THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS, BY AN EYE-WITNESS
STRANGE NEW GOSPELS
EDGAR J. GOODSPEED
THIS is the story of Jesus as an Essene monk, destined for that order from his birth; of his ministry and Crucifixion; of his resuscitation and his lingering six months after in concealment among his Essene brethren, until his death. It is in the form of a letter written seven years after the Crucifixion, by an unnamed Essene elder at Jerusalem to one at Alexandria. It is controlled by a resuscitation theory of the Resurrection, and was written to present the gospel story stripped of all supernatural features.
Everything about the life of Jesus is here explained by the activity of his brethren of the Essene order. The angel of the annunciation who appeared to Mary was an Essene. It is even intimated that Jesus’ father was an Essene. The flight into Egypt was directed by Essenes. John the Baptist was an Essene and |32 Jesus early became one. After the Crucifixion it was the Essenes who carried Jesus away and gradually revived him. Nicodemus was an Essene of the highest degree, and expert in the art of healing. The angel at the tomb was really an Essene, in the white robe of his order. Among the Essenes Jesus passed the remaining months of his life, occasionally showing himself to some of his followers. From the cradle to the grave Essenism surrounded him, and none but the Essenes possessed the secret of his life. The old story of his attachment for Mary of Bethany is retold, but he gives her up because as an Essene he must not marry.
The introduction states that the work was discovered in Latin in a parchment roll in an old Greek monastery in Alexandria. “A missionary,” it proceeds, “in his fanatical orthodox eagerness tried to destroy the antique document.” But it was saved and, in spite of Jesuit hostility, transcribed by a learned Frenchman, and a translation of it, into what language we are not told, but presumably into German, was brought to Germany by the Free Masons. The writer’s interest in the Free Masons is very marked. He regards them as a |33 survival of the Essene order, which in turn he traces back to the ancient Pythagoreans.
The German text was translated into Swedish, and the Swedish, in a “New Edition” (J. F. Sasberg, 1880), came into the hands of the Theosophical Society of Muskegon, Michigan, which produced this English translation.
The source of the text is explained in this note at the beginning of the book, written by Dr. Elsie Louise Morris, of Los Angeles, dated February 1, 1919: “In making copies of rare books and manuscripts in the Library of the Christian Israelites about fifteen years ago, I came across the MSS copy of this wonderful Letter of the Essene Elder in Jerusalem to his brother Elder in Alexandria, and copied it as accurately as I could. The treasured wisdom of this and similar libraries of this Order is not available for the public, and only accessible to advanced students for their private study and benefit, and not to be given broadcast to the world,” as “only the initiated can properly interpret and use occult lore.”
Dr. Morris does not tell us where this library is, nor what the manuscript’s number is. In fact she does not make it clear in what |34 language she found it; but as her copy appears to be the Muskegon theosophists’ translation of the Swedish version, it was evidently English.
Dr. Morris’ note appears in the Los Angeles edition, which bears no date, except that of the copyright by B. F. Austin, 1919. But the book had already been published in Chicago in 1907, by the Indo-American Book Company, as Volume II of the “Supplemental Harmonic Series.” If Dr. Morris found the work fifteen years before, that is, in 1904, it cannot have been a copy of the Chicago edition of 1907 that she saw. The explanation must be that the Muskegon theosophists did not print their translation but circulated it in typewritten form, like the copy that was shown me in Ames, Iowa, in 1926; that one of these copies came to Dr. Morns’ attention in 1904; and another was published in Chicago in 1907; and that in 1919 Dr. Morris turned her copy over to Mr. Austin to publish in Los Angeles, being either unaware that it had been already published or else knowing that the book was out of print.
The first point about the story to cause surprise is the parchment roll. Ancient manuscript rolls are of papyrus, not parchment. |35 Ancient parchments are in the form of leaf books, or codices. That one Essene should have written to another in Latin, before the middle of the first century, is also surprising. Aramaic we might have expected; even Greek we could have understood; but Latin goes against all the probabilities.
But let us assume that the Latin is an ancient translation of the Essene’s original letter. The first inquiry scholarship would make would be for the Latin text. But the book before us gives us not a line of the Latin text, nor any hint of the present whereabouts of the manuscript itself–a matter of immense importance, if the supposed discovery is to be taken seriously. Yet the first translators of the work must first have copied the Latin text before they translated it; no one translates directly from an ancient manuscript without first copying its text. Nor have we any account of the size or date of the Latin parchment roll, or any hint of when it was found or of what has become of it. The statement that it was found by a “member of the Abyssinian Merchants Company” is also disturbing; fondness for humanistic research does not usually characterize the modern Abyssinian merchant.|36
We have in short neither (1) the manuscript, nor (2) a photograph of it, nor (3) directions for finding it for ourselves in some definite city or library, nor (4) a copy of its Latin text; no recognized expert in Latin manuscripts has seen and examined it; and so we are thrown back upon what is called internal evidence: the impression of authenticity and antiquity made by the translated document itself.
Although supposedly writing only seven years after Jesus’ death, the writer has made much use of the Four Gospels. He actually refers to the gospels of Mark and Luke as already written, and reporting the Ascension,1 but observes that John and Matthew did not record it; thus betraying an amount of acquaintance with the Four Gospels impossible only seven years after the Crucifixion, or at least thirty years before the earliest of them was written. Ignorance is as difficult to pretend as knowledge, and the author of “The Crucifixion” reveals by a hundred tokens his familiarity with characteristic features of the gospels. His very grouping of the four together |37
1 As a matter of fact, neither Mark nor Luke in their earliest forms contained the Ascension, which crept into their text from Acts 1:9. See Westcott and Hort, “The New Testament in Greek,” in loco.
points to a time more than a hundred years later than that at which he claims to be writing.
His acquaintance with the Gospel of John is conspicuous; sometimes he seems to be simply paraphrasing it. His occasional efforts to embellish its account are disastrous, as when he identifies Mary of Bethany with Mary of Magdala, describes the title over Jesus’ head as written in four languages, and speaks of a “long cane of hyssop,” evidently unaware that hyssop is a grassy plant that does not produce long canes.
The exclusion of every form of the supernatural from the story is another decidedly modern trait, very much out of place in the first century, when our modern scientific attitude of mind was of course unknown. And it is curious to find the persons mentioned strictly limited to those already familiar to us from the Four Gospels: “Warus”–doubtless meaning Varus, familiar from Josephus–is the only exception. Even the numerous Essenes introduced into the narrative in such profusion are left unnamed, not omitting the writer himself and the Alexandrian elder to whom he writes. In short we do not meet a single |38 stranger in the whole narrative. This cannot be an accident.
That Jesus was an Essene seems to have been first suggested by Carl Bahrdt about 1784-92. It was later popularized by C. H. Venturini, 1800-1802, and has had many advocates since.
The picture of the Essenes as constantly in active touch with Jewish life, controlling and shaping it from behind the scenes, is altogether at variance with what we know of them from ancient sources.
The idea that Jesus did not really die upon the cross but was afterward resuscitated and so enabled to show himself at intervals to his disciples was advanced by early rationalists like Paulus and revived by Hase in his “History of Jesus” (Geschichte Jesu), in 1876. It may have been this book that occasioned the writing of “The Crucifixion, by an Eye-Witness.” And finally the idea that Jesus cherished a romantic attachment for Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is a sentimental figment of nineteenth-century origin without a shadow of historical support. It is the crowning modern touch in a picture supposedly ancient.
To recapitulate: the use of the Four Gospels, |39 but no others; palpable blunders in the use even of them; inability to name any persons in the story except those mentioned in them; mistaken ideas about the Essenes; the introduction of the modern romantic interest; and the resolute rationalizing of the whole story, so alien to ancient modes of thought–these show at once that “The Crucifixion” is not the work of any eyewitness, as it professes to be, but of a nineteenth-century rationalist.
Tischendorf’s brilliant manuscript discoveries in the Levant (culminating in his finding the Codex Sinaiticus in 1859) and the Egyptian romances of Ebers in the sixties and seventies might well suggest such a work as this, and explain the effort to put it forth as a genuine discovery of an ancient document, to which character it has not the slightest claim. Its purpose was of course to rewrite the gospel story stripped of the supernatural, an undertaking natural enough for the modern mind but altogether alien to the religious attitudes of the first century, Jewish, pagan, or Christian.
That the work is a translation from the German through the Swedish as it professes to be, is altogether likely. At some points the |40 meaning is hopelessly obscure, as though the translators themselves did not understand what was meant. The obsolete word “muckender” (for napkin), Warus (for Varus), Marcus, Lucas, the Ephraimitical mountain (for Mount Ephraim), Bethania (for Bethany), the use of Sopherim (scribes) as though it were a place, reveal the translators as persons of no experience and very imperfect English culture. Frequent lapses in English (throwed, were tore, it lays on the north, etc.) confirm this impression.1 Here and there the Swedish version clearly baffled the Muskegon translators. But we must remember that they seem to have planned simply a typewritten circulation for their work, and not the wider and more pretentious printed editions which afterward appeared. The grave statement that the “true transcript . . . . was saved from the orthodox dumbhead” points at once to a German original and to a translator without a sense of humor.|41
1 Sentences like the following from the preface can only occur in a translation: “Under this period, the German translation of the Latin original was made public. Concerning the ancient discovered document, it consists of a letter from a so-called Therapute ‘that is an elder’ and in the highest degree of order standing fore-arm for the secret sciences, and the noble purposes which was the aim of the Essene Society” (p. 12).
The history of this curious work would therefore seem to be this: In the late seventies, some German, of strong Masonic sympathies, impressed by the novels of Ebers and the discoveries of Tischendorf, and influenced by the rationalistic views of the Resurrection recently revived by Hase, wrote “The Crucifixion, by an Eye-Witness” under the guise of a translation of a Latin work, discovered written on a parchment scroll in Alexandria. This was later translated into Swedish, and published in the seventies, for the “New Edition,” connected with the name of J. F. Sasberg as publisher or editor, was dated 1880. This came, probably many years after, into the hands of the Muskegon theosophists, who produced and privately circulated a very crude translation of it. One copy of their work, about 1904, came to the attention of Dr. Morris, who copied, but did not publish, it. Another was printed in Chicago, in 1907, in a small volume of two hundred pages. In 1919 Dr. Morris showed her copy to Mr. Austin, who then published the Los Angeles edition.|42
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