"A DEFENCE OF CHRISTIANITY"
GREEK PROFESSOR OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY IN ANSWER TO "THE GROUNDS OF CHRISTIANITY EXAMINED BY COMPARING THE NEW TESTAMENT WITH THE OLD"
BY GEORGE BETHUNE ENGLISH.
"Should a wise man utter vain knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind?" "Should he reason with unprofitable talk? or with speeches wherewith he can do no good?—Thou chooseth[fn1] the tongue of the crafty. Thy own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee." "Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR.
[PG Editor's Note: Many printer's errors in this text have been retained as found in the original—in particular the will be found a large number of mismatched and wrongspace quotation marks.]
WHEN I left America, I had no intention of giving Mr. Everett's book a formal answer: but having learned since my arrival in the Old World, that: the controversy in which I had engaged myself had attracted some attention, and had been reviewed by a distinguished member of a German university, my hopes of being serviceable to the cause of truth and philanthrophy are revived, and I have therefore determined to give a reply to Mr. Everett's publication.
In this Work, as in my prior writings, I have taken for granted the Divine Authority of the Old Testament, and I have argued upon the principle that every book, claiming to be considered as a Divine revelation and building itself upon the Old Testament as upon a foundation, must agree with it, otherwise the superstructure cannot stand. The New Testament, the Talmud, and the Koran are all placed by their authors upon the Law and the Prophets, as an edifice is upon its foundation; and if it be true that any or all of them be found to be irreconcileable with the primitive Revelation to which they all refer themselves, the question as to their Divine Authority is decided against them, most obviously and completely.
This work was written in Egypt and forwarded to the U. States, while I was preparing to accompany Ismael Pacha to the conquest of Ethiopia; an expedition in which I expected to perish, and therefore felt it to be my duty to leave behind me, something from which my countrymen might learn what were my real sentiments upon a most important and interesting subject; and as I hoped would learn too, how grossly they had been deluded into building their faith and hope upon a demonstrated error.
On my arrival from Egypt I found that the MS. had not been published, and I was advised by several, of my friends to abandon the struggle and to imitate their example; in submitting to the despotism of popular opinion, which, they said, it was imprudent to oppose. I was so far influenced by these representations— extraordinary indeed in a country which boasts that here freedom of opinion and of speech is established by law—that I intended to confine myself to sending the MS. to Mr. Everett; in the belief that when he should have the weakness of his arguments in behalf of what he defended and the injustice of his aspersions upon me, fairly and evidently laid before him, that he would make me at least a private apology. He chose to preserve a sullen silence, probably believing that he is so securely seated in the saddle which his brethren have girthed upon the back of "a strong ass" that; there is no danger that the animal will give him a fall.
Not a little moved at this, I determined to do my myself justice, and to publish the pages following.
This book is not the work of an Infidel. I am not an infidel; what I have learned and seen in Europe, Asia and Africa, while it has confirmed my reasons for rejecting the New Testament, has rooted in my mind the conviction that the ancient Bible does contain a revelation from the God of Nature, as firmly as my belief in the first proposition of Euclid.
The whole analogy of Nature, while it is in many respects opposed to the characteristics ascribed to the Divinity by the metaphysicians, yet bears witness in my opinion, that this world was made and is governed by just such a Being as the Jehovah of the Old Testament; while the palpable fulfillment of predictions contained in that book, and which is so strikingly manifest in the Old World, leaves in my mind no doubt whatever, of the ultimate fulfillment of all that it promises, and all that it threatens.
I cannot do better than to conclude these observations with the manly declaration of the celebrated Christian orator Dr. Chalmers, "We are ready, (says he,) to admit that as the object of the inquiry is not the character, but the Truth of Christianity, the philosopher should be careful to protect his mind from the delusions of its charms. He should separate the exercises of the understanding from the tendencies of the fancy or of the heart. He should be prepared to follow the light of evidence, though it should lead him to conclusions the most painful and melancholy. He should train his mind to all the hardihood of abstract and unfeeling intelligence. He should give up every thing to the supremacy of argument and he able to renounce without a sigh all the tenderest possessions[fn 2] of infancy, the moment that TRUTH demands of him the sacrifice." (Dr. Chalmers on the Evidence and Authority of the Christian Religion. Ch. I.)
Finally, let the Reader remember, that "there is one thing in the world more contemptible than the slave of a tyrant—it is the dupe of a SOPHIST."
G. B. E.
And David "chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip: and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine."
Mr. Everett commences his work with the following remarks. "Was Jesus Christ the person foretold by the prophets, as the Messiah of the Jews?; one method, and a very obvious one, of examining his claims to this character, is to compare his person, life, actions, and doctrine, with the supposed predictions of them. But if it also appear that this Jesus wrought such works, as evinced that he enjoyed the supernatural assistance and cooperation of God, this certainly is a fact of great importance. For we cannot say, that in estimating the validity of our Lord's claims to the character of Messiah, it is of no consequence whether, while he advanced those claims, he wrought such works as proved his intimacy with the God of truth. While he professed himself the Messiah, is it indifferent whether he was showing himself to be as being beyond delusion, and above imposture?—Let us make the case our own. Suppose that we were witnesses of the miraculous works of a personage of pretensions like our Lord's, should we think it necessary or reasonable to resort to long courses of argument, or indeed to any process of the understanding, except what was requisite to establish the fact of the miracles? Should we, while he was opening the eyes of the blind, and raising the dead from their graves, feel it necessary to be deciphering prophecies, and weighing these[fn 3] difficulties? Now we may transfer this case to that of Christianity. The miracles of our Lord are either true or false. The infidel if he maintain the latter must prove it; and if the former can be made to appear, they are beyond all comparison the most direct and convincing testimony that can be devised," p. 1, 2. of Mr. Everett's work.
To this statement I would reply—that I do not know what right Mr. Everett has to call upon his opponent, to prove a negative. It was his business to prove the affirmative of his question, and to show that these miracles actually were performed, before he proceeded to argue upon the strength of them. It is, I conceive, impossible to demonstrate that miracles said to have been wrought 1800 years ago, were not performed; but it is, I believe, quite possible to show that there is no sufficient proof that they were. One of the reasons given, in the 2d, ch. as I think, of the grounds of Christianity examined, for throwing out of consideration the miracles recorded in the New Testament in examining the question of the Messiahship of Jesus, was, that the New Testament itself, was not a sufficient proof that these miracles were actually wrought; and this, with the reader's indulgence, I think I can plainly show.
Mr. Everett allows p. 450 of his work, what indeed he cannot deny, that the four Gospels do sometimes contradict each other in their narratives; and he refers with approbation, in a note to p. 458, to a work of Lessing's, which he says, "ought to be read by every one who is overfond of Harmonies." This work of Lessing's, if I recollect right, maintains, that all hopes of harmonizing the evangelists, of reconciling their contradictions, must be given up. [See Lessings Sammliche, Schriften, ch. v. S. 150, as quoted by Mr. Everett, p. 458.]
Now these contradictions, if they do exist, unquestionably argue one of two things; either fraud, or want of accurate information in their authors, as no man who wishes to be considered "compos mentis" will deny, because, accurate information excludes the possibility of contradiction in authors willing to tell the truth, and much more in inspired authors, who must be incapable of writing anything but the truth.
The Christian, therefore, must, it seems to me, on account of these contradictions, allow one of two things; either, that the evangelists were fraudulent men, or else that the Gospels were not written by the Apostles and immediate followers of Jesus: because want of accurate information, cannot be supposed of the Apostles and immediate followers of Jesus; as having been constantly with him, from the beginning, to the end of his ministery, they must have been perfectly acquainted with his actions and doctrines. Neither can lapse of memory be urged; because the Gospels represent Jesus as saying, John ch. xvi. 26, that they should have the aid of inspiration, which "should, bring all things, to remembrance;" and in Acts ch. iv. 31, all the followers of Jesus are represented as having actually received the effusion of the Holy Ghost: of course want of accurate information, and lapse or memory in them cannot be supposed.
The Christian, therefore, must allow, since contradictions do exist, if he would avoid accusing the Apostles and disciples of Jesus of fraud, that the Gospels were not written by the Apostles and first followers of Jesus, but that they were written by men, who had no accurate information about the events they record. It is therefore plain, that the miracles recorded in the Gospels, are incapable of proof. For what Christian in his senses can ask another man to believe accounts of miracles, which accounts, he must at the same time allow, were written by fraudulent men, or by men who had no accurate information upon the subjects about which they write.
The edge of this, as I think, smites right through the neck of Mr. Everett's argument on which his work depends, and leaves his book—"a gasping head—-a quivering trunk." Sic transit gloria mundi.
But in order to make Mr. Everett still farther Sensible how easily his argument can be "overturned, overturned and overturned," I will suppose a reasonable and reasoning man, desirous to verify the claims of the books of the New Testament as containing a Revelation from God, to set down to scrutinize with anxious solicitude every argument of internal and external evidence, in favour of their authenticity, and authority, in the hope of becoming satisfied of the truth of their claims. But in the course of his examination, such a man will assuredly find, that almost every step in his inquiry, is an occasion of doubt and of difficulty.
Books containing Revelations from the Supreme, must be consistent with themselves. But he will observe on a careful perusal of the evangelists, that the contradictions, particularly in the narratives of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, are numerous; and that all the ingenuity of Christian writers, has been exhausted in vain in the attempt to reconcile them; for example, the Gospel called of Matthew says, ch. iii. 14, that John the Baptist, knew Jesus when he came to him to be baptised, (which was very probable on account of the relationship and intimacy subsisting between Mary the mother of Jesus, and: Elizabeth the mother of John, as mentioned in the Gospel called of Luke, ch. i. 18, it could hardly have been otherwise) but the author of the Gospel called of John says, ch. i. 31, that John knew him not, until he was designated by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon him.
Again, it is said in the Gospel called of John, ch. ii. 14. that Jesus, on his first visit to Jerusalem after he had commenced his preaching, cast the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, whereas the Gospel called of Matthew, and also those called of Mark and Luke, represent this to have been done by Jesus at his last visit to Jerusalem. See Matt. ch. xxi. 12. Mark ch. xi. 15. Luke ch. xix. 45.
Again, the author of the Gospel called of John, represents the last supper or Jesus with his Apostles, to have taken place (See ch. xiii. 1. and ch. xviii. 28.) on the eve before the feast of the passover, and that Jesus was crucified on the feast day itself, while the authors of the other Gospels represent the first event to have taken place, on the evening of the passover itself, and that Jesus was crucified the day after. See Matt. Ch. xxvi. 18. Mark xiv. 12. Luke ch. xxii. 7. Now Matthew and John must, according to the Gospels themselves, have been present with Jesus when he drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, and at his last supper, and when he was seized in the garden of Gethsemane; they must therefore have known perfectly whether Jesus drove the buyers; and sellers out of the Temple, at his first visit to Jerusalem in their company; or at his last, and whether his last supper, and his seizure in the garden of Gethsemane took place on the eve before this passover their great national festival, or on the evening of the passover itself. They could not forget the time and place of events, so affecting and important as the last mentioned, and when we add to these considerations, that the Gospels represent Jesus as saying, (John ch. xiv.;26.) that they should be inspired by the Holy Spirit, which "should bring all things to remembrance," the supposition that the real Matthew and John could contradict each other in this manner, becomes quite inadmissable.
In the account of the resurrection of Jesus, the most important fact of Christianity, we also find several contradictions; for instance, the Gospel called of Matthew says, that the first appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection, was in Galillee, (See Matt. ch.xxxviii. 7,) while the other evangelists assert, that his first appearance to them after that event was at Jerusalem. See Mark ch. xvi., Luke ch. xxiv. John ch.xx. The Gospel called of John says, that he afterwards appeared to them in Galilee: but according to that of Luke, the disciples did not go to Galilee to meet Jesus; for that Gospel says, that Jesus expressly ordered his disciples to tarry at Jerusalem, where they should receive the effusion of the Holy Ghost, and that after giving that order he was taken up to Heaven. See Luke ch. xxiv. 49, 50, also, the first ch. of Acts. [fn 4]
This greatly invalidates the credibility of these accounts; for as much as that the historical testimony in attestation of supernatural events, ought, because such events are out of the common course of nature, to be strong and unexceptionable.
He will observe too that these writers, supposed to have been the inspired followers of Jesus Christ, have applied many passages of the Old Testament as prophecies of Jesus, when it is most certain, (and is at the present day allowed by Christian Biblical Critics of the highest standing) from examining those passages in their context in the Old Testament, that they are not prophecies of Jesus; and that some of the passages cited are in fact no prophecies at all, but are merely historical. Nor is this all, these authors have cited as prophecies and proof texts, passages which do not exist in the Old Testament. From which it seems to follow that they must have forged those passages, or quoted them from some Apocryphal book; which they believed to be inspired. If they were capable of the first, they were not the honest and inspired followers and disciples of Jesus Christ; if they were capable of the last, they were not Jews but Gentiles, ignorant that the Jews in the time of Jesus, acknowledged no books as inspired scripture but the books of the Old Testament. See Appendix, A.
A reasonable and reasoning man, such as I have supposed, may ask himself if it be possible that men filled with the Holy Ghost, and whose minds were supernaturally opened to understand the scriptures, could make mistakes such as these.
Lastly, he will recollect, on discovering what is about to be stated, that the Apostles and followers of Jesus Christ were Jews, and consequently could not be ignorant of what was notorious to the whole nation, for instance, that the Jewish Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday evening, and ends at sunset on Saturday evening. Nevertheless the author of the Gospel called of Matthew makes ch. xxviii. 1. the Sabbath to end at dawn of day on Sunday morning: while the author of that called of John apparently reckons, ch. xx. 19. the evening of the first day of the week as a part of the first day of the week; whereas it is in fact, according to the law and customs of the Jews, who then and now reckon their days from sunset to sunset, the beginning and a part of the second day of the week. Such mistakes appear to me to indicate that the writers of those Gospels were Gentiles not perfectly acquainted with Jewish customs, and therefore not Matthew and John.[fn 6]
There are other traces of ignorance of Jewish customs, to be found in the Gospel called of Matthew, which betray the Gentilism of the author of it. For instance, he says ch. xxvi. 24[fn7], that Jesus told Peter, that "before the cock crew he should deny him thrice;" the same is also found in Mark ch. xiv. 30. in Luke ch. xxii. 54[fn8], and in John ch. xiii. 38. Now it is asserted in the Mishna (i. e the oral law of the Jews.) in the Bava Kama according to Mr. Everett p. 448. of his work, that cocks were not permitted in Jerusalem where Peter's denial took place; [probably because that bird is constantly scratching up the ground with his feet, and was thereby liable to turn up impurities, by touching which in passing by, a Jew would be ceremonially defiled, and rendered incapable of visiting the Temple to perform his devotions, till after the evening of the day on which the defilement took place], therefore all the four Gospels which all contain, this story, must have been written by Gentiles ignorant of the custom which belies the story.
Some Christian writers have endeavoured to get rid of this objection, by attempting to prove "that the crowing of the cock here mentioned, does not mean actually the crowing of a cock, but 'the sound of a trumpet!'" while others, blushing at the hardihood of their brethren, think it more prudent to maintain, that the author of the Mishna was ignorant of Jewish customs, and that the writers of the Gospels were perfectly acquainted with them; and that therefore every good Christian was bound in conscience not to regard the objection.
But the prohibition of cocks from entering the Holy city is so perfectly of a piece with many other cautions against defilement observed by the Jews, and is so perfectly in the taste of the times of the Pharisees, "the careful washers of plates and platters,"—the "tithers of mint, anise, and cummin," not to mention the reason above expressed, which perhaps was, to say truth, according to the regulations against defilement contained in the Pentateuch a sufficient reason for excluding that bird from the city, where stood the Temple, that the reader will probably believe that such a custom might have existed.
Again, it is said Matt. xxvii. 62, that the Chief Priests and Pharisees went to Pilate; demanded a guard; went to the Sepulchre of Jesus, sealed the door, and set watch. Now Jesus is said to have arisen on the day after this, on the first day of the week, i.e. Sunday, of course the day before was Saturday of the Jewish Sabbath. I maintain that the Chief Priests and Pharisees, who objected to Jesus curing the sick and rubbing corn from the ear, in order to satisfy his hunger on the Sabbath day; I maintain that it is utterly incredible, that these men should have gone to Pilate on public business, and transacted all this on their Sabbath. For such an action would have come completely within the spirit, and the letter of the Laws against breaking the Sabbath contained in the-Pentateuch, which makes the penalty of such actions as are here ascribed to the Chief Priests and rigorous Pharisees, nothing less than stoning to death. I infer therefore, that the author of the Gospel of Matthew was ignorant of this, and of course not a Jew, and consequently not Matthew.
I would observe further, in connection with this subject, that Jesus is represented, Matt. xxiii. 35, as saying, that upon the Jews of this time should come "the blood of Zecharias the son of Barachias whom ye slew between the Temple and the altar." Now, I believe that it is recorded in Josephus' history, that the Jews slew this Zecharias in the time of the Jewish war, about forty years after Jesus is represented as saying, that they had killed him already. Of course Jesus never could have said this, nor would a Jew acquainted with the times, as Matthew must have been, have been guilty of such an anachronism. The writer of that Gospel must therefore, have been a Gentile, and not Matthew. The same mistake is made by Luke xi. 51.
On turning his attention to the external evidence in favour of the authenticity of the Gospels, the difficulties and objections accumulate. He will find, that they are not mentioned by any writer earlier than the latter half of the second century, after the birth of Jesus. The first writers who name the four Gospels, were Irenaeus, and Tertullian.[fn9] The competency of the testimony of these Fathers of the church, as to the genuineness of these books, is invalidated by the fact, (See Middleton's Free Enquiry) that they admitted the principle of the lawfulness of pious frauds, and from their having acted upon this principle, in having asserted in their writings, as from their personal knowledge, things which were certainly false; (See the work above referred to) while their capability to distinguish the genuine writings of the Apostles, from the numerous forgeries in their names that appeared about the same time that the four Gospels begin to be mentioned, is rendered suspicious by the fact, that they also give their sanction as Divine Scriptures, to books notoriously apocryphal; for instance the book of Enoch and the Sybilline Oracles.[fn11] The testimony of the Fathers who succeeded them is liable to the same objections, with this aggravation that its value diminishes more and more, as the distance of the ages in which they flourished increases, from that of Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, He will find that these Gospels were never received by the Mother Church of Jerusalem and Judea, founded by the Apostles. The Jewish Christians, the countrymen of Jesus, who one would think had the best means of knowing the real history, and real doctrines of Jesus and his Apostles, uniformly rejected not only these Gospels, but all the other books of the New Testament.[fn12] They were also rejected, by several sects of Christians who flourished in the early ages of Christianity.
Fourthly, he will learn too that the Christians most distinguished for their learning on this subject, for instance, Michaelis, Semler, Lessing, Eichorn, and the erudite Bishop Marsh, do allow and maintain in their works, that the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke were compiled from accounts of the life and doctrines of Jesus which became, after different additions, revisions and translations, the BASIS of our present Gospels; from such separate materials, which had gone through different hands, and had acquired a variety of text and context, from the different transcripts and translations in which they circulated, though for the most part they were copied verbatim from one another, several Gospels, among which were our three first Matthew Mark and Luke, were composed AFTER [fn13] the destruction of Jerusalem, and designated some by the names of the readers for whom they were designed, and others by the names of their authors and compilers. (See the life of Semler in Eichorn's Universal Library, as quoted by Mr. E. p. 465. of his work.)
These Gospels then, in the opinion of these learned Christians, were originally compiled from anonymous writings, which had gone through different hands and been variously altered, and added to in the passage, before they became the BASIS,!! of our present Gospels.[fn14]
Lastly, he will discover, that since their construction from such nameless materials, they have been further altered and interpolated. Celsus accuses the Christians of his time (the latter part of the 2nd century) of "continually altering their Gospels;" and the ancient Christian sects accuse each other of the same fact. That these accusations were well founded, is evident from Griesbach's edition of the Greek Testament, where besides the notice of some hundred thousands of various readings, we find not only single words, but whole phrases, and verses, and even entire paragraphs rejected as corruptions and interpolations. Neither have all these corruptions been accidental; for as much as the strongest text in the New Testament, in support of the doctrine of the Trinity and the Divinity of Jesus Christ, which is to be found in the first Epistle, called of John ch. v. 7, "there are three that bear witness in Heaven. The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost and these three are one," has been struck out of the text by Griesbach, himself a Trinitarian, as a pious fraud, and is now I believe universally acknowledged as such by learned Christians.
There are also, two other passages which for ages have been cited as proofs of the Divinity of Jesus (viz. "The Church of God which he has redeemed with his own blood," Acts ch. xx. 28. and "God was manifested in the flesh," in the first Epistle to Timothy, ch. iii. 16.) which the same Critic has proved to have been altered from their original reading to favour the same doctrine, and it is impossible to say how many more frauds of a similar nature might be detected, if the learned and candid Christians before- mentioned were in possession of the primitive manuscripts of the New Testament.[fn15]
All these enormities Mr. Everett, who has a light hand in writing upon some subjects, comprizes with great tenderness in the following expressions, "our copies of the New Testament by the lapse of time, have suffered some literal alterations, which may have fallen occasionally on the quoted texts (he is trying to justify the writers of the New Testament, for quoting the Old Testament otherwise than it is written) and thus made them to differ from the reading of the Old Testament," p. 279.
I have supposed that a reasonable and reasoning man, desirous to ascertain the truth of the religion of the Christians, and in the hope of finding it well founded, in the course of his examination of the testimony for the authenticity and authority of the books of the New Testament, comes to the knowledge of all these circumstances. If the reader be such a man, I would ask him, if he can rationally rest his belief in the moral attributes of God and his faith in a future life, upon a foundation composed of such materials?
Mr. Everett observes "that as prophecy and miracle are equally divine works, it is impossible that they should contradict each other. They are equally the works of the God of truth, and whatever contradiction there appears to be between them, must be but apparent. If a person of whatever pretensions proposes to work miracles in support of those pretensions, in which nevertheless he is contradicted by express prophecy, one of these things is certain—that the prophecy is a forged one—or that we have mistaken the meaning of it—or that the miracles are not real," p. 3. of Mr. Everett's work.
Granted—upon this ground I think that Mr. Everett can fairly be brought to issue. I presume that he will hardly persist in maintaining that the Gospels are a sufficient proof of the miracles they record, in the face of the objections to their authenticity and authority already stated—and as neither he nor myself maintain that the prophecies, with regard to the Messiah, contained in the Old Testament were forged, it remains only to be considered, whether he or I have mistaken the meaning of them. So that, as I have repeatedly said in my former publications, the prophets, after all, are the only criterion which can be appealed to certainly most important to the great interests of humanity, were it only on this account, that the dispute has occasioned the most unparalleled degradation, misery, and oppression to one of the parties to it.[fn16]
"The Messiah expected by the Jews," says Mr. Everett, at the beginning of the second chapter of his book, "and which Mr. English supposes to be predicted in the Old Testament, is 'a temporal prince, and a conquering pacificator.' The Christians on the other hand maintain, that the prophets foretold not a political, but a religious institution, not a temporal prince, but a moral teacher, and spiritual Saviour. Which of these opposite views of the predicted character of the Messiah is correct, must be decided of course by an appeal to particular predictions. But it is also a matter of reason, and we have a right to argue upon the question from the character of God, and the nature of man. Which of these views the Jewish or the Christian doth most commend itself to the sincere believer in the moral government of God, and the rational and accountable nature of man?"
This statement, I cannot help considering as both artful and unfair. That I have represented the Messiah as predicted to be "a temporal Prince and a conquering pacificator," is true, but it is not the whole truth; Mr. Everett would have it to be understood, that I maintained that the Messiah was to be merely "a temporal Prince;" whereas, those who will take the trouble to refer to the prior chapters of "the grounds of Christianity examined," will find that I have endeavoured to prove that the prophets predict, that he was also to be "a just, beneficient, wise, and mighty monarch, under whose government righteousness was to flourish, and mankind be made happy:" and I believe that there is not a single passage from the prophets quoted in Mr. Everett's 2d. chapter to prove his views of the Messiah, that I have not also myself quoted to prove the beneficent character of him I suppose to be predicted.
Mr. Everett unwarily betrays his own unfairness in the following passage of his work, p. 63.—-"Mr. English objects, that whereas the first characteristic of the Messiah was, that he was to be the Prince of Peace, in whose time righteousness was to flourish and mankind be made happy," &c.[fn17]
How is it possible, I might ask Mr. Everett that I could have maintained that the Messiah was to be merely "a temporal Prince, and a conquering pacificator," when it is also true, as Mr. Everett confesses, that I maintain that "the first characteristic of the Messiah was that he was to be the Prince of Peace, in whose time righteousness was to flourish and mankind be made happy?" I confess, that I feel both contempt and indignation at such an artful mis-representation of my opinions, in order to attack them with more hopes of success, and as I do not profess to be a Christian, I may be excused for expressing what in this case I certainly have a right so feel.[fn18] The prophets, literally understood represent (as Mr. Everett will not deny) that the Messiah is to be a mighty Monarch, enthroned at Jerusalem under whose reign the Jews should be restored to their country and converted from their sins and errors, and established in the most perfect and endless happiness; that he will put down all opposition to his authority, and exterminate the wicked out of the earth, and unite the pious and good of all the human race under his government, making them participators of the eternal happiness of the favoured descendants of Abraham, that all sin, sorrow, and error shall be no more, and the earth become all Paradise.
"Far more bless'd than that of Eden, And far happier days." [fn19]
The difference between Mr. Everett's and my view of this representation is, that I understand the prophets to mean that the whole will be literally fulfilled; and Mr. Everett maintains that, that part which accords with the Christian view of the Messiah is to be literally understood, but that that part which is opposed to it must be taken figuratively.
Who is so blind as not to perceive the motives for such an incoherent system, of interpretation! The passages which represent the Messiah as a Monarch reigning at Jerusalem, and whose temporal authority should extend over all the earth, Mr. Everett would interpret to signify, (by a figure) "a preacher of righteousness, and a spiritual Saviour of the souls of men;" because Jesus had no temporal authority whatever, and therefore to understand them literally would exclude the claims set up for him. The earth's being restored to a Paradisiacal state, and the extinction of all sin, violence, and misery throughout its circumference, Mr. Everett would interpret to signify, (by. a figure) "the blessed events," which have occurred, and the "changes that have taken place," since the promulgation of Christianity!! [fn20]
Mr. Everett, in support of his system of interpretation, shows us, that the Supreme Being is frequently spoken of in the Old Testament, as a King and as a victorious warrior; and therefore infers, because such passages must be understood figuratively, that the passages in the prophets which speak of the Messiah in similar terms, must be also understood figuratively.
To this it seems to me to be a sufficient answer to observe, that men who speak of the Deity, are obliged to employ human language and human ideas; because:
"What can we reason but from what we know?" and therefore a great part of such language will be necessarily figurative; but it by no means follows from this, that the writers who are obliged to use this figurative language when speaking of the Deity, intend to be understood in the same sense when they apply the same expressions to describe men and their actions. On the contrary, as they were writing to men and for men, it is natural to presume, that they meant to be understood in the way that such expressions are universally understood by all men, when they relate to men and their actions. Such a system, of interpretation as this of Mr. Everett's, turns the Bible into a Babel of confusion: a man proceeding upon this system, might with equal plausibility turn all the good and prosperous kings of Israel and Judah into "Spiritual Saviours."[fn21]
"What, says Mr. Everett, p. 63. would be thought of one, who after making a collection of passages which ascribe these attributes of royalty and conquest to God, such as Mr. English has made of those which ascribe such attributes to the Messiah, should infer as he does, that God is a just, beneficent; wise and mighty monarch reigning on a throne in Jerusalem?"
To this I answer by asking in my turn, what should we think of one, who after making a collection, of passages which ascribe these attributes of royalty and conquest to God, as Mr. Everett has done, should therefore think himself authorised to infer, that the history of David the son of Jesse, contained in the Bible, (which, as all the world knows, is an oriental book abounding in figurative expressions) was not to be understood literally, but that it was very possible that this supposed monarch of Israel, who is represented as having "saved it from its enemies on every side," was after all, probably only a spiritual saviour of the souls of the Israelites, by having distinguished himself as a prophet, a preacher of righteousness, and a composer of Psalms!! [fn22]
As Mr. Everett says, I "cheerfully leave this part of the controversy, with the answer to this question which every rational inquirer will give;" p. 63.
Mr. Everett, however, in maintaining that the Messiah, was to be merely a preacher of righteousness, a founder of a new religion, and a. spiritual saviour of the souls of men, not only opposes dicta of the prophets of the Old Testament, but is expressly contradicted by the doctrine of the New, which maintains the same ideas of the Messiah that the prophets teach and the Jews believe; and this with the indulgence of the reader's patience I will plainly show.
The angel is recorded, Luke, ch. i. 31, to have told Mary, concerning Jesus whom the author of that Gospel supposes to have been the Messiah, that "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end." Now this is precisely the doctrine, concerning the Messiah, believed by the Jews from that time to the present; for we see that Luke represents that the Messiah was not to be merely a spiritual saviour of the souls of men, but was actually to set upon the throne of David, and reign over the house of Jacob for ever; which is precisely what the prophets teach and the Jews believe.
Again, in the same ch. 68, the writer of that Gospel represents Zecharias, when filled with the Holy Ghost, as predicting concerning Jesus as follows. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David: as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us: to perform the mercy promised to our Fathers, and to remember his holy covenant: the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life."
Here we see again that in Luke's opinion the Messiah was not to be merely "a spiritual saviour of the souls of men," but that he was to "save Israel from their enemies and from the hand of all that hated them," and this too is precisely what the prophets teach and the Jews believe.
Again, from the first ch. of Acts 6. it is evident, that the primitive Christians did not believe that the Messiah was to be merely a spiritual saviour of the souls of men, but that he would perform for Israel what was promised by the prophets. For the Apostles are represented there as asking Jesus, previous to his ascension, saying "Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"
The way the writers of the New Testament, get over the objection to the Messiahship of Jesus, founded on the nonfulfillment by him of the splended visions of the prophets relative to the restoration of the dispersion, the punishment of their oppressors, and the diffusion of universal happiness to the tribes and of the world, (which they represent as the consequence of the coming of the Messiah) is, not by maintaining that the Messiah was to be merely "a spiritual Saviour of the souls of men," but by affirming that Jesus would shortly come again into the world to fulfill them. "The Lord Jesus," says the writer of the second Epistle to the Thessalonians ch. i. 7, "shall be revealed from Heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of our Lord, and from the glory of his power: when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired of all them that believe."[fn23]
Again, in the xii. ch. of the Revelations, Jesus is apparently spoken of as destined "to rule all nations with a rod of iron." And in the ii. ch. Jesus is represented as saying, that "he that overcometh and keepeth my words unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers even as I received of my Father," v: 26, and lastly, not to be tedious, there is a passage in the xix. ch. of Revelations, which proves decisively against Mr. Everett, that the primitive Christians had even more sanguinary ideas of the vengeance of the Messiah upon the wicked of the earth, than are even entertained by the Jews. Jesus is there, described thus, "I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that set upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war, and out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and he treadeth the wine press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God," v. 11, 15. Some idea of the slaughter meant by the writer of the Revelations by "treading the wine press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God," may be understood from ch. xiv. 20, where it is represented that the blood of men came out of this wine press "by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs!!"
I suppose that the reader is quite satisfied by what has been adduced, that Mr. Everett's idea of the Messiah's being merely "a spiritual saviour of the souls of men," is equally rejected by the Old Testament and the New, and since Mr. Everett does not and cannot pretend, that Jesus during the long space of 1800 years has fulfilled the predictions relating to the Messiah in a literal sense, which is the sense in which they must be fulfilled in order to be made good, Mr. Everett is left without better proof of the Messiahship of Jesus than bare opinion only, which attaineth not to any certainty.
Mr. Everett supposes that a mere "Preacher of righteousness," is capable of fulfilling all the predictions of the Messiah, which represent him as putting an end to all wickedness and misery throughout the World. How absurd!! there never was,[fn24] a better or greater "Preacher of righteousness," than Jesus Christ himself, and what did he effect among the people of his age? the Gospels say, that they whipped him, and nailed him to a cross. There has been since his time, for eighteen hundred years, I know not how many millions of "preachers of righteousness," and what have they effected? look at the history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire: look at the histories of mankind for the last 400 years. What scenes do they for the most part, present to the shocked contemplation! are they not generally a complication of folly, madness, and devilism, worthy of being recorded in triumph by the evil one himself, in letters of blood and infernal fire?
What success have the "Preachers of righteousness," of the present day? Do not these pious and good men, and pious and good they generally speaking undoubtedly are, do they not feel themselves obliged to tell you, that such is the depravity of human nature, that "teaching and preaching are all in vain;" that they are wearying themselves in "throwing pearls before swine," who receive them with a grunt, and "trample them under their feet?"
Does not Mr. Everett himself tell us p. 80, that "it is too true that the mighty passions, which agitate the public intercourse of the world, are almost beyond the direct reach of moral means," i. e. of the "Preachers of righteousness."
How then can he expect that a mere "Preacher of righteousness," is capable of subduing these "mighty passions," whose existence is incompatible with peace and happiness, and fulfilling the predictions relating to the Messiah? No, all history and experience testify that no merely human power can put an end to them. It must be done by the strong and armed hand of Heaven.
Then, and not till then, shall exiled "justice look down from Heaven, and righteousness and peace shall kiss each other." Then, and not till then, shall "the wicked cease from troubling;" and the afflicted enjoy happiness.
"These be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the Messiah of the God of Jacob, (See the Heb.) and the sweet Psalmist of Israel; The spirit of Jehovah spake by me, and his word is in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, he that ruleth over mankind (see the Heb.) shall be just, ruling in the fear of God: And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.
But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands. But the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron, and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place." 2 Sam. ch. xxiii.
Let us, however, follow Mr. Everett in the consideration of those prophecies, which he says p. 83, "are really to be regarded as proofs of the (Christian) religion."
It is not necessary for me to say any thing further, in defence of the interpretation of the prophecy in Deut. xviii. 15, contained in my first publication, where I consider it as referring to a succession of inspired messengers from God to the Israelites; because Mr. Everett allows, that "in granting that this interpretation is correct, we should only follow the example of the most learned and judicious Christian interpreters," p. 84.
I will pass therefore to the passage in the Psalm xvi. 10. "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, (i. e. the place of the departed,) nor suffer thy Saints (or thy pious ones[fn25]) to see destruction," as I have translated it. Mr. Everett maintains that the word translated by me in this place "destruction," sometimes means "corruption." Granted, but Mr. Everett will not deny that the original word sometimes signifies "destruction," and assuredly therefore I have as good a right to translate it my way, as he has to interpret it to signify "corruption."[fn26] I maintain, moreover, that I have a better right in this place to translate it "destruction," than he has to render it "corruption;" if the whole psalm manifestly relates to David, as is I think evident from the context, whose body underwent the natural decomposition occasioned by death; which therefore necessitates the translation I have given if the psalm relates to David which I think is evident.
"I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth, my flesh shall also rest in hope: for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thy saints (or thy pious one) to see destruction. Thou wilt show me the path of life, in thy presence is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand there are pleasures for ever more." Since therefore the psalm evidently relates to David, I do not see how it is a prophecy of Jesus' rising from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, as it is said to have been applied to prove, by Peter in the book of Acts ch. ii.
I would observe also, that the modern German Theological scholars, who as Mr. Everett says (p. 247. of his work.) "are supposed to excell in Critical learning," do allow and maintain, by the confession of Mr. Everett himself p. 247 of his work, that this passage in the psalms is not a prophecy of Jesus, no more than any of the others adduced in the New Testament from the Old, but that it is quoted merely by way of accommodation or allusion.
I presume therefore that Mr. Everett will cease to regard this passage as one of "the prophecies," which are really to be regarded as proofs of the Christian religion.
The next passage of the Old Testament, which Mr. Everett relies on as a prophetical proof of the Christian religion, is the 2nd. psalm; "why did the nations (according to the Heb.) rage, and the peoples (ac. to the Heb.) imagine a vain thing. The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against Jehovah, and against his Messiah saving, let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us," &c. To the application of this prophecy to Jesus, I objected in my first publication, on account of these reasons, 1st. That "the nations," as it is in the original, did not assemble to crucify Jesus, as this was done by a few soldiers. To this Mr. Everett replies, p. 90. of his work, that "the Apostle (Peter in Acts ch. iv. 45,[fn27]) does not say, they assembled to "crucify him," their joint opposition was not limited to this single act, they were gathered together against him. And it is certainly true, that Jesus was an object of the united persecution of the nation of the Jews, by means of their bigotted priests and furious multitudes, and of the Romans, by means of their tributary sovereign, Herod, and their Proconsul Pilate." In reply to this I would observe, that the words "nations," and "peoples," in the original of the passage never signified the Jewish nation, but are used in the Hebrew Bible to signify all other nations but the Jews, or what is expressed by the word "Gentiles."
Now it is said in the psalm, that "the nations and peoples," (exclusive of the Jews for the reason above-mentioned) should rage and that "the kings of the earth should stand up, and the rulers (of the earth,) take counsel against Jehovah, and against his Messiah." I do not see, therefore, how this passage could have been fulfilled by the Romans, who were but one nation, by means of their Proconsul Pilate and his soldiers: who (the Romans) were so far too from being enraged against Jesus, that it is certain, that all the Romans out of Jerusalem, did not even know what was doing against him, and Pilate himself was so far from being "enraged," and "taking counsel," against Jesus, that he befriended him as far as he dared, and made great exertions to save his life.
Moreover, in the psalm, these "nations and peoples, and kings and rulers," are represented as saving "let us break their bands in sunder, and cast away their cords from us." This passage refers to the Messiah and the Jewish nation taken together, whom the Old Testament represents as to have "dominion over all peoples, nations and languages," and that "the nation and people that will not serve them shall perish, yea those nations shall be utterly wasted." Is. lx. [fn28]
Therefore, these refractory nations and kings could not, and actually never have said this of Jesus, who was but an individual, to whom the expression "their bands and their cords," cannot apply; and finally, since Mr. Everett maintains that Jesus was "merely a spiritual saviour of the souls of men," I do not see how he can consider him as a character pretending to impose "bands and cords," upon any body.
2. I had also objected to the application of this prophecy to Jesus, because "God has not set Jesus as his king upon the holy hill of Sion, (as the psalm imports) nor given him the nations for his inheritance, nor the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession." To this Mr. Everett, p. 91, replies in the usual way, i.e. after interpreting as much of the psalm, as he thinks he can make accord with the history of Jesus, in a literal sense, he interprets this passage of the Messiah's being enthroned on Mount Sion, which he cannot make accord with it, in a figurative one. The reader must judge whether this be fair or reasonable.
The latter part of the psalm, Mr. Everett contends, was fulfilled by the rapid spread of Christianity, and he quotes, in proof of this, some passages of the Fathers. To this I would reply, that those passages of the Fathers are notorious exaggerations, and convicted of falsehood by Middleton in his Free Inquiry.
And lastly, I would observe, that even those nations who have embraced Christianity, can by no means be called the inheritance or subjects of Jesus, since they have since the days of Constantine and the Counsel of Nice renounced his doctrines, and perverted his religion into "a fabulous, irrational and blasphemous superstition,"[fn29] for as much as all of them, except a handful of Unitarian Christians, are worshippers of three Divine Beings united by an ineffable union; and by far the greater part of them are adorers of idols, images, and pictures.[fn30] And if I may, without offence, be allowed to express the sincere opinion of my heart upon this subject, I would say, that it is my serious belief, that if Jesus the son of Mary could return into the world, and learn, that his professed followers had placed him between the Cherubim, at the right hand of the Almighty, worshipping him as "God equal to the Father," as, "God of God, very God of every God:" and that by far the greater part had also placed Mary his mother on the other side of the Deity, worshipping her as "the mother of God!"[fn31] he would in my opinion renounce and denounce them as impious heathens, and possibly believe that they were possessed with devils.
The next passage which Mr. Everett quotes as a prophecy of Jesus, is the 2d verse of the 5th chapter of Micah, "and thou Bethlehem Ephratah, it is little to be among the thousands of Judah; out of thee shall come forth unto me, him who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from the days of ancient years:" [according to the Hebrew.] This I interpreted to signify, not that the birth of the Messiah should be in Bethlehem, but the descent of the Messiah should be derived from Bethlehem, i.e. from Jesse the father of David; (and that therefore a future Messiah who should be derived from this family, would fulfill the prophecy;) and this interpretation, I represent as being known and acknowledged by Hebrew scholars. "But the truth is, says Mr. Everett p. 94, that the original word, [translated by me "shall come forth,"] is familiarly used of the birth of a man, as "Mizraim begat Pathrusim, and Casluhim out of whom came Philistim,"" Gen. x. 13, 14. This is a very awkward quotation on the part of Mr. Everett, as it says nothing in favour of his views, but directly favours mine: for Philistim is a word in the plural number, and is used in the Hebrew Bible, to express "the Philistines;" and the word translated "come"[fn33] is also in the plural number, see Simon's Hebrew Bible. The passage therefore in Genesis x. 13. 14. imports that the Philistines were derived or descended from Mizraim. "Who the Hebrew scholars are, says Mr. Everett, who acknowledge this turn of the passage [in Micah] know not," p. 94 of Mr. Everett's work. If I were writing in Europe or America, I think that I could point them out; but if my memory does not deceive me, Grotius interprets the passage of the derivation of the Messiah from Bethlehem: and Mr. Everett will not deny that the modern Christian Hebrew scholars of Germany, disallow that this passage has any reference to Jesus, and affirm that it is quoted in the New Testament, Matthew ii. 5., only by way of allusion or accommodation.
I had however, in order to show that this prophecy could not be insisted on by the Christians, said by way of argument, that allowing "that Bethlehem was to be the birth place of the Messiah, what then? will a man's being born in Bethlehem, be sufficient to make him the Messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets!"
This Mr. Everett seizes hold on in the following Way, p. 95. "Now if we were willing to be consistent, and cling to our principles wherever they carry us, it would almost seem that this concession might decide the controversy. The Messiah is to be of Bethlehem. This reduces to a little span, the number of those among whom he can be found. Moreover, Bethlehem is now in ruins, to all moral purposes its identity is gone.[fn34] It is the habitation of Turks, of Arabs, of Christians, and if there be any Jews there, none will pretend that the divisions of the tribes are preserved among them, so that the tribe of David, from whom the Messiah is to arise, is known in Bethlehem, from the rest. Neither can it be argued that hereafter when the Jews are restored, Bethlehem will be repeopled with Jews, the family of David be discriminated, and the prophecy admit of fulfillment, because Mr. English himself allows it to be the sense of prophecy, that the Messiah shall be born before the restoration. It only remains therefore to look back, and to see, of all that have appeared in Bethlehem, which has the greatest claim to this character."
On this reasoning I would observe, 1st, that my concession on which it is founded is merely gratuitous; as the words "shall come forth" signify merely derivation; 2nd, that Mr. Everett is mistaken in supposing that Bethlehem is now in ruins. It is at present probably nearly as large and populous as it ever was. 3d, Mr. Everett is mistaken, in supposing that the family of David cannot be traced among the Jews. There are at this moment in the world, many families allowed by their bretheren to be descended from David. Should any of the Jews go to Bethlehem at any time to come, and have a male child born to him in that place, for aught that can be known beforehand, that child may be the Messiah and the prophecy be fulfilled in Mr. Everett's sense of it; which I repeat cannot be insisted on, as "come forth" certainly may signify, and in the case unluckily quoted by Mr. Everett, (Gen. x, 13. 14.) certainly does import, derivation.[fn35]
The next passage, adduced by Mr. Everett, is the 10th v. of the ix. ch of Zechariah, "Rejoice greatly O! daughter of Zion, shout O! daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy king cometh unto thee: he is just and saved, lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."
Mr. Everett, after allowing that the Hebrew reads "saved" or "preserved" instead of "having salvation," as in the English version, observes, that many ancient versions read as in the English Bible. Whether the true reading be mine or his, is not of any consequence to the question to which this book relates. I maintain that a man's riding upon an ass into Jerusalem, is not sufficient to prove him the Messiah.
I also repeat that the event predicted, is spoken of by the prophet as contemporaneous with the restoration of the division, [fn37] and of course could not have been fulfilled eighteen hundred years ago.
"Mr. Everett tries to shove out this objection, by taking for granted, p. 98 of his work, that the chapter of Zechariah in which this prophecy is found, is a series of chronological predictions. But I must remind Mr. Everett that this pretention is inadmissible. None of the predictions of the prophets, except some in Daniel, are arranged in chronological order; they were delivered by parcels, and at intervals, frequently of some years; and these parcels generally have no connexion with each other. Mr.. Everett's reasoning upon the assumption here contradicted, is therefore inadmissible.
Finally, the German Biblical Scholars so frequently mentioned, deny that this was a prediction of Jesus, and affirm that it is quoted by the Evangelists merely by way of accommodation.
The next passage adduced is Zechariah xii. 10., "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and supplications, and they shall look upon [or towards] me[fn38] whom they have blasphemed, [or pierced,] and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son."
The meaning of this prophecy is obscure. The word translated "pierced" in the English version, may also in the opinion of Grotius, and I add of Rosenmuller too, as quoted by Mr. Everett in the 104. p. of his book, be best rendered "blasphemed or reproached." It may refer to the time when, according to the Old Testament, the hearts of the house of Israel shall be cleansed from sin, and they shall turn to God "with their whole heart and with all their souls," as predicted by Moses.
I conclude with observing, that this passage, quoted in the New Testament; John ch. xix. has long since ceased to be considered as a prophecy of Jesus by the German Critics, and is believed by them, to have been adduced in the gospel merely by way of allusion. (See Rosenmuller's observations in his notes on the passage.)
I am afraid that the reader has found these discussions rather tedious, and am therefore happy to be at liberty to proceed to the consideration of the three famous prophecies of Jacob, Isaiah, and Daniel.
"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Law-giver from between his feet for ever; for Shilo shall come, and to him shall the obedience of the peoples be ." Gen. xlix. 10. So I maintain the passage should be translated.
On this prediction I observed, (Grounds of Christianity Examined p.40. as quoted by Mr. Everett.) "That though this prophecy is allowed by the Jews to refer to their Messiah, yet it does not define, nor limit the time of his coming. For that it is perfectly evident to all who will look at the place in the Hebrew Bible, that it is pointed to read, not "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet until Shilo come;" but "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet for ever; for Shilo shall come, and to him shall the gathering of the peoples be." So that the prophecy does not intimate that the Messiah should come before the sceptre be departed from Judah: but that it should not depart for ever, but shall be restored when Shilo comes."
On this Mr. Everett remarks, "now the points, commonly so called, have nothing to do with the division of a sentence into its members, or with what we call punctuation; but Mr. English intended to intimate, that according to the accents, the verse should be divided as he proposes." (p. 110, of Mr. Everett's work.) In return for this friendly attempt to set me right, I would beg of Mr. Everett to peruse the following extract from the celebrated Alting's Treatise on Hebrew punctuation, which he will probably look over with blushing cheeks. "Punctorum appellatione venit, quicquid in Hebraea Scriptura occurrit praeter literas. Sunt vero punctorum genera tria; unum eorum quae sonum moderantur; alterum illorum, quae tonum regunt, tertium mere criticorum est quae ad crisin masoretharum solummodo pertinent."' p, 9. edit. Septima.
I do not think it necessary, to enter with Mr. Everett into the intricate dispute about the Hebrew accents, since he represents that they are of no authority in deciding the question between him and me, and because I think he will therefore not deny, that disregarding their authority, the passage will bear the rendering I have given it.
I shall therefore proceed to establish the interpretation I have given of the passage in Genesis, 1st. by endeavouring to show, that Mr. Everett's interpretation would convict the prophecy, of falsehood; and 2dly. by showing that the interpretation I have given, is confirmed by the express declaration of God himself.
This prophecy was delivered by Jacob before there was any king in Judah. The sceptre did depart from Judah, and with a vengeance too, at the dethronement and captivity of Zedekiah, and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans: consequently, if the sceptre was not to depart from Judah till Shilo came, the Messiah ought to have appeared before the dethronement of Zedekiah; as he certainly did not appear before that event, the prophecy, according to Mr. Everett's sensible interpretation, would be falsified.
2. The sceptre never has been restored to Judah since the dethronement of Zedekiah; because the tribe of Judah, since that period, have been in subjection to the Babylonians, the Persians, the Syrians, the Romans, and all the world. Mr. Everett maintains that the sceptre of Judah was in the hands of that tribe during the time that it was held by the Romans[fn42] who were of the tribe of Levi and the Herods who were Idumaeans. This idea appears to me absurd, but I shall not give myself the trouble to oppose it by argument, as it can be set aside by the express declaration of God, as reported by Ezekiel, ch. xxi. 26. Speaking of Zedekiah and his dethronement, the prophet represented the Deity, as saying, "thus saith the Lord God, remove the diadem, take off the crown; this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, (i. e. the crown or sceptre of Judah,) and it shall be no more until he comes whose right it is, and I will give it him."
Here the Deity expressly declares, that from the dethronement of Zedekiah; the crown of Judah should be no more till the coming of the Messiah to whom he would give it. The Asmonaeans and the Herods cannot therefore be considered as having held it, as Mr. Everett supposes.[fn41]
But this is not all, the original Hebrew of this emphatic declaration has a singular force, the idea it expresses is as follows, "I will make it (or "place it," the crown of Judah, i. e. the Messiahship) an occasion of perversion, of perversion, of perversion, and it shall be-no more till he come whose right it is, and I will give it him." Viewed in this light, who will deny that this declaration has been most strangely fulfilled? The Christians reproach the Jews with "perverse and mad delusion" in having successively believed a hundred: different impostors to have been the Messiah, while the Jews in their turn say that the Christians have been as mad as themselves, in believing that Jesus of Nazareth was this personage.
I suppose therefore that Mr. Everett, after coolly viewing what I have stated with regard to this prophecy of the Shilo, will be sensible that he may as well discharge the unfortunate Rabbies he has seized upon and lugged into court as reluctant witnesses of the truth of Christianity, as their further attendance can be no longer necessary: and I would leave him to consider whether the liberal appellation of "dogmatical blunderer," which he has bestowed upon me, p. 114 of his work, relative to my arguments upon this prophecy, may not better apply to another than myself.[fn43]
Let us now proceed to the consideration of the famous prophecy of Isaiah, which Mr. Everett styles, p. 144, the "carinficina Rabbinorum."[fn44]
In order to be enabled to give a fair interpretation of it, it is first of all necessary to give a fair translation of it from the original Hebrew, which is what has not been done in the English version; forasmuch as there are therein not less than thirteen mistranslations.
The following, I believe, will be considered as a just representation of the original as it stands in the Hebrew Bible.
"Behold my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high. As many as were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any other man, and his form more than the sons of man, (or Adam,) so shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.[fn45]
"Who hath believed what we heard? (or what was reported to us) and to whom was the arm of Jehovah revealed? For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground. He had no form nor comeliness; and when we saw him there was no beauty that we should desire him, He was despised and the outcast of men; a man of sorrows and familiar with grief;[fn46] and we hid as it were our faces from him, (or, as one that hid his face from us,) he was despised and esteemed not. Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried (away) our sorrows.[fn47] Yet did we esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded through our transgression, he was bruised through our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with[fn48] his stripes we are healed. ("healing is to us," Hebr.) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath caused to light (or "meet") upon him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he would not open his mouth; he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he would not open his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who would meditate [or consider sufficiently] his generation? [or who shall declare his generation;] For he was cut off out of the land of the living: through the transgression of my people was he smitten: ["smiting was to him," Hebr.] and he appointed his grave with the wicked, and with the rich[fn49] in his deaths.[fn50] Although he hath done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth, yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him: he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days,[fn51] and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand. He shall see [the fruit] of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant make many righteous, for he shall bear [away] their iniquities.[fn52] Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great: and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he hath made naked his life unto death; and he was numbered with the transgressors, and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Is. from the 13th. v. of the 52d. ch. to the end of the 53d.
It is an acknowledged principle of sound criticism, that the same expressions in the same author, are to be-understood always, in the same sense, unless the context makes it plainly evident that another sense is intended. Let us, therefore, first of all, examine the chapters of Isaiah preceding the extract, in order to understand who he means by "God's servant."
In the 49th. of Isaiah, v 3. it is said, "Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified." In ch. xlviii. 20. "The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob." In ch. xlv. 4. "For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect." In ch. xliv, 1. "Yet hear now, O Jacob my servant, and Israel whom I have chosen: fear not O Jacob, my servant." v. 2. "Remember these O Jacob and Israel, for thou art my servant. I have formed thee, thou art my servant O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me." v. 21.
"Ye are my witnesses saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen." ch. xliii. 10. See also the whole of ch. xlii. "Thou Israel art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend." ch. xli. 8.
There can be no doubt therefore, that by "my servant," mentioned in the first part of the prophecy quoted from Isaiah, and by "my righteous servant," in the latter part of it, that "God's servant Israel" must be understood to be meant, provided there be nothing in the context to make it necessary to resort to some other interpretation. Mr. Everett says that there is something in the context, which forbids the application of this prophecy to "God's servant Israel." Let us then examine the reasons on which this assertion is founded.
He says 1st, p. 136 of his work, that the subject of this prophecy is spoken of as "passive and unresisting," and he exclaims, "The Jews passive and unresisting! They are the most obstinate and unyielding of the tribes of the earth, and have resisted the arm of power, and the lapse of time, which have crushed all other nations into oblivion."
The prophecy speaks of their non-resistance to oppression, and Mr. Everett tells us, to contradict this, that "they have resisted the arm of power, and the lapse of time, which have crushed all other nations into oblivion." This seems to me to be irrelevant.
"They afflicted and complained not! their complaints have been fiercer than their sufferings have been cruel." Is this true? Does Mr. Everett really believe it to be true? Does not all the world know it to be false?[fn53]
"They have done no iniquity? When no iniquity? Not in the days of Isaiah their own prophet, who cries, "Ah! sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, seed of evil doers." Not in the days of Josephus their own historian, who sets forth scenes of depravity which turn common wickedness into virtue, and declares "that the earth would have swallowed them, if the Romans had not swept them from its face?" No iniquity in the ages since; throughout the cities of the dispersion, where they are proverbially dishonest, and professedly unfaithful." &c.. &c.
Now all this eloquent invective can be set aside so far as it affects my application of this prophecy by this simple remark; that this prophecy neither relates to the wicked Jews of the time of Isaiah, nor of Josephus, nor the ages since, but refers to "God's servant Israel" i. e., not to the rebellious and reprobate of the Jewish nation, but to those of the house of Jacob, who have, who do, and who shall adhere to God's law, and obey his commandments; for no others of them will God acknowledge as "his servants."[fn54]
I would also observe, that the stress which Mr. Everett lays upon the phrase "no iniquity," shows either great carelessness, or great ignorance of the idiom of the Hebrew Scriptures; because every man, familiar with those writings, knows that this expression is one of those called Hebreisms, which must be understood in a restrained sense. In proof of which, and a decisive one too, I would refer him to the prophecy of Balaam, recorded, Num. ch. xxii. 21. where Balaam exclaims in his prophetic enthusiasm, "He [i.e. God] hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel."
Now I suppose that the 53rd. of Isaiah, is a representation of what may be the reflections of the nations, who have despised and persecuted "God's servant Israel," through the influence of the prejudices of their mistaken religion, but who had become sensible of their error by seeing the tremendous interference of God himself in their behalf, predicted over and over again by the prophets as to happen. The natural consequence of this conviction in the minds of those nations, would be a revulsion of the feelings to the opposite extreme. They would exaggerate the merits, and extenuate the demerits of "God's servant." They would reflect with astonishment and commiseration on their past sufferings. "We considered them," they might exclaim, "as a God- abandoned race, and devoted to wretchedness by him for having crucified their king. But instead of being the victims of God's wrath, they were wounded through our cruelty, they were bruised through our iniquitous treatment. It is we who have sinned more than they. We having gone astray in our ignorance, being without the knowledge of God and his law. How passive and unresisting were they! They were oppressed, they were afflicted, and complained not: when through false accusations and mistaken cruelty, they were plundered and condemned to die, they went like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so they opened not their mouth. They were taken from the dungeon to be slain; they were wantonly massacred, and every man was their foe; and the cause of the sufferers who condescended to examine? They had done no iniquity to merit this: for their adherence to their faith, which we charged upon them as a crime, we now see to be approved of by their God, as an acceptable instance of unexampled perseverance in the cause of truth."[fn55]
Mr. Everett proceeds, p. 145, "If any thing needs be added, the following observation is important, viz. that there is one passage so clearly inapplicable to the Jewish nation, and so totally incongruous with the rest of the interpretation, that Mr. English passes it over without even the attempt of an explanation. It is this: in a part of the prophecy which he puts into the mouth of the Gentiles we read, "for [the Hebrew I must remind Mr. Everett reads "by or through,"] the transgressions of MY PEOPLE was he stricken," This Mr. English paraphrases "for [it should have been "by or through"] the thoughtless crimes of my people he suffered. But what the Gentiles could mean by "MY PEOPLE" he does not say, and this difficulty is fatal to the whole interpretation.""
I will presently show Mr. Everett, that this formidable objection, so emphatically announced, is after all a mere man in buckram; and I am almost sorry that in doing this, I shall be obliged to expose one more proof of Mr. Everett's having neglected the study of "the beggarly elements," in order to devote himself, without distraction, to the understanding of the delectable types and allegories of the New Testament. Mr. Everett certainly is a scholar and a man of talents, but he does not perfectly know, nor will [fn56] understand, the contents of the Old Testament; and the above objection is a proof of it.
He maintains, that the expression "my people," could not be used by a Gentile, and that therefore my whole interpretation of the prophecy in Isaiah, is fatally affected by his objection. I request Mr. Everett to have the goodness to turn to the book of Ruth ch i. 16., where he will find this Gentile, "this Moabitish damsel" saying to her mother in-law "thy people shall be my people." Will Mr. Everett look a little farther to the 1 Sam. ch. v. 10. in the Hebrew, (not in a translation,) where he will find the Gentile Philistines saying, "They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to slay me and my people?" (ac. to the Hebr.) again, v. 11. "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go to his own place, that it slay me not and my people." (ac. to the Hebr.)[fn57]
Mr. Everett, therefore, may understand from these examples, why I passed over this phrase "without even the attempt of an explanation;" because, truly, I never dreamed, that this formidable objection, would have been made: or that any man would write, upon the Jewish controversy, who did not first inform himself of the contents and phraseology of the Hebrew Bible.
Having, as I believe, shewn that the 53d. chapter of Isiah can be understood of "God's servant Israel," I will now attempt to shew the reasons why I think that it cannot relate to Jesus of Nazareth.
1st. Of the subject of this prophecy it is said v. 9. "and he appointed his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his deaths," in the plural. Now of Jesus we read in the gospels the direct contrary: for the gospels represent that his death was with the wicked, and his grave with the rich.[fn58]
2. The use of the word deaths, in the plural, appears to me to necessitate the application of the prophecy to a people, not to an individual. The same is evident distinctly from the Hebrew of v. 8. at the end of the verse, in the word "lamoo."
3. The subject of this prophecy is said to have been "oppressed", i. e. by pecuniary exactions: for that is the radical idea of the Hebrew word, as is shown and asserted in the lexicons of the Hebrew language.[fn59] This is peculiarly true of the Jewish nation, but was not true at all with regard to Jesus.
And to conclude, this prophecy is quoted repeatedly in the New Testament. Now, that none of the quotations in the New Testament from the Old can be maintained as prophecies fulfilled by Jesus, is the opinion of the learned Christians Michaelis, Eichorn; Semler, Eckerman, Lessing, &c. as is allowed by Mr. Everett: of course the 53d ch. of Isaiah in their opinions cannot be adduced as a prophetic proof of Christianity: and Mr. Everett, in maintaining the contrary, has to struggle not only against argument, but the strongest Christian authority that can be produced on any question of Biblical Criticism.
Mr. Everett, in several passages of his book, has thought proper to charge me with errors; but in the course of his discussion of my interpretation of the 53d. of Isaiah, has directly accused me of falsehood and of fraud, p. 148. of his work.
With regard to many of these errors, the situation and circumstances I am in at present, put it out of my power to defend myself, because I cannot get the books he refers to in order to test his statements;[fn60] but of the latter imputations, the work of Mr. Everett itself not only enables me to justify myself, but to fix those charges upon him.
He says in the 148 page of his work, remarking upon my assertion in "The Grounds of Christianity Examined."—"In a word the literal application of this prophecy [the 53d. of Isaiah] to Jesus is now given up by the most learned Hebrew scholars, who allow that the literal sense of the original can never be understood of him,"- "Why does not Mr. English name these Hebrew scholars? Simply because his assertion is not true." Indeed! Does not Mr. Everett himself say in the 247 p. of his work, that Eichorn in a view of a work of Dr. Ekerman says, that "the principle of accommodation, which the better interpreters had already applied to many violations [fn62] in the New Testament, is by this author extended to all." "Though this opinion of Dr. Ekerman," says Mr. Everett, must be allowed to savour a little of the extravagance of theory, Eichorn adopts it. As the work alluded to, the "Theological Contributions" has become a classical book with one class of the German divines, who are thought to excel in critical learning, there is no doubt that this doctrine is generally received among them. MICHAELIS we all know admits it; and Marsh is the only famous critic of the present day who does not embrace it.
Now the 53d. ch. of Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament,[fn63] of course, therefore, according to Mr. Everett's own representations of the opinions of these learned critics, they must deny that the prophecy of Isaiah has any reference to Jesus, and hold that it is quoted merely by way of accommodation. And if so how has Mr. Everett dared to accuse me of falsehood in representing, that "the literal application of this prophecy to Jesus is now given up by the most learned Hebrew scholars, who allow that the literal sense of the original can never be understood of him"?! There is undoubtedly a falsehood told in this affair, and a conscious suppression of truth, but it is not I who tell the first, or conceal the latter.
Mr. Everett then proceeds. "Priestley and Grotius are all he claims, [the reader may see by the above that I might have claimed more,] Priestley was a learned man, but he has no pretentions as a Hebrew scholar, and though Mr. English quotes Grotius, he does it incorrectly." He declares that "Grotius has applied it to Jeremiah, and says, that Jesus Christ has nothing to do with it except in a secondary sense, but that the whole of it from beginning to end refers to Jeremiah." "There are but few to whom I need say" continues Mr. Everett, "that the words of Grotius in his commentary are, "These marks have their first fulfillment in Jeremiah, but a more especial, sublime, and often indeed more literal fulfillment in Christ." Mr. Everett's work p. 148. I do not see how this passage of Grotius contradicts my representation of his opinion. The passage from Grotius quoted by Mr. Everett declares, "that these marks [i. e. the 53d. of Isaiah] have their first fulfillment in Jeremiah;" of course they could not be fulfilled by any other except in a secondary sense, as I have asserted. As for the "more especial, sublime, and often indeed more literal fulfillment in Christ," I have always supposed that this and similar expressions in other parts of Grotius' Commentary, were understood, by all who were acquainted with Grotius' history and the times in which he wrote, to be intended for a mere salvo, as a tub thrown out to that great whale the vulgar; to contradict directly whose opinions with regard to the prophecies, was in the time of Grotius very dangerous, as he himself, notwithstanding all his precaution and truckling, seriously experienced.[fn64]
"Also, [Mr. Everett goes on to say,] in adducing the authority of Priestley for his interpretation without reference or qualification, Mr. English gives cause to think, that he did not know, or knowing forbore to state, that Priestley pronounces it impossible, in one of his works, to explain this prophecy of any but Jesus Christ. What Hebrew scholars are to be named with Lowth and MICHAELIS, who both assert the literal application to Christ, Mr. English may one day learn, that asseverations like these whatever immediate effect they produce, will finally stand in the way of his character for veracity." p.149.
This has been to me the most irritating passage in Mr. Everett's book, because it is a tissue of impudent ignorance or impudent fraud, and as such I will prove it.[fn65]
I have always supposed, that in quoting the opinion of an author as authority, it is the fairest way to quote his last avowed opinions. Now the work of Priestley's which I refer to as applying the prophecy of Isaiah to the Jewish nation, as I do, is entitled "Priestley's Notes on Scripture," and was published after arrival in America, several years AFTER the work to which Mr. Everett. refers, wherein Priestley, maintained that it was impossible to explain this prophecy of any but Jesus Christ." Therefore this fact "gives cause to think, that Mr. Everett did not know, or knowing forbore to state (which I believe in my conscience is the truth) this circumstance" which completely acquits me at least of a suppressio veri.[fn66]