Saturday, 28 January 2012

Three strikes, and Carotta is out!

Readers may have noticed that I devoted January's postings to reviewing the eccentric theory (I use the adjective advisedly -- Merriam-Webster defines it as "deviating from conventional or accepted usage" -- I am not trying to match one of Signor Carotta's colorful terms of abuse) 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."


Three strikes!

Three times, I have tried to engage Signor Carotta in debate (here, here and here), and three times he has denied me. Three times, I have listed errors in his argument, gaps in his logic, and mistakes in his research. But each time, rather than answering my criticism, Signor Carotta has cunningly chosen to turn the tables.

He prefers to restrict his responses to slandering my blog and nit-picking my critique. He offers no defense of his eccentric theory, other than to assert that it is true. When forced to recant on one of his ill-considered arguments, far from taking the opportunity to reconsider how it might impact upon the rest of his eccentric theory, he merely counterblasts that "there are hundreds upon hundreds of links and parallels, and this is simply one of them".

With typical cunning, the great man has distanced himself from the mean-spirited and puerile name-calling on his web site. Instead, we are informed that "our rebuttals don’t come from Carotta, but from Divus Iulius". Well, whether it's Signor Carotta or his Divine Iulius mouthpiece doesn't make much difference. I'm sure that, if his web site minion has adopted this low level of playground debate, it cannot be without the great man's blessing. "If you throw enough mud", goes the saying ... mehercle, he has certainly slung shovelfuls in this direction!

Whose is the Lost Cause?

The latest blustering reply from Carotta, a.k.a. Divine Iulius (C.D.J.) will apparently be the last:

A.P. needn’t worry, though: all good things go by three, and it’s likely that there will not be another return coming from our side of the imperial court. But he may feel free to serve again ...

That is kind of Signor Carotta, inviting me to contribute to my own blog! (Perhaps this arrogance is part of his Divine Iulius persona? The same arrogance that expects to read "future blunders" in my blog. Eheu!)

Predictably, his final reply is no better than his previous efforts. I am, it appears, "a lost cause" and "essentially a clueless fraud"; my criticisms are "insignificant, biased, undocumented, etc."; and my study of Caesar's inscriptions "shows that A.P. doesn’t even rudimentarily know the art of textual criticism".

Rather than defending his use of the ugly term "diegetic transposition" as the key to his theory, perhaps by explaining its alleged importance, he prefers to criticize Merriam-Webster (one of our fundamental national reference works) for not listing the awful term! Is there no end to C.D.J.'s arrogance?

At least this time, I am not accused of smear tactics (one of C.D.J.'s most bizarre accusations), but I have, apparently, "made a fool" of myself. (I can't help noticing that all of these "observations" seem to apply quite accurately to Signor Carotta's theory!)

Carotta Trickery

Cunning, innuendo and trickery

While C.D.J. bickers about how many people Plutarch actually called chrêstós -- and there seem to be rather a lot, which makes a fool of anyone wishing to assign divine significance to the term ... while C.D.J. devises ever-more childish slanders (there must surely be some intellectual Italian innuendo behind the otherwise inexplicable slur, "our incurable parrot"!), readers are cunningly diverted from the real point of my review.

It's really quite simple:

  • Signor Carotta claims that there was no Jesus Christ.
  • Signor Carotta thinks that we have been duped by the Gospel accounts into believing in Jesus Christ.
  • Signor Carotta claims that the Gospels really tell the story of Julius Caesar "from the Rubicon to the assassination and burial of Caesar."
  • And Signor Carotta believes that he has proved this by twisting the names and the events of the Gospels until they supposedly resemble features from the latter part of Caesar's life.

As I have explained (three times), there is absolutely no factual foundation upon which to base this eccentric theory. None, whatsoever. Zero.

  • Signor Carotta thought that he could "spin" a disputed bust of Caesar into a pathetic pietà of the dictator, which in turn could be worshipped as a Christ image.
  • He is mistaken.
  • Signor Carotta thought that this was sufficient proof to establish that Julius Caesar was worshipped as Christ, with his official titles chanted in "perpetual formulaic repetition".
  • He is mistaken.
  • Signor Carotta thought that a lengthy list of supposedly significant parallels -- he claims "hundreds upon hundreds of links and parallels", but this is cunning exaggeration -- between the Gospels and some events from Caesar's life would clinch the deal.
  • He is mistaken.

It is surprising that an accomplished philosopher like Signor Carotta seems to be ignorant of the fundamental rules of historical enquiry. In fact, he is guilty of improper argumentation, on a large scale. When he claims to have cited "hundreds upon hundreds of links and parallels", he has fallen into the trap of the formal fallacy, for nowhere has he proved that these "links and parallels" are at all significant. All the parallels in the world mean nothing, unless he can come up with some reason to link them to his theory.

  • Why should we believe that Caesar's Gaul has become Christ's Galilee?
  • Why should we believe that Caesar crossing the Rubicon has become Christ crossing the Jordan to reach Capernaum? (Did Christ even cross the Jordan? Signor Carotta is a little vague on this one. And by no stretch of the imagination can the word Rubicon become corrupted into Jordan.)
  • Why should we believe that Pilate washing his hands is a corrupted description of Lepidus? (And why, if Lepidus was at Caesar's "Last Supper", wasn't Pilate at Christ's?)
  • Why should we believe that Pompey the Great has become a character called "John the Baptist"? (Oddly, in this case, Carotta's linguistic gymnastics can only show Gnaeus becoming Johannes. So how does Pompey become The Baptist?)
  • Why should we believe that Scribonius Curio and Mark Antony have become the brothers Andrew and Simon Peter? (Carotta's theory has a bizarre sequence whereby Curio first becomes vir, in order to facilitate translation into Greek andros, which mutates into Andreas. However, he cannot get Antonius to become Petros, so he tries to convince us to read Antonius backwards and transliterate into Greek -- Συινωτνα -- so that it looks like Simôna! Does it?)
  • And above all, why should we believe that the "character" called Jesus is a coded reference to Divus Iulius?

Of course, Signor Carotta's response can be anticipated. Everything is explained by "diegetical transposition", that ugly term that requires no justification! We have a different term for this low level of debate: pseudo-science.

Signor Carotta unscientifically believes that there is "such an overwhelming amount of similarities ... that coincidence can be ruled out". But, of course, the serious historian never rules out coincidence, in the absence of proof.

Sadly, Signor Carotta has consistently failed to supply proof of his eccentric theory. He has, quite simply, struck out!

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.

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.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar: same initials, same man?

It is a new year, and high time we had a book review. It has been several months since I linked the names of Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar (here) but, in the meantime, I have come across a much more sensational connection between these two people.

Carotta: Jesus Was Caesar

Sensational Theory

It seems that, for several years now, the left-wing Italian philosopher and ancient history aficionado Francesco Carotta has been promoting his bizarre theory that Jesus was Caesar. (Oddly, in the original Continental versions, the title is phrased as a question: "War Jesus Caesar?" or "Jésus, est-il Divus Julius?")

Signor Carotta's theory seems to be that the Gospel of Saint Mark is a coded retelling of Caesar's life, in which the character of Jesus represents the divine Julius himself. Bizarre? You bet!

His publicity breathlessly announces: "Carotta's new evidence leads to such an overwhelming amount of similarities between the biography of Caesar and the story of Jesus that coincidence can be ruled out." However, so trivial and contrived are these alleged similarities that it is no wonder that no serious reviews have ever appeared, and no recognized authority, whether theologian, historian or philosopher, has yet engaged with Signor Carotta. Here, readers may amuse themselves by deciding for themselves: "Was Jesus Caesar?"

Carotta: War Jesus Caesar

I. Prima Vista.

Signor Carotta's entire theory springs from one unfortunate misconception: the claim that Julius Caesar was known as chrêstos ("worthy"), a word that could have been misconstrued (he argues) as Christos, "Christ". As proof, he first claims that inscriptions of Julius Caesar name him as archiereus megistos, which he interprets as the Greek equivalent of pontifex maximus (Caesar's official religious title as "high priest"). Then, although he does not (cannot?) cite any source that actually calls Julius Caesar "chrêstos" (if Signor Carotta knows of any, why does he not cite them?), he claims that it "looks like a contraction of archiereus megistos", by missing out several letters.

Clearly, this foundation of his theory depends entirely upon Julius Caesar holding the title archiereus megistos, so that it can first be contracted (why?) into chrêstos, and then misconstrued as Christos, "Christ".

Unfortunate Blunder

Unfortunately for Signor Carotta, the overwhelming majority of Caesar's inscriptions name him as archierea kai autokratora (the equivalent of pontifex maximus et imperator) or archierea hypaton (i.e. pontifex maximus, consul) or archierea hypaton kai diktatora (i.e. pontifex maximus, consul et dictator), and only a single inscription is known to name him as archiereus megistos (probably because the megistos element is tautological: archiereus already means pontifex maximus without the addition of the Greek adjective megistos = maximus).

Undeterred, -- indeed, oblivious to his blunder -- Signor Carotta continues with supplementary claims: (1) that Christos resembles pontifex maximus because both can be abbreviated to two letters (i.e. PM, and the Christian Chi-Rho symbol); and (2) that PM looks a little like the Chi-Rho if you invert the letters! Frankly, this sounds a little desperate.

His conclusion, that Caesar's statues "not only looked like a pietà, but the inscription on the base also evoked the Christ", is patently ridiculous: none of the statues survive, so it is only Signor Carotta's opinion that they would have resembled a Renaissance pietà (don't you require a Virgin Mary to make a pietà, in any case?), and none of the inscriptions (some two dozen are known, I believe) "evoke the Christ". Nevertheless, this is Sig. Carotta's springboard "to place Caesar's history and the Gospel (sic, presumably Mark's Gospel) side by side and see if further resemblances (sic) occur".

II. Vitae Parallelae

Signor Carotta claims that "new ground is being broken". Readers can make up their own minds, as I list each of Sig. Carotta's astonishing (astonishingly trivial) similarities.

Carotta: El Evangelio
  • Both Caesar and Jesus begin their careers in northern countries beginning with G: Gallia and Galilee.
  • Both have to cross a fateful river: the Rubicon and the Jordan.
  • Both meet a patron/rival: Pompey and John the Baptist, and their first followers: Antony and Curio, and Peter and Andrew.
  • Both are continually on the move, finally arriving at a capital city: Rome and Jerusalem.
  • Both at first triumph, but then undergo their passion.
  • Both have a special relationship with a woman: Cleopatra and Mary Magdalene.
  • Both have encounters at night with "N of B": Caesar with Nicomedes of Bithynia, Jesus with Nicodemus of Bethany.
  • Both run afoul of the authorities: Caesar with the Senate, Jesus with the Sanhedrin.
  • Both are contentious characters, but show praiseworthy clemency as well.
  • Both have a traitor: Brutus and Judas, or Brutus and Barabbas, or Lepidus and Pilate. (Carotta can't quite decide on this one.)
  • Both have famous sayings: Caesar's famous "Veni, vidi, vici", Jesus' "I came, washed and saw" (according to Carotta).
  • Both are accused of making themselves kings: King of the Romans and King of the Jews.
  • Both get killed: Caesar is stabbed with daggers, Jesus is stabbed in his side.
  • Both hang on crosses. (Yes, Carotta has an astonishing theory on this.)

It's probably worth just giving a flavor of Carotta's standard of scholarship here: (1) he claims that Pompey's head was presented to Caesar in a bowl (as far as I can see, no ancient source specifies a bowl), "exactly what the Gospels tell us happened to John the Baptist"; (2) he tries to equate Caesar's Lepidus with Pontius Pilate by "syllabic metathesis" so that the name Lepidus mysteriously becomes Pilatus; (3) he claims that both Barabbas and Judas are equivalent to the traitor Decimus Iunius Brutus ("et tu, Brute"), without realising that he has the wrong Brutus; (4) he claims that Jerusalem is code for Rome, because "the other variant of the name (H)ierosolyma, even contains the letters of Roma in sequence: (H)ieROsolyMA"!

Carotta: Gospel of Caesar

III. Crux.

Carotta claims that "We have shown some similarities and parallels between Caesar and Jesus". That's true, though they are all trivial (e.g. both crossed a river) and many are mistaken (e.g. a supposed parallel between Marius and Lazarus as an "uncle" figure). Carotta is so unaware of the fragility of his theory that he sees only one stumbling-block: "Caesar was stabbed and Jesus crucified".

Nevertheless, he claims that a "structural correspondence is plain to see" in the sequence: conspiracy, capture, trial, crucifixion, burial, resurrection. And in order to make this sequence fit both men, he claims that Jesus was actually killed during his capture, and that both he and Caesar were paraded on a cross after their death. This kind of nonsense is surely easy meat for theologians. But let's have a go from the historical perspective.

Jesus' Funeral Pyre

Carotta reinterprets the entire crucifixion as "the erection of a funeral pyre and the ritual deposit of gifts for the dead". Amongst his hotch-potch of evidence, he suggests that the biblical "myrrh" is a linguistic mistake for "(funeral) pyre", and the sour wine is a misinterpretation of the "quickly assembled stakes" (of the funeral pyre? Carotta does not explain this point). He clearly has Plutarch's description of Caesar's funeral pyre in mind, rather than an honest attempt to interpret the Gospel accounts. "It is easy to detect that the passage from Mark is an abridgement of Caesar's funeral". Yes, it's easy when you completely and totally misinterpret it! "No word has been taken away or added", he claims. No, not much! Just a complete rewriting of the Gospel account to fit the story of Caesar's funeral!

Golgotha ("the place of the skull") is equated with the Capitol at Rome, because "the Romans derived Capitolium from caput", the Latin for head. He claims that Mark calls the place Kraniou Topos, which can be altered, "Capi > Kraniou; tolium > Topos", to read Capitolium. (But Mark explains that the place was called Golgotha, so shouldn't Carotta be employing his ingenuity to find some parallel between Golgotha and Capitolium?)

Christ's Tropaeum

Carotta: Jesus Was Caesar

Carotta describes Caesar's funeral procession, as a parallel to the Passion of Christ, concentrating on the wax figure of the dead dictator "dressed in his triumphal robes". (Appian, BC 2.147 refers to a wax effigy on which the 23 wounds could be seen, but Suetonius, Div. Jul. 84, mentions only the funerary couch "and, at its head, a tropaeum with the clothing in which he had been killed".) Carotta combines the two descriptions, claiming that the effigy must have been attached to a cross "not only because on a tropaeum the arms could only be fastened like that [but Appian doesn't say that the effigy was on the tropaeum] but because somebody who falls down dead stretches out his arms and because Caesar's body had been seen like that when three servants carried him home with the arms hanging out of the litter on both sides" (the latter is apparently a reference to FGrH 26.97, which I have not seen).

However, if (as Carotta claims) the wax effigy required a wooden core ("they were actually wooden figures with a wax outer-layer"), surely it could adopt any position? Carotta again links the effigy with the tropaeum (two separate items in the story) when he claims that "the most functional and direct way to fasten such a wooden figure coated with wax to a tropaeum would involve nails through the hands" -- of course, this is patently false: there are all sorts of ways to fix a wooden mannequin to a supporting structure, if you decide to do so.

Carotta appeals to the late antique "atypical and unnatural representation of Christ standing on the cross" as proof that such artworks were depicting "the expositio of a stabbed one lying on the floor who was only erected that all could see him". (The reason surely has more to do with artistic limitations in late antiquity.)

IV. Words And Wonders

When Carotta claims that "we determined that Jesus was not crucified, and that a cross had indeed played the main role ... during the cremation of Caesar", he has deluded himself on both counts. There is much more in similar vein.

Caesar's siege of the Pompeians in Corfinium is supposed to be encoded as Jesus' exorcism of the demon called Legion: the giveaway, besides the obvious mention of a Roman "legion" (!), is the fact that both men crossed over: Caesar crossed the Rubicon; Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee. Jesus walking on water is Caesar crossing from Brundisium. A servant-less Pompey, obliged to take off his own shoes, is John the Baptist claiming to be unworthy of loosening Christ's sandals. Caesar's famous saying, Alea iacta est! ("The die is cast") is paralleled by the Galilee fishermen "casting" their nets. (Yes, Carotta really does employ such facile arguments.) Caesar's visit to Zela is encoded as Jesus visiting Siloam, because "Zela > Siloah is almost the exact same pronunciation"!

It is rather depressing that Carotta is satisfied with such threadbare evidence: "Our question as to whether or not the Gospel is based on an original Caesar source has been answered positively by successfully verifying our suppositions." Clearly, Carotta is no historian.

Finally, if you have managed to read this far, you will be amused to learn that the "fact" that Julius Caesar was historical, but that some scholars dispute the historicity of Jesus, proves that they were one and the same man.

"It must be recognized that the two figures are complementary and that it is only when they are combined that they provide the complete person of a God incarnate", writes Carotta. "Caesar is a historical figure who as a god has vanished without leaving a trace. Jesus, on the other hand, is a god whose historical figure cannot be found."

And all of this nonsense because Caesar was chrêstos. (Or was he?)

Now read the continuing saga: The Carotta Code Cracked | The Parrot Replies | Three strikes, and Carotta is out!