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The Birth of the Christian Religion

Chapter III


WE have seen that the circumstances of Jesus' death are far from being defined in their details, even in those which would be of considerable importance to the historian, such as the date, now impossible to determine not only as to the day, but equally so, and primarily, as to the year. A still deeper obscurity reigns over the question now to come before us. Under what conditions did the disciples of Jesus acquire their faith in the victory over death which they quickly came to believe had been. won by the Master they had lost: under what conditions did they acquire the eager desire, the strong will, the firm resolution, to spread this faith abroad as the sole means of admission to the Kingdom of God which Jesus, now glorified as the risen Christ, would soon bring down to earth?

We may assume that Jesus was crucified in one of the years between 26 and 29 and that the event occurred a little before the feast of the Passover. How then shall we explain the reaction of the disciples to a blow which might well have shattered their faith, but which actually ended by exalting it to new heights? In what conditions did they set about the propagation of the faith thus newly enhanced? How came it to pass that the propagation of it was so promptly carried beyond the borders of Palestine? These are questions which legend and myth have answered with much assurance and equal simplicity, but to which probable answers based on certain significant traces, debris of a deposit left by a true tradition and not entirely overlaid by legend and myth, are the best answers the historian is able to offer.


On the evening of the day when Jesus breathed his last, no man living could have foreseen the incomparable future awaiting the unfortunate prophet whose hopes of a renovated world had 


received from the course of events a refutation so complete and so cruel. The executioners who took down his body from the cross doubtless flung it, perhaps after giving a finishing blow to the half-dead sufferer, into some trench reserved for those deemed unworthy of honourable burial, in conformity with the Jewish law which forbad the bodies of executed criminals to be exposed after sunset. Perhaps the place of burial was "the field of blood," Aceldama, [1] to which Christian tradition has clumsily tacked on the legend of Judas, making Judas into a substitute for him who was not to be thought of as buried for ever in such a place. However that may be, the legend of the laying-out and burial of the body by Joseph of Arimathea, conceived as the fulfilment of prophecy (probably Isaiah liii, 9) and of one piece with the apologetic fiction of the empty tomb, is also a fiction.

The usual practice was to cast the body of an executed criminal into the common grave, unless the family obtained permission to bury it in their own way. At the time when the tradition was born it was known that in the case of Jesus nobody intervened. But later on, when the need was felt to give the Christ an honourable burial, which the family was thought unable to do, tradition imagined for the part a person of consideration alike for his social standing and character. But the invention of Joseph of Arimathea to play the part of intervener is a perceptible artifice, so, too, is the invention of women, in default of the disciples then in flight, as the most likely witnesses of the burial and afterwards of the resurrection. Even in the Fourth Gospel we get glimpses of an older story in the background which represented the executioners as putting the body into a grave that chanced to be at hand near the place of execution. [2] The stories in Mark about the burial and the tomb found empty are fictions which the other evangelists have elaborated so as to give them a better consistency. The object aimed at was to furnish the resurrection with a proof hitherto unthought of. The part played by women in funeral rites suggested the Galilean women, who, having ministered to Jesus in his native province, might be supposed to have followed him to Jerusalem, been present at his passion on Calvary, then at his burial and finally to have found his tomb unoccupied. Joseph of Arimathea was the male figure indispensable for decency of burial and boldly selected as a


member of the Sanhedrim. Pilate, before granting the authority demanded for the removal, is informed by the centurion that Jesus is quite dead — a point intended to meet the theory, brought forward in a controversy between Jews and Christians, that the body had been carried away before death, neither party knowing more than the other how the matter had really gone.

Mark makes Joseph buy a new winding sheet: according to the other evangelists the tomb is also a new one; [3] the Synoptics describe it as hewn out of the rock — doubtless in fulfilment of prophecies such as Isaiah xxii, 16, xxxiii, 16. The great stone blocking the entrance is intended to enhance the miracle of the resurrection. [4] John adds to Joseph a second male figure in the person of Nicodemus, a figure peculiar to this evangelist; to give the burial a higher dignity and to complete the symbolism he has Jesus embalmed, contradicting the Synoptics. All this is supposed to take place on the evening of Friday so as to keep Jesus in the tomb for the whole of the Sabbath and a few hours of the following night; this has the secondary purpose of excluding the theory that the body had been carried off. With the same purpose, but more directly, Matthew has the fantastic fiction of a guard of soldiers stationed at the tomb. But the main object of the whole arrangement is to make the resurrection take place on the day of the Sun, which thus becomes the day of the Risen Lord. Apologetic and symbolism are thus equally satisfied. [5]

The discovery of the empty tomb by women is arranged in Mark with surprising artlessness. Never has fiction more childish found so many to believe it true. The concluding statement "they said nothing to any man, because they were afraid," which suppresses the testimony invented for them, by leaving it with no guarantee but the word of the evangelist, has the simple and very evident object of explaining how the discovery of the empty tomb was unknown to anybody until the moment when here recorded by him. As this plainly will not do, the other evangelists have taken pains to improve upon it, and first of all by omitting Mark's unfortunate explanation. Matthew, Luke and John [6] all release the tied tongues of the women. But in spite of all they can do to improve on Mark it is clear enough that the whole story came into the tradition long after the accounts of visions and apparitions on


which the earliest faith was nourished; and equally clear that the connexion is artificial throughout between the story of the empty tomb, with its secondary purpose of authorizing the Roman custom of celebrating Easter on Sunday, and the oldest recollections, whether concerned with visions of the Risen Christ or with the beginnings of Christian preaching. A like artificiality may be discerned in the way the burial by Joseph of Arimathea is bound together with the discovery of the empty tomb. But, though of earlier date than the story of the empty tomb, that of the burial by Joseph is no better founded on reality. [7]

The dead Jesus was left to his fate. But what became of the memory of him? What became of the faith he inspired in his disciples? It is certain that his arrest and execution put a stop for the time being to the proclamation of his message, and equally certain that the preaching of it by apostles did not begin in Jerusalem till some time had elapsed after the tragic end. How long the interval was cannot be exactly discerned, for the chronology in Acts is artificial and bound up with an imaginary and tendentious account of the facts. The perspective unrolled in the first two chapters of Acts, which are continuous with the end of Luke, omits entirely what may be called the interregnum of the faith or, more strictly, its period of crisis. It reveals nothing of the confusion into which the disciples were plunged by the arrest and death of Jesus, nor of their flight into Galilee nor of the real conditions under which their faith was re-established by the conviction that Jesus, risen from the dead, was about to return in glory as the Christ. Suppressing all this, Luke and Acts keep the disciples in Jerusalem, limiting the period of their anguish almost to the time while the Christ was in his tomb, and making them the recipients of a new and higher initiation, which begins on the very evening of the resurrection, is then continued for forty days by instructions from the Risen Christ in person, and consummated by the descent of the Holy Ghost and the foundation of the Catholic and Apostolic Church on the day of Pentecost. All of which is gnosis [8] and fiction, disguising a highly complex reality, the fiction serving only to baffle our conjectures as to the real course of events.

As Jesus cannot have been allowed to teach in Jerusalem for any length of time, if indeed lie was able to teach there at all,


it is improbable that he recruited many followers in that city. Thus the whole future of the Gospel came to depend on the believers from Galilee, the most ardent and faithful of whom, or at least those who were his regular followers, had doubtless accompanied him to Jerusalem. The third Gospel and Acts, as we have seen, keep them in Jerusalem, under the express order of Jesus, to the hour of Pentecost when their preaching is supposed to have begun. In this way the ministry of Jesus is prolonged after his death up to the time of his ascension into heaven; some days are then passed in prayer during which a twelfth apostle is chosen by lot to fill the place of Judas until finally, on the day of Pentecost, regarded as the anniversary of the promulgation of the Law, the Spirit descends from heaven upon the apostles and opens its victorious activity in the Church by the public preaching of Peter. All this is artificial and of late origin. The institution of the Twelve is not likely to have preceded the organization of the earliest community, while the idea of the Church as the Kingdom of the Spirit and a kind of substitute for the Reign of God, whose coming it still awaits, is relatively recent and certainly later than the foundation of the first groups of hellenizing Christians. We may add that the object the apostolic preaching is said to have aimed at — that of proving the Gospel by the fulfilment of prophecies (Luke xxiv, 43-47) — is not that with which it really began, but presupposes the evangelical tradition already grown to the form represented by the common source of the Synoptics. [9]

The sum of the matter comes then to this: the perspective of Luke and Acts, in itself symbolic throughout, is radically false from the historian's point of view. It deliberately contradicts an older and more probable tradition according to which the followers of Jesus returned at once into Galilee. It is true that this tradition, in the form in which it has come down to us, has already taken up a legendary element in the texts which inform us that Jesus, before his death, appointed a rendezvous with his disciples in Galilee, and that the order to repair to Galilee was repeated by the angel whom the women found in the empty tomb. All that is pure fiction, conceived for the purpose of disguising the collapse of the disciples, and their flight into Galilee in presence of the catastrophe which fell on their leader,


and, at the same time, of buttressing the myth of the resurrection. Had the disciples really remained in Jerusalem and there found confirmation of their faith, the tradition would not have started by localizing the apparitions of the Risen Christ in Galilee. But the fiction of the rendezvous in Galilee proved somewhat embarrassing; for, if the disciples were actually in Jerusalem on the morning of the resurrection, why were they sent to distant Galilee to get the evidence of it in apparitions of the Christ risen from the dead? Luke (xxiv, 6) gets out of the difficulty by substituting for the rendezvous in Galilee the reminder of a prediction made by Jesus in Galilee to the effect that he would suffer and rise again; after which Luke localizes all the apparitions in Jerusalem. The perspective is still further distorted in the fourth Gospel, [10] where we find it completely upset by the addition of the last chapter, an overload impossible to fit in with the setting of chapter xx. All this elaborate staging, constructed for the purpose of providing an entrance into evangelical history for the resurrection-myth, and of adjusting thereto the origin of Christian preaching, comes to one result — that of obscuring, if not rendering quite undiscoverable, the real sequence of events between the execution of Jesus and the dawn of apostolic activity in Jerusalem. The scripture version of the tradition has thus created, but without perceiving it, an irreducible gap in its own evidence, thanks to which the mythologues of our time have been able to produce their theory that Jesus never existed.

We can well believe that Jerusalem was a dangerous place for the disciples after the arrest of their Master. The circumstances of the arrest seem to have been such that none of them was caught; doubtless the affair had gone too swiftly to give the authorities time to pick them out at the prophet's side. The instant his doom was pronounced they made off in all haste to their own country, overwhelmed by the blow which had struck down their leader and having no thought for the moment but that of their own safety. To call them disillusioned by the terrible outcome would not be strictly .accurate; disillusion would imply a fuller participation in the tragedy than had actually been theirs, were it only to the extent of seeing with their own eyes the ignominy of their leader's execution and


burial which they did not see. But they were in utter consternation and amazement and needed a little time and freedom from danger to pull themselves together. The shock was violent; but their faith had a deep root and was bound in course of time to assert itself against the violence of the shock. And this reaction would come the more easily inasmuch as they knew only by rumour of the horror of the crucifixion and the infamy of the burial.

According to the tradition their faith was awakened, or rather created anew, by sensible apparitions of Jesus come back to life. It is easy to see that these apparitions, fitted with time and place and given material form in the traditional stories, are based upon visions in which faith was able to find nourishment and confirmation, and for the good reason that faith had created them. Taken as they stand, the Gospel stories do not show us the growth of the disciples' emotions into the belief that Jesus was risen from the dead. It cannot be repeated too often that the object these stories are aimed at is to transform what was essentially an inward conviction, insight or vision of faith, into external fact attested by the witness of the senses, and so make the conviction a part of factual history. To give substance to the apparitions as external facts, pains were taken to mark the day, with all the circumstances of their occurrence co-ordinated to those of the death, and with these again adapted to the day and circumstances of the burial. In this way the inward visions were objectified into outward occurrences, into material phenomena at once verifiable and verified. This done, the facts were arranged in serial order so as to form a posthumous life of Jesus. The faith was thus defended against objectors by fictions which faith produced for its own justification, but which were not the source from which it sprang. Belief in the immortality of Jesus risen from the dead existed long before anybody imagined or professed to know the day on which he rose, or that his tomb had been found empty, or that he had afterwards given the disciples their capital instructions, conversing and eating with them as lie had been accustomed to do before his death. There is, however, good reason for adding that the authors of our texts are to be credited with relative sobriety in the shaping of their work. The tradition they have handed down has deliberately avoided the worst extravagances,


such as those displayed by the story of the resurrection in the Gospel of Peter.

In those who first believed in Jesus the working of faith was deep and masterful. Their belief that he had risen from the dead was the fruit of that inner process. Needless to say the process was never analysed by those in whom it worked. History knows it directly only by its results. We have seen that the violent death of John the Baptist did not prevent the survival of his sect and that his followers did not believe that he had perished in the grave. But fortunes more resounding than John's were in store for Jesus. Let us not forget how, in the last days, Jesus and his company were convinced that the Great Event was at hand and that to-morrow might see them enter, alive and glorified, into the felicity of the Kingdom. There is little risk in assuming that in these solemn hours the disciples believed that Jesus was about to become the Messiah promised to Israel and that Jesus himself, in one way or another, accepted the idea. Nothing is impossible to the ardours of faith. On a faith which knows not how to criticize itself, and would not if it could, disillusion has no hold. Then, too, we must remember that, to minds habituated to the belief in resurrection or in immortality, death is an accident of no significance. Jesus and his followers were in that condition: they believed that the resurrection of the just in the Kingdom of God was at hand. One of two things, then, was inevitable, either the faith of the disciples would founder, which it neither could nor would; or it would gather up its forces for a bolder affirmation, continuing to proclaim as before, that the Kingdom was on the point of coming, but with the addition that Jesus, now raised to glory at God's right hand, would personally bring it in.

In fact there was nothing to prevent the disciples from continuing to expect what they had expected all along. He whom they mourned was not, in their eyes, a mere teacher who had converted a few simple souls. They had lost their Master, and their Master was none other than the King of Glory into whom Jesus was now transfigured and about to reveal himself to the world in the swiftly coming Kingdom of God. The Kingdom would descend from the high heavens, whence many besides themselves had begun to look for the coming of the Messiah, whence they had


always thought he would come, but now expected him with confidence raised to the highest pitch of certitude. If all the righteous would be raised from the dead at the coming of the Kingdom, was it not fitting that Jesus, its prophet and founder, should be raised in advance of the resurrection of his followers, so soon to come? Since God must needs send him with the Kingdom would He not at once take him up to His right hand instead of leaving him in the abodes of the dead? Even if we suppose that Jesus himself had predicted his death in their presence, he could not have pictured his future otherwise either to himself or to them. God would not forsake him. The Kingdom was coming and Jesus, immortal and glorious, would come with the Kingdom.

What is religious faith? Essentially nothing else than the whole mind, reason, imagination and will, putting forth their combined energy in an effort to break a way through the natural framework of existence and escape from the mechanism which seems so inexorably to govern the destiny of all things. Thanks to the force of that effort, the difficulties aroused in our modern minds by the idea of resurrection, difficulties familiar also to the mind of Greece, had no existence for these Jewish believers, accustomed as they were to thinking in plain terms of survival after death, and incapable of conceiving it otherwise. Many apologists in our time have been wont to argue as though the resurrection of Jesus had to be demonstrated to the disciples by tangible and indisputable proofs such as would satisfy impartial investigators in a scientific age. In reality the first believers accepted the resurrection precisely because they were men for whom proofs of that kind had no interest. The power of their antecedent faith made it impossible for them to think of Jesus as one to whom death had put an end; they believed that he had been raised from death because otherwise they could not think of him as living. The "how" of the raising troubled them not the least: that was God's affair. It was only at a later stage, when the Gospel was being proclaimed among people of non-Jewish mentality that objections began to arise. Then it was that the effort was made to prove the resurrection by arguments convincing to critical minds: then it was that material form was given to the fugitive visions which had been nourishment enough for the earliest faith: then it was that the story of the tomb found


empty was invented in order to prove that Jesus had not remained in his grave; then it was that he was represented, in apparitions clearly characterized, as conversing with his followers, eating with them and offering to Thomas the wound in his side and the holes in his nail-pierced hands. This array of proofs, so farfetched and yet naive, was not imagined till long after the birth of the belief that they were intended to support. The earliest faith had not sought them; one might almost say it would have found them meaningless. It never paused to speculate on the where and when of it all; cared not to know what had happened to the dead body of Jesus; raised no questions about the reanimation of the corpse and never asked how it had been done. Had the first believers been men with a turn for scientific inquiry into these matters they would have had no belief. Those who first came forward as witnesses that Jesus was risen were indeed persuaded that they had seen him alive in their visions, but they told no stories of his resurrection as a fact materially attested.

Thus did belief in the resurrection of Jesus come to its birth, and the manner of it may be called spontaneous. The faith of the disciples in his Messianic future was too strong to admit of self-contradiction, too strong to give way under the refutation thrown upon it by the ignominy of the Cross. Faith raised Jesus into the glory he expected; faith declared him living for ever because faith itself was determined never to die. Quickened by the ordeal, faith produced out of itself visions that brought balm to its anguish and strength to its affirmations. With the fragments of a shattered hope, and building on the death of Jesus, which might well have killed their faith outright, the disciples founded the religion of Jesus the Christ. Astonishment that faith can work such a miracle will be felt only by those who know not what religious faith really is and have no experience of the realities it can summon into being when once the power of it gets hold on a group of ardent souls. Unconsciously faith procures for herself all the illusions she needs for the conservation of her present possessions and for her advance to further conquests. But, humanly speaking, the work she accomplishes in availing herself of illusion is not always illusory.

Attempts at greater precision, if only by conjecture, in defining the process by which the faith of the disciples took form, are


apt to end in fantasy. Renan, working on the theme of the resurrection, made out of it a little romance. J. Weiss, pressing hard on the meaning of Mark xiv, 28 ("after my rising I will go before you into Galilee"), concludes that Jesus had promised to lead his disciples after his resurrection into Galilee where the Kingdom of God would then appear. R. Schόtz, improving on this idea, describes the disciples returning to Galilee with as much enthusiasm as if Jesus were really with them; Nazareth is saturated with Hellenism; Jesus himself and his Galilean disciples are full of it; the order of the day is rejection of the Law (Los von Gesetz); a Hellenist-Christian community is formed with which a Jewish-Christian community enters into competition. Thus everything is explained. But the whole construction rests upon air. [11]


A name which we shall find in the forefront of the apostolic propaganda must here be introduced as that of the man who, in all probability, was the first to give out that Jesus was risen. Simon called Peter is, according to the tradition, one of the earliest disciples recruited by Jesus and the head of the apostolic college established by the Christ as the foundation and guide of the Church. Round him there has grown up an imposing legend to which his admirers are not the only contributors. None the less his share in the birth of the Christian movement was assuredly of the highest importance.

Legend has made great capital out of the surname Peter which Jesus himself is said to have conferred on Simon. But legend "would not be legend if it developed consistently. According to Mark (i, 14-20) Jesus, at the very beginning of his ministry, peremptorily summons to his side two brothers, Simon and Andrew, as they were fishing in the sea of Galilee, near to Capernaum, and immediately afterwards, in the same sovereign manner and under the same conditions, two more brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee; this done, he expressly reveals his intention to make the four fishers offish into fishers of men. To endow the event with greater significance Luke enlarges the story with that of the miraculous draught of fishes, which the appendix to John connects with an apparition of the risen


Christ. There can be no doubt that the story of the Miraculous Draught was originally comprised in the myth which related the foundation of the Christian apostolate: in the arrangement presented by John, which is probably the earlier version of the story, the apostolate is a creation of the immortal Christ. Mark as well as Luke has antedated its institution. John, in his account of the Vocation (i, 35-42), gives precedence before Peter to Andrew and to an unnamed but doubtless the "beloved" disciple; notwithstanding this, the change of name, intended to mark Peter as the foundation apostle, is made at his first encounter with Jesus — "thou art Simon son of John; thou shalt be called Cephas" — the evangelist being at pains to explain that Cephas means Peter. From all of which the historical fact to be retained is that the Simon in question was among the first adherents of Jesus, that he lived at Capernaum and was a fisherman by trade.

In reporting the choice of the Twelve, Mark (iii, 13-19) puts Peter at the head of the list and adds, as though the surname had been given on that occasion, "and he gave him the name Peter." But the importance of this mystical title is somewhat diminished by the prominence which the evangelist immediately gives to the resounding surname Boanerges conferred on the sons of Zebedee in the same circumstances. Luke (vi, 12-16) follows Mark. Matthew (x, 1-4) in reproducing the apostolic list says simply "first Simon called Peter" without intimation that the surname was bestowed at the time. He leaves us to suspect that the surname was not chosen by Jesus. And possibly not by the Christ. It may have been a mystical development of tradition, and this is the more likely inasmuch as the incident to which Mark connects it has no historical consistency.

In the incident of the Confession at Caesarea Philippi ("thou art the Christ") Mark brings Peter to the front, the idea being that Simon Peter must be the first to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah on occasion requiring it. The original intention in recording the confession was, no doubt, to make it a merit on Peter's part. But the evangelist, as though he would destroy this favourable impression, forthwith makes Jesus address him as "Satan" for having tried to prevent the Christ from predicting his death. "Get thee behind, Satan, thou hast no feeling for the things of God." Peter does not understand the necessity and


mystical power of the Passion. Needless to say that if the Messianic confession has been antedated by the evangelist, this lightning reproach is still more so. It is a product of the Pauline tradition in its hostility to the older apostles. Luke omits it — an omission that tells its own tale. Matthew has retained it, but follows up the Messianic confession by intercalating a eulogistic response of Jesus in which the confession itself is presented as a revelation of the Spirit and Simon Peter as the man who would hold the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, regulate the discipline of the new community (more or less identified with the Kingdom of Heaven) and would become the foundation of the Church — the only passage in the Gospels when Jesus speaks of his Church, and assuredly not the most authentic. [12]

In all probability this development of the Confession was originally Jewish-Christian and anti-Pauline, for it was not without purpose that Peter is said to have been favoured with a revelation from on high in which flesh and blood had no part. We can almost see in it a discreet response to certain ambitious claims put out by Paul in Galatians (i, 11-12, 15-16). At all events there is enough in it to neutralize what is said, a few lines lower down, about Peter's lack of feeling for things divine. We may add that the bishops of Rome, who apply the eulogy to their order, have abstained up to now from claiming the reproach. John is content to idealize the Messianic confession, turning the profession of faith into a profession of fidelity, and avoiding the need to add either approbation or corrective (vi, 68-69).

The transfiguration of Jesus (Mark ix, 2-8) seems to have been conceived originally as the story of an apparition of the Risen Christ, afterwards antedated to his earthly life and lodged immediately after the Confession, with the insertion of a blunder made by Peter, who is judged to have no understanding of the manifestation, Mark and Luke excusing him as not knowing what he said. We have already seen that the Apocalypse of Peter connects the blunder with the rebuff administered by Jesus, which Mark has placed after the Confession and the first announcement of the passion. It is the same Peter who figures at Gethsemane in an attitude little to his glory, sleeping, spite of his Master's warning, while Jesus is at prayer in the Agony. All the evangelists, moreover, describe, with a kind of complacency,


Peter's triple denial in the High Priest's house during the trial of Jesus, and all are careful to make Jesus predict the denial before the event: in this way the offence is, as it were, palliated and then corrected by the repentance of the culprit. It is to be noted that Mark (xiv, 50) begins by saying that all the disciples took to flight, after which one hardly expects to find Peter following Jesus even "afar off" (54) as the armed band led him away. The same incoherence in Matthew. Luke omits the flight but records the denial. In John xviii, 15-18, 25-27, the denial, cut in two, seems to have begun in the house of Annas and ended in the house of Caiaphas, without Peter changing his place. On this anomaly see Le quatrieme Evangile, 458-460; 463-464.

Exegetes have made it a merit in Peter that he himself revealed his weakness, which the world would never have known if he had held his tongue. There are better grounds for believing that the incident is in line with the other fictions invented to belittle an apostle who became the grand authority of Jewish Christianity.

Amends of a kind are made to Peter in the stories of the resurrection. The angel names him to the women for a special injunction to return to Galilee, where, it would seem, the coming manifestation of the Risen Christ is to concern him more than the other disciples (Mark xvi, 7). In Matthew there is no mention of Peter. [13] Luke changes the whole character of the angel's discourse to the women, but represents Jesus as predicting to Peter, during the Last Supper, that his faith would be unshakable in the coming torment and that his part would be to strengthen the shaken faith of his brethren. This prediction seems to have been conceived at an independent source which, if not ignorant of the story of the denial, left it aside. As Luke knew of Peter's vision (xxiv, 34) but abstains from giving an account of it, he must have known also that it was this vision that enabled Peter to revive the faith of the other disciples; and of that, too, he says nothing. In the Fourth Gospel the coming martyrdom of Peter is announced twice over (xiii, 36 and xxi, 18-19) and the Risen Christ, after the apparition on the Lake, where Peter is the leading figure, solemnly confides to him the guardianship of his flock. [14] From all of which it is clear enough that the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles have done their best to


reconcile two divergent tendencies: one, Jewish-Christian, in which the role of Peter was magnified; the other characteristic of certain Pauline circles, in which it was belittled: the reconciliation being effected, more or less happily, by upholding Peter as the head of the apostolate not only to the Jews, to which the Epistle to the Galatians (ii, 7-9) would limit him, but also to the world at large. The editor of Acts exhibits him in this universal character even at the risk of making him profess the doctrine of salvation by faith alone before the elders of Jerusalem after the affair of Cornelius, which symbolizes the opening of salvation to the whole world, with Peter as the opener of the door. The reality of Peter's contribution was of dimensions much more modest than this, but it led to results no less important.

Putting all these indications together we may conclude that Simon Peter was a fisherman, perhaps a master-fisherman of Capernaum, that he was an early adherent of Jesus, whom he accompanied in his wanderings and then followed to Jerusalem. If Jesus in his lifetime was not hailed by him as the Christ at Caesarea Philippi, Peter certainly entered with his whole being into the Great Expectation, and came to Jerusalem to share in the coming of God and the revelation of Messiah in that city. His faith survived the catastrophe. Returning to Galilee, to the surroundings and atmosphere whence the Great Expectation had its birth, coming back also to himself, his thought leapt to the conviction that Jesus could not have perished in death and that God had taken him to Himself that He might reveal him to the world in the day of his coming, straightway believing that he could see the Master thus, immortal with God. Such is the meaning of the firm tradition that the first vision of Jesus had come, in Galilee, to Simon Peter. No account of that first vision is to be found in any of the documents. Mark gives an advance hint of it (xvi, 7; cf. i Cor. xv, 5). Luke is content to mention the bare fact (xxiv, 34). The appendix to John (xxi) attaches it to a miraculous draught of fishes, where it is difficult to recognize, except in the symbolic meaning of the prodigy. But it may be said with confidence that the primacy of Peter's vision is implied by the whole tradition relating to apparitions of the Christ.

It may well be that Peter himself never described his vision, just as Paul never described the vision which converted him, for


the triple story of the vision in Acts cannot be considered as coming directly or indirectly from Paul himself. Whatever the content of the vision may have been, its occurrence was a sudden explosion produced by the intense and inward workings of faith; out of which there leaped forth the answer to the riddle of the crucifixion. The answer was this — death has not held Jesus captive: he is alive with God, on the point of returning as the Christ with the Kingdom. What Peter was able to see in his vision escapes us and would seem to us insignificant if we knew it; what matters far more are the deductions that were made from it. The idea of a blessed survival was certainly not strange to Peter. His mind kept turning it over, and turning it over with Jesus as the focus of his thought. Then came the shining day when he thought that Jesus was visibly, and perhaps audibly, before him. His faith filled the vision with all he longed to believe and gave him the assurance that what he saw was a reality.

Neither historian nor psychologist need inquire further. Even if we had before us a detailed account from Peter himself of what he believed to be a vision of Jesus clothed with immortality we should hardly know more, nor better understand the certitude of his faith.

We may be equally sure that Peter's faith immediately became contagious among those about him, the former disciples of Jesus, who, like Peter, were already prepared for it, one might even say were being carried along by it. He "strengthened the brethren"; that is, he regathered the now scattered group who had staked their hope on Jesus the Nazorean, and imparted to them his own confidence. Removed to the invisible world, the object of their faith was beyond the reach of the accidents which might otherwise have shaken belief. True, the Kingdom of God was in no haste to come; true, the Messiah delayed his appearance among the clouds. But what of that? One can always wait a little longer. They waited.

What length of time was needed to bring about this rekindling of their faith? We can only conjecture. But since a faith which hesitates or remains dormant for long is unlikely ever to revive, we are entitled to think that the interval was fairly short and the tempo rapid. We may assume that Peter had his vision in the days immediately following his return to Capernaum, days filled


with the thought of his lost Master. Arrived at a clear conviction, he at once imparted it to his companions, and immediately these humble folk were back on the summit of the idealism to which Jesus had led them. More than that, they were persuaded that the Master was still alive and beyond a doubt was about to "come" again, but this time with the "Kingdom" and in "the glory of the Father." Back, then, to Jerusalem, appointed scene of the Great Event, there to wait for his coming! Only a naive and superficial psychology would interpret this bright dawning of the faith as the product of material proof, such as the empty tomb, or of a parcel of gross illusions, and spend effort in searching for these proofs while knowing them to be false when found. Not through preoccupation with such proofs were the disciples possessed with their ardent belief that Jesus was alive with the Father. They believed it ardently because they desired it ardently and felt him near to them in the ardour of their desire, while fugitive and dreamlike visions, perhaps pure dreams, sufficed for the time to nourish and confirm their faith. Then came the discovery of confirmation in the Scriptures. Only at a still later period, when discussion had arisen, did the search begin for more palpable arguments; but it was not until the second, or possibly the third, Christian generation that the need for such arguments became urgent. This was the stage at which the story of the empty tomb was invented, but too reflectively for our liking; and then it was that the fugitive visions of the Risen One, the memory of which had sustained the faith of the first age, were transformed into apparitions and presented as tangible realities.

We have endeavoured to reconstitute the faith of Peter on lines which follow as closely as possible the faith which Jesus had, the faith which had led him to Jerusalem. In this we have been on fairly safe ground. The prompt return of these first believers to the capital of Judaism and their continued residence there have to be explained, and what other explanation can be given? The members of the pious band had no intention to make Jerusalem the centre of an apostolic mission to distant lands; it may be doubted if they had any conception of apostleship in the strict sense of the term. They came back to Jerusalem to await the Christ, and remained there for that purpose as long as they


could. The last believers of this type quitted the Holy City when Roman armies were about to invest it, having doubtless come to the conclusion that Jerusalem, deaf to their warning, must be destroyed and trodden down of the Gentiles before the new and eternal Jerusalem, the true City of God, could be established in its place.

It was the march of events that first brought the apostolic office into existence and then gave direction to its work. But before we reconstitute the evolution of that office, at least hypothetically, it behoves us to weigh the importance of the forward step the disciples had now taken in raising their dead master, Jesus, to the dignity of Christ alive in heaven. Without a suspicion on their part of what was involved, their belief was already an essential transformation of the Gospel announced by Jesus; but nothing could be less intended by it than to form the followers of the Christ they were proclaiming into a particular sect either at the centre or the circumference of Judaism. Right up to the moment of Golgotha inclusive, Jesus and his companions seemed in their own eyes to be standing on the ground of a hope common to all the Jews. As to the complicity of the Jewish leaders in the sentence of death pronounced by Pilate, if complicity there were, it could be passed over as a human error and an injustice to God's Ambassador. The preaching of Jesus may well have prepared the way for a split in Judaism, but had not yet created it. But the split was bound to occur if the partisans of the crucified prophet took the line of openly proclaiming that he, their Master, now raised to life at the right hand of God, was the Christ, and that his coming was at hand. Such a profession of faith could not be a matter of indifference to the religious authorities of Judaism nor to the Jewish mass which obeyed them. The vast majority of the Jews would have refused at once to recognize the Christ in the man crucified on Calvary; he would seem to them in nowise qualified for such an honour, and the hope that, after such a prelude, he would presently descend on the clouds of heaven to judge the earth, would be counted a chimerical absurdity. True, a Christ in heaven was less of a political danger than a messianic agitator on earth but, apart from that, many would regard the partisans of the Christ as merely troublesome fanatics, while the majority, from the religious


leaders downwards, would proclaim them heretics, and as such drive out of the fold whoever would persevere in such a faith. Thus condemned and driven out these obstinate believers would, without any will of their own, become a sect more or less under suspicion or even shameful and despised. That point reached, the road which led from the new Gospel to a Christian religion separate from Judaism would be opened to traffic.



So Peter and his companions, brimful of their hopes, went back to Jerusalem. Whether the Feast of Pentecost had anything to do with their return to the city they had recently quitted in their extremity cannot be stated with confidence. Certainly it was not only as a pilgrimage that the return journey was undertaken. They went back with the intention of remaining in the Holy City and, so to say, of making a home there. Formed plan of active propaganda they clearly had not; perhaps it was not within their means; moreover the indications are that they were somewhat cautious at the beginning in communicating their faith. We may suppose they found lodgings with friendly people, perhaps with those who had entertained them when they came up with Jesus for the Passover. Living on little, they kept up assiduous attendance in the Temple at the hours of prayer. Without any attempt at public preaching in that neighbourhood they found opportunities to impart their hope to a few of the pious Jews whom they met in the outer court. The grand scenes of preaching described in Acts (ii, iii, iv, v) have no more reality than the sittings of the Sanhedrim convened to put a stop to the apostolic propaganda (iv, v). The conviction that had kindled the ardour of John the Baptist and of Jesus in their ministries was at work to the same effect in them, and long continued to work as the driving power of the Christian apostolate. The Kingdom being at hand, nothing could be more urgent than to warn men of goodwill, wherever they could be met, to make ready for the Great Event. And, like John in his day, and Jesus in his, they met from time to time with simple souls who believed their message and joined their little company.

It is also probable that Baptism was administered to their


proselytes in association with their profession of faith in Jesus the Messiah. For the Christian religion made its entry into the •world as a baptist movement, and must have so begun since Jesus himself had turned it in that direction. It would be hard to understand why Peter and his companions decided to baptize the newcomers unless the rite had seemed a matter of course as conforming to the practice of Jesus. In like manner it was customary for the new initiates to share in the simple meals of the brethren, when the bread was broken in memory of Jesus and in lively expectation of his coming. [15]

If we are to believe the book of Acts, which at this point seems to reflect an authentic tradition of the earliest community, it was a miraculous incident which first drew the attention of the temple priests to the followers of the new faith. This was the cure of a paralytic operated by Peter in the name of Jesus the Nazorean. [16] After making whatever reserves may be needed in regard to the supernatural character of this adventure, only a paltry rationalism would deny the probability that Peter made the attempt and even succeeded, or that Jesus ever risked it and with like success. We may be sure that the Christian missionaries would not hesitate to practice exorcisms for the cure of maladies by invoking the name of Jesus. Somebody must have made a beginning: it was Peter who made it on the day in question. On seeing the paralytic walk, a crowd formed, a great uproar rose round Peter and the miraculous walker; the temple police naturally came on the scene and the priests, informed of what had happened, asked Peter "by what power or in what name" he had done that. To their utter amazement they learnt that the potent name was "Jesus-Messiah the Nazorean" and that the men before them were followers of the Galilean recently crucified at the Passover. Whereupon "they strictly commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus." And "when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing that they might punish them, because of the people; for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle was shewed" (Acts iv, 2I-22). [17]

Prodigies of this kind increase the vogue of a nascent religion. One was enough to raise the credit of our pious band in the eyes of the common people. If the editor of Acts has not multiplied


the number of them — as when he makes the shadow of Peter heal the sick brought in from neighbouring towns to attend his walk (v, 15-16) — we may be sure that public rumour did. As people watched the band at prayer or conversing with adherents under the Porch of Solomon, the most part would keep at a distance knowing that the priests now regarded their doings with no friendly eye. That, however, did not prevent increasing recruitment by private propaganda (v, 52). But the anger of the authorities would certainly be roused by any rash attempt at public preaching; nothing more was needed to bring down the arm of the law.

There is evidence that cohesion was rapidly acquired by this ardent group. Tradition has it that their meals were taken in common and that each contributed of his substance for the support of the fraternity. That this was the practice of these latter day saints may well be true. The Christ might come at any hour, and what else remained to do but help one another in the brief interval before his coming, the better-off ministering to the wants of the poor and bringing provisions to the common table. "There was not among them one person in want," remarks the editor of Acts, no doubt with a touch of exaggeration. It is true, nevertheless, that the Jerusalem community was always poor. But this was not, as many have thought, the result of a communistic system established at the outset; such a system certainly never existed in the rigorous form suggested by a literal reading of Acts. The poverty of the group was due to the fact that the nucleus of Galilean believers found themselves in Jerusalem almost without resources; that the new members seldom came from the richer classes of the city's population; that the generosity of the few better-off was insufficient to overcome the general indigence; that indigence was not unwelcome, since the Kingdom was for the poor; that, in their preoccupation with the coming parousia, they had little concern for the business of this world, fell into poverty and remained poor as the inevitable consequences of neglecting it. It does not follow that any of them died of hunger. The condition in which they were is supportable enough when religious faith is intense and the needs of the body restricted to the bare minimum. [18]

Precarious and rudimentary as the organization was, it was


yet organization. This society of friends had leaders, and we know who they were. They were the Twelve, whom tradition has made into apostles, and even into apostles par excellence. though some of them were not very active as missionaries of the new faith. Strictly speaking, the Twelve were the administrators of the first community, this is implied in Acts iv, 34 and v, 11, whatever doubts may be felt about the passage as a whole and the adventure of Ananias and Sapphira. But the Twelve certainly had no existence as a separate group prior to the formation of the community from which they were chosen. The committee of the Twelve — if that were the real number, as it probably was — was created in order to give the little society the elementary organization that would be needful in the early stages of its growth. The number of these committee-men, assuming it to have been twelve, seems to betray a symbolic intention; it corresponded to the arrangement imagined for the Kingdom of God in which the hopes of Israel were to be fulfilled. The saying about the twelve thrones, to be occupied by the twelve apostles judging the twelve tribes bears witness to the ruling idea (Matthew xix, 28). But the function there assigned to the Twelve is one of government rather than of preaching. Quite naturally our twelve overseers would be chosen from among the original disciples of Jesus in Galilee, with Peter as some sort of President. But it cannot be said that "apostle" was their title from the very first.

Certain ecclesiastical writers long since pointed out [19] that the name "apostle" belonged to the emissaries maintained after the fall of Jerusalem by the Jewish patriarchate to carry the letters of the central authority and to collect the subscriptions paid by the Jews of the Dispersion. On the strength of this it was supposed by Harnack and many others that the function must have existed before Jerusalem fell, and that the name passed to the Christian preachers who also organized collections in the communities, as appears from the testimony and example of Paul. But, if these envoys existed before the year 70, which is possible, it is difficult to understand how their name could have been applied to the messengers of the Gospel who were not sent out to visit already established communities, nor were chiefly collectors of offerings; while, as we have just seen, the Twelve, who seem to have been


the first to hold the apostolic office, were not sent out anywhere and were neither professional preachers nor collectors of alms in the strict meaning of the term. Moreover the evidence of the New Testament on the matter is confused enough to make the problem difficult of solution, apart from any question that may be raised about a connexion between the Christian apostolate and the office of the Jewish collectors.

A close examination of the Book of Acts shows clearly that it knows of no apostles save the Twelve, understanding their title of apostle as meaning that they were missionaries of the Word and qualified for the work, inasmuch as they had been witnesses of the resurrection and followers of Jesus from the beginning of his ministry to the final hour of his ascent into heaven. Though the definition is systematic, and as such not without interest, we are not entitled to transport it into history. But Paul's Epistles reveal a much wider application of the term which bestowed it on Christian missionaries in general, and first of all on Paul who, while seeming to give express recognition to the apostleship of the Twelve, claimed the title for himself also, a claim which the Twelve and their party appear to have contested. The Epistles mention "the Twelve" only once (i Cor. xv, 5). Luke affirms that Jesus himself named the disciples "apostles" (vi, 18), and throughout his Gospel, as in Acts, the Twelve and the apostles are the same persons, while Mark, who makes Jesus not only choose them but "send them out" as well, only once calls them "apostles" (vi, 30) and speaks constantly of "the Twelve." Matthew in like manner has "the twelve apostles" once only (x, 2), but often "the twelve disciples" or "the twelve." In the fourth Gospel "the twelve" are mentioned twice, but not called apostles (vi, 67, 71; xx, 24).

From all this confusion the certainty seems to emerge that the Twelve were not called apostles at the time they were formed into a group, nor did they become apostles merely by their membership. They were elected from among "the disciples," that is, the existing body of believers, not to preach, but to order the affairs of the first community, so far as this was necessary. Their importance grew as the Gospel spread. Viewing the matter from a standpoint in the present and giving full confidence to the Pauline literature, we might be tempted to conclude, as


Edouard Meyer has done, that the attribution of the title to the Twelve only was a reaction against the claim of Paul to be an independent apostle and missionary to the Gentiles, appointed thereto directly by the Lord — a reaction which went so far as to exclude Paul from any right to the title. This would explain why, in Mark, instructions intended for all the Christian missionaries are addressed to the Twelve in particular, [20] a transference the more easily made since Peter himself turned missionary after the year 44, together with his colleagues in Jerusalem and the brothers of the Lord (i Cor. ix, 5).

It may well be that the transference of the title to the Twelve was not made quite so simply, promptly and mechanically. When indications furnished by our sources, themselves of later origin, are interpreted as reflecting the first beginnings of the Christian movement, we run the risk of immensely shortening a development which took a much longer time to mature. It is obvious that no missionaries (apostles) can have been appointed until missions had begun, and we can see both how and why the Twelve were not instituted as apostles; for not only is it true that not all of them were missionaries at any time, but those who were missionaries, that is employed in the propagation of the Gospel, were not missioned (if the word may be used) from any source outside or above; properly speaking, no mission had been given them as apostles in the service, to which they were devoting themselves, of propagating the Gospel. The apostolate in the sense indicated by our texts, does not begin until the business of propaganda has an organized basis, at least of a rudimentary kind; and this, it seems, did not happen until after the dispersion of the group of hellenizing believers which we are about to consider in the next chapter. When that has happened then, to Judge by what we shall see taking place at Antioch, the apostles are definitely missioned, delegated and approved by a group which supported them. In this way, as we shall see, Paul and Barnabas were at first appointed to the propaganda in Syria and Cilicia.

At that time Paul had not put forth his claim to a unique and special mission conferred upon him by the Christ alone. In the epistles he would seem to have first made this claim when he decided to go his own way. As one no longer missioned by a


group he would despise henceforth the attribution of a human commission, and proclaims himself missioned by the Christ. Meanwhile the number of missionaries was rapidly increasing both in Palestine and beyond, but always it would seem in the same conditions under which Paul and Barnabas had been missioned at Antioch, Paul remaining alone in the singularity of his claim. It must be added, however, that this claim, clothed in the absolute form given it by various passages in the epistles, does not correspond with the reality of the situation and must have been conceived after the event. It belongs to the development of the literature called apostolic. The same is true of the systematic limitation of the apostolic title to the Twelve said by the evangelists to have been missioned by Jesus in the course of his ministry. This last point, which reveals the opposition to the Pauline tradition, was reached only when the conditions of Christian propaganda had completely changed and the primitive apostolate had become hardly more than a memory preserved in legend and surrounded by a halo. But let us now turn to the event immediately followed by the apostolic propaganda, of which it seems to have released the spring. 


From a story in Acts (vi, 1-6) superficially clear, but intentionally confused, the fact emerges that the group of Jerusalem believers, whose recruits, after its first formation, had not been all of one type, was quickly divided into two parties. It soon counted among its members a certain number of hellenizing Jews, that is, Jews whose ordinary language was Greek, and whose ways of thinking, perhaps also their manner of life, were not quite the same as those of the believers speaking Aramaic and called "Hebrews," who had been gained over in the beginning by the disciples from Galilee. The hellenizing believers presently began to hold separate meetings with an organization of their own. What Acts tells us about the choice of the seven deacons is a fiction which too thinly disguises the distinct organization set up by these messianic Jews whom we must suppose to have been better acquainted with the pagan world than were the believers from Palestine. The greater part of them had probably lived more or


less in Greek or in hellenized countries and had come to Jerusalem either on temporary business or with the intention of establishing a permanent abode. It must not be forgotten that the regular relations established between Jerusalem and the communities of the Jewish Dispersion, which facilitated travel from place to place, helped greatly at the outset in spreading the Christian propaganda.

Even on the strength of the fiction arranged by the editor of Acts, one is driven to suppose that the community of Jerusalem believers found itself, after no long time, composed of two elements which were not slow to separate more or less completely. In addition to that, since it was the hellenizing group only which, compromised by the action of one of its members, was driven out and dispersed, we may take it as certain that these hellenizers already constituted a distinct body having its own directors, the seven so-called deacons, and that the propagation of the Christian religion beyond Judea was begun by the scattered members of that group. The great outburst of evangelical preaching outside Palestine, to say nothing of that already inside, did not come from the Twelve and their group of Hebraizers. This fact the editor of Acts takes pains to hide, but without succeeding; and here is the point of departure to which he co-ordinates many other fictions in the course of the book. (Later on a bolder step was taken by representing the twelve apostles as having left Jerusalem after dividing between them the world to be converted.) In order to preserve the union of the Hebrew and Hellenizing groups in a single community, as his perspective required, the editor makes out that the Twelve constituted a kind of priestly body which administered the spiritual affairs of the community, and changes the seven heads of the hellenizing party to the lower status of deacons or helpers to the Twelve, appointed for the service of tables and the distribution of alms, in other words, for the administration of the temporalities — a type of organization which was in fact adopted in the Christian community, but only at a later stage.

The list of the seven deacons is neither better nor worse guaranteed than that of the twelve apostles. But the Seven were not helpers subordinate to the Twelve. They were formed as the governing body of the hellenizing group as soon as it acquired a separate existence. The existence of the group is certain. How


exactly it was formed escapes us. Some difference of opinion analogous to that mentioned in Acts may have given occasion for the split; but the cause was other and profound. And we cannot invert the chronological relation of the two groups, as if faith in Jesus had begun with the hellenizing party. All the names on the list of deacons are Greek. Only one of the seven is a paean by origin, but circumcised; he comes from Antioch; the others are Jews by birth but not "Hebrews" by language. It should be noted that the number seven, like the number twelve, has a symbolic meaning, being the cypher for the gentile or universal world, as twelve is for Israel. For that reason a strict interpretation of the names on the list would be out of place.

One individual alone stands out before us detached from the hellenistic group as having taken the initiative in the public propagation of the Gospel message in Jerusalem, and with results of considerable importance. Stephen, whom Acts describes as "full of grace and power" — animated, that is, by a zeal outstandingly effective in preaching — seems to have been the first to carry the Gospel into the arena of public discussion, not in the Temple, but in certain synagogues of the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem. According to the statement in Acts, which seems to have been tampered with, "there arose certain of the synagogue which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and Asia, who disputed with Stephen, and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake" (vi, 9). The text insists on the opposition to Stephen's discourse, but tells us nothing of what the preacher said to provoke it. The source-document on which the editor was working no doubt indicated this in place of the miracles attributed to Stephen in v, 8. But having just placed Stephen among the deacons, he would naturally be unwilling to exhibit him too plainly in the preaching function of an apostle.

The reference to synagogues is probably to several where Stephen found opportunity for delivering his message to the congregations gathered there. It is in keeping with the sense of the above passage to assume that the disputes in question were not confined to private conversations, and that Stephen took his turn to address the congregations, as any private person, even one not recognized to be a qualified preacher, could do. That his teaching raised


objections should cause no surprise; and it is not impossible that the ardour of his convictions reduced his adversaries to silence. The certain fact is that instant animosity was aroused against Stephen by these actions.

Let us recall at this point how the cautious propaganda of the Galilean disciples came into being and was allowed to continue, even for several years after the affair of Stephen, without serious interference from the authorities. If Stephen's efforts to win converts were quickly followed by forcible official reaction the reason must be sought in its publicity, and, very probably, in the character of his teaching. This, at certain points, differed from the teaching of the original disciples. They announced that Jesus was risen from the dead as the Christ and about to return with the reign of God; but they did not speculate on the economy of the coming kingdom, nor on the changes it might involve in matters concerning the established cult of Judaism. Stephen, it seems, was less reserved. The witnesses who appeared against him at his trial before the Sanhedrim are reported to have said:

"This man is for ever speaking against the holy place and the Law: for we have heard him say that this Jesus the Nazorean will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." [21] Although the deponents are described as "false witnesses" the charge is not said to have been denied, but was rather confirmed by Stephen who, in an ecstatic outburst and with transfigured countenance, answered the question of the high priest by simply exclaiming: "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Without taking these indications for an official report of a judicial inquiry, which they are not, we are entitled to infer from them that this hellenizing Jew went to the length of saying that the temple, the bloody sacrifices, the legal observances and whatever was specifically Jewish in the established cult would pass away at the of the Christ. Such, we are given to suppose, was Stephen's comment on the saying attributed to Jesus concerning the temple which he would destroy and rebuild. [22]

As already pointed out, closely analogous doctrines or opinions are to be met with in certain of the baptist sects and to some extent among the Essenes. Their converts from paganism were dispensed from an array of prescriptions which, said they, were


due to be abrogated under the coming Reign of God and the imposition of which was found a serious obstacle to the propagation of the faith. In the sequel, the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 was soon to give these practices and doctrines a measure of justification. Was it not clear that God, by that event, had condemned the outward and material economy of the Jewish cult?

In that lies the starting point for explaining the conduct of the missionaries who went out from Antioch, the work of Paul, and even the foundation of hellenistic Christianity. The long and curious indictment of the Jews attributed to Stephen (vii, 2-33) is conceived in the same anti-Jewish spirit. It is a digression, serving the dominant purpose of the editor of Acts, which is to prove that notwithstanding the recriminations and fury of those who are Jews by race and name, it is not these always hardened and rebellious Jews but the Christians who represent the religion which claims the authority of Abraham, Moses and the prophets. The author had an ampler experience than Stephen could have had towards the year 30 of our era.

The exact date of his martyrdom, just indicated approximately, is uncertain. Unless we abandon all the indications of time in Acts and Galatians, we are led to place the martyrdom of the sons of Zebedee in the year 44; a little earlier than that, the meeting in Jerusalem at which the question of legal observances was discussed; and the conversion of Paul about the year 30. With these data as our baseline we must place the crucifixion of Jesus in 26 or 27 and the martyrdom of Stephen in 28 or 29. This leaves the sequence of events somewhat compressed, for it is obvious that the Christian propaganda had reached Damascus and made some progress there before the conversion of Paul. It is true that the faith was rapidly contagious; nevertheless a minimum of time was needed for its formation and diffusion.

Here then is Stephen, the first martyr of the Christ and in some sense his first apostle, condemned to death, apparently after regular trial in the courts for blasphemy against the Law. He died by stoning in pursuance of the sentence pronounced by a Jewish tribunal^. Until quite recent years it has been taken for granted that the Sanhedrim had no power to pronounce a capital sentence ^d least of all to carry it into execution without ratification by


the Roman procurator, and, since there is no mention of Pontius Pilate or of his successor, it is supposed that Stephen's execution was an affair of mob-law and carried out in a riot, as the conclusion of the story gives us to understand. To this it is often added that the execution probably took place in 36 during the interval between the departure of Pilate and the arrival of his successor, as if, on anything of the kind happening, there was no representative of Roman authority in the city to give ratification. It seems certain on the contrary that the Sanhedrim retained complete jurisdiction in all religious matters and that its competence was limited on the political side only. The false perspective in which the Evangelists have set the trial of Jesus has contributed more than anything else to lead criticism astray at this point. It was only after the destruction of Jerusalem that the religious authorities of Judaism were deprived of the right to pass sentence of death, by losing the National Council which possessed the right.

Repression of the new movement was not limited to the execution of Stephen. Menaced and hunted down, the whole group to which he belonged scattered and lost no time in clearing out of Jerusalem. Whatever the editor of Acts, who contradicts himself, may say, it was not the entire community, Hebrew and Greek believers alike "except the apostles" (viii, 1), that was persecuted and driven into flight. (If they were bent on exterminating the Hebrew group why did they spare its chiefs?) It was the hellenistic group only. The Hebrew group was not disturbed, no doubt because it was less disturbing.

The story in Acts of repressive proceedings against both groups hangs together with the equally fictitious particulars about Saul-Paul taking part in the affair. The elements of the latter fiction are adjusted to the course of the story. By way of introducing him it opens by saying that the witnesses, who had to cast the first stones, "laid down their garments at the feet of a youth named Saul" who was "consenting to the execution." [23]

A few lines further on the youth finds himself promoted, somewhat rapidly in view of his age, to the office of Grand Persecutor of Christianity in Jerusalem: it would seem, moreover, that he went about it by himself, proceeding on his own authority to search all the houses of the city in his hunt for Christians, and to


take men and women to prison; while next day a commission from the High Priest charges him to continue the business at Damascus; though it is not easy to see how the Gospel could have so soon found its way into that city.

Later we shall discuss the legend of Paul's conversion. The preliminaries found in the story of Stephen's martyrdom are totally unworthy of credence. The "youth," even if we suppose him to have aged ten years as he went home after the execution of Stephen, could not have organized and carried on all alone the persecution of the Christians here ascribed to him. According to Galatians (i, 22-24) the Christian communities in Judea, prior to the Jerusalem conference, knew Paul only by reputation. Paul was not in Jerusalem when Stephen was executed. As general persecutor of the nascent Christian religion he is a creation of legend. The motive of the editor of Acts in calling him "a youth" is to present him as having been brought up at Jerusalem and a pupil of the famous Gamaliel (xxii, 3; v, 34). The editor has also made Gamaliel his victim by putting a discourse in his mouth, which the good doctor never made, on the occasion of a trial of the Twelve, which never took place. What we are told of the relations of Paul with Gamaliel has every likelihood of being no less fictitious than the rest.

From the time of the persecution onwards we find the entire community of Judaizing believers established in Jerusalem, just as it was before. There Peter and his companions remained, without any one of them being molested, till towards the end of the reign of Agrippa I. But never again was a Hellenizing group, such as Stephen's had been, formed in that city. Obviously Jerusalem was unpromising ground for the open propaganda of their Messiah — Jesus, especially if it was thought to offer any kind of threat to Jewish nationalism and the superstitious regard for the Law. But those who had driven the group of Stephen into flight turned out to have assured, by that very act, the future of the Christian religion.

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