The revelation of Christ. H.S. Chamberlain.

 This post is mainly meant for english-speaking readers.


The Foundations of the 19th Century


By the virtue of One all have been truly saved.


BEFORE our eyes there stands a vision, distinct, incomparable. This picture which we behold is the inheritance which we have received from our Fathers. Without an accurate appreciation of this vision, we cannot measure and rightly judge the historical significance of Christianity. The converse, on the other hand, does not hold good, for the figure of Jesus Christ has, by the historical development of the Churches, been dimmed and relegated to the background, rather than unveiled to the clear sight of our eyes. To look upon this Figure solely by the light of a church doctrine, narrowed both in respect of place and of time, is voluntarily to put on blinkers and to narrow our view of the eternally Divine. The vision of Christ, moreover, is hardly touched upon by the dogmas of the Church. They are all so abstract that they afford nothing upon which either our understanding or our feelings can lay hold. We may apply to them in general what an artless witness, St. Augustine, said of the Dogma of the Trinity: “But we speak of three Persons, not because we fancy that in so doing we have uttered something, but simply because we cannot be silent.“ (1) Surely we are guilty of no outrage upon due reverence if we say, it is not the Churches that constitute the might of Christianity, for that might is drawn solely from the fountain head from which the churches themselves derive all their power — the contemplation of the Son of Man upon the Cross.

Let us therefore separate the vision of Christ upon earth from the whole history of Christianity.

What after all are our nineteen centuries for the conscious acceptance of such an experience — for the transformation which forces itself through all the strata of humanity by the power of a fundamentally new aspect of life‘s problems? We should remember that more than two thousand years were needed before the structure of the Kosmos, capable as it is of mathematical proof and of demonstration to the senses, became the fixed, common possession of human knowledge. Is not the understanding with its gift of sight and its infallible formula of 2×2=4 easier to mould than the heart, blind and ever befooled by self-seeking?

Here is a man born into the world and living a life through which the conception of the moral significance of man, the whole philosophy of life, undergoes a complete transformation — through which the relation of the individual to himself, to the rest of mankind, and to the nature by which he is surrounded, is of necessity illuminated by a new and hitherto unsuspected light, so that all motives of action, all ideals, all heart‘s-desires and hopes must be remoulded and built up anew from their very foundations. Is it to be believed that this can be the work of a few centuries? Is it to be believed that this can be brought about by misunderstandings and lies, by politic intrigues and oecumenical councils, at the word of command of kings maddened by ambition, or of greedy priests, by three thousand volumes of scholastic disputations, by the fanatical faith of narrow-minded peasants and the noble zeal of a small number of superior persons, by war, murder and the stake, by civic codes of law and social intolerance? For my part I disclaim any such belief. I believe that we are still far, very far, from the moment when the transforming might of the vision of Christ will make itself felt to its utmost extent by civilised mankind. Even if our churches in their present form should come to an end, the idea of Christianity would only stand out with all the more force. In the ninth chapter I shall show how our new Teuton philosophy is pushing in that direction. Even now, Christianity is not yet firm upon its childish feet: its maturity is hardly dawning upon our dim vision. Who knows but a day may come when the bloody church-history of the first eighteen centuries of our era may be looked upon as the history of the infantile diseases of Christianity?

1. “Dictum est tamen tres personae, non ut aliquid diceretur, sed ne taceretur.“ — De Trinitate, V. chap. ix.

In considering the vision of Christ, then, let us not allow our judgment to be darkened by any historical delusions, or by the ephemeral views of our century. We may be sure that up to the present we have only entered upon the smallest portion of this same inheritance, and if we wish to know what is its significance for all of us, be we Christians or Jews, believers or unbelievers, whether we are conscious of our privilege or not — then must we in the first place stop our ears against the chaos of creeds and of blasphemies which beshame humanity, and in the next place raise our eyes up to the most incomparable vision of all times.

In this section I shall be forced critically to glance at much that forms the intellectual foundation of various religions. But just as I leave untouched that which is hidden in the Holy of Holies of my own heart, so I hope to steer clear of giving offence to any other sensible man. It is as easy to separate the historic vision of Christ from all the supernatural significance which dwells in it as it must be to treat Physics upon a purely material basis without imagining that in so doing we have dethroned Metaphysics.

Christ indeed can hardly be spoken of without now and again crossing the boundary; still belief, as such, need not be touched, and if I as historian proceed logically and convincingly, I can bear with any refutation which the reader may bring forward as a question of feeling, as apart from understanding. With this consciousness I shall speak as frankly in the following chapters as I have done in those which have gone before.


The religious faith of more than two-thirds of all the inhabitants of the earth to-day starts from the life on earth of two men, Christ and Buddha, men who lived only a few centuries ago. We have historical proofs of their having actually existed, and that the traditions regarding them, though containing much that is fabulous and uncertain, obscure and contradictory, nevertheless give us a faithful picture of the main features of their real lives. Even apart from this sure result of the scientific investigations of the nineteenth century, (1) men of acute and sound judgment will never have doubted the actual existence of these great moral heroes: for although the historical and chronological material regarding them is extremely scanty and imperfect, yet their moral and intellectual individuality stands out so clearly and brilliantly before our eyes, and this individuality is so incomparable, that it could not be an invention of the imagination. The imagination of man is very narrowly circumscribed; the creative mind can work only with given facts: it was men that Homer had to enthrone on Olympus, for even his imagination could not transcend the impassable boundary of what he saw and experienced; the very fact that he makes his gods so very human, that he does not permit his imagination to soar to the realm of the Extraordinary and Inconceivable (because never seen), that he rather keeps it in subjection, in order to employ its undivided force to create what will be poetical and visible, is one of a thousand proofs, and not the least important one, that intellectually he was a great man. We are not capable of inventing even a plant or animal form; when we try it, the most we do is to put together a monstrosity composed of fragments of all kinds of creatures known to us. Nature, however, the inexhaustibly inventive, shows us a new thing whenever it so pleases her; and this new thing is for our consciousness henceforth just as indestructible as it formerly was undiscoverable. The figure of Buddha, much less that of Jesus Christ, could not be invented by any human poetical power, neither that of an individual nor that of a whole people; nowhere can we discover even the slightest approach to such a thing. Neither poets, nor philosophers, nor prophets have been able even in their dreams to conceive such a phenomenon. Plato is certainly often mentioned in connection with Jesus Christ; there are whole books on the supposed relation between the two; it is said that the Greek philosopher was a forerunner who proclaimed the new gospel. In reality, however, the great Plato is a quite irreligious genius, a metaphysician and politician, an investigator and an aristocrat. And Socrates! The clever author of grammar and logic, the honest preacher of a morality for philistines, the noble gossip of the Athenian gymnasia, — is he not in every respect the direct contrast to the divine proclaimer of a Heaven of them “that are poor in spirit“? In India it was the same: the figure of a Buddha was not anticipated nor conjured up by the magic of men‘s longing. All such assertions belong to the wide province of that delusive historic philosophy which constructs after the event. If Christ and Christianity had been an historical necessity, as the neoscholastic Hegel asserts, and Pfleiderer and others would have us believe to-day, we should inevitably have seen not one Christ but a thousand Christs arise; I should really like to know in what century a Jesus would not have been just as “necessary“ as our daily bread? (2) Let us therefore discard these views that are tinged with the paleness of abstraction. The only effect they have is to obscure the one decisive and pregnant thing, namely, the importance of the living, individual, incomparable personality. One is ever and anon forced to quote Goethe‘s great saying:

1. The existence of Christ was denied even in the second century of our era, and Buddha till twenty-five years ago was regarded by many theologians as a mythical figure. See, for example, the books of Sénart and Kern.

2. Hegel in his Philosophie der Geschichte, Th. III., A. 3, chap. ii., says about Christ: “He was born as this one man, in abstract subjectivity, but so that conversely finiteness is only the form of his appearance, the essence and content of which is rather infiniteness and absolute being-for-self…. The nature of God, to be pure spirit, becomes in the Christian religion manifest to man. But what is the spirit? It is the One, the unchanging infinity, the pure identity, which in the second place separates itself from itself, as its second self, as the being-for-itself and being-in-itself in opposition to the Universal. But this separation is annulled by this, that the atomistic subjectivity, as the simple relativity to itself, is itself the Universal, Identical with itself.“ What will future centuries say to this clatter of words? For two-thirds of the nineteenth it was considered the highest wisdom.

Höchtes Glück der Erdenkinder
Ist nur die Persönlichkeit!

The circumstances in which the personality is placed — a knowledge of its general conditions in respect of time and space — will certainly contribute very much towards making it clearly understood. Such a knowledge will enable us to distinguish between the important and the unimportant, between the characteristically individual and the locally conventional. It will, in short, give us an increasingly clearer view of the personality. But to explain it, to try to show it as a logical necessity, is an idle, foolish task; every figure — even that of a beetle — is to the human understanding a “wonder“; the human personality is, however, the mysterium magnum of life, and the more a great personality is stripped by criticism of all legendary rags and tatters, and the more successful that criticism is in representing each step in its career as something fore-ordained in the nature of things, the more incomprehensible the mystery becomes. This indeed is the final result of the criticism to which the life of Jesus has been submitted in the nineteenth century. This century has been called an irreligious one; but never yet, since the first Christian centuries, has the interest of mankind concentrated so passionately around the person of Jesus Christ as in the last seventy years; the works of Darwin, however widespread they were, were not bought to one-tenth the extent of those of Strauss and Renan. And the result of it all is, that the actual earthly life of Jesus Christ has become more and more concrete, and we have been compelled to recognise more and more distinctly that the origin of the Christian religion is fundamentally to be traced to the absolutely unexampled impression which this one personality had made and left upon those who knew Him. So it is that to-day this revelation stands before our eyes more definite and for that very reason more unfathomable than ever.

This is the first point to be established. It is in accordance with the whole tendency of our times, that we can grow enthusiastic only in regard to what is concrete and living. At the beginning of the nineteenth century it was different; the Romantic movement threw its shadows on all sides, and so it had become fashionable to explain everything “mythically.“ In the year 1835 David Strauss, following the example proffered on all sides, presented as a key to the gospels “the idea of the myth“! (1) Every one now recognises that this so-called key was nothing more than a new, mistily vague paraphrase of a still-unsolved problem, and that not an “idea,“ but only an actually lived existence, only the unique impression of a personality, whose like the world had never before known, supplies the “key“ to the origin of Christianity. The greater the amount of such useless ballast that was manifest on the one hand in the shape of pseudo-mythical (or rather pseudo-historical) legend-making, on the other in the form of philosophically dogmatic speculation, the greater is the power of life and resistance that must be attributed to the original impelling and creating force. The most modern, strictly philological criticism has proved the unexpected antiquity of the gospels and the extensive authenticity of the manuscripts which we possess; we have now succeeded in tracing, almost step for step, the very earliest records of Christianity in a strictly historical manner. (2) But all this when considered from the universal human standpoint is of much less importance than the one fact, that in consequence of these researches the figure of the one Divine Man has been brought into relief, so that the unbeliever as well as the believer is bound to recognise it as the centre and source of Christianity, taking the word in the most comprehensive sense possible.


A few pages back I placed Buddha and Christ in juxtaposition. The kernel of the religious conceptions of all the more gifted races of mankind (with the two exceptions of the small family of the Jews on the one hand and their antipodes the Brahman Indians on the other) has been for the past few thousand years not the need for an explanation of the world, nor mythological Nature-symbolism, nor meditative transcendentalism, but the experience of great characters. The delusion of a “rational religion“ still haunts us; occasionally too in recent years there has been talk of a “replacing of religion by something higher,“ and on the hilltops of certain German districts new “worshippers of Wotan“ have offered up sacrifice at the time of the solstice; but none of these movements have exercised the slightest influence upon the world. For ideas are immortal — I have said so already and shall have to repeat it constantly — and in such figures as Buddha and Christ an idea — that is, a definite conception of human existence — acquires such a living bodily form, becomes so thoroughly an experience of life, is placed so clearly before the eyes of all men, that it can never more disappear from their conscious-

1. Seefirst edition, i. 72 ff., and the popular edition (ninth) p. 191 ff. Strauss never had the least notion what a myth is, what mythology means, how it is produced by the confusion and mingling of popular myths, poetry and legends. That, however, is another story. Posterity will really not be able to understand the reception given to such dreary productions as those of Strauss: they are learned, but destitute of all deeper insight and of any trace of genius. Just as bees and ants require in their communities whole cohorts of sexless workers, so it seems as if we human beings could not get along without the industry and the widespread but ephemeral influence of such minds, marked with the stamp of sterility, as flourished in such profusion about the middle of the nineteenth century. The progress of historico-critical research on the one hand, and on the other the increasing tendency to direct attention not to the theological and subordinate, but to that which is living and decisive, causes one to look upon the mythological standpoint of Strauss as so unintelligent that one cannot turn over the leaves of this honest man‘s writings without yawning. And yet one must admit that such men as he and Renan (two concave mirrors which distort all lines, the one by lengthening, the other by broadening) have accomplished an important work — by drawing the attention of thousands to the great miracle of the fact of Christ and thus creating a public for profounder thinkers and wiser men.

2. Later there came a dark period upon which light has still to be thrown.

ness. Many a man may never have seen the Crucified One with his eyes; many a man may constantly have passed this revelation carelessly by; thousands of men, even among ourselves, lack what one might call the inner sense to perceive Christ at all; on the other hand, having once seen Jesus Christ — even if it be with half-veiled eyes — we cannot forget Him; it does not lie within our power to remove the object of experience from our minds. We are not Christians because we were brought up in this or in that Church, because we want to be Christians; if we are Christians, it is because we cannot help it, because neither the chaotic bustle of life nor the delirium of selfishness, nor artificial training of thought can dispel the vision of the Man of Sorrow when once it has been seen. On the evening before His death, when His Apostles were questioning Him as to the significance of one of His actions, He replied, “I have given you an example.“ That is the meaning not only of the one action but of His whole life and death. Even so strict an ecclesiastic as Martin Luther writes: “The example of our Lord Jesus Christ is at the same time a sacrament, it is strong in us, it does not, like the examples of the fathers, merely teach, no, it also effects what it teaches, it gives life, resurrection and redemption from death.“ The power of Buddha over the world rests on similar foundations. The true source of all religion is, I repeat, in the case of the great majority of living people not a doctrine but a life. It is a different question, of course, how far we, with our weak capability, can or cannot follow the example; the ideal is there, clear, unmistakable, and for centuries it has been moulding with incomparable power the thoughts and actions of men, even of unbelievers.

I shall return to this point later in another connection. If I have introduced Buddha here, where only the figure of Christ concerns me, I have done so for this reason, that nothing shows up a figure so well as comparison.

The comparison, however, must be an appropriate one, and I do not know any other than Buddha in the history of the world whom we could compare with Christ. Both are characterised by their divine earnestness; they have in common the longing to point out to all mankind the way of redemption; they have both incomparably magnetic personalities. And yet if one places these two figures side by side, it can only be to emphasise the contrast and not to draw a parallel between them. Christ and Buddha are opposites. What unites them is their sublimity of character. From that source have sprung lives of unsurpassed loveliness, lives which wielded an influence such as the world had never before experienced. Otherwise they differ almost in every point, and the neo-Buddhism which has been paraded during recent years in certain social circles in Europe — in the closest relation, it is said, to Christianity and even going beyond it — is but a new proof of the widespread superficiality of thought among us. For Buddha‘s life and thought present a direct contrast to the thought and life of Christ: they form what the logician calls the “antithesis,“ what to the natural scientist is the “opposite pole.“


Buddha represents the senile decay of a culture which has reached the limit of its possibilities. A Prince, highly educated, gifted with a rich fulness of power, recognises the vanity of that education and that power. He professes what to the rest of the world seems to be the Highest, but with the vision of truth before him, this possession melts away to nothing. Indian culture, the outcome of the meditative contemplation incident to a pastoral life, had thrown itself with all the weight of its lofty gifts into the development of the one attribute peculiar to mankind — Reason with the power of combination: so it came to pass that connection with the surrounding world — childlike observation with its practical adaptation to business — languished, at any rate among the men of higher culture. Everything was systematically directed to the development of the power of thought: every educated youth knew by heart, word for word, a whole literature charged with matter so subtle that even to this day few Europeans are capable of following it: even geometry, the most abstract of all methods of representing the concrete world, was too obvious for the Indians, and so they came instead to revel in an arithmetic which goes beyond all possibility of presentation: the man who questioned himself as to his aim in life, the man who had been gifted by nature with the desire to strive for some highest goal, found on the one side a religious system in which symbolism had grown to such mad dimensions that it needed some thirty years to find oneself at home in it, and on the other side a philosophy leading up to heights so giddy that whoso wished to climb the last rungs of this heavenly ladder must take refuge from the world for ever in the deep silence of the primeval forest. Clearly here the eye and the heart had lost their rights. Like the scorching simoom of the desert, the spirit of abstraction had swept with withering force over all other gifts of this rich human nature. The senses indeed still lived — desires of tropical heat: but on the other side was the negation of the whole world of sense: between these nothing, no compromise, only war, war between human perception and human nature, between thought and being. And so Buddha must hate what he loved; children, parents, wife, all that is beautiful and joyous — for what were these but veils darkening perception, bonds chaining him to a dream-life of lies and desire? and what had he to do with all the wisdom of the Brahmans? Sacrificial ceremonies which no human being understood, and which the priests themselves explained as being purely symbolical and to the initiated futile: — beyond this a redemption by perception accessible to scarcely one man in a hundred thousand. Thus it was that Buddha not only cast away from him his kingdom and his knowledge, but tore from his heart all that bound him as man to man, all love, all hope: at one blow he destroyed the religion of his fathers, drove their gods from the temple of the world, and rejected as a vain phantom even that most sublime conception of Indian metaphysics, that of a one and only God, indescribable, unthinkable, having no part in space or time, and therefore inaccessible to thought, and yet by thought dimly imagined. There is nothing in life but suffering, this was Buddha‘s experience and consequently his teaching. The one object worth striving for is “redemption from suffering.“ This redemption is death, the entering into annihilation. But to every Indian the transmigration of souls, that is the eternal reincarnation of the same individual, was believed in as a manifest fact, not even to be called in question. Death then, in its ordinary shape, cannot give redemption: it is the gift of that death only upon which no reincarnation follows: and this redeeming death can only be attained in one way, namely, that man shall have died during his life and therefore of his own free will: that is to say, that he shall have cut off and annihilated all that ties him to life, all love, all hope, all desire, all possession: in short, as we should say with Schopenhauer, that he shall have denied the will to live. If man lives in this wise, if while yet alive he makes himself into a moving corpse, then can the reaper Death harvest no seed for a reincarnation. A living Death! that is the essence of Buddhism! We may describe Buddhism as the lived suicide. It is suicide in its highest potentiality: for Buddha lives solely and only to die, to be dead definitely and beyond recall, to enter into Nirvana — extinction. (1)


What greater contrast could there be to this figure than that of Christ, whose death signifies entrance into eternal life? Christ perceives divine Providence in the whole world; not a sparrow falls to the ground, not a hair on the head of a man can be injured, without the permission of the Heavenly Father. And far from hating this earthly existence, which is lived by the will and under the eye of God, Christ praises it as the entry into eternity, as the narrow gate through which we pass into the Kingdom of God. And this Kingdom of God, what is it? A Nirvana? a Dream-Paradise? a future reward for deeds done here below? Christ gives the answer in one word, which has undoubtedly been authentically handed down to us, for it had never been uttered before, and no one of His disciples evidently understood it, much less invented it; indeed, this eagle thought flashed so far in front of the slow unfolding of human knowledge that even to the present day few have seen the meaning of it — as I said before, Christianity is still in its infancy — Christ‘s answer was, “The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here or lo there. For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.“ This is what Christ himself calls the “mystery“; it cannot be expressed in words, it cannot be defined; and ever and ever again the Saviour endeavours to bring home His great message of salvation by means of parables: the Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed in the field, “the least of all seeds,“ but if it is tended by the husbandman, it grows to a tree, “so that the birds of the air come and lodge under its branches“; the Kingdom of God is like the leaven among the flour, if the housewife take but a little, it leavens the whole lump; but the following figure speaks most plainly: “the Kingdom of God is like unto a treasure hid in a field.“ (2) That the field means the world, Christ expressly says (see Matthew xiii. 38); in this world, that is, in this life, the treasure lies concealed; the Kingdom of God is buried within us! That is the “mystery of the Kingdom of God,“ as Christ says; at the same time it is the secret of His own life, the secret of His personality. An estrangement from life, as in the case of Buddha, is not to be found in Christ, there is, however, a “conversion“ of the direction of life, if I may so call it, as, for example, when Christ says to His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of God.“ (3) At a later period this so easily grasped “conversion“ received — perhaps from a strange hand — the more mystical expression, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.“ The words do not matter, what is important is the conception underlying them, and this conception stands out luminously clear, because it gives form to the whole life of Christ. Here we do not find a doctrine like that of Buddha with a logical arithmetical development; nor is there, as has so frequently been asserted by the superficial, any organic connection with Jewish wisdom: read the words of Jesus Sirach, who is most frequently compared with Christ, and ask yourselves whether that is “Spirit of the same Spirit“? Sirach speaks like a Jewish Marcus Aurelius and even his finest sayings, such as “Seek wisdom until death, and God will fight for you,“ or, “The heart of the fool lies upon his tongue, but the tongue of the wise man dwells within his heart,“ are as a sound from another world when put beside the sayings of Christ: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth; blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.“ No one had ever spoken like that before, and no one has spoken so since. These words of Christ have, however, as we can see, never the character of a doctrine, but just as the tone of a voice supplements by a mysterious inexpressible something — which is the most personal element in the personality — what we already know about a man from his features and his actions, so do we seem to hear in them his voice: what he exactly said we do not know, but an unmistakable, unforgettable tone strikes our ear and from our ear enters our heart. And then we open our eyes and see this figure, this life. Down through the ages we hear the words, “Learn of me,“ and we understand what they mean: to be as Christ was, to live as Christ lived, to die as Christ died, that is the Kingdom of God, that is eternal life.

1. I have translated das nichts by extinction, which is the rendering of Nirvana by Rhys Davids. He says: “What then is Nirvana, which means simply going out, extinction“; and then he goes on to say that it ought to be translated “Holiness.“ But that will not do here, nor is it altogether incapable of being argued. Extinction gives Chamberlain‘s meaning better than “nothingness,“ which is not quite satisfactory. Perhaps “Holy Extinction“ comes near to the Buddhist conception. The idea of Rhys Davids would thus not be lost. (Translator’s Note.)

2. The expression Uranos or “Kingdom of Heaven“ occurs only in Matthew and is certainly not the right translation into Greek of any expression used by Christ. The other evangelists always say “Kingdom of God.“ (Cf. my collection of the Worte Christi, large edition, p. 260, small edition, p. 279, and for more learned and definite explanation see H. H. Wendt‘s Lehre Jesu, 1886, pp. 48 and 58.)

3. The emphasis clearly does not lie on the additional clause “and become as little children“; this is rather an explanation of the conversion. What is it that distinguishes children? Unalloyed joy in life and the unspoilt power of throwing a glamour over it by their temperaments.

In the nineteenth century, the ideas of pessimism and negation of the will, which have become so common, have been frequently applied to Christ; but though they fit Buddha and certain features of the Christian churches and their dogmas, Christ‘s life is their denial. If the Kingdom of God dwells in us, if it is embraced in this life like a hidden treasure, what becomes of the sense of pessimism? (1) How can man be a wretch born only for grief, if the divinity lies in his breast? How can this world be the worst of all possible worlds (see Schopenhauer: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, vol. ii. chap. xlvi.) if it contains Heaven? For Christ these were all delusive fallacies; woe to you, He said of the learned, “who shut up the Kingdom of God against men; for ye neither go in yourselves neither suffer ye them that would enter to go in,“ and He praised God that He had “revealed to babes and sucklings what He had hidden from the wise and prudent“; Christ, as one of the greatest men of the nineteenth century has said, was “not wise, but divine“; (2) that is a mighty difference; and because He was divine, Christ did not turn away from life, but to life. This is eloquently vouched for by the impression which Christ made and left upon those who knew Him; they call Him the tree of life, the bread of life, the water of life, the light of life, the light of the world, a light from above sent to lighten those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; Christ is for them the rock, the foundation upon which we are to build our lives, &c, &c. Everything is positive, constructive, affirmative. Whether Christ really brought the dead to life may be doubted by any one who will; but such a one must estimate all the more highly the life-giving impression which radiated from this figure, for wherever Christ went people believed that they saw the dead come to life and the sick rise healed from their beds. Everywhere He sought out the suffering, the poor, those laden with sorrow, and bidding them “weep not,“ consoled them with words of life. From inner Asia came the idea of flight from the world to the cloister. Buddhism had not in truth invented it, but gave it its greatest impulse. Christianity, too, imitated it later, closely following the Egyptian example. This idea had already advanced to the very neighbourhood of the Galilean; yet where does one find Christ preaching monastic doctrines of seclusion from the world? Many founders of religion have imposed penance in respect of food upon themselves and their disciples; not so Christ; He emphasises particularly that He had not fasted like John, but had so lived that men called Him a “glutton and a winebibber.“ All the following expressions which we know so well from the Bible — that the thoughts of men are vain, that the life of man is vanity, he passes away like a shadow, the work of man is vain, all is vanity — come from the Old, not from the New Testament. Indeed such words as those, for example, of the preacher Solomon, “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever,“ are derived from a view of life which is directly contrary to that of Christ; because according to the latter Heaven and earth pass away, while the human breast conceals in its depths the only thing that is everlasting. It is true that Jesus Christ offers the example of an absolute renunciation of much that makes up the life of the greater proportion of mankind; but it is done for the sake of life; this renunciation is the “conversion“ which, we are told, leads to the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is not outward but purely inward. What Buddha teaches is, so to speak, a physical process, it is the actual extinction of the physical and intellectual being; whoever wishes to be redeemed must take the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. In the case of Christ we find nothing similar: He attends marriages, He declares wedlock to be a holy ordinance of God, and even the errors of the flesh he judges so leniently that He Himself has not a word of condemnation for the adulteress; He indeed speaks of wealth as rendering the “conversion“ of the will more difficult — as, for example, when He says that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter into that kingdom of God which lies within us than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but He immediately adds — and this is the characteristic and decisive part — “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.“ This is again one of those passages which cannot be invention, for nowhere in the whole world do we find anything like it. There had been enough and to spare of diatribes against wealth before (one need only read the Jewish Prophets), they were repeated later (read, for instance, the Epistle of James, chap. ii.); according to Christ, however, wealth is a mere accessory, the possession of which may or may not be a hindrance, for the one thing which concerns Him is the inner and spiritual conversion. And this it was that, in dealing with this very case, by far the greatest of the Apostles amplified so beautifully; for while Christ had advised the rich young man, “Sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor,“ Paul completes the saying by the remark, “and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and have not charity it profiteth me nothing.“ The Buddhist who is steering for death may be satisfied with poverty, chastity, and obedience; he who chooses life has other things to think of.

And here it is necessary to call attention to one more point, in which the living essence of Christ‘s personality and example manifests itself freshly and convincingly; I refer to His combativeness. The sayings of Christ on humility and patience, His exhortation that we should love our enemies and bless those that curse us, find almost exact parallels in the sayings of Buddha; but they spring from quite a different motive. For Buddha every injustice endured is an extinction, for Christ it is a means of advancing the new view of life: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness‘ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God“ (that kingdom which lies hidden like a treasure in the field of life). But if we pass to the inner being, if that one fundamental question of the direction of will is brought up, then we hear words of quite a different kind: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay, but rather division! For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, two against three, and three against two…. For I am come to stir up the son against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law; and the man‘s enemies shall be they of his own household.“

1. I need scarcely say that I take the word pessimism, which is capable of such a variety of interpretations, in the popular, superficial sense of a moral frame of mind, not a philosophical cognition.

2. Diderot also, to whom one cannot attribute orthodox faith, says in the Encyclopédie: “Christ ne fut point un philosophe, ce fut un Dieu.“

Not peace but the sword: that is a voice to which we cannot shut our ears, if we wish to understand the revelation of Christ. The life of Jesus Christ is an open declaration of war, not against the forms of civilisation, culture and religion, which He found around Him — He observes the Jewish law of religion and teaches us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — but certainly against the inner spirit of mankind, against the motives which underlie their actions, against the goal which they set for themselves in the future life and in the present. The coming of Christ signifies, from the point of view of the world‘s history, the coming of a new human species. Linnaeus distinguished as many human species as there are colours of skin; but a new colouring of the will goes really deeper into the organism than a difference in the pigment of the epidermis! And the Lord of this new human species, the “new Adam,“ as the Scripture so well describes Him, will have no compromise; He puts the choice: God or mammon. Whoever chooses conversion, whoever obeys the warning of Christ, “Follow me!“ must also when necessary leave father and mother, wife and child; but he does not leave them, like the disciples of Buddha, to find death, but to find life. Here is no room for pity: whom we have lost we have lost, and with the ancient hardness of the heroic spirit not a tear is shed over those who are gone: “Let the dead bury their dead.“ Not every one is capable of understanding the word of Christ, He in fact tells us, “Many are called but few are chosen,“ and here again Paul has given drastic expression to this fact: “The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.“ So far as outward forms go Christ has no preferences, but where the direction of the will is concerned, whether it is directed to the Eternal or the Temporal, whether it advances or hinders the unfolding of that immeasurable power of life in the heart of man, whether it aims at the quickening of that “Kingdom of God within us“ or, on the other hand, scatters for ever the one treasure of “them that are chosen“ — there is with Him no question of tolerance and never can be. In this very connection much has been done since the eighteenth century to rob the sublime countenance of the Son of Man of all its mighty features. We have had represented to us as Christianity a strange delusive picture of boundless tolerance, of universally gentle passivity, a kind of milk-and-water religion; in the last few years we have actually witnessed “interconfessional religious congresses,“ where all the priests of the world shake hands as brothers, and many Christians welcome this as particularly “Christlike.“ It may be ecclesiastical, it may be right and good, but Christ would never have sent an apostle to such a congress. Either the word of the Cross is “foolishness“ or it is “a divine power“; between the two Christ himself has torn open the yawning gulf of “division,“ and, to prevent any possibility of its being bridged, has drawn the flaming “sword.“ Whoever understands the revelation of Christ cannot be surprised. The tolerance of Christ is that of a spirit which soars high as Heaven above all forms that divide the world; a combination of these forms could not have the slightest importance for Him — that would mean only the rise of a new form; He, on the other hand, considers only the “spirit and the truth.“ And when Christ teaches, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also, and if any man will take away thy coat let him have thy cloak also“ — a doctrine to which His example on the Cross gave everlasting significance — who does not understand that this is closely related to what follows, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you,“ and that here that inner “conversion“ is expressed, not passively, but in the highest possible form of living action? If I offer the impudent striker my left cheek, I do not do so for his sake; if I love my enemy and show him kindness, it is not for his sake; after the conversion of the will it is simply inevitable and therefore I do it. The old law, an eye for an eye, hatred for hatred, is just as natural a reflex action as that which causes the legs of a dead frog to kick when the nerves are stimulated. In sooth it must be a “new Adam“ who has gained such complete mastery over his “old Adam“ that he does not obey this impulse. However, it is not merely self-control — for if Buddha forms the one opposite pole to Christ, the Stoic forms the other; but that conversion of the will, that entry into the hidden kingdom of God, that being born again, which makes up the sum of Christ‘s example, demands a complete conversion of the feelings. This, in fact, is the new thing. Till Christ blood-vengeance was the sacred law of all men of the most different races; but from the Cross there came the cry, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!“ Whoever takes the divine voice of pity for weak humanitarianism has not understood a single feature of the advent of Christ. The voice which here speaks comes from that Kingdom of God which is within us; pain and death have lost their power over it; they affect him who is born again just as little as the stroke on the cheek or the theft of the coat; everything that drives, constrains and compels the human half-ape — selfishness, superstition, prejudice, envy, hatred — breaks on such a will as this like sea-foam on a granite cliff; in face of death Christ scarcely notices His own pain and tribulation, He sees only that men are crucifying what is divine in them, and they are treading under foot the seed of the Kingdom of God and scattering the “treasure in the field,“ and thus it is that, full of pity, He calls out, “They know not what they do!“ Search the history of the world and you will not find a word to equal this for sublime pride. Here speaks a discernment that has penetrated farther than the Indian mind, here speaks at the same time the strongest will, the surest consciousness of self.

Just as we children of a modern age have discovered in the whole world a power which before only from time to time flashed forth in fleeting clouds as the lightning, a power hidden, invisible, perceived by no sense, to be explained by no hypothesis, but all-present and almighty, and in the same way as we are driven to trace the complete transformation of our outward conditions of life to this power — so Christ pointed to a hidden power in the unfathomed and unfathomable depths of the human heart, a power capable of completely transforming man, capable of making a sorrow-trodden wretch mighty and blessed. The lightning had hitherto been only a destroyer; the power which it taught us to discover is now the servant of peaceful work and comfort; in like manner the human will, from the beginning of time the seed of all the misfortune and misery that descended upon the human race, was henceforth to minister to the new birth of this race, to the rise of a new human species. Hence, as I have pointed out in the introduction to this book, the incomparable significance of the life of Christ for the world‘s history. No political revolution can compare with it.

From the point of view of universal history we have every reason to put the achievement of Christ on a parallel with the achievements of the Hellenes. In the first chapter I have described in how far Homer, Democritus, Plato, &c. &c. are to be considered as real “creators,“ and I added, “then and then only is a new creature born, then only does the macrocosm contain a microcosm. The only thing that deserves to be called culture is the daughter of such creative freedom.“ (1) What Greece did for the intellect, Christ did for the moral life: man had not a moral culture till He gave it. I should rather say, the possibility of a moral culture; for the motive power of culture is that inner, creative process, the voluntary masterful conversion of the will, and this very motive power was with rare exceptions quite overlooked; Christianity became an essentially historical religion, and at the altars of its churches all the superstitions of antiquity and of Judaism found a consecrated place of refuge. Yet we have in the revelation of Christ the one foundation of all moral culture, and the moral culture of our nations is greater or smaller in proportion to the extent to which his personality is able more or less clearly to prevail.

It is in this connection that we can with truth assert that the appearance of Christ upon earth has divided mankind into two classes. It created for the first time true nobility, and indeed true nobility of birth, for only he who is chosen can be a Christian. But at the same time it sowed in the hearts of the chosen the seed of new and bitter suffering: it separated them from father and mother, it made them lonely wanderers among men who did not understand them, it stamped them as martyrs. And who after all is really master? Who has entirely conquered his slavish instincts? Discord from now onward rent the individual soul. And now that the individual, who hitherto in the tumultuous struggle of life had scarcely attained to a consciousness of his “Ego,“ was awakened to an unexpectedly high conception of his dignity, inner significance and power, how often was his heart bound to fail him in the consciousness of his weakness and unworthiness? Now and now only did life become truly tragical. This was brought about by man‘s own free act in rising against his animal nature. “From a perfect pupil of nature man became an imperfect moral being, from a good instrument a bad artist,“ says Schiller. But man will no longer be an instrument; and as Homer had created gods such as he wished them, so now man rebelled against the moral tyranny of nature and created a sublime morality such as he desired; he would no longer obey blind impulses, beautifully constrained and restricted as they might be by legal paragraphs; his own law of morals would henceforth be his only standard. In Christ man awakens to consciousness of his moral calling, but thereby at the same time to the necessity of an inner struggle that is reckoned in tens of centuries. Under the heading Philosophy in the ninth chapter (vol. ii.), I shall show that after an anti-Christian reaction lasting for many centuries we have with Kant returned again to exactly the same path. The humanitarian Deists of the eighteenth century who turned away from Christ thought the proper course was a “return to nature“: on the contrary, it is emancipation from nature, without which we can achieve nothing, but which we are determined to make subject to ourselves. In Art and Philosophy man becomes conscious of himself, in contrast to nature, as an intellectual being; in marriage and law he becomes conscious of himself as a social being, in Christ as a moral being. He throws down the gauntlet for a fight in which there is no place for humility; whoever will follow Christ requires above all courage, courage in its purest form, that inner courage, which is steeled and hardened anew every day, which proves itself not merely in the intoxicating clash of battle, but in bearing and enduring, and in the silent, soundless struggle of every hour in the individual breast. The example is given. For in the advent of Christ we find the grandest example of heroism. Moral heroism is in Him so sublime that the much-extolled physical courage of heroes seems as nothing; certain it is that only heroic souls — only “masters“ — can in the true sense of the word be Christians. And when Christ says, “I am meek,“ we well understand that this is the meekness of the hero sure of victory; and when He says, “I am lowly of heart,“ we know that this is not the humility of the slave, but the humility of the master, who from the fulness of his power bows down to the weak.

On one occasion when Jesus was addressed not simply as Lord or Master, but as “good master,“ He rejected the appellation: “Why callest thou Me good: there is none good.“ This should make us think, and should convince us that it is a mistaken view of Christ which forces His heavenly goodness, His humility and long-suffering, into the foreground of His character; they do not form its basis, but are like fragrant flowers on a strong stem. What was the basis of the world-power of Buddha? Not his doctrine, but his example, his heroic achievement; it was the revelation of an almost supernatural will-power which held and still holds millions in its spell. But in Christ a still higher will revealed itself; He did not need to flee from the world; He did not avoid the beautiful, He praised the use of the costly — which His disciples called “prodigality“; He did not retire to the wilderness, from the wilderness He came and entered into life, a victor, who had a message of good news to proclaim — not death, but redemption! I said that Buddha represented the senile decay of a culture which had strayed into wrong paths: Christ, on the other hand, represents the morning of a new day; He won from the old human nature a new youth, and thus became the God of the young, vigorous Indo-Europeans, and under the sign of His cross there slowly arose upon the ruins of the old world a new culture — a culture at which we have still to toil long and laboriously until some day in the distant future it may deserve the appellation “Christ-like.“

1. See p. 25.


Were I to follow my own inclination, I should close this chapter here. But it is necessary in the interest of many points to be discussed later to consider the personality of Christ not only in its pure isolated individuality but also in its relation to its surroundings. Otherwise there are many important phenomena in the past and the present which remain incomprehensible. It is by no means a matter of indifference whether by close analysis we have formed exact ideas as to what in this figure is Jewish and what is not. On this point there has been from the beginning of the Christian era to the present day and from the lowest depths of the intellectual world to its greatest heights, enormous confusion. Not merely was so sublime a figure not easy for any one to comprehend and to contemplate in its organic relations to the contemporary world, but everything concurred to dim and falsify its true features: Jewish religious idiosyncrasy, Syrian mysticism, Egyptian asceticism, Hellenic metaphysics, soon too Roman traditions of State and Pontifex, as also the superstitions of the barbarians; every form of misunderstanding and stupidity had a share in the work. In the nineteenth century many have devoted themselves to the unravelling of this tangle, but, so far as I know, no one has succeeded in separating from the mass of facts the few essential points and putting them clearly before the eyes of all. In fact even honest learning does not protect us against prejudice and partiality. We shall here try, unfortunately indeed without the specialist‘s knowledge, but also without prejudice, to find out how far Christ belonged to His surroundings and employed their forms for viewing things, how far He differed from them and rose high as the heavens above them; only in this way can we free His personality from all accidental circumstances and show its full autonomous dignity.

Let us therefore first ask ourselves, was Christ a Jew by race?

The question seems at the first glance somewhat childish. In the presence of such a personality peculiarities of race shrink into nothingness. An Isaiah, however much he may tower above his contemporaries, remains a thorough Jew; not a word did he utter that did not spring from the history and spirit of his people; even where he mercilessly exposes and condemns what is characteristically Jewish, he proves himself — especially in this — the Jew; in the case of Christ there is not a trace of this. Take again Homer! He awakens the Hellenic people for the first time to consciousness of itself; to be able to do that, he had to harbour in his own bosom the quintessence of all Hellenism. But where is the people, which, awakened by Christ to life, has gained for itself the precious right — of calling Christ its own? Certainly not in Judea! — To the believer Jesus is the Son of God, not of a human being; for the unbeliever it will be difficult to find a formula to characterise so briefly and yet so expressively the undeniable fact of this incomparable and inexplicable personality. After all there are phenomena which cannot be placed in the complex of our intellectual conceptions without a symbol. So much in regard to the question of principle, and in order to remove from myself all suspicion of being taken in tow by that superficial “historical“ school, which undertakes to explain the inexplicable. It is another matter to seek to gain all possible information regarding the historical surroundings of a personality for the simple purpose of obtaining a clearer and better view of it. If we do attempt this, the answer to the question, Was Christ a Jew? is by no means a simple one. In religion and education He was so undoubtedly; in race — in the narrower and real sense of the word “Jew“ — most probably not.

The name Galilee (from Gelil haggoyim) means “district of the heathen.“ It seems that this part of the country, so far removed from the intellectual centre, had never kept itself altogether pure, even in the earliest times when Israel was still strong and united, and it had served as home for the tribes Naphtali and Zebulon. Of the tribe Naphtali we are told that it was from the first “of very mixed origin,“ and while the non-Israelitic aborigines continued to dwell in the whole of Palestine as before, this was the case “nowhere in so great a degree as in the northern districts.“ (1) There was, however, another additional circumstance. While the rest of Palestine remained, owing to its geographical position, isolated as it were from the world, there was, even at the time when the Israelites took possession of the land, a road leading from the lake of Gennesareth to Damascus, and from that point Tyre and Sidon were more accessible than Jerusalem. Thus we find that Solomon ceded a considerable part of this district of the heathen (as it was already called, 1 Kings, ix. 11), with twenty cities to the King of Tyre in payment of his deliveries of cedar- and pine-trees, as well as for the one hundred and twenty hundredweights of gold which the latter had contributed towards the building of the temple; so little interest had the King of Judea in this land, half inhabited as it was by heathens.

1. Wellhausen: Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte, 3rd ed., 1897, pp. 16 and 74. Cf. too, Judges, i. 30 and 33, and further on in this book, chap. v.

The Tyrian King Hiram must in fact have found it sparsely populated, as he profited by the opportunity to settle various foreign tribes in Galilee. (1) Then came, as every one knows, the division into two kingdoms, and since that time, that is, since about a thousand years before Christ (!) only now and again, and then but for a short time, had there been any comparatively close political connection between Galilee and Judea, and it is only this, not community of religious faith, that furthers a fusion of races. In Christ‘s time, too, Galilee was politically quite separate from Judea, so that it stood to the latter in the relation “of a foreign country“ (2) In the meantime, however, something had happened, which must have destroyed almost completely for all time the Israelitish character of this northern district: seven hundred and twenty years before Christ (that is about one hundred and fifty years before the Babylonian captivity of the Jews) the northern kingdom of Israel was laid waste by the Assyrians, and its population — it is said to a man, at all events to a large extent — deported into different and distant parts of the Empire, where it soon fused with the rest of the inhabitants and in consequence completely disappeared. (3) At the same time strange races from remote districts were transported to Palestine to settle there. The authorities indeed suppose (without being able to vouch for it) that a considerable portion of the former mixed Israelitish population had remained in the land; at any rate this remnant did not keep apart from the strangers, but became merged in the medley of races. (4) The fate of these districts was consequently quite different from that of Judea. For when the Judeans at a later time were also led into captivity, their land remained so to speak empty, inhabited only by a few peasants who moreover belonged to the country, so that when they returned from the Babylonian captivity, during which they had kept their race pure, they were able without difficulty to maintain that purity. Galilee, on the other hand, and the neighbouring districts had, as already mentioned, been systematically colonised by the Assyrians, and, as it appears from the Biblical account, from very different parts of that gigantic empire, among others from the northerly mountainous Syria. Then in the centuries before the birth of Christ many Phoenicians and Greeks had also migrated thither. (5) This last fact would lead one to assume that purely Aryan blood also was transplanted thither; at any rate it is certain that a promiscuous mixture of the most different races took place, and that the foreigners in all probability settled in largest numbers in the more accessible and at the same time more fertile Galilee. The Old Testament itself tells with artless simplicity how these strangers originally came to be acquainted with the worship of Jehovah (2 Kings, xvii. 24 ff.): in the depopulated land beasts of prey multiplied; this plague was held to be the vengeance of the neglected “God of the Land“ (verse 26); but there was no one who knew how the latter should be worshipped; and so the colonists sent to the King of Assyria and begged for an Israelitish priest from the captivity, and he came and “taught them the manner of the God of the land.“ In this way the inhabitants of Northern Palestine, from Samaria downward, became Jews in faith, even those of them who had not a drop of Israelitish blood in their veins. In later times many genuine Jews may certainly have settled there; but probably only as strangers in the larger cities, for one of the most admirable characteristics of the Jews — particularly since their return from captivity where the clearly circumscribed term “Jew“ first appears as the designation of a religion (see Zechariah, viii. 23) — was their care to keep the race pure; marriage between Jew and Galilean was unthinkable. However, even these Jewish elements in the midst of the strange population were completely removed from Galilee not very long before the birth of Christ! It was Simon Tharsi, one of the Maccabeans, who, after a successful campaign in Galilee against the Syrians, “gathered together the Jews who lived there and bade them emgrate and settle bag and baggage in Judea.“ (6) Moreover the prejudice against Galilee remained so strong among the Jews that, when Herod Antipas during Christ‘s youth had built the city of Tiberias and tried to get Jews to settle there, neither promises nor threats were of any avail. (7) There is, accordingly, as we see, not the slightest foundation for the supposition that Christ‘s parents were of Jewish descent.

1. Graetz: Volkstümliche Geschichte der Juden, i. 88.

2. Ibid. i. 567. Galilee and Perea had together a tetrarch who ruled independently, while Judea, Samaria and Idumea were under a Roman procurator. Graetz adds at this point, “Owing to the enmity of the Samaritans whose land lay like a wedge between Judea and Galilee and round [sic] both, there was all the less intercourse between the two separated districts.“ I have here for simplicity refrained from mentioning the further fact that we have no right to identify the genuine “Israelites“ of the North with the real “Jews“ of the South; but cf. chap. v.

3. So completely disappeared that many theologians, who had leisure, puzzled their brains even in the nineteenth century to discover what had become of the Israelites, as they could not believe that five-sixths of the people to whom Jehovah had promised the whole world should have simply vanished off the face of the earth. An ingenious brain actually arrived at the conclusion that the ten tribes believed to be lost were the English of to-day! He was not at a loss for the moral of this discovery either: in this way the British possess by right five-sixths of the whole earth; the remaining sixth the Jews. Cf. H. L.: Lost Israel, where are they to be found? (Edinburgh, 6th ed., 1877). In this pamphlet another work is named, Wilson, Our Israelitish Origin. There are, according to these authorities, honest Anglo-Saxons who have traced their genealogy back to Moses!

4. Robertson Smith: The Prophets of Israel (1895), p. 153, informs us to what an extent “the distinguishing character of the Israelitish nation was lost.“

5. Albert Réville: Jésus de Nazareth, i. 416. One should remember also that Alexander the Great had peopled neighbouring Samaria with Macedonians after the revolt of the year 311.

6. Graetz, as above, i. 400. See also 1 Maccabees, v. 23.

7. Graetz, as above, i. 568. Compare Josephus, Book XVIII., chap. iii.

In the further course of historical development an event took place which has many parallels in history: among the inhabitants of the more southerly Samaria (which directly bordered on Judea) — a people which beyond doubt was much more closely related to the real Jews by blood and intercourse than the Galileans were — the North-Israelitish tradition of hatred and jealousy of the Jews was kept up; the Samaritans did not recognise the ecclesiastical supremacy of Jerusalem and were therefore, as being “heterodox,“ so hated by the Jews that no kind of intercourse with them was permitted: not even a piece of bread could the faithful take from their hand; that was considered as great a sin as eating pork. (1) The Galileans, on the other hand, who were to the Jews simply “foreigners,“ and as such of course despised and excluded from many religious observances, were yet strictly orthodox and frequently fanatical “Jews.“ To see in that a proof of descent is absurd. It is just the same as if one were to identify the genuinely Slav population of Bosnia or the purest Indo-Aryans of Afghanistan ethnologically with the “Turks,“ because they are strict Mohammedans, much more pious and fanatical than the genuine Osmans. The term Jew is applicable to a definite, remarkably pure race, and only in a secondary and very inexact sense to the members of a religious community. It is moreover far from correct to identify the term “Jew“ with the term “Semite,“ as has so frequently been done of late years; the national character of the Arabs, for instance, is quite different from that of the Jews. I return to this point in the fifth chapter; in the meantime, I must point out that the national character of the Galileans was essentially different from that of the Jews. Open any history of the Jews that you will, that of Ewald or Graetz or Renan, everywhere you will find that in character the Galileans present a direct contrast to the rest of the inhabitants of Palestine; they are described as hot-heads, energetic idealists, men of action. In the long struggles with Rome, before and after the time of Christ, the Galileans are mostly the ringleaders — an element which death alone could overcome. While the great colonies of genuine Jews in Rome and Alexandria lived on excellent terms with the heathen Empire, where they enjoyed great prosperity as interpreters of dreams, (2) dealers in second-hand goods, pedlars, money-lenders, actors, law-agents, merchants, teachers, &c., in distant Galilee Hezekiah ventured, even in the lifetime of Caesar, to raise the standard of religious revolt. He was followed by the famous Judas the Galilean with the motto, “God alone is master, death does not matter, freedom is all in all!“ (3) In Galilee was formed the Sicarian party (i.e., men of the knife), not unlike the Indian Thugs of to-day; their most influential leader, the Galilean Menaham, in Nero‘s time destroyed the Roman garrison of Jerusalem, and as a reward the Jews themselves executed him, under the pretext that he wished to proclaim himself the Messias; the sons of Judas also were crucified as politically dangerous revolutionaries (and that too by a Jewish procurator); John of Giscala, a city on the extreme northern boundary of Galilee, headed the desperate defence of Jerusalem against Titus — and the series of Galilean heroes was completed by Eleazar, who years after the destruction of Jerusalem maintained with a small troop a fortified position in the mountains, where he and his followers, when the last hope was lost, killed first their wives and children and then themselves. (4) In these things, as every one will probably admit, a peculiar, distinct national character reveals itself. There are many reports too of the special beauty of the women of Galilee; moreover, the Christians of the first centuries speak of their great kindness, and contrast their friendliness to those of a different faith with the haughty contemptuous treatment they met with at the hands of genuine Jewesses. Their peculiar national character unmistakably betrayed itself in another way, viz., their language. In Judea and the neighbouring lands Aramaic was spoken at the time of Christ; Hebrew was already a dead language, preserved only in the sacred writings. We are now informed that the Galileans spoke so peculiar and strange a dialect of Aramaic that one recognised them from the first word; “thy language betrayeth thee“ the servants of the High Priest cry to Peter. (5) The acquisition of Hebrew is said to have been utterly impossible to them, the gutturals especially presenting insuperable difficulties, so that they could not be allowed, for example, to pray before the people, as their “wretched accent made every one laugh.“ (6) This fact points to a physical difference in the form of the larynx and would alone lead us to suppose that a strong admixture of non-Semitic blood had taken place; for the profusion of gutturals and facility in using them are features common to all Semites. (7)

1. Quoted by Renan from the Mishna: s. Vie de Jésus, 23rd edition, p. 242.

2. Juvenal says:
Aere minuto
Qualiacunque voles Judaei somnia vendunt…

3. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, v. 515.

4. Later, too, the inhabitants of Galilee were a peculiar race distinguished for strength and courage, as is proved by their taking part in the campaign under the Persian Scharbarza and in the taking of Jerusalem in the year 614.

5. As a matter of fact sufficient evidence of the difference between the Galileans and the real Jews could be gathered from the gospels. In John especially “the Jews“ are always spoken of as something alien, and the Jews on their part exclaim, “Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet“ (7, 52).

6. Cf., for example, Graetz, as above, i. 575. With regard to the peculiarity of the speech of the Galileans and their incapacity to pronounce the Semitic gutturals properly, see Renan: Langues sémitiques, 5th ed., p. 230.

7. See, for example, the comparative table in Max Müller: Science of Language, 9th ed., p. 169, and in each separate volume of the Sacred Books of the East. The Sanscrit language has only six genuine “gutturals,“ the Hebrew ten; most striking, however, is the difference in the guttural aspirate h, for which the Indo-Teutonic languages from time immemorial have known only one sound, the Semitic, on the other hand, five different sounds. Again, we find in Sanscrit seven different lingual consonants, in Hebrew only two. How exceedingly difficult it is for such inherited linguistic marks of race to disappear altogether is well known to us all through the example of the Jews living among us; a perfect mastery of the lingual sounds is just as impossible for them as the mastery of the gutturals for us.

I have thought it necessary to enter with some fulness into this question — was Christ a Jew in race? — because in not a single work have I found the facts that pertain to it clearly put together. Even in an objectively scientific work like that of Albert Réville, (1) which is influenced by no theological motives — Réville is the well-known Professor of Comparative Religions at the Collège de France — the word Jew is sometimes used to signify the Jewish race, sometimes the Jewish religion.

We read, for example (i. 416), “Galilee was chiefly inhabited by Jews, but Syrian, Phoenician and Greek heathens also made their home there.“ Here accordingly Jew means one who worships the God of the land of Judea, no matter of what race he may claim to be. On the very next page, however, he speaks of an “Aryan race,“ in opposition to a “Jewish nation“; here consequently Jew denotes a definite, limited race which has kept itself pure for centuries. And now follows the profound remark: “The question whether Christ is of Aryan descent is idle. A man belongs to the nation in whose midst he has grown up.“ This is what people called “science“ in the year of grace 1896! To think that at the close of the nineteenth century a professor could still be ignorant that the form of the head and the structure of the brain exercise quite decisive influence upon the form and structure of the thoughts, so that the influence of the surroundings, however great it may be estimated to be, is yet by this initial fact of the physical tendencies confined to definite capacities and possibilities, in other words, has definite paths marked out for it to follow! To think that he could fail to know that the shape of the skull in particular is one of those characteristics which are inherited with ineradicable persistency, so that races are distinguished by craniological measurements, and, in the case of mixed races, the original elements which occur by atavism become still manifest to the investigator! He could believe that the so-called soul has its abode outside the body, and leads the latter like a puppet by the nose. O Middle Ages! when will your night leave us? When will men understand that form is not an unimportant accident, a mere chance, but an expression of the innermost being? that in this very point the two worlds, the inner and the outer, the visible and the invisible, touch? I have spoken of the human personality as the mysterium magnum of existence; now this inscrutable wonder shows itself in its visible form to the eye and the investigating understanding. And exactly as the possible forms of a building are determined and limited in essential points by the nature of the building material, so the possible form of a human being, his inner and his outer, are defined in decisively essential points by the inherited material of which this new personality is composed. It certainly may happen that too much importance is attached to the idea of race: we detract thereby from the autonomy of personality and run the risk of undervaluing the great power of ideas; besides, this whole question of race is infinitely more complicated than the layman imagines; it belongs wholly to the sphere of anthropological anatomy and cannot be solved by any dicta of the authorities on language and history. Yet it will not do simply to put race aside as a negligible quantity; still less will it do to proclaim anything directly false about race and to let such an historical lie crystallise into an indisputable dogma. Whoever makes the assertion that Christ was a Jew is either ignorant or insincere: ignorant when he confuses religion and race, insincere when he knows the history of Galilee and partly conceals, partly distorts the very entangled facts in favour of his religious prejudices or, it may be, to curry favour with the Jews. (2) The probability that Christ was no Jew, that He had not a drop of genuinely Jewish blood in his veins, is so great that it is almost equivalent to a certainty. To what race did He belong? This is a question that cannot be answered at all. Since the land lay between Phoenicia and Syria, which in its south-western portion was strongly imbued with Semitic blood, and in addition had never been quite cleared of its former mixed-Israelitish (but at no time Jewish) population, the probability of a descent principally Semitic is very great. But whoever has even casually glanced at the race-babel of the Assyrian empire (3) and then learns that colonists from all parts of this empire settled in that former home of Israel, will be baffled by the question. It is indeed possible that in some of these groups of colonists there prevailed a tradition of marrying among themselves, whereby a tribe would have kept itself pure; that this, however, should have been kept up more than five hundred years is almost unthinkable; the very conversion to the Jewish faith had gradually obliterated those tribal differences which at first had been maintained by religious customs brought from their old homes (2 Kings, xvii. 29). We hear that in later times Greeks too migrated thither; in any case they belonged to the poorest classes, and accepted immediately the “god of the country“! Only one assertion can therefore be made on a sound historical basis: in that whole region there was only one single pure race, a race which by painfully scrupulous measures protected itself from all mingling with other nations — the Jewish; that Jesus Christ did not belong to it can be regarded as certain. Every further statement is hypothetical.

1. Jésus de Nazareth, études critiques sur les antécédents de l‘histoire évangélique et la vie de Jésus, vol. ii. 1897.

2. How is one, for example, to explain the fact that Renan, who in his Vie de Jésus, published in 1863, says it is impossible even to make suppositions about the race to which Christ by blood belonged (see chap. ii.), in the fifth volume of his Histoire du Peuple d‘Israël, finished in 1891, makes the categorical assertion, “Jésus était un Juif,“ and attacks with unwonted bitterness those who dare doubt the fact? Is it to be supposed that the Alliance Israélite, with which Renan was so closely connected in the last years of his life, had not had something to do with this? In the nineteenth century we have heard so much fine talk about the freedom of speech, the freedom of science, &c.; in reality, however, we have been worse enslaved than in the eighteenth century; for in addition to the tyrants who have really never been disarmed, new and worse ones have arisen. The former tyranny could, with all its bitter injustice, strengthen the character: the new, which is a tyranny proceeding from and aiming at money, degrades to the lowest depth of bondage.

3. Cf. Hugo Winckler: Die Völker Vorderasiens, 1900.

This result, though essentially negative, is of great value; it means an important contribution to the right knowledge of the personality of Christ, and at the same time to the understanding of its effectiveness up to the present day as well as to the disentanglement of the wildly confused clue of contradictory ideas and false conceptions, which has wound itself around the simple, transparent truth. It is time to go deeper. The outward connection is less important than the inner; now and now only do we come to the decisive question: how far does Christ as a moral fact belong to Judaism and how far does He not? To fix this once for all, we shall have to make a series of important distinctions, for which I beg the fullest attention of the reader.


Christ is, quite generally — indeed, perhaps universally — represented as the perfecter of Judaism, that is to say, of the religious ideas of the Jews. (1) Even the orthodox Jews, though they cannot exactly honour Him as the perfecter, behold in Him an offshoot from their tree and proudly regard all Christianity as an appendix to Judaism. That, I am firmly convinced, is a mistake; it is an inherited delusion, one of those opinions that we drink in with our mother‘s milk and about which in consequence the free-thinker never comes to his senses any more than the strictly orthodox Churchman. Certainly Christ stood in direct relation to Judaism, and the influence of Judaism, in the first place upon the moulding of His personality and in a still higher degree upon the development and history of Christianity is so great, definite and essential, that every attempt to deny it must lead to nonsensical results; but this influence is only in the smallest degree a religious one. Therein lies the heart of the error.

We are accustomed to regard the Jewish people as the religious people above all others: as a matter of fact in comparison with the Indo-European races it is quite stunted in its religious growth. In this respect what Darwin calls “arrest of development“ has taken place in the case of the Jews, an arrest of the growth of the faculties, a dying in the bud. Moreover all the branches of the Semitic stem, though otherwise rich in talents, were extraordinarily poor in religious instinct; this is the “hard-heartedness“ of which the more important men among them constantly complain. (2) How different the Aryan! Even the oldest documents (which go back far beyond the Jewish) present him to us as earnestly following a vague impulse which forces him to investigate in his own heart. He is joyous, full of animal spirits, ambitious, thoughtless, he drinks and gambles, he hunts and robs; but suddenly he begins to think: the great riddle of existence holds him absolutely spellbound, not, however, as a purely rationalistic problem — whence is this world? whence came I? questions to which a purely logical and therefore unsatisfactory answer would require to be given — but as a direct compelling need of life. Not to understand, but to be, that is the point to which he is impelled. Not the past with its litany of cause and effect, but the present, the everlasting present holds his astonished mind spellbound. And he feels that it is only when he has bridged the gulf between himself and all that surrounds him, when he recognises himself — the one thing that he directly knows — in every phenomenon and finds again every phenomenon in himself, when he has, so to speak, put the world and himself in harmony, that he can hope to listen with his own ear to the weaving of the everlasting work and bear in his own heart the mysterious music of existence. And in order that he may find this harmony, he utters his own song, tries it in all tones, practises all melodies; then he listens with reverence. And not unanswered is his call: he hears mysterious voices; all nature becomes alive, everything in her that is related to man begins to stir. He sinks in reverence upon his knees, does not fancy that he is wise, does not believe that he knows the origin and finality of the world, yet has faint forebodings of a loftier vocation, discovers in himself the germ of immeasurable destinies, “the seed of immortality.“ This is, however, no mere dream, but a living conviction, a faith, and like everything living, it in its turn begets life. The heroes of his race and his holy men he sees as “supermen“ (as Goethe says) (3) hovering high above the earth; he wills to be like them, for he too is impelled onward and upward, and now he knows from what a deep inner well they drew the strength to be great. — Now this glance into the unfathomable depths of his own soul, this longing to soar upwards, this is religion. Religion has primarily nothing to do either with superstition or with morals; it is a state of mind. And because the religious man is in direct contact with a world beyond reason, he is thinker and poet: he appears consciously as a creator; he toils unremittingly at the noble Sisyphus work of giving visible shape to the Invisible, of making the Unthinkable capable of being thought; (4) we never find with him a hard and fast chronological cosmogony and theogony, he has inherited too lively a feeling of the Infinite for that; his conceptions remain in flux and never grow rigid; old ones are replaced by new; gods, honoured in one century, are in another scarcely known by name. Yet the great facts of knowledge, once firmly acquired, are never again lost, and more than all that fundamental truth which the Rigveda centuries and centuries before Christ tried thus to express, “The root of existence, the wise found in the heart“ — a conviction which in the nineteenth century has been almost identically expressed by Goethe:

1. The great legal authority Jhering is a praiseworthy exception. In his Vorgeschichte der Indoeuropäer, p. 300, he says: “The doctrine of Christ did not spring from his native soil, Christianity is rather an overcoming of Judaism; there is even in his origin something of the Aryan in Christ.“

2. “The Semites have much superstition, but little religion,“ says Robertson Smith, one of the greatest authorities. (See The Prophets of Israel, p. 33.)

3. German: Übermensch. See Goethe’s Faust.

4. Herder says well, “Man alone is in opposition to himself and the earth; for the most fully developed creature among all her organisations is at the same time the least developed in his own new capacity… He represents therefore two worlds at once and this causes the apparent duplicity of his being.“ — Ideen zur Geschichte der Menscheit, Teil 1., Buch V., Abschnitt 6.

Ist nicht der Kern der Natur
Menschen im Herzen? (1)

That is religion! — Now this very tendency, this state of mind, this instinct, “to seek the core of nature in the heart,“ the Jews lack to a startling degree. They are born rationalists. Reason is strong in them, the will enormously developed, their imaginative and creative powers, on the other hand, peculiarly limited. Their scanty mythically religious conceptions, indeed even their commandments, customs and ordinances of worship, they borrowed without exception from abroad, they reduced everything to a minimum (2) which they kept rigidly unaltered; the creative element, the real inner life is almost totally wanting in them; at the best it bears, in relation to the infinitely rich religious life of the Aryans, which includes all the highest thought and poetical invention of these peoples, like the lingual sounds referred to above, a ratio of 2 to 7. Consider what a luxuriant growth of magnificent religious conceptions and ideas, and in addition, what art and philosophy, thanks to the Greeks and Teutonic races, sprang up upon the soil of Christianity and then ask with what images and thoughts the so-called religious nation of the Jews has in the same space of time enriched mankind! Spinoza‘s Geometric Ethics (a false, still-born adaptation of a brilliant and pregnant thought of Descartes) seems to me in reality the most cruel mockery of the Talmud morality and has in any case still less to do with religion than the Ten Commandments of Moses, which were probably derived from Egypt. (3) No, the power of Judaism which commands respect lies in quite another sphere; I shall speak of it immediately.

But how then was it possible to let our judgment be so befogged as to consider the Jews a religious people?

In the first place it was the Jews themselves, who from time immemorial assured us with the greatest vehemence and volubility, that they were “God‘s people“; even a free-thinking Jew like the philosopher Philo makes the bold assertion that the Israelites alone were “men in the true sense“; (4) the good stupid Indo-Teutonic peoples believed them. But how difficult it became for them to do so is proved by the course of history and the statements of all their most important men. This credulity was only rendered possible by the Christian interpreters of the Script making the whole history of Judah a Theodicy, in which the crucifixion of Christ forms the culminating point. Even Schiller (Die Sendung Moses) seems to think that Providence broke up the Jewish nation, as soon as it had accomplished the work given it to do! Here the authorities overlooked the telling fact that Judaism paid not the slightest attention to the existence of Christ, that the oldest Jewish historians do not once mention His name; and to this has now to be added the fact that this peculiar people after two thousand years still lives and manifests great prosperity; never, not even in Alexandria, has the lot of the Jews been so bright as it is to-day. Finally a third prejudice, derived fundamentally from the philosophic workshops of Greece, had some influence; according to it monotheism, i.e., the idea of a single inseparable God, was supposed to be the symptom of a higher religion; that is altogether a rationalistic conclusion; arithmetic has nothing to do with religion; monotheism can signify an impoverishment as well as an ennobling of religious life. Besides, two objections may be urged against this fatal prejudice, which has contributed perhaps more than anything else to the delusion of a religious superiority of the Jews; in the first place, the fact that the Jews, as long as they formed a nation and their religion still possessed a spark of fresh life, were not monotheists but polytheists, for whom every little land and every little tribe had its own God; secondly, that the Indo-Europeans by purely religious ways had attained to conceptions of an individual Divinity that were infinitely more sublime than the painfully stunted idea which the Jews had formed of the Creator of the world. (5)

1. Is not the core of nature / In the heart of man?

2. For details, see chap. v.

3. See chap. cxxv. of the Book of the Dead.

4. Quoted by Graetz, as above, i. 634‚ without indication of the passage.

5. I do not require to adduce evidence of the polytheism of the Jews; one finds it in every scientific work and besides on every other page of the Old Testament; see chap. v. Even in the Psalms “all the Gods“ are called upon to worship Jehovah; Jehovah is only in so far the “one God“ for later Jews, as the Jews (as Philo just told us) are “the only men in the real sense.“ Robertson Smith, whose History of the Semites is regarded as a scientific and fundamental book, testifies that monotheism did not proceed from an original religious tendency of the Semitic spirit, but is essentially a political result!! (See p. 74 of the work quoted.) — With regard to the monotheism of the Indo-Europeans I make the following brief remarks. The Brahman of the Indian philosophers is beyond doubt the greatest religious thought ever conceived; with regard to the pure monotheism of the Persians we can obtain information in Darmesteter (The Zend-Avesta, I. lxxxii. ff.); the Greek had however been on the same path, as Ernst Curtius testifies, “I have learned much that is new, particularly what a stronghold of the monotheistic view of God Olympia was and what a moral world-power the Zeus of Phidias has been“ (Letter to Gelzer of Jan. 1, 1896, published in the Deutsche Revue, 1897, p. 241). Besides we can refer here to the best of all witnesses. The Apostle Paul says (Romans, i. 21): “The Romans knew that there is one God“; and the churchfather Augustine shows, in the eleventh chapter of the 4th book of his De civitate Dei, that according to the views of the educated Romans of his time, the magni doctores paganorum, Jupiter was the one and only God, while the other divinities only demonstrated some of his “virtutes.“ Augustine employed the view which was already prevalent, to make it clear to the heathens that it would be no trouble for them to adopt the belief in a single God and to give up the others. Haec si ita sint, quid perderent si unum Deum colerent prudentiore compendio? (the recommendation to believe in a single God “because it simplifies matters“ is a touching feature of the golden childhood of the Christian Church!). And what Augustine demonstrates in the case of the educated heathen, Tertullian asserts of the uneducated people in general. “Everybody,“ he says, “believes only in a single God, and one never hears the Gods invoked in the plural, but only as ‘Great God‘! ‘Good God‘! ‘As God will‘! ‘God be with you‘! ‘God bless you‘!“ This Tertullian regards as the evidence of a fundamentally monotheistic soul: “O testimonium animae naturaliter Christianae!“ (Apologeticus, xvii). [Giordano Bruno in his Spaccio de la bestia trionfante, ed. Lagarde, p. 532, has some beautiful remarks on the monotheism of the ancients.] — In order that in a matter of such significance nothing may remain obscure, I must add that Curtius, Paul, Augustine and Tertullian are all four labouring under a thorough delusion, when they see in these things a proof of monotheism in the sense of Semitic materialism; their judgment is here dimmed by the influence of Christian ideas. The conception “the Divine“ which we see in the Sanscrit neuter Brahman and in the Greek neuter θείον, as well as in the German neuter Gott, which only at a later time in consequence of Christian influence was regarded as a masculine (see Kluge‘s Etymologisches Wörterbuch), cannot be identified at all with the personal world-creator of the Jews. In this case one can say of all the Aryans who are not influenced by the Semitic spirit what Professor Erwin Rohde proves for the Hellenes: “The view that the Greeks had a tendency to monotheism (in the Jewish sense) is based on a wrong interpretation…. It is not a unity of the divine person, but a uniformity of divine entity, a divinity living uniformly in many Gods, something universally divine in the presence of which the Greek stands when he enters into religious contact with the Gods“ (Die Religion der Griechen in the Bayreuther Blätter, 1895, p. 213). Very characteristic are the words of Luther in this connection, “In creation and in works (to reckon from without to the creature) we Christians are at one with the Turks; for we say too that there is not more than one single God. But we say, this is not enough, that we only believe that there is one single God.“

I shall have repeated occasion to return to these questions, particularly in the sections dealing with the entry of the Jews into western history and with the origin of the Christian Church. In the meantime I hope I have succeeded in removing to some extent the preconceived opinion of the special religiousness of Judaism. I think the reader of the orthodox Christian Neander will henceforth shake his head sceptically when he finds the assertion that the advent of Christ forms the “central point“ of the religious life of the Jews, that “in the whole organism of this religion and people‘s history it was of inner necessity determined,“ &c. &c. (1) As for the oratorical flourishes of the free-thinker Renan: Le Christianisme est le chef-d’oeuvre du judaïsme, sa gloire, le résumé de son évolution…. Jésus est tout entier dans Isaïe, &c., (2) he will smile over them with just a shade of indignation; and I fear he will burst into Homeric laughter when the orthodox Jew Graetz assures him that the teaching of Christ is the “old Jewish doctrine in a new dress,“ that “the time had now come when the fundamental truths of Judaism … the wealth of lofty thoughts concerning God and a holy life for the individual and the community should flow in upon the emptiness of the rest of the world, filling it with a rich endowment.“ (3)

1. Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion, 4th ed. i. 46.

2. Histoire du Peuple d‘Israël, v. 415, ii. 539, &c. The enormity of the assertion in regard to Isaiah becomes clear from the fact that Renan himself describes and praises this prophet as a “littérateur“ and a “journaliste,“ and that he proves in detail what a purely political rôle this important man played. “Not a line from his pen, which was not in the service of a question of the day or an interest of the moment“ (ii. 481). And we are to believe that in this very man the whole personality of Jesus Christ is inherent? It is quite as unjustifiable (unfortunately in others as well as in Renan) to quote single verses from Isaiah, to make it appear as if Judaism had aimed at a universal religion. Thus xlix. 6, is quoted, where Jehovah says to Israel, “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth,“ and nothing is said of the fact that in the course of the chapter the explanation is given that the Gentiles shall become the slaves of the Jews and their Kings and Princesses shall “bow down to them with their face toward the earth“ and “lick up the dust of their feet.“ And this we are to regard as a sublime universal religion! Exactly the same is the case with the constantly quoted chapter lx. where we find first the words, “The Gentiles shall come to thy light,“ but afterwards with an honesty for which one is thankful, “The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish, yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted“! Moreover the Gentiles are told in this passage to bring all their gold and treasures to Jerusalem, for the Jews shall “inherit the land for ever.“ To think of any one venturing to put such political pamphleteering on a parallel with the teaching of Christ!

3. As above, i. 570. It has often been asserted that the Jews have little sense of humour: that seems to be true, at least of individuals; just imagine the “wealth“ of these crassly ignorant unimaginative scribes and the “emptiness“ of the Hellenes! Graetz has not much regard for the personality of Christ; the highest appreciation to which he deigns to rise is as follows: “Jesus may also have possessed a sympathetic nature that won hearts, whereby His words could make an impression“ (i. 576). The learned Professor of Breslau regards the crucifixion as the result of a “misunderstanding.“ With regard to the Jews who afterwards went over to Christianity Graetz is of opinion that it was done for their material advantages and because the belief in the Crucified One “was taken into the bargain as something unessential“ (ii. 30). Is that still true? We knew from the Old Testament that the covenant with Jehovah was a contract with obligations on both sides, but what can be “bargained“ in regard to Christ I cannot understand.


Whoever wishes to see the revelation of Christ must passionately tear this darkest of veils from his eyes. His advent is not the perfecting of the Jewish religion but its negation. It was in the very place where feelings played the least part in religious conceptions that a new religious ideal appeared, which — unlike the other great attempts further to explain the inner life, by thoughts or by images — laid the whole burthen of this “life in spirit and in truth“ upon the feelings. The relation to the Jewish religion could at most be regarded as a reaction; the feelings are, as we have said, the fountain head of all genuine religion; this spring which the Jews had well-nigh choked with their formalism and hard-hearted rationalism Christ opened up. Few things let us see so deeply into the divine heart of Christ as His attitude towards the Jewish religious ordinances. He observed them, but without zeal and without laying any stress upon them; at best they are but a vessel, which, holding nothing, would remain empty; and as soon as an ordinance bars His road, He breaks it without the least scruple, but at the same time calmly and without anger: for what has all this to do with religion? “Man (1) is Lord also of the Sabbath“: for the Jew Jehovah alone had been Lord — man his slave. With regard to the Jewish laws in relation to food (so important a point in their religion that the quarrel with regard to its obligatoriness continued on into the early Christian times) Christ says: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. For those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart: and they defile the man.“ (2) In this connection consider too how Christ uses Holy Scripture. He speaks of it with reverence but without fanaticism. It is indeed very remarkable how He makes Scripture serve His purpose; over it too He feels Himself “Lord“ and transforms it, when necessary, into its opposite. His doctrine is that the “whole law and the prophets“ may be summed up in the one command: Love God and thy neighbour. That sounds almost like sublime irony, especially when we consider that Christ on this occasion never once mentions “the fear of God,“ which (and not the love of God) forms the basis of the whole Jewish religion. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,“ sings the Psalmist. “Hide thee in the dust for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty,“ Isaiah calls to the Israelites, and even Jeremiah seemed to have forgotten that there is a law according to which man “shall love God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength, and with all his mind,“ (3) and had represented Jehovah as saying to His people, “I will put my fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from me; they shall fear me for ever“; it is only when the Jews fear Him that He “will not turn away from them to do them good,“ &c. We find that Christ also frequently changes the meaning of the words of Scripture in a similar manner. Now if we see on the one hand a God of mercy and on the other a hard-hearted Jehovah, (4) on the one hand the doctrine which teaches us to love our “heavenly Father“ with all our heart and on the other “servants,“ who are enjoined “to fear the lord“ as their first duty, (5) we may well ask what meaning can there be in characterising the one personal philosophy as the work, as the perfection of the other? This is sophistry, not truth. Christ himself has said in plain words, “Whoever is not with me is against me“; no fact in the world is so completely against Him as the Jewish religion, indeed the whole Jewish conception of religion — from earliest times to the present day.

1. The following information about the expression “son of man“ is important: “The Messianic interpretation of the expression ‘son of man‘ originated from the Greek translators of the Gospel. As Jesus spoke Aramaic, He said not ο υίός του άνθρώπον but barnascha. But that means man and nothing more; the Arameans had no other expression for the idea“ (Wellhausen: Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte, 3rd ed. p. 381).

2. “If man is impure, he is so because he speaks what is untrue,“ said the sacrificial ordinances of the Aryan Indians, one thousand years before Christ (Satapatha-Brâhmana, 1st verse of the 1st division of the 1st book.)

3. In the fifth book of Moses (Deuteronomy vi. 5) are to be found words similar to these quoted from Christ‘s sayings (from Matthew xxii. 37), but — we must look at the context! Before the commandment to love (to our mind a peculiar conception — to love by command) stands as the first and most important commandment (verse 2), “Thou shalt fear the Lord, thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments“; the commandment to love is only one among other commandments which the Jew shall observe and immediately after it comes the reward for this love (verse 10 ff.). “I shall give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, and houses full of all good things which thou filledst not, and wells digged which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive-trees, which thou plantedst not, &c“ That kind of love may be compared to the love which underlies so many marriages at the present day! In any case the “love of one‘s neighbour“ would appear in a peculiar light, if one did not know that according to the Jewish law only the Jew is a “neighbour“ of the Jew; as is expressed in the same place, chap. vii. 16, “Thou shalt consume all the peoples which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee!“ This commentary to the commandment to “love one‘s neighbour“ makes every further remark superfluous. But in order that no one may be in doubt as to what the Jews later meant by the command to love God with the whole heart, I shall quote the commentary of the Talmud (Jomah, Div. 8) to that part of the law, Deuteronomy, vi. 5: “The teaching of this is: thy behaviour shall be such that the name of God shall be loved through you; man shall in fact occupy himself with the study of Holy Scripture and of the Mishna and have intercourse with learned and wise men; his language shall be gentle, his other conduct proper, and in commerce and business with his fellow men he shall strive after honesty and uprightness. What will people then say? Hail to this man who has devoted himself to the study of the sacred doctrine!“ In the book Sota of the Jerusalem Talmud (v. 5) one finds a somewhat more reasonable but no less prosaic commentary. — This is the orthodox Jewish interpretation of the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart“! Is it not the most unworthy playing with words to assert that Christ taught the same doctrine as the Thora?

4. The orthodox Jew Montefiore, Religion of the Ancient Hebrews (1893), p. 442, admits that the thought, “God is love,“ does not occur in any purely Hebrew work of any time.

5. Montefiore and others dispute the statement that the relation of Israel to Jehovah was that of servants to their master, but Scripture says so clearly in many places, e.g., Leviticus xxv. 55: “The children of Israel are servants, they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt,“ and the literal translation of the Hebrew text would be slave! (Cf. the literal translation by Louis Segond.)

And yet the Jewish religion has in this connection formed a fine soil, better than any other, for the growth of a new religious ideal, that is, for a new conception of God.

What meant poverty for others became in fact for Christ a source of the richest gifts. For example, the fearful, to us almost inconceivable, dreariness of Jewish life — without art, without philosophy, without science — from which the more gifted Jews fled in crowds to foreign parts, was an absolutely indispensable element for his simple, holy life. The Jewish life offered almost nothing — nothing but the family life — to the feelings of the individual. And thus the richest mind that ever lived could sink into itself, and find nourishment only in its own inmost depths. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.“ Perhaps it was only in these dreary surroundings that it was possible to discover that conversion of will as the first step towards a new ideal of mankind; only here where the “Lord of hosts“ ruled without pity, that the heavenly presentiment God is love could be elevated to a certainty.

The following is, however, the most important point in this discussion.

The peculiar mental characteristic of the Jews, their lack of imagination, brought about by the tyrannical predominance of the will, had led them to a strange abstract materialism. Being materialists, the Jews were most prone, like all Semites, to crass idolatry; we see them ever and anon setting up images and bowing down before them; the moral struggle which their great men for centuries waged against it is an heroic page in the history of the human power of will. But the will which was not balanced by imagination shot as usual far beyond the mark; every image, in fact frequently everything that is at all the “work of hands,“ contains for the Jew of the Old Testament the danger of becoming a worshipped idol. Not even the coins may bear a human head or an allegorical figure, not even the flags an emblem. And so all non-Jews are to the Jews “worshippers of idols.“ And from this fact again arose, by the way, a Christian misconception which was not dissipated till the last years of the nineteenth century, and then only for the specialist, not for the mass of the educated. As a matter of fact, the Semites are probably the only people in the whole earth who ever were and could be genuine idolators. In no branch of the Indo-European family has there ever been idolatry. The unmixed Aryan Indians, as also the Eranians, had never either image or temple; they would have been incapable even of understanding the crassly materialistic sediment of Semitic idolatry in the Jewish ark of the covenant with its Egyptian sphinxes; neither the Teutons nor the Celts nor the Slavs worshipped images. And where did the Hellenic Zeus live? Where Athene? In poetry, in the imagination, up in cloud-capped Olympus, but never in this or that temple. In honour of the god Phidias created his immortal work, in honour of the gods the numerous little images were made which adorned every house and filled it with the living conception of higher beings. To the Jew, however, that seemed idolatry! The will being with them predominant, they regarded each thing only from the point of view of its utility; it was incomprehensible to them that a man should put anything beautiful before his eyes, to elevate and console himself therewith, to provide food for his mind, to awaken his religious sense. Similarly, too, the Christians have at a later time looked upon images of Buddha as idols: but the Buddhists recognise no God, much less an idol; these statues served as a stimulus to contemplation and alienation from the world. Indeed ethnologers have lately been beginning to question the possibility of there ever being a people so primitive as to worship so-called fetishes as idols. Formerly this was simply taken for granted; now it is being found in more and more cases that these children of nature attach the most complicated symbolical conceptions to their fetishes. It seems as if the Semites were the only human race that had succeeded in making golden calves, iron serpents, &c., and then worshipping them. (1) And as the Israelites even at that time were much more highly developed than the Australasian negroes of to-day, we conclude that such aberrations on their part must be put down not to immaturity of judgment, but to some onesidedness of their intellect: this onesidedness was the enormous predominance of will. The will as such lacks not merely all imagination, but all reflection; to it only one thing is natural, to precipitate itself upon, and to grasp the present. And so for no people was it so difficult as it was for the people of Israel, to rise to a high conception of the Divine, and for none was it so hard to keep this conception pure. But strength is steeled in the fray: the most unreligious people in the world created in its need the foundation of a new and most sublime conception of God, which has become the common property of all civilised mankind. For on this foundation Christ built; He could do so, thanks to that “abstract materialism“ which He found around Him. Elsewhere religions were choked by the richness of their mythologies; here there was no mythology at all. Elsewhere every god possessed so distinct a physiognomy, had been made by poetry and the plastic arts so thoroughly individual, that no one could have changed him over night; or, on the other hand (as is the case with Brahman in India) the conception of him had been gradually so sublimated that nothing remained from which to create a new living form. Neither of these two things had happened with the Jews: Jehovah was in truth a remarkably concrete, indeed an altogether historical conception, and in so far a much more tangible figure than the imaginative Aryan had ever possessed; at the same time it was forbidden to represent Him either by image or word. (2) Hence the religious genius of mankind found here

1. It is scarcely necessary to call the reader‘s attention to the fact that the Egyptian and Syrian forms of worship from which the Jews took the idea of the ox and the serpent were purely symbolical.

2. When at a very late period the Jews could not quite resist the impulse to presentation, they sought to conceal the want of imaginative power by Oriental verbiage. We can see an example of it in chap. i. of Ezekiel.

a tabula rasa. Christ required to destroy the historical Jehovah just as little as the Jewish “law“; neither the one nor the other has an immediate relation to real religion; but just as He in point of fact by that inner “conversion“ transformed the so-called law into a fundamentally new law, so He used the concrete abstraction of the Jewish God in order to give the world a quite new conception of God. We speak of anthropomorphism! Can then man act and think otherwise than as an anthropos? This new conception of the Godhead differed, however, from other sublime intuitions in this, that the image was created not with the brilliant colours of symbolism nor with the etching-needle of thought, but was caught as it were on a mirror in the innermost mind, and became henceforth a direct individual experience to every one that had eyes to see. — Certain it is that this new ideal could not have been set up in any other place than where the conception of God had been fanatically clung to, and yet left totally undeveloped.

Hitherto we have directed our attention to what separates or at least distinguishes Christ from Judaism; it would be one-sided to leave it at that alone. His fate and the main tendency of His thought are both closely connected with genuine Jewish life and character. He towers above His surroundings, but yet He belongs to them. Here we have to consider especially two fundamental features of the Jewish national character: the historical view of religion and the predominance of the will. These two features are, as we shall immediately see, genetically related. The former has strongly influenced Christ‘s life and His memory after death; in the latter is rooted His doctrine of morals. A study of these two points will throw light on many of the deepest and most difficult questions in the history of Christianity, as well as on many of the inexplicable inner contradictions of our religious tendencies up to the present day.


Of the many Semitic peoples one only, and that one politically one of the smallest and weakest, has maintained itself as a national unity; this small nation has defied all storms and stands to-day a unique fact among men — without fatherland, without a supreme head, scattered all over the world, enrolled among the most different nationalities, and yet united and conscious of unity. This miracle is the work of a book, the Thora, with all that has been added to it by way of supplement up to the present day. But this book must be regarded as evidence of a peculiar national soul, which at a critical moment was guided in this direction by individual eminent and far-seeing men. In the next chapter but one I shall have to enter more fully into the origin and importance of these canonical writings. In the meantime, I shall merely call attention to the fact that the Old Testament is a purely historical work. If we leave out of account a few late and altogether unessential additions (like the socalled Proverbs of Solomon), every sentence of these books is historical; the whole legislation too which they contain is based on history, or has at least a chronological connection with the events described: “The Lord spake unto Moses,“ Aaron‘s burnt-offering is accepted by the Lord, Aaron‘s sons are killed during the proclamation of the law, &c. &c.; and if it is a question of inventing something, the narrator either links it on to a fictitious story, as in the book of Job, or to a daring falsification of history, as in the book of Esther. By this predominance of the chronological element the Bible differs from all other known sacred books. The religion it contains is an element in the historical narrative and not vice versa; its moral commandments do not grow with inherent necessity out of the depths of the human heart, they are “laws,“ which were promulgated under definite conditions on fixed days, and which can be repealed at any time. Compare for a moment the Aryan Indians; they often stumbled upon questions concerning the origin of the world, the whence and the whither, but these were not essential to the uplifting of their souls to God; this question concerning causes has nothing to do with their religion: indeed, far from attaching importance to it, the hymnists exclaim almost ironically:

Who hath perceived from whence creation comes?
He who in Heaven‘s light upon it looks,
He who has made or has not made it all,
He knows it! Or does he too know it not? (1)

Goethe, who is often called the “great Heathen,“ but who might with greater justice be termed the “great Aryan,“ gave expression to exactly the same view when he said, “Animated inquiry into cause does great harm.“ Similarly the German natural scientist of to-day says, “In the Infinite no new end and no beginning can be sought. However far back we set the origin, the question still remains open as to the first of the first, the beginning of the beginning.“ (2) The Jew felt quite differently. He knew as accurately about the creation of the world as do the wild Indians of South America or the Australian blacks to-day. That, however, was not due — as is the case with these — to want of enlightenment, but to the fact that the Aryan shepherd‘s profound, melancholy mark of interrogation was never allowed a place in Jewish literature; his tyrannous will forbade it, and it was the same will that immediately silenced by fanatical dogmatism the scepticism that could not fail to assert itself among so gifted a people (see the Koheleth, or Book of the Preacher).

1. Rigveda, x. 129, 7.

2. Adolf Bastian, the eminent ethnologist, in his work: Das Beständige in den Menschenrassen (1868), p. 28.

Whoever would completely possess the “to-day“ must also grasp the “yesterday“ out of which it grew. Materialism suffers shipwreck as soon as it is not consistent; the Jew was taught that by his unerring instinct; and just as accurately as our materialists know to-day how thinking arises out of the motion of atoms, did he know how God had created the world and made man from a clod of earth. Creation, however, is the least thing of all; the Jew took the myths with which he became acquainted on his journeys, stripped them as far as possible of everything mythological and pruned them down to concrete historical events. (1) But then, and not till then, came his masterpiece: from the scanty material common to all Semites (2) the Jew constructed a whole history of the world of which he made himself the centre; and from this moment, that is, the moment when Jehovah makes the covenant with Abraham, the fate of Israel forms the history of the world, indeed, the history of the whole cosmos, the one thing about which the Creator of the world troubles himself. It is as if the circles always became narrower; at last only the central point remains — the “Ego,“ the will has prevailed. That indeed was not the work of a day; it came about gradually; genuine Judaism, that is, the Old Testament in its present form, shaped and established itself only after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. (3) And now what formerly had been effected with unconscious genius was applied and perfected consciously: the union of the past and the future with the present in such a way that each individual moment formed a centre on the perfectly straight path, which the Jewish people had to follow and from which it henceforth could not deviate either to right or to left. In the past divine miracles in favour of the Jews and in the future expectation of the Messiah and world-empire: these were the two mutually complementary elements of this view of history. The passing moment received a peculiarly living importance from the fact that it was seen growing out of the past, as reward or punishment, and that it was believed to have been exactly foretold in prophecies. By this the future itself acquired unexampled reality: it seemed to be something tangible. Even should countless promises and prophecies not come true, (4) that could always be easily explained. Will looks not too close, but what it holds it does not let go, even if it be but a phantom; the less the past had given the richer appeared the future; and so much was possessed in black and white (particularly in the legend of the Exodus), that doubt could not arise. The so-called Jewish “literal adherence to creed“ is surely quite a different thing from the dogmatic faith of the Christians: it is not a faith in abstract inconceivable mysteries and in all kinds of mythological conceptions, but something quite concrete and historical. The relation of the Jews to their God is from the first political. (5) Jehovah promises them the empire of the world — under certain conditions; and their historical work is such a marvel of ingenious structure that the Jews see their past in the most glowing colours, and everywhere perceive the protecting hand of God extended over His chosen people, “over the only men in the true sense of the word“; and this in spite of the fact that theirs has been the most wretched and pitiful fate as a people that the annals of the world can show; for only once under David and Solomon did they enjoy half a century of relative prosperity and settled conditions: thus they possess on all hands proofs of the truth of their faith, and from this they draw the assurance that what was promised to Abraham many centuries before will one day take place in all its fulness. But the divine promise was, as I have said, dependent upon conditions. Men could not move about in the house, could not eat and drink or walk in the fields, without thinking of hundreds of commandments, upon the fulfilment of which the fate of the nation depended. As the Psalmist sings of the Jew (Psalm i. 2):

He placeth his delight
Upon God‘s law, and meditates
On his law day and night. (6)

Every few years each of us throws a voting-paper into the box; otherwise we do not know or hardly know that our life is of national importance; but the Jew could never forget that. His God had promised him, “No people shall withstand thee, till thou destroyest it,“ but immediately added, “All the commandments which I command thee, thou shalt keep!“ God was thus always present to consciousness. Practically everything but material possession was forbidden to the Jew; his mind therefore was directed to property alone; and it was to God that he had to look for the possession of that property. — The man who has never brought home to himself the conditions here hastily sketched will have difficulty in realising what unanticipated vividness the conception of God acquired under these conditions. The Jew could not indeed represent Jehovah by images; but His working, His daily intervention in the destiny of the world was, so to speak, a matter of experience; the whole nation indeed lived upon it; to meditate upon it was their one intellectual occupation (if not in the Diaspora, at least in Palestine).

1. “Les mythologies étrangères se transforment entre les mains des Sémites en récits platement historiques‘‘ (Renan, Israël, i. 49).

2. Cf. the history of creation by the Phoenician Sanchuniathon.

3. See chap. v. In order to give a fixed point and to reveal drastically the differences of mental tendencies, I may mention that this was about three hundred years after Homer, scarcely a century before Herodotus.

4. For example, the promise to Abraham in reference to Canaan, “To thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.“

5. See Rob. Smith: The Prophets of Israel, pp. 70 and 133.

6. In the Sippurim, a collection of Jewish popular sagas and stories, it is frequently mentioned that the ordinary uneducated Jew has 613 commandments to learn by heart. But the Talmud teaches 13,600 laws, obedience to which is divine command! (See Dr. Emanuel Schreiber: Der Talmud vom Standpunkte des modernen Judentums.)

It was in these surroundings that Christ grew up; beyond them He never stepped. Thanks to this peculiar historical sense of the Jews He awoke to consciousness as far as possible from the all-embracing Aryan cult of nature and its confession tat-tvam-asi (that thou art also), in the focus of real anthropomorphism, where all creation was but for man, and all men but for this one chosen people, that is, He awoke in the direct presence of God and Divine Providence. He found here what He would have found nowhere else in the world: a complete scaffolding ready for Him, within which His entirely new conception of God and of religion could be built up. After Jesus had lived, nothing remained of the genuinely Jewish idea; now that the temple was built the scaffolding could be removed. But it had served its purpose, and the building would have been unthinkable without it. The God to whom we pray to give us our daily bread could only be thought of where a God had promised to man the things of this world; men could only pray for forgiveness of sins to Him who had issued definite commandments. — I almost fear, however, that if I here enter into details I may be misunderstood; it is enough if I have succeeded in giving a general conception of the very peculiar atmosphere of Judea, for that will enable us to discern that this most ideal religion would not possess the same life-power if it had not been built upon the most real, the most materialistic — yes, assuredly the most materialistic — religion in the world. It is this and not its supposed higher religiosity that has made Judaism a religious power of world-wide importance.

The matter becomes still clearer whenever we consider the influence of this historical faith upon the fate of Christ.

The most powerful personality can be influential only when it is understood. This understanding may be very incomplete, it may indeed frequently be direct misunderstanding, but some community of feeling and thought must form the link of connection between the lonely genius and the masses. The thousands that listened to the Sermon on the Mount certainly did not understand Christ; how could that have been possible? They were a poor people, downtrodden and oppressed by continual war and discord, systematically stupefied by their priests; but the power of his word awakened in the heart of the more gifted among them an echo which it would have been impossible to awaken in any other part of the world: was this to be the Messiah, the promised redeemer from their misery and wretchedness? What immeasurable power lay in the possibility of such a conception! At once the homely, fleeting present was linked to the remotest past and the most indubitable future, and thereby the present received everlasting importance. It does not matter that the Messiah, whom the Jews expected, had not the character which we Indo-Europeans attach to this conception; (1) the idea was there, the belief founded on history that at any moment a saviour could and must appear from Heaven. In no other part of the earth could a single man have this conception, full of misunderstandings as it was, of the world-wide importance of Christ. The Saviour would have remained a man among men. And in so far I think that the thousands who soon afterwards cried, “Crucify him, crucify him,“ showed just as much understanding as those who had piously listened to the Sermon on the Mount. Pilate, at other times a hard, cruel judge, could find no fault in Christ; (2) in Hellas and in Rome He would have been honoured as a holy man. But the Jew lived only in history, to him the “heathen“ idea of morality and sanctity was strange, since he knew only a “law,“ and moreover obeyed this law for quite practical reasons, namely, to stay the wrath of God and to make sure of his future, and so he judged a phenomenon like the revelation of Christ from a purely historical standpoint, and became justly filled with fury, when the promised kingdom, to win which he had suffered and endured for centuries — for the sake of possessing which he had separated himself from all people upon the earth, and had become hated and despised of all — when this kingdom, in which he hoped to see all nations in fetters and all princes upon their knees “licking the dust,“ was all at once transformed from an earthly kingdom into one “not of this world.“ Jehovah had often promised his people that he would “not betray“ them; but to the Jews this was bound to appear be-

1. Even so orthodox an investigator as Stanton admits that the Jewish idea of the Messiah was altogether political (see The Jewish and the Christian Messiah, 1886, pp. 122 f., 128, &c.). It is well known that theology has occupied itself much of late years with the history of the conceptions of the Messiah. The principal result of the investigation for us laymen is the proof that the Christians, misled by what were specifically Galilean and Samarian heterodoxies, supplanted the Jewish conception of the coming of the Messiah by a view which the Jews never really held. The Jews who were learned in Scripture were always indignant at the strained interpretations of the Old Prophets; now even the Christians admit that the Prophets before the exile (and these are the greatest) knew nothing of the expectation of a Messiah (see, for example, the latest summary account, that of Paul Volz: Die vorexilische Jahveprophetie und der Messias, 1897); the Old Testament does not even know the word, and one of the most important theologists of our time, Paul de Lagarde (Deutsche Schriften, p. 53), calls attention to the fact that the expression mâschîach is not of Hebrew origin at all, but was borrowed at a late time from Assyria or Babylon. It is particularly noteworthy also that this expectation of the Messiah wherever it existed was constantly taking different forms; in one case a second King David was to come, in another the idea was one only of Jewish world-empire in general, then again it is God himself with his heavenly judgment “who will put an end at once to those who have hitherto held sway and give the people of Israel power for ever, an all-embracing empire, in which the just of former times who rise again shall take part, while the rebellious are condemned to everlasting shame“ (cf. Karl Müller: Kirchengeschichte, i. 55); other Jews again dispute whether the Messiah will be a Ben-David or a Ben-Joseph; many believe there would be two of them, others are of the opinion that he would be born in the Roman Diaspora; but nowhere and at no time do we find the idea of a suffering Messiah, who by his death redeems us (see Stanton, pp. 122-124). The best, the most cultured and pious Jews have never entertained such apocalyptic delusions. In the Talmud (Sabbath, Part 6) we read, “Between the present time and the Messianic there is no difference except that the pressure, under which Israel pines till then, will cease.“ (Contrast with this the frightful confusion and complete puerility of the Messianic conceptions in the Sanhedrin of the Babylonian Talmud.) I think that with these remarks I have touched the root of the matter: in the case of an absolutely historical religion, like the Jewish, the sure possession of the future is just as imperative a necessity as the sure possession of the past; from the earliest times we see this thought of the future inspiring the Jews and it still inspires them; this unimaginative people gave its expectations various forms, according to the varying influences of surroundings, essential only is the firm ineradicable conviction that the Jews should one day rule the world. This is in fact an element of their character, the visible bodying-forth of their innermost nature. It is their substitute for mythology.

2. Tertullian makes the charmingly simple remark: “Pilate was already at heart a Christian“ (Aplogeticus xxi.).

trayal. They executed not one only but many, because they were held to be, or gave themselves out to be, the promised Messiah. And rightly too, for the belief in the future was just as much a pillar of the popular idea as the belief in the past. And now, to crown all, this Galilean heterodoxy! To plant the flag of idealism on this ancient consecrated seat of the most obstinate materialism! To transform, as if by magic, the God of vengeance and of war into a God of love and peace! To teach the stormy will, that stretched out both hands for all the gold of the world, that it should throw away what it possessed and seek the hidden treasure in its own heart!… The Jewish Sanhedrim had seen farther than Pilate (and than many thousands of Christian theologists). Not, indeed, with full consciousness, but with that unerring instinct, which pure race gives, it seized Him who undermined the historical basis of Jewish life, by teaching, “Take no heed for the morrow,“ who in each one of His words and deeds transformed Judaism into its antithesis, and did not release Him till He had breathed His last. And thus only, by death, was destiny fulfilled and the example given. No new faith could be established by doctrines; there was at that time no lack of noble and wise teachers of ethics, but none has had any power over men; a life had to be lived and this life had immediately to receive its place in the great enduring history of the world as a fact of universal moment. Only Jewish surroundings suited these conditions. And just as the life of Christ could only be lived by the help of Judaism, although it was its negation, so too the young Christian Church developed a series of ancient Aryan conceptions — of sin, redemption, rebirth, grace, &c. (things till then and afterwards quite unknown to the Jews) — and gave them a clear and visible form, by introducing them into the Jewish historical scheme. (1) No one will ever succeed in quite freeing the revelation of Christ from this Jewish groundwork; it was tried in the first centuries of the Christian era, but without success, since the thousand features in which the personality had revealed its individuality became thereby blurred, and nothing but an abstraction remained behind. (2)


Still profounder is the influence of the second trait of character.

We have seen that what I call the historical instinct of the Jews rests above all upon the possession of an abnormally developed will. The will in the case of the Jew attains such superiority that it enthrals and tyrannises over all other faculties. And so it is that we find on the one hand extraordinary achievements, which would be almost impossible for other men, and on the other, peculiar limitations. However that may be, it is certain that we see this very predominance of will in Christ at all times: frequently un-Jewish in His individual utterances, quite Jewish, in so far as the will is almost solely emphasised. This feature is like a branching of veins that goes deep and spreads far: we find it in every word, in every single conception. By a comparison I hope to make my meaning clear and comprehensible.

onsider the Hellenic conception of the Divine and the Human and of their relation to one another. Some Gods fight for Troy, others for the Achaeans; while I propitiate one part of the Divine I estrange the other; life is a battle, a game, the noblest may fall, the most miserable gain the victory; morality is in a way a personal affair, man is lord of his own heart but not of his destiny; there is no Providence that protects, punishes and rewards. The Gods themselves are in fact not free; Zeus himself must yield to fate. Herodotus says “Even a God cannot escape what is destined for him.“ A nation which produces the Iliad will in a later age produce great investigators of nature and great thinkers. For he who looks at nature with open eyes which are not blinded by selfishness will discover everywhere in it the rule of law; the presence of law in the moral sphere is fate for the artist — predestination for the philosopher. For the faithful observer of nature the idea of arbitrariness is, to begin with, simply impossible; do what he will, he cannot make up his mind to impute it even to a God. This philosophical view has been beautifully expressed by Here in Goethe‘s fragment, Achilleis:

Willkür bleibet ewig verhasst den Göttern und Menschen,
Wenn sie in Thaten sich zeigt, auch nur in Worten sich kundgiebt.
Denn so hoch wir auch stehen, so ist der ewigen Götter
Ewigste Themis (3) allein, und diese muss dauern und walten. (4)

1. The myth of the fall of man stands indeed at the beginning of the first book of Moses, but is clearly borrowed, since the Jews never understood it and did not employ it in their system. He who does not transgress the law is, in their eyes, free from sin. Just as little has their expectation of a Messiah to do with our conception of redemption. See, further, chap. v. and vol ii chap. vii.

2. That is the tendency of gnosticism as a whole; this movement finds its most carefully pondered and noblest expression, as far as I can venture to express an opinion, in Marcion (middle of the second century), who was more filled with the absolutely new in the Christian ideal than perhaps any religious teacher since his time; but in just such a case one sees how fatal it is to ignore historical data. (See any Church History. On the other hand I must warn the student that the three lines which Professor Ranke devotes to this really great man (Weltgeschichte, ii. 171) contain not a single word of what should have been said on this point.) [For a knowledge of Marcion and gnosticism as a whole Mead‘s Fragments of a Faith Forgotten may be recommended.]

3. Themis has degenerated in modern times to an allegory of impartial jurisdiction, that is, of an altogether arbitrary agreement, and she is appropriately represented with veiled eyes; while mythology lived, she represented the rule of law in all nature, and the old artists gave her particularly large, wide-open eyes.

4. Arbitrariness remains ever hateful to gods and men, when it reveals itself in deeds or even in words only. For however high we may stand, the eternal Themis of the eternal Gods alone is, and she must lastingly hold sway.

On the other hand, the Jewish Jehovah can be described as the incarnation of arbitrariness. Certainly this divine conception appears to us in the Psalms and in Isaiah in altogether sublime form; it is also — for the chosen people — a source of high and serious morality. But what Jehovah is, He is, because He wills to be so; He stands above all nature, above every law, the absolute, unlimited autocrat. If it pleases Him to choose out from mankind a small people and to show His favour to it alone, He does so; if He wishes to vex it, He sends it into slavery; if he, on the other hand, wishes to give it houses which it has not built and vineyards which it has not planted, He does so and destroys the innocent possessors; there is no Themis. So too the divine legislation. Beside moral commands which breathe to some extent high morality and humanity, there stand commands which are directly immoral and inhuman; (1) others again determine most trivial points: what one may eat and may not eat, how one shall wash, &c., in short, everywhere absolute arbitrariness. He who sees deeper will not fail to note in this the relationship between the old Semitic idolatry and the belief in Jehovah. Considered from the Indo-European standpoint, Jehovah would in reality be called rather an idealised idol, or, if we prefer it, an anti-idol, than a god. And yet this conception of God contains something which could not, any more than arbitrariness, be derived from observation of nature, namely, the idea of a Providence. According to Renan, “the exaggerated belief in a special Providence is the basis of the whole Jewish religion.“ (2) Moreover, with this freedom of God another freedom is closely connected, that of the human will. The liberum arbitrium is decidedly a Semitic conception and in its full development a specifically Jewish one; it is inseparably bound up with the particular idea of God. (3) Freedom of will implies nothing less than “ever repeated acts of creation“; carefully considered it will be clear that this supposition (as soon as it has to do with the world of phenomena) contradicts not merely all physical science, but also all metaphysics, and means a negation of every transcendent religion. Here cognition and will stand in strict opposition. Now wherever we find limitations of this idea of freedom — in Augustine, Luther, Voltaire, Kant, Goethe — we can be sure that an Indo-European reaction against the Semitic spirit is taking place. So, for example, when Calderon in the Great Zenobia lets the wild autocratic Aurelian mock him

who called the will free.

For — though one must certainly be on one‘s guard against misusing such formulary simplifications — one can still make the assertion that the idea of necessity is in all Indo-European races particularly strongly marked, and is met with again and again in the most different spheres; it points to high power of cognition free from passion; on the other hand, the idea of arbitrariness, that is, of an unlimited sway of will, is specifically characteristic of the Jew; he reveals an intelligence which in comparison with his will-power is very limited. It is not a question here of abstract generalisations, but of actual characteristics, which we can still daily observe; in the one case intellect is predominant, in the other the will.

Let me give a tangible example from the present. I knew a Jewish scholar, who, as the competition in his branch prevented him from earning much money, became a manufacturer of soap, and that, too, with great success; but when at a later time foreign competition once more took the ground from beneath his feet, all at once, though ripe in years, he became dramatic poet and Man of Letters and made a fortune at it. There was no question of universal genius in his case; he was of moderate intellectual abilities and devoid of all originality; but with this intellect the will achieved whatever it wished.

The abnormally developed will of the Semites can lead to two extremes: either to rigidity, as in the case of Mohammed, where the idea of the unlimited divine caprice is predominant; or, as is the case with the Jews, to phenomenal elasticity, which is produced by the conception of their own human arbitrariness. To the Indo-European both paths are closed. In nature he observes everywhere the rule of law, and of himself he knows that he can only achieve his highest when he obeys inner need. Of course his will, too, can achieve the heroic, but only when his cognition has grasped some idea — religious, artistic, philosophic, or one which aims at conquest, command, enrichment, perhaps crime; at any rate, in his case the will obeys, it does not command. Therefore it is that a moderately gifted Indo-European is so peculiarly characterless in comparison with the most poorly gifted Jew. Of ourselves, we should certainly

1. Besides the countless raids involving wholesale slaughter divinely commanded, in which “the heads of the children“ are to be “dashed against the stones,“ note the cases where command is given to attack with felonious intent “the brother, companion, and neighbour“ (Exodus xxxii. 27), and the disgusting commands such as in Ezekiel v. 12-15.

2. Histoire du peuple d‘Israël, ii. p. 3.

3. We can trace in every history of Judaism with what very logical fanaticism the Rabbis still champion the unconditioned and not merely metaphysically meant freedom of will. Diderot says: “Les Juifs sont si jaloux de cette liberté d’indifférence, qu’ils s’imaginent qu’il est impossible de penser sur cette matière autrement qu’eux.“ And how closely this idea is connected with the freedom of God and with Providence becomes clear from the commotion which arose when Maimonides wished to limit divine Providence to mankind and maintained that every leaf was not moved by it nor every worm created by its will. — Of the so-called “fundamental doctrines“ of the famous Talmudist Rabbi Akiba the two first are as follow: (1) Everything is supervised by the Providence of God; (2) Freedom of will is stipulated (Hirsch Graetz: Gnosticismus und Judentum, 1846, p. 91).

never have arrived at the conception of a free almighty God and of what may be called an “arbitrary Providence,“ a Providence, that is, which can decree something in one way, and then in answer to prayers or from other motives decide in a contrary direction. (1) We do not find that, outside of Judaism, man ever came to the conception of a quite intimate and continual personal relation between God and mankind — to the conception of a God who would almost seem to be there only for the sake of man. In truth the old Indo-Aryan Gods are benevolent, friendly, we might almost say genial powers; man is their child, not their slave; he approaches them without fear; when sacrificing he “grasps the right hand of God“; (2) the want of humility in presence of God has indeed filled many a one with horror: yet as we have seen nowhere do we find the conception of capricious autocracy. And with this goes hand in hand remarkable infidelity; now this, now that God is worshipped, or, if the Divine is viewed as a unified principle, then the one school has this idea of it, the other that (I remind the reader of the six great philosophically religious systems of India, all six of which passed as orthodox); the brain in fact works irresistibly on, producing new images and new shapes, the Infinite is its home, freedom its element and creative power its joy. Just consider the beginning of the following hymn from the Rigveda (6, 9):

My ear is opened and my eye alert,
The light awakes within my heart!
My spirit flies to search in distant realms:
What shall I say? of what shall my verse sing?

and compare it with the first verses of any Psalm, for instance, the 76th:

In Judah is God known: His name is great in Israel.
In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling-place in Sion.

We see what an important element of faith the will is. While the Aryan, rich in cognition, “flies to search in distant realms,“ the strong-willed Jew makes God pitch His tent once for all in his own midst. The power of his will to live has not only forged for the Jew an anchor of faith, which holds him fast to the ground of historical tradition, but it has also inspired him with unshakable confidence in a personal, directly present God, who is almighty to give and to destroy; and it has brought him, the man, into a moral relation to this God, in that God in His all-powerfulness issued commands, which man is free to follow or neglect. (3)

1. In the case of the Indo-Europeans the Gods are never “creators of the world“; where the Divine is viewed as creator, as in the case of the Brahman of the Indians, that refers to a freely metaphysical cognition, not to an historical and mechanical process, as in Genesis i.; in other cases the Gods are viewed as originating “on this side of creation,“ their birth and death are spoken of.

2. Oldenberg: Die Religion des Veda, p. 310.

3. If this were the place for it, I should gladly prove in greater detail that this Jewish conception of the almighty God who rules as free Providence inevitably determines the historical view of this God and that every genuine Aryan mind revolts again and again against this. This has caused, for instance, the whole tragic mental life of Peter Abelard: in spite of the most intense longing for orthodoxy, he cannot adapt his spirit to the religious materialism of the Jews. Ever and anon, for example, he comes to the conclusion that God does what he does of necessity (and here he could refer for support to the earlier writings of Augustine, especially his De libero arbitrio); this is intellectual anti-Semitism in the highest degree! He denies also every action, every motion in the case of God; the working of God is for him the coming to pass of an everlasting determination of will: “with God there is no sequence of time.“ (See A. Hausrath: Peter Abelard, p. 201 f.) With this Providence disappears. — However, what is the use of seeking for learned proofs? The noble Don Quixote explains with pathetic simplicity to his faithful Sancho, “for God there is no past and no future, all is present“ (Book IX. chap. viii.): hereby the immortal Cervantes expresses briefly and correctly the unhistorical standpoint of all non-Semites.


There is another matter which must not be omitted in this connection: the one-sided predominance of the will makes the chronicles of the Jewish people in general dreary and ugly; and yet in this atmosphere there grew up a series of important men, whose peculiar greatness makes it impossible to compare them with other intellectual heroes. In the introduction to this division I have already spoken of those “disavowers“ of the Jewish character, who themselves remained the while such out and out Jews, from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet, that they contributed more than anything else to the growth of the most rigid Hebraism; in chap. v. I shall return to them; only so much must here be said: these men, in grasping religious materialism by its most abstract side, raised it morally to a very great height; their work has paved the way historically in essential points for Christ‘s view of the relation between God and man. Moreover, an important feature, which is essentially rooted in Judaism, shows itself most clearly in them: the historical religion of this people lays emphasis not upon the individual, but upon the whole nation; the individual can benefit or injure the whole community, but otherwise he is of little moment; from this resulted of necessity a markedly socialistic feature which the Prophets often powerfully express. The individual who attains to prosperity and wealth, while his brothers starve, falls under the ban of God. While Christ in one way represents exactly the opposite principle, namely, that of extreme individualism, the redeeming of the individual by regeneration, His life and His teaching, on the other hand, point unmistakably to a condition of things which can only be realised by having all things common. The communism of “one flock and one shepherd“ is certainly different from the entirely politically coloured, theocratic communism of the Prophets; but here again the basis is solely and characteristically Jewish.


Whatever one may be inclined to think of these various Jewish conceptions, no one will deny their greatness, or their capacity to exercise an almost inestimable influence upon the moulding of the life of mankind. Nor will any one deny that the belief in divine almightiness, in divine Providence and in the freedom of the human will, (1) as well as the almost exclusive emphasising of the moral nature of men and their equality before God (“the last shall be first“) are essential elements of the personality of Christ. Far more than the fact that He starts from the Prophets, far more than His respect for Jewish legal enactments, do these fundamental views show us that Christ belonged morally to the Jews. Indeed, when we penetrate farther to that central point in Christ‘s teaching, to that “conversion of the will,“ then we must recognise — as I have already hinted at the beginning of this chapter in the comparison with Buddha — that here is something Jewish in contrast to the Aryan negation of the will. The latter is a fruit of perception, of too great perception; Christ, on the other hand, addresses Himself to men, in whom the will — not the thought, is supreme; what He sees around Him is the insatiable, ever-covetous Jewish will that is always stretching out both hands; He recognises the might of this will and commands it — not to be silent, but to take a new direction. Here we must say, Christ is a Jew, and He can only be understood when we have learned to grasp critically these peculiarly Jewish views which He found and made His own.

I said just now that Christ belonged “morally“ to the Jews. This somewhat ambiguous word “moral“ must here be taken in a narrow sense. For it is just in the moral application of these conceptions of God‘s almightiness and providence, of the direct relations between man and God following therefrom, and of the employment of the free human will, that the Saviour departed in toto from the doctrines of Judaism; that is clear to every one, and I have, moreover, sought to emphasise it in what has gone before; but the conceptions themselves, the frame into which the moral personality fitted itself, and out of which it cannot be moved, the unquestioning acceptance of these premisses regarding God and man, which by no means belong to the human mind as a matter of course but are, on the contrary, the absolutely individual achievement of a definite people in the course of an historical development which lasted for centuries: this is the Jewish element in Christ. In the chapters on Hellenic Art and Roman Law I have already called attention to the power of ideas; here again we have a brilliant example of it. Whoever lived in the Jewish intellectual world was bound to come under the influence of Jewish ideas. And though He brought to the world an entirely new message, though His life was like the dawn of a new morn, though His personality was so divinely great that it revealed to us a power in the human breast, capable — if it ever should be fully realised — of completely changing humanity: yet the personality, the life and the message were none the less chained to the fundamental ideas of Judaism; only in these could they reveal, exercise and proclaim themselves.

1. The latter, however, as it appears, with important limitations, since the Aryan idea of grace more than once clearly appears in Christ‘s words.


I hope I have attained my purpose. Proceeding from the consideration of the personality in its individual, autonomous import, I have gradually widened the circle, to reveal the threads of life which connect it with its surroundings. In this a certain amplification was unavoidable; the sole subject of this book, the foundations of the nineteenth century, I have nevertheless not lost sight of for a single moment. For how could I, an individual, venture to approach that age either as chronicler or encyclopaedist? May the Muses keep me from such madness! On the other hand, I shall attempt to trace as far as possible the leading ideas, the moulding thoughts of our age; but these ideas do not fall from Heaven, they link on to the past; new wine is very often indeed poured into old bottles, and very old, sour wine, which nobody would taste, if he knew its origin, into quite new ones; and as a matter of fact the curse of confusion weighs heavily upon a culture born so late as ours, especially in an age of breathless haste, where men have to learn too much to be able to think much. If we wish to become clear about ourselves, we must, above all, be quite clear about the fundamental thoughts and conceptions which we have inherited from our ancestors. I hope I have brought it home to the reader how very complex is the Hellenic legacy, how peculiarly contradictory the Roman, but at the same time how profoundly they affect our life and thought to-day. Now we have seen that even the advent of Christ, on the threshold between the old and the new age, does not present itself to our distant eye in so simple a form that we can easily free it from the labyrinth of prejudices, falsehoods and errors. And yet nothing is more necessary than to see this revelation of Christ clearly in the light of truth. For — however unworthy we may show ourselves of this — our whole culture, thank God, still stands under the sign of the Cross upon Golgotha. We do see this Cross; but who sees the Crucified One? Yet He, and He alone is the living well of all Christianity, of the intolerantly dogmatic as well as of that which gives itself out to be quite unbelieving. In later ages it will be an eloquent testimony to the childishness of our judgment that we have ever doubted it, and that the nineteenth century has reared itself on books, which demonstrated that Christianity originated by chance, at haphazard, as a “mythological paroxysm,“ as a “dialectical antithesis,“ as a necessary result of Judaism, and I know not what else. The importance of genius cannot be reckoned high enough: who ventures to estimate the influence of Homer upon the mind of man? But Christ was still greater. And like the everlasting “hearth-fire“ of the Aryans, so the torch of truth which He kindled for us can never be extinguished; though at times a shadow of night may wrap manhood far and wide in the folds of darkness, yet all that is wanted is one single glowing heart, in order that thousands and millions may once more blaze under the bright light of day…. Here, however, we can and must ask with Christ, “But if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?“ Even the origin of the Christian Church leads us into the profoundest gloom, and its further history gives us rather the impression of a groping about in darkness than of clear seeing in the sunlight. How then shall we be able to distinguish what in so-called Christianity is spirit of Christ‘s spirit, and what, on the other hand, is imported from Hellenic, Jewish, Roman and Egyptian sources, if we have never come to see this revelation of Christ in its sublime simplicity? How shall we speak about what is Christian in our present confessions, in our literatures and arts, in our philosophy and politics, in our social institutions and ideals, how shall we separate what is Christian from what is anti-Christian, and be able with certainty to decide, what in the movements of the nineteenth century can be traced back to Christ and what not, or in how far it is Christian, whether merely in the form or also in the content, or perhaps in content, i.e., in its general tendency, but not with regard to the characteristically Jewish form — how shall we, above all, be able to sift and separate from the “bread of life“ this specifically Jewish element which is so threateningly perilous to our spirit, if the revelation of Christ does not stand conspicuously before our eyes in its general outlines, and if we are not able clearly to distinguish in this image the purely personal from its historical conditions. This is certainly a most important and indispensable foundation for the formation of our judgments and appreciations.

To pave, to some modest degree, the way for that result has been the purpose of this chapter.

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