In order to understand Jesus, a lot of historical background knowledge is required in order to know what’s expected or normal for the time. Any theory about who Jesus was must account for all the background information. Chapter 5 continues the list of background elements begun in Chapter 4.
Element 23: In 6 AD, Rome annexed Judea, bringing Jewish sovereignty to an end.
Element 24: The Jews were unable to expel the Romans, so at least some Jews realized a militarily victorious messiah wasn’t possible.
Element 25: Many Jewish sects considered the Jewish civic and temple elite to be corrupt just like the early Christians did.
Element 26: Many early first century Jews blamed the elite for the Roman occupation.
Element 27: The temple was the center of messianic hopes and thus Jews often attempted to seize it.
Element 28: Some Jews could have believed a military victory against Rome wasn’t possible and thus denied the importance of the physical temple, believing instead in a spiritual one that couldn’t be corrupted.
Element 29: Modern cargo cults are similar to Christianity. In fact, anthropology teaches that something like Christianity would be expected given a poor, powerless people dominated by a foreign people who are racially or culturally different from themselves.
Element 30: There was a lot of gentile influence on first century Judea, not just from current pagans, but also past influences. For example, Judaism got the ideas for hell, resurrection, and the devil from Zoroastrianism. Diaspora Jews visiting the Holy Land from other places would have brought new ideas and there were also public libraries available which would have spread gentile ideas. The fact that Paul, Philo, and others wrote in excellent Greek suggests they were trained in pagan schools.
Element 31: Dying and rising sons and daughters of god were a feature unique to paganism, and thus the only plausible explanation is that Christianity derived the idea from them.
Element 32: Popular philosophy such as Cynicism, Stoicism, and Platonism influenced Christian teachings.
Element 33: Christianity was influenced by Judaism which includes Pharisees, the Qumran Essenes, the John the Baptist sect, and possibly also the Therapeutae and Samaritans. The beatitudes, for example, match the literature found at Qumran.
Element 34: Popular cosmology held that there were seven layers of heaven. The bottom layer was known as the firmament. (See the Talmud, First and Second Enoch, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Testament of Levi.)
Element 35: The firmament was a realm of corruption and decay, while the heavens above were perfect.
Element 36: To avoid corruption, god used intermediaries such as Jesus to communicate with man across this gap.
Element 37: Jews believed the firmament is where evil demons lived. Paul referred to these demons as principalities, powers, and authorities. The word “archon” could refer to either human rulers or demonic rulers depending on context. Satan was “the god of this world” i. e., the firmament. The idea that Satan and demons lived under the earth came later.
Element 38: The heavens contained perfect versions of everything on earth including buildings, plants, etc. People could even be buried in the heavens. See Hebrews, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (from the Dead Sea Scrolls), the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Book of Revelation. Paul and Philo believed this as well. The Revelation of Moses says Adam was buried in heaven.
Element 39: There were two Adams, a perfect celestial version (Christians connected this Adam to Jesus) and an earthly version.
Element 40: Some Jews such as Philo believed there was a supernatural son of God named Jesus based on his reading of Zechariah 6:12. The Christian Logos is the same figure. There are other similarities which indicate Philo and Christianity had a common source.
Element 41: The Son of Man from 1 Enoch was likely the same being as the primordial Adam and the Logos.
Element 42: There is a parallel tradition of a celestial high priest named Melchizedek in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Hebrews.
Element 43: A story involving voluntary human sacrifice fit in with both Jewish and pagan worldviews of the time. Both believed martyrdom was praiseworthy (Socrates for example.) Unjust execution by the state was not embarrassing. One being sacrificed on behalf of his people was a common motif in Greco-Roman literature. In 4 Maccabees, seven martyrs gave their lives to atone for the sins of Israel. For further support of this idea, see also 2 Samuel 21 and Numbers 25.
Element 44: In Jewish and pagan antiquity, religious stories were usually fabricated, so all ancient religious literature should be assumed to be fabricated unless proven otherwise, even if they claim to be true. Ancient history and letters were often full of fictitious information as well. Forgery was also common. There are over 40 gospels and half a dozen Acts, so most Christian literature is considered fictitious even by fundamentalists.
Element 45: Euhemerization was also common. This is when a god is written about as if they were an actual person who lived in a specific time, and then were later deified. Euhemerus wrote a book in the third century BC that said Zeus and Uranus were originally kings.
Element 46: Ancient literature contained hero narratives similar to the story of Jesus, such as the stories of Socrates and Aesop. So even if Jesus existed, most of his story is likely fictitious. Aesop most likely didn’t exist, but was a name attached to a collection of fables, then given a historical biography.
Element 47: Jesus and Romulus have very similar death and resurrection narratives which can’t just be a coincidence.
Element 48: Jesus conforms to the Rank-Raglan hero type which is found in at least fifteen heroes. There are twenty-two features which include: He is born of a virgin mother with a father who is king or heir of a king. He is reputed to be the son of God. An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby. He is raised in a foreign country. We are told nothing of his childhood. He is crowned, hailed, or becomes king. He reigns uneventfully, but proscribes laws. He loses favor with the gods or his subjects and is driven from the throne or city. He meets with a mysterious death atop a hill or high place. His children do not succeed him. His body turns up missing. He has one or more holy sepulchers. He battles and defeats a great adversary. His parents are related to each other. He marries a queen or princess related to his predecessor. Jesus matches over half these features. Every other figure who matches over half is not historical.