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Esus and Jesus: a false connection

I receive a lot of inquiries about whether Jesus is Esus, whether Esus is Jesus, or whether we should be able to look at Esus as some sort of "pre-Jesus Jesus" who taught monotheism to the Celts.

Most of this, of course, doesn't really deserve serious consideration. I've decided, primarily, to address the Esus-Jesus bit in FAQ form.

But look at the names! Jesus and Esus are obviously the same name/word/person!

It's a painfully obvious mistake, I'm afraid. Remember that "Esus" and "Jesus" are not only derived from entirely different languages, but from entirely different language families. Esus, of course, is Indo-European. Jesus has a Semitic derivation.

Jesus is derived from the Hebrew name, "Joshua".

LLat Iësus < Gk. Iësous < Heb. Yësûa' < yëhôsûa', Joshua

Joshua, of course, means "YHVH is salvation", coming from a combination of yehô, which is a shortened form of YHVH, and *sûa', meaning "salvation".

For all derivations, check the American Heritage College Dictionary.

When the Greeks transliterated it, it took the Hebrew name for Jesus and made it look Greek. "Jesus" is, at its root, Semitic.

Esus, on the other hand, is directly from a Proto-Indo-European root. Most likely, this root is *hes-, meaning "lord". This brings up another argument: that both names mean "lord": they do not. As shone above, "Jesus" means "Joshua", not "Lord".

But look at the name Zeus! Jesus derives from that!

Sir James George Frazer makes this argument. Jesus, apparently, can be connected to Dionysus, Apollo, Asklipeus and Zeus. I don't really have the time to go over all of them, so we'll focus on Zeus:

You cannot find "Jesus" in "Zeus". Perhaps you can find "Zeus" in Jesus, but there is no Jesus in Zeus.

I would say that the simplest solution, though, is that there is a coincidental similarity that is, at best, accidental. The person doing the transliteration probably just put a Greek ending on his best guess on what the transliteration was supposed to be for the first part. Now, whether it was later used in a comparative sense is moot: I cannot believe that someone intentionally made the name look like Zeus, mostly because it really, really doesn't look at thing like Zeus, nor would it sound anything like "Zeus", so far as I can tell.

Now, here's the big problem: Even if the name "Iësous" is derived from "Zeus", how does it then become "Esus". That "Yësûa'" might be transliterated as "Esus" is, honestly, a silly notion. And that "Iësous" would have been transliterated into "Esus" is, while slightly less silly, more unlikely: the word "Iësous" would have needed to occur before "Esus" could be derived from it, and the Celts were well-known to have a knowledge of Greek as a language.

Now, even if we assume that Esus is a reasonable derivation from Jesus, remember that 

Zeus derives from the common Indo-European root dyeu-. So are many other IE names, such as "devah" in Sanskrit and "Asmodeus" in Avestan. Would you insinuate that there is also a "Jesus" there, that the demon Asmodeus is another form of Jesus?

Okay, let's pretend that maybe the name "Esus" is somehow derived from "Jesus".

Sure, I can play that game: If "Esus" is derived from a Latinization of the Semitic name "Yësûa'", then we have to ask: can it possibly fit the time period?

The Parisii nautes altar was erected sometime between AD 14-37. The inscription on the altar clearly dates this, as it says, "Erected in the reign of Tiberius Caesar."

If we presume that Christ was crucified in about 33-36 AD, and that what we now call the Gospel was written down immediately after in Greek, we have to wonder how quickly it would have made it to Gaul. That's a long way to go, honestly. Paul doesn't start traveling until about 48 AD, over 10 years after Tiberius ceases his reign. It's not until about ten years after that he finally makes it to Rome.

If we're bound to and stuck with the idea that the name "Esus" is some form of Jesus, then we're going to have to assume that the Greeks called someone else (an earlier person) "Iësous", and that this person was important enough to be called "Iësus" in the Latin world, and then had their name changed yet again in Gaul to Esus.

Of course, perhaps we're thinking of Jesus going to Gaul early in his life (which, admittedly, makes less sense to me, I think). If that's the case, then why don't we get a Gallicized version of "Yësûa'" instead? "Esus" doesn't seem like the likely candidate for a rough translation. It makes sense that Yësûa' going into Greek would become Iësous, but I don't see the sense in Yësûa' going into Gaulish directly as Esus. In essence, I see a number of skipped steps there. Perhaps a more pressing question, though, is to wonder why there's no direct evidence in manuscripts to this spelling of "Jesus"?

The Nautes Pillar (Pillar of the Boatmen) shows the most important deities in Gaul, and Esus is represented as being like Jupiter, and so if Esus and Jesus are related, this shows his importance.

Not exactly. The Parisii nautes altar contains a sort of local pantheon, I think, rather than a "pecking order" sort of importance. The altar itself really a pillar, quite tall, that displays many, many different deities. Esus, Iovis, and Volcanus are not at the top, but Cernunnos is. Whether that makes Cernunnos more important or less is difficult to say.

But if the pillar includes "important" deities in general, then we need to think about the other deities on it as important as well: Castor and Pollux, I'm afraid, hardly seem like they were "on the level" with Iovis and the "Mars" deity on the column. Further, the nautes themselves are represented. . . so representation on the pillar does not make one automatically a powerful or important deity.

The Nautes Pillar (Pillar of the Boatmen) is a sort of "key" that links the Gaulish deities with the Roman ones, so Esus=Jesus=Jove/Cernunnos.

As to the possibility of the pillar being a sort of translation device, then we need to think about the positioning of the deities. I'd also question whether such a device would be needed, honestly, especially if we're talking about a religion that's "in transition". . . Why build a monument (perhaps the more pertinent question is "why only one?") to serve as translation? And why doesn't it appear anywhere else?

If Cernunnos is Jupiter, then why is he not on the same block? Especially if Esus is Volcanus (who he is across from) or Jovis (who he is next to)? What do the bull and the cranes have to do with this? I don't think that the translation theory of the pillar can explain it well. It falls short in too many places. I don't see a logical connect between Esus and Volcanus, or between Jupiter and Tarvos Trigaranus, which is what I'd expect. I suppose you could try and read it down, but then it becomes a Rubics cube, and we've got four deities that we need to compare, sometimes showing up in pairs with consorts.

As for the location, yes, it was found under the choir at Notre Dame. I'd say that the location, though, was of "extreme importance" because of who built it, not because it was important across Gaul. The sailors who erected it were rich. . . This much is obvious. They erected the pillar in a location that it could be seen by everyone in their tribe, and it promoted their standing in the community.

But Jesus is really C. Iulius Cæsar!

Oh, that's a good one! Really good! *laughs*

Wait, you're serious? Okay, well: let's address it seriously, then.

This argument stems from the work of Francesco Carotta, an Italian "philosopher and linguist." His position is that the "Jesus myth" is a European construct, and that Jesus and Caesar share some very similar traits. Among those mentioned are:

  • Both Caesar and Jesus start their rising careers in neighboring states in the north: Gallia and Galilee.
  • Both have to cross a fateful river: the Rubicon and the Jordan. Once across the rivers, they both come across a patron/rival: Pompeius and John the Baptist, and their first followers: Antonius and Curio on the one hand and Peter and Andrew on the other.
  • Both have a traitor: Brutus and Judas. And an assassin who at first gets away: the other Brutus and Barabbas. And one who washes his hands of it: Lepidus and Pilate.
  • Both are accused of making themselves kings: King of the Romans and King of the Jews. Both are dressed in red royal robes and wear a crown on their heads: a laurel wreath and a crown of thorns.
  • Both get killed: Caesar is stabbed with daggers, Jesus is crucified, but with a stab wound in his side.
  • Jesus as well as Caesar hang on a cross.
  • Both die on the same respective dates of the year: Caesar on the Ides (15 th) of March, Jesus on the 15 th of Nisan.
  • Both are deified posthumously: as Divus Iulius and as Jesus Christ.

To quote Carotta: "The Gospel proves to be the history of the Roman Civil war, a 'mis-telling' of the life of Caesar-from the Rubicon to his assassination-mutated into the narrative of Jesus, from the Jordan to his crucifixion. Jesus is a true historical figure, he lived as Gaius Julius Caesar, and resurrected as Divus Julius."

If you are really interested in Carotta's position, please see the press release for his book.

When I was asked to respond to this idea on a site that Carotta moderates (carotta.de), one of my postings was rejected due to "ad hominim attacks" (other discussion I was party to on this topic can be found in the forum on that site). I do feel, however, that the issue I attempted to raise does bear some thought, though, and so repost the "attack" in question in full:

As for the Jesus story not being Semetic, but European, well, that's kinda silly, and I will admit to a certain trepidation that such findings are based more on anti-Semitism than on historical fact. The connections are no more convincing than the connections that say that John F. Kennedy was Abraham Lincoln. . . Both men in the latter case also have striking similarities, but that's all they are: similarities. To postulate that one or the other did not exist, or that they were founded on the myth of the other, while interesting, doesn't seem too helpful.

Perhaps more importantly, it disregards that we have historical documentation for the spread of Christianity. The implication that the Bible is generally forged is a position that might gain favour in certain academic circles, but I don't think that describing it as a mythologized version of Julius Caesar's life is really accurate, either.

I also don't see "Iulius" becoming "Esus" in Gaul, where Ceasar's name was very, very well known.

This came at the end of a rather long post mostly about what we knew about Jesus, most of which has been re-worked for this FAQ.

I very much wish to be open about this possibility: I like creativity in scholarship, and I like to look at things from a different angle, but the concept of the Jesus story being of European rather than Hebrew origin worries me quite a bit. Consider the fact that we are taking one of the most lasting impacts of Judaism and assigning it to another culture altogether, one that has traditionally not been kind to Jews. While as a scholar I am intrigued, I am equally worried that there is something at work to remove Semitic influence and origin from one of the world's most revered myths.

That said, I have no desire to say that this argument is anti-Semitic: it is merely another facet of this strange argument that we must consider as we think about the reasons why this is so important to some people.

Anyway, here are some common things cited about the pillar that might lead a person to this opinion:

The word "Senant" appears on the pillar, in relation to the dedication. This is a reference to the Roman Senate.

The inscription reads "SENANT V[...]", and is generally interpreted to be depicting the ceremony of dedication of the monument. It occurs next to the dedication inscription.

I'm having difficulty finding a word to translate that from Latin. It may be a Gualish word, but if it is, I haven't found it yet in my dictionaries. The root may be "sen-", which means "old" or "elder" or something similar.

It doesn't seem to match up with the Senate, at all, because that word for that is certainly "senatus -us (or -i)" in Latin, and the rest of the pillar is in Latin.

Without the inscription being complete, though, it's mostly just guesswork.

The word "Senant" appears on the pillar, in relation to the dedication. The Setantii tribe had Esus as a primary god, and so this pillar is connected to the story of Chuculiann, and Chuculiann's life can also be matched to Caesar's.

The inscription reads "SENANT V[...]"

Here is the full citation that indicates that Esus is a "primary god" of the Setantii:

"They [the Setanii and Brigantes] had a well-known god, Esus, whom d'Arbonis identifies with Cuchulainn; whence the story (of Cuchulainn) is of Gaulish origin, perhaps taught by the Druids; and it was ultimately carried to Ulster, where it was received with enthusiasm."
    --From MacCulloch, John A. Celtic Mythology. Academy Chicago Pub, February 1996. (p. 157-158)

I'm not sure that I trust MacCulloch here, though. He didn't check d'Arbonis' source, I don't think, and I will freely admit that I have *no clue* who d'Arbonis is.

But it does look like a slam dunk for connecting the tribe to this area, at least until you think about it a bit.

The problem is, of course, that the Setantii (possibly a more correct spelling) are centered around Liverpool, UK, not Paris, France. It's also rather. . . unlikely that someone would spell the name of their tribe incorrectly, but the most unlikely thing is that the Parisii would have let some other tribe set up a big honkin' pillar in the center of their territory, much less identify themselves as "Sailors of the Parisii". 

Related Pages:

A word from the Encyclopedia of Religions

My main (academic) page on Esus

A Look at the Nautes Pillar (visited Nov. 2005, includes pictures of all faces)

Esus as my patron

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