From a distance
of 2000 years Jesus Christ appears in glorious technicolor,
a veritable rainbow of the power and the glory. Every child "knows"
his story, every individual "recognizes" his slender frame,
his flowing chestnut hair, his kindly blue eyes. But up close
and personal our superhero evaporates into the ether, a
historical record. Not only does no one notice Jesus during his
lifetime; Jesus notices nothing of the wider world into which
he makes his spectral
As for Christianity's
audacious claim that its hero introduced something new into ethics
and morality, that
assertion is wholly fallacious. Long before any mythical Nazarene
had epithets of wisdom put into his mouth, other – real,
yet mortal – philosophers taught a morality of brotherly
love and human compassion. Christianity merely sequestered
and then ignored those ideals.
The "witnesses" who
saw and heard nothing
As it happens,
we have an excellent witness to events in Judaea and the Jewish
diaspora in the first half of the first century
AD: Philo of Alexandria (c25 BC-47 AD).
Philo was an
old man when he led an embassy from the Jews to the court
of Emperor Gaius
year was 39-40 AD. Philo clearly, then, lived at precisely the
time that "Jesus of Nazareth" supposedly
entered the world to a chorus of angels, enthralled the multitudes
and got himself crucified.
Philo was also
in the right place to give testimony of a messianic
contender. A Jewish aristocrat and leader of the large Jewish
we know that
Philo spent time in
(On Providence) where he had intimate
connections with the royal house
His brother, Alexander the "alabarch" (chief
tax official), was one of the richest men in the east, in charge
of collecting levies on imports into Roman Egypt. Alexander's
great wealth financed the silver and gold sheathing
the doors of the Temple (Josephus, War 5.205). Alexander
also loaned a fortune to Herod Agrippa I (Antiquities 18).
One of Alexander's
sons, and Philo's nephews, Marcus, was married to Berenice,
daughter of Herod Agrippa, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, 39-40.
the exile of Herod Antipas – villain of the Jesus saga – he
ruled as King
of the Jews, 41-44
AD. Another nephew was the "apostate" Julius Alexander
Tiberius, Prefect of Egypt and also Procurator of Judaea itself
Much as Josephus
would, a half century later, Philo wrote extensive apologetics
on the Jewish religion and commentaries on contemporary
politics. About thirty manuscripts and
at least 850,000 words are extant. Philo offers commentary
on all the major characters of the Pentateuch and, as we
mentions Moses more
than a thousand times.
a word about
Jesus, Christianity nor any of the events described in the
New Testament. In
all this work, Philo makes not a single reference to
his alleged contemporary "Jesus Christ", the godman
who supposedly was perambulating up and down the Levant, exorcising
the dead and causing earthquake
and darkness at his death.
close connection to the house of Herod, one might
reasonably expect that
the miraculous escape from a
prison of a gang of apostles (Acts 5.18,40),
or the second, angel-assisted, flight of Peter, even though
chained between soldiers and guarded by four squads
of troops (Acts 12.2,7)
might have occasioned the odd footnote. But not a murmur. Nothing
of Agrippa "vexing certain of the church" or
brother of John" with the sword (Acts 12.1,2).
but only if we believe Jesus and his merry men existed and
that they established the church. If we recognize that the Christian
fable was still at an early stage of development when Philo was
the relationship of god and man, there is nothing strange
What is very
significant, however, is that Philo's theological speculations
helped the Christians fabricate
their own notions of a
Where did they get
their ideas from?
Jesus – or Agrippa?
of a real Jewish king
The death of the Herod the Great's
son, Philip, in 34 AD, left the tetrarchy of Panias
and Batanaea without
a local king. In 39, Caligula sent Herod Antipas,
tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, into exile. Caligula now
turned to Herod the Great's grandson, Herod Agrippa,
for a client king and Agrippa was made ruler of all the
Jewish lands apart
On the voyage home from Rome, this
of the Jews, stopped over in Alexandria
where his presence in the city provoked anti-Jewish riots.
became the target of ridicule and lampoon.
Philo described the course of events
in his work named for the anti-Jewish governor of Egypt, Flaccus.
His work was familiar to the early Christians when decades
after his death they composed the gospels. One
passage of Flaccus contains a curious pre-figuring
of several famous verses found in the Gospels.
But then the Lord moves in curious ways.
Works of Philo Judaeus – Flaccus, VI.
There was a certain madman named Carabbas ...
this man spent all this days and nights naked in
the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, the sport of
idle children and wanton youths;
and they, driving the poor wretch as far as the public
gymnasium, and setting him up there on high that
he might be seen by everybody, flattened
out a leaf of papyrus and put
it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed
the rest of his body with a common door mat instead
of a cloak and instead of a sceptre they put in
his hand a small stick of the native papyrus which
they found lying by the way side and gave to him;
and when, like actors in theatrical spectacles, he had received
all the insignia of royal authority, and had been dressed
and adorned like a king, the young men bearing
sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead
of spear-bearers, in imitation of the bodyguards
of the king, and then others came up,
some as if to salute him, and others making as
though they wished to plead their causes before
him, and others pretending to wish to consult
with him about the affairs of the state.
Then from the multitude of those who were standing around
there arose a wonderful shout of men calling out Maris!;
and this is the name by which it is said that they
call the kings among the Syrians; for they knew
that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he was
possessed of a great district of Syria of which he was
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and
when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common
hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of
27:28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet
27:29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon
his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they
bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of
Philo: author of Christianity?
"Now the image
of God is the Word, by which all the world was made."
– Philo, "The
Special Laws", I (81)
Philo was an
eclectic philosopher who borrowed freely from the Platonists,
Stoics and Cynics. Yet he remained tenaciously loyal to his
Jewish faith, and regarded Mosaic scripture as a source
only of religious revelation, but
also of the philosophic truths propounded by the Greeks.
According to Philo, the
Greek philosophers had "borrowed from Moses" and
had received their insights from the God of the Jews. To substantiate
this dubious claim Philo found subtle and
obscure nuances in the biblical sagas. Simply put, the wisdom of the
to be found entire within the books of Moses – all that one had
to discern was the "hidden meaning" of words that, to the uninitiated,
patently had no bearing on Greek philosophy. Philo was thus able to preserve
the arrogant superiority of the Jews who in reality had been subsumed
into the Greek world.
How did a transcendent
God communicate with the world? Here, a term from the Stoics proved most
to Philo, "Logos" – Greek
for "word" or "reason"– equated
to divine reason. The
Logos or Word emanated from the ineffable God
and communicated with his creations. Thus it was the Logos that
spoke to Moses from the burning bush, and it was the Logos that
infused the righteous High Priest. When one experienced religious
ecstasy it was because the Logos had entered
one's own soul.
defined the curious nature of God's intermediary thus:
"And the Father who
created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word
a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both,
and separated that which had been created from the Creator.
And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on
behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and
is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race.
And the Word rejoices in
the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying,
'And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and
You; neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being
in the midst between these two extremities ... For I will proclaim peaceful
intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars,
namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace.' "
– Philo, Who is the
Heir of Divine Things? 42.205-6.
"Word" made "Flesh"
When the works of Philo
were studied by early Christian theorists (the Alexandrian school of
Clement, Origen, etc.) not just the construct of the Logos but the "allegorical
a godsend: the Old Testament presaged not merely
godman himself! Thus the scripture of the Jews could be scoured for subtle
clues supposedly prophesying a saviour in human form.
Again, Philo pointed the
"And even if there
be not as yet any one who is
worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let
him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born word,
the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for
he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word,
and man according to God's image, and he who sees Israel."
– Philo, "On the Confusion of Tongues," (146)
Philo was himself undoubtedly
influenced by ancient notions of Hermes
Trismegistos ('thrice greatest' Hermes), a Hellenized version of the Egyptian
Thoth – a god of wisdom and a guide to the afterlife.
knew nothing of Jesus but when, a century after Philo's death, the Christians
were historicizing their godman
from preconceived notions of what the Saviour should be, they
borrowed freely from Philo's work. Thus the
Christian apologist Justin Martyr multiplexed "divine reason" into
the myriad forms that populate the landscape of Christian theology:
"I shall give you another testimony, my friends," said I, "from
the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning, a certain
rational power from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory
of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then
Lord and Logos."
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, LXI – ("Wisdom is begotten of the
father, as fire from fire.")
About the same time that
Justin was finessing "God's Wisdom" into human form, the author of John's
the opening phrase of Genesis with the speculations of Philo's logos to
produce the famous opening verse of his gospel.
the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God." – John,
Bringing Philo on Message
the 4th century so impressed was Church propagandist Eusebius by
Philo's descriptions of the Therapeutae (Hellenized Jewish
Buddhists of Alexandria) that the church historian decided the Therapeutae were
in fact early Christian
monks. As for Philo himself, Eusebius cheerfully disregarded chronology and
credibility and had the grand old Jewish philosopher reading the (as
yet, unwritten) gospels and epistles – and conversing with Peter in Rome!
"It seems likely [Philo]
wrote this after listening to their expositions of the Holy Scriptures,
and it is very probable that what he calls short works by
their early writers were the gospels, the apostolic writings,
and in all probability passages interpreting the old prophets, such as
in the Epistle
to the Hebrews and several others of Paul's epistles.
It is also
recorded that under Claudius, Philo came to Rome to have
conversations with Peter, then preaching to the people there
... It is plain enough that he not only knew but welcomed
with whole-hearted approval the apostolic men of his day,
who it seems were of Hebrew stock and therefore, in the Jewish
manner, still retained most of their ancient customs."
– Eusebius, The History of the Church, p50,52.
a major role in the Hellenization of Hebrew scripture, unwittingly
preparing the ground for an upstart heresy to supplant and marginalize
the ancestral religion he set out to defend.
The fate of
Philo's co-religionist Josephus was to become a bogus witness to Christ
– but Philo himself was rendered a closet Christian!
that Jesus never noticed
Whilst we should not
expect a rural rabbi to comment on day-to-day politics, it is a
telling silence that the man that nobody notices himself
doesn't notice any of the major events of his age.
But then, JC never actually trod the earth and JC never heard the news from Rome.
Early in the 1st century the
Romans suffered their most humiliating defeat. Germania, like Judaea, had
been annexed by the empire in 6 AD and it, too, was being taxed and organised
as a province.
But in 9 AD, an alliance of German tribes ambushed and annihilated three
legions in the Teutoburg
Forest. The disaster permanently curtailed
Roman designs in northern Europe.
ill-fated commander in Germany had been none other than Publius
Quinctilius Varus – the former governor of Syria.
A few years earlier, Varus had crushed revolts in Judaea and Samaria
and crucified 2000 rebels.
9 AD - Rome's catastrophe in Germany.
Not worth a comment from JC on 'resisting evil' or the 'folly of earthly
• A Man made God
In 14 AD, Emperor Augustus,
master of the civilized world for nearly half a century, died. Eulogies
and Drusus were followed
by a pyre on Campus Martius and deification.
"An ex-praetor actually
swore that he had seen Augustus's spirit soaring up to heaven through
life, images of Augustus had been erected in temples throughout the empire:
"Augustus seemed to
have superceded the worship of the gods when he wanted to have himself
venerated in temples, with god-like images,
and ministers." – Tacitus (Annals, 1)
cult, which began with Julius Caesar, gained much greater impetus following
the deification of Augustus. Here was an officially sponsored challenge to Jesus' own cult and surely merited a word of censure?
14 AD. Princeps, Augustus, Imperator,
Pater Patriae – and finally God. This cameo
of "divus Augustus" depicts
a crown with rays of the sun god, just like the nimbus of Jesus.
not a "real" god Jesus have had something to say about the
"imitation" god Augustus?
• Good and Evil
AD. The popular Roman prince Germanicus, a grandson of Augustus
and restorer of the Rhine frontier, was sent east by Tiberius as imperium
magistrate). He died suddenly in Antioch amid speculation that the governor
of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, had poisoned him on orders from
the emperor. Tiberius compelled Piso to commit suicide but became increasingly paranoid
as his unpopularity grew.
Germanicus – a noble
Plenty of stuff here, surely, for
wise words about nobility and baseness. From Jesus – nothing.
• The Wickedness of Men
22-31 AD. Emperor Tiberius – honoured
by Herod Antipas with
the new capital city of Tiberias – withdrew
to debauchery on the island of Capri.
The emperor's isolation allowed the guard commander
and consul Aelius
establish himself as virtual regent in Rome, terrifying the city with
spies, treason trials
Even the emperor's son Drusus
was murdered, with Sejanus planning to marry his widow and thus link
himself to the imperial family. Eventually alarmed, Tiberius
had Sejanus arrested and killed, and returned to Rome.
Tiberius's playboy mansion,
a word about the evil designs of men from the "perfect" Jesus?
History (Harvard, 1984)
Charles Yonge, The Works of Philo Judaeus (Bohn, 1890)
G. Speake (Ed.), Dictionary of Ancient History (Penguin,
Tony Lane, Christian Thought (Lion, 1996)
W. Whiston, The Works of Flavius Josephus (Kregel, 1999)
M. Lyttelon, The Romans (Orbis, 1984)
J. Boardman, et al, Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford, 1986)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
For your copy order:
Copyright © 2006
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no
material herein is sold for profit.
a friend e-mail this page