Friday, October 30, 2015
Bible Ghosts by GW Foote 1922
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THE belief in ghosts is rapidly dying out. They are scarcely ever heard of in towns, except in a forlorn condition at Spiritist séances, where they are at the beck and call of professional mediums, and reduced to playing tricks for their sport and profit. Most surviving ghosts lurk about villages and lonely homsesteads. The reason of this is obvious. Life and society quicken the intellect in towns, while the quiet and solitude of the country stimulate the imagination. And ghosts are entirely a matter of fancy. Like miracles they depend on faith. If you believe in them you may see them; if you do not you never will.
The Bible abounds with these phantasms. They are of various kinds, from little spectres to the great Ghost, commonly called Holy, who himself appears in a variety of forms. Such a fact is not surprising when we consider that this book is full of the grossest superstitions. When its author came on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, he actually thought that mad people had devils in them, and were to be cured by the exorcist instead of the doctor. Nothing unscientific or absurd, therefore, should surprise us in his writings. We ought rather to be thankful, in reading them, for the smallest mercies in the shape of knowledge and common-sense.
We are very early introduced in the Old Testament to a ghost. The second verse of Genesis says that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” But as there were no eyes to view this ocean traveller, the very fish not being then in existence, we have no notion of its form or feature. All we can say is that it was the loneliest ghost on record, with the most miserable occupation. It was worse off even than Noah, for although he sailed the seas for twelve months without sight of land, and must have been heartily sick of so much water, it is not unreasonable to Suppose that he had a drop of “something short” inside his floating menagerie; especially when we reflect that the first thing he did after the Flood, directly he had offered his burnt offering to the Lord, was to get dead drunk.
The next ghost was “the Lord God,” whom Adam and Eve heard “walking in the garden in the cool of the day." Scripture states that they heard his voice, so he was probably holding a conversation with himself; which is a common thing with persons of weak intellect. This is quite in keeping with the sequel, which displays him in a dreadful passion at occurrences which anyone but a fool
would naturally have expected. Yet this ghost is, in a manner, an advance on the first, having passed, as Herbert Spencer would say, from the homogenous to the heterogenous state, from the simple to the complex. The “Spirit of the Lord” appears to have been a gaseous body, if we may so speak of a ghost; but the “Lord God” has a voice and a walking apparatus, and is therefore organic.
We wonder how long this process of development took. The ghostly biologist who answers that question will settle a puzzling problem in chronology; namely, the length of time between “in the beginning” and the creation of Adam.
After the Flood, and until the Jews settled down in Palestine, the Lord frequently appeared again. He visited Abraham several times, and on one occasion stopped to dinner. Two of his angels, or himself divided into two, called on Lot at Sodom, and put up with him for the night; He met Jacob near Jabbok brook and held a wrestling match with him, in which, after many hours rough sport, he was at last defeated, although he dislocated his adversary’s thigh. Moses saw him in a burning bush, in a public-house, and on a mountain, where he spent forty days with him and had a panoramic view of his “afterwards.” Altogether Jahveh was a pretty busy ghost, until he found it more respectable and prudent to cultivate a retiring disposition.
There were many angelic ghosts in the Old Testament who played various parts, such as heavenly messengers, promisers of children to barren wives (these were doubtless young and good-looking), lying prophets and wholesale murderers. But the most remarkable angels were the sons of God who saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and who were apparently the progenitors of a mongrel
race of giants. It has, however, been suggested that this narrative was written by a subtle satirist who sailed as close to the wind as he could; that these sons of God were priests, who are always fond of the fair sex; and that the mongrel offspring were the bastard children they procreated.
The first Bible ghost, in the more modern sense of the word, is that of the prophet Samuel, who was raised by the witch of Endor: This old lady kept a “familiar spirit,” and no doubt a bristly tom-cat. Her trade was summoning ghosts in the dead of night. She was one of the survivors of a numerous tribe of witches and wizards whom Saul had rooted out of the land in his vigorous and
sensible reign; but in his decline, when the priests and conjurors were all against him, and he was himself troubled with fits of melancholy and superstition, he paid this old Hecate a visit. Apparently ashamed of his weakness, he went in disguise, and asked her to bring up Samuel. There was much haggling before she would begin the performance, for according to the law here life
was in danger, but at last she brought the old fellow up. Probably as business had been dull of late, she had grown unused to ghosts; at any rate, when she saw Samuel she screamed, and fancied she saw streams of spectres issuing from the ground.
Samuel wore a mantle, so there are clothes in the spirit world, as the Spiritists of to-day aver, although some of their lady mediums have been detected playing the ghost themselves with devilish little on.
Samuel’s ghost spoke, and all other ghosts indulge more or less in the same diversion. They generally talk utter nonsense, although Samuel’s language was rather wicked than absurd. We should like to know what sort of a voice he had. Superstition generally ascribes to ghosts the ghost of a voice. Savages describe the spirit-voice as a chirp or murmur, and the classic descriptions of Homer
and Ovid are very similar. Shakespeare makes the King's ghost in Hamlet speak monotonous lines which we naturally associate with subdued accents; and the low, mysterious tone is still affected by the “familiar spirits ” of modern mediums. A screaming ghost would be a screaming farce. Those who wish to find the explanation of this and may other facts of Animism should consult Dr. E. B. Tylor’s magnificent work on _Primitive Culture_.
Let us make a leap to the time of Elijah, who played an extraordinary trick with a ghost. He was lodging with a widow at Zarephath, and living on her miraculous barrel of meal and cruse of oil, which never failed, but gave forth perennial supplies of pancakes. This fortunate lady’s boy fell ill and died, and she reproached the prophet with being the cause of her loss. Elijah in turn gave the Lord a lecture on the subject, and asked what he meant by slaying the poor woman’s son. He then carried the little corpse up into the garret which he occupied rent free, laid it on his bed, “stretched himself upon the child three times,” and besought the Lord to let its soul come back. His prayer was heard, the third stretch was lucky, “the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.” Curiously, there is a similar feat recorded of Elisha, who inherited Elijah’s mantle, and the goodwill of his business. Elisha’s hostess, however, was not a widow, but a wife. Her husband was old, and she had no child when Elisha first came to their house, but that little deficiency was soon remedied. Presently she had a son and heir, who grew big enough to carry his fatherfs dinner to the reaping field, where, alas! he was killed by a sunstroke. Elisha operated on the corpse as Elijah had done before him. He stretched himself on the child, mouth on mouth, eyes on eyes, and hands on hands, gave it a good warming, and then went downstairs to get up the steam again, perhaps over a bottle of inspiration. Being well primed, he ascended and gave the corpse another cuddle. This effort was crowned with complete success. The child’s soul returned, he sneezed seven times, and opened his eyes, no doubt thinking Elisha had given him snuff.
What a fine example of barbaric superstition! Among savages, such as the ancient Jews undoubtedly were, it is a common belief that the soul leaves the body when a man faints or dies, and may sometimes be brought back by calling on it; and thus, says Tylor, “the bringing back of lost souls becomes a regular part of the sorcerer’s or priest’s profession.” Elijah and Elisha seem both to
have been in this line of business, and these two cases may have been recorded merely as specimens of their skill.
And how interesting and instructive is that incident of the child sneezing seven times! The breath and the soul were the same thing, and both passed through the nose. God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life. At the Flood all in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. Jacob, as Tylor says, prayed that man’s soul might not thenceforth depart from his body when he sneezed. It has been a general custom to utter a pious ejaculation on sneezing; and when, after a good sneeze, Christians say, “God bless me! ” they are unconsciously performing an ancient religious rite. Sternutation is widely associated with demoniacal possession. The idea appears among peoples so diverse as the Hindus, the Persians, the Kelts, the Kaffirs, and the Jews, not to mention a number of other races. The Messalians, an heretical sect, used to spit and blow their noses to expel the demons they might have drawn in with their breath. There are pictures of mediaeval exorcists driving out devils through the patients’ nostrils; and centuries earlier Josephus told of his seeing a certain Jew, named Eleazar, cure demoniacs by drawing the demons out through the same channel. Yes, the nose is as prominent in religious history as it is on our faces, and its intimate connection with the soul may explain why the priests have always led us by this particular organ.
Elisha’s bones, although they could not resuscitate themselves, had the power of reviving others. A corpse dropped hurriedly into his sepulchre stood up alive and kicking. Ezekiel saw a whole valley of dry bones start into life again. Probably the old ghosts were ready to resume their bodies at a very short notice, for they were supposed to haunt the place of their burial. Quite
another kind of ghost was the one that passed before the face of Eliphaz in the dead of night and made the “hair of his flesh” stand up like quills upon the fretful porcupine. Unfortunately we have no description of it; yet, as it preached a long sermon, we may conjecture that it was the ghost of a parson looking out for a fresh pulpit.
Jesus Christ himself was considered a ghost by some of the early heretics. They could not conceive that Deity was born of woman, ate, drank, and slept, and suffered an ignominious death; so they held that the Messiah was not a being of flesh and blood, but a phantasm. There is something to be said for this opinion, for the same Jesus who was crucified and buried ascended into heaven; and does not St. Paul say that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”? But on the other hand there are the very plain, unequivocal words which Luke puts into the mouth of Jesus on his appearance to the eleven, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” This seems decisive. Yet those fastidious heretics may be met half way, for if Jesus was not a ghost, he was at least the son of a ghost.
With the exception of those spirits Jesus was in the habit of casting out from people who never possessed them, a sprightly variety of which he sent into the Gadarean swine, the first authentic ghost he took in hand was that of Jairus’s daughter. Some critics, among whom is Olshausen, throw doubt on this. When Jesus came to, raise the girl from the dead, in other words to call her ghost back, he said, “The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.” Those critics take the language literally, and assert that it was not a case of resurrection at all.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke narrate this story, but John does not. Mark and Luke both say that Jesus, after restoring the maid to her friends, charged them that they should tell no man, while Matthew says that "the fame thereof went abroad into all that land." This is a good illustration of Gospel Harmony. Yet it is fair to say that the different stories may be reconciled by supposing that
Jesus asked them to keep the miracle a secret, in order to get it well published.
Jesus raised up more than one person from the dead, as indeed was to be expected, for Rabbi Acha in the Talmud only expressed the general belief when he said that “in the Messianic time God will wake the dead, as he did before by Eljiah, Elisha, and Ezekiel.” The second case was that of the widow’s son at Nain. Jesus resuscitated him publicly before “much people” as he was being carried to the grave. Of course the young man, like the young maid, was never heard of again; and although the “rumour went forth through all Judaea,” it never reached the ears of Matthew, Mark, and John. Josephus did not hear of it, nor even Paul, for he told Agrippa that Christ was the first that rose from the dead, and in Corinthians (xv. 20) he calls him “the first fruits of them that slept.” For any useful result, or any conviction it produced, this miracle was like the barren fig-tree.
Philostratus relates a similar story of Apollonius of Tyana, who met one day in the streets of Rome a damsel carried out to burial, followed by her betrothed, and by a weeping company. He bade them set down the bier, saying he would stanch their tears; and having enquired her name, whispered something in her ear, and then, taking her by the hand, he lifted her up, and she began straight way to speak, and returned to her father’s house. This story is quite as beautiful as Luke’s and probably quite as true.
A far more beautiful story is told of Buddha. Professor Rhys Davids and other Buddhist scholars narrate it with slight variations, but it is more finely rendered in Sir Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia. A young mother brings the Master her dying child, bitten by a poisonous snake, and implores his aid. Gazing at her with his gentle eyes, and laying on her his patient hand, he says that there is one thing which might heal her grief and the boy's wound, if she could find it; a black mustard-seed, taken from a house where no father, mother, child or slave has died. But she seeks it in vain, for although those of whom she begs kindly offer her the seed, she cannot take it, because every house bears the taint of death; and she returns to the pitiful wise Master with the sad news.
“My sister! thou hast found,” the Master‘said,
“Searching for what none finds—that bitter balm
I had to give thee. He thou lovedst slept
Dead on thy bosom yesterday: to-day
Thou know’st the whole wide world weeps with
The grief which all hearts share grows less for
Lo! I would pour my blood if I could stay
Thy tears and win the secret of that curse
Which makes sweet love our anguish, and which
O’er flowers and pastures to the sacrifice-
As these dumb beasts are driven—men their
I seek that secret: bury thou thy child.”
How pathetic, yet how sane! How far above Luke’s story of Christ, which teaches no lesson and touches no eternal problem!
Luke claims to have had “perfect understanding of all things from the very first,” and he certainly beats the other evangelists in his account of the ruler’s daughter. Yet he yields to John in the case of Lazarus. John, indeed, beats all three of his rivals hollow in this matter; for, while he hunts up all the details of the gentleman’s resurrection, they never once get upon the scent.
Lazarus was loved by Jesus; he lived and died, rose from the tomb, and lived and died again, unless he is still roaming the earth; yet Matthew, Mark, and Luke never heard of him. What makes this ignorance still more striking is that John represents the raising of Lazarus as the fact which provoked the resentment of the chief priests and Pharisees, and led to the crucifixion of Christ.
Jesus knew that his friend Lazarus lay dying, but would not save his life, because he meant to work a bigger miracle. When he arrived at Bethany, Martha and Mary were surrounded with sympathetic friends, and weeping over their brother’s grave. The scene was so affecting that “Jesus wept” too, although he knew, which they did not, that in less than a minute Lazarus would be restored to life. Jesus is called “the man of sorrows,” and not without cause, for he seems to have been able to pipe his optics on the smallest provocation.
Lazarus had been dead four days, and his flesh was rather high. Martha said, “he stinketh”; and St. Ambrose wrote that the smell was like Egyptian darkness—so thick, that it could be felt. But Jesus, being the
Son of Jahveh, and used to the sickly odour of burnt offerings, was not deterred by such a trifle. Approaching the tomb he first asked his celestial parent to back him up, and then shouted “Lazarus, come forth!" Whereupon the corpse started up all alive, but not kicking, for it was bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and must have looked remarkably like a bale of bacon. But of course he was soon unpacked, and taken home.
Many people saw this miracle, yet it was not mentioned at the trial of Jesus before Pilate. What a strange omission! It Lazarus had been produced in court, with the witnesses of his resurrection, is it likely that Pilate would have sentenced Jesus to death? Or, if the chief priests and Pharisees believed in the miracle, would they have tried to kill one who had proved himself the master of Death?
Why did Jesus shout “Lazarus, come forth”? Would not a whisper have done as well? There is a theatrical air about the whole performance. Renan suggests that it was all a trick, got up between Lazarus and Jesus, when the latter’s head was turned and his conscience perverted by the Messianic delusion. Dr. Davidson saves the credit of his Saviour by impeaching John’s accuracy, and charging him with “converting the Lazarus of the parable in Luke into a historical person.” Keim also holds that “not a doubt can remain of the spuriousness of the whole story.” A host of Biblical critics agree with this view, including Schenkel, Strauss, Baur, Weisse, and Hilgenfeld.
What became of Lazarus after his resurrection? Scripture is silent, but tradition says he became Bishop of Marseilles, which is doubtless as true as that he wrote the “Marseillaise.” Epiphanius relates that he lived thirty years after his “second birth.” What a pity he did not occupy some of the time by writing his autobiography! The history of the four days he spent God knows where would have been the best bit of literary property in the market.
There is a tradition that the first thing Lazarus asked on coming to, was whether he should die again; on being told “Yes,” he never smiled more. Had he then, like Jesus a little later, spent those four days in hell? Or had he been to heaven, and finding it dismally monotonous, as Revelation depicts, was he terrified at the thought of returning, and dwelling for ever with what Heine called “all the menagerie of the Apocalypse”? Robert Browning has brought great learning and subtlety to bear on this subject, in his Epistle of Karshish the Arab Physician, but of course he is a poet and not a theologian.
Jesus Christ’s ghost will be dealt with in another chapter. We conclude this one with a few words on the great ghost, the ghost of ghosts, the Holy Ghost. Let us, dear reader, approach this mystical spirit with fear and trembling; for blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is a sin that will never be forgiven us in this world or in the next. It leads as surely to the pit as jumping from the gallery of a theatre; and is all the more to be dreaded because nobody knows what it is.
Men have speculated whether this being should be called he, she, or it. But the story of its “overshadowing ” Mary seems decisive on that point. What shape the heavenly father of Jesus took when he visited Joseph’s young woman is a moot point. Protestant writers shirk the subject, but Catholics go in for the dove or the pigeon. They ridicule the Pagan story of Jove’s making love to Leda in the form of a swan, and becoming the father of Castor and Pollux. But what difference is there between these two myths except in the size of the bird? Yet to laugh at the one is legitimate fun, while to laugh at the other is unpardonable sin.
There is no doubt as to the Holy Ghost’s form on his next appearance. When Jesus was baptized “he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.” This is Matthew’s account. Luke goes farther. He writes as though all the bystanders witnessed the marvel as well'as Jesus, “The heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove.”
The last appearance of the Holy Ghost was on that famous day of Pentecost, when he came in the form of tongues of fire on the heads of the twelve apostles. The effect of this visitation was singular. They all began to jabber strange tongues. Some of the auditors thought they were filled with the spirit, and others said they were drunk. A similar diversity of opinion has obtained since. Many men have been “filled with the Holy Ghost,” like those captains of the first; Salvation Army, have talked with strange tongues, and seen visions and dreamed dreams; and while some people have thought them inspired, others have thought them delirious. This latter class have_ever, as in the Acts, been stigmatised as “mockers,“ but their number is rapidly increasing in this age of science and common-sense. They have always had the laugh on their side, and now the world is coming over too. A mighty roar of laughter is shaking the realms of superstition, fluttering all the ghosts, warning them to melt into thin air, and “like the baseless fabric of a Vision faded, leave not a wrack behind.”
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