These are the books I have found most useful in researching Simon and his world.
(~62) The first known mention of Simon is in Acts 8:5-24, which describes a Samarian Magician who is worshipped in Samaria as the Great Power of God. Whe the apostles arrive, he is baptized and offers to buy the Holy Spirit from Peter, who spurns him with righteous indignation. He then disappears from history, only to be revived with a vengeance by…
(~130 – 325) …, who elaborated on the character of Simon by identifying him with the father of all heresies:
- Justin Martyr said Simon had gone to Rome and deceived the inhabitants with his powerful magic, so that they worshipped him as a God and even erected a statue to him and his prostitute mistress (it was actually to Roman God Semo Sancus).
- Irenaeus of Lyon says he was the author of a peculiar heresy, according to which he was the supreme power and his companion his divine wisdom. He had come to Earth to rescue her from the wicked angels who had made the world and cast her down to ignomity, and now offered divine grace and freedom from all divine and human laws to anyone who worshipped him. He went to Rome and was worshipped as a God there, and his cult yet plagued the faithful.
- Hippolytus, in his encyclopaedic description of contemporary heresies, quotes extensively from Simon’s aeonology The Great Announcement, which mixes Jewish/Samaritan and Greek esoteric concepts with strange anatomical allegories.
- In the Clementine Homilies/Recognitions, someone who was probably not St. Clement presents two variations on the same story: a series of debates between Simon and his sworn enemy St. Peter, consisting mainly of Simon presenting detailed criticisms of Christian doctrine and Peter countering with lame, convoluted and often downright heretical rebuttals. Notable for the first appearance in literature of the Faustus character, as the author’s father who is duped into Simon’s evil cult and ends up wearing Simon’s face. Simon’s background is expanded upon, and we learn he was part of the cult of John the Baptist, which he took over and perverted to his own ends. Some say the Jewish-Christian author intended the character of Simon as a satire on Paul and his supposed pagan influnces.
- The Acts of Peter and other apocryphal fanfiction elaborates on Simon’s conflict with the saints in thrilling magical contests, ending with his flight through the skies of Rome and epic downfall.
(~180) The original Fodor’s Guide to the Hellenic world of the 2nd century, giving the armchair traveller a detailed description of every temple, shrine and statue of the local Olympic boxing champion, along with lengthy digressions on the history and mythology of the area.
(1892) An excellent overview (pre-Nag Hammadi) of all the original sources and legends regarding Simon Magus, along with the few Gnostic documents discovered to that point, from a theosophical point of view.
(1897) Stoddard was a world traveller who gave very popular lectures all over North America. Of the 10 volumes of his published lectures, this one provided a good account of some of the locales known to Simon, especially Jerusalem and Alexandria, at a time when the past was very much alive.
(1905) The conflicting political, economic and spiritual forces in the Roman Empire. Most interesting for its descriptions of the philosophies of the day, especially Stoicism and Epicureanism, with so much in common with, yet so alien to, Christianity.
(1930) This very useful book pulls together all the conflicting influences that resulted in the Church’s dominance of the later ancient world: Jewish religion, Hellenic philosophy, Egyptian mysticism, pagan mythology; oh yes, and a couple of preachers from Galilee and Tarsus too. Simon will encounter all of them, some more intimately than others. (For Professor Scott, of course, it’s not historical forces and serendipity, but the will of God working through all these different elements to create a new divine order for humanity, a creation which continues to unfold to this day. Not entirely successfully, mind you: heathens, heretics and Catholics still cling to the errors of the past, but there is yet hope that all people may some day come around to the essence of Christianity as espoused at the Union Theological Seminary, New York.)
(1934/36) An amazing 2-volume description of Morton’s retracing of all the essential routes and sites mentioned in the Gospels and Acts of the New Testament. Like Stoddard, he wrote at a time where life for the average dweller in those lands had changed very little since Biblical times (though the modern world was rapidly encroaching), and he is able to view the meaning of the texts in their actual context. For example, when an Arab shepherd, whose flock has become intermingled with another, gives a distinctive call, all his sheep immediately run to him, and Morton remembers John 10:3, where Jesus describes exactly the same event as representing the relationship between God and his people. A must-read for anyone setting fiction in that time and place.
(1936) I actually bought this on a trip to Cairo, so was able to get the full benefit of content and atmosphere. Like Simon, Brunton explored Egypt in search of ancient mysteries and the interesting characters who held them. I have put a couple into, and stolen the title for, Volume I of The Acts.
In the former (1955), Graves provides a detailed account of the entire span of Greek mythology, interspersed with his own peculiar interpretations of their meanings and origins. In The White Goddess (1948) the peculiarities take over, as he attempts to use his immense mythographical knowledge to link all the religions and cultures of ancient Europe into a single coherent system. Mostly bullshit, of course, but grand bullshit, and an inspiration to one trying to make sense of the conflicting social and religious influences prevalent in Simon’s time.
(1958) A detailed account of the discovery and contents of the 4th-century Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Its many alternative gospels and phantasmagorical allegories represent 300 years building on Simon’s Great Announcement, which established the basic mythos for this strange alternative Christianity.
(1971) Not, you say, obviously connected to Simon and his world? Wait till Volume 3.
(1973) A very informative account of a thriving pre-capitalist globalized society, based not (as Simon learns to his cost) on growth and innovation, but on status, slavery, and economic and social stability.
(1979) A good overview of the legends surrounding Simon and his effect on the early Church. In fact I first consciously encountered Simon in this interesting book by one of the original discoverers of the Scrolls. Allegro is notorious for his identification of pretty well all early religious experience with the effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms, but he downplays that here in favour of speculations about the identity of the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, and his notion that the Gospels are simply a distorted version of the Teacher’s earlier story. Naturally The Acts of Simon will clear up any confusion and reveal the truth behind the tales.
(1984) The cover blurb says it all: "Ancient esoteric texts, including Jewish Pseudepigraphia, Christian Apocrypha, Gnostic Scriptures, Kabbalah, Dead Sea Scrolls". A rich source of Simoniana, along with supplementary materials and little-known facts about Biblical characters. For example, before I read this, I didn’t know that Jesus sold his twin brother Thomas into slavery to an Indian king, where he originated the story of the Emperor’s new clothes (palace in this case). Endless fun.
(1985) Subtitled "Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds", a collection of original documents and commentaries on all aspects of that topic. Witchcraft, demonology, divination, miracles: Simon is well versed in all of these. So why does he resort to conjuring and trickery?
(1989) A good overview of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic library and the conflict between Christianity and Gnosticism in the first few four centuries AD; how the esoteric and personal Gnostic revelations were suppressed by the need for a simple myth set firmly in history to give order to a new political and social structure.
(1991) As Helena, the subject of this fascinating book is a major character in the Acts. Matthews traces her many manifestations and incarnations, from prehistoric Earth to avenging Black Goddess to bride and mother of God. After her most recent fall from grace, Simon meets her in a low dive indeed, but by the end of the story she will rise higher than ever.
(2004) Like many skeptical critics in recent centuries, Harpur traces the Christian story to pagan mythological roots, with the early Church assimilating all the useful elements of earlier mythology into a new synthesis to replace all the rest. Harpur is no skeptic, though, believing that while the myths may be lies, they express a fundamental spiritual truth which must be rediscovered and redefined in each generation. He starts his quest as a Christian and ends up a Gnostic; Simon would approve.
(2005) A documentary based on rogue theologian Price’s many writings debunking the Christian myth. Unlike Harpur, Price has moved all the way to atheist in his denial of the existence of the historical Christ. In more recent writings, he identifies Simon with St. Paul. (I have chosen to keep both Jesus and Paul as characters, just because they are so interesting in their own right.)
(2005) An indispensible, and almost overwhelming, compilation of all the legends surrounding Simon from the earliest reference in Acts to the late Middle Ages, tracing their influence on the development of the Church (and even popular conceptions of Islam), along with portrayals of Simon’s battles with the Apostles in artwork throughout the period.
A very useful website featuring recorded lectures and interviews with experts on various aspects of Gnosticism, past & present.
In younger days I was a fan of science fiction and fantasy, as well as strangely drawn to religion in all its weird and wonderful forms. I like things that are old (even if they’re new) and reflect a different time, when people lived life based on totally different assumptions from our own. I confess I have not read much of modern fantasy, maybe just because it is modern? The show Mad Men is fascinating because even though it is of an era within memory of many still alive (including me), it deliberately portrays a mindframe in many ways as alien to us now as first-century Rome (or so we tell ourselves). In telling Simon’s tale, I have tried to show people as both quite different from us and exactly the same.
(61) A lurid account of the Roman Civil Wars that ended with the accession of Julius Caesar, by a nephew of the Stoic philosopher Seneca. I have stolen Lucan’s description of the horrible witch Erictho’s necromantic escapades for A Search in Secret Egypt, but Simon will repay that debt in a later volume.
(~90?)This biting description of Roman society and its grotesque citizenry is unequalled in its perceptiveness and downright nastiness. When Simon arrives in the capital, can even he thrive in such a place?
(165?) The adventures of a man turned into a donkey by witchcraft, only to be saved by the mysterious intervention of the goddess Isis.
(1885) I recently reread Huckleberry Finn after 50 years and was surprised at how much of it had made its way into The Acts. See here for more on Huck & Simon.
A master stylist of the bizarre and fantastic.
(1923) A major influence on The Acts. Lovecraft was a man both of and not of his time, and I suppose I can empathize. His mythology also has much in common with Simon’s Gnosticism, specifically the idea that the universe is ruled by malevolent monsters whose attention is best unsought. I’ve never felt that way myself, and nor does Lovecraft really, but the climactic scene of A Search in Secret Egypt will confirm it for you Cthulhians out there.
(1966) A favourite of my youth. Simon turns out to share many characteristics with Vance’s picaresque antihero Cugel the Clever, swindling his way through the last days of the Dying Earth. Vance’s wit and style, combined with his fantastical locales, have been a constant inspiration in my writing; hopefully I can live up to it.
Yes, I know I said that all tales are true, but in researching a story like The Acts, one is bound to come across materials that would stretch the credulity of even a true believer like Simon. Here are some of the oddest:
(1920) Some kind of esoteric alternate translation of the Epistles of St. Paul, reinterpreting early Christianity as basically a Hebraized Greek mystery cult.
(1907) A detailed description of the Lost Years of Jesus, including his travels to Greece, Persia, India and Tibet; what he learned there, and what he taught the holy men of those lands. Interesting, but Simon’s description of those years is rather different, and I must trust him. Perhaps the author was thinking of Simon’s father Adonis, who may or may not have travelled to those distant lands in Caesar’s service.
(1982) A wonderful fraud, based on forged documents cooked up by rogue French historians in the 1950s, and worthy of the Magus himself. You know the spiel: Jesus married Mary Magdalene and founded the French Merovingian dynasty, and the Holy Grail is his DNA. The subject of too many books and movies in recent years, plus Simon has a Grail tale that beats any in that book.
(1993) As with Graves, Thiering’s fanciful reconstructions of New Testament characters and events are basically nonsense (i.e., conflicting outright with The Acts of Simon Magus as revealed to myself directly by its author), but her Talmudic Pesher technique has been invaluable to this writer. This involves meditating upon the original texts and letting your imagination go nuts… sorry, I mean discovering secret connections suppressed for millennia by sinister ecclesiastical authorities!
(1992) In short, Osman asserts that Moses was really the heretic Pharaoh Akhnaten, and Jesus Christ was really his son King Tut. As often in books of this kind, he lays out his ideas clearly and logically, but I may give this particular interpretation a pass. What do you think, Simon? He says we’ll see.