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to an ideal purity and beneficence. They were distinguished by truth, honesty, justice, and humanity. They inculcated industry, temperance, chastity, and rational control of all human passion. They disapproved of oaths, war, slavery, and commerce, preferring industrial pursuits, especially the cultivation of the soil. They were mutually affectionate, self-denying, and generous to the extent of holding all property in common. They lived peacefully with all men, forbidding injury to any, especially those in authority. They despised riches, rejected pleasure, were unmoved by pain, and disclosed unruffled fortitude in the presence of calamity, torture, and even death. In other words, Nirvāna was the goal of Essene ambition on earth ; and if, as we conjecture, the Essene contemporaries of Josephus were the lineal descendants of Buddhist converts, they had combined Aryan morality and philosophy with the Pharisaic form of Hebrew theology which deems men immortal; and had so improved on Mosaic conceptions of Divinity as to have changed the fear into the love of God. It is true that Buddha was at least agnostic as to a life beyond the grave; but later generations interpreted his Nirvāna as Paradise, and, thus modified, his teaching was susceptible of adaptation to religions which profess to solve the problems of eternity.
We do not yet hold any historic proof that Buddhist missionaries visited Palestine ; and a learned treatise could, no doubt, be written in refutation of our unattested assumption. But, meanwhile, the facts remain indisputable, that antecedent to the Christian era an ascetic sect existed in Judea deeply imbued with
opinions identical with the teaching of Buddha, and that these opinions filled an important place in the evolution of Christianity.
The ascetic retirement in which the Essenes lived naturally developed individual forms of superstitious fanaticism. Philo Judæus, speaking of the kindred sect of Therapeutæ in Egypt, depicts them withdrawing from the distractions of ordinary life, studying Hebrew Scripture in search of hidden and spiritual mysteries, passing whole days, from sunrise to sunset, in mental discipline, and neglecting their physical wants in absorbing contemplation of divine virtue and wisdom—an obvious instance of Semitic adaptation of the Aryan Nirvana. It has been recently affirmed that Philo's supposed account of the Egyptian Therapeutæ is a Christian forgery of the third century; but, whilst regretting the bad character thus given to primitive Christianity by modern theologians, we need not pause to question the theory, as the evidence of Josephus is sufficiently conclusive as to the Palestinian Essenism of the first century.
Josephus, in his autobiography, informs us that, in personally testing the comparative merits of the several Hebrew sects, he had resided for three years in the desert practising an extreme asceticism as the youthful disciple of Banus, who “used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food but what
grew of its own accord.' Banus was evidently a fanatical Essene, who sought the seclusion of the desert for undisturbed indulgence in drifting thought and dreamy mysticism; but, however excellent his motives, our present knowledge of physiology detects in this blighting
asceticism the growth of insanity, rather than the development of wisdom. Josephus, having thus tested the vanity of famine-born illusions, abandoned the ascetic career, and finally adopted the opinions and practice of the Pharisees, whose system he found somewhat analogous to the philosophy of the Stoics.
John the Baptist was obviously trained in the desert by some professor of asceticism, who rivalled Banus in the mortification of the flesh. The practical Josephus escaped the trying ordeal without losing his head, but enthusiastic John was drawn within the vortex of prophetic fatality, whilst questioning Scripture as to the impending kingdom and the coming man.
About seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, an eminent Hebrew bard, speaking with the privileged vagueness of poets, introduced the following words into his sacred poem : ‘The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'1 To an imaginative interpretation of this poetic language may be traced the origin of Christianity, as we see a Nazarite hermit, controlled by the hallucinations of asceticism, identify Isaiah's imaginary prediction with himself, and hasten, in the eccentric garb of Elijah, to fulfil prophecy by proclaiming the Kingdom and nominating the Messiah. Is it possible to find a more conclusive instance of alleged prophecy producing its own fulfilment, or a clearer illustration of the illusory superstition which identified men with dubious oracles, and evoked their action in co-operation with the schemes of Providence ?
Although convinced of the honesty of the Baptist,
1 Isa. xl. 3.
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, and 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