Warning: this post might be offensive to Christians.
Being an atheist, obviously, I have rejected Jesus Christ as God. I am well aware that according to Biblical scripture, this makes me an antichrist ( but not The Antichrist, whose description I do not meet). However, I do not recognize the Bible as a legitimate authority; I do not accept this label of hatred and bigotry.
That being said, I do like to study the historicity behind the cult of the Christ. Looking at the formation of Christianity from an outside, atheistic point of view is fascinating. I don’t know who they were but I can almost see the shadows of a mysterious, well-meaning group of manipulators.
The Roman Empire, based on polytheism was corrupt from the beginning. Their deities were sleazy and war-like, and their religion filled with obligatory sacrifices which encouraged violence. The Roman emperors were considered gods, often abused their positions and emulated their debauched gods with sexual perversity and violence. There was no way there would ever be a gentle way of life. This had to be ended.
Worshipped prostitution was still practiced. This practice, also called sacred prostitution, had been wide-spread throughout the ancient world. It consisted of women and men who would sit in a temple, represent a deity, and exchange sexual acts in exchange for gifts.
In places like Mesopotamia, it was an everyday practice and many ordinary citizens, as well as nobility, would take part before getting married. Obviously, without birth control and proper preventative methods, unwanted children and disease were rampant. Infanticide was regularly practiced by abandoning unwanted infants. The Jewish people and other groups like the Zoroastrians with their concepts of sexual purity and morality hated this religious practice.
A side note: In Revelations, there is an apocalyptic character called the Whore of Babylon. Popular theories make her out to be a place, or an organization, however through my studies, I have determined that she would be a woman, or a group led by a woman who revives worshipped prostitution. Historically, kings would often visit them in the belief they would bring blessings to their kingdoms. The prostitution cults struggled to hang on, and it makes sense that early Christians would see a reemergence of this practice as a potential threat.
Contained within the borders of the Roman Empire were the subjugated Jews with their monotheism and eternal wait for their Messiah. They clashed regularly with the Romans because they would not accept any god but their own. In general, the Jewish were rather clean and moral people- but for one thing- their deity still required blood sacrifices and burnt offerings.
There was another, more secretive cult as well, very similar to that of the Jewish Messiah: the Grecian Kristos, or Chrestos. This information is hard to find- knowledge of this cult has been supressed. There are hints that Chrest meant more than “to anoint with oil”. It can mean, ‘good’, a priest or prophet, an oracle or a hero. So it seems that whatever this cult was, which I can only glean from hints and reading between the lines, some people were waiting for a great heroic figure to make the world better, a spiritual king of some sort, possibly to open the doors of the Elysian Fields, Grecian Heaven, to the common people.
Popular cults amongst the Romans at the turn of millenia were Mithras, and Sol Invictus- a combination cult of Helios, Apollo and other sun deities, their birthdays celebrated on December 25th. These as well as Horus, Dionysus, Attis and plenty of other deities had a virgin mother and died to save the world.
The Jewish Messiah problem was out of control at the turn of the millennia with claimants all over Judea inciting insurrection and getting crucified and beheaded in the process. I hypothesize the legend of the Messiah merged with the mysterious Chrestos, which is what truly led to the drama. If both the Jewish and Gentiles could be united under a single Chosen One, peace would ensue.
Josephus, a first century historian, did an excellent job documenting possible Messiah claimants active around the time attributed to Jesus.
This list was compiled by an unknown author on the internet. The credit goes to him:
Judas, son of Hezakiah – Around 4 BC Judas, in the confusion after the death of Herod the Great, this Judas who Josephus calls “head of the robbers” assaulted the royal palace in the new city of Sepphoris in Galilee, not far from what was to be Jesus’ home village of Nazareth. He seized the weapons in the armoury there, stole all the money he could find and terrorized the surrounding countryside. Josephus also says he had “an ambitious desire of the royal dignity”, though whether he actually declared himself the kingly Messiah or whether others did so is not known. It’s not clear what happened to him, but the Roman governor of Syria, Publius Quinctilius Varus, later marched south to put down a number of uprisings in this year so it’s likely he and his band were destroyed by the Romans in this campaign.
Simon of Peraea – At the same time, following the death of Herod, one of his servants called Simon of Peraea was acclaimed as king largely because, according to Josephus, he was ” a comely person, of a tall and robust body”. He was crowned with the royal diadem and proceeded to burn and plunder a number of royal palaces. Herod’s former commander Gratus gathered a body of men and, reinforced by some Roman troops, fought a pitched battle against Simon’s followers. Simon himself fled the battle but was caught and beheaded. Again, whether Simon or anyone else declared him the Messiah is unknown.
Judas the Galilean – Once the insurrections were put down, Herod’s territory was divided between his sons, who ruled on the Romans’ behalf as client kings. The tetrarch Herod Archelaus proved a particularly ineffective ruler and in AD 6 he was deposed and Judea was placed under direct Roman rule. A Galilean named Judas and a Pharisee called Zadok stirred up the people in reaction to this and began a revolt which was savagely repressed by Varus (see above), who Josephus says crucified 2000 people by the time his campaign was over. Again, whether Judas claimed to be or was seen to be the Messiah is unclear, though a later speech depicted in Acts 5:36-37 has a Pharisee compare him to Jesus, so this is possible.
The Samaritan Prophet – Not long after Jesus’ execution, around AD 36, a Samaritan prophet began declaring that he knew of certain “sacred vessels” which Moses had deposited on Mount Gerzim, which was the holy mountain on which Samaritan Jews worshipped instead of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans gathered “in a great multitude” and also armed themselves (Josephus doesn’t tell us why) which alarmed the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. He sent cohorts of both infantry and cavalry to block their approach to the mountain and the followers of the prophet were defeated in the battle that followed. Josephus says the “principal leaders” of this group were executed but doesn’t say if they included the prophet himself. Again, we don’t know if he or anyone else declared himself the Messiah.
Theudas – Around AD 45 another prophet called Theudas declared that he could part the river Jordan and led “a great part of the people” to the river to demonstrate his power. The Roman procurator Cuspius Fadus led a detachment of cavalry to intercept him, “slew many of them”, captured Theudas and beheaded him. Like Judas the Galilean, Theudas is compare to Jesus in Acts 5:36-37, so it’s possible that he too was considered to be the Messiah.
The Egyptian – Sometime in the 50s AD an unnamed Egyptian Jew led a multitude of followers out of Jerusalem and into the desert where he promised them God would “show them the signs of liberty”. Josephus later says he led them to within sight of the walls of Jerusalem and claimed ” he would show them from hence how the walls of Jerusalem would fall down at his command.” The Roman procurator Marcus Antonius Felix led “a great number” of infantry and cavalry against this prophet’s followers and killed several hundred of them, though Josephus doesn’t say what happened to the Egyptian.
Anonymous Prophet – In AD 59 another prophet arose who “promised (the people) deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under”. He and his followers were killed by troops sent out by the procurator Porcius Festus.
Menahem – At the beginning of the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 AD, the son or grandson of Judas the Galilean, called Menahem, seized weapons from the royal palace at Masada and entered Jerusalem at the head of a body of rebels, dressed as a king. He became the leader of the rebellion, but soon made enemies amongst the other rebels and was eventually overthrown by the faction of Eleasar, the former captain of the Temple guards. Menahem fled Jerusalem but was captured, tortured and executed.
Jonathan the Weaver – Around AD 73 a weaver called Jonathan led a large number of followers into the desert to “show them signs and apparitions”. Despite the fact they were unarmed, the governor Catullus attacked them. Jonathan fled but was later captured and, presumably, executed.
Simon ben Kosiba – This is the only example apart from Jesus that we know was claimed to be the Messiah. The influential elderly rabbi Akiva declared ben Kosiba to be God’s anointed and changed his name to ben Kokhba (‘son of the star”) and led a four year rebellion against Rome which was finally brutally crushed by Hadrian in AD 136. Interestingly, the Christian writer Justin says Simon persecuted Christians, ordering them to be executed unless they denied Jesus was the Messiah – clearly he didn’t like the idea of rival claimants, even dead ones.
Missing from this list is Athronges the Shepherd, who like Simon of Paraea, accepted a diadem, made himself king, and caused a great deal of trouble for Herod and the Romans around the year 6 AD.
Josephus wrote of him:
“But because Athronges, a person neither eminent by the dignity of his progenitors; nor for any great wealth he was possessed of; but one that had in all respects been a shepherd only, and was not known by any body: yet because he was a tall man, and excelled others in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for King.”
“While he put a diadem about his head, and assembled a council to debate about what things should be done, and all things were done according to his pleasure. And this man retained his power a great while: he was also called King; and had nothing to hinder him from doing what he pleased. He also, as well as his brethren, slew a great many both of the Romans, and of the King’s forces; and managed matters with the like hatred to each of them. The King’s forces they fell upon, because of the licentious conduct they had been allowed under Herod’s government: and they fell upon the Romans, because of the injuries they had so lately received from them. But in process of time they grew more cruel to all sorts of men. Nor could any one escape from one or other of these seditions. Since they slew some out of the hopes of gain; and others from a mere custom of slaying men. They once attacked a company of Romans at Emmaus; who were bringing corn and weapons to the army: and fell upon Arius, the centurion, who commanded the company, and shot forty of the best of his foot soldiers. But the rest of them were affrighted at their slaughter, and left their dead behind them, but saved themselves by the means of Gratus; who came with the King’s troops that were about him to their assistance.”
A poor shepherd who was made a king! There is scriptural evidence of Jesus being a rebel leader. He is quoted as saying that comes with a sword and advises his followers to sell their cloaks to buy swords. Josephus’s accounts are second hand, rather than an eye witness accounts of his own, so many details are obviously missing. But it is obvious he worked hard to give as thorough of an account as he could.
The Jewish Messiah did not have to have a virgin mother. But Mithras, Horus and Dionysus did. However, virgin, might have a greater meaning. Throughout Rome were clergy known as Virgin Priestesses, young girls who were initiated and consecrated to a deity. The most famous were the Vestal Virgins.
In fact, the founding of Rome featured a Vestal prominently. And the myth echoes certain aspects of the Christ story.
The story of the founding of Rome goes back to the myth of Romulus and Remus, two boys born of a Vestal Virgin who claimed to have been impregnated by the god, Mars, to save her own life. It was considered such a sacrilege for a Vestal to lose her virginity that the punishment was to be buried alive. Romulus and Remus were thrown into a river to drown because of this.
In the Apocryphal Nativity Gospels, Mary was taken to a temple at the age of three and dedicated as a consecrated Virgin. The Jewish religion does not have consecrated virgins. As a teenager, she was married, in secret, to a man named Joseph. Soon after, she becomes pregnant and Joseph is horrified because she was to remain a virgin. She has to be smuggled away to save her life and gives birth to Jesus in a cave.
In the Biblical nativity story of Jesus, the very special virgin Mary (Mariam) had to run for her life after getting pregnant by “God”, her special child hunted down by a roman official. The slaughter of the innocents appears in the apocrypha and seems like an echo of the attempted murder of Romulus and Remus.
If you put together the popular myths of Rome, and pieces of the stories of the rebel insurgents, plus the myth of Zoroaster, the Jesus-like savior of the Zoroastrians, who were very much like Christians, it’s easy to see the origins of the Christ story. And it served its purpose. When Rome was Christianized, state-required sacrifices and worshipped prostitution cults were abolished.
The desire to end the debauchery and perversion are expressed in Prudentius’s prayer for a Christian Rome:
“Grant, Christ, to your Romans through which you have granted that all other cities shall be of one mind in worship may be Christian. All parts of the Empire are allied in faith; the world it has subdued grows gentle. May its capitol, too, grow gentle. May she see that lands far apart are uniting in one state of grace; may Romulus become one of the faithful Numa himself now believe… Depart adulterous Jupiter, defiled with sex with your sister, leave Rome free and flee from its people who are now Christ’s . Paul exiles your from here, and the blood of Peter drives you out, and the deeds of Nero, for which you put the sword in his hand, redounds on you.”
Sadly, any regime which is based on a lie will fail due to its own hypocrisy, no matter how honorable the intentions. Christendom is, in so many ways, just as violent and degraded as its Roman predecessor, with its money scams and sex abuse scandals. And it threatens to be taken over by a Moslem regime which is even more putrid with religiously sanctioned rape, child molestation and outright violence.
Christianity served its purpose by converting superstitious and violent people over to a gentler way of life, when there was no other option. But its time is coming to an end. It is time for something more enlightened, something real. Humanity can not be left to rot in the dark ages.