Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
The origins of the Gospels and Christianity have been debated for two thousand years. I’ve watched many lectures by believers and nonbelievers over time, going into great depth trying to substantiate their positions by reason, very rarely producing empirical proof. The pious trying to justify the accuracy of the New Testament by citing the sheer volume of copies over the centuries, while admitting the original autographs have long ago crumbled into dust. The atheist tries again and again to prove the negative by stacking “evidence” against something they claim does not even exist.
Questions must be asked. These questions arise in any thinking mind, from a small child to the scholar. The child will ask if God is everywhere then why must we confide our shortcomings to a priest? The scholar wonders why, if the followers of Jesus were devout Jews, is the New Testament written in Greek? Ignoring these questions will not make them go away.
The Messianic movement in the first century was not what most Christians imagine it to have been. Israel was occupied. Rome had crushed it under an iron heel, much as the Syrians, and Persians had done before. In fact, in spite of all the Biblical stories of King David, Israel historically was a doormat for empires on their way to someplace else.
The story of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the rock throwing, sword swinging Messiah alluded to in the Old Testament, and expected by the Jews. Jesus was the benchmark of pacification, compromise, and cooperation . . . with the Romans. When a statue of Caesar arrived to be placed inside the Temple grounds the Jews lost their minds, yet we’re told that Jesus simply took a coin with the image on it, and told His followers to simply pay their taxes.
The death of Jesus was not inflicted by Pilate, but the Jews, or so we’re told, and Jesus was quite civilized while discussing the case before the Roman soldier. Pilate is displayed as a virtual diplomat, wringing, and then washing his hands, trying to reason with a howling mob led by a flock of religious nuts in funny hats. In the end Jesus is sentenced and Pilate says “Fratres non im,” which is Latin for, “I ain’t wid these brothers!”
So, Jesus is executed, and as you may have read, rose three days after His death. The Roman guard watching over the tomb failed to do so, but the High Priest struck a deal with them, concocting a story about some bunch of ragamuffins stealing the body during the night while they were indisposed. I’d like to point out to you that the Romans had a very effective way of dealing with dereliction of duty. They’d pull out one out of every ten soldiers and kill ‘em! It was called decimation, and it was an attention getter.
From this point forward, according to the Book of Acts, Paul of Tarsus traveled hither and yon after having a quite schizophrenic episode on the road to Damascus. Accordingly, the first writings we’re told that reference the new branch of Judaism comes from his letters beginning about thirty years or so after the death of Jesus. Then, of course, come the Gospels. Lots of Gospels. Aside from the approved four, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there are scores of knockoffs. This is quite normal. Ask yourself how many films sprung from the original Star Wars apart from the LucasFilm version that set the whole thing in motion? Everybody wants to get next to a happening guy.
Jump forward to 325 AD and the Council of Nicaea, under license by the Emperor Constantine, approves the official version of the brand, calls it the Roman Catholic Church, the known world broke out in Hail Marys, and called it a millennium!
Let’s examine this phenomenon from a different angle. As far as buying into this, you don’t need a penny just to hang around, but if you’ve got a nickel won’t you lay your money down. What you looking at? Pat Robertson does it all the time. During the war on the Jews from about 67AD to 70AD Flavius Titus came upon a quite handy little traitor named Josephus. He was a Jewish rebel who was captured, but before Titus could tack him up he talked him out of it by telling the Roman General that he was going to be the emperor of Rome some day. Hitler used this same trick on Lord Chamberlin, sending him back to London with flowers in his hair babbling something about, “Peace in our time.” From this point forward Josephus advised, translated for and encouraged Titus, selling out his compadres quite readily, and ending up getting his name changed to Flavius Josephus. He followed the money. Hey, I mean, he WAS a Jew, right?
Returning to Rome, Josephus wrote his best seller. Emperor Vespasian still had a problem. Even though he’d handed Israel its butt, funny hat, and all its goats, they still didn’t buy into the “Devine” emperor thing. The people didn’t even like Roman money. Because it had the Emperor’s picture on it. Good luck getting them to pray to statues.
When the Temple was sacked everything was burned. Not one stone left upon the other, and brothers and sisters, they done it good. NoBODY wanted to be that tenth guy! I don’t know how they got around that Wailing Wall thing, but that’s none of my business. Titus brought home one copy of the writings found in the Temple, and he locked it up, until Josephus explained what was written. Now, Emperor Vespasian still had rock throwing fanatics out in the desert, waiting for the Messiah, not bowing to the statue of the newly inaugurated emperor. What to do?
Reading, and comparing the scrolls he’d come back with, comparing them with Josephus’ history of the Jews, Titus and the Flavius family went into the publishing business. This won’t be the last time this tactic is employed. (What Happened?) Drawing from the scrolls, Josephus’ own writings, some good ol’ Roman hoo do and a little typology, a lost art of using events from the past to provide form and context for subsequent ones, a viable history emerged. Viable, not necessarily spot on. A kinder, gentler Messiah. A Messiah who didn’t mind the Romans, would turn the other cheek. A Messiah to bring peace, love, and even a glass of wine. Pax Romana! Make Rome Great Again. Then Paul leaps on the scene saying this is the new age solution for everyone, and runs off to Rome to Get himself killed. Flavius flavored Judaism! Such a deal!
The simple fact is that if you lay the New Testament and Josephus’ work side by side, and you are a Christian, you’re gonna get your feelings hurt. It’s called “apologetics.” The fact is, the comparisons are there. And not just a handful. Over forty of them! The Gospel mirrors the Flavius campaign in Israel in almost perfect sequence with parallel names, locations, and concepts. It’s slippery, but it’s there!
During the Olivet Discourse Jesus proclaims that the Temple will be razed, not one stone resting upon another, the Son of Man’s coming would coincide with these events within the current generation. A Generation for these people was forty years. If you believe that Jesus uttered these predictions in around 33AD, and understand the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, that’s one hell of a prophesy. Unless it wasn’t a prophesy at all, but a clever back dated scriptural hot check from Jesus courtesy of Flavius Josephus!
The new religion set the Mediterranean world on fire. There were so many spin-offs the Romans didn’t have enough wood to nail up all the believers in a generic version. It had grown so out of control by 325 that Constantine had to call that meeting in Nicaea or lose his butt, olive branch and all HIS cattle. And he did! He brought the copyright back to the original intent of his ancestor Titus.
Titus had to control the Middle East. He used an idea instead of a sword. Once the idea was planted it spread, a bit out of control, which had to be defined later, but it did spread. Constantine would even send his mother to identify sites where all these New Testament events supposedly happened. You must understand that was a little like looking for a lost diamond ring in Mexico. She got what she paid for.
She became a saint, which is not surprising since the first Saint was one of Titus’s relatives, Flavia Domitilla who was honored for donating the land for the first Christian catacombs. You thought those were places for Christians to hide, huh? They were tombs, well known, and strategically placed. Oh, there were persecutions. For heretics, violent Messiah believers, Gnostics, and anyone else who didn’t eat Flavion flavored Christianity.
But how do you get people to worship the emperor as God? Watch this. Nothing up my sleeves. After Vespasian died, his son, Titus, approached the senate petitioning them to designate his father as “divine.” You couldn’t become divine all by yourself, you had to be voted in. It’s somewhat the same way the Catholic Church designates a saint today. Funny hats and all. Your good life is not good enough. There has to be a roll call vote. By recounting all the things his father had done, Titus did convince the Senate, and the late, great Vespasian was elevated to divinity, which, as you can very easily see, made Titus the “son” of God. As the Greek and Roman adherents added up and the Gospels began to spread, the predictions allegedly made some forty years before the events of 70 AD were understood to be literally true, and that put the seal on the four “approved” Gospels. The Son of Man did indeed come. He did indeed destroy the Temple. He really did make his followers “fishers of men” when Roman soldiers literally used their spears to pluck rebellious Jews from the water after burning their ships. He did indeed cause people to flee into the mountains. Then he returned to Rome and became emperor. His name was Flavius Titus Caesar! Son of God and Son of Man. Titus had tricked the people into praying to him by proxie!
It doesn’t matter if you believe this explanation or not. What matters is that there is a possibility that the Flavians used it it to pacify and control the population. Christianity, as a whole was, and is a good idea so long as you hold to the concepts on a personal basis. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you. Not within your neighbor, not within a church, YOU! The problems arise when people move past the allegory, and begin to literally impose THEIR idea of that Kingdom on someone else.
Governments still use Christianity as a prod. Don’t think so? Fundamentalists pray daily for World War III so it will usher in Armageddon, the end of the age, and heavenly rule. So, support Israel. Mormon kids traverse the globe evangelizing the beliefs of a farm boy who devised his own “Bible” from a rock in a hat. (And you think the Flavians couldn’t come up with the New Testament?) Almost a thousand people followed a crazy man into the jungles of South America to drink poison, and faith healers rob people nightly, protected by their first amendment right to barf up any nonsense their audience will buy, and buy they do.
I’m not trying to change your stripes. If you like your God, you can keep your God. Religious beliefs are deeply ingrained into the human psyche. My hand shook a little during the writing of this article. When I was five years old my grandmother in Shreveport would take me down to the Baptist church, sit me right up there in the Amen pew, and a preacher would scream, telling me that I was going to “hayell!” I was scared of Jesus until I was thirty years old. You see? That’s what’s wrong with trying to farm your religion out to other people.
We, as a race, are evolving morally and spiritually. As we learn to accept concepts alien to us we understand that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. We also must accept that there will never be one faith, one government, one consensus. There will always be an opposing voice, but you don’t have to silence that voice. Indeed, it’s impossible. They’ll just bury their ideas in clay jars, and in two thousand years the debate will begin anew.
No one will ever win a religious debate. Even the formidable Christopher Hitchens could not prove the absence of God. My belief is it had to begin somewhere. Someone, or something had to strike the match. Creation. For all of man’s technology he still cannot create a leaf. An open mind is good to have. You won’t eat as much crow that way. Is there truth in the New Testament? You betcha! Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
The Butcher Shop