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as full warrant for the truth of all that they contain, or of neglecting their study entirely. Hence, as no other account of Christ of equal authority is likely ever to appear, the view taken of him must probably continue to be partially erroneous. By the world in general, Jesus must continue to be regarded as the Christ of the four Gospels, i. e., a combination of the individual Jesus with the thoughts and feelings of the Christian Church after the fall of Jerusalem. Nor will the historical inaccuracy of such a view appear to any but critics important. The progress of thought amongst bodies of men presents matter of interest equally with the view of individual minds; and we can excuse those interpolations and fictions, which, whilst they render more confused the aspect of the founder of the sect, present us with a view of that developed state to which his doctrines had arrived after an interesting and eventful interval.
Enough is seen of Christ to leave the impression of a real and strongly marked character; and the dimness, which is left around it, permits the exercise of the imagination in a manner both pleasing and useful. The indistinctness of the image allows it to become the gathering centre for all those highly exalted ideas of excellence which a more closely defined delineation might have prevented from resting upon it. To the superhuman powers attributed to him by his early followers, later admirers are at liberty to add all the qualities of mind and character which can delight and attract in a human being. To awaken men to the perception of moral beauty is the first step towards enabling them to attain it. But the contemplation of abstract qualities is difficult; some real or fictitious form is involuntarily sought as a substratum for the excellence which the moralist holds to view. Whilst no human character in the history of the world can be brought to mind, which, in proportion as it could be closely examined, did not present some defects disqualifying it for being the emblem of moral perfection, we can rest with least check, or sense of incongruity, on the imperfectly known character of Jesus of Nazareth. If a representative be sought of human virtue, enough is still seen of his benevolent doctrine, attractive character, and elevated designs, to direct our eyes to the Prophet and Martyr of Galilee.
COMPARISON OF THE PRECEPTS OF JESUS WITH
THE JEWISH WRITINGS.
The Jewish writings quoted for this purpose will be the Scriptures of the Old Testament; the book of Ecclesiasticus, by Jesus the son of Sirach, written about 200 years before Christ; and the most ancient Rabbinical writings,* viz. :
The Talmud, which consists of two parts, the Mishna and the Gemara. The Mishna, or first Talmud, is a collection of Pharisaic traditions made by Rabbi Jehuda Hakkadosh, A.D. 141,+ or, as some say, towards the close of the second century. The Gemara, or second part of the Talmud, consists of commentaries upon and additions to the Mishna, collected by Rabbi Jochanan ben Eliezer; and this addition completed the Jerusalem Talmud, A.D. 469. A similar collection was made at Babylon at the beginning of the sixth century, and called the Babylonian Talmud.
The book Sohar, or the Brightness, containing mystical interpretations of the Old Testament, chiefly those of R. Simeon ben Jochai, whose disciples made this compilation about A.D. 170.
The quotations which follow, from the Rabbinical writings, are chiefly selections from the copious works of Schoettgenius on this subject, Horæ Hebraicæ, and Jesus Verus Messias.
+ Lindo's Jewish Calendar.
The Midraschic books, containing collections of traditions, doctrines, and stories, derived from the schools of interpretation.* These collections were made by some Rabbins, whose names are unknown, about the time of Christ, and during the first, second, third, and fourth centuries. The names of the books are, Tanchuma, Rabboth, Pirke R. Eliezer, Mechilta, Siphra, Siphre, Pesikta Rabbetha, Pesikta Sotarta, Midrasch Schmuel, Tehillim, and Mischle.
Since all these Rabbinical books were compiled after the time of Christ, it appears at first sight that no quotations from them can affect the question of the originality of the precepts of the Gospels. But it is unquestionable, that although the compilations are of these late dates, the sayings and traditions which they contain were much earlier; and there are strong reasons for believing that they originated either before the time of Christ, or independently of any connexion with the writers of the New Testament. This point is considered at great length by Schoettgenius, some of whose arguments I abridge below.f They appear sufficient to establish it as a general truth, that the ancient Rabbis were not
* After the Babylonish captivity the Jews founded a house of interpretations, in which the Rabbis and their disciples assembled daily for the purpose of explaining the Scriptures. It is possible that the institution existed before the captivity, but there are no clear traces of it. The Rabbis sat on the higher seats; the disciples on lower ones at their feet. The remaining space was occupied by the people or any persons who chose to come in to listen. The chief schools of this kind were at Tiberias, Cesarea, Lydda, Zippore, and Jafna.-Schoettgen. de Rabbin. Lectione; Lightfoot, Centuria Chorographica, lib. i.
† The remaining books (besides the Mishna and Sohar) are more recent; yet they contain the words and doctrines of the most ancient Rabbis, who lived either before or about the time of Christ. The method of teaching then in use amongst the Jews was calcu
likely to borrow from the New Testament; consequently, although the want of an exact Rabbinical chronology
lated to preserve not only the doctrines, but the very words, of their masters. They were so scrupulous on this point, that in Sohar, Exod. fol. 36, he who alters the words of the law, or of a Rabbin, is threatened with exclusion from heaven. The exercise of the memory thus held such an important part in the education of the Pharisaic Jews, and their understandings were so buried beneath a heap of doctrines, that they made but a poor figure in matters requiring the free use of the judgment.
If any one allege that the more recent Rabbins may have borrowed from the New Testament, I will not dispute on this point; but that the older ones, quoted in the Talmud and the Midraschim, had read the New Testament, and borrowed from it in order to impose upon the Christians, appears very improbable for many reasons: 1. They hated the Gentiles and their religion so much, that they did not consider their books worth reading, fearing also lest they should be seduced by them from their own faith.
2. The Jews were too inferior to the Christians in critical and philological skill to attempt such plagiarism. 3. The Jews of the first centuries could not foresee that Drusius, Lightfoot, and other critics, would in the course of time explore their writings, and collate them with the New Testament. 4. They themselves allow that the Gemara is written in such an obscure manner, that they never expected that the Christians could penetrate into its mysteries. 5. The books of the Talmud and the others contain those same errors and faults of the Pharisees which Christ reprehended. If, then, the writers had read these things in the New Testament, it is hardly credible that they would have inserted them in their writings, and thereby have afforded a testimony to the truth of the words of Christ.
Moreover, there occur matters and opinions peculiar to the ancient Jewish Church before and during the time of Christ. It appears, then, that Christ and his apostles did not entirely reject the good things which they found amongst the Jews, but used them felicitously against the Pharisaic abuses, thus slaying their adversaries with their own weapons, in which proceeding the wisdom of Christ is not sufficiently recognized by those ignorant of this kind of learning.–Schoettgen. de Lectione Rabbinorum.