October 27, 2023

The Political Construction of Jesus To Counter Messianic Jews And The Worship of the Roman Emperors

During his thirteen year reign from 41 to 54 Emperor Claudius expanded Roman citizenship, carried out a vast infrastructure program, and conquered new lands.

From Emperor Claudius's "Letter to the Alexandrians":
As for the question , which party was responsible for the riots and feud (or rather, if the truth be told, the war) with the Jews, although in confrontation with their opponents your ambassadors, and particularly Dionysios the son of Theon, contended with great zeal, nevertheless I was unwilling to make a strict inquiry, though guarding within me a store of immutable indignation against whichever party renews the conflict. And I tell you once and for all that unless you put a stop to this ruinous and obstinate enmity against each other, I shall be driven to show what a benevolent Prince can be when turned to righteous indignation. Wherefore, once again I conjure you that, on the one hand, the Alexandrians show themselves forebearing and kindly towards the Jews who for many years have dwelt in the same city, and dishonor none of the rites observed by them in the worship of their god, but allow them to observe their customs as in the time of the Deified Augustus, which customs I also, after hearing both sides, have sanctioned; and on the other hand, I explicitly order the Jews not to agitate for more privileges than they formerly possessed, and not in the future to send out a separate embassy as though they lived in a separate city (a thing unprecedented), and not to force their way into gymnasiarchic or cosmetic games, while enjoying their own privileges and sharing a great abundance of advantages in a city not their own, and not to bring in or admit Jews who come down the river from Egypt or from Syria, a proceeding which will compel me to conceive serious suspicions. Otherwise I will by all means take vengeance on them as fomenters of which is a general plague infecting the whole world. If, desisting from these courses, you consent to live with mutual forebearance and kindliness, I on my side will exercise a solicitude of very long standing for the city, as one which is bound to us by traditional friendship. I bear witness to my friend Barbillus of the solicitude which he has always shown for you in my presence and of the extreme zeal with which he has now advocated your cause; and likewise to my friend Tiberius Claudius Archibius.


An excerpt from, "The Worship of the Roman Emperors" By Henry Fairfield Burton, The Biblical World, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Aug., 1912):

The impulse that led to the deification of the Roman emperors' came from the East. The Pharaohs and the Ptolemies, Lycurgus and Lysander of Sparta, and Alexander the Great were worshiped as divinities both while living and when dead. When Rome conquered the East, the same divine honors were transferred to the Roman proconsuls. Naturally, then, when a single ruler of the empire appeared, he was acclaimed as a god in the eastern provinces. Meanwhile the way had been prepared for the imperial worship in the minds of the Romans themselves. The heroes of Roman legend, as Aeneas, Latinus, Romulus, whom the Romans accepted as historical personages and as the founders of the nation, were believed to be of divine descent and were themselves honored as deities. It was natural, therefore, that the founder of the empire, a new and greater Rome, should likewise be regarded as a god and be accorded the same homage. Another precursor of the imperial cult was the worship of the Dea Roma. This divinity, the personification of the growing power of Rome in the East, was a Greek invention. Temples were first erected to her in the second century B.C. in Asia Minor, her cult became associated with that of the emperor both in the East and in the West during the reign of Augustus and finally received full recognition at the capital through the building of Hadrian's great temple of Venus and Roma.

. . .The Roman worship of rulers began with Julius Caesar. Divine honors were paid to him during his lifetime. Before his return to Rome after the victory at Pharsalus his statue was erected on the Capitoline bearing the title demigod, which, however, he afterward ordered erased. After his return his statue was placed among those of the ancient deities in the circus. Another statue was inscribed Deo Invicto. Games were established in his honor as if he were a god. All this was pure flattery, which was probably taken seriously by no one, least of all by Caesar himself. It was merely the recognition of his newly won supremacy over the Roman world, and as such was accepted by him, just as he accepted the legend of the descent of the Julian family from the goddess Venus and built a temple to her as Venus Genitrix, the mother of his race.

This extravagant homage irritated his enemies and was doubt-less one of the influences that led to his assassination. But Caesar's death transformed the compliments of his flatterers into a genuine cult. Popular enthusiasm over his achievements and indignation at his death found expression in religious adoration. It was really the Roman populace that raised Caesar to the rank of a god. The common people, Suetonius tells us, were convinced of his divinity. But Octavian, who as the emperor Augustus was destined to succeed him as sole ruler, promptly identified himself with the popular movement. The senate formally conferred upon Caesar the title of Divus, "the deified," and ordered a temple to be erected for his worship.

When Octavian by the defeat of his rivals brought the whole Roman world under his sway, he too was universally hailed as a god. There was doubtless the same mingling of flattery and sincerity in the homage paid to him as in that accorded to Julius Caesar, and his attitude toward it was much the same as that which had been taken by Caesar. As the grand-nephew and adoptive son of Julius he used the title Divi Filius in documents and on coins. The title Augustus, "the venerable," conferred by the senate and adopted by him as a surname, had a religious significance as designating one worthy of reverence, and marked him as more than man. But Augustus refused to accept divine honors at Rome. He allowed no temple to be erected to him in the city. He was under no illusion as to his divine powers. When envoys came to report to him that a palm had sprung up on one of his altars, he made light of the alleged miracle with the remark, "Evidently you do not often burn incense there." Yet for political reasons he encouraged the new worship in the provinces and even permitted the provincials to build temples in his honor, but always with the proviso that they be dedicated to the goddess Roma as well as to himself. Roman citizens in the provinces were forbidden to share in the cult of the emperor, but might worship the deified Julius in connection with the Dea Roma. At the close of the reign of Augustus the imperial cult had spread throughout the provinces and had even invaded Italy, and wherever it was established it already exceeded in popularity all other forms of religious worship.

. . . If now we pass from the forms of the imperial cult to its spirit, we must consider it, not only from the religious point of view, but in its relation to the personality of the emperor and especially with reference to its political importance. The Romans did not sharply distinguish religion from politics; for religion was a function of the state, and the worship of the gods which were recognized by the state was part of the duty of the citizen. Emperor-worship therefore expressed the attitude of the worshiper toward the emperor as the embodiment of imperial power. The spontaneous growth and speedy popularity of that worship among all classes of people in every part of the Roman world marks the general recognition of the imperial government as the dominant force in public and private life and of the reigning emperor as a sort of earthly providence. The emperors were from the first fully alive to the political significance of the worship offered them. They accepted the religious devotion of the people as an evidence of political loyalty. The association of the worship of the reigning emperor with that of the goddess Roma tended strongly to give to it an impersonal and political character.

James Valliant, co-author of "Creating Christ: How Roman Emperors Invented Christianity" explains in the video below the motives of the Roman Empire for manufacturing a non-threatening and all inclusive Jewish Messiah in the midst of its ongoing wars with the uncompromising Jewish faith in the first and second centuries. An excerpt:

This cataclysmic war between messianic Jews and Romans was between a group of pagan polytheists who were seeking wide assimilation and these ferociously sectarian, militant, nationalist, Torah orthodox messianic Jews. Obviously, the emergence of Christianity at just this moment in history can be no coincidence. Christianity is just exactly the mirror X-Ray opposite of the rebel philosophy, isn't it? 

It opens up Judaism to everyone, ..it's not a sectarian thing, it's no longer militant, "blessed are the peacemakers," "render unto Caesar." Curious line: "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and God that which is God's." The very thing militant rebels says was impossible. You can't be both a good Jew and a good Roman. Jesus is saying wrong, you can. A direct answer to the first century rebels. 

And, for example, Jesus praises in the first three Gospels a Centurion as having more faith, not just a Roman in this age of rebellion, but a Roman centurion, an army officer, has more faith than any contemporary Jew. 

Jesus of course befriends tax collectors, as well as advocating paying your taxes. Jesus appears to advocate just submitting and being a slave if necessary. Jesus over and over criticizes Jewish nationalism, Jewish sectarianism, all of Jewish exceptionalism, "Were God's chosen people" gets kicked out the door by Jesus, anyone can come, many nations will sit down at the table of Abraham. . .Very extreme, it seems to me, clear political propaganda. 

In Romans 13, one of the earliest sections of the New Testament, as critical scholars have defined it, says clearly that the Roman government are God's appointed agents on earth, obey the state as God's appointed agents on earth, rebellion is not just stupid, it is a sin. Paying your taxes is also obligatory. Elsewhere in the apostles we're told obey the Emperor, honour the Emperor. 

With extreme assertions like this, Jesus befriending tax collectors, obey the state that are God's agents on earth, it struck me, along with this extreme altruism that we mentioned earlier, that obviously the New Testament, what we call Christianity, represents a critical reaction to the militant, Torah orthodox, sectarian, messianic rebels of the first century.

The reason I say that is that it combines, and quite paradoxically, the very concept of Messiah. Before Christianity, before the first century, there was no such thing as a pacifist Messiah. Messiah meant the political, military liberator of the Hebrew people. There was also no such thing as the God-Messiah, the God-Man. I mean Jews still are monotheist. They had Messiahs, maybe even miracle working Messiahs in their past, . . But all of them were human beings. Monotheism means humans are humans and there is only one God. But Christianity is an elbow in this road, it makes the Jewish Messiah into a pacifist. It makes the Jewish Messiah into a God-Man, completely unprecedented in Jewish history and Hebrew literature. It makes Jesus into the very opposite of what the Jewish rebels were expecting.

And both Roman and Jewish historians of the first and second centuries are uniform in telling us that it was the concept of Messiah, these Jewish prophecies about a Messiah, that most motivated the war. If Messiah was the rallying cry for the rebels, then the emergence immediately after that of a form of pacifistic messianism seems to me quite paradoxical. We would expect if there were to be an assimilating form of Judaism that it would be stepping away from the politically charged concept of Messiah which was in fact the cause of the Jewish wars of the first two centuries. We do not see that. We see the messianic prophecies being re-directed towards a pro-Roman pacifist who made friends with tax collectors, praised centurions, told you to pay taxes, said turn the other cheek. 

Jesus goes as far as to say. . . to give you a little context, Romans on their roads, their famous roads, had milestones, every mile they'd put marker. If you lived within that milestone and the Roman army needed to pass through your region the locals had to house and feed the army as they were passing through as a form of taxation. Jesus goes so far as to say if they ask you to support them within the one mile go the extra mile, support the Roman army twice as much as they asked. Politically remarkable statements given the fact that messianic Judaism of the first two centuries was so sectarian, nationalistic, militant, Torah orthodox. Jesus opens up the whole idea of Torah orthodoxy to question. He questions kosher diet and the Sabbath. Paul completely knocks the idea of circumcision out. All of the fundamental features that distinguish Judaism are now being stripped away from Judaism simultaneously, because it was the adherence to that Torah that most motivated many Jews to fight. They wanted to live under Mosaic Law, not Roman Law. Well, here comes Christianity to say all of the distinct features of Judaism are no longer necessary. 

So it struck me as quite obvious that what we have in Christianity is a critical reaction to the militant, nationalist, sectarian, Torah orthodox messianic Jews of the first two centuries. The extreme form of altruism, turn the other cheek, love your enemy, submit to the evildoer, really has to be explained and can only be explained in light of the political events of the first two centuries. 

Notice, too, what's going on. It's not Jewish philosophy that's really informing Christianity, it is Greco-Roman philosophy. It is Platonism on its face. 'The material world is corrupt' that's why we don't store up our treasures here on earth, it's temporary and corrupt, but in the perfect, pristine, changeless world, the supernatural dimension that he called the Kingdom of Heaven, Plato’s world of forms, things are perfect and forever. And so a clear form of Platonic dualism is being advocated by Jesus. Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to say, "My Kingdom is not of this earth" totally defanging the idea of Messiah. The politically charged concept of Messiah is safely removed to another dimension, the Platonic world of forms. Jesus's messianic kingdom is not of this world. In this world we submit, and we obey, and pay our taxes. And we honour Caesar. And we treat the Roman government like God's agents on earth. (19:45 - 28:15 in the video below).

Video Title: Creating Christ | James Valliant. Source: Ayn Rand Centre UK. Date Published: November 9, 2020.