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.
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.
PostscriptSignor 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.