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RELIGIOUS EVENTS, &c.
1. STATE OF THE JEWS AT THE COMING OF CHRIST.
The state of the Jews was not much better than that of other nations, at the time of Christ's appearance on earth. They were governed by Herod, who was himself tributary to the Roman people. His government was of the most vexatious and oppressive kind. By a cruel, suspicious, and overbearing temper, he drew upon himself the aversion of all, not excepting those who lived upon his bounty.
Under his administration, and through his influence, the luxury of the Romans was introduced into Palestine, accompanied with the vices of that licentious people. In a word, Judea, governed by Herod, groaned under all the corruption which might be expected from the authority and example of a prince who, though a Jew in outward profession, was, in point of morals and practice, a contemner of all laws, human and divine. After the death of this tyrant, the Romans divided the government of Judea between his sons. In this division, one half of the kingdom was given to Archelaus, under the title of Exarch. Archelaus was so corrupt and wicked a prince, that, at last both Jews and Samaritans joined in a petition against him to Augustus, who banished him from his dominions about ten years after the death of Ilerod the Great. Judea was by this sentence reduced to a Roman province, and ordered to be taxed.
The governors whom the Romans appointed over Judea were frequently changed, but seldom for the better.
About the sixteenth year of Christ, Pontius Pilate was appointed governor, the whole of whose administration, according to Josephus, was one continual scene of venality, rapine, and every kind of savage cruelty. Such a governor was ill calculated to appease the fer
ments occasioned by the late tax. Indeed, Pilate was so far from attempting to appease, that he greatly inflamed them, by taking every occasion of introducing his standards, with images, pictures, and consecrated shields, into the city ; and at last, by attempting to drain the treasury of the temple, under pretence of bringing an aqueduct into Jerusalem. The most remarkable transaction of his government, however, was his condemnation of Jesus Christ ; seven years after which he was removed from Judea.
About the time of Christ's appearance, the Jews of that age concluded the period pre-determined by God to be then completed, and that the promised Messiah would suddenly appear. Devout persons waited day and night for the consolation of Israel ; and the whole nation, groaning under the Roman yoke, and stimulated by the desire of liberty or of vengeance, expected their deliverer with the most anxious impatience.
Two religions flourished at this time in Palestine ; the Jewish and Samaritan. The Samaritans blended the errors of paganism with the doctrines of the Jews. The learned among the Jews were divided into a great variety of sects. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Essenes eclipsed the other denominations.
The most celebrated of the Jewish sects was that of the Pharisees. It is supposed by some,
that this denomination existed about a century and a half before the appearance of our Saviour. They separated themselves not only from pagans, but from all such Jews as complied not with their peculiarities. Their separation consisted chiefly in certain distinctions respecting food and relegious ceremonies. It does not appear to have interrupted the uniformity of religious worship, in which the Jews of every sect seem to have always united. This denomination, by their apparent sanctity of manners, had rendered themselves extremely popular. The multitude, for the most part, espoused their interests ; and the great, who feared their artifice, were frequently obliged to court their favor. Hence, they obtained the highest offices in the state and priesthood,
and had great weight, both in public and private affairs. It appears from the frequent mention made by the evangelists of the Scribes and Pharisees in conjunction, that the greatest number of Jewish teachers, or doctors of the law (for those were expressions equivalent to scribe), were at that time of the pharisaical sect. The principal doctrines of the Pharisees were as follows: that the oral law, which they suppose God delivered to Moses by an archangel on Mount Sinai, and which is preserved by tradition, is of equal authority with the written law; that by observing both these laws, a man may not only obtain justification with God, but perform meritorious works of supererogation ; that fasting, almsgiving, ablutions, and confessions are sufficient atonements for sin ; that thoughts and desires are not sinful, unless they are carried into action. This denomination acknowledged the immortality of the soul, future rewards and punishments, the existence of good and evil angels, and the resurrection of the body. They maintained both the freedom of the will and absolute predestination ; and adopted the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls, excepting the notoriously wicked, whom they supposed consigned to eternal punishments.
The sect of the Sadducees derived its origin and name from one Sadoc, who flourished in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, about two hundred and sixiy-three years before Christ. The chief heads of the Sadducean doctrine are as follow :—That all laws and traditions, not comprehended in the written law, are to be rejected as merely human inventions ; neither angels nor spirits have a distinct existence separate from their corporeal vestment; the soul of man, therefore, expires with the body; there will be no resurrection of the dead, nor rewards and punishments after this life; man is not subject to irresistible fate, but has the framing of his condition chiefly within his power; and that polygamy ought to be allowed.
The practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees were both perfectly suitable to their sentiments. The former
were notorious hypocrites; the latter, scandalous liber tines.
The Essenes were a Jewish sect; some suppose they took their rise from that dispersion of their nation which took place after the Babylonian captivity. They maintained that rewards and punishments extended to the soul alone, and considered the body as a mass of malignant matter, and the poison of the immortal spirit. The greatest part of this sect considered the laws of Moses as an allegorical system of spiritual and mysterious truth, and renounced all regard to the outward letter in its explanation.
Besides these eminent Jewish sects, there were several of inferior note at the time of Christ's appearance: the Herodians, mentioned by the sacred writers, and the Gaulonites, mentioned by Josephus.
The Herodians derived their names from Herod the Great. Their distinguishing tenet appears to be, that it is lawful, when constrained by superiors, to comply with idolatry, and with a false religion.
2. GENTILE Philosophy.
Ar the important era of Christ's appearance in the world, two kinds of philosophy prevailed among the civilized nations. One was the philosophy of the Greeks, adopted also by the Romans; and the other, that of the Orientals, which had a great number of vota. ries in Persia, Syria, Chaldea, Egypt, and even among the Jews. The former was distinguished by the simple title of philosophy; the latter was honoured by the more pompous appellation of science or knowledge ; since ihose who adhered to the latter sect pretended to be the restorers of the knowledge of God, which was lost to the world. *
Amongst the Grecian sects, there were some who declaimed openly against religion, and denied the immortality of the soul; and others, who acknowledged a
* Hannah Adams' Dict. of Religions,