Quotation: Voltaire on Miracles

Marble. In the collection of the National Gall...The daughters of the high priest Anius changed whatever they chose into wheat, wine or oil.

Athalida, daughter of Mercury, was resuscitated several times.

Aesculapius resuscitated Hippolytus.

Hercules dragged Alcestis back from death.

Heres returned to the world after passing a fortnight in hell.

The parents of Romulus and Remus were a god and a vestal virgin.

The Palladium fell from heaven in the city of Troy.

The hair of Berenice became a constellation.. . .

Give me the name of one people among whom incredible prodigies were not performed, especially when few knew how to read and write.

~ Voltaire, Miracles and Idolatry, cited from Hitchens (2007)



  1. More than an interesting point. It is downright mind-opening.

    When the different writings of the old and new testaments were written, and when they were finally made canon, few would have known how to read or write. By the time literacy became (very gradually) an accepted part of any culture, the hebrew and christian belief systems were rock-solidly formed and had saturated the planet. In their various forms, but nonetheless, so believed that their myths had morphed into reality. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Greeks and Romans- those who were the ‘everyday’, less or non-educated Greeks and Romans – also believe their myths while the literate and those considered to be scholars/philosophers, generally speaking, did not?

    I am not a scholar nor philosopher, but I will plead guilty to being a questioner. My questions led me to reading the bible with less faith, and more logic. Only after I came to non-belief through studying the bible, did I begin reading books and web articles on the subject. I know the belief side very well. So I can say with practical knowledge, freedom of the mind and soul is in non-belief. For anyone who would say then that I was never really a christian, my answer is a kind but firm “you do not know what you are talking about.”


    • Pollyann,

      I’ve found that Hitchen’s books tend to be that way. 🙂 Also, if you liked this post, I have one other that deals with the mythology connection: https://jerichobrisance.com/2013/09/28/dangled-over-a-flame-jews-and-jesus-among-pagan-gods/

      I don’t personally go in for the Christ-myth hypothesis that Jesus never lived. Rather, I tend to lean toward more mainstream views – that he did exist, and that the historical Jesus picked up legendary and mythical elements as the stories circulated. I like both Bart Ehrman and Marcus Borg on this subject.

      My understanding of the myth acceptance by the commoners and rejection among the elites seems to have been the case at some point, and it does appear to have been in swing during the Roman period:

      “Rationalizing hermeneutics of myth became even more popular under the Roman Empire, thanks to the physicalist theories of Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. Stoics presented explanations of the gods and heroes as physical phenomena, while the Euhemerists rationalized them as historical figures.”

      I have read that the apologetic tactics of the early church fathers were derived from Greek thinkers who were trying to rehabilitate their own mythologies and keep them relevant despite their increasing implausibility. That is one reason why I reject the idea that Augustine’s view of Genesis qualifies as a legitimate “ancient believer” viewpoint. He was circa 4th century, and he was considering non-literal and allegorical meanings for it per the Greek Quadriga (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretation). That Augustine was doing this, however, was not the slightest evidence that such a view was accepted by ancestral pre-Christian Jewish believers. Nevertheless, its hard to read much on Genesis today without stumbling over the old mainstay: “as far back as Augustine, the faithful have realized that Genesis may be interpreted non-literally.”

      As to your last comment, I get some of that now too. That I obviously must not have believed in the right way, or deeply enough, or it was for the wrong reasons. So easy to get it wrong… or so it would seem. 🙂


  2. Love Voltaire. My son is studying him in school a little now. I gave him my own “Sparks Note” version about “Candide” — a satire on “The Best of All Possible Worlds” argument.

    Great quote — thanks. Incredible prodigies fell and literacy climbed and now with cell-phones with cameras, the gods scream for legitimacy!


  3. Absolutely. Candide is great. 🙂



    It is truly extravagant to define God, angels, and minds…when we do not know why we move our arms at will. Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

    The Deluge: A punishment inflicted on the human race by an all-knowing God, who, through not having foreseen the wickedness of men, repented of having made them, and drowned them once for all to make them better–an act which, as we all know, was accompanied by the greatest success.

    Holy Scripture: A book sent down from heaven. Holy Scripture contains all that a Christian should know and believe provided he adds to it a million or so commentaries.

    If Adam had enough knowledge to intelligently name all the animals, either he had already eaten of the fruit of knowledge, or God didn’t need to forbid him the fruit.

    Every people has attributed to itself some imaginary origin, yet none has approached the true one.

    Is it possible that God explained to the Jews the way they must go to the bathroom in the wilderness (Deut. 23), yet hid from them the dogma of a future life? Jonathan Swift said that according to God’s laws revealed to Moses, God had taken more care of the Jews’ hinder parts than he did of their souls.

    If there are atheists, who is responsible but the mercenary tyrants of souls who say: “Believe a hundred things in the Bible either manifestly abominable or mathematically impossible; otherwise the God of mercy will burn you in the fires of hell, not only for millions of billions of centuries, but for all eternity.”

    A small Danish (Protestant) sect went around killing as many newly baptized infants as they could discover, thereby preserving them from sin, from the miseries of this life, and from hell, and sending them infallibly to heaven. In the light of their beliefs they were acting rationally, but they did not secure Voltaire’s approval: “These charitable persons omitted to consider that most fathers and mothers are sufficiently worldly to prefer having their sons and daughters with them than to see them slaughtered as a passport to Paradise.”
    – A. J. Ayer, Voltaire


    Jesus allegedly told the people of his generation:

    The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven … Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.
    – Mark 13:24-27,30-31 (Compare the parallel verses in Matthew 24:29-31,34)

    Luke echoed Mark and embellished the prophecy further:

    And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory… Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
    – Luke 21:25-27,32

    Generations passed, and if none of those things happened it is not my fault. When it was seen what a gross falsehood had been put forward, the Fathers of the Church asserted that Matthew, Mark and Luke had meant by these predictions the fall of Jerusalem. But what connection is there, I ask you, between the fall of Jerusalem, and Jesus coming in the clouds with great power and gathering his elect from the four winds?

    The apostle Paul, like Mark, Matthew and Luke, indulged in equally gross falsehoods when he predicted:

    The rulers of this age…are passing away [“will not last much longer”–Today’s English Version]…Do not go on passing judgment before the time [i.e., “before the time” of final judgment], but wait until the Lord comes [i.e., the Lord will come soon enough to relieve the members of that church from having to “pass judgment”] who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts…The time has been shortened so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none … and those who use the world, as though they did not make use of it [i.e., Paul is warning his first-century brethren that the time has grown so “short” that they should no longer be overly concerned with marriage or buying or selling, but instead be preparing above all for the soon return of Christ]; for the form of this world is passing away [“This world, as it is now, will not last much longer”–Today’s English Version]… These things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come… Proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes [i.e., Paul did not say, “Proclaim the Lord’s death until the day you die,” but rather, “until he comes,” which means that he considered Christ’s coming to be nearer than the time when the Christians he was addressing would all be dead, and he further emphasizes this by adding…] We [Paul and the first-century Christians being addressed] shall not all sleep… At the last trumpet… the dead will be raised… and we shall be changed [i.e., “we” included Paul and others whom he predicted would still be alive at Jesus’s coming and hence not require “raising,” but merely “changing”]. Maranatha [=“Come Lord”]
    – 1 Corinthians. 2:6; 4:5; 7:29-31; 10:11; 11:26; 15:51-52; 16:22

    To the Philippians Paul wrote:

    He who began a good work in you [the first-century Christians being addressed] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus [i.e., rather than saying “until the day you die,” which Paul predicted was not going to happen to all of them as Paul pointed out in 1 Cor., “we shall not all sleep”]…In order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ [Compare 1 Tim 6:14, “Keep the commandment…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”]… We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
    – Philippians 1:6,10; 3:20; 4:5

    To the believers in Rome Paul wrote:

    The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is soon to be revealed to us…The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now…We…groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body… knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed! The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand…The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
    – Romans 8:18,22-23; 13:11-12; 16:20

    Moreover, Paul’s earliest known letters were written to Christians of Thessalonica who were growing increasingly concerned because some of their brethren had died already without seeing the “coming of the Lord.” Paul wrote to reassure them that the Lord would return soon:

    For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord [i.e., Paul included himself as one who would be alive at the coming of the Lord]… shall be caught up together… in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air… May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 5:23

    It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels [i.e., the Lord Jesus would be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels soon enough to recompense tribulation to whomever was troubling that first-century church!]… the mystery of iniquity doth already work… Brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly…
    – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2:7; 3:1

    Let each person ask himself here: could it be possible to see the stupidity of fanaticism pushed further? Not only has Jesus been introduced upon the scene predicting the end of the world in his own time but such was the fanaticism of all those who are called apostles and disciples. I have already mentioned the case of Paul. Let us look at the rest.

    Peter in the First Epistle attributed to him says:

    He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times [or last days, or, end of times]…The end of all things is at hand … the glory that is soon to be revealed.
    – 1 Peter 1:20; 4:7; 5:1

    When Jesus did not return, the church had to deal with “mockers” who pointed to the false predictions of Jesus’s soon return in the New Testament. In order to deal with such folks–who knew a false prophecy when they read one–a feeble attempt was made to explain Jesus’s delay in a second letter attributed to the apostle Peter, which stated:

    With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
    – 2 Peter 3:8

    But this feeble attempt to silence the “mockers” fails miserably. It is like admitting that when God “inspired” the writers of the New Testament to proclaim that they were living in the “last hour,” in the “last days,” and that it was only a “very little while” before “He who is coming will come” (Heb. 10:37), that God really meant “last hours” and “last days” and “very little whiles” that were “thousands” of years long. I wonder what such an explanation implies about God’s inability to put words into his prophets’ mouths that meant what He truly intended, instead of having to cover His tracks in a late-dated letter like 2nd Peter? In short, the statement in 2nd Peter contradicts 1st Peter, and other New Testament predictions that Jesus (or “the Son of Man”) was to come soon and initiate the world’s final judgment.

    Even the author of 2nd Peter did not suspect that the end was far off, for he wrote:

    God is not slack concerning his promise…what manner of persons ought you [the second-century Christians he was addressing] to be…looking for, and hastening the coming of God…we are looking for new heavens, and a new earth.
    – 2 Peter 3:9-13

    And added:

    …in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers [the earliest Christian leaders] fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice…
    – 2 Peter 3:3-5

    Speaking of “escaping their notice” (sic), it often escapes the notice of Christians as they read the above verses that they apply to “mockers” who were disturbing the faithful at the time 2nd Peter was written. So if the warning was about “mockers” who will come “in the last days,” such mockers had arrived as early as the second-century, and were already asking, “Where is the promise of his coming?”

    The First Epistle attributed to John says:

    The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining…The world is passing away [“This world, as it is now, will not last much longer” – Today’s English Version]… Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, even now many Antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. [Notice the way the author emphasized the fact that not just a single Antichrist had arisen, but “many” Antichrists had already arisen, and pounded that point home to add weight to his prediction that “it is the last hour,” and, “this world will not last much longer.”]
    – 1 John 2:17,18

    The Epistle attributed to Jude, proclaims the same mania:

    Certain persons have crept in unnoticed [i.e., they “have” already crept in, in Jude’s own day], those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation … about these [i.e., “these,” refers to the people who have already crept in] Enoch prophesied saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment [i.e., the Lord was going to come soon with thousands of holy ones to execute judgment on people who had already crept into the church in Jude’s day].”
    – Jude 4,10-15

    The Epistle of James speaks likewise:

    Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you [directed at the rich people living in James’s own day]…It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure … Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord … for the coming of the Lord is at hand…behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
    – James 5:1,3,7-9

    This ridiculous idea survived century after century. If the world did not end under the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, it had to end under Theodosius; if the end had not come under Theodosius, it had to occur under Attila the Hun. And up to the twelfth century this idea enriched the monasteries. A great many of the charters and donations to the monasteries began thus: “Christ reigning, the end of the world approaching, I, for the remedy of my soul, etc.”


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