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WHEN Christians are asked for the proof of the divinity of Jesus Christ, they point to his miracles and precepts, and the Messianic prophecies, said to have been fulfilled by his coming. And the same kind of evidence is adduced to prove the divine claims of their bible and its religion, including the Old Testament, which contains the prophecies. Their divine origin and supernatural character are claimed to be proved by the miracles, prophecies, and precepts found recorded in the Holy Book. All, then, stand or fall together — the divinity of Christ, and the divinity of the bible and its religion, all, rest on this threefold argument. All, it is claimed, are attested and proved by a threefold display of divine power, manifested, —
- By the performance of various acts, transcending human power and the laws of nature, called Miracles.
- By the discernment of events lying in the future which no human sagacity or prescience could have foreseen, unless aided by Omniscience; the display of such power being called Prophecy.
- By the enunciation of Moral Precepts beyond the mental capacity of human beings to originate.
These three propositions cover the whole ground. They constitute the three grand pillars of the Christian faith, which, if shown to be untenable, must prostrate the whole superstructure to the ground. We will examine each separately, commencing with miracles.
MIRACLES THE FIRST PILLAR OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
We will not occupy space in discussing the various meanings assigned to the word miracle by different writers, but take the popular definition as given above, and proceed to inquire how much evidence can be deduced from the miracles represented as having been performed by Jesus Christ, toward proving his divinity and the truth of his religion. In the first place, it should be borne in mind that Christianity is not the only religion which appeals to miracles as a proof of its divine authorship. More than three hundred systems and sects are reported in history, most of which have, from time immemorial, gloried in being able to wield this knock-down argument as they claim it to be, in support of the truth and divine authenticity of their various systems of faith. We have briefly noticed some of the miraculous achievements reported in their sacred books, and ascribed to their Gods and sin-atoning Saviors, and compare them with similar ones related of Jesus Christ, commencing with:
As the whole pathway of religious history is thickly bestudded with miracles wrought in all ages and countries, and every page of the oriental bibles and religious books is literally loaded down with the relation of these marvelous prodigies said to have been wrought by their Gods, Demigods, and crucified Saviors, it places a writer in a quandary to know where to begin to make a selection. We will express no opinion here as to whether these astounding feats were ever witnessed or not; but will merely state that they come to us as well authenticated as those reported in the Christian bible. There is as much evidence that Zoroaster, at the request of King Gustaph, caused a tree to spring up in a man’s yard forthwith, of such magnificent proportions that no rope could be found large enough to reach around it, as that Jesus Christ caused a fig tree to wither away by merely cursing it. And we have the same kind of evidence that the Hindoo Messiah, Chrishna, of India, restored two boys to life who had been killed by the bites of serpents, as that Jesus Christ resurrected Lazarus and the widow’s son of Nain; and as much proof that Bacchus turned water into wine, as that Jesus performed this act six hundred years later. And a hundred other similar comparisons might be drawn. The evidence of the truth of these performances in both cases, pagan and Christian, is simply the report of the writer. If there are any exceptions to be made in either case of better evidence, it will be found in favor of pagan religion; for its adherents are able in many cases to point to imperishable monuments of stone erected in commemoration of their miracles. And Mr. Goodrich tells us this is the highest species of evidence that can be offered to prove the truth of any ancient event. But as Christians, on the other hand, can find no such evidence to prove the performance of any miracles reported in their bible, it will be seen at once that the pagan miracles are the best authenticated. The famous historian Pausanias states upon current authority that Esculapius raised several persons from the dead, and names Hippolytus among the number, and then points to a stone monument erected as a proof of the occurrence — thus furnishing, according to Christian logic, the most conclusive proof of one of the most astounding miracles ever wrought. And yet no philosopher or man of science in this age can credit the literal truth of the story.
We might refer to many other cases of pagan miracles attested by monumental evidence if our space would permit — such as the names of many persons engraved upon the walls of the Temple of Serapes, miraculously carved by the God Esculapius. Strabo tells us the ancient temples are full of tablets describing miraculous cures performed by virgin-born Gods of those times, and names a case of two blind men being restored to sight by the son of God Alcides in the presence of a large multitude of people, “who acknowledged the miraculous power of the God with loud acclaim.” Without continuing the citation of cases, suffice it to say, the sin-atoning Gods of the orientals are reported as performing the same train of miracles assigned to Jesus Christ, such as performing astonishing cures, casting out devils, raising the dead, &c. Now, sadly warped indeed by education must be that mind which cannot see that if the account of such prodigies, reported in the history of Jesus Christ, can do anything towards proving him to have been a God, then the world must have been full of Gods long before his time. It is impossible to dodge or evade such a conclusion.
Christians are in the habit of assuming that all the miraculous reports in the bible are unquestionably true, while those reported in pagan bibles are mere fables and fiction. But if they will reverse this proposition, it can be easier supported, because we have shown their miracles are better attested and authenticated. Their own bible admits that the heathen not only could and did perform miracles, but miraculous prodigies of the most astonishing character, equal to anything reported in their own religious history — such as transmuting water into blood, sticks into serpents, and stones into frogs. In a word, it is admitted they performed all the miraculous feats of Moses with the single exception of turning dust into lice. But certainly making lice was not a more difficult achievement than that of making frogs, and this is admitted they did do successfully.
Hence it will be seen that the Egyptian pagans made as great a display of divine or miraculous power as “God’s Holy People,” according to the admission of the bible itself. And there is no intimation that the mode of performing the miracles was not the same in cases, but a strong probability exists that it was, a conclusion confirmed by the bible report of the case which leads us to infer that they performed the miracles in the same way Moses did. For it is said, “The Egyptians did so with their enchantments” — that is, with the “enchanting rod” used on such occasions by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and other nations, including also the Jews. Now, as Moses always used the “enchanting rod” in performing miracles, called by him “the rod of God, the rod of divination,” &c. (see Ex. iv.), there is thus furnished the most satisfactory proof that he performed his miracles on this occasion, as well as all other occasions, by the same stratagem as the Egyptians and other nations did. And even if the mode adopted by the Egyptians had been different, it is still admitted they performed the miracles. In the name of reason and common sense, then, we ask if such facts as here presented with the case just referred to do not forever prostrate and annihilate all arguments based on miracles toward proving the divine character or divine origin of the religion of the bible, or towards proving Jesus Christ, or any other being reported to have performed miracles, as possessing divine attributes?
Some of the most astonishing and best authenticated miracles ever performed by any religious sect we find reported in the history of the Roman Catholic church, looked upon and styled by the Protestants “the mother of Harlots and Abomination.” And yet there is much stronger proof that the Catholic religion has the divine sanction, if miracles can furnish such proof. The editor of “The Official Memoirs” declares that during the Italian war in 1797, several pictures of the virgin Mary, situated in different parts of the country, were seen to open and shut their eyes for the space of six or seven months, and that no less than sixty thousand people actually saw this miracle performed, including many bishops, deacons, cardinals, and other officers of the church, whose names are given. And Forsyth’s Italy (p. 344), written by a highly accredited author, tells us that a withered elm tree was suddenly restored to full life and vigor by coming in contact with the body of St. Zenobis, and that this miracle took place in the most public part of the town, in the presence of many thousands of people; that “it is recorded by contemporary historians, and inscribed upon a marble column now standing where the tree stood.”
Now, the question may be asked here, Would the people have allowed such an impudent trick to insult them as the erection of a monument for an event that never took place? If not, how is the matter to be explained? These are only specimens of a hundred more Catholic miracles of an astonishing character at our command. Several queries may be entertained in the solution of these stories. 1st, Were some phenomena really witnessed on which these stories were constructed, but which got magnified from a molehill to a mountain before they found their way into history? or, 2d, Were they manufactured as a pious fraud, which was rather a fashionable business with the early disciples of the Christian faith, according to Mr. Mosheim? Whatever answer may be given to these questions will explain the miracles of the Christian bible, excepting those which can be accounted for on natural principles.
Among all the workers of miracles reported in the bible the devil seems to have been preeminent, and hence must come in for the better end of the argument toward proving him to have been a God. No miracle could excel the act of his “transforming himself into an angel of light,” as stated in 2 Cor. xi. 14. It is not transcended by any other case, not even by Christ’s transfiguration. And according to Paul he was endowed “with all power, and signs, and lying wonders.” (Thess. ii. 9.) If, then, he possessed “all power,” Christ, and no other God, could have possessed a miraculous power superior to his, for “all” comprehends the whole, beyond which nothing can reach. Where, then, is the evidence to come from to prove that Christ was a God, because he was a miracle-worker, or his religion divine, because attested by miracles — seeing the devil performed some of the most difficult miracles ever wrought? Should we not then change his title from that of a demon to a God, and place his religion amongst the divinely endowed systems? St. John represents the “Evil One” as having power to make “fire come down from heaven in the sight of men,” and “to deceive those that dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he hath power to do.” (Rev. xiii. 13.)
Here the question arises, What can a miracle prove, what end can it serve, or what good can possibly arise from the display of the miracle-working power, when it is liable “to deceive those that dwell upon the earth?” Certainly, therefore, it proves nothing, and accomplishes nothing. And may not the apostles themselves have been deceived in ascribing some of the miracles they record to Jesus instead of the devil? Certainly we are drifted upon the quicksands of uncertainty by such a display of the miracle-working power, and are obnoxious to most fatal deception, which proves the total inutility and futility of such prodigies.
Christ’s Miracles not his Own, but wrought through Him and not by Him
How could Christ’s miracles, assuming they were wrought, do anything toward proving his divinity, when he did not claim to be their author, but merely the agent or instrument in the hands of the Father, like the apostles, who are reported to have performed the same miracles? “The Father he doeth the work,” is his own declaration. And the Apostles seem to have accepted his word, and his view of the matter. For proof listen to Peter: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves do know.” (Acts ii. 22.) Let it be noted, then, the Christ’s miracles were not performed by him as a God, but as “a man approved of God;” be was the mere medium or instrument in the case — a fact which banishes at once all grounds for controversy relative to his miracles serving the purpose of attesting his divinity, especially when it is conceded that men, magicians, and devils could achieve the same feats.
Christ’s Miracles did not convince the People
As the miracles of Christ seem to have had little effect toward convincing the people of his claims to the godhead, it is evident they could have been but little superior to those performed by others, and therefore not designed, at least not calculated, to convince them that he was a God. The frequent instances in which he upbraids the people for their unbelief, and calls them fools, “slow of heart,” &c., is a proof of this statement.
Christ’s Miracles not designed to convince the People
A circumstance involving pretty strong proof that Christ’s miraculous achievements were not considered as evidence of his divinity, is the fact that they were frequently performed in private, sometimes in the night, and often under the injunction of secrecy. “See thou tell no man,” was the injunction, after the feat was performed, perhaps, in a private room. How can such facts be reconciled with the assumption that his miracles were designed to convince the people of his claims to the Divine Entity, as Christians frequently assert, when the people were not allowed to witness them, nor his disciples even to report them? Who can believe that he was a Divine Being, or Messiah, when he charged his disciples to “tell no man” that he was such a Being? Such incongruities verge to a contradiction. It is a logical contradiction to say that private miracles were designed to dissolve public skepticism. And yet many, if not most, of his reputed miraculous achievements were of this character. When he cured a blind man, he not only “led him out of the town” (Mark viii. 23), but forbid him, when his sight was restored, returning to the city, for fear he would publish it. When he resurrected Lazarus, he did not call the whole country around to witness it, but performed the act before a private party. The reanimation of Jairus’s daughter was in the same concealed manner, in a private room, where nobody was admitted but his three confidential disciples (Peter, James, and John) and the parents, none of whom make any report of the case. How, therefore, the reporter (Mark) found it out, when he was not present, and none of the party were allowed to tell it to anybody, or why he should betray his trust by publishing it, if he was informed of it, is a “mystery of Godliness” not easily divined.
When Christ cleansed the leper, he sent him to the priest, enjoining him to “say nothing to any man.” The dumb, when restored to speech, was not allowed to exhibit any practical proof of the fact by using his tongue. His miraculous perambulation on the surface of the sea (walking on the water) was not only alone, but in the dark. His transfiguration, likewise, according to Dr. Barnes, took place in the night, his three favorite companions being the only witnesses, and they “heavy with sleep.” And finally, the crowning miracle of all, the resurrection, is not only represented as taking place in the night, but without one substantial or terrestrial witness to report it. Verily such facts as these are not calculated to augment the faith or work the conviction of a skeptic that these miracles were ever performed, seeing so few are reported as witnessing them, and even their testimony is not given. We have not the testimony of one person who claims to have been present and seen these wonders performed. Such facts are calculated to cast distrust upon the whole matter, especially when taken in connection with the fact that nine tenths of his life form a perfect blank in history. Is it possible, we ask, to reconcile such a fact with the belief of his divinity? Is it possible a God could lead a private life, or live twenty-seven years on earth, and do nothing worthy of note — a God known to nobody and noticed by nobody? Most transcendingly absurd is such a thought. Had Christ possessed the character that is claimed for him, not an hour of his life could have passed unaccompanied by some remarkable incident that would have been heralded abroad, and its record indelibly engraved upon the page of history; but instead of this, his acts were too commonplace to be noticed.
All History ignores Him
The fact that no history, sacred or profane, — that not one of the three hundred histories of that age, — makes the slightest allusion to Christ, or any of the miraculous incidents ingrafted into his life, certainly proves, with a cogency that no logic can overthrow, no sophistry can contradict, and no honest skepticism can resist, that there never was such a miraculously endowed being as his many orthodox disciples claim him to have been. The fact that Christ finds no place in the history of the era in which he lived, — that not one event of his life is recorded by anybody but his own interested and prejudiced biographers, — settles the conclusion, beyond cavil or criticism, that the godlike achievements ascribed to him are naught but fable or fiction. It not only proves he was not miraculously endowed, but proves he was not even naturally endowed to such an extraordinary degree as to make him an object of general attention. It would be a historical anomaly without a precedent, that Christ should have performed any of the extraordinary acts attributed to him in the Gospels, and no Roman or Grecian historian, and neither Philo nor Josephus, both writing in that age, and both living almost on the spot where they are said to have been witnessed, and both recording minutely all the religious events of that age and country, make the slightest mention of one of them, nor their reputed authors. Such a historical fact banishes the last shadow of faith in their reality.
It is true a few lines are found in one of Josephus’s large works alluding to Christ. But it is so manifestly a forgery, that we believe all modern critics of any note, even of the orthodox school, reject it as a base interpolation. Even Dr. Lardner, one of the ablest defenders of the Christian faith that ever wielded a pen in its support, and who has written ten large volumes to bolster it up, assigns nine cogent reasons (which we would insert here if we had space) for the conclusion that Josephus could not have penned those few lines found in his “Jewish Antiquities” referring to Christ. No Jew could possibly use such language. It would be a glaring absurdity to suppose a leading Jew could call Jesus “The Christ,” when the whole Jewish nation have ever contested the claim with the sternest logic, and fought it to the bitter end. “It ought, therefore” (says Dr. Lardner, for the nine reasons which he assigns), “to be forever discarded from any place among the evidences of Christianity.” (Life of Lardner by Dr. Kippis, p. 23.)
As the passage is not found in any edition of Josephus prior to the era of Eusebius, the suspicion has fastened upon that Christian writer as being its author, who argued that falsehood might be used as a medicine for the benefit of the churches. (See his Eccles. Hist.) Origen, who lived before Eusebius, admitted Josephus makes no allusion to Christ. Of course the passage was not, then, in Josephus. One or two other similar passages have been found, in other authors of that era, which it is not necessary to notice here, as they are rejected by Christian writers. It must be conceded, therefore, that the numerous histories covering the epoch of the birth of Christ chronicle none of the astounding feats incorporated in his Gospel biographies as signalizing his earthly career, and make no mention of the reputed hero of these achievements, either by name or character. The conclusion is thus irresistibly forced upon us, not only that he was not a miracle- worker, but that he must have led rather an obscure life, entirely incompatible with his being a God or a Messiah, who came “to draw all men unto him.” And it should also be noted here that none of Christ’s famous biographers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, are honored with a notice in history till one hundred and ninety years after the birth of Christ. And then the notice was by a Christian writer (Ireneus).
“We look in vain,” says a writer, “for any contemporary notice of the Gospels, or Christ the subject of the Gospels, outside of the New Testament. So little was this ‘king of the Jews’ known, that the Romans were compelled to pay one of his apostles to turn traitor and act as guide before they could find him. It is impossible to observe this negative testimony of all history against Christ and his miracles, and not be struck with amazement, and seized with the conviction that he was not a God, and not a very extraordinary man.” Who can believe that a God, from off the throne of heaven, could make his appearance on earth, and while performing the most astounding miracles ever recorded in any history, or that ever excited the credulity of any people, and be finally publicly crucified in the vicinity of a great city, and yet all the histories written in those times, both sacred and profane, pass over with entire silence the slightest notice of any of these extraordinary events. Impossible — most self-evidently impossible!! And when we find that this omission was so absolute that no record was made of the day or year of his birth by any person in the era in which he lived, and that they were finally forgotten, and hence that there are, as a writer informs us, no less then one hundred and thirty-three different opinions about the matter, the question assumes a still more serious aspect. From the logical potency of these facts we are driven to the conclusion that Christ received but little attention outside of the circle of his own credulous and interested followers, and consequently stands on a level with Chrishna of India, Mithra of Persia, Osiris of Egypt, and other demigods of antiquity, all whose miraculous legends were ingrafted in their histories long after their death. This leads us to consider:
How Christ’s incredible Legends got into his History
There is a remarkably easy and satisfactory way of accounting for all the marvelous feats and incredible stories found in the Gospel narratives of Jesus Christ, without assuming their reality or any intentional fraud or falsehood by the writers. When we learn that none of his evangelical biographies were penned (as Dr. Lardner affirms) till long after his death, we are no longer puzzled for a moment to understand exactly how many statements wholly incredible and morally impossible crept into his history, without challenging or calling in question the veracity or honesty of the writer. Perhaps the most powerful cord of moral conviction which holds the Christian professor to a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, is the difficulty of bringing himself to believe that the numerous miracles ascribed to him in the Gospels are merely the work of fiction, fabricated without a basis of truth, when they were evidently penned by men of the deepest piety and the strictest moral integrity. We ourselves were once environed with this difficulty. But it stands in our way no longer. We are disenthralled. We have solved the problem. We have found the true explanation. The key and clew to the whole secret is found in the simple fact, admitted by Christian writers and evidenced by the bible itself, that no history of Christ’s practical life was written out by a person claiming to have been an eyewitness of the events reported, nor until every incident and act of the noble- minded Nazarene had had ample time to become enormously magnified and distorted by rumor, fable, and fiction; so that it was impossible to discriminate or separate the real from the unreal, the true from the false, in his partly-forgotten life. It could not be done. A true history could not then be, nor have been written under such circumstances. It is manifestly impossible. The time for writing each Gospel is fixed by Dr. Lardner as follows, viz.: Matthew 62 A.D., Mark 64 A.D., Luke 63 or 64 A.D., and John 68 A.D.; thus allowing ample time for every noteworthy incident of his life to grow from mole-hills to mountains, and to swell into fiction, fable, and prodigy, a tendency to which was then very rife and very prevalent in all religious countries. Having made a note of this fact, let the reader treasure in memory, as another equally important fact, that the biography of no man of note who figured in that era, or who lived prior to the dawn of letters (if penned many years after his death, as was frequently the case), is free from a large percentage of extravagant detail, and simple incidents magnified into miracles. This was the uncurbed tendency of the age which ultimated into universal custom.
The simplest incident in every man’s life, who exhibited mind enough to attract attention, by rolling from year to year, and passing from mouth to mouth, invariably got to be finally swelled into such undue and enormous proportions, that it could only be accounted for by assuming the actor to have been a God. In this way many men of different countries, who had made a mark in the world, received divine honors and divine attributes, including such characters as Christina of India, Mithra of Persia, Quirinus of Rome, Eras of the Druids, Quexalcote of Mexico, Jesus Christ of Judea, and many others who might be mentioned. This circumstance deified them. The evidence of history to prove this declaration is abundant and irresistible.
Posthumous Histories alone deified Men
To the two important facts above cited, viz., that Jesus Christ’s evangelical histories were all written long after his death, and that unwritten histories of great men always become swollen and distorted with the lapse of time, let the reader add the equally significant fact that there is in all cases a vast difference in the biographies of famous men, penned during their actual lives, or immediately subsequent to their death, while every act and incident of their career was fresh and vigorous in the minds and memories of the contemporaneous people, and before the ball of exaggerated rumor was set rolling, compared with those written at a later date, after molehills of fact had become mountains of fiction. The former are natural and reasonable, the latter unnatural and extravagant, and often fabulous. We will cite a few cases in proof. Let the reader compare the biographical sketches of Alexander the Great written near the epoch of his practical life, and those composed since the dawn of the Christian era, and he will find that the posthumous notices of him alone contain the story of the sun becoming obscured, and the earth enveloped in darkness, at the time of his mortal exit. It will be found, also, that Virgil’s account of “the sheeted dead,” rising from their, graves at the time of Caesar’s death, and which was written long after that famous hero left the stage of action, is omitted in all the contemporary notices of that monarch, having crept in subsequently.
In like manner, the various miracles recorded of Pythagoras by his biographer Jamblicus, — such as his walking on the air, stilling the tempest, raising the dead, &c., — are not related of him by any contemporaneous writers who lived in the era of his practical life. And let the reader compare, also, Damos’ life of Apollonius with that of his later biography by Philostratus, as an illustration of the same historical fact. Mahomet and his biographers might be included in the same category. It is a remarkable circumstance that neither Mahomet himself nor any of his immediate followers claim for him more than the humble title of prophet, or “God’s holy prophet,” while his later admirers and devout disciples have elevated him to the throne of heaven, and given him a seat among the Gods.
And this historical analysis might be extended much farther if necessary. But cases enough have been cited to prove the principle and establish the proposition. And what is the lesson taught by these facts? A deeply-instructive and all-important one. From the foregoing historical illustrations we are impelled to the important conclusion, that the tissue of extravagant and incredible stories of demigod performances which run as a vein of fiction through the Gospel narrations of Jesus Christ, all grow out of long-continued rumor, in an age when the imagination was untamed and unbounded, and credulity uncurbed by a practical knowledge of the principles of science, and consequently the pen of the historian had lawless scope. All difficulty then vanishes, and the question is put forever at rest by assuming that if the Gospel histories of Jesus had been written by men who claimed to record only what they saw and heard themselves, we should have a more credible and instructive history of the great Judean reformer, freed from those Munchausen prodigies and that wild romance which mar the beauty and credibility of those now in popular use. This conclusion is not only natural, but irresistible, to a mind untrammeled by education and unbefogged by priest-craft. All that is wanting to convince us that miracles constitute no part of the real history of Christ, is a contemporary instead of a posthumous biography — a history written in the age which knew him, and by an unprejudiced writer who witnessed all his movements. And we are perfectly willing to risk our reputation in this life, and our salvation in the next, by stating our conviction that this will be the unanimous verdict of posterity before fifty generations pass away.
Christ’s Miracles reconstructed from former Miracles
There are other circumstances than those noticed in the preceding chapter, which can aid us very materially in solving the problem of Christ’s divinity; or, in other words, can aid us in tracing his miracles to their origin, and thus confirm the truth of the preceding proposition. Moses and the prophets were considered by the evangelists antetypes or archetypes of the coming Savior. Hence some of the more important incidents of their lives were hunted up and worked over again, to make them fit the life of Christ as the Messiah, reconstructed and applied to him as the second Moses, and a new prophet; for Moses is represented as saying, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up like unto me.” Hence Moses comes in with the prophets as an antetype of Christ. The transfiguration of Christ is therefore constituted after the model of the transfiguration of Moses on Mount Sinai. And Christ is represented as raising the dead, not only because Elijah and Elisha had performed such miracles, but did it under circumstances which prove, as they suppose, he possessed superior power. For while they could only reanimate the body immediately after the breath had left it, Christ could raise a man after he had been dead four days (the case of Lazarus). Hence the New Prophet was superior to the old, and more like a God — the thing they desired to prove. Both Elijah and Christ are represented as raising a widow’s son, — Elijah being considered the special prototype of Christ, who, many believed, had reappeared under the changed name of Elias. (See John v. 17.) And then we observe that while Elisha exhausted his skill in making three gallons of oil, Christ could make thirty gallons of wine — another proof of the superiority of the New Prophet. Then, again, the miracle of feeding one hundred men with twenty loaves is far excelled by the latter, who feeds five thousand men with five loaves. And both prophets, Elisha and Christ, encountered unfordable streams in their travels; the expedient of the former is to make a passage, but Christ performed the greater miracle of walking on the surface. And while Moses had to send the leper without the camp before he could heal him, Christ could heal him instantly with a single touch. The same slaughter of the infants is commanded by Herod, in order to destroy Christ, that Pharaoh had ordered to effect the destruction of Moses. And thus many of the miracles of Jesus can be accounted for as reconstructions of former miracles. It was simply a competition or rivalry between the New Messianic prophet and the old prophets. The New Prophet excels and comes off victorious in every case, and is thus considered to be a God. The object of the competition is to show that while the prophets, assisted by God, could perform marvelous deeds, Christ, being God himself, could perform greater. This was to be the proof of his being a God, that he could outvie the servants of God in every miraculous thing ascribed to them. This was one way adopted to prove his divinity.
Christ’s Miracles manufactured from Prophecies
Several of Christ’s miracles seem to have grown out of the Messianic prophecies; that is, were manufactured in order to fulfill the prophecies. There was, as we learn by the Gospels, an impression deep and wide-spread among the disciples of Christ, that the Old Testament was full of texts foretelling the advent of their Messiah, and foreshadowing his practical life. Under this conviction, a number of passages are quoted in the Gospels from the prophets as referring to Christ, but which, however, the context shows could not possibly have been written with any such thought or intention. Matthew has five miracles appertaining to Christ, built on prophecies, in his first two chapters. And they are represented as taking place “in order that the prophecy might be fulfilled;” that is, Matthew, writing sixty-four years after Christ’s advent, assumes those miracles had taken place because the prophecy required their performance, and hence recorded it as a fact without knowing it to be such. A great deal of that kind of license was assumed in that and subsequent ages, as the facts of history are ample to prove. It was done under the religious conviction that the cause of God and the church required it to be done, and that therefore it was justifiable.
Strict Veracity not required or observed
It is by no means necessary to assume that the recorders of the New Testament miracles knew they had been performed, or that they would hesitate to record them as facts because they did not know them to be such. We are under no moral obligation to suppose they knew anything about it. People in that age were not so nice or so morally exact, as to require proof of a thing before they stated it, or never to state it unless they had the proof for its being true. We would be very far from accusing the apostolic writers of malicious falsehood, or criminal misrepresentation. But we find that the disciples of all religions, in that age of the world, considered it not only allowable, but a religious duty, in the absence of knowledge, to supply omissions by guess-work or conjecture, that is, to use assumption in the place of proof, and to state that a thing was so when there was no proof of it whatever, and even when the proof was against it. All religious history is full of the exhibition of this kind of elasticity of conscience. Even a species of pious lying was considered justifiable in many cases. Paul furnishes evidence of this when he says, “If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory, why am I judged a sinner?” (Rom. iii. 16.) “No sin to lie for the glory of God,” seems to be the teaching of this text. Although Paul does not clearly disclose for what purpose this policy was employed, yet it can easily be inferred. A part of the important business of the New Testament writers was to build a reputation for Christ and his inspired band of disciples for working miracles. A fame for achieving “signs and wonders” was the great set off of the age. There seems to have been an almost boundless competition amongst the disciples of the various religious orders, including Jews, Pagans, and Christians, as to who could, or whose God could outstrip all competitors in achieving astonishing prodigies that should set the laws of nature at defiance. And no devout disciple, who had good inventive powers, would allow any rival to outdo him. Nothing could authenticate the claim of the adopted Messiah to the throne or heaven, or a participation in the Divine Essence, like a miraculous display of divine power. Hence the history of all the Gods and demigods of the illiterate ages, including that, of Christ, is loaded down with miraculous feats. There is the clearest proof that Christ’s disciples were in this general rivalry — this universal miracle- working melee.
Two things very necessary to be accomplished, in the estimation of the apostles, were, first, to show that Christ outdid the heathen Gods, and even the prophets, in the display of the wonder-exciting miraculous power, and thus proved his divinity; and second, that the prophecies had been fulfilled in his coming and his practical life. And there is reason to believe all the New Testament miracles are founded on and grew out of prophecy. For, although we do not find prophecies in the Old Testament for every miracle related of Christ, yet it is probable, if we had the Book of God, “the Book of Jehu,” “the Like of Hezekiah,” and other lost books mentioned in the Old Testament, we should find the supposed prophecy for every miracle of the New Testament. We should there find the key to every miracle. The true explanation of the matter seems to be, that the apostolic writers, looking through the Old Testament, and finding texts therein which they believed to be prophetic of the display of the miraculous power of Jesus, and passages which they religiously believed foreshadowed his coming and mission, or some important event in his history, they were impressed with the deepest conviction that God would not suffer any prophecy to go unfulfilled. But when they sat down to write the history of their Messiah, long after his death, they found they had not the evidence before them that the prophecies had been fulfilled. A third of a century had rolled away since his history had been practically before the people. The subject of their narrative had long since gone to “the house of many mansions,” and left not a note, or scratch of a pen, of any act of his life behind him. And the current of time had washed away, or partially obliterated, nearly every event of his earthly career. The witnesses had nearly all left the stage of action, and their voices were forever hushed in the silent tomb. What was to be done in such an emergency? It was all-important to show that the prophecies had been fulfilled to the letter in his practical life. This quandary, however, did not beset them long. The difficulty was easily surmounted. Every religions country, including Judea, was full of miraculous legends and astonishing prodigies appertaining to the terrestrial movements of their Gods and demigods, some of which had floated down on the stream of tradition from time immemorial. And all had become blended, confounded, and mixed up together, until it was impossible to know whence they originated, where they belonged, or to what God they appertained. These miraculous stories were so numerous, and so varied in character, that there was no little difficulty in finding which seemed to be the fulfillment of any Messianic prophecy that had been or might be found in the Old Testament; and thus of the hundreds of miraculous stories afloat, one was picked out and assumed to be the fulfillment of the prophecy. With the countless number of such stories before them, which had been for half a century current in the community, they set themselves to work to select and reject, prune and remodel, honestly believing that this miracle was intended to fulfill this prophecy, and that miracle that prophecy, &c. And accordingly we now find it so stated in the New Testament. As, for example, a story had long been going the rounds that the parents of a young God had to flee with him out of the country, to save his life from being destroyed by its jealous ruler. This they supposed must of course refer to Jesus, because they had found a supposed prophecy of such an event in the Jewish bible, when a more thorough acquaintance with history would have taught them that the story did not refer to the ruler of Judea (Herod), but to Cansa, an ancient, jealous, despotic king, who ruled India at a much earlier period. And the story of the darkness at the crucifixion they incorporated as a part of the history of Jesus, because they had seen a text in Joel which they supposed presaged such an event, while, if they had been well versed in oriental history, they would have known that it had long been recorded as the last chapter in the earthly drama of the Hindoo God Chrishna. And so of the other miracles now found related as a part of the history of Jesus. A historical investigation of the matter would have shown the Gospel writers that they were a part of the written history of other and more ancient Gods, and had never formed a part of the practical life of Jesus, or been realized in his experience. This is a more charitable and honorable explanation of the matter than that found in the assumption of some other writers, that every miracle was constructed for the occasion — that it is a sheer fabrication; and yet there are some plausible grounds for this solution of the case.
These critical writers tell us there was a religious persuasion deeply enstamped upon the minds of all religions countries, that God often justified a departure from the truth — the conscientious or veracious faculty being in that age but feebly developed. And the bible itself is full of evidence to establish the allegation. The prophets often disclose it, and the apostles were their strict imitators. Ezekiel represents God as saying, “If a prophet is deceived, I the Lord deceived that prophet.” (Ezek. xiv. 9.) And Jeremiah asks God, “Wilt thou be to me as a liar?” (Jer. xv. 8.) While the writer of Kings represents God as putting a lying spirit into the mouth of his own prophets. (i Kings xxii. 23.) And most certainly if God himself might thus habitually depart from the truth, it was an ample warrant for his apostles, as well as the prophets, to adopt the same expedient. The case of Paul lying for the glory of God, which we have cited from Romans iii. 4, proves they were morally capable of doing this. Mosheim tells us that among the early Christians, “it was an almost universally adopted maxim, that it was an act of virtue to deceive and lie, when by so doing they could promote the interest of the church.” (Mosh. vol. i.p. 198.) And Mr. Higgins informs us that “great numbers, of every age and of every religion, have been guilty of systematic frauds and falsehoods to support their religions, to an extent of which we can have no conception. They not only practiced it, but they reduced it to system. They avowed it, and they justified it by declaring it to be meritorious to lie in a good cause.” (Ana. vol. i.p. 143.) The reader who can hesitate to credit these statements only betrays his ignorance of the moral weakness of human nature, and the imperfect growth in that era of the veracious faculty, which consequently had but a feeble voice in the councils of the mind. Even the most pious and devout professors of religion did not consider a rigid conformity to truth necessary, or morally obligatory, in their labors to promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls. And when direct falsehood was not resorted to, the writer still allowed himself to color, magnify, and invent largely; that is, to draw copiously upon the resources of his imagination, in the way of supplying omissions and defects, and filling out missing links in the chain of history. And hence it is that all ancient sacred history is so profusely inlaid with stories and statements manifestly fabricated for the occasion, without any historical support, and therefore wholly incredible. Let the Christian reader not, however, misapprehend us by supposing we wish to drive him to the extreme alternative of accepting this as the true explanation, or as indicating the real origin of the incredible stories and senseless miraculous feats interwoven into the Gospel life of Jesus. We only offer it as a plausible, but not as the probable explanation. The above citations from the Scriptures and other history prove most clearly that sacred writers were morally capable of fabricating or manufacturing history to supply assumed omissions. And this explanation is twofold more reasonable than to accept the miracles as real occurrences, for such a belief would be at war with common sense, and prostrate our reason beneath our feet. But there is no necessity of adopting lying hypotheses, while the borrowing theory is amply adequate to account for every Gospel miracle. There is not a miraculous story or incredible legend incorporated in the New Testament as a part of the history of Jesus, that was not afloat in some shape or form, on the wings of tradition, in nearly every religious country, ages before his birth. The model for each and every miracle was already constructed, was already in the market, and already a part of the history or tradition of other and older Gods. And all that was wanted to make it appear as a part of the history of the Christian’s deified Jesus, was to fill in names and dates. Yes, history with a hundred tongues proclaims it as the real explanation of the incredible and the impossible in the history of Jesus Christ. And the evidence is so voluminous and so overwhelming to disprove the common Christian dogma which makes the son of Joseph and Mary a miracle-working God (a portion of which we have presented under the several propositions of this chapter), that it really demolishs, the last timber in the Christian fabric, and leaves it a heap of ruins. And we are certain that if we could divest the Christian reader’s mind, for a few moments, of an inherited and fostered prejudice, he would see that our explanation is much more rational, more probable, more beautiful than the popular belief, which degrades the illustrious Judean reformer to a level with the heathen thaumaturgist, and gives him the same undignified reputation as a miracle-worker.
But we are sometimes told we are under as much moral obligation to believe in the miracles reported of Jesus, as to believe in any other portion of his history; that we must accept his Gospel history as a whole, or reject it in toto. But this is manifestly a false assumption, and one easily exploded. No person who is acquainted with Grecian history doubts that Alexander the Great was born in Macedonia, and founded a city in Egypt bearing his own name. Yet not one of those readers will credit for a moment what one of his biographers relates of him, that he stopped the sun in its course, or that he had no human father. We all accept Pythagoras as a real entity, while we reject the story of his walking on the air. Are we morally bound to accept Ramulus and Ramus, founders of Rome, as mere fabulous beings, because their biographers relate the incredible story of their being suckled by a wolf? Many other illustrations might be given in proof of the falsity of the assumption that, because a portion of a man’s biography is found to be incredible, the whole must be rejected as false, as unworthy of credence. This would be to annihilate history. For no biography of any person, and no history of any nation, can be accepted as plenarily pure, unmixed truth. There is always more or less chaff with the grain, and it is our privilege and our duty to separate them. And by so doing we not only confer a favor on the cause of truth, but add to the luster and honor of the name of the deceased reformer; and especially is this true of the renowned Judean philanthropist and reformer. Much more lovely and beautiful would his evangelical history stand before the world if stripped of the wild, the weird, and the miraculous. Much more interesting is he when viewed and venerated as a man than when worshipped as a God, guilty of the frequent violation of his own laws, by the display of the miracle-working power.
And much more beautiful and much more rational is the doctrine which accepts every event that ever occurred as the legitimate and harmonious operation of the great machinery of nature, than as the smart trick, the lawless caprice or wild feat, of an arbitrary, wonder-exciting God, performed not to make the people better, more moral or more righteous (for miracles cannot do this), but merely to make them gape and stare, and shout, What a smart God we have got!
And then the belief in miracles involves all utter repudiation of all law, all order, and all system, and introduces in their stead chaos, anarchy, and universal confusion. It is simply “the doctrine of chance,” which all orthodox Christendom professes to deprecate and execrate as the quintessence of atheism. But they make a mistake; “chance” is more legitimately the fruit of miracle than of atheism; an assertion which we will here briefly prove.
If the sun may be arrested in his course through the heavens, “the moon turned into blood,” and “the stars fall from the heaven,” — sticks turned into serpents, water into blood, and dust into lice, — all of which orthodox Christians profess to believe were witnessed in the days of Moses and Christ, then everything is thrown upon the wheel of chance; everything is involved in uncertainty. If the course of nature could be arrested, or the natural qualities of objects changed by the prayer of a prophet, patriarch, or apostle, then the food set before us to eat may suddenly, in compliance with the prayers of some absent saint, become a deadly poison; the clothes we wear may be instantly transformed into virulent adders, which may inflict the fatal sting before we suspect it; some favorite servant of God (a Moses or an Elijah) might be this moment praying to God to stop the dews from falling, or the rain from descending for the next three months, or three years, as the latter is reported as doing (see James v, 17), so that we could not plant with any certainty that the seed would grow, or that we should be rewarded by a crop. Such would be the incertitude, such the “chance” against us in everything in which we might engage, if it were true that God ever intercepts the action of his laws by working a miracle, that we should eventually become discouraged by this chaos of “chance,” the wheels of industry would stop, and the car of civilization go backward. If it were true, as taught by orthodox Christians, that “God in his providence,” or “God in the dispensation of his providence,” often “visits people with sickness,” then it would be useless to study the laws of health with a view of complying with them. For we could not know in any case whether our sickness had been brought upon us by an “overruling providence,” or by our own imprudence. Our incentives to study and comply with these laws, if there could be any, would consequently be very weak indeed, for we might comply with every physiological requisition, and yet there would be several “chances,” against us that tomorrow we may be stretched upon a “sick bed and rolling pillow by the visitation of God.” Thus the doctrine of miracles is shown to be preeminently the doctrine of “chance.”
The doctrine of miraculous agency makes God an imperfect being, by implying that his laws were defective in their original construction, that by mistake he left some emergency unprovided for, and now has to supply the omission by an afterclap exercise of power. Or if his laws were originally perfect, then the working of a miracle would disturb them, and make them imperfect; if originally imperfect, then God himself must have been imperfect, and hence no God at all. Think of a wonder-working God violating, suspending, or intercepting his own laws. Such a God would be a puerile, short-sighted being, that only ignorant and uncultivated minds could admire and adore.
The age of miracles, however, is gone. The belief in divine prodigies has receded before the advancing genius of civilization. It has died away in the exact ratio of the progress of science and general intelligence. And a thorough acquaintance with nature’s laws will banish the last vestige of such a belief. Hence it is that the most illiterate and ignorant nations and tribes have always been able to recount the longest list of miraculous prodigies achieved by a disorderly God, who seems to have taken pleasure in violating his own laws, or suspending them, for the most trivial purposes.
Yes, the time is approaching when the belief in a “miraculous interposition” or “special providences” must pass away under the lights of science and civilization, and be numbered amongst the things which have been and can be no more, and men will cherish more noble and elevated ideas of the great Ruler of the universe, who is infinite in order, infinite in wisdom, ay, infinite in all his attributes and virtues, ever unchangeably the same.
PROPHECY, THE SECOND PILLAR OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, PROVES AS MUCH FOR HEATHENISM AND SPIRITUALISM
Truthful prophecy, attested to be such by its fulfillment, is assumed to be one of the basic pillars and one of the main proofs of the truth of the Christian religion. But the following consideration will show that this assumption has no logical force, or real, tangible foundation.
First. Every ancient system of religion had its prophets and seers, who professed to be able to foresee events of the future. And we find but little difference in the proofs each one has left to the world that they possessed this power, if we except the Greeks and Romans, some of whom evidently excelled all the Jewish prophets in their ability to take cognizance of events lying behind the curtain of time. Tacitus, the Latin historian, prophesied the downfall of the Roman empire and its attendant calamities more than five hundred years before its occurrence, which was fulfilled to the letter. And Solon, one of the seven wise men of Greece, foresaw and foretold a series of calamities which befell the Athenians two hundred years before they were realized. A still more remarkable example is furnished in the history of Marcus Tullius Cicero, who, writing of the future, with his mind fixed on the west, about 50 B.C., exclaimed, “There will arise after many ages (if we may credit the Sibylline oracles), a hero who will deliver his oppressed countrymen from bondage” — a prophecy most signally fulfilled in the life of General Washington. Many other examples of heathen prophecy and their fulfillment might be cited, if we had space for them.
Second. The history of modern spiritualism furnishes many cases of future events being predicted long before they took place. In fact, many of the most important events of modern tunes which have occurred in this and other countries, were foreseen and foretold by spiritual seers known as “seeing mediums,” when there was not the slightest probability that such events would. ever occur. We will cite one or two cases, by way of proof and illustration. A few years ago John P. Coles, of New York, known as a spiritual medium, prophesied, when under spirit control, that Nicholas of Russia would shortly have difficulty with his secretary Menzicoff, and just three months from that time would die — a prediction that was fulfilled to the very letter and to the very hour. And yet there was not the slightest probability, externally indicated, at the time the prophecy was uttered, that either of these events would ever be realized. And this prophecy, let it be noted, was published in the New York Times at least two months before it was verified, thus proving that the prediction was not an “afterclap” affair, but preceded the event. Take another example. The serious calamity which befell the ill-fated steamer known as the Arctic, which was lost at sea a number of years ago, with all on board, was prophetically described in minute detail, by a spirit medium, several months before it occurred; and was seen and described by another medium, while taking place more than a thousand miles distant. The proof is at our command. And the late disastrous war was foreseen and described by Cora Tappan, of New York, and other mediums, and its principal events pointed out long before the war broke out — a fact which is now a matter of history. These are only a few cases out of hundreds that might be cited of a similar character, drawn from the practical history of modern spiritualism. If, then, prophecy can do anything toward the truth or divine emanation of the Christian religion, it must do the same for the heathen and spiritual systems. And thus proving too much, it proves nothing at all.
Third. The Jewish prophecies not fulfilled. We have examined critically the various texts of the Christian bible called prophecies, and find that, if claimed as predictions of the future events beyond the powers of the natural mind to foresee, they have all failed. But few of them have been fulfilled in any sense, and those few required no divine prescience to foresee the result. Many events have transpired in every country, which the natural sagacity of the most observant minds in that country had anticipated as the result of natural causes, such as the ravages and downfall of cities and the overthrow of empires by the merciless hand of war. The Jewish prophet, fostering a spirit of envy and enmity towards Egypt, Babylon, and other superior kingdoms, because they had been overpowered by them and long held in subjection to their superior sway, were always prophesying evil things of these principalities. And though some of the evils which constituted the burden of prophecy might have been reasonably anticipated as natural occurrences, it is a signal fact they never transpired at all, — such as the total destruction of Babylon, Tyre, Damascus, and other cities belonging to those hostile Kingdoms the Jews so much envied and execrated. Look, for proof, at the case of Damascus. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, all poured out their fulminatory thunders upon this city. Isaiah declared it should be a “ruinous heap.” (Isa. xvii. 1.) And Jeremiah predicted its destruction by fire. (Jer. xlix. 27.) And yet, notwithstanding these predictions of ruin, Damascus still stands as “one of the paradises of the earth,” as one writer styles it, with a population, according to Burckhardt, of not less than two hundred and fifty thousand, being one of the most magnificent and prosperous commercial cities on the globe. Instead of being blotted out of existence, as the Jewish prophets prayed and predicted, it has suffered less by ravages of war and the scythe of time than almost any other city of the east. It has stood nearly three thousand years without becoming a “ruinous heap,” or being consumed by fire or destroyed by war. (Jer. XliX. 26.) And the prophecy against Tyre has most signally failed also. Ezekiel declared it should be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and never be found again. (Ezek. xxvi.-xxix.) But two hundred and fifty years after Nebuchadnezzar’s time Alexander found it a strong commercial city. And it still contains a population of five thousand or more. St. Jerome, of the fourth century, declared it to be then the finest city of Phoenicia, and was astonished that Ezekiel’s prophecy had so utterly failed.
And Isaiah’s famous prediction against Babylon furnishes another proof of the utter failure of Jewish prophecy. He declared, after predicting its destruction, “It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation, neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there.” (Isa. xiii. 20.) Of course he desired it should be so. But, unfortunately for his credit as a prophet, it never suffered such a calamity. On the contrary, according to Layard and Rawlinson, British commissioners who recently visited the place, it now presents “all the activity of a hive of bees” (to use Layard’s language), and contains several thousand inhabitants, though its name is, since rebuilt, called Hillah. And thus the prophecy is falsified. “No,” exclaims a good Christian brother, in forlorn hope, it may be fulfilled yet. But if he will examine the language of the prophecy, he will find he is entirely cut off from this “saving clause.” The prophet says, “Her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.” (Isa. xiii. 22.) Thus it is evident the prophecy was to be fulfilled in that age and generation. The failure, then, is absolute and indisputable. And these are but mere samples of the complete failure of every text called a prophecy, when applied to the prognostication of future events. Numerous texts can be found in the prophets auguring evil for Egypt, which have made no approximation toward fulfillment. Ezekiel prophesied “the fall of Egypt,” “the desolation of Egypt.” “the destruction of Egypt,” &c., not one of which calamities has ever been realized in her experience. Prophecies respecting the restoration of the lost tribes and the perpetuity of the Israelitish throne are complete failures; also all “the Messianic prophecies,” so called. (See Chap. II.) With respect to the prophecy on Babylon, it may be further observed that while the prophet declares, “Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there” (Isa. xiii. 22), Layard declares that is the very thing they did do while he was there. He says he saw a number of Arabian tents pitched on the ground; thus proving a failure of the prophecy all round in every particular. (See note BABYLON at end of book.)
Fourth. The bible itself is a witness that truthful prophecy can do nothing toward authenticating a religion, or toward proving the prophet divinely inspired. The same damaging concession is made here as in the case of miracles, that a heathen and an unbeliever could and did succeed as well as the true disciples of the faith. The proof of this statement is found in the history of Balaam. His figurative representation of a star coming out of Jacob and a scepter out of Judah (see Numb. chap. xxiv.) is often quoted by Christian writers as presaging or prefiguring the coming of Christ, — thus making a heathen and an unbeliever the oracle of a Messianic prophecy, and a heathen, too, of sinful and ungodly habits. So that the Christian subterfuge is not available here, that “God might make a righteous man of any nation the vehicle of prophecy.” For we have the express declaration of the bible itself that he was not a righteous man, but the very reverse. Peter tells us, “He loved the wages of unrighteousness,” at the very time this prophecy so called was uttered (see 2 Peter ii. 13), which prostrates forever the Christian plea that “he might have possessed the true spirit of prophecy by virtue of being a righteous man,” and drives us to the admission that an unconverted savage and ungodly heathen unbeliever could make a true prophecy. It not being necessary, then, to be a Jew, or a Christian, or a believer, or even a moral man, to foresee or foretell the far-off important events of the future, the argument falls forever to the ground that the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies, if admitted to have been fulfilled, could do anything toward proving the truth or divine acceptance of the religion of the bible, or its superiority over any heathen or oriental religion then or subsequently known to history, as they all present the same evidence of being endowed with the true spirit of prophecy. All argument for Christianity based on the prophecies, or “the gift of prophecy,” is, then, forever at an end, as it has been shown that the power to foretell future events is not restricted by the bible itself to any nation, to any religion, to any faith, to any belief, or to any moral or religious qualification. What, then, is prophecy worth, or what does it prove? Another case, and one similar to that of Balaam in its essential points, is found in the New Testament. Caiaphas, though not claiming to be any part of a believer, utters a prophecy in the interest of the Christian religion for which the bible itself gives him full credit as a prophet. Here, then, is another case of a heathen stealing the Christian’s thunder, and another proof that the spirit of true prophecy has never been confined to any nation or any religion; and hence, according to the teachings of the bible itself, does nothing at all toward establishing the exalted claims of Christianity, or toward proving its superiority over other systems of religion.
MORAL PRECEPTS THE THIRD PILLAR OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
It is declared, in view of the many wise precepts which issued from the mouth of Jesus Christ, that “he spake as never man spake.” (John vii. 46.) If this were true, then Gods must have been very numerous prior to the Christian era. For there is not one of the moral maxims or perceptive commands which he gave utterance to that cannot be found literally or substantially in the older bibles of other nations, or the writings of the Greek philosophers, and the religious dissertations of heathen moralists, who gave out moral and religious lessons for the instruction of the world long prior to the birth of Christ. Even the Golden Rule, which Christian writers, ignorant of oriental history, have erroneously ascribed to Jesus Christ, and lauded him as being the author of, is found variously expressed in the writings of several heathen or oriental nations. We find it in the Chinese bible at least five hundred years older than ours, almost word for word as Jesus uttered it. We will here present it as expressed by different writers.
- Golden Rule by Confucius, 500 B.C.
“Do unto another what you would have him do unto you, and do not to another what you would not have him do unto you. Thou needest this law alone. It is the foundation of all the rest.”
- Golden Rule by Aristotle, 385 B.C.
“We should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them act toward us.”
- Golden Rule by Pittacus, 650 B.C.
“Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.”
- Golden Rule by Thales, 464 B.C.
“Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”
- Golden Rule by Isocrates, 338 B.C.
“Act toward others as you desire them to act toward you.”
- Golden Rule by Aristippus, 365 B.C.
“Cherish reciprocal benevolence, which will make you as anxious for another’s welfare as your own.”
- Golden Rule by Sextus, a Pythagorean, 406 B.C.
“What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them.”
- Golden Rule by Hillel, 50 B.C.
“Do not to others what you would not like others to do to you.”
Here is the Golden Rule proclaimed by seven heathen moralists and a Jew long before it was republished by the founder of Christianity; thus proving it to be of heathen origin, and proving that it does not transcend the natural capacity of the human brain to originate, and hence needs no God to reveal it. Indeed, it is one of the most natural sentiments of the human mind. “Would I like to be treated thus?” is the first thought which naturally arises in the mind of a person when maltreating a neighbor; thus showing that the Golden Rule is a spontaneous utterance of the moral feelings of the human mind.
Love and kind Treatment of Enemies
Love to enemies is considered to be another praiseworthy precept, which Christ has erroneously the credit of being the author of. We have heard the declaration made in the Christian pulpit, that Jesus Christ was the first moral teacher who inculcated love to enemies; a moat transcendent error, as the following historical citations will show. Most of the religious books and religious teachers of the ancient oriental heathen breathe forth a spirit of love and kindness toward enemies.
The following is from the old Persian bible, the Sadder: —
- “Forgive thy foes, nor that alone;
Their evil deeds with good repay;
Fill those with joy who leave thee none,
And kiss the hand upraised to slay.”
The Christian bible would be searched in vain to find a moral sentiment or precept superior to this. Certainly it is the loftiest sentiment of kindness toward enemies that ever issued from human lips, or was ever penned by mortal man. And yet it is found in an old heathen bible. Think of “kissing the hand upraised to slay.” Never was love, and kindness, and forbearance toward enemies more sublimely expressed than in the old Persian ballad.
- “Treat thine enemy as though a friend, and he will become thy friend,” was expressed by Publius Syrus, a Roman slave, which is a wiser admonition than that of Christ, “Love thine enemy,” as it is a moral impossibility.
- “All nature cries aloud, Shall man do less
Than heal the smiter, and the railer bless?” (Hafiz, a Mahomedan.).
- “Bridle thine anger, and forgive thine enemy; give unto him who takes from thee.” (Koran, Mahomedan bible.)
- “Let no man be offended with those who are angry at him, but reply gently to those who curse him.” (Code of Menu.)
- “Let him endure injuries, and despise no one.” (Ibid.)
- “Commit no hostile action for your own preservation.” (Ibid.)
- “To be revenged on enemies, become more Virtuous.” (Diogenes.)
- “To strike a man, or vex him with words, is a sin.” (Zend-Avesta, Persian bible.)’
- “Even the intention to strike is a sin.” (Ibid.)
- “Desire not the death of thine enemy.” (Confucius.)
- “Acknowledge benefits, but never revenge injuries.” (Ibid.)
- “We may dislike an enemy without desiring revenge.” (Ibid.)
- “Pardon the offenses of others, but never your own.” (Publius Syrus.)
- “The noble spirit cures injustice by forgiving it.” (Ibid.)
- “It is much better to be injured than to kill a man.” (Pythagoras.)
- “You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.” (Publius Syrus.)
- “Better overlook an injury than avenge it.” (Publius Syrus.)
- “It is enough to think ill of an enemy without avenging it.” (Publius Syrus.)
- “It is a kingly spirit to return good deeds for evil ones.” (Ibid.)
- “Learn for yon orient shell to love thy foe,
And store with pearls the hand that brings thee woe;
Flee, like yon rock, from base, vindictive pride,
Emblaze with gems the wrist that rends thy side.” (Hafiz.)
- “To revenge yourself on an enemy, make him your friend.” (Pythagoras.)
- “It is not permitted to a man who has received an injury to revenge it by doing another.” (Socrates, in his Crito.)
- “Seek him who turns thee out, and pardon him who injures thee.” (Koran.)
- “Return not evil for evil.” (Socrates.)
- “Endure all things if you would serve God.” (Sextus.)
- “Desire to be able to benefit your enemies.” (Ibid.)
- “Receive an injury rather than do one.” (Publius Syrus.)
- “Be at war with men’s vices, but at peace with their persons.” (Ibid.)
- “Cultivate friendship for an enemy.” (Pittacus.)
- “Be kind to your friends that they may continue so, and to your enemies that they may become so.” (Ibid.)
- “Prevent injuries if possible; if not, do not revenge them.” (Ibid.)
- “An enemy should not be hated, but cured.” (Seneca.)
- “To act unkindly toward an enemy will increase his hate.” (Antonius.)
- “Be to everybody kind and friendly.” (Ibid.)
- “Speak evil of no one, not even your enemies.” (Pittacus.)
Thus it will be observed that love and kindness toward all mankind, both friends and enemies, is not confined to the teachings of Christ or to the Christian religion, as many have erroneously supposed, but is unquestionably a natural sentiment of the moral instinct or moral impulses of the human mind, and hence is no proof that their teacher is either a God or divinely inspired.
And we have in our possession nearly eight hundred more precepts (see vol. ii.) from the pens or mouths of the ancient heathen, enjoining just and kind treatment of women, and setting forth nearly all the duties of life, and teaching the immortality of the soul, &c. And these precepts breathe the same lofty moral sentiment and moral feeling as those quoted above. How ignorant and how conceited must be the Christian professor who supposes all goodness is confined to Christianity, or that it even possesses any great superiority over other religious systems! And how completely the three foregoing parts of this chapter, “Miracles.” “Prophecies,” and “Precepts,” prostrate the divine claims of Christianity, and leave not an inch of ground for them to rest upon!