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Sometimes, indeed, they would also rush upon them, but, as if repulsed by some divine power, they again retreated ;” so that in the end the martyrs had to be disposed of with the sword. “At these scenes,” the author assures us, “we have been present ourselves, when we also observed the divine power of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ himself present, and effectually displayed in them” (viii. 7).
Such is the writer who has supplied us with all we have of the early history of Christianity over the first three centuries of its alleged prevalence. On the proper apprehension of the testimonies belonging to this important period the true character of the movement seriously depends. From the time of Eusebius and Constantine, the system was in open exercise. How it stood in the previous centuries rests upon the writings that have descended to us, and the marshallings of our author. Of these writings a large proportion are condemned as apocryphal ; that is, they were written when and by whom we know not, and are destitute of authority. The task is therefore ever before us of selecting the possibly genuine out of a mass of assuredly spurious productions. Of the accepted scriptures, the Gospels, and Acts, which are the portions conveying historical materials, are really anonymous, and no competent critic assigns them a time earlier than the course of the second century. The true fact is that it is as uncertain when or by whom they were written, as it is when or how we have any of the recognized Apocrypha. For what else is presented to us in the earliest Christian literature, we are dependent upon no better source than Eusebius.
The incidents associated with the uprise of Christianity are of a complexion to have attracted universal attention. A virgin produces a child by contact with the Deity, without the agency of a human father. The birth is celebrated by an angelic choir announcing it to shepherds then met with. Magi, prophetically instructed, and guided by a moving star, come from some distant quarter to greet the infant as the future king of the Jews. The ruler of the Jews institutes a cruel massacre to destroy all infants of the neighbourhood, thinking thus to get rid of his dreaded rival. The child escapes, and proves to be a god incarnate. He displays his divine power in numerous ways, among which is the raising of the dead. He confers the same power on all who believe in him. As he closes his mortal career, darkness spreads over the earth, nature is convulsed, and the dead disturbed in their graves. He rises to life, shows himself on earth, and ascends bodily to heaven. He proves to be that Messiah in whom the hopes of Israel had long centred. These things could not have occurred without attracting the notice of the historians of the day, and especially those of the community directly acted upon. The labours of such historians fortunately, in more or less fulness, are before us, and this prime test of the degree of credit to be attached to Christianity may be satisfactorily applied
The first to be adduced is Nicolaus of Damascus, who lived in the time of Herod, and survived to that of his son and successor, Archelaus. We have not his work, but only what is reported of him by Josephus, who drew materials, it may be judged, from him. Nicolaus was a learned and eloquent Jew, employed by his people, on two occasions, to defend them against the Greeks of Ionia. He was intimately associated with Herod, having been “always conversant with him, and acquainted with whatsoever he did, and with the circumstances of his affairs." Herod sent him to defend him before Cæsar when involved in troubles connected with Arabia. When Antipater was charged before Varus with a design to poison his father Herod, Nicolaus appeared in behalf of Herod, and exposed Antipater. On the death of Herod, when Antipater disputed the succession of Archelaus, he pleaded for the latter. And when the Jews complained of the oppressions of Herod and Archelaus, and wished to have an end put to the kingly rule, he defended the administration of these kings (Josephus, Ant. XII. iii. 2; XVI. ii. 3; XVI. ix. 4; XVII. v. 4; XVII. ix. 6; XVII. xi. 3). By his position he must have been cognizant of whatever affected the interests of Herod; and the miraculous birth of the rival infant, and all connected with that event, including the massacre of the innocents, must have come before him. He wrote an extensive history, of which Josephus evidently availed himself; but not a particle of information on the subject of Jesus is traceable to him in the pages of Josephus.
The next authority to be cited is Philo Judæus, a copious writer, whose works are happily extant. He lived in that important time covering the whole period ascribed to the founder of Christianity. He was of Alexandria, and was deputed by his fellow Jews in the year A.D. 42 to Rome, to seek for them the protection of the Emperor Caligula. At this time he was advanced in years. He says, speaking of the expected issue of his mission, “But I myself, who was accounted to be possessed of superior prudence, both on account of my age, and my education, and general information, was less sanguine in respect of the matters at which the others were so greatly delighted” (Works of Philo, Bohn's ed., IV., 140). When he wrote an account of his mission he was an old man. “How long,” he observes, “ shall we, who are aged men, still be children, being indeed as to our bodies grayheaded through the length of time we have lived” (IV. 99). He survived Claudius (Bryant on Philo, 34), who demised A.D. 54. Taking Philo at this period to have been about 70 years of age, we may assume that he was born about B.C. 16, and lived and wrote to about A.D. 60. Philo was much occupied in interpreting the Jewish scriptures. His studies and tone of mind led him to dilate upon the attributes of the divine Logos, or personified Word of God, a position Jesus is said to have filled; and he entered into close descriptions of that devout sect around him, known as the Therapeuts, who approached so closely the type of Christianity, that Eusebius has ventured to allege them to have been Christians. Alexandria, according to tradition, was one of the first places evangelized, the reputed agent being the apostle Mark. Rome was also, according to the Epistle to the Romans, a place in which Christianity flourished at an early period, Peter being traditionally the alleged missionary. Eusebius desires it to be believed that Philo fell in with both Mark and Peter when thus occupied. He appears to have frequented Jerusalem at the appointed festivals, as every devout Jew was bound to do. “When I was on my journey towards the temple of my native land,” he writes, “ for the purpose of offering up prayers and sacrifices therein” (IV. 240). And yet, with all these opportunities at Alexandria, Rome, and Jerusalem, a contemporary of the alleged Messiah and his apostles, occupied on subjects intimately associated with the mission imputed to them, and deeply interested in all that affected the religious welfare of his people—himself a voluminous writer—Philo shows entire ignorance of the advent of the Jewish Redeemer, the embodiment of his idealized Logos ; and equally so of the testimony of his acts, doctrines, and the body of followers said to be gathered to his name in Jerusalem, and spreading their creed around them. These things could not have been, and Philo have known nothing of them, and knowing them, it is impossible to account for his silence concerning them.
The third whose evidence should have been rendered is Justus of Tiberias. He was a contemporary of Josephus, and his active opponent in fomenting that disaffection in Galilee which Josephus was deputed to suppress. Josephus was born about the year A.D. 37, or just four years after the alleged resurrection. He was consequently of the generation next succeeding that of the asserted Messiah. Justus stands in this time, and was a prominent person in Tiberias, a city on the borders of that lake of Gennesareth where so much of the action of the gospel is laid. Here, at all events, if the incarnate deity had occupied the scene and immortalized it with bis works, the fame of his deeds and doctrines must have been rife. Justus wrote an extensive history, which has not survived, but is adverted to by Josephus (Life, sec. 65; Ant. XVIII., ii. 3, note); and Photius (a celebrated Byzantine author and critic of the ninth century), who made himself acquainted therewith, gives us the information respecting the work which we now need. “I have read," he says, “the chronology of Justus of Tiberias, whose title is this, The Chronology of the Kings of Judah, which succeeded one another. This (Justus) came out of the city of Tiberias in Galilee. He begins his history from Moses, and ends it not till the death of Agrippa (A.D. 43), the seventh (ruler) of the Jews; who took the government under Claudius, had it augmented under Nero, and still more augmented by Vespasian. He died in the third year of Trajan, where also his history ends. He is very concise in his language, and slightly passes over those affairs that were most necessary to be insisted on; and being under the Jewish prejudices, as indeed he was himself also a Jew by birth, he makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, or what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did” (Life of Josephus, sec. 65, note). The fact is valuable that in the very region of the alleged marvels they are unnoticed by a writer living near upon the times, and treating of them. The reason for his silence Photius, as a Christian, could not see might be the nonoccurrence of the facts. Justus, as an historian, was bound to have said something of such an eventful career as that attributed to Jesus, and his Jewish prejudices would have been sufficiently served by adverting to him as a false Messiah, whom his nation had rejected, and who had come to an inglorious end.
The last of the Jewish historians living in or close upon the day alleged for Jesus of whom we have any record, is Josephus. He was born, as I have already noticed, about the year A.D. 37, and wrote his account of the Wars of the Jews in A.D. 75, and his Antiquities in A.D. 93 (Whiston's Note on Preface to the Wars). He covers thus the times next succeeding those ascribed to Jesus, or the apostolic era, when the Holy Ghost is said to have descended in power, and the gospel to have been spread abroad with marvellous effect, signs and wonders accompanying the preachers of that day in verification of their divine mission (Mark xvi. 17, 18; Acts v. 12). Josephus was of the priestly tribe, and claimed to be of royal descent. He was in high repute among his fellowcountrymen for character and learning. He was deputed by the Jews of Jerusalem to quell disturbances arising in Galilee, and was much occupied with the affairs of the city of Tiberias on the banks of the lake of Gennesareth. He was cognizant also of the affairs of Antioch and Damascus, of which he wrote. At the age of twenty-six, or in A.D. 63, he visited Rome, and after the fall of Jerusalem Titus established him in Rome, where he was treated with consideration by the successive emperors, Vespatian, Titus, and Domitian (Life, sec. 3, 76 ; Wars, II., xx. 2 ; VII., iii. 3). He thus moved over the very scenes of the gospel action, and the places where Christianity is said to have been first established.
There are certain passages in the works of this author, connected with Christianity, which demand immediate attention. The first is that celebrated statement appearing relative to the Christ, to which I have already alluded as a recognized forgery. “ Now there was about this time,” the author is made to say,