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to the province of faith. But, on the other hand, they bring us nearer to
the human and historical element in the New Testament. They supply a
motive power which may explain the early conversions and the rapid
spread of the new religion. Evidently the hope of a large and immediate
reward was present in the minds of the apostles. These humble peasants
and fishermen were " to sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes
of Israel," and " every one who has left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or
children, or lands, for My Name's sake, shall receive a hundred-fold."
And this not in a remote future, but in the lifetime of the existing genera-
tion. It is conceivable also that many educated Jews, who despaired of
an armed resistance to the overwhelming power of Rome, might be in-
clined to view with favor the idea of a spiritual Messiah who should bring
about the advent of an end of the world and last judgment, in which the
elect children of God should be rewarded and the heathen punished.

Another element which must have contributed largely towards the re-
ception of the Gospel by the poorer classes, is the extreme socialistic
spirit which is uniformly displayed. For "rich "write "capital," and
for "poor'' "wages," and the preaching of Jesus is almost identical
with that of modern socialists. The poor are to be rewarded and the rich
punished in the kingdom of God, irrespective of any merit or demerit.
Thus, "blessed are ye poor," "woe unto you that are rich." Even the
rich young man, who had kept all the Commandments, is told that he
cannot be saved unless he "sells all his possessions, and gives to the
poor; " and the remark of Jesus is, that it is " easier for a camel to go
through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of
God." For anything that appears to the contrary, Lazarus may have
been a loafing vagabond, who had brought poverty and disease upon
himself by his own misconduct, and Dives a man who, having inherited
a large estate, spent it hospitably in entertaining his neighbors; but no
moral is inculcated. It is enough that Lazarus is poor and Dives rich to
place one in Abraham's bosom and the other in eternal fire.

It is evidently neither in these falsified prophecies nor in this exagger-
ated socialism that we are to find the fascination which the ideal of Jesus
has exercised over so many minds for so many centuries. It is rather in
the interpretation which he gave to the first words of the Baptist's formula,
" Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Repentance, as taught
by Jesus, meant not merely an outward obedience to formal laws and
abstinence from direct breaches of moral commandments, but such a
spiritual conversion as embraced the whole sphere of human life, and
made the very idea of sin insupportable. Men were to be good, pure,
merciful, compassionate and charitable, because the principle of "loving
God, and thy neighbor as thyself," was so wrought into the soul that it
became a second nature. The law was to be observed, but in a liberal,


tolerant, and comprehensive spirit, and the intention was to be looked to
rather than the outward act. The widow's mite was of more value than
the rich man's offering, and the publican's remorseful prayer was more
acceptable than the formal and lengthened devotions .of the strait-laced

It is remarkable, when we come to consider it, how much more the
ideal of Jesus, which is the central fact of Christianity, if founded on the
precepts and parables by which this spiritual religion is taught, and by the
human incidents of his life which illustrate it, than it is on the alleged
miracles. The Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the good Samaritan,
the tenderness to children, the affectionate and "sweetly reasonable" in-
tercourse with his humble followers, these and such as these are the traits
which build up the ideal character which draws all hearts.

The miracles, on the other hand, are at best, but capricious in-
stances of a supernatural power, healing one and leaving thousands un-
healed, and failing when most required as evidences, as in the case of the
incredulous Nazarenes and the Pharisees who asked for a sign; while at
the worst, some of them are wholly inconsistent with the historical char-
acter of the just and gentle Jesus. Thus the miracle of the Gadarene
swine, if true, obviously detracts from this character. It is an act of
cruelty to animals, for what had the poor swine done to deserve death, and
it is a wanton destruction of property cruel to the owners. Doubtless
these swine had owners, some perhaps poor Galilaean peasants, who like
those of Donegal or Gal way, depended on the pig to pay their rent and
save them from eviction. It was a wanton and a cruel act to send their
humble property to destruction in order to please a pack of devils. Again,
the miracle of the fig-tree reads rather like the hasty curse of a passionate
fool, than the act of a gentle, long-suffering, and sweetly reasonable man.

But to return to the historical narrative, I find no difficulty in believ-
ing that the accounts of the commencement of the mission of Jesus, of his
comings and goings among the small towns of Galilee, of his camp-meet-
ings, and of most of his preachings, parables, and sayings, are substan-
tially accurate. There is nothing improbable in them, except in some of
the miracles taken literally, and these may readily be explained, or indeed
were inevitable, in such a medium of excited crowds of poor and ignorant
men, where every one believed in miracles as events of daily occurrence,
and where many natural acts of faith-healing and casual coincidences had
given a popular prophet the reputation of being a worker of mighty

Indeed many of the miracles appear as if they had a nucleus of histori-
cal fact, which became expanded into legend. Thus, the legends of
Jesus and Peter walking on the sea appear to be based on the first simple
narrative, how a sudden squall having overtaken the boat in which they
were crossing at night, they awoke Jesus, who was asleep, and the squall
passed over.


Those, again, of the "loaves and fishes" may have readily arisen
from the recollection of some occasion when a scanty supply of food had
lasted out longer than was expected, owing very probably to many of those
who attended the camp-meeting having brought their own provisions, a
conjecture which is confirmed by the abundance of baskets in which to
collect the fragments, and which could not have been required to carry
seven or five loaves.

These, however, are mere conjectures, and not to be taken as facts, and
I only mention them to show that a good many of the miraculous legends
need not necessarily detract from the general historical value of Mark's
simple narrative of this early part of the career of Jesus in Galilee.

And I think the sayings and parables may generally be taken as au-
thentic. It is true that many^of both may be found in the literature of the
Talmud and of older religions, but this does not negative the probability
that Jesus may have used them in his popular addresses, and at any rate
they afford a view of what his doctrine and style of preaching really were
and many of the parables and shorter sayings are just such things as would
be readily retained in the memory and transmitted by oral tradition.
Many of the details also of the incidents and wanderings to and fro of
this Galilean period are very like what might be expected from the rem-
iniscences in old age of an apostle like Peter, who had accompanied Jesus
from the first, though we must always recollect that the author who
worked up these reminiscences, as described by Papias, into a connected
biography, may have added a good deal from other sources.

I am inclined also to accept as authentic a good many of the contro-
versies between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees. They are exactly
in the style of the verbal conflicts which were so common in the East,
and which survived down to the scholastic tournaments of the Middle
Ages. An opponent makes a desperate thrust by a puzzling question, it
is parried by an adroit answer, both leaving the root of the matter un-
touched. Thus the celebrated answer, "Render unto Caesar the things
that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's," is clever, but
no answer to the real question whether a conscientious servant of Jehovah
could voluntarily pay taxes to a heathen power which had usurped his
place. The position was precisely that of a conscientious Dissenter in
our own days, who was in doubt whether to pay Church rates, or let his
chattels be seized. He would have got little enlightenment from being
told to pay Queen Victoria the things that were hers, and render to God
what was God's. The question was, what things were Caesar's and what

Again, the puzzle of the Sadducees, whose wife she would be in
heaven who had been married successively to seven brothers, remains a
puzzle to this day. It is no question of marrying in the kingdom of
heaven, but of marriages which have taken place on earth. Shall we pre-
serve our personal identity after death, so that two souls which have been


united by the holiest and closest ties while living, shall be united in a
future life ? Shall we know and recognize those whom we have loved
and lost :

* See every face we feared to see no more ; "

or is Arthur's last wish th.u Guinevere should cling to him and not to
Launcelot, when they meet before " the fair father Christ," a vain dream ?
If it be not, who can answer the Sadducees' question or say more than
our greatest poet

" Behind the veil, behind the veil ? "

What Jesus might have said, but did not, is, The rule is an abominable
one; it degrades the sanctity of marriage, and reduces woman to a mere
chattel, who is to be handed over like an ox or an ass they to bear bur-
dens, she to bear children for their master Man.

Up to this point, therefore, I see no difficulty in accepting the Synop-
tic narrative, best told in the earliest and simplest Gospel of Mark, as being
in the main historical. And if so, the best picture I can form of it is
something very like the Salvation Army of the present day. The move-
ment had evidently no political significance, and attracted little notice,
or Josephus must have mentioned it, and there is no trace of any interfer-
ence with it, in the earliest stages, on the part of the authorities. In fact,
the modern Salvationists have suffered more from provincial Bumbles and
Justice Shallows than Jesus and his disciples seem to have done while
they remained in Galilee. But, like the Salvation Army, there was a
loose organization of a general, twelve principal officers, and a body of
disciples or professed adherents, who went about holding camp-meetings
and preaching the advent of the kingdom of God and a new and better
life to excited crowds, who listened eagerly and on the whole sympathized
with them. The only difference was in the superior genius, eloquence
and attractiveness of the personality at the head of the movement, and the
purity, spirituality, and general excellence of his doctrine.

There are one or two points in this doctrine which it is interesting to
consider. Did Jesus consider himself as a Jewish reformer, or as the
founder of a new religion ? Decidedly the former. The declarations are
quite explicit : ' ' Think not that I come to destroy the law or the proph-
ets, but to fulfill ; " "Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one
tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law ; " "I was not sent but unto
the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He was as far as possible from
Paul's doctrine, that he was sent to liberate the Jews from the bondage of
the law, and to introduce a new and universal religion for Jews and Gen-
tiles alike. But in a few exceptional cases he healed Gentiles who had
shown extraordinary faith, and his interpretation of the law was a large and
liberal one, looking to the spirit rather than the letter of the Mosaic com-
mandments, and rejecting the trifling and vexatious rules which the Scribes
and Pharisees had introduced in later times. Thus, he strolled through


the fields on a Sunday afternoon with his disciples, plucking ears of corn,
and declared that ' ' the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sab-
bath," a saying in respect of which our modern Pharisees have generally
sided with those of old rather than with the liberal minded and tolerant

What did Jesus believe respecting his own Messiahship ? This is a
very perplexing question, aggravated by the tendency, after the doctrine-
was firmly established, to invent or adopt traditions showing that he had
fulfilled the conditions attached to such a character by the prophecies of
the Old Testament, and by the prevailing expectations.

But it is tolerably clear that in the early part of his career he advanced
no such pretension. The Gospels all agree in describing the remarkable
persistency with which he endeavored to suppress all evidence which
tended to support such a claim. The evil spirits who recognize him,
the patients whom he miraculously cures, Peter when he calls him the
Christ, are all enjoined to "tell no man anything." When the little
damsel is supposed to have been raised from the dead, his first care is to
" charge them much that no man should know this." In any ordinary
case the inference would be that he did not wish miracles, which passed
muster with ignorant disciples, to be investigated by impartial and ed-
ucated critics. If this explanation be negatived as inconsistent with his
pure and holy character, the only other that can be suggested is, that
he did not wish it to be supposed that he was a supernatural being at-
tested by miracles, believing miracles to be vulgar things of which even
false prophets might be capable, but that he preferred to rely on the
excellence of his doctrine and his own powers of eloquence and per-

It would seem, however, that later in his career the conviction began
to dawn on him that he might be the Messiah of the prophecies, and that
he stood in some peculiar relation to God, and would be His vicegerent
in inagurating His kingdom and holding the assizes of the last judgment.

The most distinct assertion of this is found after he had gone to Jeru-
salem, in his reputed reply to the adjuration of the high priest to say
whether he was "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed," to which he replied,
according to one version, ' ' I am, " and to another, ' ' thou sayest "

It is evident, however, that he never thought of equalling himself to
God, or representing himself in the literal sense as being "of one sub-
stance with the Father," and he would probably have torn his clothes and
shouted "blasphemy" if he had heard the articles of the Athanasian
Creed. To the last he uses the term ' ' Son of man" in speaking of him-
self, even in his answer to the high priest, and he never adopts the lan-
guage of the evil spirits who address him as "Jesus, thou Son of the
Most High God," or as "the Holy One of God." He never doubts that
" my Father is greater than I," or that God alone knows things which he
does not know.


The best clue to his conception of himself is, to my mind, afforded
by the pathetic dying words, " Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani ?" These,
if any, must be historical, for they tell against the orthodox view, and
could never have been invented, while they are just the sort of thing
which would impress itself, in the actual words spoken, on the memory
of his affectionate disciples. But if these words were really spoken, they
show that he really believed himself to be the promised Messiah, and
trusted up to the last in some signal miraculous act of deliverance, such
as the advent of the last day, or the descent from heaven of "more than
twelve legions of angels. "

It is worthy of remark that the author of Luke seems to have felt the
force of this objection, for he transforms the expression into "my God,
into Thy hands I commend my spirit, anc inserts "Forgive them, for
they know not what they do," which words are not found in any other
record. It is evident that if Luke's version had represented the words
really spoken, they could never have been altered by eye-witnesses or by
early tradition, into words conveying such a totally different impression
as " My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

We come now to the concluding scene at Jerusalem, when it becomes
more than ever difficult to distinguish between fact and legend. The
narrative of the three Synoptic Gospels are fairly consistent up to the Cru-
cifixion, when they become hopelessly discordant That of John is
apparently founded on the same tradition, though, after the fashion of the
author, dealt with in a very free-hand way, altered, transposed so as to make
it the ground-work for several dogmatical speeches and visits to Jerusalem,
and embellished by various amendments and details. But the primitive
narrative is clear enough. Jesus and his apostles go up to Jerusalem to
keep the Passover ; they are received there with a triumphal procession ;
Jesus clears the Temple of the money-changers ; the authorities become
alarmed, but are afraid to arrest him openly, as the people are in his
favor ; one of the apostles betrays his hiding-place, and he is arrested at
night ; he is tried and condemned by the Sanhedrim and by the Roman
Governor ; Pilate believes him to be innocent and tries to save him, but
the Jews clamor for his blood ; Pilate yields, and he is crucified.

Thus far the story is consistent, and it involves nothing that is im-
possible. But it is full of the gravest improbabilities. Why should the
Jews, who one day are so much in his favor that the authorities are afraid
to arrest him, be converted in a single day into a furious crowd clamoring
for his execution ? Why should an appeal to Pilate be necessary for a
religious offence against the Mosaic law, when Stephen, under precisely
similar circumstances, was publicly stoned to death, and Paul made havoc
of Christians without any Roman mandate ? Why should false witnesses,
whose testimony was inconsistent, be required to prove an offence which
Jesus avowed in open court ?

But the portion of the narrative which relates to Pilate is that which is


open to the gravest suspicion. It is opposed alike to human nature and
to Roman practice, that a high functionary should first publicly proclaim
his belief in the innocence of a prisoner whom he -was trying, and go
through the solemn act of washing his hands to show that he would not
be guilty of his blood, and immediately afterwards condemn him to a
cruel and ignominious death. Nor is it conceivable that such a Gover-
nor, if forced to yield by the threat of being reported to Caesar for dis-
loyalty, should insist, against the remonstrances of the Jewish rulers, in
placing an inscription on the cross which proclaimed Jesus to be " the
king of the Jews."

In fact, the whole episode of Pilate ha? very much the air of being an
interpolation of much later date, -when the feeling of hatred between
Christians and Jews had become intense. The object evidently is to show
that this hatred was justified by the Jews having imprecated the blood of
Jesus on their own heads and those of their sons, and to represent the
heathens as having been better than the Jews, inasmuch as Pilate tried to
save Jesus, and to a certain extent believed in him. It is difficult to be-
lieve that such a narrative could have come from men like Peter, John,
and James, who remained devout Jews, zealous for their faith and coun-

Nor, again, it is easy to see how, if the events had really assumed the
publicity and importance assigned to them, there should be no mention
of them by Josephus, or any contemporary writer especially if there was,
as the Gospels say, a miraculous darkness over the land, an earthquake,
the veil of the Temple rent, and ghosts walked about the streets. The
Gospel narratives also, though consistent in the main outlines, contain a
number of discrepancies in details which show that they were not derived
from any one written document or from any fixed tradition. Thus,
Judas' death is differently described. Herod is introduced by Luke and
not mentioned by the others. Jesus carried his own cross in one account,
while Simon of Cyrene bore it in another. Jesus gave no answer to
Pilate, says Matthew; he explained that ' ' his kingdom was not of this
world," says John. Mary his mother sat at the foot of the cross, accord-
ing to John; it was not his mother, but another Mary, the mother of
Salome, who "beheld from afar," according to Mark and Matthew.
There was a guard set to watch the tomb, says Matthew; there is no men-
tion of one by the others.

These, however, are minor discrepancies which are only important as
showing that there was no clearly fixed historical tradition, except of the
general outline of the course of events, when the different Gospels were
compiled, and subsequent to the Crucifixion there is, as we have already
seen, a hopeless discordance.

In some cases it is almost possible to trace, step by step, how the
legends grew with each successive repetition. Thus, according to Mark,
two women went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away and the tomb


empty, and saw a young man clothed in white who gave them a message
to Peter and the disciples, that Jesus has risen and gone before them to
Galilee, where they would see him a message which they never delivered,
being afraid. In Matthew the young man has become an angel who
rolled the stone away and sat on it, delivering the same message to go to
Galilee, where his disciples would see him, which they ran and delivered.
In Luke there are the same two Marys, with another woman named
Joanna, and several others, and they saw, not one but two men in daz-
zling apparel; "go to Galilee" is changed into "as he spoke unto you
while yet in Galilee," which in the Acts is enlarged into a positive injunc-
tion ' ' not to depart from Jerusalem ; " and Peter is introduced as run-
ning to the tomb and finding it empty. In John there are two angels ;
John runs along with Peter to the tomb; and Mary Magdalene has a
miraculous vision of Jesus, whom she at first mistakes for the gardener.
No one who reads these narratives by the ordinary light of reason can
doubt that the simple story of Mark is nearest to the original fact or tra-
dition, and that the successive amplifications of one into two, men into
angels, the introduction of Peter, and finally of Peter and John, and the
miraculous vision of Mary Magdalene, have grown up about it If the
facts had really happened as described by Luke and John, no one could
have subsequently cut them down into the bald statement of Mark,
while the opposite process is what we know to be historically true in the
case of so many early Christian martyrs and medieval saints. It is the
clearest possible case of the application of the principal of the " Minimum
of Miracles. "

I may here remark, however, that, as I said before, the historical nu-
cleus is of minor importance compared with the fact that the belief in the
Resurrection did somehow come to be entertained, and became the chief
agent in the establishment and evolution of the new religion, and that
there is no reason to doubt that it was honestly entertained by sincere men,
who, if they did not see it with their bodily eyes, saw it with the eyes of
faith, and to whom visions, dreams, hallucinations, and subjective im-
pressions, were as much facts as objective realities.

In trying to disentangle the historical nucleus from these legends, the
best ray of light I can discover is afforded by the account of the riot in the
Temple, and assault on the traders who change money and who sold
doves and other objects of sacrifice. This is found in all the Gospels,
and could hardly be an invention, while if true it must have been followed
by immediate consequences. Prompt and stern repression must have been
exercised both by the Jewish and the Roman authorities.

We must recollect that their point of view would not be that of later
Christians, when the faith in the Divine character of Jesus had been
established for centuries, but that of contemporaries who knew nothing
of him but as the provincial prophet of an obscure sect To recur to the
simile of the Salvation Army, it would be as if a body of Salvationists.

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