Jesus was Caesar – History

Extracts from the book «Jesus was Caesar»

© Francesco Carotta, Kirchzarten

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

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Final Observations

p. 351–357 (original German Edition), = p. 325-329 (English Edition)

How did the sacred story of Caesar become the Gospel? The answer to this question has not only a technical or historical dimension concerning the handing down of a tradition, but a theopolitical one, as well.

We must be clear on this point first: there was actually no hagiography of Caesar, but rather a vita Divi Iulii. Divus Iulius was not the deified Caesar, but a god in his own right: not a deceased god but rather a living god. Because Julius Caesar was the first of the deified Caesars it is easy to be misled by the idea that his cult must have been the prototype for the cult of the Caesars. This is not true, or at least not completely true, although the notion could indeed be construed from the ancient writers. We have already seen how Appianus wrote that, on the model of the deification of Caesar, the later emperors had been afforded the same respect, provided they did not rule tyrannically or bring any great reproach upon themselves. However, the same respect does not mean the same status. This is best recognized when a dynasty comes to an end. We remember the old adage of how Octavianus, when he looked upon the sarcophagus of Alexander and not wanting to see the grave of the Ptolemaeans at all, exclaimed: ‘I wanted to see a King, not a row of corpses!’ That is the difference between the founder of an empire and its resultant dynasty. The same distinction exists between Caesar and the Roman emperors. And just as Alexander was still a king to Octavianus when the Ptolemaeans had lost the throne of Egypt on the death of Cleopatra, so Divus Iulius was still a god for Vespasianus when the Julio-Claudian line died out with Nero—and it appears that he has survived the demise of the Roman Empire, incognito, as Jesus.

And thus we have to restrict the assertion of the title of this book: ‘Jesus was Caesar’. He was—as a man. As a God he is not: Jesus is Divus Iulius.

Was Jesus a copy? In order to answer this question, we should recall the phenomena we encountered during the course of our examination and try to picture the whole process.

When Caesar died, he had already been declared a Divus by the senators, only to be murdered by the very same men as a tyrant. That his funeral nevertheless became his apotheosis, is due to the skillful tactics and genius of Antonius in acting as a true histrion of God. It was the first Passion Play, where the audience played the chief role, being at once both the chorus of the tragedy and the actors as well. They were driven from the deepest dejection to the highest excitement, burning the corpse of Caesar on the Forum and driving his murderers out of town. This chief role was played by the people and the veterans. Suetonius justly remarks that Divus Iulius was, presumably unlike many others—perhaps unlike all the others—added to the number of the gods non ore modo decernentium sed et persuasione volgi, ‘not only because of the lip-service of those who decided it, but because of the deepest conviction of the people’. That was the implied tragic dynamic tension of the new cult in its hour of birth, and this has continued until today: the direct relationship between the almighty God incarnate and his people, ready for action, mediated alone by the divine histrion.

Of course the situation became complicated immediately with the appearance of Octavianus and the back peddling of Antonius, who had acted as informal flamen Divi Iulii—high priest of the new God—but then refused to recognize Octavianus as Divi filius, son of God even if this meant the denial of Divus Iulius himself. So he preemptively destroyed the altar Amatius had set up, and tried to prevent Octavianus from entering upon Caesar’s inheritance. The result is well known: With the backing of Cicero, Octavianus aligns himself with the party of the Senate, recruits an army as a private citizen, and marches with them against Antonius. Then, in league with Lepidus, the second triumvirate was established and the proscriptions of the murderers of the tyrant were decreed; they had now become God murderers because of the official elevation of Divus Iulius.

The engine of this development was the people, that is, the plebs and the veterans. It can be observed how each of the actors only held the sympathy of the people and the support of the veterans as long as he was acting, like a long arm of Divus Iulius, according to the way of thinking of the deceased Caesar.

But the deus ex machina was Asinius Pollio, Caesar’s legate, whom we saw at the Rubicon, in Sicily, in Africa and at Pharsalos. After Caesar’s death he fought against Sextus Pompeius in Spain with little success, but managed to come to a settlement with him and then united himself with Antonius. A convicted republican, he loved Caesar above everything else, abhorred the civil war, supervised the distribution of land to the veterans in Gallia Transpadana where he saved the estate in Mantuanum for Vergilius and was able to achieve the remarkable feat at Brundisium of reconciling the triumvirate who had in the meantime fallen out with each other. While Antonius was in the Orient, Octavianus had bombarded the followers of his brother and his ex-wife Fulvia with lead missiles on which he had ordered the legend divvs ivlivs inscribed, and finally slaughtered 300 of them before the altar of Divus Iulius. Antonius then married Octavianus’ sister Octavia and was, at last, formally inaugurated as flamen Divi Iulii. The consulate of Asinius Pollio, which sealed the peace and brought the promise of recovery for the depleted state of the farmers, raised great hopes and was celebrated by Vergilius as the return of the Saturnia regna, the golden age. In the next year, Asinius led the war against the Parthinians in Illyria (modern Albania), celebrated a triumph and fulfilled the greatest yearning of Caesar, who had not gotten over the fire in the library of Alexandria: With the spoils of war, he built the first public library in the temple of Libertas with a Greek and a Latin wing. This library, even then, took on somewhat of the character of a university, in that he introduced the practice of sponsoring lectures on works that were yet to be published. 

In this idyllic time from 40 till 31 bc, all was right in the theological world and in a state of order, or rather, it was partitioned into an orderly triad: The flamen Divi Iulii Antonius flourished in the East, experiencing more flops than successes in the war against the Parthians, but as a former Lupercus Caesaris, he now took on the status of an incarnation of Dionysus and celebrated Holy Matrimony with Caesar’s beloved Cleopatra as the living Isis/Aphrodite. In the West the Divi filius Octavianus reigned, in Perusia he raged against Antonius’ relatives, took defeats against Sextus Pompeius, whined and plotted revenge—against Antonius and Cleopatra! And in Africa there was the pontifex maximus Lepidus, who was forced to make a settlement with Sextus Pompeius (for which he ordered prayer and thanksgiving services). Largely because his wife was the sister of Brutus—which made him suspect in the eyes of the other two—he was neutralized politically, leaving him only with the role of religious head. Behind, together with, and alongside the triumvirate, the three Marias were active: the childless Calpurnia, Atia, the mother of the adopted Octavianus, and Caesarion’s mother Cleopatra. A further triad was in the second row: the forgiving sister of Octavianus, Octavia, (ever ready to make sacrifices), Livia, whom Octavianus had married pregnant, and the furious former wife of Antonius, Fulvia.

All these persons—each in their own special way and pursuing their respective varying interests—were involved in politics, which meant, first and foremost: theology. The result of this was that each of them, whether out of zeal or nolens volens, had to actively support the cult of Divus Iulius, his mother Venus and his Genius: by building temples, setting up cult statues, taking care of the liturgy, arranging prayer and thanksgiving services, organizing the cult of the settled veterans, and proselytizing the citizenry. For, he who could garner the most followers could then muster the most legionaries in the next civil war, and would have the largest war chest at his disposal.

To do this, they all required a text. Asinius Pollio furnished the first and most fundamental one: his Historiae. 

He had concentrated himself entirely on his recitationes, his lectures, as a result of seeing that his life’s work, the achievement of peace, was threatened by the failed arrangement with Sextus Pompeius and the simmering conflict amongst the triumvirate, which caused a continuous rekindling of civil war, finally leading to Octavianus’ campaign against Antonius and Cleopatra—the great war between the Orient and the Occident. He had refused to take interest, or even to side with one or the other. He had told Octavianus that he would rather be part of the spoils of the victor—just for the sake of peace he would rather be faithful to Antonius.

It seems certain that his Historiae were the story of the civil wars. They began with the Gracchi and ended with Actium, with the death of Antonius and Cleopatra respectively. His vehement, uncompromising criticism, even against the commentaries of Caesar, as well as the fact that he had been an eyewitness to all the decisive events, gave his text authority. His love for Caesar while also being of republican inclination, combined with his withdrawal from active politics, elevated him above the parties, enabling him to treat Pompeius and even Brutus fairly. That John the Baptist, the evangelic double of Pompeius, is a saint rather than a sinner in spite of everything; that even Brutus not only became Judas and Barabbas, but sometimes could slip into the clothing of Peter and even become a saint as Judas Thaddeus; that Cleopatra can appear as the Syro-Phoenician woman, that she suffers as Magdalene and as a sinner but is nevertheless not condemned, surely all of this is attributable to their respective former standing and their posthumous rehabilitations, but also because it is already prefigured in the first impartial records of Asinius Pollio. 

The Historiae of Asinius Pollio was surely both the show-piece and the bellwether of his lectures. These literary circles flourished, especially when the civil wars flared up again. They were not merely places of inner exile, into which Cicero allegedly and unavailingly withdrew, but were rather places of intellectual and spiritual resistance. In the public library all the scriptures were stored, read and discussed, even those Octavianus had censored—he went to the extent of withdrawing Caesar’s love poems from circulation. The children of Rome’s elite studied under Asinius Pollio, the children of the City and Empire, and included, as is well known, were the children of Herodes the Great. While the triumvirate impatiently awaited the filling of positions of power and priesthood, Asinius staked his interest in another aspect of Caesar’s soul—that of the scientist and man of letters—and sought after the truth in the library of the Temple of Libertas, the truth which sets you free.

As detected in Mark, the Gospels follow a common source which was also available to Plutarchus, Appianus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius and Velleius—the first two of whom used it almost always, Suetonius selectively and in some places literally, so that we are justified in believing that this source was Asinius Pollio. Because the Gospels are not only history but also texts that were recreated for liturgical use, we can assume that the Historiae of Asinius Pollio had a liturgical function too. They were used in the caesarea, the temples of Divus Iulius and wherever a cult statue of him was set up, which means—as we saw—in every temple and every city in the Empire and beyond.

The veterans probably had the greatest and most immediate need for it, especially those who had been led into settlements. Because they were strangers to the neighboring tribes, called pagans—‘villagers’—only the religio castrensis, the religion of the army camp, gave them a sense of security. This was portrayed in the cult of their invincible commander-in-chief who was raised to a God, to whom they owed everything, especially the arable land they were allotted. Thus they knew only one God, Divus Iulius. This made them different from all the neighboring villagers who still venerated their local gods. This was also the basis for later conflict between Christianity and Paganism, the religion of the villagers, misleadingly rendered as ‘heathens’ by our theologians (however, this was not originally incorrect if it referred to the inhabitants of the heath).

Even though the colonies were all appointed by Caesar, he did not have the time to found them all himself. Later his work was continued by the triumvirate, but, practically speaking, mostly by Octavianus, who claimed this task for himself, knowing that the colonies were a safe reservoir for later recruitments. But some colonies were founded by others, even by Caesar’s murderers, namely by Brutus in the East. Moreover, there were veterans who followed Antonius into the newly conquered Armenia, those who were stationed with Cleopatra in Egypt and who managed to spend their declining years as villagers in the Nile Delta and in the oasis of Fajum. There were also those who were attached to Herodes, who settled them in his domain in line with the Roman model. So all the veterans had the same God—maybe even those of Brutus who killed Caesar qua tyrant, but allowed him to be buried as Pontifex Maximus—even if they did not have the same ktistes, creator or parens, the same ‘founder’, ‘creator’ or ‘father’.

Therefore, for the long winter evenings, for reading to the children, for the liturgy on feast days, for reading to the congregation in the temple and for preaching, they all will have used the same basic text: the Historiae of Asinius Pollio which narrated the first civil war from the Rubicon to Caesar’s funeral. For all those legionaries settled by Octavianus between the death of Caesar to the deification of Divus Iulius at the time of the second triumvirate, further stories were added; for ones settled later, up to the time of Philippi, more stories will have been added; for the latest of them—like the veterans of the Egyptian campaign who were settled by Agrippa in Nemausus (nowadays Nîmes), even additional stories will have been supplemented up till the time of Actium, the death of Cleopatra, and the victory of their general over the Egyptian crocodile (still the heraldic figure of Nîmes today).

So there was not only one, but several holy books, which were nothing but the subsequent books of Asinius’ Historiae.

Hence we must reckon not only with the possibility that the other Gospels are based on Asinius, but also that Acts and even the Revelation of John are too.

Then in that case, the Revelation would tell the story of the Egyptian campaign of Octavianus in mystical form. The woman and the dragon would be Cleopatra and her crocodile (representing Egypt), the Antichrist and his prophet would be the flamen Divi Iulii Antonius, the decline of Babylon that of Alexandria, the lamb would represent the Capricorn Octavianus who finally becomes the Christ after the victory (absolute heir and—after Lepidus’ death—pontifex maximus as well), and the millennium is the Imperium Romanum with the new Jerusalem, of course, being Rome..

The Acts initially would tell of the deeds of the apostles, i. e. the legates of Caesar after his demise. Consequently the deeds of Antonius/Simon and his alter ego Lepidus/Peter would be found at first, soon to be joined by Octavianus/John—who surprisingly switch names and roles in the conflict between Peter and Simon, and Peter and Ananias (Cleopatra here being replaced by Saphira). The second part would be the story of the young Caesar, here named the ‘small’, paulus,—totally overlain by the story of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish freedman of Vespasianus.