Joe Atwill, Bill O’Reilly, and Josephus sitting in a tree…

The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius ...

The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius Josephus appearing in William Whiston’s translation of his works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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…

What does Joseph Atwill, Ralph Ellis, and mythicists have in common?

They are nuts. Every last one of them. They have hatched, in one way or another, some various scheme to suggest Jesus is not a historical person, but created as part of this-or-that conspiracy.

Ralph Ellis has recently published a book proposing that Jesus is the King of Edessa. His publisher is one of the finest, no, I mean, oddest conspiracy publishers on the marketTom does a good job of taking him down, so read his post too.

Update: Tom has a second post up now

But, this is just another in a long line of mythicist tripe using baseless “notions,” boundless imaginations, and conspiracy hacks to peddle this or that drug-induced idea. Joseph Atwill suggests Jesus is a figment of the Roman imagination, whereby the authors conspired to use a created Jesus to subdue the Jews. Others suggest that all of recent history is under the control of the Piso family, the remnants of the Flavians. This one, recently pointed out to me (HT to DM via FB), is completely crazy. Wait, I mean, I’m looking at Atwill and Ellis and Piso together… all are completely crazy.

And here’s the problem. My book, I am afraid and I admit so in the book, suggests that the Gospel is used to counter Flavian imperial ideology. But, I believe we can tag this to a real, live, historical Jesus. While Mark uses literary sources (Matthew uses Mark and some undefined sources, Luke used Matthew and Mark while John takes a heavy shot of theological reflection and uses the Synoptics) this doesn’t mean that the story of Jesus if made-up from the ground up. What this means, I would propose, is that the choices of literary sources indicate Mark’s theological or ideological implication.

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No, he is not a scholar – Atwill’s false messiah and false scholarship

Waiting for Mommy

Sorry, but this dog don’t hunt

The wandering prophet was, of course, Jesus Christ. Atwill, a self-taught biblical scholar, contends that not only was there no historical figure of that name, but also the legends that accumulated around him were actually created by the Romans as a way of pacifying the Jews. The evidence is overwhelming, he says. (Here.)

Atwill is a mythicist, and like most (I have to say most now because of Thomas Brodie) mythicists, he likes to pretend he is a scholar. He is a “self-taught” scholar, but not because he could not afford school, but because he did not like what anyone would teach him. So, he entered the fray, self-published a horribly documented book, and is not self-producing, no doubt, an equally horribly documented snuff film. On his site, he declares:

This latest ground-breaking work in Christian scholarship reveals a new and revolutionary understanding of the origin of Christianity, explaining what is the New Testament, who is the real Jesus, and how Christ’s second coming already occurred. The book Caesar’s Messiah shows that Jesus was the invention of the Roman Imperial Court. Their purpose: to offer a vision of a “peaceful Messiah” who would serve as an alternative to the revolutionary leaders who were rocking first-century Israel and threatening Rome. This discovery is based on the parallels found between the Gospels and the works of the historian Josephus, which occur IN SEQUENCE.

He’s the problem… he doesn’t do “Christian scholarship.” In fact, he doesn’t do scholarship. There is nothing peaceful either about Paul’s letters (save Romans 13) (pre-70 war); nor the Book of Revelation, nor the Gospels themselves. All are counter-imperial, counter-cultural. He also makes the claim that Josephus was a family member of the Flavians. No. There is sharing between Wars and the Gospels, but not in sequence, and not for a peaceful means. The sharing is common, and any reader of this blog over the past two years understand what I mean. I simply do not have the time to head into every one of this points – because they are pointless. Simply put, Atwill is another in the long line of pseudo-scholars who claim to know it all without any actual evidence to support themselves or their work – who some how have found “lost history.”

I have to wonder though, just how much money he made before the dot-com bubble collapsed and can we blame the Bush years on him?

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