Josephus Code Follies

Posted By on October 11, 2013

I’ve gotten a half dozen emails about the new (it’s not really new) Joseph Atwill book and “Covert Christianity” PR launch (er . . . conference). The big media event is really about Atwill’s rehashing of his material in a 2006 book called Caesar’s Messiah. It was supposedly a bestseller — but have you ever heard of it? Well, he’ll make sure you do this time around.

The basic thesis is, from the Amazon description, that:

“Was Jesus the invention of a Roman emperor? The author of this ground-breaking book believes he was. ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ reveals the key to a new and revolutionary understanding of Christian origins. . . . The clues leading to its startling conclusions are found in the writings of the first-century historian Flavius Josephus, whose ‘War of the Jews’ is one of the only historical chronicles of this period. Closely comparing the work of Josephus with the New Testament Gospels, ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ demonstrates that the Romans directed the writing of both. . . . Atwill noticed a series of parallels occurring in sequence between the military campaign of the Roman Caesar Titus Flavius and the ministry of Jesus. His findings led him to a startling new conclusion about the origins of Christianity – that a Roman imperial family, the Flavians, had created Christianity to pacify the Jews’ rebellion against Rome, and even more incredibly, they had placed a literary satire within the Gospels and ‘Wars of the Jews’ to inform posterity of this fact.”

Hence my title for it: The Josephus Code. And for sure that would have been a sexier title. No doubt the media would have pumped it more the first time around had the word ‘code’ been in it. (Or maybe The Josephus Harbinger would have worked better, too).

So what do we have here? Instead of the Zeitgeist conspiracy we get the notion that the NT gospels were written by Romans. And boy, were those Romans ever clever. They decided to mimic Josephus’ accounts of Titus Flavius in their presentation of Jesus. . . . Now wait a minute. . . . So, the Jews were influenced to pacificism by a guy who didn’t really exist . . . but who were they following around?  Not really . . . the gospels were written later, after the fact . . . Gullible people (and of course subsequent early Christians) just read about him and accepted what they read about the guy’s existence . . . in accounts that were patterned after the chronology of a Roman emperor’s life . . . who lived in the past a little later than the guy didn’t exist. . . . as clever propaganda. So the Jewish or Christian readers of the later gospels wouldn’t really have known Jesus didn’t exist. They just took it on faith because the Roman-generated gospels told them that guy existed. . . . And so no later Christian or Jew who believed in, or didn’t like, Jesus would ever have known Jesus wasn’t actually real . . .  because they’d never see the parallels between what Josephus wrote and the gospels that Atwill did . . . because . . . well . . . they didn’t read Josephus . . . no, they did that. . . . It has to be because Atwill is so much smarter. . . . Yeah, that’s it . . . because the early Christians and any of their opponents could have read Josephus. They just didn’t see the coded messaging that would have made the case that Atwill sees. Even Josephus experts haven’t seen that. . . . Or experts in the gospels. . . . Gosh, Atwill is smart.

Clear now?

For other musings about the latest skepto-porn PR event, Larry Hurtado has offered his thoughts on Atwill in a post entitled, “FlimFlam of the Month.” Nice job with that, Larry! I recommend the short piece — it’s both funny and telling, especially with respect to Atwill’s failure to subject his theories to peer review. I don’t have to wonder why.

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15 Responses to “Josephus Code Follies”

  1. Dante Aligheri says:

    The sad thing is that this appeared as “Christianity Shook to the Core” on Yahoo! News – which, unfortunately, a lot of people see every morning. I know I do just to check my mail although I try to avoid their “news.”

    Sigh. With stuff like this, no wonder the SAT scores have fallen, again.

  2. AJC says:

    *Thumbs up***


  3. Richard Brown says:

    Heard of this screed yesterday and I said: “Heiser will be on this one”. Sure enough, less than 24h I get the notice :)

    Dan Brown’s trolling partner

  4. Patrick says:

    1) If the Gospels were penned by Romans, they sure knew 1st century AD Israeli culture real well. This Peter Williams presentation using recent scholarship makes this case well, even Jews living outside Israel could not have written those things:

    2) If the Romans wrote this up to pacify the Jews, why did they turn around and murder those who professed faith in Christ? Seems a little counter productive to me.

    Seems to me the emperor would have placed guys like Peter, Paul and James on Roman pedestals if that were the case.

    Instead, they got murdered.

    The persecution of the early church precludes this nonsense and it also demonstrates for us how firmly the original eye witnesses believed Jesus was resurrected. These type folks will never get around this factual data.

  5. terry the censor says:

    I am concerned that news sources are describing Atwill as a Biblical scholar without checking his credentials. Atwill doesn’t list any post-secondary education in his online bio. JSTOR has one paper that Atwill co-authored, a study of radiocarbon dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls — there is no textual criticism in the paper. The JSTOR article gives his institution as the University of California, but it doesn’t mention a faculty; his name is not on the UC website. In fact, I couldn’t find him mentioned on any univeristy or college pages.

    Reading some reviews online, it appears Atwill treats ancients texts in much the same way as ancient astronaut “researchers.” Ick.

  6. kennethos says:

    I saw this on a FB forum, and 30 seconds’ googling took me to Tom Verenna’s blog, which promptly took this guy apart (and the comments are funny, too!). {Sigh.}
    This sounds about the same as the Judas Gospel garbage.

  7. Stu Klemm says:

    This will make you crankier, or not, MIke, …

  8. […] it was the Josephus Code. Now I’m getting emails about Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing […]

  9. […] blogged recently about Joseph Atwill’s research, which asserts that Jesus was a Roman invention. Now that his […]

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