“This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of
it and not die.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of
this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My
flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this
Man give us His flesh to eat?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless you eat
the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I
will raise him up at the last day.
“For my flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.” (John
These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is
a hard saying, who can understand it?”
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He
said to them, “Does this offend you?” (60-61)
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with him no
After that, he left Judaea for Galilee, as the Jews sought to kill him.
Jesus made an ultimatum to his followers that only by eating his flesh
and drinking his blood would they be saved. Indeed, this was an
intolerable doctrine for most Jews. How can this teaching be explained
in the context of the times? Who would 'eat the flesh' and 'drink the
blood' of the Son of God?
The Romans already had this ritual—it was established in the cult of
Augustus' Genius. During his lifetime, the libation to the emperor was
prescribed to be taken at every public and private group meal. Soon it
became an act of allegiance to the emperor and, through him, the Roman
empire. Before he died, the expression of faith was also enacted in
blood sacrifice, as testified by the building of the Ars Pacis, recently
uncovered as a temple to the Lars Augustus. Augustus didn't feel he
should be worshipped until he had earned it through a lifetime of
service to the Roman people. The only suitable blood sacrifice for him
was the bull, in its prime of life.
The blood sacrifice represented Augustus, who was believed to have
earned his status as Son of God through the dedication of his life to
the Roman people. Soon the blood sacrifice was believed to be Augustus
himself. The libation, which everyone could participate in, remained
the symbol of that sacrifice and belief that Augustus was indeed the Son
of God who received all authority from God himself. That is why, in the
next century, the libation was the 'test' for Christians when their
loyalty to the emperor was questioned.
Everyone was happy with this arrangement except the Jews. Augustus
himself, however, exempted the Jews from participating in worship of
him, as he respected the traditions handed down from his father, Julius
Caesar. Jews could maintain their ancestral beliefs and there would be
no interference, even from local kings and governors throughout the
empire. Tiberius, his successor, had no interest in being
worshipped—he truly wanted to be 'first among equals', the princeps,
and no more.
But Caligula became enamored of the idea of being worshipped—when he
first became emperor, he was adored by the people. His father,
Germanicus, had died at the hands of a real Judas; as heir, he was to
be the savior of the people from the cold hands of Tiberius. Caligula
suffered a severe illness early in his reign; the people suffered with
him, some vowing to give their lives or those of their children for his
recovery. When he did, he began dressing in costumes of different gods
and acting out the part. Soon, he gave signals to the various nations
of the empire that no one should be punished for worshipping him.
Meantime, Flaccus, governor in Egypt, wanted to get into Caligula's good
graces. He had been appointed by Tiberius and now felt estranged. His
only friend at court was Macro, head of the Praetorian guard, but he and
his family were murdered by Caligula so Flaccus was desperate. Three
Alexandrian Greeks came to him with a plan to torment the Jews; surely
this would draw the attention and approval of the emperor.
The plan to persecute the Jews had uncanny resemblance to that of
Hitler. At first, Jews were forbidden to plead cases in court; then
they were not allowed to testify at all. This signaled that Jews were
no longer protected by privileged status or even equal to others. Then
images and statues of Caligula were forced into the synagogues; Caligula
had decreed that no one should be punished for erecting his images for
worship. When Jews protested, they were beaten by gangs of Egyptians.
Soon they were forced into a ghetto one-third the size of their former
quarter. Unable to obtain their livelihoods or food, starvation set in.
If they ventured outside, they were subject to being stoned or beaten to
death. The Nazis forced Jews into crowded ghettoes--they could not leave
to work or obtain food or they were subject to arrest and beatings by
anyone who wanted to increase their misery.
Caligula was now demanding that an enormous statue of himself as Jupiter
be set up in the Jerusalem Temple. The people of Jerusalem marched out
onto the plain surrounding the city and in orderly groups laid down in
protest. They expected to be wiped out, but Petronius, the Syrian
governor, came to the scene to intervene. He was expected to oversee the
manufacture and installation of said statue. He understood that the
introduction of the statue would pollute the temple and probably cause a
war. He sent a letter to Caligula that said work must be stopped in
order to expedite the grain supply to Rome.
Caligula saw through this subterfuge and demanded that the statue stay
on schedule; even if killing all the Jews was necessary. His letter,
however, was lost in a storm at sea. The next letter Petronius received
from Rome announced the assassination of Caligula. The Jews, of course,
saw this as a sign that God was supporting them.
Now we can see that these actions in Alexandria and Judaea signaled the
parting of the ways between the Son of God in the form of Caligula, and
the Jews. Sacrifice for the emperor was practiced since Augustus,
according to Philo. (On Embassy to Gaius) But the Jews could never
perform sacrifice to the emperor.
Sacrifice to the emperor meant blood sacrifice of the bull, representing
the emperor being sent to heaven for everlasting life. By ingesting
this sacrifice, the Jews would be eating the flesh and drinking the
blood of the emperor, the current Son of God, i.e., Caligula. Jesus was
laying down the law to the Jews: you must sacrifice to me, or you will
not live. The Jews no longer could follow him—just as the Jews could
no longer be loyal to the emperor; in fact, this is precisely when there
was a clear change of heart towards Romans leading to the Jewish War.
Who was left amongst his disciples? Simon Peter, for one, who said:
“Who else can we follow?” But Simon Peter was clearly a Roman, as
can be construed from the position he holds in other stories of the Son
of God in the Gospels. But close reading of the ancient authors reveals
that some Romans respected the Jews for standing up to Caligula, and a
few even began to follow the Hebrew religion. According to their own
beliefs, the Hebrew God had won and therefore was worth looking into.
Philo had predicted that the Hebrew God would smite down Caligula for
his blasphemy, and it happened as he said. Caligula was not only
eliminated within the year but died a violent death--he was cut into
pieces by Roman senators. It was even said that the assassins indulged
in "tasting his flesh," according to Dio Cassius, Caligula, 29: 7.
Excerpted from "Creating Christianity: Finding Jesus in History is Easier than You Think" by Alex Anderson. Copyright © 2014 by Alex Anderson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.