I think the connection between Simon Magus and the Apostle Paul is fairly compelling. In Acts of the Apostles 8, Simon Magus, a baptized member of the inner circle, tries to buy a seat at the Apostles’ table:
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria…When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter (Cephas) answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money
Compare Peter’s scorn and the money issue with Paul’s description of an event in Galatians 2:
James, Cephas (Peter) and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along… When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned
Here, we have a rift between Peter and Paul where Paul called into question Peter’s ideological commitment to Mosaic law. The final word here was to “remember the poor” – a reference to money exchange of some sort. Are we talking about the same story here, told by 2 different participants? Seems plausible to me.
How does Marcion fit in? According to Robert Price, Marcion was the first person to really use Paul as a foundation for his theology – Price says Marcion “discovered” Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Tertullian used the word “finding” in his book “Against Marcion” – book 4, chapter 3 – I’m up in the air about whether Tertullian meant he discovered it – I’d have to see the original Latin to get better insight). The story of Marcion goes that he was a wealthy shipyard owner who lived in Northern Turkey. He was a prominent member of, and had donated a large sum of money to the Roman church. After Marcion was deemed a heretic, sometime in the 130s, the church returned that money to him, and ex-communicated him (or whatever the church did at the time).
I think this hypothesis fits – at least tentatively: Marcion invented Paul, who was in turn originally demonized by some groups in the early Christian church, but eventually converted to Simon Magus for the purpose of reintegrating Paul into the canon, notice that in Acts, as well as a couple epistles, a character named Apollos is introduced as a man educated in the Greek tradition, hailing from Alexandria.
In previous posts, I’ve linked Apollos to Philo of Alexandria to create a plausible link between Philo’s earliest notions of a Judaic messiah and the eventual historicized Christ.
I think it’s equally as plausible that Apollos in the Pauline texts and Acts was simply a representation of Apollonius of Tyana, whose life greatly resembles both Jesus Christ and Paul.
I think the great link here, to get from Paul to the proto-orthodoxy is the Valentinians. It’s well-known that the Valentinians did not secede from the church; rather, they remained in the church, on the lookout for people who were ready to receive gnosis. The Valentinians were fond of Paul (and claimed Valentinus received instruction from Paul’s disciple Theudas, as well as revelation from Jesus). The Valentinians were also fond of the Johannine texts, which probably originated in Western Turkey. Who lives in Western Turkey? Polycarp. All signs point back to Polycarp, whose disciple was Irenaeus, who in 180 was quite zealous to deem Marcion and Valentinus as heretics.