On the Politics of Jesus Christ – From The Three Impostors (1776)
Pythagoras and Plato have both maintained the doctrine that the soul was immaterial in its nature; that is, a being existing without aid from the body, and capable of action uncontrolled by any thing corporeal. They hold that all the individual spirits of animals were emanations from the universal Soul of the World, and that these off-givings were incorporeal, immortal, and of the same nature as the pervading Essence itself. They illustrated their doctrine well, by the analogy of a thousand little lights which are all of the same nature as the great flame at which they were kindled.
On the Politics of Jesus Christ
The Three Impostors
Can anything be more subtle than the answer of Jesus concerning the woman taken in adultery? The Jews having demanded of him if they should stone her, instead of answering the question directly—a negative answer being directly contrary to the law, and an affirmative convicting him of severity and cruelty, which would have alienated their minds from him—instead, therefore, of replying as an ordinary individual would have done on the occasion—“Let him,” said he, “who is without sin amongst you cast the first stone at her.”
A shrewd reply, and one evincing great presence of mind. On another occasion, being shown a piece of money with the emperor’s image and superscription upon it, and asked if it were lawful to pay tribute money unto Cæsar, he eluded the difficulty of answering: “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s.” The false position in which they wished to place him was this: that if he denied that it was lawful, he was guilty of high treason; and if he said that it was, he went directly against the law of Moses, which he always protested that he never intended to do—knowing no doubt that he was too helpless to do so with impunity at that time. Afterwards, when he became more celebrated, he endeavoured to abrogate it almost totally: acting in this way not unlike those princes, who, until their power is thoroughly established, always promise to confirm the privileges of their subjects, but who, after that has been secured, care little for their promises.
After his death, his disciples being frustrated in their fondest hopes, made a virtue of necessity. Banished as they were from every place, and persecuted by the Jews, who were eager to treat them as they had treated their master, they wandered into the neighboring countries; in which, on the evidence of some women, they set forth the resurrection of Christ, his divinity, and the other fables wherewith the gospels are filled.
When the Pharisees asked him by what authority he taught the people and preached to them, he penetrated their intention—which was to convict him of falsehood; whether he answered that it was by human authority—he not being of the order of the priesthood, who alone were charged with the instruction of the people; or whether he preached by the express orders of God—his own doctrine being opposed to the law of Moses; he avoided their snare, and embarrassed themselves, by asking them in what name John baptised.
The Pharisees, who from political motives, rejected the baptism of John, would have condemned themselves if they had said that it was in the name of God; and if they had not said so, they would have exposed themselves to the rage of the populace, who maintained the opposite opinion. To get out of this dilemma, they answered that they could not tell: on which Jesus Christ replied, that neither was he obliged to tell them by what name or authority he taught the people.
Such was the character of the destroyer of the ancient law, and the founder of the new religion that was built upon its ruins; in which religion a disinterested mind can perceive nothing more divine than in any of those which preceded it. Its founder, who was not altogether ignorant, having witnessed extreme corruption in the Jewish republic, judged that its end was near, and thought it a favorable opportunity for forwarding his own designs.
The fear of being anticipated by men more able than himself, made him hasten to secure his ground by means entirely opposite to those adopted by Moses. The former began by rendering himself terrible to other nations. Jesus Christ, on the contrary, attracted mankind to himself by the hope of blessings in a life beyond the grave, which he said they would obtain by believing in him. Whilst Moses only promised temporal benefits to the observers of his law, Jesus Christ led his followers to hope for those which would never end.
The laws of the one only regarded exterior observances; those of the other looked into the heart, influenced the thoughts, and stood on opposite grounds to the law of Moses. Whence it follows, that Jesus Christ believed with Aristotle, that it is the same with religion and nations as with individuals who are born and who die; and as there is nothing which is not subject to dissolution, there is no law which must not in turn give place to another. But as there is difficulty in passing from one law to another, and as the greater part of men are stubborn in religious matters, Jesus Christ, in imitation of other innovators, had recourse to miracles, which have at all times confounded the ignorant, and advanced the projects of ambitious and designing men.
Christianity having been founded in this way, Jesus Christ wisely imagined that he could profit by the errors in the politics of Moses, and render his new law eternal—an undertaking in which he finally succeeded a little perhaps beyond his expectation. The Hebrew prophets intended to do honour to Moses, by predicting a successor who should resemble him—a Messiah great in virtues, powerful in wealth, and terrible to his enemies.
These prophecies, however, produced altogether a different effect from what they expected; a number of ambitious demagogues having embraced the opportunity of palming themselves off for the coming Messiah, which led to those insurrections and civil convulsions which lasted until the entire destruction of the ancient republic of the Hebrews. Jesus Christ, more subtle than the prophets who succeeded Moses, predicted that a man of this description would appear—the great enemy of God—the favorite of the demons—the aggregation of all the vices and the cause of all the desolation in the world. After such a splendid eulogy, one would think that nobody could resist the temptation of calling himself Antichrist; and I do not believe that it is possible to discover a secret equal to it for eternalizing a law, although there can be nothing more fabulous than what we read of concerning this pretended Antichrist.
St. Paul says that he was a ready born; whence it follows that he must have been on the watch for the coming of Jesus Christ: nevertheless, more than sixteen years rolled on after the prediction of the nativity of this formidable personage, without any one having heard of his appearance. I acknowledge that some have applied the terms to Ebion and Cerinthus, two great adversaries of Jesus Christ, whose pretended divinity they disputed.
But if this interpretation be the meaning of the Apostle, which is far from being credible, the words referred to must point out a host of Antichrists in all ages—it being impossible that truly learned men should think of injuring the cause of truth, by declaring that the history of Jesus Christ was a contemptible fable, and that his law was nothing but a series of dreams and reveries, which ignorance had brought in repute, which self-interest had encouraged, and which tyranny had taken under its especial protection.
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