India in Primitive Christianity - The Essene Jesus
Was Jesus an Essene?—Nazarites or Nazareens—Baptised by the Nazarite John—A Secret Society—"Inquire who is worthy!"—Essene Bread Oblation—Miracle of the Loaves—Probably an Essene Passover gathering—The Codex Nazaraeus—The earliest gathering of Christians at Rome—Essene water drinkers and vegetarians—The Gospel according to the Hebrews—Gospel of the Infancy.
Was Jesus an Essene?
Historical questions are sometimes made more clear by being treated broadly. Let us first deal with this from the impersonal side, leaving out altogether the alleged words and deeds of Christ, Paul, etc. Fifty years before Christ's birth there was a sect dwelling in the stony waste where John prepared a people for the Lord. Fifty years after Christ's death there was a sect in the same part of Palestine. The sect that existed fifty years before Christ was called Essenes or Nazarites, or Nazareens. The sect that existed fifty years after Christ's death were called Nazarines or Nazarites, Therapeuts, Gnostics, Continentes, and according to Epiphanius "Essenes or Jesseans." They were not called Christians in the first century at all.
Each had two prominent rites: baptism, and what Tertullian calls the "oblation of bread." Each had for officers, deacons, presbyters, ephemereuts. Each sect had monks, nuns, celibacy, community of goods. Each interpreted the Old Testament in a mystical way,—so mystical, in fact, that it enabled each to discover that the bloody sacrifice of Mosaism was forbidden, not enjoined. The most minute likenesses have been pointed out between these two sects by all Catholic writers from Eusebius and Origen to the poet Racine, who translated Philo's Contemplative Life for the benefit of pious court ladies. Was there any connection between these two sects? It is difficult to conceive that there can be two answers to such a question.
And if it can be proved, as Bishop Lightfoot affirms, that Christ was an anti-Essene, who announced that His mission was to preserve intact every jot and tittle of Mosaism as interpreted by the recognised interpreters, this would simply show that He had nothing to do with the movement to which His name has been given.
The first prominent fact of His life is His baptism by John. If John was an Essene, the full meaning of this may be learnt from Josephus:
"To one that aims at entering their sect, admission is not immediate: but he remains a whole year outside it, and is subjected to their rule of life, being invested with an axe, the girdle aforesaid, and a white garment. Provided that over this space of time he has given proof of his perseverance, he approaches nearer to this course of life, and partakes of the holier water of cleansing; but he is not admitted to their community of life. Following the proof of his strength of control, his moral conduct is tested for two years more; and when he has made clear his worthiness, he is then adjudged to be one of their number. But before he touches the common meal, he pledges to them in oaths to make one shudder, first, that he will reverence the Divine Being; and secondly, that he will abide in justice unto men, and will injure no one, either of his own accord or by command, but will always detest the iniquitous and strive on the side of the righteous; that he will ever show fidelity to all, and most of all to those who are in power, for to no one comes rule without God; and that, if he becomes a ruler himself, he will never carry insolence into his authority, or outshine those placed under him by dress or any superior adornment; that he will always love truth, and press forward to convict those that tell lies. That he will keep his hands from peculation, and his soul pure from unholy gain; that he will neither conceal anything from the brethren of this order, nor babble to others any of their secrets, even though in the presence of force and at the hazard of his life. In addition to all this, they take oath not to communicate the doctrines to any one in any other way than as imparted to themselves; to abstain from robbery, and to keep close, with equal care, the books of their sect and the names of the angels. Such are the oaths by which they receive those that join them."*
As a pendant to this, I will give the early Christian initiation from the Clementine Homilies.
"If any one having been tested is found worthy, then they hand over to him according to the initiation of Moses, by which he delivered his books to the Seventy who succeeded to his chair."
These books are only to be delivered to "one who is good and religious, and who wishes to teach, and who is circumcised and faithful."
"Wherefore let him be proved not less than six years, and then, according to the initiation of Moses, he (the initiator) should bring him to a river or fountain, which is living water, where the regeneration of the righteous takes place." The novice then calls to witness heaven, earth, water, and air, that he will keep secret the teachings of these holy books, and guard them from falling into profane hands, under the penalty of becoming "accursed, living and dying, and being punished with everlasting punishment."
"After this let him partake of bread and salt with him who commits them unto him."
Now, if, as believed by Dr. Lightfoot, the chief object of Christ's mission was to establish for ever the Mosaism of the bloody altar, and combat the main teaching of the "Ascetic" as he was called, which "postulates the false principle of the malignity of matter," why did He go to a Mystic to be baptised? Whether or not Christ belonged to mystical Israel, there can be no discussion about the Baptist. He was a Nazarite "separated from his mother's womb," who had induced a whole "people" to come out to the desert and adopt the Essene rites and their community of goods. And we see, from a comparison of the Essene and early Christian initiations, what such baptism carried with it. It implied preliminary instruction and vows of implicit obedience to the instructor.
It is plain, too, that the Essene Christ knows at first nothing of any antagonism to His teacher.
"The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it" (Luke xvi. 16).
This shows that far from believing that He had come to preserve the Mosaism of the bloody altar, He considered that John and the Essenes had power to abrogate it.
Listen, too, to Christ's instructions to His twelve disciples:—
"As ye go, preach, saying the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
This is the simple gospel of John.
"Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes."
Here again we have the barefooted Essenes without silver or gold. "He that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none," said the Baptist.
"And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And . whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. Behold I send you forth, as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved."
This passage is remarkable. No Christian disciple had yet begun to preach, and yet what do we find? A vast secret organisation in every city. It is composed of those who are "worthy" (the word used by Josephus for Essene initiates); and they are plainly bound to succour the brethren at the risk of their lives. This shows that Christ's movement was affiliated with an earlier propagandism.
There is another question. On the hypothesis that Christ was an orthodox Jew, why should He, plainly knowing beforehand what mistakes and bloodshed it would cause, make His disciples mimic the Essenes in externals? The Essenes had two main rites, baptism and the bloodless oblation. Christ adopted them. The Essenes had a new name on conversion.
"Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a stone" (John i. 42).
The Essenes had community of goods:—
"And all that believed were together, and had all things common" (Acts ii. 44).
"If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me" (Matt. xix. 21).
A rigid continence was exacted:—
"All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. . . . There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (Matt. xix. ii, 12).
"And I looked, and, lo! a Lamb stood on Mount Zion, and with Him an hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads. . . . These are they which were not defiled with women, for they are virgins" (Rev. xiv. I, 4).
Divines tell us that this first passage is to have only a "spiritual" interpretation. It forbids not marriage, but excess. We might listen to this if we had not historical cognisance of a sect in Palestine at this date which enforced celibacy in its monasteries. The second passage shows that the disciples understand Him literally.
The bloody sacrifice forbidden:—
"I will have mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt. ix. 13). p. 182
"Unless ye cease from sacrificing, the wrath shall not cease from you."*
"To love his neighbour as himself is more than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark xii. 33).
Bishop Lightfoot, as I have mentioned, considers that Jesus was an orthodox Jew, whose mission was to perpetuate every jot and tittle of Mosaism; and that "emancipation" from the "swathing-bands" of the law came from the apostles.† It might be thought that this was a quaint undertaking, for the Maker of the millionmillion starry systems, to come to this insignificant planet in bodily form to "perpetuate" institutions that Titus in thirty years was to end for ever; even if we could forget that human sacrifices, concubinage, polygamy, slavery, and border raids were amongst these institutions. But if this is the historical Christ, it appears to me that we must eliminate the Christ of the Gospels almost entirely. For capital offences against the Mosaic Law, the recognised authorities three times sought the life of Jesus, twice after formal condemnation by the Sanhedrim. These offences were Sabbath-breaking, witchcraft, and speaking against Mosaic institutions. According to the Synoptics, He never went to Jerusalem during His ministry until just the end of it; although the three visits for the yearly festivals were rigidly exacted.
And the miracle of the loaves was apparently performed during a passover festival in Galilee, a passover that infringed all the rites of the dominant party (John vi. 1-13).
Bishop Lightfoot makes much of the fact that John's Gospel makes Christ go up once for the Feast of Tabernacles. But did He go as an orthodox worshipper, to present his offerings for the bloody sacrifice? On the contrary, on this very occasion He was accused of Sabbath-breaking and demoniac possession; and the rulers of the people sent officers to arrest Him.
I must say a few words here about the Codex Nazaræus, the Bible of the disciples of John the Baptist. It is sometimes called the "Book of Adam," and it contains views about the Logos analogous to those of Plato; and is, the great French authority Adolf Franck thinks, earlier by centuries than Christianity. John's disciples are called "Nazarines" in the book; and it bristles with Essene sayings, many of which were afterwards placed in Christ's lips in His "Sermon on the Mount."
"Blessed are the peaceful."
"Blessed are the just, the peacemakers, and the believers."
"Blessed are the peacemakers who abstain from evil."
"Desire not gold nor silver nor the riches of the world, for the world will perish and all its riches."
"Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, for he who gives will receive abundantly."
"Put on your stoles and white garments, O Peacemakers, symbols of the Water of Life. Put on your heads white crowns like the crowns of glory of heaven's angels. Take up arms not of steel but of more worthy metal, the weapons of faith and justice, the weapons of the Nazarine."
One point is its strong hostility to the Mosaism of the bloody altar.
"Then shall appear that ignoble nation which will kill fat offerings, and make God's sanctuary swim in blood. It will commit wicked acts, and call itself the People of the House of Israel. It will circumcise with a bloody sword, and smear its face and lips with gore. Its sons will burn with infamous lusts, perverting the faith. . . . A generation of slaves and adulterers, instead of honouring the Most High, they will discard Moses the Prophet of the Holy Ghost who gave them the law, and dishonour Abraham, that other Prophet of God."
This shows that the breach between the Nazarines and dominant Mosaism was no half-quarrel. Philo, Josephus, Christ, and the author of the "Clementine Homilies," all hold that the bloody sacrifice did not come from God.
"Say not that to the Most High alone is known the mysteries. He has revealed them to you."
"When thou eatest, drinkest, or sleepest or restest, in all things strive to exalt the Name of the great King of Light, and hasten to the Jordan to receive His baptism."
"Give bread and water, and a home to him who is tormented by the tyranny of persecution."
"When thou makest a gift, O chosen one, seek no witness thereof to mar thy bounty."
"The mercy, goodness and majesty of the King of Light cannot be fathomed."
"None can know these things save the life that is within thee, and the spirits and messengers that gird thee around."
"Thy creatures they know not even thy name."
"The Kings of Light ask one another, What is the name of the Great Light?
"They answer, He has no name!
"No poor sculptor of earth has fashioned his throne.
"The palace of the King was not built up by earthly masons.
"Immoveable he dwells in a city of Adamant, a city without discord or broils.
"In that city are no butchers, or gluttons surcharged with animal food.
"It knows not the wine of wantonness, nor the songs or riot.
"No corpses are to be seen in its streets, nor war, nor warriors.
"The tears of weeping women disturb it not.
"Revealer, who makest known the inmost secrets, have mercy upon us."
These are the simple rites of the Nazarines:—
"Assemble the faithful. Read to them the Scriptures. Pray to the Lord for His mercy, that His splendour may go before and His light follow after."
The fact that the disciples of the Baptist are called the Nazareens in the "Codex Nazaræus" is important. The Christians according to the Acts were called Nazarines, and the section of Christ's flock which kept close to the traditions of the Apostles was called the Nazarines for at least three hundred years. Pilate on the cross wrote up Ἰησοῦς ο Ναζαραίος (Jesus the Nazarine). This in our Gospels is translated "Jesus of Nazareth," a place invented some think for the purpose. The "Encyclopædia" Britannica announces that there is no mention of this "Nazareth" outside the New Testament until Jerome and Eusebius seek to identify it with an insignificant village near the modern Nasira.
The Gospels announce that Christ was born in Bethlehem, but that he lived for some time in Nazareth, but a Roman Procurator in giving the name and crime of a condemned man would scarcely descend to such small facts in his biography. The prophecy, "He shall be called the Nazarine," wherever it comes from, has been literally fulfilled. Jews, old and modern, early Christians, Mussulmans, all the East, have used this title, and it is still used. "Nazarite" and "Nazarine" are the same word. "We are they," says Tertullian, "of whom it is written, Her Nazarites shall be whiter than snow."
And Tatian thus bitterly sums up the change of the Pauline party which converted an intuitive into a sacrificial religion. "Ye gave the Nazarite wine to drink, and commanded the Prophet saying, 'Prophesy not.'"
We must now consider a little more closely the contention that Christ and His disciples were orthodox Jews.
The main evidence for this is deduced from St. Paul's epistles, which assert roundly that the chief apostles "Cephas, James, and John" attempted to compel the new church to "live as do the Jews." They enforced the old laws about circumcision, the Sabbath, unclean meats, festivals, and holidays. They forbade any preaching to the Gentiles. In this last they were certainly backed by speeches put into the mouth of Jesus Himself in some of the Gospels. He commands His apostles to avoid the Gentiles and go to the "lost sheep of the House of Israel." They are not to give that which is holy to the dogs, or cast their pearls before swine. That the "dogs" mean the Gentiles is proved by Christ's dialogue with the woman of Samaria. And the following text is cited to clench the postulate that the earliest Christianity was pure Mosaism.
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am come not to destroy but to fulfil.
"For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall by no means pass from the law."
Now all this it must be admitted would upset the main contention of this book, if by the word "law" Jesus and St. Paul meant the Mosaic law as interpreted by the dominant party.
Let us take St. Paul first. He is rather vague about the word "law," and uses it in more senses than one. Sometimes the word means the mere law of
right and wrong. Sometimes it means the Jewish law as interpreted by the orthodox Jews; and sometimes as interpreted by the Essenes.
"For ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews.
"Who both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us, and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved."*
Here he plainly confuses the two together. He could never mean that it was the Essenes who killed Christ and the prophets, or that it was Caiaphus and the priestly party that forbid the Christians to spread Nazarine ideas amongst the Gentiles. The capital offence with them was preaching such ideas to the Jews.
Let us turn to the Epistle to the Romans. "The Church of Rome," says Renan, "was a Jewish Christian foundation in direct connection with the Church of Jerusalem."†
It was the chief stronghold of the Petrine party outside the Jewish capital. St. Paul in his epistle to this community attacks those who would be saved by "works," and he states explicitly that his own followers are only a remnant, that is a minority.‡ And the fourteenth chapter allows us to see the nature of the "works" relied on by the majority of the Christians in the Roman capital, the Petrine party, in point of fact.
They abstained from flesh meat, and were offended with those who preferred flesh meat to herbs. They forbade the use of wine.
This completely shows that St. Paul's foes at Rome were Essenes. Killing and eating flesh meat, with proper ceremonial, was a religious duty with orthodox Mosaism.
And other epistles show also that the "false Apostles," as St. Paul calls them, who opposed him in the church were Essenes. It could not be Jews of the orthodox Mosaism whom he accused of "forbidding to marry," or who had "each one a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation."
It must be mentioned, too, that Origen in a translation of Josephus in the Philosophumena states that the Essenes insisted on circumcision, and that some of their more violent members "if they hear one discoursing of God and His laws if he be uncircumcised, one stands in watch for such a person when somewhere alone and threatens to slay him without he consents to circumcision."
That brings us to the first of our string of questions. Did Christianity know anything like early Buddhism and its Buddha?
Now certainly there was an early Christianity whose leader was a mere man. He is born of a woman, and has a line of human ancestors. He forsakes all to become a Nazareen, as Buddha desires to become a Yogi. He has his baptism, his fastings, his temptations by the spirit of evil. He sits in solitude to purify his soul, and render it a fit receptacle for the Spirit of God. He has human imperfections. He prays that the cup of death may pass away from him.
The Jewish Saint becomes full of the Spirit of God and goes forth to preach the Dharma Raj—the Kingdom of Justice. He denounces bloody sacrifices; and like Buddha, has his "Beatitudes," invoking blessings on altruism, a forgiving spirit, purity, the love of even our enemies. At the last supper a treacherous disciple dips into the dish of each. Both die like ordinary mortals; and a Magdalena washes the dead body of each with her tears.
The earliest account of this Jewish saint is contained in a Gospel called the "Gospel according to the Hebrews." The Bishop of Hieropolis, Papias, announces that "Matthew first in the Hebrew tongue wrote this Gospel, and each person translated it as he was able."
I will give a few quotations from this Gospel: I have only space for quite a few. Let us begin with the baptism of Jesus.
"And when the people had been baptised, Jesus also came and was baptised by John.
"And as he went up the heavens were opened, and he saw the Holy Spirit, in shape of a dove, descending and entering into him.
"And a voice from heaven said, Thou art my beloved Son. I have this day begotten thee.
"And straightway a great light shone around the place. And John fell down before him, and said, I pray thee, Lord, baptise thou me.
"But he prevented him, saying, Let be; for thus it is becoming that all things be fulfilled.
"And it came to pass when the Lord had come up from the water, the entire fountain of the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon him, and said to him—'My Son, in all the prophets did I wait thee, that thou mightest come and I might rest in thee;
"'For thou art my rest. Thou art my first-born Son for ever and for ever.'"
Two points are noticeable here. The Holy Ghost "enters into" Jesus. And the Voice from heaven makes an accurate quotation from the Old Testament.
"Thou art my beloved Son; this day have I begotten thee." This did not suit subsequent orthodoxy, and it has been altered.
Another passage has also been altered for the same purpose.
"And behold there came to him two rich men. And one said, Good master.
"But he said, Call me not good, for he that is good is one, the Father in the heavens."
I will give a few more quotations.
"I have come to abolish sacrifices, and if ye do not cease to sacrifice the wrath of God against you will not cease."
"Be ye approved money changers."
The transfiguration in this Gospel is very like Buddha's ascent to the Devaloca to meet his mother.
"Just now, my mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and bore me up to the great mountain of Tabor.
"He that hath marvelled shall reign, and he that hath reigned shall rest."
Jesus figures as a prophet raised up from his brethren.
"I am he concerning whom Moses prophesied, saying, A prophet will the Lord our God raise unto you from your brethren even as me.
"Him hear ye in all things, for whosoever heareth not that prophet shall die."
It is to be mentioned also that the "locusts" eaten by John the Baptist are unknown in this Gospel.
"His food was wild honey whereof the taste was of manna."
Of a scene that is described as occurring on the night of the crucifixion, I will speak by-and-bye.
The church of Jerusalem had five characteristics:—
(1) They held Jesus to be "a man in like sense with all," as may be seen from Hippolytus (L. VII. 2).
(2) They rejected the writings of Paul, and indeed all other New Testament scriptures, except the Gospel according to the Hebrews.
(3) They refused to eat meat, like the Essenes.
(4) Like the Essenes also, they rejected wine, even in the Sacramentum. "Therefore do these men reject the co-mixture of the heavenly wine, and wish it to be the water of the world only, not receiving God so as to have union with Him," says Irenæus (Hoer. v. 3) speaking of them.
(5) Like the Essenes they also insisted on the rite of circumcision. Here is another passage from Irenæus: "They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner. They practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the House of God." (Hoer. iii. 1). Irenæus says also that their opinions were similar to those of Cerinthus, who held that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary, and that at His baptism the Holy Spirit came to Him.
But it is to be confessed that the Gospel according to the Hebrews has been assailed lately and pronounced later than the present St. Mark, of which it is affirmed to be an enlargement. In the Synoptics are found sprinkled about a number of passages nearly word for word the same, although the incidents and other speeches near these differ considerably. These facts have suggested that some earlier document was used by each Evangelist as a "Common Stock"; and that if we take the special passages that are common to all three Gospels we shall get this document. It is held, too, that St. Mark being shorter and more free from miracles practically represents it, dating from the times of the Apostles.
There seem to me many weighty reasons against this last conclusion. Irenæus calls the second Gospel a Docetic Gospel.
Now a Docetic Gospel would naturally reject the Virgin birth, or any birth at all, because the Docetæ viewed Christ as a Docetic Phantasm; it would also alter the account of Christ's death to suit its dogma, and this it seems to have done by inserting the doubt of Pilate and other touches, which have actually induced Huxley and other shrewd writers to argue that there was no dead body at all in the sepulchre owned by Joseph of Arimathea.
Certainly under these circumstances the greater brevity of Mark's Gospel is against its claims rather than a support. It is a stone statue, only half Docetic Phantasma, the other half honest Nazarine; and the strong torso shows where the mutilations have been made and the plaster added. Long ago Mr. Greg in his "Creed of Christendom," not having seen the passage in Irenæus, showed a "tendency" in Mark which seems to have induced him to throw overboard inconvenient matter. Matthew was the Gospel of the Jewish Christians, who held that Jesus was a mortal and the Jewish Messiah, whereas Mark was the Gospel of the Gentile converts. Says Mr. Greg:—"Matthew who wrote for the Jews, has the following passage in the injunctions pronounced by Jesus on the sending forth of the twelve Apostles: 'Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel' (x. 5). Mark, who wrote for the Gentiles, omits this unpalatable charge (vi. 7-13). Matthew (xv. 24) in the story of the Canaanitish woman, makes Jesus say: 'I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.' Mark (vii. 26) omits this expression entirely, and modifies the subsequent remark. In Matthew it is thus: 'It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it unto the dogs.' In Mark it is softened by the preliminary: 'Let the children first be filled,' etc. Matthew (xxiv. 20): 'But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.' Mark omits the last clause.
"In the promise given to the disciples in answer to Peter's question: 'Behold we have forsaken all and followed thee, what shall we have therefore?' The following verse given by Matthew (xix. 28) is omitted by Mark (x. 28): 'Verily I say unto you that ye which have followed me in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the Throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'"*
On the other hand Mr. Greg holds that there are passages in Matthew that were never in the written tradition at all, but are due to the pure fancy of the writer that put Matthew into its present form, such as the prophecy that a "Virgin shall conceive," the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, the Magi who detected the star of the King of the Jews, the statement that Jesus as the Messiah is the "son of Abraham" and the son of David. But on one point here Mr. Greg is plainly wrong. The flight into Egypt was in the Nazarene version of the "Gospel according to the Hebrews," and so was the passage about Christ being born in "Bethlehem of Juda," and so was the passage "He shall be called a Nazarene." These three fragments are found in one chapter (Matt. ii.), which seems to authenticate the whole chapter, visit of the Magi, massacre of children, and all. And these passages are in Justin who used the "Gospel according to the Hebrews."
And this habit of Mark of wholesale crowding out for the purpose of spreading a later form of Christianity is of the highest importance to our narrative, as his main raid is against Essenism. Thus Mark throws out the scene with the money changers, which, if a real event, shows that Jesus far from being an orthodox Jew, knew little of Jewish customs, for the money changers and "doves" were a necessity to the Temple sacrifices, especially of the poor. But if our Mark knows nothing of this scene a writer who was in the in the field before him does, namely Justin. This is strong evidence that our present version of Mark does not represent the oldest tradition.
In Matthew we have this passage: "There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." This was the Essene doctrine that absolute continence was necessary for the higher life. And the doctrine is put more strongly (Matt. vii. 27). "Whoso looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already with her in his heart."
This occurs when Christ is treating of adultery and divorce, and Mark with probably this passage before him, inserts this contradictory precept: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh" (x. 7, 8). As we see from the Apocalypse, the hundred and forty-four thousand of the sealed ones at the day of judgment have never been defiled with women at all, it is plain that this last passage was never in the early Gospel.
The Essenes had for a crucial object the removal of the plague spot in all religions, the sin offering. Twice Christ in Matthew (ix. 13; xii. 7) says He will have "mercy and not sacrifice." The language is stronger in the Gospel according to the Hebrews: "Except ye cease from sacrificing, the wrath of God abideth in you." Mark throws out all this because the Pauline Christianity had brought back the sin offering. Its motto was: "Without shedding of blood there is no remission."
Then in Mark the claim of Peter to leadership, and the status of St. James, are also ignored. And an attempt has also been made to neutralise the strong speeches in Matthew and Luke about poverty and family renunciation. "Blessed are the poor!" and "Woe unto you ye rich!" are cut out. In Luke (xiv. 26) we have this passage:—
"If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
Now it is quite plain that Mark knew of this passage, and thus he explains it away:—
"And Jesus answered and said: Verily I say unto you there is no man that hath left house or brethren or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive an hundred fold this time, houses, etc. . . . and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark x. 29). No two precepts could more widely diverge. In the one a future in heaven or hell depends on complete renunciation. In the other this is made optional. A man who leaves his wife, say, if he can establish a plausible motive for the act, may go to paradise, but he may do so likewise if he clings to her and his lands, his house and shekels.
Mark (vi. 10) in giving an account of the sending forth of the Twelve which is word for word like that of Matthew, omits this passage where Jesus enjoins them to "inquire who is worthy" when they came to a city. The Essenes had brother initiates in each town, who were bound to entertain and conceal the wandering missionary at the risk of their lives; but the Pauline Christians evidently had not, hence the omission. But the command of Christ is infamously unjust without it. According to Mark's Gospel, Jews, and Gentiles too, are to be punished for ever in hell for refusing to entertain fanatic preachers of a religion about which most of them can know nothing.
Matthew (vi. 16) has a passage about the Essene fast, face washing, etc. The great fast is an important feature in the Codex Nazaræus. How does Mark treat all this? He not only banishes all about fasting from the sermon on the Mount, but he concocts a passage condemning "washings" and "pots and brazen vessels," and asserting that the disciples of Jesus always eat without washing their hands.
And there is a passage in Mark that tells still more strongly against the theory that the earliest Gospel was Pauline:—
"For false Christs and false prophets shall arise, and shall show signs and wonders to seduce if it were possible the very elect" (Mark xiii. 21).
Matthew (xxiv. 23) gives the same passage almost word for word, but we know from the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" that the words "False Apostles" were included in the passage at one time. "For there shall be false Christs, false prophets, false apostles." Justin also puts it in: "For many false Christs and false Apostles shall arise and shall deceive many of the faithful." This is of course a gird against Paul; and Renan urges that the "enemy who sowed tares" (Matt. xiii. 25) is also that teacher. "The enemy" was St. Paul's nickname with the early church.
All this militates also against the "Triple Tradition" of Dr. Abbott, in the "Encyclopædia Britannica," a theory that in seeking the source of those passages that are the same in the three Synoptics, seeks to substitute for the "Gospel according to the Hebrews an alleged written "tradition" dating from the Apostles. But in this "Triple Tradition" the transfiguration and the two accounts of Jesus multiplying food must have figured. How is it that James, who did not die till A.D. 44 knows nothing about it and them. Had he known of those astounding miracles, he would certainly have made use of them to solemnise his episcopal injunctions. How, too, was it that Josephus who lived amongst the Essenes, had never heard of it?—nor John, nor Peter? And how is it that the earliest and most reliable Gospel, if it is represented by Mark, is a theological pamphlet fired off against the men that it admits in its own pages (Mark iii. 14), were specially commissioned by Christ to preach His Gospel. Paul thought that the teaching of these men was "beggarly elements," and avoided them. Mr. Greg has pointed out that no single word has ever been quoted by Paul as coming from the flesh and blood Christ. He gathered all he knew of Jesus from his visions, and despised "traditions of man" (Col. ii. 8), including the "triple" as well as the solitary. But supposing that the cart-before-the-horse exegesis is really right, and that Mark's Gospel is really the earliest and most authentic record of the life of Jesus, from this it would result that Peter, James and John knew nothing of His real thoughts, and that the astounding scheme of God Almighty descending to earth in human form and suffering an ignominious death to teach the world was an absolute failure. And it would show that Christ Himself has at any rate altered His ideas since His Ascension.
I may pause here to make a few remarks about a scripture which I think has been much undervalued, the "Gospel of the Infancy." This was believed by Origen to be written by Basilides. It was certainly known to Irenæus.* As he is the first to talk of the four Canonical Gospels, it thus receives an antiquity at least equal to theirs. But it goes beyond this, for the author only knows one Gospel, not four. He calls it the "Gospel of Perfection." And from the few meagre details that he gives, this seems to have been the "Gospel according to the Hebrews." Jesus was born in a cavern as in the copy of this Gospel used by Justin. Luke has plainly taken the account of Simeon from this Gospel, for the passage "to be a light to lighten the Gentiles" is not to be found in the hymn of thanksgiving in this Gospel. Early Christianity was a purely Jewish movement.
But what is most remarkable is the Buddhism. In Alexandria, as we have seen, some two hundred years before Christ there were a number of ascetics who believed that they could pass muster as Buddhist monks in a great Buddhist festival. Their experiment was quite successful. They were properly entertained on their arrival in Ceylon as real Buddhists. This fact proves that a life of Buddha of some sort must have reached Alexandria some two hundred years at least before the Saviour's birth. In that case, say about the year 100 A.D., we might expect to find a life of Buddha at Alexandria and a life of Jesus at Jerusalem, both describing the career of a holy Personage with somewhat similar details.
The Gospel of the Infancy is a band that seems to tie these two biographies together.
Let us recapitulate a few of these points that do this.
(1) The palm-tree bends down to Mary as the Asoka tree to Yashodara.
(2) The story of Simeon, the accounts of the bright light being almost word for word the same.
(3) The idol bending down to the Infant Jesus.
(4) The miracle of the sparrows restored to life.
(5) Judas Iscariot in early life attacked Jesus just as Devadetta, the Judas of Buddhism, attacked Buddha. A violent blow that Jesus received in the left side made a mark which was destined to be the exact spot that received the mortal spear-thrust at the Crucifixion.
(6) The whole story of the disputation with the Doctors seems copied servilely from the "Lalita Vistara."
(7) Buddhism had invaded Persia, and Maitreya, the coming Buddha, was expected five hundred years after Buddha's death—the Persian Buddhists called him Sosiosh. The Gospel of the Infancy explains the presence of the Magi, which in the Canonical Gospels is quite unintelligible. Why should Persians come with hysterical enthusiasm to greet a Messiah whose chief exploit was to be the slaughter of all Persians and all the other nations except Jews. The "Gospel of the Infancy" announces that Zoroaster had sent them. The Persians mixed up Sakya Muni, Buddha, Mithras and Zoroaster and were expecting Sosiosh at the time.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hinduism and Christianity, Jesus in India
- The Advaita Vedanta - Non Duality
- Introduction to Hinduism - Prakriti
- The Kapila And The Pâtañjala Samkhya Yoga
- Brahman According to Advaita and Dvaita in Hinduism
- Atheism and Materialism in Ancient India
- Solving the Hindu Caste System
- Emptiness or Sunyavada in Buddhism
- Buddhism - A Discourse on Ignorance
- The Working of Maya or Illusion - A Buddhist Perspective
- Buddhism - The Middle Way or the Middle Path
- What Samsara Means in Buddhism
- The Chaos Theory and Nirvana in Buddhism
- Hinduism and Caste System
- Dealing with Chance, Fate and Acts of God
- Death and Afterlife in Hinduism
- What is Hinduism?
- Hinduism and Diversity
- Hinduism and Judaism
- Hinduism and Same-sex Marriage
- Significance of Happiness in Hinduism
- Redirect - Symbolism Hinduism
- The Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
178:* Josephus, De B. J., II., 8, 2, 13.
182:* Cited from "Gospel of the Hebrews," by Epiphanius, Hoer, XXX. 16.
182:† "Com. on Galatians," pp. 286, 287.
187:* i Thess. ii. 14f.
187:† "Conférences d’Angleterre," p. 67.
187:‡ Romans xi. 4, 6.
193:* "Creed of Christendom," p. 127.
197:* Migne, "Dictionnaire des Apocryphes," Tome I.
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