J. M. Robertson

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John Mackinnon Robertson
J. M. Robertson 1909.png
Born14 November 1856
Died5 January 1933 (aged 76)
London, England, United Kingdom
OccupationJournalist, politician, rationalist, writer

John Mackinnon Robertson PC (14 November 1856[1] – 5 January 1933[2]) was a prolific journalist, advocate of rationalism and secularism, and Liberal Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom for Tyneside from 1906 to 1918. Robertson was best known as an advocate of the Christ myth theory.


Robertson was born in Brodick on the Isle of Arran; his father moved the family to Stirling while he was still young, and he attended school there until the age of 13. He worked first as a clerk and then as a journalist, eventually becoming assistant editor of the Edinburgh Evening News.[3]

He wrote in February 1906 to a friend that he "gave up the 'divine'" when he was a teenager.[4] His first contact with the freethought movement was a lecture by Charles Bradlaugh in Edinburgh in 1878. Robertson became active in the Edinburgh Secular Society,[5] soon after.[4] It was through the Edinburgh Secular Society that he met William Archer and became writer for the Edinburgh Evening News.[4] He eventually moved to London to become assistant editor of Bradlaugh's paper National Reformer, subsequently taking over as editor on Bradlaugh's death in 1891.[3] The National Reformer finally closed in 1893. Robertson was also an appointed lecturer for the freethinking South Place Ethical Society[6] from 1899 until the 1920s.

An advocate of the "New Liberalism,"[7] Robertson's political radicalism developed in the 1880s and 1890s, and he first stood for Parliament in 1895, failing to win Bradlaugh's old seat in Northampton as an independent radical liberal. Robertson was a staunch free trader and his Trade and Tariffs (1908) "became a bible for free-traders pursuing the case for cheap food and the expansion of trade".[8]

In 1915 he was appointed to the Privy Council.

At the 1918 United Kingdom general election, as a Liberal candidate he contested Wallsend, a constituency based largely on his Tyneside seat, but finished third. He contested the 1923 United Kingdom general election as Liberal candidate for Hendon without success.

Robertson died in London in 1933.[3]

Homer Smith has described Robertson as an "outstanding exponent of rationalism and one of the foremost scholars produced in England in the last six decades."[9]

Electoral record[edit]

General election 1895: Northampton (2 seats)[10][11]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Henry Labouchère 4,884 27.0 -4.1
Conservative Adolphus Drucker 3,820 21.0 +2.5
Lib-Lab Edward Harford 3,703 20.4 -9.1
Conservative Jacob Jacobs 3,394 18.7 -2.2
Social Democratic Federation Frederick George Jones 1,216 6.7 n/a
Independent Liberal John Mackinnon Robertson 1,131 6.2 n/a
Majority 117 0.6
Turnout 83.5 +2.3
Liberal hold Swing
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing
General election 1906: Tyneside[10]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal John Mackinnon Robertson 11,496 62.5 +11.2
Conservative James Knott 6,885 37.5 -11.2
Majority 4,611 25.0 +22.4
Turnout 79.3 +4.4
Liberal gain from Liberal Unionist Swing +11.2
General election January 1910: Tyneside[10][12]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal John Mackinnon Robertson 13,158 62.8 +0.3
Conservative Alfred Cochrane 7,807 37.2 -0.3
Majority 5,351 25.6 +0.6
Turnout 81.5 +2.2
Liberal hold Swing +0.3
General election December 1910: Tyneside[10][12]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal John Mackinnon Robertson 11,693 63.0 +0.2
Conservative Helenus Macaulay Robertson 6,857 37.0 -0.2
Majority 4,836 26.0 +0.4
Turnout 72.1 -9.4
Liberal hold Swing +0.2
General election 1918: Wallsend[13]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
National Democratic Matt Simm 10,246 n/a
Labour John Chapman 6,835 n/a
Liberal John Mackinnon Robertson 3,047 n/a
Majority 3,411 n/a
Turnout n/a
National Democratic win
General election 1923: Hendon[13]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Unionist Philip Lloyd-Graeme 13,278 51.9 -10.9
Liberal John Mackinnon Robertson 7,324 28.6 +8.2
Labour Charles Latham 5,005 19.5 +2.7
Majority 5,954 23.3 -3.5
Turnout 67.3
Unionist hold Swing -9.6

Political views[edit]

Economically, Robertson has been described as an underconsumptionist, and he gave an early form, perhaps the earliest formal statement, of the paradox of thrift in his 1892 book The Fallacy of Saving.[14][15] He was in favour of the payment of MPs, the Abolition of the House of Lords and the establishment of Adult Suffrage, including giving votes to women.[16]

Christ myth theory[edit]

Robertson was an advocate of the Christ myth theory, and in several books he argued that Jesus was not a historical person, but was an invention by a first-century Jewish messianic cult of Joshua, whom he identifies as a solar deity.[17][18] In Robertson's view, religious groups invent new gods to fit the needs of the society of the time.[17] Robertson argued that a solar deity symbolized by the lamb and the ram had long been worshiped by an Israelite cult of Joshua and that this cult had then invented a new messianic figure, Jesus of Nazareth.[17][19][20] Robertson argued that a possible source for the Christian myth may have been the Talmudic story of the executed Jesus Pandera which dates to 100 BC.[17][21] He wrote that possible origins were: a would-be messiah who preached "a political doctrine subversive of the Roman rule, and to have thereby met his death";[22] and a "Galilean faith-healer with a local reputation [who] may have been slain as a human sacrifice at some time of social tumult".[23]

Robertson considered the letters of Paul the earliest surviving Christian writings, but viewed them as primarily concerned with theology and morality, rather than historical details:

The older portions of the Pauline epistles show no knowledge of any Jesuine biography or any Jesuine teaching —a circumstance which suggests that the Jesus of Paul is much more remote from Paul's day than is admitted by the records.[24]

Robertson viewed references to the twelve apostles and the institution of the Eucharist as stories that must have developed later among gentile believers who were converted by Jewish evangelists like Paul.[17][25][26]

Oxford theologian and orientalist Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare wrote a book titled, The Historical Christ; or, An investigation of the views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. A. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith (1913), directed against the Christ myth theory defended by the three authors.

Selected works[edit]

  • Modern Humanists (1891)
  • Miscellanies (1898)
  • History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century, (1899)
  • Christianity and Mythology. Watts. 1900. (1900)
  • Studies in Religious Fallacy (1900)
  • A Short History of Christianity. Watts & Co. 1902. (1902)
  • Pagan Christs – Studies in Comparative Hierology. Watts & Co. 1911 [1903].
  • Letters on Reasoning. Watts. 1902. (1905, 2nd edition)
  • A Short History of Freethought: Ancient and Modern Volume 1, Volume 2 (1906)
  • Rationalism (1912)
  • The Baconian Heresy: A Confutation (1913)
  • The Historical Jesus: A Survey of Positions (1916)
  • The Jesus Problem: Restatement of the Myth Theory (1917)
  • Shakespeare and Chapman (1917)
  • Short History of Morals (1920)
  • Explorations (1923)
  • The Shakespeare Canon (1922–1932)
  • Jesus and Judas (1927)
  • A Short History of Christianity (third edition, 1931)


  1. ^ Page, Martin. (1984) Britain's Unknown Genius An Introduction to the Life-Work of John Mackinnon Robertson. London: South Place Ethical Society, p. 13. ISBN 0902368109
  2. ^ Wells 1987, p. 26.
  3. ^ a b c "The Rt. Hon. J. M. Robertson". Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Wells 1987, p. 13.
  5. ^ "Edinburgh Secular Society". About us. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  6. ^ "Progress Through Two Centuries: A Short History of the South Place Ethical Society". Archived from the original on 18 January 2000. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  7. ^ Tanner, Duncan (13 February 2003). Political Change and the Labour Party 1900–1918. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521530538. Retrieved 11 March 2017 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Michael Freeden, 'Robertson, John Mackinnon (1856–1933)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2006, accessed 5 April 2009.
  9. ^ Smith, Homer W. (1952). Man and His Gods. Little, Brown and Company. p. 477
  10. ^ a b c d British Parliamentary Election Results 1885–1918, FWS Craig
  11. ^ Debrett's House of Commons & Judicial Bench, 1901
  12. ^ a b Debrett's House of Commons & Judicial Bench, 1916
  13. ^ a b British Parliamentary Election Results 1918–1949, FWS Craig
  14. ^ Robertson, John M. (1892). The Fallacy of Saving.
  15. ^ Nash, Robert T.; Gramm, William P. (1969). "A Neglected Early Statement the Paradox of Thrift". History of Political Economy. 1 (2): 395–400. doi:10.1215/00182702-1-2-395.
  16. ^ Dod's Parliamentary Companion 1907
  17. ^ a b c d e Van Voorst (2000), pp. 11–12.
  18. ^ Wells (1987), pp. 162–163.
  19. ^ Robertson (1900), p. 34.
  20. ^ Robertson (1902), p. 72.
  21. ^ Robertson (1902), pp. 6–12, 14–15.
  22. ^ Robertson, John M. (1916). "VI: The Visionary Evangel". The Historical Jesus, a survey of positions. London: Watts & Co. p. 56.
  23. ^ Robertson, Archibald (1946) Jesus: Myth Or History pg 44
  24. ^ Robertson 1902, p. 13.
  25. ^ Robertson (1902), p. 18.
  26. ^ Wells (1987), p. 149.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Tyneside
Constituency abolished
Political offices
Preceded by Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by President of the National Liberal Federation
Succeeded by