Photo by Scala/Art Resource, N.Y.

ON THE COVER: Simon Magus falls to his death before Emperor Nero, in this 18th-century painting from the church of San Paolo Maggiore, in Naples, Italy, by local artist Francesco Solimena. According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, the magician Simon flew circles around Rome until Peter (shown at left, in blue and gold) prayed that he would fall. In the Book of Acts, Simon plays only a bit part. In “The Fall and Rise of Simon Magus,” David Cartlidge traces the extraordinary transformation of the small-time magician of Acts into the archenemy of the church.