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part by his cautious compliance with the more im-
portant observances, and notwithstanding the general
bearing of his teaching towards the development
of a higher and independent doctrine, his uniform
respect for the letter as well as the spirit of the
Mosaic institutes. But as the strength of the Rab-
binical hierarchy lay in the passionate jealousy of
the people about the Law, they never abandoned the
hope of convicting Jesus on this ground, as a false
pretender to the character of the Messiah. At all
events, they saw clearly that it was a struggle for
the life and death of their authority. Jesus acknow-
ledged as the Christ, the whole fabric of their power
and influence fell at once " (" History of Chris-
tianity," Vol. L, p. 180).

We are told that the educated Jews, the religious
aristocracy who expounded the Law, took great
offence at Jesus, because he set himself above all
other teachers. It could not possibly have been so.
Some years before his time, Hillel, a poor wood-
cutter, came from Babylon to Jerusalem, and by
diligent self-culture, soon surpassed all other men in
scholarship, rose to be at the head of the Sanhedrin,
and made his voice heard and respected throughout
the country as a reformer of the Law. If no great
jealousy and apprehension was excited by this up-
start teacher attaining pre-eminence, how could
Jesus, with a few peasant followers, be expected to
call forth such a feeling, when even, after emerging
from obscurity, he held no commanding position
in the country, and was but very little known ?
Judas Maccabaeus, without any claim to royal blood
or regal authority, went so far as to set himself
above all other teachers, both modifying the obser-
vance of the Law on several occasions, and adding



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NO MOTIVES FOR MURDER. 149

to the sacred books, yet he did not thereby give
great offence. The temple magistracy and the rab-
bins, so far from breathing hostility against him,
were ready enough to submit to his leadership, for
they saw that he was a capable man, strong enough
to move the entire nation. And if Jesus had shown
a corresponding power of ruling and directing the
people by military or any other means, the educated
classes would, with just as little hesitation, have
gone over to him and ranged themselves loyally
under his command. As he failed to exert any
great influence in the country, they would not feel
disposed to place their trust in him, they would
naturally hold aloof from him and discredit his Mes-
sianic claims, but they would have no reason what-
ever to fear that their position was endangered by
his teaching, so that it would be desirable to make
open war against him and find some means of put-
ting him to death.

Milman seems to imagine that the Scribes, Law-
yers, and Pharisees would anticipate the future
development of Christianity in its world-wide ex-
pansion and the immense extent to which it would
ultimately depart from Judaism and become as it
were an independent religion. But how could they
be expected to look for this marvellous growth when
there was nothing which presented itself to their
observation in the least likely to suggest it ? Had
they only known that the followers of Jesus would
in another generation or two entirely free themselves
from the Jewish ordinances, discontinue circum-
cision, change the Sabbath day, no longer observe
the great feasts, and begin to prostrate themselves
before images and relics after the manner of the
Gentiles, they might well have taken alarm at such
a complete departure from their standards, and done
all in tKeir power to oppose and prevent the im-
pending revolution. From what they beheld of the



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150 THE CRUCIFIXION MYSTERY.

Gralilean seut, however, the wisest and most pre-
scient men among them would not have imagined
that such an immense distortion, as the result of its
future proselytism, had been possible. Jesus himself
adhered faithfully to the Law, and was less of an
innovator in respect to doctrine than his learned
contemporary Philo ; the fact of his not being a
rigid formalist would cause no more offence than
was already given by the disciples of Hillel in dis-
puting with the disciples of Shammai, What he
continually and emphatically insisted upon in the
face of his unbelieving countrymen was the. ap-
proaching end of the world, and the need of prepar-
ing for it by the renunciation of worldly pursuits
and pleasures. But this doctrine had been promul-
gated by other Jewish prophets without provoking
hostility, and those who esteemed the announcement
false would naturally suppose that after a few years
when it was seen to be unfulfilled the Nazarene. sect
would fall to pieces, just as people in America, fifty
years ago, felt confident that the failure of Mormon
predictions would result in the speedy break up of
that community.

One of the most common theories advanced at the
present day to account for the enmity which is sup-
posed to have been directed against Jesus is, that the
particular couiase which he took caused a great na-
tional disappointment. We are told that the Jews
were led to believe that he would free them from a
foreign yoke, that he would pursue a similar policy to
that of Gideon, David, Judas Maccabseus, and other
national deliverers, and when they saw that he did not
act in accordance with their preconceived ideas, but
endeavoured in quite a different way to promote
their welfare, they were so exceedingly mortified as
to determine on taking his life. A more extrava-
gant notion than this could hardly be entertained by



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NO MOTIVES FOR MURDER. 151

any human mind. We know that a community are
now and then disappointed in a person who is sent to
occupy an established position, and exercise some
authority among them ; and are consequently led to
ask for his removal. The inhabitants of a parish,
for instance, may dislike their new vicar for some
reason or other, and the population of a colony or
province may decry the new governor who comes
among them, because he does not act quite in accor-
dance with their wishes. But Jesus had no corres-
ponding relationship to the Jewish people ; he was
one of several humble aspirants to high authority
moving about among them, and was not universally
recognised as the legitimate head of the nation. It
is quite impossible that his countrymen should have
formed any great expectations of him, because the
vast majority of them knew nothing at all about him ;
indeed, it is highly probable that at the time of his
death, nine-tenths of them had never so much as heard
of his existence. During the greater portion of his
career he is said to have followed the profession of a
carpenter, and to have lived in complete obscurity
at Nazareth. And when he at length commenced
his public ministry, he was regarded in much the
same light as other itinerant prophets of that period ;
no intelligent Jew would have supposed that one
who went from village to village preaching and
working cures was the Heaven-sent national regene-
rator. There were several prophets and exorcists
going about, each with a small following, and so long
as they kept within the bounds of the Law, what
either of them might do or fail to do for the ad-
vancement of his claims would have been to the
educated portion of the community a matter of com-
plete indifference. Grraetz, the Jewish historian,
writing of this period says : " The nation was split
into many parties, each entertaining a different idea
of the future Saviour, and rendering it therefore



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152 THE CRUCIFIXION MYSTERY.

impossible that any one aspirant should receive a
general recognition as the Messiah."

Jesus lived in peaceable times, when the Eoman
authority was so firmly and securely esta'blished in
Palestine that a general rising was quite out of the
question, and a fighting Messiah with a handful
of followers would only have gained the sympathy of
the robber class. All educated Jews would have
been glad to see the restoration of their national in-
dependence, but as there was not the slightest pros-
pect of such a glorious result being achieved at that
period, they thought it best to cultivate friendly
relations with the conquerors and make the best of
their subordinate position. This was especially the
aim of the Temple magistracy ; they were anxious
to maintain peace and give no countenance what-
ever to any rash attempt at inciting an outbreak
which would be foredoomed to failure. They knew
that spasmodic insurrections would not only be re-
pressed with a vigorous hand, but would be certain
to entail on the country an increased burden of
tribute. Had Jesus, therefore, appeared as a leader
of revolt without the slightest chance of effecting a
national deliverance, he must necessarily have given
great offence to the Jewish authorities, and they
might reasonably have desired to efifect his removal
in the interests of peace. As he refrained from
taking a course that was likely to cause a useless
efifusion of blood, while plenty of dangerous charac-
ters existed who might be expected to do so, they
would not have pounced upon him as the country's
worst troubler, of whom it was especially desirable to
make a clean riddance.

The Eomans, on whose shoulders the guilt of the
Crucifixion is now sometimes cast, coald have had no
better ground than the Jewish rulers for regarding
Jesus as a dangerous opponent, whom it was highly
expedient to deprive of life. One who went about with



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NO MOTIVES FOR MURDER. 153

poor, unarmed followers, preaching the doctrine of
non-resistance, could not possibly have excited any
apprehension in their minds. So long as there was no
uprising against the tribute, and no representative of
the warlike Asmonean family seeking to restore the
Jewish monarchy which Eoman arms had suppressed,
they would concern themselves little about the
claims of a suffering Messiah who, when the end
of the world came, was to rule in a Kingdom of
Heaven. It was the robbers who gave them con-
tinual trouble, the brigand leaders who went from
place to place plundering villages, committing
murders, and inciting the people to revolt. When
one of these fighting heroes fell into their hands they
showed him little mercy, and generally proceeded,
in the most summary manner, to bring him to exe-
cution. The Evangelists, however, would have ua
believe that a course, strangely at variance with the
ordinary Eoman policy, was taken by the governor,
Pontius Pilate. He had got in safe custody a
notorious robber and leader of sedition, whx)m he
was still in no hurry to punish, and was willing, at
the base clamour of the Jewish people, to set him at
liberty. Nay, to humour the same unreasonable
multitude, he was even induced to crucify, by pre-
ference, the innocent Jesus, from whom he had
nothing whatever to fear. A mock Pilate might
have exhibited such outrageous folly and injustice,
but the real Pilate would not have done so, he was
not a ruler disposed to consult the Jewish people in
i^eference to what course he should take ("Ant."
xviii. iii. 1) ; and he was one of the least likely of
procurators to deliberately sacrifice Eoman interests
for their gratification. Dr. Strauss, who as an able
critic does not often err on the side of credulity, in
his elaborate mythical theory of expounding the
Gospel narrative, has the following remarks on the
conduct there imputed to Pilate : —



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154 THE CRUCIFIXION MYSTERY.

" That Jesus was put to death by ocder of the
Bomau Procurator is certain (' Tacitus Annal,' xv.,
44) ; there is no trace of his having given im-
mediate or personal offence to that officer by his
ministry; there is, therefore, every probability in
favour of the representation given by our Gospels,
that the Jewish authorities, being themselves de-
prived of the power of life and death by the
Komans, endeavoured to gain over the Koman
procurator for their purposes, by bringing the man,
whom they wished to destroy for hierarchical
reasons, into suspicion with the Eomans on poli-
tical grounds. The political character of the Jewish
idea of the Messiah made it possible to do this.
Jesws had recognised this idea as applicable to him-
self only hesitatingly, and with a disavowal of its politi-
cal side ; but the people, and even his own disciples
had up to that time, taken the less notice of this
disavowal in proportion as it was unintelligible
to them. So much the more easy was it for the
Jewish authorities to represent to Pilate, in a poli-
tically dangerous light, the success which Jesus
met with in gaining followers among the people,
the concourse which attended his lectures, the
homage which had been given to him on his
entrance into the capital. So far, therefore, the
Evangelical narrative has all historical probability
in its favour " (« Life of Jesus," Vol. II., p. 356).

So far from it being certain that Jesus was put to
death by order of the procurator, it is extremely im-
probable that Pilate knew anything at all about his
trial and crucifixion. We have already shown (page
94) that had he made any report on the subject to
the imperial authorities, a document of so much
value in the controversy between Pagans and
Christians would not have been allowed to perish.
Wherever Christians went they propagated their
story of the Crucifixion ; no one else knew anything



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NO MOTIVES FOR MURDER. 155

about the tragic affair, and it was evidently only
through them that the information given by Tacitus
would be derived. The Christians were in his eyes
an extremely bad set of people, capable of any
villainy, although they had been unjustly accused
of setting fire to the city, and it would seem to him
in every way credible and reasonable that the ring-
leader of such pestilent wretches should have been
caught in his wickedness and sentenced to death by
the Roman procurator. But had he known as much
as we know about the harmless Gralilean sect and
their leader, he would have treated the story of his
condemnation by Pilate to a punishment which was
only inflicted on the worst criminals, as being wholly
unworthy of belief.

If Pilate had been so weak-minded as to send an
innocent man to execution, simply because a number
of malignant people had a spite against him and
wanted him put to death, he would have soon found
enough to do; there would have been constantly
flocking to him a cowardly set who, having quarrelled
with some'person, and not liking to run the risk of
taking his life with their own hands, were deter-
mined on getting him crucified. Strauss thinks
that the Jewish rulers managed to craftily circumvent
Pilate by pretending to be very anxious lest the
popularity of Jesus as a religious teacher should
lead ultimately to an outbreak, and so cause him
great trouble. But would not he have instantly seen
through such a flimsy representation advanced to work
on his fears, and have known that it was only intended
to serve the purpose of a vile sectarian conspiracy ?
The success of Jesus as a teacher could not possibly
cause any apprehension to Eoman. minds, since his
doctrine was favourable to the maintenance of peace;
all who wen^ over to him were so many detached
from the militant party, who were contemplat-
ing, at some future time, an armed resistance.



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15(j THE CRUCIFIXIOX MVSTERV.

Jesus had not taken a single step to promote a
Messianic revolt, as Eabbi Akiba did in the following
century ; it was well known that he had no thought
of establishing an earthly kingdom or of resorting to
force, and for Pilate to condemn to death this leader
of a peaceable sect as dangerous, while deeming it
quite safe to let loose a captain of brigands to prey
on the country, he must have been just such an-
other idiot as Herod the Great is made to appear in
the legend of the Babes of Bethlehem.

§ 8. — Clear Motives for Calumny*

In modem criminal investigations, when people
are accused of murder or any other foul deed, and it
is impossible to see how they could be prompted to
do it, or expect to gain anything by it, it is usual to
ask if the accusers are likely to have any interest in
getting up the chai'ge. Had this sound maxim of
jurisprudence been regularly acted upon in past times,
an immense deal of wrong which has discredited the
administration of justice would thereby have been
averted. It is clear, for instance, that the Jews dur-
ing the Middle Ages could have no sane motive for
crucifying children and insulting the consecrated
Host, there was nothing that they oould hope to
gain and much that they must necessarily lose by
the perpetration of such outrages. On the other
hand, their more unscrupulous Christian neighbours
were under very strong inducements to get up
fictitious evidence against them and render them
guilty in appearance. The substantial advantages
which they were likely to reap from their condem-
nation to death and the forfeiture of their property
must have been perceptible to the dullest compre-
hension. And had the absurd charges made against
them only been submitted to the consideration of
enlightened and impartial judges, the clear indica-



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CLEAR MOTIVES FOR CALUMNY. 157

tion of their being thus got up from interested
motives would at once have insured their acquittal.
It is our purpose now to make it clear that the
great charge of crucifying Jesus advanced against
the rulers and other educated Jews whom his
preaching failed to convince, is quite as ill-founded
and in fact of a very similar character. They had
no motive whatever for putting him to death, having
never been seriously troubled by his humble ministra-
tions ; he exercised no dominant power in the land,
and it cannot be shown that any party dissenting
from his views, or a single individual, would breathe
more freely after his disappearance. But though he
could be no obstacle in the eyes of the Sanhedrin,
that authoritative body must have been considered a
tremendous hindrance to the dissemination of his
belief, and the establishment of his prospective
Kingdom of Heaven. Most thoughtful people, on
hearing that the end of the world was announced as
imminent, would have expressed themselves as scep-
tical on the subject because nothing had been said
about it by the rulers and other learned men. The
enthusiastic propagandists would naturally enough
feel vexed at this check which they continually en-
countered, and would often enough wish that the
Jewish authorities were at the bottom of the Dead
Sea. As they could not be killed and got rid of, it
was desirable in the interests of the Nazarene sect
that they should be as far as possible discredited,
and there was no practicable way by which this
could be accomplished but by caluinny. Much
might perhaps be done to weaken their influence by
accusing them before the people of general wicked-
ness, denouncing them as an evil-minded and mur-
derous generation, eager to shed the blood of the
prophets. But the Crucifixion drama performed on
the grounds of Joseph of Arimathsea, was an im-
proved method of defamation; in that spectacle



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158 THE CRUCIFIXION MYSTERY.

their guilt was rendered visible to a number of
select witnesses ; they were made to appear in the
very act of murdering the Messiah. Those who
beheld this tragic representation could not fail to
be strongly influenced by it; so convinced would
they be that the Jewish hierarchy were under the
domination of Satan, that no future pleading of the
recognised teachers of the Law would ever induce
them to respect their authority.

Iq all countries and in every age there have been
men who, though honest and truthful as private
citizens, have been thoroughly unscrupulous in the
means which they have resorted to for the advance-
ment of a religious or a political cause. At the
present day people, as sectarians and partisans, often
have recourse to well-contrived fiction for the pur-
pose of calumniating their opponents, as they may
thus avoid the risk of being prosecuted for libel.
Their bad characters may be meant to represent real
personages, although it cannot be proved that they
have been introduced with such object. In some
instances they are so base and villainous that they
are not likely to be recognised by any intelligent
reader as mere caricatures. An English newspaper
some years ago published a serial story of the sen-
sational type which was designed to exhibit in the
worst possible light the Eoman Catholic community.
The b^e noire of this slanderous tale. Father
Rogier, a priest settled in Wales, was depicted as a
swindler, a seducer, a murderer, in short a very
monster of wickedness. The more ignorant readers
of the journal probably regarded it as a drawing
from life, but some few protested against its untruth-
fulness, and contended that it only exhibited the
writer's extreme prejudice and want of Christian
charity.

A drama is not so easily and cheaply produced as
a tale, but where it is possible to have recourse to



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CLEAR MOTIVES FOR CALUMNY. 159

such agency, it oflfers a more effective means of mis-
representation for the purpose of biassing the simple
and credulous. The early Methodists were extrava-
gantly vilified by dramatic art, and held up to
obloquy and reprobation t hroughout England. Their
preachers were exhibited as the basest hypocrites,
wearing a cloak of religion only that they might
better overreach people, and more readily gain access
to houses for the purpose of seducing weak-minded
women. The well-informed and liberal-minded
knew that this representation was extremely un-
just, and denounced it as such ; but it served for
awhile to create a strong prejudice against Metho-
dism in nearly all -ranks of English society. Many
other causes, both political and religious, have, by a
similar dramatic perversion on the part of their op-
ponents, been injured to some extent in public esti-
mation, and had attached to them an opprobrium
which was wholly undeserved.

In these days of universal culture people cannot
be imposed upon by romantic and dramatic art so
completely as they often were in a ruder age. The
simplest servant girl may be heard to say, now and
then, in reference to what she has read or seen, " It
is only a tale, you know," or " It is only a play."
But in primitive times, when the trickery of tales
and plays was unknown and unsuspected, the great
mass of mankind were in consequence much more
easily misled by such representations of life.
The works of the early Jewish fictionists were
readily accept-ed as narratives of fact, and no one
was disposed to entertain a shadow of doubt as to
their complete accuracy. A people unaccustomed to
dramatic art would be just as easily misled in this
or that direction by theatrical illusions artfully con-
trived for the purpose. It was possible to make a
select number of the more credulous believe that
men in authority, when skilfully personated, stood



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160 THE CllUCIFIXION MYSTERY.

before them in very deed, and that a foul transaction
thus exhibited was the actual perpetration of a crime.
And they would go forth as faithful witnesses of the
terrible iniquity which had come under their observa-
tion, and readily imjx^se their illusions on the credu-
lous world.

Rival sects, rival parties, and rival nations, are
very much inclined to slander each other in these
days of enlightenment, and it is not to be supposed
that they would manifest a charitable disposition and
refrain from all misrepresentation when struggling
for ascendancy in a ruder age. The Nazarenes were
probably not more addicted to calumny than the
generality of their contemporaries. When Joseph
of Arimathsea and his associates were plotting to
bring the Sanhedrin into discredit, there were plenty
of other zealots who would have been ready enough
to incriminate their opponents by similar means if
placed in like circumstances. When Paul and his
successors went from city to city preaching the
Gospel, and holding up the Jewish rulers to repro-
bation for purely imaginary crimes, they occa-
sionally encountered a great deal of detraction
themselves. - They were vilified by unscrupulous
opponents ; to injure their reputation abominable
stories were circulated in which there was not an
atom of truth. Some ecclesiastical historians have


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Online LibraryJohn VickersThe crucifixion mystery: a review of the great charge against the Jews → online text (page 15 of 18)