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we necessarily claim more valid credentials from a divine messenger than his own conscientious acceptance of prophetic destiny; and we listen with incredulity to all announcements claiming to be supernatural, from the votaries of that asceticism which corrupted Christianity in later generations with the crazy fancies of starving anchorites.
Two thousand years ago, an enthusiastic prophet, unconscious of the natural laws controlling his mind and body, in common with more vulgar mortals, might honestly accept the fanciful illusions of his excited brain as the precious whisperings of divine revelation; but we, who study the eccentricities of saints and martyrs in the light of modern science, can .no longer accept the phantasmagoria of cerebral inanition as authentic revelations of the will and purpose of the Deity. And, if the mission of John the Baptist had been postponed to the nineteenth century, on his appearance in our highways as the squalid and faminestricken messenger of God, he would be arrested by the police, examined by a physician, ånd sent by a magistrate to some benevolent asylum, where, with cerebral tissues restored by nutrition, his spiritual illusions would gradually vanish, and he would be found, some day, ready to go forth in the garb of civilisation, to fulfil the unambitious duties of ordinary mortals.
But the generation which witnessed the Baptist's dramatic career, filled with vague and excited hopes of national restoration through a Messianic kingdom, applied no rational criticism to the hazy pretensions of John, but hastened to the Jordan to experience a new sensation in listening to the excited accents of a man prepared to restore the lost reputation of the prophets. Having entered upon his important mission, John, who possessed no original ideas, adopted the ancient rite of baptismal purification, preached the repentance demanded by all the prophets, and followed Daniel in the announcement that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. But the one absorbing purpose of his life was to attain full attestation of his divine mission through a contemporary Messiah, whom he therefore awaited in that condition of mental disturbance so closely allied with religious hallucinations; and in a moment of sudden impulse, mistaken for inspiration, he nominated a Galilean peasant to fulfil the Messianic dreams of
prophets, as the predestined victim of ambiguous oracles, luring him to the martyrdom of Calvary.
A time came when, under the depressing influence of a prison, the glow of enthusiastic conviction fostered by the freedom of the desert was exchanged for the hesitation of reactionary reflection; and John then sent his disciples to inquire whether Jesus was indeed the Christ, or Israel still awaited the Messiah—a .message which finally disposes of Messianic attestation through the descent of a miraculous dove, and discloses the merely personal impulse which fulfilled the imaginary prediction of prophets.
The prologue of Jordan therefore introduces the central figures of the Galilean drama. John, an enthusiastic visionary, declares that Jesus is the Messiah, and he, in dutiful submission to the revealed will of the Deity, accepts the unknown responsibilities of the undefined position with the same honest facility of belief with which a Pius or a Leo is transformed by acclamation into an infallible Pontiff, invested with all the
resources of divine wisdom as the Vicegerent of God on earth, whilst unconscious of any personal change, and still the Pius or Leo of old to his familiar friends. The possibilities of faith are in fact only restricted within the limits of human imagination; and, if we sceptical moderns could but believe, this nineteenth century might rival the age of Jesus in theosophic mysticism.
With what training in childhood, youth, and manhood did Jesus enter upon his public career? Nazareth, no doubt, possessed its synagogue and Hazzan, or reader, who also fulfilled the duties of village schoolmaster, and taught Jesus to read the Aramaic Targums paraphrasing and expounding Moses and the prophets. As he attained the age of voluntary study, the repulsive contents of the Pentateuch and Joshua necessarily proved distasteful to so refined and gentle a nature; but he found more congenial studies in Isaiah, the Psalms, Apocrypha, and book of Enoch—his favourite authors, whose ideas he freely borrowed. Thus, in the book of Enoch we read: The elect shall possess light, joy, and peace, and they shall inherit the earth ;'1 and Jesus says: 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. How disappointing for the elect or the meek to learn that the idea of rewarding them with so noble an inheritance is not an original suggestion of Jesus !
We know not how or when Jesus became imbued with Essenism. This sect willingly undertook the education of children: can Jesus have been an attendant at their schools? Candidates for admission into their society passed through a year's novitiate : can he have
1 Enoch vi.
thus studied their system, or even have become the temporary disciple of a Banus in the wilderness ? History or legend gives no answer to these questions. We only know that Jesus taught all which is most excellent in Essenism, and brought to his task the mental characteristics of the contemplative life, through which he presents himself to us as a man of genius who had passed his youth in self-conscious reverie and visionary dreams, vague and purposeless until transformed in maturer life into practical designs, adopted in response to the promptings of external circumstances suggestive of action.
This age of conventional formalism, harmonising rather with the respectability of collective mediocrity than with the aspirations of personal genius, can but imperfectly understand the individuality of men, gifted with the moral power which awakens the enthusiasm of contemporaries, and fashions the institutions of posterity. In modern life the individual is lost in the crowd; the routine of the schools discourages originality in youth, and the co-operative action of maturity absorbs the man in the multitude. Temporary isolation is, therefore, indispensable to the development of a commanding genius, which must grow in solitude and obscurity until the matured force of a distinctive individuality can withstand attrition with ordinary minds, and maintain a steady front in the presence of hostile systems bristling with the prescriptive rights of centuries. But even then geniųs is powerless in the present, unless its practical purpose admits of adaptation to the wants of its own generation.
History depicts our great men, not as creating the
tendency of their age, but as embodying its vague conceptions in the definite purpose of their own career, and changing its vacillating theories into accomplished facts. Genius born in advance of contemporary thought, in an age incapable of understanding its designs or adopting its leadership, beats out life against the iron barrier of circumstance, and dies unknown, or possibly transmits the record of its work to a later generation, which grants it the tardy justice of posthumous applause, whilst gratuitously enjoying the fruits of its labours. Genius, therefore, although not always to be found in the supreme crisis of a nation's destiny, cannot command a career independent of time, of circumstance, of place, but must find its field for action in the wants of contemporary humanity.
Jesus proved no exception to this rule. Born and educated at Athens or at Rome, he would have become an illustrious master of moral philosophy, anticipating Seneca and Aurelius in practical lessons of virtue and humanity; but born at Nazareth in the midst of Messianic dreams, fostered by the ambiguous oracles of ancient bards, Jesus drifted from philosophy to superstition, and became the central figure around which later generations grouped the fanciful creations of imaginative piety.