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On the Road

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Name: Jack Neefus
Gender: Male
Hometown: Newark, NJ
Home country: US
Current location: Baltimore, MD
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 20,564

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The Way That the Romans Spread Religious Pacificism

was by promoting emperor worship along with Roman gods and holidays. A divine savior was a potential competitor.

Jesus seems to have been regarded as a potential revolutionary as shown by his arrest and method of execution. Since revolution was known to run in families, Domitian had Jesus' grandnephews dragged in to see if they were dangerous. They were dismissed as hapless rubes, which seems to be largely how Christians were perceived except when their refusal to sacrifice to the emperor got them sent to the gladitorial ring, as recounted in sources like Perpetua's diary.

Atwill seems to do what a lot of people do who charge others with not reading the Bible -- fail to read it himself. The Gospels are shot through with angry condemnations, calls for divine judgement, and prophecies of destruction which are utterly alien to anything Josephus or the Romans would have wanted to spread. I can't see Mark 13 fitting into this scenario at all along with a lot of other passages.

Personally, I don't think Jesus was violent during his lifetime, but I do not know if he would have become violent in the event of an uprising -- he might have felt called to lead the revolt and been more like a bar Kosibah figure. Or he might have remained more like his brother James, alternating among benevolence, mysticism, and vicious denunciations.

I really do appreciate Atwill's bringing the kind of political perspective that he does. I believe it is more useful, however, to abandon the invented Jesus portion of the theory along with the Josephus speculation and apply those insights to the realm where it would have taken place -- namely the Jewish political and religious hierarchies who were constantly trying to quell the kind of rebellion that eventually led to national ruin. For example, you could take the approach that the Sermon on the Mount was added later as a pacifistic element by Paul's followers. Many of the sayings in Matthew 4-6 are similar to teachings of people like Hillel the Elder, who was an accomodationist with Rome and a favorite of the upper classes. That line of thinking might be worth developing.

Atwill hasn't really done the homework necessary to propose a different authorship for the Gospels. The complex relationship between the four books has been studied for about a century and a half and is well established. You don't just read a list of place names in Josephus and say the Gospels were all made up by the same author. Even if he is seeing a legitimate influence, there are more likely alternatives such as a 2nd-century date for the Gospels which would allow for an influence by Josephus's writings. That is less sensational but more likely.

If Josephus wanted to invent Christianity,

he was a bit late to the game -- Paul beat him by several decades. The core of Paul's letters is universally considered genuine and placed in the 50s and 60s.

I would be interested in seeing how Atwill lines up the events in Josephus which supposedly prove that the Gospels are derivative. A lot of ancient itineraries are determined by the terrain and limited road structure. Galilee-Samaris-Judea was along one north-south axis. Certainly Titus followed the same roads and stopped at the same places that Jesus did going from Galilee to Jerusalem -- because everybody did. (It would be like saying "What an incredible coincidence -- I stopped at Breezewod, Pennsylvania too!")

Now, the motivations Atwill attributes to the Romans were real. They certainly wanted a pacified population and would not stoop to religious manipulation. They deified their emperors. However, a divine Christ was also a potential competitor to the Emperor. If it came from anwhere in the political power structure, it is likely to have originated in the Jewish vassal state.

If Atwill had wanted to develop that theory, he really should have looked in the direction of Paul. Paul was apparently a member of Herod's clan and had a vested interest in the status quo. You could argue that Paul built the Christian church as a Roman-inspired secret society specifically to provide an alternative to zealot groups that posed a real threat. It is certainly no accident that Paul's church took an unthreatening form, although maybe not as the result of the kind of deliberate machinations he imagines.

Not enough scholars IMO look at Biblical history in terms of general historical and political patterns like this. I appreciate Atwill raising the issue in terms of the New Testament. I just think that government attempts to pacify the population through religious belief are universal and continuous, and that there are more likely ways that this might have influenced early Christianity than the unlikely one Atwill has constructed.
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