« AnteriorContinuar »
tence, was becoming every day more precarious; and as I was willing to leave something behind me upon the subject, I was obliged to be quick and concise. The quotations I then made were from memory only, but they are correct; and the opinions I have advanced in that work are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction-that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world-that the fall of man-the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonourable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty-that the only true. religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and now mean, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues→ and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now-and so help me God.
But to return to the subject. Though it is impossible, at this distance of time, to ascertain as a fact who were the writers of those four books (and this alone is sufficient to hold them in doubt, and where we doubt we do not believe) it is not difficult to ascertain negatively that they were not written by the persons to whom they are ascribed. The contradictions in those books demonstrate two things:
First, That the writers cannot have been eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses of the matters they relate, or they would have related them without those contradictions; and consequently that the books have not been written by the persons called apostles, who are supposed to have been witnesses of this kind.
Secondly, That the writers, whoever they were, have not acted in concerted imposition, but each writer, separately and individually for himself, and without the knowledge of the other.
The same evidence that applies to prove the one, applies equally to prove both cases; that is, that the books were not written by the men called apostles, and also that they are not a concerted imposition. As to inspiration, it is altogether out of the question; we may as well attempt to unite truth and falsehood, as inspiration and contradiction.
If four men are eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses to a scene, they will, without any concert between them, agree as to the time and place when and where that scene happened. Their individual knowledge of the thing, each one knowing it for himself, renders concert totally unne cessary; the one will not say it was in a mountain in the country, and the other at a house in town: the one will
not say it was at sun-rise, and the other that it was dark. For in whatever place it was, at whatever time it was, they know it equally alike.
And, on the other hand, if four men concert a story, they will make their separate relations of that story agree, and corroborate with each other to support the whole. That concert supplies the want of fact in the one case, as the knowledge of the fact suj ersedes, in the other case, the necessity of a concert. The same contradictions, therefore, that prove there has been no concert, prove also that the reporters had no knowledge of the fact (or rather of that which they relate as a fact), and detect also the falsehood of their reports. Those books, therefore, have neither been written by the men called apostles, nor by impostors in concert. How then have they been
I am not one of those who are fond of believing there is much of that which is called wilful lying, or lying ori. ginally; except in the case of men setting up to be prophets, as in the Old Testament: for prophesying is ing professionally. In almost all other cases, it is not difficult to discover the progress, by which even simple supposition, with the aid of credulity, will, in time, grow into a lie, and at last be told as a fact; and whenever we can find a charitable reason for a thing of this kind, we ought not to indulge a severe one.
The story of Jesus Christ appearing after he was dead, is the story of an apparition, such as timid imaginations. can always create in vision, and credulity believe. Stories of this kind had been told of the assassination of Julius Cæsar, not many years before, and they generally have their origin in violent deaths, or in the execution of innocent persons. In cases of this kind compassion lends its aid, and benevolently stretches the story. It goes on a little and a little farther, till it beconies a most certain truth. Once start a ghost, and credulity fills up the history of its life, and assigns the cause of its appearance! one tells it one way, another another way, till there are as many stories about the ghost and about the proprietor of the ghost, as there are about Jesus Christ in these four books.
The story of the appearance of Jesus Christ is told with that strange mixture of the natural and impossible, that distinguishes legendary tale from fact. He is represented. as suddenly coming in and going out when the doors are shut, and of vanishing out of sight, and appearing again, as one would conceive of an unsubstantial vision; then again he is hungry, sits down to meat, and eats his supper. But as those who tell stories of this kind, never provide for all the cases, so it is here: they have told us, that
when he arose he left his grave clothes behind him; but they have forgotten to provide other clothes for him to appear in afterwards, or to tell us what he did with them. when he ascended; whether he stripped all off, or went up clothes and all. In the case of Elijah, they have been careful enough to make him throw down his mantle; how it happened not to be burnt in the chariot of fire, they also have not told us. But as imagination supplies all defi ciencies of this kind, we may suppose, if we please, that it was made of salamander's wool.
Those who are not much acquainted with ecclesiastical history, may suppose that the book called the New Testa ment has existed ever since the time of Jesus Christ, as they suppose that the books ascribed to Moses have existed ever since the time of Moses. But the fact is historically otherwise; there was no such book as the New Testament till more than three hundred years after the time that Christ is said to have lived.
At what time the books ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, began to appear, is altogether a matter of uncertainty. There is not the least shadow of evidence of who the persons were that wrote them, nor at what time they were written; and they might as well have been called by the names of any of the other supposed apos tles, as by the names they are now called. The originals are not in the possession of any Christian church existing, any more than the two tables of stone written on, they pretend, by the finger of God, upon Mount Sinai, and given to Moses, are in the possession of the Jews. And even if they were, there is no possibility of proving the hand-writing in either case. At the time those books were written there was no printing, and consequently there could be no publication, otherwise than by written copies, which any man might make or alter at pleasure, and call them originals. Can we suppose it is consistent with the wisdom of the Almighty, to commit himself and his will to man, upon such precarious means as these, or that it is consistent we should pin our faith upon such uncertainties? We cannot make, nor alter, nor even imitate, 90 much as one blade of grass that he has made, and yet we can make or alter words of God as easily as words of man (13).
(13) The former part of the Age of Reason has not been published two years, and there is already an expression in it that is not mine. The expression is, The book of Luke was carried by a majority of one voice only. It may be true, but it is not I that have said it. Some person, who might know of the cir cumstance, has added it in a note at the bottom of the page of some of the editions, printed either in England or in America; and the printers, after that, have erected it into the body of the work, and made me the author of it. If this has happened
10. P. 11.
About three hundred and fifty years after the time that Christ is said to have lived, several writings of the kind 1 am speaking of, were scattered in the hands of divers individuals; and as the church had begun to form itself into an hierarchy, or church government, with temporal powers, it set itself about collecting them into a code, as we now see them, called The New Testament. They decided by vote, as I have before sa'd in the former part of the Age of Reason, which of those writings out of the collection they had made, should be the word of God, and which should not. The Rabbins of the Jews had de cided, by vote, upon the books of the Bible before.
As the object of the church, as is the case in all national establishinents of churches, was power and revenue, and terror the means it used; it is consistent to suppose, that the most miraculous and wonderful of the writings they had collected stood the best chance of being voted. And as to the authenticity of the books, the vote stands in the place of it; for it can be traced no higher.
Disputes, however, ran high among the people then calling themselves Christians; not only as to points of doctrine, but as to the authenticity of the books. In the contest between the persons called Saint Augustine and Fauste, about the year 400, the latter says, "The books called the Evangelists have been composed long after the times of the apostles, by some obscure men, who, fearing that the world would not give credit to their relation of matters of which they could not be informed, have published them under the names of the apostles; and which are so full of sottishness and discordant relations, that there is neither agreement nor connection between them."
And in another place, addressing himself to the advocates of those books, as being the word of God, he says, "It is thus that your predecessors have inserted, in the Scriptures of our Lord, many things, which, though they carry his name, agree not with his doctrines. This is not surprising, since that we have often proved that these things. have not been written by himself, nor by his apostles, but that for the greatest part they are founded upon tales, upon vague reports, and put together by I know not what, half-Jews, with but little agreement between them; and which they have nevertheless published under the names of the apostles of our Lord, and have thus attributed to them their own errors and their lies" (14).
within such a short space of time, notwithstanding the aid of printing, which prevents the alteration of copies individually; what may not have happened in a much greater length of time when there was no printing, and when any man who could write could make a written copy, and call it an original, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
(14) I have taken these two extracts from Boulanger's Life
The reader will see by these extracts, that the authenticity of the books of the New Testament was denied, and the books treated as tales, forgeries, and lies, at the time they were voted to be the word of God. But the interest of the church, with the assistance of the faggot, bore down the opposition, and at last suppressed all investigation. Miracles followed upon miracles, if we will believe them, and men were taught to say they believed, whether they believed or not. But (by way of throwing in a thought) the French Revolution has excommunicated the church from the power of working miracles: she has not been. - able, with the assistance of all her saints, to work one miracle since the revolution began; and as she never stood in greater need than now, we may, without the aid of divination, conclude, that all her former miracles were tricks and lies (15).
When we consider the lapse of more than three hundred years intervening between the time that Christ is said to have lived, and the time the New Testament was formed into a book, we must see, even without the assistance of historical evidence, the exceeding uncertainty there is of its authenticity. The authenticity of the book of Homer, so far as regards the authorship, is much better established
of Paul, written in French; Boulanger has quoted them from the writings of Augustine against Fauste, to which he refers.
(15) Boulanger, in his Life of Paul, has collected from the ecclesiastical histories, and the writings of the fathers, as they are called, several matters which shew the opinions that prevailed among the different sects of Christians, at the time the Testament, as we now see it, was voted to be the word of God. The following extracts are from the second chapter of that work.
"The Marcionists [a Christian sect], assured that the evangelists were filled with falsities. The Manicheens, who formed a very numerous sect at the commencement of Christianity, rejected as false, all the New Testament; and shewed other writings quite different which they gave for authentic. The Co. rinthians, like the Marcionists, admitted not the Acts of the Apostles. The Encratites, and the Sevenians, adopted neither the Acts nor the Epistles of Paul. Chrysostom, in a homily which be made upon the Acts of the Apostles, says, that in his time, about the year 400, many people knew nothing either of the anthor or of the book. St. Irene, who lived before that time, reports that the Valentinians, like several other sects of the Christians, accused the Scriptures of being filled with imperfections, errors, and contradictions. The Ebionites or Nazareens, who were the first Christians, rejected all the Epistles of Paul, and regarded him as an impostor. They report, among other things, that he was originally a Pagan, that he came to Jerusalem, where he lived some time; and that having a mind to marry the daughter of the high priest, he caused himself to be circumcised; but that not being able to obtain her, he:quarrelled with the Jews, and wrote against circumcision, and against the observation of the sabbath, and against all the legal ordinances."