Jesus Never Existed

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Jesus Never Existed

Aelia Capitolina – City of the Evangelists!

In print, must be true

For two hundred years, the municipality of Aelia – the erstwhile city of Jerusalem – was demonstrably and triumphantly pagan, enjoying all the refinements of a Roman colonia. It was also a garrison city for legio X Fretensis – the Roman legion which had destroyed Gamala, Qumran and Masada. In the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD the Tenth had camped on the Mount of Olives, and rained ballisticae onto the city. In the war of 135 it had reduced the fortress of Betar, killing the messianic claimant and the last of his supporters. Post-war, legio decima was heavily involved in reconstruction, its expertise deployed in a vast number of public works.

This pagan past is dimly perceived today, even though the Roman imprint determined the size and layout of the city for more than a thousand years. “Pagan Jerusalem” is regarded by all and sundry as an alien interlude in an essentially Judeo-Christian story. Yet Aelia Capitolina is crucial in the history of Christianity. It was while Jupiter was venerated on “Temple Mount” and Venus honoured in the heart of the city that the fable of Jesus was given form and substance. It was upon, not the city of Herod, but the 2nd century city of Hadrian that the gospellers imposed their fable.


A Roman Colonia

“The whole nation (of the Jews) was prohibited from this time on by a decree, and by the commands of Adrian, from ever going up to the country about Jerusalem. For the emperor gave orders that they should not even see from a distance the land of their fathers. Such is the account of Aristo of Pella. And thus, when the city had been emptied of the Jewish nation and had suffered a total destruction of its ancient inhabitants, it was colonized by a different race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose was called Aelia, in honour of the emperor Aelius Adrian.”
– Eusebius, History of the Church, 39.6.3.
If 4th century Christian historian Eusebius is to be believed, the new city that Emperor Hadrian built upon the ruins of Jerusalem was colonized by a “new race of Gentiles”. When the gospels took the shape familiar to us today Jerusalem was a memory. In its stead stood the Romano-Hellenic city of Aelia Capitolina, a minor town of the province of Syria Palestina.
Coins issued by Hadrian confirm that Colonia Aelia Capitolina was founded about the year 132 AD, before, not after, the second war of the Jews. It was originally intended to be the emperor’s gift to the Jewish people, drawing them into the world empire of Rome. A Roman colony entitled the residents to many tax benefits not awarded to citizens of a regular polis.
But soon after Hadrian returned to the west resentful religious reactionaries placed themselves at the head of impoverished peasants and urban malcontents and began a well-planned second war against Rome. Evidently, in munitions workshops Jewish craftsmen had deliberately spoiled weapons intended for the Roman army and stored the rejects for future use.
Three years of vicious warfare against rebels led by Simon ben Kosiba left the emperor furious with the Jews. When the revolt was eventually crushed, Hadrian wiped off Judaea from the map. Privileges which the Jews had enjoyed from the time of Julius Caesar were revoked. Except for the ninth of Av, the day of mourning, the Jews faced penalties for even laying eyes on the city. Under the edicts of Hadrian the Roman administration made no distinction between Judeo-Christians and orthodox Jews – all were expelled.
Not to be thwarted, the emperor pressed ahead with his plans for the new city. His architects marked out a colony extending further north than the earlier Herodian city – its full extent is yet to be established. But Aelia would no longer be a city for the Jews. Under new Roman laws they were forbidden to live in the city or anywhere between Jerusalem and Hebron. Capital punishment faced any Jew who so much as stepped foot in the city. The Aelia which arose would make no concessions to the Jews.
The city itself, no longer the hub of a theocracy, took on the status of a minor provincial town. No major trade route passed its way and rabbinic Judaism established itself elsewhere. Caesarea, the provincial capital, became the city of choice for both the Jewish elite and ambitious artisans, attracted by the thriving port and Hellenistic lifestyle. Aelia, lost in the high country, was on the road to nowhere.
But Aelia was a city with a dimly perceived “past” that would colour a wondrous tale of a saviour god. Who would have anticipated that within a few centuries this minor provincial town would flourish as the “centre of the earth” and enjoy the dubious honour of being the maelstrom of conflict and war for the next two millennia?

Roman Jerusalem – Aelia Capitolina

Jesus in the city of Hadrian?

“Jerusalem  … was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.” – JosephusWar VII.1,1.

“And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” – Mark 13.2.


The whole world knows that the gospel pageant is set in the first half of the first century. Rather more pertinent is determining precisely when and by whom the fabulous tale was concocted. The inspired religious writers of the second century – who quite possibly had no familiarity with real Jerusalem at all – would have been very aware that the city had changed drastically in a century of turmoil and war. But, in fact, that hiatus helped to establish their salvation drama as a cosmic event. The gospellers’ Jerusalem was no mere geography but was the Holy City, a sacred mountain where God had communed with his chosen people.
Aelia’s existence on the ruins of Jerusalem – erasing all that had gone before – underscored the transcendent and timeless nature of the gospel message. Divinity had intruded briefly into human affairs and, for the Christian story writers, the comings and goings of Jesus had been a sacred drama, occurring not in simple past and common place but in “sacred time” and “sacred space“.
Sacred space is replete with a Holy of Holies, hallowed ground, Paradise, and – inevitably – an Abode of the Damned. Sacred space has place for a “centre”, “four corners” and the “ends” of the earth and for a firmament that “divides the waters from the waters” (Genesis 1.6). In sacred space zodiacal coordinates and the position of the stars have meaning (“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars” – Luke 21.25.)
Sacred time is no less a departure from rationality – and is certainly not linear, chronological and unidirectional. What importance has normal time to eternal truths or eternal beings? – a day is as a year or a millennium. Sacred time has an “In the Beginning”, an “End Time”, a “time before time”, “first and last days” and, by inference, an indeterminate “meantime”. The once and future king is always with us, his pithy “wisdom” statements are true now, have always been true, and will remain true for all time. The superhero who utters them does so in times past, present and future. In this quirky universe Joshua can make the sun stand still and a sacrificial redeemer can still live two thousand years after his death, forever dying and resurrecting.
Allegorical or supposed “higher truths” exist in a dimension all their own and a fake historicism confuses the unwary. The problem arises when the theological dreamscape is misinterpreted as literal truth and lesser minds impose the cosmic event onto a real geography and intrude a holy pageant into real history. The “fit” is gross, the anachronisms rife. Here and there, a particular town or place may be favoured as a candidate for the miraculous but “mysteries”, enigmas and anomalies abound. By its very nature the supernatural cannot be compelled to fit the merely natural. Only within the imprecision of the human mind can the circle be squared, water run up hill, and cool and measured rationality coexist with the passion, emotionalism and irrationality of faith. The discordance is celebrated as “spirituality”.
Thus it is not surprising that the gospels can mention Jerusalem more than a hundred times yet make fewer than half a dozen references to any named or identifiable topography. The “pre-war” sacred Jerusalem of their tale is glimpsed only in the most general terms and the story, for the most part, avoids all specifics as it moves Jesus about his “theatrical” setting. Thus, for example, for that climatic “last supper” JC’s instructions for finding a suitable venue for the passover meal are decidedly “unworldly”:

“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.” – Matthew 26.17,19.

To this breathlessly vague direction Luke and Mark add a curious astrological element: the disciples are led to the guesthouse by “a man bearing a pitcher of water” (Luke 22.10; Mark 14.13) – a symbolism typical of Aquarius. Whatever else that suggests (perhaps it’s an oblique reference to John the Baptist, the water man “who goes before”), it has no credibility as history. Who are these men? If Jesus can manipulate their behaviour why not simply “guide” his disciples? Better yet, why not just tell them the address? (And a late booking on the eve of Passover for a party of thirteen? Fat chance!) The whole pericope is a patent literary device, a preamble introducing the last supper itself and the grand finale.


The Praetorium

According to the gospel fable, it was the praetorium where JC was tried and condemned. But what praetorium was that?
After Herod Archelaus was deposed in 6 AD his palace on the western side of the city of Jerusalem was sequestered as the seat of the Roman Prefect, complete with “judgement hall”. This was the praetorium. It was NOT, as Christians long-supposed, located in the Antonia tower, a fortress built by Herod and named for his Roman patron.
So Who DID sit on a judgement seat?
Our old friend Josephus reports the tribunal of a much later procurator than Pilate – Gessius Florus, whose provocations forced the Jews into war:
“Now at this time Florus took up his quarters at the palace; and on the next day he had his tribunal set before it, and sat upon it, when the high priests, and the men of power, and those of the greatest eminence in the city, came all before that tribunal;
Upon which Florus commanded them to deliver up to him those that had reproached him, and told them that they should themselves partake of the vengeance … But they begged forgiveness for those that had spoken amiss … it was impossible to distinguish those that offended from the rest … that he ought … to forgive a few that were guilty…”

– Josephus, War of the Jews, 2.14.

The Florus episode prefigures aspects of the Passion narrative, both the “alliance” of the Roman Procurator with Jewish high priests against offenders – and that odd appeal to clemency of the Barabbas release. But the “uncanny” parallels do not stop there. Josephus continues:
“Florus was more provoked at this, and called out aloud to the soldiers to plunder … and to slay such as they met with. … The soldiers slew those that they caught … they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified … Those that were destroyed that day, with their wives and children … was about three thousand and six hundred.
And what made this calamity the heavier was this new method of Roman barbarity; for Florus ventured then to do what no one had done before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed to the cross before his tribunal; who, although they were by birth Jews, yet were they of Roman dignity notwithstanding.”
Not only do we have a Roman Procurator flogging and crucifying his critics but victims include the “quiet people” (“Jesus gave no answer”) and “Jews of Roman dignity”. So much for St Paul’s wondrous get-out-of-jail card “I am a Roman”!
With more than 3,000 victims, including infants, it is hard to give credence to the notion – dreamed up by the 2nd century Christian ‘historian’ Hegesippus – that it was the “martyrdom of James the Less” and not the barbarity of Florus that was the catalyst of war.

"Behold the anachronism!"

“Ecce Homo” – a favourite scene in the Christian dreamscape.

In fact, the arch of Christian legend – named by Edward Robinson, a 19th century evangelical and still revered on the Via Dolorosa – was part of a triumphal arch built by the Emperor Hadrian on the east-west road just north of Temple Mount – a century too late for Jesus!

Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? … Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe.
And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! … And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.

– John 18.28-19.9.

Jesus was here? No chance.

The praetorium was built on the ruins of Herod’s palace and was itself a fortress. As a formidable strong point it was subsequently occupied by Crusader kings, Mameluke chieftains and Ottoman governors. Today it even masquerades as the “Tower of David” although there is no link to the Jewish hero.
During the Roman period a cohort of guards would have been stationed at the praetorium but the main body of the legion would have been housed elsewhere.
In the Christian dreamscape, the 2nd century paving adjacent to the ceremonial arch of Hadrian has become the scene of JC’s flogging, ridicule and condemnation! Dream on.
Early in the 20th century French religio-archeologist, Father Hugues Vincent discovered a large expanse of ancient pavement and declared that it was the “lithostrotos” of John’s gospel. The misidentification became clear after later investigation brought to light various Roman flagstones and artifacts under the nearby covent.
Archaeology has proven conclusively that the pavement and associated arch were features of the forum constructed by Hadrian after the second Jewish war (132-135) – a century later than “Jesus”. When the new city of Aelia was built, the open pool of Struthius north of Temple Mount was vaulted over – and then the pavement was laid.
The Roman pavement extends under the Convent of Sion and the adjoining Monastery of the Flagellation and is an estimated 1500 square metres.
“The pavement of the courtyard is generally regarded as being from the time of Herod. It is thought to be the inner court of the [Antonia] fortress, commonly identified with the lithostrotos, the stone pavement where Pilate condemned Jesus.
This pavement, however, had no connection with either Jesus or the Antonia fortress; it is merely a Roman forum from the days of Hadrian.”

– P. Benoit, Jerusalem Revealed, p 87/88.


Below the “Jesus pavement”, is a vaulted 2nd century cistern, 52 metres by 18 metres. The Roman reservoir still provides water today, after more than 1800 years.

Across town, on the eastern side of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and beneath the Greek Orthodox Convent of St. Abraham, is another, similar cistern – below Hadrian’s west forum.

The paving of Hadrian’s 2nd century market – most assuredly NOT the “lithostrotos” of John 19.13.

"Fortress Antonia"

The recogntion of Hadrian’s forum and monumental arch has serious implications for the identification of that other confectionery in models of ancient Jerusalem – the “Antonia Fortress”. It was the “lithostrotos” more than anything else, which convinced the first archaeologists that they had located the Antonia. In fact, the fortress has never been found, despite pious enthusiasms:
“It is unlikely that the Hadrianic architect would leave the ruins of a gate from the Herodian period blocking the opening of his arch. Thus there is only one solution; the construction generally regarded as “Herodian” is actually much later – Byzantine, or possibly even Medieval.”
– P, Benoit, Jerusalem Revealed, p88.


Conventional wisdom – and quite a few models! – locate the Antonia on the site of the present El Omariya madrasa on the northwest corner of the esplanade but that location – on a hill of five metres – does not match the 25 metre hill described by Josephus, nor the vastness of the “tower”:

“Now as to the tower of Antonia, it was situated at the corner of two cloisters of the court of the temple …it was erected upon a rock of fifty cubits in height … on a great precipice … the rock itself was covered over with smooth pieces of stone … that any one who would either try to get up or to go down it might not be able to hold his feet upon it … the tower of Antonia itself was … the height of forty cubits.
The inward parts had the largeness and form of a palace … all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camps … having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence it seemed a palace … on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the temple, it had passages down to them both … there always lay in this tower a Roman legion … for the temple was a fortress that guarded the city, as was the tower of Antonia a guard to the temple.” – War, 5.5.8.

If Josephus can be relied upon, this vast “multi-city palace”, accommodating camps and an entire legion, cannot be the same “tower Antonia” thrown down by Titus in a matter of days during the siege of 70 AD.

In reality, a part of what is now the esplanade of Temple Mount itself must have been the site of the Fortress Antonia. If this is the case, then Herod’s Temple actually must have occupied a site further south, somewhere in the vicinity of the Al Aksa mosque. This would place it much closer to the sacred spring of Gihon – and Tacitus reports that the spring was indeed within the temple:
“The temple resembled a citadel, and had its own walls, which were more laboriously constructed than the others. Even the colonnades with which it was surrounded formed an admirable outwork. It contained an inexhaustible spring; there were subterranean excavations in the hill, and tanks and cisterns for holding rain water.” – Tacitus, History, 5.12.
According to Josephus, the western wall and certain towers of Herod’s city were retained after the first Jewish war to provide some defence for the legionary camp.

“Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison.” – War, 7.1.1.

From this comment, the presumption is that site of the legionary camp extended south and west from the praetorium, that is, occupying much of what had been the Upper City of Herodian Jerusalem on the western hill. Curiously, perhaps because of looking in the wrong place, the buildings of the 10th Legion – which was stationed in Jerusalem for 200 years – have never been found.

In any event, the Roman garrison, several thousand strong, provided rich opportunities for the enterprising. It is not unreasonable to suppose that, in the middle decades of the 2nd century, some Jews professed Christian beliefs in order to reoccupy businesses and premises left derelict for more than half a century.


A new god in residence – and the "wall of Jesus"

At the main intersection of Aelia, just north of where the Cardo Maximus crossed the Decumanus Maximus, Hadrian’s architects laid out a vast forum. A sacred precinct was built adjacent to this forum (in the area now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the purported tomb of Jesus and Calvary itself).
The sources give conflicting reports but it seems the honoured god of the pagan sanctuary was Hadrian’s own family deity Venus (Aphrodite to the Greeks), a goddess also sacred to the occupying 10th legion: the emblem on its Vexillum standard was Taurus the bull, the zodiacal sign for April-May, the time of year when the legend was founded and auspicious to Venus. Although destroyed completely by the triumphant Christians 180 years later, the temple doubtless had much in common with the dual temple to Venus and Rome built by the emperor at the same time in the imperial capital.
The Hadrianic temple was surrounded by a temenos (a sanctified area, marked by a protective wall) with a main entrance on the Cardo Maximus. The church built centuries later by Constantine retained this feature.
Excavation work has revealed the remains of the boundary wall, which, among other things, proves that the Christian holy sites were NOT buried by a vast infill. Stonework of Hadrian’s temple exists on the same level as the later Constantinian basilica.

The temenos wall of the temple precinct

Coin from Aelia, minted during reign of Antoninus Pius, shows tetrastyle temple and Tyche, the Goddess of Fortune.
A 2nd century bronze mask from Aelia (probably Apollo) found near Temple Mount.
To maintain the deceit that the area of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary were “outside the city wall”, the boundary wall of Hadrian’s temple precinct is pressed into a supporting role for the gospels by some of today’s apologists. They interpret the remains of the temenos as part of the Herodian “second northern wall”. And yet an off-set lower course and pin holes in the massive stonework of the higher courses are clear evidence that the wall was clad with marble – as befits a temple precinct not a mere city wall.

Capitolium temple, Dougga, Tunisia.

A fine example of how a Roman temple was typically placed within a vast sacred space.

Hadrian’s Arch, Sufetula (Sbeïtla) Tunisia.

How the temple of Venus in Aelia may have appeared viewed through the monumental arch on the west forum. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre now occupies the site.

Temple of Venus and Rome, Rome.

Close by the Colosseum, Hadrian built a dual temple – the largest in Rome in fact. It was no doubt a prototype for the structure in Aelia. Today, its ruins, though large, can easily be missed.


Show time!

In the city “holy to three faiths” the process of febrile invention and pious fraud has a particularly long, if not very noble, history. Even churchmen have deplored the “imagineering” that has fashioned the tacky religious theme park. Byzantine Greeks, Latin Crusaders, Muslim clerics, Franciscan monks and “biblical archaeologists” of the 19th and early 20th century have all contributed to the manufacture of a “Holy Land” that has given visible form to a religious fantasy. After 1948 Israeli archaeologists joined in the fun, focusing almost entirely on the elaboration of an ancient history that justifies an exclusive claim to the not-so-holy land.
Unfortunately, there is no money to be made out of Aelia Capitolina. Instead, the lucrative religio-tourist industry concentrates on the promotion of a non-existent “Jerusalem of Jesus” and an overblown biblical city of fabled Jewish ancestors.
  • Robert Gordon, Holy Land, Holy City (Paternoster, 2004)
  • H. J. Richards, Pilgrim to the Holy Land (McCrimmons,1985)
  • S. Gibson, J. Taylor, Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Palestine Exploration Fund, 1994)
  • Joan Taylor, Christians and Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Clarendon, 1993)
  • Martin Biddle, The Tomb of Christ (Sutton, 1999)
  • Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land (Oxford, 1986)
  • Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (HarperCollins, 1997)
  • Jerusalem Revealed (Israel Exploration Society, 1975)
  • Sami Awwd, The Holy Land (Sami Awwad, 1993)
  • Peter Walker, In the Steps of Jesus (Lion Hudson, 2006)
A Jesus miracle at Siloam? – Recycled “sacred space” !
Stealing the magic of Asclepius –A Jesus miracle at Bethesda!
Encounter at Emmaus

"A Second War with Rome

“At this time, the Jews started a war because they were forbidden to mutilate their genitals.”
– Historia Augusta, Hadrian 14.2.

The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) – Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus.

This massive head is from a superb 16′ marble statue of the emperor  found in a bathhouse at Sagalassos, Turkey, in July 2007.
Imbued with the philosophic spirit of Hellas, Hadrian was equally contemptuous of Jews and – as far he was aware of them – the fractious sects of Christians.
Forced into a 3-year war he did not want, Hadrian imposed a mid-east peace settlement by taking Judaea captive. He expelled the Jews from Jerusalem, renamed the province Palestine after the ancient Philistines, and built Aelia Capitolina.
“The Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” – John 11.48.
The Jewish “nation” was abolished after the second, not the first, Jewish war with Rome.
Was Jesus, the hero of the gospels, divinely prescient – or was the author of John’s gospel merely describing this 2nd century reality?

Mark of the Legion

A tile from a legionary kiln, stamped with LXFRE – Legio X Fretensis.
With the Romans no longer facing a military threat from the Jews, the X Legion went into business making bricks, pipes, tiles, etc., each stamped with the legionary insignia or distinctive symbol, a boar.

Mass production, Roman-style

The Roman brick factory occupied the site of today’s Jerusalem Convention Centre – two miles west of the Old City.

Porta Neapolitana

Remains of the Roman north gate are still visible below today’s Damascus Gate.
Aelia had four major gates, one of each side of town (today’s Damascus, Jaffa, Zion and Lions’ Gates).
The main entrance was the northern gate, the Porta Neapolitana, through which passed a new road to the provincial capital, Caesarea.
The Arab name for the portal today is “Bab el-Amud” (“Gate of the Column”), preserving a memory of the monument which stood either in the semi-circular plaza within the gate, similar to the oval forum at nearby Gerash, or possibly outside the gate.
The monument almost certainly featured a statue of Hadrian himself, or possibly his guardian and father-by-adoption, Trajan.

A semi-circular plaza

A model of Aelia’s distinctive plaza and the two cardines – colonnaded streets which crossed the city.
The Cardo Minimus followed the line of the Tyropoeon Valley, the Cardo Maximus dissected the city on a north-south route. Each of the two thoroughfares had a covered walkway on either side lined with shops.

Cardo Maximus

Now a feature of an upscale shopping mall, the western cardo is about 4 metres below the present ground level.
Shops lined the cardo – just like any modern high street.
Excavations in the Jewish Quarter indicate that the cardo here was the work of Justinian in the 6th century – an embellishment to match his new church (“Nea”) just north of the theatre.

Cardo Maximus at Apamea, Syria

The axial roads of Aelia had central colonades of two rows of columns. The total width of the road equalled a modern 6-lane highway (22.5 metres).
In the degenerate age that followed the Romano-Hellenistic period, hovels were constructed along the centre of each carriageway, creating narrow lanes where once had run broad avenues.
The Decumanus Maximus at Aelia would have looked much like this example from Gerash.

Hadrian's other temple to Venus.

How the Temple of Venus and Rome may have looked in its heyday.
Ruination really took hold in 625 when the gold-plated bronze tiles which covered the roof were stripped off by Pope Honorius for reuse on the church of Peter.

The torso of a statue from the Temple of Jupiter which stood on Temple Mount.

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