Continuing from Part 1 and Part 2 . . .
All the same notes apply re my modifications of some sections of the translation, additional notes and hyperlinks.
3. Tacitus and Josephus
The information we get from Ehrman about Tacitus and the Testimonium Taciteum, which he highly values, on 2 (two!) pages of the book is not enough to keep skin and bones together. We are only briefly informed about the content and the historical background of this testimony, but about the problems with it Ehrman has almost nothing at all to say. Ehrman speaks of the Roman historian Tacitus and his “famous Annals of Imperial Rome in 115 CE” (p. 54) and the passage that reports on the burning of Rome and the subsequent persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero. According to Ehrman, Tacitus is said to have considered Nero the arsonist, but this is not true. If Ehrman had studied the text more thoroughly, he would have noticed that although Tacitus assumes that Nero was interested in the burning of Rome, he leaves the question of guilt in the balance – unlike Suetonius, to which Ehrman presumably refers. In any case, there are mass executions of Christians, here called “Chrestiani“, some of whom are torn apart by wild dogs and others burned alive to illuminate the imperial park at night. In this context, there is now also talk about the author of this name, Christ (the “Chrestus”, as the magnifying glass on the cover of this website shows), who was “put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate, while Tiberius was emperor; but the dangerous superstition, though suppressed for the moment, broke out again not only in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue.”
Ehrman sees here a testimony to the historicity of Jesus, even though he admits that the text does not speak of Jesus but of Christ and that it is based on Christian sources. Moreover, Ehrman suggests that some mythicists argue that the Testimonium Taciteum was not written by Tacitus but interpolated “by Christians, who copied them [Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius]” (p. 55).
Unfortunately, however, he keeps the arguments they put forward for this viewpoint to himself – if he knows them at all. Ehrman considers these arguments to be a merely a trick to explain everything that doesn’t fit the bill as a later falsification.
However, the radical critics who speak of interpolation will certainly have given reasons. What are they?
Since Ehrman remains stubbornly silent, let’s name a few. They arise from a (literary-critical) consideration of the context in which the passage of Tacitus is embedded. The 42-43rd chapter was about Nero’s lively building activity. After the fire in Rome, the emperor first used the situation to create new parks and gardens, and then to build houses and apartments according to a new, more spacious design. Chap. 45 continues this theme after the section on the persecution of Christians with an introductory “interea” (meanwhile). Now it is emphasized that the money for the building projects came primarily from the provinces and that even some temples in Rome were robbed of their gold to finance the emperor’s projects.
The text that has been handed down thus offers an extremely strange train of thought: Nero has the Christians burned, the people have pity on them – “meanwhile” (interea) the Roman Empire is being plundered. It is obvious that such a nonsensical train of thought could by no means have been the intention of the narrator. Between chapters 44 and 45 there is no connecting point to which the “interea” could refer. If it is to establish a meaningful connection, it can, in terms of content, only tie up to Ch. 43 but not to 44: Rome is being rebuilt – in the meantime the empire is being plundered for it! Ehrman does not need to be convinced by this argument. But he should at least know it so that he can deal with it.
In addition, a number of problems of content could be mentioned, which make it difficult to consider the Testimonium Taciteum as an authentic text from the pen of the Roman historian. That the Christians in Rome in the year 64 are said to have been already a “huge crowd” cannot be proved even from Christian sources. Origen speaks of the martyrs as a “small crowd that is easy to count” (Orig Cels 3:8). The fact that hatred of the human race (odium humani generis) is said to have been sufficient to punish people with death is difficult to reconcile with Roman law and has often been questioned again and even more recently.
Added to this is the lack of external testimony: Up to the monk Sulpicius Severus, who wrote in the 5th century, the testimony is not mentioned by any of the Church Fathers – which is very surprising, since the passage at Tacitus can hardly have escaped their notice in view of the monstrous events reported in it. One should not rush over such oddities as Ehrman does. But even Sulpicius Severus cannot easily be considered a textual witness. Although the section on the burning of Rome in his Historia Sacra contains a number of literal similarities, the question is: Is Tacitus really the source used by Sulpicius Severus, or is it perhaps the other way around? In other words, is the passage considered to be the text of Tacitus possibly an interpolation that goes back to Sulpicius Severus? A detailed comparison of the two passages, which is explained in my book mentioned earlier, could prove this. One indication of this could be, among other things, the word sequence humanum genus instead of genus humanum, which is unique to Tacitus. For Sulpicius also always writes humanum genus, but never genus humanum!
In any case, anyone who wants to make a scientifically responsible judgement about the Testimonium Taciteum cannot carelessly pass over these and many other problems that I deal with in my book, as Ehrman does. Since Ehrman, as we know, travels in many languages, he could have found out about this from my book, which was published six months before his. Perhaps he should also take a closer look at some of his “graduate students”, who, according to Robert M. Price, procured the material for his book for him, and check their academic suitability.
For Vridar posts addressing some of Ken Olson’s discussion of the Testimonium Flavianum (evidence he cites for its Eusebian origin) see
1. The Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius
2. Jesus in Josephus — Eusebian clues — point 4
3. Jesus in Josephus — pts 5-12
4. Jesus in Josephus – “not extinct at this day”
See the bibliography at end of this post for published articles by Ken Olson.
Even more disappointing than his Tacitus section are Ehrman’s omissions about the two Josephus passages, which have always been cited as testimony to the historicity of Jesus. Not only does Ehrman once again have nothing new to offer, but worse, he fails to engage in scholarly discussion with those who would have something new to offer: such as his former student Ken Olson, who in 1999 published some exciting theses on the Testimonium Flavianum, one after the other.
Ehrman begins with Ant 20,200-203 (= 20.9.1), i.e. with the passage about the execution of a man named James, who is described as “the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ”. Ehrman does not hesitate to identify him with the church leader brother James because of this. With reference to Jesus, this means for Ehrman, “We learn two things about him: he had a brother named James and some people mistook him for the Messiah” (59). However, Ehrman also knows mythicists, radical critics who consider the passage to be interpolated, and announces that he will deal with them after the treatment of the Testimonium Flavianum. Well, good things take time, the reader thinks, flicks on and looks forward to the discussion announced by Ehrman at a later passage. But at the end of the section he feels disappointed. Not a trace of an answer from Ehrman! Neither in the corresponding chapter nor anywhere else. In fact, after a few pages, the author seems to have forgotten his announced promise completely. It appears that the absent-minded professor must have been in a hurry to finish this book!
In fact, it would have been extremely strange if Josephus had called Jesus “so-called Christ” just by the way. This is above all due to the political implications that the term “Christ” had, especially for Jews and especially for Josephus. One cannot accuse Josephus of naivety, that he did not know what the meaning of this term (Christ = Messiah) was: That it had an eminently political dimension besides the religious one – it was, after all, just the same title that apparently pretenders to the Messiah such as Simon, Menahem and John had also claimed for themselves, who, according to Josephus, bore the responsibility for the downfall of Israel. In the period after the Jewish War, in which Josephus wrote his work, the title “Christ” may have had about the same ring to it at the Roman court as – mutatis mutandis – the term “Führer” had had in the ears of the Allies after the Second World War. The only “Christ” that Josephus could have accepted was the Roman Emperor Vespasian (Bell 6:313). This also seems to be the reason why Josephus himself avoided speaking of “Christ” where this would have made reasonable sense, namely with the Jewish pretenders to the Messiah just mentioned. The Jewish pensioner at the Roman court would probably all too easily have fallen into a reputation of political unreliability and would easily have been suspected of flirting with the former Jewish freedom fighters. For him, the word “Christ” for Jesus would have been tantamount to a confession of faith in the Jewish underground.
If it is quite unlikely that Josephus is said to have spoken of the “so-called Christ” without comment, it can by no means be excluded that the phrase “brother of Jesus” is actually original. However, it obviously did not at first refer at all to Jesus of Nazareth, but rather in an obvious way probably only to that very Jesus, the son of Damnaeus, who is mentioned at the end of the passage quoted above as the successor of the younger Annas who was deposed from his office:
“But Agrippa, as a result of this incident, shocked him after only three months in office of his dignity and appointed Jesus, the son of Damnaeus, as high priest” (Ant 20,203).
It seems that a later Christian believed that the Lord’s brother James was the same James Josephus spoke of and simply added the phrase “who is called Christ”. The fact that the martyrdom of the Damnaeus son James reported by Josephus is identical with the martyrdom of the leader brother reported by Hegesippus is based, as I show in my book, on an imagined illusion. Like the later forger of the James Ossuary, the interpolator was able to turn an otherwise unknown James into the church’s head brother with the stroke of a pen, so to speak.
When asked about the authenticity of the other Josephus passage, the Testimonium Flavianum, Ehrman, as expected, joins the faction of biblical scholars who believe that Josephus originally had a short form of the same. This could have looked like the passage proposed by J.P. Meier, whom Ehrman seems to follow.
Detering’s German language article I have been given appears to have the full TF (not Meier’s shortened proposal) at this point. I have substituted Meier’s shortened version in the main post. For comparison, here is the full TF as it currently stands in Ant. 18:
At this time there appeared” Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure.” And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so.* For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out?
Al this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when [or better: although] Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out.
How faith can still move mountains among Bible scholars! Are Ehrman and all those who follow Meier seriously of the opinion that with the short form that they have arbitrarily reconstructed, the problems of the TF, above all the question of the missing external testimony, have been solved? Does not the TF still offer a virtually radiant picture of Christianity or its founder even after the Christian confessions have been removed? The Christian apologists should not have had any reason to refer to the image of the “wise man”, “performer of unbelievable deeds” and teacher of truth in order to ward off pagan insults against their teacher? Anyone who wants to can believe that.
In addition, the three passages deleted by Meier are so closely interwoven with the context that they cannot be deleted without leaving painful gaps in the text. Ken Olson in particular has pointed this out:
The sentence that Jesus was “one who performed surprising deeds” is only meaningful if one knows the statement deleted by Meier and previously in the TF, “if indeed one ought to call him a man”. And how is it to be explained that the “tribe of Christians” calls itself after Christ, when the sentence “He was the Christ” is missing? How, finally, is it to be understood why “those who had first come to love him (Jesus) did not cease”, if one does not know that the reason for this lies in the resurrection of the one condemned on the cross, which is mentioned in the next sentence, also deleted by Meier?
Addressing Ehrman, one would like to say: It is not enough to know your students personally, one should also read what they have written now and then.
It is not worthwhile at this point to deal further with the fourth testimony of the Roman historian Suetonius presented by Ehrman, especially since Ehrman does not bring anything new here either and does not seem to value the text from the Vita Claudii (25,4) very highly himself.
That Ehrman has not even informed himself about the ammunition in his own arsenal is shown by the fact that he fails to refer to the second passage in the Nero biography (16,2) of Suetonius, according to which the emperor “punished the Christians with death penalties”, that Christians were “a sect that had surrendered to a new superstition that was dangerous to the public.” Perhaps it’s just as well, because this passage is also not original, as I have shown in the False Witnesses.
= Man möge mir verzeihen, wenn ich es etwas drastisch und unfein, sozusagen in gutem alten Lutherdeutsch, formuliere: Ehrman hat noch nicht einmal hingerochen, wo die radikalen Kritiker vor ihm hingesch… haben. -dd
Martin Luther: “Now they forget the God who rescued them when in sheer fright they shit their pants. We still smell the stench whenever one of these bigwigs is near.” (Annotated Luther. Vol 6)
One may forgive me if I formulate it somewhat drastically and ungentlemanly, in good old Lutheran German, so to speak: Ehrman didn’t even smell the radical critics when they shit in front of him.
The original article by Detering is at http://radikalkritik.de/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Ehrman_Kritik.pdf
Some of Ken Olson’s publications on the TF:
Olson, K. A. 1999. “Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61 (2): 305. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43723559
Olson, Ken. 2013a. “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum.” In Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations, edited by Aaron Johnson and Jeremy Schott, 97–114. Washington, D.C: Center for Hellenic Studies. https://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5871.5-a-eusebian-reading-of-the-testimonium-flavianum-ken-olson
———. 2013b. “The Testimonium Flavianum, Eusebius, and Consensus (Guest Post) – Olson.” The Jesus Blog (blog). August 13, 2013. http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/the-testimonium-flavianum-eusebius-and.html
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19 thoughts on “Prof. “Errorman” and the non-Christian sources — Part 3: Tacitus and Josephus”
Re: Ehrman’s admission that Tacitus does not refer to Jesus, etc. If we assume the validity of the Tacitus passage, it is interesting to me that both Tacitus and Suetonius refer to Chrestus and not Jesus, suggesting the possibility that the Christ cult may have preceded the Jesus cult. Ehrman and others usually have it the other way. Any thoughts on this?
Starting in 1880: https://archive.org/details/chrestosareligi00mitcgoog —
(I especially liked his observation that the Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is a threatening figure, quite unlike the “good and loving” one in John.)
Another work is in French but I have not yet read it. It is Hermann’s 1970 Chrestos.
Another work of interest: Chrestians before Christians?
Frustratingly some of modern scholars who have been the most prolific on Christology, Hurtado and Dunn, don’t have Chrestos in the indexes of their major books.
My entirely speculative and idle thoughts with only limited reading (always a dangerous thing) are that the appearance of Chrestus or Chrestiani in Suetonius and Tacitus is another pointer towards interpolation during late antiquity.
No one would’ve written “Chrestus” instead of “Christus” in late antiquity. It’s clear the error is from Tacitus and Suetonius since it was a proper name and they assumed that was the leader – esp since Suetonius seems to think “Chrestus” was there in 49 AD in Rome “at the instigations of Chrestus”
Why assume, though, that to Suetonius the Roman Chrestus was in any way associated with Christianity rather than a person (perhaps a freed slave) who was really associated with disturbances in Rome? If I recall correctly, Chrestus really was a name in Latin, often given to slaves.
I don’t know whether it adds much, but I come across a footnote in the Veritatis Splendor edition of Justin Martyr, which says, “Justin avails himself here of the similarity in sound of the words Christos (Christ) and chrestos (good, worthy, excellent).” The note goes on to refer to Suetonius’s “impulsore Chresto” as a “popular blunder.” The English translation of the passage from Justin reads, in part:
“. . . as one may judge from the name we are accused of, we are most excellent people.” Thus, we have the suggestion of an ironic pejorative.
Yes. That the christcult preceded the jesuscult is apparent. Check out Segal. R.G.Price I think best summarizes the situation:
8 Jan 2015 – 13 Jun 2019
About this capture
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How a Fictional Jesus Gave Rise to Christianity
By – 11/23/2014
Having written several pieces on the historicity of Jesus (Jesus Myth – The Case Against Historical Christ, Jesus Myth Part II – Follow-up, Commentary, and Expansion, The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory), I think it is of critical importance to not simply cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus, but to actually put forward plausible explanations for the development of early Christian writings and how the widespread belief in a real life Jesus was established. This piece builds on the evidence laid out in my prior writings and ties everything together into a cohesive explanation for the origins of belief in a human Jesus and the development of early Christian history.
I want to make something very clear: Not only do I think that “Jesus never existed”, I think it’s very possible, given the evidence, to build a solid case which proves “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Jesus did not exist. The primary pieces of evidence in my case against the existence of Jesus are in fact the Gospels themselves.
After having studied this subject for years, I have moved away from the term “myth” to describe the origins of “Jesus”, and now view the origins of belief in a real human Jesus to be a product of misunderstood fiction. I call this the Fictional Jesus Theory. What I will do first is provide a basic overview of how I think the belief in a real Jesus and the rise of Christianity occurred, then lay out the evidence supporting my Fictional Jesus Theory.
Apocalyptic Origins of Christian Theology
Creation of the Markan Narrative
Development of the Other Gospels
The Author of Mark had Read the Letters of Paul
“Q” or a Lost Version of Mark?
Summary of the Gospel Analysis
The Reception and Impact of the Gospels
All Knowledge of Jesus Came from the Gospels
Confusion of the Early Christian Scholars
The New Pantheon of Christian Heroes
Summary and Conclusion
A small messianic cult (one of many) arose in Jerusalem and the surrounding area that worshiped a heavenly messiah named Jesus some time in the early 1st century. Someone called James was likely the leader of this movement. This was a small explicitly Jewish cult that had little significance and was not widely known. Someone called Paul became a convert to this movement and began proselytizing about it to both Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) throughout the Mediterranean region. Up to this point “Jesus” was universally understood by the cult’s followers as a heavenly messiah, uncorrupted by the material world, not an actual human being. Some time during the First Jewish-Roman War, most likely shortly after the Siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70 CE, some follower of Paul wrote an allegorical story that cast “Jesus” as the protagonist in a fictional narrative about the Jews, which portrayed the Jews as having brought the destruction of the war upon themselves. This story is what we now call the Gospel of Mark. The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke were both based on an intermediate expanded version of Mark, which has since been lost. The Gospel called John descends from the Synoptic narrative in some way, with the inclusion of additional literary elements as well.
Every single narrative about Jesus, canonical and non-canonical, descends directly or indirectly from the Gospel called Mark, making this fictional story the single point of origin for all belief in a real human Jesus. By the end of the 1st century the belief that the Gospels were “true” accounts of events that had really happened was common, as was the belief that Jesus had been a real person. Belief in a “real life Jesus” arose solely from the Gospel stories themselves. From the late 1st century through the early 3rd century there was widespread confusion over who Jesus was and whether or not he had ever actually existed on earth as pre-Gospel beliefs about Jesus were reinterpreted in the context of the Gospel narratives.
By the early 2nd century interest in the Jesus cult grew, largely as a product of the Gospel stories, which were exciting and of particular interest to the non-Jewish population following the First Jewish-Roman War as the Jewish Diaspora spread throughout the region. From the 2nd century through the 4th and 5th centuries (and beyond) many additional stories were written about various figures from the Gospel narratives, such as Mary and the so-called twelve disciples. These stories were themselves a mix of concocted fiction, mythology, and urban legends. Indeed many of these later stories, written by former pagans, incorporated elements of local pagan mythology. After the religion gained prominence in the 4th through 6th centuries, many stories mythologizing martyrs and early church figures were concocted. All of these fictional stories, from the Gospels through to the martyrdom tales, were “historicized” by “scholars” who believed that they were all true and wrote histories based on these stories as if they were authentic records of real history.
So the reality is that it’s not just that “Jesus did not exist”, the reality is that the majority of early Christian history is fabricated. For example I would say that we actually know nothing more about Peter, a key figure in early Church “history”, than what was recorded in the letters of Paul, and it’s highly doubtful that “Peter” had anything to do with the founding of the Church in Rome or that he even lived beyond the early 1st century. Peter was, most likely, simply a follower of James, whom Paul had associated with in Jerusalem in the early 1st century and really played no role whatsoever in the development of the religion beyond whatever role he played in the small Jewish cult’s activities in Jerusalem. The “Peter” of importance to “Christian history” is just a fabrication based on the Gospel narratives.
I do think we can conclude that a few of the figures from the Gospel narratives and early Christian history were “real people”, or at least based on real people. Those include Paul, James, John, Peter, Barnabas, Pontius Pilate, and Herod. John the Baptist may or may not have been a real person, it’s difficult to determine, but impossible to rule out. However I would say that the authentic letters of Paul are the only somewhat reliable sources of information about individuals from the early Jesus movement, and everything else written about such figures was knowingly or unknowingly based on fabrications and misinformation.
What is important to understand about this is that such “fabrications” were not at all unusual at the time. After all, virtually all of these fabricated stories were produced by the same culture that created a rich mythology encompassing literally thousands of gods, demigods and heroes, and in which mythologizing the lives of real people was commonplace. It is critically important to differentiate, however, the origins of the Jesus cult, the Jesus narrative, and later Christian narratives and beliefs. The Jesus cult and early Gospel narratives are highly Jewish in their origin, with increasing pagan influences only coming later as the religion was adopted by Greeks and Romans from the 2nd century on.
The remaining question of course is why or how, then, did Christianity spread and become the dominant religion of the Roman world in the course of a few hundred years? This is a much more complicated question, and one that I don’t think anyone today can fully answer, but at a high level I think there were two main avenues: The religion gained prominence both among a certain class of powerful “intellectuals” and among the poor, for largely different reasons. First let’s address the “intellectuals”. The belief that the Gospels held the key to predicting the future was extremely powerful among certain intellectuals and leaders. This belief stemmed ultimately from a misunderstanding of the literary allusions in the Gospels, which were interpreted as “prophecy” by early Christian apologists. These early Greek and Roman Christians believed that the Gospels proved that the Hebrew scriptures could predict the future, and they saw the “prophetic fulfillment” evidenced in the Gospels as “proof that the religion was true.” This was a compelling factor among people in positions of power. Military leaders, governors, and even emperors were literally persuaded to believe that the Gospels provided solid proof of prophetic power, and that they or their Christian advisors would be able to use Christian and Jewish scriptures to predict the future. Of course the ability to predict the future was seen as the ultimate source of power by Greeks and Romans, who had long been fascinated with the notion of prophecy.
The other major factor that contributed to the early spread of Christianity was appeal of the religion to the poor. Judaism had a long tradition of sympathy toward the poor and dispossessed. This is very likely because the Jews were a relatively poor and dispossessed people living amongst very powerful and successful empires, such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, etc. The Jews were subjects or slaves of many of these empires at various points in their history. As such, Jewish religion dealt heavily with suffering, poverty and dispossession, unlike the religions of the more successful and powerful cultures that surrounded them, whose religions tended to espouse power, triumph and domination.
The Christian movement happened to come along at a time when poverty and unrest were on the rise within the Roman empire, and this movement, with its strong messages of support for the poor and dispossessed was appealing to the growing numbers of poor and dispossessed peoples of the region. Furthermore, and very importantly, major changes were taking place within the Roman army at this time. The Roman army was becoming increasingly filled with the ranks of the poor, immigrants, and men with families. As such, Christianity was particularly popular among the soldiers of the Roman army. As the rank-and-file of the Roman army became increasingly Christian, this put pressure on military leaders, and ultimately emperors, to embrace the religion. So basically, Christianity appealed to the poor more than many of the traditional religions of the region, and the Roman army was increasingly populated by the poor. In addition, the Christian promise of heaven and appeal to suffering and martyrdom proved useful to military leaders.
The idea, however, that Christians were heavily persecuted during the first few centuries of the religion’s history is highly dubious. The reality is that if Christians were in fact heavily persecuted the religion would likely never have gained prominence. The stories of widespread Christian persecution during the first through third centuries are later fabrications that were concocted largely after the religion had actually gained dominance.
Furthermore, religion was viewed as something of a “lucky charm” by most people at the time, especially within the military. People frequently switched religions and the gods that they favored based on perceptions of related military success. As such, it was common among those in the military to adopt the religions or patron gods of people who were successful on the battlefield. Military successes by Christian warriors led to the conversion of other warriors, not so much because of any particularly Christian beliefs, but simply because, “So-and-so won a battle and So-and-so was Christian, therefore his god must be strong and helpful, so I’ll worship that god too so I can be protected and successful in battle.”
Christianity was more rapidly adopted by the Roman army and the armies of surrounding civilizations, such as the Visigoths, than it was by the civilian population. Christianity gained its dominance though this military avenue, basically rising up through the military from the foot soldiers to the officers and ultimately up to the emperor. Leadership had two compelling reasons to embrace Christianity: both their belief in the prophetic power of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and its widespread popularity among soldiers. Given the fact that the Roman empire by this time had essentially become a military dictatorship, the dominance of Christianity within the military had profound implications for the Roman population as well as the development of Christian institutions.
Politically, Christianity became revolutionary and a means of overthrowing the entrenched Roman aristocracy. As Christians gained political power they used sanctuary to encourage slaves of pagan owners to convert. Both Christians and pagans held slaves, but slaves of pagan owners who converted to Christianity could escape to churches and gain their freedom. This undermined the wealth and power of pagan aristocrats. In addition, as Christians gained political power they changed the laws to allow only Christians to inherit estates, they cut off funding to pagan temples, they de-funded libraries, and fought wars against non-Christian Romans. The Christian revolution of the 4th through 6th centuries was somewhat similar to the 20th century communist revolutions in its forcefulness, its use of propaganda, and in the manner in which it redistributed wealth from the aristocracy to the state by appropriating the property of pagan aristocrats and turning it over to the church and government.
So let’s begin at the beginning and see how this all got started.
Apocalyptic Origins of Christian Theology
A central element of the Jesus story is the concept of Jesus as ‘The Messiah’. But what exactly is a ‘messiah’? Today most Christian scholars would say that for Jews ‘at the time of Jesus’ ‘the messiah’ was the idea of a descendent of David who would lead the Jews to establish an independent Jewish state, usually by means of military victory over their oppressors. The reality is that 2,000 years ago there was no singular concept of “the messiah” among Jews. However, it is true that most descriptions of a messiah from Jews prior to ‘the time of Jesus’ described the messiah as a human being.
Likewise, most messianic stories prior to the Jesus story describe the role of the messiah as somehow eliminating corruption within Jewish society and establishing some sort of idealized Jewish kingdom. How and why this would happen, or what the ultimate result would be, was highly variable among different Jewish writers of the time, and indeed there were Jews who did not believe in the concept of a messiah at all. What sets the Jesus story apart, however, is the idea that the kingdom created by the messiah would not be on earth at all, but rather it would be in heaven. This has major implications for understanding the origins of the Jesus story – the idea that ‘the kingdom of God’ established by ‘the messiah’ would be in heaven. This is an idea that developed within a sub-sect of Jews, perhaps influenced by the Platonic idea that the material world is hopelessly corrupt and cannot be perfected. For this group of Jews, the idea of a ‘perfect’ Jewish kingdom ever being established on earth was absurd. They knew that this would never happen. The corruption of the material world, and ‘the flesh’, made it clear to these Jews that not only could a perfect kingdom only be established in heaven, but indeed the messiah himself must be heavenly – uncorrupted by the material world.”
That the christcult preceded the jesuscult is apparent.
So what is in a name… If we rephrase this as:
It is apparent that in the first century CE, a counter-cultural sect of Jews established/furthered a religious belief/reverence/worship in a divine redeemer called lit. “Anointed One”, tr. Christ.
…the possibility that the Christ cult may have preceded the Jesus cult. Ehrman and others usually have it the other way. Any thoughts on this?
Carl AP Ruck, a well credential classicist/philologist professor has said Christianity is a Hellenistic religion, not a Jewish one. It has borrowed from Judaism for exotic ethnicity.
Christianity perhaps originated with worship of the Demiurge (Greek δημιουργός or dēmiurgós) given the name IS and the cognomen XS.
If one reads the third gospel (ascribed to “Luke”) one finds pages and pages devoted to explaining why John the Baptist only seemed to be the messiah and why his miracles were signs of the very similar ones to come. One also finds that some people, according to the author, believed that the Baptist had been resurrected and returned after his beheading.
It is clear from this that the cult of a Christ (i.e., John Christ at least) certainly preceded this gospel and was well enough established that the new cult needed to both explain it away and also to avoid outright attacking it, presumably for political reasons.
Christianity as displayed in the gospels is certainly a very Hellenic religion, from the Crucifixion (Prometheus Bound) and empty tomb (Oedipus at Colonus), to the “last shall be first” message (standard Dionysian dogma), and even the pattern of a teacher who never writes anything down (Socrates) and is executed for heresy (Socrates again) after performing miraculous feats in life (Herakles). Nothing about Christianity would have surprised a Greek audience. It is pastiche. Patchwork, even.
Speaking of Tacitus, I have been longing to read this article on Carrier’s arguments against authenticity:
Neil, if you happen to get a copy let me know!
I requested the article from the author through ResearchGate a full month ago but failing to get a reply by the end of the week I paid a fortune to Brill for a copy. This morning the author did send me a gratis copy. So try ResearchGate https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Willem_Jan_Blom/research — but be more patient than I was! :-/
I hope to write a response in a Vridar post soon.
Re-read the article and have no interest in posting about it. It relies upon citations of apologists like Josh McDowell and Timothy McGrew and consists essentially of a string of ad hoc rationalizations (a lot of “could have been” and “I think the flavour of this argument beats that one”, etc). I want a refund from Brill.
Re-read the article and have no interest in posting about it.
Any trend worth noting with Blom and the following?
• Ehrman (25 April 2012). “Fuller Reply to Richard Carrier”. The Bart Ehrman Blog.
• Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa (c.2019). “The Testimonium Taciteum”. UU Humanist Skeptic.
Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was interesting but apart from that I have never understood why so many people seem to get excited over any work by Ehrman. The books of his I’ve read are very light-weight, often demonstrating an unprofessional ignorance of the current scholarship, riddled with logical fallacies, and sometimes containing fundamental errors of fact. How he acquired his reputation as such a prominent scholar I do not know.
I have never understood why so many people seem to get excited over any work by Ehrman.
León Santiago opines:
Willem Jan Blom is a student at Utrecht University, Netherlands and plans to respond (when time permits) to Carrrier’s “Blom on the Testimonium Taciteum”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 29 September 2020.
• Blom’s blog is: https://willemjanblom.wordpress.com/
About also John the Baptist being interpolated in Josephus, I found this.
In particular, I find interesting the detail that the reason of the death of the Baptist – potential rebellion -, supports really the case for interpolation and not for authenticity, since one would expect, after the departure of the Herod’s wife, an accusation of adultery thrown against Herod as the cause that leads to his military defeat considered as divine punition.
Rather than John the Baptist being interpolated in Josephus.
Doudna proposes that Josephus may not have wrote about a first century CE John the Baptist (a figure featured in gMark). But perhaps wrote only about a first century BCE “John the Baptist”.
See: Doudna, Gregory L. (2019). “Is Josephus’s John the Baptist Passage a Chronologically Dislocated Story of the Death of Hyrcanus II?”. In Pfoh, Emanuel; Niesiolowski-Spanò, Lukasz (ed.). Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson. Bloomsbury–T&T Clark. pp. 119–137. ISBN 978-0-567-68657-2.