April 23, 2006May 21, 2006Meeting Report

May 5, 2006

Joseph Atwill

The Roman Invention of Christianity

This outstanding meeting was attended by 30 people. 

Caesar's Messiah Book CoverJoseph AtwillJoseph Atwill is the author of Caesar's Messiah. His book argues that Christianity was created by a circle of people around the emperors Vespasian and Titus.

On the back cover of the book, Robert Eisenman, author of James the Brother of Jesus, says, "Challenging and provocative. If what Joseph Atwill is saying is only partly true, we are looking into the abyss." 

The Roman Invention of Christianity is a very provocative title, even for Humanists. It is not only a direct challenge to the very basis of the Christian religion, but one that is radically different from other critiques of that faith.

Joseph Atwill is not a professional biblical scholar. He had a Jesuit education in Japan, where he learned Latin and Greek. As an adult, he worked in computer science. In recent years, he has studied not only the Old and New Testaments, but the political, social and military history of ancient Judea at the time the Christian Gospels were written. This was a time in which the Jews were in open revolt against their Roman occupiers. The Jews were strict monotheists in a pagan, polytheistic world, and at times had zealots as leaders. They were particularly aghast at having to allow the Romans to erect statues of Caesar inside their own Jewish houses of worship. They took up arms against the Romans in at least two major revolts and inflicted heavy casualties on the Legions.

Mr. Atwill suggests that some of the Romans concocted Christianity as a way of co-opting part of the Jewish population to accept a pacifist religion that would "Render unto Caesar" while appearing to fulfill the predictions of the Hebrew prophets about a messiah. If they were successful in this the occupation of Judea would be much easier for the Romans. Atwill made textual comparisons between the gospels and other writings of the period, particularly Roman writings that mocked the Macabees, who were in revolt against Rome, and found a lot of parallels that were statistically unlikely unless there was a clear connection between the two texts. He concluded that Christianity had been invented for political reasons.

In response to a question about Dan Brown's novel, The DaVinci Code, Mr. Atwill said that that book is a work of fiction and not nearly as threatening to Christian beliefs as his own critique. It might even deflect interest in a deeper critique of Christianity.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, Recorder

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