A True Discourse
(Early Second Century)
Date: "And we have heard that there were two individuals of the name of Celsus, both of whom were Epicureans; the earlier of the two having lived in the time of Nero, but this one in that of Adrian, and later." (Origen, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 8)
[Celsus' 'A True Discourse' is a lost work, but fragments survive in Origen's 'Contra Celsum,' which are here collected. Origen returns to the same remarks of Celsus, but also accuses Celsus of repeating himself; so I have consolidated some doublets, retained others, and edited the whole for smoothness and consistency of voice.]
Of associations some are public, and these are in accordance with the laws; others, again, secret, and maintained in violation of the laws; of this latter sort is Christianity. The Christians teach and practice their favorite doctrines in secret. They do this to some purpose, seeing they escape the penalty of death which is imminent; similar dangers were encountered by such men as Socrates for the sake of philosophy. Their “love-feasts“ had their origin in the common danger, and are more binding than any oaths.
The system of doctrine, viz., Judaism, upon which Christianity depends, was barbarous in its origin; in this case as in others, the Greeks are more skillful than any others in judging, establishing, and reducing to practice the discoveries of barbarous nations.
Their system of morals is only common to them with other philosophers, and no venerable or new branch of instruction, though their regulations respecting idolatry are peculiar to themselves. The Christians do not consider those to be gods that are made with hands, on the ground that it is not in conformity with right reason to suppose that images, fashioned by the most worthless and depraved of workmen, and in many instances also provided by wicked men, can be regarded as gods. That even this is a common opinion, and one not first discovered by Christianity, is shown by a saying of Heraclitus to this effect: “Those who draw near to lifeless images, as if they were gods, act in a similar manner to those who would enter into conversation with houses.” The Persians also were of the same opinion, according to Herodotus.
It is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of miraculous power. And it was by means of sorcery that Jesus was able to accomplish the wonders which he performed; and foreseeing that others would attain the same knowledge, and do the same things, making a boast of doing them by help of the power of God, he excludes such from his kingdom. If they are justly excluded, while he himself is guilty of the same practices, he is a wicked man; but if he is not guilty of wickedness in doing such things, neither are they who do the same as he.
And I do not maintain that if a man, who has adopted a system of good doctrine, is to incur danger from men on that account, he should either apostatize, or feign apostasy, or openly deny his opinions. There is something better in man than the earthly part of his nature, which is akin to God. They in whom this element, viz., the soul, is in a healthy condition, are ever seeking after their kindred nature, meaning God, and are ever desiring to hear something about him, and to call it to remembrance. The man who has embraced a system of good doctrine ought not, even if exposed to danger on that account from men, to disavow it and feign recantation, or pretend that he had done so, nor yet openly and publicly disown it.
In adopting opinions we should follow reason and a rational guide, since he who assents to opinions without following this course is very liable to be deceived. Inconsiderate Christians are like those who fall in with the Metragyrtae, and soothsayers, and Mithrae, and Sabbadians, and to anything else that one may fall in with, and to the phantoms of Hecate, or any other demon or demons. For as amongst such persons are frequently to be found wicked men, who, taking advantage of the ignorance of those who are easily deceived, lead them away whither they will, so also is the case among Christians. Certain persons who do not wish either to give or receive a reason for their belief, keep repeating, “Do not examine, but believe!” and, “Your faith will save you!” Such also say, “The wisdom of this life is a bad thing, but foolishness is a good thing!”
If they would answer me, not as if I were asking for information, for I am acquainted with all their opinions, but because I take an equal interest in them all, it would be well. And if they will not, but will keep reiterating, as they generally do, ’Do not investigate,’ etc., they must explain to me at least of what nature these things are of which they speak, and whence they are derived.
There is to be found among many nations a general relationship of doctrine, as among the Egyptians, and Assyrians, and Indians, and Persians, and Odrysians, and Samothracians, and Eleusinians and Hyperboreans. There is an authoritative account from the very beginning, respecting which there is a constant agreement among all the most learned nations, and cities, and men. From which of these ancient and learned nations will the Jews find a concurring opinion?—from the Galactophagi of Homer, and the Druids of the Gauls, and the Getae? Ancient and learned men have conferred benefits upon their contemporaries by their deeds, and upon posterity by their writings; Linus, Musaeus, and Orpheus, and Pherecydes, and the Persian Zoroaster, and Pythagoras, discussed these topics, and their opinions were deposited in books, and have thus been preserved down to the present time.
There have been, from all eternity, many conflagrations and many cataclysms and many deluges. The flood which occurred in the time of Deucalion, and the conflagration in that of Phaethon, were comparatively modern and more recent than any others. The Greeks consider those things as ancient, because, owing to the deluges and conflagrations, they have not beheld or received any memorials of older events. So those persons testify who are the most learned of the Egyptians.
Moses having learned the doctrine which is to be found existing among wise nations and eloquent men, obtained the reputation of divinity. Circumcision as practiced by the Jews was derived from the Egyptians. Those herdsmen and shepherds who followed Moses as their leader, had their minds deluded by vulgar deceits, and so concluded that there was but one God, named either the Highest, or Adonai, or the Heavenly, or Sabaoth, or called by some other of those names which they delight to give this world; and they knew nothing beyond that. The more impartial interpreters devise a tropical and allegorical signification for the Mosaic history.
The Jews worship angels, and are addicted to sorcery, in which Moses was their instructor. I will show afterwards how it was through ignorance that the Jews were deceived and led into error. Jesus is the leader of their generation, in so far as they are Christians, and a few years ago he began to teach this doctrine, being regarded by Christians as the son of God. Their converts were deceived; this doctrine is vulgar, and on account of its vulgarity and its want of reasoning power, obtained a hold only over the ignorant. It was, however, not the simple alone who were led by the doctrine of Jesus to adopt his religion; there were amongst them some persons of moderate intelligence, and gentle disposition, and possessed of understanding, and capable of comprehending allegories.
The Address of the Jew
(Jews and Christians seek to ascertain from those prophecies which they believe in common, whether he who was foretold has come, or has not yet arrived, and is still an object of expectation. Unwilling to intrude into family quarrels not my own, permit me to introduce a Jew, who has not abandoned his ancestral customs, to carry on the discussion with Jesus.)
“You, sir, have invented your birth from a virgin! You, Jesus, were born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning. When she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been convicted as guilty of adultery, and she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera. After being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, who, brought up as an illegitimate child, having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired the knowledge of certain miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of those powers proclaimed himself a god.
“How does the fiction of his birth from a virgin differ from the Greek fables about Danae, and Melanippe, and Auge, and Antiope? If the mother of Jesus was beautiful, then the god whose nature is not to love a corruptible body, had intercourse with her because she was beautiful. It was improbable that the god would entertain a passion for her, because she was neither rich nor of royal rank, seeing no one even of her neighbors knew her. When hated by her husband, and turned out of doors, she was not saved by divine power, nor was her story believed. Such things have no connection with the kingdom of heaven. The prediction that our Lord was to come into the world, and the account of the star, and of the wise men who came from the east to worship the child, are fictions [Matthew 2:1].
“When you, Jesus, were bathing beside John, you say that what had the appearance of a bird from the air alighted upon you. [Matthew 3:16.] What credible witness beheld this appearance? or who heard a voice from heaven declaring you to be the son of God? What proof is there of it, save your own assertion, and the statement of another of those individuals who have been punished along with you? This is your own testimony, unsupported save by one of those who were sharers of your punishment, whom you adduce.
“But my prophet once declared in Jerusalem, that the son of God will come as the Judge of the righteous and the Punisher of the wicked. Why should it be you alone, rather than innumerable others, who existed after the prophecies were published, to whom these predictions are applicable? Some, carried away by enthusiasm, and others having gathered a multitude of followers, give out that the son of God is come down from heaven. The prophecies referred to the events of your life may also suit other events as well. If you, Jesus, say that every man, born according to the decree of Divine Providence, is a son of God, in what respect should you differ from another? Countless individuals will convict you of falsehood, alleging that those predictions which were spoken of the son of God were intended of them.
“Chaldeans are spoken of by Jesus as having been induced to come to him at his birth, and to worship him while yet an infant as a god, and to have made this known to Herod the tetrarch. Herod sent and slew all the infants that had been born about the same time, thinking that in this way he would ensure his death among the others; and he was led to do this through fear that, if Jesus lived to a sufficient age, he would obtain the throne. [Matthew 2:16.] But if, then, this was done in order that you might not reign in his stead when you had grown to man’s estate; why, after you did reach that estate, did you not become a king? Why instead do you, the son of God, wander about in so mean a condition, hiding yourself through fear, and leading a miserable life up and down? Jesus having gathered around him ten or eleven persons of notorious character, the very wickedest of tax-gatherers and sailors, fled in company with them from place to place, and obtained his living in a shameful and importunate manner. In company with your disciples you go and hide yourself in different places!
“You went about with your disciples, and obtained your livelihood in a disgraceful and importunate manner. What need, moreover, was there that you, while still an infant, should be conveyed into Egypt? [Matthew 2:21.] Was it to escape being murdered? But then it was not likely that a god should be afraid of death; and yet an angel came down from heaven, commanding you and your friends to flee, lest you should be captured and put to death! And was not the great God, who had already sent two angels on your account, able to keep you, his only son, there in safety?
“The old mythological fables, which attributed a divine origin to Perseus, and Amphion, and Aeacus, and Minos, were not believed by us Jews. Nevertheless, that they might not appear unworthy of credit, they represented the deeds of these personages as great and wonderful, and truly beyond the power of man; but what have you done that is noble or wonderful either in deed or in word? You have made no manifestation to us, although they challenged you in the temple to exhibit some unmistakeable sign that you were the son of God.
“As to those statements which are made regarding your cures, or your resurrection, or the feeding of a multitude with a few loaves, from which many fragments remained over, or those other stories which the disciples have recorded as of a marvellous nature:—Well, let us believe that these were actually wrought by you. How do they differ from the tricks of jugglers, who profess to do more wonderful things, and from the feats performed by those who have been taught by Egyptians, who in the middle of the market-place, in return for a few obols, will impart the knowledge of their most venerated arts, and will expel demons from men, and dispel diseases, and invoke the souls of heroes, and exhibit expensive banquets, and tables, and dishes, and dainties having no real existence, and who will put in motion, as if alive, what are not really living animals, but which have only the appearance of life? Since, then, these persons can perform such feats, shall we of necessity conclude that they are ‘sons of God,’ or must we admit that these are the proceedings of wicked men under the influence of an evil spirit?
“Such a body as yours could not have belonged to God, because the body of god would not have been so generated as you, O Jesus, were. The body of a god is not nourished with such food as was that of Jesus. The blood of Jesus which was shed upon the cross was not ichor, such as flows in the veins of the blessed gods. But the body of a god does not make use of such a voice as that of Jesus, nor employ such a method of persuasion as he. These tenets of his were those of a wicked and God-hated sorcerer.”
(Thus ends the Jew's address to Jesus.)
(Let us proceed with the Jew's second address, to those who have been converted from Judaism to Christianity.)
“You have forsaken the law of your fathers, in consequence of your minds being led captive by Jesus. You have been most ridiculously deceived, and have become deserters to another name and to another mode of life. What induced you, my fellow-citizens, to abandon the law of your fathers, and to allow your minds to be led captive by him with whom we have just conversed, and thus be most ridiculously deluded, so as to become deserters from us to another name, and to the practices of another life? Certain among you have abandoned the usages of our fathers under a pretense of explanations and allegories; and some of you, although, as you pretend, interpreting them in a spiritual manner, nevertheless do observe the customs of our fathers; and some of you, without any such interpretation, are willing to accept Jesus as the subject of prophecy, and to keep the law of Moses according to the customs of the fathers, as having in the words the whole mind of the Spirit. Yesterday and the day before, when we visited with punishment the man who deluded you, you became apostates from the law of your fathers. How is it that you take the beginning of your system from our worship, and when you have made some progress you treat it with disrespect, although you have no other foundation to show for your doctrines than our law?
“If any one predicted to us that the son of God was to visit mankind, he was one of our prophets, and the prophet of our God. John, who baptized Jesus, was a Jew; Jesus was punished by the Jews for his crimes. Your doctrine regarding the resurrection of the dead, and the divine judgment, and of the rewards to be bestowed upon the just, and of the fire which is to devour the wicked, are stale opinions, and there is nothing new in your teaching upon these points. Jesus observed all the Jewish usages, including even our sacrificial observances.
“Language dictated by arrogance proceeds from Jesus. He uttered great and small falsehoods; he made promises which he did not perform. Many other persons would appear such as Jesus was, to those who were willing to be deceived. The charge brought against the Jews by the Christian converts is that they have not believed in Jesus as in God. How should we, who have made known to all men that there is to come from God one who is to punish the wicked, treat him with disregard when he came? Why did we treat him, whom we announced beforehand, with dishonor? Was it that we might be chastised more than others?
“How should we deem him to be a god, who not only in other respects, as was currently reported, performed none of his promises, but who also, after we had convicted him, and condemned him as deserving of the punishment of death, was found attempting to conceal himself, and endeavoring to escape in a most disgraceful manner, and who was betrayed by those whom he called disciples? And yet, he who was a god could neither flee nor be led away a prisoner; and least of all could he be deserted and delivered up by those who had been his associates, whom he called his disciples, and had shared all things in common, and had had him for their teacher, who was deemed to be a Savior, and a son of the greatest God, and an angel.
“No good general and leader of great multitudes was ever betrayed, nor even a wicked captain of robbers and commander of very wicked men, who seemed to be of any use to his associates; but Jesus, having been betrayed by his subordinates, neither governed like a good general, nor, after deceiving his disciples, produced in the minds of the victims of his deceit that feeling of good-will which, so to speak, would be manifested towards a brigand chief.
“Although I could state many things regarding the events of the life of Jesus which are true, and not like those which are recorded by the disciples, I willingly omit them. The disciples of Jesus, having no undoubted fact on which to rely, devised the fiction that he foreknew everything before it happened. The disciples of Jesus wrote such accounts regarding him, by way of extenuating the charges that told against him: as if any one were to say that a certain person was a just man, and yet were to show that he was guilty of injustice; or that he was pious, and yet had committed murder; or that he was immortal, and yet was dead; subjoining to all these statements the remark that he had foretold all these things.
“For you do not even allege this, that he seemed to wicked men to suffer this punishment, though not undergoing it in reality; but, on the contrary, you acknowledge that he openly suffered. How is it credible that Jesus could have predicted these things? How could the dead man be immortal? What god, or spirit, or prudent man would not, on foreseeing that such events were to befall him, avoid them if he could; whereas he threw himself headlong into those things which he knew beforehand were to happen?
“How is it that, if Jesus pointed out beforehand both the traitor and the perjurer, they did not fear him as a god, and cease, the one from his intended treason, and the other from his perjury? But these persons betrayed and denied him without manifesting any concern about him. It is always the case that, when a man against whom a plot is formed comes to the knowledge of it and makes known to the conspirators that he is acquainted with their design, the latter are turned from their purpose, and keep upon their guard.
“Not because these things were predicted did they come to pass, for that is impossible; but since they have come to pass, their being predicted is shown to be a falsehood: for it is altogether impossible that those who heard beforehand of the discovery of their designs, should carry out their plans of betrayal and denial. These events he predicted as being a god, and the prediction must by all means come to pass. God, therefore, who above all others ought to do good to men, and especially to those of his own household, led on his own disciples and prophets, with whom he was in the habit of eating and drinking, to such a degree of wickedness, that they became impious and unholy men. Now, of a truth, he who shared a man’s table would not be guilty of conspiring against him; but after banqueting with God, he became a conspirator. [John 13:18.] And, what is still more absurd, God himself plotted against the members of his own table, by converting them into traitors and villains!
“He who was partaker of a man’s table would not conspire against him; and if he would not conspire against a man, much less would he plot against a god after banqueting with him. And, which is still more absurd, God himself conspired against those who sat at his table, by converting them into traitors and impious men. If he had determined upon these things, and underwent chastisement in obedience to his Father, it is manifest that, being a god, and submitting voluntarily, those things that were done agreeably to his own decision were neither painful nor distressing. So why does he mourn, and lament, and pray to escape the fear of death, expressing himself in terms like these: ‘O Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me?’ [Matthew 26:39.] He says, ‘O Father, would that this cup might pass from me,’ though nothing at that time was done to Jesus which was either painful or distressing. Even although guilty of falsehood, you have not been able to give a color of credibility to your inventions.
“Certain of the Christian believers, like persons who in a fit of drunkenness lay violent hands upon themselves, have corrupted the Gospel from its original integrity, to a threefold, and fourfold, and many-fold degree, and have remodelled it, so that they might be able to answer objections. Christians make use of the prophets, who predicted the events of Christ’s life; hoping to spare individuals, and to expound the prophecies themselves, I admit the plausibility of the Christian interpretation of them. Nevertheless the use which they make of them may be overturned. One ought not hastily to assume so important a position on small grounds. The prophecies may be applied to countless other things with greater probability than to Jesus.
“The prophets declare the coming one to be a mighty potentate, Lord of all nations and armies. Nor did the prophets predict such a pestilence. From such signs and misinterpretations, and from proofs so mean, no one could prove him to be God, and the son of God. For as the sun, which enlightens all other objects, first makes himself visible, so ought the son of God to have done. The Christians are guilty of sophistical reasoning, in saying that the son of God is the Logos Himself. When they declare the Logos to be the son of God [John 1:1], they do not present to view a pure and holy Logos, but a most degraded man, who was punished by scourging and crucifixion. If your Logos is the son of God, we also give our assent to the same; yet the prophecies agree with ten thousand other things more credibly than with Jesus.
“The framers of the genealogies, from a feeling of pride, made Jesus to be descended from the first man, and from the kings of the Jews. The carpenter’s wife could not have been ignorant of the fact, had she been of such illustrious descent. But what great deeds did Jesus perform as being a god? Did he put his enemies to shame, or bring to a ridiculous conclusion what was designed against him? In the Bacchae of Euripides, Dionysus says:—
“The divinity himself will liberate me whenever I wish.”
“But no calamity happened even to him who condemned him, as there did to Pentheus, viz., madness or deception; neither to those who mocked Jesus, and put on him the purple robe, and the crown of thorns, and placed the reed in his hand. If not before, yet why now, at least, does he not give some manifestation of his divinity, and free himself from this reproach, and take vengeance upon those who insult both him and his Father? What is the nature of the ichor in the body of the crucified Jesus? Is it such as flows in the bodies of the immortal gods?
“He rushed with open mouth to drink of the vinegar and the gall, and could not endure his thirst as any ordinary man frequently endures it. You, O sincere believers, find fault with us, because we do not recognize this individual as God, nor agree with you that he endured these sufferings for the benefit of mankind, in order that we also might despise punishment. You blame us, moreover, because we did not believe in him, but asserted that he cast out demons from the souls of men through Beelzebub the prince of the demons [Matthew 12:24, Luke 11:15]; and you blame us because we disparage him as leading the wandering life of a vagabond, and passing an anxious existence in a disgraceful body.
“Jesus, having gained over no one during his life, not even his own disciples, underwent these punishments and sufferings. Jesus did not show himself to be pure from all evil, nor was he irreproachable. You will not, I suppose, say of him, that, after failing to gain over those who were in this world, he went to Hades to gain over those who were there. If, after inventing defenses which are absurd, and by which you were ridiculously deluded, you imagine that you really make a good defense, what prevents you from regarding those other individuals who have been condemned, and have died a miserable death, as greater and more divine messengers of heaven than Jesus? Any similarly shameless fellow might be able to say regarding even a robber and murderer whom punishment had overtaken, that such an one was not a robber, but a god, because he predicted to his fellow-robbers that he would suffer such punishment as he actually did suffer.
“In the next place, those who were his associates while alive, and who listened to his voice, and enjoyed his instructions as their teacher, on seeing him subjected to punishment and death, neither died with him, nor for him, nor were even induced to regard punishment with contempt, but denied even that they were his disciples, whereas now you die along with him. Jesus, when on earth, gained over to himself only ten sailors and tax-gatherers of the most worthless character, and not even the whole of these. Is it not the height of absurdity to maintain, that if, while he himself was alive, he won over not a single person to his views, after his death any who wish are able to gain over such a multitude of individuals?
“By what train of argument were they led to regard him as the son of God? They answer that they were won over to him, because they know that his punishment was undergone to bring about the destruction of the father of evil. What then? Have not many others, too, been punished, and that not less disgracefully? They deem Jesus to be the son of God, because he healed the lame and the blind; moreover, as they assert, he raised the dead.
“But, O light and truth! Jesus with his own voice expressly and distinctly declares, as you yourselves have recorded, that there will come to you even others, employing miracles of a similar kind [Matthew 24:24], who are wicked men, and sorcerers; and he calls him who makes use of such devices, one Satan. So Jesus himself does not deny that these works at least are not at all divine, but proceed from wicked men; and being compelled by the force of truth, he at the same time not only laid open the doings of others, but convicted himself of the same acts. Is it not, then, a miserable inference, to conclude from the same works that the one is God and the other sorcerers? Why ought the others, because of these acts, to be accounted wicked rather than this man, seeing they have him as their witness against himself? For he has himself acknowledged that these are not the works of a divine nature, but the inventions of certain deceivers, and of thoroughly wicked men.
“He says, that it is a certain Satan who contrives such devices; when he says, ‘there will appear among you others also, who will perform miracles like mine,’ and he terms him who devises such things, one Satan, even he himself does not deny that these works have in them nothing of divinity, but are the acts of wicked men. Being compelled by the force of truth, Jesus at the same time both exposed the doings of others, and convicted himself of the same. Is it not a wretched inference from the same acts, to conclude that the one is a god, and the others sorcerers? Why from these works should the others be accounted wicked, rather than this man, seeing they have him as a witness against himself? He himself acknowledged that these were not the works of a divine nature, but were the inventions of certain deceivers, and of very wicked men. By what, then, were you induced to become his followers? Was it because he foretold that after his death he would rise again?
“Come now, let us grant to you that the prediction was actually uttered. Yet how many others are there who practice such juggling tricks, in order to deceive their simple hearers, and who make gain by their deception?—as was the case, they say, with Zamolxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with Pythagoras himself in Italy; and with Rhampsinitus in Egypt (the latter of whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift); and also with Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Taenarus, and Theseus. But the question is, whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake [Matthew 27:51] and the darkness? That while alive he was of no assistance to himself, but that when dead he rose again, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands were pierced with nails [John 20:27]: who beheld this? A half-frantic woman, as you state, and some one else, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion, who had either dreamed so, owing to a peculiar state of mind, or under the influence of a perverted and wandering imagination had formed to himself an appearance according to his own wishes, as he himself desired, which has been the case with numberless individuals; or, which is most probable, one who desired to impress others with this portent, and by such a falsehood to furnish an occasion to impostors like himself. Jesus accordingly exhibited after His death only the appearance of wounds received on the cross, and was not in reality so wounded as he is described to have been.
“If Jesus had really wished to manifest his divine power, he ought to have shown himself to those who ill-treated him, and to the judge who condemned him, and to all men universally, without reservation. For he had no longer occasion to fear any man after his death, being, as you say, a god; nor was he sent into the world at all for the purpose of being hid. If this at least would have helped to manifest his divinity, he ought accordingly to have at once disappeared from the cross. And who that is sent as a messenger ever conceals himself when he ought to make known his message? While he was in the body, and no one believed upon him, he preached to all without intermission; but when he might have produced a powerful belief in himself after rising from the dead, he showed himself secretly only to one half-mad woman, and to his own boon companions. While undergoing his punishment he was seen by all men, but after his resurrection by one, whereas the opposite ought to have happened.
“He is one who will lead the pious to the light, and who will have mercy on others, whether they sin or repent. If he wished to remain hid, why was there heard a voice from heaven proclaiming him to be the son of God? And if he did not seek to remain concealed, why was he punished? or why did he die? Why was he punished, if he wished to remain hid? If he had wished, by the punishments which he underwent, to teach us also to despise death, then after his resurrection he should have openly summoned all men to the light, and instructed them in the object of his coming. All these statements are taken from your own books, in addition to which we need no other witness; for you fall upon your own swords.
“O most high and heavenly one! what God, on appearing to men, is received with incredulity? What God that appeared among men is received with incredulity, and that, too, when appearing to those who expect him? or why, pray, is he not recognized by those who have been long looking for him? Jesus makes use of threats, and reviles men on light grounds, when he says, ‘Woe unto you,’ and ‘I tell you beforehand.’ For by such expressions he manifestly acknowledges his inability to persuade; and this would not be the case with a god, or even a prudent man.
“We certainly hope that there will be a bodily resurrection, and that we shall enjoy an eternal life; and the example and archetype of this will be him who is sent to us, and who will show that nothing is impossible with God. One prophet has predicted the advent of Christ; where, then, is he, that we may see him and believe upon him? Did Jesus come into the world for this purpose, that we should not believe him? He was therefore a man, and of such a nature, as the truth itself proves, and reason demonstrates him to be.”
(Thus ends the Discourse of the Jew.)
The Shadow of an Ass
The controversy between Jews and Christians is a most foolish one; the discussions which they have with each other regarding Christ differ in no respect from what is called in the proverb, ’a fight about the shadow of an ass.’ There is nothing of importance in the investigations of the Jews and Christians: for both believe that it was predicted by the Divine Spirit that one was to come as a Savior to the human race, but do not yet agree on the point whether the person predicted has actually come or not. The Jews suffered from the adherents of Jesus, who believed in him as the Christ, the same treatment which they had inflicted upon the Egyptians; and the cause which led to the new state of things in either instance was rebellion against the state.
The Hebrews, being originally Egyptians, date the commencement of their political existence from the time of their rebellion, and in the days of Jesus others who were Jews rebelled against the Jewish state, and became his followers. A revolt was the original commencement of the ancient Jewish state, and subsequently of Christianity. If all men wished to become Christians, the latter would not desire such a result. The Hebrews departed from Egypt after revolting against the Egyptians, and proceeded to Palestine, and occupied the land now called Judea. Christians at first were few in number, and held the same opinions; but when they grew to be a great multitude, they were divided and separated, each wishing to have his own individual party: for this was their object from the beginning.
All the Christians were of one mind when, at the very beginning, believers were few in number. When Christians had greatly increased in numbers, they were split up into factions, each individual desiring to have his own party. Being thus separated through their numbers, they confute one another, still having, so to speak, one name in common, if indeed they still retain it. And this is the only thing which they are yet ashamed to abandon, while other matters are determined in different ways by the various sects.
Their union is the more wonderful, the more it can be shown to be based on no substantial reason; and yet rebellion is a substantial reason, as well as the advantages which accrue from it, and the fear of external enemies. Such are the causes which give stability to their faith. Concealing the nature of their origin, they impress upon the minds of their first converts a contempt for idols, and images of all kinds.
But what legends of every kind they gather together; what terrors they invent! They weave together erroneous opinions drawn from ancient sources, and trumpet them aloud, and sound them before men, as the priests of Cybele clash their cymbals in the ears of those who are being initiated in their mysteries. One may compare the articles of their faith to those of the Egyptians, among whom, as you approach their sacred edifices, are to be seen splendid enclosures, and groves, and large and beautiful gateways, and wonderful temples, and magnificent tents around them, and ceremonies of worship full of superstition and mystery; but when you have entered, and passed within, the object of worship is seen to be a cat, or an ape, or a crocodile, or a goat, or a dog!
The Egyptians assert that these animals are a sort of symbol of God, as their prophets are accustomed to call them; an impression is produced in the minds of those who have learned these things, that they have not been initiated in vain. The Christians repel every wise man from the doctrine of their faith, and invite only the ignorant and the vulgar; Christianity appears an object of veneration to men of the more servile class alone. They ridicule the Egyptians, although they present many by no means contemptible mysteries for our consideration, when they teach us that such rites are acts of worship offered to eternal ideas, and not, as the multitude think, to ephemeral animals. The Christians are silly, because they introduce nothing nobler than the goats and dogs of the Egyptian worship in their narratives about Jesus. The inner mysteries of the church of God are not superior to the cats, and apes, and crocodiles, and goats, and dogs of Egypt.
Aesculapius Appears Among Men
Miracles were performed in all countries, or at least in many of them. Aesculapius conferred benefits on many, and foretold future events to entire cities, which were dedicated to him, such as Tricca, and Epidaurus, and Cos, and Pergamus; and along with Aesculapius, Aristeas of Proconnesus, and a certain Clazomenian, and Cleomedes of Astypalaea. The Dioscuri, and Hercules, and Aesculapius, and Dionysus, are believed by the Greeks to have become gods after being men. But the Christians cannot bear to call such beings gods, because they were at first men, and yet they manifested many noble qualifies, which were displayed for the benefit of mankind, while they assert that Jesus was seen after His death by his own followers. He was seen indeed, but was only a shadow! Their Jesus after his death appeared only to the members of his own troop.
A great and incalculable multitude both of Greeks and Barbarians acknowledge that they have frequently seen, and still see, no mere phantom, but Aesculapius himself, healing and doing good, and foretelling the future. Then, with respect to Aristeas of Proconnesus, who disappeared from among men in a manner so indicative of divine intervention, and who showed himself again in so unmistakeable a fashion, and on many subsequent occasions visited many parts of the world, and announced marvellous events, and whom Apollo enjoined the inhabitants of Metapontium to regard as a god, no one considers him to be a god. Aristeas disappeared through the intervention of the divinity and made marvellous announcements; and, moreover, there was an oracle of Apollo, enjoining the Metapontines to treat Aristeas as a god. Nor does anyone regards Abaris the Hyperborean as a god, who was possessed of such power as to be borne along like an arrow from a bow.
Let us next examine the case of the Clazomenian. Do they not report that his soul frequently quitted his body, and flitted about in an incorporeal form? and yet men did not regard him as a god. I relate further what is told of Cleomedes of Astypalaea, who entered into an ark, and although shut up within it, was not found therein, but through some arrangement of the divinity, flew out, when certain persons had cut open the ark in order to apprehend him. And one might name many others of the same kind. In worshipping him who was taken prisoner and put to death, they are acting like the Getae who worship Zamolxis, and the Cilicians who worship Mopsus, and the Acarnanians who pay divine honors to Amphilochus, and like the Thebans who do the same to Amphiaraus, and the Lebadians to Trophonius. The Egyptians, having been taught to worship Antinous, the favorite of Adrian, will not endure his being compared with Apollo or Zeus, though the honor paid to him falls little short of that which the Christians render to Jesus.
Faith, having taken possession of their minds, makes them yield the assent which they give to the doctrine of Jesus; for of a truth it is faith which does produce such an assent. They regard this Jesus, who was but a mortal body, displaying all the infirmities and impurities belonging to the flesh, as a god, and suppose that they act piously in so doing. I would compare the mortal flesh of Jesus to gold, and silver, and stone; the former is more liable to corruption than the latter. Well, after he has laid aside these qualities, he will be a god: and if so, why not rather Aesculapius, and Dionysus, and Hercules? They ridicule those who worship Jupiter, because his tomb is pointed out in the island of Crete; and yet they worship him who rose from the tomb, although ignorant of the grounds on which the Cretans observe such a custom.
Some very few individuals who are considered Christians, of the more intelligent class, make objections against the doctrine of Jesus. Thus the following are the rules laid down by them:—Let no one come to us who has been instructed, or who is wise or prudent, for such qualifications are deemed evil by us; but if there be any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence. By which words, acknowledging that such individuals are worthy of their god, they manifestly show that they desire and are able to gain over only the silly, and the mean, and the stupid. It is only foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children, of whom the teachers of the divine word wish to make converts.
For why is it an evil to have been educated, and to have studied the best opinions, and to have both the reality and appearance of wisdom? What hindrance does this offer to the knowledge of God? Why should education not rather be an assistance, and a means by which one might be better able to arrive at the truth? Moreover, it is an excellent thing for a man to be wise, but not to seem so. Nay, we see, indeed, that even those individuals, who in the market-places perform the most disgraceful tricks, and who collect crowds around them, would never approach an assembly of wise men, nor dare to exhibit their arts and show off their tricks before them; but wherever they see young men, and a mob of slaves, and a gathering of foolish and unintelligent persons, thither they thrust themselves in, and make a display, showing themselves off.
We see, indeed, in private houses workers in wool and leather, and fullers, and persons of the most uninstructed and rustic character, not venturing to utter a word in the presence of their elder and wiser masters; but when they get hold of the children privately, and certain women as ignorant as themselves, they pour forth wonderful statements, to the effect that they ought not to give heed to their father and to their teachers, but should obey them; that the former are foolish and stupid, and neither know nor can perform anything that is really good, being preoccupied with empty trifles; that they alone know how men ought to live, and that, if the children obey them, they will both be happy themselves, and will make their home happy also. And while thus speaking, if they see one of the instructors of youth approaching, or one of the more intelligent class, or even the father himself, the more timid among them become afraid, while the more forward incite the children to throw off the yoke, whispering that in the presence of father and teachers they neither will nor can explain to them any good thing, seeing they turn away with aversion from the silliness and stupidity of such persons as being altogether corrupt, and far advanced in wickedness, and such as would inflict punishment upon them; but that if they wish to avail themselves of their aid they must leave their father and their instructors, and go with the women and their play-fellows to the women’s apartments, or to the leather shop, or to the fuller’s shop, that they may attain to perfection;—and by words like these they gain them over.
These most rustic of mankind carefully incite young boys to wickedness, and women to forsake their fathers and teachers, and follow them, calling those teachers triflers and fools, who teach better things. That I bring no heavier charge than what the truth compels me, any one may see from the following remarks. Those who invite to participation in other mysteries, make proclamation as follows: ‘Every one who has clean hands, and a prudent tongue;’ others again thus: ‘He who is pure from all pollution, and whose soul is conscious of no evil, and who has lived well and justly.’ Such is the proclamation made by those who promise purification from sins. But let us hear what kind of persons these Christians invite. Every one, they say, who is a sinner, who is devoid of understanding, who is a child, and, to speak generally, whoever is unfortunate, him will the kingdom of God receive. They say that it was to sinners that God has been sent. Do you not call him a sinner, then, who is unjust, and a thief, and a house-breaker, and a poisoner, and a committer of sacrilege, and a robber of the dead? What other persons would a man invite if he were issuing a proclamation for an assembly of robbers?
Why was he not sent to those who were without sin? What evil is it not to have committed sin? They assert that God will receive the unrighteous man if he humble himself on account of his wickedness, but that he will not receive the righteous man [Matthew 9:13], although he look up to him, adorned with virtue from the beginning. Those persons who preside properly over a trial make those individuals who bewail before them their evil deeds to cease from their piteous wailings, lest their decisions should be determined rather by compassion than by a regard to truth; whereas God does not decide in accordance with truth, but in accordance with flattery! This much is indeed apparently true, that somehow the human race is naturally inclined to sin. All men, then, without distinction, ought to be invited, since all indeed are sinners. Why this preference for sinners over others?
They utter these exhortations for the conversion of sinners, because they are able to gain over no one who is really good and righteous, and therefore open their gates to the most unholy and abandoned of men. Sometimes, also, when very abandoned men are willing to accept the doctrine of future punishment, on account of the hope which is based upon repentance, they are prevented from so doing by their habit of sinning, being constantly dipped, and, as it were, dyed in wickedness, and possessing no longer the power to turn from it easily to a proper life, and one regulated according to right reason. And yet, indeed, it is manifest to every one that no one by chastisement or punishment, much less by merciful treatment, could effect a complete change in those who are sinners both by nature and custom, for to change nature is an exceedingly difficult thing. But they who are without sin are partakers of a better life.
They say that God will be able to do all things. True, but he will not desire to do anything wicked. Those who are inclined to sin by nature and habit, no one could completely reform and change for the better; entirely to change a nature is exceedingly difficult. As if God, like those who are overcome with pity, being himself overcome, alleviates the sufferings of the wicked through pity for their wailings, and casts off the good, who do nothing of that kind, which is the height of injustice!
A teacher of their doctrine says, “Wise men reject what we say, being led into error, and ensnared by their wisdom.” The ambassador of Christianity relates ridiculous things; no wise man believes the Gospel, being driven away by the multitudes who adhere to it. The teacher of Christianity acts like a person who promises to restore patients to bodily health, but who prevents them from consulting skilled physicians, by whom his ignorance would be exposed. They seek after the unintelligent, with their vulgar discourses. A Christian teacher said to my acquaintances, “I alone will save you.” They warn that those who really are true physicians destroy those whom they promise to cure.
Their teacher acts like a drunken man, who, entering a company of drunkards, should accuse those who are sober of being drunk. Such an one, their teacher, amongst a company of those who are afflicted with ophthalmia, accuses those who are sharp-sighted of being blind. These charges I have to bring against them, and others of a similar nature, not to enumerate them one by one, and I affirm that they are in error, and that they act insolently towards God, in order to lead on wicked men by empty hopes, and to persuade them to despise better things, saying that if they refrain from them it will be better for them. Thus they are won over through vain hopes.
God Came Down for What?
But that certain Christians and all Jews should maintain, the former that there has already descended, the latter that there will descend, upon the earth a certain God, or son of a God, who will make the inhabitants of the earth righteous, is a most shameless assertion, and one the refutation of which does not need many words. He is said by the Christians to have already come, but by the Jews that his advent as Messiah is still future. What is the meaning of such a descent upon the part of God? Was it in order to learn what goes on amongst men? Does he not know all things? And if he does know, why does he not make men better? Is it then not possible for him, by means of his divine power, to make men better, unless he send some one for that special purpose? Then God does know all things indeed, but does not make men better, nor is able to do so by His divine power! If God Himself will come down to men, then he has left his own abode, although if you were to change a single one, even the least, of things on earth, all things would be overturned and disappear.
Now I suppose God, being unknown amongst men, and deeming himself on that account to have less than his due, would desire to make himself known, and to make trial both of those who believe upon him and of those who do not, like those of mankind who have recently come into the possession of riches, and who make a display of their wealth; and thus they testify to an excessive but very mortal ambition on the part of God. God does not desire to make himself known for his own sake, but because he wishes to bestow upon us the knowledge of himself for the sake of our salvation, in order that those who accept it may become virtuous and be saved, while those who do not accept may be shown to be wicked and be punished. After so long a period of time, then, did God now bethink himself of making men live righteous lives, but neglect to do so before? It is perfectly manifest that they babble about God in a way that is neither holy nor reverential, like those who in the Bacchic mysteries introduce phantoms and objects of terror.
The belief has spread among them, from a misunderstanding of the accounts of these occurrences, that after lengthened cycles of time, and the returns and conjunctions of planets, conflagrations and floods are wont to happen. Because after the last flood, which took place in the time of Deucalion, the lapse of time, agreeably to the vicissitude of all things, requires a conflagration, this made them give utterance to the erroneous opinion that God will descend, and come down bearing fire like a torturer.
The True Theology
And again let us resume the subject from the beginning, with a larger array of proofs. And I make no new statement, but say what has been long settled. God is good, and beautiful, and blessed, and that in the best and most beautiful degree. But if he come down among men, he must undergo a change, and a change from good to evil, from virtue to vice, from happiness to misery, and from best to worst. Who, then, would make choice of such a change? It is the nature of a mortal, indeed, to undergo change and remolding, but of an immortal to remain the same and unaltered. God, then, could not admit of such a change.
God either really changes himself, as these assert, into a mortal body, and the impossibility of that has been already declared; or else he does not undergo a change, but only causes the beholders to imagine so, and thus deceives them, and is guilty of falsehood. Now deceit and falsehood are nothing but evils, and would only be employed as a medicine, either in the case of sick and lunatic friends, with a view to their cure, or in that of enemies when one is taking measures to escape danger. But no sick man or lunatic is a friend of God, nor does God fear any one to such a degree as to shun danger by leading him into error. God does not fear any one, so as to escape danger by leading into error those who conspire against him, nor is anyone who is either in a state of sickness or mental alienation a friend of God.
Concerning this coming, the Jews teach that human life, being filled with all wickedness, needed one sent from God, that the wicked might be punished, and all things purified in a manner analogous to the first deluge which happened. The Christians make statements additional to this. Moses, who wrote the account of the tower, and the confusion of tongues, has perverted the story of the sons of Aloeus, and referred it to the tower. The destruction by fire, moreover, of Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24] on account of their sins, related by Moses in Genesis, is like the story of Phaethon. The Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews having chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath.
Ants and Worms
The race of Jews and Christians, are all of them like to a flight of bats or to a swarm of ants issuing out of their nest, or to frogs holding council in a marsh, or to worms crawling together in the corner of a dunghill, and quarrelling with one another as to which of them were the greater sinners, and asserting that God shows and announces to themselves all things beforehand; and that, abandoning the whole world, and the regions of heaven, and this great earth, he becomes a citizen among themselves alone, and to themselves alone makes his intimations, and does not cease sending and inquiring, in what way they may be associated with him for ever. They are like worms which assert that there is a God, and that immediately after him, we who are made by him are altogether like unto God; and that all things have been made subject to us,—earth, and water, and air, and stars,—and that all things exist for our sake, and are ordained to be subject to us. The worms—that is, they themselves—say that now, since certain amongst us commit sin, God will come to us or will send his son to consume the wicked with fire, that the rest of us may have eternal life with him. Such wranglings would be more endurable amongst worms and frogs than betwixt Jews and Christians who quarrel with one another!
The Christians say that God, having abandoned the heavenly regions, and despising this great earth, takes up his abode amongst themselves alone, and to themselves alone makes His announcements, and ceases not his messages and inquiries as to how they may become his associates for ever. The Jews were fugitives from Egypt, who, though beloved by God, never performed anything worthy of note, and never were held in any reputation or account! The first book of Moses is entitled “Genesis.” The Jews accordingly endeavored to derive their origin from the first race of jugglers and deceivers, appealing to the testimony of dark and ambiguous words, whose meaning was veiled in obscurity, and which they misinterpreted to the unlearned and ignorant, and that, too, when such a point had never been called in question during the long preceding period. Concerning those names, from which the Jews deduce their genealogies, never, during the long antecedent period, had there been any dispute about these names, but at the present time the Jews dispute about them with certain others.
History proves the claims to great antiquity put forth by many nations, as the Athenians, and Egyptians, and Arcadians, and Phrygians, who assert that certain individuals have existed among them who sprang from the earth, and who each adduce proofs of these assertions. The Jews, then, leading a grovelling life in some corner of Palestine, and being a wholly uneducated people, who had not heard that these matters had been committed to verse long ago by Hesiod and innumerable other inspired men, wove together some most incredible and insipid stories, viz., that a certain man was formed by the hands of God, and had breathed into him the breath of life. [Genesis 2:7.] Thus fashioned by the hands of God, the man was inflated by breath blown into him. A woman was taken from his side, and God issued certain commands, and a serpent opposed these, and gained a victory over the commandments of God; the serpent counteracted the injunctions given by God to the man. Thus they relate certain old wives’ fables, and most impiously represent God as weak at the very beginning of things, and unable to convince and gain over to obedience even a single human being whom he himself had formed.
The more modest among Jews and Christians are ashamed of these things, and endeavor to give them somehow an allegorical signification. They speak, in the next place, of a deluge, and of a monstrous ark, having within it all things, and of a dove and a crow as messengers, falsifying and recklessly altering the story of Deucalion; not expecting, I suppose, that these things would come to light, but imagining that they were inventing stories merely for young children. Altogether absurd, and out of season is the account of the begetting of children, the conspiracies of the brothers, a father’s sorrow, the crafty procedure of mothers. God presented his sons with asses, and sheep, and camels! God gave wells also to the righteous. The story of Lot and his daughters is worse than the crimes of Thyestes. The narrative describes the hatred of one brother for another, brothers who treacherously sally out on account of the insult offered to their sister, who had been violated by the son of a king, brothers selling one another, a brother sold, and a father deceived. They tell of the dreams of the chief butler and chief baker, and of Pharaoh, and of the explanation of them, in consequence of which Joseph was taken out of prison in order to be entrusted by Pharaoh with the second place in Egypt.
He who had been sold behaved kindly to his brethren who had sold him, when they were suffering from hunger, and had been sent with their asses to purchase provisions. Joseph made himself known to his brethren; Joseph, who had been sold as a slave, was restored to liberty, and went up with a solemn procession to his father’s funeral. [Genesis 50:7.] By whom (Joseph, namely) the illustrious and divine nation of the Jews, after growing up in Egypt to be a multitude of people, was commanded to sojourn somewhere beyond the limits of the kingdom, and to pasture their flocks in districts of no repute.
The more modest among the Jewish and Christian writers endeavor somehow to give these stories an allegorical signification, taking refuge in allegory because they are ashamed of these things. But their writings are incapable of admitting an allegorical meaning; on the contrary they are commonplace and exceedingly silly inventions, and those who give them an allegorical interpretation do violence to the meaning of the writers. The allegorical explanations which have been devised are much more shameful and absurd than the fables themselves, inasmuch as they endeavor to unite with marvellous and altogether insensate folly things which cannot at all be made to harmonize.
Of such a nature do I know the work to be, entitled ‘Controversy between one Papiscus and Jason,’ which is fitted to excite pity and hatred instead of laughter. It is not my purpose, however, to confute the statements contained in such works; for their fallacy is manifest to all, especially if any one will have the patience to read the books themselves. Rather do I wish to show that Nature teaches this, that God made nothing that is mortal, but that his works, whatever they are, are immortal, while mortal things are the works of others, and the soul is a work of God, while the nature of the body is different. And in this respect there is no difference between the body of a bat, or of a worm, or of a frog, and that of a man; for the matter is the same, and their corruptible part is alike.
None of these: the body of a man or the snakes which come out of the body; the body of an ox, or the bees which come from the ox; the body of a horse or of an ass, and the wasps which come from a horse, and the beetles which proceed from an ass, is the work of God. One common nature pervades all the previously mentioned bodies, and one which goes and returns the same amid recurring changes. No product of matter is immortal. On this point these remarks are sufficient; and if any one is capable of hearing and examining further, he will come to know the truth.
There neither were formerly, nor are there now, nor will there be again, more or fewer evils in the world than have always been. For the nature of all things is one and the same, and the generation of evils is always the same. It is not easy, indeed, for one who is not a philosopher to ascertain the origin of evils, though it is sufficient for the multitude to say that they do not proceed from God, but cleave to matter, and dwell among mortal things. The course of mortal things is the same from beginning to end, and the same things must always, according to the appointed cycles, recur in the past, present, and future. This is sufficient to say to the multitude regarding the origin of evils.
Neither have visible things been given to man by God, but each individual thing comes into existence and perishes for the sake of the safety of the whole passing agreeably to the change, which I have already mentioned, from one thing to another. The world was uncreated and incorruptible, and it was only the things on earth which underwent deluges and conflagrations, and all these things did not happen at the same time. There will neither be more nor less good and evil among mortals. God does not need to amend his work afresh; although a thing may seem to you to be evil, it is by no means certain that it is so; for you do not know what is of advantage to yourself, or to another, or to the whole world.
Their writings repeat words of anger addressed by God to the ungodly, and of threatenings directed against sinners. They speak, indeed, of the ‘wrath’ of God, though God is not subject to passion. Is it not ridiculous to suppose that, whereas a man, who became angry with the Jews, slew them all from the youth upwards, and burned their city, so powerless were they to resist him;—the mighty God, as they say, being angry, and indignant, and uttering threats, should instead of punishing them send his own son, who endured the sufferings which He did? But that I may speak not of the Jews alone, for that is not my object, but of the whole of nature, as I promised, I will bring out in a clearer light what has been already stated.
They are blameworthy for asserting that God made all things for the sake of man. The history of animals, and the sagacity manifested by them, show that all things came into existence not more for the sake of man than of the irrational animals. Thunders, and lightnings, and rains are not the works of God; even if one were to grant that these are the works of God, they are brought into existence not more for the support of us who are human beings, than for that of plants, and trees, and herbs, and thorns. Although you may say that these things, viz., plants, and trees, and herbs, and thorns, grow for the use of men, why will you maintain that they grow for the use of men rather than for that of the most savage of irrational animals? Irrational animals are more beloved by God than men, and have a purer knowledge of divinity.
We indeed by labor and suffering earn a scanty and toilsome subsistence, while all things are produced for them without their sowing and plowing. But if you will quote the saying of Euripides, that
‘The Sun and Night are to mortals’ slaves,’
why should they be so in a greater degree to us than to ants and flies? For the night is created for them in order that they may rest, and the day that they may see and resume their work.
If one were to call us the lords of the animal creation because we hunt the other animals and live upon their flesh, we would say,—Why were not we rather created on their account, since they hunt and devour us? Nay, we require nets and weapons, and the assistance of many persons, along with dogs, when engaged in the chase; while they are immediately and spontaneously provided by nature with weapons which easily bring us under their power. With respect to your assertion, that God gave you the power to capture wild beasts, and to make your own use of them, we would say that, in all probability, in the beginning, before cities were built, and arts invented, and societies such as now exist were formed, and weapons and nets employed, men were generally caught and devoured by wild beasts, while wild beasts were very seldom captured by men. In this way God rather subjected men to wild beasts.
If men appear to be superior to irrational animals on this account, that they have built cities, and make use of a political constitution, and forms of government, and sovereignties, this is to say nothing to the purpose, for ants and bees do the same. Bees, indeed, have a sovereign, who has followers and attendants; and there occur among them wars and victories, and slaughterings of the vanquished, and cities and suburbs, and a succession of labors, and judgments passed upon the idle and the wicked; for the drones are driven away and punished. The wars among the bees convey instruction as to the manner in which wars, if ever there arise a necessity for them, should be waged in a just and orderly way among men.
The ants help one another with their loads, when they see one of their number toiling under them. The ants set apart in a place by themselves those grains which sprout forth, that they may not swell into bud, but may continue throughout the year as their food, evidence of the existence of reason among ants. When ants die, the survivors set apart a special place for their interment, in their ancestral sepulchres. And when they meet one another they enter into conversation, for which reason they never mistake their way; consequently they possess a full endowment of reason, and some common ideas on certain general subjects, and a voice by which they express themselves regarding accidental things. Come now, if one were to look down from heaven upon earth, in what respect would our actions appear to differ from those of ants and bees?
If, however, men entertain lofty notions because of their possessing the power of sorcery, yet even in that respect are serpents and eagles their superiors in wisdom; for they are acquainted with many prophylactics against poisons and diseases, and also with the virtues of certain stones which help to preserve their young. If men, however, fall in with these, they think that they have gained a wonderful possession.
If, because man has been able to grasp the idea of God, he is deemed superior to the other animals, let those who hold this opinion know that this capacity will be claimed by many of the other animals; and with good reason: for what would any one maintain to be more divine than the power of foreknowing and predicting future events? Men accordingly acquire the art from the other animals, and especially from birds. Those who listen to the indications furnished by them, become possessed of the gift of prophecy. If, then, birds, and the other prophetic animals, which are enabled by the gift of God to foreknow events, instruct us by means of signs, so much the nearer do they seem to be to the society of God, and to be endowed with greater wisdom, and to be more beloved by him. The more intelligent of men, moreover, say that the animals hold meetings which are more sacred than our assemblies, and that they know what is said at these meetings, and actually prove that in reality they possess this knowledge, when, having previously stated that the birds have declared their intention of departing to some particular place, and of doing this thing or the other, the truth of their assertions is established by the departure of the birds to the place in question, and by their doing the particular thing which was foretold. And no race of animals appears to be more observant of oaths than the elephants are, or to show greater devotion to divine things; and this, I presume, solely because they have some knowledge of God.
Birds of augury converse with one another; they are possessed of a divine soul, and are capable of perceiving the gods. What could be called more divine than the power of foreknowing and foretelling the future? Many of the animals claim to have ideas of God; the irrational animals are nearer the society of God than men. Not only are the irrational animals wiser than the human race, but they are more beloved by God than we! What of the elephants’ fidelity to oaths, and of their great devotedness to our God, and of the knowledge which they possess of him? That the stork is more pious than any human being, is shown by those accounts which are narrated regarding that creature’s display of filial affection in bringing food to its parents for their support. The Arabian bird, the phoenix, after many years repairs to Egypt, and bears thither its parent, when dead and buried in a ball of myrrh, and deposits its body in the Temple of the Sun:—an instance of piety.
All things, accordingly, were not made for man, any more than they were made for lions, or eagles, or dolphins, but that this world, as being God’s work, might be perfect and entire and complete in all respects. For this reason all things have been adjusted, not with reference to each other, but with regard to their bearing upon the whole. And God takes care of the whole, and his providence will never forsake it; and it does not become worse; nor does God after a time bring it back to himself; nor is he angry on account of men any more than on account of apes or flies; nor does he threaten these beings, each one of which has received its appointed lot in its proper place.
Angels and Demons
O Jews and Christians, no God or son of a God either came or will come down to earth. But if you mean that certain angels did so, then what do you call them? Are they gods, or some other race of beings? Some other race of beings doubtless, and in all probability demons. They assert that the angels who come down from heaven to confer benefits on mankind are a different race from the gods; in all probability they would be called demons.
The first point relating to the Jews which is fitted to excite wonder, is that they should worship the heaven and the angels who dwell therein, and yet pass by and neglect its most venerable and powerful parts, as the sun, the moon, and the other heavenly bodies, both fixed stars and planets, as if it were possible that ’the whole’ could be God, and yet its parts not divine; or as if it were reasonable to treat with the greatest respect those who are said to appear to such as are in darkness somewhere, blinded by some crooked sorcery, or dreaming dreams through the influence of shadowy spectres, while those who prophesy so clearly and strikingly to all men, by means of whom rain, and heat, and clouds, and thunder (to which they offer worship), and lightnings, and fruits, and all kinds of productiveness, are brought about,—by means of whom God is revealed to them,—the most prominent heralds among those beings that are above,—those that are truly heavenly angels,—are to be regarded as of no account! The sun, moon, and stars do foretell rain, and heat, and clouds, and thunders, and lightnings, and fruits, and all manner of productions. But sun, and moon, and stars are regarded by them as of no account.
It is folly on their part to suppose that when God, as if He were a cook, introduces the fire which is to consume the world [2 Peter 3:10], all the rest of the human race will be burnt up, while they alone will remain, not only such of them as are then alive, but also those who are long since dead, which latter will arise from the earth clothed with the self-same flesh as during life; for such a hope is simply one which might be cherished by worms. For what sort of human soul is that which would still long for a body that had been subject to corruption? Whence, also, this opinion of yours is not shared by some of the Christians, and they pronounce it to be exceedingly vile, and loathsome, and impossible; for what kind of body is that which, after being completely corrupted, can return to its original nature, and to that self-same first condition out of which it fell into dissolution? Being unable to return any answer, they betake themselves to a most absurd refuge, viz., that all things are possible to God. And yet God cannot do things that are disgraceful, nor does he wish to do things that are contrary to his nature; nor, if in accordance with the wickedness of your own heart you desired anything that was evil, would God accomplish it; nor must you believe at once that it will be done. For God does not rule the world in order to satisfy inordinate desires, or to allow error and disorder and confusion, but to govern a nature that is upright and just.
It is said by them that there will remain at the time of the visitation which is to come upon the world by the fire of purification, not only those who are then alive, but also those who are long ago dead. With the same bodies, without a change to a higher condition, shall those who were long dead arise from the earth and live again. For the soul, indeed, God might be able to provide an everlasting life; while, on the contrary, Heraclitus observes that dead bodies are to be cast out as more worthless than dung. God, however, neither can nor will declare, contrary to all reason, that the flesh, which is full of those things which it is not even honorable to mention, is to exist for ever. For God himself is the reason of all things that exist, and therefore can do nothing either contrary to reason or contrary to himself.
Laws of the Jews
As the Jews, then, became a peculiar people, and enacted laws in keeping with the customs of their country, and maintain them up to the present time, and observe a mode of worship which, whatever be its nature, is yet derived from their fathers, they act in these respects like other men, because each nation retains its ancestral customs, whatever they are, if they happen to be established among them. And such an arrangement appears to be advantageous, not only because it has occurred to the mind of other nations to decide some things differently, but also because it is a duty to protect what has been established for the public advantage; and also because, in all probability, the various quarters of the earth were from the beginning allotted to different superintending spirits, and were thus allotted among certain governing powers, and in this manner the administration of the world is carried on. And whatever is done among each nation in this way would be rightly done, wherever it was agreeable to the wishes of the superintending powers, while it would be an act of impiety to get rid of the institutions established from the beginning in the various places. We must observe the laws because it is a duty to protect what has been enacted; because of the superintendents distributed among the different parts of the earth, what is done among each nation is rightly done.
Let the second party come forward; and I shall ask them whence they come, and whom they regard as the originator of their ancestral customs. They will reply:—No one, because they spring from the same source as the Jews themselves, and derive their instruction and superintendence from no other quarter, and notwithstanding they have revolted from the Jews.
We might adduce Herodotus as a witness on this point, for he expresses himself as follows: ‘For the people of the cities Mares and Apis, who inhabit those parts of Egypt that are adjacent to Libya, and who look upon themselves as Libyans, and not as Egyptians, finding their sacrificial worship oppressive, and wishing not to be excluded from the use of cows’ flesh, sent to the oracle of Jupiter Ammon, saying that there was no relationship between them and the Egyptians, that they dwelt outside the Delta, that there was no community of sentiment between them and the Egyptians, and that they wished to be allowed to partake of all kinds of food. But the god would not allow them to do as they desired, saying that that country was a part of Egypt, which was watered by the inundation of the Nile, and that those were Egyptians who dwell to the south of the city of Elephantine, and drink of the river Nile.’ Such is the narrative of Herodotus. Ammon did not make a worse ambassador of divine things than did the angels of the Jews!
For if any one were to make this proposal to all men, viz., to bid him select out of all existing laws the best, each would choose, after examination, those of his own country. Men each consider their own laws much the best, and therefore it is not likely than any other than a madman would make these things a subject of ridicule. But that such are the conclusions of all men regarding the laws, may be determined by many other evidences, and especially by the following illustration. Darius, during his reign, having summoned before him those Greeks who happened to be present at the time, inquired of them for how much they would be willing to eat their deceased fathers? their answer was, that for no consideration would they do such a thing. After this, Darius summoned those Indians who are called Callatians. who are in the habit of eating their parents, and asked of them in the presence of these Greeks, who learned what passed through an interpreter, for what amount of money they would undertake to burn their deceased fathers with fire? on which they raised a loud shout, and bade the king say no more. Such is the way, then, in which these matters are regarded. And Pindar appears to me to be right in saying that ‘law’ is the king of all things. It is an obligation incumbent on all men to live according to their country’s customs, in which case they will escape censure; whereas the Christians, who have abandoned their native usages, and who are not one nation like the Jews, are to be blamed for giving their adherence to the teaching of Jesus.
If, then, in these respects the Jews were carefully to preserve their own law, they are not to be blamed for so doing, but those persons rather who have forsaken their own usages, and adopted those of the Jews. And if they pride themselves on it, as being possessed of superior wisdom, and keep aloof from intercourse with others, as not being equally pure with themselves, they have already heard that their doctrine concerning heaven is not peculiar to them, but, to pass by all others, is one which has long ago been received by the Persians, as Herodotus somewhere mentions. ‘For they have a custom,’ he says, ‘of going up to the tops of the mountains, and of offering sacrifices to Jupiter, giving the name of Jupiter to the whole circle of the heavens.’ Those Ethiopians who inhabit Meroe know only of two gods, Jupiter and Bacchus, and worship these alone; and the Arabians also know only of two, viz., Bacchus, who is also an Ethiopian deity, and Urania, whose worship is confined to them. And I think that it makes no difference whether you call the highest being Zeus, or Zen, or Adonai, or Sabaoth, or Ammoun like the Egyptians, or Pappaeus like the Scythians. To the wise it makes no difference whether the God who is over all things be called by the name of Zeus, which is current among the Greeks, or by that, e.g., which is in use among the Indians or Egyptians.
Nor would they be deemed at all holier than others in this respect, that they observe the rite of circumcision, for this was done by the Egyptians and Colchians before them; nor because they abstain from swine’s flesh, for the Egyptians practiced abstinence not only from it, but from the flesh of goats, and sheep, and oxen, and fishes as well; while Pythagoras and his disciples do not eat beans, nor anything that contains life. It is not probable, however, that they enjoy God’s favor, or are loved by him differently from others, or that angels were sent from heaven to them alone, as if they had had allotted to them ‘some region of the blessed,’ for we see both themselves and the country of which they were deemed worthy. Let this band, then, take its departure, after paying the penalty of its vaunting, not having a knowledge of the great God, but being led away and deceived by the artifices of Moses, having become his pupil to no good end.
It is not probable that the Jews are in great favor with God, or are regarded by him with more affection than others; for we may see both the people themselves, and the country of which they were deemed worthy. The Christians nevertheless maintain that it was the fortune of the people of the Jews in a remarkable degree to enjoy God’s favor, and to be loved by him in a way different from others. So whence came they and who is their leader, and what law proceeded from him?
Let us then pass over the refutations which might be adduced against the claims of their teacher, and let him be regarded as really an angel. But is he the first and only one who came to men, or were there others before him? If they should say that he is the only one, they would be convicted of telling lies against themselves. For they assert that on many occasions others came, and sixty or seventy of them descended together, and that these became wicked, and were cast under the earth and punished with chains, and that from this source originate the warm springs, which are the angels’ tears; and, moreover, that there came an angel to the tomb of this said being—according to some, indeed, one, but according to others, two—who answered the women that he had arisen. For the son of God could not himself, as it seems, open the tomb, but needed the help of another to roll away the stone! And again, on account of the pregnancy of Mary, there came an angel to the carpenter [Matthew 1:20], and once more another angel, in order that they might take up the new-born child, whose life was in danger, and flee away into Egypt. [Matthew 2:13.] But what need is there to particularize everything, or to count up the number of angels said to have been sent to Moses, and others amongst them as well? If, then, others were sent, it is manifest that he also came from the same God. But he may be supposed to have the appearance of announcing something of greater importance than those who preceded him, as if the Jews had been committing sin, or corrupting their religion, or doing deeds of impiety; for these things are obscurely hinted at.
Let him appear to be really an angel; is he the first and only one who came, or did others come on former occasions? And so he is not the only one who is recorded to have visited the human race, as even those who, under pretext of teaching in the name of Jesus, have apostatized from the Creator as an inferior being, and have given in their adherence to one who is a superior God and father of him who visited the world, assert that before him certain beings came from the Creator to visit the human race. The Jews accordingly, and these Christians, have the same God. It is certain, indeed, that the members of the great Church admit this, and adopt as true the accounts regarding the creation of the world which are current among the Jews, viz., concerning the six days and the seventh, on which day God rested. Relating to the first man, they give the same account as do the Jews, and deduce the same genealogy from him as they do.
Multiplicity of Sects
Let no one suppose that I am ignorant that some of them will concede that their God is the same as that of the Jews, while others will maintain that he is a different one, to whom the latter is in opposition, and that it was from the former that the Son came. To the Church belong those of the multitude; there are, moreover, certain Christians termed Sibyllists, believers in the Sibyl. Certain Simonians worship Helene, or Helenus, as their teacher, and are called Helenians; there are, moreover, certain Marcellians, so called from Marcellina, and Harpocratians from Salome, and others who derive their name from Mariamme, and others again from Martha. There are others who have wickedly invented some being as their teacher and demon, and who wallow about in a great darkness, more unholy and accursed than that of the companions of the Egyptian Antinous.
Moreover, these persons utter against one another dreadful blasphemies, saying all manner of things shameful to be spoken; nor will they yield in the slightest point for the sake of harmony, hating each other with a perfect hatred. Certain among the Christians are called ‘cauterized in the ears;’ and some are termed ‘enigmas.’ You may hear all those who differ so widely, and who assail each other in their disputes with the most shameless language, uttering the words, ‘The world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.’
Although they have no foundation for the doctrine, let us examine the system itself; and, in the first place, let us mention the corruptions which they have made through ignorance and misunderstanding, when in the discussion of elementary principles they express their opinions in the most absurd manner on things which they do not understand, such as the following.
These things are stated much better among the Greeks than in the Scriptures, and in a manner which is free from all exaggerations and promises on the part of God, or the son of God. Plato, for example, the son of Ariston, in one of his Epistles, discoursing about the ‘chief good,’ says, “The chief good can by no means be described in words, but is produced by long habit, and bursts forth suddenly as a light in the soul, as from a fire which had leapt forth.” An epistle of Plato contains another statement to the following effect, viz.: “If it appeared to me that these matters could be adequately explained to the multitude in writing and in oral address, what nobler pursuit in life could have been followed by me, than to commit to writing what was to prove of such advantage to human beings, and to lead the nature of all men onwards to the light?”
Another quotation from Plato will show how the employment of the method of question and answer sheds light on the thoughts of those who philosophize. As Plato demonstrates, “the good” can be known by few, since the multitude, being puffed up with a contempt for others, which is far from right, and being filled with vain and lofty hopes, assert that, because they have come to the knowledge of some venerable doctrines, certain things are true. Yet although Plato predicted these things, he nevertheless does not talk marvels, nor shut the mouth of those who wish to ask him for information on the subject of his promises; nor does he command them to come at once and believe that a god of a particular kind exists, and that he has a son of a particular nature, who descended to earth and conversed with himself personally.
Another saying of Plato is to the following effect: “It has occurred to me to speak once more upon these subjects at greater length, as perhaps I might express myself about them more clearly than I have already done, for there is a certain ‘real’ cause, which proves a hindrance in the way of him who has ventured, even to a slight extent, to write on such topics; and as this has been frequently mentioned by me on former occasions, it appears to me that it ought to be stated now. In each of existing things, which are necessarily employed in the acquisition of knowledge, there are three elements; knowledge itself is the fourth; and that ought to be laid down as the fifth which is both capable of being known and is true. Of these, one is ‘name;’ the second is ‘word;’ the third, ‘image;’ the fourth, ‘knowledge.’”
Now, according to this division, John is introduced before Jesus as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, so as to correspond with the “name” of Plato; and the second after John, who is pointed out by him, is Jesus, with whom agrees the statement, “The Word became flesh [John 1:14];” and that corresponds to the “word” of Plato. Plato terms the third “image.” You see how Plato, although maintaining that the chief good cannot be described in words, yet, to avoid the appearance of retreating to an irrefutable position, subjoins a reason in explanation of this difficulty, as even ‘nothing’ might perhaps be explained in words. Plato is not guilty of boasting and falsehood, giving out that he has made some new discovery, or that he has come down from heaven to announce it, but acknowledges whence these statements are derived.
They say to each of their hearers:—Believe, first of all, that he whom I introduce to thee is the son of God, although he was shamefully bound, and disgracefully punished, and very recently was most contumeliously treated before the eyes of all men. Believe it even the more, on that account. If these bring forward this person, and others, again, a different individual, while the common and ready cry of all parties is, ‘Believe, if thou wilt be saved, or else begone,’ what shall those do who are in earnest about their salvation? Shall they cast the dice, in order to divine whither they may betake themselves, and whom they shall join?
They declare the wisdom that is among men to be foolishness with God. [1 Corinthians 3:19.] The reason of this has been stated long ago: their desire to win over by means of this saying the most ignorant, servile, or uninstructed of mankind. These sorcerers flee away with headlong speed from the more polished class of persons, because they are not suitable subjects for their impositions, while they seek to decoy those who are more rustic.
Even this statement, however, was borrowed from the Grecian sages, who declare that human wisdom is of one kind, and divine of another. Heraclitus says in one passage, that “man’s method of action is not regulated by fixed principles, but that of God is;” and in another, that “a foolish man listens to a demon, as a boy does to a man.” The following is from the Apology of Socrates, of which Plato was the author: “For I, O men of Athens, have obtained this name by no other means than by my wisdom. And of what sort is this wisdom? Such, probably, as is human; for in that respect I venture to think that I am in reality wise.”
That humility which is practiced among them is borrowed from some words of Plato imperfectly understood, where he expresses himself in the Laws as follows: “Now God, according to the ancient account, having in himself both the beginning and end and middle of all existing things, proceeds according to nature, and marches straight on. He is constantly followed by justice, which is the avenger of all breaches of the divine law: he who is about to become happy follows her closely in humility, and becomingly adorned.”
The declaration of Jesus against rich men, when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God [Matthew 19:24],” is a saying manifestly proceeding from Plato. Jesus perverted the words of the philosopher, which were, that “it was impossible to be distinguished for goodness, and at the same time for riches.”
The declaration of Plato runs as follows: “All things are around the King of all, and all things exist for his sake, and he is the cause of all good things. With things of the second rank he is second, and with those of the third rank he is third. The human soul, accordingly, is eager to learn what these things are, looking to such things as are kindred to itself, none of which is perfect. But as regards the King and those things which I mentioned, there is nothing which resembles them.”
Gnostics and Christians
Certain Christians, having misunderstood the words of Plato, loudly boast of a ’super-celestial’ God thus ascending beyond the heaven of the Jews. These things are obscurely hinted at in the accounts of the Persians, and especially in the mysteries of Mithras, which are celebrated amongst them. For in the latter there is a representation of the two heavenly revolutions,—of the movement, viz., of the fixed stars, and of that which take place among the planets, and of the passage of the soul through these. The representation is of the following nature: There is a ladder with lofty gates, and on the top of it an eighth gate. The first gate consists of lead, the second of tin, the third of copper, the fourth of iron, the fifth of a mixture of metals, the sixth of silver, and the seventh of gold. The first gate they assign to Saturn, indicating by the ’lead’ the slowness of this star; the second to Venus, comparing her to the splendor and softness of tin; the third to Jupiter, being firm and solid; the fourth to Mercury, for both Mercury and iron are fit to endure all things, and are money-making and laborious; the fifth to Mars, because, being composed of a mixture of metals, it is varied and unequal; the sixth, of silver, to the Moon; the seventh, of gold, to the Sun,—thus imitating the different colors of the two latter.
Musical reasons, moreover, are quoted by the Persian theology; and added to these, again, is a second explanation, connected also with musical considerations, of the seven heavens. He who would investigate the Christian mysteries, along with the aforesaid Persian, will, on comparing the two together, and on unveiling the rites of the Christians, see in this way the difference between them. I have seen a certain diagram, in which were described ten circles, distinct from each other, but united by one circle, which was said to be the soul of all things, and was called “Leviathan:” the soul which had travelled through all things! I observed, also, in the diagram, the being named “Behemoth,” placed as it were under the lowest circle. The inventor of this diagram had inscribed this leviathan at its circumference and center, thus placing its name in two separate places. Moreover, the diagram was divided by a thick black line, and this line was called Gehenna, which is Tartarus.
He who impresses the seal is called father, and he who is sealed is called young man and son, who answers, “I have been anointed with white ointment from the tree of life.” Those who deliver over the seal mention the number of seven angels, who attach themselves to both sides of the soul of the dying body; the one party being named angels of light, the others ‘archontics.’ The ruler of those named ‘archontics’ is termed the ‘accursed’ god. Who would venture to use such language—as if there could be an “accursed” divinity! Yet the God of the Mosaic cosmogony is termed an accursed divinity, because such is his character, and worthy of execration in the opinion of those who so regard him, inasmuch as he pronounced a curse upon the serpent, who introduced the first human beings to the knowledge of good and evil.
What could be more foolish or insane than such senseless wisdom? For what blunder has the Jewish lawgiver committed? and why do you accept, by means, as you say, of a certain allegorical and typical method of interpretation, the cosmogony which he gives, and the law of the Jews, while it is with unwillingness, O most impious man, that you give praise to the Creator of the world, who promised to give them all things; who promised to multiply their race to the ends of the earth, and to raise them up from the dead with the same flesh and blood, and who gave inspiration to their prophets; and, again, you slander him! When you feel the force of such considerations, indeed, you acknowledge that you worship the same God; but when your teacher Jesus and the Jewish Moses give contradictory decisions, you seek another God, instead of him, and the Father!
To return to the Seven ruling Demons, their order is laid down in the diagram. The goat was shaped like a lion. Again, the second in order is a bull, the third an amphibious sort of animal, and one that hissed frightfully; moreover, the fourth had the form of an eagle; again, the fifth had the countenance of a bear. To continue the account, the sixth was described as having the face of a dog; the seventh had the countenance of an ass. Moreover, if any one would wish to become acquainted with the artifices of those sorcerers, through which they desire to lead men away by their teaching as if they possessed the knowledge of certain secret rites, but are not at all successful in so doing, let him listen to the instruction which they receive after passing through what is termed the “fence of wickedness,”—gates which are subjected to the world of ruling spirits. The following, then, is the manner in which they proceed: “I salute the one-formed king, the bond of blindness, complete oblivion, the first power, preserved by the spirit of providence and by wisdom, from whom I am sent forth pure, being already part of the light of the son and of the father: grace be with me; yea, O father, let it be with me.” They say also that the beginnings of the Ogdoad are derived from this. In the next place, they are taught to say as follows, while passing through what they call Ialdabaoth: “Thou, O first and seventh, who art born to command with confidence, thou, O Ialdabaoth, who art the rational ruler of a pure mind, and a perfect work to son and father, bearing the symbol of life in the character of a type, and opening to the world the gate which thou didst close against thy kingdom, I pass again in freedom through thy realm. Let grace be with me; yea, O father, let it be with me.” They say, moreover, that the star Phaenon is in sympathy with the lion-like ruler. They next imagine that he who has passed through Ialdabaoth and arrived at Iao ought thus to speak: “Thou, O second Iao, who shinest by night, who art the ruler of the secret mysteries of son and father, first prince of death, and portion of the innocent, bearing now mine own beard as symbol, I am ready to pass through thy realm, having strengthened him who is born of thee by the living word. Grace be with me; father, let it be with me.” They next come to Sabaoth, to whom they think the following should be addressed: “O governor of the fifth realm, powerful Sabaoth, defender of the law of thy creatures, who are liberated by thy grace through the help of a more powerful Pentad, admit me, seeing the faultless symbol of their art, preserved by the stamp of an image, a body liberated by a Pentad. Let grace be with me, O father, let grace be with me.” And after Sabaoth they come to Astaphaeus, to whom they believe the following prayer should be offered: “O Astaphaeus, ruler of the third gate, overseer of the first principle of water, look upon me as one of thine initiated, admit me who am purified with the spirit of a virgin, thou who seest the essence of the world. Let grace be with me, O father, let grace be with me.” After him comes Aloaeus, who is to be thus addressed: “O Aloaeus, governor of the second gate, let me pass, seeing I bring to thee the symbol of thy mother, a grace which is hidden by the powers of the realms. Let grace be with me, O father, let it be with me.” And last of all they name Horaeus, and think that the following prayer ought to be offered to him: “Thou who didst fearlessly overleap the rampart of fire, O Horaeus, who didst obtain the government of the first gate, let me pass, seeing thou beholdest the symbol of thine own power, sculptured on the figure of the tree of life, and formed after this image, in the likeness of innocence. Let grace be with me, O father, let grace be with me.”
Certain persons return to the shapes of the archontics, so that some are called lions, others bulls, others dragons, or eagles, or bears, or dogs. They draw a diagram called the “square pattern,” depicting the gates of Paradise. The flaming sword is depicted as the diameter of a flaming circle, and as if mounting guard over the tree of knowledge and of life.
They continue to heap together one thing after another,—discourses of prophets, and circles upon circles, and effluents from an earthly church, and from circumcision; and a power flowing from one Prunicos, a virgin and a living soul; and a heaven slain in order to live, and an earth slaughtered by the sword, and many put to death that they may live, and death ceasing in the world, when the sin of the world is dead; and, again, a narrow way, and gates that open spontaneously. And in all their writings is mention made of the tree of life, and a resurrection of the flesh by means of the ‘tree,’ because, I imagine, their teacher was nailed to a cross; so that if he had chanced to have been cast from a precipice, or shoved into a pit, or suffocated by hanging, there would have been invented a precipice of life far beyond the heavens, or a pit of resurrection, or a cord of immortality. Or if the ’tree of life’ was an invention because he—Jesus—is reported to have been a carpenter by craft, it would follow that if he had been a leather-cutter, something would have been said about a sacred leather; or had he been a stone-cutter, about a blessed stone; or if a worker in iron, about an iron of love! Now what old woman would not be ashamed to utter such things in a whisper, even when making stories to lull an infant to sleep?
And that is not the least of their marvels, for there are between the upper circles—those that are above the heavens—certain inscriptions of which they give the interpretation, and among others two words especially, ‘a greater and a less,’ which they refer to Father and Son. In the diagram are found the greater and the lesser circle, upon the diameter of which is inscribed “Father and Son;” and between the greater circle, in which the lesser was contained, and another composed of two circles,—the outer one of which was yellow, and the inner blue,—a barrier inscribed in the shape of a hatchet. And above it, a short circle, close to the greater of the two former, having the inscription “Love;” and lower down, one touching the same circle, with the word “Life.” And on the second circle, which was intertwined with and included two other circles, another figure, like a rhomboid, entitled “The foresight of wisdom.” And within their point of common section was “The nature of wisdom.” And above their point of common section was a circle, on which was inscribed “Knowledge;” and lower down another, on which was the inscription, “Understanding.” Those who employ the arts of magic and sorcery, and who invoke the barbarous names of demons, act like those who, in reference to the same things, perform marvels before those who are ignorant that the names of demons among the Greeks are different from what they are among the Scythians. Herodotus states that “Apollo is called Gongosyrus by the Scythians; Poseidon, Thagimasada; Aphrodite, Argimpasan; Hestia, Tabiti.” What need to number up all those who have taught methods of purification, or expiatory hymns, or spells for averting evil, or the making of images, or resemblances of demons, or the various sorts of antidotes against poison to be found in clothes, or in numbers, or stones, or plants, or roots, or generally in all kinds of things?
I have seen in the hands of certain presbyters belonging to your faith barbarous books, containing the names and marvellous doings of demons; these presbyters of your faith professed to do no good, but all that was calculated to injure human beings. Having become acquainted with one Dionysius, an Egyptian musician, the latter told me, with respect to magic arts, that it was only over the uneducated and men of corrupt morals that they had any power, while on philosophers they were unable to produce any effect, because they were careful to observe a healthy manner of life.
Certain most impious errors are committed by them, due to their extreme ignorance, in which they have wandered away from the meaning of the divine enigmas, creating an adversary to God, the devil, and naming him in the Hebrew tongue, Satan. Now, of a truth, such statements are altogether of mortal invention, and not even proper to be repeated, viz., that the mighty God, in his desire to confer good upon men, has yet one counterworking him, and is helpless. The son of God, it follows, is vanquished by the devil; and being punished by him, teaches us also to despise the punishments which he inflicts, telling us beforehand that Satan, after appearing to men as he himself had done, will exhibit great and marvellous works, claiming for himself the glory of God, but that those who wish to keep him at a distance ought to pay no attention to these works of Satan, but to place their faith in him alone. Such statements are manifestly the words of a deluder, planning and maneuvering against those who are opposed to his views, and who rank themselves against them.
War of the Gods
The ancients allude obscurely to a certain war among the gods, Heraclitus speaking thus of it: ‘If one must say that there is a general war and discord, and that all things are done and administered in strife.’ Pherecydes, again, who is much older than Heraclitus, relates a myth of one army drawn up in hostile array against another, and names Kronos as the leader of the one, and Ophioneus of the other, and recounts their challenges and struggles, and mentions that agreements were entered into between them, to the end that whichever party should fall into the ocean should be held as vanquished, while those who had expelled and conquered them should have possession of heaven. The mysteries relating to the Titans and Giants also had some such symbolical meaning, as well as the Egyptian mysteries of Typhon, and Horus, and Osiris. These are not like the stories which are related of a devil, or demon, or, to speak more truthfully, of a man who is an impostor, who wishes to establish an opposite doctrine. Homer refers obscurely to matters similar to those mentioned by Heraclitus, and Pherecydes, and the originators of the mysteries about the Titans and Giants, in those words which Hephaestus addresses to Hera as follows:—
“Once in your cause I felt his matchless might,
And in those of Zeus to Hera:—
“Hast thou forgot, when, bound and fix’d on high,
The words of Zeus addressed to Hera are the words of God addressed to matter; and the words addressed to matter obscurely signify that the matter which at the beginning was in a state of discord with God, was taken by Him, and bound together and arranged under laws, which may be analogically compared to chains; and that by way of chastising the demons who create disorder in it, he hurls them down headlong to this lower world. These words of Homer were so understood by Pherecydes, when he said that beneath that region is the region of Tartarus, which is guarded by the Harpies and Tempest, daughters of Boreas, to which Zeus banishes any one of the gods who becomes disorderly. With the same ideas also are closely connected the peplus of Athena, which is beheld by all in the procession of the Panathenaea. For it is manifest from this, that a motherless and unsullied demon has the mastery over the daring of the Giants.
The son of God is punished by the devil, and teaches us that we also, when punished by him, ought to endure it. Now these statements are altogether ridiculous. For it is the devil, I think, who ought rather to be punished, and those human beings who are calumniated by him ought not to be threatened with chastisement. I can tell how the very thing occurred, viz., that they should call him ’son of God.’ Men of ancient times termed this world, as being born of God, both his child and his son. Both the one and other ‘son of God,’ then, greatly resembled each other.
Six Days of Creation
Moreover, their cosmogony is extremely silly. The narrative of the creation of man is exceedingly silly. The ancients proposed varying opinions regarding the world and the origin of man. The philosophers of the Porch assert that the virtue of God and man is the same, and maintain that the God who is over all things is not happier than their wise man, but that the happiness of both is equal. Moses and the prophets, who have left to them their books, not knowing at all what the nature of the world is, and of man, have woven together a web of sheer nonsense.
Their statements about the “days of creation” are absurd. The words, “Let there be light [Genesis 1:3],” sound like the expression of a wish. The Creator did not borrow light from above, like those persons who kindle their lamps at those of their neighbors. If, indeed, there did exist an accursed god opposed to the great God, who worked contrary to his approval, why did he lend him the light? With regard to the origin of the world and its destruction, whether it is to be regarded as uncreated and indestructible, or as created indeed, but not destructible, or the reverse, I at present say nothing. By far the most silly thing is the distribution of the creation of the world over certain days, before days existed: for, as the heaven was not yet created, nor the foundation of the earth yet laid, nor the sun yet revolving, how could there be days?
What god gives anything with the intention of demanding it back? For it is the mark of a needy person to demand back what he has given, whereas God stands in need of nothing. Why, when he lent his spirit, was he ignorant that he was lending it to an evil being? Why does he pass without notice a wicked creator who was counter-working his purposes? Why does he send secretly, and destroy the works which he has created? Why does he secretly employ force, and persuasion, and deceit? Why does he allure those who, as you assert, have been condemned or accused by him, and carry them away like a slave-dealer? Why does he teach them to steal away from their Lord? Why to flee from their father? Why does he claim them for himself against the father’s will? Why does he profess to be the father of strange children? Venerable, indeed, is the god who desires to be the father of those sinners who are condemned by another god, and of the needy, and, as themselves say, of the very offscourings of men, and who is unable to capture and punish his messenger, who escaped from him! If these are his works, how is it that God created evil? And how is it that he cannot persuade and admonish men? And how is it that he repents when men become ungrateful and wicked? He finds fault, moreover, with his own handwork, and hates, and threatens, and destroys his own offspring! But if he does not destroy his own offspring, whither can he transport them out of this world, which he himself has made?
Moreover, taking and looking at these things from the beginning, would it not be absurd in the first and greatest God to issue the command, Let this first thing come into existence, and this second thing, and this third; and after accomplishing so much on the first day, to do so much more again on the second, and third, and fourth, and fifth, and sixth? After this, indeed, he is weary, like a very bad workman, who stands in need of rest to refresh himself! It is not in keeping with the fitness of things that the first God should feel fatigue, or work with his own hands, or give forth commands. God possesses nothing else of which we have any knowledge; he has neither mouth nor voice. Neither did he make man his image; for God is not such an one, nor like any other species of visible being. Thus they admit that God partakes of form or color; they think he even partakes of motion. But God does not partake even of substance! Of him are all things; neither is God to be reached by word. He cannot be expressed by name, for he has undergone no suffering that can be conveyed by words.
How, then, shall I know God? and how shall I learn the way that leads to Him? And how will you show him to me? Because now, indeed, you pour darkness before my eyes, and I see nothing distinctly. Those whom one would lead forth out of darkness into the brightness of light, being unable to withstand its splendors, have their power of vision affected and injured, and so imagine that they are smitten with blindness. How do they think they can know God? and how do they know they shall be saved by him? The answer which they give is based upon a probable conjecture:—Since God is great and difficult to see, he put his own Spirit into a body that resembled ours, and sent it down to us, that we might be enabled to hear him and become acquainted with him as an object easy to be seen.
As the son of God, who existed in a human body, is a Spirit, this very son of God would not be immortal. There is no kind of spirit which lasts for ever. God must necessarily have given up the ghost! If God had wished to send down his Spirit from himself, what need was there to breathe it into the womb of a woman? For as one who knew already how to form men, he could also have fashioned a body for this person, without casting his own Spirit into so much pollution; and in this way he would not have been received with incredulity, if he had derived His existence immediately from above.
How could he, who was punished in such a manner, be shown to be God’s Son, unless these things had been predicted of him? The two parties of Christians introduce two sons of God, one the son of the Creator, and the other the son of an alien God; two sons to engage in single combat! The Theomachies of the Fathers are like the battles between quails; or that the Fathers, becoming useless through age, and falling into their dotage do not meddle at all with one another, but leave their sons to fight it out.
Since a divine Spirit inhabited the body of Jesus, it must certainly have been different from that of other beings, in respect of grandeur, or beauty, or strength, or voice, or impressiveness, or persuasiveness. For it is impossible that he, to whom was imparted some divine quality beyond other beings, should not differ from others; whereas this person did not differ in any respect from another, but was, as they report, little, and ill-favored, and ignoble.
Again, if God, like Jupiter in the comedy, should, on awaking from a lengthened slumber, desire to rescue the human race from evil, why did he send this Spirit of which you speak into one corner of the earth? He ought to have breathed it alike into many bodies, and have sent them out into all the world. Now the comic poet, to cause laughter in the theatre, wrote that Jupiter, after awakening, despatched Mercury to the Athenians and Lacedaemonians; but do not you think that you have made the son of God more ridiculous in sending him to the Jews?
God, although knowing all things, was not aware of this, that he was sending his Son amongst wicked men, who were both to be guilty of sin, and to inflict punishment upon him. Let us see how they can raise a defense. To those who admit another God, no defense is possible; and they who recognize the same God will always fall back upon the same reason: ‘This and that must have happened.’ And why? ‘Because it had been predicted long before.’ They say that the Jewish prophets foretold events which happened in the life of Christ Jesus. They set no value on the oracles of the Pythian priestess, of the priests of Dodona, of Clarus, of Branchidae, of Jupiter Ammon, and of a multitude of others; although under their guidance we may say that colonies were sent forth, and the whole world peopled. But those sayings which were uttered or not uttered in the land of Judea, after the custom and manner of that country, as indeed they are still delivered among the people of Phoenicia and Palestine—these they look upon as marvellous sayings, and unchangeably true.
They prophesied in the same way as we find them still doing among the inhabitants of Phoenicia and Palestine. There are several kinds of prophecies: there are many who, although of no name, with the greatest facility and on the slightest occasion, whether within or without temples, assume the motions and gestures of inspired persons; while others do it in cities or among armies, for the purpose of attracting attention and exciting surprise. These are accustomed to say, each for himself, ‘I am God; I am the Son of God; or, I am the Divine Spirit; I have come because the world is perishing, and you, O men, are perishing for your iniquities. But I wish to save you, and you shall see me returning again with heavenly power. Blessed is he who now does me homage. On all the rest I will send down eternal fire, both on cities and on countries. And those who know not the punishments which await them shall repent and grieve in vain; while those who are faithful to me I will preserve eternally.’ To these grand promises are added strange, fanatical, and quite unintelligible words, of which no rational person can find the meaning: for so dark are they, as to have no meaning at all; but they give occasion to every fool or impostor to apply them to suit his own purposes. Those prophets whom I have heard, on being pressed by me, confessed their true motives, and acknowledged that the ambiguous words they used really meant nothing.
Those who support the cause of Christ by a reference to the writings of the prophets can give no proper answer in regard to statements in them which attribute to God that which is wicked, shameful, or impure: statements which describe God as doing the most shameless deeds, or suffering the most shameless sufferings. He favors the commission of evil. For what better was it for God to eat the flesh of sheep, or to drink vinegar and gall, than to feed on filth?
But pray, if the prophets foretold that the great God—not to put it more harshly—would become a slave, or become sick or die; would there be therefore any necessity that God should die, or suffer sickness, or become a slave, simply because such things had been foretold? Must he die in order to prove his divinity? But the prophets never would utter predictions so wicked and impious. We need not therefore inquire whether a thing has been predicted or not, but whether the thing is honorable in itself, and worthy of God. In that which is evil and base, although it seemed that all men in the world had foretold it in a fit of madness, we must not believe. How then can the pious mind admit that those things which are said to have happened to him, could have happened to one who is God?
The question is not whether the prophets uttered these predictions or not: if these things, which are impossible in themselves, and inconsistent with the character of God, were predicted of the Most High God, are we bound to believe them of God simply because they were predicted? The prophets would not foretell this. Will they not besides make this reflection? If the prophets of the God of the Jews foretold that he who should come into the world would be the son of this same God, how could he command them through Moses to gather wealth, to extend their dominion, to fill the earth, to put their enemies of every age to the sword, and to destroy them utterly, which indeed he himself did—as Moses says—threatening them, moreover, that if they did not obey his commands, he would treat them as his avowed enemies; whilst, on the other hand, his son, the man of Nazareth, promulgated laws quite opposed to these, declaring that no one can come to the Father who loves power, or riches, or glory; that men ought not to be more careful in providing food than the ravens; that they were to be less concerned about their raiment than the lilies [Matthew 6:28]; that to him who has given them one blow, they should offer to receive another? One prophetic passage promises that the whole earth shall be filled with the Hebrew race, and that they should slay their enemies: “Thou shalt rule over many nations, and they shall not rule over thee,” whereas the Gospel teaches the precept, “To him who strikes thee once, thou shalt offer thyself to be struck again.” Is it Moses or Jesus who teaches falsely? Did the Father, when he sent Jesus, forget the commands which he had given to Moses? Or did he change his mind, condemn his own laws, and send forth a messenger with counter instructions? Either Jesus nor Moses has taught falsely; according to the teaching of Christ, no wise man could come to the Father.
Christians Borrow from Plato
Where do they hope to go after death? To another land better than this. The divine men of a former age have spoken of a happy life reserved for the souls of the blessed. Some designated it ‘the isles of the blest,’ and others ‘the Elysian plain,’ so called because they were there to be delivered from their present evils. Thus Homer says: “But the gods shall send thee to the Elysian plain, on the borders of the earth, where they lead a most quiet life.” Plato also, who believed in the immortality of the soul, distinctly gives the name ‘land’ to the place where it is sent. “The extent of it,” says he, “is immense, and we only occupy a small portion of it, from the Phasis to the Pillars of Hercules, where we dwell along the shores of the sea, as grasshoppers and frogs beside a marsh. But there are many other places inhabited in like manner by other men. For there are in different parts of the earth cavities, varying in form and in magnitude, into which run water, and clouds, and air. But that land which is pure lies in the pure region of heaven.”
What they say of a land which is much better and more excellent than this, has been borrowed from certain divine ancient writers, and chiefly from Plato, who in his Phaedon discourses on the pure land lying in a pure heaven. It is not easy for every one to understand the meaning of Plato’s words, when he says that on account of our weakness and slowness we are unable to reach the highest region of the air; but that if our nature were capable of so sublime a contemplation, we would then be able to understand what is the true heaven, and what the true light. We defer to another opportunity the explanation of Plato’s idea. Their ridiculous teaching on the subject of the resurrection is derived from what they have heard on the doctrine from Plato, jumbled and misconstrued; they uphold this doctrine in order that they may see and know God. After they have been utterly refuted and vanquished, they still, as if regardless of all objections, come back again to the same question, ‘How then shall we see and know God? how shall we go to Him?’ They expect to see God with their bodily eyes, to hear him with their ears, and to touch him sensibly with their hands, because they believe the Divine Being is corporeal in his nature, and possesses a body like a man.
Again they will ask, ‘How can we know God, unless by the perception of the senses? for how otherwise than through the senses are we able to gain any knowledge?’ This is not the language of a man; it comes not from the soul, but from the flesh. Let them hearken to us, if such a cowardly, spiritless, flesh-indulging and carnal race are able to do so: if, instead of exercising the senses, you look upwards with the soul; if, turning away the eye of the body, you open the eye of the mind, thus and thus only will you be able to see God. And if you seek one to be your guide along this way, you must shun all deceivers and jugglers, who will introduce you to phantoms. Otherwise you will be acting the most ridiculous part, if, whilst you pronounce imprecations upon those others that are recognized as gods, treating them as idols, you yet do homage to a more wretched idol than any of these, which indeed is not even an idol or a phantom, but a dead man, and you seek a father like to himself.
For the sake of such a monstrous delusion, and in support of those wonderful advisers, and those wonderful words which you address to the lion, to the amphibious creature, to the creature in the form of an ass, and to others, for the sake of those divine doorkeepers whose names you commit to memory with such pains, in such a cause as this you suffer cruel tortures, and perish at the stake. Whose guidance are we to follow, so that we may not be in want of guides who are recommended both by their antiquity and sanctity?—divinely inspired poets, wise men, and philosophers. Visit the oracles of Trophonius, of Amphiaraus, and of Mopsus, and there you will see the gods in human form, appearing to us with all distinctness, and without illusion. They do not show themselves for once, or at intervals, like him who has deceived men, but they are ever open to intercourse with those who desire it.
Plato. a more effective teacher of theological truth, writes the following passage in the Timaeus: “It is a hard matter to find out the Maker and Father of this universe; and after having found him, it is impossible to make him known to all.” You perceive, then, how divine men seek after the way of truth, and how well Plato knew that it was impossible for all men to walk in it. But as wise men have found out this way, for the express purpose of being able to convey to us some notion of him who is the first of beings, who is unspeakable—a notion, namely, which may represent Him to us through the medium of other objects,—they endeavor either by synthesis, which is the combining of various qualities, or by analysis, which is the separation and setting aside of some qualities, or finally by analogy;—in these ways, I say, they endeavor to set before us that which it is impossible to express in words. I should therefore be surprised if you could follow in that course, since you are so completely wedded to the flesh as to be incapable of seeing aught but what is impure.
Things are either intelligible, which we call substance—being; or visible, which we call becoming: with the former is truth, from the latter arises error. Truth is the object of knowledge; truth and error form opinion. Intelligible objects are known by the reason, visible objects by the eyes; the action of the reason is called intelligent perception, that of the eyes vision. As, then, among visible things the sun is neither the eye nor vision, but that which enables the eye to see, and renders vision possible; and in consequence of it visible things are seen, all sensible things exist and itself is rendered visible; so among things intelligible, that which is neither reason, nor intelligent perception, nor knowledge, is yet the cause which enables the reason to know, which renders intelligent perception possible; and in consequence of it knowledge arises, all things intelligible, truth itself and substance have their existence; and itself, which is above all these things, becomes in some ineffable way intelligible.
These things are offered to the consideration of the intelligent; and if even you can understand any of them, it is well. And if you think that a Divine Spirit has descended from God to announce divine things to men, it is doubtless this same Spirit that reveals these truths, and it was under the same influence that men of old made known many important truths. But if you cannot comprehend these things, then keep silence; do not expose your own ignorance, and do not accuse of blindness those who see, or of lameness those who run, while you yourselves are utterly lamed and mutilated in mind, and lead a merely animal life—the life of the body, which is the dead part of our nature. You characterize as “blind” those who believe that religion shows itself in such products of man’s mechanical art as images; you live only for the sake of the body which is a dead thing.
Seeing you are so eager for some novelty, how much better it would have been if you had chosen as the object of your zealous homage some one of those who died a glorious death, and whose divinity might have received the support of some myth to perpetuate his memory! Why, if you were not satisfied with Hercules or Aesculapius, and other heroes of antiquity, you had Orpheus, who was confessedly a divinely inspired man, who died a violent death. But perhaps some others have taken him up before you. You may then take Anaxarchus, who, when cast into a mortar, and beaten most barbarously, showed a noble contempt for his suffering, and said, ‘Beat, beat the shell of Anaxarchus, for himself you do not beat,’—a speech surely of a spirit truly divine. But others were before you in following his interpretation of the laws of nature. Might you not, then, take Epictetus, who, when his master was twisting his leg, said, smiling and unmoved, ‘You will break my leg;’ and when it was broken, he added, ‘Did I not tell you that you would break it?’
What saying equal to these did your god utter under suffering? If you had said even of the Sibyl, whose authority some of you acknowledge, that she was a child of God, you would have said something more reasonable. But you have had the presumption to interpolate in her writings many impious things, and set up as a god one who ended a most infamous life by a most miserable death. How much more suitable than he would have been Jonah in the whale’s belly, or Daniel delivered from the wild beasts, or any of a still more monstrous and portentous kind! Choose Jonah rather than Jesus as your god; Daniel rescued from the lions is more worthy of your adoration than Jesus.
They have also a precept to this effect, that we ought not to avenge ourselves on one who injures us, or, ‘Whosoever shall strike thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.’ [Matthew 5:39.] This is an ancient saying, which had been admirably expressed long before, and which they have only reported in a coarser way. For Plato introduces Socrates conversing with Crito as follows: ‘Must we never do injustice to any?’ ‘Certainly not.’ ‘And since we must never do injustice, must we not return injustice for an injustice that has been done to us, as most people think?’ ‘It seems to me that we should not.’ ‘But tell me, Crito, may we do evil to any one or not?’ ‘Certainly not, O Socrates.’ ‘Well, is it just, as is commonly said, for one who has suffered wrong to do wrong in return, or is it unjust?’ ‘It is unjust. Yes; for to do harm to a man is the same as to do him injustice.’ ‘You speak truly. We must then not do injustice in return for injustice, nor must we do evil to any one, whatever evil we may have suffered from him.’ Thus Plato speaks; and he adds, ‘Consider, then, whether you are at one with me, and whether, starting from this principle, we may not come to the conclusion that it is never right to do injustice, even in return for an injustice which has been received; or whether, on the other hand, you differ from me, and do not admit the principle from which we started. That has always been my opinion, and is so still.’ Such are the sentiments of Plato, and indeed they were held by divine men before his time.
Hear now Jesus say coarsely what Plato has said elegantly: “To him who shall strike thee on the one cheek, turn the other also; and if any man be minded to sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” [Luke 6:29.] But let this suffice as one example of the way in which this and other truths have been borrowed and corrupted. Any one who wishes can easily by searching find more of them.
Altars and Images
Let us pass on to another point. They cannot tolerate temples, altars, or images. In this they are like the Scythians, the nomadic tribes of Libya, the Seres who worship no god, and some other of the most barbarous and impious nations in the world. That the Persians hold the same notions is shown by Herodotus in these words: ‘I know that among the Persians it is considered unlawful to erect images, altars, or temples; but they charge those with folly who do so, because, as I conjecture, they do not, like the Greeks, suppose the gods to be of the nature of men.’ Heraclitus also says in one place: ‘Persons who address prayers to these images act like those who speak to the walls, without knowing who the gods or the heroes are.’ And what wiser lesson have they to teach us than Heraclitus? He certainly plainly enough implies that it is a foolish thing for a man to offer prayers to images, whilst he knows not who the gods and heroes are. This is the opinion of Heraclitus; but as for them, they go further, and despise without exception all images.
If they merely mean that the stone, wood, brass, or gold which has been wrought by this or that workman cannot be a god, they are ridiculous with their wisdom. For who, unless he be utterly childish in his simplicity, can take these for gods, and not for offerings consecrated to the service of the gods, or images representing them? But if we are not to regard these as representing the Divine Being, seeing that God has a different form, as the Persians concur with them in saying, then let them take care that they do not contradict themselves. For whilst on the one hand they say that God has not a human form, on the other they profess to believe that God made man his own image [Genesis 1:26], and that he gave him a form like to himself. However, they will admit that these images, whether they are like or not, are made and dedicated to the honor of certain beings; but they will hold that the beings to whom they are dedicated are not gods, but demons, and that a worshipper of God ought not to worship demons.
It is easy to convict them of worshipping not a god, not even demons, but a dead person. In the first place, I would ask why we are not to serve demons? Is it not true that all things are ordered according to God’s will, and that His providence governs all things? Is not everything which happens in the universe, whether it be the work of God, of angels, of other demons, or of heroes, regulated by the law of the Most High God? Have these not had assigned them various departments of which they were severally deemed worthy? Is it not just, therefore, that he who worships God should serve those also to whom God has assigned such power? Yet it is impossible, said their teacher, for a man to serve many masters. Whatever happens in the universe, whether it be the work of God, of angels, of other demons, or of heroes, is regulated by the law of the Most High God.
Have not these inferior powers had assigned to them by God different departments, according as each was deemed worthy? There follows a host of gods and demons, arranged in eleven bands. We, the philosophers, are of the party of Jupiter; others belong to other demons. With regard to service among men, the first master is injured when any of his servants wishes at the same time to serve another. The same holds true of heroes, and other demons of that kind. For if thou worship any other of the things in the universe, know that we may honor none except those to whom that right has been given by God. Is it not just, therefore, that he who serves God should serve those also to whom God has assigned such power?
So why do they not worship demons? It is impossible, they say, for a man to serve many masters. [Matthew 6:24.] This is the language of sedition, and is only used by those who separate themselves and stand aloof from all human society. Those who speak in this way ascribe their own feelings and passions to God. It does hold true among men, that he who is in the service of one master cannot well serve another, because the service which he renders to the one interferes with that which he owes to the other; and no one, therefore, who has already engaged himself to the service of one, must accept that of another. And, in like manner, it is impossible to serve at the same time heroes or demons of different natures. But in regard to God, who is subject to no suffering or loss, it is absurd to be on our guard against serving more gods, as though we had to do with demi-gods, or other spirits of that sort. He who serves many gods does that which is pleasing to the Most High, because he honors that which belongs to him. It is indeed wrong to give honor to any to whom God has not given honor. Wherefore, in honoring and worshipping all belonging to God, we will not displease him to whom they all belong.
How can he who honors any of those whom God acknowledges as his own be displeasing to God, to whom they all belong? And indeed he who, when speaking of God, asserts that there is only one who may be called Lord, speaks impiously, for he divides the kingdom of god, and raises a sedition therein, implying that there are separate factions in the divine kingdom, and that there exists one who is his enemy. If these people worshipped one God alone, and no other, they would perhaps have some valid argument against the worship of others. But they pay excessive reverence to one who has but lately appeared among men, and they think it no offense against God if they worship also his servant. Because they join along with the worship of God the worship of his son, it follows that, in their view, not only God, but also the servants of God, are to be worshipped.
Among the servants of God are reckoned the demons which are worshipped by other men. If you should tell them that Jesus is not the son of God, but that, God is the Father of all, and that he alone ought to be truly worshipped, they would not consent to discontinue their worship of him who is their leader in the sedition. And they call him son of God, not out of any extreme reverence for God, but from an extreme desire to extol Jesus Christ; him it is they most highly reverence. They therefore make him whom they call Father inferior to the son of God.
That I may give a true representation of their faith, I will use their own words, as given in what is called A Heavenly Dialogue: ’If the Son is mightier than God, and the Son of man is Lord over Him, who else than the Son can be Lord over that God who is the ruler over all things? How comes it, that while so many go about the well, no one goes down into it? Why art thou afraid and shrink with fear when thou hast gone so far on the way? Answer: Thou art mistaken, for I lack neither courage nor weapons.’ Is it not evident, then, that their views are precisely such as I have described them to be? They suppose that another God, who is above the heavens, is the Father of him whom with one accord they honor, that they may honor this Son of man alone, whom they exalt under the form and name of the great God, and whom they assert to be stronger than God, who rules the world, and that he rules over him. And hence that maxim of theirs, ‘It is impossible to serve two masters,’ is maintained for the purpose of keeping up the party who are on the side of this Lord.
They shrink from raising altars, statues, and temples; and this has been agreed upon among them as the badge or distinctive mark of a secret and forbidden society. They imagine that if those who are addressed are called upon by barbarous names, they will have power, but no longer will they have any if they are addressed in Greek or Latin. Such are their incantations.
God is the God of all alike; he is good, he stands in need of nothing, and he is without jealousy. What, then, is there to hinder those who are most devoted to his service from taking part in public feasts and offering holy sacrifices? If these idols are nothing, what harm will there be in taking part in the feast? On the other hand, if they are demons, it is certain that they too are God’s creatures and belong to God, and that we must believe in them, sacrifice to them according to the laws, and pray to them that they may be propitious. If in obedience to the traditions of their fathers they abstain from such victims, they must also abstain from all animal food, in accordance with the opinions of Pythagoras, who thus showed his respect for the soul and its bodily organs. But if, as they say, they abstain that they may not eat along with demons, I admire their wisdom, in having at length discovered, that whenever they eat they eat with demons, although they only refuse to do so when they are looking upon a slain victim; for when they eat bread, or drink wine, or taste fruits, do they not receive these things, as well as the water they drink and the air they breathe, from certain demons, to whom have been assigned these different provinces of nature?
Jews and Christians alike adduce in defense of abstinence from idol sacrifices, that it is wrong for those who have dedicated themselves to the Most High God to eat with demons. But how can they eat bread or drink wine in any way whatever, or taste fruits, or even take a draught of water, without eating and drinking with demons! The very air which we breathe is received from demons, and not an animal can breathe without receiving the air from the demons who are set over the air. With regard not only to the fruits of the earth, but to every flowing stream and every breath of air by which the ground brings forth those things which are said to grow up naturally,—the water springs in fountains, and refreshes the earth with running streams,—the air is kept pure, and supports the life of those who breathe it, only in consequence of the agency and control of certain beings whom we may call invisible husbandmen and guardians. We must either not live, and indeed not come into this life at all, or we must do so on condition that we give thanks and first-fruits and prayers to demons, who have been set over the things of this world: and we must do as long as we live, that they may prove good and kind.
The satrap of a Persian or Roman monarch, or ruler or general or governor, yea, even those who fill lower offices of trust or service in the state, would be able to do great injury to those who despised them; and will the satraps and ministers of earth and air be insulted with impunity? “Behold,” the Christian says, “I go up to a statue of Jupiter or Apollo, or some other god: I revile it, and beat it, yet it takes no vengeance on me.” Do you not see, good sir, that even your own demon is not only reviled, but banished from every land and sea, and you yourself, who are as it were an image dedicated to him, are bound and led to punishment, and fastened to the stake, whilst your demon—or, as you call him, ‘the Son of God’—takes no vengeance on the evil-doer?
The priest of Jupiter or Apollo says: “The mills of the gods grind slowly.” Another describes punishment as reaching “to children’s children, and to those who came after them.” You mock and revile the statues of our gods; but if you had reviled Bacchus or Hercules when present in person, you would not perhaps have done so and escaped with impunity. But those who crucified your God when present among men, suffered nothing for it, either at the time or during the whole of their lives. And what new thing has there happened since then to make us believe that he was not an impostor, but the son of God? And forsooth, he who sent his son with certain instructions for mankind, allowed him to be thus cruelly treated, and his instructions to perish with him, without ever during all this long time showing the slightest concern. What father was ever so inhuman? Perhaps, indeed, you may say that he suffered so much, because it was his wish to bear what came to him. But it is open to those whom you maliciously revile, to adopt the same language, and say that they wish to be reviled, and therefore they bear it with patience; for it is best to deal equally with both sides.
Why is he sometimes present, and sometimes absent? What is the business which takes demons away from place to place? Those who crucified your God himself, suffered no harm for doing so; those who inflicted death upon Jesus suffered nothing afterwards through so long a time. Of those whom you load with insults, you may in like manner say that they voluntarily submit to such treatment, and therefore they bear insults with patience; yet these gods severely punish the scorner, so that he must either flee and hide himself, or be taken and perish. What need is there to collect all the oracular responses, which have been delivered with a divine voice by priests and priestesses, as well as by others, whether men or women, who were under a divine influence?—all the wonderful things that have been heard issuing from the inner sanctuary?—all the revelations that have been made to those who consulted the sacrificial victims?—and all the knowledge that has been conveyed to men by other signs and prodigies?
To some the gods have appeared in visible forms. The world is full of such instances. How many cities have been built in obedience to commands received from oracles; how often, in the same way, delivered from disease and famine! Or again, how many cities, from disregard or forgetfulness of these oracles, have perished miserably! How many colonies have been established and made to flourish by following their orders! How many princes and private persons have, from this cause, had prosperity or adversity! How many who mourned over their childlessness, have obtained the blessing they asked for! How many have turned away from themselves the anger of demons! How many who were maimed in their limbs, have had them restored! And again, how many have met with summary punishment for showing want of reverence to the temples—some being instantly seized with madness, others openly confessing their crimes, others having put an end to their lives, and others having become the victims of incurable maladies! Yea, some have been slain by a terrible voice issuing from the inner sanctuary.
Let us examine the enthusiasm with which men will contend unto death rather than abjure Christianity. Just as you, good sir, believe in eternal punishments, so also do the priests who interpret and initiate into the sacred mysteries. The same punishments with which you threaten others, they threaten you. Now it is worthy of examination, which of the two is more firmly established as true; for both parties contend with equal assurance that the truth is on their side. But if we require proofs, the priests of the heathen gods produce many that are clear and convincing, partly from wonders performed by demons, and partly from the answers given by oracles, and various other modes of divination.
Besides, is it not most absurd and inconsistent in you, on the one hand, to make so much of the body as you do—to expect that the same body will rise again, as though it were the best and most precious part of our complex nature; and yet, on the other, to expose it to such tortures as though it were worthless? But men who hold such notions, and are so attached to the body, are not worthy of being reasoned with; for in this and in other respects they show themselves to be gross, impure, and bent upon revolting without any reason from the common belief. But I shall direct my discourse to those who hope for the enjoyment of eternal life with God by means of the soul or mind, whether they choose to call it a spiritual nature; an intelligent spirit, holy and blessed; the reasonable soul; or a living soul; or the heavenly and indestructible offspring of a divine and incorporeal nature; or by whatever name they designate the spiritual nature of man. And they are rightly persuaded that those who live well shall be blessed, and the unrighteous shall all suffer everlasting punishments. And from this doctrine neither they nor any other should ever swerve. Forbid that either I, or these, or any other individual should ever reject the doctrine respecting the future punishment of the wicked and the reward of the good.
As there are various opinions as to the origin of man, we must neither indiscriminately accept nor recklessly reject the opinions held by the ancients. Since men are born united to a body, whether to suit the order of the universe, or that they may in that way suffer the punishment of sin; or because the soul is oppressed by certain passions until it is purged from these at the appointed period of time,—for, according to Empedocles, all mankind must be banished from the abodes of the blessed for 30,000 periods of time,—we must therefore believe that men are entrusted to certain beings as keepers of this prison-house. The Christians, showing similar obstinacy to notorious criminals, justly suffer punishment for their crimes.
They must make their choice between two alternatives. If they refuse to render due service to the gods, and to respect those who are set over this service, let them not come to manhood, or marry wives, or have children, or indeed take any share in the affairs of life; but let them depart hence with all speed. Let them leave no posterity behind them, and be driven with all haste out of life, that such a race may become extinct from the face of the earth. Or, on the other hand, if they will take wives, and bring up children, and taste of the fruits of the earth, and partake of all the blessings of life, and bear its appointed sorrows (for nature herself hath allotted sorrows to all men; for sorrows must exist, and earth is the only place for them), then must they discharge the duties of life until they are released from its bonds, and render due honor to those beings who control the affairs of this life, if they would not show themselves ungrateful to them. For it would be unjust in them, after receiving the good things which they dispense, to pay them no tribute in return. Men discharge the duties of life when, in accordance with commonly received customs, they offer sacrifices to each of the gods recognized in the state.
The Chaldeans are a most divinely-inspired nation from the very earliest times, from whom the system of astrology has spread abroad among men. Nay, I rank the Magi also in the same category, from whom the art of magic derived its name and has been transmitted to other nations. The Egyptian people too are most divinely inspired, and that, too, from the earliest times. The Persians, moreover, are an inspired race; nay, even the Indians are so. Let any one inquire of the Egyptians, and he will find that everything, even to the most insignificant, is committed to the care of a certain demon. The body of man is divided into thirty-six parts, and as many demons of the air are appointed to the care of it, each having charge of a different part, although others make the number much larger. All these demons have in the language of that country distinct names; as Chnoumen, Chnachoumen, Cnat, Sicat, Biou, Erou, Erebiou, Ramanor, Reianoor, and other such Egyptian names. Moreover, they call upon them, and are cured of diseases of particular parts of the body. What, then, is there to prevent a man from giving honor to these or to others, if he would rather be in health than be sick, rather have prosperity than adversity, and be freed as much as possible from all plagues and troubles?
Care, however, must be taken lest any one, by familiarizing his mind with these matters, should become too much engrossed with them, and lest, through an excessive regard for the body, he should have his mind turned away from higher things, and allow them to pass into oblivion. For perhaps we ought not to despise the opinion of those wise men who say that most of the earth-demons are taken up with carnal indulgence, blood, odors, sweet sounds, and other such sensual things; and therefore they are unable to do more than heal the body, or foretell the fortunes of men and cities, and do other such things as relate to this mortal life. We must offer sacrifices to them, in so far as they are profitable to us, for to offer them indiscriminately is not allowed by reason. The more just opinion is that demons desire nothing and need nothing, but that they take pleasure in those who discharge towards them offices of piety.
We must never in any way lose our hold of God, whether by day or by night, whether in public or in secret, whether in word or in deed, but in whatever we do, or abstain from doing, whatever we do in public, in all our actions, in all our words, let the soul be constantly fixed upon God. If this is the case, what harm is there in gaining the favor of the rulers of the earth, whether of a nature different from ours, or human princes and kings? For these have gained their dignity through the instrumentality of demons. It is not without the power of demons that kings have been raised to their regal dignity. If, however, any worshipper of God should be ordered to do anything impious, or to say anything base, such a command should in no wise be regarded; but we must encounter all kinds of torment, or submit to any kind of death, rather than say or even think anything unworthy of God.
But if any one commands you to celebrate the sun, or to sing a joyful triumphal song in praise of Minerva, you will by celebrating their praises seem to render the higher praise and honor to the great God; for piety, in extending to all things, becomes more perfect. If you are commanded to swear by a human king, there is nothing wrong in that; for to him has been given whatever there is upon earth; and whatever you receive in this life, you receive from him. We must not disobey the ancient writer, who said long ago, ‘Let one be king, whom the son of crafty Saturn appointed.’ If you set aside this maxim, you will deservedly suffer for it at the hands of the king. For if all were to do the same as you, there would be nothing to prevent his being left in utter solitude and desertion, and the affairs of the earth would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians; and then there would no longer remain among men any of the glory of your religion or of the true wisdom. There shall be one lord, one king, who will inflict deserved punishment upon you.
Suppose if all were to do the same as you. You surely do not say that if the Romans were, in compliance with your wish, to neglect their customary duties to gods and men, and were to worship the Most High, or whatever you please to call him, that he will come down and fight for them, so that they shall need no other help than his. For this same God, as yourselves say, promised of old this and much more to those who served him, and see in what way he has helped them and you! They, in place of being masters of the whole world, are left with not so much as a patch of ground to call home; and as for you, if any of you transgresses even in secret, he is sought out and punished with death. What would happen if the Romans were persuaded to adopt the principles of the Christians, to despise the duties paid to the recognized gods and to men, and to worship the Most High?
Surely it is intolerable for you to say, that if our present rulers, on embracing your opinions, are taken by the enemy, you will still be able to persuade those who rule after them; and after these have been taken you will persuade their successors and so on, until at length, when all who have yielded to your persuasion have been taken, some prudent ruler shall arise, with a foresight of what is impending, and he will destroy you all utterly before he himself perishes. As if it were possible, that all the inhabitants of Asia, Europe, and Libya, Greeks and Barbarians, all to the uttermost ends of the earth, were to come under one law! Any one who thinks this possible, knows nothing. Help the king with all your might, and labor with him in the maintenance of justice, fight for him; and if he requires it, fight under him, or lead an army along with him. Take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.