Creating Christ: Challenging Christian Origins – OpEd
A new documentary, 30 years in the making, argues for a Roman provenance for the Christian religion. Does it convince?
By Anthony Sacramone
As Creating Christ will have it, Christianity as we know it was more or less invented, or at least redirected, by two members of the Flavian dynasty, Emperor Vespasian and his son (and eventual emperor) Titus, as a way of enforcing docility on zealous Jewish sects who wanted pagan Rome out of Jerusalem and out of their lives. The new cult synthesized a variety of pagan symbols, gods, and traditions and, of course, the messianic concept itself to impel the rebels to obey the authorities and honor the emperor. Vespasian himself, it is argued, was the Son of Man predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:34, who came within one generation of Christ’s crucifixion to ruthlessly punish the rebellious and, ultimately, bring peace upon the land.
Moreover, the Romans employed a plant, a secret agent among the Jews, tasked with challenging the James-led Torah-orthodox faction and quelling rebellion and enforcing obedience to the emperor and the prompt payment of taxes. Who was he? The apostle Paul, who, once he had confronted the church in Jerusalem and was threatened by the zealots, was whisked back to Rome for safekeeping.
Ultimately, as the Flavians passed into history and the final Jewish rebellion in 135 was put down, the Christ cult became more of a nuisance than an aid in pacifying rebels and promoting a pro-Roman take. And it would take until the fourth century and the Edict of Milan before Christianity would be put back upon a path to most-favored status.
I have to admit that I found the film absolutely riveting, even astounding. The revelations that poured forth, one after the other, rocked me back on my heels, like a succession of electric shocks.
You see, God in his providential care had allowed me to live long enough finally to see, after all these years, after countless hours gawking at the Big Screen…
…the single dumbest movie ever made.
This is no small feat. I mean, there are some pretty dumb movies to choose from, like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and JFK. But they’re dumb on purpose. They’re fun dumb. I mean, if you pay money to see Santa Claus kick space alien butt, you shouldn’t expect something that rivals Bridge on the River Kwai.
Then there are failed movies. They’re not necessarily dumb; they’ve just failed to entertain, move, or compel. Think Godfather III.
But now you have the opportunity to see Creating Christ, which succeeds not only in achieving a depth of abject dumbness typically found only in departments of evolutionary psychology, but also in failing so spectacularly in its primary aim—to undermine the integrity of the New Testament witness and thereby shake the faith of billions of Christians—that it could actually be used as an evangelistic tool. “Yes, kids, this is the latest scholarship from the atheist corner. And yet the people who made this are able to function on a daily basis without hired help. Now tell me there is no such thing as a good and gracious God.”
Acting as hosts for this documentary are the authors of the book upon which the film is based, James S. Valliant and C.W. Fahy. Published in 2018, the book sold what I’m certain are copies. A little should be said about who the authors are. Fahy is a fantasy novelist, whose works include Isle of Wind and The Drowned Tomb, with which I’m sure you’re all familiar. Valliant, a former prosecutor and TV interview-show host, has one other book to his credit: a hit job on the “Brandens,” associates of Ayn Rand who had rather less-than-flattering things to say about the libertarian guru and author of Atlas Shrugged. (Valliant is also on record as stating that Friedrich Nietzsche had a “dramatic impact” on his “ability to question the moral assumptions of the New Testament.” So there’s that.) Neither Valliant nor Fahy is a historian; neither is a theologian. But they have produced, according to the book’s website, “irrefutable proof” that Christianity is as much a product of pagan Rome as concrete.
Both Valliant and Fahy are joined in this film by two scholars (of a sort) and the late Acharya S., who, bizarrely, was late by about five or six years by the time the film was made. And yet they want us to believe that resurrection is a fiction.
The first scholar is Robert M. Price, former Baptist pastor, former member of the Jesus Seminar, owner of two Ph.D.s, one of the few pop atheists whose politics run right of center, and now prolific author of books that deconstruct the New Testament into incoherent parts. Robert Eisenman is also in the cast, famous for an 1,100-plus-page doorstop of a book arguing that James the brother of Jesus was the Teacher of Righteousness described in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and that, well, I’ll let Wiki do the heavy lifting here: “Jewish Christianity emerged from the Zadokites, a messianic, priestly, ultra-fundamentalist sect.” Eisenman’s “scholarship” has come under heavy criticism from everyone from the formidable Géza Vermes to the agnostic NT scholar Bart Ehrman, who, it should be remembered, wrote a book debunking the “Christ myth” thesis.
As for Acharya S., aka D.M. Murdock, she is perhaps most famous in atheist circles for promoting the whole “Christ myth” thesis. (Oops.) Based on her comments in the film, she clearly despises Christianity for, among other things, despoiling nature and refusing to go away. She also has a rather nasty take on first-century Jews, or at least those who thought the Romans should go back where they came from. They are often referred to, by her and the authors, as “fanatics” and compared to contemporary Islamic extremists, presumably to gain sympathy for the film’s thesis from morons. What’s curious is that this documentary was shot sometime between 2020 and 2022. Ms. Murdock died in 2015. Could the filmmakers find no one else to comment favorably on their “Vespasian is the Son of Man” theory? Were they left having to dig up what amounts to stock atheist footage of someone whose main work was dismissed as “sophomoric” by none other than—wait for it—Dr. Robert M. Price?
Both Valliant and Fahy spend an inordinate amount of screen time obsessing over the fact that the Flavian emperors (again, Vespasian and Titus) had as their personal symbol a dolphin wrapped around an anchor, which appeared on all manner of artifacts, from coins and cameos to rings and things. Yet this symbol appears to have been appropriated by Christians before they had begun using the cross. Why would Christians, who were supposedly persecuted by the Romans, take as their own icon images associated with the Empire and the emperors? The only credible conclusion can be that Christianity was more or less the invention of the Flavians. It all makes sense.
Except it doesn’t, even on their own terms. They admit in the film that the fish was a common symbol among Christians because the apostles were called to be fishers of men, and that the anchor, or lure, was Christ himself. So of course the Romans invented Christianity. See the logic? Of course not. There isn’t a microscope powerful enough.
Alas, allow me to share the worst-kept secret in the history of subterfuge: The early Christians either repurposed or subsumed much that was not original to them. After all, there was baptism before Christ said to baptize all nations. There were ritual meals in which it was believed the adherents were consuming their god. There were fasts, sacred days and spaces, prophets and miracle workers, sun gods, sons of gods, dying and rising gods. Pick a god, any god.
That Christians would have appropriated pagan symbols and made them their own proves a secret provenance of the religion like the use of the Kansas City Chiefs logo proves Geronimo was their first quarterback. Nowhere in this ludicrous exercise do any of the participants consider that the three words most important to the early Christians were not: “Obey the emperor” but “Jesus is Lord,” and what better way to prove it than by coopting those symbols attributed to Roman rule for Jesus rule.
Now, if I had a few minutes alone with the authors, I’d ask them a few questions. (I’m sure you could easily add to this list.)
- If Paul was a Roman agent intended to preach to Jews passivity in the face of Roman rule, why does he present himself as the apostle to the Gentiles?
- If Paul was a Roman agent, why did he wind up repeatedly in Romans prisons? Were there no Motel 6s? Why was he finally beheaded in Rome by Romans? Was that part of his retirement package? Why did he upset Artemis’ followers so? Didn’t they get the memo that the whole thing was a put-up job and that his gig was to calm everyone the hell down?
- Wouldn’t it make basic common sense for a nascent religious movement that was touting a rival “king” and “lord” to avoid confrontation for civil disobedience with the most powerful empire on earth, which would have crushed them in less time than it takes to walk out of your movie?
- If, as Robert Price has written and asserted for years, in the tradition of the Dutch radical theologians, that there was no historical Paul, but that the epistles ascribed to the apostle were in fact written by Marcion in the second century, why shouldn’t we assume his activities among the Jewish authorities as depicted in Acts are pure fiction? And if you accept the traditional dating of the Pauline epistles, why give prominence to a speaker who does not? Why insert such incoherence into your documentary? (Price, too, by the way, has joined the “Christ myth” camp; but if you press him too hard, he often admits it’s just speculation. In fact, if you press him too hard on most of his conclusions regarding Christian origins, he’ll admit they’re just speculations.)
- Valliant stated in a video interview, shortly before the filming of the documentary, that the idea of a “slow evolution” of Paul’s revolutionary idea—that there is no longer “Jew or Gentile” but all are one in Christ and that one did not have to keep the ceremonial law to be a Christian—was untenable, and that something had to have happened to create this disturbance in the Jewish force, as it were. So they jump to the conclusion that it was Rome’s attempt to paint themselves as the good guys in the whole occupation scenario and not what Christians have been arguing for 2,000 years: “On the third day he rose again from the dead.”
- If, as you assert, the Romans aren’t the “heavies” in Christian history until the making of Ben Hur (I swear I’m not making this up), why was the whole cult of the martyrs suffering at the hands of the Romans invented in the first place (the persecution of Xians is relegated to the realm of myth in his thing) such that Edward Gibbon is already trying to deconstruct it in the 18th century?
- If the critical deconstruction of Christian origins and attempt to place Christianity in its historical-political context began only with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi texts, as you assert in the film and that YouTube video, what was all that Enlightenment stuff about? Have you never read Thomas Paine? How about later writers, such as D.F. Strauss, Bruno Bauer, Renan, Schweizer? And why did they (not to mention the geniuses of the aforementioned Jesus Seminar) reach such wildly contradictory conclusions as to Christian origins if some kind of scientific method was being applied? Do you know who N.T. Wright is?
- Why does the Roman historian Tacitus put the blame for the crucifixion of Christ squarely on the shoulders of a Roman: Pontius Pilate? And why are the only other references to Christ and the Christian movement in the work of other Roman historians so vague and obscure? Why weren’t they used in a more robust way to promote the emperors’ religion? Isn’t one rap against the historicity of Christianity that there are so few references to it outside the NT? But if the emperors were for all intents and purposes fashioning a new cult, why not promote it more vigorously in the work of writers friendly to the empire?
- If the target audience for the new pacific religion were the fiercely monotheistic Jews, why have your agent Paul concoct a synthetic god composed of Apollo, Serapis (who himself was a meld of Greek and Egyptian gods), Yahweh, et al., especially when the emperors believed Jesus to have been an all-too-human revolutionary figure and not divine in the first place? After all, it is the asserted divinity of Christ that split the early Christians even further than did the debate over keeping kosher. If Paul already believed this (Phil. 2:5–11) and was not to be dissuaded, did neither Vespasian nor Titus bother to ask him why? Or perhaps offer him a villa in Tuscany if he’d just shut his piehole?
- If Christianity is a Roman cult, who commissioned the gospels? Were the writers given an advance against future sales? And why have the Romans crucify Jesus at all? If you’re making stuff up, why not have the Jews stone him to death like they did Stephen, or have Pilate sentence him to a civil service gig in Caesarea (with, like, a windowless office and no access to the kitchenette)? If the memory of the actual crucifixion was just too vivid (despite the undoubted protestations of the Christ-mythicists in your documentary), why wouldn’t those who remembered that also remember that none of the other things attributed to him in the supposedly spurious gospels (miracles, all those “peace” sayings) were true?
- If Jesus’ commending the Roman soldier for his faith was an invention to show the Romans in a good light, why invent a religion about the resurrection of the dead for a people who found such an idea absurd? Why have Jesus fish a Roman coin with the emperor’s mug on it out of a fish’s mouth to pay the tax, when everyone knew that any fish that swam that close to the surface of the water that you could reach down and grab it ate only garbage.
- Who wrote the Book of Revelation and the Whore of Babylon nastiness? Was that simply a late sequel the Flavians lost control of, like Sylvester Stallone and Creed 3?
- Finally, if Vespasian was believed to have performed all the miracles that ultimately were attributed to Jesus, why did his resurrection not get a neat holiday? Did the Romans not like chocolate bunnies or something?
Look, the film is only $1.99 on Amazon Prime. Check it out for yourself if you think I’m being unfair. But also consider that for two bucks you could buy instead a bag of Trolli Sour Gummi Creations (Martian mix), a lint roller, or a bunch of really nice paper bags. But far be it from me to tell you what to do with your money.
*About the author: A University Honors Scholar of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Anthony has 30 years’ worth of publishing experience, having held numerous editorial titles for a wide variety of consumer magazines, websites, and journals, including Biography, Discover, Men’s Fitness, the Wall Street Journal, the HistoryChannel.com, Beliefnet.com, First Things, Commentary, and Modern Age. And for a brief period he also had Rambo for a boss, literally. He and his wife, Denise, a Realtor, live in Wilmington, Delaware. His writing can be found at anthonysacramone.com. He tweets at @amsacramone.
Source: This article was published by the Acton Institute
2 thoughts on “Creating Christ: Challenging Christian Origins – OpEd”
I’ve seen the movie and can’t vouch for the scholarship and don’t really care for their theory, but you have mischaracterized it.
First off dubbing it a “failed movie” is odd considering your thought enough to write a review.
Second, you seem to be making an assumption that there is nothing to challenge in the New Testament or the intentions of the first Christians to win pagans to their new religion, other than through the unproveable intersession of the Holy Spirit, which they achieved by turning the very human with human parents, but divinely favored, Jewish Jesus in Mark into a composite Greek god by the time John is written.
Even though I only have a degree in the Academic Study of Religion, I do know a bit more about it than the average Christian…I am also a bishop approved lay minister in the RCC…Paul does have a connection to the upper-class Roman Christians because he refers to them enough in his letters and he had to know a lot of people in high places to achieve what he did in such a short amount of time. We know he was a part of the Jewish upper class, because he worked for them at one time. People in ancient Palestine were not put on a wall and did nothing when the Bible is not talking about them. We have a few hours worth of Paul’s thoughts. What did he do the rest of time?
That is diatribe appears in on pagan website is mystifying.
Thank you and please try to be a little more open-minded.
The reviewer undermines reasoned arguement by discounting, without qualification, established fields such as revolution’s contribution to behavior. To me this sounds like “the folks who spent 30 years researching their references ALSO believe that the Universe is only 4% matter – ha!”. Christianity is very much a reflection of the city-state that hosted the prevailing Christian apologetics. Had eastern/Asiatic region apologetics of Gnosticism prevailed, Christianity would be very different.