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Sideline Criticism

I HAVE never given serious thought or essential study to what is caled the "historicity of Jesus" question, and what is here said must be discounted from that angle. Nevertheless, I have formed an opinion from the Gospels themselves, which lead me to believe that there isn't an historical rag to wrap around Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John strike me as what Mr. McCabe might felicitously call "amateur historians".


Regarding these four Gospels, Prof. John B. Bury (rated, I think correctly, by Mr. McCabe as "first of recent British historians") states: "The result is that it can no longer be said that for the life of Jesus there is the evidence of eye-witnesses." And why have we only four Gospels in the Bible testifying to Jesus instead of a dozen or more? Because Irenaeus, the real founder of the Canon, was explicit in the matter: there are four quarters of the earth, four universal winds, and animals have four legs. This bright boy of the Church should have added one more: a roller skate has four wheels.


Personally, I have never cared two straws whether Jesus lived or not. Nor do I care two straws now. I judge the Gospel stories on their face and read them as I do Aesop's Fables. I am not interested whether a particular fox or bull-frog, mentioned by Aesop, really existed or not. Jesus' existence, or Buddha's, or the existence of Solomon's thirty-second wife can be wrangled over by those who like this sort of thing; for me, I think of the three emperors of ancient China, Fu-hi, Shon-nung and Huang-ti, of whom it is said by Frederick Hirth, Professor of Chinese in Columbia University: "Although we have no reason to deny their existence, the details recorded concerning them contain enough in the way of improbabilities to justify us in considering them as mythical creations. The chronology, too, is apparently quite fictitious." Like Jesus, these three seem to be living in a world of hot air.


What essential difference does it make whether a man named Jesus lived or not? Suppose he did? Does it help Christianity? And if he didn't, what then? One thing is certain: No one (whether his name was Jesus, Jake or Tweedledee) ever did the things that Jesus is said to have done in the four Gospels. One doesn't have to be a trained historian, a certified public accountant, a professional rag-picker, or the seventh-son of a seventh-son, to know this, and I, for one, being a rather perverse individual, reject, on the evidence of the Gospel stories themselves, the whole silly mess as a pack of lies.


Whether some one by the name of Jesus once lived and had a lot of mythology built up around him, is a matter for special students to decide; whether the Gospel Jesus grew out of a solar myth, or out of the mountains on the moon, or from the blue grass of Kentucky, is for them also. It is, to me, all immaterial. I am concerned only with the Gospel story itself: is it true?


This we know: Jesus was not the first individual who is said to have performed miracles. The woods are full of these birds, so why all the dawdling over whether this particular Jew lived or not? The foundations of Christianity rest on the claim that an individual named Jesus performed certain miracles, in proof of his divinity, but since miracles do not happen in nature, the whole scheme of Christian theology, from this fact alone, is rotten to the roots. Jesus or no Jesus, the story is false on its face.


The Historicus-McCabe discussion in The Truth Seeker (Sept., 1944) has now reached a point of petty bickering where even the tyro may step in. I myself have learned nothing from it except that each side has its line-up of "authorities". Authorities in what? Intelligent men who are able to grasp and understand a subject are "authorities" for me. And I personally don't care whether the "authority" is a cab-driver on the side or a professional square-cap. A good part of our ignorance today is traceable to our academic stuffed shirts, and philosophical jitter-bugs. McCabe's very impressive list of professional historians who he says are all on his side, in support of an historical Jesus, becomes less impressive when we remember his own words, that professors of history, being professors, are not in a position to be "candid" in the matter. As for the "early rabbis", I would as soon rely on their testimony concerning Jesus as I would on their statements concerning the historicity of Noah's Ark and Balaam's ass. When has this bunch of sanctified prevaricators been other than a hotch-potch of amateur historians?


On the other hand, Historicus, I think, has missed a fine opportunity to enlighten us all. I was awaiting some unfolding of the theme itself, an exposition of the myth theory, rather than an attempt to show that his "authorities" have the other side's "authorities" groggy on the ropes. Maybe they have, but no one would learn how it came about by reading the article. But what does it matter? Man or myth, Jesus never did the wonders imputed to him.


Meanwhile, what is a mere sideliner like myself to do? Go to the movies, perhaps watch Mickey Mouse, and wonder whether there ever was a real mouse like that in real life.

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