Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
My purpose in grouping the four ensuing studies is to complement and complete the undertaking of a previous volume, entitled Christianity and Mythology. That was substantially a mythological analysis of the Christian system, introduced by a discussion of mythological principles in that particular connection and in general. The bulk of the present volume is substantially a synthesis of Christian origins, introduced by a discussion of the principles of hierology. Such discussion is still forced on sociology by the special pleaders of the prevailing religion. But the central matter of the book is its attempt to trace and synthesise the real lines of growth of the Christian cultus; and it challenges criticism above all by its theses(1) that the gospel story of the Last Supper, Passion, Betrayal, Trial, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, is visibly a transcript of a Mystery Drama, and not originally a narrative; and (2) that that drama is demonstrably (as historic demonstration goes) a symbolic modification of an original rite of human sacrifice, of which it preserves certain verifiable details.
That the exact point of historic connection between the early eucharistic rite and the late drama-story has still to be traced, it is needless to remark. Had direct evidence on this head been forthcoming, the problem could not so long have been ignored. But it is here contended that the lines of evolution are established by the details of the record and the institution, in the light of the data of anthropology; and that we have thus at last a scientific basis for a history of Christianity. As was explained in the introduction to Christianity and Mythology, these studies originated some twenty-five years back in an attempt to realise and explain "The Rise of Christianity Sociologically Considered"; and it is as a beginning of such an exposition that the two books are meant to be taken. In A Short History of Christianity the general historic conception is outlined; and the present volume offers the detailed justification of the views there summarily put as to Christian origins, insofar as they were not fully developed in the earlier volume. On one point, the origins of Manichæism, the present work departs from the
ordinary historic view, which was accepted in the Short History; the proposed rectification here being a result of the main investigation. In this connection it may be noted that Schwegler had already denied the historicity of Montanusa thesis which I have not sought to incorporate, though I somewhat incline to accept it.
Whether or not I am able to carry out the original scheme in full, I am fain to hope that these inquiries will be of some small use towards meeting the need which motived them. Mythology has permanently interested me only as throwing light on hierology; and hierology has permanently interested me only as throwing light on sociology. The third and fourth sections of this book, accordingly, are so placed with a view to the comparative elucidation of the growth of Christianity. If it be objected that they are thus "tendency" writings, the answer is that they were independently done, and are as complete as I could make them in the space. Both are revisions and expansions of lectures formerly published in "The Religious Systems of the World," that on Mithraism being now nearly thrice its original length. Undertaken and expanded without the aid of Professor Cumont's great work, Textes et Monuments Figurés relatifs aux Mystéres de Mithra (1896-9), it has been revised in the welcome light of that magistral performance. To M. Cumont I owe much fresh knowledge, and the correction of some errors, as well as the confirmation of several of my conclusions; and if I have ventured here and there to dissent from him, and above all to maintain a thesis not recognised by himthat Mithra in the legend made a "Descent into Hell"I do so only after due hesitation.
The non-appearance of any other study of Mithraism in English may serve as my excuse for having carried my paper into some detail, especially by way of showing how much the dead cult had in common with the living. Christian origins cannot be understood without making this comparison. It is significant, however, of our British avoidance of comparative hierology wherever it bears on current beliefs, that while Germany has contributed to the study of Mithraism, among many others, the learned treatise of Windischmann and that in Roscher's Lexikon, France the zealous researches of Lajard, and Belgium the encyclopædic and decisive work of Professor Cumont, England has produced not a single independent book on the subject. In compensation for such neglect, we have developed a signal devotion to Folklore. If some of the favour shown to that expansive study be turned on serious attempts to understand the
actual process of growth of world-religions, the present line of research may be extended to advantage.
The lecture on the religions of Ancient America has in turn been carefully revised and much enlarged, not because this subject is equally ignored among usfor there is a sufficiency of information upon it in English, notably in one of the too-little utilised collections of "Descriptive Sociology" compiled for Mr. Spencerbut because again the comparative bearing of the study of the dead cults on that of the living has not been duly considered. In particular I have entered into some detail tending to support the theorynot yet to be put otherwise than as a disputed hypothesisthat certain forms and cults of human sacrifice, first evolved anciently in Central Asia, passed to America on the east, and to the Semitic peoples on the west, resulting in the latter case in the central "mystery" of Christianity, and in the former in the Mexican system of human sacrifices. But the psychological importance of the study does not, I trust, solely stand or fall with that theory. On the general sociological problem, I may say, a closer study of the Mexican civilisation has dissolved an opinion I formerly heldthat it might have evolved from within past the stage of human sacrifice had it been left to itself.
Whatever view be taken of the scope of religious heredity, there will remain in the established historic facts sufficient justification for the general title of "Pagan Christs," which best indicates in one phrase the kinship of all cults of human sacrifice and theophagous sacrament, as well as of all cults of which the founder figures as an inspired teacher. That principle has already been broadly made good on the first side by the incomparable research of Dr. J. G. Frazer, to whose "Golden Bough" I owe both theoretic light and detail knowledge. I ask, therefore, that when I make bold to reject Dr. Frazer's suggested solution (ed. 1900) of the historic problem raised by the parallel between certain Christian and non-Christian sacra, I shall not be supposed to undervalue his great treasury of ordered knowledge. On the question of the historicity of Founders, I have made answer in the second edition of Christianity and Mythology to certain strictures of his which seem to me very ill-considered. What I claim for my own solution is that it best satisfies the ruling principles of his own hierology.
In this connection, however, I feel it a duty to avow that the right direction had previously been pointed out by the late Grant Allen in his Evolution of the Idea of God (1897), though at the outset of his work he obscured it for many of us by insisting on the
absolute historicity of Jesus, a position which later-on he in effect abandons. It is after ostensibly setting out with the actuality of "Jesus the son of the carpenter" as an "unassailable Rock of solid historical fact" (p. 16) that he incidentally (p. 285) pronounces "the Christian legend to have been mainly constructed out of the details of such early god-making sacrifices" as that practised by the Khonds. Finally (p. 391) he writes that "at the outset of our inquiry we had to accept crudely the bare fact" that the cult arose at a certain period, and that "we can now see that it was but one more example of a universal god-making tendency in human nature." Returning to Allen's book after having independently worked out in detail precisely such a derivation and such a theory, I was surprised to find that where he had thus thrown out the clue I had not on a first reading been at all impressed by it. The reason probably was that for me the problem had been primarily one of historical derivation, and that Allen offered no historical solution, being satisfied to indicate analogies. And it was probably the still completer disregard of historical difficulties that brought oblivion upon the essay of Herr Kulischer, Das Leben Jesu eine Sage von dem Schicksale and Erlebnissen der Bodenfrucht, insbesondere der sogenannten palästinensischen Erstlingsgarbe, die am Passahfeste im Tempel dargebracht wurde (Leipzig, 1876), in which Dr. Frazer's thesis of the vegetal character of the typical slain and rearising deity is put forth without evidence, but with entire confidence.
Kulischer had simply posited the analogy of the Vegetation-God and the vegetation-cult as previous students had done that of the Sun-God and the sun-myth, not only without tracing any process of transmutation, but with a far more arbitrary interpretation of symbols than they had ventured on. His essay thus remains only a remarkable piece of pioneering, which went broadly in the right direction, but missed the true path.
It is not indeed to be assumed that if he had made out a clear historical case it would have been listened to by his generation. The generation before him had paid little heed to the massive and learned treatise of Ghillany, Die Menschenopfer der alten Hebräer (1842), wherein the derivation of the Passover from a rite of human sacrifice is well made out, and that of the Christian eucharist from a modified Jewish sacrament of theophagy is at least strikingly argued for. Ghillany had further noted some of the decisive analogies of sacrificial ritual and gospel narrative which are founded on in the following pages; and was substantially on the right historic track, though he missed some of the archæological proofs of the
prevalence of human sacrifice in pre-exilic Judaism. Daumer, too, went far towards a right historical solution in his work Der Feuer and Molochdienst der alten Hebräer, which was synchronous with that of his friend Ghillany, and again in his treatise Die Geheimnisse des christlichen Alterthums (1847). His later proclamation of Meine Conversion (1859) would naturally discredit his earlier theses; but the disregard of the whole argument in the hierology of that day is probably to be explained as due to the fact that the conception of a "science of religions"specified by Vinet in 1856 as beginning to grow up alongside of theologyhad not then been constituted for educated men. The works of Ghillany and Daumer have been so far forgotten that not till my own research had been independently made and elaborated did I meet with them.
To-day, the conditions of hierological research are very different. A generation of students is now steeped in the anthropological lore of which Ghillany, failing to profit by the lead of Constant, noted only the details preserved in the classics and European histories; and the scientific significance of his and Daumer's and Kulischer's theories is clear in the light of the studies of Tylor, Spencer, and Frazer. Grant Allen, with the ample materials of recent anthropology to draw upon, made a vital advance by connecting the central Christian legend with the whole process of religious evolution, in terms not of à priori theology but of anthropological fact. If, however, the lack of historical demonstration, and the uncorrected premiss of a conventional historical view, made his theory at first lack significance for a reader like myself, it has probably caused it to miss its mark with others. That is no deduction from its scientific merit; but it may be that the historical method will assist to its appreciation. It was by way of concrete recognition of structural parallelism that I reached the theory, having entirely forgotten, if I had ever noted, Allen's passing mention of one of the vital details in questionthat of the breaking of the legs of victims in primitive human sacrifice. In 1842 Ghillany had laid similar stress on the detail of the lance-thrust in the fourth gospel, to which he adduced the classic parallel noted hereinafter. And when independent researches thus yield a variety of particular corroborations of a theory reached otherwise by a broad generalisation, the reciprocal confirmation is, I think, tolerably strong. The recognition of the Gospel Mystery-Play, it is here submitted, is the final historical validation of the whole thesis, which might otherwise fail to escape the fate of disregard which has thus far befallen the most brilliant speculation of the à priori mythologists in regard to the Christian legend, from the
once famous works of Dupuis and Volney down to the little noticed Letture sopra la mitologia vedica of Professor de Gubernatis.
However that may be, Grant Allen's service in the matter is now from my point of view unquestionable. Of less importance, but still noteworthy, is Professor Huxley's sketch of "The Evolution of Theology," with which, while demurring to some of what I regard as its uncritical assumptions (accepted, I regret to say, by Allen, in his otherwise scientific ninth chapter), I find myself in considerable agreement on Judaic origins. Professor Huxley's essay points to the need for a combination of the studies of hierology and anthropology in the name of sociology, and on that side it would be unpardonable to omit acknowledgment of the great work that has actually been done for sociological synthesis. I am specially bound to make it in view of my occasional dissent on anthropological matters from Spencer. Such dissent is apt to suggest difference of principle in a disproportionate degree; and Spencer's own iconoclasm has latterly evoked a kind of criticism that is little concerned to avow his services. It is the more fitting that such a treatise as the present should be accompanied by a tribute to them. However his anthropology may have to be modified in detail, it remains clear to some of us, whom it has enlightened, that his elucidations are of fundamental importance, all later attempts being related to them, and that his main method is permanently valid.
In regard to matters less habitually contested, it is perhaps needless to add that I am as little lacking in gratitude for the great scholarly services rendered to all students of hierology by Professor Rhys Davids, when I venture to withstand his weighty opinion on Buddhist origins. My contrary view would be ill-accredited indeed if I were not able to support it with much evidence yielded by his scholarship and his candour. And it is perhaps not unfitting that, by way of final word of preface to a treatise which sets out with a systematic opposition to the general doctrine of Dr. F. B. Jevons, I acknowledge that I have profited by his survey of the field, and even by the suggestiveness of some of his arguments that seem to me to go astray.