One need not step too far outside of the mainstream to recognize that the earliest Christians often had more than one name. One famous example is that of Cephas and Peter (or Simon Peter). Then there is the infamous Saul, and his Damascan conversion where he subsequently decided to rename himself Paul. In highlighting Paul’s pre-Christian name, Acts’ author intended to link Paul’s pre-Christian persona with the Herodian Saulus; however, despite the fact that Saul’s conversion story is part of the unquestionable Christian tradition, this conversion trajectory seems untrue, and little more than a passive aggressive swipe at the real Paul, whose most serious crimes seem to be his sanctimony toward other Christian leaders, especially when they did not recognize his authority (Gal 2:6).
There are various accepted solutions for why this multi-naming occurred, the most common one being that Jews often had both Hebrew and Roman names. This is economical enough, but I think there was another agenda which compelled it.
The primary motivation for inventing new characters was to rework the Orthodoxy. Consider the case where an early prominent leader espoused views which were popular during his time, but the religion’s evolution rendered such views obsolete. In this case, the early hero becomes a heretic. An easy solution is to invent a fictional boogie man, make him the antagonist of the original hero, and offload the hero’s less-desirable attributes onto the invention.
A modulation of this strategy is to rework former leaders whose theological descendants lost influence. This seems to be the case for the Apostle Paul, whose followers, within a few decades (and I suspect from the beginning), were advocating a multi-tiered Gnosticism derived from Paul’s (still extant!) writings.
Paul and Simon Magus
One such manifestation can be found in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, which clearly merged the Apostle Paul and Simon Magus. FC Baur recognized this reworking more than 100 years ago in his comparison of Paul’s run-in with Cephas in Galatians 2 and Simon Magus in Acts of the Apostles 8. The scenarios, aside from geography, are remarkably similar. When factoring in details from the Pseudo-Clementines, it is hard to conclude Simon Magus was anything other than a reworking of Paul.
Paul and Simon of Cyrene
I argued in a previous post (The Apostle Paul Was Simon of Cyrene) that Paul was intended to be Simon of Cyrene – Jesus Christ’s cross-bearer, and that this would have been dramatically depicted, as referenced in Galatians 3:1; coupled with a linking between Paul and Simon the magician in Acts 8, along with the presence of the Cypriot magician in Acts 13 (who was also named Simon), I believe Paul’s real alter-name was indeed Simon. The fact that Cephas was renamed Simon-Peter is striking, considering the Toledoth Yeshu claims that Paul and Simon Peter were the same person. Coupled with the fact that Paul’s adversaries, the Ebionites (Irenaeus, Against Heresies i.26.2), were consumers of Matthew, and given the less kind treatment of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew than in Mark (specifically that Matthew’s Simon was not returning from “the field” – which was code for planting Seeds for the New Jerusalem – a clear reference to the unnamed demon-caster in Mark 9:38-40), it seems clear that Matthew’s consumers begrudgingly admitted Simon into their story, while they simultaneously downplayed his importance.
James and Stephen
As Hans-Joachim Schoeps surmised, the martyred Saint Stephen appears to be a “deckfigur fur Jakobus” – a duplication of the Jerusalem Christian leader James, and a re-telling of his stoning. Robert Eisenman advocates this position. One wonders if Stephen really existed at all – perhaps he was an early leader who lacked enough memorable attributes, so he benefited from a post-mortem Jamesian merger.
Cephas and Cerinthus
In Galatians 2, Cephas seems moderate, which is blasphemy in Paul’s opinion – a needless appeal to the center, which was a victory for those “men from James” – the Ebionites. Paul does not miss the opportunity to poison the well for the Galatians: Cephas and others were low-life hypocrites for their refusal to eat with the uncircumcised. One parallel is in Irenaeus’s description of the Cerinthians and Ebionites – the Cerinthians are implicitly contrasted with the Ebionites in AH i.26, as having more hierarchy in heaven; yet the Ebionites and Cerinthus agree about Jesus’s attributes. But Irenaeus explicitly stated that the Ebionites hated Paul, which makes the Cerinthians roughly centered between the Ebionites and the Paulinists (notably the Marcionites). Epiphanius of Salamis makes this Cerinthian offloading more obvious when he references Peter’s equivalence to Paul, in his advocacy of eating unclean meat with the uncircumcised men in Acts 11. In this scenario, Epiphanius reports that, playing the role of Cephas in Peter’s new-found Orthodoxy was Cerinthus. See also: From Cerinthus to Cephas to Peter
Mary and The Queen of Heaven
There are enough Marys throughout the Gospels to keep readers guessing; however, the most blatantly deceptive reworking of unrealistic myth into realistic myth comes from the (near) universally acknowledged assumption that the woman clothed in the sun in Revelation 12 is actually a flowery reworking of Mary. It is not. The woman in Revelation 12 is the Queen of Heaven, and her followers received a shout-out in Revelation 12:17 – they were the Nasar – the keepers of the law which preceded Mosaic law.
Jesus and The Paraclete
This inclination to steal attributes from one person in order to benefit someone else did not end with the church’s apostolic inventions. Jesus himself benefited from this. In my estimation, Jesus was invented to metaphorically describe how those baptized and initiated into the Christian mystery could benefit from the reception of the Spirit (the Spirit rendered, even in the absence of the temple – 1 Corin 3:16); this of course meant that one must be prepared to be martyred – a universal concern in the earliest Christian texts (Ignatius of Antioch, etc). The later addition of the virgin birth comes directly from the tradition found in the Gospel of Thomas – current generation Christians should follow James (probably the same James in Jerusalem who was killed by Ananus ben Ananus), but a subsequent generation would find one “not born from a woman” – this explains Paul’s fixation with details of his own childbirth, and that he was born from ektroma – a miscarriage. See also: Paul and the Paraclete
Jesus Christ and 1st Century Messianic Claimants
There were a series of messianic claimants in 1st century Judea, notably Theudas and the Egyptian. I have made the case in other posts that Theudas was the inspiration for John the Baptist; however, Jesus did get something from Theudas – his advocacy of transferring his follower’s possessions prior to following him (Mark 10:21, Matthew 19:21). The Egyptian also had obvious qualities that trickled into the Gospels, notably that he took his followers to the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3, Matthew 24:3), and that he claimed he could knock down the temple’s walls (Mark 14:58, Matthew 27:40, John 2:19). The fact that Paul is linked to the Egyptian in Acts of the Apostles, and that Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 7:17) claimed Theudas was a student of Paul (I surmise Clement erred; rather, Paul was a student of Theudas – in other words, Paul was a student of John the Baptist!), creates a clear correlation between the Gospel’s fiction and discernible historical fact.
Jesus Christ and Jesus ben Ananias
Jesus Christ also received a few attributes from Jesus ben Ananias, who Josephus described as a “rude peasant.” Jesus ben Ananias floundered around Jerusalem for years, claiming “woe to Jerusalem”. One rarely noticed feature in Jesus ben Ananias’ lament was his quote “a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.” The reference to the bridegroom and the bride has Johannine characteristics, notably from John 3:29. In my opinion, the earlier iteration of this wedding concern can be found in 2 Esdras 10, where the bridegroom was the Christ, who represented the temple: “And as for what she said to you, that her son came into his wedding chamber and died and that misfortune happened to her, this is the destruction that happened to Jerusalem”. According to Josephus, Jesus ben Ananias was killed by a talent-sized boulder, the same sort of boulder that fell from the sky in Revelation 16:21.