This is the most exciting book on Jesus that I know. I was fortunate to read it in galleys and have had some time to reflect on it. Every church, every synagogue and seminary should set up groups to work on its implications. These extraordinary new discoveries will have a major role to play in the current ‘culture wars’ about the place of religion in public life.
Professor Robert Eisenman, Director of the Institute for the Study of Judeo-Christian Origins, California State University, calls Atwill’s work “challenging and provocative”. Professor Rod Blackhirst , Professor of Biblical Studies, La Trobe University, calls it “Fascinating and of course profoundly challenging….a milestone in New Testament studies…..a fantastic, ice-breaking contribution”. Both these scholars used the word “challenging”. They are right. Atwill’s book is a major challenge to the existing model of how Christianity originated, and a major threat to the hypothesis of the Historical Jesus—seeing him instead as a literary character in a Roman fraud.
Caesar’s Messiah has three unique and amazing features:
(1) Atwill is willing to look objectively at the facts and discard false assumptions. He makes rational judgments of the evidence and follows the implications wherever they lead. He is therefore able to show what others have missed. This is enormously exciting and refreshing.
(2) His discovery that the key events in the life of Jesus are literary satires of events in the Roman military campaign in Judea (66-70CE) shows definitively that these parts of the gospels (and one might infer probably the rest as well) were created by the Romans to deceive the Jews into worshipping a false literary messiah.
(3) His discovery that the so called ‘Testimonium’ passage in Josephus’s book Jewish Antiquities is essentially a confession by the Flavian Emperors that they wore the ‘mask’ of Jesus as a false god to seduce the Jews into worshipping them in disguise, is also an ground-breaking discovery.
Atwill heads an independent research group, the Roman Origins Institute, and previously worked on the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, his latest work will transform the field of NT research. However this new paradigm of Jesus does raise several concerns:
(1) It is emotionally hard to learn that the character of the Virgin Mary was really a satire of Cannibal Mary during the siege of Jerusalem, and that a close reading of the Gospel of John shows that Lazarus is taken out of the tomb only to provide the substance for a cannibal feast. As the text says ‘they made him a supper’ (KJV,ASV, NASB,LITV translations).
(2) Caesar’s Messiah does not situate its findings within the existing NT scholarly literature and does not spell out how the entirety of the Gospels was actually created. It also does not discuss the implications of its thesis on the Pauline Letters and on the Book of Acts. If the Gospels are literary fakes then can both the Letters and Acts be proven to be fakes as well? The Institute’s next book, covers these issues in detail, providing additional support for Atwill’s thesis.
(3) Atwill will not endear himself to other NT scholars. He insists on a very high standard of evidence, and backs his findings where necessary with statistical analyses. This is similar to his ground breaking work on dating the Scrolls, published in the Dead Sea Scrolls Journal. Atwill sets standards that, to their frustration, other scholars will have difficulty in matching.