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TACITUS UNABLE TO DISPROVE THE MIRACLES OF
CHRIST, ASSERTS THINGS WHICH HE KNEW TO BE FALSE, IN ORDER TO UNDERMINE THEM.
The writings of Josephus contain internal proofs of accuracy and fidelity; and they were held forth to the public, as faithful and accurate, by the most competent witnesses, by the Roman generals and governors of Judea, who had been witnesses of all the transactions recorded by him. This was a circumstance which made him more known to the Romans, and rendered him an object of study and attention to those historians who had to advert to the affairs of the Jews. In the number of these was Tacitus, who had perused and copied Josephus, except where his hatred of the Jews induced him to follow false, but to him more agreeable guides. Few things serve to place in a clearer light the great truths of Christianity, than the circumstance that this historian had read Josephus and felt unable to contradict him. I will illustrate this position by a few passages from the Roman writer.
Josephus asserts that the Jewish oracles denoted the government of Vespasian. The Egyptians naturally envied the Jews the honour of being the first to raise the views of Vespasian to the throne of Cæsar; and they were led by the same motive to wish that, when come to Alexandria, he should receive from the tutelary god of Egypt, as well as from the God of Israel, some indication of his future royalty. To this envy, awakened by the Jewish oracles in favour of Vespasian, we owe the following falsehoods, gravely recorded by Tacitus : “Vespasian was now determined to visit the sanctuary of Serapis, in order to consult the god about the future fortune of the empire. Having given orders to remove all intruders, he entered the temple. While he adored the deity of the place, he perceived in the midst of his devotion a man of principal note among the Egyptians advancing behind him. The name of this person was Basilides, who at that moment was known to be detained by illness at the distance of several miles. Vespasian inquired of the priests, whether they had seen Basilides that day in the temple. He asked a number of others whether they had met him in any part of the city. At length, from messengers whom he dispatched on horseback, he received certain intelligence that Basilides was no less than fourscore miles distant from Alexandria. He concluded, therefore, that the gods had favoured him with a preternatural vision; and from the import of the word Basilides, he inferred an interpretation of the decrees of heaven in favour of his future reign.
In this paragraph Tacitus inculcates that Basilides was one of the principal men in Egypt, and that he was a priest of Serapis. But in truth he had been a slave (Sueton. Vespas. $ 7.) and was at this very time a freedman of Vespasian: and the Roman historian has falsified this account of him, in order to form a more exact counterpart to Josephus, who was a leading man and a priest among the Jews; thus making it appear that Se. rapis, no less than the God of Israel, foresaw and foretold by his minister the future elevation of Vespasian. From the appearance or vision of Basilides in the temple, the priests taught that emperor to infer the decrees of heaven in favour of his future reign. This is a fiction and a fiction too very contemptible-founded on the name of Basilides, which in Greek means the form or appearance of a king.
Vespasian passed some months. at Alexandria, having resolved to defer his voyage to Italy till the return of summer, when the winds blowing in a regular direction afford a safe and pleasant navigation. During his residence in that city, a number of incidents out of the ordinary course of nature seemed to mark him as the peculiar favourite of the gods. A man of mean condition, born at Alexandria, had lost his sight by a defluxion in his eyes. He presented himself before Vespasian; and falling prostrate on the ground, implored the emperor to administer a cure for his blindness. He came, he said, by the admonition of Serapis, the god whom the Egyptians hold in the highest veneration. The request was, that the emperor with his spittle would condescend to moisten the poor man's face and the balls of his eyes. Another, who had lost the use of his hands, inspired by the same god, begged that he would tread on the part affected. Vespasian smiled at a request so absurd and wild. The wretched objects persisted to implore his aid. He dreaded the ridicule of a vain attempt; but the importunity of the men, and the crowd of flatterers, prevailed upon the prince not entirely to disregard their petition. He ordered the physicians to consider among themselves, whether the blindness of the one and the paralytic affection of the other were within the
reach of human assistance. The result of the consultation was, that the organs of sight were not so injured, but that by removing the film or cataract the patient might recover. As to the disabled limb, by proper applications and invigorating medicines -it was not impossible to restore it to its former tone. The gods, perhaps, intended a special remedy, and chose Vespasian to be the instrument of their dis-pensations. If a cure took place, the glory of it would add new lustre to the name of Cæsar; if otherwise, the poor men would bear the jests and raillery of the people. Vespasian, in the tide of his affairs, began to think that there was nothing so great or wonderful, nothing so improbable or even incredible, which his good fortune would not accomplish. In the presence of a prodigious multitude, all erect with expectation, he advanced with an air of serenity, and hazarded the experiment. The paralytic hand recovered its functions, and the blind man saw the light of the sun. By living witnesses, who were actually on the spot, both events are confirmed at this hour, when deceit and flattery can hope for no reward." Hist. lib.v. 81, 82.
Tacitus had read the testimony which Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities, bears to the wisdom, the wonderful works, and the love of truth, which distinguished Jesus Christ. He knew that the same things were attested by multitudes besides in every country, and were so generally believed that they could not be contradicted with effect. The Roman historian, therefore, prudently declined to call their truth in question; and he attempts to set aside the miracles of Jesus, or to render the belief of them umavailing, by ascribing similar wonders to Serapis acting through the instrumentality of Vespasian. The
blessed Jesus extended his kind regard principally to the poor, and he once healed a man having a withered hand in the presence of his enemies. He also gave eyes, by merely putting spittle upon thein, to one known to have been born blind. These and his other miracles he performed when surrounded by multitudes, among whom were his enemies; and we have reason to believe, that he wrought all his wonderful cures with a tender, tranquil, and serene mind, without ostentation or tumult. He simply, in the name and with the authority of God, gave mand; and the effect, or the cure of the patient, instantly followed.
Tacitus ascribes to Vespasian the same cures, marked by similar circumstances; and he enforces the belief of them by saying that the blind man was known to have had a defluxion in his eyes; that the prince complied with the petition of the supplicants in the presence of a multitude eager to know the event.
The two miracles to which these of Vespasian are more directly opposed, occur in John ix. and Mark iii. 5. In the first of these miracles, the patient is brought forward as known by neighbours and others to have been born blind, ver. 8; and Jesus, moreover, is represented as putting spittle and clay on his eyes. In the second it is related, “ And Jesus said to the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it, and it became whole.” To this the very language of Tacitus bears a close resemblance. Jussa exsequitur, statim conversa ad usum manus, caco reluxit dies. • Tacitus in his Annals, lib. i. $ 85, writes : “In the same year the lust of the women was restrained by à severe decree of the senate, which prohibited any