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Crossan, “Jesus, as Son of God, Brought Humanity Salvation”, 2008, originally published online, “On Faith”, Newsweek & Washington Post
Original article by John Dominic Crossan Jesus, as Son of God, Brought Humanity Salvation (DePaul University, 2006, online, “On Faith”, Newsweek & Washington Post; precursor of: J. D. Crossan, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. Harper, San Francisco, 2007)
For me, as a Christian, Jesus was and still is the “Son of God” as a transcendental alternative to Caesar as “Son of God.” High above the Meander plain, on the mid-Aegean coast of Turkey, lies a broken beam from above the entrance to ancient Priene’s main temple. It proclaims in large Greek letters a dedication to that city’s patron goddess, Athena, but also to the “Autocrat Caesar, the Son of God, the God Augustus.” Greeks and Romans distinguished between a god who was eternal backwards and forwards—for example, Jupiter—and a deified human, eternal only forwards—for example, Hercules. Romans distinguished those two categories linguistically as deus or dea versus divus or diva. Greeks used the same word for both types of divinity— theos or thea. (And, of course, since the New Testament was written in Greek not Latin, the fully human Jesus is designated there as divine with theos- not divuslanguage.) In any case, and by whatever term, the essential job-description of a deified human, of a person raised to divine status was quite clear. Required: major salvific service to the human race. Deification was usually accorded only after death but Caesar Augustus received it even while he was alive. He was called Divine, Son of God, God, and God from God; Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. Why? What service had he rendered the Roman Empire or—as it preferred to style itself—the world, the earth, the human race? He had brought permanent internal peace to an empire almost wrecked by twenty years of civil war—a nightmarish strife with battle-hardened legions led by predatory warlords on both sides. They even called it Augustan Peace (Pax Augusta) although we usually say Roman Peace (Pax Romana). Roman imperial theology formed around the emperor as divine—and with all those other titles just given— that is, around a human being who had executed fully and incarnated perfectly its core creed of peace through violent victory. In other words, the eternal and imperial creed of all those who cannot distinguish between peace and lull. Early Christians, with whom I stand as a contemporary Christian, claimed that Jesus was Divine, Son of God, God, and God from God; Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and
Savior of the World. Those titles, taken from a Roman emperor on the Palatine hill and given to a Jewish peasant on the Nazareth ridge, were either low lampoon or high treason. Since the Romans did not roll over laughing, I trust their judgment that they were deliberate anti-titles. They announced that, not Caesar the Augustus, but Jesus the Christ had incarnated and contributed the fullest transcendental service to the human race. What, then, was that alternative service to the imperial chant of peace through victory? It was the call of peace through justice and that vision came straight from the heart of Judaism. Jesus’ alternative vision was utterly Jewish even if not every first-century Jew would have agreed with it—not Josephus, for example, nor similar faith-based Roman collaborators. His vision came from the non-violent creation in Genesis 1, from the core of Torah in Leviticus, from the relentless critique of injustice and inequality in the prophets, from the insistence that the world belonged to God in the psalms. It came from God’s opposition to Empire—Egyptian in Exodus, Assyrian in Nahum, Babylonian, Medean, Persian, Greek, and Syrian in Daniel. Jesus confronted the Empire of Rome with the Kingdom of God and his followers later confronted the Roman emperor as Son of God with the Jewish Jesus as Son of God. Today we may like or dislike their choice of theological language, but we should at least recognize that they proclaim God’s opposition to Empire—Egyptian or Roman, British or American—because of its violent injustice. Finally, titles of Jesus like Lamb of God, Word of God, and Son of God are relational metaphors. They are not literal but they are real because we humans can only see by seeing-as, that is, metaphorically. But metaphor is never simply Rorschach. It never means just whatever we need or want. It always requires some integrity of interpretation from the constraints of meaning born of time and place, society and culture. But among those three metaphors, Jesus as Son of God is very special because that was the title of Caesar on coins and inscriptions, statues and structures all over the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus’ birth. To confess that title of Jesus was to deconfess it of Caesar, that is, to commit your life to peace through justice rather than peace through victory. It still is.
Review, criticism and rebuttal by Maria Janna (with minor edits; in part based on facts taken from: Francesco Carotta, Jesus was Caesar – On the Julian Origin of Christianity. Kirchzarten, 1988-1999 / München, 1999 / Soesterberg, 2005) I won't write a coherent article myself, but will address every point consecutively, even if it means repetitions.
John D. Crossan wrote: For me, as a Christian, Jesus was and still is the “Son of God” as a transcendental alternative to Caesar as “Son of God”. Maria Janna writes: This opinion is understandable from a traditional Christian perspective. But Divi filius, and even more so his father Divus Iulius, who was also Son of God, namely of Venus, was as transcendental to Romans as the Christ is to Christians today. To imply that the Christ is therefore in any way ‘more transcendental’, ‘more unique’, ‘more divine’—you know: ‘more pregnant’!—, just because you as a Christian believe so, doesn't make it true, let alone historically true. You cannot and must not judge ancient events and mindsets from a modern-day perspective, which is furthermore biased and christianized. This will not add any value. JDC: High above the Meander plain, on the mid-Aegean coast of Turkey, lies a broken beam from above the entrance to ancient Priene’s main temple. It proclaims in large Greek letters a dedication to that city’s patron goddess, Athena, but also to the “Autocrat Caesar, the Son of God, the God Augustus.” MJ: Yes, one of many inscriptions and enormous amount of evidence concerning the fact that all of the Christ’s titles, names, appellations etc. go back to the cult of Divus Iulius and the imperial cult of Divi filius… and yes: even later rulers such as Nero. In the New Testament we even find the exact same Greek term for Divi filius from the Roman imperial cult, the anarthrous UøIOS Q‹U‰ (ὑιός θεοῦ)—to be translated not as ‘Son of the Divinized’, ‘Son of a hero’, ‘Son of the Divine’, ‘Son of a god’ or ‘Son of the God’ etc.—all of them sordid interpretations made by Christian apologists, stemming in part from a mindset, which is based on the interpretation of divus in Servius’ writings (v.i.)—, but 100 percent Christian as Son of God. The overwhelming imperial and Caesarian traits of early Christianity have entered the scientific debate as a topic from time to time, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a very old topic, which has been dealt with extensively over the decades.1 It has been hard for scientists to find anything new after more than a century, and you don’t deliver any added value either, only the usual apologetics. JDC: Greeks and Romans distinguished between a god who was eternal
1. For instance already in Adolf Deissmann, Licht vom Osten: Das Neue Testament und die neuentdeckten Texte der hellenistisch-römischen Welt, Tübingen, 1908 (4th issue: 1923; also available in English)
backwards and forwards—for example, Jupiter—and a deified human, eternal only forwards—for example, Hercules. MJ: No, that’s wrong. Only the Greeks did so. The Romans adopted this custom at first, e.g. for the deifications and/or short-lived cults of Scipio Africanus and Marius Gratidianus during the Republic, but this all changed with the resurrection, ascension and apotheosis of Julius Caesar as Divus Iulius. Caesar was made highest god of the state, the new Jupiter, received the most influential new flamen maior, a very strong empire-wide religion etc. pp.. Gradel2 has shown that the Roman Divi starting with Divus Iulius were the eternal elite gods, “backwards and forwards”, something that has by the way been known to a lot of scholars before Gradel. Divus Iulius may have once been a man (called Gaius Iulius Caesar), but as God he became eternal, and eternally divine, and in retrospect his life as a human was logcially also interpreted as divine (cp. the title of Sueton's biography: Divus Iulius). He was then eternal God and Son of God, who had walked the face of the Earth. And eternity naturally means “backwards and forwards”. Otherwise Divus Iulius would not have been an eternal god. JDC: Romans distinguished those two categories linguistically as deus or dea versus divus or diva. MJ: Wrong again. First of all, “the Romans” didn't distinguish between deus and divus, as Roman poetry and writings before and after the introduction of the imperial state cult clearly show: These two words meant one and the same, namely “god” and only “god”. Divus and diva had sometimes been used in the context of the archaic Roman ancestral cult (cp. e.g. Diva Rumina), which might be the origin of the term, but that didn’t change the fact that divus and diva generally always meant “god” and “goddess”. In terms of the imperial cult and the cult of Divus Iulius—these two cults were two quite different religions, by the way!—, a new definition of divus was introduced, but the interpretation you deliver, Mr. Crossan, is the one by Servius, commentator of Virgil. He lived rather late. But in order to understand what a Divus was in 44 BC, one needs to look at contemporary sources, or at least infer them from later ones. Gradel has done so convincingly: DIVVS is closer to DIEVS, the old name of Iuppiter, than DEVS is, which is why the Senate and Caesar chose Divus Iulius as the title for the new Jupiter. (Accordingly Cassius Dio at first translated
2. Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2002
the compound god-name DIVVSIVLIVS as Dia Ioulion, obviously the accusative of Zeus Ioulios (cp. flamen Dialis, the highpriest of Iuppiter). The conjecture that the hypothetical Latin title Iuppiter Iulius hides behind Dio’s term is plain wrong: It was a translation of Divus Iulius from the very beginning. After (or maybe even before) the decision on the god-name, the Roman genius Varro had defined divus as denoting the elite, immortal, eternal and most noble gods. The term deus then specifically meant deified persons like Scipio Africanus! So in elevating Caesar and Augustus to Divi, they became the highest gods… real gods. Servius however, who lived in a time when Christianity was on the rise and the imperial cult on a steady decline since the mocking deification of emperor Commodus, explicitly turned Varro’s definition around by 180 degrees: divus now denoted not an important deity anymore, but only a “posthumously deified ruler”, which was in Servius' time often only flattery—in fact in those times it seldomly meant more than “venerable”—, and not a full-fledged god with state religion as during the reign of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties. The term deus was subsequently used by Servius for eternal gods—as had been the case before Varro—, and it was then also used for Christus. The divi became a sub-category of the di. But please keep in mind that throughout the centuries divus and deus had been divergently defined by Varro, Servius and others as theopolitical labels. And it’s of course only logical that a scholar with a Christianized viewpoint like you prefers that interpretation of divus which fits the Christian mindset best. In this case it would be the later one by Servius. But talking about Caesar and Augustus and ignoring Varro's definition of divus, distorts the historical reality at the beginning of the principate. Servius’ view is not applicable here. But in general the terms divus and deus in standard classical Latin denote the same, namely simply “god”, as I've written above. The two terms were completely interchangeable. JDC: Greeks used the same word for both types of divinity—theos or thea. MJ: Mostly (but not completely) incorrect. Theos and thea are not the only Greek words for deus/dea and divus/diva. One needs to look beyond Greek dictionaries. The two Greek terms of course denote the genus of “god”: thea is the Greek word for a female god, whereas theos means at first a male god. But theos is the primary word because theos can also mean “goddess”. It has to inferred from the context if theos stands e.g. for Jupiter or Victoria. By the way, this is also the reason why Caesar, as son of Venus, would have been considered by Greek readers as “Son of
God”, not “Son of the goddess”. But let me write quickly what the Greeks did besides theos and thea: on Greek inscriptions both divus and deus were written as theos, which is kind of logical, because the Romans themselves didn't distinguish it at first either. But as I wrote above, things changed with the cult of Divus Iulius, already during Julius Caesar's lifetime: divus and deus were suddenly interpreted differently by the theopolitical ruling class, and the old and simple translation of both terms as theos suddenly must have become insufficient for some authors. But to think that the Greeks then applied new words in the whole hellenized and Greek sphere of the empire, is of course nonsense, as we can see that on all later inscriptions divus remained translated as theos. There was no real difference in Greek, which is where you're not in error. But it's not that people didn't try to use different words, especially in written sources, as also Gradel has shown, using Cassius Dio as an example. The fact that deus and divus now had two different meanings, created problems for Cassius Dio, who at first used Zeus Ioulious for the compound god-name Divus Iulius (v.s.). But this was not enough, so Dio later settled on the following terminology: (1) Caesar received a pantokrator-statue in Rome during his lifetime, probably with an inscription similar to SENATVS·POPVLVSQVE·ROMANVS· DIVO·CAESARIS. Here Dio used the Greek word hemitheos for divus, i.e. hemitheos was the term for the divine ruler during his lifetime. Please keep in mind that hemitheos in this context must not be translated as “half-god”. It only means divus = “god”, with the specification that it’s a god living in human form. The word hemitheos in the alternative meaning of “half-god” entered the Latin language very late, ca. in the 4th century AD, because there was already a Latin word for “half-god”, namely semideus, which was coined as a direct translation of the Greek hemitheos by Ovid, but that was after Varro’s original definition of divus as an imperial theopolitical term! Before Ovid there was no real Roman concept of a “half-god”. There were only divine and non-divine entities. (2) For the divine ruler as Divus after his death and apotheosis, Dio translated divus as hêros in those cases, where hêros stood alone, without the addition of the emperor's name. (3) As part of official Roman cult names, Dio always used theos or theios for divus, e.g. Theios Augoustos for Divus Augustus. (Notice the difference to the singular name Augustus as Sebastos in Greek.) In this context it is also important to note that the original Divus, namely Divus
Iulius, at first received special treatment, as Dio called him Zeus Ioulious (v.s.). This practice of translating divus as theos when dealing with official cult names corresponds to the Greek rule of always using theos for the Latin divus on formal inscriptions (v.s.). But since the gospels were written before Dio’s Histories, your conclusion in this matter can only be wrong. Theos in the New Testament can easily also mean divus. It is impossible to determine if a New-Testamentarian theos stands for deus or divus—or even a specific Divus. JDC: And, of course, since the New Testament was written in Greek, not Latin, the fully human Jesus is designated there as divine with theos- not divus-language. MJ: (1) See above on theos also meaning divus. How then can you ascertain for sure that theos in the New Testament does not stand for divus? Frankly you can’t. (2) Was the New Testament written in Greek? Much of it, definitely, e.g. the Gospel of John. But what about the synoptic gospels and more specifically the Gospel of Mark? How can you be so sure? Proclaiming a purely Greek origin is not very scientific! Where do all the latinisms (and even gallicisms like reda) come from, especially in the oldest Gospel of Mark? Where do all those termini technici from the Roman army come from? When writing about the origins of the Gospel, one should not ignore Couchoud, Dormeyer, Carotta, Stauffer et al.. Why do some ancient copies of the gospels begin with the remark that the original Gospel, the Ur-Gospel, was written in Latin? Why has the old Church always maintained that the Ur-Gospel was written in Latin in Rome twelve years after the Lord’s death? Why did the Latin text always have priority over the Greek? Due to all those latinisms no-one can prove without doubt that there was no Latin Ur-Gospel. That’s impossible. Fact is however that everything points to an original Latin manuscript. This you can prove, but you need good skills in methods of philological analysis. And you need to reveal all the facts. One tiny little example: Verbs in the Greek language normally precede the sentence they’re in. But in Mark the verbs are extremely often at the end of the sentence, which we know from the Latin language. This is especially the case in subordinate clauses. Since we find it in Mark, can Mark have a Greek origin without a shadow of a doubt? Really?!
JDC: In any case, and by whatever term, the essential job-description of a deified human […] MJ: No, not a “deified human”. Remember Varro: a true and eternal god, “backwards and forwards”! JDC: In any case, and by whatever term, the essential job-description of a deified human, of a person raised to divine status was quite clear. Required: major salvific service to the human race. MJ: “Major salvific service to the human race required”? To me this sounds somewhat condescending, as if the early imperial cult and its gods were not really “gods”, that they’re worth only little, that their major religious impact needs to be diminished in Christian soteriology and interpretation, in order to maintain that the god known as ‘Jesus Christ’ did come first and is absolutely unique in a soteriological context. Fact is that Caesar and Augustus (as gods!) were there generations before the Gospels were written in their current form, and Caesar (as Divus Iulius) was the first and new God. For the Romans throughout the empire Divus Iulius was a man on a fiveyear-mission, a true savior, redeemer, God, Son of God, who came as an epiphany with his adventus, was worshipped as God when he crossed the fateful river from Gallia, the land in the North, and advanced toward the Holy City in the south, a highpriest, pontifex maximus, teacher and preacher with a continuously increasing number of followers, a propagator of religious freedom and tolerance, a revolutionary, the inventor of the book, a man of new and modern ways who opposed the old political and religious order as well as the fathers of the old scriptures (the Senators = patres conscripti), a man who was accused of wanting to strive for kingship, a true man and true eternal god, benevolent ruler with charity, love and clemency, receiver of hitherto unknown divine honors, which started in 49 BC, at the latest in 48 BC, when he was deified as Caesar Epibaterios in Alexandria. He had delivered the people from hardship and hunger, had given them their daily bread, had even remitted many people’s debts, had saved Rome from the evil and sins of the civil war, a Roman messiah who had made himself a slave to the Romans, to found a new Rome with new prosperity, an empire of God on Earth, a liberator who loved and forgave his enemies, and who was betrayed and murdered, who resurrected and ascended to heaven as highest God of all, while his heavenly and divine empire was established, his work finished, not only under the divine rule of his son, who was reborn under the Julian star, the sidus Iulium, as Divi
filius, Son of God and God from God, the later Augustus, but also under the supervision of his first highpriest Marcus Antonius and the new pontifex maximus Lepidus. And under the new Son of God the Last Judgement came, the defeat of the assassins and conspirators, when the triumvirate and new God appeared during the battle of Philippi, the four horsemen of this Roman Apocalypse, then at last the new Pax Romana (or Pax Augusta), the defeat of Antonius and Cleopatra, defeat of Egypt, the land of the serpent, the defeat of the beast! The next savior of Rome was then created, and he was God’s only begotten son, and he ruled the whole world, the empire of god. That’s exactly how most ‘regular’ Romans saw Divus Iulius and his legacy! And Augustus profiteered enormously. How then can Christians maintain that Jesus was the first and only true god? That he is truely unique? That his salvation is the real one? Even if this phantom called ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, which has been haunting the scientific community ever since the Enlightenment, if this phantom really existed (which is quite impossible from a scientific standpoint), then this ‘Jesus’, who is described in the Gospel, did not remotely manage to bring about the salvation that the first, true and original Divus, Divus Iulius, brought about in his lifetime and posthumously at the hands of his only begotten son, who constantly acted in His name and under His guidance. The salvation through Christ is a later theological construct, transposed from real-life salvation through Divus Iulius after the transformation of the Julian cult into Christianity (see also below). This doesn’t mean that the salvation through Christ is untrue. No, it’s perfectly real—under one condition: one has to make the connection to the original Roman cult of Divus Iulius and the sources on Caesar’s deeds, mission and passion, from the crossing of the Rubicon until his entombment and resurrection. If one doesn’t do that, Christ has no historical existence and cannot have ever brought about and will never bring about any salvation and redemption. He’ll remain this elusive phantom for all eternity. JDC: Deification was usually accorded only after death but Caesar Augustus received it even while he was alive. MJ: But it was only inofficial. The sources are crystal-clear that Augustus prohibited all rituals, in which he was worshipped as god, a tradition that was continued by almost all of the emperors. He even managed to create an alternative: the cult of his genius, the holy guardian spirit of the emperor. But Augustus knew that he had direct religious control only over the city of Rome. And he knew that the rest of the Romans and the Greek Romans didn’t really care: Outside of the city they worshipped
him anyway, because he was Son of God, the son of their God Divus Iulius, but it was never officially decreed until after Augustus’ death. It was a constant back and forth, of giving and taking, of religious flattery and true religio etc.. The big problem however came later: An inofficial cult of the living emperor was already established early on, which led to the decline and importance of the cult of the posthumously divinized emperor over the course of the centuries. So it shouldn’t surprise us at all that Servius entered the scene one day and said: ‘Enough! I don’t care what Varro wrote, I don’t care what was hundreds of years ago!’ The imperial cult had become a shadow of its former self. Only the cults of the first two Divi remained strong until the complete fall of the Roman imperial cult. JDC: He was called Divine, Son of God, God, and God from God; Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. Why? What service had he rendered the Roman Empire or—as it preferred to style itself—the world, the earth, the human race? MJ: Finally the first good remark, Mr. Crossan, even if it’s just a question! What did Augustus do? Not much! It's Divus Iulius we should be dealing with, not that homunculus called Augustus! The latter was an epigone of his father. He would have been nothing without Julius Caesar. The only thing that Augustus stands out for, is that he imperialized and anchored the cult of Divus Iulius, that he kept it alive. We have to realize that Christianity (as a transformed continuation of the Divus-Julius-cult) only exists because of Augustus’ actions. Still, many things went wrong: Augustus was very ‘Catholic’ and also quite ‘Pauline’ in his religious philosophy—reactionary, prudish, misanthropist, overly pious etc.—, very different from the original, rather Epicurean and joyous philosophy of his heavenly father. JDC: He had brought permanent internal peace to an empire almost wrecked by twenty years of civil war […] MJ: …but only after starting the last civil wars himself, introducing the worst proscriptions ever, slaying his enemies on the altars of his divine father and proving to everyone that he—unlike Divus Iulius—was a criminal butcher and brutal, avenging tyrant. When peace came, the people started loving him again, not necessarily only for what he was, but also for what his father and God in heaven was. At the end of his life all reservations had vanished, and he became a beloved and worshipped Divus, a role-model and blueprint in unison with Julius Caesar, for all
emperors to come. JDC: […] a nightmarish strife with battle-hardened legions led by predatory warlords on both sides. MJ: Yes, some of those “nightmarish strifes” are the historical events behind the Apocalypse (Philippi, Actium etc.). JDC: They even called it Augustan Peace (Pax Augusta) although we usually say Roman Peace (Pax Romana). MJ: Because peace it was. Real peace. But I too prefer the term Pax Romana, because the goddess Pax in the context of re-founding Rome had already been introduced under Julius Caesar’s rule (cf. Weinstock3). Pax Augusta sounds like the little Caesar Augustus was boasting about his achievements, which were quite unoriginal, because they were all more or less continuations of the plans and directions given by his divine father. JDC: Roman imperial theology formed around the emperor as divine— and with all those other titles just given—that is, around a human being who had executed fully and incarnated perfectly its core creed of peace through violent victory. MJ: Yes, of course. Peace follows war, which itself has followed peace etc. ad infinitum. That’s what the newspapers and history books say. Do you think it was any different back in antiquity? JDC: In other words, the eternal and imperial creed of all those who cannot distinguish between peace and lull. MJ: Lull? Is the peace of ‘Jesus’ supposed to be better than the alleged Julian lull? Different? Christians often act almost mortally offended— ‘No other god is better! No other god is as peaceful! No other god is like Him!’—, while at the same time ignoring the many incidents in the Gospel that are anything but peaceful, e.g. where ‘Jesus’ says the famous words: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law
Stefan Weinstock, Divus Julius, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971
against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.” I know that many staunch Christians then immediately blitz any critic with the usual nonsensical late-theological arguments about Mt 10:34 sqq., but please take into account what the Lord is saying here: The Lord brings about a conflict that will even tear apart families. Now imagine telling that to a Bosnian refugee a few years ago, and he would have told you right away that this is surely all about civil war! (Hmm… civil war… didn't we just have that?) JDC: Early Christians, with whom I stand as a contemporary Christian, claimed that Jesus was Divine, Son of God, God, and God from God; Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. Those titles, taken from a Roman emperor on the Palatine hill and given to a Jewish peasant on the Nazareth ridge, were either low lampoon or high treason. MJ: Who says that Christ was a “Jewish peasant from the Nazareth ridge”? Tell me one, just one rock-solid source that is not from the New Testament, because in the scientific community the latter does not qualify as a historical source. I think that you can’t. Nobody can. So how can we decide that ‘Jesus’ was a “Jewish peasant from the Nazareth ridge”, if there’s no proof, not even proof of His existence as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ anywhere in the ancient world? If Christ was a “Jewish peasant from the Nazareth ridge”, it means that he cannot have been a He, a divine being with a capital first letter, but only a ‘Mr. Nobody’ (if he ever existed as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’). If he was a ‘Mr. Nobody’, how can he at the same time be a magnificent, omnipotent and transcendental god, the greatest god-fella ever? That’s only belief and religious upbringing, not scientific reason, and even worse: For some people this goes hand in hand with religious intolerance, disrespect and the usual Christian arrogance concerning everything ‘pagan’. Well… did you know that paganus originally meant “civilian”, as opposed to “military”, e.g. the army, where Christianity first took hold? Tertullian and other church fathers are quite clear about that. So the pagan and Christian religions come from the same cultural and religious sphere. Paganism is not opposed to Christianity. It rather serves as a completion of the whole picture, and it’s part of the same mindset from ancient times. JDC: Since the Romans did not roll over laughing, I trust their judgment that they were deliberate anti-titles. MJ: Where do the Romans say that these were “anti-titles”? I’d be much
obliged if you directed us to the relevant primary sources. The only thing we know for sure is that the Christians actually used the original Roman titles in their Greek rendition, one-to-one. The Romans didn’t roll over laughing because they were obviously quite intelligent in religious matters. They knew (or at least sensed) that Christ was a diegetic transposition of Divus Iulius. They also didn’t roll over laughing, because in Rome the people—unlike many people today (including many believers by the way)—took religion very seriously, which especially meant: religious tolerance and respect for the religious fundament. Many today are not that tolerant anymore. One huge disadvantage of monotheism. JDC: They announced that, not Caesar the Augustus, but Jesus the Christ had incarnated and contributed the fullest transcendental service to the human race. MJ: Which is… well, sort of logical, because Christ is (with an extremely high probability) Divus Iulius incognito after a cult transformation, diegetic transposition of scripture and subsequent judaization due to the Palestine environment, where Caesar’s veterans settled down after the civil war (cp. Carotta's astounding book on the Julian origins of Christianity called Jesus was Caesar). And the followers of the new religion of course only worshipped the original Divus, their god and commander, instead of the Divi who came after him. Why does the emperor Trajan refrain from executing the Christians, whom Pliny describes in his famous letter, although they are explicitely not worshipping the emperor? You could say it’s the famous Roman religious tolerance and laissez-faire, but it’s probably more: Trajan knew they were at least worshipping the original founder, Divus Iulius… as Christos (or chrêstos). That’s a valid possibility, in my view. JDC: What, then, was that alternative service to the imperial chant of peace through victory? It was the call of peace through justice and that vision came straight from the heart of Judaism. MJ: I fear that this may be modern ‘Judaeo-Christian’ obscurantism. Why have so many Jews rejected the Christ, Christianity, Christian faith, the New Covenant, scripture, iconography, soteriology, exegesis (also of the Old Testament!) etc. pp.? Why is Christ on the Cross for almost a thousand years depicted as a victorious god? Why was the patiens-type introduced so late? What is the difference between (a) being victorious, bringing peace and creating an empire of god (Caesar and the imperial
cult) and (b) being the victor, bringing peace and creating a kingdom of god (Christus)? Was ancient Judaism always and/or only peaceful? Is there something peaceful about the countless people that the Jews slaughtered in the Middle East while attacking and occupying the surrounding regions? Is there something peaceful about converting others to Judaism by force, others like e.g. Herod the Great, a member of the Iulii, and then (after his death) spitting on and raiding his grave? Is there something peaceful about the nationalist Palestinian Jews who started to fight their own brothers and sisters, who were Pro-Roman, in a civil war that eventually turned into the Jewish revolts against Rome itself? Can we call it peaceful, when we look at their constant relapses into war and violence until they were eventually (and from a Roman point of view rightfully) thrown out of Palestine? Are we allowed to call Yahweh a “peaceful god”, although he is e.g. called a “( א֣יש מלחמ֑הman ָ ְָ ִ ׁ ִ 4 of war”) in Exodus 15:3? To say that the peace of Christianity came straight from the heart of Judaism is an unbelievable affront against the Catholic faith. I find this quite irritating coming from a fellow Catholic Christian. It’s historically incoherent. And it’s even theologically wrong: The peace of Christianity comes from Christ, and Christ alone. He opposed the old views, the old decadent and decayed religion. We have a New Covenant now. This should not be forgotten. JDC: Jesus’ alternative vision was utterly Jewish […] MJ: For many centuries the Jews have thought the opposite (and many still do), namely that the whole mindset behind Christianity and Christus comes from the hellenized sphere. To say that the Christ’s vision was “utterly Jewish” is therefore only conjecture. It’s what most Christians believe, yes, but faith can only emulate science. It’s never factual, never scientific. JDC: Jesus’ alternative vision was utterly Jewish even if not every firstcentury Jew would have agreed with it […] MJ: “Jesus’ alternative vision” was anything but Jewish (v.s.): It’s GraecoRoman with only a judaized coating—a mere transposition. “Not every first-century Jew would have agreed with it”? That’s right. No
4. Alternatives: גיבור במלחמהin the Samaritan Pentateuch, with an even harder, more physical and humanized character; pugnator (Vulgata) and συντρίβων πολέµους (LXX) as a definite hint at barbaric, physical practices of a human Yahweh in war.
sane first-century Jew agreed, especially not with the proclamation of Christ as “Son of God”. And no sane Jew agreed until the 19th and early 20th century either, until a few misguided Jews and Christians started ‘discovering Jesus Christ’ as an ‘itinerant Jewish rabbi preacher’ (or something similar). JDC: […] not Josephus, for example, nor similar faith-based Roman collaborators. MJ: Yes, there were those Jews that modern views label as ‘good’, and there were those Jews that modern views label as ‘bad’. But who says that the Roman Jews or the Non-Roman-but-Pro-Roman Jews were the bad Jews? On what scientific grounds do you base your political alliance with the Anti-Roman Jewish movement? JDC: His vision came from the non-violent creation in Genesis 1, from the core of Torah in Leviticus, from the relentless critique of injustice and inequality in the prophets, from the insistence that the world belonged to God in the psalms. It came from God’s opposition to Empire—Egyptian in Exodus, Assyrian in Nahum, Babylonian, Medean, Persian, Greek, and Syrian in Daniel. MJ: Isn’t this just conjecture? Where’s the historical proof? Aren’t most of the Old-Testamentarian links in the New Testament midrashim? A mere cultural-regional flavor? A tool to surficially anchor the new story onto the older story that pre-existed in the region? Is there real proof for what you write? Proof that is scientifically valid? One thing needs to be mentioned. You write: JDC: It came from God’s opposition to Empire […] MJ: Why then is Christ all about being authoritative, imperial, catholic, pantocratic, omnipotent, establishing an all-encompassing kingdom of god etc., in scripture, tradition, theology and in iconography? Jewish theologians have always noted this major discrepancy between their god and Christus: The Jewish god (to quote Jewish comedian Lewis Black) is a “prick”. He’s at times a relentless, negative criminal avenger and butcher (cp. above: Exodus 15:3). And he is the god of a single, tiny little people called the Jews, he’s the god of only one nation. On the other hand we have the Christian god who is the exact opposite. This is a polar arrangement: On the one side is Judaism with nationalist and exclusionist tendencies, and on the other side Christianity with imperial
and “catholic” (i.e. universal) tendencies. So you’re right that there was a god who opposed empire. But that was the Jewish god, not the Christian god. The Christian god is de facto imperial. And that strictly contradicts nationalism or the proto-nationalism of ancient Jewry. In any case: Many people (and not only Marcion!) have pinpointed that the Christian god is not the Jewish god, and the differences between these two gods, the incongruency of their imperial and national philosophies is one of the most striking differences. JDC: Jesus confronted the Empire of Rome with the Kingdom of God […] MJ: The only problem is that the “Empire of Rome” was also and already an empire of God (v.s.). Furthermore the term basileus in Greek doesn’t only mean “king”, but also the Roman imperator. So there is no difference between kingdom and empire here. And it’s also a bit misleading to call the Christ ‘Jesus’, because the oldest parts of the original codices only show the nomen sacrum IS‰, the first and last letter. There is no IHSOΥS (‘Jesus’) in the oldest scriptures. Every Ἰησοῦς we read in Greek Bible editions of today (even in the top notch scholarly Novum Testamentum Graece by Nestle-Aland) is extrapolated from (or based on older extrapolations from) the nomen sacrum IS‰. In any case IS‰ can mean a lot in Greek, e.g. IOΥLIOS—Iulius. JDC: […] and his followers later confronted the Roman emperor as Son of God with the Jewish Jesus as Son of God. MJ: Why then did they copy all those names and titles verbatim? ¿Maybe because they were all talking about the same Son of God, some of them about the original western Son of God, the others however about the transformed Son of God from the east, after a cultural adaptation, redefinition and diegetic transposition? The latter explanation is much more probable, that’s quite obvious. JDC: Today we may like or dislike their choice of theological language, but we should at least recognize that they proclaim God’s opposition to Empire—Egyptian or Roman, British or American—because of its violent injustice. MJ: Has the Christian Empire never been injust? Sure, from its selfimage the Church is only just. But did this always result in just actions throughout history? Has the Church never been violent? Sure, Christ
(mostly) preaches non-violence. But did this result in a completely peaceful Church history? Of course not. Christianity is even violent on a metaphysical and integrated level: E.g. the Roman Church sees exorcisms as the highest and purest form of warfare. JDC: Finally, titles of Jesus like Lamb of God, Word of God, and Son of God are relational metaphors. They are not literal but they are real because we humans can only see by seeing-as, that is, metaphorically. But metaphor is never simply Rorschach. It never means just whatever we need or want. It always requires some integrity of interpretation from the constraints of meaning born of time and place, society and culture. MJ: Not by a long shot. They are the original terms and properties from Roman sources, rituals etc.. We’ve already covered (1) “Son of God” above, and it should again be noted that the Greek terms used in the gospels are often the official terms from the imperial cult… verbatim! Now on to the other two. (2) The “Lamb of God” is based on the Ovis Idulis, the lamb sacrificed by the Rex sacrorum on the Liberalia, the day of Caesar’s funeral and resurrection, the day where Caesar’s body was presented to the people on the Forum as a wax effigy, nailed to tropaeum, a Roman victory cross, and turned in all directions, so everyone could see Caesar as a slaughtered victim, the ultimate sacrifice for all of Rome. The lamb of God, sacrificed to Iuppiter on that day, was instantly identified with Divus Iulius, the new Jupiter and ‘other’ sacrifice for Rome. (3) For the “Word of God”, the logos, one only needs to look in the dictionary in order to distinguish between the later Christian interpretation and the original classical meaning of the word: logos is a political term and means the “right of speech”, “order”, “discussion”, “resolution”. Since the Christian notion of logos goes back to John 1:1, it is connected to archê, which doesn’t only mean “beginning”, but is also a political term in classical times: “power”, “imperium”, “command”, “magistrate” or generally “office”. So a classical translation of John 1:1 would catapult us into a political discussion. There is even a debate about God himself: kai o logos ên pros ton theon. Further down the short but famous sentence we’ll find the finishing touches of a neat and logical progression: People debate about offices of power, they even debate about God and his powers, and then God has the right to speak, he has the word (i.e. the power to order and instruct), and he fulfills his rights with wisdom and reason. (Ratio by the way is also a very political term.)
The fact that Christians interpret this logos of Christ as something esoterical and metaphysical probably goes back to the Vulgate translation, which eradicated the political and autocratic meaning of the original Greek passage in John, by using verbum instead of the bettersuited dictum, which might have been part of the original Vetus Latina. In reality John 1:1 is a one-to-one and very correct summary of the Senate session (beginning of January 49 BC), where Julius Caesar’s and the Senators’ powers were debated, right before the start of the civil war, i.e. before God crossed that fateful river: The Rubicon, which corresponds to the Christ crossing the river that has been transposed as the “Jordan”. The Senators were especially debating whether Caesar could run for office of consul in absentia. Everything in the New Testament and in the gospels, everything in Christianity has its roots in the cult of and sources on Divus Iulius and Julius Caesar… and yes: there’s also a bit of Augustus, whether one likes it or not. And there are especially no such things as “relational metaphors” in early Christian thinking and writing. The Gospel writers saw themselves as historical authors, and as a matter of fact their writings are true history, albeit warped, transformed, rewritten and transposed history. They (and others who came later) may have been theologians as well, but they had a strong fundament in the Roman (and Julian!) histories. It’s very easy to analyze early Christian thinking, if we compares it to the Roman sources. One doesn’t need to theologize and interpret further: That's often only modern pseudo-science or conjecture or kitchen philosophy… there are many words for it. There is no real need for “interpretation”, because one should always go for historical facts. But since nobody possesses any real facts about the Christ and his vita (unless he makes the connection to Divus Iulius), then it’s only logical that scholars flinch and announce it’s all “not literal”, that it’s basically free-floating, metaphorical, diffuse early Christian wish-wash etc., and that it therefore needs to be evaluated, (re)defined and “interpreted” by pundits and clerics like you. But that’s working with an image and notion of the Christian religion which has no fundament at all. You’re leading the sheep into the wrong direction. JDC: But among those three metaphors, Jesus as Son of God is very special because that was the title of Caesar on coins and inscriptions, statues and structures all over the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus’ birth. To confess that title of Jesus was to de-confess it of Caesar […] MJ: Funny, but you’re right. This holds up well, if you interpret Caesar
as a general term, as the title denoting the Roman emperors. It holds up well, because ‘Jesus’ is a later transformation of Divus Iulius. It’s only logical that the early Christians claimed these titles for their god, not only because he had actually carried them during his life and reign, but also because he was the first Divus, the first imperator, the true founder of the empire. For them Divus Iulius (‘Jesus’) always shone brighter than any later Caesar, any divinized emperor who came after Caesar and Augustus. The light from the East! JDC: […] that is, to commit your life to peace through justice rather than peace through victory. It still is. MJ: V.s.: The Roman Son of God gained peace not only through victory, but also through justice. The Christian Son of God gained peace not only through justice, but also through victory (Crucifixion = Victory etc. pp.).
Original article published by Crossan on his blog: Dec 20, 2006. Original response published by Janna on Crossan’s blog as a comment: Jun 28, 2008. NOTA BENE (October 20, 2008): Prof. Crossan has to this day not replied to the criticism and comments.