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

§ 13. Special Features of the Crucifixion Myth.

Of the evolution of the Jewish religion between the closing of the Hebrew canon and the rise of Jesuism we know, broadly, that it consisted in (1) the establishment of the doctrine of a future life, in despite of its complete absence from the Mosaic law; (2) the development of the belief in a Messiah who should either restore the temporal power of Jewry or bring in a new religious world; (3) the growth of the idea of an only-begotten Son of God, otherwise the Word, who is alternately the nation of Israel and a God who represents it; 4 and (4) the growth of independent sects or movements, such as that of the Essenes. Of the historical circumstances we know more. They included, as we have seen, a recurrent paganisation of portions

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of the priesthood; an interlude of absolute pagan domination; and finally, after a period of triumph for the traditional faith, the advent of an Idumean dynasty, far from zealous for orthodox Judaism.

During centuries of this evolution, the Jewish people tasted many times the bitterness of despair, the profound doubt denounced by the last of the prophets; and in periods in which many went openly over to Hellenism it could not be but that ancient rites of the Semitic race were revived, as some are declared to have been in earlier times of trouble. Among the rites of expiation and propitiation, as we have seen, none stood traditionally higher than the sacrifice of a king or a king's son; and such an act the Jews saw as it were performed for them when the Romans under Antony, at Herod's wish, scourged, crucified [lit. "bound to a stake"], and beheaded Antigonus, the last of the Asmonean priest-kings, in the year 37 B.C. 1 In a reign in which two king's sons were slain by their own father, the idea would not disappear; but in so far as it held its ground as a religious doctrine it would in all likelihood do so by being reduced to ritual form, like the leading worships of the surrounding Gentile world. In the case of nearly every God who mythically died and rose again—as Osiris, Dionysos, Attis, Adonis, and Mithra—the creed of the God's power to give immortal life was maintained by a ritual sacrament, generally developed into a mystery-drama. Such a mystery-drama, however, would be at bottom a perpetuation of the latest form of the primitive rite as it had been publicly performed; and as we have seen in the gospel myth the clear trace of the ancient usage of disabling or drugging the victim to make him seem a willing sufferer, so we may infer from it that the latest public form of the human sacrifice in some Syrian communities was the sacrificing of three criminals together.

Of a sacrifice of this special number the explanation may very well be the great and then growing vogue of the number three in eastern mysticism. Among the Dravidians of India we have seen three victims sacrificed to the Sun-God. 2 In the legendary sacrifice of Saul's sons there figured the sacred and planetary number seven, which appears also in the special "restoration feast" of the Hervey and other South Sea Islanders; 3 in the legendary sacrifice of the kings by Joshua we have the older planetary number, five; and in

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western as in eastern Asia the number three might naturally have its votaries, in respect of trinitarian concepts as well as of the primary notion of "the heavens, the earth, and the underworld," with their respective Gods. 1 There is even a hint of such possible developments in the single sacrifice of the Khonds to the Earth-Goddess, wherein the victim was kept for three days bound to a post which was often placed between two shrubs, before being finally sacrificed at a post around which were usually set up four larger posts. 2 But there is an explanation lying in the nature and purpose of the sacrifice, which was probably the determining cause of the detail in the Syrian rite.

The tradition, we have seen, called for a king or a king's son; but a victim of royal blood was normally out of the question; and whether by consent of latitudinarian kings or high-priests, or by way of simple popular licence, the natural evolution would be that which took place in a similar connection elsewhere—the sacrificing of condemned criminals in the capacity of kings or kings’ first-born sons. But, as has been already remarked, though this substitution was quite acceptable to the average mind, there was something repugnant to the higher doctrine of sacrifice in the selection of a criminal, who was morally the analogue of the blemished animal, rejected by nearly all sacrificial rituals. How then could the compulsion of such a choice be best reconciled with the purpose and spirit of the rite? By a device framed in the spirit of "sympathetic magic," which was in fact the spirit of all such rites. The sacrificers could by their ritual of mock-crowning and robing distinguish one of the malefactors from his fellows; and by calling the others what they were, while he was paraded as king, they would attain the semblance of a truly august sacrifice. If in any Jewish community, or in the Jewish quarter of any eastern city, the central figure in this rite were customarily called Jesus Barabbas, "Jesus the Son of the Father"—whether or not in virtue of an old cultus of a God Jesus who had died annually like Attis and Tammuz—we should have the basis for the tradition so long preserved in many MSS. of the first gospel, and at the same time a basis for the whole gospel myth of the crucifixion. And when we remember how the common attitude towards criminals permitted the strange survival of human sacrifice in the Thargelia at Athens, we can hardly doubt that

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eastern cities could on the same pretext be as conservative of ancient usage.

That such a victim should be at times chosen and freed in advance, and permitted a measure of sexual licence as well as a semblance of royal state, is quite conceivable. The usage of a year's dedication or respite seems to have been general in connection with such sacrifices, alike among Asiatics, Greeks, Polynesians, Mexicans, and American aborigines; we have seen it among Strabo's Albanians; and there are clear traces of it among the Arabs just before the time of Mohammed. 1 At an early stage of civilisation, indulgence to a victim so situated would on many grounds be a matter of course. As we saw, indeed, Japan could secure annual victims who throughout their year of duty seem to have practised rigid abstinence, as the non-sacrificed official does to-day; but in general such altruism must have been hard to secure. In the triennial sacrifice of a beautiful girl at Bonny to the Sea-God, the victim had her every wish fulfilled, and everything she touched became her property; 2 and among the Native Americans a captive slain to appease the spirit of a slain man of the tribe had given to him the wives or sisters of the dead man, with whom he was allowed to live for a time. Then came a sacrificial banquet, after which he was put in durance and at length ritually slain 3 and eaten. 4

Perhaps the most suggestive instance of all is that of the Asvamedha 5 or horse-sacrifice among the ancient Hindus. 6 Concerning this the doctrine runs that kings who received from a Brahman a certain special anointing and "made the sacrifice of the horse" were thereby enabled to attain boundless conquests. 7 With regard to the horse so sacrificed it was stipulated in the ritual that during an entire year beforehand it must be left free to wander at

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its will, carefully protected the while by guards set to the task. 1 As this horse is further clearly identified with the sun, 2 there can be little doubt that it was a substitute or equivalent for a more ancient human sacrifice to the Sun-God, and was on that account regarded as of overwhelming efficacy. 3 Until the present century, among the Aryan Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush, a sacrifice of a horse was reckoned to have abnormal virtue, one being "occasionally, not more than once in many years," sacrificed at a certain sacred pit near the temple of Imra at the sacred village of Kstigigrom, in Presungul. 4 So deeply fixed was the idea that among the Bataks of Sumatra, who were for a time influenced by the Hindus, the white horse is still a special offering to the higher God or Gods, though it is now as a rule devoted without being slain. In the latter case it remains permanently holy and inviolable; 5 and among the Siberian Yakuts, who latterly are recorded to have consecrated a stallion every year, the animal, though not sacrificed, henceforth does no more work. 6 The horse, we may note in passing, may have been in this case a totem animal. Among the negroes of Nigeria at the present day, however, not only the bullocks specially set apart for sacrifice to the governing God, but cattle in general, including sheep and goats, are treated as if sacred, and the males are eaten only at religious ceremonials. 7 The totemistic hypothesis, therefore, is not necessary to the argument, the divinity of the victim as such being clear in any case. And sacredness in animals is not restricted to victims. In Southern India, in some parts of Ganjam, large numbers of Brāhmini bulls are treated as sacred; and castes which do not copy them in giving sacred burial to a bull often set free sacred cows or calves. Among the Adivi or forest Gollas, again, "the people of every house in the village let loose a sheep, to wander whither it will, as a sort of perpetual scapegoat"; and among the Badagas a scape-calf is let loose at every funeral, to bear the sins of the deceased. Henceforth it is free, like the animals otherwise "sacred." 8

We are now prepared to understand that the freedom permitted to the Babylonian mock-king before the Sacæa originated, not, as

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has been suggested, 1 by way of making the mock-king commit the act of technical high treason, entering the harem, but as a result of the contingent divinity of the victim in the primitive cult. The formal trial of a victim may be otherwise explained, as a primitive process of degrading a discredited priest-king. 2 In the case of the Khonds, who had no harlots 3 and few concubines, intercourse on the part of a destined male victim with either the wives or the daughters of the inhabitants was welcomed as a high boon, 4 though he often had allotted to him a victim wife; and the same idea seems to have underlain the treatment of the doomed God-man in ancient Mexico. 5 A study of these cases will suggest that in a primitive tribal state, when annual voluntary victims were otherwise hard to get, men may very well have been got to accept the rôle on condition of a year's quasi-regal licence. Savages notoriously set present pleasure far before future pain in their thought. And out of such a religious kingship may have separately arisen both the function of the priest-king as seen in Greece and Rome, and the phenomenon of the mock-king of the Sacæa. On this view the improbability of the annual slaying of the acting king, urged by Mr. Lang 6 against Dr. Frazer, does not arise; while the theory fundamentally stands. What is certain is that no principle of indulgence could have been accepted in the Christian legend, arising as it did in a cultus of asceticism. But in the character of the Messiah as one who associated with publicans and sinners; in his association with women; and in the obstinate legend which, apart from the text, made Mary Magdalene—a visibly mythical character 7—figure as a former harlot, we may have another such survival as has been surmised to underlie the tradition of "Jesus Barabbas"; and the common belief of the early Church that the ministry of Jesus lasted for only one year 8 may have a similar basis in the old usage. Further, as Dr. Frazer has suggested, the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem may preserve a tradition of a mock-royal procession for the destined victim. Even the legend of the riding on two asses, which, as has been elsewhere shown, 9 preserves an ancient zodiacal symbol, and at the same time a myth concerning Dionysos, might have anciently figured in the procession of a God-victim of the Dionysiak type. As the zodiacal symbol stands for

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the autumn equinox, and the crucifixion is placed at the spring-equinox, these details would be chronologically separate; but Tammuz, like Dionysos, seems to have had two feasts; 1 and in any case the legend was free to include different ritual episodes. Finally, the explanation of the ascription of the title of "Nazarite" to Jesus—a perplexing detail which led the redactors to frame the myth of his birth at Nazareth 2—may be that the Jewish victim, like the Khond, wore his hair unshorn. It would be natural that he should; the institution of the nazir, a word which means "dedicated," being an inheritance from the ancient times of common human sacrifice, and being associated with the myth of Samson, in which the shorn Sun-God is as it were sacrificed to himself.

We have now followed our historic clues far enough to warrant a constructive theory. Indeed, it frames itself when we colligate our main data. As thus:—

1. In the slaying of the Kronian victim at Rhodes we have an ancient Semitic 3 human sacrifice maintained into the historic period, by the expedient of taking as annual victim a criminal already condemned to death.

2. In Semitic mythology, Kronos, "whom the Phœnicians call Israel," sacrifices his son Ieoud, "the only," after putting upon him royal robes.

3. The feast of Kronos is the Saturnalia, in which elsewhere a mock-king plays a prominent part; and as Kronos was among the Semites identified with Moloch = "King," 4 the victim would be ostensibly either a king or a king's son. A trial and degradation were likely accessories.

4. Supposing the victim in the Rhodian Saturnalia to figure as Ieoud, he would be ipso facto Barabbas, "the son of the father"; and in the terms of the case he was a condemned criminal. At the same time, in terms of the myth, he would figure in royal robes.

5. In any case, the myth being Semitic, it is morally certain that among the many cases of human sacrifice in the Græco-Semitic world the Rhodian rite was not unique. And as the name "Ieoud," besides signifying "the only," was virtually identical with the Greek and Hebrew names for Judah (son of "Israel") and Jew (Yehuda,

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[paragraph continues] Ioudaios), it was extremely likely, among the Jews of the Dispersion, to be regarded as having special application to their race, which in their sacred books actually figured as the Only-Begotten Son of the Father-God, and as having undergone special suffering.

6. That the Rhodian rite, Semitic in origin, was at some points specially coincident with Jewish conceptions of sacrifice, is proved by the detail of leading the prisoner outside the city gates. This is expressly laid down in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 1 as a ritual condition of the sacrificial death of Jesus.

The case, of course, is not staked on any assumption that the Rhodian rite was the exact historical antecedent of the Jesuist rite as preserved in the gospels. That the Jews had much traffic with Rhodes maybe gathered from Josephus’s account of Herod's relations with the place; 2 but we are not committed to the view that the Jews had any hand in the Rhodian sacrifice ritual, or that the gospel myth followed that. So far as the records go, the coincidence is incomplete, since (1) the Rhodian Saturnalia was a June or July festival, and thus disparate from the Passover; and (2) there is no hint of a triple execution. But it suffices, firstly, that we have here a clear case of a variant from a type to which the Christian crucifixion-ritual belongs; and, secondly, that the Rhodian rite further points to the decisive development which we have yet to trace in the case of the gospel story. For Porphyry incidentally mentions that the Rhodian sacrifice, after having subsisted long, had latterly been modified (μετέβληθη). As to the precise nature of the modification we have no further knowledge; but we are entitled to conclude that it was either a simple rite of mock-sacrifice or a mystery-drama. Both stages, indeed, would be natural, the step to the latter being dependent on the connection of the rite with a eucharist. But the essential point is that in this case—the memory of which is preserved, like so many items in our knowledge of ancient life, by an incidental sentence in a treatise to which the subject was barely relevant—we have exactly the kind of transition from actual human sacrifice to a conventional rite of mock-sacrifice which our theory implies. And seeing that the actual sacrifice was once normal in the Semitic world, there can be little doubt that the cases and modes of modification were many.

Meantime, the bearing of such a development on our total problem is obvious. We have traced on the one hand a Semitic and probably Israelitish tradition of an annually (or periodically) sacrificed

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victim, "Jesus the Son of the Father," and seen reason to surmise the contact of dispersed Jews with such a rite in Hellenistic eastern towns. On the other hand we have traced a Jewish bread-and-wine eucharist, which we find emerging in documentary knowledge in the pre-Christian eucharist of the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," with the name of Jesus attached to a strictly Judaic personage of quasi-divine status, not said to be crucified or otherwise sacrificed. Of these forms of doctrine and rite there took place a fusion, forming the historic Christian cultus. Of such a fusion, the most likely and most intelligible means would be the mystery-drama, whose existence has now to be demonstrated. But first we have to note certain historic possibilities on which the fusion might partly depend.


180:4 Ps. ii, 6, 7, 12; lxxxix, 26, 27; Heb. i, 2-12.

181:1 Dio Cassius, xlix, 22. Cp. note in Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 364. It is almost certain that Josephus would suppress such a detail if he knew it; but if the detail in Dio be doubted on the score of his lateness, it would still point to a tradition of king-crucifying.

181:2 Above, p. 115.

181:3 J. Williams, Narrative of Missionary Enterprises, 1837, p. 549. The feast in question was one of re-sanctification, after an invasion.

182:1 Thus the Assyrian temples had sometimes three terraces, for the Gods of the "three worlds"; sometimes five, for the five planets; and sometimes seven, for the planets and sun and moon. Tiele, Outlines, p. 75.

182:2 Macpherson, Memorials, pp. 118, 127.

183:1 Pococke, Specimen Histor. Arab., 1650, p. 72, citing Al Meidani and Ahmed Ebn Yusef; Sale, Preliminary Discourse to the Koran, 1883, pp. 44-45. Cp. Robertson Smith, Rel. of the Semites, pp. 343-4, as to the experience of Nilus among the Sinaitic Arabs in the fourth century. A variation in respect of time occurs among the Khonds in the sacrifice of the buffalo to Boora Pennu as a divinely ordained surrogate for the human victim. It is "consecrated at its birth and allowed to range at will over all fields and pastures until five or six years old." When it is to be sacrificed, a crowd of men fasten ropes to its neck and hind legs and rush about with it till it is brought exhausted to the sacrificial tree, "when the priest declares its submission to be a miracle." Macpherson, Memorials, p. 108. Cp. Crooke, Folk-Lore of N. W. India, i, 173, as to drugged animal victims.

183:2 J. Smith, Trade and Travels in the Gulph of Guinea, 1851, pp. 60, 68.

183:3 Lafitau, Mœurs des sauvages ameriquains, 1724, ii, 295 sq. Cp. pp. 308-9,

183:4 Id. pp. 303-4.

183:5 Otherwise the Ashummeed Jugg. See an account of a late form of the rite in Halhed's Code of Gentoo Laws, ed. 1777, ch. iii, sect. ix, p. 112. It figures prominently in the Ramayana, where, however, it is not always efficacious. Cp. i, 10-13 with i, 40-43. It should be noted that the French trans. of the Ramayana by Fauche is excessively abridged; and that his account of the Asvamedha (p. 5) does not accord with that in the Italian trans. by Gorresio.

183:6 This is said to be "a custom in its origin essentially Turanian or Scythian." (R. W. Frazer, Lit. Hist. of India, 1898, p. 242.)

183:7 Senart, Essai sur la légende de Buddha, 2e édit. p. 66.

184:1 Id. p. 69.

184:2 Id. pp. 72-73.

184:3 In the Mahâbhârata (ii, 524 sq. cited by Senart, pp. 66-67) there is mention of a tyrant who, like Joshua, sacrifices kings to the Supreme God.

184:4 Sir G. S. Robertson, The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush, ed. 1899, p. 393.

184:5 Warneck, Die Religion der Batak, 1909, p. 7. Cp. p. 4.

184:6 Erman, Travels in Siberia, Eng. tr. 1848, p. 410. This, it should be noted, is an Arab usage. By old Arab law camels which had attained certain degrees of fertility were turned loose and exempted from all service. No less than four usages of this kind—Bahîra, Saïba, Wasîla, and Hâmi—are specified. Sale, Prelim. Disc. to Koran, ed. 1833, i, 135-7.

184:7 Major Glyn Leonard, The Lower Niger and its Tribes, 1906, pp. 199, 200, 402.

184:8 Thurston, Castes and Tribes, i, 116; ii, 161-2, 287.

185:1 By Mr. Lang, Magic and Religion, p. 198.

185:2 Grant Allen, Evol. of Idea of God, pp. 235, 311, 385.

185:3 The female victims seem at times to have had promiscuous relations. See Reclus, Primitive Folk, as above cited.

185:4 Macpherson, Memorials, p. 116.

185:5 See below, Part III.

185:6 Magic and Religion, p. 102.

185:7 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 297-302.

185:8 Cp. Baur, Church History, Eng, tr. i, 41, note.

185:9 Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 338-41.

186:1 Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 484.

186:2 Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 311-18.

186:3 As to the Phœnician origins of Rhodian religion cp. Duncker, Gesch. des Alterthums, 2te Aufl. iii, 163, 229, 380, 384; Meyer, Gesch. des Alt. i, §§ 191, 192; Busolt, Griech. Gesch. 1885, i, 172.

186:4 Selden, De Diis Syris, Syntag. i, c. 6; Duncker, Gesch. des Alterthums, 2te Aufl. iii, 331, note; Smith, Rel. of Semites, p. 355; Tiele, Outlines, p. 209. Cp. J. Spencer, De legibus Hebræorum, 1. ii, c. 10.

187:1 Ch. xiii, 12. Cp. Robertson Smith, as cited, pp. 352-6.

187:2 Wars, i, 14, § 3; 20,§1; 21, § 11.

Next: § 14. Possible Historical Elements