Chapter 12: More Falsehoods.—Resurrection-Witnesses Multiplied.—World's End Predicted.—to Save Credit, Antichrist Invented
Section 1: Resurrection-Witnesses Multiplied
After what has been seen of the seven days' course of perjury, proofs of simple falsehood will be apt to appear superfluous. To make certainty more sure, two preeminent ones shall, however, be brought to view. They may have their use, were it only as examples of the palpableness, of those falsehoods, which, for so many hundreds of years, and through so many generations of commentators, are, under favourable circumstances, capable of remaining undetected. The extravagance of the addition, made by the audacious stranger, to the number of the Resurrection-witnesses, as given by themselves:—the predicted end of the world in the prophet's own lifetime,—and the creation of Antichrist for the purpose of putting off that catastrophe,—may even be not altogether unamusing, by the picture they will give, of that mixture of rashness and craftiness, which constitutes not the least remarkable, of the ingredients in the composition of this extraordinary character. Moreover, Antichrist being in the number of the bug-bears, by the images of which many an enfeebled mind has not yet ceased to be tormented;—putting an extinguisher upon this hobgoblin may have the serious good effect, of calming a mass of disquietude, which how completely soever groundless, is not the less afflicting, to the minds into which it has found entrance.
First, as to the resurrection-witnesses. In relation to a fact of such cardinal importance, the accounts which have reached us from the four biographers of Jesus are not, it must be confessed, altogether so clear as could have been wished. But, on so ample a subject, howsoever tempting the occasion, anything that could here be offered, with any promise of usefulness, would occupy far too much space, and be by much too wide a digression from the design of the present work.63
Sufficient to the present purpose will be the observation, that nothing can be more palpably or irreconcileably inconsistent with every one of them, than the amply and round number, thus added by the effrontery of this uninformed stranger, to the most ample that can be deduced from any of the accounts, thus stated as given by the only description of persons, whose situation would give to their testimony the character of the best evidence.
Behold now the account of the number and of the persons in Paul's own words. It is in the fifteenth chapter of the first of his two letters to his Corinthians.
As to the five hundred brethren at once, with the additions in petto, the more closely the Gospel accounts are looked into, the more entire will be a Man's conviction of the extravagance of this account. In addition to the eleven Apostles that remained after the death of the traitor Judas, it may be matter of question, whether so much as a single individual can be found, who, in any one of the Gospels, is stated as having, after the death of Jesus, received from the testimony of sense, the demonstration of his presence. Of the percipient witnesses in question, not to waste space and time in needless discussions, taking a round number, and including both sexes taken together, no number approaching to twenty can be made out from any one of the four Gospel accounts, nor from all of them taken together. To what end then substitute, to less than twenty, more than five hundred? To what, but to supply by falsehood the deficiency left by truth. The thing to be done was the coming up to the expectations, whatever they might be, of his Corinthians. Number twenty,—said he to himself,—may perhaps fall short: well then, strike out the twenty, and set down five hundred. Thus did the self-constituted Apostle take a leaf out of the book of the unjust steward.(Luke 16:1-20.)
Now then as to mutually contradictory numbers—that given by the four Evangelists, and that given by this one stranger,—to which shall we give credence? As to the Evangelists,—whether, in the situation in which they were, and writing for the purposes for which they wrote,—these most intimate of the associates of the departed Jesus, and percipient witnesses of the several facts in question,—all of them spoken of in the same narration, all of them so fully apprised of the whole real number—could have been disposed, any one of them, to get down a number short of the truth,—may be left to anyone to imagine.
But, according to Paul's calculation, the truth would not come up to his purpose:—to his particular purpose: a number, such as could not fail of doing so, was therefore to be substituted.
Five hundred was as easily written as twenty. Had Jerusalem, or any place in its neighbourhood, been the place, to which this letter of his was to be addressed, some caution might have been necessary. But Corinth—a place so remote from the scene of action—being the abode of the disciples, to whom this letter of his was addressed,—and the letters themselves, not destined to be seen by any other than devoted eyes,—Invention found herself at ease.
Meantime, while Jesus was thus magnified, Paul was not to be forgotten. Insufficient still would be the cloud of witnesses, unless himself were added to it. "Last of all," says he, 1 Cor. 15:8, "he," Jesus, "was seen of me also." Seen by him Paul? at what place? at what time? At the time of his conversion, when hearing a voice and seeing light, but nothing else? But the whole constellation of his visions will here be crowding to the reader's view, and any more particular reference to them would be useless: suffice it to observe, that on no other occasion, either does Paul himself, or his historiographer for him, take upon himself to say, that he had ever seen Jesus any otherwise than in a vision, whatsoever may have been meant by this so convenient term. On no occasion is it so much as pretended, either by him or for him, that in the flesh Jesus was ever seen by him. By no fingers of his murder-abetting hand, had ever been so much as pretended to have been probed, the wounds of Jesus. Yet, what are the terms employed, by him, in speaking of the sight, he pretended to have had of Jesus? exactly the same, as those employed by him, when speaking of the evidence, vouchsafed to the Apostles.
63 The account given by Luke of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus is contained in the last chapter, chap. 24:53. According to this account, by no men was Jesus seen in the interval between those two events, besides the eleven Apostles and a few others, all together not more than enough, to sit down together at meat, in one of the houses of a village.(Luke 25:9, 28-30.) Number of the occasions on which Jesus was seen by the Apostles, two: the company the same without addition, and both occasions having place within twenty-four hours. Between these two occasions it is that Paul sticks in the one of his own invention, in which Jesus was seen by above five hundred brethren at once.
Point-blank on this head is the contradiction given to this story of Paul's, by his own attendant and historiographer: namely, in the account put into the mouth of Peter, speaking to Centurion Cornelius. Expressly is it there said,
64Follows a sample of Paul's logic wrapped up as usual in a cloud of tautologies and paralogisms, the substance of which amounts to this:—Jesus resurrects; therefore all men will do the same. Admitting the legitimacy of this induction, what will be the thing proved? That every man, a few days after his death, will come to life again, and eat, drink, and walk in company with his friends.