Bowl from Alexandria, dated late second century B.C. to early first century A.D.
“By Chrst the magician”
Christianity is Older Than We Think
French marine archaeologist and co-founder of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, Franck Goddio, announced that his team discovered a bowl in Alexandria with an engraving “DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS”, which means “By Chrst the Magician”.
The idea that Jesus would be identified as a magician may seem shocking at first, but the gospel stories from the Bible do in fact portray Jesus as exorcizing spirits and curing diseases, even using his own saliva on dirt as a healing agent, a common magical practice in ancient times, and Alexandria has always been an important city in Christian history.
But what is perhaps more shocking is the date: Late second century B.C. to early first century A.D.
The four gospel stoires about Jesus in the Bible portray Jesus as being crucified by Pontius Pilate and so most Biblical scholars have dated the crucifixion of Jesus to 30 A.D. and that it took a good amount of time for the popularity of the movement he left behind to get popular, so the dating on the cup is really cutting it close.
In fact, with the dating being so early, scholars looking into it are exploring alternative possibilities than the cup being a reference to Jesus. Oxford Classical archaeologist Bart Smith opened up the idea that the engraving might be a person named “Chrestos”, dedicating the cup to a hypothetical cult named Ogoistais.
Goddio himself was more optimistic. “It could very well be a reference to Jesus Christ, in that he was once the primary exponent of white magic,” he said.
Surprisingly enough though, this is not the first evidence of Jesus being identified as an enchanter. There is another source that refers to Jesus as a magician: the Jewish Talmud, a 6,200-page compendium of Rabbinic “instruction” on how to interpret the Hebrew Bible. In it, Jesus, or Yeshu, is described as “the Nazarene” who “practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray.”
But there is something that most Biblical scholars have strangely left out whenever they talk about him. The Talmud says that this Jesus lived in the first century B.C.
There has what can only be described as a curious phenomenon wherein Biblical scholars who are fully aware that the Talmud mentions Jesus nevertheless fail to mention that Jesus is described as living in an entirely different century than the gospel Jesus. Whether the reason for this is because they are unaware or feel it is not worth mentioning I have not yet been able to fully determine. You will be hard pressed to find any mention of the first century B.C. dating in any popular scholarly work on the historical Jesus at your local bookstore. That fact is hidden deep in the confines of a few of the more massive libraries.... and the internet.
The Talmud claims that Jesus was the student of Joshua ben Perachiah, a famous rabbi who had to flee Jerusalem to escape religious sectarian persecution from the Jewish king, Alexander Jannaeus, and so fled to Alexandria taking the young Yeshu with him. This parallels the story in the Gospel of Matthew of Jesus' parents fleeing Herod while Jesus was a baby, but it is far more developed than the gospel story. Many of the stories of Yeshu are actually unrealistic rationalizations about how Yeshu was excommunicated by Joshua ben Perachiah for one minor misunderstanding or another and subsequently became a idolater.
In other Jewish magical traditions, Joshua ben Perachiah was himself an exorcist. In fact, his name was also used on magic bowls just like this one!
So it looks like these stories about Joshua ben Perachiah excommunicating Yeshu are just excuses, trying to explain why Joshua ben Perachiah wasn't a magician like his famous contemporary was. He was a good but over-disciplinary rabbi who, in the Talmud's own words, pushed the impressionable Yeshu away. Every good rabbi was supposed to push their student with one hand and bring them back with the other hand but Perachiah pushed with both hands, causing Yeshu to run away and join the magician circus in Egypt. Some of the Talmud's authors and editors decided to canonize Joshua ben Perachiah and demonize Yeshu so they invented a rift between the two based on some silly misunderstanding that caused the student to “go off and become an idolater”. Something very similar happened later in the second century where there was a claim by later Christians that the philosopher Justin the Martyr had a student named Tatian who supposedly got upset at being spurned for a bishop office and ran off to invent his own heresy called “Encratism”, saying that followers of Jesus had to be ascetic. The reality is that the vast majority of “heretical” sects were ascetic, whether it was the Essenes, Ebionites and Cerinthians on one side, or the Gnostics, Montanists, and Marcionites on the other, so it would hardly have been surprising if Justin was an “Encratite” himself.
It does not look like anyone has made the connection between the “Chrst Bowl” and the portrayal of Jesus in the Talmud. In fact, few people even realize that Jesus is talked about in the most important Jewish book after the Hebrew Bible.
According to the Talmud, Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu avoided sectarian persecution by escaping to Egypt, but after being excommunicated by his teacher, Yeshu returned with knowledge of Egyptian magic, seduced people into following him, including five disciples, and was stoned to death and then hung on a tree in Lydda during Passover, just as Jesus was said to have been crucified in Jerusalem on Passover in the gospels, although other parts of the Bible have repeatedly used the long-assumed “allegorical” phrase “hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter 2:24, Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29). The parts that refer to Jesus in the parts of the Talmud called the Mishnah were compiled around the 220s A.D., not long after the New Testament was first compiled in the 180s A.D.
Although Yeshu is portrayed as a magician, there is another Talmudic story where a follower of Yeshu, a “Notzi” (Nazarene), tries to heal a man from a snakebite but is prevented from doing so by a respected rabbi because the rabbi believed it was better for the bitten man to die and his soul to survive than to be saved of the snake venom yet have his soul perish. The story suggests the “magic” Yeshu may have been performing could possibly have been based on some unorthodox Egyptian healing techniques or rituals. The miracle stories in the first three gospels, called the Synoptic gospels, likewise reflect a tradition of ritualistic healing measures not found in the Old Testament which the Pharisees and elders constantly lodge theological complaints against. It is only much later, when Acts of the Apostles is written, that a distinction is made between the miracles of Jesus and the trickster magic of supposed “fountainhead” of the heretical Gnostic mysteries Simon Magus.
Epiphanius, a fourth-century heresy-fighting bishop, himself accidentally endorsed a legend from a competeting Jewish sect of Christianity, that said that Jesus inherited his Messianic kingship from Alexander Jannaeus, apparently not realizing that Alexander Jannaeus was from the first century B.C.:
“The priesthood in the holy church is [actually] David’s throne and kingly seat, for the Lord joined together and gave to his holy church both the kingly and high-priestly dignity, transferring to it the never-failing throne of David. For David’s throne endured in line of succession until the time of Christ himself, rulers from Judah not failing until he came ‘to whom the things kept in reserve belong, and he was the expectation of the nations’. With the advent of the Christ the rulers in line of succession from Judah, reigning until the time of Christ himself, ceased. For the line fell away and stopped from the time when he was born in Bethlehem of Judea under Alexander, who was of priestly and royal race. From Alexander onward this office ceased – from the days of Alexander and Salina, who is also called Alexandra, to the days of Herod the king and Augustus the Roman emperor (Though this Alexander was crowned also, as one of the anointed priests and rulers.) For when the two tribes, the kingly and priestly, were united—- I mean the tribe of Judah with Aaron and the whole tribe of Levi—kings also became priests, for nothing hinted at in holy scripture can be wrong.) But then finally a gentile, King Herod, was crowned, and not David’s descendants any more. But with the transfer of the royal throne the rank of king passed, in Christ, from the physical house of David and Israel to the church.” -Panarion Ch. 29
What was the name of this heretical sect that Epiphanius was speaking against?
“What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down.”
Jesus is famous for providing Christians with the “New Covenant” which replaced the “old law” of Moses, including the need for circumcision and keeping kosher dietary rules, as described in the Pauline Epistles, letters said to have been written by Paul, from the Greek “New Testament”. The statement also conforms with a passage from Bible passage, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, which says: “You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.” The sentence seems to insinuate that the Jews alone had Jesus killed without any help from the Romans at all, which would only make sense if Jesus was killed during a time before Roman law was instituted. The fact that this King of the Jews was nameless also parallels the fact that the Talmud claims that the name Yeshu was an acronym for yemach shemo vezichro, “May his name and memory be obliterated.” If so, it was perhaps the greatest irony that the Greek variation of that name would become the most famous name in the world for the past thousand years.
“But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with sacred money... However the Jews were not pleased... So he [Pilate] bade the Jews himself to go away; but they boldly casting reproaches on him, he gave the soldiers that signal... and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not, nor did they spare them in the least...and thus an end was put to this sedition.
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Chrestians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus. And a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.
Sepher Toledot Yeshu, or “Book of the Generations of Jesus”
The motifs about Jesus that are found in the Talmudic passages also correlate with a series of Jewish anti-gospels collectively referred to as the Sepher Toledot Yeshu, or Toldoth Jeshu. The Toeldot tells a story of Yeshu attempting to convert a certain queen named Helene before he is ultimately stoned to death and hung on a carob tree or cabbage stalk. Later editors of the Toledot appear to have identified this queen with both the first century B.C. Queen Salome Alexandra and the first century A.D. as well as Helena, queen of Abiadne and Edessa. The Toledot's story structure does not make much sense for the satire genre because so much of the plot depicts Yeshu in a positive light.
Two of these Toledot anti-gospels have been translated into English and titled: 1) The Jewish Life of Jesus and 2) The Jewish Life of Christ. The Jewish Life of Jesus appears to be the earlier version of the two. Rather than it being a Jewish satire of the Greek gospels, which really have almost nothing in common with the story, The Jewish Life of Jesus appears to be a very short, early gospel about the first century B.C. Jesus that has been only slightly altered to put him in a negative light. The Jewish Life of Christ, looks like a sister text to Life of Jesus that has been edited up to be harmonized with one of the Greek gospels, perhaps Matthew. The Jewish Life of Jesus also includes a very obvious interpolation breaking the story structure in the middle of the narrative to describe an episode not found in Life of Christ in which Jesus and Judas have a mid-air sorcerer battle that is very similar to an apocryphal Christian story in which the evil sorcerer Simon Magus squares off against the apostle Simon Peter. Both versions of the sorcerer battle end with a crash landing. One of the reasons we can be sure that the sorcerer battle was added in later is that the traitor in The Jewish Life of Jesus is not called Judas, but simply Gaisa, or “Gardener”, as the traitor of Jesus only received the name Judas after Judas the Galilean “betrayed” Messianic Jews by leading the Romans to the Jerusalem Temple just as the Gardener led the Pharisees to Yeshu.
It is often said that these Talmud and Toledot stories are just rabbinic reactions against Christians, but it is very hard to imagine that some rabbis read one of the gospels and decided to come up with this first century B.C. narrative as a retort. Why put Jesus earlier in time and make Christianity older? Why would the rabbis have their leaders take on more culpability for his death without any Roman interference, which just so happens to agree with Mara Bar Serapion and 1 Thessalonians? Would they leave out any trace of the pacifistic philosophy and apocalypticism and then expand on the “Escape to Egypt” story, putting it into a far more historical context? Clearly, story elements such as hiding Jesus’ body and the gardener motif are minor details far too deep within the fabric of the gospel narrative for Jewish satirists to pick up and elaborate on while at the same time ignoring all the far more important plot elements and theological positions from the Greek-written canonical gospels from the Bible.
Critics have tried to date the Toledot Yeshu very late, usually the 500s, sometimes as late as the medieval period, but there is very compelling evidence that the story elements used come from a tradition earlier than the canonical gospels. Most of these reasons have been detailed in the only two book-long in-depth scholarly analyses of the Toledot Yeshu, certainly nowhere near enough for what it deserves. Both of these books, Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.? (1903) by the English historian and Theosophist G.R.S. Mead, and The Jesus the Jews Never Knew (2003) by Frank Zindler, came to the conclusion that the Talmudic Jesus was earlier than the gospel Jesus, although they came to opposite conclusions about historicity. Mead accepted the historicity of the first century B.C.Jesus but eventually accepted the first century A.D. Jesus as well while Zindler concluded that the Talmudic Jesus was mythical as well. Biblical scholar Robert M. Price has also included it in his Pre-Nicene New Testament (2006).
Here are some of the reasons why the Talmudic Jesus appears to be older than the Gospel Jesus:
One of the primary obstacles to the idea that the Talmudic Jesus represents the more original version of Jesus is that very few modern Talmudic scholars advocate the idea. Many of them point to the fact that there are variations of the text that leave out the name of Yeshu, indicating it was inserted in later. However, there is a long Jewish tradition of leaving out the name of a heretic or an enemy so that his name was vanish from history. Whether the name was inserted or taken out, there were some ancient Jews who knowingly dated Jesus to the first century B.C. Nevertheless, it does tarnish the credibility of a Talmudic statement when most modern Talmudic scholars for various reasons dismiss the historical importance of the passages themselves.
But at one time this appears to have been the case. The twelfth-century Spanish historian Abraham ben Daud is quoted in the 1887 book, Medieval Jewish Chronicles, by Adolph Neubaueri as saying not some but all the Jewish history writers of the time identified Jesus as the student of Joshua ben Perachiah and said that he lived during the time of Alexander Jannaeus. The reason this is not the case today can be attributed not to an accident of history but a purposeful censorship by the Roman Catholic Church. Along with censorship, Christan repression also led many Jewish copyists to self-censor, and so many copies of the Talmud have the passages missing. Things were not any better when Martin Luther got his hands on the story, as he used it to help slander Jews with anti-Semetic tracts. The Toledot Yeshu was only trotted out every so often to highlight the Jewish insults towards Jesus, leaving out the part about that the Toledot Jesus wasn’t the gospel Jesus, in order to stir up anti-Semitism when it was time to repress the Jews some more. It should perhaps be no surprise then Judaism before the late twentieth century had evolved into a religion with a collective amnesia when it came to Jesus
Notes discovered hidden within two copies of the Toledot Yeshu story that had originally been written in Slavic Hebrew and then translated into German warns its Jewish readers that because of the ban on this story, it was to be copied only by hand and never printed, nor should it be read it front of Christians or anyone frivolous enough to gossip about it. Rabbinic writings ranging from the 1100s to 1900s confirms that the Talmud and Toledot were censored by the Church to keep Christians from learning about this other Jesus. So yes, the story of the First Century B.C. Jesus is a full-on Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy theory.
The Gospel of Matthew Secretly Admits Jesus' “Illegitimate” Birth
The Talmudic story of Yeshu also correlates with a story told by the Greek anti-Christian philosopher Celsus, writing only some decades earlier in 177 A.D., that Jesus had been fathered by a man named Panthera, although Celsus described Panthera as a Roman solider instead of the Toledot's description of Panthera as a Jewish vagabound. Some Biblical scholars have suggested that “Panthera” was a pun on the Greek word for “virgin”, parthenos, but the two words do not sound a lot alike nor do they come from the same root. Both Epiphanius and another church father, John of Damascus from the 700s, claimed that Panthera was a surname of one of Jesus' grandfathers: the father of Joseph according to Epiphanius, or the father of the Virgin Mary according to John of Damascus.
The mother of Jesus is named Mary Magdala, which is interpreted to be Aramaic for hairdresser, rooted in the word gadal, to weave, which at the time was a popular euphamism for a prostitute. This is corroberated by a tenth century Arabic-Syriac lexicon that also says the name Magdalene was
Modern scholars have largely assumed that the story about Jesus being born of Panthera were just a reaction against the Christian proclamation of a virgin birth, but a hidden reference in the Gospel of Matthew actually puts stock in the suppossedly “anti-Christian” polemic that Jesus was a “bastard”.
The Gospel of Matthew hosts one of the most famous New Testament errors when it misquotes Isaiah by using the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament verse “A virgin shall conceive...” when the original Hebrew actually used the world almah, meaning “maiden”, not “virgin”. Yet there is a far more shocking admission to the reality behind the myth in Matthew's genealogy. As religious studies scholar James Tabor and others have pointed out, the four women (compared to 40 men) mentioned in Matthew's genealogy, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, are purposely cited as controversial figures because of their scandalous sexual reputations in the Hebrew Bible. In three of the cases, excluding Rahab, the sinful sex act itself is instrumental in bringing about the current genealogy. The genealogical source that Matthew is drawing from, is trying to say something here,
Admittedly, the application of the criteria can not claim absolute certainty. We do not know for certain if the author of Matthew actually believed Jesus lived during the first century A.D. or if Matthew's Jesus is a fictional representation of the first century B.C. Jesus. Jesus is fatherless in Mark, so the geneaologist may be working off the presumption that a fictional gospel Jesus was a historical “bastard” rather than take it for granted that Jesus' father was dead as many Biblical scholars have presumed was true of Joseph by the time Jesus began his preaching. Assuming Matthew knew nothing about Jesus except for gospel sources similar to Mark, would the person who wrote the genealogy just guess Jesus was a “bastard” from that rather than figuring his father was dead? Thus, it seems more likely that the virgin birth motif is a reaction against the “bastard” accusation, not the other way around. Many ancient demi-god conception myths from the Sumerian king Gilgamesh being conceived while his stepfather is away, to the Greek Dionysus and his mother being exposed to the ocean in a chest by her father, have subtexts of “illegitimate” births. Now, one could still say the virgin birth motif came first, then the “bastard” accusation, then the genealogy against the “bastard” accusation, but that accusation must have had some heavy weight behind it for the editing author to allow such a concession, as veiled as it is. Had the “bastard” accusation been based on nothing but a wild satirical insult, the normal reaction would have been to ignore it, not validate it. Yet the name Pantherus was validated as a real name not once but twice, though with contradicting details, by church fathers who would not even go as far as the genealogist in Matthew.
We also know of a now-lost apocryphal version of the Gospel of Matthew from the heretical Jewish Christians known as the Ebionites, literally “the poor ones” and this version of Matthew lacked both the genealogy and a virgin birth narrative. There was another heretical sect of semi-Gnostic Jewish Platonists called the Cerinthians, who followed a theology of Adoptionism, meaning they believed Jesus' body had been “adopted” by the Spirit at baptism instead of being born from God's divine conception. Some Cerinthianss used an early version of John, but other Cerinthians used an a bygone version of Matthew that included the genealogy but not the birth narrative. The fact that the genealogy and the virgin birth narrative contradict each other in that the genaology only goes up to Joseph, who does not actually father Jesus, strengthens the indication that the heretical versions of Matthew's introduction are actually earlier and that the genealogy with the defense against the “bastard” accusation came before the virgin birth narrative.
Are the Talmudic Jesus References Really Late Compared to the New Testament?
The Talmudic reference to Jesus are often dismissed as being written too late to be useful in understanding the historical Jesus, yet there is good evidence that at least one of the gospels typically used by Biblical scholars in assessing the historical Jesus is not that much older. The Gospel of Luke and its sequel, Acts of the Apostles, are both addressed to a certain Theophilus and the only Theophlius known to early Christian history is the bishop Theophilus of Antioch from the 170s. This identification is substantiated by the fact that Theophilus of Antioch and the author/editor of canonical Luke and Acts were both writing theology reacting against the heretical Marcionites and that both are the earliest written documents of the Christian name, which according to Acts of the Apostles just so happens to have been in Antioch. Surprisingly enough, Theophilus' etymology of the word Christian is based not on the seemingly obvious deduction that Christians worship Christ, a title of kingship or priesthood meaning “the Anointed One”, but rather an otherwise unknown explanation that Christians are themselves anointed with the oil of God. Theophilus also defends Christianity against the charge of holding wives in common, incest and cannibalism by turning this accusation against the popular philosophers, accusing Plato of advocating keeping wives in common and accusing Epicurius and the Stoic philosophers of promoting incest and cannibalism while Acts 17:18 differentiates Christiniaty from them by having Paul try to convert the Epicureans and Stoics he meets in Athens.
The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, whose combined narrative are referred to by scholars as Luke-Acts, is also important in that it is the earliest gospel to outright claim to the reader to be a historical narrative rather than a fictional or allegorical myth. The strongest evidence we have that anyone on the turn of the second century interpreted the first century A.D. Jesus as anything more than a literary project is the disputed line from Tacitus and, assuming it is authentic, it may have ultimately derived from the opinion of neophytes uninitiated into the deeper mysteries of Chrestianity. Other second century anti-docetic and anti-Gnostic writings that argue for the cause of historicity against the "antichrists" and "false prophets" who claimed that Jesus was a "cleverly invented story" (2 Peter 1:16) include the apologies and other works of Justin, the Gospel and epistles of John, the Pastoral epistles of Paul, and the apocryphal epistles of Ignatius. Assuming Luke-Acts was addressed to Theophilus of Antioch, that would mean the earliest uncontested historical biography of Jesus the first century A.D. peasant was some time in the 170s, just 50 years before the earliest parts of the Talmud were compiled in the 220s.
Most scholars date Luke much earlier, to the late first or early second century, assuming the canonical version of Luke as we have it was the earliest version of the gospel. But in fact the Marcionite canon is known to have been compiled before Irenaeus' Apostolic canon from the 180s and Marcion's gospel shows some traits that indicate that parts of it are earlier than our canonical Luke. For example, in Luke 4:23, Jesus while in his hometown of Nazareth mentions healings in Capernaum that he says everyone is aware of, yet he visits Capernaum for the first time in 4:31 and everyone is “amazed”, which seems to indicate that the Capernaum visit originally preceded his hometown visit just as it does in Mark and Matthew. In fact, Tertullilan quotes the first line of Marcion's gospel as being a combination of 3:1 and 4:31, describing the “Docetic” belief that Jesus descended directly from heaven and went first to Capernaum. Not only that, but Marcion's canon also lacks the Book of Acts, even the later pro-Paul part. If Luke was rewritten, why not Acts as well, or even replace Acts with their own version of Church history?
Further proof that the four Biblical gospels came from earlier heretical gospels can be found in Irenaeus, the first known Church father to advertise the modern Bible as the definitive canon of Christianity and the first to catalogue all of the known Christian heresies of his time. In his definitive tome, “The Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge So-Called”, dubbed Against Heresies for short, Irenaeus makes the absurd claim that each of the four canonical gospels was stolen by one particular heretical Christian sect. Irenaeus is the one responsible for the Bible canon as we have it today and yet hardly anyone talks about him to the extent that he deserves. According to Irenaeus, Mark was stolen by the Adoptionists who believed the Spirit “adopted” Jesus at his baptism, Matthew was stolen by the Jewish Ebionites who kept the Torah and rejected his divinity, Luke was stolen by the Stoic Marcionites whose Docetic theology taught that Jesus came down from heaven unborn, and John was stolen by the Plato-loving Valentinians who maintained a very large theological superstructure of angels as well as a concept of the Logos and the belief that God is made up of three hypostases similar to the Trinity. Since the majority of Christian sects only utilized a single gospel, certainly it makes more sense that the Apostolic Church of Irenaeus inherited and edited heretical gospels originally written by the heretical sects, and in fact the theology of the gospels are in fact a better match for the heretical sect than that of the Apostolic church of Irenaeus. Mark's gospel shows Adoptionist qualities. Matthew shows a Jewish acceptance of Hebrew law. Luke portrays Docetic qualities by having Jesus walk through the crowd at Nazareth. And John includes the Logos and Gnostic dualism and it is a Johannine epistle in which an interpolation forged the theological proof for the Trinity into the Bible. So the canonical gospels we use today are in all likelihood late second century rewrites done by Irenaeus and/or his predecessors working off of heretical or related gospels from the late first and early second century.
What is far more important than the time between the gospels and the Talmud is that the Talmud represents the earliest Jewish response to Christianity. If scholarship does not have anything earlier than the Talmud representing Jews in their own words, then Biblical scholars should not just assume the first century Jews believed in a first century Jesus and then, without any need for an explanation as to why, second century Jews invented a different tradition that made Christianity older and their elders more culpable for Jesus’ death and that this new tradition completely supplanted the earlier, more historical tradition. Regardless of whether Luke was written in the 70s or the 170s, Luke has shown to be using older written sources, including Cynic/Stoic wisdom sayings that scholars believe go all the way back to Jesus in the 20s or early 30s. The Toledot likewise proves to contain traditions that go back before the gospels, so it really does not matter that the gospels predate the Talmud and the Toledot because the Talmud and the Toledot sources predate the gospel sources.
One of the most important hypothetical sources, a list of Cynic/Stoic wisdom sayings of Jesus that scholars have dubbed Q, for the German word Quelle, meaning “source”, was originally referred to as the “Oracles of Matthew” by 19th-century German Biblical scholar Friedrich Schleiermacher because he made the reasonable assumption that it could be identified with a text with that name, mentioned along side the earliest-referenced gospel, the Gospel of Mark, by the second century Anatolian bishop Papias, typically dated by scholars to the 140s. This label was dropped since later scholars believed there was nothing substantial to differentiate it from other hypothetical sources like M or L, named so because only Matthew and Luke use them, but given that Q appears to have been more predominate, it would provide an excellent explanation for how the Gospel of Matthew got its name. Regardless of which sayings source, if any, the “Oracles of Matthew” refer to, it establishes that the earliest known disciple of Jesus refrenced outside the gospels was Matthew, who happens to be the only disciple with the same name as one of the original five disciples of Yeshu, proving that the earliest known sayings sources about Jesus could originally have been attributed to Yeshu.
This also explains the mystery of why the disciple Levi from the Gospel of Mark had his name changed to Matthew. As more skeptical Biblical scholars like Robert M. Price have pointed out, the Twelve Apostles were originally known to be famous teachers of Jesus, not literal disciples. The word for disciple is never used. Some scholars make much of the fact that James is referred to as a “brother of the Lord” in the Epistle to the Galatians, but there is no indication as to how literal the title was meant to be taken, no attempt by the hostile author to explain why his spiritual visions should be taken as equal or superior to James or Cephas knowledge of the historical Jesus, and evidence that it is not present in the Marcionite version of the epistle. The hostile nature in which the Paul sects, the Peter sects and the James sects shines through in a critical reading of the New Testament epistles. The Twelve actually came from different backgrounds, lived in different cities and expoused contending theologies while competing against one another. The gospels made them disciples to one another as an allegorical conceit of fiction. Thus, when the earliest versions of the Gospel of Mark were written, there was no need to explain why the Twelve Apostles were not the same as the Five Disciples. But when the “Oracles of Matthew”, referencing an original disciple of Yeshu, were combined with a literal interpretation of a historicized Gospel of Mark, it brought about a confusion that forced the editor of Matthew to change Levi's name, as it is originally given in the Gospel of Mark, to Matthew in the Gospel of Matthew in order to explain why the Cynic/Stoic Wisdom Sayings did not come from one of the Twelve, thus representing a perfect example of how new myths consume the old ones. Eventually the Gospel of Matthew was adopted by the Church of Peter in Antioch so that he, not Jesus, was made the “Cornerstone of the Church”.
There used to be hundreds of different versions of the gospels. Many of them were just earlier or later variations of the four canonical gospels we have in the Bible. The Apostolic Church that Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants are descended from was centered in Ephesus, Lyons and Rome and Irenaeus appears to be the intellectual father of this Church, his Refutation of Gnosis being its founding charter. Other rival sects like that of Justin's pupil Tatian had combined versions of the four gospels into a super-gospel. As Delbert Burkett has shown in his book From Proto-Mark to Mark, our canonical versions of Mark, Matthew and Luke were in fact made up of the same process of combining variant versions of shorter Synoptic sources. Instead of going the usual route of combining gospels to get a full "historical" picture, Irenaeus instead kept the four gospels apart so that each one could best appeal to the the various Adoptionists, Jewish Ebionites, Docetic Marcionites and Gnostic Valentinian sects by "converting" the competing sectarian founders, Mark, Peter (Matthew), Paul (Luke), and John, into biographical evangelists, each providing a slightly different (sectarian) “perspective” on a historicized Jesus.
The Dying-and-Rising Gods
If the historical Jesus really lived in the first century B.C., where did the Gospel Jesus come from? Some scholars such as mythologist Joseph Campbell, the anthropologist James George Frazer, and Lutheran theologian and Biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann have pointed to similarities between Christianity and various mystery religions of the time, each employing a “Savior” god who was killed and then rose from the dead, often providing a Eucharist of bread and wine that imparted an immortality of the soul.
The earliest known dying-and-rising god came from the religion of the Sumerians and Akkadians, two of the earliest human civilizations that grew up around the fertile crescent surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers of Iraq. Their earliest mythology includes earlier versions of the Biblical stories of the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth out the Primeval Waters, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah's Ark, Nimrod's Empire, and the Tower of Babel. All the paralles between Sumerian and Akkadian mythology and the Old Testament are limited to the parts of Genesis that come before the story of Abraham in Chapter 12, with one notable exception.
There is a shepherd god named Dumuzi, whose name means something like “Living Son”, “Risen Son”, “True Son” or “Faithful Son”. Dumuzi also had a Eucharist sacrament of bread and warer rather than that of bread and wine, but his sister Geshtinanna was a wine goddess, and later dying-and-rising gods substituted a bread and wine sacrament for their Eucharist. A hugely popular Sumerian king list provides two instances of the name Dumuzi, one called “the Shepherd” and one called “the Fisherman”. Jesus is of course known as “the Living Son” and “the Good Shepherd” and is said to have chosen twelve fishermen to become his disciples, saying “I will make you fishers of men.”
Dumuzi's father was Enki, “Lord Earth”, the wisdom god who like the Greek Titan Prometheus molded humans out of clay of the earth, as well as the purveyor of the wisdom of the arts of civilization, the proverbial “fruit of wisdom”. Enki's ancient temple expanded to become the first city in Mesopotamia, and the god who warned the ark-building hero, variously named Ziusudra, Atra-Hasis,or Utnapishtim, about the oncoming worldwide flood. The fisherman priests of Enki are shown in some reliefs as litearlly dressing up in giant fish costumes during their ceremonies.
How could it be that these Sumerian and Akkadian writings had early versions of the first few chapters of Genesis and the story of dying-and-rising Son of God but nothing in between? The Hebrew authors based the stories from the Creation to Babel on earlier Akkadian or Canaanite myths but Abraham marked the point where they began their more local traditions, just as Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt marks the point where Egyptian fables like Tale of Two Brothers start getting used. Yet part of the earlier “world myth” of the dying-and-rising god must have continued on, and when Christianity branched off from Judaism, it must have used some of these mystery traditions at some point in the long process of separation from Judaism.
In one Sumerian myth, Dumuzi was said to have been taken by demons from beneath his apple tree as a substitute for his resurrected wife Inanna, and then was subsequently raised himself, coming out of the ground from beneath the same Tree of Life he died under. In 1 Corinthians 2:6, the author, supposedly the apostle Paul, says that Jesus was killed by the “archons tou aeon”, or the “powers of this age”, a strangely ambiguous term that could either mean “earthly rulers of this millenium” or “elemental demons from this planetary sphere”, either term of which begs for a non-existent elaboration. These kinds of terms were used by Gnostics, many of whom, including the heretical Valentinians, were said to have considered Paul to be their founder. The general interpretation that the powers refer to the Romans seems to be contradicted by Romans 13:1, which says that the everyone should subject themselves to the governing authorities because “the authorities that exist have been established by God”, an amazingly conginial belief for someone who supposedly believed the Son of God was recently executed under Roman authority.
Dumuzi rising from the dead beneath the Tree of Life with his wife Inanna beside him
The reason that Dumuzi's wife was killed in the first place was because she tried to the underworld to try and conquer it from her sister, Ereshkigal, the Sumerian Persephone. As Inanna moved through the celestial gates to the underworld, she was forced to remove more and more of her jewelry and clothing, which was an allegory for the evening star, Venus, as it descended below the horizon until it disappears, symbolizing the death of Inanna at the hands of her sister. Venus stays “dead” for three days just as Jesus was said to have stayed dead for three days, and then “resurrects” by rising from the horizon. According to the myth, Enki resurrected Inanna but only if she could find a substitute which turned out to be her husband. The fall and rise of Venus is likewise attributed to a Canaanite myth regarding two sons of Asherah, the Canaanite name for Dumuzi's wife Inanna. In the Canaanite myth, Asherah's son represents the rising morning star while Shalem was associdated with the falling evening star. The original name for Jerusalem appears to have been named after Shalem. This may be because Jerusalem marked the western side of the Fertile Crescent, where the sun sets, just as Babylon marked the eastern side, where the sun rises, as indicated by the way Isaiah 14:12 associates the king of Babylon with Helel, son of Shahar, whose name was translated into Latin as Lucifer. The morning star motif is likewise used in 2 Peter 1:19: “We also have the prophetic message... as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Thus, the rising/falling and light/darkness motifs found in the dying-and-rising god mythology appear to have already been established at Jerusalem's founding.
In a variation of the story from the Bible about Adam, there is a story called the The Myth of Adapa, found on tablets from fourteenth century B.C. Egypt and Assyria, that portrays Dumuzi as guarding the gates of heaven similar to how St. Peter is popularly illustrated as guarding the pearly gates. The ancient Mesopotamian myth depicts Adapa, the Sumerian version of Adam, not as the first man but the first of seven sage-priests of Enki. Adapa goes out on a boat and drowns and is getting suited up by Enki (called by his Semitic name Ea), in preperation for his judgment by the King of Heaven, Anu. Enki tells Adapa the secret about how sympathizing with the death of Dumuzi and a similar god named Ningishzida will get them to advocate on Adapa's behalf, just as in the Biblical verses, “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1) and “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Although Adapa is honored in heaven thanks to the advocation of Dumuzi and Ninsighzida, Adapa refuses the Bread and Water of Eternal Life because he was wrongly consoled by Enki that they were the Bread and Water of Death. Thus, both Adam and Adapa were denied eternal life on earth by following the instructions of the wise serpent god, “Lord Earth”, but are provided with the chance of eternal life of the soul through the advocation of the Living Son. Thus, the Christian interpretation of Adam's Fall, long believed to be a post-Jesus appendium to the Jewish one, is proven to be the more original.
Another Sumerian story has Enki creating an Eden-like Garden of Immortality that has Enki become sick after eating a poisoned fruit, after which he is healed by his lover, the goddess Ninmah, who heals his body by giving birth to various healing goddesses, one of whom is called Ninti, which in Sumerian means both “Lady of Life” and “Lady of the Rib”, providing the context for why the Lady of Life was born from a rib. Another Sumerian myth that details how Dumuzi's wife Inanna got Enki drunk and convinved him to give her the me's, secrets of cultural of civilization emblematic of the Fruit of Knowledge, so that she could take them from Enki's city, Eridu (equivalent to Cain's city of Enoch), to her own city of Uruk, which would become the Sumerian capital in Gilgamesh's time. In Greek mythology, Prometheus accidentally allows the first woman, Pandora to unleash all of the evil upon the world by opening up a jar, and just as the snake is punished by Yahweh for bringing the wisdom of civilization to man, Prometheus too challenges Zeus' omnipotence by providing humans with the divine spark of fire that put man on the road to civilization. Like Satan, he was eternally punished for it by being tied to a stone and tortured daily by a bird pecking at his organs on Mt. Caucasus, the same mountain Zeus fought Gaea's dragon-giant Typhon on.
The earliest dying-and-rising gods, from Dumuzi to Attis to Adonis to Dionsysus, came from cults that were typically associated with an older or more prestigious goddess, such as Inanna, Cybele or Aphrodite, and these cults themselves were largely controlled by women. In fact, many Dumuzi, Adonis and Attis cults would only allow young boys to join if they castrated themselves, leading to several myths that the dying-and-rising gods had died due to being castrated, either by themselves or by others. Later mystery religions allowed men and women to join freely as equals. Archaeological evidence linking Yahweh to the Inanna's Canaanite counterpart, Asherah, has led some Near East archaeologists like William G. Dever, author of Did God Have a Wife?, to believe that she was originally the wife of Yahweh before a “Yahweh-Only” cult decided to do away with her, giving her the name, Ashtoreth, “Lady of Shame”, and using the language of adultery to describe Hebrews who turned their hearts to other gods.
Several ancient inscriptions of Yahweh have been discovered by archaeology, including one on a jar next to a picture of three drawf-like lion gods, found on the border of Sinai, where the name of Yahweh was said to have been first revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:13), that reads “Yahweh... and his Asherah”. Yahweh is depicted as a lion dwarf identical to Bes, the Egyptian god of sex and childbirth, as well as depictions of the Egyptian god Ptah, who was associated with Bes, and the Greek volcano god Hephaestus, known to the Romans as Vulcan(o), who was likewise associated with Ptah. Judging by the description of the rubbling mountain Sinai, with its pillar of smoke and magical fire that does not burn itself out, Sigmund Frued suspected that Yahweh was originally a volcano god who was later harmonized with the monotheistic/henotheistic Aten cult of the orginal Moses, an Egyptian priest, as described in Freud's book Moses and Monothesim. In fact, Hephaestus' fall from Mount Olympus mirrors the Satan-like story of Zeus eternally punishing Prometheus for giving the spark (fruit) of wisdom of wisdom to mankind, as well as the description of the fallen angel Azazel in the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Although Hephaestus was famous for being cuckolded by Ares, the god of war, two variants of the myth have Hephaetus fighting with Tamoza -- Dumuzi's Semitic name -- over the love of Aphrodite instead. The Sumerians likewise had a myth in which the shepherd Dumuzi squared off against the farmer Enkimdu for the love of Inanna, which might be related to other ancient myths of brotherly conflict over the love of God as in Cain and Abel, the Sumerian story of brotherly conflict between Enten and Emesh (Winter and Summer) over the love of their father Enlil (equivalent to the Canaanite El or Eloh), the Roman origin story of brotherly conflict between the shepherd-farmers Romulus and Remus, and the Norse story of the dying-and-rising god Baldr fighting his brother Hodr for the love of the goddess Nanna. Amulets depicting Bes have turned up in many Christian graves in Egypt and there is Coptic magical papyrus that equates Christ with Bes.
Sinai jar drawing from 700s B.C. reading “Yahweh... and his Asherah”
In Ezekiel 8:14, it says that women used to weep over the death of Tammuz at the Jerusalem Temple in the same way Christians mourn the death of Jesus on Good Friday, suggesting that many women may have considered Yahweh to be the Judean equivalent of Dumuzi. The month of Dumuzi's resurrection is even named after him in the Hebrew calendar. Strangely, Ezekiel is so digusted by the Tammuz worship that he calls for those who hate such practices to put a Tau or T mark to show they were not Tammuz worshippers, meaning the Bible actually suggests that Judeans should literally put a cross on their heads as a part of a covenant to prove that they did NOT worship the dying-and-rising god. Considering the relationship Jerusalem has to Asherah's son, the “falling god” Shalim, the Tau mark more likely originated as a symbol for Tammuz rather than a symbol against him. Some scholars have suggested the T mark stood for the word Torah, but it could equally stand for Tammuz.
Just as Yahweh was probably equated with Tammuz by the outliers of society, Hebrew scholars have long acknowledged that some of the early books of the Bible like Psalms and Isaiah portray a more elite concept that “Yahweh of Armies” (a term that's translated in most English Bibles as “the LORD of Hosts”) was equiavalent to the nationalistic, cloud-riding and dragon-slaying storm/war gods like Ninurta, Pazuzu, Marduk, Ashur, Ba'al Hadad, Set, Teshub, Zeus, and Jupiter. The similarity between each of the storm/war god Creation myths impresses the idea that it was a trend for the storm/war god to civilize nature by defeating the chaos monster and, in many cases, absorb all the titles of the other gods to become the new semi-monotheistic king of the gods. The nationalistic war/storm god Marduk slew Dumuzi’s grandmother Tiamat, the mother of all the gods, to become king and then sacrificed Kingu (the equivalent to Dumuzi) and used his blood to create humankind. The Canaanite storm god Ba’al Hadad and his sister Anat likewise slew the multi-headed dragon Lotan, just as the storm god Zeus defeated the serpentine Typhon, Apollo and his his twin sister Artemis shot down Python, and Yahweh of Armies was said in Psalms and Isaiah to have ridden on clouds chopped up the multi-headed dragon Leviathan.
The “Virgin Anat” took the same assisting role as sister-wife of the Canaanite dying-and-rising god Ba'al Hadad as Dumuzi's sister Gesthinanna had in Sumerian myth and was worshipped alongside Yahweh as Anat-Yahu in the 500s and 400s B.C. on the Elephantine island in Egypt and in the 600s B.C. She was similarly worshipped in conjunction with El as Anat-Bethel, most likely a reference to Bethel, Israel, the same location Yeshu is said to have gotten his powers from Jacob's stone in the more original Toledot Yeshu story, The Jewish Life of Jesus. Celsus, the second-century anti-Christian philosopher who said Jesus was the son of Panthera, described Christianity as “a religion of women, children and slaves,” and in fact many of the early Apostolic Church Fathers starting with the Bible-creator Irenaeus complained about the fact that other heretical Christian sects like the Montanists, the Marcionites, the Marcosians and the Valentinians viewed women as equal and allowed them to prophecize just as men did. Both Marcion of the Marcionites and Mark of the Marcosians are characterized as evil temptors seducing fickle young virgin mistresses with crazy notions of gender equality. In fact, despite the fact that Celsus was writing an anti-Christian polemic and Irenaeus was writing an anti-Gnostic polemic at essentially the same time, the two of them shared other themes, like a mutual disdain for the gender-accepting attitudes of Gnostic and Marcionite sects along with a mutual disdain for the world-denying, imperial-denying ethos of the Gnostics. It is from the late second-century Apostolic tradition of Irenaeus that we get the epistle of 2 Timothy forbidding women to teach or assume authority over men when, as John Dominic Crossan has pointed out, a cave outside Ephesus shows that Paul's disciple Thecla was originally accepted as a teacher only to be dishonored by a later patriarchal Apostolic sect that carved out her eyes and the pointing fingers of authority while leaving Paul's image untouched.
The popular saint Thecla was originally accepted as a teacher but later her image was vandalized
Like Christianity, the cults of Tammuz and Dionysus were also particularly popular with the outliers of society: women, slaves, and other non-citizens. Julia, the daughter of Augustus Caesar, defied her father by crowning the head of Marsyas, a Dionysian god who was rival of Augustus' Apollo. Dionysus worship was outlawed in Greek prehistory by the Theban King Pentheus, according to Euripidies and Ovid, and the Roman Republic reformed the religion 186 B.C., just as Christianity was outlawed in the third century by the Emperor Diocletian and then reformed by Constantine. Euripidies likewise portrayed the followers of Dionysus being rescued by having their chains magically fall off similar to what happens to Peter in Acts 12:7, and Dionysus tells the unbeliever Pentheus that he should sacrifice to him “rather than kick against his spurs in anger”, just as the Risen Jesus appears to Paul in Acts 26:14 saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”, and shows up as “It is hard to kick against the pricks” in an Epsitle of Ignatius.
Tammuz and Asherah worshippers also erected feminine devotional poles called Asherahs, which were supposed to represent the Tree of Life under which Dumuzi had been slain and resurrected. If some of these poles were not themselves shaped like crucifixes, they certainly represented the functional equivalent of them. Both the cross and crucifix have been identified as religious symbols from Hittite cylinder seals discovered in Turkey dating to the second and third millennium B.C. By the second century A.D., they became associated with the worship of the dying-and-rising gods Dionysus, Orpheus and Emperor Hadrian's lost lover, Antinous. Gnostics, likewise, believed that angelic principles called Aeons emanated from the Pleroma, the fullness of God, and that the lowest Aeon, the one closest to the meterial world, was the feminine Sophia, literally “Wisdom”, who in various systems either formed from or gave birth to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:24, “Paul” says that Jews are Greeks are both called to “Christ the power of God and the sophia of God”, and in 2:6, “We do, however, speak a message of sophia among the mature, but not the sophia of this aeon or of the archons of this aeon, who are coming to nothing.” According to the Bible, the only two good kings of Judah out of the whole batch listed in the books of Kings and Chronicles, Hezekiah and Josiah, were the two who actively destroyed the Asherah poles and forced everyone to sacrifice to Yahweh at the Jerusalem Temple alone, indicating that when Jerusalem was threatened by outside empires, the Jerusalem Temple was turned into the only legitimate location for the surrounding people to sacrifice at in order to consolidate enough money and authority within the Judean capital to resist being conquered. The worship of Yahweh as a dying-and-rising god was pushed underground in favor of the worship of Yahweh as the storm/war god. In mythological terms, Yahweh as Ba'al slew Yahweh as Tammuz only for him to rise again.
Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls
If the intent of the religious reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah against Tammuz and the Asherah poles were to secure the nation against foreign occupation, it ultimately failed. The Neo-Assyrians conquered Israel and the Neo-Babylonians, a.k.a. the Chaldeans, conquered Judah, after which Jerusalem’s elites were exiled to Babylon until the Persian king Cyrus, the first “Messiah”, freed them and gave them leave to build a new temple in Jerusalem. After the Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great, his empire was divided among his generals following his premature death, during which, a dynastic conflict arose between the Seleucid empire whose capital was centered in Syria and the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt, with Jerusalem in the middle of the fight. The city of Jerusalem soon began taking on more and more Greek culture, becoming “Hellenized” and cosmopolitan so that a conflict arose between the Hellenized city Judeans in Jerusalem and the traditional agrarian Judeans from the surrounding countryside. The Seleucid kings, starting with the infamous Antiochus IV Epiphanes, took the side of the Hellenists and outlawed the Torah laws on circumcision, the kosher diet, and keeping the Sabbath and managed to set up altars to Greek gods.
This is the around the time period that most modern scholars date the apocalyptic texts of the Biblical Books of Daniel and the apocryphal Books of Enoch, although Enoch is believed to draw from earlier material. The story of Enoch, referenced by the canonical Epistle of Jude (1:14), is a massive, heavily-layered reimagining of the story of Adapa being taken up and learning the ways of heaven, providing a visitor’s perspective of a tour of the Seven Heavens not unlike Dante’s tour of the Nine Speheres of Paradisio. Adapa himself was also known as Uan, or Oannes, which correlates to the Biblical name Enosh, and this name in fact seems to be equivalent to the name Enoch when the Cainite and Sethian genealogies are compared to one another. Everything that most people assume to be in the Bible but isn’t can be found in the book of Enoch, such as the story behind the devil’s rebellion, the Zoroastrian concept imported from Persia of armies of angels and demons in conflict with one other, and divine prototypes for the Trinity.
The Books of Enoch claim to be written by the pre-flood Biblical patriarch Enoch himself, and then lost for over a thousand years only to be “rediscovered” in the authors' own day, yet, interestingly enough, because the texts were not canonized by the Apostolic Church, they actually did become a book lost outside of Africa for over a thousand years! It was first “rediscovered” in Ethiopia in the in the 1800s, where it had been a canonical text of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church since the 300s A.D. and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church since the 400s A.D., but simply ignored by the ascendant churches in Europe. The Book of Enoch was then discovered again in the mid-1900s in the library of Dead Sea Scrolls found in Judean desert caves near the city of Qumran, a cloister of apocalyptic and ascetic Jewish mystics that most scholars identify with the Essenes described by Josephus, although they referred to themselves as the “Sons of Zadok” or the “Sons of Light”.
The Books of Enoch represent a pre-Christian form of Christianity. Enoch was born a man and yet when he is taken up and shown the Seven Heavens, he is made chief of the archangels and, like Jesus, second only to God, who carries out God’s commands for him. Enoch is given the title “Son of Man”, making him equatable with Jesus. Along with the “Lord of Spirits” the “Lord of Spirits”, or Holy Spirit, makes up a kind of trinity with the heavenly father, the “Ancient of Days”. Meanwhile, Enki/Prometheus is recast once again as Azazel, one of the chief fallen angels, who corrupts mankind through his civilizing wisdom, teaching men how to make weapons and women how to apply cosmetics.
The Enochian literature also fostered a tradition of holy men using meditation to rise up and visit heaven just as Enoch did. In 2 Corinthians 12, a mysterious man that the author supposedly knew, typically assumed to be Paul cryptically talking about himself, is said to have traveled to the Third Heaven. The early first century/late second century Hellenistic rabbinic philosopher, Elisha ben Abuyah, who the Toledot identifies with Paul, was also said to have made a similar ascension to Paradisio and taught of a second-only-to-god archangel scribe named Metatron equivalent to Enoch. Legends of another cloudwalker confirms this ancient link between Enochian planar travel and Christianity: none other than Yeshu's teacher, Joshua ben Perachiah!
The Second Book of Enoch also has an exaltation to Melchi-Zedek, a pre-Davidic King of Jerusalem whom Abraham pays tribute to in Genesis 14, and this is mirrored by one of the Dead Sea Scrolls that describes this nearly unknown king from Genesis as the atoner for sin who will execute judgement on the wicked. Some Bible verses are even quoted where Melchi-Zedek is substituted for God, as the phrase “the year of Melchi-Zedek's favor” from “the year of Yahweh's favor” in Isaiah 61:2, or “Melchi-Zedek stands in the council of El [God]” instead of “Elohim [Gods] stands in the council of El [God]” from Psalm 82:1. This is paralleled by the Epistle to the Hebrews 7-8 identifying Jesus as belonging to the Priestly Order of Melchi-Zedek and who, through the “New Covenant” sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. This “New Covenant” was associated by the Dead Sea Scrolls with the covenant Ezekiel marked by the T symbol which supposedly represented those who were not Tammuz worshippers. The Epsitle to the Hebrews and the Book of Enoch both agree that the Messiah is called a divine “Son of Man”, first born before the creation, the “reflection of God's glory” and superior to the angels, who will take part in final battle of End Times and sit on a throne of glory.
The Dead Sea Scrolls likewise spoke of a Teacher of Righteousness, who founded the Zadokite community some time in the first or second century B.C., and who possibly met with a tragic end, although he had not been identified as either the Davidic Messiah or Priestly Messiah that was supposed to appear in the future. Alterantive theories typically begin with the assumption that the Dead Sea Scrolls involving the Teacher of Righteousness should be dated to the first century A.D. for the predictably gratuitous conjecture that he and the other anonymous figures talked about in the scrolls, the Spouter of Lies and the Wicked Priest, can be identified with figures from the New Testament. The legacy of the first century A.D. setting of the canonical gospels has apparently become so powerful that those who acknowledge the ties between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity typically prefer to pull the anonymous characters from the Dead Sea Scrolls into the first century A.D. rather than pull Christianity's founding literary characters back to the first or second century B.C. Instead of warping history to accommodate the long-accepted founding of Christianity, we should instead acknowledge that Christianity, like all religions, is a conglomeration of different narrative traditions and memetic heritages, including the continuation of a constantly evolving Zadokite tradition.
So much of what we know about Christianity had already been established before Jesus was even said to be born. But while many scholars acknowledge that there seems to be a connection between the Dead Sea Scroll literature and John the Baptist, very few of them see much of any relationship between the Essene and Enochian literature and Jesus. The connections in regards to baptism rituals and figures such as Enoch and Melchi-Zedek are typically interpreted as nothing more than common cross-sectarian concepts rather than an evolution of ideas.
Onias III, the Messiah of Daniel
The story of Jesus as presented in the first three Synoptic gospels is the story of a first century messenger of brotherly love sent on a mission to overthrow the corrupt temple priesthood, backed by the will of the people but countered by the elders and teachers of law in a world subjugated by Roman oppression, he is ultimately betrayed by greed from within his own ranks so that his body, like the Jerusalem Temple after him, is destroyed, and from the loss of Jerusalem's most holy presinct came the cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”, yet within a divine mystery the body of the faith rose again. Since the general timeline of the Hebrew Bible tapers off long before the Roman era, and the Greek era before it, this is the starting poiint that most scholars begin at to try and get an idea about who Jesus was and what he was trying to do. But the century that came before the time of Jesus was particularly instrumental in understanding the historical context of the intertwined evolution of Judaism and Christianity but is largely overlooked because of the perceived importance of historical setting established by the gospels.
A major focus of both Josephus and the authors of the Books of Maccabees when describing the first century B.C. was in regards to a tug of war between the Judeans and the Seleucids over the rights to the Jerusalem Temple, a major source of economic and political income. What ancient priestly family had the divine right to the administer the Jerusalem Temple is a very popular topic in the Hebrew Bible, but due the fact that it is a compiled library of diverse texts, which themselves were compiled from different diverse source texts, the Old Testament says contradicting things about who is allowed to make sacrifices and where they should be. Some early sources say that sacrifices should only be done by members of the Tribe of Levi, the only one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel to not receive a division of land. The Book of Leviticus makes it clear that sacrifices are to be performed only in the Jerusalem Temple and only by high priests descended from Moses' brother Aaron, who is supposedly a Levite himself but is much more likely to represent priests of the infamous Israelite king from the north Jeroboam, who must have fled south to Jerusalem following Israel's destruction by the Assyrian Empire since both Aaron and Jeroboam constructed golden calves and fathered two children with the same names, Nadab and Abihu/Abi-Yah. The Book of Ezekiel instead says that “Adonai Yahweh”, typically translated in modern Bibles as “Soverign LORD”, said that the only Levites allowed to minister the Jerusalem Temple were the descendants of Zadok, the high priest who anointed Solomon as king. The Book of Chronicles claims the Zadokites were also descendants of Aaron, but the fact that the name Zadok appears in the name of two high priests from the Jebusites who ruled Jerusalem before David -- Melchi-Zedek from Genesis 14:18 and Adoni-Zedek from Joshua 10:1 -- leaves most scholars to believe it was a co-opted native religion of the pre-Israelite Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem back when it was called Shalim. The word Adonai, meaning “Lord”, is linguistically related to Adoni-Zedek and the Greek dying-and-rising god Adonis, who is equivalent to Tammuz, as shown by the fact that the fifth-century church father Jerome said that the Bethlehem cave in which Jesus was born in had been rededicated to Adonis-Tammuz to try and erase the memory of Jesus, although many believe it actually worked out the other way around. Given that Shalim was the “falling god” in a falling/rising god motif similar to the dying/rising god motifs associated with the evening/morning star, it would not be surprising if the Zadokites had inherited some of the dying-and-rising god mythology of Tammuz. Anat, the Semitic equivalent to Tammuz's sister Gesthinanna, was being worshipped alongside Yahweh as Anat-Yahu on the Egyptian island of Elephantine and in all probability in Bethel, Israel during the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., although by the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the dying-and-rising god had been suppressed in the society of Qumran by the Hebrew Bible's virulently anti-Tammuz agenda.
In the second century B.C., the Temple was controlled by a dynasty known as the Oniads, named after a third or fourth century B.C. Zadokite priest Onias, or Honi. Some of these high priests also had title “HaTzaddik” added to their name, meaning “the Righteous”, the same epithet given to the mysterious Teacher of Righteousness. When the Oniad High Priest Simon II died in 175 B.C., a struggle ensued between his two sons, a pro-Seleucid Hellenist bearing the Greek name Jason and a “pious”, pro-Ptolemy traditionalist with the Semitic name Honi, typically referred to as Onias III. Jason was then able to bribe the next Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, into forcing Onias III to abdicate, causing one of the greatest controversies of the time period.
In 172 B.C., Jason had a Greek-style gymnasium built in Jerusalem, which further polarized the cultural differences to the point where many Hellenistic Judeans were getting penis surgery to hide the fact that they had been circumcized while competeting in naked atheletics at the gymnasium. But then Jason was outbid and ousted as high priest for a man named Menalaus, who paid the brible using the Temple funds. Onias III protested this move and was subsequently forced to flee to the holy santuary of Daphne, near Antioch, which was probably dedicated to Apollo. Afraid that a formal complaint to the Seleucid king would be lodged, Menalaus was able to convince the king's lieutenant Andonicus to lure Onias III out of the santuary so that the former high priest could be executed without violating the holiness of the sanctuary. The theme parallels Jesus being lured out of the garden of Gethsemene on the sacred Mt. Olives and identified by the traitor Judas before surrendering in the name of peace, saying, “Am I leading a rebellion…?” According to Josephus, “As a result, not only the Jews, but many people of other nations as well, were indignant and angry over the unjust murder of the man.”
The death of Onias III was such a massive historical event that the author of the Book of Daniel produced the earliest known Jewish myth about the End Times occuring immediately following the death of the Messiah, and Daniel identified that Messiah as none other than Onias III! Daniel 9:26 reads: “the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (9:26). The “abomination of desolation” here referred to the erection of the Zeus state but the Synoptic gospels would later co-opt the term to refer to the destruction of the Temple by Emperor Titus in 73 A.D., a sign of the End Times for the Roman era.
According to War of the Jews, which is attributed as Josephus' earlier work, Onias III was said to have fled Jerusalem to Alexandria in order to escape the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but in Antiquities of the Jews, attributed as Josephus' later work, it was his son Onias IV, a situation somewhat similar to how the Talmud provides contradicting statements that Yeshoshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu went to Alexandria to escape either the persecutions of John Hyrcanus or his son Alexander Jannaeus. Around 145 B.C., Ptolemy VI Philometer allowed Onias to build a temple in the City of Lions, Leontopolis, the only known Jewish Temple outside Jerusalem known to offer sacrifices (against the laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy), except for the Jewish temple on the Egyptian island of Elaphantine, but that had been destroyed by the 300s B.C. Alexandrian Jews such as Phlio would make sacrifices at Egyptian temple but would still travel to Jerusalem to fulfill their Passover duties there. The temple was destroyed under the order of Vespasian in 73 shortly before the Jerusalem temple's own fall. Perhaps it was Onias IV or another Oniad who took the leadership role of Teacher of Righteousness in the Qumran Community.
Later, Jason led 1,000 men to overthrow Menalaus, causing King Antiochus IV Epiphanes to violently conquer the city to reinstate him, after which he took the side of the Jewish Hellenists and outlawed all the traditional Jewish laws and customs on pain of death. A statue to Zeus was erected within the holy presincts of the Temple and Jews were ordered to worship him.
In 167 B.C., there was a Judean rebellion against the Seleucids led by a traditionalist named Judah, who took the name Maccabee, meaning “the Hammer”, and started destroying foreign altars and idols across the countryside, evading and sniping on Seleucids using guerrilla tactics before conquering Jerusalem and rededicating the Temple, the event that is commemorated by Hannukkah. Antiochus IV Epiphanes sent a general to put down the revolt while he dealt with the Parthians to the East, but after Antiochus died of disease, the general negotiated a deal that allowed them semi-autonomy. This peace settlement with the Maccabees established the seeds of what would be called the Hasmonean Dynasty of Judah, the antecedent to the Herodians.
Although Judah was killed in battle against the Seleucid ruler Demetrius I Soter, his brother Jonathan Apphus, “the Diplomat”, Jonathan took his place and made an alliance with the Romans. Certain letters of questionable authenticity have him exchanging friendly correspondence with the Spartans as well, paralleled by apparently pseudographical letters cited by 1 Maccabees and Josephus that purport a blood kinship between Onias III and the Spartans, although the Spartan king mentioned by Josephus lived during the time of Onias I. The Jerusalem court of law, the Sanhedrin, which was said to have been formed under king Alexander Janneus, later reformed into a council of sages headed by a Nasi, was referred to in some ancient sources as the Gerousia, the Spartan Council of Elders, and some scholars have suggested that the Judeans had established the council due to the influence of Plato and the Spartans.
Jonathan also managed to secure the office of high priest of the Jerusalem Temple from Demetrius' rival, Alexander Balas, a title that made him the official leader of his people, meaning he could no longer be attacked by the Hellenists without repercussions. The office of high priest introduced an important source of income for the newly-fledged Jewish dynasty and there is no indication that they felt the need to bring the Onias family back into the fold to validate the aquisition. After Jonathan was betrayed and killed by any ally of Balas, the title of high priest went to his brother Simon, who managed to get the Roman Republic to recognize his legitimacy yet apparently suffered legitimacy issues to such a degree that he had to make a compromise recognizing that the priesthood would have to be a temporary situation, as 2 Maccabees describes how a great assembly was called in 141 B.C. that decided “to the effect that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until there should arise a faithful prophet.” The phrasing is paralleled by a verse from the Dead Sea Scrolls Community Rule that says “They shall depart from none of the counsels of the Law... until there shall come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” Another verse from the Community Rule interprets Isaiah 40:3, “In the wilderness prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for Eloheinu [our-God]” as a reference to themselves just as the Synoptic gospels use it as a reference to John the Baptist, although changing the interpretation following the idea that John the Baptist and the Essenes were meant to be precursors to Jesus and the apostles. Although 2 Maccabees does not provide an explanation for why the legitimacy of Simon was tested, the language it uses seems to imply that the “Sons of Zadok” like those from the Dead Sea Scroll community believed that a more legitimate priestly Messiah, either because they did not believe the Hasmnoneans came from Aaron, or they wanted a Zadokite, or they were like Rabbinic Jews today in that they did not want politics interfering with their religious beliefs that everything would be perfect once the Messiah of David took the throne and the Messiah of Aaron took the Temple.
The Four Jewish “Philosophies”
Although the exact details are still a mystery, the traditionalists around this time appear to have split into three or four different parties, or “philosophies” as Josephus called them: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and an unnamed “fourth philosophy” made up of rebels like the Zealots and Sicarii. From how Josephus described them, the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes can perhaps best be described by the scale of their withdrawl from society: the Sadducees tried to work with the Hasmoneans, the Pharisees took the middle ground by infusing their teachings on the general population and the Essenes completely withdrew into their own cloistered communes like Qumran.
According to Josephus, Simon Maccabee's son John was said to have been raised as a Pharisee, but later converted to become a Sadducee, although this may have just been an attempt by Josephus to give the Pharisees older and more definitive roots. After Simon and John's brothers were betrayed by their Seleucid brother-in-law at a banquet, leaving John the leadership, it is said that he got into a fight with a Pharisee rabble-rouser who asked him to surrender the priesthood on account of his questionable heritage, coming from the fact that his mother had been kidnapped by the Seleucids before giving birth to him. This event supposedly instigated the major conflict between John and the Pharisees, leading up the same repression of the Pharisees that one of the competing Talmudic verses claims was the incentive for Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu fleeing to Egypt. Josephus gives John the Hellenistic epithet Hyrcanus, not found in 1 & 2 Maccabees, perhaps insinuating a drift of the Maccabee family towards Hellenism. John Hyrcanus raised a mercanary army and conquered the neighboring Idumeans, the Biblical Edomites said to have been descended from Jacob-Israel's twin brother Esau, as well as the Samaritrans of Israel, destroying their temple on Mt. Gerizim in 128 B.C. John then forced the Idumeans and Samaritans both to convert to Judaism, something the Pharisees were said to have opposed.
The Sadduccees are generally believed to have come from the Greek form of the word Zadok, and represented the nobility, power and wealth of the political class. They were more worldly and focused only on the written law of the Bible, taking the more literal approach to Biblical interpretation, including the injunction of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. They generally took a more hardline approach to questions of purity, did not look forward to a coming Messiah, and did not believe in the resurrection of the soul. Josephus and Origen both say that the Sadducees followed only the laws of Moses, which matches up with the fact that the Samaritan Bible, which is also only the five books of the Pentateuch, is dated to only 6 years after the Mt. Gerizim Temple, indicating that both the Sadducees and Samaritans had their canon regulated by John Hyrcanus. Some scholars believe the Torah is earlier than the rest of the Hebrew Bible, but the problem is that the story does not really reach a conclusion at Deuteronomy. As Richard Friendman's The Hidden Book in the Bible and The Bible With Sources, shows, even the earliest source, J, starts with Adam and Eve and ends with King Solomon. Since the critics of the Hasmoneans complained about the fact that they were not from David's line while the Torah only refers to the priestly line belonging to the sons of Aaron, and since the Book of Leviticus is really a technical manual for priests, it would make some sense for Hyrcnuas to separate the Books of Moses and canonize them alone.
The word Pharisee is generally believed to come from the Aramaic word “Perisha”, meaning “to separate”, indicating their desire to separate from Hasmonean politics, although an alternative explanation from Iranlian linguist Mary Boyce is that it comes from Parsah, meaning Persian, suggesting that it was originally an accusation from Sadducees that they inherited some of Zoroastrian traditions from Persia such as as a stronger emphasis on angels as soldiers of Light and a stronger faith in future judgement. Pharisees were said to have adopted an oral tradition along side the Hebrew Bible, including more qualifications against imposing the death penalty, and derived their honor from learning rather than through bloodlines, going so far as to say that an educated bastard should be ranked higher than an ignorant high priest, a rather ironic addage given the emphasis on Yeshu's bastardry in the Talmud and Toledot. Just as the Synoptic gospels portray them, the Pharisees were told to avoid close association with the ignorant and vulgar classes while the Synoptic gopsels contrast that by having Jesus say it was the not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Although the first three gospels focus almost exclusively on the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, there is one Synoptic episode in which the Pharisees side with Jesus against the Sadducees on the subject of whether there was an afterlife, yet Luke 20:34 shows that the original quote from Jesus, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die for they are like the angels”, appears to have originally been about the ban on marriage. So it appears the one story in which Jesus interacts with the Sadducees appears to have been constructed around a Jesus saying from an ascentic group like the Marcionites whose gospel is a shorter version of Luke, to change the original anti-marriage meaning into a story in which the Sadducees provide Jesus with a trick question regarding the state of marriage in the afterlife.
The Essenes lived together in ascetic communes, working solely by manual labor while abstaining from marriage and all sensual pleasures to devote their time to study and devotion in order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of heaven. They condemned slavery, refused to swear or offer sacrifice, and followed the solar calendar of the Egyptians instead of the lunar calendar of the Pharisees. The Essenes were the most allegorical in their interpretation of scripture, all of which correlate with Christianity, especially the allegorical interpretation of Hebrew scripture, which are often so subjective they're closer to secret decipherment by word association than interpretation. This kind of special, secondary interpretation in which prominent authorities would pull out secret interpretations hidden far behind the words came to be known as pesher. Also like Christians, the Essenes constantly travelled but did not keep extra cloaks or shoes, and when they went on a journey they brought nothing but arms, which matches the saying in Luke, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?... But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one”, although Luke changed the violent message by adding that “two swords are enough” implying they were maybe only used for self defense. The Essenes were moderate in emotion, in eating and drinking, and zealous to offer aid to the distressed, but would slay any Gentile talking about God or the Law unless he agreed to be circumcized. Their mystical monastic order was compared to the esoteric mathematical cult of the Apollo-worshipping Pythagoreans while their temperment, discipline and radical ethics were compared to the virtue-focused Greek philosophy of the Stoics. In fact, Greek Stoicism was wildly popular during the time and many ideas in both the gospels and the Pauline epistles are similar to Stoic maxims such as taking pleasure in being criticized for doing good deeds and the desire for universal brotherhood, as well as having a strong philosophical connection to the philosophy of Greek Cynicism, which some Biblical scholars such as John Dominic Crossan and Burton Mack have associated with the wisdom sayings of Jesus from the Synoptic gospels. While the Sadducees denied there was such a thing as destiny, and the Pharisees believed in a mixture of fate and free will, the Essenes were said to have believed there was nothing that befell man that had not already been ordained. Like the Pharisees, they believed in a coming Messiah and an afterlife, but more specifically they believed that the good would be physically resurrected on earth, as described in the more Essene-ish parts of the New Testament like the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Revelation, while the wicked would be eternally punished with a burning up the world, and like Christians, they had a strong emphasis on martyrdom, believing it ensured the salvation of the soul. Both the Pharisees and the Essenes were branches of a pre-Maccabee group known as the Hasidim, and as pointed out by the Jewish Encyclopedia, “the line of distinction between Pharisees (“Perushim”) and Essenes was never very clearly drawn”, which may explain why the Rabbinic tradition in the Talmud and Toledot was trying so desperately to delineate “good teachers” like Joshua ben Perachiah from nearly identical “bad teachers” like Yeshu.
Although scholars have been reluctant to connect the Essenes to Jesus, there is a general approval in associating them with John the Baptist, especially due to the parallel interpretations from Isaiah about “preparing the way”. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “John the Baptist seems to have belonged to the Essenes, but in appealing to sinners to be regenerated by baptism, he inaugurated a new movement, which led to the rise of Christianity. The silence of the New Testament about the Essenes is perhaps the best proof that they furnished the new sect with its main elements both as regards personnel and views. The similarity in many respects between Christianity and Essenism is striking: There were the same communism (Acts iv. 34-35); the same belief in baptism or bathing, and in the power of prophecy; the same aversion to marriage, enhanced by firmer belief in the Messianic advent; the same system of organization, and the same rules for the traveling brethrendelegated to charity-work (see Apostle and Apostleship); and, above all, the same love-feasts or brotherly meals (comp. Agape; Didascalia). Also, between the ethical and the apocalyptic teachings of the Gospels and the Epistles and the teachings of the Essenes of the time, as given in Philo, in Hippolytus, and in the Ethiopic and Slavonic Books of Enoch, as well as in the rabbinic literature, the resemblance is such that the influence of the latter upon the former can scarcely be denied. Nevertheless, the attitude of Jesus and his disciples is altogether anti-Essene, a denunciation and disavowal of Essene rigor and asceticism; but, singularly enough, while the Roman war appealed to men of action such as the Zealots, men of a more peaceful and visionary nature, who had previously become Essenes, were more and more attracted by Christianity, and thereby gave the Church its otherworldly character; while Judaism took a more practical and worldly view of things, and allowed Essenism to live only in tradition and secret lore (see Clementina; Ebionites; Gnosticism)”.
The “fourth philosophy”, according to Josephus, were those of the nationalist rebels making war with Rome, the Zealot freedom fighters and the Sicarii assassins, but the category itself was possibly just a way to differentiate to his Roman audience that the overwhelming majority of Jews who wanted Rome to fall were different than the Jews who were actively trying to bring the empire down. The Jewish Encyclopedia splits the Essenes between “rigorous Zealots” that anti-Maccabee Book of Jubilees inspires and “mild-tempered devotees of the Law”, including the Therapeutæ centered around Alexandria, who were wandering philosopher-healers as described by The Contemplative Life, a book under the name of the first century Jewish philosopher Philo. It describes the Therapeutæ as itenerant “physicians of the soul” who “professed an art of healing superior to that practiced in the cities”, accepted women as equals into their ranks, and took on a mystical tradition similar to that found throughout the world, such as seen in the Pythogreans in Greece. All of these qualities correlate with what we know about the heretical Jesus sects, so it is most likely from the Therapeutæ that the pre-Chrsitian Nazarenes (or Nazoraeans) inherited much of their healing and exorcist traditions. The failure of Judas the Galilean's Zealot revolt in 70 A.D. that brought about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, which is heavily linked symbolically with the death of Jesus in the gospels, caused the gardener traitor of the Toledot story to be reimagined as Judas the Sicarii, or Iscariot, who betrayed Jerusalem for the desire of money and power.
During the first century A.D., the Pharisees themselves were said to have broken into two schools, that of Shammai and Hillel, although some scholars have suggested that the House of Shammai actually represents the first Pharisees and that the school was then written back into first century B.C. history by Josephus. The Shammai represented hard-lines Pharisees who courted the Zealots and hated the Sadducees while Hillel represented the more peaceful and concillatory side of the Pharisees, so it is not too surprising that the Gospel of Luke, which as we just saw attempted to recontextualize a violent passage about buying swords into a more peaceful one, has attempted to associate Christianity with the Hillel school by making Paul the student of Hillel's famous grandson Gamaliel, followed by an episode where Gamaliel defended the Christians, saying, “Let them go! For if their present case or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Rabbinic legend says that a Gentile asked Hillel to explain everything about the Laws of Moses while standing on one foot, Hillel famously summed up the Torah as being one and the same with the Golden Rule, saying: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law; the rest is commentary-- go study.” Several books from the New Testament echo this summation. The Gospel of Matthew says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”, the Epistle of James says, “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, you are doing right”, and the Pauline Epistle to the Galatians says “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”.
The youngest disciple of Hillel was Johanan ben Zakai, the first Jewish teacher to be called “rabbi”, although the Gospel of John claims that Jesus was referred to as rabbi even before that time by a disciple named Nicodemus, who is himself probably a representation of the heretical Nicolatians from Ephesus, a sect related to the Jewish-Gnostic Cerinthians and Carpocratians. Johanan ben Zakai's student Joshua ben Hananiah was said to have opposed asceticism and Judeo-Christians and became the ambassador of Jerusalem to Hadrian. Joshua ben Hananiah's student Akiva was instrumental in drawing up the Jewish canon and the formation of the earliest parts of the Talmud. He acknowledged Simon bar Kokhba as the Messiah and was later executed by the Romans, supposedly for refusing to obey Hadrian's prohibition against the Torah. Much like Jesus in the gospels, he was said to have remained quiet while the Romans tortured him but gave out a climatic cry just before his death, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be His Name for ever and ever. And thou shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might.” Although the “Love your God” and “Love your neighbor” verses come from different books and different contexts of the Torah, Akiva combined those as the two most important laws, so it is quite surprising that the Synoptic gospels portray Jesus as not only combining those two laws a century before Akiva did, but even specifically telling it to one of the teachers of the law, with Mark's gospel even adding the monotheistic qualifier: “The most important one”, answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.” The Gospel of Mark even has the teacher repeat the statement back to him so that Jesus can praise him as “not far from the kingdom of God”, which causes all of the other teachers trying to trap him to back off. The Gospel of Luke then has the “expert in the law” ask who his neighbor is and Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which parallels Akiva going against longstanding Jewish tradition and advocating the breaking of bread and eventual intermarriage with the Samaritans. Akiva also declared that the polytheistic interpretation of the plural Elohim creating man “like one of us”, as Genesis literally put it, was a blasphemy and that man was created from the image of a heavenly Adam and not himself, and in fact Justin confirms the concept of there being “at least two” creator gods as a Jewish heresy in Chapter 62 of his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. Although the hardline Shammai school courted greater popularity before Simon's Bar Kokhba Revolt was put down in 135 A.D. by Hadrian, the subsequent military loss caused Hillel to become the primary school of thought in rabbinic Judaism, with a descendant of Hillel always heading the Sanhedrin. Thus, the primary mileau of the canonical gospels as we have them is the second century, with Jesus being retrofitted back into the first century A.D. so that he can not only found Christianity but rabbinic Judaism as well.
Alexander Jannaeus Allies With Both Oniads and the “Sons of Zadok”?
As a compromise to the Pharisees, John Hyrcanus at the end of his life decided to leave the secular title of ethnarch to his wife, who came to be more sympathetic to the Pharisees, while leaving the priesthood to his Sadducee son Aristobulus. But Aristobulus and his brother Antigonus imprisoned his mother and other three brothers, straving his mother to death, and took control of both titles. Despite the Dead Sea Scroll reference to “king” Alexander, the Maccabees were supposedly said to have avoided using the term “king”, perhaps to contrast themselves with the Seleucid and Ptolemic kings or to avoid breaking Biblical statements about the Davidic lineage being the only legitimate heir to the throne, but Aristobulus changed that by adopting the title for himself, and so for the first time in reported history, there was a Jewish king-priest.
It was not long after Aristobulus took the unprecedented title of king-priest that he became deathly ill. Josephus claims that Antigonus' death had been prophesized by a man named Judas the Essene shortly before Aristobulus' wife Salome tricked her husband into killing Antigonus just before Aristobulus himself died. Their brother Alexander Jannaeus was released from prison, married Salome, and claimed the title of king-priest for himself. He then made an alliance with an Egyptian king Ptolemy Lathyros, who had been banished to Cyprus by his mother Cleopatra III. Alexander Jannaeus managed to take command of several territories from Lathyros before betraying him to Lathyros' own mother, who sent two Egyptian generals, Halikas and Ananias, both sons of Onias, to help defeat the rebel and secure an alliance that prevented Cleopatra III from invading Judea. Thus, it appears that the same Alexander Jannaeus who the Nazoraeans claimed had passed kingship to Yeshu was also allied with the Oniads.
Alexander Jannaeus also conquered the Gaza strip but was then ambushed by Obodas I, king of the Nabataeans, an Arabic kingdom in southern Jordan, barely escaping from battle only to face outrage at his loss when he returned to Jerusalem. His enemies rebelled against him and invited a Seleucid king was to invade, although it was said the people rejoined Alexander Jannaeus when the Seleucid king started to succeed too much, beating back the Seleucid king. During the Feast of the Tabernacles, Alexander Jannaeus showed support for the Sadducees by pouring water libation on his feet instead of the altar, causing the crowd to pelt him with fruit and call him a bastard. This action initiated a violent reaction that spiraled into a civil war that supposedly killed 50,000 Judeans, including many he crucified in Jerusalem, having them watch their wives and children slain before their eyes while he ate with his concubines. It is from this repression that we get the second claim from the Talmud and Toldot that Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu escaped to Egypt. When Yeshoshua ben Perachiah returned to Jerusalem, he was re-elected as Nasi of the Sanhedrin, while Queen Salome's brother, Simeon ben Shetah, took the office of vice president. After ben Perachiah died, the presidency, or office of Nasi, was passed to Simeon and the vice presidency went to a man named Judah ben Tabbai, who is alternatively credited as the teacher of Yeshu in place of Perachiah in a passage from the Babylonian Talmud.
The Dead Sea Scrolls rather surprisingly appear to praise Alexander Jannaeus, saying: “A song of holiness unto king Jonathan and all the congregation of your people, Israel, who are in the four winds of heaven, peace be [for] all, and upon your kingdom, your name be blessed.” Another passage talks of Alexander Jannaeus as the “Lion of Wrath which will bring vengeance against the Seekers-After-Smooth-Things; he would hang men alive”, an insult similar to language used to describe the Pharisees in the Synoptic gospels, such as when Mark has Jesus say, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” The discovery of what appears to be praise for Alexander Jannaeus was quite surprising because it was believed that the Qumran community had gone into exile during the time of his father John Hyrcanus. In contrast to this passage, Josephus said it was the Sadducees who could only convince the rich and powerful while it was the Pharisees who were most loved and accepted by the general public.
Although a small minority of scholars, such as archaeologist Robert Eisenman, believe the “Sons of Zadok” should be identified with their common namesake, the Sadducees, all of the major cultural parallels between the Essenes and the Qumran commune have given the majority of scholars good reason to believe the Qumran community were Essenes. Many scholars instead identify the Sadducees with an enemy group mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls called Manasseh, after an “evil” Judean king who allowed foreign gods into the Jerusalem Temple during the first temple era. Although Jewish sectarian history might have been easier to understand if the Sadducees and the Essenes had each other's names, it should hardly be surprising or unprecedented if these were simply two different groups with identical hereditary claims to legitimacy, one Zadokite-Sadducee and the other Zadokite-Essene. However, considering the alliance Alexander Jannaeus made with the Zadokite Oniads, it could possibly represent a similar quasi-alliance between the Hasmoneans and the Essenes. Eisenman has even suggested that the Hasmoneans funded them.
As the Dead Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nazoraeans quoted by Epiphanius, the Talmud and the Toledot all indicate, the death of Alexander Jannaeus was a turning point. The reigns of leadership were expected by the Nazoraeans to go from the Hasmonian Sadducees to Yeshu, but the crown was instead handed to Salome Alexandra, and just as the Pharisees were reeling from the massive blow in the form of Alexander Janneaus' mass crucifixion of their sect, they suddenly learned what it meant to have the power.
When Halley's Comet appeared in the night sky in 87 B.C., it became a popular portent for political purposes as both Alexander Jannaeus and the Armenian “King of Kings”, Tigranes the Great, added stars to their currency, which may in turn have been the inspiration behind the story of the Bethlehem Star foretelling the birth of Jesus, who is called “King of Kings” in the Book of Revelation. Tigranes managed to defeat Cleopatra Selene, Lathyros' wife, and put an end to 250 years of Seleucid rule.
Star emblem on Tigranes II and Alexander Jannaeus coins
The editors of the Toledot that have come down to us tried to identify the character of “Queen Helene”, who Yeshu repeatedly attempted to convert as part of the story's main plot, as either Queen Salome Alexandra or the first century A.D. Queen Helena of Abiadne and Edessa, the second of whom was an important Jewish convert who donated money to Judea during a famine. A third possibility in my opinion is that the queen in the original version of the story was Cleopatra Selene. In The Jewish Life of Jesus, Yeshu was able to work his magic tricks by virtue of learning the ineffable name of God after sneaking into a sanctuary that held a special stone blessed by Jacob in Genesis which had the “Shem”, the name of God, written on it. The Gospel of John tells a story about Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman by the Well of Jacob and is able to prophecize that she had been married five times and in fact Cleopatra Selene had herself been married five times. The later version of the Toledot story, The Jewish Life of Christ, instead places the stone at the Jerusalem Temple, changing its guardian statues from dogs into Judean lions, although Cleopatra Selene would make the most sense in terms of location for the setting of the Stone of Jacob, which was located in Bethel in the West Bank. The fact that the Selucid empire fell with the death of Selene and the Hasmonean kingdom fell with the death of Salome may have caused different stories about Jesus inheriting their respective thrones to have gotten confused for one another. Saying 61 from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas seems to have this kind of “Queen's earthly kingdom dies while Jesus' spiritual kingdom lives” myth in mind when it has Jesus tell a woman named Salome “Two will rest upon a bed; one will die, the other live.” Salome replies, “Who are you, man, whose son? You have mounted my bed and eaten from my table”, to which Jesus says: “I am he who comes forth from the one who is equal; I was given of the things of my Father.” Echoing the theme in the Toledot, Salome replies, “I am your disciple” and Jesus says: “Therefore I say: If he is equal, he is full of light, but if he is divided, he will be full of darkness.”
After bringing an end to the Seleucid Empire, Tigranes II was in turn defeated by the famed Roman military strategist Pompey. When a rebellion in Egypt sent Pompey's ally, an illegitimate son of Lathyros, Ptolemy XII Auletes, literally “the fluter”, into Roman exile, control of Egypt was taken over by Berenice III, sister to the famous Cleopatra VII, until Ptolemy managed to pay a Roman army to take Egypt's throne back from his daughter, after which it is said that the self-indulgent drunk, whose flute-playing epithet came from his love of music and parties, asked to have his daughter's head brought to him on a plate, echoing the story of the self-indulgent drunk Herod meeting his daughter's party request for John the Baptist's head on a plate.
The Passover Scapegoat
There is a story in the Talmud that says that during a drought, many looked for a holy man to convince God to bring the much-needed rains, so the esteemed rainmaking hermit Honi the Circle Drawer went out into the wilderness and abstained from food and water just as Jesus did at the beginning of Synoptic gospels. Identical to the portrayal in The Last Temptation of Christ, Honi drew a circle in the stand and refused to leave it until God answered his prayers. Rain was an important aspect to survival and fertility and signified divine favor throughout ancient times, and in fact one of the few non-healing miracles that Jesus performed in the Synoptic gospels, aside from the Splitting of the Loaves and the Transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, was the ability to control the weather, which the gospel writer used as an allegory about weathering the storm of oppression.
In an ironic twist of fate, Honi's prayers do bring the rains, but then the rains fail to cease and Jerusalem became flooded. Simeon ben Shetah, the Queen's brother and head of the Sanhedrin, sent a message threatening him, saying, “Had you not been Honi I would have pronounced a ban against you! But what shall I do to you? You importune God and he performs your will, like a son that importunes his father He performs His will. Of you the Scripture says, ‘Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her that bore you rejoice.’” In the Babylonian Talmud, Simeon ben Shetach adds that had the drought been as bad as the one in time of Elijah and King Ahab, then God would not have granted Honi’s wish and he would have used God’s name in vain. The Babylonian Talmud also records a prayer that proclaimed Honi to be the Savior of a wicked generation, and even an atoner for sin, and claimed that he fulfilled the midrash exegesis on a verse from Job, including the verse: “By your prayer you have saved a generation bent over by sin; ‘He delivers the unclean’”. From these verses, it appears that there some contention between Honi the Circle Drawer and Simeon ben Shetah.
Astoundingly enough, Simeon ben Shetah is also the Yeshu's nemesis in the Toledot.
Ancient law scholar David Daube argues that the conflict between Honi and Simeon was between charismatic vs. institutionalized religions, comparing it to the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees in the gospels. The theological authority of Honi's charismatic religion was legitimized on the basis of his own persona and the philosophical or ethical order he himself ordained while Simeon represented a less personal, more bureaucratic form of religion based on a strict adherence to the letter of the law. This contrast also matches how the Synoptic gospels describe Jesus as “teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes”. Judaic Studies scholar W.S. Green also finds that Honi's charismatic character has been “rabbinized”. John Dominic Crossan, however, sees Honi not as a charismatic Hasid but a magician who operated outside established religion, and that the portrayals of piety in the Talmud are later hagiographic reinterpretations.
According to JewishEncyclopedia.Com, Honi was an Essene of high repute, and according to tradition, a descendant of Moses. He was said to have had many pupils, yet no halakah guidelines following his traditions have been preserved. The Talmud contains some legendary material about two of his grandchildren, Hilkiah, the son of his son, and Hanan ha Nechba, the son of his daughter.
Eisenman connects the Zaddik, or “Righteous” epithet that Josephus gives Onias to a tradition found in the Kabbalah and in the Meideval Zohar, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Christian scripture in which there has always been a “Righteous One”, from Noah to the Honi family, said to have acted as the “pillar of the world”, a true copy of the heavenly ideal and incarnation of the world's Covenant of Peace. Eisenman argues that after the Jesus died in the first century A.D., that honor went to his brother, James the Just, “the brother of the Lord”, who is called a pillar in the Epistle to the Galatians, and according to Epiphanius, a rain-maker as well. The Epistle of James likewise compares the coming Judgment Day to a much-needed rain: “Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield it’s valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (5:7).
The Epistle to the Hebrews likewise seems to have Honi's prayers of supplication within the circle when it says: “During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and with tears, to the one who had the power to save him from death, and, winning a hearing by his reverence, he learnt obedience, Son though he was, through his sufferings...” (5:7).
Josephus says a conflict arose between the aged Salome and her younger son, the high priest Aristobulus II, who captured Salome's fortresses out of concern that the Pharisees would retain power after her death. Although Salome's elder son, Hyrcanus II, had initially been disinterested in politics, but after his mother's death, he was convinced to take up his her cause by his friend Antipater the Idumean, the son of the general who took charge of Idumea for Alexander Jannaeus. Antipater convinced Hyrcanus II to trade the twelve Arabian cities his father had conquered to king Aretas of Arabia in return for 50,000 men who entered Jerusalem and put Aristobulus II to siege in the Jerusalem Temple. Josephus describes it this way:
“So Aretas united the forces of the Arabians and of the Jews together, and pressed on the siege vigorously. As this happened at the time when the feast of unleavened bread was celebrated, which we call the passover, the principal men among the Jews left the country, and fled into Egypt. Now there was one, whose name was Onias, a righteous [Zaddik] man be was, and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and whose prayers God had heard, and had sent them rain. This man had hid himself, because he saw that this sedition would last a great while. However, they brought him to the Jewish camp, and desired, that as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he would in like manner make imprecations on Aristobulus and those of his faction. And when, upon his refusal, and the excuses that he made, he was still by the multitude compelled to speak, he stood up in the midst of them, and said, "O God, the King of the whole world! since those that stand now with me are thy people, and those that are besieged are also thy priests, I beseech thee, that thou wilt neither hearken to the prayers of those against these, nor bring to effect what these pray against those." Whereupon such wicked Jews as stood about him, as soon as he had made this prayer, stoned him to death.”
“Pompey in the Temple of Jerusalem,” by 15th-century French painter Jean Fouquet
After Pompey conquered Jerusalem for Hyrcanus II, the Roman general committed a sacrilege by entering the sacred inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, although Josephus looks on the bright side and praises him for not stealing the treasures within, leaving it for Caesar's ally Crassus to pilfer. Pompey restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus II and allowed them to cleanse the temple and make offerings. The Romans then took control over the kingdom and knocked the walls of Jerusalem down. After Caesar and Pompey became rivals, Caesar released Aristobulus II from captivity and put him in command of two legions to take Syria, but one of Pompey’s men lucked into poisoning the ousted king before he left.
After Pompey was assassinated in Egypt, Antipater switched his allegiance to Julius Caesar, who found himself in a bad situation fighting Pompey’s forces in Alexandria. Caesar's ally in Anatolia, Mithridates of Pergamus, came to his aid with more troops, but was blocked by Jews, so Antipater the Idumean led an army into Egypt that saved Mithradates. They then ran into Jews from the “country of Onias”, but Josephus says that not only did Antipater convince them to let him through, but managed to get supplies and some soldiers from Memphis from them as well. Antipater showed his worth in battle, earning great wealth as well as many scars over his body. When the war was over, Hyrcanus II was made high priest and ethnarch but it was Antipater who was made chief minister of Judea, formally ending the Hasmonean Dynasty and beginning the one that would be named after his son, Herod.
When Caesar was assassinated, popular opinion forced Cassius to flee to Syria, which in turn gave Antipater no choice but to side with him against Octavius Caesar, Lepidus and Mark Antony, even going so far as to collect emergency taxes and helping Cassius to enslave the defaulters in order to save the Roman Republic from the imperial Second Triumvirate. Soon afterwards, Antipater was poisoned, making Herod king. Herod convinced Octavius and Mark Antony that his father had been forced to help Cassius and so he was made tetrarch of Galilee in 42 B.C., bringing a great controversy to the Jewish people. Although Herod claimed to follow the Jewish religion, the cultural affinity of his Idumean family was Hellenistic, and most Jews did not recognize him as one of them. Both Justin the Martyr and the Talmud attest to legends that he was not even a half-Jew but a Philistine.
The son of Aristobulus II, Antigonus, rebelled twice, and during the second rebellion in the year 40 B.C., Hyracnus II went to negotiate a peace treaty with him, was captured, and had his ears mutilated so that he could no longer be high priest since Biblical law prohibited anyone with a physical defect to offer food at the altar. According to Josephus, Antigonus bit them off personally. The theme is paralleled by the gospel story of one of Jesus’ followers cutting off the ear of the servant to the high priest, Caiphas, the first-century equivalent of Hyrcanus II. Consider if the story of the priestly ear being cut off was well-known among the audience of the first gospel readers, who could possibly doubt there to be an acidic innuendo to the oft-repeated catchphrase repeatedly expressed by Jesus, “Let those who have ears hear...”
Herod fled to Rome and managed to convince the Senate to elect him “King of the Jews” and with the help of Mark Antony and money lent from Cleopatra, he returned with a Roman army, defeating and executing Antigonus in 37, then installed himself as a king. One of the first things Herod did upon becoming king was to order the execution of 45 Sadducees of the Sanhedrin for their support of Antigonus, using their confiscated wealth to pay Mark Antony. He took away the secular powers of the Sanhedrin and made it a religious court only. He also broke the tradition of priest being a permanent position determined by family, but instead made it an office to be conferred and purchased, which eventually led to the position being changed out every year or so by wealthy Sadducee priestly families. With Antigonus, Aristobulus III and Hyrcanus II gone, Herod became the sole ruler of Judea for 34 years, representing power, stability, and prestige unlike anything since the time of Alexander the Great. He also oversaw momentous building projects that would secure his fame, not the least of which was the massive rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, which also doubled a massive jobs program that drove a large part of the economy. But most Pharisees and Essenes saw themselves as being under the yoke of an Edomite or a Philistine, who was himself a puppet of Rome. The abolishment of Hasmonean kingdom was said by Mara Bar Serapion to have been precipitated the execution of the “wise king,” just as Epiphanias said that “the succession of the princes from Judah, who reigned until the Christ Himself, ceased.”
The Talmud contains stories of both Honi and Yeshu because it has inherited two different traditions on the same person: a “Good Honi” tradition and a “Bad Yeshu” tradition. The “Good Honi” tradition tried to save the legacy of the charismatic rain-maker by harmonizing him within a rabbinic context while the “Bad Yeshu” tradition tried to villianize him as a magician and an idolater while at the same time save the legacy of his teacher, Joshua ben Perachiah, who was likewise posthumously converted as a Pharisee when he clearly came from the same charismatic tradition. After the Oniads died out, its legacy was absorbed not only by Christianity but also Rabbinic Judaism, which explains why an apocalyptic text such as the Book of Daniel, written in mostly Aramaic rather than the canonical language of Hebrew, and whose content is more proto-Christian than the rest of Hebrew scripture, still somehow made it into the Hebrew Bible. The apocryphal book, 2 Maccabees, was written from the perspective of the Hasmonians who kept the Temple rights away from the Oniads and yet like Josephus, even this text has nothing but good things to say about Onias III, even appearing to cover for his use of violence. Clearly there was a very strong desire to appeal to Oniad sympathisizers as there are multiple bids to maintain a respectful acknowledgement of their legacy without desiring that the political and economic importance of the Temple office to return to their stewardship.
The connection the gospel Jesus has with the Honi dynasty is best revealed in a riddle from the Synoptic gospels in which Jesus is asked by the Jerusalem temple priests what right he had in stopping the sacrifices. Rather than answering them, Jesus asks them in turn if the baptisms of John were human or divine. When the priests refuse to answer out of fear of the crowd, Jesus refuses to answer them as well, implying a secret authority given to him regarding the Temple. Jesus then tells the Story of the Wicked Tenants, an allegory in which the wicked tenants are temporarily given control over a vineyard by a king but out of greed they decide to kill each of the king's messengers culminating in the murder of the king's son. In this parable, God is the king, Jesus is the son and the vineyard is the Temple, but following the parable’s logic, why would a peasant nobody have inheritance rights over the Temple? Were the high priests really supposed to just recognize some Galilean newcomer was the Son of God by the miracles they never themselves witnessed and let this guy just take over the Temple? How would any ancient gospel-reading Jew who believed in the Old Testament law to sacrifice before the door of the tabernacle and does not already presume Jesus’ divine right to do anything he wants sympathize with Jesus’ actions over that of the temple priests who are just doing their jobs? How does “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies” hold up against Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers and dove sellers who are just trying to provide services required by the Law of Moses? The answer is that following the Dead Sea Scrolls tradition of Qumran, which decried the Jerusalem priesthood as illegitimate, the fictional peasant Jesus of the gospels was imbued by the Holy Spirit so that the author could “let the reader understand” that God had allowed the Jerusalem Temple to be destroyed because the chief priests had conspired to murder the last heir of the original legitimate Zadokite priesthood shortly before Pompey invaded Jerusalem and broke divine law by despoiling the Temple and entering its inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies. When this fictional Jesus was betrayed by a man with the same name as the Messianic leader who founded the Zealot rebellion, Judas the Galilean, and then was crucified, it foreshadowed the fall of Jerusalem to Titus in 70 A.D., just as the death of Honi the Circle Drawer had foreshadowed the fall of Jerusalem to Pompey in 63 B.C.
The Core of the Historical Jesus
A Passover martyrdom of someone considered to be the true heir to the Jerusalem Temple is not something likely to have happened twice in two centuries. Imagine if the stories of Honi III being lured out of a sacred grove and Honi the Circle Drawer’s Passover execution had been found on a stone tablet in modern times instead of hidden in plain sight in Josephus and the Talmud. Would there still be so little acknowledgment of these parallels in the scholarly world? If Honi woke up from his sleep today and started complaining about copyright enfringement, would Biblical scholars be just as confident as the sages were in the study hall?
The importance of the death of Jesus as the central event in Christian history compared to the importance of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple as the central event in Jewish history has blinded many Bible readers into not recognizing the relationship the crucifixion has with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the subsequent mass crucifixion in 70 A.D. It is the destruction of the temple, invalidating a large portion of the Law of Moses in the Bible, that would have been a far more historically relevant event at the time than the execution of some peasant with an attitude ever could have been. The Temple's destruction would have sent a large number of traditionalist Jews looking for an alternative to a religion based largely on temple sacrifice. In contrast to the average Bible reader, most Biblical scholars generally understand the massive theological relevance of the Second Temple to the original gospel writers, yet at the same time they too are also blinded by their focus on Jesus and the subsequent events of the first century A.D. that they typically ignore the important historical precedents of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Pompey committing similar sacriledges against the Temple in the first century B.C.
The Quest for the Historical Jesus has been ignored by the vast majority of Biblical Litearlists because the gospel Jesus is the historical Jesus to them, but those who would like to make common cause with non-Christians in forming the basis for a common secular record of Jesus are more often Biblical scholars than historians, and a lot of Biblical scholars in general start with a Literalist bias and work their way through education towards acceptance that there are contradictions, so when outsiders, many of them in the atheist movement, came to the field with the idea that Jesus may not have existed -- the Christ Myth theory -- they are largely dismissed as amateurs and cranks. But in fact, Biblical scholars almost never spend more than a few paragraphs actually trying to prove that a historical Jesus actually existed but rather dedicate all of their effort into trying to figure out what exactly he said assuming he was a peasant from the first century A.D. Those who criticize the Christ Myth Theory and the “mythicists” who believe it typically cite an overwhelming consensus among scholars that a historical Jesus did exist rather than the actual hard evidence. The few attempts that have been made to criticize the Christ Myth Theory, such as Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?, have ended up to be far more error-prone than the misquoted authors he is attempting to correct.
More importantly, the “consensus” is an illusion. Just as there are many different sects of Christianity and many different religions adopted by different people based largely on the bias of location, so too are there many brilliant paradigms of the historical Jesus, each one pulling into its own orbit whoever has the time and energy to read these theories. There is Jesus the Zealot, Jesus the apocalyptic prophet, the “Liberal Jesus”, the “Kerygmatic Jesus”, Jesus the Cynic wisdom sage, Jesus the “New Perspective” Jew, and of course, the Biblical Literalist Jesus. The so-called “consensus” works the exact same way that the believer can claim a consensus over the unbeliever: by counting all the different theories, whether it be of God or the historical Jesus, as being equal or at least equivalent to one another. A famous quote from atheist author Richard Dawkins is that “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” In the exact same way, Biblical scholars are atheists about most of the historical Jesuses that scholars have ever believed in. Mythicists just go one Jesus further.
Just as there are different shades of disbelief in God, so too are there agnostic forms of the Christ Myth Theory, tempering what perhaps looked like gratutitous and contrarian-sounding atheist gloats about Jesus not existing to Biblical scholars with the more mature, many mythicists like Neil Godfrey of Vridar.com and Biblical scholar Thomas L. Thompson provide a more nuanced explanation that a historical Jesus is simply not necessary to explain Christianity. After all, how can one prove a negative?
Although the most popular forms of the Christ Myth Theory focus mostly on the dying-and-rising god aspects that Christianity has inherited, there is really no reason why the same conclusion could not have been reached following the connection Crossan, Mack and many of the Jesus Seminar scholars made between the sagely wisdom sayings of Jesus coming from Cynic and Stoic philosophy that are found in the Synoptic gospels and the Pauline epistles first canonized by the Marcionites, starting with the Epistle to the Galatians, which was considered “the charter of Marcionism”. That is how the nineteenth-century German historian and theologian, Bruno Bauer, the first mythicist, came to his conclusion that Jesus never existed. And by the same token, accepting that the dying-and-rising god mystery religions had an influence on Christianity does not necessarily prove there was no Jesus. The famed twentieth-century liberal Biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann accepted the influence of the mystery religions and yet he said those who denied the historical Jesus were crazy, although really it is the kerygma of the Aposotolic traiditon that inclinates an intolerance against the possibility.
In that sense, the Christ Myth Theory is not so much a rationale as a conclusion. The various rationales that are used to justify the conclusion are not really radical in themselves. The controversy of the Christ Myth Theory is its conclusion that there was no one founding figure that created Christianity, because as ever-evolving memetic structures, it is always possible that a religion can simultaneously have many founders and no founder. The structure of how religion forms and spreads is sound enough that we can take away any historical person, even the cornerstone, and it can still stand.
This conflict between mythicists and historicists has polarized around Biblical scholars who take the first century A.D. peasant Jesus for granted with little to no exploration of the evidence and internet atheists, largely inspired by the groundbreaking website and book The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty, who focus almost entirely negating the historicity of Jesus, often to the detriment that they are not as well studied on form criticism of scripture, leaving themselves open to the entirely unnecessary resurrection of the Farrer Hypothesis, the belief that Luke copied from Matthew instead of Mark and Q Source. The polarization is not unlike what we can see in American politics where alternate possibilities are rarely considered. With the sole exceptions of G.R.S. Mead and Frank Zindler, few on either side are interested in exploring the possibility that there may have been a reason that the earliest Jews to comment on Jesus believed he lived in the first century B.C. Mead and Zindler came to opposing conclusions, but despite the fact that Zindler ultimately concluded in his book The Jesus the Jews Never Knew that Yeshu was as mythical as Jesus, he at least did the important legwork of investigating Yeshu under the assumption that he is more likely to be historical than the gospel Jesus. Robert M. Price has also suggested that the story of Yeshu, while mythical, was yet an earlier form of the Jesus myth than the Greek gospels, and that the story of Jesus was basically “dragged” through history, with each generation of followers providing a more modern version of the myth. But for the most part, mythicists have ignored questioning the Talmudic Jesus just as most Biblical scholars have ignored questioning the Christ Myth Theory.
While complaining about the overly-skeptical nature of progressive analytical movements like the Copenhagen School towards Biblical hsitory, the afore-mentioned author of Did God Have a Wife?, William G. Dever, accused Old Testament minimalists like Thomas Thompson of “erasing history” in their “assault” on Ancient Israel, adding anecdotally that a similar assault was happening on New Testament scholarship. Although Dever is more than a little overzealous in his condemnation of minimalism, the accusation does underline a problem with issue of negative evidence “erasing” old assumptions without adequately replacing it with positive possibilities. By coming together under the conclusion of the Christ Myth Theory without agreeing on the exact details of when, where and how it started, mythicists run the danger of being seen as just trying to “disprove Jesus” rather than what they really are doing: revising history. If the Nazoraeans who believed Jesus was the rightful Judaean king following Alexander Jannaeus are not the earliest example of the Nazarene sect that fathered Christianity, then who were? If one were to write a historical novel about the foundation of Christainity without a historical Jesus, who then should it be based on?
Some say Paul, but he suffers from the exact same problems as Jesus. No one talks about him until the late second century. Even Justin mentioned Marcion but not Paul. Paul also seems to have a lot in common with the Cynic Christian philosopher Proteus Peregrinus, including parallels such as getting caught violating kosher rules by Jewish sectarians, having a female disciple (Thecla) bribe her way into his jail cell, and as Price has pointed out, an early version of a verse from 1 Corinthians reading “I deliver my body up to be burned” (13:3 ESV) references Peregrinus' fate of suicide by fire. Peregrinus has also been linked to the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch by Roger Parvus and to Polycarp by Stephan Huller. Peregrinus was first described by the late second-century satirist Lucian of Samosata around the same time Irenaeus first mentioned the Pauline epistles and their Marcionite origin. The general picture provided by the Marcionite canon that Chrestianity was founded by a single itinerent preacher almost single-handedly sailing from city to city across all the Roman provinces and then preaching on the streets is not only improbable, but also stikingly close to what Marcion himself was believed to have done. As Price has shown in The Pre-Nicene New Testament and The Amazing Colossal Apostle, and as Bruno Bauer long discerned, all of the Pauline epistles are pseudographical. Just as with Jesus, Paul does not appear to have been historically relevant until a full century after he was said to have lived.
The Toledot confirms the sectarian natures of the Paul, Peter and James sects that are hinted at in the Epistle to the Galatians, in stark contradiction to the harmonious Golden Age of the Apostles pseudo-history described in Acts, although the Toledot hides the names of Paul and James using placeholder labels, probably to ensure that their real names remained forgotten. Paul (or Peregrinus) was referred to as the Hellinistic rabbi Elijahu ben Abuyah. James is referred to as Nestorius after a later Assyrian heretic who was against calling Mary the “Mother of God”. The Jewish Life of Jesus confirms that James contended against Paul and adds that he tried to bring back circumcision among Christians and was even accused of getting women to side with him by outlawing divorce. In both versions of the Toledot, Simon Cephas is satirized or confused with the fifth-century Christian Simon Stylites, but the description of a man caught between the Hellenistic and Jewish worlds as portrayed in Galatians definitely shines through. However, in the Toledot the strain goes much further as Cephas is threatened by a mysterious “Ancient of Christians” who tells him that all of Israel would be destroyed unless he converted to their religion, a threat that only a Roman Emperor like Hadrian or Antoninus Pius would have been able to carry out. Although it seems strange that a Roman emperor would be identified as with the Christian religion, Hadrian himself promoted a dying-and-rising god mystery religion centered on his dead lover Antinous, largely based on the already existing rites of the Ptolemaic god Serapis, rites that Hadrian himself complained were entirely equivalent to the rites of Christianity even though Christians would not admit it. According to the Jewish Life of Jesus, the threat worked and Cephas pretended to convert to Christianity for the sake of his people, yet his later writings were nevertheless said to have been sent to the late second century Babylonian rabbi Nathan ha-Babli for inclusion in Jewish worship, indicating that he remained an important figure in rabbinic Judaism. This early Jewish persepctive of Cephas is entirely consistent with Mark's allegorical depiction of Peter being caught by authorities while following Jesus and being forced to deny Jesus three times.
Most of the named apostles and church fathers, with the important exception of the fictional twin of Jesus, Judas Thomas, are probably real people, but they are not necessary to explain Christianity. There are no historical witnesses to validate any of the personas from the gospels. Even the earliest epistles are completely silent on the vast majority of the characters introduced, with the exception of James, John and Cephas/Peter. Even if we were to assume James was the literal brother of Jesus, we would have nothing other than the all-too-generic Epistle of James to interview him with. Even if there was a Paul who really met the literal brother of Jesus, it would have done him no good since he openly boasted that nothing that James said was added to the message he had received directly from God. The four gospels are often described by non-scholars as four different witnesses, but while different witnesses would use different words to describe the same events, the gospels use the same words to describe very different events. Nothing from scripture offers a direct witness. The Epistles describe Jesus alternatively as a dying-and-rising god or a desert-praying charismatic slain by Jewish rather than Roman authorities. No historical works that mention Jesus offer any knowledge independent from those gospels. All the dates given to scripture, canonical and apocryphal, are hypothetical.
Religious leaders of the past can be and were invented, both to explain to one's own religious sect as well as others. There is plenty of room for doubt when Epiphanius says that Cerinthians were founded by Cerinthus and the Merinthians were founded by Merinthus and the Ebioniotes were founded by Ebion. The Five, the Twelve, the Seven, the Four, Paul, James the Just, all are literary constructs even if they represent real people. There is a massive host of pseudographical documents masquerading as ancient Christian correspondence and scholars still puzzle over where their true origins come from. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Papias of Heirapolis, all just names put to scripture. Most of the early epistles such as James, Jude, 1 John, 1 Peter, Revelation, the apocryphal Shepherd of Hermas, the Didakhe, 1 Clement, and Barnabas, are surprisingly disinterested in the historical details behind Jesus, making almost no mention of any gospel personalities or events. Dig a little deeper into who any of them are and you find nothing but contradictions and mythology and more questions. But take them away and there is little left to work with in the first century A.D. that would seperate it from how we understand the first century B.C. The first true historical Christian commentaries come from Justin the Martyr in the 140s or 150s and Irenaeus in the 180s and even they may have been heavily edited. If there was a historical first century A.D. Jesus, then he has been completely cut off from any verification system.
Honi the Circle Drawer at least has named grandchildren. It is possible these grandchildren are myths as well but the information provided about them is arbitrary enough for it to be unlikely to be fit into an allegorical interpretation, unlike the case of Jesus' “brothers” listed in the first two gospels -- James, Joses, Judas, and Simon -- all of whom can be identified with contemporary Messianic and zealot-like figures from Galilee. But what if Honi the Circle Drawer was just a myth? In that case, he most likely would have been a first century B.C. “reboot” of the historical Messiah Onias III just as Jesus is a “reboot” of Honi the Circle Drawer. But try and spiritualize Onias III and you run into a wall. Writing in the mid-160s B.C., the author of the Book of Daniel was a contemporary of the man he identified as the Messiah, something that can not be said about any of the gospel writers.
As analysis moves forward identifying gospel stories as Old Testament rewrites and allegories invented to justify later Church doctrine, causing more and more of the episodes of the gospels to be understood as fiction, the light cast upon the historical Jesus gets dimmer and dimmer. Finally, we are left with the question, what is the core? Assuming there was a first-century Jesus, what in the very least can be said about him?
According to John Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar, the core documents that the gospels originated from are the wisdom sayings like found in Synoptic gospels, especially the ones corroborated in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. These appear to have originated from a philosophical source similar to that of Greek Cynicism and Stoicism, best represented by the heretical Adoptionists who used a heretical version of the Gospel of Mark and the Docetic Marcionites who used the Pauline Epistles and a shorter version of the Gospel of Luke. The first references to Christinity being related to Cynicism or Stoicism come from Tertullian accused Marcion of stealing his beliefs from Stoicism. The Marcionite canon began with the Epistle to the Galatians, which sought to define Marcionism against the Judaistic sectarianism of James and the Ebionites. The fact that Galatians was written in a second-century forgery is betrayed by the fact that it portrays Paul upbraiding Peter in the city of Antioch, the same city in which the Church of Peter produced the Gospel of Matthew no earlier than 90 A.D. and which included antitheses criticizing Pauline rejection of the law, saying “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”, which means that story about Peter meeting Paul qurrelling in Antioch is equivalent to reading a story that Abraham Lincoln got into a bar fight with Jefferson Davis on the Mason-Dixon Line 40 years before the Civil War.
The church father, Hippolytus, a follower of Irenaeus, actually compares this Marcion or “Little Mark” and suggests that the Marcionites believed the two Marks were one and the same: “When, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark”. The Marcioniotes believed that Jesus was not the Jewish Christ but had descended as the Chrest, a god from the heavens, who had a Docetic body that could walk through the material world, and believed that the world was created by an ignorant angel who thought himself God called the Demiurge, the “god of this world”. According to Irenaeus, the Adoptionists used the Gospel of Mark and the Docetic Mark-ionites used the Gospel of Luke, but it is possible that they both originally came from an earlier sect dedicated to Mark.
Mark 8:32 has Jesus harshly accusing Peter of being Satan only seconds after Peter identifies him as the Christ. The accusation is obstensibly because Peter denies that Jesus will have to die and rise again, but the same explanation about Jesus' death is in Luke 9:22 without mentioning the rebuke, so if the verses 8:31-32 from the story since they are proven to be independent of this story, the Gospel of Mark would have Jesus call Peter Satan for “setting your mind not on God's interest, but on man's" because Peter identified him as the Christ, which would make sense considering the militaristic implications of the Messiah in that time period. Similarly, it is only blind men who refer to Jesus as the “son of David”. The Cynic philosophy of “turn the other cheek” is specifically contrasted against what is said in the Old Testament (“You have heard it said, an eye for an eye... But I say..."). Although all three Synoptic gospels give a story about Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross of Jesus, Mark alone identifies his sons as Alexander and Rufus, which matches up with the fact that the failed militaristic Messiah Simon Bar Kokhba from the Third Roman-Jewish War had a son named Rufus. Although we do not know if his other son was named Alexander, the fact that Rufus had a son named Romulus proved that the anti-Roman insurgent family was no more averse to using Hellenistic names as the Hasmoneans were. The identification of Simon of Cyrene with Simon bar Kokhba also explains why the Gnostic Gospel of Basilides from Alexandria has a Docetic Jesus laughing at Simon as he is miraculously crucified in Jesus' place.
Marcion was said to have created his sect in the year 144, some 8 years after Emperor Hadrian defeated Simon bar Kokhba, and the same year the Emperor Antoninus Pius, Hadrian's adoptive son, resolved a conflict between the rebelious Anatolian cities of Ephesus and Smyrna, which was also right around the same time that Irenaeus claims that Polycarp of Smyrna ran into Marcion in a bathhouse in Rome and called him the firstborn of Satan. Yet, as Stephan Huller points out, Irenaeus also says that Polycarp was a teacher of Irenaeus' Valentinian rival Florinus, so in actuality, Polycarp, or his name at least, probably became associated with Marcionite Chrestianity right around the time and place Antoninus Pius was reforming the Christ out of Judaism and Jesusism to make them less rebellious, and then when Irenaeus later re-converted his so-called teacher Polycarp to Apostolic Christianity during the time of Commodus, thanks to the emperor's Christian concubine Marcia, the word Christ no longer had any political significance. Whether there is a link between the Adoptionist evangelist Big Mark, and the Docetic Chrestians of Little Mark, or whether these parallels are just a product of Mark being the most popular Roman name at the time, these groups are the earliest representatives of the Cynic Jesus, the “Liberal Jesus”, the radical wisdom sage of the Jesus Seminar. That is one core, and it has a stronger link to the Hellenistic dying-and-rising god tradition, although by the late second century the Marcionites appear to have been trying to absorb and domesticate the more mystical Dionysian elements of the Montanists like speaking in tongues and other spiritualisms.
There is another core to the Jesus story completely separate from the Greek philosophies of the Cynics and Stoics, and that is the Oniad tradition of the martyred holy man who took the place of divine scapegoat at the Jerusalem temple on Passover, best represented by the Ebionites, “the Poor Ones” associated with James the Righteous, also known as James the Just, the “Brother of the Lord”, who continued to teach adherence to the priestly laws of the “Old Covenant”. It is from this Oniad tradition in which we received the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Epistles of James and Jude, the Epistle to the Hebrews and, after the Church of Peter in Antioch edited it in order to make themselves the cornerstone of the church, the Gospel of Matthew. But this Oniad tradition is only discernible after the history of the Hasmonean dynasty and first century B.C. Judea is opened up for a better understanding of the underlying historical events that inspired so many parts of the gospel story, most especially the Passion of the Christ.
The difference between the Cynic wisdom martyr of the first century A.D. and the righteous Zadokite high priest martyr from the first century B.C. is that not only can we be far more certain that the righteous high priest martyr existed, but we can also be far more sure of the cultural legacy that the Zadokite priesthood brought to Christianity. Aside from the cultural parallels such as the Essene-like pesher interpretations of Old Testament scripture, the unique details of Honi's death seriously throws into question the only historical event that can be reliably associated with Jesus. Honi's story may have inspired the gospel but the gospel could not have inspired Honi's story. It is possible that the whole Josephus story about Honi being stoned to death in Jerusalem is also completely fictional, but given the Rip Van Winkle story provided in the Talmud, the Toledot story of Yeshu, the quote from Mara Bar Serapion, and the Nazoraean quote from Epiphanius, there appears to be more than adequate historical evidence that he was killed by the Pharisees of his time after which his body was hung according to Jewish law. The Cynic wisdom sayings do not have the same pedigree. They may have come from a Galilean sage or they could have been generic Cynic wisdom sayings that were later attributed to Jesus. There is just no way to tell. Maybe this first century A.D. sage was named Jesus and his name was then retroactively applied to Honi, or maybe the Toledot Yeshu's explanation that Yeshu's name came from the desire to purge his real one from history.
Before there was Jesus, any mention of the Messiah would have brought up memories of Onias III, the wrongfully-slain Messiah in Daniel, and Honi the Circle Drawer, the Nameless King whose rightful inheritance was stolen from him by Simeon ben Shetah and the Pharisees. The next famous Messiah was the second-century rebel Simon bar Kokhba. If on one hand, the concepts of the Davidic Messiah and the High Priest of Melchi-Zedek came from pre-Christian Zadokite and Essene theology and on the other hand, the concepts of the Son of God and divine Redeemer came from the ancient dying-and-rising god mystery religions, then how much of Christianity can we really attribute to an uneducated Galilean peasant? Even if there was a man who started a movement in the first century A.D., his name was Jesus, the Cynic philosophy attributed to him in the gospels came from him, and he really was crucified under Pontius Pilate, would he still be the founder of Christianity if he was just following in the footsteps of Onias III and Honi the Circle Drawer?
Jesus is supposed to be the most historically important pre-industrial person in existence but nothing he did made much of a difference for over a century. And yet more than a lot of the same Biblical scholars who point this fact out refuse to even take seriously the possibility that the gospel Jesus could have been fictional. How undeniable can someone's historicity be if they in fact had no direct effect on history? History was certainly changed after Jesus was killed, but if historians do talk about the actions of someone during their own lifetime, then it is the story of the person and not the person himself that changed history and is thus historically important. And in this case, the story itself was fractured into many gospels among many different sects so that neither church historians nor modern scholarship could nor can agree on exactly which version is closest to the truth. The sect that ended up being endorsed by Constantine were just one of many, and it was they who immediately began to repress those who disagreed with them, even before the bishops left the councils! In contrast to Jesus, Onias III and Honi the Circle Drawer actually affected the historical events in their own day so that Josephus and the Talmudic authors were still talking about what they did hundreds of years later, whereas most Biblical scholars say that the reason Jesus is not talked about very much in his own century is because he was not important historically until later. Yeshu made history. Jesus, whether he was real or not, was used by history.
To say that Jesus is not historical should not be taken as an offense against the idea of Jesus itself or, even the assumption that Jesus existed for that matter. There are plenty of people who existed who are not historical, but other than a few butterflies that caused hurricanes, non-historical people do not create history. If a first-century Jesus had really marched into Jerusalem among fanfare and had managed to stop the sacrifices in a temple the size of six football stadiums filled with hundreds of thousands of people, as the gospels claim he did, Jesus would definitely have had more than a few sentences written about him by Josephus and Justus of Tiberias would have taken note. To be fair, there are plenty of theories that say that the gospels exaggerated what Jesus did, that his Triumphal Entry was really at Jerusalem's back door as Crossan suggests, and that the Cleansing of the Temple was really just some minor disruption most attendees would not have even noticed, but if that is the case, then that only confirms that the Testimonium Flavian could not have come from a Roman report, assuming it is authentic in the first place.
There is nothing wrong with speculating on an explanation for why Jesus existed in the first century without being a historical person but these speculations should not be taken as excuses for why Jesus should be assumed to be a historical person without any evidence that he was anything more than a story to the few people who wrote about him in the first century. Making cameo appearances in Josephus or Tacitus is not enough to be talked about as a historical person. If there is no information about Jesus the Person outside of Jesus the Story, notwithststanding the wonderfully imaginative and completely reasonable paradigms that the many various Biblical scholars have according to their own individual illuminative genius extrapolated from that Story, the Quest for the Historical Jesus is always going to be a speculative endeavor, as fascinating and engrossing as that avocation may be.
The stories of Yeshu and Honi are seeded in the dark jungled-mists of Judaism's mountainous prehistory, right on the cusp of what it meant to be a Pharisee, a Sadducee, an Essene or a Zealot, or whatever combination of those parties there were in those times. These currents are the main source of the Christian religious heritage where the New Testament are only scattered tributaries, more from the dying-and-rising god than from Zadokite Messianic theology. After the Third Jewish/Roman War, when the emperor Hadrian completely outlawed Judaism, depopulated Jerusalem, and renamed it Aelia Capitolina, both Judaism and Christianity became deeply conservative and weary of Zealot nationalism. Reforms were taken up by Antinous Pius, not just at the Christian centers of Ephesus and Smyrna, but also with Jews being allowed some concessions. By the time the Emperor Commodus and Irenaeus came around, the world-denying, empire-denying Gnostics had started to become delegitimized by competing Middle Platonists like Celsus and by the third century, Neo-Platonists like Plotinus were labelling Gnostics as heretics to Plato just as Apostolic Christians like Irenaeus had labelled Gnostics as heretics to Jesus.
Honi is definitely the first to have a story written about him being the Jerusalem Passover scapegoat, so the very idea of the Christian martyr really goes back to him, not Jesus. Of course his hanging does not disprove a later crucifixion. History does repeat itself. It could have happened again, but which version mattered the most? Which one carried the idea through to the natural evolution from Nazarene to Christian? One had links to the original priestly family that controlled the Temple and literary connections to the historical legacy in Qumran. The other was an anonymous group of peasants with no political connections with no socialogical explanation for why large numbers of people joined the little group instead of the People's Front of Judea, the Judean's People's Front, or any other token rebel group that got better coverage from Josephus than Jesus did. Was it the story of this one villager's crucifixion among the hundreds that lined the roads outside Jerusalem that inspired magicians in an Egyptian city over 300 miles away to be dedicating magic bowls to him within 20 years of his death? The connection between Alexander Jannaeus, Simeon ben Shetah, and the Zadokite background of the Oniads linking them to the Order of Melchi-Zedek, correlated by the Epistle to the Heberews, Epiphanius' description of the Nazoraeans, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmudic writings proves beyond doubt that the background of Christinaity goes back further than a Galilean Jew from a tiny hamlet thinking that it would be great if everyone just turned the other cheek, or that the Romans should just get out, or that the world was about to end.
If there was an illiterate peasant who contributed to what would become Christianity, it could not have been more than the Cynic wisdom sayings and just another name to go on the list of martyrs. The delayed-blast popularity bomb that was Christianity was not set off by him nor could he have been the conduit from which the Zadokite concept of the “New Covenant” or the Order of Melchi-Zedek or any other high theological concepts flowed through. There were first century disciples of Jesus to carry on such a tradition and no one would have been listening to them if there were. Jesus simply would not have been the fountainhead from which Christianity received its cultural legacy because everything about Jesus and Christianity was already there before Jesus was born, even his crucifixion on a “tree”. That legacy flows from the “Sons of Zadok”, the Oniads and the Nazoraeans, although many other Hellenistic traditions became woven into its fabric as well, until the historical Honi became confused with the first century A.D. “reboot” of the first century B.C. myth. The history of religion is not made up of the biographies of people but the evolution of ideas. Where the Christ Myth Theory crucifies the historical Jesus of the first century A.D., the Talmud, the Toledot and the stories of the Honi family rolls the tombstone away to reveal an older founder, one that helped define what it meant to be a first century B.C. Jew in defiance of everyone's attempt to reinterpret him from the frameworks available to the second century A.D. canonical authors who by imperial selection became the authorities of who Jesus is today. Irenaeus, Commodus, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Constantine, Eusebius, our hidden framers, the architects of our fate, force-fed mankind a falsified history in order to maintain a conglomerated cultural unity and called it a brotherhood founded by an allegory. That is why it does not really matter whether Jesus of Nazareth existed or didn't exist. The true founder of the “New Covenant”, Christianity and Chrestianity, the charismatic magician working Egyptian healing techniques, the high priest of in the Order of Melchi-Zedek who was executed by the Pharisees on Passover in Jerusalem, is Honi the Circle Drawer.
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