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

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

§ 6. Collapse of the Constructive Case.

First, then, he has not recognised (1) the primary reason for doubting the genuineness of every detail of teaching set forth in the gospels—namely, the total ignorance of those teachings shown in the

p. 235

[paragraph continues] Pauline epistles. He takes as genuine the plainly interpolated passage in 1 Cor. xi as to the institution of the Eucharist, then concludes 1 that "the details of the life of Jesus had so little interest for Paul that" he fails to quote him when he effectively might. To reason thus is to ignore a far greater difficulty than many which the exegete admits to be insuperable. (2) He makes his arguments at some points 2 turn on the assumption of the general certainty of the whole narrative as to Jesus being a teacher with disciples, who established his cult; whereas the existence of the disciples is no better proved than many of the data already surrendered. (3) He is evidently biassed to his illicit inference (that Jesus really existed) by other inferences which, on his own showing, he was not entitled to draw. For instance, he decides 3 that Jesus probably accomplished faith-healing as distinguished from miracles, because "this power is so strongly attested throughout the first and second centuries that, in view of the spiritual greatness of Jesus and the imposing character of his personality, it would be indeed difficult to deny it to him." What then proved the spiritual greatness and the imposing character of Jesus? The nine credible texts? Clearly they amount to no such proof, even if they were genuine: a thousand rabbis might have uttered them. What, again, is the value of the "strong attestation" of the first and second centuries in the face of the silence of Paul, ostensibly the first witness? The first and second centuries, that is to say the gospels (which certainly did not exist within thirty years of the date alleged for Jesus’ death), and the people who believed them, equally attest the prodigies which Professor Schmiedel rejects. Is a witness who solemnly affirms twenty impossibilities to be believed whenever he happens to assert something that might be true, while a more important witness, who in the terms of the case ought to have heard of it if it happened, has evidently never heard of it at all?

Such reasoning, we may say without hesitation, cannot stand: it is negated by the tests on which Schmiedel has proceeded as against the source-finders; and the latter might very well turn upon him with a confident tu quoque. Take, for instance, the passage 4 in which he presses the point of the obvious untrustworthiness of the reports of Jesus’ discourses, and yet lets pass the assumption that these reports may be genuine condensations:—

Even if the public ministry of Jesus had lasted for a few months only, he must have uttered a thousand-fold more than all that has been recorded in

p. 236

the Gospels. His longest discourse would, if delivered in the form in which it has come down to us, not have taken more than some five minutes in the delivery. However self-evident, this has been constantly overlooked by the critics. They are constantly assuming that we possess the several words of Jesus that have been reported approximately in the same fulness in which they were spoken.

[paragraph continues] In the parables and in one or two other utterances, the Professor admits, the reports are more extended:—

In what remains, however, it can hardly be sufficiently emphasised that we possess only an excessively meagre précis of what Jesus said—namely, only so much as not only made an immediate impression when first heard, but also continued to survive the ordeal of frequent repetition In this process not only was an extraordinary number of utterances completely lost, but a large number of the sayings of Jesus now received for the first time that consecutive and pointed form which made them seem worthy of further repetition. Without doubt Jesus must very often have repeated himself, but what he assuredly often repeated in many variations has been preserved to us only in a single form.

[paragraph continues] Here again the believer will be perturbed, while the scientific critic will not be propitiated. If there are only nine texts that quite credibly indicate the existence of a man Jesus who taught anything, how can we possibly know "without doubt" that (1) he often repeated himself, and that (2) the existing reports are abbreviations of any spoken discourses whatever? The longest of all, the "Sermon on the Mount," is demonstrably a pen-made compilation from Hebrew literature; and Professor Schmiedel's previous argument has fully conceded that many of the reports, condensed in appearance as they are, are inventions. That is to say, a brief account of an alleged speech is not to be presumed an epitome of a real speech. The gospel discourses are short, not because they are records of remembered passages from long speeches, but because the framers had no critical consciousness, and were not accustomed to composing long documents. When we come to the fourth gospel we find longer discourses, in the actuality of which Professor Schmiedel does not believe. But if one gospel-maker could invent long discourses, his less literary predecessors could invent short. Once more, if the synoptic discourses are records of commonly remembered passages from Jesuine discourses, how comes it that Paul never cites a word of them? To miss that crux is to make as great an oversight as that of the critics who regarded the so-called Sermon on the Mount as the full report of a real sermon. The fact is that the higher criticism of the New Testament has thus far missed the way just as the higher criticism of the Old so long did, by taking for granted

p. 237

the general truth of the tradition. 1 It sought to found on the hollow fiction of the Exodus and the Mosaic legislation of the desert, when one intelligent glance at the Book of Judges might have shown that the tabernacle of the desert was a myth. In a similar way it clings to the conception of a preaching and cult-founding Jesus, when an intelligent perusal of the epistles of Paul 2 can suffice to show that the preaching Jesus was created after they wore written.

It does not indeed follow that Paul's period was what the tradition represents. The reasonable inference from his doctrine is that his Jesus was either a mythic construction or a mere tradition, a remote figure said to have been crucified, but no longer historically traceable. If then Paul's Jesus, as is conceivable, be merely a nominal memory of the slain Jesus ben Pandira of the Talmud (about 100 B.C.), Paul himself may belong to an earlier period than that traditionally assigned to him. Certainly the most genuine-looking epistles in themselves give no decisive chronological clue. But such a shifting of his date would not finally help the case for "Jesus of Nazareth." Escape the argument from the silence of Paul by putting Paul a generation or more earlier, and you are faced by the fresh incredibility of a second crucified Jesus, a second sacrificed Son of God, vouched for by records for the most part visibly false, and containing but a fraction of plausible narrative. The only conclusion open is that the teaching Jesus of the gospels is wholly a construction of the propagandists of the cult, even as is the wonder-working God.


235:1 § 147.

235:2 §1 138 a, f; 144 a; 145 f.

235:3 § 144.

235:4 § 145 a.

237:1 An emphatic exception, certainly, must be made as regards the Pauline epistles, which by the late Professor van Manen and others are rejected as entirely spurious.

237:2 For the purpose of this argument, it matters not whether any of these epistles be genuine or not, since in any case they are early; and forgers would have used gospel sayings if they had them to use. The point is that even interpolations upon the originals yield but one gospel datum.

Next: § 7. Parallel Problems