Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Critical Views  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

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

§ 4. The Search for a Historical Jesus.

Thus far there is no difficulty in tracing a purely speculative process: the doctrine of the Logos is indeed the first stumbling-block of those who seek to reconcile the fourth gospel with the synoptics as a biographical document. And the very abstractness of the conception moves men at the first brush to turn with the more confidence to the concrete teachings put in the God's mouth in the other books. But if they continue critically to reflect, they find one cause after another to regard this concreteness as illusory. 2 Many

p. 229

of the utterances of the God, when weighed, are seen to be of the same order as those of the fourth gospel: hence the many vindications of that document; and vigilant attention to the differences of content in the synoptics sets up insoluble doubts as to their authority. Long ago it was pointed out, with no very clear view of the inference to be drawn, that the Sermon on the Mount is a patchwork from previous Jewish literature. 1 And at length the pressure of criticism has forced the more intelligent professional students of the New Testament to admit the insecurity of the old assumptions, and to attempt a restatement of the case for belief in the historicity of Jesus. The present state of the argument can perhaps be best set forth by way of criticism of the most important of these attempts, the second section of the article "Gospels" in the Encyclopædia Biblica, written by Professor Schmiedel, of Zurich. It is a masterpiece of critical arrangement and expert knowledge, demanding the attention of every serious student; so that our time could not be better spent.

Passing in review all the main attempts to resolve the gospels into a few mutually interactive primary "sources," Professor Schmiedel comes to the conclusion that no such attempt will hold good. This verdict disposes of an amount of laborious research grievous to think of. For a full hundred years, German theologians by the score have been struggling with this problem, toiling devotedly, trying hypothesis upon hypothesis, refining upon refinements, always hoping to get to, or sure of having reached, a solid textual and historical foundation, even as they so long sought for one in the quicksands of the Pentateuch. At length, in the name of professional exegesis, Professor Schmiedel sounds the retreat. There are no true "sources," no really primary and trustworthy documents in the gospel amalgam! There are only nine 2 "entirely credible" texts! One thinks of Meredith's figure of the hosts upon hosts of charging waves, whose achievement is only

To throw that faint thin line upon the shore!

And what are the entirely credible texts? With due care and respect let us enumerate the forlorn handful of unwounded survivors:—

1. Mk. x, 17 ff. ("Why callest thou me good?" etc.).

p. 230

2. Mt. xii, 31 ff. (blasphemy against the Son of Man pardonable).

3. Mk. iii, 21 ("He is beside himself").

4. Mk. xiii, 32 ("of that day and hour knoweth no man," etc.).

5. Mk. xv, 34; Mt. xxvii, 46 ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?").

6. Mk. viii, 12 ("No sign shall be given to this generation").

7. Mk. vi, 5 ("he was able to do no mighty work").

8. Mk. viii, 14-21 (rebuke to the disciples concerning bread and leaven).

9. Mt. xi, 5; Lk. vii, 22. (Passage to be taken in the sense of spiritual healing, since it ends with mention of preaching—not a miracle at all.)

[paragraph continues] It will be seen on what principles Professor Schmiedel proceeds. Where Jesus speaks simply as a man, making no pretence to divinity, to miraculous powers, to prophecy, or to a Messianic mission, and where he is represented as failing to impress his relatives and neighbours with any sense of his superiority—there the record is entirely credible. From this position Dr. Schmiedel makes a leap to the conclusion that the entirely credible—that is, the possible—is the demonstratively historical. Let us take his own words (§ 139)

These......passages......might be called the foundation-pillars for a truly scientific life of Jesus. Should the idea suggest itself that they have been sought out with partial intent, as proofs of the human as against the divine character of Jesus, the fact at all events cannot be set aside that they exist in the Bible and demand our attention. In reality, however, they prove not only that in the person of Jesus we have to do with a completely human being, and that the divine is to be sought in him only in the form in which it is capable of being found in a man; they also prove that he really did exist, and that the Gospels contain at least some absolutely trustworthy facts concerning him. If passages of this kind were wholly wanting in them, it would be impossible to prove to a sceptic that any historical value whatever was to be assigned to the Gospels: he would be in a position to declare the picture of Jesus contained in them to be purely a work of phantasy, and could remove the person of Jesus from the field of history.

[paragraph continues] This will shock the believer without satisfying the scientific naturalist. The proposition in the words I have italicised, I submit, is absolutely untenable. On this point may be staked the whole dispute as to the actuality of the Gospel Jesus. The merely credible is not the trustworthy, the proved: if to be credited with plausible utterances be a proof of the actuality of a personage in literature, then we must believe in the historic actuality of half the characters in fiction.


228:2 See Christianity and Mythology, Part III, Div. ii.

229:1 Cp. C. C. Hennell, Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity (1838 and later), ch. xvii.

229:2 At first the Professor specifies five as "the foundation-pillars for a truly scientific life of Jesus," but he afterwards adds four. It is noteworthy that seven of the nine occur in Mark, six of them there only; and only three in Matthew. Those of us who hold that Mark is late, and not early—a redaction of the other gospels and not of an "Ur-Marcus" can best appreciate the significance of such facts.

Next: § 5. The Critical Problem