The Christ Myth
THE CHRIST MYTH
LONDON: 1 ADELPHI TERRACE
LEIPZIC: INSELSTRASSE 20
PREFACE TO THE FIRST AND SECOND EDITIONS
Since David Frederick Strauss, in his “Life ofJesus,” attempted for the first time to trace the Gospel storiesand accounts of miracles back to myths and pious fictions, doubtsregarding the existence of an historical Jesus have never been lulledto rest. Bruno Bauer also in his “Kritik derevangelischen Geschichte und der Synoptiker”(1841–42, 2nd ed. 1846),1 disputed the historical existenceof Jesus; later, in his “Christ und dieCäsaren, der Ursprung des Christentums aus dem römischenGriechentum” (1877), he attempted to show that the life ofJesus was a pure invention of the first evangelist, Mark, and toaccount for the whole Christian religion from the Stoic and Alexandrineculture of the second century, ascribing to Seneca especially amaterial influence upon the development of the Christian point of view.But it was reserved for the present day, encouraged by the essentiallynegative results of the so-called critical theology, to take up thesubject energetically, and thereby to attain to results even bolder andmore startling.
In England John M. Robertson, in “Christianity andMythology” (1900), in “A Short History ofChristianity” (1902), as well as in his work “PaganChrists: Studies in Comparative Hierology” (1903), has traced thepicture of Christ in the Gospels to a mixture ofmythological elements in heathenism and Judaism.
In France, as early as the end of the eighteenth century, Dupuis(“L’origine de tous lescultes,” 1795) and Voltaire (“LesRuines,” 1791) traced back the essential points of thehistory of the Christian redemption to astral myths, while ÉmileBurnouf (“La science des religions,”4th ed., 1885) and Hochart (“Étudesd’histoire religieuse,” 1890) collected importantmaterial for the clearing up of the origin of Christianity, and bytheir results cast considerable doubt upon the existence of anhistorical Christ.
In Italy Milesbo (Emilio Bossi) has attempted to prove thenon-historicity of Jesus in his book “GesùChristo non è mai esistito” (1904).
In Holland the Leyden Professor of Philosophy, Bolland, handled thesame matter in a series of works (“HetLijdenen Sterven van Jezus Christus,” 1907; “De Achtergrond derEvangeliën. Eene Bijdrage totde kennis van de Wording des Christendoms,” 1907; “Deevangelische Jozua. Eene poging tot aanwijzing van den oorsprong desChristendoms,” 1907).
In Poland the mythical character of the story of Jesus has beenshown by Andrzej Niemojewski in his book “Bóg Jezus” (1909), which rests on theastral-mythological theories of Dupuis and the school of Winckler.
In Germany the Bremen Pastor Kalthoff, in his work,“Das Christusproblem, Grundlinien zu einerSozialtheologie” (1903), thought that the appearance ofthe Christian religion could be accounted for without the help of anhistorical Jesus, simply from a social movement of the lower classesunder the Empire, subsequently attempting to remove the one-sidednessof this view by his work “Die Entstehung desChristentums. Neue Beiträge zum Christusproblem”(1904). (Cf. also his work “Was wissen wir vonJesus? Eine Abrechnung mit Professor D. Bousset,” 1904.) Asupplement to the works of Kalthoff in question is furnished by Fr.Steudel in “Das Christusproblem und die Zukunftdes Protestantismus” (Deutsche Wiedergeburt, 1909).
Finally, the American, William Benjamin Smith, in his work,“The Pre-Christian Jesus” (1906), has thrown so clear alight upon a number of important points in the rise of Christianity,and elucidated so many topics which give us a deeper insight into theactual correlation of events, that we gradually commence to see clearlyin this connection.
“The time is passed,” says Jülicher, “whenamong the learned the question could be put whether an‘historical’ Jesus existed at all.”2 Theliterature cited does not appear to justify this assertion. On thecontrary, that time seems only commencing. Indeed, an unprejudicedjudge might find that even Jülicher’s own essay, in which hetreated of the so-called founder of the Christian religion in the“Kultur der Gegenwart,” and in whichhe declared it “tasteless” to look upon the contents of theGospels as a myth, speaks rather against than for the historicalreality of Jesus. For the rest, official learning in Germany, andespecially theology, has, up to the present, remained, we may almostsay, wholly unmoved by all the above-mentioned publications. To my mindit has not yet taken up a serious position regarding Robertson. Itssparing citations of his “Pagan Christs” do not give theimpression that there can be any talk of its having a real knowledge ofhis expositions.3 
It has, moreover, passed Kalthoff over with the mien of a betterinformed superiority or preferably with silent scorn, and up to thepresent it has avoided with care any thoroughgoing examination ofSmith.4 And yet such a distinguished theologian asProfessor Paul Schmiedel, of Zürich, who furnished a foreword toSmith’s work, laid such an examination upon his colleagues as a“duty of all theologians making any claim to a scientifictemper,” and strongly warned them against any under-estimation ofSmith’s highly scientific work! “How can one thenconfidently stand by his former views,” Schmiedel cries to histheological colleagues, “unless he investigates whether they havenot in whole or in part been undermined by these new opinions? Or is ita question of some secondary matter merely, and not rather of exactlywhat for the majority forms the fundamental part of their Christianconviction? But if these new opinions are so completely futile, then itmust be an easy matter, indeed a mere nothing, to show this.”
In the meantime there are many voices which speak out against theexistence of an historical Jesus. In wide circles the doubt grows as tothe historical character of the picture of Christ given in the Gospels.Popular works written with a purpose, such as the investigations of theFrenchman Jacolliot, worked up by Plange into “Jesus ein Inder” (1898), have to serve to alleviatethis thirst for knowledge and confuse views more thanthey clear them. In a short work, “Die Entstehungdes Christentums” (1905), Promus has afforded a briefrésumé of the most important matter bearing on thepoint, without any working up of it on its own account, and attackedthe existence of an historical Jesus. Lately Karl Voller, theprematurely deceased Jena Orientalist, in his valuable work,“Die Weltreligionen in ihrem geschichtlichenZusammenhange” (1907), voiced the opinion “thatweighty reasons favour this radical myth interpretation, and that noabsolutely decisive arguments for the historicity of the person ofJesus can be brought forward” (op. cit. i. 163).
Another Orientalist, P. Jensen, in his work “Das Gilgamesch-Epos in der Weltliteratur” (1906),even thinks that he can show that both the main lines of the OldTestament story and the whole narrative of the life of Jesus given inthe Gospels are simply variations of the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic (about2000 B.C.), and consequently a puremyth.5
While criticism of the Gospel documents is advancing more boldly andalways leaving in existence less of an historical Jesus, the number ofworks in popular religious literature intended to glorify Jesus the mangrows enormously. These endeavour to make up for the deficiency incertain historical material by sentimental phrases and the deep tone ofconviction; indeed, the rhetoric which is disseminated with thisdesign6 seems to find more sympathy in proportion as itworks with less historical restraint. And yet learning as such has longcome to the point when the historical Jesus threatens to disappear fromunder its hands. The latest results in the provinceof Oriental mythology and religion, the advances in the comparativehistory of religion, that are associated in England with the names ofFrazer and Robertson especially, and in Germany with those of Winckler,Jeremias, Gunkel, Jensen, &c., have so much increased our knowledgeof the religious position of Nearer Asia in the last century beforeChrist, that we are no longer obliged to rely exclusively upon theGospels and the other books of the New Testament for the rise ofChristianity.7 The critical and historical theology ofProtestantism has itself thrown so deep a light upon the origins of theChristian religion that the question as to the historical existence of Jesus loses all paradox whichhitherto may have attached to it in the eyes of many. So, too,Protestant theology no longer has any grounds for becoming excited ifthe question is answered in a sense opposed to its own answer.
The author of the present work had hoped until lately that one ofthe historians of Christianity would himself arise and extract thepresent results of the criticisms of the Gospel, which to-day areclear. These hopes have not been fulfilled. On the contrary, intheological circles religious views continue to be quietly drawn fromthe “fact” of an historical Jesus, and he is considered asthe impassable height in the religious development of the individual,as though nothing has occurred and the existence of such a Jesus wasonly the more clearly established by the investigations of criticaltheology in this connection. The author has accordingly thought that heshould no longer keep back his own views, which he long since arrivedat out of the works of specialists, and has taken upon himself thethankless task of bringing together the grounds which tell against thetheory of an historical Jesus.
Whoever, though not a specialist, invades the province of anyscience, and ventures to express an opinion opposed to its officialrepresentatives, must be prepared to be rejected by them with anger, tobe accused of a lack of scholarship, “dilettantism,” or“want of method,” and to be treated as a completeignoramus. This has been the experience of all up to now who, while nottheologians, have expressed themselves on the subject of an historicalJesus. The like experience was not spared the author of the presentwork after the appearance of its first edition. He has been accused of“lack of historical training,” “bias,”“incapacity for any real historical way ofthinking,” &c., and it has been held up against him that inhis investigations their result was settled beforehand—as if thiswas not precisely the case with theologians, who write on the subjectof a historical Jesus, since it is just the task of theology to defendand establish the truth of the New Testament writings. Whoever haslooked about him in the turmoil of science knows that generally eachfellow-worker is accustomed to regard as “method” that onlywhich he himself uses as such, and that the famous conception of“scientific method” is very often ruled by points of viewpurely casual and personal.8 Thus, for example, we seethe theologian Clemen, in his investigation into the method ofexplaining the New Testament on religious-historical lines, seriouslyput the question to himself whether one “could not dispensehimself from refuting such books as finally arrive at theunauthenticity of all the Pauline epistles and the non-historicity ofthe whole, or at least of almost the whole, tradition concerning Jesus;for example, not only that of Bauer, but also those of Jensen andSmith.” This same Clemen advances the famous methodologicalaxiom: “An explanation on religious-historical lines isimpossible if it of necessity leads to untenable consequences or setsout from such hypotheses,”9 obviously thinking here ofthe denial of an historical Christ. For the rest, the“method” of “critical theology” consists, as iswell known, in applying an already settled picture of Jesus to theGospels and undertaking the critical sifting of their contentsaccording to this measure. This picture makes the founder of theChristian religion merely a pious preacher of morality in the sense ofpresent-day liberalism, the “representative of the noblestindividuality,” the incarnation of the modern ideal ofpersonality, or of some other fashionable theological view. Theologianscommence with the conviction that the historical Jesus was a kind of“anticipation of modern