Christianity as a counter-cultural myth to delegitimize Rome

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by Neil Godfrey

In some texts written by authors who had lost their state and been conquered by others, as may have been the case with the Yahwist, one can also see evidence of culture myths being used to delegitimize the conquering state.

McCants, William F.. Founding Gods, Inventing Nations: Conquest and Culture Myths from Antiquity to Islam (p. 12). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

I have posted about some of William McCants’ research into modern terrorism (he is also the author of ISIS Apocalypse and numerous related articles) and have only recently caught up with a work based on his doctoral thesis, Founding Gods, Inventing Nations (FGIN). FGIN places the Islamic myths in the context of earlier myths of the ancient world and late antiquity and explores the cultural functions of those myths.

The above quotation is taken from a section addressing the way mythical narratives of an indigenous people changed in the wake of being conquered — whether by the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans. What McCants has to say about the Jewish (biblical) myths vis a vis the Greek (Hellenistic) ones is of special interest to anyone following Russell Gmirkin’s hypotheses (see posts on Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible). Not that McCants places the Bible so late, but I will post about the interesting insights anon.

For now I am merely drawing attention to the message in the opening line. One cannot avoid thinking of Christian origins. Rome’s founding myths concluded with Aeneas and then Romulus slaying their enemies. McCants’ thesis might suggest to us that Christianity was a Jewish response to Roman conquest. The victim of Roman executioners was the true king of a higher kingdom above Rome’s. The followers of that king or anointed one (Christ) were aliens under Rome’s power but citizens of a higher power.

That’s not an original insight. Crossan certainly pushed it strongly enough in his work depicting Jesus as an anti-imperialist, and similar ideas have been published about Paul’s views.

Nonetheless, it does raise some interesting questions. It would certainly render mute any suggestion that the crucifixion of Jesus was at any time an embarrassing concept that needed justification among his followers. On the simple idea quoted above the crucifixion was potentially a concept bestowing pride and power in the identities of the earliest Christians.

(Such a view is also the opposite of those theories that would claim Christianity was a Roman invention to pacify the Jews.)