Atwill is this guy who claims to have evidence that Jesus wasn’t real: Christianity was a cunning product of a Roman imperial conspiracy, intentionally designed to placate those troublesome Jews, and he claims to have a Roman confession that he’ll reveal next week.
I think a few too many atheists are seeing “Scholar Says Jesus Was Fake” and are not thinking any more deeply than that. The whole idea is ridiculous.
The Roman idea of social engineering was to plant a legionary fortress, or retire a bunch of legionaries, into an area that they wanted to pacify. Incorporating regional gods into their pantheon by synonymizing them, sure; far-fetched long-term plans that would require centuries to mature into a tangible result, no.
Has there ever been a religion that was created by a government that actually caught on? Most religions die young; they have a very low success rate. It’s not a smart investment — it’s like buying a lottery ticket. If Romans had been in this game of inventing religions to win over the natives to Romanism, we’d see more examples of failures than long term success.
What would you think of a conspiracy theorist who announced that Joseph Smith had been a secret government agent with the mission of persuading a large number of people to settle that barren Utah territory? Or that L. Ron Hubbard was J. Edgar Hoover’s boy, part of a plan to provide an alternative to the Communist Party for impressionable youth? There are always people to whom a conspiracy theory is attractive, but more rational people would just laugh at the very idea.
Finally, as Russell Glasser points out, real scholars don’t spring the evidence on their audiences by press release or by public lecture — it is first reviewed by independent scholars for authenticity.
If you’re one of the many atheists who gleefully forwarded this to me or credulously mentioned it on twitter…hello, there. I see you’ve already met the good friend of so many half-baked wackos in the world, Confirmation Bias.