Conclusion of feedback on the Atwill-Murdock video about the Roman Conspiracy to invent Christianity

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by Neil Godfrey

In the previous post we ended with the Video’s fabricated claim that

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 assertion 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. The history Josephus wrote was not an “official” history somehow “approved by” the authorities, either. It is quite unlikely that the Flavian emperor’s ever read or heard a reading of Josephus’s work. They had other propaganda and administrative issues to take up their time.

Other extravagant claims in the video are that the Roman authorities seized the holy books of the Jews from the temple, somehow implying that such an action was targeted at reducing the Jewish belief in a messianic leader to come and free them from the Romans. That, we saw, was also a misleading claim since the Jews held many other copies of the Scriptures and they probably never even read the actual copy deposited in the Temple to begin with. It was there as a sacred relic. Besides, belief in an imminent messiah, even if it existed (and we linked to evidence there was no such disturbing movement at that time) would not be quelled by removing texts from a mostly illiterate population. Josephus and other sources that inform us about the Jewish War and Roman military concerns inform us of other reasons for the Jewish was that had nothing to do with a so-called “messianic movement”. The video’s claims or inferences that the Flavian emperors (Vespasian and Titus) were confronted by widespread and regular Jewish uprisings are simply not true.

13. At one point we hear on the video: “All of the Roman Flavian historians record that Vespasian and family was the Christ.

I don’t know the basis for that claim but I know of not a single ancient historian that said the Vespasian family were “the Christ”. Josephus said there was a prophecy that a world ruler would come from Judea and that’s all there is. Josephus did not tell us the actual source for that claim, but it was a timely one to make to ensure his survival and to assist Vespasian in establishing his status as a rightful emperor. He used the propaganda to declare that he was a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy from the east, but the notion of a Jewish “christ” or “messiah” was alien and meaningless to him.

14. The video presentation points out that the Roman emperors and their bureaucracy were dedicated to enforcing the Roman imperial cult, so that the emperor was to be worshiped as a god.

The video for some reason does not also point out that the same Roman power allowed the Jews to practice their own religion so they did not have to worship the statue of Caesar. Is it really likely that any Jew would have accepted a new religion being introduced by Josephus or his associates to start worshiping a new figure, Jesus, in a new set of stories, the gospels, because that Jesus was really a rewrite and inversion (from military warrior to pacificist) of the emperor Titus? That is the thesis of Atwill and others in the video.

15. The Roman plot to invent Christianity was so clever that the Romans no longer needed armies, but through religion they could rule their subjects now.

16. Christianity could not have happened without some degree of complicity with Romans. Romans must have been involved in the production of this Christian literature.

This assertion is baseless. Christians sometimes faced serious consequences if they found themselves in a position to participate in the imperial cult of emperor-worship. The Roman authorities never excused the Christians on the grounds that their Christ figure was “really” the Roman emperor Titus. Besides, to declare loyalty to an emperor of a previous age and not the currently ruling emperor might as well be seen as sedition.

17. The Flavians were funded by the Alexanders, a Jewish family. Both emperors and Jewish leaders wanted to suppress messianic movement.

This claim is very close to the antisemitic accusation that Jews are plotting behind the scenes to take or control the powers that be. There was no “messianic movement” involved in the Jewish war of 66-70/73 CE. If the later revolt (under the later emperor Hadrian) of Bar Kochba (135 CE) was a messianic movement it was completely crushed without any assistance from conversions to Christianity.

18. We hear it on the video that the word for “gospel” is “evangelion” and it means “Good News of Military Victory”.

No, it doesn’t. It means “good news”, period. It could refer to the good news of a military victory just as much as the word could refer to any other type of “good news”, such as the rule of a good emperor or king or god.

19. In the video we hear another rhetorical question: Why are gospels celebrating things the Jews lost — battle of Gadara, battle of lake of Galilee, battle of Jerusalem? These are the battles Romans won.

The gospels don’t “celebrate” those places. They are place names along with many others were many things happened. One of the greatest losses of the Jews in Galilee was the siege and destruction of the city of Iotapata, a city not mentioned at all in the gospels.

20.  The gospel teaching is to turn away from Jewish law and obey Roman law.

Except that the Gospel of Matthew teaches the necessity to obey even more stringently the Jewish law.

21. A video presenter tells us that the myth in the gospels is of a pacifist Jesus walking around a pastoral scene talking to fishermen, but in fact it was a war zone!

It was not a war zone in the early first century, the period of the gospel narrative.

22. In the gospels all the Romans are interpreted in a favourable light. Now the Jews are the forces of darkness.

Not all but many Romans are, yes. So are some Jews presented as good persons. The new religion presented itself as nonthreatening to the authorities and that would be expected of any religion. We don’t need a conspiracy to explain it.

23. The Romans wanted to promote antisemitism (– that’s a claim made about 36.33) — so the gospels make the Jews responsible for Jesus’s (a beloved man-god) death.

There is no evidence for the Romans wanting to “promote antisemitism”. In the second century one emperor even planned to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem in order to upset the Christians. The video in the sections prior to this claim spoke of Roman leaders having close and positive financial and marriage relationships with Jews.

24. We hear that “this could only be done by a literary team in Rome writing the books of Josephus. The gospels give prominence to the Flavian Caesars. The gospels are designed to magnify allegorically the Roman Caesars.

Such a claim is made with all sincerity but it is bogus. None of it is true.

25. @ 37 mins we hear that the gospel authors backdated the story of Jesus to the time of “their enemies”, the Julio-Claudian emperors, so that the events happened 40 years before the war.

No. The Julio-Claudians were NOT the enemies of the Flavians. In fact the Julio-Claudian emperor Claudius was a good friends with younger Vespasian or Titus. Many Roman aristocrat hated Nero and put him in such a position that he committed suicide. Vespasian came to power after other military generals had fought to take the emperorship.

26. That’s why many prophecies of Jesus came true exactly 40 years later.

No. “Many prophecies” of Jesus did not come true “40 years later”. For a start, the gospels are vague on exactly when Jesus was crucified. There is no attempt to pin down a particular year for the time he made his prophecy (one prophecy, not many) of the destruction of the temple.

27. So the gospels were created under the Flavians as Flavian propaganda. So if you end up worshiping Jesus what you really end up doing is worshiping Caesar in disguise. Thus the Flavians finally got the Jews to worship Caesar as a god.

Again, the presenters are evidently unaware of the simple fact that Jews were permitted to practice their religion unmolested by authorities. Besides, knowing what we do about the ability of Rome to wield violence the idea that they could not simply torture and kill rebels to make them submit but felt constrained to try to impose on them a new religion in the belief that the Jews really would accept that — that’s simply all so absurd.

28. About 50 minutes in, we hear that the Flavians wrote passages directly into the gospels to show that they were the authors. Gospels speak of a coming of a son of man and three key events follow — in Galilee towns will be crushed, Jerusalem would be circled, and the temple razed. Also they said exactly when it will happen — before that generation dies out. A generation was 40 years to Jews at that time.

And the Jews were too stupid to notice the parallels with the events of recent memory? Most of the major cities of Galilee were not crushed by spared because they submitted to Rome. There is nothing in the gospels to tell us what year the prophecy of Jesus was made, and the prophecy did not say in “exactly” 40 years but “before” a generation had died out. If they wanted to pinpoint a year they could have, but they didn’t.

29. Josephus said that no matter how much they tortured Jews they still refused to call a man a god. So Flavians wrote the gospels in which a son of man was predicted to come in the future. Titus thus became son of man — so you end up worshiping Titus without knowing it.

30. it is said that Constantine made Christianity the State Religion of Rome.

No he didn’t. He made Christianity a legal religion, no longer to be persecuted by Roman emperors. Why did he have to do this if the Christians were ignorantly worshiping Caesar anyway?


That’s enough. That ends my feedback on the Atwill-Murdock video arguing that Christianity was invented by the Roman authorities in cahoots with leading Jews to trick Jews into worshiping Caesar disguised as Jesus.




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Neil Godfrey

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30 thoughts on “Conclusion of feedback on the Atwill-Murdock video about the Roman Conspiracy to invent Christianity”

  1. It is well known that Christians burned down all Libraries that contained incriminating evidence about the origins of the Egyptian Jesus – Alexandria, Ephesus and several others. Romans may have been complicit in this, but it happened.

  2. Thanks for taking this on.

    I do think that JA has identified some interesting parallels between the Gospels and the works of Josephus, which has been known for some time, but he adds more to the case IMO. However, the problem is that he then draws many unsupported conclusions and makes many unsubstantiated claims based on these parallels.

    So instead of taking an interesting phenomenon and providing reasoned analysis of it, he ends up poisoning the well by turning it into a conspiracy theory.

    As with many conspiracy theories, there is a grain of truth to them, but unfortunately when wild claims get made based on the true grain, the result often leads to even more skepticism of the true aspects.

    And I mean yeah, it’s well known that Theodosius is the one who made Christianity the official religion of Rome, so that’s just a very basic fact that should never be missed.

  3. I had been hoping for just this sort of review.

    Pretty ignorant about much of the material, I did not know what to make of the video. I expect others similarly would or will benefit from your review.

    Unless or until convinced otherwise, I will now assume your review is correct.

    Now I wonder how the video came to be. Clearly much money, effort, and even erudition (if perhaps perverted or diverted) was sacrificed in its production. Why and how was it created for public presentation if it is so much at odds with reality as you indicate it to be? I can’t see that JA and assistants and collaborators thought they would make money out of it or get ahead professionally with it (if anything the opposite). I struggle unsuccessfully trying to impute any sort of ugly motivation.

    Take the simple point of the Greek word that is usually translated as ‘gospel’. The video at a minimum improperly strongly implies that at the time the word had the sole meaning of ‘Good News of Military Victory’. This contention is so blatantly at odds with conventional understanding and so controvertible by those (not me) who know Greek, that it is just plain weird that a huge effort could be made to produce a video that seems to go out of its way to make so vulnerable an apparent blunder.

    People here seem to want to focus on what can be known. In contrast, I like some amount of speculation. I hope people do not mind my wondering in public about how and why the video could come into existence. Such a lot of money and effort–and erudition and intelligence–and more–were sacrificed for its creation.

    On a tangent I note that if the subject matter were a matter of extreme political controversy or extremely debated history (let’s use your recent JFK assassination topic as an example) people would probably be asserting that this video had been deliberately created for by this or that spy agency etc in order to cloud or divert public discussion. Pretty clearly (because of the topic) it isn’t. Perhaps fewer books and videos that seem to be put out on controversial topics that are blamed on this or that secretive agencies (‘disinformation’ etc) are than some people believe.

    1. To start to answer my own question–

      Perhaps the video (and the book, which I have not read) came into being out of excitement over the discovery of apparent parallels? and then perhaps not having any response other than silence when one mentioned one’s findings to people?

    2. Yes, I am sure the presenters in the video are all very sincere and believe what they are saying. Even the person who defined evangelion as “good news of a military victory” probably had convinced himself that because the word did refer to a military victory in other contexts that that is what it effectively meant.

      I think I can say from personal experience that it is all too easy to become so exited by certain apparent discoveries that one is strongly motivated to find more support and other instances of those types of discoveries and not realize how a more formal learning of the sources and the methods of analysis would change one’s perspective entirely. It’s the danger that comes with being “self-taught”. Sometimes formal learning is even rejected as “blind” or “pushing an unhealthy agenda” of some kind because it has the potential to rob one’s discoveries of the significance one feels they ought to have.

      1. Generally speaking the audience only knows the term Gospel as the “good news” of Jesus Christ. But in the context of the Jewish War it means military victory by the Romans. Atwill in his book claims the Flavians created a priesthood called the Flamens to administer the worship of Vespasian. But the Flamens were around from almost the beginning of Rome 500bc. I asked him about that and he replied something to the effect that, oh I’m trying to make a point etc. He has admitted to not being scholarly and aiming his work at the people who have little to no idea of the connection between Josephus’s work and the Bible.

        Josephus’s works were approved by Vespasian. Also the gospels were written to parallel the campaign of Titus
        to the ministry of Jesus. Both began at the sea of Galilee. Titus was given credit for the victory at Japha but was not there until the end where he chased the enemy to Galilee. The battle at Japha was part of the siege of Yodfat.

        Josephus:Against Apion
        assured of the truth of what I related, that I first of all appealed to those that had the supreme command in that war, Vespasian and Titus, as witnesses for me, for to them I presented those books first of all, and after them to many of the Romans who had been in the war. I also sold them to many of our own men who understood the Greek philosophy; among whom were Julius Archelaus, Herod [king of Chalcis], a person of great gravity, and king Agrippa himself, a person that deserved the greatest admiration. Now all these men bore their testimony to me, that I had the strictest regard to truth; who yet would not have dissembled the matter, nor been silent, if I, out of ignorance, or out of favor to any side, either had given false colors to actions, or omitted any of them. 10. There have been indeed some bad men, who have attempted to calumniate my history, and took it to be a kind of scholastic performance

        Titus Flavius Josephus. The Josephus Anthology: Against Apion, On Hades, The Antiquities of the Jews, The Wars of the Jews, The Life of Flavius Josephus (Texts From Ancient Rome Book 4) (Kindle Locations 181-188). Bybliotech.org. Kindle Edition.

        1. To make a legitimate point one does not say things that contradict the facts. Vespasian did not establish the flamens. Any point made that contradicts that fact is false.

          Jesus’ ministry did not begin at the “sea of Galilee”. According to Matthew it began in the “land of Galilee” according to the prophecy in Isaiah 9. According to Matthew and Mark and Luke he went to various town in Galilee (he did not march to Jerusalem from there) that are not mentioned by Josephus. Or perhaps it was really begun at the Jordan river wilderness? But John says he began his ministry in Jerusalem. Or was it Cana? Or the wilderness of Jordan?

          I don’t think we should let such questions be swept from view an argument that is trying “to make a point” that contradicts facts or simplifies complexities without serious explanation.

          1. Yes I agree and question everything. I should have said the link between Titus and Jesus begins at Nazareth(Japha)in Galilee. Atwill does state that the link is made difficult to see.
            “The Gospel of Luke moves this story to the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in Galilee, to introduce what follows.[2] In this version, Jesus is described as performing a public reading of scripture; he claims to be the fulfillment of a prophecy at Isaiah 61:1-2. (Luke 4:16-30) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rejection_of_Jesus

            1. You will have to jog my memory. Does Atwill identify Nazareth and Japha (Japhhia?) as the starting point of both Jesus and Titus’s campaigns? Japhia/Japha was not the same as Nazareth. Japhia was a major centre of Galilee.

              1. Japha/Japhia was not Nazareth any more than Sepphoris was Nazareth. A place within a few kilometers of X is not the same as X. What evidence does Atwill cite to justify the claim that a Roman emperor or son of an emperor erected a small nobody hamlet to commemorate a victory over the major center of Japha?

              2. He’s not saying that Naz is Japha. He’s saying that Jesus prophesying; physician heal thy self, is referring to the battle at Japha. The zealots were locked out by the people of Japha.
                He claims Constantine had a church built at Japha? Not sure where he gets that idea.

              3. I guess the church was built at Nazareth not Japha.

                “Epiphanius, writing of Joseph of Tiberias, a wealthy Roman Jew who converted to Christianity in the time of Constantine, says he claimed to have received an imperial rescript to build Christian churches in Jewish towns and villages where no gentiles or Samaritans dwell, naming Tiberias, Diocaesarea, Sepphoris, Nazareth and Capernaum.[55] From this scarce notice, it has been concluded that a small church which encompassed a cave complex might have been located in Nazareth in the early 4th century,”[56] although the town was Jewish until the 7th century CE.”

  4. A couple of small errors have crept in:-

    5, you’ve confused Claudius, who expelled Jews from Rome, for Caligula, who wanted a colossal statue of himself erected in the Temple.

    23, have you confused Julian in the mid-fourth century here? Hadrian, after the Bar Kochva War, re-named Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and expelled/excluded the Jews. The second century is too early for any whigging of Christians; the authorities barely had a clue who they were.

    I admire your patience debunking this stuff, cheers.

  5. One thing lends itself to Flavian provenance…and that’s a Jewish source, the Talmud, Shabbat 116b…the philosopher in that gives a time for the Evangelion…”Since the Exile has begun…” and that would make it AFTER the second temple’s destruction. So AFTER 70 c.e., “the Torah has been taken away and the Evangelion given in its place” would mean the circumstances OF that post-70 moment. Policy for Iudea. Perhaps too the philosopher as a judge would have been an office of such a post-70 c.e. regime.

    The philopher gives two quotes from the Evangelion he refers to.

    One SEEMS like a line from Matthew 5, except the philosopher says it is at the END of the Evangelion. The other quote…NEVER made it into “Matthew, Mark, Luke or John” “Son and daughter inherit equally.”

    That would indicate to me “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” had NOT yet come into existence in the 70-115 c.e. period.

    That there would have ONLY been an Evangelion “new law” in that entire period.

    And still associated with a Mark/Marqe.

    My key quibble with Atwill’s theory is that he sees “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” as what the Flavians produced.

    Instead of an INITIAL Evangelion. One that could still have objections raised to it, as Celsus pointed out.

    As for the meaning of “Evangelion.” We tend to go by the meaning as Christians have wanted us to see it, narrowed down to JUST good news. Yet, if we were to look at how GREEKS understood their word PRIOR to Christian appropriation of it…we do find broader meanings…for military victories…but ALSO for the celebration of someone becoming emperor. Something Josephus tells us was celebrated FOR Vespasian upon him becoming emperor. That gives us a 69 c.e. dating for that one. Josephus tells us the Evangelion was celebrated across the East of the empire. “Good news of a military victory”…well, I was recently reading a study of Titus and Julia Berenice, and with both Berenice AND Herod Agrippa along, Titus WAS doing a victory lap around the East of the emperor, being feted on his success.

    Two meanings of Evangelion in the sense the Greeks would have known the word. 69, then 70 c.e.

    So it comes down to who “Mark/Marqe” was in the 69/70 c.e. period. Was he ALSO the Samaritan Marqe, “son of” Tite/Tute? Of TITUS (recently read also how Titus’s name had such variants).

    Someone “adopted” by Titus in the Roman sense?

    Who was in that Victory lap retinue again? Someone whose first name was MARCUS? Marcus Julius Herod Agrippa?

    We unfortunately view the period through filters and lenses…of the Church. Through 1800 years of accretions.

    We get too caught up in especially the “testimony” of a second-century ”Johanine” stream.

    One rival to a prior MARKAN stream.

    The misinformation that Johanine stream feeds us.

    So…if there is a point a form of Flavian provenance is OBSCURED, it would be from mid-to-late 2nd century onwards.

    Otherwise from 70 c.e, to the mid-2nd century, there was only “The Evangelion” and it was NOT something “public.”

    So our best clues are NOT in information filtered through Rome…but among Jews, Samaritans and Copts.

    I get the impression that Samaritan Marqe existed BEFORE the fourth century because it would seem he was who Irenaeus et al misinformed about as “Simon Magus” and “Marcion.”

    Only took the first read of Mimar Marqe (McDonald translation), book one, chapter one, opening line to work out.

    “Great is the Power…”

    The Samaritans never themselves knew a “Simon Magus.” They knew a MARK and knew him to be tied to TITUS.

    Atwill is in the right direction, just seeing things a few stages of NARRATIVE development early.

    A first Evangelion between 70 to 115 c.e., tops mid-2nd century would not have been identical to “canonical gospels.”

    To use a MODERN analogy…it’s like trying to imagine Action Comics 1, 1938, was identical to what we read in a Superman comic any time between the eighties and now. Even THERE…a LOT of accretions built in just eighty years.

    Just imagine how accretions, plagiarism, changes, built on an initial, 70-115 c.e. Evangelion especially once someone claiming to be a student of a John romped on the scene after Bar Kochba.

    1. Your scenario is not very different from mine. I place Mark as a writer who worked for a Flavian, and whose work was private. It only came to light in the 2nd century, in my opinion first in a revised version as Marcion’s gospel, which was then revised by Luke.
      I also am willing to accept Samaritan influence on the concept of “Jesus.” But Mark was not a Samaritan: GMark has references to Psalms of the (Judean) Temple.
      As for the name “Marcus,” it was very popular, and one possibility I have not seen is that it was the equivalent of “John Doe” for Latin speakers. (And “Simon” and “Mariam” were the equivalent for Hebrew/Aaramaic speakers.) At least worth considering.
      Atwill is right to point to the Flavian period, but implausible when he attributes the writing of the gospels to a conspiracy of nonwriters who did not believe in what they were writing. It takes a special talent to be a hack writer for a religion that you don’t believe in. How likely is it that several aristocrats at the Flavian court possessed that talent? And felt it was worth their while to exercise it? For what purpose??
      My scenario is a lot simpler: Mark was a skilled playwright who wrote a play for a Flavian, and revised the text into a narrative, which was stored and not used in religious contexts until Marcion decided it was useful to him as GMarcion.
      I don’t like to keep blowing my horn, but it’s necessary because Atwill’s and Valliant & Fahy’s Flavian Provenance is partially right, but leads into a dead end of implausibility.

          1. OK. I don’t know any ancient languages, but I’d always read the Gospel of Mark’s Greek is rudimentary – unlikely that of a playwrite. But this may explain that – though it seems a bit convoluted.

            1. The translation I propose is only for Mark’s narrative, which is based on the play but is not the play script. Yes, the process is convoluted, but seems to me the only explanation of the Semitic style of GMark that Carmignac argues for. I don’t know if any other mythicist has tried to reconcile Carmignac’s observations with their scenarios for the creation of GMark and GMatthew.

            1. My working hypothesis would be that they were Buddhists or Buddhist-influenced. But I try to avoid talking about belief systems because the texts we have from antiquity have almost always passed through many hands.

              1. Not at all. The Therapeutae look like an imported cult, like what we saw in the 1960s-70 when gurus came to the West from India and established ashrams in different places. The ashrams sometimes became self-perpetuating under local leadership. The Hypsistarians per the Catholic Encylopedia https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07611a.htm were “a distinct Jewish-pagan sect in Cappadocia, Bithynia and Pontus. I see this sect as an overlay on a local ethnic group or groups; some people of the ethnic group were Hypsistarian, some were ‘pagan.’
                As for Jesus/Christ belief, the Hypsistarians must have gotten their monotheism from Judeans or Samaritans, and (I think) had ongoing relationships with well-educated Judeans/Samaritans as pastors or teachers. Some Therapeutae could have studied the Judea/Samaritan texts along with imported texts. I can see conventional Hellenized people picking up some of their wisdom. But I doubt they had the interest to produce new texts of relevance to non-Therapeutae Judeans.

  6. One thing I like about the Flavian hypothesis is that it accounts for why christians would have promulgated a gospel in which their messiah makes a glaring error – the date of the 2nd coming. If that role was filled by Vespasian, then there was no error.

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