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either that Jesus had been a Therapute before his preaching, or at least that he had borrowed their doctrines.
Whatever may be in this, in the midst of an ignorant and superstitious nation ; perpetually fed with oracles and pompous promises ; miserable at that time and discontented with the Roman yoke; continually cajoled with the expectation of a deliverer, who was to restore them with honour; our enthusiast, without difficulty, found an audience, and by degrees adherents. Men are naturally disposed to listen to, and believe those who make them hope for an end to their miseries. Misfortunes render them timorous and cre. dulous, and lead them to superstition, A fanatic easily makes conquests among a wretched people. It is not then wonderful, that Jesus should very soon acquire partizans, especially among the populace, who in every country are easily seduced,
Our hero knew the weakness of his fellow-citizens. They wanted prodigies, and he, in their eyes, performed them. A stupid people, totally strangers to the natural sciences, to medicine, or to the resources of artifice, easily mistook very simple operations for miracles, and attributed effects to the finger of God which might be owing to the knowledge Jesus had
Essenians, or Essenes. From the time of thąt writer, thero is no longer any mention made of the latter ; hence some learned men have concluded, that these Essenians, or The. raputes, were afterwards confounised and incorporated with the first Christians, who, according to every evidence, led a manner of life perfectly similar to theirs. Le Clerc Biblioth, Universellc, tom. 4. p. 525, &e. and Bernard's Nouvelles de la Republ. des Lettres, tom. 35. p. 503.
acquired during the long interval that preceded his mission* Nothing in the world is more common than the combination of enthusiasm and imposture; the most sincere devotees, when they intend to advance what they believe to be the word of God, or to make religion prosper, often countenance frauds, which they style pious. There are but few zealots who do not even think crimes allowable when the interests of religion are concerned. In religion, as at play, one begins with being dupe, and ends with being knave.
Thus, on considering things attentively, and weighing the particulars of the life of Christ, we must rest persuaded, that he was a fanatic, who really thought himself inspired, favoured by Heaven, sent to his nation, and in short, the Messiah ; -- that to support his divine mission, he made no difficulty to employ frauds the best calculated to succeed with a people to whom miracles were absolutely necessary, and whom, without miracles, the most eloquent barangues, the wisest precepts, the most intelligent counsels, and the truest principles, could never have convinced.-In a word, a medley of enthusiasm and juggling appears to constitute the character of Jesus, and it is that of almost all spiritual adventurers who assume the name of Reformers, or become the chiefs of a sect.
* The want of experience in every country has nearly produced the same effects. The Americans considered the Spaniards Gods because they used gun powder, rode on horseback, and had vessels which sailed quite alone. The inhabitants of the island of Tenian, having no knowledge of fire before they were visited by Europeans, took them for animals the first time they saw them, who devoured wood...
We always find Christ, during his whole mission, preaching the kingdom of his father, and supporting his preaching with wonders. At first he spoke only in a very reserved manner of his quality of Messiah, Son of God, and Son of David. There was prudence in not giving himself out for such—But he suffered the secret to be revealed by the mouth of the devil, to impose silence on whom he commonly took great care, not, however, until after the devil had spoken in a manner sufficiently intelligible to make an impression on the spectators. So that with the assistance of his possessed, his proselytes, or his convulsionaries, he procured testimonies in his behalf, which from his own mouth would have been very suspicious, and night have rendered him odious.
Our operator also took care to choose his ground for performing miracles, and constantly refused to operate his wonders before persons whom he supposed inclined to criticise them. If he sometimes performed them in the synagogues, and in presence of the doctors, it was in the certainty that the less fastidious populace, who believed in his miracles, would take his part, and defend him against the evil designs of the more acute spectators*.
The apostles of Jesus appear to have been men of their master's temper, either credulous or mis-led enthusiasts or adroit cheats, or often both together. There is every reason to believe that Christ, who had skill in men, admitted into his intimate coufidence those only in whom he remarked the most submissive credulity or the greatest address. On important occasions, such as the miracle of multiplying the loaves, the transfiguration, &c. we find, as already noticed, that he used always the ministry of Peter, James, and John.
* In like manner, some years ago in Paris, on the tomb of Deacon Paris, miracles were wrought in presence of very intelligent persons, who dared neither to criticise nor con. tradict them, for fear of being maltreated by a populace obstinate in seeing prodigies, and whom impostors would not have failed to excite against those who should have pretended to see only rogueries.
It is easy to conceive, that his disciples and adherents were much attached to him, either by the ties of interest or of credulity. The most crafty perceived, that their fortune could only be ameliorated under the conduct of a man who knew how to impose on the vulgar, and make his followers live at the expence of charitable devotees. Fishermen, formerly obliged to subsist by a labour painful and often attended with insuccess, conceived that it was more advantageous to attach themselves to a missionary, who without trouble made them live comfortably. The most credulous expected always to make a brilliant fortune, and occupy posts of eminence in the new kingdom their chief intended to establish*.
The hopes and comforts of both vanished on the death of Jesus. The most pusillanimous lost courage,
* It was evidently from earthly or interested motives, and not heavenly, that the apostles attached themselves to Christ. At the last supper there was a strife, amongst them who should be accounted the greatest. “ The meanest,” as Bishop Parker expressed it, “hoped at least to have been made lord mayor of Capernaum.” And even at his ascension the only question his disciples asked, was, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel ?
but the most able and subtle did not think themselves under the necessity of abandoning the party. They therefore contrived, as we have seen, the tale of the resurrection, by the aid of which both the reputation of their master and their own fortune were secured. It also appears evident, that these apostles never sincerely believed their master was a God. The Acts incontestibly demonstrate the contrary. The same Simon Peter, wbo had recognised Jesus for the Son of the living God, declared in his first sermon, that he was man. “ Ye know," says he, " that Jesus of Na. zareth was a MAN whom God hath rendered famous among you - Yet ye bave crucified him-but God hath raised him up again," &c. This passage proves most clearly, that the chief of the apostles dared uot yet hazard, or was wholly ignorant of the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus, which was afterwards contrived by the self-interest of the clergy, and adopted by the foolishness of Christians, whose credulity was never startled by the greatest absurdities *; and self-interest and foolishness have perpetuated this doctrine until our time. By dint of repeating the same tales for so long a period, they have succeeded in making people believe the most ridiculous fables; the religion of the children is always regulated by the fancy of their fatherst.
* The word Trinity was first used by Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, in the year 150, to express persons, as they are called, in the Godhead. The passage in the 1st Epistle of John, c. 5. v. 7. never appeared till the 2d edition of Erasmus's N. T. about 1560. The 1st edition was printed in 1514, and the text alluded to is not in it.
+ Acts of the Apostles, ii. 22-25.