Today's Reprise—No, Really, Some Of His Best Friends Are Jews...

James S. Valliant's picture
Submitted by James S. Valliant on Wed, 2006-08-02 05:29

I realize that this has nothing to do with Objectivism, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on Mel Gibson’s recent arrest.

In light of the loony conspiracy theory and viciously anti-Semitic remark for which the internationally renowned actor-director is now frantically apologizing, perhaps it’s also time to re-evaluate the controversy surrounding his film, The Passion of the Christ.

When it was released, you will recall, Gibson was criticized in certain quarters for being anti-Semitic. Why?

In the history of Hollywood Bible epics, certain conventions have been adhered to that cannot be found in the Bible itself, but which are the product of American tolerance, concerns about offending the Jewish audience, and, after World War II, keener post-Holocaust sensitivities. Thus, certain phrases and images from the New Testament’s account of the life of Christ are generally omitted.

Take what is probably the most infamous example: when Pilate, the Roman governor declares Jesus to be innocent, he decides to give the Jewish people a chance to redeem Jesus from death. He presents another arrestee, a truly violent man, and asks the Jewish crowd in attendance who he should release, Jesus or the violent man? The crowd responds by demanding the execution of Jesus.

According to the Gospel of Matthew’s version of these events, Pilate’s wife believed Jesus to be a “righteous man,” and Pilate even knew that the Jewish leadership had demanded Jesus’ execution “out of envy.” (Matt. 27:11-26.) The Jewish priests and elders had somehow persuaded the Jews to demand the death of Jesus and the release of the other prisoner.

They apparently succeeded beyond their best hopes. Three times Pilate questioned the crowd’s decision, according to Matthew. And each time the crowd was relentless. Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” Nonplused by the reasonable inquiry, the crowd “only shouted the louder, ‘crucify him!’” Pilate then declared, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” The crowd, eager to accept the full responsibility, it seems, responded, “Let his blood be upon us and on our children!”

C. B. DeMille never depicted this kind of material. Nor did any of his Hollywood successors in the Bible epic business. That is, until, Gibson.

For Gibson, fidelity to the New Testament was the key to a genuine Jesus-snuff-film. In order to insulate himself from the inevitable critics, he would film the story in Aramaic! “Authenticity,” when it comes to the Bible, can never be attacked, right?

When the Jewish critics of his film nonetheless pointed out as early as the advanced screenings that the material most offensive to Jews was still there in the film – for example, in Gibson’s movie, it is the High Priest who announces his acceptance of the guilt for Jesus’s death, not the crowd, but the line is still there – what was the notoriously conservative Catholic’s defense: “I was just being faithful to the Bible’s account. How can the New Testament be anti-Semitic?” (In the final theatrically released version of the film, by way of compromise, the actor still says the line, in Aramaic, of course – it’s just that Gibson doesn’t translate it in the subtitles.)

Even Christians who had been made to squirm by The Passion could not see the flaw in Gibson’s logic here. Of course, the New Testament isn’t bigoted. There simply CAN BE no anti-Semitism in the original source of all love, charity, and goodwill to all, which we call the Christian Bible.

Let me submit that Christian anti-Semitism for the last two millennia has been no accident – any more than Gibson’s approach to Bible story-telling was an accident.

In other words, the New Testament is anti-Semitic.

To this simple observation of fact, Christian apologists angrily respond that this is absurd. After all, “Jesus was a Jew.”

Of course, Jesus was a pretty poor Jew by both contemporary standards and the standards of his own day. Jesus was a critic of Kosher diet – since it’s what comes “out of our bodies” that defiles, not what we “put into our body.” Jesus was a critic of the laws against working on the Sabbath – since it was “made for man” and not “man for the Sabbath.” Jesus said of a presumably uncircumcised Roman centurion, no less, that his “faith” exceeded that of any of the “sons of Israel.”

As Jesus makes clear, the entire Jewish establishment of his day was utterly corrupt. His debating foils are inevitably, “the priests,” the “scribes,” the “Sadducees,” and/or the “Pharisees,” i.e., all of the religious authorities of the Jews, and, it is not hard to see why they would have been such harsh critics of Jesus – even prior to Jesus’ physical attack on the operations at the Jerusalem temple.

Passover, the Jewish holiday Christ seems to have observed, is transformed by him into the mass or communion of Christianity, while for St. Paul, something like Yom Kippur is superfluous after the “atonement” of Christ’s sacrifice. Chanukah, being mostly a celebration of Jewish nationalism, will simply vanish from the Christian calendar.

Bear in mind that Matthew is considered by scholars to be the most “Jewish” of the Gospels, e.g., everything is said to be a “fulfillment” of Jewish “scriptures” in that evangelist’s work. On the other hand, Luke-Acts has a distinctly gentile orientation, as many scholars have observed, and Matthew’s anti-Semitism is mild in comparison to John’s. St. Paul would rip into the Mosaic Law – specifically, circumcision and Kosher diet – in a way even more fierce than Christ of the Gospels.

It wasn’t just on religious matters that Jesus was opposed to Judaism, but on political ones. Not only did Jesus apparently prefer a Roman army officer to any of his fellow Jews – and at a time when the Jews were preparing for open warfare with the Roman Empire – but, he advocated paying taxes to Rome. Indeed, the sort of submission Jesus called for was amazing. If a Roman took your coat, Jesus advised giving your shirt, as well. If required by Rome to walk one mile, go an extra mile, too. If a Roman strikes you on one side of the face, offer the other cheek, as well.

To his contemporary Jewish rebels and zealots, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Love your enemies.”

Fundamentally, Jesus wants to end the special claim the Jews have to the worship of Jehovah – many will come and “sit at Abraham’s table,” and His disciples are to spread the good word to “all nations of the earth.” So much for Jewish Exceptionalism.

Ah, well.

Now, in light of the fact that it is one of Jesus’ own followers, one “Judas,” who betrays him (all of the disciples are depicted as dolts and Peter, numero uno among them, denies Jesus three times when Christ could’ve most used a friend), and in light of the role of the Sanhedrin in convicting Jesus in a midnight kangaroo court proceeding – of religious offenses against the Jews – and in light of the entire episode at Pilate’s house – which can only be seen as an attempt to exculpate the Roman authorities, one must wonder if, in fact, Jesus can even be called a “Jew” in any meaningful sense. According to the Bible, to a man, they were his enemies.

On more than one occasion in the Gospels, Jesus declared that his earthly family isn’t his “true” family, after all – that prophets are always rejected by their own people (?) – that Jerusalem has been particularly harsh on its holy men (?) – and that the entire generation of Jews He lives among are cursed and rotten (!)

Even if we are forced to classify the Jesus of the Gospels as some kind of “Jew,” Christ can hardly be said to have been a fan of First Century Judaism, or, indeed, the Mosaic Law as such.

Remember that the century of Christ would see the bloody Jewish War with the Roman Empire (66-73AD) fought, as the historian Josephus tells us, because of Jewish messianic prophecies and religious zealotry. If his accounts of Masada and the Sicarii fanatics are any indication, nationalistic Jews of that era would have made al-Qaeda look like a bunch of agnostics. So extraordinary were Jesus’ pronouncements for a First Century Jew, one begins to suspect that the New Testament is a form of Roman political propaganda.

In any event, the statements and deeds of Jesus are hardly in sympathy with any sort of Judaism, religiously or politically.

With gusto, Jesus’ followers picked up the lead Christ had given them, according to the New Testament. St. Paul made a central theme of his whole message the idea that the death of Christ itself had liberated Christians from adherence to the Mosaic Law. Paul makes clear in the early chapters of his Epistle to the Galatians – as does the author of Acts of the Apostles – that his ideological foes are “the Jews.”

The author of Matthew’s gospel, as we have already seen, seemed eager to place the blame for Christ’s death squarely on the shoulders of these same “Jews,” while simultaneously taking pains to have Jesus praise a Roman soldier above all contemporary Jews.

And, it didn’t stop with the authors of the Christian Bible, either. St. Eusebius, who wrote in the early 300’s AD with the Emperor Constantine’s blessing, was certain that the Jewish defeat at the hands of the Romans in that First Century rebellion was no less than their punishment for having killed Jesus.

He would not to be the last.

Pogroms, expulsions, Crusader violence, ghettos, and gang-violence, century after century, committed by pious men who had read the Bible with care, were no accidents – they were just a few of its expressions. The climax of all of this in the Holocaust – only sixty years ago in a “civilized” European country – was also no accident. In fact, it is only a small step from Matthew’s Jews accepting “the blood of Christ” for themselves –and their children – to the position of the pious Church Fathers like Eusebius.

Of course, contemporary Christianity in the English-speaking world is not anti-Semitic – certainly not like the “old days” – as evidenced, among other things, by American Christians’ support for Israel. The benevolence of any Christians towards Jews has been a long time coming, however, and it is a far more abstract argument to say that the New Testament argues benevolence toward Jews.

Thus, Gibson cannot be called a hypocrite, at the very least. He was by no means the first, and he will hardly be the last, to find this stuff in the Gospels. And it doesn’t take a doctorate in theology or divinity to see what Gibson was doing.

Now, we know that he meant it.

( categories: )

Just Thought...

James S. Valliant's picture

It might be appropriate to provide a link to my conversation with Linz about Christianity here.

Me, too

Casey's picture

It sounds like it's coming together beautifully, James. This will have incredible relevance to what is happening today.


Another vote for soon.

Jeff Perren's picture

"Altruism was used ~ politically ~ by the Romans to pacify their 'Jihadists.'"

Fascinating. Now I really can't wait to read the thing. James, tell your wife you'll be back in six months, come take my spare room, and get the manuscript done.


Impimatur Habes

Ted Keer's picture


I agree with that analysis 100%.



James S. Valliant's picture

Thanks, Bill -- and you are sooo on the right track.

Altruism was used ~ politically ~ by the Romans to pacify their "Jihadists."


The problem of Galatians is far bigger than the conflict between the apostles mentioned in Galatians. As you observe, Paul makes a career out of arguing, again and again, that Christ's death has "freed us from the Law," without once mentioning all of the anti-Mosaic things Jesus is claimed to have said and done in the Gospels. Not once. The disciples, like Peter, are shown as "not getting it" even up to the day of Jesus' execution. Finally, the method of Jesus' execution is itself inconsistent with his being a pro-taxes, pro-peace, Gentile-lover, as the Gospels insist.

The "real" Jesus has been lost in a theological dispute between his earliest followers -- and the guy least connected to Jesus himself won the argument.


Bill Visconti's picture

I can see significant relevance to the study of the origins of Christianity. If it does turn out to be that Christianity was largely the invention of the Roman Court, then it will further add to the arbitrary nature of it all. And if it really is an extension of pro-Roman propaganda with the pacifist elements deliberately exaggerated to subdue a zealot-filled population, then think of what that will say.

It would help to expose and discredit both pacifism and fanaticism. Plus it will have a huge impact not only on how Christianity is viewed but on how Islam is viewed as well. It will become readily apparent to all honest people that the Mosaic Jewish rebels of the 1st century AD are nearly identical to the Muslim "rebels" of today.

Now I am sure that this will play out over a few centuries and will be fought tooth and nail along the way (hell I'd bet that much blood will be spilled over it). But If Objectivists become heavily involved with the historical research of this, then it will be just another way in which Objectivism wages its intellectual battle against the world of unreason.

Lastly, no sane Objectivist would ever wish to dispense with the "pre-Rand" world. That's just crazy and smacks as just another insult to Objectivists. You know, how we are all mindless, conforming cultists.

Even more lastly, I can't wait till this book is published. James, seriously, I don't see why you insist on having a career and a personal life. Just lock yourself in the nearest Seminary and finish the thing already! Don't you know that there are extremely impatient people that need to be satisfied?

Good question

Jeff Perren's picture

"can it really cut its tether to the New Testament altogether?" We can hope! I eagerly await the publication of your book to discover the answer to that.

"'Christianity' will not be easily abandoned, Jeff"

I found it very easy to abandon. Once I got a car and didn't need to go to church to find chicks, it was a cinch. Smiling But, you're right. I fully expect it to outlast me. I don't expect it to outlast a rational philosophy, but that may be wishful thinking.

Anyway, I'm perfectly willing to admit ignorance on these matters. If you find the subject interesting, no doubt there is a good reason. But, really, I don't want to continue to distract you from your conversation. I'll butt out now.



James S. Valliant's picture

Unlike Paul, Jesus does not condemn physical circumcision outright. However, the rest of the Mosaic Law goes down hard, and the implications of such incidents as the centurion, I think, are clear. Moreover, there was no need for the later Gospels to cover this issue any more than this, since Paul had repeatedly waxed so eloquent on the matter.

Do reread the opening chapters of Galatians, and, if you are interested, then read Eisenman's JAMES: THE BROTHER OF JESUS.

As for the mentions in Suetonius and Tacitus, alas, that is where the secular history of Christianity begins...

Glue Traps?

Ted Keer's picture

I find that glue traps have a higher success rate.

Objectivists wouldn't want to burn the pre-Randian, though many might ignore it. Yet that is no different from most non-Objectivists of today. Ask anyone who Elian Gonzalez is.

What scares me is the cutthroats. They would blow up and destroy every work of art and burn every book and destroy all the music and drama ever written. 10,000 years of human culture down the drain. Given the choice between every practicing m*slim who knew what he is advocating and just one of Shakespeare's plays, I'd kill a billion if necessary to save Richard II.


Perhaps that's why my avatar hasn't updated yet?

Ted Keer's picture

From this second post I see that we are perhaps closer in some views than I thought. I have always so disliked the NT outside the gospels that except for 2nd Corinthians I have read it only perfunctorily, and long ago. And you are right the Jesus as portrayed does sometimes come across as a Roman sympathizer (I wouldn't go so far as to say agent. And I am skeptical of Paul's priority, although his influence probably did end up being the main determiner of what ws later accepted as canonical. I tend to view anything that survives but that goes against Paul as having more weight due to the Evidence Contrary to Interest Principle.) The matter deserves more time, and I am on dialup at a guest's. You may also be misconstruing what I meant by "revelation" in the hypercubicus post. I meant that he was perhaps (and this is extremely speculative speculation) turned from being a physical sicariot rebel to a pacifist spiritual reformer in a flash of insight which he experienced perhaps at his baptism or the alleged transfiguration. I don't think one can say that he himself abandoned the Torah, only that he saw his quest and his position as justifying breaking the letter of some laws.

I don't think you answered, again, do you hold that Jesus himself spoke against circumcision?

Finally, to what sources are you refering when you speak of other rebels (pre-Jesus) being called Christians? I have not heard this before, although I know that at some point there is a confusion between Christians and Chrestians, but this seems more like satire than history.



James S. Valliant's picture

Reality is more important than astrology, advanced or otherwise, and I concede that stooping over a dusty artifact with a brush can be boring to some folks. But history matters. The implications of this historical puzzle -- and it's a big one -- are wide-ranging.

"Christianity" will not be easily abandoned, Jeff, although it may change significantly -- as it already has. But can it really cut its tether to the New Testament altogether?


Rob Diego's picture

After having been raised a Catholic, I have wondered since I was very young, what the original source of Jesus, the Bible, etc., was. I want to understand the religion that has had such a profound, and largely negative, influence on me; an influence that I have spent a big part of my life unraveling. My study of religion is part of that effort, and I enjoy reading about the ideas of other Objectivists that have also grappled with the issue of religion and faith. Being an Objectivist does not mean becoming oblivious to the sources of some of the most influential philosophies, mystical or otherwise. In fact, my studies have helped in a deeper understanding of philosophy in general.

I'm reminded of the Christians centuries ago, and even today, who felt that, since Jesus, all that mankind needed to know was in the Bible. So it was unnecessary to study pagan ideas and their origins because they were irrelevant in light of that view. That idea led to the burning of the library at Alexandria. Are Objectivists in favor of doing the same to all knowledge since Ayn Rand? As for religion being "esoteric" I disagree. It is very relevant to the daily lives of many people and we need arguments to help these people understand what religion really means. We cannot merely consign them to the dust heap of the least not yet.

The study of the "real" origins of Christianity can help many people now influenced by it learn that it should be discarded as the dominant influence in their lives.

As for the mouse trap there has been little progress in that device since it was invented in 1897.


James S. Valliant's picture

I also dismiss Acts as unhistorical, but the letters of Paul (the authentic ones) are older than the Gospels, i.e., closer to the historical Jesus than the fictionalized and theologically contrived Gospels. These letters were also contemporary, first person accounts -- FAR more credible than the hatched Gospel narratives. And Acts was simply part two of the Gospel of Luke -- and should be no more credible. If the epistles display an ignorance of Jesus, then this is quite telling.

More importantly, if Jesus himself had such a "revelation" about the Mosaic Law, as you suggest, then why did Peter and James (those who presumably knew Jesus) give Paul such a hard time about believing the same things as Jesus? Why would there have been such an argument in the first place, as described in Paul's letter to the Galatians?

St. Jerome was so worried about this dispute, that he wrote the Pope. The idea -- strained and bizarre as it seems -- emerged that the earliest followers of Jesus must have somehow reverted to their "Jewish ways" to a degree that anyone returning the Christ's original message, such as Paul, would be attacked for it.

That's just whacky. It is Jesus' followers who would have been more likely to know what Jesus really taught. If Jesus had said what the Gospels claim, then Paul could have easily cited the living Jesus as his support. Instead, Paul insists that he got his ideas from no man, but from his own revelation. Doesn't it make more sense that Paul, with his Gentile mission, would first confront such issues, anyway?

Jesus' was an explicit opponent of Kosher diet, strict sabbath observance, etc. His attack on circumcision is implicit in his praise of the Roman centurion. Here Jesus declares the "faith" of the circumcised -- all of them -- to be inferior to this Roman soldier's. (So much for circumcision.)

Paul should have been able to have easily cited any of this stuff -- if it had really happened.

The Gospels are the Pauline school's creations designed to demonstrate Paul to have been right in his dispute with earlier Christians.

The anti-Semitism of New Testament is spread throughout -- it is hardly limited to Jesus' praise of the centurion -- and a reading of the original essay I posted and the previous posts should give you some idea of the sheer scope of it in the Gospels. (Christian anti-Semitism has been no accident.)

Where did I say that the population of Jews was small? It was about 15% of the Roman empire's population, as you correctly note. It is Pauline Christians who, in the First Century, were not numerous enough to have made a credible scapegoat for the Great Fire of 64CE or the disturbances of "Chrestus" during the reign of Claudius.

And this brings us to why other First Century Messianic Jews should also be called "Christians" -- that is, ancient Roman historians called them that, too.

Yes, I think that Matthew and Luke used sources like Q and Mark -- and used them creatively. This does not convert Q and Mark into eyewitness accounts, though, and indeed, shows that the life of Jesus was a Christmas tree upon which various theological ornaments have been slowly placed over time.

James was executed without any permission from a Roman governor, as was John the Baptist -- Jesus could have been, too. If Jesus was executed, then he was crucified -- as a rebel. The Jesus of the Gospels, on the other hand, sounds more like a Roman agent.

Invalid Interpretation/Extrapolation

Jeff Perren's picture

"Do any of these things tell us how to build a better mousetrap?"

I had a suspicion my question would be interpreted that way; so let me hasten to say that I am not opposed to studying 'esoteric' things, even when they have no apparent immediate practical application. Quite the reverse, I'm inordinately fond of differential geometry myself. (True, that has applications, but few but advanced students would know that and they wouldn't care.) I wept with joy the first time I saw Maxwell's equations, even before I knew how much impact they have on electrical engineering.

At the moment, I'm trying to figure out why the tag on the towel I use to dry off after a shower ends up on the lower left and out, rather than any other position, almost all the time. (A question at the intersection of Group Theory and Topology, with a smattering of Probability Theory.) I have no expectation that when I discover the reason that knowledge will have any appreciable benefit to me. Still, it's interesting (to me, anyway).

I just don't personally see the point of studying, or find anything interesting about, a bunch of half-insane, power-crazed desert rats and their unfortunate rulers stuck in the ass end of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. Especially because of the impact they've had on history. It all sounds very arcane to me, like 'advanced' astrology. The sooner forgotten, the better as far as I'm concerned.

But, if anyone could relate these events in a way that would spark my interest, I'm betting James will.

To each his own.


At last made God within the Mind of Man.

Ted Keer's picture


Why indeed? Why study the dinosaurs? Did you know that the Eskimo words *igniq-, *awi- and *qut- are related to the Indo-European words ignite, avian and god? And that the Eskimos who met the Icelanders in Greenland were ultimately the ultimate Eastern and Western developments of a tribe that hunted reindeer and bred sled dogs in the area around Lake Baikal at the end of the last ice-age? (For some reason, I expect this last fact to disturb Mr. Weiss (AKA Saddam on a dialup) who went ballistic the last time I alluded to it.) Do any of these things tell us how to build a better mousetrap?

Jesus and the movement founded on his name are certainly of nominal interest given their influence on today's culture. For that fact alone, studying them seems not totally pointless. But as conceptual beings who take pleasure in contemplation, the ability to understand things that happened centuries, millenia, and billions of years ago is in itself divine as far as I am concerned. Man (when he choses to awaken) does not inhabit the range of the moment. Let me quote my favorite poem, Richard Dawkins notwithstanding:

The world of things entered your infant mind
To populate that crystal cabinet.
Within its walls the strangest partners met,
And things turned thoughts did propagate their kind.
For, once within, corporeal fact could find
A spirit. Fact and you in mutual debt
Built there your little microcosm - which yet
Had hugest tasks to its small self assigned.

Dead men can live there, and converse with stars:
Equator speaks with pole, and night with day;
Spirit dissolves the world's material bars -
A million isolations burn away.
The Universe can live and work and plan,
At last made God within the mind of man.

-Julian Huxley, Essays of A Biologist

Pictured is the Hubble Deep Field

Evidence Contrary to Interest

Ted Keer's picture


Thanks for the long summary. I assume you are familiar with the concept of evidence contrary to interest. I find that I do agree that Judas was a Sicariot and not Judas of Kerioth as is often claimed. I interpret Jesus as being a rebel who turned against rebellion after some revelation - an inner change of heart which he may have experienced as a religious experience. I believe it was after he refused to lead an actual military rebellion that the Sicarii and Judas turned against him. Their is ample evidence of Temple elders turning over troublemakers to the Romans to maintain peace and their position which was beholden to the authorities.

The biggest problem I see with your argument is that of describing Jesus as an anti-Semite. He said that the Roman's faith was stronger, but in no way does that mean that he said that all Jews were lesser than a Roman. This was not a policy statement. The man was a preacher whose words neither cohered nor followed a set of explicit philosophical principles. Jesus also said that his words were for the Jews, and that one does not throw pearls before swine.

I also do not know where Jesus himself said that circumcision was unnecessary. His plucking of grain on the Sabbath was in parallel to that of David, and can be interpreted as showing his messianic pretensions. But the circumcision issue was an issue for the early church and was finally decided as a compromise. New converts need not do it, but those born Jewish should continue the practice.

I tend to discount all the acts and epistles as being suspect since none deals with Jesus own words or actions, except for his strangely silent time spent as the risen Christ.

I also take exception to your using the word Christian to refer to any messianic Jewish rebels. Christ means anointed and is Greek, it was not applied to any other figure of whom I am aware. The other messianic Jews should simply be called messianic Jews.

As for Paul, I would pretty much say that what we call Christianity today really is indeed just Paulism, a semi-pagan cultic worship of a Jewish man as if he were Attis or Osiris. The rituals of the Mass are a bizarre mix of rabbinical tradition and blood cult.

As for the Gospels, I assume you are aware of the textual tradition of Q and have fully researched all the various theories of Jesus' own self concept? I tend to agree most with the popular work The Passover Plot as to the actual story of what happened. I also find Geza Vermes' analyses to be very enlightening, by find that I agree with him less in his latter publications than in his earlier publications. A. N. Wilson's Jesus & Paul are also excellent works.

Also, I find your claim that the Jews were only a small part of the empire to be counter to my recollection. I remember reading that they made up anywhere from 5-20% of the population if one includes apostates and Judaizing sympathizers to monotheism.

In the end, I fear that the man is a palimpsest so obscured by tradition and time that one can chose to see in him what one wishes. Thus my question on evidence contrary to interest, of which Wilson makes much. I find that that which is attributed to Jesus that would be most difficult for the church to explain should be given highest weight. This would seem to be a wise practice for any investigator.

Ted Keer, 10 December, 2006

The image is from


Jeff Perren's picture

"It has taken many forms, but just how mutable is Christianity?" James

I'm not exactly sure what this means, but it's intriguing. If your question's point is what I think it is, you may be interested in my answer, prepared for the discussion about Environmentalism and Christianity, which I hope to have completed by tomorrow.



James S. Valliant's picture

Why should such a fair question be a test of goodwill? I appreciate your interest, sir -- as always.

This stuff here is of primarily just historical interest. (And I would concede that the work of the historian can be tedious dull to others at times.) But I find even just this fascinating as hell.

It is a vital part of the story of the relationship between politics and religion in Western Civilization. While its lessons may seem remote -- how the Romans dealt with their own religious terrorism is not a model to follow, however successful it seems to have been -- those lessons are important.

And, yes, all of this IS connected to a few other things that you might find more interesting... but that would mean coughing up the whole book.

Let me just get you going in couple of possible directions:

1. The egoist alone can appreciate the naked ethical/political manipulation involved here;

2. It has taken many forms, but just how mutable is Christianity?


Jeff Perren's picture

Ok, James. I'm going to test your good will here, because I'm really curious.

Why should any 21st century advocate of reason care about any of this? I don't want to sound like a lunk head, but I don't see any relevance of any of this history (however fascinating it may be to some) to modern man.

Maybe I'll just have to wait until your book is finished...



Olivia's picture

Then Jesus was most likely Barabbas, one and the same man, the one who was given an insurrectionist's death. And drawing them as two separate men pitted against eachother, as in the gospels, was a very successful piece of engineering. And if Jesus/Barabbas was from within the Dead Sea Sect, he may have been of the royal Davidian line, thus a king of sorts.


James S. Valliant's picture

Do read the article and thread over, Ted, but let me summarize.

The Jews were a rarity among peoples within the Roman empire. They engaged in rebellion and terrorism -- all of it doomed to failure from the outset, As is well-known, they did so for largely religious reasons. The First Century was a period of almost constant political disturbances involving the Jews from Alexandria to Rome itself. Open warfare broke out in 66CE and again in the Second Century, and both revolts were, inevitably, crushed by Rome.

The First Century historian Josephus says that it was the Jews' messianic expectations which most motivated the rebellion. By his description, this was a period of intense messianic activity with several of the rebel leader claiming to be -- or leading groups as -- the earthly, non-divine messiah of Jewish history and prophecy, sent by God to His chosen people to lead them to victory against Rome.

These rebellious Jews can be called "Christians" -- i.e., believers in a First Century Jewish messiah. But these rebels were not ones to submit to Roman rule, as the Jesus of the Gospels commanded. They were xenophobes, sectarians, and rigid adherents of the Mosaic Law.

In their rebellion against Rome, these "zealots" (as a group of them were literally known) would endure torture rather than deny their cause, Josephus tells us, and his reports of such incidents as the Masada mass-suicide, indicate just how intensely contemporary Jews felt about that cause.

It was during the five decades between the two Jewish messianic rebellions -- in the years immediately following the first Jewish War -- that the Gospels were composed.

Of these Gospels, Mark is the oldest -- and it was written in Greek and probably in Rome.

All of the Gospels report that Jesus consistently advocated peace with Rome -- and that his only violence was directed against Jews at the Temple -- perhaps (and foreshadowing the Roman destruction of the place) the Temple itself. The Gospels depict Jesus advocating the most anti-Mosaic form of "Judaism" one can imagine -- one that dispenses with circumcision, strict Sabbath observance, any Kosher diet concerns, etc.

The Jesus of the Gospels specifically advocates tax-paying to Rome. Both Paul and Jesus regard obedience to governmental authorities as piety itself. Jesus tells contemporary Jews to love their enemies, to "turn the other cheek," specifically to Roman oppression, and that it is the meek and the peacemaker who are "blessed." Jesus' rhetorical foils are the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees (i.e., nearly every Jewish authority in existence.) Jesus seems to regard his entire generation of Jews as being accursed and responsible for bringing the wrath of God (Rome?) upon them with a coming destruction of the Temple (71CE) that he seemingly foretells.

In Matthew, Jesus praises a Roman centurion's "faith" above that of ANY Jew, including presumably, his own disciples. That's right -- every single Jew is inferior, according to Jesus. (Not much of a "Jew," was he?)

Consider, as well, the role of the denying, betraying, doltish and backstabbing disciples, according to the Gospels. Judas seems to literally be called a "Sicarii" (Iscariot), i.e., a Jewish rebel. His name is "Judas." He betrays Jesus to his great enemies. Who are these? The Jewish authorities, not the Romans, who convict him of religious offenses against the Jews and who try to convince Pilate to have Jesus crucified.

But Pilate can find no fault in the accused and is only convinced by the Jewish mob to crucify Christ, washing his hands of the mess when the Jews, according to Matthew, call for Jesus' blood to be upon them and their descendants alone.

How odd that the icon of Jewish nationalism and warfare and religious zealotry -- the "Messiah" of the rebels' expectations Himself -- should have been such a peace-loving, anti-Mosaic, tax-paying, centurion loving, pro-Roman kinda guy, creating a "new" religion, a "rebuilt temple," which annihilates Jewish exceptionalism and sectarianism at the root. And all during the First Century, no less, the time of messianic Jewish rebellion. Hmm.

Of course, if the Gospels are to be believed, then why should St. Paul have ever come into open conflict with Peter and James -- and, it seems, every other Christian leader who came before him -- over something so basic to the Gospels' account as the issue of whether Christians need to obey the Mosaic Law? This is exactly what the Letter to the Galatians says was happening, much to the distress of later pious Christians, like St. Jerome.

Shouldn't those who knew Jesus have been closer to his original message? And even if they did all somehow start ignoring every distinctive element of Jesus' teachings immediately after his execution (even as they died for his new faith?!), then why didn't Paul simply respond to his "Jewish Christian" predecessors with some of those examples from the Gospels of Jesus' anti-Mosaic teachings and deeds? That would have surely won the argument, right? Why does Paul insist that his message came to him directly from personal revelation, and no previous human authority whatever?

Doesn't it make more sense to see Paul -- whose "mission," he tells us, was specifically to the "Gentiles" where such issues as circumcision and Kosher diet would naturally first arise -- as the author of the anti-Mosaic features of the Gospels? Shouldn't we take Paul at his word?

We know that the Gospels were written after Paul's letters and were deeply influenced by them.

It has become clear to me that the Gospels were written by Pauline Christians to prove Paul correct through their version of Jesus' bio.

Who were those "Jewish Christians" who came before Paul? They were strict adherents to the Mosaic Law -- like the author of the Letter ascribed to James, and the the authors of the sectarian documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls -- and the rebels themselves. They were xenophobes and sectarians.

See, if the historical Jesus was really as he was depicted in the Gospels, then the Romans would not have nailed him to a cross -- they would have given him a job.

And the Jews would not have needed an order from Pilate to kill this anti-Semite -- they simply would have stoned the blaspheming Jesus of the Gospels themselves.

Nope, I'm willing to bet that if a "Jesus" was ever actually crucified, such a man was a xenophobic, political rebel and religious zealot, willing to die for the Mosaic Law -- and not a pro-Roman, Gentile-loving pacifist, distinctly opposed to Jewish purity laws.

It was the Dead Sea Scrolls that had to be hidden from the Romans, while the Gospels survived without a hitch, pacifying messianic rebels and Jewish slaves across the empire, until, at last, it became the empire's official creed, an engineered religion, created by some of the finest political and religious "engineers" of all time.


Ted Keer's picture

So long as the Brandens had nothing to do with it! Smiling

I will be interested in reading it. Again, I have to apologize for jumping into this thread head first without checking. I am in the process of moving, am on dialup, was taking a break by browsing, and thought my eyse were deceiving me.

I did enjoy hearing the Aramaic in the Gibson film, and was surprised how much I could make out, given my almost total ignorance of the Semitic languages. I too was the only person not weeping while watching the film. Had there been any redeeming or spiritual message to the film I might have actually been sympathetic. But the subject was literally the passion - suffering - and nothing else. We didn't even get to see him descend into hell!


And James, do be aware that I have not been on this list that long, and have not backread threads before my arrival, so as with the PARc thread or threads, my ignorance of their content is simply due to my not having been here at the time, not because of any unwillingness to read the subject matter.

Are you aware Ted...

Olivia's picture

that James Valliant is writing a book on the origins of Christianity and the New Testament? Some of us are waiting in excruciating anticipation for it to be published. Smiling

As for The Passion, I agree, yawn yawn. When I saw it, an asian girl next to me was weeping hysterically (most annoying). I was thinking if Jesus stumbles and falls over ONE MORE BLOODY TIME - I'll kill him myself!

Okay, that Seneca could have

Ted Keer's picture

Okay, that Seneca could have written such a play seems plausible. But the Gospels themselves belong to no previously attested genre of writing, contradict themselves and each-other, are written with pro- and anti- Jewish and Roman biases, and the canonical books are not necessarily the most "historical" if one can use such a word.

I have read extensively in this area, including most of the non-canonical gospels and the fragments, and biblical criticism by many authors, mostly non-believers and also Geza Vermes, a jewish convert who claims Jesus as a rabbi. A.N. Wilson's speculative works on Jesus and Paul are quite good. I am not quite sure what James means by saying that the Gospels are Roman propaganda.

I'll have to beg some time to read and re-read this thread at length. Let me just say that the Gospel of Thomas is my favorite, and that I am quite sure that Suetonius wrote I, Claudius. Smiling

Ted diddly-tid-tad Teddy

Oh, and I was terribly disappointed by "The Passion" as the Latin was spoken with a terrible Church-Italian accent, and there was no content other than torture-torture-toture.

Teddy Ted-Ted

Olivia's picture

Not Seneca writing gospels, but Seneca writing a play that the writers of the gospels clutched onto to further their agenda.


James S. Valliant's picture

A relationship between Seneca and Paul is the issue -- not merely an ideological connection, which cannot be credibly denied. Even this is plausible, given Paul's apparently high-level connections at Nero's court. I am not yet convinced that it is demonstrated, however, or that this "correspondence" is authentic. On this issue, let me suggest that the text of those letters is the best evidence...

And, Ted, Seneca was dead before the Gospels, as we possess them, even existed.

However, the Gospels are unhistorical Roman propaganda.

Surely this is a Joke?

Ted Keer's picture

Seneca writing Gospels? This is almost as absurd as saying that God put fossils in the Rocks in a prefromed Earth to fool the non-believers.

I suppose Aquinas wrote the Q*r'an?

Please tell me this is a joke.

Seneca the Stoic

Olivia's picture

Seneca was a minister (and before that tutor) to the Emperor Nero (who was in power when the Jewish war broke out.) Seneca's own ideas are a mystical variety of Stoicism. Jerome, the famous translator of the Bible into Latin, includes Seneca among his list of the important non-Christian "writers in the history of the Church." [J.Valliant]

Jesus' teachings in the gospels are also a mystical variety of Stoicism... "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." In contrast to Pilate's Skepticism... "But what is truth?"

Then later the famous words from Pilate. "Do you not understand that I have the power to release you or to crucify you?" To which it could be argued that Jesus responds politically, "You would have no power over me had it not been given to you from above [Caesar], for this reason he who delivered me up to you has the greater sin".

If Seneca and Pilate were friends, or even if Seneca and Claudia Procula were friends, the happenings in Judea would've served as great material for a topical play back in Rome or Alexandria (where I think Seneca fled from Calligula) to highlight in dramatic form the differences between Stoics (idealists) and Skeptics (pragmatists).


James S. Valliant's picture

And that abyss is looking back, too.

Rob Diego's picture

Yes, of course...but I it find interesting that, if this theory is true, Seneca is a source for Christianity that few had considered and it may explain the literary qualities and dramatic beauty of the Gospels. It still doesn't answer the question of whether Jesus actually lived or not, but it connects Christianity, even more strongly to the Roman court. It also makes one wonder if the letters between Paul and Seneca were indeed genuine because Christians have posited for centuries that they could not be genuine since Christianity was "persecuted" by Nero. I agree with you, the Atwill book is quite fascinating. As for Eisenmann, I find his book interesting too. In fact, he has written a testimonial on Atwill's book to the effect that if it is partially true, "we are looking into the abyss."


James S. Valliant's picture

Yes, thank you.


Bill Visconti's picture

You wrote:

I remain convinced, however, that the sources of the Gospels were numerous than Seneca.

Did you mean:

I remain convinced, however, that the sources of the Gospels were [more] numerous than Seneca.


James S. Valliant's picture

Thanks for the link. The Atwill material you mention, as I indicated below, is even more fascinating. As I have said, and as Prof. Eisenman has shown, the Gospels were the product of minds at the Imperial court -- not rural Palestine. I remain convinced, however, that the sources of the Gospels were more numerous than Seneca.

Seneca and Christianity

Rob Diego's picture

I think we are missing the point that Claudia made regarding Seneca and his possible role in the development of the New Testament. There is a website that I've read recently that theorizes that Seneca's play Nazarenus was indeed the "Passion of the Christ" so to speak. ( These authors Livio C. Stecchini & Jan Sammer speculate that several viewers of the play could have been writing their impressions of it and could therefore have been responsible for the different Gospel versions. The book that is on the website shows how the Bible versions could match a Roman drama and represents how the Bible passion elements comport with Seneca's theatrical principles from his other plays and Roman stagecraft. The upshot is that Nazarenus could indeed have been the source for the passion story of Jesus.
Another interesting speculation made by an author named Joseph Atwill (Caesar's Messiah is that Christianity in whole was invented as propaganda by the Flavian family (Vespasian, Titus, Domitian) in order to prove to the Roman Senate that Vespasian was indeed a God. It would seem to me that Seneca's play, if it was essentially the story of the "Passion" could have been used as the basis of a pre-existent prophet that foretold the coming of Seneca and the destruction of the Temple. As they were trying to find propaganda to validate the Vespasian deity claim, someone could have tried to look up the original play by Seneca and found that no copies could be found. So instead, Titus may have told his staff to have some people write everything they could remember about the play and then these versions, complete with some new material about "the son of man" (Titus) could have been read to the Senate to support Titus' claim that his father was God and that he was the son of God. These "remembrances" coming from a number of different witnesses could then have become Christianity's "sacred" Gospel. So you see, Gibson's "Passion" is (theoretically) a "remembrance" of Seneca's play. So Gibson in his movie may have actually been resurrecting a play by the Roman Seneca...which would explain all of the anti-Semitism of the Bible...the Passion is anti-Semitic because the Jews had to be blamed for their own defeat in the Jewish Wars. (See Josephus also) Gibson's comment then, if all of this is true, that the Bible cannot be anti-Semitic is false.


l's picture



James S. Valliant's picture

Jewish thought was evolving in many ways and directions, all on its own. Take the philosopher Philo of the First Century, integrating Jewish, Platonic, and Stoic thought. Take the emerging rabbinic wisdom of Hillel of the century earlier. Or, take the Dead Sea Scrolls sectarians and their "purist" movement.

Paul and the Gospel writers wrought a revolutionary change -- including the religion's very relation to the Mosaic law -- with which none of these others can compare. This was major bend in the road, and one with enormous and convenient political significance to Rome.

Since the discoveries at Nag Hammadi about sixty years ago, we have come to appreciate the diversity among Christians in the Roman world much better. The concern at Nicaea was this very diversity -- an "official" religion would need a single, "official" creed. The New Testament canon did not become established until some decades later. But there was little need to make Christianity "more Roman" or "more friendly to empire" at this point. That work was already in the can and made the work of folks like Eusebius and others relatively easy.


LWHALL's picture

I am trying to fix a timeline on what you are writing concerning the Roman influence on(or outright manipulation of) Christianity and the New Testaments.

Do you believe that this started intentionally with Paul(reference his being a Roman spy. A thought I contemplated after reading some more material on this several years ago), or was it more of a gradual usurpation of the religion over time?

Could this be traced back, and could it's roots have originated from Constantine's rule and his influence on the Council of Nicaea where books were possibly intentionally corrupted or picked and chosen according to that which would advance not only the Churches' authority, but secular control over Roman citizens and subjects? A joining of the two so to speak.


More Persecution

James S. Valliant's picture

On the question of Christian persecution, let me direct your attention to a letter that Pliny the Younger wrote to the Emperor Trajan in 111 CE when Pliny was governor of an eastern province. Pliny asks for official policy on the subject of Christians, declaring his uncertainty with respect to how to deal with the problem. He is confused as to the punishments to be meted out and the distinctions to be made among them. He asks whether the mere "name" of "Christian" should be enough to warrant execution, or if he should require proof of the "crimes associated with the name." His own practice, he reports, has been to give the accused three chances to recant, and if he still proves obstinate, execution will be ordered.

Pliny notes with alarm that such charges are becoming increasingly widespread and, curiously, of "increasing variety." To his dismay, these include accusations against Roman citizens and women. Some admit that they had ceased being "Christians" two or more years previously -- some say twenty years earlier (c.91 CE, the time of Domitian's crackdown within his own family.) Some torture-investigation of "deaconesses" seems to have convinced Pliny that the cult was "degenerate," but also rather benign.

What proves a proper recantation for Pliny? Making "offerings of wine and incense" to the current emperor's image! Pliny seeks the emperor's further guidance on policy.

This appears to roughly mark the moment when our Pauline Christians are first showing up on the Roman radar (the earliest references in Roman histories in Tacitus and Seutonius will occur within a few years of Pliny's letter, and this letter is the first certain mention of Christianity by a Roman.) Note that these accusations involve women and Roman citizens, many of whom seem to have been Christianized during the Flavian era. Let me also suggest that Pliny would not need the emperor's advice on how to deal with Jewish rebels.

This letter also shows that the initial problem is focused upon emperor-worship in the era following the demise of the Flavian dynasty -- and that it appears as a baffling new problem coming from what should be loyal Romans. It must be relatively new, since Pliny is uncertain and needs official guidance, i.e., there has been no clear policy in the past.


James S. Valliant's picture

See my comments on Nero and the Fire of Rome in 64 CE below. But, no, Nero was struggling with messianic Jewish rebels, not the kindly apostolic figures of Peter and Paul from Quo Vadis.


eg's picture

I assume this stuff is out of your new book, which I'm now looking forward to. Didn't Nero begin the first general persecution of the Christians?

Here's what this all seems to add up to, if the things you are saying are true: The Roman Empire never really fell; it's with us today still--and still headquartered in Rome.



James S. Valliant's picture

I will assume, Brant, that you mean later than the First Century. As I've already said, these "Christians" were the Jewish rebels of that time.

After the First Century, however, after the Flavians had gone and no emperors could claim to be the Jewish messiah, the continued belief in Christianity, even Pauline Christianity, made it impossible for these Christians to worship the emperor and the Roman state deities. See, the emperor was no longer the Jewish messiah, the Christ, the second coming -- emperor-worship was no longer a form of "Christianity," as Josephus implies that Vespasian's worship had become.

But Pauline Christianity was older than the Flavian Cult and would survive it. Only now, though, Brant, did it become political treason, and only, in effect, because it posed a threat to any new order of emperors. Notice how nicely Roman emperors after Constantine used and lived with Christianity. The Byzantine emperors found in Christianity the basis for transforming the Roman office of "emperor" into a divinely appointed monarch, and, once more, imperium and Christianity fit hand in glove.


James S. Valliant's picture

What's funny is that this whole idea had occurred to me, quite independently, during my own studies of Josephus some twenty-four years ago (Casey helped me work out the details, and he can vouch for it.) That these three books are coming together to say what I've just outlined, has made me feel like either Leibnitz or Newton... or should it be Darwin or Wallace? But this synchronicity also persuades me that we're all on to something here.

Let me suggest STRONGLY that you start with Eisenman and then move on to Atwill.

This brings me to Claudia's question. Eisenman makes the best case, and the clearest one, that the Jewish-Christians we've been speaking of here ARE the Essenes who wrote the sectarian documents among the Dead Seas Scrolls. However, in order to see the Gospels as Roman propaganda, one does not have to agree with Eisenman about the case he makes on this score. He has the "Teacher of Righteousness" being "James the Just," i.e., the brother of Jesus, and Paul the notorious "Liar." for those familiar with the Scrolls. I must say that his case is persuasive -- more persuasive than arguments made from the results of carbon-14 tests on the materials themselves, which have broad ranges and only tell us the age of the materials, in any event. Textual analysis is the surest means of accurate dating. On this point I agree with Eisenman. I am still deciding whether I agree that we can identify the characters in history as he suggests.

But, whatever the truth of this -- and whatever the actual age of the Scrolls -- Eisenman makes an overwhelming case for the ideological connections between the Scrolls community, and what must have been the Jewish-Christian community of James. The use of language and imagery in the Scrolls is given a perfect inversion in the writings of Paul, for example.

As to Atwill, he also attempts to make the case that the four Gospels were written as a unit, that certain information can only be gleaned by reading such things as the four variant accounts of the discovery of Jesus's resurrection in sequence.

Again, whether one agrees with this argument of his or not, the reproduction of Titus's activities in Jerusalem in the stories of Jesus's final days there is also more than coincidental.

Carotta shows that Christianity, in effect, supplanted, absorbed and took over the cult of the Divine Julius in the Eastern Mediterranean in the second half of the First Century. He demonstrates the uncanny parallels between Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ, that their cultic imagery was more than coincidentally similar, and that worship of Christ simply took over from the worship of this Roman state deity. Again, one need not agree with his conclusion that Jesus = Julius Caesar, to see the emerging forest in these trees.

Recall that the Flavians are establishing the next dynasty after the Julio-Claudian. The Gospels are specifically drawing parallels between Jesus and both Julius Caesar and Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem, the son of Vespasian, whom Josephus, the Jew, called the true messiah, or "Christ," of prophecy. The important Roman historian Tacitus reports that Vespasian performed healing miracles identical to ones performed by Jesus in the Gospels. Even events in the life of Jospehus, Vespasian's official historian, parallel events in the lives of both Jesus and Paul as recounted in the New Testament. If we are to believe Church tradition, the near-kinsman of Titus and Vespasian, Flavius Clemens (or should we call him St. Clement?), will become a First Century Pope -- his wife's tomb, the oldest Christian catacomb.

Let me suggest that a systematic examination of the relationship between Christianity's origins and the Imperial Cult of the Flavians is long overdue.

Then why did the Romans feed

eg's picture

Then why did the Romans feed the Christians to the lions?


(Because the lions were hungry?)

Christianity as Bi-Polar

Bill Visconti's picture

From a review of "Ceaser's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus" at Amazon:

"What did Titus do? He created a religion that was intended to domesticate the 'wild animal' that was Militant Judaism, the Zealot/Sicarii movement that sought to revivify the spirit of the Maccabeans, who succeeded in overthrowing Antiochus Epiphanes' pagan forces. The new religion -- a New Judaism -- would have a 'savior' who would preach SUBSERVIENCE to the ruling authorities (Rome). If it accomplished that, then that would be reason enough for him to do it."

In reading the reviews for all three books that you suggested I see a common theme which is best expressed by the above quote (although not all authors attribute it to Titus). This is truly fascinating. A reviewer mentioned that the Romans were well adept at creating new religions or religious propaganda; just think of Virgil. So its really not that outrageous now that I think about it. I am going to read all three books some time soon especially Atwill's book. It sounds the best.

I have often thought that Christianity has had a "bi-polar" dimension to it; militant Old Testament on the one hand and pacifist New Testament on the other. This thesis (that the NT was a pacifistic creation of the Romans) would explain alot. Thanks so much for bringing my attention to this.

It does seem like a very

Olivia's picture

It does seem like a very feasible idea and more akin to how movements do actually gather momentum throughout time.

James, do you give any credit to the idea that Jesus might have come from within the Dead Sea sect? If they were the Essenes, they considered themselves aristocratic monastics and were loyal to their own Temple. I remember Barbara Thiering's book Jesus the Man examined this and concluded they were also very anti Rome, hence the crucifixions by Pilate.

Still New

James S. Valliant's picture

This is not a dominant idea among academics -- yet. However, from various perspectives, a host of scholars are now starting to zero in on this idea. Let me repeat my recommended reading list on this. Let me also repeat that one does not need to agree with every aspect of the big ideas presented in these works, but one can detect the truth beginning to emerge:

JAMES, THE BROTHER OF JESUS, Robert Eisenman, 1997

CAESAR'S MESSIAH, Joseph Atwill, 2005

JESUS WAS CAESAR, Francesco Carotta, 1999


Bill Visconti's picture

"A universal inclusiveness of all, women, slaves, etc., with no need for adult circumcision in order to convert, etc., and no sense of needing to preserve themselves as "God's chosen people," or pressing necessity to keep "separate and apart," the ideas motivating Jewish purity laws in the First Century."

Professor Lewis said something very similar. He stated that the inclusiveness of Christianity was a very important factor for its rise, especially the inclusiveness of women. He gave examples of Agustine's mother and, I believe, Constantine's wife and mother. Also, it held out salvation for everyone in another realm during an era when life was so harsh that most people literally had no hope.

I often thought that it was just a historical accident that it was Christianity rather than some other sect that came to dominate Rome. But I see now that it may not have been so accidental. Ayn Rand argued that so long as a culture was free the best, most rational ideas would have a chance to win. But perhaps the opposite of that played out in Rome. As the culture plunged into unreason and despotism, it was the most consistently irrational ideas that won. And Christianity was really the culmination of centuries of the irrationality and selflessness of ancient thought.


Bill Visconti's picture

"Imagine a leading Muslim cleric declaring that "Jihad" means peace with the West, and adopting American ways, since, after all, an American marine, say, has "greater Muslim faith than any Muslim.""

So the Romans in effect were creating a moderate Judaism the way many today would love to see a moderate Islam. That *is* fascinating.

"SOME form of Platonic dualism, drenched in altruism, would probably have taken over, even if Christianity hadn't come along."

You're not the first Objectivist to say this. I believe Andrew Bernstein said someting similar (sorry I don't have a referrence). I remember being skeptical when I first heard it, but the more I think about it I think that argument has alot of merrit.

Dr. Lewis stated that Plato was the first philosopher to take the two dominant philosophic strains - subjectivism and intrincism - and integrate them and that all subsequent Greek (and ancient thought) was Platonic in essence. He argued that Aristotle was not fully able to identify the objective and that he was unfortunately interpreted in a Platonic way. So it would be inevitable that Platonic dualism would come to dominate.

And the Romans were steeped in altruism since their founding (how could it really have been different?) Even during the best days of their Republic (the ere of Affricanus and so forth), duty was the ideal. Granted, in a more benevolent form than it would take later, but it was still there. Since alturism was never challenged, it had to ultimately manifest itself in an undiluted form. So I can see how Christianity is not really that big a mystery. It blends all the ideological elements of the ancient world in one tidy little package.

"In any event, it's not the altruism that the Romans gave us here, by any means, but only this particular combination of especially intensely servile and submissive altruism with these particular political trappings."

You are defintely selling me on this. Is the concept of Christianity as a Roman invention a popular one in academia? Or anywhere for that matter?

Let Me Add

James S. Valliant's picture


In addition to the fact that Jewish monotheism is easily harmonized with neo-Platonism, Christianity's success was the product of its combination of two features:

1. The monotheistic intolerance of Judaism which said "our god -- and ONLY our God" -- and which would ruthlessly move to suppress any other form of worship when it came to power (while polytheists practice was to simply let the pantheon grow or to identify a new god with some previous one);
2. A universal inclusiveness of all, women, slaves, etc., with no need for adult circumcision in order to convert, etc., and no sense of needing to preserve themselves as "God's chosen people," or pressing necessity to keep "separate and apart," the ideas motivating Jewish purity laws in the First Century.

Christianity said, in effect: "EVERYONE is welcome to worship our God. He's the ONLY god -- so, they better... OR ELSE!"

Now THAT was a formula for success.

Religion shares a common thread with racism...

Marcus's picture that they are both based upon mysticism.

That is why nearly every religion is explicitly racist or nationalistic or fascist - including Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Maybe Buddhism is the one exception in that it has dispensed with the need for racism pure and simple, by taking mysticism to it's logical outcome and advocating full blown nihilism. In some ways, this makes it one of the most evil, soul-destroying religions around.

Thank You

James S. Valliant's picture


Yes, that's a fair summary. And, yes, the unknown author(Drunk of the Gospels were, even more than Paul, writing, in effect, Roman war propaganda.

As for the "real" Jesus, if any scholar can make a convincing case for having found the authentic words of Jesus, he has himself performed a miracle greater than walking on water.

It's been 100 years now since Albert Schweitzer declared the "quest for the historical Jesus" hopeless. This hasn't stopped folks from trying. One value of the Jesus Seminar and their product, THE FIVE GOSPELS -- with its color-coded Gospels, claiming to assess the actual likelihood of whether an historical Jesus said the thing he is quoted as saying in the NT -- is to demonstrate how little even those scholars think is authentic. Interestingly, what they think are the "authentic" Jesus sayings are the pithy, memorable stuff, likely to be handed down by oral tradition with fidelity. But, this is the very stuff which is most pro-Roman and anti-Mosaic, in nearly every case. Sayings of others, like John the Baptist, are also probably ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels.

So, you ask, was Jesus engaged in "reform" nonetheless? No human being, with the evidence we currently possess, can even tell you WHAT a "real" Jesus actually said.

As for the connection to current events -- the parallels are fascinating. Imagine a leading Muslim cleric declaring that "Jihad" means peace with the West, and adopting American ways, since, after all, an American marine, say, has "greater Muslim faith than any Muslim." Isn't that what Bush does himself when he reminds us that "Islam means 'peace'"? That, in effect, is what the New Testament did in the First Century.

As for altruism, John Lewis is absolutely right. There is no aspect of Christian altruism, indeed, no aspect of Christian ethics which is unique or original to it.

Let me repeat something I often say in these kind of discussions. Both mysticism in general and neo-Platonism in particular were on the rise in the Roman empire. SOME form of Platonic dualism, drenched in altruism, would probably have taken over, even if Christianity hadn't come along. Just look, for example, at Seneca's work (mentioned earlier on this thread.)

In fact, our Christianity bears more signs of its Roman, pagan nature in fundamental respects, than any Jewish one. Jesus's self-conscious, philosophical acceptance of an unjust death paints him more like Socrates than anything in the Old Testament. He is a Greek demigod, a "man-God," son of divinity and virgin, wholly unprecedented in Jewish thought, but common among the pagans.

On the other hand, nearly every aspect of Jesus's moral wisdom also has precedent in previous Jewish thought, like the golden rule, or even "love your enemies." (In light of the Dead Seas Scrolls sectarians' dictum, "Hate your enemies," it is however noteworthy.)

In any event, it's not the altruism that the Romans gave us here, by any means, but only this particular combination of especially intensely servile and submissive altruism with these particular political trappings.

An Attempt to Sumarize

Bill Visconti's picture

I'm new to the forum. I have been reading this thread with great interest.

James, is the following an accurate sumation of your essential argument: 1) The New Testament was heavily influenced by if not outright created by Roman agents (who exactly other than Paul? M,M,L & J?) in an attempt to subvert Jewish zealotry. 2) The historical Jesus himself would not have held such beliefs as are ascribed to him in the Gospels (Was he involved with a reformation of Judaism nonetheless?). 3)The New Testament was then part of a propaganda war against a fundamentalist religious movement which was involved with insurrections throughout the Roman Empire during the 1st Century AD.

Also I would like to list some thoughts and questions on this. It seems that what Rome was going through with the Mosaic Jews of the 1st Century AD is similar to what the West is going through today with Islamists and their world-wide Jihad. Rome ultimately crushed this Jewish Rebellion militarily, but I never until reading your posts thought they undertook an ideological campaign as well.

However, if you are right it seems that their campaign backfired as the new religion they helped create ended up being the nail in their coffin. Lastly, I just listened to Professor John Lewis' "Ideas and the Fall of Rome" CD and he makes the argument that all of the altruistic essentials of Christianity were present in the Roman world (as well as the Greek) well before the time of Jesus. Is it too conspiracy theory-ish perhaps to posit a Roman plan to pacify Judaism. Couldn't it [The New Testament] just have been the logical outgrow of the altruistic philosophies of the time?

Thanks for such thought provoking material.


James S. Valliant's picture

According the standard text of Josephus that we possess, the Jewish historian working for the emperor Vespasian, no less, simply says that "Jesus was the Christ." or "Messiah." Period. This is the text as Eusebius quotes it. Eusebius uses this text to prove that the Jewish defeat was punishment for killing Jesus.

However, Origen, the earlier Christian writer, also makes extensive and sympathetic use of Josephus. He tells us, however, that Josephus, says all kinds of things to support us Christians, but "this same author, although he did not believe in Jesus as Christ... sought for the cause of the destruction of the temple."

However, Origen tells us that it was the martyrdom of "James, the brother Jesus," c. 61CE, that Josephus had identified as the proximate cause for the destruction of the temple, having so inflamed the populace as to start the war. We have no such text ascribing the death of James as "the cause" which Origen is reporting as matter of fact from Josephus.

This implies that:

1. The Josephus text that Origen had did not call Jesus "the Christ" or "the messiah" as the current version would have it -- at least this portion is Christian interpolation;
2. There is more reference to James, Jesus' brother, and the "causes of the war," in Josephus which is missing;
3. The references to James, "the brother of Jesus," are venerable;
4. On the other hand, Origen would not have made such extensive and sympathetic use of Josephus had he been either silent (the problem you first raised) or derogatory towards Jesus;
5. In any event a reference to "X, the brother of Y," probably in itself implies a mention of Y, for Josephus writing in the first century could not assume his audience would simply know about him.

Bear in mind that such Christian "tampering" with a well-known text is not likely to have occurred prior to Eusebius, in any event, since the empire did not sanction the religion until Constantine.

This is just part of my case. The textual references surrounding the Jesus mention in Josephus also give us important clues. But, I'll leave that where it is for now.

Thank you for your comment, James.

mcohen's picture

You wrote:
"However, from the references by the Christian writer Origen (c.185-254CE, probably the most important Christian writer before Augustine), I am convinced that Josephus had written -- something -- about Jesus."

Can you elaborate on the references by Origen? Do they indicate what was written by Josephus?


Boaz the Boor's picture

Very, very cool.

I'm looking forward to reading one or two of the books you mentioned. You have very rudely intruded on my reading list with your current research interests. Smiling


James S. Valliant's picture

"Christian" martyrdom began with the fields and streets of crosses the Romans made out of messianic Jews in the First Century. As Josephus tells us, it was the messianic Jews, specifically, who were in rebellion (he says that messianic prophecies are what most inspired the rebellion.)

A messianic Jew of the First Century who is fighting Rome would look more like Paul's rhetorical opponents in Galatians, like James and Kephas (Pater?), right?

Paul himself, if you read the New Testament carefully, seems to be in Rome's "protective custody," not under arrest at all, if his own report of his activities gives us any clue. The dangers from which he repeatedly fled are from the "Jews." Roman authorities appear favorably impressed by him. Under "arrest" at Rome, he has full access to those "in Caesar's household," can engage in missionary activities among the "Praetorian Guard," etc. Ominously the Book of Acts doesn't tell us how things went for him in Rome and we must rely on Catholic "tradition" for his actual fate of martyrdom.

Paul tells us has a kinsman named "Herodion." He tells us that he is a Roman citizen -- something quite unusual for an eastern Mediterranean Jew of the period, but not for a member of the Herodian family -- who had all been made citizens. His imperial connections are impressive if they included Epaphroditus, something else he says.

Paul may well have been a Roman agent. At first he is a "Jew" who "persecutes" the "Christians," obviously meaning the pre-Pauline variety, then "converts" into a messianic believer, and, finally, from within, generates ideological conflict with the "Christian" leadership of James and Peter.

Now, Christian "persecution" by Rome.

Outbreaks of Jewish "disturbances" all over the empire were increasingly common throughout the first century. Famously, the philosopher Philo visited Rome as part of the Jewish delegation sent to the court of Caligula to settle such a disturbance in Alexandria, Eqypt (which had a significant Jewish population.)

In the reign of the emperor Claudius (41-54CE), the Jews in Rome itself were expelled because of the disturbances caused by one "Chrestus," according to the early second century Roman historian Suetonius. These cannot be OUR "Christians" yet it is almost certainly a garbled reference to messianic Jews. If Jesus was crucified around 30CE, there simply could not have been enough of his followers in Rome to have caused such problems -- added to this, Paul is only just beginning his missionary activity. Yet, it's Jews and "Chrestus."

In the context of this same jumble of Roman confusion, we are presented with Tacitus's famous story of Nero blaming the "Christians" for the great fire of Rome in 64CE. Again, far more plausible a scapegoat -- indeed, far more plausible a culprit than either Pauline Christians -- or Nero himself -- are messianic Jewish rebels -- the war in Judea would break out two years later, 66CE.

Moving on to the "persecution" under Domitian in the early 90s CE. This appears to have been focused within his own family. It seems that the next dynastic heir, one Flavius Clemens and his wife, Domitilla, were accused of adopting "Jewish ways" and being "atheists" (what a monotheist must look like to a polytheist.) This may all be a cover for the fact that by this means, Clemens was claiming the "messianic" mantel of his Jew-conquering relations, Vespasian and Titus, and had, thus become a political threat to Domitian.

The odd twist to this one is that Clemens is said by Catholic tradition to be one of the earliest Bishops of Rome, i.e., Popes -- that he is "St. Clement of Rome," the author of one of the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings. Added to this curiosity is the fact that his wife "St. Domtilla's" tomb is the oldest Christian catacomb in Rome.

The persecution of "Christians," in the first century or so, was persecution of Jewish messianic rebels. It is not plausible that our New Testament or Pauline "Christians" were yet numerous enough to be a threat or cause for concern to Rome in the slightest.

If they read the Gospels, why would the Romans have been so keen to want to persecuted them, anyway?

The Pauline Christians

LWHALL's picture

were said to have heavily persecuted not only the followers of James who wished to remain faithful to Jewish tradition, but many others including the Gnostics.

Gnosticism would have been a threat to the Universal(Catholic) Church due to it's tolerant views of women and other religions as well as it's belief that Salvation could be attained through inner knowledge which would have cut the hierarchy of the church out of the mix. They were eradicated by church heresy hunters who were aided by the Roman army.

I look forward to reading the book James suggested.


Well, it's certainly not

Boaz the Boor's picture

Well, it's certainly not something that originated with the popular sects. But there were Jews who preached renunciation (including celibacy) and monastic living, like the Essenes. The question is whether there may have been some heterodox "home-grown" pacifism that could stem from such beliefs.

Wouldn't Jewish persecution of Christians be motive enough, for later Christians (those of the decades preceding the final expulsion of Jews from Palestine in the 130s)? And how do you square the hypothesis of Roman authorship with all the references to Roman persecution (e.g., Paul abused and arrested, then executed along with Peter)?


James S. Valliant's picture

Yes, I am saying that the Gospels are Roman propaganda. They are just too anti-Jewish to be products of the independent evolution of Jewish thought.

Both Jesus of the Gospels and Paul insist that we obey the government that rules us (in their actual cases, that is the Roman Empire), as God himself has instituted and ordained it, i.e. treason is a heinous sin. Paul repeatedly exhorts slaves to obey their masters -- and to obey with sincerity. Jesus tells us to pay our taxes and praises a Roman centurion's faith above any Jews'. Then, there's the Pilate episode... and "Judas"...

This was not home-grown Jewish anything.

James, thank you for one of

Boaz the Boor's picture

James, thank you for one of the most informative and thought-provoking Solo articles I've had the chance to read. I've studied this period of Roman history, though never with much of an emphasis on the Jewish Wars.

Just to be clear, are you saying that early Christian doctrine was designed partly as a covert attempt, by the Romans themselves, to stifle Jewish nationalism?

I think it's clear that Western Christianity is a product of Paul and Augustine, not Jesus himself, and that early doctrine reflected a violent split from Judaism. But did Christians need Roman help to convict the Jews for the unprecedented crime of Deicide?


James S. Valliant's picture

Knowing what you read, I'll bet you've already seen this... but the learned Dr. Joyce Brothers herself is quoted by the American tabloid, THE INQUIRER, as follows:

"We are much more likely to tell our own feelings when we are drunk... Some people become enraged and some people get nicer when they are drunk, but what you say when you are drunk comes closer to your true feelings. Sometimes when we are out of control, some of the things we don't even know we feel will come to the surface."

Do you think Mel knew?


LWHALL's picture

"....Jew Muslim or Christian they all think that incest is god's way and don't challenge the bibles situation where Adam and Eve have children and then who do they breed with?,each other!!!,why can all these moralistic wankers not find the balls to say incest is wrong!."

Would you point out exactly where in the Bible it talks of Adam and Eve's children commiting incest?


Marcus and Jim

Kenny's picture

Back after a day off for my birthday and my Dad's operation. The thread seems to have on since my post. To keep it short, I will just say that I am in total agreement with your comments on Mr Gibson and Hollywood.

BTW, I love Mencken and Hazlitt too.


l's picture


Yes, But...

James S. Valliant's picture

There is likely to have been Christian tampering with the reference to Jesus in Josephus. However, from the references by the Christian writer Origen (c.185-254CE, probably the most important Christian writer before Augustine), I am convinced that Josephus had written -- something -- about Jesus. Eusebius, who came shortly after, is aware of the interpolation. The Christian forging can almost be pinpointed in time.

Far more noteworthy, though, is the fact that he said something. His mentions of James, the "brother of Jesus," and John the Baptist, however, appear genuine.

Josephus is the very first mention of Jesus in secular history. THAT is something for which we must account.

Josephus Flavius on Jesus

mcohen's picture

A strong argument against the historical existence of Jesus is the absence of any account of such a man in the writings of Josephus Flavius. Flavius was a thorough, meticulous historian who lived in the first Century A.D. As a Jew who defected to the Roman side Flavius should have had the inside knoweldge and the motivation to document the life of Jesus - had he existed. The single reference to Jesus in Flavius's entire corpus had been disputed as a later addition by someone else.

The real Jesus

Rex Wilkinson's picture

I believe there is a real account of Jesus's life it's called the book of Timothy and was never added to the bible because it didn't claim any miracles.One thing that amazes me about religion it doesn't matter Jew Muslim or Christian they all think that incest is god's way and don't challenge the bibles situation where Adam and Eve have children and then who do they breed with?,each other!!!,why can all these moralistic wankers not find the balls to say incest is wrong!.


James S. Valliant's picture

Scott, old man! Great to see you here!

For those who do not know this fellow, "DSL," he is a man of refined tastes and broad learning, a man as likely as anything to be perusing the Times Literary Supplement or back-issues of Encounter magazine in its glory days, for FUN, a connoisseur of Mencken, Henry Hazlitt, and anti-totalitarian writers everywhere.

I hope this means we'll be seeing you around! Why don't you post that Spinoza link you sent me earlier as a blog entry here?

Columbian-roast left-overtures

l's picture

Speaking of the Columbian quincentenary, see below the Grad*-is-father-to-the-Dad** take on the legacy of one "progressive" Chris by another...

*[Class of 1992]
**[Playing, as of 2002, in the Old(Left)-Timers'-Game, a "solitary man" among his desiccated Trotskyist comrades crowding the, er, Diamond on behalf of world revolution, in his post-9/11 resurgence of blood in anathematizing "Islamofascism" as once he had banana Republicans; the Scarlet Pimpernel of New Grub Street, in Hitch'ing his wagon (not that he'll ever find himself - hic! - *on* one...) to that rising star most *obliged* to his *noblesse* at any phase of History, might plead on his own behalf, "Is vanity fair?" No more than LIFE, we might add. Or any other hostage to FORTUNE let Luce upon the American newsstand periodically, viz., from TIME to TIME. And in attending M. Hitchens's post-Columbian Renaissance-faire joustabout below, keep in mind that his SPORT'S ILLUSTRATED, to wit, staff artists at THE NATION adorned its print version with a vessel C-worthy enough to hold the freethinking Anglo-American in steerage during his Middle Passage from crank to Yank.]

Remembering the column from upon its 1992 publication, I did an end-run around the pay-for-play NATIONal archives upon Googling it to the surface via a Marxist list; my attempt to retrieve another contemporary installment of Hitchens v Left on behalf of America's Ancient Mariner, this time with Alexander Cockburn as designated Judy to his Punch, plunged without trace unto Davy Jones' locker (er, "♫ we're too busy sinking/To pull anybody down ♫..."); I can only recall Hitchens's closing thrust: "Can it, Cocky."

Regarding those whose surnames rhyme with CO-burn (phonetic literalism
in Alexander's case always makes me wince in self-protective, flame-retarding phallophilia...but then the pen-is my tear, then the sword...), the *Primus Inter Pares* award goes to one Lucky Jim, and one only - and SMILE when you speak his name, pardner:

The biographer at the IMDb cannot be improved: "An amazing grin that put everyone at ease."

As to your reference to Cato the Elder, doesn't he go now by the name of Ed Crane? With David Boaz as Cato the Younger. To speak thus, though, would be to Institute a new thread...


Title: MINORITY REPORT , By: Hitchens, Christopher, Nation,
00278378, 10/19/92, Vol. 255, Issue 12

My old comrade David Dellinger, hero of the anti-imperialist movement,
telephoned the other day to tell me of the fast he was undertaking to
protest the celebration of racism, conquest and plunder that impended on
Columbus Day. I am as respectful of my elders as any ancestor-
worshiping Iroquois, and David has been to prison for his beliefs more
times than I have had hot dinners, but a hot dinner--with steak frites,
cheese and salad and a decent half bot. of something, all complete--was
what I urged him to go and have. Break your fast, old thing, I beseeched;
1492 was a very good year.

I can never quite decide whether the anti-Columbus movement is merely
risible or faintly sinister. It is risible in the same way that all movements
of conservative anachronism are risible, and reminds me of Evelyn
Waugh's complaint that he could never find a politician who would
promise to put the clock back. It is sinister, though, because it is an
ignorant celebration of stasis and backwardness, with an unpleasant
tinge of self-hatred.

Not long ago, another good man, Ted Solotaroff, sent me a book he had
helped edit called Black Hills/White Justice, by Edward Lazarus. This
details the long courtroom battle fought by various factions of the Sioux
to reclaim their rights in the mountains of South Dakota. You can guess
the story: treaties broken, lands filched, settlements put to the torch,
women and children vilely abused. And all of it done by the Sioux to the
Kiowa Indians, who had controlled the Black Hills before the Sioux got
there in 1814. Actually, the book deals mainly with the greed and
depredation of the palefaces, which is no doubt as it should be. But it is
honest enough to say that the Sioux did drive off the Kiowa, and it quotes
Chief Black Hawk saying candidly, "These lands once belonged to the
Kiowas and the Crows, but we whipped these nations out of them, and in
this we did what the white men do when they want the lands of the

This is only a micro-illustration of the absurdity of founding a claim of
right or justice on the idea of the indigenous. The Arawaks who were
done in by Columbus's sailors, the Inca, the Comanche and the rest
were not the original but only the most recent inhabitants. (Arizona
Indians refer cryptically to the Hohokam--"the people before"--who
populated that valley in advance of them.) Some advocates now take
nonsense and place it on stilts, referring to "Native Americans" and thus
employing (a) the most condescending colonial adjective for indigenes,
namely "native"; and (b) the one term the description is expressly
designed to repudiate, namely "American."

Even if the matter of who came "first" could be decided, it would be
pointless except as a means to devalue the claims of those--some
millions of Irish, English, German, Italian, Jewish and other refugee
workers--who migrated across the Atlantic many years after at least
some of the "natives" migrated across the Aleutian Island chain. How
can a sensibility that represents mass emigration and immigration as
mere conquest and settler colonialism dare to call itself "progressive"?
But those who view the history of North America as a narrative of
genocide and slavery are, it seems to me, hopelessly stuck on this
reactionary position. They can think of the Western expansion of the
United States only in terms of plague blankets, bootleg booze and dead
buffalo, never in terms of the medicine chest, the wheel and the railway.

One need not be an automatic positivist about this. But it does happen to
be the way that history is made, and to complain about it is as empty as
complaint about climatic, geological or tectonic shift. Not all changes
and victories are "progress." The Roman conquest and subjugation of
Britain was, I think, a huge advance because it brought the savage
English tribes within reach of Mediterranean (including Ptolemaic and
Phoenician as well as Greek and Latin) civilization, whereas the Norman
Conquest looks like just another random triumph of might.

The very dynasty that funded Columbus put an end to Andalusia in the
same year, and thus blew up the cultural bridge between the high
attainments of Islamic North Africa and Mesopotamia and the relative
backwardness of Castilian Christendom. Still, for that synthesis to have
occurred in the first place, creating the marvels of Cordoba and Granada,
wars of expansion and conversion and displacement had to be won and
lost. Reapportioning Andalusia according to "precedent" would be as
futile an idea as restoring Sioux rights that are only "ancestral" as far
back as 1814. The Sioux should be able to claim the same rights and
titles as any other citizen, and should be compensated for past injury.
That goes without saying. But the anti-Columbus movement is bored by
concepts of this kind, preferring to flagellate about original sin and
therefore, inevitably, to brood about the illusory counterpart to that
exploded concept--the Garden of Eden.

Forget it. As Marx wrote about India, the impact of a more developed
society upon a culture (or a series of warring cultures, since there was
no such nation as India before the British Empire) can spread aspects of
modernity and enlightenment that outlive and transcend the conqueror.
This isn't always true; the British probably left Africa worse off than they
found it, and they certainly retarded the whole life of Ireland. But it is
sometimes unambiguously the case that a certain coincidence of ideas,
technologies, population movements and politico-military victories leaves
humanity on a slightly higher plane than it knew before. The
transformation of part of the northern part of this continent into "America"
inaugurated a nearly boundless epoch of opportunity and innovation, and
thus deserves to be celebrated with great vim and gusto, with or without
the participation of those who wish they had never been born.

I feel that

Daniel Walden's picture

this occasion merits a few lines from Stephen Sondheim's "Hymn to Dionysos," from "The Frogs."

Out of wine comes truth;
Out of truth the vision clears,
And with vision there appears a grand design.
With the grand design, you can understand the world,
And when you understand the world, you need a lot more wine!

Religious Sensibilities

James S. Valliant's picture

One of the most revealing things Mr. Gibson has told interviewers is that his own wife -- not a Jew, but only a Protestant -- though being, in his opinion, morally superior to himself -- is nonetheless destined for hell, not being in a position to receive the sacraments and all.

The stereotype of the 19th century English-aristo-bad-guy...

Marcus's picture

is awful.

Yes and I was considering too that left-wing Hollwood film makers often have the evil wealthy American head of a multinational or large corporation instead of the upper class Englishman.

I am sure it could be combined too, a wealthy Jewish American head of a large multinational oil corporation who has aspirations to join the English upper class. Ouch!!! That is just pure evil incarnate Smiling

Mel's movies

Chris Cathcart's picture

I don't think I'd be able to bring myself to watch even Braveheart (the only movie with Mel I recall thinking well enough of to add to my DVD collection) again. Too distracting, the whole thing about, you know.

While I'd already seen Year of Living Dangerously (directed by the great Peter Weir) I wasn't paying close enough attention and it's in my Netflix queue for a repeat viewing. Looks like I'm just gonna have to take it out.

Then there's also Gallipoli, with the Weir/Mel duo. Damn, and that was a good movie, too.


James S. Valliant's picture

Exactly, LW. We really have to distinguish the "Jewish Christians,' like James (and, heck, how 'bout the Dead Seas Scrolls sectarians?), the more primordial variety of messianic Jew or "Christian" -- from the Pauline or "Gentile Christians." To Roman writers like Tacitus or Suetonius there would be little difference, but, to us, all the difference in the world. The Romans were to annihilate the zealous, "Jewish Christians," who must have been ideological leaders of the rebellion against Rome (and the real culprits behind the Great Fire of Rome in 64CE whom Nero -- correctly -- accused) in the wars of the first and second centuries. It is only the pro-Roman, "Gentile-Christian," or Pauline, version, i.e., most of our New Testament, which survived the cataclysm -- and by Roman design.

Nietzsche's observation that Christianity is a "slave religion" is very helpful here. The Romans appear to have constructed an anti-Jewish messianic Judaism, pacifistic and benign, designed to control the rebellious Jews, and, after the war, the messianic Jewish slaves captured in that war (and the follow-up war in the second century.) It worked so well, in time, it consumed the slave population of the Roman Empire.

It was also a way for Romans to worship the Jewish god without enduring circumcision, etc. -- and the Romans were always eager to worship foreign gods and to adapt foreign faiths to their own needs. It's something they did all the time.

And, at first, it provided a means of using a foreign faith to legitimize a dynasty of emperors, the Flavians --- just as Greek traditions about Troy had been used to augment the credibility of the Julians. This is something else the Romans did. But that part of it was lost in time.

For the best treatment of all of this (so far) one must read Robert Eisenman's JAMES, THE BROTHER OF JESUS.

There is

LWHALL's picture

evidence that James(the brother of Jesus) was no friend of Paul and was still an orthodox Jew, so when Paul preached of being saved strictly by grace, James countered with his famous "faith without works is dead" which was a result of his strict Jewish beliefs.


Well, hell, scratch a true

Ross Elliot's picture

Well, hell, scratch a true believer like Gibson and you'll find an anti-Semite. It's bred into them. Seventeen centuries of Catholicism does have *some* effect on the faithful. Christ, it might even be genetic at this point Smiling

Any good Catholic will tell you: "Well, after all, the Jews *did* kill Jesus". And they hold to it.

Yep (continued)

James S. Valliant's picture

An historical Jesus never said things like, "Take up your cross and follow me," for this would have Jesus assuming that his listeners would know that he would be executed, how he would be executed, and that the means of his execution would be the primary symbol of his new faith, for example. No, such Gospel pronouncements from Jesus were put into his mouth by a later generation of post-Pauline Christians. Those who wrote the Gospels.

Now, the Roman general who defeated the Jews in that war which began in 66CE was Vespasian. He became the Emperor of the Roman world. According to Josephus, HE was the prophesied messiah of the Jews. He came from Judea to rule the world. Duh. (It was perhaps believed that this deified emperor or his son Titus, the "son of God," was the "second coming" in glory that Christ had predicted within a generation of his own death.)

At the very least, it is certain that the documents of the New Testament were written during this period of warfare and in the decades immediately following it.

Let me suggest that our historical researches focus here.

It has always stuck me as odd that the religiously motivated war between the Romans and the then-ultra-messianic and fanatical Jews -- in the First Century -- isn't seen as the indispensable context for understanding the emergence of the Gospels and Christianity.


James S. Valliant's picture

I would note that Seneca says some pretty anti-Jewish things and this, among other things, causes some to question the authenticity of the correspondence with Paul.

But let me direct your inquiries elsewhere.

"Barabbas" means "son of the Father," which could mean simply a "Jew." But, it could be an invocation of Daniel's "Son of Man" prophecy, for, curiously, his first name is also "Jesus." He could be, in other words, a "false messiah," of the sort the New Testament is always warning us. Also curiously, the Gospel of John makes this fellow out to be a "revolutionary."

Thus, in this shadowy counterpart to Jesus Christ, the revolutionary, Jesus Barabbas, we have something like the "messiah" of the zealots' expectations, an earthly leader like David or Joshua (in Greek, Jesus) of yore.

Claudia, it is my belief that the Jesus of the Gospels is a post-Pauline creation. If the real historical Jesus was really so anti-Jewish, I'll eat my copies of the Bible. No, if he was crucified (perhaps the only fact about Jesus which we can be sure about), then he was executed by the Romans as an insurrectionary. He advocated violence against Rome and a strict adherence to the Mosaic Law.

I urge you to read the opening chapters of Paul's letter to the Galatians. There we see Paul discussing how he came into open conflict with the other Christian leaders of his time, how he confronted Kephas "to his face" over Paul's new "Gentile" ways, i.e., things like no circumcision and no Kosher diet. Paul says that his unique mission is to those Gentiles (where these issues would naturally first become a problem). Paul also says that the Gospel he teaches came from no human authority whatever, but from his own revelations.

If Jesus had said those anti-Mosaic things I mentioned in the post, then why would James and Peter have ever come into conflict with Paul about them?

Indeed, such a "conflict" between the apostles so concerned St. Jerome, the translator of the Bible, four centuries later, that he wrote the Pope about it.

The idea then emerged that the earliest Christians somehow had "reverted" to their "Jewish" ways -- that they continued to fight for the message of Jesus, but ignored all of its distinctive features -- and it took Paul's argument to later remind them of the original message.

This, of course, is preposterous. Those who actually knew Jesus would have been better attuned to his message than Paul. Moreover, if Jesus had said or done any of the anti-Jewish things the Gospels ascribe to him, then why didn't Paul simply remind his Christian opponents about this during his argument with them? "Remember what Jesus said about the Sabbath... or Kosher diet?!" But, no, he insists that his ideas came from no man or human authority whatever, but from his own revelation.

One can only conclude that the origin of all of this is Paul himself. Indeed, Jesus sees himself in Pauline terms, according to the Gospels -- and this is something unlikely for an historical Jesus.

Not that it excuses him, but...

Ashby's picture

The best response I heard to that question, Robert, was by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. He is quoted as saying, "Look, the issue with Mel Gibson is very simple. Mel Gibson is driving under intoxication. There are no Jews in sight. He can blame his car, he can blame his liquor, he can blame the sheriff. But he can't blame any Jews because there are none around. That's precisely who he blames. Yet that's the problem. That shows he has a problem with Jews."

Of course this is nothing new and it is an accurate generalization about Jewish anti-semitic scapegoating down through the ages.


I hesitate to defend or rationalize Gibson's conduct in any way, but according to the LATimes the arresting officer was Jewish so the above quote is not entirely accurate. I suppose the question then becomes, would Gibson be any less despicable if he is the sort of person who would generate an anti-semitic rant in response to the perceived sleight of being arrested for DUI?

Certainly there are drunks who do and say extreme things they deeply regret by the cold light of morning.

Any way you slice it, he sounds like an unpleasant "angry drunk". We've probably all observed many drunks. Some get excessively friendly, some get maudlin, some get angry. The latter type should probably avoid drinking altogether. Nothing kills a party like an angry drunk.

One last thought on this- I recall from some of the brouhaha surrounding "The Passion of the Christ" that Gibson's father is a slightly loopy & admitted anti-semite nutter. It's possible Gibson may have heard many a similar drunken rant while growing up & summoned it for the occasion. < shrug >

Well, that's it for my weak attempt at sympathy for the devil.

Forgeries eh?

Olivia's picture

I suspected they were but had no idea they were that ancient. Wow. Any clues as to who penned them?

How much of the gospel version of events do you think may be a result of the popularity of Seneca's play Nazarenus?

The whole Praetorium scenario is so theatrical in itself - the throng of Jews, Pilate and Jesus on the balcony, the strange and unlikely person called "Barabbas" suddenly being thrown into the equation.

Does Barabbas mean "Son of the Father" or were the Jews shouting out "Karabas", impostor?

Hi Claudia

James S. Valliant's picture

Like so much else, this is a Christian "forgery" only (at most) about one thousand six hundred years old.

It is, however, a fascinating one.

Paul, in his genuine First Century letters, refers to those in "Caesar's household" who "send their greetings" -- apparently including one "Epaphroditus." We know of at least one or maybe two men of that name in history who served in courts of the Roman emperors Nero and Domitian (and presumably in between.) If he is the Epaphroditus who Josephus mentions, then he was a very high ranking Jew at the Imperial court, indeed. What the heck is ST. PAUL doing with these kind of connections?

Seneca was a minister (and before that tutor) to the Emperor Nero (who was in power when the Jewish war broke out.) Seneca's own ideas are a mystical variety of Stoicism. Jerome, the famous translator of the Bible into Latin, includes Seneca among his list of the important non-Christian "writers in the history of the Church."

That early Christians could conceive of a relationship or correspondence between Seneca and Paul as even being plausible is itself noteworthy.

Hi James

Olivia's picture

I agree that the New Testament was Roman propaganda.

By their accounts, the blame for Jesus's death is put squarely in the Jewish quarter and Pilate is portrayed as a tolerant man who feels a strong pang of guilt over putting to death another troublesome revolutionary. Yeah right.

Question for you. Are you familiar with the Letters of Pilate to his friend Seneca in Rome? Is it known who wrote these or where they originated from?


James S. Valliant's picture

The stereotype of the 19th century English-aristo-bad-guy is awful. As I have said elsewhere, the British brought civilization to many far flung places. That's a super thing.

But the savages in Middle Ages on either side of nearly any conflict were in no position to claim the "civilized" high ground. Blue-faced savages from the less accessible spots of the Isles were not too far behind the Plantagenet ones. When a Pope gave a French duke the green light, he conquered England. When another Pope gave that conquerer's great-grandson another green light, he began the centuries-long attempt to slowly gain control over Ireland. These were savages attacking savages, at least at first, my good man.

On a related note, one of things I actually appreciate about a film like Ridley Scott's 1492, with themes dear to my American heart, is that it depicts Columbus as a hero and European civilization as the more advanced -- but also that the Spaniards were, in their own way, violent, mystic "savages," too.

I feel like Cato the Elder ending every speech in the Senate with a call to destroy Carthage, but, in things historical, the key question is: "Compared to what?"

Duncan Bayne's picture

in vino veritas

English Bashing

Marcus's picture

I am sure that the English of "Brave heart" times were not that fair towards the Scottish. However, neither were the Scottish, peace lovers in kilts towards the English.

However, it seems of late someone in Hollywood decided that the whole every German is a secret "NAZI" and a perfect criminal thing was getting a bit worn out - and the English could take over that role quite nicely. After all, if you make the English the evil villains of any film - the actual English in England will say how sorry they are for "being English" and they must try harder to be more polite in future.

It reaches fever pitch in American audiences with the old "evil British/English Empire" - in films like "Brave heart" and the "Patriot" - when some English sounding upper class toff gets knocked off his perch by a good working class hero the crowds are cheering. Be they a repressed Scott, American, Irishman, Welshman, Indian or outer Mongolian. This is just another nasty aspect of the popular "victim" culture of today.

However, maybe an Englishman should relish the fact that the rest of the world is wetting itself in fear of him?

Me, Too

James S. Valliant's picture

I was brought up as an American Presbyterian, Kenny, (and an L.A. Dodgers fan), and what my own research has shown over the past twenty years would have had the good folks at the bonny kirk of my childhood reeling.

Do recall, however, that if we put the Archbishop of Canterbury into a time machine and sent him back a mere three centuries, he (or the Pope!) would be quickly burnt at the stake for heresy.

British imperialism

Kenny's picture

The best defender of British imperialism if my fellow Glaswegian, Niall Ferguson. Niall is a staunch defender of free markets and free trade and calls himself a classical liberal. I recommend his books and television documentaries.

I was brought up as a Scottish Presbyterian (but not a Glasgow Rangers supporter!). Your views on Christ and the gospels are certainly different to what I learnt in my local church. I will read them carefully before posting.


James S. Valliant's picture

I hear ya. I was just defending British imperialism on another thread, it seems...

For those who might want to see what I had written about Gibson's film just before its release (the title was NOT mine):

Diana is spot on

Kenny's picture

I agree with every word of her last post.


Kenny's picture

You make very fair points. The English, especially Edward I, were no saints. The historical accounts, admittedly thin, of Wallace suggest that some of his, and his followers, acts against innocent English were truly heinous - raping and murdering children etc. The big problem is separating propaganda from the truth.

My perception of Gibson, from his public statements, is that he is a fundamentalist Catholic with a lot of prejudices. Whether it is right to label him anti-semitic is legitimate topic for debate. His remarks to the police, drunken or not, indicate that he is a bigot at least.

I was born and brought up in Glasgow, where religious bigotry remains a serious problem, especially amongst soccer supporters. There is also a problem with mindless anti-English prejudice too. This personal experience has led me to deplore all forms of religious and nationalistic prejudice.

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