« PreviousContinue »
mention, though great and wonderful above measure, they have not painted with the gawdy colourings of rhetoric, nor heightened with the magnificence of pompous language, but have told them with a simplicity unexampled in so great a subject. And as they have not studied human eloquence in the composition of their histories, so they have not followed human prudence in the choice of their subjects. For although they must have been sensible that the transactions they were about to relate were not likely to be believed by the generality, being many of them opposite to the established course of nature, it is evident that they were at no pains to consider what particulars were least liable to exception, nor so much as to obviate the difficulties which arose from them. This thought a late writer has well expressed." It does not appear (says he) that it ever came into the mind of the evangelists to consider how this or that other action would appear to mankind, or what objections might be raised against them. But without attending at all to this, they. lay the facts before you, at no pains to think whether they would appear credible or not. If the reader will not believe their testimony, there is no help for it. They tell the truth, and attend to nothing else."-To conclude, it is remarkable that through the whole of their histories, the evangelists have not passed one encomium upon Jesus, or upon any of his friends, nor thrown out one reflection against his enemies, although much of both kinds might have been, and no doubt would have been done by them, had they been governed either by a spirit of imposture or enChrist's life is not praised in the gospels, his death is not lamented, his friends are not commended, his enemies are not reproached, nor even blamed, but every thing is told naked and unadorned, just as it happened; and all who read are left to judge and make reflections for themselves; a manner of writing which the historians never would have fallen into, had not their minds been under the guidance of the most sober reason, and deeply impressed with the dignity, importance, and truth of their subject.
By the force of these and such like arguments, has the gospelhistory gained a belief next to universal in ages past; and by these it stands at present firmly established against the manifold violent attacks of its enemies, who, with unwearied application, are assaulting it on all quarters. In a word, founded upon these arguments, it can never be overturned in any age to come; but while men are capable of discerning truth, will be believed and received to the end of the world.
COROLLARY.-If the gospel-history is true, the Christian religion must needs be divine.
Of the Taxing. Luke ii. 1.
BOUT the time of our Lord's nativity, the emperor Augustus published an edict for taxing the whole land of Israel. The evangelist's words are, Try, answering to the words "T , which, in the Old Testament, often signify the land of Israel only for instance, 1 Kings x. 24. Jer. iv. 20. xii. 11. xxii. 29. See Luke iv. 25. Besides, sun is used in this limited significa tion by Luke elsewhere more than once. Chapter xxi. 26. « Mens hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth;" nosu, the land of Israel. See LXX. Isaiah xiii. 5. where may be my, signifies all the country of Babylon, the city and province, as is evident from verse 1. See also verse 11. of the same chapter, and Acts xi. 28. The evangelist observes, that the emperor's edict extended to the whole land, to shew that Galilee, Joseph's country, was comprehended in it. For on the death of Herod the great, which happened soon after the birth of Christ, Palestine, was divided and put under the government of different sovereigns; in particular, Galilee was dismembered from the kingdom of Judea, and given to Herod Antipas.
That this was an enrolment of the inhabitants of Palestine only is probable, because no historian whatsoever says Augustus made a general enrolment of the empire. (See the learned and ingenious Dr Lardner's Credibility, B. ii. c. 1. from whence the greatest part of these chronological dissertations is taken.) Whereas, if any such census had ever been made, the historians would scarce have ailed to gratify their readers with an account of the numbers taken up, that being a particular which every one must have been curious to know. The Ancyran marbles mention three census's made by Augustus. But they were by no means census's of the empire, but of the Roman citizens and freedmen living in the empire; census populi. Accordingly Suetonius, in Aug. c. 27. says, "Censum tamen populi ter egit."
If Luke is supposed to speak of a general enrolment of the Roman empire, the silence of antiquity would be a very great objection against it; though if a particular enrolment of the land of Israel only was meant, this silence would be no objection at all, because there must have been surveys of provinces, which the Roman and Greek historians now remaining had no occasion
to mention An account of it might be expected indeed in Josephus. Yet as it is not to be supposed that any single historian can relate all the affairs of the country whose history he writes, the authority of Luke is not prejudiced by the silence of Josephus. There is frequent mention made of the census at our Lord's nativity, in the most early apologies of the fathers. And as some of these apologies were directed to the Roman emperors themselves, such public appeals to a public fact imply that it was a thing well known. Hence they are a sufficient confirmation of Luke's history in this particular.
Some are of opinion, that the enrolment at the birth of Christ was only of men's names, not the enrolment of the census in order to a taxation, because Herod being then alive, Judea was not become a Roman province. And it must be acknowledged, that
got is used indifferently to signify any enrolment whatever. Yet it seems to mean the enrolment of the census in Luke, because though Judea was not reduced into the form of a province, Herod was really a tributary prince, having been established in his kingdom by the Roman arms. Besides, his subjection very remarkably appeared about this time, in the differences which happened between him and Obodas, prince of Arabia, about a sum of money that Herod had lent to him. For the matter in dispute between the princes was decided by Saturninus and Volumnius, the emperor's officers in Syria. And after Obodas, or his successor Syllæus, had broken the stipulations fixed upon, Herod did not dare to move his forces into Arabia, without the consent of the above mentioned officers. Augustus, indeed, imagining that he had done so, was highly incensed. For Syllæus, who was then at Rome, and had received an account of Herod's inroad, misrepresented the matter to Augustus. The latter therefore wrote to Herod, acquainting him, that whereas he had hitherto treated him as a friend, he should for the future treat him as a subject, Joseph. Ant. xvi. 10. But if Herod, while a friend of Augustus, was then under command, what could treatment as a subject mean, but his obliging him to submit to the census, according to which taxes were from that time forth to be levied in his dominions? We have an instance of this among the Cilicians, Tacit. An. lib. xvi. c. 41. Besides, Augustus' displeasure with Herod did not soon end; for he refused to see the ambassadors whom Herod sent to make his peace. Nay, he rejected the presents offered him by a second embassy. And though a reconciliation was at length effected by the address of Nicholas of Damascus, whom Herod sent to Rome on purpose, it was far from being perfect; for Antipater, Herod's son, was obliged to defend him with the emperor against Syllæus, the year before Herod died, and to support his defence by distributing large sums of money among the courtiers.
It is probable therefore that a census was, made in Judea by order of Augustus, during his displeasure with Herod, whose advanced age and infirmities, together with the ambitious views and divisions which reigned in his family, determined Augustus to reduce this country into the form of a province. But Herod, regaining the emperor's favour, prevailed with him to let things go on in their old channel. This, perhaps, together with the disgracefulness of the thing, may have been the reason why the census was passed over in silence by Nicholas of Damascus, one of Herod's servants and flatterers, in the history which he wrote of his affairs. The reason also why it was omitted by Josephus, who copied from Nicholas, or at best was represented simply by the taking of an oath to Herod and Augustus, rather than by the offensive name of a census; provided we suppose it was at this enrolment that the oath was imposed, which Josephus tells us the whole Jewish nation, excepting six thousand Pharisees, took to be faithful to Cæsar and to the interests of the king, Antiq. xvii. 3. That this oath was imposed at the enrolment is thought probable, because it was the custom of the Romans to require the valuation of every man's substance to be delivered in upon oath. And as this oath at the enrolment of the Jews was taken before commissioners on the part of Herod and Augustus, it was probably represented as an oath of subjection to both kings. Perhaps an article of allegiance was added to the oath of the enrolment. For, unless it was on such an occasion, it will be hard to understand how Herod came to require an oath of allegiance from the Jews at the close of his reign, far less how such an oath could be required from them to Augustus, who had not made Judea a province. Add to this, that the events which followed the oath of which Josephus speaks, are very like the things which happened after the enrolment. The Pharisees who refused to swear, as imagining the law forbade them, Deut. xvii. 15, were fined. But the wife of Pheroras, Herod's brother, paid the fine for them, and they, in requital of her kindness, foretold, that God having decreed to put an end to the government of Herod and his race, the kingdom should be transferred to her and to Pheroras, and to their children. Salome, the king's sister, informing him of these things, it is said that he put the most guilty of the Pharisees to death, and Bagoas the eunuch, and every one in his own family who adhered to the things which were spoken by the Pharisees. The words of Josephus are," But Bagoas had been elevated by them, in that he should be called father and benefactor, the king who was to be appointed according to their prediction, (for all things would be in his power) being to give him a capacity of marriage, and of having children of his own," Antiq. xvii. 3. translated by Dr Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 630. Here we have a king described, in whose power all things would be, which is
evidently the Messiah's character. The disturbances which happened in Jerusalem after this, and the slaughter made in Herod's family and court, were all on account of the birth of this new king. It is thought that this is the perplexity of Herod and Jerusalem described by Matthew. And as for the slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem, though Josephus has passed it over in silence, Herod's other cruelties, related by that historian, render it abundantly probable. The persons who predicted the birth of the king were the Pharisees, according to Josephus. In the gospels they are called the chief priests and scribes, who from the ancient prophecies told Herod that this rival king was to be born in Bethlehem, and so are said by Josephus to have predicted his birth. Indeed the whole of the affair is very slightly handled. But it must be remembered, that Josephus being a Jew would consult the reputation of his country, and conceal the taxing, or at least give it a favourable turn. Being also an enemy to Christianity, he would not willingly relate many particulars which had a strong tendency to support it.
That the census in the end of Herod's reign should have produced no disturbances may seem strange, when it is remembered that the subsequent enrolment by Cyrenius, occasioned the sedition of Judas of Galilee. But the answer is, that the temper of a nation is not always the same. Much depends upon the wisdom and address of those who are at the head of affairs. Herod was himself a man of extraordinary abilities, and had officers under him dextrous in managing the humours of a multitude, and therefore it cannot be thought strange, that the enrolment in his reign should have been tamely submitted to, while that which Quirinus made after Archelaus's banishment, threw the nation into such confusion.
The enrolment at our Lord's birth is described by Luke in the following words, Αυτη ή απογραφη πρώτη εγενετο ηγεμονεύοντος της Συρίας Kug: "This taxation was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." It is objected that Josephus, Ant. xvii. fine, says, After Archelaus was banished into Gaul, his country was annexed to the country of Syria, and Cyrenius, a person of consular dignity, was sent by Cæsar to make assessments in Syria, and to put Archelaus's estate to sale. But Archelaus reigned ten years after the death of Herod, in the end of whose reign Jesus was born, Quintilius Varus, not Cyrenius, being president of Syria, Antiq. xvii. 6. sub init.
Many different translations of the above mentioned passage, have been proposed in order to remove this objection. They may all be seen at large with their proofs, Credib. p. 2. c. 1. The translation espoused by the learned author of that work, appears to be a solution of the difficulty: "This was the first enrolment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria ;" and the rather that it is