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Napoleon and Jesus

September 9, 2011

In researching for an essay, I came across G. F. Moore’s piece on “Nazarene and Nazareth,” in The Beginnings of Christianity, Part I, Acts of the Apostles,Volume I: Prolegomena, eds. F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (London:  Macmillan & Co., 1920), 426-32.  This is still probably the best discussion of the words “Nazarenos” and “Nazoraios“, which are used in the Gospels and Acts as an epithet for Jesus (and once for his followers in Acts 24:5).

In the course of his discussion, Moore (whose impressive grasp of rabbinic material is well known among scholars) mentions then-recent writers (J. M. Robertson, W. B. Smith, Arthur Drewes) who had asserted that Jesus was a purely legendary figure, building their case on what Moore shows to be completely spurious etymology and a mischievous mis-reading of sources (e.g., Epiphanius’ reference to a group he calls “Nasaraioi“).   Moore observes that the claim that there was a sect of pre-Christian “Nasaraeans” in which a “”pre-Christian Jesus” was worshipped has no basis.

He also draws a comparison to J.-B. Peres’s “ingenious demonstration that a man Napoleon never existed,” in an enjoyable satire:  Comme quoi Napoleon n’a jamais existe; ou Grand Erratum, source d’un nombre infini d’errata a note dans l’histoire du xixe siecle (Paris, 1817, and reprinted numerous times thereafter).  The English translation = Did Napoleon ever Exist? (London:  Remington & Co., 1885; reprint Utrecht:  De Roos, 1972).  I gotta get sight of this one!  Looks like great fun!

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  1. David Reimer permalink

    English version available here:

  2. My apologies. On my pc the link to Google Book seems to work well, maybe a (free) registration to Google Books is required in order to access content. The book is no longer covered by Copyright and Google Books makes it available for download in .pdf end .epub formats (for palm readers). If anyone who can’t access the weblink may like to get a copy, let me know.
    The book is actually short (14 pages on .pdf), so the french version looks complete..
    Again, my apologies if I provided wrong coordinates.

  3. Here’s the link to the Pérès’s short book, available for free at Google Books:

    For those who are familiar with french language, the original work is available here:

    These kind of works seem to be just apologetics “divertissement”, but I think that they still pose interesting questions of epistemological relevance for what concerns historical studies and the risks of applying “wild comparativism” to studies of early Christianity.

    • Thanks. But so far as I can see the first link doesn’t take us to the actual text of the book, but only to an advert for it. In any case, the other link takes us to the French version, although it seems briefer than I had assumed (as the original work is described as comprising some 65 pp.).

  4. I have a little Dutch book that argues that John Calvin is purely mythical. 😉

  5. Andrew permalink

    Archbishop Richard Whately did something similar and it can be found here:

    • Glad you mentioned Richard Whately, Andrew – who wrote his little treatise not long after the death of Napoleon! (ie over 60 years before Peres wrote).

      I think one of the issues for Whately was to suggest that scholars are justified in including a view of the material and cultural effects put into motion in history by the life of Jesus of Nazareth as partial proof of his actual existence – since we are forced to consult ‘historical effects’ also in answering the question regarding Napoleon’s existence (once he was dead). Not an airtight case I know, but he had a respectible sort of fun with it.

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