Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning
Page: 271name it bears, and they are all of more recent date than the heading would lead us to suppose."
"We cannot say that the "Gospels" and book of "Acts" are unauthentic, for not one of them professes to give the name of its author. They appeared anonymously. The titles placed above them in our Bibles owe their origin to a later ecclesiastical tradition which deserves no confidence whatever." (Bible for Learners, vol. iii. pp. 24, 25.)
These Gospels "can hardly be said to have had authors at all. They had only editors or compilers. What I mean is, that those who enriched the old Christian literature with these Gospels did not go to work as independent writers and compose their own narratives out of the accounts they had collected, but simply took up the different stories or sets of stories which they found current in the oral tradition or already reduced to writing, adding here and expanding there, and so sent out into the world a very artless kind of composition. These works were then, from time to time, somewhat enriched by introductory matter or interpolations from the hands of later Christians, and perhaps were modified a little here and there. Our first two Gospels appear to have passed through more than one such revision. The third, whose writer says in his preface, that 'many had undertaken to put together a narrative (Gospel),' before him, appears to proceed from a single collecting, arranging, and modifying hand." (Ibid. p. 29.)
[463:2] "Christiani doctores non in vulgus prodebant libros sacros, licet soleant plerique aliteropinari, erant tantum in manibus clericorum, priora per sæcula." (Quoted in Taylor's Diegesis, p. 48.)
[463:3] Mosheim: vol. i. pt. 2, ch. ii.
[463:4] General Survey of the Canon, p. 459.
[464:1] Credibility of the Gospels.
[464:2] Marsh's Michaelis, vol. ii. p. 160. The Sinaitic MS. is believed by Tischendorf to belong to the fourth century.
[464:3] Ibid. p. 368.
[464:4] Eusebius: Ecclesiastical Hist. lib. 3, ch. xxii.
[465:1] The Science of Religion, pp. 30, 31.
After what we have seen concerning the numerous virgin-born, crucified and resurrected Saviours, believed on in the Pagan world for so many centuries before the time assigned for the birth of the Christian Saviour, the questions naturally arise: were they real personages? did they ever exist in the flesh? whence came these stories concerning them? have they a foundation in truth, or are they simply creations of the imagination?
The historical theory—according to which all the persons mentioned in mythology were once real human beings, and the legends and fabulous traditions relating to them were merely the additions and embellishments of later times—which was so popular with scholars of the last century, has been altogether abandoned.
Under the historical point of view the gods are mere deified mortals, either heroes who have been deified after their death, or Pontiff-chieftains who have passed themselves off for gods, and who, it is gratuitously supposed, found people stupid enough to believe in their pretended divinity. This was the manner in which, formerly, writers explained the mythology of nations of antiquity; but a method that pre-supposed an historical Crishna, an historical Osiris, an historical Mithra, an historical Hercules, an historical Apollo, or an historical Thor, was found untenable, and therefore, does not, at the present day, stand in need of a refutation. As a writer of the early part of the present century said:
"We shall never have an ancient history worthy of the perusal of men of common sense, till we cease treating poems as history, and send back such personages as Hercules, Theseus, Bacchus, etc., to the heavens, whence their history is taken, and whence they never descended to the earth."
The historical theory was succeeded by the allegorical theory, which supposes that all the myths of the ancients were allegorical and symbolical, and contain some moral, religious, or philosophical [Pg 467]truth or historical fact under the form of an allegory, which came in process of time to be understood literally.
In the preceding pages we have spoken of the several virgin-born, crucified and resurrected Saviours, as real personages. We have attributed to these individuals words and acts, and have regarded the words and acts recorded in the several sacred books from which we have quoted, as said and done by them. But in doing this, we have simply used the language of others. These gods and heroes were not real personages; they are merely personifications of the Sun. As Prof. Max Müller observes in his Lectures on the Science of Religion:
"One of the earliest objects that would strike and stir the mind of man, and for which a sign or a name would soon be wanted, is surely the Sun.[467:1] It is very hard for us to realize the feelings with which the first dwellers on the earth looked upon the Sun, or to understand fully what they meant by a morning prayer or a morning sacrifice. Perhaps there are few people who have watched a sunrise more than once or twice in their life; few people who have ever known the meaning of a morning prayer, or a morning sacrifice. But think of man at the very dawn of time. . . . think of the Sun awakening the eyes of man from sleep, and his mind from slumber! Was not the sunrise to him the first wonder, the first beginning of all reflection, all thought, all philosophy? Was it not to him the first revelation, the first beginning of all trust, of all religion? . . . .
"Few nations only have preserved in their ancient poetry some remnants of the natural awe with which the earlier dwellers on the earth saw that brilliant being slowly rising from out of the darkness of the night, raising itself by its own might higher and higher, till it stood triumphant on the arch of heaven, and then descended and sank down in its fiery glory into the dark abyss of the heaving and hissing sea. In the hymns of the Veda, the poet still wonders whether the Sun will rise again; he asks how he can climb the vault of heaven? why he does not fall back? why there is no dust on his path? And when the rays of the morning rouse him from sleep and call him back to new life, when he sees the Sun, as he says, stretching out his golden arms to bless the world and rescue it from the terror of darkness, he exclaims, 'Arise, our life, our spirit has come back! the darkness is gone, the light approaches.
Many years ago, the learned Sir William Jones said:
"We must not be surprised at finding, on a close examination, that the characters of all the Pagan deities, male and female, melt into each other, and at last into one or two; for it seems as well founded opinion, that the whole crowd of gods and goddesses of ancient Rome, and modern Varānes, mean only the powers of nature, and principally those of the SUN, expressed in a variety of ways, and by a multitude of fanciful names."[467:2]
Since the first learned president of the Royal Asiatic Society paved the way for the science of comparative mythology, much has been learned on this subject, so that, as the Rev. George W. Cox remarks, "recent discussions on the subject seem to justify the conviction that the foundations of the science of comparative mythology have been firmly laid, and that its method is unassailable."[468:1]
If we wish to find the gods and goddesses of the ancestors of our race, we must look to the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky, the earth, the sea, the dawn, the clouds, the wind, &c., which they personified and worshiped. That these have been the gods and goddesses of all nations of antiquity, is an established fact.[468:2]
The words which had denoted the sun and moon would denote not merely living things but living persons. From personification to deification the steps would be but few; and the process of disintegration would at once furnish the materials for a vast fabric of mythology. All the expressions which had attached a living force to natural objects would remain as the description of personal and anthropomorphous gods. Every word would become an attribute, and all ideas, once grouped around a simple object, would branch off into distinct personifications. The sun had been the lord of light, the driver of the chariot of the day; he had toiled and labored for the sons of men, and sunk down to rest, after a hard battle, in the evening. But now the lord of light would be Phoibos Apollon, while Helios would remain enthroned in his fiery chariot, and his toils and labors and death-struggles would be transferred to Hercules. The violet clouds which greet his rising and his setting would now be represented by herds of cows which feed in earthly pastures. There would be other expressions which would still remain as floating phrases, not attached to any definite deities. These would gradually be converted into incidents in the life of heroes, and be woven at length into systematic narratives. Finally, these gods or heroes, and the incidents of their mythical career, would receive each "a local habitation and a name." These would remain as genuine history, when the origin and meaning of the words had been either wholly or in part forgotten.