2 MAY 1931, Page 22

Veronica ?

The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist. By Robert Eisler. Ph.D. (Methuen. 4213.) "Arm wast Thou really thus 7" says Dante's pilgrim from Croatia, gazing in St. Peter's on the veil of St. Veronica and its dimly pictured face. It is a question that must come again and again to the mind of the reader with each fresh attempt to write the life, and reconstruct the personality, of the historic Christ. There is, one may suppose, no problem of history or biography for which so many mutually exclusive solutions have been offered ; each with a disconcerting air of finality, yet each leaving us with the pilgrim's dubious question on our lips.

The three books under review present three such funda- mentally inconsistent pictures of the personality and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Mr. Basil Mathews's Life, which keeps closest to traditional sources, and is most conservative in its use of them, is in many ways the most satisfactory ; though not upon the surface the most scholarly. It is written with an eye to the special needs of young people ; a fact we must recollect if we are to do justice to its merits. Never- theless, many adults will read it with interest and delight ; and it will certainly fulfil its author's intention of sending them back to the Synoptic record with fresh understanding of much that it contains. To apply the biographical methods of M. Maurois to the Founder of Christianity was a daring experiment ; and Mr. Mathews can hardly expect that the result will please all tastes. It means filling out the Gospel narrative, not merely as regards landscape and action, but as regards psychology and dialogue, too : a rewriting of immortal scenes and sayings in a vernacular which sometimes seems needlessly brisk and " popular " in tone. The emphasis falls on the drama and movement of our Lord's life ; the "adventure of the Kingdom," the vigorous deeds and declara- tions of "Jesus and his men" are in the foreground. The human factualness of the Life and its surroundings are admir- ably given ; but we are conscious of a sense of bustle which kills the sense of awe. Mr. Mathevrs's strong point is his intimate and detailed knowledge of Palestine and its customs : a knowledge which enables him, almost at every page, to throw fresh vivid light on the Gospel record, and gives his book a real value of its own. The numerous and excellent photographs, many of them astonishingly apposite, are genuine illustrations of the text.

Dr. Mackiimon's large and sober work takes us into another atmosphere, and presents once again the familiar view of Liberal Protestantism. Dr. Mackinnon is before all else a historian, careful in his use of material, avoiding impres- sionism, moderate and reasonable in his application of critical methods to Gospel texts. He builds up a picture which follows in the main the traditional linos, stripped of their super- natural element. The chief weakness of his -book is indeed this timid attitude to the miraculous and abnormal features of the record ; an ingrained naturalism which extends even to the miracles of healing and makes it highly improbable that he has fulfilled his ambition of "depicting Jesus as he actually manifested himself in his life and work on earth." In his treatment of this august theme we miss the notes of mystery and transcendence which the Synoptists so clearly convey. "Jesus went before them, and they were amazed," says St. Mark : but the figure whom Dr. Mackinnon puts before us is without glamour or strangeness. His claim upon men is ethical rather than religious. The thrill and passion, the charm and tenderness, which meet us in the Gospels are not here ; everything is sane, reasonable, and edifying. This-is partly the result of an unfortunate choice of language. "Jesus engaged in prayer," says Dr. Mackinnon; and at once the snows of Hebron and the olives of Gethsemane vanish, and hassocks and pitch-pine take their place.

Last, we have Dr. Eisler; setting forth a view of Christian origins completely subversive of all received ideas. He is convinced that a large amount of Jewish and anti-Christian material dealing with the life of our Lord once existed, which has been deliberately suppressed in the interests of orthodoxy ; a conclusion with which few students of history will disagree. Traces of this lost material can still he thinks be discovered, especially in certain texts of Josephus, and are of priceless value in reconstructing "the fundamental features of Jesus! personality and his mission, particularly as they appeared to his enemies." Though Dr. Eisler hopes the reconstruction will not give offence to any "true Christian," his orthodox readers must expect some disagreeable shocks. Jesus the Nasoraean was, he thinks, a stunted hunchback of genius : member of an itinerant tribe of carpenters and joiners— the Rekhabites—whose remnant still exists in Syria. Healing, exorcism, and divination were practised by them ; they had few possessions, used no money, and bore on their foreheads the cross-shaped "mark of Qain." Thus, the terms on which the Rich Young Man might follow the Master can be literally as well as spiritually understood ; and the wandering way of life, so clear in the Synoptic record, is explained. Among these homeless wanderers the hope of a Messiah-King inevitably took a concrete form : and the genuine if obscure Davidic descent of Jesus accounts alike for the readiness of His followers to accept Him as Messiah, the realism with which He planned the Kingdom, and the alarm He inspired in the official class. His public activity, far more political than the Gospels suggest, ended in something very like a revolutionary march upon Jerusalem, and a conflict with authority during which the blood of some of His Galilean followers was mingled with their sacrifices ; while on others the tower of Siloam fell. In fact, the inscription placed by Pilate on the Crpss correctly represents contemporary opinion as to His aims. Difficulties in the way of this startling reconstruction are dismissed, as due to the" naive idealization" of the New Testament writers. Nor do the Resurrection appearances present any problem to Dr. Eisler. Since Thomas was called Didymus, he was probably the twin brother of Jesus ; and, therefore, able to impersonate Him after His death. The technical criticism of these views must be left to specialists. It is needless to comment on their moderation and good taste.