Ta-Wan sent me a link yesterday about a one-day symposium in London that will feature American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill. If nothing else, his presentation will be controversial as he will argue that Jesus Christ is a myth and the foundational Christian story was made up by a faction of the Roman elite to try to quell the social unrest fomented by Messianic Jews.
Atwill asserts that Christianity did not really begin as a religion, but a sophisticated government project, a kind of propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire. "Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century," he explains. "When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That's when the 'peaceful' Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to 'give onto Caesar' and pay their taxes to Rome."
Was Jesus based on a real person from history? "The short answer is no," Atwill insists, "in fact he may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. Once those sources are all laid bare, there's simply nothing left."
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."
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I happen to think ALL religions were created as a means of social control. These creations tend to lead commoners away from examining the power structures that impact their daily lives and instead to focus on ideas that can't actually be proved (or disproved). When your focus is on magical thinking and invisible entities, it leaves far less time to examine more tangible things -- like how the powers that be are screwing you at every turn!
I am NOT suggesting that religion does not serve other purposes as well -- like providing a means of cultural identity and societal cohesion -- but sanctioned religions serve the machinations of the established order above anything else.
Hand in hand with Atwill's presentation will be a premier of the documentary, Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus. A promo from this film is below.