The contention put forth years ago by Proofessor Arthur Drews, a non-Jewish scholar, that Jesus of Nazareth never lived and that the central figure of Christianity is a myth, is reiterated by Georg Brandes, the world famous Danish Jewish author and critic, in a new book, “Jesus, A Myth,” of which a translation is published this week by Albert and Charles Boni. The publication of this book last year in the Danish original and its translation into German roused a storm of discussion throughout Europe.
Professor Drews, who is professor of philosophy in the Technilogical College at Carlsruhe, Germany, wrote two books on the subject, “The Christ Myth,” and the “Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus.”
Brandes is now in his eighty-fifth year. He lectured in New York in 1914 and attracted great attention. In the long span of his life, he has exercised an influence on nearly all European literature. He has been the centre of many important literary controversies, and has been as outspoken about his religious as his literary opinions. Speaking of Thomas Paine, he once said: “He was a heretic, so am I.”
The thesis of his book is that Jesus is as wholly fictitious and legendary a figure as Hercules, Prometheus or William Tell. It’s arguments are based on what the author declares to be hopeless inconsistences, contradictions and impossibilities in the text of the New Testament and upon analysis of histories and legends from other sources. It’s chief contention is that the figure and teachings of Jesus are drawn from materials scattered through the Old Testament and put together in poorly arranged and often inconsistent form.
Nevertheless, Brandes adds, Jesus will continue to be worshipped by Christians for thousands of years, as he has been in the past, and as Isis and Horus were worshipped, for as long or even longer periods, though no one now believes that they actually existed.
“For thousands of years,” the critic writes, “Apollo, the god of light and purity, was adored in innumerable temples. He had hosts of priests and priestesses, and he guided the destinies of men through his oracles. To this very day his name remains honored. But he never existed; no one believes it in this, the twentieth century.
“On the other hand, the fact that he never existed detracts no more from his significance than from that of Achilles, Ulysses, Hamlet and Faust. We know a great deal more about Ophelia and Margaretta than we know about Mary and Martha in the New Testament. Yet real existence can no more be ascribed to the latter than to the former. Divine figures can never be affected by having lived their true and only lives in the mind of men.
“The Christ figure as an ideal of spiritual superiority, of love for humanity, of charity and purity, was many centuries older than the noble-minde Galilean man of the people who, nineteen hundred years ago, was said to have given historic embodiment to this prototype,” Brandes says. “The same figure will survive him for centuries to come, even if he, as now seems likely should never have existed.”
Brandes attacks the historic reliability of the Gospel writers, saying:
“It may be noted in general that they had no interest in historic facts. The fact that their topography is as poor as their chronology shows that the evangelists possessed no real knowledge of local conditions.”
He calls the story of the twelve apostles “a palpable piece of mythology,” and declares the figure of Judas to be purely legendary, as superfluous to the general story of Jesus as “the fifth wheel in a cart,” and “an absurdity explicable only as a manifestation of the hatred felt by Gentile Christianity against the Jewish Christians in the second century. The legend has caused great mischief. That it ever gained credence does not speak well for man’s acumen.
“The whole story of the Passion is so saturated with mythology that the sifting out of any historical foundation may be regarded as out of the question.”
The author thinks the evidence indicates Jesus and Barabbas are identical. He finds the Sermon on the Mount to be derived from an official proclamation addressed to the Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire by a Jewish High Priest in Palestine, and says:
“The Lord’s Prayer is now generally recognized as no product of the New Testament, but a compilation formed on Old Testament models.”
The English translation is by Edwin Bjorkman, translator of Strindberg, Bjornson and Schnitzler.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.