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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
SIMON MAGUS . Mentioned in Acts 8:9-24 , and described as using sorcery in Samaria and thereby amazing the people. He claimed to be ‘some great one,’ and was regarded by all as ‘that power of God which is called Great.’ When Philip reached Samaria, and, preaching the gospel, gathered many into the Church, Simon also fell under the influence of his message. We are told that he ‘believed,’ which cannot mean less than that he recognized that the Evangelist exerted, in the name of Jesus Christ, powers the reality of which he could not deny, and the efficacy of which ‘amazed’ him. He therefore sought baptism, and, being baptized, continued with Philip. The Apostles Peter and John came down to Samaria to establish the work begun by Philip, and by the laying on of their hands gave the Holy Ghost to the converts. This was no doubt evidenced by the miraculous gifts which were vouchsafed by God to His Church during its early years. The shallowness of Simon’s belief was now shown, for he offered to buy from the Apostles the power of conferring the Holy Ghost. Peter rebuked him in language of such sternness as to lead him to beg of the Apostle to pray that the judgment of God might not fall upon him for his sin.
Simon holds the unenviable position of being the one outstanding heretic in the NT: and from then until now his character has been held in particular odium. Ignatius, the earliest of the Fathers, calls him ‘the firstborn of Satan’: IrenÃ¦us marks him out as the first of all heretics: and later centuries have shown their sense of the greatness of his sin by using the word simony to indicate the crime of procuring a spiritual office by purchase. Justin Martyr mentions three times in his Apology , and once in his Dialogue , a Simon as a leader of an heretical sect. He states that Gitta, a village in Samaria, was his birthplace, and speaks of him as visiting Rome, and being so successful in his magical impostures as to have secured worship for himself as God, and to have been honoured with a statue, which bore the inscription Simoni Deo Sancto (‘to Simon the Holy God’). He further mentions that ‘almost all the Samaritans, and even a few of other nations,’ worshipped him as ‘first God’ (cf. Acts 8:10 ‘this man is that power of God which is called Great’). He also adds that Helena, a fallen woman who accompanied him, was ‘the first idea generated by him.’ Justin does not specifically identify this Simon with the Simon of the Acts, but there can be no reasonable doubt that he held them to be one and the same.
There was discovered in Rome in 1574 the base of a statue bearing the inscription ‘Semoni Sanco Deo fidio sacrum Sex. Pompejus â€¦ donum dedit.’ It is therefore generally assumed’ and no doubt correctly, that Justin, being shown by the Simonians at Rome this statue of the Sabine deity Semo Sancus, was led to believe erroneously that it had been erected in honour of Simon. But this error of his regarding what had occurred in Rome need not invalidate his statements regarding Simon himself in Samaria and the progress and tenets of his sect, for he himself was a Samaritan and thus cognizant of the facts. IrenÃ¦us deals more fully with Simon and his followers, though there is good reason for assuming that he is really indebted to a lost work of Justin for his information. He directly identifies him with the Simon of Acts 8:1-40 , places him first in his list of heretics, and makes him the father of Gnosticism. From the account he gives of the doctrines of the Simonians, it is clear that by his time they had developed into a system of Gnosticism; but it is very doubtful whether he is right in making the Simon of the NT the first setter forth of Gnostic myths. The beginning of Gnosticism is very obscure, but we may be fairly certain that it had not arisen as early as the scenes described in Acts 8:1-40 . The Simonian doctrines as given by IrenÃ¦us are therefore doubtless developments of the heretical teaching of Simon, which, even from the short account in the Acts, would seem to have lent itself readily to Gnostic accretions. As time went on many fanciful additions were made to his history, until in the 4th cent. the legend reached its completeness. Throughout these romances Simon is found travelling about from place to place in constant opposition to Peter, uttering calumnies against the Apostle; but being pursued by Peter he is ultimately vanquished and discredited. The earlier forms of the story lay the scene of the travels chiefly in Asia Minor, and describe the final conflict as taking place at Antioch. The later forms, however, make Rome, in the days of Nero, the ultimate goal of the journeyings. Here Simon is said to have met his death through his conflict with Peter or with Peter and Paul. By one tradition the magician, seeing his influence waning, desired his followers to bury him in a grave, promising to rise again the third day. They obeyed, and he perished, for, as Hippolytus adds,’ he was not the Christ.’ By another tradition Simon is depicted as deciding to give to the Emperor a crowning proof of his magical powers by attempting to fly off to God. He is reported to have flown for a certain distance over Rome, but, through Peter’s prayers, to have fallen and broken his leg, and to have been ultimately stoned to death by the populace. Another form of the tradition represented Paul as a companion of Peter in the contest, and as praying while Peter adjured the demons that supported Simon in his flight, in the name of God and of Jesus Christ, to uphold him no longer. Simon thereupon fell to the earth and perished.
Renewed interest in the history of Simon was aroused in modern times by Baur’s maintaining that in the Clementine literature, where the most developed form of the legend occurs, Simon is intended to represent not the actual Simon of the Acts, but rather Paul, whom he (Baur) conceived to have been fiercely opposed theologically to Peter. Full information on this theory may be found in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iv. 523f., where its unsoundness is shown. It may be said to be now generally rejected.
It should be added that Hippolytus ascribes a work entitled ‘The Great Revelation’ to Simon, and quotes largely from it; and that the sect of the Simonians did not long survive, for Origeo states that he did not believe that there were in his day thirty of them in existence.
Charles T. P. Grierson.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Simon Magus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/s/simon-magus.html. 1909.