The Freethinker's Text Book, Part II.
Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, David King, and the Online Distributed
THE FREETHINKER'S TEXT-BOOK.
BY ANNIE BESANT.
SECTION I.--ITS EVIDENCES UNRELIABLE.
The origin of all religions, and the ignorance which is the root of the
God-idea, having been dealt with in Part I. of this Text-Book, it now
becomes our duty to investigate the evidences of the origin and of the
growth of Christianity, to examine its morality and its dogmas, to study
the history of its supposed founder, to trace out its symbols and its
ceremonies; in fine, to show cause for its utter rejection by the
Freethinker. The foundation stone of Christianity, laid in Paradise by
the Creation and Fall of Man 6,000 years ago, has already been destroyed
in the first section of this work; and we may at once, therefore,
proceed to Christianity itself. The history of the origin of the creed
is naturally the first point to deal with, and this may be divided into
two parts: 1. The evidences afforded by profane history as to its origin
and early growth. 2. Its story as told by itself in its own documents.
The most remarkable thing in the evidences afforded by profane history
is their extreme paucity; the very existence of Jesus cannot be proved
from contemporary documents. A child whose birth is heralded by a star
which guides foreign sages to Judaea; a massacre of all the infants of a
town within the Roman Empire by command of a subject king; a teacher who
heals the leper, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the lame, and who raises
the mouldering corpse; a King of the Jews entering Jerusalem in
triumphal procession, without opposition from the Roman legions of
Caesar; an accused ringleader of sedition arrested by his own countrymen,
and handed over to the imperial governor; a rebel adjudged to death by
Roman law; a three hours' darkness over all the land; an earthquake
breaking open graves and rending the temple veil; a number of ghosts
wandering about Jerusalem; a crucified corpse rising again to life, and
appearing to a crowd of above 500 people; a man risen from the dead
ascending bodily into heaven without any concealment, and in the broad
daylight, from a mountain near Jerusalem; all these marvellous events
took place, we are told, and yet they have left no ripple on the current
of contemporary history. There is, however, no lack of such history, and
an exhaustive account of the country and age in which the hero of the
story lived is given by one of his own nation--a most painstaking and
laborious historian. "How shall we excuse the supine inattention of the
Pagan and philosophic world to those evidences which were presented by
the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses?
During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples,
the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies.
The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were
raised, demons were expelled, and the laws of nature were frequently
suspended for the benefit of the Church. But the sages of Greece and
Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary
occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations
in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of
Tiberius the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman
Empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even
this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the
curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age
of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and
the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or
received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these
philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena
of nature--earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, which his
indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have
omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has
been witness since the creation of the globe. A distinct chapter of
Pliny is designed for eclipses of an extraordinary nature and unusual
duration; but he contents himself with describing the singular defect of
light which followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the greatest part
of the year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without splendour.
This season of obscurity, which cannot surely be compared with the
preternatural darkness of the Passion, had been already celebrated by
most of the poets and historians of that memorable age" (Gibbon's
"Decline and Fall," vol. ii., pp. 191, 192. Ed. 1821).
If Pagan historians are thus curiously silent, what deduction shall we
draw from the similar silence of the great Jewish annalist? Is it
credible that Josephus should thus have ignored Jesus Christ, if one
tithe of the marvels related in the Gospels really took place? So
damning to the story of Christianity has this difficulty been felt, that
a passage has been inserted in Josephus (born A.D. 37, died about A.D.
100) relating to Jesus Christ, which runs as follows: "Now, there was
about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man,
for he was a doer of wonderful works--a teacher of such men as receive
the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and
many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the
suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the
cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he
appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had
foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him;
and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this
day" ("Antiquities of the Jews," book xviii., ch. iii., sect. 3). The
passage itself proves its own forgery: Christ drew over scarcely any
Gentiles, if the Gospel story be true, as he himself said: "I am not
sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew xv. 24). A
Jew would not believe that a doer of wonderful works must necessarily be
more than man, since their own prophets were said to have performed
miracles. If Josephus believed Jesus to be Christ, he would assuredly
have become a Christian; while, if he believed him to be God, he would
have drawn full attention to so unique a fact as the incarnation of the
Deity. Finally, the concluding remark that the Christians were "not
extinct" scarcely coincides with the idea that Josephus, at Rome, must
have been cognisant of their increasing numbers, and of their
persecution by Nero. It is, however, scarcely pretended now-a-days, by
any scholar of note, that the passage is authentic. Sections 2 and 4
were manifestly written one after the other. "There were a great number
of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded; and
thus an end was put to this sedition. _About the same time another sad
calamity put the Jews into disorder_." The forged passage breaks the
continuity of the history. The oldest MSS. do not contain this section.
It is first quoted by Eusebius, who probably himself forged it; and its
authenticity is given up by Lardner, Gibbon, Bishop Warburton, and many
others. Lardner well summarises the arguments against its
"I do not perceive that we at all want the suspected testimony to Jesus,
which was never quoted by any of our Christian ancestors before
"Nor do I recollect that Josephus has any where mentioned the name or
word _Christ_, in any of his works; except the testimony above
mentioned, and the passage concerning James, the Lord's brother.
"It interrupts the narrative.
"The language is quite Christian.
"It is not quoted by Chrysostom, though he often refers to Josephus, and
could not have omitted quoting it, had it been then in the text.
"It is not quoted by Photius, though he has three articles concerning
"Under the article Justus of Tiberias, this author (Photius) expressly
states that historian (Josephus) being a Jew, has not taken the least
notice of Christ.
"Neither Justin in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, nor Clemens
Alexandrinus, who made so many extracts from Christian authors, nor
Origen against Celsus, have ever mentioned this testimony.
"But, on the contrary, in chapter xxxv. of the first book of that work,
Origen openly affirms, that Josephus, who had mentioned John the
Baptist, did not acknowledge Christ" (Answer to Dr. Chandler, as quoted
in Taylor's "Diegesis," pp. 368, 369. Ed. 1844).
Keim thinks that the remarks of Origen caused the forgery; after
criticising the passage he winds up: "For all these reasons, the passage
cannot be maintained; it has first appeared in this form in the Catholic
Church of the Jews and Gentiles, and under the dominion of the Fourth
Gospel, and hardly before the third century, probably before Eusebius,
and after Origen, whose bitter criticisms of Josephus may have given
cause for it" ("Jesus of Nazara," p. 25, English edition, 1873).
"Those who are best acquainted with the character of Josephus, and the
style of his writings, have no hesitation in condemning this passage as
a forgery interpolated in the text during the third century by some
pious Christian, who was scandalised that so famous a writer as Josephus
should have taken no notice of the Gospels, or of Christ their subject.
But the zeal of the interpolator has outrun his discretion, for we might
as well expect to gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles, as
to find this notice of Christ among the Judaising writings of Josephus.
It is well known that this author was a zealous Jew, devoted to the laws
of Moses and the traditions of his countrymen. How then could he have
written that _Jesus was the Christ?_ Such an admission would have proved
him to be a Christian himself, in which case the passage under
consideration, too long for a Jew, would have been far too short for a
believer in the new religion, and thus the passage stands forth, like an
ill-set jewel, contrasting most inharmoniously with everything around
it. If it had been genuine, we might be sure that Justin Martyr,
Tertullian, and Chrysostom would have quoted it in their controversies
with the Jews, and that Origen or Photius would have mentioned it. But
Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian (i., II), is the first who quotes
it, and our reliance on the judgment or even the honesty of this writer
is not so great as to allow of our considering everything found in his
works as undoubtedly genuine" ("Christian Records," by Rev. Dr. Giles,
p. 30. Ed. 1854).
On the other side the student should consult Hartwell Horne's
"Introduction." Ed. 1825, vol. i., p. 307-11. Renan observes that the
passage--in the authenticity of which he believes--is "in the style of
Josephus," but adds that "it has been retouched by a Christian hand."
The two statements seem scarcely consistent, as such "retouching" would
surely alter "the style" ("Vie de Jesus," Introduction, p. 10. Ed.
Paley argues that when the multitude of Christians living in the time of
Josephus is considered, it cannot "be believed that the religion, and
the transaction upon which it was founded, were too obscure to engage
the attention of Josephus, or to obtain a place in his history" ("Evid.
of Christianity," p. 73. Ed. 1845). We answer, it is plain, from the
fact that Josephus entirely ignores both, that the pretended story of
Jesus was not widely known among his contemporaries, and that the early
spread of Christianity is much exaggerated. But says Paley: "Be,
however, the fact, or the cause of the omission in Josephus, what it
may, no other or different history on the subject has been given by him
or is pretended to have been given" (Ibid, pp. 73, 74). Our contention
being that the supposed occurrences never took place at all, no history
of them is to be looked for in the pages of a writer who was relating
only facts. Josephus speaks of James, "the brother of Jesus, who was
called Christ" ("Antiquities," book xx., ch. ix., sect. 1), and this
passage shares the fate of the longer one, being likewise rejected
because of being an interpolation. The other supposed reference of
Josephus to Jesus is found in his discourse on Hades, wherein he says
that all men "shall be brought before God the Word; for to him hath the
Father committed all judgment; and he, in order to fulfil the will of
his Father, shall come as judge, whom we call Christ" ("Works of
Josephus," by Whiston, p. 661). Supposing that this passage were
genuine, it would simply convey the Jewish belief that the
Messiah--Christ--the Anointed, was the appointed judge, as in Dan. vii.,
9-14, and more largely in the Book of Enoch.
The silence of Jewish writers of this period is not confined to
Josephus, and this silence tells with tremendous weight against the
Christian story. Judge Strange writes: "Josephus knew nothing of these
wonderments, and he wrote up to the year 93, being familiar with all the
chief scenes of the alleged Christianity. Nicolaus of Damascus, who
preceded him and lived to the time of Herod's successor Archelaus, and
Justus of Tiberias, who was the contemporary and rival of Josephus in
Galilee, equally knew nothing of the movement. Philo-Judaeus, who
occupied the whole period ascribed to Jesus, and engaged himself deeply
in figuring out the Logos, had heard nothing of the being who was
realising at Jerusalem the image his fancy was creating" ("Portraiture
and Mission of Jesus," p. 27).
We propose now to go carefully through the alleged testimonies to
Christianity, as urged in Paley's "Evidences of Christianity," following
his presentment of the argument step by step, and offering objections to
each point as raised by him.
The next historian who is claimed as a witness to Christianity is
Tacitus (born A.D. 54 or 55, died A.D. 134 or 135), who writes, dealing
with the reign of Nero, that this Emperor "inflicted the most cruel
punishments upon a set of people, who were holden in abhorrence for
their crimes, and were commonly called Christians. The founder of that
name was Christus, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was punished as a
criminal by the procurator, Pontius Pilate. This pernicious
superstition, thus checked for awhile, broke out again; and spread not
only over Judaea the source of this evil, but reached the city also:
whither flow from all quarters all things vile and shameful, and where
they find shelter and encouragement. At first, only those were
apprehended who confessed themselves of that sect; afterwards, a vast
multitude discovered by them; all which were condemned, not so much for
the crime of burning the city, as for their hatred of mankind. Their
executions were so contrived as to expose them to derision and contempt.
Some were covered over with the skins of wild beasts, and torn to pieces
by dogs; some were crucified. Others, having been daubed over with
combustible materials, were set up as lights in the night-time, and thus
burned to death. Nero made use of his own gardens as a theatre on this
occasion, and also exhibited the diversions of the circus, sometimes
standing in the crowd as a spectator, in the habit of a charioteer; at
other times driving a chariot himself; till at length these men, though
really criminal, and deserving exemplary punishment, began to be
commiserated as people who were destroyed, not out of regard to the
public welfare, but only to gratify the cruelty of one man" ("Annals,"
book xv., sect. 44).
This was probably written, if authentic, about A.D. 107. The reasons
against the authenticity of this passage are thus given by Robert
Taylor: "This passage, which would have served the purpose of Christian
quotation better than any other in all the writings of Tacitus, or of
any Pagan writer whatever, is not quoted by any of the Christian
"It is not quoted by Tertullian, though he had read and largely quotes
the works of Tacitus: and though his argument immediately called for the
use of this quotation with so loud a voice, that his omission of it, if
it had really existed, amounts to a violent improbability.
"This Father has spoken of Tacitus in a way that it is absolutely
impossible that he should have spoken of him had his writings contained
such a passage.
"It is not quoted by Clemens Alexandrinus, who set himself entirely to
the work of adducing and bringing together all the admissions and
recognitions which Pagan authors had made of the existence of Christ or
Christians before his time.
"It has nowhere been stumbled on by the laborious and all-seeking
Eusebius, who could by no possibility have missed of it....
"There is no vestige nor trace of its existence anywhere in the world
before the fifteenth century.
"It rests then entirely upon the fidelity of a single individual. And
he, having the ability, the opportunity, and the strongest possible
incitement of interest to induce him to introduce the interpolation.
"The passage itself, though unquestionably the work of a master, and
entitled to be pronounced the _chef d'oeuvre_ of the art, betrays the
_penchant_ of that delight in blood, and in descriptions of bloody
horrors, as peculiarly characteristic of the Christian disposition as it
was abhorrent to the mild and gentle mind, and highly cultivated taste
* * * * *
"It is falsified by the 'Apology of Tertullian,' and the far more
respectable testimony of Melito, Bishop of Sardis, who explicitly states
that the Christians, up to his time, the third century, had never been
victims of persecution; and that it was in provinces lying beyond the
boundaries of the Roman Empire, and not in Judaea, that Christianity
"Tacitus has, in no other part of his writings, made the least allusion
to Christ or Christians.
"The use of this passage as a part of the 'Evidences of the Christian
Religion,' is absolutely modern" ("Diegesis," pp. 374--376).
Judge Strange--writing on another point--gives us an argument against
the authenticity of this passage: "As Josephus made Rome his place of
abode from the year 70 to the end of the century, there inditing his
history of all that concerned the Jews, it is apparent that, had there
been a sect flourishing in the city who were proclaiming the risen Jesus
as the Messiah in his time, the circumstance was one this careful and
discerning writer could not have failed to notice and to comment on"
("Portraiture and Mission of Jesus," p. 15). It is, indeed, passing
strange that Josephus, who tells us so much about false Messiahs and
their followers, should omit--as he must have done if this passage of
Tacitus be authentic--all reference to this additional false Messiah,
whose followers in the very city where Josephus was living, underwent
such terrible tortures, either during his residence there, or
immediately before it. Burning men, used as torches, adherents of a
Jewish Messiah, ought surely to have been unusual enough to have
attracted his attention. We may add to these arguments that, supposing
such a passage were really written by Tacitus, the two lines regarding
Christus look much like an interpolation, as the remainder would run
more connectedly if they were omitted. But the whole passage is of more
than doubtful authenticity, being in itself incredible, if the Acts and
the Epistles of the New Testament be true; for this persecution is said
to have occurred during the reign of Nero, during which Paul abode in
Rome, teaching in peace, "no man forbidding him" (Acts xxviii. 31);
during which, also, he wrote to the Romans that they need not be afraid
of the government if they did right (Romans xii. 34); clearly, if these
passages are true, the account in Tacitus must be false; and as he
himself had no reason for composing such a tale, it must have been
forged by Christians to glorify their creed.
The extreme ease with which this passage might have been inserted in all
editions of Tacitus used in modern times arises from the fact that all
such editions are but copies of one single MS., which was in the
possession of one single individual; the solitary owner might make any
interpolations he pleased, and there was no second copy by which his
accuracy might be tested. "The first publication of any part of the
'Annals of Tacitus' was by Johannes de Spire, at Venice, in the year
1468--his imprint being made from a single MS., in his own power and
possession only, and purporting to have been written in the eighth
century.... from this all other MSS. and printed copies of the works of
Tacitus are derived." ("Diegesis," p. 373.)
Suetonius (born about A.D. 65, died in second century) writes: "The
Christians, a race of men of a new and mischievous (or magical)
superstition, were punished." In another passage we read of Claudius,
who reigned A.D. 41-54: "He drove the Jews, who, at the suggestion of
Chrestus, were constantly rioting, out of Rome." From this we might
infer that there was at that time a Jewish leader, named Chrestus,
living in Rome, and inciting the Jews to rebellion. His followers would
probably take his name, and, expelled from Rome, they would spread this
name in all directions. If the passage in Acts xi. 20 and 26 be of any
historical value, it would curiously strengthen this hypothesis, since
the "disciples were called Christians first in Antioch," and the
missionaries to Antioch, who preached "unto the Jews only," came from
Cyprus and Cyrene, which would naturally lie in the way of fugitives
from Rome to Asia Minor. They would bring the name Christian with them,
and the date in the Acts synchronises with that in Suetonius. Chrestus
would appear to have left a sect behind him in Rome, bearing his name,
the members of which were prosecuted by the Government, very likely as
traitors and rebels. Keim's good opinion of Suetonius is much degraded
by this Chrestus: "In his 'Life of Claudius,' who expelled the Jews from
Rome, he has shown his undoubted inferiority to Tacitus as a historian
by treating 'Christ' as a restless and seditious Jewish agitator, who
was still living in the time of Claudius, and, indeed, in Rome" ("Jesus
of Nazara," p. 33).
It is natural that modern Christians should object to a Jewish Chrestus
starting up at Rome simultaneously with their Jewish Christus in Judaea,
who, according to Luke's chronology, must have been crucified about A.D.
43. The coincidence is certainly inconvenient; but if they refuse the
testimony of Suetonius concerning Chrestus, the leader, why should they
accept it concerning the Christians, the followers? Paley, of course,
although he quotes Suetonius, omits all reference at this stage to the
unlucky Chrestus; his duty was to present evidences of, not against,
Christianity. Most dishonestly, however, he inserts a reference to it
later on (p. 73), where, in a brief _resume_ of the evidence, he uses it
as a link in his chain: "When Suetonius, an historian contemporary with
Tacitus, relates that, in the time of Claudius, the Jews were making
disturbances at Rome, Christus being their leader." Why does not Paley
explain to us how Jesus came to be leading Jews at Rome during the reign
of Claudius, and why he incited them to riot? No such incident is
related in the life of Jesus of Nazareth; and if Suetonius be correct,
the credit of the Gospels is destroyed. To his shame be it said, that
Paley here deliberately refers to a passage, _which he has not ventured
to quote_, simply that he may use the great name of Suetonius to
strengthen his lamentably weak argument, by the pretence that Suetonius
mentions Jesus of Nazareth, and thus makes him a historical character.
Few more disgraceful perversions of evidence can be found, even in the
annals of controversy. H. Horne refers to this passage in proof of the
existence of Christ (Introduction, vol. i., page 202); but without
offering any explanation of the appearance of Christ in Rome some years
after he ought to have been dead.
Juvenal is next dragged forward by Paley as a witness, because he
mentioned the punishment of some criminals: "I think it sufficiently
probable that these [Christian executions] were the executions to which
the poet refers" ("Evidences," p. 29.) Needless to say that there is not
a particle of proof that they were anything of the kind; but when
evidence is lacking, it is necessary to invent it.
Pliny the Younger (born A.D. 61, died A.D. 115) writes to the Emperor
Trajan, about A.D. 107, to ask him how he shall treat the Christians,
and as Paley has so grossly misrepresented this letter, it will be well
to reproduce the whole of it. It contains no word of Christians dying
boldly as Paley pretends, nor, indeed, of the punishment of death being
inflicted at all. The word translated "punishment" is _supplicium_ (acc.
of _supplicium_) in the original, and is a term which, like the French
_supplice_, derived from it, may mean the punishment of death, or any
other heavy penalty. The translation of the letter runs as follows: "C.
Pliny to the Emperor Trajan, Health.--It is customary with me to refer
to you, my lord, matters about which I entertain a doubt. For who is
better able either to rule my hesitation, or to instruct my ignorance? I
have never been present at the inquiries about the Christians, and,
therefore, cannot say for what crime, or to what extent, they are
usually punished, or what is the nature of the inquiry about them. Nor
have I been free from great doubts whether there should not be a
distinction between ages, or how far those of a tender frame should be
treated differently from the robust; whether those who repent should not
be pardoned, so that one who has been a Christian should not derive
advantage from having ceased to be one; whether the name itself of being
a Christian should be punished, or only crime attendant upon the name?
In the meantime I have laid down this rule in dealing with those who
were brought before me for being Christians. I asked whether they were
Christians; if they confessed, I asked them a second and a third time,
threatening them with punishment; if they persevered, I ordered them to
be led off. For I had no doubt in my mind that, whatever it might be
which they acknowledged, obduracy and inflexible obstinacy, at all
events should be punished. There were others guilty of like folly, whom
I set aside to be sent to Rome, because they were Roman citizens. In the
next place, when this crime began, as usual, gradually to spread, it
showed itself in a variety of ways. An indictment was set forth without
any author, containing the names of many who denied that they were
Christians or ever had been; and, when I set the example, they called on
the gods, and made offerings of frankincense and wine to your image,
which I, for this purpose, had ordered to be brought out, together with
the images of the gods. Moreover, they cursed Christ; none of which acts
can be extorted from those who are really Christians. I consequently
gave orders that they should be discharged. Again, others, who have been
informed against, said that they were Christians, and afterwards denied
it; that they had been so once but had ceased to be so, some three years
ago, some longer than that, some even twenty years before; all of these
worshipped your image, and the statues of the gods; they also cursed
Christ. But they asserted that this was the sum total of their crime or
error, whichever it may be called, that they were used to come together
on a stated day before it was light, and to sing in turn, among
themselves, a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an
oath--not to anything wicked--but that they would not commit theft,
robbery, or adultery, nor break their word, nor deny that anything had
been entrusted to them when called upon to restore it. After this they
said that it was their custom to separate, and again to meet together to
take their meals, which were in common and of a harmless nature; but
that they had ceased even to do this since the proclamation which I
issued according to your commands, forbidding such meetings to be held.
I therefore deemed it the more necessary to enquire of two servant
maids, who were said to be attendants, what was the real truth, and to
apply the torture. But I found that it was nothing but a bad and
excessive superstition, and I consequently adjourned the inquiry, and
consulted you upon the subject. For it seemed to me to be a matter on
which it was desirable to take advice, in consequence of the number of
those who are in danger. For there are many of every age, of every rank,
and even of both sexes, who are invited to incur the danger, and will
still be invited. For the infection of this superstition has spread
through not only cities, but also villages and the country, though it
seems possible to check and remedy it. At all events it is evident that
the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be
frequented, and the sacred solemnities, which had been intermitted, are
revived, and victims are sold everywhere, though formerly it was
difficult to find a buyer. It is, therefore, easy to believe that a
number of persons may be corrected, if the door of repentance be left
open" (Ep. 97).
It is urged by Christian advocates that this letter at least shows how
widely Christianity had spread at this early date; but we shall later
have occasion to draw attention to the fact that the name "Christian"
was used before the reputed time of Christ to describe some
extensively-spread sects, and that the worshippers of the Egyptian
Serapis were known by that title. It may be added that the authenticity
of this letter is by no means beyond dispute, and that R. Taylor urges
some very strong arguments against it. Among others, he suggests: "The
undeniable fact that the first Christians were the greatest liars and
forgers that had ever been in the whole world, and that they actually
stopped at nothing.... The flagrant atopism of Christians being found in
the remote province of Bithynia, before they had acquired any notoriety
in Rome.... The inconsistency of the supposition that so just and moral
a people as the primitive Christians are assumed to have been, should
have been the first to provoke the Roman Government to depart from its
universal maxims of toleration, liberality, and indifference.... The use
of the torture to extort confession.... The choice of women to be the
subjects of this torture, when the ill-usage of women was, in like
manner, abhorrent to the Roman character" ("Diegesis," pp. 383, 384).
Paley boldly states that Martial (born A.D. 43, died about A.D. 100)
makes the Christians "the subject of his ridicule," because he wrote an
epigram on the stupidity of admiring any vain-glorious fool who would
rush to be tormented for the sake of notoriety. Hard-set must Christians
be for evidence, when reduced to rely on such pretended allusions.
Epictetus (flourished first half of second century) is claimed as
another witness, because he states that "It is possible a man may arrive
at this temper, and become indifferent to these things from madness, or
from habit, as the Galileans" (Book iv., chapter 7). The Galileans,
i.e., the people of Galilee, appear to have had a bad name, and it is
highly probable that Epictetus simply referred to them, just as he might
have said as an equivalent phrase for stupidity, "like the Boeotians."
In addition to this, the followers of Judas the Gaulonite were known as
Galileans, and were remarkable for the "inflexible constancy which, in
defence of their cause, rendered them insensible of death and tortures"
("Decline and Fall," vol. ii., p. 214).
Marcus Aurelius (born A.D. 121, died A.D. 180) is Paley's last support,
as he urges that fortitude in the face of death should arise from
judgment, "and not from obstinacy, like the Christians." As no one
disputes the existence of a sect called Christians when Marcus Aurelius
wrote, this testimony is not specially valuable.
Paley, so keen to swoop down on any hint that can be twisted into an
allusion to the Christians, entirely omits the interesting letter
written by the Emperor Adrian to his brother-in-law Servianus, A.D. 134.
The evidence is not of an edifying character, and this accounts for the
omission: "The worshippers of Serapis are Christians, and those are
consecrated to the god Serapis, who, I find, call themselves the bishops
of Christ" (Quoted in "Diegesis," p. 386).
Such are the whole external evidences of Christianity until after A.D.
160. In a time rich in historians and philosophers one man, Tacitus, in
a disputed passage, mentions a Christus punished under Pontius Pilate,
and the existence of a sect bearing his name. Suetonius, Pliny, Adrian,
possibly Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, casually mention some people
The Rev. Dr. Giles thus summarises the proofs of the weakness of early
Christian evidences in "profane history:"--
"Though the remains of Grecian and Latin profane literature which belong
to the first and second centuries of our era are enough to form a
library of themselves, they contain no allusion to the New Testament....
The Latin writers, who lived between the time of Christ's crucifixion
and the year A.D. 200, are Seneca, Lucan, Suetonius, Tacitus, Persius,
Juvenal, Martial, Pliny the Elder, Silius Italicus, Statius, Quintilian,
and Pliny the Younger, besides numerous others of inferior note. The
greater number of these make mention of the Jews, but not of the
Christians. In fact, Suetonius, Tacitus, and the younger Pliny, are the
only Roman writers who mention the Christian religion or its founder"
("Christian Records," by Rev. Dr. Giles, P. 36).
"The Greek classic writers, who lived between the time of Christ's
crucifixion and the year 200, are those which follow: Epictetus,
Plutarch, AElian, Arrian, Galen, Lucian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus,
Ptolemy, Marcus Aurelius (who, though a Roman emperor, wrote in Greek),
Pausanias, and many others of less note. The allusions to Christianity
found in their works are singularly brief" (Ibid, p. 42).
What does it all, this "evidence," amount to? One writer, Tacitus,
records that a man, called by his followers "Christ"--for no one
pretends that Christ is anything more than a title given by his
disciples to a certain Jew named Jesus--was put to death by Pontius
Pilate. And suppose he were, what then? How is this a proof of the
religion called Christianity? Tacitus knows nothing of the
miracle-worker, of the risen and ascended man; he is strangely ignorant
of all the wonders that had occurred; and, allowing the passage to be
genuine, it tells sorely against the marvellous history given by the
Christians of their leader, whose fame is supposed to have spread far
and wide, and whose fame most certainly must so have spread had he
really performed all the wonderful works attributed to him. But no
necessity lies upon the Freethinker, when he rejects Christianity, to
disprove the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, although we
point to the inadequacy of the evidence even of his existence. The
strength of the Freethought position is in no-wise injured by the
admission that a young Jew named Joshua (i.e. Jesus) may have wandered
up and down Galilee and Judaea in the reign of Tiberius, that he may have
been a religious reformer, that he may have been put to death by Pontius
Pilate for sedition. All this is perfectly likely, and to allow it in no
way endorses the mass of legend and myth encrusted round this tiny
nucleus of possible fact. This obscure peasant is not the Christian
Jesus, who is--as we shall later urge--only a new presentation of the
ancient Sun-God, with unmistakeable family likeness to his elder
brothers. The Reverend Robert Taylor very rightly remarks, concerning
this small historical possibility: "These are circumstances which fall
entirely within the scale of rational possibility, and draw for no more
than an ordinary and indifferent testimony of history, to command the
mind's assent. The mere relation of any historian, living near enough to
the time supposed to guarantee the probability of his competent
information on the subject, would have been entitled to our
acquiescence. We could have no reason to deny or to doubt what such an
historian could have had no motive to feign or to exaggerate. The proof,
even to demonstration, of these circumstances would constitute no step
or advance towards the proof of the truth of the Christian religion;
while the absence of a sufficient degree of evidence to render even
these circumstances unquestionable must, _a fortiori_, be fatal to the
credibility of the less credible circumstances founded upon them"
("Diegesis," p. 7).
But Paley pleads some indirect evidence on behalf of Christianity, which
deserves a word of notice since the direct evidence so lamentably breaks
down. He urges that: "there is satisfactory evidence that many,
professing to be original witnesses of the Christian miracles, passed
their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily under-gone,
in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in
consequence of their belief of those accounts; and that they also
submitted, from the same motives, to new rules of conduct." Nearly 200
pages are devoted to the proof of this proposition, a proposition which
it is difficult to characterise with becoming courtesy, when we know the
complete and utter absence of any "satisfactory evidence" that the
original witnesses did anything of the kind.
It is pleaded that the "original witnesses passed their lives in
labours, etc., in attestation of the accounts they delivered." The
evidence of this may be looked for either in Pagan or in Christian
writings. Pagan writers know literally nothing about the "original
witnesses," mentioning, at the utmost, but "the Christians;" and these
Christians, when put to death, were not so executed in attestation of
any accounts delivered by them, but wholly and solely because of the
evil deeds and the scandalous practices rightly or wrongly attributed to
them. Supposing--what is not true--that they had been executed for their
creed, there is no pretence that they were eye-witnesses of the miracles
Paley's first argument is drawn "from the nature of the case"--i.e.,
that persecution ought to have taken place, whether it did or not,
because both Jews and Gentiles would reject the new creed. So far as the
Jews are concerned, we hear of no persecution from Josephus. If we
interrogate the Christian Acts, we hear but of little, two persons only
being killed. We learn also that "many thousands of Jews" belonged to
the new sect, and were propitiated by Christian conformity to the law;
and that, when the Jews rose against Paul--not as a Christian, but as a
breaker of the Mosaic law--he was promptly delivered by the Romans, who
would have set him at liberty had he not elected to be tried at Rome. If
we turn to the conduct of the Pagans, we meet the same blank absence of
evidence of persecution, until we come to the disputed passage in
Tacitus, wherein none of the eye-witnesses are said to have been
concerned; and we have, on the other side, the undisputed fact that,
under the imperial rule of Rome, every subject nation practised its own
creed undisturbed, so long as it did not incite to civil disturbances.
"The religious tenets of the Galileans, or Christians, were never made a
subject of punishment, or even of inquiry" ("Decline and Fall," vol.
ii., p. 215).
This view of the matter is thoroughly corroborated by Lardner: "The
disciples of Jesus Christ were under the protection of the Roman law,
since the God they worshipped and whose worship they recommended, was
the God of the heavens and the earth, the same God whom the Jews
worshipped, and the worship of whom was allowed of all over the Roman
Empire, and established by special edicts and decrees in most, perhaps
in all the places, in which we meet with St. Paul in his travels"
("Credibility," vol. i., pt. I, pp. 406, 407. Ed. 1727). He also quotes
"a remarkable piece of justice done the Jews at Doris, in Syria, by
Petronius, President of that province. The fact is this: Some rash young
fellows of the place got in and set up a statue of the Emperor in the
Jews' synagogue. Agrippa the Great made complaints to Petronius
concerning this injury. Whereupon Petronius issued a very sharp precept
to the magistrates of Doris. He terms this action an offence, not
against the Jews only, but also against the Emperor; says, it is
agreeable to the law of nature that every man should be master of his
own places, according to the decree of the Emperor. I have, says he,
given directions that they who have dared to do these things contrary to
the edict of Augustus, be delivered to the centurion Vitellius Proculus,
that they may be brought to me, and answer for their behaviour. And I
require the chief men in the magistracy to discover the guilty to the
centurion, unless they are willing to have it thought, that this
injustice has been done with their consent; and that they see to it,
that no sedition or tumult happen upon this occasion, which, I perceive,
is what some are aiming at.... I do also require, that for the future,
you seek no pretence for sedition or disturbance, but that all men
worship [God] according to their own customs" (Ibid, pp. 382, 383).
After giving some other facts, Lardner sums up: "These are authentic
testimonies in behalf of the equity of the Roman Government in general,
and of the impartial administration of justice by the Roman
presidents--toward all the people of their provinces, how much soever
they differed from each other in matters of religion" (Ibid, p. 401).
The evidence of persecution which consists in quotations from the
Christian books ("Evidences," pages 33-52) cannot be admitted without
evidence of the authenticity of the books quoted. The Acts and the
Pauline epistles so grossly contradict each other that, having nothing
outside themselves with which to compare them, they are mutually
destructive. "The epistle to the Romans presents special difficulties to
its acceptance as a genuine address to the Church of Rome in the era
ascribed to it. The faith of this Church, at this early period, is said
to be 'spoken of throughout the whole world'; and yet when Paul,
according to the Acts, at a later time visited Rome, so little had this
alleged Church influenced the neighbourhood, that the inquiring Jews of
Rome are shown to be totally ignorant of what constituted Christianity,
and to have looked to Paul to enlighten them" ("Portraiture and Mission
of Jesus," p. 15). 2 Cor. is of very doubtful authenticity. The passage
in James shows no fiery persecution. Hebrews is of later date. 2 Thess.
again very doubtful. The "suffering" spoken of by Peter appears, from
the context, to refer chiefly to reproaches, and a problematical "if any
man suffer as a Christian." Had those he wrote to been then suffering,
surely the apostle would have said: "_When_ any man suffers ... let him
not be ashamed." The whole question of the authenticity of the canonical
books will be challenged later, and the weakness of this division of
Paley's evidences will then be more fully apparent. Meanwhile we subjoin
Lardner's view of these passages. He has been arguing that the Romans
"protected the many rites of all their provinces;" and he proceeds:
"There is, however, one difficulty which, I am aware, may be started by
some persons. If the Roman Government, to which all the world was then
subject, was so mild and gentle, and protected all men in the profession
of their several religious tenets, and the practice of all their
peculiar rites, whence comes it to pass that there are in the Epistles
so many exhortations to the Christians to patience and constancy, and so
many arguments of consolation suggested to them, as a suffering body of
men? [Here follow some passages as in Paley.] To this I answer: 1. That
the account St. Luke has given in the Acts of the Apostles of the
behaviour of the Roman officers out of Judaea, and in it, is confirmed
not only by the account I have given of the genius and nature of the
Roman Government, but also by the testimony of the most ancient
Christian writers. The Romans did afterwards depart from these moderate
maxims; but it is certain that they were governed by them as long as the
history of the Acts of the Apostles reaches. Tertullian and divers
others do affirm that Nero was the first Emperor that persecuted the
Christians; nor did he begin to disturb them till after Paul had left
Rome the first time he was there (when he was sent thither by Festus),
and, therefore, not until he was become an enemy to all mankind. And I
think that, according to the account which Tacitus has given of Nero's
inhumane treatment of the Christians at Rome, in the tenth year of his
reign, what he did then was not owing to their having different
principles in religion from the Romans, but proceeded from a desire he
had to throw off from himself the odium of a vile action--namely,
setting fire to the city--which he was generally charged with. And
Sulpicius Severus, a Christian historian of the fourth century, says the
same thing" ("Credibility of the Gospel History," vol. i., pages
416-420). Lardner, however, allows that the Jews persecuted the
Christians where they could although they were unable to slay them. They
probably persecuted them much in the same fashion that the Christians
have persecuted Freethinkers during the present century.
But Paley adduces further the evidence of Clement, Hermas, Polycarp,
Ignatius, and a circular letter of the Church of Smyrna, to prove the
sufferings of the eye-witnesses ("Evidences," pages 52-55). When we pass
into writings of this description in later times, there is, indeed,
plenty of evidence--in fact, a good deal too much, for they testify to
such marvellous occurrences, that no trust is possible in anything which
they say. Not only was St. Paul's head cut off, but the worthy Bishop of
Rome, Linus, his contemporary (who is supposed to relate his martyrdom),
tells us how, "instead of blood, nought but a stream of pure milk flowed
from his veins;" and we are further instructed that his severed head
took three jumps in "honour of the Trinity, and at each spot on which it
jumped there instantly struck up a spring of living water, which retains
at this day a plain and distinct taste of milk" ("Diegesis," pp. 256,
257). Against a mass of absurd stories of this kind, the _only evidence_
of the persecution of Paley's eye-witnesses, we may set the remarks of
Gibbon: "In the time of Tertullian and Clemens of Alexandria the glory
of martyrdom was confined to St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. James. It was
gradually bestowed on the rest of the Apostles by the more recent
Greeks, who prudently selected for the theatre of their preaching and
sufferings some remote country beyond the limits of the Roman Empire"
("Decline and Fall," vol. ii., p. 208, note). Later there was, indeed,
more persecution; but even then the martyrdoms afford no evidence of the
truth of Christianity. Martyrdom proves the sincerity, _but not the
truth_, of the sufferer's belief; every creed has had its martyrs, and
as the truth of one creed excludes the truth of every other, it follows
that the vast majority have died for a delusion, and that, therefore,
the number of martyrs it can reckon is no criterion of the truth of a
creed, but only of the devotion it inspires. While we allow that the
Christians underwent much persecution, there can be no doubt that the
number of the sufferers has been grossly exaggerated. One can scarcely
help suspecting that, as real martyrs were not forthcoming in as vast
numbers as their supposed bones, martyrs were invented to fit the
wealth-producing relics, as the relics did not fit the historical
martyrs. "The total disregard of truth and probability in the
representations of these primitive martyrdoms was occasioned by a very
natural mistake. The ecclesiastical writers of the fourth and fifth
centuries ascribed to the magistrates of Rome the same degree of
implacable and unrelenting zeal which filled their own breasts against
the heretics, or the idolaters of their own time.... But it is certain,
and we may appeal to the grateful confessions of the first Christians,
that the greatest part of those magistrates, who exercised in the
provinces the authority of the Emperor, or of the Senate, and to whose
hands alone the jurisdiction of life and death was entrusted, behaved
like men of polished manners and liberal education, who respected the
rules of justice, and who were conversant with the precepts of
philosophy. They frequently declined the odious task of persecution,
dismissed the charge with contempt, or suggested to the accused
Christian some legal evasion by which he might elude the severity of the
laws. (Tertullian, in his epistle to the Governor of Africa, mentions
several remarkable instances of lenity and forbearance which had
happened within his own knowledge.)... The learned Origen, who, from his
experience, as well as reading, was intimately acquainted with the
history of the Christians, declares, in the most express terms, that the
number of martyrs was very inconsiderable.... The general assertion of
Origen may be explained and confirmed by the particular testimony of his
friend Dionysius, who, in the immense city of Alexandria, and under the
rigorous persecution of Decius, reckons only ten men and seven women who
suffered for the profession of the Christian name" ("Decline and Fall,"
vol. ii., pp. 224-226. See throughout chap. xvi.). Gibbon calculates the
whole number of martyrs of the Early Church at "somewhat less than two
thousand persons;" and remarks caustically that the "Christians, in the
course of their intestine dissensions, have inflicted far greater
severities on each other than they had experienced from the zeal of
infidels" (pp. 273, 274). Supposing, however, that the most exaggerated
accounts of Church historians were correct, how would that support
Paley's argument? His contention is that the "eye-witnesses" of
miraculous events died in testimony of their belief in them; and myriads
of martyrs in the second and third centuries are of no assistance to
him. So we will retrace our steps to the eye-witnesses, and we find the
position of Gibbon--as to the lives and labours of the Apostles being
written later by men not confining themselves to facts--endorsed by
Mosheim, who judiciously observes: "Many have undertaken to write this
history of the Apostles, a history which we find loaded with fables,
doubts, and difficulties, when we pursue it further than the books of
the New Testament, and the most ancient writers in the Christian Church"
("Eccles. Hist.," p. 27, ed. 1847). What "ancient writers" Mosheim
alludes to it is difficult to guess, as may be judged from his
criticisms quoted below, on the "Apostolic Fathers," the most ancient of
all; and in estimating the worth of his opinion, it is necessary to
remember that he was himself an earnest Christian, although a learned
and candid one, so that every admission he makes, which tells against
Christianity, is of double weight, it being the admission of a friend
To the credit of Paley's apostolic evidences (Clement, Hermas, Polycarp,
Ignatius, and letter from Smyrna), we may urge the following objections.
Clement's writings are much disputed: "The accounts which remain of his
life, actions, and death are, for the most part, uncertain. Two
_Epistles to the Corinthians_, written in Greek, have been attributed to
him, of which the second has been looked upon as spurious, and the first
as genuine, by many learned writers. But even this latter seems to have
been corrupted and interpolated by some ignorant and presumptuous
author.... The learned are now unanimous in regarding the other writings
which bear the name of Clemens (Clement) ... as spurious productions
ascribed by some impostor to this venerable prelate, in order to procure
them a high degree of authority" (Ibid, pp. 31, 32).
"The first epistle, bearing the name of Clement, has been preserved to
us in a single manuscript only. Though very frequently referred to by
ancient Christian writers, it remained unknown to the scholars of
Western Europe until happily discovered in the Alexandrian
manuscript.... Who the Clement was, to whom these writings are ascribed,
cannot with absolute certainty be determined. The general opinion is,
that he is the same as the person of that name referred to by St. Paul
(Phil. iv. 3). The writings themselves contain no statement as to their
author.... Although, as has been said, positive certainty cannot be
reached on the subject, we may with great probability conclude that we
have in this epistle a composition of that Clement who is known to us
from Scripture as having been an associate of the great apostle. The
date of this epistle has been the subject of considerable controversy.
It is clear from the writing itself that it was composed soon after some
persecution (chapter I) which the Roman Church had endured; and the only
question is, whether we are to fix upon the persecution under Nero or
Domitian. If the former, the date will be about the year 68; if the
latter, we must place it towards the close of the first century, or the
beginning of the second. We possess no external aid to the settlement of
this question. The lists of early Roman bishops are in hopeless
confusion, some making Clement the immediate successor of St. Peter,
others placing Linus, and others still Linus and Anacletus, between him
and the apostle. The internal evidence, again, leaves the matter
doubtful, though it has been strongly pressed on both sides. The
probability seems, on the whole, to be in favour of the Domitian period,
so that the epistle may be dated about A.D. 97" ("The Writings of the
Apostolic Fathers." Translated by Rev. Dr. Roberts, Dr. Donaldson, and
Rev. F. Crombie, pp. 3, 4. Ed. 1867). "Only a single-manuscript copy of
the work is extant, at the end of the Alexandrian manuscript of the
Scriptures. This copy is considerably mutilated. In some passages the
text is manifestly corrupt, and other passages have been suspected of
being interpolations" (Norton's "Genuineness of the Gospels," vol. i, p.
336. Ed. 1847).
The second epistle is rejected on all sides. "It is now generally
regarded as one of the many writings which have been falsely ascribed to
Clement.... The diversity of style clearly points to a different writer
from that of the first epistle" ("Apostolic Fathers," page 53). "The
second epistle ... is not mentioned at all by the earlier Fathers who
refer to the first. Eusebius, who is the first writer who mentions it,
expresses doubt regarding it, while Jerome and Photius state that it was
rejected by the ancients. It is now universally regarded as spurious"
("Supernatural Religion," pp. 220, 221). "There is a second epistle
ascribed to Clement, but we know not that this is as highly approved as
the former, and know not that it has been in use with the ancients.
There are also other writings reported to be his, verbose and of great
length. Lately, and some time ago, those were produced that contain the
dialogues of Peter and Apion, of which, however, not a syllable is
recorded by the primitive Church" (Eusebius' "Eccles. Hist." bk. iii.,
chap. 38). "The first Greek Epistle alone can be confidently pronounced
genuine" (Westcott on the "Canon of the New Testament," p. 24. Ed. 1875).
The first epistle "is the only piece of Clement that can be relied on as
genuine" ("Lardner's Credibility," pt. ii., vol. i., p. 62. Ed. 1734).
"Besides the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians there is a fragment
of a piece, called his second epistle, which being doubtful, or rather
plainly not Clement's, I don't quote as his." (Ibid, p. 106.)
This very dubious Clement (Paley quotes, be it said, from the first--or
least doubtful--of his writings) only says that _one_ of Paley's
original witnesses was martyred, namely Peter; Paul, of course, was not
an eye-witness of Christ's proceedings.
The _Vision of Hermas_ is a simple rhapsody, unworthy of a moment's
consideration, of which Mosheim justly remarks: "The discourse which he
puts into the mouths of those celestial beings is more insipid and
senseless than what we commonly hear among the meanest of the multitude"
("Eccles. Hist," p. 32). Its date is very doubtful; the Canon of
Muratori puts it in the middle of the second century, saying that it was
written by Hermas, brother to Pius, Bishop of Rome, who died A.D. 142.
(See "Norton's Genuineness of the Gospels," vol. i., pp. 341, 342.) "The
_Epistle to the Philippians_, which is ascribed to Polycarp, Bishop of
Smyrna, who, in the middle of the second century, suffered martyrdom in
a venerable and advanced age, is looked upon by some as genuine; by
others as spurious; and it is no easy matter to determine this question"
("Eccles. Hist," p. 32). "Upon no internal ground can any part of this
Epistle be pronounced genuine; there are potent reasons for considering
it spurious, and there is no evidence of any value whatever supporting
its authenticity" ("Sup. Rel.," p. 283).
The editors of the "Apostolic Fathers" dispute this assertion, and say:
"It is abundantly established by external testimony, and is also
supported by the internal evidence" (p. 67). But they add: "The epistle
before us is not perfect in any of the Greek MSS. which contain it. But
the chapters wanting in Greek are contained in an ancient Latin version.
While there is no ground for supposing, as some have done, that the
whole epistle is spurious, there seems considerable force in the
arguments by which many others have sought to prove chap. xiii. to be an
interpolation. The date of the epistle cannot be satisfactorily
determined. It depends on the conclusion we reach as to some points,
very difficult and obscure, connected with that account of the martyrdom
of Polycarp which has come down to us. We shall not, however, be far
wrong if we fix it about the middle of the second century" (Ibid, pp.
67, 68). Poor Paley! this weak evidence to the martyrdom of his
eye-witnesses comes 150 years after Christ; and even then all that
Polycarp may have said, if the epistle chance to be authentic, is that
"they suffered," without any word of their martyrdom!
The authenticity of the letters of Ignatius has long been a matter of
dispute. Mosheim, who accepts the seven epistles, says that, "Though I
am willing to adopt this opinion as preferable to any other, yet I
cannot help looking upon the authenticity of the epistle to Polycarp as
extremely dubious, on account of the difference of style; and, indeed,
the whole question relating to the epistles of St. Ignatius in general
seems to me to labour under much obscurity, and to be embarrassed with
many difficulties" ("Eccles. Hist.," p. 22).
"There are in all fifteen epistles which bear the name of Ignatius.
These are the following: One to the Virgin Mary, two to the Apostle
John, one to Mary of Cassobelae, one to the Tarsians, one to the
Antiochians, one to Hero (a deacon of Antioch), one to the Philippians,
one to the Ephesians, one to the Magnesians, one to the Trallians, one
to the Romans, one to the Philadelphians, one to the Smyrnians, and one
to Polycarp. The first three exist only in Latin; all the rest are
extant also in Greek. It is now the universal opinions of critics that
the first eight of these professedly Ignatian letters are spurious. They
bear in themselves indubitable proofs of being the production of a later
age than that in which Ignatius lived. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes
the least reference to them; and they are now, by common consent, set
aside as forgeries, which were at various dates, and to serve special
purposes, put forth under the name of the celebrated Bishop of Antioch.
But, after the question has been thus simplified, it still remains
sufficiently complex. Of the seven epistles which are acknowledged by
Eusebius" ("Eccles. Hist," bk. iii., chap. 36), we possess two Greek
recensions, a shorter and a longer. "It is plain that one or other of
these exhibits a corrupt text; and scholars have, for the most part,
agreed to accept the shorter form as representing the genuine letters of
Ignatius.... But although the shorter form of the Ignatian letters had
been generally accepted in preference to the longer, there was still a
pretty prevalent opinion among scholars that even it could not be
regarded as absolutely free from interpolations, or as of undoubted
authenticity.... Upon the whole, however, the shorter recension was,
until recently, accepted without much opposition ... as exhibiting the
genuine form of the epistles of Ignatius. But a totally different aspect
was given to the question by the discovery of a Syriac version of three
of these epistles among the MSS. procured from the monastery of St. Mary
Deipara, in the desert of Nitria, in Egypt [between 1838 and 1842]....
On these being deposited in the British Museum, the late Dr. Cureton,
who then had charge of the Syriac department, discovered among them,
first, the epistle to Polycarp, and then again the same epistle, with
those to the Ephesians and to the Romans, in two other volumes of
manuscripts" ("Apostolic Fathers," pp. 139-142). Dr. Cureton gave it as
his opinion that the Syriac letters are "the only true and genuine
letters of the venerable Bishop of Antioch that have either come down to
our times or were ever known in the earliest ages of the Christian
Church" ("Corpus Ignatianum," ed. 1849, as quoted in the "Apostolic
Fathers," p. 142).
"I have carefully compared the two editions, and am very well satisfied
upon that comparison that the larger are an interpolation of the
smaller, and not the smaller an epitome or abridgment of the larger. I
desire no better evidence in a thing of this nature.... But whether the
smaller themselves are the genuine writings of Ignatius, Bishop of
Antioch, is a question that has been much disputed, and has employed the
pens of the ablest critics. And whatever positiveness some may have
shown on either side, I must own I have found it a very difficult
question" ("Credibility," pt. 2, vol. ii., p. 153). The Syriac version
was then, of course, unknown. Professor Norton, the learned Christian
defender of the Gospels, says: "The seven shorter epistles, the
genuineness of which is contended for, come to us in bad company....
There is, as it seems to me, no reasonable doubt that the seven shorter
epistles ascribed to Ignatius are equally, with all the rest,
fabrications of a date long subsequent to his time." "I doubt whether
any book, in its general tone of sentiment and language, ever betrayed
itself as a forgery more clearly than do these pretended epistles of
Ignatius" ("Genuineness of the Gospels," vol. i., pp. 350 and 353, ed.
"What, then, is the position of the so-called Ignatian epistles? Towards
the end of the second century Irenaeus makes a very short quotation from
a source unnamed, which Eusebius, in the fourth century, finds in an
epistle attributed to Ignatius. Origen, in the third century, quotes a
few words, which he ascribes to Ignatius, although without definite
reference to any particular epistle; and, in the fourth century,
Eusebius mentions seven epistles ascribed to Ignatius. There is no other
evidence. There are, however, fifteen epistles extant, all of which are
attributed to Ignatius, of all of which, with the exception of three,
which are only known in a Latin version, we possess both Greek and Latin
versions. Of seven of these epistles--and they are those mentioned by
Eusebius--we have two Greek versions, one of which is very much shorter
than the other; and, finally, we now possess a Syriac version of three
epistles, only in a form still shorter than the shorter Greek version,
in which are found all the quotations of the Fathers, without exception,
up to the fourth century. Eight of the fifteen epistles are universally
rejected as spurious (ante, p. 263). The longer Greek version of the
remaining seven epistles is almost unanimously condemned as grossly
interpolated; and the great majority of critics recognise that the
shorter Greek version is also much interpolated; whilst the Syriac
version, which, so far as MSS. are concerned, is by far the most ancient
text of any letters which we possess, reduces their number to three, and
their contents to a very small compass indeed. It is not surprising that
the vast majority of critics have expressed doubt more or less strong
regarding the authenticity of all these epistles, and that so large a
number have repudiated them altogether. One thing is quite
evident--that, amidst such a mass of falsification, interpolation, and
fraud, the Ignatian epistles cannot, in any form, be considered evidence
on any important point.... In fact, the whole of the Ignatian literature
is a mass of falsification and fraud" ("Sup. Rel.," vol. i., pp. 270,
271, 274). The student may judge from this confusion, of fifteen reduced
to seven long, and seven long reduced to seven short, and seven short
reduced to three, and those three very doubtful, how thoroughly reliable
must be Paley's arguments drawn from this "contemporary of Polycarp."
Our editors of the "Fathers" very frankly remark: "As to the personal
history of Ignatius, almost nothing is known" ("Apostolic Fathers," p.
143). Why, acknowledging this, they call him "celebrated," it is hard to
say. Truly, the ways of Christian commentators are dark!
Paley's quotation is taken from the epistle to the Smyrnaeans (not one
of the Syriac, be it noted), and is from the shorter Greek recension. It
occurs in chap. iii., and only says that Peter, and those who were with
him, saw Jesus after the resurrection, and believed: "for this cause
also they despised death, and were found its conquerors." Men who
believed in a resurrection might naturally despise death; but it is hard
to see how this quotation--even were it authentic--shows that the
apostles suffered for their belief. What strikes one as most
remarkable--if Paley's contention of the sufferings of the witnesses be
true, and these writings authentic--is that so very little mention is
made of the apostles, of their labours, toils, and sufferings, and that
these epistles are simply a kind of patchwork, chiefly of Old Testament
materials, mixed up with exhortations about Christ.
The circular epistle of the Church of Smyrna is a curious document.
Paley quotes a terrible account of the tortures inflicted, and one would
imagine on reading it that many must have been put to death. We are
surprised to learn, from the epistle itself, that Polycarp was only the
twelfth martyr between the two towns of Smyrna and Philadelphia! The
amount of dependence to be placed on the narrative may be judged by the
following:--"As the flame blazed forth in great fury, we, to whom it was
given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and have been preserved
that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire,
shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when
filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr.
And he appeared within, not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that
is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we
perceived such a sweet odour, as if frankincense or some such precious
spices had been burning there. At length, when those men perceived that
his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an
executioner to go near, and pierce him with a dagger. And on his doing
this, there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that
the fire was extinguished" ("Apostolic Fathers," p. 92). What reliance
can be placed on historians(?) who gravely relate that fire does not
burn, and that when a man is pierced with a dagger a dove flies out,
together with sufficient blood to quench a flaming pile? To make this
precious epistle still more valuable, one of its transcribers adds to
it:--"I again, Pionius, wrote them (these things) from the previously
written copy, having carefully searched into them, and the blessed
Polycarp having manifested them to me through a revelation[!] even as I
shall show in what follows. I have collected these things, when they had
almost faded away through the lapse of time" (Ibid, p. 96). If this is
history, then any absurd dream may be taken as the basis of belief. We
may add that this epistle does not mention the martyrdoms of the
eye-witnesses, and it is hard to know why Paley drags it in, unless he
wants to make us believe that his eye-witnesses suffered all the
tortures he quotes; but even Paley cannot pretend that there is a
scintilla of proof of their undergoing any such trials. Thus falls the
whole argument based on the "twelve men, whose probity and good sense I
had long known," dying for the persistent assertion of "a miracle
wrought before their eyes," who are used as a parallel of the apostles,
as an argument against Hume. For we have not yet proved that there were
any eye-witnesses, or that they made any assertions, and we have
entirely failed to prove that the eye-witnesses were martyred at all, or
that the death of any one of them, save that of Peter, is even mentioned
in the alleged documents, so that the "satisfactory evidences" of the
"original witnesses of the Christian miracles" suffering and dying in
attestation of those miracles amount to this, that in a disputed
document Peter is said to have been martyred, and in another, still more
doubtful, "the rest of the apostles" are said to have "suffered." Thus
the first proposition of Paley falls entirely to the ground. The honest
truth is that the history of the twelve apostles is utterly unknown, and
that around their names gathers a mass of incredible and nonsensical
myth and legend, similar in kind to other mythological fables, and
entirely unworthy of credence by reasonable people.
Nor is proof less lacking of submission "from the same motives, to new
rules of conduct." Nowhere is there a sign that Christian morality was
enforced by appeal to the miracles of Christ; miracles were, in those
days, too common an incident to attract much attention, and, indeed, if
they could not win belief in the mission from those Jews before whom
they were said to have been performed, what chance would they have had
when the story of their working was only repeated by hearsay? Again, the
rules of conduct were not "new;" the best parts of the Christian
morality had been taught long before Christ (as we shall prove later on
by quotations), and were familiar to the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians,
from the writings of their own philosophers. There would have been
nothing remarkable in a new sect growing up among these peoples,
accustomed as they were to the schools of the philosophers, with their
various groups of disciples distinguished by special names. Why is there
anything more wonderful in these Christian societies with a high moral
code, than in the severe and stately morality inculcated and practised
by the Stoics? For the submission of conduct to the "new rules," the
less said the better. 1 Corinthians does not give us a very lofty idea
of the morality current among the Christians there, and the angry
reproaches of Jude imply much depravity; the messages to the seven
Churches are generally reproving, not to dwell on many scattered
passages of the same character. Outsiders, moreover, speak very harshly
of the Christian societies. Tacitus--whose testimony must be allowed
some weight, if he be quoted as a proof of the existence of the
sect--says that they were held in abhorrence for their crimes, and were
condemned for their "enmity to mankind" (the expression of Tacitus may
either mean _haters of_ mankind, or _hated by_ mankind), expressions
which show that the adherents of the higher and purer morality were, at
least, singularly unfortunate in the impressions of it which they
conveyed to their neighbours by their lives; and we find, further, the
most scandalous crimes imputed to the Christians, necessitating the
enforcement against them of edicts passed to put down the shameful
Bacchanalian mysteries. And here, indeed, is the true cause of the
persecution to which they were subjected under the just and merciful
Roman sway, and this is a point that should not be lost sight of by the
About 186 B.C., according to Livy (lib. xxxix. c. 8-19), the Roman
Government, discovering that certain "Bacchanalian mysteries" were
habitually celebrated in Rome, issued stern edicts against the
participants in them, and succeeding in, at least partially, suppressing
them. The reason given by the Consul Postumius for these edicts was
political, not religious. "Could they think," he asked, "that youths,
initiated under such oaths as theirs, were fit to be made soldiers? That
wretches brought out of the temple of obscenity could be trusted with
arms? That those contaminated with the foul debaucheries of these
meetings should be the champions for the chastity of the wives and
children of the Roman people?" "Let us now closely examine how far the
Eleusinian and Bacchanalian feasts resembled the Christian
Agapae--whether the latter, modified and altered a little according to
the change which would take place in the taste of the age, originated
from the former, or were altogether from a different source. We have
seen that the forementioned Pagan feasts were, throughout Italy, in a
very flourishing state about 186 years before the Christian era. We have
also seen that about this time they were, at least, partially suppressed
in Italy, and those who were wont to take part in them dispersed over
the world. Being zealously devoted to the religion of which these feasts
were part, it is very natural to suppose that, wherever the votaries of
this superstition settled, they soon established these feasts, which
they were enabled to carry on secretly, and, therefore, for a
considerable time, undetected.... Both Pagans and Christians, in ancient
times, were particularly careful not to disclose their _mysteries_; to
do so, in violation of their oaths, would cost their lives" ("The
Prophet of Nazareth," by E.P. Meredith, notes, pp. 225, 226). Mr.
Meredith then points out how in Rome, in Lyons, in Vienne, "the
Christians were actually accused of murdering children and others--of
committing adultery, incest, and other flagrant crimes in their secret
lovefeasts. The question, therefore, arises--were they really guilty of
the barbarous crimes with which they were so often formally charged, and
for the commission of which they were almost as often legally condemned,
and punished with death? Is it probable that persons _at Rome_, who had
once belonged to these lovefeasts, should tell a deliberate falsehood
that the Christians perpetrated these abominable vices, and that other
persons _in France_, who had also been connected with these feasts,
should falsely state that the Christians were guilty of the very same
execrable crimes? There was no collusion or connection whatever between
these parties, and in making their statements, they could have no
self-interested motive. They lived in different countries, they did not
make their statements within twenty years of the same time, and by
making such statements they rendered themselves liable to be punished
with death.... The same remark applies to the disclosures made, about
150 years after, by certain females in Damascus, far remote from either
Lyons or Rome. These make precisely the same statement--that they had
once been Christians, that they were privy to criminal acts among them,
and that these Christians, in their very churches, committed licentious
deeds. The Romans would never have so relentlessly persecuted the
Christians had they not been guilty of some such atrocities as were laid
to their charge. There are on record abundant proofs that the Romans,
from the earliest account we have of them, tolerated all harmless
religions--all such as were not directly calculated to endanger the
public peace, or vitiate public morals, or render life and property
unsafe.... So well known were those horrid vices to be carried on by all
Christians in their nocturnal and secret assemblies, and so certain it
was thought that every one who was a Christian participated in them,
that for a person to be known to be a Christian was thought a strong
presumptive proof that he was guilty of these offences. Hence, persons
in their preliminary examinations, who, on being interrogated, answered
that they were Christians, were thought proper subjects for committal to
prison.... Pliny further indicates that while some brought before him,
on information, refused to tell him anything as to the nature of their
nocturnal meetings, others replied to his questions as far as their oath
permitted them. They told him that it was their practice, as Christians,
to meet on a stated day, before daylight, to sing hymns; and to bind
themselves by a solemn oath that they would do no wrong; that they would
not steal, nor rob, nor commit any act of unchastity; that they would
never violate a trust; and that they joined together in a common and
innocent repast. While all these answers to the questions of the
Proconsul are suggestive of the crimes with which the Christians were
charged, still they are a denial of every one of them.... The whole
tenor of historical facts is, however, against their testimony, and the
Proconsul did not believe them; but, in order to get at the entire
truth, put some of them to the torture, and ultimately adjourned their
trial [see ante, pp. 203-205]. The manner in which Greek and Latin
writers mention the Christians goes far to show that they were guilty of
the atrocious crimes laid to their charge. Suetonius (in Nero) calls
them, 'A race of men of new and villainous superstition' [see ante, p.
201]. The Emperor Adrian, in a letter to his brother-in-law, Servianus,
in the year 134, as given by Vospicius, says: 'There is no presbyter of
the Christians who is not either an astrologer, a soothsayer, or a
minister of obscene pleasures.' Tacitus tells us that Nero inflicted
exquisite punishment upon those people who, under the vulgar appellation
of Christians, were held in abhorrence for their crimes. He also, in the
same place, says they were 'odious to mankind;' and calls their religion
a 'pernicious superstition' [see ante, p. 99]. Maximus, likewise, in his
letter, calls them 'votaries of execrable vanity,' who had 'filled the
world with infamy.' It would appear, however, that owing to the extreme
measures taken against them by the Romans, both in Italy and in all the
provinces, the Christians, by degrees, were forced to abandon entirely
in their Agapae infant murders, together with every species of
obscenity, retaining, nevertheless, some relics of them, such as the
_kiss of charity_, and the bread and wine, which they contended was
transubstantiated into real flesh and blood.... A very common way of
repelling these charges was for one sect of Christians, which, of
course, denounced all other sects as heretics, to urge that human
sacrifices and incestuous festivals were not celebrated by that sect,
but that they _were_ practised by other sects; such, for example, as the
Marcionites and the Capocratians. (Justin Mart., 'Apology,' i., 35;
Iren., adv. Haer. i., 24; Clem. Alex., i., 3.) When Tertullian joined
the Montanists, another sect of Christians, he divulged the criminal
secrets of the Church which he had so zealously defended, by saying, in
his 'Treatise on Fasting,' c. 17, that 'in the Agapae the young men lay
with their sisters, and wallowed in wantonness and luxury'.... Remnants
of these execrable customs remained for a long time, and vestiges of
them exist to this very day, as well in certain words and phrases as in
practice. The communion table to this very day is called _the altar_,
the name of that upon which the ancients sacrificed their victims. The
word _sacrament_ has a meaning, as used by Pliny already cited, which
carries us back to the solemn oath of the Agapaeists. The word _mass_
carries us back still further, and identifies the present mass with that
of the Pagans.... Formerly the consecrated bread was called _host_,
which word signifies a _victim_ offered _as sacrifice_, anciently
_human_ very often.... Jerome and other Fathers called the communion
bread--_little body_, and the communion table--_mystical table_; the
latter, in allusion to the heathen and early Christian mysteries, and
the former, in reference to the children sacrificed at the Agapae. The
great doctrine of transubstantiation directly points to the abominable
practice of eating human flesh at the Agapae.... Upon the whole, it is
impossible, from the mass of evidence already adduced, to avoid the
conclusion that the early Christians, in their Agapae, were really
guilty of the execrable vices with which they were so often charged, and
for which they were sentenced to death. This once admitted, a reasonable
and adequate cause can be assigned for the severe persecutions of the
Christians by the Roman Government--a Government which applied precisely
the same laws and modes of persecution and punishment to them as to the
votaries of the Bacchanalian and Eleusinian mysteries, well known to
have been accustomed to offer human sacrifices, and indulge in the most
obscene lasciviousness in their secret assemblies; and a Government
which tolerated all kinds of religions, except those which encouraged
practices dangerous to human life, or pernicious to the morals of
subjects. Nor can the facts already advanced fail to show clearly that
the Christian Agapae were of Pagan origin--were identically the same as
those Pagan feasts which existed simultaneously with them" (Ibid, notes,
pp. 227, 231).
There can be no doubt that the Christians suffered for these crimes
whether or no they were guilty of them: "Three things are alleged
against us: Atheism, Thyestean feasts, OEdipodean intercourse," says
Athenagoras ("Apology," ch. iii). Justin Martyr refers to the same
charges ("2nd Apology," ch. xii). "Monsters of wickedness, we are
accused of observing a holy rite, in which we kill a little child and
then eat it, in which after the feast we practise incest.... Come,
plunge your knife into the babe, enemy of none, accused of none, child
of all; or if that is another's work, simply take your place beside a
human being dying before he has really lived, await the departure of the
lately-given soul, receive the fresh young blood, saturate your bread
with it, freely partake" ("Apology," Tertullian, secs. 7, 8). Tertullian
pleads earnestly that these accusations were false: "if you cannot do
it, you ought not to believe it of others. For a Christian is a man as
well as you" (Ibid). Yet, when Tertullian became a Montanist, he
declared that these very crimes _were_ committed at the Agapae, so that
he spoke falsely either in the one case or in the other. "It was
sometimes faintly insinuated, and sometimes boldly asserted, that the
same bloody sacrifices and the same incestuous festivals, which were so
falsely ascribed to the orthodox believers, were in reality celebrated
by the Marcionites, by the Carpocratians, and by several other sects of
the Gnostics.... Accusations of a similar kind were retorted upon the
Church by the schismatics who had departed from its communion; and it
was confessed on all sides that the most scandalous licentiousness of
manners prevailed among great numbers of those who affected the name of
Christians. A Pagan magistrate, who possessed neither leisure nor
abilities to discern the almost imperceptible line which divides the
orthodox faith from heretical depravity, might easily have imagined that
their mutual animosity had extorted the discovery of their common guilt"
("Decline and Fall," Gibbon, vol. ii., pp. 204, 205). It was fortunate,
the historian concludes, that some of the magistrates reported that they
discovered no such criminality. It is, be it noted, simultaneously with
the promulgation of these charges that the persecution of the Christians
takes place; during the first century very little is heard of such, and
there is very little persecution [see ante, pp. 209-213]. In the
following century the charges are frequent, and so are the persecutions.
To these strong arguments may be added the acknowledgment in 1. Cor.
xi., 17, 22, of disorder and drunkenness at these Agapae; the habit of
speaking of the communion feast as "the Christian _mysteries_," a habit
still kept up in the Anglican prayer-book; the fact that they took place
_at night_, under cover of darkness, a custom for which there was not
the smallest reason, unless the service were of a nature so
objectionable as to bring it under the ban of the tolerant Roman law;
and lastly, the use of the cross, and the sign of the cross, the central
Christian emblem, and one that, especially in connection with the
mysteries, is of no dubious signification. Thus, in the twilight in
which they were veiled in those early days, the Christians appear to us
as a sect of very different character to that bestowed upon them by
Paley. A little later, when they emerge into historical light, their own
writers give us sufficient evidence whereby we may judge them; and we
find them superstitious, grossly ignorant, quarrelsome, cruel, divided
into ascetics and profligates, between whom it is hard to award the palm
for degradation and indecency.
Having "proved"--in the above fashion--that a number of people in the
first century advanced "an extraordinary story," underwent persecution,
and altered their manner of life, because of it, Paley thinks it "in the
highest degree probable, that the story for which these persons
voluntarily exposed themselves to the fatigues and hardships which they
endured, was a _miraculous_ story; I mean, that they pretended to
miraculous evidence of some kind or other" ("Evidences," p. 64). That
the Christians believed in a miraculous story may freely be
acknowledged, but it is evidence of the truth of the story that we want,
not evidence of their belief in it. Many ignorant people believe in
witchcraft and in fortune-telling now-a-days, but their belief only
proves their own ignorance, and not the truth of either superstition.
The next step in the argument is that "the story which Christians have
_now_" is "the story which Christians had _then_" and it is urged that
there is in existence no trace of any story of Jesus Christ
"substantially different from ours" ("Evidences," p. 69). It is hard to
judge how much difference is covered by the word "substantially." All
the apocryphal gospels differ very much from the canonical, insert
sayings and doings of Christ not to be found in the received histories,
and make his character the reverse of good or lovable to a far greater
extent than "the four." That Christ was miraculously born, worked
miracles, was crucified, buried, rose again, ascended, may be accepted
as "substantial" parts of the story. Yet Mark and John knew nothing of
the birth, while, if the Acts and the Epistles are to be trusted, the
apostles were equally ignorant; thus the great doctrine of the
Incarnation of God without natural generation, is thoroughly ignored by
all save Matthew and Luke, and even these destroy their own story by
giving genealogies of Jesus through Joseph, which are useless unless
Joseph was his real father. The birth from a virgin, then has no claim
to be part of Paley's miraculous story in the earliest times. The
evidence of miracle-working by Christ to be found in the Epistles is
chiefly conspicuous by its absence, but it figures largely in
post-apostolic works. The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are
generally acknowledged, and these three incidents compose the whole
story for which a consensus of testimony can be claimed; it will,
perhaps, be fair to concede also that Christ is recognised universally
as a miracle-worker, in spite of the strange silence of the epistles. We
need not refer to the testimony of Clement, Polycarp or Ignatius, having
already shown what dependence may be placed on their writings. But we
have now three new witnesses, Barnabas, Quadratus, and Justin Martyr.
Paley says: "In an epistle, bearing the name of Barnabas, the companion
of Paul, probably genuine, certainly belonging to that age, we have the
sufferings of Christ," etc. (Evidences p. 75). "Probably genuine,
certainly belonging to that age!" Is Paley joking with his readers, or
only trading on their ignorance? "The letter itself bears no author's
name, is not dated from any place, and is not addressed to any special
community. _Towards the end of the second century, however, tradition
began to ascribe it to Barnabas, the companion of Paul. The first writer
who mentions it is Clement of Alexandria_ [head of the Alexandrian
School, A.D. 205] who calls its author several times the 'Apostle
Barnabas'.... We have already seen in the case of the Epistles ascribed
to Clement of Rome, and, as we proceed, we shall become only too
familiar with the fact, the singular facility with which, in the total
absence of critical discrimination, spurious writings were ascribed by
the Fathers to Apostles and their followers.... Credulous piety which
attributed writings to every Apostle, and even to Jesus himself, soon
found authors for each anonymous work of an edifying character.... In
the earlier days of criticism, some writers, without much question,
adopted the traditional view as to the authorship of the Epistles, but
the great mass of critics are now agreed in asserting that the
composition, which itself is perfectly anonymous, cannot be attributed
to Barnabas the friend and fellow worker of Paul. Those who maintain the
former opinion date the Epistle about A.D. 70-73, or even earlier, but
this is scarcely the view of any living critic" ("Supernatural
Religion," vol. i., pp. 237-239).
"From its contents it seems unlikely that it was written by a companion
of Apostles and a Levite. In addition to this, it is probable that
Barnabas died before A.D. 62; and the letter contains not only an
allusion to the destruction of the Jewish temple, but also affirms the
abnegation of the Sabbath, and the general celebration of the Lord's
Day, which seems to show that it could not have been written before the
beginning of the second century" ("Westcott on the Canon," p. 41).
"Nothing certain is known as to the author of the following epistle. The
writer's name is Barnabas; but scarcely any scholars now ascribe it to
the illustrious friend and companion of St. Paul.... The internal
evidence is now generally regarded as conclusive against this
opinion.... The external evidence [ascribing it to Barnabas] is of
itself weak, and should not make us hesitate for a moment in refusing to
ascribe this writing to Barnabas, the apostle.... The general opinion
is, that its date is not later than the middle of the second century,
and that it cannot be placed earlier than some twenty or thirty years or
so before. In point of style, both as respects thought and expression, a
very low place must be assigned it. We know nothing certain of the
region in which the author lived, or where the first readers were to be
found" ("Apostolic Fathers," pp. 99, 100). The Epistle is not ascribed
to Barnabas at all until the close of the second century. Eusebius marks
it as "spurious" ("Eccles. Hist," bk. iii., chap. xxv). Lardner speaks
of it as "probably Barnabas's, and certainly ancient" ("Credibility,"
pt. ii., vol. ii., p. 30). When we see the utter conflict of evidence as
to the writings of all these "primitive" authors, we can scarcely wonder
at the frank avowal of the Rev. Dr. Giles: "The writings of the
Apostolical Fathers labour under a more heavy load of doubt and
suspicion than any other ancient compositions, either sacred or profane"
("Christian Records," p. 53).
Paley, in quoting "Quadratus," does not tell us that the passage he
quotes is the only writing of Quadratus extant, and is only preserved by
Eusebius, who says that he takes it from an apology addressed by
Quadratus to the Emperor Adrian. Adrian reigned from A.D. 117-138, and
the apology must consequently have been presented between these dates.
If the apology be genuine, Quadratus makes the extraordinary assertion
that some of the people raised from the dead by Jesus were then living.
Jesus is only recorded to have raised three people--a girl, a young man,
and Lazarus; we will take their ages at ten, twenty, and thirty. "Some
of" those raised cannot be less than two out of the three; we will say
the two youngest. Then they were alive at the respectable ages of from
95-116, and from 105-126. The first may be taken as just within the
limits of possibility; the second as beyond them; but Quadratus talks in
a wholesale fashion, which quite destroys his credibility, and we can
lay but little stress on the carefulness or trustworthiness of a
historian who speaks in such reckless words. Added to this, we find no
trace of this passage until Eusebius writes it in the fourth century,
and it is well known that Eusebius was not too particular in his
quotations, thinking that his duty was only to make out the best case he
could. He frankly says: "We are totally unable to find even the bare
vestiges of those who may have travelled the way before us; unless,
perhaps, what is only presented in the slight intimations, which some in
different ways have transmitted to us in certain partial narratives of
the times in which they lived.... _Whatsoever_, therefore, _we deem
likely to be advantageous to_ the proposed subject we shall endeavour to
reduce to a compact body" ("Eccles. Hist.," bk. i., chap. i).
Accordingly, he produces a full Church History out of materials which
are only "slight intimations," and carefully draws out in detail a path
of which not "even the bare vestiges" are left. Little wonder that he
had to rely so much upon his imagination, when he had to build a church,
and had no straws for his bricks.
Paley brings Justin Martyr (born about A.D. 103, died about A.D. 167) as
his last authority--as after his time the story may be taken as
established--and says: "From Justin's works, which are still extant,
might be collected a tolerably complete account of Christ's life, in all
points agreeing with that which is delivered in our Scriptures; taken,
indeed, in a great measure, from those Scriptures, but still proving
that this account, and no other, was the account known and extant in
that age" ("Evidences," p. 77). If "no other" account was extant, Justin
must have largely drawn on his own imagination when he pretends to be
quoting. Jesus, according to Justin, is conceived "of the Word"
("Apol.," i. 33), not of the Holy Ghost, the third person, the Holy
Ghost being said to be identical with the Word; and he is thus conceived
by himself. He is born, not in Bethlehem in a stable, but in a "cave
near the village," because Joseph could find no lodging in Bethlehem
("Dial." 78). The magi come, not from "the East," but from Arabia
("Dial." 77). Jesus works as a carpenter, making ploughs and yokes
("Dial." 88). The story of the baptism is very different ("Dial." 88).
In the trial Jesus is set on the judgment seat, and tauntingly bidden to
judge his accusers ("Apol.," i. 35). All the apostles deny him, and
forsake him, after he is crucified ("Apol.," i. 50). These instances
might be increased, and, as we shall see later, Justin manifestly quotes
from accounts other than the canonical gospels. Yet Paley pretends that
"no other" account was extant, and that in the very face of Luke i. 1,
which declares that "many have taken in hand" the writing of such
histories. If Paley had simply said that the story of a miracle-worker,
named the Anointed Saviour, who was born of a virgin, was crucified,
rose and ascended into heaven, was told with many variations among the
Christians. from about 100 years after his supposed birth, he would have
spoken truly; and had he added to this, that the very same story was
told among Egyptians and Hindoos, many hundreds of years earlier, he
would have treated his readers honestly, although he might not thereby
have increased their belief in the "divine origin of Christianity."
Before we pass on to the last evidences offered by Paley, which
necessitate a closer investigation into the value of the testimony borne
by the patristic, to the canonical, writings, it will be well to put
broadly the fact, that these Fathers are simply worthless as witnesses
to any matter of fact, owing to the absurd and incredible stories which
they relate with the most perfect faith. Of critical faculty they have
none; the most childish nonsense is accepted by them, with the gravest
face; no story is too silly, no falsehood too glaring, for them to
believe and to retail, in fullest confidence of its truth. Gross
ignorance is one of their characteristics; they are superstitious,
credulous, illiterate, to an almost incredible extent. Clement considers
that "the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future
resurrection" by the following "fact," among others: "Let us consider
that wonderful sign which takes place in Eastern lands--that is, in
Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is
called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives 500 years.
And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it
builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into
which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But, as the flesh
decays, a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by
the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has
acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its
parent, and, bearing these, it passes from the land of Arabia into
Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And in open day, flying in the
sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and, having
done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect
the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the
500th year was completed" (1st Epistle of Clement, chap. xxv.). Surely
the evidence here should satisfy Paley as to the truth of this story:
"the open day," "flying in the sight of all men," the priests inspecting
the registers, and all this vouched for by Clement himself! How reliable
must be the testimony of the apostolic Clement! Tertullian, the
Apostolic Constitutions, and Cyril of Jerusalem mention the same tale.
We have already drawn attention to that which _was seen by_ the writers
of the circular letter of the Church of Smyrna. Barnabas loses himself
in a maze of allegorical meanings, and gives us some delightful
instruction in natural history; he is dealing with the directions of
Moses as to clean and unclean animals: "'Thou shalt not,' he says, 'eat
the hare.' Wherefore? 'Thou shalt not be a corrupter of boys, nor like
unto such.' Because the hare multiplies, year by year, the places of its
conception; for as many years as it lives, so many _foramina_ it has.
Moreover, 'Thou shalt not eat the hyaena.'... Wherefore? Because that
animal annually changes its sex, and is at one time male, and at another
female. Moreover, he has rightly detested the weasel ... For this animal
conceives by the mouth.... Behold how well Moses legislated" (Epistle of
Barnabas, chapter x.). "'And Abraham circumcised ten and eight and three
hundred men of his household.' What, then, was the knowledge given to
him in this? Learn the eighteen first, and then the three hundred. The
ten and the eight are thus denoted--Ten by I, and Eight by H. You have
Jesus. And because the cross was to express the grace by the letter T,
he says also Three Hundred. He signifies, therefore, Jesus by two
letters, and the cross by one.... No one has been admitted by me to a
more excellent piece of knowledge than this, but I know that ye are
worthy" (Ibid, chapter ix.). And this is Paley's companion of the
Apostles! Ignatius tells us of the "star of Bethlehem." "A star shone
forth in heaven above all other stars, and the light of which was
inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all
the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this
star" (Epistle to the Ephesians, chap. xix.). Why should we accept
Ignatius' testimony to the star, and reject his testimony to the sun and
moon and stars singing to it? Or take Origen against Celsus: "I have
this further to say to the Greeks, who will not believe that our Saviour
was born of a virgin: that the Creator of the world, if he pleases, can
make every animal bring forth its young in the same wonderful manner.
As, for instance, the _vultures propagate their kind in this uncommon
way,_ as the best writers of natural history do acquaint us" (chap,
xxxiii., as quoted in "Diegesis," p. 319). Or shall we turn to Irenaeus,
so invaluable a witness, since he knew Polycarp, who knew John, who knew
Jesus? Listen, then, to the reminiscences of John, as reported by
Irenaeus: "John related the words of the Lord concerning the times of the
kingdom of God: the days would come when vines would grow, each with
10,000 shoots, and to each shoot 10,000 branches, and to each branch
10,000 twigs, and to each twig 10,000 clusters, and to each cluster
10,000 grapes, and each grape which is crushed will yield twenty-five
measures of wine. And when one of the saints will reach after one of
these clusters, another will cry: 'I am a better cluster than it; take
me, and praise the Lord because of me.' Likewise, a grain of wheat will
produce 10,000 ears, each ear 10,000 grains, each grain ten pounds of
fine white flour. Other fruits, and seeds, and herbs in proportion. The
whole brute creation, feeding on such things as the earth brings forth,
will become sociable and peaceable together, and subject to man with all
humility" ("Iren. Haer.," v., 33, 3-4, as quoted in Keim's "Jesus of
Nazara," p. 45). What trust can be placed in the truth of facts to which
these men pretend to bear witness when we find St. Augustine preaching
that "he himself, being at that time Bishop of Hippo Regius, had
preached the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to a whole
nation of men and women that had no heads, but had their eyes in their
bosoms; and in countries still more southerly he preached to a nation
among whom each individual had but one eye, and that situate in the
middle of the forehead" ("Syntagma," p. 33, as quoted in "Diegesis," p.
Eusebius tells us of a man, named Sanctus, who was tortured until his
body "was one continued wound, mangled and shrivelled, that had entirely
lost the form of man;" and, when the tormentors began again on the same
day, he "recovered the former shape and habit of his limbs" ("Eccles.
Hist," bk. v., chap. i.). He then was sent to the amphitheatre, passing
down the lane of scourgers, was dragged about and lacerated by the wild
beast, roasted in an iron chair, and after this was "at last
dispatched!" Other accounts, such as that of a man scourged till his
bones were "bared of the flesh," and then slowly tortured, are given as
history, as though a man in that condition would not speedily bleed to
death. But it is useless to give more of these foolish stories, which
weary us as we toil through the writings of the early Church. Well may
Mosheim say that the "Apostolic Fathers, and the other writers, who, in
the infancy of the Church, employed their pens in the cause of
Christianity, were neither remarkable for their learning nor their
eloquence" ("Eccles. Hist," p. 32). Thoroughly unreliable as they are,
they are useless as witnesses of supposed miraculous events; and, in
relating ordinary occurrences, they should not be depended upon in any
matter of importance, unless they be corroborated by more trustworthy
The last point Paley urges in support of his proposition is, that the
accounts contained in "the historical Books of the New Testament" are
"deserving of credit as histories," and that such is "the situation of
the authors to whom the four Gospels are ascribed that, if any one of
the four be genuine, it is sufficient for our purpose." This brings us,
indeed, to the crucial point of our investigation, for, as we can gain
so little information from external sources, we are perforce driven to
the Christian writings themselves. If they break down under criticism as
completely as the external evidences have done, then Christianity
becomes hopelessly discredited as to its historical basis, and must
simply take rank with the other mythologies of the world. But before we
can accept the writings as historical, we are bound to investigate their
authenticity and credibility. Does the external evidence suffice to
prove their authenticity? Do the contents of the books themselves
commend them as credible to our intelligence? It is possible that,
although the historical evidence authenticating them be somewhat
defective, yet the thorough coherency and reasonableness of the books
may induce us to consider them as reliable; or, if the latter points be
lacking from the supernatural character of the occurrences related, yet
the evidence of authenticity may be so overwhelming as to place the
accuracy of the accounts beyond cavil. But if external evidence be
wanting, and internal evidence be fatal to the truthfulness of the
writings, then it will become our duty to remove them from the temple of
history, and to place them in the fairy gardens of fancy and of myth,
where they may amuse and instruct the student, without misleading him as
to questions of fact.
The positions which we here lay down are:--
_a_. That forgeries bearing the names of Christ, and of the apostles,
and of the early Fathers, were very common in the primitive Church.
_b_. That there is nothing to distinguish the canonical from the
_c_. That it is not known where, when, by whom, the canonical writings
_d_. That before about A.D. 180 there is no trace of _four_ Gospels
among the Christians.
_e_. That before that date Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not
selected as the four evangelists.
_f_. That there is no evidence that the four Gospels mentioned about
that date were the same as those we have now.
_g_. That there is evidence that two of them were not the same.
_h_. That there is evidence that the earlier records were not the
Gospels now esteemed canonical.
_i_. That the books themselves show marks of their later origin.
_j_. That the language in which they are written is presumptive evidence
against their authenticity.
_k_. That they are in themselves utterly unworthy of credit, from (1)
the miracles with which they abound, (2) the numerous contradictions of
each by the others, (3) the fact that the story of the hero, the
doctrines, the miracles, were current long before the supposed dates of
the Gospels; so that these Gospels are simply a patchwork composed of
Paley begins his argument by supposing that the first and fourth Gospels
were written by the apostles Matthew and John, "from personal knowledge
and recollection" ("Evidences," p. 87), and that they must therefore be
either true, or wilfully false; the latter being most improbable, as
they would then be "villains for no end but to teach honesty, and
martyrs without the least prospect of honour or advantage" (Ibid, page
88). But supposing that Matthew and John wrote some Gospels, we should
need proof that the Gospels which we have, supposing them to be copies
of those thus written, have not been much altered since they left the
apostles' hands. We should next ask how Matthew can report from
"personal knowledge and recollection" all that comes in his Gospel
_before he was called from his tax-gathering_, as well as many incidents
at which he was not present? and whether his reliability as a witness is
not terribly weakened by his making no distinction between what was fact
within his own knowledge, and what was simple hearsay? Further, we
remark that some of the teaching is the reverse of teaching "honesty,"
and that such instruction as Matt. v. 39-42 would, if accepted, exactly
suit "villains;" that the extreme glorification of the master would
naturally be reflected upon "the twelve" who followed him, and the
authority of the writers would thereby be much increased and confirmed;
that pure moral teaching on some points is no guarantee of the morality
of the teacher, for a tyrant, or an ambitious priest, would naturally
wish to discourage crime of some kinds in those he desired to rule; that
such tyrant or priest could find no better creed to serve his purpose
than meek, submissive, non-resisting, heaven-seeking Christianity. Thus
we find Mosheim saying of Constantine: "It is, indeed, probable that
this prince perceived the admirable tendency of the Christian doctrine
and precepts to promote the stability of government, by preserving the
citizens in their obedience to the reigning powers, and in the practice
of those virtues that render a State happy" ("Eccles. Hist," p. 87). We
discover Charlemagne enforcing Christianity among the Saxons by sword
and fire, hoping that it would, among other things, "induce them to
submit more tamely to the government of the Franks" (Ibid, p. 170). And
we see missionaries among the savages usurping "a despotic dominion over
their obsequious proselytes" (Ibid, p. 157); and "St. Boniface," the
"apostle of Germany," often employing "violence and terror, and
sometimes artifice and fraud, in order to multiply the number of
Christians" (Ibid, p. 169). Thus do "villains" very often "teach
honesty." Nor is it true that these apostles were "martyrs [their
martyrdom being unproved] without the least prospect of honour or
advantage;" on the contrary, they desired to know what they would get by
following Jesus. "_What shall we have_, therefore?... Ye which have
followed me shall sit upon twelve thrones" (Matt. xix. 27-30); and,
further, in Mark ix. 28-31, we are told that any one who forsakes
anything for Jesus shall receive "an hundredfold _now in this time,"_ as
well as eternal life in the world to come. Surely, then, there was
"prospect" enough of "honour and advantage"? These remarks apply quite
as strongly to Mark and Luke, neither of whom are pretended to be
eye-witnesses. Of Mark we know nothing, except that it is said that
there was a man named John, whose surname was Mark (Acts xii. 12 and
25), who ran away from his work (Acts xv. 38); and a man named Marcus,
nephew of Barnabas (Col. iv. 10), who may, or may not, be the same, but
is probably somebody else, as he is with Paul; and one of the same name
is spoken of (2 Tim. ii.) as "profitable for the ministry," which John
Mark was not, and who (Philemon 24) was a "fellow-labourer" with Paul in
Rome, while John Mark was rejected in this capacity by Paul at Antioch.
Why Mark, or John Mark, should write a Gospel, he not having been an
eye-witness, or why Mark, or John Mark, should be identical with Mark
the Evangelist, only writers of Christian evidences can hope to
A. _That forgeries, bearing the names of Christ, of the apostles, and of
the early Fathers, were very common in the primitive Church_.
"The opinions, or rather the conjectures, of the learned concerning the
time when the books of the New Testament were collected into one volume,
as also about the authors of that collection, are extremely different.
This important question is attended with great and almost insuperable
difficulties to us in these latter times" (Mosheim's "Eccles. Hist.," p.
31). These difficulties arise, to a great extent, from the large number
of forgeries, purporting to be writings of Christ, of the apostles, and
of the apostolic Fathers, current in the early Church. "For, not long
after Christ's ascension into heaven, several histories of his life and
doctrines, full of pious frauds and fabulous wonders, were composed by
persons whose intentions, perhaps, were not bad, but whose writings
discovered the greatest superstition and ignorance. Nor was this all;
productions appeared which were imposed upon the world by fraudulent
men, as the writings of the holy apostles" (Ibid, p. 31). "Another
erroneous practice was adopted by them, which, though it was not so
universal as the other, was yet extremely pernicious, and proved a
source of numberless evils to the Christian Church. The Platonists and
Pythagoreans held it as a maxim, that it was not only lawful, but even
praiseworthy, to deceive, and even to use the expedient of a lie, in
order to advance the cause of truth and piety. The Jews, who lived in
Egypt, had learned and received this maxim from them, before the coming
of Christ, as appears incontestably from a multitude of ancient records;
and the Christians were infected from both these sources with the same
pernicious error, as appears from the number of books attributed falsely
to great and venerable names, from the Sibylline verses, and several
suppositious productions which were spread abroad in this and the
following century. It does not, indeed, seem probable that all these
pious frauds were chargeable upon the professors of real Christianity,
upon those who entertained just and rational sentiments of the religion
of Jesus. The greatest part of these fictitious writings undoubtedly
flowed from the fertile invention of the Gnostic sects, though it cannot
be affirmed that even true Christians were entirely innocent and
irreproachable in this matter" (Ibid, p. 55). "This disingenuous and
vicious method of surprising their adversaries by artifice, and striking
them down, as it were, by lies and fiction, produced, among other
disagreeable effects, a great number of books, which were falsely
attributed to certain great men, in order to give these spurious
productions more credit and weight" (Ibid, page 77). These forged
writings being so widely circulated, it will be readily understood that
"It is not so easy a matter as is commonly imagined rightly to settle
the Canon of the New Testament. For my own part, I declare, with many
learned men, that, in the whole compass of learning, I know no question
involved with more intricacies and perplexing difficulties than this.
There are, indeed, considerable difficulties relating to the Canon of
the Old Testament, as appears by the large controversies between the
Protestants and Papists on this head in the last, and latter end of the
preceding, century; but these are solved with much more ease than those
of the New.... In settling the old Testament collection, all that is
requisite is to disprove the claim of a few obscure books, which have
but the weakest pretences to be looked upon as Scripture; but, in the
New, we have not only a few to disprove, but a vast number to exclude
[from] the Canon, which seem to have much more right to admission than
any of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament; and, besides, to
evidence the genuineness of all those which we do receive, since,
according to the sentiments of some who would be thought learned, there
are none of them whose authority has not been controverted in the
earliest ages of Christianity.... The number of books that claim
admission [to the canon] is very considerable. Mr. Toland, in his
celebrated catalogue, has presented us with the names of above
eighty.... There are many more of the same sort which he has not
mentioned" (J. Jones on "The Canon of the New Testament," vol. i., pp.
2-4. Ed. 1788).
The following list will give some idea of the number of the apocryphal
writings from which the four Gospels, and other books of the New
Testament, finally emerge as canonical:--
1. Gospel according to the Hebrews.
2. Gospel written by Judas Iscariot.
3. Gospel of Truth, made use of by the Valentinians.
4. Gospel of Peter.
5. Gospel according to the Egyptians.
6. Gospel of Valentinus.
7. Gospel of Marcion.
8. Gospel according to the Twelve Apostles.
9. Gospel of Basilides.
10. Gospel of Thomas (extant).
11. Gospel of Matthias.
12. Gospel of Tatian.
13. Gospel of Scythianus.
14. Gospel of Bartholomew.
15. Gospel of Apelles.
16. Gospels published by Lucianus and Hesychius
17. Gospel of Perfection.
18. Gospel of Eve.
19. Gospel of Philip.
20. Gospel of the Nazarenes (qy. same as first)
21. Gospel of the Ebionites.
22. Gospel of Jude.
23. Gospel of Encratites.
24. Gospel of Cerinthus.
25. Gospel of Merinthus.
26. Gospel of Thaddaeus.
27. Gospel of Barnabas.
28. Gospel of Andrew.
29. Gospel of the Infancy (extant).
30. Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate and Descent
of Christ to the Under World (extant).
31. Gospel of James, or Protevangelium (extant).
32. Gospel of the Nativity of Mary (extant).
33. Arabic Gospel of the Infancy (extant).
34. Syriac Gospel of the Boyhood of our Lord Jesus (extant).
35. Letter to Agbarus by Christ (extant).
36. Letter to Leopas by Christ (extant).
37. Epistle to Peter and Paul by Christ.
38. Epistle by Christ produced by Manichees.
39. Hymn by Christ (extant).
40. Magical Book by Christ.
41. Prayer by Christ (extant).
42. Preaching of Peter.
43. Revelation of Peter.
44. Doctrine of Peter.
45. Acts of Peter.
46. Book of Judgment by Peter.
47. Book, under the name of Peter, forged by Lentius.
48. Preaching of Peter and Paul at Rome.
49. The Vision, or Acts of Paul and Thecla.
50. Acts of Paul.
51. Preaching of Paul.
52. Piece under name of Paul, forged by an "anonymous writer in Cyprian's
53. Epistle to the Laodiceans under name of Paul (extant).
54. Six letters to Seneca under name of Paul (extant).
55. Anabaticon or Revelation of Paul.
56. The traditions of Matthias.
57. Book of James.
58. Book, under name of James, forged by Ebionites.
59. Acts of Andrew, John, and Thomas.
60. Acts of John.
61. Book, under name of John, forged by Ebionites.
62. Book under name of John.
63. Book, under name of John, forged by Lentius.
64. Acts of Andrew.
65. Book under name of Andrew.
66. Book, under name of Andrew, by Naxochristes and Leonides.
67. Book under name of Thomas.
68. Acts of Thomas.
69. Revelation of Thomas.
70. Writings of Bartholomew.
71. Book, under name of Matthew, forged by Ebionites.
72. Acts of the Apostles by Leuthon, or Seleucus.
73. Acts of the Apostles used by Ebionites.
74. Acts of the Apostles by Lenticius.
75. Acts of the Apostles used by Manichees.
76. History of the Twelve Apostles by Abdias (extant).
77. Creed of the Apostles (extant).
78. Constitutions of the Apostles (extant).
79. Acts, under Apostles' names, by Leontius.
80. Acts, under Apostles' names, by Lenticius.
81. Catholic Epistle, in imitation of the Apostles of
Themis, on the Montanists.
82. Revelation of Cerinthus, nominally apostolical.
83. Book of the Helkesaites which fell from Heaven.
84. Books of Lentitius.
85. Revelation of Stephen.
86. Works of Dionysius the Areopagite (extant).
87. History of Joseph the carpenter (extant).
88. Letter of Agbarus to Jesus (extant).
89. Letter of Lentulus (extant).
90. Story of Veronica (extant).
91. Letter of Pilate to Tiberius (extant).
92. Letters of Pilate to Herod (extant).
93. Epistle of Pilate to Caesar (extant).
94. Report of Pilate the Governor (extant).
95. Trial and condemnation of Pilate (extant).
96. Death of Pilate (extant).
97. Story of Joseph of Arimathraea (extant).
98. Revenging of the Saviour (extant).
99. Epistle of Barnabas.
100. Epistle of Polycarp.
101-15. Fifteen epistles of Ignatius (see above, pages 217-220.)
116. Shepherd of Hermas.
117. First Epistle to the Corinthians of Clement (possibly partly
118. Second Epistle to the Corinthians of Clement.
119. Apostolic Canons of Clement.
120. Recognitions of Clement and Clementina.
121-122. Two Epistles of St. Clement of Rome (written in Syriac).
123-128. Six books of Justin Martyr.
129-132. Four books of Justin Martyr.
The above are collected from Jones' On the Canon, Supernatural Religion,
Eusebius, Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Cowper's Apocryphal Gospels,
Dr. Giles' Christian Records, and the Apostolic Fathers.
After reading this list, the student will be able to appreciate the
value of Paley's argument, that, "if it had been an easy thing in the
early times of the institution to have forged Christian writings, and to
have obtained currency and reception to the forgeries, we should have
had many appearing in the name of Christ himself" ("Evidences," p. 106).
Paley acknowledges "one attempt of this sort, deserving of the smallest
notice;" and, in a note, adds three more of those mentioned above. Let
us see what the evidence is of the genuineness of the letter to Agbarus,
the "one attempt" in question, as given by Eusebius. Agbarus, the prince
of Edessa, reigning "over the nations beyond the Euphrates with great
glory," was afflicted with an incurable disease, and, hearing of Jesus,
sent to him to entreat deliverance. The letter of Agbarus is carried to
Jesus, "at Jerusalem, by Ananias, the courier," and the answer of Jesus,
also written, is returned by the same hands. The letter of Jesus runs as
follows, and is written in Syriac: "Blessed art thou, O Agbarus, who,
without seeing me, hast believed in me! For it is written concerning me,
that they who have seen me will not believe, that they who have not seen
me may believe and live. But in regard to what thou hast written, that I
should come to thee, it is necessary that I should fulfil all things
here, for which I have been sent. And, after this fulfilment, thus to be
received again by Him that sent me. And after I have been received up, I
will send to thee a certain one of my disciples, that he may heal thy
affliction, and give life to thee, and to those who are with thee."
After the ascension of Jesus, Thaddaeus, one of the seventy, is sent to
Edessa, and lodges in the house of Tobias, the son of Tobias, and heals
Agbarus and many others. "These things were done in the 340th year"
(Eusebius does not state what he reckons from). The proof given by
Eusebius for the truth of the account is as follows: "Of this also we
have the evidence, in a written answer, taken from the public records of
the city of Edessa, then under the government of the king. For, in the
public registers there, which embrace the ancient history and the
transactions of Agbarus, these circumstances respecting him are found
still preserved down to the present day. There is nothing, however, like
hearing the epistles themselves, taken by us from the archives, and the
style of it, as it has been literally translated by us, from the Syriac
language" ("Eccles. Hist.," bk. i., chap. xiii.). And Paley calls this
an attempt at forgery, "deserving of the smallest notice," and dismisses
it in a few lines. It would be interesting to know for what other
"Scripture," canonical or uncanonical, there is evidence of authenticity
so strong as for this; exactness of detail in names; absence of any
exaggeration more than is implied in recounting any miracle; the
transaction recorded in the public archives; seen there by Eusebius
himself; copied down and translated by him; such evidence for any one of
the Gospels would make belief far easier than it is at present. The
assertion of Eusebius was easily verifiable at the time (to use the
favourite argument of Christians for the truth of any account); and if
Eusebius here wrote falsely, of what value is his evidence on any other
point? A Freethinker may fairly urge that Eusebius is _not_ trustworthy,
and that this assertion of his about the archives is as likely to be
false as true; but the Christian can scarcely admit this, when so much
depends, for him, on the reliability of the great Church historian, all
whose evidence would become worthless if he be once allowed to have
deliberately fabricated that which did not exist.
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