(the partner of Simon Magus)

© 2006 Dr. Barbara Thiering

At a time when we are reminded once more of the influence women may wield in the political process, it will be worth looking again at the different accounts of Helena, the partner of Simon Magus. Like the major male leaders, she appears under many different pseudonyms, showing that she played a significant part. When the apocryphal sources, especially the Clementines, are taken seriously as history, instead of being dismissed as later fiction, the reason for her prominence becomes apparent.

Her personal history is given in the Clementine Homilies 2, 19-21, where she is identified with the Syrophoenician woman of Mark 7:24-30, the one who had a theological debate with Jesus. According to the Homilies, "There is amongst us one Justa, a Syro-Phoenician, by race a Canaanite, whose daughter was oppressed with a grievous disease. (... the account of the healing of her daughter by Jesus follows). She, therefore, having taken up a manner of life according to the (Jewish) law, was, with the daughter who had been healed, driven out from her home by her husband, whose sentiments were opposed to ours. But she, being faithful to her engagements, and being in affluent circumstances, remained a widow herself. And, abstaining from marriage for the sake of her daughter, she bought two boys and educated them, and had them in place of sons. And they being educated from their boyhood with Simon Magus, have learned all things concerning him."

In the Clementine Recognitions 7,32 the two boys she adopted are named as Niceta and Aquila, who with their brother Clement are central to the story told in these books. After the wreck of the ship on which their mother had taken them they were brought by pirates to Caesarea Stratonitis on the Mediterranean coast of Judea. The pirates starved and beat them, changed their names and offered them in the slave market. Niceta reports, "They sold us to a certain widow, a very honourable woman named Justa. She having bought us treated us as sons, so that she carefully educated us in Greek literature and liberal arts. And when we grew up, we also attended to philosophic studies, that we might be able to confute the Gentiles, by supporting the doctrines of the divine religion by philosophic disputations. But we adhered, for friendship's sake, and boyish companionship, to one Simon, a magician, who was educated along with us, so that we were almost deceived by him."

Both records report that they were subsequently warned against Simon, and turned to Zacchaeus, a colleague of Peter. Zacchaeus appears in Luke's gospel as the man who climbed up the sycamore tree (Luke 19:2-10).

One of Helena's many pseudonyms was Martha, the "sister" of Simon Magus, who was Lazarus. Jesus also had a discussion on theological matters with Martha (John 11: 21-27). Martha and Mary Magdalene belong together as the wives of Simon and Jesus, who were the Priest and the King respectively in a party aiming to come into power. Another name for Helena is Sapphira, associated with Simon as Ananias in Acts 5:1-11. She was also the "daughter" of Herodias, who asked for the "head"(papal crown) of John the Baptist in Mark 6:21-29.

The account of Simon's love affair with Helena is given in both books, Recognitions 2, 8-12, and Homilies 2, 23-25. In the time of John the Baptist she was one of his 30 disciples, being called Luna, the Moon, according to the number of days of the lunar month. (Actually 29 1/2 days on average, and this was said to be in accordance with the fact that a woman was half a man.) Since it is now apparent that the Baptist was the descendant of the Zadokites who followed the solar calendar, and it is known also that the lunisolar calendar of the Mishmarot was derived from it with the addition of the moon's phases, it would follow that the title of the Zadokite was the Sun, and that of a woman leader was the Moon. According to Jubilees 6:36 the moon was female, and corrupted the times, because she advanced the year by 10 days. The moon's year was 354 days, whereas the solarist's year was 364 days. In the organization of ministry, a woman being uncircumcised was suitable to teach and baptize uncircumcised Gentiles, so was necessary after Gentiles were admitted.

This indicates that Helena already had a form of ministry at the top of the mission hierarchy. After the Baptist's death there was a struggle over the succession, which Simon eventually won, thus becoming the Sun. During the struggle with his rival, Dositheus, Simon "fell in love with that woman whom they call Luna. He confided all things to us as his friends: how he was a magician, and how he loved Luna, and how, being desirous of glory, he was unwilling to enjoy her ingloriously...yet so if we also would conspire with him towards the accomplishment of his desires. And he promised that, as a reward of this service, he would cause us to be invested with the highest honours."

"Therefore, after the death of Dositheus, Simon took Luna to himself; and with her he still goes about...deceiving multitudes, and asserting that he himself is a certain power which is above God the Creator, while Luna, who is with him, has been brought down from the higher heavens, and that she is Wisdom, the mother of all things, for whom the Greeks and barbarians contending were able in some measure to see an image of her."

Simon claimed, then, that Helena was a reincarnation of Helen of Troy. The connection was taken up by Christopher Marlowe (16th century) in his play Doctor Faustus, with the famous line "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, and burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" The name of Faust for Simon Magus also comes from the Clementines, in the episode where Simon took on the identity of Faustus, the father of Niceta and Aquila. "We were amazed when we looked at him: for we saw the form of Simon, but heard the voice of our father Faustus" (Homilies 20, 12).

The church historian Eusebius, in his hostile account of Simon on the Tiber Island in Rome, writes "They say that a certain Helena, who travelled about with him at that time but had formerly lived in a house of ill-fame in Tyre of Phoenicia, was the first Idea from him" ( Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2, XIII, 4). Phoenicia contained the ancestral territory of the tribe of Asher. The ascetic order of Asher had been set up for women by Queen Salome in the early 1st century BC, and it was later the one to which some Gentiles were admitted. The name Salome was a title for its head, and was subsequently conferred on Helena. She is the Salome who was the mother of James and John sons of Zebedee, who were Niceta and Aquila under their Jewish names. She was one of the women at the cross. This is seen when Matthew 20:20 and Matthew 27:56 is read with Mark 16:1. Luke 24:10 calls her Joanna, who is introduced also in Luke 8:3. In John 19:25 she is the "sister" of Mary Mother. The apparent difficulty of reconciling these names gives the surface impression of uncontrolled tradition - as was intended for the "babes" - but it is set up as a puzzle for the pesharist who knows the organizational system and the place in it of women leaders.

The fact that Eusebius presents her as a whore is also very much part of the history. As has been shown in the story of the Prodigal Son, Glaphyra the wife of Archelaus Herod was an immoral woman who led Theudas the Prodigal Son astray. He had used mission funds for the militant purposes espoused by Archelaus with Glaphyra. He had "wasted his living with harlots" (Luke 15:30). Subsequently, the successor of Helena in her office confirmed the association of Herodian sexual licence with the Chief Woman.

A sketch of her successor Bernice would be in place, showing how she continued and confirmed the role of the Scarlet Woman that had been applied to Helena because of her aspirations to priesthood and the office of cardinal.

Bernice sister of Agrippa II

Josephus described Bernice as a profligate, yet a heroine in the final war (Antiquities 20, 104; 143; 145-146 ; Jewish War 2, 312; 336-407 ). In the Book of Revelation, she figures as another Jezebel (Revelation 2:19-29) and the Scarlet Woman (Revelation 17:3-6), symbolizing the evil of Rome. It is interesting that the really scandalous part of her history, when she became the mistress of Titus the conqueror of Jerusalem and future emperor, on her way to becoming empress of Rome, is tactfully not mentioned by Josephus, although his Life was written after that date and he was in close touch with her brother. It is known from the Roman writer Dio Cassius.

Born in September AD 27 as the twin of the crown prince Agrippa, it was taken for granted that she would be used for political alliances by her father Agrippa I. By the age of 15 she had been married, to the son of the Egyptian alabarch, and widowed at his death. At the age of 16 she was given by her father to his own brother, her uncle, Herod of Chalcis. The Herods had no objection to niece marriage in order to keep power in the family. Herod the Great was condemned for the practice in the Temple Scroll ( 66:15). Herod of Chalcis was in middle age, having been previously married. Bernice had two sons with him.

Herod of Chalcis died in AD 48 or 49, and thereafter Bernice lived "for a long time"' as a widow. During this period it is noted that she bore malice towards her younger sister Drusilla because of Drusilla's beauty. It was in this period also that the report gained currency that she had committed incest with her brother. To cover her reputation, "she induced Polemo king of Cilicia to be circumcised and to take her in marriage .. . Polemo was prevailed upon chiefly on account of her wealth. The marriage did not, however, last long, for Bernice, out of licentiousness, according to report, deserted Polemo."

She appears again in the final war. Since Agrippa II never married, she acted as queen consort, and was called the "queen" It is in this role that she and Agrippa appear together in Acts 25:13. Her brother's timidity made him shrink from confrontation with the oppressive governor Gessius Florus, who in AD 66 "fanned the flames of war"'. But Bernice boldly faced him, expressing the feelings of Jewish soldiers whom he had cruelly treated. He refused to listen to her, and turned his soldiers loose on her, forcing her to take refuge in the palace in Jerusalem. At the time she was under a Nazirite vow, vowing abstention from wine, after shaving her head. She came barefoot before the Roman tribunal and made supplication to Florus. It had little effect, the revolutionaries being again put down. As the conflict continued, Agrippa summoned the people to a part of Jerusalem overlooked by the palace of the Hasmoneans. He placed Bernice in a commanding position on the roof, and delivered a long speech, one point of which was that God was on the side of the Romans. He and his sister both burst into tears, trying to persuade the people to pay their taxes to Rome, thus pacifying the governor. But the revolutionaries paid little respect to Agrippa, and he was forced to retreat.

She remained politically active during the next few years, influencing her brother in decisions. In AD 67 Vespasian arrived to conduct the war, and was replaced for its final stage by his son Titus. The story of Bernice then becomes intertwined with that of Titus. According to Dio Cassius (Epitomes, Books 65,66), in AD 75 "Bernice was at the very height of her power and consequently came to Rome along with her brother Agrippa ...she dwelt in the palace, cohabiting with Titus. She expected to marry him and was already behaving in every respect as if she were his wife; but when he perceived that the Romans were displeased with the situation, he sent her away. For, in addition to all the other talk there was, certain sophists of the Cynic school managed somehow to slip into the city ... and first Diogenes, entering the theatre when it was full, denounced the pair in a long, abusive speech, for which he was flogged; and after him Heras, expecting no harsher punishment, gave vent to many useless yelpings in true Cynic fashion, and for this was beheaded." (65, 15, 4-5). When Titus succeeded his father as emperor, Bernice came to Rome again, but he sent her away (66, 8, 1).

Bernice was the Scarlet Woman of Rev 17, the Great Harlot. The original mission to the Diaspora, whose income was owned by the Herod family, had been attractive to Gentiles partly because of its strict ethical standard, in marked contrast to the licentiousness of Roman society. When it split in AD 44 between Christians and the following of Simon Magus, the ethical emphasis remained important for the Christians, but Simon's party became associated with every kind of immorality, financial fraud and a sexual double standard. In the internal politics, the house of Agrippa went with the Christians while Bernice's house followed Magian ways. From the point of view of the writer of Rev 17, she was no better than the immoral pagan Rome that the Christians had set out to reform, and she would fall with the anticipated fall of Rome.

The woman was "clothed in purple and scarlet", and was "sitting on a scarlet beast". The Beast 666 of Revelation is Simon Magus, not an emperor. There is a play on Hebrew letters, consistent with a great deal of such letter play in the hierarchical system. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet both because she was royal, and at the same time claimed the position of archbishop-cardinal, using the colours of the levitical priests. These forms of ministry had existed even before the Christian period, as part of the hierarchical system. Men could wear such colours, and Bernice following Helena, stemming back to the queen regnant Salome, wanted the priesthood of women.

The history also gives accounts of the less colorful women who were honored in Christian tradition. We will come to them alternately with their male counterparts.


Helena (first mentioned in Clementine Homilies 2, 23)


a) Clementines in Anti-Nicene Fathers.
Clementine Homilies 2, 19-25
Recognitions of Clement 7:32

b) Josephus
Antiquities 20, 104
Antiquities 20, 142-143
Antiquities 20, 145-146
Wars of the Jews 2,312
Wars of the Jews 2, 402-404

c) Dio Cassius
Roman History 65, 15:3-4 & Roman History 66, 8:1
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