Blog Watch: Antoninus Impius


Our redivivus has answered again (archived), and it doesn’t get any better. But first let’s make one thing clear: our previous article on A.P.’s blunder was not written to “discredit his blog”, as he alleges, but only to debunk his feeble arguments, and the style was chosen to counter A.P.’s use of derogatory language, with which he had occasionally spiced his original article. But at least A.P. seems to have noticed that some of our comments were tongue-in-cheek: “That’s rich! Divine Julius calling Antoninus Pius senile!” At least that he noticed, but it doesn’t let him off the hook.


There are many positive (and negative) reviews and opinions on the Reception page. It is true that there has not been an academic review of Carotta’s book, but this is understandable, not because there is no support for Carotta’s theory (on the contrary; see link above), but because the book was never written, published and priced as an academic work, which is what a scientific publisher originally wanted to do. Carotta decided against it, because his goal was to make the theory accessible to as many people as possible. However, Carotta’s theory itself has been debated by academics, and it has been reviewed and found to be noteworthy of academic publication: he has delivered peer-reviewed academic articles on his theory in Quaderni di Storia, edited by Luciano Canfora, and for a Spanish book about the historical Jesus, edited by Antonio Piñero. Furthermore, he was invited to give lectures at the Complutense and the University of Basel. Not too bad for a scientific outsider. Oh, and as for Wyke’s comment “sweeping and often superficial”: of course that’s not a compliment, but here A.P.—how convenient!—has skipped over the second half, where Wyke continues by saying “detailed and justified at book length”.


Here we are facing a false argument by A.P.: 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. But the real issue here is that the two other men, cited by A.P. as rewarded with the term chrêstós by Plutarch, both have something in common with Caesar, in that they were deified, Alexander as Zeus-Amon, Caecilius Metellus called sôter kai euergétês—something that A.P. evidently ignores. So Caesar as chrêstós in Plutarch is an important source. A.P. is apparently too naive to notice that by associating the chrêstoi Caecilius Metellus and Alexander with chrêstós Caesar, he actually reinforces Carotta’s argumentation instead of invalidating it. And there is of course more, which A.P. has also ignored (see below).


As for archiereus megistos, it can definitely be contracted to christós, but not in writing, where they simply drop the megistos to shorten the term, but in spoken language and worship, which is what Carotta writes. Furthermore, this is clearly just a hypothesis in Carotta’s book, and probably just a coincidental (but nonetheless possible) association. At any rate, A.P. again chooses to withhold information: Carotta indeed delivers another argument, namely Caesar’s statue at Rome, where the inscription read parenti optime merito. Chrestós is a good and possible translation of optime meritus—and christós as well, by the way. And then A.P. writes: “Remember that this is the bedrock of Signor Carotta’s theory. This is his one link between Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ.” Bedrock? The one link? This comment is completely ludicrous. There are hundreds upon hundreds of links and parallels, and this is simply one of them.


Of course the theory fits all the other gospels. Otherwise it would be meaningless. It’s just that the Gospel of Mark is considered the oldest one, and therefore the first contender for an application of the theory, aside from the fact that a complete Markan-Roman synopsis would surely not fit into one book alone. And there is no “secret code” here. This sounds like conspiracy (and conspiracy theory), a typical catchword to insinuate that Carotta only produces fiction like Dan Brown. But a diegetic transposition is something completely different.

In the rest of the passage A.P. goes to great lengths to prepare his argument that Carotta builds an “emotive” bridge between an ancient bust of Caesar and Renaissance death sculptures of Jesus Christ, which would indeed be anachronistic. And, you guessed it, that is completely false, because the only support A.P. creates, is his insinuation that old ladies would make the sign of the cross before Renaissance statues of Christ, which is what Carotta allegedly wants to conjure up with the use of the word pietà and an “emotive” sidenote. As if pious old women only existed in the Renaissance! As if there were no temples in antiquity, no suffering gods—Dionysus, Osiris, Attis…—, no divine mercy—Demeter and Persephone… as if this were a valid objection at all!


The previous article already explained how, if you take away the “bowl”, there are still exact accordances between what happened to Pompey and to John: decapitation and presentation of the head. The rest of the passage explained, how the pinax could have wound up in the text. Carotta speaks of a Schüssel in his 1999 book, translated into English as “bowl”. It would have been better to use a more common translation from English vulgates of the Gospel, like “charger” or “dish”, but if it is an error, it was not Carotta’s, but the translators’: traduttore traditore. They used “bowl”, because it translates the word Schüssel often used in the German versions of the Gospel. As the parallels are presented only telegraphically at the beginning of book (see also below), there was no place for an in-depth analysis of the Greek word pinax, which originally does not mean “Schüssel”, “bowl”, “charger” or “dish” anyway. At any rate, our original reply to A.P.’s pseudo-legitimate criticism of this “bowl”-passage clearly shows that, even if you disprove an argument and believe to have unearthed a mistake, there will usually be a clearer (not more convoluted) explanation taking its place. First of all it shows the strength of Carotta’s theory; secondly it shows its scientificity; and thirdly it unveils the parrot: A.P., repetitive and incurably superficial.


This paragraph clearly shows that A.P. hasn’t understood much, if anything: of course Carotta draws the parallel between Judas and Decimus Iunius Brutus, and this is the correct parallel, because the other Brutus, Marcus Iunius Brutus, was not (as A.P. wants his readers to believe) the one who betrayed Caesar, but his assassin. Decimus Iunius Brutus is the one who betrayed him, who came to his house, took him by the hand and led him to the Senate, where Marcus Brutus and the other assassins slaughtered him, so the parallel Decimus-Judas is valid—the only valid one. We can see again that A.P. doesn’t seem to know much about the Roman historical sources. (And the fact that he reiterates his error, shows that it was not just a slip of pen.)


The “reputation-damaging exercise” by A.P. was to recall only one single and coincidental parallel, and at the same time omit the primary arguments Carotta had put forth. And that is clearly a smear.


The “direct quotation” A.P. delivers, is from the very first overview at the beginning of Carotta’s book, before the real synopsis. It is delivered in a telegraphic style, as a rough working hypothesis to be tested and examined, and later on Carotta goes into much greater detail about Jordan vs. Rubicon, and he shows that it is not as simple as “both cross a fateful river”. It clearly shows that A.P. has not read the book.

On to “relevant questions”: A.P. alleges that Carotta does not explain how Caesar’s funeral was diegetically transposed (not “secretly encoded”!) into Christ’s crucifixion, whereas a large part of an extensive chapter in his book deals with exactly this question… and the answers to that question as well. As for Caesar’s funeral pyre, it was transposed not into the sour wine, but into the myrrh, which is the original transpositional complex: ΠΥΡΑ > ΜΥΡ[Ρ]Α. This shows (again!) that A.P. hasn’t understood anything: he is so biased and hasty that he cannot read.


Here A.P.’s arguments get really weird, because the linguistic chain, which he constructs in order to ridicule Carotta, is exactly what happens in a diegetic transposition that stems from misinterpretations, misreadings, puns and transcription errors, made by people of only humble knowledge of Greek or Latin. The language of the Gospel does not come from ancient high culture. Furthermore, A.P. makes two mistakes. The legendary king’s name was Olus, not “Olius”. (He was also called Aulus, not “Aulius”.) The second mistake is A.P.’s notion that “Mark says that the place was called Golgotha”. This is not correct, because Mark’s Kraniou Topos must be viewed as the primary name, and Golgotha as only the translation. Why? Both ways seem to be possible in Mark, so we have to look into the other gospels: Matthew is undecided, and in Luke the hill is only called Kranion, with no mention of Golgotha. In John it is very clear, and even the King James Bible gets it right: “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha”. Primary name: Kraniou Topos; secondary translation: Golgotha. Not the other way round. It seems that A.P. doesn’t even know how to correctly read the Bible. But why then does he believe he can debunk Carotta? Funny, really. But maybe his only goal is to deride the theory, and he does not notice that he is utterly ridiculing himself in the process.


A.P. is correct when he writes that no ancient source describes that “a wax effigy of [Julius Caesar] was nailed upright to a cross”. And yes, Carotta doesn’t say that either. So what happened at Caesar’s funeral? The sources are clear that Caesar’s actual corpse could not be seen during the funeral: because it was laid out on a bier inside a miniature of the temple of Venus Genetrix, and placed on the rostra, it was too high and too enclosed to be seen by the people standing on the Forum. Towering above the bier at its head was a tropaeum. Now, a tropaeum can be mainly two things: a stone monument signifying victory, or a wooden construction for presenting spoils of war, which at that time was in the form of a “real” cross (see below). We can safely exclude a tropaeum made of stone, because it could never have been carried in the funeral procession.

Was Caesar’s tropaeum a victory monument? Not necessarily. Caesar’s funeral ceremony proceeded on the Liberalia, 17 March, the festive day of Liber Pater, an archaic syncretistic Roman variant of Dionysus. It was custom to use tropaea as props during the ritual proceedings, which we know from ancient Greek depictions. The tropaeum was, for example, fitted with clothes and a mask of the god Dionysus—almost like a “religious scarecrow”—, or a real effigy of the god was affixed to the tropaeum. Was an effigy of Caesar used during his funeral? Yes, there was: a gruesome simulacrum of his slain body. A mythologized depiction of it was published on a denarius by Buca, and it showed Caesar as the shepherd-king Endymion resurrecting from eternal sleep. At the height of the ceremony, the effigy of his slain body was raised above the bier and rotated by use of a mechanism. According to the sources the only prop mentioned that could hold an effigy and be rotated with a mechanism was the tropaeum. According to the sources the only prop mentioned reaching above the bier was the tropaeum. Although no source explicitly tells us that Caesar’s effigy was affixed to the tropaeum, we can safely assume that this is precisely what happened, because no other prop is mentioned at the very spot where Caesar’s effigy was raised, and also because it was the religious custom of that specific festive day. The latter argument is supported by the fact that Marcus Antonius praised Caesar as a son of the gods, and as a celestial deity in his own right. The people themselves made Caesar a god on that day, as the sources tell us, and worked themselves up into a state of Dionysian frenzy to avenge Caesar and turn his funeral into a display of victory over the assassins. So in a sense, Caesar’s tropaeum was transformed into a real victory monument only by the people’s actions.

But what was the shape of the tropaeum, to which the effigy was affixed? Caesar’s own tropaea, which he often presented on his coins, were genuinely cruciform, so we can already assume that the tropaeum used during his funeral was of the same kind. The sources also tell us that his blood-stained toga, which he had worn in the Senate house on the day of the assassination, was affixed to the tropaeum first, so we can definitely exclude the pole shape, because you need a crossbeam to spread the garment. Furthermore, the sources tell us that Caesar’s effigy realistically displayed all the dagger wounds, including the lethal one. That lethal wound was to his chest, so it was necessary to raise the effigy’s arms to make it visible to all. For this you need a crossbeam, to which you can tie the arms or wrists. With these details in mind, we can safely conclude that Caesar’s tropaeum at his funeral was cruciform.

Was the effigy nailed to the tropaeum? Most probably not, and if we look at early Christian iconography, the crucified Christ of early depictions is not affixed to the cross with nails either, but with ropes. (And the Passion narratives do not mention nails either, so there is no discrepancy here.)

Now on to the verb stauroô: of course it can mean “crucify”, especially in texts from later antiquity, especially in Christian texts. But it is not the primary meaning, and if we are dealing with a diegetic transposition of the Caesar sources, then it can only describe the piling of wood for Caesar’s pyre, and the memory of this original meaning is preserved in the central Christian expression lignum crucis. (Here lignum of course refers to the “firewood”, and the “cremation of Christ” was apparently still familiar to early Christians; cf. e.g. Martyr. Polyc. 16-19, or August. Quaest. Num. 4.33.5. Conversely, the Christian cross has often been a tropaeum, e.g. in Venantius Fortunatus, in liturgy etc.)

Then A.P. asks himself: “I’m still not sure how this qualifies as a parallel, if Caesar’s effigy was crucified, but Jesus Christ wasn’t.” First of all, Caesar’s effigy wasn’t “crucified”, because his cross was not a crux, a “wood of ordeal”, but a tropaeum, to which the effigy was affixed. So there was no “crucifixion of Caesar”, but there was still “Caesar on the cross”, so to speak, and that is the image that entered tradition and iconography, and over time it influenced how later Christians interpreted the verb stauroô in Scripture, namely as “to crucify”, not as “to erect wood”, which was the original meaning from the urtext. At the same time the image of Caesar’s effigy on the tropaeum was gradually understood as a real crucifixion, that of Christ.


Again: there is no “secret code” here. Repeating that false argument over and over doesn’t make it true. It only shows A.P.’s agenda to vilify Carotta’s work.

On to the argument: if you have a transposition from a Latin MS into a Greek MS, alea can very easily be misread as aleeis. This is not ridiculous, but a very possible scriptural error, and many similar ones have been known for a long time (cf. e.g. Couchoud 1926). And such a mutation of a single property is often sufficient to establish a new context or setting of the story. By the way: “I will make you fishers of men” is secondary, dependent on the original misreading, and it has no direct transpositional relation to “the die is cast”. Yet again something that A.P. hasn’t understood. And he continues: “Perhaps if the word meant ‘fishing net’, there would be some logic. But it doesn’t. And there isn’t.” Precisely. Great idea! The evangelist Luke had the same thought… and indeed added the “fishing nets”.

As for the “other complaints” by A.P., they are of the same meager quality, show as little understanding of the topic and Carotta’s theory as the ones already dealt with in this and the previous article. So why in God’s name engage and answer more than is necessary, especially when all of it is dealt with in Carotta’s book? (Which A.P. of course didn’t really read, as we have seen again and again.)


The concluding paragraph then tries to make the case that we made “false assumptions” based on “false assertions” etc. pp. This article shows that not one of A.P.’s arguments (let alone his conclusion) comes even close to solid. A.P. does not write because he has something knowledgeable to say about Carotta’s theory: he writes because he has a keyboard.

Note: a follow-up article has been posted here.


On his blog Prof. McGrath also wrote a short answer to our original question in the comment section. He stated:

Thanks for sharing that. I find the attempt to read ancient texts as coded statements about what other texts say or about historic events to be unpersuasive in most instances, and this doesn’t appear to be one that is an exception.

I found your conclusion in your blog post to be a false antithesis. Why must one choose between Jesus not having existed or his having been Caesar?

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

And sure, if McGrath believes that Jesus had an autonomous historical existence, then the historical Christ must not have been Caesar. But then the professor has a problem, because he has to convince the mythers and other skeptics. The historical existence of Jesus itself becomes a matter of faith. Islam, for example, doesn’t have that problem: the historical existence of Prophet Muhammad is not questioned. That of Caesar is neither. But that of Jesus is, and it’s a major problem for Christianity. McGrath’s blog itself proves it.