The title question sounds quite unlikely to most historically informed readers but it is answered in the affirmative by those mythicists I have classified as “type twos“. A Vridar reader asked for my views of the arguments presented on a youtube video featuring Joseph Atwill and D.M. Murdock.
1. About 4 minutes in someone says the gospel Jesus was a composite of the many different messianic figures of the time.
That’s the first problem right there. Contrary to what is often assumed there were no “messianic figures” at the time of Jesus (early first century BCE). At least there is no evidence that there were and arguments claiming that they were popping up all over the place have to read words into our sources that are simply not there. Josephus mentions a few maverick leaders in the second half of the first century but at no point does he indicate that they were viewed as “messiahs”, and from everything we know about Josephus he would have loved to have mocked them as “false messiahs” if he felt he could. I have posted the evidence and arguments related to this topic, most recently tangentially in the Questioning apologetics post. (See also earlier posts questioning Carrier’s reading messianic figures into the evidence; also the myth post.)
Jesus in the gospels is certainly a composite figure as many critical scholars have long recognized. He is a bit of Moses at times, other times an Elijah or Elisha figure sometimes a Joshua, sometimes, perhaps, even an Odysseus or Hector.
2. Someone in the video soon afterwards misinforms us that the Dead Sea Scrolls are dated to the time of Jesus.
But that claim is certainly not a fact; it is an argument for which there is only the most tenuous evidence. See earlier posts on the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. On might make an argument for dating to the time of Jesus but it will always be an argument and cannot be assumed to be fact.
3. Next, in the video we hear the rhetorical question, “How did Christianity come to exist in Roman dominated area with anti-Roman zealots in it?”
We have no reliable evidence that the early Christian movement consisted of anti-Roman zealots. Someone in a list of disciples is said to be a “zealot” but unless I am badly mistaken critical scholars (as opposed to apologists) consider the institution of the “twelve disciples” to be an invention by evangelists some decades after the time of Jesus. It was a symbolic creation pointing to a “new Israel” in the church. We hear nothing of any “zealot” after the time of Jesus except for Paul who is quoted as saying he was a “zealot for God”.
Perhaps none of that will make any difference to those who are attracted to the point of Zealots being among the earliest Christians. After all, the theory is that Jesus is constructed out of the person and deeds of Titus. Are the authors meant to be persuading other Jewish “zealots” to follow Titus? Perhaps so.
4. About 7 minutes in the question is raised: Why would the Flavians (i.e. the Roman emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domition) be interested in creating a religion?
That’s a good question. I don’t believe I ever came across any indication they did anything other than restore the prestige of older Roman cults. But let’s continue with the video.
5. We are told that the Jews were rebelling against their Roman rulers, that they were angry over taxes and having an emperor (Claudius, before the Flavian emperors) trying to set up his statue in the Temple. We are told that the Jews were more focused on a religion “of the book” than on cultic rituals. And that because they believed their books they believed in a prophecy that a messiah was going to rise up and lead them to victory against their enemies. We are then informed that a series of Jewish messiahs or messianic claimants fought against Rome and that there was a widespread Palestinian messianic movement fueling these anti-Roman rebellions.
By such assertions are viewers misinformed.
- If there were any resistance of bandit movements over taxes then they were over taxes. There is no need to bring in a messianic motivation to these revolts, especially since we have no evidence that there were any messianic pretenders among the various bandits.
- The episode of Claudius hoping to have his statue erected in the Jewish temple was but one incident that was soon resolved in favour of the Judeans. There was no lingering fear after Claudius withdrew.
- Most important and what was not mentioned in the video was that the Roman authorities allowed the Jews to practice their own religion. They were not forced on pain of death to worship Caesar as a god.
- There is no evidence in our sources that Jews in the first century had any general expectation of a coming messiah (see above for links to the evidence). Josephus makes a very opaque remark about a world ruler being prophesied to come out of Judea but gives no indication what books were sourced. He could have been referring to any of the Pseudepigrapha, (perhaps the Sibylline Oracles?) …. But he gives even less evidence for how the Jews supposedly responded to this prophecy. Everything he says about the rebels was that they were more engaged in fighting against other Jews than they were against the Romans, and the reason Rome sought to crush them was because of their role in fomenting a type of civil war in Judea and because they were defiant power-hungry rebels, not because they were anticipating a messiah.
I will be posting something from Steve Mason’s book on the Jewish War that hopefully will knock down a number of popular misunderstandings about the nature of the Jewish War with Rome 66-70 CE.
6. Next we are told that Vespasian came in and destroyed the Jewish towns of Galilee. Continue reading “Did Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus Create Christianity to Fool the Judeans?”