THE ORIGIN OF THE CROSS
Only the uninformed, of whom, we regret to say, there are a great
many, and who are the main support of the old religions, still
believe that the cross originated with Christianity. Like the dogmas
of the Trinity, the virgin birth, and the resurrection, the sign of
the cross or the cross as an emblem or a symbol was borrowed from
the more ancient faiths of Asia. Perhaps one of the most important
discoveries which primitive man felt obliged never to be ungrateful
enough to forget, was the production of fire by the friction of two
sticks placed across each other in the form of a cross.
As early as
the stone age we find the cross carved on monuments which have been
dug out of the earth and which can be seen in the museums of Europe.
On the coins of later generations as well as on the altars of
prehistoric times we find the “sacred” symbol of the cross. The dead
in ancient cemeteries slept under the cross as they do in our day in
In ancient Egypt, as in modern China, India, Corea, the cross is
venerated by the masses as a charm of great power. In the Musee
Guimet, in Paris, we have seen specimens of pre-Christian crosses.
In the Louvre Museum one of the “heathen” Gods carries a cross on
his head. During his second journey to New Zealand, Cook was
surprised to find the natives marking the graves of their dead with
the cross. We saw, in the Museum of St. Germain, an ancient divinity
of Gaul, before the conquest of the country by Julius Caesar,
wearing a garment on which was woven a cross. In the same museum an
ancient, altar of Gaul under Paganism, had a cross carved upon it.
That the cross was not adopted by the followers of Jesus until a
later date may be inferred from the silence of the earlier
disciples, Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the details of the
crucifixion, which is more fully developed in the later gospel of
John. The first three evangelists say nothing about the nails or the
blood, and give the impression that he was hanged. Writing of the
two thieves who were sentenced to receive the same punishment, Luke
says, “One of the malefactors that was hanged with him.”
The idea of
a bleeding Christ, such as we see on crosses in Catholic churches,
is not present in these earlier descriptions of the crucifixion; the
Christians of the time of Origin were called “the followers of the
God who was hanged.” In the fourth gospel we see the beginnings of
the legend of the cross, of Jesus carrying or falling under the
weight of the cross, of the nail prints in his hands and feet, of
the spear drawing the blood from his side and smearing his body. Of
all this, the first three evangelists are quite ignorant.
Let it be further noted that it was not until eight hundred
years after the supposed crucifixion that Jesus is seen in the form
of a human being on the cross. Not in any of the paintings on the
ancient catacombs is found a crucified Christ. The earliest crossbearing a human being is of the eighth century. For a long time a
lamb with a cross, or on a cross, was the Christian symbol, and it
is a lamb which we see entombed in the “holy sepulchre.” In more
than one mosaic of early Christian times, it is not Jesus, but a
lamb, which is bleeding for the salvation of the world. How a lamb
came to play so important a role in Christianity is variously
The similarity between the name of the
Hindu God, Agni
and the meaning of the same word in Latin, which is a lamb, is one
theory. Another is that a ram, one of the signs of the zodiac, often
confounded by the ancients with a lamb, is the origin of the popular
reverence for the lamb as a symbol—a reverence which all religions
based on sun-worship shared. The lamb in Christianity takes away the
sins of the people, just as the paschal lamb did in the Old
Testament, and earlier still, just as it did in Babylonia.
To the same effect is the following letter of the bishop of Mende,
in France, bearing date of the year 800 A.D.:
“Because the darkness
has disappeared, and because also Christ is a real man, Pope Adrian
commands us to paint him under the form of a man. The lamb of God
must not any longer be painted on a cross, but after a human form
has been placed on the cross, there is no objection to have a lamb
also represented with it, either at the foot of the cross or on the
[Translated from the French of Didron. Quoted by
We leave it to our readers to draw the necessary
conclusions from the above letter. How did a lamb hold its place on
the cross for eight hundred years? If Jesus was really crucified,
and that fact was a matter of history, why did it take eight hundred
years for a Christian bishop to write, “now that Christ is a real
man,” etc.? Today, it would be considered a blasphemy to place a
lamb on a cross.
On the tombstones of Christians of the fourth century are pictures
representing, not Jesus, but a lamb, working the miracles mentioned
in the gospels, such as multiplying the loaves and fishes, and
raising Lazarus from the dead.
The first representations of a human form on the cross differ
considerably from those which prevail at the present time. While the
figure on the modern cross is almost naked, those on the earlier
ones are clothed and completely covered. Wearing a flowing tunic,
Jesus is standing straight against the cross with his arms
outstretched, as though in the act of delivering an address.
Frequently, at his feet, on the cross, there is still painted the
figure of a lamb, which by and by, he is going to replace
altogether. Gradually the robe disappears from the crucified one,
until we see him crucified, as in the adjoining picture, with hardly
any clothes on, and wearing an expression of great agony.
THE SILENCE OF PROFANE WRITERS
In all historical matters, we cannot ask for more than a
reasonable assurance concerning any question. In fact, absolute
certainty in any branch of human knowledge, with the exception of
mathematics, perhaps, is impossible. We are finite beings, limited
in all our powers, and, hence, our conclusions are not only relative, but they should ever be held subject to correction. When
our law courts send a man to the gallows, they can have no more
than a reasonable assurance that he is guilty; when they acquit
him, they can have no more than a reasonable assurance that he is
innocent. Positive assurance is unattainable.
The dogmatist is the
only one who claims to possess absolute certainty. But his claim is
no more than a groundless assumption. When, therefore, we learn that
Josephus, for instance, who lived in the same country and about the
same time as Jesus, and wrote an extensive history of the men and
events of his day and country, does not mention Jesus, except by
interpolation, which even a Christian clergyman, Bishop Warburton,
calls “a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too,” we can be
reasonably sure that no such Jesus as is described in the New
Testament, lived about the same time and in the same country with
The failure of such a historian as Josephus to mention Jesus tends
to make the existence of Jesus at least reasonably doubtful.
Few Christians now place any reliance upon the evidence from
Josephus. The early Fathers made this Jew admit that Jesus was the
Son of God. Of course, the admission was a forgery. De Quincey says
the passage is known to be “a forgery by all men not lunatics.”
one other supposed reference in Josephus, Canon Farrar says:
passage was early tampered with by the Christians.”
The same writer
says this of a third passage:
“Respecting the third passage in
Josephus, the only question is whether it be partly or entirely
Lardner, the great English theologian, was the first man
to prove that Josephus was a poor witness for Christ.
In examining the evidence from profane writers we must remember that
the silence of one contemporary author is more important than the
supposed testimony of another. There was living in the same time
with Jesus a great Jewish scholar by the name of Philo. He was an
Alexandrian Jew, and he visited Jerusalem while Jesus was teaching
and working miracles in the holy city.
Yet Philo in all his works
never once mentions Jesus. He does not seem to have heard of him. He
could not have helped mentioning him if he had really seen him or
heard of him. In one place in his works Philo is describing the
difference between two Jewish names, Hosea and Jesus. Jesus he says,
means Savior of the people. What a fine opportunity for him to have
said that, at that very time, there was living in Jerusalem a savior
by the name of Jesus, or one supposed to be, or claiming to be, a
savior. He could not have helped mentioning Jesus if he had ever
seen or heard of him.
We have elsewhere referred to the significant silence of the Pagan
historians and miscellaneous writers on the wonderful events
narrated in the New Testament. But a few remarks may be added here
in explanation of the supposed testimony of Tacitus.
The quotation from Tacitus is an important one. That part of
the passage which concerns us is something like this:
their denomination from Chrestus, put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.”
I wish to say in the
first place that this passage is not in the History of Tacitus,
known to the ancients, but in his Annals, which is not quoted by
any ancient writer. The Annals of Tacitus were not known to be in
existence until the year 1468. An English writer, Mr. Ross, has
undertaken, in an interesting volume, to show that the Annals were
forged by an Italian, Bracciolini. I am not competent to say
whether or not Mr. Ross proves his point. But is it conceivable that
the early Christians would have ignored so valuable a testimony had
they known of its existence, and would they not have known of it had
it really existed?
The Christian Fathers, who not only collected
assiduously all that they could use to establish the reality of
Jesus—but who did not hesitate even to forge passages, to invent
documents, and also to destroy the testimony of witnesses
unfavorable to their cause—would have certainly used the Tacitus
passage had it been in existence in their day. Not one of the
Christian Fathers in his controversy with the unbelievers has quoted
the passage from Tacitus, which passage is the church’s strongest
proof of the historicity of Jesus, outside the gospels.
But, to begin with, this passage has the appearance, at least, of
being penned by a Christian. It speaks of such persecutions of the
Christians in Rome which contradict all that we know of Roman
civilization. The abuse of Christians in the same passage may have
been introduced purposely to cover up the identity of the writer,
The terrible outrages against the Christians mentioned in the text
from Tacitus are supposed to have taken place in the year 64 A.D.
According to the New Testament, Paul was in Rome from the year 63 to
the year 65, and must, therefore, have been an eye-witness of the
persecution under Nero.
Let me quote from the Bible to show that
there could have been no such persecution as the Tacitus passage
describes. The last verse in the book of Acts reads:
“And he (Paul)
abode two whole years in his own hired dwelling, and received all
that went in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching
things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, none
How is this picture of peace and tranquility to be
reconciled with the charge that the Romans rolled up the Christians
in straw mats and burned them to illuminate the streets at night,
and also that the lions were let loose upon the disciples of Jesus?
Moreover, it is generally known that the Romans were indifferent to
religious propaganda, and never persecuted any sect or party in the
name of religion. In Rome, the Jews were free to be Jews; why should
the Jewish Christians—and the early Christians were Jews—have been
thrown to the lions? In all probability the persecutions were much
milder than the Tacitus passage describes, and politics was the real
Until not very long ago, it was universally believed that William
Tell was a historical character. But it is now proven beyond any
reasonable doubt, that Tell and his apple are altogether mythical.
Notwithstanding that a great poet has made the theme of a powerful
drama, and a great composer devoted one of his operas to his heroic
achievements; notwithstanding also that the Swiss show the crossbow
with which he is supposed to have shot at the apple on his son’s
head—he is now admitted to be only a legendary hero.
The principal arguments which have led the educated world to revise
its views concerning William Tell are that, the Swiss historians,
Faber an Hamurbin, who lived shortly after the “hero.” and who
wrote the history of the country, as Josephus did that of his, do
not mention Tell. Had such a man existed before their time, they
could not have failed to refer to him. Their complete silence
damaging beyond help to the historicity of Tell. Neither does the
historian, who was an eye witness of the battle of Morgarten in
1315, mention the name of Tell.
The Zurich Chronicle of 1497, also
omits to refer to his story. In the accounts of the struggle of the
Swiss against Austria, which drove the former into rebellion and
ultimate independence, Tell’s name cannot be found. Yet all these
arguments are not half so damaging to the William Tell story, as the
silence of Josephus is to the Jesus story. Jesus was supposed to
have worked greater wonders and to have created a wider sensation
than Tell; therefore, it is more difficult to explain the silence of
historians like Josephus, Pliny and Quintilian; or of philosophers
like Philo, Seneca and Epictetus, concerning Jesus, than to explain
the silence of the Swiss chroniclers concerning Tell.
THE Jesus STORY A RELIGIOUS DRAMA
We have now progressed far enough in our investigation to pause a
moment for reflection before we proceed any further. I am conscious
of no intentional misrepresentation or suppression of the facts
relating to the question in hand. If I have erred through ignorance,
I shall correct any mistake I may have made, if some good reader
will take the trouble to enlighten me. I am also satisfied that I
have not commanded the evidence, but have allowed the evidence to
command me. I am not interested in either proving or in disproving
the existence of the New-Testament Jesus.
I am not an advocate, I am
rather an umpire, who hears the evidence and pronounces his decision
accordingly. Let the lawyers or the advocates argue pro and con, I
only weigh, -- and I am sure, impartially, -- the evidence which the
witnesses offer. We have heard and examined quite a number of these,
and I, at least, am compelled to say, that unless stronger evidence
be forthcoming, a historical Jesus has not been proven by the
evidence thus far taken in. This does not mean that there is no
evidence whatever that Jesus was a real existence, but that the
evidence is not enough to prove it.
To condemn or to acquit a man in a court of law, there must not only
be evidence, but enough of it to justify a decision. There is some
evidence for almost any imaginable proposition; but that is not
enough—the evidence already examined fail to give this a reasonable
assurance. Not only does the evidence already examined fail to give
this assurance, but, on the contrary, it lends much support to the
opposite supposition, namely, that in all probability, Jesus was a
myth—even as Mithra, Osiris, Isis, Hercules, Sampson, Adonis, Moses,
Attis, Hermes, Heracles, Apollo of Tyanna, Chrishna, and Indra, were
The story of Jesus, we are constrained to say, possesses all the
characteristics of the religious drama, full of startling episodes,
thrilling situations, dramatic action and denouement. It reads more
like a play than plain history. From such evidence as the gospels
themselves furnish, the conclusion that he was no more than the
principal character in a religious play receives much support.
Mystery and morality plays are of a very ancient origin. In earlier
times, almost all popular instruction was by means of Tableaux
As a great scenic or dramatic performance, with Jesus as the hero,
Judas as the villain—with conspiracy as its plot, and the trial, the
resurrection and ascension as its finale, the story is intelligent
enough. For instance, as the curtain rises, it discloses upon the
stage shepherds tending their flocks in the green fields under the
moonlit sky; again, as the scene shifts, the clouds break, the
heavens open, and voices are heard from above, with a white-winged
chorus chanting an anthem.
The next scene suggests a stable with the
cattle in their stalls, munching hay. In a corner of the stable,
close to a manger, imagine a young woman, stooping to kiss a newly
born babe. Anon appear three bearded and richly costumed men, with
presents in their hands, bowing their heads in ecstatic adoration.
Surely enough this is not history. It does not read like history.
The element of fiction runs through the entire Gospels, and is its
warp and woof. A careful analysis of the various incidents in this
ensemble will not fail to convince the unprejudiced reader that
while they possess an the essentials for dramatic presentation, they
lack the requirements of real history.
The “opened-heavens,” “angel-choirs,” “grazing flocks,” “watchful
shepherds,” “worshiping magicians,” “the stable crib,” “the mother
and child,” “the wonderful star.” “the presents,” “the anthem”—all
these, while they fit admirably as stage setting, are questionable
material for history. No historical person was ever born in so
spectacular a manner. The Gospel account of Jesus is an embellished,
ornamental, even sensationally dramatic creation to serve as an
introduction for a legendary hero.
Similar theatrical furniture has
been used thousands of times to introduce other legendary
characters. All the Savior Gods were born supernaturally. They were
a all half God, half man. They were all of royal descent. Miracles
and wonders attended their birth. Jesus was not an exception. We
reject as mythical the birth-stories about Mithra, and Apollo. Why
accept as history those about Jesus? It rests with the preachers of
Christianity to show that while the God-man of Persia, or of Greece,
for example, was a myth, the God-man of Palestine is historical.
The dramatic element is again plainly seen in the account of the
betrayal of Jesus. Jesus, who preaches daily in the temples, and in
the public places; who talks to the multitude on the mountain and at
the seaside; who feeds thousands by miracle; the report of whose
wonderful cures has reached the ends of the earth, and who is often
followed by such a crush that to reach him an opening has to be made
in the ceiling of the house where he is stopping; who goes in and
out before the people and is constantly disputing with the elders
and leaders of the nation—is, nevertheless, represented as being so
unknown that his enemies have to resort to the device of bribing
with thirty silver coins one of his disciples to point him out to
them, and which is to be done by a kiss. This might make a great
scene upon the stage, but it is not the way things happen in life.
Then read how Jesus is carried before Pilate the Roman
governor, and how while he is being tried a courier rushes in with
a letter from Pilate’s wife which is dramatically torn open and
read aloud in the presence of the crowded court. The letter it is
said, was about a dream of Pilate’ wife, in which some ghost tells
her that Jesus is innocent, and that her husband should not proceed
against him. Is this history?
Roman jurisprudence had not
degenerated to that extent as to permit the dreams of a woman or of
a man to influence the course of justice. But this letter episode
was invented by the playwright—if I may use the phrase—to prolong
the dramatic suspense, to complicate the situation, to twist the
plot, and thereby render the impression produced by his “piece” more
lasting. The letter and the dream did not save Jesus. Pilate was not
influenced by his dreaming wife. She dreamed in vain.
In the next place we hear Pilate pronouncing Jesus guiltless; but,
forthwith, he hands him over to the Jews to be killed. Does this
read like history? Did ever a Roman court witness such a trial? To
pronounce a man innocent and then to say to his prosecutors: “If you
wish to kill him, you may do so,” is extraordinary conduct.
proceeding, Pilate takes water and ostentatiously washes his hands,
a proceeding introduced by a Greek or Latin scribe, who wished, in
all probability, to throw the blame of the crucifixion entirely upon
the Jews. Pilate, representing the Gentile world, washes his hands
of the responsibility for the death of Jesus, while the Jews are
made to say, “His blood be upon us and our children.”
Imagine the clamoring, howling Jews, trampling on one another,
gesticulating furiously, gnashing their teeth, foaming at the mouth,
and spitting in one another’s face as they shout, “Crucify him!
Crucify him!” A very powerful stage setting, to be sure—but it is
impossible to imagine that such disorder, such anarchy could be
permitted in any court of justice. But think once more of those
terrible words placed in the mouths of the Jews,
“His blood be upon
us and our children.”
Think of a people openly cursing themselves
and asking the whole Christian world to persecute them forever—
“His blood be upon us and our children.”
Next, the composers of the gospels conduct us to the
Gethsemane, that we may see there the hero of the play in his agony,
fighting the great battle of his life alone, with neither help nor
sympathy from his distracted followers. He is shown to us there, on
his knees, crying tears of blood—sobbing and groaning under the
shadow of an almost crushing fear. Tremblingly he prays,
cup pass from me—if it be possible;” and then, yielding to the
terror crowding in upon him, he sighs in the hearing of all the
ages, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” precisely the
excuse given by everybody for not doing what they would do if they
Now, we ask in all seriousness, is it likely that a God who
has come down from heaven purposely to drink that cup and to be the
martyr-Savior of humanity—would seek to be spared the fate for which
he was ordained from all eternity?
The objection that Jesus’ hesitation on the eve of the
crucifixion, as well as his cry of despair on the cross, were meant
to show that he was as human as he was divine, does not solve the
difficulty. In that event Jesus, then, was merely acting—feigning a fear which he did not feel, and pretending to dread a
death which he knew could not hurt him. If, however, Jesus really
felt alarmed at the approach of death, how much braver, then, were
many of his followers who afterwards faced dangers and tortures far
more cruel than his own!
We honestly think that to have put in
Jesus’ mouth the words above quoted, and also to have represented
him as closing his public career with a shriek on the cross: “My
God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” was tantamount to an
admission by the writers that they were dealing with a symbolic
Christ, an ideal figure., the hero of a play, and not a historical
It is highly dramatic, to be sure, to see the sun darkened, to feel
the whole earth quaking, to behold the graves ripped open and the
dead reappear in their shrouds—to hear the hero himself tearing his
own heart with that cry of shuddering anguish, “My God! my God!”—but
it is not history. If such a man as Jesus really lived, then his
biographers have only given us a caricature of him. However
beautiful some of the sayings attributed to Jesus, and whatever the
source they may have been borrowed from, they are not enough to
prove his historicity. But even as the Ten Commandments do not prove
Moses to have been a historical personage or the author of the books
and deeds attributed to him, neither do the parables and miracles of
Jesus prove him to have once visited this earth as a God, or to have
even existed as a man.
Socrates and Jesus! Compare the quite natural behavior of Socrates
in prison with that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Greek
sage is serene. Jesus is alarmed. The night agony of his soul, his
tears of blood, his pitiful collapse when he prays, “if it be
possible let this cup pass from me,”—all this would be very
impressive on the boards, but they seem incredible of a real man
engaged in saving a world.
Once more we say that the defense that it
was the man in Jesus and not the God in him that broke down, would
be unjust to the memory of thousands of martyrs who died by a more
terrible death than that of Jesus. As elsewhere stated, but which
cannot be too often emphasized, what man would not have embraced
death with enthusiasm, -- without a moment’s misgiving, did he think
that by his death, death and sin would be no more!
Who would shrink
from a cross which is going to save millions to millions added from
eternal burnings. He must be a phantom, indeed, who trembles and
cries like a frightened child because be cannot have the crown
without the cross! What a spectacle for the real heroes crowding the
galleries of history! It is difficult to see the shrinking and
shuddering Savior of the world, his face bathed in perspiration,
blood oozing out of his forehead, his lips pale, his voice breaking
into a shriek, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”—it is
difficult to witness all this and not to pity him. Poor Jesus! he is
going to save the world, but who is going to save him?
If we compare the trial of Jesus with that of Socrates, the
fictitious nature of the former cannot possibly escape detection.
Socrates was so well known in Athens, that it was not necessary for
his accusers to bribe one of his disciples to betray him. Jesus
should have been even better known in Jerusalem than Socrates was in
Athens. He was daily preaching in the synagogues, and his miracles
had given him an eclat which Socrates did not enjoy.
Socrates is not taken to court at night, bound hand and feet. Jesus
is arrested in the glare of torchlights, after he is betrayed by
Judas with a kiss; then he is bound and forced into the high
priest’s presence. All this is admirable setting for a stage, but
they are no more than that.
The disciples of Socrates behave like real men, those of Jesus are
actors. They run away; they hide and follow at a distance. One of
them curses him. The cock crows, the apostate repents. This reads
like a play.
In the presence of his judges, Socrates makes his own defense. One
by one he meets the charges. Jesus refused, according to two of the
evangelists, to open his mouth at his trial. This is dramatic, but
it is not history. It is not conceivable that a real person accused
as Jesus was, would have refused a great opportunity to disprove the
charges against him. Socrates’ defense of himself is one of the
classics. Jesus’ silence is a conundrum. “But he answered nothing,”
“But Jesus as yet answered nothing”, “And he answered him never a
word,” is the report of two of his biographers. The other two
evangelists, as is usual, contradict the former and produce the
following dialogues between Jesus and his judges, which from
beginning to end possess all the marks of unreality:
Pilate.—“Art thou the King of the Jews?”
Jesus.—“Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it
thee of me?”
Pilate.—“Art thou a King?”
Jesus.—“Thou sayest that I am a King.”
Is it possible that a real man, not to say the Savior of the world,
would give such unmeaning and evasive replies to straight-forward
questions? Does it not read like a page from fiction?
In the presence of the priests of his own race Jesus is as
indefinite and sophistical as he is before the Roman Pilate.
The Priests.—“Art thou the Christ—tell us?”
Jesus.—“If I tell you ye will not believe me.”
The Priests.—“Art thou the Son o God?”
Jesus.—“Ye say that I am.”
In the first answer he refuses to reveal himself because he does not
think he can command belief in himself; in his second answer be
either blames them for saying he was the Son of God, or quotes their
own testimony to prove that he is the Son of God. But if they
believed he was God, would they try to kill him? Is it not
unthinkable? He intimates that the priests believe he is the Son of
God—“Ye say that I am.” Surely, it is more probable that these
dialogues were invented by his anonymous biographers than that they
really represent an actual conversation between Jesus and his
Compare in the next place the manner in which the public trials of
Socrates and Jesus are conducted. There is order in the Athenian
court; there is anarchy in the Jerusalem court. Witnesses and
accusers walk up to Jesus and slap him on the face, and the judge
does not reprove them for it. The court is in the hands of rowdies
and hoodlums, who shout “Crucify him,” and again, “Crucify him.” A
Roman judge, while admitting that he finds no guilt in Jesus
deserving of death, is nevertheless represented as handing him over
to the mob to be killed, after he has himself scourged him.
judge could have behaved as this Pilate is reported to have behaved
toward an accused person on trial for his life. All that we know of
civilized government, all that we know of the jurisprudence of Rome,
contradicts this “inspired” account of a pretended historical event.
If Jesus was ever tried and condemned to death in a Roman court, an
account of it that can command belief has yet to be written.
Again, when we come to consider the random, disconnected and
fragmentary form in which the teachings of Jesus are presented, we
cannot avoid the conclusion that he is a dramatis persona brought
upon the stage to give expression not to a consistent, connected and
carefully worked-out thought, but to voice with many breaks an
interruptions, the ideas of his changing managers. He is made to
play a number of contradictory roles, and appears in the same story
in totally different characters.
One editor or compiler of the Gospel describes Jesus as an ascetic
and a mendicant, wandering from place to place, without “roof over
his head, and crawling at eventide into his cave in the Mount of
Olives. He introduces him as the “Man of Sorrows,” fasting in the
wilderness, counseling people to part with their riches, and
promising the Kingdom of Heaven to Lazarus, the beggar.
Another redactor announces him as “eating and drinking” at the
banquets of “publicans and sinners,”—a “wine-bibbing” Son of Man.
“John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, but the Son of
Man came both eating and drinking,” which, if it means anything,
means that Jesus was the very opposite of the ascetic John.
A partisan of the doctrine of non-resistance puts in Jesus’ mouth
the words: “Resist not evil;” “The meek shall inherit the earth,”
etc., and counsels that he who smites us on the one cheek should be
permitted to strike us also on the other, and that to him who robs
us of an undergarment, we should also hand over our outer garments.
Another draws the picture of a militant Jesus who could never
endorse such precepts of indolence and resignation. “The kingdom of
heaven is taken by violence,” cries this new Jesus, and intimates
that no such beggar like Lazarus, sitting all day long with the dogs
and his sores, can ever earn so great a prize. With a scourge in his
hands this Jesus rushes upon the traders in the temple-court,
upturns their tables and whips their owners into the streets. Surely
this was resistance of the most pronounced type. The right to use
physical force could not have been given a better endorsement than
by this example of Jesus.
It will not help matters to say that these money-changers were
violating a divine law, and needed chastisement with a whip. Is not
the man who smites us upon the cheek, or robs us of our clothing,
equally guilty? Moreover, these traders in the outer courts of the
synagogue were rendering the worshipers a useful service. Just as
candles, rosaries, images and literature are sold in church
vestibules for the accommodation of Catholics, so were doves,
pigeons and Hebrew coins, necessary to the Jewish sacrifices, sold
in the temple-courts for the Jewish worshiper.
The money changer who
supplied the pious Jew with the only sacred coin which the priests
would accept was not very much less important to the Jewish religion
than the rabbi. To have fallen upon these traders with a weapon, and
to have caused them the loss of their property, was certainly the
most inconsistent thing that “meek” and “lowly” Jesus preaching
non-resistance could have done.
Again; one writer makes Jesus the teacher ‘par excellence’ of peace.
He counsels forgiveness of injuries not seven time but seventy times
that number—meaning unlimited love and charity. “Love your enemies,”
“Bless them that curse you,” is his unusual advice. But another hand
retouches this picture, and we have a Jesus who breaks his own
golden rule. This other Jesus heaps abuse upon the people who
displease him; calls his enemies “vipers,” “serpents,” “devils,” and
predicts for them eternal burnings in sulphur and brimstone.
could he who said, “Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden,” say
also, “Depart from me ye cursed?” Who curses them? How can there be
an everlasting hell in a universe whose author advises us to love
our enemies, to bless them that curse us, and to forgive seventy
times seven? How could the same Jesus who said, “Blessed are the
peacemakers,” say also, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword?”
it possible that the same Jesus who commands us to love our enemies,
commands us also to “hate” father, mother, wife and child, for “his
name’s sake?” Yes! the same Jesus who said, “Put up thy sword in its
sheath,” also commands us to sell our effects and “buy a sword.”
Once more: A believer in the divinity of Jesus—I am going to
say—invents the following text: “The Father and I are one.” An
opponent to this Trinitarian dogma introduces a correction which
robs the above text of its authority: “The Father is greater than
I,” and makes Jesus admit openly that there are some things known to
the father only. It is not difficult not to see in these passages
the beginnings of the terrible controversies which, starting with
Peter and Paul, have come down to our day and which will not end
until Jesus shall take his place among the mythical saviors of the
To harmonize these many and different Jesuses into something
like unity or consistency a thousand books have been written by the
clergy. They have not succeeded. How can a Jesus represented at one
time as the image of divine perfection, and at another as
protesting against being called “good,” for “none is good, save
one, God,”—how can these two conceptions be reconciled except by
a resort to artificial an arbitrary interpretations?
insurmountable contradictions in the teaching and character of
another would weaken our faith in his historicity, then we are
justified in inferring that in all probability Jesus was only a
name—the name of an imaginary stage hero, uttering the conflicting
thoughts of his prompters.
Again, such phrases as, “and he was caught up in a cloud,”—
describing the ascension and consequent disappearance of Jesus,
betray the anxiety of the authors of the Gospels to bring their
marvelous story to a close. Not knowing how to terminate the career
of an imaginary Messiah, his creators invented the above method of
dispatching him. “He was caught up in a cloud,”—but for that, the
narrators would have been obliged to continue their story
In tragedy the play ends with the death of the hero, but if the
biographers of Jesus had given a similar excuse for bringing their
narrative to a finale, there would have been the danger of their
being asked to point out his grave. “He was caught up in a cloud,”
relieved them of all responsibility to produce his remains if called
upon to do so, and, at the same time, furnished them with an excuse
to bring their story to a close.
It would hardly be necessary, were we all unbiased, to look for any
further proofs of the mythical and fanciful nature of the Gospel
narratives than this expedient to which the writers resorted. To
questions, “Where is Jesus?” “What became of his body?” etc., they
could answer, “He was caught up in a cloud.” But a career that ends
in the clouds was never begun on the earth.
Let us imagine ourselves in Jerusalem in the year One, of the
Christian era, when the apostles, as it is claimed, were proclaiming
Jesus as the Messiah, crucified and risen. Desiring to be convinced
before believing in the strange story, let us suppose the following
conversation between the apostles and ourselves.
How long have you known Jesus?
I have known him for one year.
And I for two.
And I for three.
Has any of you known him for more than three years?
Was he with his apostles for one year or for three?
No, for three.
You are not certain, then, how long Jesus was with his apostles.
How old was Jesus when crucified?
No. about thirty-three.
No, he was much older, about fifty.
You cannot tell with any certainty, then, his age at the time of his
You say he was tried and crucified in Jerusalem before your own
eyes, can you remember the date of this great event?
Were you present when Jesus was taken down from the cross?
We were not.
You cannot tell, then, whether he was dead when taken down.
We have no personal knowledge.
Were you present when be was buried?
We were not, because we were in hiding for our lives.
You do not know, therefore, whether he was actually buried, or where
he was buried.
We do not.
Were any of you present when Jesus came forth from the grave?
Not one of us was present.
Then, you were not with him when he was taken down from the cross;
you were not with him when he was interred, and you were not present
when he rose from the grave.
We were not.
When, therefore, you say, he was dead, buried and rose again, you
are relying upon the testimony of others?
Will you mention the names of some of the witnesses who saw Jesus
come forth from the tomb?
Mary Magdalene, and she is here and may be questioned.
Were you present, Mary, when the angels rolled away the stone, and
when Jesus came forth from the dead?
No, when I reached the burying place early in the morning, the grave
had already been vacated, and there was no one sleeping in it.
You saw him, then, as the apostles did after he had risen?
But you did not see anybody rise out of the grave.
I did not.
Are there any witnesses who saw the resurrection?
There are many who saw him after the resurrection.
But if neither they nor you saw him dead, and buried, and did not
see him rise, either, how can you tell that a most astounding and
supposedly impossible miracle had taken place between the time you
saw him last and when you saw him again two or three days after?
it not more natural to suppose that, being in a hurry on account of
the approaching Sabbath, Jesus, if ever crucified, was taken down
from the cross before he had really died, and that he was not
buried, as rumor states, but remained in hiding; and his showing
himself to you under cover of darkness and in secluded spots and in
the dead of night only, would seem to confirm this explanation.
You admit also that the risen Jesus did not present himself at the
synagogue of the people, in the public streets, or at the palace of
the High Priest to convince them of his Messiahship. Do you not
think that if he had done this, it would then have been impossible
to deny his resurrection? Why, then, did Jesus hide himself after he
came out of the grave? Why did be not show himself also to his
enemies? Was he still afraid of them, or did he not care whether
they believed or not? If so, why are you trying to convert them? The
question waits for a reasonable answer; why did not Jesus challenge
the whole world with the evidence of his resurrection?
You say you
saw him occasionally, a few moments at a time, now here, and now
there, and finally on the top of a mountain whence he was caught up
in a cloud and disappeared altogether. But that “cloud” has melted
away, the sky is clear, and there is no Jesus visible there. The
cloud, then, had nothing to hide. It was unnecessary to call in a
cloud to close the career of your Christ. The grave is empty, the
cloud has vanished. Where is Christ? In heaven! Ah, you have at last
removed him to a world unknown, to the undiscovered country.
Leave him there Criticism, doubt,
investigation, the light of day, cannot cross its shores. Leave him
THE Jesus OF PAUL
The central figure of the New Testament is Jesus, and the question
we are trying to answer is, whether we have sufficient evidence to
prove to the unbiased mind that he is historical. An idea of the
intellectual caliber of the average churchman may be had by the
nature of the evidence he offers to justify his faith in the
historical Jesus. “The whole world celebrates annually the nativity
of Jesus; how could there be a Christmas celebration if there never
was a Christ?” asks a Chicago clergyman.
The simplicity of this plea
would be touching were it not that it calls attention to the painful
inefficiency of the pulpit as an educator. The church goer is
trained to believe, not to think. The truth is withheld from him
under the pious pretense that faith, and not knowledge, is the
essential thing. A habit of untruthfulness is cultivated by
systematically sacrificing everything to orthodoxy. This habit in
the end destroys one’s conscience for any truths which are
prejudicial to one’s interest. But is it true that the Christmas
celebration proves a historical Jesus?
We can only offer a few additional remarks to what we have already
said elsewhere in these pages on the Pagan origin of Christmas. It
will make us grateful to remember that just as we have to go to the
Pagans for the origins of our civilized institutions—our courts of
justice, our art and literature, and our political and religious
liberties—we must thank them also for our merry festivals, such as
Christmas and Easter.
The ignorant, of course, do not know anything
about the value and wealth of the legacy bequeathed to us by our
glorious ancestors of Greek and Roman times, but the educated can
have no excuse for any failure to own their everlasting indebtedness
to the Pagans. It will be impossible today to write the history of
civilization without giving to the classical world the leading role.
But while accepting the gifts of the Pagan peoples we have abused
A beneficiary who will defame a bounteous benefactor is
unworthy of his good fortune. I regret to say that the Christian
church, notwithstanding that it owes many of its most precious
privileges to the Pagans, has returned for service rendered
insolence and vituperation. No generous or just institution would
treat a rival as Christianity has treated Paganism.
Both Christmas and Easter are Pagan festivals. We do not know,
no one knows, when Jesus was born; but we know the time of the
winter solstice when the sun begins to retrace his steps, turning
his radiant face toward our earth once more. It was this event, a
natural, demonstrable, universal, event, that our European
ancestors celebrated with song and dance—with green branches,
through which twinkled a thousand lighted candles, and with the
exchange of good wishes and gifts. Has the church had the courage
to tell its people that Christmas is a Pagan festival which was
adopted and adapted by the Christian world, reluctantly at first,
and in the end as a measure of compromise only?
especially, conveniently forget the severe Puritanic legislation
against the observance of this Pagan festival, both in England an
America. It is the return to Paganism which has given to Christmas
and Easter their great popularity, as it is the revival of Paganism
which is everywhere replacing the Bible ideas of monarchic
government republicanism. And yet, repeatedly, an without any
scruples of conscience, preach and people claim these festivals as
the gift of their creed to humanity, and quote them further to prove
the historical existence of their God-man, Jesus.
It was this open
an persistent perversion of history by church, the manufacture of
evidence on the one hand, the suppression of witnesses prejudiced to
her interests on the other, and the deliberate forging of documents,
which provoked Carlyle into referring to one of its branches as the
great lying Church.
We have said enough to show that, in all probability—for let us not
be dogmatic—the story of Jesus, -- his birth and betrayal by one of
his own disciples, his trial in a Roman court, his crucifixion,
resurrection and ascension, -- belongs to the order of imaginative
literature. Conceived at first as a religious drama, it received
many new accretions as it traveled from country to country and from
age to age. The “piece” shows signs of having been touched and
retouched to make it acceptable to the different countries in which
it was played. The hand of the adapter, the interpolator and the
reviser is unmistakably present.
As an allegory, or as a dramatic
composition, meant for the religious stage, it proved one of the
strongest productions of Pagan or Christian times. But as real
history, it lacks the fundamental requisite—probability. As a play,
it is stirring and strong; as history, it lacks naturalness and
consistency. The miraculous is ever outside the province of history.
Jesus was a miracle, and as such, at least, we are safe in declaring
We pass on now to the presentation of evidence which we venture to
think demonstrates with an almost mathematic precision, that the
Jesus of the four gospels is a legendary hero, as unhistorical as
William Tell of Switzerland. This evidence is furnished by the
epistles bearing the signature of Paul. He has been accepted as not
only the greatest apostle of Christianity, but in a sense also the
author of its theology. It is generally admitted that the epistles
bearing the name of Paul are among the oldest apostolical writings.
They are older than the gospels. This is very important information.
When Paul was preaching, the four gospels had not yet been written.
From the epistles of Paul, of which there are about thirteen in the
Bible—making the New Testament largely the work of this one
apostle—we learn that there were in different parts of Asia, a
number of Christian churches already established. Not only Paul,
then, but also the Christian church was in existence before the
gospels were composed. It would be natural to infer that it was not
the gospels which created the church, but the church which produced
the gospels. Do not lose sight of the fact that when Paul was
preaching to the Christians there was no written biography of Jesus
in existence. There was a church without a book.
In comparing the Jesus of Paul with the Jesus whose portrait
is drawn for us in the gospels, we find that they are not the same
persons at all. This is decisive. Paul knows nothing about a
miraculously born savior. He does not mention a single time, in all
his thirteen epistles, that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that his
birth was accompanied with heavenly signs and wonders.
nothing of a Jesus born after the manner of the gospel writers. It
is not imaginable that he knew the facts, but suppressed them, or
that he considered them unimportant, or that he forgot to refer to
them in any of his public utterances. Today, a preacher is expelled
from his denomination if he suppresses or ignores the miraculous
conception of the Son of God; but Paul was guilty of that very
heresy. How explain it?
It is quite simple: The virgin-born Jesus
was not yet invented when Paul was preaching Christianity. Neither
he, nor the churches he had organized, had ever heard of such a
person. The virgin-born Jesus was of later origin than the Apostle
Let the meaning of this discrepancy between the Jesus of Paul, that
is to say, the earliest portrait of Jesus, and the Jesus of the four
evangelists, be fully grasped by the student, and it should prove
beyond a doubt that in Paul’s time the story of Jesus’ birth from
the virgin-mother and the Holy Ghost, which has since become a
cardinal dogma of the Christian church, was not yet in circulation.
Jesus had not yet been Hellenized; he was still a Jewish Messiah
whose coming was foretold in the Old Testament, and who was to be a
prophet like unto Moses, without the remotest suggestion of a
No proposition in Euclid is safer from contradiction than that, if
Paul knew what the gospels tell about Jesus, he would have, at least
once or twice during his long ministry, given evidence of his
knowledge of it. The conclusion is inevitable that the gospel Jesus
is later than Paul and his churches. Paul stood nearest to the time
of Jesus of those whose writings are supposed to have come down to
us, he is the most representative, and his epistles are the first
literature of the new religion. And yet there is absolutely not a
single hint or suggestion in them of such a Jesus as is depicted in
the gospels. The gospel Jesus was not yet put together or compiled,
when Paul was preaching.
Once more; if we peruse carefully critically the writings of Paul,
the earliest and greatest Christian apostle and missionary, we find
that he is not only ignorant of the gospel stories about the birth
and miracles of Jesus, but he is equally and just as innocently
ignorant of the teachings of Jesus. In the gospels Jesus is the
author of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, the Parable of
the Prodigal Son, the Story of Dives, the Good Samaritan, etc. Is it
conceivable that a preacher of Jesus could go throughout the world
to convert people to the teachings of Jesus, as Paul did, without
ever quoting a single one of his sayings?
Had Paul known that Jesus
had preached a sermon, or formulated a prayer, or said many inspired
things about the here and the hereafter, he could not have helped
quoting, now and then, from the words of his master. If Christianity
could have been established without a knowledge of the teachings of
Jesus, why then, did Jesus come to teach, and why were his teachings
preserved by divine inspiration? But if a knowledge of these
teachings of Jesus is indispensable to making converts, Paul gives
not the least evidence that he possessed such knowledge.
But the Apostle Paul, judging from his many epistles to the
earliest converts to Christianity which are really his testimony,
supposed to have been sealed by his blood, appears to be quite as
ignorant of a Jesus who went about working miracles, -- opening the
eyes of the blind, giving health to the sick, hearing to the deaf,
and life to the dead, -- as he is of a Jesus born of a virgin woman
and the Holy Ghost. Is not this remarkable?
Does it not lend strong
confirmation to the idea that the miracle-working Jesus of the
gospels was not known in Paul’s time, that is to say, the earliest
Jesus known to the churches was a person altogether different from
his namesake in the four evangelists. If Paul knew of a
miracle-working Jesus, one who could feed the multitude with a few
loaves and fishes—who could command the grave to open, who could
cast out devils, and cleanse the land of the foulest disease of
leprosy, who could, and did, perform many other wonderful works to
convince the unbelieving generation of his divinity, -- is it
conceivable that either intentionally or inadvertently he would have
never once referred to them in all his preaching?
Is it not almost
certain that, if the earliest Christians knew of the miracles of
Jesus, they would have been greatly surprised at the failure of Paul
to refer to them a single time? And would not Paul have told them of
the promise of Jesus to give power to work even greater miracles
than his own, had he known of such a promise. Could Paul really have
left out of his ministry so essential a chapter from the life of
Jesus, had he been acquainted with it?
The miraculous fills up the
greater portion of the four gospels, and if these documents were
dictated by the Holy Ghost, it means that they were too important to
be left out. Why, then, does not Paul speak of them at all? There is
only one reasonable answer: A miracle-working Jesus was unknown to
What would we say of a disciple of Tolstoy, for example, who came to
America to make converts to Count Tolstoy and never once quoted
anything that Tolstoy had said? Or what would we think of the
Christian missionaries who go to India, China, Japan and Africa to
preach the gospel, if they never mentioned to the people of these
countries the Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the Prodigal Son,
the Lord’s Prayer—nor quoted a single text from the gospels?
Paul, the first missionary, did the very thing which would be
inexplicable in a modern missionary. There is only one rational
explanation for this: The Jesus of Paul was not born of a virgin; he
did not work miracles; and he was not a teacher. It was after his
day that such a Jesus was—I have to use again a strong
It has been hinted by certain professional defenders of Christianity
that Paul’s specific mission was to introduce Christianity among the
Gentiles, and not to call attention to the miraculous element in the
life of his Master. But this is a very lame defense. What is
Christianity, but the life and teachings of Jesus? And how can it be
introduced among the Gentiles without a knowledge of the doctrines
and works of its founder? Paul gives no evidence of possessing any
knowledge of the teachings of Jesus, how could he, then, be a
missionary of Christianity to the heathen?
There is no other answer which can be given than that the
Christianity of Paul was something radically different from the
Christianity of the later gospel writers, who in all probability
were Greeks and not Jews. Moreover, it is known that Paul was
reprimanded by his fellow-apostles for carrying Christianity to the
Gentiles. What better defense could Paul have given for his conduct
than to have quoted the commandment of Jesus—“Go ye into all the
world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
And he would have
quoted the “divine” text had he been familiar with it. Nay, the
other apostles would not have taken him to task for obeying the
commandment of Jesus had they been familiar with such a commandment.
It all goes to support the proposition that the gospel Jesus was of
a date later than the apostolic times.
That the authorities of the church realize how damaging to the
reality of the gospel Jesus is the inexplicable silence of Paul
concerning him, may be seen in their vain effort to find in a
passage put in Paul’s mouth by the unknown author of the book of
Acts, evidence that Paul does quote the sayings of Jesus. The
passage referred to is the following:
“It is more blessed to give
than to receive.”
Paul is made to state that this was a saying of
Jesus. In the first place, this quotation is not in the epistles of
Paul, but in the Acts, of which Paul was not the author; in the
second place, there is no such quotation in the gospels. The
position, then, that there is not a single saying of Jesus in the
gospels which is quoted by Paul in his many epistles is
unassailable, and certainly fatal to the historicity of the gospel
Again, from Paul himself we learn that he was a zealous Hebrew, a
Pharisee of Pharisees, studying with Gamaliel in Jerusalem,
presumably to become a rabbi. Is it possible that such a man could
remain totally ignorant of a miracle worker an teacher like Jesus,
living in the same city with him? If Jesus really raised Lazarus
from the grave, and entered Jerusalem a the head of a procession,
waving branches and shouting, “hosanna”—if he was really crucified
in Jerusalem, and ascended from one of its environs—is it possible
that Paul neither saw Jesus nor heard anything about these miracles?
But if he knew all these things about Jesus, is it possible that he
could go through the world preaching Christ and never once speak of
them? It is more likely that when Paul was studying in Jerusalem
there was no miraculous Jesus living or teaching in any part of
If men make their Gods they also make their Christs. [Christianity
and Mythology. J.M. Robertson, to whom the author acknowledges his
indebtedness, for the difference between Paul’s Jesus and that of
the Gospels.] It is frequently urged that it was impossible for a
band of illiterate fishermen to have created out of their own fancy
so glorious a character as that of Jesus, and that it would be more
miraculous to suppose that the unique sayings of Jesus and his
incomparably perfect life were invented by a few plain people than
to believe in his actual existence.
But it is not honest to throw
the question into that form. We do not know who were the authors of
the gospels. It is pure assumption that they were written by plain
fishermen. The authors of the gospels do not disclose their
identity. The words, according to Matthew, Mark, etc., represent
only the guesses or opinions of translators and copyists.
Both in the gospels and in Christian history the apostles are
represented as illiterate men. But if they spoke Greek, and could
also write in Greek, they could not have been just plain fishermen.
That they were Greeks, not Jews, and more or less educated, may be
safely inferred from the fact that they all write in Greek, and one
of them at least seems to be acquainted with the Alexandrian school
of philosophy. Jesus was supposedly a Jew, his twelve apostles all
Jews—how is it, then, that the only biographies of him extant are
all in Greek?
If his fishermen disciples were capable of composition
in Greek, they could not have been illiterate men, if they could not
have written in Greek—which was a rare accomplishment for a Jew,
according to what Josephus says—then the gospels were not written by
the apostles of Jesus. But the fact that thou these documents are in
a language alien both to Jesus and his disciples, they are unsigned
and undated, goes to prove, we think, that their editors or authors
wished to conceal their identity that they may be taken for the
In the next place it is equally an assumption that the portrait of
Jesus is incomparable. It is now proven beyond a doubt that there is
not a single saying of Jesus, I say this deliberately, which had not
already been known both among the Jews and Pagans. Sometimes it is
urged by pettifogging clergymen that while it is true that Confucius
gave the Golden Rule six hundred years before Jesus, it was in a
Confucius said, “Do not unto another what you would
not another to do unto you.” Jesus said, “Do unto others,” etc. But
every negative has its corresponding affirmation. Moreover, are not
the Ten Commandments in the negative? But the Greek sages gave the
Golden Rule in as positive a form as we find it in the Gospels.
may I do to others as I would that others should do to me,” said
—Jowett Trans., V. 483. P.
Besides if the only difference between Jesus and Confucius, the one
a God, the other a mere man, was that they both said the same thing,
the one in the negative, the other in the positive, it is not enough
to prove Jesus infinitely superior to Confucius. Many of Jesus’ own
communications are in the negative: [Resist not evil,” for
instance.] And as to his life; it is in no sense superior or even as
large and as many sided as that of Socrates. I know some consider it
blasphemy to compare Jesus with Socrates, but that must be attributed
to prejudice rather than to reason.
And to the question that if Jesus be mythical, we cannot account for
the rise and progress of the Christian church, we answer that the
Pagan Gods who occupied Mount Olympus were all mythical beings—mere
shadows, and yet Paganism was the religion of the most advanced and
cultured nations of antiquity. How could an imaginary Zeus, or
Jupiter, draw to his temple the elite of Greece and Rome?
there is nothing strange,
in the rise and spread of the Pagan church;
in the rapid progress of the worship of Osiris, who never existed;
in the wonderful success of the religion of Mithra, who is but a
if the worship of Adonis, of Attis, of Isis, and the legends
of Heracles, Prometheus, Hercules, and the Hindu trinity, -- Brahma,
Shiva, Chrishna, -- with their rock-hewn temples,
...can be explained
without believing in the actual existence of these Gods—why not
Religions, like everything else, are born, they grow
and die. They show the handiwork of whole races, and of different
epochs, rather than of one man or of age. Time gives them birth, and
changing environments determine their career. Just as the portrait
of Jesus we see in shops and churches is an invention, so is his
character. The artist gave him his features, the theologian his
What are the elements out of which the Jesus story was evolved? The
Jewish people were in constant expectation of a Messiah. The belief
prevailed that his name would be Joshua, which in English is Jesus.
The meaning of the word is savior. In ancient Syrian mythology,
Joshua was a Sun God. The Old-Testament Joshua, who “stopped the
Sun,” was in all probability this same Syria, divinity. According to
tradition this Joshua, or Jesus, was the Son of Mary, a name which
with slight variations is found in nearly all the old mythologies.
Greek and Hindu divinities were mothered by either a Mary, Meriam,
Myrrah, or Merri, Maria or Mares is the oldest word for sea—the
earliest source of life. The ancients looked upon the sea-water as
the mother of every living thing. “Joshua (or Jesus), son of Mary,”
was already a part of the religious outfit of the Asiatic world when
Paul began his missionary tours.
His Jesus, or anointed one,
crucified or slain, did in no sense represent a new or original
message. It is no more strange that Paul’s mythological “savior”
should loom into prominence and cast a spell over all the world,
than that a mythical Apollo or Jupiter should rule for thousands of
years over the fairest portions of the earth.
It is also well known that there is in the Talmud the story of a
Jesus, Ben, or son, of Pandira, who lived about a hundred years
before the Gospel Jesus, and who was hanged from a tree. I believe
this Jesus is quite as legendary as the Syrian Hesous, or Joshua.
But may it not be that such a legend accepted as true—to the
ancients all legends were true—contributed its share toward marking
the outlines of the later Jesus, hanged on a cross?
My idea has been
to show that the materials for a Jesus myth were at hand, and that,
therefore, to account for the rise and progress of the Christian
cult is no more difficult than to explain the widely spread religion
of the Indian Chrishna, or of the Persian Mithra. [For a fuller
discussion of the various “Christs” in mythology read Robertson’s
Christianity and Mythology and his Pagan Christs.]
Now, why have I given these conclusions to the world? Would I not
have made more friends—provoked a warmer response from the public at
large—had I repeated in pleasant accents the familiar phrases about
the glory and beauty and sweetness of the Savior God, the
Instead of that, I have run the risk of
alienating the sympathies of my fellows by intimating that this
Jesus whom Christendom worships today as a God, this Jesus at whose
altar the Christian world bends its knees and bows its head, is as
much of an idol as was Apollo of the Greeks; and that we—we
Americans of the twentieth century—are an idolatrous people,
inasmuch as we worship a name, or at most, a man of whom we know
IS Christianity REAL?
It is assumed, without foundation, as I hope to show, that the
religion of Jesus alone can save the world. We are not surprised at
the claim, because there has never been a religion which has been
too modest to make a similar claim. No religion has ever been
satisfied to be one of the saviors of man. Each religion wants to
be the only savior of man. There is no monopoly like religious
monopoly. The industrial corporations with all their greed are less
exacting than the Catholic church, for instance, which keeps heaven
itself under lock and key.
But what is meant by salvation? Let us consider its religious
meaning first. An unbiased investigation of the dogmas and their
supposed historical foundations will prove that the salvation which
Christianity offers, and the means by which it proposes to effect
the world’s salvation, are extremely fanciful in nature. If this
point could be made clear, there will be less reluctance on the part
of the public to listen to the evidence on the unhistoricity of the
founder of Christianity.
We are told that God, who is perfect, created this world about half
a hundred centuries ago. Of course, being perfect himself the world
which he created was perfect, too. But the world did not stay
perfect very long. Nay, from the heights it fell, not slowly, but
suddenly, into the lowest depths of degradation. How a world which
God had created perfect, could in the twinkling of an eye become so
vile as to be cursed by the same being who a moment before had
pronounced it “good,” and besides be handed the devil as fuel for
eternal burnings, only credulity can explain.
I am giving the story
of what is called the “plan of salvation,” in order to show its
mythical nature. In the preceding pages we have discussed the
question, Is Jesus a Myth, but I believe that when we have reflected
upon the story of man’s fall and his supposed subsequent salvation
by the blood of Jesus, we shall conclude that the function, or the
office, which Jesus is said to perform, is as mythical as his
The story of Eden possesses all the marks of an allegory. Adam and
Eve, and a perfect world suddenly plunged from a snowy whiteness
into the blackness of hell, are the thoughts of a child who
exaggerates because of an as yet undisciplined fancy. Yet, if Adam
and Eve are unreal, theologically speaking, Jesus is unreal. If they
are allegory and myth, so is Jesus. It is claimed that it was the
fall of Adam which necessitated the death of Jesus, but if Adam’s
fall be a fiction, as we know it is, Jesus’ death as an atonement
must also be a fiction.
In the fall of Adam, we are told, humanity itself fell. Could
anything be more fanciful than that? And what was Adam’s sin? He
coveted knowledge. He wished to improve his mind. He experimented
with forbidden things. He dared to take the initiative. And for that
imaginary crime, even the generations not yet born are to be forever
blighted. Even the animals, the flowers and vegetables were cursed
for it. Can you conceive of anything more mythical than that? one of
the English divines of the age of Calvin declared that original sin,
-- Adam’s sin imputed to us, -- was so awful, that “if a man had
never been born he would yet have been damned for it.” It is from
this mythical sin that a mythical Savior saves us. And how does he
do it? In a very mythical way, as we shall see.
When the world fell, it fell into the devil’s hands. To redeem a
part of it, at least, the deity concludes to give up his only son
for a ransom. This is interesting. God is represented as being
greatly offended, because the world which he had created perfect was
all in a heap before him. To placate himself he sacrificed his
But, as intimated above, he does not intend to restore the whole
world to its pristine purity, but only a part of it. This is
alarming. He creates the whole world perfect, but now he is
satisfied to have only a portion of it redeemed from the devil. If
he can save at all, pray, why not save all? This is not an
irrelevant question when it is remembered that the whole world was
created perfect in the first place.
The refusal of the deity to save all of his world from the devil
would lead one to believe that even when God created the world
perfect he did not mean to keep all of it to himself, but meant that
some of it, the greater part of it, as some theologians contend,
should go to the devil! Surely this is nothing but myth. Let us hope
for the sake of our ideals that all this is no more than the
childish prattle of primitive man.
But let us return to the story of the fall of man; God decides to
save a part of his ruined perfect world by the sacrifice of his son.
The latter is supposed to have said to his father: “Punish me, kill
me, accept my blood, and let it pay for the sins of man.” He thus
interceded for the elect, and the deity was mollified. As Jesus is
also God, it follows that one God tried to pacify another, which is
pure myth. Some theologians have another theory—there is room here
for many theories.
According to these, God gave up his son as a
ransom, not to himself, but to the devil, who now claimed the world
as his own. I heard a distinguished minister explain this in the
following manner: A poor man whose house is mortgaged hears that
some philanthropist has redeemed the property by paying off the
mortgage. The soul of man was by the fall of Adam mortgaged to the
devil. God has raised the mortgage by abandoning his son to be
killed to satisfy the devil who held the mortgage. The debt which we
owed ha been paid by Jesus.
By this arrangement the devil loses his
legal right to our souls and we are saved. All we need to do is to
believe in this story and we’ll be sure to go to heaven. And to
think that intelligent Americans not only accept all this as
inspired, but denounce the man who venture to intimate modestly that
it might be a myth as a blasphemer!
“O, judgment!” cries
Shakespeare, “thou hast fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost
The morality which the Christian church teaches is of as mythical a
nature as the story of the fall, and the blood-atonement. It is not
natural morality, but something quite unintelligible and fictitious.
For instance, we are told that we cannot of our selves be righteous.
We must first have the grace of God. Then we are told that we cannot
have the grace of God unless he gives it to us. And he will not give
it us unless we ask for it.
But we cannot ask for it, unless he
moves us to ask for it. And there we are. We shall be damned if we
do not come to God, and we cannot come to God unless he calls us.
Besides, could anything be more mythical than a righteousness which
can only be imputed to us, -- any righteousness of our own being but
The Christian religion has the appearance of being one great myth,
constructed out of many minor myths. It is the same with
Mohammedanism, or Judaism, which latter is the mischievous parent of
both the Mohammedan and the Christian faiths. It is the same with
all supernatural creeds. Myth is the dominating element in them all.
Compared with these Asiatic religions how glorious is science! How
wholesome, helpful, and luminous, are her commandments!
If I were to command you to believe that Mount Olympus was once
tenanted by blue eyed Gods and their consorts, -- sipping nectar and
ambrosia the live-long day, -- You will answer, “Oh, that is only
mythology.” If I were to tell you that you cannot be saved unless
you believe that Minerva was born full-fledged from the brain of
Jupiter, you will laugh at me. If I were to tell you that you must
punish your innocent sons for the guilt of their brothers and
sisters, you will answer that I insult your moral sense.
And yet, every Sunday, the preacher repeats the myth of Adam and
Eve, and how God killed his innocent son to please himself, or to
satisfy the devil, and with bated breath, and on your knees, you
How is it that when you read the literature of the Greeks, the
literature of the Persians, the literature of Hindostan, or of the
Mohammedan world, you discriminate between fact and fiction, between
history and myth, but when it comes to the literature of the Jews,
you stammer, you stutter, you bite your lips, you turn pale, and
fall upon your face before it as the savage before his fetish? You
would consider it unreasonable to believe that everything a Greek,
or a Roman, or an Arab ever said was inspired. And yet, men have
been hounded to death for not believing everything that a Jew ever
said in olden times was inspired.
I do not have to use arguments, I hope, to prove to an intelligent
public that an infallible book is as much a myth as the Garden of
Eden, or the Star of Bethlehem. A mythical Savior, a mythical Bible,
a mythical plan of salvation!
When we subject what are called religious truths to the same tests
by which we determine scientific or historical truths, we discover
that they are not truths at all; they are only opinions.
Any statement which snaps under the strain of reason is unworthy
of credence. But it is claimed that religious truth is discovered
by intuition and not by investigation. The believer, it is
claimed, feels in his own soul—he has the witness of the
spirit, that the Bible is infallible, and that Jesus is the
Savior of man. The Christian does not have to look into the
arguments for or against his religion it is said, before he makes
up his mind; he knows by an inward assurance; he has proved it to
his own deeper most being that Jesus is real and that he is the
only Savior. But what is that but another kind of argument?
argument is quite inadequate to inspire assurance, as you will
presently see, but it is an argument nevertheless. To say that we
must believe and not reason is a kind of reasoning, This device
of reasoning against reasoning is resorted to by people who have
been compelled by modern thought to give up, one after another, the
strongholds of their position. They run under shelter of what they
call faith, or the “inward witness of the spirit,” or the intuitive
argument, hoping thereby to escape the enemy’s fire, if I may use so
objectionable a phrase.
What is called faith, then, or an intuitive spiritual assurance, is
a Species of reasoning; let its worth be tested honestly.
In the first place, faith or the intuitive argument would prove too
much. If Jesus is real, notwithstanding that there is no reliable
historical data to warrant the belief, because the believer feels in
his own soul that He is real and divine, I answer that, the same
mode of reasoning—and let us not forget, it is a kind of
reasoning—would prove Mohammed a divine savior, and the wooden idol
of the savage a God.
The African Bushman trembles before an image,
because he feels in his own soul that the thing is real. Does that
make it real? The Moslem cries unto Mohammed, because he believes in
his innermost heart that Mohammed is near and can hear him. He will
risk his life on that assurance. To quote to him history and science
to prove that Mohammed is dead and unable to save, would be of no
avail, for he has the witness of the spirit in him, an intuitive
assurance, that the great prophet sits on the right hand of Allah.
An argument which proves too much, proves nothing.
In the second place, an intuition is not communicable. I may have an
intuition that I see spirits all about me this morning. They come,
they go, they nod, they brush my forehead with their wings. But do
you see them, too, because I see them?
There is the difference
between a scientific demonstration and a purely metaphysical
assumption. I could go to the blackboard and assure you, as I am
myself assured, that two parallel lines running in the same
direction will not and cannot meet. That is demonstration. A fever
patient when in a state of delirium, and a frightened child in the
dark, see things. We do not deny that they do, but their testimony
does not prove that the things they see are real.
“What is this I see before me?” cries Macbeth, the murderer, and be
shrieks and shakes from head to foot—he draws his sword and rushes
upon Banquo’s ghost, which be sees coldly staring at him. But is
that any proof that what he saw we could see also? Yes, we could, if
we were in the same frenzy! And it is the revivalist’s aim, by
creating a general excitement, to make everybody see things.
“Doctor, Doctor, help! they are coming to kill me; there they are
the assassins, -- one, two, three—oh, help,” and the patient jumps
out of bed to escape the banditti crowding in upon him. But is that
any reason why the attending physician, his pulse normal and his
brow cool should believe that the room is filling up with assassins?
I observe people jump up and down, as they do in holiness meetings;
I hear them say they see angels, they see Jesus, they feel his
presence. But is that any evidence for you or me? An intuitive
argument is not communicable, and, therefore, it is no argument at
Our orthodox friends are finally driven by modern thought, which is
growing bolder every day, to the only refuge left for them. It is
the one already mentioned. Granted that Jesus was an imaginary
character, even then, as an ideal, they argue, he is an inspiration,
and the most effective moral force the world has ever known. We do
not care, they say, whether the story of his birth, trial, death,
and resurrection is myth or actual history; such a man as Jesus may
never have existed, the things he is reported as saying may have
been put in his mouth by others, but what of that—is not the picture
of his character perfect? Are not the Beatitudes beautiful—no matter
who said them?
To strengthen this position they call our attention
to Shakespeare’s creations, the majority of whom—Hamlet, Othello,
Lear, Portia, Imogen, Desdemona, are fictitious. Yet where are there
grander men, or finer women? These children of Shakespeare may never
have lived, but, surely, they will never die. In the same sense,
Jesus may be just as ideal a character as those of Shakespeare, they
say, and still be “the light of the world.” A New York preacher is
reported as saying that if Christianity is a lie, it is a “glorious
My answer to the above is that such an argument evades instead of
facing the question. It is receding from a position under cover of a
rhetorical manoeuvre. It is a retreat in disguise. If Christianity
is a “glorious lie,” then call it such. The question under
discussion is, Is Jesus Historical? To answer that it is immaterial
whether or not he is historical, is to admit that there is no
evidence that he is historical. To urge that, unhistorical though he
be, he, is, nevertheless, the only savior of the world, is, I regret
to say, not only evasive, -- not only does it beg the question, but
it is also clearly dishonest.
How long will the tremendous
ecclesiastical machinery last, if it were candidly avowed that it is
doubtful whether there ever was such a historical character as
Jesus, or that in all probability he is no more real than one of
Shakespeare’s creations? What! all these prayers, these churches,
these denominations, these sectarian wars which have shed oceans of
human blood—these unfortunate persecutions which have blackened the
face of man—the fear of hell and the devil which has blasted
millions of lives—all these for a Christ who may, after all, be only
Neither is it true that this pictorial Jesus saved the world. He has
had two thousand years to do it in, but as missionaries are still
being sent out, it follows that the world is yet to be saved. The
argument presented elsewhere in these pages may here be
There was war before Christianity; has
Jesus abolished war?
There was poverty and misery in the world before
Jesus removed these evils?
There was ignorance in the world before
Christianity; has Jesus
There were disease, crime, persecution, oppression, slavery,
massacres, and bloodshed in the world before Christianity; alas, are
they not still with us?
When Jesus shall succeed in pacifying his own disciples; in healing
the sectarian world of its endless and bitter quarrels, then it will
be time to ask what else Jesus has done for humanity.
If the world is improving at all, and we believe it is, the progress
is due to the fact that man pays now more attention to this life
than formerly. He is thinking less of the other world and more of
this. He no longer sings with John Wesley:
The world is all a fleeting show
For man’s delusion given.
Its smiles of joy, its tears of woe,
Deceitful shine, deceitful flow,
There’s nothing true but heaven.
How could people with such feelings labor to improve a world they
hated? How could they be in the least interested in social or
political reforms when they were constantly repeating to themselves—
I’m a pilgrim, and I’m a stranger—
I can tarry, I can tarry, but a night.
That these same people should now claim not only a part of the
credit for the many improvements, but all of it—saying that but for
their religion the “world would now have been a hell,” [Rev. Frank Gunsaulus, of the Central Church, Chicago.] is really a little too
much for even the most serene temperament.
Which of the religions has persecuted as long and as relentlessly as
Which of the many faiths of the world has opposed Science as
stubbornly and as bitterly as Christianity?
In the name of what other prophets have more people been burned at
the stake than in the names of Jesus and Moses?
What other revelation has given rise to so many sects, hostile and
irreconcilable, as the Christian?
Which religion has furnished as many effective texts for political
oppression, polygamy, slavery, and the subjection of woman [See A
New Catechism.—M.M. Mangasarian.] as the religion of Jesus and Paul?
Is there, -- has there ever been another creed which makes salvation
dependent on belief, -- thereby encouraging hypocrisy, and making
honest inquiry a crime?
To send a thief to heaven from the gallows because he believes, and
an honest man to hell because he doubts, is that the virtue which is
going to save the world?
The claim that Jesus has saved the world is another myth.
A pictorial Christ, then, has not done anything for humanity to
deserve the tremendous expenditure of time, energy, love, and
devotion, which has for two thousand years taxed the resources of
The passing away of this imaginary savior will relieve the world of
an unproductive investment.
We conclude: Honesty, like charity, must begin at home. Unless we
can tell the truth in our churches we will never tell the truth in
our shops. Unless our teachers, the ministers of God, are honest,
our insurance companies and corporations will have to be watched.
Permit sham in your religious life, and the disease will spread to
every member of the social body. If you may keep religion in the
dark, and cry “hush,” “hush,” when people ask that it be brought out
into the light, why may not polities or business cultivate a similar
partiality for darkness?
If the king cries, “rebel,” when a citizen
asks for justice, it is because he has heard the priest cry,
“infidel,” when a member of his church asked for evidence. Religious
hypocrisy is the mother of all hypocrisies. Cure a man of that, and
the human world will recover its health.
Not so long ago, nearly everybody believed in the existence of a
personal devil. People saw him, heard him, described him, danced
with him, and claimed, besides, to have whipped him. Luther hurled
his ink-stand at him, and American women accused as witches were put
to death in the name of the devil. Yet all this “evidence” has not
saved the devil from passing out of existence. What has happened to
the devil will happen to the Gods. Man is the only real savior. If
he is not a savior, there is no other.