Freethought Archives > Baron D'Holbach > Ecce Homo (1769)

CHAPTER VIII.

OF WHAT JESUS DID AT JERUSALEM DURING THE SECOND PASSOVER IN HIS MISSION.

Our doctor having closed the first year of his mission in a glorious manner, he proceeded to Jerusalem, to try his fortune, and gather the fruits of his labour, or form a party in the capital, after having acquired adherents in the country. There was reason to expect that the wonders which he had performed the year preceding in Galilee, would have a powerful effect on the populace of Jerusalem; but they produced consequences opposite to those which Jesus had hoped for. It might be said that the infernal legion which he had sent into the swine of the Gerasenes, had returned and fixed their abode in the heads of the inhabitants of the country. The gospel shows in the former an incredible hardness of heart. In vain Jesus wrought before their eyes a multitude of prodigies, calculated to confirm the wonders related to them; in vain did he employ his divine rhetoric to demonstrate the divinity of his mission. His efforts served only to increase the anger of his enemies, and induce them to devise means to punish him whom they persisted in regarding as a juggler, a charlatan, and a dangerous impostor.

It is true, the adversaries of Jesus surprised him sometimes at fault—They reproached him with violating the ordinances of a law venerated by them as sacred, and from which he had promised never to depart. They regarded these violations as a proof of heresy, and it did not enter their heads that a God could raise himself above ordinary rules, and possess the right of changing every thing. They were Jews, and therefore obstinately attached to their ordinances; and they did not conceive how a true messenger of God could[Pg 90] allow himself to trample under foot, what they were accustomed to regard as sacred and agreeable to Deity.

So many obstacles did not discourage Jesus. He determined to succeed at any price; and though he might have foreseen what would be the issue of his enterprise, he was sensible he must conquer or die; that fortune favours only the brave; and that it was necessary to play an illustrious part, or tamely consent to languish in misery in the solitude of some obscure village in Galilee.

On arriving at Jerusalem, he devoted his attention to sick paupers—the rich had their own physicians. At this time there was in the city, and near the sheep port, a fountain, or pool, of which, with the exception of the gospel, no historian has ever spoken, though, it well deserved to be transmitted to posterity. It was a vast edifice, surrounded with five magnificent galleries, in the centre of which was a sheet of water, that possessed admirable properties; but these were known only to indigent people and mendicants; and they knew them, doubtless, by a particular revelation. Under these galleries were soon languishing a great number of sick persons, who patiently waited for a miracle. God, on giving to the water of this pool the faculty of curing all diseases, had annexed a condition to it—The first who could plunge therein after an angel had troubled it, which happened only at a certain time, could alone obtain the benefit of a cure. The chief magistrate of Jerusalem, who probably knew nothing of the existence of this extraordinary fountain, had not established any regulation respecting it. The most forward and agile, and such as had friends always in readiness to lead them to the water when it was troubled, succeeded often in obtaining deliverance from their diseases.

A paralytic had been there for thirty-eight years, without any one having had the charity to lend him a helping hand in descending to the fountain. Jesus, who beheld him lying, asked him if he wanted to be cured? "Yes," answered the sick man, "but I have nobody to put me into the water when[Pg 91] it is troubled." "That signifies nothing, (replied Jesus,) Arise, take up thy bed and walk." This wretched man, perhaps not unlike many of our beggars, who, to soften the public, feigned diseases, and who on this occasion might be gained over by some trifle to be accessary to the farce; this miserable, we say, did not leave him to speak twice—on the order of Jesus he took up his couch and departed.

This cure was performed on the Sabbath. Our paralytic having been met by a man of the law, the latter reprimanded him for violating the ordinances of religion by carrying his bed. The transgressor had no other excuse to give, but, that he who had cured him had commanded him so to do. He was then questioned about the person who had given this order, but he knew nothing of him. Jesus had not said who he was; and, as if the act had been very trifling, the person on whom the miracle was performed had not informed himself of the author of it. Here the matter ended; but Jesus having some time after met the paralytic, made himself known to him, and then the latter informed the Jews of the name of his physician. The priests were so irritated, that from this instant they formed the design of putting Jesus to death, because, according to John, he had done these things on the Sabbath day.

It is not probable that this was the true cause of the rage of the Jews. However scrupulous we suppose them, it is presumed that their physicians did not think themselves obliged to refuse medicines to the sick on the Sabbath. Jesus, not content with curing, also authorised those he cured to violate the Sabbath by carrying their bed, which was a servile work; or rather these unbelievers regarded the miracles of the saviour as mere delusions, impostures, tricks of dexterity, and himself as a cheat who might excite disturbances.

Jesus having learned that the Jews were ill disposed towards him, attempted to justify himself. He made a speech to prove that he was the Son of God, and that his Father au[Pg 92]thorised him not to observe the Sabbath. But he took care not to explain himself very distinctly on this filiation; and by his ambiguous language, insinuated the eternity of his father, though he did not call him God. Yet the Jews perceiving his object, were very much offended at this pretension. He changed, therefore, his ground, and threw himself on the necessity by which he acted. "Verily," said he to them, "the Son does nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do. The Father, who loves him, sheweth him all things that he himself doeth, and he will show him greater works than these." By these expressions, Jesus seems to overthrow his own eternity and infinite knowledge; for he announces himself as susceptible of learning something, or as the pupil of the Divinity.

To impress the minds of these unbelievers, whom his enigmatical language could not convince, he declared that henceforth the Father would no longer interfere in judging men, but had devolved that care on his Son. This, however, had no effect; as the Jews expected a great judge, they were not yet staggered. Jesus, like our modern teachers, for want of better arguments proceeded to intimidate his audience, knowing well that fear prevents the exercise of reason. He gave them to understand, that the end of the world was near, which ought to make them tremble.

The testimony of John Baptist, had facilitated the first successes of Jesus; but the difference remarked between his conduct and that of the forerunner, destroyed the force of this testimony. Our orator pretended to have no need of it and endeavored to weaken its value. "He was a burning and a shining light" to them; "you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light; I have a greater witness than his." Here he appealed to his own works, which he maintained to be infallible proofs of his divine mission. He undoubtedly forgot at this moment, that he spoke to people who regarded his marvellous deeds as delusions and impostures. His works were precisely the thing which it was necessary to[Pg 93] prove even to the Jews, who saw them performed! This manner of reasoning has been since adopted with success by Christian doctors, who, when doubts or objections are advanced against the mission of Jesus, appeal to his miraculous works, which were at all times incapable of convincing the very persons whom they tell us had been witnesses of them.

Among the proofs employed by Jesus to exalt his mission, he advanced one, the tendency of which is to destroy the mission of Moses, and cause him to be regarded as an impostor. He told them, You have never heard the voice of my Father; whilst it was on the voice of this Father, of whom Moses was the interpreter, that the law of the Jews was founded. After having annihilated the authority of scripture, our orator wished to prop his mission on the same scriptures, by which he pretended he was announced. "Fear" says he, "the Father; I will not be the person who will accuse you before him; it will be Moses, in whom you trust, because you believe not in him; for if you believed in him, you would also believe in me. I am come in the name of the Father, and you pay no attention to it; another will come in his own name, and you will believe in him."

The hearers of this sermon were not moved by it: they considered it unconnected, contradictory, and blasphemous; the fear of seeing the end of the world arrive, did not hinder them from perceiving the want of just inference in the orator, who took away from his Father, and restored to him the quality of judge of men, which he had at first appropriated to himself. Besides, it would appear the Jews were of good courage as to this end of the world, which events had so often belied. Their posterity, who beheld the world subsisting after this, notwithstanding the express prediction of Jesus and his disciples, have founded their repugnance for his doctrine, among other things, on this want of accomplishment. From his sublime discourse the incredulous conclude, that it is very difficult for an imposter to speak long without contradicting and exposing himself.[Pg 94]

The inefficacy of this harangue convinced Jesus that it was in vain to rely on miracles, in order to draw over the Jews of Jerusalem. He forbore to perform them, though the festival of the passover might furnish him with a favourable opportunity. It appears he was completely disgusted with the incredulity of these wretches, who showed themselves no way disposed to witness the great things which he had exhibited with success to the inhabitants of Galilee. To make miracles pass in a capital, there must be a greater share of credulity than in the country. Besides, if the populace are well disposed even in large cities, the magistrates and better informed oppose a bulwark to imposition. The same thing happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. Perhaps he despaired of the salvation of these infidels, for during the short time he sojourned in that city, he kept no measures with them, but loaded them with abusive language. It does not appear, however, that this plan gained proselytes, though since that time his disciples and the priests have frequently endeavored to succeed by similar means, and even by coercion.

In this journey, Jesus had no success—his disciples did not meet with good cheer; to sustain life they were reduced to the necessity of taking a little corn in the environs of the city; and were caught in this occupation on the Sabbath day. Complaint was made to their master; but no satisfaction could be obtained. He replied to the Pharisees, by comparing what his disciples had done with the conduct of David, who, on an emergency, ate, and also made his followers eat, the shew bread, the use of which was reserved for the priests, adding, that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath;" therefore, he concluded, "the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Critics have remarked in several circumstances of the life of Jesus, that he was frequently liable to commit mistakes. For example, on the occasion we speak of, he gave the name of Abiathar to the high priest who permitted David to[Pg 95] eat the shew bread. The Holy Spirit, however, informs us, in the first book of Kings, that this high priest was called Achimelech. The error would be nothing if an ordinary man had fallen into it, but it becomes embarrassing in a man-God, or in God made man, whom we ought to suppose incapable of blunders.

On the same occasion, Jesus maintained that the priests themselves violated the Sabbath, by serving God in the temple on that day; and, this, according to the principles of theology, is confounding servile works with spiritual. But this is to have the same idea of a robbery and of an oblation; it is to tax God with being ignorant of what he did, by ordaining, at one and the same time, the observance and the violation of a day which he had consecrated to repose.

Our doctors further justify Jesus by saying, that, as God, he was absolute master of all things. But in that case he ought to have procured better fare for his disciples. It would not have cost him more to have permitted them to encroach on the table of some rich financier of Jerusalem, or even that of the high priest, who lived at the expense of God his Father, than to permit his followers to forage in the fields of the poor inhabitants of the country. At least it was previously necessary to verify such sovereignty over all things in the eyes of the Jews, who, from not knowing this truth, were offended at the conduct which the Son of God seemed to authorise. It is apparently on this principle several Christian doctors have pretended, that all things appertain to the just; that it is permitted them to seize on the property of infidels and the unholy; that the clergy have a right to levy contributions on the people; and that the pope may dispose of crowns at his pleasure. It is on the same principle that actions are defended, which unbelievers regard as usurpations and violence, exercised by the Christians on the inhabitants of the new world. Hence it is of the utmost importance to Christians not to depart from the example which Je[Pg 96]sus has given them in this passage of the gospel; it appears especially to concern the rights of the clergy.

Pretensions, so well founded, did not, however, strike the carnal minds of the Jews; they persisted in believing that it was not permitted to rob, particularly on the Sabbath; and not knowing the extent of the rights of Jesus, they considered him an impostor, and his disciples knaves. They believed him to be a dangerous man, who, under pretence of reformation, sought to subvert their laws, trample on their ordinances, and overturn their religion. They agreed, therefore, to collect the proofs they had against him, accuse, and cause him to be arrested. But our hero, who had information of their designs, frustrated them by leaving Jerusalem.


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