WHEN a child was born in the ancient village of Rome three men came at night and struck the house with a hatchet, a mortar and a besom, and therewith three gods came into existence who belonged to that child alone. Another deity sprang up when the infant uttered its first cry, and yet another when the bulla, a sort of protective amulet equivalent to a lucky name, was hung around its neck. When the child took its first step, when it was purified and adopted into the family, when it was named, when it came of age, when it first undertook a domestic art or craft, when it married -- at each new undertaking, whether on the farm, in the shop or in the pursuit of a profession, a new spiritual entity or numina came into being to serve the occasion, until finally the genius, the familiar spirit of the grown man, took charge.
Individual penates guaranteed the traditional family rights over its stores of grain and food; an individual lar guarded the boundaries of the domicile, but every street and crossroad also had a lar -- there were a thousand in the city, said Ovid, each represented by an altar. These numina scarcely existed apart from the person, object, place or occasion which they apotheosized, and, like their wild congeners which inhabited the trees, springs, woods, rivers and fields, they acquired being and were annihilated with their worldly counterparts.
It has been said of Rome that she won all of the gods of all the world to her dominion -- it was easy for the Romans to take unto themselves the multitudinous gods of their empire because they already had an infinity of their own. The great dei of the city-state had begun as numina: Jupiter, god of the sky and stars; Janus, god of the doorway and city gate; Mars god of war and of herds and crops; and Vesta, goddess of the home and hearth. Under the Etruscan kings anthropomorphic deities were imported in the persons of Diana, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, and that impersonal voice which was to play such an important part in Roman history, the Sibylline Oracle. This last consisted of three books of Greek hexameter verse, the legend being that nine volumes had been offered in sale by a Sibyl, or prophetess, to Tarquin the Proud; when he refused them, she burned three and offered him the remaining six at the same price; when he again refused them, she burned three more and offered him the remaining three still at the same price. Tarquin bought them and thereafter they came to be consulted by the politician-priests on all questions of importance concerning both religious practice and governmental policy.
In 493 B.C. the Greek triad, Demeter, Dionysus and Persephone, came to Rome under the name of Ceres, Liber and Libera, and within fifty years Apollo and Asklepios followed them under their own names, while Aphrodite came as Venus, Hermes as Mercurius, Herakles as Hercules, Poseidon as Neptunus, and Artemis was assimilated to Diana. In 218 B.C. the Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy and, in spite of repeated supplications and sacrifices to all the numina and dei known to the inhabitants, Roman arms wavered on the verge of defeat for twelve years; when survival seemed impossible the Sibylline Books were consulted and the oracle advised that Hannibal would be repelled if the sacred stone which embodied Cybele and which reposed in her temple in Phrygia were brought to Rome. So the King of Pergamus, to whom the temple and stone belonged, consenting, Cybele came to Rome in 206 with elaborate ceremony. Although the Great Mother did everything that was anticipated in the way of expelling Hannibal, her worship was at first restricted to the Phrygian priests who had accompanied her, her orgiastic rites being considered too dangerous for the Romans, but in 191 B.C. her image was transferred to a new temple on the Palatine hill and opened to the populace. With Cybele came Attis, and in a few years Dionysus followed with his orgies and mysteries.
Then, from the war with Hannibal to the founding of the Empire (218-31 B.C.), Hellenism spread its rationalistic exercises westward to throw Latin theology into a state of flux and to bring into the minds of a critical few a sense of detachment from the gods. When the Greek historian, Polybius, considered the problems presented by sociology in the second century B.C., he concluded that the Romans were in the main extraordinarily honest only because they feared the gods -- his own countrymen, he admitted regretfully:
...if entrusted with a single talent, though protected by ten checking-clerks, as many seals and twice as many witnesses, yet cannot be induced to keep faith. However, the Romans have managed to forge the main bond of social order out of something which the rest of the world execrates: I mean, out of Superstition. In dramatizing their superstition theatrically and introducing it into private as well as public life, the Romans have gone to the most extreme lengths conceivable; and to many observers this will appear extraordinary. In my opinion, however, the Romans have done it with an eye to the masses. If it were possible to have an electorate that was composed exclusively of sages, this chicanery might perhaps be unnecessary; but, as a matter of fact, the masses are always unstable and always full of lawless passions, irrational temper and violent rage; and so there is nothing for it but to control them by 'the fear of the unknown' and play-acting of that sort.
Strabo, writing nearly a century later, was even more blunt: 'A rabble of women and promiscuous vulgarians cannot be induced to answer to the call of Philosophic Reason if you are wanting to lead them to piety and holiness and faith. In dealing with people of that sort, you cannot do without superstition; and superstition, in its turn, has to be fed with fairy tales and hocus-pocus.' Cicero's assertion, relative to the mysteries, that 'when we call the corn Ceres and the wine Bacchus we use a common figure of speech; but do you imagine that anyone is so insane as to believe that the thing he feeds upon is a god?' was largely rhetorical since the bulk of the Roman populace was prepared to believe in any and every transmutation.
There were many Romans who held that if the Roman empire was founded on piety, piety was in turn founded upon deception. Not that pious deception was considered to be politically unsound so long as the populace, like Plato's ideal citizens, were so unintelligent as not to discover it. The Roman historian Varro conceived that there were three varieties of religion: mythical, or that which was of literary interest only; physical, and on this, the less said in public the better; and civil, in which it was to the best interest of the state to deceive the people. Diodorus admitted with approval that 'the myths which are told of the affairs in Hades, though pure invention at bottom, contribute to make men pious and upright,' while Livy asserted that Numa had 'put the fear of the gods' upon the people 'as the most effective thing for an ignorant and rough multitude.' Lucretius, the last exponent of Ionian science, denied the government of the world by capricious gods and condemned the whole apparatus of popular faith, its prayers, vows, offerings and divinations, as false and evil. He denied the immortality of the soul, for the soul, he argued, is as much a part of the body as the hand or foot, and forms with it one whole, so constituted that neither can exist without the other. He refused the argument of expediency, however, for to him the people seemed driven by the unreasonable fear of death and degraded by idle and even dangerous superstitions. Against the vision of Agamemnon's cruel sacrifice of Iphigenia to Artemis he declared vehemently, 'How many evils has religion caused!'
Such skepticism, however, made its way only at the literate level, and there but insecurely. It seems clear enough that the ruling class fostered religion as an instrument of civil policy and mental oppression, and that Lucretius's De Rerum Natura, the most passionate and justly the most famous rationalistic document of ancient times, was an effort to free men from the loathly religio, sponsored, however hypocritically, by Pindar, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Varro and Cicero, into which the Graeco-Roman world had sunk. But Lucretius's efforts went in vain. The mythological Aeneid continued to be taught in all the schools of the Empire, while the De Rerum Natura was condemned, and Seneca, in the first century of the Christian Era, was forced to the apologetic 'the whole base throng of gods assembled by a superstition coeval with time we must worship, without forgetting that we do so to set an example, not because they exist.'
In the two republican centuries that produced the memorable Latin literature, although many people of wealth and culture had deserted the temples and allowed them to fall into desuetude, the masses clung steadfastly to the conviction that the gods lived and gave or withheld prosperity, that personal favor was to be obtained by means of religious mystery and ritual, that corn and wine were the very body and blood of the god. The dead lived in the bowels of the earth from which they emerged at appointed times to receive libations of wine, milk, honey and oil, or the blood of sacrificial victims offered at the grave, but they had neither sense nor volition, and nothing to fear or to hope for in the afterworld; trouble and worry were over, pain was forgotten, there was no punishment or retribution by offended deities, only peace and comfort in a dreamlike state which, though never interfering with this life, was never entirely out of contact with it. The Romans called the dead di manes (the good), rarely using the term in the singular. Father and grandfather and great-grandfather -- the dead were numbered beyond counting, beyond memory, beyond all imagination. They were important collectively but not individually. Their generic fate was one of generic semibeing. Only the gods enjoyed a truly supernatural, personal existence.
When Gaius Octavianus, in 31 B.C., brought to an end the civil war that had followed on the death of Julius Caesar, and, by capturing Alexandria, spread the power of Rome across the sea, he was hailed as the savior of the republic and given the title of Augustus -- the 'Majestic.' The empire of which he was now the head held forth such promise of peace and order as had not been known in Rome for years -- such indeed as had never been known to encompass the entire civilized world. Augustus, perhaps sharing in some measure Virgil's dream of a new Golden Age like unto that of the days of Saturn, perhaps himself a trifle pious in the sentimental manner of men who have suddenly and unaccountably achieved great things, decided to bring to his task of reconstruction the tool of civil piety. He restored the temples of Venus, Apollo, Mars and Vesta, encouraged the sacrificial priesthoods, and reinstituted all the ancient festivals. Among the cults which offered promise of renascence was the Brethren of Civales, a brotherhood whose chief duty it had been to lead a solemn procession round the crops in May and so insure the blessing of the gods on the most important source of human sustenance. It had also been the duty of the Brethren to assist the members of the reigning house in matters of personal worship, a duty which they continued to discharge on behalf of Gaius Octavianus, until shortly all notable events in the life of the emperor and even of his family -- births, marriages, journeys and safe return, the assumption of secular and priestly offices -- had become occasions for the Brethren to offer vows, prayers or thanksgivings at the temples and altars throughout the city. It was not long before the figure of the genius Augustus appeared between those of the lares at the meetings of the streets, inculcating the idea that the emperor stood to the public religion of the city as the paterfamilias stood to the private religion of the home.
The fate of the genius Augustus was forecast in the scheme of things. The tendency to deify important men had long been evident in the divine honors paid to Faminius, Lucullus, Sulla, Marcellus, Scipio Africanus and Julius Caesar, the last probably having accepted divine honors during his life. On Julius's death the senate had decreed that he should be treated as a god, the title divus (divine) having been conferred on him by law in 44 B.C., and the worship of the divus Julius was already established as a national cult when the image of the genius Augustus appeared among those of the other gods. Rome was now a dominion that included nearly all the world, a new imperium which centered in the person of Augustus; logically there should be one among all her gods who favored no one creed or color but who stood as the spiritual counterpart of the majestic emperor. In the multitudinous pantheon there was no single deity who could claim this dominant position, since jealousies between the priesthoods effectively obstructed the claims of any, such as Jupiter or Apollo, who might by tradition have been fitted to occupy the spiritual throne. So the Roman Senate solved the dilemma by elevating the genius Augustus,even while the emperor was still alive, to the supreme head of the pantheon.
This move had the enthusiastic approval of the people and it was not long before the birthplace of the divus Augustus was set apart as a sacred spot and stories of his miraculous birth and of the portents which accompanied it began to circulate, and on his death it was testified that certain people had seen him ascend to heaven. A new order of priests and a new series of rites were created to propitiate the Divus and it soon became a crime to profess reluctance to worship him. There was, indeed, little resistance to the new god, the provinces if anything being more enthusiastic in instituting the new worship than were the inhabitants of Italy; to them Caesar was a friend who had brought confidence and stability out of endless civil conflicts, and the cities of the east vied with each other for the honor of erecting a temple to the Divus at their own expense, and were frequently refused permission because it was deemed that they could not afford a building worthy of the divine majesty.
An inscription dating from about 9 B.C. and celebrating the divine birthday reads:
This day has given earth an entirely new aspect. The world would have gone to destruction had there not streamed forth from him who is now born a common blessing. Rightly does he judge who recognizes in this birthday the beginning of life and of all the powers of life: now is that ended when men pitied themselves for being born .... The providence which rules over all has filled this man with such gifts for the salvation of the world as designate him the Savior for us and for the coming generations: of wars he will make an end, and establish all things worthily. By his appearing are the hopes of our forefathers fulfilled: not only has he surpassed the good deeds of men of earlier time, but it is impossible that one greater than he can ever appear. The birthday of God has brought to the world glad tidings that are bound up in him. From his birthday a new era begins.
Thus did Augustus even while living join the Olympian immortals.
Although the worship of the Divus constituted the official state religion, it remained but one among a dozen cults which in tradition and current approbation were esteemed as equally true and valid. In view of the heterogeneity of the imperial population a completely tolerant polytheism was a political necessity as well as a political expedient. The populace of Rome itself was scarcely Roman save in the upper strata, the mass being comprised of soldiers, slaves, traders and craftsmen drawn from all parts of the world. The city was but a sample of the Empire, a great sprawling hegemony loosely held together by warring dictators and governed by ambition and perfidy, obsequiousness and corruption, brutality and force -- the very antithesis of the 'new era' promised by the panegyrist.
Indicative of the temper of the times were the gladiatorial games in which the spectacle of bloodshed and death afforded the main amusement to both the upper and lower classes. Introduced to Rome about 264 B.C. as religious ceremonies at the tombs of the great and intended as human sacrifices to appease the manes of the dead, they came to be used to instill courage into soldiers before their departure for war, and subsequently as mere political and public displays. Caesar and Pompey greatly multiplied them, each seeking to ingratiate himself with the people, and Pompey introduced combat between men and animals while Caesar held a mortuary game at the tomb of his daughter. Although Augustus ordered that not more than 120 men should fight on a single occasion, it appears that 10,000 gladiators may have fought in his reign. In addition to their mortuary function, gladiatorial combats were held by officials on coming into office, by conquerors to secure popularity, on every occasion of public rejoicing and by rich tradesmen desirous of acquiring a social position. The purveyance of gladiators became an important profession and great arenas, of which the Colosseum is the most imposing, were erected to accommodate the crowds.
The desire for novelty impelled the invention of every refinement of cruelty. When the single combat became insipid, the victims were multiplied until hundreds of animals died in a single day -- five thousand were used at the dedication of the Colosseum by Titus -- and under Trajan the games continued for 123 successive days. Lions, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, giraffes, bulls, stags and even crocodiles and snakes were employed for variation. Men, proud of their prowess and anxious for the rich awards to the victors, fought pain-tortured animals or other men to the wild acclaim of the crowds, and criminals were thrown to the beasts with no defense. Women trembled with passion during the fight and noble ladies craved the victor's love, while the tranquil courage with which the gladiators died was celebrated in poetry, art and philosophy. That life should be so cheap, that the bloody slaughter of animals and men and women in the arena should be a spectacle of which the populace never tired, was symptomatically rather than causally related to the social pattern.
'I am entering upon the history of a period,' writes Tacitus of the first part of the first century, 'rich in disasters, gloomy with wars, rent with seditions, nay, savage in its very hours of peace. Four Emperors perished by the sword; there were three civil wars; there were more with foreigners -- and some had both characters at once .... Rome was wasted by fires, its oldest temples burnt, the very Capitol set in flames by Roman hands. There was defilement of sacred rites; adulteries in high places; the sea was crowded with exiles; island rocks drenched with murder. Yet wilder was the frenzy in Rome; nobility, wealth, the refusal of office, its acceptance -- everything was a crime, and virtue the surest ruin. Nor were the rewards of informers less odious than their deeds; one found his spoils in a priesthood or behind a consulate; another in a provincial governorship; another behind the throne, and all was one delirium of hate and terror; slaves were bribed to betray their masters, freedmen their patrons. He who had no foe was destroyed by his friend.'
It was this to which the empire of Augustus, and Virgil's dream of a new Golden Age, had come within the space of half a century, an economically bankrupt empire of masters and slaves. The masters erected marble temples in their gardens, offered the accustomed prayers and sacrifices and saw that the priests were well fed, without, however, forgetting for a moment that their lives depended upon their bodyguards, as the integrity of the empire depended from day to day upon the armed legions which were as much in evidence in Rome as in Gaul and Syria. The slaves, and those partway between slavery and freedom, possessed no property whatever and few civil rights, their lives being valued scarcely more than the cattle of the fields. They milled about the cities with forlorn, unhappy restlessness, the soldier thinking that he might be dead tomorrow, the slave that he might be sold to a crueler master, the freedman that he might be back in servitude. It was common talk that something was soon to happen -- matters would be different when Dionysus, or Apollo, or Mithra, came again next year; the Jews talked of a messiah whom they expected to establish a new kingdom; Virgil had written that one day there would be born a child who would 'rule with his father's virtues the world at peace.'
With no outlet for ambition or physical action, no power to break the fetters of unending servitude, the only avenue for hope lay in those mystical and ecstatic experiences which were the presentiments of heaven. Men vacillated between temples of Apollo and Serapis, between mysteries of Mithra and Isis, discoursing on Hades and righteousness and holiness, and seeking in ritual or abstinence or self-mortification an escape from the common lot of misery. Diffusion of Greek ideas had made the old faiths inadequate without displacing them from popular affection; what was needed was a faith that would compound the new abstractions -- incorruptible, invisible, perfect, infinite, matter, spirit -- with the ancient rituals, one that would also elevate the soldier, slave and pauper from their lowly rank. Above all, it must be a faith that would give meaning to the restlessness and apprehension that everywhere led men to anticipate a catastrophic and perhaps world-wide change.
When the new faith did appear, its novelty was most evident in its declaration that the end of the world, a terrible holocaust which was to be a Day of Judgment and the beginning of the Kingdom of God, was expected next week, or the week thereafter. Originating from one or more Jewish cults which had rebelled against the Law, its sectaries were preaching a Messiah and proselytizing gentiles who had no Jewish blood.
Schisms among the Jews were by no means new. From the days when Hosea, condemning the young married women who sacrificed at the sanctuaries of the sacred trees, had declared that 'Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer,' the inspired mission of the prophets had been the protection of the faithful from false gods and wicked practices; but as the Wall of Law had grown more stringent by expansion of the priestly code, liberal-minded Jews had in increasing numbers been forced to abandon their fathers' god. Judaism had always been handicapped by the fact that it had only philosophic attraction for those who were not of Jewish birth. Yahweh had little emotional appeal; he was so terrible a moral censor that he could not behold iniquity, so righteous that he could not condone frivolity; he was the very symbol of the imprisoning maze of Judaic purity. He was too awful to be easily loved and, since the exile, so impersonal and ethereal that only the introspective Jewish mind, tutored since birth in the traditions of Israel, could entertain for him a heartfelt affection. Above all, he was the ethnic god of the Jews and his converts were required not only to exchange their beliefs but to forego their racial traditions, their family ties, their daily habits, in order to be acceptable within his fold. The pagans had long laughed at the Jews for their meticulous observance of the Law, and at the Law itself -- all this business of circumcision, of Sabbath-keeping, of tithes and temple rituals, of the washing of pots and pans and knives, of blood and butter taboos, was to them an incomprehensible fussiness which meant nothing and achieved nothing, a pathetic comedy of exaggerated holiness. Such Jews as wandered far from the Holy City and rubbed shoulders constantly with the pagans could not themselves keep within the Law and perforce had to abandon it; and it was inevitable that as they acquired knowledge of the human, genial qualities of the gentile gods and of their ceremonies and mystery plays, certain of them should hybridize with gentile faiths.
The Messiah, the central spiritual figure in the doctrines of this new faith, was an orthodox if complex product of pure Jewish speculation. The Old Testament prophets had spoken of the coming of the Kingdom of Yahweh, meaning that on the Day of the Lord all existing governments would be destroyed and Yahweh would appear in person as the supreme ruler of the earth. Joel made it clear that the day on which Yahweh came would be a day of judgment when the unrighteous, or gentiles, would be annihilated. Quite unrelated to this expected military triumph of Israel's god, the messianic doctrine arose about the middle of the second century B.C., engendered independently within the apocalyptic literature. At this period the practice of prophecy had come to be viewed with something more than grave suspicion, Zechariah going so far as to class prophets with idols and unclean spirits, and to enjoin the father and mother of a would-be prophet to slay him out of hand as a liar and imposter. Accordingly, when a man felt himself bursting with prophecy, he was forced to write his cerebrations upon a weather-stained papyrus and to unload them on his neighbors as the work of some ancient sage who had been long dead and could not refute the compliment. Such literature is called pseudepigraphic or apocryphal (written under a false name), and since its purpose was to reveal the future, apocalyptic (to uncover or reveal).
In the stress of the Maccabean war (ca. 164 B.C.) one of the fanatic members of the mob of bandits who called themselves Maccabees forged such a prophecy under the name of an ancient sage, Daniel, who traditionally had lived in the period of the captivity. It was made to appear that the Babylonian Daniel had foreseen events up to the date of writing and, in weird oriental symbolism, it was revealed how four empires were to succeed one another, first Babylon, represented by a lion, then Media, represented by a bear, followed by Persia, represented by a leopard, and Macedonia, represented by a monster which for lack of known equivalent must remain unnamed. In olden days Jeremiah had prophesied that after seventy years Israel would be restored to the blessings of the Kingdom of the Lord under the dynasty of the family of David; now, according to pseudo-Daniel's calculation, 483 years had actually passed since Jeremiah's prediction, and he concluded that what Jeremiah had really meant was that seventy weeks of years (490) would pass before all would be fulfilled. Sixty-nine of these weeks having gone by, pseudo-Daniel believed that the Kingdom of the Lord would come when the last week of years had passed. Having used the symbolism of the four beasts to represent the four kingdoms of the earth which had come and the last of which was about to pass, pseudo-Daniel chose to symbolize the coming Kingdom of the Lord by an angelic creature 'like unto a son of man,' who would descend from the clouds, rather than rise out of the troubled deep. The expression was a familiar Semitic one commonly used in a generic sense, as one would speak of a 'son of Greece,' or a 'son of Adam,' and served in pseudo-Daniel's hands merely to give human form to the symbol which stood for the fifth and last kingdom now to come, in contrast to the animals which had previously been used.
At some time between 95 and 64 B.C., the writer or writers of the apocalyptic Book of Enoch (a patriarch who had been carried alive to heaven in the days before the Flood) converted pseudo-Daniel's literary expression into 'the Son of Man,' a supernatural being who had been created by the deity before the sun or stars. On the last day of the present and dreaded epoch in pseudo-Enoch's view, the dead would arise from their graves, the fallen angels would be ejected from hell, all sinners would be destroyed and the rebellious angels would be confined forever; there would be a new heaven and earth, and a general judgment would be held by this divine being, 'the Son of Man,' after he had taken his place on the throne. Here pseudo-Daniel's literary symbol is apotheosized into a supernatural vicegerent, and, by a quotation from Isaiah, is identified with that prophet's Servant of Yahweh, whom the Lord had 'anointed to preach good tidings unto the meek ... to bind up the broken-hearted.' An anointed one in Hebrew is Mashiah, an epithet applied to a priest or king who had been sanctified by the rubbing on of oil, while in Greek the word for one who had been anointed is christos; hence, on the identification in the Book of Enoch, the apotheosized symbol came to be spoken of as the Messiah or Christos.
By the time of II Esdras (ca. A.D. 69-96), a new empire had in fact appeared in the form of Rome; the writer of II Esdras, slightly rearranging the prophecy, identified the new world dominion with pseudo-Daniel's fourth beast, and anticipated its quick destruction: 'The time is fulfilled! The Kingdom of God is at hand!' 'The Age is hastening fast to its end!' The world would end with the Emperor Domitian, who was to die by the sword, and then would come 'the Messiah whom the Most High hath kept unto the end of the days, who is sprung from the Seed of David.' From the midst of the sea there was to arise a being in the likeness of a man who was to fly over the clouds of heaven and alight on Mt. Sinai; Zion was to be encompassed by an innumerable host gathered from the four winds of heaven; the whole host would be annihilated by the fiery breath of the Heavenly Man who came in the clouds of heaven, after which the Lost Tribes of Israel would cross the Euphrates and muster in Jerusalem under his rule. The Messiah would reign for 400 years, after which he would die, and then, following seven days of primeval silence, there would be a general resurrection and a judgment, and the righteous would enter into paradise, while the gentiles would pass into Gehenna.
In the Apocalypse of John (ca. A.D. 65), which was later received into the New Testament as the Revelation of John, the world is pictured as oppressed by the empire of Rome, when wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes and other calamities fall upon the unfortunate earth; in the midst of meteorological terrors Judaism gives birth to the Messiah who appears on Mt. Sinai in the form of a sacrificial Lamb, and is caught up to the throne of Yahweh after the gentiles gather against him and are destroyed; Satan is chained for a thousand years and there is a 'first resurrection' of the martyrs; the Messiah reigns for a millennium, after which Satan is released for a time and brings out the gentiles from the remote corners of the world; then there is a general and final resurrection of the dead and a last judgment; a new heaven and a new earth are created, a new Jerusalem comes down from heaven and the faithful enter into eternal felicity. Up to this date, the only hint of humanity in the Messiah or Heavenly Man is his identification as 'a son of David,' this expression meaning probably no more than that the coming prince was, of course, to be King of Israel.
The messianic notion is wholly lacking from the four books of the Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Books of Jubilees and the pre-Christian editions of the Sybilline Oracles; hence it represented a fairly circumscribed development within the faith. When, after the middle of the first century the spread of the messianic doctrine was abruptly accelerated by a strong impulse to proselytism, it was as a schism which was vigorously opposed by the orthodox Jewish church.
The chief exponent of the new movement was a Syrian Jew from Tarsus, named Paul, who was possessed of 'a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan,' which has been interpreted as epilepsy. As described in the Acts of Paul and Theda he was 'of a low stature, bald on the head, crooked thighs; handsome legs, hollow-eyed; had a crooked nose; full of grace.' This was apparently spiritual grace, for Paul was always acutely conscious of his physical infirmities. Argumentative and even querulous, he was given to alternating fits of violent rage and severe depression, and in his seizures he emitted inarticulate sounds, i.e., spoke 'in an unknown tongue ... unto God.' In such moments he experienced ecstatic visions which he prized above all waking realities. According to his own account he had persecuted the followers of the Messiah until one day, on the road to Damascus, he had fallen to earth and had been caught up into the third heaven and heard words which it was not lawful for a man to utter; thereupon he repented of his persecution, and became convinced that he had been personally charged to spread the faith, and to warn people of the coming Doomsday. Impelled by the fear that the last trump would sound before he had fulfilled his mission, he traveled about the empire propounding that the Messiah, whom he called Jesus, had already come, had suffered a sacrificial death by crucifixion and had ascended unto heaven. He proclaimed that the Day of Judgment would be next week, or the week after, and that those who wished to be saved should repent and be baptized and protect themselves by participation in a eucharistic meal.
By the end of the first century the Pauline movement had acquired a considerable body of legend which centered on Paul's crucified Messiah, a Jew who was sometimes called Jesus and sometimes Christ. The Greek name Jesus has been equated with the Hebraic Joshua (Yahweh saves), a name which had been possessed by a stormy Old Testament character who had performed some considerable miracles, and which, for this reason if for no other, had the veneration of the Jews. The Syrian form of Jesus, Yeschu, comes near to the Hebrew Yischak, or Isaac, the only son of Abraham, who was spared from sacrifice by the substitution of a ram, while the Greek word christos, from which the members of the cult came to be called christiani, had the same import of sanctity by unction for the pagans as for the Hebrews, and was, moreover, very similar to chresto, meaning 'good, excellent, gracious.' By these multiple meanings the name appealed to Jew, Syrian and Greek alike.
References in the Talmudic writings do not date before the destruction of the Temple and in any case convey little historical information since they are highly derogatory and admittedly prejudiced. The works of Seneca, Petronius, Pliny the Elder, Juvenal, Martial, Quintilian, Epictetus, Plutarch, Appian and Philo, written in the first century, make no mention of the origin or progress of the sect. Two references occur in the Antiquities of Josephus (93-94), one a eulogy of Jesus which represents, according to all authorities, a late Christian interpolation, and a second specifying James as the 'brother of Jesus called the Messiah.' This writer, probably for political reasons, does not mention the Christian movement in his comprehensive History of the Jewish War (75-79). Clement, a Christian leader of Rome, cited a Pauline epistle and mentioned Paul by name in a document which is variously dated from 95 to 150, and from the time of the Ignatian epistles, which were written sometime between 117 and 150, references to both Paul and Jesus became more frequent. Pliny the Younger, writing to Trajan about the year 111, referred at some length to the new movement in Bithynia and let it appear that it was of at least twenty years' standing in that province, and Suetonius, writing between 117 and 138, records that Claudius (41-54) had 'banished from Rome all the Jews who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestos,' and that Nero (54-68) had 'likewise inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect of men who held a new and maleficent superstition.'
The first explicit statement concerning Jesus's biography in secular literature occurs in the Annals of Tacitus, written within a few years to either side of 117. Here, in connection with the burning of Rome under Nero, it is said: 'In order, if possible, to remove the imputation [that Rome had been set on fire by his orders] he [Nero] determined to transfer the guilt to others. For this purpose he punished, with exquisite torture, a race of men detested for their evil practices, by vulgar appellation commonly called Chrestiani. The name was derived from Christus, who in the reign of Tiberius, suffered under Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judaea.' Some historians have debated whether this passage is wholly authentic, or contains Christian interpolations, but the answer is relatively unimportant since at this late date Tacitus probably could have obtained the all-important name of Pontius Pilate from Christian tradition.
In the canonical and apocryphal (false, obscure in origin and unapproved) literature of the sect not one line was written by anyone who could credibly claim to have seen Jesus in the flesh. The oldest documents are ostensibly the Epistles of Paul, the earliest of which, I Thessalonians, appears to date from about 51. Paul himself never saw Jesus except as an apparition who appeared to him in a seizure, and he was in any case less interested in a human Jesus than in his (Paul's) new doctrine of redemption; his Jesus is a mystical being possessing no human history, nothing in the way of worldly biography but death and resurrection. In the matter of interpolation the Pauline epistles are not above suspicion, but excluding two questioned passages that refer to the Lord's Supper and to 'the Twelve,' these letters tell only of a cult in which the crucified Jesus figures as the supreme purificatory sacrifice. Though information on the matter may have been current, they contain no reference to Jesus's birth, to his miracles or to his ethical teachings, even though the teachings are subsequently made to appear as the raison d' etre for the movement, while the miracles are advanced as proof of Jesus's divinity. All that can be recovered from Paul, the source closest to the namesake of Christianity in time, is that Jesus had quit the right hand of God and come to earth in order to serve as a supreme sacrifice for all men, that he had been crucified and had ascended again unto heaven and that redemption from sin could be gained by Jew and Greek regardless of circumcision, through the rite of baptism. If Paul knew more than this, he was not interested in the information and his accounts offer no confirmation of the elaborate details which are recorded in the later gospel narratives.
Of these, the first surviving account is the Gospel of Mark, at the earliest composed just before the destruction of the Temple (ca. 66-68). This was obviously a redaction of earlier manuscripts, and itself, perhaps with another manuscript, is supposed to have served as the basis for the compilation of the Gospels of Luke, Matthew and John. The conventionally accepted dates for these are 80 to 95, 100 and 110, respectively, though some critics would place the writing of all four gospels as late as 135 to 142.
Apart from the codices already mentioned in connection with the Old Testament, the oldest surviving manuscripts of the New Testament are represented by the Chester Beatty papyri, which contain fragments of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts, as well as imperfect leaves of a codex of the Pauline epistles, including portions of Romans, Philippians, Colossians and I Thessalonians, and about one third of Revelation. These are believed to date back to the middle of the third century, or perhaps as early as 200.
Counting these and all later manuscripts of the New Testament, numbering some 4,000 fragments, it has been estimated that the surviving copies present upwards of 150,000 discrepancies; most of these are of course trivial, but not a few are of considerable use to critics in tracing the early history of Christian beliefs before the text became more or less fixed. These differences arose in part from the fact that from the year 65 or thereabouts Christian teachers carried about with them a miscellany of epistles and other documents which were read aloud in the temples in the Jewish manner, and which replaced the fluid oral tradition of the so-called Apostolic Age. These documents consisted of papyrus rolls which were copied as needed, and as their number grew and the differences between them increased, they came not only to reflect but to engender schisms in belief. Of separate gospels, or writings purporting to describe the words and acts of Jesus, there existed in the second century more than fifty which are now known by name, though less than one tenth of them have survived. The four finally incorporated in the New Testament were the result of ecclesiastic selection in the second century, but several additional centuries elapsed before these were safe, not only from copyists' errors and presumed corrections in the text, but from less conscientious interpolations and deletions which were intended to give point to obscure passages or to remove others which proved offensive to the changing creed. Old Testament manuscript discrepancies are almost wholly of the accidental sort which occur unavoidably in copying and translation. New Testament discrepancies, however, are all too frequently intentional and were obviously made by persons who had new matter to insert and felt themselves free to take any liberties they chose. Comparisons of stem texts indicate that most of these interpolations were made in the second and third centuries. A single stem, the Byzantine, an elective compilation of various current manuscripts and itself circulating in several forms, served as the root for most of the Greek texts, as well as the Slavonic, Gothic, Latin Vulgate (383) and Syriac (411). Because of continued interpolation, the accepted text of the New Testament cannot be said to date earlier than the year 350.
Almost from the moment of its inception the Christian movement began to break up into sects over circumcision, marriage, taboos and contentious items in the creed, and with each schism it tended to lose its Jewish character by taking to itself pagan practices and beliefs. Its final pattern was determined not so much by the mystical doctrines which Paul bequeathed it as by the legends, dogma and organization which it acquired in the first three or four centuries of its development. It grew by absorbing competing theological ideas.
Toynbee lists eighty-seven correspondences between the story of Jesus's life and the stories of certain Hellenic 'saviors,' using this term in the human rather than the god-incarnate sense. Similarly there are a large number of common characters, scenes with common senses, common visual correspondences, common properties, and common but more or less unique expressions. In all cases the pagan stories are older, but only rarely would it seem that they directly influenced the Jesus story; rather both the pagan literature and the Christian legend obtained their patterns from the common stream of tradition. Notable among ancient tales as supplying the stuff for hero legends is that of Herakles, the peasant demigod who attained in late Hellenic time an idealized form and heroic stature. Herakles had a royal lineage, but a flaw in his genealogy; he miraculously escaped from a mortal danger in infancy; he was tempted in the wilderness; his career was an ordeal; his work obtained extraordinary publicity; he was commissioned by God to exercise a beneficent royal authority over all mankind; he suffered spiritual agony in the face of supreme challenge; he resigned himself to the will of his heavenly father and was sacrificed; after his death he came to receive religious worship; his mortal remains miraculously disappeared; he descended into hell; he appeared to the women of the entourage; and finally he ascended to heaven in a cloud. It was at Tarsus, the boyhood home of Paul, that Herakles-Sandan died a cruel death in an annual festival in order to enjoy a glorious resurrection.
This process of syncretic growth got the Christians into difficulties in connection with Jesus's paternity. In the ultimately accepted gospels Jesus was said to have been born of a virgin. This story did not become current until the later documents were forming, for Paul, the greatest authority on Jesus, said that he was born 'of the seed of David according to the flesh,' and in an early secular manuscript in the Vatican library, and again in the Sinaitic Codex, it is said that 'Jacob begat Joseph, and Joseph begat Jesus' -- that is, Joseph was forthrightly accepted as Jesus's physical father. The first reference to the virginity of Mary outside the New Testament is in the Ignatian epistles (?117-150), and one of the reasons given by critical students for accepting Mark as the earliest gospel is that its author knew nothing of either the birth or childhood of Jesus -- Mark's Jesus comes to earth full-formed to begin his ministry under John the Baptist.
The doctrine of the virgin birth was thoroughly familiar to the pagans. A supernatural origin had been ascribed to Egyptian Pharaohs centuries before, and Attis-Adonis had been born of the virgin Myrrha. In the disguise of a serpent the god Aesculapius had fathered Aratus of Sicyon, Apollo had fathered Julius Caesar and Augustus, and other gods had fathered Aristomenes, Alexander the Great, Cyrus, the elder Scipio, Mithra, Hermes, Perseus and Buddha. Juno, the wife of Jupiter, was supposed to become a virgin again each year, and as a virgin was said by the Romans to have born Cybele, Demeter, Leo, and Vulcan.
That Apollo had fathered Plato was solemnly attested by Plato's own nephew, Speusippus, and accepted by Aristotle's pupil, Klearchus, as well as by the historians Anaxilides and Diogenes Laertus. Plato was born of Amphictione when Ariston had been barred from having sexual relations with her until she should have given birth to the child begotten by Apollo. Similarly, before Mary's marriage to Joseph is consummated she becomes with child, and Joseph proposes to put her away when the angel appears to him in a dream and reveals what has come to pass. In obedience to this revelation Joseph 'did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her first born son' -- the exact instructions that are given to Plato's father. The parallel with the birth of Herakles is even more detailed: Amphitryon; the husband of Herakles's mother Alcmena, refrains, like Joseph and Ariston, from having sexual intercourse with his newly wedded wife until she has conceived and born a child whose paternity is divine. Before the birth of the divine child Alcmena and Amphitryon journey from Mycenae to Thebes, Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, so that the child has a birth place which is not his parents' home.
The second century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, writing a dialogue in which he engages with a Jew called Tryphon in defense of Christianity, is twitted by Tryphon, apropos of Jesus's birth, with having picked up a pagan tale comparable to that of DanaŽ, the daughter of the King of Argos. This king, having been warned by an oracle that DanaŽ would bear a son by whom he would be slain, confined his daughter in a brazen tower but Zeus descended to her through the windows as a 'shower of gold' (sunlight) and she gave birth to Perseus. To Tryphon's accusation, Justin Martyr replied, 'Why are we Christians alone of men hated for Christ's name, when we do but relate of him stories similar to what the Greeks relate of Hermes and Perseus? ... What we teach, we learned from Christ and the prophets who preceded him, and it is a true lore and more ancient than that of all other writers that ever existed; but we claim acceptance, not because our stories are identical with those of others, but because they are true.' Then he resorts to what was with him a favorite and unanswerable argument, that Satan had anticipated Christianity and imitated it in advance in the pagan cults: 'When I am told that Perseus was born of a virgin, I realize that here again is a case in which the serpent and deceiver has imitated our religion.'
The casual acceptance of the doctrine of the virgin birth among the pagans did not arise so much from a desire to absolve the mother from carnal intercourse, for this was not generally considered to be debasing, as from the wish to establish divine parenthood. The masses, even though fully cognizant of the physical basis of paternity, were far from believing intercourse to be necessary: they accepted that conception could follow the eating of certain nuts and fruits, the application of certain charms, or even more casual stimuli.
The Gospel of Luke was written, as is stated in its preamble, in order that one Theophilus, to whom it is dedicated, might 'know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.' To the end of making the virgin birth more 'certain' to Theophilus, the divine impregnation of Mary is rehearsed by a similar divine impregnation of her cousin, Elisabeth, the wife of Zacharias, and Zacharias is struck dumb for nine months because of his refusal to believe in the miracle. Presumably this was to be a warning to Theophilus.
In view of its general acceptance among the pagans, the plausibility of divine impregnation stood the Christians in good stead, inasmuch as many of the sect were strongly ascetic and rejected marriage as debasing and in any case unnecessary since the end of the world was at hand. When, after the repeated failure of the Day of Judgment to appear, the church was finally forced to place its sanction on the married state, the virginity of Mary was held as a divine antithesis against the carnal though necessary evil of connubial intercourse.
The Holy Ghost, as the divine power which impregnated Mary was subsequently designated, was depicted as taking the form of the amorous dove, sacred to Ishtar and Astarte, or of rays of light such as Zeus assumed when he visited DanaŽ and Herodotus said had fallen upon the sacred cow that afterwards gave birth to Apis. In medieval hymns Mary is described as conceiving 'through the ears,' echoing both the Egyptian belief that some animals are thus fertilized and the rabbinic theory, which received support from Tertullian, Origen and other churchmen, that it was through the ears that women were assailed by both good and evil angels. The spirits had a peculiar attachment for women with beautiful hair, and it was to protect them that Paul ordered women to keep their heads covered when in holy places. The lily was soon associated with pictures of the Virgin, the notion being prevalent that women by eating it became pregnant without the touch of man, and hence the flower became the symbol of purity.
The virgin birth was one of many details in which the writers of the gospels sought to demonstrate the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: it is specifically of the prophecy in Isaiah vii.14 that Matthew, after relating the appearance of the angel before Joseph, says (i.22), 'Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son ...' A prophecy in Micah (v.1) required the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem and not in Joseph's town of Nazareth, as the primitive tradition recorded in Mark assumes him to have been, and to reconcile this contradiction, Luke (ii.1-39) fabricated the story that the Roman emperor, for the purposes of a census, required every man and woman in the world to return by a specified date to the city of his or her birth; in the confusion of this mass exodus Joseph and the pregnant Mary traveled eighty miles over mountainous country to stage a timely arrival in Bethlehem. The census of Quirinus, governor of Syria, was in A.D. 6, yet Jesus was born before the death of Herod, which was in either 4 or 3 B.C., and, if the authority of Tertullian can be opposed to that of Luke, the birth was not in the census of Quirinus but the census of Saturninus, which was in 7 B.C. Matthew's solution of the problem is that after Jesus's birth his parents fled to Nazareth to escape the wrath of Herod (ii.19-23). To fulfill the messianic doctrine Jesus was given a royal descent from David, but to please the antiroyalist Samaritans he was made to repudiate this descent, and the recorded genealogy contains many irreconcilable contradictions.
In the canonical gospels Jesus was said to have been born in a stable, but in apocryphal writings the birthplace, as in the case of Mithra, was given as a cave, and in Mithraic monuments shepherds are shown tendering the infant offerings of first fruits. A particular cave at Bethlehem was long shown by Christians as the one in which Jesus had been born, and Jerome complained that in his day the pagans celebrated the worship of Adonis at that very place. A star, strongly suggestive of Ishtar, marked the evening of the birth, as a star had marked the birth of Mithra, and as other astronomical portents had marked the births of various gods and emperors; it was wise men, or magi, who followed it and carried gifts to the newborn infant, as three magi accompanied Tiridates to pay obeisance to the Emperor Nero. When Herod has all the innocents of Bethlehem and the surrounding district massacred, he is but imitating the effort of the Egyptian Pharaoh to kill the infant Moses, of Nimrod of Jewish legend trying to kill the infant Abraham, of Joab trying to kill the infant Hadad, and of the Roman senate, as in Suetonius's account, trying to kill the infant Augustus.
As in the legends of the birth, so in the morality of the gospels, there were few precepts which were not paralleled in the literature of other Mediterranean peoples. The Sermon on the Mount, the accepted repository of Christian teaching and piety, was a compilation from Psalms, Isaiah, Ecclesiasticus, the Secrets of Enoch, the Shemone Lesreh (a book of Hebrew prayers) and other sources. That it was compiled late is indicated by references to persecutions and false prophets, and by the mention of gentiles as opposed to Christians, usages which would have been meaningless in Jesus's time when no organized Christian bodies as yet existed. Its cardinal moral principle was but a positive rewording of the advice of the Pharisee, Hillel (40 B.C.), who, when asked by a proselyte to instruct him in the Jewish religion in the time during which he could stand on one foot, replied, "Do not unto others what is hateful to thyself; this is the whole of the Torah, all the rest is commentary."
The truly novel features in Jesus's morality were, first, 'love Jesus,' second, 'save yourself,' and third, 'love poverty of spirit and poverty of person,' -- all three themes springing from the apocalyptic expectation that this world's affairs were to be liquidated by an impending catastrophe, and that a new and blessed condition was to be imposed by divine fiat: 'this generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.'
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Jesus preaches brotherly love and forgiveness, yet he strictly prohibits his disciples from going to the Samaritans and gentiles, and, apparently referring to the dissemination of the faith, says, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine." He pleads for love to enemies, yet bitterly denounces the Pharisees as hypocrites, serpents, offspring of vipers, and condemns unbelievers to hell where there is everlasting torment. He preaches honesty, yet he instructs his apostles to be as 'wise as serpents and harmless as doves.' He concentrates malice and childishly offended dignity in his threat that 'whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.' He preaches peace, but warns his disciples: 'Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.' To please the ascetics he is born in a stable and made poor and homeless, to please the worldly he grows up to dine with the sinners and publicans. He insists upon strict observance of the jot and tittle of the Mosaic law, yet he recommends its suppression and fails to keep it himself. He vacillates between mysticism, legalism and simple good works as a means to salvation. He exorcises devils out of one man only to drive them into an innocent man's swine so that the helpless animals rush away to self-destruction. The morality of Jesus is an eclectic system drawn from the multiple morality of the Roman Empire, constrained to a monotheistic pattern and fired to urgent fervor by the impending advent of doomsday.
The trial, crucifixion and resurrection with which the gospels end, although not directly borrowed from pagan custom as were so much of the legend and ethical instruction of the cult, represent an agglutination of familiar dramatic details around Jesus's death which, however considered historically, must be viewed as an expiatory sacrifice. For centuries the peoples of the Mediterranean had annually observed the death and resurrection of their gods. The Osirian drama so beloved by the Egyptians dated back certainly twenty-five, and perhaps thirty-five, centuries. Tammuz too had died a violent death, to be brought to life with the sprouting of the grain. So had Adonis been buried in a rocky tomb, mourned, and declared resurrected and ascended unto heaven. So had Herakles died and been resurrected at Paul's home. Until the pagan cults were forcibly repressed in the fourth century of the Christian period, the death and revival of Osiris, Dionysus, Persephone, Aphrodite, Eurydice, Attis and Mithra were familiar throughout most of the Roman Empire, while other rites, such as those of the Saturnalia, presented the death of the mock king who was sacrificed as a scapegoat for the people.
The passion of Jesus had been foreshadowed in the description of the 'man of sorrows,' which was to be found in Isaiah (i.3), and which was probably written in the sixth century B.C. by the unknown Babylonian prophet called Deutero-Isaiah in an attempt to depict Israel as the suffering servant of Yahweh: 'He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.' This poetic epitome of the captive Jews needed only a personal victim and slight modification of its dramaturgy to epitomize the god-king sacrifice prevalent on the Mediterranean shores.
In the account as ultimately formalized in the gospels, Jesus has reached the prime of life wherein beauty and maturity are combined; to fulfill a prophecy in Zechariah he comes to Jerusalem for the climax of the drama wherein a mock king is sacrificed, entering the city acclaimed by the people who cut branches from the trees and strew them in his path. Again in accordance with a prophecy of Zechariah (and not of Jeremiah as Matthew erroneously says) -- 'a goodly price that I was priced at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter' -- he is duly purchased by thirty pieces of silver to absolve the murderers from guilt. The mob demands his death and he is charged and tried with no one willing to speak in his defense; he is subjected to degradation, reviled and spat upon, bound with cords, carried before Pilate and accused by false witnesses; when Pilate asks him, "Art thou King of the Jews?" he admits the title by implication. Though Pilate is not convinced that he is worthy of death, the governor (who must be exonerated) yields to the multitude and, washing his hands of all guilt, turns him over to the soldiers, whereupon he is cruelly scourged that his tears may flow. Then he is dressed in royal purple, given a reed scepter in his right hand and crowned with thorns to increase his ignominy while the people mock him. He is offered the anodyne of aromatic vinegar, which he declines, and then he is sacrificed in the Roman fashion of crucifixion (though actually the Romans nailed malefactors to an upright pole with the hands above the head, the crucifix with the arms outstretched not appearing in Christian art until the seventh century). To fulfill the prophecy of Psalm xxii, the soldiers cast lots for his garments. His side is pierced so that from the wound may flow the blood without which the sacrifice would be meaningless. When he is dead his body is taken down and, according to John's account, anointed with a hundred-pound weight of myrrh and aloes and wrapped in linen swathes and buried royally in a great rock tomb which had never before been used -- all of which contrasts sharply with the usual fate of ordinary criminals whose bodies were thrown into a common pit. The death is marked by an eclipse, as was alleged to have been the case with Julius Caesar, Augustus and Drusus, although no eclipse is recorded by historians, and if, as it was related, the crucifixion occurred at the Jewish Passover, the moon was full and a solar eclipse was impossible. On the third day the women came to mourn him, and found an empty tomb. That three days was the period in which revitalization was traditionally believed to be possible is attested by several sources, among them the answer made by Martha when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; it had, moreover, been the prophecy of Hosea that 'After two days will he revive us: in the third day will he raise us up.' After the resurrection, Jesus is seen in visions by his followers, and then he ascends to heaven to sit at the right hand of God.