A Comment on the Invention of Christianity: Caesar’s Messiah

Joe Atwill’s 2006 book Caesar’s Messiah makes the case that Christianity’s New Testament was written by a scholar named Flavius Josephus and/or a group of people surrounding him. Josephus was an adoptive son of the ruling Flavian dynasty, which provided three Roman Caesars: Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. It turns out that the New Testament contains clever references to Josephus’s book The War of the Jews, in which prophecies made by Jesus Christ later seem to be confirmed as historical events. Atwill argues that the author of The War of the Jews must have invented the Christ from the New Testament.

There is, of course, circumstantial evidence that corroborates such a hypothesis. The many authors who wrote during the time Jesus Christ was supposed to have lived never mention him. The Christ we know from the New Testament appears to be a character only ever mentioned in literature, decades after his supposed life and death. For example, Philo Judaeus, a contemporary scholar living in Alexandria, does not mention the existence of Christ nor does he mention his miracles. If his Jewish Messiah had indeed appeared, one might have expected him and other Jewish authors to have mentioned Christ as a historical figure. Yet, none did. Jesus Christ was a literary invention.

However, Joe Atwill then suggests that the Flavian dynasty invented the New Testament in order to trick the Jews of Judea, a colony once at war with Rome, to worship Titus Caesar as their Messiah. Passages from the NT refer to historic events from Titus Caesar’s life, mapping things Titus said or did onto things Christ supposedly said or did. Still, this idea seems far-fetched and simply wrong, since the suggested author of the NT, Flavius Josephus, was born as Yosef ben Matityahu, a Jew. Why would a Jew trick his own people into submission to Rome?

It is much more likely that Josephus invented Christianity in order to sell Rome a progressive, open border, and multiculturalist doctrine. How did he do it? He played rich people’s egos. By tricking the Roman emperors, especially Titus, into believing the NT had the Jews worshiping them as gods, the Caesars would be willing to adopt and spread Christian religion across the Roman Empire—unaware of the literary Trojan Horse they would welcome into Europe. This hypothesis seems more plausible. Converting kings and emperors first is exactly how Catholics would later spread Christianity northwards. For example, in 995 AD, Norway’s King Olaf Trygvasson had himself baptized. Only thereafter did the conversions of his people begin.

Everywhere in Europe, the Christianization follows the pattern that presumably began with the conversion of the Flavian Caesars: first, you convert the power elites and then the people will follow. Power elites can be swayed to adopt any belief system they think will help increase their wealth and their power over people. Perhaps Christianity offered Europe’s rulers an ideology to make their subjects more docile and easier to tax. A conversion to Christianity also invited ruling elites into a Roman collective of Christian allies to fight non-Christian enemies. In other words, Christianity benefited the power play of the upper classes at the expense of the common folk, who were now submitted to a slave’s religion.

Notably, the New Testament altered the nature of God. The God of the Old Testament was a Patriarch, whereas the God of the New Testament begot a Mother, the Virgin Mary, placing the Matriarch before God in the logical hierarchy. One has to wonder what the purpose of this gender transformation was? Judaism and Islam, by contrast, both retained their patriarchal God. Islam does not recognize Christ as the son of God and Judaism does not recognize Christ as the true Messiah. Jewish scholar Maimonides would later declare that Christ wasn’t the real Messiah since he died prematurely and did not complete his task.

In conclusion, I must reject Atwill’s thesis that Roman Caesars invented Christianity. I support the opposite thesis that Flavius Josephus tricked the Flavian dynasty into adopting Christianity by making Titus Caesar believe the Jews, and others, would come to worship him as their Messiah, thereby spreading a multiculturalist, pro-immigrant, progressive open border ideology across the Roman Empire.

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