V. VICTORY OF THE SCIENTIFIC AND LITERARY METHODS.
While this struggle for the new truth was going on in various fields, aid appeared from a quarter whence it was least expected. The great discoveries by Botta and Layard in Assyria were supplemented by the researches of Rawlinson, George Smith, Oppert, Sayce, Sarzec, Pinches, and others, and thus it was revealed more clearly than ever before that as far back as the time assigned in Genesis to the creation a great civilization was flourishing in Mesopotamia; that long ages, probably two thousand years, before the scriptural date assigned to the migration of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, this Chaldean civilization had bloomed forth in art, science, and literature; that the ancient inscriptions recovered from the sites of this and kindred civilizations presented the Hebrew sacred myths and legends in earlier forms--forms long antedating those given in the Hebrew Scriptures; and that the accounts of the Creation, the Tree of Life in Eden, the institution and even the name of the Sabbath, the Deluge, the Tower of Babel, and much else in the Pentateuch, were simply an evolution out of earlier Chaldean myths and legends. So perfect was the proof of this that the most eminent scholars in the foremost seats of Christian learning were obliged to acknowledge it.[]
The more general conclusions which were thus given to biblical criticism were all the more impressive from the fact that they had been revealed by various groups of earnest Christian scholars working on different lines, by different methods, and in various parts of the world. Very honourable was the full and frank testimony to these results given in 1885 by the Rev. Francis Brown, a professor in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at New York. In his admirable though brief book on Assyriology, starting with the declaration that "it is a great pity to be afraid of facts," he showed how Assyrian research testifies in many ways to the historical value of the Bible record; but at the same time he freely allowed to Chaldean history an antiquity fatal to the sacred chronology of the Hebrews. He also cast aside a mass of doubtful apologetics, and dealt frankly with the fact that very many of the early narratives in Genesis belong to the common stock of ancient tradition, and, mentioning as an example the cuneiform inscriptions which record a story of the Accadian king Sargon--how "he was born in retirement, placed by his mother in a basket of rushes, launched on a river, rescued and brought up by a stranger, after which he became king"--he did not hesitate to remind his readers that Sargon lived a thousand years and more before Moses; that this story was told of him several hundred years before Moses was born; and that it was told of various other important personages of antiquity. The professor dealt just as honestly with the inscriptions which show sundry statements in the book of Daniel to be unhistorical; candidly making admissions which but a short time before would have filled orthodoxy with horror.
A few years later came another testimony even more striking. Early in the last decade of the nineteenth century it was noised abroad that the Rev. Professor Sayce, of Oxford, the most eminent Assyriologist and Egyptologist of Great Britain, was about to publish a work in which what is known as the "higher criticism" was to be vigorously and probably destructively dealt with in the light afforded by recent research among the monuments of Assyria and Egypt. The book was looked for with eager expectation by the supporters of the traditional view of Scripture; but, when it appeared, the exultation of the traditionalists was speedily changed to dismay. For Prof. Sayce, while showing some severity toward sundry minor assumptions and assertions of biblical critics, confirmed all their more important conclusions which properly fell within his province. While his readers soon realized that these assumptions and assertions of overzealous critics no more disproved the main results of biblical criticism than the wild guesses of Kepler disproved the theory of Copernicus, or the discoveries of Galileo, or even the great laws which bear Kepler's own name, they found new mines sprung under some of the most lofty fortresses of the old dogmatic theology. A few of the statements of this champion of orthodoxy may be noted. He allowed that the week of seven days and the Sabbath rest are of Babylonian origin; indeed, that the very word "Sabbath" is Babylonian; that there are two narratives of Creation on the Babylonian tablets, wonderfully like the two leading Hebrew narratives in Genesis, and that the latter were undoubtedly drawn from the former; that the "garden of Eden" and its mystical tree were known to the inhabitants of Chaldea in pre-Semitic days; that the beliefs that woman was created out of man, and that man by sin fell from a state of innocence, are drawn from very ancient Chaldean-Babylonian texts; that Assyriology confirms the belief that the book Genesis is a compilation; that portions of it are by no means so old as the time of Moses; that the expression in our sacred book, "The Lord smelled a sweet savour" at the sacrifice made by Noah, is "identical with that of the Babylonian poet"; that "it is impossible to believe that the language of the latter was not known to the biblical writer" and that the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife was drawn in part from the old Egyptian tale of _The Two Brothers_. Finally, after a multitude of other concessions, Prof. Sayce allowed that the book of Jonah, so far from being the work of the prophet himself, can not have been written until the Assyrian Empire was a thing of the past; that the book of Daniel contains serious mistakes; that the so-called historical chapters of that book so conflict with the monuments that the author can not have been a contemporary of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus; that "the story of Belshazzar's fall is not historical"; that the Belshazzar referred to in it as king, and as the son of Nehuchadnezzar, was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and was never king; that "King Darius the Mede," who plays so great a part in the story, never existed; that the book associates persons and events really many years apart, and that it must have been written at a period far later than the time assigned in it for its own origin.
As to the book of Ezra, he tells us that we are confronted by a chronological inconsistency which no amount of ingenuity can explain away. He also acknowledges that the book of Esther "contains many exaggerations and improbabilities, and is simply founded upon one of those same historical tales of which the Persian chronicles seem to have been full." Great was the dissatisfaction of the traditionalists with their expected champion; well might they repeat the words of Balak to Balaam, "I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them."[]
No less fruitful have been modern researches in Egypt. While, on one hand, they have revealed a very considerable number of geographical and archaeological facts proving the good faith of the narratives entering into the books attributed to Moses, and have thus made our early sacred literature all the more valuable, they have at the same time revealed the limitations of the sacred authors and compilers. They have brought to light facts utterly disproving the sacred Hebrew date of creation and the main framework of the early biblical chronology; they have shown the suggestive correspondence between the ten antediluvian patriarchs in Genesis and the ten early dynasties of the Egyptian gods, and have placed by the side of these the ten antediluvian kings of Chaldean tradition, the ten heroes of Armenia, the ten primeval kings of Persian sacred tradition, the ten "fathers" of Hindu sacred tradition, and multitudes of other tens, throwing much light on the manner in which the sacred chronicles of ancient nations were generally developed.
These scholars have also found that the legends of the plagues of Egypt are in the main but natural exaggerations of what occurs every year; as, for example, the changing of the water of the Nile into blood--evidently suggested by the phenomena exhibited every summer, when, as various eminent scholars, and, most recent of all, Maspero and Sayce, tell us, "about the middle of July, in eight or ten days the river turns from grayish blue to dark red, occasionally of so intense a colour as to look like newly shed blood." These modern researches have also shown that some of the most important features in the legends can not possibly be reconciled with the records of the monuments; for example, that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was certainly not overwhelmed in the Red Sea. As to the supernatural features of the Hebrew relations with Egypt, even the most devoted apologists have become discreetly silent.
Egyptologists have also translated for us the old Nile story of _The Two Brothers_, and have shown, as we have already seen, that one of the most striking parts of our sacred Joseph legend was drawn from it; they have been obliged to admit that the story of the exposure of Moses in the basket of rushes, his rescue, and his subsequent greatness, had been previously told, long before Moses's time, not only of King Sargon, but of various other great personages of the ancient world; they have published plans of Egyptian temples and copies of the sculptures upon their walls, revealing the earlier origin of some of the most striking features of the worship and ceremonial claimed to have been revealed especially to the Hebrews; they have found in the _Egyptian Book of the Dead_, and in various inscriptions of the Nile temples and tombs, earlier sources of much in the ethics so long claimed to have been revealed only to the chosen people in the Book of the Covenant, in the ten commandments, and elsewhere; they have given to the world copies of the Egyptian texts showing that the theology of the Nile was one of various fruitful sources of later ideas, statements, and practices regarding the brazen serpent, the golden calf, trinities, miraculous conceptions, incarnations, resurrections, ascensions, and the like, and that Egyptian sacro-scientific ideas contributed to early Jewish and Christian sacred literature statements, beliefs, and even phrases regarding the Creation, astronomy, geography, magic, medicine, diabolical influences, with a multitude of other ideas, which we also find coming into early Judaism in greater or less degree from Chaldean and Persian sources.
But Egyptology, while thus aiding to sweep away the former conception of our sacred books, has aided biblical criticism in making them far more precious; for it has shown them to be a part of that living growth of sacred literature whose roots are in all the great civilizations of the past, and through whose trunk and branches are flowing the currents which are to infuse a higher religious and ethical life into the civilizations of the future.[]
But while archaeologists thus influenced enlightened opinion, another body of scholars rendered services of a different sort--the centre of their enterprise being the University of Oxford. By their efforts was presented to the English-speaking world a series of translations of the sacred books of the East, which showed the relations of the more Eastern sacred literature to our own, and proved that in the religions of the world the ideas which have come as the greatest blessings to mankind are not of sudden revelation or creation, but of slow evolution out of a remote past.
The facts thus shown did not at first elicit much gratitude from supporters of traditional theology, and perhaps few things brought more obloquy on Renan, for a time, than his statement that "the influence of Persia is the most powerful to which Israel was submitted." Whether this was an overstatement or not, it was soon seen to contain much truth. Not only was it made clear by study of the Zend Avesta that the Old and New Testament ideas regarding Satanic and demoniacal modes of action were largely due to Persian sources, but it was also shown that the idea of immortality was mainly developed in the Hebrew mind during the close relations of the Jews with the Persians. Nor was this all. In the Zend Avesta were found in earlier form sundry myths and legends which, judging from their frequent appearance in early religions, grow naturally about the history of the adored teachers of our race. Typical among these was the Temptation of Zoroaster.
It is a fact very significant and full of promise that the first large, frank, and explicit revelation regarding this whole subject in form available for the general thinking public was given to the English-speaking world by an eminent Christian divine and scholar, the Rev. Dr. Mills. Having already shown himself by his translations a most competent authority on the subject, he in 1894 called attention, in a review widely read, to "the now undoubted and long since suspected fact that it pleased the Divine Power to reveal some of the important articles of our Catholic creed first to the Zoroastrians, and through their literature to the Jews and ourselves." Among these beliefs Dr. Mills traced out very conclusively many Jewish doctrines regarding the attributes of God, and all, virtually, regarding the attributes of Satan. There, too, he found accounts of the Miraculous Conception, Virgin Birth, and Temptation of Zoroaster, As to the last, Dr. Mills presented a series of striking coincidences with our own later account. As to its main features, he showed that there had been developed among the Persians, many centuries before the Christian era, the legend of a vain effort of the arch-demon, one seat of whose power was the summit of Mount Arezura, to tempt Zoroaster to worship him,--of an argument between tempter and tempted,--and of Zoroaster's refusal; and the doctor continued: "No Persian subject in the streets of Jerusalem, soon after or long after the Return, could have failed to know this striking myth." Dr. Mills then went on to show that, among the Jews, "the doctrine of immortality was scarcely mooted before the later Isaiah--that is, before the captivity--while the Zoroastrian scriptures are one mass of spiritualism, referring all results to the heavenly or to the infernal worlds." He concludes by saying that, as regards the Old and New Testaments, "the humble, and to a certain extent prior, religion of the Mazda worshippers was useful in giving point and beauty to many loose conceptions among the Jewish religious teachers, and in introducing many ideas which were entirely new, while as to the doctrines of immortality and resurrection--the most important of all--it positively determined belief."[]
Even more extensive were the revelations made by scientific criticism applied to the sacred literature of southern and eastern Asia. The resemblances of sundry fundamental narratives and ideas in our own sacred books with those of Buddhism were especially suggestive.
Here, too, had been a long preparatory history. The discoveries in Sanscrit philology made in the latter half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, by Sir William Jones, Carey, Wilkins, Foster, Colebrooke, and others, had met at first with some opposition from theologians. The declaration by Dugald Stewart that the discovery of Sanscrit was fraudulent, and its vocabulary and grammar patched together out of Greek and Latin, showed the feeling of the older race of biblical students. But researches went on. Bopp, Burnouf, Lassen, Weber, Whitney, Max Muller, and others continued the work during the nineteenth century more and more evident became the sources from which many ideas and narratives in our own sacred books had been developed. Studies in the sacred books of Brahmanism, and in the institutions of Buddhism, the most widespread of all religions, its devotees outnumbering those of all branches of the Christian Church together, proved especially fruitful in facts relating to general sacred literature and early European religious ideas.
Noteworthy in the progress of this knowledge was the work of Fathers Huc and Gabet. In 1839 the former of these, a French Lazarist priest, set out on a mission to China. Having prepared himself at Macao by eighteen months of hard study, and having arrayed himself like a native, even to the wearing of the queue and the staining of his skin, he visited Peking and penetrated Mongolia. Five years later, taking Gabet with him, both disguised as Lamas, he began his long and toilsome journey to the chief seats of Buddhism in Thibet, and, after two years of fearful dangers and sufferings, accomplished it. Driven out finally by the Chinese, Huc returned to Europe in 1852, having made one of the most heroic, self-denying, and, as it turned out, one of the most valuable efforts in all the noble annals of Christian missions. His accounts of these journevs, written in a style simple, clear, and interesting, at once attracted attention throughout the world. But far more important than any services he had rendered to the Church he served was the influence of his book upon the general opinions of thinking men; for he completed a series of revelations made by earlier, less gifted, and less devoted travellers, and brought to the notice of the world the amazing similarity of the ideas, institutions, observances, ceremonies, and ritual, and even the ecclesiastical costumes of the Buddhists to those of his own Church.
Buddhism was thus shown with its hierarchy, in which the Grand Lama, an infallible representative of the Most High, is surrounded by its minor Lamas, much like cardinals; with its bishops wearing mitres, its celibate priests with shaven crown, cope, dalmatic, and censer; its cathedrals with clergy gathered in the choir; its vast monasteries filled with monks and nuns vowed to poverty, chastity, and obedience; its church arrangements, with shrines of saints and angels; its use of images, pictures, and illuminated missals; its service, with a striking general resemblance to the Mass; antiphonal choirs; intoning of prayers; recital of creeds; repetition of litanies; processions; mystic rites and incense; the offering and adoration of bread upon an altar lighted by candles; the drinking from a chalice by the priest; prayers and offerings for the dead; benediction with outstretched hands; fasts, confessions, and doctrine of purgatory--all this and more was now clearly revealed. The good father was evidently staggered by these amazing facts; but his robust faith soon gave him an explanation: he suggested that Satan, in anticipation of Christianity, had revealed to Buddhism this divinely constituted order of things. This naive explanation did not commend itself to his superiors in the Roman Church. In the days of St. Augustine or of St. Thomas Aquinas it would doubtless have been received much more kindly; but in the days of Cardinal Antonelli this was hardly to be expected: the Roman authorities, seeing the danger of such plain revelations in the nineteenth century, even when coupled with such devout explanations, put the book under the ban, though not before it had been spread throughout the world in various translations. Father Huc was sent on no more missions.
Yet there came even more significant discoveries, especially bearing upon the claims of that great branch of the Church which supposes itself to possess a divine safeguard against error in belief. For now was brought to light by literary research the irrefragable evidence that the great Buddha--Sakya Muni himself--had been canonized and enrolled among the Christian saints whose intercession may be invoked, and in whose honour images, altars, and chapels may be erected; and this, not only by the usage of the medieval Church, Greek and Roman, but by the special and infallible sanction of a long series of popes, from the end of the sixteenth century to the end of the nineteenth--a sanction granted under one of the most curious errors in human history. The story enables us to understand the way in which many of the beliefs of Christendom have been developed, especially how they have been influenced from the seats of older religions; and it throws much light into the character and exercise of papal infallibility.
Early in the seventh century there was composed, as is now believed, at the Convent of St. Saba near Jerusalem, a pious romance entitled _Barlaam and Josaphat_--the latter personage, the hero of the story, being represented as a Hindu prince converted to Christianity by the former.
This story, having been attributed to St. John of Damascus in the following century became amazingly popular, and was soon accepted as true: it was translated from the Greek original not only into Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic, but into every important European language, including even Polish, Bohemian, and Icelandic. Thence it came into the pious historical encyclopaedia of Vincent of Beauvais, and, most important of all, into the _Lives of the Saints_.
Hence the name of its pious hero found its way into the list of saints whose intercession is to be prayed for, and it passed without challenge until about 1590, when, the general subject of canonization having been brought up at Rome, Pope Sixtus V, by virtue of his infallibility and immunity against error in everything relating to faith and morals, sanctioned a revised list of saints, authorizing and directing it to be accepted by the Church; and among those on whom he thus forever infallibly set the seal of Heaven was included "_The Holy Saint Josaphat of India_, whose wonderful acts St. John of Damascus has related." The 27th of November was appointed as the day set apart in honour of this saint, and the decree, having been enforced by successive popes for over two hundred and fifty years, was again officially approved by Pius IX in 1873. This decree was duly accepted as infallible, and in one of the largest cities of Italy may to-day be seen a Christian church dedicated to this saint. On its front are the initials of his Italianized name; over its main entrance is the inscription "_Divo Josafat_"; and within it is an altar dedicated to the saint--above this being a pedestal bearing his name and supporting a large statue which represents him as a youthful prince wearing a crown and contemplating a crucifix.
Moreover, relics of this saint were found; bones alleged to be parts of his skeleton, having been presented by a Doge of Venice to a King of Portugal, are now treasured at Antwerp.
But even as early as the sixteenth century a pregnant fact regarding this whole legend was noted: for the Portuguese historian Diego Conto showed that it was identical with the legend of Buddha. Fortunately for the historian, his faith was so robust that he saw in this resemblance only a trick of Satan; the life of Buddha being, in his opinion, merely a diabolic counterfeit of the life of Josaphat centuries before the latter was lived or written--just as good Abbe Huc saw in the ceremonies of Buddhism a similar anticipatory counterfeit of Christian ritual.
There the whole matter virtually rested for about three hundred years--various scholars calling attention to the legend as a curiosity, but none really showing its true bearings--until, in 1859, Laboulaye in France, Liebrecht in Germany, and others following them, demonstrated that this Christian work was drawn almost literally from an early biography of Buddha, being conformed to it in the most minute details, not only of events but of phraseology; the only important changes being that, at the end of the various experiences showing the wretchedness of the world, identical with those ascribed in the original to the young Prince Buddha, the hero, instead of becoming a hermit, becomes a Christian, and that for the appellation of Buddha-- "Bodisat"--is substituted the more scriptural name Josaphat.
Thus it was that, by virtue of the infallibility vouchsafed to the papacy in matters of faith and morals, Buddha became a Christian saint.
Yet these were by no means the most pregnant revelations. As the Buddhist scriptures were more fully examined, there were disclosed interesting anticipations of statements in later sacred books. The miraculous conception of Buddha and his virgin birth, like that of Horus in Egypt and of Krishna in India; the previous annunciation to his mother Maja; his birth during a journey by her; the star appearing in the east, and the angels chanting in the heavens at his birth; his temptation--all these and a multitude of other statements were full of suggestions to larger thought regarding the development of sacred literature in general. Even the eminent Roman Catholic missionary Bishop Bigandet was obliged to confess, in his scholarly life of Buddha, these striking similarities between the Buddhist scriptures and those which it was his mission to expound, though by this honest statement his own further promotion was rendered impossible. Fausboll also found the story of the judgment of Solomon imbedded in Buddhist folklore; and Sir Edwin Arnold, by his poem, _The Light of Asia_, spread far and wide a knowledge of the anticipation in Buddhism of some ideas which down to a recent period were considered distinctively Christian. Imperfect as the revelations thus made of an evolution of religious beliefs, institutions, and literature still are, they have not been without an important bearing upon the newer conception of our own sacred books: more and more manifest has become the interdependence of all human development; more and more clear the truth that Christianity, as a great fact in man's history, is not dependent for its life upon any parasitic growths of myth and legend, no matter how beautiful they may be.[]
No less important was the closer research into the New Testament during the latter part of the nineteenth century. To go into the subject in detail would be beyond the scope of this work, but a few of the main truths which it brought before the world may be here summarized.[]
By the new race of Christian scholars it has been clearly shown that the first three Gospels, which, down to the close of the last century, were so constantly declared to be three independent testimonies agreeing as to the events recorded, are neither independent of each other nor in that sort of agreement which was formerly asserted. All biblical scholars of any standing, even the most conservative, have come to admit that all three took their rise in the same original sources, growing by the accretions sure to come as time went on--accretions sometimes useful and often beautiful, but in no inconsiderable degree ideas and even narratives inherited from older religions: it is also fully acknowledged that to this growth process are due certain contradictions which can not otherwise be explained. As to the fourth Gospel, exquisitely beautiful as large portions of it are, there has been growing steadily and irresistibly the conviction, even among the most devout scholars, that it has no right to the name, and does not really give the ideas of St. John, but that it represents a mixture of Greek philosophy with Jewish theology, and that its final form, which one of the most eminent among recent Christian scholars has characterized as "an unhistorical product of abstract reflection," is mainly due to some gifted representative or representatives of the Alexandrian school. Bitter as the resistance to this view has been, it has during the last years of the nineteenth century won its way more and more to acknowledgment. A careful examination made in 1893 by a competent Christian scholar showed facts which are best given in his own words, as follows: "In the period of thirty years ending in 1860, of the fifty great authorities in this line, _four to one_ were in favour of the Johannine authorship. Of those who in that period had advocated this traditional position, one quarter--and certainly the very greatest--finally changed their position to the side of a late date and non-Johannine authorship. Of those who have come into this field of scholarship since about 1860, some forty men of the first class, two thirds reject the traditional theory wholly or very largely. Of those who have contributed important articles to the discussion from about 1880 to 1890, about _two to one_ reject the Johannine authorship of the Gospel in its present shape--that is to say, while forty years ago great scholars were _four to one in favour of_, they are now _two to one against_, the claim that the apostle John wrote this Gospel as we have it. Again, one half of those on the conservative side to-day--scholars like Weiss, Beyschlag, Sanday, and Reynolds--admit the existence of a dogmatic intent and an ideal element in this Gospel, so that we do not have Jesus's thought in his exact words, but only in substance."[]
In 1881 came an event of great importance as regards the development of a more frank and open dealing with scriptural criticism. In that year appeared the Revised Version of the New Testament. It was exceedingly cautious and conservative; but it had the vast merit of being absolutely conscientious. One thing showed, in a striking way, ethical progress in theological methods. Although all but one of the English revisers represented Trinitarian bodies, they rejected the two great proof texts which had so long been accounted essential bulwarks of Trinitarian doctrine. Thus disappeared at last from the Epistle of St. John the text of the Three Witnesses, which had for centuries held its place in spite of its absence from all the earlier important manuscripts, and of its rejection in later times by Erasmus, Luther, Isaac Newton, Porson, and a long line of the greatest biblical scholars. And with this was thrown out the other like unto it in spurious origin and zealous intent, that interpolation of the word "God" in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the First Epistle to Timothy, which had for ages served as a warrant for condemning some of the noblest of Christians, even such men as Newton and Milton and Locke and Priestley and Channing.
Indeed, so honest were the revisers that they substituted the correct reading of Luke ii, 33, in place of the time-honoured corruption in the King James version which had been thought necessary to safeguard the dogma of the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus came the true reading, "His _father_ and his mother" instead of the old piously fraudulent words "_Joseph_ and his mother."
An even more important service to the new and better growth of Christianity was the virtual setting aside of the last twelve verses of the Gospel according to St. Mark; for among these stood that sentence which has cost the world more innocent blood than any other--the words "He that believeth not shall be damned." From this source had logically grown the idea that the intellectual rejection of this or that dogma which dominant theology had happened at any given time to pronounce essential, since such rejection must bring punishment infinite in agony and duration, is a crime to be prevented at any cost of finite cruelty. Still another service rendered to humanity by the revisers was in substituting a new and correct rendering for the old reading of the famous text regarding the inspiration of Scripture, which had for ages done so much to make our sacred books a fetich. By this more correct reading the revisers gave a new charter to liberty in biblical research.[]
Most valuable, too, have been studies during the latter part of the nineteenth century upon the formation of the canon of Scripture. The result of these has been to substitute something far better for that conception of our biblical literature, as forming one book handed out of the clouds by the Almighty, which had been so long practically the accepted view among probably the majority of Christians. Reverent scholars have demonstrated our sacred literature to be a growth in obedience to simple laws natural and historical; they have shown how some books of the Old Testament were accepted as sacred, centuries before our era, and how others gradually gained sanctity, in some cases only fully acquiring it long after the establishment of the Christian Church. The same slow growth has also been shown in the New Testament canon. It has been demonstrated that the selection of the books composing it, and their separation from the vast mass of spurious gospels, epistles, and apocalytic literature was a gradual process, and, indeed, that the rejection of some books and the acceptance of others was accidental, if anything is accidental.
So, too, scientific biblical research has, as we have seen, been obliged to admit the existence of much mythical and legendary matter, as a setting for the great truths not only of the Old Testament but of the New. It has also shown, by the comparative study of literatures, the process by which some books were compiled and recompiled, adorned with beautiful utterances, strengthened or weakened by alterations and interpolations expressing the views of the possessors or transcribers, and attributed to personages who could not possibly have written them. The presentation of these things has greatly weakened that sway of mere dogma which has so obscured the simple teachings of Christ himself; for it has shown that the more we know of our sacred books, the less certain we become as to the authenticity of "proof texts," and it has disengaged more and more, as the only valuable residuum, like the mass of gold at the bottom of the crucible, the personality, spirit, teaching, and ideals of the blessed Founder of Christianity. More and more, too, the new scholarship has developed the conception of the New Testament as, like the Old, the growth of literature in obedience to law--a conception which in all probability will give it its strongest hold on the coming centuries. In making this revelation Christian scholarship has by no means done work mainly destructive. It has, indeed, swept away a mass of noxious growths, but it has at the same time cleared the ground for a better growth of Christianity--a growth through which already pulsates the current of a nobler life. It has forever destroyed the contention of scholars like those of the eighteenth century who saw, in the multitude of irreconcilable discrepancies between various biblical statements, merely evidences of priestcraft and intentional fraud. The new scholarship has shown that even such absolute contradictions as those between the accounts of the early life of Jesus by Matthew and Luke, and between the date of the crucifixion and details of the resurrection in the first three Gospels and in the fourth, and other discrepancies hardly less serious, do not destroy the historical character of the narrative. Even the hopelessly conflicting genealogies of the Saviour and the evidently mythical accretions about the simple facts of his birth and life are thus full of interest when taken as a natural literary development in obedience to the deepest religious feeling.[]
Among those who have wrought most effectively to bring the leaders of thought in the English-speaking nations to this higher conception, Matthew Arnold should not be forgotten. By poetic insight, broad scholarship, pungent statement, pithy argument, and an exquisitely lucid style, he aided effectually during the latter half of the nineteenth century in bringing the work of specialists to bear upon the development of a broader and deeper view. In the light of his genius a conception of our sacred books at the same time more literary as well as more scientific has grown widely and vigorously, while the older view which made of them a fetich and a support for unchristian dogmas has been more and more thrown into the background. The contributions to these results by the most eminent professors at the great Christian universities of the English-speaking world, Oxford and Cambridge taking the lead, are most hopeful signs of a new epoch. Very significant also is a change in the style of argument against the scientific view. Leading supporters of the older opinions see more and more clearly the worthlessness of rhetoric against ascertained fact: mere dogged resistance to cogent argument evidently avails less and less; and the readiness of the more prominent representatives of the older thought to consider opposing arguments, and to acknowledge any force they may have, is certainly of good omen. The concessions made in _Lux Mundi_ regarding scriptural myths and legends have been already mentioned.
Significant also has been the increasing reprobation in the Church itself of the profound though doubtless unwitting immoralities of _reconcilers_. The castigation which followed the exploits of the greatest of these in our own time--Mr. Gladstone, at the hands of Prof. Huxley--did much to complete a work in which such eminent churchmen as Stanley, Farrar, Sanday, Cheyne, Driver, and Sayce had rendered good service.
Typical among these evidences of a better spirit in controversy has been the treatment of the question regarding mistaken quotations from the Old Testament in the New, and especially regarding quotations by Christ himself. For a time this was apparently the most difficult of all matters dividing the two forces; but though here and there appear champions of tradition, like the Bishop of Gloucester, effectual resistance to the new view has virtually ceased; in one way or another the most conservative authorities have accepted the undoubted truth revealed by a simple scientific method. Their arguments have indeed been varied. While some have fallen back upon Le Clerc's contention that "Christ did not come to teach criticism to the Jews," and others upon Paley's argument that the Master shaped his statements in accordance with the ideas of his time, others have taken refuge in scholastic statements--among them that of Irenaeus regarding "a quiescence of the divine word," or the somewhat startling explanation by sundry recent theologians that "our Lord emptied himself of his Godhead."[]
Nor should there be omitted a tribute to the increasing courtesy shown in late years by leading supporters of the older view. During the last two decades of the present century there has been a most happy departure from the older method of resistance, first by plausibilities, next by epithets, and finally by persecution. To the bitterness of the attacks upon Darwin, the Essayists and Reviewers, and Bishop Colenso, have succeeded, among really eminent leaders, a far better method and tone. While Matthew Arnold no doubt did much in commending "sweet reasonableness" to theological controversialists, Mr. Gladstone, by his perfect courtesy to his opponents, even when smarting under their heaviest blows, has set a most valuable example. Nor should the spirit shown by Bishop Ellicott, leading a forlorn hope for the traditional view, pass without a tribute of respect. Truly pathetic is it to see this venerable and learned prelate, one of the most eminent representatives of the older biblical research, even when giving solemn warnings against the newer criticisms, and under all the temptations of _ex cathedra_ utterance, remaining mild and gentle and just in the treatment of adversaries whose ideas he evidently abhors. Happily, he is comforted by the faith that Christianity will survive; and this faith his opponents fully share.[]
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