Page images

Julian Pe
riod, 4709.

Before the
Vulgar Era,


years, which departed not from the temple, but served Temple of God with fastings and prayers night and day.

38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.



The Offering of the Magi".

MATT. ii. 1-12.

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa, Bethlehem in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise

men from the east to Jerusalem 30, "

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

29 The Holy Family (says Archbishop Newcome (a),) return from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and not to Nazareth; to which they did not retire till after their retreat from Egypt. Mary, who attentively considered every circumstance relating to her son, might prefer Bethlehem, from Micah v. 2. and from the remembrance of the angelic vision. But on this point there is much difference of opinion. Pilkington supposes (b), that they returned from Jerusalem into Galilee, to their own city, and not to Bethlehem. Pilkington's dissertation is curious, but the subject is not of sufficient importance to occupy further attention. The curious reader may peruse it at leisure. It undoubtedly seems natural to suppose, that if Joseph and Mary went from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, solely to perform the religious ceremony prescribed by the law, of presenting the child Jesus at the Temple, they would as certainly return again to Bethlehem, as a man would return to his own house, if he left it merely to go to a place of worship. The concurrent testimony of antiquity also, which is never to be despised, as well as the letter of Scripture, Matt. ii. 9, 10, 11. are unfavourable to Pilkington's theory.

(a) Notes to Harmony, fol. edit. p. 4. (b) See Pilkington's second Preliminary Dissertation.

30 Mr. Benson appears to me to have proved that the Magi came to Jerusalem before the presentation in the Temple, but they did not meet the young child there; but followed Mary and Joseph six miles from Jerusalem, to Bethlehem. The inquiry of the Magi, therefore, "Where is He that is born," &c. &c. ought to have been inserted before the presentation. The transactions, however, took place so near to each other, and the account of the Magi is so brief, that it did not seem advisable to transpose the passage in question, Matt. ii. 1, 2Benson's Chronology of the Life of Christ, p. 74, &c.

Jalian Period, 4709. Before the Vulgar Era, 5.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was Jerusalem. troubled, and all Jerusalem with him ".


4 And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 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 32.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and,

31 The Jews believed that the glorious reign of the Messiah should commence with a long series of calamitous events, which accounts for the agitation that the intelligence of his birth occasioned in Herod, and "all Jerusalem with him." These expected visitations are enumerated, from the ancient traditions of the Jews, at great length by Schoetgenius (Hora Hebraicæ, vol. ii. p. 512, &c. &c.); who, after relating many afflictions of a moral and religious nature, which would not have affected the mind of a man of Herod's character, mentions that the Jews in addition to these evils, anticipated-" Many wars"-(Breschith Rabba, sect. 42, fol. 41. L. Dixit R. Eleasar filius Abina: si videris regna contra se invicem insurgentia, nwn bw ɔbanh,nov, tunc attende, et aspice ad pedem Messia)—“Earthquakes”—(Sohar. Exod. fol. 3. col. u. ex versione Sommeri, p. 81)" Revolts and insurrections of the better citizens"-(Sohar. Numen.fol.102.col. 407.)—"Scarcity of corn and provisions"-(Sota, fol. 49. 2. ; and Pesikta Sotarta, fol 58.1.)" Poverty"-(Sanhedrin, fol. 97. 2.)-Plague" -(Pesikta rabbathi, fol. 2. 1. and 28. 3.) with many others. It is curious to notice these traditions, as they all unite to prove that many causes might have combined to render both Herod and all Jerusalem agitated at the announcement of the Magi. These coincidences also tend to demonstrate the utter impossibility, that the histories given us by the Evangelists, can be otherwise than the authentic and genuine documents, which they are believed to be, by the Church of Christ.

[ocr errors]

32 Pirke Eliczer, c. 3 applies this passage to the Messiah-, his goings forth have been from the beginning, that is, by wy, when the world was not yet founded; and the Targum on Micah v. 1. the passage referred to by St. Matthew-xnwo plot pap jan, from thee, before me, shall go forth the Messiah.-Schoetgen. vol. i. p. 3. I quote this passage to shew that the Jewish teachers interpreted this passage of Micah in the same manner as the Evangelist St. Matthew: it is probable, therefore, that the Evangelist in this, as in other instances, referred to the Prophet in the manner usually adopted by his cotemporaries. He appealed to them on their own principles.

Julian Pe- lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, Bethlehem. riod, 4709. till it came and stood over where the young child was 33.

Before the Vulgar Æra,

[merged small][ocr errors]


33 Yet one additional evidence that the Messiah had come, seemed to have been equally necessary with the others, and that also was granted. He was promised to the Gentiles; and the Great Prophet had long since predicted, "The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." Isa. ix. 3. The brightness of the rising of the morning star of the Gospel we have already seen. The rays of reviving prophecy, miracle, and angelic appearance began to penetrate the dark night that had now overspread the Jewish Church. Yet the Heathen world was in a state of still grosser darkness. The light was to beam upon it also in its meridian splendour; we might anticipate, therefore, that one ray of his earlier glory would descend on the Gentile world. This was accomplished in the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem.

That large tract of country extending from Mesopotamia to the north, Arabia to the south, and Persia to the east, was occupied in the earlier ages of the world by populous and powerful tribes, all of which, according to their authentic and traditional history, professed the same religion, and were distinguished for their reverence of fire, which they considered as the most perfect representation of the Deity, and the worship of which was the most ancient form of idolatry. The philosophers and learned men of this region were called Magi, and it is not improbable that as the whole territory originally professed the religion of the one true God, that their adoration of the sun proceeded from their considering that body as a permanent Shechinah, or emblem of the Shechinah. The incipient error, from whatever source it originated, gradually sunk into a grosser idolatry, and mingled much superstition with the traditional knowledge of a purer religion. Abraham himself, according to Maimonides, was educated in the Sabian faith (see Josh. xxiv. 2.) which he was afterwards considered to have purified and reformed. Its doctrines were generally received and propagated, and were supposed to have originated in Chaldea they were afterwards adopted in Persia and Egypt, where they became extremely polluted and debased.

The Egyptians in a subsequent age abused their knowledge, and professed to dive into futurity by astrology, and the other arts of divination; and from this illicit application of the Sabian doctrines arose the term Magi, or Magician, when used in its opprobrious sense. The evidence of history (Mr. Franks (a) remarks,) traces the Goetic arts to Egypt, as their birth-place, of which country were the first magicians mentioned in history. But it can be equally made evident by the testimony of a variety of profane authors that the most ancient signification of this word was applied as a term of distinction to the philo. sophers and wise men of a much earlier age. By the word Magus, says Hesychius (b), the Persians understand a sacred person, a professor of theology, and a priest; and Suidas (c) tells us, among the Persians, the Magi are those who devote themselves to philosophy, and to the worship of the Deity. Dion, Chrysostom, and Porphyry, says Mr. Bryant, assert the same and many more authorities might be enumerated in confirmation of this opinion.

The principal object to which the Magi, or the Chaldæan, or eastern philosophers in general, devoted their attention, was the study of astronomy. When the Israelites came out of

Julian Pe

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceed- Bethlehem. rid, 4709. ing great joy.

Before the Vulgar Era,

Egypt, Balaam, the last prophet under the patriarchal dispen-
sation, was summoned by the king of Moab, from Petorah, to
curse them. Many suppose that Balaam, from his knowledge
of astronomy, was himself a Magus: it is certain that he was
much esteemed in that part of the country, where the Magians
were so much celebrated. This prophet, it is well known, pre-
dicted, "there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre
shall arise out of Israel." As astronomy was the favourite pur-
suit of the day, this promised star from generation to generation
would be anxiously looked for and expected. The prophecy
itself was, without any exception, the most peculiar, and most
important which had been given to the world. It was uttered
at the most eventful period in the annals of the postdiluvian
ages, on the establishment of the Levitical dispensation, and
the overthrow of the Patriarchal; and it might therefore have
been received by the Gentiles as a prediction of their restora-
tion to the favour of their common Father: Christ being uni-
formly spoken of as the light of the Gentiles, who should bring
all nations under his splendid dominion. Elated with these
hopes, at the appearance of the long desired star, we may sup-
pose the wise men hastened to Jerusalem to make their eager
inquiries respecting the newly-born Deliverer, to whom their
traditions or purer knowledge had ascribed the name of King of
the Jews.

By this confident inquiry, these strangers became witnesses
to the Jews of the coming of Christ, and drawing from the
Scribes a testimony respecting his birth-place, might themselves
receive an additional confirmation of his Messiahship. That
they considered the infant as a royal child, was evident from
the gifts which they presented to him. It was the custom of
the East uniformly to make presents according to the condition
in life of the person to whom they were offered. If they had
judged from appearance only, a citron, a rose, or any the least
gift would have been sufficient for the infant of the poor Mary.
But, mean as his appearance was, they treated him as a royal
child; and even after they discovered the poverty of his parents,
they presented him with presents of the richest kind, gold, frank-
jucense, and myrrh, such as the Queen of Sheba presented to So-
lomon in his glory (d). At Bethlehem, the place of his nativity,
he was acknowledged king both by Jew and Gentile, and in
both instances by the means of a miraculous revelation. The
wall of partition was now about to be destroyed.

Bishop Warburton (e) has shewn that prophetic writing, may be defined, a speaking hieroglyphic. Emblems and hieroglyphics had long been used before alphabetic writing; and the phrases which originated from these enblems, are the foundation of all that beautiful and metaphorical style which we still admire, as the ornament and strength of a language. The word star, he proceeds to demonstrate, does not merely signify a sovereign or ruler, but a God.

The metaphor of a sceptre, he observes, was common and popular to denote a ruler; but the star, though it also signified in the prophetic writings (f) a temporal prince or ruler, yet had in it a secret and hidden meaning likewise: a star in the Egyptian hieroglyphics denoted God. Thus, in Amos v. 25, 26. we read, Ye have borne the star of your God; that is, the image of your God. Hence we conclude that the metaphor of a star, used by Balaam, was of that abstruse and mysterious

[blocks in formation]

11 And when they were come into the house, they Bethlehem. saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down,

kind; that it is so to be understood, and consequently that it re-
lated only in the mysterious sense to Christ the eternal Son of

Such is the testimony of this eminent theologian; and that
the Jews applied this emblematical prediction to their Messiah,
needs no proof. That the Magians remembered the traditions
of their fathers, is less certain; yet even on this point we have
some degree of evidence collected from the remaining docu-
ments of that remote period. We are informed, that when an
individual put himself at the head of a tumultuary insurrection,
he obtained many followers by assuming an epithet derived
from the expected appearance of a long predicted star (g). The
idea, therefore, must have been very prevalent and very popular,
or it would not have been adopted by an impostor.

There is much difficulty with respect to the question what the star in the east may have been. Lightfoot (h) supposes it was the light or glory of the Shechinah, which shone round the shepherds, when the angel brought them tidings of Christ's birth, which, scen at a distance, assumed the appearance of a star-others that it was a comet-others a meteor-which is by far the most probable opinion, as it solves the phenomena, and is most consistent with the scriptural account. The circumstances related of many singular meteors also serve to confirm this solution (i).

Some learned writers, however, have not been contented with this more easy and natural explanation, of this part of the narrative. They consider the prophecy of Balaam as a scientific anticipation.

The learned Mr. Nolan informs me, that Dr. Henly, the principal of Hertford College, formed a theory which was founded on the dog-star; and, according to Scaliger's calculation, the period of about 1460 years, which is the Great Canicular year, intervenes between the prophecy of Balaam and the Birth of our Saviour; and there seems no doubt but that both events were connected by him, through that period. There appears, however, many strong, and, as he believes, insuperable objections to this theory. Sirius was not regarded as the harbinger of good; Aratus terms it ȧsne devos, and Homer describes it

-κακὸν δὲ τε σῆμα τέτυκται

Καὶ φέρει πολλὸν πυρετὸν δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσι.

It seems impossible, therefore, that the Magians could have deduced any omen of good from this star, much less that of the birth of a Saviour and Deliverer.

Kepler supposed that a star which appeared in the heel of Serpentarius, was that which indicated the nativity. It is a singular circumstance, that he represents the appearance of this star, as viewed by the astronomers at the beginning of the seventeenth century, as being perfectly similar to that, which St. Ignatius describes, as having appeared at the nativity. It was bright above measure, and appeared in a conjunction of the planets (k).

These notions are very ingenious, but the misfortune is, that the Scripture narrative is decidedly opposed to them: for the star moved before the Magi, and directed them to the house where Mary was dwelling with her holy offspring.

« PreviousContinue »