Yeshu ha-Notsri as founder of Christianity—Pt. 15: Dositheus = John = Jesus = Simon Magus

In the preceding post I made a bold claim: the founder of Christianity, Yeshu ha-Notsri, is identical to Dositheus, the Samaritan arch-heretic. If I am accused (or lauded?) in future for being the inventor of this claim (which must appear monstrous to ordinary Christians), I accept full blame (or credit)—for I don’t believe it has been made before.

One objection that immediately arises to the above claim is that Dositheus is generally dated to the first century CE. But it is not a serious objection. The conventional dating of Dositheus depends on the dating of so many other mythical characters (see below), including John the Baptist, Simon Magus, and Jesus of Nazareth himself—all of whom have been placed in the first century by the fabulous Christian documents that come down to us. And I am not simply referring to the canonical gospels, for Dositheus does not appear in them. Rather, scholars who are acquainted with Dositheus at all know him primarily from the Pseudo-Clementine literature, where Dositheus and Simon Magus are disciples of John the Baptist and vie for leadership of the fellowship after John’s death (Hom 2.24), and where those figures have the ability to fly through the air, etc. (Hom 2.32).

While we can (and must) dismiss the miraculous and magical aspects of these accounts, we can still glean useful information from them. I here cite the pertinent passage from the Clementine Homilies in full:

     He being absent [1]in Egypt for the practice of magic, and John being killed, Dositheus desiring the leadership, [2]falsely gave out that Simon was dead, and succeeded to the seat. But Simon, returning not long after, and strenuously holding by the place as his own, when he met with Dositheus did not demand the place, knowing that a man who has attained power beyond his expectations cannot be removed from it. Wherefore with pretended friendship he gives himself for a while to the second place, under Dositheus. But taking his place after a few days among the [3]thirty fellow-disciples, he began to malign Dositheus as not delivering the instructions correctly. And this he said that he did, not through unwillingness to deliver them correctly, but through ignorance. And on one occasion, Dositheus, perceiving that this artful accusation of Simon was dissipating the opinion of him with respect to many, so that they did not think that he was [4]the Standing One, came in a rage to the usual place of meeting, and finding Simon, struck him with a staff. But it seemed to pass through the body of Simon as if he had been smoke. Thereupon Dositheus, being confounded, said to him, ‘If you are the Standing One, I also will worship you.’ Then Simon said that he was; and Dositheus, knowing that he himself was not the Standing One, fell down and worshipped; and associating himself with the twenty-nine chiefs, he raised Simon to his own place of repute; and thus, not many days after, Dositheus himself, while he (Simon) stood, fell down and died. (Cl. Hom 2.24)

– [Point 1] Beginning with the very first words of this account, we learn that Dositheus was absent “in Egypt.” This agrees with what Abu’l Fath, a millennium later, tells us about Dositheus, as cited in the preceding post: “Now the origin of Dusis was from the mixed rabble who went out with the children of Israel from the land of Egypt to Nablus.”

Nablus, we recall, is the latter day name for Shechem, the religious center of Samaria. As mentioned in the preceding post, Epiphanius also tells us that Dositheus “defected to the Samaritans and founded this sect” (Pan 13), that is, the sect of the Dosithean Samaritans.

– [2] Simon Magus is well known to Christian literature. Eusebius writes that “Nearly all the Samaritans, and a few of other nations, worship him, confessing him as the Supreme God” (Eccl. Hst. 13). In the Clementine passage above, upon his return from Egypt Dositheus usurped the leadership of Simon Magus’ fellowship, presumably setting himself up as the “Supreme God” (or megale dynamis, “great Power”). Regardless of how much of this is fiction, the Clementine account seems to provide additional evidence that Yeshu/Dositheus, upon his return from Egypt, indeed went to Samaria.

For the moment we must defer interesting questions such as “What was the pre-existing congregation that Dositheus usurped?” or “Who was this figure ‘John the Baptist’ who died just before Dositheus attempted to take over the fellowship?” However, it can be noted that—according to the above passage—John has died, but Dositheus makes out that Simon is the one who is dead. This bizzarre situation is a clue that the writer is conflating two figures, John the Baptist and Simon Magus. But, as the account continues, Simon Magus ‘comes back to life’ as it were. He wasn’t really dead. Of course, similar confusion regarding Jesus’ death also existed—Jewish texts such as the Toldoth Yeshu claim that his body was stolen away by disciples (to feign the resurrection), and to this day Muslims believe that Jesus did not really die on the cross but only appeared to do so. I mention these tangential details because they highlight the porousness, the overlapping of personae and traditions that took place already in early Christianity. Things were not nearly as definite as the textbooks today might lead us to believe!

– [3] “thirty fellow-disciples.” The number thirty (= days in the month) is lunar symbolism, in contrast to the solar symbolism of Jesus having twelve disciples. In ancient esoteric religious traditions, the moon was the great revealer, able to shine in the night/darkness of ignorance. In short, it was a symbol of gnosis, of that which is hidden in contrast to that which is manifest. We recall that the Nazarene, in Mandean (and gnostic) religion is “the revealer of secret wisdom,” and that one of the meanings of natsar (from which “Nazarene”) is “to keep secret” (BDB 666; cf. “hidden things” netsuroth at Isa 48:6).

Thus, the word nazarene is intimately involved with esoteric, lunar, and gnostic symbolism—and, apparently, also with the Samaritans, for shamar (from which “Samaritan”) is a synonym for natsar (from which “Nazarene”). Both mean (among other things) “keep, preserve,” and the Samaritans consider themselves the true keepers/preservers of the Law.

What is less known, and more apposite for our present purposes, is that the Dositheans were known in antiquity sometimes as Samaritans, sometimes as Nazarenes, and sometimes even as Mandeans. Thus, Theodore bar Konai (8th cent.) wrote that the natsraia of his time were in some places called Mandeans and in other places “followers of Dositheus.” The literature familiar to Christian scholars, however, generally pigeon-holes the Dositheans as ‘a Samaritan heresy.’ In fact, the latter is also the view that the Samaritans themselves hold.

Epiphanius exalts Dositheus by calling him the “founder of the Samaritans” (Pan 13.1.3). This incredible claim will strike us as a great exaggeration, for nobody remembers Dositheus today, and the Samaritans themselves would strenuously object to this assertion of their (heretical) origin. But Epiphanius actually goes much farther: for him “Samaritans” included many sects that we hardly consider Samaritan, including the Essenes and other baptist sects (Pan 9–13). Epiphanius writes that “the whole nation were called Samaritans” (Pan 9.1.1). All this is quite astonishing, and the chief culprit responsible for all these heresies, according to Epiphanius, was none other than Dositheus!

– [4] “the Standing One.” The Greek form is ho Estos, but the term has deep connotations going far back in religious literature. The Hebrew root is amad (ayin-mem-daleth) and it is used in Jewish scripture primarily in the sense of “standing before the Lord,” that is, being found worthy of God’s presence. Theologically, then, “the Standing One” is proven, blameless, and spiritually successful. Moses, Aaron, and Elijah all stood before the Lord.

The Standing One,” however, is a locution not found in literature before Christian times. No prior tradition applies the concept of such worthiness itself exclusively to a single person. The concept is an aberration, but it is clear that the Clementine author of the above citation understood the exclusive nature of the epithet, for Simon Magus and Dositheus vie with one another over which of them is the Standing One—implying that only one person with that title can possibly exist. It is as much an aberration as Jn 14:3, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me”—thus effectively closing off all other routes to salvation and acknowledging Jesus as the sole “Standing One.” I suspect that the Clementine author was indeed influenced by the Hellenist gospel tradition in this matter.

Esoteric gnostic traditions had much to say about “standing” which I have touched upon previously on this site. In the Book of Joshua priests stand in the middle of the Jordan River, and even the stones from that hallowed ground were worthy of religious veneration (Josh 4:9). Why the stones? Because only they can “stand” (i.e. endure) in the middle of the sacred river (of gnosis, for the gnostic traditions). Thus, standing is related to endurance, firmness, and surely linked to the name Cephas/Peter in the gospels. Jewish scripture also knows this meaning quite well, for the noun amad means “pillar,” sometimes leading the children of Israel in the desert and thus representative of God.

Quite overlooked, and yet supremely important for understanding Christian origins, is that amad, “stand,” in Aramaic also means “baptize.” I have written about this here. What this means is that “John the Baptist” = “John the Standing One.” This understanding of John has been completely suppressed since ancient times. The Pseudo-Clementines no longer recognize John in this way. He is simply “the baptist,” and the (now heretical) aspects of “standing” in water (= gnosis) were shunted off to rank heretics like Simon Magus and Dositheus.

As we are slowly discovering, however, the different strands of this riddle are resolving one into the other:
Yeshu’s name was “John.”
John was “the Baptist” and also “the Standing One” (amad = both “stand” and “baptize”)
John = Yonathan = Dositheus (“Gift of God”)
Dositheus = the Standing One = ho Estos = Simon Magus

Conclusion: Yeshu ha-Notsri = Jesus = John the Baptist = Dositheus = Simon Magus.

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About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website


Yeshu ha-Notsri as founder of Christianity—Pt. 15: Dositheus = John = Jesus = Simon Magus — 4 Comments

  1. I am intrigued by your series and look forward to further details in due course, which may also answer some questions that I have here, rather than comments.

    (a) Does the equation Yeshu ha-Notsri = Jesus = John the Baptist = Dositheus = Simon Magus imply that the Josephus story of John the Baptist is inauthentic, considering among other factors the time frame with Herod Antipas, contra the article by Peter Kirby?

    (b) Other commentators have made the equation Paul=Simon Magus. Where does your proposal leave this question?

    (c) And what is the historical reality with Apostles such as Peter, James and John? Are there real people behind these characters, or are they literary inventions of later Pauline followers or of the proto-orthodox Church?

  2. On question (a), please see my two posts beginning here: <>. On question (b), I have no firm conclusion regarding the equivalence of Paul = Simon Peter. Hermann Detering did much work on this. He was convinced of that equivalence, particularly on the basis of the relevant passages in the Pseudo-Clementine literature. Regarding your question (c), I believe that the apostles as characterized in the 4G are inventions, ancillary accoutrements to the greater invention of Jesus of Nazareth. Because the 4G date to mid-II CE, the entire cast of characters has nothing to do with the turn of the era, with Herod, Pontius Pilate, etc.

  3. He being absent [1] in Egypt for the practice of magic, and John being killed, Dositheus desiring the leadership, [2] falsely gave out that Simon was dead, and succeeded to the seat.
    I am assuming that “He being absent [1] in Egypt for the practice of magic” and “John being killed” are genitive absolutes. Main sentence is “Dositheus falsely gave out…. etc”.
    So it was Simon who was in Egypt, not Dositheus.
    It is impossible for me to check this bc I don’t have access to original language texts. (Nor for Epiphanius.)
    I’ve seen these texts – translated – 100s of times, on wiki, in discussions like this one, and “in full” on wikisource. But without original texts I can’t do anything. This is the problem with the extra-canon.

    • Thanks for your comment. Your suggestion that it was Simon, not Dositheus, who went to Egypt in this passage is, ISTM, not supported by the original texts of which two survive in Greek (Parisinus Graecus 930, and Vaticanus Ottobonianus 443. Discussion of mss at Schneemelcher 1992, II:483). A third ms, in Syriac, has been translated into English by Joseph Gebhardt [].

      One problem is that the ancient mss disagree with one another. The Syriac, for example, does not even mention “Egypt” in this passage, and Gebhardt believes the Syriac recension to be anterior to the Greek ones.

      The Greek (and subsequent Latin) version is in Migne Patrologia Graeca vol. 2, p. 91. I can’t type the Greek here for font reasons, but it is available online: You will notice that even the Greek and the Latin (side by side in columns) disagree. The Greek does not even mention Simon in the operative sentence. My Latin is not as bad as my Greek, but it seems to me that, in both recensions, Dositheus is the subject and not Simon. If you still disagree, don’t hesitate to let me know.

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