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τις καθείρξιν, εφ' ένα ενιαυτον πεπραγμένα τω σωτηρι συγγεγραφότας, &c. "For the three evangelists, as is evident, have written our Saviour's acts after John Baptist's imprisonment, only during one year, and this they tell plainly enough in the beginning of their gospels." Accordingly Tatian, the disciple of Justin Martyr, in his Harmony which he composed about the year 170, and which is the first work of the kind we read of, following the general current of antiquity, has comprehended the whole of our Lord's ministry, from his baptism to his passion, within the space of one year. In later times indeed, when they began to examine the sacred writings more narrowly, they extended Christ's ministry to two years. Thus, Apollinarius Laodicensis ap. Hieronym. in Daniel. c. 9. "Tricesimo enim juxta evangelistam Lucam anno ætatis suæ cæpit in carne Dominus evangelium prædicare, et juxta Johannem evange listam per tria paschata duos postea implevit annos." So likewise Epiphanius, Hær. 51. n. 22. « Post prædicationis exordium, duo a Christo celebrata sunt paschata, et tertio passas est." And Cyril on Isaiah xxix. «Per totum biennium, universam peragrans Judæam Christus evangelicam prædicationem Judæis tradidit." And Cassiodorus in his Chronicle: For he tells us, Jesus was crucified two years after the consulship of the Gemini, which every body knows happened in the 15th of Tiberius.
The ancients having contracted our Lord's ministry in this manner, it is no wonder that they considered all the similar particulars in his histroy as one and the same; not only because it is natural thus to judge of like things, but also because they could not otherwise crowd the whole transactions of his life within the narrow bounds of one year. In the mean time, the passages just now quoted, proving how little pains the fathers were at in examining those matters, we may safely conclude that their opinion concerning the harmony of the gospels is not always to be depended upon implicitly. The reader will be pleased to take particular notice of this; because, if I am not mistaken, the chief and strongest reason why the similar facts in the gospel-history have generally been confounded by harmony-writers, was the opinion of their predecessors, who supposed them to be the same.
Concerning the knowledge of antiquity necessary for understanding the sacred writings.
In reading history, we naturally apply to the times described in it such customs, and to the persons such notions as are most familiar to ourselves. If, therefore, we would understand the gospels, which are the histories of men who lived almost two thousand years ago, and in a country at a great distance from our own, it is necessary, when we read them, that we be aware of this preVOL. I. judice.
judice. The beauty peculiar both to the historical and the argumentative parts of the sacred writings, depends, in a great measure, upon our knowledge of the customs which prevailed, and of the notions that were commonly received in those distant ages and countries. And for want of this, the inspired books have been loaded with difficulties, which we should soon be sensible they are entirely free from, were our knowledge of antiquity sufficiently extensive. The Jewish form and division of the day beginning at sun-setting, may serve as an example of this. What is said in the gospels according to that division of time, being generally accommodated by readers to their own notions, has very much perplexed several passages, particularly the history of our Lord's resurrection, as shall be shewed in its proper place. This example, however, must be understood with one exception. For as John wrote his gospel in Asia, for the benefit of the whole Roman empire, he could not avoid making use of the form and division of the day that was best known, viz. the form in use among the Romans, who began their day at midnight, reckoning twelve hours till noon, and from noon twelve hours to midnight, or the beginning of the next day.
That the Romans began their day at midnight, we learn from Pliny, Nat. Hist. ii. cap. 67. " Ipsum diem alii aliter observavere.” And a little after: "Vulgus omne a luce ad tenebras. Sacerdotes Romani, et qui diem definivere civilem, item Egyptii, et Hipparchus, a media nocte in mediam." To the same purpose Agellius from Varro, Noct. Attic. lib. iii. cap. 2. "Athenienses autem aliter observavere, idem Varro in eodem libro scripsit: eosque a sole occaso ad solem iterum occidentem, omne id medium tempus unum diem esse disere. Babylonios porro aliter. A sole enim exorto ad exortum ejusdem incipientem, totum id spatium unius diei nomine appellare. Multos vero in terra Umbria unum et eundem diem esse dicere a meridie ad insequentem meridiem, quod quidem, inquit, minus absurdum." (Macrobius, in citing this passage, Saturn. lib. i. cap. 3. rightly reads nimis absurdum, as is evident from Gellius himself, who adds reasons, proving it to be an absurd way of reckoning the day then goes on thus) "Populum autem Romanum, ita uti Varro dixit, dies singulos annumerare a media nocte usque ad medium proximam, multis argumentis ostenditur.....Nam magistratus quando una die eis auspicandum est, et id super quo auspicaverunt agendum, post mediam noctem auspicantur, et post exortum solem agunt, auspicati esse et egisse ex eodem die dicuntur." These passages clearly prove, that the Romans began their day at midnight. In opposition, however, to this doctrine, the following lines are produced from Martial's 8th Epigram, Book iv.
Prima salutantes atque altera continet hora.
Exercet raucos tertia causidicos.
In quinctam varios extendit Roma labores.
Imperat extructos frangere nona thoros.
And the following passage from Cicero ad Pætum, lib. ix. « Accubueram hora nona, cum ad te harum exemplum in codicillis exaravi." But Censorinus will explain the difficulty, De Die Nat. cap. 10. «Naturalis dies est tempus ab exoriente sole ad solis occasum. Cujus contrarium est tempus, nox, ab occasu solis ad ortum. Cilvilis autem dies vocatur tempus quod fit uno cœli circuitu, quo verus dies et nox continetur; ut cum dicimus, aliquem dies triginta tantum vixisse." It seeems the Romans used both the civil and the natural form of the day. Pliny, in the passage quoted above, says, "Omne vulgus a luce ad tenebras: all the vulgar counted the hours from morning to night." This implies that the better sort did not do so. For he adds, that the priests, and those who spake of the civil day, reckoned from midnight to midnight, and by conse quence computed their hours accordingly. To this agrees the account given by Varro. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to suppose, that in common conversation and familiar epistles, the language of the vulgar may have been adopted even by people of fashion, especially when they spake or wrote of labour, bathing, eating, and the like ordinary affairs of life. This accounts for the passages quoted above from Cicero and Martial, and for others not mentioned, particularly the letter of the younger Pliny to Calvisius, in which he gives an account how Spurinna spent the day. Historians, however, and others who wrote with precision, in reckoning the hours of the day, would for the most part make use of the civil form: because the hours of the natural day were altogether uncertain, varying according to the seasons of the year. -This subject I shall conclude with a passage from Gronovius's Greek Antiquities, vol. ix. p. 1039. where, after appealing to the passages in Gellius and Pliny produced above, the speakers in the dialogue go on thus. "CYAN. Quid utilitatis nobis afferet has diei observationes pernosse? ALPH. Plurimam certe; nam quispiam existiinaret horam apud Judæos sextam meridiei nostri horæ non respondere, si existimaret idem fuisse initium diei apud Judæos et Romanos. CYAN. Quid? Arbitrarisne horam sextam Judæorum, horæ duodecimæ meridianæ apud nos respondere? ALPH. Ita existimo. CYAN. Non satis intelligo. ALPH. Duodecem horas Judæi tribuebant diei, noctique totidem : ac a crepusculo matutino horas diei metiebantur: horas vero noctis a crepusculo vespertino computabant."
The difference between the Roman and Jewish form of computing the hours of the day, deserves to be taken notice of, not only because it removes some difficulties occurring in the gospel of
John, but because it shews the propriety of several particulars mentioned by that evangelist. For instance, chapter i. 39. when Jesus invited the Baptist's disciples to come and see where he lodged, the historian tells us, they went and abode with him that day "for it was about the tenth hour." If this be understood of the Jewish hours, it was four in the afternoon when the disciples went with Jesus; in which case it was not very much to the purpose to observe that they abode with him that day, since at the longest, they could be with him only two hours of it. Whereas, if the evangelist is speaking of Roman hours, it was ten of the clock in the morning when the disciples accompanied Jesus to his lodging; consequently, it was very proper to tell that they abode with him all that day, because this circumstance will imply, that in the long conversation they had with him, from morning till evening, he removed their scruples, and fully convinced them that he was their long-expected Messiah.-We have a second instance, John iv. 6. where we are told, that when Jesus sat down by Jacob's well in Samaria, it was the sixth hour, i. e. not the middle of the day, but six in the evening. In those countries women never drew water at mid-day, but always about sun-setting. Gen. xxiv. 11. « And he made his camels to kneel down without the city, by a well of water, at the time of the evening,' even "the time that women go out to draw" water. Wherefore, as the woman of Samaria came to draw water while Jesus was sitting by the well, it cannot be the Jewish, but the Roman sixth hour, which the historian is speaking of. By that time Jesus was fatigued with his journey, and therefore, before he proceeded, he sent his disciples to the nearest town for meat. It seems there was no place on the road where he could refresh himself. It may be objected indeed, that the circumstances of the history. oblige us to suppose that this journey through Samaria was made so late in the year, that the transactions at the well could not happen after six in the evening. But we have shewed in the note on Luke iv. 16. § 24. that when Jesus preached in the synagogue of Nazareth, after leaving Samaria, it was about the beginning of September. From hence it would appear, that he travelled through Samaria in August. If so, all the particulars that are here related, may have happened in the time allotted to them for when Jesus sat down by the well, it was about the sixth hour, perhaps half an hour before it; and from that time till it became dark, was fully sufficient for all the things mentioned in the history.-We have a third example, John iv. 46. when Jesus told the nobleman of Capernaum, that his son was recovered, it was about the seventh hour; that is, not the seventh Jewish hour, or one in the afternoon, but the seventh Roman hour, or seven in the evening. For as Cana was a day's journey from Capernaum, it is more than probable, that, the nobleman
came in the evening. Besides, on this supposition, we can see the reason why Jesus would not go down to Capernaum. Had he taken a journey thither at that hour, he must have travelled in the night, which might have given occasion to think, that he could not cure the youth without being personally present.-To conclude this exception from the example above mentioned, removes a seeming inconsistency in the accounts given by Mark and John of the hour of our Lord's crucifixion; as shall be shewn afterwards on Mark xv. 25. § 145.
The difficulties occasioned by our not understanding the exact situations of the places mentioned in the gospels, are a-kin to those which proceed from our unskilfulness in the manners and opinions of the ancients. The geography of the country that was the scene of our Lord's ministry having been formed upon the gospels taken singly, where other helps could not be obtained, has been mistaken in some instances, and occasioned great difficulties. Had those difficulties made us sensible of our error, it had been well; but instead of that, they have embarrassed us the more by the solutions to which they have given rise. Whereas the proper solution is that which is also the most natural, namely, to rectify the sacred geography by the light thrown on it from the gospels compared together. The situation assigned to the desert of Bethsaida, the mount of transfiguration, the garden of Gethsemane, Bethphage, and some other places, are examples of this kind; as shall be shewed in the Commentary. Wherefore, if we meet with inconsistencies in the gospels, arising from the common notions concerning the situations of places occasionally mentioned in them, it ought to give us no trouble at all, because they will quickly vanish upon rectifying the geography; a thing that may without scruple be done, in all cases where it is founded on no testimony or authority whatever, but the gospels ill understood. Nevertheless, if there ever was any real opposition between the sacred writers and other ancient authors, without pleading the inspiration of the former, which secured them from error, the opportunity they had of knowing distinctly the state of their own country in the times which they write of, should outweigh the testimony of strangers not so well qualified. At the same time, I am persuaded, that we shall never be obliged to have recourse to this solution; every the minutest particular contained in the gospels, when rightly understood, agreeing perfectly with the most approved authors; which, by the way, is a clear and convincing proof that the sacred books, as they now remain, are genuine, uncorrupted and complete.
OBSERVATION VI Of the regard that is due to opinions derived merely from tradition. OPINIONS rendered venerable by antiquity, and stamped with the authority of popular belief, should never be so reverenced