Month: March 2015

St. Apollonius Magus: The Case of Apollonius’ Identity Crisis


Apollonius of Tyana (a city south of Turkey) was considered among the most remarkable of a slew of magician messiahs and daemonic philosophers in the area of Asia Minor. His life, unfortunately, has been written by believers in his pretensions as we have no secular record of him, much like how there is no reliable secular record of Jesus Christ existing. Outside the gospels, there are only four early historical references to Jesus. They are found in the works of the Jewish historian, Josephus, the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, and in the letters of Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor of Bithynia. But together, they cover little more than half of a page of a modern book! And even in these records, their mentions of Jesus are questionable at best for many reasons. (We will get to this in another post).

In any case, the Apollonius of the biographer Philostratus is a heathen savior, who claimed a commission from heaven to teach a pure and reformed religion, and in attesting his authority, he went about healing the sick, raising dead men back to life, casting out devils, and prophesying future events which came afterwards to pass. Sounds familiar?

However, the accounts of Apollonius were written well after he is supposed to have lived by a man named Flavius Philostratus (170 – 245 A.D.). This is long after the first New Testament was written (being Marcion’s Apostolikon). It is said that Philostratus is the only source for the accounts of Apollonius where the Bible is multi-sourced. In other words, we have different writers writing about Jesus. The authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul the Apostle, etc., are different writers who’s epistles were gathered by the Church and assembled into the Bible. One possible mention of Apollonius outside Philostratus is in Pseudo-Justin Martyr (meaning there’s no evidence that Justin wrote it and was written by someone else) specifically mentions Apollonius, when he tells us that Apollonius talismans were potent magical tools, indicating his belief in them in Answers to the Orthodox:

How is it that the talismans of Apollonius have power over certain members of creation, for they prevent, as we see, the fury of the waves, the violence of the winds, and the attacks of wild beasts. And whilst Our Lord’s miracles are preserved by tradition alone, those of Apollonius are most numerous, and actually manifested in present facts, so as to lead astray all beholders?

Pseudo-Justin illustrates the problem in a work containing a dialogue between a theologian and a Christian: the Christian is concerned about the popularity and spread of Apollonius’s talismans. He wonders how to explain their magical powers and wonders why God allows them. The theologian dispels his doubts saying that there is nothing evil about those objects because they were produced by Apollonius who was an expert in the powers governing nature and in the cosmic sympathies and antipathies…and that is why they did not contradict God’s wisdom ruling the world. But, this is hardly a convincing evidence for Apollonius. The Epicurean philosopher, Celsus never mentions or cites anything related to Apollonius either even in his long-winded refutation of Christianity, when he mentions various miracle workers and preachers who visit cities and army camps proclaiming themselves as “sons of God”.

These are accustomed to say, each for himself, ‘I am God; I am the Son of God; or, I am the Divine Spirit; I have come because the world is perishing, and you, O men, are perishing for your iniquities. But I wish to save you, and you shall see me returning again with heavenly power. Blessed is he who now does me homage. On all the rest I will send down eternal fire, both on cities and on countries. And those who know not the punishments which await them shall repent and grieve in vain; while those who are faithful to me I will preserve eternally.’

Philostratus was commissioned by an empress to write a biography of Apollonius in order to dedicate a temple to him. It is not likely that the gospels borrowed from Apollonius. It is most probably the other way around, especially since Philostratus had a motive to satisfy the empress who had commissioned him to write a biography of the man for whom a temple had been constructed. And this is coming from a guy who thinks Paul and the Johannite Jesus are merely extensions or masks of Simon Magus!

It must be said that the Philostratus seems to have no knowledge of the Gospels, in his account of Apollonius. Philostratus recounts Apollonius’ adventures in India and Rome, and encounters with several Roman emperors. According to Eusebius in Against Hierocles. II, “Apollonius was a priest in Aegae of Cilicia of Asclepius, the lover of mankind, worked any number of miracles…” However, Philostratus himself was “a man of letters and a sophist full of passion for Greek Romance and for studies in rhetoric…hardly interested in the historical Apollonius” (Maria Dzielska, Apollonius of Tyana, 14). So we are left to distrust the historical accuracy of Philostratus’ account.

Yet still, Philostratus’ work may be reflective of the everyday culture concerning Greek and Syriac religious life. Philostratus tells us in the Life of Apollonius, that Apollonius was a pious man, vigorously devoted to God and to the spiritual life, and one who accepted all creeds as diverse expressions of one universal religion. Some pagans were compelled to respond to the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ by using Apollonius as Christianity gained power, like Hierocles. In a letter to his brother (44), Apollonius writes:

“All men, so I believe, belong to the family of God and are of one nature; everyone experiences the same emotions, regardless of the place or condition of a person’s birth, whether he is a barbarian or a Greek, so long as he is a human being.”

Apollonius also repudiated the idea of animal sacrifice and was a strict vegetarian. The only fitting sacrifice for God according to Apollonius, was “man’s best reason” (G.R.S. Mead, Apollonius of Tyana, p. 153). Unlike other magicians, Apollonius simply relied on his own innate divinity to perform miracles and not on incantations, prayers, sacrifices or spells. The interesting fact about Apollonius is the extensive recognition which he obtained, and the case with which his pretensions found acceptance in the existing condition of the popular mind. Out of the legends of him little can be gathered except for a sketch of his history. He was born four years before the Christian era in Tyana, a city of Cappadocia. His parents sent him to be educated at Tarsus in Cilicia, a place of considerable wealth and repute, and he must have been about beginning his studies there when St. Paul as a little boy was first running about the streets. The life in Tarsus was too luxurious for Apollonius’ ascetic and philosophical aspirations.


So he became a recluse at the temple of Aesculapius at Aegae. Aesculapius, of course, was the snake god of healing and therefore the most practical and useful of the heathen gods. Apollonius’s devotion to Aesculapius meant that he studied medicine and even sympathetic magic. The philosophers who studied at Aegae were also said to be Neo-Pythagoreans. In the Gospel of John, chapter 5, Jesus heals a blind man, at the pools of Bethesda, which is basically like an Aesclepion, a healing center.

Raymond W. Bernard writes in Apollonius the Nazarene: Mystery Man of the Bible:

Finding the morals of Tarsus distasteful, Apollonius resolved to take up quarters at Aegae, which possessed a temple of Aesculpius, the priests of which were philosophers of the Pythagorean school. So famous were they for their power as healers that people came to their temple from all over Greece, from Syria and even from Alexandria to consult them. The priests of this healing temple of Aegae cured disease by vegetarian diet, hydrotherapy, fasting and magnetic healing (“laying on of the hands,” which art, Apollonius acquired from them). They were heirs of an ancient oral therapeutic tradition which came from the Orphic mysteries, the secret of which was jealously guarded by the disciple who received it. By these priests, Apollonius was initiated; and it was not long before he excelled his masters.

It is said on the death of his father, he divided his property among the poor, and after five years of retirement he traveled as far as India in search of knowledge. He spoke with the Brahmins there, and came home with some enlightened ideas, and with some skill in the arts of juggling. With this knowledge, he began a career as a teacher in the Roman Empire. He preached his new religion, and he worked miracles to induce people to believe in him. He was at Rome in Nero’s time, when Simon Magus and St. Peter were said to be there debating and performing magical feats of strength in their contests. Perhaps there was a confusion between Apollonius with Simon Magus, or Simon Magus with Apollonius.

Not only is there a confusion with Apollonius and Simon Magus, there is also many parallels with St. Paul as well. For starters, many consider Paul (Pol) to be an abbreviation for Apollonius. Both Paul and Apollonius were at said to be at Tarsus at the same time as boys, although Apollonius was at Ephesus and Rome at exactly the same time that Paul was (yet, strangely, Apollonius’s biographer makes no mention of him, though Paul in his epistles, speaks of Apollos having been at Ephesus [Acts 18:24] with him). Also it is significant that “Paul” is a fictitious name, or at least a title. There is more reason to identify the character of Apollonius with Paul than Saul, who led a dissipated life, while Apollonius, even in youth, lived as a pious ascetic. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, it is likely that Apollonius influenced the picture that Acts of the Apostles gives us of Paul and even Apollo, rather than his epistles and letters as they both are engaged in various miracles and magical happenings. Apollos from Paul’s epistles could also very well be an abbreviated form of Apollonius:

“…It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,‘ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?” I Corinthians 1:11-12.

“For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” I Corinthians 3:4-6.

Some scholars like Simone Petrement theorizes that Hebrews was written by Apollos (Apollonius) and not Paul. Martin Luther was said to suggest the same thing because the author does not identify himself as Paul like Paul would do often in his epistles and it is steeped in Hellenistic thought. In Hebrews 6:1-2, the author writes:

“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

Passages like this indicates that the believer must graduate past such elementary teachings and move to the mysteries of God, only revealed to those who are mature in their faith in Christ. According to Damis of Ninevah, he claimed that to be a disciple of Apollonius and claimed he was also a neo-Pythagorean philosopher who flourished in the last half of the first century who also wrote extensively on astrology. However, it is rather odd that nothing is said on the matter of Apollonius being learned in mathematics since any good Pythagorean philosopher would be very learned on the subject. There are letters that were claimed to by Apollonius (like the one quoted above), but many of them were very likely forgeries by unknown sources. However, they paint a consistent picture that portrays him as a miracle man of magic and mystery.

Similarly, Dutch radical New Testament critics viewed Paul’s letters as reworked forgeries taken from earlier Marcionite and even Simonian variant writings. While this is likely the case, there is still some evidence that Paul himself existed, according to secular sources like Josephus who considers the magician “Atomus” (meaning small, like the Latin “parvalus”) and Simon as the same person. Josephus mentions Atomus as being involved with the procurator Felix, King Agrippa II and his sister Drusilla, where Felix has Simon convince Drusilla to marry him instead of the man she was engaged to. In other words, Paul is simply a nickname or title that Simon used or was given to him by his enemies.

The mythicist scholar, Acharya S/D.M. Murdock also notes many of these parallels between Paul and Apollonius:

…there are striking correlations between the lives of Apollonius and the apostle Paul, who, like Jesus, strangely finds no place in contemporary history, despite claims to his having made quite a ruckus in a populated and well documented part of the world. It appears that the stories of both Jesus and Paul were in part fabricated from that of Apollonius. The opposite is also possible, although, in this author’s studied opinion, unlikely. It also may be that both Apollonius and Jesus were historical figures who did and said everything they are reported to have done and said, in which case we would be dishonest in accepting one without the other, both representing “God on Earth.”

She even has a neat table graph comparing the lives of Apollonius, Paul and Jesus Christ. Philostratus in his romantic biography of Apollonius, he tells us that Apollonius visited the Indians, whom he calls Brahmans, from whom he learnt much of their divine wisdom. He also visited the wise men of Ethiopia, whom he calls Gymni, because they pass all their life naked and never wear clothes even in the most trying weather. But he thought that the wise men of India were far superior to the Ethiopians in their intelligence and practices. Indeed, Apollonius was portrayed as a maintaining a strict vegetarian and was also a pacifist. He taught harmlessness to all living beings and repudiated the idea of animal sacrifice so common in Vedic as well as Jewish and Babylonian practices, much like the Buddha and Mani as well.

This is different than the war-lord Jesus of Matthew who says, “Think not that I come to send peace on earth.” “I come not to send peace but a sword”, etc. This version of Jesus also reiterates that he came to send fire on earth, and strife, to make divided households, fathers against sons, mothers against daughters, and under the new regime of Jesus, “a man’s foes shall be those of his own household.” Desiderius Erasmus claimed that the church was born in blood, grew in blood, and succeeded in blood, and will end in blood. This was of course, the way of the militant Church, who forced its way through mass executions at the point of the sword.

This is what enabled the brutal murder of the Neoplatonist Hypatia by Christian monks soon after the Council of Nicaea, by order of Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who was sainted after this, and the ensuing massacred of the Manichaeans, as well as the Cathars and purported witches burnt at the stake in the Inquisition. Not to mention the torture and execution of the Knights Templars by the hands of King Philip of France, while enabled by Pope Clement in 1307. One must also wipe the blood of infidels and heretics from the pages of the Quran just to find the apparently peaceful ones or ones that condone the murder of the innocent as well. I better stop now before my blood boils over…

Another author makes some very salient observations regarding the eastern influence on the lore associated with Jesus through the Acts of Thomas, when Thomas travels to India to evangelize and even in Paul’s epistles:

Apollonius is responsible for bringing the stories of Krishna to the West, he brought back to Rome the teachings of Krishna who Greeks called “Christos“. Many believe that a certain Bishop Marcion discovered the writings of Apollonius in Asia Minor (Turkey) a century later and translated them into Greek and Latin, producing  the first compiled “Christian” Bible. Sossianus Hierocles claimed, it was library of Apollonius’  that was plagiarized in producing the New Testament. Hierocles, a governor in Bithynia and later Lower-Egypt, {reign of Diocletian 245-315 AD} and an enemy of the Christians verbally attacked Christianity.

As per Eusebius of Caesarea. “Hierocles tried to weaken the importance of Christ’s miracles without however denying them, and wanted to show that Apollonius had performed some of equal importance and even more important ones.” Eusebius replied with a treatise that he wrote Against The Thesis Of Hierocles on Apollonius of Tyana. Eusebius recognized that Apollonius was a very wise man worthy of admiration; admitted everything that was told about his holiness and his teachings, but rejected many of the miracles that were assigned to him, dismissing them outright or assigning them as either  magic or to the work of demons.

Hierocles also states in his writings that  “Jesus was the leader of a band of highway robbers numbering more than 900 men” 

Luke 22:36 : “But now he that hath a purse, let him take it and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword let him sell his garments and buy one.”

and“You proclaim Jesus a god on account of a few prodigies recorded by their evangelists, yet we have writers of more education than yours and with more care for truth, who relate solid judgment, do not make him a god on account of them, only regard him as a man found pleasing to the gods.”

I am less convinced that Marcion knowingly rewrote the account of Apollonius, since Philastrus’ account comes much later after Marcion and his writings (like the Gospel of the Lord, Antithesis, etc), and even the later Christian Gospels, which are themselves are late second century writings. Some theorize that Marcion’s gospel was actually split later into Luke and Acts of the Apostles with various Orthodox interpolations. Marcion is also said to have much earlier versions of Paul’s writings as well. It seems to me that Apollonius is actually following in the footsteps of Jesus and Simon-Paul, and not the other way around. Yet still, Apollonius himself seems to share with a long line of miracle workers and magicians. In the Myth of the Magus (page 72), E.M. Butler writes:

The temptation of Zoroaster; the contests between Moses and Pharaoh and ‘Dionysos’ and Pentheus; the splendor of Solomon, the purity of Pythagoras, the defense of Apollonius, the crucifixion and the katabasis of Christ; these outstanding features of ancient legend justify the title given to his part of the book: “The Golden Age of Magic’; and may reconcile those who feel offended at finding Christ among the magians of old. For magic in those days partook of the nature of the divine. All the great gods were magicians; and all the great magicians were believed to be divinely inspired. The Christ of the Apocrypha and of the Gospels was no exception to this rule.


According to Philistratus, Apollonius is said by legend to be the son of Proteus, a shape shifting God found in the writings of Homer. This connection to Proteus hints him as “how versatile he was, and for ever changing his form” …or identity. This may relate to the doctrine of Docetism but that is more of speculation on my part. Philastrus tells us in the Life of Apollonius about Proteus, who is referenced as a “god of Egypt”, which is, in itself, a reference to the Egyptian King found in Helen of Euripides (another variation of the sea god):

Apollonius’ home, then, was Tyana, a Greek city amidst a population of Cappadocians. His father was of the same name [i.e. Apollonius], and the family descended from the first settlers. It excelled in wealth the surrounding families, though the district is a rich one.

To his mother, just before he was born, there came an apparition of Proteus, who changes his form so much in Homer,[4] in the guise of an Egyptian demon. She was in no way frightened, but asked him what sort of child she would bear. And he answered: “Myself.”

“And who are you?” she asked.

“Proteus,” answered he, “the god of Egypt.”

Well, I need hardly explain to readers of the poets the quality of Proteus and his reputation as regards wisdom; how versatile he was, and for ever changing his form, and defying capture, and how he had a reputation of knowing both past and future. And we must bear Proteus in mind all the more, when my advancing story shows its hero to have been more of a prophet than Proteus, and to have triumphed over many difficulties and dangers in the moment when they beset him most closely.

There much more going on with Proteus. I will allow C.G Jung to explain further who exactly this god was in The Gnostic Jung (page 87):

Hippolytus quotes Homer as follows: “This place is frequented by the Old Man of the Sea, immortal Proteus the Egyptian…who always tells the truth…” Homer then continues: “…who owes allegiance to Poseidon and knows the sea in all its depths.” Proteus is evidently a personification of the unconscious: it is difficult to “catch this mysterious old being…he might see me first, or know I am there and keep away.” One must seize him quickly and hold him fast, in order to force him to speak. Through he lives in the sea, he comes to the lonely shore at the sacred noon-tide hour, like an amphibian, and lies down to sleep among his seals. …

From Proteus the wandering hero learns how he may make his way homewards “over the fish-giving sea,” and thus the Old Man proves to be a psychopomp. “But,” the text goes on, “he spins round himself and changes his shape.” He have behaves, therefore, like a revolving image that cannot be grasped. What he says is sooth,”; he is a “soothsayer.” So it is not for nothing that the Naasenes say that “knowledge of the compete man is deep indeed and hard to comprehend.”

Another figure associated with Apollonius was Hermes. Accordingly, Proteus was also said to have been the messenger or servant of Poseidon, the patron deity of Plato’s Atlantis. Although Greek and Latin sources do not connect Apollonius with Hermes, Arabic Hermetic literature does. Apollonius is called “Balínús” in Arabic, and is depicted as the discoverer and representative of Hermes’ teachings. In the Arabic teacher Bahá’u’lláh’s Lawh-i-Hikmat (Tablet of Wisdom), he states:

“It was this man of wisdom [Balínús] who became informed of the mysteries of creation and discerned the subtleties which lie enshrined in the Hermetic writings.”

The earliest surviving translation of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes is in an Arabic book known as the Book of Balinas the Wise on Causes, written around 650 C.E. According to legend, Apollonius was also said to have found and even written the text, The Emerald Tablets of Hermes from the mummified corpse of old Hermes himself. I wrote my interpretation here on the text, as well as a more in-depth one in an upcoming paper on the divine imagination and alchemy that will be published in a journal soon, hopefully.

Anyway, these are just some of my notes and observations pertaining to the life of Apollonius, and hope to have shed some light on him and cleared up any confusion about this figure. Did Apollonius even exist? Probably, yes. Was Apollonius the chief inspiration behind Paul of the early epistles and Jesus of the Gospels? Not likely. Did Apollonius inspire the Paul of Acts of the Apostles? More than likely, yes. Is Apollos inspired by Apollonius then? Sure, why not? Apollonius conforms to a general pattern of ancient magicians and miracle workers in which writers like Morton Smith took great notice of, especially in his seminal Jesus, the Magician. In a following post, we will explore Neoplatonism, and look at the theurgy, magic and miracles attributed to Iamblichus, Proclus and Porphyry, among others. Until next time!