Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History

By Maurice Goguel (1926)



Does the name of Jesus the Nazarene—or rather do the two names associated in this expression—designate an historical person or the hero of a cult? Does the term Nazarene signify "Saviour Protector," and should it be considered as a divine name of similar character to Zeus Xenios, Hermes Psychopompos, or Jahveh Sabaoth? "There is every reason to think," writes Drews, "that the name of Joshua or Jesus was that under which the expected Messiah was worshipped in certain Jewish sects."[1] Upon examination the arguments offered in support of this opinion seem somewhat shallow. Robertson[2] finds in the worship of Jesus a new form of the old Ephraim cult of Joshua, a solar divinity. A trace of this cult is to be found in a passage in the book of the prophet Zechariah, where the high-priest Joshua appears before the Angel of the Eternal, who causes him to take off his soiled garments and put on festal clothing. He receives this promise: "If thou wilt walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My charge, then shalt thou also judge My house and shalt also keep My courts" (Zech. iii. 7). Jesus was a divine name, Jesus the Lord was God, considered in His essential character as liberator, healer, guardian, and saviour. Is it not said, indeed, in Matt. i. 21: "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins"?[3]

It is unnecessary to inquire if Joshua, at a certain period, was a solar divinity; it suffices to note that at the epoch with which we are concerned, the Jews who read his history in the sixth book of the Bible saw in him a national hero, the successor of

[1] Drews, Christusmythe, i, p. 23.

[2] Robertson, A Short History of Christianity, p. 8.

[3] "Jesus" signifies "Jahveh aids."


Moses, and the continuator of his work. He was one of the most popular heroes in Israelitish history, as is proved by the number of persons named after him, and of whom there is no temptation to make a mythical being or a divine hero. The high-priest Joshua, mentioned by Zechariah, is also an historical personage; so little is he to be identified with Messiah that he receives the promise of the coming of the latter (Zech. iii. 9).

Robertson and Drews also find mention of a pre-Christian Jesus in the magic papyrus of the Bibliothèque Nationale, where occurs the formula, "I adjure thee by the God of the Hebrews, Jesus." This papyrus, which is not earlier than the fourth century of our era, may doubtless reproduce a more ancient formula; there is nothing, however, to authorize us to date it so far back as the mythologists would like. The form of words must doubtless be attributed to a pagan. It merely proves that the name of Jesus was considered to have great power, a thing which is explained by the great part played by exorcism in primitive Christianity.[1] The magical pagan formulae have readily adopted Jewish and Christian names.[2] That does not prove, as Reitzenstein remarks,[3] that their authors were really acquainted with and understood Judaism or Christianity. This is proved, for instance, in a text eited by Dieterich,[4] in which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are taken to be names for the God of Israel.

If there is nothing to authorize us to consider the name of Jesus as a divine name, is the same the case with the designation "Nazarene" which accompanies it? Outside the New Testament, no text attests the existence in Galilee of a village called Nazareth. Neither the Old Testament, nor Josephus, nor the Talmud mention it, but it is not legitimate to conclude from this silence, as Cheyne[5] does, and as the mythologists willingly suppose as proved, that Nazareth is only a geographical fiction. We know from Josephus that Galilee was densely populated, and that it boasted 204 villages and 15 fortified towns.[6] We only

[1] Joh. Weiss, Jesus von Naz., p. 19.

[2] Deissmann, Licht vom Osten, Tübingen, 1909.

[3] Reitzenstein, Poimandres, Leipzig, 1904.

[4] Dieterich, Abraxas, Leipzig, 1891.

[5] Cheyne, article in Encyclop. Biblica, iii, "Nazareth."

[6] Josephus, Vita, par. 235.


know a small part of.these 219 localities, and even if the figures given by Josephus were exaggerated, many Galilean townships would not be mentioned in any text.[1] There is nothing astonishing in the supposition that Nazareth,[2] a village of very trifling importance, should be among the number.[3]

The fact that evangelical tradition represents Jesus as coming from Nazareth[4] is far from being without significance. According to Messianic dogma the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem, and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in different ways, which are mutually irreconcilable, strive to keep to this postulate.[5] Christian tradition would not have created the fact destined to cause it so much embarrassment, that of the birth of Jesus at Nazareth.[6]

The explanations of the term Nazarene offered by the mythologists scarcely seem probable either. This term, which constitutes the most ancient designation of the Christians, is derived, according to W. B. Smith, from the root NSR, which is found sixty-three times in the Old Testament in the sense of protector and guardian. It is even more ancient still, for the Babylonian term Na-Sa-Ru is met with seven times in the code of Hammurabi. The Syrian form Nasaryu, in which is to be recognized the divine name Yah, signifies "God

[1] Meyer, Urspruch und Anf., iii.

[2] Wellhausen has suggested that the word Nazareth designates Galilee in the form Gennesar (Garden of Nesar), met with in I Macc. ii. 67, Matt. xiv. 34, Mark vi. 53. The similarity of Matt. xxvi. 69 and 71 proves the equivalence of Galilean and Nazarene. This ingenious hypothesis collides with the fact that if Galilee was commonly designated by the word Nazar or Nazareth, it is very strange that it is nowhere clearly found.

[3] The fact that later tradition was acquainted with Nazareth proves nothing. So soon as one was persuaded that the place had existed, failure to find it again was impossible.

[4] Matt. xxi. 11, Mark i. 9, John i. 45, Acts x. 38. The comparison between Mark vi. 1 and Luke iv. 16 shows that Nazareth was considered to be the birthplace of Jesus.

[5] Matt. ii. 13-23 states that the family of Jesus was originally settled at Bethlehem, and returned after the flight to Egypt to live in Nazareth to escape the jurisdiction of Archelaus, grandson of Herod. Luke ii. 1-7 states that Jesus was born during a journey of his parents to Jerusalem on the occasion of the census made by Quirinius.

[6] The birth of Jesus in Galilee constituted one of the Jewish objections to his Messiahship. Cp. John vii. 41.


is Protector." It is not a term of geographical origin, but a cultural name. This hypothesis could only be entertained if there were some real proofs of the existence of a pre-Christian sect of Nazarenes. The indications which the mythologists invoke cannot take the place of these. There is in the Gospel of Matthew a passage which puzzles interpreters. After the death of Herod, Joseph and Mary leave Egypt to settle in Nazareth of Galilee.

The evangelist says that this was "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets—he shall be called a Nazarene" (Matt. ii. 23). It is impossible to identify with certitude the prophecy here alluded to, and if it be desired to avoid recourse to the gratuitous hypothesis of the use of some apocryphal work which has not been preserved, it is necessary to suppose that the evangelist connects the word Nazarene with some passage of Scripture containing a word from the same root or having some assonance with it.[1] There would be here a play on the words which we should (owing to its obscurity) be unable to understand. One cannot suppose that this is the true origin of the word Nazarene. Rather would it be incumbent to suppose an assimilation worked out by Matthew, who always aims at showing in the Gospel history the fulfilment of prophecy.

The word Nazarene contains perhaps an allusion to John the Baptist and his disciples, with whom Jesus was certainly in relation at the beginning of His ministry. It is well known that the Mandaean tradition represents Jesus as an apostate from the Baptist community. Thus would be explained the fact that the Christians were also called Nazarenes, whilst it would not be at all natural to have designated them as people of Nazareth because their master was a native of this village.[2]

But the problem of Nazareth is still not solved in this way. There occur in the New Testament the two forms, Nazarenos

[1] H. J. Holtzmann (Die Synoptiker) and F. Nicolardot (Procédés de redaction des trois premiers evangelistes) think of Es. xi. 1, in which the Messiah is called "Nèzer" (offspring). It is impossible to connect the word Nazarene with the notion of the sect, for the Christian tradition (Matt. xi. 18, 19; Luke vii. 33, 34; Mark ii. 18-20, etc.) has preserved a clear memory that Jesus was not an ascetic like John the Baptist.

[2] Wetter, L'arrière plan hist. du Christianisme primitif; R.H.L.R., 1922; Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Matthaei, Berlin, 1904, p. 142.


and Nazoraios.[1] W. B. Smith[2] considers these equivalent, and supports his opinion by the co-existence of the two forms, Essenes and Essenians.

The analogy is not conclusive, for the two forms do not only differ in their termination, but also in the quantity of the second syllable. If the form Nazarenos can be philologically derived from Nazareth,[3] the same does not hold for Nazoraios, which must have another origin.

The simplest explanation is that, as applied to Jesus, the term Nazarenos related to his native village, and that the association with the word Nazoraios, by which name the disciples of John the Baptist were called, caused the Christians to be called Nazarenes. In this it was desired to emphasize that they were only apostates from the Baptist community.

It seems very likely indeed that at first the Christians called themselves "disciples" or "brothers," and later on "saints," and that the names Nazarene and Christian were given to them by their opponents.


The explanation which we propose of the words Nazarene and Nazarenian would have no import if it were possible to prove the existence of a pre-Christian sect of Nazarenes, worshippers of Jesus, as is maintained, in particular by W. B. Smith, who entitles one of his books The pre-Christian Jesus.

The first proof alleged in favour of the existence of this sect is based upon the hymn of the Naasseni,[4] who date back to the most remote antiquity and attest the cult of a celestial Jesus.[5]

[1] The first is found in Mark i. 24, x. 47, xiv. 67, xvi. 6; Luke iv. 34 and xxiv. 19. The second in Mark ii. 23; Luke xviii. 37; John xviii. 5-7 and xix. 19; and Acts ii. 22, iii. 6, iv. 10, vi. 14, xxii. 8, xxiv. 5, xxvi. 9. There is a certain variation in the manuscripts. The duality of form is, however, certain, and the testimony of the book of Acts proves that it is the form "Nazarene" which prevailed.

[2] Smith, Vorsch. Jes., p. 53.

[3] The correctness of the derivation (Nazarenos) is admitted by Meyer, who cites the opinion of Lidzbarski. In the New Testament are to be found the forms, widely divergent, as follows: Nazara, Nazarat, Nazaret, Nazareth, etc. In the oldest manuscript there is no consistent spelling.

[4] Preserved by Hippolytus, Philosophoumena, v. 10. 2.

[5] Smith and Drews.


The subject is the Soul who has quitted the Kingdom of Light and groans in suffering and tears. Lost in a labyrinth, vainly escape is sought.[1]

"Then Jesus said: 'Behold, O Father! this tempted being who, far from Thy influence, wanders miserably on earth. He longs to fly from bitter chaos, but he knows not how to ascend. For his salvation, O Father! send Me; that I may descend with the seals[2] in My hands, that I may traverse the aeons, that I may open the mysteries, that I may reveal unto him the essence of God, and announce unto him the mystery of the holy life which is called the gnosis.'"

According to the mythologists, the Jesus of this hymn had no contact with Christianity, and was a Being entirely celestial. Their conclusion seems to have been drawn with some precipitation. Nothing authorizes us to date the Naasseni hymn before the Christian era. Hilgenfeld[3] has shown that the Naassenes had made use of the epistles of Paul and of the fourth Gospel. In the form known to us, and whatever its distant origins may be, the Naasseni doctrine betrays the influence of Christianity.[4] It would therefore be unable to prove the existence of a pre-Christian cult of Jesus. This argument is strengthened by the consideration that, following a very judicious remark of Bousset, it is not certain that in the hymn preserved by Hippolytus the name of Jesus may not proceed from a retouching or a corruption of the text. For at the beginning of the hymn there is presented the "Nous" along with Chaos, and the Soul to be saved. In these conditions the decisive argument that the mythologists thought they possessed disappears.

Epiphanius (Haer., xviii) mentions among the Jewish heresies a sect of Nazarenes, and what he says about it does not permit him to attribute a Christian character to it. As he does not state that it was developed only after Christianity, this would prove, according to Smith, that the Nazarenes were a pre-Christian sect from which Christianity doubtless adopted much.[5]

[1] The text is not absolutely certain.

[2] It is often a question of seals with the Gnostics, particularly in the Pistis Sophia.

[3] Hilgenfeld, Die Ketzergesch. des Urchristentums.

[4] Reitzenstein, Poimandres, p 81.

[5] Smith, D. vorsch Jesus, pp. 56, 57


And against this conclusion, according to him, it would not be possible to urge as argument the silence of other students of heresy, who, being less honest and less naïve than Epiphanius, saw how dangerous to the official Church doctrine was the existence of these Nazarenes, and kept a discreet silence concerning them.[1] There is a singular lack of proportion between the statements of Epiphanius and the conclusions which he claims to deduce from them. An entire historical construction of the greatest importance, which would overthrow many facts apparently solidly established, rests upon one single testimony—that of a man who does not always show himself well informed, and who frequently has not made the most judicious use of the information at his disposal.[2] If we scrutinize closely the testimony of Epiphanius, we find that concerning these Nazarenes he appears to know nothing more than the name; it is noteworthy that he says nothing which attributes to them a worship of Jesus.[3] All that there is in common between them and the Christians is a name only. To permit any conclusion to be drawn from this fact it would be necessary to show that it cannot be a simple coincidence, or, what would be still more probable, some confusion made either by Epiphanius or by the author of whom he makes use. Now this proof has not been furnished. On the contrary, two scholars, Schmidtke and Bousset, have proposed a simple and plausible explanation of the testimony of Epiphanius. There might, perhaps, be certain reservations to make on some details of their theories, but in their main outlines it does not appear a matter of doubt that they are well founded, and that they have consequently caused the disappearance of the pre-Christian Nazarenes from history.

In the course of his research in Judeo-Christianity and the Jewish Christians,[4] Schmidtke has proved that all the narratives found in the writings of the Fathers of the Church concerning

[1] Smith, D. vorsch Jesus, p. 64.

[2] "His criticism is not sound. . . . The moment he leaves the region of contemporary facts his information should be checked; it is confused and lacks precision. He had a relatively uncritical temperament without ellectual acuteness."—Tixeront, Patrologie, 1918, p. 253.

[3] Joh. Weiss, Jesus v. Naz.; Windisch, Der geschichtliche Jesus (Th. R.).

[4] Schmidtke, Neue Fragmente und Untersuchungen zu der Judenchristlichen Evangelien, xxxvii, 1911. Leipzig.


a Judeo-Christian sect going under the name of Nazarenes, and not under the usual name of Ebionites originate with Appollinarius of Laodicea (310-90). The Nazarene sect really existed at Beroé in Syria; it was strictly Judeo-Christian, and used an Aramaic gospel, some fragments of which are preserved, and which seems to have been a translation of the Gospel of Matthew slightly revised. Concerning these Nazarene Christians, Epiphanius speaks in the twenty-ninth chapter, according to Appollinarius. The details he gives concerning them seem worthy of belief. It is in the eighteenth chapter that he speaks of the pre-Christian Nazarenes. Schmidtke says that here he depends both upon Hippolytus and a list of heretical Jewish sects.[1] He believes that Epiphanius has substituted the Nazarenes for the Ebionites.[2] He even believes that in his work, as first sketched out, Epiphanius had called them Ebionites.

The peculiarities of those which he describes in Chap. xxx correspond exactly, in fact, with the account given of the Nazarenes in Chap. xviii. Epiphanius was misled in taking for a Jewish sect the Nazarenes, whom the Jews in their daily prayer cursed under the name of Nozrim simultaneously with the heretics (Minim).[3]

Bousset,[4] who accepts the argument of Schmidtke in its generality, and who believes that he has definitely found the key to the enigma, supposes that in the source of which he makes use concerning the Nazarenes, Epiphanius had only found some geographical details about the place in which the sect was met with, and that in order to write his account he had utilized, from what he knew about the Judeo-Christian groups, everything which had not a Christian character. Bousset supposes that the

[1] Schmidtke, p. 199.

[2] He writes their name with a sigma and not with a zeta, to distinguish them from the Nazarene Christians, just as he distinguishes between the Essenians and the Ossenians.

[3] The twelfth request of the "Schemonè Esrè" is given in the text discovered in the synagogue of Cairo and published in 1897: "May there be no hope for the apostates! Mayest Thou, in our time, annihilate the domination of the insolent! May the Christians (Nozrim) and the heretics (Minim) be suddenly annihilated! May they be no longer written in the book of life! Praised be Jahveh, who brings low the insolent!" (Strack, Jesus die Haeretiker, etc.)

[4] Bousset, Th. Rundschau, xiv, 1911.


Nazarenes were mentioned in the list of Jewish heresies utilized by different Fathers. The Jewish author who had furnished it mentioned in fact Christianity as among the heresies to be rejected.

In these circumstances one has no choice but to endorse the conclusion reached by Bousset in these terms: "The pre-Christian Nazarenes of Epiphanius are definitely consigned to the domain of error and misunderstanding, and it is to be hoped that they will for ever disappear from the arsenal of proofs invoked in support of a pre-Christian cult of Jesus."[1]

But even when deprived of the hymn of the Naasseni and the Nazarene sect the mythologists are not disarmed; there remain for them the positive indications of the existence of a pre-Christian Jesus which they think they find in the New Testament itself.

The first of these is the passage in the book of Acts which refers to Apollos. For Smith this text is the most valuable of ancient Christian literature.[2] We read in Acts xviii. 24-26: "And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord, and being fervent in spirit[3] he spake and taught diligently the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue, whom, when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly."

It follows from this text, thinks Smith, that Apollos knew nothing about Jesus, otherwise he ought to have known everything, including the doctrine of baptism. This ignorance did not hinder his preaching "that which concerned Jesus."

"It is therefore," writes Smith, "as clear as the noonday sun that this form of words can have no relation to the history of Jesus." It must mean the doctrine concerning Jesus—a doctrine which a man who knew nothing about an historical Jesus could not only profess, but preach. This text is therefore for the

[1] Bousset, Th. Rundschau, xiv, 1911, p. 381.

[2] Smith, D. vorchr. Jesus, p. 7.

[3] The text is translatable in two different ways.


mythologists (the expression is again Smith's) "an inestimable diamond."[1]

But, when closely examined, th,e passage may not perhaps have all the significance attributed to it, or, to put it more precisely, its value and significance may have a quite other character. Whatever the origin of the reference used by the editor of the Acts may be, we are not certain we know its original purport. It is possible, indeed, that the form "that which concerned Jesus" may be put to the account of the editor,[2] and that it merely expresses the belief that the religious attitude of Apollos, when he arrived at Ephesus, fitted him to become a Christian. Priscilla and Aquila doubtless recognized in the ardent and eloquent Messianist a man who would be able to render eminent service to their faith, and they succeeded in gaining him over to their cause. But we have no wish to insist on this interpretation, which to a certain extent is conjecture.

The exegesis of Smith rests upon a postulate which is in contradiction with certain historical data. This postulate is that the doctrine of Christian baptism, opposed to that of John the Baptist, is an essential element in the history of Jesus in that he who ignores the Christian baptism must perforce ignore all the evangelical history. If at the opening of His ministry Jesus (as shown in John iii. 22 and iv. i) may have administered a baptism in every way identical with that of John the Baptist, He seems to have relinquished it in the sequel.[3] No text attributes the institution of baptism to Jesus during His ministry, and when account is taken of the interest the Church had in covering with the Master's own authority her rites, it is impossible to pass over this extremely significant silence. Matthew alone (xxviii. 19, 20) relates that Jesus, risen again, said to His disciples at the moment he was to leave them: "All power has been given to Me in the heavens and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach" (literally "make disciples") "all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

[1] Smith, D. vorchr. Jesus, pp. 7-9.

[2] Meyer, Urspruch und Anf., iii, p. 112.

[3] Tradition has so little belief that baptism goes back to Jesus, that the fourth Gospel after quoting a statement that Jesus had baptized, itself corrects this (John iv. 2).


Neither Luke nor John[1] contains any equivalent of this narrative, which thus appears as relatively recent. The passage in Matthew has for its object to support, upon the authority of the resurrected Christ (that is, Christ as Spirit), the institution of baptism as practised by the Church. This reveals nothing as to the real origin of the rite, but merely shows that it has no place in the historical mission of Jesus.[2] In these circumstances it is easily understood that it was not immediately introduced in all the Christian communities. The fact that Paul (1 Cor. vii. 14), without making any allusion to baptism, admits that the children of Christians are saints—that is, belong to God, uniquely because they are born of parents themselves saints—shows that the baptism of children was unknown in the Pauline communities, and it allows us to suppose that the rite was only practised for those who entered the Church, not for those born in it. It may not have been in use at the beginning in the Jerusalem community. Doubtless the accounts in the Acts on several occasions speak of baptism,[3] but their testimony is not conclusive, for the editor of this book has naïvely projected into the primitive community the situation which existed in the Church of his time. The use of baptism might have arisen, as Bousset supposes, not in the midst of the Palestine community, but perhaps in the Diaspora at Antioch, in analogy with the Jewish baptism for proselytes. A teaching which was intimately connected with the historical ministry of Jesus, and based upon memoirs of this ministry, might very easily have only known of the baptism of John.

The exegesis of Smith evokes another objection. It is in no way proved that the expression "that which concerned Jesus" must be understood in the sense of "the doctrine concerning Jesus." Smith himself recognizes that the Greek words used may signify[4] "the story told concerning someone," but he considers

[1] The testimony of Mark is lacking on this point, owing to the mutilation of the end of his book. The non-authentic end of Mark, which appears not to be anterior to the second century, gives (xvi. 16) something equivalent, with this particularity, that the practice of baptism is only supposed, but not directly attributed to institution.

[2] Meyer, Ursprung und Anf., iii, p. 245.

[3] Acts ii. 38-41; viii. 12, 13, 16, 36, 38; ix. 18; x. 48.

[4] This is evidently the meaning of the phrase in Acts xxviii. 15.


that the three passages of the New Testament (outside of the Acts) where this form of words is found refer to the doctrine and not to the story of Jesus, or at least they originally did so. According to Acts xxviii. 31, during his two years of captivity passed in Rome, in his own hired house, Paul taught freely "that which concerned the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul did not tell histories to the Romans; he preached the Gospel to them. But to lay it down as a principle that the Pauline Gospel is a doctrine concerning Jesus which contains no historical element is to suppose, as resolved in favour of the mythological theories, the very question in dispute. In the teaching imparted to the Romans, as in that which had been given to the Galatians (iii. 1), the crucifixion of an historical personage was the starting-point of the Pauline preaching.

The two passages in which is found the phrase "that which concerned Jesus" are characteristic. In the story of the woman with the issue of blood Mark has it: "Having heard the things concerning Jesus, she came in the crowd behind and touched His garment; for, said she, if I but touch His garment I shall be made whole."

"The things concerning Jesus" could only mean the story of His miracles, which made the sufferer hope that she also would be cured. Smith is certainly compelled to recognize that such is indeed the meaning of the passage, but he attempts to put aside its evidence by maintaining that it must be attributed to some reviser of Mark.[1] If it had been primarily a question of healing, he thinks, the woman would not have said "I shall be saved," but "I shall be cured." This observation takes no account of the fact that in many passages "to be saved" has exactly the same meaning as "to be healed" (Mark v. 23, vi. 56; Luke viii. 36-50).

There is here no impropriety of expression, since, according to the current conception of the period, the disease was caused by the action of a demon, from whom the sufferer must be delivered in order to be healed. The phrase attributed to the woman "I shall be saved" does not therefore prove that it was originally a question of anything other than healing.

Smith also supposes that the words "having learned that

[1] Smith, D. vorchr. Jesus.


which concerned Jesus" cannot belong to the primitive text because they have no equivalent either in Matthew or Luke. But these two evangelists give a recension of the passage considerably briefer than that of Mark.

The comparison of the three narratives leads one to think that (as is fairly often the case) there is an abbreviation of the account by Matthew and Luke, and not a development by Mark. That which is found, indeed, only in his narrative is too insignificant to induce us to find a reason for its addition, whilst the single desire to condense a narrative fairly lengthy suffices to explain the form they have adopted. It is therefore not possible to attribute to a subordinate editor the phrase "that which concerned Jesus" as interpreted in the sense "that which Jesus had done."

The passage in Luke xxiv. 19 is not less significant. The story is well known of the two disciples who the day after the death of Jesus reach Emmaus whilst talking over what had just taken place.

Jesus, whom they do not recognize as yet, comes up to them and takes the same road. He asks them what they have been talking about. One of them replies: "You must indeed be a stranger in Jerusalem not to be aware of what has happened in these last few days . . . the matter concerning Jesus of Nazareth."

The matter concerning Jesus of Nazareth can only be the condemnation and execution of the prophet in whom they had placed their hopes. To understand the phrase as referring to some doctrine about Jesus, a divine Being, would be to give it no meaning at all, so Smith is obliged to suppose that the passage has undergone a radical revision. But this is a conjecture which rests upon nothing, and is only put forward for the exigencies of the case.

The expression "that which concerns Jesus" refers, then, to the story, or certain portions of the story, of Jesus. There is no reason to give to this expression any other meaning than in Acts xviii. 25. We must not, then, see in Apollos a Jew who teaches a form of doctrine concerning Jesus which ignores the Gospel history, but a Christian who knows nothing of baptism.


If Smith is thus deprived of the "diamond of inestimable value," the stones which he has attempted to group around it to make a tiara lose very much of their value. We are not, however, for that reason excused from examining them.[1]

There is in the first place the case of Simon the Magician. It is narrated in Acts viii. 9-13 that when Philip came to evangelize Samaria, he met a magician named Simon, enjoying great authority over the population, who considered him the "great power of God." Like other Samaritans, Simon was converted by the preaching of Philip. A little farther on it is narrated that when, after the arrival of Peter and John, Simon learned that by the laying on of hands the apostles conferred the Holy Spirit, he offered money to Peter to receive the same power. Peter rejected his proposal with indignation, and pronounces a malediction upon him. Simon then asks the apostles to pray for him, so that his sin may be pardoned (viii. 18-24). The rapidity of the conversion of Simon and the Samaritans is explained, for Smith, by the fact that they were already won over to ideas very similar to those preached by Philip. They were therefore Christians, although they were strangers to the tradition which it is claimed is connected with an historical Jesus.[2] Smith deduces here from the text something quite other than what it contains. The point is the conversion of Simon and the Samaritans to the gospel preached by Philip,[3] and not the fusion of a group of Simon's followers with the Church which Philip represented—a fusion which would have been determined by recognition of the fact that at bottom the ideas professed by each side were the same.

There are in the second portion of the narrative about Simon many suspicious elements. In it is found a theory concerning the apostolate and the laying on of hands which is not a primitive one, and it is possible to discern, with M. Meyer and M. Alfaric,[4]

[1] We pass over for the moment the case of the disciples of Ephesus, and shall deal with it farther on.

[2] Smith, D. vorchr. Jesus, p. 11.

[3] There is nothing to show that this conversion was more rapid than that of pagans unacquainted with any ideas analogous to those of the Christians.

[4] Meyer, Urspruch und Anf., iii; Prosper Alfaric, Christianisme et Gnosticisme (Rev. Hist., 1924).


an apologetic fiction which shows how the Christian missionaries anticipated the conversion of the Simonian community and prefaced it by that of Simon himself. The first portion of the narrative has quite another value. It reveals the existence in Samaria, at the time of the first mission, of a pre-Christian Gnosticism which perhaps was not without sensible influence on the development of Christian thought.[1] But this Simonian Gnosticism, so far as we can form an idea of it, is not the pre-Christian doctrine that the mythologists imagine, which consisted in worship paid to a divine personage. All that we know concerning the Simonian Gnosticism is its idea of the incarnation in a man, Simon, of the "great power of God."[2] This shows—and it is an extremely valuable indication certain theorists ought not to lose sight of—that the idea of a human being in whom a divine principle incarnated was not in any way a strange idea in the environment in which Christianity was born.

Neither do we recognize an adept of pre-Christianity in the magician Elymas, or Bar-Jesus, a Jewish false prophet whom Paul met at Paphos in the coterie which surrounded Sergius Paulus (Acts xiii. 6-12). Smith interprets the name Bar-Jesus in the sense of "servant or worshipper of Jesus"[3]—a sense which would be plausible if the name of Jesus was not attested as one in current use. It is only by an argument in a vicious circle, in postulating a priori that "Bar-Jesus" is formed from a divine name, that it is possible to find in the episode an argument to support a pre-Christian worship of Jesus.

Smith[4] also lays emphasis on the fact that the pro-consul, not yet initiated into the preaching of the apostles, asks to hear from them "the. word of God" (Acts xiii. 7). It is very evident that the terms of the narrative must be put to the editor's credit. If the pro-consul really expressed the wish to hear Paul and Barnabas, it was not because he saw in them the preachers of a doctrine already known to him, but because they presented themselves as bearers of a divine message.

[1] Alfaric, Rev. Hist., cxlv, 1924.

[2] It seems to us not possible to admit, as some have supposed, that Simon could have been influenced by the teaching of Jesus, as Meyer thinks, and still less that of Paulinism, as Harnack admits.

[3] Smith, D. vorchr. Jesus, p. 16.

[4] Id., ib., p. 22.


The case of the exorcists of Ephesus (Acts xix. 13-20), on which the mythologists also lay stress, has not the signficance they attribute to it. Impressed by the miracles of Paul at Ephesus, seven Jewish exorcists, sons of a priest named Skeuas, attempted to make use of the same formula used successfully by the apostle, and adjured the spirits saying: "I adjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preaches." But the spirit answered them: "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?" And the one possessed fell upon the exorcists and maltreated them.[1] The fact is without significance as regards the existence of a pre-Christian cult of Jesus. It is merely a case of the imitation by outsiders of a formula of exorcism whose efficacy has been observed. This, at any rate, is so in the text as we read it, and nothing authorizes us to suppose that it was otherwise in the original. According to the mythologists, Christianity had no unique source from which it was spread, as Jerusalem. It had several simultaneous sources. Afterwards the memory of this fact was lost, and Christianity was connected with the preaching of Jesus. However, it may still be recognized that Cyprus and Cyrenaica were centres from which Christianity was spread, entirely independent of Jerusalem. According to Acts xi. 20 it was the men of Cyprus and Cyrene who were the first (at Antioch) to preach the gospel to the pagans.[2] But we know (see Acts iv. 36) that a Cypriote, destined later to play an important part at Antioch, was converted to the gospel at Jerusalem, and we learn in the book of Acts (vi. 9) that persons belonging to the synagogue of the Freedmen,[3] and people from Cyrene, Alexandria and Asia, raised violent opposition against Stephen, which proves that the gospel had been preached by him in this synagogue. There is therefore no reason to suppose that it was anywhere other than in Jerusalem, or in the communities which grew out of that of Jerusalem, that the Cypriotes and the Cyrenians who played an active part in the

[1] There are certain incoherences in the account. Sometimes it is a question of one demoniac, sometimes of several. This appears to arise from the fusion of two parallel accounts, and is without importance.

[2] Smith, D. vorchr. Jesus.

[3] Certain critics think that instead of "Freedmen" the phrase should read, "the people of Lybia." In Greek the confusion between the two words is, from the palaeographical point of view, very easy.


early missions were converted to Christianity. This equally applies to a certain Mnason, "a Cypriote and old disciple," who received Paul in his house on the latter's arrival in Jerusalem (Acts xxi. 16), and in whom some have tried to also see an adept of the pre-Christian cult of Jesus.[1] Although he was a Cypriote, he lived in Jerusalem, and in stating that he was an "old disciple" (we are between the years 56 and 58), the editor only desired to indicate that he had long been a Christian.


At the beginning of Chap. xix of the book of Acts it is stated that, after his arrival at Ephesus, Paul met with a group of a dozen disciples who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. "What baptism have ye then received?" he asked. They replied: "That of John." " John," he answered, "baptized with the baptism of repentance in speaking of Him who was to come after, in order that they should believe, that is to say, in Jesus." He then conferred on these disciples the baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus; he laid his hands upon them; they received the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in different tongues and to prophesy (xix. 1-7). In the view of the mythologists these twelve men were, like Apollos himself, pre-Christians, and the facility of their conversion shows how closely their point of view resembled that of Paul himself.[2]

Many critics[3] see in them the disciples of John the Baptist.[4] But the word "disciples," by which these men are designated, is that commonly employed in the Acts for the Christians, and

[1] Smith, D. vorchr. Jesus.

[2] Id., ib.

[3] Reitzenstein, Das iranische Erlösungsmysterium, 1921.

[4] As Reitzenstein shows well in the above work, no objection can be raised against the presence of disciples of John at Ephesus. The fact is that we know nothing about the conditions in which the doctrine of John was spread outside Palestine. We know nothing either of the conditions under which Christianity was carried to Rome. We can especially urge in support of the existence of the disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus the fact that the fourth Gospel in its present form originates at Ephesus, and is a direct polemic against the disciples of John the Baptist. Cp. Baldensperger, Der prolog des vierten Evangeliums; Maurice Goguel, Introd. au N.T., ii, p. 508.


it is not stated that these twelve men received instructions along with baptism. This leads us to suppose that the position of these men must have been similar to that of Apollos. But even if they were really disciples of John the Baptist, no very important conclusions can be drawn from their story.

There are serious reasons for thinking that neither during the life of Jesus nor after His death did the group of His disciples remain out of contact with the Baptist community. The two movements combated and influenced each other reciprocally.

The preaching of Jesus Himself was very strongly influenced at the beginning by John the Baptist. The Gospels present John as the forerunner. According to them, his duty was to announce the arrival of one "greater than himself," whose work would be to impart the baptism of the spirit and of fire (Matt. iii. 11). This last word opens out already an interesting perspective in showing that the thought of the Baptist had already broken through the limits within which it was sought to imprison it. Wellhausen[1] has recognized one source emanating from a group of the Baptist's disciples in the statement about his Messianic teaching which belongs peculiarly to Matthew (iii. 11, 12) and to Luke (iii. 16, 17). Where Mark merely says, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit," Matthew and Luke add "and with fire. He has His fan in His hand, and He shall thoroughly purge His floor. The wheat He shall store in His granary; the chaff He shall burn in everlasting fire." The personage that John the Baptist announces in these words is an Apocalyptic Messiah who pronounces judgment, and it is in view of this judgment that repentance is preached and baptism is administered. Jesus had been in contact with John the Baptist. His first sermon, as it is given by Mark (i. 15) and Matthew (iv. 17) is almost word for word identical with that of John (Matt. iii. 2). Christian tradition, so jealous to maintain the originality and the independence of Jesus, would not have arbitrarily imagined Him as merely re-echoing the teaching of one in whom it only saw a forerunner.

The point upon which Christian teaching, even in the lifetime of Jesus, separated itself from the Baptist's teaching is of capital importance. Whilst for John and his followers "He who

[1] Wellhausen, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, 1911.


is to come" (Matt. xi. 3 and Luke vii. 19)—the Son of man (the idea, if not the word, is at the heart of John's thought)—belongs to the future, for the Christians He has come, although He may not have had all the attributes of power. The fourth Gospel clearly shows this contrast in the way it affirms that John was not the light (i. 8), and makes him declare that he was not the Christ (i. 20), whilst it states, not less categorically, that Jesus is the light (i. 9, iii. 19, viii. 12, xii. 46), and that He is the divine Logos (i. 14), the Son of God (i. 18 and 34, iii. 16, xx. 31, etc.), the Christ (xi. 27, xx. 31).

Reitzenstein[1] has extracted from Mandaean writings an Apocalypse which appears to him slightly posterior[2] to the year 70,[3] and which he believes to originate from John's disciples. A passage of this Apocalypse presents at once an analogy and a striking contrast with the reply of Jesus to the messengers of John, who asked: "Art thou He who should come, or do we look for another?" "Go," declares Jesus, "and tell unto John that which ye see and hear; the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and to the poor the gospel is preached" (Matt. xi. 4, 5; Luke vii. 22). In other words, the Messianic programme of Isaiah (xxxv. 5) is fulfilled.

In the Mandaean Apocalypse the same programme is announced as destined to be fulfilled by the expected Messiah: "Enoch Uthra enters into Jerusalem clothed with clouds; he walks in bodily form, but he has no material clothing. He comes in the years of Paltus [Pilate]. Enoch Uthra comes into the world with the power of the great king of light. He heals the sick, he causes the blind to see, he cleanses the lepers, he straightens those who are bowed, he causes the impotent to walk and the dumb to speak. With the power of the great king of light he brings back the dead to life. Among the Jews he wins over believers and shows unto them there is life, and

[1] Reitzenstein, Das Mandaische Buch des Herrn der Gross und der Evangehenüberlieferung.

[2] It is known that the Mandaean religion, whose character is markedly syncretist, is related to the tradition of the Baptist's disciples.

[3] This date should be received with reservations. See those stated by M. Loisy. From our present point of view, it suffices that the Apocalypse reflects the ideas of John the Baptist, which seems hardly contestable.


there is death, there is error and there is truth. He converts the Jews in the name of the great king of light. Three hundred and sixty prophets go out from Jerusalem; they testify in the name of the Lord of might. Enoch Uthra ascends on high, and places himself near unto Meshumè Kushtra. All the Uthras are hid from the eyes of men. Then shall Jerusalem be laid waste. The Jews shall go forth into exile, and shall be dispersed in all cities."

As thus presented this text does not appear to be homogeneous; it must have been, in certain points, influenced by Christian tradition. It suffices, however, to show that the disciples of John taught as necessary to be fulfilled by the Apocalyptic Messiah the programme that the Christians said had been accomplished by Jesus.

Here is the great difference between the ideas of John the Baptist and those of the Christians. For the first named the coming of the Messiah is in the future; for the second it is in the past, and only His second coming is expected. The difference is a capital one, and suffices to prove that if the two movements were born on the same soil the second cannot be reduced to the first, but appears with reference to it, as though it were an original creation.

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