One question that always comes up when I speak with people who are learning aboutCaesar’s Messiah is this: if the Romans invented Christianity why did they persecute Christians? The question reflects the success the Romans had in confusing people as to who a “Christian” was.
The term “Christian” simply means a follower of a Christ – a leader claiming to have been foreseen by the Jews’ messianic prophecies. The word Kristos is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah. So while the Romans did indeed persecute “Christians” in the way that history recorded, these were not “Roman Christians” but Jewish zealots.
In trying to sell their new religion to the masses as an authentic version of Judaism, the Romans did more than simply called it “Christianity”. In order to conceal how Roman Christianity began, the Romans stole parts of the history of the Jewish messianic movement to use as the history for their fictitious religion. In other words, since they knew they could not simply evaporate the knowledge of a movement large enough to have fought successfully against the empire, they decided to claim some of that movement’s history as belonging to Roman Christianity.
While this may seem confusing, there is a very simple way to understand what the Romans did and why people today incorrectly believe that Rome persecuted Roman Christians – this is the true history of the characters in the Gospels called Simon and John that is revealed in Caesar’s Messiah.
The following is an excerpt from Caesar’s Messiah:
“The Gospel of John concludes with a discussion between Simon (Peter) and Jesus. Jesus foresees that Simon will be bound and carried ‘where you do not wish to go.’ Jesus also tells Simon that he will have a martyr’s death, ‘to glorify God.’ In the midst of this discussion, ‘the disciple that Jesus loved,’ clearly meaning the Apostle John, appears. Simon asks Jesus what the fate of John is to be. Jesus replies, ‘It is my will that he remain.’ The passage then points out that John ‘is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things,’ referring to the Gospel of John itself.
Below is the entire passage. Notice how the author goes to great lengths to avoid calling the Apostles by their real names, Simon and John.
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’
(This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’
Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’
The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’
This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
This passage, which is the conclusion to Jesus’ ministry, is exactly parallel to Titus’ judgments concerning the rebel leaders Simon and John at the conclusion of his campaign through Judea. Thus, at the conclusion of the Gospel above, Jesus tells Simon ‘when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’ Jesus tells Simon to ‘follow me’ and that his death will ‘glorify God.’ However, Jesus also states that it is his will that John is to ‘remain.’
At the conclusion of his campaign through Judea, Titus, after capturing ‘Simon,’ girds him in ‘bonds’ and sends him ‘where you do not wish to go,’ this being Rome. During the parade of conquest at Rome, Simon follows, that is, is ‘led’ to a ‘death, to glorify God,’ the god ‘glorified’ being Titus’ father, the diuus Vespasian. However, it is Titus’ will to spare the other leader of the rebellion, John.
Notice that in the following passage, Josephus records Simon’s fate before John’s, just as it occurs in John 21. A seemingly innocuous detail but one that I will show has great significance.
Simon . . . was forced to surrender himself, as we shall relate hereafter; so he was reserved for the triumph, and to be then slain; as was John condemned to perpetual imprisonment. 78
Josephus also records that Jesus’ vision of Simon ‘following’ also comes to pass for the rebel leader Simon.
Simon . . . had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum. 79
In the passage from the Gospel of John above, notice that the author does not call the Apostle John by his name but rather as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ and as the individual who had said at the Last Supper, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ Later in the chapter the author identifies this disciple with yet another epithet when he states, ‘This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things’—even here not referring to John by name but requiring the reader to determine it by knowing the name of the author of the Gospel.
The author’s use of epithets here, instead of simply referring to the disciple as ‘John,’ seems clearly an attempt to keep the parallel conclusion of Jesus’ and Titus’ ‘ministries’ from being too easily seen.80 The author also has Jesus call Simon by his nickname, ‘Peter,’ for the same reason.
The same technique is used throughout the New Testament and Wars of the Jews. To learn the name of an unnamed character, the reader must be able to recall details from another, related passage. In effect, the New Testament is designed as a sort of intelligence test, whose true meaning can be understood only by those possessing sufficient memory, logic, and irreverent humor.
For clarification, I present the following list showing the parallels between the ends of Jesus’ ministry and Titus’ campaign:
1) Characters are named Simon and John
2) Both sets of characters are judged
3) Both sides of the parallel occur at the conclusion of a ‘campaign’
4) Jesus predicts and Titus fulfills Simon going to a martyr’s death after being placed in bonds and taken someplace he does not wish to go
5) In each, John is spared
6) In each, Simon ‘follows’ ”
This analysis makes everything clear. In order to give their new Christianity a believable history, the Romans stole the positions of authority and the fates of the rebel leaders Simon and John. They made these individuals into Simon and John the disciples of Jesus Christ. The true history shows us that while the Romans did persecute Christians, these were Jewish zealots, not the Roman Christians.
Originally published September 2, 2011
Atwill is an independent scholar who has set the world of New Testament scholarship in a new direction.