« PreviousContinue »
period, particularly if considered in connection with the conspiracy Magi in in the family of Herod and among the religious faclion, as it excited Jerusalem. an extraordinary sensation through the whole city, would reawaken all the watchfulness of the monarch. The assemblage of the religious authorities, in order that they might judicially declare the place from which the Messiah was expected, might be intended not merely to direct the ministers of the royal vengeance to the quarter from whence danger was to be apprehended, but to force The acknowledged interpreters of the sacred writings to an authoritative declaration as to the circumstances of the Messiah's birth; so, if any event should occur, contrary to their version of the prophecies, either to commit them on the side of the ruling powers, or altogether to invalidate the expectation, that was dangerously brooding in the popular mind. The subtlety of Herod's character is as strikingly exhibited in his pretended resolution to join the Magians in their worship of the new-born king, as his relentless decision, when the Magians did not return to Jerusalem, in commanding the general massacre of all the infants under the age of two years, in Bethlehem and its district (1).
Egypt, where, by divine command, the parents of Jesus look Flight into refuge, was but a few days' journey, on a line perpetually fre- Egypt. quented by regular caravans; and in that country, those who fled from Palestine could scarcely fail to meet with hospitable reception, among some of that second nation of Jews, who inhabited Alexandria and its neighbourhood (2).
On their return from Egypt, after the death of Herod, (which Return to took place in the ensuing year, though the parents of Jesus did not leave Egypt till the accession of Archelaus), Joseph, justly appre
(1) The murder of the innocents is a curious Christian history. See also Eisenmenger, i. P. instance of the re-action of legendary extrava. 150. gance on the plain truth of the evangelic history. The Jewish fiction of the birth of Jesus is at The Greek church canonised the 14,000 Inno- least as old as the time of Celsus (Origen contrà cents ; and another notion, founded on a misre. Cels. 1.), but bears the impress of hostile malice, presentation of Revelations (xiv. 3., swelled the in assigning as his parent a Roman soldier. This number to 144,000. The former, at least, was the is the fable which was perpetuated from that common belief of the church, though even in our time by Jewish animosity, till it assumed its liturgy the latter has in some degree been sanc- most obnoxious form in the Toldoth Jesu. How tioned, by retaining the chapter of Revelations much inore natural and credible than the minute as the epistle for the day. Éven later, Jeremy detail which so obviously betrays later and hosTaylor, in his Life of Christ, admits ile 14,000 tile invention, the vague inquiry of his own com. without scruple, or rather without thought. The patriots—“ is not tiris the carpenter's son?" error did not escape the notice of the acute ad. Matth, xiii. 55. versaries of Christianity, who, impeaching this The answer of Origen to this Jewish invention extravagant tale, attempted to bring the evan- is sensible and judicious. The Christians, if gelic narrative into discredit, Vossius, I believe, such a story had been true, would bave invented was the first divine who pointed out the mon- something more directly opposed to the real strous absurdity of supposing such a number of truth ; they would not have agreed so far with infant children in so small a village. Matth. ii. the relation, but rather carefully suppressed.
every allusion to the extraordinary birth of Jesus. (2) Some of the rabbinical stories accuse Jesus 'Έδύναντο γαρ άλλως ψευδοποιείσθαι of having brought « his enchantiments” out of δια το σφοδρά παράδοξον την ιστορίας, Egypt. (Lightfoot, xi. 45.) There is no satisfac. xai coteper cxovrios ouy kata060tory evidence to the antiquity of these notions, θα. τ. ούκ απο συνηθων ανθρώποις or, absurd as they are, they might be some testiinony to the authenticity of this part of the golpeady • 'Lúcous ég evú@n. Contra Cels, in
hensive that the son might inherit the jealousy and relentless disposilion of the falher, of which he had already given fearful indica- , lions, retired lo his former residence in Galilee, under the less suspicious dominion of Herod Antipas (1). There the general prejudice against Galilee might be their best security; and the universal belief that it was in Judæa that the great king was to assume his sovereignty, would render their situation less perilous ; for it was the throne of the monarch of Judah, the dominion of the ruler in Jerusalem, rather than the government of the Galilean tetrarch, which would have been considered in danger from the appearance of the Messiah.
(1) Matt. xi. 19. 23. Luke, xi. 40.
APPENDIX TO CHAPTER 11.
RECENT LIVES OF CHRIST.
At the time when this part of the present work was written, the ultrarationalist work of Professor Paulus, the Leben Jesu, (Heidelberg, 1828,) was the most recent publication. Since that time have appeared, the Life of Jesus, Das Leben Jesu, by Dr. D. F. Strauss, (2d edition, Tubingen, 1837) and the counter publication of Neander, Das Leben Jesu (Berlin, 1837); to say nothing of a great number of controversial pamphlets and reviews, arising out of the work of Dr. Strauss.
This work (consisting of two thick and closely printed volumes of nearly 800 pages each) is a grave and elaborate exposition of an extraordinary hypothesis, which Dr. Strauss offers, in order to reconcile Christianity with the advancing intelligence of mankind, which is weary and dissatisfied with all previous philosophical and rationalist theories. Dr. Strauss solemnly declares, that the essence of Christianity is entirely independent of his critical remarks. “ The supernatural birth of Christ, his miracles, his resurrection and ascension, remain eternal truths, however their reality, as historical facts, may be called in question (1)." He refers to a dissertation at the close of his work,“ lo show that the doctrinal contents of the Life of Jesus are uninjured; and that the calmness and cold bloodedness with which his criticism proceeds in its dangerous operations can only be explained by his conviction, that it is not in the least prejudicial to Christian faith.” That dissertation, which opens (t. ii. p. 691.) with a singularly eloquent description of the total destruction which this remorseless criticism has made in the ordinary grounds of Christian faith and practice, I have read with much attention. But what resting place it proposes to substitute for Christian faith, I have been unable to discover; and must acknowledge my unwillingness to abandon the firm ground of historical evidence, to place myself on any sublime but unsubstantial cloud which may be offered by a mystic and unintelligible philosophy. Especially as I find Dr. Strauss himself coolly contemplating at the close of his work the desolaling effects of his own arguments, looking about in vain for the unsubstantial tenets which he has extirpated by his uncompromising logic; and plainly admitting, that if he has shattered to pieces the edifice of Christianity, it is not his fault.
But Christianity will survive the criticism of Dr. Strauss.
I would however calmly consider the first principles of this work, which appear to me, in many respects, singularly narrow and unphilosophical – by no means formed on an extensive and complete view of the whole case, and resting on grounds which, in my judgment, would be subversive of all history.
The hypothesis of Dr. Strauss is, that the whole history of our Lord, as related in the Gospels, is mythic, that is to say, a kind of imaginative amplification of certain vague and slender traditions, the germ of which it is now impossible to
(1) Christi übernatürliche Geburt, seine Wun. der, seine Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt bleiben ewige Wahrheiten, so sehr ibre Wirklichkeit
als historische Facta angezweifelt werden mag. Vorrede, xü.
trace. These myths are partly what he calls historical, partly philosophic, formed with the design of developing an ideal character of Jesus, and to harmonise that character with the Jewish notions of the Messiah. In order to prove this, the whole intermediate part of the work is a most claborate, and it would be uncandid not to say, a singularly skilful examination of the difficulties and discrepancies in the Gospels; and a perpetual endeavour to show, in what manner and with what design, each separate myth assumed its present form,
Arguing on the ground of Dr. Strauss, I would urge the following objections, which appear to me fatal to his whole system :
First, The hypothesis of Strauss is unphilosophical, because it assumes dogmalically the principal point in dispute. His first canon of criticism is (t. i. p. 103), that wherever there is any thing supernatural, angelic appearance, miracle, or interposition of the Deity, there we may presume a myth. Thus he concludes, both against the supernaturalists, as they are called in Germany, and the general mass of Christian believers of all sects in this country, that any recorded interference with the ordinary and experienced order of causation must be unhistorical and untrue; and even against the rationalists, that these wonders did not even apparently take place, having been supposed to be miraculous, from the superstition or ignorance of physical causes among the spectators : they cannot be even the honest, though mistaken, reports of eye-witnesses,
But secondly, The belief in some of those supernatural events, e. g. the resurrection, is indispensable to the existence of the religion ; to suppose that this belief grew up, after the religion was formed; to assume these primary facts as after-thoughts, seems to me an absolute impossibility. But if they, or any one of them, were integral parts of the religion from its earliest origin, though they may possibly have been subsequently embellished, or unfaithfully recorded in the Gospels, their supernatural character is no evidence that they are so.
Thirdly, Besides this inevitable inference, that the religion could not have subsequently invented that which was the foundation of the religion, - that these things must have been the belief of the first Christian communities,there is distinct evidence in the Acts of the Apostles, (though Dr. Strauss, it seems, would involve that book in the fate of the Gospels,) in the apostolical Epistles, and in every written document and tradition, that they were so. The general harmony of these three distinct classes of records, as to the main preternatural facts in the Gospels, proves incontestably that they were not the slow growth of a subsequent period, embodied in narratives composed in the second century.
For fourthly, Dr. Strauss has by no means examined the evidence for the early existence of the Gospels with the rigid diligence which characterises the rest of his work. I think he does not fairly state that the early notices of the Gospels, in the works of the primitive fathers, show not only their existence but their general reception among the Christian communities, which imply both a much earlier composition and some strong grounds for their authenticity. As to the time when the Gospels were composed, his argument seems to me self-destructive. The later he supposes them to have been written, the more impossible (considering that the Christians were thenso widely disseminated in Europe and Asia) is their accordance with each other in the same design or the same motives for fiction : if he takes an earlier date, he has no room for his long process of mythic development. In one place he appears to admit that the three first, at least, must have been completed between the death of our Lord and the destruction of Jerusalem, less than forty years. (I myself consider their silence, or rather their obscure and confused prophetic allusions to that event, as absolutely decisive on this point, with regard to all the four.) But Is it conceivable that in this narrow period, this mythic spirit should have been so prolific, and the primitive simplicity of the Christian history have been so embellished, and then universally received by the first generation of believers :
The place, as well as the period, of their composition, is encumbered with difficulties according to this system. Where were they written? If all, or rather the three first, in Palestine, whence their general acceptance without direct and acknowledged authority? If in different parts of the world, their general acceptance is equally improbable; their similarity of design and object, altogether unaccountable.
Were they written with this mythic latitude by Judaising or Hellenising Christians? If by Judaising I should expect to find far more of Judaism, of Jewish tradition, usage, and language, as appears to have been the case in the Ebionitish Gospel ; if by Hellenising, the attempt to frame the myths in accordance with Jewish traditions is inconceivable (!). They Judaise too little for the Petrine Christians, (that is, those who considered the Gospel in some sort a re-enactment of the Mosaic law,) too much for the followers of St. Paul, who rejected the law.
The other canons of Dr. Strauss seem to me subversive of all history. Every thing extraordinary or improbable, the prophetic anticipations of youlhful ambition, complete revolution in individual character, (he appears to allude to the change in the character the apostles after the resurrection, usually, and in my opinion justly, nsidered as one of the strongest arguments of the truth of the narrative,) though he admits that this canon is to be applied with caution, are presumptive of a mythic character.
If discrepancies in the circumstances between narratives of the same events, or differences of arrangement in point of time, particularly among, rude and inartificial writers, are to be admitted as proofs of this kind of fiction, all history is mythic; even the accounts of every transaction in the daily papers, which are never found to agree precisely in the minute delails, are likewise mythic.
To these wbich appear to me conclusive arguments against the hypothesis of Dr. Strauss, I would add some observations, which to my mind are general maxims, wbich must be applied to all such discussions.
No gion is in its origin mythic. Mythologists embellish, adapt, modify, idealise, clothe in allegory or symbol, received and acknowledged truths. This is a later process, and addressed to the imagination, already excited and prepared to receive established doctrines or opinions in this new from. But in Christianity (according to Dr. Strauss's hypothesis) what was the first impulse, the germ of all this high-wrought and successful idealisation ?— Nothing more than the existence of a man named Jesus, who obtained a few followers, and was put to death as a malefactor, without any pretensions on his part to a superior character, either as a divine or a divinely commissioned being, or as the expected Messiah of the Jews. Whatever extorted by the necessity of the case, is added to this primary conception of the character of Jesus, in order sufficiently to awaken the human mind to a new religion connected with his name, belief of his miraculous powers, of his résurrection, of his Messiahship, even of his more than human virtue and wisdom, tends to verify the delineation of his character in bis Gospels, as the original object of admiration and belief to his followers; and to anticipate and preclude, as it were, its being a subsequent mythic invention.
Can the period in which Jesus appeared be justly considered a mythic age? If by mythic age (and I do not think Dr. Strauss very rigid and philosophical in the use of the term) be meant an age, in which there was a general and even superstitious belief, in wonders and prodigies, mingled up with much cool
(1) Dr. Strauss, for instance, asserts all the notions of the Messiah, a Judaising and an antipassages relating to the miraculous birth of docetic sect. See vol. i. pp. 446 -- 448. We must Christ (the first chapters of St. Matthew and St. find time not merely for the growth and develop1.uke), and those which relate his baptism byment of both notions, but for their blending into St. John, to have proceeded from two distinct one system, and the general adoption of that sysclasses of Christians, differing materially, or
tem by the Christian communities. rather directly opposed to each other in their