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JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM.
and instantaneously recovers his speech. It is not unworthy of remark that, in this hymn of thanksgiving, the part which was to be assigned to John in the promulgation of the new faith, and his subordination to the unborn Messiah, are distinctly announced. Already, while one is but a new-born infant, the other scarcely conceived in the womb of his mother, they have assumed their separate stations: the child of Elizabeth is announced as the prophet of the Highest, who shall go "before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways." Yet even here the Jewish notion predominates: the first object of the Messiah's coming, is that the children of Israel "should be saved from their enemies and from the hand of all that hate them; that they, being delivered from the hand of their enemies, might serve him without fear."f
As the period approaches at which the child of Mary is to be born, an apparently fortuitous circumstance summons both Joseph and the Virgin Mother from their residence in the unpopular town of Nazareth, in the province of Galilee, to Bethlehem, a small village to the south of Jerusalem. Joseph on the discovery of the pregnancy of his betrothed, being a man of gentle character, had been willing to spare her the rigorous punishment enacted by the law in such
f Even the expression the "remission of sins," which to a Christian ear may bear a different sense, to the Jew would convey a much narrower mean- | ing. All calamity being a mark of the divine displeasure, was an evidence of sin; every mark of divine favour therefore an evidence of divine forgiveThe expression is frequently used in its Jewish sense in the book
of Maccabees. 1 Macc. iii. 8; 2 Macc. viii. 5, 27, and 29; vii. 98. Le Clerc has made a similar observation (note in loc.), but is opposed by Whitby, who however does not appear to have been very profoundly acquainted with Jewish phraseology.
g Matt. i. 18, 25.
h Grotius, in loc. from Chrysostom.
DECREE OF AUGUSTUS.
cases, and determined on a private dissolution of the marriage. A vision, however, warned him of the real state of the case, and he no longer hesitated, though abstaining from all connexion, to take her to his home; and accordingly, being of the same descent, she accompanied him to Bethlehem. This town, as the birthplace of David, had always been consecrated in the memory of the Jews with peculiar reverence; and no prediction in the Old Testament appears more distinct, than that which assigns for the nativity of the great Prince, who was to perpetuate the line of David, the same town which had given birth to his royal ancestor.k
The decree of the Emperor Augustus," in obedience to which the whole population of Palestine was Decree of to be enrolled and registered, has been, and Augustus. still remains, an endless subject of controversy." One
i A bill of divorce was necessary, even when the parties were only be trothed, and where the marriage had not actually been solemnised. It is probable that the Mosaic Law, which in such cases adjudged a female to death (Deut. xx. 23-25), was not at this time executed in its original rigour. It appears from Abarbanel (Buxtorf, de Divort.) that in certain cases a betrothed maiden might be divorced without stating the cause in the bill of divorce. This is the meaning of the word λá@pa, secretly. Grotius, in loc.
k Micah v. 2.
"The great difficulty arises from the introduction of the name of Cyrenius as the governor, under whose direction the enrolment, or, as it is no doubt mistranslated in our version, the tax
ation, took place. But it is well known that Cyrenius did not become governor of Syria till several years later. The most usual way of accounting for this difficulty, adopted by Lardner and Paley, is the natural one of supposing that Cyrenius conducted the transaction, while holding a subordinate situation in the province, of which he afterwards became governor, and superintended a more regular taxation. But Mr. Greswell has recently adduced strong reasons for questioning whether Cyrenius could have been at this time in Palestine; and I agree with him, that such a census must have been made by the native authorities under Herod. The alternative remains either to suppose some error in the Gospel of St. Luke, as it now stands; or to adopt another version. That followed by Mr. Gres
THE ENROLMENT - OATH OF ALLEGIANCE.
point seems clear, that the enrolment must have been of the nature of a population-census; for any property, possessed by Joseph or Mary, must have been at Nazareth; and the enrolment, which seems to have included both husband and wife, was made at the place where the genealogical registers of the tribes were kept. About this period Josephus gives an account of an oath of allegiance and of fidelity, to Cæsar and to the interests of the reigning sovereign, which was to be taken by the whole Jewish nation. The affair of this oath is strangely mingled up with predictions of a change of dynasty, and with the expected appearance of a great king, under whose all-powerful reign the most extraordinary events were to take place. Six thousand of the Pharisees, the violent religious party, resolutely refused to take the oath. They were fined, and their fine discharged by the low-born wife of Pheroras, the brother of Herod, into whose line certain impostors or enthusiasts, pretending to the gift of prophecy, had declared that the succession was to pass. An eunuch, Bagoas, to whom
well, notwithstanding his apparent
The Essay of Zumpt of Berlin (Commentatio de Syriâ Romanorum provinciâ a Cæsare Augusto ad 1. Vespasianum) has thrown unexpected light on this question. Zumpt shows very strong grounds for believing that Cyrenius (Quirinus) was twice Procurator of Syria, once precisely at this time.
• Though inclined to agree with Lardner in supposing that the census or population-return mentioned by St. Luke was connected with the oath of fidelity to Augustus and to Herob, I cannot enter into his notion, that the whole circumstantial and highly credible statement of Josephus is but
CHAP. II. COINCIDENCE OF ST. LUKE WITH JOSEPHUS. 101
they had promised peculiar and miraculous advantages during the reign of the great predicted king, was implicated in this conspiracy, and suffered death, with many of the obstinate Pharisees and of Herod's kindred. It is highly probable that the administration of the oath of allegiance in Josephus, and the census in St. Luke, belong to the same transaction; for if the oath was to be taken by all the subjects of Herod, a general enrolment would be necessary throughout his dominions; and it was likely, according to Jewish usage, that this enrolment would be conducted according to the established divisions of the tribes. If, however, the expectation of the Messiah had penetrated even into the palace of Herod; if it had been made use of in the intrigues and dissensions among the separate branches of his family; if the strong religious faction had not scrupled to assume the character of divinely-inspired prophets, and to proclaim an immediate change of dynasty, the whole conduct of Herod, as described by the evangelists, harmonises in a most singular manner with the circumstances of the times. Though the birth of Jesus might appear to Herod but as an insignificant episode in the more dangerous tragic plot which was unfolding itself in his own family, yet his jealous apprehension at the very name of a new-born native king, would seize at once on the most trifling cause of suspicion; and the judicial
a maliciously disguised account of the incidents which took place at the birth of Christ. Lardner's Works, vol. i. (4to. edit.) p. 152.
P Independent of the nature of this promise, on which I am intentionally silent, the text of Josephus (Ant. xvii. 2, 6) is unintelligible as it stands, nor is the emendation, proposed by Ward,
a friend of Lardner's, though ingenious,
BIRTH OF CHRIST.
massacre of many of the most influential of the Pharisees, and of his own kindred in Jerusalem, which took place on the discovery of this plot, was a fitting prelude for the slaughter of all the children under a certain age in Bethlehem.
But whether the enrolment, which summoned Joseph and Mary to the town where the registers of Christ. their descent were kept, was connected with this oath of fidelity to the emperor and the king; or whether it was only a population-return, made by the command of the emperor, in all the provinces where the Roman sovereignty or influence extended, it singularly contributed to the completion of the prophecy to which we have alluded, which designated the city of David as the birthplace of the Messiah. Those who claimed descent from the families whose original possessions were in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, crowded the whole of the small town; and in the stable of the inn or caravansera was born THE CHILD, whose moral doctrines, if adopted throughout the world, would destroy more than half the misery by destroying all the vice and mutual hostility of men; and who has been for centuries the object of adoration, as the Divine Mediator between God and man, throughout the most civilised and enlightened nations of the earth. Of this immediate epoch only one incident is recorded; but in all the early history of Christianity,
This view is maintained by Tholuck, and seems to receive some support from the high authority of Savigny, writing on another subject it is supported by passages of late writers, Isidore and Cassiodorus. "Augusti siquidem temporibus orbis Romanus agris divisus censuque descriptus est, ut possessio sua nulli
haberetur incerta, quam pro tributorum susceperat quantitate solvenda." Of itself the authority of Cassiodorus, though a sensible writer, would have no great weight; but he may have read many works unknown to us on this period of history, of which we possess singularly imperfect information.