The Jesus Conspiracy

The Jesus Conspiracy October 10, 2013

Via PR Web, an announcement of an upcoming symposium:

Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ’

American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill will be appearing before the British public for the first time in London on the 19th of October to present a controversial new discovery: ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. His presentation will be part of a one-day symposium entitled “Covert Messiah” at Conway Hall in Holborn.

Atwill’s last work was the 2005 Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus. The thesis is that the story of Jesus is a fiction created by the Flavian dynasty of Roman emperors with the aid of the Jewish historian/Roman lackey Josephus. As the story goes, after the first Jewish war the Emperor decided that Jewish zealotry needed to be toned down a notch, and so he commissioned a narrative and a fictitious messiah that would lure the Jews into pacifism.

(Atwill’s webpage has the tagline “Is Christianity The Genesis of Modern Psychological Warfare?” Because “Jesus didn’t exist” doesn’t have enough punch anymore.)

Atwill’s new stuff looks much the same as his old stuff:

Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus [the only surviving first-person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament. “I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts,” he recounts. “Although it’s been recognised by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more. What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus. This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern. The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.”

So Atwill’s evidence, then and now, boils down to parallels. His “confession” is his argument that the parallels add up to an intentional design, a puzzle that can be pieced together to show how the Flavians and Josephus invented the character of Jesus. This puzzle is so obvious once you know how to read it, and so unlikely to have occurred by accident, that it amounts to a confession.

The problems are obvious. Parallels are always subjective, and the argument that they cannot be inadvertent (i.e. someone mistaking a story about one Jesus for another) is even more subjective. The accusation of parallelomania is sure to come up, and as Ian at Irreducible Complexity pointed out, that’s a hard discussion to have. Finally, what do all those parallels add up to? In his review of Ceaser’s Messiah, Robert Price – a fan of parallels himself- argued that the total was less than the sum of its parts:

According to Atwill, “the reader needs to comprehend perhaps the most complex literary satire ever written” (p. 169). But Atwill’s envisioned satire seems so complex as to be incoherent. “Jesus” stands not only for Tiberius but also for a hypothetical Zealot leader named Eleazar, who also appears in the New Testament as Lazarus. Mary Magdalene stands for several different women, “Mary” being, Atwill guesses, a term for any female Jewish rebel or sympathizer. Simon Peter and Peter are not the same, either. The two gospel genealogies, a la Rudolf Steiner, represent two distinct Jesuses. In Atwill’s hands, everything means everything else. And, in the end, you know what that means.

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