The Toledoth Yeshu, a Jewish anti-Jesus polemic, tells about Sages who conspired to kill Jesus, the illegitimate son of Mary, who was raped by Joseph Pandera, an attractive warrior.
The story retells Jesus’ ministry in a much less rose-colored manner than what the Gospels tell. Central to the plot is how Jesus fooled (Jannaeus’s widow) Queen Helene into believing in his sorcery; this was to the detriment of Jewish Sages.
The Sages eventually desired to distance themselves from those who remained adherent to Jesus’ philosophy. A lever they pulled in this effort was to call upon “a greatly learned man, Simeon Kepha”, who went to Antioch (which had become the “main city of the Nazarenes“), claiming to be “the disciple of Yeshu…He sent me to show you the way”, Simeon claimed.
In other words, by means of hijacking their theology, the Jewish Sages sent in a spy to obfuscate Christianity by making it less Jewish.
According to the Toledoth Yeshu, Simeon performed magical healings in order to gain acceptance as a “true disciple”. Simeon told the Nazarenes that they should separate themselves from the Jews by discontinuing circumcision, changing the Sabbath day, and replacing Jewish holidays with Christian ones.
If this formulation of Simon-Peter sounds very similar to Paul, it is because it is. The final sentence of the Toledoth Yeshu says
All these new ordinances which Simeon Kepha (or Paul, as he was known to the Nazarenes) taught them were really meant to separate these Nazarenes from the people of Israel…
In my investigation into early Christianity, the name Simon is peculiar – particularly because it is reused so often.
In prior posts, I have mentioned that Simon of Cyrene, who bore Jesus’ cross on his way to crucifixion, seems like a likely candidate to have inherited the spirit in the Marcan-Cerinthian-Basilidean-Docetic view, where the Christ left Jesus prior to his crucifixion.
Later Nazarenes, who injected the virgin birth into Matthew’s Gospel, would have subsequently replaced this body-hopping Docetism from an earlier time with their own Christianity version 2.0 (or 3.0 or 4.0 or 5.0), where the line between the son and the holy ghost was less distinct.
This is why I find Acts 13, and its reference to Cyrene and bar Jesus so intriguing:
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul…[Barnabus and Saul] sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus (*Note: Simon, friend of Felix in Antiquities xx.7, was from Cyprus)…There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus…But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil…You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun”
When I read Acts 13, I read it as simply another version of Acts 8, and the trouble Peter had with Simon Magus in Samaria; Acts 13 seems like it has been changed to sanitize and glorify Paul, who I think was originally the sorcerer in the story. In other words, in this story Peter and Paul became interchangeable, despite other indications that they were once adversaries.
My speculation is that the name Paul was something of a title, and might very well have been assigned to someone who also bore the name Simon. One of the primary reasons for this speculation is because Marcion, who seems to have been one of the earliest consumers of Paul, supposedly used Colossians and Ephesians, which are widely regarded as inauthentic, and have clear Gnostic undertones. Considering Marcion’s proximity to Pauline authorship (or perhaps the speculation that Marcion indeed authored some of the Paul corpus), it seems odd that he would have adopted a conflicting Christology; my speculation is that Marcion must have realized the Pauline letters had multiple authors.
This speculation, coupled with (what appears to be Marcion’s predecessor) Carpocrates’ use of Romans suggests that everyone must have known Paul’s corpus had contributions from multiple authors. Perhaps those authors were Cerinthus, Carpocrates, and Marcion; the Ebionites abstained due to their hatred of Paul. The later Pastorals were of course written by a later Orthodoxy with a different theological agenda.
Perhaps the multiple authorship is an artifact of the early Christian belief that the Spirit would have left a person prior to death, and found a new host – in this sense, the Docetic spirit was the paraclete.
The Toledoth Yeshu was written later than the time it purports to contribute insight. There is no clear date, but the absolute earliest it could have been was the 4th century CE…probably later.
However, the Toledoth Yeshu, aside from being familiar with key figures in Christian tradition (Jesus, Judas Iscariot, Peter/Paul), also suggests familiarity with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which had Jesus turning clay pigeons into living birds; though this infancy gospel was known by Irenaeus, it never appears to have been a part of any Orthodox canon, and therefore seems an obscure reference for polemical Jews. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas dates perhaps as early as the 2nd century, and was probably popular in Syria (rationale: the Thomas community seems particularly centered around Antioch).
That being said, the Toledoth Yeshu’s reference to the Sages’ recruitment of Simon Peter/Paul to lead Christians away from Judaism and Israel might have been a simple polemic about increasing adoption of Pauline Christianity into the Orthodoxy. In that context, the merging of Peter and Paul might be a case of simple teasing.