Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Paul's evil twin

I'm thinking of starting a series of Simon Magus. I had originally planned do this sort of methodically to start with F.C. Baur's analysis from the 1840s ( PDF) and then move in G.R.S. Mead's investigation. Then after that move onto church fathers in light of the New School and their results from the 1970s. Sort of my usual mixture of bible study and history.

Now normally those sorts of threads don't get much in the way of conversation. The arguments are long, detailed and there isn't that much to say. But since this blog is getting really active in terms of discussion lately, instead of just presenting an argument let me open up with a question (note verses list auto-magically link to the NET bible):

We have four stories in the bible about a collection for the Saints of Jerusalem being taken up, and rejected over a theological dispute.

The first story is Acts 8:18-24; a story of Simon Magus offering the Jerusalem group money for his endorsement, "the ability to lay hands to give the Holy Spirit".

The second is a story of Paul collecting money mentioned in the epistles: Gal 2:9-10, 1 Cor 16:1-4 , 2 Cor 8:1-4, 2 Cor 9:1-2, Romans 15:25-31. In Gal 2:1-10 we see a theological dispute and in Gal 2:11-21 (particularly Gal 2:13) we have the Jewish community breaking with Paul over it.

The third is a story also about Paul. In Acts 24:17 Paul indicates his reason for coming to Jerusalem was to give a collection to the saints in Jerusalem, but in this story the theological dispute in Acts 21 got in the way. There are hints of trouble in Acts 15:1-29 the unstable compromise; Acts 21:18-27 and the purification ritual as well as more dispute in Acts 15:22-41.

And finally a fourth story also in Acts, a briefly mentioned local fund raising effort describe in Acts 11:27-30. There are enough similarities to suspect we know about this incident from Josephus, as well. In this case Agabus is King Agabar of Esessa, a convert to Judaism that reconverts his family to Christianity. He is the husband of a woman names Queen Helen of Adibene who in Josephus is a huge opponent of circumcision.

The stories are all similar in some senses and different in others. What Baur's question was: are we looking at one, two, three or four different underlying events? What Baur speculated was that this was all really one event, and the real story looked like:
  1. Paul arrives in Jerusalem with the collection and wants endorsement for his position. Helen an opponent of circumcision is a major backer.
  2. The Jerusalem group rejects his position and rejects his money;
  3. Paul heads to Rome and the Jerusalem church and Paul break and are never reconciled.
  4. Paul develops a theology that scripture and not institutions as authoritative,
  5. The 2nd century church wants to downplay the degree of the split.
That is in Baur's view Paul and Simon were based on the same historical figure, Paul represents a positive view of this figure while Simon represents the negative view. There are other ways in which Acts makes Simon into Paul's evil twin. We had mentioned before the conversations with Felix and the traveling to Rome. There is at a deeper level Paul being a Roman collaborator during the occupation. In Acts, Paul is made into a Roman citizen, he works for the High Priest (which makes him part of the occupation). Paul in the epistles never mentions this level of connection with Rome, the furthest he goes is Phil 3:5 where he mentions he persecuted the early church. The historical Simon Magus on the other hand was tied closely to the Romans. He was an entertainer known to Claudius' who became an advisor and friend to Governor Felix. It is also worth mentioning we see another one of these parallels. In Acts 9:5-9 and Acts 13:4-12 there is a story temporary blindness on the one hand about Paul and on the other about "the Sorcerer" who was a follower of Jesus. Other details fit as well like the mention of Felix and Drusilla talking to Paul (Acts 24:24-7). Simon was close to Drusilla and had convinced her to marry Felix (Josephus).

But more deeply Acts presents Paul as a miracle worker. The performance of miracles forms a major part of Paul's apostleship. He was supposed to have made a blind man see again (Acts 13:6-12), to have enabled a cripple to walk (Acts 14:8-10) and to have raised a young man from the dead (Acts 20:7-2). Even his handkerchief had miraculous powers (Acts 19:12). His miraculous powers also enabled him to survive stoning unscathed, although those who stoned him thought he was dead (Acts 14:19-20) and to survive what would have been a lethal snakebite (Acts 28:3-6). There is no hint of magical powers anywhere in the Epistles. On the other hand Simon Magus, is a David Cooperfield type illusionist and by universal agreement of Jewish, Roman, Christian and Gnostic sources an excellent illusionist (though some think him a magical being).

And there non canonical similarities. For example Paul travels with a virgin named Thecla, who founds a bunch of churches and is even today thought of as essentially the founder of the convent movement (see Acts of Paul and Thecla). While Simon picks up a consort by the name of Helen, whom he identifies as a Queen and goes on to found a bunch of churches.

Josphus provides a semi-explicit identification.  Paulus is Latin for small.  Josephus uses either "Atomos" (Greek for small) or Simon depending on the manuscript in this line, "and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon/Atomos" in Antiquities 20.7.2.

In the Acts 11:27-30 passage it makes no sense why the donors would pass the money through Saul. It makes a great deal of sense if this reference is to Simon, who is a trusted assistant to Governor Felix (proctor of Palestine 52-60). Right after that we have the persecution of the church by the Romans (Acts 12:1-3). So lets turn our previous theory around and make it all Simon we end up with a story like:
  1. Queen Helen of Adibene believes in Judaism but rejects circumcision, especially for her son Izates bar Monobaz. As a result she becomes active in the budding Christian movement and she becomes the benefactor and possible lover to Simon a major opponent of circumcision.
  2. There is a famine in Palestine. King Agabar and Queen Helen put together a relief fund. Like most politicians they use funding to advance their agenda in particular Helen passes the money to the (proto-)Christian community through Felix's assistant Simon Magus.
  3. Simon arrives in Jerusalem with the collection and uses it to help with food and to advance his theological position in the Jewish community.
  4. The opposition to his theology if it is not going to be accepted is naturally going to come first from other Christians, the Jerusalem group led by James. The Jerusalem group can't be bought off and rejects Simon's money.
  5. Simon complains to Felix about the Jerusalem group and James is killed.
  6. The Jerusalem faction remains hostile to the Samaritan faction.
  7. Simon travels with Felix to Rome six years later, Helen travels with him. He becomes a sect leader, and after this Peter and he meet up at some point in the 60s.
  8. The 2nd century church in writing Acts patches in different versions of the story told from different perspectives.
This is a lot of speculation though. So how do you think this evil twin got into Acts? Could Simon just be a placeholder for the old anti-Pauline literature from Peter's school? Could Tertullian's "apostle to the heretics" (his term for Paul) and Irenaeus "father of all heresies" (Irenaeus name for Simon) be the same man? Could it be that because the collection is seen (to this day) positively by the Jewish community the church tried to the credit for it by attributing it to Paul, but they couldn't disentangle the collection story from the persecution. Is it just coincidence and there are really several collections?

Here is my theory. If you look at Justin Martyr's comments about Simon, you'll see the connection that the church father's frequently drew. Simon is the "father of heresies" and in an indirect way the founder of the Marcionite church (which competed with the Catholic church in the 2nd century) as well as the Valentinian movement.
And, thirdly, because after Christ's ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honours. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Cæsar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome:— Simoni Deo Sancto, To Simon the holy God. And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him. And a man, Menander, also a Samaritan, of the town Capparetæa, a disciple of Simon, and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art. He persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his. And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. And he, by the aid of the devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe, and to assert that some other being, greater than He, has done greater works. All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians; just as also those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, have yet in common with them the name of philosophers given to them. And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds — the upsetting of the lamp, and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh— we know not; but we do know that they are neither persecuted nor put to death by you, at least on account of their opinions. But I have a treatise against all the heresies that have existed already composed, which, if you wish to read it, I will give you. (Apology I.26; Magicians not trusted by Christians)
Marcion when he showed up in Rome wanted to buy the papacy 200,000 sesterces (several million dollars in today's money); the church rejected the money because they disagreed with him theologically. In particular they were not willing incorporate Marcion's notion of a creator God separate and distinct from the God of Jesus (the foreign God). The story of Simon was enhanced during the time when the church was rejecting Marcion's money, to the point that the term "Simony" became associated with paying for office which is not even what Simon does in the story, Acts 8 story.  

On the other hand Paul's epistles talk about the collection.   In the politicized atmosphere of the second century church the Pauline collection is also getting talked about in terms of Marcion and Simon. So the writer of Acts has to make it clear that Paul's collection was an entirely different sort of thing, that Paul is accepted as an apostle before any money is involved. The collection plays a minor role. The rejection story involving Simon probably never happened this is a morality play about what the church did with Simon's successor and Peter's successor. In other words the goal of the author of Acts is:
  1. Defend the church's rejection of Marcion's money by pushing it back in time.
  2. Distance Paul (the hero of Acts) from Simony.
  3. Not give Simon the credit for a large collection from Agabar, that he was involved in. In particular because that money was accepted and was popular.
What still remains to discuss though is if the connection between Paul and Simon is real historically but the author of Acts is unaware of this connection. Is Simon "Paul's evil twin" not just as an accident? Is there more than just politics to the fact that the early second century heretics identify themselves as followers of "Paul" while their proto-orthodox critics identify them as followers of "Simon"? If they are one man, why are the writings attributed to Paul so different from those later attributed to Simon? Even if we are looking at two men and not one, if their histories are this intermixed there are questions about who did what? To do this we need to know who was Simon, and how Paul got to be the major writer of the New Testament.

See also:
More on Simon Magus:

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