Caesar’s Messiah was a book published by a dot com businessman named Joseph Atwill in 2005. Last year, he released a documentary based on the book and everyone is talking about it all of a sudden, because Atwill put out the world’s most misleading press release for his film screening in London. Richard Dawkins then retweeted the press release, even though he said he didn’t endorse the theory, and now this eight-year-old theory is news again. Thank you, Richard Dawkins.
The basic premise of Caesar’s Messiah is that the Roman Imperial family, the Flavians, invented Jesus by using the Jewish historian Josephus and, presumably, other people to write the gospels after Rome defeated the Jews in 70 AD. The idea was to make the militant Jewish rebels accept a peaceful Messiah and, thereby, give Rome less trouble.
Atwill says that the New Testament was written in a code that requires you to read Josephus’ War of the Jews alongside the New Testament to get the joke. He, of course, is the only person to crack this code, making him super smart.
The following are just some of the major problems with this theory. For footnotes and references to the claims I’m about to make, go to the link in the description or to the website ceasarsmessiahdebunked.com.
One of the biggest problems this theory has is the existence of Christianity before 73 AD, when Atwill says that the idea was concocted by the Romans. Quite simply, if Christianity can be demonstrated to exist before that time, this theory is toast.
The famous historian Tacitus says that Nero was persecuting Christians in Rome in 64 AD. He also mentions that “immense multitudes” of Christians were living in Rome at the time. Try to figure out why “immense multitudes” of Christians are in Rome ten years before Christianity was supposed to have been invented.
Suetonius also mentions Nero punishing Christians, as well as many Christian historians. That seems like a bad PR idea to write this kind of stuff: “Hey, everyone! Join the new religion so we can burn you alive and feed you to lions. The signup sheet is right over there.”
Paul, who tradition has being killed by Nero around 66 AD, wrote thirteen of the letters in the New Testament, all of them very Christian. Even the most skeptical scholars in this field don’t date these letters later than 68 AD, and most of them much earlier than that. You should find out why even these skeptical scholars feel the need to place these letters so early, which you can do at the website caesarsmessiahdebunked.com.
Okay, so, let’s move beyond the historical problems with saying that Christianity didn’t exist before 73 AD, and let’s look at some of the common sense or logical problems with his theory.
Why in the world would the Romans do this? They had already totally crushed the Jews in 70 AD, destroying the city and the temple.
When the Romans had a problem with people not wanting to conform to their rules, which they did often, they did what they do best: crush people into submission with war. There was never any need to do anything different, especially at this point in their history. Also, consider that the Jews weren’t even a threat to them in any meaningful way. Plus, as I said, they had already completely destroyed them.
Atwill, in response to J.P. Holding on the point that the Romans had already defeated the Jews, said well, yeah, but Josephus mentions that the Romans had some problems with a few Jewish rebels from Alexandria just after the war. Holding replied, saying:
What Josephus refers to is disturbances in Alexandria that were instigated by the Sicarii who had fled to Jerusalem after being beaten there. So, in reality, this was nothing more than a mop-up after a decisive victory – and I might add, no reason for Titus to invent a religion for them, since he beat them soundly there as well.
Okay, so let’s look a little bit at the New Testament that Titus supposedly created, and see if it makes sense to you that the Romans would make this up and actually want people to read it.
So, the Romans created a guy who said stuff like, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me?” Matthew 28:18
Jesus tells his followers over and over that loyalty to Him supersedes all other loyalties, including political authorities.
An example of his followers disobeying the government because Jesus’ teaching supersedes it can be found in Acts 5:29 and 4:19.
It’s difficult to express how atrocious and downright scary that idea would be to the Romans. “So, you’re telling us that you have a true king who you are more loyal to than the emperor?”
Yeah. That idea was not a Roman invention, I can assure you.
Consider just this one example: The worshipping of the emperors and Roman gods with the incense altar was considered a matter of national security by the Romans, because they believed that the gods and the dead emperors defended Rome; and anyone that didn’t do this sacrifice was angering the gods, and, therefore, endangering Rome’s national security.
Rome really didn’t care what your religion was as long as you would also worship their gods. You could worship any god you wanted to as long as you added their gods to the list.
So why in the world would you create a messiah who forbids the worshipping of other gods, especially emperors, if your goal is to make them good Roman citizens?
So many Christians were dying in the early days of Christianity because they refused this practice of sacrificing to the Roman gods. Pliny the Younger wrote the Emperor Trajan asking him what he should do because he was having to kill so many people, including women and children. He wanted to confirm with the Emperor that the official policy was to kill them if they didn’t sacrifice to Caesar. He had not dealt with this before, because there weren’t many religions out there that had a problem with sacrificing to Caesar.
We actually have a copy of Trajan’s response to Pliny the Younger; so, if you want to know how Rome felt about this, here you go:
“…if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon…”
Think about that logically. Trajan is saying that the proof that a person is really a Christian in his eyes is that they won’t worship the emperor. Does that really sound like something that Rome would create for the people?
If there was anything that Rome was more scared of than angering the gods, it was slave revolts. Seventy-five percent of the Roman Empire consisted of slaves; and so, if they ever got the idea to rally around a cause, they could easily destroy Rome.
So, why create a religion where the hero is a falsely accused criminal who was crucified by the Roman government? This mass of slaves being loyal to the Christian God over and above the emperor, as well as being anti Roman Gods, was a very bad thing for Rome.
It also gave these slaves a new sense of honor. For example, after this point, slaves started refusing to have sex with their masters on account of them being Christians and their Christian God forbidding it. This is just one of the reasons that Christians were persecuted in Rome for the first 300 years of their existence.
Here’s a question: If this religion was created to make radical militant Jews good Roman citizens, why in the world does Jesus and the New Testament clearly intend to reach the gentiles, people who already were good Roman citizens?
Mat 24:14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Mat 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Why in the world would you make this Christian God that you invent tell his utterly devoted followers to go convert Romans?
If a Roman converted, it would turn a good emperor-worshipping citizen into a non-emperor-worshipping enemy of the state. What a stupid plan, Titus?
He also made a huge mistake by writing the New Testament gospels in Greek, which would make a ton of sense if the early Christians were trying to reach the Gentile world; but it makes little to no sense if the reverse is true, that is, that the Romans were trying to reach Aramaic-speaking Jews.
Another logical impossibility is that all these Jews just accepted these “hot off the presses” gospels– which were claiming to be historical–as true, even though they all just lived through the time period that these gospels were describing, but obviously no one ever saw any of the events recorded in them, because they were all made up.
So this guy was going around raising the dead, healing leprosy, healing the sick. He became a rock star all throughout Israel, where crowds routinely got up to 5000. He had all these royal rumbles with rulers in public places, turning over tables in the temple, etc. He was even crucified on the Passover when an eclipse and an earthquake happened, and no one ever said, “Hey, I don’t remember seeing any of that. I don’t know anyone that ever did. My parents never spoke of it. What the heck! I’ll die for that.”
There are a ton of problems with the idea that Josephus wrote all the gospels, but most of them are kind of technical, so, I won’t dwell on them here; but I will direct you to my website for more information about why textual critics think such an idea is really silly. But the main idea is that you can easily discern different writers and styles, as well as different sources, which all have the hallmarks of these documents developing quite naturally.
Since Atwill has no real history or science on his side, he spends most of his time on what he calls “parallels” between the New Testament and Josephus’ book, The Wars of the Jews. Atwill states that by comparing these two works you can crack the code that shows that Jesus was just being compared to the Emperor Titus.
One reviewer of Atwill’s book–who clearly thinks that Jesus is a myth, so they have no religious reason to disagree with him–said the following of his “parallels:”
…the Jesus story is myth, but Atwill’s presentation of “proofs” and “discoveries” are convoluted. The “clues” Atwill “discovered” are so vague that, like the prophecies of Nostradamus, historical facts have to be reinterpreted and their meanings changed in order to bend and twist events so that they appear to follow a chronology similar to a historical campaign of war against the Jews found in “The War of the Jews.”
So, for example, Atwill says that when it Matthew 4 it says, “Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.”
The “parallel” to this is supposed to be when Josephus recorded Titus, after a naval defeat of the Jews, killed the ones remaining in the water by spears and cutting off their hands. If you don’t see the “parallel,” it’s probably because you aren’t smart enough, like Atwill is. After all, he is the only one who knows the secret code of the New Testament.
Maybe it will help if I explain another so-called “parallel.”
Josephus reports that a woman named Mary ate her child during the siege of Jerusalem when there was no food left. Atwill says that this gruesome act of starvation was supposed to represent Jesus saying that the bread at the Last Supper represented his body, which would be broken for them.
These kinds of claims, of course, are unfalsifiable. Whenever you choose to change meanings to your liking, you can make anything be a match; and so, this section of his book is pretty much worthless. Nevertheless, I will provide links to further debunkings of his “parallels,” as well as as much information as I can find on the debunking of Atwill’s theory on my website caesarsmessiahdebunked.com.
Thanks for your time.