Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
The case may become clearer if we look for illustration to the phenomena of fictitious literature. It will hardly be suggested that the Semites and Greeks who wrote religious treatises or hymns and ascribed them to famous men of centuries before, were under a hallucination as to the source of their thoughts. They did but seek for them the passport of a name that challenged respect. Precisely, then, as the "prophetic" writer put his words in the mouth of a dead prophet (a common way of aiming at reforms), making him say, "Thus saith the Lord," so in many cases at least the living prophet must have been perfectly conscious that his spoken words were "not the Lord's, but his own." In fact, the saner the prophet, and the saner his counsel, the more likely was he to know how he came by it; though his feeling that he was on the side of the God would greatly relieve his scruples about professing to be the God's mouthpiece. The man who, on the other hand, was so far beside himself as to suppose that Omnipotence was speaking through him, was much less likely to have wise counsels to give. In any case, crazed or prudent, right or wrong, all alike ran the risk of being denounced by the others as "false prophets," 2 and stoned accordingly. Thus reform was a matter either of persuading kings or of managing fellow-priests and fellow-worshippers; and genius for management would be fully as important as genius for righteousness.
In the case, for instance, of a substitution of animal for human sacrifices, or of dough-dolls for sacrificial animals or men or children,
the reformer of a priest-ruled cult had to play at once upon the credulity and the self-interest of the worshippers. It is clear from the Hebrew books that for the early Hebrews as for the Phnicians the first-born of man as well as of animals was at one time a customary sacrifice; 1 and the myth of Abraham and Isaac confesses the fact in the act of supplying a pretext for a change. In the story of the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter, again, it is evident that human sacrifice must once have been normal to permit of the idea of the application of the vow to a human being; and the declaration that a special annual mourning was set up for the alleged tragedy of mischance is an ethical fiction. In all likelihood the ground of it was an annual sacrifice of a maiden, which was transmuted into an act of lamentation for one traditionally sacrificed. So with the obvious fiction of Joshua's imprecating on the rebuilder of Jericho the curse of slaying his sons for the foundations: 2 the practice had clearly been normal, and the representing of it as a foredoomed horror is a late invention. And no less clear is it, from the story of the sacrifice of a virgin imposed by the Delphic Oracle on the Messenians in their war with the Spartans, 3 that the practice, wherever it originated, was religiously established among the early Greeks.
Such story-telling as that of the Isaac myth, and that of the suicide of the despairing Aristodemus, convinced that he had slain his daughter in vain, 4 was the natural device 5 of the humane reformer, who was much more likely to be relatively a rationalist than to be abnormally subject to religious ecstasies or trances. Mohammed is indeed a case to the contrary, he being credited with opposing the practice of female infanticide; but the very fact that in the Koran no tale is framed to carry the point is a confirmation of our view. In an old cult, a bald command to forego or reverse an established rite would be bewildering to the worshippers, whereas a myth describing a process of commutation would find easy acceptance where such a commutation was already agreeable to normal feeling.
Normal feeling, on the other hand, was often the matrix of the
reformative idea. There was a natural tendency to relax human sacrifices in times of prosperity unless a zealous priesthood insisted on them; 1 and a long period of prosperity would make men loth to shed the blood of their own children. Thus either the political accident of a prolonged peace or the opening of a new era of government was the probable condition of the effectual arrest of child-sacrifice among the Hebrews; and the myth of Abraham and Isaac and the ram was in all likelihood framed at such a time. Its inclusion in a sacred book was some security against such a reversion to child-sacrifice as we know to have occurred among the Carthaginians in times of great distress or danger, after periods in which it was disused. 2 The same tendency is implied in the storywhether true or falseof a cannibal sacrament among the members of the conspiracy of Catiline. 3 Nations, like men, are apt to be driven to worse courses by terror and disaster; 4 and it is not only conceivable but probable that the Hebrews made their main steps towards religious betterment when they were temporarily razed from the list of the nations and set to cultivate their religious consciousness in a captivity which withheld them from political vicissitude without reducing them to slavery. 5
For the explanation of religious evolution, then, we must look not so much to genius for right thought as to genius for hitting the common taste or for outmanuvring rival cults. By far the clearest case of cult- or creed-shaping by a single genius is that of Mohammed; 6
and here, to the historical eye, it is the political expansion of Islam at a critical moment that makes the fortunes of the faith, not the rise of the faith that makes the fortune of the Moslems. Had not the Saracens at the moment of the successful emergence of Mohammed's movement found their chance to overrun great territories of the enfeebled Christian empire, that movement might never have been aught but an obscure tribal worship, or might indeed have been speedily overlaid by the surrounding polytheism. It was the sense of triumphant opposition to Christian tritheism and Mary-worship and to Persian fire-worship that sharply defined the Moslem dogma; and once a religion has its sacred book, its tradition of triumph, and its established worship, the conservatism of the religious instinct counts for much more in preserving it than the measure of genius that went to the making of its doctrine. Every religion, in fact, sees supreme genius, both literary and religious, in its own Bible simply because it is such. No Christian can have a devouter conviction of the splendour of his sacred books than the Moslem enjoys concerning the Koran, the Brahman over the Vedas, or the Buddhist in respect of the large literature of his system.
63:2 Cp. Jeremiah xxvi, 11; xxvii, 9-10; xxviii, 1-17; xxix, 8, 9, etc.
64:1 Cp. Exod. xiii, 2; xxxiv, 20; Lev. xxvii, 28-29; Numb. iii, 41; xviii, 15.
64:2 Josh. vi, 26; 1 Kings xvi, 34. It is not unlikely that the sons of King Hiel were sacrificed to the God Joshua. See below, Pt. II, ch. i, § 10.
64:3 Pausanias, iv, 9.
64:4 Paus. iv, 13.
64:5 Compare the myth (Apollodorus, iv, 3, § 2) of the kid substituted for the child Dionysos by Zeus to save him from Hêrê (a myth with a purpose) and that of the bull substituted for a man in sacrifice by the intervention of the Khond God Boora (Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India, 1865, p. 109). There is reason to surmise that the story of Perseus and Andromeda may derive from a similar suppression of a sacrificial rite. Cp. Frazer, Lectures on the History of Early Kingship, 1905, pp. 182, 184.
65:1 See below, Part IV, as to the Aztecs; and cp. Prof. Granger, The Worship of the Romans, 1895, p. 300.
65:2 Diodorus Siculus, xx, 14; Plutarch, De Superstitione, end; Regum et imper. apophthegmata: Gelon, f; Porphyry, De Abstinentia, ii, 56; Plato, Minos, p. 315 C.; Justin, xvii, 6; Varro, in Augustine, De civ. Dei, vii, 19. Cp. Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India, pp. 113-115, as to special pressures. The many wars and straits of the Carthaginians is the reasonable explanation of their reversion to child-sacrifice at a time when it had been long disused in Tyre. See F. W. Newman (Miscellanies, 1869, p. 302) as to the case of Tyre (Quintus Curtius, iv, 3, § 38). Prof. Newman, in throwing doubt on the statement of Diodorus, does not note the testimony of Plato, Plutarch, and Porphyry; and in doubting Pliny's story (Hist. Nat. xxxvi, § 4, 26 ) of an annual sacrifice to Hercules he does not note Porphyry's account of the sacrifice at Rhodes. See below, Part II, ch. i, § 4.
65:3 Plutarch, Cicero, 10. Sallust (Cat. 22) expresses doubt; but on the point of probability cp. Merimée, Études sur lhistoire romaine, 1844, ii, 113-116.
65:4 Cp. Plutarch, Marcellus, 3.
65:5 Professor Huxley, in his much over-pitched account of the monotheism and the ethic of the Jews (discussed below), expressly ascribes the special development to "a vigorous minority among the Babylonian Jews." Cp. I. Sack, Die altjüdische Religion im Uebergange vom Bibelthume zum Talmudismus, 1889, pp. 25-27.
65:6 Precisely here, nevertheless, Dr. Jevons refuses to recognise progress, though the establishment of monotheism is in terms of his own doctrine a great progressive achievement. "Polytheism may in some few civilised peoples rise towards pantheism, but in most cases degenerates into fetishism; monotheism passes in one case from Judaism into Christianity, but in another into Mohammedanism" (p. 395). This though Mohammedanism is by far the stricter monotheism of the two, and though Mohammedanism resisted magic and divination, which the Rabbis had maintained. (Cp. Davies, Magic, Divination, and Demonology, pp. 41 sq., 64 Mohammed's 74-89). Dr. Jevons is here in company with Prof, Robertson Smith, who argues that Mohammed's claim to have knowledge of a past historic episode "by direct revelation," a claim never made by "the Bible historians," is "to thinking minds one of the clearest proofs of Mohammed's imposture" (The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 2nd ed. p. 141, note). What the Professor thought of the Hebrew claim to have knowledge of future history by direct revelation is thus hard to divine. Cp, p. 283, and p. 161, note.