The Pokey Finger of God

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Fixing a Hole

December 21st, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, history

In recent months, I have grown exceedingly confident in the theory that was the originator of Christianity. Not only has it illuminated many elements of Christian history, it explains a lot about our culture. It explains the relatively late perspective of the Church Fathers, and how all of the Imperial political hierarchy became Church hierarchy. It also explains our cultural obsession with authority and retaining Roman traditions.

Conveniently, what this leaves out is a need to settle the “Jesus” issue. Contemporary scholarship may be eternally debating mythic vs. historical Jesus, but this theory just steps around that whole issue. This theory says that whatever such a pre-existing faith may have brought to the table, most of it was relegated to trivia by the specific requirements of a 4th Century . This leaves open both the potential of one (or more) pre-existing Jesus (messiah/teacher/healer) types or having the whole thing made up from scratch by Constantine and .

The view that Constantine and Eusebius invented the whole of Christian history and begs the question — to what end would Constantine choose to create a story about a crucified Jewish radical? If there wasn’t already a popular story, or set of stories, to capitalize upon, it’s difficult to imagine why this set of circumstances would have been conjured otherwise.

A significant point is that Romans had a long-standing tradition of adopting the faiths of captured peoples by having the pontifex maximus — typically, the Emperor — take on the role of chief priest of that faith. They would bring the captured sacred temple objects to Rome and the Emperor would wear the funniest of the stolen hats to perform the time-honored “Nya-Nya, I’ve got your gods!” ritual. The point being that the Romans understood the importance of co-opting a foreign faith in order to assimilate a new peoples.

One trail of evidence follows the destruction rendered to pagan temples in the immediate aftermath of the Council of Nicea. Noteably, temples to Aescepulus were particularly prone to elimination. It’s not a great leap to note that the extremely popular healer and teacher bears a great resemblance to the stories we have of Jesus. Was this cult crushed in order to clear away the competition? Or was this one of the sources of the new theology, and thus cleared away in order to match the new history? It is possible that they simply failed to embrace Constantine as the high-priest of their cult.

This brings up possibly the most nagging unanswered question regarding the origins of Christianity, if one insists upon the existence of a Jesus cult prior to Constantine. From whom did Constantine take the title pontifex maximus of the Christians? Presuming that all the information we have about heretical groups in conflict with the “orthodoxy” is correct, we cannot easily locate any Bishop or other elder in the Christian community to whom all would have shown obsequence. If Constantine crushed the Aescepulus cults for lack of centralized leadership, why would have have shown a virally reproducing, yet leaderless, Jesus cult any deference?

Rome’s greatest threat for much of her existence was the Parthians and their successors, the Persians. Emperors of both lands traded off attacks of military and political nature, all while milking the trading routes between each other. In terms of revolts and internal strife, the eastern end of the Empire — Egypt, Palestine, and Syria — was one of the more expensive areas to hold on to, but because of the production and trade routes provided, they were also the richest.

The province of Judea had a number of revolts: at one point it had its main temple razed to the ground. All of the holy objects of that temple had been carried to Rome. The Emperor was already, by all rights, the chief priest of Jahweh, among many others. Constantine had every right to claim it, but why did he?

The Empire of Palmyra was a succession of a number of eastern provinces under a general in Palmyra. They kept the Persians at bay during a low point in Imperial fortunes, and generally retained their Roman structure. This upstart breakaway had only recently been restored to the Empire by the time Constantine took power. Perhaps he took the continued troubles in the area as a sign that the “Nya-Nya” ritual wasn’t enough: in order to truly become the spiritual leader of that area, he would need to incorporate it into the state cult.

The tradition of the ‘anointed’ leader was a significant part of the Judean political system and this was what Constantine sought to attain for himself in order to take the spiritual leadership of the Judeans. The mythos became that of the ‘failed messiah’ having been reborn and returning in the shape of the Roman Emperor. In this way, he could remind everyone about the extent of Roman domination in the area as well as further increasing his deific biography.

This line of thinking embraces the notion that Constantine and Eusebius made up most of the Gospels themselves. The emphasis within the stories about the Temple in Jerusalem, and its destruction, indicates how foundational to Biblical theology this event was. Was this a deliberate reminder for the Judeans to stay in line? Was it a message to the other provinces that revolt would be answered with a heavy hand?

Another reason for looking to Syrian faith was the example of Elagabalus, the Syrian hereditary High-Priest who replaced Jupiter at the top of the Roman spiritual hierarchy with El Gabel, who became the Roman Sol Invictus — the Unconquered Sun. Since Constantine scooped up the other Sun gods historically called upon by previous Emperors, this one came along as well and took a starring role. Perhaps there is some hereditary connection here between Elagabalus and Eusebius that may have also come into play.

Finally, the imposition of the Tetrarchy that preceeded Constantine brought with it another innovation. The needs of the army had become the motive force for Imperial taxation. In order for all of the needed goods to flow as required, most of the citizens of the Empire found their positions were guaranteed and hereditary, but also manditory. Increasingly, the state felt the need to dictate where its citizens would live and what they would do. It was a natural progression that the Emperors would eventually demand ultimate authority in all things spiritual, as well.

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