In the various accounts of this remarkableman, who has been very commonly regarded as the earliest of the heretics that troubled the Christian church, fable is so largely intermingled, that it is difficult to tell what truth there is in any thing reported of him, beyond the brief notice in the New Testament (Acts,
According to Justin Martyr (Apolog. Prima,
100.26, p. 190, ed. Hefele), the next authority in point of time, and, from his being also a Samaritan by birth, probably the next also in point of trustworthiness, Simon was a Samaritan, born in the village of Gitti or Gitthi; Γίττων
in the Genitive, as Justin and Eusebius (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 2.13
) write it, Γιτθῶν
, as Theodoret (Haeret. Fabul. Compend.
1.1) writes it. If, as some think, he is the Simon mentioned by Josephus (J. AJ 20.7.2
), he was, according to that writer, a Jew by religion and a Cyprian by birth.
The discrepancy between this statement and that already cited it has been proposed to reconcile, by the supposition that Justin's statement originated in the substitution or mistake of Γιττιεύς
, and consequently that Simon was really a native of Cittium in Cyprus.
But we are disposed to prefer the statement of Justin as it now stands, and to think that either Josephus was mistaken, or, which is more likely, that the Simon mentioned by him was a different person altogether.
According to the account in the Recognitiones
and the Clementina
of the pseudo Clemens [CLEMENS ROMANUS], which account is professedly given by Aquila, who had been a friend and disciple of Simon, the latter was the son of Antonius and Rachel, and was a native of the "vicus Gythorum," in the district of Samaria.
He is described as well versed in Greek literature and in magic; and as being vainglorious and boastful to an extraordinary degree.
According to the same very dubious authorities, he had professed himself a follower of Dositheus, an heretical teacher who first promulgated his doctrines about the time of John the Baptist's death, and who was accompanied by a female, whom he designated Luna, " the Moon," and by a chosen band of disciples, whose number, thirty, corresponded to the number of days in a lunar month. Into this chosen number, on a vacancy occurring, Simon obtained admission.
According to the Clementina
Simon had studied at. Alexandria, and both he and Dositheus had been disciples of John the Baptist.
In the same work we find also many fabulous tales about Simon ; but it is likely that the representation, which we find in this work, that Simon was first the disciple and afterwards the successor of Dositheus, as the leader of a sect, is founded on truth Comp. Origen In Matthaeum Commentar,
It alii, tract. xxvii., Contra Celsum,
lib. 1. c.57, lib. 6. c.11, Periarchon,
s. De Pricipiis,
lib. 4. c.17, ed. Delarue ; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 4.22
In the Constitutiones Apostolicae
(lib. 6. c.8) Simon is represented as a disciple of Dositheus, and as having, with the aid of a fellow-disciple, Cleobius, deprived him of his leadership.
These notices furnish nearly all that is reported of Simon previous to the time at which the deacon Philip met him at a Samaritan city, of which the name is not given, and those transactions occurred which are noticed in the New Testament (l.c.
), and which need not be repeated here.
The latter part of Simon's career appears to have been passed at Rome. Here, according to Justin Martyr (l.c.
and 100.56), he arrived in the time of Claudius, and obtained such high credit, both with senate and people, as to have been accounted a god, and to have had a statue erected to him ἐν τῷ Τίβερι ποταμῷ
, "in the river Tiber" (usually interpreted to mean, in the island formed by the division of the channel of the river), "between the two bridges," with the inscription in Latin, SIMONI DEO SANCTO.
The minuteness of Justin's description, and his distinct appeal (100.56) that the statue might be removed, render it difficult to dispute his statement; yet the fact that an inscription existed in the island of the Tiber (where it was seen and read, A. D. 1662 by Marquardus Gudius), SEMONI SANCO DEO FIDIO SACRUM, has given reason to suspect that Justin inadvertently mistook a statue of the Sabine deity, Semo Sancus or Sangus [SANCUS], to whom several inscriptions have been found, for one of Simon the Samaritan (Gruter, Inscriptiones,
vol. i. p. xcvi. No. 5, comp. 6, 7, 8, ed. Graev.). Irenaeus, who says it was reported that Claudius Caesar had erected a statue to Simon (Adv. Haeres.
lib. 1. c.20), Tertullian (Apologet.
100.13), and the other fathers, who repeat the statement, can be regarded only as re-echoing the account of Justin (see, however, Burton, Bampton Lectures,
note 42). Whether Simon ever encountered Peter after their interview in the Samaritan city, cannot be determined : it is not impossible that they may have met, and that some conference or discussion may have taken place between them. The Recognitiones
(lib. ii. &c.) and the Clementina
(Hom. iii.) give a long report of disputations between the two; but the scene is laid at Caesaraea Palaestinae (Recog.
Hom. 1.15). The Constitutiones Apostolicae
(lib. 6. c.9) also place the conference at Caesaraea.
According to the Clementina
(Homil. iv. &c.), Simon, being overcome by Peter, fled from the Apostle, who, eager to renew the contest, followed his flying opponent from town to town along the Phoenician coast.
According to an account which may be traced from Arnobius (Adv. Gentes,
2.7), through the Constitutiones Apostolicae
(ibid. and lib. 2. c.14), Cyril of Jerusalem (l.c.
), and later writers, Simon came to his death through another encounter with Peter; for, having at Rome raised himself into the air, by the aid of evil spirits, he was, at the prayer of Peter and Paul, who were then at Rome, precipitated from a great height, and died from the consequences of his fall. Whether this legend has any foundation in fact it is hard to say. Dr. Burton (Bampton Lectures,
lect. iv. p. 94, and note) attempts to get some truth out of the indubitably fabulous circumstances with which the death of Simon has been interwoven.
The ancient authorities for the history of Simon have been cited in the course of this article. Among modern writers Tillemont (Mémoires,
vol. ii. p. 35. &c), Ittigius (De Haeresiarchis,
sect. i. c. ii), Mosheim (De Rebus Christian. ante Constantinum,
saec. 1. §§ lxvi. lxvii), Burton (Bampton Lectures,
lect. iv.), Milman (Hist. of Christ.
vol. ii. p. 96, &c.).
Simon is usually reckoned the first heresiarch : but the representation is not correct, if heresy be understood, in its modern acceptation, to mean a corrupted form of Christianity; for Simon was not a Christian at all, except for a very short period, and his doctrines did not include any recognition of the claims of Jesus Christ, of whom Simon was not the disciple, but the rival. Origen is clear on this point; for, in reply to Celsus, who had confounded the Simonians with the Christians, he says (Contra Cels.
5.62), "Celsus is not aware that the Simonians by no means acknowledge Jesus to be the son of God; but they say that Simon is the power of God."
The representation has become erroneous, from the change in the meaning of the word αἵρεσις
which anciently meant "sect ;" and was applied (e.g. by Epiphanius) to the religious sects of the Jews, and the philosophical sects of the heathens, as well as to the bodies which split off from the so-called Catholic Church. (Comp. Burtoin, Bampton Lectures,
Simon appears to have written some works, the titles of which are unknown.
The author of the Constitutiones Apostolicae,
lib. 6. c.16, says that Simon and Cleobius, with their followers, forged and circulated books in the name of Christ and his disciples. Jerome (Comment. in Matt.
xxiv. ad vs. 5) gives a brief citation, and Moses Bar Cepha, a Syriac writer of the tenth century, quotes several passages from Simon. The Praefatio Arabica ad Concilium Nicaenum (Concilia,
vol. ii. col. 386, ed. Labbe) speaks of a spurious Gospel of the Simonians, or perhaps a corrupted copy of the Canonical Gospels, divided into four parts, and named after the four cardinal points of the compass. (Grabe, Spicilegium Patrum,
vol. i. p. 305, &c.; Fabric. Codex Apocryph. N. T.
vol. i. pp. 140, 377, ed. Hamb. 1719.)