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oN THE ExTREME corruption of THE JEwish PEOPLE, Both IN RELIGION AND MORALs AT THE TIME of CHRIST's BIRTH.
General Corruption of the leaders of the Jewish nation—of their chief priests, and other ministers of religion—its deplorable effects on the people—state of the Jews not resident in Palestine.
THE preceding chapters' will have shown that the political state of the Jews was truly deplorable. Although they were oppressed and fleeced by various governors, who exercised the most rigorous authority over them, in many instances with peculiar avarice, cruelty, and extortion, yet they were in some measure governed by their own laws, and were permitted to enjoy their religion. The administration of their sacred rites continued to be committed to the high priest and the sanhedrin; to the former the priests and Levites were subordinate as before: and the form of their external worship, except in a very few points, had suffered no visible change. But, whatever comforts were left to them by the Roman magistrates, they were not allowed to enjoy them by their chief priests and popular leaders, whom Josephus characterises as profligate wretches, who had purchased their places by bribes or by acts of iniquity, and maintained their ill-acquired authority by the most flagitious and abominable crimes. Nor were the religious creeds of these men more pure: having espoused the principles of various sects, they suffered themselves to be led away by all the prejudice and animosity of party (though, as in the case of our Saviour, they would sometimes abandon them to promote some favourite measure); and were commonly more intent on the gratification of private enmity, than studious of advancing the cause of religion, or promoting the public welfare. The subordinate and inferior members were infected with the corruption of the head; the priests, and the other ministers of religion, were become dissolute and abandoned in the highest degree; while the common people, insti. gated by examples so depraved, rushed headlong into every kind of iniquity, and by their incessant seditions, robberies, and extortions, armed against themselves both the justice of God and the vengeance of men. Owing to these various causes, the great mass of the Jewish people were sunk into the most deplorable ignorance of God and of divine things. Hence proceeded that dissoluteness of manners, and that, profligate wickedness which prevailed among the Jews during Christ's ministry upon earth; in allusion to which the divine Saviour compares the people to a multitude of lost sheep, straying without a shepherd (Matt. x. 6. xv. 24.), and their teachers, or doctors, to blind guides, who professed to instruct others in a way with which
* See particularly pp. 96–105. of the present volume.
they were totally unacquainted themselves." (Matt. xv. 14. John ix. 39, 40.) Moré particularly, in the New Testament,” the Jews are described as a most superstitious and bigoted people, attached to the Mosaic ritual and to the whimsical traditions of their elders, with a zeal and sanaticism approaching to madness. They are represented as a nation of hypocrites, assuming the most sanctimonious appearance before the world, at the corners of crowded streets uttering loud and fervent strains of rapturous devotion, merely to attract the eyes of a weak and credulous multitude, and to be noticed and venerated by them as mirrors of mortification and heavenly-mindedness; devoured with ostentation and spiritual pride; causing a trumpeter to walk before them in the streets, and make proclamation that such a rabbi was going to distribute his alms; publicly displaying all this showy parade of piety and charity, yet privately guilty of the most unfeeling cruelty and oppression; devouring widows’ houses, stripping the helpless widow and friendless orphan of their property, and exposing them to all the rigours of hunger and nakedness; clamouring, The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! making conscience of paying tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, to the support of its splendour and priesthood, but in practical life violating and trampling upon the first duties of morality,+justice, fidelity, and mercy, as being vulgar and heathenish attainments, and infinitely below the regard of exalted saints and spiritual perfectionists. Their great men were to an incredible degree depraved in their morals, many of them Sadducees in principle, and in practice the most profligate sensualists and debauchees; their atrocious and abandoned wickedness, as Josephus testifies,” transcended all the enormities which the most corrupt age of the world had ever beheld; they compassed sea and land to make proselytes to Judaism from the Pagans, and, when they had gained these converts, soon rendered them, by their immoral lives and scandalous examples, more depraved and profligate than ever they were before their conversion. The apostle tells them, that by reason of their notorious vices their religion was become the object of calumny and satire among the heathen nations. The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you !“ (Rom. ii. 24.) And in his Epistle to Titus he informs us that the Jews in speculation indeed acknowledged a God, but in practice they were atheists; for in their lives they were abominably immoral and abandoned, and the contemptuous despisers of every thing that was virtuous. They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, being abomingble and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus i. 16.) This testimony to the religious and moral character of the Jewish people, by Jesus Christ and his apostles, is amply corroborated by Josephus, who has given us a true estimate of their principles and manners, and is also confirmed by other contemporary historians." The circumstance of their nation having been favoured with an explicit revelation from the Deity, instead of enlarging their minds, miserably contracted and soured them with all the bitterness and leaven of theological odium. They regarded uncircumcised heathens with sovereign contempt,” and believed them to be hated by God, merely because they were born aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and lived strangers to their covenant of promise. They would not eat with them (Acts xi. 3.), do the least friendly office for them, or maintain any social correspondence and mutual intercourse with them. The apostle comprises their national character in a few words, and it is a just one : They were contrary to all men.” (1 Thess. ii. 15.) The supercilious insolence with which the mean and selfish notion of their being the only favourites of heaven and enlightened by God, inflated them as a people, and the haughty and scornful disdain in which they held the heathens, are in a very striking manner characterised in the following spirited address of St. Paul to them.--"Behold ! thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God: and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law, and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.” (Rom. ii. 17–20.) This passage exhibits to us a faithful picture of the national character of this people, and shows us how much they valued themselves upon their wisdom and superior knowledge of religion, arrogating to themselves the character of lights and guides, and instructors of the whole world, and contemptuously regarding all the heathen as blind, as babes, and as fools! Another ever memorable instance of the national pride and arrogance of this vain and ostentatious people is, that when our Lord was discoursing to them concerning their pretensions to moral liberty, and representing the ignoble and despicable bondage in which sin detains its votaries, they imagined this to be an indirect allusion to the present condition of their country; their pride was instantly in flames; and they had the effrontery and impudence openly to assert, that they had always been free, and were never in bondage to any man (John viii. 33.); though every child must know the history of their captivities, must know that Judea was at that very time a conquered province, had been subdued by Pompey, and from that time had paid an annual tribute to Rome ! Another characteristic which distinguishes and marks this people, was that kind of evidence which they expected in order to their reception of truth. Ercept they saw signs and wonders they would not believe J (John iv. 48.) If a doctrine proposed to their acceptance was not confirmed by some visible displays of preternatural power, some striking phenomena, the clear and indubitable evidences of an immediate divine interposition, they would reject it. In antient times, for a series of many years, this people had been favoured with numerous signal manifestations from heaven: a cloud had conducted them by day, and a pillar of fire by night: their law was given them, accompanied by a peculiar display of solemn pomp and magnificence; and the glory of God had repeatedly filled their temple. Habituated as their understandings had been, for many ages, to receive as truth only what should be attested and ratified by signs from heaven, and by some grand and striking phenomena in the sky, it was natural for them, long accustomed as they had been to this kind of evidence, to ask our Saviour to give them some sign from heaven (Matt. xvi. 1.), to exhibit before them some amazing and stupendous prodigy in the air to convince them of the dignity and divinity of his character. The Jews, says St. Paul, require a sign (1 Cor. i. 22.); it was that species of evidence to which their nation had been accustomed. Thus we read that the Scribes and Pharisees came to John, desiring him that he would show them a sign from heaven. Again, we read that the Jews came and said to Jesus, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou dost these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up ! (John ii. 18, 19.) What kind of signs these were which they expected and what sort of preternatural prodigies they wanted him to display in order to authenticate his divine mission to them, appears from the following passages: They said therefore, unto him, What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee? What dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as ! is written, He gave them bread from heaven (John vi. 30, 31.) This method, therefore, of espousing religious doctrines, only as they should be confirmed by some signal and indubitable interposition of the deity, and their cherishing the vanity and presumption that heaven would lavish its miraculous signs whenever they called for them, constitute a striking and very distinguishing feature in the national character of this people.
1 Mosheim's Eccl. Hist, book i. part i. chap. ii., and also his Commentaries on the Affairs of Christians before the time of Constantine the Great, vol. i. introd. chap. ii.
* For the following picture of the melancholy corruption of the Jewish church and people, the author is indebted to Dr. Harwood's Introduction to the New Testament (vol. ii. pp. 58. 61.), collated with Pritii Introductio, p. 471. et seq., and verifying also the several authorities referred to by him.
3. }. Bell. Jud. lib. vii. p. 1314. Hudson. , Again, says this historian, “They were universally corrupt, both publicly and privately. They vied which should surpass each other in impiety against God and injustice towards men.” Ibid.
4 The superstitious credulity of a Jew was proverbial among the heathens. Credat Judæus Appella. Horat Epictetus mentions and exposes their greater attach. ment to their ceremonies than to the duties of morality. Dissertationes, lib. i. p. us edit. Upton. See also Josephus contra Apion. p. 480. Havercamp.
1 “I cannot forbear,” says Josephus, “declaring my opinion,though the declaration fills me with great emotion and regret, that if the Romans had delayed to come against these wretches, the city would either have been engulphed by an earthquake, over. whelmed by a deluge, or destroyed by fire from heaven, as Sodom was: for that gene. sation was far more enormously wicked than those who suffered these calamities." Bell. Jud. lib. v. c. 13. p. 1256. “These things they suffered,” says Origen, “as being the most abandoned of men.” Origen contra Celsum, p. 62. Cantab. 1677.
* “The Jews are the only people who refuse all friendly intercourse with every other nation, and esteem all mankind as enemies.” Diod. Siculus, tom. ii. p. 524. edit. Wesseling, Amstel. 1746. “Let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican.” (Matt. xviii. 17.) Of the extreme detestation and abhorrence which the Jews had for the Gentiles we have a very striking example in that speech which St. Paul addresses to them, telling them in the course o: that God had commissioned him to go to the Gentiles. The moment he had pronounced the word, the whole assembly was in confusion, tore off their clothes, rent the air with their cries, threw clouds of dust into it, and were transported into the last excesses of rage and mad. ness. “He said unto me, Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles they gave him audience,” says the sacred historian, “until this word, and then lifted up their voice and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live.” (Acts xxii. 21.)
* This character of the Jewish nation is confirmed by Tacitus, and expressed al. **t, *, the very words of the apostle, “Adversus omnes alios hostile odium Tacit. Hist. lib. v. § 5 vol. iii. p. 261. edit. Bipont.
So exceedingly great was the fecundity of the Jewish people, that multitudes of them had occasionally been constrained to emigrate from their native country; hence, at the time of our Saviour's birth. there was scarcely a province in the Roman empire in which they were not to be found, either serving in the army, engaged in the pursuits of commerce, or exercising some lucrative arts. They were maintained, in foreign countries, against injurious treatment and violence, by various special edicts of the emperors and magistrates in their favour;' though from the peculiarities of their religion and manners, they were held in very general contempt, and were not unfrequently exposed to much vexation and annoyance from the jealousy and indignation of an ignorant and superstitious populace. Many of them in consequence of their long residence and intercourse with foreign nations, fell into the error of endeavouring to make their religion accommodate itself to the principles and institutions of some of the different systems of heathen discipline: but, on the other hand, it is clear that the Jews brought many of those among whom they resided to perceive the superiority of the Mosaic religion over the Gentile superstitions, and were highly instrumental in causing them to forsake the worship of a plurality of gods. Although the knowledge which the Gentiles thus acquired from the Jews respecting the only true God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, was doubtless both partial and limited, yet it inclined many of them the more readily to listen to the subsequent arguments and exhortations of the apostles of our Saviour, for the purpose of exploding the worship of false deities, and recalling men to the knowledge of true religion. All which, Mosheim observes, with equal truth and piety, appears to have been most singularly and wisely directed by the adorable hand of an interposing Providence; to the end that this people, who were the sole depository of the true religion and of the knowledge of the one supreme God, being spread abroad through the whole earth, might be every where, by their example, a reproach to superstition, contribute in some measure to check it, and thus prepare the way for that fuller display of divine truth which was to shine upon the world from the ministry and Gospel of the Son of God.”
1 In proof of this observation, Mosheim refers to Jacobi Gronovii Decreta Romani et Asiatica pro Judaeis ad cultum divinum per Asiae Minoris urbes secure obeundum. Lugd. Bat. 1712, 8vo. See also Dr. Lardner's Credibility, part i. book i. ch. viii (Works, vol. i. pp. 164—201), where numerous valuable testimonies are adduced.
* Mosheim's Commentaries, vol. i. p. 106. Eccl. Hist, vol. i. p. 52 edit. 1805. Besides the authorities cited in the preceding chapter, the Jewish sects, &c. are largely discussed by Pritius, introd. ad Nov. Test. chap. xxxii.-xxxv, pp. 249–975 Prideaux, Connection, book v. vol. ii. pp. 335–368. Relandi Antiq. §. Hebre*rum, p.276. et seq. Ikenius, Antiq. Hebr. pp. 33–42. Schachtii Dictata in Ikeni. um, p. 241. et seq. Dr. Macknight's Harmony, vol. i. disc. 1. Lamy's Apparatus Fo Vol. i. pp. 22-243. Dr. Lardner's Credibility, part i. book is ch. 4 *den's Philologus Hebræo-Mixtus, pp. 138–170, Buddei Hist. Philosophis