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154 ZEAL OF THE JEWS. Ciiap. XV.
But the moderation of the conquerors was insufficient to appease the jealous prejudices of their subjects, who were alarmed and scandalised at the ensigns of paganism, which necessarily introduced themselves into a Roman province.7 The mad attempt of Caligula to place his own statue in the temple of Jerusalem was defeated by the unanimous resolution of a people who dreaded death much less than such an idolatrous profanation.8 Their attachment to the law of Moses was equal to their detestation of foreign religions. The current of zeal and devotion, as it was contracted into a narrow channel, ran with the strength, and sometimes with the fury, of a torrent.
This inflexible perseverance, which appeared so odious or so ridin» (tradnai culou3 to the ancient world, assumes a more awful character, increase. since Providence has deigned to reveal to us the mysterious history of the chosen people. But the devout and even scrupulous attachment to the Mosaic religion, so conspicuous among the Jews who lived under the second temple, becomes still more surprising, if it is compared with the stubborn incredulity of their forefathers. When the law was given in thunder from Mount Sinai; when the tides of the ocean and the course of the planets were suspended for the convenience of the Israelites; and when temporal rewards and punishments were the immediate consequences of their piety or disobedience, they perpetually relapsed into rebellion against the visible majesty of their Divine King, placed the idols of the nations in the sanctuary of Jehovah, and imitated every fantastic ceremony that was practised in the tents of the Arabs, or in the cities of Phoenicia.9 As the protection of Heaven was deservedly withdrawn from the ungrateful race, their faith acquired a proportionable degree of vigour and purity. The contemporaries of Moses and Joshua had beheld with careless indifference the most amazing miracles. Under the pressure of every calamity, the belief of those miracles has preserved. the Jews of a later period from the universal contagion of idolatry; and in contradiction to every known principle of the human mind, that singular people seems to have yielded a stronger and more ready
7 See in particular, Joseph. Antiquitat. xvii. 6, xviii. 3; and De Bell. Judaic, i. 33, and ii. 9, edit. Havercamp."
e Jussi a Caio Cesare, effigiem ejus in templo locare, anna potius sumpsere. Tacit. Hist. v. 9. Philo and Josephus give a very circumstantial, but a very rhetorical, account of this transaction, which exceedingly perplexed the governor of Syria. At the first mention of this idolatrous proposal king Agrippa fainted away, and did not recover his senses until the third day.
• For the enumeration of the Syrian and Arabian deities, it may be observed that Milton has comprised in one hundred and thirty very beautiful lines the two large and learned syntagmas which Selden had composed on that abstruse subject.
* This was during the government of the Roman governor, in general, resided Pontius Pilate (Hist, of Jews, ii. 156). at Ccesarea.—M. Probably, in part to avoid this collision,
Chap. XV. CHARACTERISTICS OF THEIR RELIGION. 155
assent to the traditions of their remote ancestors than to the evidence of their own senses.10
The Jewish religion was admirably fitted for defence, but it was never designed for conquest; and it seems probable that the number of proselytes was never much superior to that &*> better
■i giiiled to
of apostates. The divine promises were originally made, defence than and the distinguishing rite of circumcision was enjoined, to a single family. When the posterity of Abraham had multiplied like the sands of the sea, the Deity, from whose mouth they received a system of laws and ceremonies, declared himself the proper and as it were the national God of Israel; and with the most jealous care separated his favourite people from the rest of mankind. The conquest of the land of Canaan was accompanied with so many wonderful and with so many bloody circumstances, that the victorious Jews were left in a state of irreconcileable hostility with all their neighbours. They had been commanded to extirpate some of the most idolatrous tribes, and the execution of the Divine will had seldom been retarded by the weakness of humanity. With the other nations they were forbidden to contract any marriages or alliances; and the prohibition of receiving them into the congregation, which in some cases was perpetual, almost always extended to the third, to the seventh, or even to the tenth generation. The obligation of preaching to the Gentiles the faith of Moses had never been inculcated as a precept of the law, nor were the Jews inclined to impose it on themselves as a voluntary duty.
In the admission of new citizens that unsocial people was actuated by the selfish vanity of the Greeks, rather than by the generous policy of Rome. The descendants of Abraham were flattered by the opinion that they alone were the heirs of the covenant, and they were apprehensive of diminishing the value of their inheritance by sharing
10 "How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe "me, for all the signs which I have shewn among them?" (Numbers xiv. 11.) It would be easy, but it would be unbecoming, to justify the complaint of the Deity from the whole tenor of the Mosaic history."
a Among a rude and barbarous people the Jews, their religion was beyond their
religious impressions are easily ' made, state of civilisation. Nor is it uncommon
and are as soon effaced. The ignorance for a people to cling with passionate at
which multiplies imaginary wonders would tachment to that of which, at first, they
weaken or destroy the effect of real miracle, could not appreciate the value. Patriot
At the period of the Jewish history referred ism and national pride will contend, even
to in the passage from Numbers, their fears to death, for political rights which have
predominated over their faith,—the fears been forced upon a reluctant people. The
of an unwarlike people just rescued from Christian may at least retort, with justice,
debasing slavery, and commanded to attack that the great Bign of his religion, the
a fierce, a well-armed, a gigantic, and a far resurrection of Jesus, was most ardently
more numerous race, the inhabitants of believed and moat resolutely asserted by
Canaan. As to the frequent apostacy of the eye-witnesses of the fact.—M.
156 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE JEWISH RELIGION. Chap. XV.
it too easily with the strangers of the earth. A larger acquaintance with mankind extended their knowledge without correcting their prejudices; and whenever the God of Israel acquired any new votaries, he was much more indebted to the inconstant humour of polytheism than to the active zeal of his own missionaries.11 The religion of Moses seems to be instituted for a particular country as well as for a single nation; and if a strict obedience had been paid to the order that every male, three times in the year, should present himself before the Lord Jehovah, it would have been impossible that the Jews could ever have spread themselves beyond the narrow limits of the promised land.12 That obstacle was indeed removed by the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem; but the most considerable part of the Jewish religion was involved in its destruction; and the Pagans, who had long wondered at the strange report of an empty sanctuary,13 were at a loss to discover what could be the object, or what could be the instruments, of a worship which was destitute of temples and of altars, of priests and of sacrifices. Yet even in their fallen state, the Jews, still asserting their lofty and exclusive privileges, shunned, instead of courting, the society of strangers. They still insisted with inflexible rigour on those parts of the law which it was in their power to practise. Their peculiar distinctions of days, of meats, and a variety of trivial though burdensome observances, were so many objects of disgust and aversion for the other nations, to whose habits and prejudices they were diametrically opposite. The painful and even dangerous rite of circumcision was alone capable of repelling a willing proselyte from the door of the synagogue.14
Under these circumstances, Christianity offered itself to the world, „ , . armed with the strength of the Mosaic law, and delivered
More liberal .,-., . ,.
»eai of from the weight of its fetters. An exclusive zeal for the truth of religion and the unity of God was as carefully inculcated in the new as in the ancient system: and whatever was now revealed to mankind concerning the nature and designs of the Supreme Being was fitted to increase their reverence for that mysterious doctrine. The divine authority of Moses and the prophets
11 All that relates to the Jewish proselytes has been very ably treated by Basnage, Hist, des Juifs, 1. v. c. 6, 7.
12 See Exod. xxxiv. 2;t, Deut. xvi. 16, the commentators, and a very sensible note in the Universal History, vol. i. p. 603, edit. fol.
13 When Pompey, using or abusing the right of conquest, entered into the Holy of Holies, it was observed with amazement, "Nulla intus Deuin effigie, vacuamsedem et "inania arcana." Tacit. Hist. v. 9. It was a popular say ing, with regard to the Jews,
Nil prater nubes et coeli numen adorant.
14 A second kind of circumcision was inflicted on a Samaritan or Egyptian proselyte. The sullen indifference of the Talmudiste, with respect to the conversion of strangers, may be.seen in Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, 1. v. c. 6.
Chap. XV. LIBERAL ZEAL OF CHRISTIANITY. 157
was admitted, and even established, as the firmest basis of Christianity. From the beginning of the world an uninterrupted series of predictions had announced and prepared the long-expected coming of the Messiah, who, in compliance with the gross apprehensions of the Jews, had been more frequently represented under the character of a King and Conqueror, than under that of a Prophet, a Martyr, and the Son of God. By his expiatory sacrifice the imperfect sacrifices of the temple were at once consummated and abolished. The ceremonial law, which consisted only of types and figures, was succeeded by a pure and spiritual worship, equally adapted to all climates, as well as to every condition of mankind; and to the initiation of blood, was substituted a more harmless initiation of water. The promise of divine favour, instead of being partially confined to the posterity of Abraham, was universally proposed to the freeman and the slave, to the Greek and to the barbarian, to the Jew and to the Gentile. Every privilege that could raise the proselyte from earth to heaven, that could exalt his devotion, secure his happiness, or even gratify that secret pride which, under the semblance of devotion, insinuates itself into the human heart, was still reserved for the members of the Christian church; but at the same time all mankind was permitted, and even solicited, to accept the glorious distinction, which was not only proffered as a favour, but imposed as an obligation. It became the most sacred duty of a new convert to diffuse among his friends and relations the inestimable blessing which he had received, and to warn them against a refusal that would be severely punished as a criminal disobedience to the will of a benevolent but all-powerful Deity.
The enfranchisement of the church from the bonds of the synagogue was a work, however, of some time and of some obstinacy difficulty. The Jewish converts, who acknowledged Jesus ^Slin the character of the Messiah foretold by their ancient "*Jew8oracles, respected him as a prophetic teacher of virtue and religion; but they obstinately adhered to the ceremonies of their ancestors, and were desirous of imposing them on the Gentiles, who continually augmented the number of believers. These Judaising Christians seem to have argued with some degree of plausibility from the Divine origin of the Mosaic law, and from the immutable perfections of its great Author. They affirmed, that, if the Being who is the same through all eternity had designed to abolish those sacred rites which had served to distinguish his chosen people, the repeal of them would have been no less clear and solemn than their first promulgation: that, instead of those frequent declarations which either suppose or assert the perpetuity of the Mosaic religion, it would haye been represented as a provisionary scheme intended to last only till
158 NAZAREXE CHURCH OF JERUSALEM. Chap. XV.
the coming of the Messiah, who should instruct mankind in a more perfect mode of faith and of worship:15 that the Messiah himself, and his disciples who conversed with him on earth, instead of authorising by their example the most minute observances of the Mosaic law,16 would have published to the world the abolition of those useless and obsolete ceremonies, without suffering Christianity to remain during so many years obscurely confounded among the sects of the Jewish church. Arguments like these appear to have been used in the defence of the expiring cause of the Mosaic law; but the industry of our learned divines has abundantly explained the ambiguous language of the Old Testament, and the ambiguous conduct of the apostolic teachers. It was proper gradually to unfold the system of the Gospel, and to pronounce with the utmost caution and tenderness a sentence of condemnation so repugnant to the inclination and prejudices of the believing Jews.
The history of the church of Jerusalem affords a lively proof of the
necessity of those precautions, and of the deep impression rem church which the Jewish religion had made on the minds of its
sectaries. The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ.17 It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy.18 The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent, and relieved her distresses by a liberal contribution of alms. But when numerous and opulent societies were established in the great cities of the empire, in Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, the reverence which Jerusalem had inspired to all the Christian colonies insensibly diminished. The .Jewish converts, or, as they were afterwards called, the Nazarenes, who had laid the foundations of the church, soon found themselves overwhelmed by the increasing
111 These arguments were urged with great ingenuity by the Jew Orobio, and refuted with equal ingenuity and candour by the Christian Limborch. See the Arnica Collatio (it well deserves that name), or account of the dispute between them.
16 Jesus - - - circumcisus erat; cibiB utebatur Judaicis; vestitu simili; purpatos scabie mittebat ad sacerdotes; Paschata et alios dies festos religiose observabat: si quos sanavit sabbatho, ostendit non tantum ex lege, sed et ex receptis sontentiis, talia opera sabbatho non interdicta. Grotius de Veritate Religionis Christiana?, 1. v. c. 7. A little afterwards (c. 12) he expatiates on the condescension of the apostles.
"Prone omnes Christum Deum sub legis observatione credebant. Sulpicius Severus, ii. 31. See Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiast. 1. iv. c. 5.
"Mosheim de Rebus Christianis ante Constantinum Magnum, p. 153. In this masterly performance, which I Bhall often have occasion to quote, he enters much more fully into the state of the primitive church than he has an opportunity of doing in his General History.