Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin (cont.)
By Flavio Barbiero
There is a third event, that happened in that same period, connected somehow to the imperial family and to the Jewish environment, to which no particular attention was ever given by the historians: the arrival in Rome of an important group of persons, 15 Jewish high priests, with their families and relatives. They belonged to a priestly class that had ruled Jerusalem for half a millennium, since the return from the Babylonian exile, when 24 priestly lines had stipulated a covenant amongst them and created a secret organization with the scope of securing the families’ fortunes, through the exclusive ownership of the Temple and the exclusive administration of the priesthood.
The Roman domination of Judea had been marked by passionate tensions on the religious level, which had provoked a series of revolts, the last of which, in AD 66, was fatal for the Jewish nation and for the priestly family. With the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius in AD 70, the Temple, the instrument of the family’s power, was razed to the ground, never to be rebuilt, and the priests were killed by the thousands.
There were survivors, of course, in particular a group of 15 high priests, who had sided with the Romans, surrendering to Titus the treasure of the Temple, and for that reason they had kept in their properties and were given Roman citizenship. They then followed Titus to Rome, where they apparently disappeared from the stage of history, never again to play a visible role – apart from the one who undoubtedly was the leader of that group, Josephus Flavius.
Josephus was a priest who belonged to the first of the 24 priestly family lines. At the time of the revolt against Rome, he had played a leading role in the events that tormented Palestine. Sent by the Jerusalem Sanhedrin to be governor of Galilee, he had been the first to fight against the legions of the Roman general Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who had been ordered by Nero to quell the revolt. Barricaded inside the fortress of Jotapata, he bravely withstood the Roman troops’ siege. When the city finally capitulated, he surrendered, asking to be granted a personal audience with Vespasian (The Jewish War, III, 8,9). Their meeting led to an upturn in the fortunes of Vespasian, as well as in those of Josephus: the former was shortly to become emperor in Rome, while the latter not only had his life spared, but not long afterward, he was “adopted” into the emperor’s family and assumed the name Flavius. He then received Roman citizenship, a patrician villa in Rome, a life income and an enormous estate. The prize of his treason.
The priests of this group had one thing in common: they were all traitors of their people and therefore certainly banished from the Jewish community. But they all belonged to a millenarian family line, bound together by the secret organization created by Ezra, and possessing a unique specialisation and experience in running a religion and a country through it. The scattered remnants of the Roman Christian community offered them a wonderful opportunity to profit their millennial experience.
We don’t know anything about their activity in Rome, but we have clear hints of it through the writings of Josephus Flavius. After a few years he started to write down the history of the events of which he had been a protagonist, with the aim, apparently, of justifying his betrayal and that of his companions. It was God’s will, he claims, who called him to build a Spiritual Temple, instead of the material one destroyed by Titus. These words certainly were not addressed to Jewish ears, but to Christian ones. Most historians are sceptical about the fact that Josephus was a Christian, and yet the evidence in his writings is compelling. In a famous passage (the so called Testimonium Flavianum) in his book Jewish Antiquities, he reveals his acceptance of two fundamental points, the resurrection of Jesus, and his identification with the Messiah of prophecies, which are necessary and sufficient condition for a Jew of that time to be considered a Christian. The Christian sympathies of Josephus also clearly emanate from other passages of the same work, where he speaks with great admiration of John the Baptist as well as of James, the brother of Jesus.