Were Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar the same person?
Whilst watching the new HBO series, Rome, the similarity happened upon me. It started small, noticing the two characters shared the same initials. Then I thought about the course of their lives, which led me to thinking about time, place, and influence of the Roman Empire.
I had to work backwards. Romans crucified Jesus. That would be empirical Rome because he was killed in, duh, Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, or A.D. to put it simply, and Republican Rome had long been deceased by that time. This meant that greater Judea was under Roman control, which showed me that, yes, Jerusalem was part of the Roman Empire. Caesar was betrayed by "his people" (politicians, called the Optimates), Jesus was betrayed by "his people" (the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin). Both were loved by the people and hated by those in power. Julius Caesar was given the title Pater Patriae ("Father of the Fatherland"), Jesus was given the title of King of the Jews, and is often referred as the King of Kings in the Book of Revelations.
But let me stop there, and re-evaluate the facts. If I were to honestly believe Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ were the same person, I would have to believe, over anything else, that Jesus never existed and that the scholars got their dates completely wrong.
I don't believe this.
I find it hard to believe that such a strong faith in a single person (I emphasize 'person' in order to separate that from a god, which could be believed in without ever having met face to face) could come from a fantasy. To give a mythical prophet a normal name (Josh), a lineage (albeit a shallow one), and a life would be difficult for even the modern media machine to pull off effectively.
So, I believe Jesus was a real person, a prophet even. The problem is that during Jesus' time there was a bunch of people running around calling themselves 'prophets'. To the Romans, Jesus was just another crazy out of the throng. But he was a charismatic orator, apparently, and was able to draw a fair amount of support where others would fail.
Empirical Rome was a crazy mix between lawful order and religious zealotry. The people so loved Julius Caesar that upon his death, they immortalized him as a god, and his family line directly descended from Venus (formerly Aphrodite) herself.
So, if deifying beloved public figures was nothing new to the citizens of Rome, why would the Hebrew crowd do it to one of their own, especially if it hadn’t been done by them up until that point? (Please correct me if I am wrong)
The Roman Empire was a remarkably tolerant one, and (mostly) all who lived within the defeated countries became Roman citizens. Not a bad deal, considering what the Vikings or Mongols did to their defeated enemies. By the birth of Jesus, Caesar had been dead for about 40 years, and by that time already worshipped by Romans as a god. If his godly presence wasn’t felt in Jerusalem, a part of the Roman Empire by Julius’ day, then Caesar’s worldly presence was surely known in that realm. I mean we’re talking Julius effing Caesar, a dude who has a play named after him. This is a guy whose last name cultures have adopted as the word to mean king or emperor (Tsar and Kaiser pop into mind), and the dude was never officially Emperor of Rome. He was Dictator for Life for eleven days, but stepped down out of humility.
I just celebrated my 25th birthday, putting me officially in my mid-twenties. As a quarter-lifer still working on his bachelor’s degree, I find myself often in a state of panic, confusion, and fear. Should I be the ever ambiguous 'something' by now? What have I to show for my many years out of High School? Should I feel the need to show anything? One of the statistics I use against myself is that Buddy Holly died when he was 22 years old, meaning his entire career (given that it wasn’t very long), success, and wealth, had been occurring up until that point. I am now older than Buddy Holly was when he died and I have nothing to show for it, not even in the smallest way Mr. Holly did.
This is a common symptom of people my age, even those with degrees wonder what the hell they’re doing with their lives, if anything at all. It’s understandable. But while doing research for this post, I read that at 30 years old, Julius Caesar (by then a fledgling politician) fell weeping at a statue of Alexander the Great at a temple in Spain, saying:
“Do you think I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable?”
At least, that’s what historian Suetonius (75AD-160AD) says in his book Twelve Caesars.
Roman-occupied Jerusalem would have known of Caesar’s exploits and popularity and may have admired it. But not wanting to idealize a Roman, many would have found it possible to find a parallel with a fellow Jew, and Jesus was a pretty good candidate.
When hearing people talk about Jesus, I usually become frustrated with them because it’s always “Jesuschristourlordinheaven died for our sins,” or “My relationship and faith in Lordgodjesuschristhallowedbethyname is my utmost passion in life,” when I would hope that they could calm down just a bit. Look at the person Jesus was, isn’t that enough to guide a person through life?
I wish people would just think for a second when (if ever) they contemplate their faith. Look at the whole thing from the outside instead of just believing in it because they were born into such a lifestyle. Look at it from a human perspective and then I believe you can see where people like me are coming from. I'm not saying that if you use intelligence you'll become a good ole atheist, that's the last thing I want. I would hope, though, that we could appreciate the man before the god, because that is something we can strive for and accomplish, and be happy with ourselves at the end of the day. Because that's the main thing that Julius Caesar and Jesus had in common, they were brilliant at convincing others to believe in themselves, which led to people believing in the causes of Julius and Jesus.
But there is this: Jesus never had a haircut and salad named after him, nor did he ever get to wear cool armor.