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9.
That 'Michael and the devil disputed about his body.' While we believe
such fables as these, or either of them, we believe unworthily of the
Almighty.

I have now gone through the examination of the four books ascribed to
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and when it is considered that the whole
space of time, from the crucifixion to what is called the ascension, is
but a few days, apparently not more than three or four, and that all the
circumstances are reported to have happened nearly about the same spot,
Jerusalem, it is, I believe, impossible to find in any story upon record
so many and such glaring absurdities, contradictions, and falsehoods, as
are in those books. They are more numerous and striking than I had any
expectation of finding, when I began this examination, and far more
so than I had any idea of when I wrote the former part of 'The Age of
Reason.' I had then neither Bible nor Testament to refer to, nor could I
procure any. My own situation, even as to existence, was becoming every
day more precarious; and as I was willing to leave something behind me
upon the subject, I was obliged to be quick and concise. The quotations
I then made were from memory only, but they are correct; and the
opinions I have advanced in that work are the effect of the most clear
and long-established conviction,--that the Bible and the Testament are
impositions upon the world;--that the fall of man, the account of Jesus
Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath
of God, and of salvation by that strange means, are all fabulous
inventions, dishonourable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty;--that
the only true religion is deism, by which I then meant and now mean
the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the
practice of what are called moral virtues;--and that it was upon this
only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of
happiness hereafter. So say I now--and so help me God.

But to retum to the subject.--Though it is impossible, at this distance
of time, to ascertain as a fact who were the writers of those four books
(and this alone is sufficient to hold them in doubt, and where we doubt
we do not believe) it is not difficult to ascertain negatively that
they were not written by the persons to whom they are ascribed. The
contradictions in those books demonstrate two things:

First, that the writers cannot have been eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses
of the matters they relate, or they would have related them without
those contradictions; and, consequently that the books have not been
written by the persons called apostles, who are supposed to have been
witnesses of this kind.

Secondly, that the writers, whoever they were, have not acted in
concerted imposition, but each writer separately and individually for
himself, and without the knowledge of the other.

The same evidence that applies to prove the one, applies equally to
prove both cases; that is, that the books were not written by the men
called apostles, and also that they are not a concerted imposition. As
to inspiration, it is altogether out of the question; we may as well
attempt to unite truth and falsehood, as inspiration and contradiction.

If four men are eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses to a scene, they will
without any concert between them, agree as to time and place, when and
where that scene happened. Their individual knowledge of the thing, each
one knowing it for himself, renders concert totally unnecessary; the
one will not say it was in a mountain in the country, and the other at
a house in town; the one will not say it was at sunrise, and the other
that it was dark. For in whatever place it was and whatever time it was,
they know it equally alike.

And on the other hand, if four men concert a story, they will make their
separate relations of that story agree and corroborate with each other
to support the whole. That concert supplies the want of fact in the one
case, as the knowledge of the fact supersedes, in the other case, the
necessity of a concert. The same contradictions, therefore, that
prove there has been no concert, prove also that the reporters had no
knowledge of the fact, (or rather of that which they relate as a fact,)
and detect also the falsehood of their reports. Those books, therefore,
have neither been written by the men called apostles, nor by imposters
in concert.--How then have they been written?

I am not one of those who are fond of believing there is much of that
which is called wilful lying, or lying originally, except in the case of
men setting up to be prophets, as in the Old Testament; for prophesying
is lying professionally. In almost all other cases it is not difficult
to discover the progress by which even simple supposition, with the aid
of credulity, will in time grow into a lie, and at last be told as a
fact; and whenever we can find a charitable reason for a thing of this
kind, we ought not to indulge a severe one.

The story of Jesus Christ appearing after he was dead is the story of an
apparition, such as timid imaginations can always create in vision,
and credulity believe. Stories of this kind had been told of the
assassination of Julius Caesar not many years before, and they generally
have their origin in violent deaths, or in execution of innocent
persons. In cases of this kind, compassion lends its aid, and
benevolently stretches the story. It goes on a little and a little
farther, till it becomes a most certain truth. Once start a ghost, and
credulity fills up the history of its life, and assigns the cause of its
appearance; one tells it one way, another another way, till there are as
many stories about the ghost, and about the proprietor of the ghost, as
there are about Jesus Christ in these four books.

The story of the appearance of Jesus Christ is told with that strange
mixture of the natural and impossible, that distinguishes legendary tale
from fact. He is represented as suddenly coming in and going out when
the doors are shut, and of vanishing out of sight, and appearing again,
as one would conceive of an unsubstantial vision; then again he is
hungry, sits down to meat, and eats his supper. But as those who tell
stories of this kind never provide for all the cases, so it is here:
they have told us, that when he arose he left his grave-clothes behind
him; but they have forgotten to provide other clothes for him to appear
in afterwards, or to tell us what he did with them when he ascended;
whether he stripped all off, or went up clothes and all. In the case of
Elijah, they have been careful enough to make him throw down his mantle;
how it happened not to be burnt in the chariot of fire, they also have
not told us; but as imagination supplies all deficiencies of this kind,
we may suppose if we please that it was made of salamander's wool.

Those who are not much acquainted with ecclesiastical history, may
suppose that the book called the New Testament has existed ever since
the time of Jesus Christ, as they suppose that the books ascribed
to Moses have existed ever since the time of Moses. But the fact is
historically otherwise; there was no such book as the New Testament till
more than three hundred years after the time that Christ is said to have
lived.

At what time the books ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, began
to appear, is altogether a matter of uncertainty. There is not the least
shadow of evidence of who the persons were that wrote them, nor at what
time they were written; and they might as well have been called by the
names of any of the other supposed apostles as by the names they are now
called. The originals are not in the possession of any Christian
Church existing, any more than the two tables of stone written on, they
pretend, by the finger of God, upon Mount Sinai, and given to Moses,
are in the possession of the Jews. And even if they were, there is no
possibility of proving the hand-writing in either case. At the time
those four books were written there was no printing, and consequently
there could be no publication otherwise than by written copies, which
any man might make or alter at pleasure, and call them originals. Can
we suppose it is consistent with the wisdom of the Almighty to commit
himself and his will to man upon such precarious means as these; or that
it is consistent we should pin our faith upon such uncertainties? We
cannot make nor alter, nor even imitate, so much as one blade of grass
that he has made, and yet we can make or alter words of God as easily
as words of man. [The former part of the 'Age of Reason' has not been
published two years, and there is already an expression in it that is
not mine. The expression is: The book of Luke was carried by a majority
of one voice only. It may be true, but it is not I that have said it.
Some person who might know of that circumstance, has added it in a note
at the bottom of the page of some of the editions, printed either in
England or in America; and the printers, after that, have erected it
into the body of the work, and made me the author of it. If this has
happened within such a short space of time, notwithstanding the aid of
printing, which prevents the alteration of copies individually, what may
not have happened in a much greater length of time, when there was no
printing, and when any man who could write could make a written copy and
call it an original by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?--Author.]

[The spurious addition to Paine's work alluded to in his footnote drew on
him a severe criticism from Dr. Priestley ("Letters to a Philosophical
Unbeliever," p. 75), yet it seems to have been Priestley himself who, in
his quotation, first incorporated into Paine's text the footnote added
by the editor of the American edition (1794). The American added:
"Vide Moshiem's (sic) Ecc. History," which Priestley omits. In a modern
American edition I notice four verbal alterations introduced into the
above footnote.--Editor.]

About three hundred and fifty years after the time that Christ is
said to have lived, several writings of the kind I am speaking of were
scattered in the hands of divers individuals; and as the church had
begun to form itself into an hierarchy, or church government, with
temporal powers, it set itself about collecting them into a code, as
we now see them, called 'The New Testament.' They decided by vote, as I
have before said in the former part of the Age of Reason, which of those
writings, out of the collection they had made, should be the word of
God, and which should not.



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