Simon Paulus?

A post on the blog Is That In The Bible? pointed out some interesting parallels between the teaching of Simon Magus according to Irenaeus, and the teaching of Paul in Galatians. The question was then asked how much Paul and Simon Magus would have disagreed. It is also noteworthy that Simon is depicted in Acts as claiming to be a divine entity made flesh, despite Acts not depicting Jesus in that way. That claim by Simon is also mentioned by Irenaeus.

Also interesting is the tradition which connects Simon to John the Baptist, especially when we find the Mandaeans preserving a tradition of a Gnostic John the Baptist. And bringing it full circle, those sources – the Pseudo-Clementine literature – seem to be attacking Paul’s teaching under the guise of Simon Magus!

There are a web of connections and a world of ideas that extends far beyond the reaches of our extant literature. Figuring out where we are dealing with direct influence and where we are dealing with a shared world of ideas is incredibly challenging.

Of (mostly un)related interest, see Paul’s post on the ancient cosmology of Genesis. And see too this video of a post-viewing discussion about the movie A Polite Bribe at the University of Gloucestershire:

  • Michael Wilson

    That’s was pretty interesting. I suspect that Paul, Simon and Jesus were closer in their thought processes than commonly realized, part of a related tradition of mysticism. I doubt Act’s account of Simon wanting to be a Christian but its claim that he claimed to be divinity incarnate may be true. I would like to look more at the origin of Christianity in the future. The line about elemental spirits was interesting as well for me. One of my capstone papers was on how the writer of revelation viewed spirit beings, or elemental spirits, and I would like to revisit and revise that one.

  • http://www.chuckshingledecker.com/ Chuck Shingledecker

    I was first introduced to the comparisons in their theology about 3 years ago. Afterwards I went back and read Galatians and saw all these gnostic material — elemental powers etc. It was pretty shocking to me then, and now something I find really fascinating.

    What do you think of the hypothesis that Paul actually WAS Simon Magus, or vice versa? I think there are several different variations on this idea, but some of the parallels (Paul confronting Peter, the really gnostic-like theology etc) really made me wonder if there isn’t some truth behind it. Specifically that that Paul/Simon wrote and taught a variant form of Christianity that a later generation thought was “heretical” but ended up making more ‘orthodox’ due to inertia (it was becoming the more dominant form).

    I’m not really describing the idea very well, but it is something that I find really interesting and makes sense out of a number of Paul’s letters that seem so mysterious.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Well, for all their similarities, the traditions about them do not seem to confuse the two. And Simon seems to clearly have had a Gnostic view, while Paul viewed the God of Israel positively. And so I think a more plausible view will be one that does justice to both the similarities and the differences.

      • http://www.chuckshingledecker.com/ Chuck Shingledecker

        Thanks for the response. I’m not “sold” on them being the same person, but the similarities are incredibibly interesting and surprising, given the many attempts to make Paul seem more orthodox than he probably was. We always ask what if Jesus walked into a church today, how would he feel? But I’m sure Paul would feel just as strange.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Indeed. And I wonder whether it would make him satisfied with his life’s work, or have serious doubts about it, when he saw its long-term impact! :-)

  • Andrew Dowling

    I particularly like the “Harry Potter” esque battle of sorcerers in the Gospel of Peter between Peter and Simon. The actual relation of Paul and Simon though . . I honestly think the material is so varied and vague that its impossible to make anything close to a definitive statement given the evidence we have (I think sound arguments could be made that Simon basically took Paul’s ideas in a particular direction, to Paul actually being Simon (I view this as less likely), to Simon being a fictional composite; lots of interesting theories, but at this point it can only be mere speculation.

  • Ignorantia Nescia

    You may not like this fun fact, but Detering, a German Mythicist, even argues that Paul has a related origin with Simon Magus: Paul was an invention of Marcion’s and Simon Magus was a fabrication in an attempt to distance Paul from Marcion.

    It seems there’s a Mythicist version of anything.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Oh, it’s a great fun fact – and mythicism can indeed be applied to anything using the same approach as is adopted in the case of Jesus.

      • Matt Brown

        I don’t think Hermann Detering is a NT Scholar or historian.


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