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HISTORY OF RELIGION.
F. J. GOULD,
," "The Agnostic Island,”
(Issued for the Rationalist Press Committee.)
“Is there, then, a dark chamber here, too, which we are afraid to examine--into which we dare not suffer the light of day to enter ?” So Colenso asked of the orthodox critics who, when he exposed the human and fallible authorship of the Old Testament, expressed alarm lest he should carry his method into the region of Christianity. In the present instalment of the "History" I have penetrated the dark chamber, and at least left the door ajar by which that influential person, the General Reader, may enter. He who has neither leisure, desire, nor opportunity to search the books catalogued at the close of the volume may secure a bird's-eye view of the main results of modern criticism of early Christianity and its literature. As in the previous volume on Judaism, so now, I have attempted to show the religious process in conjunction with the course of political events and with the march of secular literature. For religion forms part of sociology, and the story of the Church connects itself intimately with the life of the world at large.
Chronology furnishes the key to my plan, and I almost tremble at my own audacity in adopting such a principle. Anyone who has read much in controversial literature on the subject of the New Testament and other Christian books is well aware how constantly the question of dates haunts the course of debate. And critics have distributed over the second century a number of books which the ordinary Church historians quietly assign in the lump to the first century. Not only have I had to strike away from the con
ventional track, but I have also been compelled to act as umpire among contending scholars, and to apply my less expert judgment in deciding the period to which a book should be assigned. This operation may appear to leave a wide margin of uncertainty. But, in a large number of cases, while the precise year of authorship is disputed, the disputants agree in placing a book within one or two decades. And this suffices for the main
am, for example, not concerned to pronounce whether the Fourth Gospel appeared in 130, 140, or 150. In those days books did not leap into public notice with the rapidity they do
The important question to consider is not the precise day or month of origin, but rather the quarter of a century in which the work began to attain recognition and influence. If I have correctly sketched out the general chronological progress, I shall experience no dismay at finding I have committed inaccuracies of detail.
As I have annotated my pages with reserences to so many authorities, I feel bound to point out that this book is not a mere compilation. Except from New Testament and other ancient documents, I have quoted not a single word. The names of modern writers will be found appended to sections in which I have utilised their labours, and yet in which I have expressed views totally opposed to theirs. And this applies to both orthodox and Rationalist authors. If I have differed from Lightfoot and Salmon on the one side, I have dissented from Davidson and Hausrath and the author of “Supernatural Religion” on the other. I trust the reader will allow that I have displayed a like impartiality in handling the delicate topics of early Christian belief and practice. I have steadfastly rejected popular ideas without fear of orthodox scorn, and I have tried to do justice to the Christian faith without needless deference to the exaggerated theories maintained by certain Rationalist schools. To Pagans and Christians and Jews and Gnostics I have accorded equal respect. I have persistently refrained from affixing such terms as "superstition” and “folly” to doctrines which are excluded from the sphere of my own personal belief.
The same literary courtesy has been extended to the epistles of Paul, the visions of Hermas, the meditations of Aurelius, the speculations of Valentinus, and the dramatic episodes of the “Testament of Abraham.” I leave Irenæus to rail against heresies. My only aim has been to marshal facts.
F. J. GOULD. January, 1897.