Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Parrot Replies


Running arguments can be tedious. Back and forth they go, each observation met with a rebuttal, each argument with a counter-argument. But in this way, weaknesses in a theory can be exposed and corrected.

Italian philosopher Francesco Carotta has a different technique. Ridicule.

Our previous article on Antoninus Pius’s blunder was not written to “discredit his blog”, as he alleges, but only to debunk his feeble arguments

Notice that my criticism of Signor Carotta's theory has become a "blunder". He goes on to describe me (on his Divine Julius blog) as a parrot, "repetitive and incurably superficial". He attempts to undermine the credibility of my blog by describing my reasoning as "feeble", my arguments as "false", my criticism as "ludicrous", and my tone as "derogatory".

These are not the reasoned counter-arguments of a cool, confident expert, but the blustering of a dilettante historian who has been found out.

Debunking feeble arguments

Signor Carotta claims to debunk my feeble arguments. It is worthwhile looking again at his arguments. Readers can then decide which ones are truly feeble.

His theory may be summed up succinctly: the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ are encoded biographies of Julius Caesar.

Signor Carotta prefers the obscure and slightly intimidating term "diegetic transposition", no doubt because it sounds suitably "scientific". Such a repulsive term, unintelligible to the general reader (Merriam-Webster doesn't even list it), is concocted to invest grandeur in a very humble concept: namely, that a story has been altered for some reason (διήγησις is simply Greek for "narrative"). But Signor Carotta's narrative has been altered beyond recognition! So much so, that it resembles a secret code. Signor Carotta denies this, explaining that

We do not attempt to read the texts of the Gospel as “coded statements”. A diegetic transposition is something different.

I am always suspicious of scholars who hide behind jargon -- if their theory is sound, then it can surely be expressed in plain language. Thankfully, Signor Carotta does, at one point, tell us what the "something different" is. He believes that

the entire Gospel is a mutated history of the Roman Civil War, from the Rubicon to the assassination and burial of Caesar, i.e. from the Jordan to the ‘capture’ and the ‘crucifixion’ of Jesus.

Exactly why it should have mutated is not explained. (And why only from the Rubicon? Two of the Gospel accounts go back to the manger.)

Julius Caesar looks like Christ

Signor Carotta's introductory remarks show that his theory is rooted not in fact, but in pure speculation:

The triggering factor for the book in hand was the sight of Caesar’s portrait in the Torlonia Museum and Erika Simon’s comment that it might be the head of the statue that Antonius had placed on the Rostra after the assassination of Caesar. It bore the inscription ‘Parenti optime merito—to the most meritorious parent’, in order to awaken feelings of both pity and revenge in the observer. In function and expression the Torlonia head resembled the sorrowful face of Christ in the Pietà and since Pietà representations are typical for Jesus Christ but not for Julius Caesar, the question arose as to whether the later Jesus borrowed other elements from the earlier Caesar.

Most scholars would have stopped there. Notice that (a) the bust in Torlonia Museum is not universally accepted as the face of Julius Caesar, (b) even if it is Caesar, there is no reason to suppose that it came from Mark Antony's statue of the dictator, (c) there is consequently no good reason to link the inscription quoted by Cicero (and no-one else) with this particular head, and (d) no scientific case can be made for depictions of Jesus Christ taking this particular head as their model. This passage, quoted directly from Signor Carotta, offers only a series of speculative proposals, none of which can be proved, and none of which has any particular merit.

House of cards

Unfortunately, Signor Carotta did not stop there. He likes the idea that someone who (in Latin) was optime meritus, "most well-deserving" (Cicero's report of Antony's inscription), might also be described (in Greek) as chrêstos. He likes this idea, because chrêstos (he claims) sounds like Christos when spoken aloud.

Hence, on the base of the first cult-statue of the new god Caesar, the Greek speaking people read that the divine founder of the empire was optime meritus which meant for them chrêstos, respectively christos.

So far, Signor Carotta has been discussing a statue and inscription which nobody has seen since the days of Cicero. Other scholars would be slightly cautious when attempting to build a case on such flimsy foundations. Not Signor Carotta. But here he must bend the truth in order to bolster his case. I quote again, in case I am accused of withholding critical information:

Moreover, as chance would have it, christos also looks like an abbreviation of archiereus megistos, the Greek form of pontifex maximus, the first earthly title of their God.

Here, as before, we have a sequence of speculative proposals rather than facts. Notice that (a) archiereus megistos is not the Greek form of pontifex maximus, and (b) christos does not look like an abbreviation of archiereus megistos, despite Signor Carotta's assurance that "it can definitely be contracted to christós". I already explained this in my original review. Signor Carotta does not even stop here, but presses on with further fantastic claims:

If the title was used in prayer—and that can be inferred from the fact that this appellation ranks first on all the base inscriptions of his votive statues—then this long title would inevitably have contracted by its perpetual formulaic repetition.

None of this can be defended. It is either a bungling error or a deliberate falsehood. Notice that, as I already explained, this "appellation" appears on only one out of many inscriptions (where it is probably a mistake, as it is a tautology), and far from ranking first actually comes near the end. But you do not need to take my word for it.

Caesar inscription

The above photograph shows the only existing inscription that lists archiereus megistos as one of Caesar's titles. Can you spot it? Try chanting the text and see if it sounds like Christos. Signor Carotta's conclusion is quite simply bizarre:

Caesar’s statue not only looked like a pietà, but the inscription on the base also evoked the Christ.

Remember, this is the statue that nobody has ever seen, and the inscription that doesn't mention anything remotely like Christos.

The testimony of Plutarch

Signor Carotta knows that he cannot demonstrate that Julius Caesar was ever called Christos, so he claims that he was known as chrêstos. He gets this from the ancient writer Plutarch. Earlier, I explained that Plutarch also calls Alexander the Great (amongst others) chrêstos, but Signor Carotta calls this "a false argument". He writes:

Surely Caesar was not the only person to be called chrêstós, and if there were no other accordances between Caesar and Christ, then yes, Plutarch’s chrêstós would not be as meaningful. ... So Caesar as chrêstós in Plutarch is an important source.
In my "naivety" (another of Signor Carotta's slurs), I have (apparently) failed to notice that the fact that several others could be called chrêstos "actually reinforces Carotta's argumentation instead of invalidating it". How so?

Signor Carotta explains that

the two other men, cited by Antoninus Pius as rewarded with the term chrêstós by Plutarch, both have something in common with Caesar, in that they were deified ... something that A.P. evidently ignores.

Let's summarize the situation: Signor Carotta has found a large number of parallels (all, in my opinion, of a trivial nature) between the Gospel accounts and Plutarch's Life of Caesar. These can all be dismissed as coincidental, except for one important fact: Caesar was actually known as Christos. This is the critical link.

Who's chrêstos anyway?

Well, we know that last part is false. But Signor Carotta tells us that, because Caesar was called chrêstos, it is only a tiny step to get to Christos. (So, it seems that maybe Alexander the Great could be Christos, because Plutarch calls him chrêstos? Worth thinking about.) However, Plutarch also says that Mark Antony's father was chrêstos (Ant. 1.1), and that it was only the love of Cleopatra that destroyed this same quality in Carotta's arch-villain Antony (Ant. 25.1). In fact, the historian Rutilius is said to be chrêstos (Mar. 28.5), and the entire Roman people apparently shared this same quality (Pyrrh. 21.2). So, by Signor Carotta's logic, they must all be divine. They must all be Christ. How foolish of me to have missed this.

(I think we can probably rule out the significance of this word, now.)

Repeating A False Argument Over And Over Doesn't Make It True.

The bulk of Signor Carotta's theory is, of course, the curious list of supposedly significant parallels, which I already examined. These are, in my opinion, contrived and, in some cases, absurd. (He has already changed one, without qualm, as a result of my criticism.) However, there is no point in debating these with Signor Carotta any further, as he believes that they are self-evidently true:

Since the life story of both of these god-men, Jesus and Divus Iulius, show such amazing parallels (listing them is the purpose of this book), we are forced to recognize them as one and the same story, one that has been mutated and delocalized in the process of tradition and translation.

Of course, even the best parallels are only coincidental, unless some concrete link can be established between the two parties. Signor Carotta thought that the Torlonia bust was his concrete link. We have seen that it isn't. Whether he admits it or not -- and he is very good at shifting blame (e.g. when he misquotes from the Gospel, it is the fault of the translators, not our Italian savant, who is fluent in seventeen languages!) --, his theory is in disarray.


Signor Carotta's continuing interest in my humble blog is an encouraging sign that my criticism matters to him. Clearly, he is worried in case more people realize that he is an emperor without clothes. A Divine Julius unworthy of worship.


  1. Gideon Nisbet22/1/12 8:49 am

    "Remember, this is the statue that nobody has ever seen"...

    I bet the Picts nicked it. ;-)

  2. We’re not getting tired of wanna-be savants, but it’s obvious to us that the man is a lost cause. So here are just a couple of quick final points.

    It’s not A.P.’s blog that’s “humble”, but the criticism itself; please translate “humble” as: insignificant, biased, undocumented, etc.

    We do appreciate that Carotta’s theory receives attention—whether positive or negative doesn’t really matter. So we would like to thank A.P. in advance for any future blunders.

    That the statue, which had been placed on the base with the inscription PARENTI OPTIME MERITO, was lost, shouldn’t surprise anyone. A lot of ancient bases were preserved, but not the statues, of course, and with most of the few preserved statues we don’t know on which base they were originally placed. But what we do know is the reaction that this Caesar statue with the above inscription provoked in Cicero. So we can conclude how it looked like. That important scholars like the renowned archeologist Erika Simon thought it possible that the Caesar Torlonia was a copy of the Parenti Optime Merito statue, is relevant, because it indicates how the real statue would have looked like—according to the important scholars.

    The inscription Archiereos Megistos is not tautological: the Greeks who wrote it, knew their language better than A.P., we have to suppose. The fact that there is only one inscription with the complete title, and without contraction, does not indicate that it was not used in liturgical prayers and chants, as it is proven by comparisons with other religions. This is a further blunder by A.P., and it shows that he doesn’t even rudimentarily know the art of textual criticism.

    After making a fool of himself by originally citing two more of Plutarch’s chrêstoi, Alexander and Caecilius Metellus, without noticing that they were both deified like Caesar, he now presents even more, and it’s another piece of evidence that he’s essentially a clueless fraud. He expands the illustrious list with Mark Antony, and of course he ignores something important again, namely that in the Greek East he was greeted as a “New Dionysos”, i.e. also as a God. So here we have witnessed yet another own-goal of our incurable parrot. He again has missed a good opportunity to remain silent.

  3. The LSJ and Middle Liddell Greek Lexica back Carotta up.

    ἀρχιερέως is a noun sg masc nom & gen of ἀρχιερεύς

    LSJ entry ἀρχιερεύς:

    ἀρχι^ερ-εύς , έως, ὁ: Ion. ἀρχι^έρεως , εω, Hdt.2.37, also in Pl.Lg.947a: acc. pl. ἀρχιρέας v.l. in Hdt.2.142:—
    A. arch-priest, chief-priest, ll. cc., freq. in Inscrr., “νήσου” OGI93.3 (Cyprus), etc.: esp. in Roman provinces, of the Imperial cult, ἀ. Ἀσίας ib. 458.31, etc., cf. PRyl.149.2 (i A. D.), etc.:—at Rome, = pontifex, Plu. Num.9, etc.; ἀ. μέγιστος, = pontifex maximus, SIG832, etc. (but ἀρχιερεύς alone, IG7.2711, etc.):—at Jerusalem, high-priest, LXX Le. 4.3, Ev.Matt.26.3, etc. (Spelt ἀρχι-ιερεύςIGRom.4.882 (Themisonium)).

    Middle Liddell entry ἀρχιερεύς:


    an arch-priest, chief-priest, Hdt.:— at Rome, the Pontifex Maximus, Plut.:—at Jerusalem, the high-priest, NTest.

    Of course, the high priest in Jerusalem WAS a χριστός! Because he was anointed.

    And μεγίστου?

    μεγίστου adj sg masc gen irreg_superl of μέγας, which means "big in stature; full-grown of age, elder of two persons with the same name, vast, huge; great, mighty, important, etc.

    Pontifex maximus means the same as ἀρχιερεύς μέγιστος. The Greeks knew it, the Romans knew it, and the lexica reveal it.

    You can check this out for yourself at the Perseus Greek Word Study Tool and Latin Word Study Tools at

  4. "But what we do know is the reaction that this Caesar statue with the above inscription provoked in Cicero. So we can conclude how it looked like."


    Oh, *please.*

  5. << The LSJ and Middle Liddell Greek Lexica back Carotta up. >>

    Thanks for your interest, Ed-M. Of course, we respect the authority of LSJ, but -- unlike Signor Carotta -- it is not infallible.

    Their explanation makes theoretical sense, but in practice epigraphers (and Caesar scholars) know that the dictator is only ever called ἀρχιερεύς -- as I originally pointed out -- apart from on a single solitary stone from Samos.

    Epigraphers consider this to have been a stone-cutter's error -- again, as I explained. This hypothesis gains further support from the fact that the Samos inscription exhibits another peculiarity, in failing to name Caesar δικτάτωρ (one of his official titles, which appears on all other contemporary inscriptions).

    I know that Signor Carotta is not an ancient historian, but surely he is not above taking expert advice?

  6. Gideon Nisbet27/1/12 1:43 pm

    Isn't it sweet that Carotta's only defenders are obvious sockpuppets - when his big theory is that Christ was a sockpuppet?

    But perhaps Ed-M and Divus Iulius would prefer to style themselves 'diegetic transpositions'. >-)

  7. Would a true believer in diegetic transposition according to Francesco Carotta say this?

    "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!"

    No, I don't believe the New Testament's goofy gospels are the diegetic transposition of the life of Julius Caesar. But they clearly draw on that source amongst others, like Homer's Odysseus and the works of Josephus. The "diegetic transposition" I believe in can be called by one simple word: PLAIGARISM.

  8. "Thanks for your interest, Ed-M. Of course, we respect the authority of LSJ, but -- unlike Signor Carotta -- it is not infallible."

    Actually Signor Carotta is very much fallible! Moreso than the LSJ and other lexica. I actually did some legwork and verified to my own satisfaction, Carotta's Julius-Caesar's-body-displayed-as-a-mannekin-on-a-stick hypothesis.

    The Capitoline-Hill-transmogrified-into-Golgotha idea? I think he's mistaken on that one.

    But on the case of the lone inscription of ἀρχιερεύς μέγιστος, can you direct me to sources that say it's the only one? Thanks. Because, if it's true (and I'm inclined to think it is), then by putting in μέγιστος, the inscriber had no room left for δικτάτωρ. You'd think Carotta and his ghostwriter would have caught this.

  9. < But on the case of the lone inscription of ἀρχιερεύς μέγιστος, can you direct me to sources that say it's the only one? >

    You could start with Professor Lily Ross Taylor's The Divinity of the Roman Emperor (1931), which has an Appendix on "Divine Honours of Caesar".

    The peculiar μέγιστος inscription can be found in Inscriptiones graecae ad res romanas pertinentes (IGR) Vol. IV (Paris, 1927), no. 1715.

  10. Dear AP,
    Carotta is an idiot, as you know, but a very mean and tricky one. Please check the latest events on the wiki talk page on the subject. And check the archived version for the contributions of banned contributor populares. You will recognize his style: it is the same as is now used against you.