It appears, then, according to Strauss, that some time during the thirty or forty years after the death of our Lord, the small body of his followers among the Jews was divided into two parties of very different characters. One was composed of his personal friends and followers, the Apostles and their associates, who knew his true history and doctrines, and who did not propagate those falsehoods concerning him on which the religion of Christians is founded. The other was composed of persons who did propagate those falsehoods. These had their origin, as Strauss suggests, in districts of Palestine where Jesus did not tarry long, and where his actual history was not well known; and it would, he says, be ascribing absolute ubiquity to the Apostles to suppose them to have been capable of being present here and there to weed out all the unhistorical legends concerning him in whatever places they had chanced to spring up and flourish. Those who propagated these fictions concerning him had no intention of deceiving. They were unconscious of falsehood; they believed that what they related had actually taken placc. They had had so little acquaintance with Jesus, or with the eyewitnesses of his ministry, that they did not know that all which they affirmed concerning him was untrue. On the contrary, they were persuaded that it was true.
But though, as Strauss suggests, their fictions may not originally “have taken root in that particular district of Palestine where Jesus tarried longest,” yet, in order to make converts to the belief of them, it was necessary that they should be preached in parts of Palestine where our Lord had been well known, and where there could be no ignorance respecting the essential facts in his ministry. Here, on the one hand, they would be indignantly and vehemently contradicted by the great body of the unbelieving Jews, and, on the other, they would be denied and discountenanced by the true followers of Christ. The innocent impostors, who, in their ignorance, propagated unconsciously such enormous falsehoods concerning him, must have been surprised to find all those acquainted with the facts in his history, whether friends or enemies, utterly confounded, to say the least, by their marvellous stories. One might think that their own confidence would have been shaken by the direct and authoritative evidence which they must have encountered, on every side, of the falsehood of their narrations. It might seem, moreover, that it would be impossible under such circumstances to procure converts to the belief of them. But such was not the case. Their own confidence was not shaken; they persisted in promulgating their stories, and they triumphed signally. They are the true authors of Christianity. It is to them that we are indebted for the Gospels. Their fictions have supplanted the real history of Christ, the original testimony of eyewitnesses, and have become the foundation of Christian faith. Nor is this all. Keeping themselves out of view, they have had complete success in putting their stories before the world as resting on the authority of the Apostles and their associates,—in making them responsible for the marvellous tales. The whole Christian world has believed that these stories proceeded from Apostles and their associates. But it was not so. They proceeded from another party among the followers of Christ, a party that does not appear in history, the existence of which is irreconcilable with all remaining records and memorials of the times when it is supposed to have flourished, utterly irreconcilable with all probability, and which, therefore, was unknown to the world before its discovery by Strauss.
Andrews Norton, Internal Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1856), pp. 31-34.