Timothy's Reviews > Jesus, King of Edessa

Jesus, King of Edessa by Ralph Ellis
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it was amazing

** spoiler alert ** I may, some day, write a full review of this book, and of Ralph Ellis’s major contentions. This is not that review, not that day.

A hint to the reader, though: Ellis’s books are inquiries.

Sure, Ellis offers radical revisions of historical understanding, but he does not write histories using the standard narrative technique, or historical treatises plying what has been called the “rhetoric of conclusions.” Ellis’s approach often runs in an unfamiliar manner to many readers’ expectations, demonstrating a “rhetoric of inquiry.” We follow the author, in his many pages, from one problem to the next, with many offered solutions. He offers numerous conjectures, and ably backs them up. But his techniques are often unorthodox, usually resting on unraveling many layers of wordplay.

Now, this is dangerous stuff, in that one might easily abuse language in the course of unraveling past abuses — too easily mistake a homonym or mere phonetic echo for a pun for a past fact — but Ellis’s method may be characterized, at least in part, as an archeology of nomenclature. And his archeological sense is not dominated by fantasies of creation, at least not in the books of his I’ve read.

But there is no avoiding an archeology of names. In written records, especially of a religious nature, that is mostly what we have to work with.

Ellis is trying to make sense of the history of Judaism and Christianity and related religions. All religions engage in word magic, marshaling artful puns and the like. This is especially involved in Jewish writings, where we see some astounding evasions using such methods, such as the pesher technique in the Talmud. Many of the words used in scriptures and in ancient times have multiple — even obscure and even opaque — meanings, sporting etymologies that are open to contest. A word that once meant one thing comes to mean something else, and when these usages change mark important points in history. Accepting some ready-at-hand or traditional meaning may be accepting a long-embedded error, or even a lie.

The Hebrew Bible depicts the Jews’ history as developing in the context of two great civilizations, Egyptian and Mesopotamian. But one of the peculiarities of Judeo-Christian history is that most of its major figures, though dominant in their scriptures, are not recorded outside those scriptural documents. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus — these people do not appear in Egyptian and Mesopotamian records, or in surviving monuments or actual archeological sites. Not a few scholars regard all pre-Babylonian stories as all or mostly myth, and authors like Richard Carrier speculate that there never was a historical Jesus — he was made up; a religious fiction. Ellis, in his books, looks at these issues anew, consulting Manetho and Josephus and the Talmud and to-us-obscure Syrian historians, expecting to find historical figures, if dislocated in place and time. And boy, does he find them!

In previous books he identified the Hebrew patriarchs with the Hyksos “Shepherd Kings” — as frankly stated by Manetho and Josephus; he found David and Solomon among the later, post-Ramesside pharaohs of the Nile Delta; and he discovered an ancestry for Jesus in, of all people, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Parthian royalty!

More astonishingly, Ellis daringly became the first to lay claim to unearthing an ancient conspiracy of the Flavian emperors, in which historian Josephus serves as a master propagandist, appearing as both the Apostle Paul, the founder of what Ellis calls “Simple Judaism” (or Christianity) and as Rabbi ben Zakkai, the inventor of post-conquest rabbinical Judaism. This grew from Ellis’s attempts to make sense of what Josephus was up to — a very complicated man, and even on the face of it not dissimilar to Saint “All Things to All People” Paul. Noting the Josephan histories’ many evasions, animadversions, odd nomenclatures, inconsistencies, and weird parallels with the gospels and the Book of Acts, Ellis identified the historical Jesus, too . . . as “Jesus of Gamala.”

In this book, Jesus, King of Edessa, he goes further, investigating the kingdom of Edessa and its monarchs, drilling down behind Josephus’s slippery characters Jesus of Gamala and “bar Kamza” et al., finding a man with a place in history and even surviving pictorial images: King Manu VI, a cousin or some other relative of Josephus, all bound up with the Jewish revolt put down by Vespasian and Titus, whom Josephus wound up serving.

Whereas the big evasion and lie at the heart of the “Old Testament” is the hiding of the truth about the Egyptian origin of Judaism, the whopper in the “New Testament” account is the moving the story of Jesus back in time from the Jewish Wars to the comparatively peaceful period of Pontius Pilate. The dislocation is chiefly in time, though the dislocation in geography is the existence of a Syrian kingdom “beyond the Euphrates” in Harran and Palmyra, and its dominance by an Egypto-Jewish dynasty that started out as a tax-free buffer state between Rome and Parthia and, under the direction of Jesus (Izas/Izates/King Manu) instigated a revolt against Rome. And was put down.

The story is complex. As is the book itself. The unraveling of the layers of myth-making, evasions and even outright lies was an astounding labor. Ellis is quite convincing, though I can imagine many reasons why a person might start out incredulous and remain, even after reading, more than a tad dubious. As for my part? I am more than half-convinced. But the work of untangling the thorns from these old stories is far from over.

For the record, I suspect Ellis misses a major wrinkle in the story he tells by not confronting Josephus’s discussion of Pontius Pilate’s career-ending routing of a religious pilgrimage in Samaria, a region close to Jerusalem he never mentions. I hazard it could be key to unraveling the full story of the stones from the Ark of the Covenant that became so important to Edessan religious tradition. And which Heliogabalus later brought to Rome when he became emperor, a short “meteoric” rise that seems to have weirdly accomplished what Jesus “of Gamala” aimed at.

Ellis sure has written some long books. He pores over seeming minutia. Not every single one of his conclusions can possibly have the same value. And, perhaps, it would have been helpful had he taken the rhetoric of inquiry a tad more seriously and in a more overtly Popperian manner, offering his arguments even more rigorously as conjectural rather than, as he occasionally writes, “proofs.”

There are a few stylistic oddities in the book. Example? Ellis spells verb and noun forms of “prophesy” the same, while I try always to remember to make my noun form with a “c,” “prophecy.” I cannot tell you how much this bugged me! (Is this an English thing? I will look it up later.)

Ralph Ellis ends Jesus, King of Edessa with a discussion of the fate of Edessa at the hands of Islamic civilization. This will be off-putting to those who believe Islam “is a religion of peace.” Since I regard this statement, repeatedly made by American drone bombing gamesmen Bush and Obama, as a ‘noble lie’ at best, I was not at all disturbed by Ellis’s concluding thoughts on the possible destruction of western civilization by Islamic memes and corrupt, craven politicians of a decadent post-liberal culture. I say, instead, Bravo!

I live-blogged my reading of this book on Gab.com (@wirkman), where Ralph Ellis also micro-blogs. I have interviewed Mr. Ellis twice for my podcast, locofoco.net: they were long and profitable conversations, I think.

https://wirkman.com/2021/05/15/the-ed...
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Reading Progress

March 30, 2021 – Started Reading
March 30, 2021 – Shelved
March 30, 2021 – Shelved as: to-read
March 30, 2021 –
page 130
24.3%
April 27, 2021 –
page 198
37.01%
April 27, 2021 –
33.0%
April 28, 2021 –
41.0%
May 6, 2021 –
50.0%
May 14, 2021 –
58.0%
May 15, 2021 –
73.0%
May 15, 2021 – Finished Reading

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