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James Valliant on Rome and Christianity

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
This episode originally was published on July 11, 2019, and reposted here on May 2, 2024.

Self in Society Podcast #4
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James Valliant discusses his book, Creating Christ, in which he and his coauthor Warren Fahy argue that the Roman emperors Nero, Vespasian, and Titus played an active role in the development of early Christianity. Valliant discusses the broader context of the Jewish-Roman conflict of the First Century, the themes of the Gospels, and the remarkable parallels between the Flavian emperors and the Christian story.

Time Markers
00 Introduction
1:50 James Valliant and Warren Fahy's work on the topic
5:30 Valliant's background as a prosecutor
6:55 Valliant's previous work on Ayn Rand, Armstrong and Valliant's religious backgrounds, Christian self-sacrifice
10:10 (interspersed) Nietzsche and Bauer on Christianity
12:30 Bauer's influence on Nietzsche
15:15 Rand as important atheist intellectual
19:05 Valliant's presentation at the Objectivist (Rand-related) summer conference, the importance of the topic
21:55 The widely accepted links between Christianity and Rome
23:20 Jewish strife with Rome, Roman religious integration
28:45 The Jewish Messiah tradition in the Roman context
30:56 The Jewish-Roman conflict starting around 66 CE
32:30 Much of the New Testament was written between the Roman-Jewish wars
34:20 Christianity is profoundly pro-Roman and anti-traditional-Jewish
36:15 Paul against the "old law” and for obeying the Roman authority
40:20 Jesus models servitude and points to Heavenly rewards
43:10 The New Testament blames the Jewish leadership for the death of Jesus
47:50 The crucifixion and the existence of Jesus
54:50 The Emperors Vespasian and Titus, with a note on Paul's Roman connections under Nero
1:01:30 Vespasian and Titus claimed to be the Jewish Messiah and had similarities with Jesus
1:05:27 Jesus's prediction of his second coming within the current generation
1:06:50 Titus's Christian symbolism
1:10:00 The coin of Titus with the fish-and-anchor
1:13:15 Armstrong summarizes the more-radical claims of the book and some possible shortcomings with them, with Valliant's feedback
1:19:55 Valliant summarizes the Christian-Roman connection
1:24:40 Is there a less- and more-strong version of the thesis of Roman interference?
1:29:00 Wrap-up

The authors maintain a Creating Christ web page that links to additional media appearances, a review by Robert Price, and more.

Warren Fahy also maintains a web site for his fiction.

Valliant's List of Further Reading
James, the Brother Jesus, Robert Eisenman, 1997, Viking
Caesar's Messiah, Jospeh Atwill, 2005
Operation: Messiah, Thijs Voskuilen and Rose Mary Sheldon, 2008
Christ and the Caesars: The Origin of Christianity from the Mythology of Rome and Greece, Bruno Bauer, trans. Byron Merchant and Helmut Bruner, 2017
Caesar Was Christ, Francesco Carotta, Aspekt, 2005 (English translation)
Jesus Interrupted, Bart Ehrman, Harper One, 2010

In 2017 Amy Peikoff interviewed Valliant about the book.

Those interested in Ayn Rand might find of interest Alan Germani’s article, "The Mystical Ethics of the New Atheists."

Some years ago I gave a short talk about Rand's atheism.

More recently (as mentioned in the podcast), I've released a critique of Rand's metaethics.

I happened across an interesting tidbit from an 1890 American Ecclesiastical Review that confirms the Titus-Anchor coin but that offers an alternative explanation of the symbolism:

Among the pagans the symbol of the Dolphin and anchor was understood to express swiftness with security. The emperor Vespasian, fond of the proverb, "Festina lente," which meant, "be energetic but thoughtful," and wishing to impress it deeply upon the minds of his subjects, caused the figure of a dolphin wound around an anchor to be impressed upon the coin current under his reign. The anchor by itself generally signified firmness, confidence, or hope.

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