Thomas Paine: These are the times that try men's souls

Age of Reason

by Thomas Paine

Age of Reason, Part III, Section 3


John, like Mark and Luke, is not much of a prophecy-monger. He speaks of the ass, and the casting lots for Jesus' clothes, and some other trifles, of which I have already spoken.

John makes Jesus to say, chap. v. ver. 46, "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me." The book of the Acts, in speaking of Jesus, says, chap. iii. ver. 22, "For Moses truly said unto the fathers, a prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, of your brethren, like unto me, him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shalt say unto you."

This passage is in Deuteronomy, chap. xviii. ver. 15. They apply it as a prophecy of Jesus. What impositions! The person spoken of in Deuteronomy, and also in Numbers, where the same person is spoken of, is Joshua, the minister of Moses, and his immediate successor, and just such another Robespierrean character as Moses is represented to have been. The case, as related in those books, is as follows: --

Moses was grown old and near to his end, and in order to prevent confusion after his death, for the Israelites had no settled system of government; it was thought best to nominate a successor to Moses while he was yet living. This was done, as we are told, in the following manner:

Numbers, chap. xxvii. ver. 12. "And the Lord said unto Moses, get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel — and when thou hast seen it, thou also shall be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother is gathered, ver. 15. And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying, Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation — Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep that have no shepherd — And the Lord said unto Moses, take thee Joshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him — and set him before Eleazar, the priest, and before all the congregation, and give him a charge in their sight — and thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient — ver. 22, and Moses did as the Lord commanded, and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and he laid hands upon him, and gave him charge as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses."

I have nothing to do, in this place, with the truth, or the conjuration here practiced, of raising up a successor to Moses like unto himself. The passage sufficiently proves it is Joshua, and that it is an imposition in John to make the case into a prophecy of Jesus, But the prophecy-mongers were so inspired with falsehood, that they never speak truth.*

* Newton, Bishop of Bristol in England, published a work in three volumes, entitled, "Dissertations on the Prophecies." The work is tediously written and tiresome to read. He strains hard to make every passage into a prophecy that suits his purpose. — Among others, he makes this expression of Moses, "the Lord shall raise thee up a prophet like unto me," into a prophecy of Chris who was not born, according to the Bible chronologies, till fifteen hundred and fifty-two years after the time of Moses, whereas it was an immediate successor to Moses, who was then near his end, that is spoken of in the passage above quoted.

This Bishop, the better to impose this passage on the world as a prophecy of Christ, has entirely omitted the account in the bock of Numbers which I have given at length, word for word, and which shows, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the person spoken of by Moses, is Joshua, and no other person.

Newton is but a superficial writer. He takes up things upon hear-say, and inserts them without either examination or reflection, and the more extraordinary and incredible they are, the better he likes them.

In speaking of the walls of Babylon, (volume the first, page 263,) he makes a quotation from a traveller of the name of Tavernur, whom he calls, (by way of giving credit to what he says,) a celebrated traveller, that those walls were made of burnt brick, ten feet square and three feet thick. — If Newton had only thought of calculating the weight of such a brick, he would have seen the impossibility of their being used or even made. A brick ten feet square, and three feet thick, contains three hundred cubic feet, and allowing a cubic foot of brick to be only one hundred pounds, each of the Bishop's bricks would weigh thirty thousand pounds; and it would take about thirty cart loads of clay (one horse carts) to make one brick.

But his account of the stones used in the building of Solomon's temple, (volume 2d, page 211,) far exceeds his bricks of ten feet square in the walls of Babylon; these are but brick-bats compared to them.

The stones (says he) employed in the foundation, were in magnitude forty cubits, that is, above sixty feet, a cubit, says he, being somewhat more than one foot and a half, (a cubit is one foot nine inches,) and the superstructure (says this Bishop) was worthy of such foundations. There were some stones, says he, of the whitest marble forty-five cubits long, five cubits high, and six cubits broad. These are the dimensions this Bishop has given, which in measure of twelve inches to a foot, is 78 feet nine inches long, 10 feet 6 inches broad, and 8 feet three inches thick, and contains 7,234 cubic feet. I now go to demonstrate the imposition of this Bishop.

A cubic foot of water weighs sixty-two pounds and a half — The specific gravity of marble to water is as "2-1/2 is to one. The weight, therefore, of a cubic foot of marble is 556 pounds, which, multiplied by 7,234, the number of cubic feet in one of those stones, makes the weight of it to be 1,128,504 pounds, which is 503 tons. Allowing then a horse to draw about half a ton, it will require a thousand horses to draw one such stone on the ground; how then were they to be lifted into the building by human hands?

The bishop may talk of faith removing mountains, but all the faith of all the Bishops that ever lived could not remove one of those stones and their bodily strength given in.

This Bishop also tells of great guns used by the Turks at the taking of Constantinople, one of which, he says, was drawn by seventy yoke of oxen, and by two thousand men. Vol. 3d, page 117.

The weight of a cannon that carries a ball of 43 pounds, which is the largest cannon that are cast, weighs 8000 pounds, about three tons and a half, and may be drawn by three yoke of oxen. Any body may now calculate what the weight of the Bishop's great gun must be, that required seventy yoke of oxen to draw it. This Bishop beats Gulliver.

When men give up the use of the divine gift of reason in writing on any subject, be it religious or any thing else, there are no bounds to their extravagance, no limit to their absurdities.

The three volumes which this Bishop has written on what he calls the prophecies, contain above 1290 pages, and he says in vol. 3, page 117, "I have studied brevity." This is as marvellous as the Bishop's great gun.

I pass to the last passage in these fables of the Evangelists called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.

John, having spoken of Jesus expiring on the cross between two thieves, says, chap. xix. verse 32. "Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first (meaning one of the thieves) and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs — verse 36, for these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken."

The passage here referred to is in Exodus, and has no more to do with Jesus than with the ass he rode upon to Jerusalem; — nor yet so much, if a roasted jack-ass, like a roasted he-goat, might be eaten at a Jewish passover. It might be some consolation to an ass to know that though his bones might be picked, they would not be broken. I go to state the case.

The book of Exodus, in instituting the Jewish passover, in which they were to eat a he-lamb or a he-goat, says, chap. xii, verse 5. "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it from the sheep or from the goats."

The book, after stating some ceremonies to be used in killing and dressing it, (for it was to be roasted, not boiled,) says, ver. 43, "And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, this is the ordinance of the passover: there shall no stranger eat thereof; but every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh thereof abroad out of the house; neither shalt thou break a bone thereof."

We here see that the case as it stands in Exodus is a ceremony and not a prophecy, and totally unconnected with Jesus's bones, or any part of him.

John, having thus filled up the measure of apostolic fable, concludes his book with something that beats all fable; for he says at the last verse, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they could be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written."

This is what in vulgar life is called a thumper; that is, not only a lie, but a lie beyond the line of possibility; besides which it is an absurdity, for if they should be written in the world, the world would contain them. — Here ends the examination of the passages called prophecies.

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