Jesus Or The Christ?

The point of the presumed earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, was not to highlight the ministry of an eccentric 1st century Judean rabbi; rather, it was to demonstrate the power of the Spirit which descended onto Jesus in the form of a dove after he was baptized.

When we isolate the earliest Christian sects, which in my mind were the Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Carpocratians (AH i.25-26), we see, despite significant theological differences, they all centered around this theme – the Spirit descended onto Jesus. It had not been with him for his entire life, as the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Luke would imply. The Spirit encapsulation was a new and temporary phenomenon in Jesus’s life.

The fact that these groups all used scaled-down versions of the Gospel of Matthew (ie a Proto-Synoptic Gospel), which lacked the virgin birth and resurrection, makes it even more clear that the focal point of the story was the baptism, and the powers it afforded Jesus.  This proto-synoptic Gospel probably resembled Mark as much as it did Matthew;  when you compare church father Irenaeus’s characterization of Cerinthus in Against Heresies i.26.1 and his description about what sort of people were using the Gospel of Mark in AH iii.11.7, the theologies seem like an exact match.  It was later church fathers, notably Epiphanius, who made the explicit case that Cerinthus used Matthew, making Cerinthus parallel to Paul’s Cephas in Galatians – a wrong-headed follower of James who came to reject the practice of eating with the uncircumcised.  According to Epiphanius, it was Cerinthus who looked to be an exact match to Paul’s version of Cephas when he opposed Peter’s eating with the uncircumcised in Acts 11:1-3.

Jesus’s ordinary nature could not have been more clear  than in Mark 3:21, when Jesus’s family considered locking him up because they thought he was out of his mind for casting out demons.

The big question, which I suppose will never be answered satisfactorily in the mainstream is this:  given that the focal point of the earliest Synoptic Gospel was the Spirit, rather than the attributes of the man who encapsulated the Spirit, doesn’t it make more sense that the man in the story was simply a metaphor for any Christian who received the Spirit via baptism?  Rather than a specific person who was active in the 30s?

There is an old saying:  Jesus was either lord, liar, or lunatic.  Of course, this is faulty logic in the form of a false choice.  A more reasonable option is that Jesus was a legend.  The fact that Christianity’s earliest origins seem to have been as a mystery religion (Paul and Justin Martyr explicitly say so) should make us hesitant to believe any of the earliest Christians, because the main point of a mystery religion was to hide or obfuscate internal workings from the outside world.

As the saying goes, there is often some truth hiding in deception.  But does that mean Jesus Christ existed?

Given what seems an almost slavish dependence on the works of Josephus (notably Mark’s references to Theudas, the Egyptian, and Jesus ben Ananias), coupled with the fact that many stories in the Gospel are re-tellings of Old Testament (Septuagint) stories, I am inclined to think that Jesus was a composite of a variety of Judean leaders,  including the most obvious ones in Josephus’s history, and was constructed by Diaspora Nasarene Jews, who were concerned about restoring the version of Judaism (keeping the old way) which was a fixture in Solomon’s temple, and which would have included incense burning, bread making, and wine consumption for the Queen of Heaven.

Why the virgin birth?

There was a schism between Diaspora and Judean Nasarenes at the time the Nasar were evolving into Christians.  One of the rifts was between the Paulinists and the Jamesians.

Revelation 12 was probably the core of the Nasarene philosophy (along with 2 Esdras 9-10).  The point of it was that the Queen of Heaven, the celestial mother of all Nasarenes (Rev 12:17), gives birth to a male Spirit, and it would be that male Spirit’s manifestation on Earth which would restore the Queen to the temple.  Any Christian would have been the brother or sister of any other Christian because they were all sons and daughters of the most high and the Queen of Heaven.

The earliest James followers, presumably the Ebionites, did not believe in the virgin birth.  Yet Paul claimed to have been born from a miscarriage (1 Corin 15:8), which matched a prophesy in the Gospel of Thomas, which told the disciples to be on a lookout for one not born of a woman.

It was the Nazarenes, who resembled the Ebionites, except they believed in the virgin birth and resurrection, who used an altered version of the Gospel of Matthew which contained the virgin birth – this Nazarene Gospel probably looked very similar to extant Matthew.

Matthew’s virgin birth has correlation with the Infancy Gospel of James; again, James is key.  My speculation is that it was James’s followers, the later Ebionites (who the earliest versions believed was the true recipient of the Christ Spirit) who injected the virgin birth into their tradition.  Given the fact that there was increasing hostility between the Paulinists and the Jamesians, as evidenced in Galatians, the Epistle of James, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Gospel of Matthew [as contrasted with Mark and Paul’s Epistles], and others, there was probably a political need to hijack and rewrite various traditions to highlight preferred historical leaders, and to demote adversaries.

This would also explain the mid-2nd century’s increasing polemics against those who did not believe Jesus came to earth “in the flesh”, found notably in Polycarp’s epistle, the Pastorals, Tertullian, and other Heresiologists.  I believe this phantom spirit characterization of the Docetists, by the emerging Catholic pre-Orthodoxy, was at least partially a mischaracterization.  Rather, I believe the victims of the Heresiologists’ attacks, notably Marcion, probably had views which matched Elxai, a leader of Ebionites, Nazarenes, and Nasarenes, who believed the Mother Spirit and Christ-Spirit were 96 mile tall figures in the sky, and the transference of those Spirits into humans was an invisible process preceded by baptism.

Jesus And The Paraclete Walk Into A Bar

The most compelling reason to assume Jesus Christ existed is because so many people believe he did, and apparently did so by the mid-2nd century; however, to paraphrase part of Frank Zindler‘s question to Bart Ehrman at the Ehrman/Price Mythicist Milwaukee debate, “if the Docetists had won the wars of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, we might be debating something else, such as whether there was a historical tooth fairy”.

Zindler’s point was more loaded than the casual observer might appreciate, as the Docetists believed Jesus Christ did not actually appear on earth in the flesh; rather, they believed he was an apparition.  More bluntly, if secular historians were trying to discern the probability that someone (who was not Jesus Christ) existed, and whose historical attributes included those the Docetists gave to Jesus Christ, it would not be at all unreasonable to assume that person did not exist.

A careful historian would not rule out the apparition legend’s existence simply because of this strange attribute, but if this character were not the God and savior in the minds of billions of people worldwide, there would be much less hostility surrounding the debate, particularly towards those who have the audacity to reject this character’s historicity.

My conclusion about Jesus Christ’s historicity is similar to others who reject it, although the strategy I use is probably different.  I assume Jesus Christ was a composite of many historical and non-historical figures.

My particular interest as of late has been to elaborate and speculate on the religious and political underpinnings of the group which gave rise to Christianity: the Nasarenes.  My assumptions are largely based on the works of Margaret Barker, who makes the case that Christianity emerged from a version of Judaism which was less concerned about Mosaic law, and more concerned with Wisdom as spiritually propagated by a feminine angel and the wife of the most high, known to her incense-burning worshipers as the Queen of Heaven.

The speculation of this detail provides remarkable explanatory power.  For instance, the story in Revelation 12, where a woman, clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet bounces back and forth between heaven and earth, escapes the clutches of a celestial dragon who previously ignited a war in heaven, and gave birth to a son who was taken up to heaven by God.  Revelation 12 closes by assuring its readers that those who revere the woman and her son are the true keepers of the law (Rev 12:17); this is a clear allusion to the Nasarenes – the Hebrew term for keep, guard, or preserve is Nasar.  In this context, it is no wonder Christianity and Judaism’s primary schism (aside from the obvious) related to their propping up of Moses.  If Moses’ law was not the centerpiece of Judaism, then what was their ethical and spiritual center?  For the Nasar, it was a spiritually derived wisdom sent from another realm by the Queen.

Church father Epiphanius of Salamis gives insight into the Nasar in his Panarion, where he describes them as a Jewish mystery cult (in other words), living amongst the Jews, practicing their customs, but rejecting the Pentateuch, and believing they have the true teachings of Moses.  Put another way, to the Nasar, Moses’ teachings were inferior to the spiritual wisdom of the Queen, whose days as a centerpiece of Orthodox Judaism, according to 2 Kings, ended with Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform in the 7th century BCE.

The Nasar show up again elsewhere in Epiphanius’s writings, when he describes an Elxai, who lead a collection of Essenes, Ebionites, Nazarenes, and Nasarenes, and whose chief concern appears to be 96-mile tall masculine and feminine Spirits in the sky – the male Spirit was the Christ.

It is my contention that Elxai has much explanatory power when parsing the curiosities of several Christian sects that early church father Irenaeus first described around 185CE, notably the Ebionites.  Many Christian scholars have no trouble presuming that it was the Ebionites who preceded Pauline Christianity, and had in their ranks, among others, James, and those men from Galatians 2, who convinced Cephas to stop eating with the uncircumcised.

Put generically, these Ebionites saw Jesus Christ as less supernatural than Paul did.  But it is in the specifics where the dots begin to align.  Like a similar group of early Christians known as the Cerinthians, the Ebionites believed that a Spirit from heaven descended upon Jesus like a dove after his baptism.  This is detectable in the Synoptic Gospels, which is no surprise, considering that the Cerinthians and Ebionites are both associated with various (perhaps proto) versions of the sans virgin birth Gospel of Matthew; my suspicion is that it was some symbiosis between these groups which resulted in the proto-Synoptic Gospel’s creation.


An obvious link between Elxai and the Ebionites already exists via Epiphanius, who wrote that Elxai’s followers included some Ebionites.  But consider the parallels between Elxai’s view, which had 96 mile tall Spirits in the sky, and the Ebionite view, which had the Christ Spirit descending onto the ordinary man Jesus.  The two views are entirely compatible.  In other words, Elxai’s Spirits were sending out signals of themselves to the elect, which we might presume, given the immediately preceding event in the Gospels, were the people who received baptism.

Since we already concede that the Ebionites preceded Paul (he even admits this – Galatians 1:17), and were therefore the earlier Christians, it strikes me that the Gospel story of Jesus was nothing more than an allegory to explain what could happen to those Nasarenes who received proper spiritual initiation:  they would gain magical abilities, their spiritual senses would increase to the point of being able to detect and purge demons within the temple and the synagogues, and they would have deeper insight into the realm of the unknown God.  They would become the Christ.

A reason the specific timeframe was selected for the Gospel story, 40 years prior to the temple’s destruction, was to indicate that the Christ Spirit, which should substitute for the temple, and which would be encapsulated by a human being, had been on earth prior to the temple being destroyed.  This could explain why Jesus cursed the fig tree, even though it was entirely expected that it would not bear fruit during that time of year – this was an allusion to the temple’s spiritual deficiency:  the temple no longer housed the Christ – that job was now assumed by the carrier of the Christ Spirit: Jesus.  Given the fact that the Gospel of Mark generally dates to around 70CE, perhaps one reason for this timeframe would be to give “spiritual proof” that the writers of Mark had received this Spirit after Jesus died, and were therefore, the true inheritors of the Spirit, which later became known as the Paraclete.

The temple’s spiritual deficiency is detectable in Paul’s writings, as well.  For instance, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  He also said that he was “once again in the pains of his childbirth until the Christ is formed within” his followers (Galatians 4:19).  I think it clear that, to Paul, the Christ was likewise the Spirit of the temple, and therefore, the physical temple was not necessary (although it is nearly universally assumed, I do not believe it is clear whether Paul was writing before the temple was destroyed).  This Pauline trope of recalling his own childbirth is remarkably similar to a notion which existed in a sect, very similar to the Ebionites and Cerinthians, which Irenaeus described as the Carpocratians in Against Heresies i.25:

They also hold that Jesus was the son of Joseph, and was just like other men, with the exception that he differed from them in this respect, that inasmuch as his soul was steadfast and pure, he perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God. On this account, a power descended upon him from the Father, that by means of it he might escape from the creators of the world

In the next sentence about the Carpocratians, Irenaeus explains

They further declare, that the soul of Jesus, although educated in the practices of the Jews, regarded these with contempt, and that for this reason he was endowed with faculties, by means of which he destroyed those passions which dwelt in men as a punishment [for their sins].

If we reconsider the lens through which we look at these claims, consider an intriguing speculation:  Paul (or whoever wrote Paul) saw himself as Jesus Christ.  These attributes the Carpocratians assigned to Jesus Christ are just as much a match to Paul as they are to Jesus!  Irenaeus even makes allusion to the Carpocratians using Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

One common Pauline passage used to support Jesus Christ’s historicity (and that Paul must have considered Jesus a human, as well) is Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive our adoption as sons.…

Does this passage really reflect Paul’s views on a human Jesus?  Or is this passage a reference to Paul himself receiving ownership of the Spirit?  Paul was genomenon (manifested/born) from a woman, as is evidenced by his miscarried birth (1 Corin 15:8)  He was also born under the law, in the tribe of Benjamin, as he writes in his letters.  Indeed, this passage reads equivalently when the reader assumes that Paul is talking about himself.

The flip side of this story comes in 1 Corinthians 15 7-8

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one born from a miscarriage (ektroma)

Once again, Paul’s insight into his own abnormal birth (a miscarriage) is directly linked to the Carpocratians, who believed the Spirit-encapsulator would remember details prior to their birth.  The Carpocratians also believed in reincarnation and in the transmigration of souls.  In my estimation, the odds are that Paul’s stories were contributed to by multiple members of the community who saw themselves simultaneously as reincarnations of Paul and the encapsulators of the Christ-Spirit.  I have made the case in another post that a character who shows up in Mark’s Gospel (a gospel which is sympathetic to Paul), named Simon of Cyrene, that character plucked from the field in Mark 15 (the field was synonymous with the New Jerusalem where the Queen of Heaven’s spirit would reside), was one such iteration of Paul (who was the Paraclete – the heretical sect known as the Basilideans believed Simon of Cyrene was the Paraclete).  The Gospel of Matthew, which is explicitly hostile to Paul’s theological system, omits the reference to Simon coming from the field, but leaves him in the story.  As I have argued, the whole point of Simon of Cyrene showing up late in Mark’s Gospel was to close up the loose end Mark put into 9:38-40, where an unnamed demon-caster was doing Jesus’s work for him.  In contrast, Matthew writes that demon-casting will not get anyone priority in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:22), particularly if that person instructs his followers not to follow Moses’s law (Matthew 5:19).

Recall my reference to Frank Zindler’s question at the Price-Ehrman debate.  Zindler referenced the Docetists.  Right or not, the name we tend to associate with Docetism was Marcion, that ship merchant who preserved Paul’s corpus, but rejected other apostolic traditions, such as those of Peter, James, and John.  Marcion was also evidently responsible for the first multi-text canon, which was composed entirely of Paul’s letters.

One rightly wonders:  why would Marcion do that?  What could possibly trigger an early Christian to accept Paul at the expense of apostles who supposedly accompanied Jesus?!?

One solution to this oddity is that Marcion knew the other apostolic traditions were fake, and that the Gospels were allegory.  Perhaps this was part of it.  But how does Marcion fit into the model I have described so far?

In my model, Marcion must have believed Paul was the Paraclete who received the Christ Spirit.  In that sense, the Christ was an apparition: it was not material.  The man who encapsulated it was material, just like in the Cerinthian and Ebionite systems.  Though this assumption deviates from Irenaeus’s and Tertullian’s characterization of Marcion, it strikes me as more economical.

The recipient of the Christ spirit was only half the story.  Recall that Elxai had 2 spirits:  the masculine and the feminine.  One theme that emerges in many of the heretical sects described by early church fathers, is that there was often a prominent female.  For instance, the Carpocratians, whose theology match Paul’s views in not inconsequential ways, had a Marcellina.  The supposed “father of all heretics”, Simon Magus, had a female companion named Helen, who was supposedly a reincarnation of Helen of Troy.  The Montanists, that sect which was obsessed with the “New Jerusalem”, which was located in Central Turkey, had Prisca.  Even Jesus had Mary Magdelaine!  In Against Heresies i.13, Irenaeus notes that Marcus the Magician, who had a penchant to turn water into wine, also had a female companion who was originally the wife of an Asian deacon.

Among other things, this Marcus declared:

…the infinitely exalted Tetrad descended upon him from the invisible and indescribable places in the form of a woman (for the world could not have been borne it coming in its male form), and expounded to him alone its own nature, and the origin of all things…

Irenaeus rejected Marcus, and deemed him a heretic.  My assumption is that Marcus represented the earlier version of Christianity.  The woman who descended was the Queen of Heaven, and along with the Christ, acted as a proxy between the highest heaven/God and the Earth, and (as in the Gospel of Mark and Matthew), the spirit descends on the elect.

Even Paul’s adversary in the earliest days of Christianity, James, seems linked to these more mystical concerns, including the inclusion of the female Paraclete.  Consider the Naassenes, an early Christian group, described by Hippolytus.  The Naassenes revered James, but (unlike the Ebionites) had a tremendous amount of Gnostic influence; in fact, Hippolytus referred to them as the first so-called Gnostics.

According to Hippolytus, the Naassenes claimed to be disciples of Mariamne, who was a disciple of James.  Consider an alternate reading:  The Naassenes were followers of James who saw Mariamne as the Earthly encapsulator of the Queen’s spirit.  Another way of looking at this is that, according to the Gospels, Mary was the name of Jesus’s mother and companion.  Did Mary Magdelaine become James’ follower after Jesus died?  Or was Mary Magdelaine James’ companion the whole time, and the Gospel story assigns to Jesus Christ a collection of attributes from various Paracletes throughout Nasarene history, including James and Paul?  In this light, it is interesting that no such explicit link to a Mary exists in the Paul sects.  In my model, this is because the story of Mary receiving the feminine Spirit came from the Jamesian side of Christianity, not the Pauline side.  And the name of the earliest Jamesian Christians who believed in the virgin birth:  the Nazarenes.

A fragment from the Naassene sermon is below.  One of the details I have noticed since drawing this connection between the Queen of Heaven and early Christianity is how many of these pre-Orthodox references to the mother there are – something which decreased post-Orthodoxy.

From thee, father, through thee, mother, the two immortal names.

Recall my earlier speculation that Paul saw himself, rather than some Judean minister, as the (current) vehicle of the Christ.  Perhaps what we have with the Naassenes is a sect who saw James as Jesus the Christ.  That would explain Paul’s strange statement in 2 Corinthians 11:4

For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough

This notion reemerges in several early Christian texts, not just Paul’s writings, which has the Christ appearing to James prior to appearing to Paul (1 Corin 15:7-8), but also in the Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus tells his followers to go first to James, but to be on the lookout for a potential leader who was “not born of a woman” – this tradition, in my view, was Paul’s motivation to claim he was born from a miscarriage, and also explains references to his recalled child birth pains.  The similar naming between the Naassenes and Nasarenes might be explained by the Hebrew translation into Syriac (although the traditional assumption is that it comes from the Hebrew naas, which means snake).

Deceptive Naming In Early Christianity

One need not step too far outside of the mainstream to recognize that the earliest Christians often had more than one name.  One famous example is that of Cephas and Peter (or Simon Peter).  Then there is the infamous Saul, and his Damascan conversion where he subsequently decided to rename himself Paul.  In highlighting Paul’s pre-Christian name, Acts’ author intended to link Paul’s pre-Christian persona with the Herodian Saulus; however, despite the fact that Saul’s conversion story is part of the unquestionable Christian tradition, this conversion trajectory seems untrue, and little more than a passive aggressive swipe at the real Paul, whose most serious crimes seem to be his sanctimony toward other Christian leaders, especially when they did not recognize his authority (Gal 2:6).

There are various accepted solutions for why this multi-naming occurred, the most common one being that Jews often had both Hebrew and Roman names.  This is economical enough, but I think there was another agenda which compelled it.

The primary motivation for inventing new characters was to rework the Orthodoxy.  Consider the case where an early prominent leader espoused views which were popular during his time, but the religion’s evolution rendered such views obsolete.  In this case, the early hero becomes a heretic.  An easy solution is to invent a fictional boogie man, make him the antagonist of the original hero, and offload the hero’s less-desirable attributes onto the invention.

A modulation of this strategy is to rework former leaders whose theological descendants lost influence.  This seems to be the case for the Apostle Paul, whose followers, within a few decades (and I suspect from the beginning), were advocating a multi-tiered Gnosticism derived from Paul’s (still extant!) writings.

Paul and Simon Magus


One such manifestation can be found in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, which clearly merged the Apostle Paul and Simon Magus.  FC Baur recognized this reworking more than 100 years ago in his comparison of Paul’s run-in with Cephas in Galatians 2 and Simon Magus in Acts of the Apostles 8.  The scenarios, aside from geography, are remarkably similar.  When factoring in details from the Pseudo-Clementines, it is hard to conclude Simon Magus was anything other than a reworking of Paul.

Paul and Simon of Cyrene


I argued in a previous post (The Apostle Paul Was Simon of Cyrene) that Paul was intended to be Simon of Cyrene – Jesus Christ’s cross-bearer, and that this would have been dramatically depicted, as referenced in Galatians 3:1; coupled with a linking between Paul and Simon the magician in Acts 8, along with the presence of the Cypriot magician in Acts 13 (who was also named Simon), I believe Paul’s real alter-name was indeed Simon.  The fact that Cephas was renamed Simon-Peter is striking, considering the Toledoth Yeshu claims that Paul and Simon Peter were the same person.  Coupled with the fact that Paul’s adversaries, the Ebionites (Irenaeus, Against Heresies i.26.2), were consumers of Matthew, and given the less kind treatment of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew than in Mark (specifically that Matthew’s Simon was not returning from “the field” – which was code for planting Seeds for the New Jerusalem – a clear reference to the unnamed demon-caster in Mark 9:38-40), it seems clear that Matthew’s consumers begrudgingly admitted Simon into their story, while they simultaneously downplayed his importance.

James and Stephen


As Hans-Joachim Schoeps surmised, the martyred Saint Stephen appears to be a “deckfigur fur Jakobus” – a duplication of the Jerusalem Christian leader James, and a re-telling of his stoning.  Robert Eisenman advocates this position.  One wonders if Stephen really existed at all – perhaps he was an early leader who lacked enough memorable attributes, so he benefited from a post-mortem Jamesian merger.

Cephas and Cerinthus

In Galatians 2, Cephas seems moderate, which is blasphemy in Paul’s opinion – a needless appeal to the center, which was a victory for those “men from James” – the Ebionites.  Paul does not miss the opportunity to poison the well for the Galatians: Cephas and others were low-life hypocrites for their refusal to eat with the uncircumcised.  One parallel is in Irenaeus’s description of the Cerinthians and Ebionites – the Cerinthians are implicitly contrasted with the Ebionites in AH i.26, as having more hierarchy in heaven; yet the Ebionites and Cerinthus agree about Jesus’s attributes.  But Irenaeus explicitly stated that the Ebionites hated Paul, which makes the Cerinthians roughly centered between the Ebionites and the Paulinists (notably the Marcionites).  Epiphanius of Salamis makes this Cerinthian offloading more obvious when he references Peter’s equivalence to Paul, in his advocacy of eating unclean meat with the uncircumcised men in Acts 11.  In this scenario, Epiphanius reports that, playing the role of Cephas in Peter’s new-found Orthodoxy was Cerinthus.  See also:  From Cerinthus to Cephas to Peter

Mary and The Queen of Heaven


There are enough Marys throughout the Gospels to keep readers guessing; however, the most blatantly deceptive reworking of unrealistic myth into realistic myth comes from the (near) universally acknowledged assumption that the woman clothed in the sun in Revelation 12 is actually a flowery reworking of Mary.  It is not.  The woman in Revelation 12 is the Queen of Heaven, and her followers received a shout-out in Revelation 12:17 – they were the Nasar – the keepers of the law which preceded Mosaic law.

Jesus and The Paraclete

This inclination to steal attributes from one person in order to benefit someone else did not end with the church’s apostolic inventions.  Jesus himself benefited from this.  In my estimation, Jesus was invented to metaphorically describe how those baptized and initiated into the Christian mystery could benefit from the reception of the Spirit (the Spirit rendered, even in the absence of the temple – 1 Corin 3:16); this of course meant that one must be prepared to be martyred – a universal concern in the earliest Christian texts (Ignatius of Antioch, etc).  The later addition of the virgin birth comes directly from the tradition found in the Gospel of Thomas – current generation Christians should follow James (probably the same James in Jerusalem who was killed by Ananus ben Ananus), but a subsequent generation would find one “not born from a woman” – this explains Paul’s fixation with details of his own childbirth, and that he was born from ektroma – a miscarriage.  See also:  Paul and the Paraclete

Jesus Christ and 1st Century Messianic Claimants

There were a series of messianic claimants in 1st century Judea, notably Theudas and the Egyptian. I have made the case in other posts that Theudas was the inspiration for John the Baptist; however, Jesus did get something from Theudas – his advocacy of transferring his follower’s possessions prior to following him (Mark 10:21, Matthew 19:21).  The Egyptian also had obvious qualities that trickled into the Gospels, notably that he took his followers to the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3, Matthew 24:3), and that he claimed he could knock down the temple’s walls (Mark 14:58, Matthew 27:40, John 2:19).  The fact that Paul is linked to the Egyptian in Acts of the Apostles, and that Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 7:17) claimed Theudas was a student of Paul (I surmise Clement erred; rather, Paul was a student of Theudas – in other words, Paul was a student of John the Baptist!), creates a clear correlation between the Gospel’s fiction and discernible historical fact.

Jesus Christ and Jesus ben Ananias

Jesus Christ also received a few attributes from Jesus ben Ananias, who Josephus described as a “rude peasant.”  Jesus ben Ananias floundered around Jerusalem for years, claiming “woe to Jerusalem”.  One rarely noticed feature in Jesus ben Ananias’ lament was his quote “a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.”  The reference to the bridegroom and the bride has Johannine characteristics, notably from John 3:29.  In my opinion, the earlier iteration of this wedding concern can be found in 2 Esdras 10, where the bridegroom was the Christ, who represented the temple:  “And as for what she said to you, that her son came into his wedding chamber and died and that misfortune happened to her, this is the destruction that happened to Jerusalem”.  According to Josephus, Jesus ben Ananias was killed by a talent-sized boulder, the same sort of boulder that fell from the sky in Revelation 16:21.

The Virgin Birth (Part One): Joseph and Mariamne

Mariamne I

The marriage between Herod the Great and Mariamne I in 38BCE was not a happy occasion.   It was not happy for Mariamne, and it was not happy for the people under her potential future rule. Subsequent generations, far removed from Mariamne, continued to lament Herod the Great, his legacy, policies, and power grab.  This is particularly evident in the Gospel of Matthew, which accuses Herod of being hell-bent on killing their lord-and-savior (after first pretending that he will worship him).

14 year old Hasmonean heir, Mariamne, was offered up by her mother, Alexandra, as an attempt to salvage the vestiges of the much beloved Hasmonean Dynasty.  Alexandra’s move turned out to be a strategic failure.  Herod the Great and Mariamne were married in Mariamne’s hometown in Samaria when she was 17 years old.

The marriage happened in the midst of a popular revolt where Mariamne’s uncle Mattathias led Jewish forces against Herod the Great in an attempt to push out Rome and its allies.

Herod came to power via an alliance with Rome, which began decades earlier when his father, Antipater, supported Pompey’s invasion into Palestine, securing himself and his heirs several generations of power.

His marriage to Mariamne, and into the royal Hasmonean family was a strategic move to solidify his power grab; during his reign, Herod killed many of the remaining Hasmoneans, replacing them with cronies and eventually some of his many offspring.

A catalyst, which would signal the beginning of the end for Mariamne and the dynasty she inherited, came when Herod arranged to kill her brother Aristobulus, who had earlier that year been appointed high priest (at Mariamne’s mother’s request).  The rumor was that Herodian goons drowned Aristobulus in a bath, and made it to look like an accident.

Mariamne’s mother secretly reached out to Cleopatra and Mark Antony, pleading for justice for her son.  Despite his lifelong friendship with Herod, Mark Antony summoned Herod to Rome for trial (Cleopatra also leveraged her relationship with Mark Antony to take much of Herod’s best land).

Before he left for Rome, Herod recruited his uncle Joseph to keep guard over Mariamne.  Herod gave Joseph instructions that if he was sentenced to death, Joseph should kill Mariamne – Herod could not bear the thought of the beautiful Mariamne marrying another man.

Though Josephus assured his readers the relationship was Platonic, he alluded to a burgeoning relationship between Mariamne and Joseph.  During Herod’s time away, Joseph let slip (or purposely revealed) to Mariamne the order Herod had given him.  When Herod learned about Joseph’s slip, he ordered Joseph be put to death.  Herod’s sister Salome used this revelation to convince Herod that Joseph and Mariamne had a romantic affair.

Though Herod ordered Joseph’s execution, Mariamne managed to survive for some time.  By all accounts, Herod was very devoted to Mariamne, despite his penchant to kill her loved ones.

During the 9 years Herod and Mariamne I were married, Herod killed several of her close relatives.  Despite periods where Mariamne refused to have sex with Herod (notably after she learned about Herod’s command to kill her upon his death), she gave birth to five children – 2 obligatory sons (Alexandros [35BCE] and Aristobulus [31BCE]), 2 daughters (Salampsio [C 33BCE] and Cypros), and 1 other son named Herod, who (legend has it) died while studying in Rome.  History recorded nothing about this fifth son – a detail which makes him fodder for legend.

Mariamne’s mother (in a curious collaboration with Salome), to gain favor with Herod, suggested that Mariamne was plotting to assassinate Herod.  Mariamne was tried and ordered put to death.  Josephus relayed that Mariamne approached her execution with stoicism.  In the Talmud’s alternative version of the story, Mariamne died by throwing herself off a roof; this historical alternative suggests that the Talmud writer who wrote this detail was attempting to save or rescue the Hasmonean legacy.

Mariamne died when she was 27 years old.  Her sons were both younger than 6.

According to the Talmud, Herod preserved Mariamne’s body in honey for seven years, and it alluded to Herod occasionally having sex with her corpse.  In the months following her death, Herod fell ill, overcome by grief while on a hunting trip in Samaria, where he was reminded of Mariamne.  In light of several other details, Samaria seems to be important in the legends which perhaps reworked this tragedy.

Mariamne’s sons, Alexandros and Aristobulus, spent most of their childhoods studying in Rome.  Mariamne’s surviving sons eventually became liabilities to Herod, because he recognized they were the last glimmers of hope for Jewish people (particularly those aligned with the Sadducees; the Pharisees had a more complicated relationship with the Hasmoneans, although they also had ) who perhaps longed to shed the Rome-friendly Herodian cancer from their land, and to return to the golden age of autonomy under the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Mariamne’s sons enjoyed tremendous popular support, and by 7BCE, their father arranged to have them executed by strangulation.