The Myth of Jesus Christ
Further Considerations on the Origins of Christianity
I am writing this just after Christmas, an annual celebration that grips the western world (counting Russia), together with its offshoots in Australia, Zealand and other places descended from European colonialism. Although the celebrations are 90% secular. The origins of this secular celebration are very recent – the invention of Santa Claus by American retail enterprise in the 19th Century whose fake myth (fake because no one even pretends to believe it) has spread all over the world to artificially stimulate demand. I do not to wish to dwell on this aspect – it’s the material of a different kind of discussion. I also enjoy the pretence by some that we are all unconsciously harking back to pagan times and are worshipping the Winter Solstice.
In compiling the paper I used as one secondary source, a work of JM Robertson entitled “A Short History of Christianity” called “short” because it consists only of one volume, although a fairly hefty one. This was written in Great Britain 1903 by a Liberal Member of Parliament. I mention this because Robertson represents a strand of liberal atheist politics that does not seem to exist today.
Brought up a Christian, he was converted to atheism by Charles Bradlaugh, the Liberal MP who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown on taking his parliamentary seat. Bradlaugh was expelled from Parliament and was promptly returned in the following bye-election. This was repeated two further times. On the last occasion he was able to take his seat by taking the oath after stating he did not believe a word of it since he was not a Christian, but an atheist. He was later arrested in the House of Commons for making a false oath, imprisoned under Big Ben and later fined for voting in Parliament under false pretences. The affair culminated in a change in the law that enabled MPs and witnesses in court to make an affirmation instead of swearing an oath.
Robertson also represented a strand of Liberalism that has long disappeared, as a strong supporter of the rights of trade unions and Home Rule for Ireland. The problem with him is that he is a militant anti Christian and as with all historians, the nearer to the present day his subject matter is, the less objective he becomes. So all the wars, oppression and violence from the seventeenth century onwards are laid at the door of the Christian Church. So in the end his book becomes a denunciation of Christianity. However, in terms of the origins of Christianity, particularly the breakaway Jewish sect that constituted the first Christian movement, while not relying him completely, a lot of the points I make are from his book. He was not a Marxist, so his interpretations of events are quite different to mine.
The Roman Empire and Palestine – The origin of the Jesus myth
As much as we try, it is difficult to view the world from the point of view of the people who lived at the time. I find it interesting for instance, to notice the difference between period dramas you see quite often on the TV and in films nowadays between those “set” in the 19th century for instance and those originally written at the time. Even the latter are often “interpreted” so that the morality, which usually what they are about, equates to the present day view of then, rather than their own attitudes at the time.
However, most people believe that even if Jesus wasn’t God, the story itself must have underlying truth to it. Islam also supports this point, Jesus did exist, that point is clear in the Quran, he is a prophet of God; the error of Christianity lies in belief that he was God incarnated. However, while not conceding that Jesus (or the apostles) of the Bible actually existed, the story does not emerge out of nothing, it is not entirely made up out of someone’s head.
By 120 AD or thereabouts Palestine, had been for nearly 200 years had been an turbulent area, conquered and fought over by rising and falling empires. Before the Romans, the land had been conquered by Alexander the Great and was fought over by his successor of Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid Greeks had ruled afterwards. Under King Antiochus Epiphanes, the Maccebean revolt had produced a violent civil war, nominally against Greek rule but in reality a conflict between those Hellenised Jews supported by the Sadducees. This was followed by a period of independence for Judaea under the Hasmonean dynasty, a Greek-Judaic dynasty who ruled from 110 BC to 7 BC. In the reign of King Alexander Janneus (Jonathan) there was a fierce civil war during which several hundred Pharisees were crucified. After the death of this King, his wife, Salome became ruling Queen of Judea, and under her the Pharisees were rehabilitated and through the council of the Sanhedrin, they became to ruling group in both Judea and Samaria (Israel). Judean independence was ended by Octavius (later Augustus) and Mark Antony. The Roman Senate later appointed Herod as client king. The Pharisees not only collaborated but supported Roman rule over Judea, Samaria and Syria.
The whole point of this is that this discontent and war of independence against the now new rulers and their agents, the Pharisees, was bubbling all the through the period that Jesus Christ is supposed to have lived. Yet no mention is made in the gospels, which after all were written in the earliest drafts no earlier than 120 AD a long time after the struggle was over. However, the resentment and hatred of the Pharisees is clearly there in Mark and Matthew –still collaborating closely with the Romans who were now ruling Palestine directly from Caesarea.
Conflict flared up briefly in 39 under Caligula, and into all out war from 66 to 70 AD with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans and the destruction of the second Temple. The final defeat in 70 was total and it is out of this defeat the Christian movement was born, as a breakaway Jewish group, abhorring and rejecting the role played the Pharisaic Jewish leaders.
Paul, a renegade Pharisee himself, as I have said, provides the earliest writings of the New Testament. In the “Roots of Christianity” I make the point that although Paul is trying to generalise the Christian movement – probably, initially, forming groups from Jewish exiles, he not alone.
However, an important point has to be made, the mythical originator, Jesus Christ, in his time has no biography of any kind. There is no indication from Paul this first Christian writer of when Christ is supposed to have lived, where he came from, where he taught and how he came to be crucified. Nor is there any mention of any of 12 apostles apart from those post gospel disciples contemporaneous with him (e.g. Barnabas). As far as we know Paul could have been mythologising Jesus Ben Pandira, A rebel against Alexander Janneus who was stoned and then hanged for sorcery and rebellion in 104 BC.
So where did the story come from?
Early Christianity was an amalgam of various Jewish sects, they all acknowledged the mythical founder, most like derived from the story of Jesus Ben Pandira, who presumably as a “sorcerer” was supposed to have worked miracles. But there are different strands that come together.
- Although Jesus Pandira was stoned and hanged for rebellion, Alexander Janneus was ruthless in his attempted suppression of the Pharisees and used crucifixion as his punishment for them. Crucifixion under the Romans was reserved for rebel slaves, so it is unlikely that thieves and other criminals would have been punished in this way under Roman rule, hanging was the usual punishment. However, by having Christ crucified fitted in better with the Palestinian common knowledge of what happened to rebels. Crucifixions followed the rising in 70, and the mass crucifixions that followed the final suppression of the Spartacist rebellion it were probably common knowledge. Moreover, Paul, being a Pharisee himself would have known that before they were rehabilitated by Salome, this is what they had suffered. It was logical to assume therefore that his founder suffered the same fate.
- Throughout Palestine, Syria and Egypt matriarchal religion based around the queen of Heaven, Ishtar, Astarte, Miriam, Aphrodite, Cybele, Isis, (just some of her names) was still the main religion. Even Muslim conquerors later on noted that the women were wailing at the temple wall for the death of Tammuz, Ishtar’s consort who died and was resurrected every year by his queen. Tammuz is Adonis, and the other aspect of Christ. The Gnostic Christians opted for a more equal relationship by making Christ “the Incorruptible Light of the Right Hand” and Sophia the “The Incorruptible Light of the Left Hand”. Together they form the snake that enlightens Eve, who in turn enlightens Adam.
These two aspects, combined formed the essence of the new Christian religion, the teaching of Christ, was largely derived from the Jewish sect of Ebionites, active around the beginning of the common age, 1 BC.