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OF THE USE IT IS PROPER TO MAKE OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL IN WRITING THE LIFE OF JESUS.
The greatest difficulty which presents itself to the historian of Jesus is the value of the sources upon which such a history rests. On the one hand, what is the value of the Gospels called synoptic? On the other, what use is to be made of the fourth Gospel in writing the life of Jesus? On the first point all those who occupy themselves with these studies, according to the critical method, are thoroughly in accord. The synoptics represent the tradition, often legendary, of the two or three first Christian generations in regard to the person of Jesus. This permits of much uncertainty in the application, and necessitates the continual employment in the narrative of the formulas: “Some have said this,” “Others have related that,” &c. But that suffices to inform us as to the general character of the founder, the charm and the principal features of his teaching, and even as regards the most important circumstances of his life. The writers of the life of Jesus, who confine themselves to the employment of the synoptics, do not differ more from one another than the narrators of the life of Mahomet who have made use of the hadith. The biographers of the Arab prophet may take different views of the value of such and such a document. But, on the whole, they are all agreed as to the value of the hadith. They all, according to their manner, class them along with those legendary and traditional documents, but not as precise documents of history properly speaking.268
Upon the second point, I desire to say, in regard to the employment it is fitting to make of the fourth Gospel, that there is disagreement. I have, with many reserves and precautions, made use of this document. In the opinion of excellent judges, I ought not to have made any use of it, with the exception of chapters xvii. and xix., which contain the narrative of the Passion. Almost all the enlightened criticisms which I have received apropos of my work are in accord on that point. I am not surprised at this: for I could not be ignorant of the somewhat contrary opinion as to the historic value of the fourth Gospel which obtains in the liberal schools of theology. Objections coming from men so eminent rendered it imperative that I should submit my opinion to the test of a new examination. Putting to one side the question as to knowing who wrote the fourth Gospel, I set myself to follow that Gospel through, paragraph by paragraph, as if it had come to me as a manuscript newly discovered, without the name of the author. Let us divest ourselves of every preconceived idea, and let us endeavour to render an account of the impressions produced on us by that singular writing.
§ 1. The opening verses (i. 1-14) raise within us at once the gravest suspicions. This introduction transports us into the very heart of apostolic theology, presents no resemblance to the synoptics, puts forth ideas assuredly very different from those of Jesus and of his true disciples. At the outset this prologue warns as that the work in question cannot be a simple history, transparent and impersonal like the narrative of Mark, for example; that the author has a theology; that he wishes to prove a thesis, to wit, that Jesus is the divine logos. We are hence admonished to take great precautions. Is it necessary, nevertheless, in regard to this first page, to reject the book in its entirety, and to perceive an imposture in the 14th verse, in which the author declares he has been a witness of the events which compose the life of Jesus?
That would be, in my opinion, a premature conclusion. A work full of theological ideas may embrace valuable historical information. Were not the synoptics written with the constant preoccupation of demonstrating that Jesus realised all the Messianic prophecies? Because of this, 269are we to give up searching in their accounts for a historical basis? The theory of the logos, which is so strongly developed in our Gospel, is not a reason for rejecting it at the middle or close of the second century. The belief that Jesus was the logos of the Alexandrian theology must have been early put forward, and that in a most logical manner. Happily, the founder of Christianity had no idea of that kind. But, from the year 68, it was already called “The Word of God.” Apollos, who was from Alexandria, and who appears to have resembled Philo, passes already (about the year 57) for a new preacher, holding peculiar doctrines. These ideas are in perfect accord with the state of mind in which the Christian community found itself, when people despaired of seeing Jesus appear soon in the clouds as the Son of Man. A change of the same kind appears to have been wrought in the opinions of St. Paul. We knew the difference there is between the first epistles of that Apostle and the last. The hope, for example, of the immediate coming of Christ, which pervades the two epistles to the Thessalonians, disappears towards the end of the life of St. Paul. The Apostle then turns his attention towards another order of invention. The doctrine of the epistle to the Colossians has a great resemblance to that of the fourth Gospel, Jesus being represented in the said epistle as the image of the in, visible God, the first-born of every creature, by whom every-thing has been created, who was before all things, and through whom everything subsists, in whom the plenitude of the Divinity corporeally dwells. Is there not here the “Word” of Philo? I know there are those who reject the authenticity of the epistle to the Colossians, but for reasons, in my opinion, altogether insufficient. These changes of theories, or rather of style, amongst the men of those times, men who were filled with ardent passion, are, within certain limits, matters quite admissible. Why should not the crisis which was produced in the soul of St. Paul not be produced in other apostles, men in the last years of the first century? When the “kingdom of God,” as it is described in the synoptics and the apocalypse, had become a chimera, people took refuge in metaphysics. The theory of the logos was the consequence of the disappointment of the first Christian generation. People carried 270into the ideal that which they hoped to see realised in the order of things. Each delay that was put on the coming of Jesus was one step more towards his deification; and this is so true that it was exactly at the hour when the last Millenarian dream vanished that the divinity of Jesus was proclaimed in an absolute manner.
§ 2. Let us return to our subject. According to consecrated usage the evangelist commences his narrative with the mission of John the Baptist. That which he says of the relations of John with Jesus is similar in many points to the tradition of the synoptics; in other points the divergence is considerable. The theory, soon held so dear by all the Christians, according to which John proclaimed the divine mission of Jesus, is greatly exaggerated by our author. Things are better managed in the synoptics, where John entertains to the end doubts as to the character of Jesus, and sends to him messengers to question him. The narrative of the fourth Gospel implies a perfectly prearranged plan, and confirms us in the idea that we have divined the prologue, to wit, that the author sought rather to prove than to record. We shall discover presently, however, that the author, though differing much from the synoptics, possesses many traditions in common with them. He cites the same prophecies; like them he believes in a dove which should descend upon the head of Jesus immediately after baptism. But his narrative is less ingenuous, more advanced, more ripe, if I may so speak. One single detail staggers me; this is v. 28, which fixes the place with precision. Admit that the designation Bethania is inexact (Bethania was not known along those coasts, and the Greek interpreters have arbitrarily substituted Bethabara for it), what does it matter? A theologian having nothing Jewish about him, nor possessing any recollections direct or indirect of Palestine, a pure theorist like him who composed the prologue, would not have put in that detail. What did this topographical detail matter to a sectary of Asia Minor or of Alexandria? If the author inserted it, it was because he had a substantial reason for so doing, either in the documents he possessed or in some recollections. Already, then, we are led to think that our theologian is indeed able to inform us of things in regard to the life of Jesus of which the synoptics knew nothing. Nothing, certainly, 271proves ocular testimony. But it must at least be supposed that the author had other sources of information from those which we have, and that to us it may well have the value of an original.
§ 3. Beginning with v. 35 we read about a series of conversions of apostles, associated together in a manner not very natural, and which do not correspond with the accounts of the synoptics. Can it he maintained that the accounts of these last have here a historical superiority? No. The conversions of the apostles recorded in the synoptics are all cast in the same mould; one perceives that a legendary and idyllic type is being indistinctly applied to all narratives of this species. The short narratives of the fourth Gospel have more character and angles less polished. They much resemble badly edited recollections of one of the apostles. I know that the narratives of simple-minded people and of children always enter much into details. I do not insist upon the minutiæ of v. 39. But wherefore that idea of connecting the first conversion of disciples with the sojourn of Jesus near John the Baptist? Whence come these so precise particulars about Philip, about the father of Andrew and Peter, and, above all, about Nathaniel? This latter personage belongs to our Gospel. I cannot hold the latter as inventions which were concocted a hundred years after Jesus and far away from Palestine, together with the so precise details which are reported of him. If he is a symbolical personage, why are we troubled with being told that he was of Cana of Galilee, a city that our evangelist appeared to be particularly well acquainted with? Why should anyone have invented all this? There is no dogmatic intention implied, if it be not in v. 51, which is put in the mouth of Jesus. Above all, there is no symbolical intention. I believe in intentions of this kind when they are indicated, and, if 1 might say so, underlined by the author. I do not believe in them when the mystic allusion is not self-indicative. The allegorical exegete does not speak in half sentences; he presents his argument and insists upon it with complacency. I say as much also of the sacramental numbers. The adversaries of the fourth Gospel have remarked that the miracles it records are seven in number. If the author himself had selected this number it would be 272a serious matter, and would prove his motives. The author did not count them; he must only have taken them up at random.
The discussion on this point is somewhat favourable to our text. Verses 35 to 51 have a more historic turn than the corresponding passages in the synoptics. It seems that the fourth evangelist was better acquainted than the other narrators of the life of Jesus with that which concerned the vocation of the apostle; I admit that it was the school of John the Baptist from which Jesus attached to himself the first disciples, whose names remain celebrated; I opine that the principal apostles were disciples of John the Baptist before they became disciples of Jesus, and this affirms the importance which the whole of the first Christian generation accorded to John the Baptist. If this importance, as is argued by the learned Hollandic school, was in part factitious, and conceived almost wholly to sustain the rôle of Jesus as respects an incontestable authority, why was John the Baptist chosen, a man who was not held in great repute except by the Christian family? The truth, in my opinion, is, that John the Baptist was not only for the disciples of Jesus a simple guarantee, but was also for them a first master, with whom they indissolubly connected the recollection of the very beginnings of the mission of Jesus. A fact of greater importance is that the baptism conserved by Christianity as the necessary introduction to a new life is a mark of the origin which still attests, in a visible fashion, that Christianity was at first a detached branch of the school of John the Baptist.
The fourth Gospel should then be limited to the first chapter, which must be defined as “a fragment made up of traditions or of recollections hastily written, and occupied with a theology far removed from the primitive Christian spirit; a chapter of legendary biography, in which the author permits the introduction of traditional data, which he often transforms, but invents nothing.” If the question is one of à priori biography, it is indeed rather in the synoptics that I find a biography of that sort. It is the synoptics which make Jesus to be born at Bethlehem, which make him go into Egypt, which lead the Magi to him, &c., for the necessities of the cause. It is Luke who creates or 273admits personages who perhaps never existed. The Messianic prophets, in particular, prepossessed our author less than the synoptics, and occasioned in him fewer fabulous recitals. In other terms, we already reach, in that which concerns the fourth Gospel, the distinction between the narrative basis and the doctrinal basis. In the first, Jesus appears to us as a powerful being, superior in certain points to the Jesus of the synoptics; but the second is a great distance from the actual discourses of Jesus, such as the synoptics, particularly Matthew, have preserved to us.
A circumstance, moreover, strikes us from this moment. The author wishes it to be accepted that the two first disciples of Jesus were Andrew and another disciple. Andrew very soon attracts Peter, his brother, who thus finds himself put a little into the shade. The second disciple is not named. But, in comparing this passage with others we encounter later on, we are induced to think that the other unnamed disciple is none other than the author of the Gospel, or at least one who wishes to pass himself off for the author. In the last chapters of the book, in fact, we shall see the author speaking with a certain mystery of himself, and, what is most remarkable, affecting always to place himself before Peter, even when recognising the hierarchical superiority of the latter. Let us observe also that in the synoptics the vocation of John is closely associated with that of Peter; but in the Acts John is continually represented as the companion of Peter. A double difficulty is hence presented to us. For, if the unnamed disciple is really John, the son of Zebedee, one is led to think that John, the son of Zebedee, is the author of our Gospel. To suppose that an impostor, in wishing to make believe that the author is John, had had the intention of not naming John and of designating him in an enigmatical fashion, would be to impute to him a ridiculous artifice. On the other hand, are we to understand that, if the real author of our Gospel commenced by being a disciple of John the Baptist, he speaks of the latter in a fashion so little historical, that the synoptic Gospels on this point are superior to his narrative?
§ 4. Paragraph ii. 1-12 is a miraculous recital like so many others to be found in the synoptics. There is in the structure of the narrative a little more of mise-en-scène, 274something less ingenuous; nevertheless, there is nothing in the groundwork which departs from the general colouring of the tradition. The synoptics do not speak of this miracle; but it is quite natural that, in the rich marvellous legend which circulated, some were acquainted with one detail, others with another. The allegorical explanation, based principally upon verse 10, and according to which water and wine were to be the old and the new alliance, imputes to the author, in my opinion, a thought which he did not possess. Verse 11 proves that, in the eyes of the latter, the whole narrative has but one aim—to manifest the power of Jesus. The mention of the little town of Cana, and of the sojourn the mother of Jesus made there, is not forgotten. If the miracle of the water being changed into wine had been invented by the author of the fourth Gospel, as is supposed by the adversaries of the historic value of the said Gospel, why introduce this detail? Verses 11 and 12 furnish a connected train of facts. What importance would such topographical circumstances have to Hellenist Christians of the second century? The apocryphal Gospels do not proceed in this manner. They are vague, destitute of local colouring, constructed by people who had no regard for Palestine. Let us add, moreover, that our evangelist always speaks of Cana of Galilee, a wholly obscure small town. How was it possible to create with an after-stroke a celebrity for that small borough, of which assuredly the semignostic Christians of Asia Minor had but faint recollections?
§ 5. That which follows verse 13 is of high interest, and constitutes a decisive triumph for our Gospel. According to the synoptics, Jesus, from the commencement of his public life, only made one visit to Jerusalem. The sojourn of Jesus in that city lasted only a few days, at the end of which he was put to death. That admits of enormous difficulties which I do not repeat here, having touched on them in the “Life of Jesus.” A few weeks (if we suppose that the intention of the synoptics goes the length of attributing this stay to the interval which supervened between his triumphal entry and his death) would not have sufficed for all that Jesus ought to do at Jerusalem. Many circumstances placed by the synoptics in Galilee, above all the wranglings with the 275Pharisees, have but little meaning outside of Jerusalem. All the events which follow the death of Jesus go to prove that his sect had taken deep root at Jerusalem. If the things took place there which Matthew and Mark would have us believe did, Christianity was in an especial manner developed in Galilee. Mere sojourners for a few days would not have chosen Jerusalem for their capital. St. Paul entertains not one souvenir of Galilee: for him the new religion was born at Jerusalem. The fourth Gospel, which admits that Jesus made many journeys to and long sojourns in the capital, appears then much nearer the truth. Luke, in this instance, seems to be in secret harmony with our author, or rather gravitates between the two opposing systems. This is very important, for we shall reveal soon other circumstances where Luke sails along with the author of the fourth Gospel, and seems to have had a knowledge of the same traditions.
But there is yet something more striking. The first circumstance of the sojourns of Jesus at Jerusalem reported by our evangelist is likewise reported by the synoptics, and placed by them almost on the eve of the death of Jesus; this is the driving of the merchants out of the temple. Is it to a Galilean that, on the morrow of his arrival at Jerusalem, we can attribute with any show of likelihood such an act, which, however, might have had some reality, since it is reported in each of the four texts ? In the chronological arrangement of the narrative, the advantage belongs entirely to our author. It is evident that the synoptics accumulated during the last days circumstances which were furnished to them by tradition, and that they did not know where to place them.
We must now touch upon a question which it is time to clear up. We have already found that our evangelist possessed many traditions in common with the synoptics (the part played by John the Baptist, the dove at the baptism, the etymology of the name Cephas, the names of at least three of the apostles, the merchants who were driven from the temple). Does our evangelist imbibe this from the synoptics? No: for he presents these same circumstances with two important differences. Whence, then, did he get these narratives in common? Evidently from tradition, or 276from recollections. But what does this import, except that the author has sketched for us an original version of the life of Jesus, that this life ought to be put at the very outset upon the same footing as the other biographies of Jesus, but afterwards to be decided in detail by motives of preference? An inventor à priori of a life of Jesus would have nothing in common with the synoptics, or would paraphrase them as is done in the apocrypha. The symbolical and dogmatic intention would have been in that case much more sensible. In the whole of his writings there would then have been reason and intention. There would not have been that sort of indifferent and disinterested circumstances which abound in our narrative. There is nothing which resembles the biography of an æon; it is not thus that the Hindoo writes his lives of Krishna, or recounts the incarnations of Vishnu. An example of this species of composition, in the first centuries of our era, is the Pista Sophia attributed to Valentinus. In the latter there is nothing real: all is truly symbolical and ideal. The same remark applies to “The Gospel of Nicodemus,” which is an artificial composition, founded entirely on metaphors. In our text, which possesses similar amplification, there is a lacuna, and, if it were imperative to find analogous amplifications amongst the canonical Gospels, it would be in the synoptics rather than in our Gospel that we should have to seek for them.
§ 6. There follows another incident, the relation of which to the synoptics is no less remarkable. The latter, or at least Matthew and Mark, report, apropos of the proceedings of Jesus and of his agony on Golgotha, a phrase that Jesus would have given expression to, and which would have been one of the principal causes of his condemnation: “Destroy this temple and I will build it up again in three days.” The synoptics do not say that Jesus had uttered these words: on the contrary, they treat that as false testimony. Our evangelist records that Jesus did in fact give utterance to this incriminating expression. Did he take this sentence from the synoptics? It is hardly probable: for he gives a different version of it, and even an allegorical explanation of which the synoptics are not cognisant. It seems, then, that here he adhered to an original tradition, one more original even than that of the synoptics, since the latter do 277not cite directly the expression of Jesus, and only report an echo of it. True it is that, in placing this sentence two years before the death of Jesus, the compiler of the fourth Gospel yields to an idea which does not seem to be the most happy.
Observe the Jewish historical characteristic in v. 20; it is a good enough counterfeit and accords sufficiently well with Josephus.
§ 7. The verses ii. 23-25 are rather unfavourable to our text; they are sluggish, cold and tiresome; they smell of the apologist and the polemic. They prove a premeditated compilation, and are much posterior to that of the synoptics.
§ 8. Let us look now at the episode of Nicodemus (iii. 1-21). I naturally sacrifice the whole of the conversation of Jesus with that Pharisee. It is a fragment of apostolic, not evangelic, theology. Such a conversation could only have been reported by Jesus or Nicodemus. Both hypotheses are equally improbable. Moreover, on leaving v. 12 the author forgets the personage he has introduced into the scene, and launches into a general explanation which is addressed exclusively to the Jews. It is here that we detect one of the essential characteristics of our author: his liking for theological conversations, his tendency to attach to such conversations, incidents more or less historic. Fragments of this sort teach us nothing more regarding the doctrine of Jesus than the dialogues of Plato do regarding the thoughts of Socrates. They are imaginary, not traditional compositions. We can only compare them with the harangues that the ancient historians make no scruple of imputing to their heroes. These discourses are far removed both from the style and the ideas of Jesus; on the contrary, they present a similitude corresponding exactly with the theology of the prologue (i. 1-14), where the author speaks in his own name. Is the circumstance to which the author attaches this conversation historical, or is it his own invention? It is difficult to say. I incline, however, to the former; for the fact is reported further on (xix. 39), and Nicodemus is mentioned elsewhere (vii. 50 and following). I am constrained to believe that Jesus in reality had relations with a person of consideration of that name, and that the author of 278our Gospel, who knew that, has chosen Nicodemus, like as Plato has chosen Phaeton or Alcibiades as interlocutors in one of his great theoretical dialogues.
§ 9. The v. 22 and following up to v. 2 of chapter iv., transport us, in my opinion, into real history. They show us anew Jesus near John the Baptist, but on this occasion surrounded with a group of disciples. Jesus, like John, baptizes, attracts the multitude more than the latter, and has greater success than he. The disciples, like their master, baptize, and a jealousy, to which the chiefs of the sect rise superior, is kindled between the two schools. This is most remarkable; for the synoptics contain nothing of the kind. As for me, I regard this episode as exceedingly probable. What in certain details it possesses of the inexplicable is far from invalidating the historical value of the ensemble. It contains things which we can only half understand, but which fit in well with the hypothesis of writings of personal recollections, intended for a limited circle. Such obscurities, on the contrary, are not to be explained in a work composed with the single aim of making certain ideas prevail. Those ideas enter everywhere. There could not have been so many singular incidents and without apparent signification. The topography, moreover, is here most precise (v. 22, 23). We do not know, it is true, where Latim was, but Λινών is a significant hint. It is the word Ænawan, the Chaldean plural of Aïn or Æn, “fountain.” How can you account for some Hellenic sectaries being able to divine this? They could not be the name of any locality, or they would have stood for one which was well known, or they would have coined an impossible word in its relationship to the Semitic etymology.
The sentiment of v. 24 has likewise justness and precision. The connection between v. 25 and that which precedes and follows, which is not very apparent, dispels the idea of a fictitious composition. We should say that here we have notes which have been badly edited, old recollsctions loosely put together, yet at times possessing great lucidity. What could be more artless than the thought at v. 26, and repeated at v. 1 of chapter iv.? Verses 27-36 are quite of another character. The author trips again in his discourse, to which it is impossible to attribute any claim 279to authenticity. But verse 1 of chapter iv. possesses anew rare transparency, while as to verse v. 2 it is important. The author, in a sort of repenting himself of what he has written, and believing that no evil consequences will be deduced from his narrative, instead of erasing it, inserts a parenthesis which is in flagrant contradiction with that which precedes. He no longer assumes that Jesus has baptized; he pretends that it was only his disciples who baptized. We hold that v. 2 was added later. The fact will always remain that the passage iii. 22 and following is in no wise a fragment of à priori theology, since, on the contrary, the à priori theologian takes up the pen at v. 2 to contradict this passage and to free it from that which might have proved embarrassing.
§ 10. We now come to the interview of Jesus with the Samaritan woman and the mission to the Samaritans (iv. 1-42). Luke knew of this mission, which probably was real. Here, however, the theory of those who do see in out Gospel only a series of fictions is destined to lead to an exposition of principles worthy of being studied. The details of the dialogue are evidently fictitious. On the other hand, the topography of v. 3-6 is satisfactory. Only a Palestine Jew who had often passed the entrance to the Valley of Sichem could have written that. Verses 5, 6 are not exact, but the tradition which is there mentioned may have come from Gen. xxxiii. 19; xlviii. 22; Josh. xxiv. 32. The author seems to make a play on words (Sichar for Sichem), by which the Jews believed they cast bitter raillery upon the Samaritans. I do not think that people were so very solicitous at Ephesus about the hatred which divided the Jews from the Samaritans, and of the mutual interdict which existed between them (v. 9). The allusions which people pretend to see in the verses 16-18 to the religious history of Samaria appears to me to be forced, and v. 22 is important. It cuts asunder the admirable sentence, “Woman, believe me, the time is come . . .” and expresses a wholly opposed sentiment. It would seem that there is here an analogous correction at v. 2 of the same chapter, where either the author or one of his disciples corrects an idea which he found dangerous or too bold. In any case, this verse is profoundly imbued with Jewish 280prejudices. It is beyond my comprehension, if it was written about the year 130 or 150 in the circle of Christianity the most removed from Judaism. V. 35 is exactly in the style of the synoptics and is the actual words of Jesus. The sentence is a splendid relic (v. 21-23, when 22 is omitted). There is no rigorous authenticity for such sentences. How is it to be admitted that Jesus or the Samaritan woman related the conversation they had had together? The Oriental manner of narration is essentially anecdotic, everything with them resolves itself into precise and palpable facts. General phrases, with us expressing a tendency or general state, are to them unknown. There is thus here an anecdote which we can no more admit than all the other anecdotes of history. But the anecdote often contains a truth. If Jesus never pronounced that Divine sentence, the sentence is none the less his—the sentence would not have existed apart from him. I am aware that in the synoptics there often occur principles wholly opposed to one another, circumstances in which Jesus treats the Jews with great severity. But there are likewise some others in which the broad spirit that pervades this chapter of John is to be found. Discrimination is imperative. It is in these last passages that I discover the true thought of Jesus. The others are, in my opinion, blemishes and lapses, proceeding from disciples only moderately capable of comprehending their master and of extracting his thought.
§ 11. Verses 43-45 of chapter iv. contain something which astonishes. The author pretends that it was at Jerusalem, at the time of the feasts, that Jesus made his great demonstrations. It seems that there, this was a habit of his. But that which proves that such a habit, although erroneous, was connected with recollections is that it is supported (v. 44) by a saying of Jesus which is also reported in the synoptics and which has a high character of authenticity.
§ 12. Ver. 46 of ch. iv., which recalls the small town of Cana, is not to be explained in a composition fictitious and uniquely dogmatic. Thus (v. 46-54) there is a miracle of healing, strongly resembling those which abound in the synoptics and which with some variations respond to the one which is recorded at Matt. viii. 5 and following, and at Luke vii. 1 and following. This is very remarkable, for it proves that 281the author does not invent his miracles to please, and that in recounting them he follows a tradition. To sum up, in regard to the seven miracles mentioned there are only two the marriage feast at Cana and the resurrection of Lazarus) of which there is no trace in the synoptics. The five others are to be found there with some differences of detail.
§ 13. Chapter v. constitutes a fragment apart. Here the processes of the author are nakedly exhibited. He recounts a miracle which is attested to have taken place at Jerusalem with some dramatic details calculated to render the prodigy more striking, and he seizes this occasion for making a long and dogmatic discourse against the Jews. Does the author invent the miracle or does he take it from tradition? If he invents it, we must admit that he had lived at Jerusalem, for he knows the city well (v. 2 and following). It is not a question of Bethesda; yet, to have invented this name and the circumstances relating to it, the author of the fourth Gospel must have known Hebrew, which is a thing the adversaries of our Gospel do not admit. It is more probable that he made the tradition the basis of his account. This account presents, in fact, notable parallelisms to Mark. A part of the Christian community then attributed miracles to Jesus which were attested to have taken place at Jerusalem. This is a very serious matter. That Jesus had acquired great renown in thaumaturgy in a country simple, rustic, and favourably disposed like Galilee, is quite natural. Even had he not in a single instance connived at the execution of marvellous acts, these acts would have taken place in spite of him. His thaumaturgic reputation would have spread independently of all co-operation on his part and of his knowledge. The miracle explains itself before a benevolent public; in such a case it is in reality the public which creates it. But before an evil-disposed public the matter is wholly different. The latter has been clearly seen in the recrudescence of miracles which took place in Italy five or six years ago. The miracles which were produced in the Roman States succeeded; those, on the other hand, which ventured to make their appearance in the Italian provinces were immediately subjected to an inquest and quickly arrested. Those whom it was pretended had been cured avowed that they had never been sick. The thaumaturgists 282themselves, on being interrogated, declared that they knew nothing of them, but, seeing that the rumours of their miracles were so widespread, they believed they were able to work them. In other words, for a miracle to succeed there is need of a little complaisance. The bystanders not assisting in them, it was necessary for the participants to lend a hand. In like manner, if Jesus performed miracles at Jerusalem we arrive at suppositions which are to us very shocking. Let us reserve our judgment, for we shall soon have to treat of a Jerusalemitish miracle, in other respects more important than the one now in question, and much more intimately connected with the essential events in the life of Jesus
§ 14. Chapter vi. 1-14. The Galilean miracle, moreover, is still nevertheless identical with one of those which are reported by the synoptics; we refer to the multiplication of loaves. It is clear that this is one of those miracles which was attributed to him in his lifetime. It is a miracle to which a real circumstance gives colour. There is nothing more easy than to instil such an illusion into consciences at once credulous, artless, and sympathetic. “While we were with him, we had neither hunger nor thirst:” this very simple utterance becomes a marvellous fact, which is retold with all sorts of additions. The narrative in our text, as always, aims at a little more effect than in the synoptics. In this sense it is of an inferior quality. But the part which the Apostle Philip plays in it is to be noted. Philip is particularly acquainted with the author of our Gospel (compare i. 43 and following: xii. 21, and following). Now, Philip resided at Hierapolis, in Asia Minor, where Papias knew his sons. All this may be readily enough reconciled. We can assume that the author took this miracle from the synoptics, or from an analogous source, and appropriated it in his own way. But why does the detail which he has added to it harmonise so well with that which we have from other sources, if this detail did not come from a direct tradition?
§ 15. By means of evidently artificial connections, which prove clearly that all these recollections (if recollection it be) were written afterwards, the author introduces a strange series of miracles and visions (vi. 16, and following). During a tempest, Jesus appeared on the waves, seeming to be 283walking on the sea: the barque itself is miraculously transported. This miracle is also found in the synoptics. Here, then, we are yet dealing with tradition, and not with individual fantasy. Verse 23 fixes the localities, establishes a connection between this miracle and that of the multiplication of the loaves, and seems to prove that these miraculous accounts ought to be put in the class of miracles which have a historical basis. The prodigy which we are now discussing probably corresponds with some hallucination which the companions of Jesus entertained in regard to the lake, and in virtue of which they, in a moment of danger, believed they saw their master come to their rescue. The idea into which they had easily drifted, that his body was impalpable like that of a spirit, gave credence to this. We shall soon find (chap. xxi.) another tradition which is founded on analogous fancies.
§ 16. The two miracles which precede serve to lead up to a most important sermon, which Jesus is alleged to have delivered in the synagogue of Capemaum. This sermon was evidently related to a collection of symbols which were very familiar to the oldest Christian community—symbols in which Christ was presented as the bread of believers. I have already said that, in our Gospel, the discourses of Christ are almost all fictitious works, and the one in question may certainly be one of the number. I would, if put to it, own that this fragment possesses more importance in regard to the history of the eucharistic ideas of the first century than the statement even of the sentiments of Jesus. Nevertheless, I believe that our Gospel furnishes us here again with a gleam of light. According to the synoptics, the institution of the eucharist does not ascend beyond the last soiree of Jesus. It is clear that very far back this was believed in, whilst it was the doctrine of St. Paul. But to admit this to be true, it is necessary to suppose that Jesus knew absolutely the day when he would die, a supposition which we cannot accept. The usages which gave rise to the eucharist ascend, then, beyond the last supper, and I believe that our Gospel is completely within the truth, in omitting the sacramental account of the soiree of the Friday, and in disseminating eucharistic ideas in the course even of the life of Jesus. That which is essential in the eucharistic account is at bottom 284only the reproduction of what took place at every Jewish repast. It was not once, but a hundred times, that Jesus had blessed the bread, broken and distributed it, and also blessed the cup. I by no means pretend that the words which are attributed to Jesus are textual. But the precise details furnished by verses 60, and following, 68, 70-71, have an original character. Later on we will again take notice of the personal hatred entertained by our author against Judas of Kerioth. The synoptics, certainly, have no affection for the latter. But the hatred of the fourth narrator is more premeditated, more personal; it comes out in two Or three places previous to the account of the betrayal: it seeks to accumulate upon the head of the culprit wrongs of which the other evangelists make no mention.
§ 17. Ver. 1-10 of ch. vii. are a small historical treasure. The wicked sulky humour of the brothers of Jesus, the precautions which the latter is obliged to take, are therein expressed with admirable ingenuousness. It is here that the dogmatic and symbolical explanation is completely at fault. What a dogmatic or symbolic intention to find in that short passage, which is calculated rather to give rise to the objection that has served the requirements of the apologetic Christian! Why should an author whose unique device had been Scribitur ad probandum have imagined such a fantastic detail? No, no, here we can say boldly, Scribitur ad narrandum. It is hence an original souvenir, come whence it might and from whose pen soever it had proceeded. Why say after this that the personages of our Gospel are certain types, certain characters, and not historic beings of flesh and bones? In fact, it is rather the synoptics which have an idyllic and a legendary turn; compared with them the fourth Gospel possesses the requisites of history, and a narrative which aims at being correct.
§ 18. Now comes a dispute (vii. 11, and following) between Jesus and the Jews, to which I attach little value. Scenes of this description are hence very numerous. Our author's species of imagination imposes itself very strongly on all that he recounts; with him such pictures must be moderately true in the colouring. The discourses put in the mouth of Jesus are conformable with the ordinary style of our author. The intervention of Nicodemus (v. 50 and 285following) may alone in all this possess a historic value. Verse 52 is open to objections. This verse, they say, contains an error which neither John nor even a Jew could have committed. Could the author be ignorant of the fact that Jonas and Nahum were born in Galilee? Yes, certainly, he might not know it, or, at least, he might not think of it. The historical and exegetical knowledge of the evangelists, and in general the authors of the New Testament, Saint Paul excepted, was very incomplete. In any case they wrote from memory, and were not careful as to being exact.
§ 19. The account of the woman taken in adultery gives room for great critical doubts. This passage is wanting in the best manuscripts; I believe, however, that it constituted part of the primitive text. The topographical data of verses 1 and 2 are correct. There is nothing in the fragment which harmonises with the style of the fourth Gospel. I think it is by reason of a misplaced scruple which originated in the minds of some false rigorists as to the apparent moral laxity of the episode, that would make one cut away these lines which, in view of their beauty, might be saved by attaching them to other parts of the gospel texts. In any case, if the detail of the adulterous woman did not at first form a part of the fourth Gospel, it is surely of evangelical tradition. Luke was acquainted with it, though in a different form. Papias seems to have read a similar account in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. The sentence “Let anyone amongst you who is without sin” . . . is so perfectly in accord with the spirit of Jesus, corresponds so well with other sentiments of the synoptics, that we are quite entitled to consider it as being authentic to the same extent as sentences of the synoptics. At all events, we can much more readily comprehend why such a passage may have been abridged instead of added to.
§ 20. The theological disputes which fill up the rest of chap. viii. are without any value in the life of Jesus. The author evidently attributed his own ideas to Jesus, without either supporting them by any proof, or by any direct hearsay. How, it might be said, could an immediate disciple or a traditionist directly associated with an apostle, thus alter the words of the master? But Plato was an immediate disciple of Socrates, and he, nevertheless, made no 286scruple of attributing to him fictitious discourses. The “Phædon” contains historical information of the strictest verity, and discourses which have no authenticity. The tradition of facts is much easier preserved than that of discourses. An active Christian school, pervading rapidly the circle of ideas, succeeded in fifty or sixty years in totally modifying the image which had been made of Jesus, whilst it was much better able than all the others to recall certain peculiarities and the general contexture of the biographies of the reformer. The simple and gentle Christian families of Batanea, amongst whom was formed the collection of Δόγια,—small committees, which were very pure and very honest, of ebionine (the poor of God), remained most faithful to the teachings of Jesus, having piously guarded the depôt of his words, forming a little world in which there was little movement of ideas—could have at once very well preserved the timbre of the master's voice, and be very bad authorities as to the biographical circumstances for which they cared little. The distinction which we here indicate is reproduced, moreover, in that which concerns the first Gospel. This evangelist is surely the one who gives us the best rendering of the discourses of Jesus, and yet is, as to facts, more inexact than the second. It is in vain that unity of authorship is alleged by some for the fourth Gospel. This unity I indeed recognise: but a composition compiled by a single hand may yet embrace data of very unequal value. The life of Mahomet, by Ibn-Hescham, is perfectly uniform, and yet this Life contains things which we can admit, others which we cannot.
§ 21. Chapters ix. and x. up to verse 21 of the latter form a paragraph commencing with a new Jerusalem miracle, that of the man being born blind, where the intention of heightening the demonstrative force of the prodigy is made to be felt in a more fatiguing manner than in anywhere else. We nevertheless discern a somewhat precise knowledge of the topography of Jerusalem (v. 7): the explanation of ειλοως is rather good. It is impossible to pretend that this miracle was evolved from the symbolical imagination of our author; for it is also found in Mark (viii. 22, and following), with a coincidence which bears a minute and bizarre characteristic (comp. John ix. 6 and Mark viii. 23). In the discussions and discourses which 287follow, I acknowledge that it would be dangerous to seek an echo in the mind of Jesus. An essential characteristic of our author, which is henceforward conspicuous, is his habit of taking a miracle as a point of departure for long demonstrations. His miracles are reasoned and explained miracles. This is not the case with the synoptics. The theurgy of the latter is perfectly artless: they never retrace their steps in order to draw marvellous conclusions upon what they have related. The theurgy of the fourth Gospel, on the contrary, is reflective, set forth with all the artifices of exposition whose aim is conviction, and exploited in favour of certain sermons in which the author makes the account of his prodigies to follow. If our Gospel was limited to such fragments, the opinion which sees in it a simple thesis of theology would be perfectly established.
§ 22. But it is far from being limited to this. Beginning with verse 22 of chap. x. we enter into topographical details of rigorous precision, which are hardly applicable if it is maintained that in no degree does our Gospel embrace the Palestinian tradition. I sacrifice the whole of the dispute contained in verses 24-39. The journey to Perea indicated at verse 40 appears, on the contrary, to be historical. The synoptics are cognisant of this journey, to which they attach the divers incidents of Jericho.
§ 23. We reach now a most important passage (xi. 1-45). It relates to a miracle, but a miracle which trenches upon others, and is produced under circumstances entirely different. All the other miracles are represented as having been attended with some éclat and as wrought upon obscure individuals who never again figure in evangelical history. In this instance the miracle takes place in the centre of a well-known family, and in which the author of our Gospel in particular, if he is sincere, appears to have participated. The other miracles are little aside gyrations, designed to prove by their number the divine mission of the master, but, taken by themselves, of no consequence, since in no single case are we told what took place; nor does one amongst them form an integral part of the life of Jesus. They can be treated en bloc, as I have done in my work, without shaking the edifice or breaking the continuity of events. The miracle in question here, on the contrary, is deeply concerned 288in the account of the last weeks of Jesus, such as we find them in our Gospel. Now we shall see that it is precisely on account of that record of these last weeks that our text possesses an incontestable superiority. This miracle makes then by itself a class apart; at first glance it seems as if it ought to be reckoned among the events in the life of Jesus. It is not the minute detail of the account which strikes me. The two other Jerusalem miracles of Jesus, of which the author of the fourth Gospel speaks, are recounted in similar fashion. If the whole of the circumstances of the resurrection of Lazarus had been the product of the imagination of the narrator, it would have proved that all these circumstances had been combined with the view (a constant habit that we have remarked in our author) that the principal fact should not remain less exceptional in evangelical history.
The miracle of Bethany is to the Galilean miracles what the stigmata of Francis d'Assisi were to the miracles of the same saint. M. Karl Hase has composed an exquisite Life of Christ in the shades, without insisting particularly upon any of these latter; but he saw clearly that it would not have been a sincere biography if he had not descanted upon the stigmata; he has devoted to these a long chapter, giving place to all sorts of conjectures and suppositions.
Amongst the miracles which are spread over the four compilations of the Life of Jesus, a distinction makes itself felt. Some are pure and simple legendary creations. There is nothing in the real life of Jesus which has a place in them. They are the fruit of that labour of imagination which is produced around all popular celebrities. Others have had actual facts for their foundation. Legend has not arbitrarily attributed to Jesus the healing of those possessed of devils. Doubtless, Jesus more than once was believed to make such cures. The multiplication of loaves, many cures of sickness, perhaps certain apparitions, ought to be put in the same category. These are not miracles hatched out of pure imagination, they are miracles conceived àpropos of real incidents, exaggerated and transformed. Let us absolutely discard an idea which is very widespread, that no eye-witness reports miracles. The author of the last chapter of the Acts is surely an ocular witness of the life of St. Paul. Now this writer records miracles which have taken place before him. 289But what am I saying? St. Paul himself speaks to us of his miracles and founds upon them the truth of his preaching. Certain miracles were permanent in the Church, and were in some sort common property. “Why,” said they, “challenge ocular testimony when people recount things which have never been heard or seen?” But then the tres socii did not know of Francis d'Assisi, for they record a multitude of things which they could not have seen or heard.
In what category must we place the miracle which we are now discussing? Did some actual fact, which had been exaggerated and embellished, give rise to it? Or, again, does it possess reality of any sort? Is it a pure legend, an invention of the narrator? What complicates the difficulty is that the third Gospel, that of Luke, presents to us here consonances which are most peculiar. Luke, in fact, knew Martha and Mary; he knew at the same time they did not hail from Galilee; in fine, he knew them in a light which was strongly analogous to that under which these two personages figure in the fourth Gospel. Martha, in the latter text, plays the rôle of a servant, διηχόνει, Mary, the rôle of a forward, ardent personage. We know the admirable little episode which Luke has extracted thence. But, if we compare the passages in Luke and in the fourth Gospel, it is clearly the fourth Gospel which plays here the original part; not that Luke, or whoever the author of the third Gospel may be, may have read the fourth, but in the sense in which we find in the fourth Gospel the data which explain the legendary anecdote of the third. Was the third Gospel also cognisant of Lazarus? After having for a long time refused to admit this, I have arrived at the belief that this is very probable. Yes, I now think that the Lazarus of the parable of the rich man is but a transformation of our resurgent one. Let it not be said that in thus being metamorphosed it has been much changed in the process. In this respect everything is possible, since the repast of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, who play a great part in the fourth Gospel and who are placed by the synoptics in the house of Simon the Leper, becomes in the third Gospel a repast at the house of Simon the Pharisee, where there figures a fisherwoman who, like Mary in our Gospel, anoints the feet of Jesus and wipes them with her hair. What thread holds together this inextricable labyrinth 290of broken and patched-up legends? For my part, I admit the family of Bethany to have had a real existence, and to have given rise in certain branches of the Christian tradition to a cycle of legends One of these données legendaires was that Jesus had called back to life the head even of the family. Certainly, such an “on dit” may have originated after the death of Jesus. I do not, however, regard as impossible that one real fact in his life may not have given it birth. The silence of the synoptics in regard to the Bethany episode does not greatly astonish me. The synoptics were very badly informed as to all that which immediately preceded the last weeks of Jesus. It was not only the Bethany incident which was lacking to them, but also the whole period of the life of Jesus to which this incident relates. We are here brought back once more to that fundamental point, that of knowing which of the two accounts is the true one, the one which makes Galilee the theatre of all the activity of Jesus, or the one which makes Jesus pass a part of his life at Jerusalem.
I know what has been attempted here by means of symbolical explanation. The miracle of Bethany, according to the learned and profound defenders of this system, signifies that Jesus is to believers in a spiritual sense the resurrection and the life. Lazarus is the poor man, the ebion resurrected by Christ from his state of spiritual death. It was on account of this, the sense of a popular reawakening which came to perplex them, that the official classes decided on making Jesus perish. This is the theory upon which the best theologians that the Church has possessed in our days repose. In my opinion it is an erroneous one. That our Gospel is dogmatic I recognise, but it is by no means allegorical. The really allegorical writings of the first centuries, the Apocalypse, the Pastor of Hermas, the Pista Sophia, possess quite a different charm. At bottom of all this symbolism is the companion of the mysticism of M. Strauss; the expedients of theologians at their wit's end, seeking by means of allegory, mysticism, and symbolism to escape from their dilemma. For us, who are seeking only for pure historic truth without a shade of either theological or political arrière pensée, we have more scope. For us, all this is not mythical, all this is not symbolical, all this is sectarian and popular history. 291It must necessarily provoke grave distrust, but no party offers fitting explanations.
Divers examples are pleaded. The Alexandrian school, such as we know it through the writings of Philo, exercised unquestionably a strong influence upon the theology of the apostolic century. Now, do we not see this school press its taste for symbolism to the verge of folly? The whole of the Old Testament became in its hands only a pretext for subtle allegories. Are not the Talmud and the Midraschim full of pretended historical teachings which have been stripped of all truth, and which can only be explained by religious tenets or by the desire of originating arguments in support of a thesis? But this is not the case with the fourth Gospel. The principles of criticism which it is proper to apply to the Talmud and the Midraschim, cannot be transferred to a composition altogether at variance with the likings of the Palestinian Jews. Philo discerns allegories in the ancient texts; he does not invent allegorical texts. An old sacred book exists; the plain interpretation of this text embarrasses or is insufficient; we seek in it its hidden and mysterious meaning; examples such as these abound. But when we write an extended historical narrative with the arrière pensée of concealing in it symbolical finesse which was only to be discovered seventeen hundred years later, this is what is but seldom seen. It is the partisans of the allegorical explanation who, in this case, play the part of Alexandrians. It is they who, embarrassed by the fourth Gospel, treat it just as Philo treated Genesis, just as the Jewish and Christian tradition has treated the Canticle of Canticles. For us simple historians who admit first of all (1) That the question here is only one of legends, in parts true, in parts false, like all legends; (2) that the reality which served as a basis for these legends was beautiful, splendid, touching and delicious, but, like all things human, greatly marred by weaknesses which would disgust us if we saw them—for us, I say, there are no difficulties of this kind. There are texts, and the question is to extract the largest amount of historic truth possible, that is all.
Another very delicate question presents itself here. In the miracles of the second class, in those which owe their origin to a real fact in the life of Jesus, is there not 292mixed up with these sometimes a little complaisance? I believe so, or at least I declare that if this were not so, nascent Christianity has been an event absolutely without parallel. This event has been the greatest and the most beautiful amongst facts of the same species; but it has not escaped the common laws which must govern the facts of religious history. There does not exist a single great religious creation which does not embrace a little of that which would now be denominated—fraud. The ancient religions were full of it. Few of the institutions of the past have a greater right to be recognised by us than the oracle of Delphi, seeing that that oracle eminently contributed to save Greece, the mother of all science and of all art. The enlightened patriotism of Pythia was not more than once or twice found at fault She was ever the mouthpiece of the sages who were endowed with the justest sentiment of Greek interests. These sages, who have founded civilisation, made no scruple about consulting this virgin, who was reputed to be inspired by the gods. Moses, if the traditions we have regarding him contain anything historical, made use of natural events, such as tempests and fortuitous plagues, to further his designs and his policy. All the ancient legislators gave their laws as if inspired by a god. All the prophets, without any scruple, made it appear as if their sublime invectives were prompted by the Eternal. Buddhism, which is full of such high religious sentiment, saw permanent miracles, which could not be produced of themselves. The most artless country of Europe, the Tyrol, is the country of the stigmatics, the fashion of which is only possible by means of a little trickery. The history of the Church, so respectable in its way, is full of false relics and false miracles. Was there ever a religious movement more ingenuous than that of Francis d'Assisi? And yet the whole history of the stigmata is inexplicable without some connivance on the part of the intimate companions of the saint.
“People do not prepare,” I have been told, “sophistical miracles, when people believe they everywhere are truth.” This is an error. It is when people believe in miracles that they are drawn away, without doubting in them, to augment their number. We can with difficulty, 293with our consciences clear and precise, figure to ourselves the bizarre illusions by which these obscure but powerful consciences, playing with the supernatural, if I might say so, would glide incessantly from credulity to complaisance, and from complaisance to credulity. What can be more striking than the mania spread at certain epochs of attributing to the ancient sages the apocryphal books? The apocrypha of the Old Testament, the writings of the hermetic cycle, the innumerable pseudo-epigraphic productions of India, responded to a great elevation of religious sentiments. People believed they were doing honour to the old sages in attributing to them these productions; people became their collaborators without thinking that the day would come when that would be denominated a fraud. The authors of the Middle Age legends, magnifying in cold blood upon their desks the miracles of their saints, would also be surprised in hearing themselves called impostors.
The eighteenth century would describe all religious history as imposture. The critic of our times has totally discarded that explanation. The term is certainly improper; but to what extent have the most beautiful souls of the past not aided in their own illusions, or in those of which they have been the object, is what a reflective age can no longer comprehend. For one to understand this thoroughly one must have been in the East. In the East passion is the soul of everything and credulity has no limits. We can never get at the bottom of the mind of an Oriental; because this bottom often does not exist for himself. Passion on one side, credulity on the other, make imposture. So no great movement is produced in this country without some fraud. We no longer know how to desire or to hate; cunning finds no longer a place in our society, for she has no longer an object. But exaltation is a passion which does not accommodate itself to this reserve, this indifference to consequences which is the basis of our sincerity. When absolute natures will embrace a thesis after the Oriental manner, they are no longer restrainable, and nothing, the day even when illusion becomes necessary, is too dear to them. Is that the fault of sincerity? Not at all; it is because conviction is most keenly felt by such spirits, because they are incapable of returning upon themselves, that they have few 294scruples. To call this deceit is inexact; it is precisely the force with which they embrace their idea which extinguishes in them every other thought, for the end appears so absolutely good to them that everything which can serve it seems in their view legitimate. Fanaticism is always sincere in respect of its thesis, but an impostor in respect of the choice of methods of demonstration. If the public do not at first accept the reason which it believes to be good, that is to say, its affirmations, it has recourse to reasons which it knows to be bad. With it to believe is everything: the motives which induce belief are of but little importance. Who among us would accept the responsibility for all the arguments through which was wrought the conversion of the barbarians? In our days people only employ fraudulent devices when they are aware of the falsity of that which is maintained. Formerly, the employment of these means presupposed a profound conviction, and was allied to the highest moral elevation. Our method of criticism is different. It professes to expose falsehood and to discover the truth through the network of deceptions and illusions of every sort which envelop history; while in face of such facts we experience a sentiment of repugnance. But do not let us impose our delicate scruples upon those whose duty it has been to direct poor humanity. Between the general truth of a principle and the truth of a meagre fact the man of faith never hesitates. We had, at the time of the coronation of Charles X., the most authentic proofs of the destruction of the ampulla. The ampulla was found again, inasmuch as it was necessary. On the one side, there was the salvation of royalty, so at least it was believed; on the other, the question of the authenticity of some drops of oil; no good royalist hesitated.
To summarise amongst the miracles which the Gospels attribute to Jesus, there are some purely legendary. But there were probably some of them in which he consented to play a part. Let us put to one side the fourth Gospel. The Gospel of Mark, the most original of the synoptics, is the life of an exorcist and thaumaturgist. Some details, as in Luke viii. 45, 46, are not less sad than those which, in the episode of Lazarus, lead the theologians to exclaim in a loud voice against the myths and symbols. I do not 295hold to the reality of the miracle in question. The hypothesis which I propose in the present edition reduces everything to a misapprehension. I desire solely to show that this fantastic episode of the fourth Gospel is not a decisive objection against the historic value of the said Gospel. In each part of the “Life of Jesus,” on which we are now about to enter, the fourth Gospel contains many special points of information, which are infinitely superior to any in the synoptics. Now it is singular that the account of the resurrection of Lazarus is joined to these last pages by hooks so slender that, if we were to reject it as being imaginary, the whole edifice of the last weeks of the “Life of Jesus,” which are so solid in our Gospel, would crumble at a stroke.
§ 24. Verses 46-54 of chapter xi. introduce us to a first secret council held by the Jews, in order to put Jesus to death, as a direct consequence of the miracle of Bethany. People might say that this bond was an artificial one. Bat why? Does not our narrator more nearly approach probability than the synoptics, which make the conspiracy against Jesus begin only two or three days before his death? The whole account we have just examined is otherwise very natural; it is terminated by a circumstance which was not surely invented—the flight of Jesus to Ephraim or Ephron. What allegorical meaning is to be found in that? Is it not evident that our author possessed data totally unknown to the synoptics, which latter, caring little about composing a regular biography, compressed into a few days the last six months of the life of Jesus? Verses 55, 56 present a chronological arrangement which is very satisfactory.
§ 25. Again (xii. 1 and following) is an episode common to all the narratives, except to Luke, who has, in this instance, arranged his facts in a wholly different fashion; we mean the feast of Bethany. We have seen in the “six days” of verse xii. 1 a symbolical reason. I mean the intention of making the day of the unction coincide with the 10th of Nisan, the day on which the paschal lambs should have been selected (Exodus xii. 3, 6) The latter is much less clearly indicated. At chapter xix. v. 36, where we can penetrate the design of assimilating Jesus to the paschal lamb, the author is much more explicit. As regards the incidents of the feast, is it 296from pure fancy that our author here enters into details which were unknown to Matthew and to Mark? I do not think so. It is that he was better acquainted with them. The woman who is not named in the synoptics is Mary of Bethany. The disciple who makes the observation is Judas, and the name of this disciple immediately leads the narrator into lively personal abuse (v. 6). This v. 6 breathes strongly the hatred of two co-disciples whc have lived long together, who are deeply embittered against one another, and who have followed opposite paths. And this Μάρθα διηχόνει explains so fully an episode of Luke! And the hair used to wipe the feet of Jesus, is it not also found in Luke! All leads to the belief that we here hit upon an original source, which serves as a key to the other less skilfully constructed narratives. I do not deny the strangeness of verses 1, 2, 9-11, 17, 18, which return three times to the resurrection of Lazarus and improve upon xi. 45 and following. On the contrary, I see nothing at all unlikely in the design imputed to the family of Bethany of awakening the indifference of the Jerusalemites by exterior demonstrations which were unknown to the simple Galilean. It must not be said such and such suppositions are false, because they are shocking and pitiful. If people were to see the obverse of the greatest events which take place in this world, of those which enchant us, of those amidst which we live, nothing would be accomplished. Let us remark, moreover, that the actors here are women who have imbibed that unequalled love which Jesus knew how to inspire around him; women who believed they were living in the bosom of the marvellous, who felt convinced that Jesus had done innumerable prodigies, and who were placed face to face with incredulous people, who railed at him whom they loved. If a scruple could have arisen in their soul, the recollection of other miracles of Jesus would have silenced it. Suppose that a legitimist dame was reduced to the extremity of assisting heaven to save Joas? Would she hesitate? Passion imputes always to God anger and selfishness; it enters into the councils of God, makes him speak, urges him to act. People are sure of being in the right; they make use of God in advocating their cause, in supplementing the zeal which he does not evince.
§ 26. The account of the triumphal entry of Jesus into 297Jerusalem (xii. 12 and following) is conformable with the synoptics. Yet that which astonishes us here is the imperturbable appeal to the miracle of Bethany (v. 17, 18). It was on account of that miracle that the Pharisees decided on the death of Jesus; it was that miracle which made the Jerusalemites think; it was that miracle which was the cause of the triumph of Bethphage. I should like to put the whole of this to the account of an author of the year 150, who was ignorant of the real character and the artless innocence of the Galilean movement. But first let us guard against believing that innocence and conscientious illusion were likewise excluded. It is in the fugitive sensations of the soul of the woman of the East that we must here seek for analogies. Passion, ingenuousness, abandon, tenderness, perfidy, poetry and crime, frivolity and depth, sincerity and deceit, alternate in these sorts of natures, and baffle any absolute estimation. The critic ought in such circumstances to steer clear of every exclusive system. The mythical explanation is often true; but for all that the historical explanation ought not to be banished. Now look at verses xii. 20 and following, which contain an undoubted historical secret. First, it is the obscure and isolated episode of the Hellenes which is addressed to Philip. Remark the part played by this apostle; our Gospel is the only one which knows anything of it. Remark, especially, how the whole of this passage is exempt from any dogmatical or symbolical design. To say that these Greeks are reasonable beings, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, is most gratuitous. The discourses which they hold (v. 23 et seq.) have no relation to them.
The aphorism in v. 25 is again met with in the synoptics; it is evidently authentic. Our author does not copy it from the synoptics. Again, even when he makes Jesus speak, the author of the fourth Gospel now and then follows a tradition.
§ 27. Verses 27 et seq. possess much importance; Jesus is troubled. He prays his Father “to deliver him from this hour.” Then he resigns himself. A voice makes itself heard from heaven, or better, according to other accounts, an angel speaks to Jesus. What does this episode import? There is no doubt that it is the parallel of the agony of Gethsemane, which, to be sure, is omitted by our author 298at the place where it should have been found—after the Last Supper. Remark the incident of the apparition of an angel, which Luke alone knew of. There is one more feature to add to the series of those agreements between the third Gospel and the fourth, which constitute for evangelical criticism a fact of so great importance. But the existence of two versions so different from an incident which happened during the last days of Jesus, which is certainly historic, constitute a fact much more decisive still. Which merits here the preference? The fourth Gospel, in my opinion. First, the narrative of this Gospel is less dramatic, less skilfully adjusted and constructed, less beautiful, I admit. In the second place, the moment where the fourth Gospel introduces the episode in question is much more convenient. The synoptics report the scene of Gethsemane, along with other solemn circumstances, as taking place on the last evening of Jesus, in consequence of the tendency we have of accumulating our recollections upon the last hours of a beloved person. These circumstances placed thus have, moreover, more effect. But, to admit the order of the synoptics, we must suppose that Jesus knew with certainty the day on which he should die. We thus generally find the synoptics yielding oftentimes to the desire for an arrangement which shall proceed with a certain art. Art divine, whence has emerged the most beautiful popular poem that has ever been written—the Passion But undoubtedly in such a case the historical critic will always prefer the version which is least dramatic. It is this principle which makes us place Matthew after Mark, and Luke after Matthew, when the question is one of determining the historical value of a synoptical account.
§ 28. We have now reached the last evening (chapter xiii). The farewell repast is recounted, as in the synoptics, at great length. But the surprising thing is that the capital circumstance of this repast, as reported in the synoptics, is omitted. There is not a word about the establishment of the Lord's Supper, which holds such an important position in the preoccupations of our author (chap. vi.). And this is as though the narration took here a reflective turn (v. 1), as though the author insists upon the tender and mystic signification of the last feast. What does that silence mean? Here, as in the 299episode of Gethsemane, I see in such an omission an idea of superiority on the part of the fourth Gospel. To pretend that Jesus reserved for the Friday evening so important a ritual institution is to believe in a sort of miracle, to suppose that he was certain to die the next day. Although Jesus (it is permissible to believe) might have presentiments, we cannot, apart from the supernatural, admit such distinctness in his previsions. I hence think that it was by means of a displacement, very easy to explain, that the disciples centred all their eucharistic remembrances upon the Last Supper. Jesus on this occasion, as he had done many times before, practised the habitual Jewish rite at table, in attaching to it the mystical sense when it was convenient, and, as the last supper could be better recalled to mind than others, people fell into accord in referring to it this fundamental usage. The authority of St. Paul, which is here in accord with the synoptics, possesses no preeminence, seeing that he had not been present at the repast; it proves only that which no one can doubt, that a great part of tradition fixed the establishment of the sacred memorial on the eve of his death. This tradition answers to the generally accepted tradition that on the said evening Jesus substituted a new Eastern for the Jewish Passover; it supports another opinion of the synoptics, which is contradicted by the fourth Gospel, to wit, that Jesus made with his disciples the paschal feast, and died, consequently, on the morrow of the day when people eat the paschal lamb.
What is very remarkable is, that the fourth Gospel, in place of the eucharist, gives another rite, the washing of feet, as having been the proper institution of the last supper. Doubtless, our evangelist has for once yielded to the natural tendency of reporting on the last evening the solemn acts in the life of Jesus. The hatred of our author against Judas unmasks itself more and more, because of a strong prepossession which made him speak of this unhappy man, even when he is not directly in evidence (verses 2, 10, 11, 18). In the account of the announcement that Jesus had committed treason, the great superiority of our text again reveals itself. The same anecdote is to be found in the synoptics, but is presented in an improbable and contradictory 300manner. In the synoptics Jesus is represented as designating the traitor in indirect language, and yet the expressions he makes use of become known to all. Our fourth Gospel explains clearly this little misapprehension. According to it, Jesus privately confided his presentiment to a disciple who lay upon his bosom, who, in turn, communicated to Peter what Jesus had said to him. In regard to the others present, Jesus shrouds himself in mystery, and no one has any suspicion of what has passed between him and Judas. The little details of the account, the broken bread, the glimpse which verse 29 gives us of the inner life of the sect, are also characterised by justness, and when we see the author saying quite clearly, “I was there,” one is inclined to think that he speaks the truth. Allegory is essentially cold and stiff. The persons in it are of brass, and are moved simultaneously. It is not so with our author. That which is striking in his narrative is its life, its realism. We perceive a passionate man, who is jealous because he loves much, and susceptible, a man who resembles the Orientals of our days. Fictitious compositions never possess this personal trait; there is something vague and awkward which always betrays their origin.
§ 29. Now follow long discourses which possess a certain beauty, but which, there can be no doubt, contain nothing traditional. These are fragments of theology and rhetoric, having no analogy to the discourses of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels, and to which we must not attribute any more historical reality than to the discourses which Plato puts into the mouth of his master at the moment of dying. Nothing must be concluded hence as to the value of the context. The discourses inserted by Sallust and Titus Livy in their histories are assuredly fictions; but are we to conclude from this that the basis of these histories is fictitious ) It is probable, moreover, that in these homilies attributed to Jesus there is one feature which is of historic value, Thus, the promise of the Holy Spirit (xiv. 16 et seq. 26; xv. 26; xvi. 7, 13), which Mark and Matthew do not give in a direct form, are found in Luke (xxiv. 49), and correspond with a statement in Acts (ii.) which must have had some reality. In any case, this idea of a spirit which Jesus will send from the bosom of his Father, when he 301shall have quitted the earth, is another instance of agreement with Luke (Acts i. and ii.). The idea of the Holy Spirit concerned as Mediator (Paraclete) is also found, especially in Luke (xii. 11, 12; comp. Matthew x. 20; Mark xiii. 11). The scheme of the Ascension, explained by Luke, finds its obscure germ in our author (xvi. 7).
§ 30. After the Supper our evangelist, like the synoptics, conducts Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane (chap. xviii.). The topography of v. 1 is exact. Τõνχέδρον may be an inadvertence of the copyist, or, if we might say so, of the editor, of him who prepared the narrative for the public. The same error is to be found in the Septuagint (2 Sam. xv. 23). The Codex Sinaïticus bears τοῦχέδρου. The true reading τοῦχέδρόυ would appear strange to people who did not know Greek. I have elsewhere already explained the omission of the agony at this particular moment, an omission in which I see an argument in favour of the account of the fourth Gospel. The arrest of Jesus is also much better told. The incident of the kissing of Judas, so touching, so beautiful, but which has a legendary odour, is passed over in silence. Jesus names himself and frees himself. This is, indeed, a very useless miracle (v. 6); but the incident of Jesus requesting of them to let the disciples go away which acompanied it (v. 8) is plausible. It is quite possible that the latter may have been at first arrested with their master. Faithful to his habits of precision—whether real or apparent—our author knew the names of the two persons who were for the moment engaged in a struggle, from which resulted a slight effusion of blood.
But here follows the proof the most sensible which our author possesses on the Passion—evidence much more original than that of the other evangelists. He alone causes Jesus to be conducted to Annas or Hanan, the father-in-law of Kaïaphas. Josephus confirms the correctness of this account, and Luke seems here again to gather a sort of echo of our Gospel. Hanan had for a long time been deposed from the Pontificate; but, during the remainder of his long life, he in reality retained the power, which he exercised under the names of his son and sons-in-law, who were successively raised to the sacerdotal sovereignty. 302This circumstance, which the two first synoptics, very poorly informed as to matters at Jerusalem, cast no doubt upon, is a trait de lumière. How could a sectary of the second century, writing in Egypt or Asia Minor, have known this? The too oft repeated opinion that our author knew nothing of Jerusalem or of matters Jewish appears to me to be utterly destitute of foundation.
§ 32. The recital of the denials of Peter possesses the same superiority. The whole episode, in our author, is more circumstantial and better explained. The details of v. 16 contain a marvellous amount of truth. Far from seeing in them an improbability, I discover in them a mark of simplicity, resembling that of a provincial who boasts of having influence in a minister's office because he is acquainted with a doorkeeper or a domestic. Will it also be maintained that there is here some mystic allegory? A rhetorician coming a long time after the events, and composing his work from accepted texts, would not have written like that. Look at the synoptics: everything is ingeniously combined for the sake of effect. Certainly a multitude of the details of the fourth Gospel smell also of an artificial arrangement, but others seem indeed only to be there because they are true, being so many accidents and sharp angles.
§ 33. We come now to Pilate. The incident of v. 28 has all the appearance of truth. Our author is at variance with the synoptics as to the day on which Jesus died. According to him it was on the day on which the paschal Iamb was eaten, the 14th of Nisan; according to the synoptics it was the day following. The error in the synoptics might be quite naturally explained by the desire which people had to make of the last supper the paschal feast, so as to give it more solemnity and to furnish a motive for the celebration of the Jewish Passover. True, it may also be said that the fourth Gospel has placed the death on the day on which the paschal lamb was eaten, so as to inculcate the idea that Jesus himself was the veritable paschal lamb, an idea which he in one place avows (xix. 36), and which, perhaps, is to be met with in other passages (xii. 1, xix. 29). That which, however, clearly proves that the synoptics here do violence to historical reality is that they add a circumstance 303drawn from the ordinary ceremony of the Passover, and not certainly from a positive tradition. I refer to the singing of psalms. Certain incidents reported by the synoptics—the fact, for example, of Simon of Cyrene returning from his labours in the fields—presuppose thus that the crucifixion took place before the commencement of the sacred period. Finally, it cannot be conceived that the Jews should provoke an execution, or even that the Romans should bring about one, on a day so solemn.
§ 34. I abandon the conversations of Pilate and Jesus, composed evidently from mere conjecture, yet with an exact enough sentiment as regards the situation of the two persons. The question in v. 9 has, however, its echo in Luke, and, as usual, that insignificant detail becomes in the third Gospel wholly legendary. The topography and the Hebrew are good counterfeits. The whole scene presents great historical exactness, even though the language imputed to the personages is in the narrator's style. What concerns Barabbas, however, is, in the synoptics, more satisfactory. Our author doubtless is mistaken in making of this man a thief. The synoptics are much nearer probability in representing him to be a personage beloved by the people and arrested for causing a riot. As regards the flagellation, Mark and Matthew contain also a little shade more of information. In their account we see better that flagellation was a simple preliminary of crucifixion, ordained by common law. The author of the fourth Gospel does not seem to doubt that flagellation presupposed an irrevocable condemnation. Once more, he proceeds in perfect accord with Luke (xxiii. 16), and like the latter seeks in everything which concerns Pilate to exculpate the Roman authority and to inculpate the Jews.
§ 35. The minute details of the seamless coat furnish also an argument against our author. It might be said that his false conception of it arose from his having eagerly seized the parallelism of the passage in Psalm xxii. which he cites. We have an example of the same kind of error in Matt. xxi. 2-5. Perhaps also the seamless vestment of the high priest (Josephus, Ant. III. vii. 4) has something to do with all this. We touch now upon the greatest objection against the veracity of our author. Matthew and Mark make only 304the Galilean women, the inseparable companions of Jesus, assist at the crucifixion. Luke adds to those women all the people of the acquaintance of Jesus (πάντ ες οιγνοστοι αὐτῷ), an addition which is at variance with the two first Gospels, and with what Justin tells us of the defection amongst the disciples (οι γνὸρι μοιαὐτοῦ παντες) after the crucifixion. At all events, in the three first Gospels, this group of the faithful kept at a distance from the cross, and did not hold converse with Jesus. Our Gospel adds three essential details. 1st. Mary, the mother of Jesus, assisted at the crucifixion. 2nd. John also assisted at it. 3rd. They all stood at the foot of the cross; Jesus conversed with them, and confided the care of his mother to his favourite disciple. This is most singular. “The mother of the sons of Zebedee,” or Salome, whom Matthew and Mark place amongst the faithful women, is deprived of these honours in the recital which is alleged to have been written by her son. The attributing of the name of Mary to the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also a most singular thing. Here I am wholly with the synoptics. “That the knowledge of the touching presence of Mary near the cross, and the filial functions which Jesus entrusted to John,” says M. Strauss, “should be forgotten, is that which is indeed less easy of comprehension than it is to comprehend why all this should have been invented by the circle from which the fourth Gospel emanated. Is it to be thought that it was a circle in which the Apostle John enjoyed especial veneration, the proof of which we see in the care with which our Gospel chooses him from amongst the three most esteemed confidants of Jesus, in order to make of him the one apostle well-beloved? henceforth, is it possible to find anything which puts the seal to this predilection in a more striking manner than the solemn declaration of Jesus, who, by a last act of his will, bequeaths to John his mother, as the most precious legacy, substituted him thus in his place, and made him ‘Vicar of Christ,' without thinking whether it was natural to ask this, both in respect of Mary and of the apostle well-beloved, and whether it was possible when they were far removed from the side of Jesus at that supreme moment?”
This is very happily put. It completely proves that our author had more than one arrière pensée, that he had not the 305sincerity and the absolute naïvete of Matthew and Mark. But it is, at the same time, the most apparent indication of the origin of the work we are discussing. In comparing this passage with others where the privileges “of the disciple whom Jesus loved” are mentioned, there can be no doubt as to the Christian family whence this book originated. This does not prove, however, that an immediate disciple of Jesus wrote it; yet it proves that he who held the pen believed, or wished it to be believed, that he recorded the recollections of an immediate disciple of Jesus, and that his intention was to exalt the prerogative of that disciple, and show that he had been what neither James nor Peter had been—a true brother, a spiritual brother of Jesus.
In any case, this new accord which we have found between our text and the Gospel is very remarkable. The words of Luke, in fact (xxiii. 49), do not exactly exclude Mary from the foot of the cross, and the author of the Acts, who is in truth the same person as the author of the third Gospel, places Mary amongst the disciples at Jerusalem a few days after the death of Jesus. But this is of small historical value, for the author of the third Gospel and of the Acts (at least of the first chapters of the latter work) is the least authoritative traditionist of all the New Testament. Still, it establishes more and more this fact, in my eyes a very serious one, that the Johannine tradition was not an isolated accident in the primitive Church, that many traditions belonging to the school of John had become known or were common to other Christian churches, even before the compilation of the fourth Gospel, or at least independently of it. For to suppose that the author of the fourth Gospel had the Gospel of Luke under his eyes when composing his work, is what appears to me most improbable.
§ 37. Our text recovers its superiority in that which concerns the potion offered on the cross. This circumstance, with respect to which Matthew and Mark express themselves with obscurity, which in Luke is entirely transformed (xxiii. 36), finds here its true explanation. It is Jesus himself who, burning with thirst, asks for something to drink. A soldier offers him, on a sponge, a little acidulated water. This is very natural and most consistent with ancient usage. It's presented neither in derision nor to aggravate his 306sufferings, as the synoptics would have us believe. It is a humane action on the part of the soldier.
§ 38. Our Gospel omits the earthquake and the phenomena which the most widely circulated legend would have it believed accompanied the last supper of Jesus.
§ 39. The episode of the crurifragium (the breaking of Jesus' legs) and the lance thrust, which are peculiar to our Gospel, is certainly possible. The ancient Jewish and Roman customs, contained in v. 31, are exact. The crurifragium was indeed a Roman punishment. As to the medicine spoken of in v. 34, it is attributable to several sources. But, even though our author should give proof here of an imperfect physiology, no inference can be drawn from this. I am aware that the lance thrust may have been invented to accord with Zechariah xii. 10, comp. Apoc. i. 7. I recognise that the à priori symbolical explanation was very well adapted to the circumstance that Jesus was not subjected to the crurifragium. The author wishes to assimilate Jesus to the paschal lamb, and it suits his thesis very well indeed that the bones of Jesus were not broken. Nor was he perhaps displeased that a little hyssop should have been introduced. As for the water and the blood which flowed from his side, it is equally easy to discover their dogmatic value. Is it to be said that the author of the fourth Gospel invented these details? I can very well understand people who reason thus: Jesus, as Messiah, was to be born at Bethlehem; the writings, most improbable in other respects, which make his parents go to Bethlehem on the eve of his birth, belong to fiction. But can it also be said that it was written beforehand that not a bone of Jesus was to be broken, and that water and blood should flow from his side? Is it not admissible that such circumstances really happened, circumstances that the subtle mind of the disciples would instantly remark, and whence appeared profound providential combinations? I know of nothing more instructive in this respect than in the comparison of that which concerns the potion offered to Jesus before the crucifixion in Mark (xv. 23) and in Matthew (xxvii. 34). Mark here, as almost always, is the most original. According to his account, Jesus is offered, as was customary, an aromatic wine, to render him insensible. There is nothing Messiani 307about that. According to Matthew, the aromatic wine was compounded of gall and vinegar. In this manner was brought about a pretended fulfilment of the 22nd verse of Psalm lxix. Here then is one instance where we can attach to a fact a process of transformation. If we had only the narrative of Matthew, we would be authorised in believing that that circumstance was of pure invention, that it was created to obtain the realisation of a passage alleged to have reference to the Messiah. But the account of Mark indeed proves that there was in this instance an actual fact, and that it has been warped to suit the requirements of the Messianic interpretation.
§ 40. At the burial, Nicodemus, a personage peculiar to our Gospel, reappears. It must be observed that this personage plays no part in the early apostolic history. Moreover, as regards the Twelve Apostles, seven or eight of them disappeared completely after the death of Jesus. It seems that there were near Jesus groups which looked upon him in very different lights, and some of which do not figure in the history of the Church. The author of the teachings which form the basis of our Gospel has been able to recognise friends of Jesus who are not mentioned in the synoptics, who lived in a less extended world. The evangelical personnel was very different in the different Christian families. James, brother of the Lord, a man in St. Paul's eyes of the first importance, plays only a very secondary part in the eyes of the synoptics and of our author. Mary Magdalene, who, according to the four texts, played a capital part in the resurrection, is not included by St. Paul in the number of the persons to whom Jesus showed himself, and after that solemn hour she is no more heard of It was the same in the case of Babism. In the accounts which we possess of the origins of that religion, and which are in complete accord, the personnel differs quite sensibly. Each witness has observed the fact from his own point of view, and has attributed a special importance to such of the founders as were known to him.
§ 41. An important fact arises from the discussion which have just instituted. Our Gospel, disagreeing very considerably 308with the synoptics up to the last week of Jesus, is throughout the whole account of the Passion in general accord with them. We cannot say, however, that it has borrowed from them, for, on the contrary, it sails perfectly dear of them, it has not copied any of their expressions. If the author of the fourth Gospel had read some account of the synoptic tradition, which is very possible, it must at least be said that he did not have it before him when he wrote. What is to be concluded hence? That he had a tradition of his own, a tradition similar to that of the synoptics, although between the two we have only intrinsic reasons to guide us in forming a decision. A fictitious narrative, a sort of à priori gospel, written in the second century, would not have had that character. Like as with the apocryphas, the author has copied the synoptics, but has amplified them to suit his own tastes. The position of the Johannine writer is that of an author who was not ignorant of what had already been written on the subject he was treating, who approved many of the things which had been said, but who believed himself to be possessed of superior information, and advanced the latter without disturbing himself about others. This may be compared to what we know of the Gospel of Marcion. Marcion wrote a gospel under similar conditions to those which had been attributed to the author of the fourth Gospel. But observe the difference: Marcion had a sort of agreement or had an extract made setting forth certain views. A composition of the same description as that imputed to the author of our gospel, if that author lived in the second century and wrote with the end in view that is alleged of him, is absolutely without precedent. That is neither the eclectic method and conciliation of Tatian and of Marcion, nor the amplification pasticcio of the apocryphal Gospels, nor the wholly arbitrary reverie, without historical basis, of the Pista Sophia. To get rid of certain dogmatic difficulties, one falls into verbal historical difficulties which are destitute of meaning.
§ 42. The agreement of our Gospel with the synoptics, which strikes one in the narrative of the Passion, is hardly discernible, at least in Matthew, in that of the resurrection and what follows. But here again I think our author much 309more near the truth. According to it, Mary Magdalene alone goes first to the tomb; alone, she is the first messenger of the resurrection, which accords with the finale of the Gospel of Mark (xvi. 9, et seq.). On the news brought by Mary Magdalene, Peter and John go to the tomb; another most remarkable consonance, even in the expression and the little details, with Luke (xxiv. 1, 2, 12, 24) and with the finale of Mark, preserved in the manuscript L and in the margin of the Philoxenian version. The two first evangelists do not speak of a visit of the apostles to the tomb. A decisive authority gives here the advantage to the tradition of Luke and of the Johannine writer; we refer to St. Paul. According to the first epistle to the Corinthians, he writes about the year 57, and surely a good while before the Gospels of Luke and John the first apparition of the resurrected Jesus was seen by Cephas. True, this assertion of Paul coincides better with the account of Luke, who does not mention Peter, than with the account of the fourth Gospel, according to which the well-beloved apostle should have accompanied Peter. But the first chapters of the Acts constantly present Peter and John to us as inseparable companions. It is probable that at this decisive moment they were together, that they were together when they were informed of the event, and that they ran together. The finale of Mark in the manuscript L makes use of a more vague formula: οι περὶ τον Πέτρου.
The ingenuous personal characteristics which are presented here in the narrative of our author are almost sign-manuals. The determined adversaries of the authenticity of the fourth Gospel impose on themselves a difficult task in forcing themselves to see in these characteristics the artifices of a forger. The design of the author to place himself alongside or before Peter in important circumstances (i. 35, et seq.; xiii. 23, et seq.; xviii. 15, et seq.) is altogether remarkable. If one would give to it the meaning desired, one would say that the compilation of these passages could be but little posterior to the death of John. The account of the first goings and comings of Sunday morning, which are somewhat confused in the synoptics, is in our author perfectly distinct. Yes, here the tradition is original, the disjointed members of which have been arranged in the three 310synoptics in three different manners, but wholly inferior, in point of likelihood, to the scheme of the fourth Gospel. Remark, that at the decisive moment on Sunday morning, the disciple alleged to be the author does not attribute to himself any particular vision. A forger, writing without regard to tradition for the purpose of creating the chief of a school, would not have committed the blunder, in the midst of a rolling fire of apparitions, with which latter every tradition of these first days was full, of attributing it to a favourite disciple, just as it has been done in the case of James.
Note again a coincidence between Luke (xxiv. 4) and John (xx. 12, 13). Matthew and Mark have only an angel at this moment. Verse v. 9 is un trait de lumiere. The synoptics are here destitute of all credulity, when they pretend that Jesus had predicted his resurrection.
§ 43. The apparition which follows, in our author—we mean the one which takes place before the apostles assemble on Sunday evening—coincides well with the account of Paul. But it is with Luke that the agreements here become striking and decisive. Not only does the apparition take place on the same date in presence of the same people, but also the words pronounced by Jesus are the same; the circumstance of Jesus showing his feet and his hands is lightly transposed, but it is recognisable as a part of the other, whilst it is wanting in the two first synoptics. The Gospel of the Hebrews marches here in accord with the third and fourth Gospels. “But why,” it might be said, “hold to the narrative of an eyewitness, a narrative which embraces manifest impossibilities? He who does not admit the miracle, and admits the authenticity of the fourth Gospel, is he not forced to regard as an imposture the so formal assurance of verses 30, 31?” Certainly not. St. Paul also affirms that he saw Jesus, and yet we do not reject either the authenticity of the first chapter to the Corinthians or the veracity of St. Paul.
§ 44. A peculiarity of our Gospel is that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit occurs on the very evening of the resurrection (xx. 22). Luke (Acts ii. et seq.) places this event after the ascension. It is nevertheless remarkable that the verse John xx. 22 has its parallel in Luke xxiv. 49. Only 311the contour of the passage in Luke is made to be undecided, so as not to contradict the account of the Acts (ii. 1 et seq.). Here again, the third and fourth Gospels communicate with one another through a kind of secret channel.
§ 45. Like all critics, I make the compilation of the fourth Gospel terminate at the end of chapter xx. Chapter xxi. is an addition, but an addition nearly contemporaneous, either by the author himself or by one of his disciples. The chapter contains the account of a new apparition of the resurrected Jesus. Here again important coincidences with the third Gospel are to be remarked (comp. John xxi. 12, 13 with Luke xxiv. 41-43), not to mention certain resemblances to the Gospel to the Hebrews.
46. Details somewhat obscure follow (15 et seq.), in which we have a more lively sensation than anywhere else of the imprint of the school of John. The perpetual preoccupation of the relations of John and Peter reappear. The aim of all this resembles a series of private letters which are only understood by him who has written them or by the initiated. The allusion to the death of Peter, the amicable and fraternal sentiment of rivalry between the two apostles, the belief, emitted with reserve, that John should not die before seeing the apparition of Jesus—all this appears sincere. The exaggeration of bad style, in v. 25, is not felt to be inconsistent in a composition so inferior, in the literary sense, to the synoptics. This verse is lacking, moreover, in the Codex Sinaïticus. Verse 24, finally, seems a signature. The words, “And we know that his witness is true,” are an addition of the disciples, or rather induce the belief that the last editors utilised notes or recollections of the apostle. These protestations of veracity are found in almost similar terms in two writings which are by the same hand as our Gospel.
§ 47. So, in the account of the life beyond the tomb of Jesus, the fourth Gospel retains its superiority. This superiority is to be especially recognised in portions taken generally. In the Gospels of Luke and Mark (xvi. 9-20) the life of Jesus resurrected has the appearance of enduring only for a day. In Matthew it seems to have been short. In the Acts (chapter i.) it endures forty days. In the three synoptics and in the Acts it terminates by an adieu or by an 312ascension to Heaven. Matters are arranged in a less convenient form in the fourth Gospel. The life beyond the tomb has no fixed limits; it is prolonged somehow indefinitely. Elsewhere I have demonstrated the superiority of this system. It suffices for the present to remember that it responds much better to the important passage of St. Paul, 1 Cor. xv. 5-8.
What is the result of this long analysis? Firstly, that considered by itself the narrative of the material circumstances of the life of Jesus, as furnished by the fourth Gospel, is superior in point of probability to the narrative of the synoptics. Secondly, that, on the other hand, the discourses which the fourth Gospel impute to Jesus have in general no character of authenticity. Thirdly, that the author has a tradition of the life of Jesus very different from that of the synoptics, except as concerns the last days. Fourthly, that this tradition, however, was pretty well spread; for Luke, who does not belong to the school whence emerged our Gospel, has an idea more or less vague of many of the facts which were known to our author, and of which Matthew and Mark knew nothing. Fifthly, that the work is less beautiful than the synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark being the masterpieces of spontaneous art, Luke presenting an admirable combination of ingenuous art and of reflection, whilst the fourth Gospel presents only a series of notes, very badly arranged, in which legend and tradition, reflection and naïveté se fondent mal. Sixthly, that the author of the fourth Gospel, whoever he may be, has written to raise the authority of one of the apostles, in order to show that this apostle had played a part, in circumstances where he is not mentioned in the other narratives, in order to prove that he knew things which the other disciples knew not. Seventhly, that the author of the fourth Gospel wrote at a time when Christianity was more advanced than the synoptics, and with a more exalted idea of the divine rôle of Jesus, the figure of Jesus being with him more rugged, more heretical, like that of an Æon or a divine hypostasis who operates through his own will. Eighthly, that if the material teachings are more exact than those of the synoptics, its historic colouring is much less so, insomuch that, in order to seize the general physiognomy of Jesus, the synoptic Gospels, 313despite their lacunes and their errors, are still the veritable guides.
Naturally, these reasons in favour of the fourth Gospel would be singularly confirmed if it could be established that the author of this Gospel is the apostle John, son of Zebedee. But the present is a research of a different order. Our aim has been to examine the fourth Gospel by itself, independently of its author. This question of the authorship of the fourth Gospel is assuredly the most singular that there is in literary history. I know of no question of criticism in which contrary appearances are so evenly balanced and which hold the mind more completely in suspense.
It is clear at first that the author wishes to pass himself off as an ocular witness of evangelical facts (i. 14, xix. 35), and for the friend preferred by Jesus (xiii. 22 et seq., xix. 26 et seq., compared with xxi. 24). It will serve no purpose to say that chap. xxi. is an addition, since this addition is by the author himself or by his school. In two other places, moreover (i. 35 et seq., xviii. 15 et seq.), one sees clearly that the author loves to speak of himself in covered language. One of two things must be true; either the author of the fourth Gospel is a disciple of Jesus, an intimate disciple, and belonging to the oldest epoch; or else the author has employed, in order to give himself authority, an artifice which he has pursued from the commencement of the book to the end, the tendency being to make believe that he was a witness as well situated as it was possible to be to render a true account of the facts.
Who is the disciple whose authority the author thus seeks to make prevail? The title indicates it; it is “John.” There is not the least reason to suppose it may have been added in opposition to the intentions of the real author. It was certainly written at the head of our Gospel at the end of the second century. On the other hand, evangelical history only presents, outside of John the Baptist, a single personage of the name of John. It is necessary then to choose between the hypotheses; either we must acknowledge John, son of Zebedee, as the author of the fourth Gospel, or regard that Gospel as an apocryphal writing composed by some individual who wished to pass it off as a work of John, son of 314Zebedee. The question at issue here is not in fact one of legends, the work of multitudes, for which no person is responsible. A man who, in order to give credence to that which he records, deceives the public not only in regard to his name, but also as to the value of his testimony, is not a writer of legends, he is an impostor. Such a biography as that of Francis d'Assisi, written one or two hundred years posterior to that extraordinary man, may recount shoals of miracles created by tradition, without ceasing, for all that, to be one of the most candid and most innocent men of the world. But if this biography were to say, “I was his companion, he preferred me to any other, everything I am about to tell you is true, for I have seen it,” without contradicting the proper qualification, then it is quite another thing.
That fault is not, moreover, the only one which the author may have committed. We have three epistles which in like manner bear the name of John. If there is one thing in the domain of criticism which is probable, it is that the first at least of these epistles is by the same author as the fourth Gospel. One might almost denominate it as a detached chapter. The vocabulary of the two writings is identical. Now the language of the works of the New Testament is so poor in expression and so little varied that such inductions can be drawn with an almost absolute certainty. The author of this epistle, like the author of the Gospel, gives himself out as an eyewitness (1 John i. 1, et seq., iv. 14) of evangelical history. He represents himself as a person well-known, and enjoying high consideration in the Church. At first glance, it seems that the most natural hypothesis is to admit that the whole of these writings are indeed the work of John, son of Zebedee.
Let us hasten to add, nevertheless, that critics of the first order have not without grave reason rejected the authenticity of the fourth Gospel. The work is too rarely cited in the most ancient Christian literature; its authority only commences to be known much later. Nothing could less resemble than this Gospel that which might be expected from John, an old fisher on the Lake of Gennesareth. The Greek in which it is written is not in any sense the Palestinian Greek with which we are acquainted in the other books of 315the New Testament. The ideas, in particular, are of an entirely different order. Here we are in full Philonian and almost Gnostic metaphysics. The discourses of Jesus as they are reported by this pretended witness, this confidential friend, are false, often flat, nay impossible. In a word, the Apocalypse is also given out as the work of John, not, it is true, in the quality of Apostle, but by one who, in the churches of Asia, arrogates to himself such a preeminence, and who, with but little effort, can be identified with the Apostle John. Now, when we compare the style and the thoughts of the author of the Apocalypse with the style and the thoughts of the author of the fourth Gospel and the first Johannine epistle, we find the most striking discordance. How are we to get out of that labyrinth of singular contradictions and of inextricable difficulties?
For my part I see but one way. It is to hold that the fourth Gospel is, indeed, in a sense χατὰΙοάνοην, that it was not written by John himself, that it was for a long time esoteric and secret in one of the schools which adhered to John. To penetrate into the mystery of this school, to learn how the writing in question was put forth, is simply impossible. Can the notes or data left by the Apostle be used as a basis for the text which we have? Has a secretary, nurtured by the reading of Philo, and possessing a style of his own, given to the narratives and letters of his master a turn which without this they could never have had? Have we not here something analogous to the letters of Saint Catherine of Sienna, revised by her secretary, or to those revelations of Catherine Emmerich, of which we can say equally that they are by Catherine, and that they are by Bretano, the ideas of Catherine having traversed the style of Bretano? Have not some purely semi-Gnostics, at the close of the life of the Apostle, seized his pen, and, under the pretext of aiding him in writing his recollections and of assisting him in his correspondence, incorporated their ideas, and favourite expressions, covering themselves with his authority. Who is that Presbyteros Johannes, a sort of double of the Apostle, whose tomb is pointed out by the side of John's? Is he a different personage from the Apostle? Is he the Apostle himself whose long life was for many years the foundation 316of the hopes of believers? I have elsewhere touched upon these questions. I shall often return to them again. I have had but one aim in this: that in recurring so often in the “Life of Jesus” to the fourth Gospel, in order to establish the thread of my narrative, I have had strong reasons, even in the case of the said Gospel, for not holding it to be the work of the Apostle John.
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