Monday, 16 January 2012

The Carotta Code Cracked

It seems that someone at Francesco Carotta's "Divine Julius" web site took offence at my recent book review. The extensive "rebuttal" is unsigned but carries the tag "Francesco Carotta". So, has the great man deigned to defend his dodgy theory?

A reasoned rebuttal?

Actually, he seems to be more interested in discrediting my review. "We can notice lots of errors, patterns of bias," he writes. My supposed bias is mentioned more than once. (How can a grumpy old emperor be biased?) As for rebutting my review? According to Signor Carotta, a.k.a. Divine Julius, "That shouldn't be too hard".

In time-honored fashion, his first move is to discredit my blog. I am, he suggests, "too senile to notice" important pieces of evidence. (That's rich! Divine Julius calling Antoninus Pius senile!)

He claims that the title of my post "is misleading". (Really? How so? I thought it summed up the debate perfectly.) "Nowhere has Carotta made a case for the same-initials-argument JC=JC", he writes ... as if anyone seriously believed that there was any significance in the initials J.C. (By the way: notice that, like Caesar, he grandly refers to himself in the third person.) Of course, I never suggested that this was part of Signor Carotta's theory. (Mehercle! There's already enough bunkum without adding more!) This is a spurious "rebuttal", but it serves Carotta's purpose: to undermine my credibility.

So, let us examine the responses from C.D.J. (shorthand for Carotta's Divine Julius mouthpiece), point by point.

1. Support for Carotta

C.D.J. claims that I was wrong to say that there has been no serious endorsement of Carotta's theory. This is false. I still haven't seen his book reviewed in any academic journal. However, amongst his alleged enthusiasts, Signor Carotta names ex-London Times editor Sir Peter Stothard, on the basis of this cryptic comment. Other "authorities" are quoted piecemeal and out-of-context; there seems to be no point-by-point discussion. Furthermore, the damning charge of "sweeping and often superficial" is quoted as a compliment! Eheu! I'd go along with Professor Mary Beard's assessment of Carotta's "eccentric website". But we are being side-tracked. (Another of Carotta's ploys?) Let us return to The Carotta Code.

2. Julius Caesar was chrêstos

Signor Carotta's entire theory relies upon the proof of this allegation: that Julius Caesar was known as chrêstos, a Greek word which means "morally good" or "worthy". Obviously, Signor Carotta could not cite any official documentation naming Caesar as chrêstos, because none exists. However, C.D.J. claims that there is a source, "an important one at that". This is false. The ancient writer Plutarch says that Pompey claimed, on one occasion, that Caesar was "considerate and worthy" (Plut., Pomp. 75.2: eugnômona kai chrêston).

"For Caesar the word fit perfectly, because he was 'good': proven by his much acclaimed clemency", writes Carotta. Before we get too carried away with this coincidence, we should note that Caesar was not the only one whom Plutarch called chrêstos. Earlier in the same book, Plutarch calls Caecilius Metellus chrêstos (Pomp. 19.5). Suddenly, Caesar isn't looking so special after all. Indeed, even Alexander the Great is said to have been chrêstos (Alex. 30.3). Was he, perhaps, the Messiah? (After all, he, too, came from a northern land and crossed a fateful river. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.) Carotta implies that Caesar was specially singled out as chrêstos, but this is false.

3. Julius Caesar was Christos

Having decided that Plutarch's use of the word chrêstos is somehow significant -- we've seen that it isn't --, Signor Carotta searches around for some way to convert it into Christos, so that Julius Caesar can become Jesus Christ.

Signor Carotta claims that Caesar's statues ordinarily carried an inscription which could easily be misconstrued as reading Christos. This is false. There is a single inscription on which one of Caesar's titles (amongst the many listed there) is archiereus megistos. Signor Carotta claims that "Christos looks like a contraction of archiereus megistos". This is false. By no stretch of the imagination could anyone, seeing the words archiereus megistos, skip over most of the letters to read the word christos.

Remember that this is the bedrock of Signor Carotta's theory. This is his one link between Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ. This is the single brick on which his entire teetering edifice is balanced. Once we realise that this link is false, the entire theory comes crashing down. If only Signor Carotta could show that, in antiquity, Caesar was particularly known as chrêstos ... but he can't. If only he could show that Caesar's statues carried an inscription that onlookers could easily mistake for the title Christos ... but he can't. So his entire theory loses its focus.

Carotta cartoon

4. Carotta's Secret Code

For the rest of Signor Carotta's theory, we are deep in Dan Brown territory (except that Carotta doesn't write nearly as entertainingly). He claims that the Gospel of Saint Mark -- it has to be this one Gospel, as his theory doesn't fit the others -- is a secret code for the Life of Julius Caesar.

C.D.J. realises that I have undermined his theory, so he continues to slander my blog: I am "not only oblivious, but also unaware of my own blunder". Silently by-passing the problem -- the massive problem -- that Caesar was not specially known as chrêstos (the same word is used to describe other men), and that Caesar's inscriptions do not carry the code-word Christos, C.D.J. focuses attention on Caesar's statues.

Signor Carotta claims that a bust of Caesar (i.e. a head and shoulders, with the body missing) in the Museo Torlonia was his death mask, designed "to awaken feelings of both pity and revenge". It is worth noting that one Caesar expert thinks that the Torlonia bust is not Caesar, while another thinks that it is Caesar. (Carotta naturally favors the latter.) In fact, he claims that the lost statue belonging to this bust (which, let us remember, may not even depict Caesar) "may have had the appearance of a pietà, before which, if it were positioned in a church each little old lady would make the sign of the cross". This emotive language is clearly designed to evoke images of Christ's pietà familiar from Renaissance art, for these are the very statues "before which each little old lady would make the sign of the cross".

However, Signor Carotta knows that he has been rumbled. The cracks are starting to open, and his theory is crumbling. He cannot answer my criticism, so -- again -- he tries to discredit my blog. Apparently, I suffer from "a notorious illness of English native speakers, who seldom know foreign languages". Ouch! "A virgin Mary", he scoffs, "is not required to have a pietà in the original sense of the word". But his argument clearly relies upon a parallel between the death sculpture of Caesar -- remember, not all scholars are convinced that this is Caesar -- and the well-known Renaissance death sculptures of Jesus Christ.

Carotta cartoon

5. Preposterous parallels

Finally, we arrive at Signor Carotta's preposterous (there is really no other word to describe it) list of parallels between the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ and the life of Julius Caesar.

C.D.J. singles out one of these parallels: Carotta claims that Pompey's head was presented to Caesar in a bowl, "exactly what the Gospels tell us happened to John the Baptist". However, belatedly realizing that he cannot support this claim, he now recants, questioning whether this really was "exactly what the Gospels tell us happened to John the Baptist". But Carotta said there was an exact parallel between the beheading of Pompey and the beheading of John the Baptist. This is false.

Shaken by this revelation, C.D.J. begins to bluster. First, he decides that it's not important how the decapitated heads were presented. Then, he concocts a different parallel: perhaps both heads were presented on a plank. (A plank?!) "Easy as 1 2 3", he concludes glibly. This is false. The lesson to be drawn is that, when we find fault with one of Signor Carotta's arguments -- and, believe me, it's not difficult! -- another argument sprouts up, even more convoluted than the last one.

6. Which Brutus?

Breathing a sigh of relief that he has extricated himself so nimbly from problem number 5 -- remember, we have forced Carotta to recant on one of his preposterous claims -- he bounces back with more slander: apparently, I am "too senile to notice" the difference between Marcus Junius Brutus and Decimus Junius Brutus. This is false. Perhaps another of C.D.J.'s ploys to ridicule my blog. Signor Carotta clearly draws a parallel between Judas (as betrayer of Jesus Christ) and Decimus Junius Brutus, even though it was Marcus Junius Brutus (a completely different individual) who "betrayed" Caesar.

The point is a minor one. I mentioned it amongst many other errors. But C.D.J. chose to focus attention on it. Bad idea.

Carotta cartoon

7. Dirty tricks

Signor Carotta must, by now, feel like a punch-drunk boxer who is on the ropes. Desperate measures are required. He plays the "smear" card. Apparently, my objection to his suggested transmogrification of Jerusalem into Rome "is clearly a smear". (C.D.J. does not explain how I have "smeared" him, so the allegation is left hanging to further discredit my blog.) But how can the mere quoting of an argument constitute a reputation-damaging exercise?

8. Diegetic transposition!

In a bizarre twist, C.D.J. next objects that I "failed to observe that Jesus did not cross the Jordan". Wait! I think a direct quotation from Signor Carotta is called for:

Both have to cross a fateful river: the Rubicon and the Jordan. Once across the rivers, they both come across a patron/rival.

C.D.J. sweeps another uncomfortable blunder under the rug. "It would be important to ask why the crossing of those boundary rivers is mentioned neither in the Gospel nor in the Bellum Civile", he claims. Important for Carotta, maybe. Remember, it's his preposterous theory that we're discussing. But we've seen already that uncomfortable criticism is deflected by attempting to discredit my blog.

True to form, C.D.J. claims that I am "not interested in relevant questions". This is false. I'm very interested in relevant questions, such as how the sour wine offered to Jesus on the cross could be a secret coded reference to Caesar's funeral pyre. No explanation is given. (No explanation is possible.) Or how Caesar's funeral could be a parallel for Christ's crucifixion at all!

Regarding the latter question, C.D.J. informs us that "the story of Caesar’s funeral was rewritten to form the Gospel account, and it fits into the requirements of a diegetic transposition, of a translation and adaptation of Caesar’s legend from Rome to Jerusalem, from Gallia to Galilaea." See? Easy as 1 2 3, to quote Il signore.

Carotta cartoon

9. Brain teaser, or head-ache?

C.D.J. next addresses my criticism of Signor Carotta's equation of Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified) with the Capitol at Rome (where Caesar was assassinated). Remember, this was another of his ingenious word games, where "the place of the skull" is shown to be a secret coded reference to the Capitol at Rome. "In the mind of the Romans," claims C.D.J., "the Capitol was “the place of the skull of Olus”. This is a fact, and it is sufficient for explaining the translation of Capitol as Golgotha, which also means “place of the skull”."

That is a very ingenious secret code, that creates word-play between a Latin word (capitolium) and a Greek phrase (kraniou topos), and then converts it into Aramaic Golgotha. But this is false, because it doesn't really work. In order to "break the code", the reader must (1) know that the Capitol is really the caput (skull) olii (of Olius, the legendary character whose head was supposedly buried there), (2) change olii back to olium and transfer the t from caput onto the beginning to make tolium; (3) read the word as if it were written in Greek letters, mis-reading the central li as the Greek pi, to give TOPUM, (4) change the made-up "Greek" word TOPUM into the real word topos ("place"), (5) change caput from the nominative to the genitive case, capitis, and (6) translate capitis into Greek (kraniou). Presto! We get the Gospel kraniou topos. Eventually. (But Saint Mark says that the place was called Golgotha.)

10. No crucifixion, after all

Signor Carotta goes to great lengths to try and persuade us that, at Caesar's funeral, a wax effigy of the dictator was nailed upright to a cross. This is false. No ancient text describes this.

At the same time, he denies that Jesus Christ was crucified, preferring to adopt the alternative meaning of the Greek verb stauroô, "to fence in". (The root is the word stauros, which is an upright stake used, on the one hand, for crucifixion or, in a different context, for building a fence.) But Signor Carotta does not waste time on linguistic analysis. He brusquely dismisses the (perfectly acceptable) meaning "to crucify". (I'm still not sure how this qualifies as a parallel, if Caesar's effigy was crucified, but Jesus Christ wasn't.)

However, rather than argue the case, C.D.J. -- as on so many previous occasions -- prefers to resort to slander: apparently, I "not only cannot read, including the primary sources, but cannot think straight either"! Don't try to find any logic in this peculiar insult, because there is none.

Carotta cartoon

11. The fishermen have been tossed

There is, of course, more discrediting and belittling of my blog: apparently, I "often ... skip all details and only recount Carotta’s arguments superficially, surely to make them sound like nonsense". No comment. But what has caused this particular outburst? Namely, my incredulity that Caesar's famous "The die is cast!" could be secretly encoded in a saying of Jesus Christ. The saying that Signor Carotta selected was the famous "I will make you fishers of men".

Admittedly, I "chose not to tell my readers that Caesar’s alea (“dice”) at the Rubicon was misinterpreted as aleeis (“fishers”), and consequently we have the fishermen casting [their nets] into the water", because (quite frankly) that explanation seemed too ridiculous. Perhaps if the word meant "fishing net", there would be some logic. But it doesn't. And there isn't.

(C.D.J. chooses not to engage with my other complaints, such as the continued parallel between Pompey and John the Baptist simply because there is a "shoe story" associated with both individuals.)

12. The final flourish

C.D.J. generously explains the key to Signor Carotta's theory for the benefit of my feeble mind:

the people, who considered Caesar a righteous man, did not accept his assassination, and they “believed” he was elevated to heaven, placed among the immortals. And because he was now an immortal, his story—like the legends or myths of other immortals, for example Zeus and Dionysus—could be transferred into any other place, retold and rewritten. That is the reason why we have so many versions of Christ’s (i.e. Caesar’s) story, canonical and apocryphal, originating from so many different (but all formerly Roman) cultures, giving him different names. Carotta has shown how it all happened.

No, he hasn't. He has started from a false assertion (see numbers 2 and 3, above) and has added a false assumption (see number 4, above) to create a supposedly scientific link between Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ. (He may as well have gone for the same-initials argument, which he so deplores.) Having manufactured this link, he appends a list of supposed parallels, each more preposterous than the last. When he is challenged, he recants and manufactures a new argument (see number 5, above). Some of his evidence is muddled and mistaken (see number 9, above); some of it is simply false (see numbers 6 and 8, above). Rather than defend his theory with reasoned argumentation, his blog (C.D.J.) chooses to ridicule and belittle his critics (see numbers 7, 10 and 11, above).

C.D.J. ends as he began, with more slander: "We could continue to dissect and debunk the rest of his [i.e. my] feeble arguments as well, but it would only be a waste of time." I would venture to suggest that Signor Carotta doesn't have the stomach "to dissect and debunk" any further. With the removal of the keystone (see numbers 2 and 3, above), he is probably busy trying to prop up his collapsing theory.


  1. I like his idea how Capitoline Hill got transposed into Golgotha. And he claims Mark said he was led to Topon Kraniou, which is, translated into Hebrew, Golgotha. Unfortunately for Francesco Carotta or his ghost-writer (and i strongly suspect the latter), Mark clearly says it was the other way around!

    As for the mannekin of Julius Caesar on a stick? I'm still convinced that's one thing, perhaps the only thing, that Carotta got right! And the very body of Julius Caesar was in a way "stauroô'ed": surrounded or "fenced in" by poles made into columns as it lay in a bier modeled after the temple of Venus Genetrix.

    As for the execution of persons, before the Roman punishment of crucifixion, stauroô as far as I can tell probably meant "impale," as Polybius wrote about what happened to Spendius (Hist. 1.86.) and Diodorus Siculus wrote about Onomarchus. (Library of Hist. 16.61.2). I have not found the verb to be used again until Paul, Josephus and the Gospels and by that time the meaning of the verb was changing or had changed to "crucify"

    PS I posted a comment on his article saying as much about stauroô and not only did he edit my posts, he ended up deleting them. He likes his funeral pyre theory!

  2. Gideon Nisbet20/1/12 8:28 pm

    I particularly enjoy the bit about how, if the bust that *might* be Caesar's had come with a body attached, it *might* have held a particular pose, WHICH PROVES that... etc.

  3. Carotta also finds issue with the "wine mingled with myrrh" mentioned in Mark, saying that "John lets this sentence disappear completely from this particular place where it explains nothing—because myrrh was not ingested but used externally..."

    Hence he argues that the word "murra" (or, more precisely, "esmurnismenos"), which he supposes makes no sense here, must go back to "pura", "pyre"; hence, further "proof" for the thesis that the original J.C. was burned and not crucified. But this construct is completely unnecessary, since there is ample evidence that in ancient times wine *was* regularly mixed with myrrh. References to this practice are found in Pliny (Nat. Hist. 14.15), Plautus (Pseud. 741) and Martial (4.113). The idea of drinking wine sweetened with myrrh would have been perfectly acceptable to Mark and his readers. Why exactly it was offered to Jesus and why he would have refused it is a problem that belongs to the field of theology rather than that of textual criticism.

  4. What an idiot!

    1. Snr Carotta? That's a little harsh.