The face of Classical Europe (II)

Were the Romans blond and blue-eyed?


Translated from Evropa Soberana


Recently I was called names on VNN forum as a result of my criticism of anti-Nordicism in my previous post. Isn’t it ironic that the signature-legend of VNN’s admin states that the Jews must be exterminated while, at the same time, some of the forum’s senior members want to grant amnesty to the mudbloods in Europe?

Hopefully this abridged translation from the Spanish blogsite Evropa Soberana, which could be read together with the first installment about the phenotype of Greeks in Classical Europe, will throw more light on why anti-Nordicists are deluding themselves.


Were the Romans blond and blue-eyed?

The Latin malus [“bad”] (beside which I place mélas, Greek for “black”) might designate the common man as dark, especially black-haired (hic niger est), as the pre-Aryan settler of the Italian soil, notably distinguished from the new blond conqueror race by his color.

—Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals

The Roman case is virtually identical to the Greek case. This YouTube clip contains the first minutes from the series Rome, where fighting between Gauls and Romans is recreated. The series had tremendous blunders, great nonsense, and several lies and BS in abundance. But the atmosphere was curious, as was the march of historical events, the legions in action, the splendor of the imperial palaces, the goings-on in the alleys of Rome, etc. One of the protagonists of the series was a centurion, the one with the whistle.

He was blond.

But how can you be so fascists so Nordicists, so Nazis so anti-Teresa-de-Calcutta, as Eurocentric and racists as these media? If you had a minimum of culture (like me) you should know that the Romans were of Mediterranean phenotype (like me)—and so on.

Things like these I have heard more times than you can imagine. And similar poppycock we continue to hear even by people who, by their admiration of Rome, obviously have read something written by these sober and tough soldiers who were the Romans, right?

In this article the testimonies from the handwriting of the real Romans are presented. Forget the movies and the illiterate pundits and let the sources explain us how Romans saw themselves.

The first Roman emperors as an example of patrician racial types

We will examine the phenotype of the first Roman emperors, who were representative of the race of patricians, the Roman nobilitas, i.e., the ruling aristocracy. What interests me is not so much to demonstrate the presence of Nordic blood in the upper Roman class (which is easy), but mainly to show that the Nordic blood in Rome was also inextricably linked to the notion of divinity and of noble descent. Some passages are originally in Greek. This is because Greek had great prestige as a cultured, poetic and philosophical language, and there were many Romans educated in that language.

• Augustus, the first Roman emperor, was “blond” (subflavum) according to Suetonius (De Vita Caesarum: Divus Augustus), and had “blue eyes” (glauci) according to Pliny (Naturalis Historia, XI, CXLIII):


He had clear, bright eyes, in which he liked to have it thought that there was a kind of divine power, and it greatly pleased him, whenever he looked keenly at anyone, if he let his face fall as if before the radiance of the sun (Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum: Divus Augustus, LXXIX).

• Tiberius had “gray-blue” (caesii) eyes according to Pliny (Naturalis Historia, XI, CXLII).

• Caligula had a “blonde beard” (aurea barba) according to Suetonius (De Vita Caesarum: Caligula, LII).

• Claudio had “gray-white hair” (canitieque) according to Suetonius (De Vita Caesarum: Divus Claudius, XXX), and “gray eyes” (γλαυκόφθαλμος) according to Ioannes Malelas (Chronographia, X, CCXLVI).

• Nero was “blond or redhead” (subflavo); had “gray-blue eyes” (caesis) according to Suetonius (De Vita Caesarum: Nero, LI), and descended from a family named after their light pigmentation.

Of the Domitian family two branches have acquired distinction, the Calvini and the Ahenobarbi. The latter have as the founder of their race and the origin of their surname Lucius Domitius, to whom, as he was returning from the country, there once appeared twin youths of more than mortal majesty, so it is said, and bade him carry to the senate and people the news of a victory, which was as yet unknown. And as a token of their divinity it is said that they stroked his cheeks and turned his black beard to a ruddy hue, like that of bronze. This sign was perpetuated in his descendants, a great part of whom had red beards. (Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum: Nero, I.)

• Galba had gray-white (μιξοπόλιος) hair according to Malelas (Chronographia, X, CCLVIII) and blue eyes (caeruleis) according to Suetonius (De Vita Caesarum: Galba, XXI).

• Vitellius was “redhead” (πυρράκης) and had “gray” or “blue” eyes (γλαυκός) according to Malelas (Chronographia, X, CCLIX).

• Vespasian had “gray-white hair” (πολιός) and “wine-colored eyes” (οινοπαης τους οφθαλμούς), although it is unclear whether this refers to red wine (brown) or white wine (green) according to Malelas (Chronographia, X, CCLIX).

• Titus, according to Wilhelm Sieglin (1855-1935) in Die blonden Haare der indogermanischen Völker des Altertums, 109, was “blonde”.

• Domitian was “blond” (ξανθός) and had “gray or blue eyes” (γλαυκός) according Malelas (Chronographia, X, CCLXII).

• Nerva was “gray-haired” according to John V. Day (Indo-European Origins).

• Trajan had “golden hair” (caesaries) according to Sieglin (Die blonden Haare der indogermanischen Völker des Altertums, 109). But let us not forget that Trajan was not Roman but a Spanish with Celtic blood, and therefore we should not take this into account when trying to define the phenotype of the Roman patrician aristocracy.

• Adriano, from a noble Roman family established in Hispania, was “dark-haired” (κυανοχαιτα) according Sieglin (Die blonden Haare der indogermanischen Völker des Altertums, 112), and of “gray or blue eyes” (γλαυκόφθαλμος) according to Malelas (Chronographia XI, CCLXXVII).

Interestingly, despite being described as “dark-haired,” on his statue there are traces of gold paint on his hair and beard. Formerly, the statues were painted according to the colors of the original “model”. His facial features correspond to the Nordic type.

• Antoninus Pius had “gray-white hair” (πολιός) and eyes “the color of wine” (οινοπαης τους οφθαλμούς) according Malelas (Chronographia, XI, CCLXXX).

• Lucius Verus had “blond hair” (flaventium) according Sieglin (Die blonden Haare der indogermanischen Völker des Altertums, 110).

• Commodus had “blond hair” (ουλόξανθος) and “blue or gray eyes” (υπόγλαυκος) according Malelas (Chronographia, XII, CCLXXXIII).

Therefore, we find that:

• Of the 18 emperors from Augustus to Commodus, 9 had blond or red hair, 5 had gray or white hair, of 3 we have no way of knowing the hair color, and only one (Adriano) was described as dark-haired.

• Of the 18 emperors from Augustus to Commodus, 9 had blue or gray eyes, 2 had eyes of “the color of wine” (whatever that means, let us take it as brown), and of 7 we have no record as to the color of their eyes.

Many emperors came to power in their advanced years, with already gray or white hair. However, many were even so described with light eyes. If we had records of their appearance when they were young, it is likely that a significant proportion of them had light hair. Of the 9 Emperors with light hair, we know that at least 5 had clear eyes, and of the other 4 we know nothing about the color of their eyes. Of Tiberius, for example, we know nothing about his hair, maybe because he was bald when he came to power. And the same applies to Otto, who shaved his head and wore a wig. Nor do we know anything about the physical aspect of the “philosopher emperor” Marcus Aurelius, father of Commodus and a first-class sovereign. Many other emperors (as Julius Caesar), without being blond, were tall and had a very fair complexion, ruddy, or rosy.

From Commodus on I renounce to provide more emperor descriptions because:

1 – those individuals who began ascending to power were not of Roman origin, and therefore their phenotype cannot tell us anything about the genetic legacy of the nobilitas of Italian and patrician origin.

2 – miscegenation was already quite advanced; lineages of patrician origin having lost their meaning. At that time it was common that women of Roman high society should shave the manes of Germanic slaves to fix their blond-hair wigs.

The gods, the Italici, the patricians and the origins of Rome

Let us go back around 1200 BCE and transport ourselves to Italy. At that time, Central Europe was a buzzing propagating zone for the Indo-European stock. From what is now Germany, of a semi-barbarous proto-civilization of the iron age, flowed migrant groups in all directions. These waves were of the Celts, the Hellenes, the Illyrians and the Italici (also called italos or italiotas).

At that time, the Italici, probably with some confederate Illyrian groups as in the case of the Dorians, broke into Italy.

They were a people who, in contrast to the native inhabitants of Italy, were patriarchal rather than matriarchal; ruddy rather than swarthy; that cremated their dead instead of burying them; that brought with them a whole pantheon of gods and heroic warriors, spoke an Indo-European language, yielded a war cult and whose symbology was a lot more oriented to heavenly than earthly symbols.

Italici were the settlers of sites such as the Villanovan Culture. Subsequent “civilian” conflicts that feminist history has termed as “matriarchy vs. patriarchy,” and what is left in mythology regarding the heroic struggle of the Indo-Europeans against the native, telluric bodies (like snakes) actually refer to a spiritual confrontation triggered by the arrival of a small, aggressive and martial people that did not mix with the native population and struggled to dominate the area.

Under a rigid religious ritualism, on April 21, 753 BCE the heads of some Italic clans founded the city of Rome. For two centuries, Rome lived under the despotism and tyranny of the Etruscan kings, heads of a degenerate civilization that practiced sacrificial rituals, orgies, matriarchy, homosexuality, luxurious opulence, pedophilia, decadent entertainments, etc. The Etruscans came from Asia Minor, styling themselves as rasena (“chosen,” as the Jews) yet their legacy, which only represented the decline of something greater than themselves, meant that they were a doomed people.

The situation of the Roman tribute to Etruria lasted until, in 509 BCE, the Romans rose against the Etruscans and expelled the Etruscan king, Tarquinius Superbus, from the lands. Legends want to portray that this Italic insurrection—a “holy rebellion” against the pre-Indo-European; of patriarchy against matriarchy—was motivated by the rape of Lucretia, a beautiful and virtuous woman of Roman family at the hands of Sextus Tarquinius, son of the Etruscan king and raunchy as all his people, as opposed to the Puritan morality of the Latins.

Lucretia committed suicide by honor and, this being the straw that broke the camel of the Roman patience, the patriarchs began a rebellion against the Etruscans that led to the overthrowing of the Etruscan kings, the founding of the Roman Republic and the systematic eradication of almost all Etruscan memory. (Comparable only to the “genocide” and the complete destruction of Carthage, the mortal enemy of Rome, considered as the reincarnation of Etruscan and oriental spirit, whose fields were cast in salt so that nothing would grow there.)


Recreation of Rome during the Republic. Pay attention to the shape of the boats, so reminiscent of the Scandinavian drakkar.

With the expulsion of the Etruscan power two praetors (later consuls) who held the vacuum of power were named. It was therefore founded the Roman Republic, marked by social struggles between patricians (nobles) and plebeians.

At that time, the original Populus Romanus was divided into 30 curiae (tribes or clans), whose origin was lost among the Italic peoples before the invasion. The curiae were headed by patres (parents) of the gens (family), that is, the founding fathers of the clan and of each family that composed it. Each gens or family was considered descendant of a genius or semi-divine patriarch, who was worshiped on the household as protector idol of the house and their descendants.

If we assimilate the fact that to the Romans a gens or family was a whole social, state, military and religious institution, we may understand the importance of the geniuses and patres as leaders of this small imperial cell, that corresponded to social, political and military leadership as well as leading positions in the characteristic Roman religious worship, where Jupiter is confused with the State, the patriarch, the Senate, the Legion and the family. No wonder, then, that they were regarded as semi-divine and of very high wisdom.

The patres were those who gave their name to the breed of the patricians, namely those belonging to the system of families and clans: the aristocracy, the first nobilitas, which differed from the plebs or plebeians—the people outside the Italic clans. At first, the male patricians were the only Roman citizens, the members of the Legion, the only ones who could be senators and enjoyed all the rights and duties traditionally associated with Roman citizenship.

Later, after the “universalization” and “cosmopolitanization” of Rome during the Empire, the patricians came to form an aristocracy over the other peoples of Italy, encompassed by the plebs. The patricians as social class, and among them the patres as heads of households, are probably the most exalted expression of patriarchy and patriotism itself of the Indo-European, in opposition to the narcotic matriarchy of the pre-Indo-European peoples of Europe, already decadents and altogether “civilized”.

We now turn to the patricians and Roman gods from the point of view of the phenotype, after seeing the first Roman emperors, mostly patrician.

• Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BCE), Roman consul and dictator, of patrician descent, had blond hair, blue eyes and a ruddy complexion:

…for his golden head of hair gave him a singular appearance, and as for bravery, he was not ashamed to testify in his own behalf, after such great and noble deeds as he had performed. So much, then, regarding his attitude towards the divine powers. (Plutarch, De Vita: Sulla.)

What was the rest of his figure appears in his statues, but that fierce and unpleasant look of his blue eyes was still more terrible to stare at because the color of his face, being noted at intervals so ruddy and red mixed with his whiteness, and it is even said that he took his name from that, coming to be a nickname for the designated color. Thus, a teller of Athens taunted him with these lines: “If you knead a blackberry with flour, you have the portrait of Sulla.”

Marcus Porcius Cato the “Censor”, better known as Cato the Elder (234-149 BCE), the pronouncer of the famous saying Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam (“Furthermore, I think Carthage must be destroyed”) in every speech, had reddish hair according to Plutarch:

As for his outward appearance, he had reddish hair, and keen grey eyes, as the author of the well-known epigram ill-naturedly gives us to understand: “Red-haired, snapper and biter, his grey eyes flashing defiance, Porcius, come to the shades, back will be thrust by their Queen.” (Plutarch, Cato the Elder.)

• Poppaea Sabina (30-65 CE), the wife of Nero, famous for her beauty all over Rome, was very white and redhead.

We note that the Romans, like the Greeks, saw light pigmentation as a sign of the “divine” or “supernatural”. Some may interpret this that light pigmentation was rare among the Romans. But considering naming conventions, it is clear that the light features were quite common among the patricians. According to Karl Earlson:

Once they had reached a certain stage in their lives, the patricians earned their additional name (cognomina), which was often based on their physical appearance. The name Albus indicated light skin; Ravilla, gray eyes; Caesar, blue eyes; Flavius, blonde hair; Rufus, red hair; Longus, tall; Macer, a slender constitution. All these names were common among the patricians.

Thus, the Latin author Quintilian, in Institutio Oratoria (I, IV, XXV), notes that a man named Rufus or Longo has that name for his body characteristics: he is high or redhead. Plutarch (Coriolanus XI) states that two men, one redhead and one swarthy, could be distinguished because the first would be called Rufus and the second Niger. Aelius Spartianus, in Historia Augusta (II, IV), suggests that the Caesars earned their name from the fact that the founder of his gens had blue eyes (oculis caesiis). The lexicographer Sextus Pompeius Festus, in De verborum significatu (CCCLXXVI ff) states that the name Ravilia derives from “gray eyes” (ravis oculis), and the name Caesulla from blue eyes (oculis caesiis). Julius Paris, in De nominibus Epitome, VII, provides examples of names of women that, he says, have their origin in the pigmentation of those who held them: Rutila (red hair), Caesellia (blue eyes), Rodacilla (pink complexion), Murrula and Burra (red hair or ruddy complexion).

I have provided all these quotations to show that these names were not purely arbitrary but were, in fact, based on physical characteristics; and that these features were not uncommon among certain strata of Roman society.

Even where the patricians had almost disappeared, the Romans had memories of the old patres as the semi-divine beings who arrived to Italy, founded Rome, “Romanized” the peninsula and bequeathed the patriarchate to those lands, together with a strong mentality and a durable and effective political system that lasted for centuries. The ancient ancestors of the patricians were still considered in Rome as a common heritage to be proud of.

Karl Earlson summarizes how he follows Sieglin’s findings as to the pigmentation of the patricians and their identity as a breed:

Wilhelm Sieglin [in Die blonden Haare der indogermanischen Völker des Altertums, 1935] compiled the list of the Roman patricians whose names indicate light hair. He provided the following list: 7 Flavi, 20 Flaviani, 10 Fulvi, 121 Fulvii, 27 Rubrii, 26 Rufi, 24 Rufii, 36 Rufini, 45 Rutilii and 13 Ahenobarbi. This completely disrupts Sergi’s claim that: “The Romans also had their Flavi, indicating that people with fair complexion were rare and required a special name, but does not indicate that the Germanic type was considered aristocratic or dominant” (Sergi: 1901, 20). In fact, such people were not scarce.

Sieglin also determined that among the families Iulii, Licinii, Lucretii, Sergii and Virginii, the name Flavius was very common; Rufi was often seen among the families Antonii, Caecilii, Coelii, Cornelii, Geminii, Iunii, Licinii families (often also the Flavii), Minucii, Octavii, Pinarii, Pompei, Rutilii, Sempronii, Trebonii, Valgii and Vibii; Rufini was common among the gens Antonia, Cornelia, Iunia, Licinian, Trebonia and Vibia. Sieglin notes that this list could certainly be increased in the light of further research.

Besides all this, Sieglin also compiled a list of 63 blond or red-haired Romans. Many of these individuals were patricians. He also found references to 27 blond divinities (including Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Diana, etc.) and 10 blondes in heroic personalities.

Man makes the gods in their own image. These blond gods speak of the racial nature of the early Romans. (In the Aeneid, Virgil refers to Mercury, Lavinia, Turnus and Camilla as “golden-haired.”) His list of blonds includes Aeneas, the mythical ancestor of the Latins (also blond was his son Julo or Ascanius), Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome; Augustus, the first Roman emperor, and even Roma: which symbolized the city of Rome.

While most of Sieglin’s historical figures of light hair were patricians, most the 17 swarthy Romans in his references were commoners or freedmen.

On the disappearance of the patricians and the mestization of the original Romans

What happened to the patricians? They faded with time. In the numerous conspiracies and intrigues of the Empire, it was common that after the formation of two opposing parties and the victory of one over the other, the winner assassinated the head of the enemy party, his family and all the families related to him. (The strong destroy each other and the weak continue to live, as George Bernard Shaw maintained.) These calamities greatly decimated the patrician class. If we add the ongoing miscegenation in the majority of plebeian population, the immigration of slaves from Syria and the provinces of Asia Minor, Egypt and Africa, as well as the bleeding of the patrician stock over the battlefield, we may realize why the patricians did not last too long during the Empire, given the dysgenic situation. John V. Day wrote:

In a journal about the West and its future, it is fitting to end this article by briefly recounting the fate of the Roman upper class. Among Indo-European peoples, the Romans offer an especially useful example because they left masses of records, enabling later historians to determine what became of them. The evidence found in ancient texts implies that this class descended largely from Indo-Europeans who had a decidedly northern European physical type, although that isn’t something one reads in modern books about Roman history [emphasis added]. In Rome, though, the upper class was always a tiny minority. Instead of protecting its interests, it allowed itself to wither away. Consider a bleak statistic. We know of about fifty patrician clans in the fifth century B.C., but by the time of Caesar, in the later first century B.C., only fourteen of these had survived. The decay continued in imperial times. We know of the families of nearly four hundred Roman senators in A.D. sixty five, but, just one generation later, all trace of half of these families had vanished.

If we in the West want to avoid a similar fate, we must learn from Indo-European history. (*)

In the time of Julius Caesar we know 45 patricians, of which only one is represented by posterity when Hadrian rises to power. The Aemilsi, Fabii, Claudii. Manlii, Valerii and everyone else, except the Comelii have disappeared. Augustus and Claudius ascended 25 families to the Patriciate, and by the reign of Nerva all but 6 have disappeared. Of the families of nearly 400 senators registered under Nero in 65 CE, trace has been lost about half of them in times of Nerva. And the records are so complete that it can be assumed that these statistics represent quite accurately the disappearance of the male lineage of the families concerned. (Cf. Tenney Frank, “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire,” American Historical Review, Vol. XI, 1916).


Were the Romans, then, blond?

ancient_romanIt all depends on what you mean by “Romans”. The original Romans did not descend from the original inhabitants of the Italian soil, but of the Italici (italios or italiotas or as you please to call them) and probably also of Illyrian groups, namely, Indo-European invaders who entered Italy from the North, what is now southern Germany. These early invaders—from whom the Latins descended (considered the most influential and who eventually gave their language to the Empire), the Sabines (considered by Plutarch “a colony of the Lacedaemonians,” i.e., Spartans), the Umbrians, Samnites and all patrician clans that founded Rome and the Republic—were indeed mostly Nordic, and also formed the basis of the political and military elite of the Empire.

However, in the later Rome these groups formed an aristocratic minority ruling over a mob of pre-Indo-European origin and, later, even Semites and black slaves. This ended up in interbreeding between all these groups. Over time, the numbers of the dominant Nordic caste withered, and with them their strong patriarchal, sober and authoritative influence in favor of the dissolution of the Empire: expressed in its cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism and proliferation of slaves.

The rest of the history of the post-Roman imperial splendor and their great men, we already know. It is set in a decadent agony, punctuated by binges, parties, orgies, wine snobbery, false sophistication, acrobats, gays, stupid fads, obesity, blond wigs made from hair stolen from Germanics, mongrels, pacifists, emboldened slaves, “liberated” women, Christian zealots and a corrupt bourgeois which reneged of their homeland.

The ghost of ancient Etruria, killed by the ancient Latin Patriarchs, had reborn. Before these decaying monsters, which had nothing to do with the demigod patricians or their rude peasants and patriotic soldiers, the Germanic “barbarian” was really an authentic, pure, hard, strong, noble, idealistic, simple and brave hero, in whose blood awaited the hidden forces of the Indo-European humanity, ready to give birth and germinate in the next millennia of European power.

In short, it has not been argued that all Romans were of Nordic type. It has been argued that the Nordic blood prevailed among the Italic invaders, the ancestors of the posterior dominant Roman aristocracy, the authentic Roman citizens, who imposed their ethos throughout the Empire and spread their spirit, marking the “Roman style” with a distinctly Nordic stamp.

“Are the Germanics a healthy and natural people that will overcome the decadence of the Romans?” —Tacitus, Germania.


See also a previous article about the subject of:

Saying the truth about race throws even white nationalists into fits.”

(*) John V. Day, Ph.D., is the author of Indo-European Origins: The Anthropological Evidence (The Institute for the Study of Man, 2001).

Sparta – XVII

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Sparta – XVI

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Sparta – X

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Sparta – IX

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Sparta – VII

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Sparta – I

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Jesus’ nativity legends

To overcome the deranged altruism of the white man that created the colored tsunami that’s killing us, Christianity must be debunked.

Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ third chapter, “Nativity legends” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):

Two of the four canonical Gospels—Matthew and Luke—give accounts of the conception and birth of Jesus. John tells us only of the Incarnation—that the Logos “became flesh”—while Mark says nothing at all about Jesus until his baptism as a man of perhaps thirty. Either Mark and John know nothing about Jesus’ background and birth, or they regard them as unremarkable.

Certainly Mark, the earliest Gospel, knows nothing of the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth. It is clear from 3:20-21 that in Mark’s view the conception of Jesus was accompanied by no angelic announcement to Mary that her son was to be (in Luke’s words) “Son of the Most High” and possessor of the “throne of David” (Luke 1:32 NEB [New English Bible]).

According to Mark, after Jesus had openly declared himself Son of Man (a heavenly being, according to Daniel 7:13), his family on hearing of this “set out to take charge of him. ‘He is out of his mind,’ they said.” Surely Jesus’ mother and brothers (so identified in Mark 3:31) would not have regarded Jesus’ acts as signs of insanity if Mark’s Mary, like Luke’s, had been told by the angel Gabriel that her son would be the Messiah.

But Mark’s ignorance of Jesus’ conception, birth, and background was no hindrance to the first-century imagination. Many first-century Jewish Christians did feel a need for a Davidic messiah, and at least two separate groups responded by producing Davidic genealogies for Jesus, both to a considerable extent imaginary and each largely inconsistent with the other. One of each was latter appropriated by Matthew and Luke and repeated, with minor but necessary changes, in their Gospels. Each genealogy uses Old Testament as its source of names until it stops supplying them or until the supposed messianic line diverges from the biblical. After that point the Christian imaginations supplied two different lists of ancestors of Jesus.

Why, to show that Jesus is “the son of David,” trace the ancestry of a man who is not his father? The obvious answer is that the list of names was constructed not by the author of Matthew but by earlier Jewish Christians who believed in all sincerity that Jesus had a human father. Such Jewish Christians were perhaps the forbears of the group known in the second century as the Ebionites.

The two genealogies in fact diverge after David (c. 1000 B.C.) and do not again converge until Joseph. It is obvious that another Christian group, separate from the one supplying Mathew’s list but feeling an equal need for a messiah descended from David, complied its own genealogy, as imaginary as Mathew’s in its last third. And like Mathew’s genealogy, it traces the Davidic ancestry of the man who, Luke insists, is not Jesus’ father anyway, and thus is rendered pointless.

Moreover, according to Luke’s genealogy (3:23-31) there are forty-one generations between David and Jesus; whereas according to Mathew’s, there are but twenty seven. Part of the difference stems from Mathew’s remarkably careless treatment of his appropriated list of names.

Thus we have a fascinating picture of four separate Christian communities in the first century. Two of them, Jewish-Christian, were determined to have a messiah with Davidic ancestry and constructed genealogies to prove it, never dreaming that Jesus could be thought of as having no human father.

But gentile Christians in the first century, who came into the new religion directly from paganism and were already infected with myths about licentious deities, had a much different understanding of what divine paternity meant. Plutarch speaks for the entire pagan world when he writes, in Convivial Disputations, “The fact of the intercourse of a male with mortal women is conceded by all,” though he admits that such relations might be spiritual, not carnal. Such mythology came with pagans converted to Christianity, and by the middle of the first century, Joseph’s paternity of Jesus was being replaced by God’s all over the gentile world.

“The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)

The Septuagint, from which Matthew quotes, uses, at Isaiah 7:14, parthenos (physical virgin) for the Hebrew almah (young woman) as well as the future tense, “will conceive,” though Hebrew has no future tense as such. Modern English translations are probably more accurate in reading (as does the New English Bible), “A young woman is with child.” We can scarcely blame the author of Matthew for being misguided by his translation (though Jews frequently ridiculed early Christians for their dependence on the often-inaccurate Septuagint rather than the Hebrew). We can, however, fault him for reading Isaiah 7:14 quite without reference to its context—an interpretative method used by many in his time and ours, but a foolish one nonetheless. Any sensible reading of Isaiah, chapter seven, reveals its concern with the Syrio-Israelite crisis of 734 B.C. (the history of which appears in I Kings 16:1-20).

Jesus’ real father? According to a malicious, early Jewish story, Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier called Pantera. The name is so unusual that it was thought to be an invention until this first-century tombstone came to light in 1859 (for the Latin inscription see below).

It is clear, however, that though the mistranslated and misunderstood passage in Isaiah was Matthew’s biblical justification for the Virgin Birth, it was not the source of the belief (indeed Luke presents the Virgin Birth without reference to Isaiah). The doctrine originated in the widespread pagan belief in the divine conception upon various virgins of a number of mythic heroes and famous persons in the ancient world, such as Plato, Alexander, Perseus, Asclepius and the Dioscuri.

Matthew writes that Joseph, having been informed in his dream, “had no intercourse with her until her son was born” (Matt. 1:25). Luke gives us a different myth about the conception of Jesus, in which the Annunciation that the messiah is to be fathered by God, not Joseph, is made to Mary rather than to her betrothed. Embarrassed by the story’s clear implicit denial of the Virgin Birth notion, Luke or a later Christian inserted Mary’s odd question [“How can this be, since I know not a man?”], but the clumsy interpolation makes hash of Jesus’ royal ancestry.

The inscription reads: “Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon, aged 62, a soldier of 40 years’ service, of the 1st cohort of archers, lies here” (only “Abdes” is a Semitic name).

In due course, Jesus was born, growing up in Nazareth of Galilee, a nationality different from the Judean inhabitants of Jerusalem and its near neighbor, Bethlehem. After Jesus’ death, those of his followers interested in finding proof of his messiahnship in the Old Testament worked a Christian reinterpretation of Micah 5:2 concerning the importance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of David and his dynasty:

You, Bethlehem in Ephrathah, small as you are to be among Judah’s clans, out of you shall come forth a governor for Israel, one whose roots are far back in the past, in days gone by.

That is, the one who restores the dynasty will have the same roots, be of the same ancestry, as David of Bethlehem. Prophesying, it would appear, during the Babylonian exile, Micah (or actually a sixth-century B.C. interpolator whose words were included in the book of the eight-century B.C. prophet) hoped for the restoration of the Judaean monarchy destroyed in 586 B.C.

But since some first-century Christians did read Micah 5:2 as a prediction of the birthplace of Jesus, it became necessary to explain why he grew up in Nazareth, in another country, rather than Bethlehem. At least two different and mutually exclusive narratives explaining this were produced: one appears in Matthew, the other in Luke.

Matthew has it that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and continued there for about two years, fleeing then to Egypt. They returned to Palestine only after Herod’s death. For fear of Herod’s son, they did not resettle in Bethlehem. But moved rather to another country, Galilee, finding a new home in Nazareth.

Luke, on the other hand, writes that Mary and apparently Joseph lived in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem just before Jesus’ birth to register for a tax census. They left Bethlehem forty days later to visit the temple in Jerusalem for the required ritual of the first-born, returning then to their hometown of Nazareth.

Examination of these two irreconcilable accounts will give us a good picture of the creative imaginations of Luke, Matthew, and their Christian sources.

In most of Matthew’s Gospel, the major source of information about Jesus is the Gospel of Mark (all but fifty-five of Mark’s verses appear in Matthew, either word-for-word or with deliberate changes). But Mark says nothing about Jesus’ birth. When one favorite source fails him, Matthew inventively turns to another—this time to the Old Testament, read with a particular interpretative slant, and to oral tradition about Jesus, combining the two in a noticeably uneasy way.

We must remember that for the Christian generation that produced our Gospels, the Bible consisted only of what Christians now called the Old Testament, and a particular version thereof, the Greek Septuagint. But before they wrote the New Testament, Christians created another entirely new book, the Old Testament, turning the Septuagint into a book about Jesus by remarkably audacious and creative interpretation. Meanings it had held for generations of Jews, its historical and poetic content especially, ceased to exist; it became not a book about the past but about its own future.

Of course, other groups such as the Qumran sect also read the Bible oracularly, but Christians specialized this technique, finding oracles about Jesus of Nazareth. If a passage in the Septuagint could be read as a prediction of an event in the life of Jesus, then the event must have happened. Thus, if Micah were understood to mean that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, then Jesus must have been born there, no matter what his real hometown. But as it happens, the Bethlehem birth story, dependent upon the Christian interpretation of Micah, and the magi-and-star legend, dependent upon Hellenistic and Jewish oral tradition, fit together very uneasily. The story of the magi (“astrologers” is a more meaningful translation) says that “the star which they had seen at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay” (Matt 2:9).

In all the stories, the astrologers point to a special star, symbol of the arrival of the new force (Israel, Abraham, Jesus). Says Balaam: “A star shall rise [anatelei astron] out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel, and shall crush the princes of Moab” (Num. 24:17 LXX). The astrologers in Matthew likewise point to a star: “We observed the rising of his star” (Matt. 2.2).

Now the source of the story of the king (Nimrod, Herod) who wants to kill the infant leader of Israel (Abraham, Jesus) shifts to the account of Moses in Exodus, the classic biblical legend of the wicked king (Pharaoh) who wants to slay the new leader of Israel (Moses). Indeed, the story of Moses in the Septuagint provided Matthew with a direct verbal source for his story of the flight into Egypt. As Pharaoh wants to kill Moses, who then flees the country, so Herod wants to kill Jesus, who is then carried away by his parents. After a period of hiding for the hero in both stories, the wicked king dies:

And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, “Go, depart into Egypt, for all that sought thy life are dead” (tethnekasi gar pantes hoi zetountes sou ten psychen—Ex: 4:19 LXX).

When Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel for those who sought the child’s life are dead” (tethnekasin gar hoi zetountes ten psychen tou paidiou—Matt 2:20).

Of course, Moses flies from Egypt to Midian, while the Holy Family flees to Egypt through Midian.

“This was to fulfill the words spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matt. 2:23). There is, however, no such passage in all the Old Testament. Matthew had apparently vaguely heard that such a verse was in the “prophets,” and since he really needed to get the Holy Family from the supposed birthplace to the known hometown, he reported the fulfillment but left the biblical reference unspecified.

Like Matthew, Luke faced the same problem of reconciling known Nazarene upbringing with supposed Bethlehem birth. His solution, however, was entirely different, and even less convincing. Whereas Matthew has the Holy Family living in Bethlehem at the time of the birth and traveling to Nazareth, Luke has them living in Nazareth and traveling to Bethlehem in the very last stages of Mary’s pregnancy. Though Luke 1:5 dates the birth of Jesus in the “days of Herod, king of Judaea,” who died in 4 B.C., he wants the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem to have occurred in response to a census called when “Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

As historians know, the one and only census conducted while Quirinius was legate in Syria affected only Judaea, not Galilee, and took place in A.D. 6-7, a good ten years after the death of Herod the Great. In his anxiety to relate the Galilean upbringing with the supposed Bethlehem birth, Luke confused his facts. Indeed, Luke’s anxiety has involved him in some real absurdities, like the needless ninety-mile journey of a woman in her last days of pregnancy—for it was the Davidic Joseph who supposedly had to be registered in the ancestral village, not the Levitical Mary.

Worse yet, Luke has been forced to contrive a universal dislocation for a simple tax registration. Who could imagine the efficient Romans requiring millions in the empire to journey scores of hundreds of miles to the villages of millennium-old ancestors merely to sign a tax form!

Needless to say, no such event ever happened in the history of the Roman Empire.

Published in: on May 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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