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Did Jesus Ever Live
or Is Christianity Founded Upon A Myth?

Historicus

United Secularists of America, Inc.

Introduction

The Non-Historicity of Jesus Christ

Jesus: A Mythological Character

The Vindication of the Jesus Myth Theory

John M. Robertson and the Jesus Myth Theory

Did Josephus Write It?



DEDICATED With homage to the memory of my mentor

JOHN M. ROBERTSON

PRINTED 1972

(I, alone, am responsible for the opinions expressed this work.) (H)

 


Introduction

The reader, especially if of Freethought inclination, may ask why the issue incorporated in this work is being brought to the fore again, especially as it first saw the light of day many years ago. [1]

This question should be answered candidly and we will proceed to do so. Many requests lately have been received from persons abroad and at home for copies of the original issues which, of course, are not now readily available. Mounting interest in the Jesus myth theory was accentuated by the recent publication of The Jesus of the Early Christians by Prof. G. A. Wells. The existence of Jesus nowadays is not being taken as uncritically as it used to be. Grave doubt has been engendered. The discover y of the Qumran Scrolls also brought about much doubt and many an Orthodox historicist was driven to the usual defenses. Recent biblical research has crumbled to dust many a belief hitherto held beyond challenge. The central core of Christianity, the very core of its existence, continues to be evaporating under the findings of modern, objective scholarship. Prof. Wells' recent book received the usual treatment afforded anyone who contends that Jesus is a myth, pure and simple.

Prof. Wells' able work is also denigrated in certain circles because its author is not a "specialist" in the field, a pattern of criticism unhappily utilized even by the late Joseph McCabe as this short work will show. However, as "specialists" have in the past accepted many a belief which later could not stand the test of time, we find nothing in their expertise to justify wearing the dubious mantle of infallibility, though we readily acknowledge our indebtedness to their learning.

History is more than merely vague about the existence of an actual Jesus. Many merely assume that there must have been such a person, otherwise the gospels wouldn't have been written. This is an unfounded assumption. These so-called records are highly contradictory and their authorship is unknown. Their appearance on the stage of history is said to be by many competent scholars about the middle of the second century, despite the attempt to date them earlier . . . by many defenders of the "faith."

So eminent a biblical scholar as Alfred Loisy (who was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church on account of his findings) though accepting the historic position, renders his opinion:

 

". . . to present as the sole and total cause of Christianity, one human being who, considered as divine, was also the very object worshipped by that religion would only be to create another myth."

Loisy further maintains that the Christian religion was not created solely by myth, but, he also contends that Jesus alone cannot account for its origin.

This statement alone offers poor consolation to the historicists who stoutly maintain that Christianity couldn't have arisen without a personal founder.

It may not be amiss to inform the reader that this short work is offered to the public not as a display of internecine forensics, but rather in the hope that it will afford some interest in the subject matter of the Jesus myth. It also may have some value in the archives of Freethought historians.

That Christianity is founded upon a myth is a fact which may be unpalatable to some, but those who seek the truth must follow her wherever she leads. HISTORICUS

 

Postscript:

The chapter on the Josephian passage was included on account of the fact that this historian would have been an invaluable witness to the existence of Jesus.

A work issued in recent years: The Star-Studded Hoax of Christianity with its Allied Gods, by Robert F. Bartley, Esq., offers extensive evidence from the gospels that Jesus was not considered to be an actual human being but a god. This work took Mr. Bartley over twenty years to research and write and constitutes one of the most fascinating detective tales. Its author was first a policeman on the Toledo police force, later assumed detective rank and then left to practice criminal law. The handling of the "evidence" leaves little wanting. Mr. Bartley published this book at his own expense as a contribution to public enlightenment. Its price is nominal, merely $5.95 and may be purchased by writing to:

 

Robert F. Bartley, Esq.
4341 Willys Parkway
Toledo, Ohio 43612

(We acknowledge our indebtedness to The Truth Seeker for reprinting.)

 


Footnotes to the Introduction

[1] The first three articles appeared in The Truth Seeker under the following titles: The Non-Historicity of Jesus Christ, Jan. 1944. Jesus: A Mythological Character, sub-captioned, A Defense of John M. Robertson against Joseph McCabe, Sept. 1944. The Vindication of the Myth Theory, May 1945. (Its title has been changed for the present work to avoid any misunderstanding of its purport ). Did Josephus Write It?, The Truth Seeker, Sept. 1930. John M. Robertson and the Jesus Myth(c. 1944-5).

 


The Non-Historicity Of Jesus

HlSTORICUS

(A reaffirmation of position, with a reply to certain recent strictures by Mr. Joseph McCabe).

It is rather surprising that after all the erudite work done on the Jesus myth there should be any need, especially in Freethought circles, to discuss the subject again. Considering what has been accomplished by the thorough-going investigations of John M. Robertson, T. Whitaker, W. Smith, Drews, Dupuis, Volney, L. G. Rylands, Albert Kalthoff, Robert Taylor, and a veritable host of other students, one can rightly say that today the mythicist position is unassailable. The theologic defense has been unable to bring forth any credible evidence to substantiate its contention of historicity. Position after position had to be abandoned by the church. To each, however, the apologists clung with desperate anxiety, only to be compelled to relinquish them as the studies of comparative mythology and heirology advanced. Being unable to present a Jesus established by unbiased historic investigation, the religious world, at last, was compelled to resort to her usual adulation of "faith" and "spiritual" insight as elements which, she hoped, would enable her to establish a basis for the historic Jesus. Whatever merit those two factors may have within the confines of a church, they cannot add anything to the analytic apparatus utilized by an objective historian.

Those who attack the mythicist position are usually driven to pose the question: how could Christianity have arisen without a personal founder? They find that it is better to ask this query than to attempt to demolish the accomplishment of the mythicist school. Or, they attempt to break down some particular point, and assume that if that is accomplished, the historic Jesus arises. [1]

There is, therefore, nothing left for the believer, either lay or academic, but to accept the historicity of Jesus as he accepts the existence of god--on faith!

As P. L. Couchoud sums up the results of the battle between the mythicists and the "historic" school, one readily can see the utter bankruptcy of the latter. Writes Couchoud:

"The historicity of Jesus is an article of faith." [2]

Recently, Mr. Joseph McCabe came out with renewed contention for the historical Jesus. [3] In a booklet of 32 pages which purports, according to its sub-caption, to give the "real" origin of the Christian religion, he sees fit to make an attack on the mythicist school, and particularly on the late John M. Robertson. Why such an attack was not made by Mr. McCabe during Mr. Robertson's lifetime, and why it is being made in a booklet that deals with the origin of Christianity, may best be left in silence.

Mr. McCabe introduces his attack on John M. Robertson as follows (italics mine in all quotations given):

"For 30 years I have been censored by Freethinkers because I never endorsed this theory (the mythicist). Today I doubt if it has a single representative in what you may broadly call the world of scholarship. It first became widely known to Freethinkers by the writings of the late J. M. Robertson in the days when he used to talk about 'Jesusism' and 'Godism' instead of Christianity and Theism.[4] Robertson had, as a matter of fact, borrowed the idea though he never acknowledged this, from an earlier Freethinker, Robert Taylor, a man of very extensive if peculiar learning, and Taylor may have taken it from Dupius. However, Robertson who was tireless in research though not very critical when he found something that seemed to suit h is theory, supported the negative view with such an impressive apparatus of comparative mythology that even his dullest and most ponderous works on the subject had a large circulation." [5]

A difference of opinion regarding the myth theory does not necessarily entail rationalistic opprobrium, and it is to be regretted that a scholar otherwise so logical and generally objective in his disputes, as Mr. McCabe is, should have harbored that thought for thirty years. It would be interesting to ascertain by what process of analysis Mr. McCabe discovered that J. M. Robertson had, "as a matter of fact, borrowed the idea, though he had never acknowledged this, from an earlier Freethinker, Robert Taylor," the latter having been, according to Mr. McCabe, a man of "extensive if peculiar learning," and, it would certainly not be amiss to have elucidated how Mr. McCabe was led to the opinion that Taylor, despite his extensive if peculiar learning, "may" have taken it from Dupuis.

Mr. McCabe, who charges J. M. Robertson with being "not very critical when he found something that seemed to suit his theory," offers, regarding the passage in Josephus, the following glaring example of uncritical theorizing:

"The passage in the Jewish historian Josephus is, of course, forged, but who can say whether the forged passage was not inserted instead of a reference that did not satisfy Christians?" [6]

This is rather a startling defense of a position, especially when adopted by a scholar who is apt to develop a penchant for the word "may". Incidentally, this passage in Josephus has been given up even by conservative church scholars. Mr. McCabe's trying to make the admittedly forged Josephian passage serve as evidence of that for which it was forged is certainly "accepting things that suit a theory," without any kind of analysis, critical or otherwise.

It is interesting to observe Mr. McCabe's attack on the mythicist school, especially on such titans of Freethought scholarship as J. M. Robertson [7] and others. Scholars renowned the world over for their investigations of the Jesus myth are impugned at t he very start because they are not "professional historians," and, I suppose, we are to assume that their studies are, therefore, invalid. Although "what you may broadly call the world of scholarship" was ever anything but an out-and-out enemy of Freethought!

After taking Professor Benjamin Smith to task as to the merit of his studies because he was not "an historian but a mathematician," and, Dujardin by the ear because he was "a fine literary man but, although he read very extensively on this subject and, I think, traveled in the East, he had not the right type of mind for historical work" -- and Professor Arthur Drews is put into his proper place because "he was a teacher of philosophy in a high school" and, the late L. G. Rylands is given a lower niche in the hall of scholarly Freethinkers because "he was not an historian but a cashier to a college" (as to this sad fate, Mr. McCabe is not quite certain, so he cautiously appends the qualifying clause: "I think")--and, as we are on the question of L. G. Rylan d's scholarship, Mr. McCabe sums up, quite tersely, the merit of his investigations by offering the following startling evaluation--which sets a new standard for academic criticism:

"He (Rylands) died recently so that the theory is out-dated in literature."[8]

Upon that basis, Newton, Darwin, Copernicus, et al., are in the same boat, and, I suppose, we should ditch their theories, immediately, also.

Mr. McCabe has criticized the work of scholarly Freethinkers who have proved the mythicist theory, despite the fact that they were not "professional historians". He evidently temporarily forgot in criticizing them that the so-called "professional historia n" is not quite sacrosanct. Mr. McCabe, however, suddenly lets the feline out of the bag by writing thus:

"I do not stress the fact that no historian ever countenanced it (the myth theory), because our historians today, being professors, are not in a position to be candid on such a point." [9]

And, when, Mr. McCabe, were the "historians" or "professors" in a position to be candid on such a point?

Mr. McCabe also claims that Sir J. G. Frazer is among the rationalist "professional" historians who "have emphatically rejected the myth theory". Without pausing to argue the point as to whether Sir J. G. Frazer was an historian or an anthropologist, I would like, since Mr. McCabe places so much value upon "professional" historians, to bring to Mr. McCabe's attention the fact that Sir James Frazer had reason to change from his original dogmatic denial to a very pronounced modification of it, as expressed in his introduction to P. L. Couchoud's "The Enigma of Jesus" and it is, therefore, not quite fair to represent him as "emphatically" rejecting the myth theory.

So far as the question of the historicity of Jesus is concerned, it is conclusively summed up in the following:

"The real question of the historicity of Jesus is not merely whether there ever was a Jesus among the numerous claimants of a Messiahship in Judea, but whether we are to recognize the historical character of this Jesus in the Gospels, and whether he is to be regarded as the founder of Christianity. If the whole of the older Church, including the New Testament literature, entirely rejects the notion of a human founder of the religion, how can our theologians venture to suggest that this literature really wanted to describe such a human founder to its readers, though it did so very clumsily and ineffectively?"[10]

Like God, Jesus is a myth.

 


Footnotes to The Non-Historicity of Jesus

[1] "The assertion that Jesus cannot have been invented is usually the last desperate attempt by those who have abandoned belief in the historical truth of the Gospels as a whole to save the central figure." Did Jesus Ever Live? by L. G. Rylands, Watts & Co., London, p. 2, 1935.

[2] The Creation of Christ, by P. L. Couchoud, Watts & Co., 1939, vol. 2, p. 447. I am pleased to note that this learned and scholarly book is dedicated to John M. Robertson.

[3] How Christianity Grew out of Paganism--The Real Origin of the Christian Religion. Haldeman-Julius Publications, Girard, Kansas. Little Blue Book No. 1775.

[4] When J. M. Robertson was talking of "Jesusism" and "Godism," Mr. McCabe was accepting the agnostic positron. He wrote: "I prefer the term 'Agnostic' to 'Atheist,' because there is a common tendency to conceive the Atheist as one who believes he can disprove the existence of God, and there are men who hold that positron." The Existence of God, by Joseph McCabe, Watts & Co., 1913, p. 144. It is with hearty satisfaction that I note that Mr. McCabe evidently learned that the existence "can be disproved," and, in his revised edition of The Existence of God, he makes mention of the fact that he now considers himself an atheist. We atheists are glad to have him in our midst. Perhaps Mr. McCabe may yet revise his position as to the historicity of Jesus. Anyway, I hope so.

[5] How Christianity Grew out of Paganism, p. 11.

[6] Ibid, p. 13.

[7] As to how he came to accept the mythicist position, J. M. Robertson writes: "It was by reason of a similar failure to find a historic footing where he had at first taken for granted that the present writer was gradually led, on lines of comparative hierology and comparative mythology and anthropology. to the conception of the evolution of the Jesus-cult from the roots of a 'pre-Christian' one. The fact that this view has been independently reached by such a student as Professor W. B. Smith. who approached the problem from within rather than by the way of the comparative method, seems in itself a very important confirmation." The Jesus Problem, Watts & Co., 1917, p. 3. Also, the following passage from the same work: "As I have repeatedly stated, I began without misgivings by assuming a historical Jesus, and sought historically to trace him, regarding the birth myth and the others as mere accretions" (p. 14). It need not be said that those who are familiar With Robertson's work know that he was scrupulous about acknowledging scholarly sources.

[8] How Christianity Grew out of Paganism, p. 13.

[9] Ibid, p. 13.

[10] The Rise of Christianity, by Albert Kalthoff, Watts & Co., 1907, p. 28.

 


Jesus: A Mythological Character

A Defense of John M. Robertson Against Joseph McCabe

HISTORICUS

It is a significant fact that the more the mythicist (nonhistoricity of Jesus Christ) school is criticised, the stronger does it emerge. That the theologians and churchmen will attempt to retain the alleged historic foundation to the bitter end, is to be expected; but that Rationalist scholars should exhibit ill feeling towards their colleagues who maintain that Jesus is a myth, is rather disappointing.

Mr. McCabe's rambling reply to my article "The NonHistoricity of Jesus Christ," [1] subtitled "A reaffirmation of position, with a reply to certain recent strictures by Mr. Joseph McCabe," not alone fails to meet the point under dispute, but shows evidence of avoiding a critical discussion of the mythicist school. It was hoped that Mr. McCabe would offer substantial arguments in defense of his own position, the historic one; instead, he again questions the ability of the scholars and thinkers holding the mythicist position, and under the heading of "Hotch-Potch of Amateur Historians" [2] relies upon the methods of bluster and academic brow-beating, and tries to silence his opponents by an attempt to prove that they were not "academic" historians, but "amateurs," and, one supposes, not being culturally sacrosanct, were, therefore, incapable of manifesting any intelligence or comprehension on historical and mythological matters despite profound study and years of research.

As for the article, "The Non-Historicity of Jesus Christ," Mr. McCabe deigns to state: "An anonymous American sends me a couple of copies of The Truth Seeker in which I am criticised. I should like to ignore them and to explain to your readers that I am a n old-fashioned Rationalist who feels that his time is better spent in criticising reactionaries than in criticising other Freethinkers; nor do I care for the standard of manners that seems to be generally accepted in the new school."

Now, a Freethinker is no more immune to criticism than is the Pope, so far as Freethought is concerned. A discussion on the non-historicity of Jesus Christ can best be carried on, as with all other subjects, by leaving personalities out, and, with regret, it is noted that, in this respect, Mr. McCabe seems unaware that he has indulged in them.

He speaks of ". . . Dr. Conybeare's deadly exposure (in The Historical Christ) of his (John M. Robertson's methods . . ." If there was any "deadly" exposure of "methods" it was against Conybeare, in whose learning Mr. McCabe seems to have unbounded faith. Certainly, Mr. McCabe is aware of the annihilating reply made by John M. Robertson [3] and his observation that ". . . it suffices to state that Dr. Conybeare charged myth theorists with perpetrating 'howlers', without specifying them; and without mention of the fact that Dr. Conybeare was guilty of blunders on New Testament matters which would have been discreditable to a Sunday schoolboy." [4]

The outstanding scholarship of John M. Robertson and his titanic and permanent contribution to the cause of Freethought make it incumbent upon Mr. McCabe, an erstwhile colleague and comrade-in-arms of his, to specify precisely and without any circumlocution what he means by the deadly "exposure" of his "methods," for Robertson is dead and can not defend himself.

Mr. McCabe considers Dr. Conybeare "one of the most learned tutors of Oxford University and a very high authority on the ancient East," and states that in his opinion ". . . not one of these writers the myth theorists--(Drews, Smith, Couchoud, Dujardin, Jensen, Whittaker, Rylands) seems to have read him." He supplements this remark with the curious observation, "All dead too." Just what their being dead has to do with the validity of their scholarship, remains for Mr. McCabe to show. Personally, I am at a total loss to see the relation between the two. However, if Mr. McCabe includes Robertson among those who have not read his Oxford authority, let me inform him that in "The Historical Jesus" Robertson refers to Conybeare three times in the footnotes and in "The Jesus Problem" twenty-one times.

These do not include numerous articles by Robertson on Conybeare's "methods" or "howlers."

It is evident that Mr. McCabe has faith in "authorities" and after ascertaining how many of them have standing in the "academic" world, he casts his lot with them, hook, line and sinker. One wonders whether he so quickly forgot his observation, with which I heartily concur, that ". . . our historians today, being professors, are not in a position to be candid on such a point" (the mythicist position). Also, he speaks highly of Professor Loisy and states that he considers him "one of the most brilliant biblical scholars in Europe" (again I concur). But, Loisy is driven by his scholarship to take the position that the whole question of the historicity of Jesus hinges on the Crucifixion, and if that event did not take place, the whole story is a myth. As to the historic proof, nay, probability, of the Crucifixion, Mr. McCabe knows quite well that there is not a shred of evidence available. To such last ditch defenses are the scholars who assume the historic position driven.

It is worthy to observe that Mr. McCabe wavers on the necessity or the actuality of a human founder to explain the origin and development of Christianity.

He writes:

"I will consider presently the theory that there never was such a person as Jesus, but you could almost say that we can explain Christianity without supposing that there was."

In the very next sentence, he admits:

"It (Christianity) is a synthetic religion, and its elements were found in most of the great cities which lined the Mediterranean and exchanged crowds of merchants, travelers, and wandering teachers in the century before we find any trace of the new religion." [5]

What evidence stands in the way of Mr. McCabe's "but you could almost say we can explain Christianity" without a personal founder? Upon what basis, precisely, does he consider it more probable that Christianity is better explained upon historical grounds by assuming an historic Jesus?

Of course, Christianity is a "synthetic" religion; why, then, does Mr. McCabe belabor the point of historicity and have such vehement criticism against the mythicists, whom he so arrogantly criticizes?

Let us pose this question: If the whole course of Christianity shows it to be a pack of myths and superstitions, why is it necessary to assume that the story of Jesus is not also a myth and a superstition?

Further on in his "How Christianity Grew out of Paganism" (p. 13), Mr. McCabe, inadvertently for his case, makes the following fatal admission:

"We cannot be sure of a single biographical detail about Jesus if we follow the ordinary historical principles, so it is not a matter of great importance whether there was such a person or not."

He concedes the highly important point that we cannot be sure of a "single" biographical detail about Jesus!

Let us, for example, juxtapose two respective positions:

Professor Loisy rests his whole case for the historicity the Crucifixion, a biographical detail, if ever there was one!

Mr. McCabe gives it as his considered opinion that we cannot be sure of a "single biographical detail about Jesus" if we follow the ordinary historical principles."

What other historical principles of investigation should we follow?

He also writes:

"It (the historicity of Jesus) is a matter on which the evidence justifies a man in being emphatic one way or the other." [6]

If such is the result of Mr. McCabe's historic analysis, why does he level such energetic criticism at the mythicists? And, why does he try to make out a case, based upon "academic" authorities?

In his "How Christianity Grew out of Paganism," Mr. McCabe wanders from one position to another with disregard for logic or consistency. He impugns John M. Robertson's methods, a serious and grave charge for one Freethought scholar to bring against another without offering any proof; and informs his readers that he is "an old fashioned Rationalist who feels that his time is better spent in criticising reactionaries than in criticising other Freethinkers. . . ."

I am not engaged in taking issue with Mr. McCabe's political opinions. But, it is difficult to understand the nature of criticism which bristles with personalities, and which belittles the works of some of the outstanding mythicist scholars because they w ere merely: "a professor of mathematics, a medical man, a French novelist and dramatist, a German philologist, a dreamy British metaphysician." Incidentally, just how did Mr. McCabe arrive at the opinion that the formidable Thomas Whittaker was a "dreamy" metaphysician? Are "Priests, Philosophers and Prophets" and "The Origins of Christianity" the works of a "dreamy" man, metaphysician or otherwise?

One begins to suspect the existence of personal feeling involved in judgments. And, while on the subject of "personal" feeling, may I be permitted to state that if Mr. McCabe wants to make out a case against John M. Robertson, with whom he seems to be crossing swords frequently after the latter's death, why does he, especially when he finds Dr. Conybeare's criticism of his "methods" just and fair, have to bring into a discussion the color of Robertson's neck-tie and jacket? In his: "Evolution or Revolution," [7] he engages in the following questionable criticism:

"One of my colleagues of forty years ago was the late J. M. Robertson. He had already passed into the stage in which he edited a free-love paper, wore a red tie and velvet jacket, and wrote Jesusism and Godism for Christianity and Theism, but he had still a great scorn of caution and conventionality."

What relation does the editing of a "free-love" paper, the color of a neck-tie and quality of a jacket have to do with the soundness of a man's opinions?

Let us, however, return to the non-historicity question. It was summed up keenly by John M. Robertson, thus:

"Put broadly, the problem is, How are we reasonably to decide whether a quasi-historical narrative, unvouched by known contemporaries, and admittedly marked by a multitude of false and mythical items, had or had not a substantial basis in fact? The old plan--familiar in the day of Sokrates--was to delete gross myth and miracle, and decide that something really happened which was merely misdescribed, misunderstood, magnified, and progressively embellished. That was the method of early deistic rationalism, applied for whole generations by rationalizing theologians in Germany, with such results as the conclusion that the Transfiguration might have been the hallucination of one looking by night upon men lit by a camp-fire or torches; that Jesus did not walk on the waves, but really on the bank; and so on That method is, in substance, Dr. Conybeare's. To use one of his own academic terms, he (Conybeare) is a 'back number' with a vengeance." [8]

And, in closing, I would like to bring to Mr. McCabe's kind attention a remark once made by John M. Robertson regarding the question of authorities:

"Every one of the thousand abandoned fortresses of theology has been walled by libraries of learning. Hence a somewhat obvious futility in undertakings to ban new theorists by blank imputations of incompetence." [9]

Men die, true, but, at least, their thoughts live after them!


Footnotes to Jesus: A Mythological Character

[1] Truth Seeker, Jan., 1944.

[2] Truth Seeker, July, 1944.

[3] Dr. Conybeare and the Jesus Problem--A reply to "The Historical Christ," by John M. Robertson, The Literary Guide, issues of June, July, and August, 1914.

[4] Jesus and Judas by John M. Robertson, Watts & Co., London, 1927, p. 130.

[5] How Christianity Grew out of Paganism, by Joseph McCabe, Haldeman-Julius Publications, p. 7.

[6] Ibid, p. 13.

[7] Evolution or Revolution, by Joseph McCabe, Little Blue Book, No. 1788, edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, p. 3.

[8] Dr. Conybeare and the Jesus Problem, by John M. Robertson, The Literary Guide, Aug., 1914.

[9] Christianity and Mythology by John M. Robertson, Watts & Co., 1910, p. xiii.

 


The Vindication Of The Jesus Myth Theory

HISTORICUS

The theological world has already lost its supposed historic god; it now faces the loss of the hitherto generally accepted belief in Jesus as an historic character. An illustration of the way the various fissures are beginning to show is the recent remark of a New York Times book reviewer. Commenting upon "Caesar and Christ" by Will Durant, he states that Durant "stoutly defends" the historicity of Jesus. The question poses itself to any reflective person: why should the historicity of Jesus, the heart of Christian belief, have to be "stoutly defended" at the present time? Centuries have passed, innumerable disputes have taken place within theologic circles on the very minutiae of Christian faith; the very basis upon which that faith was erected is now in doubt.

Did Jesus of the Gospels have an actual existence, or is he just another ancient myth, embellished and kept in religious circulation by the Christian church?

It is characteristic of historical development that the religious events we assume as having taken place, under critical examination are often found to be quite different from what we formerly pictured them. History sometimes assumes patterns which are, a t best, tenuous and vague. Documents are frequently falsified by persons interested in their falsification and vested interests make their weight felt. The absence of eye-witnesses, the problem of academic conservatism, and a number of similar factors make the study of ordinary history an arduous task for even the historian. In dealing with a body of religious thought which has invariably been in the wrong throughout historic times and which has steadfastly fought against the advance of science and truth, we must be on our guard lest the devious machinations of the religious advocates (whose livelihood rests upon the acceptance of religious doctrines) throw us back into the jungle of falsehood.

Much depends upon the method utilized in examining the Jesus myth. That the destructive criticism should emanate mainly from rationalistically inclined scholars is to be expected. That certain students, though otherwise religious, have presented scholarly evidence most destructive of the myth is also to be expected. Investigators of the type of Arthur Drews, Strauss, and others remained theists despite the devastating criticism which they adduced against the historic position. Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel of Zu rich, the author of the much heralded "foundation pillars," maintained that even without an historical Jesus, religion would continue. Whether he meant non-Christian theologic thought or whether he accepted the possibility that even if it could be definitely established that the very heart of Christianity is a myth, that the Jesus who has been worshipped for centuries never had an actual existence, would do away with Christian belief, his contention is one of the most damning indictments of religious thin king and offers strong evidence that once you condition the masses to accept certain beliefs it is almost impossible for them to break away and accept the truth.

The problem of the historicity of Jesus is coming to the fore in the more advanced religious circles, and also among rationalistic groups. It is generally found that the defender of the status-quo in religious belief utilizes various methods of silencing his opponent. If he cannot intimidate otherwise, it is generally found useful to the defender of the faith to avoid the issue involved, and to brow-beat his critic with an academic shibboleth. When this is indulged in by a rationalist, however, the surprise is acute.

When I took issue with Joseph McCabe [1] on his position regarding the Jesus myth and his attack on certain mythicists, [2] he attempted to minimize the work of the outstanding rationalist scholars who have taken the mythicist position.

After taking Professor William Benjamin Smith to task as to the merit of his studies because he was not "an historian but a mathematician," and Dujardin by the ear because he was "a fine literary man but, although he read very extensively on this subject and, I think, traveled in the East, he had not the right type of mind for historical work" -- and Professor Arthur Drews is put into his proper place because "he was a teacher of philosophy in a high school"; and the late L. G. Rylands is given a lower niche in the hall of scholarly Freethinkers because "he was not an historian but a cashier to a college" (as to this sad fate, Mr. McCabe is not quite certain; so he judiciously appends the qualifying clause: "I think") and, as we are on the question of L. G. Ryland's scholarship, Mr. McCabe sums up, quite tersely, the merit of his investigations and studies by offering the following startling assertion:

"He (Rylands) died recently so that the theory is out-dated in literature." [3]

In his letter, [4] he classified them all as "a hotch-potch of amateur historians."

Now, in the very nature of the case, it stands to reason that the "professional" historian is closely attached to the cultural status quo, which, in turn, is in the clutches of religious slavery. In a way, it is important to note that the men whom Mr. McCabe thus characterizes could not become professional or academic historians as the universities are interested in continuing the belief in the historicity of Jesus. Picture, for example, a man like Edward Gibbon, after writing the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," with its famous fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, being invited to, say, Yale, Harvard, or Columbia to take a chair in history. What would the endowers say? After all, a university can not live on thin air.

Archibald Robertson, the distinguished rationalist and scholar, in a recent lecture on "A Humanist Theory of Christian Origins," [5] made the following statement regarding the difficulties confronting a scientific historical approach to the problem of Christian origins:

"There are two obstacles to a scientific history of Christian origins. One is the fact that professional scholars are nearly all economically tethered to the established religion and make their history a stalking horse for theology. The other is the proclivity of mythicists to overstate their case, and while demanding mathematical certainty from their opponents, themselves to indulge in hypothetical flights every whit as fanciful and as incapable of proof as those which they attack. If both sides would agree to be content with probability, there is no reason why a new synthesis should not emerge."

Now, if "professional" scholars are economically married to the established religion and "make their history a stalking-horse for theology," it is obvious that we should turn not to them for a "scientific" interpretation of Christian origins. Then, again, the mythicist does not demand "mathematical" certainty in the realm of history from his opponents: he does, however, ask for a case based upon probability. When one considers the devastating effects of the criticism of Bruno Bauer, Strauss, Dupuis, Van Manen, Wm. Benjamin Smith, Arthur Drews, the English theosophist, G. R. S. Mead, Kalthoff, Peter Jensen, and the whole "hotch-potch-of-amateur-historians," especially the titan, John M. Robertson, no "probability" can sway the scales in favor of a belief i n the historicity of Jesus.

While Joseph McCabe finds the origin of Christianity and the New Testament "more intelligible on the theory that a human teacher of great impressiveness really forms the core of the story," Mr. Archibald Robertson, who has given the question a great deal of his time and whose book "Jesus: Myth or History?" will soon be issued by Watts & Co., though a historicist himself, writes: [6]

"The idea that a great religion must have a personal founder is a relic of the 'great man' theory of history."

To return to Mr. Joseph McCabe and his belief that "a human teacher of great impressiveness" must have been the basis of the Christian origin, the present writer would like to emphasize that such reasoning begs the very question involved. Upon what basis does Mr. McCabe assume that Jesus had been "impressive"? First we must have an actual person whose existence is proved. What we have is another mythological figure.

Even Mr. Archibald Robertson, despite his efforts to establish a case for the historic position, is impartial enough to write: [7]

"If we had to choose between the mythicist interpretation and the view which tries to explain Christianity by the genius of a personal founder, we should have to pronounce for the myth theory as more scientific."

Upon which side then does probability lie?

One finds it somewhat difficult to accept the thesis advanced by Mr. Archibald Robertson, [8] namely:

"The origins of Christianity may have been mainly mythical, and yet there may have been a real Jesus who contributed certain features to the final form of the myth."

The present writer takes exception to "there may have been." The issue of "probability" is one of the statistical chances of a certain event occurring. What evidence is offered? If "there may have been," then, on the same basis, "there may not have been."

Robert Taylor, the noted author of "Diegesis," "Syntagma" and "The Devil's Pulpit," made the following observation regarding the historicity of Jesus:

"When the simple fact of the existence of such a man as Jesus Christ is questioned, it is usual for the modern advocates of Christianity to shelter themselves from all contemplation of the historical difficulties of the case, by assuming his existence to be incontrovertible, and that nothing short of idiocy of understanding, or an intention to irritate and annoy, rather than to seek or communicate information, could prompt any man to moot a doubt on the subject . . . that none but reckless desperates or downright fools could ever have held the human existence of Christ as problematical."

Robert Taylor wrote these words in 1829. The dedication of this truly remarkable book was written while he was in Oakham Goal for his anti-religious views, dated Feb. 19, 1829, and signed, Robert Taylor, A.B. Prisoner."

Taylor's observation correctly characterizes "professional" historians of even today.

The mythicist has invariably been replied to with abuse rather than with rational and historic data. After Arthur Drews brought out his "Christ Myth," which annihilated the historic position, the "professional" historians and academicians of this day could put up only a defense which is best delineated by Prof. Chester Charlton McCown as follows: [9]

"The idiocy--no other word is strong enough--of his (Drews') opponents, especially the conservatives, makes one wonder that Christianity still lives."

In the same work, Prof. McCown, searching for the "real" Jesus in the year 1940, offers the following opinion about Jesus's social message, a "message" that the Christian world is based upon and which is supposed to be a panacea for all evils: [10]

"In the perspective of the history of Christian thinking and of Scripture interpretation, it is clear that Jesus' social message to the modern world must be discovered by a complete reinterpretation of the Gospel materials. A mathematical formula suggested many years ago by Henry J. Cadbury puts the matter in a nutshell. Let conditions in Jesus' day be represented by a, his teachings by b, and conditions today by c. Let the desired modern application of Jesus' teachings to modern problems be an unknown x. Careful study can discover a, b, and c. Out of the equation, a:b==c:x, the value of the unknown quantity can be found."

To this point has the search for the "social" message of Jesus arrived!

Despite the desperate attempts by "professional" historians and their "string-pullers," the theologians, the historicity of Jesus as it stands today is best summarized in the terse sentence of P. L. Couchoud" (a member of the "hotch-potch of amateur historians"):

"The historicity of Jesus is an article of faith." [11]


Footnotes for The Vindication of the Jesus Myth Theory

[1] The Non-Historicity of Jesus Christ, The Truth Seeker, Jan., 1944.

[2] Joseph McCabe's opinion is best expressed in his own words: "My purpose is historical, but I may say that I find the origin of Christianity and the New Testament more intelligible on the theory that a human teacher of great impressiveness really forms the core of the story, and that in the forty years that elapsed between his death and the first appearance of the Gospels the miraculous legends and myths grew about him." Modern Rationalism, Watts & Co. London, 1909, p. 102. It is to be gravely doubted whether the gospels first appeared forty years after Jesus' alleged death. McCabe makes the following damaging admission on the same page on which aforementioned passage occurs: "We cannot trust unknown writers, separated from the events by half a century." Supernatural Religion by Cassels is a very penetrating analysis as to when the gospels first made their appearance. History marks them in existence about the middle of the second century.

[3] How Christianity Grew out of Paganism, by Joseph McCabe, Haldeman-Julius Publications, 1943, p. 13.

[4] The Truth Seeker, July, 1944.

[5] The Monthly Record, published by The South Place Ethical Society, London, March, 1945, p. 10.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Search for the Real Jesus, Charles Charlton McCown, Charles Scribner's Sons, N. Y., 1940, p. 78.

[10] Ibid p. 277.

[11] The Creation of Christ, by P. L. Couchoud, Watts & Co., London, 1939, vol. 2, p. 447.

 


John M. Robertson And The Jesus Myth

In his letter, "The Ethic of Controversy" in the September issue of The Truth Seeker and his article in the July issue last year, McCabe fails to meet the criticisms presented in my previous articles. Of all the capital issues raised on the methods that h e utilized in trying to break down the mythicist position, the point that he now belabors is that J. M. Robertson does not belong in the category of "the hotch-potch of amateur historians," but is a "man of outstanding ability." As to the scholars who constitute the aforementioned 'hotch-potch of amateur historians," so labeled by him in pontifical objectivity, are included "A German technical school teacher (Drews), a professor of mathematics (Smith), a French medical man (Couchoud), a French novelist an d dramatist (Dujardin), and a German philologist (Jensen), a dreamy British metaphysician (Whittaker) and a college accountant (Rylands)."

As a rationalist, McCabe should have endeavored to dispute their findings on the basis of reason and logic. But, this method was not used. Professor Benjamin Smith is a "mathematician" not an "historian". Dujardin was a "fine literary man but, although he read very extensively on the subject (the Jesus myth) and, I think traveled in the East, he had not the right type of mind for historical work". (Just what type of mind is required?) Professor Arthur Drews (one of whose works McCabe translated) was a "teacher of philosophy in a high school"--the late L. G. Rylands "was not an historian but a cashier to a college."

What sort of critical attack is this? Who is to pass final judgment on "the right type of mind" needed by an historian?

Now, upon his criterion even a man like J. M. Robertson does not seem to have possessed the right type of mind so far as the Jesus myth is concerned. McCabe writes:

"However, Robertson who was tireless in research though not very critical when he found something that seemed to suit his theory . . ." (Italics mine, "Historicus") How Christianity Grew out of Paganism.

J. M. R., though of "outstanding ability," was so poor a scholar of the Jesus myth that McCabe asserts:

"Dr. Conybeare's deadly exposure (in The Historical Christ) of his methods would dispense me from replying if I had any inclination to do so." (Italics mine--"H") "The Hotch-potch of Amateur Historians." The Truth Seeker, July, 1944.

This type of attack attempts to categorize J. M. Robertson as even lower than the "hotch-potch of amateur historians."

We admirers of J. M. R. are glad to learn that McCabe considers him to have been a "man of outstanding ability" albeit not critical when he found something that seemed to suit his theory" and whose "methods" were exposed by Dr. Conybeare Men of the calibre of J. M. R. do not appear often on this world, still less often, alas, in the world of freethought and scholarship. So far as his having been of "outstanding ability" that is quite obvious both to specialist and amateur.

Mr. McCabe who captioned his letter "The Ethic of Controversy" wrote as follows in his Little Blue Book No. 1788 titled "Evolution or Revolution" which was issued about ten years after Robertson's death:

"One of my colleagues of forty years ago was the late J. M. Robertson. He had already passed into the stage in which he edited a free-love paper, wore a red tie and velvet jacket, and wrote Jesusism and Godism for Christianity and Theism, but he had still a great scorn of caution and conventionality. Thirty years later he, now the 'Right Honorable J. M. Robertson,' and a friend of peers, made a violent public attack on my hotheaded Rationalism, sneered at my 'five-cent Little Blue Books', to the dismay of members of the audience who had known him once as Bradlaugh's most fiery lieutenant, said, even in the greatly toned down report: 'I give you my word as a student that all vital, great, far-reaching, deep-sinking transmutation of opinion in human societies is a matter of slow metamorphosis.' His actual language was worse." (Italics mine--"H").

Beside the red necktie and velvet jacket and editorship of a "free-love" paper, what rational disputation have we here? Note the assertion--"his actual language was worse."

If I recall correctly, the discussion referred to took place about 1928, and J. M. R.'s words, as reported, showed him to be a man of sterling character and a very "ethical" controversialist. Certainly he had a right to believe that progress was a matter of slow metamorphosis in human societies; nor did he, so far as I have information, "sneer" at McCabe's Little Blue Books.

Mr. McCabe's attempt at subtle persuasion against J. M. R. as noted in the following lines (same booklet), plays fast and loose with good taste and fair "give and take."

"I am not here giving away a semi-public episode--(McCabe had referred to the incident as "a violent public attack") it was far worse than I care to describe--but it fitly introduces a discussion on the question of evolution or revolution."

Why the writer of "The Ethic of Controversy" should consider this episode as "fitly" introducing a discussion of evolution or revolution is extremely difficult to tell. It appears that he is much prejudiced against J. M. R.

J. M. R.'s words, which McCabe, I believe alludes to, were so far as this particular passage is concerned, not even addressed to him, and the observation that "all vital, great, far-reaching, deep- thinking, transmutation of opinion in human societies is a matter of slow metamorphosis" was made in reply to a speaker, other than McCabe, who had brought up the question of "sweeping movements. . . ."

In the mythicist controversy, McCabe quoted Conybeare as a critic whose "deadly exposure (in The Historical Christ) of his (J. M. R.'s) methods would dispense me from replying if I had any inclination to do so." To those who are acquainted with t he subject, especially in its controversial phase, it is well known that Robertson tore Conybeare (whom McCabe considers to have been "one of the most learned tutors of Oxford University and a very high authority on the ancient East") to shreds in three m asterly articles titled "Dr. Conybears and the Jesus Problem--A Reply to 'The Historical Christ' " which appeared in the Literary Guide, issues of June, July, and Aug. 1914. These articles are a masterpiece of freethought analysis and deserve to be reprinted in booklet form. Very little was left of "the learned tutor" after J. M. R. got through with him and still less of the "historical" Christ. Yet, McCabe still drags him forth to buttress his case against the mythicists and especially against J. M. R. Why?

He could have attempted a reply based upon the "giving and taking of reasons," as Robertson so aptly put it. Instead, he attempts to weaken the mythicist position by talking about the "right type of mind" (whatever that is) required in historical work.

In his letter "The Ethic of Controversy," McCabe writes:

"It is also said that Conybeare is my 'great standby' on the question of the historicity of Christ. This also is inaccurate, a perversion of my plain words. I quoted Conybeare only as a critic of Robertson's method of proving his particular theory of the Christ-myth."

His "plain words" are as follows "Hotch-Potch of Amateur Historians," The Truth Seeker, July, 1944):

"Robertson is the only one of outstanding ability, and Dr. Conybeare's deadly exposure in The Historical Christ of his methods would dispense me from replying if I had any inclination to do so. It is characteristic of the school that, though Conybeare was one of the most learned tutors of Oxford University and a very high authority on the ancient East, not one of these writers ("the hotch-potch of amateur historians") seems to have read him."

In one of my articles on the Jesus myth, I had especially requested McCabe to show what the "deadly exposure" consisted of. He could have replied. What have we instead? Silence.

To return to the subject of "amateurs." It would not be amiss to get McCabe's opinion as to whether he, too, does not fall into that fatal category. He has written innumerable Little Blue Books, together with an impressive array of full length volumes. I have invariably found them to be, authoritative, scholarly and highly informative; yet, he cannot claim to be an "authority" on all the subjects he touched upon.... He has, however, despite not being an "authority" on every subject he has written, done so me signal freethought work for which we rationalists throughout the world are duly appreciative in our battle against religious ignorance and superstition. He has also admitted that so far as professorial "authority" is concerned:

"I do not stress the fact that no historian ever countenanced it (the myth theory), because our historians today, being professors, are not in a position to be candid on such a point."(Italics mine: "H")

If we can't go to the "professors," who, I believe receive payment for teaching certain doctrines, beliefs, ideas, etc., then it may be worth while to turn to the "hotch-potch of amateur historians," who, at least, might afford to be "candid on such a point". The social system has a vested interest in Christianity and its Jesus Christ. The professors are part of that body and are vitally concerned in keeping their jobs. Let us not forget that important fact.

Rationalists should not look towards academic authority as a final judge, because, so far, that authority has been waging war against them. Conditions, though, are changing. The Jesus myth, like the God myth, may soon go the "way of all flesh".

In closing I should, again, like to ask Mr. McCabe to reply to my articles on the mythicist question, "The Non-Historicity of Jesus Christ," "Jesus: A Mythological Character," "subtitled "A Defense of John M. Robertson against Joseph McCabe," and "The Dec line of the Jesus Myth," which appeared respectively in the Truth Seeker Jan., 1944, Sept., 1944, and May, 1945.

I should also like to bring to Mr. McCabe's attention the observation made by Dr. George Sarton, the well-known scholar and editor of the learned "Isis" (Autumn, 1944):

"When we try to appreciate the deeds of our intellectual ancestors, we do not ask any more such trivial questions as, Was he a high school teacher or did he occupy a university chair? Was he a member of a hundred academies or of none? Was he rich or poor? A lord or beggar? All these matters have some importance, but only for a short time; sub specie acternitatis they become irrelevant. The only things that matter are, What did the man do himself? Not what did he look like, what kind of uniform di d he wear, but--what was he, within himself?"

HISTORICUS.

 

Did Josephus Write It?

Scholars have often averred that the Jesus of the New Testament is a myth, that he never had existed, and that there is no historical evidence to substantiate the claims for his existence advanced by the Christian church. At first the religious apologists scoffed at this contention and attributed the statements of the scholars to pure wickedness, seeing in it but another attempt of Satan to lure more souls in to Hell--this, and nothing more.

But as the study of mythology advanced, historical parallels were constructed and the truth began to dawn upon unprejudiced persons. The similarities proved to be extremely destructive to the accepted beliefs about the life of Jesus.

Dupuis, Strauss, Drews, Smith, Robertson and others brought together sufficient evidence to establish upon a firm foundation that there is nothing in all history to prove that the Jesus of the New Testament ever walked the face of the earth.

Contemporary writers displayed an amazing lack of information about Jesus. Here was a man who performed miracles that astounded the multitudes, yet his acts are not found recorded in the books of historians who noted occurrences of much less importance. Remsburg, in "The Christ," names forty-two writers who lived and wrote during the time or within a century after the period, when Jesus is said to have existed, and from all their writings only four passages are to be found that might possibly support the historicity of Jesus. And of these four passages, not a single one can stand a critical test.

It is agreed that the strongest of them is the passage found in the works of a Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.). Prof. Arthur Drews, in "Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus," states that "he (Josephus) is the first profane writer who can seriously be quoted for the historicity of Jesus."

If the passage in Josephus is genuine, then strong and in fact formidable proof is offered for the Christian claim along historical lines. On the other hand, should this passage be found a mere forgery, a clumsy interpolation, then the strongest element o f proof for the historicity of Jesus in the whole mass of ancient literature crumbles and dissolves.

Josephus was the author of "A Defense of the Jewish Religion." In this he showed himself to be a fervent believer in Judaism--a point that must be kept in mind in view of the passage attributed to him depicting Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. At the tim e he wrote, the Christians constituted a very small sect, of no particular political or social importance. Late in the first century, Josephus completed his classical work, "The Antiquities of the Jews." In this book is found a complete history of his race, dating from the very earliest age, according to the knowledge of his day.

While in the midst of the story of a Jewish uprising, the narrator in this book is interrupted by the following irrelevant passage:

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man--if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works and a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He w as the Christ. Although Pilate, at the complaint of the leaders of our people, condemned him to die on the cross, his earlier followers were faithful to him. For he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as god-sent prophets had foretold this and a thousand other wonderful things of him. The tribe of Christians, which is called after him, survives until the present day." (Jewish Antiquities xviii, 3, 3.)

Would Josephus, who wrote with such careful sequence, break the unity of his narrative to observe, with Christian piety, that "about this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. . . . He wrought miracles. . . . He was the Christ. . . . He appeared to them alive again on the third a, day as god-sent prophets had foretold" etc.? All this we are asked to accept as coming from Josephus, an extremely pious Jew!

We should be inclined to think that this Jewish historian, after noting a matter of such prime importance in the history of his people as the coming of Jesus the Messiah, would proceed to elaborate on it, to impress its significance upon his religious brethren; for the Jews at that time were bestowing great attention on matters pertaining to the coming of the Messiah. In fact, they were awaiting the Messiah with painful impatience and desperate hope.

But Josephus, as soon as he is through with the Jesus passage, the heaven-sent Messiah, the long awaited Christ who was to bring peace and happiness to all those suffering under the cruel Roman heel, goes on, as though nothing of unusual importance had be en touched upon, to make the statement: "Also about this time another misfortune befell the Jews"; and the text continues leisurely with the story of how Tiberius expelled the Jews from Rome. Attention is immediately arrested by the wording, "another misfortune befell the Jews." What other misfortune? If Joshephus had written the joyful Jesus passage, would he have continued with "another misfortune" and then told of Tiberius and his expulsion of the Jews?

About this passage affirming Jesus as the Christ a number of observations might be made. Josephus is obviously ignorant of the occurrences connected with Jesus and his followers. As one who accepted Jesus as the Messiah whom the "god-sent prophets had foretold," Josephus must certainly have gathered zealously all available information about him. Yet, the conscientious narrator of Jewish history fails utterly to note such exciting events as:

 

  1. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
  2. His acclamation as the Messiah.
  3. The riot before the governor's house.
  4. The surrendering by the Sanhedrim of one of their people to the Roman authorities.
  5. The disappearance of the body from the grave.
It is not an easy matter, as Professor Drews states, to show that these events were too insignificant for Josephus to record. The Acts of the Apostles (ii, 41) shows the new religious sect (Christian) entering into deadly rivalry with the old religion. It is difficult to understand how Josephus, a thorough historian in his way, could have failed to include the aforementioned events in his work had these incidents occurred during the life of Jesus.

That he noticed messianic disturbances in the times is amply proven in his "Antiquities" (xviii, 4, 1). Here are noted the false Messiah and his attempt to induce the Samaritans to rise against their Roman masters. Then there is the incident of Judas, the Gaulonite, who created a disturbance of the people against the census of Quirinus; the story of the pretending prophet, Theudas, who claimed to possess the power to divide the waters of the Jordan to allow his followers to cross in safety.

In "Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus" Professor Drews says (page 5):

"Does anyone seriously believe, in fact, that Josephus could have concealed from the Romans, who had long ruled over Palestine and were accurately informed as to the disposition of their subjects, the messianic expectations and agitations of his compatriots and represented them as harmless, in works which were especially concerned with their strained relations to their oppressors?"

The most important and illuminating fact, however, is that the passage about Jesus as the Messiah is not to be found in the early copies of Josephus. Not until the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (about A.D. 300) do we come across it, and it is claimed that all reference to this passage is worthless as historical material because of the deliberate falsifications of Eusebius. [1]

Also of the utmost significance is the absence of the Josephian passage in the controversies of the early church fathers. Not only is the passage not to be found cited in their voluminous disputes, but one fails to come across even a mention of it in work s where it would undoubtedly have appeared had it been in existence at that early day. It is not in the polemics of Tertullian, Cyprian, Justin or Origen. Valuable indeed, would this passage have been to Justin in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew. [2]

Chrysostom, a careful reader of Josephus, wrote in the latter part of the fourth century. The quotation of the Josephian passage would have weighed strongly in favor of the church. But no mention is made of it in his works, and we are inclined to accept t he view of Remsburg that he was "too honest or too wise to use it."

Canon Farrar, in his "Life of Christ," vol. i, p. 63 (page 31 of the cheap edition), sums up the case in the following words: "The single passage in which he (Josephus) alludes to him is interpolated, if not wholly spurious."

The verdict of history has thrown this passage out. And thus the church remains without an iota of tangible evidence to uphold its claims for the historicity of Jesus.

 


Footnotes to Did Josephus Write It?

[1] Jakob Burkhardt considers the wily Eusebius to be "the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity." He elaborates on his character as follows: "After many falsifications, suppressions, and fictions which have been proved in his work, he has no right to be put forward as a decisive authority, and to these faults we must add a consciously perverse manner of expression, deliberate bombast, and many equivocations, so that the reader stumbles upon trapdoors and pitfalls in the most important passage s." (Leben Konstantins, 2d edition, 1860, pp. 307, 335, 347.)

[2] Vossius, in the 16th century, possessed a manuscript of Josephus which contained no mention of Jesus.

 

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