Self-made God?

I will blog about this at length: But I do find it amusing that the mythtic fringe seem to have no trouble defending an emperor known to exist as a god and want to deny simple existence to a Galilean outlaw who achieved the same status without a Vergil or a Plutarch to influence the vote.

This, I am made to believe, is because (wait for it) the gospel writers wrote fiction but the Roman historians were models of sober and scientific reporting.

Hmmmm.  I wonder what they used to buy bread.  Did it look anything like this?

This is the kind of coin that Jesus used to make his point about giving to Caesar what is owed to Caesar, and to God what is owed to God. The Latin around the head (Tiberius) reads TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS, or Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus, in English, Augustus Tiberius Caesar the Son of the Divine Augustus, so the son of god.

I do wonder why the mythtics don’t talk more about context–real, verifiable, in your face, you can bite it because it’s a coin context. Maybe this coin doesn’t exist. Maybe Tiberius is made up.  Certainly certain things about him are made up.

They seem instead to be wedded to their own myth of Christian beginnings.  And this includes the belief that the Romans didn’t believe extraordinary things about historical persons.

20 thoughts on “Self-made God?

    • With a bitter heart, Franklin. For some curious reason this destruction of the past reminds me of Nevil Shute’s novel ‘On the Beach’. Not so free. I still haven’t seen the film. I doubt I could bear it despite the fact it stars my favourite Gregory Peck.

      • The film of “On the Beach” has a fairly matter-of-fact tone allowing the tragic material to largely speak for itself without the film-makers using any technique (mood music, noirish lighting) to induce a sense of bleakness. In other words, it’s more watchable than you might anticipate.

      • Ah. Probably not worth it then. Except – except Gregory Peck… just a peak at Peck. But you know what they see about the difference between the book and the film. The film will fail to capture what I imagined when I read the book.

  1. Your point about Roman numisnatry is well taken. I asked aquestion on your other post , inarguable something idont know, ill ask it again here. Gaius used a coin to “divinize” his sister Drusilla at about this same time. Why did he do that? And couldnt have jews , who certainly would have held these same coins in their hands, have concocted a “divinized” messiah along the same terms? The idea seems about the same with minor variations, gender and the fact that she was still alive, wait a minute the coins were post mortem, hmmmm.

    • Has anyone here implied that the historical Jesus was divine or that the early church wasn’t responsible for creating the traditions which developed, making him more than human, after his death? Like the Romans and historical people, so the early Church believed extraordinary things about a historical person, which was the point of the post…. and I can’t quite unravel your comment to see if it had a point.

      • My point is really a question, Is your position that 1st century jews divinized a galileen peasant in the same way the romans divinized Octavian-Augustus? Im not an axe-grinder, but it seems to me that the roman divination process was pretty cynically political. Even Vespasion thought so hence his dying words ” I think im becoming a god”, or Seneca’s “pumpkinification”. To my knowledge no divinized roman emporer was ever claimed to forgive sins, rise from the dead, or anything else Paul claims for his “annointed one”. I would love to see history discussed vitriol free, and and only using cold hard facts such as coins but here the situation imo is analogous to egyptology and Ahkenaten, every body has their pet theory and will argue it to the death it seems sometimes, but real truth as here is elusive.

      • @Steve: Of course my point is not that Jews divinized anybody: that isn’t very Jewish, is it? Where did you get that idea? But by the time the gospels were written, post Tiberius (d. ca. 37CE), very few Christians were Jews and so the pace of divinisation accelerates. Augustus it is true was reticent about accepting divine honours and had to be persuaded by a miracle (Suetonius, Aug. 95); I am not sure that doesn’t compare favourably to Jesus doing tricks, but perhaps you think differently. You also need to consider context: there is a natural disposition among amateur historians to read back certain assumptions into the literature that weren’t there. The term/title “son of god” means a very different thing for a Roman Catholic of the 12th century, a Baptist of the 2oth and an illiterate Christian of the second. What usage do you think the Christian writers were adopting–certainly not ones that hadn’t arisen yet. If in fact, as I think is crystal clear, the gospels are borrowing from Hellenistic motifs concerning divine men common in the literature of the day, the case for the historical Jesus is strengthened, on the grounds of similarity. It just means that a new class of Hellenistic, non-Jewish and thus unconstrained believers were doing what the were used to seeing done with their great men. There is even a weak tradition much mucked with in Mark’s gospel that Jesus (maybe Augustus’s reticence is on someone’s mind) refused divine or at least messianic honours when questioned–though I wouldn’t want to stake my life on the accuracy of the account (or any ancient record): cf. Mk15.2 v Mk 14.61. cf. Mt 26.63-64. What would you do with that tangle–just to test your exegetical prowess?

    • The Jews never had any pre-Christian concept of a Messiah as God. That would have been (still is, actually) a contradiction in terms. Not only a heresy, but a logical impossibility since the Davidic Messiah by definition, had to be a human patrilinear descendant of
      David (and no adoption or matrilinear descendency need apply – it’s seed of David or nothing). So no, it is all but theologically impossible that “Jews” as such, would have invented a Yahweh avatar to serve as an imaginary Messiah. not only that, but the Jesus of the New Testament did not accomplish a single thing the David Messiah is supposed to accomplish, so if they were going to invent a Messiah-God, it’s odd that they killed him in their story before he did any proper Messiah-ing.

      Of course, bizarre anomalies happen in conventional religion. It is not very ordinary, for instance, for a Christian pastor to say he is God or Jesus himself, yet it occasionally happens (David Koresh, Jim Jones), and they can even attract significant followings. The one thing that they have in common, though, is that they existed. We know that religious change is affected, more than anything else, by the strength of individual personalities. A magnetic personality is one thing we know can cause people, even large groups of people, to radically change or reinterpret their religious beliefs.

      The Jews would not have invented a God-Messiah out of whole cloth, but a small group of them can very well come to believe that a given individual is the Messiah, and still cling to that belief even after the individual dies. This has happened even in the 20th Century. Google “Rabbi Schneerson” if your not familiar with him (he’s another guy who actually existed by the way – that’s kind of a
      pattern with these guys) They also didn’t need Caligula to give them any ideas about deifying kings (or even incestuous sisters of kings).
      The Egyptians were doing that 3000 years before Caligula.

      • The Jews would not have invented a God-Messiah out of whole cloth, but a small group of them can very well come to believe that a given individual is the Messiah, and still cling to that belief even after the individual dies.

        Isn’t that point somewhat moot though? As I understand it the earliest Christians did not think of the risen Christ as God, but as an exalted agent of God, which status humans could attain. Regardless of whether there was a historical Jesus at the root of the risen Christ, the idea of the God-Messiah was a later development.

      • @Vinny: Not sure where your quote’s from: this thread? I have seasonal affective disorder when it comes to Christology: we used to think that the Jews didn’t believe in a dying messiah; now we’re not so sure; we used to believe that messianism Jewish style was opposite to divinization Roman style; now we’re not convinced. I think you may be alluding to Paul’s idea that “Christ the Lord” is a kind of template for what every “man” can achieve who dies and is raised in Christ. That is certainly what Paul seems to have thought. As a product of the Bauer-von Campenhausen-Ritter “school” at Heidelberg in my postdoctoral days, I would not want to say that this is what the “early Christians” thought. They thought all kinds of things. Which is why the gospels say all kinds of things. Summarized: orthodoxy? schmorthodoxy.

      • I agree, Vinny. I’m saying that a God-Messiah is better explained as an adaptation to an external variable (i.e. a real person) than as a spontaneous inception of a new paradigm based on nothing but a whim.

      • Mr. H.: “we used to think that the Jews didn’t believe in a dying messiah; now we’re not so sure…”

        ▲ I’ve been studying the subject as an amateur for many years, and this observation is quite new to me. I was under the impression that one of the basic conclusions of biblical criticism was, as Bart Ehrman says in his book “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet…”
        “…prior to the Christian proclamation of Jesus, there were no Jews, as least so far as we know, who believed that the Messiah was going to be crucified. On the contrary, the Messiah was to be the great and powerful leader who delivered Israel from its oppressive overlords.”
        Who are the scholars who are now questioning this, and why at this time? Can you provide their names and perhaps the title of a book or two. How widely is this notion being entertained?

  2. So my obvious question here is, Whose image and superscription are on this coin? From your little article it sounds like you think its Jesus.

    You are puzzled why someone might believe Tiberius Caesar existed but not Jesus.

    “This, I am made to believe, is because (wait for it) the gospel writers wrote fiction but the Roman historians were models of sober and scientific reporting.”

    Um, no. If you ruled the whole Roman world and your face was on lots of coins as a result, its quite likely you existed. Isn’t that obvious?

    Of course Jesus’ face is on lots of late icons, but sometimes he’s black, sometimes oriental, sometimes a German guy with long hair. Strangely Tiberius Caesar always looks the same. Maybe because he actually existed. I don’t know. I mean I’m no expert, but it seems to me that people who actually exist tend to look the same whereas mythical people have interpreted likenesses.

    • Rey, you miss the point because you assume that what was written about the emporers is true. If we allow as mythicist do for gospels that this could just as easily be creative fiction, then what doi we know, that a name was written on a coin with a face? I have a arcade token with chucky cheese on it, was he a president ?

  3. Supernatural stories were indeed preserved and transmitted about many people in the ancient world who we believe to have been historical. To the best of my knowledge, however, in every other case the supernatural stories arose as a result of verifiable prominence or accomplishments achieved during a natural life. If you scrape away the supernatural stories that arose concerning Alexander the Great, you still have a substantial historical footprint.

    With Jesus, on the other hand, stories about his natural life were preserved and transmitted only because of supernatural events that were believed to have occurred after his death. If you scrape away the supernatural stories that arose concerning Jesus, you scrape away the reason that any stories about his natural life were preserved and transmitted. Without the belief that arose in his postmortem supernatural accomplishments, it is entirely possible that Jesus of Nazareth might have come and gone without leaving a discernible trace in the historical record.

    I don’t think that this in any way proves that Jesus of Nazareth was mythical, but I don’t think the fact that supernatural stories were told about other people provides any evidence for his historicity.

    • It’s not so much an argument for historicity as it is a rebuttal to the suggestion that a real person can’t accrete a divine mythology.

  4. They seem instead to be wedded to their own myth of Christian beginnings.

    Curious though interesting and somewhat amusing contretemps; not sure yet whether it’s a tempest-in-a-teapot or, maybe, a Rape of the Lock, what with all of the mind-numbingly convoluted and intricate if not acrimonious he-said-she-said going on.

    But it certainly seems that more than a few, although I think not all, of the mythicists are of the opinion that any concession to the claims for a historical Jesus is tantamount to conceding his divinity. And so they seem to put their thumbs on the scales and deny the very facts that are most likely to be pulling the rug out from under that latter claim from the fundamentalists.

    And it seems that at least a few of the historicists are fellow-travelers with the more sensible fundamentalists who realize that claims for a divine Jesus aren’t going to have much traction unless they have a solid basis in fact.

    Seems it is not just politics that makes for strange bedfellows.

  5. Good Point Hoffman. There always seems to be the implication from the mythies that literature from early Christians is gobbledygook that could mean anything but the pagan toadies of the rich and famous of the classical world can be taken at face value. Tghis fits well with their own prejudice that any researcher who is religious should be discounted as having ulterior motives and all therest are just so afraid of getting burned at the stake. Being a mythicist is a poor man’s taking a brave stand.

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