Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
p. x p. xi
Since the first issue of this work in 1903, but especially within the past few years, its main positions have been brought into extensive discussion by other writers, notably in Germany, where the Christusmythe of Professor Arthur Drews has been the theme of many platform debates. The hypothesis of the Pre-Christian Jesus-God, first indicated in Christianity and Mythology, and further propounded in the first edition of this book, has received highly important and independent development at the hands of Professor W. Benjamin Smith in his Der Vorchristliche Jesus (1906), and in the later exposition of Professor Drews. For one whose tasks include other busy fields, it is hardly possible to give this the constant attention it deserves; but the present edition has been as fully revised as might be; and some fresh elucidatory material has been embodied, without, however, any pretence of including the results of the other writers named.
Criticism of the book, so far as I have seen, has been to a surprising degree limited to subsidiary details. The first part, a discussion of the general principles and main results of hierology as regards the reigning religion, has been generally ignored, under circumstances which suggest rather avoidance than dissidence. But much more surprising is the general evasion of the two theses upon which criticism was specially challenged in the Introductionthe theses that the gospel story of the Last Supper, the Agony, the Betrayal, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection is demonstrably not originally a narrative, but a mystery-drama, which has been transcribed with a minimum of modification; and that the mystery-drama was inferribly an evolution from a Palestinian rite of human sacrifice in which the annual victim was "Jesus the Son of the Father." Against this twofold position I have seen not a single detailed argument. Writers who confidently and angrily undertake to expose error in another section of the book pass this with at most a defiant shot. Like the legendary Scottish preacher, they recognise a "difficult passage, and, having looked it boldly in the face, pass on." Even Professor Schmiedel, to my surprise, abstains from
argument on an issue of which his candour and acumen must reveal to him the gravity. It is but fair to say that even sympathetic readers do not often avow entire acquiescence. Professor Drews leaves this an open question. But I should have expected that such a proposition, put forward as capital, would have been dealt with by critics who showed themselves much concerned to discredit the book in general.
They seem to have been chiefly excited about Mithraism, either finding in the account of that ancient cultus a provocation which the other parts of the volume did not yield, or seeing there openings for hostile criticism which elsewhere were not patent. One Roman Catholic ecclesiastic has represented me as a "modern apostle" of the bull-slaying God. It would seem that a semblance, however illusory, of rivalry in cult propaganda is more evocative of critical conflict than any mere scientific disintegration of the current creed. Of the attacks upon the section "Mithraism," as well as of other criticisms of the book, I have given some account in Appendix C. It is to be regretted that it should still be necessary to make replies to criticisms in these matters consist largely of exposures of gross misrepresentation, blundering, bad faith, and bad feeling, as well as bad reasoning, on the part of theological critics. In the case of a hostile critique in the Hibbert Journal, which did not incur these characterisations, I made an amicable appeal for space in which to reply and set forth my own case; but my request was refused.
Broadly speaking, the critical situation is one of ferment rather than of decisive conflict. Those devoted Danaïdes, the professional theologians, continue their labours with the serious assiduity which has always marked them, exhibiting their learned results in dialectic vessels which lack the first elements of retention. The theologians are as much occupied with unrealities to-day, relatively to the advance of thought, and as sure of their own insight, as were their predecessors of three hundred years ago, expounding the functions of the devil. In Germany they are not yet done discussing the inner significance of the tale of Satan's carrying Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple or to a mountain top. Professor Zahn circumspectly puts it that Jesus felt himself so carried. Friedrich Spitta as circumspectly replies that that is not what the gospels say, but does not press that point to finality. Professor Harnack pronounces that the story in Matthew is the older. Spitta cogently proves that it is the later, and that Mark has minimised Luke. Wellhausen's theory of the priority of Mark he shows to be finally untenable; and his own conclusion he declares to give a decisive result as regards
the life of Jesusnamely, that Jesus believed firmly in his Messiah-ship from the moment of his baptism onwards, and that he held by it in terms of his own inner experience of divine and fiendish influences. 1 And this is history, as written by scholarly theological experts. The fact that the whole Temptation story is rationally traceable to a Babylonian sculpture of the Goat-God beside the Sun-God, interpreted by Greeks and Romans successively as an education of Apollo or Jupiter by Pan on a mountain top, or a musical contest between them, has never entered the experts consciousness. They are writing history in the air. Spitta confidently decides that neither the community nor the disciples nor Paul set up the Messianic conception of Jesus; and yet he has not a word to say on the problem of Paul's entire ignorance of the Temptation story. Seventy years before, our own experts had ascertained with equal industry and certainty that "most probably our Lord was placed [by Satan] not on the sheer descent [from the temple] into the valley (Jos. War, V, v, 2; Ant. XV, xi, 5), but on the side next the court where stood the multitude to whom He might thus announce himself from Dan. vii, 13 (1 Chron. xxi, 16), see Bp. Pearson, VII, f. and g. Solomon's porch was a cross building to the temple itself, and rose 120 cubits above it. From the term used by both Evangelists, it is certain that the Tempter stood on no part (τοῦ ναοῦ) of the sanctuary." 2 Thus does the "expert" elucidation of the impossible go on through the generations. The "experts" of to-day are for the most part as far behind the historic science of their time as were their predecessors; and their results are just as nugatory as the older. But they are just as certain as were their predecessors that they are at the true point of view, and have all the historical facts in hand.
Orthodox and heterodox alike, in the undertaking to set forth the manner of the rise of Christianity, either wholly disregard the principles of historical proof or apply these principles arbitrarily, at their own convenience. Pfleiderer, latterly more and more bitterly repugning the interpretations of other scholars, alternately represented the personality of Jesus as a profoundly obscure problem, and offered fallacious elucidations thereof, with perfect confidence in his own selection of certainties. 3 Dr. Heinrici, offering a comprehensive view of Das Urchristentum (1902), ignores all historical difficulties on the score that he is discussing not the truth but the
influence of Christianity, and so sets forth a copious account of the psychology of the Gospel Jesus which for critical science has no validity whatever. Dr. Schweitzer, in his Von Reimarus zu Wrede (Eng. trans., The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1910), after ably confuting all the current conceptions of the Founder, sets forth one which incurs fatal criticism as soon as it is propounded. 1
The old fashion of manipulating the evidences, on the other hand, is still practised from time to time even by distinguished experts like Professor Bousset, a scholar who has done original and important work in outlying provinces of research. But how little critical validity attaches to Bousset's vindication of the main Christian tradition has been crushingly set forth in the brochure of the late Pastor Kalthoff, Was wissen wir von Jesus? (Lehmann, Berlin: 1904), in reply to Bousset's discourse under the same title. Professing, for instance, to found on such historical data as the mention of an otherwise unknown "Chrestus" by Suetonius, Bousset deliberately denaturalises the passage to suit his purpose, and then makes it vouch for a "Christian" community at Rome when none such can be shown to have existed. Kalthoff rightly likens such a handling of documents to the methods of the professed rationalisers denounced by Lessing in his day. Many of the "liberal" school of to-day are in fact at the standpoint of the semi-rationalist beginnings of Biblical criticism among the eighteenth-century deists; on behalf of whom we can but say that they were at least sincere pioneers, and that Lessing, in substituting for their undeveloped critical method the idea of a divine "Education of Mankind" through all religious systems alike, retrograded to a standpoint where the rational interpretation of history ceases to be possible, and where the critic stultifies himself by censuring processes of thought which, on his own principles, should be envisaged as part of the divine scheme of "education." Yet that nugatory formula in turn is pressed into the service of a theology which is consistent only in refusing to submit to scientific and logical tests.
Then we have the significant portent of the pseudo-biological school of the Rev. Mr. Crawley, 2 according to which nothing in religion is new and nothing true, but all is more or less productive of "vitality," and therefore precious, so that no critical analysis matters. Here the tribunals of historical and moral truth are brazenly closed; and the critical issue is referred to one commissioned for the instant by the defender of the faith, whose hand-to-mouth
interpretations and generalisations of Christian history, worthy of a neophyte's essay, are complacently put forth as the vindication of beliefs and rites that are admittedly developments from mere savagery. And this repudiation of all intellectual morals, this negation of the very instinct of truth, is profusely flavoured with a profession of zeal for the morals of sex and the "instinct of life." Incidentally, too, an argument which puts all critical tests out of court is from time to time tinted with a suggestion of decent concern for historical research.
So, too, among the scholars who reconstruct Christian origins at will, some profess to apply a critical "method" or set of methods by which they can put down all challenges of the reality of their subject-matter. In Appendix C, I have shown what such "method" is worth in the hands of Professor Carl Clemen. Their general procedure is simply that of scholastics debating in vacuo, assuming what they please, and rejecting what they please. It is the method by which whole generations of their predecessors elucidated the details of the sacerdotal system of the Hebrews in the wilderness, until Colensoset doubting about sacred tradition by an intelligent Zuluestablished arithmetically the truth of Voltaire's verdict that the whole thing was impossible. Then the experts, under cover of orthodox outcry, changed the venue, avowing no shame for their long aberration. In due time the modern specialists, or their successors, will realise that their main positions as to Christian origins are equally fabulous; but they or their successors will continue to be conscious of their professional perspicacity, and solemnly or angrily contemptuous of all lay criticism of their "method." "Wir Gelehrten vom Fach," they still call themselves in Germany"we scholars by profession"thus disposing of all lay criticism.
It is not surprising that alongside of this vain demonstration of the historicity of myth there spreads, among determined believers in the historicity, an uneasy disposition to ground faith on the very "to believe," called by the name of "spiritual experience." With a confidence equal to that of the professional documentists, such believers maintain that their own spiritual autobiographies can establish the historical actuality of what rationalist critics describe as ancient myths. "The heart answers, I have felt." Some of these reasoners, proceeding on the lines of the pseudo-Paul (1 Cor. ii), dispose inexpensively of the historical critic by calling him "impercipient." They themselves are the percipients "vom Fach." Other apologists, with a little more modesty, reiterate their conviction that
the Christian origins must have been what they have been accustomed to thinkthat no religious movement can have risen without a revered Founder, and that the spread and duration of the Christian movement prove its Founder to have been a very great personality indeed. Abstractly put, such a theorem logically ends in the bald claim of the theorist to special "percipience," and a denial of percipience to all who refuse their assent.
It has latterly come to be associated, however, with an appeal to historical analogy in the case of the modern Persian movement of the Bâb, the lessons of which in this connection have been pressed upon orthodox believers by the late Mr. Herbert Rix. Mr. Rix, whose personality gave weight and interest to all his views, seems to have set out as a Unitarian preacher with a fixed belief in the historicity of the Gospel Jesus, despite a recognition of the weakness of the historical basis. Noting "with what a childlike mind those ancient Christians came to all questions of external facthow independent of external fact the truth they lived by really was," 1 he yet assumed that any tale passed on by such believers must have had a basis in a great personality. "Those gospel stories," he wrote, "come down to us by tradition handed on by the lips of ignorant peasants, so that we can never be quite sure that we have the precise truth about any incident." 2 Here both the positive and the negative assumptions are invalid. We do not know that all the gospel stories were passed on by peasants; and we never know whether there was any historical basis whatever for any one tale. But on such assumptions Mr. Rix founded an unqualified conviction that the Gospel Jesus "headed a new spiritual era," "altered the whole face of things," "gave us a new principle to live by," and "revolutionised the whole world of human affection"; 3 and in his posthumous work, Rabbi, Messiah, and Martyr (1907), he presents one more Life of Jesus framed on the principle of excluding the supernatural and taking all the rest of the gospels as substantially true.
Yet towards the close of his life he seems to have realised either that this process was illicit or that it could not claim acceptance on historical grounds. Writing on the Bâb movement, he speaks not only of "those belated theologians who still think the case of a supernatural Christianity can be historically proved by evidence drawn from the latter part of the first century," but of the "utter insecurity of the historical foundation" of Christianity; and he avows "how hopeless it is to try to base religion upon historical
documents." 1 Then comes the exposition of how the Bâb movement rose in the devotion evoked by a remarkable personality; and how within thirty years the original account of the Founder was so completely superseded by a legendary account, full of miracles, that only one copy of the original document, by a rare chance, has survived.
The argument now founded on this case is an attempt to salve the historicity of Jesus in surrendering the records. Renan pointed to the Bâb movement as showing how an enthusiastic cult could arise and spread rapidly in our own day by purely natural forces. Accepting that demonstration, the Neo-Unitarians press the corollary that the Bâb movement shows how rapidly myth can overgrow history, and that we have now a new analogical ground for believing that Jesus, like the Bâb, was an actual person, of great persuasive and inspiring power. But while the plea is perfectly reasonable, and deserves every consideration, it is clearly inconclusive. Cult beginnings are not limited to one mode; and the fatal fact remains that the beginnings of the Christist cult are wrapped in all the obscurity which surrounds the alleged Founder, while we have trustworthy contemporary record of the beginnings of the Bâb movement. Place the two cases beside that of the Bacchic cult in Greece, and we have a cult-type in which wild devotion is given to a wholly mythical Founder. The rationalist critic does not affirm the impossibility of an evolution of the Christist movement on the lines of that of the Bâb: he leaves such à priori reasoning to the other side, simply insisting that there is no good historical evidence whatever, while there are strong grounds for inferring a mythical foundation. And those who abstractly insist on the historicity of Jesus must either recede from their position or revert to claims expressive merely of the personal equationstatements of the convincing force of their "religious experience," or claims to a special faculty of "percipience." To all such claims the sufficient answer is that, arrogance apart, they are matched and cancelled by similar claims on the part of believers in other creeds; and that they could have been advanced with as much justification by ancient believers in Dionysos and Osiris, who had no more doubt of the historicity of their Founders than either an orthodox or a Unitarian Christian has to-day concerning the historicity of Jesus. In short, the closing of historical problems by insistence on the personal equation is no more permissible among intellectual freemen than the settling of scientific
questions thereby. Callous posterity, if not contemporary criticism, ruthlessly puts aside the personal equation in such matters, and reverts to the kind of argument which proceeds upon common grounds of credence and universal canons of evidence.
And this reversion is now in process. Already the argument for the historicity of the main gospel narrative is being largely grounded even by some "experts" on the single datum of the mention of "brethren of the Lord," and "James the brother of the Lord," in two of the Pauline epistles. This thesis is embodied in one of the ablest arguments on the historicity question that I have met with. It was put in a letter to me by a lay correspondent, open-mindedly seeking the truth by fair critical tests. He began by arguing that the data of a "Paul party," a "Cephas party," and an "Apollos party" in Corinth, if accepted as evidence for the personalities of the three party-leaders named, carry with them the inference of a Christ of whom some logia were current. If then the writer of the epistlewhether Paul or anotherignored such logia, the "silence of Paul" is no argument for ignorance of such logia in general. This ingenious argument, I think, fails in respect of its unsupported premiss. Christists might call themselves "of Christ" simply by way of disavowing all sectarian leadership. On the face of the case, the special converts of Paul were Christists without any logic of Christ to proceed upon. Equally ingenious, but I think equally inconclusive, is the further argument that the challenge, "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Cor. ix, 1), implies that Paul's status was discredited on the score that he had not seen the Lord, while other apostles had. But the dispute here turns finally on the question of the authenticity of the epistle as a whole, or the chapter or the plea in particular. As coming from Paul, it is a weak plea: multitudes were said to have "seen" Jesus; the apostle would have claimed, if anything, authorisation by Jesus. But as a traditional claim it is intelligible enough. Now, this portion of the epistle is one of those most strongly impugned by the tests of Van Manen as betraying a late authorship and standpointthat of ecclesiastics standing for their income and their right to marry. The conception of Paul battling against his converts for his salary and "the right to lead about a wife," within a few pages of his declaration (vii, 8-9) to the unmarried and to widows, "It is good for them if they abide even as I; but if they have not continency, let them marry"this is staggering even to believers in the authenticity of "the four" or all of the epistles, and gives the very strongest ground for treating the irreconcilable passage in chapter ix,
if not the whole chapter, as a subsequent interpolation. That the same hand penned both passages is incredible.
Thus we come to the "brethren of the Lord" with an indestructible presumption against the text. They are mentioned as part of the case for that claim to marry which is utterly excluded by chapter vii. And the claim for salaries and freedom to marry is as obviously likely to be the late interpolation as is the doctrine of asceticism to be the earlier. Given then the clear lateness of the passage, what does the phrase "brethren of the Lord" prove? That at a period presumably long subsequent to that of Paul there was a tradition of a number of Church leaders or teachers so named. Who were they? They are never mentioned in the Acts. They are never indicated in the gospels. Brethren of Jesus are there referred to (Mt. xii, 46, xiii, 55; Mk. iii, 31, 32; Lk. viii, 19, 20; Jn. vii, 3, 5, 10); but, to say nothing of the facts that three of these passages are plainly duplicates, and that only in one are any of the brethren named, there is never the slightest suggestion that any one of them joined the propaganda. On the contrary, it is expressly declared that "even his brethren did not believe on him" (Jn. vii, 5). How then, on that basis, supposing it to have a primary validity, are we to accept the view that the James of Gal. i, 19, was a uterine brother or a half-brother of the Founder, who before Paul's advent had come to something like primacy in the Church, without leaving even a traditional trace of him as a brother of Jesus in the Acts?
Either the gospel data are historically decisive or they are not. By excluding them from his "pillar texts" 1 Professor Schmiedel admits that they are bound up with the supernatural view of Jesus. The resort to the argument from the epistles is a partial confession that the whole gospel record is open to doubt; and that the specification of four brothers and several sisters of Jesus in one passage is a perplexity. It has always been so. Several Fathers accounted for them as children of Joseph by a former wife; several others made them children of Clopas and "the other" Mary, and so only cousins of Jesus. If the gospel record is valid evidence, the question is at an end. If it is not, the evidence from the epistles falls. "Brethren of the Lord" is a late allusion, which may stand for a mere tradition or may tell of a group name; and the mention of James as a "brother" (with no hint of any others) in the epistle to the Galatians can perfectly well be an interpolation, even supposing the epistle to be genuine.
I have here examined the whole argument because it is fully the strongest known to me on the side of the historicity of Jesus; and I am concerned to evade nothing. The candid reader, I think, will admit that even if he holds by the historicity it cannot be established on the grounds in question. He will then, I trust, bring an open mind to bear on the whole reasoning of the Second Part of the ensuing treatise.
As in the case of the second edition of Christianity and Mythology I am deeply indebted to Mr. Percy Vaughan for carefully reading the proofs of these pages, and revising the Index.
xiii:1 Die Versuchung Jesu, in Bd. iii, H. 2, of Zur Geschichte and Literatur des Urchristentums, 1907, pp. 92-3.
xiii:2 Notes on the Four Gospels, etc., 1838, p. 220.
xiii:3 See the Appendix to the second edition of Christianity and Mythology.
xiv:1 See Appendix last cited.
xiv:2 See Appendix C to the present volume.
xvi:1 Sermons, Addresses, and Essays, 1907, p. 1.
xvi:2 Id. p. 107.
xvi:3 Id. p. 5.
xvii:1 Id. pp. 295-6, 300.
xix:1 For an examination of these I may refer the reader to the Appendix to the second edition of Christianity and Mythology.