Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History

By Maurice Goguel (1926)



The preceding chapters have led us to the conclusion that the theology found in the Epistles of the New Testament and in the Apocalypse necessarily presume the existence of the Gospel tradition. It is with this tradition that we have now to deal. But before beginning the direct study of it, we shall find it convenient to examine a theory which, if well founded, would offer in favour of the thesis of the mythologists an argument of great weight: this is the theory which holds that the Gospel narratives—or at least the most important among them—are developed from themes supplied by the Old Testament.

Already had Schelling, in a course of lectures upon the philosophy of art given at the beginning of the last century, observed that the history of Jesus was completely enveloped in fables whose creation and development had been suggested by prophecies in the Old Testament.[1] After him Strauss sought to find in the Old Testament one of the sources of the Gospel myths. After this critics occupied with the history of the Gospel tradition recognized the profound influence exercised upon it by the Old Testament.

Returning to their observations, M. Salomon Reinach has stated in very harsh terms the problem which this contact poses. The solution which he gives of it is distinctly unfavourable to the historical character of the events related in the Gospels. His observations are confined to one particular point, the history of the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, here is the knot of the

[1] Schelling, Sämmliche Werke, 1856, Stuttgart.


problem, for according as one admits or denies the reality of the cross, the historical character of the person of Jesus will be substantiated or will fall to the ground. We may, therefore, confine our observations to this point of capital importance: Is the account of the crucifixion of Jesus the relation of a real fact, or is it derived from the supposed fulfilment of certain prophecies previously read in the Old Testament?

In M. Reinach's opinion,[1] and M. Couchoud entirely shares his point of view,[2] the problem presented is a very simple one. We are in face of a dilemma. Given agreement between a prophecy and a narrative, and two explanations only are possible: Either the prophecy is, in fact, what it is taken to be by orthodox traditional theology—that is, it rests upon a supernatural and anticipated knowledge of events—or the narrative has been suggested, and, so to speak, engendered, by the prophecy, and ought to be considered as totally without value. To admit the first hypothesis would be to accept a dogmatic a priori and consequently to place oneself outside the conditions of historical research.

Are we, therefore, forced to accept the second alternative, and to conclude that all the portions of Gospel history in which the recognition of the fulfilment of prophecies is possible are of a purely mythical character, even including those in which the Gospel tradition itself has recognized them? First of all must be noted the conditions in which the prophetic argument first appeared and developed in early Christianity.[3] Before everything else there existed an apologetic method of which the Christian missionaries made use. The history of Jesus bewildered the Jews, so contrary was it to the way in which they conceived the Messiah. The cross of Jesus had been to Paul the object which prevented his belief in what the Christians said about Him. That which was true of Paul was certainly also true of all those who had received a similar education. The Jew Tryphon is prepared to yield to Justin's argument claiming to prove by scriptural demonstration that the Messiah is called

[1] Salomon Reinach, OrpheusLe verset 17 du Psaume xxii: Bossuet et l'argument des propheties, etc.

[2] Couchoud, Le Mystère de Jésus, p. 49, etc.

[3] See concerning this subject the interesting studies of Weidel, also of Feigel; also compare with Nicolardot, Les procédés de redaction des trois premiers evangelistes.


upon to suffer,[1] but he absolutely refuses to admit that the Christ had perished by the infamous punishment of the cross. In his eyes, as in those formerly of Paul, the phrase of Deuteronomy remains an invincible obstacle: "Cursed be he who is hung on a tree" (xxi. 23).

Says Tryphon: "Your pretended Christ was without honour and without glory, to such a degree that He was under the most extreme malediction of the Law—He was crucified!" (Dialogues, xxxii. 3). Again he writes: "We are aware, accepting the argument of Justin, that the Christ must suffer . . . but that He had to be crucified, that He had to die a death of such a degree of shame and dishonour—a death cursed by the Law—prove this to us, for we are totally unable to conceive it" (xc. 1, lxxxix. 2, xciii. 4).

Tryphon was no exception. He represented a point of view which had already evolved towards the idea of a suffering Messiah.[2] Before his time the passage in Isaiah (Chap. liii) had not yet been connected with the Messiah.[3] It is impossible to say precisely if Christian ideas did not influence Judaism on this point. At all events, what is found in the pre-Christian period concerning the efficacy of suffering is at the most merely the germ of later developments.[4] The idea of the redeeming utility of suffering concerning the martyrs of the time of Antiochus Epiphanius is found in the second book of the Maccabees,

[1] (Dialogues lxxvi. 6 and lxxxix. 2). Justin does not confine himself to invoking the Scriptures to fix the meaning of the death of Jesus. He makes use of them, also the very fact of the death (see Apol., i, 35), where he invokes the testimony of Psalm xxii.

[2] Schürer writes that it is "impossible to deny that in the second century of our era certain Jewish circles were familiar with the idea of a Messiah suffering to expiate the sins of men."

[3] Referring to the idea of the Messiah's sufferings in the period following, see Dalman. See also Volz, Jüdische Eschatologie von Daniel bis Akiba. It should be noted, however, that even at the period where the idea of the suffering Messiah is commonly met with in Judaism, interpretations are given to Isaiah (Chap. liii) which do not relate to the Messiah. Origen, for example, cites, in his work Contra Celsum, the opinion of a Jew who referred the prophecy to the Jewish people, obliged to suffer and be dispersed in the world so that many proselytes might be won over.

[4] We do not attach much importance to the idea found in a passage of the fourth book of Esdras, where it is stated that the Messiah must die after reigning 400 years. There is no question there of expiation.


especially in the celebrated episode of the death of the mother and of her seven sons: "As for me, said the last of them, like my brothers, I give my body and my life for the laws of my fathers, praying to God to show mercy quickly to my people. May the anger of the Most High, justly incited by our race, be ended at my and my brother's death" (2 Macc. vii. 37, 38). The same idea is found in the fourth book of the Maccabees, which dates from the first century of our era. At the point of expiring, the martyr Eleazar addresses this prayer to God: "Have compassion upon my people; for their sake be satisfied with my punishment! Make of my blood a means of purification, and accept my life for their ransom" (4 Macc. vi. 29).

Notwithstanding the interest and importance of the indications to be gleaned in these and some other texts, it is only possible to recognize in them materials which have been utilized later in the elaboration of a doctrine of the Messianic sufferings. But this doctrine did not exist in the Judaism of the first century, and it is this fact which made the task of the Christian apologists and missionaries a difficult one.

The problem presented to Justin was presented from the first days of the life of the Church. A considerable effort must have been made to discover in the Scriptures a demonstration of the necessity of the Messianic sufferings. To find this must have required a quite special acquaintance with the prophecies. The apostle Paul explains that if the Jews did not find in the Scriptures the same thing as the Christians, it was because, while reading Moses, they had a veil over their intelligence (2 Cor. iii. 15, 16). When the disciples met with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, it was necessary for Him to "open up to them the Scriptures" (Luke xxiv. 32). While commencing with Moses, He expounded to them everything in the prophetic writings concerning Himself, as well as the necessity for the Christ to suffer to enter into His glory (xxiv. 26, 27). The concept of the sufferings and the death of the Messiah, which the Christians had so great a need to discover in the Old Testament, was therefore, by their own admission, only contained there in such an obscure manner that a special capacity was required to find it. This renders the hypothesis that the Scriptures suggested the idea of the crucifixion of the Messiah one of very small a priori probability.



The problem of the relations between prophecy and the Gospel history is not so simple as the dilemma formulated by M. Salomon Reinach would suppose. It is convenient, we think, to distinguish between several cases.

1. Creations due to Prophetic Exegesis.

There is first of all among these a series which support M. Reinach's theory. These are the episodes or details which for the main part are only found in the youngest Gospel narratives. If the influence of prophecy does not suffice to explain them completely, it certainly appears to have taken some part in their genesis. It will suffice to mention here some examples:

The most ancient tradition seems to have considered Jesus the son of Joseph.[1] The idea of the supernatural birth, as it is found developed in Matthew (i. 18), arises partly from the application to Mary and her Son of the passage in the prophet Isaiah (vii. 14), thus phrased in the Septuagint version: "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son"—a prophecy whose realization is emphasized by Matthew[2] (i. 22, etc.) in the narrative of the birth of Jesus.

Similarly, primitive tradition represented Jesus as a Galilean, born at Nazareth; but as a prophecy of Micah (v. i) had announced that the Messiah would be born in Judea, it was found necessary to put history in harmony with it. Matthew and Luke

[1] This idea is presumed, in their primitive form, by the genealogies given by Matthew and Luke. Compare the Syriac version of Sinai of Matt. i. 1-16: "Joseph, to whom the Virgin Mary was betrothed, will beget a. son." This reading is supported by certain manuscripts of the old Latin version. Neither John nor Paul make the slightest reference to a supernatural birth. (See M. Goguel, Introd. au N.T., I, p. 469.)

[2] The Hebrew text has a word which signifies "young woman" and not "virgin." It has no relation whatever to the Messiah. The prophecy of Isaiah relates to the deliverance of Jerusalem, besieged by the king of Syria. A sign is given to Achaz—a young woman will become enceinte, and (it is announced to the king) before the child is born and "knows how to reject evil and choose the good" (that is to say, in a very short time) "the country whose two kings thou fearest shall be abandoned."


have done this in two different ways, which, besides, are not to be reconciled with each other. Matthew[1] states that after His birth the parents of Jesus went to reside at Nazareth to flee from the wrath of Herod and his heirs (ii. 19-23). Luke affirms that the parents of Jesus resided at Nazareth, but that Jesus was born at Bethlehem, where His parents had come upon the occasion of the census taken by Quirinius (ii. 1-39).

In the gospel of the infancy it is also possible to instance the flight into Egypt as having a prophetic origin (Matt. ii. 13-15), fulfilling the words of Hosea, which in the original text related to the people of Israel and not to the Messiah: "Out of Egypt have I called My Son." There is also to be noted in this connection the massacre of the innocents (Matt. ii. 16-18), in which the evangelist saw the fulfilment of the words of Jeremiah (xxxi. 15).

2. Modifications due to Prophetic Exegesis.

Sometimes prophetic exegesis has only caused the modification or the addition of one detail. Thus Matthew (xxi. 14-16) records that after He had driven the dealers out of the Temple Jesus was the object of an ovation on the part of the children. This detail was certainly suggested by the words of the Psalm (viii. 3): "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast called forth praise." Certain details of the history of the Passion must have the same origin. Mark (xiv. 11) and Luke (xxii. 5) relate that the chief priests promised Judas a sum of money if he would deliver Jesus to them. Matthew (xxvi. 15) specifies that the sum was thirty pieces of silver, and he later (xxvii. 3-10) relates that Judas, seeing how events had happened, returns to the chief priests and the elders to say, "I have sinned in delivering up the blood of the innocent," and he then flings the thirty pieces on the floor of the Temple and goes out to hang himself. The priests decide that this money, being the price of blood, cannot be paid into the treasury, so they employ it in the purchase of a plot of ground belonging to a potter, to be a burial-ground for foreigners. Matthew himself reveals the origin of this story by saying: "Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: they took

[1] By the way, he finds in the arrival of Jesus at Nazareth the fulfilment of a prophecy (ii. 23).


the thirty pieces of silver—the price of Him who was valued by the people of Israel—and gave them for the potter's field as the Lord had commanded me."[1]

Mark relates how, at the moment when Jesus is to be crucified, He is offered aromatic vinegar to drink. The women of Jerusalem were in the habit of giving to condemned persons a stupefying drink to attenuate their sufferings.[2] Matthew (xxvii. 34), remembering doubtless a passage in the Psalms, "they made me to eat gall" (lxix. 22), has substituted "gall" for the aromatic drink, and has thus changed the significance of the detail.

In Luke (xxiii. 6-16) the episode of the appearance of Jesus before Herod—an episode whose historical character cannot possibly be admitted[3]—probably owes its origin not only to the memory of the hostility which Herod had shown to Jesus in Galilee (Luke xiii. 31-3), but also to the words of the psalmist: "The kings of the earth and the great ones have assembled together against the Lord and against His Anointed" (Psa. ii. 2), the great ones being represented by the Jewish authorities and Pilate. Herod has been added to them to fulfil more completely the prophecy. Two of the phrases on the cross which do not belong to the most ancient tradition (since Luke is the only one to record them) have their origin in prophecy. It is said of the Servant of the Eternal, "He interceded for the guilty" (Isa. liii. 12). Luke attributes to the crucified Jesus this prayer: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"[4] (xxiii. 24); and at the moment where Mark (xv. 37) and Matthew

[1] This passage is not found in Jeremiah. It is borrowed from Zechariah (xi. 12) with the addition of some details taken from Jeremiah (xviii. 2, xxxii. 6).

[2] This custom, attested by the Talmud (Wünsche), may originate in a passage in Proverbs: "Give strong liquors to him who perishes and wine to him who has bitterness of soul. Let him drink and forget his poverty and let him no more remember his pain" (Wünsche, Neue Beiträge zur Erläntenung der Evangelien, etc.).

[3] Indeed, one cannot imagine how the Procurator, so jealous of his authority, could have recognized, even as an exceptional thing, any right of jurisdiction to Herod at Jerusalem.

[4] There is, furthermore, reason to doubt the primitive character of this sentence in Luke. The verse 34 of Chap. xxiii is lacking, in fact, in certain good texts (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Codex Cantabrigiensis, and others), and no reason, can be seen to explain its suppression.


(xxvii. 50) relate that Jesus expired in giving a loud cry, Luke puts into His mouth the sentence, inspired direct from the Psalms (xxxi. 6): "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (xxiii. 46).

In John's Gospel the episode of the spear-thrust (xix. 31-7) fulfils that which the Law prescribed regarding the paschal lamb, whose bones must not be broken (Exod. xii. 10-46; Num. ix. 12; cp. Psa. xxxiv. 21). The evangelist remarks: "This was done in order that the Scripture should be fulfilled: A bone of His shall broken" (xix. 36, 37). The influence of prophecy may have also reacted upon certain narratives of the common tradition. The forty days' fast in the desert (Mark i. 13; Matt. iv. 2; Luke iv. 2) suggest, notwithstanding the different circumstances, the forty days which Moses passed before the Lord (Exod. xxiv. 18 and xxxiv. 28), or the forty years during which the Israelites ate manna in the desert (Exod. xvi. 35).[1] The idea of the Spirit descending upon Jesus at the moment of baptism (Mark i. 10; Matt. iii. 16; Luke iii. 22; cp. John i. 32, 33) might have as its origin the passage in Isaiah, "The Spirit of God shall rest upon Him" (xi. 2). It is not impossible that the crucifixion of the two robbers (Mark xv. 27) may have been suggested by Isaiah (liii. 12), "He was numbered among the transgressors."[2] With the cases which we have been citing may be compared those where some distortion or adaptation of certain narratives has taken place under the influence of a prophecy.

In the account of the entry into Jerusalem the four evangelists represent the ovation made to Jesus in the form of the Messianic acclamation in Psa. cxviii. 25, 26.

[1] The accounts of the temptation in Matthew and Luke abound with citations from the Old Testament. It is not, however, certain that they are creations of prophetic exegesis. They must evidently be taken for symbolical narratives, which leads one to consider what the influence of the Old Testament could have been upon Jesus Himself.

[2] Luke (xxii. 37) certainly quotes this passage, but not directly concerning the crucifixion of the two thieves. The account we mention has been considered from antiquity as proved, that in certain manuscripts of Mark there is to be read: "Thus was fulfilled the word of the Scripture: He was numbered among the transgressors"—a version which it is impossible to consider as primitive (Mark xv. 28).


The announcement of the treachery of Judas seems to have been made during a repast, because a passage in Psa. xli. 10[1] has been taken literally: "He who has eaten My bread has raised his heel against Me." Mark states that Jesus during the meal declared: "One of you will betray Me—he who dips his hand with Me into the dish." Matthew relates this, presenting the episode in the form "he who dips his hand with Me into the dish" as an act actually performed at that very moment, introducing in this way into the account the designation of the traitor. Luke also refers to a gesture; his account, however, does not involve the personal designation of the traitor. John has combined the two traditions, placing side by side a public announcement of the treachery (xiii. 18-22) with a designation of the traitor Judas in words spoken aside (verses 23-6). After this Judas, into whom Satan had entered, rises from the table according to the request which Jesus had made to him to do quickly that which he had to do (verses 27-30). The Synoptic Gospels, which all agree in presuming that Judas was present at the beginning of the evening, do not state that he left Jesus and His companions. Nevertheless, at the Mount of Olives he is at the head of those who come to arrest Jesus. His departure is too important for tradition to allow it to pass without a word.[2] In its primitive form the tradition could not have presumed the presence of Judas, and it is perhaps the fact of his absence at this time which gave substance to the suspicions that Jesus must have had, and which revealed to Him the knowledge that the circle of His enemies was closing up around Him, and that He would no longer be able to escape them. It is because the expression borrowed from the psalmist had been taken literally that the presence of Judas at the last repast has been presumed.

The account of the insults which the passers-by threw at

[1] R. Bultmann seems to us to go too far in explaining the formation of the accounts concerning Judas to the influence of this psalm. The tradition, which plainly tends to glorify the apostles, would not have imagined the betrayal by one of them of Jesus (Geschichte der evangelischen Tradition).

[2] John is so much aware of this importance that he expressly mentions the departure of Judas, and takes the trouble to explain why this departure did not surprise the other disciples (xiii. 27-30).


Jesus when crucified (see Mark, Matthew and Luke) betrays by the use of certain words[1] the influence of Psa. xxii. 8; and Matthew has emphasized this by introducing the words which recall verse 9 of the same psalm: "He trusted in God; let God deliver Him now if He will have Him" (xxvii. 43). Nevertheless the entire scene cannot have its sole origin in the psalm.

The episode of the vinegar given to Jesus at the moment He was about to expire is important to consider. Mark recounts that after Jesus had cried out, "Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachtanei?" certain among those present said, "He is calling upon Elias"; another, soaking a sponge with vinegar and offering it to Him, said: "Let be; let us see if Elias will deliver Him." This scene is enigmatical in that it attributes contradictory sentiments to those standing by—the derision implied in the sneer about Elias and the pity which inspired the gesture of the one who offered the sponge. Vinegar was the usual beverage of the soldiers, and Jesus was only offered some in order to procure Him some slight relief. The intervention of the second soldier tends to hinder the compassionate gesture of the first. Matthew (xxvii. 47-9) has here slightly modified the account of Mark, and in so doing he has transformed the significance of the scene. It is one of those who had uttered the sarcasm who offers the vinegar to Jesus. His action thus becomes a gesture of derision, and that is probably because Matthew had been influenced by the passage in Psa. Ixix. 22: "To assuage my thirst, they made me drink vinegar."[2]

In John's Gospel (xix. 28, 29) the episode is transformed under the influence of the prophecy. At the moment He was about to expire, Jesus said, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "I thirst"[3]; it is then that He is offered a sponge soaked in vinegar.

Let us point out another detail. Both Mark and Matthew state that during the crucifixion the women stood looking on some distance away. To the women Luke adds the friends of

[1] See Mark xv. 29; Matt. xxvii. 39; Luke xxiii. 35.

[2] In the Gospel of Peter (xvi) it is evidently with the object of magnifying the sufferings of Jesus that He is made to drink vinegar mixed with gall.

[3] The evangelist seems to think of this passage in Psa. xxii. 16: "My strength is dried up like clay and my tongue cleaves to the palate."


Jesus, possibly to avoid the appearance of the disciples being disinterested in the fate of their Master, but doubtless also under the influence of two passages in the Psalms: "My friends and my acquaintances forsake me . . . my kindred remain apart" (xxxviii. 12) and "Thou hast removed my friends far from me"[1] (lxxx. 9).

The examples just cited bring into prominence the fact that prophecy suggested, or at least influenced, certain Gospel narratives. We must now consider another series of facts in which the influence of prophecy does not seem to us in any way to exclude historical veracity.


In certain instances the influence of the Old Testament has been exercised, not on the narratives, but on the facts themselves, by inspiring certain actions, sentiments, or sayings of Jesus. His thought and His pity were nourished by the Old Testament, particularly by the prophecies and the Psalms. He was constantly inspired by them, and devoted Himself to fulfilling the programme which He there found traced out. In the oldest account of the baptism of Jesus—that in the Gospel of Mark—there is a reference to a vision of Jesus when He acquires the belief of being the Son of God.[2] It is Jesus who sees the clouds opening and who hears the celestial words. It is not astonishing that the experience then realized by Him was expressed in a phrase inspired by various passages of the

[1] Perhaps it is convenient to mention, to complete these remarks, certain rather superficial resemblances which the evangelists do not appear to have noticed—for example, the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus (Psa. xxvii. 12, xxxv. n, cix. 2). This is a detail which naturally had its place in the narrative of the sufferings of an innocent person. We may also mention the silence of Jesus before His judges (cp. Isa. liii. 7; Psa. xxxviii. 14, 15). Besides, the silence of Jesus is not complete. Even the Gospel of Peter, which expressly lays emphasis on it, relates one remark of Jesus spoken on the cross (xix).

[2] In Matthew and Luke the vision becomes an objective revelation for the people. Its evolution in John is still more advanced when the scene of the baptism is replaced by a sign given to John the Baptist, who states who it is whose coming he had announced without recognition.


Old Testament, particularly by the verse of Psa. ii. 7: "Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee."[1]

In several episodes, as in the preaching of Jesus at Nazareth (Luke iv. 16-30) and the reply to the messengers of John the Baptist (Matt. xi. 2-6 and Luke vii. 18-23), the ministry of Jesus is expressly portrayed as the accomplishment of the Messianic programme in Isaiah (xxxv. 5, lviii. 6, lxi. i, 2). If it be granted that Jesus was persuaded He was called by God to carry on His work and to be His Messiah (with which important point we shall deal later), then these episodes explain themselves, and there is no necessity at all to attribute a purely literary origin to them. The narrative of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is the staging of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Be joyful, O daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King cometh unto thee, just and victorious. He is humble and rideth upon an ass—upon an ass and the foal of an ass" (Zech. ix. 9).

Doubtless Matthew has exaggerated (xxi. 8) in speaking of a great multitude who acclaimed Jesus. Mark has the Greek word which may signify "some," and it is probable that it was solely from the little band who accompanied Jesus that the ovation came.

The incident must have passed almost unobserved, and this it is which explains the absence of any allusion to it either in the contests of Jesus with the Scribes and Pharisees or in the account of His trial. Jesus was inspired by the idea of the humble and gentle Messiah which He found in Zechariah, and so He organized His entry into the Holy City to make of it the fulfilment of the prophet's words.

The purification of the Temple, as recounted in Mark, rests upon the contrast of two prophetic texts—that of Isa. lvi. 7, which portrays the Temple as a house of prayer for all nations, and that of Jer. vii. 11, which accused the Jews of having made of it a den of thieves. To grant that Jesus was more

[1] In passing may be noted the influence of 2 Sam. vii. 14, and for the explanation of the term "well beloved" that of Isa. xlv. 4. What is said concerning the baptism may be repeated in regard to the phrase which accompanies the Transfiguration (Mark ix. 7, etc.), where the partial influence of Deut. xviii. 15 and Isa. xlv. 4 may be observed. It should, however, be noted that the history of the Transfiguration, as we possses it, appears to be the end of a fairly complex evolution.


impressed by these two texts, and forced to act by the words in the Psalm (lxix. 10), "The zeal for Thine house hath eaten me up," which the fourth Gospel (ii. 17) quotes in reference, is more natural than to suppose that these texts have only been remarked and illustrated by tradition.[1] The reply of Jesus to the adjuration of the high priest, "Ye shall see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming upon the clouds of heaven" (Mark xiv. 62; cp. Matt. xxvi. 64 and Luke xxii. 69), is inspired directly from Daniel (vii. 13). This reply is no creation of tradition, but an authentic declaration of Jesus, for the idea of resurrection upon the third, or after three days (current in primitive Christianity), is not found in it. What is found is the idea of the return upon the clouds of heaven—an idea doubtless often met with in the most ancient Church, but which was never separated from faith in the resurrection.

Finally we shall cite a last example characteristic of the influence of the Old Testament on Jesus Himself. At the moment He was about to expire upon the cross He gave expression to the despair filling His soul by the sentence borrowed from Psa. xxii.: "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and the words were spoken in Aramean (Mark xv. 34 and Matt. xxvi. 40). Although it is not possible to know—given the absence of friends or disciples of Jesus from the foot of the cross—how the memory of these words could have been preserved, we are unable to see in them a creation of Christian tradition. Indeed, they express an idea (that of Jesus abandoned by God) which is quite opposed to the way the Ancient Church conceived the relations between Jesus and God. Tradition may have preserved such a phrase, but it is impossible to imagine that it invented it. John has not repeated it, and Luke himself has replaced this exclamation of despair by a declaration of perfect and filial abandonment to the divine hand: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (xxiii. 46).

[1] It cannot be objected against the historical veracity of the incident of the purification of the Temple that the intervention of Jesus had no direct serious consequences for Him, whilst, nevertheless, it was a provocation offered to the Jewish authorities. The latter, indeed, could not reprove Jesus for what was a proof of zeal for the Temple. Indirectly, however, the censure of the authorities implied in the action of Jesus must have had its influence upon the measures taken against Him later.



There is still a third series of facts to examine. These are the facts in which the correspondence of the Gospel record with the Old Testament has only been noticed "a posteriori" during a secondary stage of the Gospel tradition. Its discovery took place during the course of the search for proofs drawn from the Old Testament, which the necessities of apologetic defence at an early date imposed upon the preachers of the Gospel. In these cases also the concordance of history with prophecy is not a proof of their non-historical character. The agreement, besides, most frequently only extends to general features, and possesses nothing very characteristic.

Matthew is particularly given to recognizing the fulfilment of prophecies in the Gospel history. In the cures made by Jesus at Capernaum (viii. 16, 17) he finds the accomplishment of the words of Isaiah (liii. 4): "He took upon Himself our infirmities and bore the burden of our diseases." (In the way Matthew cites this passage of Isaiah there is no trace of expiatory or substitutionary suffering.) The cures of the demoniacs also fulfil Isaiah (xlii. 1-4). The theory of parables[1] is based upon Isa. vi. 9, 10 and upon Psa. lxxviii. 2—texts which are not cited by Mark in this connection.

Sometimes it is at a period prior to the composition of Mark's Gospel that the interpretation of history by prophecy is made. This is the case, for instance, in the application of the prophecy of Isaiah (xl. 3) to John the Baptist (see Mark i. 3; Matt. iii. 3; Luke iii. 4; John i. 23), or that of Malachi (iii. i) (see Mark i. 2; Matt. xi. 10; Luke vii. 27).

It is naturally to the history of the Passion (the first part of the Gospel history which may have been compiled, and that which manifestly had the greatest importance for Christians) that it was specially sought to apply prophetic interpretation.

[1] The idea that the parable was a method in use by Jesus to disguise His thought from non-initiates must be regarded as a creation by tradition or by Mark (iv. 11, 12). This theory owes its origin to the idea that if Jesus was not understood it is because He did not desire to be understood. In reality the parable was a method of exposition adapted to the popular audiences to whom Jesus appealed.


It frequently happens that a text from the prophets or the Psalms describes a situation of a fairly general character—for instance, that of the righteous man surrounded by enemies who puts his trust in God and is cruelly maltreated. We should not be able, however, to conclude from the comparisons made by the primitive Church between these facts and the sufferings of Jesus that the idea itself of these sufferings was found in the Psalms or the prophets. The passage is familiar in which Plato paints the lot of the persecuted upright man, maltreated and finally nailed to the cross (Plato, Republic). No one, however, would dream of deriving the history of the Passion from the text of the Republic. The Christians who read the Old Testament with the conviction that the history of Jesus was foreshadowed there did not fail to note that what was said of the persecuted righteous man applied admirably to Jesus. Their attention had been particularly drawn to Psa. xxii., of which Jesus upon the cross had cited a verse. They did not fail to emphasize in the records which they gave of the Passion the similitudes—in their eyes providential—which they discovered therein.

A very simple criterion enables us to recognize these harmonies established a posteriori and to distinguish them from those which are explicable as history evolved from a prophecy. In the latter the concordance is perfect, starting from the oldest accounts, and it is generally emphasized by a quotation. On the other hand, when the harmony between the prophecy and the story has only been recognized after the fact, as a rule it is only by degrees that it has gained precision. It is possible to follow the progress of the assimilation by comparing the various forms of the tradition with each other. One example will illustrate our point. Mark (xv. 24) states that after Jesus had been crucified the soldiers who had carried out the sentence shared His garments among them, drawing lots for them.[1] In ancient times the clothing of the victims belonged to the executioners[2]; there is, therefore, in the detail given nothing out of the ordinary, and the first narrators who related it merely desired to illustrate their story by a concrete detail. Later on it was observed that

[1] Matthew (xxvii. 35) and Luke (xxiii. 34) say the same thing.

[2] Fulda, Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung.


in Psa. xxii. the righteous man persecuted had said: "They parted my garments among them and drew lots for my vesture"; and thus had a detail of the story of the Passion been prophesied by the psalmist. Matthew, who, as we have recalled, attached so much importance to the realization of the prophecies in the Gospel story, had not yet remarked this concordance, since he makes no reference to the psalm.[1] The fourth evangelist has not only noticed and emphasized the words of the psalmist, but what is more, referring the two parallel expressions of the psalm to two different actions, he has made a distinction between the drawing of lots for the robe[2] and the sharing of the garments, justifying the procedure by the fact that the robe of Jesus was without any seam[3] (John xix. 23-4). Complete harmony with the prophecy only exists here at the end of the development of the record. It would have been entirely different if the episode had been inspired from the words in the psalm. The problem of the relation between prophecy and the Gospel history thus appears, when we attempt to get close to the subject, vastly more complex than the dilemma formulated by M. Reinach would assume.


Let us now leave aside the problem of the general relation between history and prophecy in order to examine the essential thesis stated by M. Reinach[4] and endorsed by M. Couchoud.[5] Their thesis is that in Psalm xxii the idea of the crucifixion is

[1] One is unable, indeed, to consider as authentic the received text which adds at the end of Matthew's account, "In order that it might be fulfilled as spoken by the prophet, they parted my garments among them and drew lots for my robe." This reading is only attested by certain Western manuscripts based upon certain forms of the Latin, Syrian and Armenian versions. It is an addition which comes from John xix. 24.

[2] Just as Matthew (xxi. 7), interpreting Zechariah literally, represents Jesus as riding upon an ass and on its foal at the same time (Zech. ix. 9).

[3] Similar to the robe of the high priests (Josephus, Antiquities iii). The seamless robe of the high priest may have its origin in the interpretation of Leviticus. It is possible the fourth evangelist may hint here at speculations analogous to those made by Philo concerning the sacerdotal robe which is assimilated to the Logos (De profugiis, 20).

[4] Salomon Reinach, Le verset 17 du Psaume xxii.

[5] Couchoud, Mystère de Jésus. M. Couchoud does not seem to know M. Reinach's works, since he does not quote them.


found, and particularly in verse 17, as given in the Septuagint version: "A crowd of dogs encircled me; a band of malefactors surrounded me. They pierced my hands and my feet."[1]

If this passage of the psalmist were really the source of the belief in the crucifixion of the Messiah, it is surprising that it has not been cited in connection with the event before the time of Justin Martyr.[2] But this is not all, nor is it even the essential point. If we look at the totality of the tradition we find that the Psalm xxii was first applied to Jesus in an Aramean context, since Mark (xv. 34) and Matthew (xxvii. 46) relate that it was in Aramean that Jesus when on the cross cried aloud: "Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabachthanei"—that is, "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?"[3] Now, in the Hebraic text of the psalm no allusion to the crucifixion is to be discovered. The Palestinian tradition knew of no interpretation which referred to it, since Aquila, Symmachus and Jerome have translated by "they have bound" the words which the Septuagint has rendered by "they have pierced."[4] It was, therefore, only at a secondary stage of the evolution of the tradition that it was possible to discover in this psalm a passage relating to the punishment of the cross.

Would it have been discovered if it had not been known in advance that it must have been there—that is, if the very idea

[1] The Hebrew text, very probably corrupted, runs: "A band of scoundrels prowls around me, as a lion to seize my hands and my feet." The "Bible du Centenaire" gives up the translation of the last line and has the following note: "The text runs: 'like a lion my hands and my feet,' which yields no acceptable meaning. The ancient versions run: 'they have pierced (Greek), or they have bound (Hebraic Psalmbook of Jerome), or they have insulted (second version, Aquila, Midrasch) my hands and my feet.' These read therefore 'kâ'rou' instead of 'kâ'ari' (like a lion). This verb in any case cannot mean 'they have pierced,' as the current version has it."

[2] Justin Martyr (I Apol., 35) is the first author who has applied Psalm xxii. 17 to the story of the Passion. In the New Testament are to be found several citations or reminiscences of this psalm; none relates either directly or indirectly to the story of the Passion. We have already pointed out the influence exerted by the psalm on certain details of the story of the crucifixion.

[3] It is not possible to explain this fact as an effort of the narrator to give his account an archaic colour, since the use of the Aramaic language is confirmed by the fact that the soldiers believed Jesus had invoked Elijah.

[4] See Loisy, Revue d'histoire et de littérature religieuses, 1913.


of the crucifixion had not been anterior to the interpretation of the psalm? MM. Reinach and Couchoud have no doubt of it. The reading of the psalm does not appear to confirm their opinion. In its entirety Psa. xxii is the cry of anguish from a man surrounded by enemies and threatened from every quarter. His situation seems desperate, but notwithstanding he still hopes and places his confidence in God. He recalls the deliverance formerly accorded by Jehovah: "Thou dost inhabit the sanctuary. Thou art the glory of Israel. In Thee did our fathers trust. They had confidence and Thou didst deliver them. They cried unto Thee and were saved. They put their trust in Thee and were not deceived" (verses 4-6). In the verses which follow (7- 9) the wretched man describes his misery, and then gives his reasons to hope: "Yea, it is Thou who hast brought me forth from the womb of my mother. . . . Go not far from me, for I am in tribulation. Come nigh unto me, for there is none to help me."[1] (See verses 10-12.)

After the verses 13-19, which describe the situation of the afflicted one, there comes an invocation to Jehovah: "But Thou, Jehovah, be not far from me! Thou art my strength; hasten to help me! Deliver my life from the sword. My only Good,[2] (deliver me) from the dog.[3] Save me from the jaw of the lion." (See verses 20-2.)

The psalm ends in the praise of Jehovah, who has delivered the one who called upon Him: "I will proclaim Thy name unto my brethren, and will praise Thee in the midst of the congregation. Ye who fear Jehovah praise Him. . . . Let all the race of Israel tremble before Him. For He has not spurned nor rejected the prayer of the afflicted; neither has He turned away His face from him" (verses 23-5).

If the desire had been to interpret in one narrative the subject-matter of the psalm, one would have spoken of an afflicted man threatened by his enemies, but whom God marvellously protects

[1] That is to say, "Thou hast adopted me from my birth." He who received the new-born child on his knees (whether natural or adopted father) recognized the child as his own by that fact (see Gen. l. 23; cp. Gen. xlviii. 12 and Job iii. 12).

[2] Poetical expression signifying the life, the soul (see Psa. xxxv. 17).

[3] Literally, "against the hand of the dog." (This note and the two preceding it are borrowed from the Bible du Centenaire.)


from their assaults. Without doubt it may be understood that the deliverance means the resurrection, and this is what Messianic exegesis has done. But would this interpretation be given unless the reading of this psalm was begun with the conviction that in it was related the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus? Besides, do the words "they have pierced my hands and my feet" constitute a very distinct allusion to the crucifixion? When the cross is referred to, there are brought into prominence the two notions of hanging and exposure on the cross. The fixing of hands and feet by means of nails did not itself cause death—it was only an accessory to the punishment. Furthermore, it is by no means certain that the hands of the victim were always fixed by nails; as for the feet, it is more doubtful still. The archaeologist, Victor Schultze, writes: "As regards the means employed (the cross properly so called), stake or gibbet, and for the method of attaching the victim thereto, the executioners seem to have had the greatest liberty allowed. Ropes alone were used, or ropes and nails. In these latter cases sometimes the hands only, and sometimes hands and feet, were fixed by nails."[1] Dom Leclercq, whom no one will suspect of treating tradition with lack of respect, writes: "The condemned approached the gibbet, to which he was bound, his hands to the cross-piece and his feet placed upon a small board." As for nails, the learned Benedictin does not even mention them.[2] In fact, the most ancient Gospel tradition makes no mention of nails. There is a reference to them for the first time in the Johannine account of the Resurrected One,[3] Thomas having said: "Unless I see in His hands[4] the marks of the nails, and unless I put my hand into His side, I will not believe." Jesus invites him to put his finger into His hands and his hand into His

[1] Von Schultze, article "Kreuz, Kreuzigung," Real Encyclop. Protestantische Théologie.

[2] Dom Leclercq, article "Croix," Dict. d'Archéologie Chrétienne, Paris, 1914. In the article "Clous," of the same dictionary, Dom Leclercq makes no reference to nails of the cross either.

[3] In Luke xxiv. 39 the Resurrected One says to the disciples, frightened of His apparition, thinking they are in presence of a ghost: "See My hands and My feet. It is I—feel Me and see. A spirit has not flesh and blood as ye see I have." It is not a question of the recognition of Jesus as the crucified, but to notice that it is a real being before them.

[4] This text does not speak of the feet.


(Jesus') side (John xx. 25-7). The wounds in the hands appear then, at the same phase of the tradition as the wound in the side—in other words, as one of the latest elements of the Johannine narrative.[1] There is also a reference to nails in the hands found in the Gospel of Peter (xxi), but no mention of nails in the feet is found before Justin Martyr (Apol., i, 35).[2]

If the history of the Passion had as its principal source a passage where it is a question of pierced hands and feet, it would be very strange, it must be admitted, that no mention of nails in the hands is found before the fourth evangelist[3] nor of nails in the feet before Justin Martyr.[4]

From these considerations it cannot be admitted that the story of the crucifixion has been drawn from verse 17 of Psalm xxii. It is only after the event that this text was related to the story of the cross. As for the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, which has so greatly influenced Christian thought and piety, it cannot either be considered as one of the sources of the idea of the death of the Messiah and of the accounts dealing with it. Let us first of all remember what has already been pointed out, that it was only after the beginning of the Christian era, and under conditions which do not permit us to exclude a priori the possibility of the influence of Christian ideas, that this chapter was interpreted as relating to the Messiah. In several passages of the New Testament it inspired the interpretation given of the death of Christ, either by supplying the terms employed as in 1 Pet. ii. 22-5, or in Acts viii. 32, etc., where the instructions given by Philip to the Ethiopian queen's eunuch take the form of a commentary upon Isa. liii. 7, 8, or, again, where this text has inspired in a more general way the formulas employed in John i. 29-36, Rom. iv. 25, and 1 Cor. xv. 3. In all these passages, of which

[1] Maurice Goguel, Introd. au N.T., ii, p. 336.

[2] Ficker believes he finds in a passage of the Acta Petri cum Simone, (in a reference to a young man, nude and bound) an allusion to the crucifixion without nails. W. Bauer remarks that the ropes do not necessarily exclude nails, and thus the importance (already dubious enough) of the passage in the Acta Petri cum Simone is still further diminished.

[3] Not in reference to the crucifixion, but in an account of the resurrection. It is known that these have been most influenced by apologetics.

[4] In the account of Jesus' burial, Mark and Luke say that the body is taken down from the cross. Matthew and John say it is taken from the cross. The Gospel of Peter alone says that the nails are removed (xxi).


several are of a fairly recent date, it is not a question of the fact of the death of Christ, but of its significance. In Paul's own writings Isa. liii. 1 is only expressly cited in Rom. x. 16, not in reference to the death of Christ, but to the opposition against Christian preaching.[1] Elsewhere it has been remarked (by Schweitzer) that the ideas of Paul cannot be explained as due to the influence of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, because this passage develops the idea of the value of the sufferings of the servant of Jehovah, whilst Paul attributes a redeeming character not to the sufferings, but to the death of Christ.

With regard to the influence of this chapter of Isaiah upon the narratives of the Passion, we have seen that it is very limited. It inspired the declaration of Jesus before His arrest: "This that is written must yet be accomplished in Me. And He was reckoned among the transgressors" (Luke xxii. 37), and also in Luke the intercession of Jesus for His executioners (xxiii. 34; cp. with Isa. liii. 12).


M. Couchoud thinks, indeed, that the idea of the paschal lamb exercised a profound influence on the genesis of the tradition concerning the death of Jesus. The identification of Jesus with the paschal lamb is, in fact, current in ancient Christianity. It is very old, since it is already found in the first Epistle to the Corinthians. The apostle addresses the faithful, exhorting them to be pure, and in referring to those guilty of incest he points out the danger to which the Church will expose herself by allowing the leaven of wickedness, liable to corrupt the whole, to subsist within her. It is therefore necessary, he says, to purge out thoroughly the old leaven,[2] and to celebrate the feast[3] in

[1] The same text is also cited in John xii. 38, in a passage which is not put into the mouth of Jesus, but which contains the reflections of the evangelist about the failure of the ministry of Jesus.

[2] As was done in Jewish homes on the I4th day of Nisan, the day of the preparation of the Passover.

[3] There is no reference here to a private feast, of which there is no trace in primitive Christianity, but of the Christian life, in its entirety, inaugurated by the death of Christ. It therefore seems to us very conjectural to suppose, with Johannes Weiss and others, that this image had been suggested to Paul by the fact that he was writing about the time of the Passover Feast.


purity and in truth. "For Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. v. 7).

Let us first observe that if the assimilation of the death of Christ to the sacrifice of the lamb was already current—and how could it have been otherwise if it was the primary nucleus of tradition?—it would not be easy to understand the precision of the explanation that the lamb was Christ. The Corinthians would have well known, without Paul being obliged to tell them expressly who this paschal lamb was of whom he wished to speak. The whole passage is figurative; it contains nothing to show that Paul conceived the death of Christ under the category of the paschal lamb or of any other Levitical sacrifice other than as a simple illustration.[1] It is merely an elucidation, for it is not as a sacrifice, but as a juridical condemnation, that Paul interprets the death of Christ in his doctrine of redemption.

The assimilation of Christ to the paschal lamb is also found, but in conditions which indicate the influence of yet other ideas, in the Johannine formula "the lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world" (John i. 29-36).

But it is in the tradition concerning the Lord's supper that the idea of a Christian passover is specially developed. The comparison was very natural, and suggested by the date itself of the death of Jesus. There is reason (as an increasing number of critics admit) to fix this, as indicated by the fourth Gospel, at the fourteenth day of Nisan[2]—that is, upon the very day when the paschal lamb was offered in sacrifice. The conditions in which the idea of Christ the paschal lamb was developed are characteristic, and clearly show that we are in presence of an assimilation made "a posteriori." In the Synoptic Gospels the idea is developed by attributing to the last repast of Jesus the paschal character which it does not seem to have had in the primitive tradition[3]; in the fourth Gospel[4] the development of the

[1] In Rorn iii. 24 it is, on the contrary, to the sacrifice of the feast of expiation that Paul compares the death of Christ. This duality would be difficult to understand if the crucifixion had been deduced from the Jewish doctrine of sacrifice. It is, on the other hand, quite natural if the assimilation had been made "a posteriori."

[2] Maurice Goguel, Les sources du recit Johannique de la Passion, 1910.

[3] Id., L'Eucharistie.

[4] Id., Introd. au N.T., ii.


idea is indicated in a portion belonging to the most recent stratum, where it is stated that the legs of Jesus were not broken, as in the case of the thieves, thus fulfilling the prescriptions of the Law concerning the paschal lamb.[1]

[1] We do not speak here of Psalm xxiv, of which Paul cites a verse in a passage (1 Cor. x. 26) where there is no question at all of the Gospel history M. Couchoud believes that primitive Christianity had found in this psalm "the lament of the Son of God, fallen into the hands of cruel archons." What we have said above concerning the passage of 1 Cor. ii. 8 proves that this text has not the significance which M. Couchoud attaches to it.

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