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WE have seen that the statements made in the Christian scriptures are not by persons who were themselves cognizant of the events described. The events are laid in one age, and the accounts thereof are introduced in another. We have seen, also, that Christians owe much that has been woven into their theology to their predecessors in the exhibition of religious thought, and that their task has been that of composition rather than of producing an original scheme. We have furthermore seen that the main doctrines of Christianity have been imposed, from time to time, on one another, and are not the fruit of a matured and pre-arranged system. We are now to ascertain what marks there may be that these scriptures have been put together in a manner not consonant to an independent record, and especially to one attributed to a divine source.
In the days when the task was undertaken, it was considered warrantable to promote religious sentiment by resort to fictitious statements; and now, at the distant period at which we have to judge of these representations, the writers are apt to obtain credit for their statements, because they were actuated by religious feeling in making them. The purpose gives rise to, and introduces the statements, and the statements are true, because introduced by persons with praise-worthy purpose. We must endeavour to get bebind the scenes, and observe how the workers have really executed their task.
Arising out of Judaism, it is natural that the Jewish sacred writings should have been used in the representation of the Christian statements. And when the aim was to portray the central personage of the Christian system as the Jewish Messiah, it became necessary to apply to him such sayings of the Jewish record as could be made to indicate the advent to be exhibited. There would be a temptation to make the events of the life to be described go hand in hand with the sayings that could be made to appear predictive of such a life. And there would be the tendency, either to shape the events to the prophecies, or the prophecies to the events. In the former instance, there would be a direct fabrication of statement, sufficient to overthrow the character for trustworthiness of any person guilty of so composing his history. We should feel ourselves in the hands of one capable of taking any liberty with our powers of belief to promote his ends. Once detected in misleading us with facts, which he knew to be no facts, we should cease to confide in him any further. In the other instance, the distrust created would be rather in respect of the judgment of the narrator than of his personal integrity. We should see that he was ruled by prejudice, and was scheming his way to some result to be established, and his weight as an interpreter would fail in scale accordingly. But should he be found both falsifying fact, and perverting texts, we should see ourselves engaged with one in every way to be mistrusted. Matthew deals largely in these adaptations, and, as an exemplar, we may consider with what measure of fairness he constructs his history.
The Messianic promises run very much in the name of David. It was necessary to link the declared Messiah with the patriarch, and this is effected by means of the genealogy with which the gospel opens. Isaiah was held to proclaim a miraculous birth from a virgin, of one whose name signified “God with us;" and the fulfilment is afforded in the nature of the birth of Jesus. The question is raised where he should be born as the Messiah. Micah was thought to settle it that Bethlehem was to be the place, and there the birth occurs. Hosea is observed to say, “Out of Egypt have I called my son," and the infant Jesus is represented as taken thither to be brought up again from that region. Jeremiah speaks of a lamentation raised for the loss of children; and we have Herod massacring infants at Bethlehem to remove out of his way the threatened king of the Jews, who was to supplant him. On his return from Egypt Jesus is described as taken to Nazareth, whereby an assumed prophecy that he should be called a
Nazarene is made to meet with a fulfilment. Isaiah describes a voice crying in the wilderness, and the position is said to be realized by John announcing his message in the desert near Jerusalem. There is the proclamation of a divine sonship in the Psalms. This is applied to Jesus by a voice from heaven at his baptism ; and again at his transfiguration. Jesus is afterwards stated to have been visited and tempted by the devil. Jesus repels him with words taken from the Jewish scriptures, and the texts and the incidents of the temptation concide. Deuteronomy points out that man should feed not on bread alone, but on the word of God, and Jesus is asked to turn stones into bread. The Psalmist supposes the angels to bear up the saint lest he should dash his foot against a stone ; and the devil suggests that Jesus should test the promise by throwing himself from a pinnacle of the temple. Deuteronomy enjoins the worship of God alone; and the devil expects Jesus to worship him. Isaiah had spoken of the people of Zabulon and Nephthalim receiving a great ligbt; and Jesus is made to visit those places with his ministrations. Isaiah describes one who had associated himself with our griefs and sorrows; and Jesus takes compassion on the sick and heals them. Malachi had announced a precursor to Jesus; and John is introduced to fill his place. Isaiah had spoken of one who should neither strive nor raise his voice in the streets; and Jesus evinces his modesty and reserve in not making known who he was. Jonah being three days and three nights in a fish’s belly, is the foundation of a prophecy that Jesus should be for the like period buried out of sight in his grave. The Psalmist had adverted to one who had taught in parables ; and Jesus conveys his instructions in that form. Zechariah had declared that the king of Jerusalem should ride upon a colt, the foal of an ass; and Jesus thus enters the city as its king. Jeremiah had complained of God's house being converted into a den of thieves; wherefore Jesus has to purge the temple of those trafficing there. In the Psalms praise is to be perfected out of the mouths of babes and sucklings; and children therefore are brought forward to praise Jesus. Zechariah had said that the shepherd should be smitten, and the sheep scattered, which is covered by the death of Jesus, and the dispersion of his followers. Zechariah had adverted to a transaction connected with a
potter, wherein a price had been weighed out of thirty pieces of silver ; and for this sum Judas is made to betray Jesus, associated with which is the purchase of a potter's field. The Psalmist has lots cast for the garments of a sufferer; and so it is said to have happened in the instance of Jesus at his death. This is an easy method of composing a history. The question to be considered is whether it is also a truthful one.
The genealogy offered is to trace out the paternity of Jesus. He is derived from father to son, from Abraham to Joseph, in the line of Judah. But if it be true, as I am assured from reliable Jewish sources is the case, that the Israelites have had no sense of their tribes from the time of the captivity, what are we to think of the integrity of this table? The family selected is that of an obscure carpenter residing among the mixed population of Galilee. It is impossible to suppose an exceptional pedigree maintained in such a quarter. The writer puts forward the table in all simplicity as a matter to be received without a question. But what Jew, knowing the true circumstances of the void in the archives of the nation, could have accepted it ? Can there be any other conclusion than that this table, framed for a particular purpose, is a purely fictitious document ?
The next step taken in alleging the birth of Jesus from a virgin without connection with any human father, is a declaration at violent issue with the aforesaid genealogical table making Joseph his father. According to the manner of the birth, Joseph had nothing whatever to do with the production of Jesus, and there can be no pretence for putting before us his genealogy. There is no way of accounting for the discord of statement but by concluding that it is owing to two several hands in the record before us. One or other of those statements is an interpolation thrust in upon the original narrative. The possibility is that both are interpolations, made at different times, and this is the result I arrive at. No Jew could, I apprehend, have projected the genealogy. He would know that there was no information among his people from which it could be constructed. The work, I conclude, must have been that of one of Gentile extraction, who stood in Christianity when in its Judaic form, and thought to fortify the pretensions of Jesus to be the personage pointed to in the Jewish records as the hope of Israel, in this manner, by tracing his descent from David. The account of the birth I also attribute to a Gentile, who has introduced the statement at a later day. Having to revert to this subject hereafter I need not further dilate upon it here.
The birth occurring at Bethlehem appears to be another improvement upon the first draft of the record. The errors committed in describing the character of the taxation that is said to have brought the parents of Jesus to this locality, and the placing the taxation in the time of Cyrenius, expose the statement as unhistorical. Nor, had Jesus been of Bethlehem, would he ever after have been styled as of Nazareth. The purpose of the representation is so apparent that the writer here, whoever he was, stands convicted of a deliberate concoction. These three subjects of the genealogy, the miraculous conception, and the location at Bethlehem, are treated of also by Luke, and always in hopeless disagreement on all details with Matthew.* The writers were drawing from imagination, and not from fact, and each put the matter as to him seemed best. Mark, while framing the substantial history of Jesus upon the same model, very observably stands clear of all these statements, and yet can intimate that he sets out with “ the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” If the earlier events narrated by Matthew and Luke were parts of the real history, could Mark have excluded them?
All critics comment on the unhistorical nature of the tale of the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem attributed to Herod. Such an event could not have escaped the pen of Josephus had it occurred. The advertence to the lamentation consequently raised by Rachael is an unfortunate one, seeing that Judah, whose descendants are in question, sprang from Leah. The writer making such a mistake could scarcely have been a Jew. Mark and Luke do not possess this statement of the slaughtering, which is a sign that it is an interpolation. Luke's narrative is in fact so drawn up as not to allow of the occurrence. Fortunately we are able to discern the very source from which the writer has framed his representation. The materials are in truth in Josephus, to whom he would naturally go for what concerned Herod. Josephus's account
“The Bible: is it the word of God ?" pp. 295-309.