Adversaries of Christianity argue against the reality of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, even as a real historical figure. One contention is based on a conspiracy theory saying “Jesus” and “Christianity” are the result of various groups colluding to invent a morphed deity image of a messiah, the Son of God:
“…Christianity and the story of Jesus Christ were created by members of various secret societies, mystery schools and religions in order to unify the Roman Empire under one state religion. …this multinational cabal drew upon a multitude of myths and rituals that existed long before the Christian era, and reworked them for centuries into the religion passed down to us today.” – Acharya S.
Challenges to create a fictional deity messiah figure would have been enormous, especially in an era without any means of electronic communication, media, even the printed word. Just the opposite, Rome was compelled to quell the rapid rise of the new belief by killing many who were deemed to be Christians.
Creating a Christian religion with a Jewish messiah ups the ante to the highest degree. Not only were the Jews probably the most scorned ethnic group in the Roman Empire, Judaism itself viewed as blasphemous Christianity’s belief that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jewish leadership, in essence, would have to be considered as co-conspirators because of the role they played by placing Jesus on trial and compelling him to be executed . So Jewish was Jesus, that he was called “teacher” by Jewish leaders. The biggest part of the image that could be considered unique to Christianity is the Resurrection accounts of Jesus necessitating the many witness accounts to be refuted.
For a fictional Jewish messiah – a deity or god – to have merit, a perfect profile would be expected. A fictitious image would call for a flawless ancestral background of pure Jewish lineage, not to mention a flawless ancestral history free of unsavory or illegal activities.
Reality that earthy ancestral perfection was not possible, collaborators would then be compelled to weave into a false narrative the 2000-year old lineage timeline going back to Abraham . The detailed lineage accounts of Jesus of Nazareth included blessings, faith, forgiveness, miracles, prophecies issued and fulfilled along with the most ignoble examples of disobedience to God. Disgraceful accounts pulled straight from the Old Testament, the Tenakh, include deception, lies, a prostitute, Gentile intermarriages, voyeurism, adultery, murder, greed, etc.
Grandson of Abraham, Jacob swindled his older twin brother’s inheritance through a deception perpetrated on their aged, blind father, Isaac. Still, God later blessed Jacob changing his name to Israel who went on to become the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Jacob’s own conniving, jealous sons sold their younger brother Joseph into slavery and lied to their father saying he had been killed by a wild animal. Better than a movie script, Joseph went on to become the second most powerful ruler in Egypt under Pharaoh who eventually saved his father, brothers and their families from a famine.
Israel’s military leader, Joshua, sent two advance spies into the Promised Land to surveil the walled city of Jericho. Word reached the King who dispatched a manhunt for the spies. Hiding at the house of a prostitute named Rahab, she struck a deal with the spies in exchange for helping them escape – they would spare the lives of her and her family when the Israelites attacked.
Salmon, a Hebrew, married the Gentile (non-Jewish) Rahab and bore a son named Boaz who became a wealthy resident of Bethlehem. A widow herself, Naomi had no surviving sons placing her at-risk of losing her marital inheritance.
Boaz married the Gentile Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, allowing Naomi to redeem her otherwise lost inheritance in the celebrated Jewish story of redemption. Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi displayed his distaste of having Ruth in the prophetic lineage of the Messiah in his commentary on the Micah 5:2 Bethlehem prophecy:
“you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah: [Rashi] You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you.” – The Complete Jewish Bible
David’s voyeurism led him to discover his soon-to-be paramour as he watched her taking a bath from his palace rooftop. Using his celebrity and power, the King seduced the married Bath-Sheba and she became pregnant. Her husband, Uriah, was one of David’s top military officers away fighting a war.
Uriah was sent by the King to the front lines of the army with the hope he would be killed in battle – and he was. As punishment from God, Bath-Sheba’s illegitimate baby died, yet while being consoled in her grief by David, she conceived another son named Solomon who would become the next king of Israel.
Solomon’s wisdom and wealth became legendary, even attracting a visit from the Queen of Sheba.He indulged in the pleasures of 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of whom were Gentiles who brought with them heathen idolatry influences.Yet, Solomon built and consecrated the Temple.
Deteriorating with succeeding generations of immoral kings, the House of David split into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel, eventually going to war against each other. The downward spiral hit an end with King Jeconiah’s curse and the Babylonian captivity.The curse on Jeconiah expired and soon Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus of Nazareth was born into this flawed Jewish royal lineage and its past. Alleged conspirators could not undo this nearly two-millennia history to create a false Messiah and as such, it would all have to be tied together.
What is the extreme improbability that alleged conspirators over centuries, most alleged conspirators not ever knowing the other, could interweave such a complex history to invent a false Messiah narrative?
King Herod’s death occurred shortly after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth making it the lynch pin date to determine the birth year of Jesus. Referenced in the Nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke, Jesus of Nazareth was born during the lifetimes of three historical personages – Augustus, Herod and Quirinius.
Not without controversy, the death year of Herod has posed a challenge for believers and detractors alike. One factor in determining the year Herod died is the timing of a lunar eclipse; the other factor is the time between the eclipse and the Passover. Both are referenced by Jewish historian Josephus marking the beginning of Herod’s final days.
Antiquity has no standardized calendar, instead timelines and dates are linked to well-known historical events. Establishing the date of Herod’s death requires piecing together such clues as the reigns of Tiberius, King Herod and his sons; the Battle of Actium; the Jewish religious calendar; astronomy data, Josephus’ account, etc.
Adding another level of complexity is “inclusive reckoning,” the question of whether a partial year was counted as a full year in historical references. The unsettled question instills a plus or minus factor of at least a year.
Herod’s death year is commonly calculated by historians using Josephus’ reference in Antiquities of the Jews. His son, Philip, began his regional Judean reign when his father died as did his two brothers, Antipas and Aristobulus.
“…Philip, Herod’s brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis, and of the nation of Bataneana also thirty-seven years. – Josephus
Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD, then adding 20 years lands in 34 AD to establish the year of Philip’s death. Subtracting 37 years of Philip’s rule backdates to the commonly accepted year for King Herod’s death in 4 BC.
Josephus’ account bookends Herod’s final days starting with a lunar eclipse and died just before the approaching Passover. The historian described in great detail events that occurred in the interim.
Drama of Herod’s final days is better than most movie scripts. A gripping scene in Jerusalem begins with rumors that Herod had died inciting insurrectionists to remove the long-hated sacrilege of Rome’s golden eagle insignia Herod had mounted over the entrance gate.
Unfortunately for the insurrectionists, the King was not yet dead. Herod had the High Priest removed from office and 40 insurrectionists burned alive. That very night was marked by a lunar eclipse.
Herod’s loathsome protruding bowels and gangrenous groin condition worsened. His physicians recommended therapy in the warm baths of Callirrhoe, a 2-day journey from Jerusalem across the Jordan River. Gaining no relief from the warm springs, his physicians then recommended soaking in a full vat of oil at his palace in Jericho.
Treatments failed and Herod welcomed the relief that death would bring. Preparing for the final chapter in his life, the King sent letters throughout Judea summoning all the “principal men” to Jericho:
“all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived, should be called to him…a great number that came, because the whole nation was called, and all men heard of this call, and death was the penalty of such as should despise the epistles.”
In the interim, misery overcame the King who decided to hasten the inevitable by suicide with a kitchen carving knife. His cousin saw what was about to happen, grabbed the King’s hand and began screaming.
Echoing screams throughout the halls of the palace were misinterpreted that Herod had died touching off a great wailing lamentation. Herod’s imprisoned eldest son, Antipater, believing a twist of fate had now posited the kingdom into his grasp, promised his jailer fortunes to release him immediately. Instead, the jailer informed Herod who became enraged, beat his head and ordered Antipater to be promptly executed.
Herod died 5 days later after Antipater’s execution. News of the King’s death spread across Judea and to other nations. International dignitaries and top military personnel including centurions, captains and officers; and full regiments of the Thracians, Germans, Galatians and Gauls all outfitted in full battle gear traveled to the King’s funeral in Jericho. An elaborate funeral procession and burial in Herodium took many days.
Meanwhile, a funeral bier was built of gold embroidered by “very precious stones of a great variety” and lined with purple material “of various contexture.” The King’s burial was followed by a 7-day morning period, then a feast for the people of Judea. Some experts question whether all these things could have occurred in the span of only 4 weeks if Herod died in 4 BC…
Consultant and Biblical hobbyist, David Beyer, compared the 1544 Gutenberg printings of Antiquities used to determine the 4 BC date to two dozen older, handwritten manuscripts predating Gutenburg He discovered all older handwritten Antiquities manuscripts said that Philip died in the 22nd year of Tiberius, not the 20th year. This discovery changes the traditional year of Herod’s death to the 2-1 BC timeframe.
Two historical works by Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews, back up Beyer’s discovery. Antiquities documents that Tiberius died after serving as Caesar “twenty-two years, five months and three days,” historically dating to early 37 AD. Philip reigned for 37 years placing King Herod’s death in 1 BC.
Agrippa traveled to Rome a year before the death of Tiberius, 36 AD. After saying to Caligula in a carriage ride that he wished Tiberius would die, the carriage driver told Tiberius who had Agrippa thrown into prison. Six months later with Tiberius’ death, Caligula (Caius/Gaius) gave Philip’s tetrarchy to Agrippa in 37 AD.
Wars marked the Battle of Actium in the 7th year of Herod’s reign. The Battle of Actium is academically recognized as occurring in the year 31 BC. Josephus wrote that Herod served for 37 years. Simple math backdates the beginning of Herod’s reign to 38 BC thereby placing Herod’s death in 1 BC.
Historian Dr. Gerard Gertoux’s different calculation arrived at similar results through another method. Since Herod was 70-years old when he died, Gertoux determined his death occurred sometime between April, 2 BC, and March, 1 BC.
NASA lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem shows that a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse did occur on March 13th, 4 BC. Passover that year fell on April 10th, just four weeks later.However, a full lunar eclipse appeared over Jerusalem January 9-10, 1 BC, and the Passover was observed on April 6th, twelve and half weeks later.
Historical records and archeological discoveries along with astronomy data point to the death of Herod in the 1-2 BC time frame. Did Herod’s death actually occur in 1 BC or the traditionally accepted year of 4 BC?
Magi were scorned by Judaism for their mystical reputation. Why then do the mystic Magi appear in Matthew’s Nativity account of a Jewish-born Messiah?
Greek text of Matthew uses the word magos, the Latin word equivalent to magus, its plural form is magi.The word is sometimes translated into English as “wise men” – both translations are correct.
Babylonians, Medes and Persians viewed magos as an eclectic group of priests, physicians, teachers, soothsayers, interpreters of dreams, astrologers, and sorcerers. It is easy to see how magi could be referred to as “wise men” – or just as easily, “mystics.” Not surprisingly, magi is the root word of “magic.”
MT 2:1 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…” (NIV)
MT 2:1 “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (NRSV)
Clearly not worried his reference to the Magi would be called into question by his contemporaries, Matthew covered the Magi story with 12 verses, at least 10 providing specific details.
Roman era Jewish society had a dual-perspective of magi. One was of the famed Hebrew, Daniel, a captured Israelite of royal descent by Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was placed into the elite Babylonian school of the Chaldeans which included an education in astronomy and astrology.
God gave “Daniel understanding in all visions and dreams,” a gift that landed him in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal council of wise men, the chakkiym. Later, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel chief of all the magi, a position known as Rab-mag.
After the Medes and Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire, Daniel’s “extraordinary spirit” again elevated him to a high level of the government. The main religion under King Cyrus was Zoroastrianism. Its founder, Zoroaster, was himself known as the original magi.
Setting the stage for the other Jewish perspective of magi began when Alexander the Great marched through Judea. The Greek Empire’s open-minded Hellenistic culture allowed the Jews religious freedom, but it also introduced Zoroastrianism intermingled with influences of the Babylonian chakkiym; its priests called magi.
Over the coming decades, the effects of Hellenism on Jewish culture was unavoidable much to the frustration of the Jewish Rabbis. Liberal philosophies of Hellenism permeated Jewish culture meanwhile Greek became the common language. Next came the Roman Empire which was content to leave the prevailing culture in Judea alone.
As expert astronomers, the Magi used the legendary Babylonian astronomical science and charts to study of the motion of stars past, present and future. Their ability to plot upcoming cosmic events were scientifically predictive, not “mystical.”
Toward the very end of the BC era, a series of rare celestial conjunctions occurred, ones hard to ignore by astronomers – then or today. Witnessing just one such rare conjunction can be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Imagine the scenario where, in a space of just 5 years from 7-2 BC, there were 13 rare conjunctions including two triple conjunctions!
Zoroastrianism beliefs held that celestial events served as signs with earthly significance. Signs of a newborn king observed by the Magi were so awe-inspiring, they set out on a month’s long quest to find and worship him. Matthew does not say there were only three Magi…it is a Christmas legend that may or may not be accurate.
Matthew’s introduction of the Magi into the Nativity story thus has a full historical context behind its setting. Not just anyone appearing on the door step of the King’s palace would expect to gain entry. Yet, when the Magi arrived unannounced, they had no problem gaining direct access to King Herod who gave them his immediate and full attention.
Herod did not question the credibility of the Magi when they gave him the alarming news about the birth of a King of the Jews. Neither did Herod’s Jewish religious council who, instead, pointed the King to Micah’s prophecy saying a Jewish ruler was to be born in Bethlehem.
Believing the prophecy to be true, Herod invited the Magi back for another meeting to investigate the timing of the star, directed them to Bethlehem, and slyly asked for their help in finding this newborn king. Angered when they didn’t return, Herod’s reaction by killing all the children 2 years old and under in the Bethlehem district testifies to his belief in the truth of the Magi’s message about a newborn King of the Jews.
King Herod and his royal Jewish religious council believed the credibility and message of the Magi. How likely is it that the Jewish author of Matthew would unnecessarily introduce the Magi…unless he also believed it to be true?