Implications of the Simon-Jesus Parallels

In my previous post, I discussed parallels between the Simon Magus traditions and scenes in the Gospel of Mark. The most significant parallel in my mind comes with the woman in Tyre who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. I argued this woman was dual cast as Helen and Mary Magdalene. She makes a pithy argument on behalf of her daughter, and Jesus cured her. The subtext hiding in this anecdote is that Jesus took an extraordinarily inefficient by-foot route, traveling some 50 miles out of his way. This trip, which observers have noticed over the centuries, is nonsensical in most contexts; however, it makes more sense given various assumptions:

  1. Mark’s author was unfamiliar with the local geography. This admittedly is the most plausible explanation.
  2. Jesus was attempting to get out of Dodge. This is plausible if the Gospel Jesus character was, as I suspect, influenced by the so-called Egyptian, who Josephus wrote eluded Jerusalem law enforcement after causing riots. Incidently, Paul is accused of being this Egyptian by a Roman commander in Acts 21:38.
  3. The whole Gospel story was constructed to intertwine Simon Magus traditions with Jesus traditions.

Recall the implication of Mark’s Gospel: the Spirit is the centerpiece. Jesus is a slave (δοῦλος) to the Spirit, just like Paul is in Romans 1:1, Gal 1:10, and 1 Cor 7:22. An implication is that Jesus cannot be held to account by the local rulers, because the Spirit acted on his behalf, which meant Jesus was crucified an innocent man; this violation of nature caused the rulers to fold in on themselves (Mk 3:26), which eventually causes the temple veil to tear, thereby removing the barrier between Earth and heaven.

In this context, or at least this version of the story, the Spirit passes to Simon of Cyrene. That is what the Basilideans believed, anyway.

The leap I make is that I think that a lot of groups believed similar things. This transient spirit is detectable even in the Orthodoxy. For example, when Simon the magician attempts to buy the Spirit from Peter in Samaria in Acts 8, the implication hiding underneath is that the Spirit is transferrable under the appropriate circumstances – it was not Simon’s audacity to attempt to purchase the Spirit which would have rung with early readers; rather, it was an inappropriate manner of transfer – one where appropriate initiation had not been done.

This is why I believe the notion of the Paraclete was such a critical component of the early theology: He who possessed the Spirit was the new leader. The leader gets to direct the movement of the religion. This explains why Matthew’s Gospel minimizes Simon of Cyrene; it seems to me the instance where Jesus’s servant chops off the high priest’s servants ear (Mthw 26:51) reflects the official Spirit transfer in Matthew. John’s Gospel recognizes Jesus’s ear-lopping servant as Peter, which I think early Matthew readers would have recognized as well; this action was compelled by the Spirit, which implies that Peter became the Paraclete, and was subsequently innocent of the act which the Spirit compelled.

The Spirit hopping in Mark can be reasonably decrypted with some help from Irenaeus, who discusses the Carpocratians in AH i.25. The Carpocratians bear resemblance to, and indeed probably were, Marcionites. Irenaeus writes that Carpocrates believed “Jesus was the son of Joseph,” and “…he differed from [other men]…that his soul was steadfast and pure.” This is a match to the Paraclete, whose crimes are forgiven because they were the Spirit’s responsibility. The admission Irenaeus inadvertently makes is that Jesus “…perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God.”

In other words, the Carpocratians believed that significant events occur in other realms. In other words, Jesus’s actions were not on Earth. They were in a realm between the unbegotten God and Earth. This is why I think Paul’s claim that God set him aside from his mother’s womb (Gal 1:15) is so important. Paul is laying claim to the Paraclete.

He received the Spirit prior to his birth; therefore, the anomalous magician in Mark 9:38-40 is a reference to Paul, who acted independently of Jesus and his apostles. This demon-casting magician beat the Apostles to the punch. While those inferior apostles were still in Jerusalem trying to receive the Spirit from Jesus, Paul was out wielding the Spirit.

Irenaeus goes on that “some of [the Carpocratians] declare themselves similar to Jesus; while others, still more mighty, maintain that they are superior to his disciples.” Irenaeus uses the examples of Peter and Paul, whom Carpocratians believed themselves superior to. However, if we remove Irenaeus’s example of Paul, then we [finally] have an adequate explanation for Marcion, who believed Paul was superior to the apostles who supposedly heard Jesus’s words directly.

Again, Marcion must have seen Paul as this anomalous magician who received the true Spirit, rather than the inferior Spirit which Jesus granted his apostles (Mk 3:14-15).

If we extrapolate further, relying on this “sphere of the unbegotten God”, we can adequately understand the relationship between the Spirit and the Paraclete. Whoever possesses the Spirit gleans insight into the “sphere of the unbegotten God.” Therefore, the Paraclete is Jesus Christ. The traditions which fed into the various Jesus mysteries were actually attributes of Paraclete claimants.

This, I think is what some early Christians found so appealing about the so-called Egyptian, who claimed he could knock down the temple walls with his words, just like Jesus claims in all the Gospels. The Egyptian proselytized in Jerusalem, pissed off the authorities, and escaped, presumably to another major metropolis, such as Rome or Alexandria. While the dunce apostles remained in Jerusalem, the Egyptian was busy bouncing around the empire, spreading the word and casting out demons.

And the impulse to replace Simon of Cyrene’s Spirit transference with the Peter ear chopping incident: this was an attempt by the Jamesians – for the Peter group, James was the 1st generation Jesus Christ on Earth. For the Paul group, the Egyptian/Simon/magician was.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

16 thoughts on “Implications of the Simon-Jesus Parallels”

      1. “It is nuts”

        I was following up a lead about the ‘Ascension of Isaiah” which might be an older gospel story. It is peculiar as it is a patchwork of shameless different interpolations. Nevertheless, the part which might represent an earlier proto-gnostic gospel has a Christ that descends through seven heavens in order to trick the ‘Powers’ into killing him. The trickery involves Christ disguising himself at ever level including Earth as they would not have killed him if they knew who we was.
        In being killed it seems he can descend into Sheol and take on the angel that rules that realm. Even though this vision was seen in the past, I suspect it was meant to be a futuristic happening, as the Christ was meant to then burn up the material universe so that the souls could escape. These early Gnostics were expecting one Christ coming only which would mean the end of the world – although being Gnostics, what they wrote may have been metaphorical of course. Perhaps those who did take it literally were not Gnostics?

        It would seem that the later adaptations then interpreted this event as happening in the past, and that they were awaiting the end of the Universe soon.

        I think this proto-gospel may explain the ‘trickery’ a bit better?

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      2. “burn up the material universe so that the souls could escape”
        I think this must be analagous to the temple veil tearing. The veil, which earlier obstructed access to heaven for those following the Melchizadek traditions would open prior to the destruction of the 2nd temple.

        In the Valentinian system (and also the James-centric Naasenes), you have 3 classes of men. It’s plausible in my mind that once they realized the world was not going to end on their schedule, the next evolution was to explain why certain men (material) would not gain access to heaven in this new world. I think the “New Jerusalem” idea comes from this as well…the world cannot end until Jerusalem is reconstructed…since Jews were expelled from Jerusalem, other geographical locations where the Spirit could enter were necessary. I don’t mean to overly simplify it, because there were clearly lots of philosophical inputs which contributed to these evolutions, and some of these ideas might very well have developed independently of one another.

        But I think you’re right that there was some time where the Christ’s emergence on earth would signify the end. This is kind of why I find it plausible that bits of the proto-Gospel (or perhaps the underlying oral traditions) were authored by Judeans in the 70s. They seem to take the the temple’s destruction very seriously. If that is true, then what we have is a huge collection of traditions coming from all sorts of religious and philosophical traditions

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      3. I tend to think the first proto-gospels were written in Egypt, and that is because they seem to be full of coptic and gnostic concepts. There were certainly plenty of people living in Egypt with sentimental links to Judea, but who may have had reason to to feel they were estranged Jews. Jeremiah certainly singles out the Jews in Egypt as being aligned with the Queen of Heaven cult.
        The Jewish wars would certainly have had a huge impact on the Egyptian gnostics.
        The other part of the equation is Samaria, and I suspect Samarian gnostic religions were in strong communication with their Egyptian counterparts.
        There would also have been refugees from Judea after the first war, some with links to the Zealot movement. The more modern gospel story would have been a story that combined the old gnostic Christ stories with the founder of the Zealot movement – Judas. The Samaritans had their ‘Simon’ legend with plenty of anecdotes to fill out the story.

        The strange thing is that Christianity seems be being born everywhere except Judea. There is nothing in the Dead Sea Scrolls that contributes to later Christian literature even if there are some curious parallels. I think the Judeans had a messiah concept based from Isaiah, but their messianic religion died, and was replaced by orthodox judaism. Although it is possible that Mandeanism is the remnant of their Messianic cult.

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      4. I think we’re on a similar page. Lots of those curious parallels. I think the Nasaraenes (later the Mandaeans) are good candidates for the root, as they have what you’d expect: Palestinian geography, Jewish underpinnings, Gnostic sensibilities, polemics against Christianity and favor towards John, clear distinction from the Zealot movement. All I have to do to make the theory plausible is to assume the Mandaeans emerged from (Epiphanius’) Nasarenes. Subsequent evolution is explained by geographic and cultural differences, political divergence, Roman influence, Catholic Orthodoxy, and the other known factors…

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      5. So where does the Zealot movement fit into your theory?

        My thinking is that it has created some of the mythology that the gnostic writers have drawn upon, but very little of the theology. However there are some things to consider.
        The Zealotry movement had become an international movement during the second war, and no doubt was an alliance of many groups with very different beliefs united in their hatred of the Romans. So in this case it would make sense that there were groups that had Gnostic cosmology and Zealot politics and every other possible permutation.
        After the defeat of the insurrection, Zealotry would have either died or re-invented itself in another way. If Gnostics were culturally appropriating their legends, it could have awoken a desire to ‘correct’ these stories a bit, and bring them back in line with their theology – however, they were politically astute enough to keep their zealot hero’s as harmless pacifists!

        The result of all this is quite remarkable – two conflicting ideologies united by their anti-Roman under-currents, merge to eventually form a pro-Roman religion.
        It is “nuts”, yet I cannot escape this conclusion that conflicting ideologies managed to merge – though certainly not seamlessly.

        I suspect that the wars created an ideological void that needed filling. The apocalyptic prophecies of the 1st century were proving to be unfulfilled, and so there was a frenzy of patched cults theories – like a ‘Cambrian Explosion’ of religion. Political zealotry died away after the third war and times were more peaceful. Anti-Roman sentiment began to fade, and distinct phylum of proto-religions being to assert themselves.

        I think the thing that is missing from these theories is a real understanding of how these cults existed at the street level. These ideas must have appealed to middle class people and the poor. how did they hear these ideas? how did they express them and how did they spread them?
        Understanding what was happening at the granular level might help make the theory work. Your idea of street theatre certainly offers a way that these cults could have become popular – offering public entertainment and a ‘book club’ for the masses. People did not have to believe in these things any more than you have to believe in ‘Harry Potter’ to follow it.

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  1. This, I think is what some early Christians found so appealing about the so-called Egyptian, who claimed he could knock down the temple walls with his words, just like Jesus claims in all the Gospels. The Egyptian proselytized in Jerusalem, pissed off the authorities, and escaped, presumably to another major metropolis, such as Rome or Alexandria. While the dunce apostles remained in Jerusalem, the Egyptian was busy bouncing around the empire, spreading the word and casting out demons.

    Are you referring to the gospel according to the Egyptian, both Coptic and Greek? Or is it the Egyptian in Josephus?

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  2. The problem I have with the Egyptian is that all we know about this person is a small section in Josephus.
    I suspect that 2nd century Christians knew nothing more about this character apart from what they read in Josephus. Obviously some were troubled and Luke chose to either leave a cryptic clue, or a clumsy denial of a theory going around. Probably the latter.

    If we link Paul to Simon Magus, then do we still link him to the Egyptian? I think not – I suspect both Simon Magus and Paul are much older legends that early second century Gnostics have written about.
    I think that if the Egyptian really was ‘Chrestus’, then this person would have got more paragraphs and a proper name in Josephus. I think Chrestus was more likely Judas the Galilean – which of course means I believe Tacitus’s reference to Pontious Pilate was possibly not interpolated.

    The problem I have is trying to work out why Gnosticism and a dead Zealot movement with completely opposing cosmologies managed to merge. My suspicion is that some gnostics wove their ‘Christ’ mythology into a story that romanticised the early Zealotry movement. This story was obviously controversial, but extremely popular, and many Jews who would certainly not have any sympathies towards Egyptian or Samarian gnosticism, nevertheless had reason to want to retell the story of the Zealots in a different light. From then on, everyone needed their own version of the story, and their version was the original.

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    1. “all we know about this person is a small section in Josephus”
      My feeling is that this is all we need to know, and it might very well be the case that this is all the early Christian writers knew as well. It is clear the Gospel and Acts writers were familiar with Josephus (or less likely, shared a common source with him). But given they were adoptionists, they were probably on the lookout for historical characters who inherited the Spirit – thus were interested in building a Spirit transferrance chronology, similar to the concerns the infancy authors were in demonstrating familial lineage.

      “If we link Paul to Simon Magus, then do we still link him to the Egyptian?”
      It’s difficult to know what is true about Simon Magus. Was he actually Samarian? Or was he, like Jesus, a dual citizen of Egypt and Palestine? What I think we have from the earliest heresiologists, notably Justin and Irenaeus, is a clear impulse to spread attributes from one person to another, so I think that, generally speaking, it is quite plausible that Paul’s real identity is as Simon. But like you said, it’s difficult to glean or even speculate on the Egyptian beyond what I’ve already mentioned in this comment (and the other bits Josephus shares). According to the tradition, Paul would have been a contemporary of the Egyptian… But this impulse to project attributes from one person to another probably occurred both in good details, as well as polemics…and the Spirit transience/Paraclete helps to explain this.

      “I think Chrestus was more likely Judas the Galilean”
      There is a chronology problem with this, isn’t there?

      “The problem I have is trying to work out why Gnosticism and a dead Zealot movement with completely opposing cosmologies managed to merge.”
      In my theory, this is explained by the Spirit/Paraclete. The Spirit was the feminine proto-Sophia. Other Nazarenes (Mandaeans) referred to this feminine Spirit as Ruha, but that is simply a polemic to take back the Paraclete from “Jesus” and give it to John. This Spirit originates in an early version of Judaism, which I think eventually gives rise to the Gnostic impulse to invert the day’s Scripture, which gives us the Demiurge. In that pre-Deuteronomic Judaism, we have essentially a Henotheistic system where there are lower Deities, just like in the Gnostic system. We also have the male-female polarity, as well as the son who emerges from them. The lady of 1st temple Judaism is Wisdom, just like Sophia…

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      1. “There is a chronology problem with this, isn’t there?”

        We don’t know how Judas the Galilean dies, but you should check this out:

        https://judasthegalilean.weebly.com/judas-the-galilean.html

        The article does mistakenly attribute Pontious Pilate’s rule back to 19CE, which does not seem to be correct. However if Judas the Galilean was kept as a prisoner until 26CE, he would have been about 50-60 at the time.
        It does not matter whether this is true so much as to whether this was believed, even by Roman historians like Tacitus.

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  3. Hey Tim, I wanna ask, have you thought of making responses to claims made by religious right wing conservatives like Jordan Peterson? Man, watching some of those videos just make me cringe sometimes.

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    1. Ugh. I’m not a fan of Peterson. The single thing I enjoy from him is his discussion on the serpent and other archetypes in mythology (although he’s often dishonest even in those discussions). Honestly, I’m not sure where I’m going from here. The book is still on my mind and in progress, but I’ve been very busy on a personal front lately. I’ve considered trying to enter into the pop atheism space, but I’m not sure I’m passionate enough about enough topics to really make a case against things or people…although JP must be stopped (lol). I’ve been enjoying Hugo and Jake’s recent reviews on YouTube…

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      1. I’d take Peterson over Alex Jones any day (lol).

        I think there are a couple of conservatives like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson and Dennis Prager who often make anachronistic and misleading claims that the American constitution is based on Judeo-Christian theology but also claim that Western civilization and concepts like Democracy came from such texts, which I think can be refuted in as little as 10 minutes.

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