LIST OF VOLUMES PUBLISHED IN
(Some of these are temporarily out of print.)
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.
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.
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
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.
H. G. WELLS.
J. S. MILL.
A. VV. BENN.
Dr. IVOR LL. TUCKETT.
A. E. MANDER.
C. E. M. JOAD.
Dr. VV. FRIEDMANN.
H. G. WELLS.
LA u RE MCE COLLIER.
JAMES HARVEY ROBINSON.
A. E. MANDER.
Sir E. B. TYLOR.
Dr. A. C. HADDON.
Prof. Sir G. ELLIOT SMITH.
A. M. HOCART.
V. GORDON CHILDE.
V. GORDON CHILDE.
J. HOWARD MOORE.
Sir E. RAY LANKESTER.
Dr. D. STARK MURRAY.
C. M. BEADNELL, C.B., F.Z.S.
Prof. H. LEVY.
C. M. BEADNELL, C.B., F.Z.S.
Sir CHARLES SHERRINGTON.
G. N. RIDLEY.
J. S. D. BACON M.A.
Dr. A. SORSBY.
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
T. H. HUXLEY.
Sir LESLIE STEPHEN, K.C.B.
T. M. ROBERTSON.
Of Oriental Sir J. G. FRAZER.
Prof. J. B. S. HALDANE.
A. GOWANS WHYTE.
Prof. GILBERT MURRAY.
Trans, by JOSEPH McCABE.
JULIAN S. HUXLEY.
C. T. GORHAM.
A. D. HOWELL SMITH.
Sir J. G. FRAZKR.
Dr. KENNETH URWIN.
H. G. WELLS.
H. T. BUCKLE.
Sir JOHN MACDONELL,K.C.H.
COLLET DOBSON COLLET.
H. BRADLAUGH BONNER.
F. TENNYSON JESSE.
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.
JAMES THOMPSON (" B.V.").
JOHN VISCOUNT MORLEY
H. G. WELLS.
E. S. P. HAYNES.
R. G. INGERSOLL.
JESUS: MYTH OR HISTORY?
I WW ECONOMY I
THIS BOOK IS PRODUCED IN COMPLETE
CONFORMITY WITH THE
AUTHORIZED ECONOMY STANDARDS
The Thinker's Library, No. no
JESUS" MYTH OR
ARCHIBALD ROBERTSON, M.A.
Author of The Bible and its Background,
Morals in World History, etc.
WATTS & CO.,
5 & 6 JOHNSON'S COURT, FLEET STREET, E.C.4
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
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.
I. CHRISTIAN TRADITION ... 1
The Gospels. Acts of the Apostles. The
Epistles. Apocalypse of John. Apocryphal
Gospels. Other Early Christian Writings.
II. ANCIENT CRITICISM . . . .18
Thallus. Josephus. Pliny. Tacitus. Sueto-
nius. Jewish Reaction to Christianity. Celsus.
HI. MODERN CRITICISM .... 30
Reimarus. Strauss. The Tubingen School.
Renan. Later Criticism.
IV. THE MYTH THEORY. I. THE PRE-
CHRISTIAN JESUS .... 41
Volney and Dupuis. Bruno Bauer. J. M.
Robertson. Whittaker. W. B. Smith. Drews.
V. THE MYTH THEORY. II. THE CREATION
OF CHRIST 58
Couchoud. Rylands. Dujardin.
VI. THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED . . 73
Some Mistakes. Conybeare. Klausner.
Eisler. Goguel. Howell Smith.
VII. JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY . . 93
The Mythical Jesus. The Historical Jesus.
Fusion of Opposites.
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
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
2 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
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
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 3
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
4 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
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.
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 5
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.
6 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
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.
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 7
" 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.
8 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
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.
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 9
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.
10 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
(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
It will be seen that the doctrine of the real presence
of the body and blood of Jesus in the elements, so
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 11
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
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
12 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
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.
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 13
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
14 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
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
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
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 15
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
16 CHRISTIAN TRADITION
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.
CHRISTIAN TRADITION 17
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
ANCIENT CRITICISM 19
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.
20 ANCIENT CRITICISM
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
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.
ANCIENT CRITICISM 21
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
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.
22 ANCIENT CRITICISM
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.
ANCIENT CRITICISM 23
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.
24 ANCIENT CRITICISM
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 :
ANCIENT CRITICISM 25
" 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
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.
26 ANCIENT CRITICISM
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.
ANCIENT CRITICISM 27
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.
28 ANCIENT CRITICISM
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-
ANCIENT CRITICISM 29
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
MODERN CRITICISM 31
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
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.
32 MODERN CRITICISM
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
MODERN CRITICISM 33
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.
34 MODERN CRITICISM
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.
MODERN CRITICISM 35
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.
36 MODERN CRITICISM
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-
MODERN CRITICISM 37
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.
38 MODERN CRITICISM
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.
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.
MODERN CRITICISM 39
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
40 MODERN CRITICISM
alone, a theory on the foregoing lines would suffice to
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
1 1 Cor. i, 24. * Col. i, 15.
8 1 Cor. viii, 6. * Rom. xiv, 9.
THE MYTH THEORY
I. THE PRE-CHRISTIAN JESUS
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
42 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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 MYTH THEORY. I 43
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
44 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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.
THE MYTH THEORY. I 45
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-
46 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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
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
THE MYTH THEORY. I 47
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.
48 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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
THE MYTH THEORY. I 49
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.
50 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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-
THE MYTH THEORY. I 51
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,
DEI FILIUS." l
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.
52 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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.
THE MYTH THEORY. I 53
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
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.
54 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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 MYTH THEORY. I 55
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.
56 THE MYTH THEORY. I
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
THE MYTH THEORY. I 57
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.
THE MYTH THEORY
II. THE CREATION OF CHRIST
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
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.
THE MYTH THEORY. II 59
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
"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.
60 THE MYTH THEORY. II
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."
THE MYTH THEORY. II 61
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
62 THE MYTH THEORY. II
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
THE MYTH THEORY. II 63
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-
64 THE MYTH THEORY. II
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.
THE MYTH THEORY. II 65
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
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
66 THE MYTH THEORY. II
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.
THE MYTH THEORY. II 67
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
68 THE MYTH THEORY. II
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
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.
THE MYTH THEORY. II 69
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
70 THE MYTH THEORY. II
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.
THE MYTH THEORY. II 71
,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
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).
72 THE MYTH THEORY. II
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.
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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.
74 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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 MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 75
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
76 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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
1 T \/f D /tK
78 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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.
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 79
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,
80 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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 :
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 81
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
82 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 83
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
84 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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
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
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
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 85
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
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.
86 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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
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
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 87
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-
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.
88 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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.
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 89
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.
90 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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 " !
THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED 91
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.
92 THE MYTH THEORY CRITICIZED
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).
JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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
94 JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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,
JESUS! MYTH AND HISTORY 95
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
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.
96 JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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.
JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY 97
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.
98 JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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
JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY 99
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
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.
100 JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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
JESUS! MYTH AND HISTORY 101
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.
102 JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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.
JESUS! MYTH AND HISTORY 103
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.
104 JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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
JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY 105
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
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.
106 JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY
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
JESUS: MYTH AND HISTORY 107
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
Aelia Capitolina, 76
Africanus, Julius, 19
Agrippa I, Herod, 47, 75
Alexander Jannaeus, 24, 98-
Alexandria, 47, 54, 67, 75,
Antipas, Herod, 2, 4, 59, 69,
71, 84, 87
Antoninus Pius, 12
Apocalypse, 8-9, 32, 59-60,
66,93, 101, 105
Apocrypha, 67, 80, 82
Apocryphal Gospels, 9, 11-12
Aristides, 12, 93
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
Barnabas (Epistle), 10, 93
Baruch (Apocalypse), 14
Bauer, 42, 92
Baur, 32, 42
Bethlehem, 50, 75-76
Calvinists, 35 n.
Capernaum, 5, 79
Catholic Church, ix, 9, 17, 30,
32, 38, 68
Celsus, 27-29, 53, 82, 94, 101,
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.
Clement of Rome, 9-10, 12,
Clementine Homilies, 105
Constantino, 14, 76
Conybeare, xii, 33, 38, 78-80,
Couchoud, xiii, 47 n., 58-66,
69, 74, 77-78, 84-85, 89-92
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
Ephesus, 16, 54, 65, 91
Eusebius, 11-14, 19,21
Ezekiel, 9, 66
Ezra, Apocalypse of, 67, 97
France, Anatole, 58
French Revolution, 41
Galilee, 2, 4-5, 45, 49, 62, 71,
Gentiles, 6, 62, 89, 98
George Syncellus, 19
Gnostics, 17, 51, 54, 66, 68-
69, 72, 75, 99, 102-103,
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,
Gospels, ix, xiv, 1-13, 15-17,
55-56, 59-66, 69, 72, 75,
77-80, 82, 85-87, 90-93,
Greece, 15, 18, 23, 27-28, 44,
Harris, Rendel, 67
Hebrews (Epistle), 8-10, 105
Hebrews (Gospel), 9, 94
Hermas, 14-15, 39, 90, 94
Herod Agrippa I, 47, 75
Herod Antipas, 2, 4, 59, 69,
Herod the Great, 84
Herodias, 84, 87
Hierocles, 86, 94
Homer, xi, 1
Huxley, T. H., ix
Irenseus, 11,13,16-17, 62, 106
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,
James (Epistle), 8
James (Gospel), 9
Jerusalem, 3, 5, 23, 44, 48, 50,
53, 60-61, 63-64, 71-72, 76 r
86, 89, 97, 104-105
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
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,
Judah, 8, 96
Judas, 3, 47, 49, 55, 86
Jude (Epistle), 8, 52, 65
Justin, 15, 25-26, 74, 79-80,
Karabas, 47, 75
Klausner, 80-83, 100
Krishna, 41, 43
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
Maccabees, 71, 76
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
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
Mithra, 88, 93
Moses, 2, 45, 52, 85
Muratori Canon, 14
Nazarenes, Nazoraeans, 9, 24-
25, 34-35, 54, 59, 68-69, 82,
85, 100, 103-104
Nero, 22-23, 53
.Cannes, 41, 85
Old Testament, vii-x, 7, 15,
64-65, 69-71, 80-82, 96-98
Olives, Mount of, 3, 85
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
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
Protestants, 38, 43
Puritans, 35 n.
Q (source), 4-tf, 17, 33-34, 36,
51, 65, 80, 92, 105
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
Sanhedrin, 3, 48
Satan, 2, 60
Schmiedel, 37-38, 49, 78-79,
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
Smith, A. D. Howell, 89-92,
Smith, W. B., 54-57, 67-69,
77-78, 84, 90
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
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,
Teaching of the Twelve
66, 90, 94
Tell, William, xi
Tiberius, 15, 18-19, 22, 71,
84, 86, 88, 99
Trypho, 25-26, 74
Tubingen, 31-33, 42, 92
Van Manen, 40
Volney, 41, 43
Whittaker, xiii, 27 n., 51-54
Zebedee, 4, 7
Zeus, xi, 95