Authors: Joseph Atwill
The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus
Flavian Signature Edition
Copyright © 2011 Joseph Atwill. All rights reserved under International and Pan American Copyright Conventions, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever, except for use by a reviewer in connection with a review.
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“Challenging and provocative.
If what Joseph Atwill is saying is only partially true,
we are looking into the abyss.”
Professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology,
California State University,
and author of
James the Brother of Jesus
“Fascinating and profoundly challenging,
a fantastic, ice-breaking contribution.”
Professor of Biblical Studies,
La Trobe University, Australia
“Atwill tells a story never before attempted,
sounds a trumpet never previously heard,
and explores a world of potential truth until now
thoroughly obscured from our view.”
Research Scholar, Department of Near Eastern Studies
University of Michigan
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Table of Contents
Introduction – A Historical Overview
CHAPTER 1 The First Christians and the Flavians
CHAPTER 2 Fishers of Men: Men Who Were Caught Like Fish
CHAPTER 3 The Myth for the World
CHAPTER 4 The Demons of Gadara
CHAPTER 5 The Flavian Signature
CHAPTER 6 Eleazar – Lazarus: The Real Christ
CHAPTER 7 The Puzzle of the Empty Tomb
CHAPTER 8 The New Root and Branch
CHAPTER 9 Until All Is Fulfilled
CHAPTER 10 The Authors of the New Testament
CHAPTER 11 The Puzzle of Decius Mundus
CHAPTER 12 The Father and the Son of God
CHAPTER 13 Josephus’ Use of the Book of Daniel
CHAPTER 14 Building Jesus
CHAPTER 15 The Apostles and the Maccabees
CHAPTER 16 The Samaritan Woman and Other Parallels
A Timeline of Jesus’ and Titus’ Lives
Introduction – A Historical Overview
In the popular mind, and in the minds of most scholars, the origin of Christianity is clear: The religion began as a movement of the lower-class followers of a radical Jewish teacher during the first century C.E. For a number of reasons, however, I did not share this certainty. There were many gods worshiped during Jesus’ era that are now seen as fictitious, and no archeological evidence of his existence has ever been found. What contributed most to my skepticism was that at the exact time when the followers of Jesus were purportedly organizing themselves into a religion that urged its members to “turn the other cheek” and to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” another Judean sect was waging a religious war against the Romans. This sect, the Sicarii, also believed in the coming of a Messiah, but not one who advocated peace. They sought a Messiah who would lead them militarily. It seemed implausible that two diametrically opposite forms of messianic Judaism would have emerged from Judea at the same time.
This is why the Dead Sea Scrolls were of such interest to me, and I began what turned into a decade-long study of them. Like so many others, I was hoping to learn something of Christianity’s origins in the 2,000-year-old documents found at Qumran.
I also began studying the other two major works from this era, the New Testament and
Wars of the Jews
by Flavius Josephus, an adopted member of the imperial family; I hoped to determine how the Scrolls related to them. While reading these two works side by side, I noticed a connection between them. Certain events from the ministry of Jesus seem to closely parallel episodes from the military campaign of the Roman emperor Titus Flavius as he attempted to gain control of the rebellious Jews in Judea. My efforts to understand this relationship led me to uncover the amazing secret that is the subject of this book: This imperial family, the Flavians, created Christianity, and, even more incredibly, they incorporated a skillful satire of the Jews in the Gospels and
Wars of the Jews
to inform posterity of this fact.
The Flavian dynasty lasted from 69 to 96 C.E., the period when most scholars believe the Gospels were written. It consisted of three Caesars: Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian. Flavius Josephus, the adopted member of the family who wrote
Wars of the Jews
, was their official historian. The satire they created is difficult to see. If it were otherwise, it would not have remained unnoticed for two millennia. However, as readers may judge for themselves, the path that the Flavians left for us is a clear one. All that is really needed to walk down it is an open mind. But why then has the satirical relationship between Jesus and Titus not been noticed before? This question is especially apt in light of the fact that the works that reveal their satire—the New Testament and the histories of Josephus—are perhaps the most scrutinized books in literature.
One part of the explanation is clear. Viewing the Gospels as satire—that is, as a literary composition (as opposed to a history) in which human folly is held up to ridicule—required a reader to contradict a deeply ingrained belief. Once Jesus was universally established as a world-historical individual, any other possibility became, evidentially, invisible. The more we believed in Jesus as a world-historical figure, the less we were able to understand him in any other way.
Moreover, the satirical level of the Gospels has not been discovered because it was designed to be difficult to see. The Flavian Caesars wanted more than just to transform messianic Judaism. They wanted Christianity to flourish and become widely held, even world- wide, before the Gospels’ satirical level was discovered. Why did they wish this? Because they wanted legacy, and they needed to fool the world to prove to posterity how clever they were. Though on their surface the Gospels appear to be religious literature, which many believe were written by the Jewish followers of a messianic leader, they actually stem from the overwrought vanity of Roman Caesars, desiring the populace to worship them as gods.
To understand the historical conditions that caused the Flavians to create Christianity, one needs to understand the political conditions that the family faced in Judea in 74 C.E., following their defeat of the Sicarii, a movement of messianic Jews. But to understand this requires looking back even farther in time.
The process that ultimately led to the Flavians’ control over Judea was part of a broader and longer struggle, that between Judaism and Hellenism. Judaism, which was based upon monotheism and faith, was simply incompatible with Hellenism, the Greek culture that promoted polytheism and rationalism.
Hellenism spread into Judea after Alexander the Great conquered the area, in 333 B.C.E. Alexander and his successors established cities throughout their empire to act as centers of commerce and administration. They set up more than 30 Greek cities within Judea itself. The people of Judea, in spite of their historical resistance to outside influences, began to incorporate certain traits of the Greek ruling class into their culture. Many Semites found it desirable, if not necessary, to speak Greek. Wealthy Jews sought a Greek education for their young men.
introduced Jewish students to Greek myths, sports, music, and arts.
The Seleucids, descendants of Seleucus, the commander of Alexander’s elite guard, gained control over the region from the Ptolemies, the descendants of another of Alexander’s generals, in 200 B.C.E. When Antiochus IV (or as he preferred, Epiphanes—that is, god manifest) became the Seleucid ruler in 169 B.C.E., he began Judea’s nightmare.
Antiochus was openly contemptuous of Judaism and wanted to modernize Jewish religion and culture. He installed high priests who were supportive of his policies. When a rebellion against Hellenization broke out, in 168 B.C.E., Antiochus ordered his army to attack Jerusalem. Second Maccabees records the number of Jews slain in the battle as 40,000, with another 40,000 taken captive and enslaved.
Antiochus emptied the temple of its treasury, violated the holy of holies, and intensified his policy of Hellenization. He ordered the observances of the Hebrew cult be replaced with Hellenistic worship. He banned circumcision and sacrifice, instituted a monthly observance of his birthday, and placed a statue of Zeus on the Temple Mount.
In 167 B.C.E., the Maccabees, a family of religiously zealous Jews, led a revolution against Antiochus’ imposition of Hellenistic customs and religions. They sought to restore to power the religion that they believed was mandated by God in his holy land. The Maccabees compelled the inhabitants of the cities they conquered to convert to Judaism. Males either permitted themselves to be circumcised or were slain. After a 20-year struggle, the Maccabees eventually prevailed against the Seleucids. To quote 1 Maccabees: “the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel” (13:41).
Though the Maccabees went on to rule Israel for more than 100 years, their kingdom was never secure. The Seleucid threat to the region was replaced by an even greater one from Rome. Roman expansionism and Hellenistic culture constantly threatened to engulf the religious state that the Maccabees had established. In 65 B.C.E., a civil war broke out between two Maccabean rivals for the throne. It was at this time that Antipater the Edomite, the wily father of Herod, appeared on the scene. Antipater helped bring about a Roman intervention in the civil war, and when Pompey sent his legate Scaurus into Judea with a Roman army, it marked the beginning of the end of the Maccabean religious state.
For the next 30 years (65–37 B.C.E.), Judea suffered through one war after another. In 40 B.C.E., the last Maccabean ruler, Matthias Antigonus, seized control of the country. By this time, however, the Herodian family was firmly established as Rome’s surrogate in the region and, with Roman support, defeated Matthias’ army and gained control of Judea.
After the destruction of the Maccabean state, the Sicarii, a new movement against Roman and Herodian control, emerged. This was a movement of lower-class Jews, originally called Zealots, who continued the Maccabees’ religious struggle against the control of Judea by outsiders, and sought to restore “Eretz Israel.”
The efforts of the Sicarii reached a climax in 66 C.E. when they succeeded in driving the Roman forces from the country. The Emperor Nero ordered Flavius Vespasian to enter Judea with a large army and end the revolt. The violent struggle that ensued left the country devastated, and concluded when Rome captured the Judean fortress Masada in 73 C.E.