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.
But again this is misleading. Most of Galilee submitted to Vespasian immediately and proved their loyalty to him. There was one serious siege and then some mopping up operations afterwards against smaller villages. But for the next couple of years there were no more clashes with the Roman army.
7. We are informed again through the video that there was rebellion after rebellion by the Jews, and that it was the messianic literature that was fueling this rebellion.
There was a horrific riot in Alexandria in 38 CE but that was ignited because of local conditions and was soon over. There was another rebellion in 117 CE in Cyrene, Africa, but that was long after the time of the Flavian emperors so is irrelevant. One will search in vain in the history books or primary sources for any suggestion that any of these rebellions, the one in Alexandria and the one in Cyrene, had a brass razoo to do with messianism. It simply ain’t so.
8. We next hear on the video that the emperors decided to put a stop to these so-called messianic rebellions by first of all seizing the Jewish holy books! They were all seized, it seems, and the only ones that survived were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the supposed only true voice of the messianic movement.
That’s more misinformation, surely. How would seizing the books put an end to messianic hopes if they existed? The people presumably did not need to read their own copies of the prophecies, or have rabbis read them out, to be aware of them or remember them. Memories would not vanish if the books were taken. And we have good evidence that the holy books were not ALL seized but rabbis continued to read and copy them right up till today. And besides, the evidence that the DSS represented a “messianic movement” is pretty slim (again, see the links above.)
9. Next, on the video we hear that the Romans couldn’t destroy the Jewish religion outright so they decided to create a benign type of Judaism — Christianity.
Again, a reminder: The Romans from the beginning gave the Jews the legal right to practice their religion as it was. (And it was not a messianic sect at all. Any belief in a messiah was theological and for a future time in God’s hands.) They never tried to ban it or destroy it.
10. Next, we hear that the Romans therefore wrote the gospels. How? By collaborating with Josephus. Josephus tells us Titus gave him the Jewish scripture.
All of the problems with this assertion are legion. Roman authorities did not “collaborate” with Josephus in his writing of historical works. Josephus wrote from the perspective of a Jew who wanted Romans to admire the good in the Jewish history, culture, character and religion, as well as to demonstrate their loyalty to Rome — except for a few rebels who made a mess of everything and deserved everything they got. Josephus says the Flavian emperors kept the scriptures from the temple in the palace complex for safekeeping, but there is no hint of any attempt to seize all available copies of the scriptures.
11. We hear that Josephus’s histories have always been associated with beginnings of Christianity. Scholars, we are told, have noticed parallels between the gospels and Josephus. Josephus appears to record events that fulfil the prophecies of OT and NT. Early Christians understood this connection.
The only connection is that Josephus tells us something about the Jewish groups we read about in the gospels (e.g. Pharisees) and that the temple was destroyed — as gospels inform us Jesus predicted.
12. Josephus tells us Romans rounded up writers of alternate histories and executed them. Only the official history of Josephus was to survive. All the copies of those alternate histories were destroyed.
This is entirely fiction. There is no evidence for any of these claims, as far as I am aware, and I have read reasonably widely on literature in the time of the Flavian emperors.
That’s enough for now.
Maybe I will continue my responses to the video claims later. The core idea is that the gospels were written by Romans to present a mock Jesus who was somehow a pacificist alter-ego of the Roman general then emperor Titus, the “son of [the] god, [his father Vespasian].” The idea was that when the Jews worshiped Jesus the Romans would sneakily know they are really worshiping Titus (a son of a god) in disguise and so have a bit of a laugh at their expense. I wonder how that was meant to work in practice. Emperor or his representatives enter a town and demand all come out and prove their loyalty by joining in the cult honouring the emperor. Christians stand aside and defy the command, but the Roman authorities wink at them and turn their backs and have a giggle and just ignore them because they are really worshiping Titus….?? But after Titus died, did later emperors say, Hold on, I don’t want those Christians worhiping Titus anymore, I want them worshiping me! Throw them to the lions!
Point: the Romans did not need to go to such lengths. They only had to set up miles of crucified victims to suppress any rebellion to restore the “peace”. They had no problem with the Jewish religion and allowed it to be practiced as per custom. There is no evidence for Jews being inspired by messianic hopes to rebel against Rome. That is entirely concocted within the imaginations of those who read the evidence into the sources that we have.
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10 thoughts on “Did Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus Create Christianity to Fool the Judeans?”
I remember seeing a pamphlet with this thesis in the late 60s or early 70s. It’s not precisely new, although I have no idea who originally propounded the idea.
“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”,
Incorrect, and an inattentive reading of Josephus. For example, Theudas’ claim to be able to divide the river Jordon was an obvious attempt to show himself as typologically linked to the Messiah described in Joshua 3.14-17,
“Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the Jordon River for he told them he was a prophet and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it. Many were deluded by his words. BJ 5, 1
“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.”
Incorrect Titus deified Vespasian then Domitian deified both Titus and Julia and declared himself to be a living god.
For example, Suetonius Domitian 5:
“Our Master and our God bids that this be done.” And so the custom arose of henceforth addressing him in no other way even in writing or in conversation.”
“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.”
Incorrect. Herod had already placed an eagle at the main entrance of the Temple, which the pious Jews saw as a sacrilege. A group of Torah students smashed it and Herod had them hunted down, dragged in chains to his residence in Jericho, where they were burned alive.
“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.”
Incorrect and nonsense. Their own religion would have had a Jewish king. They were forced to have an unpopular king by Rome.
“There is no evidence in our sources that Jews in the first century had any general expectation of a coming messiah.”
Incorrect: Josephus wrote: “But their chief inducement to go to war was a equivocal oracle also found in their sacred writings, announcing that at that time a man from their country would become the ruler of the world.” BJ 6, 312
“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?)”….
Incorrect. There is nothing opaque about the statement. In fact, a Jewish movement that had as it “chief inducement to go to war” the belief that an oracle found in their sacred writings, claimed that at that time a man from their country would become the ruler of the world” is the very definition of a messianic movement.
“But he gives even less evidence for how the Jews supposedly responded to this prophesy. 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.”
Incorrect. Simply look at teh coins of the rebellion which clearly show that a religious movement created them. One has two baskets of fruit are at its base. It is surrounded by the inscription l’goalit tzion, FOR THE REDEMPTION OF ZION.
The inscription doubtless reminded the people of the Biblical promises of redemption by the Lord. “Redeem” is almost a technical term in Biblical language signifying a future era of freedom, brought about, potentially, by a specially appointed messenger — a Messiah.
“We are informed again through the video that there was rebellion after rebellion by the Jews, and that it was the messianic literature that was fueling this rebellion. There was a horrific riot in Alexandria in 38 CE but that was ignited because of local conditions and was soon over. There was another rebellion in 117 CE in Cyrene, Africa, but that was long after the time of the Flavian emperors so is irrelevant.
One will search in vain in the history books or primary sources for any suggestion that any of these rebellions, the one in Alexandria and the one in Cyrene, had a brass razoo to do with messianism. It simply ain’t so.”
Incorrect. Eusebius recorded that Lukuas, who led the Cytenia rebellion had made himself ‘king’, which is more than a ‘brass razoo’ indication of messianism; especially since he specifically targeted Roman religious temples and artifacts.
Moreover, besides the obvious religious context of Judas the Galilean and Theudas’ rebellions, between the end of the Jewish war and the 117 rebellions another Jewish rebellion took place and it was messianic.
“The madness of the Sicarii, like a disease, reached as far as the cities of Cyrenaica, because one Jonathan, a vile person, and by trade a weaver, came thither and prevailed with no small number of the poorer sort to give ear to him. He led them into the desert, upon promising them that he would show them signs and apparitions. BJ 7, 457
You wrote: “Next, we hear that the Romans therefore wrote the gospels. How? By collaborating with Josephus. “
Incorrect. The doc points out that the Flavians were allied with the Alexanders, the famous Jewish intellectual family, and the Herods who had acquired a Hasmonean portion of their bloodline. The Flavian court was therefore the only place with the motivation, capacity and opportunity to write the Gospels.
You wrote: “Josephus appears to record events that fulfill the prophecies of OT and NT. Early Christians understood this connection. The only connection is that Josephus tells us something about the Jewish groups we read about in the gospels (e.g. Pharisees) and that the temple was destroyed — as gospels inform us Jesus predicted.”
Incorrect. Josephus also recorded the destruction of Galilean towns, the encircling of Jerusalem with a wall and the AoD.
You wrote: “Josephus tells us Romans rounded up writers of alternate histories and executed them. Only the official history of Josephus was to survive. All the copies of those alternate histories were destroyed. This is entirely fiction. There is no evidence for any of these claims, as far as I am aware, and I have read reasonably widely on literature in the time of the Flavian emperors”
Incorrect on two claims.
For example, see Suetonius, Domitian 10.
“Domitian put to death Hermogenes of Tarsus because of some allusions in his History, besides crucifying even the slaves who had written it out.”
That’s enough for now.
Joe, if you wish to reply to my points then please read the posts that I have linked to explain and justify my claims. Simply ignoring the arguments is not appropriate.
Your rebuttals are simply fanciful assertions without any evidence to support them. Myth upon myth.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that your conclusions are quite divorced from serious studies of the sources and fail to address the actual points I made and that you even quote.
Yes, it is “obvious” to those who are bent on twisting every passage they read to be about seeing messianic figures where no mention is ever made of them. The Judeans had a more complex and rich set of stories and theologies and did not reduce everything and everyone to “messiahs” — least of all when no mention is made of them in any of the stories or claims. Strange that Josephus did not condemn Theudas for being a “false messiah”.
Oh Joe, come on, you are showing your ignorance of the fundamentals of Roman history. Deification of emperors was all part of the Roman cult that I was referring to. You have no grounds for claiming that the Vespasians sought to create a new religion. None.
Joe, again, I find your rebuttals astonishing. You surely know that the eagle episode happened a whole generation before the Claudius episode. Events that distant apart do not create the fever pitch of outrage that stirs mass uprisings. Just look at events that cause wars and they are not one offence in year X then another in year X+40 then another in x+70 — besides, you are ignoring the clear accounts of Josephus when it suits you and substituting your own causes of the war that are completely unreasonable to any thinking person.
Joe, please, please, go to a library and look up some books on Roman history and the history of Jews in the Roman empire. The Jews of the day were NOT interested in restoring a kingship. You are simply imagining your own idea of what the Jewish religion was about without any control by reference to actual basic text book learning.
Please read my arguments that I linked to. Please read the works of serious scholars like Steve Mason on the Jewish War. Please learn how to read ancient sources like Josephus and stop reading your own assumptions and interpretations into what he writes.
You have not read very much on Jewish messianic ideas. And you have not read enough Jewish history to know that they did not routinely equate kings with “messiahs” in the sense you mean the word. Your claims are simply divorced from reality that can be discovered by a serious reading of basic texts.
So where do you see “messiah” printed there? The coins and rebellion remind one of the earlier Hasmonean revolt. No messiahs there in your sense of the word and no messiahs in anything you present — you are simply seeing messiahs where they are not mentioned. Stick to the facts. The Judeans were quite capable of rebelling and setting up kings without any belief that a messiah (in your sense) was about to come or was leading them. Read some basic history.
Joe, Joe, Joe — Why do you insist on seeing a “messiah” as in your “messianic movement” sense in every reference to a king? Simply read the evidence and stop trying to read into it what is simply not there.
You seem to have imagined a myth about the nature of Jews and messianism that is quite divorced from reality and has more in common with some of the more extreme religious apologists.
Yes, and again, no mention of a messiah or messianic movement. You are not letting Jewish history speak for itself but are reading your own fancies into it.
I think I represented a point in the video correctly. I also responded to the details you have added here by pointing out how close they sound to something we would expect to read in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — Jewish conspiracies with ruling powers.
There is no mystery about the gospels being created by normal people with no imperial connections. None at all.
Sorry, I forgot that bit. But Jesus didn’t actually predict their destruction at the hands of Romans, did he. Somehow, though many Galilean urban cities were left untouched. They were not destroyed at all.
And you believe every word of Suetonius? If you read Suetonius in context it will be surely plain that any historian or poet or dramatist who dared to appear to criticize the ruling emperor was playing with fire, but once an emperor was dead it was always open season and a free for all to criticize him — so long as there was no innuendo against the current emperor. We have every reason to expect Domitian was following through as was the common practice then.
But I thank you for alerting me to that passage in Suetonius as the entire “evidence” upon which the claim is made that the Flavians destroyed all histories except the so-called “official” one of Josephus.
It certainly is.
I appreciate your research and bringing out various typological links between Josephus and the Gospels.
I also appreciate that you have often disagreed at the highest level on Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement by quoting exactly what was written and showing how the main point was wrong. Very well done in my opinion.
Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement
I prefer the original essay linked above but for those just wanting a coloured visual and Wikipedia summary, use this link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Graham_(programmer)#Graham's_hierarchy_of_disagreement)
I consider Graham’s Hierarchy a useful guide for more objectively understanding and judging disagreements. Unless disagreements are at the highest 3 levels they can usually be considered insubstantial and respectfully referred to the above link or ignored.
I love how you are not bound by academia protocols and indoctrination. State/National schooling is the result of philosophical planning to upgrade the old plan of Plato. This resulted in Christianity, which I have great confidence in saying was a creation of Imperial Rome because I can show enough solid typological links for any man woman or child on the street to see Josephus and official history of Imperial Rome and the Gospels have a lot of parallels that have no place in an Imperial History.
I love much of your stuff Joe and greatly appreciate your honest forthright discussion of issues of importance. I wish I knew of some places where people like you discuss things online so I could hear and discuss many things. I was hoping this place might be one but it doesn’t seem so.
Historical facts are rare as hens teeth. The literary typological facts between Josephus and the Bible give some basic and powerful facts and just one fact e.g. Imperial Rome created the gospels can and will completely change many peoples views of history and current society.
Fare and be well
Neil and JA seem to be holding different parts of the elephant. For many of us reading the posts it is a matter of figuring out Neil’s and JA’s agendas. So far I see JA as, like myself, focusing on the wealthy, powerful political leaders having been able to control information. I see Neil’s agenda as, like myself, exposing and questioning unproven conclusions. Both have a superior knowledge of history than I do. What I’d really appreciate is for JA and Neil to put together their summary case of how Christianity most likely started and evolved. Forgive my audacity please. Here’s my most likely timeline
1. Polytheistic Hebrews became monolateralist and henotheistic Jews i.e. Jahveh was the boss god of others
2. Jewish angelology and many cultures with dieing and rising saviour gods prevailed in Palestine the time of the supposed Jesus Christ
3. Pauline writings emerged with a mythical messiah expected to come to earth to renew the Kingdom of God after having atoned in heaven in aeons past
3. Roman rule oppressing the Jews came to a head with war around 70 and 132 AD, the temple destroyed
4. Rabbinic Judaism developed
5. A large number of gospel stories were written, some under Roman auspice, about a euhemerised Head Angel (JC) being passive on earth, crucified on earth, resurrected
6. Roman rulers used four stories as propoganda as an authoritative canon to repress further rebellion, aid in unity and allow Gentiles to mesh with Jews
7. Roman church government was catalytic in the development of a NT canon for the official story
How I reconcile JA and Neil’s views is via a “rich vs poor” and “powerful vs weak” model : after 2,000 years we have been engrossed in the stories that the Roman Catholic Church wanted us to have, with the Protestants and Orthodox apologising for/against them but haven’t yet thrown baby Jesus out with the bathwater.
Still working on it.
What youre doing is called blaming the victim, or scapegoating. Its a religious ritual