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Bentham - Not Paul But Jesus: Reviews and History Of Its Writing & Impact

As Wikipedia notes, "Not Paul But Jesus (1823)" was "published under the pseudonym Gamaliel Smith" by Jeremy Bentham. ("Jeremy Bentham," Wikipedia.)

Here are critical reviews of this book.

"Not Paul but Jesus," Critica Biblica (1827)

  • 1st critical review at page 234
  • 2d critical review at page 280

A rebuttal book to "Not Paul But Jesus" was

David Bowker Wells, St. Paul vindicated: being pt. 1. of a reply to a late publication by Gamaliel Smith, Esq. [Jeremy Bentham] (1824) available at books.google.com at this address:


Another book in rebuttal was by Thomas Smart Hughes entitled A Defence of the Apostle St. Paul against the accusation of Gamaliel Smith, Esq. [i.e. Jeremy Bentham], in a recent publication entitled "Not Paul but Jesus." Part I.,' 8vo, 1824. Part ii., published the same year, was entitled `On the Miracles of St. Paul.' See "Thomas Smart Hughes" from Wikisource. It is catalogued at books. google here, but there is no ebook available.

For more on Bentham's earlier edition of 1813, and private papers of his on it, search the British National Archives.

Discussion of Not Paul But Jesus

"Not Paul but Jesus [was] an attempt on Bentham's part to show the error of the Church in following the teachings of Paul rather than Jesus." (Miriam Williford, Bentham on the Rights of Women (1975) at www.jstor.org/stable/2709019.)

Not Paul But Jesus "was so outspoken that [Samuel] Romilly persuaded Bentham that if he was going to publish it at all he better do so anonymously for fear of reprisals. This, Bentham rather uncharacteristically chose to do."  (B. Taylor, "Jeremy Bentham and Church of England Education," British Journal of Educational Studies (June 1979) Vol. 27 at 154.)

History of Its Origin and Writings

"It is not clear when Bentham first began work on Not Paulbut Jesus, but one of the earliest manuscripts found so far is dated 27 July 1816." (Catherine Fuller, Bentham Project.) She explains in depth:

Perhaps under the continued influence of his surroundings, as well as the company of James Mill and Francis Place, both of whom were professed atheists, Bentham continued to think about religion, and worked on the third of his religious works, Not Paul, but Jesus, while Place was at Ford Abbey in 1817.

It is not clear when Bentham first began work on Not Paul, but Jesus, but one of the earliest manuscripts found so far is dated 27 July 1816,135 at the start of Bentham’s third sojourn at the Abbey. Certainly a large proportion of the manuscripts are dated between August 1817 and February 1818, coinciding with his fourth stay at the Abbey. According to Francis Place, in a note attached to his copy of the published work, ‘The matter of this book was put together by me at Mr Bentham’s request in the months of August and September 1817—during my residence with him at Ford Abbey, Devonshire.136 Place’s role in the work is disputed: Place himself in his autobiography, which he began in August 1823 (when in fact the work was being printed),137 and completed it in 1833, refers only once to the work, specifically to comments on the writers of biography, and attributes the work to Bentham without further comment;138 and Place makes no mention of the work in his letters to his wife from Ford Abbey at the time. Most commentators have taken Place’s remark to mean that he was the editor, but he does not specifically state this: ‘the matter’ and ‘put together’ may mean exactly what it says—that manuscripts on the subject were collected and arranged while Place was at Ford Abbey in consultation with Bentham, and this seems the most plausible description of Place’s contribution to the work. A few manuscripts have been traced so far with alterations in Place’s hand, but the majority of manuscripts appear remarkably clear of any hand except Bentham’s. And even if Place was to be considered as the arranger and organiser of the text, most series of manuscripts are wrapped and labelled in Bentham’s hand. Finally the fact remains that Bentham had begun work on the project before Place’s visit, and continued to work on it from time to time until 1823. The question of the editorship of this work is later complicated by entries in the journal of Colls in 1821 which record sending the manuscripts, apparently for translation, to John Bowring, Bentham’s friend and literary executor.139 Another possible editor is thrown into the equation in two accounts by John Neal,140 an American who stayed with Bentham in 1826, which state that in fact Richard Doane, Bentham’s amanuensis from 1819–31, put the work together.141 Neal probably gleaned this information from his friendship with John Stuart Mill, whom he had met in 1825. John Stuart Mill, by then aged eighteen, had inaugurated the Utilitarian Society in the winter of 1822/3, which met fortnightly at Bentham’s house, to read essays and discuss matters of politics and ethics. Doane and Neal were both members.142 That Doane may have been involved in the work is possible: one of the brightest of Bentham’s amanuenses, Doane began studying for the Bar in 1824, and later practised as a judge on the Northern Circuit. He remained close to Bentham, doing some work for him until 1831, and after Bentham’s death edited the formidable ‘Constitutional Code’ for the Bowring edition of Bentham’s works.

No matter who the final arranger of the work, it is entirely possible, and probably certain, that Bentham talked to Place and Mill about the work on their daily walks, and indeed perhaps even while they worked in the saloon. Place drew a plan of the saloon, setting out the position of the desks at which the three men worked each day,143 (an arrangement which is, I think, also a tribute to the closeness of the three friends at this time).

Their collaboration, like their friendship, continued when they returned to London. Bentham accumulated many books at Ford Abbey to help him with his work: in July 1817 he asked Place to bring a biblical concordance with him,144 although he soon afterwards found his own copy at Ford Abbey.145 In September and October 1817, after Place had returned to London, he requested two works from Koe which Mill and Place had recommended to him.146 Bentham also requested a work by the theologian and moralist William Paley: Horae Paulinae; or the Truth of the Scripture History of St Paul Evinced by a Comparison of the Epistles which bear his name with the Acts of the Apostles and with one another, first published in London in 1790, and which by 1816 had reached its eighth edition.147 In some ways Bentham’s work can be read as a polemic against Paley’s work on the life and miracles of St Paul, and Bentham’s repeated prompting to Koe to find or purchase the work bears out the importance of the work to Bentham’s writing.148 But overburdened with material, and hampered by strained eyesight, Bentham asked Koe to read certain texts, and send transcriptions of relevant passages from other books.149 By 11 November 1817 Bentham considered the work to be in a state of ‘considerable forwardness’, and needing only to be divided into chapters and sections to enable a clear Table of Contents to be composed.150 In fact he worked on it intermittently until 1823 when it was published.151 The work itself was published pseudonymously152 and therefore reveals no clues as to editorship or authorship. Only when further work has been done on the printed text and the surviving manuscripts will the role of Place and Mill in this work be fully revealed.

One further connection between Bentham’s religious work and Ford Abbey needs to be considered. In Not Paul, but Jesus Bentham purports to criticize the asceticism of the church, which he felt was encouraged by Paul but not by Jesus: an asceticism which was of course opposed Bentham’s principle of utility by increasing pain and decreasing pleasure in this life. It is tempting to think Bentham meditated on the subject of Paul’s influence on the Christian religion while sitting in the Saloon at Ford Abbey surrounded by the tapestries—Ford Abbey’s most precious works of art—made from Raphael’s cartoons. Part of a set of ten tapestries commissioned from Raphael by Pope Leo X in c.1515, to complete the decoration of the Sistine Chapel, the tapestries concern the lives of St Peter and St Paul, but only one of the tapestries made at the English tapestry works at Mortlake specifically for Ford Abbey concerned the life of St Paul: the Sacrifice at Lystra before St Paul and St Barnabus. We know Bentham had looked closely at this tapestry for in October 1817 he wrote to Koe that a spirit had suggested to him that his own head ‘executed in Worsted’ should be placed in this tapestry, but his comments on St Paul in this instance were entirely humorous.153 Bentham does examine the miracle of the cure of the cripple at Lystra by St Paul in Not Paul, but Jesus, but no reference is made to the tapestry. This is perhaps because Bentham was examining the veracity of the miracles of St Paul, and Raphael working at the very heart of the Catholic Church, did not question the miracle, but had depicted Paul’s anger when, as a result of the miracle, the citizens of Lystra prepared to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabus, thinking them to be gods.

Looking at the work Bentham produced at Ford Abbey allows us to consider what influence this close coterie of friends had upon each other. For example, we have seen that although Bentham was keen for the Romillys to visit and to read his work, he took no notice of Romilly’s advice to refrain from publishing Church of Englandism. It has also been noted that Place had a hand in the preparation of Not Paul, but Jesus, and that both Mill and Place recommended books that Bentham should read in association with the work. Although Mill and Place concurred with Bentham’s view of religion,154 neither followed his later example to deny the possibility of corporeal resurrection and give their bodies to anatomy schools. Place and Mill’s ideas about education prompted Bentham to produce Chrestomathia, and the interest in education led to later involvement by all three in the London Mechanics’ Institution and London University. The closeness of Mill to Bentham’s work, and to his ideas can be see in Bentham’s own account their discussions while walking at Ford Abbey. Mill’s letters to Dumont from Ford Abbey show Mill’s close attention to the work Bentham was doing. Bentham acknowledged that he was being ‘vehemently urged on’ by Mill to complete Plan of Parliamentary Reform at Ford Abbey,155 a work Bentham had started in 1809. The manuscript was sent to the printers from Ford Abbey in January 1817.156The work advocated universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, payment of MPs, and the secret ballot, but when these reforms were presented to the House of Commons in 1818 by one of Place’s radical Westminster MPs, Francis Burdett, not a single Member of Parliament voted for them. It is also interesting to speculate on the role the Abbey itself played in Bentham’s work. Did Place’s report of the desolation of much of the Devonshire countryside encourage their ideas on education and representative democracy, and did Ford Abbey keep Bentham focused on the usefulness of religion in this life?

135 UC clxi. 339.

136 i.e. the copy of Not Paul, but Jesus, at University College London Library, Ogden 577.

137 See the entry in Bentham’s Memorandum Book for 25 January 1823, where Bentham has a note to ask Place about the progress of the work (UC clxxiii. 92).

138 Autobiography of Francis Place, p.8.

139 See Colls Journal, 18 January 1821, British Library, Add. MS 33,563, fo. 64. John Bowring (1792–1872), merchant, later radical MP, diplomat, and Bentham’s literary executor, had come into contact with Bentham in August 1820, and their friendship was the cause of the rift with the Mill family. As Bowring himself was a Unitarian, and as Bowring later decided not to include any of Bentham’s writings on religion in the Collected Works which he produced after Bentham’s death, it is unlikely that Bowring would have had a hand himself in arranging the text.

140 John Neal (1793–1876), first met Bentham in 1825, and staying with him in 1826 whilst making a translation of Dumont’s recension of Bentham’s work Traités de législation pénale et civile into English. For Neal’s identification of Doane, see Neal, Principles of Legislation, Boston, 1830, pp. 15, 34, and Wandering Recollections of a somewhat busy life, Boston,, 1869, p. 55.

141 Richard Doane (1805–48).

142 For the meetings of the Utilitarian Society see John Stuart Mill, Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. J.M. Robson and J. Stillinger, Toronto, 1981 (Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. I), pp. 81–3, and Neal,Wandering Recollections, pp. 54–8

143 For a visual representation of the working practices in the saloon of Place, Mill, and Bentham see the drawing Place included in a letter to his wife see Place Papers, British Library Add. MS 35,143 fo. 281v.

144 Letter 2395, 31 July 1817 to Francis Place, Correspondence (CW), ix. 28.

145 Letter 2397, 9 August 1817, to John Herbert Koe, Correspondence (CW), ix. 31.

146 Lardner’s version of Cardale’s The True Doctrine of the New Testament, published in 1767, and A Critical History of the Text of the New Testament published in London 1689–92: see Letter 2422 to John Herbert Koe, 10 October 1817, Correspondence (CW), ix. 90.

147 Letter 2413 to John Herbert Koe, 10 September 1817, Letter 2414 to John Herbert Koe, 19 September 1817, and Letter 2426, from John Herbert Koe, 5 November 1817, Correspondence (CW), ix. 62, 63, 113.

148 The works of William Paley (1743–1805), Archdeacon of Carlisle from 1782, had provided other stimulus to Bentham. The publication of Paley’s Principles of Moral and Political Thought in 1785 in part prompted Bentham to published Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation in 1789, and Paley’s Natural Theology of 1802, may have influenced Bentham’s work begun in 1807, which contained a critique of Natural Religion, part of which was edited by George Grote as An Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind in 1824.

149 Letter 2422 to John Herbert Koe, 10 October 1817, Letter 2432, to John Herbert Koe, 22 November 1817,and Letter 2434, 29 November 1817, Correspondence (CW), ix. 90, 123, 125.

150 Letter 2427 to John Herbert Koe, 11 November 1817, Correspondence (CW), ix. 117.

151 The work appeared first in 1821 as Summary View of a Work, intituled Not Paul, but Jesus: As exhibited in Introduction, Plan of the Work, and Titles of Chapters and SectionNot Paul, but Jesus was not published until 1823, and a copy was sent to James Mill in August 1823, on which Mill commented: ‘I have carefully perused these pages, & have been delighted.’ See Letter 2987 from James Mill, August 1823, Correspondence (CW), xi. 273. Place received his copy on 29 September 1823.

152 The sensitivity of such works meant that they were often published in this way to escape prosecution, and Bentham was keen to avoid any publicity which he felt might devalue his other works in the process.

153 Letter 2423, 29 October 1817, to John Herbert Koe, Correspondence (CW), ix. 95.

154 Many of Bentham’s friends shared his views. For example, Jean Baptiste Say wrote: ‘Agréez tous mes remerciemens de l’ouvrage de Mr. Gamaliel Smith, not Paul, but Jesus. Beaucoup de gens seront d’avis qu’on aurait pu substituter la conjonction nor à but.’ Letter 2993, 20 August 1823, Correspondence (CW), ix. 283. Thomas Wright Hill wrote: ‘I have been much amused, interested and I will add instructed by a work entitled “Not Paul but Jesus” written by an able fellow of whom it is whispered you know something more than the generality of readers’: see Letter 3056, 8 March 1823, Correspondence (CW), xi. 360.

155 Letter 2375 to John Herbert Koe, l January 1817, Correspondence (CW), ix. 3. For example, Bentham produced an average of eleven/twelve manuscripts per day on 25, 26, 27 January 1817, and by February was writing on the backs of cancelled folios.

156 Although Bentham was still writing what he intended as an introduction or postscript: Letter 2378 to John Herbert Koe, 25 January 1817, Correspondence (CW), ix. 7–8.