Page images
PDF
EPUB

in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretes and Arabians” (Acts ii. 9-11), and leading, from a very early time, to the organization of settled Christian communities in Judea, Antioch, Damascus, Rome, Greece, and Asia Minor, it is impossible that Josephus should not have heard of events of such vast importance, and of influences so solid and widely spread, or have failed to accord them notice; but not a word is traceable to him, except in the spurious passages, to show that he had any knowledge of Jesus, his apostles, or followers. He is of Jerusalem, the headquarters of the Christian movement, where the awful scene of the death of the founder of the faith was enacted, and hears nothing of them there; he is for a considerable space of time officially employed in Galilee, passing continually over the very spots upon which the reputed saviour of mankind had trod, and which he had immortalized with his divine acts, but no tidings of him reached him in this region ; he passes the last years of his life at Rome, that city the fame of whose faithful ones was “spoken of throughout the whole world," but has no consciousness of the existence of them or their creed. He describes the religious action at Antioch, the place where first the name of Christian sprang up, without knowing of the denomination there. Active proselytism is going on in this locality, but it is into the Jewish, not the Christian community. “They" (the Jews), he says, “made proselytes of a great many of the Greeks perpetually, and thereby, after a sort, brought them to be a portion of their own body” (Wars, VII., iii. 3). It is just what the Gospel speaks of as coming from the mouth of Jesus, “ Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites ! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte.” He shows a similar movement in Damascus, that city made celebrated by the occurrence in its neighbourhood of the divine vision accorded to Paul, converting the would-be persecutor of the Christians there, into their most renowned and active preacher ; but, again, it is a passage of the Pagans, not into Christianity, but into Judaism that is spoken of. The people of the place slaughtered the Jews in numbers, because they had been proselytizing their females. · Yet,” our author says, they distrust their own wives, which were almost all of them addicted to the Jewish religion” (Wars, II. xx. 2). He describes, in his history, the persecution of the godly during the war with the Romans, but these were Essenes (Wars, II. viii. 10). Eusebius conveniently accounts for the absence of Christians at this critical time by alleging that they withdrew beyond the Jordan to Pella, under divine monition (Ec. Hist., III. v).

o did

The Talmud is a collection of Jewish writings, eminently suited to have given us an account of that movement among the Jews, which developed itself into Christianity. I follow the statements of Mr Emanuel Deutsch, whose article in the Quarterly Review for October 1867, on the subject, attracted such deserved attention. The Talmud, he informs us, is “an encyclopædia of law, civil and penal, ecclesiastical and international, human and divine." It is a microcosm, embracing, even as does the Bible, heaven and earth. It is as if all the prose and the poetry, the science, the faith, and speculation of the old world were, though only in faint reflections, bound up in nuce." Its origin is “coeval with the return from the Babylonish captivity.” It contains, “ besides the social, criminal, international, human, and divine law, along with abundant explanations of laws not perfectly comprehended, corollaries and inferences from the law, that were handed down with more or less religious reverence, an account also of the education, the arts, the science, the history, and religion of this people for about a thousand years; most fully perhaps of the time immediately preceding and following the birth of Christianity. It shows us the teeming streets of Jerusalem, the tradesman at his work, the women in their domestic circle, even the children at play in the market-place. The Priest and the Levite ministering in their holy rites, the preacher on the hill-side surrounded by the multitude, even the story-teller in the bazaar : they all live, move, and have being in these pages. . . Athens and Alexandria, Persia and Rome, their civilizations and religions, old and new, are represented at

“We have, apart from the clearest and most irrefutable evidences of witnesses, all the ordinary internal evidences of history. We have an array of carefully preserved historical names and dates, the general faithfulness and truth of which have never yet been called into question. From the great synagogue down to the final com

every turn."

pletion of the Babylonian Gemara, we have the legal and philosophical development of the nation always embodied as it were in the successive principal schools and men of their times. Its chief importance for religious history is the manner in which it informs us of things and circumstances at the time of the birth of Christianity, among the Priests and Pharisees, of the education, synagogues, preaching, of women, of angels and demons, &c. It gives us the ethical sayings, the parables, gnomes, &c., which were the principal vehicle of the common Jewish teaching from an almost pre-historic period” (Literary Remains of Emanuel Deutsch, 11, 12, 136, 138).

It is clear that when Christianity became a fact, whether in the era ordinarily attributed to it, or at a later time, the occurrence of so remarkable an event as a proclaimed and accepted Messiah, especially if accompanied by the marvels alleged to have attended the advent of Jesus, must have attracted the attention of that community who were in the habit of descanting on all subjects associated with their nation and faith in their comprehensive and ever-progressing Talmud. If such a personage in truth made his appearance, we should have had from these Jewish writers some representation of the character of his mission, and of the supports or credentials with which it was introduced, and have been told why, when he came unto his own,

,“his own received him not.” Whatever there may have been in the Talmud bearing upon Christianity, it is clear it was not of a description to support the Christian pretensions; for the efforts of the Christians appear to have been very earnest and persistent to expunge all matter therein supposed to have any allusion to the circumstances of their faith. “In the Basle edition of 1578," Mr Deutsch informs us, which is the standard one, “the Censor stepped in. In his anxiety to protect the ‘Faith' from all and every danger—for the Talmud was supposed to hide bitter things against Christianity under the most innocentlooking words and phrases—this official did very wonderful things.” “Ever since it existed—almost before it existed in a palpable shape—it has been treated much like a human being. It has been proscribed, and imprisoned, and burnt, a hundred times over. From Justinian, who, as early as 553 A.D. honoured it by a special interdictory Novella, down

to Clement VIII. and later

a
space

of over a thousand years —both the secular and the spiritual powers, kings and emperors, popes and anti-popes, vied with each other in hurling anathemas, and bulls, and edicts, of wholesale confiscation and conflagration, against this luckless book. Thus, within a period of less than fifty years—and these forming the latter half of the sixteenth century—it was publicly burnt no less than six different times, and that not in single copies, but wholesale, by the waggon-load." “ What alterations there are in the Talmud are owing to censors who changed passages that were supposed to clash with Christianity, and produced the most singular obscurities. The censor's work was fruitless, for in reality there was nothing in the genuine Talmud to be taken out(Ibid., 5-7, 137).

Professor Theodores, of Owen's College, Manchester, another learned member of the Jewish community, enables us to apprehend the fact here alleged that the Talmud never has contained anything having a distinct bearing upon the facts alleged for Christianity. While the Christians interfered with all editions of the Talmud accessible to them, some appear to have escaped their notice, and these are still available to us in their original integrity. Professor Theodores says, “Those published under the censorship of Christian ecclesiastical authorities were, moreover, purposely mutilated, or, as it was styled, expurgated, void spaces being left wherever those learned men fancied to detect allusions disrespectful to the state religion. But all these passages are found, with their native semblance on, in editions of the Talmud published in Constantinople, and they are now unceremoniously reproduced in Central and Western Europe—the conviction having gained ground that the Christianity of this age has nothing whatever to fear from that quarter, especially as it is far from probable that in those suspected passages there is any reference to Pauline Christianity at all. Altogether, the history of the rise and progress of the Church receives no light from the Talmudic traditions. The Mishna, although dating from the end of the second century, betrays no knowledge of the existence of Christianity. In neither Gemara are Christians or Christianity mentioned by name. There are indeed allusions to disputations between the Doctors and certain querulous people denominated · Minim' (heretics), whom some writers persist in making into Christians; but this term is so vague that it is applicable to any of the numerous sects, or branches of sects, which in those ages filled, not only Palestine, but all Asia, Egypt, and the classical lands of Europe, with the tumultuous excitement of religious warfare. As the controversies alluded to in the Gemaras have, in most instances, some divergent interpretation of a Mosaic law in view, it is highly probable that those disputes lay between the Talmudic doctors and such Jews as had, like the Ebionites and Nazarenes, adopted some of the dogmas of Christianity, without, however, leaving the pale of Judaism by rejecting the law of Moses; but Pauline Christians, mainly of Grecian birth, and in whose opinion the Mosaic law was no longer obligatory, were certainly regarded by the Rabbis of the Talmud as Gentiles to all intents and purposes, between whom and the teachers of the law there was no common ground left for discussion, and no discussion took place” (Essays, &c., by Professors, &c., of Owen's College, 366-368).

The distinction drawn by Professor Theodores is one that should ever be borne in mind in estimating early Christianity. There were two factions, the one so allied to Judaism as to present no elements which a Jew might not discuss on the basis of the Law of Moses; the other so framed in Gentilism as to possess features with which no Jew might connect himself, and in which, consequently, he was sensible of no interest wherewith to concern himself. And from the silence of the Talmud on what affects Christianity, it is evident that the movement must have been far other than is described in the Christian scriptures.

Certain sectaries arose, known through preachings and writings, and not from enacted facts, and these were not exercising among the Jewish community any such influence as to attract the regards of their literary leaders. That Jesus and his disciples lived and moved among them, exhibiting marvellous signs, wrought on earth, and called down from heaven, in attestation that he was the Messiah who had arrived among them to give new life to the nation, certainly could not have occurred without eliciting notice from the devout and earnest writers of the Talmud.

Professor Theodores gives the legend of one Yishó Nósri

« PreviousContinue »