Joe Atwill has pissed off a lot of Christians and historians, which is understandable considering that he's making claims that undermine the foundation of the former's beliefs and the latter's widely accepted truths. Joe purports to have discovered proof that Jesus of Nazareth, the man we read about in history books and in the New Testament, was merely a fabrication of first-century Romans, who created his gospels as a way to quell the messianic fervor of the Jews. Joe, who authored and self-published Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus back in 2006, claims to have research material that he believes will make even his most ardent critics accept the theory that Jesus was a tool of psychological warfare to get the Jews to stop causing trouble and love their Roman overlords.
Personally, I don't have much skin in the game as to whether or not Jesus was in fact a dude with super powers, or even a dude at all. I blame organized religion for most of the awful things humans do to each other and the only time I go to church is on Christmas and Mother's Day—strictly out of respect for my momma. So, I'm pretty open to any critiques off the fantastical aspects of Christianity. However, despite being a proud heathen, I think the claims made by Joe about a Roman hoax being at the center of Christianity sound as ridiculous as the claims that the US government flew planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11. It's not that I don't think the Romans or the US government wouldn't do such things, I just don't think they could pull them off without everyone knowing about it.
Joe has stirred up intrigue around the web for years because of his outlandish findings and canny press releases, and he organized a big, one-day symposium in London to unveil his new research. So I figured this would be as good a time as any to figure out whether he's a total nut job or a visionary who's cracked a code that has eluded scholars and historians for centuries. Here's what he had to say.
VICE: Can you tell me about yourself and what credentials you have to make theories that challenge the pervasive beliefs held by prominent religious scholars?
Joe Atwill: I'm an independent scholar. I have no academic training in what would be considered traditional Bible scholarship.
OK. How'd you start studying the origins of Jesus?
I attended a Jesuit military academy as a kid that studied the gospels. Although I drifted away from the church, later on in life, I retained an interest in the character Jesus Christ.
What intrigued you about Jesus?
Jesus had a more pacifistic and cosmopolitan view of things than the messianic movement of his day, which was very xenophobic. The Jewish perspective of the time was that it wanted the Romans out to have a religious state.
How do you know this?
To get an informed perspective on the gospels you have to read a guy called Flavius Josephus. He lived in Judea, wrote a history of the time and place when Jesus supposedly lived, and documented the war between the Romans and the Jews. If you read his work, you will notice there are parallels between the events in the war and events in Jesus's ministry that occur in the same sequence.
I have no idea what you are talking about. But give me some examples, please.
For example, Jesus says to his followers, "Follow me and you'll fish for men." In the war, a Roman general says to his troops "Don't be afraid. Follow me" and then he sends them out into the Sea of Galilee where they sink the Jewish fishing boats. The Jews try to swim to safety and then the Romans "fished them" with spears, according to Flavius's account.
So what does stuff like that mean to you?
Flavius was the basis for Jesus's ministry. Jesus had the political perspective the Romans were hoping the Jews would adopt.
Why would the Romans care about indoctrinating the Jews into a new political perspective?
The Romans were always fighting with the Jews over who could be called God. The war between the Romans and the Jews is really a war to be divine because the caesars wanted to be worshipped as gods and the Jews refused. So, they created a character, Jesus Christ, to embody what they wanted in a messiah for the Jews.
Sounds like a leap. Is this Roman plot written somewhere explicitly in some ancient text?
What you have is called prefigurement. The Jesus character in the gospels has all of these events in his life that come from the Old Testament. The story of Jesus describes Joseph going to Egypt, the pharaoh massacring the boys, then he returns from Egypt, gets baptized, and goes to the wilderness for 40 days and has his three temptations. In the Old Testament, in Genesis, Joseph goes to Egypt, the pharaoh massacres the boys, then he returns from Egypt to Israel, where there's a baptism. Then he goes into the wilderness for 40 years. When you see the pattern, it is all fiction.
OK. I get what you're saying. But you are talking about more than Jesus's superpowers being part of a fable or whatever. You are saying Jesus was created as a plot by the Romans. Is there any text that explicitly corroborates that?
Yeah. It's in the "Cannibal Mary," a famous passage in Josephus. It contains an allegory about Jesus Christ. To understand it you have to go through some analysis. I mean, I can't sit here and show you how it is an allegory. But, I can assure you it, it would just take quite a bit of time.
According to the New Testament, Jesus is the human Passover lamb. And in the passage of Cannibal Mary, they say that the human Passover lamb is a myth for the world whose killing is going to be seen as an atrocity by gentiles and that will create bitter hatred against the Jews. It's a clear-cut description of the invention and intent of Christianity, which was a curse the Romans put on the Jews for their constant rebellion. It's a confession, really.
OK, how would the Romans go about indoctrinating the Jews in this fake religion? Pulling off a ruse like this seems kind of far-fetched.
The authors would have been the Jewish intellectuals and the Roman caesars. The Romans had the top Jewish intellectuals in the world on their payroll. All the disciples' accounts are fake and all the names are fake.
Seems like the plan backfired—there are plenty of Jews around today. And if this was the plan, how come Christians are worshiping a Jew and not Titus Flavius today?
Well, actually they are. Pope is another title for caesar. The Vatican is located where the caesars had their palace. The important thing is that you have to have some sort of explanation for who the son of man is. Some people say it's Jesus, and he's talking about himself, but the problem is he doesn't come back after the war when he makes these pronouncements. There would have been some record it, so the only candidate for this comeback after the war is the Roman caesar. At the end of the war Titus Flavius tried to get the Jews to call him God. At that time, Titus was known as the "son of God." That title was written on his sacred arch in Rome. What they wanted the Jews to think is that the son of man guy that Jesus was predicting was actually a caesar. It just never caught on.
Are you saying that Jesus, a man who most scholars agree walked the Earth, didn't exist at all?
Jesus is a fictional character. If some guy had a duck living next door to him whose name was Donald and then he invented the character Donald Duck? Is that guy a historian? Well, not when he says the duck is talking. There are all sorts of individuals who could have been a Jesus Christ. But the actual historicity of the Christ, whoever he was, wasn't a passive cosmopolitan guy. He was a kick ass Jewish messiah warrior who wanted to drive the Romans out. The guy we read about however, is a prefigurement—a fictional character. And despite popular belief, the "son of man" who was predicted is Roman Caesar Titus Flavius.
Why do you think this sort of perspective on the gospels hasn't been something that has been voiced over the years?
That's a question for a psychologist. The parallels I pointed out are well established by scholars, they just haven't noticed that they occurred in the same sequence. That's the key to it. Sequence is the most important thing. You noticed this exact perfect pattern just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and you notice that Jesus's whole ministry comes from the war. You don't need to be a Bible scholar; you just need your common sense to figure this out.
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