose that our present “Matthew” is a development, and our present incomplete “Mark” an abridgment (albeit with some lively additions), of a previous document or set of similar documents, perhaps “in the Hebrew [Aramaic] tongue” and completely attributed, probably wrongly, to Matthew the apostle.

              Then try David B. Peabody (ed), “One Gospel from Two” (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2002)!

              Or the Jerusalem School Hypothesis (q.v. Wikipedia, for quickness).

              Or…or…or…. And consider the old joke – Matthew 27.5b + Luke 10.37b.

              More seriously, who actually knows – and who really cares?

    2. We don’t know if Mark used or read the resurrection-apparition list in I Corinthians because the original ending of his gospel does not describe any such appearances.

      1. I agree with Carrier that it all goes back to a single author: the author of the Corinthian creed. Probably Peter. One source. Who cites only scripture and visions as evidence.

        1. Assuming that Jesus really existed and was really executed, it seems reasonable to suppose that Peter and possibly some other followers eventually had postmortem “visions” which set them on a missionary road. The association of these hallucinations with both failure to recognize Jesus immediately and shared meals raises the possibility of communal psychoactive substances, which may well have played their part in “healing miracles”.

          The narratives then grew exponentially over time, gathering apologetic, scriptural and theological embellishments en route; I think “Luke” used Josephus (rather than vice versa). Following the sack of Jerusalem, the “risen god” and “wailing women” features of paganism reinforced the eventual success of the post-Pauline religion among the Gentiles.

          1. “Assuming that Jesus really existed and was really executed, it seems reasonable to suppose that Peter and possibly some other followers eventually had postmortem “visions” which set them on a missionary road.”

            Do we need such an assumption? People don’t require any real event to start having visions.

            Take the alien abductions in the US. No real events, only mass culture and fiction, yet people started hallucinating similar events.
            That’s how this works, you throw ideas at large crowds, and eventually some special individuals take them more seriously than others and start gathering.

            In fact, I don’t think an execution witnessed by a handful of men alone is enough to create such an effect. Crucifixion was fairly common these days after all, so were wandering preachers, there must have been many such executions now completely forgotten.

  11. There are various reasons why people experience hallucinations and for an explanation one looks at the probable circumstances, in this case conceivably the death of a close friend and charismatic leader. Collective hypnosis is also possible (Matthew 28.17b; Luke 9.32). I know no more than Carrier or any other of the numerous writers who have explained the NT “resurrection reports” in very different ways.

    1. Thing is, death of a friend or a charismatic leader is not among known causes for hallucinations. Most of us experience death of a friend at some point, many experience death of a leader. Such events are relatively common and unremarkable throughout history.

      Death of a leader is not a probable explanation at all. Still possible, but superfluous.

      1. When my best friend’s father died, his mother later hallucinated that the dead man was talking to her and that he was causing erratic noises inside the house.

  12. There are grief hallucinations (see e.g. “Scientific American”, December 2, 2008); my mother-in-law had them. Others can be brought on by psychoactive substances. When I have read Horsley, Witmer and several other writers on relevant issues I may eventually summarize my tentative hypothesis and, if permitted, post it here. Since neither of use believe that Jesus was raised from the dead to sit at the right hand of his Father, I am in no hurry.

    1. Yes, it’s a well known fact that rare individuals seem to hallucinate their passed relatives now and then, but it’s also known that it usually doesn’t spread,
      so why use the unusual explanation, instead of the usual social processes involving sizable groups sharing common mass culture ideas?

      It’s the more unusual, as early texts never mention any friends nor followers.

  13. Combine the explanations. Charles Guignebert is worth re-reading on this.

    Which relevant “early texts” never mention that Jesus had companions?

    Galatians 3.13 and Daniel 9.26 are keys to the “culture ideas” in this case.

  14. Epistles, of course.

    We know that a social process alone is required and sufficient to create such an effect.
    Sure, it’s possible a real event also contributed somehow, but we know it’s neither required nor sufficient, and the evidence doesn’t support it, so there are no rational reasons to force such an explanation.

        1. Who are these individuals named by Paul and those he said he persecuted, and what is their alternative story in your view?

          Those who report UFO hallucinations are themselves real people, unlike their imagined visitants or captors.

          1. They are members of a religious movement. He doesn’t say anything about their relations with Jesus the man.
            You seem to be reading the gospels into the epistles.

            “Those who report UFO hallucinations are themselves real people, unlike their imagined visitants or captors.”

            Those who report religious hallucinations are themselves real people, unlike their imagined divine saviours.

            1. No doubt someone else conveniently interpolated the gospels into I Thessalonians 2.14-16, I Corinthians 11.23-26 & Romans 1.3. We can always read Earl Doherty &c into the epistles.

              Your presumption that these “members of a [sic] religious movement” had no previous “relations with Jesus the man” seems a bit “forced” to me, but we shall have to agree to disagree.

              1. I don’t make such a presumption. I simply state the fact, that epistles don’t mention any such relations. In particular, the passages you mention don’t either.

                By the way, they are easily explained without resorting to interpolation. Especially that part about the ritual meal, which was Paul’s vision, remade in the gospels into real event (sounds familiar).

                “Forced” would be to insist a superfluous explanation we have no evidence for (like real man/event) is the most probable one.

              2. 1 Thessalonians 2.14-16 has often been assumed to be an interpolation, because of its surprising anti-Semitic tone. In any event, neither that passage nor any of the others you cite specify any individual associating with Jesus during his earthly ministry. To the best of my knowledge, there is no such mention anywhere in the Paulines.

  15. Hi Roger.

    While reading Neil’s recent posts about A Shift In Time by Lena Einhorn, her timeline struck me as something your thesis could explain quite well. The original Jesus timeline could have had Pauline/Simonian significance due to the fact that Paul/Simon was active around the time the so-called “robbers” became active again, after being crushed during the Census revolt (4 BCE – 6 CE) and not causing noteworthy incidents around 6-44 CE according to Josephus.

    So when Mark has Jesus crucified alongside the robbers (Mark 15:27)

    — And with him they crucified two bandits [λῃστάς – lestes], one on his right and one on his left. —

    it might be one of the cryptic clues Mark has left for those who could “perceive and understand” his Gospel and solve the riddle of the identity of Jesus. In fact, I wonder if the adoptionistic tone of Mark is due to Paul/Simon being interchangeable for Jesus: this would be a key part of the “secret gospel” Paul was accused of preaching, much like Mark has Jesus behave and speak during the Parable of the Sower.

    Could it be that the “time-shift” Lena Einhorn proposes was one of the many falsifications and “corrections” that the proto-orthodox made to render the “Jesus” character distinct from the pro-Pauline Jesus put forth by Mark? I admit this is purely speculative, but I found it interesting how the pieces of the puzzle can fit together.

    1. Hi FC,

      Assuming the original gospel of Mark was a Simonian/Pauline allegory, its author may have situated it in Pilate’s time in order have its Jesus active right before Simon/Paul began his ministry. In that way the role of Jesus as preparing the way for Simon/Paul would be clearer. (The first version of Jesus’ crucifixion — the Ascension of Isaiah’s, in my opinion — is vague about timing and its author may have envisioned it as occurring earlier, in the time of Varus.)

      1. Is it far-fetched to say, following your argument, that there are corresponding pairs between the life of Jesus and Paul (ex: Pilate paired with Felix, Jesus in the temple paired with Paul in the temple, etc)? I mention this because if there are enough matching pairs of characters and events shared between Mark’s Jesus and Paul’s, it might be theological in nature: Simonians did have a certain taste for pairs (syzygies). The same phenomena might be occurring in the Markan sandwiches, where a story/allegory comes in pairs that complete each other (the bread that holds the meat so to speak, for those who have had enough milk, like in 1 Corinthians 3:2).

        Mark would only have to use his imagination and literary skills to turn his source(s) of information about Paul’s life into allegorical episodes, all while mixing it up with scriptural nods and references for literate “pneumatics.” Creating a forerunner of Paul might have been as simple as loosely following the chronology of Paul’s missionary work (perhaps with such a document on his desk while he wrote his Gospel).

        Though if our current redaction of Mark has been altered with Jewish-Christian interpolations, I wonder how close the outline of Mark’s Jesus would be to Paul’s in ur-Mark.

        1. If it helps, think of the way Christians scour the Old Testament to discover providentially planted intimations of Jesus. I think proto-Mark was written to be similarly scoured, but its intimations were planted by its Simonian/Pauline author and were meant to point to Simon/Paul.

  16. Hi Roger,
    what do you think about this my interpretation of the tomb cut out of rock in Mark 15:46?

    This may do again the point that Peter is a false apostle because he is the rock where the Word is buried in vain according to the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:16-17).

    The point would be that the true soil where the Word grows and gives fruits (=where the Risen Christ is seen) is the Galilee of the Gentiles, where is Paul and not Peter and the 12.

    1. Given the meaning of Peter’s name and the presence of “rocky soil” in the parable of the Sower, the cutting of the tomb “out of rock” may well have had some particular significance for Mark.

    1. Mark 16.7
      But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

      If I am correct about the empty tomb as an allusion to the seed (of the known parable) put on a rocky soil (allusion to Peter), then the Parable of Sower explains why Peter is ultimately lost :

      Some seed fell on rocky places, where there wasn’t much soil. The plants came up quickly, because the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it burned the plants. They dried up because they had no roots.
      (Mark 4:5-6)

      The Parable explains that it was not the sun to kill the seed directly. The seed died ultimately because it had no roots. Idem for Peter: he is abandoned by Jesus (”the empty tomb”) because, even if Mark 16.7 has an angel who attempts to inform him in extremis, the women fail to give him the news about Galilee. Peter is lost because he had no traces of the Risen. The women should have been the ‘roots’ of the ‘plant’ Peter, but these ‘roots’ were silent (=absent).

  17. How explain satisfactorily the predominance of Peter throughout the Gospels including the bestowal of the keys in Matthew 16.19 (translated from Aramaic)?

    1. The author of Mark seems to have thought of Peter as the most famous Christian leader, the stand-in for what would have been “mainstream” Christianity in his time. So, he gives Peter a prominent role as an opportunity to criticise Peter and his successors, because they needed to be taken down a peg, not because he admired them and wished to promote their authority.

      The Gospel of Matthew has contradictory attitudes toward Peter which presumably reflect different authors at work. Matthew 16:19 is pro-Peter, but then 16:22-23 gives a different impression, and 18:18 walks back 16:19 by extending the same powers Peter was given to all the Twelve.

  18. The mention of Paul’s curse on the High Priest Ananias reminded me of my speculative identification of Paul’s Cephas with Caiaphas the high priest (a speculation which I have only seen made in one other modern source + perhaps in a garbled form by the Toledoth Jeschu). Perhaps Acts 23:3-5 reflects the author’s modified version of the dispute between Paul and Cephas/Caiaphas.

  19. Roger,

    Very glad you’re back! Even if it’s just to wrap up the series. The life events that have delayed your work are a completely understandable. I’ve sometimes marvelled that you have been able to commit yourself to such deep research and writing about Bible history while keeping a normal job. And, I have to say, the “something unexpected” is something I understand all too well, myself. Part of the reason I never pursued a career in academia is that my interests keep changing: how can I know that my research topic will still be of interest to me by the time I finish work on it? I suppose that’s precisely the risk you took on when you started working on a 16+ part series.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re planning another installment of the series. I wonder if it will contain anything about Matthew. I have never known quite what to make of its authorship (although I took a very brief stab at it as part of this comment a few months back: http://vridar.org/2015/11/01/peter-as-apostate-apostle-in-the-gospel-of-matthew/#comment-74158) and I’ve wondered what would come to light about it in the Simonian Origin series.

    1. Hi Greg,

      The next installment will still be about Mark. Specifically, about the changes I think were made to a proto-Mark (or, if you prefer, ur-Mark) to create canonical Mark. But the post may be of interest to you anyway, since I think the author of Matthew continued further along the same lines as whoever produced canonical Mark. That is, I think the reviser of proto-Mark used Q to transform the Simonian/Pauline Jesus figure into one bearing greater resemblance to Q’s hero, John the Baptist. Matthew, especially by putting much more of Q on Jesus’ lips, pushed that transformation further along.

    1. Hi Giuseppe, I don’t think so. SGF Brandon pointed out that Mark portrays Pilate as a weak Roman governor easily swayed by the “Jews” and the “chief priests” so that Mark can absolve his [and Paul’s] Jesus from sedition against Rome. This also has the added benefit of absolving Mark’s Pauline Church of sedition against Rome. Paul had advocated obedience to Rome and paying the tax (tribute) in his letter to the Romans. But for Mark, Barabbas is the other Jesus, the nationalistic Jesus who was truly guilty of sedition against Rome. And we know from Josephus and Philo that Pilate was not one to let any hint of sedition go. So there is a paradox. But then for Mark this is all a parable. Jesus is a parable for Paul, Barabbas is a parable for Paul’s “another Jesus” taught by the Jerusalem Church, and the “chief priests” are a parable for the chief priests of the Jerusalem Church. Apparently it was no problem for Mark to overlay the Jerusalem Church chief priests onto the Sadducean chief priests, because both were opposed to Paul. The Jerusalem Church saw Paul as teaching against the Law, and the Sadducean chief priests saw Paul as a ringleader and fundraiser for the seditious sect of the Nazarenes. I know it is disconcerting, but that at least seems to explain the odd paradox of a Roman governor releasing someone guilty of sedition against Rome. It just didn’t happen that way.

      1. I think that the weakest point of the your theory is the absence of evidence that the ”another Jesus” alluded by Paul (and allegorized by ‘Jesus Barabbas’) is just the Christ preached by the Pillars (even if the allegory of the latter are the ‘scribes and pharisees’ who want Barabbas free).
        If Mark was pauline, then Matthew, considered by me as anti-pauline and pro-Pillars, should show more clearly the your Zealot Jesus, but we know already that the things are differently: Matthew allegorizes just as Mark (even if it is more literalist than Mark). If there are not advocates of the HJ against the pauline (and Markan) conspiracy but only anti-paulines as Matthew and the ebionites (who adored a celestial archangel, too), then the best explanation is the absence of a HJ. Note that the proto-Catholic Hegesippus invented a James the Just brother of Jesus in anti-marcionite function (Marcion called ”Just” the God of the Jews).

        1. And note that this (the surprising, unexpected absence of advocates of an hypothetical HJ) happens even if I consider Matthew as a Proto-Catholic author who simulates only his being ‘Jewish-Christian” and legitimate heir of the Pillars (without being really such).

          1. I always enjoy your counterpoint 🙂 I agree with your point that Matthew is really Pauline and he only simulates being “Jewish-Christian”. In fact I think much of the Q source is also Pauline, or has been reworked to be Pauline. No HJ? Well I agree there is not a lot of direct evidence there was an HJ. But it seems that Mark implicitly suggests there was an HJ by creating his Barabbas as a counterpoint to the pacifist (and innocent) Pauline Christ. And Paul says that “false brethren” (i.e. Jewish Christians) were teaching another Jesus. What other Jesus could that have been except an historical Jesus? All things being equal, the simplest explanation is sometimes the correct one, which I think is the case with Volkmar’s and Dykstra’s allegorical Jesus hypothesis. The idea that the Jesus of the Gospels is an allegory for Paul, the “scribes and Pharisees” an allegory for those sent by James to spy out the liberty [from the Law] that Paul’s followers had in Christ, that the “cheif priests” are an allegory for the “chief priests” of the Jerusalem Church (who would not have hesitated to ask for the release of a Jewish nationalist like Barabbas), that Judas Iscariot is an allegory for the Jeiwsh Sicariots who conspired with the “chief priests” of the Jerusalem Church to betray and kill Paul, and that both the “lestes” and the “chief priests” mocked the Pauline Christ hanging on the cross, these things and many others overwhelming point to Volkmar’s and Dykstra’s allegorical Pauline Jesus and (I would suggest) seemingly to an historical Jesus Barabbas as well.

  20. I have always been intrigued by the story of the unnamed disciple who follows Jesus when all the other disciples have fled. They grab hold of him and he flees naked, leaving behind his linen garment (Mark 14:51-52). This disciple apparently shows up again at the empty tomb to tell the women that Jesus has been raised from the dead (Mark 16:5). Could this refer to Paul, the faithful disciple who preaching the resurrection of Christ?

  21. Roger,

    I very much enjoyed this series. But I recently read through Simon Magus’ The Great Declaration in The Pre-Nicene New Testament, keeping in mind the entire time that this may actually be Paul writing this, though he sure doesn’t sound like Paul to me.

    One thing I found quite fascinating was that Simon considers the story of the origin of man in the Garden of Eden as an allegory for the womb, with the river flowing into the Garden representing the umbilical cord. Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden represents our birth into the harsh world.

    I suspect that Simon’s belief that the Adam story is an allegory may doom the theory that Simon and Paul are the same person. As I read Paul, he believes in a historical Adam whose sin left mankind in bondage, thus creating the need for Christ to rescue us. If there was no historical Adam, then there was no need for Christ to come. Do you think this reasoning is sound, thus ruling out the Simon = Paul theory?

    1. I read RMP’s version of ‘The Great Declaration’ at Aeon Byte just yesterday:


      What was striking to me on reading it was the ‘social identity’ of the author. The basic thinking of the author is Greek. All of the main concerns come right out of Platonism, but a Platonism that exists as a theology, not as anything exalted or secular. At the same time, the Hebrew scriptures are consulted with equal authority. Trying to imagine the social milieu of the author, it’s easy to think of diaspora Jews, living in an essentially Greek world and adopting their intellectual concerns and worldview, but at the same time not wanting to let go of Hebrew scriptures, holding them up as equally worthy and also containing answers.

      Does it sound anything like the Paul of Sunday school traditions? Not a thing. I can’t offer an answer to your question directed to Parvus about the Adam story. But my thought is that if all we get of ‘Paul’ today is from the epistles – which are a hodge-podge of half-spurious, half-interpolated fragments – and Acts, then we know nothing about Paul at all. Paul and his early Christianity may have been essentially Greek and what we’d today call ‘Gnostic’, providing a basis for all traditions later deemed heterodox, etc.

    2. Dale,

      I think you’re looking at allegorical and historical interpretation of Scripture as an either/or proposition. For many who engaged in allegorical interpretation (e.g., Philo, Origen) it seems to have been rather both/and. They believed a text could have additional, deeper meanings but did not necessarily deny its historical one. So I don’t think we can safely conclude that Simon’s allegorical treatment of the Pentateuch means he rejected the historicity of the narratives in those books.

      In regard to Paul: As you can see from the series, I don’t think he blamed mankind’s bondage on Adam’s sin. I think he saw men primarily as victims and placed the blame for their predicament on the inferior world-creating angels who stacked the deck against them. The atonement/expiation/reconciliation material in his letters would be attempts by a Judaizing interpolator to correct this. Since for him sins were offenses against a blameless God they had to be taken more seriously.

      As I see it, the original Simonian/Pauline viewpoint comes through in Mark’s emphasis on Jesus as exorcist. Demon’s possess men and cause the manifold ills that mankind suffers from. Jesus comes as a rescuer and frees those who believe in him. In Mk. 2:1-12, for instance, he simply says to the paralytic: ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.” No sermon about how forgiveness requires some serious repentance on the part of the paralytic and is going to require some serious bloody atonement/expiation on the part of Jesus later on down the road. Nope. In response to faith Jesus frees him immediately.

    3. The two big fish represent Leviathan and Behemoth, two marine monsters to be slain and butchered by the Messiah at the end of times to feed the righteous Jews upon the eschatological banquet, as described in the second book of Baruch.

  22. Roger,

    Thanks for the clarification. I take it then that you would consider Romans 5 to be an interpolation?

    I understand your point that it is possible to consider something historical and yet think we are to see in it an allegory, as Paul clearly does in Galatians 4 with Sarah and Hagar. But Simon (if he really wrote the Great Declaration), says: “So when he speaks of the Garden, Moses referred allegorically to the womb. Or so he must if we are to believe the word and not dismiss it as nonsense” (4:10-11). This is why I understood him to be explicitly rejecting a literal, historical meaning, which he considers to be “nonsense.”

    Looking at this passage again, I could see that Simon may be referring to the Psalm 139 passage that he just quotes as having to be allegorical when the Psalmist says that he was crafted by God “in the caverns of the earth.” But Simon specifically refers to Moses and what he has written about “the Garden” as nonsense if taken literally.

    What do you think?

    1. The words “and not dismiss it as nonsense” are not actually in the text of the Great Declaration. They are in parentheses in Robert Price’s translation and were apparently added by him to show how, in his opinion, the words “if we are to believe the word” should be understood. But, as you note, “if we are to believe the word” may simply refer back to the preceding quotation from Scripture. The sense would then be that the one Scriptural passage (the “garden” of Genesis) should be interpreted in a way that is harmony with the other one.

    2. Dale,

      Regarding Romans 5: I assume it’s 5:12-21 in particular that you have in mind. I think the passage may have been touched up a tad, but I don’t think it is an interpolation. It is usually read with orthodox glasses, as if God’s punishment is being contrasted with the same God’s gift, i.e, the punishment that God rightly inflicted on all of mankind (because of Adam’s sin) with his subsequent offer of eternal life to all (because of Jesus’ obedience). But when you look at the passage more closely you see that only the gift is clearly identified as being from God (Rom. 5:15). We are told that “after one sin was the judgment that brought condemnation” (5:.16) and that “through one transgression condemnation came upon all” (5:18), but we are not told who imposed that condemnation. And we are told that among those condemned to die were even those who lived before the Law was given and so never disobeyed any particular command of God (5:13-14). But again no clear determination of who this heavy-handed punisher was. The personification device that is used throughout the passage adds to the ambiguity: e.g., sin is said to “enter”, and through sin, death, who subsequently “reigned” (5:17). Then the Law “entered stealthily” (5:20) in order that “transgression might increase” (5:20), but again no indication of who was involved in this this stealthy, sin-multiplying entrance.

      So I suspect that the original intended contrast could have been between Adam’s severe punishment by the world-creating and Law-giving angels and the reward of Jesus’ obedience given by God. Then, in an attempt to restore God as the punisher, a Judaizing interpolator added the words “because all have sinned” to 5:12. This addition diminishes the apparent injustice of everyone being punished for the sin of one. But unfortunately it also caused all kinds of headaches for Christian theologians ever since. The “original sin” controversies can be traced back to it.

  23. I really really appreciate the Simonian Origin theory regarding Paul, but Mark as an Allegory is wrong (mostly). For the onomastic argument (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDAKfBt7_QI) the Gospels are biographies, not allegories nor other invented material. One of the redactors of a previous material may have added the uniquely Markan parables, but for the rest, Mark is founded in a biographic material.

      1. OK, so you don’t understand. It is impossible that the distribution of names could have emerged as a feat of fiction authorship. Statistically. That’s the essence of the video. But probably it requires education in university math and some knowledge in the history of mathematics to understand. This is not a matter of opinion.

        1. Are telling us that your level of understanding is so high that you cannot explain your argument to someone who has not mastered an advanced course in mathematics?

          I have not bothered to watch the video because I suspect it has something in common with the sort of arguments advanced in Bauckham’s books which I have dealt with elsewhere. But if I am wrong then please tell us the statistical argument if you can possibly do so in terms that even someone with less than advanced university level maths can understand.

          If not, I guess I will have to accept that the only people who can understand the genre of the gospel of Mark are those who are post grad students of mathematics and I will have to remain ignorant and not be bothered by your hyper-superlative intelligence again.

              1. “I have not bothered to watch the video” = “Lalalaa! I can hear that you say something, but I refuse to listen! Lalalalaa!”

                — You ARE making a fool of yourself! —

              2. Such an intelligent soul, aren’t you. I have read the arguments by scholars (do you read or only watch movies for your info?) and have addressed them, as I said. Your puerile response above indicates to me to me that I would have been wasting my time watching anything that you think is somehow groundbreaking or decisive.

  24. Very intresting the all idea, the Simonian Origin for Christianity, and convincing. But this Mark as Allegory, bother me.
    Why? Because in Mark, Jesus Son of God on the cross. What it means? This is understandable, well done by Ehrman’s exegesis. What is it about?

    Four Torah Death Penalty: stoning, burning, strangulation and sword, the execution mode itself. Not including wood suspension (crucifixion), because it was forbidden, like execution. In some cases, after the death penalty has been a dead body that was hanged. (Deut21:22-23) The hanging is not a way of execution, but a means of deterrence after the death penalty. The curse covered to the dead, and to the hanged. The “scandal of the cross” was among diaspora Jews, that “Christ is cursed”, and not that he died. But according to Paul, no one can call Jesus (as Son of God, or Son of God) cursed. (1Cor12:3) Why?
    Because according to Paul, Jesus handed to death, by God. On the night before his execution, before his crucifixion. (in1Cor 11:23-24).

    In this verse, the key concept for us is the statement that “the Lord Jesus is on the night he was betrayed,”. It’s not about the betrayal of Judas. In “The Lost Gospel of Iskarioti Judas”, Ehrman explains this nicely (page25-28). This mean (1Cor11:23-24) , Jesus handed to death, by God. On the night before his execution.

    If Mark as Paul Allegory, Jesus why Son of God on the cross, in Mark? This is not possible, because for Paul doesn’t teach this. This teaching appears in another gospel.

    “Surely this man was the SON OF GOD!” (Mark 15:39)
    “Surely he was the SON OF GOD!” (Matthew 27:54)
    “Surely this was a RIGHTEOUS MAN (not Son of God!!).” (Luke 23:47)

    Luke teaches the same as Paul (in Fil 2:6-8), not Mark.

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