When read as Jewish literature, the New Testament Gospels seem to contradict history. They describe a pacifist Jewish Messiah and depict Romans in a positive light during an era when a Jewish messianic movement waged war against the Roman Empire.
To explain these and other contradictory aspects, scholars have speculated that the Gospels were the product of a Roman mystery cult which for some reason merged its theology with messianic Judaism. This theory has a weakness beyond the obvious lack of archaeological evidence. Why would the cult that provided the Gospels its pro-Roman perspective and pacifism have wished to merge with a religion that was anti-Roman and violent?
The discovery of the Jesus/Titus typology, however, reveals not only the real meaning of the Gospels but their authors. They were written by the intellectual circle around the Flavian Caesars.
But how did the creation of the Gospels actually come to pass?
The Gospels grew out of discussions that occurred between Vespasian and Julius Alexander at the court of Antonia, the mother of the Emperor Claudius. The men discussed a topic that was vital to each: how to halt rebellions by messianic Jews. Antonia could well have participated in these talks as she was no stranger to the struggle between the Romans and the Jews. Antonia was the daughter of Marc Anthony, the Roman general who had ousted the Maccabees as the rulers of Judea and replaced them with the Roman tax collectors, the Herods.
The conjecture that such talks occurred comes from these facts: Around 45 C.E. Antonia employed Julius Alexander Lysimarchus as her financial steward. Julius Alexander was the “Abalarch” – the Roman appointed tax collecting ruler of Alexandria. He was the brother of Philo, the Jewish philosopher who combined Judaism with elements of Greek and Roman thought. Philo’s philosophy is often cited as the basis for much of the Gospels’ theological perspective, particularly its blend of Judaism and Stoicism.
Though Philo’s blending of Hellenism and Judaism is routinely analyzed by scholars as sincere, given his family’s financial relationship with Rome some skepticism is warranted. And when understood as the writings of a family member of Rome’s biggest tax collector, Philo’s writings can be seen as an effort to inject Stoicism into Judaism to pacify rebellious Jews.
Antonia also employed Caenis, a woman famous for her memory, as her private secretary. Caenis was the long-term mistress of the future Caesar Vespasian. Suetonius described her as Vespasian’s wife in all but name. Julius Alexander would have discussed with Vespasian how the Jews’ messianic prophecies were, as Josephus later recorded, the mainspring of their rebellion. They would have also discussed Julius’ brother’s work, which attempted to modify Judaism into the peaceful existence in the Empire. From the relationship between Vespasian and Julius, the Flavians, Herods and Alexanders developed a close two-generation relationship.
Julius had two sons. The elder, Marcus, married Berenice, the granddaughter of Herod. After Marcus died at a young age, Berenice became the mistress of Vespasian’s son, Titus. Julius’ younger son, Tiberius Alexander, inherited his father’s entire estate after the death of Marcus, making him one of the richest men in the world. He renounced Judaism and was recorded as slaughtering fifty thousand rebellious Jews in Alexandria. When the Jewish war broke out in 66 CE Tiberius and the Herods assisted the Flavians, contributing money and troops.
During the Jewish war Vespasian challenged Vitellius for the Roman throne in 69CE, and Tiberius was the first to publicly state his allegiance for Vespasian as Caesar. Tiberius declared that Vespasian was not just Caesar, but a “Lord” or a divine being. Vespasian returned to Rome to assume the mantle of emperor, but left Tiberius behind to assist his son Titus with the destruction of Jerusalem.
Though overlooked by NT (New Testament) scholarship, these families are the most obvious candidates to have produced the Gospels. Who else but this group had the motivation, opportunity and the capacity to have written them?
Reading the Gospels as Flavian literature clears up many of their mysteries:
1) Stoicism in the Gospels – The combining of Judaism and Stoicism was an old technique for this group, Philo having developed the technique in the prior generation.
2) The “Logos” – One of the great mysteries of the Gospels is the term “Logos” that appears at the beginning of the Gospel of John. Logos is almost always translated as “word,” though this is not what the author meant and produces an incoherent statement.
John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.”
The concept of the Logos used in the Gospel of John was developed by Philo. He based his concept of Logos on Platonic elements calling it the “idea of ideas” or the “archetypal idea”. Philo’s Logos had a typological relation to man. The Logos was the original type and man is the copy. The purpose of the Logos is to the shape the mind of man. In other words, Philo saw the Logos as a preexisting ideal pattern that earthly man could build his mind upon.
The authors of the NT – the Flavians, Herods and Alexanders – understood Philo’s “Logos” and therefore represented their story of Jesus as an “archetypal idea” which Titus’ military campaign was the continuation of. The concept of Logos would have been understood by a very small group in the first century and was certainly not known by Jewish hoi polloi.
3) The ministry of Jesus – The entire storyline of Jesus’ ministry comes from Titus’ military campaign. Once a reader understands the typological genre, the symbolic parallelism is not too hard to see and of course the parallel events occur in the same sequence.
4) The Gospels’ use of “technical terms” of the Imperial Cult – A great many Greek words used in the NT were what have been called “technical terms” of the Imperial Cult. The use of these terms is not mysterious but to be expected simply because they were the religious words used by the authors.
Originally published October 4, 2011
Atwill is an independent scholar who has set the world of New Testament scholarship in a new direction.