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with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, had co.

been already celebrated by most of the poets" and historians of that memorable age."

* Virgil. Georgic. i. 466. Tibullus, l. i. Eleg. v. ver, 75. Ovid. Metamorph. xv. 782. Lucan Pharsal. i. 540. The last of these poets places this prodigy before the civil war.

* See a public epistle of M. Antony in Joseph. Antiquit. xiv. 12. Plutarch in Caesar. p. 471. Appian, Bell. Civil. l. iv. Dion Cassius, l. xlv. p. 431. Julius Obsequens, c. 128. His little treatise is an abstract of Livy's prodigies.

CHAPTER XVI.

The conduct of the Roman government towards the
Christians, from the reign of Nero to that of
Constantine.

CHAP. XVI. If we seriously consider the purity of the Christian o religion, the sanctity of its moral precepts, and the by the innocent as well as austere lives of the greater number o * of those who during the first ages embraced the faith of the gospel, we should naturally suppose, that so benevolent a doctrine would have been received with due reverence, even by the unbelieving world; that the learned and the polite, however they might deride the miracles, would have esteemed the virtues of the new sect; and that the magistrates, instead of persecuting, would have protected an order of men who yielded the most passive obedience to the laws, though they declined the active cares of war and government. If, on the other hand, we recollect the universal toleration of Polytheism, as it was invariably maintained by the faith of the people, the incredulity of philosophers, and the policy of the Roman senate and emperors, we are at a loss to discover what new offence the Christians had committed, what new provocation could exasperate the mild indifference of antiquity, and what new motives could urge the Roman princes, who beheld without concern a thousand forms of religion subsisting in peace under their gentle sway, to inflict a severe punishment on any part of their subjects, who had chosen

for themselves a singular but an inoffensive mode of CHAP.

faith and worship.
The religious policy of the ancient world seems to
have assumed a more stern and intolerant character,
to oppose the progress of Christianity. About four-
score years after the death of Christ, his innocent
disciples were punished with death by the sentence
of a proconsul of the most amiable and philosophic
character, and according to the laws of an emperor
distinguished by the wisdom and justice of his general
administration. The apologies which were repeatedly
addressed to the successors of Trajan are filled with
the most pathetic complaints, that the Christians who
obeyed the dictates, and solicited the liberty, of con-
science, were alone, among all the subjects of the
Roman empire, excluded from the common benefits
of their auspicious government. The deaths of a
few eminent martyrs have been recorded with care;
and from the time that Christianity was invested with
the supreme power, the governors of the church have
been no less diligently employed in displaying the
cruelty, than in imitating the conduct, of their Pagan
adversaries. To separate (if it be possible) a few
authentic as well as interesting facts from an un-
digested mass of fiction and error, and to relate, in
a clear and rational manner, the causes, the extent,
the duration, and the most important circumstances,
of the persecutions to which the first Christians were
exposed, is the design of the present chapter.

The sectaries of a persecuted religion, depressed Inquiry. - - into by fear, animated with resentment, and perhaps ...

heated by enthusiasm, are seldom in a proper temper of mind calmly to investigate, or candidly to appreciate, the motives of their enemies, which often escape the impartial and discerning view even of those who are placed at a secure distance from the flames of persecution. A reason has been assigned for the

XVI.

their

CHAP. conduct of the emperors towards the primitive Chris* tians, which may appear the more specious and probable as it is drawn from the acknowledged genius of Polytheism. It has already been observed, that the religious concord of the world was principally supported by the implicit assent and reverence which the nations of antiquity expressed for their respective traditions and ceremonies. It might therefore be expected, that they would unite with indignation against any sect or people which should separate itself from the communion of mankind, and, claiming the exclusive possession of divine knowledge, should disdain every form of worship, except its own, as impious and idolatrous. The rights of toleration were held by mutual indulgence: they were justly forfeited by a refusal of the accustomed tribute. As the payment of this tribute was inflexibly refused by the Jews, and by them alone, the consideration of the treatment which they experienced from the Roman magistrates will serve to explain how far these speculations are justified by facts, and will lead us to discover the true causes of the persecution of Christianity. .." Without repeating what has been already menpirit of . the Jews, tioned of the reverence of the Roman princes and governors for the temple of Jerusalem, we shall only observe, that the destruction of the temple and city was accompanied and followed by every circumstance that could exasperate the minds of the conquerors, and authorize religious persecution by the most specious arguments of political justice and the public safety. From the reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jews discovered a fierce impatience of the dominion of Rome, which repeatedly broke out in the most furious massacres and insurrections. Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which they committed in the cities of Egypt, of

Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in trea- CHAP. cherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives;" XVI. and we are tempted to applaud the severe retaliation which was exercised by the arms of the legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but of human kind.” The enthusiasm of the Jews was supported by the opinion, that it was unlawful for them to pay taxes to an idolatrous master; and by the flattering promise which they derived from their ancient oracles, that a conquering Messiah would soon arise, destined to break their fetters, and to invest the favourites of Heaven with the empire of the earth. It was by announcing himself as their long-expected deliverer, and by calling on all the descendants of Abraham to assert the hope of Israel, that the famous Barchochebas collected a formidable army, with which he resisted during two years the power of the emperor Hadrian." Notwithstanding these repeated provocations, the Toleration resentment of the Roman princes expired after the *::: victory, nor were their apprehensions continued beyond the period of war and danger. By the general indulgence of polytheism, and by the mild temper of Antoninus Pius, the Jews were restored to their ancient privileges, and once more obtained the permission of circumcising their children, with the easy

* In Cyrene they massacred 220,000 Greeks; in Cyprus, 240,000; in Egypt a very great multitude. Many of these unhappy victims were sawed asunder, according to a precedent to which David had given the sanction of his example. The victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood, and twisted the entrails like a girdle round their bodies. See Dion Cassius, l. lxviii. p. 1145.

* Without repeating the well-known narratives of Josephus, we may learn from Dion (l. lxix. p. 1162), that in Hadrian's war 580,000 Jews were cut off by the sword, besides an infinite number which perished by famine, by disease, and by fire.

• For the sect of the Zealots, see Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, l. i. c. 17; for

the characters of the Messiah, according to the Rabbis, l. v. c. 11, 12, 13; for the actions of Barchochebas, l. vii. c. 12.

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