Who is this King of Glory? – A Critical Study of the Christos-Messiah Tradition 3
Alvin Boyd Kuhn
COSMIC MAJESTY WITH LOCAL ITEMS
The first item to be examined in connection with the Nativity is that which has come to be known as the Slaughter of the Innocents. If any sane and intelligent person will let his reason function for a single minute upon the subject he will be assured that such an episode as the wholesale slaughter of the male babes under two years in Judea by edict of the ruler of the province and for the reason alleged could have held its place in Christian minds as factual history for centuries only through a total paralysis of mentality so great as to surpass all credibility. It would surely seem as if the acceptance of such an incident as part of the history of the Savior of the world could have occurred only among people rated as semi-intelligent or semi-barbaric. The phenomenon of its having gained and long held credible status among people whom history rates as the leaders in world civilization challenges the student with the riddle of such an anomaly. It would almost seem a labor of supererogation to demonstrate its patent non-historicity; but with millions of minds still hallucinated by the spell of the miraculous and the supernatural as being the legitimate essence of “religion,” and with the Bible standing in the character of a fetish which must be approached only when the reason has been put in abeyance, the task of disproving what could not by any possibility have occurred must be undertaken.
To begin with, the consideration at once occurs to reflection – when one transfers the episode from romantic subjectivism to concrete realism on the plane of everyday factuality, in the process of which nearly every incident in the Bible at once appears impossible and ridiculous – that to carry out such an edict Herod must have struck at all the infant children of his own political supporters, his friends, his courtiers, the members of the ring that are with him in power. It is incredible that a man in his position, short of being demented, would have risked the infliction of slaughter and grief upon the families of those in his own political “gang.” Nor is it conceivable that this powerful coterie of his closest supporters, his cabinet, and the noblemen would have permitted an order that would have involved their own children.
Then the incident is recorded only in the Gospels; and by now it must be clear that the Gospels are spiritual dramas and not histories. There is therefore no historical record of the event. Veridical history knows absolutely nothing about it. It is a total blank as regards this incident in the “life” of Jesus. It is an allegorical formulation and nothing else. It, too, traces its mythological origin to Egypt, where the Innocents – the virgin units of divine mind, our souls-to-be – were attacked, like the infant Hercules in his cradle, by the two reptiles (representing the lower natural forces of the body, in warfare with the newborn Christos taking his initial plunge into carnality), the Apap serpent and the Herut water monster. The soul-units were characterized as “innocent” because they were children of God, newly generated offshoots of his mind, that had not ever previously been wedded to matter in full incarnation. The meaning, as always, is evolutionary, cosmic or spiritual, never objectively historical. On their downward plunge into the world and body they had to withstand the onslaught of the carnal nature with its menace of engulfing, devouring their incipient spiritual nature. This was dramatized as the attack of the serpent upon them in their infancy or childhood. The youthful David overcame the monster Goliath as one version of it, and the fairy legends of the young St. George or petit Jack battling the giant are other forms of it. It is all to typify the danger involving the hosts of young souls from the side of the carnal body on their first venture into incarnation.
Higgins says categorically that the story of Herod and the Innocents is quite unknown to all the Jewish, Roman and Greek historians. Mead states that the Talmud Rabbis know nothing of Herod’s wholesale murder of the children as recounted in the introduction of our first canonical Gospel. Josephus knows nothing of it, although he had no reason for whitewashing the character of Herod had such a dastardly outrage been an actual fact. And the Talmud Rabbis so thoroughly hated the memory of Herod that they could not have failed to record such a horror had he been really guilty. Mead adds that we must remember that the Rabbis had no belief whatever in the Gospel tradition as history.
On the subject Lundy has this to say:
“Although persecution began with the very birth and infancy of Christ, when King Herod sent his ‘blood-hunting slaughtermen’ to Bethlehem to ‘spit the naked infants upon pikes and make their mad mothers’ howls break the clouds,’ yet of this horrible massacre there is no trace at all in the Roman catacombs and none in any Christian art until about the close of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century, when we have an example on a sarcophagus from the crypt of St. Maximin, France. . . . Modern Romish art must needs represent the actual slaughter in all its horrible and sickening details to make it impressive to the vulgar, as Fra Angelico, Raphael and especially Rubens have done. Early Christian art had a more refined delicacy of taste and far better conceptions of the true and only object of art, which is to teach, cheer, comfort and elevate the soul of man, and not fill him with horrors and ideas of cruelty and licentiousness.”
(Lundy adduces the valuable testimony also that there is no picturing of the flight into Egypt and return of the holy family to Nazareth in early art, and none of Christ among the doctors in the temple until about the fifth century.)
To accentuate the point that considerations of factual history had little to do with the fixing of a date for Jesus’ birth, it is worth inserting a quotation given by Epiphanius (Haer., LI, p. 22) from the Codex Marcianus:
“The Savior was born in the forty-second year of Augustus, king of the Romans, in the consulship of the same Octavi(an)us Augustus, (for the thirteenth time), and of Sil(v)anus according to the consular calendar among the Romans. For it is recorded in it as follows: When these were consuls . . . Christ was born on the sixth day of January, after thirteen days of the winter solstice and of the increase of the light and day. This day (of the solstice) the Greeks, I mean the Idolaters, celebrate on the twenty-fifth day of December a feast called Saturnalia among the Romans, Kronia among the Egyptians, and Kikellia among the Alexandrians. For on the twenty-fifth day of December the division takes place which is the solstice, and the day begins to lengthen its light, receiving an increase, and there are thirteen days of it up to the sixth day of January, until the day of the birth of Christ (a thirtieth of an hour being added each day), as the wise Ephraim among the Syrians bore witness by this inspired passage (logos) in his commentaries, where he says: ‘The advent of our Lord Jesus Christ was thus appointed: (First) his birth according to the flesh, then his perfect incarnation among men which is called Epiphany, at a distance of thirteen days from the increase of the light; for it needs must have been that this should be a figure of our Lord Jesus Christ himself and of his twelve disciples, who made up the number of the thirteen days of the increase of the light.”
The sixth of January is still traditionally celebrated as the day of the birth of Christ in England and elsewhere. Christian heads are for the most part guiltless of any suspicion of the reason for the date. The quoted passage hints at it, but, without ancient Egyptian backgrounds of data, leaves the matter still obscure. We have already seen that the most primary significance of the number twelve, as pertaining to the disciples, tribes of Israel, months of the year, and other usages, was the Egyptian designation, the Twelve Saviors of the Treasure of Light. The Christ would be fully “born” in humanity when his gradual infiltration into human consciousness had unfolded to perfection the twelve rays of divine mind which man is to express. The inchoate divine light in mankind was to increase by twelve stages of growth to the full shining of Christhood in all hearts. What more natural symbolism then could be adopted than the counting of the first twelve days of increasing light from the solstice of darkness, figured as the twenty-fifth of December? And after twelve days came the thirteenth, on which the whole twelve powers were synthesized in the unified being of the Christos. So that now with the resort again to Egyptian constructions of imagery there can be announced for the first time to the Christian population the correct significance of their celebrating the birth of Jesus both on the twenty-fifth of December and the sixth of January. As the Egyptians would have said, the December solstitial date commemorated the birth of Horus the Younger, the infant Horus, type of the first or natural man Adam; while the January date thirteen days later marked the day of the birth of Horus the Elder, Horus the adult, the homme faît or man made perfect, second Adam. In simpler terms, the December date marked the physical beginning of the birth of the Christ spirit in mankind and the January date marked the concluding stage of its aeonial increase. All of which again throws the meaning of the word “birth,” in reference to the Christos, into its true and proper significance, as a gradual increase of a spiritual quality over a long period, the whole cycle or aeon. Man, who is to be divinized, had first to be physically “born” on a given planet. So the Christ-man as ritualistic type of a divinized humanity, had also to be given his “birth-day” – at the winter solstice, as a babe in the flesh. It will be noticed that the tradition outlined in the Codex Marcianus lays significant stress upon the apparently extraneous fact that the Savior’s birth on the sixth of January came in the thirteenth consulship of Octavius Augustus, obviously an obscure hint that Deity fell in with the symbolism to the extent of adding another historical thirteen to the combination. Christians celebrate many a festival day in the year’s calendar without the slightest inkling as to the long-lost purport of the ritual commemorations.
Reverting to the Herodian hecatomb of infant death, if the inherent impossibilities of the case do not suffice to determine the matter against the historicity, there is another fact that settles it with finality. This is the date of Herod’s death. Christian historians have been relentlessly forced to assent to the year 4 B.C. as the date of the Tetrarch’s demise. When verified historical fact is the piper, theological fiction must dance in tune. So back goes the official “date” of Jesus’ birth to the year 4 B.C., since Herod must be kept in the story. This throws the whole dating of the Christian era four years out of line with the first guess.
But what will be done now when another authentic date is found and another shift will have to be made on the strength of it? Another ruler is mentioned as on the throne when Jesus was born, and his date is still farther away from the year one. Matthew says that Caesar Augustus levied the great world tax that required Joseph to register at Bethlehem, “now when Cyrenius was Governor in Syria.” There has hardly been a period in eastern Mediterranean history when the records of the provincial governments under the Roman Empire were so well kept as just the time referred to. The official annals of the Syrian government are well preserved; and they show no Governor at all by the name of Cyrenius! The closest approximation to the name is Quirinus, and Moffatt’s translation of the New Testament inserts Quirinus for Cyrenius in the Nativity narrative. But the authentic date of the governorship of this Quirinus is the two-years period between 13 and 11 B.C.! To accommodate its dating to this item of the “historical” chronicle of Jesus’ “life,” official ecclesiasticism must now endorse a date eight or nine years farther back than 4 B.C. Two such corrections leave the whole historical structure of Christianity badly shaken, near in fact to the point of tottering. Without a change in the date of the first Christmas the participation of Herod in the infant slaughter becomes impossible. The personal Herod was four years in his grave when the Bethlehem babe arrived.
Comment has already been made on the close similarity of the name of the Egyptian serpent Herut to the Tetrarch’s name, and the likelihood of a substitution of the latter for the former when the Egyptian myth was converted into “history.” Presumably clinching proof of this jugglery may never be available. It must be left then to rest upon the strong presumptive probabilities inherent in the situation. It must be held deeply suggestive, however, that the name Herod occupies exactly the same place, role and significance in the Gospel “incident” that the Herut reptile fills in the Egyptian allegory! It is the Herut menace to our young divine souls in the one instance, and the Herod menace to the young divinity in the other. This alone is enough to remove it from the realm of coincidence and conjecture and to throw it over into that of identity of character. If it was one isolated single occurrence of such definite correspondence, the case might be classed as accidental. But when it is known to be but one of a long series of such agreements and matchings, sound judgment inclines to call it another historization of Egyptian myth. Such it almost indubitably must be considered.
The fact of Herod’s death in the year 4 B.C. alone jars the whole fabric of Christian systematism to its foundations. Christian apologists have belittled in the past, and presumably will again in the future depreciate the importance of the precise date of the birth of their Savior, and will in spite of all facts cling to the historicity of the episode. But we shall see that the structure of the historical claim, severely weakened by the non-authenticity of its very first chapter of events, will be still further assaulted and finally dismantled by a long series of blows from the side of fact, until if it stands at all, it must rest on sheer stolid faith alone. It will be found to be utterly discredited by reason, by data, and by the sheer physical impossibility of the occurrence of Biblical events when they are treated realistically and not romantically. The latter particular will be noted in glaring vividness when the legend of the star of Bethlehem is examined.
From Herod at the birth, it is a short jump to Pilate at the death, of the historical Jesus.
Authoritative data are wanting to present any outright negative evidence as to the participation of the pro-consul in the Gospel events.
But there is a textual detail that looms larger and larger the longer it is considered. It is a phrase in the Apostles’ Creed of the Christian Church.
The creed – worthy itself of a whole volume’s study – is by no means a mere abbreviated rune or formulary of Christian theological belief. It is that, but it is infinitely more than that. It is a brief of ancient cosmology and creative process, incarnation of spirit in matter, descent of soul into body and return to greater deific state by virtue of the victory won in the lower worlds. An item of the journey of celestial divine spirit through the planes of matter that could not be left out was the “suffering” entailed for it by the necessity of its going “under” the limitations imposed on it by matter’s lower range of vibrational sensitivity. Now matter, as has been set forth fully elsewhere, was typified universally and ubiquitously in ancient symbolism by water, so that even the name most generally applied to the mothers of the Christs was in whatever language the word for water, sea, ocean. Mary is incontestably of this origin, being Mare, Maria in Latin, and Thallath, “the sea” (name of a Hellenic “Mother of God”), in Greek. Primeval space, the mother of all things, being matter in inchoate form, was the Great Deep, the waters of the abyss, the firmament of the waters. Now the quality of matter that caused it to be the generator of suffering for the energies of spirit that were “cribbed, cabined and confined” under its sluggish inertness, was its density. It is therefore not a shrewd guess, not a mere chance discernment of a concatenation of phrase and idea that enables us to make a totally new translation of one of the clauses in the Apostles’ Creed, by which change the historical Pilate is swept entirely out of the narrative. It is not a sheer stretching of points to make designed ends meet, but must be the result of the rational necessities involved in the only correct and consistent envisagement of the matters discussed in the Creed, when it is asserted that the creedal phrase detailing with the utmost brevity the duress of spirit under the thraldom of matter, must inexpugnably have been in the true original formulation of the ritual statement, “he suffered under the dense sea, was crucified, dead and buried.” “Dense sea” would have been merely a euphemism, familiar to all in Mystery Ritual cultism, for “he suffered under the limitation of dense matter,” – a shorthand expression in Mystery language. What, then, in the light of this irrefutable statement of the true basic meaning that fits with absolute nicety and exactness into that very place in the Creed, must be our amazement when we turn to the Greek and find a similarity of name even closer to identity than the Herod-Herut one – “dense sea” in the Greek manuscripts is given as a insert Greek equiv. (pontos pilètos)! “He suffered under pontos pilètos: he suffered under the dense sea” (of matter).
It is far from being a merely specious argument, indeed it is a fully warranted contention, that the sudden introduction in this majestic cosmograph in the impressive ritual of the name of a mere man is a misfit and impertinence bordering close on to the sublimest ineptitude. It is exactly like the sudden injection of Bill Brown of 128 North Sixth Street into a line in Paradise Lost. It is too sudden a jerk from the sweep of cosmic drama to page 195 of a school history. A personal reference to our own childhood reaction to this phrase in the Creed may be pardoned. Even from the age of ten or twelve there seemed something wholly incongruous and vaguely disturbing when the Creed jumped without warning from celestial operations on a majestic scale to the judge of a court trial down in Judea. The sudden insertion of one human person’s name in the text amid otherwise lofty epic dramatization was jarring and disconcerting. It was an ideological anomaly. It did not ring harmoniously with the context. It stands to reason that the introduction of a local ruler’s name into what is provably an august formula of creative cosmology and evolutionary method is obviously an interpolation, and a glaring instance of the wreckage caused by that enormous transposition of allegory and formulae over into supposed history. It will be denied because we can produce no cinema of the scribes caught in the act of changing Herut to Herod and pontos pilètos to Pontius Pilate; but the results of the change glare at us nevertheless.
It must strike anyone who thinks clearly for a moment that the writer of a formulary, as the Creed was intended to be, aiming to express most succinctly the suffering of soul under matter’s heavy burden, would have been most unlikely to summarize the long list of dramatic ordeals in mortal career with the phrase “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” the proconsul. Even in the “history” of Jesus according to the Gospels, the man Pilate was not at all a central factor in Jesus’ sufferings. His part was in fact incidental. Pilate’s decree was merely an incident in a chain of events that already had gained such moral momentum that any other decision than condemnation would have been an anticlimax and an artistic faux pas. It would have wrecked the scenario. Pilate’s pardon of Jesus would have left Christianity limp and unheroic, much as if in a murder mystery the first-chapter murder victim should recover and defeat the story. Jesus had to be condemned – “it must needs be that Christ should suffer and enter into his glory” – and Pilate’s dramatic role was merely mechanical. He has never been taken, even by literalists, for more than a puppet or marionette in the play. And all this inharmony of the elements in the situation is nicely adjusted and resolved if the original reading of “dense sea” is put back in place of the forged proconsul’s name.
As to the Apocryphal Gospel of Pilate and the documents entitled Letters of Pilate to Seneca and the philosopher’s rejoinders, they are obviously forged Gospels, of which there were scores in existence at the time. A perusal of them suggests forgery in every phase and verse, as is also the case with the so-called Gospels of the Infancy, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Nicodemus, the strange Gospel of Paul and Thecla and others.
Having foisted upon the proconsul’s name the ignominy of condemning the Son of God to death, Christian imagination has pursued his shade even beyond the grave, and in various literary concoctions has pictured the anguish of soul which he is undergoing in some darksome Sheol, as post mortem realization of the ghastly crime he had committed upon earth overwhelmed him. Unless sanity returns even these lucubrations may become the canonical Gospels of some later ecclesiasticism.
STAGGERING TRUTH ON EGYPT’S WALLS
Theologians have written and the clergy have preached in such positive fashion as to the existence of the personal Jesus that the body of the laity has been thrown under the impression that outside the Gospels the historicity of the Master is well attested by the evidence of secular sources. With this prepossession holding the field it becomes necessary to marshal the material bearing on this issue. The average Christian minister who has not read outside the pale of accredited Church authorities will impart to any parishioner making the inquiry the information that no event in history is better attested by witness than the occurrences in the Gospel narrative of Christ’s life. He will go over the usual citation of the historians who mention Jesus and the letters claiming to have been written about him. When the credulous questioner, putting trust in the intelligence and good faith of his pastor, gets this answer, he goes away assured on the point of the veracity of the Gospel story. The pastor does not qualify his data with the information that the practice of forgery, fictionizing and fable was rampant in the early Church. In the simple interest of truth, then, it is important to examine the body of alleged testimony from secular history and see what credibility and authority it possesses.
First, as to the historians whose works record the existence of Jesus, the list comprises but four. They are Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus. There are short paragraphs in the works of each of these, two in Josephus. The total quantity of this material is given by Harry Elmer Barnes in The Twilight of Christianity as some twenty-four lines. It may total a little more, perhaps twice that amount. This meager testimony constitutes the body or mass of the evidence of “one of the best attested events in history.” Even if it could be accepted as indisputably authentic and reliable, it would be faltering support for an event that has dominated the thought of half the world for eighteen centuries.
But what is the standing of this witness? Not even Catholic scholars of importance have seriously dissented from a general agreement of academic investigators that these passages, one and all, must be put down as forgeries and interpolations by partisan Christian scribes who wished zealously to array the authority of these historians behind the historicity of the Gospel life of Jesus. A sum total of forty or fifty lines from secular history supporting the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, and they completely discredited!
Some of the evidence of spuriousness consists of the differing styles of Greek or Latin in the language used in the interpolations, the place in the context where the passages have been inserted or other indications open to the eye of critical scholars. It is so rare a thing to find unanimous consensus of opinion on such matters among scholars that their practically complete agreement in this case enables the layman to accept the academic verdict with assurance. It will be informative to note some of the commentaries on these passages made by the investigators.
In his work, The Great Galilean (p. 3) Robert Keable writes:
“No man knows sufficient of the early life of Jesus to write a biography of him. For that matter no one knows enough for the normal Times obituary notice of a great man. If regard were had to what we should call in correct speech definitely historical facts, scarcely three lines could be filled.”
Had newspapers existed then, no material could have been found for the obituary notice, not even the man’s name, asserts Keable. Yet few periods of the ancient world were so well documented as the period of Augustus and Tiberius. But no contemporary writer knew of his existence.
Following his statement as to the complete dearth of reference to Jesus’ life by any first and early second century chroniclers and that the very existence of Jesus seems to have been unheard of by them, Mead examines Pliny, Tacitus and Suetonius passages. Pliny was born 61 A.D., Tacitus about the same time and Suetonius some ten years later. All were in position to have gleaned all that was reported of an extraordinary character like Jesus, whose activities and marvels had aroused thousands in the Judean country, if Gospel be history. There are two short statements in Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars, and they deal chiefly with some disturbances aroused in Rome “impulsore Chresto,” “at the instigation of Chrestus.” Just what the reference could be to disturbances at Rome, leading to the expulsion of Christians by Claudius, with “Chrestus” as the instigator – when Jesus was never at Rome – is not clear. Doubtless some insurrectionist activities of his followers at the capital, it is presumed. But the Suetonius passage invalidates its reference to Jesus as a man, it would seem. For Mead says that Suetonius’ reference to “Christiani” in the second passage might easily apply to Zealots or Messianists of any type. Mead adds that it is a well digested conclusion among schoolmasters and their pupils that, as to Tacitus, we have in him a historical romanticist who has too long fascinated readers by the beauty of his style, and that he is not a sober historian. Tacitus’ main statement is that Jesus was put to death under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. The famous sentence runs as follows:
“Auctor nominis ejus Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium supplicio affectus erat.”
Mead says this has all the earmarks of being a Christian formula. Tacitus seems to know nothing of the name of Jesus. “Tiberio imperitante” cannot be paralleled anywhere in his vocabulary, and moreover is contrary to regular use, which would be “Principe Tiberio.” Hochart (Annales de la Faculté des Lettres de Bordeaux, 1884, No. 2) says:
“This chapter contains almost as many inexplicable difficulties as it does words.”
Hochart thinks that a rescript of the Annals and Histories by Poggio Bracciolini and Niccoli is itself a pseudo-Tacitus and that “therefore we are face to face with an elaborate pseudepigraph.”
Josephus (Joseph ben Mattatiah) was born 37-38 A.D., and lived to 100 A.D. His spurious passage is in the Antiquities (XVIII, iii, p. 3). Mead says there are a dozen most potent arguments against its authenticity and that it is rejected by all. (He names one scholar, F. Bole, as claiming its genuineness.) We have the explicit statement of Origen in the third century, says Mead, that Josephus had no belief whatever in Jesus being the Christ, whereas the spurious passage states categorically that he was the Christ. The Antiquities (XX, ix, p. 1) has a reference to a certain Jacobus, “the brother of Jesus called Christ.” Says Mead: “It follows that Josephus knew nothing of ‘the Christ’ though he knows much of various ‘Christs.’” Josephus, he cites, had been trained in an Essene-like community and seems to have gone to Rome in “Essene” interests. He was at Rome just when the Christiani were singled out for special persecution and cruel martyrdom by imperial tyranny; and yet he knows nothing of all this. He does not know of the gruesome tragedy at Rome or even of the Christ of the Christians. Joseph Klausner in his Jesus of Nazareth (p. 55) reiterates Mead’s general observations with reference to the inharmony of the Josephus passages with Origen’s statement that Josephus did not admit Jesus as the Messiah. He emphasizes that Jesus’ life, if lived, could not have seemed of small and inconsequential moment to Josephus, who wrote in 93, when the Christians were strong and flourishing. Klausner points out the notable fact that Eusebius, of the fourth century, knew the whole of the spurious Josephus passage, whereas Origen of the third century did not. This again points to interpolation between Origen’s day and the time of Eusebius. Klausner, on good authority, speaks of “manifest additions by Christian copyists.”
But it might be well to note and answer Klausner’s concession to general modern opinion in his remark that “it is far more difficult to explain how certain Jewish writers (the Evangelists) invented such a wonderful character than it is to admit that they were describing someone who did really exist.” This greater difficulty in the way of seeing the truth of the situation is the tremendous fact of the loss of esotericism in general, the suppression of the knowledge of the Mystery Ritual Drama and its significance and the decay of the original Egyptian crypticism. In the absence of all this guiding intelligence, of course explanation is difficult. Certainly it is difficult to see why the Evangelists should “invent” the Jesus character and personalize him, if one does not know that the Jesus character was already “invented” and had trod the stage boards in the Mystery dramas for centuries B.C. The mere statement of Klausner that the Evangelists “invented” a character that had been the central figure of all ancient Messianic or Sun-God systems for centuries previously, betrays this capable historian’s erroneous foundations and approaches to the analysis of the Jesus situation. The Evangelists neither invented nor perhaps even euhemerized the Jesus person. He was already in the documents they rescripted or transcribed. But later ignorance changed him from a typal to a personal entification. The misleading supposition with which these analysts approach the problem is that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were first century citizens who took pen in hand and wrote the Gospels out of their heads. The final staggering truth about the Bible books is that no “authors” ever sat down and wrote them at all, in the sense in which Sir Walter Scott wrote the Waverley novels. They were never “written” at all in the sense of original creations by given authors. They were in existence long before ink ever met paper to record and preserve them. They were the spoken lines of the great drama, they were the oral tradition, extant thousands of years before they were ever committed to writing. But at some epoch, here, there or elsewhere, the sages or their pupils did at last commit them to writing, lest in some degenerate age they be lost. This is obviously the whole truth as to their origin, and there will be no sanity in the discussion of them until this is known. So let Klausner’s remark be thrown into proper form of statement, – that it is not difficult to understand how the Evangelists simply brought out to more popular knowledge the recondite Gospels, with a Jesus long their central figure, which had been theretofore kept more closely concealed within the depths of Mystery cult secrecy. Christianity will not be understood until it is seen as a popularization and consequent fatal vitiation of exclusive secret religious philosophy and ritualism, instead of being considered a new creation and a new advance on previous ignorance.
In his challenging work, The Twilight of Christianity (p. 390), Harry Elmer Barnes reviews the status of the meager amount of extra-Gospel material mentioning Jesus. He ventures the observation that it may greatly surprise some readers to learn that anyone has ever seriously questioned the actual existence of Jesus. As a matter of fact, he asserts, the evidence for the view that Jesus was really a historical character is so slight that a considerable number of the most distinguished students of New Testament times have declared Jesus to be a mythical personage, the product of the myth-making tendencies common to religious peoples of all ages and particularly prevalent at the period of the early Roman Empire. Among the more eminent scholars and critics who have contended that Jesus was not historical, mention might be made of Bruno Bauer, Kalthoff, Drews, Stendel, Felden, Deije, Jensen, Lublinski, Bolland, Van der Berg, Virolleaud, Couchoud, Massey, Bossi, Memojewski, Brandes, Robertson, Mead, Whittaker, Carpenter and W. B. Smith. Of non-Christian evidence, he says, next to nothing exists. Of the twenty-four lines, the total of this sort, not a single line is of admitted authenticity. Barnes quotes the Tacitus passage (from the Annals, XV, p. 44) as follows:
“In order to suppress the rumor, Nero falsely accused and punished with the most acute tortures persons who, already hated for their shameful deeds, were commonly called Christians. The founder of that name, Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberius; but the deadly superstition, though repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where this evil had its origin, but also through the city (Rome) whither all things horrible and vile flow from all quarters and are encouraged. Accordingly, first those were arrested who confessed; then on their information a great multitude were convicted, not so much of the crime of incendiarism as of hatred of the human race.”
Tacitus wrote the Annals about 117 A.D., by which time the nascent popular notion of the historical Jesus might have gained sufficient vogue to have let the historian assume he was writing definite authentic history. He cites no sources or witness or authorities for his facts.
Barnes points out that the name Chrestus (instead of Christus) used in the Suetonius passage of two or three lines, was a common Greek name, and may not necessarily have referred to the particular man Jesus.
The Josephus excerpt (Antiquities, XVIII, p. 3) is given as follows:
“About this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed he should be called man. He wrought miracles and was a teacher of those who gladly accept the truth, and had a large following among the Jews and pagans. He was the Christ. Although Pilate, at the complaint of the leaders of our people, condemned him to die on the cross, his earlier followers were faithful to him. For he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as God-sent prophets had foretold this and a thousand other wonderful things of him. The people of the Christians, which is called after him, survives until the present day.”
Written somewhere between 75 and 100 A.D., Barnes says the passage is admitted even by conservative and pious scholars to be quite obviously spurious. No Jew who rejected Christianity could possibly have written in this vein. It is obviously a late Christian interpolation. It may have replaced an unfavorable reference to Jesus in the original. Philo, Barnes reminds us, the most learned and brilliant Jewish scholar of his day, has nothing whatever to say in regard to Jesus and the Christians. There is therefore in extant Jewish literature of the first century A.D. not a single authentic line making reference to the founder of Christianity.
It is fitting at this place to make answer to the statement of the Freethought proponent Joseph McCabe in his The Story of Religious Controversy (p. 228). He there makes the declaration that is worth our reproducing because it represents the common thought of the average Christian who has not critically looked into the matter. He concludes that it is more reasonable to believe in the historicity of Jesus because there is no parallel in history to the sudden growth of a myth and its conversion into a human personage in one generation. Moreover, he affirms, to those early Christians Jesus was not merely or primarily a teacher. A collection of wise teachings might in time get a mythical name attached to it, and the myth might in time become a real person. But from the earliest moment that we catch sight of Christians in history the essence of their belief is that Jesus was a personal incarnation in Judea of the great God of the universe. The supreme emphasis, asserts McCabe, is on the fact that he assumed a human form and shed human blood on a cross. So it seems far more reasonable, scientific and consonant with the facts of religious history which are known, to conclude that Jesus was a man who was gradually turned into a God.
McCabe’s assertion that there is no parallel in history to the sudden growth of a myth and its conversion into history in one generation is a misstatement of the premises, to begin with. It is both a sly subterfuge and an easy way to win a victory in an argument, to twist the premises into shape to support the conclusion. It is simply not true to say that the myth of Jesus was a sudden growth. We have shown that it was a perennial cornerstone of ancient Mystery cultism. Only, it was held in secret and was esoterically apprehended. The only suddenness connected with it came in the way of its rather sudden popularization and exoterization. This indeed was a lone phenomenon without parallel in history – which is the very point our argument advances against the historicity. No doubt there had been previous cases of the exoteric development, but never had this trend swept to such wide-spread and overwhelming volume and power as to smother esotericism completely and to enthrone in its stead the rule of ignorant literalism. The Christian conversion of myth into history, sudden as it appears, was the culminating denouement of a process or trend that was long in fermenting and slow in working to a head. The bloom of a flower is sudden, but it is just the apical point at the summit of a long slow process of growth through many preceding stages. Of course there is no parallel to this phenomenon, for it occurred only after long ages of slow preparation and has kept its direful hold on the religious world ever since. Not perhaps in five thousand years could it occur again on the same colossal scale. It is likely the one titanic calamity in world history. Not the growth of myth, but the historization of myth, is the thing that is, catastrophically enough, without parallel in the world, on the scale and proportions as perpetrated by Christianity in the early centuries.
Then there is the senselessness of McCabe’s saying that a collection of myths might get a name attached to it, when there was never a time over centuries previously that the name – Jesus or another of similar purport, always designated the Sun-God in man – had not been attached to such collections. All this shows unconscionable lack of acquaintance with the facts of ancient history that should have been the premises of argument. How can any scholar say it is hard to see why the particular name, Jesus, was attached to the myths when Joshua, Jeshu, Jesse, Joses, Josiah, Joash, Jehoash, Jehoahaz, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Jonah, Jason, Iusa, Hosea and many more variant forms of the very name of Jesus were in archaic literature for hundreds of years B.C.?
Again McCabe both twists facts and draws from them unwarranted conclusions when he says that from the first moment when we catch sight of Christians in history their belief was centered in the personal human Jesus. This assertion has already been controverted by much material gathered in this work, from Clement, Origen, Philo and others of the Christians themselves. Among the unlearned early Christians it may have to some extent been true; but among the intelligent and philosophical ones, the Gnostics, Nazarenes, Essenes, and others, it most certainly was not true. Were these sects not spurned as heretics for the very reason that they repudiated the personal Jesus? The date of a general acceptance of the human Jesus by the parties that had excluded the rest as heretics and established the orthodoxies was not early in Christian history, but on in the third century.
The refutation of these statements in McCabe’s short passage goes far to indicate how sorely intelligence and honesty are needed to meet and straighten out many such tangled webs of Christian presumption and falsification of data. Thousands of pages could be given to the labor of correcting misstatements of fact, unwarranted deductions, sly insinuations and other forms of perversion of truth found in hundreds of books dedicated to the defense of the Christian faith.
In a note on page 24 of Josephus’ Antiquities there is a statement that Photius says he has seen the chronology of Justus of Tiberias, entitled The Chronology of the Kings of Judah Which Succeeded One Another, and Photius says: “and being under the Jewish prejudices, and indeed he was himself also a Jew by birth, he makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ or what things happened to him or of the wonderful works that he did.” The inference here is obviously that Justus of Tiberius withholds mention of Jesus not because of Jewish prejudices, but in spite of them, the intimation being that had Jesus lived and been known through his wonderful works and Christly status, any Jew would have been prejudiced in the direction of giving the matter all the mention possible. His silence bespeaks his lack of knowledge of the data. He would have been glad to mention such laudable things had he known of them.
Through the creditable scholarship of Klausner, Mead and others we are enabled to approach the next issue that closely and vitally affects the investigation. This is the group of references in the Jewish Talmud to a character whom many have sought to identify with the Gospel Jesus, namely Jehoshua (Jesus) Ben Pandira (Pandera, Pantera, Pantêre). Klausner’s treatment of the personage or figure is very full and discerning; Mead has a whole work devoted to him: Did Jesus Live 100 Years B.C.?; and Massey analyzes the situation capably. It is deemed desirable to go into the question of his relation to the Gospel Jesus, not so much because it may contribute any effective data to the main problem under review, as because it may carry to readers the important knowledge that other sacred writings before the Gospels featured a Jesus figure, with much the same narrative material of his “life,” as that believed generally to exist only in the Christian canonical writings. The brief outline of the story of this Talmudic Jesus is indeed like a short summary of the Galilean’s career: he was born with an accompaniment of certain supernatural manifestations, went to Egypt, became learned in the wisdom of the Egyptians, returned to Palestine, wrought many miracles among the populace through his Egyptian arts or sorcery and magic, incurred the hostility of the orthodox priesthood, was tried and condemned, was given forty days for partisans to come and clear him, and finally stoned to death and his body hanged on a tree. The date of his birth has been placed by the best calculations of scholars at about 115 B.C. It will be seen at once that if this Talmud figure was the Jesus to whom the Gospels could be claimed to refer, or even the prototype of the Gospel Jesus, the dating would throw off base the entire structure of the Nazareth historicity, and would invalidate a thousand “proofs” of the latter based on dates, sequences of events and arguments grounded on and affected by such considerations. The dating of the Christian calendar would be over 100 years off the true.
We may start with the statement made by Massey (The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, p. 2) that in the Book of Acts Jesus is stoned to death and his body hanged on a tree. This establishes a fairly strong point of identity between the two Jesus characters.
Massey declares that this Jewish Pandira was the only Jesus known to Celsus, the author of The True Logos, which was destroyed by the Christians. Celsus says of him that he was not a pure Word, not a true Logos, but a man who had learned the arts of sorcery in Egypt. Massey sums the case when he says that “here is the conclusive fact: the Jews knew nothing of Jesus, the Christ of the Gospels, as a historical character, and when the Christians of the fourth century trace his pedigree by the hand of Epiphanius, they are forced to draw their Jesus from Pandira! Epiphanius gives the genealogy of the canonical Jesus in this wise: – Jacob, called Pandira, Mary – Joseph – Cleopas, Jesus.”
The name Pandira is related to the French panthère, “panther,” which was credited with being the “nickname” of Jacob, the alleged grandfather of the Talmud Jesus, and this Jacob was said to have been a Greek sailor. “Jehoshua ben Pandira” then means “Jesus, (grand)son of the Panther.” That this Talmudic genealogy is found in Epiphanius instead of the long Jesse-David lists appended to the several Gospels is significant of much.
Massey states that Pandira was stoned to death in the city of Lud, or Lydda, and that it must have been around the date of 70 B.C., after the reign of Jannaeus, 106-79 B.C. He says that Queen Alexandra (Salomé) showed favor to him, witnessed his wonderful works and powers of healing and tried to save him from his sacerdotal enemies because he was related to her. The Jews denied the identity of Jehoshua ben Pandira with the Gospel Jesus. Rabbi Jechiels said: “This which has been related of J. ben Perachia and his pupil (J. ben Pandira) contains no reference whatever to him whom the Christians honor as God.” Another Rabbi, Salman Zevi, produced ten reasons for concluding that the Jehoshua of the Talmud was not he who was afterwards called Jesus of Nazareth. The matter was unknown to Justus, the Jew of Celsus, and to Josephus, “the supposed reference to him by the latter being an undoubted forgery.” Massey asseverates that “the blasphemous writings of the Jews about Jesus,” as Justin Martyr calls them, refer always to Jehoshua ben Pandira, and not to the Gospel Jesus.
But Massey is firm and decisive in his conclusion that the Talmud Jehoshua can not be converted into the canonical Jesus as a historical character. The dates can never be reconciled to match contemporary history. Massey repudiates the connection as beyond the remotest possibility. “Make whatever you can of Jehoshua ben Pandira. He is not the Gospel Jesus,” he says. From Klausner we learn, however, that the Jehoshua Jewish tradition was entangled at least in Origen’s mind with the parentage of the Gospel Jesus. Origen is quoted (Contra Celsum, I, IX, p. 1) as repeating a story that his opponent Celsus related with reference to the current tradition dealing with the family and parentage of Jesus. And this version of the Jehoshua ben Pandira legend is worthy of notice for several reasons. Apart from the question whether it is the truth or a distortion, it is to be considered significant, first because of the sheer fact that such a story was current at the time – the late second century; and secondly because it either carries fact or reflects a perversion of allegorism, and would be notably significant in either case. The character called “the Jew” in Celsus’ book (I, p. 28) goes on to say that the dogma of the “virgin birth” was an invention of the Christians; the true facts in the case being: “that Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands; that his mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery; that, wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus a bastard; that Jesus, on account of his poverty (had to work for his living and) was hired out to go to Egypt; that while there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing; that he returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”
True or false, it is significant that such a story was in vogue in the second century. If one was to employ the usual method of orthodox explanation of such data, which is to assume that the story, however unlikely as truth, took its rise out of some factual foundation, the conclusion would be that it was a garbled version of some more acceptable basis of simple fact. By far the most likely elucidation would seem to be that it was another of hundreds of exotericized myths, being the literalization of a mythical account of the soul’s descent into matter in the “Egypt” of the physical body, “the flesh-pots of Egypt.” It is worthy of citation just as a sample of how the literalizing tendency could work a spiritual or cosmic myth over into a human story of gross realism! It is more than startling, then, that Mead is found endorsing this explanation of the story (Did Jesus Live 100 Years B.C.?, p. 126). He asks:
“Can this possibly be based on some vulgar version of a well-known Gnostic myth of those days? Jesus went down as a servant or slave into Egypt; that is to say, the Christ or divine soul descends as a servant into the Egypt of the body. It is a common element in the early mystic traditions that the Christ took on the form of a servant in his descent through the spheres, and in many traditions Egypt is the symbol of the body, which is separated by the ‘Red Sea’ and the ‘Desert’ from the ‘Promised Land.’”
Mead advances this solution of the gossiped illegitimacy of the Christ character because he had studied ancient Oriental religionism closely enough to have found the constant operation of the tendency of the “vulgar mind” to make hash out of sublime allegory. His conclusion is therefore well justified.
But what must be the explanation of another fact which he brings to light in connection with this story, a fact which indeed seems to stand in very sinister shadow? He says that:
“Origen again refers to the quotation from ‘the Jew’ of Celsus given above, and adds the important detail from Celsus that the paramour of the mother of Jesus was a soldier called Panthera, a name which he also repeats later on (i, 69) in a sentence, by the by, which has in both places been erased from the oldest Vatican MS., and bodily omitted from three codices in this country and from others.”
A note by Mead says: “See Notes on both passages by Lommatzsch in his Origenis Contra Celsum (Berlin, 1845).
According to Epiphanius’ original statement (Haereses, p. 78), Origen himself says that James, the father of Jesus’ father Joseph, was called by the name “Panther.” Origen apparently wished to explain in this way why Jesus, the son of Joseph, was called “Ben Pandera,” or “ben Pantere,” by the Jews. According to Origen Jesus was so called after the name of his grandfather.
Klausner alludes to the Baraita, a tradition issuing from the Tanaim, quoted in the later Talmud, which says that Jeshu of Nazareth practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. And the Talmud speaks of hanging instead of crucifixion, since this horrible form of death was only known to Jewish scholars from Roman trials and not from the Jewish legal system. Klausner cites the Pandira legend “in spite of Mr. Friedländer’s various attempts to persuade us that every Talmudist worthy of the name knows that the few Talmudic passages which speak of Jesus are a late addition” and “the Talmudic sources of the first century and the first quarter of the second afford us not the least evidence of the existence of Jesus or Christianity.” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 38.)
The Toldoth Jeshu, says Mead (Did Jesus Live 100 Years B.C.?, p. 303), notes that the Ben Pandera legend had spread so far and wide that we find two Church Fathers compelled to insert the name in the genealogies of Jesus and Mary. The stories say that the trial of Jesus took place before Queen Helene (Helena) and that the sovereignty of all Jewry was in her hands. Her name never appears in the Talmud Jesus stories, nor for a matter of fact, do the names of Herod, or Pilate, or John the Baptist, or any others that confirm the Christian canonical date. The only date indications in the Talmud are, on the one hand, the mention of Joshua ben Perachiah and Jannai in connection with Jesus, and on the other, the Akiba Mary story. Mead says it is true that Helena was the subject of a prolific legend activity in the Middle Ages. Mead (p. 261) does quote the Talmud as saying, “Now the rule of all Israel was in the hands of a woman, who was called Helene”; also he cites the Talmud passage: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Isai (Jesse), and I am he.” And the Toldoth, like the Talmud, he states, also know of a stoning or a stoning and hanging, or of a hanging alone, but never of a crucifixion.
Mead develops a point of some weight when he says that our studies of the works of the philosophers of early times can show us only that all of them regard the wonder-works of Jesus as being due to his magical powers, or rather to the fact of his being a Magus, like many others in antiquity. Such miracles, in the eyes of the philosophers, did not prove the contention of the Christians that Jesus was God, for similar wonders, equally well authenticated, and in a more recent case better authenticated, according to Hierocles, had been done by others. This Hierocles had been successively Governor of Palmyra, Bithynia and Alexandria, and was also a philosopher. In 305 A.D. he wrote a criticism of the claims of the Christians in two books called A Truthful Address to the Christians, or more briefly Truth Lovers. Even Arnobius, in his Against the Nations, sets forth the commonest argument against the Christians concerning Jesus, which was that he was a Magus; he did all these things (sc. Miracles) by secret arts; from the shrines of Egypt he stole the names of the angels of might and hidden disciplines.
Even Jerome was conversant with the legends that floated about as vulgar caricatures of the immaculate conception of the Virgin, and in his letter to Heliodorus, which was written in 374 A.D., the Church Father seems to have in memory the passage of Tertullian (De Spect.) which Mead had already quoted; for he writes: “He is called the son of a workman and of a harlot; He it is . . . who fled into Egypt. He the clothed with a scarlet robe; He the crowned with thorns; He a Magus, demon-possessed and a Samaritan!” Further in his letter to Titus (iii, p. 9) Jerome writes: “I heard formerly concerning the Hebrews . . . at Rome . . . that they bring into question the genealogies of Christ.”
Gregontius, Bishop of Tephar in Africa, in the second half of the fifth century says that Jesus had been put to death because he was a sorcerer or magician, so the Jews asserted. John of Damascus in the early eighth century, in the genealogy of Mary tells us that Joachim was the father of Mary, Bar Panther the father of Joachim, and Levi the father of Bar Panther, and therefore presumably Bar Panther himself.
Agobard in the eighth century repeats the Pandera stories.
The Toldoth speak of making a virgin pregnant without contact with a man. In the Talmud Balaam is one of the synonyms of Jesus.
With reference again to the Helene character that figured basically in many of the sacred legends connected with the Christ, there is the detail that the harlot who accompanied Simon Magus was a certain Helen (Greek Helene, Latin Helena). He said his Helen was the Sophia or Wisdom. But the conjecture is that Helene is simply the pseudograph for Selene, the Moon, whereas Simon the magician wielding spiritual powers was a pseudonym of the Sun, the type of all spiritual miracle-working power. (Hebrew for “sun” is Shemesh, whence Shimeon, Shimshon, Samson, Simon.) One of the ancient Biblical typal designations of the women who were lunar goddesses accompanying the sun, as mothers of life, the consorts or concubines of the solar deities, was the “great harlot.” This appellation is simply in virtue of Mother Nature’s (water’s, matter’s) prolific fecundity in the production of myriad life, and when held as pure typism has no sensual imputations whatever – as incidentally have none of the phallic representations when apprehended as pure typology.
If the above material seems to be running far afield from base and out into irrelevancy, it is quite worth citation if only to impress the reader, unfamiliar with the quantity of such data encountered in the study of comparative religion, with the feeling that the whole mass of it does indeed run away from solid history and evaporate in sheer myth and allegory. If one will but peruse as little of the Talmud and Toldoth material as is reprinted by Klausner and Mead in their two works from which excerpts have been taken here, one will be convinced that it is not history one is reading, but something less objective, less substantial. It sounds hollow and appears shadowy. And suddenly one finds the supposedly human characters turn to ethereal beings or personifications of the sun and its harlot the moon, in one’s hand. To the modern who is unacquainted with ancient method and ancient profundity, this indeed seems to run out into the little end of nothing. To the ancient sage it was the cornucopia of divine wisdom.
Thorburn, in his attempt to refute the mythical interpretation of the Gospels, quotes J. M. Robertson to the effect that “one of the most important details of the confused legend in the Talmud concerning the pre-Christian Jesus Ben Pandira, who is conjoined with Ben Stada, is that the mother is in one place named Miriam Magdala, Mary, the nurse or the hair-dresser.” (Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targum and the Midrash, part 2, p. 213, 1888.)
“Isis, too, plays the part of a hair-dresser.” (Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride, p. 15) Magdala yields in one ray of its meaning, nursing, rearing, hair-dressing.
Drews adds that Joseph was originally a God. His statement has been already given.
It may be quite fitting to conclude this chapter with a few fragments of positive evidence that true early Christianity, so far from being the outcome of a definite historical event, was instinct with the spirit of ancient pagan symbolic and mythical religion from its very start. These and many more items of similar character intimate indeed that Christianity was close in kinship to the great Sun-God cults of archaic days. The Christs and Messiahs of pre-Christian systems were Sun-Gods, and the great temples of religion were Temples of the Sun, and many hymns were Hymns to the Sun. Rightly apprehended this is not the evidence of heathen “superstition,” but the very heart’s core of sublimest significance and appropriateness. It may shock orthodox modernism to hear the blunt statement that Christianity will not reach its highest purity and nobility, and hence its highest serviceability until, with realistic grasp of its meaning, it restores the sun-symbol to the central place in its doctrinism. For the divine in man is of the identical essence of the light of the sun.
In Die Christusmythe Drews speaks of the identification of Jesus with an ancient Hebrew cult deity, Joshua, and an old Greek divine healer-hero, Jason, equating Jason with Joshua and Joshua with Jesus, “as all representing the sun.” Lundy speaks of the Sun-God of the Persians and Greeks as the true type of Christ, who was himself the sun of righteousness risen with healing in his wings, – the sun with wings being an ancient Egyptian and Chaldean emblem! Lundy says that the Oriental pagan symbols did not indicate a low level of conception, but bespeak the loftiest ideologies, being types of a supreme power and intelligence above matter. Apollo, the Sun-God, he says, must mean far more than merely material light. In the highest philosophical and mystical sense, the pagan types and anticipations of Christ, as Agni, Krishna, Mithra, Horus, Apollo and Orpheus – all Sun-Gods – must be accepted as betokening that the true Sun of Divinity must have been somehow present to give form and character to the ancient shining conceptions of the divine light in man.
“Our Lord the Sun” was used in prayer by Christians up to the fifth and even the sixth century of our era, and embodied in the Liturgy until altered into “Our Lord the God.” And the early Christians painted on the walls of the subterranean necropolis the Christ figure as a shepherd under the various emblemisms of the Greek Sun-God Apollo. The very halo that surrounds the head of the Christ and his mother is the suggestion of the solar disk and its radiant light. And of great evidential value is the item adduced by Massey, that as late as the fifth century Leo the Great was compelled to rebuke the “pestiferous persuasion” of those Christians who were found to be celebrating Christmas day, not for the birth of Jesus Christ, but for the resurrection of the spring sun! The power of symbol and of social tradition has proved stronger than indoctrinated dogmatism, as the Nordic Christmas pine tree proves to this day.
Of great suggestive value to Christians would be the item of Philo’s having advanced, thirty years before Paul’s writing and the Christian presentation of the deific transfiguration, the doctrine of a transfiguration of Moses through his intercourse with God. Describing his ascension to heaven at the summons of the Father, Philo declares that by vision of God Moses’ soul and body had been blended into a single new substance, an immortal mind-essence having the appearance of the sun. This is from pagan sources, yet Christian analysts will presume to deny all connection between those wells of early wisdom and the Gospel events on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus’ garments became white as the light and his face did shine as the sun; or that other New Testament promise that in the Christian’s apotheosis, the righteous shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
It would be most interesting to speculate upon the possible psychological reactions of the Christian population if on a given Sunday it was read out from all pulpits in every denomination that in the year 345 A.D., the Pope of Christendom, Julian II, issued a decree fixing December 25 as the day on which all Christians should celebrate the birth of the Christ, instead of March 25, as had been the custom among the Christian people up to that time, in order that their celebration might coincide with that of the followers of Mithra and of Bacchus! And full candor suggests the inquiry why ecclesiastical subterfuge has kept the laity in Christendom in perpetual ignorance of a fact so significant and notable as that Christians for three and a half centuries regarded the annual springtime re-birth of the Sun as the most fitting type of the birth of divinity in the world and celebrated the birth of the Son of God at the vernal equinox instead of the winter solstice. And the Pope’s exhortation to his followers that it would be fitting that the Christian celebration matched the time of the Mithraic and Bacchic solstitial festival should not be lost on intelligence. And millions still think that they celebrate the birth of a babe on the calendar day of December 25!
For thousands of years Egypt was dominated by a religion whose gods were typified by the sun symbol. One of the pivotal centers of religious ritualism was Anu (Annu), said to be the On of the Bible, and at any rate the Heliopolis of the Greeks, or “city of the sun.” The great pyramid was in reality, as part of its function, a temple of the Sun. Thousands of theological Thorburns have asserted that the birth of the Christian Jesus, the skyey proclamation of the angelic heralds to shepherds, the Gabriel annunciation to the prospective virgin mother, and the adoration of three Oriental Magi before the infant King, were solid events on the plane of occurrence, that their incidence helped to launch the new religion to save humanity from heathen darkness, and that they could have no connection with preceding degenerate pagan idolatry of the physical sun. It is time that this unpardonable obduracy of ignorance be summarily rebuked by the testimony inscribed on the walls of Egypt’s mighty structures in stone. Says Massey (Ancient Egypt, p. 757):
“The story of the annunciation, the miraculous conception (or incarnation), the birth and the adoration of the Messianic infant had already been engraved in stone and represented in four consecutive scenes upon the innermost walls of the holy of holies (Meskhen) in the temple of Luxor, which was built by Amen-hetep III, about 1700 B.C., or some seventeen centuries before the events depicted are commonly supposed to have taken place.”
Here is witness which outshouts the falsehoods of thousands of pious books, millions of droning sermons and the insincere lucubrations of generations of theologians, with thunder tones of truth that silence forever the claims of Christianity to the historicity of its alleged Founder’s Nativity. And how could these four pivotal themes of the incarnation have been thus sculptured upon enduring walls if there had been no Gospels extant at that remote period from which to draw these scenes? If there were no formal Gospels extant so far back, certainly the contents and gist of Gospel material were in some form existent. Evidence of this sort deals sledge-hammer blows at the entire structure of Gospel historicity. The edifice indeed topples under the force of this one telling stroke. Christianity, by subterfuge, vandalism and distortion had buttressed itself against attack on every other side. But it could not fend off the attack of truth from the ancient rear. The Rosetta Stone and the pictured walls of Egypt’s tombs and temples have outflanked it and laid its pretensions in the dust. Do what it will, it can not shake off the fact that the annunciation, the incarnation, the nativity and the adoration were already on record, along with the Virgin Mother and her Child, in the Zodiac, in the papyri and on indestructible walls thousands of years before its beginning, and that as religious facts they were old when the Galilean babe was allegedly born in Bethlehem. The Christian organization and system of pious pretension can do nothing in the face of facts such as these. Its arrant claims are silenced once and finally by the deathless voice of ancient Egypt.
THE SHOUT OF PAUL’S SILENCE
The development of the theme has now brought the discussion face to face with another particular in the volume of testimony that has only been denied its validity as a final crushing blow to the historical view of Jesus by resort to the most specious casuistry and the most dogged denial of reason. It is an item that is so tell-tale in its silent eloquence, so dangerous in its implications, that ecclesiastical policy simply dare not permit its witness to be heard openly in the court. This menacing particular is St. Paul’s silence about the personal Jesus. Himself almost contemporary with Jesus, and at any rate on the scene of Christ’s life within a few decades after its notable events, and still more, an enthusiastic convert to the new faith following a short period of persecution of its devotees, and fired with an unquenchable zeal for its propagation, he surely must have hounded down all the authentic data regarding the life and acts of the great Divine Founder of his adopted religion with indefatigable eagerness. The likelihood in this direction must have been increased a hundred-fold by the little-mentioned fact that he says in one of his Epistles that he spent two weeks (a fortnight) with Peter (Cephas)! If these things happened on the plane of objective actuality, the most elementary imagination can picture the realistic connotations of it all. Two weeks with Peter! Is it thinkable that the zealous young convert would pass the two weeks of this extraordinary opportunity without plying the impetuous Peter with an endless string of questions as to every detail of all that he had personally witnessed in connection with the series of Gospel events? What did Jesus do here and say there? How did he look, feel, act on this occasion and on that? What were the grand high points in the Savior’s career, in the disciple’s opinion? What about this, that and the other? The fancy thrills at the electric tension of interest that would have been generated in a meeting between these two! If it also was historical . . . But then, – the scholarly imagination thrills also with just as tense an amazement over the incomprehensible fact that, with all the data of his personal Master’s life stored away and glowing in his mind, the dynamic Paul, when he came to sit down and write fifteen Epistles to the young “churches” and congregations of the faith, should never once venture to mention to his brethren the man Jesus! Here is the incontestable, the unanswerable fact. This is the datum that stares the proponents of historicity into silence. Before it sophistry fails and argument goes dumb. There is no answer to this testimony of silence on the side of the orthodox position. If Jesus lived as claimed, and Paul lived and wrote as claimed, it is beyond all cavil unthinkable that the apostle would have left a total blank in his Epistles on the subject of the personal Jesus. Ingenuity can bring up – and has done so – a variety of specious “reasons” to “explain” Paul’s silence about his Master. But when they have exhausted their plausibility, they have not laid the ghost of the insistent question nor reduced the pressure of its threat to the orthodox position one whit. It stalks the claim of Jesus’ existence like a mocking specter and no legerdemain can exorcise it. The fact stands in all its glaring significance: St. Paul never once mentions the man Jesus! And Paul is the earliest witness among Bible writers, the one nearest to Jesus, says Bacon.
The average man mildly versed in the Bible is amazed when told that Paul does not mention Jesus, for everywhere the assumption prevails that he did. If the matter is broached to a Bible student he will make rebuttal with Paul’s own words: “This Jesus whom we have seen,” and other passages in the Epistles that sound like testimony to the Galilean’s existence, – this Jesus in whom Paul glories and whose witness he bore through pain and travail. How can anyone say that Paul does not mention Jesus?
To be sure, Paul speaks of Jesus. But even the theologians agree that this Jesus of Paul’s Epistles is not a man of flesh. The Jesus Paul dilates upon is the spiritual entity in the core of man’s inner being. He is the Christ principle, and not the man.
While this is generally enough conceded by exegetists, the reader may need some assurance on the point. Our first witness is the Yale Divinity School publicist, Benjamin W. Bacon, who in his Jesus and Paul (p. 57) is positive in his position: Paul is the first Bible writer in the first century and he definitely knows no Christ except one not after the flesh. If he had posited a personal Christ, Christianity would not have survived his day.
Evidently Bacon does not adhere to the general Christian belief that Jesus became a historical person in Christianity because early Christianity had knowledge of his existence. It is important to notice that he thinks Paul’s preachment of a personal Jesus would even have killed Christianity. Here is Bacon declaring that the very element of the new faith which others affirm is the innermost genius of its essence and its very raison d’être is the thing that would have killed it at the start. Others claim it was the tradition of the living Jesus that made it live to become the world power of later years, and that Paul’s Hellenism and his spiritual-Christos conception would have killed it. What a confusion we see here in the counsels of Christian theology! One school asserts that the early promulgation of the thesis of a historical man-Christ would have destroyed Christianity in its very birthing, and that Paul’s Hellenization of its doctrines saved it. Opposed to this is the general claim that Christianity sprang to life because of its preachment of the personal Christ in the flesh and the asseveration of countless divines that it lived by escaping the esotericism of Hellenic philosophical systems. Compounding these two aspects of Christian thought, we have the net conclusion that the Hellenism that would have destroyed Christianity actually saved it; and the historical thesis that gave it its very being would have killed it. Such illogical entanglements are inevitable so long as the effort is not sincerely to get at the truth, but to make a case for a traditional position on little or no solid foundation of true data.
Bacon adds that it was not the teachings and miracles which we find related in the Gospels that are the bastions and supports of Paul’s doctrine, since, he declares, Paul neither possesses these, nor even seems to care for their story. Again the cat escapes the bag, for here is admission of high authority that Paul knew nothing or cared nothing for the Gospel story of Jesus’ living career that had allegedly founded the faith he had enthusiastically embraced! It is commonly assumed in Christian circles that of course Paul knew all that the Gospels relate and that this body of history was the basis of his espousal of the faith. But it is clear that the Epistles are in no way related to, or an outgrowth or denouement of, Gospel “history.” They would probably be in literature if no personal Jesus had ever lived. They trace to quite another source, which Bacon is frank to tell us of: since Paul is addressing men to whom the conception of the Mystery religions is the commonplace of religious expression, it should occasion no surprise if he uses their phraseology. He employs the familiar esoteric symbols to portray his own exalted experience and thinks his own immortality achieved in terms of Mystery arcana. Paul’s language is the vernacular of the Mystery cults. No one familiar with the philosophy of personal redemption through absorption into the nature of dying and risen Christhood can fail to recognize this. The fact can hardly be controverted.
Therefore it will be seen from what a background and in what a philosophical milieu Paul presents his preachment of the attainment of Christhood. It is as detached and remote from Gospel “history” and all its implications as could well be imagined for a body of fifteen Epistles that were to take their place in the same canonical Bible as the complement and companions of those same Gospels! If the general Christian presumption is that Paul’s contribution to the scriptures reinforces the Gospel story of Jesus’ life, that presupposition has a strong ostensible warrant in the sheer fact that the Epistles are put in on the heels of the Gospels, and certainly not for the purpose of nullifying, but assumedly to reinforce the witness and message of the Gospels. What must be the surprise, then, of the general Christian body to be told that Paul’s Christianity is Hellenic theosophy and philosophy, Orphic-Platonic Mystery cultism, almost indeed Hindu Yoga mysticism, with no immediate relation or reference to the Gospel life of Jesus! And this ever bitterly condemned pagan cultism is what saved Christianity beyond Paul’s time for later burgeoning into Occidental favor, we are gravely told!
The Yale theologian goes on to identify large and grand aspects of Paul’s doctrinism as Hellenic philosophy and Mystery teaching, and even goes so far as to say that Paul’s Christianity includes elements that Jesus did not teach! Jesus taught no such doctrine as that of transfiguration by conformation to the likeness of the glorified Lord. According to Paul the adoption of the Christ mind effects a moral new creation here upon the earth, causing the devotee to live no longer unto himself but unto him who died and rose again for man’s redemption. It effects also a reclothing with a spiritual body, so that mortality is swallowed up in life. This, says Bacon, is not part of what Jesus taught in Galilee, but it is emphatically Paul’s own vision of the risen Christ. Paul is speaking of what he knows because he has seen it, and to express it he is forced to resort to the rich phraseology of the Mystery cults!
This is well conceived by Bacon; but that inevitable narrow contempt for all things pagan and pre-Christian that Christianity has engendered in its adherents asserts itself a little further on in Bacon’s work and inspires him to make one of those unfounded assertions which in numberless instances, in sermons and books, indicate nothing more than an inveterate determination on the part of Christian theologians not to admit that any other religion had truth and wisdom equal to that found in their own faith. Bacon admits that Paul borrowed the language that gave majestic expression to the realities of his own (or any man’s) divinization from Greek religion. But suddenly realizing that this is impliedly verging on the most egregious praise and glorification of the Mystery religion and imperiling the cherished superiority of Christianity over other systems, the expositor must quickly hedge and retrench. He hastens to assert that Paul’s teaching from Hellenistic religion and that the moral ideal presented to the votary of the Mysteries is poor and empty when compared with that of the Sermon on the Mount. Imagine, cries Bacon, the difference between being infused with the mind, or ethical spirit of Jesus, and the mind of an Attis, a Dionysus, or an Asclepios! “Partaking in the nature of” the divinity, “the life in the spirit,” “living in Christ,” “living the life that is hid with Christ in God,” the terms that clothed in words the rapturous experiences of Mystery devotees, – what, Bacon asks, would they all amount to beyond mere magic and superstition, if the convert did not also know the spirit of Jesus? The aspirant must realize a sense of his death to sin and of this union with the Father that can come only through the absolute self-dedication of Jesus. He must be redeemed by adopting the mind of Christ and not that of a pagan god.
It is not often that dignified discussion or scholastic critique calls for or excuses the flat denial of the truth of an argument. But there is little left to do with such a line of sophisticated apologetic save to say it is bluntly not true. More than one item in the statement of Bacon is off the line of truth. To begin with it is disingenuous and logically vapid to speak of the superiority of Paul’s teaching to the figures of speech borrowed from Greek theology in which he expresses it. There is no point in contrasting Paul’s thought with the forms of speech that utter it. It is well enough known that mind is greater than the capacity of language to express it. Paul chose the best available forms at his command, and those were drawn from his intimate association with the Mystery ritual.
Then follows the inevitable allegation of the poverty of pagan teaching beside the shining splendor of the Sermon on the Mount. This has become decidedly hackneyed in the past fifteen years, or since western universities have instituted courses of real study in Oriental religions and have seen something of the profundity and grandeur of religions which it was until then the old Christian custom to despise. But it is worse than hackneyed; it is not true. Christian prejudice has hitherto prevented that frank, sincere and open-minded examination of pagan systems which would have brought to light the true magnificence of other religions. The proper answer to the smallness and error of the slight that Bacon casts on Greek Mystery morality and spirituality is simply to say that a thousand fair-minded scholars and students have more recently looked at both Christian and ancient pagan systems and have been unable to detect any superiority at all of Christian over pagan faiths. Indeed the consensus of much high opinion is that the palm and laurel would have to be accorded to the pagan.
So when Bacon asks us to imagine the abyss of difference between being filled with the mind of Christ and the mind of Dionysus, the frank reply must be that we see no difference at all. It is only because modern theological professors do not seem to know that in Dionysus, Atys, Bacchus, Adonis, Zagreus, Sabazius and others the Greeks had already expressed everything that a Christian can possibly think of as embodied in his Jesus, that they blunder into instituting comparisons and discovering huge gaps of difference that exist only in their own imaginations. If all the acumen of sixteen centuries of Christian scholasticism has not sufficed to instruct Occidental theologians in the simple fact that the pagan sun-god figures were not historical persons, but were typal characters prefiguring Christly nobility of perfected humanity, and were in fact the very prototypes, pre-extant in literature, of the Jesus personage himself, it would seem as if the credentials of Christian publicists to sit in judgment on pagan representations could be stoutly challenged. So much abject failure and incompetence must go far to disqualify further right to pronounce judgment in this field.
Augustine said that Socrates, antedating Christianity by five hundred years and feeding his mind on the contemplation of the (to Bacon) mean attributes, the poor and empty moral and spiritual natures, of pagan gods, was as grand a Christian as any Churchly saint or martyr. And he said that the pagan brand of Christianity was as lofty and pure a type of it as the kind he knew. He himself received the Christian doctrine of the Trinity from Plotinus, who had fed his mind on the attributes of the pagan divinities and was steeped in Hellenistic rational religion and esotericism. It is because Bacon thinks that Attis and Asclepios were mere tribe-made conceptions of semi-crude humanism that he feels safe in rating them as less authentic and less pure models of divine character than Jesus. It is time that Christian critics who indulge in these gratuitous slurs upon non-Christian systems be told that if they would learn to penetrate through the outward veil of myth and allegory that shrouds these gods from vulgar scrutiny they would find to their astonishment and humiliation that the moral and spiritual grandeur of these typal figures takes no second place in comparison with the nobility of Jesus. How can the mind of one of them be superior to that of the others when they are all, in deepmost essentiality, one and the same? All the solar deities were the embodiments of the same divine majesty. To assert that one of them is superior to another is just to put on display one’s ignorance of comparative religion.
But lastly the desperate nature of Bacon’s argument is shown by the perilous resort to which he is driven to make a point for his thesis. To prove Greek inferiority he has had to reduce a number of the phrases which express Christian ideality at its loftiest to a low rating because Paul draws them from the discredited poor and empty Hellenistic mystical cult systems. In our turn we ask you to imagine, if you can, the glaring inferiority and baseness of the phrase “partaking of the nature of” the divinity, “the life in the spirit,” “the life hid with Christ in God,” and such others used by Paul. If these are inferior then Christianity at its highest is inferior, for these Greek pietistic expressions are and have been for centuries current coin to describe the most exalted reaches of the mind of man toward supernal heights in the Church of Christ. But in the twisted logic of a Christian apologist they are classed as base products of a despised Hellenistic pagan culture of the spirit. If Christian mental clarity and moral purity were of so uniquely superior a quality above all paganism, why for some twelve subsequent centuries did the schools of Christian theologians have to go back to two pagan thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, to discover the principles of truth and organic rational structure upon which they could base any dialectical systematization of Christian theology itself? The mind that was in Christ Jesus was apparently not substantial enough or not capably enough known to save Christianity the need of partaking of the mind that was in Plato and Aristotle! Many a claim of cloistered theologians is belied by the record of history.
Bacon quotes Dr. Morgan, who claims that the risen Christ of Paul represents a generalized picture of the historical Jesus. It seems apparent that this word “generalized” is here doing duty as an apology for failure to use the overt words “non-personal” or “non-historical.” Dr. Morgan is saying that those features of Jesus which make him so real, and so human – he might have gone on to “so winsome” – pass out of sight in Paul’s treatment of the character. Paul’s Christ has not the inexhaustible richness or human lovableness of the reputed historical personage. Naturally it would be obvious that if Paul was philosophically, in the spirit of Greek rationalism, delineating the power, functions, grandeur and majesty of the Christly principle in the soul of man, changing man’s nature and winning his life to intelligent godliness, he would not be likely to touch the chords of such sympathies and emotions as are awakened by recital of personal human contacts, trials, pains and joys. This is to compare a keen dialectical analysis of a doctor of philosophy with the cooing smile of a babe in the cradle. You obviously can not have the one and the other in the same individual at the same time. Touching human emotion is out of place in a logical or intellectual tournament. And logic has little to do with the baby’s fetching charm. One wonders when it will dawn upon the orthodox mind that, to be sure, Paul’s Jesus lacks human quality for the very substantial reason that in Paul’s understanding he was not a human person at all. Only by elaborate metaphor would Paul’s description of a principle of mystic exaltation be clothed in terms of touching human appeal. This is the one substratum fact which explains and resolves all the puzzles and conundrums of the argumentative problem, yet it is the last one the apologists will look at.
And speaking of touching human qualities, it is a grave question whether the unthinkable amount of human sympathy, some of it pleasantly amiable and consolatory, but masses of it gruesome, maudlin and morbid, which the millions of votaries in Christianity expend every year over the babe in the stable at Christmas, and over the horrible scenes when the man of sorrows finally agonizes in physical torture on the Golgotha cross on Good Friday, is psychologically noble and edifying in any way, or whether it is not a futile, moronish and altogether misplaced and degrading wastage of precious psychic force. If Jesus was not personally in history, it is all sheer fatuity and nonsense, a colossal expenditure of costly human emotion over events that never happened. The amount of sentimental gush over the sweetly human side of Jesus, the picture of him saying “Suffer little children to come unto me” while holding one in his arms and two on his knees, – the total amount of hypothetical coddling of Jesus the man as a likeable person of sanctified presence, is enough to deserve the designation “mawkish.” The efficacious leaven of the Christ spirit in any man will make him likeably human, of course. And the Jesus character, in this facet, is the type of this humaneness. But to affect surprise because Paul does not introduce a picture of winsome personableness in his dialectical exposition of the nature of Christlikeness is to miss utterly what Paul is dilating upon.
Then Dr. Morgan says that it was to this winsome, touching, appealing human figure of Jesus the man that the churches turned after the death of the Apostle and that the preservation of the Synoptic Gospels meant nothing less than the saving of Christianity. Long search would not have brought to light for the purposes of this work a statement from an argumentative opponent that so fully vindicates and corroborates the general context of this study. But Dr. Morgan sees in a different light and puts a different interpretation upon the great fact he announces. He presents the turn from the mystical Christ to the personal Jesus as a salutary manifestation, wholly beneficial to Christianity, and indeed its savior. The view of this work places an altogether different, a quite unfavorable, construction upon it. Paul had striven to limn and color in the most graphic language available – which evidently he judged to be the phraseology of the Mystery religions! – the Christ he knew, the power and grace of the Christ of the inner chamber of human consciousness. To do so he pictured the Christ of the Greek Mystery dramatization. While Pauline Christology, Gnostic esotericism and Mystery initiation doctrine held the Christian movement for two and a half centuries up to a high intellectual and philosophical level, it was Paul’s type of Christos that inspired this lofty achievement. Intelligence restrained the uprush of the ignorant masses’ literalized and carnalized conception of the Christ that was so soon to swamp all cultured spiritual ideology in the movement. But with the Apostle gone and the uncultured masses streaming into the Church, with the Gnostics ousted as heretics and the voices of intelligence repressed into silence, the sad and fatal turn of Christianity from the loftiness of spiritual realizations to the basest degradation perhaps known in all religious history marched on to consummation of its tragedy. How fatally right Dr. Morgan is, neither he nor his Church has ever known. To its own catastrophic desolation the Christian movement did surely enough turn from the higher and fuller conception of the Christ as the ever-coming world Messiah of a divine spirit transfiguring humanity, to the winsome-gruesome personal Jesus. This happened when its personnel had fallen to so low an intellectual ebb – amply testified to by leading writers of the time – that compromise had to be made with its incapacity to rise to a more spiritual conception of an Avatar, and the calamitous substitution of the euhemerized Christ that would have shocked Clement, Origen, Philo, Ammonias and Paul had to be pronounced blessed, if the thousands who could reach no higher were to be held in the fold. Only too true is it that when Paul was gone the Church took that fatal plunge into a vitiated and utterly false exotericism that perpetrated the unbelievable debacle resulting from the personalizing of a purely dramatic figure. This step was indeed the “salvation” – rather the initial establishment – of historical Christianity; that Christianity that reduced purely spiritual doctrines to as low a level of mental skullduggery as not even the naked sons of the forest and the sea isles had ever been guilty of doing; that Christianity which closed the academies of the most illumined wisdom the race has known, burned libraries with fiendish fury, pronounced its own most philosophical students heretics, perpetrated centuries of the most barbarous cruelty in religious persecution ever known in the world, and founded a civilization that at last has consummated its perversion of guiding wisdom by plunging all the world into the climactic holocaust of slaughter in human history. The turning of the Christian masses from the spiritual Christ to the man Jesus indeed “saved” Christianity, which is no more than to say that it perpetuated that kind of Christianity, certainly one that was both derationalized and despiritualized. It utterly wrecked the true Christianity of the ancient Sages, who have given to the world the priceless legacy of lofty truth and tested wisdom. Christian proponents will continue to read victory and blessedness into this saddest of all debacles in the cultural life of the world, for the legend of Christian superiority must be maintained at all costs.
The implications of this confusion in the thinking of Bacon and Dr. Morgan should not escape observation. Bacon has been quoted as saying it was Paul’s Greek Mystery systematism that saved Christianity; Dr. Morgan avers that salvation came through the preservation of the Synoptic Gospels with their personalized Master. As the Synoptics rest on a thesis that is in the main diametrically opposite to that of the Johannine and Pauline writings, we have here two eminent Christian exegetists arguing that Christianity was saved by two forces as nearly opposed to each other as could well be. These two views are seen to clash today; how bitterly they clashed in the earliest days of Christian history, and with what lamentable consequences the one prevailed over the other must be later included in our study.
Notice has already been taken of Bacon’s declaration that we have in Mark not a biography, not a history, but a selection of anecdotes, and those not for the purposes of history, but for spiritual edification. If Paul’s Jesus is not a man, and Mark not Jesus’s biographer, pretty nearly one third to one half of New Testament support of the historical Jesus is gone already! More of Bacon’s fine material must be scrutinized in this chapter, as it expresses with great aptness just those points in the case that badly need review. For the moment other data bearing on Paul’s silence must be presented.
There is Klausner, who remarks the significance of Paul’s giving testimony to the existence of Jesus (he evidently assumes that Paul is referring to Jesus as a person) and scans Jesus’ influence on Paul, but admits that Paul shows no interest in the events of the Savior’s career. He quotes a writer (name not given) who says:
“To Paul’s mind the center of interest was not the teacher, the worker of miracles, the companion of publicans and sinners, the opponent of the Pharisees; it was the crucified Son of God raised from the dead, and none other.”
A phrase picked from many similar ones in Massey’s work reads: “the Jesus of Paul, who was not the carnalized Christ.”
Drews briefly in one place refers to Paul, “who,” he says, “knew no historical Jesus.”
“Instead of preaching the Jesus of the historicalized Gospels, Paul preaches the doctrine of the mystic Christ,” writes Mead.
Grethenbach (Secular View of the Gospels, p. 243) remarks on the tell-tale fact that in its very earliest stage of propagation the legend of the miracles performed by Jesus is absent from the writings which came from or are accredited to those who were closest to him, and are found only in later accounts by Gospel authors whose names are wholly suppositious.
“As for Paul it might appear from his own ardent avowal that had he ever heard of these prodigies done for Jesus and by him, he (Paul) would not have hesitated to use them for the great glory of God (Romans 3:7-8); and his silence about them comes with the force of absolute denial.”
In Paul’s own account of his conversion he writes in this remarkable fashion:
“Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me; but I went away into Arabia.”
“Flesh and blood” is a strange expression by which Paul indicates that he did not confer with the Christian folks at Jerusalem or elsewhere. It indeed sounds very much like a garbled mistranslation of a Mystery or ritual phrase referring to the soul’s no longer having consort with the flesh of incarnation after its conversion from carnal appetencies. And if Jerusalem is taken in its Mystery signification of the city of heavenly peace, the whole passage can not illegitimately be regarded as an epitome of the soul’s transformation, its choice of a middle path, going neither to flesh and blood, nor retreating to heavenly Nirvana, but going away into the intermediate region between Egypt, signifying the flesh, and Jerusalem, the spirit, or into Arabia. It should be remembered, if scholastics begin to snicker at such a suggested rendition, that Mount Sinai, the middle point of meeting between man and God, is placed by Paul himself in Arabia, as seen in the fourth chapter of Galatians. If this reconstruction of the lostoriginal esoteric meaning is correct – and it is more likely than many will think, for ancient method handled allegorism in just such fashion – it is good case and example of how the historicizers of the spiritual myth turned allegory into history. By turning it back again one can begin to see what the original formulation may have been.
Again Paul almost categorically denies that he is preaching a Gospel of a living Jesus when he says:
“I made known to you, brethren, as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man (or from a man), nor was I taught it, save through revelation of the Christ revealed within.”
Massey comments that in short, Paul’s “Christ was not at all that Jesus of Nazareth whom he never mentions, and whom the others preached, and who may have been, and in all likelihood was, Jehoshua ben Pandira, the Nazarene.”
As to the Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a document claimed to have been written by Paul, Massey says:
“Now in this Epistle the Christ is non-historical, he is the Kronian Christ, the Aeonian manifestor, of mythical, that is, astronomical prophecy; he is after the order of Melchizedek, who was ‘without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.’”
It would seem that we have in this characterization of Melchizedek, after whose “order” the Christ was, enough to convince any but mystically derationalized “believers” that there could be nothing humanly personal and individual about Melchizedek, and inferentially about the Christ, as of his kind and nature. There are those who think and assert that Melchizedek was a man. He could no more be a man than righteousness could be a man, or liberty or virtue be a lady. By name he is the “King of Righteousness,” as in Hebrew melchi is “king” and zedek is “righteousness.” “He” is that “spirit of truth” which, when it has fully swept into all hearts and minds, will lead us all into truth and establish the kingdom of righteousness upon earth. The description of him as without father and mother and genealogy, certainly does not refer to human father and mother and ancestry. It means that “he” is “born” or generated from that highest form and level of spiritual being which is yet undifferentiated into spirit (father) and matter (mother), and is called in the arcane nomenclature “parentless.” In the highest worlds there is neither marriage nor sex to induce it. Out of this pure essence comes the unit of soul and consciousness that is to descend into matter, marry it and through union with it generate the cosmos. This is why it can be further described as being “before the worlds,” “before the foundation of the earth,” “before Abraham,” “in the bosom of the Father,” “in the womb of creation.” “A” (Greek alpha privative) means “not.” Brahm is the Eternal and Absolute. A-Brahm (Abraham) is therefore “not the Absolute,” but of course the first emanation from the Absolute, the first form of manifestation that is not the Absolute and Infinite, but the manifestation of the relative – and to us the real. Melchizedek, the power of the spirit of rightness and the great aeonial Messiah, ever-coming from the beginning of man, that could by no possibility “come” at any one moment, since it must come to all men as they slowly grow in grace, or in any one personality, since it must dwell in all alike, is that genius to which all Christified men will give body and instrumentality as humanity is redeemed and glorified.
It is in the sense and reference just elucidated that Paul therefore admonishes Titus and Timothy to give no heed to “fables and endless genealogies,” and to “shun foolish questionings and genealogies.” Of course Paul would warn them away from “genealogies,” since it was not likely that one in a thousand of the laity would grasp the impersonal significance of the word, and since Paul knew that the popularization of what would be misconceived as lineal ancestry instead of spiritual descent would certainly lead to the disastrous outcome of the personalizing of the Christos. Paul’s warning was against an aspect of esotericism that he saw clearly enough would act as a trap. He was merely guarding the esoteric purity of the loftier conception, and advising Titus and Timothy to do the same. As Paul was (Bacon and others admitting it) fully steeped in Mystery cultism, he was simply acting as any Mason would do today, cautioning his confreres against using the secret vocabulary indiscreetly. It is notable that genealogies are absent from John, the one Gospel that preached the Christos as the ray of the cosmic Logos, and not the man. This is quite consonant with what would be expected. Presenting Christ as non-human and impersonal, it would omit the externally hazardous”genealogies.” Marcus the Gnostic eliminated the genealogies from Luke! The Docetae, a sect preaching the purely spiritual Christ, “cut away the genealogies in the Gospel after Matthew.” (Epiphanius.) Tatian also struck them out. He had first accepted them, but when he learned better, rejected the gospel of the Christ made flesh. “Barnabas, who denied the human nature of Christ, assures us that it was according to the error of the wicked that Christ was called the Son of David” – in the literal exoteric sense, doubtless. Paul also tells us that no “man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 12:3). Marcion does not connect Jesus with Nazareth. Paul’s Christ is nowhere called Jesus of Nazareth, nor is he born at Bethlehem, – the town, but in Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” the sign of Pisces, in the astrological symbolism.
There is a ludicrous mixture – as was to be expected and inevitable – of the historical Jesus and the spiritual Christ in the first Epistle of Paul to Timothy, where Jesus Christ is spoken of as he “who, before Pontius Pilate, witnessed the good confession”; and half a dozen lines later, Paul’s Jesus is the “Lord of Lords dwelling in the light unapproachable, whom no man hath seen nor can see.” Massey comments that this is the Christ of the Gnosis who could not be made flesh to stand in the presence of Pontius Pilate. Let the reader note, from the analysis of the name “Pontius Pilate” made earlier in the work, how difficulty such as this vanishes the moment the esoteric non-historical rendition is adopted in place of the historical. Slight and inconsequential as this matter may seem in an instance of the kind, it is the key to the redemption of the Christian religion from its theological irrationality. It may be indeed the key to the salvation of all religion, now threatened as never before with total obscuration.
It is time to meet and answer a typical orthodox retort to the implications of Paul’s silence about Jesus. We find such a rebuttal in Shirley Jackson Case’s The Historicity of Jesus. This is a representative work, written by an outstanding modern theologian, of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Case speaks first of Paul’s having acquaintance with relatives and friends of this Jesus. A little later he discusses the claims of scholars and Paul’s own (apparent) statement that he had “seen Jesus our Lord” (I Cor. 9:1). He cites Paul’s incidental remark to the Corinthians that “we have known Jesus after the flesh” as proof that he had actually seen the earthly Jesus. Then he affirms that Paul had come into intimate contact with individuals of note, and a host of others unknown to us by name, who had contacted Jesus. There is of course no evidence anywhere for the claim that Paul had met many persons who had seen or heard Jesus. It is just the assumption – and no more – that if Jesus lived and did what the Gospels report, Paul, living immediately after the events, must naturally have heard, known or contacted the historical aftermath of occurrences that had made such a stir in Palestine at the time. This gratuitous presupposition Case uses as the warrant for his further presumptive statement that this knowledge and first-hand acquaintance would have made it impossible for Paul to mistake a primitive doctrine about an anthropomorphized god for belief in the actual existence of a historical individual. We have to admit, is Case’s argument, that Paul stood too close to the age which professed to know Jesus to be successfully hoodwinked on the historical question. If Jesus never lived, it is not at all probable that even the most enterprising propagandists could have succeeded in persuading Paul of the reality of this mythical person in the generation to which Paul himself belonged. Paul everywhere takes for granted the existence of Jesus, whose memory was fresh in men’s minds; and also a good part of his attention is given to resisting opponents who claim superiority over him because they have been, or have received their commission from men who have been, personal companions of Jesus – a fact, says Case, which Paul never denies, though he disputes the legitimacy of the inference regarding superiority which they deduce from the fact.
It is certainly permissible to state that Case’s conclusions from the premises in this facet of the argument are not dialectically supportable. We have ourselves mentioned Paul’s statement that he spent a fortnight with Peter. Even without that it would be reasonable to think that he may have known and associated with others who had been close to Jesus – assuming that he lived. For argument’s sake, we may concede the major premise of Case’s reasoning: that Paul could have known many who had met Jesus. But the deductions Case draws from the premises seem wholly unwarrantable. Paul need not mention Jesus because everybody already knew of his existence, is the tacit claim. Such knowledge was a commonplace and there was no occasion to refer to it. Because Jesus was a definite historical character, his life and personal doings need never be spoken of. Paul could dilate at greatlength upon the fundamentals of the religion Jesus assumedly founded and had no need to speak of the founder! Jesus was the inspiration of the greatest religion on earth, a man whose life was so epochal that history was redated from his birth, a man whose preachment of the first divine wisdom vouchsafed to men was to free the human race from the bondage of sin and evil, a man whose mission was so mighty that stars beckoned and angels choired, and heavenly halleluiahs mingled with earthly songs to celebrate the descent of deity to the planet, – and when Paul descants with holy enthusiasm upon the marvels of this world-changing message, he found no occasion to speak of the man who was the genius of it all! For Paul to write fifteen Epistles, basic treatises on the religion that this man founded, and find no reason to refer even once to anything he said or did, would be on the order of one’s writing a thorough treatise on the American Revolution and never once mentioning George Washington, – forsooth because everybody knows that Washington had something to do with it! This is the sort of reasoning that Case is treating us to. Of course everybody knows that Jesus, like Washington, was there; so there was no need to mention him. The fact that Paul wrote profound discourses on the religion established by Jesus and does not mention him, proves that Jesus lived! This is a new way for a historian to put a man in history – to remain silent about him. Herodotus or Gibbon or Macaulay does not mention Proxon; therefore Proxon must have lived. The best way to promulgate the religion Jesus founded is not to mention the founder! But, says Bacon, Paul’s writings do not even dissertate on the teachings of Jesus primarily. Therefore, on Case’s line of reasoning, it must have been in Paul’s mind that the best way to advance the new Jesus-inspired faith was to write letters on it that leave out both the founder and his teachings! Scholars admit that it was Mystery cult teaching that Paul expatiates upon, and not specifically “Christian” cultism at all, in the ecclesiastical sense. All this, Case would argue, proves the existence of Jesus. All this is logical ribaldry, but it becomes tragic when it is realized that the whole of post-third-century Christianity rests upon the silly foundation of that sort of “logic.”
From the standpoint of human sentiment alone, it surely would seem as if such high motivations as gratitude, reverence, honor, and the like, by which it can be assumed with perfect logic that Paul would have been actuated toward the man who was the author and finisher of his ecstatic faith, would have prompted him to express at least an occasional outburst of praise and thanksgiving toward the man himself, instead of confining all his tribute of high feeling toward the purely abstract principle of Christhood. But again the apologists may allege that Paul’s reverence for the man was so supreme that it awed him into silence. It is in congruity with every high human presumption in the case to assume that had Paul known of a surety about Jesus’ existence, no amount of pressure of any kind could have deterred this impetuous apostle from pouring out his lavish meed of adoration upon the life that had transfigured his own being. He would have been ashamed not to do so. If Paul knew Jesus had been there, how do we account for this unchristian churlishness and repression of such a man’s natural gratitude?
Every implication of the situation would argue that if Jesus lived and Paul had known Peter and others closely allied to Jesus, nothing could have prevented him from extolling the wise words and miraculous achievements of his idol to the highest point his pen could exalt them. That is the only reasonable presumption permissible in the case; to keep silent would be the extraordinary, the bizarre and illogical thing. There is no dodging the fatally damaging involvements of Paul’s silence about Jesus. Even if Case’s contention were true, that Paul keeps silent because he and the people he was writing to took Jesus’ life for granted, that still would not explain Paul’s characterization of the Jesus he does speak about as a spiritual principle, and not a personality. If Paul knew of Jesus’ existence so well that he need not prove it by any reference to it at all, there would be all the more and not less reason for his describing him as a man. Why would Paul descant only upon the impersonal Christos, if he knew all the while that the personal Christ had just been present in his own land! Why write of him only as a psychological entity, when Paul knew him as a man?
Thus it is glaringly preposterous for Case (and others) to construe Paul’s silence as evidence for the historicity, or to excuse Paul’s failure to mention the Galilean on unwarranted deductions from premises that are themselves only daring conjectures. But there is one other premise that Case posits that proves to be quite untrue. He asserts that Paul stood close to the age that professed to know Jesus. It is true that Paul stood close to the age in question, but it is not true that this age “professed to know Jesus.” Data already adduced have established the strange fact that the age of Paul was as silent as was Paul himself about Jesus the man. It was a later age that proclaimed the historical Jesus, later by at least three or four generations. Over a century had to elapse before the legend of the human babe and miracle-worker found voice. Paul and his and Jesus’ own age were alike silent. Philo and Josephus were close at hand in the same age, and writing volubly of just such things as were vitally concerned with what Jesus represented, and they are silent, save for the tiny squeak of some daring interpolator in Josephus’ book.
As to the argument that no one could have persuaded Paul about the reality of this mythical person Jesus, it again is the weirdest pass at logic, for no intelligent person ever needs to be “persuaded” about the reality of a mythical figure. No person conversant with the Mystery teachings, as was Paul, could fail to know the difference between a mythical hero and a living mortal. Millions of the intelligentsia of many ages of ancient times were acquainted with the mythical personages without once falling into the stupid error of taking them for living persons, as the Christians did, or charged the pagans with doing. The Christians of Paul’s type most certainly did not. Case’s point is just another instance of the groundless fatuity that features the debate on that side, based on abject failure to apprehend the genius of ancient allegorism.
It is worth the time to examine several bits of Paul’s writing that point with great decisiveness to the apostle’s spiritual Christ conception. In I Cor. 7:29 he speaks of “waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What is the point of their waiting any longer for a revelation that every Christian preacher and writer shouts to the world had come with the historical appearance of Jesus of Nazareth? What an anomalous situation – the long-expected Avatar of the ages had at last come in the person of this Jesus! He was here, he had wrought his marvels, proclaimed his message, the odor of his sacred presence was still in the air, when Paul wrote! Yet Paul says they are still waiting for the revelation, the Epiphany, the showing forth in Israel! He had come, and apparently his own had not recognized him. What a miscarriage, what blindness, for Paul and his age to miss him, and to keep pathetically looking ahead in expectation when he had been just now behind them, at their very elbow!
Again in I Cor. 7:4-5 ff. Paul writes of “judging nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” A row of exclamation points would hardly mark the significance of this verse. Case himself cites Paul’s writing to the Philippians his confidence that God, who had begun a good work in them “will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Further he counts on them to remain “void of offence unto the day of Christ,” and encourages them to stand fast. How could the apostle write such things pointing to the future for fulfillment if he knew that the Messiah had just been among them?
Massey points out that according to James (5:7, 8) the coming or presence of the Lord was still being awaited. He pleads: “Be ye patient” until “the coming of the Lord,” for “the coming of the Lord is at hand” – when it had just taken place! From Peter (3:10) Massey quotes:
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief, when the heavens will vanish with crackling roar, the stars will be set ablaze and melt, the earth and its works will disappear.”
The Lord had come, and in spite of an earthquake and a darkened sun and other convulsions of nature, the good old earth had kept on in its course. It is important to note in passing that secular history records none of these supremely extraordinary natural phenomena, which we must assume would have been the case had they occurred. It is quite worth noting what Gibbon has to say on this score in his great history of the Roman Empire:
“But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan philosophical world to these evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ and his apostles and of their disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the Church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and pursuing their ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects or received the earliest intelligence of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers in a laborious work has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets and eclipses which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe.” Etc. (D. and F., p. 443.)
Again Paul’s characterization of Jesus as “the first-born,” “the first-born of all creation,” “the first-born from the dead,” “the first-born among many brethren,” would not fit a personal Galilean. “Now hath Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.” But, Massey asks, in what sense? It is impossible, he avers, to apply such descriptions to any historical person. No historical Jesus could be the first-born from the dead. In the gross exoteric sense this would mean that no man in all preceding centuries had risen out of his physical grave in a body of any kind, physical or spiritual. In a somewhat more exalted esoteric sense it would mean that Jesus was the first in all the history of humanity ever to rise as a spiritually glorified being from his body of clay in his final transfiguration into immortality. It would mean that no one before Jesus had ever accomplished the resurrection of his spiritual body out of the earthly body of this death, which is the true meaning of the resurrection. But in any of the possible eventualities that fulfilled resurrection doctrine, taken historically, it is unthinkable and presupposes vast injustice on the part of God to the millions antedating 33 A.D., that no mortal had ever achieved spiritual victory up to that time. One has to go over to the deeper esoteric sense to catch the rational significance of the statement that Jesus was the first fruits of them that slept. For obviously the Christ-type of consciousness is the first power of divine rank that is awakened to full and immortal function out of the deep sleep of age-long incubation in matter into which the living energies of spirit are plunged at the beginning of each cycle. The Christ-mind is the first perfected fruitage on the tree of life and nature. This is precisely what is embodied in many cryptic constructions in sacred lore, representing the tree in Adam’s garden as bearing the Christ as its topmost and richest fruit. The golden bough on the tree or the bright star on the highest tip of the Christmas pine carries the meaning still. After long ages of gestation in her womb, Mother Nature in her old age (Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth!) brings forth the Christ consciousness, as the first divine fruitage of the natural order. With this knowledge and conception sane comprehension can at last replace prevalent logical dementia.
Paul also speaks of “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain unto the unity of Faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man; unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” How could each of us build up the body of Christ, if he be a physical man? If we take such a saying of Paul as that he “knew a man in Christ,” we at once run into ludicrous impertinence if we think of Christ as a man. What it would be to be “in” a Christ who is physical, would be difficult to say. Does the orthodox protagonist pronounce this a silly and preposterous argument? But he could call it silly only on the presupposition that of course the phrase means to be “in” Christ in the purely spiritual sense of being in the vibration of the same mind and soul that Christ manifested. But that is to admit nearly all that this work stands for: that the Christ is a spiritual nature in us, and not a man in history. Orthodox strategy falls back on the definition of Christ as spiritual principle whenever the argument would take a disadvantageous turn on the personal rendering, but jumps back to the latter when it seems safe to do so. But the Christ is either one or the other. The one excludes the other and the vacillation back and forth between the two prevents the fixing of one clear and determinate meaning to the term. It is beyond question that the word “Christ” means the flower of divine consciousness in man and nothing else whatever. All ancient sacred books presented a type of this beauteous development in man’s organism at the summit of his growth, and – ignorance later mistook the figure for a man. This is the whole – tragic – story.
That the life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Son of God were distinctly not behind Paul, but still to come as a consummation for all humanity is indubitably indicated by Paul himself in II Timothy (2:16-18) where he says:
“But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.””
What testimony from the scriptures themselves could be more cogent than this? Paul is warning his Christian brethren to quit the silly talk about the resurrection being accomplished once and for all for humanity, through the exoterically misapprehended physical resurrection of the man-Christ. It was as if Paul cautioned them to be on their guard against countenancing and enhancing the disastrous vogue of the exoteric exploitation and garbling of deeply esoteric material. There is every reason to think that this is the true picture of the import behind Paul’s words here, a picture which we owe chiefly to Massey’s clear vision.
Then we come to the matter of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, which is the chief reliance of the flesh-worshipping party in the debate. This incident is supposed to clinch the verdict for the historicity. What doubt can there be when Paul saw Jesus in his vision, and the appearance of the Master to him was so overwhelmingly genuine that it led to Paul’s conversion? How can Jesus’ existence be doubted when he actually appeared to Paul (and others)?
But the matter is not so simple. It involves much that needs understanding. Was the apparition to Paul the wraith of the dead Jesus or the spirit-body of Jesus still living? Massey cites data of much cogency to intimate that the vision came to Paul while Jesus was still living, if facts of Gospel “history” be considered. He shows by data from the Acts that Paul’s conversion, supposed to have occurred after the year 30 A.D. at the earliest, must have occurred as early as 27 A.D. He reasons as follows: Paul stated that after his conversion he did not go up to Jerusalem for three years. Then after fourteen years more he went again up to Jerusalem with Barnabas. This second visit can be dated by means of the famine, which is historic, and known to have occurred in the year 44, at which time relief was conveyed to the brethren in Judea by Barnabas and Paul. If we take seventeen years from the 44, the different statements go to show that Paul had been converted as early as 27 A.D. The conversion then could not have been by a spiritual manifestation of the supposed personal Jesus, who was not then dead, and further had not at that time been regarded as, or converted into, a living person of the later canonical Gospels.
But that point can be let go, as a bit indecisive. Modern Spiritualists and Theosophists can supply plentiful data as well as a full-fledged rationale of spiritual science to make it possible for Jesus, living in 27, or dead in 33, to “appear” to Paul in vision. Whether spirit or wraith, little is the difference. But a far more vital point is one which, of course, the pro-flesh debaters have never commented upon. Quite – and refreshingly – unlike medieval and modern visionaries who see the radiant figure of “Jesus” in their inner world, Paul distinctly does not make the unconscionable mistake of the latter by asserting the identity of the figure or personage of his vision with an allegedly former living character whom he had never seen. We have covered this point in the first chapters. He simply designates the figure appearing to him as the Lord Jesus Christ, which can be seen to stand here for a generic name of such a type of radiant manifestation, apart from any necessary connection with any former or present living personality. Ancient Egyptian necrological science predicated that the gods and the elect of perfected humanity could appear to men in whatsoever garments of solid or etheric matter they chose. They could appear in many different forms, clothed in flesh or clothed in light. Paul, with his Mystery cult associations, must have been familiar with these possibilities in a commonplace way. It was enough for him to know that he had experienced a spiritual vision, that an apparition of a celestial-appearing figure, an angel of light, had flashed across his inner eye. He did not presume to tie the vision back to any earthly personage, particularly to an individual he had never seen. He only says that the radiant light of the Christos enfolded and blinded him.
Strange as this may sound to theological ears, there is much solid reason to suspect that the whole episode of Paul’s great vision was the rescript almost verbatim of a portion of Mystery dramatism. For Paul says that the stunning, blinding radiance of Christly glory threw him with his face to the ground, after which a voice out of the light spoke to him and said, “Stand on your feet, Paul.” This hardly seems like personal history; for in the Mystery philosophy the descent of the divine soul into incarnation in the early human beginning stage sent it into the bodies of animals who yet walked on all fours, with face to the ground. And as the Christ consciousness gradually asserted its rulership, the humanized animal forms slowly rose to their feet, upright! For the god-soul to incarnate at the beginning of the cycle was for it to fall to earth with its face to the ground, and then the divine voice within spoke and bade it stand up on its feet as the upright human-divine! It is not hard to presume that an age saturated with the effort to dramatize mythical typology would have introduced into the Mystery ceremonial just such a typical representation of the soul’s descent into lowly animal body and its resurrection to the upright human status.
Furthermore the transformation was accompanied by a change of name – Saul to Paul, as Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel. “A new name shall be given unto” the Christified human, carved on a white stone, says Revelation. The whole recital may not unwarrantably be construed as a bit of the initiatory ritualism of the Mystery societies, which was itself just a dramatic typing of the transformation of man, starting with his face to earth in brute body, and rising from his animal nature to spiritual stature, when he received his new baptism. In all probability it stood at first as pure typism in Paul’s writings, and may have been made over into an alleged personal experience of his by the hands and fancies of those redactors who transmogrified sublime mythicism into startling history.
In Myth, Magic and Morals (pp. 6-9 ff.) F. W. Conybeare says that Paul’s Christ is an a priori construction of his own, owing little or nothing to the historical man of Nazareth, and to those who knew that man and cherished his memory. The most that Paul owed to him was the name Jesus. Paul’s Jesus is an ideal superhuman Savior, destined from the beginning of the world to play an ecumenic role. Paul, he says, shows no acquaintance with the Sermon on the Mount or with the parables.
Paul could not remember in another instance of mystic vision of his (I Cor. 12:1 ff.) whether certain experiences occurred to him “in the body or out of it, I know not; God knoweth,” – twice repeated. This can serve as the legitimate foundation for the suggestion that Paul’s ecstatic vision may have been one of those super-conscious experiences which many people have had, so detached from objective reality that they can by no possibility be related to actual events in the world at all.
ROBBING PAUL TO PAY PETER
The study now touches upon a phase of Paul’s relation to Christianity that involves a portion of early Christian history which is generally unknown to the laity or the people at large. It is the Peter-Paul controversy, so-called. It was a factional dispute in the early Church between two sides representing respectively the spiritual and the literal construction of Scripture. There appears to be evidence that there was a Petrine party upholding the historical interpretation of the Messiahship and the Gospel narrative, opposed to a Pauline faction that stood for the esoteric mystical meaning of all Scripture.
Massey is speaking of the great gulf that separated these two views and their factional advocates in early Christianity when he makes this drastic declaration:
“The bodies of two million martyrs of free thought, put to death as heretics in Europe alone, and all the blood that has ever been shed in Christian wars, have failed to fill that gulf which waits as ever wide-jawed for its prey.”
There is first the matter found in the Clementine Homilies, which is ostensibly inspired by the Petrine faction. The author, assumed to be Clement of Rome, designates Paul as “the Hostile Man.” Peter is made to say to Paul, “Thou hast opposed thyself as an Adversary against me, the firm rock, the foundation of the Church.” Paul’s conversion by means of abnormal visions is attributed to the false Christ, the Gnostic and Spiritualist Christ opposed to a historic Christ. Peter is hitting obviously at Paul in Homily 17, when he says, “Can anyone be instituted to the office of a teacher through visions?” Paul is treated as the arch-enemy of the Christ crucified – he is declared the very Anti-Christ! He is predicted to be the author of some great heresy expected to break out in the future. Peter is said to have declared that Christ instructed the disciples not to publish the one true and genuine Gospel for the present, because false teachers must arise, who would publicly proclaim the false Gospel of the Anti-Christ, that was the Christ of the Gnostics. “As the true Prophet has told us, the false Gospel must come from a certain misleader.” The true Gospel was confessedly “held in reserve, to be secretly transmitted for rectification of future heresies.” The Petrine party knew well enough what had to come out if Paul’s preaching, proclaimed in his original Epistles, got vent in wide broadcast. Hence those who were the followers of Peter and James anathematized him as the great apostate and rejected his Epistles. Justin Martyr never once mentions this founder of Christianity, never once refers to the writings of Paul. Strangest thing of all is that the Book of Acts, which is mainly the history of Paul, should contain no account of his martyrdom or death at Rome. Paul’s writings seem to have been withheld for a full century after his death.
According to Massey, “The Praedicatio Petri declared that Peter and Paul remained unreconciled until death.” Klausner (85) refers to the dispute between Peter and Paul over the observance of the ceremonial laws, circumcision and forbidden foods.
Clement of Alexandria states that Paul, before going to Rome, said that he would bring to the brethren the Gnosis, or tradition of the hidden mysteries, as the fulfillment of the blessings of Christ, who, Clement says, reveals the secret knowledge and trains the Gnostic by Mysteries, i.e., revelations made in the state of trance. Thus Paul was going as a Gnostic and therefore as the natural opponent of historic Christianity, the promulgation of which was the aim of the Petrine party. Massey declares it was the work of Peter to make the Mysteries exoteric in a human history. It was the work of Paul to prevent this by explaining the Gnosis. Paul warns against the preaching of that “other Gospel” and that “other Jesus.”
The data on the subject are none too full or explicit. Controversy could easily rage over it. The gist of the matter is, however, apparent. Christianity started as Gnosticism, became vitiated by the introduction of exoteric elements and proceeded along the track of that course of literalization and historization which made it acceptable to all the ignorant and repellent to all the intelligent. Endless controversy arose between the leaders of the two trends and it appears that Paul was arrayed against Peter. If it was not Paul, the subjective esotericist, against Peter, the objective exotericist, it was at least Pauline spirituality against Petrine literalism. As has so often been admitted by scholars, Paul preached the gospel of the immanent Christ; Peter stood for the fact and the message of a personal Jesus. The resolution of the controversy in favor of the Petrine party was fateful for the whole future of Christianity and the Occident. It committed the Catholic Church to an effort to organize the whole world under its aegis in an earthly body, in which effort it has achieved so large a success, but also in which, by the very fact of its adapting its message to a form of attraction for the less intelligent masses, it has lost its own interior meaning, its profoundest spiritual genius. No one can predict history unless he is blessed with some power of vaticination, but it is reasonable to assume that had the Pauline wing of the early movement prevailed, the service of Christianity to the Western peoples over sixteen centuries would have brought more of benison than it has done.
But the matter of this controversy is not ready to be dismissed with the treatment given. The obligation to deal fully with its historical implications rests heavily on anyone treating the development of early Christianity. The early Petrine victory has fixed the character and set the course of all following Christian influence, and as this course and character have been defended, ecclesiastical polity has ever since stood stoutly behind the historical interpretation of scripture. Scholars and theologians in every camp have inveterately lauded the Church’s third-century choice of Petrine as against Pauline theology and they have without limit hailed that choice as Christianity’s escape and salvation from the evils of Gnostic doctrinism and Pauline mystical spirituality. It is the purpose of this study to challenge the dominance and the tenability of this posture and to refute its basic contentions. It is the thesis that the Church, Christianity and religion itself lost immeasurably by following after Peter instead of Paul. Our contentions on this score will fly directly into the face of all orthodox scholastic opinion and will doubtless invite bitter scorn and condemnation. But truth is important and worth the cost one often has to pay for it.
Bacon has so well stated the conventional and established view on the matter that it will serve the purpose handidly to let him present it. In his Jesus and Paul (p. 138) he is speaking of Mark’s Gospel and says that, try as he would, Mark finds it impossible to make his recital the story of a real man under actual historical conditions, and at the same time the story of the superhuman being who steps down into incarnation from “heaven” and who is treated in the Christology of the Gnostics as a “principle” and not as a man. The combination is attempted, however, says Bacon, and Paul’s influence is seen pressing on the side of the subjective Christhood. John carried the subjectivization of the Christ even further, but, says Bacon, it is fortunate indeed for us that the move in the direction taken by Paul and John could not be carried through to triumph. John came close to making the “life” of Jesus one long ode of spiritual transfiguration, ignoring the mundane Jesus on his personal side. John was more a history of abstract Christhood than of the Christ himself. Then, asserts Bacon, we all know how fatal would have been the result for real religious values if the later Gospel – John – had completely superseded all its predecessors. Mark superseded all earlier Gospels (this is a bit strange, since many scholars have made Mark the earliest Gospel). Then John had carried the apotheosis still beyond Mark. Had the transference of human to purely spiritual character in the Christos been carried through to final victory, the real and historical Jesus would have been completely eclipsed behind the raptures of spiritual exaltation and mystic rapports. The solid ground of plain, hard fact underneath the Christian structure would have disappeared. Our science of religion would have been reduced, alleges Bacon, to the tiny dimensions of a figure scarcely more substantial than the mythical heroes of the Mysteries. We can be thankful that the whole Gospel was not written in the mystic style, as displayed in the stories of the baptism and the transfiguration, that there was so much rugged fact, defying all imaginative effort to romanticize it into sheer ideality, so much narrative established in the mouths of many witnesses, that those who aimed to idealize the man clear over into pure spirit could not have their victory. Well is it that the Church did not follow the lead of that ultra-Pauline element which for so long in the movement sought to exalt the impersonal Christos and to ignore the Galilean mechanic whom Paul had not known in the flesh. Sober moral common sense led the body of the movement to fall back rather on the Petrine reminiscences of the sayings and doings of Jesus the man.
One has to wonder whether the eminent and learned writers of this and similar material – to be found in endless profusion in Christian apologetic literature – have ever paused long enough in their laudable zeal to vindicate the Christian record to reflect upon the implications and commitments of their position thus stated. As a matter of simple fact these grandiose assertions to the effect that Christianity was fortunate to escape the Pauline influence come close to being a blank confession that Christianity has never been a wholly spiritual religion, and from the third century was not capable of absorbing and assimilating the completely spiritual message and import of the true Gospel! The realization has never seemed to dawn upon orthodox defenders of the faith once delivered to the saints that to proclaim its good fortune in escaping Paul’s thoroughgoing preachment of the indwelling spirit of God is practically the equivalent of proclaiming Christianity to be a system that refuses to go the whole way in the direction of inner spiritual illumination. The inference of good fortune in escaping a certain element implies the presence of evil in that element. If the Church is proclaimed fortunate in having escaped Paul’s spiritual systematism, the plain deduction from the syllogism is that Paul’s high spirituality was and is a dangerous and evil thing. Yet a million sermons have taken Paul’s beautiful runes and rhapsodies of the spiritual life and gone on to magnify and extol their sanctifying power in the Christian experience. If this is the benign thing that Christianity escaped (and it is our assertion that this beauteous influence is just the thing it did lose), how in the name of all that is reasonable can a religion be declared fortunate in escaping the highest blessedness of spiritual exaltation? If Paul’s ethereal afflatus, his lofty flights on the wings of beatific realization of the presence of God in the soul, are things of danger to be sedulously escaped, it is imperative, then, that the Christian system turn to repudiate Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, Bonaventura, St. Francis and its thousands of idolized saints and enchanted mystics, whom it has persisted in holding up as heroes of the sacred life. In striking, however glancingly, at Paul and his contribution to their movement, the exegetists are shouting aloud the ultimate spiritual deficiency of their own cult. Their attitude represents mental insincerity, if not open duplicity, inasmuch as the condemnation of Paul’s exalted communion with inner deity clashes diametrically with a stupendous volume of experience on the part of Christian devotees from Augustine to Rufus Jones as to the supreme excellence of the Gnostic pathway to the vision of divine light. In the face of this enormous volume of most highly acclaimed and venerated mysticism of Christian votaries, which, if anything, outdoes even Paul in pure rapture – since Paul never relaxes his hold on rational elements, and the Christian mystics often do – it is surely disingenuous for theologians to decry the Pauline influence or hold it up as a potential peril happily escaped.
And if the Church was fortunate to escape the fate of being ridden with the highest and sanest type of rational mysticism perhaps ever to be introduced into religion, its good fortune did not continue longer than the fourth century. For Augustine straightway fell into exalted ecstasies more unrestrained than any Paul expressed. And a whole catalogue of saints and ascetics since then have followed the same path to what they reported to be the acme of inner blessedness. Not even the Hindu Yogi has surpassed the line of Christian revelers in transcendental enchantments. When the holy saints and nuns of medieval and modern Christianity have fallen into such white-hot rapture of identity with the suffering Jesus of Passion Week that the replicas of his wounds opened and bled on their very bodies, and all this (and much else) has been held in awesome regard by the Christian body in general, it comes close to downright insincerity for scholars to denounce Paul’s lofty rational spirituality as not genuine Christianity.
It is time that someone called attention to the glaring inconsistency of this position. That which has been exalted as the noblest and highest strain in Christianity over the centuries is precisely the attainment of inner rapport between the individual soul and the God consciousness, and this is the Pauline influence that we have seen denounced as a peril. If Paul’s emphasis on this experience was a life-and-death danger to Christianity, then it was not fortunate to escape it, for it never did escape it! Not only did it adopt it – on one side of its life at least – but it became the religion’s brightest crown! If that influence spelled catastrophe, then the religion has suffered vast catastrophe, for that influence is exactly what it exalted to the highest. It is surely strange that the very element which these critics pronounce the gravest danger that Christianity escaped has never been seen as calamity, but is on all sides held to be Christianity’s truest expression. And again can be seen how decisively historic fact gives the lie to an ingrained facet of stereotyped ecclesiastical pietism.
Bacon confesses that it would have been fatal if Christianity had gone the whole way with Paul into the inner realization of divine presence and communion. This is to say by inference that it was all right to go a little way into realization of inner divine values, but not to go into it with whole-hearted intensity. It must be granted that moderation in all things is commendable, indeed is the sum of most virtue. And no one goes beyond us in decrying the dangerous tendencies and extravagances that so often engulf the unwise or unbalanced dabbler in the mystic ocean. There is here full and even hearty accord with those who press that side of the case. But still it is the height of anomaly to assume that any true goal of human aspiration is to be striven for only half way. No goal of real worth will be reached without consummate care and balance at every stage of approach. That is understood in any effort at perfection.
Bacon holds that it would have been a calamity if the real historical Jesus had been eclipsed behind the glories of apocalyptic vision. Then Christianity is headed for calamity, for its confessed and approved aim is eventually to eclipse any outward value or nucleus of value behind supreme inner realizations. If this is not so, a thousand Christian books and ten million Christian sermons have been a resounding lie. The pro-Jesus argument is a bubble that bursts and vanishes under the touch of the final consideration in all religious experience, that no Savior external to man’s own mind and heart can avail to help any mortal win his immortal crown unless and until that mortal has incorporated into his own nature the mind and self of the Christ spirit. No Christ outside can transfigure a mortal until the mortal feeds on that body of divine essence, transubstantiates his own being with it, becomes transfigured by the ineffable infusion of a higher consciousness and ends by being changed in a moment into the likeness of a divine soul. Be there a thousand holy Messiahs in body on earth, they would not alter the conditions of the individual’s apotheosis one whit. The eclipse of an alleged personal Jesus behind individual spiritual attainment and a true estimate of the relatively minor importance of a personal Avatar, could not be fatal to Christianity or any religion, because in the end, with evolution the judge and jury, any historical “Jesus” must be eclipsed behind a real divine achievement in consciousness. If this is not true, all religious or ethical exhortation for the spiritual purification of the life is waste and impertinence. On the other hand, the eclipse of the Pauline emphasis on the life of spiritual realization, irrespective or regardless of the solid fact of Jesus’ personal career, could and did become a terrible handicap to the promulgation of the only true Christianity worthy of the name – that Christianity which builds the Christ mind and heart into the ranks of humanity.
By what species of clairvoyance Bacon and his fellow apologists profess to see more terrible consequences flow from centuries of Christian effort to incorporate divine graciousness into the European and American consciousness than have accrued to history from that same amount of effort to commemorate a solidly real Jesus, we do not pretend to know. A myriad of the grossest forms of man’s inhumanity to man, fifty millions of people, historians estimate, murdered by Christian bigotry and hatred, religious wars of frightful proportions, persecutions, intercreedal antagonisms, hopeless division and hostility, the total suppression of free thought and free inquiry, of scientific investigation and search for truth for ten to twelve centuries – all this is but a suggestion of the record of that same Christianity which drew its motivations from the (alleged) solid fact of Jesus’ existence. Surely the challenge can be flung down to the theologians to tell us on what sound knowledge they dare to assert that the record of their religion would have been still far more terrible if the millions of devoted followers had been actuated by the esoteric motive of trying to incorporate as much of the Christ mind within the area of their own lives as Paul would have taught them to do. If the Church’s dodge from Paul’s rational mysticism back to the exoteric factuality of Petrine doctrine saved it, it saved it for a record of brutal and conscienceless inhumanity that would utterly discredit any other organization on earth. Every rational assumption in the situation gives us the right to assert that had it held to Paul instead of turning to Peter, it might have been saved from the horrible record it has made in being saved from the still more horrible record it would have made – as claimed – if it had not been saved to make the horrible record it did make! Crazy as this sounds, it is exactly where the logic of this conventional line of theological reasoning leads us. It robbed Paul to pay Peter; far better had it been to rob Peter to pay Paul. And the Peter’s pence it has paid have not bought it remission of any of its sins against the glimmering of the esoteric light of spiritual truth in many corners here and there in Europe in the intervening centuries, light which it has with fell fury rushed to black out as soon and often as it appeared. For from the days its ignorant masses elevated the Petrine doctrine in triumph over the Pauline esotericism to this present, it has been crucifying not only the spirit of Paul but the heart and soul of the true Christ in humanity. And this is the institution and the creed that Bacon defends. The real historical verdict after sixteen centuries is that it was a calamity that the solid ground of plain hard fact of Jesus’ personal existence did not disappear behind the living reality of inner grace.
Had the personal Jesus disappeared, as Bacon laments the possibility of its having done, we would have had left nothing more substantial than the mythical heroes of the Mysteries and a vague general idea of a god somehow dwelling within us, is the claim. But our early chapters have dealt with this point. Since the work of saving grace must be consummated eventually by each individual for himself, and a model or paragon was provided by ancient sage wisdom in the form of the Messianic Sun-God figures in the Mystery dramatic rituals, man’s only inspiration toward the task of his salvation is the knowledge that the excellence of the model can be achieved by him in time. A living exemplar can do no more. And since he can not, all the claims that a historical Jesus is the only solid basis for the one true dynamic religion fall out as untrue.
All the writers in the strain that Bacon labors to express lay great stress on the fact that the hard plain data of Jesus’ actual career are the only solid or substantial elements to which a religious faith can attach itself and feel under its feet the firm ground of certitude from which dynamic fortitude can be drawn. But we have particularized the item that if this is the one rock to which we can safely moor our bark, it is by the very fact of its “onliness” most unsafe and insecure after all. If Jesus alone attained, our victory is far off. As a matter of truth, there is no safe ground for humanity to stand upon in religion save the rock of divine instinct in the inner self. If, as said, this is insecure, no historical man is of avail to save the individual. The sad effect of teaching the masses to look outward for their salvation to a historical person is seen in the helpless bewilderment and resourcelessness of people today when they are suddenly told for the first time that their only God is the Christ within their own souls. They are filled with dismay, they are overwhelmed with desolation, and they turn and cry: “They have taken away my Savior – on whom shall I lean now?” They have so little cultivated the acquaintance of their inner divine guest that they have certitude neither of his presence nor of his competence to save them. Through dearth or desuetude of the doctrine and practice of the immanence of God, millions today stand trembling in helpless terror when this challenge leads to the sudden revelation of their own inner poverty. When they are told they have nothing more substantial to count upon than their feebly-glowing spark of divinity – all drowned in the welter of human loves and hates, greeds and cruelties – their situation appears to them hopeless indeed. No wonder they find consolation and safety when the sanctified priest assures them that the personal Jesus will look benignly upon them and be their vicarious benefactor.
Paul, Bacon agrees, had not known the Galilean mechanic in the flesh. He had apparently never heard of him and writes nothing of him. Yet this bereavement and deprivation did not prevent him from being the actual founder of the true Christianity and possibly its foremost expounder and teacher. The spiritual model of the Mystery drama was quite as dynamic an inspiration as ever was needed to lift a man to near-divine intelligence and holiness. Paul’s own life and writing put out of court the arguments of his unworthy successors in the great religion he promulgated. Paul himself disproves that the existence of a living Jesus is a necessary element in the psychology of Christly attainment. He attained without knowledge of a personal Savior, as did, shall we say, Plato and Socrates long before him.
There is nothing in the whole of the illogical position upheld by Bacon in this passage that would not be readily corrected by a proper study of comparative religion, with especial reference to the Egyptian sources of all Bible material. But the idiosyncrasies of the argument can not be seen until such study has been made in considerable volume and with proper insights, as well as freedom from established biases. The entire body of supposititious data on which criticism and judgments have so far been based must be drastically altered, and a new foundation for both criticism and interpretation formulated, on the basis of the inclusion of later and sounder Egyptian studies in comparative religion. The perennial weakness of the Christian essay to evaluate its own scriptures has been the delimitation of the scope of its survey to the too narrow bounds of the Christian movement alone. Contempt of “pagan” influences has kept Christian perspective focused on the narrow study of a body of literature that has been believed capable of standing alone and revealing its meaning without reference to its relation to antecedent and environing connections. The truth is that the total of its form, nature and meaning is so closely intertwined with these antecedent elements that without them the study can proceed only in dense darkness. The sun of truth that is needed to throw light into the dark recesses of the mystery, confusion and unintelligibility of the Christian exegetical problem is that luminary of wisdom that shone of old in Egypt, but that was eclipsed by the uprush of popularized Christianity and buried until the Rosetta Stone opened the long-sealed door to let the light shine forth once again. Only with that torch in hand will the scholars have the light to see both their former erroneous methods and the true nature of the problem.
A QUEEN DETHRONED
Nor immediately apropos to the theme of Paul’s silence, but closely cognate to the broad implications of Bacon’s position as above set forth, and of great general interest in relation to the vital changes in early Christianity which affect the study, is a statement from the Yale theologian on page 230 of Jesus and Paul, to the effect that it has been credibly estimated that Christianity lost one half of its following to Marcion and other Gnostic “heretics” bent on divorcing it from its Jewish affiliations and making it over in the true likeness of a Hellenic Mystery cult of personal redemption. Mead asserts, too, that the great Marcionite movement had cut Christianity entirely apart from Judaism. Valentinus tried with some modest success to harmonize the two elements. This datum as to the Marcionite invasion into the ranks of Christianity must be considered a fairly true estimate. Mosheim also says that Origen “had introduced the Academy” – Orphic-Platonic esotericism – entire into the fabric of Christian theology. Augustine a little later came from sitting at the feet of Plotinus, and, previously tinged with Manichaeism, introduced the Plotinic-Platonic doctrine of the “three fundamental hypostases” into Christianity from early Jewish popular exoteric tendencies over to an alignment of doctrine with the most enlightened philosophic wisdom of ancient days. It represented an effort on the part of the more illumined elements, the real intellectual leaders, who had affiliated with the movement perhaps from the motive of saving the strong popular surge of religious ferment from swinging completely out of hand and degenerating into exoteric rubbish. The danger of the deteriorization of high spiritual religion into vulgar misrepresentation of truth, which only the most clear-sighted sagacity can envision and guard against, is always great. But it was never so acutely crucial as in the very epoch under review. It seems likely that there was a lessened tone of spiritual character and perhaps some moral laxity in the personnel of the Mysteries, provoking some wide-spread disgust. Likely also was it that resentment and impatience prevailed among the masses over the exclusiveness of the Mystery cults, and there probably was a growing desire on the part of the people to break down the barriers of secrecy and spread the teachings abroad to the world. Discerning that it was both impossible and undesirable to resist this sweep, which represented grave danger to the inner teachings, but also perhaps feeling some sympathy with it, the philosophical element allied itself with the movement, seeking to direct its currents into safe channels. Almost every great popular movement – like the French Revolution – engages at its inception the interest and support of idealists. Later on, when more grossly human interests surge to the surface and find expression, the idealists are disappointed and disillusioned and drop out. A typical example of this in an individual case is the poet Wordsworth in connection with the French Revolution. The philosophic thinkers who joined the early Christian movement later either dropped out or were forced out by the overwhelming surge of crude exotericism that made hash of the doctrines after two and a half or three centuries. Origen was in particular posthumously excommunicated and anathematized three hundred years after his death for having introduced into the theology the great Oriental doctrine of rebirth or reincarnation.
The high-minded endeavor of the philosophic Christian leaders to hold Christianity up to the superior levels of sage wisdom and interior insight, could it have held its own, is the thing that would in truth have saved the religion of Christos. Yet this most salutary and enlightened trend in leadership and following, Pauline and not Petrine, is the influence that the theologians say Christianity was lucky to escape. In the ironical long and short of the matter, the claim is that Christianity was saved from a worse fate than its now known despicable record of centuries, by following a trend that left every one of its doctrines void of true or intelligible meaning and introduced chaos into every interpretation. We are asked to believe that another trend that would have retained the true inner essence of vital significance, to the eternal enlightenment of mankind, would have represented a great and catastrophic danger to the faith. If this does not reveal the poverty of exegetical and interpretative insight on the part of Christian theologians, we would not know how otherwise to read it.
Brief notice must be taken and rebuttal made of an excerpt from Dr. Morgan quoted by Bacon. He says that the Hellenistic conception of fellowship with God is intellectual and mystical rather than moral, a participation in divine omniscience and immortality by enlightenment or ritual. The Church, on the moral side, insists on conduct. This is one of those fine-spun differentiations that, to have the force intended, must slur the highest tenets and accredited principles of Christianity itself. To hit at Hellenistic philosophy, elements of its doctrine or practice must be belittled. But the odd thing is that these same elements condemned in Hellenism turn out to be influences that have been lauded and glorified in Christianity itself. What Christian Church would not feel itself highly blessed to know that its ministry brought to its people the most intimate mystical fellowship with God? The sad thing to note is that if it does not attain that much of victory, it also does not attain the straight moral purity advertised as more distinctly a normal Christian performance. Forsooth the attainment of communion with God in the inner sanctum of conscience and character must be decried as second rate performance because it is Greek and not distinctively Christian. It is a weird logic that has to defend the probity of moral conduct by slandering the sanctity or sincerity of mystical and intellectual fellowship with God. Their efforts to translate history into the meaning they wish to give it force them into the necessity of condemning fellowship with God as evil. All this bespeaks the reduction of Christian dialectic to a one-sided belittlement of everything non-Christian. Even the highest elevations of the human soul in aspiration for union with God must be written down as dangerous, because Greek rational religion inculcated them first.
One other venting of Christian antipathy to the lofty systems of pagan religion is worth closer scanning, as it is found expressed in another passage from Bacon (247). After saying that he had made special effort in his survey of the fourth Gospel to show its completely Pauline character, he declares that Gentile Christianity faced its critical hour forty years after Paul’s death when the churches of Asia lay between the Scylla of reaction toward Jewish legalism and the Charybdis of Gnostic theosophy. That the stream of Christian development was able to take a clear and open course by preaching to the world the spiritual Christ of St. Paul and interfusing also into the teaching of Jesus the Pauline doctrine of grace, is owing to the Ephesian evangelist. If this so great boon came to Christianity through Paul’s influence, again it must be asked: why the universal orthodox judgment that the adherence to Paul’s type of religion would have wrecked Christianity? Again it is difficult for the laymen to understand how Paul’s contribution both saved Christianity and threatened it with obliteration.
The later years of development in the early Church, says Bacon, were marked by the incoming of grievous wolves not sparing the flock, by a teaching of Anti-Christ, threatening to sweep away the whole Church from its relation to the historical Jesus. The Asiatic wing of the Church was in danger of forsaking the way of approach to God by moral self-dedication in the spirit of love and taking its course along the dangerous path of Gnosis. By what license or chicanery of logic a Christian theologian can stigmatize the inner realizations of divine grace and divine presence aspired to (and often, apparently, attained) in the practice of Gnostic Christianity as Anti-Christ, is not clear either on the surface or in the depths of the situation. The realization of inner sanctification is apparently to be belittled or stigmatized because it was not attained with the help of the doctrine of a personal Jesus. And how it can be contended that a Gnostic’s achievement of divine grace is Anti-Christ and spurious, while the same realization by a Christian saint is the legitimate divine unction, can not readily be apprehended. What can all this narrow logic-chopping mean but that Christian jealousy of its own asserted virtues has reduced its apologists to the childish maneuver of declaring the Christ it proclaims as the only true one, and the Christ non-Christians cultivate as a false one? The presence of such a motive is at hand in the egregiously overweening presumptions on which the whole Christian missionary movement was based. “We have the only true religion, because we alone have the true Christ,” was the cry that accompanied the attempt to force Christianity willy-nilly upon all the rest of mankind. It took a hundred years of pretty nearly flat failure to open the zeal-blinded eyes of vaunting Christians to the fact that other religions had found ways to reach the true Christ within the heart.
If it is true that Christianity would have been ruined by following “the delusive path of Gnosis,” it should be expected that those who for centuries did follow that path would show in their lives and fate the awful consequences of having lived this baneful doctrine. The Gnostics themselves, it is to be presumed, must have presented in their history the evil results of the system. What did the acceptance of Anti-Christ do to them, as a horrible example of false teaching? Surely those who devoted their lives to following such a pestiferous perversion of true doctrine must have given evidence of the disastrous effects of such a plague in their own lives. If it would have ruined Christians, surely it must be clear that it ruined its own devotees. Bacon and his fellow slanderers of Gnosticism have surely put themselves “out on a limb,” which can be sawed off in quick order. For what do we find when we turn back to look at the Gnostics and their careers? Let the great and competent Gibbon answer for us (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, p. 393): “The Gnostics were distinguished as the most polite, the most learned and the most wealthy of the Christian name.” Mead and other scholars testify to the high character of the Gnostics.
And the modern Harnack is fair enough to say, in comment on Irenaeus’ strictures against the Gnostics, that these fine Christians have been severely misjudged. He writes:
“Owing to omissions and because no effort was made to understand his opponents, the sense of the by-no-means absurd speculations of the Gnostics has been ruined by the Church Father.”
The great German exegetist adds this:
“According to Hippolytus (Philos., VI, 42), the followers of the Gnostic Marcus complained of the misrepresentations of their teaching by Irenaeus; the followers of our newly discovered book (the Akhmim Codex) could also have complained of the incomprehensible fashion in which Irenaeus had represented their teachings.”
The time is ripe at last, after eighteen hundred years, to scotch this unfounded and unjust canard that Christian bigotry has kept alive against these highly intelligent and philosophic early Christians whom ignorance designated as heretics. There is nothing but an arrant Christian prejudice to support the Christian claim that the embracing of Gnostic religion by the early Church would have been calamitous. On the other side we have the clear verdict of that court of last appeal – history – that Gnosticism, if it did not itself produce the most excellent type of Christians, was produced and held by them. Its unimpeachable testimony gives the lie direct to this habitual slander of the splendid protagonists of one of the world’s noblest religious enterprises. Christians themselves would have their eyes opened upon a new perspective of historical values in the appraisal of their own faith if they would scan the verifiable item of history that has perpetually been held from their knowledge, the fact that in the early proscription of “heretics” by the orthodox party in the Church, it was a case of the worst elements pronouncing judgment against the best, exoteric blindness striking as esoteric insight, a fury of zealotry tramping down calm balance of philosophy. It was Christianity at its worst smothering Christianity at its best. To say this today is open lèse majesté against official attitude, but it happens to be on the line of truth. We are asked to believe that Christianity found a salvation, still apostrophized in spite of a record of historic failure, by rejecting the well-grounded religious systematism of the most cultured, intelligent and philosophical class of the third century, who at least had inward discernment adequate to the comprehension of a purely spiritual Christos, and adopting in place of it the crass literalized theological melange of a rabble of the lowest grades of intelligence who were so completely incapable of grasping the spiritual conception of immanent divinity in man that the Church was compelled to feed them on the fiction of the Christ as a living man. Celsus and others have testified that the orthodoxy of the time made its appeal only to the most abject in mind and social station in the Roman Empire. Indeed Celsus tells us that it would tolerate no persons of learning and intelligence in its fold. He says it reached out after only the most wretched and “god-forsaken.” It spurned the counsels of philosophy and erudition. Libraries and learning were anathema in its eyes, that in rejecting the Gnosis as heresy, the ignorant leadership of the early institution condemned Christianity to ages of error, blindness and fateful miscarriage of true religion, with a record of inhumanity that crushes the human spirit merely to read it. If this was the salvation from the dreadful menace of Gnosticism, Christianity had better not been saved.
And how is all this impeachment of Gnostic Christianity to be held consistent with a summary statement made by Bacon – one with which there can be ready accord – that Jesus and Paul were the champions of the only gospel that has real promise for our struggling world? How can it be both safe and salutary for the world to pin its faith to a Pauline preachment now, if the cause of the true religion saved itself by turning its back to Paul and its face to Peter long ago? This makes Paul both a menace and the bearer of salvation at the same time. The purpose in laying stress on such a point as this is to show up the precarious and unsound nature of whole volumes of the sort of critical Christian apologetic, Bible analysis and academic investigation in this field that has been under discussion here. One must ask what becomes of the tedious hair-weighing lucubrations of eminent theologians speculating on the Pauline authorship of certain New Testament books, when other schools of thought just as plausibly demonstrate that Paul did not even write the Epistles attributed to him. It all points to one thing clearly, – the uncertain authorship of all the material of the scriptures and the shaky status of all determinations arrived at concerning it. Inasmuch as the whole case for the historicity of Jesus rests upon just such insecure bases, occasion is taken here to introduce some of the available testimony of scholars on the question of the Pauline authorship of the books assigned to him in the canon.
In his Did Jesus Live 100 Years B.C.? (p. 38) Mead cites the authority of a distinguished Dutch scholar, Van Manen, to whom had been assigned the writing of the article on Paul in Hastings’ Dictionary. What so eminent a specialist has to say on the subject of Paul’s literary work must weigh with considerable force on opinion. Says Mead:
“Van Manen emphatically repudiates the genuineness not only of the Pastoral, but of the whole of the rest of the Letters traditionally ascribed to Paul.”
And Mead says this is of great moment, since it is not the opinion of an isolated scholar, but the outcome of the studies of a school. Van Manen himself is definite in his statements:
“With respect to the canonical Pauline Epistles, the later criticism here under consideration has learned to recognize that they are none of them by Paul; neither fourteen, nor thirteen, nor nine or ten, nor seven or eight, nor yet even the four so long ‘universally’ regarded as unassailable.”
Mead follows with this comment:
“Van Manen is unable any longer in all simplicity to hold by the canonical Acts and Epistles, or even to the Epistles solely, or yet to a selection of them. The conclusion it has to reckon with is this: (a) that we possess no Epistles of Paul; that the writings which bear his name are pseudepigrapha containing seemingly historical data from the life and labors of the Apostle, which nevertheless must not be accepted as correct without clear examination and are probably, at least for the most part, borrowed from the ‘Acts of Paul,’ which also underlie our canonical book of Acts. (b) Still less does the Acts of the Apostles give us, however incompletely, an absolutely historical narrative of Paul’s career; what it gives is a variety of narratives concerning him differing in their dates and also in respect to the influences under which they were written.”
Important is Van Manen’s statement that the Paulinism of the lost Acts of Paul and of the canonical Epistles of Paul, is not the “theology” or the “system” of the historical Paul, although it ultimately came to be, and in most quarters still is, identified with it. “It is the later development of a school, or, if the expression is preferred, of a circle, of progressive believers who named themselves after Paul and placed themselves as it were under his aegis.” This would not be an inordinate supposition, by any means. Much of “Aristotle” is believed to have been written down by the students in the Academy. But it is of greater importance for us to be told that this group that “edited” the Pauline Epistles was, according to Van Manen, “among the Gnostic-heretics.” If this be true – and its probability is very great – the tangle, confusion and logical rout of Bacon’s thesis are overwhelming. The whole structure of his argument falls down in a debacle of ruin. For having said that it was Paul (now declared by such an eminent scholar as Van Manen to be a group of Gnostics) who saved Christianity from popular superstition and Jewish legalism to flower out beyond his generation, and having denounced the Gnostics at the same time, he is by his own opinions thrust into the logically senseless and untenable position of denouncing the school and the influence that he has said saved the faith.
Mead quotes McClymont of Aberdeen, the conservative writer of the article The New Testament in Hastings’ Dictionary, who frankly states that the so-called Pastoral Lectures (I and II Timothy and Titus) “are distinguished from all others by their want of historical agreement with any period in St. Paul’s life as recorded in the book of Acts, and also by their strongly marked individuality alike in style and substance.”
That there must be great strength in Van Manen’s view is attested by the data which show that the oldest witnesses to the existence of the Epistles are Basilides, Valentinus and Heracleon. Marcion is the first in time. And these men were all Gnostics. As we learn from Tertullian, traces are to be found of an authoritative group of Epistles of Paul. It is notable that Tertullian still calls Paul “the Apostle of heretics,” and, addressing Marcion, speaks of Paul as “Your Apostle”! What do these little items intimate but that “Paul,” whether as man or group, school or circle, was of the Gnostic persuasion if not indeed of the Gnostic party?
Van Manen dates his “Paul circle” about 120 A.D. and assigns 130-150 to the Acts. Justin Martyr, in the second century, knows nothing of the Acts, even when referring to Simon Magus, a reference which he could not have omitted had he known of Simon’s mention in that treatise, and one which all subsequent heresiologists triumphantly set in the foreground of their “refutations” of that famous “heretic” and impostor. Also there is no clear quotation from the Acts known till 177 A.D.
A matter that is full of meaning from every point of view and is especially corroborative of our position, is the postulation by Van Manen and indeed many others of the existence of a “common document” under or behind the Gospels. This represents the sanest approach or tentative in all textual Biblical investigation to what must be the genuine nub of explanation of sources, origins, context and authorship. The close similarity of three Gospels, or four, has never been interpreted in its clear implications. The explanatory theory was that one of the Evangelists wrote his document first and three others copied it – with variations. Weight of opinion settled upon Mark as the first-written text. Much more likely would it seem to be that all four were variant renderings of a hoary oral tradition, the first setting down of which on paper became the “common document” behind the four and all others – as there were many. Irenaeus told us a valuable thing – though it is known from other evidence – when he said that there was “a multitude of Gospels extant” in his day. Were facts exactly known, it is quite likely that some of the “other Gospels” considerably antedate the canonical four. There is no datum which proves that these four were the earliest. The air of the day was filled with Gospels, and common sense closes the door on every other thesis than the only one naturally assumable, – that they were all essays on the part of many writers to render the truest version of the great oral tradition. On every hand there were members of the several Mystery Brotherhoods, and one after another writer would be inspired to try his hand at transcribing portions of the memorized Mystery ritual, adding his own glosses and elucidations, omitting some sections of the great mystic drama, or some of the allegories and sayings, inserting others. Many scholars predicate the existence of the collections of the Sayings of the Lord, the origin of which it seems easy to attribute to the program of the Mystery ceremonial, where in each performance a large part of the typical drama of the descent and career of the Soul in incarnation, its “death,” “burial,” “crucifixion” and “resurrection” in and from the “tomb” of the fleshly body, consisted of an elaborate set of discourses which constituted the message, given orally, by the Messianic spiritual principle to mortals on earth. Since, as seen, the earth itself was the “Mount” both of crucifixion and of transfiguration, the discourse of the Christ character in the ritual came to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. Burton Scott Easton, in his book Christ in the Gospels, a quite erudite treatise, says it is silly to speculate on the geographical location of the “Mount” on which Jesus preached his discourse, as it is likely not to be taken in its physical or material sense at all. This is a welcome ray of light penetrating the gloom of theological obtuseness. The “Sayings” were the body of the verbal or declamatory interludes in the acted drama. The parables were other spoken specialties. From century to century at least a few innovations or novel features might be introduced in this or that country. Though all depicted the same mystery of the Incarnation, or the oblation of the Son (Sons) of God on the altar of fleshly humanity, the various national Mysteries such as those of Samothrace, of Phrygia, of Eleusis, of Bacchus, of Atys, of Osiris, Serapis, Isis, Aten and others were modifications in one of another pronounced direction. The Mysteries solve the great mystery of the Gospels. In whole or in part, the Gospels were just the written transcript of the great religious ritual-drama that had been almost the ancient world’s sole theme of sacred literature. The assumption on the part of Christian leaders at the start, and of Christian apologists ever since, that the great body of “Gospel” literature afloat in the middle East in the early centuries of our era – and quite obviously also before it – bore no relation to the total organic religious effort of the world before the time specifically marked “Christian,” is on the face of it manifestly a stultification of both scholastic judgment and common sense. To attempt to place a specific date of the first origin, which date must at all costs be kept after the year 35 or 40 or 50 A.D. – of a body of literature that in either oral or written form must have had an immemorial antiquity behind it even then, must be seen at last as the prize folly of the ages. Unquestionably there was a “common document” behind the Gospels; and some of the hoary books of wisdom that survived the besom sweep of Christian destruction, give us inklings of its contents.
The endless aspersions cast on the Gnostics and their philosophy come with bad grace from the Christian side in view of the manifest advantage in standing, repute and character which accrued to the early Church from the adherence to it of various philosophical groups, however much some of them might still be adjudged “heretical” from the dogmatic point of view. It might profit the Gnostic traducers to turn back and read again what Mosheim has to say on the close intimacy between early Christianity and Greek philosophy. It must be noted in glancing at this material that the word “philosophy” had come to connote in the minds of third-century Christians a thing of reproach. It was to them the genius and embodiment of heresy. A faint idea of what inspired this antipathy to philosophy may be gained by putting it side by side with the recent American popular animus against the incursion of the “brain-trust” into the political arena, and the vulgar distrust of the cap and gown or the university degree. There is inevitable, no doubt, a submerged subtle resentment against the cult of intellectualism or pretensions thereto from the masses who lack it. When Christianity gathered in the lowest elements of the Roman population and propagated itself by catering to their level of hysterical religionism, the resentment against learning, genuine or superficial, was widespread and deep-seated. There are ever two vastly divergent planes on which the thing known as religion can deploy its psychologizations in human life, that of the intellect and that of the emotions. Like other religions, Christianity has swung its emphasis back and forth at different epochs between these two modes of the force. In the third century it was in the throes of a movement sweeping it from the intellectual aspect to the emotional. It brought, as we have seen, a hatred of books, learning, philosophy. But before the debacle became overwhelming and catastrophic philosophy had rendered the Church great service, which it is quite worth our while to recall and cogitate.
Mosheim (Vol. I, p. 341) analyzes the contribution and influence of Clement of Alexandria. Clement tells us, he writes, that he would not hand down Christian truth – that is, the truth about the Christos in its purely spiritual form – bare and unmixed, but associated with or rather veiled by and shrouded under the precepts of philosophy. For, according to Clement, the seeds of celestial wisdom communicated by Christos to the world lay hid in the philosophy of the Greeks, after the same manner as the succulent part of a nut lies concealed within the shell. For he appears to have been firmly persuaded that the essence of Greek philosophy was sound, wholesome and salutary, in fact that it was consonant with the spirit of Christian wisdom, but that it was reconditely veiled by a cloud of superficial images and fictions (which we know were the mythical and allegorical dramatizations) just as the kernel is hidden by the shell.
It should be the business of Christians then to endeavor industriously to penetrate this exoteric covering in order to discover the true relation between human and divine wisdom. The origin of Greek philosophy he attributes to Deity himself – would that such liberality had prevailed in the Christian hierarchy ever since! – but its transmission to humanity had to be through inferior agents. Philosophy was the way to eternal life before Christ himself came, and therefore he allows that the Grecian sages were saved. He reiterates that philosophy was divinely communicated to the Greeks. (Deity must have chosen Chaldea and Egypt as his agents of this communication, since Greek philosophy emanated from those lands.) It was given to Greece as a special testament or covenant, and it in fact constitutes the basis of that doctrine which the world has since received from Christos. Mere inner persuasion of the spirit must always be strengthened by that more accurate knowledge of religion which was to be acquired through the aid of philosophy.
This sagacious counsel of Clement the Church would have been wise to follow. But Mosheim goes on. With a view to accomplishing this desirable end, the Christians not only adopted the study of philosophy themselves, but became loud in their recommendation of it to others, declaring that the difference between Christianity and philosophy was but trifling. And it is most certain that this kind of conduct was so far productive of the desired effect as to cause not a few of the philosophers to enroll themselves under the Christian banner! Those who have perused the various works written by such of the ancient philosophers as had been induced to embrace Christianity, can not have failed to remark that the Christian discipline was regarded by all of them in no other light than as a certain mode of philosophizing. (Sad the day when this liberal spirit was replaced by that of dogmatic bigotry!)
Much light peeps out through obscuring veils in the next observation of Mosheim: the opinion was held by many that philosophy had been surreptitiously brought down from heaven and communicated to mankind by those angels whom, according to the ancients, a love of pleasure had induced to rebel against God and who descended to earth to unite their divine intellection with material bodies for the sake of the opportunity thus afforded pure spirits to enjoy the sense of life. (The real motive of “rebellion” was not hostility to God, but revolt against the inane passivity of the purely ideal world – vide Plato.) Clement himself seems to have adopted this opinion; and he is at pains to refute those who maintained that philosophy was a device of the evil one to deceive the human race. (This tell-tale hint gives positive evidence of the virulence of the proletarian revulsion against the rational wing of Christianity, which this work claims has never been given its due place in historical analysis.) Mosheim adds that from this position of Clement we may assume that the alleged origin of philosophy in diabolism had taken deep root among the multitude. Clement explains that Paul, in warning Christians to beware being spoiled by philosophy, obviously was speaking to the more perfect Christians, those “who had attained to the very heights of Gnostic intelligence,” cautioning them that the philosophies were but an elementary discipline and should not be permitted to obscure the fuller realities of the Christian experience. It will readily be apparent how widely the views of modern commentators like Bacon, who indulge in the conventional derogation of the Gnostic Christians, diverge from the attitude of Clement, who had first-hand acquaintance with Gnostic philosophy. It is Clement, not Mosheim, who here equates “more perfect Christians” with “the very heights of Gnostic intelligence.” Not only Gibbon, but Clement, makes the Gnostics the elite of the Christian personnel.
Mosheim adds that through Origen and Heraclas, pupils of Clement, and through pupils of Ammonias Saccas, who mostly entered the ministry, the love of philosophy became pretty generally diffused throughout a considerable portion of the Church. Porphyry says that Ammonias, a father of Neo-Platonism, had taken up Christianity and later renounced it. Eusebius says that he held to it to the end.
We can see in Clement’s – and no less in Origen’s – high regard for Greek philosophy, as being indeed the innermost kernel of rational Christianity, the sufficient answer to the indignant howl let out nearly two hundred years before Augustine’s day by that loud and blatant protagonist for doctrinal Christianity, Tertullian. That fierce zealot had written:
“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? . . . Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic and dialectic composition!”
True enough, by the time Christianity had been adulterated and transformed to the thing of literal gibberish and pious emotionalism to which it had degenerated in Tertullian’s day, little enough of its pristine kinship with the lofty Platonism and the splendid eclecticism out of which it originally flowed was discernible. Also, hidden under esoteric veils as its highest teachings and revelations had been, of course the crassness of blunt exoteric vision could detect no connection with the primal system of arcane philosophy in which the deeper Christianity of Gnosticism had had its roots. But the sad mistake of the Church had been manifest in its propensity and its final historic choice to follow its blind and fanatic Tertullians instead of its clear-seeing philosophical Clements and Origens – and Dean Inges.
The supreme lesson that the whole historical episode should teach is that, in the words of Mosheim (I, 346) upon Clement’s attitude on the relation of basic philosophy to religion, “. . . our conviction of mind must necessarily be strengthened and confirmed by our acquiring that more accurate knowledge which was to be obtained through the assistance of philosophy.”
Whenever the principles of this maxim are transgressed religion swings into channels of irrational behavior. In short religion is never safe until it is well grounded upon and stabilized in the rudiments of truth discovered by a profound study of philosophy. Christianity despised, then threw out its early sage philosophy, and a hideous historical sequel trailed its long shadow over the ensuing centuries.
It is too much to expect that attack and denunciation will not fall heavily upon the thesis here advanced that Christianity was a movement of ignorance against mental culture and rational philosophy. It is found, however, that Mosheim directly confirms this position. He goes on to describe the growth of a party in the Church which violently resented the encroachments of philosophical interests on the religion of “simple piety,” and which feared that the spread of earthly philosophy (they must have forgotten that Clement said it came down from heaven) would injure the cause of celestial truth. The two parties, then, of the philosophical enthusiasts and the dour pietists, “opposed each other with the utmost warmth,” the one contending for the utility and excellence of philosophical discussion and urging the teachers of the Church to demonstrate the harmony between religion and reason; the other regarding every species of human learning, and more particularly philosophy, with detestation and contempt, and urging the brethren to maintain the faith in all its genuine simplicity. And the theologians of the modern Church still exhort us to regard as our true Christianity the bewildering irrational literalisms of the Christian party – which is what Christian doctrine became in its “simplicity” – that held instruction, learning, reason and philosophy in utter detestation and contempt!
In the finale of his discussion of this point Bacon ends by asking the very pertinent question whether we may hold that there is still need of the Gospel as theology. He notes that in our time few pay homage any more to the fallen “queen of the sciences,” as it was denominated in ancient days. The cry today is for religion without theology.
There is not room here to debate this question. It is of the utmost importance, however, that the sheer fact of theology’s having fallen into desuetude in Christianity should be fully analyzed and comprehended in its true significance. That the one religion vaunting itself to be the truest, highest, purest in world history should have shifted so far from its pristine constitutional character as to find itself in these latter times of world stress entirely out of unison with its original intellectual foundation, is attestation enough that great and vital divergence from basic principles must have occurred at some epoch. A long chapter would not suffice to detail the nature and immense import of the divergence that did assuredly occur. But however searchingly we may probe, it will come back in the end to the one fact that the far distant root-cause of Christianity’s defection from its own theology was generated back in that fatal third century, when the Gnostic and philosophic wing of the movement was amputated by the rising power of the tide of ignorant exotericism that flooded in upon the new religion at that time. It would be easy enough to trace the effects right up to the present aggravated scorn and neglect of theology. When the shift from allegory, myth and drama to history was made, the cryptic esoteric keys to the lofty and sublime inner meaning of theological formulations were lost. The doctrines of the faith were thus left standing as little more than empty shells, devoid of intelligibility and hence bereft of dynamic power and so, finally, powerless to engage interest. They became relegated to the cloister, the library shelves and the theological seminaries. They sank into the background and were covered by the dust of oblivion from the sheer fact that the cord of relevance and meaning by which they would have been tied to living human interests and problems had been cut, and they became a thing apart and out of meaningful relation to life itself. The Bible also, of which theology is the intellectual exposition of its meaning, shared largely the same neglect and ostracism out of living experience. No voice raised today would be a more desolate bleat in the wilderness of uncomprehending stolidity than one which proclaimed anew the need of theology as the solvent of the world’s gripping problems of this age. It would go utterly unheard, shouted down by the raucous chorus chanting the total inadequacy of theological doctrine to meet even the mental needs of our time. Yet the early Church proclaimed those doctrines as the saving truth of God for the guidance of men through this life. And the profound wisdom of the purest philosophy in history, the Greek, blessed these teachings with its sanction.
Perhaps nothing, then, will surpass the surprise of the Church itself when it hears the plaintive bleat for theology rise from this end of the field. For there is ample ground to support the forthright declaration that every single dogma, creed article and ceremonial item in the original Christianity was, and still is, the very truth, and likewise is knowledge critical for the practical needs of the world today! It is an unbelievable anomaly that while Christian theology is the saving truth of life, the religion that promulgated it has so weirdly perverted it into unintelligible gibberish that it no longer bears the stamp of either truth or utility, and the Church is itself forced to disown its own primal genius as unrelated to the problem of practical good. So recreant has the institution been to the teaching of truth it itself proclaimed in creed and scripture and theology that it must now turn and disavow its own organic constitution. The enormity of this dereliction must be seen as proportionate to the vastness of the change and degradation necessary to have brought it to pass. The prodigious extent of the transformation from sublime meaning to unconscionable jargon in Christian theology can be seen in all its appalling significance only by those who will make the comparison and see the shocking contrast between the present corruption of the doctrines and their transcendent majesty of import in the minds of the ancient sages who clothed the body of truth in the romantic garb of allegory.
In rounding out this long chapter it is supremely desirable that the full import of Paul’s silence that so damages the case for the historical Christ be summarized and crystallized. On the basis of the premises established it is simply inconceivable that the ardent Apostle – the actual founder of Christianity! – could have left in his writings a total blank about the man Jesus. No amount of sophistry or mental chicanery can set aside the verdict of common sense. Any argument advanced to “explain” it rings from the start with the hollowness of sounding brass and the feebleness of a tinkling cymbal. Paul was in essential leanings a Gnostic, one of the Hellenic philosophers so despised by the anti-philosophical wing of fanatical Christianity in the third and fourth centuries. The ineluctable reason why Paul does not mention a historical Jesus is that he had obviously never heard of one, and further could not have conceived of one. No more could he have believed in a personal Logos than could Philo, who was about contemporary with him. Paul and John, says Bacon, saved Christianity from vitiation for the generations beyond their own. Yet Paul and John had no theology of a personal Jesus, obviously and admittedly. So logic concludes that it was a theology that had no room for the personal Christ that saved Christianity.
The final word here should be a dissertation on the true inward meaning of the phrase – the Word made flesh. The easy step from the esoteric collective sense over to the exoteric personal caricature of the idea spelled a swift and facile “descent to Avernus” for Christian theology. With the total loss of the formulae and keys of the antique arcana, the fateful transmogrification of true meanings into nonsense fell speedily upon ecclesiastical doctrinism through many avenues. But one of the chief and most immediately damaging misconstructions was that which inhered in the misreading of single names of type characters in a singular instead of a multiple or distributive sense. Just as it would be a misconstruction to read Santa Claus as one character giving gifts to all children, instead of the spirit of giving distributed among all parents, so it was a mistake to predicate the flesh which the Logos was to assume as the mortal flesh of one man. Naïve thinking, if the more discerning truth is withheld, jumps to the conclusion that if the Word is to become flesh, it must be encased in the body of one man. But the thinking and the knowledge behind Biblical esotericism is by no means naïve. It is inexpressibly recondite, unbelievably cryptic. It takes at least as much acumen to decipher the occult sense thus embalmed in allegory as it required constructive genius and inventive deftness to embody it there. What the vital phrase then signifies in its original cryptic intimation is that the Logos, the ideal archetypal structure-form of God’s thought, which was to be borne out to utterance by the resonant thunder of his Voice or spoken Word – precisely as our voices carry out in their tones the ideas of our minds and stamp them upon the living world – was to go vibrating down to the lowest levels of the reach of the creative emanation and finally stamp its image and form upon the highest creature of flesh. The pulsing electronic energy of divine Mind was in the end to become the presiding genius in bodies of flesh. Not in the flesh of a man, but in the flesh of humanity was the light of the Word to be born, glimmer and shine. It was to enter and become flesh collectively, with its rays distributed among all men, and not confined in one single body alone. The Egyptians have the term from which indeed, in utmost likelihood, the very name “Christ” has come, to designate the “soul made flesh.” It is their Karast, the name of the deceased in the mummy-coffin, and it means “fleshed.” Modern theology will never recover the genuinely correct sense of much of the ancient sacred writ until it restores to a central place in its structure of exegesis the forgotten doctrine of “Dismemberment,” the idea of the fragmentation or cutting of deity to pieces, or as the Greeks put it, “the distribution of whole natures” of the gods into infinite partition, so that a seed fragment of divine Mind may be planted in the life of every creature. This principle is indeed clearly embodied in Christian theology and ritual in the Christ’s breaking of the loaf – after declaring that it typified or “was” his own body – and distributing a portion of it to each participant in the divine transubstantiation. Each fragment of his deific nature thus transplanted in the body, heart and mind of the communicants became “fleshed” or Karast; and this became the Christ on the cross of flesh. The Christ in each of us is the Word made flesh, which after the analogy of the broken pieces of the loaf, came and dwelt among us, telling us that indeed unless we take and “eat” of this divine essence, our aeonial salvation will not be accomplished. The mind can see at this juncture that the moment one leaps from the meaning of the incarnation of the Christos “in all men” to the other sense of “in one man, Jesus,” the groundwork for a rational and intelligible comprehension of the fleshing of the Logos, and with it the whole basic sense of ancient religion, flies away, and confusion stalks the effort to grasp the purport of all theology. The entire edifice of theology is built upon and around the central fact of the descent of the Logos into flesh and matter. It is the nub of the entire system. It is the key to the scriptures. The planting of the seed fragment of divine nature distributively in humanity was and is the advent of Christos, the great aeonial divine coming. That the Son of God was collectively the Sons of God, or the principle of Sonship distributed like bread to the “multitude,” has never been decisively grasped as the prime key to the theological systemology. “The gods distribute divinity” is one of the most sententious and revealing items in the profound Platonic philosophy belittled by Christian dogmatists. “Each superior deity,” explains Proclus, “receiving from on high the excellent nature of those gods who are above it, imparts it in divided measure to those natures immediately secondary to themselves.” The gods in the rank above us offer us their very bodies, i.e., the essence of their divine natures, the substance of intellect and will, for us to feed upon by appropriation, or “eating.” If the bread is the body of the Christ’s nature, how can it be implanted germinally in the flesh of billions unless it be broken into as many fragments as there are to be communicants?
This is the meaning – all lost in the historicizing process – of the multiplication of the loaves (and fishes) to feed the multitude.
The Logos was made flesh, but not in one man only. Paul thrilled to this knowledge, and the Bible hardly anywhere rises to such majesty and loftiness as in those passages in his Epistles wherein he dissertates on the forming of the Christ in us through the growth of charity in our hearts. There is no confusion there. That comes in only when the man-Christ is thrust into the picture.
A STAR—AND LUNA
The resources of the dictionary are hardly adequate to pictorialize what has to be styled the doltish fatuity of popular conception in Christian countries of such an accouterment or embellishment of the Oriental dramatization of spiritual history as the heralding of the birth of Christos by the appearance of a star and its guidance of three Magi of Persia to the stable in Bethlehem. When this incredible instance and example of the devastation of sane reason by the psychological seductions of miracle and divine fiat has been looked into closely, some realization must begin to take form in the minds of many that Clement’s injunction to balance faith with critical thought is a quite indispensable counsel of wisdom. The power of blind faith to stultify the reason is brought out in glaring flagrancy in the instances to be cited. The point is accentuated here in all its ribald ridiculousness for the twofold purpose of awakening the narcotized intellects of thousands to a realization of the amount of inherent absurdity that must be swallowed if the narrative of Jesus’ historical “life” is to be accredited, and of adding another stone of solid strength to the building of the case for the non-historical interpretation of scripture. The climactic reflection from the critique should be that if the acceptance of the Jesus story as history rests upon a series of such mental infatuations as this, it can be received only by minds that have undergone nearly complete paralysis, and that the whole basic structure of Christianity thus stands upon perilously weak foundations indeed.
In a lifetime of reading there have been encountered only two slight or glancing allusions to the illogicality and inherent impossibility of the story of the guiding star of Bethlehem. There may be others that have not been seen. It is to illustrate or exemplify the shallowness of general orthodox thinking on matters of scripture and theology that an attempt is made to present this matter in realistic baldness. When the ordinary person at Christmas time purchases one of the greeting cards picturing the five-pointed star in a dark blue heaven of night; with a streak of rays streaming down as distinct as the beams of searchlights upon a humble structure on the edge of Bethlehem, directing the three camel-mounted Magi to the spot of the Savior’s nativity, the aura of interest and devotion in the scene is probably not dimmed or diminished by any roguish consideration that there may be a single irrational item in the representation. If the current query of American cleverness – “What is wrong with this picture?” – were put to the card purchaser, he or she would doubtless be shocked and taken aback to be apprised that there was anything amiss with it. It must be true as pictured, for it is so described in the Bible. And of course to those who have been educated to think of the Bible as a book wherein is inscribed the record of how God turned nature and its laws upside-down to impress his creature man with his almighty power, the physical impossibilities in the picture present no mental difficulties. God simply caused it to happen that way.
But it is a different story when looked at from the standpoint of reason and natural law. As intimated before, all that needs to be done to prove that the Bible is not a historical record of actualities, is to take it at its word and see what you have. It involves the process of de-romanticizing the narrative and transposing its detail over into the realm of factual realism. The result is sometimes just inane, but more frequently is deliciously ludicrous. A rare treat of the latter variety awaits a realistic probing of the Bethlehem starry portent.
The non-reflective Biblical idealist might be persuaded under pressure to admit, in the first place, that stars have been universally known to shine only at night, not very brightly if it is in moonlight season, and not at all (visibly) if it is cloudy. This detail would have necessitated traveling only by night for the three Magi. This would put the star under the awkward necessity of hiding somewhere in the intervening daylight periods, and holding up its speed of motion or resting, or somehow “killing the time” until dusk came on, when it would appear again and announce that it was ready to continue the journey. Otherwise it would get too far ahead of the camel train to serve as reliable guide. To cover the eight-hundred miles across the Arabian desert from Persia to Judea it would have to repeat this daily routine for a month or more, neglecting its ordinary celestial functions until the miracle of founding Christianity was attended to. Having landed the three men at the feet of the aureoled babe, it would bid them a grateful adieu and dash off into stellar normalcy again.
It may be a somewhat more difficult operation, however, to convince the hypnotized devotee of the miraculous and the supernatural, that no star – assuming now that it is a real star and not some hypothecated ignis fatuus of Christian fancy – could by any possibility become or act as a local guide to a given spot on earth. If there is any lingering remnant of protest that perhaps it could be done, let anyone go out under the open sky at night and try to determine at what moment he is exactly under a particular star, or exactly what spot that star is pointing to. With this corrective of his idle fancy, let him recall that the earth is constantly turning under the stars at the rate of over a thousand miles an hour, or about eighteen miles, roughly, a minute. Any locality thus would be rushing under the star at about four times the speed of the swiftest airplanes, and to keep over the desired spot the star itself would have to sweep around on its orbit at an unthinkable rate of speed. Even if it could shoot downward one distinct ray to point to the stable in Bethlehem, the latter would in a few hours turn around from under its finger and disappear on the underside of the planet. A star can give compass direction and nothing more. It can not be a local guide.
There has been no end of the weirdest and most fantastic speculation, much of it given out seriously by astronomers who should be ashamed, and by religious heads who think such things are permissible and indeed laudable because piously motivated, as to the possible actual astronomical nature of the Bethlehem phenomenon. One theory is that at about that period, or within a hundred years of the date, there was a conjunction of four, five or six of the planets, making such a bright cluster that the childish ancient world straightway fell into hysteria and paroxysms of superstitious fear, standing in awe of some great portent, the Bethlehem babe being somehow or other announced by the planets in one voice. Another typical version is that there flared up a mighty comet which aimed straight toward, or trailed its wispy tail right over, the Judean stable. It is distasteful to be called upon to emphasize the degree of mental folly necessary to hypostatize such stupidities, yet the consequences have been so fatal that a final satirical treatment seems called for. The astronomers and divines who are heedless enough to permit their names to go under these wild conjectures to keep the credulous in line with “the sacred story,” seem to imagine that if they succeed in putting some unusual luminary in the sky about the year one, they have adequately explained the legend of the star, and thus substantiated Biblical prestige. It is not enough merely to have accounted for a star in the heavens; it must be brought down to earth and made to hover motionless over the cave in Bethlehem! For Matthew says that “it came and stood over where the young child was.” Imagine a cluster of five or six of our planets, including Jupiter, which is many times the size of our earth, hanging on the outskirts of Bethlehem villages and pointing to the stable! No astronomer that ever lived knows anything about a star that came within a hundred feet of the earth and stood still there. No star ever known has “stood” anywhere, since all are rushing at invariable speed along an orbit. Again, the diameter of a star that could point to a single building of tiny dimensions in a village could not be twenty to thirty feet at most. The tiniest of the asteroids has a diameter of some five miles. The only sizable star left that might fulfill the conditions is a meteor, but no meteor ever led travelers patiently across a desert and then stood still over a village. As an actual phenomenon, the “star of Bethlehem” is the most childish absurdity ever perpetrated by unscrupulous priestcraft upon religiously derationalized humans.
But the story is not only inherently preposterous; it holds a self-contradiction as well. An amazing and, to the orthodox view, most disconcerting fact comes to light in an observation that reveals absolute contradiction between the conventional legend and the Gospel text. The legend universally has it that Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior, the “three Kings of Orient,” were Magian astrologers from Persia or Chaldea, who by stellar or other forecast divined the date of the Messianic birth. Under the spur of news of such aeonial magnitude, they made the camel journey across the Arabian desert to greet the divine Messenger in Judea. According to the best geographies it is safe to say that this is going west on the map. So the Magi traveled west. But the Gospel story does not agree. It says they traveled east! For when they came to Herod and informed him of the purpose of their visit, and frightened him with their oracular prophecy that the new-born king would unseat him from his throne, they said: “We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” The star that appeared and led them till it stood over the birthplace was seen “in the east.” The “dodge” out of this predicament will probably be the reminder that all stars rise in the east and then “travel” west. The text says nothing to this effect. The plain implications of the language of the Gospel is that the wise men saw the star in the east and therefore went there, i.e., to the east, where it indicated the locality of the Savior’s birth. But popular legend takes them westward. Something is indeed wrong with this picture.
Mention of these tangled absurdities was made a few years ago to the leading Episcopalian clergyman in Boston. With Christmas approaching he introduced matter from the discussion into his next two Sunday sermons, saying it was obvious that Christians would have to give up the assumed historicity of this aspect of the Nativity story, and regard it all as a beautiful allegory. The moral of the incident – and it is a weightier moral than appears on the surface – lies in the fact that this splendid and liberal divine had never before sensed the realistic impossibilities of the star’s role in the Gospel “history.” The moral grew still heavier when it appeared likely that neither had any other minister thought it through. That so superficially glaring a knot of inconsistencies and physical absurdities should never have been noticed and commonly taken into account speaks loudly as to the mental narcotization of the votaries of a religion of blind faith. And the matter takes on still a graver import when it is considered that a hundred other constructions in both Old and New Testaments can similarly be reduced to nonsensical rubbish by the simple process of imaginatively actualizing what is described as taking place. The story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt makes particularly diverting “comic strip” when the details as narrated in holy writ are realistically reconstructed. Joseph Wheless has obligingly done this for us in his Is It God’s Word?
The purpose here is not primarily interpretative, but the challenge will come to us to produce a rational meaning for the star allegory if it was not a factual verity. It will carry some credence for the denial if it can be shown that it has another meaning on the esoteric side that is both clear and acceptable to reason. The explanation is not difficult. It is simple enough to anyone who has become familiar with ancient Egyptian symbology. One of the most patent emblems by which the Egyptians typified the soul as a nucleus of intellectual “fire” was the star, and the evolutionary descent of the soul into matter, typified as earth and water, was allegorized as the sinking of a star into the earth or ocean with the rotation of the globe. Soul and star unite in meaning in the Egyptian word Seb, says Massey. And souls, like the stars, sank periodically into the domain of matter. A star falling or sinking below the horizon was the typograph of a soul going down into incarnation in the earth, or into the earthy and watery elements of the body. The “west” was therefore the typical “region” where souls went to their “death,” or semi-dead condition of existence under the limitations of matter, in which state they gained a new life, were reborn at Christmas and finally resurrected at Easter. The soul that, as a star, had sunk into flesh “on the western horizon of the sky,” rose in its new birth or liberation “on the eastern side of heaven.” Or, putting it a bit differently, the soul that as the aged one of a previous incarnational cycle, descended anew into matter and body to be regenerated after “death” and to be reborn as its own son, would show the light of its star rising in the east. The birth of the Christos then was the emergence above the eastern horizon of the new Adam resurrected out of the dying embers of the old. The advent of the Christ principle in man was therefore mythically embellished by the legend of the star of soul rising in the east. It was an integral part of the Egyptian and other dramatizations of the divine Nativity.
The three Wise Men, rather the three Kings of Wisdom, who attend the appearance of the star are none other than the three differentiations of the “star” or soul itself, the three aspects or rays into which it breaks its primal unity when it comes to organic manifestation in and through a body or instrument. Naturally they would appear when the “star” of soul has its birth in the east, as they are its own three aspects raying forth, and they must come with the star. This illumination of the mind with the true sense of a beautiful allegory is worth more than a hundred volumes of silly speculation in the effort to make the “history” of the Jesus life stand up in the face of obvious irrationality. It is a wholesome relief to know that it is allegory, and to know also that one’s faith and religion do not have to be supported any longer on the unstable foundation of the star’s claimed factuality. The star must be believed if the personal Jesus is to be accepted. Rejected as preposterous on factual ground, the star can still become a virile aid to spiritual realization if the Jesus story also is taken as the dramatization of wondrous truth. The drama, more potently than the “history,” was to impress this indefeasible veritude upon the early life of humanity. It represents the genius of the whole ancient literature, which has been woefully misread because this fundamentum was ignored.
Less allegorical but equally fictitious must have been that other item of Nativity accompaniment which is introduced in order to account for the parents’ visit to the village of Bethlehem, through which new scriptures were to be made to fulfill “prophecies” in old ones. This was the alleged decree of Caesar Augustus “that all the world should be taxed.” The first thought that occurs – to a politician, at least – is that the Romans must have been slow to rise to their lush opportunities for income if the idea of a tax had not occurred to them before this! The student of Roman history is pretty well assured that the Imperial government had not been unduly neglected of the taxing prerogative of a conquering nation at any time in the Republic’s or the Empire’s period. But the sum and substance of the story of the Augustus tax is that there is no official Roman government record of this world-wide levy anywhere extant or ever known. And the records were well kept at this epoch. The declaration has been thundered forth from a million pulpits that the Gospel story of the Christ stands accredited by facts of authentic history. Here is one of the most salient of such facts, and it is found to be no fact of history at all. It is more fictitious than any myth. It is untrue, whereas a myth is brimming with (hidden) truth.
It would not be difficult to amass a great amount of authors’ data to support the claim as to the fictional nature of this tax and the Cyrenian (Quirinian) census preparatory to it. But an authority lies at hand that will be used extensively in this section of the study, and it is desirable to summon the witness of a defender of the historical point of view to our side of the discussion. This particular authority can well be used as representative and typical of hundreds of others, which can not all be brought forward in evidence. It has been selected out of scores of “Lives of Jesus” because its handling of many items in the “life” of the subject is fairer than usual to the realistic or concrete view, and less haloed with mystic romanticism. The work is The Historical Life of Christ, by Joseph Warschauer, an eminent European scholar. In the Preface the author aims to embody in his work the method and theories of another leading European student, Albert Schweitzer, who in turn has stated that the ideal “Life” of Christ would be one that H. J. Holtzmann did not write, but should have written. The Warschauer book, therefore, may be taken as the mouthpiece of a “school” of orthodox thought in Christianity, confessedly modernistic and liberal, and certainly highly influential in shaping and formulating present Christian attitudes. It must be kept in mind throughout that his book is building the case for the historicity of Jesus.
This writer, then, is quite frank in admitting that the total silence of history concerning the tax and census in the reign of Augustus makes such an event highly improbable. He admits the 4 B.C. date of Herod’s death and rightly says that the census would not likely have been taken in his reign by any Roman authority, since Herod was an independent ruler and an ally of Rome. A “first census” was apparently taken about A.D. 6, after the deposition of Herod’s successor Archelaus, when Judea became part of the Roman province of Syria, under Cyrenius (Quirinus). This “governor in Syria” mentioned in the Gospel as in office when the Bethlehem birth occurred, is placed as early as 13-11 B.C. This dating would change and disarrange whole blocks and chains of evidence laboriously assembled. Warschauer concedes that if the date of Quirinus was earlier (than 4 B.C.), the census could not have been conducted under his supervision. For the census over which Quirinus did preside was carried out in A.D. 7 and caused the popular revolt alluded to in Acts 5:37, for the reason that it was the first time that the Jews had been thus levied upon. And, Warschauer adds, Joseph was a subject of the tetrarch Antipas and not liable to Roman taxation! Not only that, but the issuance of such an order would have entailed almost a miniature migration of inhabitants, an unlikely act of the Roman power. And finally, he adds, even if Joseph’s journey to his ancestral city can be explained over these difficulties, no unprejudiced mind would believe that he would have taken with him his wife in her then physical condition. There is no real or plausible reason for the trip, he asserts, beyond the literary or legendary necessity of having the Messiah born in Bethlehem. He even most truly concludes that Luke’s attempt to link the birth of Jesus with Bethlehem must be regarded as unsuccessful. Yet what must be considered most remarkable in this connection is that Warschauer’s own correct vision of the non-historicity of this (and scores of other) events in the detail of Jesus’ “life” builds no grave doubt in his mind as to the historicity of the whole structure. Childhood indoctrination and traditional prepossession will not yield even to the forthright evidence of massed opposing data. Jesus must be kept alive in spite of mountainous evidence.
He is entirely convinced, however, of the preposterousness of the star’s going ahead of a group of travelers and resting over a house in a village, saying it belongs to poetry and not to history. Yet again he gathers no hint from all this that the entire story of the Gospels might with as sound reason be consigned to the domain of (spiritual) poetry, and dropped as history. The ingenious explanation of the presence of an enormous percentage of poetry masquerading as history in the Gospel narrative is the time-worn claim that in lack of more than the most meager substratum of real data about the real Jesus, the poetry crept in and was incorporated through the, as he avers, particular proclivity of the first and second centuries toward indulging “popular legend.” Just as the Norse elements of the pine tree, mistletoe, Yule log, holly, and other symbolisms crept into later Christianity, so elements of Greek and other mythologies became interwoven into the actual background of Jesus-fact. One wonders how long it will be ere the minds that go so far toward the truth, will not go the few additional steps to the goal of the full truth – that, far more than were the first and second centuries, the entire ancient period was transfused with the spirit of poetic and mythic representation of wisdom, and that the entire Gospel content was a formulation of this nature, and of immemorial antiquity. And it must be asked, since the apologists cling to the legend of much poetry clustering around some solid data, what and where and how many are those data, that stand as the rock of fact to which the barnacles of popular fancy have clung. Let Warschauer himself supply this interesting answer on almost his first page: he says that of this historical personage, to whom oceans of pious devotion have been poured out and to whom men of every age have turned as the revelation of God, we must say that we know next to nothing! A work to prove the historical life of Jesus begins with this admission. But, this is no deterrent to zeal; in fact, it serves the immediate purpose of enabling him to say in the same breath that since we know next to nothing about this extraordinary personage, we therefore know everything! This well matches its companion gem of Christian logic, the averment of Tertullian that the bases of Christianity were credible because they were impossible. This proves something else not so creditable to Christianity – that when once the mind is committed to fanatical obsession, an element contrary to reason becomes the gauge and standard of proof.
And what is the logic that builds up the astonishing conclusion that we know everything about Jesus because we know nothing? The piously sophistical answer is that Jesus’ mind and character have stamped themselves ineffaceably upon the consciousness of the race. We know him to have been the kind of man he was because of the kind of impression he has made upon us. We know him, as it were, by his psychological fruits in our lives. Again, this is an argument for the psychological efficacy of some exalted paragon, some hypostatized ideal, and as Warschauer admits, the ideal was presented to Christian adoration on little or no basis of actual knowledge whatever. This whole situation is covered by the statement that an ideal stereotype, the alleged historical Jesus, was held before the Christian imagination for centuries and naturally produced a psychological reaction consonant with the character of the figure presented. The psychological effect says nothing whatever either as to the historicity of the ideal personage or as to our definite knowledge about him. Once the paragon was dangled before the devotees, the psychological effect would be registered whether he lived to our definite knowledge or not. Beyond all refutation Mithra, Bacchus, Sabazius, Hercules, Izdubar, Marduk and Horus, as types and ideals of divine qualities, had also stamped the mind and character of ancient civilizations with their excellence. Yet they were not living persons; no one has even a little knowledge of their life histories. Portia, Hamlet, Othello, Tiny Tim and Cinderella have stamped much noble imagery into the life, mind and character of millions, and are not historical. Writers like Warschauer pooh-pooh the claims of a mythical foundation for Gospel writing. Yet, when their own admissions of the elements of impossibility, improbability, poetry and legend that were interpolated into the meager quantity of material that alone stands as the history of divinity on earth are added up, there is so little left of credible solid fact that it is indeed they who are basing a Gospel upon purely mythical grounds! What is the “historical life of Christ” but a myth if its historian is compelled to start out with the concession that almost nothing is known about his subject? It is far better to work with a myth that is true in the mythical manner, than to deal with a myth that pretends to be history, but is not. The first will at least not deceive you; the second will both deceive and delude. Advocates of the historicity found their structure of religion squarely on myth, and the deadly, not the sustaining, kind. The edifice of historical Christianity is founded on a reputed base of fact which can be made to stand up only by the endless resort to guess, conjecture, surmise, supposition, strained probability, the unbelievable proportion of which in the works of the apologists can only be hinted at here, and the total weakness of which can be realized only by the reading of scores of volumes that labor at the task of upholding the historical thesis. Indeed the surest way to enhance a doubt as to the existence of the living Jesus is to read enough books that essay to prove it. The instability of the groundwork on which it rests will be more sharply accentuated with each new reading.
Other features of the Nativity story engage attention. Warschauer almost puts the case irrevocably in our hands when he says that there is indeed hardly a single statement among those in which Luke tells us of the Bethlehem birth that can survive dispassionate scrutiny. He deals frankly with the Matthew-Luke flat contradictions as to the Bethlehem-Nazareth birth and residence problem. Matthew represents Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, and Nazareth as the adopted home of Mary and Joseph. But Luke has them residing in Nazareth before the birth of Jesus. Matthew brings the holy family from Bethlehem to Nazareth, while Luke moves the parents from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Matthew says nothing of the journey and enrollment. Luke is silent about the Herod plot and the flight into Egypt, and has nothing concerning the three Magi, or their star, or the massacre of the babes. Warschauer resolves the contradictions and discrepancies on the theory that we are dealing with two traditions which can not be harmonized. He does not know that the solution of the numerous Gospel contradictions must be sought further back than two opposing traditions. Nor does he explain how two irreconcilable traditions arose out of one original tradition. He does not know that there were more than two divergent versions of most legendary material and that the mythical representations of many aspects of the human-divine allegory branched off from one original formulation into many variations and recensions, in the same way as, supposedly, did language from one primal stock. Some of the variants can be attributed to copyists’ errors; others no doubt to scribal corrections, emendations, interpolations and forgery.
He notices the Slaughter of the Innocents and very justly equates it with a great diversity of Greek, Persian and Syrian “popular legend,” in which kings were divinely warned of danger from their own infant sons. Yet it is to be assumed that Warschauer would protest the conclusion which a student of comparative religion would feel legitimately qualified to establish from these premises, that the Herod slaughter was itself derived from this common stock of pervading myth. It is time to remark here that the great – the inestimably great – service which Lord Raglan’s work, The Hero, has performed in clearing up the status of all this type of speculation is in the fact that it establishes, for the edification of these Bible analyzers and for all understanding, the truth that what they term “popular” legend and thus by a mere name brush aside as of no intrinsic import, was not the upgrowth of popular fancy and therefore mere superstition of the folk sort, but is all traceable to the one primal religious ritual-drama, to which must be assigned an authorship of truly Olympian sapiency. If it can ever be driven home to the seat of theological intelligence that the whole Christian Bible is just a somewhat specialized collection of the same stories, myths and allegories as constituted the mythical aggregations of Greece and other countries, it will mark the day-break of the new and true light on Biblical exegesis.
The role of the shepherds in the fields by night, the blinding flood of light, the celestial heralding of the advent, the proclamation of the glad tidings of great joy, are all likewise found by Warschauer to parallel similar features of the Mithra, the Dionysus, even the Augustus cycles of legends. The flight into Egypt is seen to be matched by a similar episode in several mythological quarters. The “stable” is admitted to be a “cave” in second century stories. The great Christian doctrine of the virgin birth is treated with sanity, as being akin to a series of divine progenations of both Greek and Old Testament heroes. In the Hebrew scriptures we have stories of the “wondrous births” in connection with Isaac, Samson and Samuel. The Talmudic Moses has a virgin mother; Samuel’s mother became pregnant after receiving divine seed; Zipporah was found by Moses pregnant, but by no mortal man. Tamar became pregnant by an infusion of divine seed and Isaac was not the result of generation, but of the shaping of the unbegotten. On the Greek side not only were the heroes of legend, Herakles, Theseus, Perseus, Jason and others believed to be the sons of divine fathers and human mothers, but the same legend reached down even to historical figures like Pythagoras and Plato, both of whom were “Sons of Apollo,” the first by Parthenis – which Warschauer remarks sounds most intriguingly suggestive of parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth,” – the second by Periktione. It ought to be observed that the clue here noticed by Warschauer is fundamentally of far more significance in pointing the way to the truth than volumes of the blind speculation indulged in by students who flout the claims for the mythical origin of Bible material.
One encounters the frequent assertion that the Christians adopted many pagan myths and brought them from meaningless superstition to relevant intelligibility by weaving into them a new and worthy meaning. With an appearance of plausibility in a few cases, this ruse has been employed in many books as one of the numberless big and little sophistries that have served to maintain the legend of Christian superiority and pagan depravity. Needless to say, this is not true. Indeed the true lies the other way around. It was the exoteric folly of Christians that took the many high typifications of spiritual and cosmic knowledge and warped them out of all semblance of any truth, either esoteric or exoteric. Warschauer indulges in this unworthy subterfuge in several instances.
Short shrift is made of the genealogies by this author. First the difference between the two lists as given by Matthew and Luke is noted. They are hopelessly irreconcilable, he agrees. Then the inevitable necessity of the Messiah’s being proclaimed as of King David’s line, in order that “prophecy” might again be fulfilled, is set forth. He must be of Davidic descent and of Bethlehem birth. But the notable feature of the genealogies, in Warschauer’s estimation, is the fact that both lists trace the Davidic descent through the mother’s husband, who was not Jesus’ father, but was only his foster-father. (Massey shows the identity of Joseph’s role in the Gospels with that of the Egyptian Seb (Keb, Geb), the god of earth, who, though not the planter of the divine seed from which the Son of God sprang, yet nourished and nurtured him from birth onward.) The genealogies are included, he assumes, for the express purpose of establishing that Joseph was of David’s house and lineage. But the whole force of the set-up evaporates the moment the Holy Spirit steps in to usurp the function of human fatherhood. Christian poverty and pagan sufficiency are here seen in glaring contrast, for resort must be had to pre-Christian systems to catch the splendid hidden meaning of this cryptic situation – which was adopted by Christianity from pagan usage, but with interior meaning lost. To be sure, no power can implant the seed of divine sonship save the Holy Spirit, which is the Mind or Logos of God injected into the womb of matter, the Mother. Nothing but spirit can fecundate matter, to make it reproductive of new birth. No mere earthly parent could stand in the allegory as the divine father of the Christ. But once the seed is implanted and the matter-mother impregnated with the divine spark, then the earthly father can assume his role of rearer and protector of the divine-human child. After centuries of abuse of paganism, Christianity must now in humility turn to that despised source to learn for the first time the true meaning of its own elements. But Warschauer is quite fair and concise on this point. He says the genealogies are worthless, and ends by saying that had either Evangelist wished to prove the view of the Lord’s birth that afterwards became dominant, he would have given Mary’s and not Joseph’s line of ancestry. For if the genealogies prove anything, it is that Jesus was not of David’s line, as the Davidic descendant, Joseph, was not his father.
Yet again the obduracy of orthodox obsessions shows its hand in Warschauer’s assertion that the genealogies do not disprove the Lord’s Davidic descent. This once more is a sample of the inveterate arguing backwards, or sheer turning of “no” into “yes,” to which resort such apologists have been so often forced that it has become an addiction.
The “flight into Egypt” is a vivid example of how a feature of ancient Egyptian representation of lofty cosmic and creative procedure came into Christianity in the merest fragmentary form. The full elucidation of the grand sweep of the meaning back of this allegorism has been made in the companion work to this, The Lost Light. But in the mighty Kamite system the flight into Egypt is the glyph for the descent of the hosts of embryo souls from celestial spheres into incarnation on earth. There is no disputing this rendering; “Egypt” clearly is the type-name for earth and body, or matter. It is a main item in Egyptian systematism, whereas in the Christian scheme it becomes a mere incident along the way, and is no essential part of the story.
It would be delightful to consider a paragraph on page 19 of Warschauer’s work. It details the pageantry attendant upon the Savior’s birth, – the Holy Child laid in the manger, the shepherds with their flocks by night, the angel’s appearance to announce the birth, the heavenly choir chanting their carol of glory to God and peace on earth, and the halo of holy thrill around the entire event. And he rightly says that in the whole of literature there is no more exquisite idyll than this. Even with the limitation of its meaning to the sheer event of one babe’s birth, it is so vibrant with imaginative glamor that its inherent beauty touches the aesthetic susceptibilities of all. But perhaps the world is not yet ready to agree with a lone voice, when it asserts that even this impressiveness is raised to a pitch of psychological intensity that is quite ineffable and cathartic beyond anything ever dreamed of, when a mind at last knows that the paean and halo are types and touches of a veritable rapture of adoration paid to the birth of Christ-love in all men.
What seems difficult to tell an age that has never learned to go beneath or behind the symbol to verity is that exotericism ends with the beauty of the symbol, whilst esotericism only begins with the symbol and goes on from it to the undreamed-of wealth of a whole new world of revelation. The symbol serves but to touch off the release of a flood of luminous conceptions, which would never leap into organic and meaningful array until marshaled into relationship by the magic of the symbol’s suggestiveness. Thousands of pulpits yearly resound with the sentiment that the vital significance of the Christmas festival lies in the stimulus it furnishes all celebrants to press on to bring to birth the Christ within themselves. This is commendable and good; but with the alleged historic reality of the Bethlehem scene engrossing so much of interest and attention, the detached aim has little chance to swing clear and sweep to more than touching sentimentalism. The vigorous force of a symbol or drama is caught in full when the meanings and intimations adumbrated by it can be carried away from the starting point and applied in the deep regions of personal consciousness. This transfer can be effected all the more smoothly for the very fact that the symbol or drama is itself known to be pure fiction. When, however, that which should be mere meaning-vane is alleged to be itself the event about which meaning is to center, itself the thing to which the meaning points, instead of being merely the pointer to a meaning higher and deeper, the native strong force of symbol and drama is choked in its cradle, so to speak. The alleged historicity of the cycle of Christmas pageantry ties the significance of the festival too close to itself. The meaning can not escape its own symbols and fly with main force into the hearts and minds it should be elevating. So long as the historicity clings and the Christmas festival purports to be the anniversary celebration of the physical birth of a human babe, the wings of the spiritual effort to transfer the meaning from the alleged event over to personal beatification of character are clipped, and the designed cathartic purification and exaltation of the human spirit is thwarted. Instead of sweeping into the mind and heart, the cleansing fire of the great Yule ceremony flows back into the symbol and ends there. As the result of the third-century debacle of esoteric wisdom, therefore, the millions in Christendom continue to celebrate their great solstitial festival without any competent realization of its full import and without ever experiencing anything of the divinely potent theurgy which the symbolical dramatization of the Christ-birth in all men was anciently designed to effectuate.
To stay with the symbol and pageantry and not go beyond them was the crime of Christianity. To stay with the symbol was to cut off the soul and mind from the possibility of their soaring aloft into the highest of their capabilities of rapport and rapture. With symbolism a dead language and a lost art for many centuries, culture in Christendom has been forced to limp on as best it could without the uplifting and sustaining power generated by a true science of symbolic drama. What is here discussed is something that was known to the ancient theurgists, lost in all the intervening time, and not safely recovered as yet. To see truth through the lens of a natural symbol was a consummate attainment of the ancient Egyptians, and is hardly even surmised today. To begin to apprehend something of its potency one must have lived and dreamed with symbols for some years. It is an experience that wholly transcends the power of language to depict its gripping efficacy and beauty. From this point of view it can be said that the full release of the hidden majesty and grandeur of the Nativity pageantry – that aspect of Yuletide festivity that Warschauer termed a “poetic idyll” – is only possible when at last the mind knows of a certainty that the idyll is purely poetry and not history. The tragedy is that so few can go beyond the symbol to the deeper plummeting. Erroneous tradition presses so heavily in upon them that they are afraid to let go of the symbol as fact itself and reach for the wondrous grace of the miracle of meaning beyond it. The legend of the historicity has atrophied the cultural capacity to catch what the event meant as symbol. There must first, of course, be some clear intellectual perception of what the pageantry and symbolical embellishment stood for, which is mostly as yet a secret of the ancient Egyptians. This itself constitutes a revelation beyond the belief of anyone who has not had the good fortune to discover it. The poverty of intellectual illumination and psychological afflatus to which the Christian literalization of arcane science has reduced us will be known only when the transcendent sublimity of the Christmas pageantry as an exquisite dramatic idyll is brought to realization again through the recovery of symbolic genius. That genius has mastered the art of employing an appropriate symbol as a lens to magnify the truth seen through it. The highest adroitness and skill in the usage consisted in keeping the symbol diaphanous, the lens transparent, so that it never distorted, obscured or shut out the object from view. This is just what Christianity did not do with ancient symbols. Its sin was to render them all concrete and opaque! Looking at the symbol, it sees that, but nothing beyond. The ancient world used symbols, allegories, dramas, because it knew how to keep them clear and translucent. No thought of history obtruded to congeal the translucency of pure emblemism into opaqueness. The symbol was an unobstructed pathway for the passage of the light.
It must be reiterated, then, as the summit truth in all this, that the Nativity idyll is, as idyll, as poetry, as luminous, gripping myth of truth in all its purifying power, far more potent for the beautification of the mind and the life than ever it can be as event. This is not treason to Christianity, but the uttermost loyalty to the more enlightened Christianity, it is so only to that hybrid pseudo-Christianity which exoteric blindness brought into existence after the third century. It never can be treason to the Christianity of the Christos.
The dynamic power of symbol and typology apostrophized in the foregoing elucidation finds powerful reinforcement in the inceptive revival of a science that is only now beginning to be formulated by modern insight, but which must have been well understood and exercised by the more learned and intelligent ancient esotericists, – the science of symbolism. It is finding its modern reincarnation in the new science of semantics, the meanings of signs. It is a really momentous denouement for the modern world and promises to put the mind of the race back in more harmonious rapport with the enlightened mentality of the early sages, whose view swept over the field of truth in comprehensive scope and crystal perspicacity. Likewise it will go far to restore to thought the great fundamental principle of knowledge which was particularly central in the philosophy of Spinoza, – that the order and structure of man’s mind is harmonious with the order and structure of nature. Symbolism alone reveals this harmony. As yet, however, the modern approach along this avenue of illumination is hesitant and tentative. The ancients clearly had a deeper grasp on what might be called a psychic luminosity of apperception, which was generated by and supervened upon the constant habit of reflecting upon natural symbols until hidden harmonies of meaning and the identity of structure between thought-form and nature-form burst upon inner vision. High thought in both the Pythagorean and the Platonic schools asserted that the contemplation of mathematical truth was the mind’s path of closest approach to deity. It seems likely that for the sapient Egyptians the highest path was considered to be the contemplation of natural symbols. It is evident that they regarded the forms and phenomena of nature as the living shapes of truth, structuralizing in material concreteness the unseen but concordant structure of archetypal forms in the noumenal world. With sonorous voice Emerson proclaims that the world of nature is the mirror of God’s thought and the visible things are his ideas crystallized in matter. He, then, who can discern the Logos of divine mind shining through the concrete forms of nature, becomes the priest of God, says Emerson. He interprets God’s language and reads the Word printed on the pages of the open book of nature. The Egyptians used the phenomena of nature as the glass by which the meanings of the creation were made clear and large. No one will have a basic understanding of the relation of soul to body until he grasps the essential facets of the relation between seed and soil, for the two are homologous. A hundred aspects of spiritual verity likewise come into lucid comprehension when viewed through the lens of natural analogy. Perhaps a much further recovery of this lost science of seeing through nature’s eyes is necessary before the fullest implications of the chief theses of this work can be grasped.
Some further comment is needed on Warschauer’s statement that the Christmas scenario is poetry of the deepest charm and that only a pedant would try either to prove or disprove what is so plainly the work of devout and tender imagination. But it is certainly legitimate to ask such a writer by what right he can pick and choose, out of a given body of what he himself designates as idyllic poetry, certain portions to be labeled poetry, while reserving other portions to be regarded as actual event. He merely assumes that a central event – the birth – occurred in fact, and then proceeds to classify almost the whole of the accompanying detail as poetic embellishment, clearly not history. On what ground does he dodge the inherent presumption that if the large body of concomitant detail is idyllic fiction and adornment, the central event, or the whole of the construction, may be equally embellishment? It has not seemed to occur to expounders in this field that if so large a series of alleged episodes in the “life” of their subject is proven to be work of the decorative imagination, there might be at least a presumptive possibility that the whole construction may be accounted for on the same basis. And one may legitimately ask also why so much respectful indulgence can be conceded to the play of devout and tender imagination in the formulation of Christian presentations, while the meed of respect for the same imagination when used by the ancient sages to portray the spiritual truths of religion is so churlishly denied. It is the contention here that the entire body of archaic sacred literature, the whole construct of mythology and the great universal ritual-drama that so definitely set the form of religious ceremonial the world over, were all the work not only of devout and tender imagination, but also of a consummate artistry and a genius for the pictorialization of supernal truth and wisdom unparalleled elsewhere in human history. That not only the fringe and the hem of the garment of ancient biblical literature, but the entire garment was a work of this consecrated embroidery, is the thing that seems so difficult for modern scholastic insight to recognize. Warschauer has gone a little way toward recognition of the pivotal truth when he removes a considerable segment of alleged Gospel history from the pale of heretofore claimed factuality, and he ennobles this portion with the dignity of sanctified mythicism. But when will insight go the whole way and see at last that the entirety of the ancient religious literary product is of the same stamp and mold?
Next to be noticed is Warschauer’s mention of the circumstance that Luke has no reference to the flight into Egypt. Instead, the parents go openly to Jerusalem, without fear of the threat from Herod, to present the child in the temple and offer sacrifice. Warschauer thinks it doubtful that every infant born in a Jewish household had to be presented in Jerusalem. It could not be carried out in all cases at any rate. But the presentation in this case is made the peg on which to hang the episode of Simeon and Anna in the narrative, which attests the Lord’s mission as Savior of Israel. But even these incidents in the temple, Warschauer admits, are not records of fact, but are introduced to emphasize the element of Messianic expectancy then so widely extant. He even notes that the “marvel” of Joseph and Mary at Simeon’s rapturous declarations is hardly natural after Mary had herself heard the annunciation of her divine motherhood from Gabriel.
It is a mite disconcerting to find Luke, after all, accrediting the babe’s natural paternity to Joseph. The Gospels thus contrive in the end to give Jesus two fathers, if not three, God, the Holy Ghost and Joseph. On the historical thesis this reduces to absurdity. It can be resolved into comprehensible meaning only by resort to ancient subtlety and deeper understanding. Warschauer’s version of explanation is that while Jesus was the natural child of Mary and Joseph, his divine paternity as the only begotten Son of God was insinuated into the narrative to meet and fulfill the age’s current prepossession with the earthly advent of a divine Avatar. He even asserts that the element of the virgin birth is a foreign importation. But in this sense it can be asked what element in Christianity is not of “foreign” origination. There is not a single doctrine or ceremonial of Christian theology and worship that has not been drawn from antecedent pagan religions.
Warschauer is driven to the extremity of falling back upon a claim of textual tampering to account for the injecting of the supernatural fatherhood into the story, when both Matthew’s and Luke’s intent was so obviously to regard Joseph as the begetter of Jesus. Incidentally he alludes to the undeniable fact that the text of the Gospel underwent some manipulation in the interest of dogma. A fact which is so generally hushed up, is thus made use of when it can prove a very present help in exegesis.
One paragraph on page 26 of Warschauer’s book is worthy of being transcribed verbatim. It is again a glowing instance of an argument that can be turned against the very point it is aimed to establish. It practically concedes the case for the opposition. Having yielded so much of the history to legend and poetry, he is forced to uphold the importance of these in the Nativity story. So he says that even if so much of the detail is only legendary embellishment, by which admission he robs the birth of all its supernatural staging, we must not therefore conclude, he insists, that the legends are worthless. The discovery of the non-historical character of a narrative does not require us to throw the whole thing on the rubbish heap, or to conclude that we have exposed the whole account as another literary hoax. We have to see what the legend means in connection with the story. And tracing its origin as far as we can into hidden springs, we may have to assign to it a very high significance and treat it as authentic contribution to the final message which it adorns. The legends are not history, but they are added to the modicum of history as a natural effort to testify to the divinely transcendent and really superhuman quality of the main event. To portray in some manner adequately the ineffable splendor of the Messianic advent the writers had to fall back on legends of supernal suggestiveness.
It is assuredly a strange circumstance that puts into the mouth of a writer who is conducting the case for the historicity the identical estimate of the value of myth that has here been used to dispute the historicity. It was hardly to be expected that our dissertation on the exalted function and value of the myth would have received so unequivocal a seconding from an opponent of our position. It really concedes everything to this side, if only its just implications are followed out. But who is it that has decried mythology and thrown on the ash-pile the whole marvelous structure of ancient mythicism? It is the Christian party. It is bad grace and an unfair fight to emphasize the value of myth in a carefully circumscribed sphere, where its usual condemnation would have endangered a large segment of the purported history of the Christ, and at the same time applaud its derogation in the large and everywhere else. That the value of the myth is supreme in the whole ancient field, and that the Christian habit of belittling it is a heinous error of vast proportions, is close to the nub of the entire debate. It is we who are arguing that the Gospel story is not to be cast out as rubbish just because it is myth. Warschauer will applaud legend in a minor province and as far as it can be useful to his purposes, but he is not sure enough of the universal value of myth to commit the entire Gospel story to that category and expect it to retain supreme value. The history or a modicum of it must be held on to as the irreducible solid rock of fact to rest the foundation of Christianity upon. A little fringe of the story – and it becomes a dangerously large one in the total – can be yielded over to myth; and while myth is thus sheltering a segment of the sacred canonical literature, it must be hoisted in importance, to uphold and not disqualify the history. That the ancients knew the ultimate value of the myth and were willing to let go all history for it, basing their solid foundations on the truth behind the myth, which was in the finale the gist of all history, the Christian scholar has never yet seen. All final true grounding of his studies yet awaits his coming to this perception.
The legend which reported that the name “Jesus” had been chosen for the new Messiah before he was conceived is granted Warschauer’s half-cynical indulgence as a concession to the poetizing instinct. He gives the name “Joshua,” the equivalent of Jesus, as meaning “God’s help.” It is not the place to enter into philological controversy; but that the root of the many variants of the name “Jesus” traces back to Egyptian origin and has a far profounder etymological significance than “God’s help” is known to many.
Warschauer represents Jesus as a Jew from the start, well versed in Hebrew scriptures, brilliant and skilled in exposition, defense and attack. Just how a still-young carpenter could have gained this literary and intellectual training, reached generally only by long schooling crowned with university courses – and years of teaching – without any known education, deponent sayeth not. The synagogue is one source suggested, and it could be assumed that he had some schooling or special rabbinical instruction.
Of his growth and development nothing is known, Warschauer admits. Yet that nothing is better than the grotesque tales of his childhood found in some spurious gospels, which are plainly clumsy inventions. The one item recorded – the Passover visit to Jerusalem at the age of twelve, and his tilt with the temple doctors – may be fact, thinks Warschauer; but he regards it as highly unlikely that his parents would have gone three days on the homeward journey before they missed him! That Jesus lost himself (for three days?) in his absorption in the debate and forgot to join the caravan is accepted by Warschauer as credible enough to permit the incident to stand on historical footing! On such feeble bases rests much of the main temple of Christianity.
Our authority is frank in adducing data that militate against the thesis he aims to uphold. He reveals that Luke’s narrative of the nativity of John the Baptist is modeled on Old Testament prototypes of famous and wondrous births. This story includes the central mythological element of a conception and birth from the womb of a mother past nature bearing age. This is of course pure allegory and only to be understood with reference to ancient theogonies. Sarah and Hannah are earlier prototypes of the same imagery. The mother is nature, and the natural order only in its great age – after millions of years of evolutionary development – produced man and his brain in which to bring the Christ child to functioning. Other identities with previous births are cited. So Warschauer admits that such a striking literary copying would of itself justify full doubt as to the historical character of any account so evidently constructed upon former models. But why will he not see that this frank admission and discerning observation holds with exactly the same force and relevance when extended to embrace the whole and not merely minor features of the Jesus birth and the Gospel set-up? Not only the birth of John the Baptist, but the entire body of Gospel occurrence can be just as completely matched by earlier figurations of sage dramatic genius, – and all of it mythological! What would amaze Warschauer, surely, is the extent to which correspondence, similarity, identity, between Christian material and pre-Christian mythology runs. Had he devoted the same zeal to the pursuit of such a comparison as he has done to sifting Gospel data, he would have realized that he is not warranted in clipping off merely a thin fringe of detail from the Gospel body, surrendering it to myth, while retaining the main bulk as history, but that he would have to resign it all to be catalogued as pagan dramatism. To his surprise and perhaps dismay he would have found with sufficient study that such parallels as he has detected in one case run consistently throughout the entire structure. If he can concede truly that identity with antecedent non-Christian mythical material invalidates the historicity of some portions of Gospel matter, then the invalidation extends over the whole of the ground and not only claims a margin. Conceivably he would dispute this as an arrant claim that could not be substantiated. The answer is that the all-sufficient evidence exists, and many who have examined it attest its adequacy. Its potent relevance, however, can not be seen until it is examined. At any rate it is a pleasure to cite Warschauer’s open admission that Luke’s wonder-tale of angelic apparitions, child-birth in the mother’s old age, lyrical rhapsodies, quite certainly belong to the domain of religious poetry and can not stand as fact. What he seemingly has not threshed out and can not see, is that poetry is itself one language of fact, and that the ancients in their wisdom delineated the entire range of cosmology, creative process, evolutionary pattern and lofty subjective experience by the method of myth and drama. Calamity ensued when later stupidity mistook the objective portrayals of subjective reality for the subjective portrayals of objective reality. Truth demands that Christianity recognize this and go the whole way to correct its mistake. To go part of the way is not enough. The whole truth is demanded.
The Zacharias hymn is a Messianic psalm, he rightly states. But difficulty is encountered when it is noted that the cousin relationship between Mary and Elizabeth, stated by Luke, is directly repudiated by John’s Gospel. The remainder of the story, he somewhat sadly confesses, is an instance of haggada, or fanciful religious narrative that later Judaism so delighted in. The fact that Judaism was prepossessed with a flair and fancy for poetic figurism is lightly touched by Warschauer, as just an incidental circumstance that accounts for an annoying feature of the Gospel historicity that must be explained. Had he the perspicacity to concede to the fact itself – that an age of a nation’s religious life was dominated by such an (to him) eccentric and irregular tendency – that poetic allegorism prevailed and predominated in Judaism at the time. And it is rather gratuitous that he limits it to this particular period. What he fails to recognize is that this tendency was part of the universal literary spirit of the whole ancient world over many centuries, and is in itself a powerful adjunct to the present contention that the whole of ancient scripture was allegorical, both in spirit and in method. His slighting treatment of this very central datum indicates a lack of perspective and understanding of the elements of his problem.
We step out of the flowery field of romantic legend over to firm ground of history in Warschauer’s elucidation, only when we reach the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, when John, the forerunner of the Messiah, issued the call to the age to repent in view of the imminent coming of the “Kingdom.” But what evidence of factual objectivity is there in the narrative to differentiate what goes on thereafter from what had gone before? Obviously nothing more than the type of material encountered there, which is only a shade or two less romantic on the side of imagination than the more frankly mythic trimmings sewed on to the Nativity. Yet even here the expositor admits, item by item, that many occurrences connected with the story from that point onward are as obviously non-historical as the birth anecdotes. Some of these must be set down.
As early in fact as Mark’s citation of Isaiah’s announcement of the messengership of John, Warschauer says we are not dealing with history, but an Evangelistic attempt to match John’s herald role with popular expectation. The scholar even points out to us that Mark’s description of John’s voice as that of one crying in the wilderness is from Isaiah (40:3) where it is not even a reference to Messiah, but to Yahweh restoring his exile-ridden people to their homeland. And he is frank to tell us that while John proclaims the nearness of the Kingdom, he does not prophesy the Messiah either in person or in spirit.
Attention needs to be called here to the misapplied usage of the word “eschatological.” Warschauer uses it here in relevance to the coming of the Kingdom, which Christian theology has erroneously connected, through the misinterpretation of several scriptural passages, with the “end of the world” (itself a fatal mistranslation of the Greek for “the end of the cycle”), and the pronouncing of judgment upon all humanity in a final scene. It can be said at last that the imagery of John’s language carried no such eschatological implications whatever. The coming of the Kingdom has no more extended reference than that which goes with the “Christification” of collective humanity. When the common variety of mortal men has accomplished the transfiguration of its life from animal or “Gentile” rating into the likeness of the shining radiance of spiritualized being, or the “Israelite” status, then the kingdom of heaven has materialized or “come” to earth. It is not likely that geological convulsions will have anything to do with it. Nor is it likely that the dawn of spiritual consciousness in the race as a whole will be delayed for the many millions of years the good earth has yet to run on in its course around the sun. Many righteous individuals have already brought their contribution to the kingdom of peace and good will here now. The matter makes clear how immediately dangerous the reading of the sage books of antiquity becomes the moment an objective rendering is introduced into what must be kept purely subjective to guard its sane reference. There is no history in antique books of wisdom. But the ideal patterns of all history are there. The eschatological suggestion, if it is such, embodied in John’s cry for repentance goes no farther than the reference to the general cry drawn from the Mystery stage character’s lines, when in the great drama the Messianic actor cries to mortals or “Gentile” man to awake to the realization that he must prepare his mind and heart for a great and always in some degree imminent transformation into the higher nature of the Christ whom “John,” the natural man, precedes. The event impending is not one that is to supervene historically, that is, objectively, at any given moment, as a thing of outward observation. The “Kingdom,” Jesus himself specifies, cometh neither here nor there, and not with observation. It comes silently in the hearts of men and women. The amazing ado about the age’s expectation of a personal Messiah, to be injected into the milieu of the world’s political, economic and social life, is a vast misreading of arcane meaning. Nothing in religion has ever driven sensible humans to such folly as the objective expectation of the coming of Messiah. Warschauer says that John’s prefatory preachment of the coming day of judgment created a stir and commotion in all Judea, so that the multitude flocked out to be ready to witness the expected prodigy. So did Miller’s deluded preachment of the same thing in all New England and west to Ohio in 1836 to 1843, when the whole bubble of delusion burst in ridiculous and shameful disillusionment. The “Millerite Delusion” should be read up by all who need to be impressed with the lesson of religious gullibility and the utter folly of taking scriptures as literal history.
Our scholar suggests that the multitudes who flocked out at the clarion call of the Messiah’s herald for repentance were not necessarily corrupt or sunk in iniquity. They were ill-used, oppressed and mistaught people, feverishly longing for release from hard conditions. Their greatest defect, Warschauer hints, was due to a mechanical conception of religion! They were taking the herald’s words too literally! They understood John to be predicting the coming of a great man, a king, who would redeem their lowly status, instead of a Christly or kingly instinct in the heart: this was their fault! There is entire agreement here with Warschauer on this point. But to our vision there is no reason perceptible on the horizon anywhere that makes clear why the fault of the populace of the first century in mistaking Messianic prophecy by translating it too literally and mechanically, and thereby turning the Christos, the Prince of Peace, into a human figure, is any more reprehensible then than now. The ironic possibilities and eventualities of the argument are left to the reader’s predilections.
The next bit of presumptive “history” that the scholar throws out the window is the romantic story of the circumstances precipitating the Baptist’s death: the “Salome” dance before Herod, his impetuous promise to give the damsel whatever she might ask, her intrigued demand for John’s head on a charger, and the rest. He says the entire episode is open to the gravest doubts, and again is admittedly molded over the pattern of Old Testament stories, especially that of Jephthah in Judges. John’s head is represented as being brought in and presented to the dancing daughter of Herodias then and there, whereas, says Warschauer, John was in prison at Machaerus, distant by four days’ journey from Tiberias, where such a banquet would have been held. Lastly Herodias was not a wanton character, but a loyal and steadfast queen.
Warschauer betrays his lack of acquaintance with deep and recondite ancient esoteric symbology when he says that John’s description of the one greater than he, who, though coming after him, is preferred before him, wielding a winnowing fan and bringing fire from heaven to burn the chaff, does not fit Jesus. One, however, must study the great system of Egyptian portrayal under glyph and symbol to see how perfectly it does fit the Jesus or Christ character.
It is desirable to call attention to this investigator’s tribute paid in his book (p. 46) to religious genius as a thing of subjective depth beyond all fathoming of ordinary mentality. It is the very thing that has been predicated of it in our work as the basis of the necessity for portraying its deeper intimations by the singular method and appliances of allegory and myth or drama. The religious intuition plumbs the wells of mystic realization to such depths that it is past depiction by any other typism. This is adduced here by way of showing that a Christian apologist can himself strengthen the case for esoteric methodology at moments when bias is not immediately concerned.
The next Biblical event of reputed historicity to be shunted aside by Warschauer is the opening of the heavens at the end of the baptism, the proclamation of the celestial voice that this was God’s beloved Son sent for the world’s acceptance, and the descent of the dove upon Jesus’ head. The disqualification of this as history is accomplished by the averment that it was a purely subjective intuition of Jesus himself and not an outward event witnessed by the assemblage on the river bank! The account given of the event by Matthew and Luke carries its own refutation, he acknowledges. For had Jesus’ mission thus been authenticated by such a marvel wrought openly in the sight of a concourse of people to bear it witness, neither Jesus nor the populace could have hesitated, they to acclaim and he to accept, the Messianic character of his person and his status. That no such sweeping demonstration followed, is regarded by this critic as conclusive proof that the divine approbation expressed out of heaven at the baptism could not have been objectively perceived.
Then he testifies to a realistic envisagement of the improbability that a man who a week or two previously had been a humble mechanic could suddenly register a serious realization of his being, in his own slender person, the embodied divinity of cosmic majesty and proportions, prefigured in and by the universal conception of Messiah. This is surely a sensible discernment on Warschauer’s part, knowing, as he must, the jibing rain of skeptical abuse and derision that any common man today, or any day, would call down upon his devoted head if he openly and seriously proclaimed himself the cosmic Christ and the Logos of God! No amount of the most genuine saintliness, or worthy character, of nobility of life, could support in any person today the self-announcement of his divine Messiahship, and save him from universal presumption of insanity. Hardly less suspect would be the claim for such a status advanced by others on behalf of any mere mortal, however saintly. Humanity will never be able to rationalize or render acceptable on any sane basis the claim of or on behalf of any one member chosen out of its own group to the unique status of “the elect of all the nations” or the only Son of Deity. It is psychologically impossible. So that it is a disappointment when Warschauer, with all his circumspection and realistic caution, in the end goes with Jesus in the latter’s eventual realization, stunning and awesome as it must have been to him, that he is personally the cosmic Messiah! All of which attests again how wretchedly the historical acceptance of scripture can twist human mentality. For it entails the acceptance of situations and events that the intellect can swallow only with repressed qualms and with rational nausea.
Another acknowledgment weakening to the historical claim is Warschauer’s reminder that every one of Jesus’ answers to Satan in the wilderness temptation is taken from Deuteronomy VI to VIII, and that such an encounter between the Savior and the personified evil principle is paralleled in Zoroastrian and Buddhistic and other religious literature. Warschauer unctuously attests that the piety of the age loves these parallels, but he still does not see that ancient love of analogues by which to typify eternal spiritual truth is a more smashing witness against the Gospel historicity which he defends than he possibly realizes. So general and constant was the pressure of this tendency to exploit the parallelism of events that, he says, we may expect to find the disposition manifest itself in attempts to relate nearly all the events in the “life of Christ” in the outward form of an analogue with some event in the Old Testament. He admits that this procedure involves some sacrifice of historical accuracy, and he grants that indeed in regard to the Lord’s temptation of forty days at Satan’s hands we are not dealing with history at all, declaring that this should need no confirmation. He is thus driven by his own intellectual probity to ask if there is any nucleus of veridical fact left in the incident for faith to feed upon. His answer is – as always – that the episode could not have become current and got into the record if it had not some basis of factuality beneath it. This has become a stock argument on the side of the historicity. It is used mechanically, without regard to the fact that in hosts of instances legendary figures, such as Lord Raglan shows Robin Hood and King Arthur to be, have acquired as much historic reality in the general mind as many a historical character. On this argument it is to be presumed that we would have to agree that doubtless there was some basis of truth back of Little Jack Horner, Little Bo-Peep, Tom the piper’s son, Jack Spratt and his wife, Old King Cole, Jack the giant-killer, Cinderella and Moby Dick. A thousand years from now some historical literalist will be saying that we must assume there was some personal ground for the characters of Portia and Shylock. It should be remarked, then, that the New Testament story of the temptation must be put down as resting on nothing stronger than conjecture. Warschauer himself disqualifies it as history.
The next item to be likewise disqualified is Jesus’ commissioning his twelve disciples upon a mountain. This, as given in Mark, Warschauer dismisses with the statement that it bears the stamp of legend and not that of history. Also is noted the fact that while there are four lists of these chosen “fishermen,” not two of them quite agree.
With regard to the cleansing of the leper cited by the three Synoptists, he says that if it belongs to history, it could not well have happened when it is reported to have occurred. And the scholar reverts to sane criticism when he declares that for anyone who knows the deep-rooted nature of leprosy, it is difficult to believe that Jesus healed the disease with a mere word. He sees the account as just an attempt to analogize Jesus’ power with that of Moses and Elijah, who were said to have cured lepers. As to the account of Jesus healing the paralytic let down through a hole in the roof, he speaks of the glaring improbability of this detail. He calls in the modern psychological discovery of the power of auto-suggestion to account for the possible cure as narrated. He takes a wavering stand on the accredited miraculous power of the divine healer.
He comments again on the improbability that Jesus would have met the challenge as to his keeping company with publicans and sinners with the remark that he comes to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance, unless indeed it was uttered in irony. In regard to another cure, he says its credibility need not concern us, – its historicity being questionable. In another case he says Mark reports an incident with what we would judge to be a touch of exaggeration. He cites a remarkable instance of textual manipulation in Mark 3:21 after Jerome’s revision. Utter want of both historical and evolutionary perspective is exhibited by the exegetist – and thousands of others similarly conditioned by orthodox persuasions – in his viewing the Kingdom’s incidence upon earth as a thing that might be consummated by Jesus’ preaching of its imminence and his soulful exhortation to the masses, within the matter of a few years’ lapse. It can be safely predicated as to this that any mind which can seriously envisage the complete perfection of all humanity from present low stage to the lofty purity needed to bring in the Kingdom of Righteousness within the space of two years, as Warschauer postulates (p. 85), has had its capacity for sound judgment warped sadly out of focus. It can be asked what more is needed as evidence of the correctness of this statement and the folly of any immediate or early expectation of the arrival of the Kingdom of Christliness on earth than the fact that two thousand years have passed, with the western world in possession of the inestimable and unfailingly efficacious help of the Christ’s own (alleged) teachings, and we are sure at this moment that the Kingdom is if possible farther away than ever before. Humanity must indeed be slow to learn if the pointed moral of two thousand years fails to teach it so simple a determination as that. One of the stock delusions of religious folly to which the “common people” are always pitiably susceptible by reason of want of training in critical reflection, and which is therefor used by designing modern “evangelists” to prey upon their gullibility, is the notion that a heavy surge of feverish emotionalism can induce God quickly to wind up the affairs of the planet in deference to our regard for the inviolability of Old Testament “prophecy”! God is alleged to have written the Book; it seems to say clearly that the time is at hand; the Kingdom is imminent; the promised signs can be discerned (with a slight stretch of the imagination); therefore the cataclysmic holocaust must be only a matter of days or weeks away. Not even a thousand rebuffs to the fell presumption of this overweening expectation in the centuries of theological befuddlement have availed to dampen the ardor of unintelligent Christian sectaries for what these writers call “eschatological” and “apocalyptic” consummation. If it is a credit to have afflicted millions of ordinarily good humans with a series of pitiable delusions of this sort, Christianity has that credit. Repentance and the worthy fruits of repentance were to compel the Kingdom to appear, and that speedily, avers Warschauer, saying that Jesus sympathized warmly with the eager, zealous, activist mood of the times.
It is impossible to forego the opportunity to hold this idea up to realistic view. The author under discussion goes on to say seriously that the professedly religious in Jesus’ day believed that the coming of the Kingdom was merely delayed by the sins of the people. The rigorously ritualistic Pharisees felt that the general failure to conform to ceremonial observance with sufficient strictness was holding back the great Day of the Lord. Had not the Talmud said that Israel would be redeemed if the nation would keep only two sabbaths with the proper solemn decorum? Warschauer does see that this approaches caricature of the Messianic concept, but he still insists that Jesus himself fell in with popular belief that Jahweh would return to his people when they returned with pious devotion to him. Jesus instinctively adopted this prophetic persuasion, he states. He adds, of course, that Jesus interpreted it in terms of a more gradual moral regeneration; yet he does not let this in any way upset the schedule of a few years’ time for the striking of the clock of apocalyptic doom. If the present generation would but sow the seeds of righteousness, the same generation, or surely the next, would reap the harvest of the Kingdom’s descent from heaven. So even the omniscient Son of God is committed by his own followers to this moronic conception of infantile-minded religionists. For it was not only the sentiment of the unlettered rabble that did flock into the Christian communion a little later; it was, says Warschauer, the grandiose conception of the Savior, his own plan to call the Kingdom into existence quickly, immediately, with the challenge of power and the compelling unction of zealous faith. The Golden Age was to be dragged in by the violence of heroic ethic in obedience to God’s will; the Kingdom of Heaven was to be assaulted and captured by storm. And Warschauer subjoins that it is open to us to see the essential truth of this conception. He does indeed turn the sense into the more reasonable channel of a gradual transformation of the inner consciousness of individuals, instead of a sudden cataclysmic denouement. Yet he permits even Jesus to be fooled by its failure to appear at the beck of the pious zealotry of the age at the time expected. This presumes that Jesus himself had so lost the sense of evolutionary proportion as to believe a general stiffening of piety and good behavior would roll up the scroll of the heavens and melt down this planet as predicted with the fervent heat of Messianic zealotry. Surely his devotees could honor him with the imputation of a little more intelligence than that.
Wrestling with the problem of Jesus’ own recognition of his cosmically unique divine Sonship, Warschauer avers that this supervened upon his consciousness in full and mystically irresistible force at the baptism. He had there been seized with the intuition of his unique supernal cosmic status; in spite of all his sense of his humanity he was forced to realize that he was the Messiah! And that realization came to him with such strength, intimates Warschauer, that it even brought with it the temptation to regard himself as the earthly King, destined, according to exoteric popularization of the idea, to rule the nations politically. But Jesus put this glittering lure resolutely behind him, as the real Satanic temptation, says the commentator. He permits us to hazard the guess as to why Jesus dismissed the outward rulership idea and confined himself to the role of a spiritual messenger. This guessing is the thing of considerable significance both here and elsewhere along the way. If a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, the chain that holds up the whole structure of Gospel Christology is pitiably weak, for it is composed of an unbelievable number of linked guesses, conjectures, surmises, suppositions, inferences, some of which break under a laugh.
The paragraph raises the grave question anyhow as to the psychological sanity of the view that any mortal creature born of woman, with normal brain and strictly human powers of consciousness, could in any way, shape or manner possibly arrive at the conviction that he, in his own human nature and constitution, was THE cosmic Christ that the Bible and Christian theology have delineated. It is flatly and blankly impossible for any normal human being to gather from any source and entertain the conviction that he is standing outside the pale of humanity and that he belongs to a cosmic divine order instead of the human genus. He could not do this within the bounds of sanity. The possibility of his doing it would come only with the breakdown of his mentality. It is absolutely impossible for any mortal man to conceive of himself as holding some status or being commissioned with some grandiose errand which is not equally within the capability of other humans in the course of growth. For Warschauer and others to foist on Jesus the recognition of this utterly unconscionable and preternatural character for himself in all history is for them to place him in the class of a derationalized human. He deserves better treatment at the hands of his votaries. It is conceivable that a man may come to think of himself as a Christ, a mortal who has immortalized himself by having adopted the mind of true Christliness. But it is unthinkable that in sane, sober and serious consciousness any man of our race could come to think of himself as being THE Christ, that Christ of the Gospels and Christian doctrine in whose person were centered divine cosmic attributes and functions inconceivably remote from human category or accomplishment. If any individual reached and announced such a conviction now, his action would stand out as an ugly affront to general intelligence and be heartily resented by all ranks of people, the more vehemently in the ratio of their culture. If any segment of the population received such a Messiah seriously, we know what type it would be, – the most ignorant, uncritical and psychologically gullible element. This was indeed largely the kind that did receive and accredit the Gospel Christ in the form of a human person in that fatal third century. It can be maintained on grounds of sheer logic and common sense realism that Jesus, if a man, could not possibly have arrived at any such inner persuasion about himself and his mission consistently with the consummate sanity attributed to him generally. Any man can gain a conviction that his life is set apart for a unique work of first importance in world history. But this is a normal reaction and is a thousand miles away from that conception of cosmic uniqueness and hierarchical grandeur which the idea of Messiahship involved in its Biblical characterization. It is indeed the very thought – which Christian devotion had to strain at and swallow – that the cosmic aeonial Avatar, a figure of astronomical proportions, of solar and celestial grandeur, the co-creator of the worlds with the Father, could be compressed without garish ridiculousness within the compass of the personal stature of a man on earth, that has engendered even subconsciously a natural incredulity about the tenability of Christian theology, and brought the latter at last to the position of an outcast even from its own courts and temples. It is almost certain, indeed, that the simple explanation of that theology’s repudiation even in its own house, is nothing more involved than the revulsion of common human good sense and instinctive logic against an idea so grotesquely unnatural as that the cosmic Logos should come walking down the street or drop in for lunch! It comes close to being fairly well analogized by the idea of going in and purchasing the whole of Virtue or Integrity physically compressed in a drug-store capsule! But is it far from this to the assertion, which on the basis of all Christian dogmatism can be squarely made, that at the crucifixion the Logos was wounded in the side, hands and feet? A Roman soldier raised his spear and struck the cosmic universe below the heart! For the Logos is the manifest universe, and Christ was declared the Logos and Jesus was the Christ! The saddening reflection from all this is that such obfuscation should have been produced by a distorted theology upon the intellects of Biblical exegetists with the result that they could soberly write of a man in any age conceiving himself to be the Logos of God, with all the superhuman involvements going with the character. No amount of ascription to such a one of the most touching modesty and sanctification of motive could save him from the imputation of egotism beyond the reach of human thought. The conclusion of the whole matter is reached in the lamentable consideration that the mentality of a whole civilization had to be twisted askew to make such a conception tenable, and that the age-long prevalence of such a conception twisted that mentality still further askew. And with such premises to build upon, who can say that this distorted mentality has not been the breeding ground of the outward follies and mistakes that have cast this civilization into the most awful inferno of calamity in world history? It could well be so.
In passing Warschauer remarks that a meticulous regard for chronological accuracy is not a strong point with any of the Synoptists, – which is cited as just another weak link in a long chain of weak links.
It is his own argument that the term “bar nasha,” translated “the Son of Man” in the Gospels, does not refer to Jesus as the Christ in person, but generically to “man” or humanity. What is this but a subsidiary and indirect, but still implied, corroboration of our contention here that the other terms alluding to the divinized man as the Christos, the Anointed, etc., escape the same particularized limitation and point to the larger and more general connotation?
The author confesses on page 103 that he is moving, however reverently and haltingly, in the direction of surmise, when he fixes the time of Jesus’ final realization of his Messianic role. On page 107 we encounter such admissions as that Mark’s statement is open to serious doubt, and that the graphic touches in the description of one of the miracles may possibly be attributable to the Evangelist’s own imagination. The amount of credit given to the story of the storm on Lake Gennesaret is not great. It, too, seems to have been modeled over the lines of the story of the Jonah storm. The parallelism extends far. He questions how far the prototypal story rests on a basis of fact, and he says that in such a problem surmises are cheap and knowledge is dear. His way out is to say that what may have happened is that Jesus fell asleep in the boat in the storm, and that all the rest was supplied from that ever-handy well of popular legend that slaked the thirst of the age for romantic afflatus. Mark is charged with great indifference to geography. He even locates the Gardarene miracle in the wrong place, according to Warschauer.
Coming to the great climactic miracle of the whole Gospel collection, the raising of Lazarus, the scholar quotes Prof. E. F. Scott (The Fourth Gospel, p. 45) as saying that it can not with real probability be given a place in any intelligible scheme of the life of Christ; that it is inconceivable that a miracle of such omen for all mankind, performed in the one week of the Savior’s career of which there is a full chronicle, and in the presence of multitudes just outside Jerusalem, with the miracle itself forming the direct occasion of the crucifixion, should have been left totally out of the narratives of the three other Evangelists and be given only by John, – the one, we may remark incidentally, who, like Paul, presents a Jesus who is scarcely personally human at all! And Scott ends by making the very sensible suggestion we are almost pushed to the conclusion that the raising of Lazarus is, in the main, symbolical! When will scholars receive that extra little push that will thrust them at last into the circle where alone the full truth as to the nature of all this material and its interpretative problem can be seen? When will they take that one further step beyond Prof. Scott’s suggestion that will enable them to see that not only the Lazarus story but the entire literature is symbolical?
Indeed the next author quoted by Warschauer practically does take that step. It is Prof. Burkitt, who (in The Gospel History and Its Transmission, p. 223) says that for all its dramatic setting we can not regard the Lazarus miracle as the account of a historical event! Warschauer agrees that the other (Lukan) mention of Lazarus in the story of the rich man and the beggar is pure moral apologue and suggests a very plausible connection between the two episodes. By we know not how many intervening stages, he writes, the moral fable grew through the haggadic tendency into the historic legend. It is our reflection prompted by this explanation that if he admits that the Bible material was a final outgrowth of a number of successive stages of transformation of original moral apologue into history, he has gone far in the very direction of granting the major premises on which our work stands. It is precisely our position that all ancient Biblical content began as apologue and became, in Christianity, transmuted into history. To refute that position in the large, this scholar supplies us with much data in the small, that support our contention. And after all, it is no small thing in this debate to concede the non-historicity of this particular Lazarus miracle. In fact the edifice of Christianity rests, as Paul loudly proclaims, on one single fact, the resurrection of Jesus. But this pivotal item has been considered to have been stoutly buttressed by the auxiliary death-to-life miracle of similar significance and portent at Bethany. To wipe away the latter as history is seriously to weaken the main girder in the temple of Christianity.
Then comes Warschauer’s analysis of the incident noted only by Luke (VII:36-50) when at a supper in the house of a Pharisee a woman who had been a sinner came in from the dark streets to pour out her gratitude to Jesus as the agent of her moral regeneration. It is introduced here to form the background of the scholar’s comment that the verses 44 to 46 read like a later elaboration, being too didactic and out of all relation to the human side of the situation as narrated. He even deletes the words “but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” from the Savior’s speech, claiming they are a singularly uninspired gloss. So one more item of “history” goes by the board, – when it serves a particular scheme of interpretative motive to oust it from the narrative.
Additional strength is given by Warschauer to his contention that Bethlehem could not have been the actual birthplace of Jesus by his treatment of material detailing the Savior’s later visit to Nazareth, “his own country,” where he found himself strangely without honor. Also the disqualification of another item of the “history” is made by Warschauer’s statement that the clause – “save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk and healed them”-sounds decidedly like interpolation, either by the Evangelist of some later editor.
Mark, he says, knows nothing of the attack of the crowd on Jesus that nearly led to his murder, from which danger he escaped by “passing through the midst of them”; and this incident, too, is dismissed as likely not historical. Also the Lord’s sayings about Elijah and Elisha manifesting their powers only for the heathen and not for the Israelites, seem to our critic as of doubtful authenticity. They belong, he significantly states, to the realm of primitive Christian apologetics!
He questions, too, the credibility of Jesus’ commissioning two groups, one of twelve, the other of seventy-two, disciples to go forth and preach the Gospel unto all the world. He thinks they are two variants of the one event, and comments quite adversely as to the anti-climactic upshot of the whole grandiose missionary program, which, had it been historically true, would have shown some concrete results, either in failure or success, worthy of recording. Neither profane nor sacred history carries a single item of report on the outcome of the great strategy of the Son of God to publish the glad tidings of salvation to the nations.
Comment on Herod’s later suspicions of Jesus and fear of his power to stir up undesirable political ferment includes Warschauer’s statement that study of the incident is calculated to raise doubts as to the historical character of what is there said of Jesus’ identity. Admission is made in another connection that the true order of events can only be conjectured, with probability as our sole guide, – again a feeble basis for history to rest upon. Matthew made a most happy conjecture of his own, he ventures. Thus even the authors of Gospel “history” were not sure of what they recorded.
Mark is again accused of guessing, – as to why Jesus went into a period of retirement.
That Jesus should have twice withdrawn from the Galilean country following the two feedings of the multitude is put down as unbelievable and reduces the course of events to chaos. Resort is even had to the fictional reconstruction of occurrences to account for certain things mentioned in the history. If this liberty is permissible now, there should have been no condemnation of similar practice in the early centuries. Our safety is in being told that it is invention and not something else. A lengthy hypothetical construction is made by Warschauer on page 149 to serve as at least a not impossible explanation of the origin of the legend of the master’s walking on the waves.
The cure of the blind man at Bethsaida is allocated to the category of symbolic legend and is not to be taken as a historical reminiscence. It may stand as a symbolic representation of the gradual enlightenment of the disciples, who were initially dull. Some history then admittedly could have been made out of pristine spiritual allegory. It is stated that Mark’s setting of the cure of the epileptic boy is quite inappropriate for it, and his allocation of the incident is declared to be quite impossible. Of very doubtful historicity, too, is the disciple’s question as to why they could not exorcise the demon, and Jesus’ reply that this kind can only be dispossessed by prayer. The cure may have occurred before the commissioning of the twelve instead of after the transfiguration, is the surmise. On page 167 Warschauer speaks of the truly desperate task of reconciling the Synoptists with the Johannine version. Desperate indeed, if taken as history; infinitely less difficult if taken as spiritual drama. On page 168 he is confronted with, as he avows, the even more formidable task of fitting into the framework of events the recorded sayings of the Lord. This task frankly denies accomplishment, and the guesses of the Synoptists are often conflicting, it is admitted. Confusion, faulty memory, conflict of already corrupted manuscripts, all complicated the Evangelic labors. Mark follows one plan, Matthew and Luke others. Which saying followed what event was, as a rule, not so much matter for surmise as indeed past all accurate surmising, is the candid and damaging admission.
We may conclude this résumé of testimony from this typical author with his own climactic statement, confirming finally the chief theses of our own position, that the Gospels were written in the first place not as works of history, but of edification, and that purely historical considerations were at most of only secondary interest to the sacred writers! The purpose envisaged in our amassing so much material from a single work of this kind is exactly to demonstrate to readers that any rational attempt to build the case for the Gospel historicity, if it is honest enough to look closely at the factual content of that history, can save itself from entanglement in contradiction, absurd predicament and bizarre situation only by denying an enormous percentage of the history itself. It must indeed be accounted an odd situation when the claim for an important conclusion can be supposed to be strengthened or validated by the disqualification of by far the major evidence for it! At such a desperate pass stands the defense of the Gospels as history. It will have been noted that scarcely an event in the narrative touched upon by Warschauer (and he covers the main events of the Gospel “life” of Jesus) has not been undermined and severely weakened, if not put entirely out of court as history. Since the Gospels are, to begin with, the only source of supposed historical knowledge of the Savior’s life, even if they could be accredited as history, something like nine-tenths of their testimony is invalidated by Christian writers like Warschauer. These special pleaders rest their case for the historicity upon the extant history, and then turn to and make poetic or legendary or symbolical moonshine of that same history. If the Gospels are not histories, but mythical dramas – as obviously they are – there is no extant credible evidence to rest historical claims upon. Even in the hands of its own defenders the body of the history melts down until there is left nothing but a substanceless shadowy mirage of historical foundation, a veritable wraith of reality. Warschauer has been called in as witness to impress upon unstudied folk the astonishing extent to which the body of historical evidence, vaunted as of such solid substantiality and redoubtable proportions, does thus melt down under the rays of the sun of common sense and sane judgment. Warschauer might himself be dumbfounded to realize how little material he has left intact as veridical historical data upon which to support the thesis of Jesus’ life. He himself has stripped the already slim body of claimed factual history to skeletal tenuity.
The data supplied by such a work positively establish the fact that a very large segment of the Gospel material must be relinquished as history. What has been gullibly assumed to be history is now discovered to be – exactly what this work claims – poetic legend and typism.