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If you've read my item on C. Dennis McKinsey, author of the Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, you may recall me quoting McKinsey with such claims as, "most scholars admit that the works of Tacitus have not been preserved with any degree of fidelity." I asked who these "scholars" were, for McKinsey provided no cite, and the Taciteans have said no such thing.
I now know that the above is from none other than the work of John Remsberg (variously spelled Remsburg), author early last century of a number of freethinker books, among them the one under study here, The Christ.
An alert reader sent me this summary of his qualifications: "John E. Remsburg (1848-1919) was one of the most popular and widely
travelled freethought lecturers of the late nineteenth century. Raised in
poverty in small-town Ohio and largely self-educated, Remsburg entered
adulthood as one of the youngest soldiers in the Union Army. During the Civil
War, he acquitted himself with distinction in the battle of Fort Stevens and
received a special certificate of commendation from President Lincoln
himself. After the war, he became a school teacher and eventually
superintendent of public education in Kansas."
Obviously, this is not someone who is qualified to speak on matters of Biblical history and interpretation. Let's look at some samples.
It is from Remsberg that McKinsey -- and now I realize, a number of Skeptics -- have taken some of their most unreasonable objections. For example, the above about Tacitus comes straight out of Remsberg: "It is admitted by Christian writers that the works of Tacitus have not been preserved with any considerable degree of fidelity. In the writings ascribed to him are believed to be some of the writings of Quintilian."
I should note that McKinsey erred in referral here; it wasn't "most scholars" even, but unnumbered "Christian writers" (whoever they were, Remsberg does not name them) who made this statement -- and that bit about Quintilian which is way off base. Remsberg also provides the argument that several writers, including Quintilian, a teacher of rhetoric, should have mentioned Jesus, but didn't.
It is also suggested that Tacitus' cite is to some extent a forgery, for "Origen, in his controversy with Celsus, would undoubtedly have used it had it existed." No justification is given for this; Remsberg's say-so is all the "evidence" given.
And: "The blood-curdling story about the frightful orgies of Nero reads like some Christian romance of the dark ages and not like Tacitus." Not that Remsberg provides an extended literary analysis and comparison between "Dark-Age" Christian romances and Latin historians. All he does, again, is say so, and that is taken to be sufficient.
Of the cite of Josephus it is said, "its brevity disproves its authenticity," for Josephus would not have dismissed a great being like Jesus in just a few lines. But doesn't that assume that Josephus thought Jesus was as great as Remsberg thinks he should have?
No surprise, Remsberg's source for Josephus is Nathaniel Lardner. Lardner, according to our research assistant "Punkish," died in 1768; his Works was published in 1788 [and it is this that has the list of reasons Remsberg uses against Josephus] and may involve stuff written much, much earlier [possibly 1723]. Lardner wrote his "Credibility on the Gospels" - used often by Robert Taylor, BEFORE he got his D.Div.
Here also McKinsey got his hint that Pliny's letter was a forgery because it is "found in but one ancient copy of Pliny." That story, Remsberg says, had to be off, too; Pliny wouldn't have tortured deaconesses, because "Never have the person and character of women been held more sacred than they were in Pagan Rome," and they would not be tortured unless proven guilty of a crime.
Really? And this is based on -- what? Nothing. No documentation, no quotations of Roman histories or sources.
Miracles are dismissed, in capital letters: "THE LAWS OF NATURE ARE IMMUTABLE." I may as well comment on this here.
Frankly, the "laws of nature" claim is overdone. Healing a blind man, for example, may simply involve no more than God doing some manipulation on a molecular level; stuff we try to do with lasers and theoretically could do with the right size of tweezers. Except for maybe ex nihilo creation, which was "pre-nature" anyway, God's miracles may not violate any natural laws at all -- He's just a little better and faster at doing what He does than we could ever hope to be.
More from Remsberg: We don't know Jesus' exact birthdate, and this is a problem -- why? Remsberg doesn't say why this isn't a problem when we don't know the same info for Julius Caesar (though Remsberg also relates the problem to "Christ" and is often vague about distinguishing between Christ and Jesus.
That Nazareth didn't exist is posited -- on that, see here.
Mary's hymn of praise in Luke, because it follows the pattern laid down by Hannah when Samuel was born, could not have possibly been inspired by God; otherwise it would have been more original, we are told. This is untrue: Per Malina and Rohrbaugh's social science commentary, it was considered to be a sign of talent and honor to be able to rework older traditions for new situations. Moreover, on what basis is it decided that inspiration only produces original material? This is merely claimed arbitrarily.
That John's Gospel does not name the Twelve "is admitted to be a grave defect in the Fourth Gospel" though who admits this, and why it is a defect is....yes, not explained
The Gadarene swine story is "ridiculous", because: "If each hog received a devil there must have been two thousand devils. [The demoniac] must have been a very large man, or they were very little devils." The story is also ridiculous because Voltaire says it is.
Matt. 14:2 is criticized because "the tetrarch of Galilee is represented as entertaining the Christian doctrine of a bodily resurrection." That was actually a Jewish idea long before Christ.
Language is used that would hardly pass muster if it were used of a minority group today. The apostles were "ignorant," from Palestine, "one of the most backward of countries; the Galileeans were the most ignorant of the inhabitants of Palestine." McKinsey also got here the idea that in calling himself the disciple Jesus loved, John was being a "vulgar egotist." (That's far from the case; the idea of "ego" -- again, see the social science commentaries -- is a product of modern, individualist societies; in John's day, it would be a frank confession of what he presumed to be fact.)
From Remsberg came also the idea that Jesus cried from the cross, "why hast thou sacrificed me?" If that's what's being said, then by the Greek, 2 Tim. 4:10 says, "For Demas hath sacrificed me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica..."
Remsberg gets quite pedantic at times. Remember the coin in the fish's mouth? He says: "Did Jesus miraculously create it? If so, he was a counterfeiter. Was it a lost coin? In this case, if he was omniscient, as claimed, he knew the owner and should have restored it." But isn't a "counterfeit" a fake coin, not a real one? And anyway, what if someone threw the coin in the water for fun like we do at fountains?
John 9:2 (the man born blind) is said by a "Mrs. Evans" to prove that there was a doctrine of transmigration (reincarnation) behind the story, and that the story was stolen from Buddhism. Who Mrs. Evans was is not said, but the verse actually relates to the Jewish idea that a fetus might be capable of sin. An alert reader informed me that Evans was the author yet another Christ-myth book, samples of which show her to be as adept at documenting claims as Remsberg was.
John 18:3 ("Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.") is dismissed because, "lanterns were unknown in Palestine." How so? Did something at the border stop the Romans and Greek traders from bringing them in? This claim, like the rest: thoroughly undocumented.
As for Christians being persecuted, Remsberg says no: Rome was "an empire where all religious sects enjoyed as perfect religious freedom as the different sects in America today." That is entirely false, as has been demonstrated by numerous scholars such as Robert Wilken (The Christians as the Romans Saw Them).
Remsberg also uses well known arguments about Mithra and Dionysus (see series here).
What may be said in closing? This is simply very poor scholarship. Remsberg is not a reliable source where he can be checked, and seems to have gone to some pains to make himself "uncheckable."
Now for some updated material. Our assistant has been busying himself looking into the sources Remsberg used for his work, and here are some tidbits of interest:
- Remsberg (the Christ, chp 2) quotes Bishop Warburton re: Josephus as "a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too" doesnt he? Know what, Warby was trained in law (and used his flair and knowledge to score points!). Lardner, the original source (Works Vol 6, supplement -- yep, relying on extras cobbled on to the main argument!)he cites Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses Vol i, Book 2, section 6 p295 (in which the supposed quote of how the Testimonium is false is not on that page).
- Rev Dr John Allen Giles. Historian, editor & translator. (translated Anglo Saxon works)
- Rev Sabine Baring-Gould (collector of folk songs!) Lost & Hostile Gospels, 1874 - he wrote this BEFORE becoming a parson, Remsberg does it again! His work is an essay on the Toledoth Yeshu, and Christian Evidences; and GRS Mead - a fellow Christ myther - writing on the same subject, severely reprimands him for "very uncritical" use of sources. No points for Remsburg then.
- Kneeland's Review. Abner Kneeland was a controversial Universalist who would 'expound' upon some 'objectionable' passage of scripture eg sanitary advice about women's menstruation, then throw the book across the auditorium as unfit for reading (Ernest Cassar, Universalism in America, 165) Also authored The American Definition Spelling Book. Who needs Josephean scholars when we can quote from Kneeland's Review? -- cited in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, p509, nt 39.
- Dean Milman historian of Latin Christianity
- Cannon Farrar - another churchman who AFTER publishing his book Life of Christ (quoted) goes on to popular preaching as minister at Westminster Abbey and became a Dean
- K Theodor Keim - you'll love this one, trained in philosophy and influenced by F C Baur (Tubingen). Prof theology at Zurich -- confirmed that he rejects the Testimonium but reconstructs the life of Christ from other sources (the Synoptics and the Christian Apocrypha)
- Isaak Hooykaas, a popularist of Strauss - even though Strauss explicitly said in his preface (first ed.) that his work should not be presented to laymen.
- Adolph Hausrath, aka George Taylor, fiction romance writer & another follower of the Tubingen school
Most of Remsburg's authorities are not listed by Schaff's History of the Christian Church (Warburton, Baring-Gould, Dr Giles, Chalmers, Campbell) because they either are not scholars or because they're too outdated - Schaff's scholarship (which Remsburg acknowledges elsewhere) goes back to about 1840. On the other hand, Schaff has lists of scholars which go for the full authenticity of the passage (Hauteville, Oberthür, Bretschneider, Böhmert, Whiston, Schoedel, Böttger), some for partial (Paulus, Heinichen, Gieseler, Weizsäcker, Renan, Farrar - Farrar's quote being after a discussion on Herod and is non-analytical) and two for "we think there was a negative mention of Christ here but the interpolator changed it" viewpoint (Paret, Ewald), all of which totally contradicts Remsburg's claim that Christian scholarship rejects Josephus as a historical witness.
What's so laughable about this is, Remsburg has all this information in front of him, because he quotes from the same chapter (Schaff, Vol.1 chapter 2) in The Christ, chapter 7! Clearly then, this work under study is presenting "arguments I like" rather than contemporary, analytical scholarship. So much for Remsburg the journalist! This is definitely the least credible work I've ever read!
So there you have it, a bunch of guys whose works shouldnt be cited as an authority (when they were written), yet they are. Argument by authority, point scoring and making mountains out of molehills!
More from Tekton Research Assistant "Punkish":
- Remsburg, chapter 1, claims "Hume's masterly argument against miracles has
never been refuted" - this is false as it stands. The cite that then follows
has been addressed, by Thomas Rutherforth, during Hume's lifetime (he calls it "inconclusive" and that "that no supernatural degree of testimony
is necessarily required to prove the existence of a miracle", 1751 with Ye
Olde English) and further, for Remsburg's subtitle to be believable ("A
Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence") he should at
least have examined this argument and made a reply. He should really have
examined the whole gamut of responses to Hume (which do exist, and many were
made between Hume and Remsburg) and replied, and thus his work is refuted as
false. I have downloaded a number of such works, and if I find them a valid
argument I shall pass them on.
It is also particularly odd that one of
Remsburg's authorities, William Warburton, also wrote a reply to Hume on the
subject. ("On Miracles", published mid 19th century). Then there is Richard Whately, in "Historic doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte" (London, 1849) shows, on the basis of Hume's criteria of assessment of evidence and testimony, that Napoleon never existed. [Univ.
Lib. 562:3.c.95.5] cited by Jardine/Frasca-Spara here HPS Part II Primary
Sources: David Hume, 'Of Miracles' I wonder what Remsburg would have made of that. Some other notes: David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher who criticised standard proofs of God's existance, which led [together with his naturalistic views] to his being turned down university Chairs in Philosophy from Edinburgh and Glasgow, and never held an academic post. He made a principle of not replying to his critics (!) (some philosophers, though mainly theologians) Those influenced by his works include Immanual Kant and Charles Darwin. Some works at the end of his life were surpressed for shocking content (e.g. Of Suicide).
- Remsburg in chapter 1 of the Christ has this misquote:
Dr. Westcott says: "The essence of Christianity lies in a miracle;
and if it can be shown that a miracle is either impossible or
incredible, all further inquiry into the details of its history is
superfluous" (Gospel of the Resurrection, p. 34).
I checked - and yes he got this skewed. very skewed. Considering it's a part
of his "there are no miracles therefore Christ cannot exist" argument (as an
authority as well) this kinda tears quite a hole in it. He does not try to
prove miracles are impossible, as Remsburg is trying to do: oh, no: thus the
argument misleads the reader. (Citations are from "Three Bishops on the
Resurrection", by Leander Harding PhD -- as an aside, Gospel of the Resurrection was written in 1866, and Westcott got his doctorate (divinity) in 1870. So, another non-authority.)
"There is then nothing absolute in laws of nature. They are relative to man,
and do not explain either the origin or the preservation of things. It is
quite possible for us to conceive that the unknown power through which
phenomena are produced according to an observed way might have caused them to
have been produced in another way wholly different. The belief in the
immutability of the observed law springs wholly from ourselves and is simply
a special expression of the axiom that the same power will produce the same
results under the same circumstances. But we have no right to assume that the
circumstances will always be the same." (The Gospel Of The Resurrection
Well, that's rather different from "the laws of nature are immutable" as
Remsburg yells. A few pages further on, we read:
"To affirm that miracles are unnatural is to constitute general laws of
observation into a fate superior to God, or to deny His personal action. And
it must be observed that the denial of His personal action in the physical
world involves the denial of His action on the hearts of men; for there is
not the least reason to suppose that what is seen is less immediately
dependent upon Him than what is unseen, or that it can be affirmed beforehand
that He is more likely to act on one part of that which He has created than
on another. In other words, if miracles are unnatural, then we are
hopelessly enclosed within the barriers of material laws and absolutely shut
off from all intercourse with the Infinite. But this is against the
fundamental axiom of religion....[by fundamental axiom Westcott means that
the purpose of religion is religere, to bind together the finite and the
infinite, the seen and the unseen]"(ibid. p.32-33)
Here's one of Remsburg's sources: Henry Longueville Mansel (1820-1871) was the first to apply the doctrine of
relativity to the defense of religion. In the Limits of Religious Thought
(Bampton Lecture, 1858) and the Philosophy of the Conditioned (1866) he endeavors
to refute rationalism by showing, in conformity with Hamilton's principles,
that the only knowledge of the unconditioned which the human mind can acquire is
"negative," and that in matters of religious belief a scientific system is
impossible. He insists that the difficulty of believing arises not from
revelation but from the inability of reason to form a positive concept of God, and
concludes that reason must be corrected and supplemented by faith. The
constructive aspect of Mansel's system was, however, neglected; its destructive aspect
was promptly seized upon and converted into a justification of agnosticism.
Sorry? Reason must be supplemented by faith, and he applied himself to the
*defense* of religion? Refuting rationalism? Why does Remsburg cite this man's
work then - it doesn't fit the argument. Further, since Renan is quoted as
saying that a philosophical line of reasoning is not engaged (clearly the
approach to Chapter 1), why use this philosopher Mansel?
Resmburg also on Mansel; Dean Mansel thus acknowledges the consequences of the successful denial of miracles: "The whole system of Christian belief with its evidences,...all Christianity in short, so far as it has any title to that name, so far as it has any special relation to the person or the teaching of Christ, is overthrown" (Aids to Faith, p. 3). Mansel, one of those rare times where Remsburg uses an authority who is worthy of the title, a philosopher
and professor of church history - well, he would have scored some credit had he used this guy's work properly! ..."Aids to Faith" [not usually listed among Mansel's works] was a multi-authored response to a work called "Essays and Reviews" (1860) which was a liberal and treacherous work
published by Church of England clergymen, and a layman finding himself unable to take holy orders (!) - The Church's response? Two of the clergy were then tried and condemned for heresy, but acquitted on appeal; a third writer would have been tried had he not died first...summary essay contents being: make the church national rather than Christian, read the Bible like any other book (hmm, wonder if Dennis McKinsey read this...), press for belief in uniformity of nature against the argument for the miraculous - the usual stuff (except that it came from *within* the church!) The other response being, "Aids to Faith". Doesn't the book's title make you question the quotation given? It should do. Mansel's essay in reply is called..."On miracles as evidences of Christianity" - clearly Remsburg couldn't give us the title of this professor's work as it would give the game away! Evidently the quote given is an "if..then" argument.
What is this doing in a chapter aimed at refuting the existance of miracles?
The North American review (July 1862, Vol 95, issue 196, p277) had this to say about the book Aids to Faith: "...the whole collection bears the imprint equally of a faith grounded on argument and a conviction derived from experience" and it welcomed "the breadth of ground which it covers and defends, comprehending as it does all the points at which positive and historical Christianity was assailed by the 'Essays and Reviews'." So that's another badly mangled quotation...does Remsburg know how to quote authorities, I wonder? Doesn't look like it...
Remsburg on Ernest Renan: We read: "It is not, then, in the name of this or
that philosophy, but in the name of universal experience, that we banish
miracles from history" (Life of Jesus, p. 29).
Renan goes on to say, "We do not say 'Miracles are impossible'. We say 'Up
to this time a miracle has never been proved." (Introduction, Life of Jesus)
Hence, Remsburg's statement that "To disprove the existence of these miracles
is to disprove the existence of this Christ" and the blather about how
impossible miracles are, is not supported by his source. (the ellipses in Remsburg's
quote are of interest, he has omitted five whole sentences about, according to
Renan, the need for scientific precaution and rigor in testing things
previously unexplained and unexplainable.) Previous to the quote given, Renan also
stated he was not interested in mutilating facts! If only Remsburg had learned
He closes his Introduction with: "His glory does not consist in being
relegated out of history; we render him a truer worship in showing that all history
is incomprehensible without him." Renan is thus declaring the whole of the book
under study, "incomprehensible", since it is our author's purpose to exclude
Christ from history.
Ready for another misquote? Remsburg says,
Canon Farrar makes this frank admission: "If miracles be incredible,
Christianity is false. If Christ wrought no miracles, then the Gospels are
untrustworthy" (Witness of History to Christ, p. 25).
Remsburg is attempting to throw doubt on the miraculous by authority. But
oops! Farrar was speaking at the Hulsean Lectures, and the terms governing the
lecture is given in John Hulse's will (Hulse lived 1708-1790), where he stated
that the object of the Hulsean Lecturer should be "to demonstrate in the most
convincing and persuasive manner the truth and excellence of Christianity, so
as to include not only the prophecies and miracles general and particular, but
also any other proper or useful arguments, whether the same be direct or
collateral proofs of the Christian religion, which he may think fittest to
discourse upon,...or else any particular argument or branch thereof, and chiefly
against notorious infidels whether Atheists or Deists." (Witness of History, chap
1,note 4). Farrar supports this view in his Preface ("[the Lectures] may be
accepted as a sincere and honest effort to strengthen in the minds of those who
read them a faith in the great truths of Christianity")
What kind of "frank admission" is this, then, other than "I cannot use my
sources properly"?! Both quotes appear in the same book. Farrar's statement
must be put in context, as part of a logical sequence of argumentation. In the
same lecture, he talks of how Christians must be aware of current trends [in
the 1890s] to question the supernatural element of the faith. As an example he
writes "the central doctrine of Christianity is based upon a miracle, and in
no small realm of literature the impossibility of miracles is calmly insisted
upon as a discovery which needs no demonstration" (he calls such literature
"haughty assertions", with Strauss clearly one of the intended objects) - his
answer: "unshaken amid the storm of contemptuous assertion, we reply that it
requires a loftier height of intelligence to believe in miracles than to reject
them, because it involves the realisation of loftier than mere material
verities, and the recognition of wider than purely physical laws."
I have not seen such disgusting and misleading use of sources in a long
while: truly Remsburg's work deserves to be taken outside and shot.
As for the "notorious infidels" mentioned in Hulse's will, we now turn our
sights on the original publishers of this silly work, TruthSeeker Company. (They also
published Tim Leedom's book, "What Your Church Doesn't Want You to Read",
containing two works by Remsburg : Barnes and Noble banned the book during its
"Banned Book Week" because it was "too controversial for the bookstore's
conservative clientele" - cited in Barker, Freethought Today, Dec 1995)
The publishers, founded by De Robigne Mortimer Bennett (who abandoned his
beliefs and involvement in the Shaker movement due to Paine's Age of Reason,
upsetting many members) and his wife, promoted the following principles:
"Devoted to: science, morals, free thought, free discussions, liberalism,
sexual equality, labor reform, progression, free education and whatever tends to
elevate and emancipate the human race.
Opposed to: priestcraft, ecclesiasticism, dogmas, creeds, false theology,
superstition, bigotry, ignorance, monopolies, aristocracies, privileged classes,
tyranny, oppression, and everything that degrades or burdens mankind mentally
and wanted people to believe in reason over superstition (quoted on their
website). Some of these principles were quite unusual in their day (circa 1880)
like sexual equality. Half of these find their way too easily into The Christ,
which makes me wonder if the work isn't a propoganda manifesto for Bennett's
philosophy! We note the obvious humanism, but wait! Emancipate the human race
from what? Well, after reading a biography of Bennett, the answer appears to
be -- from the law! Bennett was jailed and sentenced for 13 months in hard
labour for distributing offensive literature (Remsburg appears to have been a
journalist at the court, cf Fifty Years of Freethought, a history of
TruthSeeker, p266: clearly he forgot all about the value of accurate reporting!)
So why have "morals" cited as one of the company principles? Hypocrite! Free
education, shame Remsburg didn't learn about ancient culture and its
relevance when dealing with biblical literature - it would have saved him a lot of
bother. Opposed to ignorance eh? Then why did Bennett completely fail to win
the South with his tabloid newspaper (which is what TruthSeeker was originally)
except that he had no clue about the strength of the stronghold Christianity
had elsewhere in the States? I note that there is no mention of exception to
degrading, spiritual burdens I suspect this is why he became a theosophist
late in life (again causing great upset, this time to Skeptics) And while on
his round-the-globe cruise to visit the theosophists (including Blavatsky) he
of course had his own cook and writing room at the Theos. Society's Hall,
Colombo which he wrote describing as "most comfortable" - this suggests privelige,
no? (source R Bradford's essay "Theosophical Odyssey of D M Bennett")
Rev H H Milman, the guy who did the notes to Gibbon's Rome (not Dean yet! goodness, another
argument by authority with no authority!) writes as an addition to note 36,
(Remsburg just quotes the "interpolated with many additional clauses" bit, without
The modern editor of Eusebius, Heinichen, has adopted,
and ably supported, a notion, which had before suggested itself
to the editor, that this passage is not altogether a forgery, but
interpolated with many additional clauses. Heinichen has
endeavored to disengage the original text from the foreign and
more recent matter.
Therefore Remsburg is wrong to use this note for his argument that Christian
scholars rejected the Testimonium. I'll add here, that Baring-Gould wrote a
work in 1865, on lycanthropy (were-wolves! This wasn't a novel, it was a
complete examination of the myth and of semi-related criminal activities - hence B-G
was not an authority on biblical studies).
Dr Giles had his work "Hebrew and Christian Records"
(Remsburg doesnt give the full title) removed from circulation by the bishop of
Oxford because of its controversial content. (1854, ref folios 35-40, Dr Giles'
Kneeland's Review. Full title: A Review of the Evidences of Christianity; in
a Series of Lectures, Delivered in Broadway Hall New York, August 1829 (1887)
- this work is very rare, so checking the citation will be quite difficult.
Nonetheless, I suspect it, as Dr Chalmers was a righteous man and it appears odd
for him appear in this work. Note that Remsburg is slippery about the quote:
he claims Chalmers says Josephus ignores Christ, Chalmers says he ignores
Baring-Gould: Celsus' book is lost and only appears critiqued in Origen, yet
we can still ask, why would Celsus, not denying or questioning Jesus'
existance, need to have the Testimonium used in reply?
Warburton: also edited the works of Shakespeare (18th Century)
Hausrath: For Remsburg to use this without citation shows the contempt he has
for the subject. In his other major work, Six Historic Americans, he
carefully gives quotes with references (although Evangelicals have questioned some of
these) - so where did Hausrath write this?
Hausrath: not of the mythicist school. His work is probably his Histories of New Testament Times (1868)
- Remsberg, John. The Christ. Prometheus Books, 1994.