Friday, 11 October 2013

But then, we all love a good conspiracy theory, don't we?

I wrote this in MSWord - I have no idea why it all ended up in caps, but I'm not going to bother trying to find out.

My son sent me the following press release: “Ancient Confession Found: 'We Invented Jesus Christ'”, and asked, “Is this legit?”

CAVEAT: I have not read the book (yet?), nor have I gone and looked at reviews. These are just rambling, though serious, thoughts.

I love this stuff, so I read the press release and went to the website, Covert Messiah. On the face of it, it is not proof, nor a new discovery. It seems that it is a re-reading/reinterpretation of texts that we already have. The first thing that strikes me is that, not only would the Romans have had to invent the gospels (& all 4 NT stories are rather different - particularly the Gospel of John & some of the gnostic gospels), but, potentially, they would have also had to write all of the letters of Paul, the pseudo-Pauline letters, the letter to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse of John – or at least of portion of them. Given the different tones and the different theologies in all of these texts, I would be extremely hesitant to think that this could be the case. "We invented Jesus Christ" is called an "ancient confession". Unless Atwill has found extremely new documentation that has been unknown for 2,000 years (not impossible but ...), then it is doubtful. And we would have all heard about by now, I should think.

Josephus' use of the prophetic mode is not unusual - this is the mode of the prophets of Israel - Jesus was most likely a prophet type. Furthermore, if the Romans had wanted to create a peaceful Messiah, then why are there texts in the New Testament that clearly have Jesus stating that "he comes to bring not peace but a sword" and he comes to turn “brother against brother” and the mini apocalypse in Mark? While all of these are to some extent controversial in current biblical scholarship, the rash inconsistencies do not augur well for someone who is trying to argue that beginnings of Christianity were created by some Roman plot to create a “peaceful” Messiah for the Jews.

Then again, maybe the Jews were just too smart for the Romans and saw through the subterfuge. This led, of course, to 2,000 years of attempted genocide culminating in the holocaust. Unintended consequences at its worst!

There have always been historians and theorists who have argued that Jesus probably didn't exist. Read Feuerbach or Schweitzer. There is also the argument made that Paul was the founder of Christianity and that he made Jesus up and created the entire story.The author of this particular theory has written with Robert Eisenman, who is controversial in his own right. He thinks that the Dead Sea Scrolls refer to Jesus, among other things. This would actually then contradict what Atwill is saying, unless he wants to argue that the Romans wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls as well.

Furthermore, if Atwill argues that Josephus was part of the conspiracy, then why isn't there more about Jesus in Josephus’ writings? That would be more logical. Josephus actually writes about James, Jesus brother, who headed up the Jerusalem community after Jesus' death. Just asking!

I suspect that while this is might make for fun reading perhaps, it would be unlikely to actually be the case. Unless, of course, as I wrote earlier, they have found actual undisputed documentation (primary sources) that says "we (the Romans, of course) did it". And since this doesn't seem to be the case, then I would put it really low on the probability scale. On the other hand, if it is the case, then obviously, it didn't work because there were at least two major Jewish revolts in the 2nd century, after which the true diaspora began.

In many ways, I suspect that Schoenfeld's The Passover Plot has more legs than Covert Messiah.

I would to read (not buy) the book. Maybe my son will get it for me as a Xmas present :-).

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