Simon Magus, also known as Simon the Magician, Simon the Sorcerer and Simon of Gitta, was a Samaritan Gnostic. The ancient Gnostic sect of Simonianism believed that he was God in human form. Almost all of the surviving sources for the life and thought of Simon Magus are contained in Christian works, in the Acts of the Apostles, in patristic works (Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus) and in the apocryphal Acts of Peter. We do however have small fragments of a work written by him (or by one of his later followers using his name), the Apophasis Megale, or Great Pronouncement.
The different sources for information on Simon contained quite different pictures of him, so much so that it has been questioned whether they all refer to the same person. The earliest reference to him is the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8. This tells the tale of Simon Magus practicing magic in the city of Sebaste in Samaria, converting to Christianity and working as a missionary, but then trying to buy from the Apostles the power of conveying the Holy Spirit. Many scholars have questioned whether this Simon is the same Simon of later legends, or a different one. Some believe that the story of Simon Magus here is actually a coded Ebionite attack on Paul of Tarsus, with Simon used to represent Paul.
The apocryphal Acts of Peter gives a legendary tale of Simon Magus' death. Simon is performing magic for the Roman Emperor Claudius Caesar in the forum. In order to prove himself to be a god, he flies up into the air. The Apostles Peter and Paul pray to God to stop him flying, and he stops mid-air and falls to his death.
Justin Martyr (his Apologies, and a lost work against heresies, which Irenaeus used as his main source) and Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses) recount the myth of Simon and Helene. According to this myth, which was the center of Simonian religion, in the beginning God had his first thought, his Ennoia, which was female, and that thought was to create the angels. The First Thought then descended into the lower regions and created the angels. But the angels rebelled against her out of jealousy and created the world as her prison, imprisoning her in a female body. Thereafter, she was reincarnated many times, each time being shamed. Her many reincarnations included Helen of Troy; and finally she was reincarnated as Helene, a slave and prostitute in the Phoenician city of Tyre. God then descended in the form of Simon Magus, to rescue his Ennoia. Having redeemed her from slavery, he travelled about with her, proclaiming himself to be God and her to be the Ennoia, promising that he would dissolve this world the angels had made, but that those who trusted in him and Helene could return with them to the higher regions.
They record several other pieces of information, including: that Simon came from the Samaritan village of Gitta and that the Simonians worshipped Simon in the form of Zeus and Helene in the form of Athena. They also say that a statue to Simon was erected by Claudius Caesar on the island in the Tiber which the two bridges cross, with the inscription "Simoni Deo Sancto", "To Simon the Holy God". However in the 1500s a statue was dug up on the island inscribed to Semoni Sancus, a Sabine deity, leading most scholars to believe that Justin Martyr confused Semoni Sancus with Simon.
Hippolytus (in his Philospohumena) gives a much more doctrinally detailed account of Simonianism, including a system of divine emanations and interpretations of the Old Testament. Some believe that Hippolytus' account is of a latter more developed form of Simonianism, and that the original doctrines of the group were simpler, close to the account given by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (this account however is also included in Hippolytus' work.) Hippolytus also quotes extensively from the Apophasis Megale.
The Catholic Church named the sin of exchanging spiritual for temporal goods simony after the story of Simon Magus in Acts.