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Conclusion





We now come to the last, but certainly not least, question to be
answered; which is, what do we really know of the man Jesus of Nazareth?
How much of the Gospel narratives can we rely upon as fact?

Jesus of Nazareth is so enveloped in the mists of the past, and his
history so obscured by legend, that it may be compared to footprints in
the sand. We know some one has been there, but as to what manner of
man he may have been, we certainly know little as fact. The Gospels,
the only records we have of him,[508:1] have been proven, over and
over again, unhistorical and legendary; to state anything as positive
about the man is nothing more nor less than assumption; we can
therefore conjecture only. Liberal writers philosophize and wax
eloquent to little purpose, when, after demolishing the historical
accuracy of the New Testament, they end their task by eulogizing the man
Jesus, claiming for him the highest praise, and asserting that he was
the best and grandest of our race;[508:2] but this manner of
reasoning (undoubtedly consoling to many) facts do not warrant. We may
consistently revere his name, and place it in the long list of the great
and noble, the reformers and religious teachers of the past, all of whom
have done their part in bringing about the freedom we now enjoy, but to
go beyond this, is, to our thinking, unwarranted.

If the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as related in the books of the New
Testament, be in part the story of a man who really lived and suffered,
that story has been so interwoven with images borrowed from myths of a
bygone age, as to conceal forever any fragments of history which may lie
beneath them. Gautama Buddha was undoubtedly an historical personage,
yet the Sun-god myth has been added to his history to such an extent
that we really know nothing positive about him. Alexander the Great was
an historical personage, yet his history is one mass of legends. So it
is with Julius Cesar, Cyrus, King of Persia, and scores of others. "The
story of Cyrus' perils in infancy belongs to solar mythology as much
as the stories of the magic slipper, of Charlemagne and Barbarossa. His
grandfather, Astyages, is purely a mythical creation, his name being
identical with that of the night demon, Azidahaka, who appears in the
Shah-Nameh as the biting serpent."

The actual Jesus is inaccessible to scientific research. His image
cannot be recovered. He left no memorial in writing of himself; his
followers were illiterate; the mind of his age was confused. Paul
received only traditions of him, how definite we have no means of
knowing, apparently not significant enough to be treasured, nor
consistent enough to oppose a barrier to his own speculations. As M.
Renan says: "The Christ who communicates private revelations to him is
a phantom of his own making;" "it is himself he listens to, while
fancying that he hears Jesus."[509:1]

In studying the writings of the early advocates of Christianity, and
Fathers of the Christian Church, where we would naturally look for the
language that would indicate the real occurrence of the facts of the
Gospel--if real occurrences they had ever been--we not only find no such
language, but everywhere find every sort of sophistical ambages,
ramblings from the subject, and evasions of the very business before
them, as if on purpose to balk our research, and insult our skepticism.
If we travel to the very sepulchre of Christ Jesus, it is only to
discover that he was never there: history seeks evidence of his
existence as a man, but finds no more trace of it than of the shadow
that flits across the wall. "The Star of Bethlehem" shone not upon her
path, and the order of the universe was suspended without her
observation.

She asks, with the Magi of the East, "Where is he that is born King of
the Jews?" and, like them, finds no solution of her inquiry, but the
guidance that guides as well to one place as another; descriptions that
apply to AEsculapius, Buddha and Crishna, as well as to Jesus;
prophecies, without evidence that they were ever prophesied; miracles,
which those who are said to have seen, are said also to have denied
seeing; narratives without authorities, facts without dates, and records
without names. In vain do the so-called disciples of Jesus point to the
passages in Josephus and Tacitus;[510:1] in vain do they point to the
spot on which he was crucified; to the fragments of the true cross, or
the nails with which he was pierced, and to the tomb in which he was
laid. Others have done as much for scores of mythological personages
who never lived in the flesh. Did not Damus, the beloved disciple of
Apollonius of Tyana, while on his way to India, see, on Mt. Caucasus,
the identical chains with which Prometheus had been bound to the rocks?
Did not the Scythians[510:2] say that Hercules had visited their
country? and did they not show the print of his foot upon a rock to
substantiate their story?[510:3] Was not his tomb to be seen at Cadiz,
where his bones were shown?[510:4] Was not the tomb of Bacchus to be
seen in Greece?[510:5] Was not the tomb of Apollo to be seen at
Delphi?[510:6] Was not the tomb of Achilles to be seen at Dodona,
where Alexander the Great honored it by placing a crown upon it?[510:7]
Was not the tomb of AEsculapius to be seen in Arcadia, in a grove
consecrated to him, near the river Lusius?[510:8] Was not the tomb of
Deucalion--he who was saved from the Deluge--long pointed out near the
sanctuary of Olympian Jove, in Athens?[510:9] Was not the tomb of
Osiris to be seen in Egypt, where, at stated seasons, the priests went
in solemn procession, and covered it with flowers?[510:10] Was not the
tomb of Jonah--he who was "swallowed up by a big fish"--to be seen at
Nebi-Yunus, near Mosul?[510:11] Are not the tombs of Adam, Eve, Cain,
Abel, Seth, Abraham, and other Old Testament characters, to be seen even
at the present day?[510:12] And did not the Emperor Constantine dedicate
a beautiful church over the tomb of St. George, the warrior
saint?[510:13] Of what value, then, is such evidence of the existence of
such an individual as Jesus of Nazareth? The fact is, "the records of
his life are so very scanty, and these have been so shaped and colored
and modified by the hands of ignorance and superstition and party
prejudice and ecclesiastical purpose, that it is hard to be sure of the
original outlines."

In the first two centuries the professors of Christianity were divided
into many sects, but these might be all resolved into two divisions--one
consisting of Nazarenes, Ebionites, and orthodox; the other of
Gnostics, under which all the remaining sects arranged themselves. The
former are supposed to have believed in Jesus crucified, in the common,
literal acceptation of the term; the latter--believers in the Christ
as an AEon--though they admitted the crucifixion, considered it to have
been in some mystic way--perhaps what might be called spiritualiter,
as it is called in the Revelation: but notwithstanding the different
opinions they held, they all denied that the Christ did really die, in
the literal acceptation of the term, on the cross.[511:1] The Gnostic,
or Oriental, Christians undoubtedly took their doctrine from the Indian
crucifixion[511:2] (of which we have treated in Chapters XX. and
XXXIX.), as well as many other tenets with which we have found the
Christian Church deeply tainted. They held that:

"To deliver the soul, a captive in darkness, the 'Prince of
Light,' the 'Genius of the Sun,' charged with the redemption
of the intellectual world, of which the Sun is the type,
manifested itself among men; that the light appeared in the
darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not; that, in fact,
light could not unite with darkness; it put on only the
appearance of the human body; that at the crucifixion Christ
Jesus only appeared to suffer. His person having
disappeared, the bystanders saw in his place a cross of light,
over which a celestial voice proclaimed these words; 'The
Cross of Light is called Logos, Christos, the Gate, the Joy.'"

Several of the texts of the Gospel histories were quoted with great
plausibility by the Gnostics in support of their doctrine. The story of
Jesus passing through the midst of the Jews when they were about to cast
him headlong from the brow of a hill (Luke iv. 29, 30), and when they
were going to stone him (John iii. 59; x. 31, 39), were examples not
easily refuted.

The Manichean Christian Bishop Faustus expresses himself in the
following manner:

"Do you receive the gospel? (ask ye). Undoubtedly I do! Why
then, you also admit that Christ was born? Not so; for it by
no means follows that in believing the gospel, I should
therefore believe that Christ was born! Do you then think that
he was of the Virgin Mary? Manes hath said, 'Far be it that I
should ever own that Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . . . . .'"
etc.[512:1]

Tertullian's manner of reasoning on the evidences of Christianity is
also in the same vein, as we saw in our last chapter.[512:2]

Mr. King, speaking of the Gnostic Christians, says:

"Their chief doctrines had been held for centuries before
(their time) in many of the cities in Asia Minor. There, it
is probable, they first came into existence as Mystae, upon
the establishment of direct intercourse with India, under
the Seleucidae and Ptolemies. The college of Essenes and
Megabyzae at Ephesus, the Orphics of Thrace, the Curets
of Crete, are all merely branches of one antique and common
religion, and that originally Asiatic."[512:3]

These early Christian Mystics are alluded to in several instances in the
New Testament. For example:

"Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in
the flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not
that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God."[512:4]
"For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess
not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."[512:5]

This is language that could not have been used, if the reality of Christ
Jesus' existence as a man could not have been denied, or, it would
certainly seem, if the apostle himself had been able to give any
evidence whatever of the claim.

The quarrels on this subject lasted for a long time among the early
Christians. Hermas, speaking of this, says to the brethren:

"Take heed, my children, that your dissensions deprive you not
of your lives. How will ye instruct the elect of God, when ye
yourselves want correction? Wherefore admonish one another,
and be at peace among yourselves; that I, standing before your
father, may give an account of you unto the Lord."[512:6]

Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, says:[512:7]

"Only in the name of Jesus Christ, I undergo all, to suffer
together with him; he who was made a perfect man strengthening
me. Whom some, not knowing, do deny; or rather have been
denied by him, being the advocates of death, rather than of
the truth. Whom neither the prophecies, nor the law of Moses,
have persuaded; nor the Gospel itself even to this day, nor
the sufferings of any one of us. For they think also the
same thing of us; for what does a man profit me, if he shall
praise me, and blaspheme my Lord; not confessing that he was
truly made man?"

In his Epistle to the Philadelphians he says:[513:1]

"I have heard of some who say, unless I find it written in
the originals, I will not believe it to be written in the
Gospel. And when I said, It is written, they answered what lay
before them in their corrupted copies."

Polycarp, in his Epistle to the Philippians, says:[513:2]

"Whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the
flesh, he is Antichrist: and whosoever does not confess his
sufferings upon the cross, is from the devil. And whosoever
perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts; and says
that there shall neither be any resurrection, nor judgment, he
is the first-born of Satan."

Ignatius says to the Magnesians:[513:3]

"Be not deceived with strange doctrines; nor with old fables
which are unprofitable. For if we still continue to live
according to the Jewish law, we do confess ourselves not to
have received grace. For even the most holy prophets lived
according to Jesus Christ. . . . Wherefore if they who were
brought up in these ancient laws came nevertheless to the
newness of hope; no longer observing Sabbaths, but keeping the
Lord's Day, in which also our life is sprung up by him, and
through his death, whom yet some deny. By which mystery
we have been brought to believe, and therefore wait that
we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only
master. . . . . These things, my beloved, I write unto you,
not that I know of any among you that be under this error;
but as one of the least among you, I am desirous to forewarn
you that ye fall not into the snares of vain doctrine."

After reading this we can say with the writer of Timothy,[513:4]
"Without controversy, great is the MYSTERY of godliness."

Beside those who denied that Christ Jesus had ever been manifest in the
flesh, there were others who denied that he had been
crucified.[513:5] This is seen from the words of Justin Martyr, in his
Apology for the Christian Religion, written A. D. 141, where he says:

"As to the objection to our Jesus's being crucified, I
say, suffering was common to all the Sons of Jove."[513:6]

This is as much as to say: "You Pagans claim that your incarnate
gods and Saviours suffered and died, then why should not we claim
the same for our Saviour?"

The Koran, referring to the Jews, says:

"They have not believed in Jesus, and have spoken against Mary
a grievous calumny, and have said: 'Verily we have slain
Christ Jesus, the son of Mary' (the apostle of God). Yet they
slew him not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by
one in his likeness. And verily they who disagreed concerning
him were in a doubt as to this matter, and had no sure
knowledge thereof, but followed only an uncertain
opinion."[514:1]

This passage alone, from the Mohammedan Bible, is sufficient to show, if
other evidence were wanting, that the early Christians "disagreed
concerning him," and that "they had no sure knowledge thereof, but
followed only an uncertain opinion."

In the books which are now called Apocryphal, but which were the
most quoted, and of equal authority with the others, and which were
voted not the word of God--for obvious reasons--and were therefore
cast out of the canon, we find many allusions to the strife among the
early Christians. For instance; in the "First Epistle of Clement to the
Corinthians,"[514:2] we read as follows:

"Wherefore are there strifes, and anger, and divisions, and
schisms, and wars, among us? . . . Why do we rend and tear in
pieces the members of Christ, and raise seditions against our
own body? and are come to such a height of madness, as to
forget that we are members one of another."

In his Epistle to the Trallians, Ignatius says:[514:3]

"I exhort you, or rather not I, but the love of Jesus Christ,
that ye use none but Christian nourishment; abstaining from
pasture which is of another kind. I mean Heresy. For they
that are heretics, confound together the doctrine of Jesus
Christ with their own poison; whilst they seem worthy of
belief. . . . Stop your ears, therefore, as often as any one
shall speak contrary to Jesus Christ, who was of the race of
David, of the Virgin Mary. Who was truly born, and did eat
and drink; was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; was
truly crucified and dead; both those in heaven and on earth,
and under the earth, being spectators of it. . . . But if, as
some who are atheists, that is to say, infidels, pretend,
that he only seemed to suffer, why then am I bound? Why do I
desire to fight with beasts? Therefore do I die in vain."

We find St. Paul, the very first Apostle of the Gentiles, expressly
avowing that he was made a minister of the gospel, which had already
been preached to every creature under heaven,[514:4] and preaching a
God manifest in the flesh, who had been believed on in the
world,[514:5] therefore, before the commencement of his ministry; and
who could not have been the man of Nazareth, who had certainly not been
preached, at that time, nor generally believed on in the world, till
ages after that time.[514:6] We find also that:

1. This Paul owns himself a deacon, the lowest ecclesiastical grade
of the Therapeutan church.

2. The Gospel of which these Epistles speak, had been extensively
preached and fully established before the time of Jesus, by the
Therapeuts or Essenes, who believed in the doctrine of the
Angel-Messiah, the AEon from heaven.[515:1]

Leo the Great, so-called (A. D. 440-461), writes thus:

"Let those who with impious murmurings find fault with the
Divine dispensations, and who complain about the lateness of
our Lord's nativity, cease from their grievances, as if what
was carried out in later ages of the world, had not been
impending in time past. . . .

"What the Apostles preached, the prophets (in Israel) had
announced before, and what has always been (universally)
believed, cannot be said to have been fulfilled too late.
By this delay of his work of salvation, the wisdom and love of
God have only made us more fitted for his call; so that, what
had been announced before by many Signs and Words and
Mysteries during so many centuries, should not be doubtful or
uncertain in the days of the gospel. . . God has not provided
for the interests of men by a new council or by a late
compassion; but he had instituted from the beginning for all
men, one and the same path of salvation."[515:2]

This is equivalent to saying that, "God, in his 'late compassion,' has
sent his Son, Christ Jesus, to save us, therefore do not complain or
'murmur' about 'the lateness of his coming,' for the Lord has already
provided for those who preceded us; he has given them 'the same path
of salvation' by sending to them, as he has sent to us, a
Redeemer and a Saviour."

Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Typho,[515:3] makes a similar
confession (as we have already seen in our last chapter), wherein he
says that there exists not a people, civilized or semi-civilized, who
have not offered up prayers in the name of a crucified Saviour to the
Father and Creator of all things.

Add to this medley the fact that St. Irenaeus (A. D. 192), one of the
most celebrated, most respected, and most quoted of the early Christian
Fathers, tells us on the authority of his master, Polycarp, who had it
from St. John himself, and from all the old people of Asia, that Jesus
was not crucified at the time stated in the Gospels, but that he lived
to be nearly fifty years old. The passage which, most fortunately, has
escaped the destroyers of all such evidence, is to be found in Irenaeus'
second book against heresies,[515:4] of which the following is a
portion:

"As the chief part of thirty years belongs to youth, and
every one will confess him to be such till the fortieth year:
but from the fortieth year to the fiftieth he declines into
old age, which our Lord (Jesus) having attained he taught us
the Gospel, and all the elders who, in Asia, assembled with
John, the disciple of the Lord, testify; and as John himself
had taught them. And he (John?) remained with them till the
time of Trajan. And some of them saw not only John but other
Apostles, and heard the same thing from them, and bear the
same testimony to this revelation."

The escape of this passage from the destroyers can be accounted for only
in the same way as the passage of Minucius Felix (quoted in Chapter XX.)
concerning the Pagans worshiping a crucifix. These two passages escaped
from among, probably, hundreds destroyed, of which we know nothing,
under the decrees of the emperors, yet remaining, by which they were
ordered to be destroyed.

In John viii. 56, Jesus is made to say to the Jews: "Your father Abraham
rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad." Then said the Jews
unto him: "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen
Abraham?"

If Jesus was then but about thirty years of age, the Jews would
evidently have said: "thou art not yet forty years old," and would not
have been likely to say: "thou art not yet fifty years old," unless he
was past forty.

There was a tradition current among the early Christians, that Annas
was high-priest when Jesus was crucified. This is evident from the
Acts.[516:1] Now, Annas, or Ananias, was not high-priest until about
the year 48 A. D.;[516:2] therefore, if Jesus was crucified at that
time he must have been about fifty years of age;[516:3] but, as we
remarked elsewhere, there exists, outside of the New Testament, no
evidence whatever, in book, inscription, or monument, that Jesus of
Nazareth was either scourged or crucified under Pontius Pilate.
Josephus, Tacitus, Plinius, Philo, nor any of their contemporaries, ever
refer to the fact of this crucifixion, or express any belief
thereon.[516:4] In the Talmud--the book containing Jewish
traditions--Jesus is not referred to as the "crucified one," but as the
"hanged one,"[516:5] while elsewhere it is narrated he was stoned to
death; so that it is evident they were ignorant of the manner of death
which he suffered.[516:6]

In Sanhedr. 43 a, Jesus it said to have had five disciples, among
whom were Mattheaus and Thaddeus. He is called "That Man," "The
Nazarine," "The Fool," and "The Hung." Thus Aben Ezra says that
Constantine put on his labarum "a figure of the hung;" and, according
to R. Bechai, the Christians were called "Worshipers of the Hung."

Little is said about Jesus in the Talmud, except that he was a scholar
of Joshua Ben Perachiah (who lived a century before the time assigned by
the Christians for the birth of Jesus), accompanied him into Egypt,
there learned magic, and was a seducer of the people, and was finally
put to death by being stoned, and then hung as a blasphemer.

"The conclusion is, that no clearly defined traces of the personal Jesus
remain on the surface, or beneath the surface, of Christendom. The
silence of Josephus and other secular historians may be accounted for
without falling back on a theory of hostility or contempt.[517:1] The
Christ-idea cannot be spared from Christian development, but the
personal Jesus, in some measure, can be."

"The person of Jesus, though it may have been immense, is indistinct.
That a great character was there may be conceded; but precisely wherein
the character was great, is left to our conjecture. Of the eminent
persons who have swayed the spiritual destinies of mankind, none has
more completely disappeared from the critical view. The ideal image
which Christians have, for nearly two thousand years, worshiped under
the name of Jesus, has no authentic, distinctly visible, counterpart in
history."

"His followers have gone on with the process of idealization, placing
him higher and higher; making his personal existence more and more
essential; insisting more and more urgently on the necessity of private
intercourse with him; letting the Father subside into the background, as
an 'effluence,' and the Holy Ghost lapse from individual identity into
impersonal influence, in order that he might be all in all as
Regenerator and Saviour. From age to age the personal Jesus has been
made the object of an extreme adoration, till now faith in the living
Christ is the heart of the Gospel; philosophy, science, culture,
humanity are thrust resolutely aside, and the great teachers of the age
are extinguished in order that his light may shine." But, as Mr.
Frothingham remarks, in "The Cradle of the Christ": "In the order of
experience, historical and biographical truth is discovered by stripping
off layer after layer of exaggeration, and going back to the statements
of contemporaries. As a rule, figures are reduced, not enlarged, by
criticism. The influence of admiration is recognized as distorting and
falsifying, while exalting. The process of legend-making begins
immediately, goes on rapidly and with accelerating speed, and must be
liberally allowed for by the seeker after truth. In scores of instances
the historical individual turns out to be very much smaller than he was
painted by his terrified or loving worshipers. In no single case has it
been established that he was greater, or as great. It is, no doubt,
conceivable that such a case should occur, but it never has occurred, in
known instances, and cannot be presumed to have occurred in any
particular instance. The presumptions are against the correctness of the
glorified image. The disposition to exaggerate is so much stronger than
the disposition to underrate, that even really great men are placed
higher than they belong oftener than lower. The historical method works
backwards. Knowledge shrinks the man."[518:1]

As we are allowed to conjecture as to what is true in the Gospel
history, we shall now do so.

The death of Herod, which occurred a few years before the time assigned
for the birth of Jesus, was followed by frightful social and political
convulsions in Judea. For two or three years all the elements of
disorder were abroad. Between pretenders to the vacant throne of Herod,
and aspirants to the Messianic throne of David, Judea was torn and
devastated. Revolt assumed the wildest form, the higher enthusiasm of
faith yielded to the lower fury of fanaticism; the celestial visions
of a kingdom of heaven were completely banished by the smoke and flame
of political hate. Claimant after claimant of the dangerous supremacy
of the Messiah appeared, pitched a camp in the wilderness, raised the
banner, gathered a force, was attacked, defeated, banished or
crucified; but the frenzy did not abate.

The popular aspect of the Messianic hope was political, not religious
or moral. The name Messiah was synonymous with King of the Jews; it
suggested political designs and aspirations. The assumption of that
character by any individual drew on him the vigilance of the police.




That Jesus of Nazareth assumed the character of "Messiah," as did many
before and after him, and that his crucifixion[520:1] was simply an act
of the law on political grounds, just as it was in the case of other
so-called Messiahs, we believe to be the truth of the matter.[520:2]
"He is represented as being a native of Galilee, the insurgent
district of the country; nurtured, if not born, in Nazareth, one of its
chief cities; reared as a youth amid traditions of patriotic devotion,
and amid scenes associated with heroic dreams and endeavors. The
Galileans were restless, excitable people, beyond the reach of
conventionalities, remote from the centre of power, ecclesiastical and
secular, simple in their lives, bold of speech, independent in thought,
thoroughgoing in the sort of radicalism that is common among people who
live 'out of the world,' who have leisure to discuss the exciting topics
of the day, but too little knowledge, culture, or sense of social
responsibility to discuss them soundly. Their mental discontent and
moral intractability were proverbial. They were belligerents. The Romans
had more trouble with them than with the natives of any other province.
The Messiahs all started out from Galilee, and never failed to collect
followers round their standard. The Galileans, more than others, lived
in the anticipation of the Deliverer. The reference of the Messiah to
Galilee is therefore already an indication of the character he is to
assume."

To show the state the country must have been in at that time, we will
quote an incident or two from Josephus.

A religious enthusiast called the Samaritans together upon Mount
Gerizim, and assured them that he would work a miracle. "So they came
thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable; and as
they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got
the rest together of them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great
multitude together: but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon
the roads by a great band of horsemen and footmen, who fell upon those
who were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action,
some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took
a great many alive, the principal of whom, and also the most potent of
those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain."[521:1]

Not long before this Pilate pillaged the temple treasury, and used the
"sacred money" to bring a current of water to Jerusalem. The Jews were
displeased with this, "and many ten thousands of the people got together
and made a clamor against him. Some of them used reproaches, and abused
the man, as crowds of such people usually do. So he habited a great
number of his soldiers in their habits, who carried daggers under their
garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he
bade the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon
him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed
on; who laid upon them with much greater blows than Pilate had commanded
them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that
were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people
were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about,
there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others ran
away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition."[522:1]

It was such deeds as these, inflicted upon the Jews by their oppressors,
that made them think of the promised Messiah who was to deliver them
from bondage, and which made many zealous fanatics imagine themselves to
be "He who should come."[522:2]

There is reason to believe, as we have said, that Jesus of Nazareth
assumed the title of "Messiah." His age was throbbing and bursting
with suppressed energy. The pressure of the Roman Empire was required to
keep it down. "The Messianic hope had such vitality that it condensed
into moments the moral result of ages. The common people were watching
to see the heavens open, interpreted peals of thunder as angel voices,
and saw divine potents in the flight of birds. Mothers dreamed their
boys would be Messiah. The wildest preacher drew a crowd. The heart of
the nation swelled big with the conviction that the hour of destiny was
about to strike, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The crown was
ready for any kingly head that might assume it."[522:3]

The actions of this man, throughout his public career, we believe to be
those of a zealot whose zeal overrode considerations of wisdom; in fact,
a Galilean fanatic. Pilate condemns him reluctantly, feeling that he is
a harmless visionary, but is obliged to condemn him as one of the many
who persistently claimed to be the "Messiah," or "King of the Jews,"
an enemy of Caesar, an instrument against the empire, a pretender to the
throne, a bold inciter to rebellion. The death he undergoes is the death
of the traitor and mutineer,[522:4] the death that was inflicted on many
such claimants, the death that would have been decreed to Judas the
Galilean,[522:5] had he been captured, and that was inflicted on
thousands of his deluded followers. It was the Romans, then, who
crucified the man Jesus, and not the Jews.

"In the Roman law the State is the main object, for which the
individual must live and die, with or against his will. In Jewish law,
the person is made the main object, for which the State must live and
die; because the fundamental idea of the Roman law is power, and the
fundamental idea of Jewish law is justice."[523:1] Therefore Caiaphas
and his conspirators did not act from the Jewish standpoint. They
represented Rome, her principles, interest, and barbarous
caprices.[523:2] Not one point in the whole trial agrees with Jewish
laws and custom.[523:3] It is impossible to save it; it must be given up
as a transparent and unskilled invention of a Gentile Christian, who
knew nothing of Jewish law and custom, and was ignorant of the state of
civilization in Palestine, in the time of Jesus.

Jesus had been proclaimed the "Messiah," the "Ruler of the Jews,"
and the restorer of the kingdom of heaven. No Roman ear could understand
these pretensions, otherwise than in their rebellious sense. That
Pontius Pilate certainly understood under the title, "Messiah," the
king (the political chief of the nation), is evident from the
subscription of the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," which
he did not remove in spite of all protestations of the Jews. There is
only one point in which the four Gospels agree, and that is, that
early in the morning Jesus was delivered over to the Roman governor,
Pilate; that he was accused of high-treason against Rome--having been
proclaimed King of the Jews--and that in consequence thereof he was
condemned first to be scourged, and then to be crucified; all of which
was done in hot haste. In all other points the narratives of the
Evangelists differ widely, and so essentially that one story cannot be
made of the four accounts; nor can any particular points stand the test
of historical criticism, and vindicate its substantiality as a fact.

The Jews could not have crucified Jesus, according to their laws, if
they had inflicted on him the highest penalty of the law, since
crucifixion was exclusively Roman.[524:1] If the priests, elders,
Pharisees, Jews, or all of them wanted Jesus out of the way so badly,
why did they not have him quietly put to death while he was in their
power, and done at once. The writer of the fourth Gospel seems to have
understood this difficulty, and informs us that they could not kill him,
because he had prophesied what death he should die; so he could die no
other. It was dire necessity, that the heathen symbol of life and
immortality--the cross[524:2]--should be brought to honor among the
early Christians, and Jesus had to die on the cross (the Roman Gibbet),
according to John[524:3] simply because it was so prophesied. The
fact is, the crucifixion story, like the symbol of the crucifix itself,
came from abroad.[524:4] It was told with the avowed intention of
exonerating the Romans, and criminating the Jews, so they make the Roman
governor take water, "and wash his hands before the multitude, saying,
I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it." To
be sure of their case, they make the Jews say: "His blood be on us, and
on our children."[524:5]

"Another fact is this. Just at the period of time when misfortune and
ruination befell the Jews most severely, in the first post-apostolic
generation, the Christians were most active in making proselytes among
Gentiles. To have then preached that a crucified Jewish Rabbi of
Galilee was their Saviour, would have sounded supremely ridiculous to
those heathens. To have added thereto, that the said Rabbi was crucified
by command of a Roman Governor, because he had been proclaimed 'King of
the Jews,' would have been fatal to the whole scheme. In the opinion of
the vulgar heathen, where the Roman Governor and Jewish Rabbi came in
conflict, the former must unquestionably be right, and the latter
decidedly wrong. To have preached a Saviour who was justly condemned to
die the death of a slave and villain, would certainly have proved fatal
to the whole enterprise. Therefore it was necessary to exonerate Pilate
and the Romans, and to throw the whole burden upon the Jews, in order to
establish the innocence and martyrdom of Jesus in the heathen mind."

That the crucifixion story, as related in the synoptic Gospels, was
written abroad, and not in the Hebrew, or in the dialect spoken by
the Hebrews of Palestine, is evident from the following particular
points, noticed by Dr. Isaac M. Wise, a learned Hebrew scholar:

The Mark and Matthew narrators call the place of crucifixion
"Golgotha," to which the Mark narrator adds, "which is, being
interpreted, the place of skulls." The Matthew narrator adds the same
interpretation, which the John narrator copies without the word
"Golgotha," and adds, it was a place near Jerusalem. The Luke
narrator calls the place of crucifixion "Calvary," which is the LATIN
Calvaria, viz., "the place of bare skulls." Therefore the name does
not refer to the form of the hill, but to the bare skulls upon
it.[525:1] Now "there is no such word as GOLGOTHA anywhere in Jewish
literature, and there is no such place mentioned anywhere near Jerusalem
or in Palestine by any writer; and, in fact, there was no such place;
there could have been none near Jerusalem. The Jews buried their dead
carefully. Also the executed convict had to be buried before night. No
bare skulls, bleaching in the sun, could be found in Palestine,
especially not near Jerusalem. It was law, that a bare skull, the bare
spinal column, and also the imperfect skeleton of any human being, make
man unclean by contact, and also by having either in the house. Man,
thus made unclean, could not eat of any sacrificial meal, or of the
sacred tithe, before he had gone through the ceremonies of purification;
and whatever he touched was also unclean (Maimonides, Hil. Tumath Meth.,
iii. 1). Any impartial reader can see that the object of this law was to
prevent the barbarous practice of heathens of having human skulls and
skeletons lie about exposed to the decomposing influences of the
atmosphere, as the Romans did in Palestine after the fall of Bethar,
when for a long time they would give no permission to bury the dead
patriots. This law was certainly enforced most rigidly in the vicinity
of Jerusalem, of which they maintained "Jerusalem is more holy than all
other cities surrounded with walls," so that it was not permitted to
keep a dead body over night in the city, or to transport through it
human bones. Jerusalem was the place of the sacrificial meals and the
consumption of the sacred tithe, which was considered very holy
(Maimonides, Hil. Beth Habchirah, vii. 14); there, and in the
surroundings, skulls and skeletons were certainly never seen on the
surface of the earth, and consequently there was no place called
"Golgotha," and there was no such word in the Hebrew dialect. It is a
word coined by the Mark narrator to translate the Latin term
"Calvaria," which, together with the crucifixion story, came from
Rome. But after the Syrian word was made, nobody understood it, and the
Mark narrator was obliged to expound it."[526:1]

In the face of the arguments produced, the crucifixion story, as related
in the Gospels, cannot be upheld as an historical fact. There exists,
certainly, no rational ground whatever for the belief that the affair
took place in the manner the Evangelists describe it. All that can be
saved of the whole story is, that after Jesus had answered the first
question before Pilate, viz., "Art thou the King of the Jews?" which it
is natural to suppose he was asked, and also this can be supposed only,
he was given over to the Roman soldiers to be disposed of as soon as
possible, before his admirers and followers could come to his rescue, or
any demonstration in his favor be made. He was captured in the night, as
quietly as possible, and guarded in some place, probably in the
high-priest's court, completely secluded from the eyes of the populace;
and early in the morning he was brought before Pilate as cautiously and
quietly as it could be done, and at his command, disposed of by the
soldiers as quickly as practicable, and in a manner not known to the
mass of the people. All this was done, most likely, while the multitude
worshiped on Mount Moriah, and nobody had an intimation of the tragical
end of the Man of Nazareth.

The bitter cry of Jesus, as he hung on the tree, "My God, my God, why
hast thou forsaken me?" disclosed the hope of deliverance that till the
last moment sustained his heart, and betrayed the anguish felt when the
hope was blighted; the sneers and hooting of the Roman soldiers
expressed their conviction that he had pretended to be what he was not.

The miracles ascribed to him, and the moral precepts put into his mouth,
in after years, are what might be expected; history was simply repeating
itself; the same thing had been done for others. "The preacher of the
Mount, the prophet of the Beatitudes, does but repeat, with persuasive
lips, what the law-givers of his race proclaimed in mighty tones of
command."[527:1]

The martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth has been gratefully acknowledged by
his disciples, whose lives he saved by the sacrifice of his own, and by
their friends, who would have fallen by the score had he not prevented
the rebellion ripe at Jerusalem.[527:2] Posterity, infatuated with Pagan
apotheoses, made of that simple martyrdom an interesting legend, colored
with the myths of resurrection and ascension to that very heaven which
the telescope has put out of man's way. It is a novel myth, made to suit
the gross conceptions of ex-heathens. Modern theology, understanding
well enough that the myth cannot be saved, seeks refuge in the greatness
and self-denial of the man who died for an idea, as though Jesus had
been the only man who had died for an idea. Thousands, tens of thousands
of Jews, Christians, Mohammedans and Heathens, have died for ideas, and
some of them were very foolish. But Jesus did not die for an idea. He
never advanced anything new, that we know of, to die for. He was not
accused of saying or teaching anything original. Nobody has ever been
able to discover anything new and original in the Gospels. He evidently
died to save the lives of his friends, and this is much more meritorious
than if he had died for a questionable idea. But then the whole fabric
of vicarious atonement is demolished, and modern theology cannot get
over the absurdity that the Almighty Lord of the Universe, the infinite
and eternal cause of all causes, had to kill some innocent person in
order to be reconciled to the human race. However abstractly they
speculate and subtilize, there is always an undigested bone of man-god,
god-man, and vicarious atonement in the theological stomach. Therefore
theology appears so ridiculous in the eyes of modern philosophy. The
theological speculation cannot go far enough to hold pace with modern
astronomy. However nicely the idea may be dressed, the great God of the
immense universe looks too small upon the cross of Calvary; and the
human family is too large, has too numerous virtues and vices, to be
perfectly represented by, and dependent on, one Rabbi of Galilee.
Speculate as they may, one way or another, they must connect the Eternal
and the fate of the human family with the person and fate of Jesus. That
is the very thing which deprives Jesus of his crown of martyrdom, and
brings religion in perpetual conflict with philosophy. It was not the
religious idea which was crucified in Jesus and resurrected with him, as
with all its martyrs; although his belief in immortality may have
strengthened him in the agony of death. It was the idea of duty to his
disciples and friends which led him to the realms of death. This
deserves admiration, but no more. It demonstrates the nobility of human
nature, but proves nothing in regard to providence, or the providential
scheme of government.

The Christian story, as the Gospels narrate it, cannot stand the test
of criticism. You approach it critically and it falls. Dogmatic
Christology built upon it, has, therefore, a very frail foundation.
Most so-called lives of Christ, or biographies of Jesus, are works of
fiction, erected by imagination on the shifting foundation of meagre and
unreliable records. There are very few passages in the Gospels which can
stand the rigid application of honest criticism. In modern science and
philosophy, orthodox Christology is out of the question.

"This 'sacred tradition' has in itself a glorious vitality, which
Christians may unblameably entitle immortal. But it certainly will not
lose in beauty, grandeur, or truth, if all the details concerning Jesus
which are current in the Gospels, and all the mythology of his person,
be forgotten or discredited. Christianity will remain without Christ.

"This formula has in it nothing paradoxical. Rightly interpreted, it
simply means: All that is best in Judaeo-Christian sentiment, moral or
spiritual, will survive, without Rabbinical fancies, cultured by
perverse logic; without huge piles of fable built upon them: without the
Oriental Satan, a formidable rival to the throne of God; without the
Pagan invention of Hell and Devils."

In modern criticism, the Gospel sources become so utterly worthless and
unreliable, that it takes more than ordinary faith to believe a large
portion thereof to be true. The Eucharist was not established by
Jesus, and cannot be called a sacrament. The trials of Jesus are
positively not true: they are pure inventions.[528:1] The crucifixion
story, as narrated, is certainly not true, and it is extremely
difficult to save the bare fact that Jesus was crucified. What can the
critic do with books in which a few facts must be ingeniously guessed
from under the mountain of ghost stories,[528:2] childish
miracles,[529:1] and dogmatic tendencies?[529:2] It is absurd to expect
of him to regard them as sources of religious instruction, in preference
to any other mythologies and legends. That is the point at which modern
critics have arrived, therefore, the Gospels have become books for the
museum and archaeologist, for students of mythology and ancient
literature.

The spirit of dogmatic Christology hovers still over a portion of
civilized society, in antic organizations, disciplines, and hereditary
forms of faith and worship; in science and philosophy, in the realm of
criticism, its day is past. The universal, religious, and ethical
element of Christianity has no connection whatever with Jesus or his
apostles, with the Gospel, or the Gospel story; it exists independent
of any person or story. Therefore it needs neither the Gospel story nor
its heroes. If we profit by the example, by the teachings, or the
discoveries of men of past ages, to these men we are indebted, and are
in duty bound to acknowledge our indebtedness; but why should we give to
one individual, Jesus of Nazareth, the credit of it all? It is true,
that by selecting from the Gospels whatever portions one may choose, a
common practice among Christian writers, a noble and grand character
may be depicted, but who was the original of this character? We may
find the same individual outside of the Gospels, and before the time of
Jesus. The moral precepts of the Gospels, also, were in existence before
the Gospels themselves were in existence.[529:3] Why, then, extol the
hero of the Gospels, and forget all others?

As it was at the end of Roman Paganism, so is it now: the masses are
deceived and fooled, or do it for themselves, and persons of vivacious
fantasies prefer the masquerade of delusion, to the simple sublimity of
naked but majestic truth. The decline of the church as a political power
proves beyond a doubt the decline of Christian faith. The conflicts of
Church and State all over the European continent, and the hostility
between intelligence and dogmatic Christianity, demonstrates the death
of Christology in the consciousness of modern culture. It is useless
to shut our eyes to these facts. Like rabbinical Judaism, dogmatic
Christianity was the product of ages without typography, telescopes,
microscopes, telegraphs, and power of steam. "These right arms of
intelligence have fought the titanic battles, conquered and demolished
the ancient castles, and remove now the debris, preparing the ground
upon which there shall be the gorgeous temple of humanity, one universal
republic, one universal religion of intelligence, and one great
universal brotherhood. This is the new covenant, the gospel of humanity
and reason."

"----Hoaryheaded selfishness has felt
Its death-blow, and is tottering to the grave:
A brighter morn awaits the human day;
War with its million horrors, and fierce hell,
Shall live but in the memory of time,
Who, like a penitent libertine, shall start,
Look back, and shudder at his younger years."






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