Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 1

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by Roger Parvus

Nicolas Poussin, “The Ecstasy of St. Paul”

This post revises a hypothesis I proposed a few years ago in the Vridar series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity.” In those posts I argued for a scenario in which Paul was in reality Simon of Samaria, and the seven allegedly authentic Pauline letters were in fact letters of Simon that, in the early second century CE, received a makeover by some proto-orthodox Christians. By means of certain additions and modifications to the letters these people in effect co-opted Simon’s work and turned him into a proto-orthodox Paul. I argued too that the gospel message embraced by the author of the original letters was some form of the Vision of Isaiah (chapters 6-11 of the Ascension of Isaiah).

I had misgivings about the hypothesis even before I finished the series, but two years of mulling it over has left me even less enamoured. I am still quite convinced that the Vision of Isaiah is the correct background for several key passages: 1 Cor. 2:6-9; Phil. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 12:1-10. I have come to doubt, however, that these passages belong to the earliest parts of the letter collection. My changed understanding of 2 Cor. 12:1-10 in particular has led me to think it more plausible that the bulk of the letters was composed not by Simon but by later followers of his who converted to Christianity sometime between 70 and 135 CE. In my revised scenario Paul, not Simon, is the author of the original letters; and the bulk of the additional material — material that turned letters into epistles — was likely composed by a circle of Saturnilians, a community founded by the ex-Simonian Saturnilus of Antioch. Proto-orthodox input consisted of some final sanitizing touch-ups.

This revised scenario bears a definite resemblance to that of the biblical scholar Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) and I acknowledge that a re-reading of his later writings has contributed to my change of heart. Loisy held that only a kernel of the seven allegedly authentic Paulines really went back to Paul, and that the rest consisted largely of stitched-together late first, early second-century materials. He characterized many of these materials as gnostic but preMarcionite. Where I go further than Loisy is in recognizing the role of the Vision of Isaiah in the letters, and in proposing a specific provenance for their incipient gnosticism: Saturnilian Christianity.

Before I explain this revised scenario in more detail I should first review the Pauline texts that show, in my opinion, that their author knew the Vision of Isaiah. It is clear, in general, that the Vision would be a congenial text for Paul’s congregations, for Isaiah is described as receiving his revelation in the midst of a gathering of forty prophets. They look to him for guidance and

And they had come to greet him, and to hear what he said. And they hoped he would lay his hands on them and that they might prophesy and he would listen to their prophecy (Asc. Is. 6: 4-5)

While this was going on

they all heard a door opened and the voice of the Holy Spirit (Asc. Is. 6:6)

Now recall the passages on pneumatic gifts in 1 Corinthians where Paul gives guidance and encouragement to his Spirit-filled congregation regarding the gifts of the Spirit and especially prophecy. In the church at Corinth we are again among a gathering of Spirit enthusiasts. But apart from this general affinity there are three texts in particular in which the Vision of Isaiah shows through.

(One last preliminary: Please note that when I refer to the Vision in this post I am also including the so-called “pocket gospel” as part of it. It is found at 11:2-23 of the Ethiopic [E] and first Latin [L1] versions of the Ascension of Isaiah. For reasons that will become clear as we go along I am willing to accept that it was part of the text that the Pauline interpolators knew.)

This context has verbal affinities with the context of Isaiah’s Vision.

1 Corinthians 2: 6-9:

6 We speak wisdom among the perfect, but wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, that hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this world understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’

Notice first the similarity in motif between the Vision’s prophecy that the rulers of this world will crucify the Son “not knowing who he is” (Asc. Is. 9:14) and the statement in the passage above (verse 8) that the rulers of this world, in crucifying the Lord of glory, acted out of ignorance. Notice next the context of the Corinthians passage. It is part of a larger section (1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) in which its author is discussing the difference between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of this world. This context has verbal affinities with the context of Isaiah’s Vision. Immediately before the account of Isaiah’s ascent to “a world which is hidden from the flesh” we are told that “the wisdom of this world” was taken from him:

And the vision which he saw was not from this world, but from the world which is hidden from the flesh. And after Isaiah had seen the vision he recounted it to Hezekiah, and to Josab his son, and to the other prophets who had come ״ but the people did not hear, for Micah and Josab his son had sent them out when the wisdom of this world was taken from him as if he were dead.” (Asc. Is. 6:15-17)

In Isaiah’s Vision the “wisdom of this world” seems to refer to his human mind: “… his mind was taken up from him” (Asc. Is. 6:10); “… the mind in his body was taken up from him” (Asc. Is. 6:11). In Corinthians too the phrase appears to be related to mind, for the discussion ends with the words “but we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

Notice next that in verse 8 of the Corinthians passage Paul uses an expression for Christ that he uses nowhere else in the entire Pauline corpus: Christ is “the Lord of Glory.” In the Vision of Isaiah the Son is called ‘Beloved’ and ‘Lord,’ throughout but it is his glory that is especially emphasized. He is one “whose glory surpassed that of all, and his glory was great and wonderful” (Asc. Is. 9:27). When the angels in the firmament realize their mistake the first words they utter are:

“How did our Lord descend upon us, and we did not notice the glory which was upon him, which we (now) see was upon him from the sixth heaven?” (Asc. Is. 11:24)

The Father tells the Beloved:

“Afterwards you shall not be transformed in each of the heavens, but in great glory you shall ascend and sit at my right hand. And then the princes and the powers and all the angels and all the rulers of heaven and earth and hell will worship you.” (Asc. Is. 10:1415).

Finally, notice how in verse 9 of the Corinthians passage the following words are quoted as Scripture:

But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’

It is sometimes claimed that Paul was here quoting Isaiah 64:4 (“No one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him”), but that has proved to be a hard sell. There are four obvious differences between the verses: (1) Is. 64:4 has the order of the hearing and seeing inverted; (2) it is missing the words “nor has it entered into the heart of man;” (3) its object is God himself, not the things he has prepared, and (4) it has those who “wait” for God—not those who “love” him—as the recipients.

Thus, many scholars admit that they cannot positively identify the source that is quoted in 1 Cor. 2:9. It “cannot be found either in the Old Testament or in Jewish canonical writings” (1 Corinthians, H. Conzelmann, p. 63). The verse does, however, match up nicely with 11:34 of the second Latin [L2] and Slavonic [S] versions of the Vision of Isaiah:

This angel said to me, “Isaiah, son of Amoz, it is enough for you, for these are great things, for you have observed what no one born of flesh has observed. What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, how great things God has prepared for those who love him” (Asc. Is. 11:34).

Many points of contact between the two texts render plausible the possibility that the Philippians poem was composed with the Vision of Isaiah in view.

Philippians 2:5-11

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This passage is considered by many to be a hymn or poem but, since there is no agreement about how the strophes should be arranged, I have left it in prose form. From comparison of it with the Vision of Isaiah it is immediately obvious that they share the motif of Christ’s descent, crucifixion, and return to heaven. In both texts Christ is a pre-existent heavenly being. In Philippians he is in the form of God but not completely equal to God; in the Vision, even before he accomplishes his commission, he receives the worship of all the righteous and angels of the seventh heaven but here too he is not completely equal to God. In both texts he is obedient; in Philippians “becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” while in the Vision he obeys the Fathers “command” (Asc. Is. 10:16) to “Go out and descend through all the heavens…” (Asc. Is. 10:7) even though that will entail crucifixion (Asc. Is. 9:14; 11:20).

In both writings “form” plays a part. In the poem Christ swaps the “form” (Phil. 2:6) of God for the “form” (Phil. 2:7) of a slave. In the Vision he takes on consecutively the form of the inhabitants of the lower five heavens. For example, Asc. Is. 10:20: “… in the fifth heaven he made his form like that of the angels there, and they did not praise him, for his form was like theirs.” Ultimately he takes a human form like Isaiah’s: “become like you in form” (Asc. Is. 9:13). Among other shared vocabulary are he words “likeness” and “appearance.” In the poem the Son “was made in the likeness of men” and “found in appearance as a man” (Phil. 2:7-8). According to the Vision the Son will be “transformed until he resembles your [Isaiah’s] appearance and your likeness” (Asc. Is. 8:10). He will be “like a son of man” (Asc. Is. 11:1, in S and L2).

Because of this language of form, likeness, appearance and resemblance both texts give rise to a suspicion of docetism. In the Philippians hymn, “The veil of unreality is cast over his earthly life by phrases that seem to suggest that he was not really human” (F.C. Porter, The Mind of Christ in Paul, p. 210). Similarly, the Vision’s statement that people “will think that he is flesh and a man” (Asc. Is. 9:13) seems to imply that the Son didn’t actually become flesh and a man. A really human baby doesn’t suckle just to keep up appearances but, according to the Vision, that is what baby Jesus did: “…he sucked the breast, as was customary, that he might not be recognized” (Asc. Is. 11:17).

Finally there is similarity in the treatment of the exaltation of Christ. In both texts he is exalted even higher than he was before and receives worship from the inhabitants of all three parts of the universe. The Philippians poem says every knee “in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” will bow in worship to him. And every tongue will confess that he is Lord. The Vision says that “the princes and the powers and all the angels and all the rulers of heaven and earth and hell will worship you” (Asc. Is. 10:16). Both texts also make reference to a new name for the Son. In Philippians it is a name which is above every name. In the Vision Isaiah is told that “…you cannot hear his name until you have come up from this body” (Asc. Is. 9:5). According to M.A. Knibb this is “apparently a reference to a secret name of Jesus.” (“Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by J.H. Charlesworth, note g, p. 170)

It seems to me, then, that the many points of contact between the two texts render plausible the possibility that the Philippians poem was composed with the Vision of Isaiah in view. It is true that the poem doesn’t have some of the other elements of the Vision. That however is to be expected. The poem is short and its focus is just on the self-denying obedience of Christ and its reward by the Father. It says not a word about redemption, atonement, reconciliation, or whether Christ’s obedience benefitted anyone else in any way. Not a word either about the Holy Spirit. So such a limited theme would explain why other elements of the Vision of Isaiah were left out.

So it may be that Paul was not saying that he couldn’t make his revelation known. He was saying that the gospel revealed to him consisted of things hidden for ages.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

1 I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6 Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

In this text Paul’s aim is to trump the visions and revelations of his opponents. One would normally expect his trump revelation to be the one in which he was entrusted with his gospel and his apostolic mission to preach that gospel. If, as he claims elsewhere, his gospel and mission were received by revelation from God himself, not from any man, that would certainly seem the best way for him to beat his Corinthian opponents at their game. Yet New Testament scholars are reluctant to see any reference here to that revelation. They don’t see any link to Paul’s gospel and so they are left with a Paul who responds by, in effect, saying: “A long time ago I received an abundance of revelations that were more impressive than those of my opponents. However, you will just have to take my word for it because I am not going to describe what I saw and I am not permitted to tell you what I heard.” To me such a response comes across as weak; a very ineffective way for Paul to counter the opposition, especially given the cards he was holding.

Now just because scholars see no link to Paul’s gospel in the passage does not mean that Paul’s original readers didn’t see one. Those readers may have recognized what Paul was referring to when he spoke of an ascent through numbered heavens to a place where he heard words “that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Such a description fits well the Vision of Isaiah, for after Isaiah recounts his vision to King Hezekiah he makes the king

“swear that he would not tell this to the people of Israel, and that he would not allow any man to copy these words” (Asc. Is. 11:39).

So it may be that Paul was not saying that he couldn’t make his revelation known. He was saying that the gospel revealed to him consisted of things hidden for ages. This would be the case if his gospel was the Vision of Isaiah, for even though the door was briefly opened hundreds of years ago for Isaiah and a few others, it was immediately closed again until the last times. Paul’s gospel as the Vision of Isaiah also lines up with how his message is described in other passages, e.g., Col. 1:26: ” the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.”

Note too that the Vision tells us it was forbidden for anyone to “copy these words” (Asc. Isa. 11:39). It is a matter of words, words that supposedly somehow re-emerge in the last times. Paul’s revelation too is a matter of words. He had said at the beginning of the passage that he was now turning his attention to “visions and revelations” (2 Cor. 12:1), but he never gets around to describing anything he saw. His focus is on what he “heard” (2 Cor. 12:4). He heard things “that it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor 12:4). Paul, then, appears to be presenting himself as the chosen vessel who in the last times received and revealed the words of the Vision of Isaiah.

One objection should be addressed before continuing. In verse 2 of the Corinthians passage Paul says that he was caught up to the third heaven, but in verse 3 the trip is said to be to Paradise. Now, it is often claimed that Paul was using parallelism here, and that for him Paradise was located in the third heaven. If this is so, my proposal identifying Paul’s gospel with the Vision would, of course, fail, for in the latter the highest heaven is the seventh. Keep in mind, however, that some commentators do not accept the parallelism idea here. They think that if Paul spoke of a third heaven and of Paradise it was because he had some kind of sequence or progression in view. Without more information it is impossible to know what the sequence or progression was. But Paul does use the plural in verse 7 (“abundance of revelations”), so I think it remains a viable possibility that some of his revelations were received in the third heaven and others in Paradise. In Isaiah’s own ascent the greatest revelations were received in the highest heaven, but some things were revealed to him in the lower ones.

2 Cor. 12:1-10 appears to be presenting Paul as the one chosen to reveal the Vision of Isaiah “in the last generation” (Asc. Is. 11:38).

Changing Course

2 Cor. 12:1-10, then, appears to be presenting Paul as the one chosen to reveal the Vision of Isaiah “in the last generation” (Asc. Is. 11:38). I failed to realize this when I wrote installment 7 of the Simonian series. When I wrote that post I was thinking that Paul was simply claiming to have had a revelation LIKE the Vision of Isaiah. It didn’t register with me that he was actually claiming to be God’s chosen conduit for the revelation of that text. The difference is big and changes my perspective on the Pauline letters and on a number of other early Christian issues.

First of all, I can no longer seriously consider Simon of Samaria to be the author of the Pauline passages in question. From what we are told about Simon he would not have been content to be the mere conduit for a text. He saw himself as a Christ figure, the great power of God. He would and apparently did put himself in the role of a descending redeemer — not in the role of an apostle of that redeemer.

Second, I have a hard time seeing Paul himself as either the author of the three passages above or of the Vision of Isaiah. Paul seems to have had a hard enough time just selling his idea that Gentile converts don’t need to be circumcised. It was apparently still an issue at the time of his last allegedly authentic letter: Romans. I don’t see it as plausible that he would try to spring on the church a whole new gospel besides. He admits that there were apostles before him (Gal. 1:17). These must have been preaching some kind of gospel, presumably an eschatological message that the kingdom of God was at hand and that the resurrected Jesus was about to come and inaugurate it. I expect that if Paul had come to the Jerusalem pillars and claimed that God revealed to him a new gospel this would have caused far more controversy than his circumcision stance ever did.

The best time for springing such a gospel on the early church was after Paul and the pillars were gone.

No, it seems to me that the best time for springing such a gospel on the early church was after Paul and the pillars were gone. Sometime after 70 CE one would not have to worry about flak from the Jerusalem church. And one could project onto Paul any gospel one liked. We know that all kinds of things were in fact later projected onto him by the deutero-canonical Paulines, the Pauline Pastoral letters, and other apocryphal letters, just as all kinds of things were later projected onto Jesus by the canonical and non-canonical gospels. The projection onto Paul, I suspect, started with large chunks of material right in the seven allegedly authentic letters.

With 70 CE as a safe estimate for the terminus a quo of the projection, the terminus ante quem would seem to be before Marcion’s arrival on the scene. On this matter I stand by what I wrote about him in the 4th post of the series. It is a safe bet that neither Marcion nor his followers would have turned to the Old Testament prophet lsaiah in order to anchor Paul’s gospel. But Marcion is useful to our purposes in one way. He had 2 Thessalonians in his collection of Paul’s letters, including the section about the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:1-12). Joseph Turmel presented a good case for identifying that man as Simon Bar Kokhba (See Neil’s 2011-05-31 post: Identifying the “Man of Sin” in 2 Thessalonians). And since at the time that section of Thessalonians was written the man of sin had been manifested but not defeated, its date of composition was apparently shortly before Bar Kokhba’s demise in 135 CE. Thus I think we need to look between 70 and 135 both for the author of the Vision and for the one who projected it into Paul’s letters. We are not necessarily looking for two people. There is no reason why one and the same person could not have done both tasks.

Continuing . . . 

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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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38 thoughts on “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 1”

  1. Hi Roger,

    (I am always interested about your views, of course).
    What is not clear in the post above is what would be the belief of the your “minimal” Paul, the author of only the little portions of the epistles. From what I understand, he adored the creator god, in this your new view and he didn’t know anti-demiurge Gnostics. So who was the his Jesus, apart any later development?

    Thanks in advance for any reply.

    1. Hi Giuseppe,

      I think the real Paul had the same gospel beliefs as the pillars. Where he differed was in regard to one of the conditions for membership: whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to become members of the Kingdom of God movement. But that condition was not actually part of the Good News.

      Stay tuned—this will become clearer.

  2. A starting point for me is identifying where the oldest elements of the Pauline epistles come from. Are any part of these epistles actually “letters”? Portions read like letters, but if these were letters that were written and sent to congregations, most of whom appear not to have really been too keen on Paul and Jesus worship after-all, then how did they get collected together and preserved?

    1. A whole lot of philological work has been done to address this important question. I’ll see if I can track down some citations when less pressed for time.

    2. r.g.,

      I agree with Loisy (and, before him, Turmel) that parts of the epistles are authentic letters of Paul. Those parts are mostly devoted to practical matters, e.g., greetings, travel plans, plans for the collection for the poor of Jerusalem. Some of the authentic parts, however, also deal with less practical matters. That is the case especially with Romans, addressed to a church he did not found or even know personally. I will have something to say about Romans shortly.

      Why anyone would have collected together and preserved letters that were primarily practical in nature is a good question. I believe David Trobisch once surmised that copies of the letters mentioning the Jerusalem collection (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians) may have been kept as some kind of written proof that Paul was keeping his end of the deal with the pillars. My own surmise is this: Originally “apostles” referred to people sent out on a mission by a local church. Perhaps these apostles had to provide their sponsor church with copies of any of their correspondence related to their mission. If so, a collection of Paul’s correspondence may have existed in the church at Antioch, the church that apparently originally sponsored him. Someone(s) aware of the collection could have then decided to give it new life by inserting new Spirit-inspired material into it.

      1. Any belief in historical pillars, apostles , or Paul, who are altogether dogmatic fiction of the second century, is naive and worthless. Long before Detering, already Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga realized the absurdity of the traditional assumptions of Ehrman, Loisy, and Turmel.

        Already Stuart Waugh proved that Philippans 2:9-11, 2 Cor 12:1-7a, 2 Cor 10, and 1 Cor 2:9 are post-Marcionite interpolations, unattested by Tertullian and the other patristic readers.

      2. … parts of the epistles are authentic letters of Paul. Those parts are mostly devoted to practical matters, e.g., greetings, travel plans, plans for the collection for the poor of Jerusalem.

        Those are the parts most frequently considered anachronistic fabrications.

        Regarding greetings, Detering again:

        – ”Paul, slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”  ”Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…”  ”Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God…”  ”Paul, a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus…” – Does  someone write here about himself or about someone else? Do we have to do here with a statement about one’s self or with a statement about the (revered) apostle (of a legendary past)?  – Consider this: The greetings employed by Greeks and Romans were very unpretentious. Even the great Cicero could simply write: ”Cicero greets Atticus” (Cicero Attico salutum dicit).

        Robert M. Price, too, in The Amazing Colossal Apostle addresses these long-winded greetings in some detail.

        Price also questions the authenticity of Paul’s announced travel plans in 1 Cor 15, suspecting it may actually reflect Marcion’s visit to Rome.

        In Romans 16:10-11, Paul greets the household of Aristobulus and Herodion, both members of the Herodian family. Eisenman, in James the Brother of Jesus, closely links Paul to the Herodians (no friends of The Pillars, they) and identifies him with the Saulus in Josephus (in some MSS referred to as Atomus</>, that is, Paulus), who viciously hounded James and his followers.

        As an aside, Eisenman also considers “the poor of jerusalem”, those beneficiaries of Paul’s collections, to be in fact the ebionites (“ebyonim” = “the poor”.)

        1. Yes, I agree with Turmel, Loisy, Detering, and Price that the “long-winded greetings” contain interpolations. But, following the lead of Loisy, I suspect the interpolations are pre-Marcionite. More specifically, the interpolators were Saturnilians, not Marcionites. Have you read Loisy’s later writings?

          1. If I understand them correctly, Detering & Price, among others, consider at least some of those greetings as not just containing interpolations, but as fabrications in their entirety.

            I’ve read Loisy’s The Birth of the Christian Religion in translation (my French being not nearly good enough to tackle anything in the original), which includes a succinct review of the Pauline epistles noting their patchwork nature, but IIRC no reference to Saturninus.

            What most interests me is to know what passages from the epistles you consider the ‘essential’ Paul.

            1. As I indicated in my post, Loisy saw the perpetrators as pre-Marcionite gnostics. It is I who am pointing the finger specifically at the Saturnilians.

  3. In my revised scenario Paul, not Simon, is the author of the original letter, and the bulk of the additional material — material that turned letters into epistles — was likely composed by a circle of Saturnilians, a community founded by the ex-Simonian Saturnilus of Antioch….

    I can no longer seriously consider Simon of Samaria to be the author of the Pauline passages in question.

    I don’t follow why rejecting the authenticity of the Pauline epistles necessitates the existence of two separate individuals, Simon Magus and Paul, both active at the same time in the same places, both sparring with Peter, both saying many of the same things (c.f. Pseudo-Clemetines), both inspiring a line of students from Cerdo through Marcion, with the one excoriated by the patristic writers, other completely ignored.

    Indeed, Detering, who also considers the epistles 2nd century products, describes Simon Magus and Paul as “The Doppegänger”. In The Fabricated Paul”, Detering puts forth the argument that ‘Paul’ was originally a supernomen for Simon, a single individual only later bifurcated:

    One could say that Paul is the transfigured image of Simon among the legitimate disciples and followers of Simon, Marcionites, Gnostics, etc. (recall that the name “Simon” significantly appears nowhere in all the works of Marcion!); and Simon, on the other hand, stands for the picture of the same person [Paul], more and more consumed by polemic, even as the Antichrist, for the opponents of Simon, the Judaizers. Accordingly, Simon meets us in the Marcionite-Gnostic as Paul, while in extreme Jewish-Christian circles Paul is represented as Simon, or even as the Antichrist or “enemy” and “hostile man.”

    Perhaps one is one its way, but you have yet provide an explanation as to how the Saternalians came to identify (falsely in your opinion) Simon with Paul.

    1. If I understand correctly, you are asking how—if Simon Magus and Paul were two separate individuals—one of them could have come to be mistaken for the other. Originally I too thought the best explanation was that one of them was the other under another name. That was what I was arguing in the original series. But I now think there is a better way to account for the confusion. According to my revised scenario a new version of Paul was created by a former Simonian named Saturnilus. He accomplished his feat by (1) reworking a text that was Simonian and (2) projecting it into Paul’s letters as his gospel. This reworked text is the Vision of Isaiah.

      In this scenario the new Paul was created by an ex-Simonian and made to preach a gospel that was based on a reworked Simonian text. The resulting Simonian taint on Paul, I suspect, would have been enough for some to view Paul as just another disguise for Simon. Others probably realized some travesty had been done to Paul but—without knowing exactly what had been done—thought it best to have nothing to do with him or his letters. This may be the case with Justin Martyr.

      1. I’m more asking how Paul and Simon could be two different people, when their similarities are so replete and uncanny.

        Perhaps you could identify which content of the epistles you find ‘paulish’ and which simonian. The picture you paint of Paul I find exceptionally timid. Was it Simon, then, who was aggressively ‘springing’ a radical new gospel on the jewish-christians?

        Also, why identity Saturninus as the culprit and not, say Marcion, who first produced the epistles? (Bauer, for one, attributes them to several 2nd century authors.)

        Unless there exists a need to distinguish an ‘authentic’ Pauline content that is anathema to Simonian beliefs, your hypotheses needlessly multiplies entities and forces us to accept the many Paul-Simon connections as mere coincidences.

        1. A big difference between Simonians and Marcionites is in their respective stances regarding the Old Testament. Simonians had no problem using the Old Testament to support their beliefs. Simon himself, in his Great Declaration, allegorically interprets the titles of the first five books of the Old Testament. And he quotes approvingly several times from the book of Isaiah. Marcion, on the other hand, since he rejected allegorical interpretation and the Old Testament, could only use these in ad hominem argumentation. That is one reason why, as I see it, the Vision of (the Old Testament prophet) Isaiah makes better sense as the composition of a Simonian, not a Marcionite.

          1. Okay, that explains why you prefer one 2nd century sect over the other as the source of the late material in question.

            My question is what early material cannot be from Simon, but rather must come from a Paul, whose gospel sounds so anodyne and unlike that which almost anyone else, from Doherty to Schmithals to Tabor on down the line, conceives of.

            1. I readily acknowledge that my ideas regarding the real Paul’s gospel are not in line with the ideas “from Doherty to Schmithals to Tabor.” My approach is more in line with those scholars who view Paul’s letters as patchworks. For example, “Joseph Turmel, Alfred Loisy, L.G. Rylands, Robert M. Hawkins, Winsome Munro and, most recently, Robert M. Price,” (as I indicated back in post 2 of the original series).

              I could add the Dutch radical Van Manen. You referred, in another comment, to Price’s “The Amazing Colossal Apostle,” so I assume you have read that book. On pp. 36-37 Price describes Van Manen as holding “a minimal picture of Paul somehow converted to a Christian faith of a still-Judaic type (no other had yet made an appearance). Paul was a Hellenistic Jew and may have been one of those who first preached to gentiles after the martyrdom of Stephen. However, he remained within the bounds of Judaic Christianity, as witnessed by the various notes in Acts 18:18; 20:16; 21:23-26 about his undertaking vows and attending Jerusalem festivals. He differed in no essential respect from the twelve apostles… ”

              I see the Paul of Doherty, Schmithals, and Tabor as, for the most part, the literary creation of whoever interpolated material into Paul’s letters. Price does too. He says that Paul “the great epistolarian was partly a creation of Gnostics and Marcionites” (p. 193), but the Gnostics he has in mind are apparently not the ones who were earlier than Marcion. He sees Marcion as an interpolator who “must have used extant Simonian writings or at least teachings, modifying them in his own more socially conservative direction.” But my thinking is that the earlier Simonians themselves would have been quite capable of doing that to Paul’s letters. Especially, an ex-Simonian like Saturnilus.

              Price writes: “If there was a historical apostle Paul, which seems likely enough, his figure has retreated behind the pseude-pigraphical epistles attributed to him by various Marcionite and Gnostic members of the Pauline School.” My hypothesis is that the retreat of Paul’s figure had already occurred by the time Marcion came on the scene. The one who initiated the retreat was an ex-Simonian who produced the Vision of Isaiah and projected it onto Paul by interpolating Paul’s letters

              1. I wouldn’t get hung up on those three — Doherty, Schmithals & Tabor — who I picked off the top of my head to illustrate the broad range of perspectives of scholars whose conceptions of Paul conflict with yours.

                And pretty much everyone recognizes the paulina as patchworks — including such diverse individuals as Harnack, Bauer, Bultmann, Haenchen, van Eysinga, et al., as well as van Loman who you mention.

                The general consensus is that at some point, somebody took authentic writing of Paul, plumped it up with pseudo-epigraphic additions, and rearranged it all to form a symbolic seven letters to the seven churches. Having read now all four parts of your post, what I still see lacking is a plausible track leading the train through all the stops: from original to the seven composites, to the proposed Saturnilian recension, on to the Marcionite apostolikon. (if that is indeed the order you envision.)

  4. I wish somebody would take a closer look at 1 corinthians 2:8. I am no greek expert but could it be saying something slightly different? If the canonical version below,

    (YLT) “which no one of the rulers of this age did know, for if they had known, the Lord of the glory they would not have crucified;”

    If changed slightly to the following then meaning changes from the crucifixion carried out by men TO men not PERCEIVING (“understand”) the crucified Christ.

    “None of the archons of this aeon understood this, indeed, they did not understand the Lord of glory was crucified.”

    That is a significant point which weakens the argument for the historical crucifixion of a solitary Christ on earth.

    Really love this blog. Am learning a lot.

    1. • Per 1Co 2:8

      ἣν οὐδεὶς τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἔγνωκεν εἰ γὰρ ἔγνωσαν οὐκ ἂν τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης ἐσταύρωσαν

      • My interpretation

      Not one of the demons “of the age” had known this or perceived this fact. Else they would not wish to “kill and shame the body” of second-god.

      It only says Lord (kýrion) once.

      A major exegetical crux in this text relates to those identified here as ἀρχόντων archónton [The rulers].

      Regarding these rulers, we are told that:
      • Paul’s message is not that of the rulers of this age,
      • The rulers are “coming to nothing,”
      • They did not “know” the wisdom of God (it was a mystery and thus hidden), and

      If they had known (2d class condition), they would not have crucified Jesus. Who are these rulers? There are 2 major options:
      • Human rulers (Jewish and Roman)
      • Spirit beings/demons

      1. Possibly, the major crux is not who the archons are but what the secret wisdom is stated by Paul as, “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

        What is that “secret Wisdom”?

        “Christ crucified”. Surely that is no “secret wisdom” if it be about a solitary man condemned to die by those archons on a wooden cross. They would know about it if it in fact happened.

        Therefore, the crucified Christ must be something else that the rulers (“archons”) do not perceive, which is why I suspect Paul is saying the archons did not perceive the crucified Christ rather than the archons crucified the Christ. In other words, to Paul the crucified Christ is spiritual event (understood spiritually) and not a single historical event on earth. I suspect that Christ’s death was a cosmic event only understood by the Spirit, — the crux of Paul’s narrarive.

        As a side, demons and angels are souls per the gnostic tradition (and Paul was the chief gnostic). The former remain ignorant of who they are and the latter have remembered their noble beginnings from God. Therefore, I interpret the “archons” as human rulers on earth ignorant of spiritual things and doomed for destruction.

        1. 1Co 2:7 ἀλλὰ λαλοῦμεν σοφίαν θεοῦ ἐν μυστηρίῳ τὴν ἀποκεκρυμμένην ἣν προώρισεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων εἰς δόξαν ἡμῶν·

          1Co 2:7 allá laloúmen sofían theoú en mystirío tín apokekrymménin ín proórisen o theós pró tón aiónon eis dóxan imón:

          • “sofían theoú” is likely an epithet for second-god, i.e Jesus.

          Per Schäfer, Peter (January 24, 2011). The Origins of Jewish Mysticism. Princeton University Press. p. 159. ISBN 0-691-14215-7

          [As a personified god] Wisdom (Greek sophia) plays a prominent role in Philo as well and is yet another power among the divine powers that acts as an agent of creation. Whereas the Logos, as we have seen, is responsible for the intelligible world, Wisdom would seem to be responsible for the world perceived by the senses.

          1. Marian Hillar. “”The Logos and Its Function in the Writings of Philo of Alexandria: Greek Interpretation of the Hebrew Myth and Foundations of Christianity“”. Published in A Journal from The Radical Reformation. A Testimony to Biblical Unitarianism, Vol. 7, No. 3 Spring 1998, Part I pp. 22-37; Vol. 7, No. 4 Summer 1998, Part II pp. 36-53.

            Philo’s doctrine of the Logos is blurred by his mystical and religious vision, but his Logos is clearly the second individual in one God as hypostatization of God’s Creative Power – Wisdom. —(p. 15)

            1. In the Valentinian mythology of the (personified) Wisdom (Greek Sophia) there occurs a separation within Sophia due to a passion or transgression resulting in a spiritual nature that remains within the fullness (Greek pleroma) from which she came; and a passionate part that becomes the origin of matter and ultimately us. One scholar asserts that this myth is symbolized in the Gospel story about Christ’s death on the cross, for as spiritual Sophia separates from her earthly part and returns to the pleroma, so does Christ’s spirit separate from his body hanging on the cross. (1) Thus, the story of the crucifixion of a solitary man whom the apostle calls “Sophia” symbolizes a cosmic event unknown to the “rulers of this world” about the origin of matter and ultimately us. This, I believe is the “secret wisdom (Sophia)” and her “passion” that Paul preached in order to remind us of our noble beginning and to turn our affection to the source of the fullness, that is, true God and Father.

              1) The Spiritual Seed, the Church of the Valentinians, Einar Thomassen, page 258, 269.

              “In philosophical terms, the myth of Sophia accounts for the coming into matter (and souls)…she produces —or herself becomes—‘passion,’…The effect of this divisive passion is to cause a split within Sophia herself: her spiritual nature is separated, and is reintegrated into the Pleroma, while her passionate part is left to itself in a state of utter deficiency and is excluded from the Pleroma by the Limit. This part becomes the origin of matter.” ( pg. 269)

              “As a protological idea, the myth visualizes the generation of matter as a separation, a ‘cutting off’, of matter from spirit. This idea, moreover, is symbolically fused with the theme of Christ’s spirit abandoning his body on the cross. Hence, the cross of the crucifixion is seen as the agent separating spirit and matter, which explains why it is identified with the Limit that safeguards the Pleroma from contact with the realm of matter.” (Pg. 258)

              1. Giuseppe notes Jesus dying on a celestial cross and a an earthly cross per Valentinian Mythicists.

                • Giuseppe (27 August 2019). “Do O’Neill and McGrath ignore or deny Valentinian Mythicists? – Page 3 – Biblical Criticism & History Forum”. earlywritings.com.

                The first time Christ imparts form to abortion. How? By dying on a celestial cross in outer space.

                The second time Christ gives the «knowledge» to men (the same knowledge that makes one a Valentinian). How? By dying on an earthly cross, precisely in Judea.

  5. can anyone here point to where in the NT Mark says his gospel is an allegory with a secret meaning? was he referring to the whole gospel or a specific tale. Am just trying to verify if something I’ve long since read is true. thanks!

    1. Per Wikipedia:

      In biblical criticism, the Messianic Secret refers to a motif primarily in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus is portrayed as commanding his followers to maintain silence about his Messianic mission. Attention was first drawn to this motif in 1901 by William Wrede.

      Per the Gospel According to Mark, Jesus does not want people to know who he was. This is an allegory of the original Christian narrative in which the Demons did not recognize second-god, “Else they would not wish to “kill and shame the body” of second-god.”

      1. thanks for the information but I feel like I’ve entered an alternate universe. I’ve read that specific phrase “Mark says he is writing allegory with a secret (or hidden) meaning” numerous times but can’t remember where I’ve read it and now can’t find it by googling or anything.

    2. Read an interesting verse at the end of Mark’s account of Jesus delivering his parables. Mark 4:34

      But without a parable He did not speak to them.

      Does that mean everything we read in the mouth of Jesus in Mark is actually a parable? Many things Jesus says make no sense or are intolerable if read literally; and many of the events make no sense, either, if read literally. The only way to make literal sense of the Gospel of Mark is to bring in your imagination and knowledge of the other gospels, and contemporary beliefs about Jesus, and interpret all the action and words through those structures.

      Jesus tells a person he heals in front of a large crowd not to tell anyone what he has done; disciples who just witnessed a miracle cannot believe he will perform a similar one; strange numbers of baskets, pigs, etc…. the characters and events are not real; the sayings are not plausible. Even the ending — it leaves the reader wondering how on earth anyone ever got to hear the story in the first place.

      So is it really a parable after all that later evangelists attempted to transform into something more realistic?

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