Vrij Nederland – Thomas von der Dunk

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Vrij Nederland (Free Holland) – 6 april 2002 – Number 14
de Republiek der Letteren (the Republic of the Letters) – p.66–69

ESSAY – The Parallelism of Brutus and Judas

A Bomb under Christianity

[ pagina 66; pagina 67; pagina 69 ]

The past week was in the sign of the Easter story. Was the Passion of Christ really the passion of god’s son? Was Jesus perhaps the same as Julius Caesar? Francesco Carotta makes it all believable.

By THOMAS von der DUNK – Illustrated by WILLEM van MALSEN

[Translation: Susan]

There are a number of hot topics concerning antiquity about which historians and enthusiastic lay people have been squabbling for years: The Troy of Homer, the location of Ithaca, the Linear A script of Crete, the existence of Atlantis, and the origins of the Etruscans. And: The historicity of Jesus Christ. When it concerns these topics scholars have barricaded themselves “everyone for themselves mode” in their own trenches from where no real intellectual contact with other positions is possible. In the heat of the battle, by defending certain views [opinions, conceptions] entire academic reputations are subject to ruin.

Was Jesus Caesar? Was Jesus Christ actually no other than Julius Caesar? Hidden behind this fascinating and provocative title is a thoroughly researched and richly documented study by the Italian philosopher and linguist Francesco Carotta. If the book contains only a kernel of truth then it will ignite a bomb under the 2000 year history of Christianity.

If we leave out the true believers, who regard the word of the four evangelists as absolute, then what remains is enough discussion material for serious classical philologists, historians and theologians to fundamentally disagree with each other as they have ever since Ernest Renan doubted the divinity of Christ in his Vie de Jesus, “Life of Jesus” in 1862. If an outsider turns up with an even wilder sounding theory then – how human! – all the academics who never considered this idea themselves, frantically close ranks. If this theory is true, then decades of studies are destined to end up in the wastepaper basket.

Was Jesus Christ Julius Caesar? JC=JC? Was, to formulate Carotta’s exposition more precisely as the title of his book does, Christianity nothing other than an unkempt form, a sloppy copy based on misunderstandings of the cult which formed to honor Divus Julius after his death? Is the Passion of Christ based on a wrongly understood version of the Vita Caesaris about the last days of this dictator and pontifex maximus (high priest) of Rome who was also known for his mildness and celebrated as a benefactor of the people? That sounds absolutely crazy! Carotta however presents numerous proofs for this theory. Even if they are not all convincing and many of his assertions raise more questions he knows how to make it plausible. It all might have been so and could have taken place like that. It is not possible to go any further at this stage. A revolutionary theory first needs thorough study with careful investigation.

Carotta’s proof is based mainly on philological argumentation, whereby a fair verdict is only possible when given by specialists who have knowledge of Latin, Greek, Syriac and Aramaic. His arguments are packed with comparisons of quotes found in the four gospels and contemporary descriptions of Caesar’s life. The crux is that these are all easily understood mistakes in translation and oral reports, as well as logical mistakes in writing and misinterpretations by the evangelists and their predecessors. They tended to see an unknown word in a foreign language as a recognizable word in that language or read such an unknown word as a very similar word in their own language. Concrete facts are thus quickly interpreted in a figuratively, metaphorical sense and the other way around.

On top of everything else things were written without any punctuation and only in capital letters, in various alphabets, without any separation between words, full of abbreviations, without accents, and orthograpy and reading direction varied. Endless possibilities for confusion. Because of all of this it could happen that Roman proper names, which also conveyed characteristics, were only interpreted as characteristics as soon as the historical figure they referred to disappeared from memory. Take for example a sentence in a modern day Dutch newspaper: “een blik in de politieke keuken van premier Kok op het Catshuis,” “a glance in the political kitchen of Premier Kok in Catshuis.” A century from now a foreigner with faulty knowledge of English and Dutch might understand this sentence as “a glance at the refined art of cooking demonstrated by the head cook of Catshuis” by replacing “politique” (political) with “politeness” (manners, decency). (Perhaps this will really be a form of relaxation by then.)

Every historian who has occasionally had to decipher illegible scribble in a foreign language in some archive knows how easy it is to be wrong and the writers of the gospels were certainly not academically educated historians. People who fought against Caesar and later had to recuperate from their political transgressions were more often to have names with double meanings. Metellus, Clodius, Caecilius “the cripple” (metellus understood as mutilus) “the lame”, “the blind” and after enough metamorphosis they are the many afflicted characters healed by Jesus.

In addition what Carotta uses from a culturally historical point is equally remarkable. A great deal is based on circumstantial evidence, but it is of such great abundance that it has to be more than pure chance. The symbolism dealt with in both is strongly similar. There is also a series of closely related place and personal names that play the same role with both Caesar and Christ. Their lives and deaths show a number of parallels, including betrayal by a disciple. The experiences of Christ can be interpreted as symbolic and depoliticized transferences of Caesar’s vicissitudes.

In any case Carotta’s proposition requires serious review and eventually refutation. For example it should be carefully scrutinized whether or not he purposely disregarded things which do not fit his interpretation, a common inclination of outsiders who try to “round off” the “solutions” they discover to old puzzles. In no way can his work be simply dismissed, however, as that of a dreamer, a new Erich von Daniken. His work is much too much based on solid studies in different subject areas and languages to be dismissed so easily. In Carotta’s work the gods are no cosmonauts, it is simply that the Messiah who has been idolized for 2000 years by Christendom is not a simple Jew from Palestine but the bastard clone of an all powerful Roman. The Vatican and Staphorst [NB: Staphorst is the stronghold of Dutch Protestantism] simply chose the wrong figure as Redeemer – namely a fictitious one.

The important fact is that the life of Caesar has been handed down in great detail with absolutely no miracles. Just the reverse is true with Christ. For Carotta that is reason enough to assume that we are dealing with two mirror image halves of a single biography. Jesus was never mention in any historical source before the evangelists. The oldest gospel, that of Mark, is generally dated shortly after the year 70 AD. The canonized version was written in Greek, however many Latinisms hint that this text was translated from Latin. Chance?

It has also been well established that the cult of divine Julius became very popular in the eastern part of the Roman Empire thanks to his soldiers and their descendants. Starting in the third quarter of the first century reports of this cult disappear. Such a disappearance would have been recorded by historians of the time. At exactly the same time a new sect abruptly appears in the sources. In the beginning it was not referred to as christiani but (as Tacitus says) as chrestiani, named Christos, which in Greek means “the anointed one”, Chrêstos for “the good”, an attribute officially given to divine Caesar and inscribed on the pedestal of his cult figure. Chance? A mistake in writing or a symbiosis is quickly made later in Palestine as other ideas of a Messiah, originating in Judaism blend in with the Julius-religion imported from Rome.

Both the Romans and the Jews wrote on scrolls from time immemorial. Caesar introduced the ideologically tinged technological innovation, more practical, bound Codex made of papyrus. The traditional use of scrolls, however, remained for a long time afterwards. It is known that the gospels in spite of persistent Jewish tradition were written directly in book form. The book quickly became a symbol for Christianity: the same ideological choice or was it chance?

Divus Julius was especially popular as a sort of imperial anti-god [Gegengott] with all those who emphatically refused to pay the necessary divine respect to the emperor of the moment, just as Christians did. Chance? Many of the shrines of Divus Julius in cities founded by Caesar or named after him are suddenly transformed into the first Churches of the Savior and Venus Temples in the same cities become Churches honoring the Virgin Mary. Chance? Caesar saw himself as the son of Venus and thus after he became divine, Venus became the mother of god. Speculation? Certainly, but without speculation based on reasonable arguments a classical historian will never get any further because of the lack of ample sources.

By using Mark as a starting point the author arrives directly at a number of remarkable conclusions concerning the Passion of Christ. The other three evangelists play much less of a role because their texts, as most everyone agrees, are younger and can therefore be regarded as less authentic. Mark only describes what he has indirectly heard with all the contradictions and muddled things associated with them. The Matthew and Luke gospels seem to be more editorial work, of completing things and interpretation. This is even more so for John who is the undisputed youngest of the four writers. He proves himself to be a propagandist and novelist who in order to make the story more effective makes it much nicer, more sensational and more logical then reality.

Carotta nearly falls directly in the house with the door: the crucifixion was not a crucifixion. That literally cannot be found anywhere in Mark which follows a careful study of the reliable Greek text. The author correctly comments that we tend to see what we know and not to know what we see. That means: The familiar idea of certain events unconsciously causes us to recognize them automatically in other descriptions and read more into them then is actually there. Concretely said: According to Carotta the Greek work stauroô which in Mark was translated ‘crucify’ means quite literally something completely different: the installation of posts and slats. This can be interpreted as a paraphrasing of crucify within certain traditions burden with prejudice and of course with a lot of good will, but it does not have to be. In view of the situation the Greek word used seems much more to mean the piling up of wood around the dead, in order to build a pyre.

Before anyone thinks that Carotta burns Jesus alive: according to the author Jesus was already long dead. What is very noticeable in Mark is that Jesus never says another word after he was taken prisoner on the 15th of the month Nisan in Gethsemane. In John there are entire monologues up until the cross. But this is not so in the oldest evangelist. When standing before the Jewish scribes the otherwise so talkative Jesus “In the beginning was the word” leaves all questions unanswered except for a meaningless, “You say it.” Carotta‘s daring assumption is: Jesus was no longer alive, he died when he was taken prisoner. The scene in Gethsemane with the necessary rattling of weapons corresponds to the murder of Caesar on the 15th of March in 44 B.C. What follows in the gospels is a confused account of Caesar’s posthumous trial (!) and the ceremony which follows for the cremation of his body as it is described in detail in Appian, Sueton and Cassius. The scribes are the senators, the patres conscripti in Latin. The source of later misinterpretation? In Mark after Gethsemane Jesus is never mentioned as “going” himself, instead he is “brought”, “lead away”, and finally “carried” to Golgotha. That can also be regarded as part of a definite ceremony with a body.

There are other remarkable things in this connection: Caesar’s body was taken to the “Capitol.” Capitolium, in classical Latin, means: place of skulls the same as Golgotha. It is know that the most obvious element of Caesar’s public funeral and cremation was a large cross (tropaeum) placed at the head of the bier with a wax figure of divine Caesar on it. According to proper Roman custom an actor, wearing a mask of the dead person repeated some meaningful quotes of the person who had died. There we find the precursor of the last words of Jesus on the cross.

How can a story about Rome be so easily moved to Palestine? That is simply because in the Roman description of the end of Caesar’s life places and people are expressed in generalities: Not Rome, but ‘the city’, not Caesar, but ‘the savior’, the ‘high priest’, ‘He’ or ‘the son of god’. ‘Synedrion’, as the staff of the scribes was called, was an often used term for the senate. And Romans were everywhere.

The only ones to be named by name where the Jews: They were also there in Rome, but in a somewhat different role from that described in the New Testament. Paul, who is recognized for actually giving Christianity its form, is to thank for the negative coloring. According to Carotta another historical figure is hidden behind Paul and his detailed theory is no less sensational than what we have described here. Anyone who wants to know who Paul really is has to read Carotta’s study.

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