There is a compelling case to be made that the writer we remember as the Apostle Paul, his 6 or 7 authentic works anyway, had a different name which his disciples recognized. The Orthodox response would be that this alternate name is Saul.
I do not think this is the case.
Rather, as I have written on this blog (and “radical” scholars have noticed for well over 100 years), I believe this alternative name was Simon. About a year ago, I wrote a sort of tongue-in-cheek post about how I imagine the Christian mystery was originally implemented as a dramatic depiction, where characters in the proto-Gospel, something like the modern Gospel of Mark, were doppelgangers (Platonic ideals) of their real-life personas. I also made this case in a post where I argued that the cross-bearer in Mark 15, Simon of Cyrene, was the doppelganger for the the writer underlying the Apostle Paul.
There are many implications in this theory. The most obvious one was that early Gospel consumers, based on the modern contents of Mark, as well as what we glean from early heresy hunters about who consumed Mark, were adoptionistic, and that the Spirit which was encapsulated by Jesus in the Gospels was the more important aspect of the story than was the human who had the Spirit. Jesus was simply a slave to the spirit in this context.
Another implication is that we have a discernible system: this Spirit is transient and leaves the human prior to their death, as it (perhaps) did when the Spirit went from John the Baptist to Jesus during the baptism. The fact that the Basilideans believed the Christ Spirit bounced to Simon of Cyrene makes clear that some sects believed the Christ would exist in perpetuity within the community. This, I think, eventually (perhaps originally) gave rise to the notion of the Paraclete, a concept which predates Christianity, but is explicitly found in modern Christianity in John’s Gospel (Jn 14:16).
Following this train of thought, we can assume Mark’s author(s) and consumers were familiar with (and indeed revered) the Apostle Paul; given that Paul was a later successor of Jesus, it is not much of a leap to presume Paul and Simon of Cyrene were the same person, and that Simon of Cyrene is simply a fiction used in the Gospel to demonstrate that the rogue Paul/Simon received the Spirit after Jesus.
Incidentally, we have a hostile polemic waged within the Ebionite pseudo-Clementines (and Acts) against a messiah-claimant who antagonized Peter and John and who advocated faith over acts, mirroring Paul’s conflict with Cephas in Galatians 2. Peter’s antagonist in the pseudo-Clementines (and the Acts of Peter) was named Simon, and was recognized by his followers as a powerful magician.
This Ebionite sect, we can also presume, modified the earlier Mark-like Gospel, and changed it to assert a priority of law-adherence and a disdain for magic; magic in particular was highlighted in proto-Mark, but is absent in this modified Gospel, which would be recognized as a proto-Matthew. Matthew also converts the proto-Gospel from an easy-to-perform Greek drama into a more literary endeavor with extended speeches.
The detail which helped clarify this theory for me was an interview Miguel Conner (Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio) did in 2016 with author John Munter, who argues that Jesus Christ was Simon Magus!
In the “Paraclete model” to which I subscribe, which assumes the Gospel was originally part of the “lesser mystery” – a drama performed by church leaders, and which was designed to demonstrate who received the Spirit after Jesus died, several parallels become clear between Simon and Jesus.
One such parallel is that we see instances where Jesus performs magical acts common for the time in Mark, such as using saliva to restore vision and hearing. Matthew’s Gospel removes these magical acts, as any law-abiding Jewish author would.
Another parallel is with the mysterious “unnamed demon-caster” scene in Mark 9:38-40, where John complains of an unauthorized individual casting demons. In my mind, either Mark never resolves this thread, or he resolves it with Simon of Cyrene, who must have been pre-ordained prior to receiving the Spirit. This unnamed demon caster is an anomalous magician operating under the radar and independently of the Jerusalem disciples, just like Simon Magus (and Paul).
In my mind, this unnamed “character of prominence” theme common throughout all the canonical Gospels forces me to re-examine any prominent, short-lived, and unnamed characters in the Gospels. When we look at Christianity through the lens of a mystery religion, it becomes clear that these characters help to advance attributes of the mystery, and probably had deeper underlying symbolic meaning, probably as celestial pointers, with Jesus as the sun.
When we consider the logistics of a mystery religion which performed dramatic depictions, we must allow for a limitation: there were only so many community members who could put on such a drama. This seems especially the case among early Christians, who according to Pliny the Younger, were discouraged from participating in such fringe religions via torture and death. One solution to this logistics problem is to have characters in the drama perform multiple roles. As long as those roles are unnamed and short, the audience does not invest too much into the relationship between a particular role and that role’s actor.
Another unnamed character in Mark is the Syro-phoenecian woman who begs Jesus to cure her daughter after his 50 mile trek to Tyre (Mark 7:24-30). Jesus throws a mean-spirited insult at the woman and her child, referring to them as “dogs” (Mk 7:27). The woman responds with a pithy quip, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus was amused by the woman’s response, and as far as I can tell, this is the only instance where Jesus changes his mind in the Gospel (readers: feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).
Consider this analogue between this scene and Simon Magus’s biography from Irenaeus in Against Heresies i.23:
Now this Simon…Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phœnicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind…
This “first conception” of Simon’s mind, Helena, was also his Ennoia, which is analagous to Sophia, who herself was an emanation within the Pleroma in various Gnostic systems. In other words, Helen was simultaneously a shadow of the Platonic ideal – an archetype of the mother and wife.
It is odd that versions of this trope were so common in different Gnostic systems in the subsequent centuries. This oddity could be explained by the pervasive claim that Simon Magus was indeed the “father of all Christian heresy”. However, it is also explained if we presume this trope was original to the Christian mystery.
In the modern Orthodoxy, the name Mary is simultaneously associated with the mother and female companion. This idea permeates through various heterodoxical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, where Peter complains about Mary’s presence, and Jesus responds “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.”
I brought this idea of the parallel between the mother and Helen up to Miguel Conner on his Facebook page about a week ago, and he said “Could be, but wasn’t the woman Jesus called a dog a pagan?”. My impulse was to look to the Greek text, as translations tend to obfuscate original intent. The translation of the adjective for the woman is usually Greek, rather than Pagan (sometimes translated as Gentile); an interesting corroboration is that the Greek term for Greek, the term used in the Gospel, is Hellenis.
When we get to Mark 14, we get a named character, Simon, a leper, who put Jesus up and offered him a seat at his table (Mk 14:3). Again, we have a prominently featured unnamed woman who comes to visit Jesus at Simon’s home. She proceeds to pour expensive oil on Jesus’s head while the apostles protest. Jesus rebuked them, saying that they will always be stuck with the poor (ie Ebionites), but will only have Jesus for a short while. Jesus goes on to say that this unnamed woman will be celebrated forever (Mk 14:9).
How can the reader parse Jesus’s curious claim that this unnamed woman will be remembered forever?
The Gospel never bothers to mention her again beyond this scene. Again, the solution is that this was part of the mystery, and the mystery’s congregants, if they didn’t recognize her by her actions or by Jesus’s words, they would recognize her by the fact that she visited Simon’s home! Anointing Jesus would have rung clear as a bell, as well, as this was a ritual the high priest did prior to entering the Holy of Holies.
My subsequent speculation is that this unnamed woman from Mark 7 appears again in John’s Gospel (John 8) as the woman “caught [or taken or seized] in adultery”. In this scene, we get Jesus’s famous disregard for Mosaic law when he tells the Pharisees “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. When we allow for the fact that adultery for a woman included being widowed AND marrying a man other than her husband’s brother (Deut 25), this scene might be an obfuscation of Jesus defending his own wife’s honor (and life)! The fact that Jesus called those same Pharisees sons of “murderers” later in the chapter (Jn 8:44) would have made this link obvious for early readers who were on the lookout for unnamed and prominent characters.