Jesus was Caesar – Re-Orientation

Extracts from the book «Jesus was Caesar»

© Francesco Carotta, Kirchzarten, Germany

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

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    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.


Divus Iulius was not a secondary god, but was made equivalent to the highest God, Jupiter,[235] 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.’[236]

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.’[237]

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.[238] 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.[239] 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.[240]

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.[241]

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.[242]

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.

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina at the Forum Romanum

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, the world ruler is god 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 ?

A vita Divi Iulii…

The cult was omnipresent for centuries. Not only was it ubiquitous because Divus Iulius was synnaos with all the other godheads—meaning his statue was to be found in all temples and not just in his own—but it also was sempitern, because the cult was intended to exist forever. We read again the already quoted decree of the Senate after Munda:

    ‘…the city should annually celebrate the days of his victories’.

Think of what this meant: because his victories had been innumerable, there was enough cause to celebrate the entire year. That requires a liturgy, wherein the ritual celebration of his victories was the centerpiece.

Admired in his lifetime, after his death, Caesar’s victories were simply regarded as miracles performed by a God—as the speech of Antonius at Caesar’s funeral makes clear:

    ‘(Antonius) hymned him again as a celestial deity, raising his hands to heaven in order to testify to his divine origin. At the same time he enumerated with rapid speech all his wars, battles, victories and all the nations he had brought under the nation’s sway, and the spoils he had sent home. Each exploit was depicted by Antonius as a miracle.’[244]

That means: the liturgical celebration of the victories of the new God became the acclamation of his miracles. So if a vita Divi Iulii was written for liturgical use (and would a planned and organized worldwide cult be thinkable without a liturgical text?) it would have borne the features of a hagiography with life, death and miracles: vita mors miracula.

And lo and behold: the Gospel of Mark is of the genre of a Hellenistic vita of a ruler, in the ancient terminology ‘a historical monograph about a famous man (a hero or god)’.[245]
Question: Which famous man in those days was both a hero and a god as well, long enough before Mark so that this ‘historical monograph’ could become a Gospel story, but recent enough that his memory would still be alive in the people—who else but Caesar?

…or a Caesar legend?

Is it at all possible that elements of Caesar could find their way into the Gospel? When were the Gospels written?

The Gospels and the other texts of the New Testament were written at the end of the first century of our era (usual dating: between 70 and 100 AD). The churches try to date them 20 to 30 years earlier to accommodate the possibility that at least the oldest Gospel, that of Mark, was written by eyewitnesses. So there are at least five and maybe even eight generations between Caesar’s death (44 BC) and the redaction of the Gospels. Time enough—for a legend to form.

Caesar’s fame among all people is spoken of repeatedly in all sources—similar to Alexander’s, whose legend, originating from oral tradition, was written as a novel and it varied in many languages. But no romance about Caesar has come down to us. Was Caesar’s legend never written down? Or was it, but in such a mutilated form that after many successive translations the source is no longer recognizable, similar to how uncertain we are of which historical figure is hidden behind the Siegfried of the German legend? Could parts of Caesar’s legend be woven into other legends? Could this have happened with the Gospels?

In fact, the Gospel of Mark looks like an Alexander romance to the eyes of specialists:

    ‘In more than just one respect the Alexander romance is possibly the closest analogy to the Gospel. Not only the traditions and the redactional history, but also the techniques of composition and rhetoric—and language and style—show a lot of analogies. Furthermore the content, the manner of the working over of the sources and generally the form of depiction all show great resemblances. So the Alexander romance might be the closest parallel to the genre of the Gospel.’[246]

But the Gospel according to Mark is not an Alexander romance. So whose romance is it? Who existed three centuries after Alexander that could be compared to Alexander if not Caesar? Is Mark’s Gospel a Caesar romance?

Was Mark written in Latin?

According to the tradition, Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome in Latin, twelve years after the resurrection of the Lord.[247]

Detailed examinations of the oldest manuscripts—especially the bilingual Latin/Greek—have shown that with Mark the Greek text in fact is dependent on the Latin.[248] And there is still more: the deviations between the readings in the Greek manuscripts are explained best if they are seen as different versions of translation of the Latin text. [249] Also the fact that the Church Fathers—demonstrably Clement, Irenaeus and Justin—cite the Latin Mark, which they translate ad hoc into Greek, speaks for the priority of the Latin version.

Thus, the findings of modern textual research compel us to take the old tradition about Mark seriously: the road leads to Rome.

And how is it with the ‘twelve years after the resurrection of the Lord’? Twelve years after Caesar’s murder and apotheosis, Asinius Pollio started to write his Historiae, the first time Caesar’s history was taken down, and it was used by later historians like Appianus and Plutarchus as a model.


Roman spolia in the Christian Gospel

It has been observed for some time now that the Gospels contain miraculous healings that appear to be simplified reports of those Vespasianus had performed in Egypt, where according to Tacitus the emperor healed a blind man and a man with a withered hand:

    ‘Throughout the month when Vespasianus was waiting for the summer winds and a secure sea, many miracles occurred that revealed the grace of heaven and the inclination of the gods toward Vespasianus. A man of Alexandria known for his blindness bent his knee before him and asked, sighing, for his blindness to be healed—he did this in the name of the god Serapis, who was especially honored by this superstitious people. And so he prayed to the monarch, that he should be gracious unto him and smear his saliva on his eyes and eyelids. Another—who had a bad hand—asked the emperor in the name of the same god to touch it with the sole of his foot. At first Vespasianus laughed and refused. But when they pressed upon him, he feared to be seen as arrogant; at the same time their entreaties and the calls of the flatterers gave him hope. At last he demanded a medical report declaring if such a blindness and suchlike paralysis could be healed by human help. The physicians said a variety of things: the blind man had not lost his sight completely and it would return if the obstacle was removed. The other had contorted limbs: by the use of healing balms he could become whole again. Perhaps the state of affairs would move the gods, and he—the monarch—would serve as a tool of the Godhead. And finally if the healing were to be successful, the fame would be his, and if not, mockery would befall the two unfortunates. Upon this he was convinced that he would be lucky and that afterwards the people would trust him with everything, so Vespasianus carried out the act with a friendly demeanor before the eyes of the crowd standing by. Immediately the hand was usable again and the blind man could see the daylight anew. Both cases are still remembered by eyewitnesses today, and they have no reason to lie.’[250]

Moreover the Gospel contains the core of a speech, reported by Plutarchus, in which Tiberius Gracchus bemoaned that the appropriation of public land by the aristocrats had rendered the farmers landless and the poorest of people.

Speech of Tiberius Gracchus:

    ‘The wild beasts of Italy have their holes and their hiding places but the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy only the light and the air. Homeless, they roam restlessly with wife and child. Our rulers lie when they call on the soldiers to fight for the graves and shrines of their ancestors. Because none of these Romans can point to a paternal altar or an ancestral tomb. But rather, they fought and died to bring wealth and luxury to others. They are called masters of the world and they have not a single clod of earth that is their own.’[251]


    ‘And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.’[252]

Between Tiberius Gracchus and Vespasianus, the termini post quem and ante quem, lived Caesar and Augustus.

Question: Could it be that there are anecdotes in the Gospels which were taken from Divus Iulius, and respectively Divi Filius, and then attributed to Jesus? Are not Caesar and Augustus more important than Tiberius Gracchus and Vespasianus? Was it not Caesar who brought the political program of the Gracchi to realization (not by chance does Appianus, imitating Asinius Pollio, begin his history of the Roman civil war with the Gracchi)? Is he not the founder of the Empire? Would there even have been a Vespasianus without him?

Was Caesar consciously faded out of the picture?

Until today no one has done a systematic search for traces of Caesar in the Gospel. There is a long tradition of such neglect.

Even the Church Fathers, who have so much to say about the Roman emperors, are strikingly silent about Caesar. Was the greatest of them all, the founder of the Empire, not worth a word or did other texts already speak of him, and if so, which ones? Were they afraid to even mention in passing this man who became a god? He, whose proverbial clementia matched the gentleness of Jesus. He, whose martyr’s death anticipated the passion of Jesus, and whose resurrection first—in the form of the vengeful ghost of Philippi—visited a just punishment upon his murderers, then later—in the figure of the son of god, Augustus—brought eternal peace, the kingdom of heaven on earth? Was the cult of Divus Iulius—the deified Caesar—a stumbling block to the Church Fathers just as the cult of the emperor had been, or was it unbearable to them that the cult of Divus Iulius, the divine founder of the Empire, was so remote and contrary to the respective all-too-human emperors, in the same manner as the later Jesus cult? Did they fail to recognize that the Easter liturgy follows the ritual of Caesar’s funeral like a script, or was it precisely this that they wanted to keep secret? Did they not notice that some of the Vitae Caesaris read like a Gospel text, or did they want to hush up the competition?

And yet it is written: ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s!’

In spite of—or rather due to—this denial, Caesar appears to stay bound up with Jesus in the collective subconscious as if he were his alter ego. Here, the well-known anecdote concerning the ‘Caesar-like’ Napoleon is significant. When the emperor discussed Christianity with Wieland in October 1808 at Weimar, he whispered in his ear that it was a great question—that of whether Jesus Christ had lived at all. He received this answer:

    ‘I am aware, Majesty, that there were some unsound people who have doubted it, but it seems to me as foolish as to doubt that Julius Caesar lived—or that your Majesty lives today.’[253]

It is as if, no sooner had a resurrected Caesar like Napoleon appeared, that it dawned on the scholars that this presence was somehow also a proof for the existence of Jesus Christ. Strange.

Sermo castrensis

There is another indication that leads, if not directly to Caesar himself, at least to his legionaries. The Gospels, especially that of Mark, are full of Latinisms:

Outside of proper names like Kaisar (from Caesar), Iulius, Lucius, Paulus, Titus or ethnic and sectarian appellations like Herodiani, Christiani being borrowed from Latin, there are also others: legio ‘legion’, centurio, praetorium, custodia ‘watch’, census ‘tax’, colonia, speculator ‘spy, scout’, sicarius (from sica, ‘knife’) ‘assassin’, titlus (from titulus, ‘title’) ‘inscription’, ‘sign’, fragellium (from flagellum) ‘flail’, ‘whip’, ‘lash’, reda ‘travelling car’, ‘wagon’ (a Celtic loanword), membrana ‘thin skin’, ‘parchment’, denarius ‘a ten’, quadrans ‘quarter, i.e. smallest coin’, libra ‘balance’, ‘pound’, milion (as singular to milia [passuum]) ‘mile’, modius ‘bushel’, sextarius ‘sextain’, ‘pint’, semicinctium ‘apron’, sudarium ‘handkerchief’, etc. Sometimes Mark even explains Greek terms by Latin ones: for example, that two leptà ‘mites’ are one quadrans or that aulê ‘court’, ‘courtyard’, ‘farmstead’ are to be understand as praetorium.[254]

The fact that the Latinisms are most numerous in the oldest Gospel, and their frequency declines in the later ones, led to the hypothesis that a Latin original of the Gospel might exist.[255] Until today the original has still not been found, and the hypothesis still waits for its discovery.

In the meantime attention has been drawn to the fact that Mark’s Latinisms belong, one and all, to the jargon of the legionaries, indeed, so much so that we may speak of a sermo castrensis.[256]

Also, because the same Mark writes a vulgar Greek without the use of the later Hebraisms and Septuagintisms of Matthew and Luke, and uses popular Aramaisms instead, the track leads us to the Roman veterans in Syria, either to those of the Colonia Iulia of Heliopolis (Baalbek) or to those who were settled by Herodes in Caesarea, Galilaea, Samaria and Decapolis. Namely, they were the ones who had originally spoken the Latin of the legionaries, and were settled in rural areas where they inter-married with the local population that still spoke Aramaic, whereas the official language of the Empire was Greek by this time.[257]

Curiously enough, the originally Gallic word reda, ‘travelling car’, ‘wagon’, also belongs to the Latinisms of the New Testament. But the Roman army in the East and those of Herodes as well were demonstrably formed for the most part by Gallic legionaries—who surely did not come without their redae.

Question: Has the oral ‘special material’ incorporated into the Gospels been picked up from the descendents of the Roman veterans in the Orient? If so, then they had much knowledge to share about their God—about Divus Iulius. For through him, with him and in him they became the Lords of the world. They would not have wasted words on any one of the many Jesuses they had crucified.

Second question: Was the Gospel perhaps the cult book of Divus Iulius, which was read aloud to the veterans in the temple of their God, in the caesareum? Originally in Latin, was this text later, when the only Latin that the subsequent generation understood was the jargon of the camp and the language of command, gradually translated into Greek, the language of the people of the Eastern Empire?

This is what the further phraseological Latinisms occurring in the Greek Mark indicate. For example: rhapismasin auton elabon for verberibus eum acceperunt, ‘received him with strokes’ for ‘hit him’; symboulion poiein for consilium facere, ‘make council’ for ‘hold council’ respectively ‘pass a resolution’; to ikanon poiein for satisfacere, ‘do enough’ for ‘give satisfaction’, ‘satisfy’.

The impression given is that it was translated from the Latin into Greek bit by bit, word-for-word wherever possible, and still often left incomplete.

Membrana: a thin skin or a parchment codex?

It may seem logical that membrana, in the sense of ‘thin skin’, belonged to the jargon of the legionary, like sudarium, ‘handkerchief’ for example, or semicinctium, ‘apron’. But in the relevant citation of the New Testament, membrana is used in the second sense of the word, namely as a synonym for ‘parchment’. The apostle Paul writes in his second letter to Timotheus:

    ‘The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.’[258]

Here the King James Bible uses ‘parchment’, which is called membranae, ‘thin skins’, in the Greek original—a striking use of a Latin borrowed word. It has been proven that parchment rolls are not meant here, for which the Greek word diphtherai would have been available. Rather this neologism indicates a technical innovation of the Romans: the codex, what we today call a book. The name membranae indicates that these are parchment codices, not the kind made of papyrus.[259]

At first the Romans had stitched the codices together from papyrus. Parchment was never popular in Rome. In classical times the Romans almost exclusively used papyrus for their scrolls. It was not till it became scarce during the occupation of Egypt by Antiochus Epiphanes (170-168 BC), that they, nolens volens, had to resort to a replacement for papyrus: the furs from Pergamon, parchment. When papyrus became available again, the Romans had meanwhile discovered an advantage of the parchment: it was washable and hence capable of being written on again. This advantage however, only became useful with the discovery of the codex in the second half of the first century BC. So alongside the papyrus codices, the actual libri, appeared the parchment codices, the membranae, partly as notebooks and partly as pocketbooks. Because they were almost indestructible and thus well fitted for travelling they were popular with the poets, who were often ‘On the Road’.[260]

It is known that the introduction of the codex, the book, goes back to Caesar, who frequently had to introduce technical reforms during his varied military expeditions. Apparently the volumina, the scrolls, were too voluminous and impractical for him. Expressed in the computer terminology of today: the book had the advantage over the scroll, because it changed information stored in sequential form to a paginated form, allowing random access, which was no small advantage in war when overview and swiftness are decisive. Naturally, this could not escape the notice of Caesar, who was ever obsessed with celerity: he simply systematically introduced the codex. Being the revolutionary that he was, it seems he even derived some pleasure from sending his letters to the ultra-conservative Senate folded and bound, instead of using the traditional method of scrolls in capsules.

    ‘There are still letters from him to the Senate, and it seems that he was the first to use the form of a notebook with pages, whilst earlier the consuls and the military leaders always send transversally written papyrus scrolls.’[261]

In the Roman civil war the codex, the book, so it seems, became the symbol of the Caesarean revolution, while the volume, the scroll, signified the Senatorial reactionaries.

In any case, the triumph of the codex over the volume, the book over the scroll, developed in tandem with the growth and consolidation of the imperial order, a process in which the imperial chancellery and the military administration played an important, if not decisive role. And the process was a long one. As the papyrus findings show, during the first two centuries after Christ the scrolls still outnumbered the codices. It was not till the third century that the relationship was on a par. From the time of Constantine on, the relationship changed in favor of the book, and from the sixth century the scroll disappears.[262]

This was the case with pagan scriptures. Christian scriptures on the other hand, were written on codices from the beginning. Indeed, they were written only on codices, in stark contrast to the Jewish texts, which continued to be written on scrolls. The early Christians seem to have had a holy dread of scrolls, a kind of horror voluminis, because when they were forced to write on scrolls in times of papyrus shortage, they wrote on the inconvenient uneven rear side of the scrolls, remarkably enough even if the front side was unused![263]

This conduct of the Christians is well known. The book was so typical for the Christian that in iconography the man with the book could stand for the Christian, and the Christian became the epitome of ‘the man of the book’. This is not an insignificant circumstance to which we owe the saving of the ancient legacies preserved by the monks and their tireless copying work throughout the entire Middle Ages.

cf. Roberts & Skeat (1983)

However, this original fixation of the Christians on the book remains a mystery. Because the reasons for favoring the book over the scroll existed equally for all. Non-Christians had problems accepting the book, most of all the Jews, who held the scroll in a place of honor for a particularly long period of time, and who still use it in their liturgy today. So, why just the Christians?

This question remains unanswered until today.[264]

In light of our investigation, the suspicion arises that the early Christians may simply have felt obligated to continue an existing Roman practice. Was not Paul the Jew the one who said of himself: ‘I am a Roman citizen!’?

Most pointedly, the Christians could have been bound to the custom of the castra, the Roman military camp. Just as the later claustrum, the cloister, seems to be copied from the castrum, a ‘fortified post’—not only in name but also in its form and structure—so too could the Christian preference, if not to say the unconditional inclination toward the book, originate from the Roman, the imperatorial, and in the last instance, Caesarean tradition.

To put it differently, the solution to the mystery of why the Christians always wrote on codices and never on scrolls, could be the following: they followed the example of the apostle Paul who had written on membranae. But whose example did Paul follow? Maybe that of Jesus? Was it Jesus who wrote in books? Was he the inventor of the book—he, of whom it is said that he left behind nothing written?

But we know whose example Paul followed: the example of the inventor of the codex: Gaius Iulius Caesar—Divus Iulius.

Was Divus Iulius Jesus?


The theoretical possibility that elements of Divus Iulius were substantially absorbed by the Jesus story is plausible only if Jesus is not an undisputed independent historical figure. So, what really is the situation with the historicity of Jesus?

Jesus is only found in Christian literature, and not in the historical records. This alone gave rise to early doubts. The critical examination of Christian literature has furthermore shown that the geographical and chronological framework, as well as the speeches and parables, were for the most part composed by the Evangelists themselves. Much of the remainder was drawn from tradition and their surroundings. Pivotal concepts, like the idea that a man could be the son of God, are alien to the Jewish milieu and must come from the late-Hellenistic, early-imperial world. The true, historical core had shrunk so much that the question was asked if there could have been a process whereby a central idea grew into a story that was not historical at all. Either literarily: i. e. there was no tradition, but simply a writer of the Gospel story—no original Gospel, but only an original Evangelist. Symbolically: the oldest community created for itself in the narratives about Jesus a history meaningful right down to the last detail. Or mythically: the main points of the Gospel tradition were given in mythology and later condensed into history.

Thus we see that already by the nineteenth century the historical existence of Jesus was radically questioned.[266] The result of this was, of course, that in return it was just as passionately confirmed, sometimes even by critical researchers who insist there was a core of historical existence.[267]

Also, with the turn towards a Gnostic-syncretic solution, the assumption that early Christianity had originally been an inner-Jewish phenomenon was increasingly abandoned. From then on, it was doubted that the world phenomenon of Christianity could go back to an illuminated rural Galilaean carpenter, and this led to a radical questioning of Jesus’ historical existence.[268]

Meanwhile, the opposing sides of this trench warfare have stabilized along the following lines: That the New Testament can no longer be used as the basis to determine who the historical Jesus was in reality.[269] So it was not the reports that formed the tradition, but the tradition the reports. The texts do not give evidence about Jesus, but only about the Evangelist himself, or at best about his community.

Hence the simple question of whether Jesus lived and who he really was is no longer a matter of knowledge, but of faith.

This agnosticism does allow breathing space for the traditional view, but does nothing to limit fantasy. If it is impossible to write a true biography of Jesus then everybody can write his own. The traditionalists, ready as ever, dust-off their apologetic frescoes and oleographs; all the others invent their own ad hoc Jesus. The modern images of Jesus flourish and multiply on this thriving ground, fertilized by the rotting corpse of the self-admitted failure of ‘Historical-Jesus Research’.[270]

There is a simple reason for the failure of the ‘Search for the historical Jesus’: If the Gospel contains oral tradition, if it, as most scholars assume, was preached long before it was written down, or at any rate is the result of a long editing and copying process, then the solution cannot possibly be found only by attempting to reconstruct this process from the final version backwards.

Here we have to reckon with the effects of the grapevine and folk etymologies, with corruptions and flaky transliterations, incorrect translations, corrupted copies, dictation mistakes, whether originating from misreading or misspelling, from mishearing or slips of the pen. We could imagine errors arising for visual, acoustic or dogmatic reasons, from force of the writer’s habits or deliberately formed. It was a babel of languages: Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Syrian, Egyptian/Coptic, as well as Armenian etc. Then there are the dialects. All of this combined with the declining linguistic expertise amongst the copyists and editors. All written by hand, without punctuation, without accents, all capital letters, no spaces between the words, no paragraphs, no chapter divisions, variable spelling, evolving pronunciation,[271] confusing abbreviations,[272] changing sense of the words, different alphabets running to the right or the left with heterographical interposition of foreign words: all invitations to an incorrect reading. On top of this there was frequently a skipping of lines, sometimes a switching of the pages; glosses by different hands which became incorporated into the text through copying; adaptations to parallel passages that resonated more in the ear of the writer. Devastating was the fact that everybody knew that the ‘original’ he was copying from was itself a copy, into which errors had already crept: providing reason and justification for clever corrections that made the text worse rather than better. And then after everything became sufficiently contradictory, a new editing followed: the creative seized the opportunity and rewrote everything in an ‘understandable’ manner, adding at this stage some oral tradition and some citations from the Old Testament, in order for it to appear more authentic. To be up-to-date, he also threw in some nice speeches he had heard from the most eloquent itinerant preachers, removed the morally objectionable, the contradictory and the ironic pieces, adapted the locations and edited the connections between loose parts: And a new story was born. Or several: four canonical ones and umpteen apocryphal ones.

Said differently: traduttore traditore; each copy an interpretation with no respect for intellectual property, in sovereign ignorance of copyright laws. After this new editing period when the text was finalized at long last, the ‘faithful’ handing-down began, which occurred in the first centuries under unfavorable conditions. What this meant for ancient civilization was: an increasing mix of nations and languages, dark times, barbarian invasions, lootings, devastation and decline of the towns, interruptions of the trade routes, separation of the Orient and Occident, libraries destroyed by earthquakes and wars, disappearance of schools and decline of the general education level. For the writers: dependence on the authorities, consideration of the changing patrons, power struggles, excommunications, living in catacombs, autocratic priests, the need to camouflage and the need for recognition, increasing ignorance and presumptuousness. And for the text it meant: dogmatic infringement, mutual accusations of falsification of the texts, book burnings, as well as—with power shifts—enforced deletions and changes to the texts. While in the background we have the constant copying of the copy of the copy, translating of the translation of the translation, brutalization of the text ad infinitum. Then came washing day—a return to the original text was called for. But to which one? Probably not to those of the heretics, but to the text approved by the whole Church! Thus there was a collation and balancing of the versions, including the elimination of all special forms, the very forms that might have been the original ones, but that did not matter as long as all heresy was erased! If the need arose, back-translations were relied upon for help,[273] and on such occasions the language was adjusted. And so there came again a new version not universally accepted, that crossed with the former versions in the copying process and gave rise to new brutalizations etc. This is roughly how the texts that have been passed down to us originated, if we believe the researchers.

All this certainly guarantees an inextricable undergrowth.[274] Under these circumstances, it is no surprise that after two hundred years of text-critical study and in spite of a nearly unimaginable expenditure of effort and acute scholarship, the Proto-Gospel still is a variable and the hypothetical second source is still only called Q.

Ultimately, there can be only one way to reach a solution: find the source and compare it to the version at the end of the process of tradition, namely to our Gospel. Only then can it be determined—on the basis of the obstinate elements, the structures and the requisites, which stand firm in all the reinterpretations and rewritings—whether the source and the mouth are of the same river.

After the war it was hoped that the source of the Gospel would be found in the Qumran scrolls. As it is known, this hope was dashed. There is no trace of Jesus in the Qumran scrolls, only resemblances. What is far more common are the differences: no proclamation of the Kingdom of God, no parables, no turning to the non-Jews, to the weak, poor and deprived of rights, no miracle accounts, no love of the enemy. Jewish resistance fighters yes, but Christians no. And above all: no story, nothing that could have been used as the source of the Gospel.[275]

The uselessness of the Qumran material with regard to the ‘Search for the historical Jesus’ is of great consequence. The absence of references to Jesus can hardly be interpreted any longer as an accidental failure to find anything, because the site of the find—Chirbet Qumran—probably a fortress like Masada, was destroyed by the Romans most likely in June 68 AD, and until then all kinds of writings from the entire country were taken there to be stored. The silence of these finds harmonizes with that of the historians far too loudly. No matter how charming the digging in Palestine might be, one has to grapple with the hypothesis that Jesus did not live in the Galilean-Judaean region.

And this leads to the alternative: either Jesus did not exist, or one must search for him in a different place.

Discussions of the first possibility—that Jesus never existed—are not new. This basically means we are dealing with fiction. As Voltaire once said: ‘If God created Man in His own image, Man has more than reciprocated’. Indeed, the results of the historical-critical research have made the geographical and chronological framework of the Gospel dissolve. But we are then left in an aporia: if Jesus never existed historically, from where did Christianity suddenly appear? And if everything was invented, why would the inventors have chosen to construct so many discrepancies, and so many delicate questions? Why precisely this and not something else? Why did tradition hold fast to these discrepancies? Why has a harmonizing Diatessaron, a comfortable blend of all four Gospels, never become generally accepted?

These inherent contradictions lead paradoxically to the fact that at the end of the dismantling, the exegetes find themselves back where they started: with the text. Which also means: with its naivety. They are at the beginning again.[276]

There is only one way out of the loop: to look somewhere else. Not much stands in the way besides our own mental inhibitions. There is little that compels us to locate the whole Gospel story in the region of Galilaea/Judaea/Jerusalem. Geographically, there are only these names; most of the places mentioned in the Gospels are not to be found in reality, for example Mk. 8:10 Dalmanutha. And if they can be found, they were not that significant, like Nazareth—presented in the Gospel as Galilaea’s capital with a big synagogue—when in fact it was less than a village, so much less that indeed: Flavius Josephus never once mentions it.

In respect to the persons mentioned, only two and a half of them are historically documented: Pilate, Herodes and maybe John the Baptist.[277] Not Jesus, not Mary, not the three kings, not Peter, not Lazarus, not Judas, not Barabbas, not Joseph of Arimathea, not Mary Magdalene… Nobody.

We are tempted to look for Jesus outside of the Galilean-Judaean region, in the direction of Rome, not only because of the above mentioned parallels between the Christian liturgy and the Caesar/emperor ritual, and not only because of the fact that Rome was and still is the capital of Christianity, that Gallia and not Galilaea is the oldest daughter of the Church, but also because of clear references that argue against Jerusalem:

  • no Gospel was ever written in Aramaic,
  • the Greek of the presumably most ancient Gospel in particular, that of Mark, is filled with Latinisms whilst the citations from the Jewish scriptures only emerge in abundance in Matthew.

It is as if the river flowed from Rome towards Jerusalem, not vice versa. In order to explain this anomaly and to still hold the contrary to be true, the exegetes of course have invented a re-Judaization: via Hellenism towards Rome, there and back. But why only the journey to Rome left no trace behind remains an open question.

The possibility that this is a case of delocalization is given by the genesis of the text itself.

We know that folk etymologies and corruptions as they occur in the Gospel—e. g. the camel, kamêlos, for which it ‘is easier … to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.’ (Mt. 19:24; Mk. 10:25; Lk. 18:25), originally was a kamilos, a nautical tow rope, as some manuscripts and the Armenian translation prove—may sometimes lead to delocalizations, to misalignments that accompany the change of scene. It is recognizable also here: with the tow rope we are at sea, with a camel we sail into the desert. And besides, with a scene change, there is no sea change if the camel were the initial word: then the Bedouin would ride a ship of the sea.[278]

The mechanism of these adjustments is clear: that which is known replaces that which is not known. What is known here replaces what is not known here—although it was well known there: where the story comes from. That is what is needed in the sermon. What do I tell bedouins about maritime tow ropes or vice versa mariners about camels?

But what if such deformations also happened with geographical names and those of persons? What if it is true that not only does kamêlos stand for kamilos, but, for instance, also Galilea for Gallia or Pilatus for Lepidus? What if the possessed man in Mark (5:9) was not only originally named Legion, but had some legions too? What if the twelve legions Jesus had at his disposal in Matthew (26:53) stood on the earth and not just in heaven?

Is it conceivable that the copyists of the Gospel at that time became victims of the same delusion as did recently the Dominicans of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, who at first evaluated the findings in the former stronghold Chirbet Qumran: they saw the ruin of a cloister. They identified here a ‘refectorium’, there a ‘scriptorium’ and painted the picture of a cloister-like community that led a rigorous, celibate, ascetic and pacifistic life—just like their own. The Dominicans had found themselves![279]

Did something similar occur to the copyists of the Gospels as was experienced by the painters of the icons when they gave the Saints the lineament of their brothers and Christ the face of their Prior?

Did the itinerant preaching and miracle working members of the early Christian communities—with the passage of time and the persistent fine-tuning of the copies of the copies—turn the exemplary fatherly chief commander into one of themselves, a Church Father made in their own image? From the divine founder of the Empire to the proclaimer of the Kingdom of God? Did they gradually convert Divus Iulius, the God of the Roman veteran colonies in the East, into the Jesus of their communities which had found shelter there? Did they become the creators of their creator until they themselves finally became Lords over their Lord?

In summary, we establish that the serious ‘Search for the historical Jesus’, according to it’s own confession, sets aside the question of the historicity of Jesus, or at any rate does not answer it. However, a more simple question can be answered objectively:

Was Jesus a figure of history? Was Jesus the subject of ancient historiography?

Codicvm Novi Testamenti Specimina

The following two pages show a facsimile of the Codex D, Bezae Cantabrigiensis. Reproduced is Mark 1:38-2:5. On the left is the Greek text and on the right the corresponding Latin one. Here the following should be observed and noted.

Cambridge, University Bibl., Nn. 2, 41 · (Codex Bezae, D) · fol. 288V/289R: Marc. 1:38-2:5 (graec./lat.)
Cf. Vogels (1929) Tab. 18/19

All is neatly written in majuscules, i. e. capitals, giving rise to the impression of outstanding legibility at first glance. But the appearance is deceptive because not only are periods, commas and the accents, (which are important for the Greek), missing, but so are the word-spacing, the blanks. Thus the words have to be read out—the potential for incorrect word division is lurking.

The Greek text has left marks on the Latin one on the opposite page and vice versa. This not only makes the reading more difficult but—since in the respective text the other language is also visible, as a mirror-image in fact—one is tempted to read from right to left at the same time. In a time when the Aramaic alphabet looked like a Greek one running from right to left, this circumstance strengthened the tendency to read some names in an Aramaic manner.

Notes have been written on the margins of the Greek text, in this case there are relatively few, but it is not rare to find real glosses. One can imagine that during the transcription process there might emerge a tendency to include into the text one or another gloss, whichever ones the copyist takes a special liking to.

In the Latin text (in the fourteenth line counted from the bottom) one can find the name of the first town into which Jesus went written as Cafarnaum and not Capharnaum as one would expect if it were a translation from the Greek. This allows for the assumption that the Latin spelling developed autonomously. In our opinion this Cafarnaum is a metathesis of Corfinium, the first town that Caesar captured after the start of the civil war.

In the Greek text one can find an example of a nomen sacrum, i. e. an abbreviation of a frequently used sacred name. In the antepenultimate line, from the 9th to the 11th letter, as well as at the end of 6th line counted from the bottom, the name Jesus is abbreviated as IHC easily recognizable from the overline. In older manuscripts the same name is abbreviated as IC, i.e. just giving the first and the last letter, without the ‘ h ’, i. e. ‘ ê ’. It is striking that IC, Lat. IS, is not only the first and last letter of IESVS but also of IVLIVS.

See also the glossary entry on Bezae Cantabrigiensis (ms).

Non-Christian sources before 70…

For the time before the Jewish war (66-70 AD) this question is to be answered unambiguously with a no. Independent of the New Testament, no ancient historian mentions Jesus before the year 70. The extremely brief and rare passages cited in the past concern a Chrestos or certain christiani or chrestiani: but it is not certain that these actually refer to Christians in today’s sense of the word. And, if they do, then the passages only testify that at the time of their origin in the first quarter of the second century their authors only had an indirect and vague conception of the then emerging Christian ideas. Hence, modern research does not consider them as testimonies anymore.[280] Nevertheless we want to discuss them, on the one hand because they are so famous and still wander around, and on the other hand because these examples demonstrate how traditional stereotypes can influence our perception of them, and how the decision for one or another translation of a single word can tilt the entire meaning of the story and steer it in a completely different direction.

In his Lives of the Caesars, written at the beginning of the second century, Suetonius reports (according to a common translation) that during the reign of Caesar Claudius (41-54 ad),

    ‘…the Jews, who caused constant turmoil at the instigation of Chrestos, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.’[281]

The sentence hardly makes sense. It has been attempted, especially among conservative ranks, to identify this name Chrestos with Christus. However this leads to a chronological difficulty, because Christ had already been crucified under Tiberius. Some critics speculate to the effect that Chrestos—in its meaning of ‘the good’, the ‘useful’: chrêstos—was a common slave name. But this does not lessen the difficulties, because this name did not necessarily enjoy a good reputation with the Jews, and this particular Chrestos is not known from other sources either. The biggest problem, though, is that in order to connect this Chrestos with Christ, one has to assume that Suetonius was mistaken and had confused them. But this means that Suetonius did not know Christ: Suetonius, who of all people was never in want of any background information! Suetonius was born in 70 AD and lived past the year 121. He was unable to write his Caesar-biographies, which include Domitianus, before Domitianus died in 96 AD. This would indicate that at the beginning of the second century, Christ was still so little known that a Suetonius had no notion of him and took him to be a troublemaker named Chrestos who lived under Claudius in Rome. Hence the identification Chrestos = Christus causes more problems than it solves.

From a philological point of view, however, chresto not only can be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêstos, ‘the good (person)’, but also that of chrêston, ‘the good (thing), goods’ or of chrêstês, which means ‘speculator’, ‘usurer’.[282] Hence the sentence could be translated completely differently, for instance like this:

    ‘…the Jews who practised usury and thereby caused constant turmoil, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.’

Which makes sense, especially in the case of Claudius, whose famous decree forbade the Jews from striving to increase their privileges.

Also cited is the so-called persecution of Christians by Nero on the basis of a citation from Tacitus:

After the burning of Rome…

    ‘…despite public aid, despite generous donations by the emperor and expiatory sacrifices to the Gods, the dreadful rumour could not be scotched that the fire was set on orders. And so, Nero, in order to end this rumor, revealed the culprits and imposed the most exquisite punishments on those who were hated for their outrageous acts and who were called by the people chrestiani.[283]

Many have wanted to understand this to mean the Christians. At a later date the hand of a copyist has even inserted an explanation of the word chrestiani:

    ‘This name derives from Christ, who was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilatus under the government of Tiberius.’[284]

That this is an interpolation is formally indicated on the one hand by the scholiastic nature of the sentence, on the other hand by the fact that chrestiani is written with an ‘e’, but Christ with an ‘i’. But the logical break in the report is more weighty. That is, the story continues with a very logical consequent conclusion by Nero. Construction speculators were suspected of being behind those who set the fire alight:

    ‘For no one had the courage to check the spread of the fire, because again and again numerous people hindered its extinction with threats, others had openly thrown firebrands and cried aloud that they had a principal standing behind them, whether doing this so they could plunder unrestrainedly, or because they were really ordered to do so.’[285]

In order to not be taken for one of the instigators or one of their accomplices, Nero imposed draconian punishments on the incendiaries and their principals—construction speculators who expected to make a huge profit from the reconstruction. The former were burned alive, the latter torn to pieces by dogs:

    ‘And at first those who confessed were arrested, then on the basis of their testimony a further large circle of people were arrested, and they were found guilty not only of the crime of arson but also of hatred of humanity. And those at death’s door suffered mockery: they were wrapped in animal skins and torn to pieces by dogs, or they were (nailed to a cross and destined for the death by fire) burned after day’s end as night lights.’[286]

One recognizes by the symmetry of the punishments that Nero has here applied the Talion law: the incendiaries were burned and those torn to pieces by dogs can only have been the speculators, the ‘bloodsuckers’. Therefore the word chrestiani here can only mean the chrêstai, the speculators, as we have seen above in Suetonius’ report on Claudius.[287] Then their characterization too does make sense, namely, that they were ‘hated by the people because of their outrageous acts’.

The late confusion of those chrestiani or chrêstai, of the speculators with the Christians, could have arisen because there were possibly Jews amongst the speculators who were punished. This fit the image of the Jews anyhow, all the more so, because at that time the Jewish rebellion was in the air. Hence the lines that immediately follow the above interpolation could refer to Jews, especially to a Jewish mafia of speculators, taken as a pars pro toto:

    ‘The fatal superstition, which was at first suppressed, gained ground once more, not only in Judea from where this evil arose, but also in Rome, where all sorts of atrocities and infamies from all the world pour in and find a happy approval.’[288]

Hence these lines could be authentic, as the corresponding short version in Suetonius shows:

    ‘The punishment of death was declared on the christiani, a race of humans with a new and objectionable superstition.’[289]

But it is also possible that they belong to the interpolation, because Suetonius is not independent of Tacitus and a prosecution of Jews is not recorded at this time.

Conclusion: If one follows this critique of the passages by Tacitus and Suetonius, then in the historical writings from the time before the Jewish war there is no Jesus, no Christ, and no Christians. And if one does not want to follow it, then it can at least be said objectively that Greek citations are missing, whilst indubitable Latin proofs do not appear until the second century and they concern only chrestiani or christiani, respectively: Chrestos or, barely, Christus—with no trace of the name Jesus.

…and after 70

Only after the Jewish war, namely with Flavius Josephus, do we find Jesus. However, we find too many of them. The theophoric name which in its full old Hebrew form is Yehoshua—literally meaning ‘Jahweh helps’ or ‘Jahweh saves’, in the sense of ‘God helps’—was in the usual Greek short form simply understood as ‘helper’, ‘savior’,[290] in Latin ‘servator’, and hence it spread widely, like in Sicily as ‘Salvatore’ or in Germany as ‘Gottfried’. It was of course an early hope that our Jesus would appear amongst the many Jesuses that are put upon the stage by the historian Josephus.

But which one would he be? One of the many Jesuses who were high priests, or Jesus, the leader of the brigands? Jesus was neither the one nor the other. Of the many other Jesuses whose fathers are named, we find a son of Nave, a son of Josedek, of Judas, of Simon, of Phabes, of Josadak, of Gamaliel, of Sapphias, of Gamala, of Thebuthi, of Ananus but no son of Joseph. Only one might fit into the scheme: a Jesus—brother of James. In the last book of the Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus mentions that in the year 62, during an interregnum between two prefects, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem ordered the stoning of a Jacobus (James), ‘brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ’.[291]

If the addition of the ‘so-called Christ’ has not been inserted by a later pious hand—the earliest manuscripts passed down to us are only from the tenth to the fourteenth century—then this Jacobus could be the same one mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew[292] as one of the brothers of Jesus, provided that he would also be the same one we meet in Acts[293] in a leading position in Jerusalem and who is also mentioned by Paul.[294] Then this Jacobus, named the righteous, would be the brother of Jesus, called Christ.

As this chain of evidence relies on too many conditions, it too doesn’t help us any more than the Latin testimonies.

The only further proof that can be pointed to is the so-called Testimonium Flavianum, the testimony of Flavius (Josephus). In another passage of the same volume, between a report about a Jewish rebellion and its suppression, we find the following text:

    ‘…So this rebellion was suppressed.
    [At this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if it is permissible to call him a man at all. For he was the worker of unbelievable deeds and the teacher of the humankind, who received the truth with joy. In this way he attracted many Jews and many Greeks also. He was the Christ. And although Pilatus condemned him to the death on the cross on the inducement of the most distinguished of our people, his former followers did not become unfaithful. Because he appeared living again on the third day as the prophets sent by God had preached so and moreover a thousand other miraculous things of him. And till this very day the Christian people, who name themselves after him, still exist.]
    Likewise at this time, still another misfortune befell the Jews…’[295]

In all the scientific editions the text is cited in parentheses, because it is generally assumed that it is an interpolation. It is obvious simply in respect to its construction, being that the end of the preceding paragraph finds its logical connection with the beginning of the following: ‘…So this rebellion was suppressed. / Likewise at this time, still another misfortune befell the Jews.’ There is no place in between for the long excursus about Jesus and the Christians.

But this interpolation shows a curious peculiarity: with respect to style it certainly could stem from Josephus himself. Hence, outside of a skillful forgery—perhaps by pupils of Josephus—an interpolation of the author is not excluded either, which appears very plausible in view of the notorious propensity of our Josephus for adventurous variations.

More specifically, Flavius Josephus is well known for the fact that he differs widely from volume to volume, that he often contradicts himself and that he provides sometimes totally different, opaque versions of the same incidents—obviously tailored to the interests of the general political situation, his principal or his addressees. This is particularly conspicuous, because in his different volumes he is for the most part dealing with the same material.

For he is exclusively concerned with Jewish matters. He left behind, outside of a volume on the Jewish war, a work on the Jewish antiquities, an autobiography and an apology for Judaism.

All of it was commissioned by the Flavii—Vespasianus, Titus and Domitianus—whom he served in Rome from the year 70 till past 100 AD. And that was also his curse. For he had been one of the leaders of the Jewish rebellion and had switched sides to Vespasianus under suspicious circumstances,[296] in order to prophesy, allegedly on God’s behalf, that Vespasianus was the awaited Messiah from Judaea: that he should become emperor and his son Titus as well. When the incredulous Vespasianus did indeed become emperor shortly afterwards, he granted Josephus his freedom, and from then on he was known as Flavius Josephus. Vespasianus seems to have made him a kind of a minister for Jewish affairs. At the very least, all the volumes of Josephus served the special task of promoting the integration of the Jews who lived in the Roman Empire after the fall of Jerusalem.

It is interesting that the very time Flavius Josephus was active in Rome is also the supposed time of the origin of the Gospel, around 70-100 AD. As the Testimonium Flavianum, independent of whether it was inserted by another hand or by the author himself, can be dated at the earliest around the year 100 AD, this passage could be the first historical testimony about Jesus Christ as well as the first evidence of Christian literature influencing the writing of history.

Whichever it may be, in historiography Jesus Christ is born around the year 100 ad. The fact is that Josephus in the person of Vespasianus was the godfather of the Messiah of the Roman Empire. No matter whose hand it was that inserted the Testimonium Flavianum, it was Josephus’ work that brought Jesus Christ into the world. Josephus is the intellectual father of the Roman Messiah and the putative father of Jesus Christ.

Shortly after this the indubitable sources commence, beginning with the letter of the younger Plinius, at the time governor of Bithynia, who asks Traianus how he should deal with the Christians, who merely maintain their superstition but do not evince any active insubordination. Traianus recommends that he not seek out the Christians and only punish them if a report were filed, and even then only if they refuse to pay obeisance to the Roman Gods. Plinius’ letter and the answer by Traianus are the official terminus a quo of Christianity: 111/112 AD. But Christ emerges in historical writings only indirectly and implicitly, as the auctor of Christianity. He does not have a separate existence.

Christian sources

Just as Jesus is said to have left no written records himself, the Christian sources are also indirect.

It is thought that in the authentic letters of Paul[297] parts of an older tradition are quoted: the record of the Last Supper,[298] some words of Jesus, exclamation-like phrases, the so-called kerygmatic formulae.[299] Apart from the Gospels, there is not much further evidence in the New Testament.

Only the Gospels[300] speak explicitly of Jesus, along with the Jesus literature expanding from the second century in varying form and quality. These so-called Agrapha, which include the Apocrypha, i. e. the many Gospels that did not become part of the ecclesiastical canon, produced an after-effect in various places, one of them Islam.

The Gospels tell the bios of Jesus, including the vita mors miracula—life, death and miracles—and so they are a hagiography. However, they are a sui generis hagiography, because they were books for use in the early Church and served for the liturgy, for the sermon, prophecy, instruction, and the solving of controversies, amongst other things. They were meant to explain to the congregations of that time the life and work of Jesus in the light of faith in his resurrection and return, so they were not historiography, but rather theology made from history. In substance, they are mostly compilations of preformed material which had already gone through a complicated development. It is generally assumed that the Gospel was preached for a long period before it was written down. The first problem that presents itself to the researchers is how to differentiate between redaction and tradition, between what has been passed down through writing and what has been passed down orally.

Already this makes the determination of the original text of the autographs a tricky business. As a result, textual criticism is encumbered by theological and dogmatic issues from the outset. In any case the task scarcely seems solvable. The texts that have reached us are, as we saw, not originals but copies of copies of copies. Ancient papyri, able to survive almost exclusively in Egypt because of its climate, provide us with only small parts of the texts. And these textual witnesses correspond with each other in barely half of their words.

The text of the canon can only be traced, with any certainty, back to the middle of the second century. So the actual text of the autographs has not yet been ascertained, because they supposedly originated between 70 and 100 ad, whereas Mark and some of Paul’s letters are thought to be some decades earlier. So there is undeniably a gap in the tradition of more than a half century, for Mark and Paul a gap of nearly a whole century. Here total darkness rules. What the textual critic hands to the literary critic is not the autographic text—let alone the original. We are furnished with the text of the canon, however it can only be documented and edited with countless alternative lections. A uniform Greek text has never existed. The ancient Greek translations started from different texts from the outset. But in spite of the new insights, most of the contemporary translations are still based on the so-called textus receptus, the one passed down to us most prolifically. However, from the standpoint of the textual critic it is also the worst.

Three of the Gospels—Mark, Matthew and Luke—follow each other mostly in a parallel fashion in respect to text construction and wording; they can be written threefold alongside one another. For this reason their authors are called synoptists. The Gospel of John runs parallel to them only in the Passion narrative, but otherwise consists of long speeches and disputes of Jesus, which often develop from a miracle story. Here John omits a lot of the healing stories, namely those about the possessed, so his text could hardly have been written parallel to the synoptics.

Contrary to the later canon, which places Matthew in the first and the most ancient position,[301] scholarship mostly considers the Gospel of Mark, the shortest, to be also the most ancient. The given dates are between 40 and 60 AD and that is why it is called the protoevangelium; it served as source for both the other synoptics. Matthew and Luke are independent of each other, and both first wrote after the Jewish war that ended in 70 AD. Where either of them, or both of them, correspond with Mark they are obviously using Mark, but where they correspond with each other but not with Mark, they are following a lost logion source (‘Q’—theory of the two sources); or, according to another opinion, they are following the oral tradition. In addition they use oral special material (Sondergut). John is independent of the synoptics; if and to what extent he used written sources is a matter of controversy.

In contrast to Mark and John, Matthew and Luke also report a childhood story. But there is a long hiatus from thence to the first public appearance of Jesus, which has given rise to various adventuresome speculations that see the young Jesus heading off to Egypt, India, and even Tibet.

Moreover they both include a genealogy of Jesus which serves the purpose of demonstrating him to be a descendant of David. But they differ fundamentally from each other and were already in early Christian times dismissed as compilations by the so-called heretics, as they are by the modern text critics too.

The geographical and chronological connections, the so-called framework, for which we mostly have to thank the later redactions of Matthew and Luke, vanish completely when extensively examined: they are nothing more than connecting tags of the redaction. The speeches of Jesus prove to be late interpolation and compilation. The material breaks down into small independent units which are mostly undated, colorless, and usually not situated in any known place: words, parables and short logia which are thought to originate from oral tradition.

Many of the independent, single traditions indicate Aramaic and Latin influences, even if they have only been passed down to us in Greek by Hellenistic communities. This is, in any event, true for Mark, whose language is vulgar Greek as we saw above, and larded with Aramaisms and Latinisms. The latter ones are based on the jargon of the legionaries.

Not till the later Matthew and Luke do we see Hebraisms occurring in different forms together with the excising of the Aramaisms and the attempted improvement of Mark’s Greek (which also leads to degradations and some impoverishment). Matthew’s favorite references to prophecies from the Old Testament turn out to be vaticinia ex eventu, as prophecies after the event or as midrashim, explanations of new and objectionable facts on the basis of the old traditional texts: they belong to a later layer and to a time when, in order to convert Jews, they sought to present Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the Jewish prophets.[302] With Luke however, we see the occurrence of Septuagintisms, imitations of the Greek translation of the Jewish scripture, the so-called Septuagint, which was to become the Old Testament of the Christians.

Extensive expert research has shown that, contrary to earlier surmises, none of the Gospels, neither in toto nor in part, was originally written in Aramaic and certainly never in Hebrew. The Greek Gospels passed down to us are not direct translations.[303]
In contrast to canonical opinion which held the Judaizing Matthew to be the most ancient, the Gospels seem to have been originally addressed not to the Jews, but to the Hellenes—and primarily to the less educated at that. In order to explain this anomaly, the hypothesis of a no longer traceable de-Judaization was put forth, a de-Judaization from Jesus to Mark with a subsequent re-Judaization to Matthew and Luke. Then, if this is true, there is hardly enough time from Jesus’ death till the redaction of Mark for a complete de-Judaization, even less in fact, because Mark is dated as early as 40 AD as tradition has said for a long time, being ‘ten’ respectively ‘twelve years after the ascension of the Lord’.[304]

Although the general opinion is that the events of Jesus’ life are grasped best by the Passion narrative and although Mark is structured biographically,[305] the dominant view is that a reconstruction of the biography of Jesus is no longer a possibility—at least not in Galilaea-Judaea-Palaestina. Hence research into Jesus will by necessity remain research into early Christianity.

From all this it follows that the Gospels are primarily the source for the early Christian Jesus-faith and its history. The Gospel cannot become a source for the historical Jesus until we have differentiated what was original from what has been added. But this is hardly achievable because the original was already selected by and suffused with faith.
And this is the crux of form criticism, which has sought to look behind the known sources to investigate the constructional process of the Gospel traditions in their pre-literary phase, the era before the written recordings by the Evangelists. In this it stands on feet of clay, as it must assume that the factors at work in this process can be reconstructed. So this genre of research must cling to a dogma that states, firstly, this process took place in a circle of non-literary people without a written schema, and secondly, that in such a circle of non-literary people the construction of the material of the tradition leads to a small number of fairly fixed forms which have their own laws with respect to style or form.[306] If this popular milieu was multilingual—and it had to be, for the language of Mark is a vulgar Greek combined with Latinisms and Aramaisms—then the traditions could have come from anywhere and could have undergone all kinds of folk etymological transformations and hybridizations that are no longer retrievable. However, if there was not only an oral tradition but also a written source together with which it became interwoven, then we also should have to reckon with slips of the pen and corruptions. And if we have to also take into account translations, which possibly underwent an earlier transcription from one alphabet to another,[307] along with the concomitant possible misunderstandings and folk etymological deformations, then the form-critical method would completely grasp at nothing.

Accordingly, the results depend greatly upon the diverse assumptions of the researchers,[308] so that here—unlike in textual and literary criticism—it is ultimately always hypothesis against hypothesis, where even subliminal theological quarrels have been fought out.

But the objective observation can be made that the mythological school always distils the historical Jesus down to a myth, whereas parallel to this, especially in the Protestant milieu and even more particularly since the Second World War, the idea of Jesus being a Jew has been emphasized. Their main point: Jesus never existed but he was certainly a Jew.

The redaction-historical method however, thinks itself to be more fruitful, because it depends less on the original assumptions of the researchers. It considers the Evangelists primarily as collectors and transmitters of tradition and looks at the circumstances in the community or ‘situation in life’, ‘setting’ (Sitz im Leben) where the authors of the Gospels worked on their material. And it differentiates this ‘setting’ (Sitz im Leben), on the one side from that of the early Christian community (Urgemeinde), on the other from that of Jesus. But because it has only traditional, passed-down conceptions about life in the early Christian community and about the life of Jesus, the dog is chasing its tail again, unfortunately. So this method can only conditionally deliver more or less reliable results, and only in the case of the later Evangelists like Matthew and Luke.

The primary mystery—who was the historical Jesus really?—has not been solved. At least there has been no consensus on any of the answers.

In this respect it is characteristic of the ‘Search for the historical Jesus’ that the researchers who came to radical results—in the sense that there was barely anything or absolutely nothing left of the historical Jesus—were suspended, even excommunicated. Or they themselves took the initiative and turned their back on the Church, sometimes on Christianity as well, and along with them whole schools. The cases of Bruno Bauer, David Friedrich Strauss, Ernest Renan or Alfred Loisy are well known—only to mention a few. Starting with different political and theoretical motivations we still see the same end result: radical renunciation. Negotiating detours, and each in his own manner, they all came to the conclusion that man was the author of the Gospel.

This mass exodus of critical critics may explain why in the present ‘Search for the historical Jesus’, despite intensifying doubts, the believers still seem to remain in the majority.

But notwithstanding their tough resistance, in these faithful circles too, the historical Jesus is disappearing more and more. As an example we cite the Catholic ‘Introduction to the New Testament’ (Einleitung in das Neue Testament) by Wikenhauser and Schmid:

    ‘The thesis that the Evangelists were tradents (persons passing down reports) who only added a framework to the material they had collected in order to create a connected scripture—the Gospel—must not be extended to the point of saying that the whole frame of the Gospel is without any historical value. At any rate, about Mark, the most ancient Gospel, it can be said that its frame is partly chronological. That Jesus, after the arrest of his precursor in Galilee, was first active in the environs of Capharnaum, that the first rush of popularity was followed by a decline in enthusiasm and that the resistance of the Jewish spiritual leadership continually grew in intensity, that furthermore Jesus temporarily sought refuge in the north, the pagan Syria, and that he finally went to Jerusalem, where he was captured after some brief activity and condemned to the death on the cross, must be regarded as, on the whole, conforming to historical reality.’[309]

This is not much more than what a Strauss or a Loisy have left us with. As a comparison, here is what, according to Loisy, a historian could still say of Jesus with some certainty:

    ‘He was an itinerant preacher, prophet of a unique oracle. His doctrine, if he had any, was not accepted. With an act of religious inspiration he tried to bring the word of the kingdom to Jerusalem. His presence in the town caused a tumult. He was arrested and condemned by the Roman authorities in summary proceedings, under circumstances which remain unknown to us.’[310]

Very little in fact. And yet even this was denied. Paul-Louis Couchoud brought attention to the fact that the very assumption that a person presented himself as Jahweh within a Jewish milieu and was worshipped as such, not after many generations, but—as rational criticism itself has demonstrated—only a few years after his disgraceful death, means ‘knowing nothing about a Jew, or forgetting everything’. Jesus would be the only Jew that the Jews have ever worshipped in almost thirty centuries of religious history.[311]
A resonance of Couchoud’s critique of the critical school is also found in Jesus, Son of Man by Rudolf Augstein. Like Loisy, he grants Jesus a faded remnant of an historical existence, but adds with Couchoud:

    ‘We can almost completely reject the notion that any Jew at this time in Galilee or Judea would have thought himself exclusively to be the Son of God or that he would have passed himself off as such, unless he had gone mad.’[312]

This would mean that either Jesus did not exist or that he was not a Jew.

The first possibility is belied by the existence of Christianity and its sudden emergence throughout the Roman Empire: how could a historical Christianity be imaginable without a historical Jesus, a bush fire without an igniting spark?[313]

The second possibility was indeed examined as well, but always in the immediate environment of the area in question e. g. Leipoldt: Was the Galilean Jesus a Jew?[314]—and always with little conviction, without resolution, and consequently drawing little attention.

The fact is that Jesus is the only founder of a world religion whose historical existence is still questioned. This is not the case with Mohammed, nor with the older ones like Romulus or Numa. As we saw with Euhemeros, the ancients did not even question the historical existence of a Hercules or a Zeus. The unhistorical Jesus is an anomaly.

Paul and the so-called heretics

The knowledge, derived from textual and literary criticism, that only the Gospel of Mark was written before the Jewish war and Matthew and Luke later edited it, means that Paul could only have known Mark. So where Paul speaks of a Gospel or quotes from one—if he is referring to one that has been passed down to us and not to his own—he can only have been referring to Mark.[315]

Indeed, the Jesus Christ of Paul is characterized as a Jew as infrequently as is the Christ of Mark.

In his missionary work Paul was not successful among the Jews, while he was very successful with the so-called ‘gentiles’, i. e. the non-Jews. The towns where he gained a firm footing are without exception Roman Caesarean colonies—Philippi, Corinth, the cities of Galatia—or centers of worship of Divus Iulius—Ephesus, Colossia, Thessalonica. The leitmotif of his letters is the difference with the Judaists, who try to Judaize those that he had ‘evangelized’. He stresses that his Gospel does not come from Jerusalem.[316] He opposes the introduction of circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic law, the so-called ‘works of the law’ which hold man in bondage. And he does not easily accept that he should hand over the alms collected to Jerusalem: he would rather administer the money himself, and if he indeed had to, then he would only personally hand them over to the ‘honored society’.[317]

But we find that those Judaists—simply called Jews by Paul[318]—always come after him: it is not that he tries to sway the Judaized away from the Mosaic law, but that the Judaists try to win Paul’s followers over to the Mosaic law. Which means that for Paul’s Christians it was the Mosaic law that was new, not liberty from the law: from the very beginning they were free of the Mosaic law and were not freed from it by Paul. It is not until his battling over differences with the Judaists that Paul reveals that he was born a Jew. Until then, even in his missionary work, he was a Roman citizen amongst Roman citizens.[319]

Hence it is not surprising that the so-called heretics, i.e.—those Christians who were a thorn in the side of the developing Judaizing Church, thought along radically Paulinist lines and unanimously opposed the increasing Judaization of Christianity and the Gospel: probably for this reason they were excommunicated.

Marcion, who regarded the cruel and national-egoistic God of the Jews as the opposite of the mankind-saving Christ, did not accept that the Jewish scriptures should become the Old Testament of the Christians. He also rejected the Judaizing additions in the New Testament which were alien to him. He did not recognize large passages of Luke, effectively leaving scarcely more than what appears in Mark, nor did he recognize the pseudo-Pauline epistles.

So Marcion had established the first Christian canon, the first list of the faultless books. In reaction, the anti-Marcionite faction drew up their anti-canon, which only after the victory over Marcion became the general canon of the ‘Orthodox’. This means that the canon valid today is not the canon accepted by the entire early Church, but a canon of purpose—one not in general use until the supporters of the first canon were excommunicated. Indeed, this canon is not Judaic through and through.[320] The sequence, however (Matthew erroneously before Mark), the anti-Marcionite prologues, the incorporation of the entire text of Luke (with a re-allocation into the Gospel and the Book of Acts), the admittance of many pseudo-Pauline letters or additions[321] as well as the dubious Apocalypse, after lengthy resistance—all testify to the tendentious orientation of the official canon still regarded as valid today. And this in spite of the fact that modern research generally confirms Marcion’s objections—nolens volens, it had to confirm them.

To orient ourselves chronologically: Marcion was excommunicated by the Church in Rome in 144 AD, but his teachings were enormously popular in the East and the West until the fourth century; for a long time his organization resisted systematic persecution by the ‘Orthodox’.

Tatianus, also excluded from the Roman community (172 AD), composed a harmony of the Gospels—the so-called Diatessaron, a blend ‘of the four’—and he translated it into his native language, Syrian. Ostensibly he was excommunicated as an Encratite, ‘the austere’, as an ascetic and because of his abstinence from flesh, when in fact it was because he had refused to incorporate the Judaizing additions into his harmony of the Gospels. His orthodox fellow countryman Theodoret of Cyrus wrote of him:

    ‘…who [Tatianus] also wrote the Gospel called ‘Through-the-four’, by excising the genealogies and everything else that also points to the birth of the Lord from the seed of David according to the flesh. Not only have the followers of Tatianus used this book, but also the devotees of the Apostolic doctrine, because they did not recognize the deception of the composition, but innocently used the book as a convenient compendium. Of myself I have found more than 200 such books, which were held in honor in the communities of our region. I collected them and destroyed them and introduced the Gospels of the Evangelists instead.’

We see that in Syria the Gospels affording Jesus a Jewish genealogy were introduced only later: therefore the older texts had to first be destroyed. So here it was the burning of books that first made Jesus a Jew. In other parts of the Empire it had already happened in the course of the battle against Marcion.

Interestingly, modern textual and literary criticism confirms the fact that the Judaizing genealogies of Matthew and Luke belong to a later layer of redaction. It is also known that many of the letters accredited to Paul have long been recognized as pseudo-Pauline. So research confirms that the early Christian heretics did not seek removal of the Jewish material from the canon, but rather resisted the incorporation of such material.

Hence, resistance to Judaization was mounted not only by the heretics but also by Paul before their time, as well as by many orthodox believers during their time and thereafter, as is apparent from the above citation by Theodoret. This is also proven by the fact that the last book of the New Testament interpreted as anti-Roman—the ‘Apocalypse’—was incorporated into the canon only with great difficulty and against centuries of resistance. It is as if the so-called heretics, along with Paul, had tried to conserve the memory of the non-Jewish origins of Roman Christianity.

Jewish sources

A letter which is difficult to date (perhaps shortly after 73 AD—or even second or third century) is that of Mara bar Sarapion to his son. Bar Sarapion was an otherwise unknown Syrian Stoic:

    ‘Or [what did] the Jews [get] from the execution of the wise king, as the empire was taken away from them from that time on? ... The wise king [is however not dead]: because of the new laws he gave’.[322]

A wise king, executed by the Jews and living still. But note here too: no Jesus, no Christ.
The reports in the rabbinic literature are mostly polemic, hence they presuppose Christian literature and, on top of this, they are very vague.[323] For example Jesus is thought to be ‘the bastard son of the Roman soldier Pantheras’. It is easy to see that that Pantheras is a metathesis of parthenos, Greek ‘virgin’. So it could originally have meant: ‘the bastard son of Parthenos’, i. e. of the parthenos—the ‘virgin’. What is interesting is what remains: the Roman soldier. The rabbinic tradition seems to be based on a source that retains the memory of a Jesus who was born a Roman and who was the son of a legionary.

Which means that the Jews, the people which Jesus is supposed to descend from—even supposed to descend from the royal House of David—only knew Jesus very late and only from the Christians. And if they did take any notice of him, he was thought to be of Roman origin.

The negative attitude towards Christianity and the denying of Jesus remained constant in Judaism throughout all the centuries until the modern age. Right up to today authoritative Jewish theologians hold Christianity to be a product from the late Hellenistic period, foreign to Judaism.

Another opinion of Jesus did not arise in Judaism until after the Enlightenment. Jesus began to be discovered as a Jew, especially in Zionist circles. This connected with guilt feelings on the Christian side after World War II, especially with protestants who are inclined to Old Testament thinking anyway, and it led to the emphasizing of the Jewishness of Jesus as a reaction against ecclesiastical anti-Judaism.

Admittedly the attempt, especially by the historian Robert Eisler, to demonstrate on the basis of the Qumran findings that early Palestinian Christianity originated in the Qumran movement did not satisfy much else than Christian guilt feelings and the urge for theological reparation. The Qumran scrolls do not contain anything Christian which can be recognized on the basis of their form alone: they are just scrolls and Christians have only written on codices from the very beginning, as was explained above.[324]

So this late and not completely disinterested recognition of Jesus by parts of Jewry cannot undo the fact that the Jews originally did not know Jesus, that they subsequently disqualified him as a Roman bastard and that they otherwise have ignored and denied him throughout the centuries.[325]


Between Divus Iulius and Jesus—these two god-men who emerge at the same historical time in the same cultural and political arena—there exists, for the matter of tradition, a curious complementary asymmetry:

The one, Divus Iulius—an indubitable historical figure—is as God, nonexistent: all writers mention him; but there is no religion, no liturgical texts, no hagiography, no legends.

The other, Jesus—an absolutely doubtful historical figure—is existent only as God: no chronicler mentions him; but there is a religion, even several, and there are liturgical texts, hagiographies and legends.

Either one is abnormal:

It is not normal that the cult of Divus Iulius, the original Roman emperor cult should just vanish into thin air as soon as Christianity emerges. It is not normal that not even one legend of Caesar has passed down to us of a man who inspired his contemporaries no less than did Alexander.

And neither is it normal that Jesus, the auctor of Christianity which later became the official cult of the Roman Empire, should suddenly appear and displace Divus Iulius, unnoticed by all the early historians. It is not normal that so many legends of Jesus have passed down to us—legends about a man who inspired the fantasy of his contemporaries so little that a hundred years after his supposed birth a solitary line had yet to appear in the history books.

It must be recognized that the two figures are complementary and that it is only when they are combined that they provide the complete person of a God incarnate: by themselves they are only one-dimensional and amputated.

We will try to track down this asymmetric parallelism, and try to fit together the two figures of Divus Iulius and his alter ego Jesus Christ: one on this side and one on the other side of the West-East mirror.


Divus Iulius

Caesar was God’s son from birth: it is well known that the Iulii claimed Venus as their ancestor, through Aeneas and his son Ascanius, whom the Romans also called Ilus or Iulus. As a youth, he should have been a flamen Dialis—the high priest of Jupiter—but he was prevented from attaining this office by political opposition. Instead, he soon after became the highest priest: pontifex maximus. And while he was yet living it had been decreed that he—by then ruler of the whole world—should be posthumously numbered amongst the gods: as Divus Iulius. Even his murder could not preclude this: his adoptive son Octavianus could quickly call himself Divi Filius, ‘God’s Son’—thereby Caesar became the ‘Father God’, on a par with Jupiter himself.[326]

Temples were built to him throughout the entire Empire and even beyond: the caesarea. On top of this he was to be synnaos to all other deities, i.e. his statues had to be placed in each of the other temples—a tolerant monotheistic god.

The liturgy consisted of the celebration of the anniversaries of his victories, which had been appraised, and praised, as miracles. Because he had won more than three hundred of them, and because for the greatest of them more than one day was set aside in thanksgiving, there was something to celebrate virtually every day. His posthumous victory, however, became the greatest celebration; the victory gained over his murderers by his wandering spirit after the Ides of March: treason, passion, funeral, furor populi, apotheosis—his Easter.

This worldwide cult disappears, with a conspicuous inconspicuousness—as if swallowed by the earth, just as Christianity appears. Yet not altogether without a trace, because at Easter, which like the Ides of March falls in the springtime, the Christian liturgy follows the ritual of Caesar’s funeral.[327] Just as Christianity borrowed much from the cult of the emperor, regardless. The capital of Christendom is still Rome, and Caesar’s centre of power her heart.

The cultic books of Divus Iulius have not survived, and we only hear of Caesar through historians. Accordingly, we think of him as a man of history. General, dictator, writer, epicurean, revolutionary—everyone knows this. But as Pontifex Maximus, son of God and God—he is known only to specialists—and even they tend to forget it. Divus Iulius is blanked out.


In turn we have Jesus. Historians do not speak of him at all. Nobody knows him. The first mention of him, if it is not an interpolation, is by Flavius Josephus at the end of the first century. The only books we have about Jesus himself are liturgical: the Gospels.[328]

Accordingly, the historical existence of Jesus is still debated today. Because the Gospels are not history books, but are full of preaching and sermonizing, they have been mixed with theology, morality and oral tradition. And indeed, so much so that all attempts to comprehend the historical Jesus behind them regularly fail. They must fail.[329] For if we wish to establish what is true and what is false in the words and deeds of Jesus we are forced to use reductional thinking.

As there are no objective starting points to be found in the work of historians, each researcher sorts the data according to his own taste: the ‘Search for the historical Jesus’ has become a playing field for all kinds of projection. Due to the fact that in classical antiquity there were as many deified humans as humanized gods, one tendency is to see Jesus as a mythic being like Hercules, Dionysos, Adonis or Osiris. The other tendency is to see him as a man who became a god like Alexander, the Ptolemaeans or the Roman emperors. Even within conservative ranks there is disagreement in relation to the reduction: here the barefooted prophet, the little nabi of Galilea, one amongst so many executed reformers of the world, who just happened to have the luck of being posthumously regarded as the Messiah; there the Word of God, Jahweh himself in all his abstract glory, the pure forma mentis to which an earthly destiny gradually accrued. Here a nobody, there: no body.

Speculation is followed by phantasy: Was he an Essene, a Zealot, a collaborator or a nationalist? Was he a revolutionary, a pacifist, a macho man, a feminist, a guru, a therapist? Was he educated in Egypt or India? Do-it-yourself: Jesus for the tinkerer.

And if one, fearing answers, tries to stick to questions, these questions become more and more adventurous: Did he really die on the cross or did he only appear to be dead? Or did someone else die for him, perhaps Simon the Cyrenian? And Barabbas, was he really a murderer or a hero of the people? And wasn’t his name Jesus as well? Was he a relative or Jesus himself? And the resurrection, did or did it not happen and how is this to be understood? And who was the favorite disciple, John, Lazarus or maybe even Mary Magdalene? Did he marry Mary Magdalene, and did she escape to the west and have his child?[330]

Question on top of question—and still no historical Jesus.

Complementary asymmetry

Objectively, we can say that Caesar is a historical figure who as a god has vanished without leaving a trace. Jesus, on the other hand, is a god whose historical figure cannot be found.
A striking complementary asymmetry. It is as if we are dealing with the same figure, one that has two faces, like the head of Janus. Could it be that the Gospel is the ‘post-Easter’ preaching of Divus Iulius of which the ‘pre-Easter’ historical version can be found in the writings of the ancient authors? That Jesus therefore is Divus Iulius as he is reflected in the East/West mirror? Is Jesus the icon of Caesar? Do the Gospels bear the same relationship to Divus Iulius as the first Christian churches do to the antique temples from which they were built and on whose foundations they stand?


Notes to Excursus: Re-Orientation

[ for a Greek text with diacritic signs please refer to the printed edition or to the PDF of the German notes ]

[235] The only point that has occasionally been disputed in the research on the matter is whether Caesar’s apotheosis took place during his lifetime or posthumously. Different opinions were represented by e. g. Dobesch (1966) and Gesche (1968). Stefan Weinstock (1971) wrote a summa on this theme without rationalistic limitations. Some of the inaccuracies (the author died before the book was published) have been corrected in the review by A. Alföldi, Gnomon 47, 1975, p. 154-79. We may assume the opinion of Alföldi (1973), p. p. 99-128 (Pl. iv-xiii) to be the final point of the discussion: Deification during lifetime with posthumous, though not uncontested, confirmation. See also Clauss (1999), who thinks among other things that Caesar had already been addressed as a god at the crossing of the Rubicon. [<]

[236] App. BC 2.106-8: o de Kaisar eV Rwmhn hpeigeto, ta emfulia panta kaqelwn, epi fobou kai doxhV, oiaV ou tiV pro tou: oqen autw timai pasai, osai uper anqrwpon, ametrwV eV carin epenoounto, qusiwn te peri kai agwnwn kai anaqhmatwn en pasin ieroiV kai dhmosioiV cwrioiV, ana fulhn ekasthn kai en eqnesin apasi, kai en basileusin, osoi RwmaioiV filoi. schmata te epegrafeto taiV eikosi poikila, kai stefanoV ek druoV hn ep¢ eniaiV wV swthri thV patridoV, w palai touV uperaspisantaV egerairon oi periswqenteV. anerrhqh de kai pathr patridoV, kai diktatwr eV ton eautou bion hreqh kai upatoV eV deka eth, kai to swma ieroV kai asuloV einai kai crhmatizein epi qronwn elefantinwn te kai crusewn, kai quein men auton aiei qriambikwV hmfiesmenon, thn de polin ana etoV ekaston, aiV autoV hmeraiV en parataxesin enika, iereaV de kai iereiaV ana pentaeteV eucaV dhmosiaV uper autou tiqesqai, kai taV arcaV euquV kaqistamenaV omnunai mhdeni twn upo KaisaroV orizomenwn antipraxein. eV te timhn thV genesewV autou ton Kuintilion mhna Ioulion anti Kuintiliou metwnomasan einai. kai newV eyhfisanto pollouV autw genesqai kaqaper qew kai koinon autou kai EpieikeiaV, allhlouV dexioumenwn: outwV ededoikesan men wV despothn, euconto de sfisin epieikh genesqai. Eisi d¢ oi kai basilea proseipein epenooun, mecri maqwn autoV aphgoreuse kai hpeilhsen wV aqemiston onoma meta thn twn progonwn aran. speirai d¢ osai strathgideV auton ek twn polemwn eti eswmatofulakoun, apesthse thV fulakhV kai meta thV dhmosiaV uphresiaV epefaineto monhV... kai toiV ecqroiV dihllasseto kai twn pepolemhkotwn oi pollouV prohgen aqrowV eV ethsiouV arcaV h eV eqnwn h stratopedwn hgemoniaV. [<]

[237] Suet. Jul. 85: cf. note 37. [<]

[238] The respective involvement of Antonius and Octavianus in the deification of Caesar naturally had its highs and lows, according to political opportunity: cf. Alföldi (1973), p. 99-128 (pl. iv-xiii). [<]

[239] Weinstock (1971), p. 403. [<]

[240] Cf. Weinstock (1971), p. 398-411. [<]

[241] Flavius Josephus AJ 17.8.3; BJ 1.33.9. Cf. Otto W.: P.W., RE, Suppl. ii, Sp. 167, s. v. Herodes, Nr. 22; Schalit (1969). [<]

[242] Suet. Jul. 88: […] in deorum numerum relatus est, non ore modo decernentium, sed et persuasione uolgi. In the meantime it has become generally accepted that the cult of Divus Iulius was the precursor of the ensuing emperor cult and also that the latter represents the connection between the earlier Hellenistic ruler cult and later Christianity. Cf. Taylor (1931); Dobesch (1966); Gesche (1968); Weinstock (1971); Wlosok (1978); Price (1984); Clauss (1999). What is little accounted for however is the fact that the emperor cult does not begin with Caesar, but actually with Octavianus Augustus, who as Appianus reports, indeed followed the footsteps of his adoptive father—but it is precisely this that illustrates the difference between the two men—Caesar did not follow anyone’s footsteps at all. He had become absolute ruler, but by himself and had himself founded no dynasty. That was the reason for Antonius’ opposition to Octavianus, whose political claims to inheritance he did not want to acknowledge as they were incompatible with the Republican tradition. This resistance of Antonius led to repeated wars, wherein Antonius incerta fortuna held his ground for a long period till he finally perished. There are two things of interest: for a long period Antonius refused to be inaugurated as flamen Divi Iulii, as high priest of the new God, precisely because he wanted to prevent Octavianus ipso facto becoming Divi Filius—the son of God; and the fact that Octavianus ordered the son of Antonius, who had sought refuge at a statue of Divus Iulius, where qua the lex templi he should have enjoyed the right of asylum, to nevertheless be torn away and executed (Suet. Aug. 17.10). So Octavianus as Divi Filius had set himself higher than Divus Iulius, whose rights he restricted at the same time he claimed to be his only heir (it is no coincidence that in the same regard he had driven Antonius and Cleopatra to death, and even had Caesar’s son Caesarion killed, cf. Suet. Aug. l. c.). For this reason an incurable cesura had developed between the emperor’s cult—the dynastic claim of Octavianus Augustus and many of the following emperors to be the only legitimate heirs of Caesar in a political and religious respect—and all the people, who in contrast to the respective actual and all too human emperor emphasized the unequalled and insurmountable divinity of the Empire’s founder Divus Iulius Caesar and hung on to him. Christianity originated to a lesser extent from the emperor’s cult but far more from this loyal adoration of Divus Iulius by the people who defied the dynastic claims. [<]

[243] Euhemeros lived at the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd century BC. His famous book, iera anagrafh, which named the conditions for the deification of a ruler—euergesia and swthria, ‘well-doing, benefaction, charity, welfare’ and ‘deliverance, salvation, preservation, security, safety, health, well-being’—and hence outlined the theoretical motivation for the ruler cult, became a matter of polemics: he was accused of diminishing the status of the gods to the level of mankind. But the book was so important that it was translated by Ennius into Latin. Following Ennius’ translation it is cited by the Church Fathers, notably Lactantius. [<]

[244] App. BC 2.146: prwta men wV qeon ouranion umnei kai eV pistin qeou genesewV taV ceiraV aneteinen, epilegwn omou sun dromw fwnhV polemouV autou kai macaV kai nikaV kai eqnh, osa prospoihseie th patridi, kai lafura, osa pemyeien, en qaumati autwn ekasta poioumenoV […]. [<]

[245] istoria peri ta proswpa andrwn epifanwn (hrwoV, qeou)—cf. Cancik (1984). [<]

[246] Reiser (1984). [<]

[247] 2. Euaggelion kata Markon. egrafh rwmaisti en Rwmh meta ib¢ eth thV analhyewV ku. Fam. 13 of the ‘Datumsvermerke—Annotations about dates’, cited by Zuntz (1984), p. 60. [<]

[248] Harris (1893). [<]

[249] Couchoud (1926). [<]

[250] Tac. Hist. 4.81: Per eos mensis quibus Vespasianus Alexandriae statos aestivis flatibus dies et certa maris opperiebatur, multa miracula evenere, quis caelestis favor et quaedam in Vespasianum inclinatio numinum ostenderetur. e plebe Alexandrina quidam oculorum tabe notus genua eius advolvitur, remedium caecitatis exposcens gemitu, monitu Serapidis dei, quem dedita superstitionibus gens ante alios colit; precabaturque principem ut genas et oculorum orbis dignaretur respergere oris excremento. alius manum aeger eodem deo auctore ut pede ac vestigio Caesaris calcaretur orabat. Vespasianus primo inridere, aspernari; atque illis instantibus modo famam vanitatis metuere, modo obsecratione ipsorum et vocibus adulantium in spem induci: postremo aestimari a medicis iubet an talis caecitas ac debilitas ope humana superabiles forent. medici varie disserere: huic non exesam vim luminis et redituram si pellerentur obstantia; illi elapsos in pravum artus, si salubris vis adhibeatur, posse integrari. id fortasse cordi deis et divino ministerio principem electum; denique patrati remedii gloriam penes Caesarem, inriti ludibrium penes miseros fore. igitur Vespasianus cuncta fortunae suae patere ratus nec quicquam ultra incredibile, laeto ipse vultu, erecta quae adstabat multitudine, iussa exequitur. statim conversa ad usum manus, ac caeco reluxit dies. utrumque qui interfuere nunc quoque memorant, postquam nullum mendacio pretium. [<]

[251] Plut. Grac. 9: ta men qhria ta thn Italian nemomena kai fwleon ecei, kai koitaion estin autwn ekastw kai katadusiV, toiV d¢ uper thV ItaliaV macomenoiV kai apoqnhskousin aeroV kai; fwtoV, allou d¢ oudenoV metestin, all¢ aoikoi kai anidrutoi meta teknwn planwntai kai gunaikwn, oi d¢ autokratoreV yeudontai touV stratiwtaV en taiV macaiV parakalounteV uper tafwn kai ierwn amunesqai touV polemiouV: oudeni gar estin ou bwmoV patrwoV, ouk hrion progonikon twn tosoutwn Rwmaiwn, all¢ uper allotriaV trufhV kai ploutou polemousi kai apoqnhskousi, kurioi thV oikoumenhV einai legomenoi, mian de bwlon idian ouk econteV. [<]

[252] Mt. 8:20: Ai alwpekeV fwleouV ecousin kai ta peteina tou ouranou kataskhnwseiV, o de uioV tou ajnqrwpou ouk ecei pou thn kefalhn klinh. [<]

[253] Cited after Schweitzer (1906/(9)1984), p. 452 (see there for the source). [<]

[254] Cf. Blass et al. ((17)1990), p. 6-9 (with specification of the sources). [<]

[255] Blass et al. ((17)1990), p. 8, note 10; Couchoud (1926). [<]

[256] Cf. Cancik (1975), p. 120. [<]

[257] Cf. Vittinghoff (1952); Otto, W.: P. W., RE, Suppl. ii, Sp. 167 sqq., s. v. Herodes, nº 22. See the glossary on further explanations about the Aramaic. [<]

[258] 2 Tim. 4:13: ton failonhn on apelipon en Trwadi para Karpw ercomenoV fere, kai ta biblia, malista taV membranaV. [<]

[259] Cf. Roberts & Skeat (1983). [<]

[260] Roberts & Skeat (1983), p. 6 and p. 15-29. [<]

[261] Suet. Jul. 56.6: epistulae quoque eius ad senatum extant, quas primum uidetur ad paginas et formam memorialis libelli conuertisse, cum antea consules et duces non nisi transuersa charta scriptas mitterent. [<]

[262] Roberts & Skeat (1983), p. 6 and p. 35-37. [<]

[263] Roberts & Skeat (1983), p. 6 and p. 39. The fact that the text of a Gospel was written on the rear side of a scroll with no text on the front is also interesting from another point of view: what should have been written on the front side? As if the copyist knew that there had to be another text and that the Gospel was a text of the reverse: namely the apostille to a text that was so well known that it was not necessary to write it down—it was enough to leave this place free—the vita Divi Iulii? [<]

[264] Roberts & Skeat (1983), p. 6 and p. 45-53. They take apart all the reasons that were mentioned by earlier authors. Also the two alternative hypotheses they tried are inconclusive, as they themselves admit: ‘[…] neither of the two hypotheses discussed above is capable of proof […]’ (p. 61). [<]

[265] In the following we seek to reflect the general consensus of researchers, or of the general controversy of the irreconcilable opponents in this minefield. Cf. Der Kleine Pauly (1979), s. v. Jesus; Wikenhauser & Schmid ((6)1973); Schweitzer (1906/(2)1913 and 1906/(9)1984); Heiligenthal (1997); Messori (1976/(32)1986); Messori (1997), i. a. [<]

[266] Albert Schweitzer (1906/(2)1913, chap. 22, p. 451 sqq.) places in the category of first deniers of any historicity of Jesus i. a.: Charles François Dupuis (book printed by the Club des Cordeliers), Constantin François Volnay (counselor of Napoleon), Bruno Bauer (Hegelian), Albert Kalthoff, John M. Robertson, Peter Jensen, Andrzej Niemojewski, Christian Paul Fuhrmann, William Benjamin Smith, Arthur Drews, Thomas Whittaker, S. Hoekstra, Allard Pierson, Samuel Adrian Naber, G.J.P.J. Bolland, Samuel Lublinski, temporarily also Abraham Dirk Loman. It would be pointless to name all the others who joined the ranks after 1913. As a representative of all the others, see Paul-Louis Couchoud. [<]

[267] So also the modernist Alfred Loisy, although his positions were radical enough for him to be excommunicated. Symptomatic of the trench warfare between the two implacable positions is the biting polemic that Loisy first launched at Wrede, then against Couchoud. [<]

[268] Cf. Couchoud (1924). [<]

[269] Rudolf Bultmann: so gut wie nichts—‘next to nothing’ (in: Die Erforschung der synoptischen Evangelien—‘Investigating the synoptic Gospels’, Berlin 31960, p. 12). [<]

[270] Cf. Bornkamm (1956), p. 11: ‘Am Ende dieser Leben-Jesu-Forschung steht die Erkenntnis ihres eigenen Scheiterns—The conclusion of the Life of Jesus research is the discovery of its own failure’, cited in Heiligenthal (1997), p. 8; cf. also Schweitzer (1906/21913), p. 631.
[NB: As the good Augstein has passed on since then, we have considered whether we should leave out the following note for reasons of reverence: de mortuis nihil nisi bene. However, since his Jesus Son of Man is still haunting around, and nevertheless—or just because—Der Spiegel [a famous German news magazine] and its pseudo-enlightening counterparts all over the world have not been able to prevent the digital worst case scenario of the Mel Gibson movie with their positivistic critique of traditional ecclesiastical fabulation, and with this, apparent for all to see, they have completely failed, we still leave the note, or at least the core of it.]
A pompous victim of this impasse of the Life of Jesus research is Rudolf Augstein. For decades the editor of the news magazine Der Spiegel has been trying to adopt the results of scientific theology as weapons in his everlasting crusade to instruct and inform the public against the ‘Wojtyla-Pope’ who is holding on to ‘sanctimonious legends’.
In doing so the theology journalist misses the realization that scientific theology is not scientific at all. Albert Schweitzer, whom he likes to quote, already had to state apropos David Friedrich Strauß: ‘He fought a dogma of scientific theology which defends them more doggedly than the Church defends hers until today’ (l. c. p. 122). Augstein is seemingly the only person who has not yet noticed that it is not science that stands against the fostering of legends, but dogma standing against dogma, and that the dogmas of a wannabe-science of yesterday must inevitably succumb to those of the Church which are richer in tradition.
‘Of yesterday’ is not meant polemically here but temporally-factually. The same Albert Schweitzer, even in the sixth edition of his fundamental book in 1950, refused to update the second edition of 1913 opining that the historical investigation of the public appearance of Jesus which had begun in the last third of the eighteenth century ‘has reached a certain completion during the first decade of the twentieth century’ (l. c. p. 29). Thus he had euphemistically dismissed all that had come later as futile elucubrations, including the teachings of the form-historical method and similar. Couchoud had namely demonstrated with Kantian inevitability in the twenties that anything trying to go beyond textual criticism runs into emptiness, so that the ‘Life of Jesus research’ was history, to be filed away. Albert Schweizer was spared the more or less esoteric and increasingly fanciful modern images of Jesus.
In spite of his profound insight into the Lacrima-Christi problem, he does not regard depicting Jesus as ‘glutton and wine bibber’ as insult, but as an attempt to ‘present him with more popular touch’. The nation’s philosopher of the Enlightenment untiringly rehashes his mulligan of myth and historiette again and again, and does not notice that the one hypothesis excludes the other: the derivation of the Gospels from myth excludes the historical existence of Jesus and vice versa. Augstein’s eclectical combination of both neutralizes both ingredients and makes them appetizers for papal food in whose pot he tries to spit. So he must witness how the believers still prefer receiving Holy communion in church, rather than sipping from his stale soup. [<]

[271] See above note 40. [<]

[272] Amongst others, OS(oV), ‘he’, was mistaken for QS (qeoV), ‘God’. [<]

[273] Thus Mark, especially in the bi-lingual Bezae Cantabrigiensis. [<]

[274] Some facts: not even half the words in the Gospels are the same in all manuscripts. The vast majority of the worst changes were created before the start of the third century. Not one papyrus dates earlier than the 2nd century and no manuscript is regarded as coming from an archetype earlier than the same 2nd century. From the generally accepted date of the death of Christ a century of text tradition lies in darkness.
Of the different text types that the modern textual critics were able to establish, one is questionable (Caesarea-text); the value of the Byzantine and Egyptian ones is disputed; whereas on the Western and the so-called neutral text there is a debate about age and priority. Until today, no original text has been able to be established. The published Greek text, the foundation of all new translations, remains on the basis of the textus receptus, the ‘generally accepted one’, i. e. the Byzantine, i. e. from the viewpoint of textual-criticism: the worst.
If the reader wants to get a feeling for the frequent ‘improving’ changes and rechanges the scribes made while blaming one another, he or she may visit the following website where an amusing example is given concerning Heb. 1:3 in the Codex Vaticanus Graece 1209, B/03:
On page 1512, the beginning of Hebrews, a curious marginal note appears, where a later scribe complains about a change of the text of Heb. 1:3 made by an earlier hand: amaqestate kai kake, afeV ton palaion, mh metapoiei—‘Fool and knave, can’t you leave the old lection untouched and not alter it!’ [<]

[275] Cf. Heiligenthal (1997), p. 108-119. [<]

[276] This cycle, like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors between the historical-critical school, the mythological school and the traditionalists, is elucidated by Messori (1976/(32)1986). [<]

[277] John and Jacobus only have a historical background if they are identical with the persons of the same names in Acts—which is purely hypothetical—and they also have to be the same persons who show up in Flavius Josephus. But then the father Zebedee is missing. [<]

[278] The nautical tow rope could be more original as the Evangelists were mocked for their miserable barbaric ‘sailor language’ (Celsus in Origenes, contra Celsum I 62), and not because of their ‘Bedouin language’. [<]

[279] The same occurs mutatis mutandis with our contemporary scriptwriters: Why are there so many scripts about the world of scriptwriters? Why do so many directors make films about the movie-milieu? Because this is all they really know. The cinéma vérité becomes the cinéma du cinéma. The true novel is the novel about the writer. [<]

[280] Cf. Schweitzer (1906/21913), p. 458 sq. [<]

[281] Suet. Claud. 25.4: Iudaeos impulsore chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit. [<]

[282] It is still in use today in urban Rome: far(ci) la cresta means ‘profiteer’, ‘to demand an extortionate price’. [<]

[283] Tac. Ann. 15. 44: sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placamentis decedebat infamia quin iussum incendium crederetur. ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit quos per flagitia invisos vulgus chrestianos appellabat. ‘The form of the name Christianos was established in manuscripts by correction; it had previously been chrestianos. That this […] form had been in use is attested to by, i. a., Lactantius iv 7 and Tertullianus Apol. 32 extr.’ (Tac. Ann. 15.44, K. Nipperday and G. Andresen (Eds.), (11)1915, p. 264, note 4). [<]

[284] Tac. Ann. 15. 44: auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; […]. [<]

[285] Tac. Ann. 15. 38: nec quisquam defendere audebat, crebris multorum minis restinguere prohibentium, et quia alii palam faces iaciebant atque esse sibi auctorem vociferabantur, sive ut raptus licentius exercerent seu iussu. [<]

[286] Tac. Ann. 15. 44: igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo ingens haud proinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis convicti sunt. et pereuntibus addita ludibria, ut ferarum tergis contecti laniatu canum interirent, [aut crucibus adfixi aut flammandi,] atque ubi defecisset dies in usum nocturni luminis urerentur. ‘These words—aut crucibus adfixi aut flammandi, “nailed to the cross or destined for death in the flames”—are a foreign body, although a very old addition, because already Sulpicius Severus (4th century) read it here, inserted by someone who missed the typical punishments of Christians. But these words are inappropriate here because there is no ludibrium in these pains and they break the flow of the text.’ (Tac. Ann. 15.44, K. Nipperday and G. Andresen (Eds.), 111915, p. 264, noot 13). [<]

[287] We are induced to the Roman (in this case the urban Roman) understanding of the word chrestiani by the fact that this word is a Latinism, like for example herodiani (Mk. 3:6). [<]

[288] Tac. Ann. 15. 44: repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque. [<]

[289] Suet. Nero 16.2: afflicti suppliciis christiani, genus hominum superstitionis nouae ac maleficae; […]. [<]

[290] 1 Tes. 1:10: IhsouV o ruomenoV. Cf. also Rom. 11:26 and Mt. 1:21: IhsouV: autoV gar swsei. Cf. Ecclesiasticus 46:1; Philon Nom. mutat. § 21. [<]

[291] Flavius Josephus Ant. J. 20.200: ate dh oun toioutoV wn o AnanoV, nomisaV ecein kairon epithdeion dia to teqnanai men Fhston, Albinon d¢ eti kata thn odon uparcein, kaqizei sunedrion kritwn kai paragagwn eiV auto ton adelfon Ihsou tou legomenou Cristou, IakwboV onoma autw, kai tinaV eterouV, wV paranomhsantwn kathgorian poihsamenoV paredwke leusqhsomenouV. [<]

[292] Mt. 13:55. [<]

[293] Act. 12:17; 15:13 sq; 21:18 sq. [<]

[294] Gal. 2:9; 1 Cor. 15:7. [<]

[295] Flavius Josephus Ant. J. 18.63 sq: […] kai outw pauetai h stasiV.
[Ginetai de kata touton ton cronon IhsouV sofoV anhr, eige andra auton legein crh hn gar paradoxwn ergwn poihthV, didaskaloV anqrwpwn twn hdonh talhqh decomenwn, kai pollouV men IoudaiouV, pollouV de kai tou Ellhnikou ephgageto: o cristoV outoV hn. kai auton endeixei twn prwtwn andrwn par¢ hmin staurw epitetimhkotoV Pilatou ouk epausanto oi to prwton agaphsanteV: efanh gar autoiV trithn ecwn hmeran palin zwn twn qeiwn profhtwn tauta te kai alla muria peri autou qaumasia eirhkotwn. eiV eti te nun twn Cristianwn apo toude wnomasmenon ouk epelipe to fulon.]
Kai upo touV autouV cronouV eteron ti deinon eqorubei touV IoudaiouV

[296] Cf. Flavius Josephus B. J. 3.8.7 sq; 4.10. When Jotapata in Galilee was conquered by Vespasianus, Josephus fled with the last defenders into the subterranean canals. When they were found, his brothers-in-arms decided that they would rather face death than fall into the hands of the Romans. Josephus feigned to abide by the will of the majority, but then he presented a supposedly easier way for the collective suicide: the first to cast the lot was to be killed by the second, then he by the third and so on till only the last one would have the dreadful job of killing himself. The casting of the lots was organized by Josephus, who was trusted as the commander. And, as he himself says, ‘only Josephus was left, maybe by good fortune or by divine providence’ (sic!). So he could surrender to the Romans and save his life. He justified his betrayal of his brothers-in-arms and the violation of his duty as a general with the command of a divine mission: God had appeared to him so that he would proclaim to Vespasianus that the messiah awaited by the Jews, who was to arise at this time in Judaea, was not the leader of the rebels, but Vespasianus himself: He would become emperor, and so would his son Titus.
Cf. Suet. Vesp. 4: Percrebuerat Oriente toto uetus et constans opinio esse in fatis ut eo tempore Iudaea profecti rerum potirentur. Id de imperatore Romano, quanto postea euentu paruit, praedictum Iudaei ad se trahentes rebellarunt […]. Vesp. 5: et unus ex nobilibus captiuis Josephus, cum coniiceretur in uincula, constantissime asseuerauit, fore ut ab eodem breui solueretur, uerum iam imperatore. [<]

[297] Presumably 50-60 AD. [<]

[298] 1 Cor. 11:23-25. [<]

[299] Rom. 1:3 sq; 1. Cor. 15:3 sqq, i. a. [<]

[300] 70/100 n. Chr., except Mark: mostly 40/60. [<]

[301] It is known that the so-called Western and probably most ancient order of arrangement, which e. g. the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis still has, was the following: Matthew, John, Luke, Mark. If we assume that the later Gospels were piled up on top of the earlier ones we would have—in the Western order read backwards—the chronological order of the origin of the Gospels, respectively their incorporation in the canon: Matthew coming last. But Matthew had to be made the first, so that he, thanks to his citations from the Jewish Bible, could establish the link to the ‘Old Testament’, which it became by a corresponding rearrangement of the order of the TaNaCh. Concerning the last matter cf. i. a. B. Feininger, ‘“Schreib’ dir alle Worte … in ein Buch”—Das Alte Testament der Christen’ (‘“Write thee all the words … in a book”—the Old Testament of the Christians’) , Annemarie Ohler, ‘Die jüdische Bibel’ (‘The Jewish Bible’), W. A. Lohr, ‘Fixierte Wahrheit?—Der neutestamentliche Kanon als “Heilige Schrift”’ (‘Fixed truth?—the canon of the New Testament as “Holy Scripture”’), in: ‘Heilige Bücher’ (‘Holy Books’), Freiburger Universitätsblätter, Heft 121, September 1993, 32. Jahrgang, Freiburg i. Br. [<]

[302] This is confirmed by the fact that the Judeo-Christian apocryphal Gospels—of the Jews, the Ebionites and of the Twelve—are all based on Matthew. [<]

[303] Except perhaps Mark, but then from the Latin; cf. Couchoud (1926). [<]

[304] 2. Euaggelion kata Markon. egrafh rwmaisti en Rwmh meta ib¢ eth thV analhyewV ku. Fam. 13 of the ‘annotations about dates’, cited by Zuntz (1984), p. 60. In other manuscripts it is rendered i¢ eth. [<]

[305] Cancik (1984) p. 93, speaks in Hellenistic terminology of a istoria peri ta proswpa andrwn epifanwn (hrwoV, qeou)—a ‘historical monograph about a famous man (a hero or a god)’. [<]

[306] This form historical method is borrowed from Gunkels’ examination of Genesis and it in practice presupposes that the origin of the Old and New Testaments developed in the same way—which should be proved. [<]

[307] This seems to have been the case with the Septuagint. Cf. Wutz (1925). [<]

[308] Dibelius and Bultmann take different types as a base and they can not even agree on terminology. Moreover Bultmann supposes a similar development for the pre-literary phase as for the later one of Mark through to Matthew and Luke—which is not at all self-evident. Then what if Couchoud (see above) were right that Mark was first written in Latin? [<]

[309] Wikenhauser & Schmid (61973), p. 293. [<]

[310] Loisy (1910), introduction. [<]

[311] Couchoud (1924), p. 84-5: Dans plusieurs cantons de l’empire déifier un particulier était chose faisable. Mais dans une nation au moins la chose était impossible: c’est chez les Juifs. […] Comment soutenir qu’un juif de Cilicie, pharisien d’éducation, parlant d’un juif de Galilée, son contemporain, ait pu employer sans frémir les textes sacrés où Jahvé est nommé? Il faudrait ne rien savoir d’un juif, ou tout oublier.—‘In several regions of the empire deifying a particular one was feasible. But in one nation at least the matter was impossible: with the Jews. [...] How could one assert that a Jew from Cilicia, educated as a Pharisee, when talking about a Jew from Galilaea, his contemporary, could have employed the sacred texts wherein Jahve is named without trembling? One would have to know nothing about a Jew anymore or forget everything.’ […] p. 113: Il était frivole de s’opposer jusqu’au martyre à l’apothéose de l’empereur pour y substituer celle d’un de ses sujets. […] En tout cas une déification, en milieu juif, même de la Dispersion, reste un fait sans exemple.—‘It was frivolous to oppose the apotheosis of the emperor to the point of martyrdom just to replace it with that of one of his subjects. [...] In any case, a deification in a Jewish milieu, even in the diaspora, remains an event without precedent.’ [<]

[312] Augstein (1972), p. 56. [<]

[313] As is known, the metaphor was coined by Nietzsche: ‘The founder of a religion can be unimportant—a match, nothing more!’ (Wille zur Macht, Aphor. 232). The critics among the modern exegetes, especially Loisy, reproach the mythicists that without a historical residual-Jesus there would be no match. Couchoud answered that the picture of Jesus developed by the critics, that of a destitute Nabi from Galilee, would be a damp squib that could not at all have lit the enormous Christian brush-fire, the glorious resurrected son of God: The match should be looked for with Paul, in his report of Peter’s vision (1 Cor. 15:1-11). Cf. Couchoud (1924), p. 76-89. [<]

[314] Leipoldt (1923). [<]

[315] Torrey (1941), p. 37 sqq., regarded it as ‘almost certain’ that Paul in 2 Thes. 2 cited the Gospel of Mark. For an opposing view, see Zuntz (1984), p. 49. [<]

[316] Explicitly in Gal. 1:13-24, i. a. [<]

[317] Rom. 15:28; 1 Cor. 16:4; Gal. 2:10; i. a. He speaks of the hagioi from Jerusalem, which is translated in editions of the bible as ‘Saints’. Hagioi does mean ‘Saints’ but when used in relation to people, it often had an ironic meaning, switching it completely to ‘damned’. A similar phenomenon is seen in the Sicilian ‘Honored Society’, i. e. the Mafia, or also for ‘brothers’, which is ironically converted to ‘What kind of brothers!’ not just by the monks. As Paul distanced himself from the ‘Saints’ in Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 1:17; 1:19 i. a.) and because here it concerns the collection of money, which Paul himself sometimes calls robbery (2 Cor. 11:8: ‘I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.’)—and hence is about competition between money collectors (2 Cor. 11:13, i. a.), the ironic sense would fit better. NB: Originally many evangelical expressions were meant ironically—e.g. the Claudii taken as the lame, the Caecilii as the blind—, but the deadly earnestness of the exegetes, copyists and translators extinguished it long ago: a serious problem. [<]

[318] ‘Judaists’ and also ‘Judeo-Christians’ are word constructs of theologians. [<]

[319] The missionaries of the other parties mentioned in the first letter to the Corinthians (besides Paul’s party, those of Apollos, Kephas and Christ) do not seem to have been Judaists either. From this split in the community of the Corinthians it can furthermore be seen that Paul was not the first missionary of the heathens because he declares expressly that he hardly baptized anybody (1. Cor. 1:14-5) and preached to already baptized ones (1. Cor . 1:17). Idem Col. 1:4 sqq.; 2:1, where Paul testifies that he did not found any of the neighboring communities (Colossae, Laodicea, Hierapolis); rather, according to Col. 1:7; 4:12 sq. the founder of the Colossians seems to have been Epaphras. This name is an abbreviated form of Epaphroditos (appears also in Phil 2.25), it means ‘favorite of Aphrodite’ (thus already unsuitable for a Jew), was considered a translation of the Latin Felix (proven as Greek form of Sulla’s epithet, cf. Plut. Sull. 34; App. BC 1.97), is known as the name of the freedman whom Octavianus sent to Cleopatra in order to disperse her suicidal thoughts and provide for her joys (cf. Plut. Ant. 79: since Cleopatra was regarded as Egyptian reincarnation of Venus it is hardly by chance that Octavianus’ envoy was called Epaphroditos: Was he priest of Venus, the ancestral mother of the Iulii?) Now an Epaphroditos was a Christian parish founder, in fact not of one but of several. This one Paul calls systratiôtês, ‘fellow-soldier’, then syndoulos, ‘fellow-slave’, meaning ‘slave of the same master’: Were they ‘fellow-prisoners of war’? Fellow-freedmen? Of the same Roman ruler—of Vespasianus? One may speculate. Anyway it can be concluded from the mentioned circumstances that not only the first Christians but also the first Christian missionaries were Gentiles. Then came Paul, and only after him came the Judaists with whom he can fight all the more easily as his communities consisted of Gentiles evangelized by Gentiles. The communis opinio that Christianity originates from Judaism seems hardly maintainable on the basis of Paul. [<]

[320] Apparently, concessions had to be made to Marcion, and it is due to his resistance that our canon is not more forged than it is. Cf. von Harnack (1924). [<]

[321] Amongst other things, the double ending of Romans. [<]

[322] Aufhauser (21925), p. 9. [<]

[323] Aufhauser (21925), p. 44-57. [<]

[324] The latest conspiracy theory, that nothing is said of Jesus in the published Qumran scrolls because the crucial scriptures are being held under lock and key by the Vatican, is nothing more than a cover up of the fact that Eisler & Co. have nothing up their sleeve. Amusingly enough, the road this excuse takes leads to Rome again! [<]

[325] Certainly the fact that Jews are willing to accept Jesus if he is regarded as a Jew could throw light on the motives that led to the Judaization of Divus Iulius in early Christianity. [<]

[326] Cf. Gesche (1968); Weinstock (1971); Alföldi (1973), p. 99 sqq. [<]

[327] Stauffer (1957), p. 21-23. Stauffer (1952), passim. [<]

[328] For an overview of the research into Jesus from the point of view of the science of antiquity see Chr. Burchardt in Der Kleine Pauly (1979), s. v. ‘Jesus’, Sp. 1344 sqq. [<]

[329] Cf. Schweitzer (1906/91984), p. 631; Bornkamm (1956), p. 11; Heiligenthal (1997), p. 8 and passim. [<]

[330] Cf. G. Mordillat / J. Prieur, Corpus Christi, archipel 33—La Sept arte, France 1998, broadcasted Easter 1998; video cassettes at La Sept Vidéo, Sainte Geneviève. Cf. also Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday, 2003. [<]

[ Chapter IV: Words & Wonders ]