« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
:-4. I have thought it right to notice this hypothesis ; though I am far from wishing uncandidly to intimate, that it is the standard doctrine of Infidelity. The ludicrous credulity of Mr. Volney is, I believe, the sole property of himself and of those few select friends who have been initiated into his greater Mysteries.
We may venture then to assume, that the evangelical narratives set forth a substantially true account of the proceedings and conduct and character and principles and sayings of the founder of Christianity and his immediate followers, just as the writings of Xenophon and Plato similarly exhibit the various lineaments of
after the time when Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judèa, is willing to imagine, that he wrote from the false depositions of the Christian prisoners ; who, though they knew all the while that Christ was the sun, declared that he was a Jew who had been crucified by Pilate. This falshood, it seems, was never detected ; until Mr. Volney, at the end of some eighteen centuries, luckily took it in hand. For the Roman magistrates, before whom the depositions were taken, did not happen to think of making the very natural inquiry, whether, seventy years before, such a man as Christ had or had not been crucified by Pilate: nor did a single Jewish or provincial witness come forward to declare, that the whole story was a gross fabrication. Hence, according to Mr. Volney, it very easily happened, that the unlucky historian was shamefully befooled by a set of gross liars, who themselves chose to be worried by dogs and to be crucified and to be burned alive in support of what they all the while knew to be an absurd falshood. Nothing, surely, save the cretulity of a professed unbeliever, 'could dijest so portentous a discorery, as this of our French philosopher.
their master Socrates: for to deny a position, supported upon such strong and incontrovertible testimony, as the main body of infidels are perfectly aware, evinces a much greater degree of credulity, than to admit it. On these grounds, discarding without further ceremony the hypothesis of Mr. Volney, I shall reason from the general circumstances detailed in the New Testament, just as I would reason from the general circumstances detailed in the Memorabilia of Xenophon.
II. The founder of the Christian religion expressly claimed to be a messenger sent from God. Ye both know me, said he to the Jews, and ye
know whence I am: and I am not come of myself ; but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me*. The word, which ye hear, is not mine, but the Father's which sent met. Now the infidel denies, that Christ was sent from God; and pronounces, that the Gospel is not a revelation from heaven. Hence, on his own principles, he is bound to maintain, either that Christ was a daring impostor, or that he was a brain-sick enthusiast : for, if the divine authority of his mission be denied, he must inevitably be pronounced either the one or the other of these two characters.
Such being the case, the point to be considered is, whether, from the historical documents which
* John vii. 28, 29.
+ Jolin xiv. 24.
have come down to us, we have any sufficient evidence to esteem Christ either an impostor or an enthusiast.
1. Perhaps there never was a period, which offered more tempting invitations to the projects of a designing impostor, than that, during which the prophet of Nazareth exhibited himself as a teacher sent from God.
The Jews, highly elated by their religious privileges and exulting in the character of being the peculiar people of Jehovah, bore with extreme impatience and dissatisfaction the Roman yoke which had been imposed upon them. Their eagerness to throw off this yoke was increased by a very remarkable but perfectly well-attested circumstance. From calculating the numbers specified in one of their ancient prophecies, they had, for some years before the birth of Christ, been in full expectation of a mysterious personage; who had been repeatedly announced by the seers of their nation, as a mighty deliverer and a powerful sovereign*: and this expectation continued in full force, until the sacking of Jerusalem by Titus; which occurred about thirty seven years after the death of Christ. That such an expectation was generally prevalent shortly before the birth of Christ, is evident from the language used by the evangelist Luke respecting
* Dan. ix, 24-27.
Anna the prophetess : having herself beheld the infant Jesus, and having acknowledged him as the promised deliverer, she spake of him, we are told, to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem*. And, that the knowledge of this expectation was both diffused to a very wide extent, and that the expectation itself continued to operate until the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, we are positively assured, both by the Jewish historian Josephus, and by the two Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius : in truth, the belief in question was one main cause of the obstinacy, with which the Jews held out against the armies of Titus; for, as we learn from Josephus, many impostors confidently taught the people that they might expect assistance from heaven, and one of them even at the very last declared that God himself had commanded them to ascend to the temple where they should assuredly receive a miraculous token of their safetyt.
Such being the state of the public mind, it is clear, that there never could be a season more favourable to the projects of a politico-theological impostor. The ground was, as it were, ready prepared for him. Nothing was necessary, save, with a reasonable degree of worldly prudence
* Luke ii. 38.
+ Joseph. de bell. Jud. lib. vi. c. 5. §. 4. p. 1283. §. 2. p. 1281. edit. Hudson. Tacit. Hist. lib. v. g. 13. Sueton. in vit. Vespasian.
and address, to avail himself of already existing circumstances.
(1.) How then, if we may judge from the ordinary springs of human conduct, would a sagacious impostor have acted during the period which has been described ?
An impostor, as an impostor, must doubtless have purposed his own honour and advantage and aggrandizement: for never either did, or (in the very nature of things) could, an impostor act on other principles or from other motives. The Jews, from a literal and gross interpretation of their ancient prophecies respecting the Messiah, fully believed, that he would be a mighty and warlike temporal prince, who would liberate them from the Roman yoke, confer upon them an extraordinary abundance of prosperity, and exalt them to be the head of the nations : they believed, in short, that he would be a character not very dissimilar to that, which, some six centuries afterwards, the Arabian impostor Mohammed exhibited with so much success to a proud and sensual and ambitious world. An artful miscreant therefore, who wished for his own ends to personate the expected Messiah, would doubtless have availed himself of the popular notions respecting that exalted personage. This he would obviously do for two several reasons : he could not rationally hope for success, if he appeared in a character wholly different from that which had been anticipated; and he could