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



It may be observed that in this examination of the history of Jesus, we follow the most generally received arrangement of facts, without meaning to guarantee that they occurred precisely in that order. Chronological mistakes are not of much importance when they do not influence the nature of events. Besides, the evangelists, without fixing any eras, content themselves with saying at that time, which precludes our giving an exact chronology of the following transactions. Precision would require a labor as immense as superfluous, and tend only to shew that the history of Jesus, dictated by the Holy Spirit, is more incorrect than that of celebrated Pagans of an antiquity more remote. It would also prove that the inspired writers contradict themselves every instant, by making their hero act at the same time in different places, and often remote from each other. On the other hand, this great labor would not inform us which of the evangelists we ought to prefer, seeing all in the eyes of faith have truth on their side. Time and place do not change the nature of facts; and it is from these facts we must form our ideas of the legislator of the Christians.

Jesus having commenced his journey in the summer season, felt oppressed with thirst near Sichar, in the country of Samaria, which gave rise to a singular adventure. Near this city there was a well, known by the name of Jacob's fountain. Fatigued with his journey, Jesus sat down on the brink of the well, waiting the return of his disciples, who had gone to the city for provisions. It was about noon, when a female came to draw water. Jesus asked her to let him[Pg 68] drink out of the vessel she held; but the Samaritan, who knew from his countenance that he was a Jew, was astonished at his request, as there was no intercourse between the orthodox Jews and the Samaritans. According to the custom of partisans of different sects, they detested each other most cordially. The messiah, who was not so fastidious as the ordinary Jews, undertook the conversion of the female heretic, for whose sex we find in him a strong attachment through the whole course of his history. "If thou knewest," said he to her, "the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." The Samaritan woman, who did not observe Jesus to have any vessel in his hand, asked whence he could draw the living water of which he spoke? On this the messiah, assuming a mysterious tone, answered, "Whoso drinketh of this well shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." The female, who was a dame of easy virtue, asked some of that marvellous water; and Jesus, from this discourse having discovered the profession of the woman, ingeniously got off by telling her to go and seek her husband; calculating, perhaps, on being able to steal away when she was gone. But the lady related to him her life; gave some details of her conduct; and thereby enabled him to conjecture enough of it to speak as a conjuror. Accordingly, he told her that she had had five husbands; that she had none at that time, and that the man with whom she lived was only a gallant. The Samaritan woman took Jesus for a sorcerer or a prophet; he did not deny it; and as he was not then afraid of being stoned or punished, he made bold for the first time to confess that he was the messiah.

They were at this part of their dialogue, when the return of Jesus' disciples put an end to it. The latter, whether they knew the profession of the loquacious dame, or were more intolerant than their master, were surprised at the tete-[Pg 69]a-tete; yet none of them ventured to criticise the conduct of Jesus; while the Samaritan woman seeing his retinue believed in reality that he was a prophet or the messiah. Leaving her pitcher, she went directly to Sichar, "Come and see," said she to the inhabitants, "a man who told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ?"—The astonished inhabitants went and met Jesus; and charmed with hearing him preach, without comprehending one word of his discourse, they invited him to come and reside with them. He yielded to their request for two days only: the provisions purchased were put up in reserve, and the troop lived during that time at the cost of these heretics, delighted no doubt with defraying the expenses of the Saviour and his followers.

All the marvellous in this adventure turns on Jesus having divined that the Samaritan lady had had five husbands, and lived at that time in criminal intercourse with a favorite. Yet it is easy to perceive that Jesus could learn this anecdote either in his conversation with the prating dame, or by public rumor, or in some other very easy way.

But unbelievers find another reason for criticising this relation of John. Laying aside the marvellous, they attack the truth of the transaction. All history attests, that in the time of Jesus, Samaria was peopled by colonies of different nations, which the Assyrians had transported thither after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel. This would seem to exclude the expectation of the messiah, in which, according to John, the Samaritans lived. Pagans and Idolators could not have very distinct notions of an event peculiar to Judea. If the Samaritans were the descendants of Jacob, it was not necessary to put into the mouth of the Samaritan woman these words, "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and ye say, Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." It was also absurd to make Jesus say, "ye shall no more worship the Father, either in this mountain or at Jerusalem; ye worship ye know not what;" for the law of Moses does[Pg 70] not forbid the worshipping God in whatever place we may find ourselves. In the time of Jesus, the laws or usages of the Jews required, that none should offer sacrifice any where, except in the temple of the capital; but the places of prayer depended on every man's own will and pleasure. It is, besides, absurd to say, that the descendants of Jacob did not know the God whom they adored to be Jehovah, the God of Moses and of the Jews; unless it is pretended, that they did not know whom they worshipped. Since the mission of Jesus, Christians have undoubtedly nothing to reproach them with on this head. Moreover the words of Jesus seem to insinuate, that he wished to abolish the worship of the Father. It is certain that Christians share their homage between him and his Son, which, faith a part, annihilates the dogma of the unity of God. Finally, Jesus did not conjecture right in saying, that the Father would be no longer worshipped at Jerusalem, or on the mountain; for this Father has not ceased one instant to be worshipped there for these eighteen centuries, by Jews, by Christians, and by Mahometans.

If it is maintained, that the Samaritan woman was a heathen, it is not likely that she would have regarded Jesus as the messiah, whom she neither knew nor expected. Add to this, that the Samaritans believed in Jesus on the word of a courtezan; a credulity of which Jews and Christians only could be susceptible. Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and in that character excluded from Samaria. It is of no import, therefore, by whom the country was inhabited.

Two days having elapsed, and the people of Sichar being, in all appearance, sufficiently instructed, Jesus quitted their city, and with his disciples took the road of Upper Galilee. In this journey, Jesus considering the hostile disposition of his countrymen, thought proper not to enter Nazareth, the place of his nativity. He applied to himself the famous proverb, a prophet has no honor in his own country. It was otherwise in the rest of the province:—as soon as the people[Pg 71] knew of his arrival, they gave him welcome. Luke assures us that he was esteemed and honored by every body. These good people had beheld the wonders which he had operated in Jerusalem, during the festival of the passover. In gratitude for these favorable dispositions, and for the faith he found among the Galileans, Jesus did not content himself with instructing them, but confirmed his mission, and testified his love by a crowd of prodigies. The number was, doubtless, very great, as Matthew is constrained to say generally, that he healed all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people; and that it was sufficient to obtain a cure, to present to him the sick, whatever might be their disease. Lunatics, whose number was great in that country; idiots, hypochondriacs, and persons possessed with devils, had but to fly to him for relief, and their cure was certain.

This multitude of miracles, for so they style the cures operated by Jesus, drew after him a crowd of idlers and vagabonds from Galilee, Jerusalem, Decapolis, Judea, and the country beyond Jordan. It was in this journey he obtained two famous disciples: they were brothers, sons of a fisherman of the name of Zebedee, and called James and John. The first, though, probably, he could not read, afterwards composed mystical works, which are at this day revered by Christians. With respect to John, he was the favorite of his master, and received from him marks of distinguished attention. He afterwards became a sublime Platonist, and, through gratitude, deified Jesus in the gospels and epistles published in his name.

The reputation and resources of Jesus were so great in Galilee, that, to increase the number of his followers, it was only necessary for him to open his mouth and speak. The two disciples already mentioned, he called with an intention to keep near his person. Wishing, however, to repose after the fatigues of preaching and performing miracles, he resolved to quit the cities and retire to the sea coast. He conjec[Pg 72]tured, that to make himself desirable, and not exhaust his credit, it was prudent not to suffer himself to be seen too long or too near. The people, fond of hearing the wonderful sermons of Jesus, followed him. Pressed by the crowd, he happily perceived two vessels; and stepping into the one belonging to Simon Peter, he harangued the eager multitude from it. Thus the boat of a fisherman became a pulpit, whence the Deity uttered his oracles.

The Galileans were not rich, and, accordingly, the troop of Jesus' adherents augmented. We find his four first apostles laboring in their trade of fishermen during the abode of the messiah in the province. The day on which he preached in the vessel had not been fortunate for them; and the night preceding was not more favorable. Jesus, who knew more than one profession, thought that it behoved him to do something for people who shewed so much zeal. When, therefore, he had finished his harangue and the crowd had retired, he bade Simon advance into the middle of the water and cast his net; the latter excused himself, saying, that he had already thrown several times without success. But Jesus insisted:—then said Simon, I will cast it on thy word: on which, by an astonishing miracle, the net broke on all sides. Simon and Andrew were unable to drag it out, they called their comrades, and drew out of it fishes enough to fill two ships. Our fishermen were so surprised, that Peter took his master for a wizard, and prayed him to depart. But Jesus encouraged him, and promised not to alarm them again, seeing that henceforth he, Peter, should no longer occupy himself with catching fish, but men.

The messiah finding himself near Cana, judged it proper, as he had once performed a miracle there, to enter that place. An officer of Capernaum, whose son was sick of a fever, repaired to this village on purpose to try the remedies of Jesus, of whose powers so many persons boasted. He entreated the physician to come to his house and cure his son; but our Esculapius, who did not chuse to operate be[Pg 73]fore eyes too clear-sighted, got rid of this importunate person in such a way as not to incur any risk, in case he should not succeed: Go, said he to the officer, thy son liveth. The officer, while approaching his own habitation, learned that the fever, which perhaps was intermittent, had left his son. No more was necessary to cry up the miracle, and convert all the family.

After having traversed the sea coast, and made some stay at Cana, Jesus repaired to Capernaum, where, as has been related, he fixed his residence. The family of Simon Peter was established in that city; and it was no doubt this reason, joined with the bad treatment he had received from the inhabitants of Nazareth, that determined Jesus to make choice of this residence. It appears he was abhorred in the city where he had been educated; for as soon as he attempted to preach there, the people wanted to throw him headlong. At Capernaum they listened to and admired him; he harangued in the synagogue, explained the scripture, and showed that he himself was foretold in it. In the midst of his sermon, one Sabbath day, they brought him a person possessed, who perhaps in concert with him, began to cry out with all his might; "Let us alone: what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the holy one of God." The people waited in terror for the issue of this adventure, when Jesus, certain of his ground, addressed himself not to the man, but to the devil possessing him: "Hold thy peace," said he, "and come out of him." Immediately the malign spirit overturned the possessed, threw him into horrible convulsions, and disappeared without any person seeing him.

Physicians, especially those acquainted with the eastern countries, do not admit miracles of the nature of this one. They know that the diseases considered possessions, were owing solely to disorders produced in the brain by excessive heat. These maladies were frequent in Judea, where superstition and ignorance impeded the progress of medicine and[Pg 74] all useful knowledge. Out of that country we find but few possessed with devils. This incredulity strips Jesus of a great number of his miracles; yet taking away the possessions, there still remain enough. Most of the possessed among us are hypochondriacs, maniacs, hysterical women, melancholy persons, and those tormented with the vapors or spasms; or they are impostors, who, to gain money, to interest the simple and to display the power of the priests, consent to receive the devil, that the clergy may have the glory of expelling him. There is scarcely a possession now-a-days which could resist a flogging.

Miracles are food for the imagination, but the body requires more substantial aliments: the adventure which has been related had led to the hour of dinner. On leaving the synagogue, Jesus was invited to the house of Peter, where every thing appears to have been prepared for performing a second miracle. The mother-in-law of Simon felt sick at the moment they had need of her in managing the kitchen. Jesus, who possessed the talent of readily curing the relatives of his disciples, took her by the hand, and made her rise from her bed: she arose completely cured, cooked the victuals, and was in a condition to serve the guests.

In the evening of the same day, they brought Jesus all the sick in Capernaum, and all the possessed, whom, according to Matthew, he cured by some words; but, according to Luke, by laying hands on them. Several devils, on coming out of the possessed, had the impudence to betray the secret of the physician, and openly declare, that he was "Christ the Son of God." This indiscretion displeased Jesus, who wished, or feigned to wish, to keep private. Luke tells us that "he rebuked them, and suffered them not to speak, for they knew that he was Christ."

According to theologists, the Son of God, in all his conduct, had in view only to lead the devil astray, and conceal from him the mystery of redemption: Yet we see, that Jesus was never able to deceive his cunning enemy. In the whole[Pg 75] gospel system, the devil is more sly and powerful than both God the Father and God the Son: he is always successful in thwarting their designs, and succeeds in reducing God the Father to the dire necessity of making his dear Son die in order to repair the evil which Satan had done to mankind. Christianity is real manichaeism, wherein every advantage is on the side of the bad principle, who, by the great number of his adherents renders nugatory all the purposes of the Deity. If the devil knew that Jesus was "the Christ," such knowledge must have been posterior to his retirement into the desert, for he then spoke to him in a style which intimated that he knew him not. It is superfluous to examine at what time the devil acquired this knowledge; but it is manifest that he had it only by divine permission. Now God, by granting to the devil the knowledge of his Son, either wished, or did not wish, that he should speak of it. If he wished it, Jesus did wrong in opposing it: if he did not wish it, how was the devil able to act contrary to the divine will? Jesus carefully concealed his quality, the knowledge of which could alone operate salvation. But, in this case, the devil had the greatest interest to conceal it; yet in opposition to this interest, and the will of the Almighty, the devil made known the quality of Jesus. Besides, if Jesus did not wish that the devil should discover him, why delay imposing silence on him until after he had spoken?

The conduct of the Messiah in these particulars has made it to be believed, that not daring to endanger himself by publicly assuming the quality of Christ, or Son of God, he was not displeased with the devils for divulging his secret, and sparing him the trouble of speaking. It was, moreover, eliciting a very important confession out of the mouth of an enemy.

Jesus was not ignorant, that to retain his influence over the minds of men, it was necessary to prevent satiety. Accordingly, on the day following that on which so many miracles had been wrought in Capernaum, he departed before[Pg 76] day-break, and withdrew into a desert. All legislators have loved retirement. It is there they have had divine inspirations, and it is on emerging from these mysterious asylums, they have performed miracles calculated to deceive the vulgar. Solitary reflection is at times necessary to ascertain the state of our affairs.

Meanwhile the disciples of Jesus, notwithstanding his flight, did not lose sight of him; they repaired to him at the moment he wished to be alone, and informed him that they had been every where in search of him. In fact, there were still many sick and possessed in the country; yet this consideration did not induce Jesus to return to Capernaum; on which account many resorted to him in his retreat. To get rid of them, he again traversed Galilee, where he cured the sick and cast out devils. This is all the gospel mentions. It appears he tarried little on his road, while he preached as he went along; for in a short time he had advanced a considerable way on the shore of the sea of Galilee. As the multitude augmented by idle and curious people from the villages, our preacher, finding himself pressed by the crowd, gave orders to his disciples to convey him to the other side, on the territory of the Gerasenes.

When he had landed, a doctor of the law offered to become his follower: but Jesus readily conceived that a doctor would not suit him. He would have cut a poor figure in a company composed of fishermen and clowns, such as those of whom the messiah had formed his court. He gave the doctor to understand, that he would repent of this step; that this kind of life would not agree with him: "the son of man," said he to the doctor, "hath no where to lay his head."

Jesus would not permit his disciples to ramble too far in the territory of the Gerasenes; for amongst them were some of that country. One asked permission to go and perform the last duties to his father;—another, to embrace his family; but Jesus harshly refused their requests. The first received[Pg 77] for answer, "let the dead bury their dead." The other, "whoever having put his hand to the plough, and looketh back, is not fit for the kingdom of heaven." The incredulous think they perceive in these answers a proof of the rough habits, and repulsive and despotic spirit of Jesus, who, for the kingdom of heaven, obliged his disciples to neglect the most sacred duties of morality. But Christians, docile to the lessons of their divine master, which they dare not examine, have made perfection consist in a total abandonment of those objects which nature has rendered dearest to man. Christianity seems intended only to create discord, detach men from every thing on earth, and break the ties which ought to unite them. There is, according to Jesus, but one thing needful; namely, to be attached to him exclusively: a maxim very useful in meriting heaven, but calculated to destroy every society on the earth.

After our missionary had spent some time in the country of the Gerasenes, one day towards the evening he passed over to the other side of the lake, having previously dismissed the people, who had come that day on purpose to hear him; but he did not preach. Fatigued, he fell asleep on the passage, whilst a furious tempest overtook the ship. His affrighted disciples, impressed with the idea of their master being more powerful when awake than when asleep, acquainted him with the danger. This drew on them reproaches for their want of faith, which, probably, gave time for the tempest to subside. Then Jesus, in a tone of authority, commanded the sea to be still, and immediately the order was obeyed. In spite of this prodigy, the faith of the disciples was for a long time wavering. Jesus after this returned to the country of the Gerasenes, without having either preached or performed miracles on the other side.[Pg 78]

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