The Invention of Jesus
It is my contention that the Gospel character named Jesus Christ is a composite of multiple historical figures, known and unknown.
The actual Christ was a (anointing) Spirit in the sky, who existed as the masculine-half of a polarity, as presumed by Elxai and his Ebionite and Nasarene followers. This, I suppose, is fairly compatible with Richard Carrier’s contention that Jesus was originally an angel.
From my perspective, an economical approach to unwrapping the real Christian history is via the Heresiologists, who describe, in stunning detail, attributes of the earlier versions which were hijacked for a variety of purposes – power grabs, political necessity, bigotry, etc.
Based on recurring themes the heresiologists (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Epiphanius, Hippolytus, etc) describe about earlier Christian sects, it is quite likely that the Jesus Christ of any given generation was simply the Paraclete; the human representation of a merger between Heaven and Earth; that is to say the man who possessed the Spirit at any given time. This Spirit presumably evolved to support multiple Paracletes within the same generation. And according to Paul, the Christ descended onto Cephas, 500 Christians, James, and finally onto Paul himself (1 Corin 15:5-10). Based on Paul’s focus on his own death, the presumption probably was that once the Christ descended into the Paraclete, that person died and became Jesus Christ (Romans 6:2, Romans 6:8, Romans 7:9) .
The descending spirit, which is activated upon baptism (or some other collection of catalysts), is not only detectable in Mark (Mk 1:10-11) and Matthew (Mthw 3:16), but it is clearly attested to via church fathers who tell us that early Christian groups such as the Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Carpocratians (AH i.26.2), believed this exact thing. In addition, this notion of a transient Spirit is detectable in later Christian texts, as well.
For instance, Simon Magus, who at times served as the Ebionite doppelganger for Paul, tried to buy this transient Spirit from Peter and John in Acts of the Apostles 8 (one presumption is that this showdown in Samaria was a reworking of the feud between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2:8-11), and paints Paul as a false Spirit encapsulator. Irenaeus describes an Apostolic succession, which had the Spirit moving from person to person. Similarly, in the Acts of John (47), a young man comes to John and asks him to raise his friend from the dead. John gives the young man the magic incantation to recite, and the young man is able to raise his friend by himself (this young man, at least according to my estimation, must have been Polycarp of Smyrna).
It is also my contention that much of the Gospel character Jesus was influenced by legend surrounding Paul. For example, the (Ebionite!) Pseudo-Clementines have Simon Magus claiming to be born of a virgin in his confrontation with Peter. Paul, in 1 Corin, claims to specifically to be born from a miscarriage. But,as I have made the case in earlier posts, Paul was the original Simon, who was presumed by his followers to be the first true Earthling who received the Spirit from Jesus around the time of his death, perhaps several lifetimes and reincarnations earlier.
It is from the same Ebionite source that we get the factoid that Simon Magus was a disciple of John the Baptist, and fought for control of the sect with Dositheus. Such admissions serves to give us several facets of what the Ebionites believed:
- Jesus was a contemporary of Simon Magus
- Jesus and Simon Magus were in the same place at the same time with the same people
- Simon Magus and Jesus both worked to achieve the same means – to control John the Baptist’s sect after his death
The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus makes reference to plenty of historical figures who resemble the Gospel Jesus. One character who resembles Jesus is the so-called Egyptian, the messianic claimant who took thousands of followers to the Mount of Olives, and claimed he could knock down the temple walls, just like Jesus does in Mark 14:57, Matthew 27:40, and John 2:19. Such a following in Judea – perhaps over 1% of Judea’s population at the time, would surely have some holdovers and legend surrounding it!
The link between Jesus and Egypt is explicit, as described in Matthew 2:13-23. However, another curious link to Egypt comes from Celsus, who was quoted by Origen. In his polemic against Christianity, Celsus writes
“…[Mary] disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself to be a God.”
Note the parallels Celsus draws between (his understanding of) Christianity at the time and the tradition history remembers. This is not the only place where Jesus is described as being born illegitimately and in disgrace. The Toldoth Yeshu also describes that Mary was raped, and Jesus was the byproduct. The curious detail about Celsus’s account is that Jesus was away from Jerusalem for a number of years, certainly to the point where he would have had the wherewithal to perform labor for money.
In other words, the Celsus version of Jesus might consider himself an Egyptian; surely, this version has plenty of reasons to refer that portion of his biography. The stunning link here comes from Acts of the Apostles 21:37-39, where Paul speaks to a Roman commander:
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
One wonders what the Acts author was attempting here. Was this a polemic? A slight against an early Christian member whom the author was begrudgingly forced to admit into the Orthodoxy? Or are we getting insight into a partial truth of Christian history?
We must also allow for the assumption that the Acts author was familiar with Josephus, and was slyly integrating Christian history into what was left of secular history. But as far as smoking guns go, this seems like one.