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: 301[Pg 522]of them slain by this means, and others ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition."[522:1]
It was such deeds as these, inflicted upon the Jews by their oppressors, that made them think of the promised Messiah who was to deliver them from bondage, and which made many zealous fanatics imagine themselves to be "He who should come."[522:2]
There is reason to believe, as we have said, that Jesus of Nazareth assumed the title of "Messiah." His age was throbbing and bursting with suppressed energy. The pressure of the Roman Empire was required to keep it down. "The Messianic hope had such vitality that it condensed into moments the moral result of ages. The common people were watching to see the heavens open, interpreted peals of thunder as angel voices, and saw divine potents in the flight of birds. Mothers dreamed their boys would be Messiah. The wildest preacher drew a crowd. The heart of the nation swelled big with the conviction that the hour of destiny was about to strike, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The crown was ready for any kingly head that might assume it."[522:3]
The actions of this man, throughout his public career, we believe to be those of a zealot whose zeal overrode considerations of wisdom; in fact, a Galilean fanatic. Pilate condemns him reluctantly, feeling that he is a harmless visionary, but is obliged to condemn him as one of the many who persistently claimed to be the "Messiah," or "King of the Jews," an enemy of Cæsar, an instrument against the empire, a pretender to the throne, a bold inciter to rebellion. The death he undergoes is the death of the traitor and mutineer,[522:4] the death that was inflicted on many such claimants, the death that would have been decreed to Judas the Galilean,[522:5] had he been captured, and that was inflicted on thousands of his deluded followers. It was the Romans, then, who crucified the man Jesus, and not the Jews.
[Pg 523]"In the Roman law the State is the main object, for which the individual must live and die, with or against his will. In Jewish law, the person is made the main object, for which the State must live and die; because the fundamental idea of the Roman law is power, and the fundamental idea of Jewish law is justice."[523:1] Therefore Caiaphas and his conspirators did not act from the Jewish standpoint. They represented Rome, her principles, interest, and barbarous caprices.[523:2] Not one point in the whole trial agrees with Jewish laws and custom.[523:3] It is impossible to save it; it must be given up as a transparent and unskilled invention of a Gentile Christian, who knew nothing of Jewish law and custom, and was ignorant of the state of civilization in Palestine, in the time of Jesus.
Jesus had been proclaimed the "Messiah," the "Ruler of the Jews," and the restorer of the kingdom of heaven. No Roman ear could understand these pretensions, otherwise than in their rebellious sense. That Pontius Pilate certainly understood under the title, "Messiah," the king (the political chief of the nation), is evident from the subscription of the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," which he did not remove in spite of all protestations of the Jews. There is only one point in which the four Gospels agree, and that is, that early in the morning Jesus was delivered over to the Roman governor, Pilate; that he was accused of high-treason against Rome—having been proclaimed King of the Jews—and that in consequence thereof he was condemned first to be [Pg 524]scourged, and then to be crucified; all of which was done in hot haste. In all other points the narratives of the Evangelists differ widely, and so essentially that one story cannot be made of the four accounts; nor can any particular points stand the test of historical criticism, and vindicate its substantiality as a fact.
The Jews could not have crucified Jesus, according to their laws, if they had inflicted on him the highest penalty of the law, since crucifixion was exclusively Roman.[524:1] If the priests, elders, Pharisees, Jews, or all of them wanted Jesus out of the way so badly, why did they not have him quietly put to death while he was in their power, and done at once. The writer of the fourth Gospel seems to have understood this difficulty, and informs us that they could not kill him, because he had prophesied what death he should die; so he could die no other. It was dire necessity, that the heathen symbol of life and immortality—the cross[524:2]—should be brought to honor among the early Christians, and Jesus had to die on the cross (the Roman Gibbet), according to John[524:3] simply because it was so prophesied. The fact is, the crucifixion story, like the symbol of the crucifix itself, came from abroad.[524:4] It was told with the avowed intention of exonerating the Romans, and criminating the Jews, so they make the Roman governor take water, "and wash his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it." To be sure of their case, they make the Jews say: "His blood be on us, and on our children."[524:5]
"Another fact is this. Just at the period of time when misfortune and ruination befell the Jews most severely, in the first post-apostolic generation, the Christians were most active in making proselytes among Gentiles. To have then preached that a crucified Jewish Rabbi of Galilee was their Saviour, would have sounded supremely ridiculous to those heathens. To have added thereto, that the said Rabbi was crucified by command of a Roman Governor, because he had been proclaimed 'King of the Jews,' would have been fatal to the whole scheme. In the opinion of the vulgar heathen, where the Roman Governor and Jewish Rabbi came in conflict, the former must unquestionably be right, and the latter decidedly wrong. To have preached a Saviour who was justly condemned to die the death of a slave and villain, would certainly have proved fatal to the whole enterprise. Therefore it was necessary [Pg 525]to exonerate Pilate and the Romans, and to throw the whole burden upon the Jews, in order to establish the innocence and martyrdom of Jesus in the heathen mind."
That the crucifixion story, as related in the synoptic Gospels, was written abroad, and not in the Hebrew, or in the dialect spoken by the Hebrews of Palestine, is evident from the following particular points, noticed by Dr. Isaac M. Wise, a learned Hebrew scholar:
The Mark and Matthew narrators call the place of crucifixion "Golgotha," to which the Mark narrator adds, "which is, being interpreted, the place of skulls." The Matthew narrator adds the same interpretation, which the John narrator copies without the word "Golgotha," and adds, it was a place near Jerusalem. The Luke narrator calls the place of crucifixion "Calvary," which is the Latin Calvaria, viz., "the place of bare skulls." Therefore the name does not refer to the form of the hill, but to the bare skulls upon it.[525:1] Now "there is no such word as Golgotha anywhere in Jewish literature, and there is no such place mentioned anywhere near Jerusalem or in Palestine by any writer; and, in fact, there was no such place; there could have been none near Jerusalem. The Jews buried their dead carefully. Also the executed convict had to be buried before night. No bare skulls, bleaching in the sun, could be found in Palestine, especially not near Jerusalem. It was law, that a bare skull, the bare spinal column, and also the imperfect skeleton of any human being, make man unclean by contact, and also by having either in the house. Man, thus made unclean, could not eat of any sacrificial meal, or of the sacred tithe, before he had gone through the ceremonies of purification; and whatever he touched was also unclean (Maimonides, Hil. Tumath Meth., iii. 1). Any impartial reader can see that the object of this law was to prevent the barbarous practice of heathens of having human skulls and skeletons lie about exposed to the decomposing influences of the atmosphere, as the Romans did in Palestine after the fall of Bethar, when for a long time they would give no permission to bury the dead patriots. This law was certainly enforced most rigidly in the vicinity of Jerusalem, of which they maintained "Jerusalem is more holy than all other cities surrounded with walls," so that it was not permitted to keep a dead body over night in the city, or to [Pg 526]transport through it human bones. Jerusalem was the place of the sacrificial meals and the consumption of the sacred tithe, which was considered very holy (Maimonides, Hil. Beth Habchirah, vii. 14); there, and in the surroundings, skulls and skeletons were certainly never seen on the surface of the earth, and consequently there was no place called "Golgotha," and there was no such word in the Hebrew dialect. It is a word coined by the Mark narrator to translate the Latin term "Calvaria," which, together with the crucifixion story, came from Rome. But after the Syrian word was made, nobody understood it, and the Mark narrator was obliged to expound it."[526:1]
In the face of the arguments produced, the crucifixion story, as related in the Gospels, cannot be upheld as an historical fact. There exists, certainly, no rational ground whatever for the belief that the affair took place in the manner the Evangelists describe it. All that can be saved of the whole story is, that after Jesus had answered the first question before Pilate, viz., "Art thou the King of the Jews?" which it is natural to suppose he was asked, and also this can be supposed only, he was given over to the Roman soldiers to be disposed of as soon as possible, before his admirers and followers could come to his rescue, or any demonstration in his favor be made. He was captured in the night, as quietly as possible, and guarded in some place, probably in the high-priest's court, completely secluded from the eyes of the populace; and early in the morning he was brought before Pilate as cautiously and quietly as it could be done, and at his command, disposed of by the soldiers as quickly as practicable, and in a manner not known to the mass of the people. All this was done, most likely, while the multitude worshiped on Mount Moriah, and nobody had an intimation of the tragical end of the Man of Nazareth.
The bitter cry of Jesus, as he hung on the tree, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" disclosed the hope of deliverance that till the last moment sustained his heart, and betrayed the anguish felt when the hope was blighted; the sneers and hooting of the Roman soldiers expressed their conviction that he had pretended to be what he was not.
The miracles ascribed to him, and the moral precepts put into his mouth, in after years, are what might be expected; history was simply repeating itself; the same thing had been done for others. "The preacher of the Mount, the prophet of the Beatitudes, does [Pg 527]but repeat, with persuasive lips, what the law-givers of his race proclaimed in mighty tones of command."[527:1]
The martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth has been gratefully acknowledged by his disciples, whose lives he saved by the sacrifice of his own, and by their friends, who would have fallen by the score had he not prevented the rebellion ripe at Jerusalem.[527:2] Posterity, infatuated with Pagan apotheoses, made of that simple martyrdom an interesting legend, colored with the myths of resurrection and ascension to that very heaven which the telescope has put out of man's way. It is a novel myth, made to suit the gross conceptions of ex-heathens. Modern theology, understanding well enough that the myth cannot be saved, seeks refuge in the greatness and self-denial of the man who died for an idea, as though Jesus had been the only man who had died for an idea. Thousands, tens of thousands of Jews, Christians, Mohammedans and Heathens, have died for ideas, and some of them were very foolish. But Jesus did not die for an idea. He never advanced anything new, that we know of, to die for. He was not accused of saying or teaching anything original. Nobody has ever been able to discover anything new and original in the Gospels. He evidently died to save the lives of his friends, and this is much more meritorious than if he had died for a questionable idea. But then the whole fabric of vicarious atonement is demolished, and modern theology cannot get over the absurdity that the Almighty Lord of the Universe, the infinite and eternal cause of all causes, had to kill some innocent person in order to be reconciled to the human race. However abstractly they speculate and subtilize, there is always an undigested bone of man-god, god-man, and vicarious atonement in the theological stomach. Therefore theology appears so ridiculous in the eyes of modern philosophy. The theological speculation cannot go far enough to hold pace with modern astronomy. However nicely the idea may be dressed, the great God of the immense universe looks too small upon the cross of Calvary; and the human family is too large, has too numerous virtues and vices, to be perfectly represented by, and dependent on, one Rabbi of Galilee. Speculate as they may, one way or another, they must connect the Eternal and the fate of the human family with the person and fate of Jesus. That is the very thing which deprives Jesus of his crown of martyrdom, and brings [Pg 528]religion in perpetual conflict with philosophy. It was not the religious idea which was crucified in Jesus and resurrected with him, as with all its martyrs; although his belief in immortality may have strengthened him in the agony of death. It was the idea of duty to his disciples and friends which led him to the realms of death. This deserves admiration, but no more. It demonstrates the nobility of human nature, but proves nothing in regard to providence, or the providential scheme of government.
The Christian story, as the Gospels narrate it, cannot stand the test of criticism. You approach it critically and it falls. Dogmatic Christology built upon it, has, therefore, a very frail foundation. Most so-called lives of Christ, or biographies of Jesus, are works of fiction, erected by imagination on the shifting foundation of meagre and unreliable records. There are very few passages in the Gospels which can stand the rigid application of honest criticism. In modern science and philosophy, orthodox Christology is out of the question.
"This 'sacred tradition' has in itself a glorious vitality, which Christians may unblameably entitle immortal. But it certainly will not lose in beauty, grandeur, or truth, if all the details concerning Jesus which are current in the Gospels, and all the mythology of his person, be forgotten or discredited. Christianity will remain without Christ.
"This formula has in it nothing paradoxical. Rightly interpreted, it simply means: All that is best in Judæo-Christian sentiment, moral or spiritual, will survive, without Rabbinical fancies, cultured by perverse logic; without huge piles of fable built upon them: without the Oriental Satan, a formidable rival to the throne of God; without the Pagan invention of Hell and Devils."
In modern criticism, the Gospel sources become so utterly worthless and unreliable, that it takes more than ordinary faith to believe a large portion thereof to be true. The Eucharist was not established by Jesus, and cannot be called a sacrament. The trials of Jesus are positively not true: they are pure inventions.[528:1] The crucifixion story, as narrated, is certainly not true, and it is extremely difficult to save the bare fact that Jesus was crucified. What can the critic do with books in which a few facts must be ingeniously guessed from under the mountain of ghost stories,[528:2] childish [Pg 529]miracles,[529:1] and dogmatic tendencies?[529:2] It is absurd to expect of him to regard them as sources of religious instruction, in preference to any other mythologies and legends. That is the point at which modern critics have arrived, therefore, the Gospels have become books for the museum and archæologist, for students of mythology and ancient literature.
The spirit of dogmatic Christology hovers still over a portion of civilized society, in antic organizations, disciplines, and hereditary forms of faith and worship; in science and philosophy, in the realm of criticism, its day is past. The universal, religious, and ethical element of Christianity has no connection whatever with Jesus or his apostles, with the Gospel, or the Gospel story; it exists independent of any person or story. Therefore it needs neither the Gospel story nor its heroes. If we profit by the example, by the teachings, or the discoveries of men of past ages, to these men we are indebted, and are in duty bound to acknowledge our indebtedness; but why should we give to one individual, Jesus of Nazareth, the credit of it all? It is true, that by selecting from the Gospels whatever portions one may choose, a common practice among Christian writers, a noble and grand character may be depicted, but who was the original of this character? We may find the same individual outside of the Gospels, and before the time of Jesus. The moral precepts of the Gospels, also, were in existence before the Gospels themselves were in existence.[529:3] Why, then, extol the hero of the Gospels, and forget all others?
[Pg 530]As it was at the end of Roman Paganism, so is it now: the masses are deceived and fooled, or do it for themselves, and persons of vivacious fantasies prefer the masquerade of delusion, to the simple sublimity of naked but majestic truth. The decline of the church as a political power proves beyond a doubt the decline of Christian faith. The conflicts of Church and State all over the European continent, and the hostility between intelligence and dogmatic Christianity, demonstrates the death of Christology in the consciousness of modern culture. It is useless to shut our eyes to these facts. Like rabbinical Judaism, dogmatic Christianity was the product of ages without typography, telescopes, microscopes, telegraphs, and power of steam. "These right arms of intelligence have fought the titanic battles, conquered and demolished the ancient castles, and remove now the débris, preparing the ground upon which there shall be the gorgeous temple of humanity, one universal republic, one universal religion of intelligence, and one great universal brotherhood. This is the new covenant, the gospel of humanity and reason."
Its death-blow, and is tottering to the grave:
A brighter morn awaits the human day;
War with its million horrors, and fierce hell,
Shall live but in the memory of time,
Who, like a penitent libertine, shall start,
Look back, and shudder at his younger years."