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
In studying the writings of the early advocates of Christianity, and Fathers of the Christian Church, where we would naturally look for the language that would indicate the real occurrence of the facts of the Gospel—if real occurrences they had ever been—we not only find no such language, but everywhere find every sort of sophistical ambages, ramblings from the subject, and evasions of the very business before them, as if on purpose to balk our research, and insult our skepticism. If we travel to the very sepulchre of Christ Jesus, it is only to discover that he was never there: history seeks evidence of his existence as a man, but finds no more trace of it than of the shadow that flits across the wall. "The Star of Bethlehem" shone not upon her path, and the order of the universe was suspended without her observation.
She asks, with the Magi of the East, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" and, like them, finds no solution of her inquiry, but the guidance that guides as well to one place as another; descriptions that apply to Æsculapius, Buddha and Crishna, as well [Pg 510]as to Jesus; prophecies, without evidence that they were ever prophesied; miracles, which those who are said to have seen, are said also to have denied seeing; narratives without authorities, facts without dates, and records without names. In vain do the so-called disciples of Jesus point to the passages in Josephus and Tacitus;[510:1] in vain do they point to the spot on which he was crucified; to the fragments of the true cross, or the nails with which he was pierced, and to the tomb in which he was laid. Others have done as much for scores of mythological personages who never lived in the flesh. Did not , the beloved disciple of Apollonius of Tyana, while on his way to India, see, on Mt. Caucasus, the identical chains with which Prometheus had been bound to the rocks? Did not the Scythians[510:2] say that Hercules had visited their country? and did they not show the print of his foot upon a rock to substantiate their story?[510:3] Was not his tomb to be seen at Cadiz, where his bones were shown?[510:4] Was not the tomb of Bacchus to be seen in Greece?[510:5] Was not the tomb of Apollo to be seen at Delphi?[510:6] Was not the tomb of Achilles to be seen at Dodona, where Alexander the Great honored it by placing a crown upon it?[510:7] Was not the tomb of Æsculapius to be seen in Arcadia, in a grove consecrated to him, near the river Lusius?[510:8] Was not the tomb of Deucalion—he who was saved from the Deluge—long pointed out near the sanctuary of Olympian Jove, in Athens?[510:9] Was not the tomb of Osiris to be seen in Egypt, where, at stated seasons, the priests went in solemn procession, and covered it with flowers?[510:10] Was not the tomb of Jonah—he who was "swallowed up by a big fish"—to be seen at Nebi-Yunus, near Mosul?[510:11] Are not the tombs of Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, Abraham, and other Old Testament characters, to be seen even at the present day?[510:12] And did not the Emperor Constantine dedicate a beautiful church over the tomb of St. George, the warrior saint?[510:13] Of what value, then, is such evidence of the existence of such an individual as Jesus of Nazareth? The fact is, "the records of his life are so very scanty, and these have been so shaped and colored and modified by the hands of ignorance and superstition [Pg 511]and party prejudice and ecclesiastical purpose, that it is hard to be sure of the original outlines."
In the first two centuries the professors of Christianity were divided into many sects, but these might be all resolved into two divisions—one consisting of Nazarenes, Ebionites, and orthodox; the other of Gnostics, under which all the remaining sects arranged themselves. The former are supposed to have believed in Jesus crucified, in the common, literal acceptation of the term; the latter—believers in the Christ as an Æon—though they admitted the crucifixion, considered it to have been in some mystic way—perhaps what might be called spiritualiter, as it is called in the Revelation: but notwithstanding the different opinions they held, they all denied that the Christ did really die, in the literal acceptation of the term, on the cross.[511:1] The Gnostic, or Oriental, Christians undoubtedly took their doctrine from the Indian crucifixion[511:2] (of which we have treated in Chapters XX. and XXXIX.), as well as many other tenets with which we have found the Christian Church deeply tainted. They held that:
"To deliver the soul, a captive in darkness, the 'Prince of Light,' the 'Genius of the Sun,' charged with the redemption of the intellectual world, of which the Sun is the type, manifested itself among men; that the light appeared in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not; that, in fact, light could not unite with darkness; it put on only the appearance of the human body; that at the crucifixion Christ Jesus only appeared to suffer. His person having disappeared, the bystanders saw in his place a cross of light, over which a celestial voice proclaimed these words; 'The Cross of Light is called Logos, Christos, the Gate, the Joy.'"
Several of the texts of the Gospel histories were quoted with great plausibility by the Gnostics in support of their doctrine. The story of Jesus passing through the midst of the Jews when they were about to cast him headlong from the brow of a hill (Luke iv. 29, 30), and when they were going to stone him (John iii. 59; x. 31, 39), were examples not easily refuted.
The Manichean Christian Bishop Faustus expresses himself in the following manner:
"Do you receive the gospel? (ask ye). Undoubtedly I do! Why then, [Pg 512]you also admit that Christ was born? Not so; for it by no means follows that in believing the gospel, I should therefore believe that Christ was born! Do you then think that he was of the Virgin Mary? Manes hath said, 'Far be it that I should ever own that Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . . . . .'" etc.[512:1]
Tertullian's manner of reasoning on the evidences of Christianity is also in the same vein, as we saw in our last chapter.[512:2]
Mr. King, speaking of the Gnostic Christians, says:
"Their chief doctrines had been held for centuries before (their time) in many of the cities in Asia Minor. There, it is probable, they first came into existence as Mystæ, upon the establishment of direct intercourse with India, under the Seleucidæ and Ptolemies. The college of Essenes and Megabyzæ at Ephesus, the Orphics of Thrace, the Curets of Crete, are all merely branches of one antique and common religion, and that originally Asiatic."[512:3]