Simon versus Simon: The Story of Lucius and the Magician’s Duel

Written by Philip E. Sears
Review by Sally Zigmond

Like the sons of most wealthy Roman patricians, Lucius prefers to have fun with his friends rather than settle down. In despair, his father sends him to the province of Judea, where he is to lodge with a carpenter’s family and learn the trade. There Lucius becomes good friends with James, brother to Jesus of Nazareth, and their mother, Mary. James tells Lucius about the faith held by a group of Jews who regard Jesus as a new Messiah, preaching a message of humility and love. Lucius travels throughout the lands surrounding the Mediterranean and as far as Vindobona (now Vienna) to meet with advocates of this new faith, among them Simon Peter and Saul, who became Paul. Eventually Lucius returns home, enlightened by his journeys and dedicated to the new faith, to witness the dramatic duel of the title.

Many individuals feature in the adventures of James and Lucius, some of them well-known from the Bible, and some of them apocryphal (as well as Apocryphal). The most interesting is the ‘other’ Simon: not the Simon Peter whom Jesus called his rock, but Simon Magus, who can elevate items and perform tricks. Is Simon magical or holy? Which will triumph—the old magic or the new faith?

Though this is not the Nazareth, Bethlehem, or Jerusalem of which I learned from my traditional Anglican (Protestant) upbringing, the novel sheds a fascinating new light on the early years of the Christian faith. Jesus is a peripheral figure, crucified because he upset Roman and Jewish authorities; the novel highlights the devotion and persecution of his growing following. For readers who don’t mind jarring addresses to their 21st-century selves, this is an intriguing novel about the eventful first century of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity.