Europe has had its share of religious wars, the churches of East and West against each other, church against state, church against protestants, both against heathens, and all in brotherly love against science when convenient. A book by Jona Lendering called my attention to the likelihood that Eastern Roman Belisarius (500-565) actually destroyed the Western Roman empire such that it was easy for Islam to take control. This is just one example of what can happen, and fortunately Islam still is a religion of peace. With all this religious fervour it seems wise to be silent on religious matters unless preaching for one’s own parish.
I also read Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven’s book Jesus of Nazareth who suggests that Jesus was an eschatological healer and Swedish filmmaker Lena Einhorn’s book who develops an hypothesis that Jesus and Saint Paul are the very same person, but more importantly that there is a ‘timeshift’ from 33 to about 55 (see below). These books are about the historical Jesus and not the persona in religion. Another reason to remain silent is that one ought to be a biblical scholar to make sense of it all. Learn Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arameic, Egyptian, carbon dating, astronomy, dance on a wire, and so on.
My only reason to write these few lines is to show how Joe Average might response sensibly when confronted with a lot of confusing data and lack of time to sort it out. Following authority is less of an option when they appear confused too. Above filmmakers have looked at Jesus from the angle of the narrative but have studied Jesus much more than I have. They still inspire me to consider the issue from the angle from story-telling. I write these lines thus not as a scholar but as a science fiction writer. The title of this weblog entry thus is also ‘crucifiction’ instead of ‘crucifixion’.
My suggestion is to hold on to the simplest explanation. Occam’s razor is to cut out needless complexity. Reality is likely to have been more complex but there are too many unknowns. Holding on to the simplest explanation does not warrant truth but it minimizes confusion. In this discussion a minimum of confusion seems to be something of value. Unless you claim to know what really happened, of course. Some will hold that the simplest explanation is that the gospels are true. A problem is that those contain miracles, though. The following assumes no miracles or deus ex machina. The following assumes that we will know more about the truth in a million years but have to be patient just now.
Having referred to Occam’s razor, I hate to remind innocent readers about the holy foreskin of Jesus. Ed Schilders has calculated that, if you collect all of Jesus’s prepuce that is being celebrated as holy relics in European churches, that it amounts to some square meters. Einhorn explains that circumcision was the divisive distinction between the Jewish faith and the new approach by Jesus. Roman religion only offered gods that cheated on each other and played tricks on humankind. Jewish religion had story lines and principles of law. The simplicity of only one god can be attractive, especially to a bureaucracy. But, there was circumcision. Jesus not only offered hope on charity but also without circumcision. In Europe circumcision prevalence tends to be below 20% but in the USA it may be above 75% so Americans will have a harder time to understand that it can be seen as a huge drawback. A hidden force behind all this talk about religion will be a cultural attitude on circumcision.
The simplest explanation is that complexity in the Bible lies in the story-telling after the facts and not in the creation of the facts. The gospels are pretty thin. Four books that mostly copy each other, and they actually copy much of the Old Testament. A short story has more scope to play with the storyline than a complete novel that takes more care for consistency.
For example, the ‘love thy neighbour’ philosophy that is presented as revolutionary appears to be an elaboration of one of the ten commandments: “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20). Thus, what is presented as a new creed is actually a small step in the evolution of a philosophy of caring for one-another. Admittedly it is another step from the laws of Moses to social security and universal health care, but the principle remains that the story-line has been played with.
Who starts looking into these matters discovers a new world of mystery. There is the story of Hamlet’s Mill (and the 12 tribes also relating to the zodiac and the 12 months and 12 apostles) and then Achnaton (and Jacob and Moses). A find is Murdoch or Acharya S also here. In my reading Jesus, if he existed, indeed had links to the Therapeutae and thus Egypt. Nazareth seems to decode to an Essene community close to Mount Carmel, likely with links to the Therapeutae, even though he need not have been born there. Within Egyptian religion cycles of death and rebirth are not unknown, witness Osiris, and baptism is a form of rebirth anyway. See also a link to nontrinity. Jesus’s words about eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood seems rather peculiar and I would like to see more sources that this links up to Osiris. Here is a list of some parallels in ancient deities, Asclepius not included yet.
Let me impose some discipline, however. Let us limit the subject here to Einhorn’s book that I just read. Einhorn discusses these points: (a) a timeshift, in that the real events took place rather around 55 than 33, (b) that the crucifixion might be a hoax performed by a healer with medicines to provoke seeming death, (c) that Paul might be Jesus himself. Note that (c) presupposes that (b) succeeded. Jesus is to survive if he turns into Paul. A weak point in Einhorn’s account is that she relies on the Pilate event for (b) while also desiring that timeshift. One of my reasons to write these lines is to see whether this can be amended.
My main reason to limit my present attention to this subject is Flavius Josephus as explained by Einhorn. See also wikipedia this July 2012. Here is an author who starts doing real history writing. Let us try to check on history and keep the analysis of mythology in store for perhaps another time.
One would think that a book by an author like Josephus is difficult to change. However, we find differences between versions, notably with respect to a Syrian copy on the testimonial on Pontius Pilate. This difference is somewhat shocking and corrupts what is reported in Josephus on these sensitive matters. Two main books are the Jewish War 78 and Antiquities of the Jews 93. As Josephus wrote a history of the Jews, and there were in 93 already Christians in Rome referring to events in Judea, it would be improper for him to neglect these. A colleague might ask: “Joe, I cannot find anything in your book about these Christians, what kind of book did you write ?” However, if Josephus truly wrote that Pilate condemned Jesus then it still might be that he only summarized the Christian version of that story. Lendering suggests that Josephus gave an independent account, but, this is an assumption. It is actually less likely that there were in 93 still independent other sources about 33. Also the text in Josephus XVIII.5.2 about John the Baptist around 31 has a very religious flavour and it seems to me like an insertion by a believer. We don’t see Salome here, though, but we see her in XVII.2.4 in a slaying of Pharisees.
The weakest point in the Jesus = Paul hypothesis is that Jesus claims to be the Son of God, a bit like we all are Children of the Father, though Jesus puts on more of a show while Paul has a somewhat more modest role. It would indeed take a Road to Damascus mental flip that Jesus switched to some modesty. Jesus would be reasoning like: “I found out that I am not really the Son of God. Now, to keep me busy, I will start telling people that I am.” Can it be that the presented story actually covers up this real flip ? I am inclined to think that Paul was indeed one of the converts of Jesus. It is not unlikely that Paul heard Jesus preaching and indeed recorded texts and events. It actually seems that we know most of Jesus’s statements through Paul only, as he dictated his letters and memories to Luke. The incident on the Road to Damascus may be a mixture of his earlier conversion and his later recognition that it was apparently up to him to bring the gospel to the world. Since the 12 apostles concentrated on Jews only, it was Paul who took on the goy, and he had to make clear that he had Jesus’s permission to do so. Paul is not one of the original 12 apostles and has a hard time getting accepted. Einhorn points out that his letters to the congregations tend to ask money for the brethern in Jerusalem, part of his desire to get accepted.
The strongest point in Einhorn’s discussion is the mimicry of the trial of Jesus supposedly in 33 and the trial of Paul around 55. Consider the interrogations by Pilate and his negotiations with the Sanhedrin. The trial will have been a public event. The apostles were under suspicion but might have been allowed to listen in. Still, in the case of Jesus there seems to be too much insider knowledge from an all-knowing writer. Paul would have gotten that inside information from his own trial. It is more likely that there was only one trial. To repeat a story is a good literary tool.
I thus tend to agree with Einhorn about the timeshift. The simplest explanation is that the main events took place not too many years before the full-scale uprising in Jerusalem in 66 that caused the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. If the gospels were to convert the goy then they would not want to be associated with the uprising and the destruction of Jerusalem, like few people would want to be associated with Bin Laden and the destruction of the Twin Towers. Paul was taken to Rome for trial and he may have wished to appear innocent. He is said to have died in Rome in 67 and thus before 70, but the incident in 55 will already be enough to desire a timeshift. The gospels put the events at 33 AD and depict them as peaceful. Only one servant of the high priest loses an ear – that Jesus immediately heals. The timeshift doesn’t have to be with full purpose. I don’t suggest that Paul thought: “To tell the truth about the Son of God I must start telling a bunch of lies.” It merely supposes a deliberate vagueness on a couple of sensitive points that allows others after his death to reconstruct the story as it is told nowadays.
John the Baptist then is likely to be Theudas and would be beheaded around 45 (XX.5.1). Josephus refers to the Egyptian during the time of Antonius Felix (52-58). Josephus might be confused so that it should be Pilate, but we also have Paul’s trial by Felix. Josephus has the Egyptian say that the walls of the city will collapse so that he can enter, like in Jericho (XX.8.6), without an explanation why one would not use the front gate. Paul, in his memoir recorded by Luke, puts himself in Jerusalem in that time, and he is caught and interrogated by Antonius Felix in that mimicry of Jesus supposedly in 33 AD. It is thus more likely that there was only one event, at that later date in, let us say in 55. The timeshift of 22 years from about 55 to 33 is a useful literary manner to create some distance from the events in 55 plus the full-scale uprising in Jerusalem in 66 that resulted in the destruction in 70.
Josephus explains that it is Felix who got rid of the Egyptian and his followers in, say, 55. Josephus lets him escape – “But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more.” – but this may mean anything, like death in battle or taking on another name when captured (like “Paul” ?). Josephus doesn’t mention Paul and his trial, though he mentions unrest between Jews and Syrians in Caesarea that cause Felix to be replaced. Apparently Paul felt a need to put someone there at that later date. Paul might have been present actually. In the Acts: 21:38 the commander who captures Paul is recorded to say: “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?” This then would be an embellishment, that concerns the actual actions by the Egyptian in 55, plus that Paul was in the company of the Egyptian. The literary expedient is to transform a truth into both a half-truth and a question. Something like ‘plausible deniability’.
This timeshift is a serious hoax. It requires the authors to replace Felix with Pontius Pilate, and so on. However, for Paul dictating his memories and preparing his trial in 55-67 this could have been relatively easy to do. He could say ‘back then’ and his secretary Luke could fill in the characters. The choice for Pilate can be somewhat random but sufficiently back in the past. Paul need neither confirm nor deny it. Once the timeshift had occurred the story around Pilate shaped itself. The weak point in this reconstruction are the Pauline epistles, apparently 7 of which are considered genuine that apparently start in 51. To sort this out will require Biblical scholarship. If Paul in 51 already refers to a death in 55 then this present reconstruction unravels.
All this assumes that there indeed was a historical Jesus, called the Egyptian. Perhaps there was a crucifixion but Josephus did not notice this for this Egyptian. Josephus records that he saw some acquaintances crucified and that Titus took those from their crosses and that some recovered (life 420-421), so that the principle of recovery might be seen as established.
There is the suggestion that the death at the crucifixion was a set-up and hoax. This is a rather complex assumption. If Jesus is crucified then it is simpler that he stumbled into it and that the gospels later claimed that he forecasted his resurrection, to embellish it all. Jesus seems to have made sure that he was caught alive on the Mount of Olives. But what is relayed about his preaching tends to be non-violent anyway. It seems likely that he was with the Therapeutae and only mingled with zealots because of religion. (Thinking about the sicarii and Judas ‘the knife’ Iskariot, circumcision again comes to mind.) It seems more likely that the Egyptian somewhat miscalculated or was confused in what he actually wanted to achieve there on that Mount. His mission was to preach, that is what preachers do.
Therapeutae may know of medicines to cause seeming death (perhaps snake poison, see the snake in the symbol that your doctor is using), and this may have been the case with Lazarus. Jesus may have had An Idea. Resurrection is a powerful religious symbol. Also Little-Red-Riding-Hood is eaten by the woolf but then resurrected. Yet the ploy to play this on the Romans and Sanhedrin seems too tricky. Romans might have been tempted to join the hoax. As said, Jesus offered them a light version of the Jewish belief and a way to deal with the obnoxious Sanhedrin. Still, the Romans would have seen the catch. If they worked along in the hoax that would turn Jesus into a God who conquered death, they would create something they could control no longer. Indeed, the Bible has the Sanhedrin plea with the Romans to put guards at his grave to that his body will not be stolen, to prevent a claim of a divine disappearance. The gospels explain about a possible hoax. This explanation seems to cover up that there actually is a hoax. They cover up that there is a hoax, not in reality, but in their description.
Perhaps Jesus and Lazarus tried the ploy with only a few Roman converts involved. It suffices to include the centurion who looked after the crucifixions. Einhorn clarifies that Jesus was only on the cross for about six hours while it would take many more hours to kill a person. Perhaps he was still somewhat fit because Simon of Cyrene helped carry the cross, or Simon needed to help because he wasn’t quite fit. Still, because of the Shabbat the legs or the other crucified around him were broken to cause them to die quickly. This wasn’t done with Jesus because he already seemed dead. He had been given something to drink which might cause a seeming death. However, the simpler explanation is that these are only words. These are words in a story that someone tells us. These words were written to compose a story, and perhaps a double-entendre. Therapeutae hearing this story would understand that a recovery might be feasible and that the common people would be confused. Even if the ploy never was executed, or even tried and failed, then the text can be a proud claim ‘this is how we could do it’ and an invitation to insiders to participate in telling the story to the common people. There still is the tough question: how can you forecast that there will be a crucifixion and not a hanging or a decapitation or simple emprisonment or even release ? You might gather lots of people yelling ‘crucify him, crucify him’ but there is no guarantee that the Romans will do so. But in a story you can make it seem logical.
Still, we don’t know, he may not have existed, he may have died then and there, or not. It is likelier that Jesus the Egyptian died on Mount Olive in 55. Suppose he had survived. A zealot would have continued till a death at Masada. But what is a Therapeut to do if such a hoax succeeds ? We are still speaking about the Son of Man. Jesus would find himself in a major identity crisis, having pulled off this hoax, rising from death, however without everyone falling for it at once. Even his apostles took weeks to come to terms with the new situation. A rise to heaven is a convenient way out. But, if you have told this story, and see that some people buy it, then what next ? Osiris sits in a temple and is celebrated, but a Son of Man who would have conquered death who doesn’t get his own temple immediately, finds himself in a conundrum. Perhaps Einhorn is right, and this mental torment might turn Jesus into Paul indeed. But it is likelier that he died.
It is more likely that Therapeut Jesus mixed Old Testament ideas with Egyptian notions of rebirth, and that the stories told about what should happen became the stories about what supposedly really happened. After the destruction of Jerusalem the position of Jesus could be enhanced by his ‘predicting’ its fall, and so on.
One weak point in this reading of history is: why all the effort ? Why write one gospel, have others produce their versions, shape Christianity ? Part of the answer is that there can be a fundamentally sound reason for it, namely that the Jewish-light version of religion may have advantages over Greek and Roman gods and the strict Old Testament with the ‘eye for an eye’. See also Josephus in his Against the Greeks (Against Apion), quoted byLendering. Another part of the answer remains religious zeal. Belief in a story because it sounds so good. Jesus may really have believed to be the Son of God himself. Paul does not say this about himself but he attests that Jesus thought so. There are still sects today such that when their predictions fail and their godly leaders die, they still continue. Even the church of Rome itself hasn’t come quite to grips with the historical Jesus. Truth is a hard nut to crack, as also bankers are discovering. The economists who did not forecast the economic crisis of 2007+ are still the ones in power who try to amend it but create new havoc.