Joseph Earnest Renan
“Never was a people so sadly undeceived as was the Jewish race on the morrow of the day when, contrary to the most formal assurances of the Divine oracles, the Temple which they had supposed to be indestructible collapsed before the assault of the soldiers of Titus.” – History
Significance of A.D. 70
“THE period covered by the present volume is, after the three or four years of the public life of Jesus, the most extraordinary in the entire development of Christianity. Here, by a singular touch of the great unconscious Artist who appears to rule in the seeming caprice of historic evolution, we shall see Jesus and Nero – Christ and Antichrist – set, as it were, in contrast, face to face, like heaven and hell. The Christian consciousness is now full-grown. Hitherto it has known little else than the law of love: Jewish intolerance, though harsh, could not fret away the bond of grateful attachment cherished in the heart of the infant Church for her mother the Synagogue, from whom she is still hardly sundered. Now at length the Christian has before him an object of hate and terror. Over against the memory of Jesus rises a monstrous form, the ideal of evil, as He had been the ideal of holiness. Held in reserve, -like Enoch or Elias, to play his part in the last great tragedy of the world, Nero completes the cycle of Christian mythology: he inspires the first sacred book of the new canon; by a frightful massacre he lays the corner-stone of Romish primacy, and opens the way to that revolution which is to make of Rome a second Jerusalem, a holy city. At the same time, by a mysterious coincidence not infrequent in great crises of human destiny, Jerusalem is overthrown; the Temple disappears; Christianity, disburdened of a restraint already painful and advancing to a broadening freedom, follows out its own destinies apart from conquered Judaism.” (Antichrist, Intro.)
“The extraordinary events of which Jerusalem was the scene, impressed the Christians indeed in the highest degree. The peaceful disciples of Jesus, deprived of their leader, James, brother of the Lord, at first continued to lead their ascetic life in the Holy City, and, huddled around the Temple, to await the great coming. They had with them the remaining survivors of the family of Jesus, the sons of Cleopas, who were regarded even by the Jews, with the highest veneration. All that was going on must have seemed to them an evident confirmation of the words of Jesus. What could these convulsions be if not the beginning of what was called ‘the travail of the Messiah,’ preluding the Messianic birth? It was held as certain that the triumphant coming of Christ would be preceded by the appearance of a great number of false prophets. In the eyes of the Christian community’s chiefs, these false prophets were the leaders of the Zelotes” (Renan, pp. 147-148).
“The Romans planted their standards in the place where the sanctuary had stood, and, as was their custom, offered them worship” (Antichrist, p. 260)
‘And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman (the Church of Jerusalem) water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman: (Revelation 12:15-17).
“Perhaps the Zelotes tried to drive the holy band into the Jordan, and the latter succeeded in crossing the river at a place where the water was shallow; it may be that the troop sent in pursuit went astray, and thus lost the traces of those whom it was chasing.
“The place selected by the heads of the community to serve as the principal asylum for the fugitive Church was Pella, one of the towns of Decapolis, situated near the left bank of the Jordan in an admirable position, overlooking on one side the whole plain of Ghor, and having on the other precipitous cliffs, at the foot of which runs a torrent. No wiser choice could have been made. Judaea, Idumaea, Peraea, and Galilee were in insurrection; Samaria and the coast were in a very unsettled state owing to the war. Thus Scythopolis and Pella were the nearest neutral cities to Jerusalem. Pella, by its position beyond the Jordan, must have offered much more tranquillity than Scythopolis, which had become one of the Roman strongholds. Pella was a free city like the other towns of Decapolis, but apparently it had given allegiance to Agrippa 11. To take refuge there was openly to avow horror of the revolt. The importance of the town dated from the Macedonian conquest. A colony of Alexander’s veterans had taken up their quarters there, and changed the Semitic name of the place into another, which recalled their native land to the old soldiers. Pella was captured by Alexander Jannaeus, and the Greek inhabitants, who refused to be circumcised, suffered much from Jewish fanaticism. The pagan population doubtless took new root, for, in the massacres of 66, Pella was considered a Syrian town, and was once more sacked by the Jews. It was in this anti-Jewish town that the Church of Jerusalem found refuge during the horrors of the seige. Here it was at ease, and looked on its tranquil abode as a sure place, a desert prepared by God, where, far from man’s tumultuous strife, the hour of the coming of Jesus might be awaited in peace. The community lived on their savings; it was believed that God himself took it upon him to feed them, and many saw in such a lot, so different from that of the Jews, a miracle predicted by the prophets. No doubt the Galilean Christians had for their part betaken themselves to the east of the Jordan and the lake into Batanaea and Gaulonitis. The territories of Agrippa II, thus formed an adoptive country for the JudeoChristians of Palestine.” (Renan, pp. 150-152).
“The extraordinary events of which Jerusalem was the scene, impressed the Christians indeed in the highest degree. The peaceful disciples of Jesus, derived of their leader, James, brother of the Lord, at first continued to lead their ascetic life in the Holy City, and, huddled around the Temple, to await the great coming. They had with them the remaining survivors of the family of Jesus, the sons of Cleopas, who were regarded even by the Jews, with the highest veneration. All that was going on must have seemed to them an evident confirmation of the words of Jesus. What could these convulsions be if not the beginning of what was called ‘the travail of the Messiah,’ precluding the Messianic birth? It was held as certain that the triumphant coming of Christ would be preceded by the appearance of a great number of false prophets. In the eyes of the Christian community’s chiefs, these false prophets were the leaders of the Zelotes” (Renan, pp. 147-148)
Early Date of Revelation
“One circumstance, moreover, which strongly proves that the discourses given us by the fourth Gospel are not historical, but compositions intended to cover with the authority of Jesus certain doctrines dear to the compiler, is their perfect harmony with the intellectual state of Asia Minor at the time when they were written, Asia Minor was then the theater of a strange movement of syncretical philosophy; all the germs of Gnosticism existed there already. John appears to have drunk deeply from these strange springs. It may be that, after the crisis of the year 68 (the date of the Apocalypse) and of the year 70 (the destruction of Jerusalem), the old Apostle, with an ardent and plastic spirit, disabused of the belief in a near appearance of the Son of Man in the clouds, may have inclined towards the ideas that he found around him, of which several agreed sufficiently well with certain Christian doctrines. In attributing these new ideas to Jesus, he only followed a very natural tendency. Our remembrances are transformed with our circumstances; the ideal of a person that we have known changes as we change. Considering Jesus as the incarnation of truth, John could not fail to attribute to him that which he had come to consider as the truth.” (Life of Jesus)
“At this judgment men will be divided into two classes according to their deeds. The angels will be the executors of the sentences. The elect will enter into delightful mansions, which have been prepared for them from the foundation of the world; there they will be seated, clothed with light, at a feast presided over by Abraham, the patriarchs and the prophets. They will be the smaller number. The rest will depart into Gehenna. Gehenna was the western valley of Jerusalem. There the worship of fire had been practiced at various times, and the place had become a kind of sewer. Gehenna was, therefore, in the mind of Jesus, a gloomy, filthy valley, full of fire. Those excluded from the kingdom will there be burnt and eaten by the never-dying worm, in company with Satan and his rebel angels. There, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The kingdom of heaven will be as a closed room, lighted from within, in the midst of a world of darkness and torments.” (Life of Jesus)
(Rome as Edom)
“Never was a people so sadly undeceived as was the Jewish race on the morrow of the day when, contrary to the most formal assurances of the Divine oracles, the Temple which they had supposed to be indestructible collapsed before the assault of the soldiers of Titus. To have been near the realisation of the grandest of visions and to be forced to renounce them, at the very moment when the destroying angel had already partially withdrawn the cloud, to see everything vanish into space; to be committed through having prophesied the Divine apparition, and to receive from the harshness of facts the most cruel contradiction�were not these reasons for doubting the Temple, nay, for doubting God himself? Thus the first years which followed the catastrophe of the year 70 were characterised by an intense feverishness�perhaps the most intense which the Jewish conscience had ever experienced. Edom (the name by which the Jews already distinguished the Roman Empire), the impious Edom, the eternal enemy of God, triumphed. Ideas which had appeared to be unimpeachable were now argued against. Jehovah appeared to have broken his covenant with the sons of Abraham. It was even a question if the faith of Israel�assuredly the most ardent that ever existed�would succeed in executing a complete right-about-face against evidence, and by an unheard-of display of strength continue to hope against all hope. ” (Origins of Christianity, Book 5, Chapter One: The Jews after the Destruction of the Temple)
“They had with them the remaining survivors of the family of Jesus, the sons of Cleopas, who were regarded even by the Jews, with the highest veneration. All that was going on must have seemed to them an evident confirmation of the words of Jesus. “
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
RENAN, re-nun’, JOSEPH ERNEST: French orientalist; b. at Trier (60 m. n.e. of Brest and 5 m. from English Channel), Brittany, Feb. 27, 1823; d. at Paris Oct. 2, 1892. Having lost his father at the age of five, his early training was received from his mother and his sister Henriette, eleven years older than himself, in the pious atmosphere of his Breton home. In 1838 he went to Paris and studied four years in the petit s�minaire of St. Nicholas de Chardonnet, after which he studied philosophy at the grand saire of Issy (1842-44) and theology at St. Sulpice (1844-45). Even at Issy the skepticism had been aroused which was later to lead him to break with the Church, for the arguments of Locke, Leibnitz, Malebranche, Cousin, Jouffroy, and others often seemed to Renan more cogent than the arguments advanced against them. The process of revolt was completed at St. Sulpice largely through the study of oriental philology and the books of German Protestant theology, which led him to a mad enthusiasm for German thought, still further enhanced by the influence of German Protestantism. The crisis came as the time approached for his ordination, and disregarding the grief of his mother and the entreaty of his teacher, he left the seminary on Oct. 6, 1845, firmly convinced that he could remain true to Christ only by separating from the Church. Declining to avail himself of the 1,200 francs saved by Henriette, who, filled with similar doubts, had encouraged her brother in his step, Renan, after a brief engagement at the Jesuit Coll Stanislas, received free board and lodging in return for teaching two hours daily in a small school. This gave him ample time to prepare for. the university examination, and in May, 1848, he completed a dissertation on the medieval study of Greek, becoming agrae de philosophie in September of the same year. At the same time he studied Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, and Sanskrit, and worked in mythology, in the history of religion, and in German theology. By.June, 1849, he had written his L’Avenir de la science (Paris, 1890; Eng. transl., The Future of Science, London, 1891), which was to give his theories of the universe and the plans of his life work. At the advice of his friends, the book was not then published; and realizing, in the revolution of 1848, the impracticality of its visionary philosophical and political ideals, Renan plunged into history and philology. Gradually, however, he became more and more attracted to Semitic philology, so that in 1857 he was nominated for the professorship of Hebrew at the College de France, though his appointment was not confirmed by the government until Jan. 11, 1862.
Meanwhile Renan had gone to Palestine with his sister Henriette (d. at Byblus, now Jebeil, 20 m. s.w. of Tripoli, in 1860), and there he wrote in the hut of a Maronite on Mt. Lebanon his Vie de J鳵s (the first volume of his Origines du chriaianisme), which made a sensation both within and without religious circles throughout Europe. A flood of replies from Roman Catholics and Protestants alike gave the book a distinction which it did not merit. Yet as contrasted with D. F. Strauss’ work of the same title Renan’s book marks an advance. The unhistorical method of presenting the origin of Christianity upon the scheme of the Hegelian philosophy is given up. The myth theory of Jesus was changed to a legend theory, and the personality of Christ was sought from the geographical, social, cultural, and religious conditions under which he lived and worked. Amid the locally colored picture of the land and the people of Galilee the figure of Jesus is given a setting; not in accordance with the laws of historic truth, but with the esthetic motives and philosophical preconceptions of the author. With the most unbridled license in the treatment of his sources, of which the Fourth Gospel was the most expedient for his esthetic object, he produced a romance which would have been an admirable tribute to his poetic power had his hero been a character less ethical than Jesus. To him Jesus was a gentle Galilean, the darling of women, and an exquisite preacher of morality, dreaming of no other than the paradise of fraternal fellowship of the children of God upon earth; yet filled with ambition, vanity, sensual love, and undisguised deceit. The first sojourn of Jesus in Galilee was a delightful idyll; for a year, perhaps, God was on earth; a constant charm as of magic proceeded from Jesus. But the Baptist transformed him into a religious revolutionary, a sinister prophet, who assumed the role of the Messiah, accommodating the desire for the miraculous of his simple disciples, and perishing in the battle with orthodox Judaism. The great mistake of Jesus with Renan was to forget that the ideal is fundamentally ever a utopia and in conflict with the material for realization loses its purity. Then he who lives for the true, the beautiful, and the good is nearer to God than the man of deeds. The forgetting of this was the tragical in the life of Jesus. The moment Jesus entered the battle with evil and sought to reclaim souls for the kingdom of God, Renan s understanding and sympathy ceased. Was Jesus doubtless possessed of “captivating beauty,” Paul, on the other hand, was a Jew of hideous appearance, barbarous in speech, and clumsy in thought. He was the first Protestant, the father of a horrible theology which taught predestined damnation. On the day when Paul wrote his first letter, the decadence of Christianity began. The scientific value of the later volumes of the Origines du christianisme was higher, since the pen of Renan was less swayed by personal sympathy or antipathy. The Vie de J鳵s was a decisive factor in its author’s career. After delivering his inaugural address at the Collde France on Feb. 21, 1862, he was suspended; though the agitation did not rest until, on June 11, 1864, Napoleon authorized his recall. An honorable position in the national library was declined that he might devote himself to his studies, but in 1871 he was restored to his professorship, and in 1879 became a member of the Academy. From 1884 to his death he was administrator of the Coll de France.
The life of Renan was essentially twofold; he was, on the one hand, the serious and accurate scholar, on the other, a wit and a dillettante. Fortunately he always valued his scientific activity more highly than his philosophy, and laid far more stress on such contributions as his History of the People of Israel and his labors on the Corpus inscriptionum Semiticarum than on his loose and sprightly philosophical writings, the pyrotechnic of which enraptured all Europe. Nevertheless his less worthy activity is that by which he has become best known both to his contemporaries and to posterity. More and more, as his early ideals proved impracticable, Renan lost his intellectual bearings, ending in an abysmal skepticism which clothed itself in jest and frivolity. The universe was to him a bad joke and a merry life was its best commentary: such was the quintessence of his philosophy. Like Voltaire, Renan was willing to be “the god of fools,” and, unfortunately, did not feel himself above the boldest blasphemy. For a skepticism of this type moral standards could no longer exist, and religion and ethics were resolved into mere esthetic sensations. Religion as he represented it-an ineradicable longing of the human soul-was the esthetic and sensationalistic impulse toward the infinite, whether expressed in the renunciations of great ascetics or in the mystical effusions of lovely Magdalens. What is beautiful is good; what pleases is beautiful. Yet with all this mad philosophy, Renan’s personal life was irreproachable. ”
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The best list of books dealing with Renan or his works is in H. P. Thieme, Guide bibliographique de la littture franse 1800-1908, pp. 338-345, Paris, 1907 (indispensable for a complete study); a fairly good list of works is in Baldwin, Dictionary, iii. 1, pp. 438-439. His life has been written by: E. Ledrain, Paris, 1892, H. Desportes and F. Boumand, Paris, 1893; S. Pawlicki, Vienna, 1894; F. Espinasse, New York, 1895; Mrs. A. M. F. R. Darmesteter, New York, 1897; E. Platzhoff, Leipsic, 1900; and W. Barry, New York, 1905. Consult further: B. Bauer, Philo, Strauss and Ronan und das Urchrtstenthum, Berlin, 1874; P. Bourget, Ernest Renan, Paris, 1883; idem, Essai de psycholagie contemporaine, . . . M. Renan, ib. 1885; F. Tarroux, J鳵s-Dieu et M. Renan philosophe, Paris, 1887; M. Millioud, La Religion de M. Ronan, Paris, 1891; Sir M. E. G. Duff, Ernest Renan: in Memoriam, New York, 1893; G. Monod, Les Maes de l’histoire, Renan, Taine, Michelet, Paris, 1894 (crowned by the French Academy); G. S鳩lles, Ernest Renan. Essai de biographie psychologique, Paris, 1894; R. Allier, La Philosophie d’Ernest Renan, Paris, 1895; G. Paris, Penseurs et po&egave;tes, Paris, 1896; J. Simon, Quatre portraits: Lamartine, Lavigerie, E. Renan, Guillaume II., Paris, 1896; E. Renan and M. Berthelot, Correspondance, 1847-1892, ib. 1898; C. Denis, La Critique irgieuse de Renan, ib. 1898; H. G. A. Brauer, The Philosophy of Ernest Renan, University of Wisconsin, 1904; G. Sorel, Le Syst historique de Renan, Paris, 1906; Vigouroux, Dictionnaire, fasc. xxxiv. 1041-43
Robert Louis Stevenson
“MAY 20TH. I sit up here, and write, and read Renan’s ORIGINES, which is certainly devilish interesting; I read his Nero yesterday, it is very good, O, very good! But he is quite a Michelet; the general views, and such a piece of character painting, excellent; but his method sheer lunacy. You can see him take up the block which he had just rejected, and make of it the corner-stone: a maddening way to deal with authorities; and the result so little like history that one almost blames oneself for wasting time. But the time is not wasted; the conspectus is always good, and the blur that remains on the mind is probably just enough. I have been enchanted with the unveiling of Revelations. And how picturesque that return of the false Nero! The Apostle John is rather discredited. And to think how one had read the thing so often, and never understood the attacks upon St. Paul! I remember when I was a child, and we came to the Four Beasts that were all over eyes, the sickening terror with which I was filled. If that was Heaven, what, in the name of Davy Jones and the aboriginal night-mare, could Hell be? Take it for all in all, L’ANTECHRIST is worth reading. The HISTOIRE D’ISRAEL did not surprise me much; I had read those Hebrew sources with more intelligence than the New Testament, and was quite prepared to admire Ahab and Jezebel, etc. Indeed, Ahab has always been rather a hero of mine; I mean since the years of discretion. ” (Vailima Letters)