When I reviewed Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ earlier this year, I made the mistake of assuming he had invented the idea of Jesus' twin brother. I was wrong. The idea has ancient roots, and as well as featuring in Pullman's book is the central feature of an exceedingly odd book, The Twin Deception, by Tony Bushby, published by the small independent Queensland publisher Joshua Books in 2006.
Bushby is a prolific writer of Christian pseudo-history with at least six similar volumes to his name. There is a lot of familiar stuff here, including hidden messages, concealed identities and Catholic cover-ups, but Bushby takes the art-form to a whole new level.
I don't mean his writing. His grammar is questionable, his prose convoluted and his telling of his story is so incoherent as to be almost incomprehensible. Nonetheless, the extent of his reworking of the tale is beyond anything attempted by the likes of Barbara Theiring, Stephan Huller or even the redoubtable Michael Biagent.
In summary his story is this. Jesus had a twin brother, Judas Thomas. These two boys were the children of the Jewish serving woman Mary and the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Judas, the elder of the brothers, became the leader of the Essenes, a militant Jewish sect, before travelling to Rome to attempt to take his father's throne by force. There he was arrested and sentenced to crucifixion, but escaped by switching places with Simon of Cyrene. As a result he lost his freedom, was sold into slavery by his brother Jesus and ended his life in India.
Meanwhile Jesus was initiated into the mysteries of Osiris in Egypt, inherited his brother's position as head of the Essenes but fell out with them because he attempted to reveal their secrets to the common people. This led to a journey to Britain where he spread his secret to the British Jews before finally being stoned to death in London.
This will of course leave you wondering how the story came to be told as it is in our bibles and of course Bushby has the answer. Christianity as we know it was invented at the Council of Nicea, called by the Emperor Constantine, a descendant of Jesus. This was not, as we have been led to believe, a gathering of Christian bishops (there being no such thing at the time) but a gathering of the teachers of a wide range of religions current in the Empire at that time. Constantine was worried at the divisiveness of multiple religions and wanted to decide on a single faith to unite his empire. In the end the Council, at Constantine's urging, decided to create a new religion, based around the persons of Constantine's ancestor Jesus and his brother Judas, which combined elements of the cults of Caesar, Krishna, Mithra, Horus and Zeus. Bishop Eusebius was given the job of creating scriptures to support this religion and the New Testament was the result.
Of course the "true knowledge" of the existence of the twins and the fictitious nature of the Gospels was not completely suppressed. It was known to the Catholic heirarchy, preserved by the initiates of various secret societies, leaked out in the works of the Renaissance masters and had to be suppressed again with a complete rewriting of the New Testament in the late 15th century.
It's useful at this point to keep in mind Michael Shermer's criterion for assessing conspiracy theories - the likelihood of a conspiracy theory being true is inversely proportional to the number of people who would have to be involved. The cover-up described by Bushby involves literally millions of people over almost seventeen centuries. Surely someone would have had an attack of consience and released the true story by now?
What evidence does Bushby have for these astonishing claims? It's difficult to tell. Most of his sources predate the 20th century. He cites a number of obscure and out-of-print 18th and 19th century historians, and has a love for 19th century editions of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and Catholic Encyclopedia, from which he quotes (or perhaps misquotes) extensively. This means, of course, that most of his sources can't be verified.
Where they can, the result is not encouraging. Virtually every time he cites the New Testament he either misquotes it or distorts its meaning. A classic example is his brief section on "the biblical evidence of Jesus' twin". He cites the parallel passages in Mark 6 and Matthew 13 which refer to Jesus' brothers, who include "Judas called Thomas", and relates these to the references to the apostle Thomas "the twin" in John's gospel. The problem is that the Mark and Matthew passages don't mention "Judas called Thomas", merely "Judas" or "Jude", and there is no suggestion that he is Jesus' twin. Hence the connection with Thomas in John is completely spurious.
Other sources that I could easily check showed the same pattern. He cites the story of the conflict over Easter in Britain in the 6th century as evidence that the original British church did not celebrate Easter. Yet the original of this story in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (which Bushby appears to have only read at second hand) makes it clear that both sides of the dispute celebrated Easter and the source of the conflict was the method of calculating the correct date.
Bushby even goes so far as to cite Geoffrey of Monmouth's fantastical History of the Kings of Britain as if it were a real work of history. Even then he misquotes it, confusing a passage about the imaginary king Cymbeline, "a powerful warrior whom Augustus Caesar had reared in his household and equipped with weapons" and the following paragraph, "In those days was born our Lord Jesus...", as evidence that Augustus armed Jesus and sent him to Britain. If this small sample is any indication, none of his citations can be trusted.
He even struggles to get his own story straight. The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion are described both as inaccurate retellings of Judas Thomas' supposed crucifixion in Rome, and veiled accounts of Jesus' initiation into the Egyptian mysteries. Jesus is both the son of Tiberius, and armed and dispatched by Augustus. The Gospels were invented by Eusebius in the 4th century, then again by the church authorities in the 15th. Bushby is able to both have and eat multiple servings of cake.
So why did I bother with this tedious, badly written nonsense? And why am I boring you with it? I have to admit I wondered that myself as I skimmed the latter part of the book searching in vain for something that made sense.
The answer is that these retellings have cultural resonance for 21st century Western readers. While Bushby is a little too out there even for Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code used the various common pseudo-historical tricks to turn a second-rate detective novel into a publishing phenomenon. The religion sections of secular bookstores contain as many works of pseudo-history as they do collections of the Dalai Lama's sayings. Even Bushby's extreme left-field ideas found an echo in Pullman's decidedly more mainstream treatment of the subject. Why is this stuff so popular?
Partly, of course, it's fashionable to take pot-shots at the church as Western society grows into its own increasing secularism. However, these stories also provide the same fascination as a well constructed science fiction or fantasy world. The boring, hum-drum, incompetent society in which we live conceals another, far more exciting reality in which super-competent, malevolent rulers conspire to deceive ordinary people for their own gain. The suggestion of historicity in these claims, however flimsy, just adds to the excitement and the thrill of horror.
It's all nonsense, but perhaps there's an upside. With a bit of luck, Tony Bushby may get to have twice as much fun at Christmas as the rest of us!