Archive for August, 2009

Did the “Christians” Burn Rome?

August 23, 2009

History has blamed Nero for the disaster, implying that he started the fire so that he could bypass the senate and rebuild Rome to his liking. Much of what is known about the great fire of Rome comes from the aristocrat and historian Tacitus, who claimed that Nero watched Rome burn while merrily playing his fiddle. Gangs of thugs prevented citizens from fighting the fire with threats of torture, Tacitus wrote. There is some support for the theory that Nero leveled the city on purpose: the Domus Aurea, Nero’s majestic series of villas and pavilions set upon a landscaped park and a man-made lake, was built in the wake of the fire.  Certainly, it’s hard to know whether to trust the allegations in the writings of Tacitus.

What about the explanation offered by Nero, that the Christians were to blame? At least one scholar believes Nero was on the mark. Professor Gerhard Baudy of the University of Konstanz in Germany has spent 15 years studying ancient apocalyptic prophecies. He has learned that in the poor districts of Rome, Christians were circulating vengeful texts predicting that a raging inferno would reduce the city to ashes. “In all of these oracles, the destruction of Rome by fire is prophesied,” Baudy explains. “That is the constant theme: Rome must burn. This was the long-desired objective of all the people who felt subjugated by Rome.” (Secrets of the Dead)

At the Palais des Nations in Geneva on September 2, 1983, Yasir Arafat espoused a unique interpretation of the life of the Apostle Peter:

“We were under Roman imperialism. We sent a Palestinian fisherman, called St. Peter, to Rome. He not only occupied Rome, but also won the hearts of the people. We know how to resist imperialism and occupation. Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their Cross.”  (“Yasir’s Terrorist Jesus”)

Muslim traditions are very comfortable with a militant zealots like Jesus and Peter. They preserve Eastern Christian traditions about Jesus and his less than peaceful apostles (many of whom belonged to the party of the Zealots or to the more radical Sicarrii).   

The Gospel of Peter reads like a rap sheet:

“And I and my companions were grieved; and being wounded in mind we hid ourselves: for we were being sought for by them as malefactors, and as wishing to set fire to the temple.”

As portrayed by the Gospel writer, Peter and his companion were suspected arsonists. This is in addition to lopping off the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus (John 18:10-11), a rather unique attribute for the number one follower of the prince of peace.  Simon Bar Jonah is not the son of a dove (“Bar Yonah”) as Matthew 16:22-23 portrays him.  The name is a corruption for the Hebrew word for Zealot or Bandit, that is “Baryonim.”

But, didin his Histories leaves it open as to whether Nero or the “Christians” (Jewish and Gentile varieties included) did it.

What about the explanation offered by Nero, that the Christians were to blame? At least one scholar believes Nero was right. Professor Gerhard Baudy of the University of Konstanz in Germany has spent 15 years studying ancient apocalyptic prophecies. He has claimed that in the poor districts of Rome, Christians were circulating vengeful texts predicting that a raging inferno would reduce the city to ashes. In all the oracles, especially the book of Revelation and similar apocalyptic writings, Rome burns.

 The Whore of Babylon, the source of this evil according to Revelations, is described as having seven heads. “The seven heads are seven mountains,” Revelations says. Rome, of course, is famously known as the city of seven hills.

 An ancient Egyptian prophecy would have been well known in the Christian quarters of Rome. It foretold the fall of the great evil city on the day that the dog star, Sirius, rises. In 64 A.D., Sirius rose on July 19, the very day the fire of Rome started. Baudy and other scholars believe that, some of the Christians (especially Jews), maltreated and embittered, may have done it, — or at least lit additional fires, adding fuel in hopes of fulfilling their prophecies.  This led directly to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, as we shall see in a future article.

Bibliography:

PBS Film Secrets of the Dead:  The Great Fire of Rome

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/previous_seasons/case_rome/clues.html

“Yasser’s Terrorist Jesus” : David G. Littman FrontPageMagazine.com, November 15, 2004
http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=10582

For Further Reading:

Bibliography:

Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, Herford, R. Travers. Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1975, reprint of 1903 edition.

Jesus and the Zealots, SGF Brandon. Scribners, New York, 1967.

The Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia, Kantor, Mattis. Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ, 1992.

Josephus, the Jewish War, Trans. G. A. Williamson, Penguin, 1959.

The Illustrated History of the Jewish People, ed. Nicholas Lange. Key Porter Books, 1997. “The Making of the Diaspora, Oded Irshai.

The Bible translation used is the King James.

Laupot, Eric. Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans. Vigiliae Christianae 54, no. 3 (2000) 233-47

The Lost Books of the Bible, Crown Publishers, New York, 1979

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Jesus Sources Outside the New Testament 3: Sidra D’Yahya-Mandaean Book of John

August 23, 2009

Jesus is not just portrayed as a problem in Jewish sources.  He is also portrayed in a not so flattering light in the Mandaen Scriptures.  The baptism in the Jordan reveals a rivalry between Jesus and John the Baptist (Yahya):

“Thereon Yahya  answered Yeshu Messiah in Jerusalem:
Thou hast lied to the Jews and deceived the priests. Thou hast cut off their seed from the men and from the women bearing and being pregnant. The Sabbath, which Moses made binding, hast thou relaxed in Jerusalem. Thou hast lied unto them with horns and spread abroad disgrace with the shofar.”

The message from heaven does not exactly inspire faith in the would be Messiah:

“Yahya  baptize the deceiver in Jordan. Lead him down into the Jordan and baptize him and lead him up again to the shore and there set him.”

Further on, heaven warns against the followers of the cross:

” Let me warn you, my brothers, let me warn you, my beloved!Let me warn you, my brothers, against the ….who are like unto the cross. They lay it on the walls; then stand there and bow down to the block. Let me warn you, my brothers, of the god, which the carpenter has joined together. If the carpenter has joined together the god, who then has joined together the carpenter.”

What is not so clear is how Jesus won the election as Messiah.  The Mandeans exist to this day, although their numbers are tiny, probably 30,000 total.  They are last of the original practitioners of Gnosis (“secret knowledge”) of God.  They venerate John as a great prophet and scorn both Judaism and Christianity.

The Mandaens claim to have left Judea sometime after the first Jewish Revolt against Rome and migrated to Syria and then along the Euphrates River to Southern Iraq.  Centuries of wars and persecutions (as well as the recent Iraq War) have reduced their numbers to 4000-5000 in Iraq.  Undetermined numbers exist in Iran and there is a growing Mandaen diaspora.

Certainly, the growing Pauline Orthodoxy of the Western Roman Church, as well as Roman government pressure, contributed to the rise of the Roman Catholic model of Christianity as we know it today.  What the Mandaen religion provides us is a fascinating view of what might have become of “Christianity” if John the Baptist won the contest to be the Messiah.  What an election upset it would have been!

Jesus Sources Outside the New Testament 2: Otzar HaMidrashim

August 23, 2009

The Jewish word for Bible commentary is Midrash.
A revealing Midrash on Exodus 25:10-13 is recorded in the book of
Otzar HaMidrashim (Vol. 2 page 557) which explains why the
Rabbis of Temple times were terrified of the original followers
of Jesus. According to the Midrash, they were a violent group
of political agitators. Here Jesus is portrayed as a political
terrorist and a man of violence.
The reason that this Midrash is so important is that
it sheds light on what is permitted and nonpermitted
zealotry. In the passage, Pinchas slays the prince Zimri
in a moment of national rebellion, and saves thousands of Jews
in the process. The Midrash itself points out that the case is
an exception to the rule, and condemns wanton violence.
What is significant here to the search for the
historical Jesus is that it points to Jesus as a model not
to emulate because of his violence. In Matthew 10:34, he says
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not
to send peace, but a sword.” In Luke 22:36, the savior gives
his disciples an interesting instruction: [Jesus] said to
[the disciples], “…and the one who has no sword must sell his
cloak and buy one.”
Why would the prince of peace order his disciples to buy swords?
Unless they had intention to use them in battle, little else
makes sense.
So much for the sermon on the Mount! In part 2, we will
examine how Jesus is portrayed in another religion’s holy writings.
The Mandaeans, the followers of John the Baptist, survive today and
have a very different view of Jesus and the baptism in the Jordan.
Stay tuned.

Jesus Sources Outside the New Testament: The Gospel of Peter

August 23, 2009

At the Palais des Nations in Geneva on September 2, 1983, Yasir Arafat espoused a seemingly unique interpretation of the Christian Bible.

We were under Roman imperialism. We sent a Palestinian fisherman, called St. Peter, to Rome. He not only occupied Rome, but also won the hearts of the people. We know how to resist imperialism and occupation. Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their Cross.

The Muslim traditions are very comfortable with a militant Jesus and Peter.  They preserve Eastern Christians traditions about Jesus and his less than peaceful apostles.

Insights from the Gospel of Peter:

On the Upper Nile River valley’s eastern bank is the ancient Egyptian site of Akhmimin. The lost Gospel of Peter was found in a Monk’s tomb in 1884 and contains
an account of disciples suspected of some strange crimes:

 And I and my companions were grieved; and being wounded in mind we hid ourselves: for we were being sought for by them as malefactors, and as wishing to set fire to the temple.

As portrayed by the Gospel writer, Peter and his companion were in the eyes of the Roman occupiers in the same class as the men who were crucified with the Messiah. This takes on new meaning when examined against the canonical Gospels and similar
statements that they make about Jesus and his followers.

What is amazing is the reference to a plan to burn the Temple. It would seem difficult, even impossible to believe that any rational person would ever contemplate this. Unfortunately, fanaticism can drive people to do savage things, even to their sacred
places.

The Implications of the Gospel of Peter and the First Jewish Revolt:

The Gospel of Peter places the blame for the crucifixion upon the Priests and Rabbis and excuses Pontius Pilate of any culpability. Again, what is so amazing about the passage we looked at earlier is the feature about disciples being charged with plotting to burn the Temple. Even more amazing is how well it matches up with the accounts of the Roman historians who classify the early Christians as lestai (bandits,
assassins).

Tacitus in his Histories  states tha the Christians were killed for allegedly committingacts of arson, starting the famous fire during the reign of Nero in 64 CE. The historian Suetonius in his history of the emperor Claudius mentions a group he calls impulsore chresto (messianic insurgents) who hadcaused rioting in Rome. Claudius redeployed thousands of Roman troops in several legions to guard facilities like the port at Ostia outside of Rome from arson and sabotage.

 

Roman fears were on target. The Christian individuals in the canonical gospels are closely associated with zealots, and the individuals in the Gospel of Peter are suspected of zealot-like activities.  Josephus described this “philosophy” well, and by using our “Josephus Test,” these individuals should be considered zealots because of the many reputable reports of their close association with and activities like those of Zealots and the Sicarii.

In a very interesting passage, the Roman Christian historian Severus quotes from volume five of Tacitus’ Histories. This volume was lost, so only quotations from other extant authors who preserve sections of it exist. In his description of the siege of the Temple in 70 CE, the Roman general Titus calls a staff meeting. He throws open the question of whether or not to destroy the Temple. He favored doing it and advocated this because the Temple was the ultimate source of inspiration for both the Jews and the christiani, the term that early Hebrew Christians called themselves.

Whether Titus set the fire first or the Zealots did is not completely clear. Like the Branch Davidian siege 2000 years later, the results clear. The Gospel of Peter indicates that such an idea existed in Zealot theology. The destruction of the Temple severed the link between Christianity and Judaism forever, completely transforming what had been a sect of Judaism into a completely new religion.

Bibliography:

Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, Herford, R. Travers. Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1975, reprint of 1903 edition.

Jesus and the Zealots, SGF Brandon. Scribners, New York, 1967.

The Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia, Kantor, Mattis. Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ, 1992.

Josephus, the Jewish War, Trans. G. A. Williamson, Penguin, 1959.

The Illustrated History of the Jewish People, ed. Nicholas Lange. Key Porter Books, 1997. “The Making of the Diaspora, Oded Irshai.

The Bible translation used is the King James.

Laupot, Eric. Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans. Vigiliae Christianae 54, no. 3 (2000) 233-47

The Lost Books of the Bible, Crown Publishers, New York, 1979

Infancy Code

August 23, 2009

Both Jesus’ mother Mary and the Magdalene impacted Jesus’ life. His origins are revealed in the Arabic Infancy Gospel attributed to the apostle Thomas. The Infancy Gospel is historically significant because it gives a chance to date Jesus’ exile to Egypt.

Verse 1:4 says, “In the three hundred and ninth year of the era of Alexander, Augustus published a decree…” The slaughter of children by Herod such as is recorded in Luke’s nativity story and in the Infancy Gospel begins Jesus’ exile. Subject peoples were forced to date their civil calendars from the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest of their countries. Alexander conquered Judea in 333. At present scholars date the nativity to 4-5 BCE. The time for the exile for the young Jesus was about 29-30 BCE according to the Infancy Gospel.

The Magi visit from the East presented Herod with an immediate political and military problem. This Parthian delegation of warrior priests would have brought with it a sizable armed contingent. The Parthian empire’s invasion of Judea and installation of Antigonus II of the Maccabean dynasty in 40 BCE was still fresh in Herod’s twisted, paranoid mind when he was forced to flee and return in 39 BCE with a Roman army to retake the country.

Herod was obsessed with protecting Judea from Parthia. He wanted to prevent Roman intervention in his affairs and the end of his regime. Therefore, he purged his uncle Joseph and his wife Mariamne (Mary) whom Herod accused of having affair. Eventually, he snuffed out his own children from Mariamne out of fear that they plotted to reinstitute Maccabean rule as well.

This first “Mary and Joseph story” supplements the Gospel accounts with what are the political elements that were censored out by the church. The Mary and Joseph in Herod’s household are parallel to the Mary and Joseph stories of the Gospels and the Talmud. Origen refers to Joseph as Pantera, the Greek form of the Aramaic name that the Talmud Shabbath 104b uses for Jesus. To add further to this, the Talmud designates Miriam as a hairdresser or harlot in Hagigah 4b. In Aramaic, this is magadla. Like Mary Magdalene, a woman suspected of illicit relations.

The Christians did not accept that the stories of Mary Magdalene were connected to Miriam the mother of Jesus in the Talmud. They argued that the name “Magdalene” means a person from Magdala and that Jews invented “Miriam the hairdresser (mgadla nshaya) either to mock the Christians, or out of their own misunderstanding of the name “Magdalene.”

Unfortunately, this ignores Greek grammar. The correct Greek form “of Magdala” would be “Magdales” and the correct Greek form for a person from Magdala is “Magdalaios.” Secondly, Magdala only got its name after the Gospels were written. Before that it was called Magadan or Dalmanutha. The ruins of this area were renamed Magdala by the Christians because they believed that Mary Magdalene had come from there.

To see Joseph as a nagauro (carpenter, wiseman) would be natural. In Talmudic Aramaic, a scholar, philosopher or political figure was referred to colloquially as a carpenter or craftsman. Later Christian theologians misunderstood and literally interpreted nagauro as a carpenter. Joseph was an adviser to Herod and second in command to Herod.

The church father Origen noted in Origen Contra Celsum that the name of Jesus’ father was Pantera to discount the Roman philosopher Celsus’s story of Jesus’ father being a Roman centurion by that name. However, Origen does not mention the Herodian connection to this name. Herod’s uncle Joseph would have taken a Roman name and citizenship, just as his nephew Herod had.

Archaeology has produced evidence as well. In 1906, a tombstone belonging to a Roman soldier named Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera was found in Bingerbrück, Germany. The tomb belonged to a Jewish or Semitic Roman soldier who served in the Roman army under Tiberius Caesar. The name was used by Jewish and Semitic soldiers as a military nickname.

The image of Jesus being a descendent of the Davidic dynasty is challenged by Herodian and Maccabean connections to Jesus. It was important for the Church to distance itself from these connections. Both Matthew and Luke give genealogies to try to prove their point. Both fail. For instance, they contradict on the number of generations from David to Jesus. Matthew lists 28 generations (1:6-16) while Luke lists 43 ( 3:23-31).

Another contradictory tradition to Jesus’ Davidic descent was that Mary’s family was descended from Levites. In the Gospel of Luke and in The Infancy of Mary, it is shown that Mary was related to the Levite family of John the Baptist. What is especially striking is that in chapter one of the book of Luke, John’s the Baptist’s father had a vision in the temple in the Holy of Holies where he is by himself. Only the high priest did this, and then only on Yom Kippur when he atoned for Israel’s sins.

Undoubtedly, the family is not only Levitical, but also had high priests in their lineage making them invalid as kings of Israel from the rabbinical point of view. Jewish law forbids a leader of non-Davidic descent except in an emergency. Since the Maccabees disregarded these laws, they were enemies of the rabbis.

To decipher the confused stories of the life of Jesus, Jewish sources and sources outside of the canonical Gospels must be used. Without the Talmud and extra-canonical Gospels no one can be unsuccessful in recovering the original Jewish-Christian traditions.