Atwill says the writers of the Gospels used a literary device called “typology”—“a genre of literature that the ancient Hebrews used”—employing parallels to elicit hidden messages and to suggest the circularity of history and the value of prophecy. But the Romans did it as a joke on the Jews, Atwill says. Introducing themes from Titus’s life into the Gospels, leaving an indelible imprint, like watermarks on paper, was the Romans’ way of leaving their signature, he says.

What motivated them? “They were the vainest people who ever lived,” Atwill says. “They wanted to make sure that posterity knew they had subdued the Jews through a fake religion.

Some of this has been explored by other scholars. Robert Eisenman, professor of religion at California State University, Long Beach, one of the participants in the movie, says he was long familiar with the practice of “overwriting” texts, “people taking texts and writing over them.” He himself suggested, in his 1997 book, James the Brother of Jesus, that the Gospels had been written over to give them a “pro-Roman slant.”

In uncovering the Titus connection, “Atwill may have carried it a step farther,” Eisenman says.

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