This historian tells us that these calamities were brought upon the Jewish people by the wickedness of four men. Considering these men as chief agents in propagating the new religion, which they had corrupted by falsehoods and debased by their immoralities, we may justly admit the fact. But detach them from the influence which the Christian doctrine produced upon the body of the Jews and Egyptians; that is, regard them as unconnected with the rest of those nations by their religious profession; and it will appear utterly incredible that, on their account, however flagrant their guilt might have been, all their countrymen should have been exposed to such calamities. To extend to a whole people the crimes committed only by a few, and involve the innocent with the guilty (who were but four) in the punishment due to the latter only, is a degree of barbarity strange in itself and inconsistent with the practice of the Roman government. Josephus limits the crimes alleged by Sejanus and his partisans against the Jews in general, to four men; and thus he defends the followers of Jesus from the calamities with which they were maligned, in the very place he defends Jesus himself.

The views of Sejanus were soon after this unmasked, and he fell a victim to his own treachery and ambition. The steady opposition which the Jews gave to him even in the fullness of his power, furnished the emperor with a convincing proof of their innocence and integrity, and at the same time with a powerful motive to become their friend. Accordingly from this time a sudden and marked change took place in the conduct of that emperor towards the Jews. He proposes divine honours to be paid to the leader whom they professed to follow;

and not content with protecting them in Rome, he sends to all the provinees an edict to secure the Jews from violence, and their rights from invasion.

The Jew whoin Josephus stigmatizes as wicked in every respect, was, we have reason to believe, one of the Gnostic teachers, who wished to defeat the Gospel by blending it with heathenism. His companions, as we may gather from the context, were Simon of Samaria and certain priests of Isis at Rome. Tacitus informs us that the Egyptians were implicated with the Jews in their present calamity; and for this implication the coalition of the Egyptian priests with the wicked Jew naturally accounts.

Some time after these events took place in Rome, Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, in which we find very striking allusions to them. Josephus hints at the high claims to superior wisdom made by this Jew as one of the Gnostics, when he says that he pretended to unfold the wisdom of the law of Moses. The apostle expostulates with this very man, and enuinerates the lofty titles which, as a teacher of the divine dracles, he arrogated to himself; “ Behold thou callest thyself a Jew, and reposest in the law, and gloriest in God, and knowest his will, and approvest the superior principles of the law; and thou professest to be a guide of the blind, a light to them that are in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of babes, as possessing the characters of knowledge and truth in the law.'

Paulina Fulvia, a woman of rank, whose husband was in habits of friendship with the emperor, had become a convert to the Gospel. She entrusted to this Jew and his associates some presents for the temple in Jerusalem, which they kept for them, selves: and they repaid her munificence by sacrificing her chastity at the shrine of Anubis. Hence the apostle continues to address him, “Dost thou, then, who teachest another, neglect to teach thyself? Dost thou, who preachest against stealing, steal thyself ? Dost thou, who forbiddest adultery, commit adultery ? Dost thou abhor idols, and yet profanely rob the temple ?”. The conduct of those impostors brought great disgrace on the character and religion of Jesus at Rome: and Josephus is express in declaring, that the Jews in that city were banished or put to death on account of those four men. Accordingly Paul adds, "Dost thou glory in the law, yet by the transgression of the law dishonour God?" Rom. ii. 17-24.

It is a fact well known to those acquainted with ecclesiastical history, that in the first and second centuries the name Christus, given to our Lord as the Messiah, was changed into Chrestus (xens es:) synonymous with good, benign.' This change must have originated with those who at least pretended to be friends of the Gospel : for it is apparently in tended to repel the notions of infamy and guilt, which the malignity of his enemies had associated with the fair and honourable name of Christ, and to substitute those of benignity and goodness. The object of this deceiver was to set aside Christianity, by representing the founder as one of the heathen gods. The pagans believed in the existence and agency of demons, and such of them as were employed as mediators between the supreme gods and men, they marked with the epithet (xons oi) Chresti* The classing of our Lord with these demons or pre. tended mediators, was the real object to which the change of Christus into Chrestus was insidiously directed. The learned heathens were not averse to this doctrine, as it enabled them to account for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus without the necessity of receiving his Gospel. Now it is a remarkable fact, that the conduct of the wicked Jew and his associates in the church at Rome, is thus noticed by the apostle: “ Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are making divisions, and occasioning reproaches, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learnt, and avoid them. For such men are not servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, but of their own belly; and by their account of Chrestus and their honorary festivals are deceiving the hearts of the simple*.”

* Plut. De Iside, ş 45.

The narrative of Josephus represents the Jewish believers in Rome as innocent in general, but stigmatizes four of them as wicked in every respect. According to Philo, the edict of Tiberius made a distinction, which unfortunately had not been made at first, between the innocent and the guilty, enjoining the magistrates of the provinces to protect the former, and to punish only the latter, who were few. This just distinction is recognised by Paul in that part of his letter to the Christians in Rome, where he enforces the duty of obedience to the civil

• Rom. xvi. 18. The original is, dla Tys Xenotooylas xal Uaogras. The first is a new invented word, and occurs no where else. But its composition obviously suggests its meaning, XPYOTON doyos; an account of Chrestus. Eulogc10 means a festival, jo which the divinity, in honour of whom it was held, was eulogized or honoured. It is to the excesses of which they were guilty in this festival that the apostle alludes; when he says, that they were not servants of the Lord Jesus, but of their own kelly.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

rulers. “These” (Rom. xiii.3.) “are not a terror to the good but to evil doers.” The apostle Peter recognises the same distinction: "Submit yourselves to governors as unto men that are sent by him, for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them who do well.” 1 Pet. chap. ii. ver. 13. Here then is a very remarkable circumstance; Paul writing in Greece, Peter in Rome or Judea, and Philo about the same time in Egypt, use the very same language; and that in circumstances in which neither would or eould have used it. Because so notoriously hostile were the magistrates in general to Christ and his followers, that, when left to themselves, they were more disposed to punish the active and virtuous than the guilty among them. It is manifest, therefore, that the language of these three writers owes its coincidence to the edict of the emperor, which had been sent to, and made known in, all the provinces.

Josephus represents those of the Jews who enlisted, as sent into the island of Sardinia. But Suetonius asserts, in more general terms, that they were sent into provinces of a severe climate. Some of them, no doubt, were conveyed to Great Britain, where at this time existed a military establishment: and to this island those victims of cruelty and injustice must have brought with them the name and doctrine of Christ. And this will account for the following passage of Gildas, which I extract from Camden's Britannia, Gough's edition, page 50 :-" In the mean time," writes he,“ the island, exposed to the severest cold, and as it were in the extremity of the earth, out of the reach of the visible sun, was first, under the reign of Tiberius, favoured with the true sun, shining not in the material firmament but from

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »