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i. Pint and Last Things. 

3. The Riddle ol the Universe. 

5. On Liberty. 

10. History of Modern Philosophy. 
27. The Evidence lor the Supernatural. 
57- Clearer Thinking : Logic tor Everyman. 
62. First Principles. 
68. Liberty Today. 
78. The Man versus the State. 

84. Let the People Think. 

88. World Revolution and the Future of the West. 
92. The Conquest of Time, 
zox. Flight from Conflict. 


46. The Mind in the Making. 

48. Psychology for Everyman (and Woman). 

85. The Myth of the Mind. 


(2 VOIS.). 

White and Brown (illus.). 
Origin of Civilization 

14 & i 

26. Head-hnnters : __ 
29. la the Beginning 

40. Oath, Cnne, and Blessing. 
45. Men of the Dawn (illus.). 
So. Jooasta's Crime. 

82. Kingship. 

87. Man Makes Himself . 

102. Progress and Archaeology. 


i2. The Descent of Man. 
36. Savage Survivals (illus.). 

41. Fireside Science. 

47. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and 

Animals (illus.). 
59- Tour Body: How it is Built and How it Works 


6z. Man and His Universe. 
65. Dictionary of Scientific Terms. 
67. The Universe of Science. 
89. The Origin of the Kiss, and other Scientific 

94. Life's Unfolding. 

95. An Easy Outline of Astronomy. 
97. Man Studies Life. 

103. The Chemistry of Life. 

104. Medicine and Mankind. 
108. Geology in the Life of Man. 

4. Humanity'! Gain bom Unbeliet and other 

tions from the Works of Charles Bradlaugh, 
9. Twelve Yean in a Monastery, 
xx. Gibbon on Christianity. 

J. S. MILL. 
C. E. M. JOAD. 


Sir E. B. TYLOR. 

Dr. A. C. HADDON. 







Prof. H. LEVY. 





J. S. D. BACON M.A. 





17. Lectures and Essays. 

18. TheEvolutionof theldeaof God. 

A Stufr of Christianity 

19. An Agnostic's 

22. The Pathetic I 

24. A Short Hiitory of 

30. Adonii : a Study in the 


34. The Existence of God. 
44* Fact and Faith. 
49. The Religion of the Open Mind. 

51. The Social Record of Christianity. 

52. Five Stages of Greek Religion. 

53. The Life of Jesus. 

54. Selected Works of Voltaire. 
OQ. The Age of Reason. 

Si. The Twilight of the Gods. 
83. Religion Without Revelation. 
90 & gi. The Bible and Its Background (2 vols.). 
93 The Gospel of Rationalism. 
96. The God of the Bible. 
98. In Search of the Real Bible. 
99- The Outlines of Mythology. 
100. Magic ftnd Religion. 

105. The Church and Social Progress. 

1 06. The Great Mystics. 

107. The Religion of Ancient Mexico. 

109. A Century for Freedom. 

1 10. Jesus: Myth or History P 

6. A Short History of the World (revised to 1941). 
33. History of Civilization in England (Vol. i). 

23. Historical Trials (A selection). 

25. The Martyrdom of Man. 

33. A History ol the Taxes on Knowledge. 
39. Penalties Upon Opinion. 
72. A Short History of Women. 


37. The Revolt of the Angels. 

38. The Outcast. 
70. The Fair Haven. 
77. Act of God. 


2. Education : Intellectual, Moral and Physical. 

7. Autobiography of Charles Darwin. 
1 6. Iphigenia. 

28. The City o 

Of Oriental Sir J. G. FRAZER. 


Prof. J. B. S. HALDANE. 





Trans, by JOSEPH McCABE. 









Sir J. G. FRAZKR. 














City of Dreadful Night, and other Poems. 
32. On Compromise. 

43- The World's Earliest Laws. 
55. What are We to do with our Lives? 
What is Man? 

63. Rights of Man. 

64. This Hn 

, i ^"irn*! Nature* 

66. A Book Of Good Faith. Selections from the 

Works of MONTAIGNE, arranged, and with 

an Introduction by 
71. A Candidate for Truth. Passages from RALPH 

WALDO EMERSON chosen and arranged by 
74- Morals,Manners, and Men. 
75* Pages from a Lawyer's Notebooks. 
79. The World as I See li 
86. The ZAerty of Man, and Other Essays. 


Two Plays by EURIPIDES. 

O.M., P.C. 











The Thinker's Library, No. no 




Author of The Bible and its Background, 
Morals in World History, etc. 




First published in the Thinker's Library, 1946 


ARCHIBALD ROBERTSON was born at Durham in 1886. 
Educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Oxford, he 
entered the Civil Service in 1910. In 1915 he began to 
contribute to Rationalist and Socialist periodicals under 
the pen-name of "Robert Arch." In 1931 he left the 
Civil Service and began to write under his own name. 
Besides articles and pamphlets, he has written the following 
books : Whence, Whither, and Why? (as Robert Arch), 
Philosophers on Holiday, The Bible and its Background 
(2 vols.), and Morals in World History. 

Printed and Published in Great Britain by C. A. Watts & Co. Limited, 
5 & 6 Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, London, E.C.4 


BY the Education Act of 1944 Parliament has for the 
first time made it obligatory on the managers or 
governors of all publicly provided schools in England 
and Wales to give religious instruction. The syllabus 
of such instruction is drawn up by conferences in 
which the Churches control fifty per cent of the votes. 
Thus a legal obligation is now laid upon our Local 
Education Authorities to teach Christianity. 

Christianity is the religion based on the Old and 
New Testaments. Christians are therefore committed 
to the belief that the world was created by a personal 
God; that God revealed himself to man, firstly 
through the Jewish law and prophets, and secondly 
and more especially by himself becoming man in 
the person of Jesus Christ; and that acceptance or 
rejection of this revelation makes a momentous 
difference to the eternal destiny of every man, woman, 
and child in the world. That is to say, the appearance 
on earth of Jesus Christ nineteen hundred years ago 
was a unique event, such as never happened before 
or since, and infinitely more important than the rise 
and fall of nations, the discoveries and inventions of 
science, or the weal or woe wrought by any war or 
any revolution. 

Now it is safe to say that the majority of our people 
to-day believe no such thing. They are not, in the 
foregoing sense, Christians. They may believe in 
God as the result of early teaching, or because it 
seems to them the easiest way of accounting for things 
they do not understand; but they do not feel per- 



sonally responsible to God as they would if they 
really believed the Christian creed. They feel 
responsible to their families, their neighbours, their 
workmates, their country, and maybe on grand 
occasions to mankind, but not to God.- They may 
believe that Jesus Christ lived and taught a long time 
ago, because it is in the Bible and they have never 
heard it questioned ; but they do not feel personally 
responsible for his sufferings as they would if they 
really believed the Christian doctrine of redemption. 
And they certainly do not believe that their destiny 
after death (if they have any) depends on their 
acceptance or rejection of all this. If they did, we 
should be a church-going nation; but it is notorious 
that we are not. 

There is therefore a very wide gulf between the 
everyday beliefs of most men and women and the 
beliefs which the nation officially professes and orders 
to be taught to its children. Such a gap between 
theory and practice is not healthy. It is a symptom 
of something wrong. The professional advocates of 
religion tell us that what is wrong is the irreligion or 
indifference of the ordinary man and woman. If the 
professional advocates of religion displayed a notably 
greater degree of kindliness, honesty, or patriotism 
than the rest of us, we might believe them. But their 
superiority in these respects is not noticeable. And I 
suggest that what is wrong is not the attitude of the 
ordinary man and woman, but the hypocrisy of those 
who pose as leaders in Church and State. 

Those leaders, as educated men, are perfectly 
aware that in the last century or so the Old and New 
Testaments, on which Christianity depends, have been 
submitted to criticism not only by Rationalists, but 


by professional theologians as well, and that as a 
result there is not a theologian of repute to-day, 
outside the Catholic Church, who upholds the verbal 
inspiration or infallibility of either Testament. There 
is not a theologian of repute to-day, outside the 
Catholic Church, who maintains that Jesus Christ said 
and did everything which the four Gospels allege him 
to have said and done. There is not a theologian 
of repute to-day, outside the Catholic Church, who 
accepts Christianity in the sense in which the Church- 
men of a hundred years ago accepted it. 

Consider what this means. Professional theologians 
are not usually by disposition iconoclasts. On the 
contrary, they are usually in holy orders, and the 
tenure of their orders and of their chairs depends on 
their profession of Christianity in some shape or other. 
In this connection it is pertinent to quote the words of 
T. H. Huxley: 

" Imagine that all our chairs of Astronomy had 
been founded in the fourteenth century, and that 
their incumbents were bound to sign Ptolemaic 
articles. In that case, with every respect for the 
efforts of persons thus hampered to attain and 
expound the truth, I think men of common 
sense would go elsewhere to learn astronomy. 
... It is extremely inexpedient that any subject 
which calls itself a science should be entrusted 
to teachers who are debarred from freely follow- 
ing out scientific methods to their legitimate 
conclusions, whatever those conclusions may be." 1 

If, then, the opinions of professional theologians 
on Biblical issues have altered in the last hundred 

1 T. H. Huxley, Agnosticism and Christianity (1889). 


years, it is for the cogent reason that the progress of 
knowledge on the evolution of life and man, on the 
history of religions, and on the nature and com- 
position of the Bible itself makes it impossible for 
any man who allows himself to think on the subject 
to adhere to the old positions. 

It may be thought that those politicians who favour 
the obligatory teaching of Christianity in publicly 
provided schools at least intend that the interpretation 
placed upon it shall be up-to-date. Unfortunately 
this is not so. The conference of the Primrose 
League, in 1944, passed a resolution denouncing a 
course for teachers arranged by the Board of Educa- 
tion as " opposed to the accepted principles of 
Christianity." The reason for their wrath was 
apparently that some attempt had been made at 
this course to acquaint those who attended it with 
the bearing of modern scholarship on traditional 
doctrines. It would be interesting to know how 
many of those who passed this resolution themselves 
attend church. Probably their action was inspired 
less by a living faith in Christianity than by apprehen- 
sion of the political consequences of its rejection. It 
is evident that, if they have their way, the religion 
taught in our publicly provided schools will not be 
that of the more enlightened theologians of the 
present day, but that of the pre-scientific past. 

Rationalism stands fof the application to religion 
of those scientific methods which have proved their 
efficacy in other fields of human enquiry. The 
Rationalist applies to the Old and New Testaments 
the same criteria of truth which he applies to any 
other books. If there is a Rationalist prejudice, it is 
a prejudice in favour of honesty. 


The Rationalist sees in scientific method the only 
avenue to objective truth. He accepts the provisional 
picture of the world painted by modern astronomy, 
physics, biology, and anthropology. He sees no 
more evidence for the existence of the God of the 
Bible than for that of Zeus, Brahma, or Allah. He 
believes Christianity to be no more divine and no 
less human than Buddhism, Confucianism, or Islam. 
And, whatever may be his destiny after death (few 
Rationalists expect survival), he does not think it 
will be a penny the worse for his disbelieving in 
Christianity, nor that it would be a penny the better 
if he believed. 

Did Jesus ever live? Is he a man who somehow 
became deified, or a god who somehow became 
humanized? It may seem to many that, once the 
Rationalist position is adopted, such questions as 
this are of only secondary importance. If Jesus was 
not God, does it matter much whether he lived or 
not? This is a reasonable question. Certainly the 
Rationalist has no stake in the matter. For the 
Christian, indeed, not only the historicity of Jesus but 
the substantial accuracy of the Gospel records is a 
vital issue. But once we drop the profession of 
Christianity in any shape or form, the question of the 
existence of Jesus, like that of the existence of Homer, 
Buddha, Arthur, William Tell, or Faustus, is an 
historical puzzle interesting to the curious, but 
fraught for us with no religious consequence of 
moment. As such I have tried to treat it in this 

But I have cause to know that there are others who 
do not so treat it. A few years' work in the Rationalist 
movement led me to the disconcerting discovery that 


the historicity of Jesus was a subject of bitter polemic 
among Rationalists themselves. The controversy 
between J. M. Robertson and F. C. Conybeare, for 
example, was conducted with none of the amenity 
customary among joint seekers after truth; and to 
this day there is no topic which raises such a hornet's 
nest as this in the columns of a Freethought journal. 
It was my fate once to engage in a debate in which 
I maintained, from a Rationalist point of view, the 
basic historicity of Jesus, and to be sarcastically 
advised afterwards by an obviously sincere " old 
stager " in the audience to join the Salvation Army ! 
The explanation of this bitterness is, I suppose, 
that the mythicist (i.e., the upholder of the theory 
that Jesus is a myth) feels that he is fighting under an 
unfair disadvantage. He has discovered, he thinks, 
an important truth which, once admitted, would 
knock the last nail into the coffin of the established 
religion. For that very reason he does not get fair 
play from professional theologians. They either 
meet him with a conspiracy of silence or, if that is 
impossible, treat him as an amateur whose lack of 
academic status (which they themselves owe in part 
to their " safe " views) robs his opinion of any value. 
Such treatment naturally makes the mythicist bel- 
licose; and as against the professional theologian 
one cannot blame him. Unfortunately some mythi- 
cists are apt to be equally bellicose against fellow 
Rationalists from whom they are separated only by 
a secondary difference, and to see the cloven hoof of 
the " apologist " in any hypothesis of an historical 
Jesus, however shadowy, problematic, and useless to 
the real apologist such a hypothesis may be. This 
is the greater pity because, as we shall see, the 


divergence between recent historicists and recent 
mythicists is not insurmountable. I do not, of course, 
wish to convey the impression that ill-temper is 
confined to one side, or that it characterizes all 
mythicists. The late Thomas Whittaker was a model 
controversialist; and the works of Paul Louis 
Couchoud are such a joy to read that their style 
alone must have made many converts. There is no 
reason why those of us who have no stake in the 
historicity of Jesus should get " short " with one 
another over an academic issue. 

This book is intended, firstly, to familiarize be- 
ginners with the main arguments on both sides. The 
works of most of the controversialists mentioned are 
available in English and can be cordially recommended 
to any who care to tackle them. But many of them 
are long and expensive. Moreover, our impressions 
are bound to be one-sided unless we read both sides 
of the question ; and few of us have time to do that. 
This is where I hope my book will be of use. In 
the interest of clarity I have begun with a survey of 
early Christian literature in so far as it bears on the 
subject under discussion. I have followed this by a 
rapid sketch of ancient and modern criticism prior 
to the development of the myth theory. Three 
chapters of the book are devoted to the myth theory 
and its critics. In this part I have tried conscientiously 
to bring out the strong points of each. 

Secondly, this book is intended as an olive-branch. 
It is useless to pretend that I have not an opinion of 
my own. Accordingly in a final chapter I have 
temerariously attempted to mediate between the 
" fell, incensed points of mighty opposites." I 
think that the mythicist and the historicist have each 


got hold of an important half-truth, and are usually 
too blinded by the light of that half-truth to do justice 
to each other's arguments. In synthesis lies recon- 
ciliation. I am well aware that, of all the sayings in 
the Gospels, that which promises a blessing to the 
peacemakers is the most ill-accredited by experience, 
and that I may after all succeed in pleasing nobody. 
But the effort seems to me worth making; and if it 
does no more than suggest a line for others to follow 
up, it will have been justified. 

In conclusion, it may be as well to mention that I 
am not related in any way to the late J. M. Robertson. 
But I have derived both pleasure and profit from 
reading the works of that notable pioneer. If I 
have had to check his conclusions by those of others 
and to strike a balance between them, that in no way 
diminishes my debt. This book will have fulfilled 
its main function if it impels its readers to make the 
first-hand acquaintance of the scholars and thinkers 
whose views it attempts to summarize. 




The Gospels. Acts of the Apostles. The 
Epistles. Apocalypse of John. Apocryphal 
Gospels. Other Early Christian Writings. 


Thallus. Josephus. Pliny. Tacitus. Sueto- 
nius. Jewish Reaction to Christianity. Celsus. 

Reimarus. Strauss. The Tubingen School. 
Renan. Later Criticism. 

Volney and Dupuis. Bruno Bauer. J. M. 
Robertson. Whittaker. W. B. Smith. Drews. 



Couchoud. Rylands. Dujardin. 

Some Mistakes. Conybeare. Klausner. 
Eisler. Goguel. Howell Smith. 

The Mythical Jesus. The Historical Jesus. 
Fusion of Opposites. 

INDEX 108 




THE tradition of the Christian Church concerning 
Jesus is based on the books of the New Testament, 
and more particularly on the four Gospels. An 
inquiry into the historicity of Jesus must therefore 
begin with a summary and analysis of the evidence 
contained in the New Testament. As the dates of 
the New Testament books are a matter of controversy, 
let us take them in the order in which they stand in 
oijr Bibles. 

The Gospels. These four documents were in circu- 
lation in the Christian churches at latest by the 
second half of the second century A.D. Two of them 
at least are mentioned in the first half. How much 
earlier they may be is disputed. The four Gospels 
are traditionally attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, 
and John. The actual titles are ambiguous. Most 
Greek books denote the author's name by a plain 
genitive, e.g. the Iliad of Homer, the Republic of 
Plato. The Gospels, on the other hand, use the 
preposition kata (" according to Matthew," etc.), as 
if to avoid ascribing the actual documents before us 
to the traditional authors. With one exception (to 
be noted later) the Gospels contain no internal 
evidence of authorship. The traditional titles are 
used here for the sake of brevity only. 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar in lan- 
guage and structure that they are known as the 
Synoptic Gospels (Greek synopsis, "a common 
view "). Their evidence will be taken together. 

The Synoptic Gospels are based on a common 
tradition, the nature of which can be ascertained 
simply by marking those passages which occur in all 
three. According to this tradition, shortly before 
the appearance of Jesus, an ascetic preacher, John the 
B 1 


Baptist, foretells the coming of a mighty one. Jesus 
comes, is baptized by John, and is declared by a 
voice from heaven to be the beloved Son of God. 
He retires to the wilderness for forty days and is 
tempted by the devil. He then appears in Galilee 
teaching in the synagogues and working miracles of 
healing, many of which are narrated in detail. He 
stills a storm on the lake of Galilee and causes demons 
to pass from a possessed man into a herd of swine. 
He angers the scribes and Pharisees by claiming, as 
" Son of Man," to forgive sins, associating with 
tax-gatherers and sinners, and setting aside the law of 
sabbath observance. He sends out twelve apostles on 
a healing and preaching mission. His enemies attri- 
bute his cures to demonic agency and are met by the 
query how Satan can cast out Satan, and by a declara- 
tion that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unpar- 
donable. He refuses to work a miracle to order. 
Told that his mother and brothers are seeking him, 
he replies that his disciples are his family. His 
teaching takes the form of parables, which he interprets 
privately to his disciples, but not to others. Herod 
Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, hears of his reputation 
and wonders if John the Baptist has risen from the 
dead. Jesus feeds five thousand people on a few 
loaves and fishes. He asks his disciples whom they 
think him to be. Peter answers that Jesus is the 
Christ (or Messiah the deliverer and king expected 
by Jewish patriots). Jesus charges his disciples to 
tell no one of this, and foretells that he will be rejected 
and killed, but will rise again in three days. He adds 
that some of those standing there will not die till 
they see the Messianic kingdom. Soon afterwards 
Jesus is seen by three disciples on a mountain, in 
shining raiment, talking with Moses and Elijah; 
and another voice from heaven proclaims him to be 
the Son of God. Later he again foretells his re- 
jection. His disciples asking who of them will be 
the greatest, he takes a child and tells them that they 
will be judged by their behaviour to such reinforcing 


this later by saying that of such is the kingdom of 
God. A rich man asking for instruction is told to 
sell all that he has and give to the poor; and his 
refusal occasions the saying of Jesus about the camel 
and the needle's eye. Those who leave all and follow 
him are promised rewards both in this world and in 
the world to come. Jesus for a third time foretells 
his death and resurrection. Arriving near Jerusalem, 
he enters the city on an ass, is acclaimed as the coming 
king, and expels the traders from the temple. Various 
disputes with priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees, 
follow. To his disciples Jesus foretells the destruction 
of the temple and the return of the Son of Man before 
a generation has passed away. The priests decide to 
put Jesus to death. Judas, one of the twelve, under- 
takes to betray him for money. Jesus keeps the 
feast of the Passover with the twelve, tells them that 
one of them will betray him, and institutes the com- 
munion or eucharist. The same night he is arrested 
on the Mount of Olives. Brought before the 
Sanhedrin and asked if he is the Messiah, he answers 
that he is. Peter meanwhile thrice denies that he 
knows him. The Sanhedrin bring Jesus before 
Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judaea. Asked by 
Pilate whether he is king of the Jews, Jesus says that 
he is. Pilate, however, proposes to release him, but 
is overborne by the cries of the Jews and sentences 
him to crucifixion. He is crucified between two 
malefactors, a mock inscription on the cross proclaim- 
ing him king of the Jews. There is darkness over the 
land for three hours ; and the veil of the temple is 
rent asunder. Joseph of Arimathaea asks Pilate for 
the body of Jesus and lays 'it in a rock tomb. The 
next day but one certain women visit the tomb at 
dawn and are told by an angel that Jesus is risen. 
Here the common tradition breaks off: the original 
ending of Mark is lost ; and Matthew and Luke give 
completely different accounts of the sequel. 

This common or " triple " tradition is reproduced 
in all three Synoptic Gospels in nearly identical 


language, though with variations in the order of 
events. The order here given is that of Matthew. 
The prediction, twice repeated, that the Messianic 
kingdom will be set up before the generation that 
knew Jesus has passed away is remarkable. 1 On the 
face of it, it suggests that this narrative took shape 
while contemporaries of Jesus were still alive. Unless 
this can be otherwise explained, it is evidence for some 
historic basis to the tradition. The deity, pre-exist- 
ence, and virgin birth of Jesus do not figure in the 
triple tradition. He is presented as a man proclaimed 
by God to be his Son, endowed with superhuman gifts 
and Messianic attributes, and miraculously raised 
from the dead, but not as himself God. 

Matthew and Mark, in addition to the matter con- 
tained in the triple tradition, record the calling of the 
first disciples by the lake of Galilee, tell us that Jesus 
was a carpenter or a carpenter's son, name his mother 
and brothers, and mention his rejection in his native 
place. They give a circumstantial account of the 
execution of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas. 
They relate the miracle of Jesus walking on the water, 
the dispute with Pharisees about ceremonial washing, 
the healing of the daughter of a Phoenician woman, a 
second feeding of the multitude to the number of four 
thousand, the dispute with Pharisees on divorce, the 
answer to the sons of Zebedee concerning their place 
in the Messianic kingdom, the curse on the barren fig- 
tree, the anointing of Jesus in the house of Simon the 
leper, the mockery by the Roman soldiers, and the cry 
of Jesus on the cross : " My God, my God, why hast 
thou forsaken me ? " These features are either absent 
from Luke or recorded by him in a very different form 
and setting. They do not differ in kind from the 
material of the triple tradition. 

Matthew and Luke have in common a mass of 
material not found in Mark and consisting chiefly of 
discourse. This material, known to critics as " Q," 

1 Matth. xvi, 28 ; xxiv, 34. Mark ix, 1 ; xiii, 30. Luke ix, 
27; xxi, 32. 


includes some utterances of John the Baptist, the 
detailed story of the temptation, parts of the Sermon 
on the Mount, the healing of the centurion's servant, 
the reply to the Baptist's question : " Art thou he that 
cometh, or look we for another?" the woe pro- 
nounced on Galilean cities, an invective against the 
Pharisees, a lament for Jerusalem, and some miscel- 
laneous sayings and parables. The arrangement of 
this material differs considerably in Matthew and 
Luke. Unlike the triple tradition, Q represents Jesus 
as frequently addressing the multitude in plain 
language and by no means only in parables. The 
keynote of this teaching is the imminence of the Mes- 
sianic kingdom, the necessity of a strict inward as well 
as outward observance of the Jewish law, and a 
denunciation of the Pharisees for hypocritical half- 

Mark and Luke have in common a few short 
episodes not found in Matthew an exorcism at 
Capernaum, the incident of the widow's mite, and 
one or two more which do not call for closer notice 

Matthew and Luke, unlike Mark, each give a 
genealogy of Jesus and an account of his birth and 
infancy. Each traces the descent of Jesus through 
Joseph back to David; but the intermediate names 
differ in the two Gospels. Nor are the stories intern- 
ally consistent. Each records the virgin birth of 
Jesus, thereby rendering the genealogy pointless ; but 
the particulars in the two birth stories are different, 
and neither writer seems to know the story told by the 
other. Luke, in spite of the passage about the virgin 
birth, later again and again refers to Joseph as the 
" father," and to Joseph and Mary as the " parents " 
of Jesus. 1 

Matthew and Luke each contain further blocks of 

narrative and discourse peculiar to themselves. The 

discourses peculiar to Matthew include parts of the 

Sermon on the Mount, parts of the invective against 

1 Luke ii, 27, 33, 41, 43, 48. 


the Pharisees, and a good many parables, and are of 
the same general type as Q. The matter peculiar to 
Luke includes such items as the mission of the seventy 
and the parables of the good Samaritan and the prodi- 
gal son, and tend to emphasize the rejection of the 
Jews and the salvation of the Gentiles. Matthew and 
Luke give circumstantial accounts of the appearances 
of the risen Jesus; but, as already indicated, these 
differ completely in the two Gospels. 

The Fourth Gospel gives an account of the life and 
teaching of Jesus utterly different from that in the 
Synoptic Gospels. His deity and pre-existence are 
affirmed in this Gospel alone. According to the 
Fourth Gospel the divine Logos, the Word or Reason 
of God which created the world, became flesh. No 
virgin birth is mentioned ; but John the Baptist sees 
the Spirit l descending on Jesus and proclaims him to 
be the Son of God. Various disciples join Jesus on 
the strength of this testimony; and thenceforth he 
acts and speaks like a God. He puts his mother in her 
place with the words : " Woman, what have I to do 
with thee?" He knows everything beforehand, an- 
nounces that he has come down from heaven in order 
that those who believe in him may have eternal life, 
and upbraids the Jews as children of the devil because 
they regard his claim to godhead as blasphemous. 
He calls himself the bread of life, the light of the world, 
the resurrection and the life, the true vine. The dis- 
courses in the Fourth Gospel are all of this theological, 
self-glorificatory type, and have nothing in common 
with the ethical injunctions in the Synoptists. In the 
Fourth Gospel Jesus submits to arrest and death of 
his own choice and rises again by his own power. He 
then breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples, and 
the story ends. 

The Fourth Gospel, unlike the other three, claims 
to embody the evidence of an eyewitness an unnamed 

1 Pneuma, the Greek word translated '* spirit," means 
literally " breath " or " wind." The " Spirit " (pneuma } and 
" Word " (logos) of God are, in the Bible, synonymous. 


" disciple whom Jesus loved," traditionally identified 
on insufficient grounds with John the son of Zebedee. 
In xxi, 24, we are told that the beloved disciple is the 
author of the Gospel. Chapter xxi, however, is 
generally held to be by a different and later hand than 
the rest of the Gospel. Nowhere else is the beloved 
disciple said to be the writer. 

Acts of the Apostles. This work is a continuation 
of Luke. It opens with the ascent of the risen Jesus 
into heaven, and proceeds to relate the history of the 
early Church down to the arrival of Paul at Rome 
about A.D. 60. The Jesus of the Acts is the Jesus of 
the Synoptic tradition " a man approved of God by 
mighty works and wonders and signs," l miraculously 
raised from the dead and thereby proved to be the 
Christ or Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. He 
is the Servant and Son of God, but nowhere in the 
Acts is he himself called God. The virgin birth is 
not referred to. 

The Epistles. Thirteen reputed epistles of Paul, not 
all of which can be considered authentic, are included 
in the New Testament. In the form in which they 
have come down to us these epistles state that Jesus 
was " born of the seed of David according to the 
flesh," 2 that he had brothers, 3 that he instituted the 
eucharist, 4 was killed by the Jews, 5 was buried, rose 
again the third day, and appeared to a large number 
of persons, including Paul himself. 6 These passages, 
however, are in strong contrast to the general tone of 
the epistles. For otherwise Paul evinces no interest 
whatever in the life and teaching of Jesus. We read 
in Galatians that Paul, after his conversion, made no 
attempt to get into touch with the immediate disciples 
of Jesus, and let three years pass before he visited 
Peter. In this and other epistles Paul is said to have 
derived his gospel (including even the particulars of 
the institution of the eucharist) from no human in- 

1 Acts ii, 22. 2 Rom. i, 3. 

8 1 Cor. ix, 5 ; Gal. i, 19. * 1 Cor. xi, 23-25. 

5 1 Thess. ii, 14-15. 1 Cor. xv, 3-8. 


fprraant, but from Jesus himself by personal revela- 
tion. The Jesus of the Pauline Epistles, like the Jesus 
of the Fourth Gospel, is a divine being, " through 
whom are all things, and we through him," l who was 
crucified and rose again for the salvation of believers. 
The contrast between the exalted status which Paul 
attributes to Jesus and his utter indifference to the 
teaching credited to Jesus in the Gospels is one of the 
puzzles of the New Testament and, as we shall see, 
one of the main arguments against the historicity of 
the Gospels and against the integrity of the epistles 

The Epistle to the Hebrews, though attributed to 
Paul in our Bibles, is in fact anonymous. It belongs 
to a time when the Gospel story had begun to take 
shape. In it, as in the Pauline Epistles, Jesus is a 
divine being, " upholding all things by the word of 
his power," 2 who died for the sins of the human race 
and is now " a high priest for ever after the order of 
Melchizedek." 3 The author refers to the temptation 
and the agony and says that Jesus was of the tribe of 
Judah. 4 But these references are very meagre; and 
the teaching of Jesus is not quoted at all. 

Of the Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude 
probably none are authentic. James mentions Jesus 
only twice; 1 Peter refers to his sufferings in terms 
which suggest acquaintance with some form of Gospel 
story. Neither author writes as if he had any per- 
sonal recollection of him. 2 Peter shows unmistake- 
able acquaintance with the Gospels; but this is the 
latest, and most certainly spurious, book of the New 
Testament. The Johannine Epistles are similar in 
style and outlook to the Fourth Gospel and are 
probably by the same author. Jude is too short, too 
late, and too obscure to have much evidential value. 

Apocalypse of John. Jesus in the Apocalypse is a 
wholly superhuman being. The hieratic figure of 
chapter i is depicted in imagery drawn from Daniel 

1 1 Cor. viii, 6. 2 Heb. i, 3. 

Heb. vi, 20. * Heb. ii, 18; v, 7-8; vii, 14. 


and Ezekiel. The Lamb who symbolizes Jesus in 
later chapters is described as having been " slain from 
the foundation of the world." l The crucifixion is 
mentioned only once in the whole book. There is no 
other reference to the Gospel story. This does not 
prove that no Gospel existed in A.D. 93-96, when the 
Apocalypse was written ; but it does suggest that no 
Gospel yet circulated in the churches of Asia Minor 
to which the Apocalypse was addressed. 

Apocryphal Gospels. Besides our canonical Gos- 
pels there existed in the second century many which 
the Church eventually rejected as heretical or other- 
wise unedifying. They are of interest as evidence of 
the different forms of the Gospel story which competed 
for acceptance in the early Church. The Gospel 
According to the Hebrews, an Aramaic work, had no 
narrative of the birth or infancy of Jesus and was used 
by the Nazarenes or Ebionites of Syria, who denied 
his deity and regarded him merely as the greatest of 
the prophets. Only fragments of this Gospel have 
been preserved. The Book of James, on the other 
hand, has come down to us complete. It expands the 
infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, gives the 
life-story of Mary, and, though uncanonical, has left 
its mark on Catholic legend. The Gospel of Peter, 
of which a fragment has been recovered, gives a 
curious account of the crucifixion and resurrection, in 
which Jesus feels no pain and rises from the dead 
overtopping the heavens in stature. The manufacture 
of apocryphal Gospels continued down to the fourth 
or fifth century. 

Other Early Christian Writings. Possibly the oldest 
Christian document outside the New Testament is the 
Epistle of the Church of Rome to the Church of 
Corinth, commonly known as the First Epistle of 
Clement, though the work itself nowhere names 
Clement as the author. The traditional date, A.D. 96, 
is supported by internal evidence and by most scholars. 
Like Paul and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews 
1 Rev. xiii, 8. 


(which he quotes) the writer regards Jesus as a divine 
being, " the sceptre of the majesty of God," who died 
for the salvation of the world and was raised from the 
dead. At the same time he regards him as descended 
from Jacob " according to the flesh," and therefore as 
a human being. The writer quotes from some form 
of Gospel, but not from our existing Gospel text. 

The so-called Epistle of Barnabas is difficult to date 
exactly ; it may have been written within a few years 
of the foregoing, or may be as late as 120-130. Here, 
too, Jesus is the pre-existent Son of God, " Lord of 
the whole world," who became incarnate, was cruci- 
fied by men, and rose from the dead for man's 
redemption. Both these writings are in the Pauline 

Very different is the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 
in its present form a Christian amplification of a 
Jewish ethical tract of uncertain date. The Christian 
portions are assigned to various dates between A.D. 80 
and 160. They include a eucharistic formula so dif- 
ferent from any based on the New Testament that it is 
worth giving in full : 

" Now concerning the eucharist, thus give 
thanks: first concerning the cup: We thank 
thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David thy 
servant, which thou hast made known to us 
through Jesus thy servant; to thee be the glory 
for ever. And concerning the broken bread : We 
thank thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge 
which thou hast made known to us through Jesus 
thy servant; to thee be the glory for ever. Just 
as this broken bread was scattered over the hills 
and having been gathered together became one, 
so let thy Church be gathered together from the 
ends of the earth into thy kingdom ; for thine is 
the glory and the power through Jesus Christ 
for ever." 

It will be seen that the doctrine of the real presence 
of the body and blood of Jesus in the elements, so 


repulsive to modern taste, is here conspicuously absent. 
Jesus is the Christ, i.e. Messiah, and " servant " of 
God, but not himself God. The Teaching quotes the 
Lord's Prayer and uses some form of Gospel; but to 
judge by the eucharistic formula this cannot have been 
any of our Gospels. 1 

The seven Ignatian Epistles, if genuine, belong to 
the last years of Trajan's reign say 115-117: a 
minority of scholars put them as late as 150-175. In 
them we see the germs of a dogmatic creed. The 
deity of Jesus is repeatedly and emphatically affirmed; 
but his human existence is affirmed no less emphati- 
cally. He is " our God " and the " eternal Word " ; 
yet he " was of the race of David, of the virgin Mary ; 
was truly born, and did eat and drink; was truly 
persecuted under Pontius Pilate; was truly crucified 
and dead; . . . was also truly raised from the dead 
by his Father," and gives his flesh to be eaten in the 
eucharist. Ignatius seems to be acquainted with Mat- 
thew and with one or more apocryphal Gospels now 

The Epistle ofPolycarp is closely connected with the 
Ignatian Epistles, and its genuineness stands or falls 
with theirs. Its references to Jesus are mostly of the 
nature of quotations from New Testament books. 
We are told by Irenaeus that Polycarp had known 
John and other disciples of Jesus. It is therefore 
worth noting that the Epistle of Polycarp contains no 
mention of John and no personal information about 
Jesus whatever. If the statement of Irenaeus were 
correct, that would be a remarkable fact ; but as we 
shall see later, there is reason to think that Irenaeus 
was mistaken. 

Eusebius mentions that in the reign of Hadrian 
(117-138) a certain Quadratus wrote a defence of 
Christianity in which he claimed that some persons 
who had been healed or raised from the dead by 

1 A complete translation of the Teaching of the Twelve 
Apostles is given in an appendix to J. M. Robertson's The 
Jesus Problem. 


Jesus had survived till his own time. Most of us will 
regard this as evidence of the credulity of Quadratus 
rather than of the historicity of the Gospel miracles. 

Another apologist, Aristides, is assigned by Eusebius 
to the reign of Hadrian, but, from a Syriac translation 
of his work discovered in modern times, appears to 
have written in the next reign, that of Antoninus 
Pius (138-161). He describes Jesus in orthodox 
fashion as " the Son of God Most High " who 
" came down from heaven, and having been born of 
a Hebrew virgin, took flesh, . . . was pierced by the 
Jews, and after three days revived and went up to 
heaven." Here again we can see the Creed in the 

The so-called Second Epistle of Clement, in reality 
not an epistle but a sermon of unknown authorship, 
belongs to the same period. The author describes 
Jesus as God, who " being first spirit, then became 
flesh," and as " Prince of immortality." He quotes 
indifferently from the Synoptic and from apocryphal 

Papias of Hierapolis, another writer of this period, 
is the first to refer to any of the Gospels under the 
names of their traditional authors. His work, en- 
titled Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, survives 
only in a few quotations. In one of these, preserved 
by Eusebius, Papias tells us that, preferring oral 
tradition to information from books, he took pains 
to find out from those who had known them " what 
Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew, 
or any other of the Lord's disciples had said, 
and what Aristion and John the Elder, the Lord's 
disciples, were saying." x He quotes from " the 
elder" (probably John the Elder above-named) a 
statement that Mark was the interpreter of Peter and 
wrote down accurately, but not in order, what he 

1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, 39. The repetition of 
" the Lord's disciples " after " John the Elder " may be a 
corruption or interpolation. The change of tense shows that 
the two last-mentioned authorities belonged to a later generation. 


remembered of Peter's account of the sayings and 
doings of Jesus. Papias also quotes from either this 
or another authority a statement that Matthew " col- 
lected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each 
interpreted them as best he could." His object is 
evidently to disparage the Gospels of Mark and 
Matthew, the one as badly arranged, the other as 
faultily translated, and to exalt in comparison the 
oral traditions which he himself had collected. 

These extracts from Papias prove two things: 
firstly, that there lived in the early part of the second 
century persons who claimed to have known im- 
mediate disciples of Jesus and to transmit " oracles " 
derived from them; and secondly, that the Gospels 
(and a fortiori other books of the New Testament) 
were not yet regarded in the Church as inspired scrip- 
ture. Papias felt free to criticize the Gospels of 
Matthew and Mark, and believed that he had access 
to more trustworthy oral accounts of the teaching of 
Jesus. The absence of any reference to the third and 
fourth Gospels shows that, if he knew them, he did 
not treat them as authoritative ; for if he had done so 
Eusebius would not have failed to report it. 

It does not follow of course that Papias's account 
of the composition of Mark and Matthew is correct. 
Mark is named in the New Testament only once as a 
companion of Peter, but repeatedly as a companion of 
Paul. It is unlikely that a devoted follower of Peter 
would have penned a work which repeatedly repre- 
sents him and his fellow-disciples as dolts and cowards. 
Our Gospel of Matthew, again, is not a translation 
from Hebrew or Aramaic, though it may incorporate 
matter which is. 

Still less does it follow that Papias's confidence in 
oral tradition was justified. We know from Irenaeus 
that one of the " oracles of the Lord " which Papias 
gleaned from this source was a prophecy that in days 
to come vineyards would have ten thousand shoots, 
each shoot ten thousand branches, each branch ten 
thousand sprigs, each sprig ten thousand clusters, each 


cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape would 
yield twenty-five measures of wine; that wheat, 
pasture, and other fruits of the earth would multiply 
in the same proportion ; and that all animals would 
live together in peace. Now this vision of the re- 
generation of niggard nature differs only in detail 
from that in the Apocalypse of Baruch, a Jewish work 
written round about A.D. 70. We have here in fact 
one of many anonymous prophecies of a good time 
coming which circulated in the half-starved under- 
world of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., 
and which a Jew could father on Baruch or a Christian 
on Jesus with equal assurance. If what we have of 
Papias is evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, 
it certainly makes it no easier to determine what he 
really taught. 

Such Utopian prophecies caused the writings of 
Papias to fall out of fashion when Christianity became 
the religion of the Empire. Eusebius calls him " a 
man of very little intelligence." He had too much 
first-century Messianism about him to be viewed with 
favour at the courts of Constantine and his successors. 
His book was still extant at Constantinople in the 
ninth century; but copyists ceased to transcribe it, 
and to-day all we know of this enfant terrible of the 
early Church could be set down on a sheet of 

The Shepherd of Hermas, one of the few early 
Christian writings which have real literary merit, is 
said by the author of the Muratori Canon (180-200) 
to have been written about 140-155 by a brother of 
Pius, bishop of Rome. This is nearly contemporary 
testimony and can be accepted with more confidence 
than most statements about the authorship of early 
Christian literature. The book is a series of visions 
and parables intended to inculcate asceticism and 
steadfastness under persecution. To the author of 
the Shepherd the founder of Christianity is a man in 
whom the Spirit of God dwelt (as he may also dwell 
in others) and who by " labouring much and enduring 


many toils " proved himself worthy to become the 
Son of God and to be the medium through which 
God's new law is communicated to men. Nothing is 
said of the crucifixion or resurrection. The author 
never refers to Old or New Testament books, does not 
use the name " Jesus " or " Christ " at all, and rather 
confusingly applies the phrase " Son of God " some- 
times to the Holy Spirit, sometimes to the man in 
whom the Spirit dwelt, and sometimes to the law given 
to the world through him. That such a work should 
have been regarded by many as an inspired writing, 
and included in at least one MS. of the New Testa- 
ment, indicates a greater freedom of thought in the 
early Church than might have been suspected.- 

Justin, who wrote his Apology about 150, is more 
orthodox. For him Jesus is " the very Logos himself, 
who took a form and became man, . . . the Son and 
the apostle of God the Father, and ruler of all things." 
At the same time Jesus is an historical figure who was 
" crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judaea 
in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, . . . died and rose 
again and ascended into heaven." Justin defends the 
union of these contradictory conceptions by appealing 
to the stories of pagan gods and to the practice of 
deifying emperors. The whole human race are par- 
takers of Logos (reason), and those who live according 
to it are Christians, even if they are called atheists. 
Such were Socrates and Heraclitus among Greek 
philosophers; such were the worthies of the Old 
Testament who testified against false gods. Justin 
cites the Synoptic Gospels under the inexact title of 
" memoirs of the apostles," but does not refer to the 
Fourth Gospel, though its theology agrees with his 
own. Evidently it was not yet accepted as of apostolic 

The anonymous tract known as the Epistle to 
Diognetus is not much later than Justin and was once 
wrongly included among his works ; but it lacks his 
tolerant attitude to pagan philosophy. The author 
treats Christ as a divine being sent to redeem mankind 


from the evil world. The work is in the Pauline 
tradition and contains no reference to the Gospel 

The last Christian writer who claims to preserve any 
living tradition of Jesus is Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons 
about 180 and author of a work Against Heresies. 
Irenaeus tells us that in his boyhood he knew Polycarp, 
who had known " John, the Lord's disciple." John, 
according to Irenaeus, lived until the reign of Trajan 
(98-117) and wrote the Fourth Gospel at Ephesus 
towards the end of his life. This supposed chain 
of oral tradition (Jesus John Polycarp Irenaeus) 
bridging the first two centuries is one of the priceless 
assets of orthodoxy and is made the most of by de- 
fenders of the faith. 

But the statements of Irenaeus raise peculiar diffi- 
culties. We have already seen that the Epistle of 
Polycarp neither mentions John nor displays any 
knowledge of Jesus independent of the New Testament 
a remarkable fact, whether the epistle is genuine 
or not ; for a forger, if he had known of such a chain 
of tradition, would surely have referred to it to lend 
authority to his work. Moreover Irenaeus, in quoting 
Papias, calls him a " hearer of John and companion 
of Polycarp." Now we know that Papias was not a 
hearer of John. He tells us himself, in a passage 
already quoted, that he had known none of the 
apostles, but had to discover their teaching from those 
who had known them. Irenaeus, then, was wrong 
about Papias, and he may well have been wrong about 
Polycarp. Most scholars now hold that the teacher 
of Polycarp was not John the apostle but a later John, 
the " elder " of that name mentioned by Papias, and 
that Irenaeus, who had known Polycarp only in boy- 
hood, confused the two. This accounts for the 
silence of the Epistle of Polycarp about John and 
destroys the claim of Irenaeus to be regarded as a 
preserver of apostolic tradition. With it goes, inci- 
dentally, the only important evidence for the apostolic 
origin of the Fourth Gospel. 


Irenaeus uses the authority of Polycarp to combat 
the Gnostic views of Marcion, Valentinus, and others 
on the subject of Jesus. He holds that Jesus lived 
nearly to the age of fifty, citing John viii, 57, in support 
of this opinion; and he attributes to him, on the 
authority of Papias, the prophecy of plenty already 
mentioned. Otherwise his views are based on the 
canonical Gospels. He is the earliest extant author who 
cites them all by name; and as against the Ebionites, 
Marcionites, and Valentinians, who recognized only 
one Gospel, he adduces rather puerile reasons why 
there should be four and no more. With him, in fact, 
Catholic Christianity hardens into orthodoxy. 

Thus we find running through early Christianity to 
the time of Irenaeus two threads of tradition about 
Jesus. One, starting in the Pauline and Johannine 
writings, tells us of a God existent from the beginning 
of things who died and rose again for the salvation of 
mankind. The other, starting in the earliest strata of 
the Synoptic Gospels and notably in Q, tells us not of 
a God but of a man whom his followers regarded as a 
prophet of God. Most of the documents before us 
contain both elements in varying proportions. Ortho- 
dox Christianity fuses the two into one by affirming, 
in the words of the Athanasian Creed, that " our Lord 
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man ; God, 
of the substance of the Father, begotten before the 
worlds, and man, of the substance of his mother, born 
in the world; perfect God, and perfect man of a 
reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; equal to 
the Father, as touching his Godhead, and inferior 
to the Father, as touching his manhood." 

If we could regard the documents as authoritative 
they would point to some such formula. But we 
cannot regard the documents as authoritative. They 
contradict one another; and it is impossible for a 
scientifically trained brain to accept contradictory 
evidence. How the two traditions, that of the God 
and that of the man, arose and how they came to be 
fused into one is a problem which history has to solve. 



WHEN we ask what the ancient world had to say to 
Christianity it is surprising how little material we have 
on which to base an answer. To judge by appear- 
ances the contemporary pagan comment on the Gospel 
story was a silence more eloquent than words. 

Gibbon states the case ironically, but correctly, in 
the famous fifteenth chapter of his Decline and Fall 
of the Roman Empire. 

" How shall we excuse the supine inattention of 
the Pagan and philosophic world to those evi- 
dences which were represented by the hand of 
Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their 
senses ? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, 
and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they 
preached was confirmed by innumerable prodi- 
gies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick 
were healed, the dead were raised, daemons 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 the ordinary occu- 
pations 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 Roman empire, was involved in a 
preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this 
miraculous event, which ought to have excited the 
wonder, tjje curiosity, and the devotion of man- 
kind, passed without notice in an age of science 
and history. It happened during the lifetime of 
Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have ex- 
perienced 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." 

Thallus. The irony of Gibbon would lose part of 
its edge if a conjecture put forward in recent years by 
Eisler and Goguel were well founded. 1 They point 
out that the ninth-century Byzantine chronicler, 
George Syncellus, quotes from a third-century Chris- 
tian historian, Julius Africanus, a passage in which, 
referring to the darkness at the crucifixion, he says: 
" Thallus in the third book of his history calls this 
darkness an eclipse of the sun, but in my opinion he 
is wrong." The works of Thallus and Africanus are 
lost ; and we do not know who Thallus was or when 
he wrote. He cannot be later than the second century, 
since he is referred to by Minucius Felix, who wrote 
late in that century or early in the third. According 
to the Chronicle of Eusebius, Thallus wrote a history 
in three books extending from the fall of Troy to the 
167th Olympiad (112 B.C.). Eisler contends that, 
sinpe Thallus is said to have referred to the darkness 
at the crucifixion, the date in Eusebius is corrupt and 
should be corrected to the 207th Olympiad (A.D. 49). 
This is possible, but not necessary ; for Thallus may 
have mentioned the matter in a digression even if it 
did not fall within his period. Both Eisler and 
Goguel, following earlier authorities, identify Thallus 
with a Samaritan freedman of Tiberius, stated by 
Josephus, the Jewish historian, to have lent money to 
Herod Agrippa in A.D. 35. If this freedman were 
really Thallus the historian, we should have to admit, 
not indeed that the darkness at the crucifixion oc- 

1 Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, pp. 297-299. 
Goguel, Life of Jesus, pp. 91-93, 185, 540. 


curred, but that the story was current within a few 
years of the traditional date and that a contemporary 
historian thought it worth while to venture a natural 
explanation. This would be important evidence for 
the historicity of Jesus. 

But the conclusion hangs on a chain of guesswork. 
The actual passage of Josephus, as we have it, does 
not even name the freedman, but calls him " another 
Samaritan." 1 The text is corrupt, and modern 
editors agree in amending allos (" another ") to 
Thallos ; but the name rests on inference. Even if we 
accept it, the identification with Thallus the historian 
is pure conjecture. Josephus mentions the freedman 
only as a financier; and financiers do not usually 
shine as men of letters. The date of the historian 
Thallus remains unknown; and until we know that 
he wrote in the first and not in the second century we 
can draw no conclusions from his comment on the 
Gospel story. 

Josephus. The only extant first-century historian 
who deals with the period covered by the New Testa- 
ment is Josephus. His Jewish War, written first in 
Aramaic and then translated into Greek, deals with 
Jewish history from 170 B.C. to A.D. 73; his Jewish 
Antiquities, written later in Greek, extends from the 
creation of the world to A.D. 66. The inquirer who 
goes to either book for light on Christian origins %rill 
be sadly disappointed. The War is silent on the 
subject. The Antiquities is worse than silent ; for in 
the part dealing with the procuratorship of Pilate we 
find this unblushing interpolation: 

" Now about this time there arose Jesus, a wise 
man, if indeed he may be called a man. For he 
was a doer of marvellous acts, a teacher of such 
men as receive the truth with delight. And he 
won over to himself many Jews and many also of 
the Greek nation. He was the Christ. And 
when on the indictment of the principal men 

1 Josephus, Antiquities, xviii, 6, 4. 


among us Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, 
those who before had loved him did not cease to 
do so. For he appeared to them on the third day 
alive again, the divinely inspired prophets having 
foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful 
things concerning him. And until now the race 
of Christians, so named from him, is not 
extinct." l 

The forgery would not deceive a schoolboy. The 
writer of this passage is a Christian, not a Jew. 
Origen, who wrote in the third century, refers to 
Josephus as " not believing in Jesus as the Christ " ; 
the passage, therefore, was not in his copy. We first 
meet it in the fourth century in a quotation by 
Eusebius, who gives it substantially as we have it. 

It does not of course follow that Josephus gave no 
account of Jesus. We know that in the fourth and 
fifth centuries, when Christianity had become the 
religion of the Empire, the authorities ruthlessly 
hunted down and burnt writings hostile to the new 
religion. Any account of Jesus, therefore, which 
Josephus may have given, if unfavourable to Chris- 
tianity, would have been censored at that time. We 
shall return to this subject later. Here we need only 
note that the extant text of Josephus is unhelpful. 

Pliny. From 111 to 113 the younger Pliny was 
governor of Bithynia, in Asia Minor. His correspond- 
ence with the emperor Trajan includes a report on 
proceedings against the Christians. He describes the 
Christians as in the habit of meeting on a fixed day 
before dawn and singing a hymn to Christ as to a god, 
after which they separate and meet again later for a 
common meal. The letter, though often cited in con- 
troversy, neither proves nor disproves the historicity 
of Jesus. It shows that the Christians of Biffl^nia 
believed him to be God ; but it does not tell us whether 
Pliny regarded him as a man or a myth. 

Tacitus. The Annals of Tacitus, written about 

1 Josephus, Antiquities, xviii, 3, 3. 


115-120, in their original form related the history of 
the Roman Empire from A.D. 14 to 68 ; but the por- 
tions covering the periods 29-31, 37-47, and 66-68 
are now missing. Dealing with the persecution of 
the Christians by Nero in 64, Tacitus says : 

" Christ, from whom the name had its origin, 
suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of 
Tiberius at the hands of the procurator Pontius 
Pilate ; and a most mischievous superstition, thus 
checked for the moment, again broke out not only 
in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in 
Rome, where all things hideous and shameful 
from every part of the world find their centre and 
become popular." l 

An attempt was made in the last century to prove 
the whole Annals a forgery of the Renaissance ; and 
some exponents of the myth theory still refer to them 
as suspect. To-day, however, no classical expert 
denies that the Annals are genuine. Apart from other 
considerations (coins and inscriptions discovered 
since the Renaissance, which confirm the Annals in 
detail) it is hard to see why a forger should have left 
so much of the record blank especially the years 
29-31, so interesting from a Christian or anti-Christian 
point of view. Further, the style of Tacitus is highly 
individual; and for any but the most accomplished 
Latinist to imitate it would be as difficult as for a 
literary adventurer to have forged Carlyle's French 
Revolution. Some critics who accept the main body 
of the Annals reject the section about the Neronian 
persecution, but they^ are few. Whether the section, 
if genuine, establishes'the historicity of Jesus is another 
question, to which we shall return later. 

Smtonius. About 120 Suetonius, a contemporary 
of Puny and Tacitus and secretary to the emperor 
Hadrian, wrote the Lives of the Caesars from Julius to 
Domitian. He tells us that the emperor Claudius 
expelled the Jews from Rome because they " con- 
1 Tacitus, Annals, xv, 44. 


stantly made disturbances at the instigation of 
Chrestus." l The expulsion of the Jews by Claudius 
is mentioned in Acts xviii, 2, and seems to have 
occurred about A.D. 49. Suetonius also mentions 
Nero's punishment of the Christians, " a class of men 
given to a new and mischievous superstition." 2 Both 
statements are very curt; and we have no means of 
knowing whether Suetonius connected the Chrestus of 
the one passage with the Christians of the other. In 
the Greek-speaking world the unfamiliar Christos 
(" anointed ") would easily be altered to Chrestos 
(" good "). Its derivative Christiani was in fact often 
written Chrestiani. Probably the Jewish riots under 
Claudius were led by an agitator who set up as Messiah 
(Christos), and Suetonius, who was not a very careful 
inquirer, assumed that the Christians of Nero's 
reign belonged to the same gang. 

Jewish Reaction to Christianity. It would obviously 
be unfair to judge the Jewish attitude to Christianity 
by the utterances attributed to Jews in the New Testa- 
ment. Generally speaking, the scribes and Pharisees 
of the Gospels, and especially of the Fourth Gospel, 
are mere foils to set off the central figure. Here and 
there, however, in the New Testament we find re- 
corded a Jewish objection which the writers may have 
had reason to antedate, but hardly to invent. The 
Jews ascribe the miracles of Jesus to demonic agency ; 
they refuse in any case to accept a crucified Messiah ; 
they meet the resurrection story by retorting that the 
disciples stole the body. They do not deny the Gospel 
story in toto 9 but they explain its details in a contrary 
sense to the Christians. 

Another authority for Jewish counter-propaganda 
is the Talmud. After the destruction of Jerusalem, 
when the fortunes of Jewry were at their lowest ebb, 
the rabbis set themselves the task of keeping their 
people together, and at the same time out of further 
mischief, by fixing the canon of the Old Testament 
and supplementing it by rules of conduct attributed to 
1 Suetonius, Claudius, xxv, 4. * Ibid., Nero, xvi, 2. 


famous Jewish teachers. The collection so made, the 
Mishnah (" oral teaching "), was completed between 
90 and 220, a period overlapping that of the growth 
and completion of the New Testament. A supple- 
mentary collection, the Gemara (" completion "), 
grew up between 220 and 500, the two together form- 
ing the Talmud (" learning " or " instruction "). 

The Mishnah never refers to Jesus or to Christianity. 
The Gemara contains many references to both. The 
Jesus or Jehoshua ben-Pandira (or ben-Stada) of the 
Gemara is a shady character who in the reign of 
Alexander Jannaeus (103-78 B.C.) different versions 
give different dates learns magic in Egypt, leads the 
people astray, and is stoned to death and hanged at 
Lydda. He is also referred to as ha-Nozri (the 

" On the eve of the Passover Jesus the Nazarene 
was hung. During forty days a herald went 
before him crying aloud : * He ought to be stoned 
because he practised magic, has led Israel astray 
and caused them to rise in rebellion. Let him 
who has something to say in his defence come 
forward and declare it.' But no one came for- 
ward, and he was hung on the eve of the 

In view of the late date at which the Gemara was 
compiled, little value can be attached to this story. 
In its main features it is a Jewish attempt to give an 
anti-Christian twist to the Gospel tradition. The 
character of Jesus is blackened, his miracles are ex- 
plained by magic, his trial is made out to have been 
regular and fair, and so forth. But we have inde- 
pendent evidence, as we shall see, that the name 
Pandira or Panthera goes back to the second century ; 
and other details may be as old. 

Another passage in the Gemara attributes to Rabbi 
Eliezer ben-Hyrcanus, who flourished about 70-130, 
the following statement : 


" I once went on the upper street of Sepphoris ; 
there I met one of the disciples of Jesus the 
Nazarene named Jacob of Kephar Sekhanjah, 
who said to me: 'In your law it is written: 
" Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore into 
the house of thy God." Is it permissible to use 
such hire to make therewith a privy for the high 
priest?' I did not know what to answer him. 
Then he said to me : * This is what Jesus the 
Nazarene taught me : " She gathered it as the 
hire of a harlot, and they shall return it to the 
hire of a harlot : it has come from dirt, and to the 
place of dirt it shall go.'* ' " x 

If the story attributed to Eliezer is authentic we have 
here evidence that he had personally met an immediate 
disciple of Jesus, and evidence therefore of the latter's 
historicity. The difficulty again is the silence of the 
Mishnah and the late date of the Gemara. But if the 
name Ben-Pandira goes back to the second century, 
so may this story. The reported saying, with its 
ribald mockery of the priesthood, may not be 
authentic, but it is unlikely to have been invented by 
orthodox Jews. 

A specimen of second-century Jewish polemic is 
preserved in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 
written some time after 135, in which Justin and 
Trypho, a Jewish rabbi -of distinction, discuss the 
respective merits of Judaism and Christianity. The 
arguments whiqh Justin puts into the mouth of 
Trypho, though fictitious, no doubt represent the 
attitude of the average rabbi of that day. Christians, 
says Trypho, are in a worse case than pagans. By 
pursuing pagan philosophy there is some possibility 
of rising to better things. 

" But to him who has deserted God and based 
his hopes on a man, what means of salvation are 

1 Cited by Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, 
p. 593, and by Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 37-38. There 
are slight textual differences, but they do not affect the sense. 


left? . . . The Messiah, if he is born and exists 
anywhere, is unknown to others and even to him- 
self and has no power until Elijah comes and 
anoints him and makes him manifest to all. 
You have accepted an idle report and fashioned 
a sort of Messiah for yourselves, and for his sake 
inconsiderately throw away your lives. . . . You 
put your trust in a mere crucified man, neglect 
God's commandments, and still hope to obtain 
his blessing. . . . This your so-called Messiah 
was inglorious and dishonoured to such a degree 
as to have fallen under the last curse which is re- 
corded in the law of God ; for he was crucified." 1 

Justin meets this attack by arguments from pro- 
phecy. In the course of the discussion he admits that 
some Christians regard Jesus as a man born of human 
parents. Trypho replies that such Christians are 
more rational than those who, like Justin, believe him 
to be God ; but even so he cannot admit Jesus to be 
the Messiah, since he was not anointed by Elijah. 
Justin answers that the Spirit of God which inspired 
Elijah was also in John the Baptist. The argument 
proceeds with much bandying of prophetic texts, 
and the disputants part amicably. 

The extract given above is sometimes cited by advo- 
cates of the myth theory as evidence that Trypho 
denied the historicity of Jesus. That, however, is 
clearly not its meaning. Trypho's case is not that 
Jesus did not live, but that he lacks the essential 
qualifications of a Messiah; not that Jesus is un- 
known, but that the real Messiah, when he comes, 
will be unknown until proclaimed by Elijah. The 
Jews for whom Trypho spoke expected Elijah, the 
Old Testament prophet who had never died but had 
ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot, to return at 
last and proclaim the future Messiah. They rejected 
Jesus because this condition had not been satisfied. 

So far we have some evidence that the Jews of the 

1 Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 8, 10, 32. 


second century regarded Jesus as an historical person, 
and none that they regarded him as a myth. 

Celsus. Celsus, a Platonic philosopher, published, 
about 178, a work entitled A True Word, or, as we 
might say in English, A Straight Talk to Christians. 1 
This work, like other anti-Christian writings, was des- 
troyed when Christianity became the religion of the 
Empire. Origen, however, in 248, had published a 
reply in which the arguments, and to a great extent 
the very words, of Celsus were quoted for the purpose 
of refutation. This survives; and we are thereby 
able to get a good idea of the reaction of educated 
pagans to Christianity towards the end of the second 

Celsus puts into the mouth of an imaginary Jew an 
attack on Jesus as a base-born adventurer, the son of 
a soldier Panthera, who pretended that he was virgin- 
born and, on the strength of magical powers acquired 
in Egypt, gave himself out to be God a God, for- 
sooth, who in infancy had to be smuggled away to 
Egypt to save his life! This shows that the Jewish 
story of Jesus ben-Pandira, who picked up magic in 
Egypt, was already current in the second century. 
Jesus, says the imaginary Jew, falsely pretended that a 
dove had descended on him and that a voice from 
heaven had proclaimed him to be the Son of God. 
The prophecies alleged to have foretold him refer to 
other men and other matters. He collected a follow- 
ing of riff-raff, tax-gatherers, sailors, and so forth, 
and wandered from place to place living by his wits. 
The Jew rejects the divinity of Jesus as he rejects that 
of such Greek heroes as Perseus and his like, though 
they were far more distinguished than Jesus. His 
miracles were wrought by magic : are we to think all 
magicians sons of God? The Gospels themselves 
speak of false Messiahs and false prophets showing 
signs and wonders and leading astray, if possible, even 

1 Origen, writing long after the time of Celsus, confuses him 
with an Epicurean philosopher of the same name. See Whit- 
taker, Metaphysics of Evolution, p. 214. 


the elect. Why should they be false and Jesus true? 
As to his resurrection, the only witnesses were a 
crazy woman and a handful of dreamers, wishful 
thinkers, or plain liars. Jesus should have appeared 
to his enemies, his judges, and the world in general ; 
that would have been worth while. 

Dropping the Jew and speaking now in his own 
person, Celsus dismisses the dispute as to the Messiah- 
ship of Jesus as puerile. The Christians, he says, are 
merely a sect of Jews, just as the Jews originally (he 
thinks) were merely a sect of Egyptians. The Chris- 
tians deride the Egyptian cult of animals ; but their 
own cult is no better (a reference, perhaps, to the 
Christian symbolization of Jesus as a lamb or a fish). 
They condemn the Greeks for deifying benefactors of 
mankind like Heracles and Asclepius ; yet they deify 
Jesus, an executed malefactor. To hold that a God 
or Son of God ever appeared or could appear on earth 
in mortal form is, says Celsus, a degrading supposi- 
tion; to hold that he appeared among the Jews, of 
all people in the world, is ludicrous into the bargain. 
Why do Christians, who take no account of the Greek, 
Egyptian, and other oracles, set such store by the 
Jewish prophets? Prophets of that sort are still 
found, says Celsus, in Phoenicia and Palestine; he 
has exposed some of them himself. If prophets fore- 
told that God would suffer and die, so much the worse 
for them. The thing itself is unworthy of God 
and incredible. Christians, says Celsus, are gross 
materialists : they insist on a God of flesh and blood. 
The philosopher who wishes to see God will seek him 
with the mind's eye and leave wonder-workers 
severely alone. In honouring as God the founder of 
their sect, who appeared but lately, Christians are 
not even consistent monotheists. 

With the other arguments of Celsus, able though 
they are, and with Origen's occasionally effective re- 
joinders, we are not concerned. Here we have only 
to note that Celsus, whether he speaks on his own 
behalf or impersonates an imaginary Jew, never ques- 


tions the historicity of Jesus. He treats him as an 
impostor, a false prophet, a malefactor, but not as a 
myth. It is true that Celsus also treats Heracles and 
Asclepius as real men. But they are prehistoric, 
while the date assigned to Jesus was recent. 

In handling non-Christian evidence on Christian 
origins we are handicapped by the drastic censorship 
to which all such writings were subjected after Chris- 
tianity became the State religion. We have seen that 
the extant text of Josephus, except for one plain inter- 
polation, tells us nothing of Christ or Christianity; 
that the portion of Tacitus covering the years to which 
the Gospel story relates is, by accident or design, 
missing; that the works of Celsus and other anti- 
Christian writers were systematically destroyed. We 
are left with one brief allusion in Tacitus ; with a few 
passages in the Talmud which, being written in 
Hebrew or Aramaic, escaped the hand of the censor; 
and with such anti-Christian arguments as Christian 
writers chose to quote. The evidence shows that the 
opponents of Christianity, pagan and Jewish, had 
more to say on the subject of its origins than the 
paucity of their extant writings might suggest. They 
knew the Gospel story and rejected it. The ground 
of their rejection, however, was not that the subject of 
the story had never lived, but that the Christian 
accounts of his character and career were false and 
the Christian assertion of his divinity fraudulent. 



THROUGHOUT the Middle Ages Christianity was arti- 
ficially protected from criticism. The writings of 
ancient critics had been deliberately made away with ; 
and to call in question the tradition on which the 
Catholic Church based its claims to wealth and power 
was to place oneself outside the pale of society and to 
qualify for the dungeon and the stake. That there 
was clandestine unbelief is certain ; but it was only 
when the temporal power of the Church had been 
broken by the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, 
and when the growing achievements of science had 
familiarized men's minds with the uniformity of 
nature, that it became possible systematically to apply 
rational tests to Christian dogma. 

Reimarus. The first modern writer to bring scien- 
tific criticism to bear on the life of Jesus was Hermann 
Samuel Reimarus, professor of Oriental languages at 
Hamburg from 1727 to 1768. So unsafe was it even 
in the eighteenth century to dissent openly from the 
established creed that Reimarus dared not publish 
his researches in his lifetime, and they were first 
given to the world by Lessing after his death. Adopt- 
ing the deistic standpoint of contemporary philoso- 
Shers, Reimarus rejects miracles, criticizes the Bible 
reely, and sees in Jesus a Messianic pretender who 
attracted a following by the promise of material 
rewards and met his death in a struggle with the 
established authorities. His followers, to serve their 
own ambitions, stole the body, invented the story of 
his resurrection and future return, and founded the 
Church. The conclusions of Reimarus provoked a 
storm of anger and involved Lessing in considerable 
trouble; but they were insufficiently backed by 



analysis of the documents, and, when the first fury had 
subsided, were allowed to fall into oblivion. 1 

Reimarus was succeeded by a number of writers 
who had little in common with him except a rejection 
of the miraculous and an interest in the natural ex- 
planation of Christian origins. Most of these writers 
held academic or other posts which rendered inex- 
pedient any radical attack on the established religion. 
All proceeded on the assumption that if the miraculous 
element in the Gospels were discarded or explained 
away, the residuum could be used as the basis of an 
authentic life of Jesus, and that in this way Jesus 
could be presented as a moral teacher of unique 
significance for the modern world. Critics of this 
order were known as " Rationalists " in the now 
antiquated sense of rationalizers of the Gospel story. 
The term has long since acquired a broader and 
deeper meaning. 

Strauss. The next step forward was taken in 1835, 
when David Friedrich Strauss published his Life of 
Jesus. Strauss abandoned all attempts to rationalize 
the Gospel story and treated it frankly as fiction put 
together in order to show that Jesus had fulfilled the 
Messianic predictions of the Old Testament prophets. 
Strauss held, however, to the historicity of Jesus as 
the figure round whom the stories were written. In 
the third edition of his work Strauss made consider- 
able concessions to tradition, apparently in the hope 
of obtaining a professorship of theology at Zurich. 
When he did not obtain the appointment he withdrew 
the concessions. Such facts are worth noting as ex- 
amples of the effect of economic pressure in imparting 
a conservative bias to academic opinion. 

The Tubingen School. The wholesale rejection of 
the Gospel story by Strauss forced to the front a 

1 The poet Shelley seems to have been momentarily attracted 
to the theory of Reimarus. In a footnote to Queen Mab he 
says that he has " some reason to suspect that Jesus was an 
ambitious man, who aspired to the throne of Judaea." He 
subsequently abandoned the position. 


question to which neither he nor his predecessors had 
paid sufficient attention namely, that of the date and 
authorship of the various books of the New Testament. 
The pioneer in this inqyiry, Ferdinand Christian Baur, 
professor of theology at Tiibingen from 1826 to 1860, 
put his finger on a fact of which all later critics have 
had to take account namely, that the documents 
prove the existence among the early Christians of two 
opposed parties, one (represented by the original 
apostles of Jesus) a purely Jewish sect, the other 
(represented by Paul) bent on a total breach with 
Judaism, and that the Catholic Church of history 
resulted from a fusion of the two. The dates assigned 
to the books of the New Testament by Baur and his 
followers (commonly known as the Tubingen school) 
are not now generally accepted ; most of them are too 
late, and at least one (that of the Apocalypse) too 
early. But the struggle of parties in the early Church 
is a solid fact of the first historical importance. When 
two parties struggle for the control of a movement, 
the motives for the forgery and counter-forgery of 
documents are multiplied. Moreover, the sayings 
attributed to Jesus in the Gospels include many which, 
had they been known at the time, could have been 
quoted by the Jewish or the anti- Jewish party to 
establish its position. The fact that no such sayings 
are quoted in the Pauline Epistles or in the Apocalypse 
strongly suggests that they were not known to the 
authors of those documents, and therefore adversely 
affects the credibility of the Gospels. 1 

Renan. The most famous Life of Jesus written in 
modem times is that published in 1863 by the great 
French scholar, Ernest Renan. In Renan the Catho- 
licism of his Breton ancestors is continually at logger- 
heads with the scientific scepticism of the modern 

1 Some have thought that Paul quotes Jesus in 1 Cor. vii, 
10-11, and ix, 14. But the wording differs from that in the 
Gospels. Moreover, Paul insists that he received his doctrine, 
not by tradition from the original apostles, but by personal 


world. Despite his personal loss of faith, he remained 
to the end of his life convinced of the necessity of 
supernatural religion to the mass of mankind, and 
venerated the legends in which f he had himself ceased 
to believe. Consequently, while accepting the more 
important conclusions of the Tubingen school, he 
failed to apply them with any thoroughness to the 
matter in hand. The Life of Jesus, though rich in 
local colour and in literary charm, is a rationalization 
of the Gospel story on lines which were already 
obsolete when the book was written. The miracles 
are discarded or explained away, and the obviously 
fictitious discourses of the Fourth Gospel are set 
aside ; but the rest of the narrative, on no ascertain- 
able principle, does duty as history. We are left 
wondering why an amiable and ineffectual moralist, 
pushed by fanatical followers into more or less con- 
scious imposture and meeting with a death which he 
had himself courted, should in Kenan's estimation 
possess permanent significance for mankind. 

Later Criticism. Since Renan, other lives of Jesus 
have been written. But later criticism has come more 
and more to the conclusion that the materials for such 
an undertaking do not exist. Even F. C. Conybeare, 
a stout defender of the historicity of Jesus, can say 
that " at the best ... we can only hope to see Jesus 
. . . through the mist, ever thickening, of the opinions 
which the second and third generations of his followers 
formed of him." x The documentary analysis of the 
Gospels, indeed, can claim to have reached firm 
ground. Most critics are agreed that Mark, in sub- 
stance, though not in the exact form in which we have 
him, is the oldest extant evangelist ; that the common 
source (Q) of Matthew and Luke, not used by Mark, 
is as old or even older; that those parts of Matthew 
and Luke not derived from Mark or Q e.g., the infancy 
narratives are later accretions ; and that the Fourth 
Gospel is theology, not history. But when we have 

1 Conybeare, Myth, Magic, and Morals, third edition, p. 


isolated Mark and Q from the rest of the material the 
question of their historical value remains. 

According to all four Gospels the early home of 
Jesus was at Nazareth. Now no such town as 
Nazareth is mentioned in the Old Testament, in 
Josephus, or in the Talmud. The present town of 
that name can be traced back with certainty only to 
the fourth century A.D., when pilgrim traffic began. 
For its earlier existence our only authority is Christian 
tradition. The late T. K. Cheyne, Oxford theologian 
and Canon of Rochester, is of opinion that ** we 
cannot perhaps venture to assert positively that there 
was a * city called Nazareth ' in Jesus' time." l 
Cheyne's view is vigorously contested by Goguel and 
is not by itself conclusive. There may have been a 
village of Nazareth too obscure to be noticed by 
Jewish writers; but as Matthew and Luke both call 
it a "city," that solution is hardly satisfactory. 2 
Other considerations go to confirm Cheyne's doubts. 
The name " Nazarenes " or (more correctly) " Nazo- 
raeans " is used in Acts xxiv, 5 (in the mouth of a 
Jew) to designate the Christians. *' Nazarenes " 
(nozrim) is used in the Talmud in the same sense. 
The same word is used by the Fathers to denote a sect 
who in the early centuries of our era recognized Jesus 
as the Messiah, but continued to observe the Jewish 
law. It is usually assumed that the name " Naza- 
rene " is derived from the place Nazareth. But no 
other instance is known of a sect being called after the 
home of its founder. No one calls Moslems " Mec- 
cans " or Lutherans " Eislebeners." 3 More remark- 
able still, the Mandaeans, a sect in Iraq who revere 
John the Baptist and reject Jesus as a false prophet, 
nevertheless call themselves " Nazoraeans " (Naso- 
raye). This makes it difficult to derive the name from 
the traditional home of Jesus. It is more probably 

1 Cheyne, Encyclopaedia BibUca, article "Nazareth." 
1 Matth. ii,23; Luke i, 26; ii, 39; iv, 29. 
s " Plymouth Brethren *' is no exception. Plymouth is the 
birthplace of the sect, not of its founder. 


derived from a Hebrew word nazar, meaning to 
" keep " or " observe," and signifies the observers of 
some religious usage. 1 " Nazarene " was thus an 
appropriate name for a sect of Jews who, as Jesus is 
said to have done in the Sermon on the Mount, 
claimed not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, and set 
up a standard of righteousness exceeding that of the 
scribes and Pharisees. It was a misnomer when 
applied to the followers of Paul, who rejected the 
Jewish law ; but by a natural process the Jews extended 
the name to all Christians. 2 It was only to be ex- 
pected that Greek-speaking Christians, unfamiliar 
with Hebrew and with the topography of Palestine, 
should trace the word " Nazarene " to an imaginary 
town of Nazareth, which thus found its way into the 
Gospels and, when holy places had become a vested 
interest, achieved objective existence. 

A further difficulty relates to the teaching ascribed 
to Jesus. All three Synoptic Gospels stress its novelty 
and originality : " they were astonished at his teach- 
ing; for he taught them as one having authority." 3 
According to Mark this novel and original teaching 
consists wholly of parables, and is cast in that form on 
purpose to conceal its meaning, " that seeing they may 
see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, 
and not understand." * Only disciples are let into 
the secret. The parables reported by Mark relate to 
the " kingdom of God " ; but it is to be noted that 
while we are often told what the kingdom of God is 
like, we are never told what it is. On exceptional 
occasions, when challenged by the Pharisees, Jesus 
combats their teaching on such matters as the sabbath, 
the ceremonial law, and divorce; but for the most 

1 Or " keepers of secrets." See Eisler, The Messiah Jesus 
and John the Baptist, pp. 232-235. 

1 In the same way the word " Puritan/' originally applied to 
the Calvinists in the Church of England, came in the seventeenth 
century to denote the whole Roundhead party, including even 
Freethinkers like Marten and Sidney. 

1 Matth. vii, 28-29; Mark i, 22; Luke iv, 32. 

4 Mark iv, 12. 


part his teaching is esoteric. We are left wondering 
why audiences should have been astonished at its 
novelty if its meaning was deliberately concealed from 

Matthew and Luke, above all in the passages 
derived from their common source Q, paint a very 
different picture. Here Jesus does not confine himself 
to parables, but speaks in plain language to the 
multitude. This raises the question why these dis- 
courses are omitted by Mark. Are we to suppose 
that Mark was ignorant of such utterances as the 
Sermon on the Mount? Or, if he knew them, did he 
consider them of no importance? Or had he other 
reasons for the omission ? If we nevertheless accept 
them as authentic, the question still arises why they 
should have struck their hearers as novel or original. 
For to a very large extent the sayings of Jesus in Q 
agree almost to the letter with those of Jewish teachers 
before and after him. The doctrine of the fatherhood 
of God, often supposed to have been first taught by 
Jesus, is found in the Old Testament and is a common- 
place of Judaism. The Lord's Prayer is a compilation 
of current Jewish prayers. The teaching attributed to 
Jesus in regard to renunciation of riches, to sexual 
abstinence and other forms of asceticism, was antici- 
pated by the Essenes, who are said by Josephus to 
have rejected pleasures as evil, to have despised 
riches, to have had all things in common, to have 
carried nothing with them when they travelled, to have 
avoided oaths, and for the most part to have practised 
celibacy. 1 Such teaching would not have caused 
astonishment in first-century Palestine and would not 
have got its author into trouble. We are left with the 
question what the teaching really was which dis- 
tinguished Jesus from his contemporaries. 

That an action or saying of Jesus occurs in Mark or 
Q is no guarantee of its authenticity. A century of 

1 Josephus, Jewish War, ii, 8. De Quincey identified the 
Essenes with the early Christians ; but the Essenes were indis- 
putably older. 


criticism has revolutionized the mode of approach to 
the problem. It is no longer possible, as it once was, 
to give the documents the benefit of the doubt. Our 
knowledge of the extent of forgery in the early Church, 
and of the abundant motives for it, forbids us to 
assume the authenticity of any disputable document. 
The modern critic cannot, like the older Rationalists, 
ask himself, " How much of the story do the laws of 
evidence compel me to reject?" and assume the 
authenticity of the residue. He asks himself, " How 
much of the story do the laws of evidence compel me 
to accept?" and uses the resultant nucleus, if any, 
as a criterion of the probability or otherwise of the 
remainder. Pursuing this method the Swiss theolo- 
gian, Paul Schmiedel, drew up a list of passages which 
might serve as " foundation-pillars for a truly scien- 
tific life of Jesus." x These are passages which from 
the nature of their contents could not have been in- 
vented by anyone who believed Jesus to be God. 
E.g., in Mark the miraculous powers of Jesus are 
limited : he can do no " mighty work " where there 
is unbelief. 2 He repudiates the title " good master," 
since " none is good save one, even God." 3 He 
disclaims knowledge of the day and hour of the coming 
of the Son of Man. 4 On the cross he cries that God 
has forsaken him. 5 Matthew and Luke often modify 
or omit such features. 6 Both of them avoid any 
implication that Jesus's power is limited; Matthew 
eliminates his disclaimer of divine goodness; Luke 
omits his profession of ignorance of the day of the 
advent and his cry of despair from the cross. 
Schmiedel argues that such passages originally related 
to a human Jesus, but were altered or suppressed later 
in the interest of deification. They " prove that he 
really did exist, and that the Gospels contain at least 

Schmiedel, Encyclopaedia Biblica, article "Gospels." 

Mark vi, 5-6. 8 Mark x, 17-18. 

Mark xiii, 32. 

Mark xv, 34. 

Matth. xiii, 58; xix, 16-17; Luke xxiii, 46. 


some absolutely trustworthy facts concerning him." l 
This progressive rehandling of the Gospels in the 
interest of the deification of Jesus is also stressed by 
Conybeare 2 and Goguel. 3 The historical Jesus, on 
this showing, was a faith-healer with a certain power 
over mental maladies, who made no pretence to 
divinity, but whom his followers eventually magnified 
into the superhuman figure portrayed in the Gospels, 
and who, hailed by them as the Messiah, was crucified 
by the Roman procurator as a political offender. 

An important fact, of which those who affirm and 
those who deny the historicity of Jesus must alike 
take account, is that all the Synoptic Gospels make 
Jesus prophesy the coming of the Messianic kingdom 
before the generation addressed by him has passed 
away. 4 The prophecy was falsified; but the first 
Christians beyond question believed it. For twen- 
tieth-century critics this eschatological expectation is 
an essential key to the interpretation of primitive 
Christianity. Foremost among the exponents of this 
view is Alfred Firmin Loisy, an illustrious French 
scholar who started as a Catholic priest and, after a 
long struggle for freedom of historical inquiry within 
the Church, incurred the major excommunication in 
1908. Loisy rejects all rationalizing attempts to turn 
Jesus into a modern liberal Protestant born out of due 
time, and sees in him a person of whom little is cer- 
tainly known except that he claimed to be the Messiah, 
that for this claim he was denounced by the Jewish 
priests and crucified by Pilate, and that the record of 
his life and death was remodelled and interpolated by 
the evangelists in the interest of Pauline theology. 
Thus the story of a last meal taken by Jesus with his 
disciples has been rewritten to make it square with 
the sacramental ritual of the Pauline churches. The 

1 Schmiedel, op. cit. 

* Conybeare, Myth, Magic, and Morals, third edition, pp. 
62-69, 170-171. 

8 Goguel, Life of Jesus, pp. 219-222. 

4 Matth. x, 23; xvi, 28; xxiv, 34; Mark ix, 1; xiii, 30; 
Luke ix, 27; xxi, 32. 


body of Jesus was probably thrown into a pit with 
those of other executed persons : the burial by Joseph 
and the empty tomb were invented by the Gospel- 
makers in order to corroborate the Pauline dogma of 
a dead and risen Saviour. For Loisy, in fact, Jesus 
is not the founder of Christianity, but merely the 
match that set it alight. To other recent critics, such 
as Albert Schweitzer, Charles Guignebert, and 
Rudolf Bultmann, the one certainty in a debris of 
discredited legend is that a man of whose life little 
or nothing is known who, according to Schweitzer, 
made no public claim to be the Messiah ; who, accord- 
ing to Bultmann, did not even claim privately to be 
the Messiah; and whose real name, according to 
Guignebert, may not even have been Jesus was 
crucified by Pilate and became the subject of a theo- 
logical romance composed for their own needs by the 
next and following generations. 

Thus the Jesus of the older Rationalists and of 
Renan the moralist whose teaching was as significant 
for the nineteenth century as for the first has melted 
into thin air. In so far as criticism holds to an 
historical Jesus at all, it has swung back to something 
like the position of Reimarus, corrected by the results 
of documentary analysis without which any solution 
must be arbitrary and unconvincing. 

It is essential to a theory that it should explain the 
facts. Does this theory explain them? Yes and no. 
It explains some, but not all. It explains the historical 
setting of the Gospel story ; the tradition of a human 
Jesus who suffered under Pontius Pilate ; the claim of 
Papias to have met persons who had known immediate 
disciples of Jesus ; the refusal of many early Christian 
writers (including the Synoptic evangelists and the 
authors of the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, the 
Shepherd, and Ebionite literature generally) to call 
him God ; and the apparently unanimous assumption 
of the early critics of Christianity, so far as their 
attacks have been preserved, that they are dealing 
with a man and not a myth. If these facts stood 


alone, a theory on the foregoing lines would suffice to 
explain them. 

But there are other facts which such a theory does 
not explain. The Pauline Epistles, assigned by tradi- 
tion to the middle of the first century, with their 
mystical Christ, " the power of God and the wisdom 
of God," I " the firstborn of all creation," 2 " through 
whom are all things, and we through him," 3 who 
" died and lived again that he might be Lord of both 
the dead and the living," 4 cannot be explained in 
terms of a human Jesus. Even if with Van Manen 
we assign the whole Pauline literature to the second 
century (an extreme and unlikely supposition) this is 
rather strong language to use of a man of flesh and 
blood who lived a hundred years before. Assuming 
with Loisy and others that the Gospels were edited 
in the interest of Pauline theology, whence came that 
theology? And why did the New Testament writers 
select, as a peg on which to hang their myth, a man 
who on the showing of the critics had nothing in 
common with the subject of the myth except the 
manner of his death? The difficulty of explaining 
Pauline Christianity in terms of a human Jesus is 
aggravated by the total silence of the Epistles on his 
career and teaching. The historical theory can 
account for the tradition of a human Jesus : it cannot 
account for the tradition of a divine Jesus. To ac- 
count for that we must have recourse to another line 
of inquiry. 

1 1 Cor. i, 24. * Col. i, 15. 

8 1 Cor. viii, 6. * Rom. xiv, 9. 




IN 1769, one year after the death of Reimarus, and 
before that critic's subversive researches had yet been 
given publicity by Lessing, the aged Voltaire was 
visited by " some disciples of Bolingbroke, more in- 
genious than learned," who concluded from the con- 
tradictory genealogies and the extravagances of the 
infancy narratives in the Gospels that no such person 
as Jesus had ever lived. The sage of Ferney had no 
bump of veneration in his composition and was not in 
the least shocked, but he found the arguments of his 
visitors unconvincing. In this way the myth theory 
made its first bow on the stage of history. 

Volney and Dupuis. The French Revolution made 
it possible to publish such speculations in safety. In 
1791 Volney, a distinguished traveller and member of 
the Constituent Assembly, published his Ruins of 
Empires, an historical essay in which he contended that 
all religions were essentially one and predicted their 
final union. He reduced the story of Jesus to a solar 
myth and untenably derived the name " Christ " 
from the Indian deity Krishna. In 1795 Charles 
Francois Dupuis, an ex-priest and member of the 
National Convention, published his Origin of all Reli- 
gions, in which this line of interpretation was pushed 
further. The name of John the Baptist (loannes) is 
derived from the Babylonian fish-god Ea or Cannes ; 
Jesus is born in a stable because, at the remote period 
when Dupuis supposes the solar myth to have origin- 
ated, the sun at the winter solstice was in the sign of 
the Bull; Peter, the apostle to whom are given the 
keys of the kingdom of heaven, is the old Roman god 
Janus, who also carries keys; and so forth. Such 



conjectures, in the absence of the necessary historical 
analysis, could never amount to proof. At most they 
suggested the probability of pagan influence at one 
stage or another in the evolution of the story. They 
left unanswered the important question why people 
who wanted to worship the sun should have gone to 
the trouble of founding a new religion when the old 
afforded such liberal facilities. 

Bruno Bauer. In 1840, when Strauss's Life of 
Jesus was already before the world, Bruno Bauer, 
professor of theology at Bonn (not to be confounded 
with F. C. Baur of Tubingen), began the task of re- 
writing the history of early Christianity from a critical 
standpoint. His attempt almost at once cost him his 
professorial chair. Thus unmuzzled, he was led to 
more and more radical conclusions. Christianity, 
according to Bruno Bauer, arose at the beginning of 
the second century A.D. from an amalgamation of 
Stoicism and Judaism. Mark, the author of the 
earliest Gospel, wrote in the reign of Hadrian and 
deliberately invented Jesus as an ideal divine king in 
contrast to the Roman emperors. The invention 
caught on; and later evangelists embroidered it to 
suit the preconceptions of the early Christian com- 
munity. The Pauline Epistles are second-century 
fabrications even later than the Gospels. The refer- 
ences in Tacitus and Suetonius to the existence of 
Christians in the first century must, on this theory, 
be set aside as forgeries. 

Such theories as Bauer's invite the question why at 
a particular moment in the world's history certain men 
should not only have decided to start a new religion, 
but should have thought it necessary to base that 
religion on an elaborate apparatus of imaginary 
biography, faked history, and forged letters without 
even a minimum foundation in fact, and how such an 
edifice of forgery resting on nothing at all ever suc- 
ceeded in winning credit. It was not until the end of 
the nineteenth century that this problem began seri- 
ously to be faced. By that time the attempt to rewrite 


the story of Jesus on liberal Protestant lines had 
visibly broken down and a fresh start was plainly 

/. M. Robertson. The pioneer in this inquiry was 
John Mackinnon Robertson, beyond question the 
foremost British Rationalist of the early twentieth 
century. His first work on Christian origins, Chris- 
tianity and Mythology (1900), appeared at a time when 
Frazer's Golden Bough had familiarized the educated 
public with the idea of the origin of religion in the 
magic ritual by which primitive man tried to assist 
natural processes and assure his food supply. Among 
other things Frazer had drawn attention to the wide- 
spread early practice of putting the tribal chief, or his 
substitute, to death in order to promote the fertility 
of the soil, and to the connection between that 
practice and many ancient myths in which the god 
(Osiris, Tammuz, Dionysus, etc.) is put to death and 
rises again to newness of life. Robertson points out 
the essential identity of the crucified and risen Jesus 
with these annually slain and resuscitated nature-gods, 
all of whom might be said in a sense to have died for 
their people and given them their flesh to eat and their 
blood to drink. He does not follow Volney in his 
mistake of deriving Christ from Krishna; but he 
points out that the Jesus and Krishna stories contain 
common features derived from myth-motives which 
were widespread in the ancient world. Each has to 
be saved in infancy from the murderous designs of 
a tyrant ; Jesus is cradled in a manger, Krishna in a 
basket for winnowing corn ; and so forth. The myth 
of a crucified god was found by Jesuit missionaries as 
far afield as Tibet in the seventeenth, and Nepal in 
the eighteenth, century. 

Frazer, whose anthropological researches did so 
much to prepare the way for the myth theory, himself 
refused to accept it, alleging as reason the impossi- 
bility of explaining a great religious movement except 
by the influence of an extraordinary mind. To this 
Robertson legitimately replies that favouring social 


conditions count for more than extraordinary minds 
in the spread of religions, and asks whether the 
Dionysiac cult in Greece, for example, presupposes 
an historic Dionysus. Even if extraordinary minds 
played a part in early Christian history, it does not 
follow that one of them was Jesus. 

Robertson is prepared to concede the possibility of 
an historical Jesus perhaps more than one having 
contributed something to the Gospel story. "A 
teacher or teachers named Jesus, or several differently 
named teachers called Messiahs " (of whom many are 
on record) may have uttered some of the sayings in 
the Gospels. 1 The Jesus of the Talmud, who was 
stoned and hanged over a century before the tradi- 
tional date of the crucifixion, may really have existed 
and have contributed something to the tradition. 2 
An historical Jesus may have "preached a political 
doctrine subversive of the Roman rule, and . . . 
thereby met his death " ; and Christian writers con- 
cerned to conciliate the Romans may have suppressed 
the facts. 3 Or a Galilean faith-healer with a local 
reputation may have been slain as a human sacrifice 
at some time of social tumult ; and his story may have 
got mixed up with the myth. 4 The myth theory is 
not concerned to deny such a possibility. What the 
myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced 
to a personal founder who taught as reported in the 
Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances 
there recorded. Josephus, save for one palpable inter- 
polation, is silent on any such founder; and Tacitus, 
even if his evidence be taken as genuine (which 
Robertson declines to do), merely echoes the Christian 
tradition current in his day. 

But how did a prehistoric nature-god, annually 
slain and raised from the dead that his people might 

1 J. M. Robertson, Christianity and Mythology, revised 
edition, p. 125. 

8 Ibid, pp. 363-364, 378-379. 

8 The Historical Jesus, p. 56. 

4 Jesus and Judas, pp. 205-207. A Short History of Chris- 
tianity, Thinker's Library edition, pp. 15-16. 


live, come to wear the disguise of a first-century Jew, 
put to death in Jerusalem on a political charge? 
Robertson, has an answer to that question. The name 
" Jesus " is the Greek form of the Hebrew " Joshua." 
The traditional founder of Christianity thus bears the 
same name as the legendary successor of Moses, who 
led Israel over Jordan into the promised land, and 
once, at the height of battle, caused the sun and moon 
to stand still until the people had avenged themselves 
on their enemies. Joshua is a mythical figure; and 
his name (" Jahveh is deliverance " or " Jahveh 
saves ") was divine before it was human. Robertson 
postulates a primitive cult of Joshua, a Palestinian 
deity with affinities to Tammuz and the rest, the 
central feature of which was a spring festival at which 
a human victim in royal robes was killed and eaten 
that his body and blood might bring salvation to the 
community. Such a cult would naturally be sup- 
pressed when the Jews adopted monotheism; but it 
persisted in hole-and-corner fashion in Samaria, 
Galilee, and other regions on the fringe of Jewry, the 
human sacrifice being superseded in time by a sacra- 
mental meal followed by a mimic crucifixion and 
resurrection. This age-old rite, according to Robert- 
son, gave rise to the myth of the passion and resurrec- 
tion of Jesus. 

Is there any evidence that such a cult existed? 
Robertson contends that there are traces even in the 
New Testament. In Mark ix, 38, the apostle John 
says to Jesus : 

" Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy 
name : and we forbade him, because he followed 
not with us." 

Robertson infers that exorcists in Palestine used the 
name of Joshua or Jesus to work cures even before 
the advent of Christianity. In the Acts of the Apostles 
we read of " disciples " at Damascus before there is 
any mention of the gospel being preached there. 
But the chief argument for the existence of a pre- 


Christian cult of Joshua, or Jesus, is based on the story 
of Barabbas. In the Gospel accounts of the trial of 
Jesus we are told that it was the custom for the Roman 
procurator to release a prisoner, chosen by the people, 
at every passover. Pilate, desiring to save Jesus, pro- 
poses to the Jews that he shall be released in accord- 
ance with this custom; but the multitude demand 
instead the release of Barabbas described by Mark 
and Luke as one of a band of insurgents who had com- 
mitted murder; and Pilate reluctantly agrees. We 
have no independent evidence that there was any 
such custom as is described. It is unlikely that in the 
disturbed state of Palestine the Romans allowed the 
Jews this privilege, and most unlikely that a martinet 
like Pilate agreed to the release of such a desperado. 
The story is incredible ; and we have to consider how 
it originated. 

In certain MSS. known to Origen in the third 
century Matth. xxvii, 16-17, reads: 

44 And they had then a notable prisoner, called 
Jesus Barabbas. When therefore they were 
gathered together, Pilate said unto them, * Whom 
will ye that I release unto you? Jesus Barabbas, 
or Jesus which is called Christ? ' " 

Most of our MSS. omit " Jesus " before " Barabbas." 
But Robertson holds that the above was the original 
text and that the word " Jesus " was deleted later in 
order to avoid giving the bandit the same name as the 
Saviour. " Barabbas," in Aramaic, means " son of 
the father"; "Jesus Barabbas" therefore means 
" Jesus son of the Father." The key to the story, 
according to Robertson, lies in the fact that in many 
ancient rites of human sacrifice the son of a chief or 
king was sacrificed in place of his father. If the 
ancient cult of Joshua was of that nature, then, in 
accordance with the primitive convention which 
identifies the victim with the god, " Joshua son of the 
Father " would become the style and title of the god 
himself and would remain so when the sacrifice was 


discontinued. When the story of the crucifixion of 
Jesus was first circulated, the Jews would point out 
that it was merely a rehash of the ancient and, in 
Jewish eyes, disreputable myth of Joshua son of the 
Father Jesus Barabbas. To meet this objection the 
Christians inserted in the Gospels a story showing 
that their Jesus and Jesus Barabbas were two different 
people, and that in fact it was the Jews themselves who 
had saved Barabbas and sent the Messiah to his death. 

In further support of the theory of a pre-Christian 
cult of Joshua, Robertson cites Philo's account of an 
incident at Alexandria when the Herodian prince 
Agrippa I, having been granted a kingdom by Caligula, 
passed through that city on his way to Palestine. To 
show their dislike of the Jews a Greek mob took a 
lunatic named Karabas, dressed him in a mock robe, 
crown, and sceptre, surrounded him with a mock 
court, and acclaimed him in Aramaic as " lord." 
Robertson supposes " Karabas " to be a copyist's 
error for " Barabbas," and sees here confirmation of 
the existence of a cult of Joshua son of the Father. 
In the Gospels, as is well known, Jesus is arrayed in a 
royal robe and mocked prior to crucifixion. 

Robertson argues that the Gospel story of the 
passion and resurrection of Jesus is based on a ritual 
drama performed in connection with the cult of 
Joshua. The agony in Gethsemane, for example, is 
not even plausible as narrative, since the only wit- 
nesses (Peter, James, and John) are said to have been 
asleep : it is convincing only as a scene in a drama. 
Jesus is made to say to the three : " Sleep on now and 
take your rest " ; and in the next breath : " Arise let 
us be going " a strange juxtaposition, unless an 
exit and entrance have inadvertently been omitted. 1 
Judas is paid by the priests to betray a man who was 
well known and who could have been arrested without 
any such assistance. In real life this would be unin- 

1 Mark xiv, 41-42. This argument falls to the ground if 
Couchoud's theory of a Latin original is accepted. The oldest 
Latin text has a different order in these verses. See next chapter. 


telligible : as a dramatic touch it can be understood. 
The account in Matthew and Mark of the nocturnal 
trial and condemnation of Jesus by Caiaphas and the 
Sanhedrin (who apparently stand in no need of sleep 
and send out to search for witnesses in the middle of 
the night) is explicable only by the exigencies of 
dramatic action. Luke shows his greater sense of 
fitness by postponing the trial till morning. 

In the first century A.D., then, according to Robert- 
son, there existed in Palestine and in the Jewish " dis- 
persion " a secret cult of great antiquity having as its 
central rite a sacrament symbolizing the death of a 
saviour-god, Joshua son of the Father. A ritual 
drama performed annually in the spring the relic of 
a prehistoric human sacrifice represented the passion 
and resurrection of Joshua. After the fall of Jeru- 
salem and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, 
the myth of the saviour-god became fused with the 
prevalent Jewish dream of a deliverer who should put 
an end to the existing world-order and set up the 
" kingdom of God." The cult became propagandist 
and admitted converts by baptism in the name of 
" Joshua the Messiah," which, translated into Greek, 
became lesous Christos Jesus Christ. At this stage 
the figure of Pilate was introduced into the ritual 
drama as a representative of the hated Romans, and 
the story acquired an historical setting. The Jewish 
rabbis banned the movement as heretical. As a result 
it addressed itself to the Gentiles and became more 
and more anti- Jewish. Propaganda required a litera- 
ture. This was supplied partly by the amplification 
of existing Jewish books, as in the case of the Teaching 
of the Twelve Apostles', partly by theological tracts in 
epistolary form, such as those ascribed to Paul ; and 
partly by casting the ritual drama of the crucifixion 
and resurrection into the narrative form which it 
assumes in the Gospels. The Gospel texts bear 
witness to a long struggle between the Jewish and anti- 
Jewish parties in the early Church, the anti- Jewish 
tendency finally predominating. In accordance with 


this tendency every possible device is used to throw 
responsibility for the crucifixion on the Jews, and 
Pilate is as good as exonerated for his part in the 
affair. The character of Judas (loudaios, " Jew," 
abbreviated to loudas) was created, according to 
Robertson, as a personification of the hated nation 
that would not have Jesus for its Messiah. 

Robertson, as we have seen, does not deny the 
possibility that some historical figure or figures may 
have contributed elements to the story of Jesus ; but 
he denies that the Gospels afford any material for the 
biography of such a figure. He directs a heavy 
barrage against the " pillar " texts selected by 
Schmiedel as the nucleus of a life of Jesus. For 
example, Mark's statement that Jesus kfc could do no 
mighty work " where there was unbelief means, not 
that his power was limited, but that " where people 
were mostly too unbelieving to ask his aid, there were 
few cures to his credit." x It may have been invented 
to account for the fact that there was no recollection 
of Jesus in Galilee. 2 The saying, " Why callest thou 
me good? none is good save one, even God," need 
not be authentic: it may have been inserted to give 
effect to an Ebionite (i.e. human) yiew of Jesus. The 
Ebionite sect, according to Robertson, owed its 
existence, not to the persistence of a tradition of a 
human Jesus, but to an attempted compromise be- 
tween the cult of Jesus and orthodox Judaism, which 
could admit no God but Jahveh. 3 But the saying in 
question need not bear this interpretation : it can be 
read equally well as a claim of Jesus to divinity, and 
was so read by the early Fathers. 4 The disclaimer by 
Jesus of knowledge of the day and hour of the advent 
implies subordination to the Father, but not common 
humanity. The cry from the cross, " My God, my 
God, why hast thou forsaken me? " is no more in- 

1 Christianity and Mythology, revised edition, p. 444. 
1 Jesus and Judas, pp. 152-153. 

8 Christianity and Mythology, revised edition, pp. 443, 445. 
4 Jesus and Judas, pp. 147-148. 


compatible with the divinity of the sufferer than is the 
" Jesus wept " of the Fourth Gospel. Moreover it is 
a quotation from Psalm xxii, 1, and has been held by 
theologians to suggest the hopeful close of that 
Psalm. Thus the mythicist allies himself with the 
theologian in defence of the essential deity of Jesus. 

Certain subsidiary positions, though not essential to 
the main thesis, are used by Robertson to fortify it. 
The parents of Jesus, naturally, are as mythical as he. 
Mary, or Miriam, is identical with a primitive mother- 
goddess, other variants being the Syrian Myrrha, the 
Greek Maia, the Hindu Maya, and so forth all 
derivatives of the ancient and familiar word " Ma." 
The Joseph of the Gospels is derived from the Joseph 
of Genesis, the mythical ancestor of the tribes of 
central Palestine, and is introduced into the story 
because the Samaritans expected a Messiah descended 
from Joseph. Jesus is bora at Bethlehem because 
that place was an old centre of the worship of 
Tammuz, David himself on this theory being another 
variant of that god. Jesus is called " the carpenter's 
son," not because his father was a carpenter, but 
because he was the Son of God, the demiourgos or 
architect of the universe. 

Matth. xxi, 1-7, in which Jesus is made to enter 
Jerusalem seated on an ass and a colt, is explained by 
most critics as a slavish adhesion on the part of the 
evangelist to the letter of the Messianic prophecy in 
Zech. ix, 9 : 

" Behold, thy king cometh unto thee . . . 
Lowly, and riding upon an ass, 
Even upon a colt the foal of an ass." 

The ass is mentioned twice in Zechariah in accordance 
with the parallelism usual in Hebrew poetry, of which 
we have abundant examples in the Old Testament. 
To fulfil the prophecy Matthew makes Jesus ride on 
two asses. But Robertson rejects this explanation. 
To him the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on 
two asses stands for the passage of the sun at the 
summer solstice through the sign Cancer, repre- 


sented by two asses in Babylonian and Greek myth- 
ology. He cites in evidence " a Gnostic gem represent- 
ing an ass suckling its foal, with the figure of the crab 
(Cancer) above, and the inscription D.N. IHV.XPS : 
Dominus Noster Jesus Christus, with the addition, 

The twelve apostles are mythical: the number is 
not mentioned in the Pauline Epistles except in 1 Cor. 
xv, 5, a late interpolation. The myth originated, 
according to Robertson, in the actual use of the term 
" apostle " to denote twelve functionaries delegated 
by the central Jewish authorities to collect money 
from the Jews of the dispersion. The extant Teaching 
of the Twelve Apostles is admittedly based on a Jewish 
work. That work, according to Robertson, con- 
tained the teaching imparted by these twelve Jewish 
apostles to the ghettoes of the ancient world. When 
the Teaching was adopted and amplified for Christian 
use, its title (which Robertson holds to be original 
and therefore Jewish) gave rise to the story that Jesus 
had twelve apostles; and in due course lists were 
invented and inserted in the Gospels. 

Robertson stresses the silence of the Pauline 
Epistles on the teaching of Jesus, the contradiction 
between the versions of the teaching in Mark and Q, 
the abundant parallels in the Old Testament and the 
Talmud to this allegedly unique teaching, and the 
absence of objective criteria of the authenticity of any 
part of it, as corroborations of his conclusion that the 
Gospels are " a baseless fabric of myths of action and 
myths of doctrine, leaving on scientific analysis * not 
a wrack behind,' save the speechless crucified Messiah 
of Paul's propaganda, only in speculation identifiable 
with the remote and shadowy Jesus Ben Pandira of 
the Talmud, who may have died for some forgotten 
heresy a hundred years * before Christ.' " 2 

Whittaker. Thomas Whittaker, a man of fine 

1 Christianity and Mythology, revised edition, p. 341. The 
inscription means " Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God." 
1 Aid., p. 433. 


scholarship, philosophical training, and literary power, 
put forward in 1904 a theory of Christian origins in 
which he accepts Robertson's thesis of a pre-Christian 
cult of Joshua. In support of this he adduces this 
passage from the Epistle of Jude : 

"Now I desire to put you in remembrance, 
though ye know all things once for all, how that 
. Jesus [or " the Lord "], having saved a people out 
of the land of Egypt, the second time destroyed 
them that believed not. And angels which kept 
not their own principality, but left their proper 
habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under 
darkness unto the judgment of the great day." l 

This passage is fraught with difficulties. Some MSS. 
have " Jesus " in the first sentence, others have " the 
Lord " ; and it is hard to say which is the older 
reading. Our Bibles have " the Lord," and lower 
down, without MS. authority, alter " the second time " 
to " afterward." If we accept the reading " Jesus " 
(as the more difficult and therefore less likely to have 
been arbitrarily inserted) the passage attributes the 
deliverance of Israel from Egypt and the punishment 
of the peccant angels to Jesus or (which is the same in 
Greek) to Joshua. There is difficulty here ; for in the 
Old Testament the deliverance from Egypt is the work 
of Moses, not Joshua ; and the meaning of " the 
second time " is far from clear. Whittaker, however, 
points out that punishing angels is the work of a god, 
and infers that we have evidence here of a pre- 
Christian cult of Joshua, or Jesus. 

Whittaker also draws attention to,, the fact that 
one of the Sibylline Oracles, dating from about 
A.D. 80, explicitly identifies the Joshua of the Old 
Testament and the Jesus of the New : 

" Then shall one come again from heaven, an excellent hero, 
He who spread his hands on a tree of beautiful fruitage, 

1 Jude 5, 6. The angels referred to are the " sons of God " 
in Genesis vi who fell in love with the " daughters of men " 
and begot the giants. 


Best of the Hebrews all, who stayed the sun in his course once. 
Bidding him stay with words that were fair and lips that were 
holy." * 

Like Robertson, Whittaker traces the origin of 
Christianity to a fusion of the widespread cult of a 
saviour-god, by mystical union with whom men could 
attain immortality, and the Jewish expectation of a 
Messiah who would destroy the existing world-order. 
Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, 
there were no Christians in our sense of the word, but 
on the one hand the devotees of an Oriental saviour- 
cult, and on the other hand the Jewish Messianists. 
Unlike Robertson, Whittaker accepts Tacitus's ac- 
count of the Neronian persecution as authentic; but 
he holds that the Christiani put to death by Nero were 
fanatical Jewish Messianists who could plausibly be 
accused of incendiarism. After the destruction of 
Jerusalem the worshippers of the saviour-god Jesus 
put forward the claim that their deity had actually 
appeared on earth as the Messiah and that the calami- 
ties of the Jews were the result of their rejection of 
him. Passages of the Old Testament such as Isaiah 
liii, with its references to the suffering servant of 
Jahveh, afforded a scriptural basis for this claim; 
and the fact that many would-be Messiahs had been 
executed by the Roman procurators of Judaea made 
it plausible enough for the purposes of propaganda. 
Hence the introduction of Pilate into the story. By 
the end of the first century the cult of Jesus, the 
suffering Messiah, was well established. Whittaker 
assigns the existing books of the New Testament, 
including the Pauline Epistles, wholly to the second 
century, but holds that nearly all were in existence by 
150. He finds evidence for the theory of a primitive 
ritual drama in certain statements quoted by Origen 
from Celsus, in which the latter compares Chris- 
tianity to the animal worship of the Egyptians and to 
the mummery of the Dionysiac mysteries. If the 

1 Sibylline Oracles, v, 256-259. 


inference is valid the ritual drama must have continued 
to be performed until the second half of the second 
century, and ,it is surprising that we find no more 
definite reference to it in contemporary writers. 

W. B. Smith. Since 1906 William Benjamin Smith, 
an American mathematician, has put forward a myth 
theory somewhat different from that of Robertson 
and Whittaker. Like them he holds that " Jesus " was 
a divine name before the Christian era. The Jesus of 
Smith, however, was not the god of a semi-pagan 
sacrificial cult, but was none other than Jahveh him- 
self in his aspect of saviour. Smith finds support 
for his theory in the discovery of a papyrus containing 
the magic formula, " I adjure thee by the God of the 
Hebrews, Jesus." The date of this papyrus, however, 
is much disputed : some put it as early as the second 
century B.C., others as late as the third century A.D. ; 
and its bearing on the theory of a pre-Christian Jesus 
obviously depends on its date. According to Smith 
the Jewish worshippers of Jahveh the Saviour, or 
Jesus, went by the name of Nazarenes, deriving from 
the Hebrew word nazar, to " keep " or " guard," and 
so signifying the worshippers of a saviour or guardian 
deity. We are in fact told by Epiphanius, a fourth- 
century writer against heresy, that there was a pre- 
Christian sect of " Nasaraeans." Smith holds that 
they were Gnostics that is to say, their object was 
to save men from the errors and terrors of polytheism 
and bring them to the knowledge (gnosis) of the true 
God. They carried on a secret propaganda in various 
parts of the Mediterranean, including Palestine, 
Alexandria, and Ephesus, in all of which, in the first 
century, we find persons propagating " the things con- 
' cerning Jesus." In Greek-speaking communities the 
name lesous would suggest the idea of healing (iasis). 
As it was necessary to conceal the real nature of the 
propaganda from the imperial authorities, the litera- 
ture of the sect took the form of allegories in which 
the true God was symbolized by a healer named Jesus 
and the false gods by the demons of disease and death. 


The oldest of these allegories is the Gospel of Mark. 
Smith regards it as symbolism from beginning to end. 
Jesus says to his disciples : 

" Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom 
of God: but unto them that are without, all 
things are done in parables: that seeing they 
may see, and not perceive ; and hearing they may 
hear, and not understand ; lest haply they should 
turn again, and it should be forgiven them." l 

That is, only adherents of the cult are to know its 
real nature; outsiders are to be bamboozled by 
allegory. But when the time is ripe the secret may 
be let out : 

" For there is nothing hid, save that it should 
be manifested; neither was it made secret, but 
that it should come to light." 2 

The Gospel not only contains parables, but is itself 
one long parable. When we read that a woman with 
an issue of blood, " having heard the things concerning 
Jesus, came in the crowd behind, and touched his 
garment " 3 and was healed, we are to understand 
that the spiritually sick are healed by knowledge of 
the true God. When Jesus sends out the twelve with 
authority to cast out demons and heal the sick, it is 
a symbol of the mission of monotheists to convert 
the pagan world. When a rich man is told to sell all 
that he has and give to the poor, the meaning is that 
the Jews, who are rich in knowledge of the true God, 
are to impart that knowledge to the Gentiles. When 
Judas delivers Jesus into the hands of his enemies it 
is Mark's way of saying that the Jews have missed 
their opportunity and surrendered to the Gentiles 
the chance of establishing the worship of the true God. 
The epithet Iscariot, according to Smith, means, in 
Syriac, " the surrenderer." When Mark says that at 
the arrest of Jesus a certain young man clad only in a 

1 Mark iv, 11-12. Ibid. 22. * Ibid, v, 25-34. 


linen cloth escaped his captors by flying naked, he 
means that Jesus that is to say, God could not be 
arrested or crucified at all and that the story of the 
passion, like the rest of the Gospel, is symbolic. 

The allegory, on Smith's showing, was signally 
misunderstood by those to whom it was addressed; 
for its result was to create a general belief in the 
historicity of Jesus and a demand for fuller informa- 
tion about his life and teaching. So far from the 
Gospels exhibiting the progressive deification of an 
originally human Jesus, Smith contends that they 
show the progressive humanization of a God. 
Matthew, the next evangelist after Mark, provides the 
God-man with a human genealogy, puts long dis- 
courses into his mouth, and makes his enemies re- 
proach him as " a gluttonous man and a winebibber." 
Luke follows suit and adds new details. John goes 
further and provides Jesus with human friends and 
favourites. In this way a human Jesus was gradually 
created. But that an inner circle of Christian intel- 
lectuals knew the truth is shown, according to Smith, 
by the fact that late in the second or early in the third 
century Minucius Felix, writing a defence of Chris- 
tianity in his dialogue Octavius, bases his whole case 
on the claims of monotheism and makes only one 
perfunctory allusion to Jesus. Like Robertson, but 
unlike Whittaker, Smith regards the reference of 
Tacitus to Christianity as a forgery. 

Drews. Arthur Drews, the chief advocate of the 
myth theory in Germany, is rather a popularizer of 
other men's theories than an original thinker. He 
follows Robertson in deriving the myth of Jesus from 
a primitive cult of Joshua, which included a rite of 
human sacrifice, and holds that the figure of the 
suffering servant of Jahveh in Isaiah liii is really that 
of the typical sacrificial victim. He follows Smith in 
a symbolic interpretation of the Gospel story. He 
revives Dupuis's identification of John the Baptist 
with the Babylonian fish-god Ea, and adds some 
mythological equations of his own e.g., that of the 


Lamb (Agnus) with the Hindu god Agni, aijd that 
of Stephen the proto-martyr with the constellation of 
the Crown (Stephanos). Drews traces the rise of 
Christianity to a revulsion among Jewish intellectuals 
against the formalism of the Mosaic law, and accepts 
much of the Pauline literature as genuine, rejecting or 
explaining away those passages in it which appear to 
refer to an historical Jesus. Thus the " brethren of 
the Lord " mentioned in 1 Cor. ix, 5, and Gal. i, 19, 
are not brothers of Jesus, but " the followers of the 
religion of Jesus," or perhaps " a group of Christians 
distinguished by their piety." Drews follows Smith 
in rejecting the testimony of Tacitus as spurious. 

The chief interest of Drews to the historian of 
religion lies in the fact that he convinced Lenin of the 
non-historicity of Jesus and thereby contributed to 
popularize the myth theory in the Soviet Union. But 
radical views on historical issues may go with an 
otherwise conservative philosophy. By an irony of 
fate Smith and Drews, unlike most exponents of the 
myth theory, are theists who hold that by purging 
religion of legendary accretions they are rendering it 
a service and enabling it better to withstand the 
attacks of materialism. This leads Lenin, while 
accepting the conclusions of Drews on the historical 
question, nevertheless to stigmatize him as a re- 
actionary and a purveyor of new opium for old. 

A useful maxim in scientific investigation is that of 
the fourteenth-century schoolman, William of Occam, 
which forbids the unnecessary multiplication of 
hypotheses. The forms of the myth theory so far 
examined rest on two hypotheses Robertson's sacri- 
ficial cult of Joshua son of the Father, and Smith's 
allegorical interpretation of the Gospels the evidence 
for both of which may appear rather shaky to many 
readers. We shall now turn to a theorist who, dis- 
pensing wholly with the first and partly with the 
second of these supports, yet maintains the Jesus of 
the New Testament to be a wholly mythical creation. 




COUCHOUD. Paul Louis Couchoud, friend and 
medical attendant of Anatole France l and author of 
The Enigma of Jesus (1924), The Book of Revelation : 
A Key to Christian Origins (1932), and The Creation of 
Christ : An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity 
(1939), 2 is beyond question the most cogent expounder 
of the myth theory since the pioneer work of J. M. 
Robertson, while his easy style and engaging manner 
render him by far the most readable French critic 
since Renan. 

Couchoud is not an extremist. With most Latin 
scholars he regards the Annals of Tacitus, including 
the passage about the crucifixion, as genuine; but 
that passage merely echoes Christian evidence, prob- 
ably collected by Tacitus himself when proconsul in 
Asia in A.D. 114, and is therefore inconclusive on the 
historicity of Jesus. The evidence of the Talmud is 
a mere parody of the Gospel story and is equally 

The salient fact about Jesus, for Couchoud, is that 
he is a God. Paul, the earliest extant Christian 
author (eight of whose reputed epistles Couchoud 
regards as basically genuine, though much edited and 
interpolated), treats Jesus as God. 

"That is the miracle that baffles me. The 
Gospel miracles would present no difficulty. 
Were they a hundred times more numerous, I 

1 Couchoud is credibly reported to have been the real 
inspirer of France's famous story, The Procurator of Judaea, in 
which Pilate, asked in old age about the crucifixion of Jesus, 
answers : " Jdsus de Nazareth ? Non, je ne me rappelle pas." 

2 The dates are those of the English editions. 



would not for so little doubt the existence of 
Jesus. The invincible obstacle is the worship of 
Jesus the Christian religion. At bottom the 
existence of Christianity, far from proving the 
existence of Jesus, renders it impossible." I 

Following other mythicists, Couchoud regards the 
name " Joshua," or " Jesus," as primarily a divine 
name. In the oldest Christian documents the 
Pauline Epistles and the Apocalypse it is nothing 
else. This name, first applied to the mythical leader 
of Israel into the promised land, was by a natural 
transition applied in the first century A.D. to the 
" anointed one " (Messiah or Christos) whom Jewish 
patriots expected soon to destroy the Roman Empire 
and inaugurate the golden age. Some looked for 
an uprising under a human leader, a descendant of 
David ; others, despairing of any human king, looked 
for a Son of Man from heaven. 

Couchoud accepts the historicity of John the 
Baptist, who is mentioned in Josephus as well as in 
the Gospels, and whom he regards as an agitator who 
proclaimed the imminent advent of the Messiah and 
was put to death in consequence by Herod Antipas. 
The Gospels, however, have ** played hanky-panky " 
with the story and given us an apocryphal account 
of his death instead of the simple truth stated by 
Josephus : 

"Herod feared that the powerful influence 
which he exercised over men's minds might lead 
to some act of revolt; for they seemed ready to 
do anything upon his advice. Herod therefore 
considered it far better to forestall him by putting 
him to death, before any revolution arose through 
him, than to rue his delay when plunged in the 
turmoil of an insurrection." 2 

The followers of John the Baptist were known as 
Nazoraeans " those who observe." They lived to- 

1 Couchoud, The Enigma of Jesus, p. 86. 

2 Josephus, Antiquities, xviii, 5, 2. 


gether in ascetic communities, fasted and prayed, 
initiated new members by baptism, and awaited the 
advent of the Son of Man. In a few years a split 
occurred among them. A study of the prophetic 
writings, notably of Isaiah liii, convinced some of 
them that the Messiah must have earned his office by 
suffering and death. Ecstasies induced by fasting 
and prayer led to actual visions of the slain and glori- 
fied Messiah. This section of Nazoraeans, whose 
leaders were Peter, James, and John, became the first 
Christian Church. For reasons that admit only of 
conjecture (perhaps due to the nature of their visions) 
James and certain others enjoyed the title of 
" brethren of the Lord." Couchoud dates the exist- 
ence of this sect from about A.D. 37-38. 

To the first Christians the death of the Messiah or 
Christ was not an earthly event at all. He was the 
" Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." l 
The mode of his death was at first unspecified. Paul, 
a rival visionary to Peter, James, and John, introduced 
from Psalm xxii the idea of his death by crucifixion. 
To Paul, however, the murderers of the Christ are not 
Jewish priests or Roman procurators, but Satan and 
his demons, the " rulers of this world, which are 
coming to nought." 2 The earliest Christian writings 
the genuine Epistles of Paul and the Apocalypse 
(dated by Couchoud as early as A.D. 65) reveal a 
mortal contest between the apostles of Jerusalem and 
the party associated with Paul as to the necessity of 
observing the Jewish law ; but neither party writes of 
Jesus as of a human contemporary. " For John and 
for Paul God and Jesus are one." 3 

According to Couchoud no idea of giving Jesus 
an historical setting entered anyone's head until the 
second century. 4 By that time Jerusalem and its 

1 Rev. xiii, 8. 2 1 Cor. ii, 6, 8. 

8 Couchoud, The Creation of Christ, p. 105. 

4 This is Couchoud's latest theory as expounded in The 
Creation of Christ. In his earlier work, The Enigma of Jesus, 
the Gospels are dated " about 80 to 1 10 or 120." 


temple had been destroyed and Jewish nationalism 
defeated and discredited. But, as we know from 
Pliny, the worship of the Christ as God was widespread 
in Asia Minor and was giving the imperial authorities 
some trouble. To converts from paganism it was 
evident that the new god, like the old gods, must have 
had an earthly history. And because he was a new 
god, come to put an end to the reigning world-order, 
his earthly history had to be fairly recent. So by 
114, when Tacitus was proconsul in Asia, the story 
was current that the Christ had suffered less than a 
century before under Pontius Pilate, whose cruelties 
were well known to readers of Josephus. Tacitus 
accordingly noted in his Annals that the mischievous 
Christian superstition owed its origin to one Christus, 
executed as a criminal by a Roman procurator. 

The first written Gospel, according to Couchoud, 
was the work of Marcion. Marcion, on any showing, 
is a very remarkable figure in the history of early 
Christianity. A native of Sinope, in Pontus, a Chris- 
tian by birth or by early conversion, and by profession 
a sea captain, his calling took him to different Mediter- 
ranean ports and enabled him to compare the different 
versions of Christianity preached in various cities. 
He came to the conclusion that the true doctrine had 
been corrupted from the very first by Jewish errors, 
and that it was necessary to restore it by ridding 
Christianity of every trace of Judaism. The Jewish 
God, the preator of the world, is a jealous and vindic- 
tive being; and the world is the sort of place we might 
expect such a being to create. Fortunately for us, 
according to Marcion, there is another God, a God of 
goodness, who sent his Son Jesus to redeem us from 
the clutches of this fiend. That can be done only by 
renunciation of the world and by practising poverty, 
celibacy, and non-resistance. Such, says Marcion, 
was the teaching of Jesus ; but the apostles whom he 
chose did not understand him. They thought he 
was the Christos, the anointed king who should deliver 
Israel from its enemies, whereas he is the Chrestos, the 


good God who will deliver mankind from the evil 
world. Paul alone, of the early apostles, understood 
this. In order, therefore, to restore true Christianity 
M arcion published a corrected edition of the Pauline 
Epistles, and an anonymous Gospel in which the 
opposition of Jesus to Judaism was stressed and any 
connection between them systematically eliminated. 

This Gospel is not extant ; but from the polemics 
written against Marcion by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and 
later Fathers its text has been reconstructed by modern 
critics with surprising accuracy. In general outline it 
resembles Luke, but differs in important respects. 

The Jesus of Marcion is not born of a woman, but 
descends from heaven to Galilee in the likeness of a 
man and at once begins teaching. There is no 
baptism and no temptation story. 

Jesus announces that he has come to do away with 
the law and the prophets. He delivers a discourse 
embodying certain features of the Sermon on the 
Mount, but to Gentiles, not Jews. Throughout the 
Gospel, references to the Old Testament are reduced 
to a minimum. Thus the saying, " Many prophets 
and kings desired to see the things which ye see, and 
saw them not," is given in the curt form : " Prophets 
did not see what ye see." Jesus does not, as in our 
Gospels, compare himself to Jonah or to Solomon ; 
he does not say that the blood of the prophets will be 
required of this generation ; and he does not say that 
the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets will be admitted 
to the kingdom of God. Instead of saying that not 
a tittle of the law will fail, he says that not a syllable of 
his own words will fail. In replying to the Sadducees 
about the resurrection he makes no appeal to the 
Pentateuch. After his own resurrection he reproves 
the two disciples at Emmaus as slow of heart to 
believe, not, as in Luke, " all that the prophets have 
spoken," but " all that / have spoken." 

Jewish Messianic expectations are repudiated. 
Thus, when Peter hails Jesus as the Christ, Jesus 
" reprimands " him. The prophecy that personal 


disciples of Jesus will live to see the kingdom of God, 
the promise of rewards " now in this time " to those 
who have left all and followed him, the triumphal 
entry into Jerusalem, the expulsion of the traders 
from the temple, and the inscription on the cross, 
" This is the king of the Jews," are all omitted. 

The twelve apostles are systematically belittled. 
The apostle Philip is identified with the man who, 
bidden to follow Jesus, asks first to go and bury his 
father and is rebuked for the wish. The seventy are 
given the title of " apostle " equally with the twelve. 
The request of James and John to sit by Jesus in his 
kingdom is given as in Mark; but the answer is 
curter: Jesus simply tells them that the place is 
reserved for others. Peter is not promised that his 
faith shall not fail ; he makes no attempt to defend 
Jesus from arrest; after his denial he does not go 
out and weep bitterly; he does not visit the tomb 
after the resurrection ; and he does not see the risen 
Lord before the rest do. The parting promise of 
Jesus that they shall be " clothed with power from on 
high " is omitted. The Gospel ends with the declara- 
tion that repentance and remission of sins shall be 
preached to all the nations : we are not told by whom, 
but it is evidently not to be by the twelve. 

The usual view is that Marcion's Gospel is a variant 
of Luke edited by Marcion for his own purposes. 
According to Cpuchoud, so far is this from being the 
case that Marcion's is the original Gospel of which 
all the others are mutilated and interpolated versions. 
Couchoud dates Marcion's work in 133-134, during 
the last Jewish revolt against Rome under Barcocheba, 
and holds that the eschatological prophecies in the 
Gospels refer to this revolt and not to the war of 
66-70. In the name " Barabbas " Couchoud sees a 
veiled allusion to Barcocheba, the false Messiah whom 
the Jews preferred to Jesus. 

Marcion's Gospel, according to Couchoud, was 
written and meant to be read as an allegory. " The 
true subject of the Gospel is not Jesus, but the Chris- 


tian cult." l For that very reason it did not go down 
with the mass of Christians, who by now were firmly 
convinced of the historicity of Jesus and wanted a 
straightforward story of his life and death. Another 
reason for the failure of Marcion's Gospel was its 
extreme anti- Judaism. Most Christians, though they 
had quarrelled with the Jews, set great store by the 
Old Testament and its real and alleged Messianic 
prophecies. The Gospel of Mark, therefore written, 
according to Couchoud, about 135 at Rome and 
possibly in Latin 2 while based on that of Marcion, 
restores the link with Judaism which Marcion severed 
and tries to give the story an air of reality. Jesus no 
longer descends direct from heaven. Though Mark 
gives no account of his birth, we are given to under- 
stand that he had a mother and brothers and a trade. 
He is tempted as men are tempted. He comes to 
fulfil Jewish prophecy, seeks baptism by the Messianist 
John, and confutes his enemies out of the Old 
Testament. To show that Jesus accepted the title of 
Messiah, Mark invents the triumphal entry into 
Jerusalem and the cleansing of the temple. The 
twelve apostles are treated little better by Mark than 
by Marcion; but Peter is allowed to weep away his 

The Gospel of Matthew, according to Couchoud, 
was written in Syria and in the Aramaic language soon 
after Mark, and is based on both Mark and Marcion. 
It is an attempt to prove, in opposition to Marcion, 
that Jesus was the Messiah by making him fulfil 
in detail, from his birth onwards, the Messianic 
prophecies of the Old Testament. Matthew corrects 
Marcion's and Mark's cavalier treatment of the 
twelve apostles, and causes Jesus to reward Peter's 
confession of his Christhood by making him the rock 

1 The Creation of Christ, p. 167. 

2 The oldest Latin text, which Couchoud holds to be " better 
in many points " than the Greek, incidentally varies the order 
of Mark xiv, 41-42, so destroying J. M. Robertson's strongest 
argument for a dramatic original. 


on which the Church is built and giving him the keys 
of the kingdom of heaven. 

The Fourth Gospel is considered by Couchoud to be 
in all probability the work of John the Elder, the 
authority cited by Papias, and to have been written 
at Ephesus not long after 135. In its hatred of 
Judaism and in its almost openly allegorical treatment 
of the story of Jesus it approaches nearer to Marcion- 
ism than any of the Synoptic Gospels, though stopping 
short of Marcion's utter rejection of the Old Testa- 
ment. Hence the slow acceptance of this Gospel by 
the Church. 

Marcion, after finally breaking with the Church, 
died in 144. After the breach the Church, according 
to Couchoud, took over his Gospel and by " well- 
chosen additions " transformed it into our Gospel 
according to Luke. This was the work of Clement 
of Rome, whom Couchoud places half a century after 
his traditional date and regards as the " Admirable 
Crichton " of early Christianity. Not only was he 
the real author of the Third Gospel and the Acts, but 
he was the final editor of the Pauline Epistles, the 
fabricator of the two Petrine Epistles and that of Jude, 
and the compiler and publisher of the New Testament 
as we have it! Luke, or rather Clement, borrows 
from all the preceding evangelists, but writes with far 
greater artistry than they (witness the infancy narra- 
tive and such parables as those of the good Samaritan 
and the prodigal son) and by his corroborative details 
puts the final touches to the portrait of the historical 
Jesus. At the same time allusions to the human birth 
of Jesus were interpolated in the Pauline Epistles. 
The transformation of the God Jesus into the God- 
man was complete. 

Thus, according to Couchoud, the Gospels are the 
product, not of a slow literary evolution, but of the 
intense activity of a few years in the second century. 
Hypotheses of primitive sources, documents behind 
documents, Q, proto-Mark, and the like, are flung to 
the winds. The Gospels are the Christian reaction 


to Barcocheba's revolt. To counter the revolutionary 
Messianism of the Jews the evangelists portray a 
Christ whose kingdom is not of this world, hold him 
up as an example to the suffering masses of the Roman 
Empire, and say to them : " Not Barabbas, but this 

Rylands. L. Gordon Rylands, author of The 
Evolution of Christianity (1927), The Christian Tradi- 
tion (1937), The Beginnings of Gnostic Christianity 
(1940), and other works, stresses, like Couchoud* the 
problem presented by the apparent deification of 
Jesus within a few years of the traditional date of his 
death. The silence of contemporary writers like 
Philo, and historians of the next generation like 
Josephus, as to the career of Jesus makes the status 
assigned to him in the Pauline Epistles inexplicable in 
terms of a human figure. Another fact calling for 
explanation is that in the Pauline literature we find 
evidence that contradictory doctrines about Jesus 
were already current : we read of " another Jesus, 
whom we did not preach," and of anathemas on those 
who preach " a different gospel." * What is more, 
Paul (or his personator) repeatedly claims that he 
derived his gospel, not from personal disciples of 
Jesus or from any human informant, but by super- 
natural revelation from Jesus himself. 2 What sort of 
evidence for a human Jesus is this? If we turn to 
other than Pauline writings, such as the Teaching of 
the Twelve Apostles, we again find no reference to the 
career of Jesus, but only to the " knowledge " of 
divine things imparted through him to the faithful; 
while in the Apocalypse Jesus is a divine being from 
start to finish, depicted in imagery borrowed from the 
descriptions of Jahveh in Ezekiel and Daniel, and 
" slain from the foundation of the world." 8 

The truth, according to Rylands, is that the first 
Christians were Gnostics for whom the Christos or 
Chrestos was not a human contemporary, but a spirit 

1 2 Cor. xi, 4; Gal. i, 6-9. 

2 1 Cor. xi, 23; Gal. i, 11-12; ii, 6. 

8 Rev. xiii, 8. 


sent by God to save men from bondage to false gods 
and bring them to knowledge of himself. This spirit 
was identical with the "wisdom" described in the 
Book of Proverbs as the agent by which God created 
the world and by which he instructs men, and with 
the logos (" word " or " reason ") which Philo of 
Alexandria took from Greek philosophy and personi- 
fied as the teacher and comforter of men. 

We have evidence of the nature of this Gnosticism 
in an ancient hymn-book discovered in 1908, the so- 
called Odes of Solomon. Rendel Harris, the dis- 
coverer, dates the Odes about the end of the first 
century A.D. ; but as they are contained in the same 
MS. as the Psalms of Solomon (known from internal 
evidence to date from the last century B.C.) and never 
mention Jesus, Rylands regards them as pre-Christian 
and only slightly, if at all, interpolated by Christian 
hands. The Odes speak of the logos, or Christ, as 
dwelling in men and as triumphing over persecution, 
as we should speak of the triumph of virtue or of a 
good cause over its enemies, not of an historical 
individual. Here, then, we have a sect which shortly 
after, or perhaps shortly before the beginning of our 
era, sang hymns about a persecuted and triumphant 
Christ, but knew nothing of Jesus. 

Rylands, however, follows J. M. Robertson and 
W. B. Smith in believing that " Joshua," or " Jesus," 
was a divine name in Palestine before the Christian 
era. He accepts Robertson's hypothesis of a cult of 
" Joshua son of the Father." Apart from this there 
is good evidence that some Jews expected Joshua to 
reappear as the Messiah : we have the Sibylline oracle 
quoted in the last chapter, and the following prophecy 
in the Apocalypse of Ezra, written about A.D. 100 
and included in our Apocrypha under the title " 2 

" For my son Jesus shall be revealed with those 
that be with him, and shall rejoice them that 
remain four hundred years. After these years 


shall my son Christ die, and all that have the 
breath of life. And the world shall be turned 
into the old silence seven days, like as in the 
first beginning: so that no man shall remain. 
And after seven days the world, that yet awaketh 
not, shall be raised up, and that shall die that is 
corruptible. And the earth shall restore those 
that are asleep in her, and so shall the dust those 
that dwell therein in silence, and the secret places 
shall deliver those souls that were committed 
unto them." 1 

This is very unlikely to be a Christian interpolation. 
No Christian sect known to history ever held that 
Jesus Christ would reign on earth four hundred years 
and then die seven days before the general resurrection. 
The writer is a Jew ; and the Jesus he speaks of is 
Joshua, come back to earth to reign as the Messiah. 
Seeing, then, that some Jews equated the Messiah 
with Joshua, it was natural that some Greek-speaking 
Gnostics should give their mystical Christ the name 
of Jesus. 

Rylands follows Smith in holding that the Naza- 
renes were so named because they revered a guardian 
or saviour, Joshua or Jesus, whom they identified 
with the Messiah, and that it was from them that the 
Gnostics borrowed the appellation "Jesus Christ." 
Catholic Christianity arose by a fusion between 
Gnostics who believed in a mystical Christ and 
Nazarenes who expected a catastrophic overturn of 
the world-order by Joshua as Messiah. The fusion 
was preceded by a period of bitter rivalry between the 
two parties, and was not finally effected till the 
second century A.D. Even then it was not accepted 
by all, some Gnostics on the one side, and some 
Nazarenes on the other, repudiating the compromise 
and remaining outside the Church as heretics. 

The New Testament consists of writings emanating 
from these sects before, during, and after the period 

1 2 Esdras vii, 28-32. 


of fusion. Rylands devotes a separate work to the 
critical examination of the chief Pauline Epistles, 
which he finds to contain a Gnostic nucleus dating 
from the first century A.D., some of it probably by 
Paul himself, but to have been put into their present 
shape by a Catholic editor in the second century. 
The earliest < Gospel originated among the Gnostics, 
very likely before the end of the first century, and was 
written and meant to be read as an allegory. In this 
view Rylands follows W. B. Smith. But he does not, 
like Smith, identify the primitive Gospel with that of 
Mark, nor, like Couchoud, with that of Marcion. 
The primitive Gospel is lost; but the apocryphal 
Gospel of Peter, dating in its present form from 
about A.D. 140, represents on the whole, in Rylands's 
opinion, an earlier version of it than any of our 
Gospels. In that Gospel the crucifixion of Jesus is 
ascribed to " Herod the king " and to the Jewish 
people. Rylands thinks that a vague tradition of an 
actual Jesus Ben-Pandira, put to death by the Jews 
at some date B.C., may have helped to give substance 
to an originally mythical story. The contradictory 
nature of the discourses of Jesus shows that they are 
not the utterances of one individual. They were 
attributed to him by the leaders of the Gnostic or 
Nazarene Churches in the same way that Old Testa- 
ment writers attributed their prophecies to Jahveh; 
and their absence from Mark shows that they were 
inserted in the record comparatively late. The pro- 
vision of Jesus with a mother and brothers is the last 
touch in a process of progressive humanization. 

Dujardin. Edouard Dujardin, a French novelist, 
dramatist, and critic, who early in this century ad- 
vanced some radical theories on the Old Testament, 
published late in life two books on Christian origins, 
an abridged English translation of which appeared in 
1938 under the title Ancient History of the God Jesus. 
After dwelling on the silence of Josephus and the 
second-hand nature of the evidence of Tacitus (even 
if authentic) and the Talmud, Dujardin, like Couchoud 


and Rylands, asks how, if Jesus was a man, his dis- 
ciples from the time of Paul onward could have 
treated him as divine. 

" Sociology sees here an irrefutable argument 
against historicity. An eagle is not born from a 
fowl. A mystery religion cannot spring from a 
Messianic agitation. . . . There is not a shadow 
of doubt that Jesus, a spiritual being, has played 
in the annals of history a role far greater than 
any Galilean prophet could ever play." * 

Since " Christians for eighteen centuries have wor- 
shipped Jesus as a god," 2 the presumption is that he 
was always a god. Here Dujardin takes over and 
develops J. M. Robertson's theory of a Palestinian 
cult of " Joshua son of the Father." The god of 
this cult, according to Dujardin, was originally a fish 
or eel venerated as a totem and, like other totems, 
eaten ritually by the prehistoric clan who practised 
the cult. Hence Joshua in the Old Testament is the 
son of Nun, " fish," having been himself a fish to 
begin with. With the rise of agriculture the cult 
became assimilated in some respects to those of 
Canaanitish agricultural deities; and on the arrival 
of the Hebrew nomads the god took on the attributes 
of a lamb. The central rite of the cult was a periodical 
expiatory sacrifice in which a human victim, represent- 
ing the prehistoric god-king, was killed, hanged, and 
at sunset taken down and buried. This was followed 
by a day of mourning and then by a ritual meal con- 
sisting, according to locality, of fish, bread, or lamb, 
in which the god was mystically eaten by his worship- 
pers. The rite took place at one of the numerous 
Gilgals (" circles " or ancient cromlechs) which are 
found in Palestine as in other countries. Hence 
Joshua, in the Old Testament, is credited with the 
erection of one of these stone circles near Jericho and 
is said to have kept the passover there. 8 Joshua is 

1 Dujardin, Ancient History of the God Jesus, pp. 4-6. 

2 Ibid., p. 19. Joshua iv, 20; v, 10. 


,also said to have hanged captured kings on trees the 
only examples of this kind of treatment recorded in 
the Old Testament. 1 With the establishment of 
monotheism these local cults were suppressed. Thus 
Joshua survives in the Old Testament as a human 
figure, only his patronymic and a few stories like this 
betraying his original status. In order more effec- 
tually to ban the cult the eel was declared an unclean 
animal and its use as food forbidden. But in Galilee, 
and other centres where the writ of Jerusalem did not 
run, the cult of the old eel-god persisted until the 
conquest of the country by the Maccabees in the 
second century B.C., and even after that survived in 
secret among the farming and fishing population, 
though the killing of the human victim was by now 
merely simulated. 

About A.D. 26 Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, 
founded the city of Tiberias in honour of his overlord, 
the emperor Tiberius. The city was built in Greek 
style and had a large pagan population. Many of 
the Galilean inhabitants left the place ; and Dujardin 
thinks that some of these, for the most part fishermen, 
migrated to Jericho in order to carry on their calling. 
Filled with religious fanaticism by the profanation of 
their motherland, they assembled at Gilgal to celebrate 
their three-day ritual drama of death and resurrection. 
A certain Simon of Cyrene may have personated the 
victim. During the ritual meal, in the religious 
ferment induced by the occasion, some of the company 
believed that they saw the risen god. That apparition, 
which Dujardin dates in A.D. 27, was the starting- 
point of Christianity. The visionaries, Peter, James, 
John, and the rest, began to spread the news that the 
Lord Jesus had appeared to them. The message was 
carried from city to city by Greek-speaking Jews of 
the " dispersion " and provided scattered groups of 
enthusiasts with a basis for the belief that the pagan 

1 Joshua viii, 29 ; x, 26. Gilgal was the place where " Samuel 
hewed Agag in pieces before Jahveh " another connection 
with ancient human sacrifice (1 Sam. xv, 33). 


world-order would soon be destroyed by divine v 
agency and the kingdom of God inaugurated. Since 
the god of a cult is only a personification of the group 
itself, Dujardin holds that divine agency did not ex- 
clude revolutionary action by the Christians. The 
martyrs of the year 64 may really have set fire to Rome. 

The worship of Jesus, the God of the new order, 
bears enduring traces of the primitive cult from which 
it sprang. Jesus is represented in catacomb paintings 
in the form of a fish. The miracle of the loaves and 
fishes in the Gospels is a mythical projection of the 
ritual meal. Golgotha, or Golgoltha, the scene of the 
crucifixion, is unknown outside the Gospels in the 
topography of Jerusalem ; in point of fact it is Gilgal, 
and has been shifted to Jerusalem in the process of 
myth-making. Simon of Cyrene retains a place in 
the story as the man who carries the cross ; he was 
held by some second-century Gnostics to have been 
crucified in place of Jesus. 

To the first Christians Jesus was simply a God who 
died for men, was buried, rose again the third day, and 
appeared to Peter and others as a pledge that after the 
impending destruction of the ancient world they 
would enjoy eternal life with him in the kingdom of 
God. But years passed, and the Roman Empire 
refused to disappear. After A.p. 70, when Jerusalem 
was destroyed, the Church aspired to succeed to the 
inheritance of Judaism. With this object the Gospel 
story was elaborated, the drama of the death and 
resurrection of Jesus expanded into a ministry of a 
year or more, and discourses were put into his mouth 
enjoining non-resistance to evil and submission to 
Rome. The Pauline Epistles were interpolated and 
new Epistles forged in the same sense. To Dujardin, 
who sympathizes with revolutionary movements, the 
Gospels represent the degenerate phase of early 
Christianity. In them the Church of the Dark Ages, 
with its vested interests, defended by an elaborate 
fairy-tale of heaven, hell, and purgatory, is already 
in the making. 



IN the last two chapters I stated the case for the myth 
theory as forcibly as possible, emphasizing those 
arguments which seemed to be most cogent. I 
deliberately omitted certain others which in my judg- 
ment do the case more harm than good. 

Some Mistakes. For example, an objection to the 
myth theory is the lack of evidence that any early 
critics of Christianity denied the historicity of Jesus. 
To meet this objection J. M. Robertson and Rylands 
adduce the following passage from the Ignatian 
Epistle to the Philadelphians : 

" I have heard certain men say : ' If I do not 
find it in the archives, I do not believe in the 
gospel.' And as I replied to them : 4 It is 
written,' they answered : ' That is the very ques- 
tion.' But for me the archives are Jesus Christ, 
his cross, his death, his resurrection, and the faith 
which comes from him." l 

The text of this passage is admittedly uncertain. 
Adopting the above translation, which is that of 
Salomon Reinach, Robertson and Rylands argue that 
Ignatius here refers to opponents who denied the 
historicity of Jesus. 2 It may be so ; but the text does 
not say it. The subject of discussion between Igna- 
tius and his opponents is said to be " the gospel " 
i.e. not the mere existence, but the Christhood and 
Godhead of Jesus. On that issue we can agree with 
Rylands that Ignatius begs the question; but it has 
no bearing on the myth theory. 

1 Ignatius, Philad. viii. In Wake and Burton's Apostolic 
Fathers the word here translated " archives " is rendered by 
44 originals," and there are other material differences. 

J. M. Robertson, Jesus and Judas, pp. 122-123. Rylands, 
The Evolution of Christianity, p. 225. 



Again, Robertson, Couchoud, and Rylands all see 
a denial of the historicity of Jesus in the words quoted 
in Chapter II from Justin's Dialogue with Trypho the 
Jew. To save reference back, I will repeat them : 

" The Messiah [Chris tos], if he is born and 
exists anywhere, is unknown to others and even 
to himself and has no power until Elijah comes 
and anoints him and makes him manifest to all. 
You have accepted an idle report and fashioned 
a sort of Messiah for yourselves, and for his sake 
inconsiderately throw away your lives." x 

To anyone reading the first sentence in full it should 
be evident that Trypho is talking about the Messiah 
whom he and his fellow Jews expect, and giving a 
reason why Jesus cannot be that Messiah. But, by 
omitting the words after " unknown," Robertson 
makes the sentence read as if it referred directly to 
Jesus. 2 Rylands does the same and aggravates the 
case by mistranslating : " If he was born and lived 
somewhere, he is entirely unknown " rendering the 
Greek esti (" exists ") by a past verb and so making 
it appear that Trypho is talking about an unknown 
Jesus in the past instead of, as the context shows, 
about an unknown Messiah in the present or future. 3 
Couchoud does not quote this sentence, but translates 
the second : " You follow an empty rumour. You 
have fashioned a Messiah for yourselves," 4 missing, 
as do Robertson and Rylands, the ironic force of 
Christon Una (" a sort of Messiah "). All three fail 
to see that the question at issue here, as elsewhere 
in the Dialogue, is not the existence of Jesus, but his 
Messiahship. The passage has no connection what- 
ever with the myth theory. 

Again, Robertson and Rylands draw attention to 

1 Justin, Dialogue, 8. 

8 J. M. Robertson, Jesus and Judas, p. 140. 
8 Rylands, The Evolution of Christianity, p. 225; The Begin- 
nings of Gnostic Christianity, p. 191. 

4 Couchoud, The Enigma of Jesus, p. 30. 


the fact that an admittedly early Gnostic sect, the 
Ophites, or Naassenes (" snake-worshippers "), are 
described by Hippolytus in the third century A.D. 
as using a hymn in which Jesus, evidently conceived 
as a divine being, begs his Father to let him descend 
to earth to liberate the soul of man. No one doubts 
that Jesus was a divine being for the Gnostics: the 
question is when he began to be so. The bearing of 
the Naassene hymn on the myth theory obviously 
depends on its date ; and we know nothing about its 
date except that it must be older than the third century 
A.D. A hymn is not necessarily as old as the sect who 
use it. Until we know more, Loisy is manifestly 
justified in refusing to base on it any inference as to 
the historicity of Jesus. The same objection applies 
to mythicist arguments based on the Gnostic gem 
and the magic papyrus mentioned in Chapter IV. 

The reader, in fact, must have been struck by the 
weakness of several of the arguments set forth in the 
last two chapters. Critics who dismiss the whole 
Gospel story as mythical are clearly not entitled to 
infer the existence of a pre-Christian cult of Jesus 
from incidents recorded in the Gospels. The incident, 
for example, related in Mark ix, 38 (where the dis- 
ciples see a man casting out demons in the name of 
Jesus and forbid him because he is not one of them- 
selves) is, on the showing of the mythicist, fictitious, 
and therefore cannot be used, as Robertson and 
Rylands use it, to prove that the name " Jesus " was 
used by exorcists before the advent of Christianity. 

Again, the account given by Philo of an anti- Jewish 
" rag " at Alexandria, when the mob dressed up a 
lunatic named Karabas to mock the Jewish king 
Agrippa, yields at best a flimsy support for the theory 
of an age-old cult of Barabbas. And gven that sup- 
port has to be procured by altering the name! 

The theory, favoured by Robertson and Rylands, 
that Bethlehem was an old seat of the worship of 
Tammuz rests on a letter of Jerome in which that 
Father, who settled there at the end of the fourth 


century, states that the emperor Hadrian, in order to 
desecrate the holy places, built a temple of Jupiter at 
the scene of the resurrection and a temple of Venus 
at the scene of the crucifixion, and planted a grove of 
Adonis at Bethlehem, which remained until the reign 
of Constantine. We need not accept Jerome's state- 
ment of the emperor's motive. Hadrian was a 
tolerant ruler; and Christianity was not formidable 
enough in his time to merit such elaborate affronts. 
It was the Jews, red-handed from their recent revolt 
under Barcocheba, whom Hadrian was out to crush. 
He rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman colony under the 
name of Aelia Capitolina, forbade the Jews to live 
in the vicinity, and no doubt desecrated Bethlehem 
as the traditional home of David and as part of the 
same policy. Bethlehem may have been and, like 
most towns in Palestine, probably was a prehistoric 
pagan sanctuary of some sort or other, but Jerome 
does not say so; and if it was, it is unlikely that 
pagan worship persisted five miles from Jerusalem 
throughout the period of the second temple, including 
the Maccabean era, and down to the time of Hadrian. 
The connection, therefore, between Tammuz and 
Jesus remains conjectural. 

The theory of Robertson and Rylands that " the 
carpenter's son " in Matth. xiii, 55, is a cryptogram 
for " the Son of God " is refuted by the context. 
The evangelist is here speaking, not in his own person, 
but in that of the unbelieving townsmen of Jesus. 
Coming from them, the question, "Is not this the 
carpenter's son?" if taken literally, is in character 
and agrees with what immediately follows, viz : 

"Is not his mother called Mary? and his 
brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and 
Judas? -And his sisters, are they not all with us? 
Whence then hath this man all these things? " 

To read "the carpenter" as denoting the 
demiourgos or architect of the universe makes rubbish 
of the whole passage. For unbelieving Jews to attri- 



bute divine parentage to Jesus would be totally out of 
character. Couchoud, in many ways the ablest of 
the mythicists, has his own symbolic interpretation, 
bit at least avoids that pitfall. 

It will have been noticed that mythicists are by no 
means in complete accord with one another. J. M. 
Robertson, in The Jesus Problem, subjects W. B. 
Smith's theory of Gospel symbolism to some pertinent 
criticism. Smith's theory, as we have seen, is that 
early Christianity was first and foremost a monotheist 
crusade against all forms of polytheism, and that the 
miracles of Jesus in the Gospels are an allegory of the 
victory of the true God over false gods. Against this 
Robertson points out, firstly, that Jesus is always a 
separate person from Jahveh, and that to affirm the 
divinity of both is incompatible with pure monotheism. 
Secondly, while a number of Gospel stories can be 
interpreted as allegories, they were written primarily 
as propaganda ; and competent propagandists do not 
deliberately set out to be misunderstood. 

" It is not by such manipulation that cults are 
made popular, congregations collected, and 
revenue secured. And it was on these practical 
lines that Christianity was ' stablished.' . . . On 
any view, it can hardly be doubted that the 
stories of healing made their popular appeal as 
simple miracles." I 

Here Robertson, who as 
the conditions of 
evident advantage over 
On the other hand, Ro 
Christian cult of Jesu 
refuted in the mos 
Couchoud, who, whil 
his predecessor, frames 
any recourse to that h . _ 

But when allowance Ikffriteen ft&3e for jffotafts 

&cmn knew 

1 T \/f D /tK 


and disagreements the myth theory still has to be 
taken seriously. In stressing the analogy between 
Jesus and other saviour-gods of antiquity, the silence 
of Josephus, the testimony of the Pauline Epistles to 
the divinity of Jesus, conjoined with their silence as to 
his life and teaching, and the contradictions in the 
Gospel story and in the utterances which it ascribes to 
Jesus, the mythicists have done a service to historical 
science and thrown down a challenge which no writer 
on the subject can ignore. Let us see how recent 
defenders of the historicity of Jesus meet that 

Conybeare. Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, a dis- 
tinguished Orientalist, deals with Christian origins in 
two books, Myth, Magic, and Morals (1909) and 
The Historical Christ (1914). He distinguishes be- 
tween the historical Jesus, who in his opinion underlies 
the Synoptic Gospels (especially Mark), and the 
" Christ of their own theory and imaginings " created 
by Paul and later theologians. In order to vindicate 
the former he puts the latter completely aside, though 
from the epistolary references to Jesus as " born of 
a woman " and " of the seed of David according to 
the flesh " * he infers that Paul knew more of the 
historical Jesus than he chose to tell. 

In assessing the value of the Gospel story it makes 
all the difference whether we regard it, with Schmiedel, 
as the progressive deification of a man, or with W. B. 
Smith, Couchoud, and Rylands, as the progressive 
humanizatioa of & God. Conybeare therefore at- 
taches importance to SchmiedeFs "pillar" texts. 
Adopting the view of most critics that Mark is the 
oldest Gospel and that Matthew and Luke used his 
work in compiling their own, Conybeare compares 
these texts as they appear in the three Gospels and 
finds that they show a progressive deification of Jesus. 
To SchmiedeFs examples, some of which are men- 
tioned in Chapter III, . Conybeare adds others. Thus 
in Mark's account of the baptism of Jesus the voice 
1 Gal. iv, 4; Rom. i, 3. 


from heaven declaring him the Son of God is addressed 
to him alone. 1 In Matthew the voice speaks of Jesus 
in the third person and is addressed to all present. 2 
Mark relates that at Capernaum they brought to 
Jesus " all that were sick, and them that were pos- 
sessed with devils," and that he healed " many." 3 
Matthew says that they brought " many," and that he 
healed " all." 4 Luke says that " all " that had any 
sick brought them, and that he healed " every one." 5 
Mark makes Jesus cure people by his spittle. 6 Mat- 
thew and Luke omit such touches as unworthy of the 
Son of God. This does not prove that the incidents 
related by Mark are historical; but it proves that 
Matthew and Luke, in using Mark, suppressed or 
amended features which suggested that Jesus's power 
was limited or dependent on material means. The 
histpricist may fairly claim that J. M. Robertson's 
criticism of Schmiedel deals too much with the 
question whether the " pillar " texts could have been 
invented, and too little with the question why, if 
Jesus from the first was God and nothing else, the 
Gospel versions of these texts should have been re- 
handled in the way they were. 

Conybeare does not regard even the Gospel of 
Mark as genuine history. 

" The greater part of that Gospel is the work 
of someone who was by instinct and predilection 
a miracle-monger." 7 

But the progressive deification of Jesus in the Gos- 
pels points, in his opinion, to a human figure as the 
starting-point of the process. He finds his conclusion 
confirmed by the fact that in the early centuries a 
large number of Christians regarded Jesus as a man 
born of human parents. Justin, though he believes 
in the deity of Jesus, admits, in the Dialogue with 

1 Marki, 11. Matth. iii, 17. 

8 Mark i, 32-34. 4 Matth. viii, 16. 

* Luke iv, 40. Mark vii, 32-37; viii, 22-26. 

7 Conybeare, Myth, Magic, and Morals, pp. 140-141, 


Trypho, that many Christians do not. The fact is 
that until creeds were drawn up by General Coun- 
cils, and enforced by persecution, the Church had 
no uniform Christology. Paul of Samosata and 
Archelaus of Armenia, in the third century, and 
Aphraates in Mesopotamia in the fourth, taught that 
Jesus was not divine by nature, but became so by the 
descent of the Spirit at his baptism. The fact that 
these opinions prevailed mostly in Semitic countries, 
where traditions of a real Jesus would be likely to 
persist, is significant. The mythicist contention that 
Jesus was primarily a God over-simplifies the situa- 
tion. For some Christians he was primarily a God, 
for others primarily a man ; and the creed eventually 
imposed in the fourth century was a forced com- 
promise between the parties. 

So far Conybeare is on strong ground. But he 
shows himself less than critical when he accepts the 
sayings collected in Q (the document used by Matthew 
and Luke, but not Mark) as mainly genuine on the 
ground that they have a " common cachet." Many 
of these sayings, notably the injunctions to non- 
resistance, the condemnation of divorce, and the 
Lord's Prayer, have close parallels in the later books 
of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the Tal- 
mud; and their "common cachet" is simply that 
of popular Judaism. Of those that cannot be so 
paralleled the distinctive features are the announce- 
ment that the kingdom of God is at hand, that Jesus 
is the Messiah and greater than Jonah or Solomon, 
and that those who reject him will be punished and 
those who follow him rewarded. Such sayings have 
little in common with those which bid us love our 
enemies, judge not that we be not judged, and forgive 
until seventy times seven. If the " common cachet " 
of these Messianic utterances is held to authenticate 
them as against the rest, it would follow that the most 
probably genuine sayings of Jesus are those prophecies 
which were most signally falsified by the event. 

Klausner. Joseph Klausner's Jesus of Nazareth : 


His Life, Times, and Teaching (1922) is written from 
the point of view of a modern Jew. Its main value 
lies in its analysis of the Jewish evidence, particularly 
that of the Talmud, for the historicity of Jesus. 
Klausner points out that the Talmud is primarily 
concerned with Old Testament exegesis and with 
Jewish canon law (halakhd), and that it refers to 
events of the period of the second temple only when 
relevant to these subjects. That references to Jesus 
should be scanty is therefore not surprising. Of 
those which exist, only statements emanating from 
rabbis of the first two centuries A.D. (Tannaim or 
" teachers " par excellence) are of any historical im- 
portance ; and of these the only one which takes us 
back to contemporary tradition is that mentioned in 
Chapter II, in which Eliezer ben-Hyrcanus relates his 
encounter with a personal disciple of Jesus at Sep- 

Ehoris. Klausner considers that incident authentic. 
t may be objected that the Gemara, in which it is 
recorded, was not compiled until A.D. 200-500, and 
that in view of the general nature of religious compila- 
tions we cannot be certain that earlier rabbinical 
utterances are accurately reported; but it is difficult 
to discern a motive for invention in this case. The 
Talmudic evidence has at least a negative value, since 
it shows that whatever the merits of the myth theory 
may be, it did not occur to the rabbis of those days 
to use it against Christianity. 

Klausner is less happy in his attempt partially to 
rehabilitate the notorious paragraph about Jesus in 
the Antiquities of Josephus. He deletes from the 
paragraph all words which refer to the superhuman 
status, Messiahship, and resurrection of Jesus, and 
offers the residue as authentic. But that residue is 
such a broken stump of a paragraph as to be hardly 
worth contending for. If Josephus considered the 
origins of Christianity worth writing about at all, he 
would surely have written more than five short sen- 
tences. Moreover, an orthodox Jew, wishing to 
stand well with Rome, is almost as unlikely to have 


called Jesus " a wise man, a doer of wonderful works, 
a teacher of such men as receive the truth with 
pleasure," as to have called him the Messiah. The 
paragraph is unsalvable. 

After this preliminary analysis of the evidence 
Klausner proceeds to write a life of Jesus consistent 
with the Talmudic picture of a heretical rabbi with a 
reputation for wonder-working. The book is steeped 
in rabbinical learning, but is not free from inaccuracies. 
Klausner emphasizes the fact that the ethical teaching 
of the Gospels can be paralleled from beginning to 
end in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, or the 
Talmud. He considers that the originality of Jesus 
lay in freeing the moral law from the mass of legal 
detail in which it is embedded in the Jewish sources, 
but he does not face the difficulty presented to this 
view of Jesus's teaching by the silence of Paul. 

Eisler. Robert Eisler's The Messiah Jesus and John 
the Baptist (English edition, 1931) is the most original 
and ambitious work on the subject which has appeared 
in recent years. Eisler, who, like Klausner, is a Jew 
and therefore free from Christian presuppositions, 
begins by pointing out the strongest objection to the 
myth theory namely, the failure of ancient critics of 
Christianity to use this rejoinder (obvious if true) to 
its pretensions. The issue between the early Chris- 
tians and their opponents was not whether Jesus had 
existed, but whether he was the Son of God. Since 
the Gospels were written to prove that he was the Son 
of God, we must go for historical truth, not to them, 
but to non-Christian sources. The evidence of 
Tacitus (whose vicious attack on Christianity could 
not have been forged by a Christian), Celsus, and the 
Talmud (especially the statement of Eliezer ben- 
Hyrcanus already cited) is sufficient, in the opinion 
of Eisler, to establish the historical existence of Jesus 
the Nazoraean, whom his followers called the Messiah 
or Christ, and who was executed as a rebel by Pilate* 
procurator of Judaea. 

But Eisler's main concern is with the text of 


Josephus. Since the Christians, after attaining power, 
admittedly not only interpolated but also mutilated 
MSS. which passed through their hands, he argues 
that the paragraph on Jesus in the Antiquities is a 
Christian revision of an originally anti-Christian text, 
of which he offers a " purely hypothetical " recon- 
struction. 1 Eisler's restored text is a more plausible 
piece of work than Klausner's, but in the nature of 
the case is no more than an ingenious conjecture. In 
support of the contention that Josephus must have 
given a hostile account of the origin of Christianity, 
Eisler points out that the existing paragraph is im- 
mediately followed by a scandalous story of the seduc- 
tion of a Roman lady in the temple of Isis which has 
nothing to do with Jewish history, and in its present 
context is pointless, but which falls naturally into 
place if we suppose that the original account of Jesus 
included a gibe at the Christian story of the virgin 
birth. The present state of the text certainly suggests 
deletion as well as insertion ; and the probability of 
such deletion is the strongest argument of those who 
refuse to see in the silence of Josephus a fatal objection 
to the historicity of Jesus. 2 

A second short reference to Jesus occurs in Antiqui- 
ties xx, 9, 1, where Josephus, in relating the events of 
A.D. 62, says that the high priest Ananus, or Ananias, 
caused " the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, 
James by name, and some others " to be stoned as 
breakers of the law. Our verdict on this passage 
must depend on our view as to the original text of 

1 Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, pp. 50-62. 

2 J. M. Robertson admits that the hypothesis of deletion is 
possible (The Jesus Problem, pp. 123-124). The argument 
often used in such cases, that the removal of the disputed passage 
leaves no visible lacuna, is a dangerous weapon. It would 
make short work of many passages in Shakespeare, as anyone 
with leisure can prove for himself. E.g., in Portia's speech on 
the quality of mercy (Merchant of Venice, iv, 1) the words: 
" We do pray for mercy ; and that same prayer doth teach us 
all to render the deeds of mercy," are by this criterion a glaring 
interpolation ! 


Book xviii. Those who hold that that book originally 
contained no account of Jesus usually, with J. M. 
Robertson, W. B. Smith, Couchoud, and Rylands, 
reject the later reference too. It is unlikely that 
Josephus would have mentioned Jesus here if he men- 
tioned him nowhere else. This passage, however, 
is not so plainly spurious as the other; and if the 
paragraph in Book xviii displaced an originally hostile 
account of Jesus, the reference in Book xx is likely to 
be genuine. 

The greater part of Eisler's book deals with the Old 
Russian version of Josephus's Jewish War. This was 
translated from the Greek in the thirteenth century by 
an heretical sect who held to the ancient Ebionite view 
of Jesus as a prophet, and as Son of God by adoption 
only and not by nature. The existence of this version 
was first brought to the attention of the modern world 
in 1866, but it was not published until 1924-27. The 
Old Russian text differs in many places from the 
extant Greek text of Josephus, and in particular con- 
tains passages on John the Baptist and Jesus which 
do not occur in the Greek text at all. .Many of the 
peculiarities of the Old Russian version are trans- 
parently due to medieval interpolation; but Eisler 
contends that not all admit of this explanation. He 
further claims to show, on linguistic grounds, that the 
Old Russian translation was made from an older 
Greek text than that now extant in fact from a text 
based on the original Aramaic draft of Josephus's 
Jewish War. 

The Old Russian version dates the first appearance 
of the Baptist, not, as Luke does, in the fifteenth year 
of Tiberius (A.D. 28-29), but soon after the death of 
Herod the Great in 4 B.C., and depicts him as a 
political agitator preaching national independence. 
After a long interval the Baptist reappears in A.D. 34, 
denounces Herod Antipas for his marriage with 
Herodias, and is put to death. The narrator does not 
name John, but refers to him as " a man," " that 
man," or " the wild man." Eisler suggests that this 


is because Josephus, when he wrote the Jewish War, 
did not know his true name. He points out that the 
Mandaean sect, who revere the memory of the Bap- 
tist, call him by two names, Jahiah and Johana, and 
that agitators often go by various aliases to conceal 
their identity. Dupuis and Drews may even be right 
in deriving loannes from the Babylonian fish-god Ea 
or Cannes, and the Baptist yet be an historical figure. 
The Talmud mentions a certain " Hanan the hidden 
one," a rain-making magician who hid from persecu- 
tion about the beginning of our era. " Hanan " is 
merely a variant of " Johanan," or " John." Eisler, 
agreeing here with Couchoud, identifies the followers 
of the Baptist with the Nazoraeans, " keepers of 
secrets " or " guardians of special usages or doc- 
trines." The account of John in the Antiquities, 
quoted in the last chapter, has in Eisler's view been 
mutilated by Christian editors in order to conceal the 
revolutionary character of the movement, further 
evidence of which is afforded by the Gospel saying : 

" From the days of John the Baptist until now 
the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and 
men of violence take it by force." l 

The passage of the Old Russian text relating to 
Jesus leads off in the language of the forged paragraph 
in the Antiquities : 

" At that time there appeared a certain man, 
if it is meet to call him a man. His nature and 
form were human, but the appearance of him 
more than that of a human being : yet his works 
were divine. He wrought miracles wonderful 
and strong." 

Some said that he was Moses risen from the dead, 
others that he was sent by God. He criticizes the 
Jewish law, arouses Messianic hopes, and gathers an 
expectant multitude on the Mount of Olives. The 

1 Matth. xi, 12, characteristically toned down in Luke xvi, 16. 


Jewish leaders take fright and inform Pilate, who has 
" many of the multitude slain." The wonder-worker 
is arrested, but acquitted by Pilate and discharged. 
Then the scribes pay Pilate thirty talents for leave to 
deal with the case themselves, and crucify the ob- 
noxious preacher " contrary to the law of their 

As it stands, this is a barefaced forgery a free 
fantasia on the Gospel story, with Pilate's thirty 
talents substituted for Judas's thirty pieces of silver. 
But Eisler believes that, by stripping the text of every 
phrase incompatible with Jewish authorship, the 
" authentic work of Josephus " may be disentangled. 
In this way we get a picture of a wonder-worker with 
Messianic pretensions who is denounced by the 
priests and executed by Pilate in accordance with 
historic probability. 

Eisler firfds corroborative evidence elsewhere for 
the view that the movement led by Jesus, like that 
associated with the Baptist, was revolutionary in 
character. There is, for example, the odd statement 
in the Histories of Tacitus that Judaea was " quiet " 
in the reign of Tiberius, in contrast with the picture of 
turmoil painted by Josephus. Eisler conjectures that 
Tacitus actually depicted the condition of Judaea 
under Tiberius as anything but quiet, but that Chris- 
tian copyists suppressed his account because it con- 
nected the disturbances with Jesus. Hierocles, an 
anti-Christian writer of about A.D. 300, whose works 
have perished like others of their kind, is quoted by 
Lactantius as saying that Jesus was the leader of a 
band of nine hundred robbers the stock official 
description of Jewish revolutionaries. The Gospels 
themselves, though compiled by men who had every 
interest in conciliating Rome, betray the truth in a 
number of ways. " Barjona," the name given to 
Peter in Matth. xvi, 17, is usually understood as a 
patronymic. But the Talmud uses barjonim as a 
synonym for the revolutionary or Zealot party. Add 
the accounts of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem amid 


Messianic acclamations ; l Mark's revealing allusion to 
" the insurgents who had committed murder in the 
insurrection " 2 (till then unmentioned) ; and the title 
on the cross : " The king of the Jews " ; and we have 
strong circumstantial evidence that the record of a 
revolutionary movement has been edited and re- 
edited by the evangelists in the interest of other- 
worldly quietism. 

In the hands of Eisler the quest of the historical 
Jesus becomes as exciting as a detective story. But 
he strains the evidence in favour of his thesis, and 
at times shows himself amazingly uncritical. He 
cites, in support of his view, a Syriac document, the 
Letter of Mara bar Serapion, which he confidently 
assigns to the first century, though such authorities 
as Cureton and M'Lean date it in the second or even 
third. Again, in the Old Russian account of the 
Baptist, Herodias is the wife, first of the tetrarch 
Philip, and then of Antipas. Now we know, from the 
Antiquities of Josephus, that Herodias was not the 
wife of Philip, but of a half-brother of his, living in 
Rome, named Herod, whom she deserted to marry 
Antipas. The Gospels erroneously make her the 
wife of Philip ; 8 and the Old Russian text repeats the 
error. Yet Eisler treats the Old Russian account of 
the Baptist as authentic throughout. In dealing with 
the account of Jesus he unwarrantably assumes that 
everything which might have been written by a Jew 
must have been written by Josephus, oblivious of the 
possibility that it may have been forged to bolster the 
peculiar views of the heretics, neither wholly Christian 
nor wholly Jewish, through whose hands the text 
admittedly passed both before and after its translation 
into Old Russian. It is possible that there was a 
revolutionary movement under Pilate of the kind 

1 The word " hosanna " or " oshana," in Aramaic, means 
" Free us " a seditious expression. 

2 Mark xv, 7, literally translated. In our Bibles the first 
definite article is suppressed and the point therefore blunted. 

8 Matth. xiv, 3; Mark vi, 17. 


described, and certain that, if there was, the Church 
censored the facts to the best of its ability. But the 
Old Russian Josephus does not prove it. 

Goguel. Maurice Goguel, a French Protestant 
theologian, in his Jesus the Nazarene Myth or 
History? (1925) and The Life of Jesus (1932), stresses, 
like other critics of the myth theory, the fact that 
ancient opponents of Christianity do not deny the 
historicity of Jesus. Like Eisler, he holds that the 
forged paragraph in the Antiquities has replaced a 
genuine account of Jesus ; but he refuses to follow 
the Jewish scholar in his attempted reconstruction, 
and uncompromisingly rejects the Old Russian 
Josephus. Goguel holds that- early non-Christian 
evidence is sufficient to establish " that a person did 
once exist whose name was Jesus or Christ, and that 
he was crucified in Palestine during the reign of 
Tiberius "; but no more. 1 

Goguel admits that the Jesus of Paul is primarily a 
divine being, and his crucifixion the work of demons. 
But he is at the same time a Jew descended from 
David and put to death by men. Paul's doctrine 
is not logical, but a jumble of dissimilar elements, of 
which an historical tradition about Jesus is one. He 
speaks of " brethren of the Lord " as his contem- 
poraries; and, as he distinguishes them from the 
apostles and from Christians generally, he must be 
presumed to mean literal brothers of Jesus. Chris- 
tianity is a mystery religion, but differs from the 
mysteries of Osiris, Attis, and Mithra, in that, while 
they assigned to the divine hero a fabulous antiquity, 
the Christians assigned to theirs a date in recent 

Goguel pleads, not unreasonably, that absolute 
certainty is not to be expected in history, and claims 
that a credible account of Jesus can be written on the 
basis of "pillar" texts such as those adduced by 
Schmiedel. Anecdotes of Jesus which contradict the 
views current in the earliest churches are probably 
1 Goguel, The Life of Jesus, p. 70. 


historical. Thus, Jesus is represented as telling the 
apostles not to preach to Gentiles or Samaritans. 1 
He is with difficulty induced to heal the daughter of 
a Phoenician woman. 2 But Christianity was preached 
to Gentiles at any rate from the time of Paul ; there- 
fore these anecdotes were current earlier ; that is, they 
go back to Jesus himself. Again, Jesus on many 
occasions predicts his own sufferings. Some of these 
predictions, e.g. Matth. xvi, 21, refer to the resur- 
rection; but others, e.g. Mark ix, 12, and Luke xvii, 
25, dp not. The latter are authentic ; for if Christians 
had invented them they would have mentioned the 
resurrection. In this way Goguel constructs a picture 
of a Jewish faith-healer who becomes convinced that 
he is the destined Messiah, but that to be the Messiah 
he must first suffer and be rejected, and who to fulfil 
the Messianic programme deliberately affronts the 
authorities in Jerusalem and is crucified by Pilate as 
a police measure. 

All this may have happened. But Goguel does not 
explain why Paul should have identified this Jesus 
with " the power of God and the wisdom of God,'* 3 
nor why the first Christians should have been (as he 
admits they were) unconcerned with his earthly life 
and interested only in his resurrection and future 
return. Goguel, in fact, brings us face to face more 
than ever with the difficulty stated by Couchoud: 

" Critics have taken pains to construct for us a 
historical Jesus with some show of probability. 
But they have not realised that the more probable 
they rendered Jesus the more improbable they 
rendered Paul. So that now we have to choose 
between Paul and their Jesus. But we have Paul, 
and their Jesus is after all but a hypothesis." 4 

Howell Smith. A useful compendium of the argu- 
ments against the myth theory will be found in Jesus 

1 Matth. x, 5. Matth. xv, 21-28; Mark vii, 24-30. 
1 1 Cor. i, 24. 4 Couchoud, The Enigma of Jesus, p. 87. 


not a Myth, by A. D. Howell Smith, a director of the 
Rationalist Press Association. He devotes a chapter 
to showing the arbitrary character of W. B. Smith's 
theory of Gospel symbolism, which we have seen 
fails to convince entirely even J. M. Robertson; 
another chapter to showing the equally arbitrary 
character of the theory of Dujardin incidentally 
pointing out that, while Jesus is often represented in 
catacomb frescoes by a fish, the fish is never an eel ; 
and a third chapter to showing the flimsiness of the 
evidence for a pre-Christian cult of Joshua a hypo- 
thesis which, as we saw, Couchoud finds unnecessary. 
The real problem of the mythicist, as Howell Smith 
points out, is to explain why the worshippers of a God 
Jesus should have given him an historical setting as 
recent as the procuratorship of Pilate. If Jesus was a 
God to the first Christians, why in such writings as 
the Synoptic Gospels, the Acts, the Teaching of the 
Twelve Apostles, and The Shepherd of Hermas, is he 
not called God? How came Papias, in the second 
century, to seek information about the sayings of 
Jesus, from men who had met his disciples, if Jesus 
never lived and therefore had no disciples? It is such 
circumstances which distinguish the case of Jesus 
from that of the prehistoric saviour-gods, and for 
which any critic who is more than a mere iconoclast 
is bound to account. 

Further, all three Synoptic Gospels put into the 
mouth of Jesus a repeated prophecy that his own 
generation will not pass away before the Messianic 
kingdom is established. 1 Whatever may be the date 
of the Gospels in their present shape, the natural 

1 Matth. x, 23 ; xvi, 28 ; xxiv, 34. Mark ix, 1 ; xiii, 30. 
Luke ix 27 ; xxi, 32. Attention was drawn to these texts by the 
present writer in The Rationalist Annual, 1928 (" The Historical 
Jesus : Some Suggestions," by " Robert Arch "). Rylands, in 
The Christian Tradition (1937), replies to the point then made, 
arguing that a Christian writer would not have been " deterred 
by any consideration of incongruity " from making Jesus utter 
a prophecy ipso facto unfulfillable. Yet Rylands says that the 
evangelists were " not unintelligent men " ! 


inference from these texts is that they, at any rate, 
were committed to writing at a time when men still 
living could remember a real Jesus. We are not 
obliged to believe that Jesus really uttered such pre- 
dictions; but can we avoid the conclusion that the 
person to whom they were attributed really lived? 
Very few mythicists face this problem. J. M. Robert- 
son does not even see its existence. He thinks that 
such predictions may " perfectly well " have been 
made by some unknown prophet or prophets and later 
put into the mouth of Jesus by uncritical Christians, 
and that, once written down, they continued to be 
accepted by sheer force of inertia. 1 But why were 
they ascribed to Jesus in the first place? Would the 
most uncritical Christian attribute to Jesus a prophecy 
that " this generation " nay, " some of thefii that 
stand here " would not pass away if at the time of 
writing no one of the generation of Jesus was alive? 
Couchoud has the merit of at least seeing the problem. 
He thinks that the prophecy in its present form was 
framed to meet the situation which arose when John, 
the last survivor of the earliest generation of Chris- 
tians, whom many had expected to live till the Lord 
came, died at Ephesus in the reign of Trajan. To 
save appearances Mark made Jesus say, not that John 
would not die, but that " some " of the bystanders 
would not die a prediction which " might refer in 
Mark's day to some known or unknown centen- 
arian." 2 This explanation assumes the truth of the 
tradition of John's longevity, which, as we saw in 
Chapter I, probably rests on a misunderstanding. 
Even if it were true, hypothetical centenarians do not 
help the mythicist. He posits centenarians who 
remembered what, if not an historical Jesus? 

But it turns out that these living links between the 
age of Jesus and the age of the Gospels need not have 
been centenarians. Howell Smith draws attention to 
a discovery which makes impossible the late dates 

1 J. M. Robertson, The Jesus Problem, pp. 198-201. 

2 Couchoud, The Creation of Christ, p. 258. 


assigned to the Gospels by the Tubingen school and 
by mythicists from Bruno Bauer to Couchoud. A 
papyrus has been discovered containing a fragment of 
the Fourth Gospel (the John Rylands fragment) 
which in the opinion of experts cannot be later than 
about A.D. 130. If the Fourth Gospel existed then, 
it had probably been in circulation for some years; 
and the Synoptic Gospels are by general consent 
older than the Fourth. This throws back the Gospels 
to the early years of the second century. But we 
cannot stop there; for since the eschatological 
prophecies in the Synoptic Gospels are too early to 
relate to the Jewish war of 132-135, there is no reason 
for not relating them to the war of 66-70. l Parts of 
the Synoptic Gospels, therefore, date from the first 
century ; and the statements of Papias about Matthew 
and Mark (if we understand by these, not the present 
Gospels, but their nuclei, Q and proto-Mark) cease 
to be wholly incredible. Be that as it may, the 
reduction of the interval between the traditional date 
of Jesus and the date of the earliest Gospel story from 
something like a century to something like forty 
years makes an important difference to the question 
of his historicity. 

1 There was an intermediate Jewish revolt in 115-117. But 
" the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not " 
(Mark xiii, 14) implies that Judaea is a theatre of operations; 
and it is doubtful whether that was the case in 115-117. The 
" little apocalypse " in Mark is linked to the prophecy of the 
destruction of the temple in 70 (verses 1-4). 



THE reader will perceive from the foregoing chapters 
that the mythicist and the historicist are each able to 
put up a very strong case. 

The mythicist can claim that the Jesus of the Church 
is primarily a God, and therefore for the modern 
world, which has learnt to dispense with gods in the 
explanation of phenomena, a myth. He figures in 
the Gospels as a worker of miracles possible only to 
a God, stilling a storm, raising the dead, multiplying 
loaves and fishes, and the like, and he himself rises 
from the dead the third day. The Fourth Gospel 
explicitly says that he is God. The Pauline Epistles 
and the Apocalypse speak of him as a divine being. 
So, among the early Fathers, do Clement, Barnabas, 
Ignatius, Aristides, and Justin. Testimony other than 
Christian to the existence of Jesus is wanting in the 
first century; and second-century evidence cannot 
be shown to be independent of Christian sources. 
Christian literature so abounds in forgeries that none 
of it can be taken on trust. The teaching ascribed 
to Jesus is a farrago of plagiarisms from Jewish 
sources. The myth of a god who is put to death and 
rises again, the sacramental eating of the god, and 
many other features of the Gospel story, are common 
to the whole ancient world. Why suppose Jesus to 
be more historical than Osiris, Tammuz, Attis, 
Dionysus, or Mithra? 

The historicist, on the other hand, claims that 
there is a salient difference between Jesus and these 
other saviour-gods. Jesus is not merely a God. 
Even for the Church he is God and man, and a man, 
moreover, who lived at a particular moment of 
history and in a particular Roman province. The 
Synoptic evangelists, whether they thought him God 



or not, are careful not to call him so. The Pauline 
Epistles give him a human ancestry and human 
brothers. An important section of the early Church 
did not hold him to be God, but at most a man who 
by merit achieved divine sonship. This section pro- 
duced the Gospel According to the Hebrews, the Teach- 
ing of the Twelve Apostles, and The Shepherd of 
Hennas, and remained vocal in the East down to the 
fourth century, if not later. 1 Further, we have the 
remarkable fact that none of the ancient opponents of 
Christianity (Celsus, Hierocles, the Jewish rabbis) 
question the historicity of Jesus. They call him a 
bastard, an impostor, a malefactor, but not, as they 
surely would have done had it been plausible, a myth. 
The lack of first-century testimony is explicable if we 
bear in mind the destruction of anti-Christian works 
which took place after the victory of Christianity, and 
the mere accident to which we owe the preservation 
of the attack of Celsus. Lastly, early Christian 
literature, however unreliable it may be on matters of 
fact, often affords evidence of the historical situation 
in which its authors lived and wrote. The Synoptic 
tradition included a prophecy that Jesus would return 
in the lifetime of some who had heard him. Papias 
based his work on information collected from men 
who had met " the Lord's disciples." Such facts do 
not point to a mythical Jesus. 

Each party to the controversy, while cogent in 
putting its own arguments, is weak in combating the 
other's. The mythicist seldom faces the crux of the 
eschatological prophecies ascribed to Jesus. The 
historicist seldom faces the crux of his deification by 
Paul. The two sides of the argument confront us 
like the antinomies in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason 
or like the ghost in Hamlet 

'* As the air, invulnerable, 
And our vain blows malicious mockery." 

1 It may have assisted in the rapid conversion of the East to 
Islam. See Renan, Marc-Aur&le, third edition, pp. 623, 


May not a solution of the dispute lie in recognition of 
the fact that the two parties are arguing on different 
subjects that there are, indeed, two different Jesuses, 
a mythical and an historical, having nothing in com- 
mon but the name, and that the two have been fused 
into one? 

The Mythical Jesus. That " Joshua " was origin- 
ally a divine name is a legitimate inference from the 
old song-fragment in Josh, x, 12-13, in which Joshua 
commands the sun and moon to stand still until the 
nation have avenged themselves on their enemies. 
The nearest parallel in Greek literature is in Iliad 
xviii, where the goddess Hera saves the Achaeans 
from defeat by commanding the sun to set. Ordering 
the sun and moon about is a divine, not a human 

But of what god was Joshua the name? On this 
subject mythicists betray some confusion. J. M. 
Robertson and Dujardin interpret the name " Joshua " 
as " saviour " or " salvation." x This is inexact. 
" Jehoshua," " Joshua," or " Jeshua," means " Jahveh 
is deliverance " or " Jahveh saves." If this was 
originally a divine name it was surely a title of Jahveh 
himself. " Jahveh saves " can no more have been a 
separate god from Jahveh than Zeus Soter was a 
separate god from Zeus. In the old song-book of 
which Josh, x, 12-13 is a fragment Jahveh himself 
doubtless fought in human form, as the Greek gods 
do in the Iliad, and commanded the sun and moon to 
stand still till victory was won. Later writers got 
rid of the anthropomorphism by turning Joshua into 
a human hero and making Jahveh stop the sun and 
moon at his prayer; but until this metamorphosis 
was effected there is no evidence that " Joshua " was 
anything but a title of Jahveh. 

There is no ground, then, for regarding Joshua as 
originally a saviour-god of the Tammuz type or as the 
centre of a secret cult which continued down the cen- 

1 J. M. Robertson, Christianity and Mythology, p. 107. 
Dujardin, Ancient History of the God Jesus, pp. 47-49. 


tunes until the Christian era. Had any section of 
Jews in the first century practised such a cult, and 
especially had it included human sacrifice, we should 
surely have heard of it. Tacitus, in his Histories, 
gives a bitterly hostile account of the Jews and rakes 
together all the charges against them which he pos- 
sibly can. 1 They hold profane all that Romans hold 
sacred. They allow unions which Romans hold in- 
cestuous. They induce good-for-nothings to adopt 
Judaism, teaching them to despise the gods, their 
country, and their families. They allow no statues 
of kings or emperors. Their way of life is mean and 
squalid. And so on ; but not a word about human 
sacrifice. On the contrary, Tacitus pays tribute to 
the loftiness of their monotheism; and there is no 
doubt that the tribute was deserved. Pre-exilic 
Israel and Judah, we know, were as idolatrous as their 
Semitic neighbours ; but post-exilic Judaism was the 
religion of a book, and the religion of a book it 
remained. For the post-exilic Jews Joshua was a 
man; and the frequency with which they gave this 
name to their sons shows how completely they had 
forgotten its former divine connotation. To name a 
Jewish boy after a false god would have been a 
profanation; after the true God, a blasphemy. 

There is no evidence that for any Jews of the first 
century Joshua was a divine name ; but there is some 
evidence that it was a Messianic name. The Jewish 
idea of the Messiah (" anointed one ") assumes three 
forms. In the historical books of the Old Testament 
the " anointed of Jahveh " is simply the reigning king. 
When the Jews no longer had a king, but were vassals 
of the Babylonian, Persian, and Macedonian empires, 
anonymous prophecy applied the term to any leader 
who embodied for the time being the national hope 
of independence. In Isaiah xlv, 1, even the pagan 
Cyrus is called the " anointed " of Jahveh. As 
Jewish fortunes became progressively worse, and 
above all when the ephemeral independence achieved 
1 Tacitus, Histories, v, 4-5. 


by the Hasmonaeans gave place to Roman domina- 
tion, the Messianic hope became more and more 
tinged with supernaturalism. It was natural that at 
this stage some Jews should expect that Joshua, the 
hero who had led Israel into the promised land, would 
reappear to free them from the yoke of Rome. In 
fact two would-be Messiahs Theudas, who about 
A.D. 45 undertook to lead a multitude over the Jordan 
dry-shod; and an Egyptian Jew who, between A.D. 
52 and 58, promised his followers that the walls of 
Jerusalem should fall at his command each in his 
different way assumed the role of Joshua. Further 
evidence is afforded by the Sibylline oracle quoted 
in Chapter IV, by the Apocalypse of Ezra, and perhaps 
by the title of " prince of the presence " bestowed on 
Joshua to this day in the Jewish new year liturgy. 1 
The mythical Jesus, then, originated not in a sacrificial 
cult, but in the expectation of a Joshua redivivus. 

Among the Greek-speaking Jews of the " disper- 
sion," Messianism underwent a different evolution. 
Here the richer and better educated Jews came into 
contact with Greek philosophy, particularly that of 
Plato, who saw in abstract ideas the realities of which 
the material world was but a blurred copy ; and that 
of the Stoics, who saw in reason (logos) the natural 
law governing both the material world and human 
society. To Greek-speaking Jews this seemed to 
agree with the Old Testament teaching that God had 
created the world by his word (in Greek also logos). 
Disinclined by economic interest to violent action, 
they looked for redemption from evil by the operation 
of logos rather than by armed upheaval. Gradually 
this conception percolated from the more to the less 
educated social strata, until the notion of logos merged 
with that of Christos (" anointed ") as the power to 
which men looked for deliverance. The fusion is 
complete in the Odes of Solomon ; but whether they 

1 To J. M. Robertson (The Jesus Problem, p. 85: Jesus and 
Judas, p. 207) this is evidence of a pre-Christian cult of Joshua 
as a deity separate from Jahveh. Non sequitur. 


belong to the last century B.C. or the first century A.D. 
is a matter of dispute. 

But Jews of the " dispersion " were exposed to 
other influences than that of Greek philosophy. In 
cosmopolitan cities like Alexandria and Antioch they 
rubbed shoulders with votaries of the pagan mystery 
religions; and whatever the rabbis might wish, an 
exchange of ideas between Jew and Gentile could not 
altogether be avoided. Business dealings, employ- 
ment as slaves in the same household, a common 
hatred of the Roman exploiter, would bring together 
the down-trodden Jew who expected salvation from 
the Messiah, and the down-trodden Egyptian, Syrian, 
Phrygian, or Greek, who expected it from Osiris, 
Tammuz, Attis, or Dionysus. To the pagan the 
Jewish Messiah would seem just another saviour-god, 
Christos or perhaps Christos lesous. To the Jew the 
pagan would seem to have got hold of the Messianic 
idea and to have mixed it up with idolatry and other 
wrong notions. Yet some of these notions might not 
be so wrong. The notion, for example, that the 
Saviour, whoever he might be, had himself trodden 
the difficult way they were treading, had suffered the 
worst that the evil world could do to him, and had 
risen triumphant over it all was that so wrong? 
What did the Psalms and the prophets say about it? 
He would look them up and think it over. 

In this way the belief in a suffering Messiah may 
have taken shape. But there were other factors which 
must have helped to form it even more vividly. Too 
many mythicists weaken their own case by overlooking 
the fact that crucifixion in the ancient world was not 
a recondite piece of astral or other symbolism, but a 
chronic contemporary horror. The hideous mode of 
capital punishment by binding, nailing, or impaling 
the victim on a stake or cross and leaving him to die, 
was common to all the ancient slave-empires and was 
used in the Roman Empire for criminals who were not 
Roman citizens. It was not a Jewish practice ; but 
the Hasmonaean king Alexander Jannaeus shocked 


Jewish feeling by crucifying eight hundred rebel 
Pharisees and having their wives and children slain 
before their eyes. There may be an allusion to this 
in the description in the Wisdom of Solomon (written 
not long after) of the ungodly who outrage and torture 
the righteous man and condemn him to a shameful 
death. 1 Later, unsuccessful revolts against Rome led 
to the crucifixion of thousands of Jews. With such 
examples before them people had no need to go to 
mythology or to the Republic of Plato or to the 
" intersecting lines of the equator and the ecliptic " 2 
to get the idea of a crucified saviour. The exploited 
masses of the ancient world were held down by the 
terror of the cross. What could be more natural 
than to suppose that the supernatural being to whom 
they looked for deliverance had himself endured the 
cross and shown the way to conquer it? 

Thus before the rise of historic Christianity there 
was already forming in the Mediterranean underworld 
a body of Gnostic doctrine, half Jewish, half pagan, 
according to which a redeemer-deity, who after suffer- 
ing had triumphed over the demon rulers of this dark 
world, would help those who accepted his revelation 
to triumph as he had done and to attain eternal happi- 
ness in a world of light. 

The Historical Jesus. Historic Christianity differs 
from the* mystery religions which preceded it in 
identifying thelSaviour with a Jew crucified by Pontius 
Pilate, procurator of Judaea in the reign of the 
emperor Tiberius. 

We have seen that the myth theory as stated by 
J. M. Robertson does not exclude the possibility of 
an historical Jesus. " A teacher or teachers named 

1 Wisdom ii, 12-20. 

1 According to Rylands (The Beginnings of Gnostic Chris- 
tianity, p. 217) the transit of the sun over the equinoctial point 
in spring and autumn occupies " three days '* : hence the interval 
between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The sun's 
apparent diameter being approximately half a degree, a short 
calculation will show that the real time of transit over the 
equinoctial point is about twelve hours. 


Jesus " may have uttered some of the Gospel sayings 
" at various periods." l The Jesus ben-Pandera of 
the Talmud may have led a movement round which 
the survivals of an ancient solar or other cult gradually 
clustered. 2 It is even " not very unlikely that there 
were several Jesuses who claimed to be Messiahs." 3 
The founder of the movement may have met his death 
by preaching a subversive political doctrine, and the 
facts may have been suppressed by later writers. 4 A 
Galilean faith-healer named Jesus may have been 
offered as a human sacrifice by fanatical peasants at 
some time of social tumult. 5 These are important 
concessions. Robertson offers us a liberal choice of 
historical Jesuses, indeed an embarras de richesse. All 
he stipulates is that we shall not pretend that the dis- 
courses of such a Jesus are accurately reproduced in 
the Gospels, that we shall admit a preponderant 
element of fiction, and that we shall on no account 
presume to label such a Jesus a Personality or a 
Figure or anything else with a big letter. Any 
Rationalist in these days should be able to promise 
so much. If that is the only issue between mythicist 
and historicist, the path of the peacemaker is easy. 
The arguments of Conybeare, Klausner, Eisler, 
Goguel, and Howell Smith set forth in the last chapter, 
when critically sifted and freed from such lumber as 
the Old Russian Josephus, render it likely that one 
starting-point of the Gospel story was the existence, 
at or about the date traditionally assigned, of a Jewish 
Messianic claimant bearing the common name of 
Joshua or Jesus, a member of the sect of Nazoraeans 
or Nazarenes, who was crucified as a rebel by Pilate, 
and whose followers were sufficiently fanatical to 
believe that he still lived and would soon return to 
establish the Messianic kingdom. 6 

1 J. M. Robertson, Christianity and Mythology, p. 125. 

2 Ibid., pp. 284-285. 8 Ibid., p. 287. 

4 The Historical Jesus, p. 56. 

5 Jesus and Judas, pp. 205-206. 

' Stories that dead men are still alive occur again and again in 
history and need no explanation. But they do not suffice to 


To expect certainty is to misunderstand the condi- 
tions of historical inquiry. But this caution cuts both 
ways. It is just as foolish to assume, with some 
mythicists, that everything in the Gospels which might 
have been invented was invented, as it is to assume 
with some historicists that everything which might 
have happened did happen. It may reasonably be 
urged that no Christian in his senses would have 
fabricated a prophecy that Jesus would return in the 
lifetime of people who had seen him if Jesus had never 
lived and nobody had seen him, or if he had lived so 
long ago that nobody who had seen him could possibly 
be alive. It may reasonably be urged that no Chris- 
tian who valued a quiet life would invent a story that 
the founder of his sect had been crucified by a Roman 
governor as a political offender if no such stigma 
really attached to the cult. And it may reasonably be 
urged that if Jesus had been simply and solely a 
myth, sharp Jewish rabbis and pagan critics of the 
calibre of Celsus would have drawn attention to that 
fact instead of adopting the tactics they did. 

These considerations render it probable that there 
was an historical Jesus and that he lived about the 
date usually assigned and not a hundred years earlier 
or later. 1 But they leave the vital contention of the 
myth theory unaffected. The Jesus they establish is 
not, except within narrow limits, the Jesus of the 
Gospels. The admission of his existence does not 
accredit the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, or 
the miracles. Still less is he the Jesus of the Epistles, 
the Apocalypse, the Church, or the creeds. The 
Jesus of Christian tradition is a fusion of myth and 
history. It remains to be seen how that fusion came 

found a religion. In this case the story lived on because it 
became fused with a myth of different origin. 

1 The Jews had an obvious motive for dating Jesus a hundred 
years earlier. They thus countered the Christian argument 
that the catastrophe of A.D. 70 was a punishment for their 
rejection of Jesus. 


Fusion of Opposites. On the one hand, then, we 
have Messianism the expectation, radiating from 
Palestine, of a heaven-sent deliverer from Roman rule, 
identified by many with Joshua, and by some with an 
individual of that very name lately crucified by Pilate, 
but believed to be alive. On the other hand we have 
Gnosticism a cult originating in the Jewish " disper- 
sion/' having as its central figure a saviour-deity with 
the Jewish Messianic titles of Christos lesous, but 
interpreting them in a mystical sense and favouring 
political quietism. These two movements, starting 
respectively from Palestine and from the " dispersion," 
were bound to meet and to be at cross-purposes. 

To write the history of their encounter presupposes 
an accurate dating of the books of the New Testament. 
I have attempted that task elsewhere. 1 If the Pauline 
Epistles, or even the four chief Epistles (Romans, 1 
and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians), are genuine as 
they stand, including the references to the brothers of 
Jesus and to his birth " of the seed of David according 
to the flesh," 2 it would follow not only that the two 
movements had met, but that their fusion had begun 
in the time of Paul. It is difficult, however, to defend 
the integrity of the Epistles as they stand. Goguel, 
who regards nine of them as authentic, admits that 
they exhibit dissimilar views which cannot be welded 
together into a logical whole. Surely it is better to 
admit at once that the Epistles are composite. It is 
as unlikely that Paul should have identified a contem- 
porary Jew, who had a family of brothers, with " the 
power of God and the wisdom of God," 3 " the first- 
born of all creation," 4 as that he should have alter- 
nately thundered and winked at the eating of meat 
sacrificed to idols, or that he should in one chapter 
have allowejd women to " prophesy " with their heads 
veiled, and in another have forbidden them to speak in 
the church at all. 

Once we admit that the Pauline Epistles, even the 

1 See The Bible and its Background. 

* Rom. i, 3. 8 1 Cor. i, 24. 4 Col. i, 15. 


cardinal four, are a patchwork it becomes possible to 
see in Paul (as Rylands does) a Gnostic missionary 
who, even if he knew anything of a Messiah executed 
in Palestine, cared nothing for him or his followers. 
This explains why Paul never mentions the teaching 
of Jesus, never uses the term " Nazarene," never cites 
the Palestinian apostles as authorities for any fact or 
doctrine, and indeed never acknowledges any authority 
or any informant but Jesus himself. Paul had nothing 
to do with the Nazarenes or their Messiah. His 
Jesus is a totally different being a divine Saviour to 
whom believers are united in baptism and by whom 
they are strengthened in life and will live again after 

But the Pauline Epistles afford evidence of an early 
clash between this doctrine and another. We read of 
divisions in the Churches; of people who oppose 
Paul and preach " another Jesus, whom we did not 
preach;" 1 of "false apostles, deceitful workers, 
fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ " ; 2 of 
anathemas on those who preach " a different gos- 
pel." 3 These opponents pride themselves on being 
Hebrews, Israelites, the seed of Abraham, and in a 
special sense " ministers of Christ." 4 If we still have 
any doubt of their identity, it is removed when we 
meet with a sarcastic reference to " those who were 
reputed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it 
maketh no matter to me: God accepteth not man's 
person) . . . James and Cephas and John, they 
who were reputed to be pillars," 6 followed by a 
scathing attack on Cephas and James for making the 
observance of Jewish dietary rules a condition of 
Church membership. Whether these polemics are 
by Paul himself or, as seems more likely, by a Pauline 
partisan writing after his death, they at least show that 
there was an acrid rivalry between the Pauline and 
Petrine parties, and that the Pauline party cared less 

1 2 Cor. xi, 4. * Ibid., 13. 

* Gal. i, 6-9. * 2 Cor. xi, 22-23. 

5 Gal. ii, 6-9. 


than nothing for the claim of their opponents to be 
the special depositaries of Messianic teaching. 

This rivalry continued after Paul's death and after 
the destruction of Jerusalem, in A.D. 70. In those 
days, when fugitives from Palestine, distraught by the 
horrors they had witnessed, were to be found in every 
Mediterranean city, stories began to circulate about 
the Nazarene Messiah of a generation ago. He had 
been a prophet mighty in word and deed, who preached 
good tidings to the poor and hungry. He had come 
to set up the kingdom of God. Like fools, they had 
rejected him and let the Romans crucify him; but 
he was not dead, and when he was least expected, he 
would return. He had foretold that Jerusalem would 
be desolate, and that all the blood shed on earth would 
be avenged on this generation ; and so it was. That 
proved him a true prophet. Watch ! 

In the underworld of the Roman Empire this kind 
of thing could be highly inflammatory. The Pauline 
leaders, who did not want trouble with Rome, 
countered it by circulating their own gospel. They 
adopted and made their own the story of the Nazarene 
Messiah and his crucifixion by Pilate, which it would 
have been useless to deny; but they censored the 
discourses, suggested that Jesus had deliberately 
veiled his meaning and that his followers were too 
stupid to understand him, and rewrote the story of the 
crucifixion in such a way as to transfer the onus from 
Pilate to the Jews. This document, with some later 
amplification, became our Gospel according to Mark. 
The work of fusion had begun. 

It was assisted by economic factors. The fanatics 
who hoped for the establishment of the kingdom of 
God on the ruins of the Roman Empire were for the 
most part desperately poor. The Pauline party, 
whose theology appealed to a more educated stratum, 
had money, but found it difficult to gain mass support. 
By using their money to relieve destitute Messianists 
they could win converts to the Pauline gospel and 
draw the teeth of revolution. That is the basis of 


fact underlying the story of Paul's journey to Jeru- 
salem with alms for the " poor saints." The same 
fact, differently viewed, has been thought to underlie 
the story, in the Acts, of the attempt of Simon Magus 
to buy the office of an apostle for money and of his 
stinging rebuke by Peter. That a party in the Church 
who never whole-heartedly accepted Paul's apostle- 
ship attacked him under the name of Simon Magus 
is well known from the third-century Clementine 

By the end of the first century the lines on which 
amalgamation was to proceed were marked out. 
The Pauline party accepted the historical Jesus who 
had suffered under Pontius Pilate; the Petrine party 
accepted the mystical Jesus of Pauline theology. The 
fusion was the easier since, as we have seen, the figure 
of the Messiah had long since assumed markedly 
supernatural attributes. In the Apocalypse, written 
before the fusion and strongly anti-Pauline, but 
emanating from Asia Minor, not Palestine, the Mes- 
siah has no human feature. But this work is off the 
main line of development. In the new synthesis the 
union of the Petrine and Pauline Churches is symbol- 
ized by the identification of the human and the divine 
Jesus. 1 

We may observe successive literary stages in this 
fusion of opposites. In the Epistle to the Hebrews 
an essentially divine being is given a few human traits 
(Jewish descent, temptation, fear of death) which do 
not really convince. Similarly, in tJKfinfri f^jjtinri f 
the Pauline Epistles, certain 
of which the only result is 
gruity of the juxtaposition, 
thew and Luke the discours 
are put back into the sto/ 

1 Docetism, sometimes erron 
of the myth theory, was really 
reconcile their doctrine of the i 
historical existence of Jesus. 1 
Jesus had lived, but they denied 1 
that his body was real. 


and amplifying them in his own fashion. Jesus is 
provided with a Jewish pedigree, different in the two 
Gospels ; but a later editor stultifies the pedigree by 
ascribing to him a virgin birth after the pattern of 
pagan demigods. Primitive crudities overlooked by 
Mark are smoothed out ; and the story of the resurrec- 
tion is amplified by discrepancy corroborative details. 
Finally the fourth evangelist ignores the pedigree, the 
virgin birth, and the Synoptic discourses and writes 
an almost wholly new Gospel round the theme of 
the logos made flesh. 

All four Gospels seem to have been in existence in 
the first quarter of the second century ; but it was long 
before they achieved canonical authority to the exclu- 
sion of rival productions. In the second quarter of 
the century it was still possible for Papias to disparage 
written Gospels in favour of oral tradition collected 
from men who had met " disciples of the Lord," and 
for Marcion, by resolutely weeding out all that 
savoured of Judaism, to produce and put into circula- 
tion a Gospel agreeable to his ultra-Pauline theology. 
Not until the last quarter of the second century, in 
Irenaeus, do we meet the dogma that there must be 
four Gospels, and no more than four. 

Jesus, then, is a myth. The story of the God-man 
is a literary creation, refashioned (as Celsus pointed 
out in the second century) " three times, four times, 
and many times " in the interest of the movement 
which evolved it. The Gospels owe their vitality, 
not to the divine majesty or to the human genius of 
their hero, but to those men and women of the first 
and second centuries who in the faithless, hopeless, 
and loveless environment of a great slave-empire made 
them the medium of their frustrated aspirations to 
freedom, equality, and brotherhood. The religion 
they created has ossified into a dead dogma ; and our 
world partly by breaking the dogma has found 
other media. Yet in all but the veriest Philistines 
these memorials of a once living past must waken a 
responsive echo. 


But Jesus is also history. To explain the story in 
terms of myth, and only myth, raises more difficulties 
than it solves. A sound hypothesis must account for 
all the facts ; and it is easier to account for them if we 
suppose that a real Jesus was crucified by Pilate than 
if we do not. We know next to nothing about this 
Jesus. He is not the founder of anything that we 
can recognize as Christianity. He is a mere postulate 
of historical criticism a dead leader of a lost cause, 
to whom sayings could be credited and round whom 
a legend could be written. He contributed one 
element, and only one, to the myth of the God-man. 
Had he never lived, the Christian creed would have 
evolved very much as we know it, but Pontius Pilate 
would not have been immortalized. There are thou- 
sands of men and women of whom we know more 
than we do of Jesus. But there are millions of whom 
we know as little or less; and it is the unknown 
millions who make history. 



Acts of the Apostles, 7, 23, 

34, 45, 65, 90, 105 
Adonis, 76 
Aelia Capitolina, 76 
Africanus, Julius, 19 
Agag, 71 
Agni, 57 

Agrippa I, Herod, 47, 75 
Alexander Jannaeus, 24, 98- 

Alexandria, 47, 54, 67, 75, 


Allah, xi 
Ananus, 83 
Andrew, 12 
Antioch, 98 
Antipas, Herod, 2, 4, 59, 69, 

71, 84, 87 

Antoninus Pius, 12 
Aphraates, 80 
Apocalypse, 8-9, 32, 59-60, 

66,93, 101, 105 
Apocrypha, 67, 80, 82 
Apocryphal Gospels, 9, 11-12 
Archefaus, 80 
Aristides, 12, 93 
Aristion, 12 
Armenia, 80 
Arthur, xi 
Asclepius, 28-29 
Asia Minor, 9, 21, 58, 61, 105 
Athanasian Creed, 17 
Attis, 88, 93, 98 

Babylonia, 41, 51, 56, 96 
Barabbas, 46-47, 63, 75 
Barcocheba, 63, 66, 76 
Barjona, 86 

Barnabas (Epistle), 10, 93 
Baruch (Apocalypse), 14 
Bauer, 42, 92 
Baur, 32, 42 
Bethlehem, 50, 75-76 
Bithynia, 21 

Bolingbroke, 41 
Bonn, 42 
Brahma, xi 
Buddhism, xi 
Bultmann, 39 

Caiaphas, 48 

Caligula, 47 

Calvinists, 35 n. 

Canaanites, 70 

Capernaum, 5, 79 

Carlyle, 22 

Catholic Church, ix, 9, 17, 30, 

32, 38, 68 
Celsus, 27-29, 53, 82, 94, 101, 


Cheyne, 34 
Chrestus, 23 
Christ, vii-ix, 2, 7, 10-11, 15, 

17-18, 20-23, 29, 4O-41, 


78, 82-83, 88, 97-98 
Church of England, 35 n. 
Claudius, 22-23 
Clement of Rome, 9-10, 12, 


Clementine Homilies, 105 
Confucianism, xi 
Constantino, 14, 76 
Constantinople, 14 
Conybeare, xii, 33, 38, 78-80, 

Couchoud, xiii, 47 n., 58-66, 

69, 74, 77-78, 84-85, 89-92 
Cureton, 87 
Cyrus, 96 

Damascus, 45 

Daniel, 8, 66 

David, 5, 7, 10-11,50,59,76, 

78, 88, 102 
De Quincey, 36 n. 
Diognetus (Epistle), 15 
Dionysus, 43-44, 53, 93, 98 
Docetists, 105 n. 




Drews, 56, 85 
Dujardin, 69-72, 90, 95 
Dupuis, 41, 56, 85 

Ea, 41, 56, 85 
Ebionites, 9, 17, 39, 49, 84 
Egypt, 24, 27-28, 52-53, 98 
Eisler, 19, 35, 82-88, 100 
Eliezer ben-Hyrcanus, 24-25, 


Ehjah, 2, 26 
Emmaus, 62 
Ephesus, 16, 54, 65, 91 
Epiphanius, 54 
Essenes, 36 

Eusebius, 11-14, 19,21 
Ezekiel, 9, 66 
Ezra, Apocalypse of, 67, 97 

Faustus, xi 
Ferney, 41 
France, Anatole, 58 
Frazer, 43 
Freethinkers, xii 
French Revolution, 41 

Galatians, 7 

Galilee, 2, 4-5, 45, 49, 62, 71, 

Gemara, 24 

Gentiles, 6, 62, 89, 98 

George Syncellus, 19 

Gethsemane, 47 

Gibbon, 18-19 

Gilgal, 70-72 

Gnostics, 17, 51, 54, 66, 68- 
69, 72, 75, 99, 102-103, 
105 n. 

God, gods, vii-viii, xi, 2-4, 
6-7, 10-12, 14-15, 17, 21, 
25-28, 36, 48, 54-56, 58, 
60-63, 65, 67, 70-72, 77-80, 
85, 89-90, 93-97, 104 

Goguel, 19, 34, 38, 88-89, 100, 

Golgotha, 72 

Gospels, ix, xiv, 1-13, 15-17, 
55-56, 59-66, 69, 72, 75, 

77-80, 82, 85-87, 90-93, 

100-101, 104-106 
Greece, 15, 18, 23, 27-28, 44, 

Guignebert, 39 

Hadrian, 11-12,22,42,76 

Hamburg, 30 

Hanan, 85 

Harris, Rendel, 67 

Hasmonaeans, 97 

Hebrews (Epistle), 8-10, 105 

Hebrews (Gospel), 9, 94 

Hera, 95 

Heracles, 28-29 

Heraclitus, 15 

Hermas, 14-15, 39, 90, 94 

Herod Agrippa I, 47, 75 

Herod Antipas, 2, 4, 59, 69, 


Herod the Great, 84 
Herodias, 84, 87 
Hierapolis, 12 
Hierocles, 86, 94 
Hippolytus, 75 
Homer, xi, 1 
Huxley, T. H., ix 

Ignatius, 11,73,93 

India, 41,50 

Iraq, 34 

Irenseus, 11,13,16-17, 62, 106 

Isis, 83 

Islam, xi, 94 n. 

Jacob of Kephar Sekhanjah, 


Jacob (O.T.), 10 
Jahveh, 45, 49, 53-54, 56, 66, 

69, 71, 77, 95-97 
James, 12, 47, 60, 63, 71, 76, 

83, 103 

James (Epistle), 8 
James (Gospel), 9 
Janus, 41 
Jericho, 70-71 
Jerome, 75-76 
Jerusalem, 3, 5, 23, 44, 48, 50, 

53, 60-61, 63-64, 71-72, 76 r 

86, 89, 97, 104-105 



Jesuits, 43 

Jews, vii, 2-3, 5-7, 10, 12, 14, 

19-29, 32, 34-36, 42, 44, 

46^9, 51, 53-55, 57, 59-69, 

71-72, 74-76, 80-83, 85-88, 

93-94, 96-99, 101-104 
John (Apocalypse), 8-9, 32, 

59-60, 66, 93, 101, 105 
John the Apostle, 7, 1 1-12, 16, 

47, 60, 63, 71, 91, 103 
John the Baptist, 1-2, 4-6, 26, 

John the Elder, 12, 16,65 
John (Epistles), 8 
John (Gospel), 1, 6-8, 15-17, 

23, 33, 50, 56, 65, 92-93, 


Jonah, 62, 80 
Jordan, 45 

Joseph of Arimathaea, 3, 39 
Joseph (husband of Mary), 5, 

Josephus, 19-21, 29, 34, 36, 


Joshua ben-Pandira, 24, 27, 

51, 69, 100 
Joshua (O.T.), 45^8, 52, 56- 

57, 67-68, 70-71, 90, 95-97, 

Judaea, 3, 15, 22, 31 n, 82, 86, 

92 n. 

Judah, 8, 96 
Judas, 3, 47, 49, 55, 86 
Jude (Epistle), 8, 52, 65 
Jupiter, 76 
Justin, 15, 25-26, 74, 79-80, 


Kant, 94 
Karabas, 47, 75 
Klausner, 80-83, 100 
Krishna, 41, 43 

Lactantius, 86 
Lenin, 57 
Lessing, 30, 41 
Logos, 6, 15, 67, 97, 106 
Loisy, 38-40, 75 
Lord's Prayer, 11,36,80 

Luke, 1, 3-7, 9, 33-34, 36, 46, 
48, 56, 62-63, 65, 78-80, 

84, 89, 105 
Lutherans, 34 
Lydda, 24 
Lyons, 16 

Maccabees, 71, 76 

M'Lean, 87 

Mandaeans, 34, 85 

Mara bar Serapion, 87 

Marcion, 17, 61-65, 69, 106 

Mark, 1, 3-5, 12-13, 33-37, 
42, 45-^9, 51, 55-56, 63-64, 
69, 75, 78-80, 87, 89, 91-92, 

Marten, 35 n. 

Mary, 5, 9, 11,50,76 

Matthew, 1, 3-6, 9, 11-13, 33- 
34, 36, 46, 48, 50, 56, 64, 76, 
78-80, 86, 89, 92, 105 

Melchizedek, 8 

Messiah, 2-5, 7, 11, 14, 23, 
26-28, 30-31, 34, 38-39, 
44, 47-51, 53, 59-60, 62- 
64, 66-68, 70, 74, 80-82, 85, 
87, 89-90, 96-98, 100, 102- 

Middle Ages, 30 

Minucius Felix, 19, 56 

Mishnah, 24 

Mithra, 88, 93 

Moses, 2, 45, 52, 85 

Moslems, 34 

Muratori Canon, 14 

Naassenes, 75 

Nazarenes, Nazoraeans, 9, 24- 
25, 34-35, 54, 59, 68-69, 82, 

85, 100, 103-104 
Nepal, 43 

Nero, 22-23, 53 
Nun, 70 

.Cannes, 41, 85 

Occam, 57 

Old Testament, vii-x, 7, 15, 
64-65, 69-71, 80-82, 96-98 

Olives, Mount of, 3, 85 



Ophites, 75 

Origen, 21, 27-28, 46, 53 

Osiris, 43, 88, 93, 98 

Palestine, 28, 35-36, 45^*8, 

50, 54, 67, 70, 76, 88, 102- 

Pandira, Pandera, Panthera, 

24, 27, 51, 69 
Papias, 12-14, 16-17, 39, 65, 

90, 92, 94, 106 
Paul, St., 7-10, 13, 16-17, 32, 

35, 38-40, 42, 48, 51, 53, 

57-58, 60, 62, 65-66, 69-70, 

72, 78, 82, 88-89, 93-94, 


Paul of Samosata, 80 
Perseus, 27 
Peter, 2-3, 7, 12-13, 41, 47, 

60, 62-65, 71-72, 86, 103, 


Peter (Epistles), 8, 65 
Peter (Gospel), 9, 69 
Pharisees, 2-6, 23, 35, 99 
Philip (apostle), 12, 63 
Philip (tetrarch), 87 
Philo, 47, 66-67, 75 
Phoenicia, 4, 28, 89 
Pilate, 3, 11, 15, 20-22, 38- 

39, 46, 48-49, 53, 61, 82, 

86-90, 99-100, 102, 104-105, 


Pius I, 14 
Plato, 1, 97, 99 
Pliny the elder, 18 
Pliny the younger, 21-22, 61 
Plymouth Brethren, 34 
Polycarp, 11, 16-17 
Pontus, 61 
Protestants, 38, 43 
Puritans, 35 n. 

Q (source), 4-tf, 17, 33-34, 36, 

51, 65, 80, 92, 105 
Quadcatus, 11-12 

Rationalism, vii x-xii, 31, 

37, 39, 43, 100 
Reimarus, 30-31, 39, 41 
Reinach, S., 73 

Renan, 32-33, 39, 58,94 n. 

Robertson, J. M., xii, xiv, 
lln., 43-54, 56-58, 64 n., 
67, 70, 73-77, 79, 83n., 
84, 90-91,95, 97 n., 99-100 

Rome, 3-4, 7, 14, 18, 21-23, 
42, 46, 48, 53, 59-60, 63- 
66, 72, 76, 81, 83, 87, 93, 
96-99, 102, 104 

Roundheads, 35 n. 

Rylands, 66-70, 73-76, 78, 84, 
90 n., 99 n., 103 

Rylands fragment, 92 

Sadducees, 3, 62 

Samaria, 6, 19-20, 45, 50, 89 

Samuel, 71 

Sanhedrin, 3, 48 

Satan, 2, 60 

Schmiedel, 37-38, 49, 78-79, 


Schweitzer, 39 
Seneca, 18 
Sepphoris, 25, 81 
Sermon on the Mount, 5, 35- 

36, 62, 101 
Shakespeare, 83 n. 
Shelley, 31 n. 
Sibylline Oracles, 52-53, 67 


Sidney, 35 n. 
Simon of Cyrene, 71-72 
Simon the Leper, 4 
Simon Magus, 105 
Sinope, 61 
Smith, A. D. Howell, 89-92, 

Smith, W. B., 54-57, 67-69, 

77-78, 84, 90 
Socrates, 15 
Solomon, 62, 80 
Solomon, Odes of, 67, 97-98 
Solomon, Psalms of, 67 
Solomon, Wisdom of, 99 
Son of Man, 2-3, 59-60 
Soviet Union, 57 
Stephen, 57 
Stoics, 42, 97 
Strauss, 3 1-32, 42 
Suetonius, 22-23, 42 



Synoptic Gospels, 1, 3-7, 12, 

Syria, 9, 50, 64, 98 

Tacitus, 21-22, 29, 42, 44, 53, 

56-58, 61, 69, 82, 86, 96 
Talmud, 23-25, 29, 34, 44, 51, 

58, 69, 80-82, 85-86, 100 
Tammuz, 43, 45, 50, 75, 93, 


Tannaim, 81 
Teaching of the Twelve 

Apostles, 10-11,39,48,51, 

66, 90, 94 
Tell, William, xi 
TertulMan, 62 
Thallus, 19-20 
Theudas, 97 
Thomas, 12 
Tiberias, 71 

Tiberius, 15, 18-19, 22, 71, 

84, 86, 88, 99 
Tibet, 43 

Trajan, 11,16,21,91 
Trypho, 25-26, 74 
Tubingen, 31-33, 42, 92 

Valentinus, 17 
Van Manen, 40 
Venus, 76 
Volney, 41, 43 
Voltaire, 41 

Whittaker, xiii, 27 n., 51-54 

Zealots, 86 
Zebedee, 4, 7 
Zechariah, 50 
Zeus, xi, 95 
Zurich, 31