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CM#1, "The First Christians & Flavians"

In Chapter 1, Atwill cites inspiration from the 19th Century German scholar Bruno Bauer who first explored the influence of Rome on early Christianity and as a tool to pacify. the masses (p 35). He received further impetus from his relationship with Robert Eisenman in Dead Sea Scroll research and the thesis of Eisenman that New Testament writings were reworked to encourage compliance with Rome.

There are a number of very interesting themes in the first chapter that Atwill touches on only briefly but could become books unto themselves.

At the beginning of Chapter 1, Atwill makes the curious assertion that Josephus claimed to be affiliated with the three major Jewish sects, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. This doesn't jibe with current thinking or with Eisenman as far as I know. Josephus did spend three years with a probable Essene and/or proto-Christian guru named Banus/Bannus, but distanced himself from the various sects upon entering public life (as an aristocrat). Josephus admits deferring to the influence of Pharisees in social matters, but depreciates this sect in all of his writings. This subject is discussed in depth in the excellent book Josephus and the New Testament by Steve Mason. I highly recommend this inexpensive, readable, and up-to-date overview of Josephus research.

Josephus, as the self-acclaimed consummate aristocrat, is above such petty allegiances. He was however willing to accept the Flavians as anointed Messiahs in the Jewish sense. He was also willing to allow himself to be adopted into the Flavian family under the name Flavius Josephus (although at least some contest this). In his own words, he defected to the Romans in order to become a “minister” of the Jews (ala Biblical Joseph). Consistent with this the histories of Josephus, the Jesus of the Gospels denounces High Priests (Sadducees) and Elders (Pharisees), but never mentions the Essenes. The Essenes are the only Jewish sect that Josephus speaks about with unqualified praise.

The main theme of Chapter 1 is the Roman Flavian family. Even more liberal scholars conclude that there is no proven direct relationship between Flavians and Christianity. L. Michael White states in From Jesus to Christianity, "If Flavius Clemens and Flavia Domitilla were not Christians, as now seems most likely, then there is no evidence of a persecution of Christians in the latter years of Domitian's reign."

However, the new insight that Atwill offers makes the already circumstantial link between Flavians and Christianity fully compelling, and as Atwill states, even if Clement bishop of Rome is not the same as Flavian Clemens. (Eusebius placed the death of Bishop Clement in the third year of Trajan. Even though scholars do not place total confidence in this record, it still hinders the full association of Flavian Clemens and Bishop Clement.)

Atwill notes that the seven churches in Asia listed in the Book of Revelation were all strongly associated with the imperial cult of the Flavians (that is, Flavian emperor worship). The Book of Revelation denounces emperor worship and damns anyone who allows themselves to be marked as one who participates in emperor worship. L. Michael White concludes that the Book of Revelation was written as a reaction to the megalomaniac, sociopathic nature of Domitian and refers to him symbolically as the Anti-Christ. This tends to contradict his earlier conclusion that family members executed by Domitian were not associated with Christianity.

In light of Atwill's model, the entire Book of Revelation must be re-evaluated. Two new hypotheses are obvious.

1) Flavian Clemens, a Christian Roman, and Consul along with Domitian in 95 A.D. was expected to prevail over Domitian in a succession battle and become a new pro-Christian Messiah.

2) The Book of Revelation was designed to induce Christians in Asia and elsewhere, particularly Parthian Babylon, to prepare themselves for another war. Those with militant attitudes would be baited into the open by Rome and slaughtered like the Scicarii of Israel had earlier been. This thesis seems less likely but must be explored as a possible "fulfillment" of Daniel's 50th week prophesy.

The Book of 1 Clement speaks of "sudden and repeated misfortunes and setbacks" experienced by Clement and the Christians in Rome. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, p 168) The author of 1 Clement pulls out all the stops in an attempt to end the "sedition" occurring among Christians in Corinth (the recipients of the letter). The epistle appears to be more than the ancient equivalent of talking softly and carrying a bit stick. It doesn't threaten direct retaliation, but sternly warns that their actions are inviting an attack from "enemies", probably referring to imperial action by Domitian against Christians in Corinth and also those in Rome. 1 Clement begs the Corinthians to show clear signs of submission before it is too late.

In 96 A.D. it was too late for Flavian Clemens, who was executed by Nero on "minor charge". Domitilla was also banished from Rome at that time for her involvement in Jewish "atheism". (L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, p 336)

Also in Chapter 1, Atwill has a short discussion on the early Popes (bishops of Rome). According to one tradition Clemens/Clement was the direct successor of Peter. Peter supposedly named Clemens explicitly before his death. Peter also supposedly requested that he be crucified upside down. Atwill doesn't mention that peculiar request but it supports his later discussion about the Roman handling of would-be Messiah figures. It appears that Peter was under no little duress in this matter.

According to another tradition, Clemens followed one Anakletus and the first Pope was Linus (mentioned by Paul). See books by Laurence Gardner for more detailed discussion of the Celtic king Linus. The name Anakletus seems to have been an epithet of the ultra-Hassidic James brother of Jesus.

Atwill states that Flavians Caesars “often created religions” (p 24). In support of this he mentions that Titus held the title of Pontifex Maximus (p 26) and boasted of his abilities as a forger (p 27), but this point was not fully developed. It would be very interesting to know more about the four Roman colleges of religion and how these institutions monitored/influenced religious activity in the Empire.