Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
To those who have not realised how all religion has been evolved from savage beginnings, it will seem extravagant to suggest that the story of the Christian crucifixion has been built up from a practice such as those above described. And yet the grounds for inferring such a derivation are extremely strong. Some doubt has been cast, not quite unjustly, upon such inferences in general, as a result of criticism of Dr. Frazer's ingenious guess that the gospel crucifixion incidentally reproduced the features of the sacrifice of a mock-king in the Perso-Babylonian feast of the Sacæa. The vital difficulty of such a theory is that it takes the gospel episode as historical on the strength of detailed narratives whichsave in the episode of Barabbas, whereby the main history is underminedgive no hint of such a coincidence as is surmised, and which, if true narratives, could not conceivably omit to record it had it occurred.
But scientific hierology is not held down to that theory, which, in any case, seeks to account only for certain features of the crucifixion story, notably the mock-crowning and the scourging. These features are indeed probably to be explained through the analogies to which Dr. Frazer points, though not on his assumption of a historical episode; but there are other features, such as the cross itself, and the resurrection, to which the clues lie, unemphasised, in other sections of Dr. Frazer's survey; and there are yet others which he has not ostensibly studied. Some of these are illuminated by the rite of human sacrifice among the Khonds. Their placing of the victim, for instance, either on a cross or in a cleft bough in such a way as to make a living cross, 3 wherein the God is as it were part of the living tree, is a singularly suggestive parallel. But no
less so is the detail as to the breaking of the victim's arms and legs, to make him seem unresisting, and the substitution of opium as being less cruel.
This last principle is found to have been acted on by the Karhâda Brahmans of Bombay. In their secret human sacrifice, described by Sir John Malcolm, the unsuspecting victimoften a stranger long hospitably entertained for the purposewas drugged; and in his drugged state was led three times round the idol of the Goddess, whereafter his throat was cut. 1 Yet again, the same principle is found so far away as Mexico, where, in one annual sacrifice to the Fire-God, the victims were painted red like the Khond meriah, and a narcotic powder was thrown in their faces. They too were subjected to special suffering, being thrown into the fire before being sacrificed with the knife in the usual way. 2 And in the Mexican sacrifice, also, the God was expressly represented by a tree, stripped of bark and branches, but covered with painted paper.
Let us now take the Christian parallels.
In the fourth gospel it is told that after the death of Jesus on the cross, in order "that the bodies might not stay on the cross on the Sabbath," the Jews "asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken and they might be taken away." But the soldiers broke only the legs of the "two others," these not being yet dead: Jesus they spared, piercing his heart with a lance, "that the scripture might be fulfilled: A bone of him shall not be broken." The other gospels say nothing on this point; but all four tell of the offering of a drink, and the first two synoptics mention it both before and after the act of crucifying. In Matthew, "vinegar mixed with gall" is offered beforehand, and refused after tasting; and a sponge of vinegar is offered, apparently in sympathy, after the cry of Eli, Eli. In the first passage the text has evidently been tampered with; for the Vulgate and Ethiopic versions, the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Bezan codices, and many old MSS., read wine for vinegar, while the Arabic version reads myrrh for gall. 3 In Mark, more significantly, the first drink becomes "wine spiced with myrrh," and is refused without tasting; and here the commentators recognise that the purpose was presumably to cause stupefaction, and so lighten the suffering. 4 In
[paragraph continues] Luke, this detail entirely disappears, and the vinegar offered on the cross is given in mockery. In John also, only the drink offered on the cross is mentioned; and of this it is said that "When Jesus had received the vinegar he said, It is finished." Then follows the detail as to the breaking of the legs.
It is needless here to challenge afresh the historical value of the conflicting records, wherein a slight detail, of no historical importance, enters only to take varying forms for symbolical reasons. What we are concerned with is the source of the symbolism. One compiler clearly knows of a drink offered before the crucifixion, and implies that it was intended to cause euthanasia, for he notes that it was refused. The divine victim must be a conscious sufferer. A later compiler ignores altogether this detail, and notes only that the slayers tormented the victim with a drink of vinegar. Both details alike are un-Roman, 1 for the torment was trivial, while the narcotic would be inconsistent with what was meant to be an exemplary punishment. The theologising fourth gospel, in turn, makes the victim accept the drink of vinegar as the last symbolic act of sufferance; 2 but then suddenly alludes to a detail not specified by the othersa concluding act of limb-breaking, from which the divine victim escapes for dogmatic reasons, the fact of his death being made certain by a lance-thrust in the side. We must infer that the limb-breaking was known to occur in certain circumstances, and that the writer or an interpolator of the fourth gospel saw need to make it clear that the bones of the Messiah remained unbroken. He being, according to the fourth gospel, the true paschal sacrifice, it was important that the law as to the Passover should in him be fulfilled. 3
On what data, then, did the different evangelists proceed? What had they under notice? Not an original narrative: their dissidence is almost complete. Not a known official practice in Roman crucifixions; for the third gospel treats as an act of mockery what the first and second do not so regard; and the fourth describes the act of limb-breaking as done to meet a Jewish demand, which in
the synoptic narrative could not arise. Mere breaking of the legs, besides, would be at once a laborious and an inadequate way of making sure that the victims were dead; 1 the spear-thrust would be the natural and the sufficient act; yet only one victim is speared. Only one hypothesis will meet the whole case. The different narratives testify to the existence of a ritual or rituals of crucifixion or quasi-crucifixion, in variants of which there had figured the two procedures of breaking the legs of the victim and giving him a narcotic. Of these procedures neither is understood by the evangelists, though by some of them the latter is partly comprehended; and they accordingly proceed to turn both, in different fashions, to dogmatic account. Their conflict is thus insoluble, and their testimony alike unhistorical. But we find the psychological clue in the hypothesis of a known ritual of a crucified Saviour-God, who had for universally-recognised reasons to appear to suffer as a willing victim. 2 Being crucifiedthat is, hung by the hands or wrists to a tree or post, and supported not by his feet but by a bar between his thighshe would tend to struggle (unlike the Khond victim, whose arms were free) chiefly with his legs; and if he were to be prevented from struggling, it would have to be either by breaking the legs or by stupefying him with a drug. The Khonds, we have seen, used anciently the former horrible method, but learned to use the latter also. Finally, the detail of the spear-thrust in the side, bestowed only on the ostensibly divine victim, suggests that in some similar ritual that may have been the mode of ceremonial slaying. We have but to recognise that among some of the more civilised peoples of the Mediterranean similar processes had been sometimes gone through about two thousand years ago, and we have the conditions which may account for the varying gospel narratives.
And if there had occurred in the Mediterranean world such an evolution as we see among the Khonds and elsewhere, we have in the story of the betrayal by Judas, incredible and unintelligible as the narratives stand, one more item of sacrificial practice. The Pauline phrase "bought with a price" (1 Cor. vi, 20) ostensibly conveys the meaning of "ransomed," and is not applied to Jesus. But the paying of a price to Judas by the high-priests would become quite intelligible as one more detail in a mystery-drama
growing out of a ritual of human sacrifice. "Judas" in any case is presumably only a development from Joudaios, a Jew; 1 and the basis of the episode, thus understood, would be the Gentile imputation on the Jews of having sold the Lord as a human sacrifice. And the doctrine put in the mouth of Caiaphas in the fourth gospel (xi, 50-51) is a doctrine of human sacrifice.
118:3 This detail is observed in a surrogate sacrifice of a pig in Polynesia, and in sacrifices of goats and human beings in Nigeria. See below, § 8.
119:1 Crooke, Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India, 1896, ii, 170-1.
119:2 Clavigero, History of Mexico, Eng. tr. ed. 1807, B. vi, § 34 (i. 306-7).
119:3 See Varior. Bible, Alford's Greek N.T., Blackader's N.T., McClellan's N.T., and Gill's Exposition on Mt. xxvii, 34.
119:4 According to several Talmudic passages, the Jews gave to any man about to be executed "a grain of frankincense in a cup of wine," and the tradition runs that the ladies of Jerusalem gave this to the doomed ones. Gill's Expos. on Mk. xv, 23, citing T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 43, 1 ; Bemdbar Rabba, sect. 10, fol. 198, 4, etc. Cp. Hershon, Genesis with a Talmudical Commentary, 1883, p. 150 note 10. But if this were so, the practice was p. 120 extended to executions from sacrifices. It cannot have originated as an amelioration of a punishment of which the first purpose was to cause suffering. In any case, there is no suggestion that any drink was offered to the two thieves: here we are dealing with a sacrificial ritual in which only the central victim is a true sacrifice. See below, § 9.
120:1 Josephus indeed tells (Wars, V, 11, § 1) that during the siege of Jerusalem the Romans crucified vast multitudes of the Jews who sought to escape, first scourging them, and then torturing them in different ways; but this is expressly declared to be an act at once of military vengeance and of terrorism, whereas the drink of vinegar was either a mere trifling insult or an act of relief.
120:2 Psalm lxix, 21, would lead Judaists ignorant of old Jewish usage so to regard such a draught.
120:3 Exodus xii, 46; Num. ix, 12 (cp. Ps. xxxiv, 20, where "the righteous" would be held to apply to the Messiah). This very law points to memories of the act of limb-breaking in sacrifice.
121:1 The statement of Lactantius (Div. Inst. iv, 26) that it was usual for the executioners to break the bones of those crucified is without foundation, and is confuted by the absence of the detail from the synoptics. The crurifragium, or punishment by limb-breaking, was quite a different thing.
121:2 "Even the sacrificial victims are required to be of a willing mind." Tertullian, Ad Scapulam, 2. Cp. Macrobius, Sat. iii, 5; Lucan, Pharsalia, i, 611.
122:1 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 354.