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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Simon MacCabaeus

surnamed Thossi, son of Mattathias, and brother of Judas and Jonathan. He was chief prince and pontiff of the Jews from A.M. 3860 to 3869, and was succeeded by John Hyrcanus. For the particulars of his life and transactions, see 1Ma_2:65; 1Ma_5:17; 1Ma_10:74-82; 1Ma_12:33 , &c; 1Ma_13:1 , &c; 1Ma_14:4 , &c; 1Ma_15:1 . &c.

2. SIMON, the Canaanite, an Apostle of Jesus Christ. It is doubtful whether the name of Canaanite was derived to him from the city Cana in Galilee, or whether it should not be taken according to its signification in the Hebrew, by deriving it from the root kana, "to be zealous," and this is the opinion of some learned men. See Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 , where he is surnamed Zelotes; see also Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18 .

3. SIMON, brother of our Lord, Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; that is to say, his cousin-german, being son of Mary, sister to the holy virgin. He is thought to be the same with Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, and son of Cleopas.

4. SIMON MAGUS. Of this heretic, or rather father of heresy, Dr. Burton gives the following account:—Justin Martyr, about A.D. 140, presented a defence of Christianity to the emperor Antoninus Pius, in which he mentions, as a well known fact, that Simon, a native of Gittum, a village in Samaria, came to Rome in the reign of Claudius, was looked upon there as a god, and had a statue erected to him, with a Latin inscription, in the river Tiber, between the two bridges. Justin adds, that nearly all the Samaritans, and a few also in other nations, acknowledged and worshipped him as the supreme God. There is in this passage such a minute detail, such a confident appeal to the emperor's own knowledge of what the apologist was saying, that we can hardly suppose the story to be false, when not only the emperor, but every person in Rome would have been able to detect it. I would observe, also, that Justin Martyr was himself a native of Samaria; hence he was able to name the very place where Simon was born; and when he says, in his second defence, which was presented a few years later, "I have despised the impious and false doctrine of Simon which is in my country;" when we see the shame which he felt at the name of Christian being assumed by the followers of that impostor; we can never believe that he would have countenanced the story, if the truth of it had not been notorious, much less would he have given to his own country the disgrace of originating the evil. Simon Magus was a native of Gittum, a town in Samaria; and it is stated in a suspicious document of ancient though doubtful date, that he studied for some time at Alexandria. Concerning the time of his birth, and of his first rising into notice, little can now be known. The only contemporary document which mentions him is the Acts of the Apostles; and we there read, that, when Philip the deacon preached the Gospel in Samaria after the death of Stephen, "there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one; to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries," Acts 8:9-11 . According to my calculation, the death of Stephen happened in the same year with the crucifixion of our Lord; and it appears from the passage now quoted, that Simon's celebrity had begun some time before. We are then told that "Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done," Acts 8:13 . I need not mention how he shortly fell away from the faith which he had embraced, and how St. Peter rebuked him for thinking that the gift of God might be purchased for money, Acts 8:20; but I would observe that some of those persons who insist upon the fact that Simon was not a Christian appear to have forgotten that he was actually baptized. For a time, at least, he believed in Jesus Christ; and part of this belief he appears always to have retained; that is, he always believed that Jesus Christ was a being more than human, who came from God. If these events happened, as I have supposed, within a short time of our Lord's ascension, the fathers had good reason to call Simon Magus the parent of all heresies; for he must then have been among the first persons, beyond the limits of Jerusalem, who embraced the Gospel; and we might hope that there was no one before him who perverted the faith which he had professed.

From the detailed account which we have of Simon in the Acts of the Apostles, I should be inclined to infer these two things:

1. That St. Luke knew no earlier instance of apostasy from the Gospel; and he mentions this because it was the first: and

2. That when St. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles the heresy of Simon was widely spread; and therefore he tells his readers how it had begun. Concerning the remainder of Simon's life we know little, and in that little it is difficult to separate truth from fiction. I should be inclined, for the reasons given above, to believe the account of Justin Martyr, who says that Simon Magus went to Rome in the reign of Claudius, and attracted numerous followers. Eusebius quotes this passage of Justin Martyr; but he adds, upon some other authority, which he does not name, that St. Peter came to Rome at the same time; and that, in consequence of his preaching, the popularity of the impostor was entirely destroyed. This would be a most interesting and important fact, if we were certain of its being true; but Eusebius contradicts himself in his account of Simon Magus going to Rome; and later writers have so embellished the story of this meeting, and made the death of Simon so astonishingly miraculous, that criticism is at a loss to know what to believe. The account which we have of Simon's death is, in a few words, as follows: St. Peter and St. Paul being both at Rome, Simon Magus gave out that he was Christ; and, in proof of his assertion, he undertook to raise himself aloft into the air. The attempt at first appeared as if it would succeed; but the two Apostles addressing themselves in prayer to God, the impostor fell to the ground, and his death ensued shortly after. It is difficult to give this marvellous narration, without forgetting that we are treating of a grave and sacred subject; and the question for us to consider is, whether we are to look upon the whole as a fiction, or whether, as is most probable, it contains a basis and groundwork of truth. I must observe, in the first place, that Arnobius, who did not write till the fourth century, is the first person who says any thing of Simon's death at all approaching to this story; nor does he by any means give it all the particulars which later writers have supplied. It will be observed, also, that Eusebius, who wrote after Arnobius, does not say any thing of Simon's extraordinary end; but merely states that his credit and influence were extinguished, as soon as St. Peter began to preach in Rome. It is probable, therefore, that no Greek writer before the time of Eusebius, had mentioned this story; but, on the other hand, there is such a host of evidence, that the death of Simon Magus was in some way or other connected with the presence of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, that we might be carrying our skepticism too far if we rejected it.

With respect to the doctrines of Simon Magus, we know for certain that Christ held a conspicuous place in the philosophy which he taught; but to define with accuracy the various points of this philosophy, is a difficult, if not impossible, task. The fathers perhaps may be suspected of laying too many impieties to the charge of this heretic; and some of their accounts cannot be reconciled with each other. Still, however, we may extract from their writings an outline of the truth; and in this instance, as before, I would attach particular weight to the authority of Justin Martyr. That writer says that nearly all the inhabitants of Samaria, and a few persons in other countries, acknowledged and worshipped Simon Magus as the first or supreme God; and in another place he says that they styled him God, above all dominion and authority and power. Later writers have increased the blasphemy of this doctrine, and said that Simon declared himself to the Samaritans as the Father, to the Jews as the Son, and to the rest of the world as the Holy Ghost. But I cannot bring myself to believe that he ever advanced so far in wickedness or absurdity. The true state of the case may perhaps be collected from the words of St. Luke, who tells us that Simon gave himself out to be "some great one," and that the people said of him, "This man is the great power of God," Acts 8:10 . Such is the title which he bore before he had heard of Christ; and there is no reason to think that he afterward raised his pretensions, and identified himself with God. He gave himself out as "the great power of God," that is, a person in whom divine power resided: and, after he had heard the Apostles, he seems to have so far enlarged his doctrine, as to have said, that the God whose minister he was, and who had always been worshipped in Samaria, had revealed himself to the Jews by his Son, and to the rest of the world by the Holy Ghost. There is reason to believe that he declared himself to be the Christ who appeared to the Jews; or rather, he said that the same spirit which descended upon Jesus had descended afterward upon himself; for he did not believe that Jesus had a real body, but he taught that he was only a phantom. To this he added, that the Holy Ghost, by which God was revealed to the Gentiles, resided in himself: and this I take to be the real origin of the story, that he was the God who revealed himself as the Father to the Samaritans, as the Son to the Jews, and as the Holy Ghost to the rest of the world.

Another charge, which is equally difficult to believe, relates to a female companion, whom he is said to have declared to be the first idea, or conception, which he, as God, put forth from his mind. By another mental process, in which this first idea was a partner, he produced the angels, and they created the world. All this was highly mystical, and writers have had recourse to different allegories, by which the absurdity may be explained. That Simon never identified a real living person with an idea emanating from the mind of God, may, I think, be assumed as certain. But we see, in this story, evident traces of the Gnostic doctrines. Valentinus, in the second century, made the first cause, or Bythus, act upon Σιγη , or ‘Εννοια , that is, upon his own mind, and produce the first pair of aeons. This then was the doctrine of Simon: the supreme God, by a mental process, produced different orders of angels, and they created the world. It was this same God, whose first or principal power resided in Simon Magus. But when later writers had said that he actually proclaimed himself as God, it followed that it was he, who, by an operation of his own mind, produced the angels. If I have argued rightly, I have freed the doctrine of Simon Magus from some of its impieties; but there is still much which is absurd, and much which is impious; for he believed that the world was created, not by the supreme God, but by inferior beings: he taught also, that Christ was one of those successive generations of aeons which were derived from God; not the aeon which created the world; but he was sent from God to rescue mankind from the tyranny of the demiurgus, or creative aeon.

Simon was also inventor of the strange notion, that the Jesus who was said to be born and crucified had not a material body, but was only a phantom. His other doctrines were, that the writers of the Old Testament were not inspired by the supreme God, the Fountain of good, but by those inferior beings who created the world, and who were the authors of evil. He denied a general resurrection; and the lives of himself and his followers are said to have been a continued course of impure and vicious conduct.

Such was the doctrine and the practice of Simon Magus, from whom all the pseudo-Christian or Gnostic heresies were said to be derived. Simon himself seems to have been one of those Jews who, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, travelled about the country, exorcising evil spirits. But he was also a man of speculative mind; and, having studied the doctrines of Plato, he entered into the questions which were then so commonly agitated, concerning the eternity of matter, and the origin of evil. Hence we find him embracing the opinion, that the world was created by angels, who were themselves produced from God. This was a corrupted Platonism. Plato imagined that the ideas which were in the mind of the Deity created intellectual beings: Simon taught that the supreme God by an operation of his own mind produced the angels. The first intelligences of Plato were employed by God to create the world: Simon also taught that the angels, or aeons, created the world; but in one respect the Gnostics had totally changed the philosophy of Plato; for they taught that the angel, or angels, who created the world, acted contrary to the wishes of the Supreme God.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Simon MacCabaeus'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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