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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 14. Possible Historical Elements.

One concrete feature in the crucifixion myth remains to be accounted for—the scourging. Mr. Lang presses this feature of the Sacæa as an argument against the view that the victim died as representing a God. 1 In reality, the assumption that sacrificed victims were never scourged is no better founded than the assertion that they were never hanged. The human victims in several Asiatic Greek rites were whipped before being sacrificed. 2 Scourging, besides, actually took the place of human sacrifice, by tradition, in certain Greek cults; the scourging (which at times was fatal) being accepted as a sacrificial act. 3 The deity specially connected with such acts of scourging was Artemis, concerning the Asiatic savageries of whose cultus we have the disgusted testimony of Plutarch; 4 and it is noteworthy that the Rhodian victim had been slain near the temple of Aristobula 5—a name of Artemis, 6 who is thus in late as in early times connected with human sacrifice. 7 It is therefore not unlikely that, when the Rhodian rite was modified, scourging was substituted as a means of obtaining at least the sacrifice of blood; and when the rite reached the stage of a mystery-drama, that detail would naturally be preserved.

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It is to be remembered, however, that the original principle of such scourging may be independent of any act of substitution. It is partly indicated in the Khond doctrine in connection with the rite of slow burning—that the more tears the victim shed the more abundant would be the rain. Here indeed there is a plain conflict between two sacrificial principles, that of the symbolism of the victim's acts and that of his willingness. But both principles are known to have existed, some of the Khonds and the Aztecs attaching importance to the tears shed by the victims, while the Carthaginians sought to drown the cries of their children, and the mothers were forbidden to weep. 1 In the case of the original human sacrifice on the Jewish Day of Atonement, as we have seen,' 2 there was a ritual act of weeping, and perhaps one of scourging; and we have no ground for doubting that scourging could take place.

But there was a ritual need for blood as well as tears. It is noted that in the human sacrifices of Polynesia the victims were rarely much mutilated, but were always made to bleed much; 3 and a perfect obsession of blood pervades the whole Judaic religion, down to the end of the New Testament. In the "hanging unto the Lord" of the sons of Saul, indeed, there was ostensibly no bloodshed; but Joshua is declared to have "smitten" the five kings before he hanged them. The "sin-offering" too was one of blood; and a blood sacrifice was the normal one in all nations. 4 Scourging would yield the blood without making the victim incapable of enduring the hanging or crucifixion; and in the gospel record that the doomed God sweated as it were drops of blood 5 we may have a further concession to the idea. Finally, there is the possibility that, as in the case of the victims in the Asiatic Thargelia and other festivals, who were ceremonially whipped before being put to death, the scourging belonged to the conception of the scapegoat, who thus as well as by banishment bore the people's sins. 6

In these various ways, then, we can comprehend the gradual evolution of a ritual with which could be associated on the one hand a belief in a national deliverer, and on the other hand a general doctrine of salvation and immortality. The idea of the resurrection of the slain God is extremely ancient: we have it in the myths of Osiris and of the descent of Ishtar into Hades to rescue Tammuz;

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and in the Syro-Greek form of the cult, the resurrection of Adonis was a chief feature of the great annual ritual. So with the other cults already mentioned. From the God, the concept of resurrection was extended to the worshippers, this long before the Christian era. It needed only that the doctrines of divine sacrifice, resurrection, and salvation, temporal or eternal, should be thus blended in a mystery ritual with the institution of a eucharist or holy sacrament, to constitute the foundation of the religion of Jesus the Christ as we have it in the gospels.

That a mystery-drama actually existed, and was the basis of the gospel narrative, will be shown in the next section. But in passing it may be well to note that certain features of the crucifixion myth, though fairly explicable on the lines above sketched, may be due to contemporary analogies from other rites or from actual occurrences. The posture of the victim in the traditional crucifix, which we shall see some reason for ascribing to a ritual in which the worshipper embraces a cross, may on the other hand derive from the Perso-Scythian usage of slaying a "messenger" to the God, flaying him, and stuffing his skin with the arms outstretched. 1 This sacrifice, indeed, has obvious analogies to that of the "ambassador" in the old Jewish rite above traced; 2 and in both cases the idea of the cross-form may derive from the fact that in the gesture-language and picture-writing of savages, which are probably primeval, that is the recognised attitude and symbol of the ambassador or "go-between." 3 Or the cross-form may connect with some other principle involved in the Semitic representation of the Sun-God with arms outstretched, 4 which probably underlies the myth of the outstretching of the arms of Moses. 5 On the whole, seeing that the Phœnician symbol of a figure with outstretched arms is found to derive historically from the Egyptian crux ansata6 which was certainly an emblem of salvation, 7 we are entitled to conclude that from time immemorial the posture of the cross had had a religious significance, partly of expiation, partly of beneficence, and that this general significance surrounded the Christian myth.

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Yet again, the repetition of the offer of a drink to the victim, or the mention of gall in that connection, might be motived by the example of the mysteries of Dêmêtêr, in which there figured a drink of gall. 1 Whatever were the original meaning of that detail, it might be added to that of a narcotic used as above explained. It has been elsewhere shown, too, that such a detail as the crown of thorns might conceivably stand for the nimbus of the Sun-God, or for the crown placed upon the heads of sacrificial victims in general, 2 or for the crown which was worn by human victims in such a sacrificial procession as is to be inferred from Herodotus’ story of Herakles in Egypt, or for the actual crowns of thorns which were in vogue for religious purposes in the district of Abydos, or for some other ritual practice which is sought to be explained by the myth of the mock-crown of Herakles 3 No limit can well be set to the possibility of such analogies from pagan religious practice.

Actual or alleged history, too, may have given rise to some details in a mystery-ritual such as we are considering. In the gospel story as it now stands, though not as an original and dramatic detail in it, we find one remarkable coincidence with a passage in Josephus. The historian tells 4 that during the Passover feast, while Jerusalem was being besieged, "the eastern gate of the inner sanctuary, which was of brass and very solid, which in the evening was with difficulty shut by twenty men, and which was supported by iron-bound bars and posts reaching far down, let into the floor of solid stone, was seen about the sixth hour of the night to have

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opened of its own accord"; and that this was felt by the wise to be an omen of ruin. In the synoptics it is told that after the robbers taunted Jesus, "from the sixth hour darkness was over the land till the ninth hour," whereupon Jesus uttered his cry of Eli, Eli, and immediately afterwards, "having again cried with a loud voice, gave up his spirit. And lo, the veil of the temple was rent in two from top to bottom." The three hours of darkness, it would appear, are alleged in order to give time for the passover meal, by way of assimilating the synoptic account to the Johannine. In the second gospel—in an apparently interpolated passage—Jesus is crucified at "the third hour": in the fourth, "it was Preparation of the Passover: it was about the sixth hour" when Jesus is sent to be crucified; and on that view his death would be consummated when the Passover sacrament was—the gospel, however, giving no further details. The space of silent suffering in the synoptics, from the sixth hour to the ninth, makes the stories finally correspond as to the hours, though not as to the day. In the third gospel, however, the reading is confused by the placing of the sentence: "And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst," after the mention of the three hours’ darkness and before the Lord's death. Thus, while the actual time of the veil-rending is loft in the vague, the passage can be read as saying that the veil was rent when the darkness began, at the sixth hour.

In any case, whether or not the darkness of three hours is a late modification of the synoptic text (on which view the death may be held to have been originally placed at the sixth hour, and the rending of the temple veil at the same moment), the story in Josephus is extremely likely to have been the motive of the veil-rending myth in the gospels. It actually did lead to the insertion of a gloss in an early text—perhaps originally Syriac—of the third gospel, where the stone placed at the mouth of the Lord's tomb is alleged to be such that twenty men could hardly roll it away; and in the existing old Syriac texts, significantly enough, it is the "front of the gate" of the sanctuary or temple that is rent in the gospel story—not the veil. 1 And the parallel does not end here. The story of the rising of the saints, so awkwardly interpolated in the first gospel and in that only, is no less clearly an adaptation of the story of Josephus, in the same passage, to the effect that at the feast of Pentecost the priests when serving by night in the inner temple felt a quaking,

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and heard a great noise, and then a sound as of a multitude saying: "Let us remove hence." The whole series of portents in Josephus, as it happens, winds up with the story of Jesus the son of Ananus, who had so long "with a loud voice" cried "Woe to Jerusalem," and at last was slain by a stone from an engine, crying "Woe to myself also" as he gave up the ghost.

In view of such a remarkable suggestion to the early Jesuists, it seems unnecessary even to ask whether the myth of the veil-rending may be a variant popularly current at the same time with those given by Josephus. In all likelihood the interpolators of the Greek gospel modified both episodes in order either to escape contradiction or to make them more suitable symbolically. 1 That they were interpolated after the transcription of the mystery-play we shall see when we consider that as such; but for the present we have to recognise that if the transcribed narrative could be thus influenced, the play itself might be.

The scourging and crucifixion of Antigonus, again, must have made a profound impression on the Jews; 2 and it is a historic fact that the similar slaying of the last of the Incas was kept in memory for the Peruvians by a drama annually acted. 3 It may be that the superscription "This is the King of the Jews," and even the detail of scourging, 4 came proximately from the story of Antigonus; though on the other hand it is not unlikely that Antony should have executed Antigonus on the lines of the sacrifice of the mock-king. But it is noteworthy that where the existing mystery-drama, which was doubtless a Gentile development from a much simpler form, introduces historical characters, it does so on the clear lines of sacrificial principle set forth in the ritual of the Khonds, where already the symbol of the cross is prominent in the fashion of slaying the victim. Though the Gentile hostility to the Jews 5 would dictate the special implication of the Jewish priests and people, and of King Herod as in the third gospel, the total effect is to make it clear that the guilt of the sacrifice rests on no one official, but is finally taken by the whole people upon them. Even the quotation put in the mouth of the dying God-Man, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 6 has the effect of implying that he had hitherto suffered voluntarily. Thus does the ritual which was to grow into a world religion preserve in its consummated quasi-historical form the primeval

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principle that "one man should die for the people" by the people's will; and, as we have seen, not even in extending the benefit of the sacrifice to "all mankind" does the great historic religion outgo the religious psychology of the ancient Dravidians.

When this is realised it will be seen to be unnecessary to suppose that any abnormal personality had arisen to give the cult its form or impetus. In view, however, of the story fortuitously preserved in the Talmud, that one Jesus ben Pandira was stoned and hanged on a tree at Lydda on the eve of the Passover in the reign of Alexander Jannæus about 100 B.C., 1 we are not entitled to say that a real act of sacerdotal vengeance did not enter into the making of the movement. The evidence is obscure; and the personality of the hanged Jesus, who is said to have been a sorcerer and a false teacher, becomes elusive and quasi-mythical even in the Talmud; but even such evidence gives better ground for a historical assumption than the supernaturalist narrative of the gospels. 2 In any case, there is no reason to ascribe any special doctrinal teaching whatever to Jesus ben Pandira. He remains but a name, with a mention of his death by "hanging on a tree," a quasi-sacrifice, at the time of the sacrificial rite which had anciently been one of man-slaying and child-slaying. Leaving the case on that side undetermined, we turn to a problem which admits of solution.


188:1 Magic and Religion, p. 131.

188:2 Frazer, G. B. ii, 126-7.

188:3 The bloody scourging of young Spartans at the altar of Artemis (Pausinias, iii, 16; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, vi, 20; Cicero, Tusculans, ii, 14; Lucian, De Gymnast. c 38; Plutarch, Lycurgus, c. 17) is one of the best known cases. As to the principle of human sacrifice behind the scourging cp. K. O. Müller, Dorians, B. ii, c. ix, § 6. Cicero and Lucian tell of the occasional fatal results. In Mexico, finally, the Tlascalans in one festival fixed a victim to a low cross and killed him by bastinado. Clavigero, Hist. of Mexico, Eng. tr. 1807, vi, § 20 (1, 283).

188:4 De Superstitione, 10.

188:5 Porphyry, as cited.

188:6 The title of "good counsel" suggests the better side of the Goddess, yet we find that the temple built by Themistokles to Aristobula at Melite was "at the place where at the present day the public executioner casts out the bodies of executed criminals and the clothes and ropes of men who have hanged themselves." Plutarch, Themistokles, 22.

188:7 Herodotus, iv, 103.

189:1 Plutarch, De Superstitione, 13.

189:2 Above, p. 159.

189:3 Moerenhout, Voyage aux Iles du Grand Ocean, i, 508.

189:4 Cp. Kalisch, Comm. on Leviticus, i, 341-3.

189:5 On this cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 362.

189:6 Cp. Dr. Frazer's view (iii, 122-7) that the scourging was supposed to expel evil influences from the victim. Prof. Murray (Rise of the Greek Epic, pp. 13-14, and App. A) argues that there is no evidence for actual slaying in historic times.

190:1 Below, ch. ii, § 14.

190:2 Above, pp. 159-60.

190:3 I have before me an extracted magazine article, undated, in which the symbol is reproduced and so explained.

190:4 See the figures reproduced by Gesenius, Script. Ling. Phœn. Monumenta, 1837, Pt. III, Tabb. 21, 24 (inscriptions translated i, 197, 211), and in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, III, Pt. iii, pl. 23. Cp. Peitschmann, Geschichte der Phönizier, 1889, pp. 205, 214. One is that of Baal Ammon, with arms outstretched, holding in his hand the holy tree.

190:5 Exod. xvii, 11-12.

190:6 Meyer, art. Phœnicia, in Encyc. Biblica, iii, 3739; Geschichte des Alterthums, i, 242.

190:7 It had further the hieroglyphic force of "good," and was at the same time a name of Osiris—"Onofri"—which survives in that of the Christian saint Onophrius, constructed out of the God. Cp. Champollion, Précis die système hiéroglyphique, 1821, Tab. gén. figg. 441-2: expl. p. 44; Sharpe, Egypt. Mythol. pp. 53-4; Meyer, Gesch. des Alt. i, 30; Tiele, Egypt. Rel. pp. 42, 44, note.

191:1 Such symbolical explanations may in certain cases be substituted for those offered by Dr. Frazer, whose Virgilian "golden bough," to start with, is shown by Mr. Lang to be very imperfectly identified with the bough of the tree in the Arician grove. Mr. Lang, who is apt to be severe on loose conjectures, for his own part "hazards a guess" that "of old, suppliants approached gods or kings with boughs in their hands," and that the Virgilian bough is such a propitiation to Persephonê (Magic and Religion, pp. 207-8). Though the "gold" might plausibly be thus explained, it does not follow that the wool-wreathed boughs of suppliant groups, which played the part of our white flags (Æschylus, Supplices, 22-3, 190-2, etc.), were normally used in approaching kings, or all Gods. In Polynesia boughs were indeed presented to certain Gods (Ellis, i, 343), and were carried before chiefs, serving also as peace symbols or "white flags" (Turner, Nineteen Years in Polynesia, 1861, p. 314). But, on the other hand, boughs in the ancient world had a special connection with Gods and Goddesses of vegetation (Cp. Grant Allen, Evol. of Idea of God, p. 384), who were first and last Gods of the Underworld (Cp. Æsch. Supplices, 154-161). It was doubtless in this connection that a branch became in Egypt a symbol of time and of eternity (Tiele, Eg. Rel., p. 154). The explanation of the Virgilian bough, then, probably lies in that direction. It is not known." says Mr. Lang, "whether Virgil invented his bough, or took it from his rich store of antiquarian learning" (Id. p. 207). It is extremely unlikely that he should have invented it. But he might very well know that in one of the paintings of Polygnotus at Delphi (Pausanias, x, 30) Orpheus is represented as touching with his hand a branch of the willow-tree, which in Homer (Odyssey, x, 509-510) grows with the poplar in the grove of Persephonê. Orpheus had been in Hades and returned. May not the bough then have had this general symbolical significance, and hence figure as a passport to the underworld?

191:2 Even the Cimbri, whose priestesses cut the throats of their devoted human victims, crowned them beforehand (Strabo, vii, 2, § 3). Similarly the North American Indians. Lafitau, ii, 266.

191:3 Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 365-6. See also pp. 364, 369 sq., as to the clues for the cross-motive.

191:4 Wars, B. vi, c. v, § 3.

192:1 Dr. F. H. Chase, The Syro-Latin Text of the Gospels, 1895, pp. 82-67, 95. Jerome, again, tells that in the Gospel according to the Hebrews it is not the veil of the temple that is rent, but the lintel stone that falls. Comm. in Matt. xxvii, 51; Ad Hedyb. viii.

193:1 On either view, it remains arguable that the Syriac Gospels here represent an earlier text than the present Greek.

193:2 Cp. Strabo, in Josephus, Antiq. xv, 1, § 2.

193:3 Below, Part IV, § 9.

193:4 See above, p. 117, as to the scourgings mentioned by Josephus.

193:5 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 354.

193:6 Psalm xxii, 1.

194:1 Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 363-4.

194:2 Dr. J. E. Carpenter (First Three Gospels, 3rd ed. p. 312) indignantly cites this proposition with the remark that it erects one passage of the Talmud "into an authority before which the gospels must vanish." Such language hides the issue. Historically, the supernaturalist narrative of the gospels has no authority for critical science. Professor Schmiedel reduces their scientific authority to nine texts, which, however, will not meet the tests he admits to be applicable. See App. to Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. Dr. Carpenter appears to wish to suggest that I take any Talmudic story as a disproof of any analogous story in the gospels—a complete misrepresentation. The gospel stories are historically unacceptable apart from any Talmudic evidence.

Next: § 15. The Gospel Mystery-Play