How much useful ancient knowledge have we lost?
I am well aware of the sorrow that emerges from a belief crashing inside you. Cognitive dissonance is one of the most unpleasant experiences for the human mind. For the human body, even. Hopefully, this article won’t create any pain for anyone, though I have the feeling it will certainly itch.
“Emperor Constantine, in the year 303, assembled a small redaction team and commissioned them to write the four Gospel and several other texts, all of them falsified, in order to implant his new religion throughout the Roman Empire, Christianity.”
It might sound nuts, but there is proof this is what happened. Fernando Conde Torrens spent 20 years researching the existence of Jesus before he, in 2016, finally put all the clues together in his last book Año 303. Inventan el Cristianismo (Year 303. Invention of Christianity).
Conde Torrens was 40 years old when he suffered a crisis of faith in the Church and felt the need to dig deeper. He is no atheist; he is a believer with great curiosity and greater respect for God. Conde Torrens started this journey only by trying to learn more so he could put in place all the irony and double standards he witnessed in Christianity. To do so, he learned Greek and Hebrew, which allowed him to directly read the ancient texts without intermediaries that could potentially edulcorate the content. After all this effort, he eventually got to the bottom of it: Jesus is a fictional character, and Christianity is an invented religion.
His book provides irrefutable documentary evidence present in the texts themselves (the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and various other writings of the New Testament), which show that all of them are the work of the same person, one of the members of the writing team assembled by Constantine."
Picture of the Testimonium Flavianum in Wikipedia
Now, if you are a well-read Christian, you are probably thinking about Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian who supposedly wrote about Jesus’ crucifixion following his description of Pontius Pilate. Here is the passage that Josephus supposedly wrote.
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. (18.3., transl. by Louis H. Feldman)
However, both historians and theologians reason that this passage has been subsequently added with the intention of validating Christian beliefs. First of all, because if Jesus had existed, his contemporary followers would have written about him and his teachings, as happened with Socrates, and not 60 years later based on what Flavio had heard around. Another argument is that Josephus was not only Jew but very involved with his faith. Therefore, he would not have claimed Jesus as the Messiah. Also, the explicit inclusion of Christian phraseology, which was slowly developed through the years, highly suggests the presence of some interpolations (alterations). In other words, someone felt the need to alter the text.
Some people still hold onto the hope that even if the writing was altered, Josephus originally meant to mention Jesus anyway, and so they call it a partially original Testimonium. But they don’t really have any proof to believe in such a thing. In fact, it looks like this paragraph is cutting halfway through a passage, separating it into two fragments that otherwise would have a perfect union with each other. The Testimonium Flavianum is merely a paragraph that was written totally out of context, while a historical text was copied.
According to Fernando Conde’s studies, Flavius Josephus wrote his Judaic Antiquities without citing Jesus Christ at all. About two hundred years later, Constantine formed a team made up of Lactantius and Eusebius of Cesarea, who was a historian. As their intention was to generate proof to support their new “religion of the Empire”, Eusebio changed Flavius Josephus’s text to put a piece in which he quoted Jesus Christ.
It appears that Lactantius and Eusebius were Constantine’s acquaintances, but they were very different to each other. Eusebius was a very reflexive man, very interested in philosophy-like thinking. On the other hand, Lactantius, who lived through a rough time in the Roman Empire, was convinced that the world was getting to an end. It appears he showed this ideology in his book The Divine Institutes, and it is by studying his work that Conde Torrens realized he had an essential role in developing the Christian imaginary. Lactantius was obsessed with miracles, the creation of the Church and hell as a punishment. He appeared to be a very repressed man, and so he also was very fond of criticizing “sinful” lifestyles.
Eusebius wanted to create some doctrine to help people live their lives. Lactantius wished to avoid the end of the world. And Constantine, well, he wanted to create a religion that would bring his Empire together. He didn’t manage to do this; it was Theodosius about 50 years later. But I think we can say he did give it a good start.
During his studies, Conde Torrens discovered that the authors of the New Testament had left much evidence behind. For instance, Eusebius, who was not happy with Lactantius’s line of work, left several acrostics throughout the texts (acronyms used in compositions written in verse). The use of acrostics was a widespread practice then, so it is no surprise he did so. Interestingly, these acrostics are meant to make fun of the text as they mean something like “I laugh out loud”. It seems to be a way of stating his disagreements with Lactantius.
Although unintentionally, Lactantius also left footprints. At that time, scribes regularly used a personal pattern in their texts to mark authenticity. Lactantius was a proud man and a professor of rhetoric, so he used a highly complex one that would demonstrate his skills. It showed his ability, sure, but it also left tracks that could be traced back to his previous works. Thanks to this unique pattern, Fernando Conde could also see that some of Lactantius’ texts had been modified later on, possibly by Eusebius, who lived longer than him.
The Gospels were not enough to validate a religion, so they kept on writing, repeating the same things over and over and adding some agnostic and heretic testimonies that would provide more realism to the story. They did a pretty good job indeed; because seventeen centuries later, the world spins around the belief that a prophet named Jesus ever walked the Earth. Christians, Muslims and other religions all together managed to keep this fictional character alive, just like Skywalker or Don Quijote.
With this article, I am not questioning anyone’s faith in God. God can be a spiritual being, Nature itself or just a feeling of uncertainty. You are the one to decide that. But Jesus is just a tale, and the whole establishment created around it that goes by the name of the Christian Church is the invention of a few men in their search for power.
It saddens me to think of all that knowledge, now lost, that the expansion of Christianity (and other monotheistic religions that followed) has banished from humanity’s old collective and diverse culture. In the same way that some of the Christian teachings can be wise, many other religions and beliefs would have provided a philosophical aid to manage our current world. We should be crying out for the American tribes that perished, for the African ones we ignore, for the flexibility of polytheism and for the ancient heathen knowledge that is long gone. What saddens me the most is the detachment from nature that the monotheistic way of looking at morality and ethics has imposed on us. But that is another article that I should write.
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