« PreviousContinue »
shake off that yoke which German scholarship has laid upon us, than to fasten it more firmly. It is a sad confession that we must go to this foreign land for our light and our help, and that our intellect is dependent upon the German or upon any foreign people. But we need not be greatly troubled by this alarm. In the practical matters of life, in the affairs of public policy, we are as independent of foreign influence as we ever were, and there are other dangers to morals and religion which the German influence may help to neutralize. That the study of German literature has lowered the moral tone of American society cannot be proved. French literature is far worse in that respect; and the tone of German literature morally is higher than that of English literature. There is no such glorification of villany, no such parade of indecencies, in the fictitious literature of Germany as in that of England and our own country. Until some worse harm shall come to morals than any that we have yet seen, we may permit German studies and advise them. The special virtues which we need to cherish as a people are the virtues which they will especially commend: family love, fraternal feeling, patriotism, economy, and perseverance. Thus far, we do not find among those who have given themselves to these studies any indifference to the higher virtues, or any hatred for practical righteousness. They are oftener foremost in all the philanthropic causes.
ART. II.—THE JESUS OF THE EVANGELISTS.
His Historical Character vindicated, or an Examination of the Internal Evidence for our Lord's Divine Mission, with Reference to Modern Controversy. By the Rev. C. A. Row, M.A. London: Williams & Norgate. 1868.
THE standard defences of the gospel history have combated the enemy by adducing the coincidences between the Old-Testament prophecies and the New-Testament events; by appealing to the independent testimony of the four eye-witnesses
by whom the Gospels were written; and by showing the consequent necessity, if the Gospels were not authentic throughout, of supposing the preachers of the purest of religions to have committed wholesale fabrications. But the sceptical critics of modern times, quite outflanked this position. The argument from the Jewish prophecies they turned round, and made an argument against the authenticity of the gospel history. The "close coincidence" between the two was too close, they argued, for an actual historical coincidence, and was due simply to invention or alteration of the gospel records: whatever it had been predicted that the Messiah should do, Faith had undoubtingly attributed to and narrated of him. The Gospels they found, on closer examination, not to be from eyewitnesses, not first-hand documents, originally and wholly composed by one person, nor even wholly independent narratives; but to have been worked over by different hands, founded upon either a common oral tradition, or upon common written fragments. The date of all of them, these critics asserted, was later than the apostolic age. Finally, the dilemma of the events of the Gospels being either true or conscious forgeries they evaded, by supposing them to be myths or legends, unconscious growths of the excited imaginations of the early Christian society.
Against this form of attack the old manner of defence was of no avail; and the reasoning of the more recent school of Christian advocates, however able and sound, is too long, laborious, and minute, for popular use. Few people have either the time, patience, or opportunity of examining the quotations of Justin Martyr and the Apostolic Fathers. There is needed a course of argument more summary, adapted for popular use, starting with no presuppositions not admitted as self-evident. This is the want which our author would supply. His book has the great merit of taking up its subject in a method different from the usual one, and its work is well laid out.
Whether the Gospels be fictitious or historical, one thing is indisputable, they contain a delineation of a great character which is exhibited over a wide field of action. It is,
moreover, admitted on all hands that the Synoptics were in existence, in all their main features, prior to the termination of the first century, and the fourth Gospel prior to the year 150. These facts Mr. Row takes as his starting-points. The existence of this dramatized portraiture of Jesus at that time is a fact which must be accounted for. Mr. Row aims to show that the mythic theory cannot adequately account for the existence of the Gospels, and the portraiture of Jesus which they contain, at the time when it is admitted that they existed; and that the only thing which can account for it, is the supposition that Jesus really existed as he is depicted in the evangelical records.
In the gospel narratives, Mr. Row maintains, there is represented in Jesus the union of a divine and human consciousness, a perfect holiness and a perfect benevolence, a suffering Messiah, a teacher of a new original morality, higher than the world had ever before known; and all these conceptions are carried out into minute detail, are dramatized over an extensive sphere of action. If this portraiture is only an ideal one, there must have been an infinite number of the most difficult problems to be solved by the elaborators of it, as to the mode in which these factors should be combined, the prominence given to each, the character of each of the particular events, anecdotes, and sayings by which these conceptions should be illustrated.
Every different originator of a myth would be likely to do this in a different way. Is it conceivable, then, that if the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels was the spontaneous growth of the imagination of his early credulous followers, the result should have possessed the unity that it does? that these should exist in all the unmistakable style of one original character? Even were there existing in Jewish literature the abstract conception of the Messianic character, there would still remain the same difficulty as to the detailed dramatization of it, and the same impossibility of different creators of mythical stories uniting in producing such a completely harmonious portrait. But not even the abstract idea was in their possession. Examine the prophetical books, unbiassed by the
usual evangelical desire of finding there resemblances to the gospel history, and you find only a number of vague undeveloped outlines, destitute of substantial form or coincidence with the gospel events. They are types rather than prophecies: they refer to actual events and individuals, exaggerating the one and idealizing the other; or else they are idealized personifications of the Jewish people. This statement agrees substantially with the views of the late Dr. Noyes, as expressed in the introduction to his translation of the Prophets.
In the later apocryphal works of Jewish literature, there is a very much closer and more direct coincidence with the image of Christ in the Gospels; but even these would not have been sufficient as a model in the fabrication of a detailed portraiture of the Messiah. They give only dogmatic statements or general elements, not a detailed picture, — abstract ideas, not concrete realities.
Moreover, the Messianic ideas prevalent among the people from the prophetical period to the advent were ideas of a national military deliverer,- ideas directly opposite to the conceptions elaborated in the Gospels. Now myths, being the spontaneous products of men's imaginations, embody the feelings, passions, and tendencies of the people among whom they arise. They represent their general notions about God and man, and the relation between them as they are reflected in the inventor's mind from the society in which he moves. The creator of a myth is limited in his field of invention by the religious and moral atmosphere in which he lives. A myth which did not embody the general conceptions of the day, would inevitably fail to get currency. When a number of different inventors are engaged in mythical creations, it is inevitable that the results should vary in conformity with the individual peculiarities of those at work in elaborating them; and even a certain unity of type in the midst of this diversity is possible, only as long as they adhere closely to the type of thought by which they are surrounded. The moment they vary from it, their creations must produce as great a divergency of type as the number of minds engaged in their elaboration. Just in proportion as the mythologists rise above the
conceptions of their times, or introduce improved ideas in religion or theology, their pictures must inevitably vary from each other. This would be still more the case, if the mythol ogists were persons widely separated by place, mental endowments, and nationality, as the early Christians were. Is it conceivable, then, that out of preceding Judaism there could have been elaborated, by a succession of mythical creations, a portraiture of the Messiah so different from and superior to the Jewish ideas, and yet one possessing such a unity of character throughout, as that of Jesus in the Gospels does?
Moreover, the period of sixty-five years, from the death of Jesus to the end of the first century, when at least it is admitted that the Synoptics were in existence, is not sufficient time for the mythical development of the delineation of Christ in them out of the religious, moral, and Messianic ideas of Judaism. The growth of myths is slow. This may be seen both by considering the conditions of their growth, and the examples of the Greek myths, and those of the Christian Apocrypha. And this period of sixty-five years must, besides, be reduced to a period of only twenty-five years; because we have, in those Epistles of St. Paul whose genuineness is unquestioned, the outlines of the character of Jesus substantially the same as in the Gospels.
That the Gospels are not mythic in their origin, is shown also by a comparison of them with the apocryphal Gospels. These latter show what would have been the character of the four Gospels, if they had originated in myths. Nothing is more striking than the contrast between the seriousness, dignity, and life-likeness of the four Gospels, and the puerility, absurdity, and evident fictitiousness of the apocryphal Gospels.
Such is an outline of Mr. Row's argument for the authenticity of the portraiture of Jesus in the Gospels, against the mythic theory of Strauss. It is conducted with scholarship, ability, decorum, fairness, and point. It is free from the flings, declamations, and denunciations, which are apt to deface modern defences of evangelical Christianity. His argument we regard as valuable and substantially sound. There are in