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Dec 6, 2015

A Very Jewish Christmas Thomas Dalton


A Very Jewish Christmas
Thomas Dalton
 Dec. 6, 2015
 
Christmas?  Jewish?  How can that be?  Isn’t Judaism somehow opposed to Christianity?  Isn’t Christian history riddled with episodes of anti-Semitism?  Don’t most Jews deny that Jesus was the Savior?  Don’t they deny his miraculous birth, and his status as Son of God?  Didn’t the Jews kill him, after all?  So how can Christmas be Jewish?
 
Though we obviously can’t know for sure, there are very strong reasons for thinking that Jesus’ birth, his life story, and in fact the entire Christian project are Jewish constructions.  I will argue here that most or all of the Christian story is mythology, fabrication, and yes, a lie.  It was a kind of fraud perpetrated, originally, on the superstitious pagan masses.  And they bought it—hook, line, and sinker.  And some 1 billion people on this planet continue to buy it, to this day, two millennia later.  How this could have happened is one of the most important, and least known, stories in Western civilization.
 
Origins and Miracles
 
Let’s start by thinking about what we know, and what we don’t know, about the origins of the Christian story.  It turns out that the latter is much larger than the former.
 
We are told that Jesus was born around the year 3 BC.  The star of Bethlehem—so central to the Christmas story—was the first Christian miracle.  It appeared “in the East,” moved through the sky, and hovered over the manger so that the three Magi could find it.  Various attempts have been made to explain this “star,” including a rare planetary alignment, an unusually bright Jupiter, a comet, or a supernova.  Even assuming that some such unusual event actually occurred at that time, it doesn’t help the story.  In none of these cases could anyone use such a thing to “find” a particular village like Bethlehem, let alone a specific manger.
 
Jesus allegedly began his ministry when he was “about 30” (Luke 3:23), and it continued for three years, until he was crucified around the year 30 AD. During these three years, he preached to “great throngs” of people.  He performed 35 to 40 miracles, depending on the details, which included exorcisms (around 7), resurrections of the dead (3), manipulations of nature (9), and healings (18).  Two of these miracles—the two separate ‘fishes and loaves’ episodes (Mark 6:30 and 8:1)—were performed in front of at least 4,000 and 5,000 people:  hence a total of more than 9,000 witnesses.  And he had 12 apostles following his every move.
 
But the main problem with all these miracles is this:  We have no independent confirmation.  Take the star.  Exceptional astronomical events have been documented for millennia.  Eclipses have been documented as far back as 2,000 or 3,000 BC.  Halley’s Comet was documented in China in 240 BC, and by the Babylonians in 164 BC. Surely if the Bethlehem “star” was so impressive, someone else would have mentioned it.  And yet no record exists, in any source outside the Bible.
 
The same goes with the Jesus miracles.  How could it be that 9,000 people witnessed the fishes-and-loaves miracle, and yet not one of them wrote anything?  Nor reported it to someone who could write?  Why did the 12 apostles—who were more convinced of Jesus’ divinity than anyone else—never write anything?  Why, in fact, do they disappear from history as soon as Jesus dies?  It does no good to cite Paul; he was not one of the 12 apostles, and never knew Jesus personally.
 
What about the Romans?  They were the ruling power in Palestine, arriving decades before the alleged birth of Christ.  They were acknowledged experts at documentation.  We have records of military battles, taxes, foreign trade, political events, and other such things, all from the early first century.  We have coins; we have papyrus fragments; we have stone engravings.  We have the “Pilate Stone” that confirms the existence of Roman governor Pontius Pilate, during the years 26 to 36.  And yet we have not one piece of Roman documentation mentioning Jesus, his miracles, or his following, from the time in which Jesus lived.  
 
What about the Roman writers?  There were many who lived at that time, or shortly thereafter, and thus had an opportunity to comment on Jesus:  Apion, Seneca, Petronius, Quintilian, and Plutarch, among others.  But we find not one word from any of them.  In fact, the earliest Roman reference to Jesus is from the historian Tacitus, in his work Annals—written in the year 115. 
 
How could it be that the ruling authorities—Pilate and the Roman writers—failed completely to document the coming of the Son of God?  “Perhaps they did, and all such records are lost to history,” says the apologist.  But this would have been incredibly bad luck:  The greatest event in history, and every shred of contemporary documentation is lost to us?  Impossible.
 
Jesus the Jew
 
Finally, what about the Jews?  If we know anything ‘for certain’ about Jesus, it is that he was Jewish.  His mother, Mary, was a Jewess:  she was a woman “born under the law [of Judaism]” (Gal 4:4).  And she was a blood relative of Elizabeth, of the tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5, 36).  Jesus’ father, Joseph, was of the “House of David” (Luke 1:27).  Both parents “performed everything according to the [Jewish] law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39). 
 
Jesus himself is repeatedly called ‘Rabbi’ (Mark 9:5; Matt 23:7; John 1:38, 49; 3:2).  He celebrated Passover (John 2:13).  The Gospel of Matthew opens with these words:  “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.”  We read in Hebrews that “it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah” (7:14).  He regularly attended the local synagogue (Luke 4:16).  Jesus himself told the people that he came “to fulfill the [Jewish] law and the [Jewish] prophets” (Matt 5:17).  And of course everyone thought of him as “king of the Jews” (Matt 2:2; John 19:3).  
 
This much, then, is clear:  Jesus, Joseph, Mary, along with all Jesus’ friends, acquaintances, and disciples, were Jews.
 
Why, then, didn’t Jewish writers of that time mention Jesus at all?  Philo of Alexandria was a famous Jewish philosopher, who lived from 25 BC to 50 AD.  He wrote extensively, but never mentioned a Jesus of Nazareth, son of God.  One Jewish writer did mention him, namely Josephus, who lived from 37 to 100 AD.  His work, Antiquities of the Jews, briefly refers to Jesus and the Christians twice; but it wasn’t written until the year 95—some 60 years after the crucifixion.  His earlier work, The Jewish War, circa 75 AD, has no mention at all of the Son of God.  Something is clearly not right with the traditional story.
 
The Plot Thickens
 
If we disregard the writings of Paul (circa 50 to 70 AD) and the four Gospels, we see that the few lines by Josephus, in the year 95, are the very first unbiased references to Jesus’ existence.  And we have to go all the way to Tacitus, in the year 115, to get the first Roman mention of the Christian movement.  Such a thing is absolutely impossible, if Jesus, Son of God, actually existed.  Either “Jesus of Nazareth” was so inconsequential that no one of his day, or even decades after his death, bothered to mention him.  Or else he never existed.  There is no other reasonable conclusion.
 
Given the utter lack of independent confirmation of all the major aspects of the Christian story—the star of Bethlehem, the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the apostles—we can conclude only one thing: the entire story was made up.  It was a pure fabrication.  In other words, somebody lied.  
 
This raises some important questions:  Who lied?  When did they do it?  And why?  We have some clues that may provide answers.  The first main suspect is Paul (aka Saul) of Tarsus, the Jewish Pharisee, whose letters are the earliest known documentation on Christianity.  Good Saint Paul—first liar of Christianity.  
 
The most egregious lies, though, occur in the four Gospels; these were written between 70 and 95 AD.  Unfortunately, the liars who wrote them are unknown to us.  Whoever they were, they were not apostles, and they certainly did not know Jesus personally.  They were, however, almost certainly Jews.  They had extensive knowledge of Judaism, Jewish tradition, and the Jewish Old Testament.  Their label as ‘Christian’ was strictly a name; by birth, ethnicity, and blood, Paul and the Gospel writers were unquestionably Jewish.  And they constructed the Christian story out of whole cloth.
 
The final question then is:  Why did they lie?  What was their motive?  
 
“They never would have lied,” interrupts the apologist.  “Christians were persecuted by the Romans, and it would have been sheer folly, if not fatal, to promote Christianity.” But of course, all the Jews were already persecuted.  The Jews of Palestine were in constant conflict with their Roman governors. They hoped, ultimately, to drive them out and regain power over the region—a power they held prior to the Roman invasion of 63 BC.  Both the ‘Christian’ and ‘regular’ Jews were in constant rebellion, and were thus constantly oppressed.  It was neither better nor worse to be a Christian.
 
But this situation, in fact, gives us a clue to the possible motive. 
 
The local Jewish tribes would have been hugely overwhelmed by the invading Romans.  The Jews were vicious fighters—recall the extermination of the Canaanites in the 1200s BC—but were no match for the Roman Empire.  They would have bitterly resented Roman rule, and sought all possible means to undermine it.  Military force was not really a viable option, but various guerrilla operations could cause some damage.  And there is evidence that Jewish factions fought back, at least from the first decade BC.  But one can imagine that such actions would have had little lasting effect.  Better options were needed.
 
Recall that the Jews were a minority in Palestine at that time—as, of course, were the Romans.  The majority consisted of the indigenous Palestinian masses, along with any incidental Egyptians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, and so on, who lived in the region.  The masses were neither Roman nor Jewish.  And of course, they weren’t Muslim; that religion would not exist for some 600 years.  They would have been a grab-bag of pagan traditions:  Zoroastrian, cults of Adonis and Mithras, Sibylline cults, and various sun worshipers.  These sects were generally ill-defined, superstitious, and highly mythological in nature.
 
The Jews knew this.  And they also knew that, in order to make an impact on Roman rule, they would have to get the superstitious pagan masses on their side.  But this was a big problem.  The masses were not intrinsically anti-Roman.  From their viewpoint, when the Romans moved in, it was more or less a change in government.  And likely for the good:  the masses generally disliked the Jews anyway, and the Romans brought with them many advancements of civilization.  So the Jews had a problem:  How to win the masses over to their side, and turn them against Rome?

Clearly they could not make them ‘Jewish.’ Judaism wouldn’t permit it, the ethnic and racial exclusivity of the Jews wouldn’t allow it, and the masses would never go for it, even if they could.  All of Judaic tradition, from the Torah to the Talmud, was geared towards manipulating and exploiting the inferior Gentiles.  The Jews would never have dreamt of mass conversion.
 
So:  Paganism was not a source of opposition to Rome.  And a judaized mass was not an option.  Therefore a third way was required.  A new way, a new outlook, a new worldview—something to subtly but deeply bring the masses into opposition with the Romans, and on the side of the Jews.  Not Judaism, but something Jewish in essence.  A new story, a new moral system, and yes, a new religion:  Christianity.
 
A New Religion
 
This was likely the thinking of Paul and his small band of followers, which may have included Peter, Luke, and Mark, around the year 45 AD.  To win over the masses, they would need to construct a new mythology, one that would both entice and frighten—a carrot and a stick, as it were.  To be successful, it would have to be both anti-Roman, in some sense, and yet rooted in Jewish values.  Ideally it would also draw on pagan traditions and concepts, to make for easy assimilation.  And finally, it must ultimately weaken, not strengthen, the masses; there certainly was no wish to create some Frankensteinian monster.  All in all, a challenging task, to say the least.
 
Paul would start with God—not the Roman or Greek conception, not the pagan gods, but the Jewish God, the one God, Jehovah.  The masses would have to worship the Jewish God.  But this deity was distant and abstract; indeed, according to the Jews’ own rule, no graven image was permitted.  Such a god would not work for the masses.  They needed something tangible, something concrete, something they could touch, feel, and love.  They needed a man:  God incarnate, one who loved them as much as they should love him.  This man would prove his love by giving his life—for them, for their eternal life.  It was the ultimate sacrifice.  Who could fail to revere such a man?  And all the better, if he was a Jew.
 
This man, this son of God, this God himself, would need a name—a common name:  Jesus.  He would have to have lived in a small provincial town:  Nazareth.  (Harder to verify things this way.)  He would have to be born in an even smaller and more obscure place:  Bethlehem. Befitting a god, he would need a miraculous, virgin birth—to a Jewish woman.  He would play the role of “the savior.”  This was a clever double entendre:  saving the masses from eternal damnation, and saving the Jews from the Romans.  To ensure no mortal remains, the story would have to end with a vanishing of the body.  To boost credibility, it would be interwoven with factual people and places—just enough to make it seem believable.  
 
The final step would be to place the whole story at least 20 years in the past:  near enough to be current and yet far enough to be hard to verify.  This would explain why the earliest of Paul’s letters—Galatians and 1 Thessalonians—date to around the year 50.  And it is consistent with the fact that we have absolutely no evidence at all of Jesus or the Christian story prior to that date, from any source.
 
God, Jesus, eternal life in heaven—these were the carrots.  What about the stick?  What is the fate of those who refuse to believe the Jesus story? We know the answer:  hell.  Hell—defined as a place of permanent torment for the wicked sinners—seems to have been an innovation of the writers of the Gospels.  The Old Testament, surprisingly, contained nothing like this.  It did have a related term, ‘Sheol,’ but this was simply the afterlife and not a dedicated place of punishment, in contrast to heaven.   Greek and Roman mythology, on the other hand, had Tartarus:  a hell-like place in the underworld, reserved for those deserving punishment.  It seems that the New Testament writers borrowed the idea but renamed it ‘Gehenna’ or ‘Hades’—both translated as ‘hell.’  For Paul and friends, dying wasn’t frightful enough.  It had to be hell-fire, eternal flames, lake of fire, and eternal torment for the non-believers (Mark 9:43; Matt 5:22; Luke 16:23).  Only this could scare the superstitious pagans into their welcoming arms.  
 
Finally, and most importantly, there was the moral component.  This “Jesus” had to proclaim values that would turn the masses away from Rome and toward the Jews, all while weakening them.  “Salvation is of the Jews,” after all (John 4:22).  Rome would be represented as evil, sin, corrupting power, sensuality, worldliness—the devil.  Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, is peace-loving, blessed, humble, holy—innocence itself. The good Christian is an innocent lamb, just as Jesus himself is “the lamb of God” (John 1:29).  He should “love thy neighbor”—the Jew, not the Roman intruder.  Meek, mild, and timid, he will “inherit the Earth.”  Eyes thus fixed on the glorious afterlife, following herd-like after their shepherd Jesus, the Christian masses turn away from Rome.  The Romans become sinful heathens, non-believers, devil worshipers.  At this point, the moral victory is complete.  Political victory is not far behind.
 
Victory—Three Centuries Later
 
And victory was indeed achieved, though it took a few centuries.  Paul died sometime during the first Jewish rebellion of 66-70 AD, and so never lived to see the fruit of his efforts. The so-called 12 apostles and the anonymous Gospel writers were gone by the early 100s.  By that time, however, the doctrine—cult, actually—had spread to the masses.  Very quickly, Christianity ceased to be a Jewish movement, and became dominated by non-Jews.  The most prominent early Christians—Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Quadratus, Papias, Marcion—all seem to have been Gentiles.  Not understanding the origins of the story, and not relating to the Jewish penchant for revenge against Rome, the naïve Gentiles accepted it as literal truth.  A new religion was born.
 
Being now dominated by non-Jews, Christianity quickly developed a self-conception as a religion that was ‘different’ from Judaism.  A tension emerged:  yes, Jesus, Mary, Paul, Peter, and so on were Jews; yes, Jehovah was God; yes, Jews were “the chosen people”; but still…Jews never did accept Jesus as their savior.  They didn’t believe in hell.  They never came to church.  And in any case, their racial exclusivity and obnoxious customs and social mores made the Jews as detested as ever.  Thus we find the classic love-hate relationship emerging early in Christian history.  Already with Melito of Sardis, circa 160 AD, we find anti-Jewish comments.  They appear again in Tertullian (ca. 200) and Hippolytus (ca. 220).  And they become explicit and harsh in Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, and Jerome, around 375. 
 
All the while, the Christian “cult” spread throughout the Empire.  By the late 200s it reached into the upper echelons of Roman society.  In 313, Emperor Constantine himself converted.  And in 380, Theodosius made Christianity the official state religion.  Victory was assured.  Having been eaten away from the insides, the great Roman Empire was now on its last legs.  And indeed, it fractured and collapsed just 15 years later, in 395.  With that, the hated Romans disappeared from Palestine.  The goal was achieved.
 
An Old Story, Still Unknown
 
This, then, is the likely origins of Christianity and the Christmas myth. Obviously we can’t know for certain, but such an account does accord with the facts, and does so better than any alternative.  Something happened in those early decades of the first century, but it almost certainly was not the coming of the Son of God and his miraculous story—all of which are completely unsubstantiated.  The Christian story was a late-first-century construction, a fable that eventually gained traction as literal truth.  The known origins of the fable lie in the Jewish community, and they furthermore had every motive to concoct such a thing.  In the end, it served them well.
 
As radical and shocking as this alternate account may seem, it has been around for many years.  Already by 1769, Baron d’Holbach’s Ecce Homo argued for the fictional nature of Christianity.  Another early writer to deconstruct the traditional story was German theologian David Strauss, whose work Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus, 1835) challenged the divinity of Christ.  The arguments come to a head in the work of Nietzsche (On the Genealogy of MoralsAntichrist, both circa 1888) and Albert Schweitzer (Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906).  
 
Nietzsche’s critique is particularly incisive.  For him, the victory of Christian values over the far superior Greco-Roman values was a tragedy for Western civilization.  In a sense, we have yet to recover.  Paul and his band of “little ultra-Jews” (Antichrist, sec. 44) were ultimately able to defeat the Romans, and to bring their servile moral system to power in Rome.  This is proven by fact that Rome itself, the former center of the civilized world, became the global head of this new religion—a religion subservient to Jews:  
 
Just think of who it is that people bow down to today in Rome itself, as the personification of all the highest values—and not only in Rome, but in almost half the earth, everywhere people have become merely tame or want to become tame—in front of three Jews, as we know, and one Jewess (Jesus of Nazareth, the fisherman Peter, the carpet maker Paul, and the mother of the aforementioned Jesus, named Mary). This is very remarkable: without doubt Rome has been conquered.  (OGM, I.16)
 
In worshipping the Jew, and in accepting the Jewish lie, the Christian becomes a virtual Jew; in fact, he becomes more Jewish than the Jews themselves:
 
In Christianity all of Judaism, a several-century-old Jewish preparatory training and technique of the most serious kind, attains its ultimate mastery as the art of lying in a holy manner.  The Christian, the ultima ratio of the lie, is the Jew once more—even three times a Jew.  (Antichrist, sec. 44)
 
“I don’t care about all that,” says the apologist, now grasping for straws.  “No one can really know what happened back then, and in any case Jesus’ life and teachings give us a wonderful guide for an ethical life.”  Really?  Does it really not matter that we have, not ‘a little’ evidence for Jesus, not ‘conflicting’ evidence, but rather no evidence at all?  Does the obvious plausibility of a Jewish lie not matter?  Can it really lead to good outcomes and a noble life, if you live according to a lie?  Is the factual truth or falsehood of the Christian story really irrelevant?
 
“And how could it be that millions of people were fooled into believing a lie, for so many years?”  But of course, humanity has been fooled on many occasions.  For centuries, we believed that the material world was composed of just four elements:  fire, air, water, and earth.  For centuries, we believed that the stars were attached to a gigantic celestial sphere that rotated around the earth.  For centuries, we believed in, and burned, witches.  We believed in all manner of ghosts, goblins, spirits, fairies, and demons.  Mythology is very powerful, especially one like Christianity with such a potent carrot and stick.  
 
Finally:  “If this alternate account is so plausible, how come we don’t read about it in school, or hear it discussed in the media?”  This is hardly surprising.  It’s no wonder that we don’t hear much about this version of events.  Christians are obviously too embarrassed to examine such inconvenient facts, and in any case are, in recent years, all too anxious to appease their Jewish brethren.  Jews aren’t likely to bring it up; as “masters of the artful lie,” it makes them look mighty bad.  Academia is too politically correct to mess with such a touchy subject.  And the corporate world sees no profit in it. Better to let sleeping Christians lie.
 
So when late December rolls around, and we start to think about those colored lights, family dinners, and tantalizing gifts under the tree, don’t forget:  the entire Christian project was likely a Jewish plot.  
 
And have yourself a very Jewish Christmas.
 

2 comments:

Sam said...

This essay is a load of baloney. For starters, there was no such thing as Jews at the time of Jesus. There were Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Nazarenes, etc..., but NO JEWS. In fact the Christian Bible as compiled in Greek in the 4th Century, the word Jew does NOT appear anywhere. So, to say Jesus was a Jew is actually blasphemous. He was a Nazarene. Anyhow, having said this, I should add that while it is true that no written record exists of Jesus's birth and life, what was then passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth was the norm rather than the exception and, therefore, should not be dismissed out of hand. However, I acknowledge that the Bible is not and accurate historical record, but the gist about Jesus is sacrosanct as far as I am concerned. Have a Merry Christian Christmas.

Mark Green said...

This is a very interesting and thoughtful article. Thank you, Mr. Dalton.

Sam (above) claims that there was "no such thing as Jews at the time of Jesus". Then call them Hebrews or Israelites. But since the Torah existed, and the Gospels refer to the Jews (in our English translation) and apparently the big Jewish temple was destroyed around this time, then there surely was a small, endogamous tribe of people who existed during this time and who later came to be called "Jews".

Anyway, I find your hypothesis very tantalizing. Though I always celebrated Christmas as a child and still keep that holiday somewhat special (though not in a religious sense) I hate to see it completely thrown out. But it should be seen for what it is: either an insidious lie or a well-meaning fairy tale. But the story of Jesus has nothing to do with real human history. That's very likely true.

For that matter, neither do any of the silly and fanciful tales that are found in the 'Old Testament'. It's all a bunch of malarkey!