The Mystery of Jesus
was once a man who lived during a precisely defined period
in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberias Caesar. His existence
is an incontestable fact. He was known as a manual worker, a
carpenter using the hammer and the plane, with shavings
curling round his ears. He could be seen walking along a
road which is still pointed out to us; in the evening he
would be stretched upon a bed of rushes or a string hammock,
tired out and sleeping like any other man, just like one of
Yet he said the most surprising things that have ever been
heard. He said that he was the Messiah, the heaven-sent
witness through whom the chosen people were to fulfill their
glorious destiny. More astounding still, he said he was the
Son of God. And he was believed. He found men to accompany
him along the roads of Palestine, as he traveled across the
country. He performed miracles with disconcerting ease.
There were many who believed that he would bring about the
political independence of Israel.
But then, any mystic can collect devoted fanatics. The
culmination of this scandal was that the man was suddenly
wiped out, without putting up the slightest resistance. So
far from being discouraged by this failure, several of his
disciples went out into the world to bear witness to his
divinity, even with their blood, and ever since mankind,
seeing in this defeat the sign of victory, has prostrated
itself before a common gibbet, just as if tomorrow a church
should raise the scaffold for the veneration of the crowd.
... Jesus is at once of history and beyond it. Considering
the number and the agreement of the witnesses concerning him
and the abundance of the written testimony through which his
gospel has been transmitted, one is inclined to say that
there is no individual of his time about whom we are so
well-informed. Yet as he himself foretold he has become the
center of a thousand years of dispute, which each generation
renews in contemporary terms.
That this man of poor and uncultivated stock should remake
the basis of philosophy and open out to the world of the
future an unknown territory of thought; that this simple son
of a declining people, born in an obscure district in a
small Roman province, this nameless Jew like all those
others despised by the procurators of Caesar, should speak
with a voice that was to sound above those of the Emperor's
themselves, these are the most surprising facts of history.
...Hence forward he is the measure of everything that
happens. The life of Christ is contained in history and
contains it. It is not merely the vindication of some
nameless tragic humility, it is the supreme explanation and
the final standard by which everything is measured, from
which history itself takes meaning and justification."
"Jesus And His Times" Translated from the French by Ruby
Miller (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., INC, 1954) pp.