Chapter 6

Jesus and Hebrew Human Nature

There are writers who see clearly that the four evangelists could not have invented the character of Jesus, and who know that the story of his manifestation violates every known law that governs the birth and growth of myths; but they tell us Jesus was nevertheless only a man. They say he did really live in Palestine in the days of Augustus, Tiberius, Herod, and Pilate, and that he was only a man after all—a man of very great gifts and virtues, the best man and the greatest teacher that ever lived. This means that human nature was capable of producing Jesus; it means that Hebrew human nature in that country and in that age was capable of producing Jesus, his doctrines and his life. In other words, he was a most extraordinary but still a natural product of his race, country, and time; the normal product, though the consummate flower, of Jewish life.

In considering that the evangelists, granting them ability of all sorts for the invention of so perfect a character and such a character, must have given us a different character, some of the difficulties of the natural development theory were incidentally brought into view. But there are other matters to be fairly considered in connection with this method of accounting for Jesus.

Jesus, in one of the simplest—yet it is one of the profoundest and most comprehensive of philosophical principles—gave us the germ of our inductive philosophy and our modern scientific method. When he said, "By their fruits ye shall know them," he taught us that we are to make our theories conform to ascertained facts rather than explain our facts by our preconceived theories. It is by the fruit we are to know what the quality of the tree is.

What manner of fruit grew on this long-lived Hebrew tree? You can seek the answer for yourself; all Hebrew history will tell you.
Begin with the story of Abraham, in Genesis, and follow through the centuries the thread of Hebrew history to the times of Caesar Augustus and of Jesus, if you will, till our own time. We find in that history patriarchs, law-givers, priests, judges, soldiers, kings, statesmen, poets, reformers, and prophets. We have Abraham and the other patriarchs; Moses, Aaron, and his successors; Joshua and his compatriots; Samuel, last and best of a long line of judges; Saul, David—poet, as well as soldier and king; Solomon, genius and philosopher, sage and profligate; Isaiah and the other prophets; Nehemiah and other reformers; Daniel, the statesman, in the service of an alien prince, the conqueror of his people. In later times we have Judas Maccabaeus, the heroic defender of his country, and the other mighty men who gave their lives in a hopeless struggle for the freedom of their nation. Still later we read of men like Annas and Caiaphas, the wicked high-priests of an evil time. We have Gamaliel, learned in the law, and his pupil, Saul of Tarsus. (But for Jesus there would have been no Paul.) We have the men brought to view as "disciples" of Jesus. Later on appear such a man as Josephus and the brave men who fought the Romans and died for Jerusalem. Consider them all, the strong and the weak, the good and the bad, as they grew upon this Hebrew tree. These men show the best as well as the worst it could do. We must judge this tree by its fruits.

Can we place Jesus among them and count him as one of them—the best of them? Could a tree which produces these others produce him? To ask the question is to answer it.

I know what some writers have to say when they speak of finding types of Jesus among those who lived before him; what they say of Moses, Joshua, and others. Some of them were truly great and good men—among the best the human race can show for itself. But we cannot place Jesus among them; they do not approach him, and they are not like him. He stands alone and apart. He is not only above them, he is unlike them. The question is not simply whether the Hebrew tree, judging it by all its other fruits, was capable of producing this one perfect character in all the world, but also whether it could have produced this kind of character? Certainly it never did before him or after him. Search history for one shadow of proof that this race—wonderful and unique in all times and countries—from Abraham to Disraeli had in it any powers that could, as a normal development, produce Jesus of Nazareth.

If you will you may give your inquiries wider range. Forget that Jesus was a Jew by blood and birth and training. Try all history; search the records of other nations. Tell me of the sages and reformers—the great and good men of other people and countries; of Zoroaster, Confucius, Socrates, Buddha, and the rest; of Moses or any other Jew you could name along with them. Is Jesus only one of them? The best of them perhaps—but only one of them? Read all you may of them as their best friends tell their stories, and you would recoil if some maker of cyclopedias should talk of only adding the name of Jesus.

It is not simply that you have heard your mother pray to Jesus; it is not simply the prompting of your "cradle faith." The reason lies deeper; if today for the first time you were to read of the great and holy men of other nations and of Jesus you must think of him, without waiting to reason why, in a place by himself, as a great star shines alone. No light is so splendid but the eye knows the sunlight for what it is.

But it is not, as you know, a question as to what the human race in some age could do; it is, what could the Hebrew race do in the age of Caesar Augustus? For Jesus was of the Hebrew race and of that age.

But for the moment forget this limitation of our inquiry and ask, What could that age do? It is like asking, What could the Roman race and civilization do? For the glory of Egypt and Babylon had long departed, and the great Greeks were before the time of Jesus. Roman life then dominated the world, and Roman life did its utmost in producing Julius Caesar. But there was not in Roman life, tradition, thought, sentiment, one quality or influence of any sort whatsoever that could have any relation to the production of a character like this that the evangelists have given us.

But at last we must ask simply this question: What could the Hebrew race in that age do?

Only Jewish influences entered into the life of Jesus. There is not in any single thought or word of his so much as an echo of any thing characteristic of other peoples. There is not an undertone in his thoughts from the Greek or Roman masters. He had nothing from other teachers or thinkers. He was only a Jew, never out of Palestine, of a peasant family in Galilee. The Galilean was a narrow, suspicious, and revengeful man; provincial to the last degree; holding fast old ideas and rejecting new ones with little regard to argument or evidence—the "Bourbon" of his time. He was a man of bitterer prejudices than characterized even the men of Judea. But even Galilee had its best and its worse, and Jesus was brought up in a disreputable mountain town. "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" was a common proverb, carrying its own answer and indicating the estimate placed upon the little town by the better people of the country.

Jesus was untaught in the greater schools of his own people. "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" implies more than that his hearers knew his history well enough to know he was not school-trained as their scribes were; it means that they knew he did not speak as their scholars spoke. Jesus did not talk like a book; he was not learned in books; his language indicates, so far as books count, knowledge of the Scriptures only; he could read, but he was no scholar.

Compare now the conditions under which this young carpenter of Nazareth, working at his trade, and doing good work till he was thirty years old, grew into manhood; consider what his people were at their best; consider how little of what was best in Hebrew life entered into his Galilean bringing up; consider the hard conditions and the narrow limitations of his life, and tell me whether Jesus is a normal development of his race and time and place?

We will now speak of his teachings; compare him with his natural conditions. There is nothing in all human history that makes it possible to believe that a mere Jew, brought up in that Nazareth, could have become this flawless, perfect character. If it be otherwise there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in heredity or environment; then any soil can produce any fruits. Better expect to find the kingly trees of the Yosemite Valley growing with the stunted sage of Arizona.

Consider the teachings of Jesus and tell me can this perfection of truth come out of Nazareth? Consider what he teaches about God, the human soul, sin, reconciliation, salvation and immortality. Consider how he teaches and illustrates in his life the brotherhood of the human race. Consider his ethics—his doctrines of rights and wrongs. What he teaches about rights and wrongs, in principle and practice, is so absolutely full and perfect that good men—the best men in the world today, so long after his time—cannot so much as conceive of one single virtue he did not teach or of one single evil that he did not condemn. Nay, the wisest and best are always trying to teach men the truth Jesus taught; and his standard is so high that no sane and honest man has ever professed to have reached it.

One writer has ventured, in order to find one spot on this sun, to say, Jesus did not teach patriotism! His whole life was devoted to his people; his doctrines nourish and conserve patriotism. He did not teach the thing a mere partisan of a clan or tribe calls patriotism; then he would have been only a Galilean zealot. He teaches the only patriotism a good man can respect—a love of country that believes in righteousness and the golden rule that loves its own and another's too. If Jesus be only a man—a Galilean Jew, we must remember—he contradicts in his flawless all-around character and perfect teaching the conditions of his life. This perfection of character and teaching on the one hand, and this Galilean Jew and Nazarene carpenter on the other, not only do not agree, they cannot exist together. It is by his life that we realize how imperfect all others are; it is by his teachings that we test the rights and wrongs of all other teachings.

There is absolutely nothing in his race or age that accounts for Jesus. That he was a normal product of his race and age contradicts every law of life we know. If it be not so all history goes for nothing and there is no law or reason in the nature of things.

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