like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, a real historical
figure to whom legends and myths became attached? Or, rather,
like Huckleberry Finn or Sherlock Holmes a purely fictional
character, passed off as a genuine personage or later
historicized by other hands?
the choice is not quite so clear cut: a person (perhaps several)
were certainly in the mind of Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle when they constructed their heroes. Twain drew inspiration
from his own life. Doyle modelled much of the character of his
detective on his own professor of medicine, a Dr Joseph Bell.
Did that make Sherlock Holmes any less of a fiction? (Interestingly,
Holmes's trademark “deerstalker” hat is never mentioned
in Doyle's stories and the drop-step pipe was the contribution
of actor William Gillette years later. That's how myths grow.)
most people feel more comfortable with the 'historical kernel'
approach. It is intuitively satisfying to think that someone was
behind the towering legend. We do, after all, have Christianity,
and it is hard to give credence to the idea that someone "just
made-up" Jesus Christ and then managed to convince anyone
else to believe that he had lived and died. In fact, one can
reach the conclusion that "there must have been a Jesus" without
any research at all, which of course is what most people do.
yet, this "common
sense" approach, though convenient, is a trap, a misapprehension
condoned and encouraged by the priestly cohorts. They are happy
to debate and discuss their hero's claims to deity ('a matter
of faith') but want us all to accept Jesus of Nazareth as
an historical fact. For them, the negation of that "fact" has
cataclysmic implications and therefore they resist that possibility
with every means within their grasp.
And yet Gods
do fall, as the ruins of Upper Egypt and Greece eloquently testify.
Was there ever a Horus or an Apollo? It scarcely matters if some
shadowy figure was ever consciously in the mind of the original
priests who concocted the fables. The Olympian gods ruled for
two thousand years and the Egyptian deities for twice that time.
made-up" Jesus. If we step around the centuries of fabrication
and glorification which informs everyone's perception of Jesus
Christ and closely examine the two hundred year gestation
period of the current Lord and Saviour we can see
a perfectly plausible and, indeed, convincing process by which,
upon the legacy of earlier times and from
piety and scripture alone, the
Christian godman emerged into the light. Beliefs created the
man; the man did not create the beliefs.
History in a Nutshell –
There is something poetically repetitive in ancient Jewish history. From a state
of righteousness the people offend God by apostasy and going
after false gods. God punishes them, usually by the hand of a
foreign invader. The people cry out to God in distress. God hears
their cries and sends a saviour who leads them back to righteousness. For forty years they walk in the ways of the Lord. But then they
offend God by apostasy and going after false gods ...
notion of a periodic "saviour" goes
back a long way with the Jews – at least to
the religious centralisations of Hezekiah
and Josiah in the 7th century BC – but then, as a marginal
people the Jews were forever in the thrall of great empires.
birth of Judaism – following the collapse of the northern kingdom
of Israel – enshrined the myths of Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon as
sacred race heroes. But the theocrats had hardly begun their
fantasizing when they were overtaken
by events. During the 6th century BC the priestly elite found
itself exiled in Babylon. A generation later, with the
Persian overthrow of the Babylonians, the die was cast again.
Now the "saviour" of the Jews was a Persian
king, Cyrus the Great, whose imperial designs
were served by a theocratic colony in Judah.
the grateful priestly scribblers bestowed surprising epithets
on the fire-worshipping king of Persia. According to the later
book of Isaiah Cyrus was both the Lord's shepherd and
the anointed one (and the mantle of "anointing" signalled a divine
dispensation to rule).
saith the LORD ... Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform
all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be
built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
Thus saith the
LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I
have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose
the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates;
and the gates shall not be shut."
revealing are references to a certain High Priest who
accompanies the gang of temple restorers (Zerubabel, Haggai,
Ezra) and shows
up in the books of Zechariah and Haggai – Jesus (Joshua
common (heroic) name, of course, but later Christian novelists
will use these references to finesse a "prediction" of
their own wonder-worker. Thus Justin
Martyr, the first post-apostolic Christian theorist, argues
in the mid-2nd century:
made among your people in Babylon in the days of Jesus the priest, was an announcement of the things
to be accomplished by our Priest, who is God, and Christ
of God the Father of all."
with Trypho, 115
of names and story elements will repeat ad nauseam as the legend
of the universal saviour took shape.
Maccabean Revolution – Religion in Ferment
displaced the Persians and in the course of more than 150 years
of Greek rule the theocratic stranglehold
which the Judaic priesthood had held on the Jewish people was
broken. Hellenized reformers were in the ascendancy and early
BC the reformers, in collaboration with Seleucid king Antiochus
Epiphanes ('the Illustrious'), attempted a thorough-going
Hellenization of Judaea. Maverick
priests Jason and Menelaus were raised to the High Priesthood,
ending the lucrative, centuries-old monopoly of Onias and the
Zadok family. Traditional
worship, circumcision and the sabbath were all abolished.
(the Hasidim), incensed by these developments, fermented
unrest. Popular hostility to foreign rule was harnessed to priestly
resistance of assimilation which rapidly became an armed
At the head of the rebels stood the priest Mattathias (Matityahu)
and his several sons. One of them, Judas, gained the epithet maccabi ('hammer')
for his belligerency which gave the movement its name. Guerilla
tactics frustrated the efforts of four successive Syrian armies
to reestablish control.
Maccabean rebellion eventually won
for the Jews a precarious independence from the Seleucid Greeks
the new 'Hasmonean' dynasty itself faced formidable domestic
The new monarchy
was neither "Davidic" nor drawn from
the high priestly line of Aaron and quite predictably,
its priest-kings devoted themselves not to "righteousness" but
to aggressive wars of plunder against Arab neighbours.
I Maccabees acknowledges
that although Judas Maccabeus "purified the Temple" of
Syrian pollution – the basis for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah – his
dynasty became intoxicated with power and thereby fell from grace.
142 BC, about the time that the Greek garrison finally withdrew
from the citadel in Jerusalem, Simon Maccabeus assumed the
positions of both High Priest and "ethnarch" – a
priest/king of unlimited power. The Zadokites were not best
Essenes – "Righteous
Teacher, Son of Man"
and threatened by the Hashmon family a disillusioned
faction of the Zadokites fled for safety to the wilderness (a
region adjoining the Dead Sea known as 'Damascus'). Retrenchment
in the desert had its scriptural antecedents. Isaiah himself
had directed "Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make
straight in the desert a highway for our God." (40.3).
In this pitiless
environment the sharing of property and 'mutual
love' were necessary elements of survival and
became part of a code of religious honour. Initially at
'Damascus', then throughout Judaea, and later through successors
in Jewish enclaves of the diaspora, these purists or 'fundamentalists'
hierarchically organized fraternities, fanatical, militant and
almost exclusively male.
hoping one day for restoration, they were particularly absorbed
in soothsaying and star-gazing. From this mania they may have
derived their much later name of Essenes, from
the Aramaic 'assa' meaning 'physician' but
also 'exorcist' or 'magician'. In their own
lexicon they were called variously 'Keepers of the
Covenant', 'Sons of Light' and 'Sons of Zadok.'
revised Judaism reflected a simplistic division of the world
into two hostile camps – themselves, the force for truth
and righteousness; and their antagonists, the Sons of Darkness.
Hopes of future glory
the notion of the Kingdom of God – a
happy state prophesied by the Book of Daniel written
about this time. In a world-cleansing apocalypse the sinful evil-doers
would be vanquished.
Star has journeyed from Jacob, a Sceptre has
arisen from Israel; and he shall crush the temples
of Moab and overturn all the sons of Seth.
he shall rule from Jacob and shall cause the
survivors of the city to perish.
the enemy shall become a conquered land and Israel
shall display its valour.
by the hand of your Messiahs, the Seers of Things
ordained, You have announced to us the times
of the battles of Your hands, in which You will
– War Scroll 11.4,9.
Scroll recycles a more ancient bit of Jewish bile, Numbers
shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but
nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and
a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite
the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children
they were themselves the 'Elect of God' who would therefore
inherit God's kingdom, the Elders took it upon themselves
to interpret allegorically the Jewish scriptures
hitherto understood literally.
and hope was that in a not too distant future a priestly
arise, a sage who would correctly
interpret the Law of Moses, heal the sick, and predict the future. His presence would signal the imminence
of God's kingdom.
cadres of Al Qaeda, the Zadokite/Essenes readied themselves
for this coming conflict (of "Light and Darkness")
with a diet of pious devotions and military training.
From Daniel they
took the phrase "one like a man" and rendered
a new title for their soon-to-arrive hero "Son
of Man", he who would usher in God's Kingdom
and restore the rightful bloodlines.
Pharisees – "Universal
King, Raising the Dead"
About the same
time that the Zadokites/ Essenes fled to the badlands
another faction of the priesthood also broke from the Hasmoneans – taking
the name Pharisees ('separate ones'), referred
to in the coded language of the Dead Sea Scrolls as 'seekers
of smooth things'.
and devoted to strict religious observance, the Pharisees fiercely
resented foreign influence in their land. Their sensibilities
were especially offended by the impiety of the ruling house
and caused these otherwise religious conservatives to augment
scripture with contemporary reinterpretations
the Hasmonean dynasty the Pharisees declared faith in and expectation
of a future ideal and even universal king, one
who would act as God's special agent, a true "Son
of God." (The phrase will subsequently appear 81
times in the Gospels).
by the royalists, they also became part of the pious resistance,
a movement which now
awaited two saviours,
just as "foretold" by Zechariah:
said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by
the LORD of the whole earth."
– Zechariah 4.14.
written about this time, recorded the sentiments of the
Pharisees. To the Pharisees belongs
the dubious honour of inventing the concept of Holy War, a conviction
that faith will lead the righteous into martyrdom and that it
is their martyrdom which will prompt God to act.
Again, Daniel served
a purpose. The prophet's overnight stay in the lions' den (6.16) – as
also the very similar "three men in the oven" story
(3.19,30) – were now interpreted with a subtle scriptural
inventiveness. It was not merely Israel which would
be restored by the Almighty's beneficence; God had established
a covenant with his "Elect". When they made
the ultimate sacrifice He would deliver them of a personal resurrection.
vouchsafed a new eternal life to his martyrs.
God? Theophany goes out of fashion, Prophesy reigns
traditional Hebrew belief seeing God was likely
to be fatal (Genesis 6.13, Judges 6.22, etc.).
then it was necessary for the old tyrant to communicate
with his favourites from time to time. In the
early fables he took humanoid form, fighting
as a warrior alongside the chosen.
later times (a tad less gullible?) God retreated
more into the shadows, and, rather like UFOs
and Aliens, chose to appear only to isolated
individuals in remote places, particularly on
consequence, the "word of the prophets" (who
had an exclusive line to the Almighty) assumed
of course, He would probably use a web-cam.
Massacre – "Scapegoat Sacrifice"
support for the Maccabean royal house came from the aristocratic
party of Sadducees. In principle, its members were firmly committed
of the written Torah. They rejected the innovations of "oral
law" and the unsettling extremist
notion of resurrection of the body after death.
The clash of
the reality of earthly power and the cohorts of frustrated
piety reached a brutal climax during the reign of Alexander
Jannaeus (103-76 BC), nicknamed the "Thracian" for
his use of Greek mercenaries. Jerusalem-based Pharisees took
advantage of a military reversal for Alexander to lead a rebellion.
became a 6-year civil war. But the brethren had underestimated
their ruthless opponent and even intervention
by the Syrian king Demetrius on their behalf failed to save
them. Rather, it ensured the vengeance of Alexander.
out the Syrians, around the year 88 BC some 800 Pharisee and
Essene captives held by Alexander were crucified within
sight of the palace in Jerusalem (giving rise to the name of
the killing field "Mount of Execution" or Gol
leader at this time, never named but referred to in their scrolls
as the 'Teacher
of Righteousness' quite probably was
among Alexander's victims. An Essene commentary
on the Book of Habakkuk found at Qumran makes reference
to the "Wicked Priest's" persecution of the
Teacher of Righteousness and of another adversary, "the
Liar". Josephus records of the Jewish priest/king:
he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power,
he brought them to Jerusalem, and did one of the most barbarous
actions in the world to them;
as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of
all the city, he ordered
about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while
they were living, he ordered the throats of their children
wives to be cut before their eyes."
– Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13.14.
the Elect had been stunned and shocked by the execution of
their Righteous Teacher. To the Essenes,
Alexander was the "Lion of Wrath," his tyranny a time
of trial. But on the other hand it was also a sure sign of the "Last
Such is the nature of creative piety,
from the setback the priests were able to fabricate a positive
spiritual riposte: the notion of a propitiatory sacrifice.
God had allowed the
death of their leader as a sign of his redeeming love!
it may seem, the Almighty achieves his purposes through the suffering
of his servants. But of course the notion is no more than ancient scapegoat sacrifice – someone
chosen to pay the blood-price. Poetry (ascribed to the Teacher)
records this enlightening dogma:
Thee it is that they threaten my life,
That thou mayest be glorified
by the judgement of the wicked,
and demonstrate Thy might
through me ..."
– Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls, p90.
'Isaiah' – "Suffering Servant"
it was at this time that another, more famous, poetic work, Isaiah, gained
those verses used to such great effect in a later age in the
fabrication of "Jesus Christ."
a rambling, disjointed work of many hands, recording as contemporary
events the dramas of more than two centuries. The
Lord's "servant" of
chapter 50 (Israel?) becomes by chapter 53 a man suffering
the fate of the Teacher:
hath believed our report? ... he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities ... with his stripes we
are healed ...
the LORD hath
laid on him the iniquity of us all ... He was taken from
prison and from judgment ...
it pleased the LORD to bruise him;
hath put him to grief ... by his knowledge shall my righteous
many; for he shall bear their iniquities ... he bare the
many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
As the decades and centuries unfolded all the story elements
which would eventually coalesce into the legend of Christ came
into being. Each political and national crisis of the Jews engendered
a restatement and a recasting of a perennial theme.
Christ myth were not inventors – they were plagiarists.
J. R. Porter, The Lost Bible (Duncan Baird, 2001)
John Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth (Westbridge,
M. Baigent, R. Leigh, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception (Jonathan Cape, 1992)
Don Fleming, Bible Knowledge Dictionary (Scripture Press, 1990)
Luigi Cascioli, The Fable of Christ (Luigi Cascioli, 2001)
David Watson, Jesus, then and Now (Lion, 1983)
W. P. Ball, et al, The Bible Handbook (AAP, 1986)
Nicholas Carter, The Christ Myth (Historical Review Press, 1993)
Keith Hopkins, A World Full of Gods (The Free Press, 2000)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
For your copy order:
a friend e-mail this page
Copyright © 2005
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no
material herein is sold for profit.