Until the eighteenth century—the Age of Enlightenment, which sought to apply critical and rational thought to assumptions previously taken for granted—the principal sources of Western knowledge about the history of the world and mankind were the Old and New Testaments. The Book of Genesis, the first in the Old Testament, told how God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. At the center of this universe was planet Earth. It was perceived for many centuries as a flat entity around which revolved the sun, moon, stars and other planets. At the same time as he created the universe God was said to have created the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. As theology was the main source of our understanding of the world, scholars were so confident about the authenticity of this Book of Genesis account that they even provided a precise time and date for the appearance of Adam—9 a.m. on 26 October 4004 B.C.
Modern science has made it clear that various elements of this story and mankind's early assumptions about the nature of the universe are not to be taken seriously. The Earth is round, not flat; it has, according to scientists, existed for billions of years, and man himself has lived on it for at least 200,000 years.
The critical approach of biblical scholars, especially in Germany (the home of early biblical scholarship), at the time of the "enlightenment" focused in particular upon the timescale of the Old Testament itself. Until then it had been regarded as the inspired word of God, handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai in the fourteenth century B.C. However, study of the way the Old Testament has come down to us made it clear that it was written in its present form in Babylon between the sixth and second centuries B.C. By then at least 800 years had elapsed since the death of Moses and the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. During the intervening centuries, biblical stories had been transmitted orally from generation to generation, with the inevitable distortion of, and uncertainty about, facts that occurs when information passes by word of mouth. It therefore seemed that many Old Testament accounts might not be accurate. This suspicion has been confirmed in the intervening two centuries by means of exploration, archaeological discoveries and a deeper knowledge and understanding of history. It has become clear, for example, that the account in the Book of Joshua of the conquest of the Promised Land in the fifteenth century B.C., as a result of a swift military campaign, is a total invention, as I shall show in due course.
The conventional starting point for anyone seeking the identity of the historical Jesus is the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. However, these gospels should not be regarded as either biographies or histories in the modern sense of the word, but as theological works whose primary aim is to proclaim faith in Jesus as the Son of God, Lord and Messiah, crucified and raised from the dead, who will return in glory at some time in the future to judge the world.
In the second century A.D. the Roman fathers of the early Church, combating what they regarded as heresy, began to place this theology in a historical setting, providing locations and dates for the life of Jesus. These doctrines were enforced by the authorities from the second half of the fourth century, when Rome adopted Christianity, causing it to spread throughout the world. It was when Rome, then the center of civilization, adopted Christianity that old books were burned to destroy the memory of the past, and history was rewritten to "confirm" new interpretations of past events.
Discovery of two sets of ancient documents in the years immediately after the Second World War has served to reinforce the belief that Jesus lived, suffered and died many centuries before the accepted start of the Christian era. The better-known documents are the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in caves of Khirbet Qumran over a period, starting in 1947. These Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts aroused great excitement because they were dated from 200 B.C. and A.D. 50, thus covering the years before and after Jesus's life in Palestine, according to the orthodox account. The name Qumran, of the location where the Essenes were dwelling, can itself indicate an Ancient Egyptian-Israelite origin for this community, for this word is also known as Imran, which would connect it directly to both the
Amarna dynasty and Imran the father of Moses and Miriam. In my view, this name of the Essene location indicates that some descendants of Akhenaten and Moses were among the early leaders of this community. I can only identify the Essenes as members of the movement that produced prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, up to the time of the Babylonian exile. After the return from exile, the priests of the Jerusalem temple never allowed prophecy again. The fact that the Essene community settled in Qumran during the second century does not mean that this was the date when it came into existence. (The evidence for this, which will be no doubt revelatory to many readers, is presented in subsequent chapters.)
However, the writers of the scrolls make no mention of the life and mission of Jesus in Judaea and Galilee. Instead, they identify the Savior as their Teacher of Righteousness, killed by a Wicked Priest, and they await his return to join them at their annual Messianic Banquet, similar in many respects to the christian Last Supper. Although half a century has passed since the first of the scrolls came to light, it is still not clear whether all of their contents has been published. This has fueled suspicion of ecclesiastical censorship, because they contradict the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.
The scrolls also deflected attention from another important collection of ancient documents found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt two years earlier. These proved to be part of a library of the Gnostics (a sect condemned as heretical and persecuted in the early years of the Christian Church) and included previously unknown gospels and Christian writings about the character of Jesus. Remarkably, in them we find no mention of the places or characters familiar from the gospel stories—Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, King Herod and John the Baptist, for example.
If the startling implication of the two finds is that the historical Jesus did not live when orthodox gospels claim, then when did he live? I shall show that the Old Testament itself offers evidence that Jesus lived many centuries earlier. He is identified as the same person as Joshua, who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites. This was, indeed, once part of the teaching of the fathers of the early Christian Church. An attempt has been made to explain away this identification by saying that Joshua should be looked upon as a pre-existent Christ. However, St. Paul's account of events on the Damascus road indicates that the person who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites was the real Jesus, and those who believed later had spiritual encounters with the spiritual Christ, for Paul says of their meeting: "I conferred not with flesh and blood" (Galatians 1:16).
The purpose of this book is to try, by an objective approach based on verifiable data, to establish the course of historical events that lie behind the stories we read in the Old and New Testaments, and to come to conclusions about how they shaped our understanding today. This is not a theological work: its purpose is to provide biblical stories with greater historical authenticity than they have enjoyed until now.
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