This is an imperfect world. The greatest of human minds has its limitation.
The intelligent reader will already have guessed from the foregoing that the subject of this paper is George Bernard Shaw. It cannot be doubted that England today would be hard put to it to show a bare dozen men capable in their highest flights of the kind of thought which is the breath of life to Mr. Shaw. In destructive criticism he stands practically unchallenged.
But there seems to be one flaw in the emerald of his mind; one piece of bad steel in his bag of tools. He shares the almost universal infirmity of being unable to detach himself completely from the phenomena which he is observing. He loves to twist a text to suit his rope.
We had an excellent example of this failing in his book on "Wagner". Wagner was a socialist like Mr. Shaw himself; and Mr. Shaw felt himself bound to read the socialism into the operas. The monarchist might just as easily have claimed that Wagner was a king's favourite, and the operas mere praise of kingship. The position would be quite as easy to defend. The result of this was that Mr. Shaw found himself in a very awkward position, for the fourth drama of the Ring would not fit in. He was obliged to ask us to believe that Wagner suddenly and without reason abandoned his great and serious purpose, abandoned the whole course of his thought, and reverted to mere opera with an entire lack of consecution. It is really asking us to believe that Wagner became demented, exactly as one would say of an architect who gave forty years of his life to building a cathedral, and then gave up the design and finished it off with minarets. But let us to our muttons — or rather to our lions!
Criticism of Christianity by a thinker of Mr. Shaw's eminence marks an epoch in the history of religion. His preface to "Androcles and the Lion" is just as important as the ninety-five theses which Martin Luther nailed to the door of the church of Wittenburg. Mr. Shaw, as might be expected from so original a thinker, takes the fairest point of view. He asks us to clear our minds of everything that we have ever heard about Christianity, and to place ourselves in the position of the rude Indian whose untutored mind gains its first schooling in the gospels from a missionary. To this he only makes one reservation, that the reader must know something of the human imagination as applied to religion. This of course is rather like blowing a hole in the bottom of your boat before you launch it. But we will take Mr. Shaw as he stands.
I feel that the moment has come for a digression, of the nature of a personal apology. No one can feel more strongly than myself, I may add more painfully, the impertinence of an entirely obscure individual like myself to enter the lists, and offer to break a lance with Galahad! My only excuse is that I have a very special qualification, namely, an intimate knowledge of the Bible so deeply rooted that it seems hardly unfair to say that it formed the whole foundation of my mind.
My father was a leader of the Plymouth Brethren, and from the age of four, when I learnt to read, until I went to Trinity College, Cambridge, I had practically no books but the Bible; and the few I did get were carefully selected stories adapted for the use of the pious, and so, being devoid of literary merit, left no impression upon my mind. It should be explained further that the cardinal point of the faith of the Plymouth Brethren is an absolutely literal acceptance of the text of the authorized version of the Bible. It may give some idea of the extraordinary thoroughness with which I studied the Testaments if I mention that my father had a great perception of the beauty of antithesis, and frequently preached sermons on texts containing the word "but". At nine years old I went through my Bible word by word, and drew a square in ink around the word 'but' every time it occurred; as I occasionally missed one I went through it again and again, until I was sure that I had made no omission.
I was not very robust in health. I could not take the ordinary enjoyment in games. There was this further restriction that it might corrupt my morals to play with any others than the sons of Brethren, who were as difficult to find as pure and beautiful things usually are! Reading was therefore my principal resource, and I was thrown back again and again upon the Bible. My verbal memory is excellent, and I can still find almost any text that may be quoted to me in a few minutes search. This of course was aided by special training. The Plymouth Brethren, if the whirl of their lives should for some reason slacken slightly for a moment, would indulge in the wild dissipation of "Bible searching". Competitions were run by magazines, which gave lists of obscure texts, and the sportsman had to find them as best he might. It was of course a foul stroke to employ a Concordance, and even the use of a reference Bible was not considered quite playing the game. In this sportsman-like attitude I yet abide. In preparing this essay I have had no book whatever but the Bible itself — without reference columns (I procured later a 'Golden Bough'
etc., when I found quotation exigent).
It is trusted that this excuse may be deemed sufficient in this matter. The main axis of this paper will be a demonstration of the errors of omission and commission in Mr. Shaw's actual reading of his text. Other criticisms will be offered upon other points of the brilliant essay under discussion, but the edge of the axe, which it is proposed to lay to the root of Mr. Shaw's tree, is proof that he has entirely misread the Bible, that he has picked out texts to suit his purpose, and ignored those which contradict him; and that he has done this (no doubt unwittingly) in order to prove that the whole essence of the teaching of Jesus is no more or less than the epitome of the political propaganda of the distinguished essayist. Owing to the extraordinary reverence with which the name of Jesus has been fortified, that name has always been the ace of trumps in the hand of the theologian. It has always been the aim of every religious reformer to prove that Jesus Christ was on his side. The opinion of Jesus Christ on any matter was the decision of the Supreme Court. Every heretic based his ultimate argument on some saying of the prophet of Nazareth.
Mr. Shaw therefore, in spite of his brilliant, original manner of thought, has really done what every one else has done from Arius to Renan. Even the atheist is compelled to base his whole position upon the teaching of Christ. That and no other is the standard by which he measures his work. He evidently differs from St. Paul only by advancing this reason as a ground for disbelief and disagreement instead of faith and adherence. In Huxley's argument with Gladstone, the professor's whole aim was to prove that Jesus said certain things which were ridiculous or untrue, and did things which were unworthy or immoral. He relegated to the background the far more important position that the entire book is a collection of fables.
The argument of the preface to 'Androcles and the Lion' is then that Jesus Christ was an up-to-date socialist of the same shade of opinion as Mr. Bernard Shaw. We shall now proceed to show that this view is incompatible with a catholic exegesis of the text of the Bible as it stands. Mr. Shaw is singularly judicious in taking the text of the authorized version, and having as little as possible to do with the 'higher criticism', for no one knows better than Mr. Shaw that if we venture into that morass we shall be over our heads before we have taken three steps. The majority of persons who have gone deeply into the fundamental question of the Bible have come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is merely a convenient title, a kind of hatstand on which to hang the sayings and doings of a number of people, just in the same way as Zoroaster in the matter of the Chaldean Oracles, David in the matter of the collection of the Hebrew Songs which we call the Psalms, and possibly Homer as regards the Iliad and the Odyssey. Of course it is a common literary trick.
We now turn to the text of Mr. Shaw's essay.
Why Jesus More Than Another?
NOTE: Throughout, save for the exception presently to be noted, we follow Mr. Shaw's captions
It is extremely painful to find oneself obliged to begin by a direct attack upon Mr. Shaw's logic. "The record that Jesus said certain things is not invalidated by a demonstration that Confucius said them before him". This is perfectly true, but it is a valid reason for talking about Confucius rather than about Jesus. Mr. Shaw admits this to some extent; for the only reason that he gives for his choice of subject is that, "The imagination of mankind has picked out Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, and attributed all the Christian doctrines to him"; and he adds that "It is the doctrine and not the man that matters". In this case the doctrine should be argued on first principles. It is entirely beside the question as to whether Jesus ever existed, and it is therefore a rhetorical trick to associate the life of Christ with any such argument.
We go on to the next sentence. "Those who claim a literal divine paternity for him cannot be silenced by the discovery that the same claim was made for Alexander and Augustus". This is true enough, for such persons are not accessible to reason. If I assert antecedently incredible things, my proof depends on an investigation of the facts; but if it happens to be the case that my statement is identical, except for names and places, with the familiar statements of admitted lunatics or liars, no serious person will take the trouble to investigate the facts.
In the case under discussion, as it happens, the investigation of the facts is impossible. We are face to face with the fact that it was an invariable custom to honour any distinguished man by attributing divine parentage to him. It may have begun in magic or religion; but by the time of the alleged life of Jesus, it was hardly more than a literary flourish. In saying that Romulus and Remus were begotten by Mars upon a vestal virgin, no one with any sense of poetry combined with common sense would understand that the person making the statement wished to do more than emphasize their greatness as warriors, and to accentuate the chastity of their mothers.
Such a story was naturally also useful to impress the vulgar. It is to be remembered that in these times the art of writing was called magic. The old word for magic 'gramarye' merely means 'writing'. It was a miracle in the eyes of the vulgar to understand a man at a distance otherwise than by word of mouth. The whole question of miracles depends, as will be later demonstrated, upon the psychology of the people among whom they are performed. The claim of literal divine paternity for any person therefore only means that some one thought he was a great man. If we are to read anything more than this into any such text, we must admit that no one has any reason for attributing truth to one story more than to another. There is no choice for the logician, where science is silent, but to accept all or none.
There is little to criticize in this section of the essay. One does not question the courage of one who is "too proud to fight" when a few days previously he has given unmistakeable proofs of that quality by raiding the local Wall Street.
But we now come to the first of Mr. Shaw's troubles with the text of the Gospels. He should really read them again. He says, "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is a snivelling modern invention, with no warrant in the Gospels." Turning to the Gospel of Matthew, we find in the 11th Chapter and the 29th verse, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." This is a direct assertion of his meekness.
Now see Matthew XXI, 5. It was necessary for him to be meek on account of the prophesy, "Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, the King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass."
Meekness is also one of the cardinal points of his teaching. Matthew V,3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." and again, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." Again in the same chapter, verse 44. "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you". In Luke VI,30, we read: "Give to every man that asketh of thee: and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again". There are dozens of other similar passages.
This is certainly being "too meek to fight a policeman". Mr. Shaw then says, "That such a figure could ever have become a centre of the world's attention is too absurd for discussion". But in the texts cited above is the absolute demonstration that he was such a figure; and he certainly did become a centre of the world's attention, for here are Mr. Shaw and myself snarling over his bones!
This admirably clear section requires no comment.
The Gospels without Prejudice
"When I was young it was impossible to read them (the Gospels) without fantastic confusion of thought. The confusion was so utterly dumbfounded that it was called the proper spirit to read the Bible in. Jesus was a baby; and he was older than creation. He was a man who could be persecuted, stoned, scourged, and killed; and he was a God, immortal and all-powerful, able to raise the dead and call millions of angels to his aid. It was a sin to doubt either view of him: that is, it was a sin to reason about him; and the end was that you did not reason about him, and read about him only when you were compelled."
I must confess myself unable to see any confusion of thought in this matter. The explanation is given elsewhere in the preface itself. He was an 'avatar', to use the Indian phrase. He was playing a part, and he naturally accepted its limitations.
"Even skeptics who were especially on their guard, put the Bible in the dock, and read the Gospels with the object of detecting discrepancies in the four narratives to show that the writers were subject to error as the writers of yesterday's newspaper." Here we must remark that this labour was necessary. The theory of the Bible at that time was that it was written down at the direct dictation of the Holy Ghost. It was this theory which the skeptics were trying to shatter; and the whole argument therefore pivoted on the question of contradiction. In point of fact, the argument had been decided centuries before, the Catholic Church recognizing so clearly that the skeptics were right, that they forbade to the laity the perusal of the Scriptures, and refused to allow the validity of reason and logic as applied to exegesis.
The Gospels now Unintelligible to Novices
We cannot agree that the average reader will fail to make sense — or what he calls 'sense' — of the Gospels. Mr. Shaw forgets that the critical faculty is so rare among men that the average reader accepts whole pages of contradiction, or even sheer nonsense without noticing anything.
Even in the case of trained students, discrepancies are not always easy to recognize. Philosophies full of fallacy have passed muster for centuries, despite all the efforts of hostile schools. It may be said that the history of philosophy is but the record of alternate hypotheses and criticisms. How long was it before it was discovered that the argument for immortality in the Phaedo was one gigantic petitio principii?
Worldliness of the Majority
I can find no fault with this just section.
The Difference between Atonement and Punishment
In this section I find an important omission, and it is important to point it out on account of certain considerations whose use will be later apparent when we come to a full discussion of John Barleycorn. Primitive Peoples, by which I mean those in whom the sense of causality is not assimilated into the very structure of the mind, have a certain dread of happiness. There is a kind of feeling that luck will not last. We therefore find sacrifices offered in the moment of success. The vow of Jephthah to sacrifice the first living thing that met him, should he return victorious, is a case in point.
So also the Romans and Greeks enjoined that at the pinnacle of prosperity the thing which was dearest to the man should be sacrificed to the infernal gods. Greek drama is full of stories of the punishment of 'hubris', the state of mind which declared that everything was going well and would always do so, that the man was a fine fellow much too big to fall. We still 'touch wood', or, in Scotland, 'cauld airn'.
There was also the custom of slaying a man beneath the foundation stone of a building. The first-born son of the builder was considered a suitable offering. See Joshua VI:26 and II Kings XVI:34. This custom has survived to this day in symbolic form. We habitually bury coins and various other treasures in foundation stones, just as we still use the talismans of Mithras on the harness of our horses.
Thus, too, we have Abraham commanded to sacrifice his only begotten son, and thus, too, the Gospel story is the record of the sacrifice by God himself of his only begotten son. We give up the most precious thing we have, so that in other matters we may be left alone. Of course, being practical persons, we take something which is of no value to us whatever for this purpose; but in order to cheat God we make elaborate pretense that it is priceless. Here lies the essential formula of 'god-eating'; which Frazer and others have shown, is universal from Mesopotamia to Mexico. We take someone who doesn't matter, call him king and God, dress him up for the part, worship him, and treat him in every way accordingly. Then at the end of the appointed period we slay him barbarously. This thesis will be developed further in the proper place.
Salvation at first a Class Privilege; and the Remedy
Acute as Mr. Shaw invariably is, he appears to suffer from the sense of Sin, as one would expect in a Protestant Irishman of Scotch blood. As explained above, it is not so much the idea of escaping punishment as of escaping bad luck. There is little trace of the idea of sin in our modern sense of the word before Paul, except in the religions of the effeminate and cowardly inhabitants of some parts of the Indian Peninsula. Sacrifice is in Egypt simply a magical ritual to ensure the due rising of the Nile. The 'conviction of sin' is a modern invention due principally to the tyranny of a Pauline priestcraft. In the dark ages every calamity was attribted by the priests to sin; and, as calamities were frequent, the spirit of the people was broken. Today we have even a form of melancholia whose principal delusion is that the victim has committed the 'sin against the Holy Ghost'.
Such ravings are only possible to slave-peoples, just as the melancholia which persuades the sufferer that the has lost all his money only occurs in a commercialized civilization. The Jews themselves had the sense of sin derived from their four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, but nothing of the sort is found among virile peoples such as the Arabs and Afghans, who do not permit the domination of the priests. It does not appear even in India until the Brahmans had supplanted the Kahatriya or warrior caste. The sense of justice is very one-sided in the strong man armed. All he means by justice is the execution of his will upon the weaker man. The whole idea of sin and redemption is a direct metaphysical creation of the slave spirit.
We do not think that Mr. Shaw is quite justified in his aetiology of the centralization of the redeemer. It was the expansion of the Roman Empire, and the beginning of travel and commerce, which showed the various priests that multiplicity of competing temples was bad business. They got the idea of the Trust. The Christian Religion is packed in consequence with survivals of pagan rites.
May it be permitted to quote from an ancient manuscript preserved in one of the secret sanctuaries of Initiation, so closely treasured and so jealously guarded that perhaps not fifty living people have been privileged to see it?
"To those who have stultified themselves, who have darkened their own eyes, who have betrayed their own reason in seeking out phantastic gods, foul and tangled cobwebs of metaphysics spun by emasculate spider-professors in sunless cloisters, bubbles blown by idiots and madmen, myths misinterpreted, fables taken for history, lies pushed forward by every engine of forgery, fraud, intrigue, treachery, and murder, to such Truth seems false, and the Light darkness.
"Such gods as Parabrahman merely bewilder the people, and render them the prey of priestcraft, while the Christs alike of the Lutheran, Latin, and Anglican Churches are but the machine-gods of all fraud and oppression, being stolen and prostituted from that Christ in whom our fathers in the Gnosis strove to synthesize the warring Gods of Syria, Greece, Chaldea, Rome, and Egypt at the time when the growth of the Roman Empire first made travel possible, and the intercommunication of the priests of Mithras, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, Dionysus, Isis, Astarte, Venus and many scores of others. Traces of this recension are still visible in the Mass and in the Calendar of the Saints, all major Gods and Goddesses of universal import receiving the same honour by the same rites as before, while the local Gods were replaced by Saints, virgins, martyrs, or angels, often of the same name, always of the same character.
"Thus on the altar the Solar-phallic Crucifix is surrounded by six lights for the planets, to use one example only of a hundred at our disposal; and Christmas is at the winter solstice, the birth of Christ put for the birth of the Sun".
All these points may be studied in "La Messe et ses Mysteres", "Rome pagan and papal", "The two Babylons", "Rivers of Life", "Two essays on the worship of Priapus", and many other books. It is rather amusing to observe that ultra-Protestants, in proving that Roman Catholicism is pagan and phallic, which they do quite irrefutably, need merely to be confronted with the proof of the Catholics that every point of their religion is derived from Scripture, to form the premisses of a syllogism, whose conclusion is that Christianity is but an adaptation of Phallicism.
NOTE: Renan admitted that the only rational God is the Sun, who is in the Macrocosm what the Phallus is in the Microcosm.
Retrospective Atonement and the Expectation of the Redeemer
"There are periods when whole nations are seething with this expectation and crying aloud with prophecy of the Redeemer through their poets". By "whole nations" Mr. Shaw must be taken to mean the oppressed and unhappy in those nations. When people are prosperous they do not want a Redeemer. It is simply the manifestation of the slave spirit. Brave men redeem themselves whenever a nation or a class emancipates itself from oppression. Salvationism fades away. We have only to observe the decay of Christianity with the growing prosperity of the world since the conclusion of the continual wars of the middle ages, and to compare that with Frank Harris' story of his atheist friend, who, having lost two sons at the front, wrote with regard to the third: "Que Dieu l'ait en sa sainte garde!" "May God have him in His Holy Keeping!"
Completion of the Scheme by Luther and Calvin
There is little to say about this section, but one sentence calls for attention. We see one of the great flaws in Mr. Shaw's critical chisel. "In India men pay with their own skins, torturing themselves hideously to attain holiness."
This is one of those half truths which are more misleading than any lie. For holiness in India means control of the body and mind, of the emotions, thoughts, and passions, and the reward is supposed to be the mastery of nature as well as deliverance from sin and its penalties. In fact they pursue precisely the same course of conduct as the chemist, who risks his life and denies himself all ordinary human pleasures in order to make discoveries in his science.
Elsewhere in this essay will be found many references to what may be called the John Barleycorn ritual. It is only necessary here to make one or two remarks with regard to the eating of the god. It is a perfectly rational idea that, by taking a divine substance, and making it part of oneself by the miracle of assimilation, the eater should become possessed of the qualities of the substance.
The theory has in fact never been disproved. Per Mr. Shaw, nine vegetarians in ten have to give up their revolting habit sooner or later; and there is this argument for the inherence of some metaphysical quality in living protoplasm which does not depart immediately on the occurrence of death, that fresh meat is found by the experience of explorers to be much more revivifying than canned meat; and the canned meat itself degenerates noticeably with time, though there is no apparent change in the food. In the extreme case of eating living food, it is within the experience of everybody that raw oysters pick one up quicker than anything else. It is not a question of nutriment alone, the replacing of the tissues to repair their expenditure. It is the actual entrance into the body of some subtle substance, or, as the ancients would have said, divine substance, which manifests itself in the eater as abundance of life and joy. It is also impossible to doubt that Catholics obtain real spiritual sustenance from the Host.
Mr. Shaw will doubtless reply that many people are cured by homeopathic medicines, and by Christian Science. But this is merely to admit the argument, and even to confirm it, since the facts are not disputed. The efficacy of the rite of god-eating is incontestable; and it is important, if only to help the imagination, that the substance of the sacrament should be supremely, and sublimely, that thing of all things which is believed by the partaker to be the most precious, and the most holy, and the most powerful thing that exists either in heaven or upon earth. This of course is the main argument for transubstantiation. To eat a piece of bread merely in order to remind oneself of an event, which one has gone to church especially to commemorate, is a work of supererogation, redundancy, and naughty superfluity.
Mr. Shaw is on dangerous ground historically in his last paragraph. "From the interweaving of these two traditions, (the theory of god eating and the resurrection of John Barleycorn) with the craving for the Redeemer, you at last get the conviction that when the Redeemer comes he will be immortal; he will give up his body to eat and his blood to drink; and he will prove his divinity by suffering a barbarous death without resistance or reproach, and rise from the dead and return to earth in glory as the giver of life eternal". It is open to argument that the three ideas are really one from the beginning, and are either symbolical representation, or actual sympathetic magic, whose basis is to be found in those facts of the life of the earth, and of its inhabitants, which are obvious to the most ignorant of savages as well as to the most enlightened men of science.
Looking for the End of the World
Mr. Shaw is exceedingly right, even for him, in this section. The whole of the belief in heaven, and in hell, of a great upheaval of existing conditions, and their supersession by a permanent state of reward and punishment is suited, both to the masters for efficient bribes and threats which cost them nothing and to the slaves to gratify (equally without expense) their hopes of emancipation and revenge, or, when they have become ineradicably slaves, their prospect of adequate reward for that subservience.
The Honour of Divine Parentage
In a previous section comment has been made upon this matter, and it will again be referred to later. Here it is only necessary to establish Mr. Shaw's carelessness in the reading of his text. He says, "As the gospels stand, St. Matthew and St. Luke give genealogies (the two are different) establishing the descent of Jesus through Joseph, and yet declare that not Joseph but the Holy Ghost was the father of Jesus". He adds further, a little lower down, "It is quite possible that Matthew and Luke may have been unconscious of the contradiction".
There is no contradiction. Matthew says, Chapter I, verse 16: "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." His purpose is evidently to show that Mary was a 'femme coverte', the wife of a highly respectable person, even a man of royal descent. He seems to mean no more than this, although he does loosely speak of "Jesus Christ, the Son of David", in the first verse. Luke again says, Chapter III, verse 23: "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli". It may be remarked parenthetically that there is no agreement even on the point of who was the father of Joseph, and it is also interesting to note that Matthew (Chapter I, verse 6) derives his line from David through Solomon, while Luke in verse 31 of the Chapter above mentioned derives him through Nathan.
It is more important to discuss somewhat fully the arguments in favor of the view that the whole story of the virgin birth is a late interpolation, a view which Mr. Shaw, if he does not hold, at least does not discourage. It is first to be noted that Mark and John know absolutely nothing of the story. Jesus appears suddenly, just as did Elijah in the Old Testament. He comes upon the scene as an adult. Matthew, as will be seen later, appears to be merely a new and enlarged edition of Mark specially prepared for a particular class of readers; while Luke is evidently the very much later romance (in all probability of a Greek physician) comparable, except for the quality of the Greek, to 'Daphnis and Chloe', or the 'Golden Ass'. He had presumably access to a manuscript of Mark or Matthew, but takes as many liberties with his text as Shakespeare did with "Macbeth".
As Mr. Shaw says, Paul knew nothing of the divine birth. In Romans, Chapter I, verse 3 and 4, he says, "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead". It seems likely, however, that Paul knew of the story and strongly objected to it, as likely to raise trouble in the Church; for in his first Epistle to Timothy he says in the first Chapter, the third and fourth verses, "As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went to Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith; so do." They could hardly have been squabbling about any other genealogy than that of Jesus himself.
This Epistle to Timothy was written from Laodicea, but after Paul had been some time in Rome, he may have thought that the story was good bait; for in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which was written from Italy, he begins to hedge. The whole of the first chapter is a kind of ode upon Jesus as the Son of God, "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power", as if he had to some extent adopted the metaphysical view of John. But of course there is nothing to show that he had heard the story of the virgin birth. We have seen that Mark and John do not mention it. The majority of scholars hold that Mark was the scribe of Peter, or in some way got his information from that source. Whether this be so or not, it is very remarkable that neither mentions what seems to us such a vitally important matter.
But they are not even aware that Jesus was born at Bethlehem! In the first Chapter of Mark, the ninth verse, it says simply that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee. John begins in the 29th verse of his 1st Chapter, "John seeth Jesus coming unto him," but does not say where he comes from. However, in the 45th verse, Philip, having been chosen by Jesus as a disciple, goes to Nathaniel and says to him, "we have found him, of whom Moses in the law , and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathaniel said unto him, can then any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
In the 7th Chapter John speaks of the brethren of Jesus without any hint that there is a mystery in the matter, and in the same Chapter we find in verses 41 and 42, "Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out Galilee? Hath not the Scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" And again in verse 52, the controversy again arises: "They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet."
The whole matter would have been settled in a moment by the explanation of how the birth took place at Bethlehem on account of Caesar taxing the world, and how, in consequence of the visit of the Wise Men, Herod massacred the innocents, a trifling circumstance which ought to have aroused remark even in those days, and one which (one would have thought) would cause trouble with the procurator. But they do not know the story, and they cannot set the Jews right on the point. It seems not altogether an unreasonable suggestion that this argument against Christianity so stuck in the gullet of every orthodox Jew that it became absolutely necessary to invent a story to controvert it.
Mr. Shaw sums up these first pages with the remark that, "With no more scholarly equipment than a knowledge of these habits of the human imagination, anyone may now read the four gospels without bewilderment, and without the contemptuous incredulity which spoils the temper of the modern atheists." We may remark that the temper of the modern atheists may have been spoiled not by their contemptuous incredulity, but by the systematic torture to which as children they were subjected in the name of Jesus. As to the bewilderment, Mr. Shaw says himself, "Let us admit that without the proper clues the gospels are, to a modern educated person, nonsensical and incredible, whilst the Apostles are unreadable. But with the clues, they are fairly plain sailing. Jesus becomes an intelligible and consistent person." Mr. Shaw seems to think that he has given us the clues in the pages which we have been reviewing. It is true that the reasons of Jesus for permitting himself to be crucified were plain enough, but Mr. Shaw assumes without proof that this is the crux of the difficulty. To a certain extent, unquestionably, we have been helped by this preface to the preface. But one still feels a little sympathetic over Mr. Shaw's friend the "writer of distinguished intellectual competence", who was yet so simple that he had not even so much "Scholarly Equipment", as "a knowledge of these habits of the human imagination", now revealed to us by Mr. Shaw, the result being that "he found it all such nonsense that he could not stick it". His position is exceedingly painful, and he must now be feeling it acutely. Worst of all, it sounds terribly as if it might be Mr. H.G. Wells. And it appears to a mind possibly dull of understanding, that there are still many contradictory and phantastielements to the stories, which need further clues to lead us to the heart of their labyrinth. At the end of this essay, when it has been demonstrated that Mr. Shaw's whole reading of the gospels has been as carefully selected as that of any other heretic, an endeavour will be made to put into the hands of the reader the true theory of the narrative, its sources, and reasons for its shape. It is a concatenation, and must be resolved into its links. But at present it is necessary to follow our laughing philosopher into his own analysis of the elements of the Testament.