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Title: Ecce Homo! - A Critical Inquiry into the History of Jesus of Nazareth: - Being a Rational Analysis of the Gospels
Author: Holbach, Paul Henry Thiry Baron d'
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Transcriber's note: archaic spellings such as "desart" for "desert"
have been retained, as have inconsistent spellings such as
"Galilee"--"Gallilee", etc.]







(Paul Henri Thiry Holbach)

The Cross was the banner, under which madmen assembled to glut the earth
with blood.--_Vide Chap._ 18.




      GORDON PRESS-Publishers
      P.O. Box 459
      Bowling Green Station
      New York, N.Y. 10004

      =Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data=

      [Holbach, Paul Henri Thiry, baron d'] 1723-1789.
      Ecce homo!

      Translation of Histoire critique de Jésus Christ.

      Reprint of the 1st American ed., rev. and corr., of
      1827, printed for the proprietors of the Philosophical
      library, New York, which was issued as no. 1 of the
      Philosophical library.

      1. Jesus Christ--Biography--Early works to 1800.
      I. Title. II. Series: The Philosophical library;
      no. 1.
      BT30O.H74 1976      232.9'01      73-8281
      ISBN 0-87968-077-6

      Printed in the United States of America


Although the writings of the New Testament are in the hands of every
one, nothing is more uncommon than to find the professors of
Christianity acquainted with the history or the founder of their
religion; and even among those who have perused that history, it is
still more rare to find any who have ventured seriously to examine it.
It must, indeed, be acknowledged, that the ignorance of the one, and the
want of reflection in the other, on a subject which they, nevertheless,
regard as of infinite importance, may arise from the dislike naturally
occasioned by the perusal of the New Testament. In that work there is a
confusion, an obscurity and a barbarity of stile, well adapted to
confound the ignorant, and to disgust enlightened minds. Scarcely is
there a history, ancient or modern, which does not possess more method
and clearness than that of Jesus; neither do we perceive that the Holy
Spirit, its reputed author, has surpassed, or even equalled many profane
historians, whose writings are not so important to mankind. The clergy
confess, that the apostles were illiterate men, and of rough manners;
and it does not appear that the Spirit which inspired them, troubled
itself with correcting their defects. On the contrary, it seems to have
adopted them; to have accommodated itself to the weak understandings of
its instruments; and to have inspired them with works in which we do not
find the judgment, order, or precision, that prevail in many human
compositions. Hence, the gospels exhibit a confused assemblage of
prodigies, anachronisms, and contradictions, in which criticism loses
itself, and which would make any other book be rejected with contempt.

It is by _mysteries_ the mind is prepared to respect religion and its
teachers. We are therefore warranted to suspect, that an obscurity was
designedly given to these writings. In matters of religion it is prudent
never to speak very distinctly. Truths simple and easily understood, do
not strike the imagination in so lively a manner as ambiguous oracles,
and impenetrable mysteries. Jesus, although come on purpose to enlighten
the world, was to be a _stumbling block_ to many nations. The small
number of the elect, the difficulty of salvation, and the danger of
exercising reason, are repeatedly announced in the gospels. Every thing
seems indeed to demonstrate, that God sent his Son to the nations, on
purpose to ensnare them, and that they should not comprehend any part of
the religion which he meant to promulgate. In this the Eternal appears
to have intended to throw mortals into darkness, perplexity, a
diffidence of themselves, and a continual embarrassment, obliging them
to have recourse to those infallible luminaries, their priests, and to
remain forever under the tutelage of the church. Her ministers, we know,
claim the exclusive privilege of understanding and explaining the
scriptures; and no mortal can expect to obtain future felicity if he
does not pay due submission to their decisions.

Thus, it belongs not to the laity to examine religion. On mere
inspection of the gospels, every person must be convinced that the book
is divine; that every word contained in it is inspired by the Holy
Spirit; and that the explanations given by the church of that celestial
work, in like manner emanate from the Most High. In the first ages of
Christianity, those who embraced the religion of Jesus were only the
dregs of the people; consequently very simple, unacquainted with
letters, and disposed to believe all the wonders any one chose to
announce. Jesus, in his sermons, addressed himself to the vulgar only;
he would have intercourse with none but persons of that description; he
constantly refused to work miracles in presence of the most
clear-sighted of the nation; he declaimed unceasingly against the
learned, the doctors, and the rich; against all in whom he could not
find the pliability necessary for adopting his maxims. We see him
continually extolling poorness of spirit, simplicity, and faith.

His disciples, and after them the ministers of the church, have
faithfully followed his footsteps; they have always represented faith,
or blind submission, as the first of virtues; as the disposition most
agreeable to God, and most necessary to salvation. This principle serves
for a basis to the Christian religion, and, above all, to the
usurpations of the clergy. The preachers, therefore, who succeeded the
apostles, employed the greatest care in secreting the gospels from the
inspection of all who were not initiated in the mysteries of religion.
They exhibited these books to those only whose faith they had tried, and
whom they found already disposed to regard them as divine. This
mysterious spirit has been transmitted down to our days. In several
countries, the laity are interdicted from perusing the scriptures,
especially in the Romish communion, whose clergy are best acquainted
with governing mankind. The council of Trent has decreed, that "it
belongs to the church alone to decide on the true meaning of the
scriptures, and give their interpretation."

It is true, the _reading_ of the sacred books is permitted, and even
recommended to protestants, who are also enjoined to _examine_ their
religion. But faith must always precede that reading, and follow that
examination; so that before reading, a protestant is bound to believe
the gospel to be divine: and the examination of it is permitted only,
while he finds there what the ministers of his sect have resolved that
he shall find. Beyond this, he is regarded as an ungodly man, and often
punished for the weakness of his intellect.

The salvation of Christians thus depends neither on the reading nor on
the understanding of the sacred books, but on the belief that these
books are divine. If, unfortunately, the reading or examination of any
one, does not coincide with the decisions, interpretations, and
commentaries of the church, he is in danger of being ruined, and of
incurring eternal damnation. To _read_ the gospel, he must commence with
being disposed blindly to believe all which that book contains; to
_examine_ the gospel, he must be previously resolved to find nothing
there but the holy and the adorable; in fine, to _understand_ the
gospel, he must entertain a fixed persuasion, that the priests can never
be themselves deceived, or wish to deceive others in the manner they
explain it. "Believe, (say they,) believe on our words that this book is
the work of God himself; if you dare to doubt it, you shall be damned.
Are you unable to comprehend any thing which God reveals to you there?
Believe evermore: God has revealed himself that he may not be
understood.--"The glory of God is to conceal his word;"--(Prov. xxv. 2.)
or rather, by speaking, in a mysterious manner, does not God intimate
that he wishes every one to refer it to us, to whom he has confided his
important secrets? A truth, of which you must not doubt, seeing that we
persecute in this world, and damn in the other, whoever dares to
question the testimony which we bear to ourselves."

However erroneous this reasoning may appear to those accustomed to
think, it is sufficient for the greater part of believers. Where,
therefore, they do not read the gospel, or where they do read it, they
do not examine it; where they do examine it, it is with prejudiced eyes,
and with a determination to find there only what can be conformable to
these prejudices, and to the interests of their guides.--In consistency
with his fears and prepossessions, a Christian conceives himself lost,
should he find in the sacred books reason to doubt the veracity of his

With such dispositions, it is no way surprising to see men persisting in
their ignorance, and making a merit of rejecting the lights which reason
offers them. It is thus, that error is perpetuated, and that nations, in
concert with those who deceive them, confer on interested cheats an
unbounded confidence in what they regard as of the greatest importance
to their own felicity. But the darkness which for so many ages has
enveloped the human mind, begins to dissipate. In spite of the tyrannic
cares of their jealous guides, mankind seem desirous to burst from the
pupilage, wherein so many causes combine to retain them. The ignorance
in which the priesthood fostered the credulous, has vanished from among
many nations; the despotism of priests is enfeebled in several
flourishing states; science has rendered the mind more liberal; and
mankind begin to blush at the ignominious fetters, under which the
clergy have so long made both kings and people groan. The human mind is
struggling in every country to break in pieces its chains.

Having premised this, we proceed to examine, without any prejudice, the
life of Jesus. We shall deduce our facts from the gospels
only--memorials reverenced and acknowledged by the doctors of the
Christian religion. To illustrate these facts, we shall employ the aid
of criticism. We shall exhibit, in the plainest manner, the conduct,
maxims, and policy of an obscure legislator, who, after his death,
acquired a celebrity to which he had no pretensions while alive. We
shall contemplate in its cradle a religion which, at first, intended for
the vilest populace of a nation, the most abject, the most credulous,
and the most stupid on earth, became, by little and little, mistress of
the Romans, the firebrand of nations, the absolute sovereign of European
monarchs; arbiter of the destiny of kingdoms; the cause of their
friendship, and of their hate; the cement which serves to strengthen
their alliance or their discord; and the leaven always ready to put
minds in fermentation. In fine, we shall behold an artizan, a melancholy
enthusiast and unskilful juggler, abandoning his profession of a
carpenter to preach to men of his own cast; miscarrying in all his
projects; himself punished as a public incendiary; dying on a cross; and
yet after his death becoming the legislator and the god of many nations,
and an object of adoration to beings who pretend to common sense!

If the Holy Spirit had anticipated the transcendant fortune which the
religion of Jesus was one day to attain; if he had foreseen that this
religion would be received by kings, civilized nations, scholars, and
persons in the higher circles of life; if he had suspected that it would
be examined, analyzed, discussed and criticised by logicians; there is
reason to believe that he would have left us memoirs less shapeless,
facts more circumstantial, proofs more authentic, and materials better
digested than those we possess on the life and doctrine of its founder.
He would have chosen writers better qualified than those he has
inspired, to transmit to nations the speeches and actions of the saviour
of the world; he would have made him act and speak on the most trifling
point, in a manner more worthy of a god; he would have put in his mouth
a language more noble, more perspicuous, and more persuasive; and he
would have employed means more certain to convince rebellious reason,
and abash incredulity.

Nothing of all this has occurred: the gospel is merely an eastern
romance, disgusting to men of common sense, and obviously addressed to
the ignorant, the stupid, and the vulgar; the only persons whom it can
mislead. Criticism finds there no connection of facts, no agreement of
circumstances, no illustration of principles, and no uniformity of
relation. Four men, unpolished and unlettered, pass for the faithful
authors of memoirs containing the life of Jesus; and it is on their
testimony that Christians believe themselves bound to receive the
religion they profess; and adopt, without examination, the most
contradictory facts, the most incredible actions, the most amazing
prodigies, the most unconnected system, the most unintelligible
doctrines, and the most revolting mysteries!

Victor of Tunis informs us, that, in the sixth century, the Emperor
Anastasius "caused the gospels to be corrected, as works composed by
_fools_." The Elements of Euclid are intelligible to all who endeavor to
understand them; they excite no dispute among geometricians. Is it so
with the Bible? and do its _revealed_ truths occasion no disputes among
divines? By what fatality have writings revealed by God himself still
need of commentaries? and why do they demand additional lights from on
high, before they can be believed or understood? Is it not astonishing,
that what was intended as a _guide_ to mankind, should be wholly above
their comprehension? Is it not cruel, that what is of most importance to
them, should be least known? All is mystery, darkness, uncertainty, and
matter of dispute, in a religion intended by the Most High to enlighten
the human race. In fact, God is every where represented in the bible as
a _seducer_. He permitted Eve to be _seduced_ by a serpent. He hardened
the heart of Pharaoh; and the prophet Jeremiah distinctly accuses him of
being a deceiver.

Supposing, however, that the gospels were in reality written by apostles
or disciples of apostles, should it not follow from this alone, that
their testimony ought to be suspected? Could not men who are described
as illiterate, and destitute of talents, be themselves deceived? Could
not enthusiasts and credulous fanatics imagine, that they had seen many
things which never existed, and thus become the dupes of deception?
Whoever has perused the ancient historians, particularly Herodotus,
Plutarch, Livy, and Josephus, must admit the force of this reasoning.
These writers, with a pious credulity similar to that of Christians,
relate prodigies pregnant with absurdities, which they themselves
pretended to have witnessed, or were witnessed by others. Among the
wonders that appeared at Rome, some time before the triumvirate, many
statues of the Gods sweat blood and water; and there was an Ox which
spoke. Under the empire of Caligula, the statue of Jupiter Olympus burst
forth into such loud fits of laughter, that those who were taking it
down to carry to Rome, abandoned their work and fled in terror. A crow
prognosticated misfortune to Domitian, and an Owl paid the same
compliment to Herod.

Moreover, could not impostors, strongly attached to a sect by which they
subsisted, and which, therefore, they had an interest to support, attest
miracles, and publish statements with the falsehood of which they were
well acquainted? and could not the first christians, by a _pious fraud_,
afterwards add or retrench things essential to the works ascribed to the
apostles? We know that Origen, so early as the third century, complained
loudly of the corruption of manuscripts. "What shall we say (exclaims
he) of the errors of transcribers, and of the impious temerity with
which they have corrupted the text? What shall we say of the licence of
those, who promiscuously interpolate or erase at their pleasure?" These
questions form warrantable prejudices against the persons to whom the
gospels have been ascribed, and against the purity of their text.

It is also extremely difficult to ascertain whether those books belong
to the authors whose names they bear. In the first ages of Christianity
there was a great number of gospels, different from one another, and
composed for the use of different churches and different sects of
Christians. The truth of this has been confessed by ecclesiastical
historians of the greatest credit. (Tillemont, tom. ii. 47, etc.
Epiphan. Homil. 84. Dodwell's Disser. on Irenaeus, p. 66. Freret's
Examin. Critique. Codex Apocryphus, &c.) There is, therefore, reason to
suspect, that the persons who composed the acknowledged gospels might,
with the view of giving them more weight, have attributed them to
apostles, or disciples, who actually had no share in them. That idea,
once adopted by ignorant and credulous christians, might be transmitted
from age to age, and pass at last for certainty, in times when it was no
longer possible to ascertain the authors or the facts related.

Among some fifty gospels, with which Christianity in its commencement
was inundated, the church, assembled in council at Nice, chose four of
them, and rejected the rest as apocryphal, although the latter had
nothing more ridiculous in them than those which were admitted. Thus, at
the end of three centuries, (_i.e._ in the three hundred and
twenty-fifth year of the Christian era,) some bishops decided, that
these four gospels were the only ones which ought to be adopted, or
which had been inspired by the Holy Spirit. A miracle enabled them to
discover this important truth, so difficult to be discerned at a time
even then not very remote from that of the apostles. They placed, it is
said, promiscuously, books apocryphal and authentic under an altar:--the
Fathers of the Council betook themselves to prayer, in order to induce
the Lord to permit the false or doubtful books to remain _under_ the
altar, whilst those which were truly inspired should place themselves
above it--a circumstance which did not fail to occur. It is then on this
miracle that the faith of Christians depends! It is to it that they owe
the assurance of possessing the true gospels, or faithful memoirs of the
life of Jesus! It is from these only they are, permitted to deduce the
principles of their belief, and the rule of conduct which they ought to
observe in order to obtain eternal salvation!

Thus, the authenticity of the books which are the basis of the Christian
religion, is founded solely on the authority of a council composed of
priests and bishops. But these bishops and priests, judges and parties
in an affair wherein they were obviously interested, could they not be
themselves deceived? Independently of the pretended miracle which
enabled them to distinguish the true gospels from the false, had they
any sign by which they could clearly distinguish the writings they ought
to receive from those which they ought to reject? Some will tell us,
that the church assembled in a general council is _infallible_; that
then the Holy Spirit inspires it, and that its decisions ought to be
regarded as those of God himself. If we demand, where is the proof of
this infallibility? it will be answered, that the gospel assures it, and
that Jesus has promised to assist and enlighten his church until the
consummation of ages. Here the incredulous reply, that the church, or
its ministers, create rights to themselves; for it is their own
authority which establishes the authenticity of books whereby that
authority is established. This is obviously a circle of errors. In
short, an assembly of bishops and priests has decided, that the books
which attribute to themselves an infallible authority, have been
divinely inspired!

Notwithstanding this decision, there still remain some difficulties on
the authenticity of the gospels. In the _first_ place, it may be asked
whether the decision of the Council of Nice, composed of three hundred
and eighteen bishops, ought to be regarded as that of the universal
church? Were all who formed that assembly entirely of the same opinion?
Were, there no disputes among these men inspired by the Holy Spirit? Was
their decision unanimously accepted? Had not the authority of
Constantine a chief share in the adoption of the decrees of that
celebrated council? In this case, was it not the imperial power, rather
than the spiritual authority, which decided the authenticity of the

In the _second_ place, many theologists agree, that the universal
church, although infallible in doctrine, may err in _facts_. Now it is
evident, that in the case alluded to, the doctrine depends on fact.
Indeed, before deciding whether the doctrines contained in the gospels
were divine, it was necessary to know, whether the gospels themselves
were written by the inspired authors to whom they are ascribed. This is
obviously a _fact_. It was further necessary to know, whether the
gospels had never been altered, mutilated, augmented, interpolated, or
falsified, by the different hands through which they had passed in the
course of three centuries. This is likewise a _fact_. Can the fathers of
the church guarantee the probity of all the depositaries of those
writings, and the exactness of all the transcribers? Can they decide
definitively, that, during so long a period, none could insert in these
memoirs, marvelous relations or dogmas, unknown to those who are their
supposed authors? Does not ecclesiastical history inform us, that, in
the origin of Christianity, there were schisms, disputes, heresies, and
sects without number; and that each of the disputants founded his
opinion on the gospels? Even in the time of the Council of Nice, do we
not find that the whole church was divided on the fundamental article of
the Christian religion--the divinity of Jesus?

Thus it is seen that the council of Nice was the true founder of
Christianity, which, till then, wandered at random; did not acknowledge
Jesus to be God; had no authentic gospels; was without a fixed law; and
had no code of doctrine whereon to rely. A number of bishops and
priests, very few in comparison of those who composed the whole
Christian church, and these bishops no way unanimous, decided on the
points most essential to the salvation of nations. They decided on the
divinity of Jesus; on the authenticity of the gospels; that, according
to these, their own authority ought to be deemed infallible. In a word,
they decided on the sum total of faith! Nevertheless their decisions
might have remained without force, if they had not been supported by the
authority of Constantine. This prince gave prevalence to the opinion of
the fathers of the council, who knew how to draw him, for a time, to
their own side; and who, amidst this multitude of gospels and writings,
did not fail to declare those divine which they judged most comformable
to their own opinions, or to the ruling faction. In religion as in other
things, the reasoning of the _strongest_ party is always the best.

Behold, then, the authority of an emperor, who determines the chief
points of the Christian religion! This emperor, unsettled in his own
faith, decides that Jesus is consubtantial with the Father, and compels
his subjects to receive, as inspired, the four gospels we have in our
hands.--It is in these memoirs, adopted by a few bishops in the council
of Nice; by them attributed to apostles, or unexceptionable persons
inspired by the Holy Spirit; by them proposed to serve as an
indispensable rule to Christians; that we are to seek for the materials
of our history. We shall state them with fidelity; we shall compare and
connect their discordant relations; we shall see if the facts which they
detail are worthy of God, and calculated to procure to mankind the
advantages which they expect. This inquiry will enable us to judge
rightly of the Christian religion; of the degree of confidence we ought
to place in it; of the esteem we ought to entertain for its lessons and
doctrines; and of the idea we should form of Jesus its founder.

Though, in composing this history, we have laid it down as a rule to
employ the gospels only, we presume not to flatter ourselves that it
will please every body, or that the clergy will adopt our labors. The
connections we shall form; the interpretations we shall give; the
animadversions we shall present to our readers, will not always be
entirely agreeable to the views of our spiritual guides, the greater
part of whom are enemies to all inquiry. To such men we would state,
that criticism gives a lustre to truth; that to reject all examination
is to acknowledge the weakness of their cause; and that not to wish for
discussion is to avow it to be incapable of sustaining a trial.

If they tell us, that our ideas are repugnant to the decisions of
councils, of the fathers, and of the universal church; to this we shall
answer, that, according to their own books, _opposition_ is not always a
crime; we shall plead the example of an apostle, to whom the Christian
religion is under the greatest obligations--what do we say!--to whom
alone, perhaps, it owes its existence. Now this apostle boasts of having
_withstood_ the great St. Peter to his face, that visible head of the
church, appointed by Jesus himself to feed his flock; and whose
infallibility is at least as probable as that of his successors.

If they charge us with _innovation_, we shall plead the example of Jesus
himself, who was regarded as an _innovator_ by the Jews, and who was a
martyr for the reform he intended to introduce. If the opinions be
unacceptable, the author, as he has no pretensions to divine
inspiration, leaves to every one the liberty of rejecting or receiving
his interpretations, and method of investigation. He does not threaten
with eternal torments those who resist his arguments; he has not credit
enough to promise heaven to such as yield to them; he pretends neither
to constrain, nor to seduce those who do not think as he does. He is
desirous only to calm the mind; allay animosity; and sooth the passions
of those zealots, who are ever ready to harass and destroy their fellow
creatures on account of opinions which may not appear equally convincing
to all the world. He promises to point out the ridiculous cruelty of
those men of blood, who persecute for dogmas which they themselves do
not understand. He ventures to flatter himself, that such as peruse this
inquiry with coolness, will acknowledge, that it is very possible to
doubt of the inspiration of the gospels, and of the divine mission of
Jesus, without ceasing to be a rational and honest man.

Such as are exasperated against this work are entreated to remember,
that faith is a gift of heaven; that the want of it is not a vice; that
if the Jews, who were eye witnesses of the wonders of Jesus, did not
believe them, it is very pardonable to doubt them at the beginning of
the nineteenth century, especially on finding that the accounts of these
marvels, though said to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, are not
uniform nor in harmony with each other. In fine, fiery devotees are
earnestly entreated to moderate their holy rage, and suffer the
meekness, so often recommended by their "divine Saviour" to occupy the
place of that bitter zeal, and persecuting spirit which creates so many
enemies to the Christian religion. Let them remember, that if it was to
patience and forbearance Jesus promised the possession of the earth, it
is much to be feared that pride, intolerance and inhumanity, will render
the ministers of the church detestable, and make them lose that empire
over minds, which to them is so agreeable. If they wish to reign over
rational men, they must display reason, knowledge, and, above all,
virtues more useful than those wherewith the teachers of the gospel have
so long infested society. Jesus has said, "_Happy are the meek, for they
shall inherit the earth_;" unless indeed interpreters should pretend,
that this only signifies the necessity of persecuting, exterminating,
and cutting the throats of those whose affections they wish to gain.

If it were permitted to cite the maxims of a profane person by that of
the Son of God, we would quote here the apophthegm of the profound
Machiavel, that "empires are preserved by the same means whereby they
are established." It was by meekness, patience, and precaution, that the
disciples of Jesus are said to have at first established Christianity.
Their successors employed violence; but not until they found themselves
supported by devout tyrants. Since then, the gospel of peace has been
the signal of war; the pacific disciples of Jesus have become implacable
warriors; have treated each other as ferocious beasts; and the church
has been perpetually torn by dissentions, schisms, and factions. If the
primitive spirit of patience and meekness does not quickly return to the
aid of religion, it will soon become the object of the hatred of
nations, who begin to feel that morality is preferable to obscure
dogmas, and that peace is of greater value than the holy frenzy of the
ministers of the gospel.

We cannot, therefore, with too much earnestness exhort them, for their
own sakes, to moderation. Let them imitate their divine Master, who
never employed his Father's power to exterminate the Jews, of whom he
had so much to complain. He did not make the armies of heaven descend,
in order to establish his doctrine. He chose rather to surrender to the
secular power than give up the infidels, whom his prodigies and
transcendent reasoning could not convince. Though he is represented as
being the depositary of the power of the Most High; though he was
inspired by the Holy Spirit; though he had at his command all the angels
of paradise, we do not find that he performed any miracles on the
understandings of his auditory. He suffered them to remain in their
blindness, though he had come on purpose to enlighten them. We cannot
doubt, that a conduct, so wise, was intended to make the pastors of his
church (who are not possessed of more persuasive powers than their
master) sensible that it is not by violence they can reconcile the mind
to incredible things; and that it would be unjust to force others to
comprehend what, without favor from above; it would be impossible for
themselves to comprehend; or what, even with such favor, they but very
imperfectly understand.

But it is time to conclude an introduction, perhaps, already too long to
a work which, even without preamble, may be tiresome to the clergy, and
irritate the temper of the devout. The author does himself the justice
to believe, that he has written enough to be attacked by a host of
writers, obliged, by situation to repel his blows, and to defend, right
or wrong, a cause wherein they are so deeply interested. He calculates
that, on his death, his book will be calumniated, as well as his
reputation, and his arguments misrepresented, or mutilated. He expects
to be treated as impious--a blasphemer--an atheist, and to be loaded
with all the epithets which the pious are in use to lavish on those who
disquiet them. He will not, however, sleep the less tranquil for that;
but as his sleep may prevent him from replying, he thinks it his duty to
inform his antagonists before hand, that _injuries are not reasons_. He
does more--he bequeaths them charitable advice, to which the defenders
of religion do not usually pay sufficient attention. They are then
apprised, that if, in their learned refutations, they do not resolve
completely _all_ the objections brought against them, they will have
done nothing for their cause. The defenders of a religion, in which it
is affirmed that every thing is divinely inspired, are bound not to
leave a single argument behind, and ought to be convinced that
_answering_ to an argument is not always refuting it. They should please
also to keep in remembrance, that a single falsehood, a single
absurdity, a single contradiction, or a single blunder, fairly pointed
out in the gospels, is sufficient to render suspected, and even to
overturn the authority of a book which ought to be perfect in all its
parts, if it be true that it is the work of an infinitely perfect Being.
An incredulous person, being but a man, may reason wrong; but it is
never permitted to a God, or his instruments, either to contradict
themselves, or to talk nonsense.




However slightly we cast our eyes over the history of the Jews, as
contained in their sacred books, we are forced to acknowledge, that
these people were at all times the blindest, the most stupid, the most
credulous, the most superstitious, and the silliest that ever appeared
on earth. Moses, by dint of miracles, or delusions, succeeded in
subjugating the Israelites. After having liberated them from the iron
rod of the Egyptians, he put them under his own. This celebrated
legislator had evidently the intention to subject the Hebrews for ever
to his purposes, and, after himself, to render them the slaves of his
family and tribe. It is obvious, that the mosaical economy had no other
object than to deliver up the people of Israel to the tyranny and
extortions of priests and Levites. These the law, which was promulgated
in name of the Eternal, authorised to devour the rest of the nation, and
to crush them under an insupportable yoke. The chosen people of God were
destined solely to be the prey of the priesthood; to satiate their
avarice and ambition; and to become the instrument and victim of their

Hence, by the law, and by the policy of the priests, the people of God
were kept in a profound ignorance, in an abject superstition, in an
unsocial and savage aversion for the rest of mankind; in an inveterate
hatred of other forms of worship, and in a barbarous and sanguinary
intolerance towards every foreign religion. All the neighbors of the
Hebrews, were, therefore, their enemies. If the holy nation was the
object of the love of the most high, it was an object of contempt and
horror to all who had occasion to know it--a fact admitted by their own
historian, Josephus. For this it was indebted to its religious
institutions, to the labors of its priests, to its diviners, and its
prophets, who continually profitted by its credulity, in displaying
wonders and kindling its delirium.

Under the guidance of Moses, and of generals or judges who governed them
afterwards, the Jewish people distinguished themselves only by
massacres, unjust wars, cruelties, usurpations, and infamies, which were
enjoined them in the name of the Eternal. Weary of the government of
their priests, which drew on them misfortunes and bloody defeats, the
descendants of Abraham demanded kings; but, under these, the state was
perpetually torn with disputes between the priesthood and the
government. Superstition aimed at ruling over policy. Prophets and
priests pretended to reign over kings, of whom such as were not
sufficiently submissive to the interpreters of heaven, were renounced by
the Lord, and, from that moment, unacknowledged and opposed by their own
subjects. Fanatics and impostors, absolute masters of the understandings
of the nation, were continually ready to rouse it, and excite in its
bosom the most terrible revolutions. It was the intrigues of the
prophets that deprived Saul of his crown, and bestowed it on David, _the
man according to God's own heart_--that is to say, devoted to the will
of the priests. It was the prophets, who, to punish the defection of
Solomon in the person of his son, occasioned the separation of the
kingdoms of Judea and Israel. It was the prophets who kept these two
kingdoms continually at variance; weakened them by means of each other,
desolated them by religious and fatal wars, conducted them to complete
ruin, a total dispersion of their inhabitants, and a long captivity
among the Assyrians.

So many calamities did not open the eyes of the Jews, who continued
obstinate in refusing to acknowledge the true source of their
misfortunes. Restored to their homes by the bounty of Cyrus, they were
again governed by priests and prophets, whose maxims rendered them
turbulent, and drew on them the hatred of sovereigns who subdued them.
The Greek princes treated with the greatest severity a people whom the
oracles and promises of their prophets rendered always rebellious, and
ungovernable. The Jews, in fine, became the prey of the Romans, whose
yoke they bore with fear, against whom impostors often incited them to
revolt, and who, at last, tired of their frequent rebellions, entirely
destroyed them as a nation.

Such, in a few words, is the history of the Jewish people. It presents
the most memorable examples of the evils which fanaticism and
superstition produce; for it is evident that the continual revolutions,
bloody wars, and total destruction of that nation, had no other cause
than its unwearied credulity, its submission to priests, its enthusiasm,
and its furious zeal, excited by the inspired. On reading the Old
Testament, we are forced to confess, that the people of God (thanks to
the roguery of their spiritual guides) were, beyond contradiction, the
most unfortunate people that ever existed. Yet the most solemn promises
of Jehovah seemed to assure to that people a flourishing and puissant
empire. God had made an eternal alliance with Abraham and his posterity;
but the Jews, far from reaping the fruits of this alliance, and far from
enjoying the prosperity they had been led to expect, lived continually
in the midst of calamities, and were, more than all other nations, the
sport of frightful revolutions. So many disasters, however, were
incapable of rendering them more considerate; the experience of so many
ages did not hinder them from relying on oracles so often contradicted;
and the more unfortunate they found themselves, the more rooted were
they in their credulity. The destruction of their nation could not bring
them to doubt of the excellence of their law, of the wisdom of their
institutions, or of the veracity of their prophets, who successively
relieved each other, either in menacing them in the name of the Lord, or
in re-animating their frivolous hopes.

Strongly convinced that they were the sacred and chosen people of the
Most High, alone worthy of his favors, the Jews, in spite of all their
miseries, were continually persuaded that their God could not have
abandoned them.--They, therefore, constantly looked for an end to their
afflictions, and promised themselves a deliverance, which obscure
oracles had led them to expect. Building on these fanatical notions,
they were at all times disposed to listen with avidity to every man who
announced himself as inspired by heaven; they eagerly ran after every
singular personage who could feed their expectations; they followed
whoever had the secret of astonishing them by impostures, which their
stupidity made them consider supernatural works, and unquestionable
signs of divine power. Disposed to see the marvellous in the most
trifling events, every adroit impostor was on the watch to deceive them,
and was certain of making more or less adherents, especially among the
populace, who are every where destitute of experience and knowledge.

It was in the midst of a people of this disposition that the personage
appeared whose history we write. He very soon found followers in the
most despicable of the rabble. Seconded by these, he preached, as usual,
_reformation_ to his fellow citizens, he wrought wonders; he styled
himself the envoy of the Divinity. He particularly founded his mission
on vague, obscure, and ambiguous predictions, contained in the sacred
books of the Jews, which he applied to himself. He announced himself as
the messiah or messenger, the deliverer of Israel, who for so many ages
was the object of the nation's hope. His disciples, his apostles, and
afterwards their successors, found means to apply to their master the
ancient prophecies, wherein he seemed the least perceptibly designed.
The Christians, docile and full of faith, have had the good fortune to
see the founder of their religion predicted in the clearest manner
throughout the whole Old Testament. By dint of allegories, figures,
interpretations, and commentaries, their doctors have brought them to
see, in this shapeless compilation, all that they had an interest in
pointing out to them. When passages taken literally did not countenance
deceit agreeably to their views, they contrived for them a two-fold
sense: they pretended that it was not necessary to understand them
literally, but to give them a mystical, allegorical, and spiritual
meaning. To explain these pretended predictions, they continually
substituted one name for another; they rejected the literal meaning, in
order to adopt a figurative one; they changed the most natural
signification of words they applied the same passages to events quite
opposite; they retrenched the names of some personages plainly designed,
in order to introduce that of Jesus; and, in all this, they did not
blush to make the most crying abuse of the principles of language.

The third chapter of Genesis furnishes a striking example of the manner
in which the doctors of the Christian religion have allegorized passages
of scripture, in order to apply then to Jesus. In this chapter, God says
to the serpent, convicted of having seduced the woman, _the seed of the
woman shall bruise thy head_. This prophesy appears with so much the
more difficulty to apply to Jesus, that these words follow--_and thou
shalt bruise his heel_. We do not comprehend, why the _seed of the
woman_ must be understood of Jesus. If he was the Son of God, or God
himself, he could not be produced from the _seed of the woman_. If he
was man, he is not pointed out in a particular manner by these words,
for all men, without exception, are produced from the _seed of women_.
According to our interpreters, the serpent is sin, and the seed of the
woman that bruises it is Jesus incarnate in the womb of Mary. Since the
coming of Jesus, however, sin, typified by the serpent, has at all times
existed; from which we are led to conclude, that Jesus has not destroyed
it, and that the prediction is neither literally nor allegorically

In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, God promises to Abraham, that
in his seed _all the nations of the earth shall be blessed_. What we
style prosperity, the Hebrews termed blessings. If Abraham and his race
enjoyed prosperity, it was only for a short period; the Hebrews became
afterwards the slaves of the Egyptians, and were, as has been seen, the
most unfortunate people on earth. Christians have also given a mystic
sense to this prophecy:--they substitute the name of Jesus for that of
Abraham, and it is in him that all the nations shall be blessed. The
advantages they shall enjoy will be persecutions, calamities, and
misfortunes of every kind; and his disciples, like himself, shall
undergo the most painful punishments. Hence we see, that, following our
interpreters, the word _blessing_ has changed its meaning; it no longer
implies prosperity; it signifies what, in ordinary language, is termed
curses, disasters, afflictions, troubles, divisions, and religious
wars--calamities with which the Christian nations have been continually
_blessed_ since the establishment of the church.

Christians believe that they see Jesus announced in the 49th chapter of
Genesis. The patriarch Jacob there promises sovereign power to Judah.
"The sceptre (says he) shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from
between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of
the people be." It is thus that several interpreters translate the tenth
verse of the 49th chapter of Genesis. Others have translated it thus,
"the authority shall forever be in Judah, when the Messiah shall have
come." Others read, "the authority shall be in Judah, till the messenger
receive in Shiloh the sovereign power." Others again render the passage
in this manner, "the people of Judah shall be in affliction, till the
messenger of the Lord comes to put an end to it;" and according to
others, "till the city of Shiloh be destroyed."

This diversity in the translation of the same passage ought,
unquestionably, to render the prophecy very suspicious. First, we see
that it is impossible to determine the signification of the word
_Shiloh_, or to ascertain, whether it be the name of a man or a city?
Secondly, it is proved by the sacred books, received equally by Jew and
Christians, that the sovereign power is gone from Judah; was wholly
annihilated during the Babylonish captivity, and has not been
re-established since. If it is pretended, that Jesus came to restore the
power of Judah, we assert, on the contrary, that, in the time of Jesus,
Judah was without authority, for Judah had submitted to the Romans. But
our doctors have again recourse to allegory:--according to them, the
power of Judah was the spiritual power of Jesus over Christians,
designated by Judah.

They, in like manner, see Jesus foretold by Balaam, who, by the bye, was
a false prophet. He thus expresses himself: (Numbers xxiv. 16,)--"He
hath said, who heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the
Most High, who saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance,
but having his eyes open: I shall see him but not now; I shall behold
him but not nigh; there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre
shall rise out of Israel," &c. In this unintelligible jargon, they
pretend to shew Christians a clear prediction of the founder of their
religion. It is he who is the star, because his luminous doctrine
enlightens all minds. _This sceptre, which shall rise out of Israel_, is
the cross of Jesus, by the aid of which he has triumphed over the Devil,
who, in spite of this victory, ceases not to reign on earth, and to
render useless the triumph of the Son of God.

But of all the prophecies contained in the Old Testament, there is not
one to which the Christian doctors have attached more importance than
that found in Isaiah, chap. vii. 14 A young woman _shall conceive, and
bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel_. To find out Jesus in this
prediction, it is, first of all, necessary to be convinced, that this
woman is _Mary_; next, it is necessary to ascertain that _Immanuel_ is
the same with Jesus. It will always be objected against this pretended
prophecy, that it is sufficient to read the chapter of Isaiah whence the
passage is taken, to be satisfied that the prophet had in view Ahaz king
of Judah. This prince is there represented as in consternation, on
account of the arrival of Rezin and Pekah, kings of Syria and Israel,
who, with their united armies, threatened his dominions. Isaiah
encouraged him, by representing that he still had forces sufficient, and
promised him the assistance of the Lord, whom every prophet made to be
of his own party. To guarantee his promises, Isaiah told his sovereign,
that he had only to ask of him a sign. The dispirited prince replied,
that he did not wish to tempt the Lord. The prophet, however, wishing to
convince him, announced a sign--"A young woman shall conceive, and bring
forth a son, who shall be called Immanuel." Now the following chapter
informs us who this young woman was: she was the wife of Isaiah
himself.--"I took unto me (says he) faithful witnesses; and I went unto
the _prophetess_, and she conceived and bare a son." The simple
inspection of this text, evidently shows that it is in no respect
applicable to Jesus. If what is recorded in 2d Chron. c. v. be true, the
prophecy was not even accomplished, but the reverse of its fulfilment
took place. Instead of Ahaz defeating his enemies, as Isaiah promised he
would, his whole army was routed, 120,000 killed, and 200,000 carried
into captivity by the kings of Syria and Israel. It is evident, then,
that this famous sign of "a young woman shall conceive," &c. served only
in the first instance to _deceive_ the king of Judah, and has since been
employed to _mislead_ those who, like that king, relied on the
professions of priests and prophets.

Proceeding forward in the perusal of Isaiah (chap. ix. 6,) we find the
following passage:--"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder." If the child foretold by
Isaiah was born in his time, it can no longer be said, that the prophet
meant to speak of Jesus, who was born several centuries after him; for
the birth of that person being so distant, could not be a sign of
deliverance to Ahaz, as his enemies pressed so closely upon him. To this
it is answered, that the prophets spoke of future events as if they were
past or present; but this answer requires to be established by proof. It
is likewise said, that the birth of Isaiah's son was only a type of that
of Jesus; for to him, it is affirmed, is applicable "the government on
the shoulder," in which our doctors perceive distinctly pointed out the
cross that Jesus carried on his shoulders when going to Calvary. Our
interpreters have thus the happiness of seeing the sign of dominion, or
empire, in what appears to eyes less enlightened, the sign of
punishment, weakness, and slavery.

It is proper also to inquire why it is said, in the Christian system,
that it is not necessary a prophecy have relation, in all its parts, to
the subject or fact to which it is applied. The sacred writers do not
mean to cite a whole prophecy, but only a passage, a detached phrase, or
often a single word, apposite to the subject they treat of, without
troubling themselves whether what precedes, or what follows their
quotation has connexion or not with what they are speaking of. In the
example under discussion, Matthew, wishing to quote Isaiah and apply a
prophecy to Jesus, takes of this prophecy these detached words only, _A
young woman shall conceive_, &c.--he stood in need of no more of it.
According to that Evangelist, Mary had conceived:--Isaiah had said, that
a girl, or woman, should conceive. Matthew therefore concluded, that the
conception of Jesus was foretold by Isaiah. This vague connection is
sufficient for all Christians, who, like Matthew, believe they see their
founder pointed out in prophecy.

Following this strange method, they have referred to Isaiah to prove
that Jesus was the messiah promised to the Jews. In the 53d chapter,
this prophet describes in a very pathetic manner the misfortunes and
sufferings of his brother Jeremiah. The clergy have long labored to
apply that prophecy to Jesus: they have distinctly seen him pointed out
in the "man of sorrows;" so that it is regarded rather as a faithful and
circumstantial narrative of the passion of Jesus, than as a prediction.
But, agreeably to sound criticism, this history relates only to
Jeremiah. Not to deprive themselves, however, of the resources so useful
a passage might furnish, they have decided, that, in the case of
prophecies, the indirect relation should have place. By this means, in
admitting that the narrative of Isaiah had Jeremiah for its object, they
maintained that Jeremiah was a figure or type of Jesus. It is not that
their lives were strictly consentaneous; but, in the Christian religion,
conformity followed by affinities, is not absolutely requisite to the
justice of the comparison.

This manner of reasoning, peculiar to the Christian religion, has been
very convenient for it. Paul especially, like most of the first
preachers of Christianity, and after them the fathers and doctors of the
church, employed this curious method of proving their system. According
to them, all under the ancient law was the image of the new; and the
most celebrated personages in the Old Testament, typified Jesus and his
church. Abel, assassinated by his brother, was a prophetic figure of
Jesus put to death by the Jews. The sacrifice of Isaac, which was not
accomplished, was the image of that accomplished on the cross. The
relations or predictions which had for their object Abraham, Isaac,
Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Zorobabel, or
other ancient personages, were applied to Jesus. His death was
represented by the blood of he-goats and of bulls. By aid of these
allegories, the books of the Jews served only to announce the events in
the life of Jesus, and the history of the establishment of his religion.
In this manner it is easy to find in the scriptures whatever we desire.

It would be useless to investigate the famous prophecy of the seventy
weeks of Daniel, in which the Christian doctors believe they see the
coming of Jesus clearly announced. It is true, that if Daniel, or his
editors, had specified the nature of these _weeks_, they would have
prevented much trouble to interpreters: this prediction might then have
been a great resource to Christianity. The ablest critics, however,
declare that they are greatly embarrassed when attempting to fix the
commencement and the end of these weeks. On this they are never
unanimous, nor can they agree on a precise date, which hitherto is
wanting to the great event of the coming of the messiah. We know the
Jews made use of weeks of days, weeks of weeks, and weeks of years. It
is by a conjecture, merely hazarded, they advance in the bible of
Louvain, that the weeks mentioned in Daniel are weeks of years. Yet that
supposition throws light on nothing, for the chronological table, which
the doctors of Louvain have published, gives only three hundred and
forty-three years intervening between the time when they make the weeks
to commence and the death of Jesus. Many have believed that this
prediction was subsequently added to the text of Daniel, in favor of
Jonathan Maccabeus. We may judge of the little credit that can be given
to this prophecy, from the prodigious number of commentaries that have
been made on it.



All the prophecies contained in the sacred books of the Jews, coincide
in making them hope for the return of the favor of the Almighty. God had
promised them a deliverer, a messenger, a messiah, who should restore
the power of Israel. That deliverer was to be of the seed of David, the
prince _according to God's own heart_; so submissive to the priests, and
so zealous for religion. It was to recompense the devotion and docility
of this holy usurper, that the prophets and the priests, loaded with
kindness, promised him in the name of heaven, that his family should
reign forever. If that famous prediction was belied during the
Babylonish captivity, and at subsequent periods, the Jews, at this time
no less credulous than their ancestors, persuaded themselves that it was
impossible for their prophets and diviners to deceive them. They
imagined that their oracles sooner or later would be accomplished, and
that they should see a descendant of David restore the honor of their

It was in conformity to these predictions and popular notions, that the
writers of the Gospels gave Jesus a genealogy; by which they pretended
to prove that he was descended in a direct line from David, and
consequently, had a right to arrogate the character of messiah.
Nevertheless, criticism has exhausted itself on this genealogy. Such as
are not possessed of faith, have been surprised to find, that the Holy
Spirit has dictated it differently to the two evangelists who have
detailed it: for, as has been frequently remarked, the genealogy given
by Matthew is not the same with that of Luke: a disparity which has
thrown Christian interpreters into embarrassments, from which all their
subtilty has hitherto been unable to rescue them. They tell us, that one
of these genealogies is that of Joseph; but, supposing Joseph to be of
the race of David, a Christian cannot believe that he was the real
father of Jesus, because his religion enjoins him to believe
steadfastly, that he is the Son of God. Supposing the two genealogies to
be Mary's, in that case the Holy Spirit has blundered in one of them.
Even Matthew's account is contradictory of itself. He says (c. i. v. 17)
"To all the generations from Abraham to David are _fourteen_
generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are
_fourteen_ generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto
Christ are _fourteen_ generations." On enumerating the names given in
the last division of time, we find only _twelve_ generations, even
including Joseph. In whatever way we consider them, one of the
genealogies will always appear faulty and incomplete, and the extraction
of Jesus very weakly established.

Let us now examine the occurrences which preceded and accompanied the
birth of Jesus. Only one evangelist has particularly narrated them; all
the others have superficially passed over circumstances as marvellous as
they are important. Matthew, content with his genealogy, speaks but in
few words of the preternatural manner wherein Jesus was formed in the
womb of his mother. The speech of an angel, seen in a dream, suffices to
convince Joseph of the virtue of his wife, and he adopts her child
without hesitation. Mark makes no mention of this memorable incident.
John, who, by the assistance of his mystic and Platonic theology, could
embellish the story, or rather confound it, has not said one word on the
subject. We are, therefore, constrained to satisfy ourselves with the
materials Luke has transmitted us.

According to this evangelist, Elizabeth, kinswoman of Mary, and wife of
a priest named Zachariah, was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, "when
the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city called Nazareth, to a
virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and
said, Hail thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed
art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his
saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor
with God. And behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a
son, and shalt call his name Jesus. Then said Mary to the angel, How
shall this be, for I know not a man? And the angel answered and said
unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the
Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also that holy thing which
shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. And Mary said,
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
Thereafter (adds the text) the angel departed from her."

Now what is there in all this that is any way marvellous? Nothing indeed
is more simple than this narrative. If the least reflection is employed
on it, the wonderful will vanish; and we shall find the greatest care
has been taken to spare the modesty of the young persons who might read
the story. An angel entered the house of Mary, _whose husband was
absent_. He salutes her; that is, pays her a compliment, which may be
translated as follows:--"Good day, my dear Mary! you are indeed
adorable--What attractions! what graces! of all women, you are the most
lovely in my eyes. Your charms are pledges to you of my sincerity. Crown
then my passion. Fear not the consequences of your complaisance; your
husband is a simpleton; by visions and dreams we can make him believe
whatever we desire. The good man will regard your pregnancy as the
effect of a miracle of the Most High; he will adopt your child with joy,
and all will go on in the best manner possible." Mary, charmed with
these words, and little accustomed to receive the like compliments from
her husband, replied, "Well!--I yield--I rely on your word and address;
do with me as you please."

Nothing is more easy than to separate the relation of Luke from the
marvellous. The event of Mary's pregnancy follows in the order of
nature; and if we substitute a young man in the place of the angel, the
passage of the evangelist will have nothing incredible in it. In fact,
many have thought that the angel Gabriel was no other than a gallant,
who, profiting by the absence of Joseph, found the secret to declare and
gratify his passion.

We shall not stop to form conjectures on the true name and station of
Mary's lover. The Jews, whose testimony on this subject may appear
suspicious, assert, as we shall afterwards relate, that this favorite
lover was a soldier:--the military have always claims on the hearts of
the ladies. They add, that from his commerce with the wife of Joseph,
the messiah of the Christians sprung; that the discontented husband left
his faithless wife, in order to retire to Babylon, and that Jesus with
his mother went to Egypt, where he learned the trade of a conjurer, and
afterwards returned to practise in Judea.

The _proto-gospel_, ascribed to James, relates some curious and
ridiculous circumstances, altogether omitted in the four canonical
evangelists; yet they have nothing revolting to persons who possess
faith. This gospel informs us of the ill humor of Joseph on seeing his
wife pregnant, and the reproaches he loaded her with on account of her
lewdness, unworthy of a virgin reared under the eyes of priests. Mary
excuses herself with tears; she protests her innocence, and "swears in
the name of the living God, that she is ignorant whence the child has
come to her." It appears, that in her distress she had forgot the
adventure of Gabriel:--that angel came the night following to encourage
poor Joseph, then on the point of having an affair with the priests, who
accused him of having begot this child to the prejudice of Mary's vow of
virginity. On this the priests made the two spouses drink _of the waters
of jealousy_; that is, of a potion, which, by a miracle, did them no
injury; the high priest, therefore, declared them innocent. It is
related in the same gospel, that after Mary had been delivered,
_Salome_, refusing to credit the midwife who assured her that the
delivered was still a virgin, laid her hand on Mary in order to satisfy
herself of the fact. Immediately this rash hand felt itself on fire; but
she was cured on taking the little Jesus in her arms.

Whether these histories, or Rabbinical narratives be true or false, it
is certain that the narrative of Luke, if not divested of the
marvellous, will always present difficulties to the minds of the
incredulous. They will ask, how God, being a pure spirit, could
_overshadow a woman_, and excite in her the movements necessary to the
production of a child? They will ask, how the divine nature could unite
with the nature of a woman? They will maintain, that the narrative is
unworthy of the power and majesty of the Supreme Being, who did not
stand in need of employing ridiculous and indecent instruments to
operate the salvation of mankind. It will be thought, that the Almighty
should have employed other means for conveying Jesus into the womb of
his mother; he might have made him appear on the earth without being
incarnate in the belly of a woman; but there must be wonders in
romances, especially if they are religious. It was in all ages supposed
that great men were born in an extraordinary manner. Among the Heathen,
Minerva sprung out of the brain of Jupiter; Bacchus was preserved in the
thigh of the same god. Among the Chinese, the god Fo was generated by a
virgin rendered prolific by a ray of the sun. With Christians, Jesus is
born of a virgin, impregnated by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and
she remains a virgin after that operation! Incapable of elevating
themselves to God, men have made him descend to their own nature. Such
is the origin of all incarnations, the belief of which is spread
throughout the world.

Theologists have agitated the question, whether in the conception of
Jesus, the Virgin Mary _emiserit semen_? According to _Tillemont_, the
Gnostics, who lived in the time of the apostles, denied that the Word
was incarnate in the womb of the woman, and averred that it had taken a
body only _in appearance_--a circumstance which must destroy the miracle
of the resurrection. Basilides also maintains that Jesus was not
incarnate. Lactantius, in order to establish that the spirit of God
could impregnate a virgin, cites the example of the Thracian Mares, and
other females, rendered prolific by the wind. Nothing is more indecent
and ridiculous than the theological questions to which the birth of
Jesus has given rise. Some doctors, to preserve Mary's virginity, have
maintained, that Jesus did not come into the world, like other men,
_aperta vulva_, but rather _per vulvam clausam_. The celebrated John
Scotus regarded that opinion as very dangerous, as it would follow, that
"Jesus could not be born of the virgin, but merely had come out of her."
A monk of Citeaux, called Ptolemy de Luques, affirmed that Jesus was
engendered near the virgin's heart, from three drops of her blood. The
great St. Thomas Aquinas has examined, whether Jesus could not have been
an _hermaphrodite_? and whether he could not have been of the _feminine
gender_? Others have agitated the question, "Whether Jesus could have
been incarnate in a cow?" We may therefore see, how one absurdity may
engender others, in the prolific minds of theologists.

All the wonders which precede the birth of Jesus, are terminated by a
very natural occurrence. At the end of nine months his mother is
delivered like other women; and after so many incredible and
supernatural events, the Son of God comes into the world like all others
people's children. This conformity in birth, will ever occasion the
surmise of a conformity in the physical causes which produced the son of
Mary. Indeed, the supernatural only can produce the supernatural; from
material agents result physical effects; and they maintain in the
schools, that there must always be a parity of nature between cause and

Though, according to Christians, Jesus was at the same time man and god,
some will say, it was necessary that the divine germ brought from heaven
to be deposited in the womb of Mary, should contain at the same time
divinity and humanity to become Son of God. To use the language of
theologists, the _hypostatic union_ of the two natures must have taken
place before his birth, and immixed in the womb of his mother. In that
case, we cannot conceive how it could happen, that the divine nature
should continue torpid during the whole of Mary's pregnancy, in so much
that she herself was ignorant of the time of her in-lying. The proof of
this we find in Luke, chap. ii.--"In those days (says he) there went out
a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And
as all went to be taxed, every one out of his own city, Joseph also went
out of Nazareth and came to Bethlehem, to be taxed with Mary, who was
great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days
were accomplished that she should be delivered, and she brought forth
her first born son, and wrapt him in swadling clothes and laid him in a
manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

This narrative proves that Mary was taken unprovided, and that the Holy
Spirit, who had done so many things for her, had neglected to warn her
of an event so likely to interest him, and so important to all mankind.
The humanity of Jesus, being subject to every casuality in our nature,
might have perished in this journey, undertaken at a time very critical
to his mother. Nor do we understand how the mother could remain in
complete ignorance of the proximity of her time, or how the Eternal
could so abandon the precious child he had deposited in her womb.

Some other circumstances of the relation of Luke presents new
difficulties. He speaks of a _taxing_ (enumeration) by order of Caesar
Augustus:--a fact of which no mention is made by any historian, Jewish
or profane. We are also astonished to find the son of God born in
poverty, having no other asylum than a stable, and no other cradle than
a manger; and at the tenderest age, in a rigorous season, exposed to
miseries without number.

It is true, our theologists have found a way to answer all these
difficulties. They maintain, that a just God wishing to appease himself,
destined his innocent son to afflictions, in order to have a motive for
pardoning the guilty human race, which had become hateful to him through
Adam's transgression, in which, however, his decendants had no share. By
an act of justice, whereof the mind of man can form no idea, a God whose
essence renders him incapable of committing sin, is loaded with the
iniquities of man, and must expiate them in order to disarm the
indignation of a father he has not offended! Such are the inconceivable
principles which serve for the basis of the Christian theology.

Our doctors add--It was the will of God that the birth of his son should
be accompanied with the same accidents as that of other men, to console
the latter for the misfortunes attendent on their existence. Man, say
they, is guilty before he is born, because all children are bound to pay
the debts of their fathers: thus man suffers justly as a sinner himself,
and as charged with the sin of his first father.--Granting this, what
more consolatory than seeing a God, innocence and holiness itself,
suffering in a stable all the evils attached to indigence! That
consolation would have been wanting, if God had ordained that his son
should be born in splendor, and with an abundance of the comforts of
life. If the innocent Jesus had not suffered, mankind, incapable of
extinguishing a debt contracted by Adam, would have been forever
excluded from paradise. The painful journey Mary was obliged to
undertake in such critical circumstances, had been foreseen by Eternal
wisdom, which had resolved that Jesus should be born at Bethlehem and
not at Nazareth. It was necessary--having been foretold, it behoved to
be accomplished.

However solid these answers may appear to the faithful, they are not
capable of convincing the incredulous, who exclaim against the injustice
of making an innocent God suffer, and loading him with the iniquities of
the earth. Neither can they conceive by what principle of equity the
Supreme Being could make the human race responsible for a fault
committed by their first parents, without their knowledge and
participation. Finally, they contend that it would have been wiser to
have prevented man from committing sin, than to permit him to sin, and
make his own son die to expiate man's iniquity.

With respect to the journey to Bethlehem, we cannot discover the
necessity of it. The place where the saviour of the world was to be
born, seems a circumstance perfectly indifferent to the salvation of

As for the prophecy announcing the glory of Bethlehem, in having given
existence to the "Leader of Israel"--it does not appear to agree with
Jesus, who was born in a stable, and who was rejected by the people
whose leader he was to be. It is only a pious straining that can make
this prediction apply to Jesus. We are assured, that it had been
foretold Jesus was to be born in poverty; while, on the other hand the
messiah of the Jews is generally announced by the prophets as a prince,
a hero, and a conqueror.--It is necessary to know then which of these
prophecies we ought to adopt. Our doctors tell us "the predictions
announcing that Jesus would be born and live in indigence and meanness,
ought to be taken _literally_, and those which announce his power and
glory ought to be taken _allegorically_." But this solution will not
satisfy the incredulous; they will affirm, that by this manner of
explanation, we may always find in the sacred writings whatever we may
think we stand in need of. They will conclude that the scripture is to
Christians, what the clouds are to the man who imagines he perceives in
them whatever figures he pleases.



Of the four historians of Jesus adopted by the church, two are wholly
silent on the facts we are to relate in this chapter; and Matthew and
Luke, who have recorded them, are not at all unanimous in particulars.
So discordant are their relations, that the ablest commentators do not
know how to reconcile them. These differences, it is true, are less
perceptible when the evangelists are read the one after the other, or
without reflection; but they become particularly striking when we take
the trouble of comparing them. This is, undoubtedly, the reason why we
have hitherto had no concordance of the gospels which received the
general approbation of the church. Even those which have been printed
have not been universally adopted, though it must be acknowledged that
they contain nothing contrary to faith. It is, perhaps, from judicious
policy that the heads of the church have not approved of any system on
this point. They have, probably, felt the impossibility of reconciling
narratives so discordant as those of the four Evangelists; for the Holy
Spirit, doubtless with a view to exercise the faith of the saints, has
inspired them very differently. Besides, an able concordance of the
gospels would prove a dangerous work:--it would bring together facts
related by authors, who, far from supporting, would reciprocally weaken
each other--a circumstance which could not fail to stagger at least the
faith of the compiler.

Matthew, who, according to common opinion, (though a very erroneous
one,) wrote the first history of Jesus, asserts, that as soon as he was
born, and still in the stable at Bethlehem, Magi came from the East to
Jerusalem, and inquired where the king of the Jews was, whose star they
had observed in their own country. Herod, who then reigned in Judea,
being informed of the motive of their journey, consulted the people of
the law; and having learned that the Christ was to be born at Bethlehem,
he permitted the Magi to go there, recommending to them to inform
themselves of this child, that he himself might do him homage. (Matt.
ii. 1.)

It appears, from the narrative of Matthew, that as soon as the Magi left
Herod, they took the road to Bethlehem, a place not far from Jerusalem.
It is surprising that this prince, alarmed at the arrival of the Magi,
who had thus announced the birth of a king of the Jews, did not use more
precaution to allay his own uneasiness, and that of the capital, which
the gospel represents as in a state of consternation at this grand
event. It would have been very easy for him to have satisfied himself of
the fact without being under the necessity of relying on strangers, who
did not execute his commission. The Magi did not return; Joseph had time
to save himself and his little family by flight; and Herod remained
tranquil in spite of his suspicions and fears. It was not till after a
considerable interval that he got into a passion on finding himself
deceived; and then, to preserve his crown in safety, he ordered a
general massacre of the children of Bethlehem and the neighboring
villages! But why suppose such conduct in this sovereign? He had
assembled the doctors of the law and principal men of the nation; their
advice had confirmed the rumor spread by the wise men; they said it was
at Bethlehem that Christ was to be born, and yet Herod did nothing for
his own tranquility! Either Herod had faith in the prophecies of the
Jews, or he had not. In the first case, and instead of relying on
strangers, he ought himself to have gone with all his court to
Bethlehem, and paid homage to the Saviour of the nation. In the second
case, it is absurd to make Herod order a general massacre of infants, on
account of a suspicion founded on a prophecy which he did not believe.

This prince's indignation is said not to have been roused till after the
lapse of several days, and after he perceived that the Magi derided him,
and took another road. Why did he not learn by the same means the flight
of Jesus, of Joseph, and of his mother? Their retreat must certainly
have been observed in a place so small as Bethlehem. It will perhaps be
said, that God on this occasion, permitted Herod to be blinded; but God
should not have permitted the inhabitants of Bethlehem and its environs
to be so obstinate in preserving a secret that was to cost the lives of
all their children. Possessed of the power of working miracles, could
not God have saved his son by more gentle means than the useless
massacre of a great number of innocents?--On the other hand, Herod was
not absolute master in Judea. The Romans would not have permitted him to
exercise such cruelties; and the Jewish nation, persuaded of the birth
of the Christ, would not have been accessary to them. A king of England,
more absolute than a petty sovereign of Judea, dependent on the Romans,
would not be obeyed, were he to order his guards to go and cut the
throats of all the children in a neighboring village, because three
strangers, in passing through London, had said to him, that among the
infants born in that village there was one, who, according to the rules
of astrology, was destined to be one day king of Great Britain. At the
time when astrology was in vogue, they would have contented themselves
with causing search to be made for the suspected infant; they would have
kept it in solitary confinement, or perhaps put it to death; but without
comprehending other innocent children in its proscription.

We might oppose to the relation of Matthew the silence of the other
evangelists, and especially that of the historian Josephus, who, having
reasons to hate Herod, would not have failed to relate a fact so likely
to render him odious as the massacre of the innocents. Philo is likewise
silent on the subject; and no reason can be assigned why these two
celebrated historians should have agreed in concealing a circumstance so
horrible. We cannot suppose it has proceeded from hatred to the
Christian religion; for that detached fact would prove neither for or
against it. We are, therefore, warranted to conclude that this massacre
is a fable; and that Matthew seems to have invented it merely to have
the opportunity of applying as ancient prophecy, which was his
predominant taste. But in this instance he has deceived himself. The
prophecy which he applied to the massacre of the innocents, is taken
from Jeremiah, (xxxi. v. 15 and 16.) All the Jews understood it as
relating to the Babylonish captivity. It is as follows: "Thus saith the
Lord; a voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel
weeping for her children refused to be comforted because they were not."
The following verse is so plain, that it is inconceivable why Matthew
ventured to apply it to the pretended massacre at Bethlehem: "Thus saith
the Lord, refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for
thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord, and thy children shall come
again from the land of the enemy." Their return from the captivity is
here clearly pointed out, when the Israelites should again plant vines
after obtaining possession of their own country.

It is also to accomplish a prophecy, that Matthew makes Jesus travel
into Egypt. This journey, or rather Jesus' return, had, according to
him, been predicted by Hosea in these words: "Out of Egypt have I called
my son." But it is evident, that this passage is to be considered only
as relating to the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage, through
the ministry of Moses. Besides, the journey and abode of Jesus in Egypt,
do not agree with some circumstances which happened in his infancy, as
related by Luke, who informs us, that at the end of eight days Jesus was
circumcised. The time of Mary's purification being accomplished
according to the law of Moses, Joseph and his mother carried Jesus to
Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord agreeably to the law, which
ordained the consecrating the first born (first fruits), and offering a
sacrifice for them. On this occasion, Luke tells us that Simeon took the
infant in his arms, and declared in the presence of those assisting at
the ceremony, that the child was the Saviour of Israel. An old
prophetess, called Anna, bore the same testimony, and spoke of him to
all who looked for the redemption of the Jews. But why were speeches,
thus publicly made in the temple of Jerusalem, in which city Herod
resided, unknown to a prince so suspicious? They were much better
calculated to excite his uneasiness, and awaken his jealousy than the
arrival of astrologers from the East.

Did Joseph and Mary, who came to Jerusalem for the presentation of
Jesus, and purification of his mother, return to Bethlehem? and went
they thence into Egypt in place of going to Nazareth? Luke says, that
when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord,
they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. But in what time
did the parents of Jesus accomplish all that the law ordained? Was it
before going into Egypt, or after their return from that country, where,
according to Matthew, they had taken refuge to shelter themselves from
the cruelty of Herod? Did the purification of the virgin, and the
presentation of her son in the temple, take place before or after the
death of that wicked prince? According to Leviticus, the purification of
a mother who had brought a son into the world, was to be made at the end
of thirty days. Hence we see how very difficult it is to reconcile the
flight into Egypt, and the massacre of the innocents, which Matthew
relates, with the narrative of Luke, who says, that, "after having
performed the ordinances of the law, Joseph and Mary returned into
Galilee, to their own city Nazareth;" and then adds, "they went to
Jerusalem every year to celebrate the passover." If we could adopt the
relation of the two evangelists, at what time are we to place the coming
of the Magi from the East in order to adore Jesus; the anger of Herod;
the flight into Egypt; and the massacre of the innocents? Either the
relation of Luke is defective, or Matthew wished to deceive his readers
with improbable tales. In whatever way we consider the matter, the Holy
Spirit, who inspired these apostles, will be found to have committed a

There is another fact on which our two evangelists do not better agree.
Matthew, as we have seen, makes the Magi come, guided by a star, to
Bethlehem, from the extremity of the East, to adore the child Jesus, and
offer him presents. Luke, less taken with the marvellous, makes this
child adored by simple shepherds, who watched their flocks during night,
and to whom an angel announced the great event of the birth of the
Saviour of Israel. The latter evangelist speaks neither of the
appearance of the star, of the coming of the Magi, nor of the cruelty of
Herod--circumstances, however, which ought to have been recorded by
Luke, who informs us that he was so exactly informed of every thing
concerning Jesus.

The parents of Jesus, either after their return from Egypt, or after his
presentation in the temple, went to reside at Nazareth. Matthew, as
usual, perceives in this the accomplishment of the prediction, _he shall
be called a Nazarene_; but unfortunately for his purpose, this prophecy
is not to be found in the Bible, nor can it be imagined by whom it was
uttered. It is however certain, that _Nazarene_ among the Jews signified
a _vagabond_, a person excluded from the rest of the world; that
Nazareth was a pitiful town, inhabited by beings so wretched that their
poverty had become proverbial; and that beggars, vagrants, and people
whom nobody would own, were called _Nazarenes_.

The first Christians were so styled. We find them also called
_Ebionites_, derived from a Hebrew word which signifies a _mendicant_, a
_wretch_, and a _pauper_. St. Francis and St. Dominic, who, in the 13th
century, proposed to revive primitive Christianity, founded orders of
mendicant monks, destined to live solely on alms, to be true
_Nazarenes_, and to levy contributions on the community, which these
vagabonds have never ceased to oppress. Salmeron, in order to encourage
these mendicant monks, has maintained that Jesus himself was a beggar.
The name Nazarene was given to the apostles and Jews, who were first
converted. The other Jews regarded them as heretics and excommunicated
persons; and, according to Jerome, anathematised them in all their
synagogues under the name of Nazarenes. The Jews even at present give
the name of Nazarenes (Nozerim) to the Christians whom the Arabs and
Persians call Nazari. The first converts of Jesus and his apostles, were
only some reformed Jews: they preserved circumcision and other usages
appointed by the law of Moses. In this they followed the example of
Jesus, who being circumcised, and a Jew during his whole life, had often
taught, that it was necessary to respect and observe the law. It is,
therefore, surprising to see them afterwards treated as heretics. But we
shall (in chap. 17) see the true cause of this change. It was owing to
Paul, whose party prevailed over Peter's, the other apostles', and the
Nazarenes or Judaising Christians. Paul corrected and reformed the
system of Jesus, who had preached only a Judaism reformed. The apostle
of the Gentiles succeeded in making his master, and his old comrades, be
rewarded as heretics, or bad Christians. Thus it is that theologists
take the liberty of rectifying the religion of the Saviour they adore!

We have seen, in the course of this chapter, how little harmony exists
between the two evangelists respecting the circumstances attending the
birth of Jesus. Let us now examine what could have been the views of
these two writers in relating these facts so differently. It is
impossible that Jesus, as Luke relates, could constantly reside at
Nazareth till he was twelve years of age if it be true that he was
carried soon after his birth into Egypt, where Matthew makes him remain
until the death of Herod. Even in the time that Jesus lived, he was
upbraided with his stay in Egypt. His enemies asserted that he there
learned magic, to which they attributed the wonders, or cunning tricks,
they saw him perform. Luke is silent as to the journey to Egypt, which
made his hero suspected. He fixes him, therefore, at Nazareth, and makes
him go every year with his parents to Jerusalem. But the precaution of
that evangelist seems to have been useless. Matthew, who wrote before
him, had established the journey and abode of Jesus in Egypt. Origen, in
his dispute with Celsus, does not deny it. Hence we see, that the
Christian doctors did not doubt that Jesus had been in that country,
notwithstanding the silence of Luke. Let us endeavor then to develope
the motives of these two writers.

The Jews were agreed in the expectation of a messiah; but as the
different orders of the state had their prophets, they also possessed
different signs by which they were to know the deliverer. The great, the
rich, and well informed persons, did not surely expect that the
deliverer of Israel would be born in a stable, and spring from the dregs
of the people. They, undoubtedly, anticipated their deliverance by a
prince, a warrior, a man of power, able to make himself respected by the
nations inimical to Judea, and to break in pieces their chains. The
poor, on the contrary, who, as well as the great and the rich, have
their portion of self-love, thought they might flatter themselves that
the messiah would be born in their class. Their nation and their
neighbors presented many examples of great men sprung from the bosom of
poverty; and the oracles with which this nation was fed, were of such a
nature that every family believed itself entitled to aspire to the honor
of giving birth to a messiah; though the most general opinion was, that
he was to come of the race of David. Shepherds, and people of the lowest
order might readily believe that a woman, delivered in a stable at
Bethlehem, had brought Jesus into the world. It may likewise be presumed
that Mary, with a view to render herself interesting, said to those who
visited her that she was descended from the blood of kings; a pretension
well adapted to excite the commiseration and wonderment of the people.
This secret, and the confused remembrance of some prophecies about
Bethlehem, the native country of David, were sufficient to operate on
the imaginations of these silly people, little scrupulous about proofs
of what was told them.

Matthew, who reckoned on the credulity of his readers, had his head full
of prophecies and popular notions. To fill up a blank of thirty years in
his history of Jesus, he contrived to make him travel into Egypt,
without foreseeing the objections that might be made on account of the
neglect of the holy family to fulfil the ordinances of the law; such as
the circumcision of the child, his presentation in the temple, the
purification of his mother, and the celebration of the passover;
ceremonies which only could be performed at Jerusalem. Perhaps it is to
justify the journey to Egypt, and those negligences, that Matthew
introduces the prophecy of Hosea relative to the return from that place.
It seems also to countenance the duration of Jesus's abode there that he
relates the wrath of Herod, and the fable of the massacre of the
innocents, which he makes that prince order, though his crimes had, in
other respects, rendered him sufficiently odious to the Jews as well as
to strangers. Mankind in general are disposed to believe every thing of
a man who has become famous by his wickedness.

Luke, to elude the reproaches which might be thrown on Jesus on account
of his residence and journey in Egypt, has not mentioned it at all; but
his silence does not destroy its reality. It was necessary to free Jesus
from the suspicion of magic, but he has not cleared him of accusations
brought against his birth, which are quite as weighty.

Celsus, a celebrated physician, who lived in the second century of
Christianity, and who had carefully collected all which had been
published against Jesus, asserts that he was the fruit of an illicit
intercourse. Origen, in his works against Celsus, has preserved this
accusation, but he has not transmitted the proofs on which it was
founded. The incredulous, however, have endeavoured to supply them, and
found the opinion of Celsus on what follows:

_First._ From the testimony of Matthew himself, it is most certain that
Joseph was very much dissatisfied with the pregnancy of his wife, in
which he had no part. He formed the design of quitting her secretly; a
resolution from which he was diverted by an angel, or dream, or perhaps
reflection, which always passes among Jews for the effect of an
inspiration from on high. It appears, however, that this design of
Joseph had transpired, and was afterwards turned into a matter of
reproach against Jesus. But Luke, more prudent than Matthew, has not
ventured to mention either the ill humor of Joseph, or the good-natured
conduct he followed. Neither do we find, though he formed this
resolution as to Mary, that this easy man again appeared on the stage
from the time Jesus entered on it. We are no where informed of his
death, and it is obvious that he never afterwards beheld his putative
son with an eye of kindness.--When, at thirty years of age, Jesus and
his mother went to the wedding at Cana, there is no mention of Joseph.
If we admit with Luke, the history of Jesus's dispute with the doctors
in the temple of Jerusalem, we shall find a new proof of the
indifference which subsisted between the pretended father and supposed
son: they met at the end of three days, and deigned not to interchange a
word. Epiphanius (lib. i. 10.) assures us that Joseph was very old at
the time of his marriage with the virgin, and adds that he was a widower
and father of six children by his first wife.--According to the
_proto-gospel_, the good man had much difficulty in prevailing on
himself to espouse Mary, whose age intimidated him; but the high-priest,
finding that Joseph was the man most conformable to his own views,
succeeded in removing his scruples.

_Secondly._ If to these presumptions are joined testimonies more
positive, and a high antiquity, which confirm the suspicions entertained
concerning the birth of Jesus, we shall obtain proofs that must convince
every unprejudiced person. The Emperor Julian, as well as Celsus, who
both had carefully examined all the writings existing in their time for
and against the Christian religion and its author, represent the mother
of Jesus in a very unfavorable light.

In the works of the Jews, he is treated as an illegitimate child; and,
almost in our days, Helvidius, a learned Protestant critic, as well as
several others, have maintained, not only that Jesus was the fruit of a
criminal intercourse, but also that Mary, repudiated by Joseph, had
other children by different husbands. Besides, this supposed virgin did
not want a reason for forsaking Joseph, and flying into Egypt with her
son. A prevailing tradition among the Jews states, that she made this
journey to shelter herself from the pursuits of her spouse, who, in
spite of the nocturnal visions which had been employed to pacify him,
might have delivered her up to the rigor of the laws. We know that the
Hebrews did not understand jesting on this subject.

We also find in the _Talmud_, the name of Panther, surnamed
_Bar-Panther_, whom they reckon in the number of the husbands of the
Virgin. From this it would appear, that Mary, repudiated by Joseph, or
after her flight, espoused Panther, an Egyptian soldier, her favorite
lover, and the real father of Jesus. John Damascene thought to repair
the injury which this anecdote might do to Mary's reputation, by saying
that the name of _Bar-Panther_ was hereditary in the family of Mary, and
consequently in that of Joseph. But, _1st_, either Mary was not the
kinswoman of Joseph, or she was not the cousin of Elizabeth, who was
married to a priest, and therefore of the tribe of Levi.--2dly, we no
where find in the Bible the name of _Panther_ among the descendants of
David. If this had been an hereditary surname in that family, it would
be found somewhere, unless we suppose that John Damascene learned it by
a particular revelation. 3dly, The name of _Panther_ is by no means

It will perhaps be said, that these rumours, so injurious to Jesus and
his mother, are calumnies invented by the enemies of the Christian
religion. But why decide if the pleas of both parties are not
investigated? The imputations are very ancient; they have been advanced
against Christianity ever since its origin, and they have never been
satisfactorily refuted. In the time of Jesus, we find that his
cotemporaries regarded his wonders as the effects of magic, the
delusions of the devil, the consequences of the power of Belzebub.--The
relations of Jesus were also of that opinion, and regarded him as an
imposter--a circumstance stated in the gospel itself, where we shall
afterwards find that they wanted to arrest him. On the other hand, Jesus
never speaks of his infancy, nor of the time that had preceded his
preaching:--he did not wish to recur to circumstances dishonorable to
his mother, towards whom, indeed, we shall very soon find him failing in
filial respect.

The evangelists, in like manner, pass very slightly over the first years
of their hero's life. Matthew makes him return from Egypt on the death
of Herod, without mentioning in what year that happened. He thus leaves
his commentators in doubt whether Jesus was then two or ten years old.
We find that the term of ten years is, through complaisance, invented on
account of the dispute between him and the doctors of Jerusalem, which
Luke places in his twelfth year. This excepted, Jesus disappeared from
the scene not to shew himself again till thirty years of age.

It is difficult to discover what he did until that age. If we credit
Luke, he remained at Nazareth. Yet it is clear that he was somewhere
else, for the purpose of learning the part which he was afterwards to
play. It has been supposed, not without reason, that Jesus passed a
considerable part of his life among the contemplative _Essenians_, or
_Therapeutes_, who were a kind of enthusiastic Jewish monks, living in
the vicinity of Alexandria, in Egypt, where it appears he drew up his
severe and monastic doctrine. If he had always resided at Nazareth, the
inhabitants of that small town would have known him perfectly. Very far
from this;--they were surprised at seeing him when thirty years of age.
They only conjectured that they knew him; and asked each other, "Is not
this the son of Joseph?"--a question very ridiculous in the mouths of
persons who must have been in the constant habit of seeing Jesus in the
narrow compass of their town. This does not prevent Justin from telling
us, that he became a carpenter in the workshop of his pretended father,
and that he wrought at buildings or instruments of husbandry. But such a
profession could not long agree with a man in whom we find an ambitious
and restless mind. The _Gospel_ of the _Infancy_ informs us, that Jesus,
when young, amused himself with forming small birds of clay, which he
afterwards animated, and then they flew into the air. The same book
says, that he knew more than his schoolmaster, whom he killed for having
struck him, because Jesus refused to read the letters of the alphabet.
We find also, that Jesus assisted Joseph in his labors, and by a miracle
lengthened the pieces of wood, when cut too short or too narrow. All
these extravagancies are not more difficult to believe than many other
wonders related in the acknowledged gospels.

We shall here quit Luke in order to follow Matthew, who places the
baptism of John after the return from Egypt, and makes Jesus forthwith
commence his mission. It is at this epoch, perhaps, that we ought to
begin the life of Jesus.--Yet, to let nothing be lost to the reader of
the evangelical memoirs, we thought it our duty not to pass over in
silence the circumstances which have been noticed, as these
preliminaries are calculated to throw much light on the person and
actions of Jesus. Besides, the interval between his birth and preaching
has not been the part of his history least exposed to the darts of
criticism. Matthew, as we have seen, to account for his master's absence
during the thirty years, makes him go into Egypt, and return in an
unlimited time. Luke, who digested his memoirs after Matthew, perceiving
that the abode in Egypt cast a suspicion of magic on the miracles of
Jesus, makes him remain in Galilee, going and coming every year to
Jerusalem; and making him appear, at the age of twelve, in the capital,
in the midst of the doctors, and debating with them. But Mark and John,
profiting by the criticism which these different arrangements had
experienced, make the messiah drop as it were from the clouds, and put
him instantly to labor at the great work of man's salvation.

It is thus that, on combining and comparing the several relations, we
are enabled to discover the true system of the Gospels, in which,
without adopting any alterations, we shall find materials for composing
the life of Jesus by merely reducing the marvellous to its proper value.



From the time the Romans subdued Judea, the superstitious inhabitants of
that country, impatient to see the arrival of the messiah so often
promised to their fathers, seemed inclined to quicken the slowness of
the Eternal by the ardor of their desires. This disposition of mind gave
birth to impostures, revolts, and disturbances; the authors of which the
Roman power punished in such a manner as to discourage their adherents,
or quickly to disperse them. Down to the era we are about to speak of,
(which the gospel of Luke fixes at the fifteenth year of the reign of
Tiberius,) none of those who had attempted to pass for the messiah had
been able to succeed. To have acted that part well required forces more
considerable than those which all Judea could oppose to the conquerors
of the world. It was, therefore, necessary to have recourse to craft,
and to employ delusions and trick instead of force. For this purpose, it
was of importance to be fully acquainted with the disposition of the
Jewish nation; to affect a great respect for its laws and usages, for
which it entertained the most profound veneration; to profit ingeniously
by the predictions with which the were imbued; to move the passions, and
warm the imaginations of that fanatical and credulous people. But all
this behoved to be silently effected; it was necessary for him who
attempted it, to avoid rendering himself suspected by the Romans; it was
necessary to be on his guard against the priests, doctors, and persons
of education, capable of penetrating and thwarting his designs. It was
essential to commence with gaining adherents and co-operators, and
thereafter a party among the people, to support him against the grandees
of the nation. Policy required that he should shew himself rarely in the
capital, to preach in the country, and render odious to the populace,
priests who devoured the nation, nobles who oppressed it, and rich
people of whom it ought to be naturally jealous. Not to alarm too much,
prudence demanded that he should speak in ambiguous language and in
parables. Neither could he dispense with working miracles, which, much
more than all the harangues in the world, were calculated to seduce
ignorant devotees, disposed to see the finger of God in every act the
true cause of which they were unable to comprehend.

Such was the conduct of the personage whose life we examine. Whether we
suppose that he had been in Egypt for the purpose of acquiring the
talents necessary to his views, or that he had always resided at
Nazareth, Jesus was not ignorant of the dispositions of his countrymen.
As he knew how much predictions were requisite to work on the minds of
the Jews, he made choice of a prophet and a forerunner in the person of
his cousin John Baptist. The latter, evidently in concert with Jesus,
preached repentance, baptized on the banks of Jordan, and announced the
coming of a personage greater than himself. He said to those who gave
ear to him, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he
that cometh after me is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoe I am
not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with
fire." Jesus accordingly repaired to John on purpose to arrange matters
with him, and to receive baptism from his hands. According to the report
of Matthew, John, at first, evinced some difficulty; affirming, that, so
far from being worthy to baptize Jesus, it was from him that he himself
ought to receive baptism. At last, however, he yielded to the orders of
Jesus, and administered to him the sacrament of which the innocent son
of God could not stand in need.

In this interview, the two kinsmen evidently settled their plans, and
took the necessary measures for insuring success. They both had
ambition, and shared the mission between them. John yielded the first
character to Jesus, whom he judged better qualified to play it with
success, and contented himself with being his precursor, preaching in
the desert, beating up for followers, and preparing the ways for
him--all in consequence of a prophecy of Isaiah, who had said, "Prepare
ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our
God"--an obscure and vague prediction, in which, however, Christians
believe they see clearly designated the messiah and his holy precursor.

The arrangements being once settled by our two missionaries, John took
care to tell those who came to hear him, that, to pacify Heaven, it was
time to repent; that the arrival of the messiah was not far off; and
that he had seen him. The sermons of John having made considerable
noise, the priests of Jerusalem, vigilant as to what might interest
religion, and wishing to be informed of his views, dispatched emissaries
after him. These men asked if he was the Christ, or Elias, or a prophet.
John answered, that he was neither of these. But when he was questioned
by what authority he baptized and preached, he declared, that he was the
forerunner of the messiah. This proceeding of the priests only tended to
give greater weight to John's assertions, and naturally excited the
curiosity of the people assembled to hear him. The next day they went in
a crowd to the place where the preacher baptized, when, profiting
skilfully by the circumstance, and perceiving Jesus approaching, he
exclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world. This is he of whom I said, after me cometh a man who is preferred
before me."

The author of the gospel ascribed to John, perceiving that it was
important to remove the suspicion of collusion between Jesus and his
forerunner, makes the Baptist declare twice, that he knew him not before
baptizing him: but that it had been revealed to him by the Deity, that
the person on whom he should see the Holy Spirit descending during his
baptism, was the son of God. Whence we see that, according to this
evangelist, John did not know Jesus, who was, however, his kinsman,
according to Luke.

John was much esteemed by the people, whom an austere and extraordinary
life is always certain of seducing.--They did not suspect that a
missionary so detached from the things of this world, could ever deceive
them. They believed on his word, that the Holy Spirit, under the form of
a dove, had descended on Jesus, and that he was the Christ or messiah
promised by the prophets. On another occasion we shall also find John
affecting not to know his cousin Jesus: he deputed some of his disciples
to learn _who he was_? Jesus replied, that they had only to relate to
John the miracles he performed, and by that sign their master would
recognize him. We shall afterwards speak of this embassy.

Jesus had associated with him a confident, then called Simon, and
afterwards Cephas or Peter, who had been the disciple of John. Scarcely
had Simon taken his arrangements with the messiah, when he drew over his
brother Andrew to the new sect. These two brothers were fishermen. We
readily presume that Jesus would not choose his followers among the
grandees of the country.

The progress of John Baptist, and the attachment of the people to him,
alarmed the priests; they complained loudly, and John was arrested by
order of the tetrarch Herod, who, according to Matthew, caused him to be
beheaded to please Herodias his sister-in-law. Yet we do not find the
historians of this prince reproaching him with the punishment of the
forerunner. After John's death, his disciples attached themselves to
Jesus, whose coming John had announced, and who, in his turn, had
rendered in behalf of John the most public testimonies in presence of
the people: for Jesus had openly declared, that John was "greater than a
prophet, and greater than an angel, and that he was not born of woman
who was greater than him." Nevertheless, the messiah, dreading to be
involved in the affair of his forerunner, left his two disciples at
Jerusalem, and withdrew into the desert, where he continued forty days.
It has been remarked, that during the imprisonment of John, Jesus did
not think of delivering him; he performed no miracle in his behalf;
after his death he spoke but little of him, and forebore pronouncing his
eulogy. He was no longer in need of him, and, perhaps, he wished by this
conduct to teach those who serve the views of the ambitious in a
subordinate capacity, that they ought not to reckon too much on

It would have been a bad exordium to assign fear as the motive of the
messiah's retreat. We are told that he was _carried up by the Spirit_,
which transported him to the desert. It was necessary that Jesus should
surpass his forerunner. The latter had led a very austere life, his only
nourishment being locust and wild honey; but the gospel affirms, that
Jesus ate _nothing at all_ during his retreat, and that on the last day,
having _felt himself hungry_, angels came and ministered to him. The
fasting of Jesus for forty days, is considered by his followers as a
proof of his divinity. But this abstinence falls far short of that
practised by a Talapoin at Siam, who, according to La Loubere, "lived
satisfactorily without food for _one hundred and seven days_!"

To evince the importance of his mission, the prejudice which it was to
occasion to the empire of the devil, and the infinite advantages which
were to result from it to his followers, Jesus, on his return from the
desert, pretended that Satan had tempted him; made the most flattering
offers to engage him to desist from his enterprise; and proffered him
the monarchy of the universe, if he would renounce his project of
redeeming the human race. The refusal he gave to these propositions,
evinced a supernatural desire to labor for the salvation of the world.
Such as heard these details must have been filled with astonishment,
penetrated with gratitude, and burning with zeal for the preacher. Of
consequence, the number of his adherents increased.

John the Evangelist, or the person who has written, under his name,
whose object appears to have been to establish the divinity of Jesus,
has not mentioned his carrying away, abode in the desert, and
temptation. These transactions must have been considered by him
prejudicial to the doctrine he wished to introduce. Matthew, Mark, and
Luke, relate the carrying away, and the temptations in a different
manner, but calculated to show the power of Satan over the messiah. He
transported him, no doubt in spite of himself, to the pinnacle of the
temple; and by a miracle, made Jesus contemplate, from the summit of a
mountain, all the kingdoms of the universe, without even excepting those
whose inhabitants were _antipodes_ of Judea. According to the gospels,
the devil worked marvels, which far surpassed those of Jesus.

The absence of Jesus made him lose for a time, his two disciples Peter
and Andrew. The necessity of providing for their subsistence,
constrained them to resume their former trade. As their master durst not
then reside in Jerusalem, he retired towards the banks of the sea of
Galilee, where they joined him. "Follow me, (said he to them,) leave
your nets; of catchers of fish I will make you fishers of men." He,
probably, made them understand, that the arrangements he had made during
his retirement, furnished him with the means of subsisting, without
toil, by the credulity of the vulgar. The two brothers immediately
followed him.

Whether Jesus had been expelled from Nazareth by his fellow citizens, or
quitted it of his own accord, he fixed his residence at Capernaum, a
maritime city, on the confines of the tribes of Zabulon and Naphtali.
His mother, a widow, or separated from her husband, followed him: she
could be useful to Jesus and the little troop of adherents who lived
with him.

It was at this time that our hero, seconded by his disciples, opened his
mission. His sermon, like that of the Baptist, consisted in saying,
_Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand_. John, we have seen,
commenced preaching in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. It was in the
same year that his interview with Jesus took place, when he was baptized
by John. Towards the end of this year John disappeared: after which
Jesus was in the desert, whence he returned to reside with his mother in
the city of Capernaum. There he remained a short time only on account of
the approach of the festival of the passover, to celebrate which he
repaired to Jerusalem. We may, therefore, fix the commencement of his
preaching in the sixteenth year of Tiberius. He celebrated the passover
three times before his death; and the common opinion is, that his
preaching lasted three years, or until the nineteenth year of Tiberius.

The rumours excited by the baptism and preaching of John, and the
testimonies he bore in behalf of Jesus, having died away on the
imprisonment and death of the forerunner, and flight of the messiah, the
latter resumed courage, and thought that, with the assistance of his
disciples, he ought to make a new attempt. Too well known at Nazareth,
and slighted by his relations, who, on all occasions, seemed to think
but little of him, he quitted that ungrateful city to establish himself,
as we have remarked, at Capernaum, in the sixteenth year of Tiberius. It
was there that he commenced preaching his new system to some poor
fishermen, and other low people. He soon found, however, that his
mission was too circumscribed in that place: but to acquire some eclat,
he judged it necessary to perform a miracle; that is, in the language of
the Jews, some trick capable of exciting the wonder of the vulgar. An
opportunity occurred for this: some inhabitants of Cana, a small village
Of Galilee Superior, at the distance of about fifteen leagues from
Capernaum, invited Jesus and his mother to a wedding. The married
persons were poor, though John, who alone relates this story, gives them
a steward; yet he tells us that their wine failed at the moment the
guests were half intoxicated, or gay. On this Mary, who knew the power
or the dexterity of her son, said to him: _They have no wine._ Jesus
answered her very roughly, and in a manner which evidently denoted a man
warmed with wine: _Woman, what have I to do with thee?_ It may, however,
be supposed, that Jesus had not totally lost the use of his reason, as
he still possessed presence of mind to transmute water into wine, so
that the miraculous wine was found better than the natural wine they had
drank at the beginning.

This first miracle of Jesus was performed in presence of a great number
of persons, already half intoxicated; but the text does not inform us,
whether they were equally astonished the day following, when the fumes
of the wine were dissipated. Perhaps this miracle was witnessed by the
steward only, with whom Jesus had secret intelligence. The incredulous,
less easily persuaded than the poor inebriated villagers, do not observe
in this transmutation of water into wine, a motive for being convinced
of the divine power of Jesus. They remark, that in the operation, he
employed water in order to make his wine; a circumstance which may give
room to suspect, that he made only a composition, of which be, like many
others, might have the secret. There was in fact, no more power
necessary to create wine, and fill the pitchers without putting water
into them, than to make an actual transmutation or water into wine. At
least, by acting in this manner, he would have removed the suspicion of
having made only a mixture.

In whatever manner the miracle was performed, it appears to have made
some impression on those who saw it, or who heard it related. It is
certain Jesus profited by it to extend his mission even to the capital
of Judea; only giving time for his miracle to spread, in order to
produce its effect. In expectation of this, he withdrew with his mother,
brothers, and disciples, to Capernaum, where he remained till the
festival of the passover (the time of which was near) should collect at
Jerusalem a multitude of people, before whom he flattered himself with
being able to operate a great number of marvels.



The noise of the miracle at Cana having reached Jerusalem, by means of
those who repaired to that city from Galilee, Jesus went there,
accompanied by some of his disciples; but of the number of the latter we
are ignorant. It was, as has been mentioned, the time of the passover,
and consequently, a moment when almost the whole nation were assembled
in the capital. Such an occasion was favorable for working miracles.
John accordingly affirms that Jesus performed a great number, without,
however, detailing any of them. Several of the witnesses of Jesus' power
believed in him, according to our historian; but he did not place much
confidence in them. The reason given for this by John, is, "Because he
knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew
what was in man." In short, he knew every thing except the means of
giving to those who saw his miracles the dispositions he desired.

But, how reconcile faith in these new converts, in the wonders performed
by Jesus, with the bad dispositions they were known to possess? If he
knew the state of mind of these witnesses of his miracles, why perform
them with certain loss? In this there is a want of just inference in the
writer, which must not, however, be imputed to Jesus. It is perhaps
better not to refer to John in this matter, than to believe that his
sagacious master would perform miracles without design, or for the sole
pleasure of working them.

In the same journey to Jerusalem, Jesus performed an exploit which is as
great as a miracle, and evinces a powerful arm. According to an ancient
usage, merchants had established themselves, especially during the
solemn festivals, under the porticos which environed the temple. They
furnished victims and offerings to the devout, which they were to
present to the Lord, in order to accomplish the ordinances of the law;
and, for the accommodation of the Jews who repaired thither from
different countries, and for their own interest, the priests had
permitted the money changers to fix their stalls in this place. Jesus,
who on every occasion shewed himself but little favorable to the clergy,
was shocked at this usage, which, far from being criminal, tended to
facilitate the accomplishment of the Mosaical law. He made a scourge of
ropes, and, displaying a vigorous arm on those merchants, drove them
into the streets, frightened their cattle, and overturned the counters,
without their being able to oppose his enterprise. It may be
conjectured, that the people had no reason to be displeased with the
disturbance, but profited by the money and effects which Jesus
overturned in the paroxysm of his zeal. No doubt his disciples did not
forget themselves: their master could by this exploit make provision for
them, especially if they had been in the secret, and enable them to
defray all expenses during their residence in the capital. Besides, they
saw in this event the accomplishment of a prophecy of the Psalmist, who
foretold, that the Messiah would be "eaten up with the zeal of the house
of the Lord"--a prophecy that was clearly verified by the uproar which
Jesus had occasioned. It would appear that the brokers had not
comprehended the mystic sense of this prediction; at least they did not
expect to see it verified at their expense. In their first surprise,
they neglected to oppose the unexpected attacks of a man who must have
appeared to them a maniac; but, on recovering from their astonishment,
they complained to the magistrates of the loss they had sustained. The
magistrates, afraid, perhaps, of weakening their authority by punishing
a man of whom the people had become the accomplice, or a fanatic whose
zeal might be approved by the devotees, did not wish to use rigor for
this time; they contented themselves with sending to Jesus to know from
himself by what authority he acted--"What sign (said they) shewest thou
unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?" On which Jesus answered,
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." But the
Jews were not tempted to make the trial;--they took him for a fool, and
returned, shrugging their shoulders. If they had taken Jesus at his
word, they would have experienced great embarrassment; for the gospel
informs us, that it was not of the temple of Jerusalem he spoke, but of
his own body. He meant his resurrection, says John, which was to happen
three days after his death. The Jews had not discernment to divine this
enigma, and the disciples did not penetrate its true meaning till a long
time after, when they pretended their master had risen from the dead. We
cannot forbear admiring that Providence, which, wishing to instruct,
enlighten, and convert the Jewish people by the mouth of Jesus, employed
only figures, allegories, and enigmatical symbols, totally inexplicable
by persons the most ingenious and most experienced.

Though Jesus had the power of raising himself from the dead, he did not
wish to employ it when in the hands of the Jews, who were ready to
arrest and punish him as a disturber of the public repose. He thought it
more prudent to decamp without noise, and shelter himself from the
pursuit of those whom his brilliant exhibitions might have displeased.
He intended to withdraw from Jerusalem during night, when a devout
Pharisee, wishing to be instructed, came to see him. He was called
Nicodemus, and held the place of senator--a rank which does not always
exempt from credulity. "Rabbi, (said he to Jesus,) we know that thou art
a teacher sent from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou
doest, except God be with him."

This opportunity was favorable for Jesus to declare himself: by a single
word he could have decided on his divinity, and acknowledged, before
this senator so kindly disposed, that he was God. Yet he evaded a direct
answer; contenting himself with saying to Nicodemus, that nobody can
share in the kingdom of God unless he be born again. The astonished
proselyte exclaimed, that it was impossible for a man already old to be
born again, or enter anew into his mother's womb. On which Jesus
replied: "I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the
spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It appears, that
Nicodemus was no better satisfied than before. Jesus, to make himself
more perspicuous, added, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and
that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Marvel not, that I said unto
thee, ye must be born again--The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou
hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor
whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the spirit."

Notwithstanding the precision and plainness of these instructions,
(resembling the reasoning of our theologians,) Nicodemus, whose
understanding was doubtless shut up, did not comprehend any part of
them. "How (asks he) can these things be?" Here Jesus, pushed to
extremity, grew warm:--"Art thou (says he) a master of Israel, and
knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that
we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our
witness. If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall
ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up
to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the son of man which
is in heaven." (John iii. 1-13.)

We thought it our duty to relate this curious dialogue, as a specimen of
the logic of Jesus; the more so as it seems to have served as a model
for the fashion of reasoning observed by Christian doctors, who are in
the use of explaining obscure things by things still more obscure and
unintelligible. They terminate all disputes by referring the decision to
their own testimony; that is, to the authority or the church or clergy,
entrusted by God himself with regulating what the faithful ought to

The rest of the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus is equally
perspicuous, and in the same style:--The former alone speaks, and
appears by the dint of his reasons to have silenced the docile senator,
who, it seems, retired fully convinced. Thus it is, that _faith_
disposes the elect to yield to the lessons, dogmas, and mysteries of
religion even when it is impossible to attach any meaning to the words
they hear pronounced.

There is no further mention of Nicodemus--We know not whether he
resigned his office of Senator to enrol himself among the disciples of
Jesus. Perhaps he was contented with secretly furnishing necessaries to
his adherents, in gratitude for the luminous instructions he had
received. He evidently knew how to profit by them, for John makes him
return after the death of Jesus, bringing a hundred pounds of aloes and
myrrh, for the purpose of embalming his body, and then interring it,
with the assistance of Joseph of Arimathea. This proves that he had come
from his conversation with Jesus a more able theologist than he had
begun it. On this occasion, Jesus must have granted him saving grace,
without which it would have been impossible to comprehend any of his
sublime dogmas.

According to theology, men have occasion for _supernatural grace_ to do
good. This doctrine is injurious to sound morality. Men always wait for
the call from above to do good, and those who direct them, never employ
the _calls from below_; that is the natural motives to excite them to
virtue. But the clergy cannot give a correct definition of virtue. They
say it is an effect of grace that disposes men to do that which is
agreeable to the Divinity. But what is grace? How does it act on man?
What is it that is agreeable to God? Wherefore doth not God give to all
men the grace to do that which is agreeable in his eyes? We are
unceasingly told to do good, _because God requires_ it; but no one has
been able to teach us what that good is which is acceptable to the
Almighty, and by the performance of which we shall obtain his

It must be acknowledged, that the impossibility of comprehending the
doctrine of Jesus furnishes a good reason for denying that it can be
divine. It cannot be conceived why a God, sent to instruct men, should
never distinctly explain himself. No Pagan oracle employed terms more
ambiguous, than the divine missionary chosen by Providence to enlighten
nations. In this the Deity appears to have made it his study to create
obstacles to his projects, and to have laid a snare not only for the
Jews, but for all those who must read the gospel to obtain salvation; a
conduct equally unworthy of a good and just God, endowed with prescience
and wisdom; yet by faith we may succeed in reconciling every thing, and
readily comprehend why God should speak without wishing to be

As soon as Jesus had quitted Nicodemus, he left Jerusalem, his abode in
which had become very dangerous, and wandered through the country of
Judea, where he enjoyed greater safety. The uproar he had occasioned in
the capital, where so great a multitude were assembled, had not failed
to make him known to many; but it was at a distance that he gained the
greatest number of partisans. John informs us, in chapter third, that
during this period he baptized; thereafter he tells us, in chapter
fourth, that he did _not_ baptize, but that his disciples baptized for

One thing is certain, that, after this, he quitted Judea to go into
Galilee. It was, perhaps, to be more private, or to prevent the schism,
which, according to the gospel, was ready to take place between the Jews
baptized by John, and those whom Jesus and his disciples had baptized.
Jesus conceived that prudence required him to remain at a distance, and
to leave the field open to a man who was useful to him, and who
contented himself with playing the second part under him. It very soon
appeared that Jesus made a greater number of proselytes than his cousin;
a circumstance which, in the end, might have created a misunderstanding
between them. Jesus therefore directed his march towards Samaria,
whither we are to follow him, and thence he passed into Galilee.



It may be observed that in this examination of the history of Jesus, we
follow the most generally received arrangement of facts, without meaning
to guarantee that they occurred precisely in that order. Chronological
mistakes are not of much importance when they do not influence the
nature of events. Besides, the evangelists, without fixing any eras,
content themselves with saying _at that time_, which precludes our
giving an exact chronology of the following transactions. Precision
would require a labor as immense as superfluous, and tend only to shew
that the history of Jesus, dictated by the Holy Spirit, is more
incorrect than that of celebrated Pagans of an antiquity more remote. It
would also prove that the inspired writers contradict themselves every
instant, by making their hero act at the same time in different places,
and often remote from each other. On the other hand, this great labor
would not inform us which of the evangelists we ought to prefer, seeing
all in the eyes of faith have truth on their side. Time and place do not
change the nature of facts; and it is from these facts we must form our
ideas of the legislator of the Christians.

Jesus having commenced his journey in the summer season, felt oppressed
with thirst near Sichar, in the country of Samaria, which gave rise to a
singular adventure. Near this city there was a well, known by the name
of Jacob's fountain. Fatigued with his journey, Jesus sat down on the
brink of the well, waiting the return of his disciples, who had gone to
the city for provisions. It was about noon, when a female came to draw
water. Jesus asked her to let him drink out of the vessel she held; but
the Samaritan, who knew from his countenance that he was a Jew, was
astonished at his request, as there was no intercourse between the
orthodox Jews and the Samaritans. According to the custom of partisans
of different sects, they detested each other most cordially. The
messiah, who was not so fastidious as the ordinary Jews, undertook the
conversion of the female heretic, for whose sex we find in him a strong
attachment through the whole course of his history. "If thou knewest,"
said he to her, "the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, give
me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given
thee living water." The Samaritan woman, who did not observe Jesus to
have any vessel in his hand, asked whence he could draw the living water
of which he spoke? On this the messiah, assuming a mysterious tone,
answered, "Whoso drinketh of this well shall thirst again, but whosoever
drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; It
shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." The
female, who was a dame of easy virtue, asked some of that marvellous
water; and Jesus, from this discourse having discovered the profession
of the woman, ingeniously got off by telling her to go and seek her
husband; calculating, perhaps, on being able to steal away when she was
gone. But the lady related to him her life; gave some details of her
conduct; and thereby enabled him to conjecture enough of it to speak as
a conjuror. Accordingly, he told her that she had had five husbands;
that she had none at that time, and that the man with whom she lived was
only a gallant. The Samaritan woman took Jesus for a sorcerer or a
prophet; he did not deny it; and as he was not then afraid of being
stoned or punished, he made bold for the first time to confess that he
was the messiah.

They were at this part of their dialogue, when the return of Jesus'
disciples put an end to it. The latter, whether they knew the profession
of the loquacious dame, or were more intolerant than their master, were
surprised at the tete-a-tete; yet none of them ventured to criticise the
conduct of Jesus; while the Samaritan woman seeing his retinue believed
in reality that he was a prophet or the messiah. Leaving her pitcher,
she went directly to Sichar, "Come and see," said she to the
inhabitants, "a man who told me all things that ever I did; is not this
the Christ?"--The astonished inhabitants went and met Jesus; and charmed
with hearing him preach, without comprehending one word of his
discourse, they invited him to come and reside with them. He yielded to
their request for two days only: the provisions purchased were put up in
reserve, and the troop lived during that time at the cost of these
heretics, delighted no doubt with defraying the expenses of the Saviour
and his followers.

All the marvellous in this adventure turns on Jesus having divined that
the Samaritan lady had had five husbands, and lived at that time in
criminal intercourse with a favorite. Yet it is easy to perceive that
Jesus could learn this anecdote either in his conversation with the
prating dame, or by public rumor, or in some other very easy way.

But unbelievers find another reason for criticising this relation of
John. Laying aside the marvellous, they attack the _truth_ of the
transaction. All history attests, that in the time of Jesus, Samaria was
peopled by colonies of different nations, which the Assyrians had
transported thither after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel. This
would seem to exclude the expectation of the messiah, in which,
according to John, the Samaritans lived. Pagans and Idolators could not
have very distinct notions of an event peculiar to Judea. If the
Samaritans were the descendants of Jacob, it was not necessary to put
into the mouth of the Samaritan woman these words, "Our fathers
worshipped in this mountain, and ye say, Jerusalem is the place where
men ought to worship." It was also absurd to make Jesus say, "ye shall
no more worship the Father, either in this mountain or at Jerusalem; ye
worship ye know not what;" for the law of Moses does not forbid the
worshipping God in whatever place we may find ourselves. In the time of
Jesus, the laws or usages of the Jews required, that none should offer
sacrifice any where, except in the temple of the capital; but the places
of prayer depended on every man's own will and pleasure. It is, besides,
absurd to say, that the descendants of Jacob did not know the God whom
they adored to be Jehovah, the God of Moses and of the Jews; unless it
is pretended, that they did not know whom they worshipped. Since the
mission of Jesus, Christians have undoubtedly nothing to reproach them
with on this head. Moreover the words of Jesus seem to insinuate, that
he wished to abolish the worship of the Father. It is certain that
Christians share their homage between him and his Son, which, faith a
part, annihilates the dogma of the unity of God. Finally, Jesus did not
conjecture right in saying, that the Father would be no longer
worshipped at Jerusalem, or on the mountain; for this Father has not
ceased one instant to be worshipped there for these eighteen centuries,
by Jews, by Christians, and by Mahometans.

If it is maintained, that the Samaritan woman was a heathen, it is not
likely that she would have regarded Jesus as the messiah, whom she
neither knew nor expected. Add to this, that the Samaritans believed in
Jesus on the word of a courtezan; a credulity of which Jews and
Christians only could be susceptible. Jesus and his disciples were Jews,
and in that character excluded from Samaria. It is of no import,
therefore, by whom the country was inhabited.

Two days having elapsed, and the people of Sichar being, in all
appearance, sufficiently instructed, Jesus quitted their city, and with
his disciples took the road of Upper Galilee. In this journey, Jesus
considering the hostile disposition of his countrymen, thought proper
not to enter Nazareth, the place of his nativity. He applied to himself
the famous proverb, _a prophet has no honor in his own country_. It was
otherwise in the rest of the province:--as soon as the people knew of
his arrival, they gave him welcome. Luke assures us that he was esteemed
and honored by every body. These good people had beheld the wonders
which he had operated in Jerusalem, during the festival of the passover.
In gratitude for these favorable dispositions, and for the faith he
found among the Galileans, Jesus did not content himself with
instructing them, but confirmed his mission, and testified his love by a
crowd of prodigies. The number was, doubtless, very great, as Matthew is
constrained to say generally, that he healed all manner of sickness, and
all manner of disease among the people; and that it was sufficient to
obtain a cure, to present to him the sick, whatever might be their
disease. Lunatics, whose number was great in that country; idiots,
hypochondriacs, and persons possessed with devils, had but to fly to him
for relief, and their cure was certain.

This multitude of miracles, for so they style the cures operated by
Jesus, drew after him a crowd of idlers and vagabonds from Galilee,
Jerusalem, Decapolis, Judea, and the country beyond Jordan. It was in
this journey he obtained two famous disciples: they were brothers, sons
of a fisherman of the name of Zebedee, and called James and John. The
first, though, probably, he could not read, afterwards composed mystical
works, which are at this day revered by Christians. With respect to
John, he was the favorite of his master, and received from him marks of
distinguished attention. He afterwards became a sublime Platonist, and,
through gratitude, deified Jesus in the gospels and epistles published
in his name.

The reputation and resources of Jesus were so great in Galilee, that, to
increase the number of his followers, it was only necessary for him to
open his mouth and speak. The two disciples already mentioned, he called
with an intention to keep near his person. Wishing, however, to repose
after the fatigues of preaching and performing miracles, he resolved to
quit the cities and retire to the sea coast. He conjectured, that to
make himself desirable, and not exhaust his credit, it was prudent not
to suffer himself to be seen too long or too near. The people, fond of
hearing the wonderful sermons of Jesus, followed him. Pressed by the
crowd, he happily perceived two vessels; and stepping into the one
belonging to Simon Peter, he harangued the eager multitude from it. Thus
the boat of a fisherman became a pulpit, whence the Deity uttered his

The Galileans were not rich, and, accordingly, the troop of Jesus'
adherents augmented. We find his four first apostles laboring in their
trade of fishermen during the abode of the messiah in the province. The
day on which he preached in the vessel had not been fortunate for them;
and the night preceding was not more favorable. Jesus, who knew more
than one profession, thought that it behoved him to do something for
people who shewed so much zeal. When, therefore, he had finished his
harangue and the crowd had retired, he bade Simon advance into the
middle of the water and cast his net; the latter excused himself,
saying, that he had already thrown several times without success. But
Jesus insisted:--then said Simon, _I will cast it on thy word_: on
which, by an astonishing miracle, the net broke on all sides. Simon and
Andrew were unable to drag it out, they called their comrades, and drew
out of it fishes enough to fill two ships. Our fishermen were so
surprised, that Peter took his master for a wizard, and prayed him to
depart. But Jesus encouraged him, and promised not to alarm them again,
seeing that henceforth he, Peter, should no longer occupy himself with
catching fish, but men.

The messiah finding himself near Cana, judged it proper, as he had once
performed a miracle there, to enter that place. An officer of Capernaum,
whose son was sick of a fever, repaired to this village on purpose to
try the remedies of Jesus, of whose powers so many persons boasted. He
entreated the physician to come to his house and cure his son; but our
Esculapius, who did not chuse to operate before eyes too clear-sighted,
got rid of this importunate person in such a way as not to incur any
risk, in case he should not succeed: Go, said he to the officer, _thy
son liveth_. The officer, while approaching his own habitation, learned
that the fever, which perhaps was intermittent, had left his son. No
more was necessary to cry up the miracle, and convert all the family.

After having traversed the sea coast, and made some stay at Cana, Jesus
repaired to Capernaum, where, as has been related, he fixed his
residence. The family of Simon Peter was established in that city; and
it was no doubt this reason, joined with the bad treatment he had
received from the inhabitants of Nazareth, that determined Jesus to make
choice of this residence. It appears he was abhorred in the city where
he had been educated; for as soon as he attempted to preach there, the
people wanted to throw him headlong. At Capernaum they listened to and
admired him; he harangued in the synagogue, explained the scripture, and
showed that he himself was foretold in it. In the midst of his sermon,
one Sabbath day, they brought him a person possessed, who perhaps in
concert with him, began to cry out with all his might; "Let us alone:
what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to
destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the holy one of God." The people
waited in terror for the issue of this adventure, when Jesus, certain of
his ground, addressed himself not to the man, but to the devil
possessing him: "Hold thy peace," said he, "and come out of him."
Immediately the malign spirit overturned the possessed, threw him into
horrible convulsions, and disappeared without any person seeing him.

Physicians, especially those acquainted with the eastern countries, do
not admit miracles of the nature of this one. They know that the
diseases considered _possessions_, were owing solely to disorders
produced in the brain by excessive heat. These maladies were frequent in
Judea, where superstition and ignorance impeded the progress of medicine
and all useful knowledge. Out of that country we find but few possessed
with devils. This incredulity strips Jesus of a great number of his
miracles; yet taking away the _possessions_, there still remain enough.
Most of the possessed among us are hypochondriacs, maniacs, hysterical
women, melancholy persons, and those tormented with the vapors or
spasms; or they are impostors, who, to gain money, to interest the
simple and to display the power of the priests, consent to receive the
devil, that the clergy may have the glory of expelling him. There is
scarcely a possession now-a-days which could resist a flogging.

Miracles are food for the imagination, but the body requires more
substantial aliments: the adventure which has been related had led to
the hour of dinner. On leaving the synagogue, Jesus was invited to the
house of Peter, where every thing appears to have been prepared for
performing a second miracle. The mother-in-law of Simon felt sick at the
moment they had need of her in managing the kitchen. Jesus, who
possessed the talent of readily curing the relatives of his disciples,
took her by the hand, and made her rise from her bed: she arose
completely cured, cooked the victuals, and was in a condition to serve
the guests.

In the evening of the same day, they brought Jesus all the sick in
Capernaum, and all the possessed, whom, according to Matthew, he cured
by some words; but, according to Luke, by laying hands on them. Several
devils, on coming out of the possessed, had the impudence to betray the
secret of the physician, and openly declare, that he was "Christ the Son
of God." This indiscretion displeased Jesus, who wished, or feigned to
wish, to keep private. Luke tells us that "he rebuked them, and suffered
them not to speak, for they knew that he was Christ."

According to theologists, the Son of God, in all his conduct, had in
view only to lead the devil astray, and conceal from him the mystery of
redemption: Yet we see, that Jesus was never able to deceive his cunning
enemy. In the whole gospel system, the devil is more sly and powerful
than both God the Father and God the Son: he is always successful in
thwarting their designs, and succeeds in reducing God the Father to the
dire necessity of making his dear Son die in order to repair the evil
which Satan had done to mankind. Christianity is real manichaeism,
wherein every advantage is on the side of the bad principle, who, by the
great number of his adherents renders nugatory all the purposes of the
Deity. If the devil knew that Jesus was "the Christ," such knowledge
must have been posterior to his retirement into the desert, for he then
spoke to him in a style which intimated that he knew him not. It is
superfluous to examine at what time the devil acquired this knowledge;
but it is manifest that he had it only by divine permission. Now God, by
granting to the devil the knowledge of his Son, either wished, or did
not wish, that he should speak of it. If he wished it, Jesus did wrong
in opposing it: if he did not wish it, how was the devil able to act
contrary to the divine will? Jesus carefully concealed his quality, the
knowledge of which could alone operate salvation. But, in this case, the
devil had the greatest interest to conceal it; yet in opposition to this
interest, and the will of the Almighty, the devil made known the quality
of Jesus. Besides, if Jesus did not wish that the devil should discover
him, why delay imposing silence on him until after he had spoken?

The conduct of the Messiah in these particulars has made it to be
believed, that not daring to endanger himself by publicly assuming the
quality of Christ, or Son of God, he was not displeased with the devils
for divulging his secret, and sparing him the trouble of speaking. It
was, moreover, eliciting a very important confession out of the mouth of
an enemy.

Jesus was not ignorant, that to retain his influence over the minds of
men, it was necessary to prevent satiety. Accordingly, on the day
following that on which so many miracles had been wrought in Capernaum,
he departed before day-break, and withdrew into a desert. All
legislators have loved retirement. It is there they have had divine
inspirations, and it is on emerging from these mysterious asylums, they
have performed miracles calculated to deceive the vulgar. Solitary
reflection is at times necessary to ascertain the state of our affairs.

Meanwhile the disciples of Jesus, notwithstanding his flight, did not
lose sight of him; they repaired to him at the moment he wished to be
alone, and informed him that they had been every where in search of him.
In fact, there were still many sick and possessed in the country; yet
this consideration did not induce Jesus to return to Capernaum; on which
account many resorted to him in his retreat. To get rid of them, he
again traversed Galilee, where he cured the sick and cast out devils.
This is all the gospel mentions. It appears he tarried little on his
road, while he preached as he went along; for in a short time he had
advanced a considerable way on the shore of the sea of Galilee. As the
multitude augmented by idle and curious people from the villages, our
preacher, finding himself pressed by the crowd, gave orders to his
disciples to convey him to the other side, on the territory of the

When he had landed, a doctor of the law offered to become his follower:
but Jesus readily conceived that a _doctor_ would not suit him. He would
have cut a poor figure in a company composed of fishermen and clowns,
such as those of whom the messiah had formed his court. He gave the
doctor to understand, that he would repent of this step; that this kind
of life would not agree with him: "the son of man," said he to the
doctor, "hath no where to lay his head."

Jesus would not permit his disciples to ramble too far in the territory
of the Gerasenes; for amongst them were some of that country. One asked
permission to go and perform the last duties to his father;--another, to
embrace his family; but Jesus harshly refused their requests. The first
received for answer, "let the dead bury their dead." The other, "whoever
having put his hand to the plough, and looketh back, is not fit for the
kingdom of heaven." The incredulous think they perceive in these answers
a proof of the rough habits, and repulsive and despotic spirit of Jesus,
who, for the kingdom of heaven, obliged his disciples to neglect the
most sacred duties of morality. But Christians, docile to the lessons of
their divine master, which they dare not examine, have made perfection
consist in a total abandonment of those objects which nature has
rendered dearest to man. Christianity seems intended only to create
discord, detach men from every thing on earth, and break the ties which
ought to unite them. There is, according to Jesus, but one thing
needful; namely, to be attached to him exclusively: a maxim very useful
in meriting heaven, but calculated to destroy every society on the

After our missionary had spent some time in the country of the
Gerasenes, one day towards the evening he passed over to the other side
of the lake, having previously dismissed the people, who had come that
day on purpose to hear him; but he did not preach. Fatigued, he fell
asleep on the passage, whilst a furious tempest overtook the ship. His
affrighted disciples, impressed with the idea of their master being more
powerful when awake than when asleep, acquainted him with the danger.
This drew on them reproaches for their want of faith, which, probably,
gave time for the tempest to subside. Then Jesus, in a tone of
authority, commanded the sea to be still, and immediately the order was
obeyed. In spite of this prodigy, the faith of the disciples was for a
long time wavering. Jesus after this returned to the country of the
Gerasenes, without having either preached or performed miracles on the
other side.



Landed again in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus took a route by
which no person had for some time passed. Two demoniacs, inhabiting the
tombs in the neighborhood, rendered this passage dangerous. Scarcely had
Jesus shown himself, when these madmen ran to meet him. As he was a
connoisseur in matters of possession, he no sooner perceived them than
he began to exorcise, to make the unclean spirits come out of them.
Notwithstanding his divine skill, he acquitted himself very imperfectly
on this occasion. It was not with _one_ devil, but with a legion of
devils he had to deal. One of them, amused at the mistake of the son of
God who asked him his name, answered, _I am called Legion_. On this
Jesus changed his batteries, and was proceeding to dislodge them, when
the devils, obstinate in continuing in the country, or very little
desirous of returning to hell, proposed a capitulation. One of the
articles stipulated, that on leaving the body of the possessed, they
should enter into a herd of swine, which fed close by on the declivity
of a hill. Jesus readily agreed, for once, to grant something on the
prayer of the devils, and not to use his authority rigorously. Neither
he nor his disciples, as good Jews, ate pork: he supposed, therefore,
that swine, prohibited by the law, might well serve for a retreat to
devils. He consented to the treaty; the demons came out of their former
residence to enter into the swine, who, feeling Satan within them, were
thrown into commotion, or, perhaps, were terrified--a very natural
thing; and having precipitated themselves into the sea, were drowned to
the number of about two thousand. If a legion of devils is composed of
the same number as a Roman legion, we must believe that there were six
thousand devils. This evidently makes three devils for each hog, a
sufficient number to induce them to commit suicide.

Some grave authors assure us, that Jesus never laughed, nor even smiled;
yet it is very difficult to believe, that the "son of God" could
preserve his gravity after performing such a trick. But it did not
appear so humorous to the herdsmen, who found this fine miracle so
little pleasant that they complained of it to their employers, and ran
to the city; where the affair was no sooner known than the proprietors
of the swine, far from being converted, bewailed a prodigy so ruinous to
them, and maintained that it was a matter of public concern. The
Gerasenes went in a body to oppose the entry of Jesus into their city,
and, from inability to punish, besought him to leave their territory as
soon as possible. Such was the effect which the miracle of sending
devils into the swine produced.

This memorable transaction must be true, for it is attested by three
evangelists, who, however, vary in some circumstances. Matthew informs
us, that the possessed were _two_ in number; Mark and Luke maintain that
there was only _one_; but so furious, according to Mark, that they could
not bind him _even with fetters_. Luke is certain that the devil
frequently carried him into the deserts; Mark affirms that he spent his
days and nights in the tombs, and on the neighboring mountains. On this
occasion Jesus was also proclaimed _Christ_ by the devil. As he was
among his friends, or disciples, he did not enjoin silence to Satan. The
acknowledgement was useful when given in private, and could not hurt
him; but there were occasions on which it might do harm if made in
public. It was necessary, therefore, our puissant miracle-worker should
be circumspect, especially when he did not perceive himself sufficiently

Unbelievers discover important errors, and evident marks of falsehood in
the narrative, which also appears ridiculous, 1st, They are surprised to
see devils, who, according to Christians, are condemned to eternal
torments in hell, leaving it to take possession of the inhabitants of
this earth. 2dly, They are astonished at seeing the devils address
prayers to the son of God. It is an article of Christian faith, that to
pray, grace is requisite; that the damned cannot pray; and much more,
that this grace must be denied to the chief of the damned. 3dly, The
incredulous are offended at a miracle by which Jesus benefitted two
persons possessed with devils, at the expense of the proprietors of two
thousand swine, to whom this miracle cost at least eighteen thousand
dollars;--a transaction not quite agreeable to the rules of equity.
4thly, It cannot be conceived how Jews, whom their law inspired with
horror towards swine, could have herds of these animals among them, and
which they could not even touch without being defiled; and, 5thly, It is
indecorous to make the "son of God" enter into a compromise with devils;
ridiculous to make them enter into swine; and unjust to make them enter
into and destroy other people's property.

We are not informed what became of these devils after being precipitated
into the sea. It is not unreasonable to believe, that, in coming out of
the swine, they entered into the Jews, to procure the saviour the
pleasure of casting them out again; for the curing of people possessed
was, of all miracles, that in which he was most expert.

The possessed person cured by Jesus, penetrated with gratitude to his
physician, with whom he was perhaps previously acquainted, wanted to
follow Jesus, according to Mark; but it was foreseen that his testimony
might become suspicious if he put himself in the train of the messiah,
who, therefore, chose rather that he should repair to his family, and
announce the mercies he had received from the Lord. He was a native of
Decapolis, a country, as we have seen, very much disposed to credulity.
Accordingly, as soon as the man had there recounted this adventure,
every body was transported with admiration. We are, however, astonished
at the difference between these folks, so remarkable for a docile faith,
and the Gerasenes:--the inhabitants of Decapolis believe all without
seeing any thing, whilst the Gerasenes, eye witnesses of the prodigy,
are not moved by it, and uncivilly refuse Jesus admittance into their
city. We commonly find in the gospel, that to witness a miracle is a
very strong reason for not believing it.

The hardness of heart and unbelief of the Gerasenes, and particularly
the request they made to the messiah not to come among them, obliged him
to re-embark with his disciples and return to Galilee, where he was very
kindly received. It is not, however, related whether he preached and
performed miracles; even the time he continued there is not accurately
known.--The friends of Jesus, and the relations of his disciples and
mother, received, it appears, from time to time, intelligence of his
wonders, which they took care to circulate; and, on learning that they
wanted him, he returned to Capernaum. Scarcely was his arrival known,
when the people, always fond of sermons and miracles, resorted to him in
crowds. Neither his house nor the space before the door could contain
the multitude; he required the voice of a Stentor to make himself heard
at the extremities of the crowd; but the idlers, content with following
him without knowing why, were very little troubled about understanding
his orations.

The Pharisees, to whom Jesus' success began to give umbrage, resolved to
satisfy themselves, if there was any reality in what was reported of
him. Some doctors of Gallilee, who were not of the number of our
missionary's admirers, repaired to him. They heard him preach, and came
from his sermons more possessed against him: even his miracles could not
convert them, though, according to Luke, the power of the Lord was
displayed in their presence in the cure of the sick. But, as has been
remarked, the miracles of the messiah were calculated to convince those
only who did not see them. Thus it is, that these miracles are believed
at present by people who would not credit those performed in their

Four men who carried a paralytic on his bed, unable to penetrate through
the crowd, were advised to ascend with the burden to the roof of the
house, and, making an opening there, to let down the sick man in his
bed, and lay him at the physician's feet. The idea appeared ingenious
and new to the latter, and indicated first rate faith; accordingly,
addressing the sick man, he said, "My son, be of good courage, thy sins
are forgiven thee." This absolution or remission, was pronounced so as
to be heard by the emissary doctors, who were highly offended at it.
Jesus, divining their dispositions, addressed his discourse to
them--"Why do you suffer wicked thoughts to enter into your hearts?
which is easier to say to this paralytic, thy sins are forgiven thee; or
to say to him, Arise, take up thy bed and walk." This question, boldly
proposed in the midst of a fanatical people, the sport of prejudice,
embarrassed the doctors, who did not think proper to reply. Jesus,
profiting by their embarrassment, said to the paralytic, _Arise, take up
thy bed, and go into thine house_. This prodigy impressed their minds
with terror: it especially made our doctors, the spies, tremble, while
the people exclaimed, "Never have we seen before anything so wonderful."
But if the doctors were afraid, they were not converted; and
notwithstanding the cure of the paralytic, they had no faith in the
absolution granted by Jesus. It may, therefore, be supposed, that this
miracle was attended with circumstances which rendered it suspicious:
perhaps the gospel will enable us to discover them.

When the same fact is differently related by different historians equal
in authority, we are constrained to doubt it; or, at least, are entitled
to deny that it happened in the manner supposed. This principle of
criticism must apply to the narratives of the gospel writers, as well as
to those of others. Now, Matthew merely tells us, that a paralytic was
presented to Jesus, who cured him, without relating the wonderful
circumstance of the roof being perforated, and the other ornaments with
which Mark and Luke embellished their narratives. Thus, either we are in
the right in suspending our belief as to this fact, or we may believe
that it has not occurred in the manner related by the two last
evangelists. Again, Mark and Luke, who say that the sick man was
elevated on his bed to the top of the house, having previously informed
us the crowd was so great that the bearers of the diseased were unable
to force their way, suppose, without expressing it in words, another
very great miracle. They make the carriers penetrate through the crowd.
Arrived, we know not how, at the foot of the wall, they could not
singly, and far less loaded with the sick man, climb up to the roof of
the house. Luke says they made an opening through it. In that case the
people must have perceived them, particularly, those in the inside of
the house. During the silent attention they gave to the discourse of
Jesus, they must have heard the noise made by the men in raising up a
bed to the roof, and afterwards uncovering, or making a hole in it,
through which to convey the sick man. This operation became more
difficult if the roof, instead of being covered with tiles, was flat.
Now, all the houses of the Jews and orientals were, and still are,
constructed in this manner. These difficulties furnish sufficient
motives for doubting this grand miracle. But it will become more
probable, if we suppose that the sick man was already in the house with
Jesus; or that things being previously arranged, they let down by a
trap-door made on purpose, a paralytic most certain of being cured on
command of the messiah. This transaction might appear marvellous to a
populace disposed to see prodigies every where; but it made less
impression on the doctors, who had come purposely to scrutinize the
conduct of our adventurer. They conjectured, that it was dangerous to
contradict weak fanatics, though they did not credit the miracle they
had witnessed.

Some days thereafter Jesus preached along the sea coast, and passing
near the custom-house, perceived Matthew, one of the officers, who sat
there. His mien pleased the messiah, on whose invitation the subaltern
financier quitted his post, and followed him, after having given a great
entertainment to Jesus and his party. Matthew introduced his new master
to publicans, and toll collectors, his brethren in trade, and others of
similar repute. The Pharisees and doctors, who watched our missionary,
came to Matthew's house to be assured of the fact. Jesus, occupied with
gratifying his appetite, did not at first observe that he was watched.
Some words, however, spoken rather loudly, attracted his attention: it
was the doctors who reproached the disciples with eating and drinking
with persons of doubtful reputation. "How," probably said they to them,
"how dares your master, who constantly preaches up virtue, sobriety, and
repentance, show himself publicly in such bad company? How can he
associate with knaves, monopolizers, and men whom their extortions
render odious to the nation? Why does he have in his train women of bad
lives, such as Susan and Jane, who accompany him continually?" The
disciples, attacked in this manner, knew not how to reply; but Jesus,
without being disconcerted, answered with a proverb:--"It is not the
whole," said he, "but the sick who have need of a physician." After this
he cited a passage of scripture, which cannot now be found--"Learn,"
said he, "the truth of this saying, _I love mercy better than
sacrifice_." It appears the doctors did not consider themselves
defeated, and Jesus was so transported with zeal as to say, that he
"came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." In that
case, why did he reject the Pharisees and doctors, whom he called
_whitened sepulchres_? If the adversaries of Jesus were not righteous,
they were sinners, whom he was come to call to repentance; consequently
he ought not to have renounced them.

Whatever reason Jesus might have to palliate or justify his conduct, it
was very soon published abroad. John Baptist's disciples who heard it,
and whom, perhaps, jealously excited, came in search of him, and asked
the reason of the difference in the life he and his disciples led, and
that which they themselves followed. We fast, (said they) continually,
whilst you and your followers enjoy good cheer. We practise austerities,
and live in retirement, whilst you run about and frequently keep company
with persons of evil repute, &c. The reproach was embarrassing, but
Jesus contrived to evade it. "The friends of the bridegroom, (replied
he,) ought neither to fast, nor live in sorrow whilst they have the
bridegroom with them; a time will come when the bridegroom shall be
taken away from them; and then they shall fast. No man putteth a piece
of new cloth on an old garment--neither do men put new wine into old
bottles: and no person asks for new wine when he can get old, for he
finds the old better." John's disciples had no reply to reasons so
sublime and convincing. The enigmatical symbol, or pompous bombast, by
which Jesus got out of this affair, is closely imitated by our modern
preachers, who find it very proper argument to shut the mouths of those
who are not inclined to dispute eternally about what they do not

This incident demonstrates, that the Pharisees and doctors were not the
only persons who were offended with Jesus, and the company he kept. In
the epistles, ascribed to Barnabas, that apostle says expressly, that
the "apostles, whom the Lord chose, were very wicked men, and above all
sinners iniquitous." The fact is also confirmed in Matthew ix., Mark ii.
and Luke v. This evidently decides the cause in favour of the partizans
of lax morality, and furnishes them with victorious arms against the
modern puritans. We may also remark, that the actions and expressions of
Jesus on this occasion, authorise the conduct and language of our holy
guides, our lords the bishops, who when reproached with their iniquitous
behaviour, shut our mouths by averring, that _we ought to do as they
tell us, and not what they do_!

It cannot be denied, that the discrepancy which existed between the
conduct of Jesus and the principles of the Jews, or even in his own
doctrine, required extraordinary miracles to prove his mission. He was
not ignorant of this; prodigies, therefore, were commonly the strongest
of his arguments; these were well calculated to gain the vulgar, who
never value themselves on reasoning, but are ready to applaud the man
who exhibits wonders, and acquires the secret of pleasing their fancy.

After Jesus had silenced John's disciples, the chief of a synagogue
waited on him, and besought him to come and lay hands on his daughter,
twelve years old, _who was dead_, according to Matthew, but who was only
_very sick_, according to Mark and Luke; a difference which seems to
merit some attention. Jesus complied with the invitation; and whilst
proceeding to the house overheated himself so much that a virtue went
out of him sufficient to cure all who were in its atmosphere. We shall
not form conjectures on the nature of this virtue or divine
transpiration. We shall only remark, that it was so potent as
instantaneously to cure a woman afflicted for twelve years with an issue
of blood; a disease which, probably, the spectators had not better
verified than its cure. On this occasion, Jesus perceiving that there
had gone out of him a considerable portion of virtue, turned towards the
afflicted female, whom his disciples had rudely pushed back, and seeing
her prostrate at his feet, "Daughter, (said he) be of good cheer, thy
faith hath made thee whole." The poor woman, whom the disciples had
intimidated, charmed with being relieved from her fright in so easy a
manner, confessed openly she was cured.

When our miracle performer was arrived at the house of Jairus, the chief
of the synagogue, it was announced to the latter that his daughter had
expired, and that the house was full of minstrels, who were performing a
dirge or mournful concert according to the custom of the country. Jesus,
who on the way had got the father of the girl to prattle, was not
disconcerted at the news. He began with making every body retire, and
then by virtue of some words raised her from the dead.

In historical matters we must prefer two writers who agree, to a third
who contradicts them. Luke and Mark affirm that the damsel was dead; but
here unfortunately it is the hero himself who weakens his victory. On
their saying that she was dead, he affirmed that she was only _asleep_.
There are girls who at twelve years of age are subject to such swoons.
On the other hand, the father of the damsel appears to have acquainted
the physician with the condition of his child; and he, more in the
secret than others, did not believe the intelligence of her death. He
entered alone into her chamber, well assured of her recovery if she was
only in a swoon: if he had found her dead, there is every reason to
believe, he would have returned, and told the father that he had been
called too late, and regreted the accident.

Jesus did not wish that this miracle should be published; he forbade the
father and mother of the damsel to tell what had happened. Our charlatan
was not solicitous to divulge an affair which might increase the
indignation of the Jews of Jerusalem, whither he was soon to repair to
celebrate the passover. The account of this miracle seems to evince that
the Son of God had acquired some smattering of medicine in Egypt. It
appears that he was versant in the spasmodic diseases of women; and no
more was wanting to induce the vulgar to regard him as a sorcerer, or
performer of miracles.

Once in the way of performing wonders, Jesus did not rest satisfied with
one merely. According to Matthew, (who alone relates the facts we are
now to notice,) two blind men who followed him began to exclaim, _Son of
David, have mercy on us_. Though Jesus, in his quality of God, knew the
most secret thoughts of men, he chose to be _viva voce_ assured of the
disposition of the sick with whom he had intercourse. He asked, if they
had much faith, or if they sincerely believed that he was able to do
what they requested of him. Our blind folks answered in the affirmative;
then touching their eyes, "Be it unto you," said he, "according to your
faith," and instantly they received their sight.

We know not how to reconcile such lively faith in two blind men, with
their disobedience. Their physician, who might have good reasons for not
being known, expressly forbade them to speak of their cure; they,
however, spread it instantly through the country. The silence of those
who were witnesses of this great miracle, is not more astonishing than
the indiscretion of the blind men who were the objects of it. A fact
still more miraculous is the obduracy of the Jews, who were so stubborn,
that the many wonders performed one after another and on the same day,
were not able to convince them. Jesus, far from being discouraged,
determined still to exhibit specimens of his power. A dumb man,
possessed with a devil, being presented to him, he expelled the demon
and the dumb began to speak. At sight of this miracle, the people, as
usual, were in extasy, whilst the pharisees and doctors, who had also
exorcists among them, saw nothing surprising in it: they pretended that
their exorcists performed their conjurations in the name of God, whilst
Jesus operated in the name of the devil. Thus they accused Jesus of
casting out the devil by the devil, which was indeed a contradiction.
But this did not prove the divinity of Jesus; it proved only that the
Pharisees were capable of talking nonsense and contradicting themselves,
like all superstitious and credulous people. When theologists dispute,
we soon discover that the wranglers on both sides speak nonsense; and,
by contradicting themselves, impugn their own authority.



Our doctor having closed the first year of his mission in a glorious
manner, he proceeded to Jerusalem, to try his fortune, and gather the
fruits of his labour, or form a party in the capital, after having
acquired adherents in the country. There was reason to expect that the
wonders which he had performed the year preceding in Galilee, would have
a powerful effect on the populace of Jerusalem; but they produced
consequences opposite to those which Jesus had hoped for. It might be
said that the infernal legion which he had sent into the swine of the
Gerasenes, had returned and fixed their abode in the heads of the
inhabitants of the country. The gospel shows in the former an incredible
hardness of heart. In vain Jesus wrought before their eyes a multitude
of prodigies, calculated to confirm the wonders related to them; in vain
did he employ his divine rhetoric to demonstrate the divinity of his
mission. His efforts served only to increase the anger of his enemies,
and induce them to devise means to punish him whom they persisted in
regarding as a juggler, a charlatan, and a dangerous impostor.

It is true, the adversaries of Jesus surprised him sometimes at
fault--They reproached him with violating the ordinances of a law
venerated by them as sacred, and from which he had promised never to
depart. They regarded these violations as a proof of heresy, and it did
not enter their heads that a God could raise himself above ordinary
rules, and possess the right of changing every thing. They were Jews,
and therefore obstinately attached to their ordinances; and they did not
conceive how a true messenger of God could allow himself to trample
under foot, what they were accustomed to regard as sacred and agreeable
to Deity.

So many obstacles did not discourage Jesus. He determined to succeed at
any price; and though he might have foreseen what would be the issue of
his enterprise, he was sensible he must conquer or die; that fortune
favours only the brave; and that it was necessary to play an illustrious
part, or tamely consent to languish in misery in the solitude of some
obscure village in Galilee.

On arriving at Jerusalem, he devoted his attention to sick paupers--the
rich had their own physicians. At this time there was in the city, and
near the sheep port, a fountain, or pool, of which, with the exception
of the gospel, no historian has ever spoken, though, it well deserved to
be transmitted to posterity. It was a vast edifice, surrounded with five
magnificent galleries, in the centre of which was a sheet of water, that
possessed admirable properties; but these were known only to indigent
people and mendicants; and they knew them, doubtless, by a particular
revelation. Under these galleries were soon languishing a great number
of sick persons, who patiently waited for a miracle. God, on giving to
the water of this pool the faculty of curing all diseases, had annexed a
condition to it--The first who could plunge therein after an angel had
troubled it, which happened only at a certain time, could alone obtain
the benefit of a cure. The chief magistrate of Jerusalem, who probably
knew nothing of the existence of this extraordinary fountain, had not
established any regulation respecting it. The most forward and agile,
and such as had friends always in readiness to lead them to the water
when it was troubled, succeeded often in obtaining deliverance from
their diseases.

A paralytic had been there for thirty-eight years, without any one
having had the charity to lend him a helping hand in descending to the
fountain. Jesus, who beheld him lying, asked him if he wanted to be
cured? "Yes," answered the sick man, "but I have nobody to put me into
the water when it is troubled." "That signifies nothing, (replied
Jesus,) Arise, take up thy bed and walk." This wretched man, perhaps not
unlike many of our beggars, who, to soften the public, feigned diseases,
and who on this occasion might be gained over by some trifle to be
accessary to the farce; this miserable, we say, did not leave him to
speak twice--on the order of Jesus he took up his couch and departed.

This cure was performed on the Sabbath. Our paralytic having been met by
a man of the law, the latter reprimanded him for violating the
ordinances of religion by carrying his bed. The transgressor had no
other excuse to give, but, that he who had cured him had commanded him
so to do. He was then questioned about the person who had given this
order, but he knew nothing of him. Jesus had not said who he was; and,
as if the act had been very trifling, the person on whom the miracle was
performed had not informed himself of the author of it. Here the matter
ended; but Jesus having some time after met the paralytic, made himself
known to him, and then the latter informed the Jews of the name of his
physician. The priests were so irritated, that from this instant they
formed the design of putting Jesus to death, because, according to John,
_he had done these things on the Sabbath day_.

It is not probable that this was the true cause of the rage of the Jews.
However scrupulous we suppose them, it is presumed that their physicians
did not think themselves obliged to refuse medicines to the sick on the
Sabbath. Jesus, not content with curing, also authorised those he cured
to violate the Sabbath by carrying their bed, which was a servile work;
or rather these unbelievers regarded the miracles of the saviour as mere
delusions, impostures, tricks of dexterity, and himself as a cheat who
might excite disturbances.

Jesus having learned that the Jews were ill disposed towards him,
attempted to justify himself. He made a speech to prove that he was the
Son of God, and that his Father authorised him not to observe the
Sabbath. But he took care not to explain himself very distinctly on this
_filiation_; and by his ambiguous language, insinuated the eternity of
his father, though he did not call him God. Yet the Jews perceiving his
object, were very much offended at this pretension. He changed,
therefore, his ground, and threw himself on the necessity by which he
acted. "Verily," said he to them, "the Son does nothing of himself, but
what he seeth the Father do. The Father, who loves him, sheweth him all
things that he himself doeth, and he will show him greater works than
these." By these expressions, Jesus seems to overthrow his own eternity
and infinite knowledge; for he announces himself as susceptible of
learning something, or as the pupil of the Divinity.

To impress the minds of these unbelievers, whom his enigmatical language
could not convince, he declared that henceforth the Father would no
longer interfere in judging men, but had devolved that care on his Son.
This, however, had no effect; as the Jews expected a great judge, they
were not yet staggered. Jesus, like our modern teachers, for want of
better arguments proceeded to intimidate his audience, knowing well that
fear prevents the exercise of reason. He gave them to understand, that
the end of the world was near, which ought to make them tremble.

The testimony of John Baptist, had facilitated the first successes of
Jesus; but the difference remarked between his conduct and that of the
forerunner, destroyed the force of this testimony. Our orator pretended
to have no need of it and endeavored to weaken its value. "_He was a
burning and a shining light_" to them; "_you were willing for a season
to rejoice in his light; I have a greater witness than his_." Here he
appealed to his own works, which he maintained to be infallible proofs
of his divine mission. He undoubtedly forgot at this moment, that he
spoke to people who regarded his marvellous deeds as delusions and
impostures. His works were precisely the thing which it was necessary to
prove even to the Jews, who saw them performed! This manner of reasoning
has been since adopted with success by Christian doctors, who, when
doubts or objections are advanced against the mission of Jesus, appeal
to his miraculous works, which were at all times incapable of convincing
the very persons whom they tell us had been witnesses of them.

Among the proofs employed by Jesus to exalt his mission, he advanced
one, the tendency of which is to destroy the mission of Moses, and cause
him to be regarded as an impostor. He told them, _You have never heard
the voice of my Father_; whilst it was on the voice of this Father, of
whom Moses was the interpreter, that the law of the Jews was founded.
After having annihilated the authority of scripture, our orator wished
to prop his mission on the same scriptures, by which he pretended he was
announced. "Fear" says he, "the Father; I will not be the person who
will accuse you before him; it will be Moses, in whom you trust, because
you believe not in him; for if you believed in him, you would also
believe in me. I am come in the name of the Father, and you pay no
attention to it; another will come in his own name, and you will believe
in him."

The hearers of this sermon were not moved by it: they considered it
unconnected, contradictory, and blasphemous; the fear of seeing the end
of the world arrive, did not hinder them from perceiving the want of
just inference in the orator, who took away from his Father, and
restored to him the quality of judge of men, which he had at first
appropriated to himself. Besides, it would appear the Jews were of good
courage as to this end of the world, which events had so often belied.
Their posterity, who beheld the world subsisting after this,
notwithstanding the express prediction of Jesus and his disciples, have
founded their repugnance for his doctrine, among other things, on this
want of accomplishment. From his sublime discourse the incredulous
conclude, that it is very difficult for an imposter to speak long
without contradicting and exposing himself.

The inefficacy of this harangue convinced Jesus that it was in vain to
rely on miracles, in order to draw over the Jews of Jerusalem. He
forbore to perform them, though the festival of the passover might
furnish him with a favourable opportunity. It appears he was completely
disgusted with the incredulity of these wretches, who showed themselves
no way disposed to witness the great things which he had exhibited with
success to the inhabitants of Galilee. To make miracles pass in a
capital, there must be a greater share of credulity than in the country.
Besides, if the populace are well disposed even in large cities, the
magistrates and better informed oppose a bulwark to imposition. The same
thing happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. Perhaps he despaired of the
salvation of these infidels, for during the short time he sojourned in
that city, he kept no measures with them, but loaded them with abusive
language. It does not appear, however, that this plan gained proselytes,
though since that time his disciples and the priests have frequently
endeavored to succeed by similar means, and even by coercion.

In this journey, Jesus had no success--his disciples did not meet with
good cheer; to sustain life they were reduced to the necessity of taking
a little corn in the environs of the city; and were caught in this
occupation on the Sabbath day. Complaint was made to their master; but
no satisfaction could be obtained. He replied to the Pharisees, by
comparing what his disciples had done with the conduct of David, who, on
an emergency, ate, and also made his followers eat, the shew bread, the
use of which was reserved for the priests, adding, that "the Sabbath was
made for man, and not man for the Sabbath;" therefore, he concluded,
"the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Critics have remarked in several circumstances of the life of Jesus,
that he was frequently liable to commit mistakes. For example, on the
occasion we speak of, he gave the name of _Abiathar_ to the high priest
who permitted David to eat the shew bread. The Holy Spirit, however,
informs us, in the first book of Kings, that this high priest was called
_Achimelech_. The error would be nothing if an ordinary man had fallen
into it, but it becomes embarrassing in a man-God, or in God made man,
whom we ought to suppose incapable of blunders.

On the same occasion, Jesus maintained that the priests themselves
violated the Sabbath, by serving God in the temple on that day; and,
this, according to the principles of theology, is confounding _servile_
works with _spiritual_. But this is to have the same idea of a robbery
and of an oblation; it is to tax God with being ignorant of what he did,
by ordaining, at one and the same time, the observance and the violation
of a day which he had consecrated to repose.

Our doctors further justify Jesus by saying, that, as God, he was
absolute master of all things. But in that case he ought to have
procured better fare for his disciples. It would not have cost him more
to have permitted them to encroach on the table of some rich financier
of Jerusalem, or even that of the high priest, who lived at the expense
of God his Father, than to permit his followers to forage in the fields
of the poor inhabitants of the country. At least it was previously
necessary to verify such sovereignty over all things in the eyes of the
Jews, who, from not knowing this truth, were offended at the conduct
which the Son of God seemed to authorise. It is apparently on this
principle several Christian doctors have pretended, that _all things
appertain to the just_; that it is permitted them to seize on the
property of infidels and the unholy; that the clergy have a right to
levy contributions on the people; and that the pope may dispose of
crowns at his pleasure. It is on the same principle that actions are
defended, which unbelievers regard as usurpations and violence,
exercised by the Christians on the inhabitants of the new world. Hence
it is of the utmost importance to Christians not to depart from the
example which Jesus has given them in this passage of the gospel; it
appears especially to concern the rights of the clergy.

Pretensions, so well founded, did not, however, strike the carnal minds
of the Jews; they persisted in believing that it was not permitted to
rob, particularly on the Sabbath; and not knowing the extent of the
rights of Jesus, they considered him an impostor, and his disciples
knaves. They believed him to be a dangerous man, who, under pretence of
reformation, sought to subvert their laws, trample on their ordinances,
and overturn their religion. They agreed, therefore, to collect the
proofs they had against him, accuse, and cause him to be arrested. But
our hero, who had information of their designs, frustrated them by
leaving Jerusalem.



As soon as Jesus was safe from the malice of his enemies, and found that
he was among persons of more favourable dispositions than the
inhabitants of Jerusalem, he again commenced working miracles. His
experience convinced him, that to gain the capital, it was necessary to
augment his forces in the environs, and procure, in the country, a great
number of adherents, who might, in due time and place, aid him in
overcoming the incredulity of priests, doctors, and magistrates; and put
him in possession of the holy city, the object of his eager desires.

These new prodigies, however, produced no remarkable effect. The Jews,
who had been at Jerusalem during the passover, on returning home,
prepossessed their fellow-citizens against our missionary. If he found
the secret of gaining the admiration of the people in the places he
passed through on leaving the capital, he had the chagrin to find
opponents in the Pharisees and doctors. The following fact shows to what
a degree the people were influenced:--On a Sabbath, Jesus entered the
synagogue of a place, the name of which has not been preserved. He there
found a man who had, or said he had, a withered hand. The sight of the
diseased, who was, probably, some noted mendicant and knave, and the
presence of the physician, excited the attention of the doctors. They
watched Jesus closely--"Let us see, (said they, one to another) if he
will dare to heal this man on the Sabbath day." But observing that Jesus
remained inactive, they questioned him as to the Sabbath, for which he
had, on so many occasions, shown but little respect. It was apparently
one of the principal points of his reform, to abrogate a number of
festivals. The doctors asked him, "Master, is it lawful to heal on this
day?" He was frequently in the habit of answering one question by
another: Logic was not the science in which the Jews were most
conversant. Jesus replied, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day,
or to do evil--to save life, or to take it away?" This question,
according to Mark, confounded the doctors. Nevertheless, there is reason
to believe, unless we suppose the Jews to have been a hundred times more
stupid than they really were, that this question was ill timed. They
were prohibited from applying to servile occupations only, but must have
been permitted to discharge the most urgent duties of morality even on
the Sabbath day. It is to be presumed, that a midwife, for example, lent
her ministry on that day, as on any other. It is stated in the Talmud,
that it was permitted to annoint the sick with oil on the Sabbath. The
Essenians observed the Sabbath with so much rigor, that they did not
allow themselves to satisfy the most pressing wants of life. This,
perhaps, gave occasion to the reproaches with which this sect loaded
Jesus, who had by his own authority reformed this ridiculous custom.

Jesus continued his questions, and asked them, if when a sheep fell into
a ditch on the Sabbath, they would not draw it out? Hence, without
waiting for an answer, he very justly concluded that it was permitted to
do good on that day. To prove it, he said to the sick, whom he had,
perhaps, suborned to play this part in the synagogue, "Arise, stand up,
and stretch forth thy hand;" and immediately his hand became as the
other. But Jesus, finding this prodigy produced no change in their
minds, darted a furious look on the assembly, and, boiling with a holy
choler, instantly forsook the detestable place. Matt. xii. Mark xii. 6.

Jesus acted wisely; for these naughty doctors immediately took counsel
with the officers of Herod, "how they might destroy him." Informed of
every thing by his adherents, he gained the sea shore, where it was
always easy for him to effect his escape. His disciples, several of whom
understood navigation, followed him. A number of people, more credulous
than the doctors, resorted to him on the noise of his marvels. There
came hearers from Galilee, from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from the other
side of Jordan, and even from Tyre and Sidon. This multitude furnished
him with a pretext for ordering his disciples to hold a boat in
readiness, that he might not be too much thronged, but, in truth, to
escape, in case it should be attempted to pursue him.

On this shore, favorable to his designs, Jesus performed a great number
of miracles, and cured an infinity of people. We must piously believe it
on the word of Matthew and Mark. These wonders were performed on the
sick, and especially on the possessed. The latter, at whatever distance
they perceived the Saviour, prostrated themselves before him, rendered
homage to his glory, and proclaimed him the "Christ;" whilst he, always
full of modesty, commanded them with threats not to reveal him; the
whole to accomplish a prophecy, which said of him, _He shall not
dispute, nor cry, nor make his voice be heard in the streets_; a
prophecy, which, however, was frequently contradicted by his continual
disputes with the doctors and Pharisees, and by the uproar he occasioned
in the temple, in the streets of Jerusalem, and in the synagogues.

Nothing is more astonishing than the obstinacy of the devil in
acknowledging Jesus, and confessing his divinity, and the stubbornness
of the doctors in not recognizing him, in spite of his cares to make the
one silent to convince the others. It is evident, that the son of God
has come with the sole intent of preventing the Jews from profiting by
his coming, and acknowledging his mission. It may be said that he has
shown himself merely to receive the homage of satan; at least we
perceive only the devil and his disciples proclaiming the character of

When he had preached much, cured much, and exorcised much, our
missionary wished to be alone to reflect on the situation of his
affairs. With a view to enjoy more liberty, he ascended a mountain,
where he spent the whole night. The result of his solitary reflections
was, that although he required assistants, he could no longer, without
giving umbrage to the government, continue marching up and down with a
company so numerous as that of the idlers who composed his suite.

When day appeared, he called those of his disciples whom he judged most
worthy of confidence, and selected twelve to remain near his person.
This is what Luke says; but Mark insinuates that he chose his twelve
apostles on purpose to send them on a mission. As Jesus, however,
assures us, that he chose them _to be near him_, and as the apostles,
content with begging and making provision for themselves and their
master, did not perform any mission during his life, at least out of
Judea, we shall adhere to the first opinion. The names of these apostles
were Simon Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Simon-Zelotes, James, Philip, Thomas,
Jude, John, Bartholomew, another James, and Judas Iscariot, the

As Jesus had no money to give his disciples, he told them no doubt to go
and push their fortune. He, however, took care to impart to them his
secret; to teach them the art of miracles, to cure diseases, and to cast
out devils. He also gave them the power of remitting sins, and to bind
and unbind in the name of Heaven; prerogatives, which, if they did not
enrich the apostles, have been worth immense treasures to their
successors. To them the roughest staff has become a _crosier_, a staff
of command, making its power felt by the mightiest sovereigns of the
earth. The _bag_ or _wallet_ of the apostles has been converted into
treasures, benefices, principalities and revenues. Permission to beg has
become a right to exact tithes, devour nations, fatten on the substance
of the wretched, and enjoy, by _divine right_, the privilege of
pillaging society, and disturbing it with impunity. The successors of
the first missionaries of Jesus, though professing to be mendicants,
enjoyed the prerogative of coercing all who refused to bestow charities
on them, or to obey their commands. Many have imagined, that Jesus never
concerned himself about the subsistence of the ministers of the church;
but if we examine attentively the gospel, especially the Acts of the
Apostles, we shall find the basis of the riches, grandeur, and even
despotism of the clergy.



The dread of being arrested having constrained Jesus to abandon the
cities, where he had many enemies, the country became his ordinary
residence. The people, or at least some male and female devotees whom he
had converted, furnished provisions to the divine man and his followers.
Obliged to wander about, bury themselves in mountains and in deserts,
and sleep in the open air, our apostles became discontented with their
lot. In spite of the spiritual graces, which they received in the
society of the messiah, these carnal men expected something more
substantial on devoting themselves to his service. They were doubtless
promised important posts, riches, and power in the kingdom he was about
to establish. Jesus on this account frequently experienced as much
difficulty in retaining them, as in convincing the rebellious Jews by
his miracles and conclusive arguments. The measure of their appetite,
and well being, was at this time, the only rule of their faith. To
prevent their murmurs, and familiarize them with a frugal life, which
our missionary saw he would be obliged, perhaps for a long time, to make
them lead, he pronounced an oration on true happiness: it is the one
known by the name of the Sermon on the Mount, and related by Matthew,
chap v.

According to our orator, true happiness consists in _poverty of Spirit_;
that is, in ignorance, and contempt of knowledge, which bids us exercise
our reason, and strips man of the blind submission that is necessary to
induce him to submit to a guide. Jesus preached a pious docility, which
implicitly credits every thing without examination; and to tell them,
that the kingdom of heaven would be the reward of this happy
disposition. Such is the sense which the church has given to the words
of Jesus, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of

Among the apostles, there were some whose passionate dispositions might
have been prejudicial to the progress of the sect. It may in general be
presumed, that rough men, devoid of education, have repulsive manners.
Jesus demonstrated the necessity of meekness, civility, and patience, in
order to gain proselytes; he recommended moderation and toleration, as
the certain means of insinuating themselves into the minds of men, of
thriving in the world, and as the surest way of making conquests. This
is the true sense of these words, "Happy are the meek, for they shall
inherit the earth."

Wishing to inspire them with courage, and console them for their
miserable situation, he told them, that to live in tears is felicity,
and an infallible method of expiating iniquity. He promised that their
vexations should not endure forever; that their tears should be dried
up; that their misery should terminate; and that their hunger should be
appeased. These consolations and promises, were indispensably necessary
to fortify the apostles against every accident which, in the course of
their enterprises, might befal them in the retinue of a chief destitute
of riches and power, and incapable of procuring to himself or others the
comforts of existence.

Jesus, with a view, no doubt, of sweetening the lot of his apostles,
recommended compassion to the listening multitude, of which he, as well
as his party, stood in the greatest need. It is readily perceived, that
the messiah felt the most imperious necessity to preach charity to his
auditors; for he lived on alms, and his success depended on the
generosity of the public, and the benefactions of the good souls who
hearkened to his lessons.

The preacher recommended peace and concord; dispositions necessary to a
new born, weak, and persecuted sect; but this necessity ceased when this
sect had attained strength enough to dictate the law.

He afterwards fortified his disciples against the persecutions which
they were to experience; he addressed their self love--spurring them on
by motives of honor: "Ye are (says he) the salt of the earth, the light
of the world." He gave them to understand that they were the "successors
of the prophets," men so much respected by the Jews: and, to share in
whose glory, they ought to expect the same crosses which their
illustrious predecessors experienced. He told them to regard hatred,
persecution, contempt, and the deprivation of every thing that
constitutes the well being and happiness of man, as true felicity, and
most worthy of heavenly rewards.

After haranguing his disciples, he addressed himself to the people. He
presented to them a new morality, which, far from being repugnant to
that of the Jews, could easily be reconciled with it. Things were not as
yet sufficiently matured for abrogating the law of Moses: too great
changes alarm mankind. A feeble missionary must at first confine himself
to reforming abuses, without seeking to probe to the bottom. Jesus
wisely contented himself with showing, that the law was faulty in some
particulars, and that he proposed to perfect it. Such is the language,
of all reformers.

Jesus expressly declared, that he was not come to destroy, but to fulfil
the law: and he affirmed that, in heaven, ranks would be fixed according
to the rigorous observance of all its articles. He insinuated, however,
to his audience, that neither they, nor their doctors, understood any
part of that law which, they believed, they faithfully practised. He
undertook, therefore, to explain it; and as all reformers pretend to
puritanical austerity, and to a supernatural and more than human
perfection, he went beyond the law. The following is the substance of
his marvellous instructions:

You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not
kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be punished with death; but I say
unto you, that it is necessary to extend this prohibition and punishment
even to wrath, seeing it is wrath which urges one on to put his fellow
creature to death. You would punish adultery only when it is committed;
but I tell you, that desire alone renders one as culpable as fact. You,
perhaps, will answer, that man is not the master of his passions and
desires, and that he can hardly resist them: I agree with you in this;
you have not any power, even on the hairs of your head. The penances,
sacrifices, and expiations which your priests impose, are not capable of
procuring the remission of your sins; behold, then, the only means of
preventing them, or making reparation: has your eye, or any of your
members solicited you to commit iniquity? Cut off that member, or pull
out that eye, and cast it from you; for it is more expedient that one of
your members should perish, than that the whole body be thrown into hell
fire. If Moses, inspired by the divinity, had known this hell, destined
for your suffering eternal punishment, he would not have failed to
menace you with it; but he was ignorant of the dogma of another life; he
spoke only of the present, to which he has limited your misfortunes, or
your felicity. Had it not been for this, he would not have neglected to
acquaint you with a fact so well calculated to inspire you with fear,
and render life insupportable.

We are quite surprised at finding, that Moses and the ancient Hebrew
writers have no where mentioned the dogma of a future life, which
now-a-days forms one of the most important articles of the Christian
religion. Solomon speaks of the death of men by comparing it with that
of brutes. Some of the prophets, it is true, have spoken of a place
called _Cheol_, which has been translated _Hell (Enfer)_; yet it is
evident, that this word implies merely sepulchre or tomb. They have also
translated the Hebrew word _Topheth_ into _Hell_: but on examining the
word, we find that it designates a place of punishment near Jerusalem,
where malefactors were punished, and their carcases burned. It was after
the Babylonish captivity that the Jews knew the dogma of another life,
and the resurrection, which they learned of the Persian disciples of
Zoroaster. In the time of Jesus, that dogma was not even generally
received. The Pharisees admitted it, and the Sadducees rejected it.

You use too freely (proceeded our missionary) the permission of divorce;
the least disgust makes you repudiate your wives; but I tell you, that
you ought to repudiate them only when you have surprised them in
adultery. It is cruel to stone one for this fault; we ought to have
respect for the weakness of the sex. Jesus, whose birth was very
equivocal, had particular reasons for wishing that adultery should be
treated with indulgence. Independently of Mary his mother, from whom
Joseph was probably separated, our preacher had in his train dames,
whose conduct had not been irreproachable anterior to their conversion.
Besides Mary Magdalene, who was a noted courtesan, Jesus had in his
suite Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, who, according to the
tradition, robbed and forsook her husband to follow the messiah, and
assist him with her property. Moreover, the indulgence which he preached
must have gained him the hearts of all the ladies in his auditory.

The messiah continued nearly in these terms:--God has of old promised
you blessings, prosperity, and glory; but he has changed his intention,
and revoked these promises. As you were almost always, and still are the
most unhappy, the most foolish, and most despised people on earth, you
ought to suspect that these pompous promises were mere allegories. You
ought, therefore, to have an abject and mortifying morality, conformable
to your genius, your situation, and your misery. If it does not procure
you welfare in this world, you should hope that it will render you more
happy in the next. Your humiliations are the certain means of attaining
one day that glory, which hitherto neither you nor your fathers have
ever been able to acquire. When therefore a person shall give you a blow
on one cheek, offer him the other. Do not go to law--lawyers will ruin
you; and, besides, the poor are always in the wrong when opposed to the
rich. Give to whoever asks of you, and refuse nothing you possess; it is
by relying on the punctual practice of this important precept, that I
send my disciples into the world without money or provisions.

I do not give you any description of paradise--it is sufficient to know
that you will be perfectly happy there. But to get there, it is
necessary to be more than men--it is necessary to love your enemies; to
render good for evil; to preserve no remembrance of cruel outrages; to
bless the hand that strikes you; and not to speak one silly word; for
one only will precipitate you into hell. Have a pleasant aspect when you
fast; but especially live without foresight. Accumulate nothing, lest
you excite the wrath of my father. Think not of to-morrow--live at
random, like the birds that never think of sowing, gathering, or
accumulating provisions. Detach yourselves from all things below--seek
the kingdom of God, which I and my disciples will give you for your
charities. This conduct cannot fail to plunge you into misery; but then
you shall beg in your turn. God will provide for your wants--ask and it
shall be given you. Do not beggars find, agreeably to our divine
precepts, wherewith to live at the expense of the simpletons who labor?
My disciples and I, are a proof that without toil, one may avoid
difficulties, and not perish by hunger? If our manner of living appears
not to agree with my language, I charge you not judge my actions, nor
condemn your masters and doctors. Do not intermeddle with state
affairs;--that care is reserved for me, and those in whom I confide. The
master is superior to the disciple--it is to me in particular you ought
to listen. If you call me master, it is necessary to do what I desire
you. The practice of my morality is difficult, and even impossible to
many persons; but the broad and easy way conducts to perdition; and to
enter heaven, it is necessary to be as perfect as my heavenly father. I
must caution you against my enemies, or those who shall preach a
contrary doctrine. Treat them as wolves; they are false prophets--show
them no indulgence: for it is not to them that you ought to be humane,
tolerant, and pacific.

In the course of his sermon Jesus taught them a short form of prayer,
known by the name of _the Lord's prayer_. Though the Son of God may have
shewn himself on this occasion the enemy of long prayers, the Christian
church is full of pious sluggards, who, in spite of his decision,
believe they cannot perform any thing more agreeable to God, than
spending their whole time in mumbling prayers in a very low tone,
singing them in a high one, and frequently in a language they do not
understand. It appears, that in this, as in many other things, the
church has rectified the practice of its divine founder.

Matthew informs us, that the discourse, of which we have given the
substance, transported the people with admiration, for Jesus instructed
them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.--The latter,
perhaps, spoke in a more simple manner, and consequently less admired by
the vulgar, whose wonder is excited in proportion to their inability to
comprehend, or practise the precepts given them. Thus the sermon of
Jesus had not, at that time, any contradictors. It has however,
furnished ample scope for dispute to our casuists and theologians. They
have subtlely distinguished between things which were merely of
_counsel_, and those of _precept_ which ought rigorously to be observed.
It was soon felt, that the sublime morality of the Son of God did not
suit mankind, and its literal observance was destructive to society. It
was, therefore, requisite to moderate it, and recur to that marvellous
distinction, in order to shelter the honour of the divine legislator,
and reconcile his fanatical morality with the wants of the human race.

Moreover, this discourse presents difficulties, which will always appear
embarrassing to persons accustomed to reflect on what they read. They
find, that it is ridiculous and false to say, a law is accomplished,
when it is proposed and permitted to violate it, and add or retrench the
most essential points. Since the time of Jesus, why has the Jewish law
been completely abrogated by Paul and his adherents, who, as we have
seen, ceceded from the Christian partizans of Judaism? Why do Christians
entertain at present so much horror at that same Judaism, except indeed
when the privileges and pretensions of the clergy are in
question--articles on which our Christian priests are very judaical, and
which they have prudently borrowed from Leviticus; all to supply the
neglect of Jesus, who was not sufficiently attentive either to their
temporal interests, _divine rights_, or sacred hierarchy? By what law do
the inquisitors (if Christians) in Portugal and Spain burn those who are
accused, or convicted, of having observed the usages of a law, which
Jesus has declared he did not wish to _abolish_, but to _fulfil_? By
what law have Christians, dispensed with circumcision, and permit them
selves to eat pork, bacon, pudding, hare, &c? Why has sunday, or the day
of the sun among Pagans been substituted for Sabbath or Saturday?

2dly, It is held unjust to punish in the same manner a man in a passion
and a murderer. One may be in a passion and restrain himself, or
afterwards repair the injury; but he cannot restore life to a man whom
he has deprived of it.

3dly, The restriction of divorce to the single case of adultery is a law
very hard, and very prejudicial to the happiness of married persons.
This precept compels a man to live with a woman who in other respects
may be odious to him. Besides, it is generally difficult to convict a
female of adultery; she usually takes precaution to avoid this. Is it
not very grievous, and even dangerous to live with a person who
occasions continual suspicions?

4thly, It is absurd to make a crime of _desire_, especially without
supposing the _liberty_ of man; but Jesus is not explicit on that
important article. On the contrary, from the train of his discourse he
appears to recognize the _necessity_ of man, who has no authority over a
single hair of his head. Paul, his apostle, declares in many places
against the liberty of man, whom he compares with a vessel in the hands
of a potter. But if there be no proportion between the workman and his
work; if the latter has no right to say to the former, _why have you
fashioned me thus_? if there be no analogy between them, how can they
bear any relation to each other? If God is incorporeal, how does he act
upon bodies? or how can these bodies disturb his repose, or excite in
him emotions of anger? If man is relatively to God as an _earthen vase_,
this vase owes neither thanks nor adoration to the potter who gave him
so insignificant a form. If this power is displeased with his own vessel
because he formed it badly, or because it is not fit for the uses he
intended, the potter, if he is not an irrational being, can only blame
himself for the defects which appear. He no doubt can break it in
pieces, and the vase cannot prevent him; but if instead of forming it
anew, and giving it a figure more suitable to his designs, he punishes
the vase for the bad qualities he has conferred upon it, he would show
himself to be completely deprived of reason. This, in fact, is the view
which Christianity gives of its God. It represents mankind as having no
more relation with the divinity than stones. But if God owes nothing to
man; if he is not bound to show him either justice or goodness, man on
his part can owe nothing to God. We have no idea of any relation between
beings which are not reciprocal. The duties of men amongst themselves
are founded on their mutual wants. If God has no occasion for these
services, they cannot owe him any thing; neither can they possibly
offend him by their actions.

5thly, It is a strange remedy to cut off or pluck out a member every
time it is the occasion of sin; it contradicts the precept not to make
an attempt on one's life. Origen is blamed by the Christians for having
performed an operation, which he no doubt judged necessary for
preserving his chastity. It is not through the members, but the
inclination, that a person sins: it is therefore absurd to say that one
shall escape damnation of the body by depriving himself of a member.
What would become of so many ecclesiastical libertines, if to appease
the lusts of the flesh, and make reparation for scandal, they should
take it into their heads to follow the counsel of Jesus?

6thly, The suppression of a just defence of one's person and rights
against an aggressor or unjust litigant, is to overturn the laws of
society. It is to open a door to iniquities and crimes, and render
useless the exercise of justice. By such maxims a people could not exist
ten years. To _love_ our enemies is impossible. We may _abstain_ from
retaliating on the person by whom we are injured; but love is an
affection which can only be excited in the heart by a friendly object.

7thly, The counsel or precept, to possess nothing, amass nothing, and
think not of the morrow, would be very prejudicial to families:--a
father ought to provide a subsistence for his children. These maxims can
suit sluggards only, such as priests and monks, who hold labor in
horror, and calculate on living at the expense of the public.

8thly, It is now easy to perceive, that the promises made the Jews by
the mouth of Moses, inspired by the divinity, have not been verified
literally, and are only allegorical. But it was not from the Son of God
that the Jews should have learned this fatal truth. Once imposed on,
they ought to have dreaded being again deceived by another envoy. Like
Jesus, Moses had made promises; like Jesus, Moses had confirmed his
promises and mission by miracles; yet these promises have been found
deceptive, and merely allegorical. This idea ought to have created
presumptions against the promises of Jesus.

9thly, To say, that it is necessary to be _poor in spirit_, and to say
afterwards that to attain heaven it is necessary to be perfect as the
heavenly father is perfect, is to make God a stupid being; to afford to
atheists a solution for all the evil they perceive in nature; and to
assert that to enter paradise one must be a fool. But has man the power
of being spiritual or poor in spirit, reasonable or foolish, believing
or unbelieving? Is not the holy stupidity of faith a gift which God
grants only to whom he will? Is it not unjust to damn people of

Lastly, In this sermon Jesus recommends to beware of _false prophets_,
and says, that it is by their works we shall know them. Yet, the priests
tell us, "we ought to do as they say, without imitating what they do,"
when we find their conduct opposed to the maxims they preach. Another
sign, therefore, than works ought to have been given whereby to
recognize false prophets; otherwise the faithful will be reduced to
believe that the clergy are provided only with lying prophets.

In this manner unbelievers argue; that is all those who have not
received from heaven _poorness of spirit_, so necessary for not
perceiving the want of inference, false principles, and numberless
inconsistencies, which result from the morality of Jesus. This morality
appears a divine _chef d'oeuvre_ to docile Christians illuminated by
faith; and it was much admired by those who heard it. We know not,
however, if the auditors were so affected by it as to follow it
literally. To admire a doctrine, and believe it true and divine, is a
thing much more easy than to practice it. Many persons set a higher
value on evangelical virtues, which are sublime in theory, than on moral
virtues, which reason commands us to practice. It is not then surprising
that the supernatural and marvellous morality of Jesus was applauded by
those who heard it. It was addressed to paupers, the dregs of the
people, and the miserable. An austere stoical morality must please the
wretched; it transforms their situation into virtue; it flatters their
vanity; makes them proud of their misery; hardens them against the
strokes of fortune; and persuades them that they are more valuable than
the rich, who maltreat them; and that Deity, which delights in seeing
men suffer, prefers the wretched to those who enjoy felicity.

On the other hand, the vulgar imagine that those who can restrain their
passions, and deprive themselves of what excites the desires of others,
are extraordinary beings, agreeable to God, and endowed with
preternatural grace, without which they would be incapable of these
exertions. Thus a harsh morality, which seems to proceed from
insensibility, pleases the rabble, imposes on the ignorant, and is
sufficient to excite the admiration of the simple. It is not even
displeasing to persons placed in happier situations, who admire the
doctrine, well assured of finding the secret to elude the practice of it
by the assistance of their indulgent guides. There is only a small
number of fanatics who follow it literally.

Such were the dispositions which must have induced so many people to
receive the instructions of Jesus. His maxims produced a multitude of
obstinate martyrs, who, in the hope of opening a road to heaven, set
torments and afflictions at defiance. The same maxims produced penitents
of every kind, solitaries, anchorites, cenobites, and monks, who, in
emulation of each other, rendered themselves illustrious in the eyes of
nations by their austerities, voluntary poverty, a total renunciation of
the comforts of nature, and a continual struggle against the gentlest
and most lawful inclinations. The counsels and precepts of the gospel
inundated nations with a vast number of madmen, enemies of themselves,
and perfectly useless to others. These wonderful men were admired,
respected, and revered as saints by their fellow-citizens, who,
themselves deficient in grace or enthusiasm necessary for imitating
them, or following faithfully the counsels of the Son of God, had
recourse to their intercession, in order to obtain pardon for their
sins, and indulgence from the Almighty, whom they supposed irritated at
the impossibility in which they found themselves of following literally
the precepts of Jesus. In fine, it is easy to perceive that these
precepts, rigorously observed, would drag society into total ruin; for
society is supported only because that most Christians, admiring the
doctrine of the Son of God as divine, dispense with practicing it, and
follow the propensity of nature, even at the risk of being damned.

In the gospel, Jesus threatens with eternal punishment those who shall
not fulfil his precepts. This frightful doctrine was not contradicted in
the assembly; the superstitious love to tremble; those who frighten them
most, are the most eagerly listened to. This was undoubtedly the time
for establishing firmly the dogma of the _spirituality_ and
_immortality_ of the soul. The Son of God ought to have explained to
those Jews, but little acquainted with this matter, how a part of man
could suffer in hell, whilst another part was rotting in the earth. But
our preacher was not acquainted with any of the dogmas which this church
has since taught. He had not clear ideas of spirituality; he spoke of it
only in a very obscure manner: "Fear, (said he, in one place,) him who
can throw both body and soul into hell"--words which must have appeared
unintelligible in a language in which the soul was taken for the blood
or animating principle. It was not till a long time after Jesus, and
when some Platonists had been initiated in Christianity, that the
spirituality and immortality of the soul were converted into dogmas.
Before their time, the Jews and Christians had only vague notions on
that important subject. We find doctors in the first ages speaking to us
of God and the soul as _material_ substances, more subtile indeed than
ordinary bodies. It was reserved for latter metaphysicians to give such
sublime ideas of mind, that our understandings are bewildered when
employed on them.



Though the obstinacy of the doctors of the law and principal men among
the Jews, created continual obstacles to the success of Jesus, he did
not lose courage; he again had recourse to prodigies, the certain means
of captivating the populace, on whom he perceived it was necessary to
found his hopes. This people were subject to diseases of the skin, such
as leprosy and similar cutaneous disorders. No doubt can be entertained
on this point when we consider the precaution which the law of Moses
ordains against these infirmities. To establish his reputation, Jesus
resolved to undertake the cure of this disgusting disease with which his
countrymen were so much infected.

According to Luke, a leper prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus, and
adored him, saying, that he had heard him spoken of as a very able man,
and that, if he was inclined, he could cure him. On this, Jesus merely
stretched forth his hand, and the leprosy disappeared. Hitherto, the
messiah had only recommended it to those he cured to present themselves
to the priests and to offer them the gift prescribed in such cases; but
on this occasion he thought that he would reconcile them by strictly
enjoining this mark of deference. He, therefore, exacted of the cured
leper, that he would satisfy the ordinance of the law; but at the same
time recommended secrecy as to the physician's name--a secret which was
no better preserved by him than by others. Jesus forgot that it was not
sufficient to impose silence on the persons he cured, but that it was
likewise necessary to lay a restraint on all the tongues of the
spectators; unless indeed it is supposed that these miracles were
performed with shut doors, and witnessed by the Saviour's disciples
only; or, rather, that they were not performed at all.

Meanwhile, the leper's indiscretion was the cause why Jesus, according
to Mark, no longer ventured to appear in the city. The priests seem to
have taken in ill mood the cure he had performed: He therefore withdrew
into the desart, where the more he was followed the more he buried
himself in concealment. It was in vain that the people desired to hear
him; it was in vain that the sick, who ran after him, requested their
cure. He no longer suffered that marvellous virtue, calculated to cure
every disorder, to exhale from him.

After having wandered for some time in the desart, ruminating on his
affairs, he re-appeared at Capernaum. The domestic of a Roman centurion,
much beloved by his master, was at the point of death from an attack of
the palsy. This Pagan believed that Jesus could easily cure his slave;
but, instead of presenting him to the physician as he ought to have
done, he deputed some Jewish senators to wait on him. However
disagreeable this commission might be to persons whom the centurion had
no right to command, and who by that step seemed to acknowledge the
mission of Jesus, these senators performed it. Flattered with seeing an
idolator apply to him, our miracle-worker set out immediately; but the
centurion sent some of his people to inform Jesus that he was not worthy
of the honour thus intended him by entering his house; and that to cure
his servant it was sufficient to speak only one word. Jesus was
delighted with this; he declared, that _he had not found so much faith
in Israel_; and with one word, if the gospel may be believed, he
performed the cure. He afterwards told the Jews, that if they persisted
in their hardness of heart, (the only disease which the Son of God could
never cure, though he had come for that purpose,) the idolatrous nations
would be substituted in their stead, and that God, notwithstanding his
promises, would forever abandon his ancient friends. The gospel,
however, does not tell us, whether this centurion, so full of faith, was
himself converted.

The day after this cure, Jesus having left Capernaum, arrived at Nain, a
small town in Galilee, about twenty leagues distant, which proves that
the messiah was a great walker. Fortunately he got there in time to
perform a splendid miracle. A poor widow had lost her son; they were
already carrying him to be burried, and the disconsolate mother,
accompanied by a great multitude, followed the funeral procession.
Jesus, moved with compassion, approached the bier and laid his hand on
it. Immediately those who carried it stopped. _Young man!_ said he,
addressing the deceased, _I say to thee, arise_. Forthwith, he who was
dead sat up. This miracle terrified all the attendants, but converted
nobody. The transaction is related by Luke alone; but even were it
better verified, we might justly suspect that the disconsolate mother
held secret intelligence with the performer.

Some historians have made John Baptist live to this period; others made
him die much earlier. Here Matthew and Luke introduce the disciples or
the precursor, on purpose to question Jesus on the part of their master.
"Art thou he that was to come, or look we for another?" The messiah in
reply worked miracles in their presence, cured the sick, cast out
devils, and gave sight to the blind; after which he said to John's
deputies, "Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen." It was
on this occasion that Jesus pronounced the eulogy of John. He had, as we
have seen in chapter fourth of this history, his reasons for so doing.
"Amongst all those," said he, "that are born of women, verily I say unto
you there is not a greater than John Baptist." Our panegyrist profited
afterwards by this circumstance to abuse the pharisees and doctors, who
rejected both his baptism and John's. He compared these unbelievers to
"Children sitting in the market place, and calling to one another: We
have piped to you, and you have not danced; we have chaunted funeral
airs, and ye have not weeped." But we are not informed that this jargon
converted the doctors.

After this our speech-maker compared his own conduct with that of the
precursor. "John," said he, "came neither eating bread nor drinking
wine, and you say he hath a devil. I eat, drink, and love good cheer,
yet you reject me also, under pretence that I keep company with men and
women of bad reputation." He gave the populace, however, to understand,
that their suffrage was sufficient for him; as if he had told them, "I
am certain of you--you are too _poor in spirit_ to perceive the
irregularity of my conduct--my wonders pass with you; you should not
reflect; you are the true _children Of wisdom, which will be justified
by you_."

After this harangue, a Pharisee, who to judge of him by his conduct had
been noways moved by Jesus, invited the orator to dinner; but he used
him in the most unpolite manner. He did not cause his feet to be bathed,
nor did he present perfumes according to the established custom of the
Jews. Though Jesus might be offended at this omission, he did not
decline sitting down at table; but while he was eating, a woman of bad
fame bathed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and
thereafter anointed them with a precious ointment. The pharisee did not
comprehend the mystery. Stupid and incredulous, he conjectured that
Jesus did not know the profession of the female; but he was mistaken:
the courtezan in question and all her family were intimately connected
with the messiah. John informs us, that she was called Mary Magdalane,
and that she was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, people well known to
Jesus, and who held a regular correspondence with him. In particular it
appears, that Magdalane entertained the most tender sentiments for

This action of the courtezan did not disconcert the Saviour; he
explained her love, the attention paid him, and the kisses with which
she loaded him, in a mystical and spiritual sense; and assuming the tone
of one inspired, he assured her that her sins were forgiven on account
of the love she had displayed. Luke informs us in the following chapter,
that Jesus had delivered this lady of _seven devils_--a service which
well merited her gratitude. Be that as it may, Jesus employed this
indirect way of shewing the pharisee the incivility of his behaviour to
a man of his consequence.

The relations of Jesus, informed of the noise he made, and suspecting
that he could not lead a very pure life among the gentry with whom he
associated; or fearing that his conduct in the end would draw him into
scrapes, went from Nazareth to Capernaum to seize him, and cause him to
be confined. They were afraid of being involved in his disgrace, and
chose rather to charge themselves with his correction, than to see him
delivered up to justice; an event which they perceived was likely soon
to happen. They therefore circulated a rumor, that he was a fool, whose
brain was disordered. Jesus, informed of the motive of their journey,
kept close, and had a prodigy in reserve the moment they should appear.
The people, who had a hint of this, or were told of it by the emissaries
of the messiah, repaired thither. As soon as the relations appeared, a
blind and dumb man possessed with a devil was brought forth. Jesus
exorcised him, the possessed was delivered, and the people were in

The doctors beheld with pain the credulity of the rabble, and foresaw
the consequences of it. The kinsmen of Jesus, little affected by this
miracle, promised to the doctors to use all their efforts to deliver him
up to them. He is a sorcerer, said some; he is a prophet, said others;
he must prove it, said a third; and, notwithstanding the great miracle
he had performed, others added, _Let us ask of him a sign in the air_.
"Good God!" said the Nazarenes, "he is neither sorcerer nor prophet; he
is a poor lad whose brain is disordered."

These speeches being related to Jesus, he answered them by parables and
invectives, and defended himself from the charge of being a wizard, by
maintaining that it was absurd to suppose he cast out devils by the
power of the devil. As to the imputation of folly, he repelled it with
affirming that whoever should question his intellect, could not expect
the remission of his sins either in this or in the other world. This
undoubtedly is what must be understood by _the Sin against the Holy

Nevertheless the midway course of demanding a sign was followed; for
this purpose a deputation was sent to Jesus; but instead of a sign in
the air, he gave them one in the water. He referred our inquisitive
folks to Jonas, and told them they should have no other sign; for, added
he, "As Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,
so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of
the earth." These Jews who were neither wizards nor prophets, could not
comprehend this language. Jesus, to whom miracles cost nothing when
every thing was arranged for performing them, did not risk himself by
working them _impromptu_, or in the presence of those he judged acute
enough to examine them. On this occasion he put off these poor Jews,
whom he calculated on converting to himself for ever, with an
unintelligible answer.

Having refused to perform a prodigy in the air, he began to rail at
them. He got into a passion, and launched out in prophetical invectives
against the Jews. He compared the conduct of the queen of Sheba with
theirs; boasted of _his_ being greater and wiser than Solomon; and
threatened to deprive them of the light which he shed in their country.
We are of opinion, however, that, if he had deigned to give the sign
demanded, he would have spread this light much further. But the messiah
felt that a sign in the air was much more difficult than those he had
given on the earth, where he was better able to arrange matters than
aloft in the atmosphere, a region in which there was nobody to concert

Meanwhile Jesus' mother had joined her other children and relations in
order to induce them to desist from their pursuit, but she could not
prevail on them. They persisted in the design of apprehending our
adventurer. As however, they could not penetrate through the multitude
and get close up to him, they sent notice they were there. "Behold,"
said some one to Jesus, "thy mother and thy brethren who seek
thee."--Jesus knowing the object of their visit which he was no ways
eager to receive, abjured such froward relations; "Who is my mother, and
who are my brethren?" said he; after which, stretching forth his hand
towards the people, "_Behold_," added he, "_my mother and brethren_; I
know no other kinsmen than those who hearken to my word, and put it in
practice." The people, flattered with the preference, took Jesus under
their protection, and the attempt of his family was thus turned to their

Escaped from this perilous adventure, afraid of being ensnared or
mistrusting the constancy of the populace, who, notwithstanding the
pleasure they found in seeing him perform his juggles, might desert him
at last, Jesus thought proper to provide for his safety by leaving the
town. He accordingly departed with his twelve apostles, the ladies of
his train, Mary his mother, Jane and Magdalane, _who assisted the
company with their property_. No doubt the last, who before she was with
the messiah had made gain of her charms, was rich in jewels and ready
money. This rendered her conversion of great importance to the sect, and
especially to Jesus, who could not, without cruelty, refuse to repay so
much love with a little return.

The persecution which Jesus experienced excited an interest in his
behalf, and it would seem procured him greater countenance. A multitude
of people impelled by curiosity, as soon as they knew the road he had
taken, went out of the towns and hamlets in the environs to see him. To
avoid being incommoded by the crowd, he again resolved to go on board a
vessel, from which he preached to those on shore; but recollecting the
trouble, which his former sermons had brought him into, he did not think
it prudent to explain himself so clearly. He, therefore, preferred
speaking in parables, which are always susceptible of a double meaning.

One day chagrined at his little success, he distinctly avowed that he
had changed his resolution as to the jews, and meant to abandon their
conversion. The reason for doing, so he expressed to them in parables;
"that seeing, they may not perceive, and hearing they may not
understand, lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins
should be forgiven them."

It must be owned that it is very difficult to reconcile this conduct of
God. Were we not afraid of committing sacrilege by hazarding objections
on the mission of Jesus, might it not be presumed that at first he had
the design of giving laws to the Jews; but perceiving afterwards his
little success, he resolved to seek his fortune elsewhere, and gain
other subjects? What he communicated to his disciples in this secret
view, appears to have been for the purpose of preparing them for this
change; but his punishment prevented all his designs, which were not
executed till a long time after by his apostles, who no doubt carefully
treasured up this conference.

We shall not enter into a detail of all the parables which Jesus
employed in communicating his marvellous doctrine to the Jews, or
preaching without being understood. Such a discussion would become very
tiresome; we therefore advise those who may have a taste for such kind
of apologues rather to read those of Esop or La Fontaine, which they
will find more amusing and more instructive than the fables of Jesus.
Those, however, who wish to consult the parables of the gospel, will
find them in the following places:--The parable of the _sower_, Luke,
viii. 5--of the _concealed lamp_, ib. viii. 16--of the _tares_, Matt.
xiii. 24--of the _seed_, Mark iv. 26--of the _grain of mustard_, Matt.
xiii. 31--of the _leaven_, ib. xiii. 33--of the _hidden treasure_, ib.
xiii. 44--of the _pearl_, ib. xiii. 45--of the _net cast into the sea_,
ib. 47--and of the _father of the family_, ib. 52.

Jesus informed that his brothers and cousins were from home, went to
Nazareth accompanied with his apostles. He perhaps wanted to convince
his countrymen that he was not such a fool as was reported. Probably he
hoped to confer with his family, and gain them over to his party. He
arrived on the Sabbath, and repaired to the synagogue: immediately the
priest very politely presented him with a book; he opened it, and
stumbled precisely on this passage of Isaiah: "The spirit of the Lord
has rested upon me, and therefore I am anointed to preach." Having shut
the book, he delivered it to the priest and sat down; but he did not
neglect to apply to himself this passage of the prophet, where also
mention is made of miracles and prodigies. There were present, either by
chance or design, several Gallileans, who having been witnesses of the
marvels Jesus had previously performed, did not hesitate to bear
testimony in his favour. But the Nazarenes, who knew what to think of
him, were shocked at his magisterial tone. "Is not this," said they to
one another, "the carpenter, the son of Joseph the carpenter? Is not his
mother called Mary? Are not his brethren and sisters with us? Whence
then has he so much skill? How, and by what means does he work

Jesus, hearing these remarks, saw plainly that this was not the proper
place for performing prodigies. But he wished that his inaction might be
attributed to the evil dispositions of his countrymen, who were
surprised to hear the sagacity and power of a man extolled whose conduct
appeared to them very equivocal. "I perceive," said Jesus to them, "that
you apply to me the proverb, Physician cure thyself; and that, to prove
the truth of what you have heard of me, you wish me to perform some of
those miracles which I have elsewhere exhibited; but I know I shall
labour in vain in this city: I am too well convinced of the truth of the
proverb, No man is a prophet in his own country." To justify himself he
quoted examples which would seem to throw a suspicion on the miracles of
the prophets of the Old Testament, whom this proverb, even by itself,
was calculated to make pass for knaves. Whatever opinion we may form of
this, he cited the example of Elias, who, among all the widows of
Israel, did not find one more deserving of a miracle than her of
Sarepta, a woman of the country of the Sidonians. In the days of Elias,
Judea was overrun with lepers; and yet the prophet cured Naaman, who was
a Syrian and an idolater, in preference to his countrymen.

This harangue, which insinuated the reprobation and perversity of the
audience, excited their rage so much that they dragged the orator out of
the synagogue, and led him to the top of a mountain with an intention to
throw him down headlong; but he had the good fortune to escape, and thus
avoid the fate which was intended him in the place of his nativity.
Matthew, speaking of this journey to Nazareth, says that his master did
not perform many miracles there on account of the unbelief of the
inhabitants. But Mark says positively, that he could not do any, which
is still more probable.

Our luminous interpreters and commentators believe, that Jesus escaped
only by a miracle out of the hands of the Nazarenes. But would it have
cost him more to perform a miracle in order to convert them, and thereby
prevent their mischievous designs? This was all that was required of
him, in order to save himself and place his person in security. Jesus
never performed miracles but with certain loss; he always dispensed with
working any when they would have been decisive, and beneficial.



Dissatisfied with his expedition to Nazareth, Jesus went to Upper
Gallilee, which had already been the theatre of his wonders. He found
the disposition of the inhabitants of that country better adapted to his
purpose. He perceived, however, that the necessity they were under of
suspending their labor to come and hear him, kept a great number at
home. This consideration obliged him to disperse his apostles by two and
two in the province. It is probable he resolved on this dispersion
because he found his own sermons and prodigies did not gain many
proselytes. The continual enterprizes of his enemies made him feel the
necessity of increasing his party.

It appears that Jesus had already sent several of his disciples on
missions, retaining near himself his twelve apostles only. It may,
however, be presumed, that these preachers were as yet mere novices, as
their labors were unsuccessful, the devils obstinately resisting their
exorcisms. Yet this want of success was owing solely to the weakness of
their faith, and would seem to throw a shade on the foresight and
penetration of their divine master. Why did he send missionaries whose
dispositions were not sufficiently known to him? Besides, it belonged to
him alone to bestow on them a necessary stock of faith for their

Whatever opinion way be formed of this, those of the apostles, who never
quitted their master, who saw him continually operating, who enjoyed his
confidence, and had faith from the first hand--were better qualified
than the others to labor to the satisfaction of the public. Fully
resolved to make a desperate effort, Jesus renewed all their powers, and
gave them his instructions, of which the following is the substance:
"Every thing being well considered, do not go among the Gentiles, for
our Jews will charge it as a crime against you, and as a reproach
against me. It is true, I have already threatened to renounce them, but
it is still necessary to make one attempt more; you will therefore
preach to the Jews only. Repentance supposes sobriety and few wants;
hence the inutility of riches. I have no money to give you, but strive
to pick up for yourselves what you can. Providence will provide for you;
if he takes care of the sparrows, he will take care of you. Moreover
expect to be ill received, reviled, and persecuted; but be of good
courage; all is for the best. Silence is no longer requisite; preach
openly and on the house tops what I have spoken to you in secret. Inform
the world that I am the messiah, the son of David and the Son of God. We
have no longer to observe discretion; we must either conquer or die;
away then with pusillanimity.

"Though I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, explain to the
good people that you are under the safeguard of the Most High, who will
take a terrible revenge for the outrages offered you, and liberally
reward those who welcome you. You do not require to concert measures for
supplying your wants; it belongs to those whose souls you are going to
save to provide you in necessaries for the body. Carry not therefore
either gold, or silver, or provision, or two suits of raiment; take a
good cudgel, and depart in the name of the Lord.

"Take care in your way always to preach that _the kingdom of heaven is
at hand_. Speak of the end of the world: this will intimidate women and
poltroons. On entering cities and villages, inform yourself of such
credulous people as are very charitable and prepossessed in our favor.
You will salute them civilly; saying _Peace be to this house_. But the
peace you bring must be _allegorical_; for my doctrine is calculated to
create trouble, discord, and division every where. Whoever would follow
me, must abandon father, mother, kinsmen, and family; we want only
fanatics and enthusiasts, who attaching themselves wholly to us, trample
every human consideration under foot. _I came not to send peace, but a
sword._ As a like conduct might embroil you with your hosts, you will
change your abode from time to time. Do not rely on the power I have of
raising the dead the safest way for you is not to risk your being
killed; shun therefore places where you may be menaced with persecution.
Abandon disobedient cities and houses, _shaking the dust from off your
feet_. Tell them, that they have incurred the punishment of Sodom and
Gomorrah. Declare, in my name, that the divine vengeance is ready to
make them sensible of their guilt, and that the inhabitants of these
cities will be less rigorously punished than those who shall have the
audacity to resist your lessons. The great and last day is at hand. I
assure you that you will not have finished your tour through all the
cities of Israel before the son of man shall arrive."

Such is the sense and spirit of the instructions which Jesus gave to his
apostles. In charging them to divulge his secret, he gave them a
commission, which, notwithstanding his omnipotence, he himself dared not
execute. But it was a grand policy to have instruments to act without
exposing himself to personal injury.

These trifles, however, scarcely merit notice:--We are more surprised to
find the Son of God proclaiming peace and charity, and at the same time
asserting that he brings war and hatred. It is without doubt a God only
who can reconcile these contradictions. It is besides unquestionable,
that the apostles, and especially their successors in the sacred
ministry have, in preaching their gospel, brought on the world troubles
and divisions unknown in all other preceding religions. The incredulous,
who by the way refer to the history of the church, find, that the _glad
tidings_ which a God came on purpose to announce, have plunged the human
race into tears and blood.

It is obvious from this language, that Jesus charged people of property
with the maintenance of his apostles. Their successors have taken
sufficient advantage of this, and through it assumed an authority to
exercise the most cruel extortions on impoverished nations. Would not
the Almighty have rendered his apostles more respectable by rendering
them incapable of suffering, and exempting them from the wants of
nature? This would have given more weight to their sublime sermons and
those of their infallible successors.

Critics maintain also, that it was false to say eighteen hundred years
ago that _the end of the world was near_, and still more false to affirm
that the great Judge would arrive before the apostles could make the
tour of the cities of Israel. It is true, theologists understand that
the end of the world shall happen when all the Jewish cities, that is,
when all the Jews shall be converted. Time will demonstrate whether it
be in that sense we ought to understand the words of Jesus: meanwhile
the world still remains, and does not appear to threaten speedy ruin.

It is probable that, besides these public instructions, Jesus gave more
particular ones to his apostles. They departed in the hope of charities
which they were to receive from Jews, of whom the greatest number were
already in a state of reprobation. Jesus altered his orders in part; he
reserved for himself the cities, and left the villages to his apostles.
Accordingly they went here and there, calling out, _Hearken to the glad
tidings; the world is near its end. Repent therefore, pray, fast, and
give us money and provisions, for having acquainted you with this
interesting secret._ We are assured that they cured several diseases by
the application of a certain oil. They had doubtless done more excellent
things, but the _paraclete_ (the comforter) was not yet come: maugre the
instructions of the Son of God, the understandings of the apostles were
not yet sufficiently brightened; for we do not find that the
missionaries, with their balsam and fine speeches, made any converts.
The incredulous are still much surprised to find in the instructions of
Jesus to his apostles, an explicit order to labor only for the
conversion of the Jews, and an express prohibition against preaching to
the Gentiles. They maintain, that a righteous God could make no
distinction of persons; that the common father of mankind must show an
equal love to all his children: that it cost no more to the Almighty to
convert and save all nations; that a God, who is friendly to one country
only, is a God purely local, and cannot be the God of the universe; and
that a God partial, exclusive, and unjust, who follows caprice alone in
his choice, can neither be perfect nor the model of perfection. In
short, those who have not the happiness of being _sacredly_ blinded by
faith, cannot comprehend how the equitable and wise Lord of all the
nations of the earth could cherish exclusively the Jewish people; his
infinite prescience ought to have shown him that his love and favors
would be completely lost on this untractable people.

Unbelievers remark, that it does not become the Son of God to exclaim,
"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty
works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would
have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." Would it not have been
wiser to have gone and preached to cities so docile, where Jesus was
certain of success, than to persist in preaching to the Jews, of whom he
was not certain of making converts?

Jesus went about preaching through many cities of Gallilee; but deprived
of the assistance of his confidents, he did not work any wonders. We
have seen the magistrates and the great paying little attention to his
conduct. They despised one whom they regarded a vagrant, or a fool
little to be feared. 'Tis true, that some of Herod's officers are said
to have been on the watch, with the pharisees, to destroy him; but this
combination had no success. After all, he gave umbrage only to the
priests and the doctors of the law, against whom he declaimed with the
greatest indecorum. By this conduct he rendered himself agreeable to the
people, weary of the extortions of these bloodsuckers, who, without
pity, drained the nation, treated the poor with disdain, and, as the
parable of the priest and the Samaritan evinces, were destitute of
charity. The priests and doctors were very numerous in Jerusalem; on
which account the people in the capital were less disposed than
elsewhere to listen to our preacher, and the influence of the priests
was the cause of the hatred and contempt entertained against him in this
great city.

By a singular contrariety, the most obscure interval in our hero's life
was that wherein he acquired the greatest renown. Jesus was wholly
unknown at the court of Herod; while at the head of his troop, and
surrounded by multitudes, he chased away devils, gave sight to the blind
and speech to the mute, expelled the sellers from the temple, and raised
the dead. But while he led a private life in Gallilee; when, during the
mission of his apostles, he found himself alone and without followers,
and content with preaching repentance, it was then that his fame,
penetrating even to the throne, excited in the monarch a desire to see
him. According to Luke, a ray of light struck the heart of Herod; doubt
filled his mind; "John," said he, "I have caused to be beheaded, but he
must have risen from the dead, and, therefore, it is that so many
miracles are performed by him; but who should this be of whom I hear
such great things?" Herod wished to see Jesus to explain these matters,
and for this purpose he sent for him.

If nature had given Jesus a right to the throne of Judea, we might judge
his motives for not putting himself in the power of a prince, the
usurper of his crown. But Jesus could not dissemble that his pretensions
were not well established; he knew that for a long time the family of
David had lost the sovereign power. We must, therefore, search for
another motive for his refusing to see Herod, as the interview with the
Son of God would not only have contributed to the conversion of this
prince and his court, but of all Judea, and perhaps of the whole Roman
empire. A single miracle of consequence, performed before a court, and
acknowledged and attested by persons of high authority, would have been
more effectual than the suspected testimony of all the peasantry and
vagabonds in Gallilee. Far from complying with the request of Herod, and
conferring so eminent a benefit, Jesus withdrew into a desert as soon as
he learned the prince's intention. He, who often uttered the most
terrible curses against such as rejected him, scorned the invitation of
a sovereign, and fled into a desert, instead of laboring for his
conversion. The messiah, who made no difficulty in entering the house of
a centurion to heal his slave, refused to visit a monarch in order to
cure his blindness, and bring back to himself all his subjects, for
whom, he affirmed, that he was specially sent!

Our theologians explain these contradictions by referring to the
inexplicable decrees of Providence. But the incredulous maintain, that
Jesus, who well knew how to work wonders in the eyes of a simple
populace, dared not to expose himself before an enlightened court; and
it must be owned, that the manner in which he comported himself before
his judges, strengthens this opinion.

Meanwhile, the mission of the apostles expired. In a short time they had
traversed Gallilee; and it appears from the repast which Jesus soon
after gave to a crowd of people, that the preaching of his missionaries
had procured an abundant harvest. Loaded with the alms of the
Gallileans, the apostles returned to their master, who again found
himself incommoded by the multitude which flocked to see him. To enjoy
more liberty, the party embarked on board a small vessel, which conveyed
them across the sea of Gallilee. There, in a retired spot, the apostles
gave an account of the success of their mission; they made arrangements
for the future, and especially secured their provisions in a place of

Those who had seen Jesus embark, thought, perhaps, they were forever to
be deprived of the pleasure of seeing him perform wonders. They made the
tour of the lake, and though on foot, reached the other side before
Jesus arrived there in his vessel. He preached, wrought miracles, and
cured the diseased; and these labors lasted until the evening. His
disciples then advised him to send the people in search of lodging and
victuals in the neighboring villages. He made no reply on the article of
lodging;--there were doubtless few persons in this multitude who were
accustomed to sleep on down.--Besides, the nights were likely not cold
in that season and climate. But, wishing to amuse himself with the
embarrassment of those who made the proposal, and who might not know the
resources which the collections of his apostles had procured, "it is not
necessary," said he, "that they should go into the villages; give them
yourselves wherewith to eat." "Think you so?" replied they,--"shall we
go and buy two hundred penny-worth of bread, and give them to
eat?"--Philip, who perhaps was not in the secret, represented the
impossibility of finding bread to feed this multitude. On which Jesus
said to Peter, "See how many loaves you have." He found none--a
circumstance the more surprising, as, according to Mark, they had
withdrawn to this place "on purpose to eat." Peter, without answering
the question, said to his master, "There is a young lad here, who has
five barley loaves and two small fishes." Jesus ordered them to be
brought, and made the multitude range themselves in companies of
hundreds and of fifties. From this arrangement it appeared that there
were five thousand men, besides women and children. When every one had
taken his place on the grass, Jesus, according to the usage of the Jews,
blessed the loaves and fishes, broke, and distributing them among the
apostles, who gave thereof to the people as much as they desired. They
likewise filled twelve baskets with the fragments of this celebrated
entertainment. The guests, penetrated with admiration, exclaimed, "This
is of a truth a prophet, and that prophet who should come into the
world;" which, translated into ordinary language, means, the true
Amphitrion is he who gives us our dinner. The apostles spoke not a word.

Some critics, perceiving the impossibilities this miracle presents, have
ventured to doubt the truth of it, as if the _impossibility_ of things
could prejudice the reality of a miracle, the essence of which is to
produce things impossible. Yet if attention is given to the account of
the evangelists, who are not, however, very unanimous on particulars, we
shall find, that this miracle presents nothing impossible if we are
inclined to give any credit to the prudence of the Son of God; who, on
this occasion, found that he could not make a better use of the
provisions amassed by his apostles, than to distribute them to a hungry
multitude. By this act, he saw himself certain of gaining their favor.
It may be the crowd was not quite so numerous as is related. Besides,
our apostles, in passing to the opposite shore, might have thrown their
nets with sufficient success to furnish fish for the whole company. This
meal must have appeared miraculous to persons who knew that Jesus had no
fortune, and lived on alms. We accordingly find, that the people wanted
to proclaim king the person who had so sumptuously regaled them. The
entertainment no doubt recalled to their mind the idea of a messiah,
under whose government abundance was to reign. No more was requisite to
induce a handful of miserables to believe, that the preacher, who by a
miracle fed them so liberally, must be the extraordinary man the nation

This great miracle then will become very probable, by supposing that the
apostles in their collection had received a large quantity of bread.
They amused themselves, as has been observed, with fishing while they
crossed the lake; Jesus gave them the hint:--when evening was come,
things were disposed without the observation of the people, who were
thus fed with provisions amassed by very natural means.

Though the Gallileans wished to proclaim Jesus king, he did not think
proper to accept an honor which he found himself for the present
incapable of supporting. His exhausted provisions did not suffer him to
undertake the frequent entertaining of so many guests at his own
expense; and though this conduct, much more than all his other miracles,
would have gained him the affections of the beggars, idlers, and
vagabonds of the country, the necessity of his affairs prevented him
from recurring to it.

Thus Jesus crowned the second year of his mission with an action well
adapted to conciliate the love of the people, and at the same time give
uneasiness to the magistrates. This stroke of eclat must doubtless have
alarmed those in power, who perceived that the affair might become very
serious, especially considering the intention of the Gallileans to
proclaim our adventurer king. The priests probably profitted by these
dispositions in order to destroy Jesus, who at all times appeared
anxious to gain the populace, in order to aid him in subduing the great.
This project might have succeeded if Judea, as in times past, had been
governed by kings of its own nation, who, as the Bible shows, depended
continually on the caprice of priests, of prophets, or of the first
comer, who by predictions, declamations, and wonders, could, at will,
stir up the Hebrew nation, and dispose of the crown: whereas in the time
of Jesus the Roman government had nothing to fear from the efforts of



The expression of John, who tells us, that _Jesus knowing_ the guests he
had entertained _would come and take him by force on purpose to make him
their king_, demonstrates that these guests had withdrawn at the end of
the entertainment. This observation enabled us to fix pretty correctly
the route of Jesus, and affords a reason for his conduct.

It was already late when the disciples said to their master, that it was
time to send away the people. The preparations for the repast must have
consumed time: the distribution of the victuals required also some
hours; so that daylight could not have been far off when the meal was
finished, and when Jesus dismissed his guests. It was about the evening
he learned the design they had of carrying him off to make him king; and
it was not until after having received this intelligence, that he
resolved to conceal himself in a mountain, after having dispatched his
disciples to Capernaum. To reach the place, the latter were obliged to
make several tacks; when Jesus, observing this, changed his resolution,
and set out for Gennesaret, on the north side of the lake. Seeing him
approach at the moment they thought him far off in the recesses of the
mountain, his disciples were terrified; _they took him for a spirit_,
for spirits were very common in Judea. They were confirmed in their
opinion when they perceived his shadow near the vessel. Simon Peter
observing him advance, did not doubt but he was walking on the waters.
In attempting to go and meet his master, he felt himself sinking; but
Jesus took him by the hand, and saved him from the danger. After
reprimanding him for his cowardice, he went with him on board the ship.
The apostles, who had not been much struck with the miracle of the five
loaves, were astonished at this. They had been in great fear, and fear
disposes to believe; in their distress they confessed unanimously, _that
he was the Son of God_.

Jesus reached Gennesaret at noon. There several of his guests recognized
him, and announced his arrival to others. They presented him the
diseased, and he performed a great number of cures. We cannot too much
admire the faith of the Gallileans, who exposed at all seasons their
sick in the streets, and the complaisance of Jesus, who indefatigably
cured them.

The guests at the miraculous supper, whom their affairs called home, had
returned; but the greatest number, that is, all the laboring people,
having seen Jesus' ship steer for Capernaum, had set out by land for
that city. Some vessels from Tiberias arrived there at the same time,
but none carried Jesus, and nobody had seen him; for he had made his
passage during night. The crowd, however, remained, in hopes of being
again entertained _gratis_, when they learned at Capernaum that Jesus
was on the opposite shore. Immediately, all our idle folks set out,
either by land or by water, to visit him. But these parasites, instead
of finding a repast served out on the grass, were entertained with a
sermon. Jesus, who had not always wherewith to defray the expenses of so
numerous a court, held forth to them this language: "Verily, verily, I
say unto you, ye seek me, not because you saw the miracles, but because
ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled." "Labour," added he, "for
life everlasting.----" His hearers, whose ideas extended not beyond the
present life, did not comprehend what Jesus meant; they therefore asked
him what it was requisite they should do; on which he told them that it
was necessary they should become his disciples, as he was the messiah.
Here we are surprised to find them asking of Jesus, What sign showest
thou then that we may believe? What extraordinary thing do you perform
for that purpose? You will perhaps instance the supper you gave us; but
did not our fathers eat manna in the desert for forty years? And after
all, what is your supper in comparison with that wonder?

From this we may perceive that Jesus labored in vain to draw over these
Gallileans to his party. The continuation of the miraculous repast was
alone capable of moving them. It was to no purpose Jesus maintained,
that the bread with which Moses had fed their fathers, was not the bread
of heaven, which alone could properly nourish. _An empty belly has no
ears_; so they suffered him to preach on. After he had spoken a great
deal--Well, said they, give us this bread which alone nourishes, for it
signifies little to us what kind of bread we eat; but some we must have.
Promise to furnish us with it at all times, and at this price we shall
be at your devotion.

If Jesus at this moment had possessed the same resources as formerly, he
would have been able, at little expense, to form a small army, which the
assurance of having food without toil would have soon increased; but all
failed. These people offered themselves providing he would always
furnish them with bread. The proposition was urgent, and Jesus got off
with so bad a grace, that his disciples themselves were shocked at it.
He said to them, that he himself was bread, that his flesh was meat, and
his blood wine; and that those only who eat it would be raised up, and
conducted to everlasting banquets. Our dull folks comprehended none of
this mysterious jargon, contrived on purpose to puzzle them. Perceiving
that they were not moved by it, he informed them that in order to follow
him, a particular _call_ was necessary, and that as they were not
disposed to do this, they were, therefore, not called.

The adherents Jesus obtained on this occasion were but few. The Jews
were indignant that he should pretend to have descended from heaven. We
_know_, said they, his _father and mother_, and we _know where he was
born_. These rumors, spreading as far as Jerusalem, so irritated the
priests that they resolved on his death; but the son of God, by skilful
marches and countermarches, disconcerted their vigilance. It was
especially in the capital that they wished to ensnare him; but Jesus had
not been lately there. His distance from the metropolis did not,
however, prevent them from knowing his most secret proceedings; and from
this he concluded there were some false brethren among his disciples. He
was not deceived; but the fear of being betrayed in a country where his
resources began to fail, induced him to dissemble till he should arrive
in a place of safety. He set out, therefore, for Capernaum. At this
place he recited nearly the same sermon he had in vain preached to the
Gallileans. But no one would consent to receive as food his flesh and
blood. Those who enjoyed his confidence knew that he gave better cheer;
but his other disciples asserted that they could not subsist on this
mysterious mess, and took their leave of him. Unable to do better, Jesus
was obliged to let them depart.

Observing the defection of a part of his followers, our adventurer was
vexed at it; and, in sorrow for the injuries it would occasion, he asked
the twelve, "And will you also leave me?" On which Simon Peter answered,
"Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we
believe, and are sure, that thou art the Christ, the son of the living
God." Thus Jesus was assured, in the best way he could, of the fidelity
of his apostles; yet we see, in spite of his infinite knowledge, that he
always kept the traitor Judas in his company, though he must have
foreseen that he would deliver him up to his enemies.

Meanwhile, Jesus set out for Gallilee, whither his apostles followed
him, though his last preaching, and particularly the refusal of
victuals, had dissatisfied the Gallileans. They did not, indeed, give
him a welcome reception. The arrival of some pharisees and doctors from
Jerusalem completely marred everything. They were deputed by the chiefs
in the capital to watch the conduct of Jesus, and to put the people on
their guard. Every one knows how strictly the Jews adhere to the
ceremonies of their law; and, in spite of his protestations of
attachment to it, Jesus, like his trusty friends, observed none of its
ordinances. It was particularly offensive that they ate without washing
their hands. But he defended himself with saying, that it was better to
violate traditions and neglect ceremonies, than to infringe the
commandments of God, as the doctors did. He advanced, contrary to
express law, _that nothing which enters the body defiles it, and that it
is what comes out of it that renders it impure_. This seems to
establish, that Jesus and his party were not scrupulous as to their
victuals. Thereafter he launched out in invectives against the doctors,
whom he called hypocrites, ignorant and blind, who directed others that
were also blind. In his anger he did not perceive that the compliment
was not less offensive to the people than to their guides. On this
account the latter entertained a deep resentment, but the populace did
not regard it. Besides, Jesus did not allow them time for reflection: he
engaged their attention by a fine discourse, to prove that lawyers and
priests were the worst of men and the least charitable, and, that none
could be happy, either in this world or in the other, without becoming
his disciples.

He was now informed that there was no safety for him in this place. He
therefore left it in great haste, intending to go towards the frontiers
of Tyre and Sidon. His design was to live concealed in the country; but
with such great renown as that of our hero it was difficult to continue
long unknown. The secret of his retreat was divulged; and, as misfortune
sometimes turns to good, this trifling duplicity gave him an opportunity
of performing a miracle among the Gentiles. A woman of Canaan besought
him to deliver her daughter from a devil that tormented her. Jesus at
first made her no answer. She insisted; the apostles interceded, and
pressed their master to grant her request, merely to silence her; for
she was clamorous, and might have disclosed that he was the messiah. He
defended himself on the plea of being sent to the Jews only, and not to
the Heathen. They again besought him, and answered his comparison by
another. He at length yielded; and the girl was delivered from her
devil, or her vapors.

The success of Jesus in this country terminated with this miracle. He
passed into Decapolis, and there acquired some consequence from the cure
of a dumb and deaf man on pronouncing the word _Epheta_, and then
putting his finger into his ears and spittle on his tongue. Our
missionary on this occasion made a sufficiently abundant harvest of
alms. He moreover wrought a number of miracles on the sick, the cripple,
and the maimed. But it was his custom to steal away when his miraculous
power began to make a noise; he accordingly withdrew to a mountain at
the distance of three days journey from the place where he had performed
so many miracles. The people followed him in his retreat, and it appears
that they did so without eating. Loaded with provisions or money
procured by his miracles, Jesus again saw himself in a situation to lay
the table cloth. As if he knew nothing of this, he asked one of his
apostles how many loaves they had: seven was the answer. He then ordered
the multitude to sit down on the ground; and taking the loaves, blessed
them, together with some small fishes. These were distributed to four
thousand men, besides women and children, who were all satisfied; and
with the remains of the repast, they afterwards filled seven baskets.

This prodigy appears to be a mere repetition of what we have related
before; yet St. Chrysostom maintains, that the difference of the number
of baskets proves irrefragably they must not be confounded. Admitting
this, it would appear that Jesus once more sacrificed the money and
provisions his prodigies had enabled him to amass. It was necessary to
gain the people, and he at that time felt he had very great need of
them; he was generous when he had the means to be so, and he had not
forgotten that they had promised to follow him, provided he would give
them food.

The evangelists, however, overheated with the idea of this miracle,
forgot another equally deserving their notice. It was indeed a prodigy
to see four thousand men, without reckoning, women and little children,
following Jesus during three days without eating or drinking; or else we
must believe, that, prepared to travel, these people had provided
themselves with provisions, which suddenly failed. But, in a desert,
whence came the baskets they made use of in gathering up the remains of
the entertainment? It is to be presumed, that they dropt down from
heaven. But why not make loaves and fishes drop down also? It was
undoubtedly requisite to feed this multitude during the three days march
necessary for their return. But would it not have been a short way to
have made the people feel neither hunger nor thirst? Would it not have
been easier, by an effort of mercy, to have converted at once all the
inhabitants of Judea, and spared Jesus the trouble of so many
entertainments, flights, marches, and countermarches, which at last
terminated in a manner so tragical to this hero of the romance?

The pharisees and sadducees did not lose sight of Jesus: on learning
that he had returned to the interior of the kingdom, they went in search
of him. The evangelists, it is suspected, made them much worse than they
were in reality, by representing them as eager to ruin them. Was it then
so difficult to arrest thirteen men? Be that as it may, the Pharisees at
this time accosted Jesus very politely, and demanded of him a miracle.
"You perform them," said they, "by dozens, in presence of a thousand
people, who by your own confession, do not believe in you; give us then
a specimen of your skill, and we shall be less opiniative than those of
whom you complain. Do then show us this condescension." Jesus was
inexorable, and perpetually referred them to Jonas. This refusal
offended them: he, in turn, inveighed against them; and as the presence
of these inconvenient spectators rendered his power useless, he quitted
them in order to go to Bethsaida.

On the way, his apostles asked him the reason of his refusal to work a
miracle in presence of persons who entreated him in so handsome a
manner; on which Jesus, by a figure, gave them to understand, that he
could not operate before people so clear-sighted; "Beware," said he, "of
the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod." Our silly
folks, who had not time to provide bread, thought their master meant to
reprove them for their negligence. Any other but Jesus would have
laughed at the mistake, but the state of his affairs chagrined him, and
he treated them very harshly.

On entering Bethsaida, they brought him a blind man whom he cured by
applying spittle to his eyes. This remedy at first produced a pleasant
effect: the man saw other men, like trees, walking; Jesus then laid his
hands on him, and immediately he saw quite otherwise.

But this miracle gained no conquest to the messiah. He, therefore, went
to try his fortune in the villages in the environs of Caesarea-Philippi.
It is in this journey that asking his apostles what they thought of him,
some said, that he passed for Elias, others for Jeremiah, &c.; but Peter
openly confessed that he acknowledged him for the Christ: a confession
which has since gained him the honor of supremacy in the sacred college,
and of being declared the head of the church.

Though sovereign in heaven, Jesus possessed nothing on earth, and of
course could confer no temporal gifts. Instead of these, he gave his
disciples the spiritual privilege of damning and saving the rest of
mankind at their pleasure. He promised to Peter the place of
_door-keeper of Paradise_, since become so lucrative an office to his
successors and assigns. Meanwhile Jesus recommended silence to the party
on this promotion; but perhaps the traitor Judas, not satisfied with the
office of treasurer, did not preserve the secret.

Notwithstanding the suffrage of Peter, the consequences which might
result from the choler of the priests were always present to the mind of
Jesus. Cried down and rejected, he presumed, with good sense, that,
being once excluded from all the provinces, and the Gentiles not much
inclined to receive for legislator a Jew, expelled his own country, he
would be constrained sooner or later, to return to Jerusalem, where he
must expect to meet with perilous adventures. On the other hand, the
Romans, masters of the forces over whom the Jews could arrogate no
authority, would very quickly have put an end to the mission of a man
whom they must have regarded either as a fool or as a disturber of the
public peace, if he should have dared to declare against them. It is
evident, indeed, that the mission of Jesus existed in Judea merely
because the Romans were not much displeased that a restless and
turbulent people should amuse themselves with following a man of his
character--a pretended messiah, to whose appearance the prepossessions
of the nation gave rise. Always certain of being able to crush those who
dared to undertake the boldest enterprises, they troubled themselves
little about what might be done in the country by a party no way
formidable to an authority seconded by disciplined legions.

The situation of the Son of God must have alarmed his companions,
however dull we may suppose them to have been. It was, therefore,
necessary to devise means to encourage those at least who were the
honest dupes of his vain promises. He did not dissemble the bad state of
his affairs, the fate he had to dread, and the death with which he was
menaced. He anticipated them on this subject, and declared that even if
he should suffer death, they must not be discouraged, for at the end of
three days he would rise triumphant from the tomb. We shall afterwards
see the use the apostles made of this prediction, which must at the time
have appeared to them as foolish as incredible.

To retain them as his followers, and revive their zeal, Jesus
entertained them incessantly with the beauty of his Father's kingdom;
but he told them that to arrive there, they must have courage, love him
sincerely, and consent to suffer with him. These melancholy sermons
demonstrated the situation of the orator, and tended rather to depress
than incite the courage of his auditory. He, therefore, thought it
seasonable to present to his disciples a specimen of the glory which he
had so often vaunted. For this purpose he exhibited the brilliant
spectacle of the _transfiguration_. All the apostles were not witnesses
of it: he granted this favor to three only, Peter, James, and John, his
most intimate confidents, to whom he recommended silence. This scene
took place, it is said, on mount Thabor. There Jesus appeared irradiated
with glory, accompanied with two others, whom the apostles took for
Moses and Elias, and whom, as far as we can discover, they had never
seen before. A cloud unexpectedly enveloped the three luminous bodies;
and when they no longer beheld any person, a voice was heard pronouncing
these words, _This is my beloved Son_. The disciples were asleep while
the spectacle was displayed--a circumstance which has occasioned a
suspicion, that the whole was only a dream.

The apostles, who remained at the foot of the mountain, and had been
deprived of this spectacle, wished to try their spiritual powers on a
lunatic, or one possessed; but the devil disregarded their exorcisms.
The father of the disordered person, perceiving their master descending
from the mountain, immediately presented his son to him, whom Jesus
cured; he then gave a strong reprimand to those _fumblers_; told them
that their want of success was owing to want of faith, a grain of which
was sufficient to remove mountains; and recommended to them fasting and
prayer, as the surest means of expelling certain demons more rebellious
than others.

The people, however, withstood all these wonders: the devils, with whom
_they_ were possessed, could not be expelled by any thing which Jesus
had not contrived. Expecting, therefore, to draw over some of the
strangers whom the solemnities always brought in great numbers to the
capital, he resolved, as the feast of the tabernacles was approaching,
secretly to repair thither. But, agitated by the most troublesome
misgivings, he traversed Gallilee; he explained himself on his fears in
an enigmatical manner to his apostles, who could not comprehend what he
said; but who, on observing their master grieved, conformed themselves
to his humor.

On arriving at Capernaum, the place of his usual residence, the officers
charged with collecting the customs taking him for a stranger, and not
even recognising Matthew, their old companion exacted tribute from them.
Jesus being a Jew, was offended at their demand; but whether they did
not hearken to his reasons, or that he did not wish to be known, he
dispatched Peter in search of a piece of thirty-pence in the mouth of a
fish; or rather desired him go and catch a fish, which being sold for
that sum, served to pay the custom.

The apostles having understood from the Saviour's discourses, that his
kingdom was still very distant, occupied themselves with disputing on
the pre-eminence and ranks they should enjoy in the empire which had
been obscurely announced to them. In this they have been since
faithfully imitated by their successors. In the mean time Jesus took
occasion from this dispute to deliver a sermon on humility. He called
for a child, placed it in the midst of them, and declared that this
child was the greatest among them. This sermon, by which our clergy have
profitted so well, contains fine parables, and points out excellent
means whereby to attain heaven, but not to thrive on earth. As all
these, however, are only repetitions of what is taught in the sermon on
the mount, we refer the reader to it.

Jesus wrought no miracles during his abode at Capernaum, where he had an
interest not to be too much spoken of. His brethren or his parents, who
were of the same mind as the priests, proceeded to that place on purpose
to persuade him to leave his asylum and go into Judea, where he might
exhibit his skill. They reminded him that the feast should draw him to
Jerusalem, where he could not fail to find an opportunity of signalising

This ironical tone enabled Jesus to foresee that they were plotting
against him. Here eternal truth extricated itself from these
importunities by means of falsehood. The Son of God told his brethren to
go to the feast, but assured them that for himself he would _not_ go.
(John vii. 8.) This, however, did not hinder him from taking the road to
Jerusalem, but with the greatest secresy. In his way he cured ten
lepers, among whom one only, who was a Samaritan, shewed any gratitude
to his physician; and from courtesy to his faith his sins were remitted.
Notwithstanding this miracle and absolution, the incredulous do not
admit that Jesus can be acquitted of having prevaricated. It seems very
strange, that the Son of God, to whom his omnipotence furnished so many
honorable means of acting openly, had recourse to subtlety and deception
in order to elude the snares of his enemies. This conduct can be
explained only by supposing that what seems falsehood to carnal eyes is
truth in the gospel.



It is probable that our hero changed his intention of showing himself
publicly at Jerusalem on learning the diversity of opinions which
divided the capital on his account. He imagined that his presence and
discourses would remedy the inconstancy of the people, and remove the
perplexity of disputants; but he deceived himself. He who so often
recommended the _cunning of serpents_, failed on this occasion. But how
revoke an immutable decree? The world had been created solely on purpose
that man might sin, and man had sinned in order that Jesus by his death
might have the glory of making atonement for sinners.

If they spoke much evil of Jesus in Jerusalem, they spoke also much
good. Praise is a snare, wherein the Son of God himself was caught.
Flattering himself with being able to reconcile the suffrages, he went
to the temple and preached. But what must have been his surprise when on
beginning to speak he heard the cries of rage, and the multitude
accusing him of being possessed with a devil. In spite of the noise that
prevailed among the audience, Jesus continued to harangue. Perhaps he
might have succeeded in conquering the bad disposition of the assembly,
if a company of soldiers had not arrived, and interrupted him precisely
in the most pathetic part of his sermon. He was speaking of his heavenly
Father; and this occurrence has undoubtedly made us lose a sublime
treatise on the nature of the divinity. The soldiers, however, had no
design to seize him; they wished only to impose silence on him; it was,
therefore, easy for him to steal away.

Jesus, whose temper appears to have been vindictive and restless, was
piqued at the insult, and continued his invectives against the priests,
doctors, and principal men among the Jews, who taking counsel on the
subject, agreed to issue a decree against him and try him for contumacy;
but Nicodemus, whom we mentioned before, undertook his defence, and
proposed to his brethren to go and hear him before condemning him. They,
however, insisted that no _good ever came out of Nazareth_, i.e. that
his protegee could be no other than a vagabond.

In his retreat on the mount of Olives, Jesus learned that they had
postponed proceedings against him. He therefore appeared next day in the
temple by day break. The doctors and senators came a little later, and
brought him a female accused of adultery--a crime for which, according
to the law, she ought to suffer death. The doctors, perhaps acquainted
with her conduct, and informed of Jesus' having women of wicked lives in
his train, wanted to ensnare him. He might have got off by merely
saying, that it was not for him to judge; but he wished to argue. He
wrote on the ground; and concluded, very prudently, that for one to
judge it is necessary to be himself exempted from all sin. Then
addressing himself to the doctors, "let him among you who is without
sin, cast the first stone at her." At these words they departed,
shrugging their shoulders. Jesus remained alone with the adulteress,
whom the Jews would not have treated so tenderly if she had been really
culpable. On this he said to her, "Since no man hath accused thee,
neither will I condemn thee: Go then, and sin no more."

Having happily escaped from this danger, Jesus thought himself in
safety; but, induced by his natural petulence, he again hazarded a
sermon in the temple: he spoke only of himself; and what follows was
nearly his strongest argument: "You ask," said he, "a full proof by two
witnesses. Now I bear witness of my Father, and my Father bears witness
of me; you therefore ought to believe in me;" which amounts to this; _my
Father proves me, and I prove my Father_. The doctors, but little
surprised with this circuitous and erroneous reasoning, and with a view
to come directly to the point, asked him, "Who art thou?" "I am,"
replied Jesus, "from the beginning, and I have many things to say to
you; but I speak to the world those things only which I have heard of my
Father." The audience were no doubt impatient at these ambiguous
answers: Jesus, who wished to increase their embarrassment, then added
that they would know him much better after they had put him to death.

The messiah did not omit to display great views in this conference: he
informed his hearers in dark language, that it would not perhaps be
impossible to shake off the Roman yoke. But either through fear, or that
they did not believe such a man in a condition to effect so great a
revolution, they affected not to comprehend him. Piqued at finding the
doctors and pharisees so dull and opiniative, he called them _children
of the devil_; he affirmed that he was _older than Abraham_. In short,
he broke out in a manner so unreasonable that the people, declaring
against him, were about to stone him. Jesus, perceiving his folly when
too late, concealed himself until an opportunity offered to escape.

From this time his miracles became more rare, and the zeal of the people
subsided. It was therefore necessary to rekindle it: Jesus accordingly
performed a miracle by curing a man born blind with a little earth
moistened with spittle. This man was a well known mendicant, whom they
could not suspect of any artifice. Yet they would no longer tolerate him
after he had received his sight; an incident which no doubt diminished
the alms he was in use to receive. But, perhaps, he was made a disciple.
Some legends, indeed, assert, that after the death of Jesus he came into
Gaul, where he became a bishop or inspector; which at least presupposes
good organs of vision.

This prodigy coming to the knowledge of the Pharisees, the beggar
underwent an examination; he openly confessed that one called Jesus had
cured him with a clay of his composition and some bathings in Siloam. On
this occasion, the bad humor of the pharisees went a little too far.
They made it a crime for the physician to have composed his ointment on
the Sabbath, and formed the project of excommunicating whoever should
countenance him.

This resolution made Jesus tremble. He knew the power of excommunication
among the Jews; he found himself crossed in all his designs; and dared
not venture to preach in Jerusalem, or show himself in any other place.
Every thing, even his miracles, turned against him, and it was not
without some difficulty that he had escaped from the capital. At a
little distance he knew of an asylum in Bethany, where his friend
Lazarus possessed a house. He accordingly took the resolution of
retiring thither; but though it was a large house, the party that
accompanied him might have incommoded their host. This determined Jesus
to send seventy of his disciples on a mission to Judea, to whom it
appears he now gave very able powers; for on their return we find them
applauding themselves, and overjoyed at the facility with which they
expelled the devils.

Scarcely had Jesus arrived at Bethany, when in order to receive him in a
becoming manner, they prepared a banquet. But the voluptuous Magdalane,
content to devour with her eyes her dear Saviour, left Martha her sister
to superintend the arrangements in the kitchen while she herself
continued at his feet. Peevishness, and perhaps jealousy, got the better
of Martha; she came and scolded Magdalane; but the tender messiah
undertook the defence of his penitent, and asserted that she had chosen
the better part. Brother Lazarus, who came in unexpectedly, terminated
the squabble by ordering them to their work.

This little altercation was the cause why Jesus did not tarry long at
Bethany. When about leaving it, a pharisee through pure curiosity
invited him to dinner. The messiah accepted his invitation; but our
unpolished Jew had not the civility to give his guest water to wash
with. This occasioned him a fine lecture on charity and filled with
marvellous comparisons, which, however, we shall omit, as our orator so
frequently conned over the same lesson, and as this dinner appears to be
a repetition of one we have already mentioned.

From this period till the feast of the dedication of the temple, our
hero wandered in the environs of Jerusalem with his disciples, whom he
incessantly entertained with the grandeur of his aerial kingdom, and
what it was necessary to do in order to enter it. It was, according to
Luke, on this occasion, and according to Matthew in the sermon on the
mount, that he taught the apostles, who could not read, a short prayer
called since that time the Lord's prayer, which (injurious as it is to
the Divinity, whom it seems to accuse of leading us into temptation,)
Christians still continue to repeat.

Meanwhile time passed away without any advantage. The cessation of
prodigies and preaching occasioned that of alms. Jesus again hazarded a
sermon in a village; but although it attracted the admiration of the
people, it produced no effect. Towards the end of our hero's mission we
see the crowd no longer running after him. If he wished to perform a
miracle, he was under the necessity of calling those he wished to cure.
For eighteen years an old woman of this village had been quite bent. It
was, according to the language of the country, the devil who had kept
her in this inconvenient posture. Jesus called her and exclaimed;
"Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity." The old woman made
efforts to become straight; she approached the feet of the messiah with
the pace of a tortoise; he laid his hands on her and immediately she
walked upright like a girl of fifteen. At this time the devil spoke not
a word; on which it has been remarked, that Satan always followed the
opinion of the spectators of the Saviour's miracles, and marvellously
coincided with them in acknowledging or rejecting him. This analogous
conduct of the spectators and Satan was perhaps the result of the
excommunication fulminated against all who regarded Jesus as the

The reputation of John Baptist still subsisted on the banks of the
Jordan. To excite the primitive zeal, or, perhaps, with an intention to
induce the disciples of John, who had borne him such flattering
testimony, to follow him, Jesus turned towards that quarter. But the
attempt was fruitless: he succeeded no better in curing a dropsical
person that chanced to be in the house of a pharisee who gave the
Saviour a dinner. His cures were admired, but he spoiled all by his
extravagant arguments, so offensive were they to the greatest part of
his hearers. As a last resource, he endeavored to attach publicans,
officers, and such like disreputable persons to his party; but these
were only feeble props, and their familiarity made him lose the little
esteem which others still entertained for him.

The sight of punishment has often occasioned the loss of courage even to
the most determined hero. Ours, agitated by a crowd of untoward events,
imagined that nothing being dearer to men than life, and nothing more
difficult than to come back after leaving it, the people of Jerusalem,
notwithstanding the clamors of the priests, would declare in his favor
if he could succeed in making them believe that he had the power of
raising the dead. Lazarus the intimate friend of Jesus appeared to him
the fittest person for presenting to the public the spectacle of a dead
man brought to life. When every thing was properly concerted, Jesus set
out for Bethany. Learning this, Martha and Magdalane went to meet him,
and publicly informed him that their brother was very sick. Jesus made
them no answer, but speaking loud so as to be heard, "This sickness,"
said he, "is not unto death, but for the glory of God." This was already
telling too much.

Instead of going to Bethany, Jesus remained two days in the village
without doing any thing; thereafter he told his apostles that it was
necessary to return into Judea. He was there at the time he spoke, but
he meant, no doubt, the capital. They represented that it would be a
very imprudent journey as the populace had recently wanted to stone him.
We see that Jesus said this on purpose to give room to his friends to
invite him not to neglect brother Lazarus in his sickness. Besides, the
following words evince that he had no intention of going to Jerusalem.
"Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of
sleep." On hearing this, the apostles thought Lazarus had recovered.
Jesus declared that he was dead, and that he was highly pleased with not
having been present at his decease, as it would afford means to confirm
them in the faith.

The two days which Jesus passed in the village, joined to the time he
took in going about half a league, were immediately converted into four
days from the period he pretended Lazarus was dead. At last he arrived
at the abode of the defunct, whom they had deposited in a vault
adjoining to his house, and not, according to the custom of those days,
in a sepulchre out of the city. After some questions put to Martha on
her belief, he assured her that her brother would rise again. "Yes,"
said she, "but it will be at the last day." Here our Thaumaturge
affected to be very sensibly touched; he trembled, he wept, invoked the
aid of heaven, advanced to the vault, made it be opened, called on
Lazarus with a loud voice, and commanded him to come forth. The dead
man, though wrapped up in his grave clothes, arose and was unloosed
before witnesses at the entrance of the vault.

This prodigy was conducted with very little dexterity. John, the only
Evangelist who relates this striking miracle, in vain supports his
relation with the presence of the Jews: he destroys his own work by not
making them come till after the death of Lazarus to console his sisters.
It was necessary that the Jews should have seen him die, dead, and
embalmed; that they should have felt the smell of his corruption; and
that they should have conversed with him after his coming out of the
tomb. Unbelievers have exhausted all the darts of criticism on this
miracle. To investigate it would be only repeating what they have said.
The Jews found in it such strong marks of knavery, that far from being
converted, they took more serious measures against Jesus, who having
intimation of this, withdrew towards the desert to a city called
_Ephrem_, where he abode with his disciples. In the mean time the cities
and villages were ordered to refuse him an asylum, and the inhabitants
to deliver him up to the magistrates. In fact this miracle occasioned a
general proscription of the messiah. On presenting himself at the gates
of a town in Samaria, they at first refused to let him pass; he was not
permitted to stop at Jericho, though he gave sight to a blind man, whom
Matthew magnifies into two. Jesus returned to Bethany, where he was
received, not by Lazarus, who had, perhaps, been obliged to save himself
on account of his being concerned in such an imposture; but, as Matthew
affirms, by Simon the leper. Lazarus after his resurrection appeared no
longer on the stage.

A legend, according to Baronius, affirms that Lazarus went afterwards to
preach the faith to the Provençals, and was the first bishop of
Marseilles. As for Magdalane, she went to bewail her sins and the death
of her lover in a desart of Province, called _la Sainte Baume_ (the Holy
Balm.) Martha, as every body knows, lies interred at Tarascon.

This rejection and desertion of Jesus threw the apostles into
consternation. To reanimate their confidence, Jesus caused a fig-tree to
die in twenty-four hours to punish it for not producing figs at a season
when it was physically impossible for it to bear any; that is about the
month of March. As all the actions of the messiah, even when they appear
foolish to ordinary men, have an important signification in the eyes of
devotees illuminated by faith, we ought to perceive in the miracle of
this fig-tree one of the fundamental dogmas of the Christian religion
symbolically represented. The fig-tree cursed is the mass of mankind,
whom, according to our theologists, the God of mercy curses, and
condemns to eternal flames, for having neither faith nor grace, which
they could not possibly acquire of themselves, and which God does not
seem to have been willing to give them. Thus we find that the ridiculous
passage of the fig-tree in the gospel, is intended to typify one of the
most profound dogmas of the Christian religion.

Whilst Jesus in this manner instructed his apostles by figures and
ingenious parables, his enemies were laboring hard against him at
Jerusalem. It appears that the Sanhedrim was divided on his account.
They perhaps wished to punish him, but not to put him to death. All were
of opinion that he should be arrested without noise, and that they
should afterwards consider on the punishment to be inflicted. The most
fiery of the priests wished that he should be seized in the capital, and
assassinated during the hurry of the festival. This shows they did not
consider themselves certain that the people would not interest
themselves in his behalf. Perhaps they had some reason: what a part of
the populace did in his favor when he approached Jerusalem, evinced that
it would have been very dangerous to act openly. In pursuance of this
plan, they secretly promised a reward to whoever should deliver up
Jesus; and we shall soon find one of his apostles betraying his master
for a very trifling sum.

Before entering Jerusalem, Jesus evidently caused his approach to be
announced by his friends in that city. His adherents labored to render
his entry into the capital somewhat brilliant. Affecting to display
modesty in the midst of his triumph, or unable to do better, Jesus chose
for his steed a young ass that had never been rode on, which his
disciples, by his order, had seized with its mother. In place of a
saddle, some of the disciples laid their clothes on the back of the ass.
The company advanced in good order. The people, ever fond of a
spectacle, ran to see this; and we may believe that if some at this time
paid sincere homage to the triumpher, the greatest number laughed at him
and shouted at the ridiculous farce. The chief magistrate fearing an
uproar, endeavored to quiet the populace, to whom the disciples had set
the example. He accordingly addressed Jesus himself, who answered that
"the stones would speak, rather than his friends would be silent." This
seemed to insinuate an insurrection in case they should attempt force;
and the magistrate understood very well that this was not the moment to
provoke Jesus.

As soon as the Messiah had entered Jerusalem, he betook himself to
weeping and predicting its ruin. The announcing calamities was, and will
ever be, a sure method to excite the attention of the vulgar. Some
persons of consequence who knew not the cause of the riotous assemblies
of the people around Jesus, on enquiry were answered, it is Jesus of
Nazareth--it is a prophet of Galilee. Mark assures us, that in this
transaction, decisive in behalf of the Son of God, Jesus once more gave
to the people the pillage of the merchandise exposed to sale in the
court before the porch of the temple. This is very credible: it was
indeed more necessary at present than at the former period.

Profitting by the tumult, Jesus cured a great many blind and lame
people. Whilst these wonders were performing on one side, they exclaimed
Hosannah on the other. Some besought the author of these exclamations
and tumult to stop them; but the messiah had no longer measures to
observe, he perceived it was necessary to engage the popular enthusiasm,
and that it would be silly to appease it. Besides, the uncertainty of
success had thrown him into distress, which hindered him from seeing or
understanding any thing. A child, frightened, or too much pressed in the
crowd, began to cry while Jesus was speaking, "Father, save me from this
hour." They took the child's voice for a voice from heaven. John,
moreover, informs us, that the disciples had palmed on the people the
famous miracle of Lazarus' resurrection, which, attested by
eye-witnesses, must have made a great impression on the astonished
vulgar. They did not entertain a doubt that the voice from heaven which
they had heard, was that of an angel who bore testimony to Jesus; and
the latter, profitting dexterously of the occasion, said to them, "This
voice came not because of me, but for your sakes." He afterwards
harangued the people, and announced himself as "the Christ;" but he
spoiled his sermon by timid expressions, and not knowing how to draw
from the circumstance all the advantage it seemed to promise, he left
the city and retired to Bethany, where he passed the night with his

In general our hero was subject to low spirits:--we constantly find in
him a mixture of audacity and pusillanimity. Accustomed to operate in
the country, and among rude and ignorant people, he did not know how to
conduct himself in a city, or to succeed among vigilant and intelligent
enemies. Thus he lost the fruit of his memorable journey, which had been
so long before projected. We do not indeed find that after this he
returned to Jerusalem, except to be tried. Melancholy and fear had
deprived him of all presence of mind, and his disciples were under the
necessity of reminding him that it was time to take the passover. They
asked him where he wished them to go and prepare the entertainment: He
bade them take the first house they met with, which they did. A chamber
was provided for them where they assembled with their master, who, ever
occupied with his sorrowful thoughts, gave them to understand that this
passover would likely be the last which he should celebrate. His
language was mournful; he bathed their feet in order to teach them that
humility was essentially necessary when they were weakest. Having
afterwards set down to table, he told them that he was afraid of being
betrayed by one of themselves. His suspicions fell on Judas, whose
frequent visits to the houses of the priests might be known to his
master. As Judas was treasurer to the party, and charged with paying for
the entertainment, Jesus wished it to be understood that they were then
regaled at the expense of his life and his blood. "Take," said he to
them in a figurative style, "for this is my body." Thereafter he gave
them the cup, saying that it was "his blood which was to be shed for
them." Judas readily comprehending the meaning of his enigma, arose from
table, and immediately withdrew: but the other apostles did not
understand it.--It is, however, on this emblem that some doctors have
since built the famous dogma of _transubstantiation_: they enjoin
rational beings to believe, that _at the word of a priest bread is
changed into the real body, and wine into the real blood of Jesus_! They
have taken the figurative words of our missionary literally, and have
employed them in forming a _mystery_, or rather the most curious juggle
that ever has been devised by priests in order to deceive mankind.

After supper our guests retired with their master to the mount of
Olives, where they thought themselves in safety; but our hero did not
entertain the same opinion. Scarcely had the Man-God entered the garden
of Olives when a mortal terror seized him; he wept like a child and
anticipated the pangs of death. His apostles, more tranquil, yielded to
sleep, and Jesus, who was afraid of being surprised, mildly reproached
them. "Could you not," said he, "watch with me one hour?" Judas, whom we
have seen depart suddenly and who had not rejoined the party, gave
extreme uneasiness to Jesus and every moment redoubled his terror. It is
affirmed that an angel came to strengthen him in his situation: Yet he
was afterwards seized with a bloody sweat, which can only denote a very
great weakness.

The agitated condition of the Saviour appears very surprising to persons
in whose minds faith has not removed every difficulty the gospel
presents. They are much astonished to find such weakness in a God who
knew from all eternity that he was destined to die for the redemption of
the human race. They aver, that God his father, without exposing his son
to such cruel torments, might by one word have pardoned guilty men, and
conformed them to his views. They think that the conduct of God would
have been more generous in appeasing his wrath at less expense on
account of an apple eat four thousand years ago. But the ways of God are
not as those of men. The Deity ought never to act in a _natural_ way, or
be easily understood. It is the essence of religion that men should not
comprehend any part of the divine conduct. This furnishes to their
spiritual guides the pleasure of explaining it to them for their money.

On the near approach of death the Man-God showed a weakness which many
ordinary men would blush to display in a similar situation. The traitor
Judas, at the head of a company of archers or soldiers, proceeded
towards Jesus whose retreats he know. A kiss was the signal by which the
guards were to recognise the person whom they had orders to seize.
Already Jesus beheld the lanthorns advancing which lighted the march of
these sbirri; and perceiving the impossibility of escaping, he made a
virtue of necessity. Like a coward become desperate, he resolutely
presented himself to the party: "_whom seek ye?_" said he, with a firm
tone:--"Jesus," answered they. "_I am he._" Here Judas confirmed with a
kiss this heroical confession. The apostles, awakened by the noise, came
to the succour of their master. Peter, the most zealous among them, cut
off with a stroke of his sabre the ear of Malchus, servant of the High
Priest. Jesus, convinced of the folly of resistance, commanded him to
put up his sword, set in order the ear of Malchus, (who escaped at the
expense of being frightened,) and then surrendered himself.

It is said that the party who came to apprehend Jesus, were forced at
first to give way. The fact is very probable: it was dark, and the
archers perceiving the apostles but very indistinctly, might believe
that their enemies were more numerous than they were; but plucking up
courage they fulfilled their commission. Whilst they bound the Son of
God with cords, he besought the chief of the detachment not to molest
his apostles, and as they wanted him only, he easily obtained his
request. John believes that Jesus made this entreaty in order to fulfil
a prophecy; but it appears our hero thought it was neither useful nor
just to involve men in his ruin, whose assistance might still be
necessary, or who, being at large, would have a better opportunity to
act in his favor.



When the enemies of Jesus saw him in their hands, they were not less
embarrassed than before. From the time the Romans had subdued the Jewish
nation, they had no longer the power of the sword. To punish those who
had sinned against religion, it was sufficient at any former period,
that the high priest pronounced sentence on the culprit. The Romans,
more tolerant, rarely punished with death; and, besides, to take away
life, they required decisive proofs against the accused. Annanias,
father-in-law of the high priest Caiphas, was known among the Jews for a
very subtle man. It was to Annanias' house, therefore, that they first
conducted Jesus. We are ignorant of what passed in this first scene of
the bloody tragedy. It is to be presumed, that the prisoner underwent an
examination which proved no way favorable to him.

From the house of Annanias they conducted Jesus to that of Caiphas. He
was the man most interested by his office in the ruin of every innovator
in matters of religion; yet we do not find this pontiff speaking with
anger: he conducted himself according to law, and as a man who
understood his profession. "Who," said he to Jesus, "are your disciples,
their number and names?" Jesus made no answer. "But at least," continued
Caiphas, "explain to me your doctrine. What end does it propose? You
must have a system. Tell us then what it is." At last the messiah
condescended to say, "I spoke openly to the world; it is not I, but
those who have heard me, that ought to be interrogated." Here one of the
officers of the high priest gave Jesus a blow on the ear, saying,
"Answerest thou the high priest so!" The reprimand was harsh, but it
must be owned, that the answer of Jesus was disrespectful to a man
invested with authority, and with the right of putting questions, in
order to discover the truth from the mouth of the accused. Jesus ought
to have been better acquainted with his own doctrine than the peasants
of Galilee or Judea, before whom he had through preference affected to
preach in an unintelligible manner. It was therefore just and natural to
suppose, that Jesus could give a better account of his sentiments and
parables, than an ignorant multitude who had listened without being able
to comprehend him. He alone could be supposed to possess the secret of
forming into a system the scattered and unconnected principles of his
heavenly doctrine.

Caiphas, unable to draw any thing from the accused, waited till next
morning, when the council would assemble in order to continue the
inquest. Jesus appeared before the Sanhedrim, the most respectable
tribunal in the nation. The gospel represents the priests and chiefs of
the Jews occupied during the whole night that Jesus was arrested, in
searching for and suborning _false witnesses_ against him. They produced
two persons, on whom they very unjustly bestowed this epithet. These
witnesses deposed to a fact verified by the gospel itself.--"We heard
him say that he would destroy the temple, and rebuild it in three days."
It is certain that Jesus had uttered these words, "Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up." But the poor witnesses knew not
that he then spoke in his figurative style. Their mistake was
pardonable, for, according to the gospel, the apostles themselves did
not discover the true sense of these words till after the resurrection
of their master.

This evidence was not sufficient to condemn Jesus. The Jews, however
iniquitous we may suppose them to have been, did not sentence fools to
die; and these words of their prisoner must have appeared to them the
effect of delirium. Accordingly the high priest contented himself with
asking what he had to answer? and as the accused refused to speak, he
did not further insist on that point. He proceeded to questions more
serious: "Are you the Christ?" said he to Jesus. How did the messiah
answer this question? "If I tell it, you will not believe me, nor suffer
me to depart. But hereafter the Son of man shall sit on the right hand
of God." "You are then the Son of God?" continued the priest.--"You have
said it," replied the accused. "But it is not sufficient that we should
say it; it is you who are to answer: once more, are you the Christ? I
conjure you by the living God tell us if you are his Son?"--"You have
said it," answered Jesus: "the Son of man shall one day come in the
clouds of heaven." Notwithstanding these perplexing answers, the judges
imagined they understood the meaning of his words: they plainly
perceived that he wished to give himself out for _the Son of God_. "He
hath spoken blasphemy," said they; and immediately concluded that he
deserved death--a judgment which was valid according to the law of the
Jews, and which must also appear so to Christians whose sanguinary laws
punish capitally those whom the clergy accuse of blasphemy. They have,
therefore, no right to blame the conduct of the Jews, so often imitated
by ecclesiastical and secular tribunals.

On the other hand, if it was necessary that Jesus should die; if he
wished it; if the reprobation of the Jews was resolved on, he acted very
properly in keeping them in error. But if this was the intention of
providence, why preach to them? Why perform miracles before a whole
people whilst a small number were only to profit by it? Did Jesus wish
to save them? In that case why not convince the whole Sanhedrim of his
power? Why did he not burst his bonds? Why did he not by a single word
change their obstinate hearts? Did he wish to destroy them? Why not then
strike them dead? Why not instantly precipitate them into hell?

The judges could not comprehend why the accused, who could not extricate
himself from their hands, could be the Son of God. They accordingly
declared him worthy of death; but not definitely, as it was requisite
that the sentence should be approved of and executed by the Romans,
sovereigns of the nation. During these transactions, Jesus was treated
in the cruelest manner by the Jews, whom, as well as Christians, their
zeal permitted, or rather enjoined, to be savage.

It is during this night, and the morning of the following day, so fatal
to the Saviour of the world, that we must place the three denials of
Peter, the chief of the apostles. His master had prayed for him. His
comrades, seized with dismay, had dispersed themselves in Jerusalem and
its neighborhood. Several among them would have acted like Peter if they
had found themselves in a similar situation. He had at least the merit
of keeping near his master; he abjured him, it is true; but would it
have been of more avail if, by acknowledging him openly, he should have
entangled himself in a very awkward affair, without being able to
relieve the Saviour.

The Sanhedrim repaired to the palace of Pilate the Roman governor, in
order to get the sentence confirmed. Jesus was conducted thither. Pilate
instantly perceived that it was an affair in which fanaticism and folly
had the greatest share. Filled with contempt for so ridiculous a motive,
he was at first unwilling to interfere. _Judge him yourselves_, said he
to the magistrates. On this the latter became false witnesses. Zeal, no
doubt, made them imagine that every thing was allowable against an enemy
of religion. They interested the sovereign power in their quarrel--They
accused Jesus of wishing "to make himself king of the Jews," and of
having maintained, that "they ought not to pay tribute to Casar." We
recognize here the genius of the clergy, who, to ruin their enemies, are
never very fastidious in the choice of means. They especially strive to
render the latter suspected by the temporal power, in order to engage
it, through motives of self-interest, to satiate their revenge.

Pilate could not avoid paying attention to accusations of so serious a
nature. Unable to persuade himself that the man he beheld could have
conceived projects so ridiculous, he interrogated him:--"Are you the
king of the Jews?" On which Jesus demanded of Pilate--"Say you this of
yourself, or have others told it you?"--"Of what consequence is it to
me," returned Pilate, "that you pretend to be the king of the Jews? You
do not appear a man much to be dreaded by the Emperor my master--I am
not of your nation; I concern myself very little with your silly
quarrels. Your priests are your accusers--I have my own opinion of
them--but they accuse you; they deliver you into my hands--Tell me then,
what have you done?" Jesus might very easily have got off; but in his
distress his judgment failed; and, far from penetrating the favorable
disposition of Pilate, who wished to save him, he replied, "that his
kingdom was not of this world--that he was the truth," &c. On this the
Governor asked him "What is the truth?" But the Saviour made no reply,
though the question well deserved a categorical answer.

Pilate, a little alarmed on account of Jesus, declared, that he "found
nothing in him worthy of death." But this redoubled the cries of his
enemies. Having learned that the accused was a Galilean, he, to get quit
of the ridiculous business, seized the opportunity to send him to Herod,
to whose tetrarchate Jesus originally belonged. We have said elsewhere,
that this prince had desired to see our hero, and his desire was now
gratified. But on perceiving his obstinacy and constant refusal to
answer the questions put to him, he conceived a sovereign contempt for
him. To Pilate therefore he sent him back clothed in a white robe by way
of derision. The governor, however, saw no capital crime in Jesus, and
wished to save him; besides, his superstitious wife had a dream, that
interested her in favor of our missionary. Pilate then said to the Jews,
that he could find nothing in the man which rendered him worthy of
death. But the people misled, and wishing him to be crucified, cried out
_Tolle, Tolle_; away, away with him. The Governor now devised another
plan to save him. "I release," said he, "every year a criminal;
supposing that Jesus may be culpable, I am going to set him free." The
cries were redoubled, and the Jews demanded, that a robber called
Barabbas should profit of this mercy in preference to Jesus, whose
punishment they persisted to urge.

The Romans, desirous to calm the rage of a fanatical people, caused
Jesus to be whipped; dressed him in a ridiculous manner, crowned him
with thorns, and made him hold a reed instead of a sceptre. Thus
decorated, Pilate showed him to the people, saying, "Behold your king!
are you not yet satisfied? See how to please you I have bedecked him. Be
then less cruel: do not carry your indignation further; he ought no
longer to give you umbrage."

The priests, whose maxim it is "never to forgive," were not moved by
this spectacle; nothing short of the death of their enemy could satisfy
them. They changed their ground, and, to intimidate the governor, told
him that by suffering the accused to live he betrayed the interests of
his master. It was then that Pilate, fearing the effects of the malice
of the clergy, consigned Jesus to the Jews, that they might satiate
their rage on him; declaring, however, that "he washed his hands of it,"
and that it was against his opinion if they put him to death. We cannot
well conceive how a Roman governor, who exercised sovereign power in
Judea, could yield so easily to the wishes of the Jews: but we cannot
more easily conceive how God permitted this honest governor to become an
accomplice in the death of his dear Son.

Jesus, abandoned to the rage of devotees, again suffered the cruellest
treatment. Pilate, to humble those barbarians, wished the label affixed
to the upper part of the cross to bear, that he was their king; and
nothing could induce him to recede from this resolution. "What is
written is written," said he to those who requested him to alter an
inscription dishonorable to their nation. It is also proper to observe,
that this inscription is differently expressed by the four evangelists.

The Jews treated Jesus as a dethroned king, and made him experience the
most bloody outrages. Though he had said that he could make _legions of
angels_ come to his protection, yet the Jews, notwithstanding their
natural credulity, paid no credit to his assertion, and nothing could
stop their religious cruelty, excited by the priests. They made him take
the road to Calvary. He sunk under the weight of his cross, but they
loaded Simon with it, who was more vigorous. The unfortunate Jesus must
have been indeed much enfeebled by what he had suffered during both the
night and the morning. At last he was placed on the cross, the usual
punishment of slaves. He did not suffer long under the agonies of
crucifixion: after invoking his Father, and lamenting his being so
shamefully abandoned, he expired, it is said, between two thieves. It is
said that Jesus when dying exclaimed, "_Eli! Eli! lamma sabbactani!_"
(My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me!) This complaint was very
ridiculous in the mouth of Jesus, if, as is pretended, the part he acted
was agreed on with his father from all eternity. Matthew and Mark tells
us, that _both_ the thieves insulted him with abusive language; while
Luke assures us, that _one_ only of the two abused the Saviour, and that
the other reprimanded his comrade for his insolence, and besought Jesus
"to remember him when he should come to his kingdom." But our
interpreters have a thousand ways of proving that the Holy Spirit never
contradicts himself, even when he speaks in the most contradictory
manner. Those who have faith are satisfied with their arguments, but
they do not so powerfully impress freethinkers, who have the misfortune
to reason.

The remorse of Judas soon revenged Jesus on this traitor. He restored to
the priests the thirty pieces he had received from them, and went
forthwith to _hang_ himself. This is what Matthew says, in opposition to
the writer of the Acts of the Apostles, (Luke) who tells us, that Judas
"purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong he
burst asunder in the midst." Mark and John are silent respecting this
memorable event. According to Matthew, the selling of Jesus for thirty
pieces had been foretold by Jeremiah. The prediction, however, does not
appear in the writings of this prophet, which would create a suspicion
that the evangelists, little satisfied with applying to Jesus some
prophecies, such as are extant in the Old Testament, have drawn from
their own store, or forged them when in need. But our able interpreters
are not at all embarrassed with this; and a holy blindness will always
prevent these trifles from being perceived.

The gospel informs us, that at the death of Jesus all Nature seemed to
take part in the grand event. At the moment he expired there was a total
eclipse; a frightful shaking of the earth was felt, and several holy
personages came out of their tombs to take a walk on the streets of
Jerusalem. The Jews alone had the misfortune to see nothing of all this;
it appears, that these wonders were performed only in the fancy of the
disciples of Jesus. As for the eclipse, it was, doubtless, an
inconceivable prodigy which could not have taken place without a total
derangement in the machine of the world. A total eclipse of the sun
during full moon, the time at which the celebration of the passover was
fixed by the Jews, is of all miracles the most impossible. No
contemporary author has mentioned it, though this phenomenon well
merited to be transmitted to posterity. The incredulous therefore
maintain, that there was no other eclipse on this occasion but of the
common sense of those who saw all these marvels, or of the good faith of
the writers who have attested them. With respect to the shaking of the
earth, they suspect that the apostles of Jesus, agitated with fear at
the sight of their divine master's fate, were the only persons who felt
it. In this way indeed the thing becomes very probable. If the
punishment of Jesus is proved by the gospel, some circumstances may
create a doubt whether he died immediately. We are told, that they did
not, according to custom, break his legs. His friends had the liberty of
taking away his body, and they might dress his wounds on finding that he
was not dead, and in this manner bring him back to life, at least for
some time.

When Jesus was dead, or believed to be so after an incision had been
made in his side, from which came blood and a whitish fluid, which they
took for water, his body was embalmed and deposited in a new tomb. This
was done on Friday evening. He had several times intimated that he would
rise again the third day; that is, at the end of three days and three
nights. Yet on the Sunday following, early in the morning, the tomb
wherein he had been laid was found empty. The Jews, always opiniative,
did not admit that he was risen again. They held it more natural to
believe that he had failed in his word; or to suppose that his disciples
had carried him off. This could easily have been executed by force; by
bribing the guards, whom the priests and Pharisees had placed around his
sepulchre; or by cunning. As Pilate felt but little interest in the
matter, he appears not to have punished the guards for neglecting to
take care of what he had confided to them. The idolatrous governor,
little acquainted with the resources or designs of the apostles, never
suspected they could persuade any person, that a man, whose death was
well attested, could return to life. It is not surprising that a Pagan
should doubt the resurrection of Jesus; from the first day of the
church, several Christians have not believed it, perceiving the
incongruity of supposing that the Son of God could die. They have
therefore denied the death of their divine master. The followers of
Basilides affirmed that Jesus at the time of his passion assumed the
appearance of Simon the Cyrenean, and transferred to him his own, under
which the said Simon was crucified in his stead, while Jesus, who beheld
this without being himself seen, laughed at their mistake. The
Cerinthians, or disciples of Cerinthus, who was contemporary with the
apostles; and the Carpocratians likewise denied that Jesus could have
been actually crucified. Some have maintained, that the traitor Judas
was punished in place of his master. These sectaries regarded Jesus as a
mere man, and not as a god. Thus we find Christians contemporary with
the apostles believing in Jesus and yet doubting his death. It was,
however, on this marvellous notion, as we shall see, that a sect was
afterwards founded, powerful enough to subject by degrees the Roman
empire and a considerable portion of the globe.

The punishment of our hero must have produced very little sensation in
the world, and his adventures must have been strangely unknown, since we
do not find that any historian, with the exception of the evangelists,
makes mention of them. In the year 1263, a conference was held in
presence of Don Jaques king of Arragon, and the queen his wife, between
the Rabbin Zechial, and the Dominician, Friar Paul, called Cyraic. This
conference is very memorable. The two champions were well versed in the
Hebrew and in antiquity. The _Talmud_, the _Targum_, the archives of the
Sanhedrim were on the table. The contested passages were explained into
Spanish. Zechiel maintained, that Jesus had been condemned under the
king Alexander Jannaeus, (and not under Herod the Tetrarch,) agreeably
to what is related in the _Toldos Jaschut_, and in the _Talmud_. "Your
gospels," said he, "were not written till towards the beginning of your
second century, and are not authentic like our _Talmud_. We could not
crucify him you speak of in the time of Herod the Tetrarch, since we had
not the power of life and death in our hands. We could not have
crucified him, because that manner of punishment was not in use among
us. Our _Talmud_ has it, that he who perished in the time of Jannaeus
was condemned to be _stoned_ to death. We can no more believe your
gospels than those pretended _Letters of Pilate_, which you have
forged."--_Letters on Eminent Writers_, p. 123. The illustrious and
profound _Freret_, perpetual Secretary to the Academy of Belles Lettres
at Paris, had no hesitation in avowing, that, after the closest
investigation he was clearly of opinion, the account given in the
_Talmud_ respecting Jesus, was the correct one. This opinion he
supported by showing, that the gospels were not written till upwards of
40 years after the period fixed for the death of Jesus; that they were
composed in foreign languages, at places distant from Jerusalem, which
were full of the disciples of John, called Therapeutae; of Judaites, and
of Galileans, all of whom had their gospels differing from each other,
which they insisted were genuine; that the four gospels now held
canonical, were the last written; that there is incontestible proof of
this fact arising from the circumstance, that the first fathers of the
church often quote passages which are to be found only in the gospel of
the Egyptians or in that of St. James; and that Justin is the first who
expressly quoted the received gospels. Justin was not born till a
century after the commencement of our vulgar era.



The history of the life of an ordinary man terminates commonly, with his
death; but it is different with a Man-God who has the power of raising
himself from the dead, or whom his adherents have the faculty of making
rise at will. This happened to Jesus: thanks to his apostles or
evangelists, we see him still playing a considerable part even after his
decease. The moment he was arrested, the disciples of Jesus, as we have
seen, dispersed themselves into Jerusalem and the neighborhood, with the
exception or Simon Peter, who did not lose sight of him during his
examination at the house of the high priest. This apostle was anxious,
for his own sake, to know the result of it. Encouraging themselves on
finding that Jesus had not criminated them in his examinations, the
disciples reassembled, concerted measures, and determined, as their
master was dead, or reputed so, to take advantage of the notions which
he had diffused during his mission. Accustomed for so long a period to
lead a wandering life under his command, and subsist at the expence of
the public by preaching, exorcisms, and miracles, they resolved to
continue a profession more easily exercised, and incomparably more
lucrative than their original occupations. They had enjoyed an
opportunity of observing that it was better to catch men than fish. But
how could the disciples of a man who was punished as an impostor, make
themselves be listened to? It was necessary to give out that their
master during his life having raised others from the dead, had, after
his own death, raised himself in virtue of his omnipotence. Jesus had
predicted it; it was therefore necessary to accomplish the prediction.
The honor of the master and his disciples thereby acquired a new lustre;
and the sect, far from seeing itself annihilated or disgraced, was
enabled to acquire new partizans in this credulous nation.

In consequence of this reasoning, the apostles had only to make the body
of their master, dead or alive, to disappear; whereas if it had remained
in the tomb, it would have borne evidence against them. They did not
even wait till the three days and three nights in the pretended prophecy
were expired. The dead body disappeared on the second day; and thus the
second day after his decease, our hero, triumphing over hell and the
grave, found himself revivified.

If Jesus did not die of his punishment, his resurrection had nothing
surprising in it. If he was actually dead, the cave where his body was
deposited, might have secret passages, through which they could enter
and return without being observed, or stopt by the enormous stone with
which they had affected to block up its entrance, and near which the
guards had been placed. Thus the dead body might have been carried off
either by force or by stratagem; and, perhaps, it had never been
deposited in the tomb at all. In whatever manner the affair was
transacted, a report was circulated that Jesus was risen and his body
not to be found.

Nothing is of more importance to a Christian, than to ascertain
satisfactorily the resurrection of Jesus. Paul tells us, that "if Jesus
be not risen, our hope is vain." Indeed without this miracle of
Omnipotence, intended to manifest the superiority of Jesus over other
men, and the interest Deity took in his success, he must appear only as
an adventurer, or weak fanatic, punished for having given umbrage to the
priests of his country. It is therefore requisite to examine seriously a
fact on which alone the belief of every Christian is founded. In doing
this it is necessary to satisfy ourselves of the quality of the
witnesses who attest the fact; whether they were acute, disinterested,
intelligent persons; and if they agree in their narratives. These
precautions are the more necessary, when it is intended to examine
_supernatural_ facts, which, to be believed, require much stronger
proofs than ordinary facts. On the unanimous testimony of some
historians, we readily believe that Casar made himself master of Gaul.
The circumstances of his conquest would be less established were we to
find them related by himself only, or his adherents; but they would
appear incredible, if we found in them prodigies or facts contrary to
the order of nature. We should then have reason to believe that it was
intended to impose on us; or, if we judged more favorably of the
authors, we would regard them as enthusiasts and fools.

Agreeably to these principles of sound criticism, let us consider who
are the witnesses that attest the marvellous, and, consequently, the
least probable fact which history can produce. They are apostles--But
who are these apostles? they are adherents of Jesus. Were these apostles
_enlightened_ men? Every thing proves that they were ignorant and rude,
and that an indefatigable credulity was the most prominent trait in
their character. Did they behold Jesus rising from the dead?--No:--no
one beheld this great miracle. The apostles themselves did not see their
master coming out of the grave; they merely found that his tomb was
empty; which by no means proves that he had risen. It will, however, be
said, that the apostles saw him afterwards and conversed with him, and
that he showed himself to some women who knew him very well. But these
apostles and these women, did they see distinctly? Did not their
prepossessed imaginations make them see what did not exist? Is it
absolutely certain that their master was dead before they laid him in
the tomb?

In the _second_ place, were these witnesses _disinterested_? The
apostles and disciples of Jesus were, doubtless interested in the glory
of their master. Their interests were closely connected with those of a
man who enabled them to subsist without toil. Several among them
expected to be recompensed for their attachment, by the favors which he
promised to bestow on them in the kingdom he was about to establish.
Finding these hopes destroyed by the death, real or supposed, of their
chief, most of the apostles, persuaded that all was over, lost courage;
but, others, less daunted, conceived that it was not necessary to give
up all hope, but that they might still profit by the impressions which
the preaching and wonders of Jesus had made on the people. They believed
that their master might again return, or, if they supposed him dead,
they could assert that he had foretold he would rise again. They
therefore agreed to circulate the report of his resurrection, and to say
that they had seen him after he had triumphantly come out of the tomb.
This would appear very credible in the case of a personage who had
proved himself capable of raising others from the dead. Knowing the
imbecility of those they had to deal with, they presumed that the people
were prepared long beforehand to believe the marvellous wonder which
they intended to announce. They conceived that it was necessary in order
to subsist, to continue preaching doctrines which would not attract an
audience if it had not been taken for granted that their author was
risen again. They felt that it was necessary to preach the resurrection
of Jesus, or perish with hunger. They foresaw, moreover, that it was
requisite to brave chastisement and even death, rather than renounce an
opinion on which their daily subsistence and welfare absolutely
depended. Hence unbelievers conclude, that the witnesses of the
resurrection were any thing but disinterested, and were spurred on by
the principle, that _he who risks nothing, gains nothing_.

In the _third_ place, are the witnesses of the resurrection unanimous in
their evidence? Much more, are they consistent with themselves in their
narratives? We find neither the one nor the other. Though Jesus,
according to some of the evangelists, had foretold in the most positive
manner, that he would rise again, John makes no mention of this
prediction, but expressly declares, that the disciples of Jesus knew not
that he must rise again from the dead. This denotes in them a total
ignorance of that great event, said, however, to have been announced by
their master; and creates a suspicion that these predictions were
piously invented afterwards. Yet nothing can be more positive than the
manner in which Matthew speaks of the prediction: he supposes it so well
known to the public, that he affirms the priests and pharisees went to
Pilate and told him, "We remember this deceiver said while he was yet
alive, that after three days he would rise again." We do not, however,
find in any of the evangelists a passage where this resurrection is
foretold in so public and decided a manner. Matthew himself relates only
the answer of Jesus to those who demanded a sign; it consisted, as we
have elsewhere remarked, in referring them to "Jonas, who was three days
and three nights in the belly of the whale; so," said he, "shall the Son
of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Now
Jesus, having died on Friday, at the ninth hour, or three o'clock in the
afternoon, and risen again the second day early in the morning, was not
"three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Besides, the
obscure manner in which Jesus expressed himself in this pretended
prediction, could not enable the priests and pharisees to conclude that
he must die and rise again, or excite their alarm; unless it is
pretended, that on this occasion these enemies of Jesus received the
interpretation of the mysterious prediction by a particular revelation.

John tells us, that when Jesus was taken down from the cross by Joseph
of Arimathea, Nicodemus brought a mixture of aloes and myrrh, weighing
about a hundred pounds, to embalm him, and that he afterwards took the
body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, applied the spices according to
the practice of the Jews in their funeral ceremonies, and laid it in the
tomb. Thus was Jesus embalmed, carried away, and buried. On the other
hand, Matthew and Luke tell us that this sepulchre and embalming were
performed in presence of Mary Magdalane and Mary the mother of Jesus,
who consequently must have known what Nicodemus had done; yet Mark,
forgetting all this, tells us that these same women brought sweet spices
(aromatics) in order to embalm his body, and came for that purpose early
in the morning of the day subsequent to the Sabbath. Luke has no better
memory: he informs us that these ladies came also to embalm a dead body,
which, according to John, had already received a hundred pounds weight
of aromatics, and was inclosed in a sepulchre, the entrance of which was
blocked up by a massy stone that embarrassed the women as much at
finding it as the incredulous are with these contradictions of our

The ladies, however, who felt interrupted by the stone, had no dread of
the guard which Matthew placed at the entrance of the tomb. But if these
women knew that Jesus was to rise again at the end of three days, why
were they so careful in embalming his body?--unless indeed we suppose
that Jesus made a secret to his mother and the tender Magdalane, of an
event, which, it is asserted, was publicly predicted, and perfectly well
known not only to his disciples, but to the priests and pharisees.
According to Matthew, the precautions used were founded on the fear the
priests entertained that the disciples should come and carry away the
body, and afterwards say unto the people, that Jesus had risen from the
dead; an error, which, in their opinion, would be more dangerous than
the first. Nevertheless, we find several women and disciples continually
roaming about the tomb, going and coming freely, and offering to embalm
the same dead body twice. It must be acknowledged, that all this
surpasses human understanding.

It is not more easy to conceive the conduct of the guards placed near
the tomb at the solicitation of the priests, or that of the priests
themselves. According to Matthew, these guards, terrified at the
resurrection of Jesus, ran to Jerusalem to tell the priests, "that the
angel of the Lord had descended from heaven, and taken away the stone
which blocked up the tomb; and that at the sight of him they had nearly
expired through fear." On this the priests, not at all doubting the
truth of the relation of the guards, enjoined them to say publicly that
the disciples of Jesus had carried away his body during the night, and
while they were asleep. They also gave the soldiers money to speak in
this manner, and promised to pacify the governor if he intended to
punish them for their negligence.

The guards, it will be observed, did not say they had seen Jesus rise;
they pretended merely to have seen "the angel of the Lord descending
from heaven, and rolling away the stone which was at the entrance of the
tomb." Thus this history announces _an apparition_ only, and not _a
resurrection_. We might explain it in a manner natural enough by
supposing that during the night, while the guards were asleep, the
adherents of Jesus came by the light of flambeaus, with an armed force
to open the tomb and intimidate the soldiers, who, in the alarm imagined
they had seen their prey taken out of their hands by a supernatural
power; and that they afterwards affirmed all this in order to justify

The most singular circumstance is the conduct of the priests, who
believed the story of the guards, and consequently gave credit to a
miracle strong enough to convince them of the power of Jesus. But far
from being convinced by the prodigy which they thus believed, they gave
money to the soldiers to engage them to tell, not the incident as it
occurred, but that the disciples of Jesus came by night to take away the
body of their master. On the other hand, the guards, who must have been
more dead than alive through terror at the spectacle they had witnessed,
accepted money for publishing a falsehood; a conduct for which the angel
of the Lord might very properly have punished them. Far, however, from
dreading punishment, these soldiers for a sum of money consented to
betray their consciences. But could the Jewish priests, however base we
may suppose them, be silly enough to imagine that these men, after
having witnessed so striking a miracle, would be very faithful in
preserving the secret? It must have been an insignificant miracle indeed
which could make no impression either on the soldiers who had seen it,
or on the priests who believed it on the relation of these soldiers. If
the priests were convinced of the reality of the miracle, was it not
natural that they should recognize Jesus for the messiah, and that they
should unite with him in laboring to deliver their country from the yoke
of idolaters?

On this occasion, indeed, the angel of the Lord seems to have bungled
the affair, by so terrifying the soldiers that they fled without having
time to see Jesus rising from the dead; whose resurrection, however, was
the object of all this pompous preparation. Very far from allowing it to
be seen by any one, this awkward angel chased away the guards who ought
to have been the witnesses of the mighty wonder. It appears, in fact,
that the transaction or Jesus' resurrection was seen by nobody. His
disciples did not see it; the soldiers, who guarded his tomb, did not
see it; and the priests and Jews did not hold this fact to be so
memorable as some persons who beheld no part of it. It was only after
his resurrection that Jesus showed himself. But to whom did he show
himself? To disciples, interested in saying that he was risen again; to
women, who to the same interest joined also weak minds and ardent
imaginations, disposed to form phantoms and chimeras.

These remarks will enable us to judge of all the pretended appearances
of Jesus after his resurrection. Besides, the evangelists are not
unanimous as to these appearances. Matthew relates, that Jesus showed
himself to Mary Magdalane and the other Mary; John makes mention of Mary
Magdalane singly. Matthew tells us, that Jesus showed himself to the two
Marys on the road whilst returning from the sepulchre on purpose to
apprize the disciples of what they had seen. John informs us, that Mary
Magdalane, after visiting the sepulchre, carried the news to the
disciples, and thereafter returned to this same sepulchre, where she
beheld Jesus in the company of angels. Matthew affirms, that the two
Marys embraced the feet of Jesus. John says, Jesus forbade Mary
Magdalane to touch him. Matthew informs us, that Jesus bade the two
Marys tell his disciples _that he was going into Galilee_. John says,
Jesus ordered Mary to acquaint his disciples, _that he was going to his
Father_; that is, to heaven. But it is more singular still, that,
according to Mark, the disciples themselves were not inclined to credit
the apparition of Jesus to Magdalane. Agreeably to Luke, they treated
all that she told them of angels, as reveries. According to John,
Magdalane herself did not at first believe that she had seen her
adorable lover, whom she took for the gardener.

There is no greater certainty in the apparition of Jesus to Peter and
John. These two apostles went to the sepulchre, but they did not find
their dear master. According to John, he himself saw neither Jesus nor
his angels. From Luke it appears, that these apostles arrived _after_
the angels were gone; and from John, _before_ the angels had arrived.
The witnesses are, indeed, very little unanimous as to these angels, who
seem to have been seen only by the good ladies, whom they charged to
announce to the disciples the resurrection of Jesus. Matthew makes
mention of _one angel_ only, whom Mark calls _a young man_.

John affirms that there were _two_.

It is said that Jesus showed himself again to two disciples of Emaus,
called _Simon_ and _Cleophas_; but they did not recognize him, though
they had lived familiarly with him. They proceeded a long while in his
company without suspecting who he was--a circumstance which,
undoubtedly, evinced a very strange failure of memory. It is true, Luke
tells us that their _eyes were as if shut_. Is it not very singular that
Jesus should show himself in order not to be known again? They, however,
recognized him afterwards; but immediately dreading, as it would seem,
to be seen too nearly, the phantom disappeared. The two disciples went
immediately and announced the news to their brethren assembled at
Jerusalem, where Jesus arrived fully as soon as they.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke, agree in telling us, that when the disciples
were informed of the resurrection of Jesus, they saw him for the first
and last time. But the author of the Acts of the Apostles, John and Paul
contradict this assertion, for they speak of several other appearances
which afterwards occurred. Matthew and Mark inform us, that the
disciples received orders to go and join Jesus _in Galilee_; but Luke
and the author of the Acts (i.e. the same Luke) says, that the disciples
were ordered _not to go out of Jerusalem_. As to this last apparition,
Matthew places it on a _mountain in Galilee_, where Jesus had fixed the
rendezvous for the evening of the day of his resurrection; whilst Luke
informs us that it was at Jerusalem, and tells us that immediately
thereafter Jesus ascended into heaven, and disappeared forever. Yet the
author of the Acts of the Apostles is not of this opinion: he maintains,
_against himself_, that Jesus tarried still forty days with his
disciples in order to instruct them.

There still remain to be considered two appearances of Jesus to his
apostles, the one at which Thomas was not present, and refused to
believe those who assured him of their having seen their master, and the
other when Thomas recognized his master, who shewed him his wounds. To
render one of these apparitions more marvellous, they assure us that
Jesus was seen in the midst of his disciples whilst the doors were shut.
But this will not appear surprizing to those who know that Jesus after
his resurrection, had an immaterial or incorporeal body, which could
make itself a passage through the smallest orifices. His disciples took
him for a _spirit_: yet this _spirit_ had wounds, was palpable, and took
food. But, perhaps, all this was only chimerical, and those apparitions
mere illusions. Indeed, how could the apostles be assured of the reality
of what they saw? A being who has the power of changing the course of
nature, can destroy all the rules by which we judge of certainty: how
then could they ever be certain of having seen Jesus after his

John speaks of several appearances of Jesus to his disciples, of which
no mention is made by the other evangelists: hence we see that his
testimony destroys theirs, or that theirs destroy his. As to the
apparitions of Jesus which Paul mentions, he was not a witness of them,
and knew them only by hearsay; we find him accordingly speaking of them
in a manner not very exact. He says that Jesus showed himself "to the
twelve," while it is evident that, by the death of Judas, the apostolic
college was reduced to eleven. We are surprized to see these
inaccuracies in an inspired author; they may render suspicious what he
likewise says of the apparition of Jesus to five hundred of the brethren
at once. As to himself we know, that he never saw his master but in a
_vision_; and considering the testimonies on which the resurrection of
Jesus is founded, perhaps we may say as much of the other apostles and
disciples. They were Jews, enthusiasts, and prophets; and consequently
subject to dreaming even while awake. The incredulous consider this to
be the most favorable opinion they can form of witnesses who attest the
resurrection of the Saviour, on which however the Christian religion is
solely established.

It appears, indeed, most certain from the nature of the testimonies we
have examined, that providence has in a singular manner neglected to
give to an event so memorable and of such great importance, the
authenticity it seemed to require. Laying aside faith, which never
experiences any difficulty about proofs, no man can believe facts, even
the most natural, from vouchers so faulty, proofs so weak, relations so
contradictory, and testimonies so suspicious as those which the
evangelists furnish us on the most incredible and marvellous occurrence
that was ever related. Independent of the visible interest these
historians had in establishing the belief of the resurrection of their
master, and which ought to put us on our guard against them, they seem
to have written merely to contradict one another, and reciprocally
weaken their evidence. To adopt relations in which we have only a tissue
of contradictions, improbable facts, and absurdities, calculated to
destroy all confidence in history, requires indeed grace from above. Yet
Christians do not for a moment doubt the resurrection; and their belief
in this respect is founded on a _rock_; that is on prejudices they have
never examined, and to which from early infancy their spiritual guides
have prudently attached the greatest importance. They teach them to
immolate reason, judgment, and good sense, on the altar of faith. After
this sacrifice, it is no longer difficult to make them acknowledge,
without enquiry, the most palpable absurdities for truths, on which it
is not permitted even to be sceptical.

It is in vain that people of sense demonstrate the falsity of these
pretended truths; it is in vain that an intelligent critic stands up
against interested testimonies, visibly suggested by enthusiasm and
imposture; it is in vain, that humanity exclaims against wars,
massacres, and horrors without number, which absurd disputes on absurd
dogmas have occasioned. They silence the credulous by saying, that "it
is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to
nought the understanding of the prudent.--Where is the wise? Where are
the scribes? (the doctors of the law). Hath not God made foolish the
wisdom of this world by causing the foolishness of the gospel to be
preached?" It is by such declamations against reason and wisdom that
fanatics and impostors have almost banished good sense from the earth,
and formed slaves who make a merit of rejecting reason, of extinguishing
a sacred torch which would conduct them with certainty, on purpose to
lead them astray in the darkness which these interested guides know how
to infuse into minds.

The dogma of the resurrection of Jesus is only attested by men whose
subsistence depended on that absurd romance; and as roguery continually
belies itself, these witnesses could not agree among themselves in their
evidence. They tell us, that Jesus had publicly predicted his own
resurrection. He ought therefore to have risen publicly; he ought to
have shewn himself, not in secret to his disciples, but openly to
priests, pharisees, doctors, and men of understanding, especially after
having intimated, that it was the _only sign which would be given them_.
Was it not acknowledging the falsehood of his mission, to refuse the
sign by which he had solemnly promised to prove the truth of that
mission? Was it reasonable to require the Jews to believe, on the word
of his disciples, a fact which he could have demonstrated before their
own eyes? How is it possible for rational persons of the present age to
believe, after the lapse of eighteen hundred years, on the discordant
testimonies of four interested evangelists, fanatics, or fabulists, a
story which they could not make be believed in their own time; except by
a small number of imbecile people, incapable of reasoning, fond of the
marvellous, and of too limited understandings to escape the snares laid
for their simplicity. A Roman governor, a tetrarch, a Jewish high
priest, converted by the apparition of Jesus, would have made a greater
impression on a man of sense than a hundred secret apparitions to his
chosen disciples. The conversion of the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem to the
faith, would have been of greater weight than all the obscure rabble
which the apostles prevailed on to believe their improbable marvels, and
persuaded that they had seen Jesus alive after his death.

If the apparitions of Jesus to his apostles were not obviously fables
invented by roguery, or adopted through enthusiasm and ignorance, the
motive of these clandestine visits cannot be divined. Become incapable
of suffering, and re-established in his divine omnipotence, was he still
afraid of the Jews? Could he dread being put to death a second time? By
again showing himself, had he not better reason to calculate on
converting them than he derived from all his sermons and miracles?

But it is said that the Jews by their opposition deserved to be
rejected; that the views of providence were changed; and that God no
longer wished his chosen people should be converted. These answers are
so many insults to the Divinity. How is it possible for men to withstand
God? Is it not to deny the Divine Omnipotence to pretend that man can
oppose its will? Man, it is asserted, is free; but must not a God who
knew every thing, have foreseen that the Jews would abuse their liberty
by resisting his will? In that case why send them his Son? Why make him
suffer to no purpose an infamous and cruel death? Why not send him at
once to creatures disposed to hear him, and render him homage? To
pretend that the views of providence were changed, is it not to attack
the divine immutability? Unless indeed it be said, that Deity had from
all eternity resolved on this change; which, however, will not shelter
that immutability.

Thus, in whatever point of view we contemplate the matter, it will
remain a decided fact, that the resurrection of Jesus, far from being
founded on solid proofs, unexceptionable testimony, and respectable
authority, is obviously established on falsehood and knavery, which
pervade every page of the discordant relations of those who have
pretended to vouch it.

After having made their hero revive and show himself, we know not how
often, to his trusty disciples, it was necessary in the end to make him
disappear altogether--to send him back to heaven, in order to conclude
the romance. But our story-tellers are not more in union on his
disappearance than on other things. They agree neither as to the time
nor the place of Jesus' ascension. Mark and Luke inform us, that Jesus
after having shown himself to the eleven apostles while they were at
table, and spoken to them, ascended into heaven. Luke adds, that he
conducted them as far as Bethany; lifted up his hands and blessed them,
and was afterwards carried up to heaven. Mark contradicts Luke, and
makes Jesus ascend to heaven from Galilee: and as if he had seen what
passed on high, places him on the right hand of God, who on this
occasion yielded to him the place of honor. Matthew and John do not
speak of this ascension. If we leave it to them, we must say, that Jesus
is still on earth according to the first of these evangelists, his last
words to his disciples gave them to understand, that he would "remain
with them until the end of the world." To fix our ideas on this subject,
Luke tells us, as we have seen, that Jesus ascended into heaven the very
evening of the day of the resurrection. But he afterwards informs us,
that Jesus tarried _forty days after his resurrection_ with his
disciples. Faith only can extricate us from this embarrassment. John
advances nothing in the matter; but leaves us in uncertainty as to the
time which Jesus passed on earth after his resurrection. Some
unbelievers on observing the romantic style of the gospel of this
apostle, have concluded from the manner in which he finishes his
history, that he meant to give free course to the fables which might
afterwards be published about Jesus. He terminates his narrative with
these words; "Jesus did also many other things, and if they should be
written every one, I suppose, that even the world itself could not
contain the books that should be written:" and with this hyperbole, the
well-beloved apostle finishes the Platonic romance which he made about
his master.



The mere reading of the life of Jesus, as we have represented it
according to documents which Christians consider inspired, must be
sufficient to undeceive every thinking being. But it is the property of
superstition to prevent thinking: it benumbs the soul, confounds the
reason, perverts the judgment, renders doubtful the most obvious truths,
and makes a merit with its slaves of despising inquiry, and of relying
on the word of those who govern them. It is not unseasonable, therefore,
to offer some reflections which may be useful to those who have not
courage to draw out of the preceding inquiry, the consequences which
naturally result from it; and thus aid them in forming rational ideas of
the Jesus they adore, of his disciples whom they revere, and of books
which they are accustomed to regard as sacred.

Our examination of the birth of Jesus ought to render it very
suspicious. We have found the Holy Spirit mistaken on that important
article of Jesus' life; for he inspired two evangelists with two very
different genealogies. Notwithstanding so striking a blunder, and the
consanguinity of Mary and Elizabeth wife of the priest Zacharias, we
shall not cavil on these points. We shall grant that Mary might really
be of the race of David: many examples demonstrate that the branches of
races more illustrious have fallen into misery. Departing also from the
supposition, that Mary, the _immaculate_ wife of Joseph, may have
willingly yielded to the angel; or, simple and devout, may have been
deceived by the angel, there is every reason to believe that she
afterwards taught her son his descent from David, and perhaps, some
marvellous circumstances which, by justifying the mother, might kindle
the enthusiasm of the child. Thus Jesus, at a very early age, might be
really persuaded of his royal extraction, and of the wonders which had
accompanied his birth. These ideas might afterwards inflame his
ambition, and lead him to think that he was destined to play a grand
part in his native country. Prepossessed with these notions, and
intoxicating himself more and more by the perusal of obscure prophecies
and traditions, it is very possible, that our adventurer might believe
himself actually called by the Divinity, and pointed out by the prophets
to be the reformer, the chief, and the messiah of Israel. He was indeed
a visionary, and found people silly enough to be caught by his reveries.

Another cause might likewise contribute to heat the brain of our
missionary. Some learned men have conjectured with much appearance of
truth, that Jesus acquired his morality among a kind of monks or Jewish
Coenobites (friars) called Therapeutes or Essenians. We certainly find a
striking conformity between what Philo tells us of these pious
enthusiasts, and the sublime precepts of Jesus. The Therapeutes
abandoned father and mother, wife, children, and property, in order to
devote themselves to contemplation. They explained the scripture in a
manner purely allegorical; abstained from oaths; lived in common;
suffered with resolution the misfortunes of life, and died with joy. It
is certain, that, in the time of the historian Josephus, three sects
were reckoned in Judea, the pharisees, sadducees, and the Essenians, or
Essenes. From the time of that writer, there is no longer any mention
made of the latter; hence some have concluded that these Essenians, or
Therapeutes, were afterwards confounded or incorporated with the first
Christians, who, according to every evidence, led a manner of life
perfectly similar to theirs. From all which it may be concluded, either
that Jesus had been a Therapeute before his preaching, or that he had
borrowed their doctrines.

Whatever may be in this, in the midst of an ignorant and superstitious
nation, perpetually fed with oracles and pompous promises; miserable at
that time and discontented with the Roman yoke; continually cajoled with
the expectation of a deliverer, who was to restore them with honor, our
enthusiast without difficulty found an audience, and, by degrees,
adherents. Men are naturally disposed to listen to, and believe those
who make them hope for an end to their miseries. Misfortunes render them
timorous and credulous, and lead them to superstition. A fanatic easily
makes conquests among a wretched people. It is not then wonderful that
Jesus should soon acquire partizans, especially among the populace who
in every country are easily seduced.

Our hero knew the weakness of his fellow-citizens. They wanted
prodigies, and he, in their eyes, performed them. A stupid people,
totally strangers to the natural sciences, to medicine, or to the
resources of artifice, easily mistook very simple operations for
miracles, and attributed effects to the finger of God which might be
owing to the knowledge Jesus had acquired during the long interval that
preceded his mission. Nothing is more common than the combination of
enthusiasm and imposture; the most sincere devotees, when they intend to
advance what they believe to be the word of God, often countenance
frauds which they style _pious_. There are but few zealots who do not
even think crimes allowable when the interests of religion are
concerned. In religion, as at play, _one begins with being dupe, and
ends with being knave_.

Thus on considering things attentively, and comparing the different
accounts of the life of Jesus, we must be persuaded that he was a
fanatic, who really thought himself inspired, favored by Heaven, sent to
his nation; in short, that he was the messiah, who, to support his
divine mission, felt no difficulty to employ such deceptions as were
best calculated for a people to whom miracles were absolutely necessary;
and whom, without miracles, the most eloquent harangues, the wisest
precepts, the most intelligent counsels, and the truest principles could
never have convinced. A medley of enthusiasm and juggling constitute the
character of Jesus, and it is that of all spiritual adventurers who
assume the name of Reformers, or become the chiefs of a sect.

We always find Jesus, during his whole mission, preaching the kingdom of
his Father, and supporting his preaching with wonders. At first he spoke
in a very reserved manner of his quality of messiah, son of God, and son
of David. There was prudence in not giving himself out for such. But he
suffered the secret to be revealed by the mouth of the devil, to impose
silence on whom he commonly took great care; not, however, until after
the devil had spoken in a manner sufficiently intelligible to make an
impression on the spectators. So that with the assistance of his
possessed, his proselytes, or his convulsionaries, he procured
testimonies, which from his own mouth would have been very suspicious,
and might have rendered him odious.

Our operator also took care to choose his ground for performing
miracles; he constantly refused to operate before those whom he supposed
inclined to criticise his wonders. If he sometimes performed them in the
synagogues, and in presence of the doctors, it was in the certainty that
the less fastidious populace, who believed in his miracles, would take
his part, and defend him against the evil designs of the more acute

The apostles of Jesus appear to have been men of their master's
temper--credulous or misled enthusiasts, dexterous cheats, or often both
together. Jesus, who had skill in men, admitted into his intimate
confidence those only in whom he remarked the most submissive credulity
or the greatest address. On important occasions, such as the miracle of
multiplying the loaves, the transfiguration, &c. we find, as already
noticed, that he used always the ministry of Peter, James, and John.

It is easy to conceive that his disciples were attached to him from
interest or credulity. The most crafty perceived that their fortune
could only be ameliorated under the conduct of a man who knew how to
impose on the vulgar, and to make his followers live at the expence of
charitable devotees. Fishermen, formerly obliged to subsist by painful
and often unsuccessful labour, conceived that it was more advantageous
to attach themselves to one who without trouble made them live
comfortably. The most credulous expected to make a brilliant fortune,
and to fill posts of eminence in the new kingdom their chief intended to
establish. It was evidently from _earthly_ or interested motives, and
not heavenly, that the apostles attached themselves to Jesus. At the
last supper there was a strife amongst them _who should be accounted the
greatest_. "The meanest," as Bishop Parker expressed it, "hoped at least
to have been made lord mayor of Capernaum." And even at his ascension
the only question his disciples asked, was, _Lord, wilt thou at this
time restore again the kingdom of Israel_?

The hopes and comforts of both vanished on the death of Jesus. The
pusillanimous lost courage, but the most able and subtle did not think
it necessary to abandon the party. They therefore contrived, as we have
seen, the tale of the resurrection, by the aid of which the reputation
of their master and their own fortune were secured. It also appears,
that the apostles never sincerely believed their master was a _God_. The
Acts incontestibly demonstrate the contrary. The same Simon Peter, who
had recognized Jesus for the Son of the living God, declared in his
first sermon, that he was man. "Ye know," says he, "that Jesus of
Nazareth was a MAN whom God hath rendered famous among you--Yet ye have
crucified him--but God hath raised him up again," &c. This passage
proves clearly that the chief of the apostles dared not yet hazard, or
was wholly ignorant of the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus, which was
afterwards contrived by the self-interest of the clergy and adopted by
the foolishness of Christians, whose credulity was never startled by the
greatest absurdities. Self-interest and folly have perpetuated this
doctrine until our time. By dint of repeating the same tales for so long
a period, they have succeeded in making people believe the most
ridiculous fables. The religion of the children is always regulated by
the fancy of their fathers.

It appears however, that the apostles of Jesus, deprived of the counsels
of their master, could not have succeeded if they had not received
powerful aid after his death, and selected associates, men more active
than themselves, and better calculated for the business. They
deliberated together on their common interests; it was then the Holy
Spirit descended on them; that is, they considered on the means of
earning a subsistence, gaining proselytes, and increasing the number of
their adherents, in order to secure themselves against the enterprizes
of the priests and grandees of the nation, whom the new sect might have
very much displeased. Not satisfied with having put Jesus to death, they
had the impudence to persecute his disciples. They engaged Herod to
destroy James the brother of Jesus; finally they caused Stephen to be
stoned. These priests and doctors did not perceive that persecution is
the surest method of spreading fanaticism, and that it always gives
importance to the party persecuted.

Accordingly this persecuting spirit, inherent in the clergy, created new
partisans to the persecuted sect. Hard treatment, and imprisonment
always render sectaries more obstinate, and interesting objects to those
who witness their sufferings. Tortures excite our pity in behalf of the
person who endures them. Every fanatic that is punished is certain of
finding credulous friends to aid him, because they persuade themselves
it is for truth he is persecuted.

The proceedings instigated by the priests, convinced the new sectaries
that it was of the utmost importance to unite their interests. They felt
it necessary to avoid quarrels, and every thing which could create
division; they in consequence lived in concord and peace.

The apostles, now become heads of the sect, did not neglect their own
interests. One of the first faculties with which the Holy Spirit
inspired them, was to profit by devout souls, and engage them to place
all their property in common. The apostles were the depositaries of
these goods, and had under their orders ministers or servants, known by
the name of deacons, charged with the distribution of alms. These great
saints, it is to be presumed, did not forget themselves in these
distributions. It appears also, that the law for this communion of
goods, was observed with rigor, as we find, in the Acts of the Apostles,
Ananias and Saphira struck dead, on the prayer of Peter, for having had
the temerity to retain a portion of their own property: a conduct which
would appear as unjust, as barbarous in any other person but an apostle
of Jesus. It must however be acknowledged, that the law, which obliged
the rich to place their property in common, was very important, not only
to the apostles, but for increasing the sect. The poor undoubtedly must
have been eager to join a party where the rich engaged to _lay the
cloth_. Hence it is easy to perceive, how this institution might augment
the number of the faithful without a miracle.

Of all the adherents the new-born sect acquired, there was none superior
to Saul, afterwards known by the name of Paul. The actions and writings
ascribed to this Apostle exhibit him as an ambitious, active, intrepid,
and opiniative man, full of enthusiasm, and capable of inspiring others
with it. Engaged at first in the profession of a tent-maker, he
afterwards attached himself to Gamaliel, a doctor of the law and
rendered services to the priests in their persecutions against
Christians. Perceiving the utility which a man of Saul's character might
be of to the party, the apostles profited by some disgust he had taken
to draw him over to their sect. He consented readily conceiving that by
his superior talents he might easily succeed in making himself the head
of a party, to which he also knew the means of rendering himself
necessary. He pretended, therefore, that his conversion was the effect
of a miracle, and that God himself had called him. He was baptised at
Damascus, joined the apostles at Jerusalem, was admitted a member of
their college, and soon gave them proofs of his talents. He commenced
preaching Jesus and his resurrection, and labored in gaining souls. His
vehement zeal hurried him, without fear or hesitation, into quarrels
with the priests, always indignant at the conduct of the apostles; but
his persecutions rendered him dearer to his party, of which he became
from that time the prime mover.

Often maltreated by the Jews, Paul conjectured that it would be
beneficial not to confine himself to them, but that conquests might be
made among the heathen. He no doubt knew that mankind resemble each
other in all superstitions; that they are every where curious about the
marvellous; susceptible of fanaticism, lovers of novelties, and easily
deceived. He therefore, sometimes preached to Jews, and sometimes to
Gentiles, among whom he succeeded in enlisting a considerable number of

Jesus, born in the bosom of Judaism, and knowing the attachment of his
fellow-citizens to the law of Moses, had always openly declared, that he
was come to "accomplish, and not to destroy it." His first apostles were
Jews, and showed much attachment to the rites of their religion. They
were displeased that Paul their brother would not subject his Gentile
proselytes to Judaical usuages. Filled with views more vast than those
entertained by the other apostles, he did not wish to disgust his new
converts with inconvenient ceremonies, such as circumcision and
abstinence from certain meats. The better to attain his ends, he
neglected these usuages, which he considered as trifles, while his
brethren regarded them as most essential. The first proselytes or the
apostles as we have said, were called _Nazarenes_ or Ebionites, who
believed in Jesus without forsaking the law of Moses. They of course
regarded Paul as an heretic or apostate. This fact, attested by Origen,
Eusebius, and Epiphanius, is important in giving us a distinct idea of
primitive Christianity, which we see divided into two sects almost as
soon as Paul had embraced it. This new apostle very soon indeed
separated from his brethren to preach a doctrine different from theirs,
and openly undermined the Judaism which Peter, James, and the other
heads of the church persisted in respecting. But as Paul was successful
among the Gentiles, his party prevailed: Judaism was entirely
proscribed, and Christianity became quite a new religion, of which
Judaism had been only the figure. Thus Paul wholly changed the religious
system of Jesus, who had merely proposed to reform Judaism. The
principal apostles followed the conduct of their master, and showed
themselves much attached to the law and usages of their fathers. Paul
notwithstanding their protestations, took a different course; he
displayed a contempt or indifference for the legal ordinances, to which
through policy, however, he sometimes subjected himself. Thus we find he
circumcised Timothy, and performed Jewish ceremonies in the temple of

Not content with decrying the law of Moses, Paul, by his own confession,
preached a gospel of his own. He says positively, in his epistle to the
Galatians, "That the gospel which I preach is not after men," and that
he had received it by a particular revelation of Jesus. He speaks
likewise of his quarrels with the other heads of the sect; but his
disciple Luke passes over these very slightly in the Acts, which are
much more the _Acts of Paul_ than the Acts of the Apostles. It appears
evident, that he embroiled himself with his brethren, the partisans of
the circumcision, and the founders of the Nazarenes or Ebionites, who
had a gospel different from that of Paul, as they combined the law of
Jesus with that of Moses. Irenaeus, Justin, Epiphanius, Eusebius,
Theodoret, and Augustine, agree in telling us, that these Ebionites, or
converted Jews, regarded Jesus as a "mere man, son of Joseph and Mary,
to whom they gave the name of _Son of God_ only on account of his
virtues." From this it is evident, that it was Paul who _deified_ Jesus
and abolished Judaism. The Paulites, become the strongest, prevailed
over the Ebionites, or disciples of the apostles, and regarded them as
heretics. Hence we see that it is the religion of Paul, and not of
Jesus, which at present subsists.

This altercation of Paul and the apostles of Jesus produced a real
schism. Paul left the preaching of the Judaical gospel or circumcision
to his brethren whilst he preached his own in Asia Minor and in Greece,
sometimes to the Hellenistic Jews, whom he found established there, and
sometimes to the idolatrous Greeks, whose language, though unknown to
the other apostles, Paul was acquainted with. The success of his mission
far surpassed that of his brethren; and if we refer to the Acts of the
Apostles, we shall perceive in this new preacher an activity, a warmth,
a vehemence, and an enthusiasm well adapted to communicate itself. The
missionaries he formed, spread his doctrine to a great distance. The
gospel of the apostle of the gentiles prevailed over the gospel of the
Judaizing apostles; and in a short time there were a great number of
Christians in all the provinces of the Roman empire.

To a miserable people, crushed by tyrants and oppressors of every kind,
the principles of the new sect had powerful attractions. Its maxims,
which tended to introduce equality and a community of goods, were
calculated to entice the unfortunate. Its promises flattered miserable
fanatics, to whom was announced the end of a perverse world, the
approaching arrival of Jesus, and a kingdom wherein abundance and
happiness would reign. To be admitted there, they merely required of the
proselytes "to believe in Jesus and be baptized." As for the austere
maxims of the sect, they were not of a nature to disgust miserables,
accustomed to suffering, and the want of the conveniences of life. Its
dogmas, few in the beginning, were readily adopted by ignorant men, fond
of wonders, whom their own mythology disposed to receive the fables of
Christians. Besides, their own priests wrought miracles, which rendered
those said to have been performed by Jesus no way improbable in their
estimation. Different missionaries, in emulation of one another composed
romances or histories of Jesus in which they related a number of
prodigies calculated to make their hero be revered, and to interest the
veneration of the faithful. In this manner the different collections,
known by the name of Gospels, were framed, wherein, along with very
simple facts which might have really occurred, we find numerous
statements that appear credible only to enthusiasts and fools. These
histories, composed from traditions by different hands, and by authors
of very different characters, are not in harmony. Hence the want of
conformity in the relations of our evangelists, which has been
frequently noticed in the course of this work. There were, as we have
before remarked, a vast number of gospels in the first ages of the
church; and out of these the council of Nice chose only four, to which
they gave the divine sanction.

We shall not here examine whether these gospels really belong to the
authors to whom they are ascribed. The opinion which attributes them to
to their putative writers, might have been founded at first on some
tradition, true or false, which existed in the time of the council of
Nice, or which the fathers of that council had an interest in
sanctioning. It is difficult to persuade ourselves without faith, that
the gospel of John, filled with Platonic notions could be composed by
the son of Zebedee; by a poor fisherman, who, perhaps, incapable of
writing, and even reading, could not be acquainted with the philosophy
of Plato. From the commencement of christianity there have been many who
have denied the authenticity of the gospels. _Marcias_ accused them of
being filled with falsehoods. The Alloges and Theodocians rejected the
gospel of John, which they regarded as a tissue of lies. Augustin says,
that he found in the Platonists the whole beginning of the gospel of
John. Origen below informs us, that Celsus reproached Jesus with having
taken from Plato his finest maxims, and among others the one which says,
that "it is more easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to be saved."

Whatever opinion may be formed as to this, we find the mystical and
marvellous philosophy of Plato introduced very early into Christianity,
which agreed in several respects with the tenets held by the followers
of that eminent philosopher; while his perplexed philosophy must also
have easily amalgamated with the principles of the new sect. This was
the source of _Spirituality_, _Trinity_, and the _Logos_, or _Word_,
besides a multitude of magical and theurgical ceremonies, which in the
hands of the priests of Christianity have become _mysteries_ or
_sacraments_. On reading Porphyry, Jamblichus, and particularly
Plotinus, we are surprised to hear them speaking so frequently in the
same style as our theologists. These marks of resemblance drew several
Platonists over to the faith, who figured among the doctors of the
church. Of this number were Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Justin
Martyr, Origen, &c. Platonism may indeed be regarded as the source of
the principal dogmas and mysteries of the Christian religion.

Those who doubt the truth of this assertion have only to read the works
of the disciples of Plato, who were all superstitious persons and
Theurgists, whose ideas were analogous to those of Christians. We find,
indeed, these writings filled with receipts to make the gods and good
genii descend, and to drive away the bad. Tertullian reproaches the
heretics of his time with having wandered astray in order to introduce
Platonism, Stoicism, and Dialects into Christianity. It was evidently
the mixture of the unintelligible doctrine of Plato, with the Dialectics
of Aristotle, which rendered theology so senseless, disputable, and
fraught with subtleties. The cardinal Pallavicini acknowledges, that
"without Aristotle the Christians would have wanted a great number of
articles of faith."

The austere and fanatical lives of Christians must also have favorably
disposed a great number of Stoics, who were accustomed to make a merit
of despising objects desirable to other men, depriving themselves of the
comforts of life, and braving affliction and death. We accordingly find
among the early Christians a great number of enthusiasts tinctured with
these maxims. This fanatical way of thinking was necessary to console
the first Christians in the midst of persecutions which they suffered at
first from the Jews, and thereafter from the emperors and grandees,
incited by the heathen priests. The latter, according to the custom of
the priesthood in all countries, made war on a sect which attacked their
Gods, and menaced their temples with a general desertion. The universe
was weary of the impostures and exactions of these priests, their costly
sacrifices and lying oracles. Their knaveries had been frequently
unveiled, and the new religion tendered to mankind a worship less
expensive and, which, without being addressed so much to the eyes as the
worship of idols, was better adapted than its rival to seize the
imagination, and to excite enthusiasm.

Christianity was moreover flattering and consolatory to the wretched,
while it placed all men on the same level, and thus humbled the rich, it
was announced as destined for the poor through preference. Among the
Romans, slaves were in some measure excluded from religion; and it might
have been said that the gods did not concern themselves with the homage
of these degraded beings. The poor, besides, had not wherewith to
satisfy the rapacity of Pagan priests, who, like ours, did nothing
without money. Thus slaves and miserable persons must have been strongly
attached to a system, which taught that all men are equal in the eyes of
the Divinity, and that the wretched have better right to the favors of a
suffering and contemned God than those who are temporally happy. The
priests of Paganism became uneasy at the rapid progress of the sect. The
government was alarmed at the clandestine assemblies which the
Christians held. They were believed to be the enemies of the emperors,
because they refused to offer sacrifices to the gods of the country for
their prosperity. Even the people, ever zealous, believed them enemies
of their gods because they would not join in their worship. They treated
the Christians as Atheists and impious persons, because they did not
conceive what could be the objects of their adoration; and because they
took offence at the mysteries, which they saw them celebrating in the
greatest secrecy. The Christians, thus loaded with the public hatred,
very soon became its victims; they were persecuted; and persecution, as
it always happens, rendered them more opiniative. Enthusiasm inflamed
their souls; they considered it a glory to resist the efforts of
tyrants; they even went so far as to brave their punishments, and
concluded with believing that the greatest happiness was to perish under
their severities. In this they flattered themselves with resembling the
Son of God, and were persuaded, that by dying for his cause they were
certain of reigning with him in heaven.

In consequence of these fanatical ideas, so flattering to vanity,
martyrdom became an object of ambition to Christians. Independent of the
heavenly rewards, which they believed assured to those who suffered with
constancy, and perished for religion, they saw them esteemed, revered,
and carefully attended to during their lives, while honors almost divine
were decreed them after death. On the contrary, those of the Christian
community who had the weakness to shrink from tortures, and renounce
their religion, were scoffed at, despised, and regarded as infamous. So
many circumstances combined contributed to warm the imaginations of the
faithful, already sufficiently agitated by notions of the approaching
end of the world, the coming of Jesus, and his happy reign. They
submitted cheerfully to punishment, and gloried in their chains: they
courted martyrdom as a favor, and often, through a blind zeal, provoked
the rage of their persecutors. The magistrates, by their proscriptions
and tortures, caused the enthusiasm of the Christians to kindle more and
more. Their courage was besides supported by the heads of their sect,
who constantly displayed the heavens opening to the heroes who consented
to suffer and perish for their cause, which they took care to make the
poor fanatics regard as the cause of God himself. A martyr, at all
times, is merely the victim of the enthusiastic or knavish priest who
has been able to seduce him.

Men are always disgusted with those who use violence; they conclude that
they are wrong, and that those against whom they commit violence have
reason on their side. Persecution will always make partisans to the
cause persecuted; and those to which we allude, tended the more to
confirm Christians in their religion. The spectators of their sufferings
were interested for them. They were curious to know the principles of a
sect which drew on itself such cruel treatment, and infused into its
adherents a courage believed to be supernatural. They imagined that such
a religion could be no other than the work of God; its partisans
appeared extraordinary men, and their enthusiasm became contagious.
Violence served only to spread it the more, and, according to the
language of a Christian doctor, "the blood of the martyrs became the
seed of the church."

The clergy would fain make the propagation of Christianity pass for a
miracle of divine omnipotence; while it was owing solely to natural
causes inherent in the human mind, which always adheres strenuously to
its own way of thinking; hardens itself against violence; applauds
itself for its pertinacity; admires courage in others; feels an interest
for those who display it; and suffers itself to be gained by their
enthusiasm. The learned Dodwell has written two copious dissertations on
the martyrs: the one to prove that they were not so numerous as is
commonly imagined; and the other to demonstrate that their constancy
originated in natural causes. The frenzy of martyrdom was in fact an
epidemical disease among the first Christians, to which their spiritual
physicians were obliged to apply remedies, as these wretched beings were
guilty of suicide. Many of the primitive Christians, says Fleury,
instead of _flying_ as the gospel directs, not only ran voluntarily to
execution, but provoked their judges to do them that favor. Under
Trajan, all the Christians in a city of Asia came in a body to the
proconsul, and offered themselves to the slaughter, which made him cry,
"O! ye unhappy people, if ye have a mind to die, have ye not halters and
precipices enough to end your lives, but ye must come here for
executioners." Marcus Antoninus severely reflected on the obstinacy of
the Christians in thus running headlong to death; and Cyprian labored
hard to comfort those who were so unhappy as to _escape_ the crown of
martyrdom. Even the enemies of Julian, called the apostate by fanatics,
admit that the Christians of his time did every thing they could to
provoke that emperor to put them to death. Dr. Hickes, a celebrated
protestant divine, says that the Christians "were _not_ illegally
persecuted by Julian." Pride, vanity, prejudice, love, patriotism, and
even vice itself, produce martyrs--a contempt of every kind of danger.
Is it then surprising that enthusiasm and fanaticism, the strongest of
passions, have so often enabled men to face the greatest dangers and
despise death? Besides, if Christians can boast a catalogue of martyrs,
Jews can do the same. The unfortunate Jews, condemned to the flames by
the inquisition, were martyrs to their religion; and their fortitude
proves as much in their favor as that of the Christians. If martyrs
demonstrate the truth of a religion or sect, where are we to look for
the true one?

It is thus obvious that the obstinacy of the martyrs, far from being a
sign of the divine protection or of the goodness of their cause, was the
effect of blindness, occasioned by the reiterated lessons of their
fanatical or deceitful priests. What conduct more extravagant than that
of a sovereign able and without effusion of blood to extend his power,
who should prefer to do it by the massacre of the most faithful of his
subjects? Is it not annihilating the divine wisdom and goodness to
assert, that a God to whom every thing is possible, among so many ways
which he could have chosen to establish his religion, wished to follow
that only of making its dearest friends fall a sacrifice to the fury of
its cruellest enemies? Such are the notions which Christianity presents;
and it is easy to perceive that they are the necessary consequences of a
fundamental absurdity on which that religion is established. It
maintains, that a just God had no wish to redeem guilty men, than by
making his dear innocent son be put to death. According to such
principles, it can excite no surprise that so unreasonable a God should
wish to convert the heathen, his enemies, by the murder of Christians,
his children. Though these absurdities are believed, such as do not
possess the holy blindness of faith cannot comprehend why the Son of
God, having already shed his blood for the redemption of men, was not a
sufficient sacrifice? and why, to effect the conversion of the world,
there was still a necessity for the blood of an immense number of
martyrs, whose merits must have been undoubtedly much less than those of
Jesus? To resolve these difficulties, theologians refer us to the
eternal decrees, the wisdom of which we are not permitted to criticise.
This is sending us far back indeed; yet notwithstanding the solidity of
the answer, the incredulous persist in saying, that their limited
understandings can neither find justice, nor wisdom, nor goodness, in
eternal decrees which could in so preposterous a manner effect the
salvation of the human race.

Persecutions were not the only means by which Christianity was
propagated. The preachers, zealous for the salvation of souls, or rather
desirous to extend their own power over the minds of men, and strengthen
their party, inherited from the Jews the passion of making proselytes.
This passion suited presumptuous fanatics, who were persuaded, that they
alone possessed the divine favor. It was unknown to the heathen, who
permitted every one to adore his gods, providing that his worship did
not disturb the public tranquillity. Prompted by zeal, the Christian
missionaries, notwithstanding persecutions and dangers, spread
themselves with an ardour unparalleled wherever they could penetrate, in
order to convert idolators and bring back strayed sheep to the fold of
Jesus. This activity merited the recompense of great success. Men, whom
their idolatrous priests neglected, were flattered at being courted, and
becoming the objects of the cares of those who, through pure
disinterestedness, came from afar, and through the greatest perils to
bring them consolation. They listened favourably to them; they shewed
kindness to men so obliging, and were enchanted with their doctrine.
Many adopted their lessons; placed themselves under their guidance, and
soon became persuaded that their God and dogmas were superior to those
which had preceded them.

Thus by degrees, and without a miracle, Christianity planted colonies,
more or less considerable, in every part of the Roman empire. They were
directed, and governed by _inspectors_, _overseers_, or _bishops_, who,
in spite of the dangers with which they were menaced, labored
obstinately, and without intermission in augmenting the number of their
disciples that is, of slaves devoted to their holy will. Empire over
opinions was always the most unbounded. As nothing has greater power
over the minds of the vulgar than religion, Christians every where
displayed an unlimited submission to their spiritual sovereign, on whose
laws they believed their eternal happiness depended. Thus our
missionaries, converted into bishops, exercised a spiritual magistracy
and sacred jurisdiction, which in the end placed them not only above
other priests, but made them respected by, and necessary to, the
temporal power. Princes have always employed religion and its ministers
in crushing the people, and keeping them under the yoke. Impostures and
delusions are of no use to sovereigns who govern, but they are very
useful to those who _tyrannize_.



At the end of three centuries we find Christianity, advanced by all
these means, become a formidable party in the Roman empire. The
sovereign power acknowledged the impossibility of stifling it; and
Christians, scattered in great numbers through all the provinces, formed
an imposing combination. Ambitious chiefs incessantly wrested from one
another the right of reigning over the wrecks of an enslaved republic:
each sought to encrease his own strength, and acquire an advantage over
his rivals. It was in these circumstances that Constantine, to
strengthen himself first against Maxentius, and thereafter against
Licinius, thought it his interest, by a stroke of policy, to draw over
all the Christians to his party. For this purpose he openly favored
them, and thereby reinforced his army with all the soldiers of that
numerous sect. In gratitude for the advantages they procured him, he
concluded with embracing their religion, now become so powerful. He
honored, distinguished, and enriched the Christian bishops, well assured
of attaching them to himself by his liberality to their pastors and the
favor he shewed them. Aided by their succors, he flattered himself with
the disposal of the flock.

By this political revolution, so favorable to the clergy, the bashful
chiefs of the Christians, who hitherto had reigned only in secret and
without eclat, sprung out of the dust, and became men of importance.
Seconded by a despotical emperor, whose interests were linked with
theirs, they soon used their influence to avenge their injuries, and
return to their enemies, with usury, the evils which they had received.
The unexpected change in the fortune of the Christians made them forget
the mild and tolerating maxims of their legislator. They conceived, that
these maxims, made for wretches destitute of power, could no longer suit
men supported by sovereigns; they attacked the temples and gods of
paganism; their worshipers were excluded from places of trust, and the
master lavished his favors on those only who consented to think like
him, and justify his change by imitating it. Thus, without any miracle,
the court became Christian, or at least feigned to be so, and the
descendants of hypocritical courtiers were Christians in reality.

Even before the time of Constantine, Christianity had been rent by
disputes, heresies, schisms, and animosities between the Christian
chiefs. The adherents of the different doctors had reviled,
anathematised, and maltreated each other without their quarrels making
any noise. The subtleties of Grecian metaphysics introduced into the
Christian religion, had hatched an infinity of disputes, which had not
hitherto been attended with any remarkable occurrence. All these
quarrels burst forth in the reign of Constantine. The bishops and
champions of different parties caballed to draw over the emperor to
their side, and thus aid them in crushing their adversaries. At the same
time a considerable party under the priest _Arius_, denied the divinity
of Jesus. Little versed in the principles of the religion that party had
embraced, but wishing to decide the question, Constantine referred it to
the judgment of the bishops. He convened them in the city of Nice, and
the plurality of suffrages regulated definitively the symbol of
faith--Jesus became a God _consubstantial_ with his father; the Holy
Ghost was likewise a God, _proceeding_ from the two others; finally,
these _three_ Gods combined made only _one_ God!

Tumultuous clamors carried this unintelligible decision, and converted
it into a sacred dogma notwithstanding the reclamations of opponents,
who were silenced by denouncing them blasphemers and heretics. The
priests who had the strongest lungs, declared themselves _orthodox_. The
emperor, little acquainted with the nature of the quarrel, ranged
himself for the time on their side, and quitted it afterwards according
as he thought proper to lend an ear sometimes to the bishops of one
party, and sometimes to those of another. The history of the church
informs us, that Constantine, whom we here see adhering to the decision
of the council of Nice, made the orthodox and the heretics alternately
experience his severities.

After many years, and even ages of disputes, the bishops of Christendom
have agreed in regarding Jesus as a true God. They felt that it was
important for them to have a God for their founder, as this could not
fail to render their own claims more respected. They maintained, that
their authority was derived from the apostles, who held theirs directly
from Christ; that is, from God himself. It would now-a-days be criminal
to doubt the truth of this opinion, though many Christians are not yet
convinced of it, and venture to appeal to the decision of the universal
church. Except the English, all Protestant Christians reject Episcopacy,
and regard it as an usurped power. Among the Catholics, the Jansenists
think the same, which is the true cause of the enmity the Pope and
Bishops display against them. It appears St. Jerome was, on this point,
of the opinion of the Jansenists. Yet we see Paul at first much occupied
in advancing the Episcopal dignity. Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of the
apostles, insinuates in his epistles, the high opinion which the
Christians ought to have of a bishop; and the very ancient author of the
Apostolic Constitutions, openly declares, that a _bishop is a God on
earth, destined to rule over all men, priests, kings, and magistrates_.
Though these Constitutions are reputed Apocryphal, the bishops have
conformed their conduct to them more than to the canonical gospel,
wherein Jesus, far from assigning prerogatives to bishops, declares,
that in his kingdom there will be _neither first nor last_.

The bishops assembled at Nice, decided also, as we have related, on the
authenticity of the gospels and books ordained to serve as a rule to
Christians. It is then to these doctors, as has been already remarked,
that Christians owe their faith; which, however, was afterwards
frequently shaken by disputes, heresies, and wars, and even by
assemblies of bishops, who often annulled what other assemblies of
bishops had decreed in the most solemn manner. From Constantine to our
time, the interest of the heads of the church dictated every decree, and
established doctrines wholly unknown to the founders of their religion.
The universe became the arena of the passions, the disputes, intrigues,
and cruelties of these holy gladiators, who treated each other with the
utmost barbarity. Kings, united in interest with spiritual chiefs, or
blinded by them, thought themselves at all times obliged to partake of
their fury. Princes seemed to hold the sword for the sole purpose of
cutting the throats of victims pointed out by the priests. These blinded
rulers believed they served God, or promote the welfare of their
kingdoms by espousing all the passions of the priests who were become
the most arrogant, the most vindictive, the most covetous, and the most
flagitious of men.

We shall not enter into a detail of all the quarrels which the Christian
religion has produced. We shall merely observe, that they were
continual, and have frequently been attended with consequences so
deplorable that nations have had reason more than a hundred times every
century to regret the peaceful paganism, and tolerating idolatry of
their ancestors. The gospel, or _the glad tidings_, constantly gave the
signal for the commission of crimes. _The Cross was the Banner under
which madmen assembled to glut the earth with blood._ The will of heaven
was understood by nobody: and the clergy disputed without end on the
manner of explaining oracles, which the Deity had himself come to reveal
to mortals. It was always indispensable to take a side in the most
unintelligible quarrels: neutrality was regarded as impiety. The party
for which the prince declared, was always _orthodox_, and on that
account, believed it had a right to exterminate all others: the orthodox
in the church were those who had the power to exile, imprison, and
destroy their adversaries. Lucifer Calaritanus, a most orthodox bishop,
in several discourses addressed to the son of Constantine, did not
scruple to tell the emperor himself that it was the duty of the orthodox
to kill Constantius on account of his Arianism, which he called
Idolatry; and for this he quoted Deut. xiii. 6., and I Maccab. i. 43, to
v. 29 of c. ii.

The bishops, whom the puissance of an emperor had raised from the dust,
soon became rebellious subjects; and, under pretence of maintaining
their spiritual power, laboured to be independent of the sovereign, and
even the laws of society. They maintained that princes themselves,
"being subjects of Christ," ought to be subjected to the jurisdiction of
his representatives on earth. Thus the pretended successors of some
fishermen of Judea, whom Constantine had raised from obscurity arrogated
to themselves the right of reigning over kings; and in this way the
kingdom of heaven served to conquer the kingdoms of the earth.

Hitherto the Christians had been governed by bishops or chiefs
independent of each other, and perfectly equal as to jurisdiction. This
made the church an aristocratical republic; but its government soon
became monarchial, and even despotical. The respect which was always
entertained for Rome the capital of the world, seemed to give a kind of
superiority to the bishop or spiritual head of the Christians
established there. His brethren, therefore frequently showed a deference
to him, and occasionally consulted him. Nothing more was wanting to the
ambition of the bishops of Rome, to advance the right they arrogated of
dictating to their brethren, and to declare themselves the monarchs of
the Christian church. A very apocryphal tradition had made Peter travel
to Rome, and had also made this chief of the apostles establish his see
in that city. The Roman bishop therefore, pretended to have succeeded to
the rights of Simon Peter, to whom Jesus in the gospel had entrusted
more particularly the care of feeding his sheep. He accordingly assumed
the pompous titles of "Successor of St. Peter, Universal Bishop, and
Vicar of Jesus Christ." It is true, these titles were often contested
with him by the oriental bishops, too proud to bow under the yoke of
their brother. But by degrees, through artifice, intrigue, and
frequently violence, those who enjoyed the See of Rome, and prosecuting
their project with ardor, succeeded in getting themselves acknowledged
in the west as the heads of the Christian church.

Pliant and submissive at first to sovereigns, whose power they dreaded,
they soon mounted on their shoulders; and trampled them under their feet
when they were certain of their power over the minds of devotees
rendered frantic by superstition. Then indeed they threw off the mask,
gave to nations the signal of revolt, incited Christians to their mutual
destruction, and precipitated kings from their thrones. To support their
pride, they shed oceans of blood: they made weak princes the vile sport
of their passions, sometimes their victims and sometimes their
executioners. Sovereigns, become their vassals, executed with fear and
trembling the decrees Heaven pronounced against the enemies of the holy
see which had created itself the arbiter of faith. In fact, these
inhuman pontiffs immolated to their God a thousand times more human
victims than paganism had sacrificed to all its divinities.

After having succeeded in subduing the bishops, the head of the church,
with a view to establish and preserve his empire inundated the states of
the princes attached to the sect with a multitude of sabaltern priests
and monks, who acted as his spies, his emissaries, and the organs which
he employed in making known his will at a distance. Thus nations were
deluged with men useless or dangerous. Some, under pretext of attaining
Christian perfection, astonished the vulgar with a frantic life, denied
themselves the pleasures of existence, renounced the world, and
languished in the recesses of a cloister awaiting the death which their
disagreeable pursuits must have rendered desirable. They imagined to
please God by occupying themselves solely with prayers, and sterile and
extravagant meditations; thus rendering themselves the victims of a
destructive fanaticism. These, fools, whom Christianity esteems, may be
considered as the victims and martyrs of the higher clergy, who take
care never to imitate them.

Few however felt themselves inclined to aspire to this sublime
perfection. Most of the monks, more indulgent, were content with
renouncing the world, vegetating in solitude, languishing in sloth, and
living in absolute idleness at the expence of nations who toil. If some
among them were devoted to study, it was only with the vain subtleties
of an unintelligible theology calculated to incite disturbances in
society. Others more active spread themselves over the globe; and, under
pretence of preaching the gospel, preached up themselves, the interests
of the clergy, and especially the submission due to the Roman pontiff,
who was always their true sovereign. These emissaries, indeed, never had
any other country than the church, any other master than its head, or
any other interest than that of disturbing the state, in order to
advance _the divine rights_ of the clergy. Faithful in following the
example of Jesus, they brought _the sword_, sowed discord, and kindled
wars, seditions, persecutions, and crusades. They sounded the tocsin of
revolt against all princes who were disagreeable or rebellious to the
haughty tyrant of the church; they frequently employed the sacrificing
knife of fanaticism, and plunged it in the hearts of kings; and, to make
the _cause of God_ prosper, they justified the most horrible crimes, and
threw the whole earth into consternation.

Such, especially in latter times, were the maxims and conduct of an
order of monks, who, pretending to walk in the footsteps of Jesus,
assumed the name of his _Society_. Solely and blindly devoted to the
interests of the Roman pontiff, they seemed to have come into the world
for the purpose of bringing the universe under his chains. They
corrupted the youth, the education of whom they wished exclusively to
engross; they strove to restore barbarism, knowing well that want of
knowledge is the greatest prop of superstition; they extolled ignorance
and blind submission; they depraved morals for which they substituted
vain usages and superstitions, compatible with every vice, and
calculated to suppress the remorse which crime occasions. They preached
up slavery and unbounded submission to princes, who themselves were
their slaves, and who consented to become the instruments of their
vengeance. They preached rebellion and regicide against the princes who
refused to bend under the odious yoke of the successor of St. Peter,
whom they had the effrontery to declare _infallible_, and whose
decisions they preferred above those of the universal church. By their
assistance the pope became not only the despot, but even the true God of
the Christians.

There were some however, who ventured to protest against the violences,
extortions, and usurpations of this spiritual tyrant. There were
sovereigns who ventured to struggle with him; but in times of ignorance,
the contest is always unequal between the temporal and spiritual power.
At last preachers discontented with the Roman pontiff, opened the eyes
of many; they preached _reformation_, and destroyed some abuses and
dogmas which appeared to them that the most disgusting. Some princes
seized this opportunity to break the chains wherewith they had been so
long oppressed. Without renouncing Christianity, which they always
regarded as a divine religion, they renounced Romish Christianity, which
they considered a superstition corrupted through the avarice, influence,
and passions of the clergy. Content with merely loping off some branches
of a poisoned tree, which its bitter fruits should have discovered, our
_reformers_ did not perceive that even the principles of a religion,
founded on fanaticism and imposture, must of necessity produce fanatics
and knaves. They did not observe, that religion, which pretends to enjoy
exclusively the approbation of the Most High, must be from its essence
arrogant and proud, and become at last tyrannical, intolerant, and
sanguinary. They did not perceive that the mania of proselytism, the
pretended zeal for the salvation of souls, the passion of the priests
for dominion over consciences, must, sooner or later, create
devastation. Christianity _reformed_, pretending to resemble the pure
Christianity of the first days of the church, produced fiery preachers,
persons illuminated, and public incendiaries, who under pretence of
_establishing the kingdom of Christ_ excited endless troubles,
massacres, and revolts. Christian Princes of every sect thought
themselves obliged to support the decisions of their doctors. They
regarded as infallible opinions which they themselves had adopted; they
enforced them by fire and sword; and were every where in confederacy
with their priests to make war on all who did not think like them.

We see, especially, the intolerant and persecuting spirit reigning in
countries which continue subject to the Roman pontiff. It was there that
priests, nurtured in the maxims of a spiritual despotism, dared with
most insolence to tyrannize over minds. They had the effrontery to
maintain, that the prince could not without impiety dispense with
entering into their quarrels, share their frenzy, and shed the blood of
their enemies. Contrary to the express orders of Jesus, the emissaries
of his vicar preached openly in his name persecution, revenge, hatred,
and massacre. Their clamors imposed on sovereigns; and the least
credulous trembled at sight of their power, which they dared not curb. A
superstitious and cowardly policy made them believe, that it was the
interest of the throne to unite itself for ever with these inhuman and
boisterous madmen. Thus princes, submissive to the clergy, and making
common cause with them, became the ministers of their vengeance, and the
executors of their will. These blind rulers were obliged to support a
power the rival of their own; but they did not perceive, that they
injured their own authority by delivering up their subjects to the
tyranny and extortions of a swarm of men, whose interest it was to
plunge them into ignorance, incite their fanaticism, control their
minds, domineer over their consciences, make them fit instruments to
serve their pride, avarice, and revenge. By this worthless policy, the
liberty of thinking was proscribed with fury, activity was repressed,
science was punished, and industry crushed, while morals were neglected,
and their place supplied by traditional observances. Nations vegetated
in inactivity; men cultivated only monastic virtues, grievous to
themselves and useless to society. They had no other impulse than what
their fanaticism afforded, and no other science than an obscure jargon
of theology. Their understandings were constantly occupied with puerile
disputes on mysterious subtleties, unworthy of rational beings. Those
futile occupations engrossed the attention of the most profound genius,
whose labors would have been useful if they had been directed to objects
really interesting.

Under the despotism of priestcraft, nations were impoverished to foster,
in abundance, in luxury, and often in drunkenness, legions of monks,
priests, and pontiffs, from whom they derived no real benefit. Under
pretence of supporting the intercessors with God, they richly endowed a
multitude of drones, whose prayers and reveries procured only misery and
dissensions. Education, entrusted throughout Christendom, to base or
ignorant priests, formed superstitious persons only, destitute of the
qualities necessary to make useful citizens. The instructions they gave
to Christians were confined to dogmas and mysteries which they could
never comprehend; they incessantly preached evangelical morality; but
that sublime morality which all the world applauds, and which so few
practise, because it is compatible with the nature and wants of man, did
not restrain the passions, or check their irregularities. When that
Stoical morality was attempted to be practised, it was only by imbecile
fanatics or fiery enthusiasts, whom the ardour of their zeal rendered
dangerous to society. The saints of Christianity were either the most
useless or most flagitious of men.

Princes, the great, the rich, and even the heads of the church,
considered themselves excused from the literal practice of precepts and
counsels, which a God himself had come to communicate. They left
Christian perfection to some miserable monks, for whom alone it seemed
originally destined. Complaisant guides smoothed for others the to
Paradise, and, without bridling the passions, persuaded their votaries
that it was sufficient to come at stated times _to confess_ their faults
to them, humble themselves at their feet, undergo the penances and
ceremonies which they should impose, and especially make donations to
the church, in order to obtain from God remission of the outrages they
committed on his creatures. By these means, in most Christian countries,
people and princes openly united devotion with the most hideous
depravity of manners, and often with the blackest crimes. There were
devout tyrants and adulterers, oppressors and iniquitous ministers,
courtiers without morals, and public depredators--all very devout. There
were knaves of every kind displaying the greatest zeal for a religion,
the ministers of which imposed easy expiations even on those who
violated its most express precepts. Thus, by the cares of the spiritual
guides of Christians, concord was banished from states; princes sunk
into bondage; the people were blinded; science was stifled; nations were
impoverished; true morality was unknown; and the most devout Christians
were devoid of those talents and virtues which are indispensably
necessary for the support of society.

Such are the immense advantages which the religion of Jesus has procured
to the world! Such are the effects we see resulting from the gospel, or
the _glad tidings_ which the Son of God came in person to announce! To
judge of it by its fruits; that is, according to the rule which the
messiah himself has given, the incredulous find that Christianity was
allegorically represented by the fig tree accursed. But those who have
faith assure us, that in the other world this tree will produce
delicious fruits. We must therefore wait for them in patience, for every
thing evinces that the great benefits promised by this religion are very
little perceptible in the present world.

There are, however, some who carry incredulity so far as to think, that
if there exists a God really jealous of his rights, he will confer no
reward on those who are so impious as to associate with him a man, a
Jew, and a Charlatan; and to pay him honors which are due only to the
divinity. Indeed, in supposing that God is offended with the actions of
his creatures, and concerns himself with their behaviour, he must be
irritated at the odious conduct of many Christians, who, under pretence
of devotion and zeal, believe themselves permitted to violate the most
sacred duties of nature of which they make the Deity the author.

It is, add our unbelievers, very difficult to calculate the duration of
human extravagancies; but they flatter themselves that the reign of
falsehood and error will terminate at some period, and give place to
reason and truth. They hope, the nations and their chiefs will one day
perceive the danger resulting from their prejudices; that they will
blush at having prostituted their praises on objects deserving sovereign
contempt; that they will regret the blood and treasure which baneful
fables and reveries have cost them; and that they will be at last
ashamed of having been the dupes and victims of a mass of romances,
destitute of probability, at never possessing a more solid foundation
than the astonishing credulity of men, and the astonishing impudence of
those who preach them. These unbelievers venture at least a glimpse at a
time when men, become more sensible of their own interest, will
acknowledge the truly barbarous folly of hating and tormenting
themselves, and cutting one another's throats for obscure dogmas,
puerile opinions, and ceremonially unworthy of rational beings, and on
which it is impossible to be ever unanimous. They even have the temerity
to maintain, that it is very possible sovereigns and subjects may one
day loathe a religion burdensome to the people, and producing real
advantages only to the priests of a beggarly and crucified God. They
think, that the profane laity, if undeceived, could easily bring their
priests back to the frugal life of the apostles or of Jesus whom they
ought to regard as a model at least, these unbelievers imagine that the
ministers of the God of peace would be obliged to live more peaceably,
and follow some occupation more honest than that of deceiving, and
tearing to pieces the society which fosters them.

If it is demanded of us what can be substituted for a religion which at
all times has produced effects pernicious to the happiness of the human
race, we will bid men cultivate the reason, which, much better than
absurd and deceptive systems, will advance their welfare, and make them
sensible to the value of virtue. Finally, we will tell them with
Tertullian, _Why pain yourselves in seeking for a divine law, when you
have that which is common to mankind, and engraven on the tablets of

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We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.