The Nameless King

“If Morality was Christianity, Socrates was the Savior.”
-William Blake, 18th century poet and painter

Forged and Nameless References

Could the dating of Jesus in the Sepher Toldoth Yeshu be true? Could Jesus have lived 100 years earlier than largely believed, in effect making our present age the 22nd century Anno Domini? As we’ve seen, The Pauline epistles are notoriously silent on the historical Jesus, as is Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. The New Testament epistles speak only of a heavenly Jesus, paying little to no attention to biographical details. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans speaks of him being “born of woman,” and resurrected, and 1 Corinthians contains a vision of the night Jesus was betrayed, but everything else comes directly from “Paul” and God. The words and deeds of the historical Jesus are either unknown or irrelevant in the epistles; only his death and resurrection and it’s cosmic relationship towards the afterlife really mattered. How could the gospel authors know such much about Jesus, even describing things that Jesus did while he was alone or captured by the Romans, with the rest of the New Testament authors have so little to contribute to the historical picture? Could it be that the Jewish “wise men” were almost entirely successful in obliterating the memory of Jesus, leaving the details of his life to be reinterpreted through a fictional Jesus intended for a new generation of Nazarene followers? Could the biography of Jesus function as a form of pesher for interpreting the Old Testament through the use of voices from the past to anachronistically debate ideas in present?

There are no non-scriptual references to Jesus or to Christianity that can be traced back to the first century A.D. with the possible exception of Flavius Josephus, a former Jewish general, historian, and author of The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. The questionable reference is found in his book, Jewish Antiquities, which says that Jesus was the Messiah and that he rose again on the third day. Since Josephus says elsewhere that he believed the Roman Emperor Vespasian to be the Messiah, the only question about this quote is how much of it is forged. Paula Fredriksen, in her book, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews, suggests that about half of the Jesus paragraph is spurious, colored here in blue:

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.

“At this time, there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds and a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah.And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him.And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder; and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis in Rome….” -Jewish Antiquities, Book 13, Chapter 3

In 1971, Professor Shlomo Pines translated an Arabic version of the Josephus quote coming from an Oriental Orthodox bishop of Hierapolis from the 900s, named Agapius, which also mentions the name of Jesus:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders.

Starting with the first quotation, we can immediately say that “He was the Messiah” is the most blatantly forged portion of the text. Given the sheer volume of Josephus’ works and the tedious details in which he elaborated his own beliefs, to dedicate a mere seven sentences to what he would have considered the most important movement in the world would have been an unthinkable understatement. Even his section on James the Just is explained in greater detail. The words are even contradicted by Josephus himself in the sixth book of War of the Jews, which gives a statement affirming Vespasian as to being the king of the world spoken of in Hebrew scripture:

What did the most to induce the Jews to start this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea.

It may come as a surprise that a Jew could believe that Hebrew scripture would have prophesized a Roman Emperor to be king of the world, but Josephus also claimed to have attempted suicide right before surrendering to Vespasian’s forces. When defeated by Roman forces, Josephus is said to have entered into a suicide pact with the remainder of his men. He also claims to have attempted a reconciliation with the people of Jerusalem before it was laid to waste by Vespasian’s son Titus. Since Josephus says the legend pertained to his own time period, Vespasian would have been the only logical candidate if the prophecy had any validity whatsoever. The writings credited to Tacitus and Suetonius, two other authors we will be coming too soon, also give Vespasian the same honor (although Tacitus adds Vespasian’s son Titus to the prophecy).

Moving on to the second quotation, Pines argued that the Arabic version could be a more accurate record of what Josephus originally wrote since it only refers to the disciples “believing” him to be the Messiah. Pines also identified a Syriac version that also uses the phrase “he was believed to be the Christ,” but the word “believed” may simply have been added in by another copyist so as to make the text consistent with the rest of the book. However, even if it is quoted from an older source, its late date makes it unreliable. Even the quotation itself appears to have not been a direct copy as even the name of the book is misidentified.

Despite this, the majority of New Testament scholars, including John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, A. N. Wilson, R. E. Van Voorst, and Bart Ehrman all agree that some amount of the Josephus reference to Jesus is authentic. This, however, is a rather minimalist approach. There are better arguments made by atheist author Prof. Frank Zindler which discount the entire paragraph. To begin with, there is the matter of continuity. The next paragraph begins by saying, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder,” which is in stark contrast to his positive message of the Christian sect having survived to “this day.” Omitting the entire paragraph on Jesus, the “sad calamity” would instead be referencing the paragraph immediately preceding it in which Pontius Pilate orders his men to put down a Jewish sedition, a far better fit for the context of a “sad calamity“ on the part of the Jewish people. The second problem is that the event referred to at the Isis Temple actually happened in 19 A.D., some 11 years before the accepted crucifixion date, which was not “about the same time.”

In countering the opinion that a portion of the Josephus statement is authentic, Zindler devotes three chapters in his book, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, to expounding on the lost variations of Josephus floating around during the first millennium. In his chapters on “Faking Flavius,” Zindler argues that not only Christians, but proto-Christians like the followers of James and John the Baptist each added their own sets of forgeries to Antiquities, pointing to the absence of any mention of these three important personas in War of the Jews, which was more relevant to the time period of Jesus. Zindler points out that no writer from before the 300s, including St. Ignatius, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and Arnobius, make any reference to the Jesus quote in Josephus. Origen, writing around the 240s, quotes Josephus extensively throughout eight books written in a bitter argument against the Greek Platonist philosopher, Celsus, over the historicity of Jesus, yet he also failed to quote this important paragraph. Origen himself even made the point to write that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Christ. And according to him, Antiquities claimed that the reason the Second Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed was “in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.” Modern versions of the text, however, make no mention of this happening “in accordance with the wrath of God,” as Origen puts it. John Chrysostom, writing from Syria and Constantinople in the late 300s, quotes Josephus as instead blaming the destruction of the temple on the death of John the Baptist! St. Jerome, writing much later, also gives a quote not found in any modern copy, saying, “Josephus, himself a Jewish writer, asserts that at the Lord’s crucifixion there broke from the temple voices of heavenly powers, saying: ‘Let us depart hence.’” Zindler also cites Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople in the 800s, who wrote three articles on Josephus without mentioning any references to Jesus, arguing that Photius “almost certainly had a manuscript of Josephus’ Antiquities that did not mention Jesus at all.”

All other disinterested references to Jesus come from the second century or later. After Josephus, the second most popular Greco-Roman reference comes from the Annals of Tacitus, dated to 115, written by the Roman senator and historian Cornelius Tacitus:

“Nero, in order to stifle the rumor, ascribed to those people who were abhorred for their crimes and commonly called Christians: These he punished exquisitely. The founder of that name was Christus, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was punished, as a criminal by the procurator, Pontius Pilate. This pernicious superstition, thus checked for awhile, broke out again; and spread not only over Judea, the source of this evil, but reached the city also: whither flow from all quarters all things vile and shameful, and where they find shelter and encouragement. At first, only those were apprehended who confessed themselves of that sect; afterwards, a vast multitude were detected by them, all of whom were condemned, not so much for the crime of burning the city, as their hatred of mankind. Their executions were so contrived as to expose them to derision and contempt. Some were covered over with the skins of wild beasts, and torn to pieces by dogs; some were crucified. Others, having been daubed over with combustible materials, were set up as lights in the night time, and thus burned to death. Nero made use of his own gardens as a theatre on this occasion, and also exhibited the diversions of the circus, sometimes standing in the crowd as a spectator, in the habit of a charioteer; at other times driving a chariot himself, till at length those men, though really criminal, and deserving exemplary punishment, began to be commiserated as people who were destroyed, not out of regard to the public welfare, but only to gratify the cruelty of one man” -Annals, Book XV, sec. 44

This quote is considered authentic by most scholars as well, including Fredrikson, Crossan, Wilson, Van Voorst, Ehrman, and Burton Mack, but Zindler once again takes exception. Citing The Christ Myth - A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence by John E. Remsberg, Zindler points out that the reference Tacitus makes is not mentioned by Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, or Eusebius, all of whom he believed would have been familiar with his writings and had particularly good reasons to quote him. Tertullian is known to have quoted Tacitus’ Histories and St. Clement and Eusebius had made compilations of Pagan citations of Jesus. Remsberg contended that the “blood-curdling story about the frightful orgies of Nero reads like some Christian romance of the dark ages, and not like Tacitus” and that the story may have been copied from nearly identical words by Sulpicius Severus, a Christian from the 400s. He also pointed out that Seutonius, though he condemned Nero’s villainous reign, said that no one in his public entertainments was ever killed or sacrificed, “not even those of condemned criminals,” a fatal contradiction to the image of Nero’s burning Christian circus. Tacitus himself places Nero in Antium when this event is said to have occurred, which contradicts the testimony of Suetonius and Cassius Dio that Nero was singing the “Sack of Ilium” in stage costume as the city was burning.

Zindler also argues that the “defining standard for Tacitean Literacy and style” of the Annals and Histories is not present in Tacitus’ undisputed works, saying: “The Dialogues de Oratoribus and the Agricola resemble the syles of Cicero and Sallust more than what is taken to be the style of Tacitus himself! It is amusing to contemplate the possibility that one of the greatest models of Classical Latin Style might actually be a model of Renaissance Latin Style.” Zindler points out that the circumstances regarding the single copy being discovered are so “murky” that there are two nineteenth century works arguing that the entire Annals was forged in the 1420s by the Italian scholar Poggio Bracciolini. These works are: Tacitus and Bracciolini: The Annals Forged in XVth Century, written anonymously by John Wilson Ross (1878) and De l’Authenticite des Annals et des Histories de Tacite, by P. Hochart (1890). Ross, however, was not the first. The 18th century French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire also questioned its authenticity, although the position wasn’t taken seriously until Napoleon’s adoption of emperorship brought about a strong political motive to discredit those who found inspiration in the Republicanism of Tacitus.

Remsberg separated the sentence on Christus marked above in brown, saying, “Whatever may be said of the remainder of this passage, this sentence bears the unmistakable stamp of Christian forgery. It interrupts the narrative; it disconnects two closely related statements. Eliminate this sentence, and there is no break in the narrative. In all the Roman records there was to be found no evidence that Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate. This sentence, if genuine, is the most important evidence in Pagan literature. That it existed in the works of the greatest and best known of Roman historians, and was ignored or overlooked by Christian apologists for 1,360 years, no intelligent critic can believe. Tacitus did not write this sentence.” Zindler places the Tacitus sentence on the same level as the Josephus quote, saying it was “almost certainly… altered by Christian hands…”

For the most part, these claims have been silently dismissed by Biblical and Classical scholars. Refutations have been made in The Edinburgh Review (Oct. 1878); Tacitus, The Man and His Work by Clarence W. Mendel (1957); The Christ Question Settled, by J. M. Peebles (2006); and by Roger Pearce at Tertullian.Org. Mendel points to references starting from the first century to the 500s, with only the 600s and 700s leaving no trace of knowledge to the author. Ammianus begins his history where Tactius leaves off. St. Jerome cites Tacitus as the author of a history from Augustus to Domition in 30 volumes, of which the Annals are only a partial recovery. In the 500s, Servius, in his commentary on the Aeneid (3.399), and Orosius quote from now-lost portions of the text.

Peebles points out that the mathematician and astronomer/astrologer Ptolemy refers to the location of the Frisian insurgents as “Siatontanda,” a mistake which seems to have been based off a Greek misreading of Tacitus’ Latin phrase “Ad sua tutanda disgressis rebellious” (“To protect their quarters, the rebels digressed.”). Peebles also points out that John of Salisbury quoted the Annals in the 1100s and that there are now versions of the Annals that scholars date to a time earlier than Bracciolini but had fallen into disuse by the 1400s. Events that were unknown in the 1400s are also said to have been proven by ancient writings and inscriptions discovered in modern times. Peebles quotes the “infidel” historian Edward Gibbon as saying “It may be proved by the consent of the most ancient manuscripts, by his reputation, which guarded his text from the interpolations of pious fraud, and by purport of his narration.” and the Edinburg Review as saying that if Braccioloni had forged Tacitus, he would have to have been “the greatest of all novelists.” As for the claim that only the one line about Jesus is an interpolation, Peebles points out that the best classical scholars, the latest German editors of Tacitus (Ritter, Deubner, Nipperday, and Furneaux) all regard it as genuine “for excellent reasons.” Tacitus wrote in a “specially crabbed, compressed form of Latin” and Classical scholars agree that the passage on Nero written by Sulpicius Severus is the only example in his writings of the unique style of Tacitus, proving that he was quoting from Tacitus rather than a pseudo-Tacitus quoting Severus.

Another problem that comes up is that the modern texts of both Josephus and Tacitus refer to Pontius Pilate as “procurator.” Starting from the year 6 A.D., Roman officials of the Equestrian order worked under the title of “prefect” until the year of Herod Agrippa’s death in 44, at which point Judea came under direct Roman rule and the title was changed to “procurator,” a title that has more of a financial designation. A limestone block discovered in 1961 in the ruins of the Caesarea Maritima amphitheatre has an inscription that confirms Pilate was “prefect of Judea.” Although the two titles bore no real difference in rank or function when applied to governors it shows that the references in the works of Josephus and Tacitus could not have been based on official Roman records.

Pilate Stone
Limestone block in Caesarea Maritima amphitheatre
referencing Pontius Pilate as prefect

Another reference to Jesus comes from a supposed letter written in 112 from Pliny the Younger, to the Emperor Trajan. Pliny was a lawyer and a friend of Tacitus, referring to the elder senator as “master.” Unlike the quotes from Josephus and Tacitus, this reference is first quoted by Tertullian, who in turn is quoted by Eusebius and St. Jerome. The letter reads:

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan’s supposed reply reads:

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

Despite the early attestation, Remsberg argued that their authenticity is still questionable. His book points out that Trajan was known as among the most tolerant of Roman emperors and that the laws of the era accorded religious liberty to all. Trajan has in fact been quite famous for his virtue even to medieval Christian theologians who considered him a virtuous pagan. He is known to have freed many people who had been unjustly imprisoned by Domitian and returned a great deal of private property that Domitian had confiscated. He was considered even better than Caesar Augustus, with every new emperor after Trajan being honored by the Senate with the prayer to be “luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan.” Edward Gibbon considered him the second of the “Five Good Emperors.” But according to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, he was also a heavy drinker as well as a pederast. According to Christian tradition St. Clement of Rome was imprisoned by Trajan and led a ministry of prisoners, only to be banished and later tied to an anchor and drowned in the Greek Chersonesos colony in the Ukraine, although this may have been used as a folk explanation for the ancient Christian symbol of the anchor being associated with him.

Other than the story of Nero scapegoating the Christians for Rome’s fire, the earliest documented Christian persecution was from the reign of Domition (81-96), of which evidence is slim (Tacitus in his Apology says that he “tried his hand at persecution” but “soon put an end to what he had begun.”), and from the persecution in Irenaeus’ city of Lyon, France by the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius, some 50 years after Trajan. Tertullian himself argued in the second chapter of his Apology that it was usually Roman policy to torture people in order to make them confess their crimes, not torture people to force them to renounce their faith, an exception he believed was made only for Christians.

Remsberg also pointed out that Pliny was universally known for his humanity, a description hardly befitting someone who would torture young women or put men to death for “telling the truth.” He believed it improbable for Bithynia to contain such a large Christian population or for Trajan to know so little about Christianity if there had been a population of them existing in Rome for 50 years. He also argued with the idea that Christians would have considered Christ to be a god at so early a date and considered the declarations to not commit fraud, theft, or adultery to be an attempt to “parade the virtues of primitive Christians.” He also pointed out that the age preceding Tertullian was notorious for Christian forgeries and claimed that some of the best German critics rejected the authenticity of the letter. Another document accepted by Tertullian (and Justin Martyr) as authentic but assumed to be spurious by most modern scholars is the lost Acts of Pilate, which, according to Tertullian, says that Emperor Tiberius debated the details of Jesus’ life before the Senate. However, unlike the Acts of Pilate, most modern scholars accept the Pliny letter as authentic. Remsberg himself only considered it a possible forgery. Although there is little in terms of scholarship defending its authenticity, Van Voorst points out that his style matches that of his other writings.

Moving on to a much later reference to Jesus, we come to the story of The Passing of Peregrinus, written by Lucian of Samosata, a Syrian humorist and self-proclaimed “barbarian” (perhaps a Semite), who some consider to be the first science fiction author because of his writings on aliens and voyages to the moon and to Venus. Out of the more than 150 manuscripts that have been attributed to him, it has been supposed that only 80 or so were really authored by him, including Peregrinus. It is the story of a Cynic philosopher and false prophet who became so obsessed with Indian mysteries and the desire for fame that he burned himself to death at Olympia after the Olympic Games of 165 A.D. Written some time before the year 200, it’s an important story and one we will return to, but for now it will suffice to quote this passing remark regarding the founder of Christianity:

“It was then that he [Peregrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom [or: protector; that great man, to be sure,] they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.” -The Passing of Peregrinus, translation by A.M. Harmon, 1936

Lucian’s friend Celsus, mentioned in the previous chapter, polemicized against Christianity in a work known as The True Word, which Origen refuted in his own work Contra Celsus. According to Celsus, God was the God of all things, who is good, in need of nothing, and is not jealous. In all probability, the earth had been split up among various superintending powers and so it was good to follow the worship of your fathers, just as the Jews did, since it would be impious to get rid of the institutions established in various places. Christianity, on the other hand, “springs from the Jews” and yet “notwithstanding they have revolted from the Jews.” As mentioned before, Celsus’ understanding of Jesus is very similar but not identical to that of the Toldoth: Panthera is the father of Jesus, but he is a soldier that his mother had an affair with, not a neighboring Jew from Bethlehem who quietly rapes her while pretending to be her husband.

Origen tells how Celsus “in imitation of a rhetorician training a pupil, he enters into a personal discussion with Jesus, and speaks in a very childish manner, altogether unworthy of the grey hairs of a philosopher… disputing with Jesus, and confuting Him, as he thinks, on many points; and in the first place, he accuses Him of having ‘invented his birth from a virgin,’ and upbraids Him with being:

“…born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God.”

Origen responds to this by asking how someone who had “learned nothing great from men” could have taught such divine and virtuous doctrines “so that not only rustic and ignorant individuals were won by his words, but also not a few of those who were distinguished by their wisdom, and who were able to discern the hidden meaning in those more common doctrines, as they were considered, which were in circulation, and which secret meaning enwrapped, so to speak, some more recondite signification still?” Celsus was convinced that the virgin birth was a copy of the virgin birth of Perseus to his mother Danae (mother of the Danaans). He lists some other Greek mythological women who, although are not known known for their literal virginity, do seem to have a connection to matriarchal religion: Melanippe (sister to the Amazonian queen Hippolyte), Auge (a priestess of the virgin Athena who bore the hero Telephos to Heracles), and Antiope (the only Amazon known to be married, bearing the forest god Hippolytus to the hero Theseus). Hippolytus was killed by being dragged by horses for spurning his father’s second wife’s advances (similar to Joseph) and in Roman mythology he was reborn as Virbius, or Virbio, for vowing chastity to Artemis. Origen answers this by saying “such language becomes a buffoon, and not one who is writing in a serious tone.”

There is also a historian named Thallus, whose works are lost but are quoted by several ancient and medieval writers. One of them is Sextus Julius Africanus, whose works from 221 A.D. are also lost, but were quoted by Eusebius. Thallus’ third book of his Histories refers to the darkness during the time of Christ as an eclipse of the sun, although Africanus disputes on the fact that a solar eclipse could not occur during Passover since the earth is between the sun and the moon during that holiday. Mark Kidger from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias in Tenerife, Spain, has researched the subject and found the closest eclipse to have been on November 24, 29 A.D. at 11:05 A.M. (far from the time of Passover) and that the darkness would have been imperceptible in Jerusalem but noticed for almost two minutes in Galilee. However, the three-hour length of time mentioned in the Synoptic gospels could not have been explained since solar eclipses can last at the most seven minutes.

Some time around the 110s, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus wrote his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, which may possibly have a reference to Christianity. When documenting a riot that broke out in the Jewish community of Rome under the emperor Claudius, he says: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” Chrestus, which means “good will,” was a common Roman name and not the same name as Christos “Anointed,” which has thrown some doubt on whether this is even a reference to Jesus at all. However, as we’ve already seen from the first chapter, it has been suggested that Chrestus may have been the name used in the Marcionite gospel and epistles. While most scholars have debated whether the name is a misspelling or just a coincidence, there has been little debate over the possibility that it does refer to a Jesus movement following a proto-Marcionite tradition of Jesus being a “good teacher” instead of an avenging Messiah.

Though all of these historical references to Jesus are scant in information, few in number, and problematic in reliability, this nearly marks the end of the list of disinterested witnesses to Jesus coming from the first and second centuries. To give an idea of how lacking mention of the Christian movement was in ancient times, Remsberg offers a list of people who wrote during or within a century of the time of the gospel Jesus, which Zindler repeats in his own book, including: Philo-Judaeus, Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Juvenal, Martial, Persius, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberius, Apollonius, Quintilian, Lucanus, Epictetus, Silius Italicus, Statius, Ptolemy, Hermogones, Valerius Maximus, Arrian, Petronius, Dion Pruseus, Paterculus, Appian, Theon of Smyrna, Phlegon, Pompon Mela, Quintius Curtius, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Florus Lucius, Favorinus, Phaedrus, Damis, Aulus Gellius, Columella, Dio Chrysostom, Lysias, and Appion of Alexandria. But there is one other lesser known record of a “wise king,” within in a letter from a Syrian named Mara Ben Serapion, which seems to have eluded most scholars. The letter was written to his son (who was also named Serapion) from a Syrian jail some time between 73 and 165 A.D. The “wise king” mentioned in this text is also a teacher, and this time, the silence of his name is even more profound:

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment 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; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; He lived on in the teaching which he had given.” -Mara ben Serapion

Could this “wise king” be a reference to anyone other than the Christ that Peter, Paul, and Mark knew as Jesus? It seems highly unlikely. But the problem with this identification is that the Jesus of the gospels lived after the fall of the Jewish Kingdom, when it was a client state to Rome under the rule of King Herod. The Yeshu of the Toldoth, however, was killed only a few years before the collapse and subjection to the Roman Empire. The “wise king” also better fits the Yeshu of the Toldoth in that, just like in 1 Thessalonians, Yeshu is said to have been killed by his own countrymen without any mention of the Romans.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle

Now let’s take a closer look at the other two martyrs who Mara compares the nameless king with. Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato’s student Aristotle, are widely considered to be the very core of Western philosophy. The Cambridge Encyclopedia refers to the influence of all three of these men as “incalculable.” Of the three, Socrates is the least known since none of his works survived, if he ever wrote anything. His greatest contribution was in the field of ethics, although he also made a large contribution in logic and epistemology, the study of the nature of knowledge. Plato founded the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning, and made contributions in philosophy, epistemology, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, and most especially metaphysics, having had a huge influence on Western religion, both pagan and monotheistic, up until the Middle Ages. Aristotle, who was a teacher of Alexander the Great, wrote on a great number of subjects, including: logic, rhetoric, physics, biology, zoology, politics, theatre, poetry, and metaphysics, which had a profound influence on Western monotheism following the Middles Ages. Being more science-oriented than his teacher Plato, Aristotle wrote an encyclopedia’s worth of Greek knowledge although only around one-fifth of his works have survived, some of them being lost and rediscovered multiple times. It’s been said that Aristotle was the last person to know everything there was to know in his own time.

Socrates Plato Aristotle

Socrates and Plato lived during a time of great national decline, with the Empire of Athens having been defeated in 404 B.C. by Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian war. If the Romans are epitomized as being a warrior society, then the Spartans were even more Roman than the Romans. Just as the Jews of that time thought of Yahweh as the god of Jerusalem, the Athenians took Athena to be the matron goddess of Athens. Their defeat by the Spartans was interpreted as Athena judging the city for their impiety much the same way military defeats in the Old Testament are described as being caused by impiety towards Yahweh. A pro-Spartan oligarchy was installed in Athens known as the “Thirty Tyrants,” led by Critius, Plato’s uncle and a friend of Socrates. This made Socrates very unpopular to some of the people in Athens. Although he claimed to be completely loyalty to Athens, he often praised Sparta in his dialogues and appears to have been a critic of Athenian Democracy. He also went against the status quo and was characterized by Plato as having been a “gadfly” to the state, irritating the establishment in his pursuit of justice. In 399, he was arrested at the age of 70 on the charges of corrupting the youth of Athens, to which Plato quotes him as saying in his trial, “Happy indeed would be the condition of youth if they had one corrupter only, and all the rest of the world were their improvers.” Despite what amounts to be a superb defense as re-enacted by Plato, Socrates was found guilty by 30 votes, a near tie, and was forced to drink hemlock. His trial and execution serves as the major climatic event throughout Plato’s dialogues.

In the Apology of Socrates, Plato writes a first person narrative of Socrates’ defense against several Athenians who charged him with corrupting the youth of Athens and impiety towards the gods. The Apology tells how Socrates’ life as the “gadfly of Athens” began when Socrates’ friend Chaerephon asked the Oracle of Delphi if anyone was wiser than Socrates, to which she answered negatively. Thinking the answer to be a riddle, Socrates sought out those who claimed to be wise, but found the presumptions they based their wisdom on to be groundless. He came to the conclusion that he was only wiser than others in that at least knew that he knew nothing. This became the basis for his method of inquiry, known as the Socratic Method, a negative method of eliminating contradictions by determining the prejudices that underlie commonly accepted beliefs. For example, a debater argues 1) courage is the tenacity of the soul. Socrates would then get the debater to agree with statements like: 2) courage is good, and 3) ignorant tenacity is not good. Socrates then argued that the second and third statements proved that 4) courage is not the tenacity of the soul. Aristotle attributed to Socrates the methodology of definition, an early form of the scientific method developed 2000 years before Sir Isaac Newton and originating from Egypt around 3000 B.C. It is from this philosophical background that we see the formation of the Neo-Platonic conception of the Unknown God, as portrayed by philosophers like Philo and Ibn Sina, who believed God could only be characterized by what he is not.

When Socrates questioned his accuser, Meletus regarding the charges of impiety towards the gods, he is said to have first sought a clarification of the charge, asking Meletus if the accusation was that he taught others not to acknowledge the gods of the State but some other new divinities or spiritual agencies, and Meletus affirmed that as the charge. Socrates then asked whether Meletus means that he taught others to acknowledge different gods or that he is a complete atheist and Meletus answers that Socrates is a complete atheist. At this Socrates asks if the reason Meletus calls him an atheist is because he doesn’t acknowledge the god-head of the sun and the moon, to which Meletus assures the judges that Socrates believes the sun to be made of stone and the moon to be made of earth. At this Socrates says that Meletus thinks that he is accusing Anaxagoras, an Ionian philosopher who had come to Athens teaching that the celestial bodies like the sun and stars were masses of stone which tore from the earth and were ignited by rapid rotation. Socrates reminded Meletus that these theories could be found in the theatre at the admission of one drachma and then asks Meletus if he really thinks that he doesn‘t believe in any god. Meletus swears by Zeus that Socrates believes in no gods at all. Socrates calls him a liar, pointing out that Meletus had just admitted to indicting Socrates for the teaching of divine agencies. He asks Meletus if a man can believe in divine agencies without believing in gods or demigods, to which Meletus says he cannot. Socrates replies, “you swear in the indictment that I teach and believe in divine and spiritual agencies (new or old, no matter for that); at any rate, I believe in spiritual agencies, as you say and swear in your affidavit; but if I believe in divine beings, I must believe in spirits or demigods; is not that true? Yes, that is true, for I may assume that your silence gives assent to that. Now what are spirits or demigods? Are they not either gods or the sons of gods?” Plato’s characterization of Meletus somewhat reflects the reasoning given by Roman pagans for calling Christians “atheists” hundreds of years later. While worshipping different spiritual agencies was not a crime in Rome, refusing to acknowledge the state gods was what normally put Christians in danger of being put to death by some of the Empire’s local governments.

Socrates also points out in his defense that he refuses to dishonor himself by bringing his sons to plead for his life. To do so would be to try to convince his judges through emotion instead of logic, which would only persuade the judges to go against their oaths to judge men according to the law and not according to emotional whims. “Do not then require me to do what I consider dishonorable and impious and wrong, especially now, when I am being tried for impiety on the indictment of Meletus. For if, Oh men of Athens, by force of persuasion and entreaty, I could overpower your oaths, then I should be teaching you to believe that there are no gods, and convict myself, in my own defense, of not believing in them. But that is not the case; for I do believe that there are gods, and in a far higher sense than that in which any of my accusers believe in them. And to you and to God I commit my cause, to be determined by you as is best for you and me.” He is found guilty and sentenced to death.

According to a play Plato wrote called Crito, Crito and some of Socrates’ other friends bribed the guards to let Crito into the prison in order to free him, but when he arrives he sees Socrates sleeping and decides not to wake him. When Socrates does wake, he asks why Crito he didn‘t wake him himself, to which he answers that he wasn’t sure except to say that Socrates looked very peaceful. Crito is also surprised to find Socrates in his usual cheerful manner even when on death’s door. Socrates responds that at his age, a man should not be worrying about his death. Crito tells him that he will die in two days, but Socrates says that while he was asleep, he saw a vision that told him his death will instead be in three days. When Crito tells him that he is there to break him out, Socrates refuses to go along with him. Having lived his life in Athens, he implicitly agreed to follow the laws of the city, and so feels ethically bound to proceed with his own execution. He also tells Crito that his friends would be exiled and that he would be seen as a subverter of laws wherever he went. Socrates then tells him that in his vision, he heard a voice murmuring in his ears like the sound of a flute, saying:

“Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the archons [rulers] of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito.”

This same contrast between the will of God and the will of man can be found in Paul‘s epistles:

“We do, however, speak a message of sophia [wisdom] among the mature, but not the sophia of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret sophia, a sophia that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the archons [rulers] of this aion [age] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” -1 Corinthians 2:6-8

In the Gospel of Mark, Peter seems to take on a Crito-like role:

“He [Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” -Mark 8:31-33

In the Gospel of John, it’s Peter who cuts off the ear of the high priests’ servant when the Roman soldiers come to arrest Jesus (18:10). After the description of the voice, Socrates says he knows anything more Crito has to say will be in vain, but asks him to speak anyway if he has anything else to say. Crito says he has nothing more, and the dialogue ends with Socrates telling Crito, “Then let me follow the intimations of the will of Theos.” Plato presents Socrates as an idealized avatar of the Just Man, who gives his life for the betterment of the Athenian state which has condemned him to death. Plato’s Apology presents the trial of Socrates as the epitome of irony: although he is condemned to death for corrupt teachings, it’s the people of Athens, his judges, who have really become corrupt, and as such, the entire city condemns him for their own sins. Even though he has been wrongly convicted, Socrates refuses to take the opportunity to escape and willingly sacrifices himself so as not to transgress the laws that he has already been falsely convicted of breaking. The Christian imagery is palpable.

Plato insinuates that the people of Athens have convicted Socrates because he has become associated with the atheistic Sophists even though Socrates actually argued against them. The spread of Anaxagoras’ Proto-Copernican teachings that the sun, the moon, and the stars were not gods but planets had caused many Athenians to begin taking on a new materialistic outlook that shook the fabric of religious authority throughout Ionia, Turkey. Anaxagoras himself had been arrested in Athens by political opponents of his friend Pericles, possibly on the charge of sympathizing with the Persian Empire. Pericles was able to secure his release and he was forced to leave Athens around 434 B.C., but that did not stop his ideas from spreading and new breeds of agnostic and atheistic philosophy had begun to take hold. One of these groups were the Sophists, named for their reported wisdom (sophia). According to Plato, Sophists acted like corrupt lawyers, charging fees for people in order to use their rhetoric in court and arguing unjust lawsuits that they themselves didn’t even believe in. They were said to have believed all truth to be relative, the actual logical validity of an argument being irrelevant. Only the ruling of the audience ultimately determined whether a conclusion is considered true or not. By appealing to the prejudices and emotions of the judges, a successful Sophist always ensured a favorable judgment. This attitude can be seen as equivalent to that of Pontius Pilate when he asks Jesus “What is truth?” in the Gospel of John.

Plato contrasts these qualities in his Apology, emphasizing that even though Socrates is poor, he never charges a fee for his arguments. Socrates refuses to rely on emotional or prejudicial arguments, basing the defense of his life on logic, going so far as to refuse to allow his sons to make emotional appeals on his behalf. Like the Sophists, Socrates questions the authority of the traditional conceptions for appeasing the gods, presenting religious traditionalists as trying to bribe the gods to forgive their sins. But, as Socrates argued at his trial, that did not mean that he had turned his back on the old gods or adopted new ones. Plato also wants to keep the religious traditions the Sophists have abandoned, but reform state religion so that it’s based on justice instead of superstition.

Many other ideas expressed by Plato have been noted for having strong parallels with Christianity. For example, teaching others to do good to your enemies and a marked division between the lower “fleshy” world of the senses and the higher “spiritual” world of forms. In Socrates, Plato created another hero of Greek tragedy, but it’s primary influence was not from the heroes of the Homeric legends, whose own fatal flaws brought them down and left only their name behind. This was a perfect hero, whose wise deeds rewarded him in the afterlife. Homeric heroes like Hector and Achilles, whose glory came in battle, is rather the legacy of the Dorians, one of the Hellenic tribes originating from ancient Mesopotamia.

Pythagoras, Father of Numbers and Religious Cults

Pythagoras was called “the Father of Numbers;” he died about 100 years before Socrates. Like Jesus and Socrates, he is considered by many people to be one of the greatest living men of all time, yet did not leave behind any writings himself. Similarly, scholars are unsure how much of his doctrine came directly from him and how much of it came from later adherents. When he was born and died can not be pinpointed exactly, either. He was an Ionian philosopher, like Anaxagoras, and is said to have learned much of his wisdom in Egypt, and in turn taught at the cities of Tyre and Byblos. Ionia is in southwestern Turkey and was also one of three main ancient Hellenistic ethno-linguisitc groups, with the Athenians being the only Ionians on the Greek mainland. Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos, off the coast of Turkey. Although some accounts say that he was the son of Apollo, other accounts give a more natural genealogy. His mother was said to be a native of Samos and his father a merchant from Tyre. It‘s said that he was taught by the Chaldeans and learned men of Syria. He had a gift for music and played the lyre often. Many legends say that he traveled to many different places, such as Egypt, and is even said to have met the Iranian prophet Zoroaster in Persia. Some Late Antiquity writers like Cicero and Plutarch credit Pythagoras as authoring the Pythagorean Theorem, the mathematical proof that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides (a2 + b2 = c2). This theorem is known to have existed in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India for at least 1000 years, but it’s possible Pythagoras was the first one to write a mathematical proof for it. He was also a master sculptor, known to have fashioned seven victory statues for the Olympia sanctuary, which Mera, son of Serapion references when he writes that Pythagoras lived on in his statue to Hera.

Bust of Pythagoras Picture of Pythagoras
Pythagoras, Ionian Philosopher, Mathematician, and Theologian

While still young, Pythagoras moved to Croton, in an area in southern Italy known as Magna Gracia, or “Greater Greece,” which had been colonized by Greek settlers since the 700s B.C., bringing Hellenized culture with it. There, Pythagoras founded a secret society that intermixed science and religion. The Pythagoreans began a campaign to culturally reform the city according to strict laws of virtue. Most of the Hippocratic Oath involving “First do no harm” is rooted in the Pythagorean Brotherhood. In Plato’s Crito, the two friends of Socrates who were going to help him break out, Simmias and Cebes, were themselves Pythagoreans. The sect was divided between an inner circle, the Mathematikoi, “Mathematicians,” and an outer circle, the Akousmatikoi, “Listeners.” The Mathematikoi lived at the school, owned no personal property, and ate a vegetarian diet, while the Akousmatikoi were allowed to keep possessions and eat meat.

According to the Neo-Platonic philosopher Iamblichus, who lived in the 300s A.D., Pythagoras followed a structured life of religious teaching, philosophical study, communal meals, exercise, and singing hymns to Apollo. Music was an important part of the lifestyle, used to cure illnesses and also in daily poetry readings done before and after sleep in order to aid memory. Legends say that Pythagoras invented the musical scale, performed miracles and made prophecies. It’s said that he believed numbers were the source of all existence, and is quoted as saying, “Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and demons.” There is also a long tradition from the Classical Era throughout the Medieval Era that Pythagoreans were not allowed to eat beans. But many modern scholars have re-interpreted the well-known Pythagorean adage “Abstain from beans” as to refer to black and white voting beans of Magna Grecia. This interpretation would mean that Pythagoras instructed his followers to avoid politics. Followers were also said to have avoided touching white roosters or to look into a mirror beside the light.

It’s also said that Pythagoras stopped a man from beating a dog in Croton one time, saying, “Stop! Don’t hit it! It is the soul of a friend. I knew it when I heard it’s voice.” A biographer of philosophers from the 200s A.D. named Diogenes Laertius said that he was considered the Son of Hermes and had been given a single wish from the god outside immortality, to which Pythagoras asked to remember everything so that he was able to describe all the lives he had lived as characters from Homeric poetry. Pythagoras is believed to have died when his school was attacked and burned, although some legends say that he survived when his followers created a human bridge for him to escape the burning building. Croton’s “House of Milo” speaks of 50 or 60 Pythagoreans being killed. Those who survived were said to have taken refuge in Thebes and other places.

In Against Apion, Josephus speaks very highly of Pythagoras, and gives much of the credit of the Ionian philosopher to that of Jewish law, saying that he took many of the Hebrew laws into his own philosophy. Josephus also said that although no writing of Pythagoras had survived to his own time, there was a history written of him by one Hermippus, who said that Pythagoras would speak to the dead spirit of one of his friends. This dead friend is said to have told Pythagoras to never to walk over the spot where a donkey had fallen, to not drink of waters that caused one to thirst again (these “waters” probably being alcohol), and to act above reproach in his personal life. Josephus then quotes Hermippus as saying, “This he did and said in imitation of the doctrines of the Jews and Thracians, which he transferred into his own philosophy.”

The first Proto-Orthodox Christian philosopher, Justin Martyr, argued that Pythagoras was a monotheist, and quotes him as saying: “God is one; and he himself does not, as some suppose, exist outside the world, but in it, he being wholly present in the entire circle, and beholding all generations, being the regulating ingredient of all the ages, and the administrator of his own powers and works, the first principle of all things, the light of heaven, and father of all, the intelligence and animating soul of the universe, the movement of all others.”

It’s said that Pythagoras taught that there were three frames of the mind, and that they could be seen in the kinds of people who went to the Olympic Games: The lowest kind were the ones who went to buy and sell, those who love profit. The next were the ones who came to compete, those who love honor. The third and greatest group of people were the ones who came to watch the games, those who love wisdom. They were the greatest because man was created by God in order to acquire knowledge. Plato expanded on this idea of the “three types of people” in The Republic, categorizing them into those who rule by lust, by pride, and by wisdom.

Plato wanted to move away from the traditional Democracy of Athens. It was the decisions of the demos, the people, that had lost the Athenian Empire in the Peloponnesian War and had put Socrates to death. He conceptualized an ideal city based on a three tier hierarchy, divided into classes of bronze, silver, and gold, though some mobility would be allowed. The city would be ruled by a philosopher-king, representing the gold, who controlled all aspects of decision-making. This class was to be completely disinterested with personal gain and would have the least amount of money. The warriors would make up the silver class, and act as guardians (phulakes) of the gold class. The bronze would be the merchant class (demiourgi), although there would be a maximum limit of four times the minimum wage, and currency would be made up of some low-value coin that was only valid within the city itself (similar to today‘s paper money). The concept Plato gives for the tri-partition of the soul is now believed by many scholars to be Vedic in origin, having originally come from Hinduism, migrating from India over a millennia.

In Plato’s idealized Republic, there would be no slaves and no discrimination between the sexes. Eugenics would be used to ensure that each generation would be genetically superior to the one before. “Noble lies” would have to be told in order to spare the feelings of those who were not seen fit to procreate. Music, poetry, and theatre would be replaced by a universal education system. All crimes would be handled with re-education rather than punishment. The philosopher-king would control the populous through a form of education that focused on stories with appropriate moral guidelines. He even went so far as to say that the classical poetry of Homer should be censored or re-edited so as to promote the idea of the good over savage depictions of passion and violence. A modern example could be made in how Disney retells ancient stories but in doing so completely reinvents them in order to conform to today’s ethical standards of behavior. Plato believed these Dorian heroes like Achilles had provided a poor example of what it meant to be a hero to the Hellenized world. The legends of these violent, immoral Homeric heroes had made the people idolize the wrong qualities in people. Although Alexander was a student of Aristotle, he came to identify himself with Achilles and later in Egypt as a son of God. Alexander was himself a student of Plato’s disciple, Aristotle, yet he came to identify himself with Achilles and later in Egypt as a son of God. The Republic was really more of a conception of an ideal utopia than a blueprint for reality anyway. Plato would change many of his ideas according to what was more pragmatic in the real world in his later dialogues, including the idea of rule by a philosopher-king.

Rural Cynics

As we have seen, much of what has been expressed in the Synoptic gospels and the apocryphal Didakhe is what can be described as an ascetic rejection of worldly matters, most especially that of money. Some scholars, like John Dominic Crossan in his book, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, have noted that these kinds of sayings attributed to Jesus are very similar to the Cynic school of ancient philosophy. On the cover of his book, Crossan uses an early Christian relief dating to the early 300s to summarize his portrait of the historical Jesus as a radical egalitarian. The relief shows two scenes, one of Jesus at a communal meal with bread baskets reminiscent of the “multiplication of bread and fish” story, and a second scene of Jesus healing a paralytic on a stretcher, also found in the Synoptic gospels. Crossan writes: “Finally, Jesus himself is designated as a teacher or philosopher by the scroll in his hand. In both cases he wears the pallium of Greek wisdom rather than the toga of Roman power. But, while in the scene to the left he wears both outer pallium and inner tunic, in the center he wears the pallium without the tunic, leaving his right shoulder and body bare. He is portrayed not just as any philosopher, but, precisely, a Cynic philosopher. We find Jesus healing, eating, teaching, and more like a Cynic philosopher than anything else- in other words, this book in iconographic miniature.”

Jesus wearing Cynic’s pallium and Philosopher’s scroll,
Dated early 300s A.D; Rome, Museo Nazionale delle Terme

Jesus holding a scroll and raising Lazarus with an augur’s wand
Carved on sarcophagus dated to 200s

Roman Catacomb from 300’s or 400’s A.D. of Jesus using an augur’s wand
Taken from The Jesus Mysteries, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy

The Cynics were a philosophical movement that sought happiness through asceticism while flouting the observance of cultural customs. Cynics rejected the social values of their time and were always known to flout conventions in shocking ways to prove a point. The Cynics’ criticism was directed not only at the materialism inherent in Hellenistic culture of the Macedonian and Roman Empires, but to the normalcy of civilization itself, advocating a self-sufficiency modeled on that of nature instead of nation or culture. The philosophy appears to have gotten particularly popular in Rome during the first and second centuries A.D., possibly as a reaction to the nationalistic temperament of the time. The name “Cynic” is probably derived from the building in Athens, Greece, called Cynosarges, although it has also been argued that it comes from the Greek word for dog, kuan, a term of contempt for their uncouth looks and manner. Although the word today it stands for generic skepticism, in philosophy it stood for the abandonment of cultural presuppositions, and the pursuit of happiness through the freedom from desire.

The philosophy was founded by Antisthenes, the only known student of Socrates, besides Plato, whose works have survived. His philosophy imbibed the fundamental ethical precept that virtue, not pleasure, as the end of existence. The Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius, writing in the 200s A.D., said that he used to lecture in the Cynosarges not far from the gates, so that “some people say that it is from that place that the sect got the name of Cynics. And he himself was called Haplocyon,” or “downright dog.” Laertius also says: “He is the only one of all the pupils of Socrates, whom Theopompus praises and speaks of as clever, and able to persuade whomsoever he pleased by the sweetness of his conversation. And this is plain, both from his own writings, and from the Banquet of Xenophon. He appears to have been the founder of the more manly Stoic school;”. The Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose own persecutions brought about the death of Justin Martyr, quotes Antisthenes in the late 100s in Meditations as saying, “It is royal to do good and be abused,” which can be compared to the beatitude found in the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:10). A similar quote is given by Laertius: after Antisthenes was told that Plato spoke ill of him, he is said to have replied, “It is a royal privilege to do well, and to be evil spoken of.” Laertius also says Antisthenes, like Jesus, was reproached for conversing with wicked people, and so replied, “Physicians also live with those who are sick; and yet they do not catch fevers,” a statement close Jesus’ reply in Mark: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (2:17).

Antisthenes, founder of the Cynics and Stoics

Antisthenes quoted Socrates as saying “Virtue is Wisdom” and as such he took morality to be the only true existence of man. He adopted this principle in its most literal sense by explaining “knowledge” in the narrowest terms of practical action and decision, excluding from the conception everything except the problem of the individual will, realizing that it is in the sphere of ordinary existence. Antisthenes argued that ideas do not exist except for the consciousness which thinks them. As such, classifications unto themselves are an illusion. He’s quoted as saying, “A horse I can see, but horse-hood I can not see,” and “‘A tree is a vegetable growth’ is logically no more than ‘a tree is a tree.’” His ethic system can be described as being nominal or individualistic, that is, the philosophy held that abstract concepts, generalizations, and universals have no real independent existence but exist only as names. This led Cynics to the denial of social and national relations and to most of Greek education.

Ordinary pleasures of life for Antisthenes and the Cynics were not just unnecessary, but harmful if they interrupted the operation of the will. Wealth, popularity and power tended to dethrone the authority of reason and to pervert the soul from the natural to the artificial and that lack of fame was as good as labor. The wise man wants nothing and, like the gods, is self-sufficient, a citizen of the world, not of any one country, regulating his conduct not according to the laws of the state but according to virtue. He’s quoted by Diogenes Laertius as saying, “May the children of my enemies be luxurious” and “That it was better to fall among crows, than among flatterers; for that they only devour the dead, but the others devour the living.” The Greek biographer also told how whenever he saw a beautifully adorned woman, he would go to her house and make sure her husband could already afford a horse and arms, and if not, try and convince him to strip his wife of her ornaments. When seeing a man posing studiously as a model, he asked them an what brass would pride itself of if it could speak. When the young man replied, “On its beauty,” Antisthenes asked if he wasn’t ashamed to rejoice in the same thing as an inanimate piece of brass. Yet Laertius also says that “he would marry for the sake of having children, selecting the most beautiful woman for his wife. And that he would love her; for that the wise man alone knew what objects deserved love.”

Laertius also tells a humorous story about how when Antisthenes ripped his cloak in a certain spot Socrates said, “I see your vanity through the hole in your cloak.” Antisthenes must have had a fondness for his teacher Socrates since Laertius makes the remark that he was “in need of nothing, except the strength of Socrates.” Laertius records a story that says Antisthenes was the one to cause Anytus to be banished and Meletus to be put to death after the two accusers had Socrates sentenced to death. In regards to Anytus, he says: “For having met with some young men of Pontus, who had come to Athens, on account of the reputation of Socrates, he took them to Anytus telling them, that in moral philosophy he was wiser than Socrates; and they who stood by were indignant at this, and drove him away.” However, according to Laertius, he apparently maintained a rivalry with Plato and laughed at him for being conceited. One time while Plato was continuously praising a horse he replies, “I think you too would be a very frisky horse.” Another time he went to see Plato when he was sick, and seeing a dish that Plato had been sick in he said, “I see your bile there but I do not see your conceit.”

Although Antisthenes was from Athens, he was not considered legitimate because his mother was from Thrace. Laertius tells how when reproached for it, he replied saying “the mother of the Gods too is a Phyrgian.” Another time he said, “And I am not the son of two people skilled in wrestling; nevertheless, I am a skilful wrestler.” When he showed his courage in the Battle of Tanagra, Socrates remarked that no son of two Athenians could have been so brave. When asked what was the most happy event in life, he said, “To die while prosperous.” Another story Laertius tells us is that after Antisthenes had driven away all but a few of his disciples, he was asked why he used such bitter language against his students and replied, “Physicians too use severe remedies for their patients.” Another time he was said to have seen an adulterer running away and said, “O unhappy man! how much danger could you have avoided for one obol [silver coin]!” In Laertius’ time, it’s said there were ten of his books extent: 1) on figures of speech and law; 2) on the nature of animals, procreation, and marriage; 3) on the Sophists, justice, and “manly virtue”; 3) on “manly courage,” law, slavery, persuasion, and victory; 4) “Greater Heracles,” a treatise on strength; 5) “the Cyrus” on kingly power; 6) on truth, arguing, contradiction, and dialect; 7) on education, naming, questions and answers, opinion and knowledge, life and death, the shades of the underworld, nature, natural philosophy, problems, and learning; 8) on music, interpretation, Homer, injustice and impiety, and Calchas the seer; 9) on the Odyssey and some of its characters; and 10) on prudence, governing, and kingly power. According to Laertius, Antisthenes was “the original cause of the apathy of Diogenes [of Sinope], and the temperance of Crates, and the patience of Zeno, having himself, as it were, laid the foundations of the city which they afterwards built.”

Diogenes of Sinope is the most famed of the Cynic philosophers and is largely seen to have outdone his teacher Antisthenes in abstinence and self-endowed poverty, going so far as to live in a tub outside the temple of Cybele. The classic story of what it meant to be a Cynic was Diogenes’ legendary meeting with Alexander the Great at Corinth in 336 B.C. Alexander was himself taught by the hugely popular Aristotle, a student of the nearly deified Plato. In the Cynic legend, the great Macedonian king was just about to set out to conquer the world when he heard about Diogenes and decided to seek him out. Alexander found the philosopher lying in the street and asked him to name anything he wanted in the world and it would be his, to which the Cynic replied, “Just now, stand a bit away from the sun!” While walking up to him, Alexander had cast a shadow upon the philosopher, who had been basking in the sunlight. The story lead to the question, if kingship is freedom, then who is the true ruler? The one who wants everything or the one wants nothing? The story runs in the same vein with that of the gospel story of Jesus’ own temptation in the desert, as well as the story of Herod asking his step-daughter Salome to name anything up to half his kingdom and her choosing John the Baptist‘s head on a silver platter. Various legends say that Diogenes died on the same day as Alexander the Great, (symbolically contrasting the lives of the two men) and that Diogenes was born on the same day Socrates was put to death (symbolically taking up where Socrates left off).

Cynics taught their ideas not only in aristocratic elites, but also in street theatre among the peasant class. They were populist preachers in marketplaces as well as in pilgrimage centers, speaking with exceeding force during their sermons, bringing to mind the antagonistic style that Jesus employed when arguing against the elders and teachers of law. Another story from Seneca the Younger, a Roman moralist from the early first century A.D., asks the question of the reader, who is the wiser: the legendary Daedalus, the master artisan who invented the saw and designed the Minotaur’s labyrinth (before having to escape it with his son Icarus), or Diogenes, who upon seeing a boy drink water using his hands, reached into his knapsack, took out his cup, and broke it, upbraiding himself for carrying unnecessary baggage?

Laertius tells a short story of how when Diogenes of Sinope asked Antisthenes for a tunic, he bade him fold his cloak. Laertius also says that Antitheses “was the first person to set the fashion of doubling his cloak, as Diocles says, and he wore no other garment. And he used to carry a stick and a wallet; but Neanthes says that he was the first person who wore a cloak without folding it. But Sosicrates, in the third book of his Successions, says that Diodorus, of Aspendos, let his beard grow, and used to carry a stick and a wallet.” The cloak, the staff, and the wallet/knapsack became known as the quintessential bare necessities of the Cynic traveler. The Cynic Epistles, letters known to have circulated amongst the philosophical communities of the Cynics from the first century B.C. and later, often took the form of imaginary correspondences from Diogenes to his followers, reminding them to live free, untied to family, property, and the societal restraints. An excerpt from the Pseudo-Diogenes reads:

To Hicetas: Do not be upset, Father, that I am called a dog and put on a double, coarse cloak, carry a knapsack over my shoulders, and have a staff in my hand... living as I do, not in conformity with popular opinion but according to nature, free under Zeus.

[To Apolexis] I have laid aside most of the things that weigh down my knapsack, since I learned that for a plate a hollowed out loaf of bread suffices, as the hands do for a cup.

[To Antipater] I hear that you say I am doing nothing unusual in wearing a double, ragged cloak and carrying a knapsack. Now I admit that none of these is extraordinary, but each of them is good when undertaken out of conscious determination.

[To Anaxilaus] I have recently come to recognize myself to be Agamemnon, since for a scepter I have my staff and for a mantle the double, ragged cloak, and by way of exchange, my leather knapsack is a shield.

[To Agesilaus] Life has a sufficient store in a knapsack.

[To Crates] Remember that I started you on your lifelong poverty.... Consider the ragged cloak to be a lion’s skin, the staff a club, and the knapsack land and sea, from which you are fed. For thus would the spirit of Heracles [Hercules], mightier than every turn of fortune, stir in you.

As Crossan points out in his book, the references to cloak, knapsack, and staff can be compared to what Jesus is said to have told his own disciples when he sent them out to preach amongst the villages:

“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two-by- two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: Take nothing for the journey except a staff: no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra cloak. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” -Mark 6:8-11

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ’Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have skin disease, and drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, nor extra cloak, nor sandals nor a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.” -Matthew 10:5-10

“After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two-by-two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a knapsack or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. “ -Luke 10:1-12

Even the bare necessities of life carried by the Cynic were denied to the traveling missionaries of Jesus. If Greek Cynics were to live a life of extreme severity, then why were the disciples of Jesus expected to out-Cynic the Cynics? Crossan suggests that the reason lies in that the Cynics were urban and the Jesus missionaries were rural. Cynics preached self-sufficiency by the street corner while desert travelers were dependent on compensation for their blessings and healings, thus “they could and should not dress to declare itinerant self-sufficiency but rather communal dependency. Itinerancy and dependency: heal, stay, move on.”

Another point of comparison I would like to point out is the reforming nature of the Cynic epistles to the claim from the Sepher Toldoth Yeshu that Christians were once violent but then became pacifists with the reform of “Eli’Yahu” the Toldoth figure prospectively identified as Paul. The spirit of the warrior Hercules was said to have dwelled within the Cynic, but he had traded in the club for the staff, and the lion skin for the cloak. Likewise, Adoptionists who read the Gospel of Mark are said to have believed that the spirit of Christ had come down from heaven and entered into Jesus in order to bring the Evangelion, literarily, “good news.” Could the gospel saying of “turn the other cheek” then be part of the “new message” of the gospel Jesus, this one a peasant philosopher, just as Pseudo-Diogenes laid down his Cynic values upon the ostensibly violent mythology of Heracles? By all accounts Paul was devoted to peace and nonviolence to the point of vegetarianism, but this was only part of a larger Cynic trend. The Gospel of Matthew repeats the mantra of “love your enemies” but cautions that Christianity will cause division by the sword. The Toldoth has Yeshu talking about men fighting for him in Jerusalem, and it is the Temple in Jerusalem in which Jesus is shown for the first time acting apart from his normally pacifistic demeanor.

The Passing of Peregrinus, Indian Religions, and Metahistory

Although canonical scripture demands steadfast resolution, it never asks its readers to seek out martyrdom. This seems to take a turn in the second century, which is the beginning of what is known as the “Age of Martyrs” which continues on until the 300s. The first in this list of martyrs is Ignatius, a patriarch of Antioch and disciple of John accredited with some of the earliest Presbyter apocrypha, as described in the second chapter. Chapter seven of Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans shows an abnormal amount of happiness at the prospect, saying, “For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father.” Stories set in this period tell of Christians facing torture and death at the hands of Roman sadists attempting to get them to repent, many of which are accompanied by miracles of vindication such as milk flowing from the neck instead of blood.

Although suicide is known for being a mortal sin since St. Thomas Aquinas and is by routine denied a Christian burial, there is actually no direct scriptual prohibition until St. Augustine, who argued against it on authority of the commandment not to kill. The Old Testament does not seem to attach any particular taboo against it: Samson kills himself along with some Philistines through a miracle and Saul has himself killed without a word of complaint, although both were brought about by special circumstances. According to Orthodox Christian writers, the African Donatists from Constantine’s time were accused of attempting to seek death and counted suicide as martyrdom. And as mentioned earlier, one of the sources for we came upon while in search for historic references to Jesus was The Passing of Peregrinus, by the Assyrian satirist Lucian of Samosata, regarding the assisted suicide in 165 A.D. of the Cynic “prophet” Proteus Peregrinus, who Lucian says inspired many dubious-minded Christians to accept him as a god.

The story begins with Lucian walking down the street by way of gymnasium when he “overheard a Cynic named Theagenes bawling out the usual street-corner invocations to Virtue in a loud, harsh voice, and abusing everyone without exception.” The man was bellowing glory to imprisoned Peregrinus, calling him greater than Zeus and comparing him to Antisthenes and Diogenes of Sinope before being led away sobbing and pulling his hair but “taking care not to pull very hard.” After that, “another man,” no doubt Lucian himself began to laugh, saying, “Since that accursed Theagenes terminated his pestilential remarks with the tears of Heraclitus…” the Ephesian philosopher known as ‘the weeping philosopher’ and his doctrine of the Logos… “I, on the contrary, shall begin with the laughter of Democritus,” the proponent of the Atomism known as ‘the laughing philosopher.’ A similar comparison of these two philosophers had been done by Sotion of Alexandria and the Roman poet Juvenal. “The man” then tells the crowd how as soon as Peregrinus came of age he received a thrashing for committing adultery in Armenia and later paid 3000 drachmas to the family of a handsome young boy he corrupted. Unable to accept his father living beyond 60, he choked him to death and then exiled himself from the country when word of it passed around. It was then that he became revered “as a god” and a lawgiver by Christians. Finally, he was thrown in prison, which Lucian says only became “an asset for his future career and the charlatanism and notoriety-seeking that he was enamored of.” The Christians “left nothing undone in the effot to rescue him” and when that failed widows and orphans would wait around the prison and officials would bribe their way in to sleep inside with him. He was named “the new Socrates” and even Christians from Asia “sent by the Christians at their common expense” came to defend him and give him money, so much so that he became richer on the result of being arrested. Lucian goes no to say:

“The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.”

The mention of a “first lawgiver” fits the description Lucian gives earlier of Peregrinus when he said “they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver.” Other suggestions given are Jesus, Paul, and even Moses. Lucian goes on to say that Peregrinus was eventually freed without chastisement by a Syrian governor who loved philosophy. Coming to his home, he found the charge of murder still against him and most of his property stolen except for the farms his father had owned, which Lucian says was worth 30 talents, “not five thousand as that utterly ridiculous Theagenes asserted,” adding that not even the entire city of Parium was worth that amount. Lucian continues:

But observe what a plan our clever Proteus discovered to cope with all this, and, how he escaped the danger. Coming before the assembly of the Parians—he wore his hair long by now, dressed in a dirty mantle, had a wallet slung at ‘his side, the staff was in his hand, and in general he was very histrionic in his get-up—manifesting himself to them in this guise, he said that he relinquished to the state all the property which had been left him by his father of blessed memory. When the people, poor folk agape for largesses, heard that, they lifted their voices forthwith: ‘The one and only philosopher! The one and only patriot! The one and only rival of Diogenes and Crates!’ His enemies were muzzled, and anyone who tried to mention the murder was at once pelted with stones.

He then began to travel on Christian funds until “he had transgressed in some way even against them—he was seen, I think, eating some of the food that is forbidden them, they no longer accepted him, and so, being at a loss, he thought he must sing a palinode and demand his possessions back from his city.” He then went to Egypt to visit a man named Agathobulus and began “wonderful course of training in asceticism, shaving one half of his head, daubing his face with mud, and demonstrating what they call ‘indifference’ by erecting his yard amid a thronging mob of bystanders, besides giving and, taking blows on the back-sides with a stalk of fennel, and playing the mountebank even more audaciously in many other ways.”

He then went to Rome and began denouncing everyone there, including Emperor Antoninus Pius, and although the Emperor “cared little for his libels and did not think fit to punish for mere words a man who only used philosophy as a cloak,” he was finally sent away by the city prefect. He then began to criticize a water boy at the Olympic Games “particularly because he had brought water to Olympia and prevented the visitors to the festival from dying of thirst, maintaining that he was making the Greeks effeminate, for the spectators of the Olympic games ought to endure their thirst—yes, by Heaven, and even to lose their lives, no doubt, many of them, through the frequent distempers which formerly ran riot in the vast crowd on account of the dryness of the place! And he said this while he drank that same water!” The got pelted with stones but escaped by taking sanctuary in Zeus’ temple, and four years later he gave a speech praising the water boy and defending his retreat.

When his routine became old and he began to be disregarded, he spread word that he would burn himself to death at the next Olympic Game. Lucian criticizes his use of fire over other forms of suicide along with the decision to do it out in the open instead of going to a mountain and having someone like Theagenes burn him to death just as Philoctetes burned the body of Heracles. Lucian compares the suicide to “a man who wished to become famous burned the temple of Ephesian Artemis, not being able to attain that end in any other way.” This unnamed man refers here to Herostratus, whose name was omitted by Lucian as well as Cicero and Plutarch due to an Ephesian prohibition against his name set at defeating the man’s purpose.

Lucian asks those who would defend the man if they would want their children to emulate him and asks why disciples like Theagenes don’t follow his example beyond that of the “safe and easy” factors such as the “wallet, staff, and mantle” and plunge into the fire with him. Although Peregrinus was ostensibly copying Heracles, the legend said that Heracles did it “because he was ailing, because the blood of the Centaur, as the tragedy tells us, was preying upon him; but for what reason does this man throw himself bodily into the fire? Oh, yes! to demonstrate his fortitude, like the Brahmans, for Theagenes thought fit to compare him with them, just as if there could not be fools and notoriety-seekers even among the Indians. Well, then, let him at least imitate them. They do not leap into the fire (so Onesicritus says, Alexander’s navigator, who saw Calanus burning), but when they have built their pyre, they stand close beside it motionless and endure being toasted; then, mounting upon it, they cremate themselves decorously without the slightest alteration of the position in which they are lying.” This same practice became notorious when a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc silently burned himself to death while taking a meditative posture on a busy Saigon road intersection in June of 1963 to protest the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem administration. Lucian also says that he heard Peregrinus had changed his name to phoenix because it was an “Indian bird.” This identification is odd; although the phoenix is generally only attributed to Egyptian, Phoenician, and Greek mythology, there are believed to be some equivalents in the East such as the Persian “Simorg,” the Indian “Semendar,” and/or the Vedic “Vena” of in the Rig Veda, Sanskrit hymns written in India. There is a school of thought that the phoenix legend originated in India and Indonesia.

Peregrinus is said to have come thronged with other Cynics and told the crowd that he was going to die like Heracles just as he had lived like Heracles and to show people how they should “despise death.” The “more witless” called out for him to preserve his life “for the Greeks” but the more virile egged him on, which Lucian claims made Peregrinus grow pail and stop his speech to Lucian’s delight. Peregrinus kept making postponements until finally he decided on a night after the games, which Lucian says he attended. At midnight the fire was kindled and he set aside his wallet, cloak, Heracles-club, and a “shirt that was downright filthy,” then looked towards the South, following the Hindu belief mentioned in the 3,000-year-old Atharvaveda text that the souls after death flow towards the southern region of Manes See. Saying “Spirits of my mother and my father, receive me with favor.” and leapt in to the fire, which was so great that he was completely encompassed. Lucian says that he did not say anything when he called upon the guardian spirits of the mother, but when he called out in laughter at the fate of Peregrinus’ own father.

As the Cynics watched looked into the fire with grief but not crying, Lucian told the crowd, “Let us go away, you simpletons. It is not an agreeable spectacle to look at an old man who has been roasted, getting our nostrils filled with a villainous reek. Or are you waiting for a painter to come and picture you as the companions of Socrates in prison are portrayed beside him?” Lucian said that the Cynics “were indignant and reviled me, and several even took to their sticks. Then, when I threatened to gather up a few of them and throw them into the fire, so that they might follow their master, they checked themselves and kept the peace.” As he left, he met others who had been told he would not kill himself until sunrise as the Hindu Brahmans did. Lucian said he had so much trouble telling the story that whenever he met a man of taste he would tell him the facts of the story, but for the “benefit of dullards” he would “thicken the plot a bit on my own account, saying that when the pyre was kindled and Proteus flung himself bodily in, a great earthquake first took place, accompanied by a bellowing of the ground, and then a vulture, flying up out of the midst of the flames, went off to Heaven, saying, in human speech, with a loud voice: ‘I am through with the earth; to Olympus I fare.’” The death of Plato and Augustus were likewise said to have been accompanied by an eagle, and for Polycarp, a dove. Lucian says that the simpletons would shudder and ask whether the vulture went east or west and Lucian would reply whichever occurred to him. He then says he met a grey-bearded man who claimed to have had a vision of Peregrines “in white raiment” and had witnessed the vulture himself.

Lucian then finishes with a story he had told before of how he had been on the same ship as Peregrinus and had watched as him try to persuade a handsome boy to become a Cynic so that “he too might have an Alcibiades,” referring to a young statesman known to have looked up to Socrates and reportedly tried to seduce him. Then when a tempest came, Peregrines “who was thought to be superior to death” took to “wailing along with the women!” Then about nine days before he died he called in a physician named Alexander, who found him rolling around on the ground “unable to stand the burning” and pleading for a drink of cold water. But the doctor wouldn’t give it to him but said that if Death wanted him, he should go along without using fire to which Peregrinus replied “But that way would not be so notable, being common to all men.” Lucian says that he himself had seen Peregrinus with ointment smeared on him to “relieve his vision by making him shed tears” as if he was “reluctant to receive people with weak eyes! It is as if a man about to go up to the cross should nurse the bruise on his finger.” Lucian asks, “What do you think Democritus would have done, had he seen this? Would not he have laughed at the man as roundly as he deserved? And yet, where could he have got that much laughter? Well, my friend, you may have your laugh also, particularly when you hear the rest of them admiring him.”

From Lucian’s perspective, the Cynic and Christian beliefs of his age brought about a superstitious outlook on life that he identified with the melancholic Heraclitus, who taught that the soul should cooperate with the plan or Logos of the universe, while Lucian’s own satirical style was matched with the jovial Democritus, whose own materialist philosophy of atomism preceded today’s scientific worldview; he was the first philosopher who realized the Milky Way was formed by the light of distant stars, a fitting association for the first science fiction writer. Plato, in contrast, objected to the mechanistic purposelessness of atomism and it was Aristotle’s concept of four elements of earth, fire, water, and air that would plague alchemy for next 2000 years. Although the philosopher Epicurus amended the atomist theory to say that atoms could also swerve to avoid determinism, their philosophies would have to wait until the French Enlightenment of the 1600s and 1700s A.D. when figures such as Pierre Gassendi, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson revived the philosophy of “Epicurean Atomism” and when Roger Boscovich would create the first mathematical theory of atomic physics based on the ideas of Newton and Leibniz.

Other atomists can be found in certain Indian Buddhists, such as Dharmakirti, who theorized that atoms could flash in and out of existence. Scholarly consensus says that Greek and Indian versions of atomism developed independently, but others have pointed out similarities between the two. Diogenes Laertius wrote that Democritus had made an acquaintance with the Gymnosophists, “naked philosophers” of India who practiced asceticism to the point of regarding food and clothing as detrimental to purity of thought. Pyrrho of Elis, a follower of Democritus credited as the first Skeptic philosopher, was also said by Laertius to have come under the influence of the Gymnosophists while campaigning in India with Alexander the Great.

Even the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, believed by most Westerners to have been first conceived of by Galileo and Copernicus, seems to have originated from India. The Vedic nakshatra darshas records of the 3200’s B.C. show observations of the full and new moons as well as the spring and fall equinoxes and by the 700s B.C., the legendary Vedic seer Yajnavalkya shows evidence for Heliocentrism, saying: “The sun is stationed for all time, in the middle of the day… Of the sun, which is always in one and the same place, there is neither setting nor rising.” And a thousand years before Copernicus, the Indian astronomer Aryabhata I propounded the heliocentric system with elliptically orbiting planets and a spherical Earth spinning on its axis, as well as accurately calculating pi and the solar year to 365.3586805 days. The Pythagoreans are quoted by Aristotle as saying “At the center… is fire, and the earth is one of the stars, creating night and day by its circular motion about the center,” and some sources say that Pythagoras visited India. The Pythagorean Theorm itself has been found in the Hindu Apastamba Sulba Sutra from 700 B.C., but similar formulations have also been found in Hammurabi’s Babylonian Empire (1700s B.C.).

Lucian’s many references to India as the origin of Greek Cynicism also provides much food for thought. Many scholars believe the wisdom of Socrates originated from the philosophical legacy of the river valley civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. If this is true, it is conceivable that the same Hindu religious core is responsible for both Socrates’ inner daemon telling him to stay in jail as well as St. Ignatius’ reported eagerness to die. Although Plato and Aristotle criticized Heraclitus’ belief that all things are in flux and come into being by a conflict of opposites, the Stoics believed that the major tenets of their philosophy derived from the thought of Heraclitus, which may be why Lucian chose the “weeping philosopher” to symbolize Cynic romanticism. Lucian’s own avatar for materialistic philosophy Democritus is not the only conceptual attribute to be revived in the Age of Enlightenment: the breakthrough of the English satire is also a notable quality.

Following the pattern of Pythagoras, the Platonic tradition of Socrates’ tragic death also follows the story arc like that of a Greek tragedy. In a tragedy, the states of division bring about the fall of the protagonist and shakes the foundations of the world he lives in, but there is also a gain in consciousness for the witnesses, bringing about an epiphany in human existence caused by the actions of the protagonist. According to Aristotle, this reversal of fortune is brought about not by any moral defect but a mistake of some kind. The tragedy can be traced to the dithyrambs, chants and dances honoring the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. The word itself is taken from “trag(o)-aoidia” or “goat song,” referring to the half-man, half-goat satyrs who surrounded Dionysus and created the ecstatic performances.

At the center of canonical Christian scripture is a very similar plot line involving the death of the founder. But unlike the Dionysian, Platonic, and Gnostic tragedies, the Presbyter and Apostolic conception of Christ acted not only as “fountainhead of divine wisdom,” but also the consummating figure in an impending apocalypse brought on God that would bring about a divine return to a prior Eden-like Golden Age. The gospels themselves show an inner conflict regarding Jesus’ state of mind regarding his own death, ranging from the amended verse in the Gospel of Luke regarding Jesus’ tears of blood, to the Gospel of Mark’s talk of Jesus’ soul being overwhelmed with sorrow, to the steadfast resolution shown in John’s gospel. The implication behind the shift is one from tragedy to romance. After the event of Jesus’ resurrection had become historicized to a period of time in the past, the tradition took the form of the literary genre of the “Christian romance,” which like the Grail legends and the Old French troubadours’ chansons de geste, “songs of heroic deeds,” are dramas involving the triumph of good over evil and focusing their perspective on the greatness of the past. After falling out of style for a long time, Romanticism became popular again in the 19th century Europe through famous poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife and author of Frankenstein Mary Shelly. Influenced by the French and Industrial Revolutions, some of its key ideas often promoted forms of nationalistic, fascist, and (as in the case of Blake) anarchist sentiments.

According to Aristotle, the comedy originated in phallic songs and the light treatment of the base and ugly but was otherwise obscure because no one had ever treated the genre seriously enough to bother recording its history. However, by the Middle Ages it became defined as a story with a happy ending and eventually became defined as a story of two conflicting forces, often old and new, that are able to reconcile at the end, exemplified by Dante’s Commedia, in which the Italian monarchist attempted to provide a reconciliation between the materialism of Aristotle and the spirituality of Catholicism, the monarchism of the Holy Roman Empire and the radicalism of the gospels, the roles of church and state, the political claims of Emperor Henry VIII (backed by the House of Luxembourg) and Pope Boniface VIII (backed by the fraudulent Donation of Constantine), and even the betrayals of Caesar and Jesus (placing Judas alongside Brutus and Cassius in the ninth layer of hell). In general, the comedy celebrates the ability for conflicting forces to harmonize and become unified with themselves and others (for example: All in the Family).

In contrast to the tragedy, the romance, and the comedy is Lucian’s preferred form of literary style, the satire, a label first used in the second half of the first century A.D. by a Roman rhetorician from Hispania named Quintilian as a description for the writings of the second century B.C. Roman writer Gaius Lucilius. The modern historian Hayden White in his book Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe associates the Satiric “mode of emplotment” with the “Contextualist” mode of argument and the Liberal ideological implication, which is intrinsically antagonistic to the Tragedy, Romance, and Comedy as forms of significant human development, as exemplified by the thick irony used in the meta-narrative of Enlightenment rationalists such as Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (as well as absurdist comedies like Monty Python’s Life of Brian).

In contrast to this is are three other tropes, affinitively connected to three ideologies and three modes of argument: 1) the Romantic mode of emplotment, associated with Anarchist ideology and the generalizing “Formist” mode of argument, which emphasizes the differences between objects and ideas and uses vivid generalization to dispel the apprehension of similarities between them; 2) the Tragic plot, associated with Radical idealism and the “Mechanistic” mode of argument, which like Marxism purports to discover the laws that govern history; and 3) the Comic plot, associated with Conservative ideology and the “Organicist” mode of argument, which attempts to find “principles” or “ideas” rather than universal “laws” providing an integration of components into a metaphysical microcosmic-macrocosmic relationship. A more self-critical form of argument, 4) the Satirical mode instead views the “hopes, possibilities, and truths Ironically, in the atmosphere generated by the apprehension of the ultimate inadequacy of consciousness to live in the world happily or to comprehend it fully.” (p. 10). A Contextualist chooses a subject of study and then picks out the “threads” that link the event backwards and forwards in time to different areas of context until they either disappear into the context of another event or converge to cause the occurrence of a new event. The Satire is identifiable with the Contextualist ideology of historians like Jacob Burkhardt because “the fictional mode of Irony… achieves some of its principal effects by refusing to provide the kinds of formal coherencies one is conditioned to expect from reading Romance, Comedy, and Tragedy. This narrative form, which is the aesthetic counterpart of a specifically skeptical conception of knowledge and its possibilities, presents itself as the type of all putatively anti-ideological conceptions of history and as an alternative to the ‘philosophy of history,’ practiced by Marx, Hegel, and Ranke alike, which Burkhardt personally despised.” (p.28). From this framework, we can perhaps better analyze late second century Cynicism and Christianity as seen through the eyes of contemporary science fiction satirist in his discernment of the tragic and romantic worldviews of Heraclitus, Peregrinus, and Theagenes, brought on by “sophists” like Jesus.

Nazarene, Nazarite, or Man From Nazareth?

Jesus’ homeland, Galilee, is today in the northern district of Israel, but during Jesus’ time, most Jews from Judea called it the “Land of the Gentiles.” Judaism was practiced there, but the further from Jerusalem they were, the less likely they were to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem’s temple as the Torah required, and Galilee was even further north than the foreign land of Samaria. Galilee had a mixed population of Aramaean, Iturean, Phoenician and Greek races. According to the First Book of Maccabees, many in the area were loyal to Judah ever since Simon Maccabee of the Maccabbee Revolt saved them from Hellenistic Seleucid aggression, even bringing many of the area’s inhabitants back to Judea with him because they were being oppressed by surrounding nations (5:14). Before Aristobulus, the first Maccabee to designate himself King, the Maccabees had referred to themselves as “nasir” or “prince” of the kingdom, although in all practicality, they ruled as kings.

According to the will of his father, John Hyrcanus, his mother was to be given the kingdom while his teenage son was to become High Priest. However Aristobulus changed that by throwing his mother and brothers in prison so that he could become King-Priest just like his father, all this at the age of 17. Josephus says that Aristobulus had forced Ituraea, Galilee’s neighbors east of Jordan, to follow the Jewish Torah laws, which almost certainly meant he prescribed the same for Galilee. This was a particularly un-Judaic act as this is the first known historic instance of forced mass conversion of foreigners to Judaism by the sword. Although the Galileans shared the Messianic hopes the southern Jews had of throwing off the Roman yoke, the land was made up of many different ethnic groups, which would have made these ritualistic laws a burden most Galileans never asked for. There were still a small population of Jews here from that time and these are presumably the “lost sheep of Israel” that the Gospel of Matthew says Jesus had been sent for (15:24). Aristobulus also persecuted the Jewish Pharisees, who were critical of his usurping the throne. He reigned only one year and died suddenly, probably poisoned as it was said he vomited blood shortly before his death. His widow released his two brothers, one of whom she married, but Aristobulus’ mother had already starved to death.

The majority of the cities Jesus is said to have visited, such as Capernaum, surround the west bank of the Sea of Galilee. His movement is said to have started with John the Baptist’s movement, which was on the east side of the Jordan, in Perea. Historical proof of a first century Nazareth, however, has never been found. The town does not show up in the Jewish Talmud, which lists 63 Galilean towns without mentioning Nazareth. Rabbi Solly’s epistles mention Jesus 221 times, but Nazareth not at all, nor does it appear in Paul’s epistles. Nazareth does not show up in any of the 39 books of the Old Testament, nor in any Jewish apocrypha. Josephus, who himself lived in Galilee, lists towns throughout the province as well, but completely misses Nazareth.

Map of Eastern Mediterranean in Early First Century
Map taken from Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews, by Paula Fredrikson

In the four gospels, Jesus is said to have been rejected in his hometown, the people from his village taking offense to him because he was known to them as the carpenter’s son (or translated more correctly, the craftsman’s son). “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor,” says Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and because of this lack of faith he could not do any miracles there (6:4). Even his own mother calls him crazy, and his brothers go to try to take him away from the crowd that has followed him. “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother,” Jesus replies, drawing a sharp contrast between his spiritual family and his genetic family (3:34).

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reads a verse from Isaiah and declares that the prophecy has been fulfilled that day. After suggesting that the prophets Elijah and Elisha had been sent to heal foreigners from Syria while leprosy and famine struck Israel, Jesus is said to have been rushed towards a cliff on top of a hill to be thrown to his death (4:28). There is a hill near today’s Nazareth that has been identified with that hill, but it isn’t high enough to kill someone. A second hill is said to have been the destination after Jesus disappeared. Modern archaeology has turned up some tombs from 200 B.C. near the Church of Ascension, showing the area had been inhabited before Jesus‘ time. During the first century about 90% of the Roman Empire was illiterate, and in rabbinic sources have given reason to estimate the literacy rate of Galilee at around 3%, with peasants being the least likely. In Roman society, a peasant artisan was in an even lower rung than the peasant farmer, since a farmer at least had land. It is because of this that John Dominic Crossan argues that Jesus would have been illiterate, and so would not have been able to read Isaiah.

The bishop Eusebius in the early 300s A.D. is the first one to mention it outside the gospels. He claims that a man named Joseph, who built churches in Sepphoris and other towns, claimed that until Constantine, Nazareth was inhabited only by Jews. Quoting a Christian named Julius the African from around 200 A.D., he says that the people who lived in Nazareth and Cochaba were Desposyni, blood relatives of Jesus, who kept records of their descent with great care. Julius, however, refers to Nazareth as being in Judea rather than Galilee in his Epistle to Aristides:

“But as up to that time the genealogies of the Hebrews had been registered in the public archives, and those, too, which were traced back to the proselytes [converts]: as, for example, to Achior the Ammanite, and Ruth the Moabitess, and those who left Egypt along with the Israelites, and intermarried with them- Herod, knowing that the lineage of the Israelites contributed nothing to him, and goaded by the consciousness of his ignoble birth, burned the registers of their families. This he did, thinking that he would appear to be of noble birth, if no one else could trace back his descent by the public register to the patriarchs or proselytes, and to that mixed race called Georae. A few, however, of the studious, having private records of their own, either by remembering the names or by getting at them in some other way from the archives, pride themselves in preserving the memory of their noble descent; and among these happen to be those already mentioned, called Desposyni, on account of their connection with the family of the Savior. And these coming from Nazara and Cochaba, Judean villages, to other parts of the country, set forth the above-named genealogy as accurately as possible from the Book of Days. Whether, then, the case stand thus or not, no one could discover a more obvious explanation, according to my own opinion and that of any sound judge. And let this suffice us for the matter, although it is not supported by testimony, because we have nothing more satisfactory or true to allege upon it. The Gospel, however, in any case states the truth.”

Assuming Nazareth existed in the same place identified by the Catholic/Orthodox Church in the 300s, the village would have been near two important cities: Sepphoris (also called Zippori), a walled city of the same size about an hour‘s walk away from Nazareth, and Tiberias, a city of about 24,000 built next to the Valley of Robbers. Sepphoris is one of the oldest Jewish communities to be uncovered by archaeologists, and one of the richest in what has been found there. It is located in the central Galilee, and features not only Jewish homes and one of the oldest synagogues in the country, but also a Roman theatre and a Crusader fortress. One of the more striking images discovered in a Roman villa dated to the 200’s A.D. is a paneled floor mosaic of Dionysus in a drinking contest with Heracles. Heracles, portrayed as fallen over drunk, has not surprisingly lost to the wine god.

Dionysus, holding the caduceus, beats Heracles in a drinking contest

Nazareth itself is thought to have consisted of only 100 to 200 people. In pre-industrialized societies, cities usually drained wealth from the agricultural peasant villages that surrounded it by taxing them anywhere from half to two-thirds of their produce. This in turn would lead to people from small villages to either migrate into the cities in order to make a better living or form pockets of resistance against their oppressors. This best reflects the economic disparity as portrayed in the Synoptic gospels, with a critical view of Jerusalem’s temple priests (Sadducees), and to a lesser extent, the Pharisees (more so in Mattew and Luke). The temple priests from Jerusalem seem to follow Jesus around Galilee to criticize him about not being Jewish enough in his ritualism while at the same time not having any concept of ethical living themselves.

After the Roman senator Cassius moved the Senate to assassinate Julius Caesar, he fled to Syria and allied himself with Herod against Octavian, later known as Caesar Augustus, the first emperor. King Herod was able to collect emergency taxes from his subjects where others failed, and although his endeavor to save the Republic ultimately failed, Herod was forgiven by Augustus and allowed to continue his rule. Herod would change his will shortly before his death in 7 B.C., making his son Archelaus heir instead of Antipas. Augustus chose to ignore the will and made Archelaus an ethnarch, “ruler of a race,” of Idumean, Judea, and Samaria and Antipas a tetrarch, “ruler of a section,” of Galilee and Perea. At this point, Judea no longer even had a puppet king; Rome now ruled it directly. As soon as word passed that Herod was dead, peasant revolts devastated the city of Sepphoris before being put down. Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris, making it “the ornament of all Galilee,” but he had only a quarter of the taxable village revenue base of his father had. So Antipas enacted an urbanization program, founding a new capital within 20 miles of Sepphoris. Antipas named it Tiberias, after the new emperor, Tiberius, hoping the emperor would eventually make him a king. Being in proximity of both Sepphoris and Tiberius would have made Nazareth twice as crippled financially. Not only that, but the new city was built on top of cemetery, making the city perpetually unclean according to Jewish law. It’s citizens, even many of it’s administrators, were forced into the settling there and forbidden to leave.

Antipas died without ever becoming king and the emperor Nero handed control over to Herod Agrippa the Younger in 41 A.D. Another revolt against Sepphoris and Tiberias flared up around 66 or 67 A.D., led by one Jesus, son of Sapphias. After several attempts, the revolt was eventually put down by Tiberias’ governor, Flavius Josephus, historian and author of The Jewish War, who himself had previously fought Rome as a former Galilean general. Josephus describes in detail the overwhelming hatred of the mob, setting houses on fire, and wanting to exterminate the entire population, “aliens and all.” But Jesus ben Sapphias was killed and another rebel leader, Justus of Tiberias, surrendered. Justus later accused Josephus of causing the revolt by demanding the palace of Herod be destroyed because it was ornamented with figures of animals (which could be considered idols), and then for using brutal tactics to put the revolt down. Josephus in turn defended himself in his own history, blaming Justus for the revolt.

Ironically, Nazareth today is a thriving city of 60,000, mostly Israeli Arabs of whom about 40% of which are Christian, while the once great city of Sepphoris is nothing more than an archaeological site with a small village with the same name nearby. Excavations there have found a Roman theatre in the ruins, which was known to have aroused grievances by Rabbinic Jews of the time. The Talmud has Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi quoting the first Psalm, saying, “What is that is said? ‘Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful’: meaning blessed is the man who does not go to the theaters and circuses of idolaters.” Although Aramaic has traditionally been considered the language of Jesus, some scholars think he may have been able to pick up Greek while doing work in Sepphoris and perhaps even helped rebuild it.

The name Nazareth may instead come from the word ‘Nazarene.’ Acts of the Apostles has some Jews who put Paul on trial in Caesarea refer to Christianity as a “Nazarene sect” of Judaism (24:5). Since ancient times, Jewish Christians in Syria referred to themselves as Notzrim, which is why Jews and Muslims have always referred to Christians using that term. Many of these Jewish Christians were said to have believed that the name came from Isaiah’s 11th chapter on Jesse’s netzer, or “branch,” in which he says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Jesse was King David’s father and so the prophecy was traditionally believed to refer to David, and was later connected to Jesus, but the etymology is hardly equivalent. Epiphanius, the bishop of Cyprus, said that all the first Christians had once gone under the name Nazoraioi. In the Mandean religion of southern Iraq and western Iran, which honors John the Baptist but not Jesus, high priests who are believed to hold secret knowledge are called Nazarenes. It’s also a consideration that Nazareth might not have originally a city but a locale in Galilee where the Nazarene sect had originated from. Some ancient sources, such as the early 2nd century Stoic philosopher Epictetus, the 3rd century prophet Mani, and 11th century encyclopedia author Suidas, said that Christians were first called Galileans. The 4th century Emperor Julian had tried to bring the name back and referred to Christians under that name in his own writings.

When Philip tells Nathanel that he has found the one prophesized by scripture in the Gospel of John, Nathanel replies, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (1:46). The Gospel of Matthew reads, “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” (2:23). The only book in the Old Testament that this could be referring to is the 13th chapter of Judges:

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, so Yahweh delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for 40 years. A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. The angel of Yahweh appeared to her and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to Elohim from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’ Then the woman went to her husband and told him… Then Manoah prayed to Yahweh: ‘Oh, Yahweh, I beg you, let the man of Elohim you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.’ Elohim heard Manoah, and the angel of Elohim came again to the woman while she was out in the field… Manoah said to the angel of Yahweh, ‘We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.’ The angel of Yahweh replied, ‘Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to Yahweh.’ (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of Yahweh.) Then Manoah inquired of the angel of Yahweh, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?’ He replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’ Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to Yahweh. And Yahweh did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of Yahweh ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of Yahweh did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of Yahweh. ‘We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen Elohim!’ But his wife answered, ‘If Yahweh had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.’ The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and Yahweh blessed him, and the Spirit of Yahweh began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” -Judges 13:1-25

When Samson fulfills his Nazarite vows, he gains incredible strength, because of which some have referred to him as the Jewish Hercules. The story of Samson’s mother going to his father Manoah is a lot like the one in the Gospel of Luke where the Virgin Mary is foretold of the birth of Jesus. According to the sixth chapter of Numbers, someone who takes a Nazarite vow to separate (nazir) oneself for the sake of God was to abstain from cutting one’s hair, intoxicants (plus anything made from the grape), and corpses (even if it’s a family member). After the days of separation are fulfilled, he is to offer two lambs, a ram, and a basket of unleavened bread for sacrifice at the Temple. He is also to shave his head at the head at the door of the tabernacle and burn it as a peace offering. When Paul’s life is threatened by Jewish Christians in Acts of the Apostles, James suggests that he prove that he does not teach Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses by paying for the purification rites of four Jewish Christians “so that they can have their heads shaved.” (21:24). Epiphanius and Eusebius both say that James himself got the title “the Just” because of his Nazarite vows of separation. From this perspective, reading that Jesus is from Nazareth is somewhat like learning that Jesus was from “Christianville.”

Jesus Ben Ananus and Jesus Ben Damneus

The “Jesus as myth” theory is typically characterized as the belief that Jesus really never existed. Similar questions have been asked as to whether mythical characters like King Arthur and Hercules have any basis in history. My own opinion is that the better question is how many times was there a historic Arthur and a historic Hercules? Scholarship is divided on when the “real” Arthur could have lived because there is evidence for an Arthur living in both the 400s and the 500s, both of which provided elements of the consolidated legend. Others have even suggested that the original Arthur goes as far back as to have been inspired by the Roman dux, Lucius Artorius Castus, who led a contingent of Scythian Sarmatians from the Russian steppes into Britain in the early 100s A.D. This last one was used as the theme for the 2004 movie King Arthur. Yet the popularized version of Arthur, that of a medieval king ruling over a group of just knights, did not arrive until the 1100s. The Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the 400s B.C., also learned from his travels to Tyre and Thasos that there were at least two different men known as Heracles: one who was born from Amphitryon in Hellas, the twin brother of Iphicles, and the other a god who had been around for over 2000 years, which modern scholars identify with the Phoenician god Melqart, “the Tyrian Hercules.” Most Greek myths, in fact, are retellings from earlier Egyptian, Hurrian, and Babylonian stories, and the names themselves, like Zeus and Poseidon, have been linked by linguists to earlier, Indo-European gods. The nature of myth, still drawn on today in the form of historical fiction, is the retelling of older stories in a new light. The question then arises as to how much of the story has to be based in history in order for there to be a “historical” Arthur, Hercules, or Jesus? The word “myth,” itself is typically interpreted today as a falsehood, but the original Greek word mythos has a closer meaning to the opposite. Likewise, the stories that have come to be identified as myths are the same stories that have been continuously retold because they present generic truths that find relevance to multiple times and places, ensuring their survival throughout the ages.

As mentioned earlier, the author Frank Zindler argued that Jesus and even John the Baptist are both “mythical” characters, citing the fact that Josephus makes no mention of them in the War of the Jews. But, in fact, there is a lesser known story in his fourth book on the War of the Jews that bears striking similarity to the gospel Jesus:

“Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year…… But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!’ This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped until his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, ‘Woe, woe to Jerusalem!’ And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him. Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, ‘Woe, woe to Jerusalem!’ Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, ‘Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!’ And just as he added at the last, ‘Woe, woe to myself also!’ there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost.” -Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 5

This story holds a great number of parallels with the gospel story. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the Three Magi, Persian or Babylonian priests, who came from the East following a star. Many have questioned how anyone could possibly “follow” a star, but this reference in Josephus seems to answer the question by making the stellar phenomenon as being shaped like a sword and prolonged for an adequate amount of time in order to be followed. In the Synoptic gospels, starting from Mark, Jesus takes on a noticeably more apocalyptic role as soon as he reaches Jerusalem. The gospel Jesus also makes a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, saying “Not one stone here will be left on another,” (13:2). He also made a voice against family life, saying “Brother will betray brother, and a father his child.” (13:12) and “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!” (13:17) Jesus likewise is said to have been silent when taken before the Sanhedrin, not bothering to defend himself (14:61). Then the son of Ananus is taken before the Roman procurator Albinus the same way the gospel Jesus is taken before Pilate. Albinus questions him in a similar way to Pilate and the husbandman makes no answer, same as the gospel Jesus (15:5). Albinus dismisses him as a madman and sets him free, just as Pilate, famed for his brutality against the Jews, attempts to set the gospel Jesus free, asking, “What crime has he committed?” (15:14). But unlike the historical Pilate, Albinus really was a “procurator,” as Josephus and Tacitus mistakenly label the “prefect” in the critical areas of their testimony. Josephus also describes the son of Ananus as giving no ill words to those who beat him repeatedly, similar to how the Gospel of Luke quotes Jesus as saying “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (23:34). And just like the husbandman, the gospel Jesus is a peasant. This Jesus, however, is said to have been giving his message in 60s and died with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70, instead of 40 years earlier.

Albinus is also mentioned again in the 20th book on the Antiquities of the Jews, in which Josephus describes the death of Jesus’ brother James. Which Jesus Josephus is talking about is questionable. Contentions between scholars usually focus on whether the phrase “who was called Christ,” denoted below in teal, is a forgery or not:

And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king, desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.” -Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 10, Chapter 9

This description of the James’ death is likewise described by Eusebius, who quotes from Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria, both writing from the 100s. Hegesippus seems to combine three different traditions of the saint’s death, as the bishop relates how James not only survives being thrown off the 150 foot high Temple ceiling, but also manages to live past being stoned before finally being clubbed to death. Clement, writing in the late 100s and early 200s, corrects this interpretation, saying that James the Just was killed by being thrown off the temple while it was another James who was clubbed to death. If “who was called Christ” is in fact the only insertion made to the text, then the text could be saying that James was the brother of Jesus, son of Damneus. Agrippa is later said to have removed Jesus, son of Damneus and inserted a protégé of Ananus named Jesus, son of Gamaliel.

Zindler notes that in War of the Jews, there is no mention of Ananus son of Ananus ruling only three months before being deposed, and points out that some of the details, such as Albinus writing a letter to Ananus that precedes him, are unrealistic. Zindler assumes the majority of the passage is forged, but relents that there may have been a small mention of James, although the reference to him being a “brother to the Lord” would only have been interpreted in the spiritual sense. Zindler also points out that Josephus paints a very different picture of the high priest in War of the Jews:

“He was on other accounts also a venerable, and a very just man; and besides the grandeur of that nobility, and dignity, and honor of which he was possessed, he had been a lover of a kind of parity, even with regard to the meanest of the people; he was a prodigious lover of liberty, and an admirer of a democracy in government; and did ever prefer the public welfare before his own advantage, and preferred peace above all things; for he was thoroughly sensible that the Romans were not to be conquered. He also foresaw that of necessity a war would follow, and that unless the Jews made up matters with them very dexterously, they would be destroyed; to say all in a word, if Ananus had survived, they had certainly compounded matters; for he was a shrewd man in speaking and persuading the people, and had already gotten the mastery of those that opposed his designs, or were for the war. And the Jews had then put abundance of delays in the way of the Romans, if they had had such a general as he was. Jesus [the eldest of the high priests next to Artanus] was also joined with him; and although he was inferior to him upon the comparison, he was superior to the rest; and I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off these their great defenders and well-wishers, while those that a little before had worn the sacred garments, and had presided over the public worship; and had been esteemed venerable by those that dwelt on the whole habitable earth when they came into our city, were cast out naked, and seen to be the food of dogs and wild beasts. And I cannot but imagine that virtue itself groaned at these men’s case, and lamented that she was here so terribly conquered by wickedness. And this at last was the end of Ananus and Jesus. “ -Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 5

In Acts of the Apostles, Paul is attacked and nearly killed by Jewish zealots who James identifies as being Christian (21:20). When arrested by a Roman commander, he is tried before the Sanhedrin, and then transferred to Caesarea after Paul’s nephew discovers another plot to kill him. The zealots appealed to Festus to try him in Jerusalem, but Festus instead brought some of their leaders with him to Caeserea and tried to convince him to stand trial in Jerusalem. According to Acts, Paul refused and instead asked to be tried before Caesar as per his right as a Roman citizen. But before they went, it is said that he was brought before King Agrippa II, Vespasian‘s ally and the king claimed to have deposed Ananus son of Ananus. Paul tries to convert Agrippa and Festus calls Paul insane, but the king takes his words in stride, asking “Do you think in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

As described in Antiquities, the younger Ananus, a Sadducee, used the power vacuum present between the death of Festus and the arrival of his replacement, Albinus, to have James killed in the year 63 A.D. His father, the elder Ananus, fathered no less than five sons who themselves became high priests and was grandfather to another high priest from 65 A.D. This elder Ananus is also identified as being the same high priest as the one in the Gospel of John named Annas, and it is written that he was the first person Jesus was brought to when he was arrested (18:13). But once again, there is some confusion as the chronology presented in the fourth gospel. Jesus is questioned about his teaching, to which he replies, “Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” John then says that an official strikes Jesus, saying “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” (18:22). Since Caiaphas, the son-in-law of the elder Ananus, was identified as the high priest at this time (18:13), this might insinuate that it was Caiaphas who was the one Jesus was talking to, but after Jesus asks the high priest what he did to deserve the punch, it says that Jesus was bound up and taken from “Annas” to Caiaphas (18:24). But oddly enough, there is no mention of Jesus talking to Caiaphas at all and he instead appears before Pilate. As such, the NIV Bible lists an alternative rendering for the verse in a footnote: “(Now Annas had sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.)” as if to mean that it was Caiaphas Jesus had been speaking to all along. The question as to whether Jesus was talking to Annas or Caiaphas remains uncertain. Is it be possible that the Gospel of John originally had Annas as the high priest, so as to be more relevant to the 60s, and then later changed to Caiaphas so as to be more historically compatible with the 30s?

Many other questions persist in reconciling the gospel stories with that of James the Just. In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Crossan writes:

“The immediate family of Ananus the Elder had dominated the high priesthood for most of the preceding decades, with eight High Priests in sixty years, yet the execution of James resulted in the deposition of Ananus the Younger after only three months in office. An abstract illegality could hardly have obtained such a reaction, so James must have had powerful, important, and even politically organized friends in Jerusalem. Who were they? Josephus’ phrase ‘inhabitants… who were strict in observance of the law' probably means Pharisees. Was James a Pharisee? And, more important, how long had he been in Jerusalem? We know for sure, as seen earlier, that he was there by 38 C.E., when Paul first met him. Did he come there only after the execution of Jesus, or had he been there long before it? I realize how tentative all this is, but much more explanation for James’ presence and standing in Jerusalem needs be given than is usually offered. Did he leave Nazareth long before and become both literate and involved within scribal circles in Jerusalem? Could his earlier presence there and Jesus’ (single?) visit to Jerusalem be somehow connected with this unit in John 7:3-5?

“His brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his brothers did not believe him.”

Assuming that this verse in John was meant as a criticism against James the Just, how can we reconcile James the son of a Galilean peasant with James the Just? If James was one of the Desposyni, an ancestor of Yeshu and carrying royal blood, he would have been far more likely to have achieved the education and political organization necessary to have influenced the “thousands of Jews” who “believed” and were “zealous,” spoken of in Acts (21:20). It is this same kind of political influence that the writings attributed to both Paul and Mark discourages, with Paul dismissing James as someone who only “seemed to be important” and Mark’s Jesus criticizing James, son of Zebedee, for wanting to be first when in fact, it’s the last who will be first. The role of Jesus as a Cynic peasant, heavily influenced by the story of Jesus, son of Ananus, in order to stress the extreme forms of poverty taken by its devotees, in this way acts as an appropriate literary device, providing a strong contrast to the “popular” form of Christianity of the time, which was led by James the Just and consisting of violent zealots who were still loyal to the Old Testament laws.