I reviewed James Valliant's Creating Christ:
Make sure to check out my comments.
Valliant and Casey Fahy have written this book following a theme that
has become somewhat common lately: the court of the Flavian Emperors
created the Gospels as propaganda to pacify rebellious Jews and
encourage the populace to obey the Roman state. Unlike, say Joseph
Atwill, our authors contend that Paul was a real person (although they
are uncertain about Jesus) and consider several of his letters
authentic and written pre-AD 66. Paul, who preached a pro-Roman and
more universalistic religion, clashed with James, who was a more
traditional Jew. At some later point (probably after the destruction of
the Temple in AD 70) the Gospels were written and made their way into
the nascent Christian movement.
I don't find this thesis
persuasive, but the reader can decide for himself. If there was a
nascent Christian movement centered around Paul and James which did not
have the Gospels, how were the Gospels introduced into the church
without any trace in the historical memory? And why were they accepted
by early Christians?
Some problems with the thesis:
For example, Paul's associate Epaphroditus is highly unlikely (as our
authors claim) to be the same person as the Roman secretary of the same
name or the person to whom Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews is
dedicated - the proposed transmission belt for which Roman court ideas
of Jesus were inserted into the nascent Christian movement). You'd have
to assume Paul was complicit in some Roman attempt to create a different
Jesus, which is inconsistent with his letters. It was a common enough
2. The Romans were very conservative religiously.
The idea of Romans creating a new religion is just bizarre. Remember
Cicero saying we are great because we are most pious? You could get
arrested for holding a meeting of more than a handful of people they
were so paranoid about rebellion. The Romans attributed the success of
their nation to the scrupulous nature of their religious observances.
whole Q, Synoptics, John, etc problem is much more consistent with a
bottom up religion than a top down. What's more likely - Joseph Smith
created Mormonism or the LDS created Joseph Smith? As Twain said, "the
Iliad wasn't written by Homer but by some guy they called Homer."
If Paul was a conduit between the Roman court and the Christian
movement, then why did the Romans kill him? Kind of defeats the
purpose. And Paul was killed under Nero, not the Flavians and his
authentic writings date prior to the Flavians. I find it unlikely that
the Flavians would have any interest in continuing a scheme of Nero.
the problem with the the Flavian thesis: Either: (1) Jesus didn't exist
and the Romans created a religion out of whole cloth which people for
some reason believed; or (2) Jesus lived and his followers (or their
followers) wrote down things they recalled him saying and doing
(accurately or not).
And Valliant and Fahey have a bigger problem
because they agree that Paul lived and wrote of Jesus (and knows some
historical facts).* And James also was real (and probably others such as
Peter). So their followers accepted Gospels that they knew probably had
little connection to a real Jesus? This is implausible to say the
I have a few additional comments:
1. Although the
authors breathlessly tell us that they have a combined 60 years of
studying the New Testament, they show almost no familiarity with
conservative, mainstream or even liberal New Testament scholarship. And
they often misrepresent the findings of scholarship when they advance
what they purport to be the consensus. There are quite a few scholars
who date the Gospels to prior to the fall of Jerusalem and even many
critical scholars who contend for a pre-66 date for Mark's Gospel. Our
authors tell us that “most” academics reject to the historical accuracy
of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and refer to leftists such
as Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar. Of course neither Ehrman or any of the
members of the Jesus Seminar represent mainstream New Testament
scholarship. Perhaps our authors should familiarize themselves with
such book as The Historical Reliability of the New Testament by Blomberg
or the recent collections by Keener and Licona which evaluate the
accuracy of the Gospels in light of the writing of its time.
When discussing Paul they rely (in part) on the book Operation Messiah
by Voskuilen and Sheldon. Yeah, me neither. Many solid books have been
written lately about Paul that could have been referenced such as by
N.T. Wright, James Dunn, Michael Bird and Stanley Porter. Although
perhaps appearing too late for our authors, Porter's When Paul Met
Jesus: How An Idea Got Lost In History presents the evidence (now
largely forgotten) that Paul did know Jesus.
3. The authors claim
that much of the New Testament is pro-Roman propaganda, urging
obedience to the Emperor and the Roman State. They seem totally unaware
of recent scholarship (such as N.T. Wright) that sees on the contrary
implicit criticism of growing Emperor worship, particularly in the East.
I think some of this scholarship goes to far, but it's a useful
corrective to our authors claims. (For a more balanced presentation see
Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not, by McKnight and Modica.) Our authors
attempt to downplay the persecution of Christians by Rome is not
persuasive and even they have to acknowledge that the Empire's execution
of Paul and Peter runs contrary to their thesis. Apparently early
Christians didn't get the message because most early writing touching on
war opposed Christians serving in the Roman army.
matters are presented as fact which are highly debatable. The authors
contend that the Virgin Birth is of pagan origin. However, there are
relatively few virgin births outside Christianity and they are quite
different from what is described in the Gospels. For more information
the reader might consult Raymond Brown's The Birth of the Messiah.
*For a good discussion see Dunn's essay in The Historical Jesus: Five Views.