The Avesta Hartaqa
by Michael Arcane

What is this “Avesta Hartaqa” that serves as the primary influence for many of Dead Syndicate's songs, and is often quoted on our shirts and web site? Glad you asked.

The Avesta Hartaqa is an anthology of writings, scriptures, and prophetic literature dating back to the early period of Christianity. Most people don't realize that the official Bible only represents a small percentage of the writings regarding Jesus of Nazareth written in the first century or two A.D. The Bible only represents the subset of writings that the Catholic Church approved as part of the official cannon. What were left out were numerous writings, letters and gospels that ranged from those nearly included to those deemed outright heretical.

Many books have been written since the discovery of key troves of writings such as the now-famous Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Library and the recently unearthed Gospel of Judas. The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of thirteen ancient codices containing over fifty texts, and was discovered in Upper Egypt in 1945. Translations of these works were completed in the 1970s, and they contain Gnostic scriptures. The Gnostics were various sects of early Christians who believed in various different interpretations of the divinity of Jesus and at the core, the pursuit of gnosis, or 'knowledge'.

Many of the Gnostic sects were condemned as heretics and wiped out by the Catholic Church, such as the Cathars and others that questioned the mainline interpretation of Jesus' divinity and the nature of God. Their writings and other alternate gospels have since been collected in books like Bentley Layton's “Gnostic Scriptures” and Barstone & Meyer's “Gnostic Bible”.

But a similar archeological finding 50 miles from Nag Hammadi in 1946 was overshadowed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls from 1947 through 1956. This obscure 1946 discovery of works is the collection of heretical writings is now known as the Avesta Hartaqa. What separates the Avesta Hartaqa from the other two findings? The Avesta Hartaqa is not a collection of Gnostic writings, but instead is a collection of outright heretical texts written by those opposed to the rise of Christianity.

Egyptologists Pavel C. Forth and Hebert O'Darrow completed translation of the scriptures included in the Avesta Hartaqa in the late 1970s. The Avesta Hartaqa (or Heretic's Bible) chronicles the early beliefs of a small but influential Cult of Nero, a sect who worshipped the Emperor Nero as their god, and were vehemently opposed to the rise of Christianity in Rome.

Like many early Gnostics, these Neroists held a firm belief in mysticism, but theirs was rooted firmly in various forms of necromancy. Necromancy is the use of magic to either speak with the dead or raise the dead. The Neoroists view of necromancy served to raise the dead, in particular keeping the practice alive so that they as a collective could someday raise Nero from the grip of death to return as their heretical messiah. In this capacity, Nero as messiah would wipe away the stain of Christianity and re-establish Rome and Roman rule.

The writings in the Avesta Hartaqa often appear to have been written after similar companion texts in the Bible or other pro-Christian but Gnostic writings. In essence, many writings simply corrupted their pro-Christian counterparts. An example of this is the striking similarity in the Prayer to the Whore of Babylon and the Hail Mary, the former simply being a corruption of the latter. But many other scriptures offer incredible insight into the events surrounding early Christianity and the decline of polytheistic Roman culture.

Why Emperor Nero? Nero was exceedingly brutal to the early Christians, and due to this brutality, some early Christians feared that after Nero's suicide that he would actually return from the dead to destroy them…and this is reflected in Apocalyptic literature of the time. Apocalyptic literature, such as the book of Revelations and other similar texts were not truly intended to be predictions of the future or the end of the world. Instead scholars believe they were a means for early Christians to communicate about the government and Rome using code and veiled references. Thus, the Beast of Revelations is actually Emperor Nero; Babylon is Rome. Such writings do not detail what is to come, but describe what was at the time.

What became of the Cult of Nero, and why was the Avesta Hartaqa lost to history until now? The early Church employed Heresiologists, such as the famous Irenaeus of Lyon, Tertullian, and Epiphanius of Salamis. These men were heresy hunters, they exposed those in the early church who held beliefs contrary to official dogma and wrote treatises against Gnostic movements. These heresiologists focused their venom on the growing cancer of the Gnostic movement within the church, but did make occasional reference to those outside the church, such as the Neroists, who espoused outright heretical beliefs. Although the ultimate fate of the Neroists is unknown, it is extremely unlikely that the cult survived the first Medieval Inquisition of 1184, and may not have survived even to that time.

So what is the link to Dead Syndicate? I am an avowed atheist, so in no way do I “believe” in the things contained in the Avesta Hartaqa. However, I am completely fascinated by the mythology contained in the book, much as I am Roman history and the early history of the Catholic church and Christianity. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I am enthralled by it nonetheless. Understanding history, and understanding the origins of a religion that has helped shape the Western world helps us understand the underpinnings of our current culture. Knowledge is power. And as a musician, I cannot help but be influenced by the subject, so much of the lyrics and themes behind Dead Syndicate are a product of these studies. Songs like “I, Pilate”, “Beast Nero”, and “Dead Syndicate” all draw heavily from Avesta Hartaqa scriptures.