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ity than Gibbon long ago tried to enlighten you. It is now a century and a half since "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" let the cat out of the bag. Gibbon, not being a parson dabbling in history, did not try to account for the end of a great era by inventing fatuous nonsense about the vice and degradation of Rome, about the decay of morals and faith in an empire which was at that very time in the midst of its most glorious creative period. How could he? He was living in the Augustan Age in London which-in spite of nearly two thousand years since the coming of Christian salvation-was as good a replica of Augustan Rome in the matter of refined lewdness as the foggy islanders could make it. No, Gibbon was a race-conscious Gentile and an admirer of the culture of the pagan West, as well as a historian with brains and eyes. Therefore he had no difficulty laying his finger on the malady that had rotted and wasted away the noble edifice of antique civilization. He put Christianity down-the law which went forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem-as the central cause of the decline and fall of Rome and all she represented.
So far so good. But Gibbon did not go far enough. He was born and died, you see, a century before the invention of scientific anti-Semitism. He left wholly out of account the element of deliberation. He saw an alien creed sweeping out of the East and overwhelming the fair lands of the West. It never occurred to him that it was precisely to this destructive end that the whole scheme of salvation was dedicated. Yet the facts are as plain as you please.
Let me in very brief recount the tale, unembroidered by miracle, prophecy or magic.
For a good perspective, I shall have to go back a space. The action conveniently falls into four parts, rising to a climax in the third. The time, when the first curtain rises, is roughly 65 B.C. Dramatis personæ are, minor parts aside, Judea and Rome. Judea is a tiny kingdom off the Eastern Mediterranean. For five centuries it has been hardly more than a geographical expression. Again and again it has been overrun and destroyed and its population carried into exile or slavery by its powerful neighbors. Nominally independent, it is now as unstable as ever and on the edge of civil war. The empire of the West, with her nucleus in the City Republic of Rome, while not yet mistress of the world, is speedily heading that way. She is acknowledged the one great military power of the time as well as the heir of Greece and the center of civilization.
Up to the present the two states have had little or no contact with one another. Then without solicitation on her part Rome was suddenly asked to take a hand in Judean affairs. A dispute had arisen between two brothers over the succes
sion to the petty throne, and the Roman general Pompey, who happened to be in Damascus winding up bigger matters, was called upon to arbitrate between the claimants. With the simple directness of a republican soldier, Pompey exiled one of the brothers, tossed the chief priesthood to his rival, and abolished the kingly dignity altogether. Not to put too fine a point on it, Pom
pey's mediation amounted in effect to making Judea a Roman dependency. The Jews, not unnaturally perhaps, objected; and Rome, to conciliate them and to conform to local prejudice, restored the royal office. She appointed, that is, a king of her own choosing. He was the son of an excise-man, an Idumean by race, named Herod. But the Jews were not placated, and continued making trouble. Rome thought it very ungrateful of them.
All this is merely a prelude, and is introduced into the action to make clear what follows. Jewish discontent grew to disaffection and open revolt when their Gentile masters began importing into Jerusalem the blessings of Western culture. Graven images, athletic games, Greek drama, and gladiatorial shows were not to the Jewish taste. The pious resented them as an offense in the nostrils of Jehovah, even though the resident officials patiently explained they were meant for the entertainment and edification of the non-Jewish garrison. The Judeans resisted with especial strenuousness the advent of the efficient Roman tax-gatherer. Above all, they wanted back a king of their own race and their own royal line.
Among the masses the rebellion took the form of a revival of the old belief in a Messiah, a divinely appointed savior who was to redeem his people from the foreign yoke and make Judea supreme among the nations. Claimants to the mission were not wanting. In Galilee, one Judas led a rather formidable insurrection, which enlisted much popular support. John, called the Baptist, operated in the Jordan country. He was followed by an
other north-country man, Jesus of Nazareth. All three were masters of the technique of couching incendiary political sedition in harmless theological phrases. All three used the same signal of revolt-"The time is at hand." And all three were speedily apprehended and executed, both Galileans by crucifixion.
Personal qualities aside, Jesus of Nazareth was, like his predecessors, a political agitator engaged in liberating his country from the foreign oppressor. There is even considerable evidence that he entertained an ambition to become king of an independent Judea. He claimed, or his biographers later claimed for him, descent from the ancient royal line of David. But his paternity is somewhat confused. The same writers who traced the origin of his mother's husband back to the psalmist-king also pictured Jesus as the son of Jehovah, and admitted that Joseph was not his father.
It seems, however, that Jesus before long realized the hopelessness of his political mission and turned his oratorical gifts and his great popularity with the masses in quite another direction. He began preaching a primitive form of populism, socialism and pacifism. The effect of this change in his program was to gain him the hostility of the substantial, propertied classes, the priests and patriots generally, and to reduce his following to the poor, the laboring mass and the slaves.
After his death these lowly disciples formed themselves into a communistic brotherhood. A sermon their late leader had once delivered upon a hillside summed up for them the essence of his teachings, and they
made it their rule of life. It was a philosophy calculated to appeal profoundly to humble people. It comforted those who suffered here on earth with promised rewards beyond the grave. It made virtues of the necessities of the weak. Men without hope in the future were admonished to take no thought for the morrow. Men too helpless to resent insult or injury were taught to resist not evil. Men condemned to lifelong drudgery and indigence were assured of the dignity of labor and of poverty. The meek, the despised, the disinherited, the downtrodden, were in the hereafter-to be the elect and favored of God. The worldly, the ambitious, the rich and powerful, were to be denied admission to heaven.
The upshot, then, of Jesus' mission was a new sect in Judea. It was neither the first nor the last. Judea, like modern America, was a fertile soil for strange creeds. The Ebionim -the paupers, as they called themselves did not regard their beliefs as a new religion. Jews they had been born, and Jews they remained. The teachings of their master were rather in the nature of a social philosophy, an ethic of conduct, a way of life. To modern Christians, who never tire of asking why the Jews did not accept Jesus and his teachings, I can only answer that for a long time none but Jews did. To be surprised that the whole Jewish people did not turn Ebionim is about as intelligent as to expect all Americans to join the Unitarians or the Baptists or the Christian Scientists.
In ordinary times little attention would have been paid to the ragged
brotherhood. Slaves and laborers for the most part, their meekness might even have been encouraged by the solider classes. But with the country in the midst of a struggle with a foreign foe, the unworldly philosophy took on a dangerous aspect. It was a creed of disillusion, resignation and defeat. It threatened to undermine the morale of the nation's fighting men in time of war. This blessing of the peacemakers, this turning of the other cheek, this non-resistance, this love your enemy, looked like a deliberate attempt to paralyze the national will in a crisis and assure victory to the foe.
So it is not surprising that the Jewish authorities began persecuting the Ebionim. Their meetings were invaded and dispersed, their leaders were clapped into jail, their doctrines were proscribed. It looked for awhile as if the sect would be speedily wiped out. Then, unexpectedly, the curtain rose on act three, and events took a sudden new
Perhaps the bitterest foe of the sectaries was one Saul, a maker of tents. A native of Tarsus and thus a man of some education in Greek culture, he despised the new teachings for their unworldliness and their remoteness from life. A patriotic Jew, he dreaded their effect on the national cause. A traveled man, versed in several languages, he was ideally suited for the task of going about among the scattered Jewish communities to counteract the spread of their socialistic pacifistic doctrines. The leaders in Jerusalem appointed him chief persecutor to the Ebionim.
He was on his way to Damascus one day to arrest a group of the sectaries when a novel idea came to him. In the quaint phrase of the Book of Acts he saw a vision. He saw as a matter of fact, two. He perceived, to begin with, how utterly hopeless were the chances of little Judea winning out in an armed conflict against the greatest military power in the world. Second, and more important, it came to him that the vagabond creed which he had been repressing might be forged into an irresistible weapon against the formidable foe. Pacifism, non-resistance, resignation, love, were dangerous teachings at home. Spread among the enemy's legions, they might break down their discipline and thus yet bring victory to Jerusalem. Saul, in a word, was probably the first man to see the possibilities of conducting war by propaganda.
He journeyed on to Damascus, and there to the amazement alike of his friends and of those he had gone to suppress, he announced his conversion to the faith and applied for admission to the brotherhood. On his return to Jerusalem he laid his new strategy before the startled Elders of Zion. After much debate and searching of souls, it was adopted. More resistance was of fered by the leaders of the Ebionim of the capital. They were mistrustful of his motives, and they feared that his proposal to strip the faith of its ancient Jewish observances and practices so as to make it acceptable to Gentiles would fill the fraternity with alien half-converts, and dilute its strength. But in the end he won them over, too. And so Saul, the fiercest persecutor of Jesus' fol
lowers, became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. And so, incidentally, began the spread into the pagan lands of the West, an entirely new Oriental religion.
Unfortunately for Paul's plan, the new strategy worked much too well. His revamped and rather alluring theology made converts faster than he had dared hope, or than he even wished. His idea it should be kept in mind, was at this stage purely defensive. He had as yet no thought of evangelizing the world; he only hoped to discourage the enemy. With that accomplished, and the Roman garrisons out of Palestine, he was prepared to call a truce. But the slaves and oppressed of the Empire, the wretched conscripts, and the starving proletariat of the capital itself, found as much solace in the adapted Pauline version of the creed as the poor Jews before them had found in the original teachings of their crucified master. The result of this unforseen success was to open the enemy's eyes to what was going on. Disturbing reports of insubordination among the troops began pouring into Rome from the army chiefs in Palestine and elsewhere. Instead of giving the imperial authorities pause, the new tactics only stiffened their determination. Rome swooped down upon Jerusalem with fire and sword, and after a fierce siege which lasted four years, she destroyed the nest of the agitation. (70 A.D.). At least she thought she had destroyed it.
The historians of the time leave us in no doubt as to the aims of Rome. They tell us that Nero sent Vespasian and his his son Titus with definite and explicit orders to anni
hilate Palestine and Christianity what the whole astonishing business together. To the Romans, Chris- is about. tianity meant nothing more than Judaism militant, anyhow, an interpretation which does not seem far from the facts. As to Nero's wish, he had at least half of it realized for him. Palestine was so thoroughly annihilated that it has remained a political ruin to this day. But Christianity was not so easily destroyed.
Indeed, it was only after the fall of Jerusalem that Paul's program developed to the full. Hitherto, as I have said, his tactic had been merely to frighten off the conqueror, in the manner of Moses plaguing the Pharaohs. He had gone along cautiously and hesitantly, taking care not to arouse the powerful foe. He was willing to dangle his novel weapon before the foe's nose, and let him feel its edge, but he shrank from thrusting it in full force. Now that the worst had happened and Judea had nothing further to lose, he flung scruples to the wind and carried the war into the enemy's country. The goal now was nothing less than to humble Rome as she had humbled Jerusalem, to wipe her off the map as she had wiped out Judea.
Rome, fancifully called Babylon, is minutely described in the language of sputtering hate, as the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth, as the woman drunken with the blood of saints (Christians and Jews), as the oppressor of "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" and-to remove all doubt of her identity—as "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth." An angel triumphantly cries, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen." Then follows an orgiastic picture of ruin. Commerce and industry and maritime trade are at an end. Art and music and "the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride" are silenced. Darkness and desolation lie like a pall upon the scene. The gentle Christian conquerors wallow in blood up to the bridles of their horses. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her."
And what is the end and purpose of all this chaos and devastation? John is not too reticent to tell us. For he closes his pious prophecy with a vision of the glories of the new-that is, the restored-Jerusalem: not any allegorical fantasy, I pray you, but literally Jerusalem, the capital of a great reunited kingdom of "the twelve tribes of the children of Israel."
Could any one ask for anything plainer?
Of course, no civilization could forever hold out against this kind of assault. By the year 200 the efforts of Paul and John and their successors had made such headway among