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



As soon as Jesus was safe from the malice of his enemies, and found that he was among persons of more favourable dispositions than the inhabitants of Jerusalem, he again commenced working miracles. His experience convinced him, that to gain the capital, it was necessary to augment his forces in the environs, and procure, in the country, a great number of adherents, who might, in due time and place, aid him in overcoming the incredulity of priests, doctors, and magistrates; and put him in possession of the holy city, the object of his eager desires.

These new prodigies, however, produced no remarkable effect. The Jews, who had been at Jerusalem during the passover, on returning home, prepossessed their fellow-citizens against our missionary. If he found the secret of gaining the admiration of the people in the places he passed[Pg 97] through on leaving the capital, he had the chagrin to find opponents in the Pharisees and doctors. The following fact shows to what a degree the people were influenced:—On a Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue of a place, the name of which has not been preserved. He there found a man who had, or said he had, a withered hand. The sight of the diseased, who was, probably, some noted mendicant and knave, and the presence of the physician, excited the attention of the doctors. They watched Jesus closely—"Let us see, (said they, one to another) if he will dare to heal this man on the Sabbath day." But observing that Jesus remained inactive, they questioned him as to the Sabbath, for which he had, on so many occasions, shown but little respect. It was apparently one of the principal points of his reform, to abrogate a number of festivals. The doctors asked him, "Master, is it lawful to heal on this day?" He was frequently in the habit of answering one question by another: Logic was not the science in which the Jews were most conversant. Jesus replied, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do evil—to save life, or to take it away?" This question, according to Mark, confounded the doctors. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe, unless we suppose the Jews to have been a hundred times more stupid than they really were, that this question was ill timed. They were prohibited from applying to servile occupations only, but must have been permitted to discharge the most urgent duties of morality even on the Sabbath day. It is to be presumed, that a midwife, for example, lent her ministry on that day, as on any other. It is stated in the Talmud, that it was permitted to annoint the sick with oil on the Sabbath. The Essenians observed the Sabbath with so much rigor, that they did not allow themselves to satisfy the most pressing wants of life. This, perhaps, gave occasion to the reproaches with which this sect loaded Jesus, who had by his own authority reformed this ridiculous custom.

Jesus continued his questions, and asked them, if when a[Pg 98] sheep fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, they would not draw it out? Hence, without waiting for an answer, he very justly concluded that it was permitted to do good on that day. To prove it, he said to the sick, whom he had, perhaps, suborned to play this part in the synagogue, "Arise, stand up, and stretch forth thy hand;" and immediately his hand became as the other. But Jesus, finding this prodigy produced no change in their minds, darted a furious look on the assembly, and, boiling with a holy choler, instantly forsook the detestable place. Matt. xii. Mark xii. 6.

Jesus acted wisely; for these naughty doctors immediately took counsel with the officers of Herod, "how they might destroy him." Informed of every thing by his adherents, he gained the sea shore, where it was always easy for him to effect his escape. His disciples, several of whom understood navigation, followed him. A number of people, more credulous than the doctors, resorted to him on the noise of his marvels. There came hearers from Galilee, from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from the other side of Jordan, and even from Tyre and Sidon. This multitude furnished him with a pretext for ordering his disciples to hold a boat in readiness, that he might not be too much thronged, but, in truth, to escape, in case it should be attempted to pursue him.

On this shore, favorable to his designs, Jesus performed a great number of miracles, and cured an infinity of people. We must piously believe it on the word of Matthew and Mark. These wonders were performed on the sick, and especially on the possessed. The latter, at whatever distance they perceived the Saviour, prostrated themselves before him, rendered homage to his glory, and proclaimed him the "Christ;" whilst he, always full of modesty, commanded them with threats not to reveal him; the whole to accomplish a prophecy, which said of him, He shall not dispute, nor cry, nor make his voice be heard in the streets; a prophecy, which, however, was frequently contradicted by his continual disputes with the doctors and Pharisees, and by the uproar[Pg 99] he occasioned in the temple, in the streets of Jerusalem, and in the synagogues.

Nothing is more astonishing than the obstinacy of the devil in acknowledging Jesus, and confessing his divinity, and the stubbornness of the doctors in not recognizing him, in spite of his cares to make the one silent to convince the others. It is evident, that the son of God has come with the sole intent of preventing the Jews from profiting by his coming, and acknowledging his mission. It may be said that he has shown himself merely to receive the homage of satan; at least we perceive only the devil and his disciples proclaiming the character of Jesus.

When he had preached much, cured much, and exorcised much, our missionary wished to be alone to reflect on the situation of his affairs. With a view to enjoy more liberty, he ascended a mountain, where he spent the whole night. The result of his solitary reflections was, that although he required assistants, he could no longer, without giving umbrage to the government, continue marching up and down with a company so numerous as that of the idlers who composed his suite.

When day appeared, he called those of his disciples whom he judged most worthy of confidence, and selected twelve to remain near his person. This is what Luke says; but Mark insinuates that he chose his twelve apostles on purpose to send them on a mission. As Jesus, however, assures us, that he chose them to be near him, and as the apostles, content with begging and making provision for themselves and their master, did not perform any mission during his life, at least out of Judea, we shall adhere to the first opinion. The names of these apostles were Simon Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Simon-Zelotes, James, Philip, Thomas, Jude, John, Bartholomew, another James, and Judas Iscariot, the treasurer.

As Jesus had no money to give his disciples, he told them no doubt to go and push their fortune. He, however, took[Pg 100] care to impart to them his secret; to teach them the art of miracles, to cure diseases, and to cast out devils. He also gave them the power of remitting sins, and to bind and unbind in the name of Heaven; prerogatives, which, if they did not enrich the apostles, have been worth immense treasures to their successors. To them the roughest staff has become a crosier, a staff of command, making its power felt by the mightiest sovereigns of the earth. The bag or wallet of the apostles has been converted into treasures, benefices, principalities and revenues. Permission to beg has become a right to exact tithes, devour nations, fatten on the substance of the wretched, and enjoy, by divine right, the privilege of pillaging society, and disturbing it with impunity. The successors of the first missionaries of Jesus, though professing to be mendicants, enjoyed the prerogative of coercing all who refused to bestow charities on them, or to obey their commands. Many have imagined, that Jesus never concerned himself about the subsistence of the ministers of the church; but if we examine attentively the gospel, especially the Acts of the Apostles, we shall find the basis of the riches, grandeur, and even despotism of the clergy.

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