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know Jesus ; 2ndly in the same breath), that we cannot know him by historical inquiry—attempting to reconcile the paradox by dignifying with the name of knowledge the blind traditional belief acquired in infancy, namely, because born in such and such a place, and of such and such parents. We hold it better to follow the advice of that other Jesus, a predecessor of the Nazarene, who quietly advises * to "Profess not the knowledge therefore that thou hast not.”
And as to the necessity laid on us (according to the Church) to know Jesus or perish eternally, if the knowledge is necessary, it will probably be found attainable by rational methods ; if not so attainable, this to us will be sufficient proof that no such necessity exists. But perhaps our evangelical friend would like to hear Professor Goldwin Smith speak to the same purpose, in the work quoted above, p. 107, “If he” (God) “has not given us conclusive evidence of any fact which we may imagine to be of vital importance to us, it must be because that fact is not of vital importance in his eyes."
We have seen, however, that there are conclusions in which all agree, so that we have already a standing ground, a base of operations.
Thus we know that Jesus of Nazareth was, if nothing more, a great and good man, a religious teacher, who, at Jerusalem,“ suffered, under Pontius Pilate," the death of the cross, between the years 26 and 36.
* Ecclesiasticus iii. 25.
What he more precisely was, and whether he possessed qualities which must be deemed supernatural, and if so, to what order of beings he belongs, and how related to us, are questions to which, as the result of the inquiry before us, we hope to be able to give some sort of answer.
It is true, indeed, that many, even of the learned, have been baffled in their attempts to delineate truly the historical Jesus, and that we (being of the unlearned) cannot expect to succeed where they have failed; moreover, we can only inquire at second hand.
Why, then, do you presume to write on the question ? the reader may, not impertinently, ask.
We reply, that the learned have mostly written on this subject for their own class. Moreover, we have never met with a life of Jesus which has come near to satisfying us—the available materials not having been, as it seems to us, efficiently used. Perhaps, because first, the critics have often spent so much time and labour over comparatively trilling questions, that their books are dry reading for the general public, however useful their work may have been as pioneer work; and secondly, of those who have written for the English people, some have used the New Testament without sufficient discrimination, while others have gone to the other extreme, and, alleging the paucity of materials, have left too many unsolved enigmas.
Finally, we think a just judgment on the main questions at issue may be arrived at even by us, the unlearned, by using independent thought on any version of the New Testament, and by consulting the critics (of various schools) through the medium of translations, accepting their conclusions where they agree, and using our own judgment where they differ. And as even this involves a vast amount of labour, too great for the opportunities of most men, we think we can do something worth while in the way of lightening this labour, and in giving a rough sketch of the path of inquiry. We hope, then, that our book will not have been written in vain, but that it may be regarded as helping to form another needed step in the way to the Life of Jesus of Nazareth.
That any average man may arrive at a right conclusion on the main questions is a view not confined to the Churches. The same opinion is expressed by the most renowned of those who, in the present century, have attempted to lead men from the Churches, viz. by Dr. D. F. Strauss, who says, “It is a mere prejudice of caste to fancy that ability to comprehend these things appertains exclusively to the theologian or man of learning. On the contrary, the essence of the matter is so simple, that every one whose head and heart are in the right place may well rest assured that whatever, after due reflection and the proper use of accessible means, still remains incomprehensible to him, is in itself of very little value.” *
We return, then, to a fuller consideration of the question—Where may we obtain reliable information
* P. 8 of Preface to “Life of Jesus for the People.”
respecting Jesus of Nazareth ? And here there is a general agreement that, setting aside the supernatural methods of the Churches, there is little or nothing to be gleaned respecting him outside of the New Testament, beyond confirmation of the bare facts that he lived in Palestine, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, which we get from the Roman historians. The histories of the Jews, written in the century after Jesus, teach us nothing about him. The silence of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian whose works have been preserved to us (setting aside the interpolations, which, however, give nothing new), is well known. Justus, the other Jewish historian of the time of Josephus, and a rival of that writer, wrote the history of the Jews to his own time, the third year of Trajan, but, says Photius, a Christian author,
being under the Jewish prejudices," "he makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, or of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did."* Philo, of Alexandria, though a contemporary, appears to have been ignorant of Jesus' existence.
The teaching of the Nazarene, and the cures presumably wrought on many of his hearers, constituted a social movement affecting the lower strata of provincial Jewish society, but, as we shall perhaps see more clearly, had but little political significance.
In the Apocryphal Gospels not a single detail can be relied on.
* Whiston's “Josephus.”
In early Christian writers there is little to be found except what is of a character similar to the contents of the Gospels, if we except two or three new sayings of Jesus, which we may notice further on. Practically, then, we are shut up to the New Testament, and for our knowledge of this sacred volume, we, who are unable to read it in the original, must rely on the learned who have translated it for us. Every one has, or may have, in his hands some version of this volume.
But are the learned sure that they possess the true Greek text, the original text of each book of the New Testament? On the contrary, they well know that they, in many cases, have it not, being bewildered by the various readings. “ The critical labours of Grièsbach,” as we are told by Samuel Sharpe, the Egyptologist, “in examining the age and value of the manuscripts, and in settling the Greek text of the New Testament, are too well known to need any remark. His text, in the edition dated Leipsic, 1805, is the standard to which most scholars appeal.” This is quoted from Sharpe's Preface to his translation of Griesbach's text, his first edition having been published in 1840. But since that time many others have added the results of their researches, especially, Dr. Tischendorf has appeared with his Codex Sinaiticus. And how near do Biblical scholars now approach to perfect knowledge of the original text? It is well known that not a single original manuscript remains of any of the New Testament Scriptures, and though all critics admit that every book therein was written before