|PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS|
Their Origin and Meaning
|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
Referring back to the existence of something resembling a great World-religion which has come down the centuries, continually expanding and branching in the process, we have now to consider the genesis of that special brand or branch of it which we call Christianity. Each religion or cult, pagan or Christian, has had, as we have seen, a vast amount in common with the general World-religion; yet each has had its own special characteristics. What have been the main characteristics of the Christian branch, as differentiating it from the other branches?
We saw in the last chapter that a certain ascetic attitude towards Sex was one of the most salient marks of the Christian Church; and that whereas most of the pagan cults (though occasionally favoring frightful austerities and cruel sacrifices) did on the whole rejoice in pleasure and the world of the senses, Christianity - following largely on Judaism - displayed a tendency towards renunciation of the world and the flesh, and a withdrawal into the inner and more spiritual regions of the mind. The same tendency may be traced in the Egyptian and Phrygian cults of that period. It will be remembered how Juvenal (Sat. VI, 510-40) chaffs the priests of Cybele at Rome for making themselves "eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake," or the rich Roman lady for plunging in the wintry Tiber for a propitiation to Isis. No doubt among the later pagans "the long intolerable tyranny of the senses over the soul" had become a very serious matter. But Christianity represented perhaps the most powerful reaction against this; and this reaction had, as indicated in the last chapter, the enormously valuable result that (for the time) it disentangled love from sex and established Love, pure and undefiled, as ruler of the world. "God is Love." But, as also indicated, the divorce between the two elements of human nature, carried to an extreme, led in time to a crippling of both elements and the development of a certain morbidity and self-consciousness which, it cannot be denied, is painfully marked among some sections of Christians - especially those of the altruistic and 'philanthropic' type.
Another characteristic of Christianity which is also very fine in its way but has its limits of utility, has been its insistence on "morality." Some modern writers indeed have gone so far - forgetting, I suppose, the Stoics - as to claim that Christianity's chief mark is its high morality, and that the pagans generally were quite wanting in the moral sense! This, of course, is a profound mistake. I should say that, in the true sense of the word, the early and tribal peoples have been much more 'moral' as a rule - that is, ready as individuals to pay respect to the needs of the community - than the later and more civilized societies. But the mistake arises from the different interpretations of the word; for whereas all the pagan religions insisted very strongly on the just- mentioned kind of morality, which we should call civic duty to one's neighbour, the Christian made morality to consist more especially in a mans duty to God. It became with them a private affair between a mans self and God, rather than a public affair; and thus led in the end to a very obnoxious and quite pharisaic kind of morality, whose chief inspiration was not the helping of one's fellow-man but the saving of one's own soul.
There may perhaps be other salient points of differentiation between Christianity and the preceding pagan religions; but for the present we may recognize these two - (a) the tendency towards a renunciation of the world, and the consequent cultivation of a purely spiritual love and (b) the insistence on a morality whose inspiration was a private sense of duty to God rather than a public sense of duty to one's neighbor and to society generally. It may be interesting to trace the causes which led to this differentiation.
Three centuries before our era the conquests of Alexander had had the effect of spreading the Greek thought and culture over most of the known world. A vast number of small bodies of worshipers of local deities, with their various rituals and religious customs, had thus been broken up, or at least brought into contact with each other and partially modified and hellenized. The orbit of a more general conception of life and religion was already being traced. By the time of the founding of the first Christian Church the immense conquests of Rome had greatly extended and established the process. The Mediterranean had become a great Roman lake. Merchant ships and routes of traffic crossed it in all directions; tourists visited its shores. The known world had become one. The numberless peoples, tribes, nations, societies within the girdle of the Empire, with their various languages, creeds, customs, religions, philosophies, were profoundly influencing each other. (Footnote 1) A great fusion was taking place; and it was becoming inevitable that the next great religious movement would have a world-wide character.
It was probable that this new religion would combine many elements from the preceding rituals in one cult. In connection with the fine temples and elaborate services of Isis and Cybele and Mithra there was growing up a powerful priesthood; Franz Cumont (Footnote 2) speaks of "the learned priests of the Asiatic cults" as building up, on the foundations of old fetichism and superstition, a complete religious philosophy - just as the Brahmins had built the monism of the Vedanta on the "monstrous idolatries of Hinduism." And it was likely that a similar process would evolve the new religion expected. Toutain again calls attention to the patronage accorded to all these cults by the Roman Emperors, as favoring a new combination and synthesis:-
"Hadrien, Commode, Septime Severe, Julia Domna, Elagabal, Alexandre Severe, en particulier ont contribue personnellement a la popularite et au succes des cultes qui se celebraient en l'honneur de Serapis et d'Isis, des divinites syriennes et de Mithra." (Footnote 3)
It was also probable that this new Religion would show (as indicated in the last chapter) a reaction against mere sex-indulgence; and, as regards its standard of Morality generally, that, among so many conflicting peoples with their various civic and local customs, it could not well identify itself with any one of these but would evolve an inner inspiration of its own which in its best form would be love of the neighbor, regardless of the race, creed or customs of the neighbor, and whose sanction would not reside in any of the external authorities thus conflicting with each other, but in the sense of the soul's direct responsibility to God.
So much for what we might expect a priori as to the influence of the surroundings on the general form of the new Religion. And what about the kind of creed or creeds which that religion would favor? Here again we must see that the influence of the surroundings compelled a certain result. Those doctrines which we have described in the preceding chapters - doctrines of Sin and Sacrifice, a Savior, the Eucharist, the Trinity, the Virgin-birth, and so forth - were in their various forms seething, so to speak, all around. It was impossible for any new religious synthesis to escape them; all it could do would be to appropriate them, and to give them perhaps a color of its own. Thus it is into the midst of this germinating mass that we must imagine the various pagan cults, like fertilizing streams, descending. To trace all these streams would of course be an impossible task; but it may be of use, as an example of the process, to take the case of some particular belief. Let us take the belief in the coming of a Savior-god; and this will be the more suitable as it is a belief which has in the past been commonly held to be distinctive of Christianity. Of course we know now that it is not in any sense distinctive, but that the long tradition of the Savior comes down from the remotest times, and perhaps from every country of the world. (Footnote 4) The Messianic prophecies of the Jews and the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah emptied themselves into the Christian teachings, and infected them to some degree with a Judaic tinge. The "Messiah" means of course the Anointed One. The Hebrew word occurs some 40 times in the Old Testament; and each time in the Septuagint or Greek translation (made mainly in the third century before our era) the word is translated cristos, or Christos, which again means Anointed. Thus we see that the idea or the word "The Christ" was in vogue in Alexandria as far back certainly as 280 B.C., or nearly three centuries before Jesus. And what the word "The Anointed" strictly speaking means, and from what the expression is probably derived, will appear later. In The Book of Enoch, written not later than B.C. 170, (Footnote 5) the Christ is spoken of as already existing in heaven, and about to come as judge of all men, and is definitely called "the Son of Man." The Book of Revelations is full of passages from Enoch; so are the Epistles of Paul; so too the Gospels. The Book of Enoch believes in a Golden Age that is to come; it has Dantesque visions of Heaven and Hell, and of Angels good and evil, and it speaks of a "garden of Righteousness" with the "Tree of Wisdom" in its midst. Everywhere, says Prof. Drews, in the first century B.C., there was the longing for a coming Savior.
But the Savior-god, as we also know, was a familiar figure in Egypt. The great Osiris was the Savior of the world, both in his life and death: in his life through the noble works he wrought for the benefit of mankind, and in his death through his betrayal by the powers of darkness and his resurrection from the tomb and ascent into heaven. (Footnote 6) The Egyptian doctrines descended through Alexandria into Christianity - and though they did not influence the latter deeply until about 300 A.D., yet they then succeeded in reaching the Christian Churches, giving a color to their teachings with regard to the Savior, and persuading them to accept and honor the Egyptian worship of Isis in the Christian form of the Virgin Mary.
Again, another great stream of influence descended from Persia in the form of the cult of Mithra. Mithra, as we have seen, (Footnote 7) stood as a great Mediator between God and man. With his baptisms and eucharists, and his twelve disciples, and his birth in a cave, and so forth, he seemed to the early Fathers an invention of the devil and a most dangerous mockery on Christianity - and all the more so because his worship was becoming so exceedingly popular. The cult seems to have reached Rome about B.C. 70. It spread far and wide through the Empire. It extended to Great Britain, and numerous remains of Mithraic monuments and sculptures in this country - at York, Chester and other places - testify to its wide acceptance even here. At Rome the vogue of Mithraism became so great that in the third century A. D., it was quite doubtful (Footnote 8) whether it or Christianity would triumph; the Emperor Aurelian in 273 founded a cult of the Invincible Sun in connection with Mithraism; (Footnote 9) and as St. Jerome tells us in his letters, (Footnote 10) the latter cult had at a later time to be suppressed in Rome and Alexandria by physical force, so powerful was it.
Nor was force the only method employed. imitationis not only the sincerest flattery, but it is often the most subtle and effective way of defeating a rival. The priests of the rising Christian Church were, like the priests of all religions, not wanting in craft; and at this moment when the question of a World-religion was in the balance, it was an obvious policy for them to throw into their own scale as many elements as possible of the popular Pagan cults. Mithraism had been flourishing for 600 years; and it is, to say the least, curious that the Mithraic doctrines and legends which I have just mentioned should all have been adopted (quite unintentionally of course!) into Christianity; and still more so that some others from the same source, like the legend of the Shepherds at the Nativity and the doctrine of the Resurrection and Ascension, which are not mentioned at all in the original draft of the earliest Gospel (St. Mark), should have made their appearance, in the Christian writings at a later time, when Mithraism was making great forward strides. History shows that as a Church progresses and expands it generally feels compelled to enlarge and fortify its own foundations by inserting material which was not there at first. I shall shortly give another illustration of this; at present I will merely point out that the Christian writers, as time went on, not only introduced new doctrines, legends, miracles and so forth - most of which we can trace to antecedent pagan sources - but that they took especial pains to destroy the pagan records and so obliterate the evidence of their own dishonesty. We learn from Porphyry (Footnote 11) that there were several elaborate treatises setting forth the religion of Mithra; and J. M. Robertson adds (Pagan Christs, p. 325):
"everyone of these has been destroyed by the care of the Church, and it is remarkable that even the treatise of Firmicus is mutilated at a passage (v.) where he seems to be accusing Christians of following Mithraic usages."
While again Professor Murray says,
"The polemic literature of Christianity is loud and triumphant; the books of the Pagans have been destroyed." (Footnote 12)
Returning to the doctrine of the Savior, I have already in preceding chapters given so many instances of belief in such a deity among the pagans - whether he be called Krishna or Mithra or Osiris or Horus or Apollo or Hercules - that it is not necessary to dwell on the subject any further in order to persuade the reader that the doctrine was 'in the air' at the time of the advent of Christianity. Even Dionysus, then a prominent figure in the 'Mysteries,' was called Eleutherios, The Deliverer. But it may be of interest to trace the same doctrine among the pre-Christian sects of Gnostics. The Gnostics, says Professor Murray, (Footnote 13)
"are still commonly thought of as a body of Christian heretics. In reality there were Gnostic sects scattered over the Hellenistic world before Christianity as well as after. They must have been established in Antioch and probably in Tarsus well before the days of Paul or Apollos. Their Savior, like the Jewish Messiah, was established in men's minds before the Savior of the Christians. 'If we look close,' says Professor Bousset, 'the result emerges with great clearness that the figure of the Redeemer as such did not wait for Christianity to force its way into the religion of Gnosis, but was already present there under various forms.'"
This Gnostic Redeemer, continues Professor Murray,
"is descended by a fairly clear genealogy from the 'Tritos Soter' ('third Savior') (Footnote 14) of early Greece, contaminated with similar figures, like Attis and Adonis from Asia Minor, Osiris from Egypt, and the special Jewish conception of the Messiah of the Chosen people. He has various names, which the name of Jesus or 'Christos,' 'the Anointed,' tends gradually to supersede. Above all, he is in some sense Man, or 'the second Man' or 'the Son of Man' . . . He is the real, the ultimate, the perfect and eternal Man, of whom all bodily men are feeble copies." (Footnote 15)
This passage brings vividly before the mind the process of which I have spoken, namely, the fusion and mutual interchange of ideas on the subject of the Savior during the period anterior to our era. Also it exemplifies to us through what an abstract sphere of Gnostic religious speculation the doctrine had to travel before reaching its expression in Christianity. (Footnote 16) This exalted and high philosophical conception passed on and came out again to some degree in the Fourth Gospel and the Pauline Epistles (especially I Cor. xv); but I need hardly say it was not maintained. The enthusiasm of the little scattered Christian bodies - with their communism of practice with regard to this world and their intensity of faith with regard to the next - began to wane in the second and third centuries A.D. As the Church (with capital initial) grew, so was it less and less occupied with real religious feeling, and more and more with its battles against persecution from outside, and its quarrels and dissensions concerning heresies within its own borders. And when at the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D) it endeavored to establish an official creed, the strife and bitterness only increased. "There is no wild beast," said the Emperor Julian, "like an angry theologian." Where the fourth Evangelist had preached the gospel of Love, and Paul had announced redemption by an inner and spiritual identification with Christ,
"As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive";
and whereas some at any rate of the Pagan cults had taught a glorious salvation by the new birth of a divine being within each man:
"Be of good cheer, O initiates in the mystery of the liberated god; For to you too out of all your labors and sorrows shall come Liberation"
the Nicene creed had nothing to propound except some extremely futile speculations about the relation to each other of the Father and the Son, and the relation of both to the Holy Ghost, and of all three to the Virgin Mary - speculations which only served for the renewal of shameful strife and animosities - riots and bloodshed and murder - within the Church, and the mockery of the heathen without. And as far as it dealt with the crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Lord it did not differ from the score of preceding pagan creeds, except in the thorough materialism and lack of poetry in statement which it exhibits. After the Council of Nicaea, in fact, the Judaic tinge in the doctrines of the Church becomes more apparent, and more and more its Scheme of Salvation through Christ takes the character of a rather sordid and huckstering bargain by which Man gets the better of God by persuading the latter to sacrifice his own Son for the redemption of the world! With the exception of a few episodes like the formation during the Middle Ages of the noble brotherhoods and sisterhoods of Frairs and Nuns, dedicated to the help and healing of suffering humanity, and the appearance of a few real lovers of mankind (and the animals) like St. Francis - (and these manifestations can hardly be claimed by the Church, which pretty consistently opposed them) - it may be said that after about the fourth century the real spirit and light of early Christian enthusiasm died away. The incursions of barbarian tribes from the North and East, and later of Moors and Arabs from the South, familiarized the European peoples with the ideas of bloodshed and violence; gross and material conceptions of life were in the ascendant; and a romantic and aspiring Christianity gave place to a worldly and vulgar Churchianity.
I have in these two or three pages dealt only - and that very briefly - with the entry of the pagan doctrine of the Savior into the Christian field, showing its transformation there and how Christianity could not well escape having a doctrine of a Savior, or avoid giving a color of its own to that doctrine. To follow out the same course with other doctrines, like those which I have mentioned above, would obviously be an endless task - which must be left to each student or reader to pursue according to his opportunity and capacity. It is clear anyhow, that all these elements of the pagan religions - pouring down into the vast reservoir, or rather whirlpool, of the Roman Empire, and mixing among all these numerous brotherhoods, societies, collegia, mystery-clubs, and groups which were at that time looking out intently for some new revelation or inspiration - did more or less automatically act and react upon each other, and by the general conditions prevailing were modified, till they ultimately combined and took united shape in the movement which we call Christianity, but which only - as I have said - narrowly escaped being called Mithraism - so nearly related and closely allied were these cults with each other.
At this point it will naturally be asked: "And where in this scheme of the Genesis of Christianity is the chief figure and accredited leader of the movement - namely Jesus Christ himself - for to all appearance in the account here given of the matter he is practically non-existent or a negligible quantity?" And the question is a very pertinent one, and very difficult to answer. "Where is the founder of the Religion?" - or to put it in another form: "Is it necessary to suppose a human and visible Founder at all?" A few years ago such a mere question would have been accounted rank blasphemy, and would only - if passed over - have been ignored on account of its supposed absurdity. To-day, however, owing to the enormous amount of work which has been done of late on the subject of Christian origins, the question takes on quite a different complexion. And from Strauss onwards a growingly influential and learned body of critics is inclined to regard the whole story of the Gospels as legendary. Arthur Drews, for instance, a professor at Karlsruhe, in his celebrated book The Christ-Myth, (Footnote 17) places David F. Strauss as first in the myth field - though he allows that Dupuis in L'origine de tous les cultes (1795) had given the clue to the whole idea. He then mentions Bruno Bauer (1877) as contending that Jesus was a pure invention of Mark's, and John M. Robertson as having in his Christianity and Mythology (1900) given the first thoroughly reasoned exposition of the legendary theory; also Emilio Bossi in Italy, who wrote Jesu Christo non e mai esistito, and similar authors in Holland, Poland, and other countries, including W. Benjamin Smith, the American author of The Pre-christian Jesus (1906), and P. Jensen in Das Gilgamesch Epos in den Welt-literatur (1906), who makes the Jesus-story a variant of the Babylonian epic, 2000 B.C. A pretty strong list! (Footnote 18) "But," continues Drews, "ordinary historians still ignore all this." Finally, he dismisses Jesus as "a figure swimming obscurely in the mists of tradition." Nevertheless I need hardly remark that, large and learned as the body of opinion here represented is, a still larger (but less learned) body fights desperately for the actual historicity of Jesus, and some even still for the old view of him as a quite unique and miraculous revelation of Godhood on earth.
At first, no doubt, the legendary theory seems a little too far-fetched. There is a fashion in all these things, and it may be that there is a fashion even here. But when you reflect how rapidly legends grow up even in these days of exact Science and an omniscient Press; how the figure of Shakespeare, dead only 300 years, is almost completely lost in the mist of Time, and even the authenticity of his works has become a subject of controversy; when you find that William Tell, supposed to have lived some 300 years again before Shakespeare, and whose deeds in minutest detail have been recited and honored all over Europe, is almost certainly a pure invention, and never existed; when you remember - as mentioned earlier in this book (Footnote 19) - that it was more than five hundred years after the supposed birth of Jesus before any serious effort was made to establish the date of that birth - and that then a purely mythical date was chosen: the 25th December, the day of the sun's new birth after the winter solstice, and the time of the supposed birth of Apollo, Bacchus, and the other Sungods; when, moreover, you think for a moment what the state of historical criticism must have been, and the general standard of credibility, 1,900 years ago, in a country like Syria, and among an ignorant population, where any story circulating from lip to lip was assured of credence if sufficiently marvelous or imaginative; - why, then the legendary theory does not seem so improbable. There is no doubt that after the destruction of Jerusalem (in A.D. 70), little groups of believers in a redeeming 'Christ' were formed there and in other places, just as there had certainly existed, in the first century B.C., groups of Gnostics, Therapeutae, Essenes and others whose teachings were very similar to the Christian, and there was now a demand from many of these groups for 'writings' and 'histories' which should hearten and confirm the young and growing Churches. The Gospels and Epistles, of which there are still extant a great abundance, both apocryphal and canonical, met this demand; but how far their records of the person of Jesus of Nazareth are reliable history, or how far they are merely imaginative pictures of the kind of man the Saviour might be expected to be, (Footnote 20) is a question which, as I have already said, is a difficult one for skilled critics to answer, and one on which I certainly have no intention of giving a positive verdict. Personally I must say I think the 'legendary' solution quite likely, and in some ways more satisfactory than the opposite one - for the simple reason that it seems much more encouraging to suppose that the story of Jesus, (gracious and beautiful as it is) is a myth which gradually formed itself in the conscience of mankind, and thus points the way of humanity's future evolution, than to suppose it to be the mere record of an unique and miraculous interposition of Providence, which depended entirely on the powers above, and could hardly be expected to occur again.
However, the question is not what we desire, but what we can prove to be the actual fact. And certainly the difficulties in the way of regarding the Gospel story (or stories, for there is not one consistent story) as true are enormous. If anyone will read, for instance, in the four Gospels, the events of the night preceding the crucifixion and reckon the time which they would necessarily have taken to enact - the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden, the betrayal by Judas, the haling before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, and then before Pilate in the Hall of judgment (though courts for the trial of malefactors do not generally sit in the middle of the night); then - in Luke - the interposed visit to Herod, and the return to Pilate; Pilate's speeches and washing of hands before the crowd; then the scourging and the mocking and the arraying of Jesus in purple robe as a king; then the preparation of a Cross and the long and painful journey to Golgotha; and finally the Crucifixion at sunrise; - he will see - as has often been pointed out - that the whole story is physically impossible. As a record of actual events the story is impossible; but as a record or series of notes derived from the witnessing of a "mystery- play" - and such plays with very similar incidents were common enough in antiquity in connection with cults of a dying Savior, it very likely is true (one can see the very dramatic character of the incidents: the washing of hands, the threefold denial by Peter, the purple robe and crown of thorns, and so forth); and as such it is now accepted by many well-qualified authorities. (Footnote 21)
There are many other difficulties. The raising of Lazarus, already dead three days, the turning of water into wine (a miracle attributed to Bacchus, of old), the feeding of the five thousand, and others of the marvels are, to say the least, not easy of digestion. The "Sermon on the Mount" which, with the "Lord's Prayer" embedded in it, forms the great and accepted repository of 'Christian' teaching and piety, is well known to be a collection of sayings from pre-christian writings, including the Psalms, Isaiah, Ecclesiasticus, the Secrets of Enoch, the Shemonehesreh (a book of Hebrew prayers), and others; and the fact that this collection was really made after the time of Jesus, and could not have originated from him, is clear from the stress which it lays on "persecutions" and "false prophets" - things which were certainly not a source of trouble at the time Jesus is supposed to be speaking, though they were at a later time - as well as from the occurrence of the word "Gentiles," which being here used apparently in contra- distinction to "Christians" could not well be appropriate at a time when no recognized Christian bodies as yet existed.
But the most remarkable point in this connection is the absolute silence of the Gospel of Mark on the subject of the Resurrection and Ascension - that is, of the original Gospel, for it is now allowed on all hands that the twelve verses Mark xvi. 9 to the end, are a later insertion. Considering the nature of this event, astounding indeed, if physically true, and unique in the history of the world, it is strange that this Gospel - the earliest written of the four Gospels, and nearest in time to the actual evidence - makes no mention of it. The next Gospel in point of time - that of Matthew - mentions the matter rather briefly and timidly, and reports the story that the body had been stolen from the sepulchre. Luke enlarges considerably and gives a whole long chapter to the resurrection and ascension; while the Fourth Gospel, written fully twenty years later still - say about A. D. 120 - gives two chapters and a great variety of details
This increase of detail, however, as one gets farther and farther from the actual event is just what one always finds, as I have said before, in legendary traditions. A very interesting example of this has lately come to light in the case of the traditions concerning the life and death of the Persian Bab. The Bab, as most of my readers will know, was the Founder of a great religious movement which now numbers (or numbered before the Great War) some millions of adherents, chiefly Mahommedans, Christians, Jews and Parsees. The period of his missionary activity was from 1845 to 1850. His Gospel was singularly like that of Jesus - a gospel of love to mankind - only (as might be expected from the difference of date) with an even wider and more deliberate inclusion of all classes, creeds and races, sinners and saints; and the incidents and entourage of his ministry were also singularly similar. He was born at Shiraz in 1820, and growing up a promising boy and youth, fell at the age of 21 under the influence of a certain Seyyid Kazim, leader of a heterodox sect, and a kind of fore-runner or John the Baptist to the Bab. The result was a period of mental trouble (like the "temptation in the wilderness"), after which the youth returned to Shiraz and at the age of twenty-five began his own mission. His real name was Mirza Ali Muhammad, but he called himself thenceforth The Bab, i.e. the Gate ("I am the Way"); and gradually there gathered round him disciples, drawn by the fascination of his personality and the devotion of his character. But with the rapid increase of his following great jealousy and hatred were excited among the Mullahs, the upholders of a fanatical and narrow- minded Mahommedanism and quite corresponding to the Scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament. By them he was denounced to the Turkish Government. He was arrested on a charge of causing political disturbance, and was condemned to death. Among his disciples was one favorite, (Footnote 22) who was absolutely devoted to his Master and refused to leave him at the last. So together they were suspended over the city wall (at Tabriz) and simultaneously shot. This was on the 8th July, 1850.
In November 1850 - or between that date and October 1851, a book appeared, written by one of the Bab's earliest and most enthusiastic disciples - a merchant of Kashan - and giving in quite simple and unpretending form a record of the above events. There is in it no account of miracles or of great pretensions to godhood and the like. It is just a plain history of the life and death of a beloved teacher. It was cordially received and circulated far and wide; and we have no reason for doubting its essential veracity. And even if proved now to be inaccurate in one or two details, this would not invalidate the moral of the rest of the story - which is as follows:
After the death of the Bab a great persecution took place (in 1852); there were many Babi martyrs, and for some years the general followers were scattered. But in time they gathered themselves together again; successors to the original prophet were appointed - though not without dissensions - and a Babi church, chiefly at Acca or Acre in Syria, began to be formed. It was during this period that a great number of legends grew up - legends of miraculous babyhood and boyhood, legends of miracles performed by the mature Bab, and so forth; and when the newly- forming Church came to look into the matter it concluded (quite naturally!) that such a simple history as I have outlined above would never do for the foundation of its plans, now grown somewhat ambitious. So a new Gospel was framed, called the Tarikh-i-Jadid ("The new History" or "The new Way"), embodying and including a lot of legendary matter, and issued with the authority of "the Church." This was in 1881-2; and comparing this with the original record (called The point of Kaf) we get a luminous view of the growth of fable in those thirty brief years which had elapsed since the Bab's death. Meanwhile it became very necessary of course to withdraw from circulation as far as possible all copies of the original record, lest they should give the lie to the later 'Gospel'; and this apparently was done very effectively - so effectively indeed that Professor Edward Browne (to whom the world owes so much on account of his labors in connection with Babism), after arduous search, came at one time to the conclusion that the original was no longer extant. Most fortunately, however, the well-known Comte de Gobineau had in the course of his studies on Eastern Religions acquired a copy of The point of Kaf; and this, after his death, was found among his literary treasures and identified (as was most fitting) by Professor Browne himself.
Such in brief is the history of the early Babi Church (Footnote 23) - a Church which has grown up and expanded greatly within the memory of many yet living. Much might be written about it, but the chief point at present is for us to note the well-verified and interesting example it gives of the rapid growth in Syria of a religious legend and the reasons which contributed to this growth - and to be warned how much more rapidly similar legends probably grew up in the same land in the middle of the First Century, A.D. The story of the Bab is also interesting to us because, while this mass of legend was formed around it, there is no possible doubt about the actual existence of a historical nucleus in the person of Mirza Ali Muhammad.
On the whole, one is sometimes inclined to doubt whether any great movement ever makes itself felt in the world, without dating first from some powerful personality or group of personalities, round which the idealizing and myth-making genius of mankind tends to crystallize. But one must not even here be too certain. Something of the Apostle Paul we know, and something of 'John' the Evangelist and writer of the Epistle I John; and that the 'Christian' doctrines dated largely from the preaching and teaching of these two we cannot doubt; but Paul never saw Jesus (except "in the Spirit"), nor does he ever mention the man personally, or any incident of his actual life (the "crucified Christ" being always an ideal figure); and 'John' who wrote the Gospel was certainly not the same as the disciple who "lay in Jesus' bosom" - though an intercalated verse, the last but one in the Gospel, asserts the identity. (Footnote 24)
There may have been a historic Jesus - and if so, to get a reliable outline of his life would indeed be a treasure; but at present it would seem there is no sign of that. If the historicity of Jesus, in any degree, could be proved, it would give us reason for supposing - what I have personally always been inclined to believe - that there was also a historical nucleus for such personages as Osiris, Mithra, Krishna, Hercules, Apollo and the rest. The question, in fact, narrows itself down to this, Have there been in the course of human evolution certain, so to speak, nodal points or periods at which the psychologic currents ran together and condensed themselves for a new start; and has each such node or point of condensation been marked by the appearance of an actual and heroic man (or woman) who supplied a necessary impetus for the new departure, and gave his name to the resulting movement? or is it sufficient to suppose the automatic formation of such nodes or starting-points without the intervention of any special hero or genius, and to imagine that in each case the myth- making tendency of mankind created a legendary and inspiring figure and worshiped the same for a long period afterwards as a god?
As I have said before, this is a question which, interesting as it is, is not really very important. The main thing being that the prophetic and creative spirit of mankind has from time to time evolved those figures as idealizations of its "heart's desire" and placed a halo round their heads. The long procession of them becomes a real piece of History - the history of the evolution of the human heart, and of human consciousness. But with the psychology of the whole subject I shall deal in the next chapter.
I may here, however, dwell for a moment on two other points which belong properly to this chapter. I have already mentioned the great reliance placed by the advocates of a unique 'revelation' on the high morality taught in the Gospels and the New Testament generally. There is no need of course to challenge that morality or to depreciate it unduly; but the argument assumes that it is so greatly superior to anything of the kind that had been taught before that we are compelled to suppose something like a revelation to explain its appearance - whereas of course anyone familiar with the writings of antiquity, among the Greeks or Romans or Egyptians or Hindus or later Jews, knows perfectly well that the reported sayings of Jesus and the Apostles may be paralleled abundantly from these sources. I have illustrated this already from the Sermon on the Mount. If anyone will glance at the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs - a Jewish book composed about 120 B. C. - he will see that it is full of moral precepts, and especially precepts of love and forgiveness, so ardent and so noble that it hardly suffers in any way when compared with the New Testament teaching, and that consequently no special miracle is required to explain the appearance of the latter.
The twelve Patriarchs in question are the twelve sons of Jacob, and the book consists of their supposed deathbed scenes, in which each patriarch in turn recites his own (more or less imaginary) life and deeds and gives pious counsel to his children and successors. It is composed in a fine and poetic style, and is full of lofty thought, remindful in scores of passages of the Gospels - words and all - the coincidences being too striking to be accidental. It evidently had a deep influence on the authors of the Gospels, as well as on St. Paul. It affirms a belief in the coming of a Messiah, and in salvation for the Gentiles. The following are some quotations from it: (Footnote 25)
Testament of Zebulun (p. 116): "My children, I bid you keep the commands of the Lord, and show mercy to your neighbours, and have compassion towards all, not towards men only, but also towards beasts."
Dan (p. 127): "Love the Lord through all your life, and one another with a true heart."
Joseph (p. 173): "I was sick, and the Lord visited me; in prison, and my God showed favor unto me."
Benjamin (p. 209): "For as the sun is not defiled by shining on dung and mire, but rather drieth up both and driveth away the evil smell, so also the pure mind, encompassed by the defilements of earth, rather cleanseth them and is not itself defiled."
I think these quotations are sufficient to prove the high standard of this book, which was written in the Second Century B. C., and from which the New Testament authors copiously borrowed.
The other point has to do with my statement at the beginning of this chapter that two of the main 'characteristics' of Christianity were its insistence on (a) a tendency towards renunciation of the world, and a consequent cultivation of a purely spiritual love, and (b) on a morality whose inspiration was a private sense of duty to God rather than a public sense of duty to one's neighbor and to society generally. I think, however, that the last-mentioned characteristic ought to be viewed in relation to a third, namely, (c) the extraordinarily democratic tendency of the new Religion. (Footnote 26) Celsus (A.D. 200) jeered at the early Christians for their extreme democracy:
"It is only the simpletons, the ignoble, the senseless - slaves and womenfolk and children - whom they wish to persuade [to join their churches] or can persuade" - "wool-dressers and cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons," and "whosoever is a sinner, or unintelligent or a fool, in a word, whoever is god-forsaken (kakodaimwn), him the Kingdom of God will receive." (Footnote 27)
Thus Celsus, the accomplished, clever, philosophic and withal humorous critic, laughed at the new religionists, and prophesied their speedy extinction. Nevertheless he was mistaken. There is little doubt that just the inclusion of women and weaklings and outcasts did contribute largely to the spread of Christianity (and Mithraism). It brought hope and a sense of human dignity to the despised and rejected of the earth. Of the immense numbers of lesser officials who carried on the vast organization of the Roman Empire, most perhaps, were taken from the ranks of the freedmen and quondam slaves, drawn from a great variety of races and already familiar with pagan cults of all kinds - Egyptian, Syrian, Chaldean, Iranian, and so forth. (Footnote 28) This fact helped to give to Christianity - under the fine tolerance of the Empire - its democratic character and also its willingness to accept all. The rude and menial masses, who had hitherto been almost beneath the notice of Greek and Roman culture, flocked in; and though this was doubtless, as time went on, a source of weakness to the Church, and a cause of dissension and superstition, yet it was in the inevitable line of human evolution, and had a psychological basis which I must now endeavor to explain.
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