In my 2014 book, The Undying Stars, I spend a fair amount of time examining the theory of Joseph Atwill outlined in Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.
Joseph Atwill has discovered undeniable parallels between the events described in the gospel accounts of the New Testament and the events described in the history of the first-century-AD Roman military campaign in Judea which culminated in the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.
As his research and analysis clearly shows, there are even parallels between the sequence of events as described in the history of that Roman war and the sequence of events as presented in the so-called "synoptic" gospel accounts.
In Caesar's Messiah, Joseph Atwill interprets these remarkable and undeniable parallels as pointing to the conclusion that the gospel accounts must therefore be "a skillful satire" of the Roman conquest of Judea -- a massive Roman inside joke (Caesar's Messiah, 10).
The purpose for this elaborate inside joke, he argues, would have been primarily twofold. First, it would have been an attempt to defuse the potential for ongoing rebellions of a Messianic nature among the Jewish diaspora within the empire, by skillfully arguing that the Messianic prophecies pointed to a Roman Messiah, in the person of the conquering Flavian generals (Vespasian and his son, Titus). Second, it would have functioned to feed what Mr. Atwill describes as "the overwrought vanity of the Roman Caesars, desiring the populace to worship them as gods" (10).
However, without denying the clear parallels which Joseph Atwill has discovered between the account of the campaign in Judea and the accounts in the New Testament gospels, I would argue that the conclusion he reaches -- that the gospel accounts must be an elaborate inside joke and satire built upon the events of that campaign -- is by no means the only possible interpretation of the evidence at hand.
Simply put, as Mr. Atwill himself freely acknowledges, the only source for the details of the Flavian campaign in Judea which form the basis for his comparison are those provided in the history written by Josephus.
While the Roman conquest certainly took place, and while it certainly resulted in the destruction of the rebellion and the sacking of the Temple (as we can see from the relief images included in the Arch of Titus, constructed as part of the joint triumph awarded by Rome to Vespasian and his son Titus), the only source for the narrative of certain specific events which parallel the events described in the gospels is Josephus himself.
And Josephus is by no means a reliable narrator.
In fact, he is a deeply compromised narrator, as Mr. Atwill once again freely acknowledges.
Josephus, by his own account, was one of the military leaders of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, as well as a very high-ranking priest from a highly-regarded family. In his account of the Roman conquest, Josephus describes how he went over to Vespasian in order to save his own life, more than two years before the eventual sacking of the Temple and conclusion of the war -- and how he was afterwards rewarded by the Flavian family with a new life in Rome, including an apartment in Vespasian's own villa (where Vespasian himself had lived, before he built a new palatial villa for himself after becoming emperor), an annual pension for the rest of his life, a new wife (he said he was tired of his old one) selected from among the prisoners, a large quantity of land in Judea which furthermore would be free from taxation, punishment of those who dared to accuse Josephus, and finally ongoing "kindnesses" and "respect" from all of the Flavian emperors and their own families.
In other words, Josephus was a collaborator with the conquering Romans -- and judging by the incredible rewards he was accorded by the Flavians, the services he provided in his collaboration were extremely valuable to them. The emperor basically adopted Josephus into his family: in fact, Josephus took the emperor's family name, Flavius, which is why you will often see his name given as "Flavius Josephus."
Far from requiring us to conclude that the gospel accounts are a "skillful satire" and vanity-piece for the Flavian emperors, mirroring the supposed "history" given to us by Josephus in his account of the conquest, we should also consider the possibility that the history written by Josephus and perhaps even the events themselves as he describes them are part of a skillful manipulation by Josephus himself.
In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that this is the case: that Josephus fashioned the events of his supposed history after patterns that can be found in the world's ancient mythology, patterns which are also incorporated into the gospel accounts. These patterns are mythological in nature. For whatever reason, Josephus was creating a narrative which was based upon clearly-recognizable mythological patterns.
And note that, as a high-ranking priest who was intimately familiar with the ancient Hebrew Scriptures which form the basis for what has historically come to be called the "Old Testament" of the Bible, Josephus would have been very familiar with these mythological patterns -- because (as I show with extensive examples in my most recent book, Star Myths of the Bible) the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures are based upon these very same mythological patterns.
In short, the parallels that Joseph Atwill have discovered are very real, and they expose a very real and very important deception -- but it is a deception on the part of Josephus. The patterns in the gospel accounts, which are also found in the "history" of Josephus, are part of a very ancient mythological pattern which can be shown to predate Josephus by thousands of years.
Please note that all of this is not to say that Josephus and his fellow-collaborators might not have had a hand in the final format in which these myths are arranged in the canonical gospel accounts. In fact, it is very likely (as I argue in The Undying Stars) that the story of literalist Christianity as it came to exist in the centuries following the conquest of Judea was part of a deliberate campaign to subvert the ancient wisdom given to humanity in the world's sacred myths, and to replace it with a belief that these sacred stories are actually supposed to be interpreted as literal and historical accounts.
Let's briefly examine a couple of important scenes from the account of Josephus, for which Joseph Atwill finds parallels in the gospel accounts, and show that these scenes are patterned upon more-ancient myths that can be found elsewhere (and which, I would argue, probably never took place, either in the campaign of the Romans or in the events related in the gospel accounts, which are actually part of the same mythological tradition).
One of the very first events that Joseph Atwill examines is the account in Wars of the Jews by Josephus, in which at the sea of Galilee: "Titus begins his campaign with a battle in which Jews fall into the water and are fished out" (Caesar's Messiah, 399). In his account, which is found in Book 3 and chapter 10 (and subsection 9 within that chapter), Josephus describes the destruction of fleeing Jewish vessels upon the lake by the Romans, and the subsequent slaughter of those who leaped into the water -- with Romans "running them through with their long poles" (spearing them like fish).
Joseph Atwill argues that this scene from Josephus' history parallels the accounts of the beginning of Jesus' ministry, where he too is described at the sea of Galilee, and calls his disciples with the promise to make them "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17).
However, before we conclude that this parallel means that the gospel accounts are a skillful satire, an inside joke, and an imperial vanity piece, we should note that battle scenes in which unfortunate combatants are "speared like fish" are actually found in myths which long predate the first-century-AD Roman campaign in Judea.
For example, in an episode which I discuss in Volume Two of my Star Myths of the World series, the unfortunate companions of Odysseus are speared like fish by the gigantic and cannibalistic Laestrygonians, in Book 10 of the Odyssey.
Here is the account, as presented in the superlative translation of Professor Robert Fagles:
Straightway she summoned royal Antiphates from assembly,
her husband, who prepared my crew a barbarous welcome.
Snatching one of my men, he tore him up for dinner --
the other two sprang free and reached the ships.
But the king let loose a howling through the town
that brought tremendous Laestrygonians swarming up
from every side -- hundreds, not like men, like Giants!
Down from the cliffs they flung great rocks a man could hardly hoist
and a ghastly shattering din rose up from all the ships --
men in their death-cries, hulls smashed to splinters --
They speared the crews like fish
and whisked them home to make their grisly meal. Book 10, lines 125 - 136.
As I show in Volume Two, this scene and virtually every other episode in the Odyssey can be shown to be based upon the same system of celestial metaphor which underlies the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories of the world.
The fact that Josephus works into his account a scene in which his own unfortunate countrymen are speared like fish is probably evidence that Josephus was well acquainted with the ancient myths of humanity (in fact, I would argue that he was probably well versed in their deeper esoteric meaning, and with their celestial foundation as well -- some evidence of this knowledge on the part of Josephus is discussed in The Undying Stars). In fact, in the narrative presented in the "history" of Josephus, he also works into his account of this particular massacre the throwing of rocks!
Another of the parallels which Joseph Atwill has discovered involves the building by Titus of "a siege wall around Jerusalem" in AD 70, described in Book 5, chapter 12 of the history presented by Josephus (see for example Caesar's Messiah page 400 and elsewhere). He finds parallels to this and other aspects of the siege of Titus to the "predictions" of a siege of Jerusalem made by Jesus in the gospel accounts (Jesus describes the compassing of Jerusalem by armies of Gentiles in Luke chapter 21 and in Matthew chapters 24 and 25).
Unless you take the accounts as literal history and believe that they describe accurate predictions made decades prior to the Roman campaign which culminated in the sacking of the Temple by Titus, then these details do indeed appear to indicate that the New Testament gospel accounts as we have them today were indeed composed after the sacking of the Temple (we can be fairly certain that the Temple was indeed sacked by Titus and his forces, because scenes of the Temple artifacts being led away in triumph are included in the Arch of Titus, and the people alive at that time probably saw the triumphal procession itself, which according to the account of Josephus included those artifacts as a central feature).
However, once again the feature of a wall as described by Josephus in this instance is a very common feature of ancient myth, and one that can be tied to a celestial pattern -- I detail several instances of cities or citadels surrounded by just such a wall in the Odyssey, in Volume Two of Star Myths of the World. And, in Volume Three of the series (Star Myths of the Bible), I show that the prediction or prophecy included in the gospel accounts that the Temple will be cast down to the ground such that not a single stone remains upon another is almost certainly celestial as well (involving a celestial Temple).
Indeed, if it involved the physical Temple in Jerusalem, then even literalist Christians would have to admit that the prophecy did not take place as described in the gospels, since the Western Wall is still standing to this day -- which shows that the description that "there shall not be left one stone upon another," found in Luke 21:6 and Matthew 24:2 did not take place in the literal and historical events. Indeed, the fact that the prediction about not one stone being left upon another but that all of them would be thrown down can be seen not to have taken place (and could have been seen not to have taken place during the period of ancient Rome) should cause us to question the conclusion that the gospels were intended as a way of making the populace worship the Flavians as gods.
The prophecy is celestial in nature, and involves a constellation of stars setting in the west (down to the level of the ground), as I discuss in Star Myths of the Bible.
In fact, we can see in Old Testament accounts that Jerusalem is also compassed by a wall, such as in the passage at the beginning of 1 Kings chapter 3, in which we are told that Solomon "made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt" until he had finished building "his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall of Jerusalem round about" (italics added for emphasis). I believe that these details are given as celestial clues (and again, there are many episodes in the Odyssey of ancient Greece in which similar celestial clues are given, pointing to the same region of the night sky).
Joseph Atwill also asserts that the references to the coming of the Son of man, which are a frequent feature in certain discourses of Jesus found in the gospel accounts, are intended to refer to the coming of the Flavian generals and specifically Titus (the son of Vespasian), as part of the "skillful satire" and the desire to make the population "worship them as gods."
However, I would argue that the context of the passages again points to a celestial identity for the figure described as the Son of man. As I explain in The Undying Stars, during the Olivet Discourse (sometimes called the "Little Apocalypse") found in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus describes the coming of the sign of the Son of man in the heavens, moving from east to west, and separating the sheep from the goats (see especially Matthew 24: 27 through Matthew 25: 33).
As the star-chart diagram below shows, and as I explain in greater detail in The Undying Stars, the sign of the Son of man almost certainly corresponds to the zodiac constellation of Aquarius. Aquarius does indeed move from the east to the west (as do all the stars, due to the rotation of the earth upon its axis, towards the east), and Aquarius does indeed separate the sheep from the goats as well (he separates Aries the Ram from Capricorn the Goat):
An astute reader will notice that as we face towards the south (which is the direction that those in the northern hemisphere above the line of the tropics must face in order to see the zodiac), the "sheep" of Aries appear to be on the left, while the "goats" of Capricorn appear to be on the right -- and in the Matthew 25 passage, it is clearly stated that the sheep will be "on his right hand, but the goats on the left" (Matthew 25: 33).
That's because, as they say in the army when an instructor is facing a group and referring to directions such as left and right, from the perspective of the constellation Aquarius (if his front is facing towards us), the sheep are on "my right, your left" and the goats are on "my left, your right." The Biblical passage clearly says that the sheep on on his right hand, not ours as we face the sky.
In short, the Biblical narrative can be shown to be based from first to last upon celestial patterns that inform all of the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories of humanity. They are not simply a clever Roman fiction, a skillful satire, an inside joke, or a Flavian vanity-piece. They actually contain profound ancient wisdom, which (like the wisdom contained in all the other ancient sacred stories of the world) is vital to our lives and can be profoundly beneficial, if interpreted in the language that it is actually speaking to us, which is a celestial and esoteric language.
I am convinced that overwhelming evidence exists to argue that this ancient wisdom was deliberately subverted by those who wanted to create a sophisticated campaign to cause men and women to take these stories literally, and to ignore their esoteric meaning. I am also convinced that Josephus and his associates were central to that campaign -- perhaps in part because people like the author we know as "Paul" were busily teaching the Gnostic and esoteric understanding of the ancient doctrine of the "Christ within," and those who did not want that secret to be given to the masses wanted to contain it and "put the cat back into the bag" by promoting a falsely literal and historical version of that message instead.
Joseph Atwill has provided extremely valuable evidence regarding this ancient deception, with his perceptive analysis comparing the gospel accounts and the histories of Josephus. While I disagree with the main conclusions that he has reached, I believe that his are understandable conclusions to suggest as one possible explanation for the evidence at hand, particularly if the celestial metaphors are not understood, and the connections of those same patterns to other myths (including but not limited to those which we find in the Odyssey of ancient Greece, as well as strong parallels to the mythology of ancient Egypt not discussed in the above examination).
One thing should be fairly certain from all of the above discussion, and that is that the events in the gospel accounts are not literal and historical in nature, but rather metaphorical. I happen to believe that they are actually metaphors intended to convey profound truths about our human condition and about the nature of the simultaneously physical-and-spiritual universe in which we presently find ourselves, and that they should not be dismissed as a clever Roman satire.
Now, thanks to the insights of Joseph Atwill, we can see that the works of Josephus are almost certainly not completely literal and historical in nature either -- and that Josephus is almost certainly part of an ancient conspiracy involving the transition to literalist Christianity, a conspiracy which has resulted in the suppression of that beneficial message for centuries (and which later resulted in the destruction or suppression of the ancient wisdom preserved in the traditions of other cultures around the world).