« AnteriorContinua »
The Senate, moved with indignation that it had not been, as usual, proposed to them to determine respect ing the reception of his religion, rejected his deification, and decreed by an edict that the Christians should be banished from the city, especially as Sejanus, the minister of Tiberius, obstinately resisted the reception of his faith." Orosius, lib. vii. c. 4. The fact here recorded has been rejected by most learned men as utterly incredible, for is it to be believed that Tiberius could be induced to think that man to be a god, whom his viceroy in a remote province had crucified as a malefactor? Or, if he heard any thing of the fame and character of Jesus, is it credible that, selfish, slothful and negligent as that emperor was of the affairs even of the empire, he should yet interest himself in the case of an obscure Jew, and that Jew executed for treason against himself, so far out of the common course of things as to propose his deification, and thus to place him in the same rank with the tutelar divinities of Rome? On the contrary, it may be asked, is it at all credible that Tertul lian who flourished so near the time, and who withal was very learned, would have dared to hazard such an assertion, if it were not founded in truth? Is it within the compass of moral possibility, that a respectable writer, engaged in hostility with men of rank, talents and learning in the state, should virtually appeal to the archives of the empire for the truth of an incident which he knew did not exist there, and which he knew too, his enemies on inquiry would not fail to negative, and thus overwhelm him and his cause and his brethren throughout the world, with the fabrication of a palpable falsehood? Amidst these improbabilities, this curious and im portant question has been left by learned men undecided; and if no new light could have been thrown upon it, in this undecided state it must for ever have remained. But, fortunately for the interest of truth, Philo, Josephus, Plutarch, not to mention Tacitus and Suetonius, by a new and additional evidence, enable us to decide the question. The most improbable part of the story is, that Tiberius, from being an enemy, should have become a friend to Christ, and thus
publish an edict in Rome and in the provinces to protect the Christians, that is, the Jews who believed in Jesus (for the Christian name was not yet in existence) and yet Philo, who flourished at the time, not only bears his testimony to this edict, but quotes the substance of it to the following effect: "All nations, though prejudiced against the Jews, have been careful not to abolish the Jewish rites: and the same caution was preserved in the reign of Tiberius; though, indeed, in Italy the Jews had been distressed by the machinations of Sejanus. For after his death, the emperor became sensible that the accusations alleged against the Jews in Italy were calumnies, the inventions of Sejanus, who was eager to devour a nation, who he knew opposed his impious designs. And to the constituted authorities in every place, Tiberius sent orders not to molest in their several cities the men of that nation, excepting the guilty only, (who were few,) and not to suppress any of their institutions, but to regard as a trust committed to their care, both the people themselves as disposed to peace, and their laws which, like oil, brace them with firmness and magnanimity." Philo, Vol. II. p. 569. Josephus's account of this transaction is as follows: "A Jew resided at Rome, who was in every way wicked, and who, having been accused of transgressing the laws, fled from his country to avoid the punishment which threatened him. During his residence in Rome, he pretended to unfold the wisdom of the law of Moses, in conjunction with three other men, who in every respect resembled himself. With these men associated Fulvia, a lady of rank, who had become a convert to the Jewish religion, and whom they prevailed upon to send, for the Temple at Jerusalem, presents of purple and gold. Having received these, they appropriated them to their own use; which, indeed, was their motive at first in making the request. Tiberius (being informed of this by Saturninus, who was his friend, and the husband of Fulvia,) commanded the Jews to be expelled from the city. The young men, to the amount of 4000, were forced to enlist, by a decree of the Senate, and sent to the island of Sardinia. But most of
The Jew whom Josephus stigmatises as in every way wicked, was, as we shall see hereafter, one of the framers and teachers of the Gnostic system, the principal object of which was to sink Christianity in Heathenism, by placing the founder with the Heathen gods. Tiberius, though a fatalist, was extremely superstitious; and Jewish magicians, Egyptian priests and Chaldean astrologers formed his most intimate associates. These men he consulted respecting Jesus; and there is no room to doubt, but at their instigation he proposed his deification to the Senate. It was very natural that the Senate and people of Rome should form their ideas of Jesus from those impostors who pretended to abet his cause. This circumstance led his enemies to speak of him as if he were a magician and an artful deceiver. It was this imputation which induced the Jewish historian to state, in the context, the real character and claims of Jesus Christ. With a com prehension yet brevity characteristic of this writer, he gives the whole substance of the four Gospels in one short paragraph. He sets aside the doctrine of his being a god, and stigmatises the attempt at his deification by calling him a man, if indeed he might be called a man; thus using the language which he uses of Moses, and meaning that he was a man eminently endowed with power from God. He farther passes by in silence the story of his miraculous birth, as forming no part of his real history, a strong presumption in itself of the authenticity of the passage. Nor did the writer rest in this negative testimony to the falsehood of the miraculous conception, but exposes, in the subsequent paragraph, the abominable deed, which, on inquiry, will be found to be the origin of it, and which in those times all readers knew to be the origin of it.
them, being determined to preserve their privileges as Jews inviolate, refused to become soldiers and were put to death. And thus for the wickedness of four men, the Jews were driven from the city." Antiq. Jud. lib. xviii. cap. 3, 6.
Now, if we compare the narratives of Tertullian, Philo and Josephus, the whole affair will become plain, consistent and credible. The Jewish believers at Rome, hating the despotic character of Sejanus, and penetrating his ambitious project of becoming emperor in the room of Tiberius, opposed his cruel measures, and arraigned him as a conspirator. Feeling their enmity against himself, he, with the usual adroitness of wicked ministers, represents them as enemies to the emperor and to the state. This, at first, Tiberius must have been ready to believe; and, actuated by resentment, quickened by the complaint of Saturninus, he cruelly banishes all the Jews resident in Rome, compelling such young men as were of age to become soldiers, in direct violation of the rights which they had hitherto enjoyed. But the mask soon fell from the face of Sejanus, the great enemy and accuser of the Christians; and the deadly hatred which rose in the breast of Tiberius towards the detected traitor, was now necessarily followed by a change of sentiments and conduct towards the persons who had previously opposed him. Thus the emperor, from a persecutor, became inevitably the friend and protector of the Christians. The evidence, brought home to his own bosom, of the falsehood of the charge urged against the followers of Jesus, disposed him to consider their master as a victim of a similar calumny in Judea; and taking into consideration his miraculous power, of which he had, through various channels, unquestionable evidence, he pitied his unmerited sufferings, and wished to atone for them, by consecrating him among the gods of the Pantheon. The Christian fathers, for obvious reasons, left the first impression of Tiberius's resentment unnoticed, mentioning only his subsequent conduct in behalf of the Christians. Hence the improbability which loads their narrative, and sinks it almost below rational belief.
The advocates of Christianity maintained, and maintained with truth, that the vices and superstition which had hitherto debased the Pagan world, and which the erroneous philosophy of the times imputed to the demons, were, in a great measure, swept away by the religion of Jesus. The enemies of the gospel felt the weight of this argument, and Plutarch wrote his treatise concerning the cessation
of the Heathen Oracles, in order to remove it, by referring the destruction of the demons to causes unconnected with Christianity. In this work, the author artfully introduces a story circulated at Rome, soon after the death of Christ, that the great Pan was dead. This story, if true, and the truth of which Plutarch was anxious to establish, proved that Jesus, being one of the demons, and that the great est of them, so far from being the cause of destroying the demons, was himself destroyed. "When Tiberius Cæsar heard of the death of this god, he collected the astrologers and ma gicians in Rome to know what god he was: and they determined that he was Pan, the son of Mercury and Penelope." In the number of these impostors, were doubtless the wicked Jew and his Egyptian associates brand. ed by Josephus: and as they imposed on the emperor the belief that Jesus was a Heathen god, it was natural that they should advise him to propose his deification, or his consecration in the Pantheon. Tertullian well knew all this: but though he thought the conduct of the emperor honourable to Christ, and, therefore, mentions the proposal for his deification, he leaves his base advisers in the shade.
I shall just notice a few inferences worthy of consideration, which are warranted by the above statement.
1. The opinion held in Rome, that Jesus was some supernatural being, illustrates, in a remarkable manner, the miraculous power with which he was invested by the Almighty. Allow the truth of the miracles ascribed to him in the New Testament, and the conduct of the emperor in proposing his deification, and of the magicians in pronouncing him to be one of the Pagan gods, was perfectly natural. But deny these miracles, i. e. suppose them to be impostures, then the conduct of the emperor and the magicians around him, in ascribing a superior nature to an obscure individual in humble life, in a remote province, an individual, too, who had been condemned to an ignominious death, and
• See a Series of Important Facts demonstrating the Truth of the Christian Religion, by J. Jones, Chap. xii.
belonging withal to a race of men in the highest degree despised and hated, will be altogether inexplicable, will be at variance with all human experience, with all that we know of the laws of the moral world.
2. The conduct of Paul at Athens shews that the apostles, in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, did not, in their first address, dwell upon, or render prominent, the miracles of their Divine Master, because of the improper inference which their hearers, under the influence of Heathenism, would draw respecting his nature. They, therefore, confined themselves to his resurrection, as the proof and pledge of the resurrection of mankind, and to the necessity of repentance and reformation as a qualification for a future state of retribution grounded on that proof. When the persons addressed were thus far informed and enlightened, then the miraculous works of Jesus, as proofs of his delegation to reveal and certify the will of God, became proper subjects of discussion and testimony.
3. Every convert to Christianity from among the Heathens, carried with him into the Christian Church a strong predilection in favour of the divinity of Christ; and the advocates of this opinion, down to the present day, argue as the Heathens did, namely, that the works of Christ are proofs of his divine nature. Consequently, we may conclude with certainty that Heathenism is the source, and the only source of that doctrine.
4. We may further conclude, that, wherever a Christian Church was established by Paul, or any other of the apostles, the divinity of Christ became one of the first topics of discussion and dispute among the members. We might, therefore, expect in their Epistles, references to that controversy, and also words calculated and intended to set aside the supposed superhuman nature of our Saviour as altogether false and pernicious.
5. The notion entertained by Lardner, Priestley, and other Unitarian divines, that the divinity of Christ originated in the personification of the Logos, derived principally from Philo, and through him from Plato, is very wide of the truth. This opinion gives the advocates of the Trinitarian faith the advantage of combating error,
while they fight against the truth;
traced the doctrine up to Heathenism
racters of those that have borne the
P. S. The persecution of the Christians by Tiberius must have taken place a year or two after the resurrection of Jesus. The enemies of the gospel in the provinces, naturally imitated the temper and measures adopted by the higher powers in the capital. The same spirit, as soon as the news of it had time to reach Judea, must have there kindled a similar flame. Accordingly, we read, "In those days there came to pass a violent persecution of the church in Jerusalem," Acts viii. 2. In a year or two, the hostility of the emperor was changed by the fall of Sejanus; and the effects of the edict dispatched in favour of the Christians, must have been, in a period somewhat later, felt in all the provinces, and in Judea and Samaria in the number. Conformably to this, we read, Acts ix. 31, "And all the churches throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria had repose; and being edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the consolation of the Holy Spirit, they were greatly multiplied." Thus remarkably the transactions at Rome, mentioned by Philo, Josephus and Tertullian, illustrate, and are illustrated by, two corresponding events in the Acts of the Apostles.
Gibbon, under the veil of insidious irony, endeavours to expose to contempt and derision the testimony of Tertullian. He says of himself, that his views respecting the records of Christianity were rather extensive than accurate. Yet had they been extensive, as he thus flatters himself, he would have known that all the improbability which weighs down the narrative of Tertullian, is removed by facts attested by Josephus and Plutarch; and that the very edict which Gibbon derides, is recorded by Philo. See the Decline and Fall, Vol. II. Chap. xvi. p. 444.
An ultra-Unitarian he certainly was not. He would, I think, stand surprised, were he now living, at some of the opinions of the modern Unitarians; and there is not a little in his writings which these persons must consider as scarcely reconcileable with their orthodoxy.
For example, in his "Vindication of Three of our Blessed Saviour's Miracles," he says, in reply to Woolston's fifth objection with regard to the place and state of the soul of Lazarus between his death and resurrection, "Nor could the soul of any good man be unwilling to return for a time to the troubles and miseries of this wicked world, how grievous soever, in or der to serve the great design of saving his fellow-creatures; for which end Jesus his Saviour descended from the height of glory he had with his Father, took flesh, and underwent the troubles and sorrows of this mortal life." (Works, 8vo. XI. 41.) Again, in his reflections upon the raising of Lazarus, he exclaims, "Herein also is adorable the wisdom, the goodness, the condescension of Jesus." (Id. 76.)
The treatise from which these extracts are made, was published in the year 1729, only one year before the Letter on the Logos was written. Did Dr. Lardner change his opinion concerning the person of Christ, in the interval between the composition of the two works? Or, was his view of our Lord's humanity always united with some notion of his pre-existent glory? Or, is the language here marked by italics the mere result of early habit, and an accommodation to the prejudices of the Christian world? Other passages might be extracted from Lardner, to shew that he wrote more agreeably to the language of Christians in general, than modern Unitarians (at least, the bulk of them)
are accustomed to do, and consequently to explain why he is acceptable as a writer, although an Unitarian, to all sensible and candid Trinitarians.
Gypsies in Hungary. [From “Voyage minéralogique et géolo gique en Hongrie, pendant l'année 1818, par F. S. BEUDANT." Trans lated from the Revue Encyclopédique for October, 1822.]
Dhe neighbourhood of Schem
Two recent Letters between Mr.
[These interesting Letters have been published in some of the English newspapers, from "The Boston Christian Register." They may not, therefore, be new to all our readers, but we think that all of them will judge them worthy of a permanent place in our Repository. We give them with the introduction of the Boston Editor. ED.]
nitz, our traveller had an opportunity of observing some individuals of that race of men whom we call Gypsies, and who, in Germany and in Hungary, bear the name of Zigenner. Those of Hungary work to obtain a bare subsistence and nothing more; live crowded together in huts, in the most disgusting filth. Their features, their character, their manners have not changed since they have been dispersed amongst the civilized nations of Europe. It is surprising that the singular mode of existence of this people has not yet sufficiently excited the attention of philosophy, to be made the object of a particular study. Their origin and their history have been discussed; their customs and way of living are sufficiently known; but the philosophical question remains untouched: it is not known what obstacle excludes this people from the pale of civilization, what keeps up their anti-social habits, their wild condition which all known hordes willingly abandon, when they have once had an opportunity of enjoying the sweets of a life more conformable to the nature of man. Whatever Rousseau may say, the Hottentot builds a house and cultivates the land; the natives of the North of America become citizens of the United States; the Negroes have formed numerous societies, and will, with the assistance of knowledge from Europe, at length assume a rank amongst civilized nations. Why then is the Zingare so inferior to the Hottentot, the Negro and the American ? The study of this class of men would, perhaps, enrich the moral sciences with very important discoveries.
HE following Letters have been obtained by solicitation, and are sent to the press by the permission of their venerable authors. The cha racter, standing and age of the writers, the one in his 80th, the other in his 87th year, give them peculiar interest, and they cannot fail to be read with great pleasure. It is delightful to witness this kind of correspondence between these two distinguished men, the asperities of party by which they were at one time separated worn down, and nothing remaining but the interchange of sentiments of unfeigned kindness and respect. It is charming to see an old age like this, retaining, even under its decays and infirmities, the intellectual vigour unimpaired, and displaying amidst its snows, the greenness and freshness of the summer of life. The letter of Mr. Jefferson was written soon after an attack upon him by the "Native Virginian;" and when there was a strong expectation of a war between Russia and Turkey: this will explain some allusions in them.
From Mr. Jefferson to Mr. Adams. Monticello, June 1, 1822. It is very long, my dear Sir, since I have written to you. My dislocated wrist is now become so stiff that I write slowly and with pain; and, therefore, write as little as I can. Yet it is due to mutual friendship to ask once in a while how we do? The papers tell us that General Starke is off at the age of 93.—*** still lives, at about the same age, cheerful, slender as a grasshopper, and so much without memory that he scarcely recognises the members of his household. An intimate friend of