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False Priests, dare ye say 'tis the will of your God,
(And veil Jesu's message in dark sophistry,)
Up, up, trampled hearts? it's a lie, it's a lie!
But Tyranny's symbols are ceasing to win!
I'm in my boat, I'm in my boat,
Come ply the merry oar;
And hear the ocean roar.
'Tis noble to be free;
When I am on the sea.
Protects me in the day;
When danger's in the way.
A welcome friend is she; There's love upon the passing gale
When I am on the sea.
The sea-gull flaunts his wings above,
The wild duck swims below;
To mark its ebb and flow.
And love his minstrelsy ;
Because the sound is free.
And names each spot a home;
Forbidding one to roam.
No despot stems its tide ;
S. M. KYDD.
CRITICAL EXEGESIS OF GOSPEL HISTORY,
ON THE BASIS OF STRAUSS'S LEBEN JESU.' A SERIES OF EIGHT DISCOURSES; DELIVERED AT THE LITERARY INSTITUTION, JOHN
STREET, TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD, AND AT THE HALL OF SCIENCE, CITY ROAD,
BY THOMAS COOPER,
I. THE BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD OF JESUS.
(Continued from last number.) Matthew says that Mary, who "was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, was found with child of the Holy Ghost'—that Joseph, “ being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily;" but that the angel of the Lord visited him in a dream, and assured him of the divine origin of the child in her womb—and that then Joseph took Mary unto him as his wife, but “knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son.” Luke goes farther back: Gabriel is described as being sent to Mary, the “virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph,” and telling her that she shall conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost.
I shall not dwell long on this relation. Nothing but a desire to encourage truthful investigation compels me to touch a subject so unfitted for a public discourse. The legend is unnatural; for a virtuous woman could not have concealed her condition from her betrothed, but would have hastened to inform him of the divine message, in order, at once, to prevent her own humiliation from discovery, and his injurious suspicions. All this was felt by the early Fathers, and they therefore accepted the version of the 'Protevangelion of James,' and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary'—two of the Apocryphal Gospels which have been preserved, and a translation of which was republished by William Hone, a few years ago. These Gospels give the character of protector, instead of husband, to Joseph, and allege that, whilst he was absent on business, Mary was visited by an angel; and that when he returned, found her with child, and called her to an account, not as her husband, but as the guardian of her honour, she had forgotten the words of the angel, and protested, with tears, her ignorance of the cause of her pregnancy! That Joseph was perplexed and determined to remove her secretly from under his protection; but an angel appeared to him in a dream and reassured him by an explanation. That the matter was then brought before the priest, and both Joseph and Mary, being charged with incontinence, were condemned to drink the 'bitter water' (described in Numbers v. ch. 18 v.); but, as they remained uninjured by it, they were declared innocent.
However probable all this might appear to the Fathers, it can receive no belief from us. We return to Matthew and Luke, and find ourselves in the same conviction of the unnaturalness of the legends, when taken together; and if separated, Luke does not seem to have known anything of the after appearance of Gabriel to Joseph, nor does Matthew discover any knowledge of the prior appearance of the angel of the Lord to the Virgin. Besides, we have the testimony of the Jews themselves that they brought the names Gabriel, Michael, Raphael,' from Babylon, on their return from captivity. Could an idolatrous nation discover truths sooner than the people of God? 'Gabriel that stands in the presence of God:' the Divine Being surrounded with a court of grand officers, like an earthly monarch; and these officers despatched on high messages from the throne! Who does not perceive, in this nineteenth century, that we are not dealing with verities here, but with antiquated legends ? Well does Strauss observe that “the phenomena in the natural world and the transitions in human life, which were formerly thought to be wrought by God himself through ministering angels, we are now able to explain by natural causes; so that a belief in angels is without a link by which it can attach itself to rightly apprehended modern ideas; and it exists only as a lifeless tradition.”
From whence sprung the legend that Jesus was conceived in a supernatural manner? From the belief that the Messiah must fulfil his ancient types: the great mythical idea of the Jewish people. In the Apocryphal Gospel of the Nativity of Mary this idea is so fully expressed, that a quotation will be better than any independent remarks. In this Apocryphal writing, Joachim, the father of Mary, also sees an angel, who informs him that Anna his wife, who was barren, shall bear a child; and the celestial messenger thus reasons with him:
" For the first mother of your nation, Sarah, was she not barren even till her eightieth year? and yet even in the end of her old age she brought forth Isaac, in whom the promise was made of a blessing to all nations.
Rachel also, so much in favour with God, and beloved so much by holy Jacob, con
tinued barten for a long time, yet afterwards was the mother of Joseph, who was not only governor of Egypt, but delivered many nations from perishing with hunger.
Who, among the judges, was more valiant than Sampson, or more holy than Samuel? And yet both their mothers were barren.
“But if reason will not convince you of the truth of my words, ..., therefore Anna your wife shall bring you a daughter, and you shall call her name Mary.
“ So in the process of her years, as she shall be, in a miraculous manner, born of one that was barren, so she shall, while yet a virgin, in a way unparalleled, bring forth the Son of the Most High God, who shall be called Jesus, &c.”
From the miracle of dispelling barrenness, or renewing extinct capability of parents, there is but one step to the greater miracle of the Virgin's conception; the greater miracle was formed easily by the legendary tendency, especially distinguishing that of the birth of the Messiah. Daniel, too, was believed to have spoken of the future Messiah, not merely as of a man, but as of a superhuman being. Above all, Matthew regarded a passage in Isaiah as relating to the Messiah, and to his mind it became impossible that this passage should not have been fulfilled in the conception of Jesus. “ Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying"'-(the often-recurring phrase)—“ Behold a Virgin,” &c. We turn to the 7th chapter of Isaiah, and find that in the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria, the two latter-named monarchs join their forces to attack Ahaz,—but Isaiah is sent to Ahaz to strengthen him with the assurance of the speedy destruction of his enemies, by saying, (verse 14,)
“ Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign ; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
" Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
“For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.”
Wondrous consolation such a prophecy must have afforded Ahaz, if, instead of some child being born to fulfil it in his own days,—a child born several hundred years after he should be laid in the grave must fulfil it ! We, from our position in this age, see that Isaiah's words could have no possible allusion to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth ; but it was not so with a Jew, in the first or second century. He saw secondary meanings in the ancient writings of his nation. The mythical spirit led him to seize upon passage after passage, and apply them to the Messiah, often, as it now appears to us, in the strangest manner. But I will quit the subject of the
miraculous conception. We cannot persuade ourselves that we are learning the syllables of 'plenary inspiration' in such a narrative. It is not the true, but the mythical history of the parentage of Jesus of Nazareth. Let it lie with the records of the old schoolmen who quarrelled about the 'immaculate and perpetual virginity' of Mary, although Matthew (xiii. ch. 55 v.) records her children.
3. A decree from Augustus that all the world should be taxed'-is the cause given by Luke only, for the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where the birth of Jesus, he relates, took place. Matthew also speaks of the birth in Bethlehem; but evidently knows nothing of the taxing, nor of the prior residence of Christ's parents in Nazareth. I need not enter into the fruitless controversy respecting the meaning of the phrase "all the world;" for if it be restricted from the larger acceptation of the Roman world, to an indication of the land of Judea, the minor interpretation will not assist us. " This taxing was first made when Cyrenius (Quirinus, as he is called by the Roman writers) was governor of Syria,” says Luke. But Quirinus, as we learn from Josephus,
did not make his census till ten years, at least, after the period assigned by Matthew for Christ's birth. This evangelist places his birth in the reign of Herod the First, and relates that his parents returned with him out of Egypt in the reign of Archelaus. Now, Archelaus reigned ten years, and it was not until his banishment that Quirinus was governor of Syria, and made the census of the population for the taxing. No taxing of all the world took place under Augustus : shall we, then, suppose that the writer we call . Luke' has given us a hint for affixing the true period of the birth,-namely, immediately after the banishment of Archelaus,—and that the other account is wrong?
This would throw the whole chronology of the future life of Jesus into endless difficulties; and, moreover, a Roman census after the banishment of Archelaus would not have taken the parents of Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. It was Judea only, and what belonged before to Archelaus, that was formed into a Roman province, and subject to the census. In Galilee, Herod Antipas reigned, as an allied prince, and none of his subjects dwelling at Nazareth could have been called to Bethlehem by the census. Luke' evidently wrote this census story long after the date of Christ's existence,-had a knowledge of the historic fact that Quirinus had made a census,—but made an effort to conceive of the undivided kingdom as it was under Herod the First, in order to get a census extending to Galilee. His acquaintance with the political relations of the period is imperfect, and so he produces a narrative of contradictions. For the Romans never removed people from their homes to take a censusthey had a little more wisdom in statesmanship; and it is an egregious blunder to describe Mary as journeying to her own city to be inscribed, since, according to Jewish custom, inscriptions had relation to men only.
“ The Evangelist, however," says Strauss, “knew perfectly well what Mary had to do at Bethlehem; namely, to fulfil the prophecy of Micah (v. ch. 2 v.) by giving birth, in the city of David, to the Messiah. Now as he set out with the supposition that the habitual abode of the parents of Jesus was Nazareth, so he sought after a lever which should set them in motion towards Bethlehem, at the time of the birth of Jesus, Far and wide nothing presented itself but the celebrated census; he seized it the more unhesitatingly because the obscurity of his own view of the historical relations of that time, veiled from him the many difficulties connected with such a combination: he wished to place Mary in Bethlehem, and therefore times and circumstances were to accommodate themselves to his pleasure.
Thus we have here neither a fixed point for the date of the birth of Jesus, nor an explanation of the occasion which led to his being born precisely at Bethlehem. If then-it may justly be said-no other reason why Jesus should have been born at Bethlehem can be adduced than that given by Luke, we have absolutely no guarantee that Bethlehem was his birth-place.”
4. That question, however, will come before us again. Let us next look at the miraculous circumstances related by Matthew and Luke as attending the birth of Jesus.
Luke gives an account of angels appearing to "shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night”—but for what end? To make known the birth of the new-born king, is the most obvious answer; but so little did it avail, that, according to Matthew, it is the Magi who make it known in the neighbouring city of Jerusalem; and in the after-life of Jesus no trace of this appearance of the angels is to be found. Is not this, then, to attribute to God an empty display—the providing of an apparition of angels, which fails of its object, and is unworthy of Him? But Moses was visited, in the field watching his flocks, by a heavenly apparition; and God took David, the forefather of the Messiah, from his sheepfolds at Bethlehem to be the shepherd of his people; and, therefore, in accordance with the Jewish mythical spirit, shepherds must be distinguished as favoured with some heavenly visitation coincident with the birth of the Messiah. Luke
proceeds to describe the circumcision of the child, when “eight days were accomplished,”-the giving of the name Jesus,--his being brought to the temple, with his mother, “when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished”--that is, forty days (Leviticus,ch.xii. 2 v.); the prophesying of Simeon and Anna ;-and finally relates that
“When they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth; and the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him.”
Luke, be it noted, knows nothing of the visit of the Magi, nothing of the murderous intent of Herod, nothing of the Flight into Egypt, nothing of the return from thence--several years after. He relates circumstances which could not have occurred, if the Flight took place. But let us observe the account of Matthew more closely, lest we should be asserting what is untrue.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold there came puyo.—Magi, from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews, for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him?”. Herod calls his counsellors together, and they denote the Messiah's birth-place, by pointing to the passage in Micah, already referred to. Herod, whose craft and cruelty were equal, according to history, is, according to Matthew, foolish enough to disiniss the Magi on an errand of search with a command to bring him word of their finding the child-instead of detaining them in Jerusalem, while he sent instruments to perform the bloody act afterwards attributed to him. The Magi go, and find the child, offer him precious gifts, and then, by divine warning, return immediately to their own country. Joseph, by divine warning flees, with the child and its mother into Egypt, " and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled," &c. The tragedy of the “Murder of the Innocents” follows from Herod's rage, when he sees that he is “mocked of the wise men;" and then there is fulfilled that which was spoken of Jeremy the prophet saying, “In Rama," &c. Finally, when Herod is dead, an angel appears to Joseph in Egypt and commands him to return: he is proceeding to Judea--evidently, to Bethlehem, is meant, but is afraid to go thither, because of Herod’s son, Archelaus, being king; yet has to be divinely warned again, and then goes to dwell in Nazareth.
How is it possible to reconcile the accounts of Matthew and Luke ? Did the peaceful circumstances related by Luke occur,
-or is he
wrong, and is the more tragic and adventurous story of Matthew, the right one ? Which writer is possessed of “plenary inspiration” ?—for we are compelled to repeat the phrase. Who can consent to be silent about it, when we know that it enslaves thousands, till they dare not look, for themselves, at the manifest contradictions of these legends ?
But what were Matthew's impulses for writing his story? We thought Astrology had been banished from modern science, and shall leave divines to explain the fact of a revelation to the Magi, by means of a star. Can they explain to us how a star could go before the wise men and stand “over where the young child was”? Some commentators would fain have a meteor—but the Greek word is not with them: đotip, a star: it is too palpable. Men of the nineteenth century, who hold that a star is a world, or a sun and centre of worlds, what do you make of such a story? Do you ever see a star change its apparent place? Is this relation worthy of any more credit than the tales of the