The Natural History of Christianity

T. H. Huxley

1.The presuppositions of the word 'Christos'
2.The nature of the Christos–Jewish conception
3.Christianity presupposes Judaism
4.Judaic evidence = Old Testament = Law & prophets
5.What we know about them as historical documents. lack of value as evidence
6.Deluge–Creation–Ben Elohim–Eve–Fall
7.Stages of Judaism–EthicsPropheticNomic, hierurgical & ethical reign
8.Ethical stage
9.Prophetic stage
10.Nomic stage
11.impression of foreign ideas
12.The diaspora & its influences–uncircumcision before Paul refer below to Adiabene * Nazarite–Reshabites*
13.Babylonian Judaism–The Levitical Law
14.The Maccabean & post Maccabean feud Chasidim Pharisees–Essenes–John
15.Persian ideas–Satan–saviour–last judgment–resurrection of body
16.Jesus of Nazareth–history & teachings–exoteric & esoteric doctrines miracles–Messiahship did he claim it or not?
17.The sect of the Nazarenes–Stephen–
18.Paul. Christians of Antioch
19.Paulinism as a modification of Judaism by Rabbinical criticism its adaptation to Jews & to Gentiles
20.Contest between Nazarenism & Christianity–end of Nazarenism
21.The organization of the Nazarene association
22.The organization of the Gentile associations in the Greco-Roman world
23.The organization of the Pauline ecclesiae–orgiastic tendencies
neglect of traditional history
no hierarchy in Paul *
no logos doctrine
24.Comparison of last Gospel with synoptics–chief Pauline epistles
25.4th Gospel marks the coalescence of Hellenism with Paulinism & with a traditional history of Jesus (=the Nazarene tradition) (without miraculous books)
26.Hellenism–theological & ethical
Ethical stage Prophetical
= early sages
Philosophical Schools
27.Theological progress from Homeric polytheism to monotheism
28.The 'Logos' of Heraclitus–Alexandrian Judaism
The 'Logos' of John
29.Academic & Stoic ethics & the doctrine of the jurisconsults
30.Pietism & asceticism of the Mysteries–Mithraism
Reign of terror of the Emperors
31.Christian dogma as represented by fourth Gospel explained by Justine
32.Nicene Christianity
33.Post Nicene Christianity

[109] In dealing with a complicated subject it is desirable to start from premises accepted by everyone; and, I believe, no one disputes the fact that Christianity arose in Palestine amidst the Jews and was an offshoot of Judaism nearly nineteen centuries ago. In fact, the very name of 'Christianity' presupposes the existence of a dogma held by the Jews and by them only; inasmuch as it is based upon the word 'Christos' which signifies 'anointed' and is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew 'Mascheah' or 'Messiah' by which term the Jewish people, long before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, denoted a more or less supernatural person for whose coming they looked. Jewish theologians might not be agreed on all points as to the nature and the attributes of the Messiah and the course of action to be expected from him; yet they for the most part were generally agreed in the belief that whenever, and in whatsoever form, he might come, he would in some way deliver the chosen people from their enemies and oppressors and establish a 'kingdom of heaven' of which he, as the vicegerent of Jahveh, would be the ruler and they the chief, if not the only, citizens. The Messiah, or Christos, was to be the anointed king of the Israel to come, as David had been the anointed king of the Israel past and gone; and, whatever opinions may have been held by the more thoughtful and pious among the Jews, during the last few centuries of their political existence, there can be no doubt [110] that the Messiah of the commonalty was a heroic ruler and statesman who would reduce the Gentiles to submission and permanently establish the temporal domination of the throne of David.

‘Christ,’ therefore, is the name of an office, like 'Imperator' or 'Viceroy'; and it cannot, with more than conventional propriety, be used as a proper name. Whoever filled the office would be 'the Christ.' Strictly speaking, any one who believes in the past, present, or future, existence of the Messiah of tradition has a right to call himself a 'Messianist' or 'Christian'–and when the latter name first made its appearance (as it is said, at Antioch) the most orthodox of Jews, might have claimed it as properly as any of the Sectaries to whom it was applied and who were originally known to the Jews as ‘Nazarenes.’ The difference between the Jew and the Nazarene lay in the circumstance that, while the former yet looked for the Messiah, the latter believed he had already appeared in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

The vast fabric of the Christian faith then rests, like a pyramid on its apex, on the asserted historical fact that a Galilean Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, the events of whose brief public career took place somewhere between the years 26 A.D. and 36 A.D. was the 'Messiah' for whom the Jews looked. Whether he was so or not is obviously a question of evidence and therefore lies within the province of the intellect just as much as is the assertion that the Prince of Wales is the heir to the throne. The characteristics of the Jewish Messiah must be somewhere or other au[111]thoritatively defined; and Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph the carpenter, must, inclusively and exclusively, satisfy the definition just as the Queen's eldest son satisfies the definition of heir to the throne.

Now the only source of such an authoritative definition is the series of ancient Hebrew documents known as the ‘Law and the Prophets,’ and it is sufficient to read other books not strictly included by the Jews in their classification, the first Gospel, or the Pauline epistles, or the works of Justin, to see that the early Christians and the Jews were agreed on this point. It follows that the fundamental assumption of Christianity rests upon the fundamental assumption of Judaism concerning the authority of the Law and the Prophets. If there is no good foundation for the Messianic hypothesis, dogmatic Christianity collapses, whether Jesus answers to the Messianic definition or not.

Therefore in attempting to elucidate the Natural History of Christianity, we are compelled to go back to the Natural History of Judaism; and the first step towards obtaining any adequate knowledge of that history is the formation of a correct judgment as to the value of our chief and often only source of information, the Hebrew Scriptures.

Whatever the nature and the value of that operation of the mind which is called Faith, it is surely the extremity of folly, to imagine that it has any place in any enquiry the object of which, in the first place, is to ascertain whether certain events which are said to have taken place did take place or not; and, in the second place, to determine whether A.B. was the person denoted by a certain description or whether he was not. Nor, [112] I think, can it be seriously maintained that it is proper to accept all the statements made in certain ancient writings, without the most careful consideration of the value of their authority. 'Faith' has about as much function here as in the discussion of the shape of the earth. If the whole human race 'confessed' the earth to be flat (as they did at one time) save one man who had acquired the elements of geometry, that one man would be not only entitled, but bound, to pay not the slightest attention to the rest. And, bearing this in mind, we may now proceed to consider the authority which attaches to the Hebrew Scriptures.1

In these scriptures the title of 'the Law' appertains to the Pentateuch, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The term 'Prophet' is used in a wider sense than ours inasmuch as it includes the four historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, in addition to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor writers–to whom (with Daniel) we more usually restrict the name. Altogether, therefore, we have 24 books to consider. The contents of these books are extremely varied. They contain an account of the natural and civil history of the world, so far as it interested the Jews, from the beginning of things down to the time of the reestablishment of the nation after the exile in the 5th century B.C.2; a system of theology; a code of ethics; a code of civil3 [113] and ecclesiastical law.

The extreme zealots for the authority of these writers, whether Jew or Christian, affirm that they are, in every point, great and small, exactly and literally true; their writers having acted merely as instruments of the Deity in composing them.

It is probable, however, that there are very few sober and competent judges who, at present, hold this extreme view. And, therefore, it may suffice to remark that whether it is true or not there is no means of proving it to be true. For even if the Scriptures any where affirmed their own infallibility–it would be absurd to take such an affirmation as evidence when the very point in dispute is that infallibility. It is well known, however, that the Scriptures no where make such a declaration. We find in them indeed, on almost every page the affirmation that God said this and God said that–but whether the persons who made the affirmation used the words in our modern sense; and whether they were not merely truthful, but scientifically trustworthy, is quite another question, and one to which it is hopeless to look for a satisfactory answer.4

And for this reason. We do not know, with any approximation to certainty, who wrote the majority of the documents composing these twenty-four books nor when they were written nor what modifications they have undergone since they were written; nor who finally edited them when they took their present shape. All that can be said [114] is that the extraordinarily careful scrutiny to which they have been subjected by generation after generation of investigators render the following information either certainly true or extremely probable.

1. The original documents have been produced in just the same way as any other books. They are all that is left of memoirs, legends, speculations, orations, political and other, current among the Hebrews, during a period of many centuries. It is as if the literature of the Greeks had been destroyed to a far greater extent than it unfortunately has been; and that some unknown editor or editors had put together, as well as he or they could, quasi historical and historical fragments of the works of Homer and Hesiod, Lycurgus, Solon, and Thucydides, with copious extracts from Plato, Socrates, and Demosthenes; and that scholars had been called upon to determine their relative age and historical value and reconstruct Greek History, Law, Religion, Philosophy and Science out of them.

2. But the question is of no very great importance in relation to my present purpose and sinks into insignificance in comparison with that which has next to be dealt with. I have affirmed that the Law and the Prophets contain a number of important assertions which are either demonstrably false or are so improbable that, in view of the nature of the evidence, we are bound to refuse to accept them. In fact the number of such stories which I might name is Legion. From the nature of the case it is but rarely that the falsity of any one of them can be positively demonstrated and its existence accounted for. But there is one legend giving a circumstantial account of an event which if it happened, would be one of the most important and stupendous of all events in human history which can be proved to be false and can be traced to its fountain head. This is the Legend of the Deluge.

Certain of the prophetical writings, ascribed to e.g. Hosea, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Ezra, Jeremiah, Ezekiel are substantially genuine documents of the 8th to 6th century B.C. and the religious ideas of the Jews at that time may be safely collected from them.

b. The book of judges–Samuel–Kings–probably as genuine history as, say, Livy–and certain Greek material derived from record of great antiquity.

c. Joshua and the Pentateuch form one work the Hextateuch which has been compiled from various sources and received its final form after the exile.

d. Deuteronomy is the oldest portion of it which existed as a body–the Laws–and dates from 7th century.

e. Daniel is a fiction of the 2nd century B.C.

3. What conclusions respecting the history of Israel are deducible from Judges, Samuel, Kings–assuming that they are as veracious as Livy.

[115] The Hexateuchal compilations.5

4. Finally, there is a great deal of evidence to show that the actual events of Jewish history and the causes which brought about the development of Judaism, are totally different from the orthodox representation of them–especially in this particular, that there is no reason to assume supernatural intervention in the one or the other.

In proof of the first of the propositions just laid down I must refer to any work which fairly exhibits the processes and states the results of modern biblical criticism. If after duly weighing the evidence anyone can be of opinion that God wrote the Pentateuch by the hand of Moses; that Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are divinely inspired; and that the several prophets uttered all the prophesies which appear under their names, as we now have them, by divine command–all I can say is that his reasoning faculties and mine must be constituted upon different principles.

[116] Purely historical and literary criticism then sufficiently shews that there is no internal ground for setting the value of these books any higher than that of other ancient records–or for supposing that they have been brought into existence by other agencies.

But there is more to be said than this. In certain cases these writings contain certain statements of the greatest importance in respect to great events which are demonstrably untrue. It is certain that the two accounts of the Creation are inconsistent with one another and both untrue. It is certain that the account of the deluge is untrue. The account of [the] origin of Eve and origin of death [are] untrue.

Under these circumstances, the presumption is against the truthfulness of temptation and fall, of Sodom and Gomorrah, of Theophanies, of the plagues of Egypt, the Exodus and the origin of the Law, sun and moon standing still, and the various later Theophanies and miracles. Elijah! Elisha!

It is not permissable to believe these on the only evidence offered.

[117] Such being the nature of the documents from which we derive our acquaintance with Judaism it is impossible to accept any statements we find in them without the most careful and critical sifting. If the story of the deluge is a mere myth, what are we to think of Shem; of the genealogy which connects Abraham with him; of the promises made to Abraham; of Isaac's quasi miraculous birth; of the origin of the twelve tribes from Jacob and his sons; of the plagues of Egypt and of all the wonders of the Exodus and of Sinai? To all appearance, these parts of the narrative are meant to be taken as exactly true; but so are those which tell us of the deluge and of the origin of Eve; and if the latter statements are mere myths, why should the former be anything else?

When we are told by the Pentateuch that the whole civil and religious organization of the Hebrew nation, down to the most insignificant details of sacerdotal millinery was detailed by the Almighty to the leader of a horde of fugitives who gathered about Sinai in the course of their wanderings between Egypt and Palestine; and that the subsequent history of the Jews as a settled nation down to the time of the exile, is essentially a record of the attempt made (with very little success) by the religious leaders of the people to make them shape their state according to the model set before them in Horeb and in Moab; we not only have the right, but it is our bounden duty, to ask for the evidence that [118] this story is any more true than the no less precise and detailed story of the Flood.

But when this search is properly instituted the result is singular. The evidence in favour of the miraculous institution of Judaism breaks down the moment we cross-examine the witnesses; the truth of one part of the Pentateuch is irreconcilable with that of another part; and that of the Histories is irreconcilable with both.

Rightly interpreted the Hebrew records prove that as in the civil, so in the religious order Israel passed through several stages of development. The Jewish religion exhibits an early ethnic stage in which it presents no essential difference from that of any other people; then we find it in a stage which has its analogue–though not an exact resemblance elsewhere, which may be called prophetic seeing that its distinctive features are the work of the prophets set forth in their writings; and finally it passes into a condition, the distinctive features of which are the synagogues and schools in which the Law and the Prophets are studied and expounded as the rule of life. It can hardly be said that this state has even an analogue among contemporary non-Jewish nations.6

The object of the Jewish, as of all other religious practices, is to obtain the favour or avert the wrath of beings superior to man, while able and willing to affect his fortunes for good or evil. In the Jewish, as in all other religions, two modes of influencing the [119] higher powers are recognized. One of these modes is the hierurgical : the powers are to be propitiated or appeased by certain acts whether purification, or sacrifice, or liturgic, or ascetic performances. The other mode is the ethical : the divine favour is earned by moral goodness in action and piety in disposition; the divine anger is averted by repentence followed by well doing. In the Jewish as in all other religious history, the hierurgic method is almost exclusively dominant in the earliest stages of religious life; and the epochs of the religious are marked by the varying fortunes of the attempt to subordinate it to the ethical method which inevitably follows in the wake of progress towards higher civilization.

The earliest trustworthy traditions shew us the fore-fathers of the Jewish nation as a tribe of 'wandering Arameans' migrating gradually with their flocks and herds from the pastoral plains of Mesopotamia and those offered by the northeast outskirts of the delta of the Nile. Here they were caught and held in the net of Egyptian civilization until oppression drove them to revert to their old habits of vagabondage and take to the desert country which lies between Egypt and Palestine. [120] Giving a wide berth to the land of their bondage, they hovered about the northern and eastern frontiers of the settled and civilized country of Canaan peopled by men of the same race and tongue as themselves, making a profitable raid here and being defeated and driven back there, until at last they became strong enough to cross the Jordan; to overrun the open country of Canaan; and finally to possess themselves of many of the towns, slaughtering the men and making slaves of the women and children, according to the approved practice of their age. In these points, savage and brutal as the deeds of the Israelites seem to us, they were neither better nor worse than their powerful and long-civilized neighbours in Egypt and in Babylonia. The Canaanites doubtless looked upon them as the Persians of our day look upon the Turcoman tribes; and repaid them in full whenever they got the chance.

The conquest of Canaan was a very slow and never completed operation. It is certain that the territory supposed to be allotted to the twelve tribes, was never wholly occupied by them; it is certain that the supposed injunctions to extirpate the Canaanites were never carried out; and during the long anarchy of the period of the 'Judges' there is no reason to doubt that the invading and the invaded peoples largely intermixed. The Palestinian Canaanites were no more exterminated by the Hebrews, than the Celtic population of England was extirpated by the Teutonic invaders; in fact, the ease with which the pop[121]ulations would mix was far greater in the former case; for neither in race, nor in language, nor in customs, is there evidence of any such racial, social and religious difference between Canaanite and Hebrew, as obtained between Celt and Saxon.

I have dealt at length with the religion of the Hebrews during the time of the Judges and early Kings in an Essay on the 'Evolution of Theology' republished in this volume (p. [CE IV, 287]) and it appears to me that the evidence leaves no doubt that Judaism during this epoch, was in no essential respect different from the monotheistic Gentilism of ancient or modern times. It was henotheistic, not monotheistic; it permitted certain forms of idolatry: in practice it was hierurgic. There was no central temple though there were sanctuaries of pre-eminent repute; no objection to sacrifice in high places; no hierarchical priesthood. Whether the sabbaths and the great feasts of later times were observed is uncertain.7

In the course of the eleventh century B.C. a strong king welded the discordant tribal elements of the Hebrew people into a small but relatively powerful nation which reached the summit of its outward prosperity under his son Solomon who built the first temple after a Phoenician model and organized a pompous liturgy. But he neither recognized the exclusive right of priests to sacrifice: nor forbade the worship of Jahveh elsewhere than in Jerusalem nor excluded the worship of other Gods.

The oppressive government of Solomon and of his son [122] Rehoboam appears to have been the chief agent in bringing about the secession of the 'ten tribes' and the establishment of the rival northern and southern kingdoms, in the early part of the tenth century. But it is probable that religious divisions had something to do with the revolution. The subsequent history of both the northern and the southern kingdoms tells of a struggle between a strict and exclusive Jahveism accompanied by a tendency towards a higher morality; and the idolatrous, often grossly immoral, syncretism to which the mass of the people tended. In Ephraim the ancient ways, on the whole, prevailed until it was swept away by the Assyrians. In the kingdom of Judah on the other hand, the Jahvistic party, after three centuries of varying fortunes, achieved a signal victory. The greatest of all events in the real history of the Jewish religion, was the publication of the 'Book of the Law' and its formal adoption by King Josiah in 622 B.C. which marks the passage of Judaism from its primitive hierurgic to its middle or prophetic stage.

[123] What was this 'Book of the Law' which Hilkiah the high priest is reported to have 'found' in the temple? I do not think that any one who duly weighs the evidence will fail to arrive at the following conclusions. First; that it was not the 'Law' contained in Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers, nor a recapitulation nor abstract of it. Second; that it was essentially the 'Law' contained in Chaps. V-XXVI and XXVIII of the book of Deuteronomy.

According to the Deuteronomist, Moses himself set forth by word of mouth, the statutes and the ordinances which he records. Moses then wrote them down with his own hand and delivered the book of the Law thus composed to 'the Priests, the Levites' for safe custody in the Ark along with the tables of stone on which the 'ten words' were engraved which it already contained. And all this happened in Moab, just before the Hebrews crossed the Jordan–in the fortieth year of their wanderings. But the Deuteronomist expressly declares that this Moabitic Law or Covenant was not the first promulgated since the Exodus, but the second. The earlier Law was proclaimed from amidst the lightnings of Sinai nearly forty years previously in the form of the short code known as the 'ten words'.

"The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us alive this day" (V. 2-3).8

[124] And Moses goes on to remind these contemporary witnesses to whom he is supposed to speak that, in their terror, they begged him hereafter, to act as their intermediary with Jahveh; and that he laid this request before the Lord who granted it, adding:

"But, as for thee, stand thou here by me and I will speak unto thee all the commandments and the statutes and the Judgments which thou shalt teach them that they may do them in the land which I give thee to possess." (V. 22)

Moses proceeds to tell his hearers, obviously for the first time, what these statutes given in Horeb, but not published there, are. And then he has finished, the Deuteronomist adds, as it were to anticipate any possible doubt that Moses had by command retained the Deuteronomic Law in petto for thirty-nine years.

"These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he made with them in Horeb." (XXIX.)

Thus, there is no escape from the conclusion that the Deuteronomist either never heard of, or wilfully ignores the elaborate code of minute regulations respecting the Tabernacle and the sacrifices which are said in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers to have been delivered by Jahveh himself in Sinai. In fact, he makes Moses himself implicitly deny any such occurrence.

"Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes." (XII., 8)

[l25] It would seem that Moses could not possibly have referred in this manner, to any wilful neglect of the elaborate provisions of the Levitical Law, which assuredly leave no Israelite free to do "whatsoever is right in his own eyes." And the conviction that the asserted publication of the Levitical Law in Sinai is a mere myth of later date than Deuteronomy, is confirmed by the remarkable statement in Joshua (V. 2-9) that none of the children born during the forty years wandering in the wilderness were circumcised. Yet, according to Leviticus (XII. 3) circumcision on the eighth day, was one of those religious acts expressly commanded in Sinai, and Genesis tells us that circumcision is the very sign of the Abrahamic covenant.

In connexion with this topic, it is worthy of remark that the Deuteronomist, though very urgent about the Sabbath, does not enjoin circumcision. The practice, indeed, is referred to several times,9 but the reference is oblique and with a covert depreciation of the physical operation as in comparison with the ethical 'circumcision of the heart.' –Nor are the difficulties of this question diminished by the circumstance that, according to the extraordinary story in Exodus–Moses himself omitted to circumcise his own children; and his wife, Zipporah, originated the practice in his family. It really must [126] be regarded as an open question, whether circumcision was regarded as a sine qua non of Judaism until a comparatively late period.

The current notion that Deuteronomy is a mere recapitulation or codification of a large number of statutes published nearly forty years earlier in Sinai –is, on these and various other grounds, untenable. According to the Deuteronomist two covenants were made by Jahveh with his people during their wanderings between Egypt and Palestine, one in Sinai, one in Moab. He expressly tells us that the terms of the first Covenant are the ten Commandments and nothing else; the terms of the second, the Deuteronomic Law–and nothing else. Not only does the Deuteronomist ignore the existence of any other Law in the past–but he asserts in the strongest terms, the completeness and sufficiency of the first and second codes taken together for the people, when their habits shall have changed from those of nomadic tribes, to those of settled husbandmen and dwellers in towns. The second is a prospective code not yet in operation; but not only are the Israelites forbidden to neglect any of its provisions; they are as strongly commanded to add nothing to them. They are neither "to add thereto nor to diminish from it." The future king is "to write him a copy of this law" "to read therein all the days of his life"; "that he may keep all the words of this law and these statutes" and turn not aside to the right hand or [127] the left: it is this law which is to be read to the people every seven years; and which is to be laid up in the Ark for permanent reference. The force of language can no further go in commanding the maintenance of this particular code in its integrity, positively and negatively; at least until that 'prophet' arise who, at some future time, is to take the place of Moses as the mouthpiece of Jahveh. Neither king, nor Priest, nor noble is endowed with any legislative power–only Jahveh can alter through his prophet that which has been promulgated through his prophet.

But while these facts conclusively prove that the professedly Sinaitic legislation of Exodus and Leviticus (in addition to the ‘ten words’) was unknown to the Deuteronomist10 and that in drawing up an imaginary constitution for the nation after it had settled in Canaan, he felt he had a perfectly free hand: they also prove just as clearly that the professed date and authorship of the Deuteronomic constitution are fictitious and that we have to deal with a Jewish Abbé Sieyes, who shelters himself under the revered authority of Moses. In all the centuries that intervened between the crossing of the Jordan and the time of King Josiah–nobody knows anything about the Law laid up in the Ark– no king is known to have read it–; and no septennial reading to the people [128] is on record; while the most imperative provisions of the Law are disregarded by both king and people.

In the abundant writings ascribed to the great prophets of the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. there is no allusion to it: on the other hand, in that of Jeremiah in the end of 7th and beginning of 8th century (Hilkiah's discovery), the resemblance in style and substance to Deuteronomy are close.11 Nearly two centuries after Hilkiah's discovery, Ezra and Nehemiah publish a fresh 'Law of Moses' which most indubitably contained a great many provisions especially in regard to matters of ritual, over and above those to be found in Deuteronomy and in accordance with those in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and practically identical with those observed up to the destruction of Jerusalem.12

Thus the conclusion seems inevitable that the 'Moabitic' Law of Deuteronomy is really a document composed within the half century that preceded the exile–and that its introduction and supplements are of the same or perhaps somewhat later date.

Whether the Sinaitic Law of which the Deuteronomist speaks, had the origin ascribed to it–or whether this story has no more historical value than that about the publication of the Levitical Law which the Deuteronomist ignores is an open question.

[129] Deuteronomic Judaism–if that name may be given to the religious views set forth in the book of Deuteronomy–is in many ways extremely remarkable. The ethnic anthropomorphism of the earliest Jahveh worship has vanished; not only is idolatry in all shapes absolutely prohibited–but any sort of recognition of the power and reality of other Gods is sternly prohibited as a combination of blasphemy and treason. Jahveh, it is said, is God in Heaven above and in the earth beneath and there is none else and he is a jealous and a terrible God, a devouring fire to his enemies. But it is not in this aspect of the divine nature that the Deuteronomist loves to dwell; rather does he insist on the justice of the God who is no respector of persons; on the mercy of him who declares himself the protector of the poor and desolate and the friend of the stranger; on the tenderness of him who loves his people as his children, desiring nothing but their love and obedience in return; and who, if he punish, chastens as a father chastens his son. And all this, not on account of any merits of Israel but for the sake of the love he bare their forefathers and the promises he made then. We are present at the dawn of [130] the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God, of the absolute Justice of the Divine Government; we see in germ the doctrines of Election and of Grace.

Again the Deuteronomic Law in its social bearings is no mere series of prohibitions of antisocial acts; it is, on the contrary full of positive injunctions to deal fraternally with other men. Help to the afflicted and the destitute is obligatory; neighbourly kindness is enforced by the strongest sanctions–there are what in modern legislation would be termed a septennial relief clause in favour of debtors; a workmen's protection clause; a clause protecting fugitive slaves from extradiction–Divorce is restrained in favour of the woman. Blood revenge is regulated. The old solidarity of the family with a criminal parent is abolished–and it is decreed that a man shall suffer only for his own sins. Though, in criminal cases, the lex talionis is enacted yet excessive punishment and still more torture are prohibited for the very remarkable reason that punishment should not be pushed so far as to degrade the guilty.

The penalties of heresy–that is to say of worshipping strange gods or even inciting thereto–are sharp indeed; but in the ages of Christianity13 a Dominican 'brother' would have had but a poor opinion of an inquisitorial process which neither employs torture nor permits burning alive. In fact in many respects, it is only in modern Europe that legislation has approximated [131] for good or evil to the stage of socialistic philanthropy reached by the Deuteronomist.

As in primitive Judaism, the rewards promised for obedience and the penalties threatened for disobedience are wholly of a temporal character–"That which is altogether just shalt thou follow that thou mayest live and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (XVI. 20).

Peace; abundant crops; increase of flocks and herds; numerous offspring; health and long life are promised to the righteous; war, scarcity; murrain; childlessness; blains and boils and early death, to the wicked: of Heaven and Hell there is absolutely nothing.14

On the hierurgic side the Deuteronomic Law exhibits some equally notable changes.

In the Sinaitic covenant (according to the Deuteronomic version of it) there are only three stipulations of a ritual character: the prohibition of the worship of other gods, the abstinence from idolatry of every description, and the observance of the sabbath as a memorial of the deliverance from Egypt.15 The practice of [132] circumcision is not ordained; nothing is said about clean or unclean meats nor about abstinence from blood; nor about sacrifices, feasts or fasts, or purification.

Of course it does not follow from these omissions that in the opinion of the Deuteronomist circumcision ought not to be practised and that as a matter of fact it was not; nor that food regulations were not observed; nor that sacrificial and purifying acts were not performed during the old nomadic existence of the Israelites and under the Judges and earlier kings.16 Even if there were no evidence on the subject analogy would be wholly opposed to any such conclusion. To go no further, the books of Samuel and Kings leave no doubt about the prevalence of circumcision, the practice of sacrifice, and the existence of feasts. But we may conclude from the phrase which the Deuteronomist has put into the mouth of Moses–that up to the promulgation of the Moabitic covenant "every man did that which was right in his own eyes," that in his belief, throughout the forty years of wandering, each tribe and family, followed its tribal and family traditions and conducted its worship where it pleased and as it pleased,17 though no doubt a general resemblance ran through the whole. And as the time assigned to the publication of the Moabitic law itself was merely the fiction of a writer five or six centuries later, it may [133] be permissible to draw the conclusion which all Jewish history confirms that up to the time of Josiah the Moabitic Law was unknown.

It is necessary to bear this in mind; for the Deuteronomist has a good deal to say about ritual and might be imagined to have originated that which probably he only regulates. The Law which he enunciates contemplates the establishment of one central sanctuary and the performance of all sacrificial rites there. It enacts that all males shall attend three great festive and sacrificial meetings at the central sanctuary; at the vernal equinox, the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread; about the summer solstice i.e. seven weeks "from the time thou beginnest to put the sickle to the standing corn" (Deut. XVI. 9); the feast of weeks; towards the autumn equinox, after the threshing of the corn and storing of the wine from the wine press, the feast of tabernacles. No doubt the practice of meeting for festive and sacrificial purposes at these great natural epochs of the year was of great antiquity–but the Deuteronomist makes the celebration of them at the central sanctuary obligatory. It is important to observe that at all these meetings the sacrifices retain the cheerful and festive character of a feast in which the worshipper and the Deity are commensals, attributed in the book of Samuel to the yearly sacrifice of Elkanah at Shiloh–when Eli's reproof to Hannah whom he suspects of having taken too much wine is of the mildest [134] character. To Elkanah and his family the annual sacrifice was a banquet at which Jahveh was supposed to be present as a highly honoured guest before whom one might enjoy oneself respectfully but to the full, as humble subjects entertaining Royalty.

So then sacrificial rites are prescribed in Deuteronomy; the Israelite head of the family is exhorted to "rejoice before the Lord thy God thou and thy son and thy daughter and thy man servant and thy maid servant and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow that are in the midst of thee" (Deut. XVI. 10-11). "Thou shalt be altogether joyful." (XVI. 16)18

The first fruits and the tithes are to be enjoyed by the Paterfamilias and his belongings in the same spirit. The ‘Levite’ is supposed to be 'within thy gates,' that is to say a sort of family priest19 and his claim is placed exactly on the same footing as that of the poor, the fatherless and the stranger.

On the other hand, the Deuteronomist knows nothing of the expiatory sacrifices of later Judaism: there is no appointed day of atonement; nor any fast day. There is no shew bread and no incense. No tithes, "holy to the Lord" [135] are devoted exclusively to sacerdotal purposes; no claim is made by Jahveh to be universal ground landlord; no mention of priests as distinct from Levites; no contemplation of the existence of a high priest; not a solitary word about the sacred vestments and holy upholstery of the central sanctuary20 the minutest details of which are asserted to have been laid down by Jahveh in Sinai, in other books of the Pentateuch.

Here again it is to be observed that the absence of any legislation on these points in the Moabitic covenant–while utterly incompatible with the notion that the Deuteronomist believed that which is stated about the ritual portion of the Sinaitic law in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers–by no means involves the assumption that there were no expiatory sacrifices; nor devoted tithes, nor sacred vestments and other sacerdotal frippery, with other inevitable accompaniments of a priestly hierarchy, among the Israelites of his day.

But supposing these things to have existed before the exile and there can be little doubt they did since they existed in the surrounding nations, what the omissions of the Deuteronomist do shew is this: that the writer deliberately and intentionally limited the sacralis of Judaism; minimised the religious value of ritual; and practically refused to have anything to do with sacerdotalism.

And this is the more remarkable when we reflect that [136] the Deuteronomist ascribes the utmost importance to, and treats at length of, a class of persons who are neither Levites nor Priests, nor laymen of high official position or renown, but whose authority to intervene in all questions whether religious or civil, as the spokesmen of Jahveh, is fully admitted with no other limitation, than such as might arise out of the application of certain means of testing the genuineness of their claims to authority which are duly laid down. (Deut. ) These are the prophets–whose function was by no means merely, perhaps not even principally, that of foretelling events; but rather that of acting as living oracles and mouthpieces of the Deity whom they served.

These self-appointed envoys whose divine inspiration had no guarantee but their own word and in the case of predictions, their verification, were not only in the popular estimation, but historically, the successors and heritors of the soothsayers and divines of old Israel. In the time of Samuel we find them organized into associations stirred by wild music into orgiastic dances and voluble outpourings of mysterious speech; in that of Ahab, Elijah and Elisha are wonder working dervishes and foretellers such as the East has always been able to shew; while yet later the name and the spirit of prophetism fall upon men like Joel and Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah who in eloquence, in ethical purity and religious fervour attain the highest level which either Jew or21 [137] Gentile has reached: and yet, in their resort to coarse and even grotesque devices to awaken popular attention–retain a marked affinity to the older and lower type.

The constitution of Israel designed by the Deuteronomist is a prophetocracy, as has been pointed out. Neither king, nor noble, nor priest, nor people have the smallest legislative authority. The Law is delivered through a prophet, and King and people are expected to yield exact obedience to it until it is modified by the deliverance of another prophet. "I will raise up a prophet among thy brethren like unto thee: and I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I shall commend him." (Deut. XVIII. 18)

The exaltation of the prophetical office in Deuteronomy is a tolerably clear hint that the author was a prophet or at any rate, a strong supporter of prophetism. And this suspicion is confirmed by the very close correspondence between the aim and tendencies of the prophetical writings and those of Deuteronomy.

"As for my law, they have rejected it.... Your burnt offerings are not acceptable nor your sacrifices pleasing unto me." (Jeremiah VI.19.20)

The law which the prophet Jeremiah here speaks of as rejected was obviously not the hierurgic law–for he implies that the burnt offerings and sacrifices were duly presented and in another passage an even stronger slight is thrown upon ritual.

[138] "For I spake not unto your fathers neither commanded I them in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices."22

Clearly, therefore, 'my law' means the ethical and social law as laid down by the prophets.

There is abundant evidence of what the prophets considered the law of Jahveh to be, both before and after the time at which the Deuteronomic law was propounded; and the spirit and the tendency of their injunctions are altogether similar to those of the Deuteronomist. But there is just the difference between the latter and the prophets, which inevitably must exist between the reforming thinker and the reforming legislator. The legislator cannot suddenly break with the past: he has to make the best of existing conditions and very often to act upon the adage that 'the half is better than the whole.'

The prophets constantly pour scorn upon the whole sacrificial system and especially on the theory of atonement for sin by sacramental and sacrificial means. To them there is no atonement save the offering of a contrite spirit–no expiation save ceasing to do ill and learning to do well. They ignore the priest; and have no manner of respect for decorative ecclesiasticism–neither for incense, nor for [138a] music, nor for vestiarial dandyisms. They appeal to the authority neither of the priest, nor of tradition, nor to any written law; some even look on the class of professional prophets with but scant respect–and declare themselves neither prophet nor son of prophet. Their sole guide is the inner light of reason and conscience; they appeal only to the intuitive knowledge which they assume their hearers to possess of the nature of God and of the conduct pleasing to him, which in the ultimate result means that which the moral sense certifies to be right. The prophets of Israel are the earliest and the extremest of all protestants.

They are yet more; they represent the earliest democratic, nay sometimes demagogic radicalism of which the world has any record. They were the first champions of liberty, fraternity and equality; the first to set forth the claim to respect of that which lies below us of which Goethe speaks and attributes to a wrong source. The poor, the miserable, the widow and the orphan, as such, rather than the rich and powerful, they declare to be Jahveh's peculiar care; they affirm it to be one of the claims of Jahveh to our homage that he is just and therefore no respector of persons; the duty of the king is well defined, the obedience of the subject is left to fend for itself; the claims of poverty and the obligations of wealth are fully set forth–the latter are indeed made onerous to impractibility –; but the rights of property remain in the background.

[139] The majesty of sorrow, the grandeur of meekness and patience, and the mighty thoughts23 of the sufferer for an ethical ideal has never been set before the world in such glowing language as we find in Isaiah's famous personification of Israel as the man of sorrows.

It is to the writings of the prophets and in the Psalms, which breathe the same spirit in even more universal form, that we must look for the secret of the prodigious and world wide influence of Judaism. It is the spiritual patent of nobility of the peasant and the slave; the charter of the oppressed; the herald of God's judgments upon the oppressor. In spite of all seeming to the contrary, it asserts that the present world is governed by right and guided to merciful ends and passionately strives to justify the ways of God to man. If the wicked flourish it is that their sudden overthrow may be more appalling; if the righteous suffer unmerited pains it is that the recompense due by a just God may be counted as an equivalent for the sins of their brethren. The doctrines of supererogatory merit and of vicarious atonement arose among the prophets as they must needs come to the front whenever a determined attempt is made to reason out the assumption, that good and evil are distributed in this world with a moral purpose–and the ideal hero, the Saviour of the people no longer comes to be regarded as [140] the saint and martyr endowed with the passive heroism of strength in endurance, in renunciation and in gentleness but the embodiment of the active virtues, the firm ruler in peace and the brave leader in war.

The majority of mankind always have been poor and miserable–often really oppressed and always disposed to attribute their sufferings to injustice. Judaism appeals to this majority–justifies its complaints–promises that its triumph will come in that kingdom of God, which is a democratic and socialistic theocracy.

The dearth of trustworthy materials for the history of the Jews during the six centuries which followed the destruction of the first temple is greatly to be regretted inasmuch as we are left very much in the dark when endeavouring to trace the steps by which pre-exilic Judaism passed into the state in which we find it in the first century A.D. Certain facts, however, are clear enough. For the first third of the period, at least, the centre of gravity of Judaism lay not in Jerusalem but [141] in Babylonia. The name of ‘the Captivity' suggests that the Jews who underwent transportation to Mesopotamia, were condemned to a state of servitude such as that which is said to have obtained in the later days of their residence in Egypt. But nothing could be further from the truth: after the first rigours of the conquest were over the Jew was better off in gentile Babylonia, than he has been in any Christian country until quite recent times–and when the Persian rule was substituted for that of the Babylonian monarchs, the sorrows of exile became purely sentimental. No one interfered with the Jew's worship or his business; he could accumulate riches, own land and houses and hold high office in the state: we find Jews among the confidential ministers of their sovereigns: and if the least confidence were to be placed in the history of Esther, it would seem that they were occasionally permitted to enjoy a St. Bartholomew's massacre of their enemies throughout the dominions of the great king.

The ‘return from the exile’ was in reality the occupation of Jerusalem and its environs by a small colony gathered from among Babylonian Jews–whose fervour of pious enthusiasm or whose ill success in life led them to prefer a hazardous life among barbarians to the safety and comfort of Babylon. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah shew that up to their time, not only the intelligent and wealthy of Israel but many a zealot for the law remained in Mesopotamia. For a century and a half therefore the headquarters of [142] Judaism was situated in the midst of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, possessed, as we know now, of voluminous written records of vast antiquity. After this it came into close relation with the Medic and Persian invaders of the Babylonian empire who possessed a religion originated independently of all those hitherto known to the Jews–and which in ethical purity and freedom from idolatry,24 stood on quite as high a level as their own.

Still later, when the Palestinian colony had grown into a new Jewish state, Alexander and his Macedonians stormed across Western Asia to the Indus; sweeping away the Persian rule and flooding the East from Egypt to Bactria with the tide of Greek civilization and Greek thought.

Under the Seleucidæ,25 Jahveh and the Gods of the heathen fought their final battle, and except for the folly of Antiochus Epiphanes who lacked patience to go on playing the waiting game, which had hitherto answered so well, Zeus and Philosophy might have triumphed over Jahveh and the Law in the promised land itself. But Antiochus had to learn the lesson which Pagan and Christian rulers have so often had to get by heart since, that it is as well to think twice, perhaps three times, before pitting brute force against religious fanaticism. If there is force enough and if it is utilized by agents whose 'eye shall not pity neither shall they spare’; who will smite without mercy and destroy the heretical man, [143] woman and child; force may be an effectual remedy for religious disease. But it is not everybody who has the clear insight of the Deuteronomist into these truths, nor does it lie within the nature of every ruler to be a Philip the Second, while few administrators come up to the standard of Alva or Torquemada:–have neither their courage nor their tenacity of purpose. There is a want of finish about nine persecutors out of ten and they fail, not as people fondly suppose, because they employ force, but because they do not employ it with consistant and ruthless thoroughness. So employed Mahommedan force did practically extirpate Christianity in many parts of Asia and Africa; while Christian force put an end to Albigenism in southern France as to Mahammodism in Spain; as, later, it effectually crushed Protestantism in many parts of Europe.

As it fell out, the Asmonean Mattathias with his 'hammering' son Judas Maccabeus–turned the tables on the Seleucid, drove him out of the land and set afoot a Jewish revival, the last flare in the socket of the light of Israel as a nation before it was extinguished in blood in the year 70 A.D.

The 'four beasts' of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Greece had come and gone; and after all their ravenings Israel stood its ground like little David before the carcases of the lion and the bear. But there approached a Goliath against whose panoplied strength the sling and stone of a petty principality not much bigger than Wales, could be of no avail. The fringe of the Roman empire [144] creeps like the advancing wave of the tide on a low strand around the boundaries of Judæa; sweeps over and retires again under Pompey; is content to be the real ruler while leaving the show of rule to the Herods–and then finally submerges the Jewish realm under his sons. The crest of the wave passed beyond, broke in vain upon the Parthian shore and then began the slow ebb which lasted till the inundation from the north.

Thus the course of events brought the restored Palestinian Jew into the closest relation with all the great empires of the old world west of India and into contact with all the great religious systems, Babylonian, Egyptian, Zoroastrian, Greco-Roman and possibly even Buddhistic. While on the other hand, in Babylonia, at first; subsequently in Alexandria under the Greeks and later still in Cyrene, in Rome, and in all parts of the Roman empire the Jews of the Dispersion spread, multiplied and in some cases formed communities as strong numerically as that of Judæa and much wealthier.

After the destruction of the Jewish state [145] Judaism existed only in and by the communities of the Diaspora.

Thus the ethnic religions and philosophies had the most extensive and favourable opportunities of acting upon Judaism; while Judaism had equal chances of influencing them. Nothing short of a miracle could have prevented this natural action and interaction–and no such miraculous interference took place. Judaism absorbed into itself myths from old Babylon: doctrines of the resurrection and of good and bad angels from Persian Zoroastrians; it admitted Greek philosophical speculations, possibly even ascetic practices, from Essenes and Pythagoreans. And, on the other hand, wherever a Jewish community was strong enough to draw upon itself the attention of the Gentiles it acted as a sort of social ferment and excited as violent an antagonism in some of its neighbours, as it powerfully attracted others.26

At the dawn of Christianity there was hardly a considerable town in the whole length and breadth of the empire, which lacked a colony of Jews–and in many cities, such as Alexandria, they constituted a very large portion of the population and possessed great wealth. The spirit of proselytism among these colonies of the Dispersion varied with the fluctuations of religious zeal and the disposition of their hosts. Sometimes conversions took place on a great scale, as in Damascus, where all the women were said to be proselytes; or in Adiabene [146] where the whole Royal family were zealous Jews. But even when the missionary spirit was feeble or its manifestations dangerous, the synagogue exerted an extraordinary attraction not merely upon the superstitious but on the spiritually-minded heathen.

These hangers-on of Judaism–who were not proselytes in the proper sense of the word–are spoken of in the Acts as 'fearers of God'. Largely, but by no means all, of the lower classes of society, they were the means of diffusing a general acquaintance with Jewish monotheism, Jewish hatred of idolatry, Jewish ethics and Jewish practices among their friends and neighbours.

The Jewish type of humanity–one of the most remarkable and interesting of the many varieties of the human race–seems to have assumed its present character very early. Even in the time of the first Caesars the Jew appears to have become for good and evil exactly what he is now–marvelously vigorous and tenacious physically and morally; of a broad and acute intelligence;27 at its best, a noble and gracious embodiment of as high an ideal as men have ever set before themselves; at its worst, monstrously, shamelessly base and cruel. As usual, it was the worse side, which was the better known–so that in the heathen mind, the people who professed the simplest and purest theology then extant, were bywords for grovelling superstition; the people whose teachers [147] and lawgivers inculcate a positive morality of the highest order and preach love and kindness to all men as the rule of life were reputed haters of mankind, noted for yielding all the most notorious usurers, swindlers and procuresses; the people whose scruples about cleanness and uncleanness excited alternate smiles and anger, who would refuse to share the food of the proudest patrician of Rome, yet swarmed in filth and beggary in the squalidest dens of the worst quarters of the great cities.

The Jew is a born financier–keen, frugal, with that unshakeable practical conviction that 1 + 1 = 2 and 1 – 1 = 0 to which so few persons ever attain–and free from all the idiotic prejudices against commerce and trade, which are the nemesis of aristocracies. Every city would furnish the Jewish merchant or money dealer with correspondents who could be depended upon to give their entire attention to business, legitimate or illegitimate.

The reckless extravagance of a society of slaveholders, desperate with the weariness of unsated sensuality, made them the ready prey of the usurer and the Jew soon had a finger in the affairs of every great house: while at the other end of the social scale the petty trader chaffered with the slave and with the freedman; told the fortunes or acted as go between to the women; or it may be secretly initiated the mistress, into the principles of Judaism and attracted 'God fearers' to the synagogue.

[148] Except for the obstacle opposed to the spread of the teaching of Israel by that initiatory ceremony, which was held by the stricter Jews to be indispensable to the status of a proselyte, there can be little question that, in spite of the contempt of satirists and the hatred of statesmen of the vielle roche , Judaism, in the first century would have counted a vastly greater number of 'proselytes' and 'fearers of God' than it did. And it is necessary to remember that there was a diversity of opinion among the Jews themselves as to the precise extent of the obligations of the ritual law in the case of converts. The establishment of synagogues in every Jewish community of the Dispersion, with prayer and the hearing and exposition of the Law and the Prophets by laymen as their sole business had insensibly reduced the importance of the priesthood and of the Temple ritual even before the catastrophe of 70 A D.–and set up the almost universally Pharisaic scribes and lawyers as a counterpoise to the essentially Sadducean sacerdotalism. In the extreme development of Pharisaic principles among the ascetic Essenes so much of the Law as required attendance at the Temple sacrifices and prescribed oaths was ignored; baptismal purificatory ritual with a solemn breaking of bread at meals took the place of that dictated by the Pentateuch, and marriage, the centre of Jewish life, was almost abolished.

[149] Philo's reprobation of those among his contemporaries, who carried the allegorical method of which he was a master, to one of its obvious practical consequences and denied the obligation of precepts thus whittled away into types and allegories–shews that there were Alexandrian Jews who were prepared to liberalize Judaism very widely–and the history of the conversion of Izates tells the same tale. There were apostles of the uncircumcised long before Paul.

The significance of the Judaism of the last two centuries of Jewish national existence in regard to Christianity lies in the first place, in its preparative influence on the Gentiles–in which respect the Law was a pedagogue to Christ in a different sense from Paul's; in the second place in its offering a medium through which ideas derived from Greek philosophy filtered into religious speculation; in the third place, in the fact that this latter day Judaism was essentially Pharisaism and that the tendencies of Pharisaism were more in harmony with the prophetic than with the hierurgic side of the Law; in the fourth places in the prominence which the Messianic idea assumed.

[150] With the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of all the best elements of the population in Babylonia–compliance with any of the hierurgic precepts of the Deuteronomic Law except that relating to the Sabbath and to food became impossible–and these practices, with circumcision, became the distinctive symbols of Judaism and assumed a corresponding importance.

It became a matter of life and death with the leaders of the nation, to prevent its permeation by the religious ideas and final absorption into the mass of its conquerors; and in the absence of the bond of unity afforded by the temple worship the danger was imminent.

Nor did the re-establishment of the temple worship render such a catastrophe impossible or even improbable. On the contrary, the proceedings of Ezra and Nehemiah shew that, even then, the living spirit of Judaism remained in Babylonia, though a resurrection of the body of Israel had taken place in Jerusalem.

Now Babylonian Judaism was not only conservative; it was creative. In the middle of the time of exile–Ezekiel, a prophet full of the spirit of Deuteronomy, but also a priest full of the sacerdotal instinct–devises a code for the future use of Israel restored to the promised land, just as Deuteronomy professes to furnish a code for the future use of the nation as it entered therein. Chapters XL. to XLVIII. of Ezekiel contain a new code promulgated as authoritatively as Moses promulgates his, [151] a very large moiety of which deals with nothing but the construction of the temple, and the hierurgic work of the priests. It is further very interesting to observe the prominence given to sin offerings and atonements; the insistance on circumcision (XLIV).

If Ezekiel had known anything about the hierurgic legislation supposed to have been delivered from Sinai by Jahveh himself one can only be astonished at his audacity in disregarding it; but if nothing of the kind existed, what plan for preserving the integrity of Judaism could be more effectual than that of placing vividly before the minds of the people the hope of the restoration and the image of the future religious life of the nation?

The work of Ezekiel shews not only what might be done in this direction but what actually was done; and, with it before us, it does not seem a very hazardous step to place the origin of the Levitical code, the existence of which to the knowledge of the Deuteronomist and of Ezekiel is incredible, at a period subsequent to the exile.

However this may be, there appears to be no reasonable doubt that the Levitical law entered into much, though perhaps not all, that corpus juris which was forced upon the Jerusalem colony by Ezra and Nehemiah, perhaps intercalated among the legends of the pentateuchal narrative as it is now. And it is probable that from that time, if not earlier, the origin of that remarkable institution, the synagogue, is to be dated.

[l52] In its essence the synagogue is a place for learning rather than for worship–it is a lecture room rather than a temple. The Synagogues of Jerusalem were by no means chapels of ease to the Temple; but something more of the nature of Sunday schools. The priest had no place there as priest; it was open to every male Israelite to get up in the synagogue and teach; so long as his teaching was an exposition of or a commentary on the 'Law and the Prophets' which did not fly in the face of tradition.

Long before our era, wherever a community of Jews existed, there also was a synagogue, with its copy of the Law and the Prophets, with its meetings every sabbath or oftener, at which portions of the scriptures were read and expounded in successive order. Thus no Jew, rich or poor, man or woman, could be ignorant of the contents of these writings; and as common schools for the young prepared the way for synagogical instruction it was open to the son of a peasant or of the poorest artisan, if he possessed natural abilities, to become a deeply learned 'lawyer' or a proficient in the art of the 'scribe.' The Jews had a complete system of elementary education when our ancestors were blue-painted savages.

It is probable that the impenetrability of the country Jews and of the lower classes of the towns to those Greek influences which seduced so large a part of the wealthier sort, under the Seleucid rule, is in great [153] measure due to the synagogues and the schools and to the devoted attachment to the Law which they implanted and maintained in the minds of the masses. Human nature is essentially idolatrous; and as the Jew might make unto himself no graven or painted image of his God, he all the more readily fell down and worshiped the presentment of the word of God in the Thora. If he might not have a golden calf, a book might serve the turn; and, for good and evil, Bibliolatry came into the world as a substitute for the older forms of Fetichism.

No doubt, for the time, the good immensely preponderated; nay, for all time, it is surely better that man worship a book than a block however cunningly fashioned. For the religious idea that lies behind the block easily disappears from view and leaves the worshipper a mere fetish; whereas, the religious idea of the book cannot wholly vanish, however mechanical and liturgic the reading of the book may be made. And, in the case of the Old Testament of all books in the world, the more carefully they are read the louder becomes the protest against the idolatry of its worshippers.

But the Nemesis which dogs the steps of every attempt to limit the sovereignty of reason followed swiftly on the bibliolatry of Israel.

The study of the law passed into a competition of subtlety among pettifogging refiners on the statutes; and the worthless hierurgic operations condemned by the pro[154]phets were replaced by the even more worthless ceremonial triflings connected by spider thread deductions with the enactments of the Pentateuch. A Chancery pleader of the old school would have yielded awestruck precedence to a Rabbi.

With all this, it is needful to recollect that except for the Chasidim of the Asmonean times and except for their successors the Pharisees, that pure ethical spring, which takes its rise among the prophets and flows straight through Phariseeism into Christianity, might have been cut off midway. For the conservative Sadducean party cared only for the law and the hierurgic practices; the Essenes had diverged into coenobitic asceticism–and were numerically insignificant. But the Pharisees represented the heart of the nation, its political aspirations and its religious enthusiasms. In many ways they present a close analogy to our Puritans and the old kirk of Scotland of the 16th and 17th centuries. There is the same combination of Book worship with its consequent slavery to minutia of observance as laid down in the books–opposition to sacerdotalism–and spirituality of doctrine in some directions.

The vulgar doctrine that the 'Scribes and Pharisees' were nothing but hypocritical precisians has about as much claim to historical accuracy as that which puts the Puritans of the seventeenth century, the Methodists of the eighteenth and the Evangelicals of the [155] last half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century in the same category. It seems to be forgotten that a scribe is the only person declared by Jesus to be "not far from the kingdom of God." Paul, the origination of 'Christianity' as distinct from Nazarenism, was a Pharisee, and it was by the application of Rabbinical dialectics to Pharisaic data, that he had the misfortune to succeed in laying those foundations on which Christian Rabbis have reared the appaling fabric of dogmatic Christianity.

During the Asmodean and Herodean times, the old prophetic spirit seems to have been almost entirely diverted into the channels of Pharisaism and Essenism, though it may well be that its manifestations, in the old form have merely remained unrecorded. But, in the early years of the first century, Judas the Galilean seems to have followed pretty closely the political precedents set up by the old prophets of Israel and of Judah–who never boggled at rebellion against, or assassination of, a Baal-worshipping sovereign. And in John the Baptist, with his eremitic life, his hair garment and leather girdles, we have in outward seeming a new Elijah–as indeed Jesus is said to have declared him to be.

It is significant of the changed times, however, that John neither thunders against idolatry nor prompts an ambitious centurion to assassinate the Procurator. The Asmonean victories had not only left Judaism hence-[156]forward unassailable by Gentilism, but had converted it into the universal solvent of polytheism and sacerdotalism, in whatever shapes they might come in contact with it. And, on the other hand, though John may have resembled Elijah, as to his outward presentiment, he seems to have been in spirit at one with the later prophets, and not without points of contact with the Essenes.

His preaching offered forgiveness of sins to those who repent and the sign of repentance demanded was submission to the purificatory rite of washing in water–to which the Essenes had already given so much importance. The religious movement thus set afoot must certainly have produced a very considerable effect though very little is known about it. ‘John's disciples’ formed a religious body which remained distinct from both Nazarenes and Christians for many years, and their importance in the estimation of later writers may be measured by the statement in the Acts that a man of the weight of Apollos received baptism from them and only at a later period became convinced of the necessity of being baptized in the name of Jesus.

Therefore it is not possible that John could have instructed his hearers that he was merely the precursor of Jesus. But it by no means follows that John did not regard himself as the precursor of the Messiah. On the contrary all that is known of the notions current among the Jews at that time and of their anxious expectation of the Messiah [157] [suggests] that John's exhortations to repentence were backed by declarations that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

What was the origin of this expectation which we hear so much in the first and second centuries A.D. and so little at any other time?

Messianism is no necessary dogma of the Judaism of the pre-exilic and exilic age–when the doctrine of the resurrection and the impersonations of evil in the shape of Satan and the demonic world were unknown to the Jewish world.

The prophets of this age promise that Jahveh will deliver Israel from his enemies; and not only restore the kingdom of David, but establish it on a more splendid footing than ever. Their Messiah is an anointed king held in reserve as it were by God until the appointed time should be fulfilled, like King Arthur or the Emperor Barbarossa in British and Germanic legend. They waver between a vision of a Messiah not yet existent and a proleptic impersonation of him as an actual heavenly being–they afford grounds for expecting their restorer to come as a ruler and warrior; and yet give countenance to the notion that he will appear as the embodiment of a saintly and ethical ideal. It is like faces in the clouds or in a fire in which every one can find the features he desires to see.

But in the latter centuries of the duration of the Jewish state–Persian dualism, with its demonology, its [158] doctrine of the resurrection and its last judgment, with the overthrow of Ahriman had entered into the very heart of Judaism. Satan, in the older literature a sort of angelic procureur general– takes the place of Ahriman as the enemy of God and the prince of this world, commander in chief of a host of devils–and the business of the Messiah is to conquer him and finally put him and all his followers into the abyss of hell there to endure everlasting pain, while the Messiah and the resuscitated saints reign in the near kingdom of God.

If any one will study first the older prophets including Ezekiel–then the younger including Daniel–with the view of gathering from what they all say or are supposed to say about the characteristics of the Messiah; I think that by the time he comes to the end of his researches he will be very much perplexed to know how the Messiah is to be identified–but I do not think he will hesitate to say that the weight of evidence is in favour of the heroic king and restorer of David's imperial throne.

The story of the life of Jesus as it is handed down to us by the common tradition embodied in the synoptics is singularly meagre and vague. Neither the period covered by the biography nor the precise date of any event can be determined with certainty–though we may be sure that they fell somewhere between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36; that is, during the years of Pilate's procuratorship.28

[159] In the oldest accounts Jesus appears without further introduction and presents himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan, a rather common tradition. He withdraws for awhile into the adjacent desert–which was the favourite retreat of Essene cenobites and solitary ascetics–and then returns to Galilee. Here he opens his career, by reading and expounding the scriptures in the synagogues of all that region. Afterwards usually he haunts the neighbourhood of the lake of Tiberias (though occasionally making excursions as far as Caesarea, or the confines of Tyre and Sidon) wandering hither and thither and preaching by the way, to the people who gathered about him, just as in England seventeen or eighteen hundred years later they thronged to hear George Fox or John Wesley, or as in my early days they gathered round the 'Methodist' or the 'Salvationist' on a village green. How long this Galilean prelude lasted does not certainly appear; there is nothing to render the supposition of more than a few months duration necessary. Jesus is then said to go along the Eastern shore of the Jordan (thus, avoiding Samaria, as a pious Jew would) to cross it and then travel, by way of Jericho, to Jerusalem, into which city he makes a triumphal entrance, accompanied by a crowd of people who cry 'blessed is the kingdom that cometh the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the Highest!'

On the next day, Jesus is said to have entered the temple and to have violently expelled all the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals, who, for the [160] convenience of worshippers, were permitted to carry on their business in one of the outer courts. It can hardly surprise any rational man, that immediately after these proceedings, the chiefs of the Jewish nation, who lived in well founded dread of the use to which the Roman procurator would put any excuse for massacre and extortion should have ‘sought how they might destroy’ Jesus. For although to those who believed him to be the 'Son of God' and the promised 'Messiah' Jesus might be above all human law–yet to those who utterly repudiated his pretensions, he must by this act have acquired the appearance of being a dangerous fanatic; a raiser of sedition and of riot. As affairs then stood in Judæa the elements of a terrific explosion were always present. The procurator well knew that he carried his own life and those of the Roman garrison in his hand; and he was amply justified in supposing that the leader of a mob shouting that David's kingdom was come again meant revolt.29 And apart from the religious questions involved, no civil power, even in the freest of states, could or ought to tolerate such a proceeding as this assault and battery of a number of peaceable people who were acting within their full legal and customary rights. However the popularity of Jesus with the masses is [161] said to have prevented any immediate action on the part of the authorities. Jesus and the twelve, called in Galilee, the immediate disciples and friends who formed a sort of spiritual body guard around him, came and went without hindrance; and they celebrated the Passover together as pious Jews were bound to do according to the prescriptions of the Law. But, in that same night, Jesus was arrested and his followers dispersed. The next morning, being the day before the sabbath, he was sentenced to crucifixion and executed by order of the Procurator before whom he had been brought by the Jewish authorities and ‘charged with many things’–though what these 'many things' were does not appear. Pilate indeed asks Jesus if he claims to be king of the Jews but receives no answer nor does it appear that any evidence on that count is tendered. Indeed, the only evidence that Jesus even claimed the Messiahship is furnished to the High Priest at the preliminary inquiry not by the false witnesses but by Jesus himself; and the only charge said to be brought forward by the ‘false witnesses’ that Jesus said he would destroy the temple and restore it again–has really a considerable foundation if the statement in Matthew [ ] is true. The crucifixion is said to have taken place three hours before noon. Two or three hours before sunset when the sabbath would commence Jesus is reported to the Procurator to be dead and it is requested that his body shall be handed over to his friends. [162] As only six or seven hours could have elapsed from the time at which Jesus was affixed to the cross, Pilate was naturally astonished at this most unusually speedy termination of his sufferings, but receiving an assurance from the centurion on duty, he granted the request. The body was deposited in a rock tomb the opening of which was temporarily closed by rolling a great stone against it. Very early in the morning of the first day of the week (that is, some 36 hours after the entombment) three women visited the tomb, they found the stone rolled back and, sitting on the tomb, a young man who told them that Jesus was not there, that he had gone back to his native Galilee and that they will see him there.

This simple story embraces all the events leaving aside the miracles and the teaching as to which the biographies in the three synoptics agree. It knows nothing of the miraculous birth, nothing of the appearances after death, nor of the Ascension, which occur in two of the three synoptic biographies. There is nothing in the narrative in any way more remarkable than there is in the story of the lives of the old prophets. Indeed, some of the events of Elijah's and Daniel's history are much more wonderful. And even if we consider the mutually irreconcilable additions to the primitive story made in the first and third gospels and the Acts, we shall hardly find [similar?] without prophetic precedents. The story of Elijah's ascension is more precise than that of Jesus and quite as well certified–and as to the miraculous conception, it is simply an extreme case of a [163] method of divine intervention that professes to be as old as Jewish history and according to the sacred books had occurred several times in the course of that history. In the case of Isaac, for example, in that of Samuel and in that of John the Baptist, their conception by their several mothers is represented to be miraculous. That is to say none of these children would have been conceived without divine intervention. And when we consider the case of Isaac–where the mother is represented as having attained an age at which normal procreation is to the last degree improbable, the miracle is just as stupendous as if there were no human paternity at all. From the removal of sterility to the causation of fertility il n'y a qu'un pas.29

Thus even if we admit the truth of the stories of the miraculous birth and of the ascension the life of Jesus presents us with nothing startling to those who are familiar with the biographies of the prophets, and with the notion about the influence of the divinity in procreation current at all periods of Jewish history. And in the like manner the story of the resurrection was quite in accordance with the thought of the day. Herod Antipas finds no [164] difficulty in imagining that Jesus is John the Baptist come to life again–and with the precedence of Enoch and Elijah, the Ascension was nothing out of the way for a very holy man.

The same conclusion results from the consideration of the teachings of Jesus as reported by the synoptic traditions. Jesus is a prophet, full of the spirit of Isaiah and of Jeremiah–no more dreaming of the abolition of the law than they–but protesting as they would have done against making an idol of the Law–and allowing ritual conjurations to become more important than ethical practices. The later prophets preach a certain universalism, inasmuch as they hope for and look to the judaisation of the whole world; it is in the same sense and no other, that the putter of the sarcastic question 'whether the children's bread ought to be given to the dogs' can be supposed to hold an universalistic religion. Ethically, there is absolutely no novelty in the precepts of the Nazarene except in so far as sometimes they push the logical consequences of prophetism to utter impracticability, and in so far as the ideas of Jesus are shaped by the eschatology and demonology introduced into Judaism subsequently to the exile. The system of rewards and punishments is no longer temporal–the reconcilement–of the government of the world with a moral end is given up–the world is resigned to the devil. But a system of other worldliness instituted for this worldliness–and sometimes30 [165] this worldliness too as in Millenium.

There is, however, one feature of the teaching of Jesus as it is represented in the most primitive gospel which is very singular. He has an exoteric and an esoteric doctrine after the manner of the Essenes. He speaks in parables and oracular utterances, which the people whom he addresses do not understand: moreover he is made to say, that it is his intention and wish that they should not understand them; and that it is a privilege reserved to the adepts, to have the mysteries of God thus enunciated made comprehensible.

"And when he was alone they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables. And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without all things are done in parables. That seeing they may see and not perceive; and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest haply they should turn again and it should be forgiven them" (Mark IV 10-12).

Shocking as the twelfth verse may seem to any healthy moral sense–it is thoroughly in accordance with the religious traditions not only of heathendom but of the old Israelites–who seem to have been blind to the fact that there is a little difficulty in reconciling the attribute of justice with the action that blinds or deafens a man and then punishes him for the consequences of his blindness and deafness. It is as if one should make a man walk down Piccadilly with a bandage over his eyes and [166] cotton wool in his ears, and then hang him for getting run over.

The miracles ascribed to Jesus are in fact just such as those which are ascribed to Elisha. Compare the increase of oil and the multiplication of loaves (II Kings [4:6, 12] ) with the loaves and fishes miracle (Mark [6:41]); the curing of Naaman of leprosy (II Kings [5:14]) with the cure of leprosy (Mark [1:42]); the infliction of blindness (II Kings [6:18]) with the cure of blindness and deafness (Mark [7:34; 8:22]); causing the axehead to swim (II Kings [6:6]) with the similar interference with gravitation in the walking on water (Mark [6:48]); or the raising of the widow's son (II Kings [4:34]) with that of Jairus's daughter (Mark [5:41]). In respect of this last miracle, in fact, Elisha is the greater wonderworker for Jesus expressly declares that Jairus's daughter was not dead.

Of a whole class and the commonest of the miracles of Jesus, however, there is no trace in the history of Elijah and Elisha namely, the casting out of devils. And the reason is not far to seek. Miracles follow superstition as trade follows the flag. When the accounts of the doings of the old prophets were written, the heathen demonology which furnished forth the superstitions of the masses in the time of Jesus had not become ingrained in the popular mind. Miracles follow, they do not cause, belief in the supernatural. Judaism had in [167] fact taken over the demonology of Zoroastrianism bodily and the Satan of old Israel, the procurator general of Jahveh in the book of Job had acquired all the attributes of the Persian Ahriman.31 So the serpent of the myth of the Fall had quite gratuitously been identified with the same evil personage and it had come to be believed that sin and death had been introduced into the world by his contrivance. To the old distinction between the chosen people and the nations had been added the antithesis of the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of the world which last was handed over to Satan as the former was under the sovereignty of Jahveh. The Gods of the heathen were not mere negations–but demons looking to the Prince of Darkness as their chief, as the good angels looked to Jahveh.

This phenomenon has hardly been taken into account sufficiently in tracing the history of the Messianic idea.32

The first conception in the older prophets, that of a temporal prince who should restore the throne of David, analogous to King Arthur and the Barbarossa notion. Independently the conception of a religious and moral restorer–see in Philo. In connexion with the belief in the resurrection and that of retributive justice,–the conception of a judge and of a last judgment should be considered. The reign of the Asmonean princes and of Herod had [168] lent some support to the first idea–and the oppression of the Romans kept it alive in the popular mind. The second notion seems to have floated before pious minds in various shapes– as the suffering Messiah and Jews of Justin's time. The third idea is a combination of the first and second into the Roman idea of the resurrection of the body. Whether did Jesus ever openly claim the Messiahship or not? curiously vacillating evidence of the synoptics.33


After the death of Jesus a few of his disciples (largely Galilean?) gathered together in Jerusalem and while living as strict Jews, professed the belief that he had risen from the dead; that he was the promised Messiah; that he dwelt in heaven beside Jahveh; and that very soon he would be seen coming upon the clouds to judge the world. The little society had the habit of eating in common and baptism 'in or into the name of Jesus' was the sign of acceptance as a member. Those who entered the society appear to have been for the most part among the poorest of the poor–who were aided by the liberal contributions of the better endowed. The 'Nazarenes' therefore formed not merely a religious party but a sort of benefit society.

At first, the Nazarenes appear to have been unmolested by the Jewish authorities–who doubtless looked upon them as they regarded the Essenes–as people entertaining opinions which however singular did not constitute heresy [169] or involved any break with orthodox Judaism as the Pharisees understood it–no doubt, however, many regarded it with doubt and suspicious dislike. Novelties in religion are always so regarded by those who do not adopt them.

According to the Acts this state of things was broken up by the proceedings of a Hellenic Jew, Stephen, who was one of the deacons or persons appointed to administer the funds of the society. On reading Stephen's supposed speech it is hard to discover in it any statement inconsistent with Jewish orthodoxy. No doubt its tone is extremely offensive towards the ruling powers, and they may have been as much shocked by the claim made for the Messiahship on behalf of a Galilean peasant–as the authorities of Bristol were by the pretensions of James Naylor a couple of centuries ago. Moreover they had the strongest political grounds for wishing the Messianic question to be left in abeyance.

And certainly the concluding sentence of the speech of Stephen must have sounded blasphemous enough to any one who denies the claims of Jesus to the Messiahship let alone a crowd of Jewish fanatics. The death of Stephen and the temporary scattering of the disciples were the natural consequences of his untimely outbreak of enthusiasm; but, so far as the Acts may be trusted, the little society soon gathered together again and a quarter of a century later, the Nazarene community, vastly increased by accessions of Jews and [170] headed by James, Peter and John is found a body of Jews zealous for the Law and living in peace at Jerusalem. At the outbreak of the war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem the Nazarenes are said to have emigrated to Pella and for two or three centuries afterwards, ecclesiastical historians tell us of people whom they are pleased to call heretics (Ebionites and so forth) but who were essentially Nazarenes, the heirs and successors of the immediate disciples of Jesus; who while accepting him as the Messiah, also held by the fundamentals of Judaism. And that is the end of Nazarenism–and of that society which was formed by those who had the best opportunities for knowing the mind of Jesus and believed that they were carrying out the views of their Master.

[171] That society to the members of which according to the Acts, the name of ‘Christians’ was first applied arose at Antioch a score of years after the establishment of Nazarenism in Jerusalem. It was not founded by the twelve and it consisted not merely of Jews but of Gentiles–though probably only of those who as 'fearers of God' were familiar with the teachings of Judaism.34

To whom the first conversions in Antioch are due is unknown; but there is no doubt that, for all practical purposes it may be said, that the creator of the Antiochian Christianity was Paul of Tarsus.35 According to his own account, Paul as a young man was an extremely zealous Pharisee and took an active part in persecuting the Nazarenes. But an apparition which he conceived to be that of a person whom he had never seen; and whom up to that time, he believed to have been a pretender, suddenly gave rise in his mind to the conviction that the Jesus who had been done to death by crucifixion had been raised again by the power of God, as his disciples affirmed. And on this basis of supposed fact, Paul rested his further conviction, that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah.

In his undoubted writings Paul nowhere appeals either to the miraculous works of Jesus, or to his teachings,36 or to the several divine and demonaic declarations of his Sonship which even the oldest Gospel records.

[207-sic] For him the resurrection is sufficient and the foundation of his gospel is the fact that Jesus the Christ was crucified and raised again. "If Christ be not raised from the dead then is our preaching vain."

It is very difficult to form a trustworthy judgment respecting the facts of Paul's history after his conversion. According to his own account he allowed three years to pass by before he took the trouble to make the acquaintance of the heads of the Nazarene society in Jerusalem. What did he do during these three years? How was he led to take a course distinct from and eventually antagonistic to that of Nazarenism? Upon this part of his history much darkness rests, but the following considerations may offer a foundation for speculation.

Paul was a Hellenic Jew; his birthplace, Tarsus, was a seat of Hellenic learning: it is a justifiable supposition that the Hellenized or liberal form of Judaism should be in evidence there. Some fifteen or twenty years before Paul's conversion, a son of the house of Adiabene, Izates, had been won over to be a "fearer of God" by a Jewish merchant, one Anania.37 When he succeeded to the throne of Adiabene (about 22 A.D. ?), Izates desired to be circumcised in order that he might become a complete proselyte. Anania strongly advised him against taking a step which would possibly create a rebellion among his subjects; and therefore must have held views almost as broad as those which Paul eventually held about [172] the necessity of Gentile circumcision. But by way of completing the parallel, a Galilean Jew, Eleasar, who visited the court of Izates and found the king reading the Law, told him in so many words that he must not only read but obey its precepts and the king did as he was told.

Helena, Izates' mother, was a zealous Jewess and eventually took up her residence in Jerusalem, distinguishing herself by the magnificence of her charities. Five of her grandchildren, Izates' sons, were educated in Jerusalem; she died and was buried in a grand Mausoleum she had built for herself and her family, not much earlier than A. D. 60. The impression made by this conversion was very great and among the subtle disputants of the synagogue the question of casuistry, raised by the advice of Anania and the counter advice of Eleasar, could hardly fail to have been abundantly discussed.38

The epistles shew that Paul combined in a remarkable degree the qualities of a religious enthusiast with those of a statesman. He could stand alone against the world when it was needful; and he could be all things to all men, when that course offered better chance of success. It is impossible to imagine that the immense power of attraction which the Judaism of the Diaspora everywhere exerted on the Gentiles could have escaped his notice; or that he could have failed to observe that the requirement of circumcision was the one great obstacle to the [173] conquest of the Gentile world. Long before Paul's birth Judaism, however much hated by statesmen and despised by wits, had laid firm hold of the Gentile population even in Rome itself. Cicero professed to be afraid of the Jewish mob; and the observance of the sabbath and the abstinence from pork, were so common as to be a subject of ridicule for scoffers and satirists.

Was it not then the likeliest thing in the world that Paul's meditations in the three years which intervened between his conversion to Nazarenism and his interview with James and Peter and John should have led him to make Nazarenism acceptable to the Gentiles, by throwing circumcision overboard?

And if Paul with the example of Anania before him had once made up his mind that success lay this way, can any one who has read his writings doubt that he would be able to find abundant reasons whereby the abolition of circumcision and Micah &c. should be made a corollary from Jewish first principles?38

To those who have not had the advantage of a rabbinical education, Paul's dialectic may appear the veriest gallimatias ; but there cannot be the least doubt that (the foregone conclusion that circumcision must be got rid of aiding) it seemed satisfactory to him. Philo was not only an able but a profoundly sincere man, with not even any theoretical necessities to sway his judgment, and yet his methods of reasoning are often to the scientific mind, far more preposterous than those of Paul.

[174] The apostle to the Gentile addresses himself either to Jews or to Gentiles strongly impregnated with Judaism and fully acknowledging the divine authority of the Law and the Prophets–and he introduces into his Christian Gospel absolutely no idea which is foreign to Judaism.

If he lays stress upon faith, he bases himself on the precedent of Abraham's justification before the law was given; if he exalts ethics at the expense of hierurgic practices; if he insists upon the fact that the positive ethical rule of love towards God and man implies and includes all the negative commandments of the Law, he simply continues the work of the older prophets and so far as we can ascertain of Jesus himself.

In principle he departs no more from Judaism than did Anania, when he told Izates that in the case of a Gentile circumcision was unnecessary.

Paul was unwillingly driven out of Judaism just as Wesley was unwillingly driven out of the Church of England–the authorities of both the Jewish and the English churches being too hidebound to understand that the time had come when to ensure a successful voyage some of the ship's top-hamper must be thrown overboard.

Christianity then, as Paul left it, was in the first place the result of an attempt to convert Nazarenism into a religion which presented no physical obstacle to acceptance by the Gentiles. But it was more than this. A religion without sacrifices would at that time have appeared to be shorn of the essential character of a [175] religion to all Gentiles and almost all Jews. Pauline Christianity meets this difficulty in two ways. Agreeing with Jew and Gentile, in the purificatory and expiatory virtue of bloody sacrifices it points to the shedding of the blood of Jesus as a sacrificial act which needs no repetition in so much as Jesus in the character of the spiritual Adam expiates the sins of the fleshly Adam and thus redeems his spiritual children, the faithful.

But sacrifices in the ancient world had only in part, an expiatory value. Their more general significance was that of banquets respectfully offered to the God, who was supposed to be present and to share the meal with his worshippers–who were thus placed in communion with him. We have Paul's authority for it, that this view of the nature of a sacrificial meal was taken for granted alike by Pagan, Jew and Christian. In dealing with the lawfulness of eating meals sacrificed to idols, he says: the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with devils ([...]) (1 Cor. X. 20). It must be remembered that the word here translated ‘devil’ (which doubtless expresses Paul's meaning) had to an ordinary Greek or Roman a very different signification. It was in fact a general name for spiritual beings of all kinds, from gods downwards. The members of a sodality39 might have adopted Paul's language; they might have said that in their sacrificial meals they [176] ‘became partners with the demon’ or ‘had communion with the demon’ (just as Socrates talked about being inspired by his demon) without a suspicion that they were discrediting themselves or the object of their worship.

But Paul has no hesitation in extending the same conception to the Israelitish sacrifices–indeed he assumes it, as a sort of axiom. "Behold Israel after the flesh; have not they which eat the sacrifices communion with the altar?" (I Cor. X. 18) or to be more precise, "are they not sharers with the altar" [...]; and in the whole argument of which these passages form part–the acts of the eating and the drinking of the bread and wine in the Lord's supper are held to establish a communion [...] between the Christian and Christ by the same order as that which the eating of meats sacrificed to idols establishes between the eater and the demon.

It is not the mere eating in company but the using the meal as a ritual observance which is the important matter.

"For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, how that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks he brake it and said, this is my body which is40 for you: This do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after supper saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do as oft as ye drink it , in remembrance of me." (I Cor. XI. 23).

[177] It is remarkable that Paul introduces this account by the words, "I received of the Lord" as if it had come to him by revelation and not on the authority of the 'pillars'–Peter and John and the rest–whose witness, however, should have been as valuable here as in the case of the resurrection; and that Paul does not refer to the Lord's supper as having anything to do with the Passover. And in connection with this circumstance, it is noteworthy that of the four Evangelists,–the fourth and latest, not only ignores the institution of the Lord's supper–but gives such an account of the time preceding the Crucifixion, as makes the eating of the Passover by Jesus an impossibility. According to the fourth Gospel, Jesus was crucified and dead some hours before the Passover meal could be celebrated.

Again though the synoptics agree that Jesus ate the Passover and was not crucified till the day after; and further that he instituted the Lord's supper on that occasion; the words which he employed, on the literal exactness of which such tremendous issues are made to turn, are not alike in any two of the Gospels, nor in any of the three are they identical with those given by Paul, though it is not pretended, so far as I am aware, that any one of the 'Gospels' is as old as the Epistle to the Corinthians.

What is any, even moderately, judicial mind to make of evidence of this sort?

[178] Did Jesus really institute the Lord's supper? If he did, why the silence of the fourth Gospel? It surely cannot be pretended that the writer was unacquainted with the first Epistle to the Corinthians? still less that he knew nothing of the synoptic Gospels? But if he did know what Paul and the synoptics say, why should we pay more attention to their testimony than he did?

It is hard to offer any hypothesis which does not bristle with difficulties. But it is not an unfair suspicion that here, as in other directions, Paul has been the inventor of Christian dogma. Taking his evidence and that of the common tradition of the synoptics as far more trustworthy than that of the fourth Gospel, it seems highly possible that Jesus did eat the Passover with his disciples.

Now the Passover was a very singular function. If it is to be regarded as a sacrifice (it seems to be as in the oldest times all flesh eating was sacrificial), the body of the Passover lamb was not offered upon an altar, but eaten for supper–by a householder and his family. Only the blood (which might not be eaten by an Israelite at any time) which was 'the life' of the lamb was to be sprinkled upon the side posts and the lintel of the door–though this sprinkling reminds one of the atonement sacrifice of the temple in later days: it is certainly said to be simply the sign of the covenant of Jahveh with his people that he would save their [179] children from amidst the slaughter of the Egyptian firstborn. And the ceremony was to be repeated as an everlasting memorial of the covenant, not as any part of the sacrificial ritual. No priest or Levite intervened. It was an act of the Paterfamilias.

What if Jesus, with death imminent, thought of himself as the analogue of the slain lamb– and while avoiding, as any pious Jew would do, the exact forms of the ancient ritual, desired to perpetuate his own memory by the common meal–with the bread to typify his body and the wine to represent the blood, which was to be shed most emphatically on behalf of those whom he had endeavoured to lead to a higher life? What if Paul, to whom his own clear convictions were apparently indistinguishable from divine revelations, transformed the tradition of the last supper which had reached him into that ordinance which he tells us he had "received from the Lord"?41

Whatever may be thought upon this question–there is no doubt that the getting rid of circumcision, the substitution of the death of Jesus for expiatory sacrifices and of a common meal for all others were measures admirably calculated to remove all obstacles to the further spread of the monotheism, the hatred of idolatry and the pure morality which are the universal elements of Judaism. A Gentile could become a Christian without being separated from his fellows by a physical brand; and all the sacra of Christian worship could be carried about by a beggar in his wallet–and in the ecclesia [180] he found in combination, the essentials of both temple and synagogue–purificatory and sacrificial rites on the one hand, instruction and brotherly sympathy on the other.

But the great majority of earnest Jews were strict Pharisees and it would be absurd to expect them to regard these features of Paulinism as merits. For good or for evil the Evangelicals are the Pharisees of our time; Sabbatarianism is their circumcision and we know what they would say to Paul of Tarsus himself if he ventured to point out that their perversion of the Christian Sunday is the effect of a superstitious reliance on the efficacy of dead works. It was impossible that the Nazarene should fail to look with something more than suspicion upon the man who would admit among the followers of the Messiah of the Jews those who failed to adopt the distinctive sign which, as they believed, God himself had prescribed. They were eminently conservative and Paul must needs appear to them as a dangerous if not revolutionary Radical: and history has justified their alarm.

As soon, therefore, as the missionary efforts of Paul began to tell, the Nazarenes took the alarm–with the results narrated in the Epistle to the Galatians. It is the story of Anania and Eleasar all over again. Only instead of Anania we have Paul, backed by a large, important and relatively wealthy body of Gentile converts–on the side of the liberal view of Gentile obligations–[181] and there is the further important consideration that both sides believed in the speedy return of the Christ who would settle all disputed questions.

It is no wonder then that the Nazarene and the Christian parties arrived at a temporary modus vivendi. Jewish converts to the faith in Jesus as the Messiah were to be Nazarenes; Gentile converts were to be Christians. Peter, as the representative of Nazarenism, was to have charge of missionary work among the Jews exclusively; Paul and Barnabas, as the representatives of the nascent Christianity were to be as definitely restricted to the Gentiles.

On the assumption in which both sides were agreed, that the second coming was to take place within at most a few years, this was a sensible and equitable arrangement. But now that, eighteen centuries have elapsed without any second coming it is seen to have been a very bad bargain for Nazarenism. If the catastrophe of the year 70 had not taken place, the mere number and weight of the Gentile converts must in a very few years, have reduced the Nazarenes to an insignificant minority-ground between the upper and nether millstones of orthodox Judaism and Christianity.

With the destruction of Jerusalem and the still more fatal effects of the rebellion led by Bar Cocheba–in Hadrian's reign–Nazarenism gradually dwindled away, though a moderate form of Nazarene belief (agreeing in [182] fact with the Jerusalem compact) was not only extant in Justin's time, but was regarded by him as within the pale of saving faith.

But up to the year 70 A.D. the followers of Jesus were divisible into two extreme groups –the ultra Nazarene and the ultra Pauline–and probably several groups of an intermediate character by which the one extreme shaded off into the other.

Ultra Pauline opinion is well expressed by the Epistles to the Galatians and the Corinthians– Nazarene opinion in the Epistle of James42–perhaps also in the letters to the Churches which preface the Apocalypse. And the Pauline epistles leave no question as to the liveliness of the antagonism between the extremists. No doubt the mission to the Gentiles was largely the work of Paul himself–yet others had laboured independently of him in the same field. The church at Rome was founded independently of Paul and probably by some of the good via media people, who generally save religious fanaticism from destroying its own work.

I am not aware that anything is definitely known about the organization of Nazarene associations. One would expect that they were constituted on the model of the synagogue, and indeed the epistle of James speaks of the assembly of the faithful by that name. But the Pauline epistles afford pretty full information about [183] the Christian associations; and it is interesting and important to observe that they have few resemblances to the Synagogue and many to the ordinary form of Gentile religious society–the Thiasos or Sodalicium. This fact has an extremely important bearing on the history of Christianity; and it is needful to form clear ideas with respect to the nature and importance of these Gentile associations and of the resemblances of the Christian ecclesia to them.

[184] Associations play such a very important and conspicuous part in modern civilization and especially among English-speaking people, we are apt to think of them as characteristic products of our time. The popular theory of Government in the British Islands, in our colonies and in the United States turns upon the conception of the state as a co-operative society, supported by the contributions of its members and managed by an elected governing body; whose business it is to carry out the wishes of the majority of the members–and whenever an Englishman, or an American, desires to do anything which lies beyond his individual power, his first impulse is to form an association of persons of the same mind as himself. The society draws up a code of statutes, elects its consultative and executive officers, fixes subscriptions, appoints a treasurer to receive them; and then proceeds to carry out its object, whether it be the setting afoot of a club–or of an industrial undertaking; of a political agitation or of a religious propaganda. From the making of bread and the supply of water to the propagation of the Gospel in Foreign parts we do things of every imaginable kind by voluntary associations–all practically organized upon the same type.

It is probable, however, that these intensely modern co-operative societies are among the oldest of social institutions. The most ancient system of tenure of land appears to have been that of a co-operative society the members of which, united by common blood and common worship, had formed a social unit in the nomadic state of those people and took possession of a plot of land in their corporate capacity. In any case no conception of the nature of the bonds which held men together in the Greco-Roman world, is of any value which leaves out, of consideration the great part played by the voluntary associations known as hetairia and collegia ; eranoi thiasoi and sodalicia the importance of which increased as the Roman dominion gradually extinguished national severalty. In the later days of the Republic and under the Empire there were innumerable industrial guilds, mercantile companies and social clubs; and until the Caesars laid a heavy hand upon them, there were even clubs the object of which was to influence municipal elections; so that not even that flower of modern civilization, the caucus, can claim to be a thing new under the sun.

In addition to these secular associations, the pre-Christian world was full of religious societies, distinct from though for the most part subordinated to the religion of the state.

The cults of the national state religions of Greece and Rome were based upon family and tribal relations and expressed political relations. From the worship of the supreme God or Gods in the national temple–to that of the manes of each hearth, religion spread like the roots of a great tree from the bottom to the top of [186] society and bound all its members together by sacred bonds into a confederacy in which there was no place for stranger, freedman or slave.

These might address any Gods they pleased on their own private account, but the attempt to proselytize was illegitimate–not so much as heresy as sedition. The paternal Gods demanded allegiance rather than faith, as a modern may be bound to behave as an obedient subject, whatever his private opinion about the ruling powers may be. Omit no form of ceremonial observance, abound in sacrifices and the Gods would do their best for you. For the rest go and amuse yourself. In the ancient world, as in the modern, the great mass of mankind are satisfied with religion of this type, under whatever name it passes. But it may be doubted if from the beginning of civilized life there ever has been, or if there ever will be, a time when it suffices for all. In rough times self-preservation is main preoccupation–it is enough if the unseen powers can be kept in good humour.

With the establishment of peace and order and with the consequent prevalence of ease and refinement, the emotional life becomes more and more important and in the place of practical necessities speculative problems occupy a leading place in men's thoughts, the passions in becoming more refined are more easily stirred the moral perceptions more sensitive; the judgment of self more rigorous and the love and approbation of others more [187] necessary to happiness; the embodiment of the ethical ideal more and more essential to reverence.

Men seek sensual pleasure to discover that satiety is the worst of miseries and the memory of degradation a very real hell. They seek the joys of the higher ethical life and perhaps find them; but the curses follow after at no great distance in the eternal disproportion between the aim and the performance and the conviction gradually driven in upon us, that the tide of things flows in some other direction than that of the ethical ideal; they set their hearts upon knowledge and perhaps gain it, to find that the things which they would most gladly know are exactly those they cannot know.

Two problems press for solution whenever men have time to think. Is there a moral government of the world? Is there a life after death?

[188] The life after death, which in the Homeric times appeared so dim and shadowy, that Achilles preferred the existence of a slave in this world to that of a hero in Elysium, the conditions of which had but little reference to conduct, assumed a different aspect, as the conception of the Gods altered and as the life of the affections became more and more important. While in the Iliad the body is the man himself and the spirit a mere unsubstantial shadow–the imagination of the latest Greek and Roman tended more and more to reverse the relation, to look upon the spirit as the man himself and the body as a burden, and a hindrance to the spirit. Every day experience proved that pleasures and pains are scattered through the lives of mortal men, without any discernible reference to ethical considerations. If the just man suffered and the wicked prospered, then it followed that the ethical perfection which the pious imagination attributed to the Divine orderer of things could be served only by the belief that the injustice of the present world, would be set right by a compensatory adjustment of rewards and punishments in that to come. The need to justify the ways of God to man would not arise if the ways of God were obviously just.

The religion of the State, of the gens or phratry of the family as the survival of a more rudimentary culture, offered little or no help to the seeker after ethical purity, after efficient atonement for past sin [189] or after a knowledge of the future state and of its rewards and punishments. And, whoever boldly offered a ritual and a doctrine in satisfaction of these deep and unquenchable cravings was certain to enlist a band of followers. Then, as always, his success was the more certain the more he appealed to the emotions and the less to the reason, the more he appealed to the unexpressed axioms of inherited prejudices, the more the intensity of his imaginations was accepted in place of proof of their objective reality. We need no further evidence than the history of Christian Fraternities, sects, and Revivalist organizations affords to understand what happened in pre-Christian times. Is there any doubt that at this present moment, any vigorous man, possessed of the governing faculty and self controlled in respect of all the grosser temptations of life might find abundant believers in any doctrine he chose to propound, so long as he promised the remission of sins and future happiness to the faithful?

The more absurd the dogma to the carnal mind tied down by the gross bonds of logic and common sense the greater the chance of success. We are notoriously ready to sacrifice that which we do not value; and to the genuine pietist reason is much worse than worthless and logic a snare and delusion.

[190] Apart from any strong religious feeling many would be led by a desire for more warmth and unction, than the ordinary cult permitted to form small and friendly associations; a great many, probably, the greater proportion, of the religious associations (thiasoi and sodalicia ) were devoted to the worship of particular native Gods–just as Catholic fraternities devote themselves to the worship of particular saints–rather as a satisfaction of pious zeal and a strengthening of social ties than with any reference to the deeper motives.

But it was not so in the case of the foreign religions, such as the worship of the Phrygian Cybele, or the Persian Mithra or the Egyptian Isis, whose missionaries sallied forth from the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Conservative statesmen of the Roman republic might expel these men and their converts but they returned; the Caesars fearing they might be made political engines might refuse to license them and threaten them with the penalties of treason but the people would have them; and sooner or later their governors had to give way or shut their eyes. Some were recognized and placed in the hands of sodalities subsidized by the state; others depended on voluntary associations which as sodalicia illicita were utterly illegal.43 But as long as the foreign religion was a popular one and its devotees avoided giving occasion for scandal nobody put the law in force and its sodalicia multiplied and flourished. [192] The popularity of these religions largely depended on the fact that they professed to supply purification and expiations of special efficacy and to throw some light upon the spiritual world and especially on the existence after death.

The primary object of all these sodalities whether of native or exotic origin was the worship of a particular deity or deities. If this deity belonged to the native Gods, he stood in the same relation to the rest as a patron saint to the other saints in the calendar. The sodality no more formed a sect than did the Franciscan or Dominican orders; special cult to one pagan God no more interfered with reverence for all the rest of the Pantheon than in the Roman church, special devotion to St. Joseph implies want of respect to the Virgin or St. Peter.

The members of the sodality met on stated days for the performance of the rights of worship the fundamental and essential portion of which was a sacrificial meal, the materials for which were provided out of the contributions whether in money or kind by the members.

Among primitive men sacrifice is the offering of a meal to the God. The food and drink provided are dedicated to him and he is supposed to share the banquet with his worshippers. His own portion is burnt or offered as a libation while his commensals, the worshippers, eat and drink theirs. And it is conceived that this common meal [193] establishes a special tie, a communion between the several worshippers on the one hand, and of each and all with the God on the other. It is of the essence of a sodality that the members should enter into this sacramental bond.44

It is not certain that admission into a Gentile sodality involved any requirement beyond the desire to take part in the rites; though there is evidence that, in some cases, the officers of the sodality were bound to enquire into the character of the new comer. Beyond this there is no trace of restriction. The candidate might be a patrician or a plebian; a citizen or a stranger; a freedman or a slave; once admitted, he was, in theory at any rate, on a footing of equality with every other member; his vote counted for as much as any other vote; he was eligible for any office in the sodality; he was competent to bring any resolution before its meetings.

The doctrine of the equality and fraternity of man preached by the Stoics was practised in the sodalities as much as it ever had been or is ever likely to be in any sane society. The freedman, or the slave, when he had entered the hall of meeting and taken his place before the sacellum of the God was, in religion, the peer [194] of the wealthiest citizen. And though, when he passed out of the door of the Schola, the slave returned to his chattleship and the freedman to the social degradation of a despised caste, yet for awhile the tyranny of contention had been forgotten. It is said that even now the labourer and the pauper on the benches of the aisle who have just been treated as the "dearly beloved brethren" of the noble and the well to do "miserable sinners" in the pews, find their liberty and equality to be as strictly localised when they have emerged from the church door.

The members of a sodality not only called one another "brothers" but were brothers in something more than name. One could not appear against another as prosecutor or patron of the prosecutor in a criminal case, nor act as judge in a cause in which another member was concerned.45 The 8th of the Kalendar of March was appointed to be a day of reconciliation when such quarrels as had arisen among the sodales should be made up. In some cases, needy members appear to have been helped by loans or gifts46 and among the poor classes sodalities for the purpose of securing decent sepulture–Collegia funeraticia –answering exactly to our burial clubs were extremely common.

In respect of the majority of the sodalities, little or nothing is known of the details of their religious exercises. In some few the religious element was probably reduced to a minimum and furnished a foundation for the reproach that they were mere dining clubs. In most perhaps, the religious function, though earnest and serious, was limited to sacrifices and hymns in honor of the God. But in many, such as the sodalities for the worship of Isis, or Cybele, or Mithra, the religious character was predominant and the ritual comprised not merely sacrifices but mysteries.

The notion that any occult learning or profound philosophy was inculcated in the ancient Mysteries may be dismissed. But it is certain that they professed to offer to their votaries means of purification and of atonement of particular efficacy; and that they endeavoured to intensify the belief in immortality and to give reality to the hopes and fears of a retributive justice in the world to come. They taught more through the eye than through the ear; they dealt in spectacular symbols rather than in dogmatic beliefs and their ritual turned upon the death and resurrection, and what comes to the same thing, the descent into Hades and return thence of some divine or heroic personage. The initiate [196] sorrowed with Demeter over the last Persephone or with Isis over the murdered Osiris and rejoiced in the return of the upper world of the one and the resurrection of the other. These old myths founded on the apparent death of nature in Winter and its renascence with the return of Spring received a new and personal application in harmony with the hopes of the worshipper. The symbol of the wheat that dies to live again came before the Athenian in the Eleusinian mysteries ages before Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

As co-operative religious enthusiasm at the present day takes varied shapes from the ranting and convulsions of revivalists and the noisy sham-soldiering of salvation armies, to the reserved silence of a pious 'retreat'; so, in the ancient world, there was a long gradation from the self-mutilating mendicants half fanatics, half cheats, of Cybele and the howling and dancing dervishes of Bacchus47 to the solemn midnight meetings of Eleusis or the imposing services of Isis or of Mithra.

[197] When, therefore, Paul visited Corinth and commenced his preaching, his enterprise probably attracted very little notice. The Corinthians would see in him simply one more of the many missionaries of oriental religions who arrived now and again in Corinth. The curious would note that he associated with the Judaizers and would probably assume that he preached some sort of Judaism until that tumult in his presence of the pro-consul48 (if it ever took place) which brought the bitter antagonism of the orthodox Jews against him into prominence. It is a thousand pities that Gallio would not hear what Paul had to say. As Seneca's brother, he was probably a man of higher culture than the average Roman official; and though like the philosopher, he probably looked upon Judaism and everything connected with it, with somewhat the same feeling as that which a fairly well informed English squire looks upon Mormonism–yet it is possible that on enquiry, he would have found the new thiasos sufficiently curious to have formed the subject of a letter to Seneca which would have been invaluable to us. The Pauline epistles, however, answer the purpose nearly as well. We learn from them, that the members of the Christian sodality were for the most part poor and ignorant people and that the only condition of admission was the acknowledgment that Jesus had risen from [198] the dead and was the Christ, followed by the ceremony of purification by waters the efficacy of which was recognised by both Jews and Gentiles.

The funds of the sodality consisted of the contributions of the members, who met at stated intervals for the purpose of eating a meal in common. Of the two kinds of sacrifice known to both Jews and Gentiles, the expiatory, according to Paul's theory, had been performed for the faithful once for all, by His death on the cross. But as I have already pointed out, it is obvious that he regarded the common meal as the representative of the commensal sacrifice–and thus the 'Lord's supper’ provided the Gentile with exactly that hierurgic element which every heathen thiasos would have furnished.

Moreover, it was also something which represented the Gentile 'mystery'. The bread and wine were mystical symbols of the body and blood of the expiatory victim; and by means of them the believer mentally reproduced the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ and strengthened his hope of the second coming and of eternal bliss. Moreover, the raised and heavenly Jesus, the new Adam with his pneumatic and Heavenly body no longer subject to corruption but transfigured into something higher than the angels, has undergone a transformation which is practically indistinguishable from apotheosis. The pagan neophyte, familiar with the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone or those of the Isiac and Mithraic [199] worships which spread over the Empire as rapidly as Christianity was fated to do, would thus enter into a circle of ideas which were quite familiar.

And with all this, there was none of the pomp and ceremony of the sodalities of Isis or the costly sacrifices of Mithra worship nor the physical obstacles in the way of conversion to Judaism. The equality of patrician and plebian, citizen, freedman and slave within the thiasos; the absence of obstructions on grounds of sex or nationality were as complete here as in any other religious sodalities; and it is probable that the feeling of brotherhood was stronger.49 Certainly the strong obligation of almsgiving and of care for the desolate passed from Judaism to Christianity with undiminished strength. Like many of the other sodalities the Christian ecclesia was a burial society and provided for the decent internment of destitute members;50 and it was at the same time to a much greater extent than any pagan thiasos a friendly society relieving the wants of the necessitous. In addition to recognizing this especially Jewish peculiarity, the Jew convert would almost think himself in the synagogue, when his own Scriptures were read and expounded as the sources of the proof of the Messiahship of Jesus.

Thus the Gentile Christian sodality founded by Paul is exactly that which Paul says he tried to be–all things to all men. To the Jews it looked like a sort of combination of Temple and Synagogue; to the Gentile it was a thiasos, with no [202] image of the God, and all that he cared for in Judaism–its pure morality, its active philanthropy, its democratic spirit. Surely, then, it is unnecessary to call in any supernatural agency to account for the fact that an organization thus admirably adapted to meet the necessities of the vast population of the Empire, sapped and ruined by proletarian difficulties in its lower strata and reduced to sombre hopelessness in its upper ranks by the long reign of terror under Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, should have spread as fast as the Isiac and Mithraic religious or even a great deal faster?

The strength of Christianity, at its origin, is to be sought, in the first place, in the admirable organization borrowed from Greek thiasos, by which it is enabled to carry out in a wonderfully effectual manner the dictates of that philanthropic zeal which it has borrowed from Judaism and, in the second place, in the extraordinary skill with which its primitively very simple dogmas and heirurgic practices were adapted to make the passage into the Church easy for the Judaizing Gentile. It was this which enabled Christianity to tread under its feet the Nazarenism from which it sprang.

On the other hand, the early Christian communities exhibited certain features by which they differ from the Gentile thiasoi.

They were not content with the gratification of religious enthusiasm and the cultivation of brotherhood and [203] good fellowship among the members. They held the maintenance of moral purity and the practice of almsgiving to be of no less moment.

"Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James I. 27).

The Christian thiasotes who failed in the last requirement was cast out of the community; nor did they wait for evil living to become open and notorious but it was the duty of certain officers to keep an eye upon the members and report those who lapsed. The same officers, the deacons, sought out the fatherless and the widows and supplied their necessities from the common fund. They were the administrators of a system of out-door relief.

A third distinctive character of the Christian thiasoi lay in the regular practice of edification and instruction by the public reading of certain sacred books at the periodical meetings.

In these objects of the maintenance of a high morality; of the practice of charity and of giving instruction from sacred books–which distinguished the Christian thiasoi and explains why they have endured while the rest perished; the Jewish origin of Christianity is patent.

For whatever may be said about the practice, the ethical standard of the Israelite was immeasurably higher than that of the Greek or Roman, and the Christian [204] societies not only insisted on the observance of the ordinary Jewish moral precepts but inclined to the strictness and ascetism of the Essenes–as for example in the avoidance of oaths. As respects Charity it has been well remarked that the Christian communities "brought into the European world that regard for the poor which had been for several centuries the burden of Jewish hymns" (Hatch. p. 36), though it should not be forgotten that from very ancient times Greek cities–e. g., Athens–had made provision for the poor and helpless by a sort of poor rate.

And finally, Christianity being essentially based upon the Messianic conception peculiar to the Jews, and the claims of Jesus to the Messiahship being based upon a strange exegesis of the prophetical writings, it was absolutely necessary that the communities should be made acquainted with the literature of the Israelites. Converted Jews had little to learn but to Gentile converts everything had to be taught.51

[205] The first missionaries to the Gentiles were all Jews: very frequently, the first Gentile converts were "fearers of God" who had been attracted by Judaism and were more or less familiar with the service and the doctrine of the synagogue–so that while the Gentile Christian societies adopted the organization of the heathen thiasoi , that organization was almost metamorphosed by the moral force and the ritual practice of the Judaism found in the old mould.

Among the Ebionites it is probable that the Christian communities retained the type of the synagogue–with perhaps something of Essenism superadded. But the Gentile Christian communities which eventually federated into the Catholic Church and were originally organized on the type of the thiasos –while they anathematized their parent Judaism, retained in baptism, in the imposition of hands, in the sacerdotal theory of the ministry, in Messianic atonement and in the reading and exposition of the Scriptures the indelible marks of their parentage.52

[206] But there were some features of the Christian sodality which were less admirable and contained the germs of great peril to the Church. These were some of the gifts or graces which followed upon supposed possession of the faithful by the Holy Spirit.

A Jew accustomed to the decency and order of the synagogue meetings, might well have been scandalized by the tumultuous 'prophesying' or 'speaking in tongues' of the Christians–sometimes by two or three at once–and it might have been as difficult for him as for us, to comprehend how the apostle himself can declare that he possessed the gift of tongues more than they all. For the few who did witness a similar phenomenon are said to have accused the twelve of intoxication.

On the other hand, the heathen who had been present at the orgiastic ceremonies of some of the ‘mysteries’ might have looked upon the proceedings as a matter of course, and the heathen view of the proceedings has unfortunately never wholly died away from the days of Paul to those of nineteenth century revivalists.

Monotheism – Fatherhood of God – the Royal Law – high ethical standard – all points.

TorahFormer ProphetsLatter Prophets
Exodus JudgesEzekielProverbsRuth1 Chronicles
Leviticus SamuelIsaiah JobLamentationsEzra
Numbers Kings 1 (12)Ecclesiastes1 Jeremiah
544353= 24

2 How this statement is to be reconciled with the assertion that the adult men who came out of Egypt all except Caleb and Joshua died before the Jordan was crossed does not appear.

3 Not, however, in Chaps. XII-XXVI which possibly most nearly represent Hilkiah's Law.

4 If he knew the Levitical Law and disregarded it, it is still more discredited.

5 Not so much to XII-XXVI as to the introduction and supplements.

6 And yet those who believe this whole duty of man to have been composed and promulgated by God himself are never weary of declaring that morality without a belief in immortality is impossible.

7 This statement is in diametrical contradiction to Gen. II. 3: another link in the evidence which proves that the Deuteronomist knew nothing of the other books of the Pentateuch.

8 See the instructive story of Micah, Judges XVII.

9 Accordance of this with Deuteronomist's conception of Deity. No Baal or Moloch to be pacified by sacrifices.

10 Compare Micah in Judges. Firstling males of the flock claimed, but to be eaten before the Lord (XIV. 19). No claim to first born males of men.

11 No argument that Deuteronomist contemplates living in Promised Land and not Tabernacle. Tabernacle and Ark down to David and Solomon.

12 See Liddell and Scott 'interpreter of will of the Gods.'

13 Thus Jeremiah represents Jahveh as flatly denying that he ever delivered any sacrificial law from Sinai, and yet orthodoxy would have us believe that Jeremiah knew Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers; and believed them to be the works of Moses.

14 For a parallel case imagine that while the Austrians were in Milan, a procession of contadini shouting 'Eviva Italia' had entered one of the gates.

15 See above–refer to what is already said about Messiah.

16 The Pauline epistles presuppose a somewhat intimate acquaintance with the essentials of Judaism on the part of those to whom they are addressed.

17 Many ancient authorities read 'is broken for you.'

18 I say this without expressing any opinion as to the date or authorship of this epistle.

19 [191] "In addition to the sodalicia to which the state handed over the practice of newly introduced cults and naturally provided the necessary funds, there was in Rome, a great number of cults which were founded by voluntary associations or societies and depended upon the contributions of the members. These societies were in part, abolished as dangerous to the state–as in the case of the society for the celebration of the Bacchanalia in B.C. 186 and later the society for the worship of Isis; while, in part, they were tolerated and confirmed; they assumed the administration of the sodalicia framed upon the model of the Family unions, to which especially the community of sepulture belonged–then were lastly the model of the collegia tenuiorum in which burial and perhaps mutual support, were the chief objects."

Marquardt Römische Staatsverfassung, p. 144.

"The Jewish communities in Rome were regarded by the Romans as thiasoi though they had no subscriptions and no common meal. Josephus (Antiq. XIV. 10. 8) and Philo (II.45. 8. Ed.) speaks of the Essene societies as thiasoi."

20 A thiasotes = the sharer of a partner in the sacrifices. (Bekker Anecdota, p.244.23)

21 See Marquart. Romische Staatsverfassung, p. 137. [Joachim Marquart, Romishe Staatsverweltung , 2nd ed. Leipsig: Verlag Von S. Hirzel, 1884.]

22 Boissier, 'Religion Romaine,' p.337, has an interesting discussion of the question how far the sodalities acted as charitable institutions. [Gaston Boissier, La Religion Romaine d'Auguste aux Antonious, 4th ed. 2 vols. Paris: Libraire Hachette et Cie, 1892.]

23 The term thiasoi is said to have been originally applied to a sort of pagan salvation army, 'a company marching through the streets singing and dancing in honour of a God, especially Bacchus.' Liddell and Scott, s.v."

24 Acts XVIII. 1-17.

25 The learned and candid author of 'The organisation of the early Christian Churches,' the Rev. D. Hatch whose recent death all who wish well to Scientific Theology must deplore, has put the case in an extremely forcible way.

"But to the eye of the outside observer they (the Christian communities) were in the same category as the institutions which already existed. They had the same names for their meetings and some of the same names for their officers. The basis of association, in the one case as in the other, was the profession of a common religion. The members, in the one case as in the other, contributed to, or received from a common fund, and in many cases, if not universally, shared in a common meal. Admission was open, in the one case as in the other, not only to the free born citizens but to women and strangers, to freedmen and slaves. Consequently when a Roman governor found the Christian communities existing in his province he brought them under the general law which was applicable to such associations, and the Greek satirist of the second century invented for their bishop that which would have been an appropriate title for their head ["leader of a thiasos"]. (The organization of the early Christian Churches, p. 31-2. ) [Edwin Hatch, The Organization of the Early Christian Churches. Oxford: Rivington, 1881.]

again: ".... with probably no single exception, the names of Christian institutions and Christian officers are shared by them in common with institutions and officers outside Christianity. It follows, from the mere conditions of the case, that those names were given by virtue of some resemblance in the Christian institutions and officers to institutions and officers which bore the same names already. These resemblances have always been admitted, and have to some extent, long been investigated. But, evidence which has not been thoroughly investigated until recent years, and evidence which has only within recent years come to light–especially in the unimpeachable form of inscriptions–has shewn that the resemblances are not merely general but minute. The points of comparison which have been hitherto known have to be supplemented by a large number of other points, in which the close relation between Christian and non-Christian organisations have hitherto been hardly suspected. The importance of such a comparison lies in the fact that one cannot avoid going on to the further question, how far the similar phenomena are the product of the same causes. If we find in the Roman Empire civil societies with organizations analogous to those of the Christian societies, civil officers with the same names and similar functions to those of ecclesiastical officers, the question arises and must be answered, whether the causes which are sufficient to account for them in the one case are not equally sufficient to account for them in the other." (Ibid. pp. 16-17).

26 Whether in the case of the Corinthian community the sodality provided for the burial of its members there is no evidence in the Pauline epistles. Probably in these early days, when the second coming was hourly and daily looked for, the question of sepulture possessed very little importance. The dead baptized vicariously would find their way 'to meet the Lord in the air' wherever they might be.

But it is certain that at a very early period, the Christian sodalilties undertook the proper supulture of their dead–and thus discharged the sole duty which multitudes of heathen sodalities had to perform. M. Boissier 'La Religion Romaine' II. p. 338 has admirably indicated the importance of this function.

The illustrious explorer of the catacombs, M. de Rossi, who will not be suspected of making concessions to the enemies of Christianity, agrees that the first Christians were not slow to profit by the tolerance accorded to the Collegia funeraticia . It offered them such an easy means of disarming the law and protecting their tombs, that they could not hesitate to avail themselves of it; but, in order to be confounded with these Collegia and to enjoy their privileges, it was necessary to become as like them as possible.

And the points of likeness between the associations and the cults are very numerous. The Christians also have a common fund, made up by the contributions of the faithful; among them also the contributions are paid every month; they are not interested in the burial of their dead and the Church must have spent a great part of its revenues in the construction of its immense cemeteries. On both sides, a strong sense of equality is mingled with respect for the social hierarchy; with columbaria, as in the catacombs, the dead of all conditions lie side by side. The officers are nominated by universal suffrage and this sometimes lifts the humblest into the highest place. At the time when the poor freedmen reach the highest dignities of the ordinary Collegia, a former slave, the banker Callistes, is seated in the chair of St. Peter in succession to a Cornelius. Lastly the common meals have as much importance in the meetings of the Christians as in the pagan associations; in all its festivals the Church celebrates the paternal feast of the agape and in honour of the martyrs, the faithful dine on their tombs, on the anniversary of their death.

It is well known how much trouble it cost the bishops to abolish these customs when in a later age they had become abuses; and with what eloquent invectives S. Augustine denounced "these worshippers of sepulchres who offering meals to corpses, bury themselves alive with them."

27 "When the majority of the members of a Jewish community were convinced that Jesus was the Christ, there was nothing to interrupt the current of their former common life. There was no need for succession, for schism, for a change in the organization. The old form of worship and the old modes of government could still go on. The weekly commemoration of the Resurrection supplemented but did not supersede, the ancient sabbath. The reading of the life of Christ and of the letters of the apostles supplemented but did not supersede the ancient lessons from the prophets and the ancient signing of the Psalms. The community as a whole was known by the same name which had designated the purely Jewish community." (Hatch p. 59-60).



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden