Jesus was Caesar –
Caesar Divus Iulius : David’s Son and Lord

Extracts from the book «Jesus was Caesar»

© 2005 Uitgeverij Aspekt b.v.

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Caesar Divus Iulius : David’s Son and Lord

pp. 301–305 (original German Edition), = p. 281-285 (English Edition)

Victor of all civil wars, Caesar hurried to Rome, now feared and celebrated like no man before him. Faced with his good fortune the Romans bowed their heads and willingly submitted themselves to the yoke. They hoped to find relief under the monarchy and made Caesar an absolute ruler. By decision of the Senate they appointed him as the automatically re-elected consul, dictator for life, the supreme judge of morals. They awarded him the title Imperator as first name and Parens Patriae as epithet. They placed his statue among those of the kings and his throne in the Orchestra, and gave him the right to wear the red triumphal robe at all times, and to deal with his affairs sitting on a throne of ivory and gold. They declared him sacred and inviolable in his person like a tribune of the people. Thus he had all the prerogatives of an absolute monarch and was more than a king—a title he refused because it had been cursed by the ancestors.

Then they also elevated him in the sacral sphere. He was already High Priest of Jupiter and Pontifex Maximus. Now they even accorded him divine honors: the golden chair in the Curia and before the Tribunal; a chariot of the gods and a litter to bear his statue in the processions during the circus games; his own temples; his own statues next to those of the gods in all temples in Rome, and in each town within the Empire and in those of allies outside the Empire; altars with his own cult and the obligation that priests should celebrate all his victories annually; a seat at the table of the gods; a month of the calendar named after him; and his own board of priests at the Lupercalia. Finally they straight away made him Divus Iulius and provided him, in the person of Marcus Antonius, with his personal high priest, just as for Jupiter. This latter honor was not to be realized until after his death, but it already made him not only god, but also a monotheistic god, an archaic god-king who reigned over the whole world.

The odd thing was that all these honors were given to him by the same Romans who had chased their kings out of the city, and that they did this not only out of fear or to flatter him, but also out of love.

It was a love that he did not disappoint, because he pardoned all who had waged war against him and were still alive, and allowed them to return to Italy unharmed—something nobody else had done before him and it exceeded all human expectations. He even restored them to office and dignity. He returned the dowries to the widows of soldiers killed in battle and gave the orphans their respective share of the fortune. Yes, he even had the statues of Pompeius and Sulla erected again. This gave the true meaning to all the other ways by which he tried to win the love of the people—the games, theater performances, festive meals, donations of grain and the establishing of settlements.

In order to seal this mutual confidence a temple was vowed to Caesar and his clemency. From that time on, contrary to all doubts and misgivings, he dismissed his Spanish bodyguard and trusted in the sacrosanctitas, the inviolability of a tribune accorded to him, as well as in the oath of the senators and knights who pledged to protect his life, if necessary, with their own.

Out of this realized god-kingship, Mark makes the question of the highest commandment and the debate about David’s Son and Lord:

    ‘And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. [Leviticus 19:18]. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.’

The scribes are the conscripti, the senators here also. The one who appears here pars pro toto is the same person who read the decision of honors. We recognize that we are at the end of the civil wars and that Caesar had won, because the argument is seen as finished and Jesus ‘had answered well’. It is conceivable that the decision of honors was read by Cicero, who had not actively participated in the civil war. This might be reflected in the fact that this scribe was one of those who only ‘had heard’ them dispute.

‘Our God is one Lord’—this applied now to Caesar, although the reverse order was the original one: Our Lord is one God. This commandment cited from Deuteronomy, requiring unconditional love of the Lord, sounds like the vow taken by the senators and knights to love Caesar and to protect his life with their own.

The other commandment ‘to love his neighbor as himself’ covers the Clementia Caesaris, the forgiveness for all his enemies, admittedly without doing justice to the unheard-of quality of this clemency. With Matthew one still finds it as the essence of the new message, of the new morals of the Empire, in clear opposition to the morality of the Old Testament, that every individual and every nation is perfectly capable of:

    ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said [Leviticus 19:18], Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ (Matthew 5:43-45)

Upon this is based not only the life of individuals and peoples, but the living together of different people and races in a world empire. That it is the Roman Empire is made clear by the use of ‘in heaven’, en ouranois, which, as we have seen earlier, conceals romanus. The ‘Father who is in heaven’, is in this case Caesar as Parens Patriae, as ‘parent of the native city, (pro)creator of the Empire’, who as Divus, however, moves into the sphere of Jupiter, the weather god who sends rain for all, at his own discretion and yet with fairness at the same time.

By the way, the undeniable fact that Matthew is based on Mark does not necessarily mean that his additions are purely editorial. As can be seen here, this time Matthew’s version comes closer to the original Caesar source. He has the phrase, ‘love your enemies’, which is closer to the Clementia Caesaris. How is this possible? Is Matthew based on an older Original Mark, which contained more than Mark? Then the Original Mark would be Matthew, which is absurd. Do Matthew’s additions stem from a parallel tradition? If so, from which one? From yet another Q?

Or simply from other Caesar sources? Was Matthew’s exemplar also a narrative of Caesar, like the one Asinius Pollio had written down and Mark had creatively re-edited, but with added quotations from other works by Caesar? This can be checked just by considering this example.

This whole problem—old morality versus new morality—was part of Caesar’s Anticato which he had to write in reply to Cicero’s glorification of Cato, circulated in order to do harm to him (see p.82, 197 and 274 as well as notes 189 and 440). These works, Cato and Anticato, which were frequently read and discussed in antiquity, unfortunately have not been preserved, except for a few quotations. It happens that among them there is one that exactly corresponds to our topic, wherein Caesar accuses the upholder of moral standards of not even having followed the most natural of all commandments, to love thy neighbor, beginning with one’s own family:

    Caesar in Anticatone priore: ‘uno enim excepto, quem alius modi atque omnis natura finxit, suos quisque habet charos.’
    —Caesar writes in the first book of his Anticato: ‘because except for one, whom nature has created completely different, each one loves his own kin.’ (Priscianus 6.36 (gl ii 227.2)).

Unfortunately we don’t know the literal continuation of it, but as regards contents one can easily imagine it (cf. Tschiedel (1981), p. 105sqq):

‘Cato—for this “one”’ was definitely Cato, whose singleness had been emphasized by Cicero already (cf. the speech for Murena, 60) and Caesar ironically alludes to that here—this unique upholder of moral standards, was not even able to do what all, humans and animals, do by nature: namely loving their own family. Here Caesar probably alludes to Cato’s unloving and opportunistic dealings with his young wife Marcia, whom he had handed over to an old man like a pimp in order to remarry her as a rich widow (see above p. 197), let alone that he could have been able to raise himself to what is necessary in order to end all wars, particularly the civil war, and to secure eternal peace, namely to Clementia: the charity to strangers and even enemies. He was even so obdurate that he has not even allowed me, Caesar, that I pardon him and has committed suicide in order that nobody, especially no enemy, would have the possibility to give that to him which he would not give to anybody, not even his family: mercy.’

This clearly is the original text for the above quotation—the irony being lost, as so often happens.

Thus Matthew’s exemplar contained quotations that were missing or abridged in that of Mark, or maybe a more complete Original Mark was available to Matthew. In any case, this passage of Matthew unambiguously shows that originally in the Gospel the matter was not to oppose the Old Testamentary morals with the New Testamentary one of Jesus, but to give a report on how Caesar, in his opposition to the Old Roman morality of somebody like Cato, exemplarily demonstrated how false it was. It was unable to fulfill even natural laws like family loyalty and charity, let alone to even comprehend those that are culturally superior and necessary for the public good, like the concept of Love-thy-enemy. The Evangelist had merely transferred this debate ad usum Iudaeorum, for the use of the Jews, delocalized and adapted it, and made it a conflict of Jesus with the old law.

Furthermore, it is conceivable that Mark was intended to be an additional text, a homily corresponding to a text, a Greek embroidery around a Latin fabric, a Gospel to the vita Divi Iulii. No one asked for completeness: the text was still known somehow; at least one assumed it was known. Whereas Matthew, who comes later and is anxious for completeness, seems to have here added further material extracted from the text, to the homily of Mark. He has knit the fabric to the embroidery—true to original, of course. Henceforth the vita Divi Iulii was superfluous: the Gospels had been born. Mark was now merely a torso—and moved to second place.

So, en passant, we have been able to solve an essential aporia of Gospel exegesis and criticism: why do the later Evangelists know more than the earlier ones? Answer: the earlier ones still knew the story. Mark’s knowledge shows through in all that he does not tell.

The following address to Jesus, ‘Master’, didaskale—with Mark, for we are returning to him—stands for dictator as usual, but this time it has another, more intensive meaning, because Caesar had been elected dictator for life on this occasion.

The ‘burnt offerings’ and ‘sacrifices’ here refer more to the cult established for the new god than to those offerings and sacrifices that accompanied the celebrations for his fifth triumph. The Roman Empire, the Imperium Populi Romani, was about to become the Imperium Divi Iulii, the ‘Kingdom of God.’

The concluding sentence finally—‘And no man after that durst ask him any question’—lets the ceremonious end of the civil wars come through. Compare that choice of words with those of Appianus:

‘No one dared to contradict him any more.’