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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost.

Herodotus informs us that Homer and Hesiod created the theogony of the Greeks, assigning to the gods their various titles, characters and forms. But in ancient times, every people, not absolutely barbarian, had a theogony and a cosmogony of their own. They made their own gods and created the world after their own peculiar fashion. Curiosity prompted invention, credulity encouraged it, and the awe-inspiring phenomena of nature, but little understood, were ruthlessly suggestive to poet and prophet alike. The thunderstorm evoked a Jupiter Tonans; and the fears, hopes and necessities of man would speedily fill a Pantheon of respectable dimensions. The seer or prophet, the universal genius, understood everything, would account for everything, and furnished the particulars of the world's creation and construction with an assurance and minuteness that would sanction the supposition that he was an eyewitness of the whole process.

The Hebrews have favoured the world with a cosmogony of their own, attributed to their lawgiver Moses, who is styled by Bacon—God's first pen. But notwithstanding the inspiration that is said to have instructed the writer of the Book of Genesis, we question if the writings of heathen cosmogonists contain anything more absurd than the narrative that introduces us to our first parents, Adam and Eve. Some people, it is said, are so crazily credulous as to believe the more readily quia est impossibile. We commend the cosmogony of Moses to their consideration as a rich pasture where they may luxuriate to their soul's content. Almost every statement involves a trans- page 229 parent impossibility, and can be accepted only by the inconsiderate, and by those to whom the impossible is no objection. What, for instance, can be more absurd than the rape of Adam's rib for the purpose of creating Eve? Was there such a penury of means with the Almighty that he must resort to such an outrageous and incredible operation as this to accomplish his purposes? But we will not trust ourselves to comment on this marvellous recital. We will, however, at the outset, take this opportunity to explain that if we sometimes smile at the Mosaic narrative, we have a sterner purpose in hand than merely the exposition of the ridiculous. It is not pretended that the events recited in connection with the fall of man are based on human testimony; but it is contended that they are true nevertheless, and have been communicated to the sacred historian by inspiration. We reject the claim to inspiration altogether, and if we succeed in showing that the details are childish, absurd, impossible, we eliminate inspiration, and reduce the narrative to a nullity. This is the task that we propose to ourselves, and trust that we shall make it manifest to our readers that we have undertaken that which involves no very serious difficulty.

Fortunately the claim to inspiration is placed in a very questionable position at the commencement of the story, thus: in the seventh verse of the first chapter of Genesis we read, "And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so." The exigencies of our position compel us to incur the responsibility of meeting this statement with a decided contradiction, and we unhesitatingly maintain that it was not so, nor anything like it. The inspired penman really believed that heaven's cerulean was a solid firmament, above which he also imagined there was a reservoir; and that when the water descended therefrom in the form of rain, it was through the "windows of heaven," which were supposed to be openings or fissures in this said solid firmament. Surely it is unnecessary to say that this is nothing more nor less than pure chimera, and therefore unworthy of association with a divine afflatus. Ignorant of the true theory of the formation of rain, the inspired penman fabricated a hypothesis of his own, which we need scarcely say is perfectly gratuitous, untenable and ridiculous; and if his inspiration failed to preserve him from so calamitous a break down when dealing with the simplest phenomena of nature, what confidence can be placed in him when his theme is the great unknown, the immeasurable past.

The tree of Knowledge, which occupies a very prominent position in the Mosaic narrative, is brought on the tapis in the second chapter of Genesis, and does not harmonise with the first chapter of the same book. Indeed, had the first chapter been correct, man could not have fallen in the manner described. in Gen. i. 29, 30, we read, "And God said, Behold, I have given you page 230 every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so." But it was not so; for in Gen. ii. 16, 17, we read, "And the Lord God commanded the man saying, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Therefore, the former statement, namely, that man might freely cat of every tree was not correct; nor was the threat verified which implied the death of those who ate of the forbidden fruit on the very day that they did so eat, for Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years after his so-called disobedience. This discrepancy shows plainly that there must have been more than one writer engaged in framing the narrative, and there is no reason for believing that one writer was not quite as much inspired as the other. The former, however, with better taste, left out the wonderful tree of Knowledge, which the other introduced with such fatal effect for unhappy man.

Mr. Krefft has offered ten pounds for the production of any serpent of colonial origin that measures twelve feet and upwards in length; and we may safely offer double that sum for the production of a snake (no matter whence) that is well up in Hebrew, and that can chop logic through the medium of that language. The inspired narrative tells us that the serpent both talked and outreasoned the woman; but before we examine the staple of this rather unusual dialogue, let us ask how it was that the serpent became acquainted with the language of Adam and Eve in Paradise. Adam and Eve must have created the language in which they conversed by mutual agreement, and parties not cognisant of that agreement in all its parts, could never, for a single minute, have conversed with them—not even God himself. How, then, could the serpent converse with Adam and Eve, or Adam and Eve with the serpent?

Again, when some Grecian poetaster assorted that a stone statue had delivered a speech, it was at once objected that the gods themselves could not make a statue speak in the absence of the apparatus requisite for speech. But this wonderful serpent could both talk and reason too in the absence both of the speaking apparatus and the cerebral arrangement necessary to carry on the thinking process. Is it at all surprising that we never heard of the follow of this wonderful reptile? Like the tree of Knowledge, there was never more than one of the sort; and of the latter neither Linnæus nor Jussieau ever met with anything like it in the world's flora; and for the best of all reasons, namely, because it never had existence save and except in the fertile imagination of the inspired writer.

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The tree of Knowledge! Why not the tree of Compound Multiplication? What is knowledge but ascertained truth registered by the memory under the direction of the intelligence through the medium of the senses? Where the senses, where the intelligence, where the memory of the vegetable world? The roots of this wonderful tree might possibly have imbibed a little geology, and the fruit might in consequence be flavoured with some information anticipatory of Hutton's theory; but on this subject Moses is silent as the grave.

To be candid, however, it must be admitted that the eating of this wonderful fruit by Adam and Eve was attended by the most felicitous effects to them in, at least, one respect. The increment to their knowledge, in consequence, was truly astonishing—nothing less than the discovery of the fact that they were naked. Why! in the name of common sense, were our respected progenitors such pitiable idiots before they ate the forbidden fruit as to imagine that they were clothed when they were as nude as the Apollo Belvedere?

But looking at the narrative divested of the childishness that makes it contemptible, we fail to detect anything like wilful criminality on the part of our first parents. They are naively represented as the victims of superior intelligence, although that intelligence happened to be housed in a talking snake. They were assured that they should not die, and it was further intimated to them that they were told so in the first-place to prevent them becoming as gods knowing good and evil. The woman, in her innocence (and innocence is ever unsuspicious), was satisfied that that was the genuine reason why the fruit was forbidden; and we all know how easily the judgment is influenced when our interest is allowed to get into the scale. "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat." Eve, it is clear, was engaged in the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties; but she acted to the best of her judgment, and decided as well as she knew how, although unfortunately. It was an error of judgment at the worst and nothing more; and to expel her and her husband from Paradise on that account, appears to us so harsh and unreasonable that we rejoice to feel assured that we are dealing with nothing more substantial than the shadow of a shade—a mere nullity. Nor will it mend matters to suppose that the serpent was inspired by the devil, or was the devil himself, admitting for the sake of argument the existence of such a being; for this may be urged as an additional point in favour of the woman. Who could expect any other result than the discomfiture of Eve when pitted against such a veteran and wily sinner as Satan?

But the whole affair is intrinsically beneath notice; and is of importance only as it forms the apology for another absurdity of page 232 about the same calibre, namely, the doctrine of the Atonement. Sin and death, we are told, entered the world by one man, and life and immortality have been secured by the death of another, Jesus Christ, the veritable Son of the living God by the Virgin Mary, and who suffered, we are further told, the just for the unjust. According to orthodox authority, nothing less than the sacrifice of the Son of God, who, according to the same authority, is God himself, would meet the necessities of the case, and therefore he died the death of the cross. The fact of the celestial origin of Jesus was not brought forward very prominently in his ministry, and he himself was assuredly ignorant of it. The Nestorians in the third century maintained that the union of God and Man in the manner contended for is impossible, and there are physical as well as moral considerations that oppose to it a decided negative. But these we cannot conveniently discuss in this article. The Eutychians in the fifth century maintained that the body of Christ, bearing in mind its reputed origin, differed in its nature from the rest of mankind; but Mary his mother, and Joseph his father, knew very well that there was no reason whatever for any difference in this respect. Mary, the very best authority on this subject, said to Jesus, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold thy Father and I have sought thee sorrowing." This was on the occasion of his remaining behind at Jerusalem to dispute with the doctors to the great distress of his parents, involving, in our opinion, an act of disobedience at least as culpable as that which expelled Adam and Eve from Paradise. If the sorrow of Joseph was not purely paternal, we mistake it.

The Prayer Book tells us that the Father is God, that the Son is God, and. that the Holy Ghost is God, and yet they are not three Gods, but one God. It follows then, that what is achieved by either of the three is effected by God. Bearing this in mind, we then read in Matt. i. 18, 20, that the mother of Jesus was found with child by the Holy Ghost. These are Trinitarian premises, and pregnant, we contend, with the following conclusions:—That a man may have a son quite as old as his own father and a great deal older than his own mother, and, finally, that he is his own father by his own mother.