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CHAP. II.

THE CIRCUMCISION.

103

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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;t 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

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s Luke ii. 8, 20.

one contending for the spring, the other t Neander has well observed that for the autumn. Even if the arguthe modesty of this quiet scene is not ment of either had any solid ground to in accordance with what might be rest on, it would be difficult (would it expected from the fertility and bold-be worth while ?) to extirpate the ness of mythic invention.

traditionary belief, so beautifully em• The year in which Christ was bodied in Milton's Hymn:born is still contested. There is even It was the winter wild

When the heaven-born child, &c. more uncertainty concerning the time of the year, which learned men are Were the point of the least importance, still labouring to determine. Where we should, no doubt, have known more there is and can be no certainty, it is about it. “Quid tandem refert annum the wisest course to acknowledge our et diem exorti luminis, ignorare quum ignorance, and not to claim the autho- apparuisse illud, et cæcis hominum menrity of historic truth for that which tibus illuxisse constet, neque sit, quod is purely conjectural. The two ablest obsistat nobis, ne splendore ac calore ejus modern English writers who have in- utamur.”-Mosheim de Reb. Christ., vestigated the chronology of the life p. 62. There is a good essay in the of Christ, Dr. Burton and Mr. Gres- Opuscula of Jablonski, iii. 317, on the well, have come to opposite conclusions, origin of the festivity of Christmas Day.

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THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE.

BOOK I.

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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

Simeon.

Luke ii. 21, 39.

they appear to have had no friends, y This was the notion of Lightfoot, and where the object of their visit was who, though often invaluable as inter- most probably effected : on the other preting the New Testament from hand, it is still more improbable, that, Jewish usages, is sometimes misled by after the visit of the Magians, they his Rabbinism into fanciful analogies should rush, as it were, into the very and illustrations. Hist. Jews, ii. 403, jaws of danger, by visiting Jerusalem, note.

after the jealousy of Herod was 2 Our first and not least embar- awakened. Yet in both cases, it should rassing difficulty in harmonising the be remembered that Bethlehem was facts recorded in the several Gospels, but six miles, or two hours' journey, is the relative priority of the presenta- from Jerusalem. Reland, Palestina, tion in the Temple and the visit of the p. 424. See, on one side, SchleierMagians to Bethlehem. On one side macher's Essay on St. Luke, p. 47, there appears no reason for the return though I entirely dissent on the point of the parents and the child, after from the explanation of this author; the presentation, to Bethlehem, where on the other, Hug's Introduction.

CHAP. II.

SIMEON'S BENEDICTION - THE MAGI.

105

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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.*

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

The Magi.

· Matt, ii. 1-12.

placed under a Babylonian commander, b The communication with Baby- to protect the caravans from this lonia at this period was constant and quarter from the untameable robbers of regular; so much so, that Herod the Trachonitis, the district east of the fortified and garrisoned a strong castle, 1 Jordan and of the Sea of Tiberias.

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MAGI IN JERUSALEM.

Look I.

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Magi in
Jerusalem.

led to Judæa. 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 frankincensed The appearance of these strangers in Jerusalem at this

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

c What this luminous celestial ap- must have been preserved, as handed pearance was, has been debated with down and subsequently reduced to unwearied activity. I would refer writing by simple persons, awe-struck more particularly to the work of Ideler, under such extraordinary events. Handbuch der Chronologie, ii. 399. d It is the general opinion that the There will be found, very clearly Magi came from Arabia. Pliny and stated, the opinion of Kepler (adopted Ptolemy (Grotius, in loc.) name by Bishop Munter), which explains it Arabian Magi ; and the gifts were as a conjunction between Jupiter and considered the produce of that country. Saturn.

But in fact gold, myrrh, and frankinFor my own part, I cannot under- cense, are too common in the East, stand why the words of St. Matthew, and too generally used as presents to relating to such a subject, are to be a superior, to indicate, with any cerso rigidly interpreted; the same lati- tainty, the place from whence they tude of expression may be allowed on came. If, indeed, by Arabia be meant astronomical subjects as necessarily not the peninsula, but the whole dismust be in the Old Testament. The trict reaching to the Euphrates, this vagueness and uncertainty, possibly notion may be true ; but it is more the scientific inaccuracy, seem to me probable that they came from beyond the inevitable consequences of the the Euphrates. manner in which such circumstances

CHAP. II.

FLIGHT INTO EGYPT.

107

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 Egypt. 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 escape the notice of the acute advercurious instance of the reaction of saries of Christianity, who, impeachlegendary extravagance on the plaining this extravagant tale, attempted truth of the evangelic history. The to bring the evangelic narrative into Greek church canonised the 14,000 discredit. Vossius, I believe, was the Innocents; and another notion, founded first divine who pointed out the monon a misinterpretation of Revelations strous absurdity of supposing such a (xiv. 3), swelled the number to 144,000. number of infant children in so small The former, at least, was the common a village. Matt. ii. 13-18. belief of the Church, though even in 1 Some of the Rabbinical stories our Liturgy the latter has in some accuse Jesus of having brought “ his degree been sanctioned, by retaining enchantments ” out of Egypt. (Lightthe chapter of Revelations as the epistle foot, xi. 45.) There is no satisfactory for the day. Even later, Jeremy evidence as to the antiquity of these Taylor, in his Life of Christ, admits notions, or, absurd as they are, they the 14,000 without scruple, or rather might be some testimony to

the without thought. The error did not authenticity of this part of the Chris

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