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Gospels, Renan informs us, really contain "contradictions," and therefore—well, we will not say that it must
The man who is in all likelihood not aware that his own work is full of inconsistencies and contradictions (a specimen or two of which we have already given) would not, one would think, be the readiest at detecting contradictions in the writings of others. He does not tell us what they are. This is to be regretted, as it would most probably have afforded us an additional exemplification of his logic.
Renan makes an assertion, however, on page 46, from which we infer that the following must be one of the contradictions to which he refers :-“ Jesus was born at Nazareth,” he says, and in proof refers the reader to Matt. xiii. 54, which reads thus:-"And when He was come into his own country, He taught them in their synagogue.” Now in v. 1, chapter ii. of his Gospel, Matthew affirms that “ Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea." But if in chapter xiii. he has affirmed that Christ was born at Nazareth, as Renan would have his readers believe, Matthew would himself have been the author of a palpable contradiction. Now how absurd such a supposition with respect to a matter so plain. Does Renan really suppose that he has readers simple enough to believe that Matthew would be guilty of so flagrant a contradiction, as to say in one chapter that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and in another that He was born at Nazareth ? The one chapter being as well authenticated, is of course as certainly his as the other. But is there really anything in the two passages bearing even the most distant approach to a contradiction ? Let us see. By the first, it is asserted that Jesus was born in Bethlehem ; by the second, that He was born at Nazareth ? No, but simply that He had come
into His own country, where He had lived from the time of Joseph's “ return with the young child from Egypt;” and hence, in accordance with universal custom, was very properly called His own country, although not the place in which by a concurrence of circumstances (providentially ordered, Renan) he happened to have been born. In turning to the parallel passage, Luke iv. 16, as though expressly designed to meet such cavils, I find it actually thus expressed :—“And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up." Such captious quibbling as Renan here exemplifies, and which his work is full of, might be pardonable in school-boys, or college novices, who will sometimes argue for argument's sake; but such condescension, we should say, ill comports with the dignity of a scientific gentleman and a philosopher.
But why does M. Renan exhibit such concern about the place of Christ's birth? Why, simply this : there was a little circumstance connected with it that clashes with his creed. An ancient prophecy is connected with it, and it had its fulfilment in His birth at Bethlehem—“And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea : for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule My people Israel.”—Matt. ï. 4–6.
Another difficulty presents itself to the mind of M. Renan. Luke is made by our translators to say that Joseph, who was “of the house and lineage of David,” went to Bethlehem, the city of David, to be taxed when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria. (Luke ii. 2). This point, which has
for a long time been regarded as rather a difficult one by Biblical students, has now, in the judgment of the learned Editor of the Quarterly Review, been satisfactorily explained. It appears that the persevering research and patient investigation of a German divine, who, as a classical scholar and exponent of Roman history, enjoys a high reputation in Germany, has been rewarded by the discovery of certain historic facts as recorded in the annals of Roman history, which go to prove that the Cyrenius of Luke's Gospel was twice Governor of Syria—first for a term of five years, commencing in the year 4 before the Christian era, when the Jews, according to Jewish law, under Herod their King, repaired each man to his own city for the purpose of being taxed; and secondly, in the year 6 after the Christian era, when Judea, being at this time reduced to a Roman province, was taxed according to the Roman fashion. Cyrenius, or more properly, according to the Roman form, Quirinius, was, according to this, appointed to the Governorship of Syria a short time previous to the death of Herod, the reigning Jewish King, and while Judea was still permitted by Augustus to be internally governed by Jewish law. And Quirinius having at this time levied the tax referred to by Luke, the time and place of our Lord's birth, as connected with this Governor and with Bethlehem, are alike accounted for. The expression of Luke, “ This taxing was first made,” evidently implies a subsequent taxing, or taxings, of a similar kind, and it is doubtless to the one subsequently taken by Quirinius, a reference to which is here made that Luke refers in Acts v. 37.
As the result of scholastic research, it is thus made to appear that the taxing or enrolment referred to in Luke's Gospel is identical with the enrolment of the inhabitants
and property of the Roman world, which is represented by the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, as having · taken place under Augustus some years previous to the edict for an after enrolment as mentioned by Josephus. And as the discovery made by the German scholar, Dr. Zumpt, goes to show that Quirinius was Governor of Syria at the time of each enrolment, or collection of the tax, his first Governorship having extended over a period of five years, embracing the time of taxing to which Luke refers, this, with the reference made by Josephus to the second enrolment, is in this manner, quite reconcilable.
A reference is also made by the Quarterly Review to a certain inscription on a sepulchral tablet discovered near Tivoli, which is believed to also refer to the two-fold term of Government of Quirinius; but “the argument of Dr. Zumpt," says the Review, "is thoroughly convincing without it.” It further remarks that it is a complete success, and adds—“Here is a difficulty which but some thirty years ago Dr. Strauss was gloating over and declaring to be entirely insoluble,--and now we behold it solved. Here we have another proof that Biblical studies are not, as they were once regarded, a stationary science, but like all other sciences, admit of progression and increase.”
We may further add in reference to the solution of this difficulty, that the theory of Dr. Zumpt is adopted by Thomas Lewin, Esq., of Trinity College, Oxford, M.A., F.S.A., author of a “Key to the Chronology of the New Testament ;” that it is endorsed by Dr. McCosh, the learned and philosophic author of “ Christianity and Positivism ;” that it is sanctioned by the high authority of the present Archbishop of York, and also by the celebrated
author of a recent “ Commentary of the Greek Testament,” the late Dr. Alford, Dean of Canterbury.
A brief reference here to the old method of disposing of this “difficulty " will, doubtless, not be unacceptable to the reader. It appears that the original text will bear a varied translation, and hence various attempts have been made by learned and eminent critics to remove the difficulty. But the version of it as given by the learned Dr. Lardner is, in the judgment of Dr. Adam Clarke, and of the Rev. A. Barnes, the most satisfactory. In the Commentary of the latter it is thus given :-"According to his (Dr. Lardner's) view it means, “This was the first census of Cyrenius, Governor of Syria. It is called the first to distinguish it from one afterwards taken by Cyrenius.'-Acts v. 37. It is said to be the census taken by Cyrenius, Governor of Syria, not that he was then Governor, but that it was taken by him who was afterwards familiarly known as Governor. Cyrenius, Governor of Syria was the name by which the man was known; and it was not improper to say that the taxing was made by Cyrenius, Governor of Syria, though he might not have been actually Governor for many years afterwards. Thus Herodotus says that 'to Marcus the Emperor were born several daughters and two sons, though several of those children were born to him before he was Emperor. According to this Augustus sent Cyrenius, an active, enterprising man, to take the census. At that time he was a Roman senator, afterwards he was made Governor of the same country, and received the title which Luke gives him.”
The explanation quoted from Dr. Lardner by Mr. Barnes is certainly very reasonable. He who when a Roman senator had been appointed to make the assessment referred to by Luke, had been also made Governor previously to Luke's