When we do not presuppose Christianity originated where tradition says it originated, and we apply skepticism to the traditional claim that Christianity originated in Judea, what results is an extraordinary amount of silence where there should not be.
When we apply this same skeptical lens to the notion that there were Christian communities during the mid-1st century, there is a similar disconnect. The most obvious of these supposed facts, which is more-or-less taken for granted by nearly everyone, is the claim of Emperor Nero’s supposed Christian persecution in the 60s. This claim is rendered probably non-historical, given Rome’s later obliviousness about Christianity. This is particularly evident in Pliny the Younger’s letters (c 112) – Pliny was an eminent bureaucrat with his finger on the pulse of all things Eastern-Roman; his neighbor and temporary childhood guardian, Verginius Rufus, was a consul under Emperor Nero. The following statement in one of his letters reveals a curious unfamiliarity with Christianity, especially considering his close relationship to one of Nero’s most dedicated advocates:
Having never been present at any trials concerning those persons who are Christians, I am unacquainted not only with the nature of their crimes, or the measure of their punishment, but how far it is proper to enter into an examination concerning them
Here the question is raised: is it plausible that Pliny the Younger, who was in close acquaintance with people in Nero’s inner circle, could have been so unfamiliar with Christianity?
One explanation for this detail, along with absence of secular external evidence for Christianity between 30CE to 100 CE is that it has been lost or destroyed. Here we would posit that, despite a growing population of early Christians (with at least some population of highly educated practitioners), none of the earliest texts survived (save for Paul, whose letters fit in the 2nd century, as well) and no one outside of Christian communities noticed the growing Christian cult. This explanation is the preferred method for most Christians, despite its troublesome economy.
Another way to interpret the 1st century silence of Christianity is that Christianity did not exist in the first century.
For the philosophy current with us flourished in the first instance among barbarians; and, when it afterwards sprang up among the nations under thy rule, during the distinguished reign of thy ancestor Augustus [died in 14CE], it proved to be a blessing of most happy omen to thy empire
This is a fascinating reveal, considering the traditional narrative surrounding Christianity’s origins puts its earliest days no earlier than 29. How could Christianity’s origins be before 14CE?!?
The term barbarian is the centerpiece of this clue. Though the term could hold a large number of meanings in the 2nd century, another prominently remembered 2nd century Christian named Aristides gives insight into the Christian use of the term.
This is clear to you, O King, that there are four classes of men in this world:–Barbarians and Greeks, Jews and Christians. The Barbarians, indeed, trace the origin of their kind of religion from Kronos and from Rhea and their other gods; the Greeks, however, from Helenos, who is said to be sprung from Zeus. And by Helenos there were born Aiolos and Xuthos; and there were others descended from Inachos and Phoroneus, and lastly from the Egyptian Danaos and from Kadmos and from Dionysos.
Here Aristides differentiates Barbarians from Greeks via a subtle distinction. The Greeks have Zeus as their Godhead, where the Barbarians have Kronos and Rhea in their worldview. Traditionally, Kronos was the father of Zeus.
One spots a parallel between Christianity and the Barbarian-Greek/Kronos-Zeus framework. In a sense, this Greek view, as Aristides described it, was a later evolution of the Barbarian view, similar to the way Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism.
This analogue is amplified when one considers the rift between the Cerinthians and Ebionites (AH 1.26.1-2), where the central disagreement was about which God created the Earth and sent Jesus to Earth. In other words, the matter centered around who the Godhead was.
The connections between Christianity and the Barbarian view are not limited to the Godhead. In the “Barbarian” view, Rhea was the Titaness daughter of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus, and sister and wife to Cronus. Gaia is similar to Sophia (wisdom), who in the Gnostic mythos gave birth to Yaldabaoth, who subsequently spawned other archons (princes/rulers in the celestial orbits surrounding Earth). These archons were the ultimate creators of the world, which seem to be an evolution from Carpocrates’ earlier view that the world was created by inferior angels.
In Greek mythology, Gaia functions as a sort of mother Earth in the “Barbarian” mythos, and she gave birth to the Titans, who bear a striking resemblance to Sophia’s archons.
Gaia (AKA Terra, Tellus) is often connected to Aion, the Greek God associated with time and the Zodiac.
From the Wikipedia page:
In his highly speculative reconstruction of Mithraic cosmogony, Franz Cumont positioned Aion as Unlimited Time (sometimes represented as Saeculum, Cronus, or Saturn) as the god who emerged from primordial Chaos, and who in turn generated Heaven and Earth. This deity is represented as the leontocephaline, the winged lion-headed male figure whose nude torso is entwined by a serpent.
This connection to a lion-headed serpent is quite remarkable, given the fact that Yaldabaoth, the offspring of Sophia, was made of the same parts: