[9/6/2004] from: Pagan Christs, J.M. Robertson, University Books, c1967 (1903).

'INTRODUCTION [Hector Hawton 1901 - 1975]

The first edition of Pagan Christs was published in 1903 and was intended to complete the task J.M. Robertson [1856 - 1933] began in an earlier volume, Christianity and Mythology. His main aim was to show that alleged historical events on which Christianity was based had never occurred, and that the reputed Founder [Jesus] of Christianity had never existed. The myth theory [exposition] goes back to the eighteenth century when Volney [1757 - 1820] argued that Jesus was a solar myth derived from Krishna. In 1840 Bruno Bauer [1809 - 1882] contended that Jesus was an invention of Mark. In the first decade of the present century there was widespread interest in the myth theory and the works of Thomas Whittaker [1856 - 1935], W.B. Smith [1850 - 1934] and Arthur Drews [1865 - 1935]—variants which differed from Robertson in detail. They relied on the wealth of data on anthropology and comparative religion which was contained in the massive studies of Frazer [Sir James George Frazer 1854 - 1941], Jevons [William Stanley Jevons 1835 - 1882], Durkheim [Emile Durkheim 1858 - 1917] and others, as well as the new light thrown on biblical origins. Robertson's most distinctive thesis is that the Gospel story of the Last Supper, the Agony, the Betrayal, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection was a mystery play which came to be accepted as an account of real happenings. The origin of this ritual drama is an ancient Palestinian rite in which an annual victim, known as "Jesus (Joshua) the Son of the Father" was actually sacrificed.

          Passion plays were a common feature of the popular religion of Greece and Egypt. Like Christ, such pagan gods as Adonnis, Attis, Osiris and Dionysus were slain in periodical mimicry, only to rise again in triumph. Robertson's thesis is that the make-believe of drama is an evolution from the more primitive and savage reality of human sacrifice. In Pagan Christs he therefore assembles an impressive body of evidence showing how the evolution of religious ideas and practices follows a similar pattern throughout the world. As civilization progresses the sacrifice of the son of the ancient king was modified by the use of a surrogate—either a criminal or an animal. The collective eating of the victim—cannibalism in its earliest phase—gave rise to symbolic communion with bread and wine. Parallel rites to the Christian eucharist are found in the worship of Mithra and Dionysus and the gods of ancient Mexico.

          Another line of evolution is from the primary god to the secondary or Teaching god. In most ancient religions there are myths of divine Teachers who were lawgivers or who introduced agriculture, writing and building. These secondary gods may or may not be both sacrificed saviors and teachers. Jesus Christ was both. Buddha was not sacrificed, but he satisfied the craving for a Teacher who would provide moral instruction and the way of salvation. But



          The vast canvas employed by Robertson was necessary when he advanced his theory for the consideration of contemporary scholars; but for the nonspecialist reader the complexity of the argument and the abundance of detail undoubtedly distract attention from the essential outline of the mythicist case. In this edition the original version has been pruned to enable the ordinary reader to see the wood that may have seemed obscured by the trees. Lengthy refutations of now forgotten authors and references to books that are either obsolete or inaccessible have been eliminated. Inevitably this has involved some simplification of the presentation. Robertson's mind was so loaded with obscure knowledge that the sheer weight of erudition is sometimes in danger of defeating its object except for those whose scholarship is as profound—and they are few.

          The fact that since Robertson's death the mythicist case has been regarded as unfashionable may not be unconnected with the virtual disappearance of biblical scholars who are not clergymen. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls may well lend new and powerful arguments in its favor. No one would have been more delighted than Robertson by the sort of developments hinted at by Mr. John Allegro [1923 - 1988]. But Pagan Christs can bear the most critical scrutiny and stand on its own merits. The information it contains about the brutal and bizarre world of religious fantasy is as astonishing as it is sobering.

* * * * *

John Mackinnon Robertson was born in the Isle of Arran on November 14, 1856 and died in 1933. He left school at the age of thirteen and after that was entirely self-educated. Despite early handicaps his indomitable will and energy enabled him to master completely six languages and acquire the erudition which qualified him to compete on equal terms with leading scholars of the day. Not only was he recognized as an authority on comparative religion—which he preferred to call 'heirology'—but he was also a Shakespearean scholar of distinction. As a young man he entered newspaper journalism which seemed in his circumstances to hold the most promising opportunities. He was a leader writer on the staff of the Edinburg Evening News until 1884 when he was invited by Charles Bradlaugh [1833 - 1891] to come to London and contribute regularly to the National Reformer. When Bradlaugh died he became editor of this freethought journal, and when it ceased publication owing to financial difficulties he launched the Free Review. This was transformed four years later into the University Magazine and Free Review.

          In 1897–8 Robertson lectured throughout the United States and in 1900 he accepted a commission from the Morning Leader to visit South Africa and report on the working of martial law. His literary output in articles and books was enormous and yet he found time to play a prominent part in the political arena. He was elected Member of Parliament for Tyneside in the great Liberal landslide of 1906. During his thirteen years in Parliament he surprised many who had looked upon him as a scholar absorbed in mainly academic interests. He made his mark in the debates on Free Trade and showed himself to be a capable administrator and man of affairs. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade from 1911 to 1915, when he was made a Privy Councillor.


          There can be no doubt that of all the fields his powerful intellect explored religious controversy was nearest his heart. He was one of the leading exponents of what came to be known as the 'mythicist' theory of Christianity. This is developed in Christianity and Mythology, which was followed by Pagan Christs (1903). Of his historical studies the History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century and A Short History of Freethought are still the most authoritative works on the subject. He wrote prolifically on politics, sociology, and literary criticism, and among these books may be mentioned Modern Humanists, An Introduction to English Politics, Montaigne and Shakespeare and Did Shakespeare write Titus Andronicus?

          Although not an orator gifted with the eloquence of Bradlaugh [Charles Bradlaugh 1833 - 1891] and Ingersoll [Robert G. Ingersoll 1833 - 1899], Robertson was a highly effective platform speaker. He did not suffer fools gladly and his polemics were characterized by an asperity and sometimes harshness. Meticulously careful in verifying facts he was merciless in his exposure of slipshod argument and woolly thinking.


So far from Christianity being an exception it is a conspicuous example of such a development.


The primary objects of worship give ground in course of time to secondary gods. Most of these are lawgivers and moral teachers; some are saviors who are sacrificed and brought to life again. The various savior-gods, whose death and resurrection are periodically celebrated, give this book its title Pagan Christs.

          WHEREAS IT IS GENERALLY SUPPOSED THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS A REAL PERSON who was crucified in Palestine by order of Pontius Pilate, no one seriously claims that Adonis, Attis and Osiris were historical characters. Similarly, Mithra, whose cult rivalled Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl, the gods of ancient Mexico, seem obviously mythical. Why, then, is an exception made of the alleged Founder of Christianity? It cannot be because the miraculous events associated with the 'Pagan Christs' are incredible; they are no more so than the Gospel narratives. The fact that the religions of ancient Egypt, Greece and Mexico have no followers today does not disprove their claims. A story may be true even though nobody believes it. Finally, it may be contended that Christianity introduced a new ethical message, therefore it must have been the creation of a remarkable personality. Such a 'tremendous innovation cannot have arisen spontaneously. Like Buddhism and Mohammedanism, the teaching bears the stamp of religious genius at the very least.


          In order to deal with these objections and establish a case in favor of the theory that Jesus is as mythical as Attis and Osiris, it is necessary to show that all the savior-gods, throughout the world, have common features due to common antecedents. It is not that all these cults need have originated in one centre from which they were dispersed, but that they have all evolved from the same type of primitive ritual, namely human sacrifice. We know that in Mexico and Peru human sacrifice on a huge scale was practised in the sixteenth century A.D. In the Graeco-Roman world, however, it had virtually died out at the beginning of our era. That it was once prevalent in the Middle East, including Palestine, is quite certain, and the story of Abraham and Isaac is one of the pointers to the practice of human sacrifice by the earliest Hebrews.

          The general pattern of sacrificial rituals down to the time of Christianity can be traced as follows:

          All victims, animal or human, were slain and then eaten. Apart from offerings to the gods there were two types of sacrifice: (1) Totem-sacrifices, in which the victim was either eaten as the god or as a mode of union with the divine ancestor or as a totem species; (2) Human sacrifices, usually involving prisoners of war, who were eaten for a variety of reasons. They could be thank-offerings for victory, they might be 'sin' offerings, or vegetation charms, or serve the purpose of sanctifying new buildings.

          At a later stage we find the idea of priestly efficacy in which the sacramental meal is blessed by a sacerdotal caste. When this requires human sacrifice the victim (a) represents the god, (b) is a king or a king's son, (c) is a first-born or only son. From this barbarous beginning the use of surrogates is a natural step towards more civilized societies. Animals then take the place of the human victim, and when even animal sacrifices become objectionable the ancient rite is performed symbolically. There is a mystery drama, for example, in which an actor impersonates an unjustly slain god. With the further growth of a priesthood an official ritual is fashioned and what was once a cannibal feast is refined into a symbolical communion, bread and wine being substituted for real flesh and blood.

          Christianity is not unique in this respect. Eucharistic rituals are prefigured in the Zoroastrian deification of a special liquid (Haoma) and in the Vedic drink, Soma, of India. In the worship of Dionysos communion with the god is by means of wine. In the Mithra rite communion is effected by bread and water, and the early Christians are so shocked by its resemblance to their own Lord's Supper that they described it as an invention of the devil to deceive the faithful. There were other, striking parallels even more plainly related to a savage past. Salvation and eternal life were conferred on the Mithraist by being baptised either with the blood of a bull or that of a ram, hence, the derivation of the phrase 'washed in the blood of the lamb,' and the invocation 'Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi' (Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world).

          The close connection of the central rite of the Christian Church with similar rites which are themselves refinements of a primeval custom of human sacrifice does not dispose of the historicity of Christ though it raises considerable doubt. It calls for a re-examination of the Gospel story in the light of what is known of ancient religion.


For if in the pre-Christian era ritual sacrifice sometimes gave place to a Passion play, is it not possible that the Gospel narrative may not be history but the script of a drama? Such an hypothesis can be tested in several ways. It would receive confirmation if some of the details can be shown to be parallel to the procedures of primitive human sacrifice; and further, if the stage limitations of time and space would explain some puzzling inconsistencies in the story.

          There are many examples in early religions of the human victim of ritual sacrifice being deified in the process. An instance which fortunately came under the notice of a scientific observer occurred as late as the middle of the nineteenth century in the Indian province of Orissa. The Khonds, an aboriginal hill tribe, have a supply of victims who know they will be sacrificed one day. They have either been bought as children, or they have volunteered, since by such a death they are made gods. They are slain while bound to a cross, but at one stage they are given a stupefying drug and their legs are broken.

          The most significant parallels in the Khond rite and the Christian crucifixion are the cross, the merciful offer of a drink, the fact that the god-man victim is willing and yet 'bought with a price.' Normally the legs of Christ would have been broken, as this was common practice in many forms of animal and human sacrifice. At a higher stage of evolution, however, it is felt that a maimed victim is unseemly.

          Among the Semites there is a tradition that the sacrifice by a king of his son is extremely efficacious. The reference in Matthew 27.16.17 to Barrabas was long accepted in the primitive church to read 'Jesus Barrabas,' and this is translated 'Son of the Father.' There are grounds for surmising a pre-Christian cult of Jesus (Joshua), associated in remote times with human sacrifice. Other influences were also at work in fashioning the Christian mystery drama, notably the widespread myths of a dying and resurrected god and the sacrifice of a mock-king at Rhodes at the feats of Kronos. In Semitic mythology Kronos 'whom the Phoenicians call Israel' sacrifices his only son after putting upon him royal robes. In the historical period the victim who played the part of the king's son was a condemned criminal.

          The mock-crowning and robing of Christ recalls, too, the Sacaea ceremony of ancient Babylon. In all cases where an annual victim may have been hard to procure there was the bait of unlimited luxury and license for a year. At the end of this period, in Asia as in Mexico, the victim had to be discredited before being slain. It was also common practice to offer a narcotic to deaden pain during the execution.

          Throughout Egypt and the Middle East it is an unquestionable fact that mystery plays were performed which enacted a ritual sacrifice. The Egyptians played the death of Osiris. Effigies of Adonis and Attis were used in representations of their death and resurrection. So, too, Mithra's burial and triumphant rising from the tomb. It would not be surprising if the Christian story were also dramatised. Paul, in Galatians (iii-I) seems to refer to the impersonation of Christ crucified. One proof that the story of the Supper, Passion, Betrayal, Trial and Crucifixion is based on a drama is given in the compression of the events for obviously theatrical reasons. One striking piece of evidence is the prayer put into the mouth of Jesus when no one could have


heard what he said. Only in transcription from a dramatic text could such incongruities have arisen.

          One of the objections brought against the myth theory is that such a lofty ethical teaching as is contained in the New Testament could only have originated in a religious genius. Against this argument it can be shown that


And of all religions the one that lays most emphasis on ethics—at least in its pristine form—is Buddhism. Yet the teaching of Gotama was not committed to writing for long after his presumed death, and there were many other 'Buddhas,' since 'Buddha' like 'Christ' is a title, not a proper name.

          In the history of religion there are many Teaching gods, but few would be claimed as real by the secular historian. Mohammed [c. 570 - 632] is an exception. He founded a new religion and there is sound evidence of the circumstances of his life, but he has never been deified.

Although GOTAMA [BUDDHA] is not a god he is regarded as a superhuman being and his biography contains the usual cluster of legend. He BELONGS TO MYTH, NOT HISTORY.

          The 'Christs' of the world function as secondary, Teaching gods, whatever theological or metaphysical explanations are provided by their followers. Paradoxically enough, the highest ethical teaching is sometimes combined with savage and blood-thirsty rites. In ancient Mexico the priesthood were mostly celibate, and they taught the people to be peaceful, to bear injuries with meekness and to be compassionate to the sick and the poor. Yet they indulged in mass human sacrifices.

          In the case of Mithraism and Christianity the memory of this primitive and barbaric cult was lost, but the vestigial remains can be recognized under the symbolic guise of religious drama. What was once the literal eating of a supposedly divine victim became communion with the god in a symbolic rite. Those who devoutly participated in the dramatic representation of death and resurrection and in eating the god became convinced that Mithra or Christ were real persons. Like many other savior gods, they were personifications that emerged from a rite, and their doctrines reflected human aspiration.

London May 1966                                                      Hector Hawton [1901 - 1975]" [5-12],


"Chapter Seven

THE BUDDHA MYTH" [J.M. Robertson 1856 - 1933] [74]


It is after Jesus has been deified that he is provided with a mother and a putative father and brothers; and it is in the latest gospel of all that we have some of the most circumstantial details of his life and deportment.

          On these grounds it is submitted that


Each figure [Buddha. Jesus.] shows how the religious mind manufactured a myth in a period in which the making of primary Gods had given way to the making of Secondary-gods. The mythopoeic ["Of or relating to the making of myths." (] process satisfied the craving for a Teacher-god who should originate religious and moral ideas as the earlier gods had been held to originate agriculture, art, medicine, law and civilization.

          Buddhism, like Christianity, is a "failure" from the point of view of its traditional origins. In the case of Burma it admittedly did more to mold the life of the whole people towards its highest ethic than Christianity ever did; but in India, where it arose, it collapsed utterly. It was overthrown by Brahmanism which set up in its place a revived polytheism.

          On our naturalistic view of the rise of the Teaching-gods,


One reason why the original teaching failed is that men persisted in crediting purely human aspiration to supernatural beings. Men who are taught to bow ethically to a divine Teacher are not taught ethically to think. Any aspiration so evoked is factitious, verbal, emotional, not reached by authentic thought and experience. When the wisdom or un-wisdom of the nameless thinkers in all ages is recognized for what it is—as human and not divine—the nations may become capable of working out for themselves better gospels than the best of those which turned to naught in their hands while they held them as revelations from the skies.' [84] [End of Chapter Seven].