A 'life' conjured
up from mystical fantasy, a mass of borrowed quotations, copied
story elements and a corpus of self-serving speculation, does not
reality. It constitutes
a myth, a hero-myth, in essentials no different from the legends
of champions that times of crisis called into
existence in many cultures. "Jesus Christ Lord
and Saviour" is
most convoluted and enduring of such accretions but its fabrication
from simple elements is no less apparent than that of any other
west Asian salvation god.
Jewish radicals of the 1st century – whether militant patriots
within Palestine or proto-Christians of the Jewish diaspora – the
despised and neglected masses were both audience and market
place. For a century or more the battle was joined for the future
In the Levant,
militancy had the upper hand until the final debacle of 135. In
the diaspora, a repackaged piety centred on a personal
saviour god eventually gained the ascendancy, advancing with
each successive reversal of belligerency and the attendant flood
of refugees and captive
slaves into the cities of the Mediterranean.
A revised 'rabbinic'
Judaism made an impressive revival in the 2nd-3rd centuries. But
a heresy called Christianity had been commandeered by gentile
pagans who saw opportunity in a hybridised oriental cult with a
with a Sword? Enter the Nazarenes
"And it was in Gessius Florus's time that the nation began to grow
mad with this distemper ... and to make them revolt from the Romans."
– Josephus, 18.1.6
As the 1st century
unfolded a radical arm of the Essenes, the Zealots (‘zealous
for the law’) and bands of assassins, known as Sicarii,
actively resisted Roman occupation by aping the guerilla
tactics of the Maccabees two hundred years earlier. They were part
of a widening resistance movement.
of Archelaus and
imposition of direct rule in 6AD precipitated a 'tax revolt'.
Notable among the rebels was Judas
the Galilean – son
of the Ezekias murdered by Herod the Great a generation
earlier. His followers appear to have been a
particular band of fanatical Gaulonites. 4th century Bishop
Epiphanius (Panarion 18-19) confirms that a sect was operating
in the Bashan (the Golan Heights and east of the Sea of Galilee)
and Galaaditis (the western Decapolis) called the Nasaraioi (variations
on the name include "Nazorei" and "Nazarenoi"). Evidently
they were orthodox Jews who had who broken away from temple sacrifice.
The precise factional divide between Zealots and Nasaraioi is
far from clear. Probably it depended upon the charisma of individual
leaders at any
actually get a mention in the New Testament:
"For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover
of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader
sect of the Nazarenes" – Acts 24.5
appears to have been a member of a curious family dynasty of rebels
continued to lead a resistance movement at least until the defeat
of 70 AD. Certainly, a
century of ruthless exploitation by Rome, added to the fearsome
exploitation by the priesthood and the Herodian aristocracy, created
conditions which made civil war and rebellion inevitable.
Judaism's "Worthless peasants"
" A Jew
must not marry a daughter of an Am ha-aretz because they
are unclean animals and their women forbidden reptiles ...
What God hath cleansed call thou not common!"
(Mishnah, Tractate Demai 2
Judaism's theocratic tyranny only the aristocracy had "holiness".
The Am ha-aretz (workers
of the land, commoners), were too oppressed to say Shema night
and day, wear phylacteries or fringe their garments. To the priestly
aristocracy they were objects of
poor, the disabled and the sick were all ritually unclean. Male
Jews even had a morning prayer thanking God for "not being
made a woman." Unwelcome in the sanctums of the Temple, those
who would not, or could not, fight turned to a simple expedient:
a river and a wild guru.
the Baptist (30s AD)
in water probably originated in India on the banks of the Ganges,
where the sacred waters drove out demons. Brahmans and Buddhist
monks carried the idea to western Asia after the conquests
of Alexander the Great.
was adopted by groups such as the Essenes, with whom John the
baptiser no doubt learned his craft. His new twist to an old
idea was to replace self-baptism with an administered baptism.
Doubtless, his bizarre ascetic practices gave him an aura of "other worldliness" and
his sermonizing hope to those intimidated by the thought of
armed resistance to Rome.
(Antiquities 18) gives a favourable report of the
pacifist John, in stark contrast to his scathing comments on
all the more robust rebels. John appears to have been active
in Peraea – not far from Qumran itself.
did they get their ideas from?
cult of John the Baptist grew up entirely independently
of the Jesus cult and continued for centuries in
competition with the aggressive newcomer. Christian
scribes, plagiarizing from every source to hand,
co-opted the Baptist for a supporting role in their
own fantasy. They fabricated two links: firstly,
a blood tie via a cousin of Mary; and secondly,
by the tricky theology of having John baptize the
3:1 "Behold, I will send my messenger,
and he shall prepare the way before me."
40:3 "The voice of him that crieth in
the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God."
was called the Baptist ... not
for remission of sins, but for
the purification of the body ... many
others came in crowds about him ...
in the desert, and used no
other clothing than what grew upon trees,
and had no other food than what grew
of its own accord, and bathed himself
in cold water frequently, both night and day,
to purify himself."
slew him, who was a good man
... feared lest the great influence John had
over the people ... thought it best, by putting
him to death, to prevent any mischief he
might cause ....
was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's
suspicious temper, to Macherus ... and was
there put to death."
the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas
..." [called Phasaelis. She fled on learning
of Herod's intended remarriage to his half-brother's
wife. This prompted a war with Aretas]
Tiberius, who was very angry at the attempt made
by Aretas and wrote to Vitellius to make war
upon him and either to take him alive, and bring
him in chains, or to kill him, and send
him his head."
of evidence suggests John the Baptist was executed
Mark 1.2,3 "As
it is written in the prophets: Behold, I send
My messenger before thy face, who shall prepare
thy way before thee.
voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare
ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.' "
Mark 1.4,5. "John did baptize in
the wilderness, and preach the
baptism of repentance for the remission
of sins ...
there went out unto him all the land..."
Mark 1.6. "Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with
a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild
Mark 6:20. "For Herod feared John, knowing
that he was a just and righteous man."
Luke 3.18,20. "Herod
the tetrarch, being reproved by
him ... shut up John in prison.
does not name Herod's first wife and – surprise,
surprise – nor do the gospels.]
6.27. "The king sent an executioner ...
and he went and beheaded him
in the prison."
Gnosis: Paul's "good news" for the Essenes –
seen your Messiah and He's Alive in Heaven!"
appeals to the brethren of the Jewish diaspora?
response to Roman occupation took more than one form.
Romanisation of Palestine not only radicalised those Jews who
resisted colonisation: it Hellenized the collaborators who embraced
the new reality. An early Jewish Gnostic was the Samaritan "Simon the
legacy was to inspire both the mystical "Kabala" (a refinement
of Pythagorean "magic" numbers) and later Christian Gnostics – Basilides,
Saturninus, Carpocrates among them.
most successful student of Simon was the apostle Paul, who would
concoct a new, Jewish-oriented version of the ancient mystery cult
tradition of dying and rising gods. In common with all the early
Christian writers, Paul knew nothing of any human Jesus. His saviour
originated (and remained!) in the ethereal world of pious imagination,
both crucified by and triumphing over "Principalities
speak the Wisdom of God in a mystery ... Which none of the
Princes of this World knew: for had they known it, they
would not have crucified the Lord of Glory."
– 1 Corinthians
"And having spoiled Principalities and Powers, He made
a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it."
all this by recourse to Jewish scripture – not
any appeal to an historic reality. Thus, "Christ died for
our sins according to the scriptures" and "he
was buried, and that he rose again the third day according
to the scriptures" (Corinthians 15.3,4)
target audiences are the synagogues established in the diaspora – Corinth,
Philippi, Ephesus, Colossi, (the same "churches" berated
in Revelation) – where he confronts rival salesmen (Apollos,
followers of John, etc.) but has a "good news" message
for the Essenes, whose memories of their founder are growing dim
a vision. He has seen the anointed one and he now sits at God's
right hand! His
was a redemption (just like that of Adonis, Osiris, Dionysus,
et al!) and his followers can look forward to salvation
and an eternal life.
finds The Exalted One a name… "Jesus"
It would be reasonable
to suppose that in identifying their dead hero with those of the
past the Essenes had accorded him the same hallowed name: Joshua/Jesus.
Unfortunately, use by the Essenes of cryptic pseudonyms denies
us that confirmation.
by Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians is a hymn, perhaps
one which originated with the Essenes, whose synagogues in the
Diaspora were the apostle's chosen recruiting ground. Paul is hoping
to win converts with his Gnosticised Judaism.
is endeavouring to strengthen the faith of the brethren and in
the hymn a heavenly being has "emptied himself" by
taking the form of a servant of
the Lord. The humiliating self-sacrifice earns the god a name "above
God has highly exalted him,
And bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth, and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
To the glory of God the Father." – Philippians 2.9,11.
How did a dead
Essene make it to heaven? This neat trick (by now the Zadokite
founder of the Essenes had been dead for 150 years) was achieved
by "raising him", like Elijah, to heaven. God, it seems,
had "glorified his servant", had "exalted" him
to his right hand, he had entered or been "assumed" into
Heaven. And Paul could agree with the Essenes: in the imminent Last
of Days the sinful world would be destroyed utterly and the "brotherhood
of the righteous" would
inherit the earth.
The War of Light
when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know
that the desolation thereof is nigh.
Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains;
and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let
them that are in the countries enter thereinto ... But woe
unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in
days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath
upon this people.
they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led
away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden
down of the Gentiles."
– Luke (21.20,24),
doubtless drawing on Josephus's description of the siege and
famine in Jerusalem.
himself passed on to heaven – or maybe just died – shortly
before the violent eruption of the Jewish civil war and war against
The Jewish aristocracy
was fatally split on the confrontation with Rome. Those whose ambition
exceeded their judgement tried unsuccessfully to put themselves
at the head of the popular movement and limit radical attacks upon
all men of property. Indeed, discord was everywhere: Pharisee against
Sadducee, Samaritan against Judaean, Syrian against Jew.
the Roman war machine slowly yet relentlessly
pacified the areas of rebellion, Zealots, Sicarii, Essenes and insurgents
of all shades fled to the diminishing enclave
around Jerusalem with the consequence that the aristocrats
lost control and the 'revolution' became radicalised.
The radical factions
were themselves in conflict. When the Idumean Simon bar Giora entered
Jerusalem he came as "King of the Jews" yet John
of Gischala continued
to control most of the city. Resisting both were fanatical Zealots,
who turned the Temple itself into a citadel and anticipated divine
at the final hour.
strife ceased only when Titus's four legions besieged the city
for five months in 70 AD but by then the situation had become
hopeless. Eventually breaching the formidable walls of the city,
the Romans overwhelmed the hungry defenders. The Temple itself
was burned to the ground and the city gutted. A few
Sicarii/Essene extremists continued resistance further south,
in the fortress palace of Massada. But after a three year
too, were defeated. Their mass suicide is renowned.
If we can believe Eusebius among others (Ecc. His. 3.5.3), the
proto-Christians made a smart exit before the disaster and made straight
for Pella, a thoroughly Greek city of the Decapolis.
Perhaps while the militants
were going up in flames, the proto-Christians first pondered the
possibility of a pacifist hero who would not bring
the Romans down on top of them?
is where the Nazoraean sect began."
century Bishop Epiphanius (Panarion 29)
Pella was the very essence
of an Hellenized city. Its ruins are as extensive as Jerash, though
not as fully excavated.
However – Yet another void
"The first settlers at ancient Pella arrived in the Neolithic period, around 7500 B.C., and the site’s occupation continued for thousands of years.
When it came to first-century A.D. settlement at Pella, Jordan, archaeology surprisingly produced practically no remains. It seems that no one was living there at the time.
Soon after, the Romans resettled ancient Pella in the second century and developed it into a thriving economic center."
– Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2013
Dying Flame – The Rebellion of 114-117
Breath – The War of 130-135
Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion,The Weight of Three
Thousand Years (Pluto, 1997)
Michael Grant, Herod the Great (McGraw-Hill, 1971)
Neil Faulkner, Apocalypse-The Great Jewish Revolt Against Rome AD66-73 (Tempus,
Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome (Guild, 1990)
Nigel Rogers, The History & Conquests of Ancient Rome (Access, 2004)