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Simon Magus


A magician of Samaria converted to Christianity by philip the deacon (Acts 8.924). The title Magus, given him in tradition, is from the Greek μάγος (a loanword from Persian) meaning an astrologer, diviner, sorcerer. While μάγος is not found in the account in Acts, Luke writes that Simon was "practising magic" (μαγεύων) and that many were "bewitched" by his "sorceries" (μαγείαις). see magic.

The conversion of Samaria was a significant development in the early Church. It marked an important step in the fulfillment of the Lord's promise, "You will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the very ends of the earth" (Acts 1.8). After the death of Stephen, which marked the beginning of a period of persecution for the Church, Philip preached the gospel to the samaritans with extraordinary success. This was impressive in view of the fact that the people of Samaria were much given over to sorcery under the leadership of a certain Simon, who had previously astounded everyone by his magical powers. Luke tells us that "Simon also himself believed, and after his baptism attached himself to Philip; and at the sight of the signs and exceedingly great miracles being wrought, he was amazed" (Acts 8.13).

When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard of Philip's success in preaching to the Samaritans, who were not regarded as belonging to the Jewish community, they sent Peter and John to them. On their arrival, "they laid hands on them, and they [the converts] received the Holy Spirit" (v. 17). When Simon saw that the Apostles had this special power, he offered Peter and John money so that they would give it to him also; they refused and judged him worthy of God's wrath (v. 20). Simon thereupon repented and asked their prayers that God might not punish him. The story of Simon's attempt to buy spiritual power has produced the word simony, traffic in sacred things.

From the NT we know nothing more of Simon Magus. Justin Martyr (2d Christian century) goes beyond the story in Acts, stating that Simon claimed to be a god and attracted many disciples in a false sect that endured until Justin's time (1 Apol. 26). After Justin, later writers, especially Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses 1.23), describe him as the founder of the Simonians, a gnostic sect, and as the archetype of heretics. Some even portray him as the Antichrist. Several legends are told of him in apocryphal literature, e.g., of his dispute with Peter and Paul before Nero, in which Simon, to prove his divinity, tries to fly to heaven but falls to his death (PseudoMarcellus).

Bibliography: É. amann, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et. al. 1:499500. g. klein, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3 6:3839.

[j. a. grassi]

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