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the Christians ? We must pass over the answers given to this question from different sides; - the answer given by the enemies of the religion, that Essenism anticipated Christianity in its most essential features; that Christianity was but Essenism under another name, having no claim to originality, and no title to peculiar respect, being in fact but a republication of an old idea ; -- the answer given by the defenders of the religion, that the priority of teaching belonged to Christianity, of which Essenism was only a poor imitation ;- the answer of Eusebius, that the Essenes existed as a sect, but subsequently to the time of Christ; - and the answer of De Quincey, that they never existed as a Jewish sect at all, but that the early Christians, in order to protect themselves from their foes, to preserve their organization, and to promulgate secretly their opinions, assumed this name of Essenes as a mask; so that Josephus, in describing the Essenes, describes the Christians, and does, after all, bear testimony to the existence and the power of the Church. All these answers, and others that invite remark, must be left uncriticised. We must proceed at once to the answer suggested by the author of " Christ the Spirit.”
That the Essenes could claim priority of the Christians was certain. That they constituted a distinct sect in Palestine admitted of no doubt. That their ethical principles and religious observances were in some respects almost identical with those of the New Testament, was very clear. What then ? Why, they were one and the same people, – that is to say, the Christians were Essenes; the New Testament writings were Essene writings.
Philo, in his report of the Essenes, speaks of their custom of assembling to hear interpretations of the Hebrew sacred writings from their elders, which interpretations " are delivered by mystic expressions in allegories ; for the whole of the law appears to these men to resemble a living animal, the express commandments being the body, and the invisible meaning lying beneath the plain words resembling the soul.” In another place, they are described as “ taking up the Sacred Scriptures, and philosophizing concerning them, investigating the allegories of their national philosophy, since they look on
their literal expressions as symbols of some secret meaning of nature intended to be conveyed in those figurative signs.” Philo also mentions writings which their ancient men had left behind them, of an allegorical character, intimating at the same time that the allegorical style of composition was still fashionable among them. Then comes in Eusebius, with a statement made in the interest of Christianity, but easily turned against him, that in all probability the commentaries which the Essenes had were the very Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament.
What follows? This, of course : that Essenes composed the books — the biographical books at least — of the New Testament. But inasmuch as the Essenes composed none but allegorical writings, these writings must be allegorical ; and, since the Essenes used allegory to veil their interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures, and wrote allegorical books with the design of conveying thus the interior sense of the law as they understood it, it must be the design of these books to convey that interior sense, - to teach, under the form of mythus and parable, the spirit of the Scriptures.
This, then, in brief, is the theory of the work under review. “ The Gospels were designed originally as interpretations of the Hebrew Sacred Scriptures, after a mystical method, for the use or edification of a secret society among the Jews.” In fulfilment of this design, the spirit of the sacred writings is brought into a temporal scene, under the form of a person, whose introduction is accomplished poetically by the help of supernatural machinery. Once on the stage, the writers of the seeming histories invent situations, put in according to fancy the graphic or dramatic details, devise symbolical deeds and sayings, so as to make Jesus, their chief personage, represent by his words and actions what, in their opinion, the Hebrew Scriptures in their spirit say to the believing soul, and work in the believing heart. Christ is the personified spirit of the ancient Law; he is the heart of the Bible in a figure; he is the interior Word, represented as moving about among men. Whether a person bearing his name actually lived or not, is of no consequence. In the intention of the Gospel writers, he was a mythus; his biography is not a biography, but a
metaphor; his life is not a life, but a sermon; his actions are emblems; his experiences are tropes ; his miracles are parables in the guise of history; the men and women who surround him are figures of rhetoric.
We ought to say, perhaps, that, before pushing his conclusion to this length, our author had been struck by the evidently allegorical character of much of the New Testament. There was a great deal of metaphorical language, and there were at least some metaphorical facts. The words water and spirit, flesh and blood, bread and wine, used in contrast, conveyed a palpable hint of the distinction between the literal and the spiritual sense. The miracle of the water changed into wine, of the penny found in the mouth of the fish, of the multiplication of loaves, the stilling of the tempest, the walking on the sea, the flowing of the water and blood from the wounded side of the Crucified, suggest at once the doctrine of the hidden sense, and have always been “improved” for teaching. Once on the scent of mystical interpretation, the chase is endless; one starts a symbol at every turn; the whole field is covered with emblematic pearls. The larger part of these two volumes is devoted to the allegorical interpretation of the Gospels under the light of the author's hypothesis. The second volume is given entirely to the mystical exposition of the Gospel of John. We cannot commend very highly General Hitchcock's success in these illustrations : we are presumptuous enough to fancy that we could do this part of his work a great deal better. Some of his explanations are strained, some are prosaic, some are flat, some are trivial. This, however, is his defect, not the defect of his theory, which should not be burdened with the sin of his imperfect imagination. He argues better than he illustrates, and is far more ingenious in defending his view than he is brilliant in setting it forth.
That the Gospels are not historical books, containing the authentic biography of Jesus, may be made to appear,
he thinks, altogether apart from the intrinsic probability of the case. The strange silence of history respecting so wonderful a person as Jesus under their representation must have been, is a staggering fact, never yet explained, and alone sufficient to cast suspicion on the presumed biographies. Then, again, they are written in Greek, the language of the allegorizers ; they abound in parables; they contain frequent and impressive warnings against literal constructions; they describe themselves in many parts as containing hidden wisdom which the initiated only can understand ; they were received as allegorical writings by some of the fathers of the Church, conspicuous among whom was Origen, who said, “ The Sacred Scripture is like a man ; for, as a man consists of a rational soul, of a sentient or sensuous soul, and of a body, so, in like manner,
have the divine books a threefold sense, an historical or grammatical sense, a moral sense, and a spiritual sense.”
That the Gospels are Essene writings he argues, in addition to the other evidence, from the fact that the Essenes are not mentioned in them; that the Essene doctrine of the letter and the spirit runs through them; that the great foes of the Essenes, the Scribes and Pharisees, are vehemently denounced on almost every page ; that the only opinions which receive any commendation at all are those which were entertained by the Essenes.
The author's supposition is that the Gospels were composed, not for the people who were “ without," but for the use of the Essenes alone; and for a considerable period were kept exclusively in their hands. They were secret books, containing a secret doctrine. And they might have remained secret books forever had not St. Paul — who, if not a member in regular standing in the society, held substantially the opinions which the society held — openly preached in such a manner as to attract the public attention to the sect and to the books. Great numbers of the uninitiated became acquainted through him with the hidden doctrines of the sect; the line which divided them from the world was broken down; the books were forced out of their hands, and made common property ; the admixture of foreign elements changed their character, and altered their attitude in history; converts from other parties — Sadducees, Pharisees, Greeks, Romans — succeeded in getting into the brotherhood without getting into the wisdom ; differences of opinion in regard to the truth itself found entrance and foothold ; literalists read the mystical writings as literalists always will, with the eyes of the understanding, not with the eyes of the soul; the myths were interpreted as history, the metaphor was accepted as fact, the allegory was received as biography, the figure of speech became a living man. A new sect, as it might be called, grew about this personage, increased, built up an organization of its own, became known as a distinct body, - either split off from the original Essene community, or, being the more numerous, absorbed it, received a new name, Christians, at Antioch, and stood before the world the heralds of a new religion. From this time the spiritual element declined in force. Partly because it was disabled by the unrepealed obligation of secrecy, and partly because the spiritual element is always surpassed in demonstration of power by brute mind and practical organization. Many of the Fathers of the Church were members of the order, and adhered faithfully to the original tradition respecting the authorship and character of the New Testament; but they were forbidden to divulge what they knew, and their knowledge passed away with them, or was long concealed in obscure corners of the mind of Christendom. The historical tendency overwhelmingly prevailed; and it was not long ere the truth was publicly lost sight of, and pronounced to be heresy.
Such is the theory. We have stated it briefly, but with perfect fairness, and have carefully avoided every expression that might seem to carry with it a shadow of prejudgment. It might have been stated more strongly if stated at greater length ; but those who can read intelligently will understand the strength of it from the hints given; others would require much more explanation than a paper like this could supply. It is certainly an interesting, ingenious, and suggestive view of primitive Christianity; and we happen to know that to many minds it has come, as the writer desires it may come, as a welcome and grateful relief from the difficulties that encumber the popular theory. Perhaps the serene, spiritual beauty of it has fascinated a few who have not cared to observe its exceedingly radical character, and who would probably be shocked if set face to face with its literal results. We shall not occupy much room in recording the reasons of our dissent from the