Greco-Roman Glimmers of Jesus’s Death/Rising
Part One: King Romulus
Damien F. Mackey
“The tempest being over and the light breaking out, when the people gathered again, they missed and inquired for their king; the senators suffered them not to search, or busy themselves about the matter, but commanded them to honour and worship Romulus as one taken up to the gods, and about to be to them, in the place of a good prince, now a propitious god”.
Plutarch: Parallel Lives.
Hugh J. Schonfield (d. 1988) is well known for his controversial book about Jesus, entitled The Passover Plot, which he wrote in 1965.
According to the author, Jesus, desirous of saving his people, actually – and one must think, somewhat incredibly – orchestrated, as far as he could, his own manner of death, so as to accord with the ancient Messianic prophecies. “…the Crucifixion was part of a larger, conscious attempt by Jesus to fulfill the Messianic expectations rampant in his time, and that the plan went unexpectedly wrong”.
I recently read Schonfield’s follow-up book to The Passover Plot, which, written in 1981, he had entitled After the Cross. On pp. 115-117 of this book the author introduced the Greek historian Plutarch’s piece about King Romulus, supposed first king of Rome, beginning with:
Very few Christians would seem to be aware, however, of the strong similarity that exists between the image of the death and resurrection of Jesus and that of Romulus, the eponymous founder of Rome. The latter is set down in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Plutarch was born in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.) and was a contemporary of the authors of the Gospels. The relevant passage is quoted in full from an old English translation, which gives the flavor of the Authorized Version of the Bible.
Before quoting this passage (and I shall be using instead John Dryden’s translation), I should like to preface it by recalling, once again, that Greco-Roman mythology and pseudo-history is replete with appropriations and distortions of the original Hebrew biblical tales. I have written articles on this subject, including the Greek appropriation of King Solomon as Solon.
Solomon and Sheba
Anyway, here is the passage by Plutarch (http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/romulus.html):
… whereas Romulus, when he vanished, left neither the least part of his body, nor any remnant of his clothes to be seen. So that some fancied the senators, having fallen upon him in the temple of Vulcan, cut his body into pieces, and took each a part away in his bosom; others think his disappearance was neither in the temple of Vulcan, nor with the senators only by, but that it came to pass that, as he was haranguing the people without the city, near a place called the Goat’s Marsh,
[Comment: “… without the city” is appropriate, as is Goat. Recall the goat for sin offering]
on a sudden strange and unaccountable disorders and alterations took place in the air; the face of the sun was darkened, and the day turned into night, and that, too, no quiet, peaceable night, but with terrible thunderings, and boisterous winds from all quarters; during which the common people dispersed and fled, but the senators [read Sanhedrin?] kept close together. The tempest being over and the light breaking out, when the people gathered again, they missed and inquired for their king; the senators suffered them not to search, or busy themselves about the matter, but commanded them to honour and worship Romulus as one taken up to the gods, and about to be to them, in the place of a good prince, now a propitious god. The multitude, hearing this, went away believing and rejoicing in hopes of good things from him; but there were some, who, canvassing the matter in a hostile temper, accused and aspersed the patricians, as men that persuaded the people to believe ridiculous tales, when they themselves were the murderers of the king.
Things being in this disorder, one, they say, of the patricians, of noble family and approved good character, and a faithful and familiar friend of Romulus himself, having come with him from Alba, Julius Proculus
[Comment: Wife of Pontius Pilate was Claudia Procula].
by name, presented himself in the forum; and, taking a most sacred oath, protested before them all, that, as he was travelling on the road, he had seen Romulus coming to meet him, looking taller and comelier than ever, dressed in shining and flaming armour; and he, being affrighted at the apparition, said, “Why, O king, or for what purpose have you abandoned us to unjust and wicked surmises, and the whole city to bereavement and endless sorrow?” and that he made answer, “It pleased the gods, O Proculus, that we, who came from them, should remain so long a time amongst men as we did; and, having built a city to be the greatest in the world for empire and glory, should again return to heaven. But farewell; and tell the Romans, that, by the exercise of temperance and fortitude, they shall attain the height of human power; we will be to you the propitious god Quirinus.” This seemed credible to the Romans, upon the honesty and oath of the relater, and indeed, too, there mingled with it a certain divine passion, some preternatural influence similar to possession by a divinity; nobody contradicted it, but, laying aside all jealousies and detractions, they prayed to Quirinus and saluted him as a god.
Part One (b):
Romulus, Remus and Old Testament
“The modern [sic] connection of Romulus and Remus would be the story of Cain and Abel. Remus is like Cain because they are the jealous brothers, and Abel is like Romulus because they are the good brothers. In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain killed [Abel] because he was jealous that God favored Abel’s offering more than Cain’s. But with Romulus and Remus, Remus was jealous of Romulus’s wall around the hill, so they argued and Romulus killed Remus. Both stories have a sibling rivalry and in the end, both stories have one brother killing the other. Also in both stories, jealousy is involved, but both for different reasons”.
Like so many of the Greco-Roman myths – even the so-called history of ancient philosophy – the well-known characters were distorted, garbled versions of originally Egyptian, Hebrew and Near Eastern persons. These being cultures and civilisations far older than those of the Greeks and the Romans. Thus, for instance, in typical Greek fashion, a Hebrew prophet will be re-presented as a philosopher. See e.g. my:
‘Socrates’ as a Prophet
We saw in Part One of this present series that the absolutely unique accounts in the Gospels of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ were picked up (albeit messily) in the writings of the approximately contemporary Greek biographer and essayist, Plutarch, and applied to the legendary first king of Rome, Romulus.
In Part Three of ‘Socrates’ above, the renowned, so-called Greek philosopher, it is argued, had no actual historical reality qua Socrates, but, rather, was a biblical composite. To consider just one of his biblical ‘manifestations’, Socrates, who is so often likened to Jesus Christ, will be found in Plato’s Meno doing what Jesus in fact did: writing on the ground (John 8:6, 8).
But what will Socrates write? Not something ethical.
In typically Greek fashion he will draw geometric figures in the ground.
The mythological Romulus and Remus, too, are biblical composites. They are commonly compared with Cain and Abel, and also with Moses. And one could no doubt find other biblical manifestations of them as well (see e.g. previous comparisons with Jesus Christ and Romulus).
Like Cain and Abel
Romulus and Remus were twin brothers and their mother was princess Rhea Silvia.
So, apparently, were Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, twins.
It is a well-known fact that Jacob and Esau were twins, but what is not commonly known is that Cain and Abel were also twins. In the normal Hebraic accounting of multiple births the conception then birth of each child is mentioned such as we can see in Genesis 29:32-33 where it states that Leah conceived and bore a son, and then she conceived again and bore a son. Note that there are two conceptions and two births. But notice how it is worded in Genesis 4:1-2.
|Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain; And again, she bore his brother Abel. (RSV)|
Notice that there is only one conception, but two births. The Hebrew word for “again” is asaph, meaning to add something, in this case the birthing of Abel was added to the birthing of Cain. Cain and Abel were twins.
And, further (https://sites.google.com/site/creationmythofromulsuandremus/):
The modern [sic] connection of Romulus and Remus would be the story of Cain and Abel. Remus is like Cain because they are the jealous brothers, and Abel is like Romulus because they are the good brothers. In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain killed [Abel] because he was jealous that God favored Abel’s offering more than Cain’s. But with Romulus and Remus, Remus was jealous of Romulus’s wall around the hill, so they argued and Romulus killed Remus. Both stories have a sibling rivalry and in the end, both stories have one brother killing the other. Also in both stories, jealousy is involved, but both for different reasons. Both stories are involved with marks. Cain is marked so everyone knows he killed his brother, Abel. But in the Roman myth, Romulus marks Rome by naming it after himself.
The tradition of twins as the progenitors of tribal units or city builders is very well documented in Semitic and Indo-European cultures. When birth order is specified, the younger twin always receives the blessing over the first born brother. In the account of the sons of Adam, the first born twin is envious of the second and commits fratricide. There are many variations on this theme in other twin genesis accounts. Jacob is fearful that Esau will kill him, Romulus killed Remus and Gwyn and Gwythurin in Celtic tradition duel every May.
The Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, shared a mortal and an immortal existence. Castor was killed on a cattle raid but Pollux persuaded Zeus to allow the brothers to switch places periodically. The word Gemini comes from the PIE root *ym which means ‘to pair’. This word is very similar to the Hebrew im mimation suffix but, of course, linguists say they are unrelated (sigh). ….
Parallels to Moses
Romulus and Remus, abandoned on the bank of the Tiber river, were famously suckled by a she-wolf.
From whence did this pagan myth arise?
We well know the Exodus (2:1-10) account of the birth of Moses and the forced abandonment of him due to the decree of the cruel Pharaoh – how the baby Moses was placed in a papyrus basket and set adrift on the river Nile (which the Romans inevitably replaced with their Tiber). Long before the Romans, I suggest, the ancient Egyptians had corrupted the legend of the baby Moses in the bulrushes so that now it became the goddess Isis who drew the baby Horus from the Nile and had him suckled by Hathor (the goddess in the form of a cow – the Egyptian personification of wisdom).
In the original story, of course, baby Moses was drawn from the water by an Egyptian princess, not a goddess, and was weaned by Moses’s own mother (Exodus 2:5-9).
Anyway, Moses became for the Egyptians Hor-mes, meaning ‘son of Hathor’, which legendary person the Greeks eventually absorbed into their own pantheon as Hermes, the winged messenger god. [The Roman version of Hermes is Mercury].
Thus the story evolved from the original Hebrew account, suckled by the mother, to the Egyptian version, suckled by the goddess in the form of a cow, to an entirely bestial suckler in the Roman account, a she-wolf.
In the name Remus (also Cadmus), the mus element is suspiciously Moses like.
Apollonius of Tyana
“Presenting further evidence that Philostratus’s biography of Apollonius is in many ways a replica of the life of Jesus, Cardinal Newman writes: The favour in which Apollonius from a child was held by gods and men; his conversations when a youth in the Temple of Aesculapius; his determination, in spite of danger to go up to Rome; the cowardice of his disciples in deserting him …”.
The supposed C1st AD character, Apollonius of Tyana, is such a Jesus-like figure in many ways that some commentators would insist that the Gospels were based on the life of this Apollonius. Whereas, as I am arguing in this series, the precedence ought to be given to the Gospel version over the pagan one. And there are very good reasons, again, for claiming this to be correct, given the vagueness surrounding the author of the “Life of Apollonius”, the Greek sophist Philostratus, and that he wrote about Apollonius much later than the Gospels, in the C3rd AD. I favour Fr. Jean Carmignac’s compelling argument, as set out in his Birth of the Synoptics (1987), that the Synoptic Gospels were written by eyewitnesses at a very early date.
As I have often remarked, one of the most common phrases used by the conventional historians of ancient history is this one, “… little is known about …”. And that fully applies to Philostratus, who himself, I suspect, may not have been an actual historical character, but a ‘ghost’ based upon some previous person – perhaps upon one of the Evangelists. Thus we read of Philostratus
Very little is known of his career. Even his name is doubtful. The Lives of the Sophists gives the praenomen Flavius, which, however, is found elsewhere only in Tzetzes. Eunapius and Synesius call him a Lemnian; Photius a Tyrian; his letters refer to him as an Athenian. It is probable that he was born in Lemnos, studied and taught at Athens, and then settled in Rome ….
I rest my case.
The Lives are not in the true sense biographical, but rather picturesque impressions of leading representatives of an attitude of mind full of curiosity, alert and versatile, but lacking scientific method, preferring the external excellence of style and manner to the solid achievements of serious writing. The philosopher, as he says, investigates truth; the sophist embellishes it, and takes it for granted. ….
That appears to be a very shaky historical foundation, indeed, upon which to raise a life story of one who is considered by some to have been the exemplar for Jesus Christ himself.
Apollonius of Tyana
Most commentators simply presume the historicity of Philostratus when considering the Apollonius of Tyana of whom he wrote.
Two such, who would regard Apollonius as being modelled upon Jesus Christ, were F. Bauer and Cardinal Newman http://www.mountainman.com.au/Apollonius_the_Nazarene_3.htm
Even as late as 1832, [F.] Bauer attempted to show that not only were there resemblances between the “Life of Apollonius of Tyana” and the Gospels, but that Philostratus deliberately modeled his hero on the type set forth by the Evangelists. He was followed in this view by Zeller, the celebrated Greek historian.
Typical of latter nineteenth century views on the subject is that of Cardinal Newman, a Catholic apologist, who, admitting the identity of Apollonius and the Gospel messiah, considers the former an imitation of the latter, in spite of the fact that he preceded him by three centuries (For the Jesus of the Gospels was evidently born in the year 325 A.D., at the Council of Nicea, rather than when the star appeared over Bethlehem).
To support his view, Newman mentions certain typical examples, such as Apollonius’s bringing to life a dead girl in Rome, which he considers as “an attempt, and an elaborate, pretentious attempt, to outdo certain narratives in the Gospels (Mark v. 29, Luke vii. John xi: 41-43, Acts iii: 4-6). This incident, is described by Philostratus.
Presenting further evidence that Philostratus’s biography of Apollonius is in many ways a replica of the life of Jesus, Cardinal Newman writes: The favour in which Apollonius from a child was held by gods and men; his conversations when a youth in the Temple of Aesculapius; his determination, in spite of danger to go up to Rome; the cowardice of his disciples in deserting him; the charge brought against him of disaffection to Caesar; the Minister’s acknowledging, on his private examination, that he was more than man; the ignominious treatment of him by Domitian on his second appearance at Rome; his imprisonment with criminals; his vanishing from Court and sudden reappearance to his mourning disciples at Puteoli–these, with other particulars of a similar cast, evidence a history modelled after the narrative of the Evangelists. Expressions, moreover, and descriptions occur, clearly imitated “from the sacred volume.”
Reville, another Catholic apologist, thinks as does Newman that “the biography of Apollonius is in great measure an imitation of the Gospel narrative.’* (*Reville bases his argument on the similarity of the characters of Apollonius and Pythagoras (which is natural in view of Apollonius following Pythagoras as his example); and he seeks to prove that Apollonius, rather than Jesus, is a fictitious creation, rather than an historical character. Reville writes: “It is hard to say whether the Pythagoras of the Alexandrians is not an Apollonius of an earlier date by some centuries, or whether the Apollonius of Julia Domna, besides his resemblance to Christ, is not a Pythagoras endowed with a second youth. The real truth of the matter will probably be found to lie between the two suggestions.”
[End of quotes]
For my view that Pythagoras was, for his part, based upon an ancient Hebrew sage, see e.g.:
Joseph of Egypt and Pythagoras
Philostratus’s account of the life of Apollonius of Tyana is thought to have been written as late as the 220’s/230’s AD, which is obviously later than the Gospels.
Wikipedia gives these:
Similarities shared by the stories about Apollonius and the life of Jesus 
- Birth miraculously announced by God
- Religiously precocious as a child
- Asserted to be a native speaker of Aramaic
- Influenced by Plato/ reflected Platonism (Jesus)
- [Renounced/ denounced (Jesus)] wealth
- Followed abstinence and asceticism
- Wore long hair and robes
- Was unmarried and childless
- Was anointed with oil
- Went to Jerusalem
- Spoke in [metaphors/ parables] (Jesus)
- Saw and predicted the future
- Performed miracles
- Healed the sick
- Cast out evil spirits/ Drove out demons (Jesus)
- Raised the daughter of a [Roman official/ Jewish official (Jesus)] from the dead
- Spoke as a “law-giver”
- Was on a mission to bring [Greek culture/ Jewish culture (Jesus)] to [the “barbarians”/ the ” nations” (Jesus)]
- Believed to be “saviors” from heaven
- Were accused of being a magician
- Were accused of killing a boy
- Condemned [by Roman emperor/ by Roman authorities (Jesus)]
- Imprisoned [at Rome/ at Jerusalem (Jesus)]
- Was assumed into heaven/ Ascended into heaven (Jesus)
- Appeared posthumously to a detractor as a brilliant light
- Had his image revered [in temples/ in churches (Jesus)]