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§ 121. Simon Magus and the Simonians.


I. Commentaries on Acts 8:9–24. Justin Martyr: Apol. I. 26 and 56. The pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions. Irenaeus, I. 23. Hippolytus, VI. 2–15, etc.

II. Simson: Leben und Lehre Simon des Magiers, in the "Zeitschrift für hist. Theologie" for 1841.

Hilgenfeld: Der Magier Simon, in the "Zeischrift für wissenschaftl. Theologie" for 1868.

Lipsius: Simon d. Mag. in Schenkel’s "Bibel-Lexikon," vol. V. (1875), p. 301–321. Comp. the literature quoted there, p. 320.


Simon Magus is a historical character known to us from the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.827827    The Tübingen school, which denies the historical character of the Acts, resolves also the story of Simon into a Jewish Christian fiction, aimed at the apostle Paul as the real heretic and magician. So Baur, Zeller, and Volkmar. Lipsius ingeniously carries out this Simon-Paul hypothesis, and declares (I. c. p. 303): "Der Kern der Sage ist niches als ein vollständig ausgeführtes Zerrbild des Heidenapostels, dessen Zäge bis in’s einzelne hinein die Person, die Lehre, und die Lebenschicksale des Paulus persifliren sollen." But the book of Acts gives the earliest record of Simon and is the production, if not of Luke, as we believe with the unanimous testimony of antiquity, at all events of a writer friendly to Paul, and therefore utterly unlikely to insert an anti-Pauline fiction which would stultify the greater part of his own book. Comp. the remarks above, §114, p. 438.27 He was probably a native of Gitthon, in Samaria, as Justin Martyr, himself a Samaritan, reports;828828    Apol. I, 26 (Σίμωνα μέν τινα Σαμαρέα, τὸν ἀπὸ κώμης λεγομένης Γιττῶν); comp. Clem. Hom. I. 15; II. 22 (ἀπὸ Γιτθῶν); Hippol. Philos. VI. 7 (ὁ Γιττηνός).There was such a place as Γίτται, not far from Flavia Neapolis (Nablus), Justin’s birthplace. It is now called Kuryet Jît (Dschit). See Robinson’s Pal. II. 308, and Otto’s note on the passage in Justin (Opera I. 78).28 but he may nevertheless be identical with the contemporaneous Jewish magician of the same name, whom Josephus mentions as a native of Cyprus and as a friend of Procurator Felix, who employed him to alienate Drusilla, the beautiful wife of king Azizus of Emesa, in Syria, from her husband, that he might marry her.829829    According to Josephus, Ant. XX. 7, 2. The identity is assumed by Neander, De Wette, Hilgenfeld. There was on the island of Cyprus a city named Κίτιον (Thucyd. I. 112, 1), which Justin M. may possibly have confounded with Gitthon, in Samaria, as he confounded Simo and Semo on the statue in Rome. But it is much more likely that Josephus was mistaken on a question of Samaria than Justin, a native of Flavia Neapolis (the ancient Shechem).29

Simon represented himself as a sort of emanation of the deity ("the Great Power of God"),830830    ἡ Δύναμις τοῦ θεοῦ ἥ Μεγάλη, Acts 8:10. According to the Clementine Homilies (II. 22) and Recognitions (II.7), Simon called himself " the Supreme Power of God"(ἀνωτάτη δύναμις ,Virtus Suprema).30 made a great noise among the half-pagan, half-Jewish Samaritans by his sorceries, was baptized by Philip about the year 40, but terribly rebuked by Peter for hypocrisy and abuse of holy things to sordid ends.831831    The memory of this incident is perpetuated in the name of simony for profane traffic in ecclesiastical offices.31 He thus affords the first instance in church history of a confused syncretism in union with magical arts; and so far as this goes, the church fathers are right in styling him the patriarch, or, in the words of Irenaeus, the "magister "and "progenitor" of all heretics, and of the Gnostics in particular. Besides him, two other contemporaneous Samaritans, Dositheus and Menander, bore the reputation of heresiarchs. Samaria was a fertile soil of religious syncretism even before Christ, and the natural birth-place of that syncretistic heresy which goes by the name of Gnosticism.

The wandering life and teaching of Simon were fabulously garnished in the second and third centuries by Catho-lics and heretics, but especially by the latter in the interest of Ebionism and with bitter hostility to Paul. In the pseudo-Clementine romances he represents all anti-Jewish heresies. Simon the Magician is contrasted, as the apostle of falsehood, with Simon Peter, the apostle of truth; he follows him, as darkness follows the light, from city to city, in company with Helena (who had previously been a prostitute at Tyre, but was now elevated to the dignity of divine intelligence); he is refuted by Peter in public disputations at Caesarea, Antioch, and Rome; at last he is ignominiously defeated by him after a mock-resurrection and mock-ascension before the Emperor Nero; he ends with suicide, while Peter gains the crown of martyrdom.832832    The legendary accounts, both catholic and heretical, vary considerably. Justin M. reports Simon’s visit to Rome, but assigns it to the reign of Claudius (41-54), and says nothing of an encounter with Peter. Other reports put the journey in the reign of Nero (54-68). According to Hippolytus, Simon was buried alive at his own request, being confident of rising again on the third day, as a pseudo-Christ. According to the Apostolical Constitutions, he attempted to fly, but fell and broke his thigh and ankle-bone in answer to the prayers of Peter, and died in consequence of this injury. According to Arnobius, he attempted to ascend in a fiery chariot, like Elijah, but broke his leg, and in the confusion of shame committed suicide by throwing himself from a high mountain. See Lipsius, l.c. p. 310.32 There is a bare possibility that, like other heretics and founders of sects, he may have repaired to Rome (before Peter); but Justin Martyr’s account of the statue of Simon is certainly a mistake.833833    He reports (Apol. I26 and 56) that Simon Magus made such an impression by his magical arts upon the Roman Senate and people that they paid him divine homage, and erected a statue to him on the island of the Tiber. But he mistook Semo Sancus orSangus, a Sabine-Roman divinity unknown to him, for Simo Sanctus. For in 1574 a statue was found in the place described, with the inscription: Semoni Sanco Deo Fidio sacrum, etc. The mistake is repeated by Irenaeus Adv. Hoer. I. 23, 1, Tertullian Apol. 13, and Eusebius, but Hippolytus who resided at Rome does not mention it. See Otto’s note on Just. I. 26, Opera I. 79 sq. (ed. III).33

The Gnosticism which Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and other fathers ascribe to this Simon and his followers is crude, and belongs to the earlier phase of this heresy. It was embodied in a work entitled "The Great Announcement" or "Proclamation"834834    Ἀπόφασις μεγάλη.34 of which Hippolytus gives an analysis.835835    Philos. VI. 6 sqq.35 The chief ideas are the "great power," "the great idea," the male and female principle. He declared himself an incarnation of the creative world-spirit, and his female companion, Helena, the incarnation of the receptive world-soul. Here we have the Gnostic conception of the syzygy.

The sect of the Simonians, which continued into the third century, took its name, if not its rise, from Simon Magus, worshipped him as a redeeming genius, chose, like the Cainites, the most infamous characters of the Old Testament for its heroes, and was immoral in its principles and practices. The name, however, is used in a very indefinite sense, for various sorts of Gnostics.



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