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October 30, 2018

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Dick Whittington

Hello Robin - ach I was a bit testy in my comments on your review of this book at amazon. I'd just been reading a few of Michael's secondary sources, realised that he had misrepresented these, and then I came down with flu. So sorry - I was unwell when I wrote. There is a shed load of things I could say about this book - especially the stuff about the ancient Gnostics, and then the Cathars, the Brethren of the Free Spirit and Kabbalism where I have checked Michael's arguments against his sources. What you say here is OK - but the scholarship of the Book in the parts I have scrutinized may be broad but it has little depth in my view.

Here is a reply I made to Michael at EU on just one tiny, but important detail he misunderstands and misrepresents. I just thought at least one person should reply here - so it is me (fairly sound scholarship skills but actually a community education teacher with dementia patients; but I stick by what I've written).

''While I think on it: you drop strong hints that Simon Magus - whom the heresioligists named ‘The Father of Heresies’ - taught universalism in a couple of footnotes in Devil’s Redemption. If that were true it would be something of a coup for you - so I’d like to unpack my thoughts about the merits of this now.
No writings of Simon have survived. Our sources about him are secondary ones (and hostile ones too): the Book of Acts, the writings of the hersiologists, specifically Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Epiphnanius (our major secondary sources for his belief system), and the biographical material about him mixed up with legend in the Pseudo Clementine literature
You rely on a work by a contemporary scholar April DeConick’s thoughts in her book, ‘The Gnostic New Age’ for your comments on Simon. I think that a perusal of the more contemporary sources would have helped you get a better picture of Simon - as I hope to show.

Yes DeConick does claim that Simon taught universalism in contrast to other Samritan sects of his time that had merely a local reach. She also claims that ‘Helen of Troy’ – the woman he had rescued from a brothel – was viewed by Simon as a symbol of degraded humanity whom Simon was setting free though his hieros-gamos (sacred marriage) to Helen.

From my readings of the herisiologists I have no issue with the factual basis of her assertions. It is at true that hostile sources tells us that these things were facts about Simon. Of course its impossible to find our whether the hostile sources are completely accurate without our finding writings by Simon himself. But even with this proviso - the same hostile sources tell us other things that give the lie to any idea that Simon taught Apokatastasis.
Yes, Irenaeus and Hippolytus write of Simon’s plan to redeem ‘humanity’, but they both also strongly suggest that the ‘divine humanity’ that Simon will manage to save consists only of those who respond to his message and carry out his rituals. Only these people – ‘those who are his’ and ‘his own particular adherents’ - are to be preserved from destruction at the dissolution of the material cosmos:
‘On this account, he pledged himself that the world should be dissolved, and that those who are his should be freed from the rule of them who made the world’. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies I, 23)

‘But, again, they speak of a dissolution of the world, for the redemption of his own particular adherents’. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 14)
And now to Epiphanius. I understand that specialists on Simon Magus think that in their attacks on Simon both Hippolytus and Epiphanius quoted directly from ‘The Great Declaration’ - a work purporting to be by him. Some scholars think this work was a forgery – but DeConick asserts that she thinks it genuinely reflects Simon’s theology. So – since I am no Simon scholar - I will have to give DeConick (who is your source) the benefit of the doubt. She certainly gives Epiphanius, a comparatively late source about Simon, an equal worth with Irenaeus and Hippolytus (which she must be doing on the basis that she thinks Epiphanius had access to ‘The Great Declaration’ I guess?).

Epiphanius completely dismantles any idea that Simon was a Universalist
‘’This man offers certain names of principalities and authorities too, and he says that there are various heavens, describes powers to go with each firmament and heaven, and gives outlandish names for them. He says that one cannot be saved unless he learns this catechism and how to offer sacrifices of this kind to the Father of all, through these principalities and authorities. This world has been defectively constructed by wicked principalities and authorities, he says. But he teaches that there is a decay and destruction of flesh, and a purification only of souls — and of these (only) if they are established in their initiation through his erroneous “knowledge ”.
(Epiphanius, Panarion 4, 2)

DeConick does not use this passage but she does paraphrase the following one from the Panarion which again puts paid to any idea that Simon believed in Universal restoration.

''He (Simon) claimed that the Law is not God’s but the law of the left hand power, and that prophets are not from a good God either, but from one power or another. And he specifies a power for each as he chooses — the Law belongs to one, David to another, Isaiah to another, Ezekiel to still another, and he attributes each particular prophet to one principality. All of these are from the power on the left and outside of the Pleroma; and whoever believes the Old Testament is subject to death’’.
(Panarion 4,5)

So Simon Magus the Samaritan, according to Epiphanius, taught that the Jewish prophets were beyond salvation because they came from ‘outside the Pleroma’ (the realm of the fullness of the Divine Mind) and that all who believed the Old Testament (worshipping the creator God and practising the Torah) are subject to death. When April DeConick paraphrases this she interprets the phrase ‘subject to death’ to mean that anyone found obeying the Torah in Simon’s communities were executed. Whether her interpretation is correct, or whether the ‘death’ spoken of is actually ‘spiritual death’, this passage strongly suggests that all practising Jews and perhaps Jewish Christians too are lost – a non-universalist idea that was later to be reiterated by Marcion.

The evidence suggests to me that it is untrue that Simon Magus was a Universalist in the strong sense of believing in universal restoration. He was a Universalist in the weak sense perhaps – he thought his message was to be proclaimed to all humanity rather than simply to the Samaritans. However, he did not envisage salvation for those who rejected his message. I rest my case on Simon.''

Bless you Robin (and I loved your book 'The Biblical Cosmos') :-)

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