Do you have a response to the work of Joseph Atwill “The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus?”

Question:

This is starting to circulate on the internet. Facebook……etc. I am sure young christians in our congregations may have a hard time with it. Just curious if you guys have heard about it yet. 
http://uk.prweb.com/releases/2013/10/prweb11201273.htm

Response:

Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ.’

A new “theory” to explain the genesis of Christianity is making the rounds of skeptic websites and will soon appear at a college or university near you. It is found in a recent documentary by Joseph Altwill “The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus” I would like to present some of the claims of Joseph Altwill and his colleagues as well as a refutation of this theory. Here is a quote used as a come-on for a conference to be held in London October 19, 2013:

American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill will be appearing before the British public for the first time in London on the 19th of October to present a controversial new discovery: ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. His presentation will be part of a one-day symposium entitled “Covert Messiah” at Conway Hall in Holborn.

Altwill and friends such as “fellow scholar” Kenneth Humphreys, author of the book “Jesus Never Existed” have devised a new theory to explain the genesis of Christianity. According to Altwill, the Christian movement was the product of a conspiracy of the Flavian monarchs, looking for a means to produce a more passive and manipulatable populace. They propose that there never was a Jewish man named Jesus Christ, that he, obviously, never performed miracles, never taught the ethic attributed to him in the New Testament, that he did not fulfill biblical prophecies and that he did not die by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Is this a believable proposal? Is it even a scholarly proposal at all? Here is another statement of Altwill’s

The latest in Biblical scholarship has now uncovered new evidence that provides a disturbing explanation: Christianity never strayed; Jesus Christ is a fabricated cover story for an Imperial psychological warfare operation born out of the First Jewish-Roman War in the first century.

Let’s stop here. What Altwill and friends like the enigmatic Acharya S. are proposing is that Jesus never lived. Not only that, but the apostles Peter, James and John also never lived. Neither did Paul for that matter, because according to Altwill, the New Testament was written by Roman aristocrats some time after the Jewish wars—presumably after AD 80, and therefor after Peter James and Peter died. This would mean that the Christian Church itself also did not exist until perhaps AD 100 at the very earliest. We can see immediately that this theory is absolute, utter nonsense. No responsible scholar is prepared to propose that Paul never lived. We have reports about Christians in the first century. Nero was reported by Tacitus to have killed Christians for starting the fire in Rome in AD 63. Tacitus, an otherwise reliable historian tells us that the Christians followed a man named Chrestus and that they were making a stir all over the Roman Empire in the first century. This theory does not even deserve serious consideration. In fact it is a blatant lie and to hold to this theory requires that one either be ignorant of history and suspend any shred of common sense. It is a fact that Domitian outlawed Christianity in AD 95. According to this theory there was nothing to outlaw in AD 95. According to this theory Domitian was part of the clique which created Christianity, yet the fact is that he did everything in his power to destroy Christianity. Here is a fact. By the early second century there were thousands of followers of Jesus who willingly offered their lives because of a belief in a person who they knew, from eyewitness accounts, had died in Jerusalem and had fulfilled many of the messianic prophecies.

According to this viewpoint, the New Testament was the product of Roman, pagan writers. I challenge anyone to read Hebrews or Matthew or John or Revelation and to propose with a straight face that a non-Jew wrote these books. Papias, in AD 125, tells us that he knew John personally, and that he died in Ephesus. Irenaeus tells us that he knew Polycarp who knew John personally. Our friend Joseph Altwill says that the very existence of John is a myth. Also, the person that John gave his life for was a myth as well. Thousands of people sacrificed their life because of persecution for following Jesus Christ in the first century, as evidenced by those who experienced this persecution, such as Polycarp, but Joseph Altwill says that, not only were they nor persecuted, they did not even exist. Remember, this theory posits that the very existence of Jesus was not even proposed until at least AD 80. Does any kind of logic at all have thousands giving up everything, abandoning life and livelihood for an idea fabricated by a vague set of unidentified authors? Who did they read their scriptures to? Where did they do this? This is absolute nonsense and it is ludicrous to even propose that we ought to accept this junk “scholarship.” Yet, these people have the audacity to propose that this is a scholarly theory.

Let us look at some of the details, again using quotes from their website.

In their greatest victory, the messianic Jews finally succeeded in burning Rome and driving the Romans out of Judea.

So the Jews burned Rome? Do we have evidence for this? Of course not. This is sheer fabrication, invented to support a theory which is based, literally, on not a single fact.

Why was the religion headquartered in Rome?

Joseph Altwill and his friends are trying to claim that Rome created Christianity and that it was founded in Rome. Never mind that the heartland of Christian population was in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. They want us to believe that it was headquartered in Rome. Is that true? Rome was a relatively minor church in the first century. By the middle of the second century it had grown and become prominent, but it was not even close to being the most prominent church. The churches in Ephesus, Antioch and Alexandria were far larger and more prominent. Even in the fourth century, when Rome became a prominent church, Christianity was not headquartered in Rome. Even at this time, Carthage, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch and Ephesus were of equal power and authority in the church. Even in the Middle Ages, when Rome clearly became the dominant church in the West, the churches in Constantinople and Antioch did not acknowledge leadership of Rome.

Here is the essence of this “theory:”

In order to pacify the Jewish rebellion, they [the Flavian rulers such as Vespasian, Titus and Domitian] captured and burned all the Jews’ scriptures. It is around this time that a new literature emerged with the story of a very different Jewish Messiah – one who preached “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, “turn the other cheek”, and “love your enemy”. The Bible scholars deconstruct the Gospels and the character Jesus, showing that they are based on archetypes found in the ancient pagan mystery schools and in earlier Jewish literature. Much of the teachings of Christianity are traced back to the writings of Philo of Alexandria — who was combining Jewish scripture with Greek pagan beliefs — and Stoicism, a philosophy promoted by the Flavians. When the Flavians seized control of the Roman Empire, they needed to legitimise their rule, so they had their Jewish court historian Josephus (originally Yosef ben Matityahu who adopted the name Titus Flavius Josephus) create a large body of work which became the only official history we have of the Jewish-Roman War.

Really? All the Jewish scriptures were burned? Is there some evidence for this? Is there even a tiny scrap of evidence for this totally unfounded claim? This is sheer utter nonsense, invented for a purpose and that purpose certainly is not so as to discover truth! The claim is that the Flavian aristocracy secretly wrote a very convincingly Jewish set of writings and leaked them out to Roman people. Josephus wrote the gospel of John? He also wrote Matthew and Mark and Luke? Why did he write four gospels? So that he could cover up for the fact that there was just one author of the Bible? Forgive me, folks, but one will have to be extremely gullible to accept this ridiculous proposal! According to Altwill, for some unknown reason, tens and even hundreds of thousands of people accepted these writings, of unknown source, and committed their very lives to a person who never even existed. They committed to apostolic traditions handed down by apostles who never even existed. Are we really expected to believe this laughable proposal? The claim is that they created this pretend religion in order to create a more manipulatable populace. Then, Domitian did his very best to destroy the group he had just created by persecuting it (at least according to these Altwill and friends).

One would hope that Altwill would have some evidence to support his massive conspiracy theory. One would be sadly mistaken. Altwill has literally not a single piece of evidence that the New Testament was written by a Roman conspiratorial plagiarist. His only supposed “evidence” is parallels he finds between the events of Josephus’ book “The Jewish Wars” and the gospel stories. In other words, he purports to have found striking parallels between the gospel story and the story of the Jewish wars. This proves that the gospel stories are pure fabrications.

Bible scholar Joseph Atwill noticed many parallels between this historic account of the war and the events in the life of Jesus in the Gospels. Through his study of the ancient Greek texts and his discovery of an antiquated Hebrew literary genre, he found dozens of parallels between the Jesus story and the war history that occurred in the exact same sequence. This shows that the events of Jesus’ life which supposedly took place forty years earlier, were actually all dependent on the events in the military campaign of the Roman Caesar Titus Flavius. Ancient texts were much more allegorical, multi-layered and complex than today’s writing, and when you read the Gospels and the histories of Josephus side by side, a new meaning arises which reveals the authors of the Gospels to be the Roman Flavian Caesars, their co-conspirators, and their literary team.

This is not a brand new approach. It is a logical fallacy sometimes called argument by scenario. In this approach to supporting a theory one creates a scenario and then proceeds, having assumed the answer, to find “parallels” in the writings of others which support the scenario. This is called eisegesis (reading into a text) as opposed to exegesis (taking facts from a text). If one has a totally speculative theory of history, literally without a single shred of actual physical or even historical evidence, one creates a scenario and says, “If I am right, then I will find such and such.” Then one proceeds to find such parallels. History tells us that the search for such parallels will bear fruit if one selectively searches long enough. The search for parallels between the book of Revelation and present-day events has led to similar bogus theories that Revelation is about events of the day. This has been applied by every generation since at least the Middle Ages, but such argument by scenario is based on a false kind of reasoning and should be rejected out of hand. What is the name of the members of this “literary team”?

Joseph Altwill’s theory is based on the thinnest of possible ice, even for a highly speculative scenario-based theory. Add to that, it requires us to believe things which are, historically, utter nonsense and completely nonsensical.

Altwill actually does have one other piece of “evidence” that Romans conspirators wrote the New Testament:

Along the way, the Bible scholars show how the Roman Imperial Cult — set up to worship Caesar as a god — formed the basis for the Roman Catholic Church, and that some of the Church’s first saints were members of the Flavian court.

We can concede that the later Roman Catholic Church did incorporate some of the trappings of the Imperial court. However, history tells us that this incorporation began in the fourth century, not the first century. A brief glance at the New Testament, for example at the book of 1 or 2 Timothy will prove beyond doubt that the New Testament proposal for the organization of the church did not follow the Roman model at all. Quite the contrary! The historical fact is that the church later incorporates some of the trappings of Roman government and this “evidence” actually disproves rather than supports the claims of Altwill et al.

Why would anyone create this kind of junk scholarship? It is always tricky to induce motives of others, especially when we have not met them personally, but Joseph Altwill exposes his motives for creating this bogus theory so that we do not have to guess at his motives. The motives of these enemies of Christianity is made clear from the quotes from Altwill below:

Is this the beginning of the end of Christianity? “Probably not,” grants Atwill, “but what my work has done is give permission to many of those ready to leave the religion to make a clean break. We’ve got the evidence now to show exactly where the story of Jesus came from. Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history. To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East.”

It is our hope that audiences will open up to the possibility that the history written in official books is not always actual fact, and that religion is often used as a political tool to control the populace, even to this day.

No doubt, Christianity has done a lot of good for the world, but a lot of bad has come from its most dogmatic believers, who create wars, hatred, and other harm under the disguise of religion. In studying how Christianity emerged, the seven

From these quotes it is clear that Altwill is philosophically opposed to Christianity (or perhaps to some of the things done in the name of Christianity which would not be supported by the teachings of Jesus Christ). Altwill believes that Christians are “dogmatic believers who create wars hatred and other harm under the disguise of religion.” We can concede that some of this behavior has been done in the name of Jesus, but that the Jesus of the Bible would not support such actions for a secone. What we see here is the REAL reason Altwill came up with this ludicrous scenario/theory. It is because he hates Christianity as it is practiced today. He has political and philosophical, not historical reasons for inventing this outrageous unsupportable theory.

Altwill sophmorically says: “I present my work with some ambivalence, as I do not want to directly cause Christians any harm,” Are we expected to believe this “spin?” Let us not be fooled by such deceptive statements. Altwill absolutely intends to do whatever harm to faith in Jesus Christ that he possibly can. Let us do the world a favor and expose the lies and deceptions being presented as “scholarship” to an uninformed public.

John Oakes

10/9/2013


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