Tom has an update on Joe Atwill’s latest ‘project.’ But, I wanted to cover just a bit.
In an expensive press release – I checked, it is – Atwill writes:
Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus [the only surviving first-person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament. “I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts,” he recounts. “Although it’s been recognised by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more. What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus. This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern. The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.”
A few months ago, when my book on Mimetic Criticism came out, someone emailed and said they were sending snippets to Atwill because we seem to say the same things.
First, Atwill and others of his ward fail to mention Paul. Second, they must rely on conspiracy theories and not fact. A ‘government project?’
Third, while I do believe Mark is writing against Rome (Vespasian) and even fellow Jews (Simon bar Giora) by using known stories he is doing so based on a historical figure and a pre-existing outline. This is the only way it would work and the only way Mark could appeal to /an/Christians. As far as the ‘tip to stern’ scenario, this is ludicrous. While there are some passages (Mark 6-8) that bear a nice resemblance to passages in Josephus, it is Josephus who is more than likely looking at the story of Elijah-Elisha to draw reflectively some of the details in his works. This is why Mark 6-8 reflects the Elijah-Elisha narratives and Josephus. After all, he pictured himself as the Elijah-spirit to Vespasian’s Governor of the World/Messiah and knows his narratives quite well. It was later recognized by some of Josephus’s peers that he creatively rewrote the history of the Jewish Wars. To be frank, to be challenged in such a way, in such a time, shows easily just how bad Josephus’s history was.
Turning back to Atwill’s propaganda. Scholars generally do not hold to the definition Evangelicals and others assign to ‘prophecy.’ This is why we have terms like postdiction and Vaticinium ex eventu. Further, I would go further and suggest many ancients were not as naive as we would like to make them out to be and understood this form of storytelling. Read Quintillan. This is why Virgil could get away with recreating Augustus’s birth. Poets were enjoyed because the people could know what they were saying.
Going further, Titus wasn’t Emperor during the Jewish Revolt. This is an anachronism, something Bill O’Reilly has never heard of and something Atwill cannot get enough of. Another one is Atwill’s insistence on the biography of Jesus. There is no single biography of the historical Jesus written. There are many bios and other writings in other genres written about the theological figure of Jesus. We have four canonical gospels, but canon generally means more to the Church than to the scholar who should investigate non-canonical sources as well if they are really intent on discovering the historical Jesus. Atwill, by the way (at least in his 2005 version of Caesar’s Messiah) says the Jesus in John’s Gospel is different than the Jesuses in the Synoptics. That’s right. There are four different Jesuses, maybe a fifth. Finally, Titus wasn’t Caesar until 79, dying in 81, although he was awarded the title of Caesar (along with his brother) after the Roman Triumph.
Why Titus? Because Atwill believes — contrary to everything in history — Titus thought himself, or was thought by Josephus, to be the true messiah. Thus, Jesus becomes the ‘Malachi’ (Atwill’s allegoricalizing of the entire OT book is worth noting). Jesus is Elijah. This ignores the actual sayings of the Gospels about John the Baptizer and what Josephus says of himself in relation to Vespasian, as noted above. Not only this, but it ignores how Vespasian and Titus saw themselves later in life.
As we are reminded in Winn’s masterful work, Vespasian needed the Jewish messianism because of his heritage. He used Egyptian religious thoughts as well, but once he was solidly enthroned, he discarded these. This is why Josephus was ignored and forgotten. By the time Titus arrives, there is no need for propaganda beyond the usual. Clearly, Vespasian’s final quip has fallen on ignorant ears with Atwill.
Atwill’s reconstruction of history bears no actual similarity to history. Not only that, Atwill cannot even accurately read Josephus! It wasn’t the Flavians who continued to need Jewish propaganda, but Josephus.
There is so much to write about how idiotic Atwill’s thesis is, but I don’t have the time to correct all the stupidity in the world…