Transition of Pre-Christian Jesus

Belief in a soon-to-come messiah was deep-seated among the Jews after the time of the Maccabean revolt (144 BCE), and the fervor of that belief virtually elevated that expected savior into a secondary god.  The Ethiopic book of Enoch,* for example, reveals that veneration saying, “Before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of heaven were made, his name was called before the Lord of Spirits.”  In this glorification of the expected messiah there is found the influence of Babylonian myth.  And in this is also found the seed from which Christianity would evolve.  (*If you are unfamiliar with the book of Enoch, it is because it was one of many quasi-religious Jewish writings that were not included as part of Biblical canon because it did not contribute to the idea of church authority.  Consider the astronomy-zodiac inferences.)

The yearned for messiah was fashioned upon the legendary Israelite deliverer named Joshua (Jeschu), and Jewish literature such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastics, and Enoch reflect a background of centuries of polytheistic ideas among the tribal Hebrews.  Hellenism became an influencing factor upon tribal faith, causing mounting dissatisfaction with pure Judaism among the Jews after the Babylonian captivity (c.597 and 587/586 BCE), but before the destruction of the Temple (in August of 70 CE).   Ceremonial “laws” and endless taboos, sacrifices and superstitions provided individuals with little inspiration to act virtuously.  Almost in defiance there developed an association of Joshua/Jeschu with the Greek Logos, and that association as Son of God and messiah is present in the Pentateuch.  Thus the name Jesus, derived from Jeschu/Joshua, became revered among some factions of Judaism long before the appearance of Christianity.  This claim is strengthened in the fact that about a century before the death of Herod (44 CE), there is recorded the public execution of a man named Jesus and his body was hung upon a tree.  The name recorded was Jesus ben Pandira, and it was recorded in the reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus.

There are old documents which show that the early cult of Jesus, in rivalry with Judaism, was attracting converts among the Jews after the Babylonian captivity.  In the oldest documents of this cult the central feature was the eucharist–the sacrament in which bread and wine (or water) was consecrated, then consumed in memory of a revered deity (generally a deity that had been sacrificed).  This rite was common in many faith practices of the Mideast region, but was practiced in secret among the Jews who were becoming discontented with the futility of tribal ceremonial “laws.”  The point labored for here is that this places familiarity with the name Jesus as messiah nearly a century before the Roman authors of Mark and Matthew introduced the character of Jesus to the Roman public.  On the whole, however, those early writings were aimed primarily at those discontented Jews who already wanted a more moralizing and uplifting form of faith.

The original character of Jeschu/Joshua had several attributes that were always associated with Pagan sun gods—the alleged power of halting the course of the sun, for example.  But in the version by the Yahweh priests, Joshua was reduced to human status.  This sun god relationship is echoed in Christian scripture with Joshua’s namesake, Jesus, saying of himself, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12).  True of the light from the sun, the verse declares, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”  It is from this sun god association that Christians proclaim their faith on Sunday, the day of the Sun.  (The day for holy observance among the Jew is Saturday, the day of Saturn.)

In 60 BCE, Jerusalem was captured by Rome; in 06 CE Judea was annexed by Rome; by 55 CE the proportion of Jews in the Empire was over twenty percent; by year 66 the constant antagonism of the Jews flamed into a rebellion.  That portion of the Roman Empire was a source of continuous friction.

When Octavian became sole master of the Roman world in 29 BCE, his empire had spread from Africa, Asia, Gaul, Spain and Dalmatia, so preserving order was vital for its continuance.  By the time that Emperor Augustus died in 39 CE, the Roman populace had become fascinated by the exotic character of cults and rituals such as Mithras (Persia), Isis (Egyptian), and Cybele (Phrygian).  The acceptance of these within Rome made for easier transitions with these conquered regions.  So the Jewish Jesus cult would not have gone unobserved by the Roman aristocrats and literati.  But the Empire still continued to be constantly troubled with Jewish haughtiness.  Thus, around 50-55 CE, as the more hardline Jews kept being fanned into periodic insurrections, a few Roman aristocrats and literati began to toy with the idea that it could be politically advantageous to cultivate that deviation of the Jesus cult within Jewish culture.  So, can it be simply coincidence that the first versions of Mark and Matthew happened to make their appearance in the Roman Empire in this same timeframe?

And isn’t it strange that later New Testament books appeared either during or shortly after other periods of conflict with the Jews?  There was war in Judea in 69, and Jerusalem fell in 70.  Perhaps it is coincidence that the revisions of Mark and Matthew came to pass between 70 and 80.  This was also the timeframe in which the destruction of the last three outposts of Jewish resistance, Machaerus, Herodian, and Masada occurred.  After another long siege in 79, Jerusalem was captured.  In the period following this, 84-90, a broader strategy was initiated to unite the diverse people of the Empire.  In this timeframe the books of Luke and Acts of the Apostles appeared, which connected the advance of the “gospel” from Jerusalem to Rome, and featured a converted Jew, Saul-Paul.  (Luke is referred to in Philemon 24 as Paul’s “fellow worker.”)  Both of these books bear the stamp of a two-person authorship.

Continuing acts of civil disobedience throughout Jewish population centers necessitated constant monitoring, and in this general timeframe, 94-100, the books 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians were written.  Also in this general timeframe the Pharisees declared that Italy, and especially Rome, was “unclean.” The composition of the book of Romans date c. 100;  2 Corinthians and the editing of Ephesians occurred c. 100-105; 1 Timothy and Titus c. 105-107; and Philemon c. 106-107.  The second great revolt by the Jews began c. 115, and one million Jews took over Alexandria, Egypt, and held it for nearly a year.  By 116 there were also uprisings in Parthia and other places.  2 Peter and 1, 2, and 3 John, and the book of Jude all date c. 110-115.

Another great Jewish revolt began in 131 under the leadership of Bar Cocheba, and the Roman troops sent to restore order suffered a surprising defeat.  Roman patience with Jewish spiritual obstinacy was running thin.  The violence of the rebellion in Jerusalem lasted for four years and was climaxed by the Emperor Hadrian having Jerusalem destroyed and forbidding any Jew from setting foot on the site.  Can it be coincidence that the book of Revelation was written c. 135-138, the period following the violent insurrection of the Jews?  Curiously, however, the last book to be written for the New Testament lineup was Hebrews, written c. 135-140.  It is in Hebrews 8:6-13 that there is found a “new covenant” for the Jewish people.  Even at that late date the Roman rule was not out to destroy Jewish culture: they sought only to soften the Jewish obsessive pretense of spiritual elitism.

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