First, a big thanks to Mel for sending me this interesting story.
According to American Biblical scholar, Joseph Atwill, he’s convinced that “the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.” He will present his findings in a symposium on October 19th (a mere 10 days!) in London in case you want to hop a plane and catch his talk.
Atwill believes that Christianity was part of a propaganda campaign developed by the Roman government to pacify “the Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, [and who] were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century.” The goal was to encourage subjects of the Roman Empire to behave, to turn the other check and just pay their taxes to Rome, damn it.
If it is indeed true that Jesus Christ was a fictional character, I’m wondering if religions will now have to pay royalties, or at the very least, naming rights, to the descendants of those aristocrats.
I must admit the story of Jesus as a political ploy is an intriguing idea, although it seems a bit far-fetched, even to someone who doesn’t believe that he was divine. Of course, I haven’t listened to Atwill’s talk, and I have not read his book, but I just think it would require one helluva coordinated effort for the Aristocrats to make up the story of Jesus & co and sell it to the people. Besides, it makes sense that the New Testament would be based on actual historical events and actual people who viewed the world through a mystical, superstitious lens.
On the other hand, Atwill’s theory also makes sense. Leaders were closely allied with their gods, and in ancient times, kings were god-kings. If people wanted protection from a clan, then they had to be a believer. While modern man has the ability–and the luxury–to read and reason and choose a religion if he desires, ancient people did not.
Perhaps a handful of enterprising aristocrats did decide to write the best-selling story ever as a way to manipulate their subjects. It’s certainly interesting that Jesus came along not only as a reinforcement but also as a one-up to Judaism. Yeah, your Messiah arrived. Now be quiet and follow us in lockstep. And Jesus didn’t refute the Old Testament; he just came to give new instructions on how to live together, how to place nice and how to worship his father, the god-king.
Who knows? What all this does show us is how much we are at the mercy of history and of those who record it. We understand very little in the big picture. And what we think we know–as well as the languages we use to record and understand–are organic, changing. History is mostly hearsay, and certainly, religious texts are proof of this.
What seems to be happening, however, is that we are moving toward a more democratized view of god. To each his own. You don’t need no stinkin’ book or preacher to know Him. God is whoever you want or need him to be.
For those of us who don’t believe, this story makes no difference one way or the other. Jesus has always been part of religion’s propaganda machine.