Modern Rationalism/Chapter III

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Chapter III.


COMPARATIVE RELIGION AND MYTHOLOGY.


The work of the higher critics in the literary analysis of Scripture is mainly of a destructive character. There is, indeed, a constructive aspect of their activity. Their investigations cast a useful positive light upon the original synthesis and growth of the Christian sacred books. Still, from the point of view of the Rationalist historian, the most interesting result of their labours is the proof that those books contain no indication of a supernatural origin. This negative result is, however, irresistibly confirmed and supplemented by another new science, or rather two new sciences, which the Rationalistic spirit has evoked in the present century—the sciences of comparative religion and comparative mythology. In these sciences the elements themselves which enter into the composition of the Bible are subjected to positive methods of inquiry. The higher criticism was concerned only with the mode of their combination. If these elements, the myths, legends, or doctrines of the Bible, eluded all further scientific analysis, the claim for an extra-rational source would still have a certain status as an hypothesis. Before the scientific investigations which we are now going to summarize, such an hypothesis seems to be as hopelessly discredited as the hypothesis of the supernatural formation of the actual books of Scripture. Just as physical science has destroyed the theory of a unique and transcendent interest which antiquity had allotted to our planet among the heavenly bodies, and to the human race amid the many inhabitants of our planet, so also the moral sciences have ruthlessly discredited the old-time theory of a unique character of the Christian religion and literature among the religions and literatures of the world. Like the Greeks and Romans of old, Christians ever regarded all who lay beyond their own frontiers as "barbarians." Towards the beginning of this century the Broad Churchmen, partly from ethical considerations and partly from a shrewd anticipation of the results of the scientific inquiry which had been instituted, evinced a broader and more humane spirit. At the present day impartial science surveys the whole field of religious and sacred books, and fails to perceive other than accidental differences (of degree, not of kind) between them. Here and there a higher pitch of mental development has enabled a race to purify and co-ordinate its traditions more effectively than others have done; but those local modifications present no difficulty to the historian, and in the ultimate analysis the body of myths and legends which have been worked up are traced to a common source, and that source is purely natural.

The two subordinate sciences which minister to the comparative mythologist, and on whose data he ultimately relies, are philology and ethnology—the science of language and that of races. The founding of the science of comparative philology led to a cultivation of the languages in which non-Christian scriptures are written. Their remarkable affinity was at once observed, and, having regard to their greater antiquity, the inference that the Christian Scriptures were founded on them was naturally drawn. For a long time philologists confined themselves to the study of Latin and Greek, and their results, not only in mythology, but in comparative philology itself, were meagre and misleading. Hebrew was set apart as bearing a semi-religious character. Sanscrit, Zend, etc., were contemptuously neglected as the embodiment of presumably grotesque and useless traditions. However, at the beginning of this century Bopp founded the real science of linguistic philology by introducing Sanscrit into the comparison, and pointing out the relation of the Aryan or Indo-European languages. The relation had been glimpsed by our Sir W. Jones in 1786, but had been neglected in England, and, as usual, taken up by German scholars. Bopp's work was developed by J. Grimm and F. A. Pott, and a large number of distinguished scholars, in the first half of the century. In 1866 Schleicher, in his "Compendium," made an important step in advance by assuming and partially reconstructing a parent speech from which Indians, Persians, and most European nations have derived their languages. Since that time the work of co ordination has made rapid progress. Ethnology, digesting and analyzing the reports of travellers, and philology, basing its operations on linguistic analysis and comparison, have co-operated in rectifying the vague, erroneous notions which religious tradition had inspired, as it still inspires, in nations who have made no scientific progress. All the nations and races of the world have been arranged in a few great groups, and the affinity of their languages, at least within those groups, has been demonstrated. The old legend of the confusion of tongues has received a death-blow.

Since every race has a religion of some character, a corresponding scheme of religions has been constructed, in which Judaism and Christianity find their natural position. That they are in the front rank of religions every student of the comparative science must admit; that they are foremost in that rank is very disputable, even in the case of Christianity; but that they are entirely outside the ranks no student will claim on scientific grounds. From a comparison of their contents, their myths, and legends (for, since it is the invariable custom of the theologian to call all religious stories myths and legends which differ from his own peculiar dogmata, the non-theological scientist must call all religious traditions myths and legends), their genetic affinity with other religions is at once revealed. This family of religions has, naturally, a close resemblance to the ethnological family of races and the philological family of languages; and in all three cases an initial unity, a common proto-parent, is not ambiguously detected: in religion the community of myths all the world over is particularly striking. Thus most of the European religions have been united with those of ancient India, Persia, and Phrygia, under the common title of Aryan religions. In the eastern branch the old Iranian religion was the parent of Magism, Zarathustrianism (or Mazdaism), from which, through the Zendics, were developed Manicheeism (a blending with Christianity) and modern Parsism. The old Indian religion begat Brahmanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism; the Phrygian marks a transition between Persian and Greek. The western branch of the Old Aryan religion seems to have given rise to four—Old Pelasgic, Old Wendic, Old German, and Old Celtic; which, in turn, yield the religions of the four great pairs of European races—the Greek-Roman, Letto-Slavic, Norse-Teutonic, and Gaelo-Cymric. The Semitic religions were Old Arabic and Sabsean in the South, from which (blended with Judaism and Christianity) came Mohammedanism, and Babylonian, Assyrian, Hebrew, Canaanitish, Phoenician, Aramaic and Cretan, in the North. Egyptian probably represents a stage of the development of the great Mediterranean race anterior to its separation into Aryan and Semitic. The Confucianism and Taoism of China, the old national religion of Japan, the Finnic religions (of the Mongolians, Turks, Magyars, etc.), form a third great group. All the religions of the world have been classified, and Christianity has shrunk into its due proportions in the great scheme.

The next and the more important task of the student of comparative religion was to trace the unity which pervaded the entire family, and, if possible, reduce their contents to a common source. The task resolves itself into a comparison of the traditional legends of each religion. If the resemblance is found to be very close, the law of probabilities bids us infer a community of origin, or an interchange, as circumstances may direct. Here it is that comparative mythology has come into conflict with traditional Christianity, and the result has been another decisive victory of the Rationalistic spirit. Light has poured in from every quarter of the globe. The Chinese Y-king have been sedulously studied, the Hindoo Vedas are almost as familiar to scholars as the Bible, the Zend-Avesta are widely read, the key to the hieroglyphic writings of Egypt (whose "Book of the Dead" is the oldest scripture known) and of Mexico has been found, the cuneiform writings of Babylonia and Assyria have been deciphered, the sacred songs of the most obscure races have been translated, and travellers have brought us the myths of the most distant races. Upon these data many generations of scholars have laboured—Benfey, Pott, Kuhn, Mannhardt, Grossmann, Breal, Darmesteter, Osthoff, Roscher, Mehlis, Meyer, Decharme, Victor Henry, Barth, V. Schroeder, Bloomfield, Hopkins, Fay, etc., and they have agreed upon the substantial unity of elements in the great variety of religions, and will admit no exception to the law of natural development.

Here, again, there is a profession of opposition to the great body of mythologists, so ably represented in England by Professor Max Müller. Mr. Lang, a competent critic and well-informed mythologist, though neither a philologist like Max Müller, nor an anthropologist like Tylor, heads the revolt against the Rationalist school. But there is here a similar confusion to that which we have seen in the preceding chapter. There is no more opposition between ethnological mythology and philological than there is between the literary criticism of the Bible and Assyriology. The Rationalists have, for the present, confined their attention principally to the Aryan religions. Mr. Lang adduces non-Aryan myths, to which, he thinks, their explanations cannot be extended. The positions of Lang and Max Müller are simply those of Cheyne and Sayce on the critical question. Like the dispute about the mode of the ultimate origin of myths, such controversy tends only to obscure the results which are already established, and with draw attention from their profound significance. In one word, all the supposed distinctive doctrines of Christianity have been traced to earlier religions; there is no element of direct revelation either in Judaism or in Christianity. In proof of that thesis, and before proceeding to the further conclusion of the mythologists, it is well to summarize some of the evidence which has been collected. That the scientific form which Christian dogmas have in the more elaborate theologies (of the Roman, Anglican, and Greek Churches) is a natural development no one will question. The process by which they have been constructed out of the simpler statements of the Gospels is made clear by the labours of such scholars as Neander and Harnack. But, if we take the simple version of Christian doctrine, which is common to all Christian sects (not, of course, including Unitarianism under that title), and which is clearly contained in the Bible, we shall find, on comparison with the legends of older religions all over the world, that it was no new revelation, but a modification of old myths, which can be ultimately traced to a natural origin. We commence with the Christology of the New Testament, the story of the birth, life, and death of Christ, which was thought the most distinctive element of the new religion, and the clear embodiment of a divine manifestation at the commencement of the Christian era. It is now clear that that story was borrowed from other religions and adapted to the life of Christ during the long interval which elapsed between his death and the appearance of the Gospels. Even minute details of the legend are found in many earlier religions with which later Judaism came in contact.

The Vedic hymns of the Hindoo religion contain a clear prototype of the life of Christ. Their date is disputed; Max Müller puts it at 1200 B.C., others much earlier. Vishnu (the legend runs), the second person of the Trinity, being moved at the sight of the sin and misery of the earth, became incarnate under the name of Chrishna. He was born of the virgin Devaki on the 25th of December. His birth was announced by a star, and accompanied by the singing of a chorus of Devatas (spirits). Although he was of royal descent, even by his human parentage, he was born in a cave, his mother being on a journey with his foster-father to pay tribute to the king. The cave was brilliantly illuminated, and the divine child was recognised by cow herds, who prostrated themselves and offered him perfumes. He was also visited by a holy prophet. The reigning monarch, King Kansa, sought his life, but his foster-father was warned by a heavenly voice to fly with the child. Representations of the flight are found in most of the ancient Hindoo temples. The king thereupon ordered a massacre of all the male infants born on the night of Christina's birth. This was represented by an immense sculpture on the roof of the temple of Elephanta many centuries before the birth of Christ. Chrishna astonished his teachers by his precocious wisdom, and, in later life, healed lepers, the deaf, the blind, etc., and raised the dead to life. He had twelve favourite disciples. A woman once poured a vessel of ointment over his head. He was in constant strife with the Evil One. He was chaste, humble, etc., and even washed the feet of the Brahmans. He was transfigured before his beloved disciple Arjuna. Finally he met his death by crucifixion. He is represented in the temples with his arms extended, hanging on a cross, with nail-marks in his hands and feet, and a spear-wound in his side. At his death the sun was darkened, and myriads of demons and spirits were found everywhere. He descended into hell, rose from the dead the third day, and ascended bodily into heaven. It is believed that he will come again in the last days to judge the dead, when the sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars will fall from the firmament. His mother, Devaki, is also called Aditi, which, in the Rig-Veda, is a name for the dawn. Indra, who is worshipped in some parts of India as a crucified god, is represented in the Vedic hymns as son of Dahana (=Daphne), a personification of the dawn. The worship of Chrishna was practised in India at the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great. Chrishna seems to have been deified about the fourth century B.C., but the general outlines of his history were accepted about 900 B.C. He was known by all the titles which were afterwards given to Christ—Saviour, Redeemer, Mediator, the Resurrection and the Life, Lord of Lords, the Great God, the Holy One, and the Good Shepherd.

A few centuries later in Indian religious history we have another signal prototype of Christ. The legend of Chrishna is applied to an historical personage. Siddartha Gautama, or the Buddha (Enlightened One), was born in the fifth century B.C., through the agency of the Holy Spirit, after the visit of a heavenly messenger to his virgin mother, Maha-Maya. An angelic chorus announced at his birth that there was born "a saviour unto all nations of the earth." His birth was reported to the king as a menace to his own position; he was presented in the temple; he was lost by his guardians, and found astonishing the rishis (sages) with his discourses; he had a long fast and prayer in the desert, was tempted, and put the tempter to flight by quoting the Veda, received the ministry of angels, and took a bath in the river, when the heavens were opened above him; he had frequent interviews with two Buddhas who had preceded him. One of his disciples was often called the Pillar of Faith, another the Bosom Friend; a third was a Judas, who attempted to destroy his master, and met with a disgraceful death. He walked on the Ganges, healed the sick, and had miraculous escapes from his foes; he was always poor, though of royal descent, and he instructed his disciples to travel without money. His disciples received the power of healing, of expelling demons, and of speaking tongues, and some of them were delivered from prison by an angel. About the end of his life Buddha was transfigured on Mount Pandana, in Ceylon. At his death, at which faithful women were present, the earth trembled, the rocks were split, and spirits appeared; he descended into hell; the lid of his coffin was supernaturally opened and the grave-clothes unwound, and he ascended bodily into heaven. Tradition gave him the titles of Lion of the tribe of Sakya, Only-begotten, the Word, the Way, Truth, and Life, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd, Light of the World, the Christ (or Anointed) or Messiah, the Saviour of the World. His mother Maya was believed to have been assumed bodily into heaven.

Such were the legends treasured in India centuries before the time of Christ, and with which Judæa became familiar about that period. That the Christology of the New Testament was derived from them cannot be reasonably doubted. If the relative chronological positions of Buddhism and Christianity were reversed, the solution of the problem would be felt to be easy indeed. But the same legend is found in nearly every religion, and from some of them other details of Christian doctrine and practice have been borrowed.

The Mithrians of Persia had a similar version of the story. The Only-begotten Son of God came down from heaven to be a mediator between God and man, and to save men from their sins. He was born on December 25th, when his nativity is annually celebrated with great rejoicing. He was visited by magi, who offered him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. He was called the Logos, the Christ or the Anointed, and the Lamb of God. The ejaculation which is common in Catholic prayers, "Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, give us peace," is taken from the litanies which the Persian priests sang in honour of Mithras. He was put to death, remained three days in hell, then rose again from the dead. His resurrection was annually celebrated at midnight on March 24th. Egypt had two remarkable versions of the legend. Osiris (a name of the sun) was an incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, called the Word. He was born on December 25th of the virgin Neith or Nut (the Lady of the Sycamore). At his birth a voice proclaimed: "The ruler of all the earth is born." He conquered many temptations, but was finally overcome by his enemies. His sufferings and death were commemorated annually in the early spring, when the mourning song was followed in three days by the language of triumph and the illumination of his tomb. The "Book of the Dead" represents him as the Judge of the dead, as "seeing all things and hearing all things;" and in the most ancient monuments he is represented as carrying the crux ansata. His symbol was a serpent (which was the earliest symbol of the Nazarene), and his monogram was the solar wheel or Chrism, in Greek letters a compound of χ and ρ, which has been since appropriated to Christ, and is often found on Roman Catholic vestments. He was called the Lord of Life, the Resurrected One, the Eternal Ruler, the Father of Goodness and Truth. His mother Neith was worshipped as the Immaculate Virgin; the Feast of Lamps, which was held in February in her honour, has become the Candlemas Day of the Christian world. The second Saviour of the Egyptians was Horus (another name of the sun), who was born of the Immaculate Virgin Isis (the moon), in a temple where the sacred cow and bull were kept, on December 25th; on that day his image was annually exhibited in a manger, amid great rejoicing. Horus was of royal descent, and his life was sought by Typhon (darkness, or night); he met many temptations, performed many miracles, was slain, descended into hell, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. His death and resurrection were annually celebrated with great pomp. He was called the Royal Good Shepherd, the Only-begotten, the Saviour, the Anointed (or Christ), and the Redeemer. He is generally represented as sitting in the lap of Isis, and both are sometimes black. Since many of the most ancient pictures and statues in Italy of the Virgin and Child are black, it is most probable that they are ancient images of Isis and Horus (in some cases of Devaki and Chrishna—the Hindoo virgin and child). Many pictures now worshipped as representing the Holy Family are certainly pictures of Isis and Horus—the inscription "Deo Soli" betrays their pagan origin. Isis was worshipped, even in Europe, centuries before and after the Christian era, and was called the Virgin-mother, Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Mother of God, Intercessor. She was represented as standing on the crescent moon, and having twelve stars round her head; pilgrimages were made to her temples, and miracles performed at them—in a word, nearly all the details of the Catholic worship of the virgin are taken from the cult of Isis.

Greece had many saviours born of illicit intercourse of gods with virgins. Hercules was a favourite of the Greeks, though he had been worshipped independently in Ethiopia, Egypt, Scythia, Africa, Germany, Spain, the Indies, etc. According to the Greek legend, he was born of Zeus and Alcmene on the 25th of December, when Zeus announced from heaven that he was to be the "mightiest of men." He was swallowed by a fish, in which he remained three days and three nights (like Jonah and Christ); he ascended into heaven in a cloud from his funeral pile. At his death there was darkness on the face of the earth, and thunder came from heaven; the virgin Iola (dawn) was present, whom he speaks of having seen and loved "in the morning-time." There is a close parallel between his famous labours and the signs of the zodiac. He was called the Saviour, the Only-begotten, the Universal Word, the Generator, the Ruler of all things. Dionysius (or Bacchus) is another god from whom both Moses and Christ (or their apotheosizers) have borrowed. He was born of Zeus and the virgin Semele on the 25th of December; by order of Cadmus (Semele's father, whom it was predicted that he should overthrow) he was cast into the Nile, but rescued; he worked miracles, changed water into wine, and his rod into a serpent; crossed the Red Sea at the head of his army, and drew water from the rock. He was represented as horned, and called the Law-giver, also the Slain One, Sin-bearer, Only-begotten Son, Saviour, and Redeemer. His death and resurrection were annually celebrated in early spring. The monogram, I.H.S., which is vulgarly read "I have suffered," and clerically translated "Jesus Hominum Salvator," or as the first three letters of the Greek name Jesus, is the monogram of Bacchus, which has been transferred to Jesus. One of Christ's miracles comes directly from him; he was the god of the vine, and to commemorate his changing of the water of the soil into wine (vine-juice) at his annual festival at Elis, three flagons of water were locked up all night and found changed into wine in the morning—by a sacerdotal process which is elucidated in the fragment Bel and the Dragon. Perseus was another Saviour, who was born of Jupiter and the virgin Danae in a shower of gold. The goddess Cybele was another virgin-mother who was honoured as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven. Lady-day was originally a feast of Cybele, and many of her hymns are now sung in Italy in honour of the "virgin" Mary.

Scandinavia had a Saviour, the son of Odin or Woden (heaven) and a virgin goddess Frigga; he was pierced by the sharp thorn of winter, descended into hell, and rose again to life and immortality. The ancient Germans worshipped a virgin-mother and child; the mother's name was Ostâra or Eostre, from which comes our Easter—centuries before the Christian era this feast was preceded by a fast of forty days, initiated by a Carne-Vale (farewell to meat). The ancient Chinese had also the idea of redemption through the sufferings and death of a divine Saviour—Tien, the Holy One, who was "one with God" before anything was made. Lao-Tse (born 604 B.C.) was also believed by them to be the incarnation of a divine emanation who descended upon earth, and was born of a virgin. The Chinese worshipped the Shin-moo (holy mother—a virgin) from time immemorial, representing her, as Christians do, with rays round her head and burning tapers before her images.

A virgin-born god and saviour is found in all the ancient religions of America. In Mexico the saviour, Quetzalcoatle, was the son of Texcatlipoca (the supreme god) and the virgin Sochiquetzal (worshipped as virgin-mother and queen of heaven). His birth was preceded by an angelic annunciation and heralded by a star; he was tempted by the Devil; his disciples observed a forty days fast. He was crucified for the sins of mankind. The sun was darkened at his death; he descended into hell and rose from the dead. His death and resurrection were celebrated annually in the early spring, when victims were nailed to a cross and shot with an arrow. The Mexicans looked for his second advent, and, indeed, mistook Cortez, the invader, for him. The Mayas of Yucatan, and the Muyscas of Colombia and Nicaragua, had a virgin-born god. According to the Peruvians, the sun (their god) sent his son, Manco Capac, to instruct men in religion; so also taught the Edues of the Californians. In Brazil there was Zoma, like the Quetzalcoatle of Mexico; and the Iroquois and Algonquins had an incarnate-god teacher.

The Assyrians and Babylonians had a virgin mother and child; the mother was Mylitta, and the son Tammuz, or Adonis (the Adonai of Scripture), the Saviour and Mediator. He was born on December 25th, suffered, and was slain (one account says crucified). He descended into hell, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. His death and resurrection were celebrated in early spring, with rites similar to those of the Church of Rome. His image (in which a large wound appeared in the side) was laid on a bier and bewailed, and afterwards carried to the tomb with great solemnity.

Another dogma closely connected with that of Redemption, and which Christianity has similarly borrowed from older religions, is the doctrine of the Fall of Man. Among the most ancient traditions of the Hindoos is one of the Tree of Life guarded by spirits in a Paradise watered by four rivers. Another tradition runs that Siva, as God, wishing to tempt Brahma (who had taken human form), dropped from heaven a blossom of the sacred fig-tree. Swayambhura (the incarnate), instigated by his wife Satarupa, obtains it, thinking to become immortal and divine. He is then cursed by Siva, and doomed to misery and degradation. The sacred fig-tree is regarded by the Brahmanists and Buddhists as the Tree of Knowledge. The Hindoos have also the legend of the Deluge and of Babel. The Persians had a legend of the fall of the first parents who were tempted by the evil one in the form of a serpent. The legend is like the Christian one in all particulars. It speaks of Eiren (Eden) as the original abode of man, of the River of Life, the Deluge, the war in heaven, the Millennium, the Jonah incident. The Egyptians had the myth of the tree of life, and of the war in heaven. The Greek legend of the Garden of the Hesperides, in which there was a tree bearing golden apples of immortality, guarded by three nymphs and a dragon, is well known. The Scandinavians had stories of Eden and the Golden Age, and of the Deluge (from which only one man escaped in an ark with his family). The Chinese had a legend of a Golden Age, and a "delicious" garden, surrounded by four rivers, in which were apples of immortality, guarded by a dragon. Almost, in the words of the Old Testament, or of "Paradise Lost," the Chi-King says: "Our misery did not come from heaven, but from a woman." They had also legends of the Deluge and the Millennium. The Mexicans baptized their infants (as did the Brahmanists, Mithrians, etc.) to wash away the sin that tainted the child before the foundation of the world. In their representations the first woman was always accompanied by a serpent, and she was said to have lost Paradise by plucking roses called the "Fruit of the Tree." Their Deluge and Babel legends are remarkably like the Hebrew. Indeed, the Hebrew legends of Genesis have been directly traced to Babylonian sources.[1]

The Trinity is another dogma which has been borrowed by the early Christians and adapted to Christ's terminology of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the Hindoo trinity Brahma was the father, Vishnu the son, and Siva the destroyer, though, in course of time, the character of the latter was modified, and came to be symbolized by a dove. The Buddhists worship one god in trinity. The Egyptian Osiris, the second person, or Logos, was represented with a trefoil on his head. When Thulis appealed to Serapis, the god replied: "First God, afterward the Word, and with them the Holy Spirit." The Scandinavians had a triune god, so had the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Peruvians, Mexicans, and Chinese.

The sacraments of the Christian Church, Baptism and the Eucharist, are also derived from more ancient religions. Baptism was a feature of the water-cult which was practised throughout the entire Pagan world. The ceremony was performed, sometimes both by immersion and aspersion, and generally accompanied by the sign of the cross, and by the imposition of a name, by the Hindoos, Buddhists, Persians, Egyptians, Scandinavians, Mexicans, and many others. Even the rite of circumcision was not confined to the Hebrews, but practised in Egypt, Ethiopia, Arabia, Phoenicia, and Syria. The Eucharist is an interesting survival of the old nature-religions. Transubstantiation is one of the most ancient of doctrines, and is merely a symbol of the change of soil into human food (wheat). The Greeks celebrated the Eleusinian mysteries every five years in honour of Ceres (the Goddess of Corn, who was said to "have given them her flesh to eat") and Bacchus (the god of wine, who had "given them his blood to drink"). This was probably the immediate source of the Christian Eucharist. In ancient Egypt the sacred cake was consecrated by the priest just as it is to-day by Roman priests. He made the sign of the cross over it, and it became "flesh of his flesh." The Mexican priests consecrated cakes of cornmeal mixed with blood, and gave it to the people as the "flesh of the Saviour." (Their priests had also reached the advanced stage of auricular confession and absolution.) The Assyrians and Babylonians had the sacrament of bread and wine.

So, also, the principal symbols, ceremonies, and festivals of Christianity are borrowed from Paganism. The sacred symbols of the Brahmanists were the cross, serpent, dove, mitre, crosier, key, fish, and sacred heart—all of which were assumed by the Christians. The Buddhists of Tartary have oecumenical councils, monasteries, nunneries, pulpits, dalmatics, bell-ringing, incense, thuribles, chalices, rosaries, chanted services, litanies, aspersions with holy water, priests with shaven polls, prayers for the sick, baptism, eucharist, auricular confession, extreme unction, masses for the dead, worship of relics, weekly and yearly festivals, feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Candlemas, worship of one god in trinity, and belief in heaven, hell, and purgatory. Buddhism (in existence for more than 2,400 years) is the established religion of Burmah, Siam, Laos, Cambodia, Thibet, Japan, Tartary, Ceylon, and Loo-choo, besides counting two-thirds of China and a large portion of Siberia. It has more than four hundred million adherents. Hinduism and Buddhism together embrace more than half the world. In ancient Egypt there was great splendour of ritual. The priests were shaven and shorn, and wore white surplices and gorgeous robes, mitres, tiaras; wax-tapers, processions, lustrations of holy water, signs of the cross, sacraments, etc., were familiar in their rites. From Scandinavia comes the curious old custom of eating boar at Christmas. A Scandinavian god, Freya, was fabled to have been killed by a boar at the Winter Solstice; hence the Scandinavians offered a boar annually at the Feast of Yule. In China, Easter was celebrated annually with much pomp as a feast of gratitude to Tien. The cross, which has so long been regarded as the peculiar symbol of Christianity, was venerated from time immemorial throughout the Pagan world. Centuries before it became an ornament on the chaste bosoms of Christian maidens, it had been pressed with more intense but less holy fervour to the bosoms of Egyptian and other maidens; for, in many cases at least, it was certainly a phallic symbol. It was venerated throughout Egypt, Persia, Babylonia, India, Japan, Thibet, America, etc. It was placed on the figures of the gods, on coins and seals, and worn as an ornament; and temples were often built in the form of a cross.

From these data Rationalism has been enabled to supplement the negative conclusions of the higher critics with important positive and constructive theories. It is clear from this accumulated evidence of philology, history, archaeology, and ethnology that the doctrines so curiously woven into the fabric of the Bible came from anterior human traditions, and not from a special revelation vouchsafed to the Hebrew or the Christian writers. Given a communication, or even a probability of a communication, nothing could be more unscientific than to postulate a different version of the origin of the legends. It may be well to indicate some of the evidence which Rationalistic science adduces in favour of such communication.

It is a common practice of theologians to enlarge upon the aptness of the time and place chosen for the birth of Christianity. Judea had become the high-road between all the great nations of antiquity. It lay between Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome on one side, and India, Syria, Arabia, Persia, Assyria, and Babylonia on the other. In this lay its peculiar power of assimilating alien religious traditions. It had been visited successively by Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, and some elements from each had infiltrated into the old Canaanitish religion. Indeed, that the Old Testament is a collection of alien traditions is beyond dispute. The projected analysis of its contents by the anti-critical school will complete the work. The point which Rationalistic writers have principally sought to establish is the connection of Buddhism with Christianity and the growth of the New Testament from Pagan myths which were adapted to Christ as they had been adapted to Buddha and Confucius. The mere comparison of Christian rites and doctrines (in the unorganized condition) with those of Buddhism fully justifies the Rationalist assumption; still, abundant evidence of their connection is forthcoming.

About 250 B.C. a royal convert to Buddhism, Asoka, was seized with the proselytizing mania, and indulged it with royal bounty. He scattered 80,000 missionaries throughout the known world—through India, China, Japan, Ceylon, Persia, Babylonia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. A passage in his edicts, engraven on a rock at Girnur in Guzerat, shows that Buddhism was planted in the dominion of the Seleucidae and Ptolemies in the third century B.C. The Buddhistic teaching, which had been accepted by large numbers of Jews (retaining the Mosaic Law), comes down to the time of Christ in the sect of the Essenes. Three salient points in the teaching of the Essenes—asceticism, celibacy, and voluntary poverty—are entirely antagonistic to the Hebrew system, and are just as conspicuously Buddhistic. These doctrines are precisely the characteristic features of the teaching of Christ; his individuality only shows itself in his warm sympathy with the wretched and sinful. Of the four Jewish sects of his time Christ denounces three vigorously on all occasions—the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees—and never says a word against the Essenes. There is every reason to think that Christ was a member of that sect, and that the distinctive features of his preaching were Essenic, and thus, indirectly, Buddhistic. But the chief influence of Buddhism is apparent in the growth of Christ-legends during the century which followed his death. We have seen that the life of Christ was not committed to documents during the first century, and thus the mythopceic faculty had a license which it is difficult to appreciate in modern times. Gautama had fore told the coming of another angel-messiah in about 600 years: the Galilean must be he. Alexandria had been reached by Asoka's missionaries, and it was there that an exuberant growth of Christian literature appeared, which was arbitrarily divided into inspired and uninspired. But in both apocryphal and canonical works the stories that are told of the obscure Galilean, whom the eye of the historian can scarcely reach, are clearly borrowed from Buddhistic, Greek, and Egyptian legends. This connection of Christianity with "paganism" through the Essenes is not entirely a modern discovery.

Philo[2] maintains the identity in creed of higher Judaism and the "Gymnosophists" of India. Eusebius and Epiphanius identify the Essenes with the early Christians. Ammonius Saccus, founder of the Neo-Platonic school, said that Christianity and Paganism differed in nothing essential, and had a common origin. Celsus said that "the Christian religion contains nothing but what Christians hold in common with heathen—nothing new." Many of the fathers admit that Christian teaching was not new, and that many concessions were made to Paganism. Gregory of Naz., writing to S. Jerome, says: "A little jargon is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire. Our forefathers and doctors have often said, not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated." Eusebius, as Gibbon says, "indirectly confesses that he has related what might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion." Minucius Felix, in his Octavius, puts these words in the mouth of Cecilius: "All these fragments of crack-brained opiniatry and silly solaces played off in the sweetness of song by deceitful [Pagan] poets, by you too credulous creatures [the Christians], have been shamefully reformed and made over to your own God." Faustus makes the same accusation to St. Augustine. The learned Christian advocate, M. Turretin, says (of the fourth century): "It was not so much the Pagans who were converted to Christianity, but Christianity was converted to Paganism." Hadrian could not see the difference between Christians and the worshippers of the ancient Egyptian god Serapis (a sun-god). King says that the worship of Serapis was incorporated with Christianity in the East, and that all the early portraits of Christ were clearly taken from the head of Serapis; the early Christians were often called sun-worshippers. Christ was not represented in art as a man on a cross until the seventh century; he was represented as the Good Shepherd—a figure borrowed from Apollo, Mercury, and other gods, and a title common in all religions. He was also represented as a Lamb; this is also a pagan myth. The sign Aries (the Ram) was formerly a Lamb, and the worship of Aries in ancient religions was equivalent to the worship of the sun passing through Aries. Aries was called the Saviour—"the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," in words which the Catholic Church now applies to Christ daily. On an ancient Phoenician medal there is a "Lamb of God" with cross and rosary.

The last point brings us to the consideration of the further problem of the mythologist—the connection of myths with a primitive nature worship. Those who desire to cling to the idea of a supernatural revelation might imagine the legends which enter into the composition of the Bible to be revealed in the first instance. Such a belief is excluded by the labours of mythologists. All myths have not yet been explained, but the majority and the most important are satisfactorily explained. "The question whether most of the ancient gods and heroes derived their origin from physical phenomena has been answered once for all by the Veda, and I do not know of a single scholar who, if able to read the Veda, would express any doubt on this subject;"[3] and again: "That the gods were originally personified representatives of the most prominent phenomena of nature, nearly all serious students of mythology agree." There are, of course, controversies as to the manner in which the descriptions passed into personal legends, but this does not weaken the substantial agreement of mythologists of their naturalistic origin. So far, then, from these stories, which advanced religions have elaborated into a dogmatic scheme, coming from a supernatural revelation, they are merely idealized versions of astronomical and other physical phenomena as they appeared to the primitive mind. In particular, the Christology which is found in every organized religion is a mythicized representation of the sun's relation to the earth which has expanded in the lapse of time, and has been adapted to innumerable personalities, and last of all to Jesus of Nazareth; neither are the more ancient Christ-stories predictions of future events, nor is the Christian soteriology the description of an historical episode—all alike are manipulations of a solar myth whose origin had been lost sight of.

It is in the Vedic hymns, as Max Müller says, that we find the development of the sun into a god—a Creator, Preserver, Ruler, Rewarder, and Saviour. The Vedas take us nearest of all to the religion of our Aryan ancestors, and there are passages which explicitly indicate the solar nature of the Redeemer. "Let us worship again the Child of Heaven, the Son of Strength, Arusha, the Bright Light of the Sacrifice. He rises as a mighty flame, he stretches out his wide arms, he is ever like the wind. His light is powerful, and his mother—the Dawn—gives him the best share of worship among men;" and in the Rig-Veda he is spoken of as "stretching out his arms in the heavens to bless the world, and to rescue it from the terror of darkness." Indeed, from the Aryan name for the supreme being, Dyaus, which has passed into most of the Aryan languages (Theos, deus, dio, etc.), the astronomical nature of the primitive deity is sufficiently apparent: it comes from a root which meant "to shine," and was applied to the bright sky overhead, which was man's first god. The sun was then worshipped as his son, born of the earth, or the darkness, or the dawn, etc., and sent by him to break the power of darkness, to redeem mankind from the misery of night and of winter; the earth was also worshipped as the universal mother.

In support of this theory of the solar nature of the Christs or Saviours of all nations, there is an overwhelming mass of evidence. In the first place, the very names of the Christ and his mother point to an astronomical origin. Aditi and Dahana, the Hindoo virgin-mothers, are names of the dawn. Osiris was a name of the sun; Isis, mother of Horus, was the moon. Theseus was born of Aithra (the pure air), Œdipus of lokasté (violet light of the morning), Hercules of Io (violet-tinted dawn), the Scandinavian Christ of Woden (heaven), and so on in the Zettish songs and old Greek myths, and in the religions of Egypt, Babylon, Mexico, Peru, and Central America. "With scarcely an exception," says Cox, "all the names by which the virgin-goddess was known point to the mythology of the dawn." The 25th of December, which is universally celebrated as the Saviour's birthday, is precisely the commencement of the sun's northward journey after the winter solstice; at that time the constellation Virgo is rising in the Eastern horizon—hence the immaculate virgin of all the Christ legends. In the first decan of the Virgin in the Persian sphere an immaculate virgin is represented; "she nourishes," says Abulmazar, "and suckles a babe which some [nations] call Jesus, and the Greeks call Christ." The inscription of the virgin-goddess of Sais reads: "The fruit which I have brought forth is the sun;" she was delivered about the winter solstice, according to Plutarch. The virgin in the Indian zodiac has a lotus (lily) in her hand; in the Egyptian zodiacs she nurses the child Horus; in one old zodiac she is represented as a virgin nursing a child, seated on clouds, and having a star on her head. The transition from the constellation Virgo presiding at the winter birth of the sun to Maia, Maya, or Maria—the virgin-mother of Hermes, Buddha, and Jesus—is obvious; the whole Mariology of the Catholic Church is borrowed from astronomy, and is only really applicable to the constellation Virgo.

Again, in the star which heralds the birth of the Saviour in all mythologies (and which modern commentators of the New Testament so ingeniously explain on principles of modern astronomy) we must recognise the planet Venus, the "morning star" which heralds the daily birth of the sun. Nearly all the Saviours are born in a cave or dungeon—this is the dark abode from which the sun emerges every morning. It is predicted that he will destroy the ruling monarch—i.e., dispel the darkness of night, and the monarch (e.g., the Egyptian Typhon [darkness]) seeks his life. All the Saviours, or sun-gods, leave their homes and mothers to benefit mankind—the sun rising in the heavens to shine upon men; they meet with many foes (clouds of storm and darkness), but always prevail; they travel over many lands with their twelve companions (the twelve signs of the zodiac on which are modelled the labours of Hercules and the life of Buddha), ever toiling for others and doing good; they meet with an early and violent death (the end of summer), and are generally crucified in the heavens, slain or pierced with the spear (thorn or arrow) of winter. At the Saviour's death his disciples desert him, but his mother (the dawn or dusk) re-appears, and finally a darkness overspreads the land, and the Saviour descends into Hell or Hades; Hades in olden times was not a place of torment, but the place of all the departed, and was located by the Aryans in the Far West. He rises from Hades after three days; on the 22nd of December the sun appears to remain in the same place for three days and three nights, and then commences his ascent into the heavens. As the sun rises above the equator at the Vernal Equinox, this resurrection of the sun was generally celebrated on the 25th of March. The fish, the lamb, the cross, and the serpent were widely consecrated to the sun—and to the Saviours. The sign Aries was formerly called the Lamb, and when the sun made the transit of the equinox under this sign it was called the Lamb of God; hence the name of Mithras, and Jesus, and many other sun-gods. The serpent, which brings ruin to mankind, seems to be the constellation of that name which ushers winter into the world, and over which the sun finally prevails. In fact, almost every detail of the Saviour-legend which is the life and soul of Christian doctrine points to the solar origin of the myth: the nature of his functions, the time and manner of his birth and death, the very terminology of the story in older literature, is transparently astronomical. Looking back on the myths which we have summarized above, we see that they only find an adequate explanation in the solar theory. The Great Father of all modern religions is but a transformed conception of the broad vault of heaven that shone on our child-like ancestors: his son, the Redeemer, is the beneficent luminary that brings light and hope and joy to humanity after the darkness of night and misery of the winter. History repeats itself: at this end of the nineteenth century science proclaims that the one supreme source of all life, energy, and motion on the surface of our planet is its genial and inspiring luminary.

It is a long journey from the primitive nature-worship to the ethical monotheism of Isaiah, Plato, and Christ, and the students of comparative religion are far from unanimous in retracing it. Indeed, there is a discussion as to the manner in which the early myths passed from their original meaning into accounts of legendary gods and heroes. Mr. Spencer thinks the stories first related to incidents in the lives of actual ordinary individuals, but the vast majority of mythologists agree with Max Müller that they were transferred directly from natural phenomena (their application to which was lost sight of) to historical personages; Professor Max Müller thinks the process due to a "disease of language"—the later Aryans found the solar terms in their languages, were ignorant of their true application, and founded the legends upon them. However that may be, the earliest stage of religion to which science can attain is a kind of chaotic, indistinct naturism; the primitive man, in the first faint glimmer of reflection, falls awe-stricken before the more impressive phenomena of nature which he considers as the acts of living powers; he has no consciousness of personality, or spirituality, or of his superiority over the animals, hence his gods are mere undefined powers. The life about him gradually takes shape, and there arises a number of polydcemonistic religions with much magic and sorcery; in some quarters a decadence into fetishism. To this succeeds a definite polytheism, in some cases therianthropic, in others anthropomorphic, which in many tribes becomes a henotheism—a recognition of one supreme god with many others, a national or relative and practical (not speculative) monotheism. Many of the nature myths are already legendary, and sometimes the vague oral tradition is embodied in sacred books or laws, thus giving rise to nomistic or nomothetic religions, in China, India, Persia, etc. Anthropomorphic polytheism is gradually subdued by pantheism or by monotheism, and national religions are overcome by universal or world religions of a proselytizing disposition, such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism. Ethical religions are the final development, such as Confucianism, Brahmanism, Jainism, Mazdaism, and Judaism (non-proselytic), and Buddhism and Christianity (proselytic). Through such a process has been developed the ethical monotheism which the course of political events during the last 1700 years has imposed upon the acceptance of Europe. How Rationalistic criticism has disposed of its claims to be a positive supernatural revelation we have seen in this and the preceding chapter; the following chapter will describe the effect of Rationalistic progress upon the philosophical systems with which it has been buttressed by those who felt the weakness of its historical foundation.

  1. "The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments," by Professor Sayce.
  2. See S. Titcombe's "Aryan Sun Myths" for a large number of authorities.
  3. Professor Max Müller, "Contributions to the Science of Mythology."