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The magi, who came to the nativity of Christ, whether from Arabia or Persia, might possibly have formed their expectations from some direct or indirect acquaintance with the promises imparted to the Hebrew prophets *.
The author has sometimes entered into particulars which may at first sight appear not to have any immediate connection with the object of his work, upon examination however they will be found to bear a relation to it, as illustrating the age or country of the several writers, or the circumstances under which they wrote; and as being designed to shew what probability there was that they possessed the means of obtaining sacred information, as well as the influence of the opinions which tbex beld on their lives and characters.
The principal des go kowever of tise work is to promote an acqua utauce wil the esso dence of revealed religion, and to tacite in the rising generation a 10€ anucu 16181ELLE for tboot sacred truda ich gerade tillt, and » LICL E'E SETETEL UL EIETY 11.5"vilaut of bumub itarniur ; vuri prest" with
authority instructions to regulate the course of human life by a divine influence, and to prepare the mind for scenes of eternal happiness.
CHAP. I. :
Of the Connection subsisting between the Re
ligious Opinions of different Nations which demonstrates often a common Origin.
UPON every view of the religious opinions and religious rites of antiquity, it will appear that there are general marks of resemblance which pervade the superstitions of Heathen nations, and a conformity of parts in almost every system. Similar notions with respect to the creation of the world, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of a future state, are to be found amongst almost every people ; and however the principal events, on which different traditions were founded, may have been disguised, and the leading persuasions of mankind changed or distinguished, a sufficient outline may be drawn from the various records which have been preserved, to establish an original identity as to facts, and a common correspondence as to many fundamental convictions.
This general remark is intended as introductory to the particular details which will be made in the following chapters. In these, it may be expedient to point out in some measure the period and place of the different writers, whose authorities will be produced, and whose opinions will be stated; it will not be necessary, however, to enter into any diffusive dissertations upon these subjects, or to collect from the several works every thing that might be obtained. It would be an endless task to turn over the volumes of antiquity, in order to draw forth every just and reasonable opinion which is to be found among the errors of the Heathen mythology, with respect to the nature of the Supreme Being, the divine origin of the soul, and the dispensations of a future state ; and it would be as difficult to attempt in all cases to ascertain how far the convictions which prevailed were derived from tradition, or from an acquaintance with the written doctrines of Scripture. In searching the mines of antiquity, we must be satisfied with a few remnants of sacred ore recovered from amidst the dross. Some glittering fragments are every where to be found, and if in many instances the original brightness of the substance has been so
much injured by length of time as to be with difficulty distinguished from amidst the rubbish, we know how liable to be discoloured such scattered materials are where from ignorance of their value, they are left in neglect.
Some of the authors who will be referred to in this part of the work relating to the Assyrians, Phænicians, and Egyptians, may be thought of obscure name if not of questionable authority. Fragments only of their works. are preserved by Josephus, or by Eusebius, and other writers who lived after the establishment of Christianity; but as being appealed to by those writers, they may be allowed to have some weight; exhibiting what was deemed important at the time they were produced, and tending to substantiate the accounts of Scripture. Some of these authors were pro. bably Jews, and some Hellenistical writers, or proselytes, while others perhaps were pagan poets and historians.
It is not very material to our enquiry, nor would it, indeed, be easy to determine whether these authors copied from the Hebrew Scripture, or borrowed information from other authorities which concurred with it. In either case, the testimony of these authors, as far as it goes, contributes to substantiate
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