Friday, September 09, 2005

Historical Maladies or How To Make People Mad

DISCLAIMER: The Boasts of Bethel is intended to be the collection of personal ideas and comments of Dan Bethel. While this post has a religious connotation to it, Dan in no way means to insult anybody's religious convictions nor assault them. He claims to be neither an authority on the subject of religion, Christianity in this case, or in history. More than anything, he hopes to incur educated discussion as well as logical thought that would only benefit the reader. He does not want to change anyone's ideas about Jesus Christ, but merely wants to entertain and educate--dulce et utile. If you feel he is misinformed about any of his information presented below, feel free to post a response. Enjoy the post.

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.

"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
"Men willingly believe what they wish."
-Gaius Julius Caesar


Gabrielle Guichard said...

Bonjour, I need to read to improve my English and your blog helps me. So, if you want to learn to speak French online I would be happy to pay you back.
PS I'm not sure I understand everything.

Robyn the Sweetly innocent said...

Very good points Dan... Using History to your advantage (woo Yea for history!) And in a way I could see the connections... It's true that the disciples left out some stuff... So yeah... But when does having a salad and a hair cut named after you make you god? Oh and the whole simple name for a prophit... I always liked the name Brian... lol! You probably don't get that...

DCVB said...

I know my Monty Python when I see it, lady.

Oh, and for the record, having a haircut and salad named after just makes you really cool--not a god.

Robyn the Sweetly innocent said...

Well I am happy to know you know your Python... And I really didn't think you would get those quotes... I figured that maybe Alice or Melissa would get them...But yeah you get the special prize! I'll be mailing it to you and should arrive in 2 to 3 weeks... AND "Over the Moon" is not Damned... "Friends romans countrymen lend me your ears..." Ha...

Eben said...

So I hate to burst your bubble dan, but Julius Caesar did not have a salad named after him.
An italian dude named Caesar cardini "invented" the salad in Tijuana and it is named after him.
I'm serious.

DCVB said...

In regards to Eben:

I know, I know. I was hoping nobody would bring that up. Damn you for ruining my fun! But the idea still stands: you are cool if a salad is named after you.

Robyn the Sweetly innocent said...

I just realized something... You have too much time on your hands... i just clicked all the hyperlinks (I have an hour between classes) and wow Dan... I can't believe you took that much time and effort... Props for that... Good job...

Robyn the Sweetly innocent said...

LOL... It was the only music midi I liked... Your comment made my day... I got it from a friend of mine... he sent it to me last night

The Phoenix said...

Looking at history as a source of faith does not an atheist make. Believe me I should know. I don't know what makes an atheist, mostly because I'm not one...I'm sure if I wanted to study it I could find a common thread though. But no...too tired.

In regards to the quarter life crisis I must agree that it's something we all go through.

Does anyone else like to pronounce the word verification for fun? Funny words are funny...yeah.

DCVB said...

I shouldn't have brought up the "A"-word at all. It wasn't even a thought throughout the rest of the Boast and including it at the end revealed my insecurities as an arguer, a man who wanted to cover his bases.

But let's run with it--what makes an atheist? It is someone who can say, "I have proof that there is no god." That's more than a simple, "I believe God doesn't exist." You have to be able to prove that God doesn't exist; an unenviable task, in my eyes, because no matter what you come up with some one with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Biblical cannon to counter your argument.

At that point it usually boils down to a barking match between the two sides.

While I shall currently refrain from going into a religious discussion, but due to my extremely limited knowledge of religious doctrine prevents me from making any sort of convincing argument. I welcome discussion from those who can, and maybe it will spur a future Boast...who knows?