Part 4—The “Standing One” (cont.)
Having broadly summarized Simonian doctrine in the last several posts, Simon Magus emerges as a figure whose gnosticism had Buddhist precursors, whose outlook was Jewish, and whose doctrine was radically heterodox. The Buddhist aspects of Simon’s thought can be summarized as follows:
(a) According to Hippolytus, Simon viewed entrance into life as entrance into suffering—dukkha in Buddhism (cf. post #9).
(b) Simon taught that the world is on fire. In Buddhism, desire/craving (tanha) is a link in the chain of dependent origination and is equated with fire (on this, cf. post #13).
(c) Simon preached the need for “investigation” (Rec 2:21; Gebhardt 55). In Buddhism, the entire spiritual journey is one of investigation—via meditation leading to gnosis/enlightenment.
(d) Simon held that the Great Invisible Power is hidden and secret (Hip. Ref. VI.4; Rec 2:21). Compare the following Buddhist passages, which imply that the truth is hidden and generally misperceived:
Sorrow disguised as joy, the hateful as the loved—
Thus pain in the form of bliss overwhelms the heedless one. (Udana 2.8)
What the world holds as true, the Noble Ones hold as false.
They see correctly, with perfect insight.
What the world holds as false, the Noble Ones hold as true.
They see correctly, with perfect insight. (Sutta-nipata 755)
(For canonical Christian parallels, see PDF here, chp. 5.)
(e) Simon did not believe (1) in the Day of Judgment, nor (2) that souls are immortal (Rec 2:13; Hom 2:26; Gebhardt 53). Both of these tenets are compatible with Buddhism, which teaches the nonexistence of the soul (anatta).
All the texts link Simon with Samaria (Rec. 2:7: Hom 2:22; Geb. 49, etc). Considering that Simon was in the theological lineage of Dositheus (also with Samarian/Samaritan roots) and John the Baptist—the ‘mentor’ of Jesus (the lineage is here)—the distinct possibility emerges that Christianity originated as a Jewish fringe movement influenced by Buddhism. The movement seems to have taken root in Samaria at an early stage, and perhaps also in the Jordan valley-Decapolis-Bashan regions in the first century CE.
Given the meagre textual records and the extensive use of invented ‘carriers of dogma’ (what I call ‘ciphers’) functioning in pseudo-historical settings, it is not possible to establish clear historical or even doctrinal boundaries between Jesus, John the Baptist, Dositheus, and Simon Magus. Certain details belong to more than one of these figures. An example is the saying recorded in Mt 3:10 (‘the axe laid to the root of the tree’). In the texts it is ascribed variously to Jesus, John the Baptist, and Simon Magus.
In the past, some scholars have opined that John the Baptist was in fact a cipher for Jesus. Two such arguments are set forth in detail on this website: “Was Jesus John the Baptist raised from the dead?” (by Robert Price) and “Hypothesis regarding John the Baptist” (by Georges Ory). Surprising overlaps also exist between Simon Magus and Jesus, such as that Peter considered Simon Magus to be a (false) Christ, mentioned in the preceding post. Another overlap is somewhat more complex. In my book NazarethGate I note the following:
Simon Magus was reputedly born in Gitta (Gath, presently Ramlah—Justin, Apol. I.26, 56), a town in Samaria approximately 40 km NW of Jerusalem. Archeologically, the settlement has been identified with Lydda (Lod). Now, Lod was where a certain Ben Stada was crucified on the eve of Passover according to Rabbinic writings [Footnote: See Zindler 2003:237 f; Herford 78 f]. This link between Simon Magus and Ben Stada takes on more force when we realize that “Ben Stada” is probably another corruption for [the] ‘Standing One’—a favorite euphemism of Simon Magus. Finally, Ben Stada clearly refers to Yeshu [ha Notsri]. Jesus of Nazareth, of course, was also crucified on the eve of Passover. (NazarethGate, p. 447)
Thus, ‘Simon Magus’ overlaps with ‘Ben Stada’, ‘Yeshu ha-Notri,’ and ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Also, I’ve noted that ‘John’ and ‘Dositheus’ are equivalent names. It is possible, however, that all these alleged figures were one and the same (or no historical personage at all), and that similar doctrine underpins them all.
The French scholar Georges Ory surmised that Dositheus = Theudas (the components of the names merely reversed). This opens an interesting line of speculation, in that Theudas was a Jewish rebel who, according to Josephus, proposed to part the Jordan River c. 45 CE. Ory further links Theudas/Dositheus with John the Baptist (see here). One supporting datum Ory points to is that:
… under the name “Jesus” in his Lexicon, Philip of Side reports that the synagogue of Tiberias preserved a certain Book of Theudas about a Samaritan Christ. The book relates that Christ was elected High Priest by the Jews. Now, there exists a tradition (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. III.31.3) according to which “John, who rested on the bosom of our Lord, was a priest who bore the sacerdotal plate [petalon pephorekws], martyr and teacher…” It is not surprising that the same legend [regarding the High Priesthood] attaches to Theudas as also to John-Dositheus, given that these are one and the same “Christ.” (Cahiers du Cercle Ernest Renan, no. 11, 1956. Discussion here.)
As far as the evangelists were concerned, it was easy for them to create fictional figures and to construct situations in which those figures acted and spoke, situations that best promoted the Church’s doctrines and that portrayed ‘heresy’ in the worst possible light. And if a heretical sect venerated one or another teacher/prophet, it was easy to lampoon that teacher by name, with invented situations, words, and deeds. This, one supposes, was the situation with Simon Magus. Towards the end of II CE gnostic doctrine had a following, and one way the Church dealt with it was via ‘Simon Magus,’ a convenient puppet-figure who could be put in the most unflattering literary situations and vilified at will. Thus in the Acts of Peter Simon is a charlatan and thief who spectacularly fails a magical contest against Peter in the Roman Forum. It is all quite obviously contrived and shows absolutely no interest in the facts of history. If anything, those facts of history were an obstacle to the Church’s purposes.
When we realize that the characters that act and speak in early Christian texts are not historical figures, then we can examine them correctly as, first and foremost, vehicles of propaganda. The situations in which those invented figures move have been constructed in a way that best promotes the Church’s position and that paints the ‘heretics’ in the worst possible colors.
What more do we know of “The Standing One”?
Hippolytus writes: “According to Simon, therefore, there exists that which is blessed and incorruptible in a latent condition in everyone—that is, potentially, not actually; and that this is He who stood, stands, and is to stand” (Ref. VI.12). From this we can infer that Simonian doctrine conceived all beings as potentially divine: we can all ‘stand.’ Indeed, we must all ‘stand.’
The word ‘stand’ obviously is key to Simonian thought. We’ve briefly seen how it relates to the crossing of the River Jordan by the Israelites in the Book of Joshua. Here, we will look more closely at the OT usage of ‘stand,’ which will prove important for an understanding of the Magus. The following citations are coded for reference:
(a) [Yahweh commands] “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still [תעמדו] in the Jordan.” (Josh 3:8b)
(b) “When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand [ויעמדו] in a single heap.” (Josh 3:13)
(c) So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still [ויעמדו], rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabian, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. (Josh 3:15b–16)
(d) While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood [ויעמדו] on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. (Josh 3:17)
It is interesting that the same Hebrew verb is used for the priests ‘standing’ in the middle of the Jordan River (a, b, d), as well as for the waters of the Jordan that ‘stood still’ (c)—as if there were a link between the priests standing and the waters standing. And indeed there was such a link, as the OT author makes clear by the way he narrates the event: God commands the priests to stand in the river, and if they do so the waters will stand still.
The Hebrew verb used in all the above citations is amad (‘md, עמד). It is an important word in the OT, and is used in sensitive contexts that are in a way liminal: the upright man is able to approach into the presence of God—he ‘stands’ before God. The same verb is also used in secular contexts, such as when one is deemed worthy to ‘stand’ before a king or other dignitary. Amad is also used in humble presentation. For example, Moses, Aaron, the priests, and even Israel or all Judah ‘stand’ (i.e. present themselves) before Yahweh for worship and/or to receive instruction.
Only the worthy person ‘stands.’ Thus, use of the verb indicates the excellence of the person doing the ‘standing.’ True prophets ‘stand’ (Jer 23:18, 22; cf. 18:20). Elijah introduces himself as the prophet of Yahweh, “before whom I stand” (1 Kg 17:1), and God raises up prophets to “stand before Him” (Deut 18:5, 7 etc). Of particular interest to us will be the fact that the Levites, most especially, typically ‘stand before the Lord’ in performing their duties (1 Kg 8:11; Deut 10:8 et multi). We will see that the Levites play an important role in esoteric Jewish traditions in Second Temple times, a role often associated with wisdom traditions and proto-gnosticism.
Thus, when Simon Magus is described as ‘the Standing One,’ the usage conforms to an old tradition in Judaism, one implying that he is worthy to be in the presence of God.
There is, however, a second important usage of amad, ‘stand,’ in the Old Testament. It is often used in the sense of ‘endure.’ God’s plans ‘stand firm’ (Ps 33:11), and His righteousness endures (amad) forever (Ps 111:3, 10). Indeed, God Himself endures (amad, Ps 102:26). But wickedness does not endure. The Babylonian warriors, for example, will not ‘stand,’ for the Lord will push them down (Jer 46:15).
A third usage is as a noun (עמוד) ‘ammûd, which includes the meanings “column, pillar.” Of most interest to us is that Yahweh appears to the Israelites as a permanent ‘column’ of smoke guiding them in the wilderness (Ex 13:21–22).
In light of the foregoing second and third usages, we gain greater clarity regarding Simon Magus’ astonishing claim to be the one who “stood, stands, and will stand.” This is an uncompromising claim to divinity. Of course, such a claim for a human being is unheard of in Judaism (with the notable exception of a few Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran). But I have argued in these posts that Simon Magus was not a real person of history but, rather, he was a convenient cipher, a butt for doctrinal disparagement. ‘The Standing One,’ then, is not Simon Magus the person. On its own doctrinal terms, the Standing One is the divine inside each person. As we saw in the last post, Simon Magus is said to have believed in the Hidden Indefinite Power that is unchanging and immanent in all (according to Hippolytus). That doctrine is what the heresiologists were combating—not a person.
“To stand” and baptism
It astonishes me that, despite thousands of scholars daily studying early Christianity, to my knowledge not a single one has pointed out a monumentally important and fairly elementary datum regarding Simon Magus: in the Aramaic language, the word “stand” (amad) also means “baptise.” This fact is so vital to understanding the Magus that it changes everything one can say about him. One wonders why it is I—a sometime author entirely outside the mainstream of professional Christian studies now writing an obscure blog on the Internet—why it must be me who brings this remarkable fact to light, and why I am doing it years, decades, and even centuries after the study of early Christianity began. Obviously something is very wrong with the field, one that assiduously ignores critical information like this.
The consequence is clear: Simon’s most known moniker, “the Standing One,” also means “the Baptizing One.” Further meanings in Aramaic/Syriac are intimately associated with water, particular with going down into water.
But don’t simply take my word for it. Here is J. Payne-Smith’s entry under amad as verb, in his Compendious Syriac Dictionary, p. 416:
AMaD [ayin-mem-daleth] (a) to dive, plunge, sink, set…(b) to penetrate… (c) to dip in or under water, to bathe, wash… (d) to be baptized…
In the related form amud (noun), Aramaic/Syriac mirrors the third meaning in Hebrew given above: “column, pillar, platform, meteor.” We recall that God chose the form of a column for his enduring theophany while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness.
Furthermore, we recall the second meaning given above in the Hebrew: “endure, stand firm.” This, of course, perfectly captures Simon’s doctrine of the Great Indefinite Power that is hidden, immanent, eternal, and that “stood, stands, and will stand.” This meaning of amad as “enduring” also links both Simon and the ‘Standing One” with the semantic field of “rock, stone.”
Thus, this one Hebrew/Aramaic root AMD unites in itself many disparate elements:
– “stand,” in the sense that only the Great Indefinite Power truly endures
– “baptize,” in the sense of immersion in water ( = gaining gnosis)
– “column,” in the sense of a theophany
– “meteor,” in the sense of that which endures: rock ( –> “Cephas, Peter”)
Suddenly, Simon Magus “The Standing One” potentially assumes a central position in the development of earliest Christianity. We must now wonder whether the New Testament figure of Peter was simply a friendly version of Simon Magus—a version shorn of every gnostic vestige. We can also wonder if John ‘the Baptist’ was not somehow a sanitized version of Simon Magus ‘the Standing One’—that is, ‘the Baptizing One’…
The ‘rock,’ of course, is also intimately linked to the crossing of the Jordan: at Josh 4:2 Yahweh instructs the priests to gather twelve ‘stones/rocks’ from the dry river bed in the middle of the Jordan. The scene is obviously allegorical, with the Jordan waters holding back and the priests gathering stones. Because ‘stone/rock’ is of considerable importance in early Christianity, we look at it more closely in the next post.