From The Archives
ROBERT INGERSOLL (1833 – 1899)
The Great Agnostic
We have the New Testament, the sequel of the Old, in which Christians find the fulfillment of prophecies made by inspired Jews.
The New Testament vouches for the truth, the inspiration, of the Old, and if the old is false, the New cannot be true.
In the New Testament we find all that we know about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
It is claimed that the writers were divinely inspired, and that all they wrote is true.
Let us see if these writers agree.
Certainly there should be no difference about the birth of Christ. From the Christian’s point of view, nothing could have been of greater importance than that event.
Matthew says: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
“Saying, where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.”
Matthew does not tell us who these wise men were, from what country they came, to what race they belonged. He did not even know their names.
We are also informed that when Herod heard these things he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him; that he gathered the chief priests and asked of them where Christ should be born and they told him that he was to be born in Bethlehem.
Then Herod called the wise men and asked them when the star appeared, and told them to go to Bethlehem and report to him.
When they left Herod, the star again appeared and went before them until it stood over the place where the child was.
When they came to the child they worshiped him,—gave him gifts, and being warned by God in a dream, they went back to their own country without calling on Herod.
Then the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary and the child into Egypt for fear of Herod.
So Joseph took Mary and the child to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.
Then Herod, finding that he was mocked by the wise men, “sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof from two years old and under.”
After the death of Herod an angel again appeared in a dream to Joseph and told him to take mother and child and go back to Palestine.
So he went back and dwelt in Nazareth.
Is this story true? Must we believe in the star and the wise men? Who were these wise men? From what country did they come? What interest had they in the birth of the King of the Jews? What became of them and their star?
Of course I know that the Holy Catholic Church has in her keeping the three skulls that belonged to these wise men, but I do not know where the church obtained these relics, nor exactly how their genuineness has been established.
Must we believe that Herod murdered the babes of Bethlehem?
Is it not wonderful that the enemies of Herod did not charge him with this horror? Is it not marvelous that Mark and Luke and John forgot to mention this most heartless of massacres?
Luke also gives an account of the birth of Christ. He says that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus that all the world should be taxed; that this was when Cyrenius was governor of Syria; that in accordance with this decree, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be taxed; that at that place Christ was born and laid in a manger. He also says that shepherds, in the neighborhood, were told of the birth by an angel, with whom was a multitude of the heavenly host; that these shepherds visited Mary and the child, and told others what they had seen and heard.
He tells us that after eight days the child was named, Jesus; that forty days after his birth he was taken by Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem, and that after they had performed all things according to the law they returned to Nazareth. Luke also says that the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, and that his parents went every year to Jerusalem.
Do the accounts in Matthew and Luke agree? Can both accounts be true?
Luke never heard of the star, and Matthew knew nothing of the heavenly host. Luke never heard of the wise men, nor Matthew of the shepherds. Luke knew nothing of the hatred of Herod, the murder of the babes or the flight into Egypt. According to Matthew, Joseph, warned by an angel, took Mary and the child and fled into Egypt. According to Luke they all went to Jerusalem, and from there back to Nazareth.
Both of these accounts cannot be true. Will some Christian scholar tell us which to believe?
When was Christ born?
Luke says that it took place when Cyrenius was governor. Here is another mistake. Cyrenius was not appointed governor until after the death of Herod, and the taxing could not have taken place until ten years after the alleged birth of Christ.
According to Luke, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, and for the purpose of getting them to Bethlehem, so that the child could be born in the right place, the taxing under Cyrenius was used, but the writer, being “inspired” made a mistake of about ten years as to the time of the taxing and of the birth.
Matthew says nothing about the date of the birth, except that he was born when Herod was king. It is now known that Herod had been dead ten years before the taxing under Cyrenius. So, if Luke tells the truth, Joseph, being warned by an angel, fled from the hatred of Herod ten years after Herod was dead. If Matthew and Luke are both right Christ was taken to Egypt ten years before he was born, and Herod killed the babes ten years after he was dead.
Will some Christian scholar have the goodness to harmonize these “inspired” accounts?
There is another thing.
Matthew and Luke both try to show that Christ was of the blood of David, that he was a descendant of that virtuous king.
As both of these writers were inspired and as both received their information from God, they ought to agree.
According to Matthew there was between David and Jesus twenty-seven generations, and he gives all the names.
According to Luke there were between David and Jesus forty-two generations, and he gives all the names.
In these genealogies—both inspired—there is a difference between David and Jesus, a difference of some fourteen or fifteen generations.
Besides, the names of all the ancestors are different, with two exceptions.
Matthew says that Joseph’s father was Jacob. Luke says that Heli was Joseph’s father.
Both of these genealogies cannot be true, and the probability is that both are false.
There is not in all the pulpits ingenuity enough to harmonize these ignorant and stupid contradictions.
There are many curious mistakes in the words attributed to Christ.
We are told in Matthew, chapter xxiii, verse 35, that Christ said:
“That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”
It is certain that these words were not spoken by Christ. He could not by any possibility have known that the blood of Zacharias had been shed. As a matter of fact, Zacharias was killed by the Jews, during the seige of Jerusalem by Titus, and this seige took place seventy-one years after the birth of Christ, thirty-eight years after he was dead.
There is still another mistake.
Zacharias was not the son of Barachias—no such
Zacharias was killed. The Zacharias that was slain was the son of Baruch.
But we must not expect the “inspired” to be accurate.
Matthew says that at the time of the crucifixion—”the graves were opened and that many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared unto many.”
According to this the graves were opened at the time of the crucifixion, but the dead did not arise and come out until after the resurrection of Christ.
They were polite enough to sit in their open graves and wait for Christ to rise first.
To whom did these saints appear? What became of them? Did they slip back into their graves and commit suicide?
Is it not wonderful that Mark, Luke and John never heard of these saints?
What kind of saints were they? Certainly they were not Christian saints.
So, the inspired writers do not agree in regard to Judas.
Certainly the inspired writers ought to have known what happened to Judas, the betrayer. Matthew being duly “inspired” says that when Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned, he repented and took back the money to the chief priests and elders, saying that he had sinned in betraying the innocent blood. They said to him: “What is that to us? See thou to that.” Then Judas threw down the pieces of silver and went and hanged himself.
The chief priests then took the pieces of silver and bought the potter’s field to bury strangers in, and it is called the field of blood.
We are told in Acts of the apostles that Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples and said: “Now this man, (Judas) purchased a field with the reward of iniquity—and falling headlong he burst asunder and all his bowels gushed out—that field is called the field of blood.”
Matthew says Judas repented and gave back the money.
Peter says that he bought a field with the money.
Matthew says that Judas hanged himself. Peter says that he fell down and burst asunder. Which of these accounts is true?
Besides, it is hard to see why Christians hate, loathe and despise Judas. According to their scheme of salvation, it was absolutely necessary that Christ should be killed—necessary that he should be betrayed, and had it not been for Judas, all the world, including Christ’s mother, and the part of Christ that was human, would have gone to hell.
Yet, according to the New Testament, Christ did not know that one of his disciples was to betray him.
Jesus, when on his way to Jerusalem, for the last time, said, speaking to the twelve disciples, Judas being present, that they, the disciples should thereafter sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Yet, more than a year before this journey, John says that Christ said, speaking to the twelve disciples: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil.” And John adds: “He spake of Judas Iscariot, for it was he that should betray him.”
Why did Christ a year afterward, tell Judas that he should sit on a throne and judge one of the tribes of Israel?
There is still another trouble.
Paul says that Jesus after his resurrection appeared to the twelve disciples. According to Paul, Jesus appeared to Judas with the rest.
Certainly Paul had not heard the story of the betrayal.
Why did Christ select Judas as one of his disciples, knowing that he would betray him? Did he desire to be betrayed? Was it his intention to be put to death?
Why did he fail to defend himself before Pilate?
According to the accounts, Pilate wanted to save him. Did Christ wish to be convicted?
The Christians are compelled to say that Christ intended to be sacrificed—that he selected Judas with that end in view, and that he refused to defend himself because he desired to be crucified. All this is in accordance with the horrible idea that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.