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Chap. XV. BY EMINENT PAGANS. 219
laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occu- silence conpations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any darkness of alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth,194 or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire,19;> was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history.196 It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect.197 Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe. A distinct chapter of Pliny 198 is designed for eclipses of an extraordinary nature and unusual duration; but he contents himself with describing the singular defect of light which followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the greatest part of a year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without splendour. This season of obscurity, which cannot surely be compared with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, had been already celebrated by most of the poets199 and historians of that memorable age.200
m The fathers, as they are drawn out in battle array by Dom Calmet (Dissertations sur la Bible, torn. iii. p. 295-308), seem to cover the whole earth with darkness, in which they are followed by most of the moderns.
"* Origen ad Matth. c. 27, and a few modern critics, Beza, Le Clerc, Lardner, &c, are desirous of confining it to the laud of Judea.
190 The celebrated passage of Phlegon is now wisely abandoned. When Tertullian assures the Pagans that the mention of the prodigy is found in Arcanis (not Archivis)" vestris (see his Apology, c. 21), he probably appeals to the Sibylline verses, which relate it exactly in the words of the Gospel.
"" Seneca Quiest. Natur. 1. i. 15, vi. 1, vii. 17. Plin. Hist. Natur. 1. ii.
m Plin. Hist. Natur. ii. 30.b
m Virgil. Georgie. i. 466. Tibullus, ii. 5, 75. Ovid. Metamorph. xv. 782. Lucan. Pharsal. i. 535. The last of these poets places this prodigy before the civil war.
M° See a public epistle of M. Antony in Joseph. Antiquit. xiv. 12 [§3]. Plutarch in Cajsar. [c. 691 p. 471. Appian. Bell. Civil. 1. iv. Dion Cassius, 1. xlv. [c. 17] p. 431. Julius Obsequens, c. 128. His little treatise is an abstract of Livy'a prodigies.
* The reading preferred by Gibbon rests ham's Apology of Tertullian, p. 78, note
upon the authority of two MSS.; and on 26.—S.
the whole, there appears to be, if not a b This "distinct chapter" contains only
preponderance, at least an equal amount, of two lines. The expression of Gibbon
evidence in favour of Archivis. See Wood- might mislead.—S.
220 PERSECUTIONS I5V TUE EMPEIIOKS. Chap. XVI.
The Conduct Ok The Roman Government Towards The Christians, From The Reign Of Nero To That Of Constantine.
If we seriously consider the purity of the Christian religion, the Christianity sanctity of its moral precepts, and the innocent as well as 8bcSKmuanby austere lives of the greater number of those who during the empcrore. fij^ 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 faith and worship.
The religious policy of the ancient world seems to have assumed a
* The sixteenth chapter I cannot help tyranny, he dwells, with visible art, on the
considering as a very ingenious and spe- small circumstances of decorum and polite
cious, but very disgraceful extenuation of ness which attended this murder, and
the cruelties perpetrated by the Roman which he relates with as much parade as
magistrates against the Christians. It is if they were the most important particulars
written in the most contemptibly factious of the event.
spirit of prejudice against the sufferers; it Dr. Robertson has been the subject of
is unworthy of a philosopher and of a much blame for his real or supposed lenity
man of humanity. Let the narrative of towards the Spanish murderers and tyrants
Cyprian's death be examined. He had to in America. That the sixteenth chapter
relate the murder of an innocent man of of Mr. O. did not excite the same or
advanced age, and in a station deemed greater disapprobation, is a proof of the
venerable by a considerable body of the unphilosophical and indeed fanatical ani
provincials of Africa, put to death because mosity against Christianity which was so
ne refused to sacrifice to Jupiter. In- prevalent during the latter port of the
stead of pointing the indignation of pos- seventeenth [eighteenth] century.—Muck
terity against such an atrocious act of intosh: see Life, i. p. 244, 245.
Chap. XVI. THEIR MOTIVES. 221
more stern and intolerant character to oppose the progress of Christianity. About fourscore 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 conscience, 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 undigested 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 by fear, animated with resentment, and perhaps heated by enthusiasm, are inquiry seldom in a proper temper of mind calmly to investigate, motives, 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 conduct of the emperors towards the primitive Christians, 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.
REBELLIOUS SriR.IT OF THE JEWS. CHAP. XVI.
Without repeating what has been already mentioned of the BfMiiom reverence of the Roman princes and governors for the K«.°fthe 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 authorise 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 treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives;' 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.2 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.3
Notwithstanding these repeated provocations, the resentment of roieraiion of the Roman princes expired after the victory, nor were their religion. 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 restraint that they should never confer on any foreign proselyte that distinguishing mark of the Hebrew
1 In Cyrene they massacred 220,000 Greeks; in Cyprus, 240,000; in Egypt ft very great multitude. Many of these unhappy victims were sawn asunder, accordrbg to a precedent to which David had given the sanction of his example. The victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood, aud twisted the entrails like a girdle round their bodies. See Dion Cassius, 1. lxviii. [c. :>2] p. 1145.
a Without repeating the well-known narratives of Josephus, we may learn from Dion (1. lxix. [c. 14] 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.
3 For the sect of the Zealots see Basnnge, Histoire des Juifs, 1. i. c. 17; for the characters of the Messiah, according to the Rabbis, 1. v. c. 11, 12, 13; for the actions of Barchochebas, 1. vii. c. 12. [Hist, of Jews, iii. 115, &e.—M.]
Chap. XVI. TOLERATION OF THE JEWISH RELIGION. 223
race.4 The numerous remains of that people, though they were still excluded from the precincts of Jerusalem, were permitted to form and to maintain considerable establishments both in Italy and in the provinces, to acquire the freedom of Rome, to enjoy municipal honours, and to obtain at the same time an exemption from the burdensome and expensive offices of society. The moderation or the contempt of the Romans gave a legal sanction to the form of ecclesiastical police which was instituted by the vanquished sect. The patriarch, who had fixed his residence at Tiberias, was empowered to appoint his subordinate ministers and apostles, to exercise a domestic jurisdiction, and to receive from his dispersed brethren an annual contribution.5 New synagogues were frequently erected in the principal cities of the empire; and the sabbaths, the fasts, and the festivals, which were either commanded by the Mosaic law or enjoined by the traditions of the Rabbis, were celebrated in the most solemn and public manner.6 Such gentle treatment insensibly assuaged the stern temper of the Jews. Awakened from their dream of prophecy and conquest, they assumed the behaviour of peaceable and industrious subjects. Their irreconcilable hatred of mankind, instead of flaming out in acts of blood and violence, evaporated in less dangerous gratifications. They embraced every opportunity of overreaching the idolaters in trade, and they pronounced secret and ambiguous imprecations against the haughty kingdom of Edom.7
Since the Jews, who rejected with abhorrence the deities adored by their sovereign and by their fellow-subjects, enjoyed, TheJoW8 however, the free exercise of their unsocial religion, there J^p,*^^ must have existed some other cause which exposed the dis- ^jj'"^,;8^° ciples of Christ to those severities from which the posterity f* wh,ich.
mi «» I • def*rled. the
of Abraham was exempt. The difference between them is reunion of
i-ii-i T i_ • r their fathers.
simple and obvious, but, according to the sentiments ot antiquity, it was of the highest importance. The Jews were a nation,
4 It is to Modestinus, a Roman lawyer (I. vi. regular.), that we are indebted for a distinct knowledge of the edict of Antoninus. See Casaubon ad Hist. August, p. 27.
1 See Basnage, Histoire des Juifa, 1. iii. c. 2, 3. The office of Patriarch was subpressed by TheodoBius the younger.
• We need only mention the Purim, or deliverance of the Jews from the rage of Hainan, which, till the reign of Theodosius, was celebrated with insolent triumph and riotous intemperance. Basnage, Hist, des Juifs, I. vi. c. 17, 1. viii. c. 6.
1 Actsording to the false Josephus, Tsepho, the grandson of Esau, conducted into Italy the army of .lEneas, king of Carthage. Another colony of Iduma-ans, flying from the sword of David, took refuge in the dominions of Romulus. For these, or for other reasons of equal weight, the name of Edom was applied by the Jews to the Roman empire."
* The false JoBephus is a romancer of prudence. The Jews might dare to say very modern date, though some of these many things of Rome, under the significant legends are probably more ancient. It appellation of Edom, which they feared to may be worth considering whether many utter publicly. Later and more ignorant of the stories in the Talmud are not his- ages took literally, and perhaps embeltory, in a figurative disguise, adopted from lished, what was intelligible among the