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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 10. The Pre-Christian Jesus-God.

We are thus prepared to interpret the crux set up for Christian commentators by the ancient reading "Jesus Barabbas" in Matt. xxvii, 16, 17. That this was long the accepted reading in the ancient church is to be gathered from Origen; 4 and the problem has always been reckoned a puzzling one. Had Dr. Frazer noted it, he might have seen cause to look deeper for his solution of the problem of the simple name Barabbas in the Gospel story and in Philo. The natural inference from the Barabbas story is that it was customary to give up to the people about the time of the Passover a prisoner, who was made to play a part in some rite under the name of Barabbas, "Son of the Father"; and the reading "Jesus Barabbas" suggests that the full name of the bearer of the part included that of "Jesus"—a detail very likely to be suppressed by copyists as an error. Is not the proper presumption, then, this: that the preservation of the name "Jesus Barabbas" tells of the common association of those names in some such rite as must be held to underlie the Gospel myth—that, in short, a "Jesus the Son of the Father" was a figure in an old Semitic ritual of sacrifice before the Christian era? The Syrian form of the name, Yeschu, closely resembles the Hebrew name Yishak, which we read Isaac; and that Isaac was in earlier myth sacrificed by his father is a fair presumption. We have here the inferrible norm of an ancient God-sacrifice, Abraham s original Godhood being tolerably certain, like that of Israel. 5 In Arab legend, Ishmael is sacrificed by his father, though apparently the sacrifice is commuted for a ram in the manner of the story in Genesis. 6

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As a hypothesis the proposed solution must for the present stand; but the grounds for surmising a pre-Christian cult of a Jesus or Joshua may here be noted. The first is the fact that the Joshua (Jesus) of the book so named is quite certainly unhistorical, 1 and that the narrative concerning him is a late fabrication. We can but divine from it that, having several attributes of the Sun-God, 2 he is like Samson and Moses an ancient deity, latterly reduced to human status; and as Jewish tradition has it that he began his work of deliverance on the day fixed for the choosing of the paschal lamb, and concluded it at the Passover, 3 it is inferrible that his name was anciently associated with the rite and the symbol, as well as with the similarly significant rite of circumcision, which is connected with the Passover in the pseudo-history of Joshua. 4 That he, who is never mentioned by the psalmists or prophets, should not only be put on a level with Moses as an institutor of the prime ordinances of the Passover rite and circumcision, but should be credited with the miracle of staying the course of the sun and moon—a prodigy beyond any ascribed to Moses—is not to be explained save on the view that he held divine status in the previous myth. 5 As his name was held in special reverence among the Samaritans, who preserved a late book ascribing to him many feats not given in the Jewish record, the probability is that he was an Ephraimite deity, analogous to Joseph, whose legend has such close resemblances to the myth of Tammuz-Adonis.

No less clear is the inference from the pseudo-prediction inserted in a list of priestly vetoes in the book of Exodus. 6 It is there promised that an Angel, in or on whom is the "name" of Yahweh, shall lead Israel to triumph against the Amorites, the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. This is the very list (lacking one) put in Joshua's mouth as that of the conquests effected by the Lord through him, 7 so that he is Pseudo-historically identified with the promised Angel. 8 That personage, again, in virtue of his possession of the magical "name," 9 is in the Talmud identified with the mystic Metatron, who is in turn identifiable with the Logos. 10 Thus the name Joshua = Jesus is

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already in the Pentateuch associated with the conceptions of Logos, Son of God, and Messiah; and it is in view of such knowledge that the pseudo-prediction is framed. Only the hypothesis that in some Palestinian quarters Joshua had the status of a deity can meet the case.

To the nature of that status we have certain clues which have never been considered in correlation, Jews and Christians alike being led by their presuppositions either to ignore or to misconceive them. One clue is, as already noted, the evidently Judaic and pre-Christian character of the Lamb-God Jesus in the Apocalypse. The slain God is there identified not only with the Logos1 before the appearance of the Fourth Gospel, and with the Mithraic or Babylonian symbols of the Seven Spirits, but with the Alpha and the Omega; and the accessories are markedly Semitic and Judaistic. Thus the four-and-twenty elders play a foremost part; the twelve apostles are present only in an interpolation; 2 and the saved are pre-eminently Jewish. 3 Not only, in short, is the Child-God of the dragon-story, in the twelfth chapter, not the Christian Jesus: 4 the Jesus of the whole book is pre-Christian, the book being in fact a Jewish Apocalypse slightly edited for Christian purposes. 5 So much is now admitted by many students; and it is the failure to learn this and other lessons of the documents that still permits of wrong hypotheses to account for the Messianic doctrine in the Book of Enoch, a distinctly pre-Christian work. 6

But the same problem arises in connection with that crucial document, "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles." Not only are the first six chapters of that book wholly Judaic, without mention of any divinity save "God," "the Lord," "the Father," unless "the Spirit" be taken to stand for a second deity; but even the formula of baptism in the seventh chapter, which belongs to a secondary stratum in the compilation, is not clearly Christian; and the eucharistic formula in the ninth is clearly non-Christian. It runs: "We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David thy servant, which thou hast made known to us by Jesus thy servant," 7 an expression quite irreconcilable with the accepted Christian narrative and liturgy. Nor is there a single allusion in the entire document, whether in the late or the early portions, to the death of Jesus by

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crucifixion or otherwise. Thus it appears that not only was the nucleus of the document a teaching of twelve monotheistic Jewish apostles—the apostles of the High Priest to the Dispersion 1—but even the earlier Jesuist additions were made by Judaic Jesuists who had not the Christian doctrine of a divine sacrifice, whether or not they already had the trinitarian doctrine set forth in the baptismal formula of the seventh chapter. Thus the allusion to the "gospel of the Lord" in the eighth chapter is presumptively an interpolation, occurring as it does in a document in which hitherto "the Lord" had always meant Yahweh; and even at that, the reference is presumptively to the inferred primary form of the first gospel, which had no account of the crucifixion and resurrection 2—a gospel, in short, which had grown up solely by way of sayings and doings ascribed to the mythical Jesus, without the existing birth legend, and without his twelve apostles. Here again the theological critics recognise the Judaic character of the matter, 3 but fail to draw the obvious inferences.

There remains to be considered in the same connection the fact that in the Jewish liturgy for the ecclesiastical New Year there is or was mention of Joshua (Jeschu = Jesus) as "the Prince of the Presence." 4 This is of course interpreted as a title signifying Joshua's relation to Moses; but in the light of the Apocalypse it seems to have quite another significance. After the deletions effected in the pseudo-history, 5 the matter is sufficiently obscure; but the clues left, when colligated, tell of something very different from the written word. Tentatively, we may surmise that as the Day of Atonement, which comes ten days after the New Year, is the consummation of the annual Day of Judgment, 6 Joshua in the liturgy played very much the same part as the Judaic Jesus in the Apocalypse.

Finally, we have to note (a) the remarkable Persian tradition which makes Joshua the Son of Miriam, 7 whose death day in the

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[paragraph continues] Jewish calendar is that of the beginning of his work, the tenth of Nisan, whereon was chosen the paschal lamb; and (b) the fact that according to some Jews the "Week of the Son" (circumcision and redemption of the first-born male child) was called the rite of "Jesus the Son." 1 Whether or not we have here the true origination of the myth which makes the Gospel Jesus the Son of Mariam, there is a fair presumption from mythological analogy that the Miriam of the Pentateuch, who dies and is buried at Kadesh, 2 "the holy" city, is a Goddess Evemerised, 3 and that the day of Joshua's setting out on his fictitious march was in the original myth the day either of his birth or of some act of popular salvation wrought by him. If he were originally a variant of Tammuz, and Miriam a variant of Ishtar, if male infants were circumcised in his honour, and if he died to save men at the Passover, the details to that effect would certainly be excluded by the later Yahwists from any narrative they preserved or framed concerning him. As it is, we may at least argue for a connection between the Judaic "Jesus the Son" and the traditional "Jesus the Son of the Father."

Beyond conjectures we cannot at present go; but the significance given to the name of Jeshua, the high-priest of the Return, in the book of Zechariah, 4 at a time when the book of Joshua did not exist, tells of a Messianic idea so associated when Messianism was but beginning among the Jews. And as the Messianic idea seems to have come to them, as it fittingly might, during their exile, perhaps from the old Babylonian source of the myth of the returning Hammurabi—who in his own code declares himself the Saviour-Shepherd and the King of Righteousness 5—or from the later Mazdean doctrine that the Saviour Saoshyant, the yet unborn Son of Zarathustra, is at the end of time to raise the dead and destroy Ahriman, 6 it may have had many divine associations such as later orthodox Judaism would sedulously obliterate.

What is specially important in this connection is the fact that the doctrine of a suffering Messiah gradually developed among the Jews, for the most part outside the canonical literature. For the doctrine that "the Christ must needs have suffered" 7 can be

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scripturally supported only from passages like the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, where our A. V. alters the past tense into the present, thus making a description of Israel's past sufferings serve as a mystic type. Cyrus, who is called Messiah in Deutero-Isaiah, was reputed to have been crucified, but not in his Messianic capacity. 1 The presumption then is that the doctrine was extra-canonical, and was set up by Gentile example. Even in the Book of Enoch, where the Messianic doctrine is much developed, the Messiah does not "suffer." The first clear trace of that conception in Judaic literature appears to be in the doctrine that of the two promised Messiahs, 2 Ben Joseph and Ben David, Ben Joseph is to be slain. 3 Whence came that theorem it is for the present impossible to say; but it is presumptively foreign, 4 and there are clear Gentile parallels.

An obvious precedent to begin with lay in the Greek myth of the crucified Prometheus; 5 but on the whole the most likely pagan prototype is to be seen in the slain and resurgent Dionysos, one of whose chief names is Eleuthereos, the Liberator, 6 who was specially signalised as the God "born again." As the Jewish Messiah was to be primarily a "deliverer," like the series of legendary national heroes in the book of Judges, a popular God so entitled was most likely to impress the imagination of the dispersed Jews and their proselytes. The same epithet, indeed, may well have attached to ancient deities such as Samson, who is a variant of the deliverer Herakles, and was one of the "deliverers" of the pseudo-history, as well as to the original Jesus whose myth is Evemerised in Joshua. Samson, too, like Dionysos, was "only-begotten." 7 But in any case a proximate motive is needed to account for the post-exilic or post-Maccabean revival of such conceptions in a cult form; and it is to be found in the prevailing religious conceptions of the surrounding Hellenistic civilisation, where, next to Zeus, the Gods most in evidence were Dionysos and Herakles, and the Son-sacrificing Kronos. 8


162:4 See Nicholson, The Gospel According to the Hebrews, 1879, pp. 141-2.

162:5 Refs. above, p. 51.

162:6 Weil, Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans, Eng. tr. pp. 62-66: Curtiss, Primitive Semitic Religion To-day, 1902, p. 175.

163:1 Cp. Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, 1881, pp. 64-65: art. Joshua in Encyclopædia Biblica; Winckler, Geschichte Israels, ii, 101-2, 107-9; Robertson Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 2nd ed. p. 131.

163:2 E.g., his crossing of the water dryshod (iii, 13, 17), and his selection of twelve who function with him (iv, 4).

163:3 Josh. v, 10.

163:4 Cp. Josh. v, 2-10.

163:5 The statement in Josh. ix, 22, 27, suggests a trace of a Joshua cult among the Hebrews. Stade (as cited, p. 65) pronounced the Joshua saga wholly Ephraimitish.

163:6 Ex. xxiii, 20-23.

163:7 Josh. xxiv, 11.

163:8 In Josh. v, 13-15, again, "the captain of the host of the Lord," a separate divine Personage, reveals himself to Joshua.

163:9 See hereinafter, Pt. II, ch. ii, § 2.

163:10 Below, Pt. III, § 8.

164:1 iii, 14, 15; xix, 13.

164:2 xxii, 14. Cp. A Short History of Christianity, p. 17.

164:3 vii, 5-9. Cp. xxii. 16.

164:4 Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos, p. 173; Eberhard Vischer, as there cited.

164:5 Gunkel, p. 19. Cp. Davidson, Introd, to N. T. 2nd ed. i, 253, 263, 267-9; 3rd ed. ii, 214; Martineau, Seat of Authority in Religion, pp. 224-5.

164:6 Cp. Schodde's introd. to his translation, 1882, pp. 46-58.

164:7 The reading "thy son," given by some clerical translators, is indefensible. The same word, παιδὸς, is applied to David and Jesus.

165:1 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 341 sq., 411, 421; A Short History of Christianity, pp. 17-21, 83, and refs. pp. 403-4.

165:2 Cp. The Synoptic Problem for English Readers, by A. J. Jolley, 1893—giving the conclusions of the school of Bernhard Weiss.

165:3 Cp. the admissions of Mr. Rendel Harris, in his edition of The Teaching, p. 89; of Dr. C. Taylor in his lectures on it, 1886; of the American editors, Hitchcock and Brown, in their edition; of Canon Spence in his (1885, pp. 37, 90-91); of the Rev. J. Heron in his (Church of the Sub-Apostolic Age, p. 57), and of, Dr. Salmon, as there cited (p. 58).

165:4 Tal. Bab. Tract. Yevamoth, fol. 16, col. 2, Josephoth, cited by Hershon. Genesis with a Talm. Comm., p. 24, note. j.

165:5 Cp. Winckler, Geschichte Israels, ii, 102.

165:6 "All things are judged on the New Year's Day," said Rabbi Meir, "and their sentences are sealed on the Day of Atonement." Other Rabbis agreed on the first head, but not on the second. Rosh Hashannah, fol. 16 A, cited by Hershon, Treasures of the Talmud. pp. 98-99.

165:7 Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 99.

166:1 Tal. Bab. Tract. Baba-Bathra, fol. 60, col. 2, cited by Hershon, Genesis with a Talm. Comm., p. 26.

166:2 Num. xx, 1.

166:3 As to the reduction of the ancient Goddesses, Helena, Medea, Harmonia, and others, to human status in late legends, cp. K. O. Müller, Introd. to Mythology, Eng. tr. pp. 77-8, 86; Preller, Griech. Mythol. ii, 108 sq.; Pais, Anc. Leg. of Rom. Hist. chs. iv, v, x.

166:4 Zech. iii, 1-9; vi, 10-12.

166:5 Oettli, Das Gesetz Hammurabis and die Thora Israels, 1903, pp. 82-83.

166:6 Bundahish, xi, 6; Zendavesta, Vendidad, Fargard xix, 18. Cp. Spiegel's note in loc., and his Einleitung, p. 32.

166:7 Acts xvii, 3; xxvi, 23. Cp. Luke xxvi, 26, 46.

167:1 Diod. Sic. ii, 44.

167:2 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 303.

167:3 Reichardt, Relations of the Jewish Christians to the Jews, p. 37; Bousset, The Antichrist Legend, Eng. tr. p. 107; Nutt, Fragments of a Samaritan Targum, 1874, p. 69. Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 303, as to Christian opinion on the doctrine.

167:4 Bousset, as cited. And see below, Pt. II, ch. ii, § 15. In this connection, however, see the important thesis of Gunkel (Zum. Verständnis des N. T., p. 78) that the mystic type in Isaiah stands for a dying and re-arising God.

167:5 That Prometheus was crucified is not only implied in his traditional posture, but asserted by Lucian, and shown in ancient art. Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed, p. 371, and Hochart, Etudes d’histoire religieuse, 1890, p. 345.

167:6 He bore also the equivalent name Lysios; and in Latin he is best known as Liber. Twice-born is one of his common epithets.

167:7 This title is applied in the Orphic Hymns to Persephonê, Athênê, and Dêmêtêr as well as to Dionysos (xxix, 2; xxxii, 1; xl, 16).

167:8 Schürer, 2nd Div. i, 22.

Next: § 11. Private Jewish Eucharists