"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Pre-existing Legends and the Gospels

The Roman dogma is a mixture of historical and pre-existing themes. Mithraism, a religion derived from Zoroastrism, was very popular in Rome at the same time that Christianity was spreading. Mithras was believed to be the son of the sun, sent to the earth to rescue humankind. Two centuries before the appearance of Jesus, the myth of Mithras held that Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25 in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds. Mithras sacrificed himself and the last day had a supper with twelve of his followers. At that supper Mithras invited his followes to eat his body and drink his blood. He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again. Mithras’ festival coincided with the Christian Easter. This legend dates from at least one century before Jesus. It was absorbed in the Roman dogma. Jesus’ attitude often resembles the legendary Greek philospher Socrates (eg, the way he refuses to respond to Pilate).

The Egyptian god Osiris was also born on the 25th of December, died on a friday and resurrected after spending three days in the underworld.

The Roman god Dionysus was hailed as `The Saviour of Mankind’ and `The Son of God’. Dionysus was born (on December 25) when Zeus visited Persephone. Therefore, his father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin. Announced by a star, he is born in a cowshed and visited by three Magis. He turns water into wine and raises people from the dead. He is followed by twelve apostles. Dionysus’ resurrection was a popular myth throughout the Roman empire, although his name was different in each country. The rituals in honor of Dionysus included a meal of bread and wine, symbolizing his body and blood. An amulet of the 3rd century has been found that depicts a crucified man (unmistakably Jesus) but bears the inscription “Orpheus Bacchus”, which was yet another name for Dionysus. The 5th century Egyptian poet Nonnus wrote two long epic poems in Greek, one on the conquest of the world by Dionysus, and the other a verse paraphrase of one of the Christian gospels. Unfortunately, we know little of the Dionysus’ faith because in 396 a mob of fanatical Christians destroyed the sanctuary of Eleusis, likely to have been the largest religious center in the world. We only know that the rituals were very popular and lasted several days.

The early Christians revered Dionysus’s birthday as Jesus’s birthday (Christmas) and the three-day Spring festival of Dionysus roughly coincides with Easter. Jews had their own version of this festival (the “therapeutae”) since at least the year 10 (it is reported by Philo of Alexandria), which is 23 years before the crucifixion of Jesus (Armenians still celebrate the birthday of Jesus on January 6).
(The most credible theory of why the Christians of the third century chose the 25th of december as Jesus’ birthday instead of the first of january is that the 25th of december was already a major holiday, a festival called “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” instituted before 220 AD).

Jesus lived right at the beginning of the Roman empire. The first emperor, “Augustus”, had the title of “saviour of the human race”. The legend was that Augustus had been born nine months after his mother was “visited” by the god Apollo. The greatest Roman poet of all time, Virgil, had foretold in 40BC that a king would be born of a virgin. It was false, but it was widely believed by ordinary Romans that, in the year of Augustus’ birth, the Roman senate had ordered the murder of all other children.

Pre-existing legends and current events influenced the way the official gospels were selected and doctored. Some scholars have even suggested the entire history of Jesus is a myth, based on pre-existing myths that were assembled by “gnostic” jews.

The official gospels were carefully chosen and edited to reflect a view acceptable to the Roman authorities and audience. For example, the official gospels blamed the Jews for killing Jesus, even if, of course, it was the Romans who killed him (for sedition). The earliest account of the life of Jesus, St Mark’s gospel, was written during the Jewish rebellion of 66. It was not a time to claim that Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary. Jesus, in fact, is presented as a victim of the Jews.


 

Roman reaction to Christians

The only Roman reaction to Christians that is popular today is the persecution that killed thousands of them. No doubt those deaths truly happened. But Christians forget to add that all sorts of people were executed by the Roman empire. The Roman empire showed no mercy for the slightest indication of sedition.

There is another reaction, though, that is almost unique to the Christian case: mockery. Several Roman commentators seemed to be less than impressed by the new faith. Celsus, in particular, pokes fun at Christian beliefs and rites as if it was merely a modern variation on pagan beliefs and rites. His attitude can be compared to the attitude of conservative adults towards the hippies in the 1960s.

The great historian Tacitus mentions the Christians as a degenerate bunch, and talks of their “degrade and shameful practices”. Hardly the description one would use for spiritual people.
Several early Christian writers such as Justin and Tertullian felt that they had to defend Christianity from such accusations. Early Christian literature is full of references to pagan legends and myths as work of the Devil for the simple reason that Christians adopted the very same legends and myths and the only explanation would be that the Devil was playing a prank on them by pretending that those legends and myths had existed before Jesus.


Paul’s Christianity

Christianity as it is today is really what Paul wanted it to be, but Paul was not one of the twelve and candidly admits that he never met Jesus in person. Paul, a Roman citizen and proud of it, favored equal treatment for Jews and non-Jews, but there is no evidence that this was also the view of the other Christians.

It is interesting that Paul only wrote two facts about Jesus’ life: that he was crucified, and that he had several brothers, including one named James whom he also refers to, implicitly, as the leader of the Christians. Either he didn’t know much about Jesus, or whatever he knew was “espunged” from the New Testament as embarassing to the Roman dogma. It is interesting that the Roman dogma (Christianity as we know it today) is based on Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ message, even if Paul was the least acquainted with Jesus of all the early leaders. But he was the only one who was a Roman citizen, and who preached Christianity for all, not just for the Jews.

The New Testament includes Paul’s letters as an appendix, but they may be the reason the New Testament is the way it is: first Paul coded Christian religion as a Greek and Roman-friendly dogma, then some gospels (written in Greece in Greek) were chosen as the official ones because they reflected that dogma. Paul’s letters date from about the year 50, while the earliest gospel is from 60-70. Paul’s letters came first and it sounds like the gospels were chosen and edited to justify what Paul wrote (as if to say “you see? that’s precisely what Jesus had said”).

Paul’s letters may be the real foundations of modern Christianity, whereas original Christianity perished in the Roman persecutions of the “disposyni/desposini” (Jesus’ heirs in Palestine) following Constantine’ conversion.

Paul represented a different kind of Christianity than the one preached in Palestine. He was very young when he was admitted in the Agora of Athens. He must have had good credentials, otherwise educated people would not even have listened to him. Paul was a Roman citizen, and younger than the apostles (he was not one of the twelve). There are speculations that he may have been a member of the Herodian family. He represented the view that Christianity was not only for Jews, but for everybody.

John the Baptist

Christian literature is reluctant to deal with John the Baptist, although he was the one who “initiated” Jesus and he was the first one to be killed (beheaded by Herod’s son Herod Antipas). The Jewish historian Josephus did not know Jesus but he did know very well John the Baptist. Josephus reports how John the Baptist created a large movement that came to threaten Herod Antipas. In the gospels Jesus seems to be one of the Baptist’s disciples that somehow started his own movement (the gospels mention that he made his first recruits among John’s disciples). John’s movement disappears with his death, but John was still revered over the centuries (as attested by countless legends and paintings about his beheading).

The Mandaeans, a religious sect centered on the Iran/Iraq border, claim that the Baptist was their greatest leader (although they deny he was the founder of their religion) and that Jesus, who started his career as one of John’s disciples, was a false prophet who stole John’s teachings and corrupted them, then misled the people who followed him with corrupt teachings.


Simon Magus

The story of Simon Magus, a Samaritan (Turkish) magician in the time of Claudius (41-54) who became popular in Rome, is strikingly similar to Jesus’: he too was originally a disciple of John (in fact, he may have succeeded him at the head of his movement), he too performed miracles, he too traveled with a former prostitute, he too started a religious sect. Early Christian writers like Justin, Irenaeus, Eusebius and Epiphanius mention Simon Magus as a demon who proclaims to be god and his followers as performing sexual rites and living “immorally”. They seem to imply that some people believed him a saint (or Jesus himself). At least, early Christian writers deemed it worth to mention Simon Magus as an evil man.

Simon Magus is mentioned in the Acts and in early Christian legends as competing with Peter for divine legitimacy.

Simon Magus wrote books but they were all destroyed. All the information we have on Simon Magus comes from his enemies.


The disposyni/desposini and Islam

Islam is much closer to James’ ideology than to Judaism or Christianity. It could be that James’ ideology of faith and goodness (“believe and perform good actions”) spread south to the Arabs and survived centuries later in Mohammed’s Quran. The Romans, after all, persecuted the (real) Christians, the “disposyni/desposini”, and forced them to disband and flee.

They could have moved south to escape the Romans. Muslims believe in the prophets and in Jesus, but claim that the “books” were changed by evil people. Isn’t this what a disposyni/desposini would claim today? Those books were indeed changed, forcing the whole Christian world to believe that Christianity started in Rome and that Paul’s doctrine was Jesus’. The original books were banned. Christians who knew about those books were forced in exile. What Muslims tell us is exactly what a surviving Jamesian Christian would tell us.

After the Jews’ Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the Jews, led by Bar Kochba, recaptured Jerusalem, but eventually the legions of emperor Hadrian won the war. Hadrian changed the name of the city of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, ordered the building of a temple of Jupiter on the site of the Jewish Temple, and expelled Jews from the city. Most Judeans (Jews) fled to Arabia, that already has a sizeable Jewish community (Medina itself was originally a Jewish settlement)


Jewish rebellions and early Christians

The legend of Jesus may also have a political aspect. The Jews of Palestine never accepted the rule of Rome. Their prophets were telling them that a “fifth kingdom” was coming (the previous ones being the occupations by Assyrians, Medes, Persians and Greeks), and it would be a Jewish kingdom, created by a messiah imbued with divine powers.

For some or most of Jesus’ followers, Jesus may have been identified with that messiah. The Jews then fought three bloody wars against the Romans, each one with “messianic” fervor. They lost all three and the third one ended with the Romans banning Jews from Jerusalem. Then it became impossible to deny that the Romans, not the Jews, were the fifth kingdom. Jesus was obviously not the messiah that prophets had predicted would free the Jews from external domination. No wonder most Jews made fun of Christians and even today do not recognize Jesus as the messiah.


The historian Josephus chronicles the events of the first century. The Jews believed in the prophecy that one of them (the messiah) was destined by god to rule over the entire world. Therefore they kept revolting against the Romans.

As the Romans kept winning, that belief moved further and further in time. But the Jews who fought the Romans in 66 and then again in 132 probably did so because 1. they were opposed to accepting Roman rule (i.e., Herod and the Herodians) over Palestine (that had been ruled by the Maccabeans) and 2. they were convinced that one of them (the messiah) was meant to rule over the world (not the Roman emperor). Jesus’ blood relatives (the “disposyny/desposini”) were probably among the leaders of the rebellions. In 136 emperor Hadrian definitely crushed the Jewis resistance and forbad Jews from ever entering Jerusalem again.

That is the time when the “gnostic” attitude is born: instead of interpreting Jesus as the messiah, some Jews started interpreting his message as a message of knowledge (of love, fraternity, piety, etc). And the kingdom moved to the heavens.

The people who did not participate in the various uprisings were the Pharisees (who, like Paul, favored coexistence with the Romans), the Herodians (members of the royal family) and the high priests (who had been appointed by Herod and the Romans). These must have been viewed as enemies by James and the early “Christians” of Palestine. These may well be the same “Zealots” that killed the high priests and led the crusade against Rome.


The Dead Sea scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran are probably the best preserved document of pre-Christian ideology. They are from the Roman era, but they were never “edited” by the Roman empire. Both the writing style and the contents reflect the real thinking of the pre-Christian era.

The date of the Dead Sea Scrolls has not been determined for sure yet. One theory has it that the Essenes who wrote it predate Jesus (they are not mentioned in the New Testament), and that therefore Jesus was just one of them. One theory is that they were written right after Jesus’ death and that they represent early Christian thinking (the Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament precisely because the New Testament is written by Essenes). In the latter case, James the Just would then be a protagonist of the story, whereas Jesus would be only a marginal figure, a sort of magician who happened to become famous.

But there is disagreement on when the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. They deal at length with a good man and with an evil man who were fighting for control of the “movement”. If the Dead Sea Scrolls predate Jesus, then Jesus was the product of a culture that had been around for a while and we may never find out who the two protagonists were. If the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the early Christians, then a strong possibility is that James is the good man and Paul is the evil man (challenging James’ doctrine).

But then the Dead Sea Scroll don’t talk of Jesus at all. Why wouldn’t a Christian text talk of Jesus at all?


Nag Hammadi and the gnostics

Nag Hammadi is the place in Egypt where a library of ancient scripts was found in the 1940s. It includes a number of Christian documents, known as the “gnostic” gospels. These gospels provide a glimpse of what Christianity may have been at the very beginning, before being contaminated by political power. For example, one gospel clearly states that it is the gospel of the “twin of Jesus” Judas. That gospel is completely different from the official gospels not only because it doesn’t chronicle miracles but because it depicts Jesus as a Buddhist-style cryptic wise man.

The gnostics (as well as the disposyni/desposini) disappeared after 381, when Theodosius made heresy a crime and (presumably) persecutions began against anybody who argued with the Roman dogma.
For a long time gnostics have been viewed as opposed to “Pauline Christianity”, Christianity as it is today. But now we know that the gnostics actually revered Paul and considered one of theirs. We also know that only seven of the 13 letters attributed to Paul are authentic and one can suspect that the other six were written to prove something that was not proven in the original seven. (Some of the letters appear for the first time with Irenaeus, in 190, the same man who codified the official gospels and must have been to be fakes because not even the Christian historian

Eusebius included them in his version of the bible). If one removes the fakes, the originals are strikingly similar to gnostic literature and not a single attack against the gnostics remains. So much so that early Roman letters (such as Clement’s and even Peter’s) accuse Paul of being a heretic. Commentators have long speculated that there may have been a rift between Paul and James.

Paul’s authentic letters talk of allegories (Galatians, 4/24) and symbols (Corinthians 10/6) as if to warn against a literal interpretation of the old testament, and depict a philosophy not too different by the Platonism preached by Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary of Jesus). Could it this be the reason why he was so disliked by Peter and James and why he was so popular with Romans and Greeks?

One can toy with the idea that Paul was such an influential person from the very beginning of Christianity that he could not be dismissed by the Roman church. At the same time, Paul may have been the true founder of Christianity, but not what today we regard as Paul’s Christianity, rather just about the opposite: the gnostics may have been closer to Paul’s ideology. When the gnostics were persecuted, Paul’s ideology was simply “tweaked” with the fake letters so that it would support the Roman ideology. Thus Paul could be involuntarily be regarded as the founder of today’s Christianity when in fact he was preaching something else and had no idea future generations would distort his teachings.

Jesus’ tomb

We know the burial places of most early Christians, except one: Jesus himself. If you believe that the body of Jesus disappeared when he ascended to heaven, as the Church does, you don’t have to explain where his bodily remains are. Everybody else should at least wonder why we haven’t found the tomb of the very man who is at the center of the Christian faith (the four official gospels list four different burial places). Jesus’ date of birth and death are also disputed. Herod died in 4 BC, so (if the gospels tell the truth) Jesus can’t be born after that date.

The Acts of Thomas record that Jesus was in Taxila at a marriage ceremony in the year 49. Irenaeus himself (not a heretic) writes that Jesus reached an old age.
Was Jesus still alive when James the Just, Paul, Peter and Taddeus were spreading Christianity around the world?

The historian Jesophus mentions a “Jesus” who was alive during the years of the Jewish war (66-70 AD), who was an oracle and who was tried in front of Pilate (except that Pilate released him, not crucified him).
If the body of Jesus was buried somewhere, at least two people must have known and visited that place: his mother and his closest friend.

Mary (the mother of Jesus, James the Just and Taddeus) is known to have traveled to Turkey and may have died near Ephesus (according to local legend). James was almost certainly with her. They were, de facto, exiles.
Mary Magdalene was closer to Jesus than anyone else. “Miriam” was the “apostle of the apostles”, and the first witness of the resurrection. The gospels give different accounts of her whereabouts and movements before and after the death of Jesus. There is a legend that she traveled to France, to La Sainte-Baume (near Marseilles), and lived in solitude in a cave for the rest of her life. There is a legend that she followed the Virgin Mary to Turkey and died there.


Herod

Herod became king in 37 BC because his father Antipater had helped the Roman general Pompej conquer Jerusalem in 63 BC. Herod was a ruthless ruler whose first and main goal was to destroy the Maccabeans who had ruled before him. He killed all of them, except the princess Mary whom he married. Mary committed adultery with Herod’s brother Joseph while Herod was in Rome (29 BC). When Herod returned and was informed of the adultery, he executed Mary. 

He then executed her sons because they were more popular than him with the Jews: they had Maccabean blood. This story is somehow reflected in the legend that Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph and that Herod wanted to kill all the Jewish children to make sure none of them would claim the title of king. It is unlikely that Jesus was the illegitimate son of the historical Mary and Joseph, because it would make him too old, but the coincidence is striking.


Who was Jesus?

And what was Jesus’ name? “Jesus” simply means “Savior” in hebrew, just like “Christ” is the Greek for “anointed” (a term used in the Old Testament for many kings). But what was his real name?
The family name Barsabas is attributed in the Acts to both a Joseph and a Judas.

There is evidence pointing to the fact that Judas Barsabas could be Thaddeus, who is also Judas the “twin brother” of Jesus (Thaddeus is a contraction of “Judas Thomas”, that in turn means Judas the brother). Names similar to Barsabas (and Barabbas) recur in Jesus’ relatives. The very bandit Barabbas could just be a split in the story, that separated the prophet from the bandit (they were one for the Romans).

Irenaeus himself writes that “Iesous… is a symbolic name”.

The Romans kept accurate records of every political and judicial event. There is no record of Pontius Pilate trying and executing a man named Jesus. Only two Roman writers of Jesus’ time mention Christians (Pliny and Svetonius) but they don’t mention Jesus. The first Roman to mention Jesus is Tacitus, but almost a century after the death of Jesus.

The Jewish historian Josephus certainly mentions Christians, but his words about Jesus are generally considered a later forgery (the Christian historian Origen of the third century wrote that Josephus never mentioned Jesus).

The Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Egypt at the time of Jesus does not seem to know anything about Jesus or Christians (he died in the year 40).
Paul himself, one of the founders of Christianity, never talks about Jesus’ life, while he definitely talks about his brother James.


A synthesis

By analyzing the historical records, one possible explanation of the events emerges. Jesus, whether because related by blood (via his mother) to the Maccabeans that Jews still revered, or because related to Herod whom Jews feared, claimed to to be the king of the Jews. Some Jews liked him because they recognized his credentials (especially if he was indeed a Maccabean), some Jews despised him as a madman.

Eventually, his claims came to the ears of the Romans, as well as his teachings (he was probably a sort of “communist” philosopher, preaching that all humans are equal), and that is what the Romans killed him for. He was probably killed with no trial, just like many other “rebels” of the time that Rome did not deem worthy of any bureaucracy. That is the reason why nobody knows where his tomb is: the Romans did not bother to bury him or return his body.

Paul, heir to the Jewish establishment that wanted to coexist with the Romans and adopt Greek philosophy, was the first Roman citizen to become Christian and spread the Christian word around the world. He was also the first to claim that Greeks and Romans could be as Christian as Jews. In Rome, it was a natural decision to adopt his version of Christianity.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity was “relocated” from Palestine to Rome: instead of recognizing the thread that starts with Jesus and continues with James and the following disposyni/desposini, Rome decided to start counting with Peter (the first Christian martyr in Rome) and his descendants, the popes.


 


 

 

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