Resistance to Christianity

Chapter 6: Simon of Samaria and Gnostic Radicalism

Stripped of the lies and calumnies in which, like a laughable frock coat, the Judeo-Christian and Catholic traditions have clothed him, Simon of Samaria evokes the thinkers who, as much as Heraclitus or Lucretius, have irresistibly inscribed themselves in the modernity of each epoch.

A Hellenized Samaritan, born – according to the heresiologues – in the outskirts of Getta, in the course of the last years of the First Century before the Christian era, Simon was no doubt a philosopher and doctor in the manner of Paracelsus, whom he resembled in the care with which he simultaneously approached the microcosm and the macrocosm, the body of man and the totality of the world.

The few surviving fragments of his lost oeuvre suffice to suggest a radical will in the precise sense of the term: that which attaches itself to the root of beings and things. Issued from Greek rationality, his analysis undertook to return to the materia prima of the body (from which the mythical visions of the Pentateuch issued) that the Hebraic religion had snatched from the luxuriance of desires in order to transpose them – through a cathartic and castrating function – into the domain of the spirit.

A particular malediction affected the majority of the Censors. Fascinated by the works that they execrated, overwhelmed by their denatured and destructive rage, they succumbed to the need to cite extracts from the works whose existence they did not cease to deplore.

Around 230-250, the first version of a collection titled Philosophoumena e kata pason aireseon Elenchos (“Philosophoumena or Refutation of All Heresies”), abbreviated as Elenchos, began to circulate. Successively attributed to Origen and Hippolyte, the Bishop of Rome, the Elenchos probably emanated from the Christianity of the New Prophecy; it actually ranked among the heretics another Roman bishop, Callixte, who was accused of permitting the remarriage of widows and pardoning Christians who abjured – through fear of torture – things that were crimes in the eyes of the people loyal to the New Prophecy.

A chapter in this work devoted to Simon quotes extracts from his work Apophasis Megale in order to refute them, which is does with great awkwardness. (A kind of objective irony has wanted things such that the most serious study to date of Simon of Samaria comes from a Jesuit named Salles-Dabadie. Not content to publish the Greek text with an ostentatious critique, he pushed scruples as far as establishing a typographical distinction between the text of the author, the remarks of Simon, and the interpolations. The entirety illustrates quite well the treatment applied by Christian or Catholic panegyrists to the manuscripts that they transcribed. To the extracts – interpreted in accordance with the polemics of the time – were added canonical citations, which were most often multiplied by later copyists. It is thus a question of proving that the claimed heretic knew these citations, deformed them or interpreted them falsely. The canonical traditions were thus backdated.)

According to Salles-Dabadie, the Apophasis Megale “is the testimony of an archaic gnosis and not a later one.”[1]

Fragment 1 incipit offers the original title (stripped of additions): Apophasis tes megales dynameos (“Revelation of the Great Power”). Much later, the work would be cited under the title Megale Apophasis (“Great Revelation”) at the instigation of Christians or religious sects that wanted to dress the philosopher up as a prophet and call him o hestos uios, the Son of “He who holds himself upright.” (The Judeo-Christians of the Homilies of Peter would make him into an impostor, a rival of Joshua/Jesus, but, by attacking the anecdotal Simon, they were actually aiming at the “false prophet” Saul/Paul).

The meaning of the text, Simon makes clear, “will be sealed, hidden, enveloped and placed in the dwelling in which the root of all has its foundations.”[2]

“This dwelling is the man born of blood and (in whom) the Infinite Power has come to live.”[3]

The Great Power is nothing other than a fire whose nature is both hidden and apparent.

“The visible (nature) of Fire contains all visible things, those that one perceives and also those that remain unperceived due to lack of attention; the hidden (nature) of Fire contains all intelligible things, those that come to thought and those that escape us due to absence of thought.”[4]

Conscious and unconscious, Fire is the energy of life.

An eternal fire also engendered the cosmos. An unbegotten energy conferred six roots upon it: Nous and Epinoia (spirit and thought), Phone and Onome (voice and name), and Logismos and Enthymesis (reason and reflection). The Great Power is enclosed in the six roots, but only in a state of potentiality.

Does it thus remain asleep? It doesn’t accede to the unity of its perfection: “It fades and disappears, as the power to understand grammar and geometry disappears in the human soul; because the power, helped by exercise, becomes the light of beings, but without exercise (it is) only incompetence and darkness; it disappears with the man who dies, as if it had never existed.”[5]

The six roots of being inseparably participate in the individual body and the cosmos. Nous and Epinoia are male and female, the heavens and the earth, where the fruits of the macroscopic tree settle in order to reproduce themselves. Phone and Onome are the sun and the moon; and Logismos and Enthymesis, air and water.

With its equals, each element composes a unity in which the Great Power that is enclosed in them is recreated. By gathering together the elements into which it was scattered – just like Barbelo, the Judeo-Greek form of the Magna Mater, who collected in herself the sperm of all the scattered beings in order to impregnating herself with a new universe – the Megale Dynamis revealed itself as the “seventh power.” (The seventh power would become the Hebdomad in the Valentinian systems.) At the same time, it manifests the presence in the macrocosm and the microcosm of the Hestos: the one who has stood up, stands up, will stand up. (Salles-Dabadie is surprised by the bizarreness of this formula. Nevertheless, it can only translate into Greek, estosa, stanta, stesomenon, the timeless character of the Hebrew words. The principle of a man assuming his potential divinity, standing at the center of himself and the world, is, of course, the opposite of the principle that the name Joshua/Jesus expresses: God saved, saves, will save.)

The fire/energy, unbegotten, thus engendered and placed man at the heart of corporeal and cosmic matter. Simon undertook to interpret the books of the Pentateuch, the only books recognized by the Yahwehist Samaritans, as the expression of the corporeal and terrestrial reality from which he judged them to be issued.

What does the Book of Genesis mean? Paradise is the womb, Eden is the placenta, and the river that “flowed from Eden and watered Paradise” (Genesis, 2, 10) is the umbilical cord.[6]

“This is divided into four branches because, on the both sides of the cord, there are two arteries, [which are] canals of breath, and two veins, canals of blood.”[7]

“When the umbilical cord, leaving the Eden/Placenta, fixes itself in the epigastria of the fetus, at the spot commonly called the umbilicus, the two veins conduct and transport the blood since the Eden/Placenta (fixes itself) in what one calls the ‘doors of the liver’ and they nourish the fetus.

“As for the arteries, which are – as we have said – the canals of breath (pneuma), they pass along each side of the bladder in the region of the flat bone, and end up at the great spinal artery called the aorta; and thus, the pneuma passes through the ‘secret portals’ (the sigmoid valves), which are the road to the heart, and provokes embryonic movement (literally, the respiration of the fetus).

“Because the infant, as it forms itself in Paradise, doesn’t take nourishment through its mouth and doesn’t breathe through its nostrils. Plunged into liquids, it would be die on the spot if it breathed; it would breathe the liquid and would be asphyxiated. But it is entirely enveloped by the membrane called amniotic; it nourishes itself through the umbilical cord, and as I have said, it is through the means of the spinal (artery) that it receives the substance of the pneuma.”[8]

(Note that, for Simon, pneuma meant “breath of life.” The Barbelites would identify pneuma with sperma. For the Judeo-Christians, it was the Spirit, before ending up, among the Catholics, as the Holy Spirit.)

The four branches or vessels into which “the river that leaves Eden” were divided correspond to the four meanings of the fetus: sight, smell, taste, and sound. Touch only appears after the birth of the infant.

The river is what Moses called the Law, and each book addresses one of these meanings.

Genesis illustrates sight, the look that encompasses the cosmos. Crossing the Red Sea, Exodus is the road of blood that – through ordeals and bitterness – leads to the knowledge of life. There begins taste, beginning with the “bitter water” (blood) that knowledge and the Logos change into sweet water, the source of life.

Explaining the transmutation of blood into sperm, Simon cites the flower of life offered by Hermes in the Odyssey (X, 304-305): “Its root is black and its flower like milk; the gods call it moly. Mortal men find it difficult to pull up; but the gods can do anything.”

Smell and breathing are linked to the third book, Leviticus; sound to the fourth, Numbers, the rhythm of which refers to speech. Finally, Deuteronomy refers to the [sense of] touch in the newborn, who discovers the world by appropriating it. As Deuteronomy recapitulates the preceding books, touch summarizes and contains the other senses.

But this is the most important part of Simon’s doctrine: the man who, in the formation and perfection of his senses, becomes aware of the presence in himself of the Great Power, and so acquires the ability to restore and re-create it in his future.

“Like grammar and geometry, unbegotten things are in all of us, as potentialities, not as actualities. Thus, if the assistance of words and instruction intervene; if bitterness is changed to sweetness, that is to say, if lances [are changed] into scythes and swords into plowshares, we will no longer be straw and wood destined for the fire, but fully realized, perfect fruit, equal and similar to the unbegotten and infinite Power. But if one simply remains a tree that does not produce perfect fruit, the tree will be destroyed.”[9]

There exists an indissoluble relation between the microcosm of the individual body and the macrocosm. If man does not realize his nature of Fire, his original and immanent energy, “he will perish with the cosmos.” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians attributed to Saul/Paul takes an expression from Simon [I, XI, 32] that isn’t the only residual trace of Gnosticism in the writings of this enemy of James and Peter. It gives a singular credit to the Homilies in which Simon designates Paul.)

What is the nature of the Great Power from the moment that it materializes itself in an engendered being? According to Simon, fire or the eternal energetic flux is identified with the reproductive [génésique] principle, sexual force.

“Among all engendered beings, fire is the principle of the desire for creation, and it is just that the desire for shifting creation [la génération changeante] is called ‘burning.’”[10]

“Therefore fire, which is simple, undergoes two transformations: in men, the blood, which is hot and red in the image of fire, becomes sperm; while in women, this same blood becomes milk. The masculine form (of fire) becomes a reproductive [génésique] force and the feminine form becomes food for the new-born.”[11]

For Simon, there is a somatization of the Great Power: it manifests itself in the power to engender beings through desire, but also through the power of desire to engender in its turn – or, more exactly, to re-create in the unity of its scattered fragments – the Dynamis of which all life is simultaneously the effect, the immanence and the future.

Becoming aware of the permanent flux of life involves seeing in libidinal energy the source of a will capable of realizing in each person the Great Power in action, which is none other than the government of destiny. This is what the religious spirit means by the expression “to become God.” Assuredly, no [other] man in Antiquity, with the exception of Lucretius, dared to affirm so strongly the primacy of the earth over the heavens and the man of desire over the spiritualized brute.

Completing his demythologizing of Genesis, Simon explains that the fire/desire energy is the flaming sword “that spins to guard the road of the Tree of Life” (Genesis, 3, 24).

“Because blood turns into sperm and milk, this same Power becomes father and mother; the father of the beings who are engendered, nourishment of the beings who grow up. It needs nothing and is self-sufficient.

“As far as the Tree of Life, ‘guarded by the flaming and spinning sword,’ it is, as we have said, is the Seventh Power, born from itself, which contains all things and which resides in the six powers” (that is to say, the six roots).

“Because, if this sword of flames did not spin, the beautiful tree would perish and destroyed; but if it becomes semen and milk, the Logos that resides in it as potential, finding a suitable and place for it to become the Logos of Souls, will begin in a very small spark, then will grow more and more. It will grow until it becomes an infinite and immutable power, equal and similar to an immutable eon, which will no longer submit to becoming during the infinite eternity.”[12]

Thus, the amorous conjunction of man and woman, through the act of creation, realizes the incarnation of the Great Power. From its conception, with the Logos, the infant receives the spark of the Megale Dynamis. This spark will belong to it by increasing its ardor for fire and Logos – otherwise called desire and consciousness of the creative act – in order to realize in itself the eternal presence of the energy that creates and re-creates itself without beginning or ending, and that is a flux of life.

Insofar as he or she develops – through desire and its consciousness (fire and its thought) – the Megale Dynamis from which he or she has received the spark, each person is in the position to pass from the state of energy-receiver to the ability to act on it and the cosmos. Surpassing the monstrous couple formed by man and his gods, the man of the Great Power invents a universe that belongs to him completely.

Simon is a Gnostic only due to the importance that he accords to the consciousness of the energy by which each person is assured of the privilege of becoming the totality of the life that he or she carries inside.

How could he not reject the men who had created gods by debasing themselves in the idea that the Gods had created them? And how could he not be subjected to the hatred of the people for whom the spirit religiously exalts itself through scorn for the earth, the body and desire?

The first travesty of Simon was to saddle him with the reputation of being a God-Man. Justin the Apologist incorrectly affirms that a statue was erected in Rome to the glory of this philosopher. (He specifies in Chapter XXVI of his Apology that Simon was as adored as Zeus was. He speaks of a woman called “the first thought of Simon.” She was Epinoia, in whom the Nous had incarnated herself; she was symbolized by Athena in Greek philosophy. Anecdotally translated by Justin, the allegorical Epinoia became Helene, mistress of Simon, prostituted in a brothel in Tyre.) Judeo-Christian stagecraft erected Simon as a rival of another God-Man named Jesus, whose project was to destroy and diminish man [with] the energy that Simon invoked to edify and increase him.

Perhaps we must to impute to these same disciples of Simon the deification spoken about by the Christian communities that claimed James the Just and Simon-Peter for themselves, and perhaps these communities’ insistence on calling Saul/Paul by the name “Simon the Magician” suggests a kind of self-deification in which the presumed author of the Epistles identified the Great Power with the suffering and glorious Messiah, incarnated in each person. (Didn’t Paul identify himself with the Hestos, with the God living in his heart, whom he called Joshua/Jesus and as whose champion he erected himself?)

In The Name of God,[13] Fossum explains that, for the Samaritans, the Great Power, the Megale Dynamis, designated the divine name as well as the human force assumed by the divine manifestation. Although Simon removed its religious meanings in order to identify the Great Power with a flux of creative life whose spark, rekindled by love, offers to the individual the ability to create him- or herself, the dominant mindset obeyed the religious conditioning that impregnated the sects that were both close to and radically different from the Simon’s teachings, such as the Naassenes and the Barbelites, for whom sexual fusion remained within obedience to a divinity.

Simon’s other singularity concerns the primacy that he accorded to the individual person and his or her body, which was in solidarity with the cosmos. His project resided in the realization and the mastery of destiny, not in the notion of salvation that Christianity would impose for nearly two thousand years.

Simon appeared at a point of fracture. The unitary Jewish myth encountered in its decline in the desacralizing critique of Greek rationality, which was a market rationality. And in the same way that the European Renaissance saw liberty concretized in the radicalism of Paracelsus and La Boétie, the beginning of the First Century – in creators such as Simon of Samaria and Apollonius of Tyana – manifested a human presence whose memory the regression into Christian myth would suffocate until both myth and the sacred would disappear in their turn.

The teachings of Simon would not escape the regression that would impose the return to religious forms, a return whose triumph Hellenized and rationalized Judaism – purged of its orientalism – would consecrate by crowning with its spider’s web the bureaucratic empire that Rome had propagated in the world.

Simon’s influence surfaced among the Naassenes and the Barbelites. It touched Saul/Paul and Marcion, and expressed itself in certain manuscripts at Hag-Hammadi. It even penetrated into the anti-Gnostic Christianity of the New Prophecy, in which Priscilla affirmed that the Christ “visited” her and slept near her in Pepuza (the New Jerusalem): he took the form of fire and “put his Wisdom in her.”

But it is especially in the Hermetic current, which was very important in Alexandria, that the connection [with Simon] was evident, but without it being easy to determine which one came first.

“It was indeed a new conception of the world,” Annequin writes, “that theurgists such as Alexander of Abonoteichus and Apollonius of Tyana proposed.”[14]

According to a remark attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, the earth, water, air and vegetal fire compose an alchemy of a microcosmic and macrocosmic realization that Simon would not disavow: “The doors of the earth are open; the doors of the heavens are open; the road of the flowers is open. My spirit has been understood by the spirit of the heavens, by the spirit of the earth, by the spirit of the sea, and by the spirit of the flowers.”[15]

Wasn’t it against such a teaching that the Talmudists warned? “Whomever researches the four things, on what is high, what is low, what was at the beginning, what will be at the end [...], it would be better for him if he had not been born.”[16]

The gnosis of Hermes Trismegiste presents a spiritualized version of Simonian doctrine (“If you are made of Life and Light, and if you know it, you will one day return to Life and Light”). On the other hand, the tradition that is expressed in the Apocalypse of Asclepius (the 8th scripture in Codex 6 of Nag-Hammadi) belongs to the Simonian theory of the Megale Dynamis:

“If you want to see the reality of this mystery, see the marvelous image of the union (synousia) that is consummated by man and woman: once it has come to its end, the semen spurts. At that moment, the woman receives the power of the man and the man also receives the power of the woman because such is the effect (energein) of the semen.”[17]

A countercurrent to the morbidity that would be propagated by generations of Judeo-Christians, Gnostics, Marcionites, Anti-Marcionites, and Catholics, the Apocalypse of Asclepius denounced those who scorned the world and “preferred death to life.”

Inversely, it was an abstract and speculative tendency that illustrated the Poimandres, which would inspire several Gnostic cosmogonies. After the separation of the light from the darkness, a struggle between two antagonistic principles ensued. The divine entity, seduced by the image that it projected in matter, desired to unite with it. The father creator, in androgynous form, thus engendered a composite creature, half-Logos and half-Anthropos, or primordial man (Adam, according to Jewish mythology).

From his superior part, man radiates a luminous particle, ejaculated by the divinity and imprisoned in him. In the beginning, the spermatic emission of the divine power spurted. However, this panspermie is both spiritualized – the pneuma or breathe of life transcends the sperma – and identified with a fall, a cascading slide from the light into the terrestrial matrix, obscurity, chaos, and matter.

In fact, what fundamentally distinguished Simon’s teachings from those of the religious or Hermetic Gnostics is the nature of the amorous relation, a fundamental relation, exalted as a creative force or, on the contrary, burdened with guilt, tied down by the idea of downfall, mortified through renunciation, abstinence and asceticism.

Running counter to Simonian radicalism is the line that leads from brutal repression of the Esseno-Christian type to the hierogamiac rituals of the Naassenes and Barbelites, for whom ejaculated sperm nourished the divine pneuma. (Attacking the Perates, Irenaeus wrote that “they call the womb the factory of heaven and earth,” Hysteram autem fabricatorum coeli et terrae.[18] Likewise, at the end of the Second Century, the Gospel attributed to Philip called the Plerome [the Totality], the koinon, the “nuptial chamber or the “place of union.”[19]) This line even leads to magical practices. (Delatte speaks of a magic stone called the “key to the matrix,” no doubt tied to a rite of participation in the inseminating and sexual vitality that is the privilege of the Gods, which the magus hopes to appropriate like a particle of eternity.[20] Here there is a magic inherent in fetal creation: the womb forms the athanor; the transmutation of the sperm and the ovum refers to the notions of surrectio and resurrectio. The idea risked incurring the condemnation of the rabbis, according to a fragment collated by Koller: “God reserves three keys that he has not wanted to entrust to any intermediary: those to the womb, the rain, and the resurrection.”[21])

The So-Called Disciples of Simon

Because of our ignorance about the life and work of Menander, we must believe Justin the Apologist (which is hardly easy) that he was among the disciples of Simon. A Gnostic Samaritan, he taught at Antioch, where the Nazarenes enjoyed a certain influence. Irenaeus accused him of magical practices intended to vanquish the bad angels and resurrect the dead, which was a program that was vague, at the least, and did not exclude the Esseno-Christian viewpoint.

It’s the same thing with Satornilus. Irenaeus attributed to him a dualism of Samaritan type, which distinguished between El the Father, become the YHWH of the Judeans, and Elohim, his angelic cohort around whom rebels elements had created the bad world.[22] A Savior-Messiah would only come at the end of a universe yielded to the forces of evil. And here Satornilus, close to Essenism but not to Simon, advocated a strict asceticism. It seems that Satornilus conferred upon his Messiah-Savior the emblematic name Joshua/Jesus, and was among the first to do so.[23]

As far as Cerinthus, he was one of the Judeo-Christian philosophers preoccupied with the name and nature of the angelos-christos. Indications from Epiphanius of Salamis, who in the Fourth Century treated him as a false apostle, and from Irenaeus, who engaged in a polemic with the Apostle John, throw a contrario a certain light on the fundamental text much later revised as the canonical Gospel attributed to John. One knows that, at first, this text carried traces of Naassenism and belonged to Christian Gnosticism. It isn’t impossible that Cerinthus – but these are only hypotheses – was the author of a midrash that was revised many times before being placed under the name of John, and that the meaning of this midrash obeyed the syncretic will to match Naassenism with Nazarenism, the Serpent-Redeemer or NHS assuming the name of the Messiah Joshua/Jesus, himself identified with the crucified Serpent.

On the other hand, the shadow of Simon stands out more clearly upon the group founded by Carpocrates and his son Epiphanius, and upon the Gnostic Justin (not to be confused with the apologist decapitated in 165), the presumed author of the Book of Baruch, in which Genesis is analyzed in the light of the self-creation of man (the autogene). God planted the Garden of Eden by mating two unbegotten principles, Elohim and Eden, from which would be born a third principle, the most elevated, Priapus, in whom Good and Life were concentrated.

The name of the Great Power multiplied with the [number of] sects. Michel Tardieu studied the concept of Bronte, the Thunder, in the Untitled Writing (2d of Codex VI in the Nag-Hammadi Library) and showed that it is identified with the Megale Dynamis, with the Great Power that the Apocrypha of John called Ennoia, the Valentinians called Sophia, the Barbelites called Barbelo, and the Naassenes called Brimo-Demeter.[24]

The collection at Hag-Hammadi includes a hymn (NHL II, 8, 34-35), Ego eimi, which celebrates with a singular force the will of the individual to become his or her own creator in the fusion of universal forces:

“I am part of my Mother and I am the mother, I am woman, I am the virgin, I am the consoler of sadness, my spouse is he who engendered me and I am his mother and he is my father and my lord; he is my strength; what he wants, he says; in any case, I become, but I have engendered a lordly man.

[1] J. M. A., Salles-Dabadie, “Recherches sur Simon le Mage. L’Apophasis megale,” Cahiers de la Revue biblique, #10, Paris, 1969, p. 10.

[2] Ibid., p. 15.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 21.

[6] Ibid., p. 25.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., pp. 27-29.

[9] Ibid., p. 33.

[10] Ibid., p. 35.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., pp. 35-37.

[13] Fossum, op. cit., p. 160.

[14] J. Annequin, Recherches sur l’acte magique et ses representations aux 1st et 2d siècle, Paris, 1979, p. 16.

[15] Ibid., p. 17.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ménard, Les Textes de Nag-Hammadi, Leiden, 1975, pp. 127 and 128. [Translator’s note: the English translation published in The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson, revised edition (San Francisco, 1990) is as follows: “And if you (Asclepius) wish to see the reality of this mystery, then you should see the wonderful representation of the intercourse that takes place between the male and the female. For when the semen reaches the climax, it leaps forth. In that moment, the female receives the strength of the male; the male, for his part, receives the strength of the female, while the semen does this.”]

[18] Irenaeus, I, 31, 1.

[19] “Les noces spirituelles dans l’Evangile selon Philippe,” Museon, Louvain, 1974, LXXXVII, 1-2, p. 157.

[20] Delatte, Etudes sur la magie grecque, Louvain, 1914, p. 75.

[21] W. Koller, Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft, VIII, 1915, p. 229.

[22] Irenaeus, I, 24, 1-2.

[23] Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity, New York 1959, pp. 15-17.

[24] M. Tardieu, Museon, 87, 1974, p. 530.

(Published by Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2013. All footnotes by the author, except where noted.)

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