on 12 September 2014
An astonishing book, still thinking about its implications as lot to take in. Atwill has done a fantastic job of cross referencing with other contemporary writings and so much so one can hardly resist the parallels in a way. Yes, the New Testament could be a work of literary fiction of the typological satirical historical variety, but to rehearse the arguments one way or another is a considerable shock to the system. For could two thousand years of christian history be based on a false premise not yet discovered until now? I am slightly inclined this way because having read the New Testament as an adult with fresh eyes after several decades of not reading it, I had independently of Atwill come through to the thought that Christ's ministry was in part of the political variety, and that what he was saying had clear political implications that many may have mistakenly read as religious and spiritual. Also do the Gospels contain within them anyway a kind of satirical set of clues? I'm not a biblical scholar but one only has to think of the situation where Christ had a fit of high pique with a fig tree or vine? Also, all those angels coming down and finding themselves in the tomb etc, could these be satirical indicators? Don't know, but Atwil has made us all think differently about the true sources of the Gospels.
One issue Atwill may have touched on but could be explored further is just why all those hundreds and thousands of people that Christ came in contact with and often healed, did not apparently write Gospels of their own? I guess, there were some, e.g. Gospel of Mary, Philip, Thomas etc, but these have either been discounted as written later or simply dubious anyway for other reasons. BUT other than these there must have been many others contemporary with Christ who witnessed his amazing healing powers and wrote about it? That there appears no evidence now for these people's accounts, does tend to tie in with Atwill's thesis that the Gospels were written at a strategic point by likely Roman intellectuals who had their own agenda. The other point that does tie in with Atwill's thesis is the astonishing inconsistencies between the synoptic Gospels. A difference of emphasis could be allowed in a way, but when there are definite factual differences in for example what happened when the tomb was found empty, then one does wonder whether the Gospels were written for more strategic purposes than purely spiritual ones.
The other key point to think more deeply about is just why, as was already known before Atwill's researches of course for this book, was just why the Romans eventually took on Christianity as their official religion after four hundred years or so? One reason could well be that it was their invention anyway. The other reason could well be that it was politically stabilising for the Roman Empire to have a more unified approach to religion, for the previous Roman incorporation of all kinds of Gods from the regions they conquered was a strange amorphous affair. So maybe political unity could have been the bottom line as to why it was formally adopted (after it may have been anyway informally invented by the same anyway). Scholars no doubt can work on all these debates, but we certainly should not rule out Atwill's thesis that Christianity is more politically motivated than was previously thought.
on 26 November 2008
This book cleverly explores the possibility that Jesus was a first century Flavian invention designed to turn troublesome, insurgent messianic Jews into docile,"turn the other cheek" Christians. By rendering unto Caesar Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus hoped to finally gain control over what they saw as a continous drain on Roman resources.
The evidence Joseph Atwell presents is compelling, and his reading of the gospels and their intertwining story in Josephus will take some disproving. The chapter regarding the puzzle of the tomb is particularly enlightening.
Of all the myriad books and theories on Jesus and the origins of Christianity, this one makes a whole lot of sense.
Read it with an open mind and you might just find the answers you're looking for.
on 15 August 2013
Joseph Atwill could be the greatest scholar of our time--way beyond Dawkins IMO! Here are my notes from his companion documentary and blog, providing a premise for the book:
The Julio-Claudian dynasty, ending with Emperor Nero, was bankrupting the Roman Empire, and the Judeans were planning a revolt. The Herods (non-Jewish Greco-Arabs) were client kings/tax collectors of the Roman conquered province of Judea and had previously destroyed the Maccabean dynasty. Every temple was required to have a statue of the Roman emperor besides those of the many Pagan gods. The Jews, a messianic movement with a series of Messiahs (AKA Christ), standing behind their holy books and monotheistic beliefs, rebelled against the Romans. Nero ordered his general Vespasian to crush the Jews, starting in the Galilee, capturing Josephus (who survived where 3 of his friends were crucified), to work alongside the Romans as an adopted member of the Flavian family deploying propaganda against the Jews. Nero committed suicide and the Flavians seized the throne. Titus destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in AD 70. All treasures from the temple, including the famous Seven-Branch Candlestick, were displayed in public as the spoils of victory and can be seen on the triumphal arch of Titus in Rome--except the scriptures, which were placed in the private palace and nobody was allowed to see them. The Romans exerted complete control over the literature of this period. Besides Josephus' work, the rest of the history books of this time telling of the Jewish war, were destroyed. Josephus stated that the messianic prophecy indicates a non-Jewish ruler as none other than Vespasian and his dynasty (in fact all Flavian historians stated that the Flavian Caesar was the Christ). The Julio-Claudians before them had already started the Imperial Cult (with its own priest and elite movement) and had proven its power. Titus was declared Emperor by his troops. The Roman Senate accepted Vespasian as God, and Titus as the son of God. This was not end of the messianic movement, however, as a revolt soon broke out in Alexandria, fuelled by the same religious texts.
Christianity was invented by the Flavians--Emperor Vespasian (built the Colosseum and destroyed the Druids) and his son Titus--to pacify and control the Jews; the gospels were written in Greek as a typological retelling of Titus' campaigns (also containing typologies between Moses and Jesus) through parallel names, locations and concepts in an identical sequence (more than 40 typologies have been noted between Jesus and Titus known as the "Flavian Signature"), resulting in a benign form of Judaism, as if to say "they want a prophet so let's give them one": Jesus (means Saviour) therefore never existed, but was a composite image of many messianic Messiahs based on concepts of the mythological pagan mysteries, sun worship, the Old Testament together with the Roman stoic philosophy promoted by the Flavians, thereby copying many useful themes and blueprints--new converts, instead of worshipping Jesus, were really worshiping Titus in disguise but without knowing it! The Jesus character talks of a second coming when Galilean towns are crushed, Jerusalem encircled by walls, and the temple razed; the "Son of Man" will appear before the generation that is alive and listening to the words of Jesus passes away: implying Titus, who does this within 40 years. There is a lot of dark humour and tongue-in-cheek jokes and puns--Roman style. Quoting Joseph Atwill, "The truth behind Saul's nickname is viscous humour that makes fun of the fact that Paul was not merely circumcised but castrated. The story of Paul's castration is black comedy and is given in Acts 13 1-9." Readers of the day were educated as such and expected to be able to read into a deeper meaning of multi-layered allegorical texts that indulges into literary games that the Romans played; the gospels need to be read in terms of text, context and subtext, and no academics these days are trained to read beyond a literal level.
The Dead Sea Scrolls included literature from the 1st century that had not been put through Roman propagandist filters, i.e. they had not been edited or tampered with. They are like the literature of the militaristic war against Rome. The characters were militaristic fundamentalists, but the characters in the gospels are pacifistic. "Gospel" originally meant news of military victory. Pro-Roman, they are about turning away from Jewish law and obeying Roman law during the time of a war zone: Jews instead become the forces of darkness. The gospels were backdated some 40 years into the period of Pontius Pilate to the Julio-Claudian dynasty, where historians have been wrongly looking for the origin of Christianity.
Sun worship had thus been usurped by a character whose birthday was on the Winter Solstice. The Romans would have been involved in the writing and release of the gospels in collaboration with the Alexanders (Philo of Alexandria: worked on Greek and Judaist philosophy) and the Herods (Princess Berenice: related by marriage to the Alexanders and later became Titus' mistress). This was the start of the Catholic Church inheriting the high pries position (Pontifex Maximus) subsequently passing to the Popes. Flavia Domitilla (Titus' sister or niece) donated the first Christian Catacomb and became the first Christian Saint. Her son Clement was the first Catholic pope after Simon. Nereus and Achilleus, members of the Flavian household staff, both had churches named after them in the earliest Christian diocese in Rome. Titus Flavius Clement (Clement of Alexandria) described the first Christian symbols, i.e. the anchor, the boat, the fish, the olive branch and the star, which the Flavian Caesars depicted on their coins. Pagan temples were replaced by Christian churches. Groups of messianic Christians would have been persecuted, whilst the good Christians would have got promoted. Later, Flavius Constantine (note he was also a member of the same family) made Christianity the state religion of Rome. The Emperors and Popes would have known of the Flavian origin of Christianity all along. Following Constantine's reforms, Christianity was set to enslave Europe through Feudalism.
on 13 November 2013
I'm not yet half-way through this, but will just say that the thesis is extremely convincing. As a woman whose moral education was firmly Christ-centred, this book fills me with strangest cocktail of emotions - Horror: at the lies we have been fed for 2000 years; Delight: at the sense of liberation from a Christian-based ethical framework; Fascination: at contemplating one of the most intricate, teasing, enduring puzzles that history may ever have offered us, and Sadness: Jesus Christ - archetype of love and forgivenness - never existed...?
Although some of the 'evidence' Atwill presents seems a bit tenuous,, I'd put that down to my own ignorance of history and the literary forms of the day ... it is clear that Atwill has devoted many years of intense research to his theory.
If you have spent many years in an uncertain relationship with Christianity and all its inconsistencies - read this and let the light shine in!
on 16 November 2015
Starting from the solid base established after the Dead Sea scrolls were decrypted and filled exploited by historians, a number of interesting minority opinions are now postulating that Christianity was the result of Emperor Titus trying to replace the bellicose messianic Jewish groups by a more peaceful kind. While this is a strong postulate, the demonstration that it is supported by the text is at times lacking.
on 8 March 2013
This one can only be charitably be described as "way out there." It does have the endorsement of a credentialed scholar or two; albeit, those who are also regarded as "out there" by their peers (e.g., Robert Eisenman). This is the sort of thing peer-reviewed periodicals like the Journal of Romans Studies would never print.
So what's the theme? I'll lay it out in three categories, noting Atwill's most notable and signifcant failures in each case:
The Roman Piso theory...
Caesar's Messiah is like this theory in terms of conspiracy-mindedness, viewing Christianity as an invention of the Roman establishment for a purpose. It does exceed the credibility of the Piso theory by a razor-thin margin, inasmuch as it at least uses real people rather than inventing them out of nothing but semantics.
But the virtues over the Piso theory stop there. This time, rather than the non-existent Piso family, it is the Emperor Titus who is said to be the inventor of Christianity. His goal was to create a "peaceful Messiah" figure for those rebellious Jews to follow, as a way of pacifying them; the joke being, that they would actually be worshipping Titus himself, unawares (more on this below).
In on the conspiracy as well was Josephus, a client of the Flavian family of which Titus was a member, and who left clues in his works for later and more clever discerners.
After 73 AD, when Rome had finished defeating the Jews, "someone" from within a circle of the Flavians (Titus, Vespasian, etc.), the Herods, and the Alexanders decided they could "tame messianic Judaism" by transforming it into a religion that would "cooperate with the Roman Empire."  The system and its documents were written after the war was over; that includes the material attributed to Paul [211f].
So now we have a description; let's talk about errors:
A chief impetus for this idea, Atwill says , was that he could not conceive of how Judaism could produce two movements so diametrically opposed as the warlike Sicarii and the "peace"-advocting Jesus.
Atwill's conception, unfortunately, lacks a certain perspective; one may as well ask how early 20th century African-American society could have produced both a Malcolm X and a Martin Luther King.
The clue missed is that Jesus' message was not one of peace, but of a sword, as he himself said -- the Gospel message undermined the values then held current, via subtle influence rather than direct force as the Sicarii preferred. If Atwill cannot see that Jesus' message was not indeed, at its core, hostile to Roman authority and society in terms of the components it offered, then he needs to do some more research.
Furthermore, it is clear that Atwill fails on the point of ancient social psychology. He supposes that Jesus was invented to attract militaristic, messianic Jews; yet the figure of Jesus is precisely what a dedicated Sicarii would least follow. Jesus would be regarded as being as far out of the ingroup as could be conceived; he would even be taken by the Sicarii as a disgrace to YHWH.
Indeed, Atwill openly contradicts himself, for he claims he cannot see how Judaism could produce such diametric opposites, yet he argues that Christianity was built to make these opposites attract. He supposes, in other words, that Judaism would not produce such a group; but he hypothesizes that Jews then converted to such a group.
Yet that is unreasonable even in truth, for such rebels would not approve of Jesus even as we know him; the positive view of tax collectors, Roman officials, etc. that Atwill sees would have been exceptionally repugnant to the very people being targeted. The idea that Christianity was intended to prevent the spread of messianic Judaism to the provinces  ignores the fact that Jews of the Diaspora were Hellenized enough that they did not support such a movement in the first place (the misplaced hopes of the rebels, recorded by Josephus , notwithstanding).
Atwill cannot have his cake and eat it too. In addition, the idea he sees in Paul and Josephus that "the Romans were God's servants" finds its roots in OT indications that punishers like the Assyrians and Babylonians were doing God's will -- and finds no particular favor for the Romans.
One also wonders why in the world Titus would care to start a new religion for Jews that he had already soundly beaten on the battlefield. One also wonders how and why a mission to the Gentiles got started; indeed, why Titus would allow his own "Frankenstein's monster" to get loose onto persons with whom he had no problems of loyalty.
Even more problematic for Atwill is what is said by Roman writers whose works he ignores. Tacitus' comment in Annals 15.44 places the origins of Christianity, and Roman reaction to it, nearly a decade before Titus' final victory. Atwill says nothing at all about this critical passage; nor does he mention Pliny's letter to Trajan asking what to do about Christians.
Atwill wishes to posit convenient forgetfulness as the cause of the loss of knowledge about Christian origins; and how credible is it that Hadrian and Pliny "forgot" this, or did not know about it? How credible is it that Domitian (himself a Flavian) persecuted Christianity and forgot that his own relatives had created it in the first place? Why would some of those relatives actually become Christians?
Atwill makes no effort to explain how Christianity spread; he offers a single paragraph on this saying that "wicked priests" introduced the religion to the masses (Jewish?); but then, "The first people to hear the story of Jesus would most likely have been slaves (Gentiles???) whose patrons simply ordered them to attend services. After a while some began to believe, then many."  End of explanation.
on 30 June 2016
Worth buying for the research into Josephus and the Flavians, also the Alexandria and Herodian connections to Titus Flavius. However he doesnt convince me that either Vespasian or Titus himself wanted to pose as The Son of Man. The Roman propaganda department under Josephus may have been acting alone. Also the stylistic differences between the 4 Testaments was not explained, nor why they contradict each other. Nor why the master work of Josephus - the Histories - made no hint of Titus as Messiah. That would have been sense. Why did the other son of Vespasian, Domitianus, persecute Christians if it was a family conspiracy ?
The tortuous method of pairing parallel events between Jesus and Titus, is exhausting and very far fetched.
But he has given me a valuable endorsement for my case that Christianity was cooked up in Alexandria - the line he didnt follow up.
on 25 February 2012
Undoubtedly the author is heading in the right direction with this research. Most certainly there are many links and similarities between the New Testament story and the Jewish Revolt that was put down by Vespasian and Titus - resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Many pieces of the puzzle are therfore highlighted in this book, but they are not necessarily in the right order. For an alternative picture to this same puzzle, see 'Jesus, Last of the Pharaos' (1998) and 'King Jesus' (2008).
on 20 November 2013
The hypothesis advanced in this book is scientific. It can be checked by any scholar who makes the effort to read the historical works of Josephus Flavius and the New Testament Gospels carefully, in parallel. I found the forensic case Atwill assembles in his cool and methodical report both startling and convincing. Assuming that he has correctly translated and interpreted the texts, and that the mathematics is fairly deployed to prove the case with high probability, we have a clear case of massive and systematic deception. Christianity becomes a fraud.
Essentially, Atwill claims that Jesus of Nazareth is a fictional character written into history to prophesy events that were new at the time of writing. The intent of this deception was to persuade the successors of the militant Jews who were defeated in the Roman destruction of the Second Temple to adopt a pacifist ideology that in effect deified the the Flavian emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, respectively. A more egregious blasphemy against Judaic monotheism is hard to imagine.
What I found especially shocking in this scenario is that the deception worked for almost two millennia. The evidence for the hypothesis was there for all to read in the first-century literature, but generations of earnest scholars had missed it until Atwill, who was raised in a deeply Christian environment but had an exceptionally gifted analytic mind, serendipitously spotted the key threads of the fraud and then took a few decades to build up his case. His book is not a light read and his key finding is presented more in sorrow than with glee, but the result is clear.
The huge irony in all this is that Christianity has arguably become the greatest religious ideology the world has ever known. Based on a Jewish militant tradition bordering on rabid racism, tempered by Greek philosophy and poetic sensibility, and spread by Roman military and institutional strength, the ideology that was centered on the figure of Jesus turned out to be a winner for many millions of believers, whose successors created the modern world. Modern Christians might prefer to rebury the filthy roots that Atwill digs up, but truth will out, and must.
on 28 June 2013
This is one of those books that answers a lot of the questions you may have but leaves you wanting more. It is a challenging read but wow it is fantastic. I love it and so does the daughter.