Sunday, October 13, 2013

atwill and his thesis dissected...,

freethoughtblogs/carrier | Atwill is the one dude I get asked about most often.[*] And now apparently even Dawkins is tweeting about Atwill, thanks to his upcoming venture into England later this month to sell his weird Roman Conspiracy variety of Jesus mythicism. To get the gist you can check out his PR puff piece. Thomas Verenna has already written a deconstruction of that. Notably even Acharya S (D.M. Murdock) doesn’t buy Atwill’s thesis, declaring that she does “not concur with Atwill’s Josephus/Flavian thesis” and that “the Flavians, including Josephus, did not compose the canonical gospels as we have them.” Robert Price has similarly soundly debunked his book, even after strongly wanting to like it.

Atwill is best known as the author of Caesar’s Messiah (subtitle: “The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus,” Roman meaning the Roman imperial family…yeah). In this Atwill argues “Jesus [is] the invention of a Roman emperor” and that the entire (?) New Testament was written by “the first-century historian Flavius Josephus” who left clues to his scheme by littering secret hidden coded “parallels” in his book The Jewish War. Atwill claims to prove “the Romans directed the writing of both” the JW and the NT, in order “to offer a vision of a ‘peaceful Messiah’ who would serve as an alternative to the revolutionary leaders who were rocking first-century Israel and threatening Rome,” and also (apparently) as a laughing joke on the Jews (Atwill variously admits or denies he argues the latter, but it became clear in our correspondence, which I will reproduce below…it’s weird because making fun of the Jews kind of contradicts the supposedly serious aim of persuading the Jews, yet Atwill seems to want the imperial goal to have simultaneously been both).

Notice his theory entails a massive and weirdly erudite conspiracy of truly bizarre scope and pedigree, to achieve a truly Quixotic aim that hardly makes sense coming from any half-intelligent elite of the era (even after adjusting for the Flynn effect), all to posit that the entire Christian religion was created by the Romans (and then immediately opposed by it?), who somehow got hundreds of Jews (?) to abandon their religion and join a cult that simply appeared suddenly without explanation on the Palestinian (?) book market without endorsement.

I honestly shouldn’t have to explain why this is absurd. But I’ll hit some highlights. Then I’ll reveal the reasons why I think Atwill is a total crank, and his work should be ignored, indeed everywhere warned against as among the worst of mythicism, not representative of any serious argument that Jesus didn’t exist. And that’s coming from me, someone who believes Jesus didn’t exist.

Historically, Atwill’s thesis is more or less a retooled version of the old Pisonian Conspiracy Theory, by which is not meant the actual Pisonian conspiracy (to assassinate Nero), but a wildly fictitious one in which the Piso family invented Christianity (and fabricated all its documents) through its contacts with the Flavian family, and thence Josephus (who was indeed adopted into that family after tricking his officer corps into committing suicide and then surrendering to the Romans during the War…oh, and conveniently declaring Vespasian the Messiah).

This pseudo-historical nonsense is over a century old by now, first having been proposed (so far as I know) by Bruno Bauer in Christ and the Caesars in 1877 (Christus und Caesaren). It has been revamped a dozen times since. Atwill is simply the latest iteration (or almost–there is a bonkers Rabbi still going around with an even wilder version). Atwill’s is very much like Bible Code crankery, where he looks for all kinds of multiple comparisons fallacies and sees conspiracies in all of them, rather than the inevitable coincidences (or often outright non-correspondences) that they really are. Everything confirms his thesis, because nothing could ever fail to. Classic nonfalsifiability. He just cherry picks and interprets anything to fit, any way he wants.