« PreviousContinue »
the Nestorians, taken by themselves, which show that they are any less " primitive" and general ?
It is a beautiful and striking trait in the character of the Nestorians, that the Christian Sabbath is regarded with a sacredness among the mountain tribes, unusual among the other Christians of the East. On the plains there is much desecration of the Lord's day. p. 214. This strict observance, Dr. Grant argues, is a remnant of Judaism ; and hence, they are of Hebrew origin. May it not rather be a result of their secluded position in the mountains, which has shut them out from the adverse influences that have operated on their brethren in the plains ? Was the strictness with which the Puritans of New England once kept the Sabbath, in any way connected with a Hebrew lineage ? Further, the severity of the Jewish observances had and has reference to the rest of the seventh day; and although the primitive Gentile churches adopted only the first day, yet among a church of purely Jewish converts, we should naturally look for some slight trace of regard for their former Sabbath, the seventh day. Yet nothing of this appears among the Nestorians.
In a similar manner, the author finds a parallel between the sanctuary or chancel in the Nestorian churches, and that of the Jewish temple; and this to him is an evidence of Jewish descent. But we are not sure that these sanctuaries or chancels in the churches of this people, are any more sacred than those in the churches of other oriental Christians, and especially those of the Copts.*
The Nestorian women after childbirth are not allowed to enter the church, until the expiration of forty days; and in some places, the term is prolonged to sixty days, if the child be a female. In respect to this custom, we recognize, with Dr. Grant, its Jewish origin, in the ceremony of purification ; but we do not see that it proves the Hebrew descent of the people. It is nothing more nor less than the very current custom of the churching of women, which prevails throughout all churches, and in the Greek church is also fixed at forty days; while in the West, no certain time is appointed. Even the English liturgy contains an office for the same occasion.
* Lane's Mod. Egypt, II. p. 321. Into the Coptic Heykel, the sanctuary or chancel around the altar, only the officiating priests are admitted.
“ Swine's flesh and the meats prohibited by the Levitical code, are regarded by many of the Nestorians with little less abhorrence, than they were by the Jews. In the inountains, though wild hogs are frequently killed, very few, if any, eat of their flesh.” p. 219. Some of the Nestorians, then, do eat of wild swine. So too, in Egypt, according to Mr. Lane, * " the Copts almost universally abstain from eating swine's flesh;" but the flesh of the wild boar is often eaten by them. Camel's flesh, too, they consider unlawful, as did the Jews. But because of their abstinence from swine’s and camel's flesh, we are not aware, that the Copts have ever been regarded as descendants of the Jews.
In the fasts and festivals of the Nestorians, including the Passover, there is said to be a close analogy to those of the ancient Jews. p. 220. But beyond all question, this is in like manner literally true of all the oriental churches. In the Passover, Dr. G. says, the Nestorians substitute the emblems of Christ's body and blood for the paschal lamb; in other respects they keep the festival (according to Dr. G.) much after the manner of the ancient Hebrews. But what is this manner ? and do not all Christian churches make the like substitution ? So long as we have no more definite information, we must doubt, whether the Easter of the Nestorians differs greatly from that of the other churches of the East.
In respect to two great leading customs of the Jews, which of all others we should expect to find retained among a church composed of converts from Judaism, and still claiming to be such, the Nestorians not only do not possess these customs themselves, but in neglecting them have departed from the practice of other Christian churches. The first is tithes, of which there is no trace among that people (p. 214), although so current among other Christian nations.
The other is circumcision, which is not practised. p. 221. It is not enough to say that this rite was abolished in the apostolic church. The apostolic decree had reference only to the Gentiles and not to the Jewish converts; and even Paul himself at a later period circumcised Timothy. The Jewish converts were in the highest degree tenacious of this rite; and their obstinacy was the occasion of all the difficulty in the primitive church. It is therefore very singular, that in a nation of Christians descended solely from
* Vol. II, p. 326.
Jewish converts, there should be not a trace of this rite; and the more so, because throughout the Muhammedan world around them, and also among the Coptic Christians,* circumcision is still practised. In these facts, as it seems to me, lies a very strong point of counter-evidence against the validity of Dr. Grant's whole theory.
We now come to Chap. VIII, in which the author endeavors to sustain the same position, by an appeal to the physiognomy of the Nestorians, their proper names, their tribes and government, and the practice of blood-revenge. In regard to the many Jewish proper names in use among the people, this no more proves them to be descendants of the ten tribes, than the prevalence of the same names among the Maronites, or also among the Puritans of England and New England, makes them out also to be of Hebrew lineage. Dr. Grant relates, that of forty-five members of their seminary, thirty-two had Jewish names found in the Bible. We have looked at the first twelve classes on the general catalogue of Yale College, from A. D. 1702 to 1713 inclusive, containing in all forty-six graduates ; and find that of these not less than forty-four had Jewish names found in the Bible; and a like proportion continues for many years afterwards.—We will take up the other points in their order.
“ The physiognomy of the Nestorian Christians bears a close resemblance to that of the Jews of the country in which they dwell” (p. 223), so much so that it is often difficult to distinguish between them. Dr. Grant adduces also the testimony of one English and one American gentleman, as remarking their “peculiar Jewish physiognomy." But it is not said, whether this remark was made before or after these gentlemen were aware of Dr. Grant's hypothesis. On the other hand, Messrs. Smith and Dwight, who were for some time in the region of Ooroomiah, and who certainly were not careless observers, make no mention of any such resemblance to the Jews, although they heard them claim to be of Jewish descent. Mr. Rich, too, who gives a drawing of a Nestorian family from the mountains, is in like manner silent as to the same point; and Mr. Perkins, the oldest member of the mission, in describing the Nestorians as a “very fine looking people," with “ features regular, manly, intelligent and often handsome,” yet says nothing of any Jew
* Lane's Mod. Egypt. II. p. 326.
ish expression.* From the silence of such observers, we might perhaps draw the conclusion, that there is probably no very prominent national resemblance, whatever there may be in individual cases.
But in regard to this question of Jewish physiognomy in general, it may be well to bear in mind the very judicious observation of Mr. Lane, that “ in features, and in the general expression of countenance, the oriental Jews differ less from other eastern nations, than do those in European countries from the people among whom they live.”+ That is to say, the Jews are essentially an oriental people; and when transplanted to a European soil, and scattered among nations of the Teutonic or other western races, their oriental physiognomy at once marks them out as a distinct people. But in the East, surrounded by other oriental races of not dissimilar features, the distinction which stands forth so prominently in the West falls away; and to the eyes of a Frank traveller the general expression of all oriental features assumes everywhere the air of a Jewish physiognomy. We may thus perhaps account in part for the fact, that such a resemblance has been ascribed to various tribes, and in some cases contradicted by other travellers. Thus in the case of the Afghans, Forster was forcibly struck with their Jewish physiognomy; which Wolf again directly denies. Major Rawlinson supposes that the Kalhurs around Mount Zagros may be descendants of the ten tribes; “they have many Jewish names among them, and above all their general physiognomy is strongly indicative of Jewish descent."! Of the Lesghy tribes, a bigoted Muslim race of wild savage banditti, inhabiting the mountains in the south of Dhagistan west of the Caspian, Mr. Samuel affirms that “ their physiognomy and character assimilate in many respects to the Hebrew family. They appear to be of the same [Hebrew) stock, and descended from one common parent, as far as outward appearance goes.” And not only is this general likeness of feature found among
the Asiatic tribes; but those of North America are also made to
* Smith and Dwight's Researches, Vol. II. p. 242. Rich's Koordistan, Vol. II. Mr. Perkins in Am. Bib. Repos. Jan. 1841, p. 16. + Mod. Egypt, II. p. 343.
Jour. of Lond. Geogr. Soc. Vol. IX. p. 36. § Samuel's Remnant Found, pp. 46, 47.
bear the same common Jewish stamp. No testimony can be stronger than that of William Penn, who thus writes to a friend in England: “I found them with like countenances with the Hebrew race; and their children of so lively a resemblance to them, that a man would think himself in Duke's Place or Barry Street in London, when he sees them.” Mr. Catlin, himself a painter, bears witness in a manner no less explicit : “ The first thing that strikes the traveller in an Indian country, as evidence of the Indians being of Jewish origin, is the close resemblance which they generally bear, in a certain expression of countenance, to those people.
All this may suffice to show, first, how very uncertain all such testimony is in itself; and secondly, how easily the eye and judgment may be unconsciously influenced by a desire to support a favorite theory.
The Nestorians are divided into tribes, inhabiting different portions or vallies of the country; and at the head of each of these tribes, and of their subdivisions, are found chiefs bearing the title of Melek. The head of the whole nation is in fact the Patriarch; who however is clothed strictly only with spiritual power, and has no army or force at his command, except as he may have influence enough, on an emergency, to call one or more of the Meleks to his aid. In all this Dr. G. finds of course the tribes of Israel,/ the name Melek which designated the royal head of the Hebrew nation, and the high priest of the Hebrew commonwealth. But it is difficult to see, how these tribes of the Nestorians and their Meleks, have per se any thing more to do with the Jews, than the tribes of Mount Sinai and their Sheikhs, or than any other of the thousand Bedawîn tribes which roarn over the eastern deserts. The term Melek is here obviously only equivalent to Sheikh ; and is so used likewise in Arabic in the countries on the upper
Nile as far as Darfour and Sennaar, being common (in the abbreviated form Mel) to all the petty chieftains of those regions. I
* Buckingham's America, I. p. 92.
| “The existence of the Nestorians, from time immemorial, in distinct tribes, nearly or quite corresponding in number to those of ancient Israel, is a remarkable fact, and may furnish interesting testimony with regard to their origin.” p. 225.
§ Burckhardt's Travels in Nubia, etc. p. 211.