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 Æsculapius, 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 Æsculapius 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 Æon—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 Mystæ, upon the establishment of direct intercourse with India, under the Seleucidæ and Ptolemies. The college of Essenes and Megabyzæ 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 Smyrnæans, 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 Æon 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. Irenæus (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 Irenæus’ 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 Cæsar, 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 Judæo-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 archæologist, 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 débris, 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.”
[508:1]“For knowledge of the man Jesus, of his idea and his aims, and of the outward form of his career, the New Testament is our only hope. If this hope fails, the pillared firmament of his starry fame is rottenness; the base of Christianity, so far as it was personal and individual, is built on stubble.” (John W. Chadwick.)
[508:2]M. Renan, after declaring Jesus to be a “fanatic,” and admitting that, “his friends thought him, at moments, beside himself;” and that, “his enemies declared him possessed by a devil,” says: “The man here delineated merits a place at the summit of human grandeur.” “This is the Supreme man, a sublime personage;” “to call him divine is no exaggeration.” Other liberal writers have written in the same strain.
[509:1]“The Christ of Paul was not a person, but an idea; he took no pains to learn the facts about the individual Jesus. He actually boasted that the Apostles had taught him nothing. His Christ was an ideal conception, evolved from his own feeling and imagination, and taking on new powers and attributes from year to year to suit each new emergency.” (John W. Chadwick.)
[510:2]Scythia was a name employed in ancient times, to denote a vast, indefinite, and almost unknown territory north and east of the Black Sea, the Caspian, and the Sea of Aral.
[510:3]See Herodotus, book 4, ch. 82.
[510:5]See Knight’s Anct. Art and Mythology, p. 96, and Mysteries of Adoni, p. 90.
[510:7]See Bell‘s Pantheon, vol. i. p. 7.
[510:10]Ibid. vol. i. p. 2, and Bonwick, p. 155.
[510:12]See Bible for Learners, vol. i. p. 152, and Goldzhier, p. 280.
[511:1]“Whilst, in one part of the Christian world, the chief objects of interest were the human nature and human life of Jesus, in another part of the Christian world the views taken of his person because so idealistic, that his humanity was reduced to a phantom without reality. The various Gnostic systems generally agreed in saying that the Christ was an Æon, the redeemer of the spirits of men, and that he had little or no contact with their corporeal nature.” (A. Réville: Hist. of the Dogma of the Deity of Jesus.)
[511:2]Epiphanius says that there were TWENTY heresies before Christ, and there can be no doubt that there is much truth in the observation, for most of the rites and doctrines of the Christians of all sects existed before the time of Jesus of Nazareth.
[512:1]“Accipis avengelium? et maxime. Proinde ergo et natum accipis Christum. Non ita est. Neque enim sequitur ut si evangelium accipio, idcirco et natum accipiam Christum. Ergo non putas cum ex Maria Virgine esse? Manes dixit, Absit ut Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum per naturalia pudenda mulieris de scendisse confitear.” (Lardner’s Works, vol. iv. p. 20.)
[512:2]“I maintain,” says he, “that the Son of God was born: why am I not ashamed of maintaining such a thing? Why! because it is itself a shameful thing—I maintain that the Son of God died: well, that is wholly credible because it is monstrously absurd. I maintain that after having been buried, he rose again: and that I take to be absolutely true, because it was manifestly impossible.”
[512:6]1st Book Hermas: Apoc., ch. iii.
[513:5]Irenæus, speaking of them, says: “They hold that men ought not to confess him who was crucified, but him who came in the form of man,and was supposed to be crucified, and was called Jesus.” (See Lardner: vol. viii. p. 353.) They could not conceive of “the first-begotten Son of God” being put to death on a cross, and suffering like an ordinary being, so they thought Simon of Cyrene must have been substituted for him, as the ram was substituted in the place of Isaac. (See Ibid. p. 857.)
[514:6]The authenticity of these Epistles has been freely questioned, even by the most conservative critics.
[515:2]Quoted by Max Müller: The Science of Relig., p. 228.
[516:2]Josephus: Antiq., b. xx. ch. v. 2.
[516:3]It is true there was another Annas high-priest at Jerusalem, but this was when Gratus was procurator of Judea, some twelve or fifteen years before Pontius Pilate held the same office. (See Josephus: Antiq., book xviii. ch. ii. 3.)
[516:5]See the Martyrdom of Jesus, p. 100.
[516:6]According to Dio Cassius, Plutarch, Strabo and others, there existed, in the time of Herod, among the Roman Syrian heathens, a wide-spread and deep sympathy for a “Crucified King of the Jews.” This was the youngest son of Aristobul, the heroic Maccabee. In the year 43 B. C., we find this young man—Antigonus—in Palestine claiming the crown, his cause having been declared just by Julius Cæsar. Allied with the Parthians, he maintained himself in his royal position for six years against Herod and Mark Antony. At last, after a heroic life and reign, he fell in the hands of this Roman. “Antony now gave the kingdom to a certain Herod, and, having stretched Antigonus on a cross and scourged him, a thing never done before to any other king by the Romans, he put him to death.” (Dio Cassius, book xlix. p. 405.)
The fact that all prominent historians of those days mention this extraordinary occurrence, and the manner they did it, show that it was considered one of Mark Antony’s worst crimes: and that the sympathy with the “Crucified King” was wide-spread and profound. (See The Martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth, p. 106.)
Some writers think that there is a connection between this and the Gospel story; that they, in a certain measure, put Jesus in the place of Antigonus, just as they put Herod in the place of Kansa. (See Chapter XVIII.)
[517:1]Canon Farrar thinks that Josephus’ silence on the subject of Jesus and Christianity, was as deliberate as it was dishonest. (See his Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 63.)
[518:1]Many examples might be cited to confirm this view, but the case of Joseph Smith, in our own time and country, will suffice.
The Mormons regard him very much as Christians regard Jesus; as the Mohammedans do Mohammed; or as the Buddhists do Buddha. A coarse sort of religious feeling and fervor appears to have been in Smith’s nature. He seems, from all accounts, to have been cracked on theology, as so many zealots have been, and cracked to such an extent that his early acquaintances regarded him as a downright fanatic.
The common view that he was an impostor is not sustained by what is known of him. He was, in all probability, of unbalanced mind, a monomaniac, as most prophets have been; but there is no reason to think that he did not believe in himself, and substantially in what he taught. He has declared that, when he was about fifteen, he began to reflect on the importance of being prepared for a future state. He went from one church to another without finding anything to satisfy the hunger of his soul, consequently, he retired into himself; he sought solitude; he spent hours and days in meditation and prayer, after the true manner of all accredited saints, and was soon repaid by the visits of angels. One of these came to him when he was but eighteen years old, and the house in which he was seemed filled with consuming fire. The presence—he styles it a personage—had a pace like lightning, and proclaimed himself to be an angel of the Lord. He vouchsafed to Smith a vast deal of highly important information of a celestial order. He told him that his (Smith’s) prayers had been heard, and his sins forgiven; that the covenant which the Almighty had made with the old Jews was to be fulfilled; that the introductory work for the second coming of Christ was now to begin; that the hour for the preaching of the gospel in its purity to all peoples was at hand, and that Smith was to be an instrument in the hands of God, to further the divine purpose in the new dispensation. The celestial stranger also furnished him with a sketch of the origin, progress, laws and civilization of the American aboriginals, and declared that the blessing of heaven had finally been withdrawn from them. To Smith was communicated the momentous circumstance that certain plates containing an abridgment of the records of the aboriginals and ancient prophets, who had lived on this continent, were hidden in a hill near Palmyra. The prophet was counseled to go there and look at them, and did so. Not being holy enough to possess them as yet, he passed some months in spiritual probation, after which the records were put into his keeping. These had been prepared, it is claimed, by a prophet called Mormon, who had been ordained by God for the purpose, and to conceal them until he should produce them for the benefit of the faithful, and unite them with the Bible for the achievement of his will. They form the celebrated Book of Mormon—whence the name Mormon—and are esteemed by the Latter-Day Saints as of equal authority with the Old and New Testaments, and as an indispensable supplement thereto, because they include God’s disclosures to the Mormon world. These precious records were sealed up and deposited A. D. 420 in the place where Smith had viewed them by the direction of the angel.
The records were, it is held, in the reformed Egyptian tongue, and Smith translated them through the inspiration of the angel, and one Oliver Cowdrey wrote down the translation as reported by the God-possessed Joseph. This translation was published in 1830, and its divine origin was attested by a dozen persons—all relatives and friends of Smith. Only these have ever pretended to see the original plates, which have already become traditional. The plates have been frequently called for by skeptics, but all in vain. Naturally, warm controversy arose concerning the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and disbelievers have asserted that they have indubitable evidence that it is, with the exception of various unlettered interpolations, principally borrowed from a queer, rhapsodical romance written by an eccentric ex-clergyman named Solomon Spalding.
Smith and his disciples were ridiculed and socially persecuted; but they seemed to be ardently earnest, and continued to preach their creed, which was to the effect that the millennium was at hand; that our aboriginals were to be converted, and that the New Jerusalem—the last residence and home of the saints—was to be near the centre of this continent. The Vermont prophet, later on, was repeatedly mobbed, even shot at. His narrow escapes were construed as interpositions of divine providence, but he displayed perfect coolness and intrepidity through all his trials. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was first established in the spring of 1830 at Manchester, N. Y.; but it awoke such fierce opposition, particularly from the orthodox, many of them preachers, that Smith and his associates deemed it prudent to move farther west. They established themselves at Kirtland, O., and won there many converts. Hostility to them still continued, and grew so fierce that the body transferred itself to Missouri, and next to Illinois, settling in the latter state near the village of Commerce, which was renamed Nauvoo.
The Governor and Legislature of Illinois favored the Mormons, but the anti-Mormons made war on them in every way, and the custom of “sealing wives,” which is yet mysterious to the Gentiles, caused serious outbreaks, and resulted in the incarceration of the prophet and his brother Hiram at Carthage. Fearing that the two might be released by the authorities, a band of ruffians broke into the jail, in the summer of 1844, and murdered them in cold blood. This was most fortunate for the memory of Smith and for his doctrines. It placed him in the light of a holy martyr, and lent to them a dignity and vitality they had never before enjoyed.
[520:1]When we speak of Jesus being crucified, we do not intend to convey the idea that he was put to death on a cross of the form adopted by Christians. This cross was the symbol of life and immortality among our heathen ancestors (see Chapter XXXIII.), and in adopting Pagan religious symbols, and baptizing them anew, the Christians took this along with others. The crucifixion was not a symbol of the earliestchurch; no trace of it can be found in the Catacombs. Some of the earliest that did appear, however, are similar to figures No. 42 and No. 43, above, which represent two of the modes in which the Romans crucified their slaves and criminals. (See Chapter XX., on the Crucifixion of Jesus.)
[520:2]According to the Matthew and Mark narrators, Jesus’ head was anointed while sitting at table in the house of Simon the leper. Now, this practice was common among the kings of Israel. It was the sign and symbol of royalty. The word “Messiah” signifies the “Anointed One,” and none of the kings of Israel were styled the Messiah unless anointed. (See The Martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth, p. 42.)
[521:1]Josephus: Antiquities, book xviii. ch. iv. 1.
[522:1]Josephus: Antiquities, book xviii. chap. iii. 2.
[522:2]“From the death of Herod, 4 B. C., to the death of Bar-Cochba, 132 A. D., no less than fifty different enthusiasts set up as the Messiah, and obtained more or less following.” (John W. Chadwick.)
[522:3]“There was, at this time, a prevalent expectation that some remarkable personage was about to appear in Judea. The Jews were anxiously looking for the coming of the Messiah. This personage, they supposed, would be a temporal prince, and they were expecting that he would deliver them from Roman bondage.” (Albert Barnes: Notes, vol. i. p. 7.)
“The central and dominant characteristic of the teaching of the Rabbis, was the certain advent of a great national Deliverer—theMessiah. . . . The national mind had become so inflammable, by constant brooding on this one theme, that any bold spirit rising in revolt against the Roman power, could find an army of fierce disciples who trusted that it should be he who would redeem Israel.” (Geikie: The Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 79.)
[522:4]“The penalty of crucifixion, according to Roman law and custom, was inflicted on slaves, and in the provinces on rebels only.” (The Martyrdom of Jesus, p. 96.)
[522:5]Judas, the Gaulonite or Galilean, as Josephus calls him, declared, when Cyrenius came to tax the Jewish people, that “this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery,” and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty. He therefore prevailed upon his countrymen to revolt. (See Josephus: Antiq., b. xviii. ch. i. 1, and Wars of the Jews, b. ii. ch. viii. 1.)
[523:1]The Martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth, p. 30.
[523:2]“That the High Council did accuse Jesus, I suppose no one will doubt; and since they could neither wish or expect the Roman Governor to make himself judge of their sacred law, it becomes certain that their accusation was purely political, and took such a form as this: ‘He has accepted tumultuous shouts that he is the legitimate and predicted King of Israel, and in this character has ridden into Jerusalem with the forms of state understood to be royal and sacred; with what purpose, we ask, if not to overturn our institutions, and your dominion?’ If Jesus spoke, at the crisis which Matthew represents, the virulent speech attributed to him (Matt. xxiii.), we may well believe that this gave a new incentive to the rulers; for it is such as no government in Europe would overlook or forgive: but they are not likely to have expected Pilate to care for any conduct which might be called an ecclesiastical broil. The assumption of royalty was clearly the point of their attack. Even the mildest man among them may have thought his conduct dangerous and needing repression.” (Francis W. Newman, “What is Christianity without Christ?”)
According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus was completely innocent of the charge which has sometimes been brought against him, that he wished to be considered as a God come down to earth. His enemies certainly would not have failed to make such a pretension the basis and the continual theme of their accusations, if it had been possible to do so. The two grounds upon which he was brought before the Sanhedrim were, first, the bold words he was supposed to have spoken about the temple; and, secondly and chiefly, the fact that he claimed to be the Messiah, i. e., “The King of the Jews.” (Albert Réville: “The Doctrine of the Dogma of the Deity of Jesus,” p. 7.)
[523:3]See The Martyrdom of Jesus, p. 30.
[524:4]That is, the crucifixion story as related in the Gospels. See note 1, p. 520.
[525:1]Commentators, in endeavoring to get over this difficulty, say that, “it may come from the look or form of the spot itself, bald, round, and skull-like, and therefore a mound or hillock,” but, if it means “the place of bare skulls,” no such construction as the above can be put to the word.
[526:1]The Martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 109-111.
[527:1]O. B. Frothingham: The Cradle of the Christ, p. 11.
The reader is referred to “Judaism: Its Doctrines and Precepts,” by Dr. Isaac M. Wise. Printed at the office of the “American Israelite,” Cincinnati, Ohio.
[527:2]If Jesus, instead of giving himself up quietly, had resisted against being arrested, there certainly would have been bloodshed, as there was on many other similar occasions.
[528:1]If what is recorded In the Gospels on the subject was true, no historian of that day could fail to have noticed it, but instead of this there isnothing.
[529:1]See Matt. xiv. 15-22: Mark, iv. 1-3, and xi. 14; and Luke, vii. 26-37.
[529:3]This fact has at last been admitted by the most orthodox among the Christians. The Rev. George Matheson, D. D., Minister of the Parish of Innellan, and a member of the Scotch Kirk, speaking of the precept uttered by Confucius, five hundred years before the time assigned for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (“Whatsoever ye would not that others should do unto you, do not ye unto them”), says: “That Confucius is the author of this precept is undisputed, and therefore it is indisputable that Christianity has incorporated an article of Chinese morality. It has appeared to some as if this were to the disparagement of Christianity—as if the originality of its Divine Founder were impaired by consenting to borrow a precept from a heathen source. But in what sense does Christianity set up the claim of moral originality? When we speak of the religion of Christ as having introduced into the world a purer life and a surer guide to conduct, what do we mean? Do we mean to suggest that Christianity has, for the first time, revealed to the world the existence of a set of self-sacrificing precepts—that here, for the first time, man has learned that he ought to be meek, merciful, humble, forgiving, sorrowful for sin, peaceable, and pure in heart? The proof of such a statement would destroy Christianity itself, for an absolute original code of preceptswould be equivalent to a foreign language. The glory of Christian morality is that it is NOT ORIGINAL—that its words appeal to something which already exists within the human heart, and on that account have a meaning to the human ear: no new revelation can be made except through the medium of an old one. When we attribute originality to the ethics of the Gospel, we do so on the ground, not that it has given new precepts, but that it has given us a new impulse to obey the moral instincts of the soul. Christianity itself claims on the field of morals this originality, and this alone—’A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another.” (St. Giles Lectures, Second Series: The Faiths of the World. Religion of China, by the Rev. George Matheson, D. D., Minister of the Parish of Innellan. Wm. Blackwood & Sons: Edinburgh, 1882.)