Friday, April 01, 2005

Was J Caesar Really J Christ?

Website Review:
On the Julian Origin of Christianity– an investigative report –Jesus was Caesar
Francesco Carotta

I thought I'd look at this idea. It crops up from time to time in forums where people discuss such stuff. The title of the page basically says it all -- Carotta's theory is that the Gospels actually are about Julius Caesar.

The first page of Carotta's site deals mainly with what Caesar looked like. A tantalizing paragraph gives a list of his titles:

A corresponding decree by the Senate helped to convince the ungrateful. The inscriptions on the pediments of the numerous statues dedicated to Caesar that have survived, especially in the East, bear titles not only such as pontifex maximus, dictator or consul, but also soter, euergetes, patron, theos—savior, benefactor, patron, god, etc.[13]
But this correspondence between Jesus' titles and the titles of Roman power is well known to NT scholars. It does not establish a connection, but rather, a common vocabulary of concepts that early Christians drew on when depicting Jesus, and Romans drew on when describing their Divine emperors.

Further down, Carotta notes that there is a correspondence between Roman imperial depictions and Christian depictions of Jesus, seeing how Caesar's bust with an olive wreath looks just like a bust of Jesus' head with a crown of thorns.

If we set it upon the Torlonia head with the help of computer graphics we obtain
this result: The Torlonia head now looks very much like an image of Jesus with
his crown of thorns.
Of course, there is a reason for this. as T.E. Schmidt pointed out in a 1995 article in New Testament Studies, the whole scene of mockery, flogging, purple robe, and crown in the Gospel of Mark represents Mark's depiction of Jesus' walk to Golgotha as a Roman triumph. In other words, Caesar with wreath resembles Jesus with thorns because the writer of Mark deliberately chose that image to illuminate Jesus' last steps.

Now Carotta would probably reply that this is because the writer was depicting Julius Caesar. But there is no need to go that extra step. Understanding the writer's choices [ ]

Carotta loves to play games with words. He writes:

Christos indeed looks like a contraction of archiereus megistos, no farther removed from each other as e. g. Ko"ln from Colonia, Lyon from Lugdunum, Zaragoza from Caesaraugusta, Bizerte from Hippo Diarrhytus or priest from presbyteros. The letters surviving the contraction are here visually demonstrated by capitals:[44]


Furthermore, the word christos regularly is found abbreviated in Christian writings, sometimes with both first initials of XPICTOC, X and P, written one over the other in form of a monogram. And this is not so far away from the initials of pontifex maximus, P and M: MP respectively XP.
The alert reader will note that Carotta has not specified any rules by which we can evolved CHRISTOS from the longer term. This means we are just free associating. Take the concluding sentence as an example: "P and M: MP respectively XP" confuses Latin and Greek: the PM is in Latin, the XP in Greek. Why should we be able to match these two? Because Carotta says so? If you have no rules and two languages, you can find any relationship you like. It's like saying that because a local Taiwanese slang abbreviation, LKK, is close to KKK in English, the two must be related.

Further down Carotta glides over a very sticky point. After noting some funky resemblences in iconography, he asks:

"Is this air of familiarity, that we have detected in the iconography and the
titles of Caesar and Jesus respectively, merely coincidental or does it indicate
a relationship of dependence?"

This is basically a false dichotomy. It need not indicate dependence for there to be a relationship. For example, it could be that such depictions of divine power were a common idiom in the Mediterranean in antiquity. Even if it indicates dependence such dependence could take many forms. Early Christians may have heard how Caesars were depicted and wished to present their powerful figures in such a manner, for instance.

Carotta's next page, Parallel Lives, is a howling mess. Let's take a look at it.

Both Caesar and Jesus start their rising careers in neighboring states in the
north: Gallia and Galilee.

Both have to cross a fateful river: the Rubicon and the Jordan. Once across the rivers, they both come across a patron/rival: Pompeius and John the Baptist, and their first followers: Antonius and Curio on the one hand and Peter and Andrew on the other.

This misrepresents the Bible tales in several ways. In Mark, the earliest gospel, for example, Jesus is not said to cross the Jordan at this point in the Gospel. Jesus does not run into Peter after crossing the Jordan, but back in Galilee. It is in the Gospel of John that Peter follows on the heels of Jesus' baptism in time and space. How does Carotta know where which story to accept? We don't know.

Both have good relationships with women and have a special relationship with one particular woman, Caesar with Cleopatra and Jesus with Magdalene.
Jesus has no special relationship with Mary in the canonical gospels, only in the extracanonical gospels. In Mark, the earliest gospel, she appears only at the end, and Jesus never speaks to her. It is very easy to make parallels if your database consists of any text written about a single person, matched against the entire life of another person. Particularly when the contradictions are ignored. Carotta does not appear to make any attempt to sift the information for credibility.

Both have encounters at night, Caesar with Nicomedes, Jesus with Nicodemus.
Raise your hand if you know someone who has never had an "encounter at night." What? No hands are up?

Both of them are great orators and of the highest nobility, descendant of
Aeneas and son of David, yet nevertheless both are self-made men. Both struggle
hard and ultimately triumph, hence each has a ‘triumphal entry’: Caesar on
horseback and Jesus on a donkey.

Here again we see Carotta insensitive to the problems of the Gospel texts and of Roman history. Caesar can hardly be described as a self-made man, coming from an illustrious family and backed by powerful Roman citizens. By the same token Mark can be read to deny that Jesus was a descendent of David. Only Paul states that unequivocally. Again we run into the problem of "if you cast your net wide enough, anything can serve". Here Carotta again ignores contradictions between sets of information in his text, always choosing the one that serves his parallelism.

Another problem is that Carotta ignores the extent to which the Jesus story depends on the Old Testament for its framework and details. The story of the entrance into Jerusalem parallels 1 Sam 9 and 2 Sam 10. The event draws also on Zech 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your
king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a
donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (NIV)

and other Jewish texts and motifs, such as Simon Maccabaeus' entry into Jerusalem.

But the resonance between the two is also due to the fact that there was a common tradition among all these cultures of the King's Entrance into the city being an epiphany story about a God. Duff (1992) points out that the procession surrounding the entrance of the warrior-king into the city was originally modeled on Greek epiphany processions, in which the deity enters the city. Frequently the entering King is either greeted as a god, or performs sacrifices that "function as an act of appropriation" (p60). The scene may also represent a common convention of Greek drama, the hyporcheme, as proposed by Bilezekian (1977):

"The hyporcheme was a well-known dramatic convention practiced especially by
Sophocles. It consisted of a joyful scene that involves the chorus and sometimes
other characters; takes the form of a dance, procession, or lyrics expressing
confidence and happiness; and occurs just before the catastrophic climax of the
play. The hyporcheme emphasizes, by way of contrast, the crushing impact of the
tragic incident."(p127)

In other words, as the saying goes, any similarity to real individuals and events is purely coincidental. Next, Carotta goes on to say:

Both have an affinity to ordinary people—and both run afoul of the highest
authorities: Caesar with the Senate, Jesus with the Sanhedrin.


Both are contentious characters, but show praiseworthy clemency as well: the clementia Caesaris and Jesus’ Love-thy-enemy.
Such "praiseworthy clemency" was a staple of both cultures' ethical systems and naturally decent men will have it. Again we see the pattern: similarities are due to commonalities between the various cultures involved -- both of which had a heavy Hellenistic overlay.

Both have a traitor: Brutus and Judas. And an assassin who at first gets away: the other Brutus and Barabbas. And one who washes his hands of it: Lepidus and Pilate.
But Caesar had more than one traitor..... more on the traitor stuff in a moment...

Both are accused of making themselves kings: King of the Romans and King of the Jews. Both are dressed in red royal robes and wear a crown on their heads: a laurel wreath and a crown of thorns.

Detail alert. In Mark the robe is purple, in Matthew, it is red. The mockery scene resembles Caesar because it is supposed to -- both draw on a common well of motifs for having a triumph, Caesar in seriousness, Mark in irony. Here is an example of where there is a clear relationship, it is not one of dependency, but a drawing on common ideas.

Both get killed: Caesar is stabbed with daggers, Jesus is crucified, but
with a stab wound in his side.

But the stab wound is a well-known Johannine addition to the tale. Carotta counts anything as a parallel, with no attempt to sift the information for origin and derivation.

Both die on the same respective dates of the year: Caesar on the Ides (15 th)
of March, Jesus on the 15 th of Nisan.

That is a fascinating coincidence....Nisan/March was the first month of the year. And yet, the same problem. Jesus dies on this day because it was Passover.

Both are deified posthumously: as Divus Iulius and as Jesus Christ.
Again, this all depends which gospel you read -- you could well read John as saying he was deified in his own lifetime. Carotta seems to pick and choose whatever supports his cause...

Both leave behind priests: Marcus Antonius and Peter.
Peter is never identified as a priest in any of the earlier writings of the New Testament. That is a later legend developed by the Church as a legitimation strategy in its struggle with the other forms of Jesus-belief. If you cast your net wide enough, and do not sift the information in any way....

Both have a posthumous heir: Gaius Octavianus adopted by Caesar's Last Will and
Testament and John the disciple whom Jesus adopts while on the cross ('Woman,
behold thy son!').
Again, a bit of Johannine legendizing that few scholars would take for an early part of the tradition.

The next page discusses the Passion tales and here Carotta's lack of basic NT knowledge really shows.

We have shown some similarities and parallels between Caesar and Jesus. There
are just as many to be found when we compare the narratives of their respective
passions.Both Caesar and Jesus were murdered. In both cases their elimination
was of no gain to the murderers: Brutus died and so did Judas; Caesar had a
successor, Jesus resurrected; Caesar was elevated to the gods, Jesus ascended
into heaven.
Here we have the same problem as before of Carotta picking and choosing without regard for the development of the story. The earliest rendition of the Judas story is in Mark (it does not occur in Paul, where Jesus simply is "handed over"). Note that the term "betray" is never used in Mark, just "handed over" as in Paul. Elsewhere in the NT it appears only in Luke 6:16 Modern readers are conditioned by two thousand years of legend to see Judas as the "betrayer." Yet exegetes have found it extremely difficult to pin down exactly what Judas "betrayed." The word used to describe Judas' action more correctly means "handed over" and carries this meaning in the Old Testament as well (Klassen 1998, p395-7, 404).

In other words, the idea of "betrayal" is a later addition to the tradition. Robert Fowler has pointed out that there is no reason the reader could not think that Judas was alive and well and part of the Twelve at the end of Mark; there is no indication that Judas died in Mark, nor that he has been expelled from the list of Jesus' apostles. In other words, when we see Judas' death we are looking at an additional layer added to the original tale by later writers. Mark's Passion tale, the earliest, does not include a "betrayal" by Judas.

A further problem with this parallel is that Judas did not kill Jesus, but Brutus did kill Caesar. In other words, Judas is neither traitor nor killer; Brutus is both. There is no parallel here.

The second parallel, ascension to heaven, is a common one for gods and heroes in Hellenistic tradition and need not be seen as a distinct parallel. In this case, again, common tradition explains why the two stories share similarities.

Carotta then goes on to explain that Jesus' famous silence at his trials was due to the fact that he was already dead.

Conclusion: Jesus is silent after his capture. He, the fearless individualist,
acting alone against everybody from the beginning—he who had come not to bring
peace but the sword—should suddenly become speechless? Here, the gifted orator
with whom the word was from the beginning, and who had something eloquent and
incisive to say on every occasion, whether it were Sermons on the Mount or
parables, is now dead silent at his trial, the crucial moment when he finally
has a stage? We immediately think of the apology of Socrates, the other famous
orator who was unjustly condemned. This silence of Jesus is inexplicable—that is
why there is such an extensive literature about it. Was his trial conducted
posthumously? Was he already dead?
Carotta then goes on to explain that Jesus had been killed by a stab wound at his arrest, and that the midrashic creation of details in the Gospel had covered up that fact. The story in John of the stab wound in the side was cover invented off the Old Testament for the reality of the stab wound that killed him. Jesus' terseness at his trials reflects the fact that the trials are inventions, while the stab wound "we may regard as a certainty." Carotta asks:
From where did John take the stab in the chest of Jesus? It can only have
happened at his capture, where there was a violent engagement and the naked
sword was drawn:
Here Carotta goes badly wrong. The story frame for the capture of Jesus is 2 Sam 15-16 and the drawn sword and wound are taken from that tale. In other words, Carotta is arguing that the Gospel writers invented something from the cover something from the OT. The reality is that the invention of the stab wound in John is unrelated to the sword drawn in the Arrest scene, and both are drawn from the Old Testament. Carotta's lack of research into the scholarly literature shines brightly here.

Carotta goes on to say that "We can be confident that a gang went wild with daggers and other weapons, and indeed so wild that they wounded each other in the face." This, however, is rank nonsense. In 1899 E. A. Abbott identified the fact that there is a missing verse in 14:47, one in which Jesus orders the would-be hacker to put up his weapon. This verse is found in all three other gospels, though Luke got the order wrong, and thought Jesus wanted ear restored, not the sword. In any case, in all four synoptic gospels, violence at the arrest scene is specifically ordered to a halt by Jesus. Hence, Carotta's attempt to draw a parallel with the scene of Caesar's death, where things got out of hand and the assailants cut each other in their desire to get at Caesar, fails utterly, because the scene as crafted specifically denies that there is any violence. Carotta ignores both the scene as written, and the framework that shaped it (neither of which offers a scene of uncontrolled violence) to claim that there is a parallel. There is none.

Carotta then offers another bit of word game to turn "Julius" into "King of the Jews." The conversion involves noting that in Greek capitals there is a superficial similarity between the two words. It is true they could be confused, just as one might, at a glance, confuse the word "Chance" with "Chicago."

The next error lies in the scene with Simon of Cyrene. I'll save that for the next post....


Anonymous said...

Well written. Most people don't show this kind of dedication and accuracy when it comes to Carotta's book. The problem however is the fact that your article is based on a rough outline of Carotta's findings on his web page. Inconsistences are bound to occur in this context. I've read the book and I can assure you that all the problems you wrote about are mentioned, explained and resolved in the book. There is of course still some speculation, but only concerning "sub-theories" beneath the big approach of the book, which in my view is a pretty excellent one.

Anonymous said...

i neva eva even read it i just fink that the question is good

Seamus Breathnach said...

This is not a refutation of Carotta's work. There is some sense to the semantics, but in scope and detail, the obvious parallels are not even recognised. The failure of any mention of Jesus of Nazareth for the best part of the first century, neither interests your reviewer nor is explained by him. The incidence of the altars and places of worship of Divus Iulius, and the coincidence of their disappearance with the emergence of Cristainity, cannot be dismissed by mere semantics, and is never discussed by your reviewer.

Moreover, if Joseph Carotta is guilty of shifting from one biblical account to another to explain the phenomenon in question, so is your reviewer. Much of it hinges on the nature of the New Testament itself, which is called into question.

Finally, Carotta's book does not compare Jesus Christ with Julius Caesar as much as affirm the non-existence of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles as portrayed by the Christian Churches. And even if all these criticisms were more than semanticallly based, collectively they do not disprove the fact that Jesus of Nazareth and the New Testament are creatures of Josephus and the Vespasian Caesars.

I think one will have to go a long way to disprove the findings of Carotta and the parallels uncovered. Indeed, if someone can including the very, very powerful Catholic and Christian Churches, then it is time for them to step up and PROVE that Jesus of Nazareth and the so-called Saint Paul (of the burning bush!) and the Apostles did exist... somewhere..... sometime... besides in the imaginations of the very comfortably-off Christian establishment!

Seamus Breathnach

Michael Turton said...

We both agree that Jesus never lived. But badly written mythicist literature only harms the possibility of it ever gaining a hearing.


Anonymous said...

This was a good response enough to show some of the main reasons to reject Carotta. One of the most obvious flaws in Carotta is word play and ignorance of the interrelationship with Judaism. I will say I agree with the one commenter we should not dismiss John if he adds something not in Mark. It would still be somewhat troubling if much was seen in John that could be attributed to Julius Caesar. However such is not the case.

To Seamus and others interested, we can indeed reject Coratta on 2 reasons alone. One is historicity, the other is the relationship between Jesus and Judaism. To the first, we would be wrong to say Jesus does not appear in the first century. He certainly does in Josephus, the catacombs, Paul, the separate gospels themselves, the Talmud and the records of the early church including the succession of popes. We also have the missionary records including the travel of st. Thomas to India documented in Syriac text and the existence of the churches in Ephesus and other places. It would be far against common sense to believe these churches well flourishing by the next century sprang up suddenly later when we have such a compelling description of them in the first century by Paul in his travels.

The second point is the relationship between old and new testament. Simply here Carotta falls flat on his face. We cannot possibly attribute to Titus and Caesar an origin so profoundly interwoven. 1 Samuel entirely parallels Luke in Mary visiting Elizabeth. Jesus bread and wine are of the order of Melchizedek. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Isaah are all of the fabric of the ministry. Obviously these derive from Judaism. The fulfillment of the commandments, teachings on divorce, e letter of the law, none of these can draw from Caesar.

Much more could be said though these are sufficient. The very anti-Roman nature of the gospels. The Roman persecution and martyring of Christians - why if this is a roman invention? The raising of Lazarus and its parallel to Elijah. The debate over healing on the sabbath nothing to do with Caesar. The 12 disciples for the 12 tribes again no parallel to Caesar.

As Jesus Christ our Lord said, render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.