Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Critical Views  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

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

§ 7. Parallel Problems.

The natural impulse to reject this view with violence may be somewhat modified when it is remembered that it does but place the Christ on a historic level with all the other Teaching Gods of antiquity. All the leading Gods, as we have seen, were in some measure regarded as teachers; and for none of them do we surmise a historic original in the sense of a real teacher and lawgiver. But it is not only the so-called Gods who are thus dislimned by criticism; the sub-divine or religion-founding and God-proclaiming institutors are found to be no less fabulous, down to the historic period, than

p. 238

the Gods they were held to have served. Menu, Lycurgus, Numa, Moses—a whole series of revered founders of codes and creeds—are as such dismissed by criticism to the realm of fable; for even those hierologists who still speak of Moses as a historic person, 1 and treat the Exodus as a historic event, concede to Kuenen that the liberator wrote nothing, and can no more be supposed to have invented the Ten Commandments than did Romulus or Numa the Twelve Tables.

Difficulty, indeed, is still made over the alleged personality of Zarathustra; but few who closely consider the evidence will say that it supports the claim. 2 If Zarathustra was a historical character, the proposition is not to be proved by the documents; and those who hold to the affirmative do so on the strength not of the records but of the tradition, and of the presumption in favour of a personal influence behind a notable development. It is the same with the personalities of Orpheus and Musæus: wherever the tradition tells of a founder of doctrines or mysteries, criticism on search finds myth; and if we leave open the bare surmise that there was an Orpheus who taught something, it must be with the avowal that we know nothing of what he specially taught. If we take the whole series of traditional teachers down to the Christian era, we find them to be more or less clearly the products of the same tendency as led to the conception of Teaching Gods—the habit of supposing that every thing held to be good came from a specifically divine or supernormal source.

Conservative opinion will naturally rally round the remaining non-Christian cases that are either admitted or still claimed to be historical—in particular, those of Mohammed and Buddha. What a man has admittedly done, it may be argued, may have been earlier done by other men. If Mohammed founded a new religion, why not Zoroaster; if Buddha gave a virtually new and potent teaching, why may not a Jesus have done so? The case may very well be tried over those points.

First let us note wherein consists the clear historicity of Mohammed. (1) He is far down within the historic period. (2) His religion rose to far-spread power and notoriety within a generation of his death—a far swifter development than that of Christism, so often described as miraculous. (3) He actually left written documents; and though these were certainly redacted, most of them have none of the well-known marks of late fabrication. (4) In virtue of the relation of Islam to Christianity, which had a

p. 239

body of sacred books and claimed a monopoly of truth, a fierce critical light played upon the new cult from the first days of its expansion beyond Arabia. (5) The accounts of the life of Mohammed are normally biographical, and, though not quite certainly true in detail, at no point typically mythical, save as regards the tales of marvels at his birth and in his infancy, wherein the record conforms to the normal mythopœic practice of antiquity, seen in the biographies of Plato and Confucius as well as in those of Jesus, Moses, and the Gods and demi-gods in general. Apart from these embellishments, and the tales of his intercourse with angels, he is born and lives and dies normally at known dates; works no miracles; makes no claims to divinity; is traceable long before his period of notoriety; is, in short, recognisable as a historic type of masterful fanatic. In every one of these respects his record differentiates sharply from those of Buddha and Jesus.

Absolute date, of course, is not a decisive consideration: we believe in the historicity of certain Jews B.C., and disbelieve in the legend of William Tell, who is placed thirteen hundred years later. But when we consider the environments in which Jesus and Buddha are supposed to have lived, it becomes clear that the possibilities of fable round such names are boundless. Of neither is it now pretended that he left a written word; for neither do critical scholars now claim that his immediate associates have left written accounts of him; in regard to both it is admitted that many sayings are falsely ascribed to them. Instead, then, of letting the supposed historicity of Buddha plead for that of Jesus, we are led to ask whether the one is not as problematic as the other.


238:1 So the late Professor Tiele, Outlines, p. 85.

238:2 See below, Part III, § 3.

Next: § 8. The Problem of Buddhist Origins