2018-11-26

Telling lies for Jesus mythicism

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by Neil Godfrey

[Josephus] was employed to write the official history that we have. The other histories from this period have been destroyed ruthlessly by the Romans. Josephus tells us this in very chilling passages how the Romans exerted complete control of the literature of this period. There were alternative histories of the Jewish war written, while the Romans rounded up the writers of those histories and executed them. They rounded up all the copies of those histories and destroyed them. That is to say they ruthlessly wiped out any alternative history, so that the only history we have is written by Josephus.” — Dr Rod Blackhirst, Lecturer in Religious Studies, La Trobe University

On my shelf I have a book titled Telling Lies for God by I.R. Plimer. I was a bit disappointed in it when I read it because I thought it was itself misrepresenting some of the apologist arguments and could have had more credibility by not sometimes garnishing the facts at hand.

Not long ago I took up a request to engage with a video on youtube, Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Christianity. The presentation contains so many exaggerations and falsehoods that it would take me forever to address in detail, but I did tackle some of them here and here. Some of the contributors interviewed, namely Dr Robert and Timothy Freke, did not make any extravagant claims, but others did — namely Joseph Atwill, Rob Blackhirst, John Hudson and D.M. Murdock/Acharya S.

One point I have not yet addressed in depth, however, and that is the claim I placed in the quotation box at the top of this post, the one made near the video’s beginning by Dr Rob Blackhirst. To fast forward to the conclusion, I am astonished that a serious academic employed at a bona fide university could mouth such total fabrication. Not a word of what is quoted is true, but that’s what he claimed for the “benefit” of viewers of the video.

Point #1. Josephus’s history of the Jewish war is not an “official history”. It was Josephus’s personal history that did not have to be submitted for approval to the emperor or his agents.

Point #2. We have no record to substantiate the claim that “other histories from this period [the period of Josephus in the time of Vespasian and Titus] have been destroyed ruthlessly” — or leave off the “ruthlessly” and just say “destroyed”. There is absolutely nothing in the sources that permits Rob Blackhirst to make that claim.

Point #3. Alternative histories were written? Romans rounded up their authors and executed them? These claims are absolute fabrication. There is not a shred of evidence in our records that any such things ever happened.

Not quite. There is another series of false claims from about the 17th minute. We hear the following:

“The Jewish scripture, Josephus records that the Flavians took and placed in their private palace where no-one was allowed to see it.” (Atwill speaking)

“Although Titus Flavius successfully ended the rebellion in Judea, another rebellion soon broke out in Alexandria, Egypt. The Flavians were clear that this was not the end of the Jewish messianic movement. They also recognized that it was the Jews’ messianic literature that was fueling this movement. So once they captured the Jewish scripture they had all other copies of it destroyed.” (Murdoch speaking)

“And that’s why the Dead Sea Scrolls had to have been buried in a cave, because that was the only way they could be safe from Roman destruction. There was not a single scrap of literature found from the messianic movement until the scrolls were discovered. That’s why they’re such a treasure, because they’re the only real voice from the messianic movement that we have.” (Atwill speaking)

That riot in Alexandria, Egypt, happened in 66 CE, BEFORE Titus besieged Jerusalem, not “soon” afterwards as claimed in the video. It was a consequence of racial hostilities with the Greeks, and not related in any way with messianic movements.

One gains the distinct impression from the video that all copies of the Jewish scriptures were destroyed, at least those sections that spoke of a coming messiah, and that the only surviving records of this literature were hidden away in the emperor’s palace and the caves of the Dead Sea.

That is all total nonsense. Jewish scriptures were not destroyed. They continued in the safe hands of Jews and Christians “up to this very day”, as they say in all the best the stories. If the video’s claims or strong inferences were true then the world would not have known anything about the Jewish Scriptures or Old Testament until after the modern discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1946/47).

But back to the point of this post. Did the emperors in the time of Josephus destroy all other histories apart from his? Again, that is a completely fabricated claim with not a gram of evidence in any of our sources.

What we do learn if we care to study the rise of Vespasian (soon followed by his son Titus) is that propaganda was indeed a prime focus of their rules. The Flavian emperors (Vespasian introduced the Flavian family to imperial rule) were from a lower class than the preceding dynasty of emperors beginning with Augustus Caesar and ending with Nero (the Julio-Claudian dynasty). Senators and others would naturally look down their noses at a lower ranking general from Spain. Vespasian was able to hold on to power and cement his status by proclaiming that he had been the first to conquer the race of the Jews in the far east, and that he had a strong and reliable general in his son Titus who could succeed him, and that he had even been divinely prophesied and therefore ordained by the gods to rule the empire, and that his only ambition was to restore the the Roman empire a humble rule of a servant who would honour the whims of the Senate. After a year of civil war the Roman senate were prepared to accept such outrageous and hypocritical claims merely for the sake of peace. Vespasian, in the meantime, launched a massive propaganda campaign to establish his authority. That propaganda relied heavily on his having finally crushed a people in the east and extended the empire.

In fact he had merely squashed some rebellious elements in an area that had been long conquered by Rome. But the facts did not matter and he was able to promote his own version of events through public works, coins, parades. Through literature? Not so much.

The writing of history during the reigns of Vespasian and his son Titus was almost nonexistent according to our sources. Josephus is our primary source.

Historical narrative does not make good propaganda.

(Mason, 349)

Historical writing was undertaken by wealthy retirees in seclusion or it was done by authors who saw an opportunity to entertain readers (Fantham, 187; Woodman, 154).

Historians were free to criticize earlier emperors but as for their contemporaries they could only resort to the most oblique innuendo at their peril. Sometimes some went too far and were usually exiled. As for Vespasian in particular?

Vespasian is generally thought to have been politically tolerant of all but the most open challenges, but Domitian had exiled and condemned to death more than one republican idealist.

(Fantham, 193)

Notice that? Vespasian’s second son who assumed power after the early death of Titus was upset with historical works that indicated a loathing of the rule of emperors and longed for a return to the Republic of yester-year. Note: historians were not persecuted because of any account of the Jews and the Jewish War, but on account of more immediate local Roman politics.

Notice also in the above quote that Vespasian was regarded as one of the more tolerant of emperors, allowing various forms of innuendo against him and only reacting when the criticisms became obviously direct. That’s not the sort of emperor that we are expected to imagine in the Caesar’s Messiah video. Historical writing in Vespasian’s time was not strong on history anyway, but was more devoted to poetry and drama.

The bottom line is that I know of no historical account of the Flavians systematically destroying all historical records (except for the one by Josephus) of the Jewish War.

If we can step outside the evidence for a moment and imagine a historical account of that war contrary to the one by Josephus, the worst we could imagine is that such an account exposed all too vividly the smallness of Vespasian’s supposed “conquests”. The account would make clear that there were only about three battle all told and most of Galilee and Judea submitted to Vespasian without a fight. The only problem was the rebel factions besieged in Jerusalem that had to be brought to heel. All the spoils of victory in the ensuing Triumphal marches in Rome were padded with loot from Egypt and Syria to make it look a whole lot more significant than it really was. (Mason, 2017) Now I can imagine the Flavians destroying those sorts of histories, but the problem is it seems that all potential authors of those were not prepared to risk their necks and write anything in the first place.

Authors of histories at variance to those of Josephus were not rounded up and executed. As far as we know they never existed in the first place. Jewish scriptures were not sought out and secreted from public view. Contrary histories and messianic scriptures were not destroyed wholesale.

The video presentation Caesar’s Messiah is a series of falsehoods, exaggerations, misleading innuendo, and bullshit.


CAESAR’S MESSIAH  The Roman Conspiracy To Invent Jesus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBZH0uoUZH4&feature=youtu.be, accessed November 26, 2018.

Fantham, E. (1999). Roman Literary Culture: From Cicero to Apuleius. Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mason, S. (2016). A history of the Jewish War, AD 66-74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mason, S. (2009). Of Despots, Diadems and Diadochoi: Josephus and Flavian Poltics. In W. J. Dominik, J. Garthwaite, & P. A. Roche (Eds.), Writing Politics in Imperial Rome (pp. 323–350). Leiden ; Boston: Brill.

Sullivan, J. P. (1985). Literature and Politics in the Age of Nero. Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press.


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Neil Godfrey

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15 Comments

  • john dauria
    2018-11-26 13:28:22 GMT+0000 - 13:28 | Permalink

    A v enjoyable ” deconstruction ” of the more bald assertions of some connected with ” Atwillian ” view …thnx

  • Joe Atwill
    2018-11-26 14:00:28 GMT+0000 - 14:00 | Permalink

    Hi Neil,

    You wrote:

    “Point #1. Josephus’s history of the Jewish war is not an “official history”. It was Josephus’s personal history that did not have to be submitted for approval to the emperor or his agents.”

    Incorrect and, frankly, amazing. (Have you actually read Josephus?)

    “The emperor Titus was so desirous that the knowledge of these affairs should be taken from these books alone, that he subscribed his own hand to them and ordered that they should be published” Josephus Life 363

    You wrote:

    “Point #2. We have no record to substantiate the claim that “other histories from this period [the period of Josephus in the time of Vespasian and Titus] have been destroyed ruthlessly” — or leave off the “ruthlessly” and just say “destroyed”. There is absolutely nothing in the sources that permits Rob Blackhirst to make that claim.
    Point #3. Alternative histories were written? Romans rounded up their authors and executed them? These claims are absolute fabrication. There is not a shred of evidence in our records that any such things ever happened.”

    Both points are incorrect.

    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.”

    When I pointed out your blunder in overlooking Suetonius’ passage in my prior post you responded by claiming that Suetonius was also a liar.

    You wrote:

    “And you believe every word of Suetonius?”

    Look Neil, I can see you are emotional but claiming that someone with the stature of Professor Blackhirst is a liar is a serious matter and I would suggest you issue a public apology.

    You can have whatever opinion you wish concerning the veracity of Suetonius but you cannot deny the existence of the passage by claiming that there is “nothing in the sources to permit Rob Blackhirst to make the claim”.

    No one with a clear, unemotional mind would deny that passage is evidence for Dr. Blackhirst’s claim. And all such persons can see who is the one lying.

    I strongly suggest that you simply admit your mistake and issue an apologize to Dr. Blackhirst for slandering him.

    Hope this is clarifying.

    Joe

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-29 12:39:27 GMT+0000 - 12:39 | Permalink

      Joe, I think you are being somewhat mischievous in suggesting that my reply to a claim of yours was a single sentence and failing to point to the paragraph that followed from that sentence.

      When I pointed out your blunder in overlooking Suetonius’ passage in my prior post you responded by claiming that Suetonius was also a liar.

      You wrote:

      “And you believe every word of Suetonius?”

      Nor do I know why you reworded my response to insinuate that I called Suetonius “a liar”. Here is the rest of my response that followed on directly from that sentence you quoted:

      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.

      If you read Josephus more fully you will find him making references to other historians and their historical narratives of the war and not giving the slightest inkling that they had been rounded up and executed or that their works were burned. Rather, Josephus indicates they were thriving quite well.

      Yet the writers I have in mind claim to be writing history, though beside getting all their facts wrong they seem to me to miss their target altogether. For they wish to establish the greatness of the Romans while all the time disparaging and deriding the actions of the Jews. — From book 1 of Wars

      Not a hint that these other historians of the Jewish war who flattered Vespasian, Titus and the Roman armies and mocked those they defeated were being rounded up and executed and their works burned.

      As for the claim that Josephus’s history was an “official” account is misleading given what “official” means, I was responding to the claim that Josephus was somehow writing at the behest of and with the sanction of the state authority, requiring the state’s approval for content (as I tried to make clear in my original statement that you have also quoted.) That’s not the same thing as an emperor happening to like a work composed independently and then personally promoting it.

      (A similar mistake is made when a presenter says Constantine made Christianity the “official” religion of the empire. He didn’t. That did not happen until the time of Theodosius.)

      What is significant for your argument is that Titus wanted the work to be read even though, as we know from Josephus himself, other historians had written accounts much more flattering of Vespasian and Titus and far more hostile in their portrayal of the Jews. That fact suggests that Titus saw value in Josephus’ War (which honoured and praised Jews in general, though not their wayward demagogues) being of value as propaganda, presumably in helping to placate the Jews after their defeat.

  • Kelly D Wellington
    2018-11-26 17:28:18 GMT+0000 - 17:28 | Permalink

    Complete control? LOL

    Josephus’ primary competitor in that place and time, Justus of Tiberius, took refuge in the household of Agrippa II after Titus demanded the death of Justus. Justus was later released because he was deemed ‘unreliable’. Justus evidently took his revenge upon Agrippa posthumously.

    That hardly sounds like ‘complete control’ when you cannot even dictate to your lessers. And, his work was extent long enough that Photius, in the eighth century, managed to comment that his work as a historian of first century Galilee failed to make any mention of any Jesus of Nazareth.

    So…I seems that your claim of utter destruction of all other sources is specious nonsense.

  • Joe Atwill
    2018-11-26 19:11:19 GMT+0000 - 19:11 | Permalink

    Hi Kelly,

    Thank you for your polite and clear minded response. Its reasoning is completely incorrect however.

    The fact that Vespasian ordered a non party line historian put to death completly supports Dr. Blackhirst’s position and erodes Neil’s. The “utter destruction” of Justus’ work by the Flavians would have been difficult since he waited until after their death to publish it – Vita 360, another fact supporting Dr. Blackhirst.

    Joe

  • 2018-11-26 19:13:39 GMT+0000 - 19:13 | Permalink

    Here is a quote from Richard Carrier, one of Neil’s type A Mythicists:

    Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.

    So, apparently some Type A mythicists have no problem with conspiracy theories.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-29 13:08:11 GMT+0000 - 13:08 | Permalink

      How do you draw that conclusion from the words you quoted? Do you interpret that as Carrier saying he believes in a conspiracy theory origin of Christianity?

      • 2018-11-29 13:29:04 GMT+0000 - 13:29 | Permalink

        What are you talking about? Did you actually read the quote? Carrier is saying a conspiracy theory is a reasonable explanation, not that he necessarily believes that is what actually happened.

        • 2018-11-29 13:59:47 GMT+0000 - 13:59 | Permalink

          For example, on February 22 on Twitter, Carrier recommended my essay on Noble Lies and Christian origins: https://twitter.com/RichardCCarrier/status/966713694167228416 . My essay is here for anyone who would like to read it: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html . It tries to show that while The Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins is not “probable,” it has a wealth of historical analogies and is a reasonable interpretation of the evidence.

          NB. If anyone hasn’t seen it, here is a video, the relevant part starting around 1:10:41, where Dr. Carrier claims the conspiracy theory that Paul lied about seeing visions of Jesus is a reasonable interpretation of the historical evidence:

          • A Buddhist
            2018-11-29 14:50:07 GMT+0000 - 14:50 | Permalink

            Claiming that Paul lied about his visions is not a conspiracy theory (although it is a theory that may be open to challenge) because there is no conspiracy being alleged. A conspiracy by definition requires a minimum of two people working together (and a conspiracy theory by definition alleges that two or more people are conspiring or conspired to do something). That having been said, it is easy to imagine a person thinking that Paul was not the only one in his circle of Christians who were lying, in which case the allegation that Paul lied about his visions would be part of a conspiracy theory about Christian origins.

            • Der Gottesverachter
              2018-12-04 17:42:20 GMT+0000 - 17:42 | Permalink

              “A conspiracy by definition requires a minimum of two people working together”

              No guys, the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ doesn’t mean ‘a theory that there was a conspiracy’ – these can actually be legit, as mundane conspiracies do happen quite often.

              ‘Conspiracy’ in this phrase refers to a specific kind – a massive effort by a large, influential group of people to withhold (sensational) information from general public.
              A couple of dudes trying to fool some people – happens all the time and is not even close.

  • Der Gottesverachter
    2018-11-26 20:28:43 GMT+0000 - 20:28 | Permalink

    So, apparently some have a problem understanding what conspiracy theory means.

  • JBeers
    2018-11-26 21:58:06 GMT+0000 - 21:58 | Permalink

    All of you may or may not be interested in an interesting or amusing coincidence. I look passively at any number of websites daily, mainly political, from left to right. I am comfortable with none of them but/and do not participate actively. (This is the only website where I participate actively – I hope I did not do a bad thing by asking for review of the video.) After checking this website this afternoon I glanced at a financial/political one, which had a link to
    https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2018/11/25/newsweek-employed-spy-explains-to-us-why-assange-should-be-prosecuted

    One of the commentators urged the piece’s readers to look at the JA video. A couple of other people responded with interest. One of those was the blog’s proprietor, Caitlin Johnstone, who indicated she was looking at the video now and found it interesting. As I noted before, the video is compelling, perhaps at least as much because of the psychology of viewers like me and Ms Johnstone than because of its content. (By compelling I do not mean compelling = correct.) Its story has perhaps seduced its creators as well?

    It’s a small world, the way I found reference to the video on the other site. The connections within the small world are not ideal. It would be nice for interested people know where to go for an introduction to the general topic of the Jesus questions as well as specifically the video. Would they find too much detail and perhaps w/ regard to the video too much animosity here?

  • JBeers
    2018-11-26 22:26:07 GMT+0000 - 22:26 | Permalink

    Please indulge me 1-2 of other things:

    1. I happened to remember how the philosopher-of-science Paul Feyerabend, who dwelt on Galileo’s work to illustrate how the Scientific Method (falsification and all that) may not be all it’s cracked up to be, suggests that perhaps the single most critical factor in Galileo’s success was that he wrote in Italian, not Latin, and that he wrote Italian well. I wonder whether JA’s perspective may be especially potent right now simply because it is available on a video.

    [[[2. A correction that no one may care about: although I wrote above that I do not comment on other websites I did fairly recently comment on under a different name on a highly political website where people were mentioning what Jesus would or would not do. I took the liberty of referring them to this website to consider the possibility that Jesus might not have existed at least in the way they considered. I soon regretted the comments, realizing I made a factual error or two in just a few sentences — also I’m not sure how much Neil and Tim want to attract readers via this methodology.]]]

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-29 13:20:45 GMT+0000 - 13:20 | Permalink

      Yes, it does seem that video clips are a far more common medium now. I suspect that viewers who watch them will be no different in their thinking abilities than they are when the read or hear a report in any other medium.

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