I had heard both positive and negative remarks about Joseph Atwill’s book, Caesar’s Messiah before actually getting a chance to read it myself.
Upon commencing the book I was prepared for another disappointing hare brained theory comparable to the abundant theories about Atlantis which make me wonder what planet I am on.
So I was surprised to encounter a theory which I consider to have some merit and it’s not beyond all plausibility.
Atwill’s theory is rather sensible, though it’s likely not the entire picture. Here are the things I think make his theory work:
- It demonstrates a possible motive behind the gospels
- It works as far as timing goes.
- The geographical locations which Titus is said to have visited allow for his having been exposed to the ideas which would later be incorporated into the Messianic story.
- A number of historical facts support the idea that the stories of Jesus were likely the brainchild of Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus.
When reading through books on Roman history it’s clear that most of recorded history is about the struggle for positions of power. One guy gets in power, and another challenges him. He might win. He might lose. But the top job is never secure. Occasionally people manage to hang on for longer than average, but it is generally a life filled with opposition. Even rulers that were considered to be just and fair get ousted by those who are no longer profiting under the new “equitable” regime. Changes have sometimes happened at an alarming rate with the top job changing hands multiple times in the space of a single year.
Anyone aspiring to the top job would have been aware of how difficult it is to retain it. Nero, who was the emperor at the beginning of the Judean revolt, was as paranoid as anyone, even having his own mother killed. His close advisor, Seneca, tried to quell his killing spree by reminding Nero that no matter how many people he killed he would never be able to kill his successor. But an Emperor will always have to watch his back.
In light of this constant struggle for power and taking into account that many powerful families were made up of extremely intelligent and cunning people, to me it seemed possible and plausible that Christianity had been employed as a way of controlling the populace at a much more personal level. Gaining control of people’s minds is certainly what ended up becoming the religion’s method of self-preservation and even perpetuation. However that outcome seems to be far too difficult to predict. There had to be a more direct reason for the religion’s creation. An emperor (or ruling family) would need to have superhuman analytical and predictive skills to know that this would be an effective way to maintain power. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that immediate problems are what drives one to devise a solution or at least attempt an effective response.
So the question is, what was the immediate problem that needed solving? What problem did the composition of the Jesus stories attempt to solve?
Seeing as the Jesus stories all take place near Jerusalem, this is where we might look for some problem that would have needed to be solved.
As the destruction of the temple is mentioned in the book of Matthew and we know that this took place in 70 AD, we will use this date as the earliest date for the composition of the Gospels. The problem we can identify around that time in history and in the location where the Gospels take place was the first Judean uprising. Vespasian had been called in specifically to deal with this in 66 AD. By 69 AD Titus had joined him, doubling the number of Roman forces. But the problem was a difficult one. They were facing a populace that would rather kill themselves than yield to the Roman occupation. This required more than force of arms.
Apart from using sieges and force of numbers the Romans were known to also use other tactics such as sacrificing to their enemy’s god. Employing curses was also not out of the question. Roman accounts of curses have been found. Ogden 2002
Whether the gospels were written as a curse or whether the gospels were written to merely mock the locals may seem like a difficult question that could be answered either way. To me the first option seems the most likely. It’s a much more practical purpose. Yes there is a third possibility, which to me seems even less likely. That the gospels were written to change the minds of the locals. This would seem an exercise in futility, knowing what we know from the descriptions found in the Wars of The Jews by Josephus. The local populace were not going to yield in any way, shape or form.
From AD 61 to 63 Titus had served in Germany and Britain as a military tribune. He would have had opportunity to be exposed to the ideas of the Gauls and Druids about whom Julius Caesar a century earlier wrote “The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases, and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods can not be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes.” The Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar
This idea of an atoning sacrifice certainly made its way into the Jesus narrative. This admittedly can not be traced solely to the influence which Caesar’s writings would have had on Titus. The practice of sacrifice we know was spread far and wide. Sacrifice, and even regicide was still being practised during that epoch. However the possibility that Titus had travelled to areas that practised satirical cursing is one which makes this whole topic extremely interesting. Diodorus Siculus informs us that the satires made by the bards of Gaul were believed to possess some type of power. Usually this was limited to blotches on the skin. But there are stories told of bards who used satire to overthrow a king. According to Chris Tavers, “The Aes Dana (artists who belonged to no tribes) enjoyed a privileged place in Irish society, and their counterparts probably did in Britain and Gaul as well. A member of the Aes Dana was allowed to pass between clans without delay, questioning, etc. Even the chieftains did not have this luxury. They were also provided for by whoever were their hosts, and the penalties for not doing so, especially for the wealthy could be severe. In a tale in the Mythological cycle of Irish myths/legends, Bres fails to show hospitality to Cairbry, a poet. In response, Cairbry composes a satire which overthrows the Bres as the King of Ireland.
The Religion of the Ancient Celts Ch.XXI By J. A. MacCulloch ;
Who Were the Druids? by Chris Travers
Prior to my reading Caesar’s Messiah I had wondered if Christianity had been invented as a way of improving the imperial hold on power by way of uniting as many gods as possible under one name, that of Jesus Christ. This had been done centuries earlier by the Greek rulers of Egypt when they created the god Serapis. With the creation of Jesus Christ a god for a Roman populace had been produced. This new god suited the vast empire which stretched from Spain and the British Isles, to Turkey and included Egypt, Italy, etc etc.. While this kind of syncretising may have been one of the motives, and to an intelligent and educated emperor such as Titus, could have been something he had been considering doing, in my opinion, as a sole motive it just doesn’t appear to be strong enough.
Joseph Atwill demonstrates that the Gospels were written not as merely a new “god story” but were a satire. The key which unlocks this mystery is a careful reading of the Wars of the Jews allegedly penned by Josephus Flavius, a personage that is (according to Josephus) Titus’ adopted brother.
Would Titus (or his father) have been engaged in commissioning satire?
A name that is often brought up in relation to satire in Rome during that period is the name of Quintillian.
Quintillian was a contemporary of Titus. He was born in 35 AD, Titus in 39 AD, which means that Quintillian was just 4 years older than Titus.
Quintillian was known to be a master of rhetoric and claimed that “satire is wholly our own”. That in itself is only vaguely interesting, but here is the real nugget: In A.D. 72, Quintillian was one of the rhetoricians to receive a subsidy from the Emperor. Who was the Emperor? None other than Vespasian.
However without any stronger evidence to show Quintillian, whose works have almost all been lost, as an author of parts of the New Testament I thought it would be necessary to look closer at Titus himself. Was Titus capable of such an undertaking?
Titus is said to have been gifted physically and intellectually, exceptionally strong, with an authoritative, yet friendly manner and a supposedly excellent memory. He was an excellent rider and warrior. Already in AD 70, while still in the east, Titus was made joint consul with his father. Then in AD 71 he was granted tribunician powers and in AD 73 he shared the censorship with his father.
Suetonius in The Lives of The Twelve Caesars described Titus as being:
“very ready in the Latin and Greek tongues, both in verse and prose; and such was the facility he possessed in both, that he would harangue and versify extempore … He was remarkably quick in writing short-hand, would in merriment and jest engage with his secretaries in the imitation of any hand-writing he saw, and often say that, he was admirably qualified for forgery.”
Suetonius also describes Titus as being active and deploring a day when he was not engaged in some accomplishment:
“Once at supper, reflecting that he had done nothing for any that day, he broke out into that memorable and justly-admired saying, My friends, I have lost a day.”
Another interesting character trait which Titus possessed was that he was not afraid of undertaking bold and daring projects. Titus was the one who had the Colisseum built as one of his major public projects during his reign.
Titus would have also had the opportunity to learn about the local religions and beliefs during the time he had been stationed in Alexandria prior to arriving in Judea.
Arriving in Judea, Titus was faced with a tough problem. The Judean revolt was not your average battle. The Judeans had been committing suicide rather than surrendering. His father, Vespasian, had been handling the situation for 3 years, but became appointed as emperor of Rome and left the command to his son, Titus in 69 AD.
The following year Titus dealt the Judeans what should have been a devastating blow. He completely and utterly destroyed their temple.
And yet the war would continue for another 3 years. Is it possible that during this time Titus, in desperation composed a curse to try and defeat his enemy?
As a work of satire would be used to both denigrate, abase and even act as a sort of curse against the subject, the New Testament, when seen in this light, appears as cruel as could be expected from a soldier used to the killing and destruction of enemy forces.
The characters written into the satire would not have to represent any specific person or concept but would be used variously to express whatever concept the creator wanted to insert.
The Jesus character appears to have been both a representation of the failed Messianic characters who had tried to claim the Messianic position, as well as the new ruler/god(s) that Vespasian and Titus were attempting to impose on the Judean people.
It is interesting to note that Vespasian had made it clear that Titus was his chosen heir and sucessor. As mentioned above, Titus shared the censorship with his father. So too did he become praetorian prefect. This was all part of Vespasian’s grooming of his son as successor.
Throughout this time Titus was his father’s right hand man, conducting routine affairs of state, dictating letters, even delivering his father’s speeches in the senate. Vespasian is reported to have once said, ‘Either my son shall be my successor, or no one at all.’ Source
This gives new meaning to the words placed in the mouth of the Jesus character: “I and my Father are one.”
The book of Matthew as Satire
Joseph Atwill proposes that the Gospels are satire. Having noticed a number of similarities in a lengthy written work which has many stories that take place in precisely the same geographical location as do the Gospel stories, he decided to begin comparing passages. Atwill shows quite convincingly that the works of Josephus Flavius, the name to whom Wars of The Jews is attributed serves as a key to understanding the Gospels.
Atwill analyses over a dozen parallels to which the works of Josephus provide the key.
I propose a few additional reasons not covered by Atwill as to why the gospels could be seen as satire.
The book of Matthew begins with genealogies. It may not immediately be apparent that the author is poking fun at the genealogies found in Genesis. However when the author claims to add up the generations he miscounts:
How many generations were there from Abraham to Jesus?
Matthew: “From Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations”—in all, forty-two generations (i, 17).
Here Matthew contradicts his own record given in the preceding sixteen verses; for, including both Abraham and Jesus, he names forty-one generations: 1. Abraham, 2. Isaac, 3. Jacob, 4. Judas, 5. Phares, 6. Ezrom, 7. Aram, 8. Aminadab, 9. Naason, 10. Salmon, 11. Booz, 12. Obed, 13. Jesse, 14. David, 15. Solomon, 16. Roboam, 17. Abia, 18. Asa, 19. Josaphat, 20. Joram, 21. Ozias, 22. Joatham, 23. Achaz, 24. Ezekias, 25. Manasses, 26. Amon, 27. Josias, 28. Jechonias, 29. Salathiel, 30. Zorobabel, 31. Abiud, 32. Eliakim, 33. Azor, 34. Sadoc, 35. Achim, 36. Eliud, 37. Eleazer, 38. Matthan, 39. Jacob, 40. Joseph, 41. Jesus Christ.
But it’s not just a matter of miscounting once. The author of Matthew does it repeatedly.
How many generations were there from Abraham to David?
Matthew: “From Abraham to David are fourteen generations” (i, 17).
From Abraham to David are not fourteen, but thirteen generations; that’s because the author of Matthew includes David as part of the second group of fourteen generations. The genealogical table of Matthew pretends to naturally and logically comprise the list into three divisions. The first division comprises the generations before the establishment of the Kingdom of David, beginning with Abraham; the second comprises the kings of Judah, beginning with David the first and ending with Jechonias the last; the third comprises the generations following the kings of Judah, from the Captivity to Christ.
But does the author of Matthew stop the joke there? No. He is just getting started. Right after this he continues on to add an explanation which would offend any reader paying attention. The next list is also purportedly 14 generations. However to keep the number at 14 the original genealogy found in the book of Chronicles is redacted. Four names are omitted as they don’t suit the desired number which was carefully explained to be a multiple of seven:
This is only the superficial part of the satire.
A Bastard as the Anointed One
The real joke is that this genealogy lists the ancestry of Joseph, who the story does not place as the “biological” father of Jesus. Even though the author goes to great lengths and uses valuable space to list 41 names in the lineage, to supposedly prove royal provenance, it is completely irrelevant to anyone who places value on lineage and traceable family. The genealogy is stated clearly to be that of Joseph, and it is unmistakably spelled out that Jesus is not his son. The Romans were not very kind to and did not think much of people who were uncertain of their parentage. Plutarch even suggests that the term Patrician originated as the name of a group of people who could be certain about who their fathers were.
“The rest of the people were now organised. They were called Populus, and a hundred of the noblest were chosen from among them and formed into a council. These he called Patricians, and their assembly the Senate. This word Senate clearly means assembly of old men; and the members of it were named Patricians, according to some, because they were the fathers of legitimate offspring; according to others, because they were able to give an account of who their own fathers were, which few of the first colonists were able to do.” Plutarch’s Lives I
The author of Matthew had a penchant for misquoting prophecies and even making up prophecies so he could keep saying “That the prophecy might be fulfilled.” It was a custom all throughout the Roman empire, to mention Oracles and prophecies when writing about important people. Numerous biographies include mentions of Oracular predictions. Vespasian is no exception. This was something that was taken seriously most of the time. For Matthew to consistently misquote and invent prophecies shows that something is off about his story telling.
If the purpose of Matthew is not to relay specific information in story form, is is possible that this book was written as a satire?
Satire was used as entertainment in the Roman world. However in neighbouring lands it was used as a curse. If the book of Matthew was written as a curse what other clues can we find?
What type of spells were used during that time period? We know that number coding was used at the time.
Matthew: Written in Greek Or in Hebrew?
As we get into the next section it will be good to establish in what language the book of Matthew was written.
David Maas ,adjunct Professor of English who holds the following degrees: B.A. (1993), Ambassador University; B.A. (1966), M.A. (1967), Ed. Specialist (1972 Certificate in Biblical Studies; Certificate in Business Studies; Certificate in Christian Family Studies; put forth the following case for the book of Matthew having been written originally in Greek.
The External Evidence
The evidence for the original language of a document is divided between “external” and “internal” proofs. “External” refers to ancient manuscripts and other witnesses from outside the text of the document.
“Internal” evidences are those facts and indicators derived from the text itself, in this case the Gospel of Matthew.
- Ancient Manuscripts. All surviving ancient manuscripts of Matthew or parts of it are in Greek. This includes complete copies of the gospel from the major Uncial manuscripts of the third, fourth and fifth centuries including Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus. Additionally, portions of the Greek text of Matthew are well attested by an array of ancient papyrus manuscripts (most of which are fragmentary).
Several of these date back to the first half of the second century.
This evidence includes p1 (third century), p21 (fourth century), p25 (fourth century), p35 (fourth century), p37 (third century), p45 (third century), p62 (fourth century), p64/67 (100 – 200 A.D.), p70 (third century), p71 (fourth century), p77 (second century), p86 (fourth century
). In contrast, there are no surviving manuscripts of an original Hebrew or Aramaic version of Matthew’s Gospel, assuming it ever existed.
- The Ancient Translations. Because Christianity was a missionary
-oriented religion the New Testament was translated relatively quickly into other languages, including Matthew. Among the earliest translations were the Syriac (the Old Syriac, Peshitta, Harclean & Palestinian versions), Latin (Old Latin and the Vulgate) and Coptic (Sahidic and Bohairic). In each case the translation of Matthew was made from Greek originals, not Aramaic or Hebrew sources.
- The Witness of Early Church Authors. Several church fathers of the late first and early second centuries wrote letters in which they alluded to or quoted passages from Matthew. This includes 1 Clement written around 95 A.D. (e.g., Matthew 6:12 – 15 quoted in 1 Clement XIII), the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (approximately 110 A.D. – e.g., Matthew 5:4 in Ignatius to the Ephesians chapter X), and Polycarp of Smyrna’s letter to the Philippians (110 A.D. – e.g., Matthew 7:1 in Chapter II). Writing in the middle of the second century in Chapter XV of his First Apology Justin Martyr quoted or alluded to Matthew 5:28, 5:29, 5:32, 5:44, 5:46, 6:19, 6:20, 9:13, 16:26 and 19:12. In the Preface to his Against Heresies Irenaeus writing around 170 A.D. alluded to Matthew 7:15 and quoted Matthew 10:26. The preceding are just a few the many examples that can be cited from the early church fathers. In each case the author wrote in Greek and all his New Testament allusions and quotations were from Greek originals.
The Internal Evidence
- Matthew gives no indication of being a translation. A document of any length translated from one language to another, especially utilizing languages as fundamentally different as Greek and Hebrew, gives indications of being a translation. The Greek version of Matthew gives no substantial signs of being a translation from Hebrew or any other language; in fact, just the opposite.
- Matthew’s Use of Material from Mark: Matthew includes a great deal of the same materials as the Gospel of Mark (Matthew reproduces approximately 90% of Mark’s text). In many instances there is great correspondence between the Greek texts of passages found in both Matthew and Mark (e.g., Matthew 9:6–Mark 2:10, “but that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”). However, Matthew often edited out unnecessary words from Mark’s text and improved Mark’s Greek syntax. Those who argue that Matthew was later translated from Hebrew into Greek “must also argue that the translator had Mark before him and that he simultaneously redacted Mark’s Greek as he translated the putative Aramaic Matthew. Though not impossible, this solution remains improbable.” Matthew’s Use of the Old Testament. In his gospel Matthew included verbal allusions to the Old Testament as well as direct quotations. Sometimes he used a version of a passage from the Hebrew Old Testament, other times from the ancient Greek translation or Septuagint (e.g., Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14 from the Septuagint – “behold, a virgin shall be with child…”). Complicating the matter was Matthew’s tendency to rely on the Hebrew Old Testament in texts quoted in the narrative portions of his gospel, but then attributing Old Testament quotations made by Jesus that were based on the Septuagint,though not exclusively so in either case (e.g., in Matthew 4:4 Jesus precisely follows the Septuagint text of Deuteronomy 8:3). In contrast, no New Testament quotations from a Hebrew or Aramaic original have been preserved in the writings of the early church fathers.
Isopsephy is the practice of adding up the number values of letters in a word or a phrase and thereby create a numerical value. Greece and Rome each had their own systems for doing this. It was something that was in vogue during the time in question.
There are a number of instances of isopsephy found in graffiti at Pompeii, dating from around 79 AD. One reads Φιλω ης αριθμος ϕμε, “I love her whose number is 545.” Another says, “Amerimnus thought upon his lady Harmonia for good. The number of her honorable name is 45.” Suetonius, writing in 121 AD, reports a political slogan that someone wrote on a wall in Rome:
- “Nero, Orestes, Alcmeon their mothers slew.
- A calculation new. Nero his mother slew”
Titus was alive at the same time as Nero, and even studied with Nero’s step brother Britannicus. There shouldn’t be any doubt that Titus would have been aware of Isopsephy.
I wondered if Titus had encoded the number of his name within the Gospel of Matthew. This would be the perfect satirical spell. The gospel of John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the word. And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Later in the book the flesh has to be eaten by the disciples. If Titus had encoded his name in it, this would be essentially a spell compelling his enemies to eat his name.
I started looking for Titus’ name in the book of Matthew. But I didn’t hold out much hope of it being easy. If it were encoded in a number I thought I would start by examining the numbers in the first chapter.
The book of Matthew focuses on the number 42 in its first chapter but it does so in a peculiar manner. Essentially the author draws attention to 42, but also to an unseen number, the number 1 which is missing or hidden from the total. This is done by telling the reader that there are 42 generations when in fact there are only 41 listed.
I wasn’t able to determine anything significant about this number but wondered if the following concepts might come in handy: 42, 1, hidden. As I couldn’t identify any additional obvious elements I decided to see if there were any repetitive patterns in the entire text. I was hoping that they would be easily distinguishable.
I remembered that years ago I had read that a Dr. Christian Lindtner had tallied the entire amount of letters in each segment of the Greek book of Matthew. He thought that there were some peculiarities in the numbers these added up to. I’d looked over his work but to me the numbers involved didn’t seem particularly interesting. It may be worth further investigation, but what I was looking for was to see if Titus had used isopsephy to insert the number of his name into this writing.
I made use of Dr Lindtner’s work to tally up all the letters in the Greek book of Matthew and noted down the total.
Total letters in the Greek Book of Matthew = 2320
I then used the Greek Isopsephia calculator to enter in the name of Titus and see what value it returned.
I couldn’t see anything significant about the number 1210 so I tried entering Vespasianus.
This one turned up a prime number, 1153, which is a Proth prime number at that. Cool, but still not that interesting as far as linking this name to the book of Matthew. Mind you, there is mention near the end of the book of John that 153 fish were caught. 1000+153. That is a strange coincidence even if a minor one.
It was when I entered the name of Titus Vespasianus that my heart nearly skipped a beat.
Titus Vespasianus = 2363
I could see that this number was extremely close to the amount of letters in the Greek book of Matthew.
Total letters in the Book of Matthew = 2320
Titus Vespasianus = 2363
Difference = 42+1
Now where had I seen the number 42 and 1?
In the very first chapter of Matthew: 42, 1, hidden.
We can also note that there are 43 years between the year assigned to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and the end of the Judean war.
All a coincidence? Ask any private investigator and they will tell you that coincidences are always worth looking into.