Ralph Ellis, Jesus, and his Myth of the King Jesus of Edessa

(This is Part II of the discussion.  For background and Part I, see here)

Mr. Ellis, thanks for responding to my article criticizing your online content and free online chapter of your new edition of your self-published book. I appreciate you supplying me and my readers with more of your superficial “links” between the lay construct you’ve created, an ‘Izas Manu’, and the figure of Jesus. I’ve decided to break down your comment in a post of its own. Frankly, your ignorant misconceptions and amateurish mistakes don’t impress me, but they may mislead people who don’t know any better; one can hardly call this ‘scholarly’ and I’d like to demonstrate exactly why your conclusions are terrible.

You write (and I’m limiting it to this selection because the rest of your conclusions follow from these basic premises):

The historical Izas was called King Izas Manu(el) VI of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews).

The historical Izas-Manu’s father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a revolutionary who fought the Jerusalem authorities and the Romans.

First of all, your primary argument–that Jesus is actually Izas Manu (a creation whom you equate with three different people)–is patently ridiculous. You are basically suggesting that at least four historical kings (Izates bar Monobaz, Abgar V the Black, Abgar Ma’nu VI, and Abgar bar Manu VIII the Great) from two distinct provinces with separate kings (Edessa in the province of Osroene vs. Arbela in the province of Adiabene) are one and the same person and place respectively. You seem to completely ignore the fact that both of these places exist miles apart (roughly 360 miles/579 km apart, actually). The Tigris river flows between them. The modern town of Edessa (Şanlıurfa) is in Turkey while Arbela (Arbil) is in Iraq. Additionally, these individuals are not one and the same. Abgar bar Manu lived about 200 years after Abgar V and over 120 years after Abgar VI. Your attempt to squeeze these individuals into one figure is beyond questionable. This bizarre conflation dooms your whole argument. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Here is where your fabricated ‘Izas Manu’ falls apart. You see, Queen Helena was the mother of Izates bar Monobaz–not Abgar VI (again, we’re talking about two different locations separated by 300 miles) and not Abgar bar Manu (two-hundred years separate the two). Let’s break this down together, historical king by historical king, so you can see just how deluded are your conclusions:

  • Helena was not ‘Queen of the Jews’ (also use ‘de facto’ properly next time). She was a Queen and she converted into Judaism. Her son, Izates, converted soon after, but neither of them were Jews by birth, but Persians who became Jewish. So your claim that he was ‘King of the Jews’ is not just wrong, it is absurd. The ‘king’ at this time was Herod Antipas, and that was only in the North, in the region of Galilee–Pontius Pilate ran the southern region of Judea, including Jerusalem; and even Herod wasn’t really a ‘king’, but more of a de facto (see how it is used there?) king–anyone with a basic grasp of the political dynamics of the period could tell you that.
  • Now, Abgar V (note: that says V as in 5, not VI as in 6) reigned in Edessa for a while, but was not crucified. He was a contemporary of when Jesus was supposed to have lived (between the turn of the first century to the middle of the first century, dying around 50-ish) and a very late fictional, pseudepigraphic tradition claims that he called Jesus to him for a conversation after hearing of his deeds and miracles. Also the father of Abgar V was not ‘Abgarus’. Additionally, Moses of Chorene tells a tale of Abgar V going to war with Herod, but this story is late (c. 5th century) and is a fiction (Josephus would have mentioned it, having not been a fan of Herod himself). Additionally, Abgar V does not go to war with Rome.
  • Abgar Ma’nu VI could not be the individual you claim when you state that “The historical Izas was crucified…[and] taken down [from the cross] by Josephus Flavius” since Josephus was living in Rome, as a court historian, probably on the Palatine Hill–far, far away from Edessa (and Palestine, for that matter). In 70-71, when Abgar Ma’nu VI became king, Josephus was on his way to Rome. And in 90-91 when Abgar VI’s rule ended, Josephus was sitting comfortably (probably–chairs back then and all) in his house, paid for by the empire, in Rome, writing his histories and autobiography. He died ten years later. So, no, Abgar VI could not have been crucified and taken down by Josephus–by the way, ‘Flavian’ is the name Josephus adopted after the Jewish War in 70, after he had been granted full citizenship by Titus. Abgar had not yet started his reign when this occurred.
  • Abgar VII is important as he is the one who went to war with Rome, but he did so in the second century, long after Josephus had died and some 40 years after the first Jewish War. This is not the Abgar you’re looking for.
  • Finally, the one Abgar who is alleged to have been killed because of his beliefs, Abgar VIII the Great, was not even a contemporary of Josephus or Jesus. As I said, he lived in the third century and was the first from the Abgar dynasty to become a Christian (and he is remembered as such). His mother was not Helena, he was not the son of Abgarus, he was not crucified and taken down by Josephus, and he never launched a war against Jerusalem.

Now none of this is idle speculation on my part. We have tons of early source material and contemporary attestation, including a discussion from Josephus on Izates and Helena (who died c. 100 CE) and the sarcophagus of Helena herself (with an inscription calling her Sadan–probably a Persian name–dated to the first century CE).

abgar x

The coin image on the cover of Mr. Ellis’ book.

Interestingly, you make a fatal error on the cover of your book, illustrating further your incompetence and your lack of understanding of the distinctions between these individuals. The coin you so boldly declare to be “the coin image of Jesus” is not Abgar the V (the first century Abgar), nor is it Abgar Ma’nu VI (whose VI you use for your Izas creation), nor is it Abgar the Great (Abgar the VIII who is said to have converted to Christianity in the third century)–all of these are the ones who you are conflating, but alas, it is none of them. No, this coin you present on your cover is none other than Abgar the X. Finally! We found an Abgar you don’t intentionally conflate with the rest! This Abgar the X came to the throne following the assassination of Gordian the III; this all occurs decades after the death of Abgar the Great. Your mistake is confusing the two–probably after doing a Google image search for ‘Abgar’ without realizing that there had been more than one (something an amateur might do, but not someone trained in the field by those pesky academic institutions you find so limiting). Let me draw it out for you with pictures:

Abgar X coins

This is the coin minted under Abgar X (242 – 243 CE). On the left is Gordian III and on the right is Abgar X.

1680214

Abgar VIII the Great is on the right holding a scepter, Septimius Severus on the left (197 – 212).

The differences may be subtle to those like you who are untrained (or who lack sense). Abgar VIII holds a scepter in his coin, also there is no star present. Septimius Serverus has a full beard. Your coin from your cover, along with the Abgar X coin, both depict Abgar X without a scepter, star behind his shoulder. Notice also the style of clothing Abgar X is portrayed wearing? A necklace or collar followed by a row of buttons clearly distinguishes this Abgar from the other. Likewise, Gordian III is depicted without facial hair. Additionally, a star is present in front of Gordian III on this coin. So the coin you currently have on your cover does not, in any way, present Abgar VIII (who you probably want–though who can know with this twisted cacophony of kings you’ve molded together into the one you’ve fabricated). Here is a closeup of your coin and an Abgar X coin:

abgar compare

Notice it is an attempt at the exact same design as the Abgar X coin. Stars are there, but no scepter–a dead giveaway.

But you should know all this, shouldn’t you? With your supposed 25+ years of study? Especially since I found the website where you snagged that image of the Abgar X coin:

abgar coin taken from

Also, I’m fairly certain this is a modern reproduction of a real Abgar X coin (i.e., it’s a fake). So not only did you snag the wrong Abgar, but you also used a fake coin. Good job, Mr. Ellis.

And if you bothered to read (or do any research whatsoever), you’d see even the listing for this coin suggests that it is Abgar X, not Abgar the VIII (though maybe you didn’t know the difference until you read this post). Just in case you want to claim that isn’t the same coin, here is a side-by-side comparison:

abgar compare 2

Even the ‘wear’ on the coin is identical. The placing of certain letters with the star, the criss-crossing pattern on the crown, etc… this is the coin.

This is what happens when you fabricate something by meshing multiple historical figures together. ‘Izas Manu’ never existed in history, Mr. Ellis. He is a figment of your imagination. You simply cannot take four separate individuals, over the span of hundreds of years, and lump them together into one without someone calling your bluff.

What have you really done here? Let me quote you again, this time breaking down the different figures in your claims:

The historical Izas (Izates II) was called King Izas (Izates II) Manu(el) (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII) VI of Edessa (not Izates II).

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews) (not any from the Abgar dynasty).

The historical Izas (Izates II)-Manu’s (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII)father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa. (No one. Ever.)

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a revolutionary (no one) who fought the Jerusalem authorities (Abgar V) and the Romans (Abgar the VII).

Do you see what I’m saying? Of course you do. You have to know this already. There is absolutely no way you can really be this clueless; no one with a brain would dare believe that taking a whole group of people and lumping them into one fictional persona is an innocent endeavor. No one would call that travesty a ‘scholarly book’. It has to be a gimmick; something fraudulent is happening here with what you’re doing. And I’ll gladly expose it for the world to see. It has to be a stunt to sell books and con people out of their hard earned cash or, simply put, you have to be certifiably crazy.

I’ll put it to the reader in an analogy. This is akin to me saying that there was a real guy named Herod Caligula(rus) and then stated that Herod Caligula(rus) went on a vicious rampage in Jerusalem and called upon Jupiter Maximus ten plagues to wipe out the first born sons of Israel, only later to repent after getting drunk off blood-wine and taking his place as King of the Roman Empire.

See how crazy that is? That is exactly how crazy Mr. Ellis’ claims are and, as such, they can be dismissed.

A New Theory That Jesus Was King of Edessa? Not So Fast, Mr. Ellis!

Over the past few months–primarily last year–I have had a hand in debunking all sorts of nonsense relating to Jesus and the Bible. When reports appeared online of a new Markan manuscript fragment, I was quick to demonstrate that the fragment was a bad fake. Prior to that, rumors abounded about the importance of several dozen lead codices, but this proved to also be the product of a modern workshop, probably in Jordan, where fake artifacts and tourist trinkets are manufactured for profit–though it seems someone figured they could get more money with them by generating controversy (and it worked). Last year was a rough year for those who want to keep the field safe from pseudoscholars and fake archaeologists peddling sensational material for money, fame, or worse; frankly I’m a bit worn down.

But this year is shaping up to dominate the past few years, so far as sensational discoveries go. I read an article this morning on Yahoo where a man claims to have uncovered the truth about Jesus. Jesus was…wait for it… wait for it…. the prince/king of Edessa! Oh yes. Someone really went there–but not just any ‘someone’:

Following 25 years of research, Ralph Ellis has discovered that Jesus was a prince of Edessa in northern Syria.

That’s right. Though the article says nothing whatsoever about an academic affiliation, credentials, or if this individual has a grasp of the ancient, original languages. So I decided to do a search and I found his Amazon.com bio page. Here is a screen grab:

Ralph Ellis

Here is where it gets a little hairy. Does he have any noteworthy credibility? Well, apparently not. But should that stop him? I mean, it hasn’t stopped the Elkingtons from claiming they have uncovered the original texts of Jesus on lead tablets, it hasn’t stopped Simcha Jacobovici from claiming that he has found Atlantis, and it hasn’t Joe Atwill from claiming that Jesus was invented–along with Josephus–by the Roman Empire as some sort of practical joke against the Jews in an attempt to gain their loyalty and obedience. Hell, even Giorgio Tsoukalos has his own medium on a major network, spreading his ancient alien theories all over the place. I mean, having credentials or being affiliated academically hasn’t stopped these guys–so why should it stop him? Ellis looks on this whole ‘lacking credibility’ bit as an opportunity, in fact. His bio claims that:

Being independent from theological and educational establishments allows Ralph to tread where others do not dare, and it is through this independence that Ralph has discovered so many new biblical and historical truths.

Now, if by treading ‘where others do not dare’–‘others’ being, I suspect, those of us (students, professors) with academic affiliations to ‘theological and educational establishments’–he means he has the freedom (or independence) to ‘ speculate wildly on everything and anything related to the history or historicity of the biblical narratives without a need to justify or support the extraordinary claims he is making with evidence and careful research’ then he is correct. He doesn’t have to worry about supporting any claim he makes, or reporting to the head of his department, or worrying about whether he will receive tenure, or what other colleagues will think of him–all he has to worry about is how well his self-published drivel will sell.

He seems to be in good company as his readers often purchase other brilliant classics (note: sarcasm) such as the works of Zecharia Sitchin (the guy that claims the Sumerian annunaki were ancient alien astronauts, so too the biblical nephilim), Acharya S (Jesus was invented by ancient astrotheologists and based upon earlier astrological figures), Joe Atwill (see above), Joseph P. Farrell (published such pivotal works as Roswell and the Reich: The Nazi Connection–‘published’ through a distributor who specializes in this sort of…stuff), Ahmed Osman (an Egyptian-born author who talks a lot about secret histories of Moses and Jesus and the pharaohs), and the list goes on–many are unaffiliated, interested in extreme, fringe theories (with little or no supporting evidence), and who cannot seem to publish through an academic press (for whatever reason).

Then again, Ellis isn’t sure how long he has been studying the subject (25 years, according to the article, or 30 years, per his Amazon.com bio). But don’t let my words influence your opinion, let Ellis’ words prove his worth as a historian. Here is a snippet from his book Jesus, King of Edessa:

ellis2

Yep. Brilliant.

I mean, why not? Because ‘Barabbas’ just can’t be Aramaic for ‘son of the father’, like every other scholar in the world argues (Barabbas = bar abba). Even though his full name is portrayed as ‘Jesus Barabbas’ in some variants as a play on Jesus the ‘son of man’, and has long been thought of as a metaphor for the Leviticus 16 atonement sacrifice for the sins of Israel (with Jesus as the sacrificial goat, while Barabbas is the scape-goat sent off in the wilderness). But what do other scholars with academic attachments (and credentials) know anyway? They have no independence to do real research; amirite, Ellis?

Well, we’re not done yet. The Yahoo.com article goes on to tell us more about all this Jesus of Edessa:

Readers might imagine that the true history of this region might undermine much of the biblical story that the gospel authors have crafted. But in reality the gospels always did say that Jesus was a Nazarene (Mat 2:23) and a king (Luk 23:38), and so this new analysis changes very little in the gospel story.

But that isn’t true, is it? Ellis has cherry-picked his verses without recognizing their significance. After all, Jesus is called a Nazarene because he is portrayed as being from the town of Nazareth (which is why he was called a Nazarene) which is explicitly states in 2:23, “…and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.'” In other words, it was because he lived in Nazareth that he was called a Nazarene (i.e., that people from Nazareth were ‘Nazarenes’–not people from Edessa), not to be confused with Nazirites (which also appear in the New Testament). Now, maybe this was a pun by Matthew to signify that Jesus was also a Nazirite as well as a Nazorean, but he does not make the appropriate connections (as Luke seems to do later).

Additionally, the use of ‘King’ in Luke 23 is theologically rooted (i.e., Jesus is the King, in the heavenly sense, but used as satire by the Romans, which contradicts the claim made by Ellis). Ellis might have known this had he attended any sort of credible institution (theological or otherwise). The article goes on (unfortunately):

This is a scholarly study of all the available historical evidence, including the Tanakh, Talmud, Josephus Flavius, the Roman historians, and venerable Syriac historians like Moses of Chorene and Yohannes Drasxanakertci.

Well, I guess that settles it. It states it right there, this is a ‘scholarly study’, whereby ‘scholarly’ now means ’25 years of independent study with no credibility and zero accountability’. Man, what a shame that I’m spending all this money on an education when I could have just self-published this whole time!

But there is some concern here with the name he provides for Jesus in Edessa as well. He calls this king Izas Manu, but that is rather bizarre since the king in the first century was Izates (not Izas) and the two names (Jesus and Izates) do not even come from the same language, nor do they mean the same thing. Yeshua (ישוע) is a derivative of the Hebrew word for ‘savior’ or ‘rescuer’ while Izates (ایزد‎) is Persian for ‘divine being’/’god’. Ellis may want to stretch the meaning of Izates to Jesus by suggesting that Jesus was considered ‘god’ or ‘the son of god’ by his followers, but these are superficial correlations, and only useful to those with no grasp of ancient languages. As a friend noted, it would be like trying to compare modern English to Chinese.

And where exactly does ‘Manu’ come from? Josephus doesn’t refer to him as such, and only ever calls him Izates. Does Ellis link ‘Manu’ (or Emmanuel–the name he really wants) with Izates’ father Monobazus II? Is Ellis seriously attempting to link Izates bar Monobazus with a name like ‘Izas Manu’? Because that is what it seems like he has tried to do here. In his “sample article” (which is absolutely atrocious) he writes:

And when tracking the history of that same infant within the many chronicles of Saul-Josephus, it was apparent that he grew up to become Jesus of Gamala, who is also called King Izas of the Adiabene.

Unfortunately he has missed the mark. Who exactly is ‘Saul-Josephus’ anyway? Does he mean Josephus? And by the way, if you’re wondering who ‘Jesus of Gamala’ is, you’re better off not knowing. But if you really want to know, I suppose you can find information on it here. And yes, there was a guy who tried to sue the Catholic Church for ‘covering up’ the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was really Jesus of Gamala. I guess crazy attracts crazy.

Yeah, this is going to be a long year.

UPDATE 3/6/13:

Ralph Ellis has commented and I have responded to his “proofs” (which are nothing more than reciting the same thing over and over again in crazier ways).  You can read my response to his claims here.

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