Freethought Archives > Jeremy Bentham > Not Paul, But Jesus


Jeremy Bentham, an eminent English judicial or jural philosopher, was born in London, February 15, 1748, and died at Westminster, his residence for six years previously, June 6, 1832. His grandfather was a London Attorney; his father, who followed the same profession, was a shrewd man of business, and added considerably to his patrimony by land speculations. These London Benthams were probably an offshoot from an ancient York family of the same name, which boasted a Bishopric among its members; but our author did not trouble himself to trace his genealogy beyond the pawnbroker. His mother, Alicia Groove, was the daughter of an Andover shopkeeper. Jeremy, the eldest, and for nine years the only child of this marriage, was for the first sixteen years of his life exceedingly puny, small and feeble. At the same time, he exhibited a remarkable precocity which greatly stimulated the pride and affection of his father. At five years of age he acquired a knowledge of musical notes and learned to play the violin. At four or earlier, having previously learned to write, he was initiated into Latin grammar, and in his seventh year entered Westminster School. Meanwhile, he was taught French by a private master at home and at seven read Telemaque, a book which strongly impressed him. Learning to dance was a much more serious undertaking, as he was so weak in his legs.

Young as he was, he acquired distinction at Westminster as a fabricator of Latin and Greek verses, the great end and aim of the instruction given there.

[Pg iii]

When twelve years old, he was entered as a Commoner at Queen's College, Oxford, where he spent the next three years. Though very uncomfortable at Oxford, he went through the exercises of the College with credit and even with some distinction. Some Latin verses of his, on the accession of George III, attracted a great deal of attention as the production of one so young. Into all of the disputations which formed a part of the College exercises, he entered with zeal and much satisfaction; yet he never felt at home in the University because of its historical monotony, and of all of which he retained the most unfavorable recollections.

In 1763, while not yet sixteen, he took the degree of A.B. Shortly after this he began his course of Law in Lincoln's Inn, and journeyed back and forth to Oxford to hear Blackstone's Lectures. These lectures were published and read throughout the realm of England and particularly in the American Colonies. These were criticised by the whole school of Cromwell, Milton and such followers as Priestly and others in England and many in the Colonies in America. Young Bentham returned to London and attended as a student the Court of the King's Bench, then presided over by Mansfield, of whom he continued for some years a great admirer.

Among the advocates, Dunning's clearness, directness and precision most impressed him. He took the degree of A.M. at the age of 18, the youngest graduate that had been known at the Universities; and in 1772 he was admitted to the Bar.

Young Bentham had breathed from infancy, at home, at school, at college and in the Courts, an atmosphere conservative and submissive to authority, yet in the progress of his law studies, he found a striking contrast between the structural imperialism[Pg iv] of the British Empire as expounded by Blackstone and others of his day, and the philosophical social state discussed by Aristotle, Plato, Aurelius, the struggling patriots of France, and the new brotherhood, then agitating the colonies of America.

His father had hoped to see him Lord-Chancellor, and took great pains to push him forward. But having perceived a shocking contrast between the law as it was under the Church imperial structure and such as he conceived it ought to be, he gradually abandoned the position of a submissive and admiring student and assumed a position among the school of reformers and afterwards the role of sharp critic and indignant denouncer.

He heroically suffered privations for several years in Lincoln's Inn garrett, but persevered in study. He devoted some of his time to the study of science. The writings of Hume, Helvetius and others led him to adopt utility as the basis of Morals and Legislation. There had developed two distinct parties in England: The Radicals and Imperialists. The Radicals contended that the foundation of Legislation was that utility which produced the greatest happiness to the greatest number.

Blackstone and the Ecclesiastics had adopted the theory of Locke, that the foundation of Legislation was a kind of covenant of mankind to conform to the laws of God and Nature, as interpreted by hereditarily self-constituted rulers.

Bentham contended that this was only a vague and uncertain collection of words well adapted to the promotion of rule by dogmatic opinions of the Lords and King and Ecclesiastics in combination well calculated to deprive the people of the benefits of popular government. He conceived the idea of codifying the laws so as to define them in terms of[Pg v] the greatest good to the greatest number, and devoted a large share of the balance of his life to this work.

In 1775 he published a small book in defense of the policy of Lord North toward the Colonies, but for fear of prosecution it was issued by one John Lind and extensively read. A little later he published a book entitled "A Fragment on Government." This created a great deal of attention. Readers variously ascribed the book to Mansfield, to Camden and to Dunning. The impatient pride of Bentham's father betrayed this secret. It was variously interpreted as a philosophical Treatise and a Critical Personal Attack upon the Government. But he persevered in the advocacy of his principals of Morals and Government. He hoped also to be appointed Secretary of the Commission sent out by Lord North to propose terms to the revolted American Colonies. But as King George III had contracted a dislike to him, he was disappointed in his plan of Conference with the Colonies. His writings were, however, more appreciated in France. He was openly espoused as a philosopher and reformer by D'Alimbert, Castillux, Brissat and others. But in the meantime some such men as Lord Shelbourne, Mills and others became his friends and admirers, and encouraged him to persevere with his philosophical Code of laws, largely gleaned from the ancient philosophers of liberty and equality which had been smothered and superseded by military and Church imperialism.

In 1785 he took an extensive tour across the Alps and while at Kricov on the Dou, he wrote his letters on Usury. These were printed in London, which were now welcomed by the people largely on account of his reputation in France as a philosopher of popular government. In the meantime, Paley had[Pg vi] printed a treatise on the Principle of applying utility to morals and legislation. He determined to print his views in French and address them to that people then struggling for liberal government.

He revised his sheets on his favorite penal Code and published them under the title of "An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation." The Principles enunciated in this treatise attracted the attention of the liberals in France, as well as England and America. Mirabeau and other French publishers spread his reputation far and wide.

Meanwhile, Bentham with the idea of aiding the deliberations of the States General of France, and encouraged by the liberals on both continents, and especially such men as Franklin, Jefferson and others, printed a "Draft of a Code for the organization of a Judicial Establishment in France," for which services the National Assembly conferred on him the Citizenship of France by a decree, August 23, 1792, in which his name was included with those of Priestly, Paine, Wilberforce, Clarkson, Mackintosh, Anacharsis, Clootz, Washington, Klopstock, Kosiosco, and several others.

In the meantime, in his travels, he conceived an extensive plan of Prison reform which he strenuously urged the Crown Officers and the English Parliament to adopt. After several years of strenuous labors and the expenditure of a large part of the patrimony left him by his father, the enterprise was thwarted by the refusal of the King to concur with Parliament in the enterprise. This scheme is fully set forth in the histories of the reign of George III. But to avoid persecution under the drastic penal Codes of England, Bentham boasted that he was a man of no party but a man of all countries and a fraternal unit of the human race,[Pg vii] he had come to occupy at home the position of a party chief.

He espoused with characteristic zeal and enthusiasm the ideas of the radicals, who, in spite of themselves, were ranked as a political party. He went, indeed, the whole length, not merely republicanism, but on many points of ancient democracy including Universal Suffrage and the Emancipation of all Colonies.

No matter how adroitly the Contention was managed, the Imperialists insisted that it was merely resurrecting the historic struggle of the days of Cromwell and his "bare bones." The Church establishment by way of the Lords and Bishops and Bishop Lords was the real foundation of the Crown rule in all its ramifications. This superstructure was protected by all forms of penal laws against "lease" Majesty and even the appearance of Church Creed heresy. The Radicals always confronted by Crown detectives were compelled to be very wary in their attacks upon this that they called imperial idolatry and were compelled to move by indirect and flank attacks.

The upheaval by Martin Luther in the reign of Henry VIII at the Council of Trent and others over the Divine authenticity of the Athanasian Creed never abated among the humanitarians of England or France. But in the presence of criminal inquisitions too barbarous to mention, the Radicals were handicapped and were compelled to work strategically and by pits and mines beneath the superstructure of Church imperialism. The Church structure as established in Europe is by common consent based upon the hypothesis of Divinity in the life, works, and dogmas of one Saul of Tarsus, or as denominated Paul, or the canonized St. Paul. The substantial[Pg viii] Creed might well be denominated Paulism. Hence the legendary Paul has been one of the points of attack by the rationalists of the centuries.

While many of the contemporaries of Bentham both in England, America and the Continent denied the verity of the whole Mosaic cosmogony and historiology, yet Bentham seemed to ignore this task as superserviceable and unimportant. He and his school of Radicals were devoted to the life works and teachings of Jesus. Jesus was the idol of his school and he heartily espoused the task of eliminating Paul as the nemesis of Jesus and his Apostles, and a character invented and staged by imperialists to subordinate the toiling classes to the production of resources to subserve their personal luxuries.

Bentham began writing a philosophic analysis of the Church's pretensions concerning the divine agency of Paul. After several years of examination and study, and while he was writing his famous treatise entitled "The Rational of Judicial Evidence" afterwards collected and published by Mill, he finished the manuscript criticisms of Paul and entitled them "Not Paul but Jesus."

For fear of prosecution for direct heresy or denunciation of the Creed of the Church, he evaded the use of his own name as writer of the Criticism and used the name of Conyers Middleton, a Cambridge Divine, who by his writings had created a great deal of disturbance. He had been convicted twice for heresy. He had been dead fifty years when Bentham introduced him in the first lines in the Introduction to his Criticisms herein published (See Introduction). Bentham, no doubt, intended to evade prosecution, as it will be seen that his name does not appear in the book, and yet at the same time used the name most obnoxious to the Church in all its history.

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In 1729 Middleton published his "Letter from Rome" in which he boldly essayed to demonstrate that the then religion of the Roman Church was derived from their heathen ancestral idolaters. He published other works on the uses of miracles and prophecy. But Bentham's "Not Paul but Jesus" did not long remain anonymous. It was read extensively in France and America. But this treatise formed a part of the labor of his life, which was to promote the theory of the social state based upon "The greatest good to the greatest number, and subordinate the whole to rational calculations of utility." These views he continually urged in the form of Codification so as to eliminate all pretensions of hierarchical control by historical divine prophets, the faithful souls and agents of Kings and princes. In the meantime, he was indefatigable in his attacks upon the English System of Jurisprudence, which was being operated in America as a kind of paternal inheritance. Dumont, in 1811, compiled from the manuscripts of Bentham a complete code which was readily adopted in France, because it conformed so closely to the old Roman procedure which was held tenaciously in France.

In the meantime, by importunity of Lord Brougham and others, and particularly of his friends in America, such as Adams, Franklin and others, he wrote to Madison offering his services to draw up a complete code of laws for the United States. Mr. Madison caused these ideas to be spread broadcast by pamphlets as pamphleteering was much in vogue for such purposes in those days. But on account of our dual form of government, and as the code would apply to the States separately, the scheme as a whole failed. But some of the Governors, especially those of Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Hampshire, got[Pg x] hold of the manuscripts and many of the provisions were adopted and still obtain.

In the meantime, Mr. Mill had collected his manuscripts on "The Rationale of Judicial Evidence" and published them in 5 vols. They shortly became a part of the libraries of the lawyers and statesmen of England, and especially in the United States. His manuscripts on "Not Paul but Jesus" were extensively read and universally admitted to be rational and sound in point of rational jural demonstration. During this time, Thomas Jefferson had been writing on the same subject and after reading the prints of Bentham, he abandoned the part directed to the criticism of Paul, but he arranged chronologically all of the verses from the four gospels that pertain to the career of Jesus, omitting, however, every verse or paragraph that to his mind was ambiguous or controversial, and every statement of fact that would not have been admitted as evidence in a Court of Justice. The original copy of what is denominated as "Jefferson Bible," is now preserved in the National Museum at Washington. It was purchased by the Government as a memento of the author of the Declaration of Independence.

This "The Thomas Jefferson Bible" has lately been republished by David McKay, 604 S. Washington Sq., Philadelphia. The treatise "Not Paul but Jesus" was published in 1825. The printing art was not as well advanced as at present, and the division of subjects for discussion and correlation were not arranged strictly methodically, so the Editor has rearranged some of the titles with a view to improve the order of sequence. With this change, every word has been preserved.

It will all the time be borne in mind that the examination[Pg xi] is Judicial and the Character Paul had to be staged from many points of view and examination. Jeremy Bentham has revolved him in the limelight of inquisition with a thoroughness that commands the attention of all thoughtful readers. With this view the Editor hopes to be justified in its republication by the reading and inquiring public.

J. J. Crandall.

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