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nothing is more beautiful, nor in more perfect unison. with the future character of the religion, than the first revelation of its benign principles, by voices from heaven to the lowly shepherds. The proclamation of Glory to God, Peace on earth and good will towards men," is not made by day, but in the quiet stillness of the night; not in the stately temple of the ancient worship, but among the peaceful pastures; not to the religious senate of the Jewish people, or to the priesthood arrayed in all the splendour of public ministration, but to peasants employed on their lowly occupation.”
In eight days, according to the law, the child was initiated into the race of Abraham, by the rite of circumcision and when the forty days of purification, likewise appointed by the statute, are over, the Virgin Mother hastens to make the customary presentation of the first-born male in the Temple. Her offering is that of the poorer Jewish females, who, while the more
s Luke ii. 8, 20.
Neander has well observed that the modesty of this quiet scene is not in accordance with what might be expected from the fertility and boldness of mythic invention.
The year in which Christ was born is still contested. There is even more uncertainty concerning the time of the year, which learned men are still labouring to determine. Where there is and can be no certainty, it is the wisest course to acknowledge our ignorance, and not to claim the authority of historic truth for that which is purely conjectural. The two ablest modern English writers who have investigated the chronology of the life of Christ, Dr. Burton and Mr. Greswell, have come to opposite conclusions,
one contending for the spring, the other
It was the winter wild
When the heaven-born child, &c. Were the point of the least importance, we should, no doubt, have known more about it. "Quid tandem refert annum et diem exorti luminis, ignorare quum apparuisse illud, et cæcis hominum mentibus illuxisse constet, neque sit, quod obsistat nobis, ne splendore ac calore ejus utamur."-Mosheim de Reb. Christ., p. 62. There is a good essay in the Opuscula of Jablonski, iii. 317, on the origin of the festivity of Christmas Day.
THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE.
wealthy made an oblation of a lamb, were content with the least costly, a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons. Only two persons are recorded as having any knowledge of the future destiny of the child,--Anna, a woman endowed with a prophetical character, and the aged Simeon. That Simeon was not the celebrated master of the schools of Jewish learning, the son of Hillel, and the father of Gamaliel, is fairly inferred from the silence of St. Luke, who, though chiefly writing for the Greek converts, would scarcely have omitted to state distinctly the testimony of so distinguished a man to the Messiahship of Jesus. There are other insurmountable historical objections." Though occurrences among the more devout worshippers in the
Temple were perhaps less likely to reach the
ear of Herod than those in any other part of the city, yet it was impossible that the solemn act of recognising the Messiah in the infant son of Mary, on so public a scene, by a man whose language and conduct were watched by the whole people, could escape observa
Luke ii. 21, 39.
This was the notion of Lightfoot, who, though often invaluable as interpreting the New Testament from Jewish usages, is sometimes misled by his Rabbinism into fanciful analogies and illustrations. Hist. Jews, ii. 403, note.
Our first and not least embarrassing difficulty in harmonising the facts recorded in the several Gospels, is the relative priority of the presentation in the Temple and the visit of the Magians to Bethlehem. On one side there appears no reason for the return of the parents and the child, after the presentation, to Bethlehem, where
they appear to have had no friends, and where the object of their visit was most probably effected: on the other hand, it is still more improbable, that, after the visit of the Magians, they should rush, as it were, into the very jaws of danger, by visiting Jerusalem, after the jealousy of Herod was awakened. Yet in both cases, it should be remembered that Bethlehem was but six miles, or two hours' journey, from Jerusalem. Reland, Palestina, p. 424. See, on one side, Schleiermacher's Essay on St. Luke, p. 47, though I entirely dissent on the point from the explanation of this author; on the other, Hug's Introduction.
SIMEON'S BENEDICTION—THE MAGI.
tion. Such an acknowledgment, by so high an authority, would immediately have been noised abroad; no prudence could have suppressed the instantaneous excitement. Besides this, if alive at this time, Simeon ben Hillel would have presided in the court of inquiry, summoned by Herod, after the appearance of the Magi. The most remarkable point in the benediction His benedicof Simeon is the prediction that the child, who tion. it would have been supposed would have caused unmingled pride and joy, should also be the cause of the deepest sorrow to his mother; and of the most fearful calamities, as well as of glory, to the nation.a
The intercommunion of opinions between the Jewish and Zoroastrian religions throws great light on the visit of the Magi, or Wise Men, to Jerusalem. The impregnation of the Jewish notions about the Messiah with the Magian doctrines of the final triumph of Ormusd, makes it by no means improbable that, on the other side, the national doctrines of the Jews may have worked their way into the popular belief of the East, or at least into the opinions of those among the Magian hierarchy, who had come more immediately into contact with the Babylonian Jews. From them
they may have adopted the expectation of the Great Principle of Light in a human form, and descending, according to ancient prophecy, from the race of Israel; and thus have been prepared to set forth, at the first appearance of the luminous body, by which they were
Matt. ii. 1-12.
b The communication with Babylonia at this period was constant and regular; so much so, that Herod fortified and garrisoned a strong castle,
placed under a Babylonian commander, to protect the caravans from this quarter from the untameable robbers of the Trachonitis, the district east of the Jordan and of the Sea of Tiberias.
MAGI IN JERUSALEM.
led to Judæa.c The universal usage of the East, never to approach the presence of a superior, particularly a sovereign, without some precious gift, is naturally exemplified in their costly but portable offerings of gold, myrrh, and frankincense.d
The appearance of these strangers in Jerusalem at this Magi in critical period, particularly if considered in connexion with the conspiracy in the family of Herod and among the religious faction, as it excited an extraordinary sensation through the whole city, would reawaken all the watchfulness of the monarch. The assemblage of the religious authorities, in order that they might judicially declare the place from which the Messiah was expected, might be intended not merely to direct the ministers of the royal vengeance to the quarter from whence danger was to be apprehended, but to force the acknowledged interpreters of the sacred
What this luminous celestial appearance was, has been debated with unwearied activity. I would refer more particularly to the work of Ideler, Handbuch der Chronologie, ii. 399. There will be found, very clearly stated, the opinion of Kepler (adopted by Bishop Munter), which explains it as a conjunction between Jupiter and
For my own part, I cannot understand why the words of St. Matthew, relating to such a subject, are to be so rigidly interpreted; the same latitude of expression may be allowed on astronomical subjects as necessarily must be in the Old Testament. The vagueness and uncertainty, possibly the scientific inaccuracy, seem to me the inevitable consequences of the manner in which such circumstances
must have been preserved, as handed down and subsequently reduced to writing by simple persons, awe-struck under such extraordinary events.
d It is the general opinion that the Magi came from Arabia. Pliny and Ptolemy (Grotius, in loc.) name Arabian Magi; and the gifts were considered the produce of that country. But in fact gold, myrrh, and frankincense, are too common in the East, and too generally used as presents to a superior, to indicate, with any certainty, the place from whence they came. If, indeed, by Arabia be meant not the peninsula, but the whole district reaching to the Euphrates, this notion may be true; but it more probable that they came from beyond the Euphrates.
FLIGHT INTO EGYPT.
writings to an authoritative declaration as to the circumstances of the Messiah's birth; so, if any event should occur, contrary to their version of the prophecies, either to commit them on the side of the ruling powers, or altogether to invalidate the expectation, that was dangerously brooding in the popular mind. The subtlety of Herod's character is as strikingly exhibited in his pretended resolution to join the Magians in their worship of the new-born king, as his relentless decision, when the Magians did not return to Jerusalem, in commanding the general massacre of all the infants under the age of two years, in Bethlehem and its district.
Egypt, where, by divine command, the parents of Jesus took refuge, was but a few days' Flight into journey, on a line perpetually frequented by regular caravans; and in that country, those who fled from Palestine could scarcely fail to meet with hospitable reception, among some of that second nation of Jews, who inhabited Alexandria and its neighbourhood.
e The murder of the Innocents is a curious instance of the reaction of legendary extravagance on the plain truth of the evangelic history. The Greek church canonised the 14,000 Innocents; and another notion, founded on a misinterpretation of Revelations (xiv. 3), swelled the number to 144,000. The former, at least, was the common belief of the Church, though even in our Liturgy the latter has in some degree been sanctioned, by retaining the chapter of Revelations as the epistle for the day. Even later, Jeremy Taylor, in his Life of Christ, admits the 14,000 without scruple, or rather without thought. The error did not
escape the notice of the acute adversaries of Christianity, who, impeaching this extravagant tale, attempted to bring the evangelic narrative into discredit. Vossius, I believe, was the first divine who pointed out the monstrous absurdity of supposing such a number of infant children in so small a village. Matt. ii. 13-18.
Some of the Rabbinical stories accuse Jesus of having brought "his enchantments" out of Egypt. (Lightfoot, xi. 45.) There is no satisfactory evidence as to the antiquity of these notions, or, absurd as they are, they might be some testimony to the authenticity of this part of the Chris