Images de page

election-a freedom which is indispensable to all moral value, whether in doing or in suffering, in believing or denying.

Meantime, though this obscurity of primitive Christianity is past denying, and possibly, for the reason just given, not without an a priori purpose and meaning, we nevertheless maintain that something may yet be done to relieve it. We need not fear to press into the farthest recesses of Christian antiquity, under any notion that we are prying into forbidden secrets, or carrying a torch into shades consecrated to mystery. For wherever it is not meant that we should raise the veil, there we shall carry our torch in vain. Precisely as our researches are fortunate, they authenticate themselves as privileged and in such a chase all success justifies itself.

No scholar-not even the wariest —has ever read with adequate care those records which we still possess, Greek or Latin, of primitive Christianity. He should approach this subject with a vexatious scrutiny. He should lie in ambush for discoveries, as we did in reading Josephus.

Let us examine his chapter on the Essenes, and open the very logic of the case, its very outermost outline, in these two sentences :-A thing there is in Josephus, which ought not to be there; this thing we will call Epsilon, (E.) A thing there is which ought to be in Josephus, but which is not; this thing we call Chi, (X.)

The Epsilon, which ought not to be there, but is what is that? It is the pretended philosophical sect amongst the Jews, to which Josephus gives the name of Essenes; this ought not to be in Josephus, nor any where else, for certain we are that no such sect ever existed.

The Chi, which ought by every obligation-obligations of reason, passion, interest, common sense-to have been more broadly and emphatically present in the Judæan history of Josephus' period than in any other period whatever, but unaccountably is omitted -what is that? It is, reader, neither more nor less than the new-born brotherhood of Christians. The whole monstrosity of this omission will not be apparent to the reader, until his attention be pointed closely to the chronological position of Joseph-his longitude as respects the great meridian of the Christian era.

The period of Josephus' connexion with Palestine, running abreast, (as it were,) with that very generation succeeding to Christ-with that very Epichristian age which dated from the crucifixion, and terminated in the destruction of Jerusalem-how, by what possibility, did he escape all knowledge of the Christians as a body of men that should naturally have challenged notice from the very stocks and stones of their birthplace; the very echo of whose footsteps ought to have sunk upon the ear with the awe that belongs to spiritual phenomena? There were circumstances of distinction in the very closeness of the confederation that connected the early Christians, which ought to have made them interesting. But, waiving all that, what a supernatural awe must naturally have attended the persons of those who laid the corner-stone of their faith in an event so affecting and so appalling as the Resurrection! The Chi, therefore, that should be in Josephus, but it is not, how can we suggest any approximation to a solution of this mystery-any clue towards it— any hint of a clue?

True it is, that an interpolated pas sage, found in all the printed editions of Josephus, makes him take a special and a respectful notice of our Saviour. But this passage has long been given up as a forgery by all scholars. And in another essay on the Epichristian era, which we shall have occasion to write, some facts will be laid before the reader exposing a deeper folly in this forgery than is apparent at first sight.


True it is, that Whiston makes the astounding discovery that Josephus was himself an Ebionite Christian. Josephus a Christian ! In the instance before us, were it possible that he had been a Christian, in that case the wonder is many times greatthat he should have omitted all notice of the whole body as a fraternity acting together with a harmony unprecedented amongst their distracted countrymen of that age; and, secondly, as a fraternity to whom was assigned a certain political aspect by their enemies. The civil and external relations of this new party he could not but have noticed, had he even omitted the religious doctrines which bound them together internally, as doctrines too remote from Roman comprehension. In reality, so far from being a Chris

tian, we shall show that Josephus was not even a Jew, in any conscientious or religious sense. He had never taken the first step in the direction of Christianity; but was, as many other Jews were in that age, essentially a Pagan ; as little impressed with the true nature of the God whom his country worshipped, with his ineffable purity and holiness, as any idolatrous Athenian whatsoever.

The wonder therefore subsists, and revolves upon us with the more violence, after Whiston's efforts to extinguish it how it could have happened that a writer, who passed his infancy, youth, manhood, in the midst of a growing sect so transcendently interesting to every philosophic mind, and pre-eminently so interesting to a Jew, should have left behind him, in a compass of eight hundred and fiftyfour pages, double columns, each column having sixty-five lines, (or a double ordinary octavo page,) much of it relating to his own times, not one paragraph, line, or fragment of a line, by which it can be known that he ever heard of such a body as the Christians.

And to our mind, for reasons which we shall presently show, it is equally wonderful that he should talk of the Essenes, under the idea of a known, stationary, original sect amongst the Jews, as that he should not talk of the Christians; equally wonderful that he should remember the imaginary as that he should forget the real. There

is not one difficulty, but two difficulties; and what we need is, not one solution but two solutions.

If, in an ancient palace, re-opened after it had been shut up for centuries, you were to find a hundred golden shafts or pillars, for which nobody could suggest a place or a use; and if, in some other quarter of the palace, far remote, you were afterwards to find a hundred golden sockets fixed in the floor-first of all, pillars which nobody could apply to any purpose, or refer to any place; secondly, sockets which nobody could fill ;-probably even "wicked Will Whiston" might be capable of a glimmering suspicion that the hundred golden shafts belonged to the hundred golden sockets. And if, upon applying the shafts to the sockets, it should turn out that each several shaft screwed into its own peculiar socket, why, in such a case, not "Whiston, Ditton, and Co." could resist the evidence, that each

enigma had brought a key to the other; and that by means of two mysteries there had ceased even to be one mystery.

Now, then, first of all, before stating our objections to the Essenes as any permanent or known sect amongst the Jews, let us review as rapidly as possible the main features by which Joseph characterises these supposed Essenes; and in a brief comment point out their conformity to what we know of the primitive Christians. That done, let us endeavour to explain all the remaining difficulties of the case. The words of Josephus we take from Whiston's translation; having in fact, at this moment, no other copy within reach. But we do this unwillingly: for Whiston was a poor Grecian; and, what is worse, he knew very little about English.

"The third sect" (i. e. third in relation to the Pharisees, who are ranked as the first, and the Sadducees, who are ranked as the second) "are called Essenes. These last are Jews by birth, and seem to have a greater affection for one another than the other sects have."

We need not point out the strong conformity in this point to the distinguishing features of the new-born Christians, as they would be likely to impress the eye of a stranger. There was obviously a double reason for a stricter cohesion amongst the Christians internally, than could by possibility belong to any other sect-1st, in the essential tendency of the whole Christian faith to a far more intense love than the world could comprehend, as well as in the express charge to love one another; 2dly, in the strong compressing power of external affliction, and of persecution too certainly anticipated. The little flock, turned out to face a wide world of storms, naturally drew close together. Over and above the indefeasible hostility of the world to a spiritual morality, there was the bigotry of Judaical superstition on the one hand, and the bigotry of Paganism on the other. All this would move in mass against nascent Christianity, so soon as that moved; and well, therefore, might the instincts of the early Christians instruct them to act in the very closest concert and communion.

"These men are despisers of riches, and so very communicative, as raises our admiration. Nor is there any

one to be found among them who hath more than another; every one's possessions are intermingled with every other's possessions, and so there is, as it were, one patrimony among all the brethren."

In this account of the "communicativeness," as to temporal wealth, of the third sect, it is hardly necessary that we should point out the mirror which it holds up to the habits of the very first Christians in Jerusalem, as we see them recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. This, the primary record of Christian history, (for even the disciples were not in any full sense Christians until after the resurrection and the Divine afflatus,) is echoed afterwards in various stages of primitive Christianity. But all these subsequent acts and monuments of early Christian faith were derived by imitation and by sympathy from the Apostolic precedent in Jerusalem; as that again was derived from the "common purse" carried by the Twelve Disciples.

"They have no certain city, but many of them dwell in every city; and if any of their sect come from other places, what they find lies open for them just as if it were their own : and they go in to such as they never knew before, as if they had been ever so long acquainted with them.".

All Christian antiquity illustrates and bears witness to this, as a regular and avowed Christian habit. To this habit points St Paul's expression of "given to hospitality;" and many passages in all the Apostolical writings. Like other practices, however, that had been firmly established from the beginning, it is rather alluded to, and indirectly taken for granted and assumed, than prescribed; expressly to teach or enjoin it was as little necessary, or indeed open to a teacher, as with us it would be open to recommend marriage. What Christian could be imagined capable of neglect ing such an institution?

"For which reason they carry nothing with them when they travel into remote parts."

This dates itself from Christ's own directions, (St Luke, x. 3, 4,) "Go your way. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes." And, doubtless, many other of the primitive practices amongst the Christians were


adopted without a special command from Christ, traditionally retained by the Church whilst standing in the

same civil circumstances, though not committed to writing amongst the great press of matter circumscribing the choice of the Evangelists.

"As for their piety towards God, it is very extraordinary for before sun-rising they speak not a word about profane matters, but put up certain prayers which they have received from their forefathers."

This practice of antelucan worship, possibly having reference to the ineffable mystery of the resurrection, (all the Evangelists agreeing in the awful circumstance that it was very early in the morning, and one even saying, "whilst it was yet dark,") a symbolic pathos which appeals to the very depths of human passion-as if the world of sleep and the anarchy of dreams figured to our apprehension the dark worlds of sin and death-it happens remarkably enough that we find confirmed and countersigned by the testimony of the first open antagonist to our Christian faith. Pliny, in that report to Trajan so universally known to every class of readers, and so rank with everlasting dishonour to his own sense and equity, notices this point in the ritual of primitive Christianity. "However," says he, "they assured me that the amount of their fault, or of their error, was this,that they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ," &c. The date of Pliny's letter is about forty years after the siege of Jerusalem ; about seventy-seven, therefore, after the crucifixion, when Joseph would be just seventy-two years old. But we may be sure, from collateral records, and from the entire uniformity of early Christianity, that a much longer lapse of time would have made no change in this respect.

"They neglect wedlock; but they do not absolutely deny the fitness of marriage."

This is a very noticeable article in his account of the Essenes, and powerfully illustrates the sort of acquaintance which Josephus had gained with their faith and usages. In the first place, as to the doctrine itself, it tallies remarkably with the leanings. of St Paul. He allows of marriage, overruled by his own moral prudence. But evidently his bias was the other way. And the allowance is notoriously a concession to the necessities which experience had taught him, and

by way of preventing greater evils: but an evil, on the whole, it is clear, that he regarded it. And naturally

it was so in relation to that highest mode of spiritual life which the apostles contemplated as a fixed ideal. Moreover, we know that the apostles fell into some errors which must have affected their views in these respects. For a time at least they thought the end of the world close at hand: who could think otherwise that had witnessed the awful thing which they had witnessed, or had drunk out of the same spiritual cup? Under such impressions, they reasonably pitched the key of Christian practice higher than else they would have done. So far as to the doctrine here ascribed to the Essenes. But it is observable, that in this place Josephus admits that these Essenes did tolerate marriage. Now, in his earlier notice of the same people, he had denied this. What do we infer from that? Why, that he came to his knowledge of the Essenes by degrees; and as would be likely to happen with regard to a sect sequestrating themselves, and locking up their doctrines as secrets which description exactly applies to the earliest Christians. The instinct of self-preservation obliged them to retreat from notoriety. Their tenets could not be learned easily; they were gathered slowly, indirectly, by fragments. This accounts for the fact that people standing outside, like Josephus or Philo Judæus, got only casual glimpses of the truth, and such as were continually shifting. Hence at different periods Josephus contradicts himself. But if he had been speaking of a sect as notorious as the Pharisees or Sadducees, no such error, and no such alteration of views, could have happened.

"They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace."

We suppose that it cannot be necessary to remind any reader of such characteristic Christian doctrines as"Blessed are the peace-makers," &c. ; still less of the transcendent demand made by Christianity for singleness of heart, uprightness, and entire conscientiousness; without which all pre tences to Christian truth are regarded as mere hollow mockeries. Here, therefore, again we read the features, too plainly for any mistake, of pure Christianity. But let the reader observe keenly, had there been this pretended sect of Essenes teaching all this

lofty and spiritual morality, it would have been a fair inference to ask what more or better had been taught by Christ: in which case there might still have remained the great redemptional and mediatorial functions for Christ; but, as to his divine morality, it would have been forestalled. Such would have been the inference; and it is an inference which really has been drawn from this romance of the Essenes adopted as true history.

"Whatsoever they say is firmer than an oath ; but swearing is avoided by them; and they esteem it worse than perjury."

We presume that nobody can fail to recognise in this great scrupulosity the memorable command of Christ, delivered in such unexampled majesty of language, "Swear not at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool," &c. This was said in condemnation of a practice universal amongst the Jews; and if any man can believe that a visionary sect, of whom no man ever heard except through two writers both lying under the same very natu ral mistake, could have come by blind accidents into such an inheritance of spiritual truth as is here described by Josephus, that man will find nothing beyond his credulity. For he pres sumes a revelation far beyond all the wisdom of the Pagan world to have been attained by some unknown Jewish philosopher, so little regarded by his followers that they have not even preserved his name from oblivion.

Amongst the initiatory and probationary vows which these sectarians are required to take is this-" that he will ever show fidelity to all men, and especially to those in authority, because no one obtains the government without God's assistance." Here, again, we see a memorable precept of St Paul and the apostles generallythe same precept, and built on the very same reason, viz. that rulers are of God's appointment.

"They are long-lived also: insomuch, that many of them live above a hundred years, by means of the simplicity of their diet."

Here we are reminded of St John the Evangelist: whilst others, no doubt, would have attained the same age, had they not been cut off by martyrdom.

In many other points of their interior discipline, their white robes, their

meals, their silence and gravity, we see in this account of the Essenes a mere echo of the primitive economy established among the first Christians, as we find it noticed up and down the apostolical constitutions.

It is remarkable that Josephus notices, as belonging to the sect of the Essenes, the order of "angels” or messengers. Now, every body must remember this order of officers as a Christian institution noticed in the Apocalypse.

Finally, in all that is said of the contempt which the Essenes showed for pain and death; and that " although tortured and distorted, burnt and torn to pieces, yet could they not be made to flatter their tormentors, or to shed a tear, but that they smiled in their very torments," &c., we see the regular habit of Christian martyrs through the first three centuries. We see that principle established amongst them so early as that first examination of Pliny's; for he is so well aware how useless it would be to seek for any discoveries by torture applied to the Christian men, that he resorts instantly to the torture of female servants. The secrecy, again, as to their opinions, is another point common to the supposed Essenes and the Christians. Why the Essenes, as an orthodox Jewish sect, should have practised any secresy, Josephus would have found it hard to say; but the Christian reasons will appear decisive to any man who reflects.

But first of all, let us recur to the argument we have just employed, and summon you to a review of the New Testament. Christ, during his ministry in Palestine, is brought as if by special arrangement into contact with all known orders of men,Scribes, and Doctors, Pharisees and Sadducees, Herodians and followers of the Baptist, Roman officers, insolent with authority, tax-gatherers, the Pariahs of the land, Galileans, the most undervalued of the Jews, Samaritans, hostile to the very name of Jew, rich men clothed in purple, and poor men fishing for their daily bread, the happy and those that sate in darkness, wedding parties and funeral parties, solitudes amongst hills or seashores, and multitudes that could not be counted, mighty cities and hamlets the most obsure, golden sanhedrims, and the glorious temple, where he spoke to myriads of the worshippers,

and solitary corners, where he stood in conference with a single contrite heart. Were the subject or the person different, one might ascribe a dramatic purpose and a scenical art to the vast variety of the circumstances and situations in which Christ is introduced. And yet, whilst all other sorts and orders of men converse with him, never do we hear of any interview between him and the Essenes. Suppose one Evangelist to have overlooked such a scene, another would not. In part, the very source of the dramatic variety in the New Testament scenes, must be looked for in the total want of collusion amongst the Evangelists. Each throwing himself back upon overmastering remembrances, all-glorified to his heart, had no more need to consult a fellow-witness, than a man needs, in rehearsing the circumstances of a final parting with a wife or a child, to seek collateral vouchers for his facts. Thence it was in part left to themselves, unmodified by each other, that they attained so much variety in the midst of so much inevitable sameness. One man was impressed by one case, a second by another. And thus, it must have happened amongst four, that at least one would have noticed the Essenes. But no one of the four gospels alludes to them. The Acts of the Apostles, again, whether by a fifth author or not, is a fifth body of remembrances, a fifth act of the memory applied to the followers of Christ. Yet neither does this notice them. The Apocalypse of St John, reviewing the new church for a still longer period, and noticing all the great outstanding features of the state militant, then unrolling for Christianity, says not one word about them. St Peter-St James, utterly overlook them. Lastly, which weighs more than all the rest, St Paul, the learned and philosophic apostle, bred up in all the learning of the most orthodox amongst the Jews, gives no sign that he had ever heard of such people. In short, to sum up all in one sentence, the very word Essene and Essenes is not found in the New Testament.

Now, is it for one moment to be credited—that a body of men so truly spiritual in the eternals of their creed, whatever might be the temporals of their practice, should have won no word of praise from Christ for that by which they so far exceeded other

« PrécédentContinuer »