The Birth of the Christian Religion

The Birth of the Christian Religion

The Birth of the Christian Religion

The Birth of the Christian Religion

Excerpt

by GILBERT MURRAY

DR. Jacks has rendered a great service to religious thought by his translation of this very remarkable book, which sums up the main conclusions of M. Loisy's elaborate studies of early Christian literature. It represents the latest, and, in my judgment, the most masterly of all the attempts to understand and describe according to the normal canons of human history, without prejudice and without miracle, a movement which has shaped the whole subsequent religion of the Western World. Previous historians of Christianity have generally been theologians, convinced of the miraculous nature of their subject and consequently, however learned, compelled to be uncritical. Only a few have deliberately rejected the miraculous, and many of them, in their anxiety to be freed from a false mythology, have been betrayed into a polemical attitude and failed to appreciate the grandeur of their theme. But, apart from these considerations, the subject itself is curiously difficult and obscure. The actual Christian literature proves on examination to be so different from what it seems. The Gospels, which look at first sight like simple lives of Jesus, prove on analysis to have had quite a different purpose and also to have been exposed to varied and incalculable influences in the interests of different doctrines and communities. It is only of recent years that scholars have begun to understand how different from a modern book, printed off in a thousand or so uniform copies, was the nature of an ancient book written out copy by copy; how different again the book which, although written, is still in the main merely an instrument for oral recitation, liable to be improved or altered according to circumstances or the taste of the reciter; different again the book of devotion or edification meant to enforce or correct the rites and beliefs of a community. M. Loisy's analysis of the books of the New Testament and other early Christian literature surpasses, in my opinion, any previous analysis known to me. He writes with an intimate understanding of the problems before him which seems to me to shed a new, and I would almost . . .

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