Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
Thus for a second time was a Yahwist remnant selected, the bulk of the educated class passing over to the neighbouring polities, and their place being taken by new popular material of a more zealous order. Judaism was in fact the product not of a racial bias but of a socio-political selection, such as might have taken place under similar conditions in any race whatever; and ever since the Dispersion the same selective process has continued, the unzealous Jews always tending to be absorbed in the populations among whom they live. Something similar has actually occurred among the Parsees. Even, however, if the Jewish evolution were as unique as it is conventionally represented to have been, the special case would no more be an exception to universal sociological law than is the phenomenon of marsupials to biological law. There has simply been survival in the Judaic case, chiefly in virtue of the fact of Sacred Books, where similar creed-tendencies were usually annihilated under the ancient regimen of tyrannous violence. One result of the desperate frequency of bloodshed and massacre in the Jewish sphere was a passion for fecundity, as against the need for restraint of numbers that was felt in the City States of Greece in their progressive period; and the Jews thus abounded, and carried their religion with them, where other creeds died out.
Irresistible, however, is the law of strife among unenlightened men, and no less so the law of change among all. In the stress of the Maccabean struggle we find the doctrine of the Messiah already so far developed that a secondary God is the due result. The Christ of the Book of Enoch is substantially a deity: "before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of heaven were made, his name was called before the Lord of the Spirits"; 1 he is at once Chosen One, Son of God and Son of Man; he is judge at the Day of Judgment; 2 and as "Son of the Woman" 3 he clearly
relates to the Babylonian myth in the Book of Revelation. And seeing that "in him dwells the Spirit of Wisdom" he is in effect at once the Sophia and the Logos of the Apocrypha and of the Platonising Philo Judæus.
But the evolution did not end there. Under the new Asmonean dynasty there broke out in due course all the violences native to the hereditary monarchy of the ancient world; and once again the play of outside influences, which the feuds of competitors for the throne brought to bear, affected the hereditary creed within its central sphere. The Greek translation of the sacred books became the normal version; and to that version were added books not admitted into the Hebrew canon, some of them elaborating new theological conceptions. As the Jewish State came more and more into the whirl of the battling empires of Seleucids and Ptolemies, soon to be crushed by Rome, the dynasty of king-priests passed away before the energy of new competitors; and once more kings, not even Jewish by descent, subsisted beside high-priests of their own choosing. At length, under the Idumean Herod the Great, a man born to rule amid plots and feuds, to drown rebellions in blood and to outwit enemies by outgoing them in audacity, Eastern craft exploited at once Greek culture and Roman power with such address that Hellenism gained ground against the utmost stress of organised conservatism; while among the common people, conscious of an evil fate, movements of quietism and asceticism and Mahdism undermined the ancient prestige of the temple-cult. Once again the tribal faith was being disintegrated.
One of the movements emerging though not originating at this time is the cult associated with the quasi-historic name of Jesus. As organised Yahwism had been retrospectively fathered on the fictitious legislation of Moses, so the Jesuine cult is in turn fathered on Jesus in a set of narratives stamped with myth, and incapable of historical corroboration even when stripped of their supernaturalism. To the eye of comparative science the central feature in the cult as it appears in the oldest documents is the eucharist, an institution common to many surrounding religions, and known to have been in ancient and secret usage among sections of the Jews. 1 Descending perhaps from totemistic times, it invariably involved some rite or symbolism of theophagy, or eating of a divine victim; and a sacrificed God-man was the natural mythic complement of the ritual.
In the case of the Jesuine cult, an actual historic person may or may not have been connected with the doctrine; and for such a connection there is a quasi-historic basis in an elusive figure of a Jesus who appears to have been put to death by stoning and hanging about a century before the death of Herod. 1 On the other hand the name in its Hebrew and Aramaic forms had probably an ancient divine status, being borne by the mythic Deliverer Joshua, and again by the quasi-Messianic high-priest of the Restoration. It was thus in every aspect fitted to be the name of a new Demigod who should combine in himself the qualities of the Akkadian Deliverer-Messiah and the Sacrificed God of the most popular cults of the Græco-Roman, Egyptian, and west-Asiatic world. In this aspect only is it to be historically understood. But before considering it in its type, we have to consider it in its genetic relation to Judaism, and so complete our estimate of the evolution of that cult to the moment of its definite arrest.
That the cult of Jesus the Christ was being pushed in rivalry with that of pure Judaism among the Jews of the Dispersion before the destruction of the Temple appears from the nature of the oldest documents as well as from the tradition. Such competition was the more easy because the life of the synagogue was largely independent of that of the central temple, and craved both rites and teaching which should make up for the sacrificial usages which were the chief institutions at Jerusalem. But that Jesuism could have successfully dispensed with the main cult among either Jews or Gentiles while the Temple remained standing is inconceivable. When it did begin to make substantial progress late in the second century of its own era, its main prestige undoubtedly came from the Jewish sacred books; and had the Temple been allowed to remain in active existence, that prestige would have accrued to it as of old. Conceivably, however, there might have happened a development of Jesuism under Judaism, the new cult exploiting the old and being tolerated or adopted by it. In that case there would have occurred yet once more a disintegration of a quasi-monotheism in terms of a virtual polytheism. And towards such disintegration marked progress had been made under the ægis of Judaism.
Note has already been taken of the entrance of new and practically polytheistic ideas into the cult at the very moment of its ostensible purgation of polytheistic tendencies; and in the course of four centuries these ideas had been much developed. To the "Good
[paragraph continues] Spirit" of Nehemiah and the Logos or "Word" of intermediate writers had been added the personified Sophia or "Wisdom" of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus and Enoch; and while the Samaritans seem to have conceived, on old Semitic lines, of a female Holy Spirit, symbolised like several Gods and Goddesses by a dove, 1 the Jews proper who came into contact with Greek thought developed with the help of the Platonists the originally eastern notion of the Logos into a new Jewish deity. 2 In their anxiety to avoid Goddess-worship, they even represented the Deity as generating the Son out of himself (ἐκ γαστρὸς); 3 and those who later made Jesus speak of "My Mother the Holy Spirit" 4 were unable to prevail against the old prejudice. It was thus on Judaically laid lines that Jesuism ultimately completed its theology. But had not the Temple been overthrown, either the Judaic evolution would have kept the Jewish Logos in organic relation to the Yahwist worship and sacred books, or the movement would have been overshadowed.
All would have depended on its economic sustenance. Had it promised a useful reinforcement to the Jewish high-priest's powers of attracting proselytes and revenue, 5 it would doubtless have been exploited in the name of Judaism, very much as it was by the early Christists; and in view of the historic facts it is reasonable to say that had their system survived, the temple-priests would so have exploited it. Inasmuch, finally, as the element of Messianism, reduced to a form of purely theological Soterism, was actually exploited by the Christists without specially calling forth the wrath of Rome, the temple priesthood might have done as much. It was in fact the catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem, provoked by the desperate courage of the zealots of the old faith, that alone made possible the separate rise of Christism and its ultimate erection into the State religion of the declining Roman empire.
To say this, however, is to say that Jewish monotheism so-calledin reality a tribal system using a monotheistic terminologywas
from first to last an unstable doctrine, always running risk of dissolution into polytheism, avowed or sophisticated; that it was so
dissolving at the time of the destruction of its temple; and that its offshoot, Christism, is a resultant of the process. If then monotheism is as such intrinsically superior to other forms of religion, Christianity is one of the inferior faiths, representing as it does the dissolvent process in question. To the eye of science, of course, it is neither inferior nor superior save in respect of its ethical and intellectual reactions; and towards an estimate of these we proceed by a comparative study of the religious principles on which Christism is built up.
Meantime, while the Hebrew literature obviously plays a large part in the intellectual colouring of the new Christist world, it would be difficult to show that Judaism made for higher life in the post-Roman world. So far as it made proselytes, it was by appealing to normal superstition, to belief in the mysterious potency of a particular God-name, and of the rites of his cult. 1 To scientific and philosophical thought it passed on no moralising and unifying conception of life, for it had none such to give. Moslem monotheism, in furnishing a temporary habitat for scientific thought, 2 did more for civilisation both directly and indirectly; but Moslem thought had to be fertilised by the re-discovered philosophy of Greece before it could attain to anything. And insofar as a philosophical and scientific monotheism arose in the medieval period, it inherits far more from Greek thoughtwhich indeed had early undergone Semitic influencesthan from Hebrew dogma.
As for the direct influence of Judaism on life, the most favourable view is to be reached by noting that the most applauded moral teaching of the Gospels is either Judaic or a Judaic adaptation of other codes. The first Gospel-makers did but put in the mouth of the demigod sayings and ideals long current in Jewry. But this again amounts to saying that men with ideals in Jewry were glad to turn to a new movement in which their ideals might have a place, finding the established cult sunk in ceremonialism. And when we contemplate the mass of its ceremonial law, the endless complex of taboo and sacrifice and traditionary custom and superstition, we can but say that if men were good under such a regimen it was in spite of and not in virtue of it. Moral reason is there outraged at every turn; and the anti-sacrificial doctrines of the
prophets were stedfastly disregarded to the end. If it be suggested that in such a system religion has got rid of the irrational element in taboo, and left only what is "essential to religion and morals," we can but recall the classic case of the Briton's verdict on the folly of the French nation in making the uniforms of its army "white, which is absurd, and blue, which is only fit for the artillery and the blue-horse."
We come within sight of the truth when we listen to Renan's dictum that of the Jewish race we may say the very best and the very worst without fear of error, since it presents both extremes. Therein the Jewish race is simply on all fours with all others, as Renan might easily have realised if he could once have got rid of the racial presupposition in his moral estimates. Judaism, in short, wrought no abnormal development in thought or life; and its very failure was on the lines of the failures of the systems and civilisations around it. The champion of the current creed, though an expert in Greek lore, resorts to the conventional judgment 1 that "the Greek with his joyous nature had no abiding sense of sin." It is the dictum also of Renan: "A profound sentiment of human destiny was always lacking to the Greeks": they had "no arrière pensée of social disquietude or melancholy": their childlike serenity was "always satisfied with itself": "gaiety has always characterised the true Hellene." 2 A closer student of Greek religion than Renan, and one perhaps more sympathetic than Dr. Jevons, declares of this doctrine: "It is the absolute contrary of the facts I seek to set forth." 3 And two of the Germans who have studied Greece most closely and most independently have agreed in the verdict that "The Greeks were less happy than most men think." 4 Their verdict is likely to cancel the conventional formula for those who will weigh both in critical balances. It was the Greeks, when all is said, who passed on to Christianity its type of torturing fiend: 5 it was the Greek adoption of Christianity, "the religion of sorrow," that preserved to the world that growth from a pagan germ on Judaic soil; and it was "the Greek," finally, who constructed the Christian creed.
89:1 Schodde's trans. xlviii, 3, 6. As to the date of the book, see pp. 26, 41-43, 237, 239.
89:2 Cp. Schodde's Introd., pp. 52, 54, 134.
89:3 Enoch lxii, 4, 5.
90:1 See below, Part II, ch. i.
91:1 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, pp. 298, 345, 363 4, and A Short History of Christianity, pp. 8, 14, 402-3. Also below, Part II, ch. i, § 10.
92:1 As to the Samaritan cultus of a sacred dove, see Reland, Dissert. de Monte Garizim, § 13 (Diss. Misc. 1706, i, 147). Schürer (Hist. of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 2nd Div. Eng. tr. i, 8, note) says: "The assertion that the Samaritans worshipped the image of a dove is a slander first appearing in the Talmud"; but that it was for them a divine symbol is another proposition. The Samaritan symbol may or may not have been borrowed from Egypt, where Amun, as the spirit of life, was represented as a bird hovering above the body of Osiris when he is about to resume life. Being thus "the usual symbol of the soul and of new life" (Tiele, Egypt. Rel. p. 150), it would readily apply to the idea of the God's baptism (Matt. iii, 16). As to the ancient symbolism of Dove, Wind, Life, and Holy Ghost, see Gubernatis, Letture sopra la mitologia vedica, 1874, p. 145, sq.; and as to the belief that the Gods entered into birds cp. Ellis, Polynesian Researches, 2nd ed. i, 323, 366.
92:2 See below, Part II, ch. ii.
92:3 Septuagint version of Ps. cx, 3 (cix in Sept.).
92:4 Origen, Comm. on John iii, § 63. Other heretics made the Holy Spirit the Sister of Jesus. Epiphanius, Haeres. liii.
92:5 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 347.
93:1 Cp. A Short History of Freethought, i, 120.
93:2 Réville (Prolégomènes, p 313) admits the nullity of Judaism on the scientific side. He seems to imply that it made an end of the notion of planetary deities; but it really held by planetary angels all along, and passed on the idea to Kepler.