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THE FOUR GOSPELS.
Article XIX. The MarvelLOUS Narratives.
(III.-Objections to the Mythical Interpretation.)
in against the application of the idea of the myth to the Gospel miracles,chiefly the argument that the myth making epoch had long past among the Jews-we proceed in the present article to finish the subject of the objections to the mythical interpretation.
It has been argued with great force, by some scholars, that the mythical interpretation of the Gospel miracles is refuted by the insufficiency of the time allowed for their formation and development as myths. The thirty or forty years between the death of Jesus and the composition of the Synoptic Gospels, in their present form, is altogether too short a time, it is contended, to account for the appearance and growth of so large a body of myths and of a mythical history so well connected; and as a consideration tending to strengthen this argument, we should bear in mind the existence of written accounts of Jesus and his works, before the composition of our present Gospels (v. Lc., i, 1-4: also, Art IV., Friend, May, 1866). We are anxious to allow all the force that it deserves to this argument, and to confess that it certainly is entitled to candid consideration. Yet we think that the argument is valid only against the unwarranted exaggeration of the mythical theory, with which Strauss is justly chargeable; it certainly is of much less force, or even altogether valueless, if urged against the existence of mythical or legendary fragments in the Gospels. We suppose that very few would subscribe to the thorough going resolution of the Gospel history into myths, which distinguishes Strauss. Indeed, the manner and extent of application of the mythical hypothesis, advocated by that great scholar, is all that is distinctively his own; for he produces many authorities who have admitted the myth within narrow limits before him. But while it is to be admitted that Strauss acts frequently the part of a determined theorizer, rather than of an impartial critic, it would be equally extreme to deny all value to the immense array of critical arguments which he brings to the substantiation of his views; and that the use made by Strauss of the Old Testament stories and prophecies, to neutralize the objection founded on the brief period allowed for the production of the Gospel myths, has some value and importance, and 10 some extent enjoys the assent of other scholars, is as certain as that it is pushed by Strauss himself to an unwarrantable extreme. Strauss contends that the short time during which the myths must have been formed, is really an element of little or no consequence, because they did not have to be created or evolved
anew and independently, but were drawn directly from the books of the Old Testament, which furnished abundance of incidents to be imitated, and plenty of expectations and prophecies concerning the Messiah which were simply and easily applied to Jesus, and appear as the fabulous element of the Gospels. This argument, we repeat, however much overdrawn by Strauss, must be admitted to be a reflection of fact, and, in a general way also, whatever difficulty there may be in specific applications, to be a consideration of force and importance. At least it may be said that the existence of the sacred Old Testament stories could not but furnish unconscious models, and present an easy beaten track to the people again excited to mythopoeic activity; and that the vivid Messianic expectations of the day, and the burning words of the old prophets which received a Messianic interpretation, could not but furnish a ready type of fable to be applied to Jesus by his folowers who believed in him as the Messiah ; and we think that the Gospels actually exhibit traits derived from these sources. But while we are disposed to lay some stress on this fact, the truth is (and on this point we rest our answer to the objection in question, that the element of time is really an element of the least possible importance in all questions connected with myths. So true is this, that it may almost be said that the evolution of very considerable bodies of myths is in no degree a matter of time, but exclusively a matter of condition. Let the proper popular state, the mental and moral condition, be realized, and time is unimportant, unheeded, unfelt, or felt only in the limitations of transmission by conversation and speech. Mind is as independent of time in this exercise as in any other. A mythical narrative and series of narratives will flash almost instantaneously into existence. History is full of illustrations of this truth. Such for example are the miracles of St. Stephen, just referred to ; such also are the miracles related in profusion of every mediaeval saint, immediately after his death, and even during his own life-time, forming an extended collection of myths, which were no less contemporaneously produced, than implicitly believed. Renan remarks, that
among the Arabs, Napoleon has already a fabulous legend fully developed;" and that he knows “ of no myths more distinctly marked than those which still break out every day among certain tribes in the South of Africa, under the influence of Christian preaching,” (Relig. Hist. and Crit., p. 200). Upon this point, we repeat, founded in the essential nature of the myth, and illustrated by many familiar historical examples, we are content to rest our argument against the objection proceeding from the brief time between the death of Jesus and the composition of the Gospels; while it is also not to be forgotten that it is natural that the people should reproduce and use many times over its own peculiar legends and special type of myth; that accordingly the Old Testameut stories and Messianic ideas would tend naturally to facilitate and accelerate the evolution of a fresh body of kindred fables; and that the Gospels bear obvious traces of the actual operation of such an influence.
Another argument against the mythical interpretation of the Gospel miracles is founded on an assumed necessary connection between “genuineness” and “authenticity.” The genuineness of a writing is the fact of its actual composition, or at least supervision, by the author whose name it bears, and whose work it pretends to be; authenticity means truthfulness of narrative or statement. For example, the question of the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel is the question as to whether John really wrote it or not; the question of its authenticity, is the question as to whether its narratives and statements of fact are true or not, and whether true in detail or only true substantially.
Now, it has been argued, that genuineness and authenticity can be only artificially seperated. If genuine, the Gospels are authentic, it is said—and if authentic, they are genuine, (Norton, Inter. Evidences, p. 10). The relation between genuineness and authenticity is indeed an important thing to settle, and one wonders at the carelessness of the above statement. It is plain that the genuineness of a writing may be a most important element in estimating its authenticity, for it touches directly the author's value as a witness: but it is no less plain that the authenticity (truthfulness) of a writing, settles nothing with regard to its authorship. It may be rightly or wrongly ascribed to any individual, and its truth remain just the sam Indeed, the author of the work above referred to, fatly contradicts himself on this point, on page 98 of the same work. “If we prove the genuineness of the Gospels [he says,] we prove the truth of Christianity ; but on the other hand, to disprove the genuineness of the Gospels (were that possible), would not be to advance a step toward disproving its truth." It appears from the next page, that by “truth of Christianity," the author means “its miraculous origin.” But if, as he said previously, authenticity proves genuineness, then that which is not genuine cannot be authentic, for it would thereby be proved to be genuine. But what of the former proposition, that genuineness proves authenticity? Can this be admitted without reserve? It is so admitted by Strauss. We have seen [he says] that in reference to the early history of the Old Testament, the mythical view could be embraced by those only who doubted the composition of these scriptures by eye-witnesses or contemporary writes. This was equally the case with reference to the New.” Again,-“ It would most unquestionably be an argument of decisive weight in favor of the credibility of the Biblical history, could it indeed be shown that it was written by eyewitnesses, or even by persons nearly contemporaneous with the events narrated."
But this admission is to my mind hasty and untenable. Genuineness can prove perfect authenticity only if human nature be infallible. Cannot an eye-witness or contemporaneous writer make mistakes? May he not forget in the lapse of time? Is he necessarily and in ali ages critical? Is it impossible that he should believe current reports, and record them with sincere conviction, especially if his own memory fail? And with reference to the Gospels, is not thirty or forty years time enough for any memory to lapse from perfect correctness, and for any man to be insensibly influenced by the pervading spirit and current faith of the age, and to adopt into his own belief what all the world implicitly trusts? Doubtless genuineness is of weight; it may be of very great weight; but it is not final. If Matthew wrote the gospel that goes under his name, it is certainly more valuable than if composed by some person unknown, who, perhaps, never saw the Master. The proof of its genuineness at once elevates it to the rank of testimony proceeding from one in general an eye-witness. But testimony has been shown to be only one form of probability, and other considerations may set it aside.
Take the case of the wonders relared of the relics of St. Stephen. According to Gibbon, St. Augustine in his work, De Civitate Dei, solemnly enumerates and attests more than seventy miracles performed by St. Stephen's relics, three of which were resurrections from the dead, performed “in the space of two years, and within the limits of his own diocese.” Augustine's honesty is unimpeached; his understanding, undoubted. It is scarcely credible that he should use these wonders, happening in his own ecclesiastical jurisdition, as proofs of the truth of Christianity, which he had dearly at heart, and yet give no time to the easy task of substantiating them. Moreover, the De Civitate Dei, is of undoubted genuineness. Yet who believes these things on Augustine's testimony, though he be a present witness, and of unquestioned integrity and ability.
If we understand that authenticity and genuineness are not necessarily connected, and are frequently not connected in fact, we are in a position to judge and condemn another form of this same argument, which has been advanced with great earnestness and effect, viz., the plea that myths, confessedly not intentional fictions, could not have been produced or proclaimed by apostles (Norton, Inter. Evid., p. 34); and that if the apostles taught these myths, they must have been intentional deceivers (Ibid, pp. 22–24). This assertion Norton afterwards flatly contradicts, to serve another purpose, when, in discussing the first two chapters of Matthew, and arguing that no case can be made out against the general authenticity of the book by the “ errors” of these chapters, even on the supposition of their genuineness, he says : -“It appears then on this supposition, that Matthew adopted and embodied in his Gospel a false narrative of circumstances connected with the birth and infancy of our Lord. What follows from this? We had no reason before to suppose that he was well qualified as a historical critic, to decide on the truth or falsehood of a narrative. He was originally of a class looked upon by his countrymen as degraded, a Jewish Tax Gatherer in the service of the Roman Government. With his Gospel before us, we cannot suppose him to have had any literary culture; and we have no authencic account of his having in any way distinguished himself, except by its composition, after becoming an apostle. He had no personal knowledge con
cerning the supposed events narrated in the first two chapters, and was writing about sixty years after their occurrence. Under these circumstances, he adopted an erroneous narrative of those events.
The narrative must have been reported and believed previously to his incorporating it in his Gospel. But if it was believed by others, what is there in the fact that it was believed by Matthew, which may change in any considerable degree our opinion of him as a writer.” In this passage, Norton finds something quite different from intentional deception the proper inference from an untrue story in an Evangelist ; and it is plain that, mutatis mutandis, the above will serve to explain the possible acceptation by an evangelist, in good faith, of other stories currently “reported and believed,” since, if believed by others, what is there in the fact that they were believed by Evangelists, which can be matter of surprise or perplexity, or destroy their general fidelity to the character and natural cts of Jesus. The idea of the myth as the natural expressive outgrowth from the popular heart, traceable to no narrow locality, much less confined to any, Norton has failed to understand. Consequently he dwells upon the necessity of publicly teaching these stories, in order to win credence for them (Inter. Evidences, p. 32); insists that the Gentiles must be supposed to have received the Gospels and Christianity“ not from the main body of the Jewish Christians, but from those few mistaken men among them,” who propogated fabulous stories (p. 40), the ignorant and fanatical portion of Christ's disciples (p. 42) ; contends that no fabrication, whether intentional or otherwise, would be left so incomplete; and finally, argues that the Gospels are so fragmentary, as to suppose, for their complete understanding, a general knowledge of the main facts of the time, which facts, we learn from other sources, were, or must, or might have been existing (pp. 192– 200, pp. 241 Seq.), a correspondence which he thinks impossible to fiction, and therefore stamping the seal of fact on the Gospel narratives. This argument plainly proceeds on the assumption that it is maintained that the Gospels were intentional fictions. Even then it would be deprived of much force by the writers being at any rate contemporary with the general state of society supposed in their fiction, and no reason appears why they should relate a tale laid in their own times, in a manner inconsistent with their own times. It is the reproducing of the air and manners of long anterior times which is the work of genius. Witness the novels of Sir Walter Scott. The case is still stronger on the mythical hypothesis ; tales springing from the people will not be found inconsistent with, but in all respects according with, the circumstances of the people. They are often only these very circumstances in the dress of poetical narrative. · History [says Dean Milman] to be true, must condescend to speak the language of legend; the belief of the times is part of the record of the times; and though there may occur what may baffle its more calm and searching philosophy, it must not disdain that which was the primal, almost universal, motive of human life" (Essays and Reviews, p. , Eng. Ed.); again, speaking of the mythical