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EXAMPLES FROM THE LAW.
and to heighten and stimulate some of their most objectionable habits and propensities with the sanction of divine authority.
The work of Michaelis, a learned German professor of Hebrew and divinity, to which Mr. Rogers refers, is a laborious Commentary on the Law of Moses, written expressly as a defence against infidel attacks. We will quote a short passage from his remarks on the singular absence of any penal or even prohibitory law to protect female virtue from violence, except in those cases when, from the woman being betrothed, a collateral injury would be inflicted on a male Hebrew. “ This may be attributed,” says he, “to the deep debasement of the Jewish females in consequence of polygamy, and the custom of selling wives.” And soon after he says, “Polygamy, and the right of the blood-avenger to attack and kill with impunity the person who had slain one of his relations, will hardly be reckoned among the laudable institutions of any government. It was a right which the legislator was here forced to tolerate, because it was connected with an imaginary sense of honour which he could not eradicate from the minds of the people.”*
Now if Michaelis had made these excuses for Moses as a legislator of a barbarous period, himself a barbarian raised above the mass of the people he governed only by his superior talents and energy, they would have been admissible ; but when offered, as they are, on behalf of an Almighty God, they become simply absurd. All the laws of Moses are delivered in the name of God; Jehovah was the legislator of the Hebrews, and according to Michaelis he was forced to tolerate” the impure and bloodthirsty customs of his chosen people on account of their rooted propensities and their “imaginary sense of honour,” which he (the Almighty) “could not eradicate."
Many savage nations under the English rule have had their "imaginary sense of honour,” and yet, strange to say, we were not forced to tolerate it. We permit no blood-avenger to roam, dagger in hand, in search of his hereditary foe, still less do we
* “ Commentaries on the Laws of Moses," by John David Michaelis. Article 5.
BAD PRACTICES LEGALISED,
sanction such a murderous custom by legislative permission. Hindoo widows formerly used to burn themselves on the funeral piles of their husbands. The prejudice in favour of the custom was strong, but it was a wicked custom, and the English government was not " forced to tolerate it.” And what is still more strange, in many instances, after a short lapse of time, these ignorant nations begin to feel and to acknowledge the justice and advantages of our interference with their ancient habits, in spite of the starkness of their savage ignorance.” But this Almighty legislator, who is said to have interfered to stop the sun and moon in order to allow the Jews sufficient time to slaughter the Midi. anites, would not interfere to prevent murder, slavery, or poly. gamy: this Almighty Being, who interfered to harden the heart of Pharaoh, and to "make obstinate” the spirit of the Canaanites, would not interfere to check the “imaginary sense of honour” which led to the perpetration of malignant hereditary feuds and murderous conflicts. Such is a fair sample of the “relative wisdom disclosed” by the ponderous Commentary of Michaelis.
Polygamy, again, was one of those rooted customs which, on account of the “hardness of their hearts,” the omnipotent lawgiver of the Jews was forced to tolerate.” And, what is still more strange, he did not venture in his code of laws to express any disapproval of the practice. If, as some writers have pretended, their God did not intend to allow polygamy, but to prevent or condemn it, either by the terms of the original marriage of Adam and Eve, by the seventh commandment, or by any other injunction, how is it possible that he should make laws for its regulation, any more than for the regulation of theft or murder, which latter crime was, by the bye, as we have seen, permitted in the case of the Blood-avenger ? In Exodus, chap. xxi., verse 10, neglect of the first wife is forbidden, but no sin is charged here, or in any other part of the law, on taking a second, or any number of wives. No man was permitted to abandon a woman after seducing her; he was obliged to take her to wife. If the Jewish Deity objected to polygamy, how should he give countenance to the extent of making a barren woman fruitful in support of it, as in the cases of Hannah and Rachel? The Lord himself speaking
AND EVEN ENCOURAGED.
to David by the mouth of Nathan the prophet, is represented as saying, “ I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom” 2 Sam. chap. xii., verse 8. Would he have given David more than one wife, if he had disapproved of polygamy? If such be the relative wisdom of the Jewish law, it certainly bears a suspicious resemblance to positive barbarism and absolute ignorance, that all its pretensions to a supernatural origin cannot counterbalance for a moment.
CHAPTER THE TENTH.
THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Almost as much uncertainty hangs over the dates and origin of the twenty-seven parts of the New Testament as over those more ancient Hebrew books which form the Jewish Bible. There have been many disputes among Christians regarding the genuineness of several books in this collection, and regarding the claims of several other writings to be admitted into it; and even since the canon of the New Testament was fixed by a council about three hundred years after Christ, many learned men have proposed to reject certain passages in the gospels, several of the epistles, and the Revelations of St. John.
No notice or quotation from any one of the four gospels can be found in the writings of any author until more than a hundred years after the death of Christ. Paley, and other defenders of Christianity, attempt to trace quotations or allusions to the gospels in the epistles of Ignatius, written about the year 70 or 75 ; but all of these supposed quotations are precepts or words of Christ, such as “ Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” which is one of the sentences made use of by Ignatius. Nothing is more natural than that many of the sayings and speeches of their Lord should have become popular and celebrated among the
UNKNOWN DATE AND ORIGIN OF THE GOSPELS.
early Christians, be current in every one's mouth, and be inserted in many religious works, while similar sentiments and precepts are to be found of course in the gospels; but neither in the epistles of Ignatius, nor in those of Polycarp, written about ten years later, are any of these aphorisms acknowledged as quotations from any book, nor are any written narratives of Christ's life alluded to in any manner whatever, although the word “gospel” is made use of by the latter writer as synonymous with Christianity.
Itis, however, of very little importance to us whether the gospels were written ten, or twenty, or fifty years after the death of Jesus, for the earliest date would not render them more credible, nor the latest more worthless as narratives of fact. Supposing that the most satisfactory proof could be brought forward of the early date and genuineness of these four books, their authenticity could not be rendered more probable. It must be borne in mind that whenever the gospels were written, they were neither printed nor published, but privately circulated among congregations of Chris. tians, not one in a hundred of whom could read.
The four gospels profess to be narratives of the birth, miracles, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven of the founder of the Christian religion: they were written in a very ignorant and superstitious time and country, by men of whose characters we know nothing beyond their own and their immediate adherents' accounts,* by the very men who were interested in propagating a belief in the divine mission of Christ. And when I use the word “interested,” I by no means intend to insinuate that the apostles and evangelists were intentional deceivers from sordid motives, for I have no doubt, as I have before said, that they were religious enthusiasts, firm believers in the truth of their doctrines, and as honest as human beings have ever been when acting under the influence of such feelings. But besides these more exalted and benevolent impulses, we must remember that itinerant preaching, inspired by a vivid faith, must have been And
very little is known about any of them even from these
" The men who were the divine instruments of evangelising souls—the New Testament history excepted_are for the most part unknown.”-Milner's Church History, cent. 1, chap. xv.
LUKE'S ANGELS AND MATTHEW'S DREAMS.
far from a painful and uninteresting life for a carpenter, a fisherman, or a cobbler, and that hopes of a brilliant success in conversion will support the ardent reformer amidst hardships, trials, and persecution.
The exact origin of the miraculous stories cannot now be clearly determined ; we know that in all ages such stories have been reported of saints and religious heroes without its being possible to charge any one with a deliberate intention to deceive, and certainly with no other design than the advancement of religion. The writers of the gospels probably derived the materials for their narratives from traditions and written memoranda of the descriptions of eye-witnesses and hearers of the preaching of Christ, and they embellished their histories with such incidents of dreams, visions, miracles, angels, and devils, as they knew would . suit the tastes and predilections of their readers and auditors.
The narrative of Luke commences at an earlier period than any one of the other three. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are both visited by angels, who announce to them the intended birth of these two holy chil. dren; and a multitude of angels appear to some shepherds when Jesus is born, and direct them to go to Bethlehem to worship the infant son of God. Matthew does not relate any of these angelic appearances, but deals largely in dreams. Joseph is warned by God in a dream not to fear to take Mary for his wife on account of her being with child; the wise men from the East are warned in a dream of Herod's miraculous designs ; Joseph is ordered in a dream, by the angel of the Lord, to go into Egypt with his wife and child. This flight is related by Matthew only-apparently to introduce a fulfilment of prophecy, which he is very careful to do on every possible occasion : “ Out of Egypt have I called my son” Hosea, chap. xi., verse 1, quoted by Matthew, chap. ii., verse 15. The story of the massacre of the innocents, related also by Matthew only, appears to be told for the same purpose; it is unsupported by any contemporaneous history, and could not possibly have occurred in a Roman province. Joseph
• Josephus, who dwells at great length on the barbarous cruela