Jesus was Caesar – Re-Orientation

Extracts from the book «Jesus was Caesar»

© Francesco Carotta, Kirchzarten

© 2005, Uitgeverij Aspekt b.v., Soesterberg, The Nederlands

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p. 117-124 (original German Edition), = p. 125-131(English Edition)

Before delving into the details of a comparison of Caesar and Jesus it is appropriate to discuss whether Caesar was a true god, or a would-be god à la Caligula or Nero. For if he was not a true god, then any dependency Jesus might have upon him would be only incidental and unimportant. Conversely, we have to examine whether Jesus was a real person or not. For if he was a real man, any possible parallels in this case, too, would just be incidental, and could be seen in the same light as those one may establish between Caesar and Alexander or even Napoleon.

    [As it is not essential to read the arguments in this excursus before reading the next chapter, the initiated or busy reader may choose to skip to the summary at the end of this excursus for the moment, in order to not lose the thread and possibly return to the subject matter dealt with here later.]

Was Divus Iulius a true God?

Divus Iulius was not a secondary god, but was made equivalent to the highest God, Jupiter, and became the God of the whole Roman Empire.

A reading of the sources leaves us in no doubt. Already, the decisions of the Senate intended to honor Caesar after Munda, the last battle in Spain at which the last Pompeians were definitively defeated, were extraordinary and well outside the norm of Roman custom:

    ‘Then Caesar hastened to Rome. Victor of all civil wars he was feared and celebrated like no one before him; therefore all kinds of exaggerated honors were created and bestowed upon him, even superhuman ones: offerings, celebrations, sacrifices and statues in all temples and public places in each of the provinces, for every community and for all the kings allied with Rome. The inscriptions of the statues were various; on some of them he wore an oak wreath as the savior of the native country, because according to an old custom those who had been saved used to decorate whoever was responsible for their salvation with it. He was proclaimed ‘Father of the Country’ and elected dictator for life as well as consul for ten years. His person was pronounced sacred and inviolable and it was decreed that he could dispatch his official functions from a throne of ivory and gold; furthermore, he always should offer sacrifices in the triumphal robe, the city annually had to celebrate the days of his victories; priests and priestesses had to offer public prayers for him every five years and the administrators had to swear an oath immediately after being appointed not to resist any command of Caesar. To honor his birth the month Quintilis was renamed Iulius (July), furthermore, numerous temples were to be built to him as a god, inter alia one for him together with the personified Clementia (leniency, grace) hand in hand. So much was he feared as ruler and so strongly was he beseeched to bestow his mildness and grace unto them. There were even some who wanted to proclaim him king, until he learnt of it and forbade it under dire threat as the very idea was despised by their ancestors as a sacrilege. He dismissed his Praetorian bodyguard who had served him since their war days, and appeared in public alone with the usual servants … He also pardoned his enemies and promoted many of those who had borne arms against him.’ (Appian BC 2.106-8)

These honors which were decreed during his lifetime began to be enacted more or less straightaway, but came into full effect after his death, specifically when the members of the triumvirate conclusively defeated the assassins of Caesar. All the honors not only retained their spirit but became something more: the violence that was done to him, and the refusal of the people to accept his murder, served to guarantee his honor, title, and cult, forever. Dictator perpetuo meant thenceforth not only for his lifetime but for eternity. Even the fact that he did not want to become a king in this world only helped to gain him the kingdom in the other world. In the same manner as the earlier Osiris, Minos and Zeus, he was now granted not only jurisdiction in the world to come, but even jurisdiction over the present world from that other world.

    ‘Later the people erected a massive pillar, crafted from Numidic marble and almost twenty feet high, bearing the inscription parenti patriae “to the parent of the fatherland”. And persisted to sacrifice there for a long time, swear oaths and to settle law suits by an oath in his name; (Suetonius Jul. 85)’

Furthermore, the site was made inviolable and served as a refuge for all those who were being persecuted, because everybody was given the right of asylum there. And this was the case not just in Rome, but across the whole Empire and in allied countries, in every place where a pillar or a statue of Divus Iulius stood.

This pillar in the Forum was situated right where the body of Caesar had been burned. This is the site where Octavianus built the first temple to his adoptive father, and this temple then served as the model for all the others, called caesarea, which were built throughout the Empire and beyond.

The cult of Divus Iulius expanded in the East as well as in the West, and systematically so after the peace of Brundisium and the division of the Empire under Antonius, Octavianus and Lepidus. All three had an interest in promoting it. Antonius as flamen Divi Iulii, as high priest of the God Iulius, Octavianus even as Divi Filius, as son of God. Finally Lepidus, successor to Caesar in the service as pontifex maximus, cared for the religious bonds in Africa. The practice of the cult not only served the respective interests of each member of the triumvirate, but represented the religious expression of the unity of the Empire.

Later, when Octavianus eliminated Antonius and promoted himself to Augustus, he built augustea instead of caesarea which incorporated many aspects of the original caesarea. So the cult of the Divi Filius was fused with that of Divus Iulius.

There is archeological evidence that indeed the cult permeated the whole Empire and, as one would expect, was practiced most zealously in the places where the presence of Caesar had been more prominent: for example in Gallia, especially in the Cisalpina, the Narbonensis, in Alexandria, and in Antiochia. In the front line, of course, stood the colonies of his veterans, scattered through the whole Empire. And also in the towns where the members of the triumvirate had been most active: e.g. Philippi, Perusia, Ephesos etc.

The cult had its deepest roots there, where the most zealous of the socii et amici populi romani had to protect the border of the Empire, Herodes the Great: in Caesarea, Samaria, Galilee, Decapolis, Gaulanitis, Koilesyria. Herodes, himself Iulius by name, because his father Antipatros had been adopted by Caesar in gratitude for his help in the Alexandrian war, was designated King of Judaea by the members of the triumvirate, although, or perhaps because, he was not a Jew (his father was an Idumaean, his mother an Arabic princess, a Nabataean). In order to protect the interests of Rome against the nationalists of the area and against the Parthians, Antonius, then later Augustus, placed numerous Roman legions at his disposal. When the veterans were discharged, he raised up colonies after Caesar’s example, from which he recruited the offspring. In the center of these colonies stood, of course, the temple of Divus Iulius: the caesareum. It was not by chance that he renamed his capital, the former Tower of Strato, Caesarea, as well as renaming Samaria Sebaste, Greek for Augustea. We also find a town in Herodes’ territory called Iulias—later renamed by Augustus to Livias—a Caesarea Philippi, an Agrippias and, under his successors, a Tiberias. Whereas in Jerusalem the defence tower was called Antonia. When Herodes died, even from his deathbed still defending the Roman eagles on the Jewish temple against religious fanatics, his army and even part of his bodyguard consisted of Thracian and Gaulish legionaries as well as Germanic equestrians. These were people who themselves or their fathers had served under Caesar or Antonius, and who surely recognized no other God but this very Divus Iulius.

Under the emperors who succeeded Augustus, the cult of Divus Iulius was further cultivated, interestingly enough, this mostly occurred during the times when the emperor cult met the most resistance. Under Tiberius e. g., who did not want to be worshipped himself, or after Caligula, who made himself a god while still living, and was murdered and condemned to the damnatio memoriae. Even Vespasianus, himself an atheist, systematically renewed and propagated the cult of Divus Iulius after the murder of Nero and the extinction of the Iulian-Claudian line. Significantly, Vespasianus was proclaimed emperor exactly where Herodes had reigned: in Judaea.

The cult of Caesar was a fact, definitively established. For, as Suetonius said, he had been numbered among the gods not only because of the proclamation of a decision, but also because of the conviction of the people. So his cult was less the predecessor of the emperor cult than it was a refuge for its opponents.

Question: Whatever has happened to this cult?

Spolia and Legacies

The cult of Divus Iulius, together with that of his filiation Divi Filius, disappeared suddenly with the advent of Christianity. What is particularly interesting is the fact that the caesarea and augustea became the first Christian churches, and consequently the statues of Jesus replaced the statues of Divus Iulius and Divi Filius respectively. The other well-known early Christian churches took the place of the erstwhile temples of the various Mother goddesses—above all the temples of Venus—which were especially sacred to the Julian clan and now came to serve as churches to the Virgin.

A vivid picture of this greets the visitor to Rome today. The numerous churches to be seen in and around the Forum, as excavation has made clear, were built on the foundations of the ancient temples.

Elsewhere the story is the same. The visitor to the Orient will soon realize that the first Christian basilicas had previously been heathen temples, while the later basilicas reused the so-called spolia from their ruins as building materials. Ancient temples destroyed by earthquakes provided the materials for the construction of new basilicas, and the combination of different styled columns, pilasters and capitals still clearly testifies to this today. Later, as a consequence of the withdrawal of the Romans from the Eastern Empire and the spread of Islam, the process involving a change in meaning repeated itself. By adding a prayer niche to their southern sides, the surviving basilicas were converted to mosques, and new mosques were built from the spolia of the basilicas that did not survive.

The structures were retained as one religion transitioned to the next. As in Roman times Jupiter was superimposed upon Baal or Hadad (e. g. in Baalbek), and Venus upon Astarte or Atargatis, so we find that the later basilicas and churches to Mary replace—and are even in the same place as—the basilicas built after the model of the Aemilia and Iulia basilicas, respectively the Venus and Artemis temples.

The same principle that applies to God and the Mother of God also seems to apply to the saints. Where we would expect to find Roman sacred sites or memorials to the conquerors of the East—Pompeius and Agrippa—we instead find churches consecrated to John the Baptist and St. George. Even Islam, which introduced absolute monotheism, has not completely erased all the traces of the former veneration of saints. The head of John the Baptist is still venerated in the mosque of Damascus today, while the cult of St. George has not only survived in the churches that remain there, but still enjoys universal reverence amongst the Moslem population also.

Now John the Baptist exhibits structural similarities to Pompeius: a proximity to and rivalry with Jesus, respectively Caesar, and both were beheaded. St. George, for his part, has structural similarities to Agrippa—dragon slayer corresponds to crocodile slayer, i. e. conqueror of Egypt. (Here also we observe that George is the Greek translation of Agrippa, as a synonym for agricola—farmer—from ge-ôrgos, ‘earth-worker’).

Euhemerus and the Aftermath

The founders of empires in antiquity were wont to become gods, e.g. before Caesar, Alexander became Amon-Zeus, and the ancients knew, at least since the time of Euhemerus, that Uranus, Cronos and Zeus had previously been earthly rulers who were posthumously elevated to godhead, and that was because they had been euergetai and sôtêres—benefactors and saviors. So Osiris had been an ancient Pharaoh, Attis a Phrygian pastoral chieftain, Adonis a Canaanite ruler of hunters, Demeter an Aegean peasant priestess-queen, Mithra a Persian prince. This idea was indeed labeled as atheist, but nevertheless it provided the groundwork for the cult of the ruler, which was first adopted by the Hellenistic dynasties, then later became a rule with the Roman emperors.243 By performing the appropriate deeds and actions, they could be elevated to the gods posthumously. It was only the attempt to make themselves gods in their own lifetime, as was the case with Demetrios Poliorketes or Caligula, that was severely frowned upon, often ended badly, and usually led to the damnatio memoriae—the damnation of the memory. This was true in most cases. For certain founders of empires, such as Alexander and to an extent Caesar and Augustus, were partly granted something that was denied to their imitators—to be deified during their lifetimes and to ascend into heaven even more so after their deaths. But again: this was only partly true, because even the empire founders were not deified in their own country, but rather on the fringes of their respective empires. Alexander was deified in Egypt as Amon, Caesar firstly in Asia Minor as soter and theos, Augustus in the provinces, hidden behind the cult of the Dea Roma or his own Genius. But in Macedonia, the ancestral homeland of Alexander and hence that of his Diadochi, there was never a ruler cult, and in Rome there was no cult of Augustus during his lifetime.

So whether he is locally absent on the fringe of the empire, or temporally absent because he has since passed away, God is world ruler only in absentia. God is the long shadow of the world ruler.

From the Euhemeristic point of view it appears to be the case, at least in regard to the founders of empires, that their cults outlive even the fall of the empires that they established. As Zeus had been a former ruler, he remained a god when his empire had gone to ground.

This appears to be the case not only for the mythological gods, as Christianity itself is no exception. It is clear to us, even if unconsciously, that Christianity is the form in which the Roman Empire has survived its fall. This applies at least to the Roman Catholic Church. Not only is the Pope still the pontifex maximus of our time, but he also has the full power of that office. Even the boundaries of his sovereignty appear to have been bequeathed to him by the Romans. It is well known that at the time of the Reformation in Germany the dividing line ran conspicuously along the ancient Roman Limes: on this side the Catholics, on that side the Protestants, just as it once was the Romans on this side, and the barbarians on the other. It can similarly be observed that the dividing line between the Catholic and Orthodox churches runs along the boundary line between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires—whereby the Bosnian and Albanian Moslems represent the rearguard of the Turkish armies that marched in during the Middle Ages.

In summary, it can generally be said that religion is the form in which an empire survives its own fall.

The disappearance of the cult of Divus Iulius would therefore be unique in history, contrary to all experience in both mythological and historical time, Christian as well as non-Christian.

Now the question arises: Has the cult of Divus Iulius disappeared, or have its spolia been taken over by Christianity ?