Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

his pros

State of

[ocr errors]

Herod the

documents, might lo an intelligent mind be safely rested. The threc
first Gospels, unless written at a very early period, could scarcely
have escaped the controversial, or at least argumentalive tone,
which enters into the later Christian wrilings, and with which the
relation of St. John is imbued (1). The plan then which the author
will pursue, will be to presume, lo a certain degree, on the reader's
acquaintance with the subject on which he enters : he will not
think it necessary to relate at length all the discourses or even all
the acts of Christ, but rather to interweave the historic illustration
with the main events, disposed, as far as possible, in the order of
lime, and to trace the effect which each separate incident, and the
whole course of the life of Jesus, may be supposed to have produced
upon the popular mind. In short it will partake, in some degree,
of the nature of an historical comment, on facts which it will rather
endeavour to elucidate, than to draw out to their full length.

The days of the elder Herod were drawing to a close;
perous and magnificent reign was ending in darkness and misery, Judea
such as the deepest tragedy has rarely ventured to imagine. His Grea!.
last years had revealed the horrible, the humiliating secrel, that thc
son, at whose instigation he had put to death the two noble and
popular princes, his children by Mariamne the Asmonean, had al-
most all his life been over-reaching him in that dark policy, of
which he esteemed himself the master; and now, as a final return
for his unsuspecting confidence, had conspired to cut short the
brief remainder of his days. Almost the last, and the most popular
exercise of Herod's royal authority, was to order the execution of
the perfidious Antipater. Fearful times! when the condemnation of

Intrigues a son by a father, and that father an odious and sanguinary tyrant, and death could coincide with the universal sentiment of the people! The attachment of the nation to the reigning family might have been secured, if the sons of Mariamne, the heiress of the Asmonean line, bad survived to claim the succession : the foreign and Idumean origin of the father might have been forgotten in the national and splendid descent of the mother. There was, it should seem, a powerful Herodian party, attached to the fortunes of the ruling house; but the body of the nation now looked with ill-concealed aversion lo the perpetuation of the Idumean tyranny in the persons of the sons of Herod. Yet to those who contemplated only the political signs of the times, nothing remained but the degrading Herod. alternative, either to submit to the line of Herod, or to sink into a Roman province. Such was to be the end of their long ages of national glory, such the hopeless termination of the national independence. But, notwithstanding the progress of Grecian opinions and manners, with which the politic Herod had endeavoured to

of Anti

pater

[ocr errors]

Sons of

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

rical

See Appendix II., on the Origin of the Gospels.

counterbalance the turbulent and unruly spirit of the religious party, the great mass of the people, obstinately wedded to the law and the institutions of their fathers, watched with undisguised jealousy the denationalising proceedings of their king. This stern and inextinguishable enthusiasm had recently broken out into active resistance, in the conspiracy to tear down the golden eagle, which Herod had suspended over the gate of the temple (1). The signal for this daring act had been a rumour of the king's death; and the lerrific vengeance, which, under a temporary show of moderation, Herod had wreaked on the offenders, the degradation of the high-priest, and the execulion of the popular teachers, who were accused of having instigated the insurrection, could not but widen the breach between the dying sovereign and the people. The greater part of the nation looked to the death of Herod with a vague hope of liberation and independence, which struck in with the more peculiar cause of excitement predominant in the general mind.

For the principle of this universal ferment lay deeper than in the expecta impalience of a tyrannical government, which burdened the people Messiab, with intolerable exactions, or the apprehension of national degra

dation, if Judæa should be reduced to the dominion of a Roman proconsul : it was the confidence in the immediate coming of the Messiah, which was working with vague and mysterious agitation in the hearts of all orders (2). The very danger to which Jewish independence was reduced, was associated with this exalted sentiment; the nearer the ruin, the nearer the restoration of their Theocracy. For there is no doubt, that among other predictions, according to the general belief, which pointed to the present period, a very ancient interprelation of the prophecy, which declared that the sceptre, the royal dominion, should not depart from the race of Israel, until the coming of the Shiloh, one of the titles uniformly altributed to the Messiah, connected the termination of the existing polity with the manifestation of the Deliverer (3). This expectation of a wonderful revolution to be wrought (4) by the sudden appearance of some great mysterious person, had been so widely disseminated, as to excite the astonishment, perhaps the jealousy of the

General

tion of the

a

[ocr errors]

(1) Hist, of the Jews, vol. ji p. 124.

the famine shall be grievous, and men and (2) Whoever is curious in such inquires, will women and children, holy men and men of good find a fearful catalogue of calamities, which works, shall die ; and there shall be a forgetfulwere to precede, according to the Rabbinical ness of the Law among those that learn it. The autborities, the coming of the Messiah, either in fourth year fulness and not fulness. The fifth Lightfoot's Harmony, vol. v. p, 180.(8vo. edit.), year great fulness : ibey shall eat, and drink, or in Schoetgen, Horæ Hebraicæ, vol. ii. p, 509., and rejoice, and the Law shall return to its schoor Eisenmenger, das entdecktes Judenthum, ii, lars. The sixth year, voices." (The gloss is, p. 711. The notion may have been grounded on “a fame shall be spread that the Son of David the last chapter of the Prophecy of Daniel. Com- cones, or “they shall sound with the trumpet.") pare Bertholdt, c. 13.---The Rabbins deliver, “In The seventh year, wars; and in the going out the first year of that week (of years), that the Son of that year, the Son of David shall coine.” Lightof David is to coine, shall that be fulfilled, I foot, xi. 421. will rain upon one city, but I will not rain upon (3) Casaubon exercit., anti-Baron, ii. another.'" Amos; iv. 7.-" The second year the (4) 2 Esdras, vi. 25. arrows of famjne shall be sent forth. The third,

[ocr errors]

the

[ocr errors]

Romans, whose historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, as is well known, bear witness to the fact, “ Among many," writes the latter, “there was a persuasion, that in the ancient books of the priesthood it was written, that at this precise time, the East should become mighty, and that the sovereigns of the world should issue from Judæa (1).” 66 In the East, an ancient and consistent opinion prevailed, that it was fated there should issue, at this time, from Judæa, those who should oblain universal dominion (2).”

Yet no question is more difficult than to ascertain the origin, Nature of the extent, the character of this belief, as it prevailed at the time the belief of our Saviour's coming ;-how far it had spread among the sur- Messiah. rounding nations; or how far, on the other hand, the original Jewish creed, formed from the authentic prophetical writings, had become impregnated with Oriental or Alexandrian notions. It is most probable, that there was no consistent, uniform, or authorised opinion on the subject : all was vague and indefinile; and in this vagueness and indefiniteness lay much of ils power over the general mind (3). Whatever purer or loftier notions concerning the great The ProDeliverer and Restorer, might be imparted to wise and holy men, phets. in whatever sense we understand that “ Abraham rejoiced lo see the day” of the Messiah, the intimations on this subject in the earlier books of the Old Testament, though distinctly to be traced along ils whole course, are few, brief, and occurring al long intervals. But from the time, and during the whole period of the Prophets, this mysterious Being becomes gradually more prominent. The future dominion of some great king, to descend from the line of David, to triumph over all his enemies, and to establish an universal kingdom of peace and happiness, of which the descriptions of the golden age in the Greek poets are but a faint and unimaginative transcript : the promise of the Messiah, in short, comes more distinctly forward. As early as the first chapters of Isaiah, he appears to assume a title and sacred designalion, which al least approaches near to that of the Divinity (4); and in the later prophets, not merely does this leading characteristic maintain ils place, but under the splendid poetical imagery, drawn from existing circumstances, there seems to lie hid a more profound meaning, which points to some great and general moral revolution, to be achieved by this mysterious Being.

But their sacred books, the Law and the Prophets, were not the Tradition,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

(1) Tac, Hist. v. 13.

(4) Such is the opinion of Rosenmüller (on (2) Suet, Ves. p. 4.

Isaiah, ix. 5. Compare likewise, on Psalm xlv, The Jewish opinions concerning the Mes. 7.). On a point much contested by modern scho. siah have been examined with great diligencelars, Gesenius, in his note on the same passages, and accuracy by Professor Bertholdt, in his espouses the opposite opinion. Neither of these Christologia Judæorum. Bertholdt is what may authors, it may be added, discuss the question be called a moderate Rationalist. To his work, on theological, but purely on historical and oriand to Lightfoot, Schoetgen, Meuschen, and tical grounds. Eisenmenger, I am indebted for most of my Rab

binical quotations.

tions of

clear and unmingled source of the Jewish opinions on this all-
absorbing subject. Over this, as over the whole system of the law,
tradition had thrown a veil; and it is this traditionary notion of the
Messiah, which it is necessary here to develop : but from whence
tradition had derived its apparently extraneous and independent
notions, becomes a much inore deep and embarrassing question (1).
Il is manifest from the Evangelic history (2), that although there
was no settled or established creed upon the subject, yet there
was a certain conventional language : particular texts of the sa-
cred writings were universally recognised, as hearing reference
to the Messiah ; and there were some few characteristic credentials
of his title and office, which would have commanded universal

assent. Foreign

There are two quarters from which the Jews, as they ceased to connec: be an insulated people, confined in the narrow tract of Palestine, the Jews. and by their captivity and migrations became more mingled with

other races, might insensibly contract new religious notions, the
East and the West, Babylonia and Alexandria. The lalter would
be the chief, though not perhaps the only channel, through which
the influence of Grecian opinions would penetrate into Palestine (3);
and of the Alexandrian nolions of the Messiah, we shall hereafter
adduce two competent representatives, the author of the Book of
Wisdom and Philo. But the East no doubt made a more early,
profound, and lasting impression on the popular mind of the Jews.

Unfortunately in no part does history present us with so melanBaby- choly a blank, as in that of the great Babyloniam settlement of the lonia. people of Israel. Yet its importance in the religious, and even in

the civil, affairs of the nation cannot but have been very conside-
rable. It was only a small part of the nation which returned with
the successive remigrations under Ezra and Nehemiah to their
native land; and, though probably many of the poorer classes had
remained behind al the period of the Captivity, and many more
returned singly or in small bodies, yet on the other hand it is pro-
bable, that the tide of emigration, which at a later time was per-

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

(1) Bertholdt, p. 8.

coincidence, where their expressions are similar The brief intimations in the Gospels are to those of the Christian records, there seems so almost the only absolutely certain authorities manifest an improbability that these should have for the nature of this belief, at that particular been adopted after the two religions had assumed period, except, perhaps, the more genuine part an hostile position towards each other, that they of the Apocrypha. Josephus, though he acknow- may be fairly considered as vestiges of an earlier ledges the existence and the influence of this re. system of opinions, retained from ancient reye markable feature in the national character, is rence, and indelible even by implacable animoeither inclined to treat it as a popular delusion, sity. It is far more likely that Christianity should or to warp it to his own purposes, its sulfilment speak the current language of the time, than in the person of Vespasian. For his own school, that the Synagogue should interpolate their own Philo is a valuable witness; but among the traditionary records, with terms or notions borAlexandrian Jews, the belief in a personal Mes. rowed from the Church. siah was much more faint and indistinct than in

(3) Even as early as the reign of Antiochus Palestine. The Rabbinical books, even the oldest the Great, certain jews had attempted to introTargumin or comments on the Sacred Writings, duce Grecian manners, and had built a Grecian are somewhat snspicious, from the uncertainty of school or gymnasium at Jerusalem. 1 Mac. i. 71. their date : still, in this as in other points of 16. 2 Marc. ii. 4. 11, 12.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

petually flowing from the valleys of Palestine into Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and even more remote regions, would often take the course of the Euphrates, and swell the numbers of the Mesopotamiam colony. In the great contest belween Alexander and the Persian monarchy, excepting from some rather suspicious stories in Josephus, we hear less than we might expect of this race of Jews (1). But as we approach the era of Christianity, and somewbat later, they emerge rather more into notice. While the Jews were spreading in the West, and no doubt successfully disseminating their Monotheism in many quarters, in Babylonia their proselyles were kings; and the later Jewish Temple beheld an Eastern queen (by a singular coincidence, of the same name with the celebrated mother of Constantine, the patroness of Christian Jerusalem) lavishing her wealth on the structure on Mount Moriah, and in the most munificent charity to the poorer inhabitants of the city. The name of Helena, queen of the Adiabeni, was long dear to the memory of the Jews, and her tomb was one of the most remarkable monuments near the walls of the city. Philo not only asserts that Babylon and other Eastern satrapies were full of his countrymen (2), but intimates that the apprehension of their taking up arms in behalf of their outraged religion and marching upon Palestine, weighed upon the mind of Petronius, when commanded, at all hazards, to place the statue of Caligula in the Temple (3). It appears from some hints of Josephus, that during the last war, the revolted party entertained great hopes of succour from that quarter (4); and there is good ground for supposing that the final insurrection in the time of Hadrian was connected with a rising in Mesopotamia (5). At the same period the influence of this race of Jews on the religious character of the people is no less manifest. Here was a chief scene of the preaching of the great apostle (6):

[merged small][ocr errors]

(1) There may be truth in the observation of (4) Dio (or Xiphilin) asserts that they re-
St. Croix : “Les Grecs et les Romains avaient ceived considerable succours from the East. L.
tant de haine et de mépris pour le peuple juif, lxvi. c. 4.
qu'ils affectaient n'en pas parler dans leurs (5) Hist. of Jews, iii, 108. etc.
écrits.” (Historiens d'Alex. p. 555.) This, how- (6) Nothing but the stubborn obstinacy of
ever, would apply only to the later writers, controversy could have thrown a doubt on the
which are all we now possess; but if in the co- plain date in the first Epistle of St. Peter (v.13.).
temporary historians there had been much more, Philo, in two places (ii. p. 578. 587.), Josephus
it would probably, at least if to the credit of his in one (Ant. xviii. 9. 8.), expressly name Baby-
countrymen, have been gleaned by Josephus. lon as the habitation of the great Easter settle-

(2) See on the numbers of the Jews in the ment. It is not certain whether the city was then
Asiatic provinces, particularly Armenia ; at a entirely destroyed (Gesenius on Isaiah, xiii. 22.),
later period ( the conquest of Armenia by Sapor, but in fact the name was extended to the province
A.D. 367.) St. Martin's additions to Le Beau's or satrapy. But it was equally the object of the
Hist, du Bas Empire. The death of this valuable two great conflicting parties in Christianity to
writer, it is to be feared, will deprive the learned identify Rome with Babylon. This fact esta-
world of his promised work on the History of the blished, the Roman Catholic had an unanswer.
Birth and Death of Jesus Christ, which was to able argument to prove the contested point of
contain circumstantial accounts of the Jews St. Peter's residence in the Western metropolis ;
heyond the Euphrates.

[ocr errors]

Babylon therefore was decided to mean pagan Of the different races of Jews mentioned in the Rome. The Protestant at once concurred, for if Acts, as present in Jerusalem, four are from this Roine was Babylon, it was the mystic spiritual quarter :-Parthians, Medes, Elamiles, dwellers Babylon of the Apocalypse. The whole third in Mesopotamia.

chapter of the second Epistle appears to me full (3) Leg. ad Caium, vol. ii. p. 578. Edit. Mang. of Oriental allusions, and the example of Balaam

ches

« PreviousContinue »