Charles F. (Charles Force) Deems.

Who was Jesus? online

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J. HOWARD BROWN, 21 Park Place.
London: It. D. DICKINSON.




Copyright, 1880, by C. F. Deems.



Ten years ago a publishing house in New York issued a book with
the simple title, "Jesus." It was a volume prepared expressly at the
publisher's request. I had spent three years in the writing of the book,
and had done the work conscientiously. No hope of gain held my heart
one minute in the whole course of its preparation. It was not expected
nor desired that it should make "a sensation." It was designed by its
author to be as near the truth in all points as he was able to make it,
and, he will candidly confess that he expected the book to live. In this
expectation he has not been disappointed. Very slowly, but very surely
it has gained its way without any special effort upon the part of the
author or the publisher to push it. It lias been republished in England
under the title, "Who Was Jesus ? " This title is now assumed for the
American edition. It has gained the approval of a large number of
the most learned and competent critics, the verdict of any one of whom
is more satisfactory than any ephemeral applause that arises from uned-
ucated minds excited by some picturesqueness of style. It has been a
gratification to learn that the book has had its influence on pulpits in
England and America, and on some writings concerning its great Sub-
ject, since it was published. But now the work appears to be attracting
increased attention— so much so that its present publisher informs me
that he is about to put a large edition to press, and desires a new

I have nothing to say which can modify the statements made in the
original preface ; but it was my good fortune last year to visit almost
every point mentioned in the history of Jesus. So careful had been my
study in the preparation of the book that I found little in Palestine to
• ompel me to make correct ions in the text as originally published. Some
Blight changes I have introduced, especially into what had been written
in regard to the illustrations in the volume. There is, however, one
point upon which I would speak in this new preface : it is in regard to
the site of Golgotha.



While T was in Jerusalem nothing interested mo so much as this ques-
tion. I had given it very careful study from honks, hut was quite ready
to have my conclusions overthrown and re-write that portion of the vol-
ume if a new edition were ever demanded.

The second day after my arrival at the Holy City I supposed that I
should have this to do. As soon as 1 was able to walk, after a tempo-
rary lameness, not stopping to consult authorities and remind myself of
the changes of names, I went down the Via Dolorosa and out at the
St. Stephen's gate. When I looked around me 1 felt lost and, I must
say, most sadly disappointed. The modern St. Stephen's gat* is in the
east wall and looks over the valley of Jehoshaphat, up the slopes of < Hivet.
Continuing my walk around the north-east angle of the wall, the moment
I turned it I saw what seemed to me to be the place which should be
Calvary. It grew upon me so that I spent several hours examining the
spot and re-entered the city by the Damascus gate. Upon consulting a
copy of my book, now in possession of the Right Rev. the Anglican
Bishop of Jerusalem, I found that this spot which I had discovered in
the morning was precisely the spot which I had described in my volume
ten years ago. The gates have changed their names. The old St. Ste-
phen's gate is now the Damascus gate, and the new St. Stephen's gate
is sometimes also called the Gate of Lions.

There was no day of my stay in Jerusalem of which I did not give a
portion to the study of localities connected with this question. If there
be anything which, it seems to me, approaches certainty in topography,
it is this: that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, so called, is not on
the site of Golgotha. The locality fixed in this hook may not he correct,
but every argument that can he brought against it does, afortwri, dis-
credit the claim of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; whereas, the
theory which selects the hill over the Grotto of Jeremiah, whatever diffi-
culties it has, does more than any other to meet all the requirements in
the case. If no one had ever read the passage in the New Testament
describing it, and were to come up suddenly round the north-east angle
of the wall, it seems to me he would be struck with the resemblance of
the hill to the shape of a huge skull. The Evangelist says it was a place
called " skull." The north wall of the city here is very high; but this
hill is not more than a foot lower than the top of the walk which is here
built upon natural rock, which rises higher than at any other place
between St. Stephen's gate and the Damascus gate. The top of the hill
over the Grotto of Jeremiah can he seen from all the houses in the north-
west portion of the city, and perhaps from the whole city, as the walls


were in the days of Christ. From the top of my hotel, which was
near the Pool of Hezekiah, the entire hill was visible. The roads from
the north and east pass it, and must have passed it in the days of Christ
to reach any gate known to history. It looks down on the eminences
that look down on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. An execution at
the latter place probably would not have been very public, but from the
hill over the so-called Grotto of. Jeremiah it could have been seen from
all quarters. The surroundings of this spot contain remains such as we
should expect to find in the neighborhood of the spot mentioned by the
Evangelists ; and this is not an insignificant fact.

I confess to a gratification in having a reasonable conviction that the
place where Jesus died is not covered by the Church of the Holy Sepul-
chre, now a most degraded spot, in which foolish rites are performed by
filthy monks, whose fanaticism is restrained from deeds of open violence
by the presence of Mohammedan soldiers, who are much more respecta-
ble persons than the wretched Greek and Latin representatives of the

name and teachings of Jesus.


" Church of the Strangers,"

New York, February 12, 18S1.



The author of tliis book has not been deterred from his work by the
flippant remarks occasionally made in regard to writing a Life of Jesus,
as if it were a semi-profane attempt to improve upon the Evangelists.
Those who make such suggestions ought neither to preach sermons
nor write pastoral letters, lest they be suspected of an ambition to
" improve " upon the Sermon on the Moiint or the Epistles of Paul.

The law which an author sets to himself in the composition of a book
must be known before proper criticism can begin. If this volume, or
any portion of it, be judged as if I had attempted a Life of Christ, the
most grievous misapprehension of the volume and its author may be
made. It is no more such a book than it is a volume of sermons or
of poems. It carefully abstains from being a Life of Christ. A Life
of Christ necessarily starts with the assumption that Jesus was Christ.
It must be dogmatic, and can be useful mainly to Christians. I have
assumed no such thing. Nor have I assumed in this book that the
original biographers, the four Evangelists and Paul, were inspired. I
simply assume that their books are as trustworthy as those of Herodo-
tus and Xcnophon, of Tacitus and Caesar. They write about the man
Jesus, who was the son of Mary. They preserve Jfemorabilia of his
acts and words. I deal with these evangelic biographers as I would
with those classic authors. I strive to make a harmonious narrative
from their records, and to ascertain what was tho consciousness of Jesus
as he performed each act and spoke each word, according to the laws
of thought so far as they are known to me. This book rmist not be
judged from any theologic stand-point. If my views of theology are of
any importance, they must be sought in my Sermons, not here.



There "will be found in this book a new translation of the sayings of
Jesus. The ordinary rule in such cases is, not to make a literal render-
ing of each word by its synonym in the tongue into which it is trans-
ferred, but, to represent the idioms of one language by those of another.
I have departed from that canon, because all who read this book will
have in their hands the Common Version, which, generally, does that
work for them. The translations here furnished differ from those in the
Common Version, in being usually almost strictly literal, and they have
been purposely made so, that such of my readers as are unacquainted
with the original may have an opportunity to compare a literal with
an idiomatic version. My renderings from the Greek must be judged
by scholars in the light of this statement.

The language employed by Jesus was what is called the Palestinian
Aramaic, which is also called Hebrew by early ecclesiastical writers, ac-
cording to Papias, Ii-enseus, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome. Matthew's
Gospel was written in that language. Matthew may have written also
the Greek version of his own Gospel. The books of Mark, and
Luke, and John were written in Greek, a language which it is prob-
able Jesus sometimes employed. The autographs of these four books
are s\ipposed to have perished, and so probably have all the copies
made in the first three centuries. In addition to the usual causes
for the disappearance of books, we may mention in this case the tho-
rough manner in which were executed the decrees of Diocletian in the
beginning of the fourth century (February, a.d. 303) for the destruction
of all the sacred books of the Christians, for the purpose of extirpating
"the superstition," as he called it. Notwithstanding the severe penal-
ties which impelled every magistrate to execute those decrees, some
copies escaped the flames.

The Diocletian persecution closed a.d. 313. Constantine, the first
Christian Emperor, ascended the throne a.d. 324. In a.d. 328 he re-
called Eusebius, who had been banished, and, in a letter which Eusebius
quotes in his Life of Constantine, the Emperor directed him to cause
"fifty copies of the Sacred Scriptures to be written on prepared parch-
ment, in a legible manner, and iq a commodious and portable form, by
transcribers thoroughly practised in the art." The completion of this
work Constantine acknowledged in a subsequent letter to Eusebius.


One of those copies, or perhaps the oldest copy of one of them, is the
property of the Emperor of Russia. It is called the Codex Sinaiticus,
because found in a convent on Mount Sinai, by Teschendorf, a learned
German. That copy, being the oldest extant, is the basis of my transla-
tion. Whenever, therefore, the reader finds any of the words of Jesus
in this book different from those in the common version, he •will under-
stand that he is carried nearer to the fountain-head of the Jesus-literature.

The difference in the characteristics of the four authors, commonly
called The Evangelists, is worthy of note. Matthew was a practical
man of business ; Mark was an aesthetic observer ; Luke had a scientific
bias, and John was devoutly metaphysical. We are permitted to see
Jesus as he presented himself to four such students of his acts and char-
acter. Our skill is to be exercised in combining their impressions. 1 1
is a great advantage to have a subject placed in so many different lights

Jesus was the Founder of a Faith. He lived centuries ago. The
most diverse claims have been made for his person and his teachings.
Almost every saying of his has become the basis of a dogma. It will
not be wonderful, then, that historians come upon actions and utterances
of his wliich involve difficulties. Some of these are still difficulties to
me. In s\ich cases I have frankly said, " I do not understand this."
So would it be, I think, with any other honest student and fair writer.
By this candor I cannot lose the esteem of those whose esteem is worth
having. But, I have not avoided the hard places. Timid readers may
wish I had. Wherever there seemed to me to be an explanation, I have
given it. It may satisfy some. It may lead others to discover what is
more satisfactory to themselves. In no case, I believe, will unlearned
readers of good sense be perplexed, and in no case, I trust, will scholars
be scandalized.

• There has been no ambition to appear learned. To those who are not
acquainted with the languages in which the Evangelists wrote, or the
languages in which learned men have commented on those works, I haw:
endeavored to make the way plain by all needed helps. Nor has there
been an ambition of originality. Wherever I have used the labors of
others I have given credit, so far as 1 recollect. l( any failure on this
point has occurred, it lias been through inadvertence. To repair that,
and to send students to the sources of my own stream of information,


I have supplied a list of the books used in the preparation of this vol-
ume. I have read up in the literature of the subject as well as I could.

All writers on this subject have difficulty with the chronology. In
this book the terminal points of birth and death, I think, are trustwor-
thy, especially the latter ; but many of the incidents in the life have been
arranged in an order which I have seen reason to change several times.
The result of my investigation is the conviction that it is not now in
the power of human skill to arrange a harmony of the facts in this
biography, which should be positively asserted to be the precise order in
which they occurred. Here and there are some that we know preceded
one the other. There can be no doubt as to the order of the Baptism,
the Temptation, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, etc., but
minor incidents puzzle every chronologer. The groupings in this book,
as it goes to the printer, are the last result of my most careful study,
and have been adopted in no instance simply for picturesque effect.

In the preparation of these pages I am sure that there has been no am-
bition of novelty ; but I have not been afraid of new things, nor has any
opinion commended itself to me because it was old. On the other hand,
novelty has been no recommendation and antiqtiity no disparagement.
I have sought to know the truth. When I believed I had found it, I
wrote it, and now publish it without stopping to inquire whether these
honest opinions will please or displease, or whether they put Jesus at an
advantage or a disadvantage. In this I have sought to imitate the spirit
and style of the Evangelists. A man would be sadly stupid who should
spend some years on a subject which, more than any other, has engrossed
the study of thoughtful men, without improving the opinions he formed
in earlier life on less investigation. The prepara fcion of this book has
been, to me, its own "exceeding great reward."

As far as practicable, I have laid aside all dogmatic prepossessions.
But in writing this book I have been preparing a Memoir of my Dear-
est Friend, and if, for that Friend's sake, and in the spirit of that
Friend, I have dealt with all the records most honestly, it is also fair to
state that I have treated them with the reverence of manly love; and,
whatever may be the final decision of my readers, I conclude this work
with a love for Jesus deeper and better than that which I feel for any
other man dead or living.


I have a final request. When my readers shall have read the whole
book, and have attempted to answer the closing question on the 710th
page, they will dp themselves and me a favor if they will return to this
page and answer this question : —

If such a case can be made out by a rational examination of the
Four Evangelists, on the ground that their memoirs are merely
human in all respects, who is jesus, on the further supposition
that those memoirs are divinely inspired records?

My own belief is that they are inspired.. That belief receives fresh
confirmation from every examination of these books. On this grave
subject I would not have myself misunderstood. It is because I am so
thoroughly satisfied in my belief in the inspiration of these records
that I have felt so safe in resting the argument of this volume on a
basis which does not include that high claim.

Charles F. Deems

Chapel of the "Church or the Strangers,"
4 Winthrop Place, New York, Christmas, 18TL




[From B.C. 6 to A.J). 8. Thirteen years and a lirilf.]



The birth of John Baptist announced, 15. — Mary and her genealogy, 17. — The birth of Jesus an-
nounced, 19. — Mary's visit to Elizabeth, 20. — Birth of John, 21. — John's early life, 22.



Joseph's dream, 2-3. — Jesus born, 23. — Examination of the chronology, 23. — Probable date, 28.—
Another mode of approximation, 28. — From the death of Herod, 20. — From the astronomical cal-
culation, 30. — From the slaying of the Bethlehemite infants, 30. — From the taxing, or census, 31,



Bethlehem, 30. — Site never lost, 37. — The caravanserai, 40. — Vision of angels by shepherds, 40. — Jesus
circumcised, 41. — Simeon, 41. — Anna, 42.



The Masi : who and whence, 43. — They find Jesus, 46. — They elude Herod, 47. — Joseph dreams atrain,
•IT. — The Bight into Egypt, 47. — Herod massacres the babes of Bethlehem, 48. — The return from
Egypt, 49. — Nazareth, the home of Jesus. 50. — Jesus, at twelve years of age, in the Temple, 51. —
Missed and found, 52. — His life in Nazareth, 54.



Jud.f.a. Herod the Great, 50. — Family of Herod, 56.— His will. 58. — His funeral. 58. — Archelans, 58.

— Troubles in settling the succession, 58. — Sabiuus, 59. — Varus, CO.— i. tinned, (id. —

The pseudo-Alexander, 61.— Cyreniiis, 62. — The revolt under Judas, (J2. — Menal |>onius.

!>■';. — The Samaritans pollute the Temple, 63. — Pontius Pilate outrages the Jews, til. — Tacitus and

Josephus speak of Josus, 65.
Galilee. Herod Antipas, 65. — In love with Herodias, CC. — Quarrels with Pilate, (!(i. — Herodins, 66.

— Character of Herod Antipas, UT.
The Church. The High-priesthood, 07. — Caiaphasand Annas, 07. — The Sanhedrim, OS.
The Sects. The Pharisees, 71. — The Saddticees, 71.— The Essenes, 72.— Tho Herodians, 72.



[From A.D. 20 to A. D. 27. About one year.]



'The Baptist" opens tho way for Jesus, 73.— Elijah, 73. — lohn's consecration, 74— His mini
— Substance of his discourses: Repentance, 77. — Against formalism and scepticism, 7b
nounces a coming kingdom, 70.— Announces the presence of tho ruler, 80.— His baptism, 80. II -
ministry not permanently


Jesus corpr-M to he baptized by John, 84.— Why Jesus was baptized, SI.— Certain mi-

Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Force) DeemsWho was Jesus? → online text (page 1 of 77)