Edward Evanson.

The dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical online

. (page 9 of 18)
Online LibraryEdward EvansonThe dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical → online text (page 9 of 18)
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lates of his birth, was predicted in another
prophecy, and accordingly refers us to that
w r ell known prophecy in Isaiah, c. viL v. 14.
" Behold a young woman shall conceive and
" bear a son," &c. The word which I trans-
late a young woman, he renders a virgin, and
insinuates that, by virtue of that single word,
the prophet meant a miraculous conception,
without the intervention of a man ; and that
the child intended in the prophecy was the
child Jesus. Nothing more, however, Is ne-


cessary to convince an unprejudiced person
that both these insinuations are' perfectly
groundless, than to turn to the book of Isaiah
itself. We there find that the child, whose
birth is predicted, is given to King Ahaz and
his subjects, who were alarmed at the pros-
pect of an invasion by the confederate kings
of Syria and Samaria, as a sign, that before the
child which was at that time to be conceived
should be born, and be old enough " to chuse
" good from evil," or, as it is repeated in the
subsequent chapter, (where the child is ex-
pressly said to be a child of Isaiah's, by his
own wife, and that he took faithful witnesses
to record the time, that they might be cer-
tain the promised male child was actually
born at nine months from the delivery of the
prophecy) before the child should be able to
speak, that is, within two years from the day
of the prediction, the enemy's country should
be deprived of both the menacing kings, who
should be slain, and the spoil of Damascus
and Samaria be carried away by the king of
Assyria. So that the prophecy has no more
reference to the age of Augustus Caesar, or
the son of Mary; than it has to the author of
this Gospel himself. As to the word trans-
- lated a virgin, on which so much stress is, in

K 4


vain, unreasonably laid, it is evident, that in
the original it does not necessarily signify any
thing more than a woman young enough to
bear children, from its being the very same
word which is used in Proverbs, c. xxx. v. 19?
and there translated a maid ; for a virgin, in
the strict sense of the word, could not be
meant in that place, because, " the way of a
man with" such an one is by no means track-
less and undiscernible ; and because the wri-
ter expressly uses it to signify a married wo-
man, saying, " such is the way of the adult e-
" rous woman."

In the second chapter, this writer informs
us that our Saviour was born at Bethlehem,
in Judea, in direct contradiction to both the
histories of Luke, which, by repeatedly cal-
ling him Jesus of Nazareth, assure us he was
born at Nazareth, in Galilee, as Paul of Tar-
sus, Timotheus of Derbe, and the like, always
signify that those persons were natives of the
places so mentioned ; and as a reason for his
being born there, he alleges a prophecy of
Micah, respecting the Messiah, which, if the
author had been, I do not say an Apostle of
Christ, but merely an intelligent Jew, he could
not have so misapprehended or misapplied.
The purport of the prophet is simply that of


almost all the prophecies of the Messiah, sub-
sequent to the reign of David, to declare that
this predicted Saviour, and prince of peace,
would be, not the son of no mortal man, as
this writer tells us he was, but the lineally
descended son of David, who was a native of
Bethlehem, as was his father Jesse and all his
family. Not only, therefore, this particularly
predicted descendant, but every son of David,
is justly said to have sprung originally from
Bethlehem, though perhaps not one of them
was born there ; and provided Jesus was truly
the son of David by natural descent, this
prophecy would have been equally accom-
plished in his person, whether he had been
born at Bethlehem, Nazareth, or even at
Rome. But the ingenious author has more
marvels to introduce, in consequence of this
misapplication of the prophet Micah, de-
signed, no doubt, to catch the attention and
admiration of the ignorant and credulous of
his own times. A legation of idolatrous
Chaldean Astrologers, who had calculated
the nativity of this new-born king of the Jews
by a star, though entire aliens from the Jewish
Law, is dispatched from the East to do him
homage even in his cradle ; and when, by
the help of this prophecy, the chief priests


and scribes had informed Herod, he informs
these Eastern Magi, that he was to be born
at Bethlehem: but though he was anxiously
solicitous to discover who and where this rival
of his throne was; neither curiosity, policy,
nor hospitality, induced him either to ac-
company them himself, or to send any trusty
person with them, under the plausible and
cfecent pretext of guiding the extraordinary
strangers on their way. The star, however,
more humane and hospitable than Herod,
led them safe to Bethlehem, (as it might as
well have done without inquiring of Herod
at all ; but then the inhuman massacre and
other wonders that follow could have had no
place ;) and even directed them to the very
house where the young child was. In this
wonderful story, which, with the generality
of people, has so long passed for the infallible
word of the God of Truth, there are two cir-
cumstances absolutely impossible; the one is,
that any splendid object in the atmosphere
oven a meteor, sufficiently elevated to be,
with the least propriety, called a star, should
in the nature of things mark out any parti-
cular house ; for even on a supposition that it
was stationed directly over the house, the eye
of the beholder could not possibly perceive


that, but must of necessity refer it to the
same situation with all the other stars in that
part of the firmament opposite to his eye,
when looking at the supposed meteor; and,
therefore, it must always appear to him
equally distant from him with the remotest
star in the heavens. The other impossibility
is, that the immutable Deity, whose word
spoken by the Jewish prophets is replete
with taunting sneers at the vanity and folly
of the pretended science of Astrology, and
400 who expressly commanded all Astrolo-
gers amongst his own people to be put to
death, should so greatly change his sentiments
and conduct respecting it, as to give it the
most distinguished token of his approbation
and encouragement, by permitting Pagan
diviners to discover the nativity of the pro-
mised Messiah by their skill in Astrology,
and become the first promulgers of it to the
Jewish Government.

Upon these Astrologers returning home,
without giving the Jewish king the intelli-
gence he desired, and which, without de-
pending upon them for it, he might easily
have obtained, if he had been possessed of
either common decency of conduct towards
strangers, or even of common sense, Herod,


violently intent upon the destruction of his
infant rival, that he might be sure of mur-
dering the right child, formed and executed,
the historian tells us, a project of the most
diabolical, unexampled cruelty, in massacre-
ing all the infants < from two years old and
" under," that were in Bethlehem and the
adjoining country; the writer does not ex-
cept even the females. Now, if a Tyrant
could be found w r antonly cruel enough to at-
tempt to execute such a project, it is impos-
sible that the execution of it should not have
excited an insurrection of the people. It is
not in human nature for* all the parents of a
whole city, and considerable extent of terri-
tory, to submit tamely to have their infants
torn from their arms and butchered before
their eyes, without opposing the murderers,
and endeavouring to secrete or flee away
with their children: yet there is no record of
such an insurrection ; and since the escape
of one single child, which it was not in his
power to prevent, might defeat his whole aim
and intention, Herod must have been, ac-
cording to this writer, the most senseless as
well as most inhuman of men. Luke has re-
corded many particular anecdotes and do-
mestic circumstances of the princes and chief


persons of the times of which he wrote, and
they are all both probable in themselves and
confirmed by the testimony of other writers ;
but this highly improbable story stands upon
the very doubtful authority of this Gospel
alone, unsupported by the evidence of any
other writer, sacred or profane, Josephus
and the Roman historians give us particular
accounts of the character of this Jewish king,
who received his sovereign authority from the
Roman emperor, and inform us of other acts
of cruelty which he was guilty of in his
own family; but of this infamous, inhu-
man butchery, which to this day remains
unparalleled in the annals of tyranny, they
are entirely silent. Under such circum-
stances, if my eternal happiness depended
upon it, I could not believe it true: but
though I readily exclaim with Horace non
ego, I cannot add, as he does, creclat Judmis
apella ; for I am confident there is no Jew
that reads this chapter, who does not laugh
at the ignorant credulity of those profes-
sed Christians, who receive such ground-
less, improbable stories for the inspired
word of God, and lay the foundation of
their religion upon such incredible fictions
as these.


After all, however, we find that this bar-
barous inhumanity was in vain ; for, in obe-
dience to the divine admonition of a dream,
Joseph, we are informed, preserved the life of
the infant Jesus, by escaping with him into
Egypt; and, to give a sanction to his story,
he makes this circumstance also the comple-
tion of another prophecy of the Old Testament,
as he does likewise the massacre of the inno-
cent children, referring us to Hosea, c. xi. v. 1.
But as his not understanding the meaning of
Micah's prophecy proves the author not to have
been a Jew, so his application of a pretended
prophecy in this, and the two following in-
stances, prove him to have been a writer
who had adopted the maxims of the Pytha*
gorean, and Platonic schools, that deceit and
falsehood were allowable in promoting what
he deemed the cause of Christian piety ; for
the very reading over the passage of Hosea,
here alluded to, is sufficient to convince any
man, that the prophet's words in this place
have not the least reference to any fut ure
event, but are an upbraiding of the Jewish
people, for the ungrateful return they had
made to God, for his kindness to them, in
the infancy of their nation, when he delivered
them from their bondage in Egypt. In


the same manner, the passage of Jeremiah,
c. xxxi. v. 15, is only a prophecy of the
restoration of the Jews from the Babylonish
captivity, fully completed in that event many
centuries before the birth of Christ; and
which the writer, whoever he was, must know
could not, in any sense, apply to the tran-
saction he has recorded ; because, tire very
next words are, " Thus saith the Lord, Re-
frain thy voice from weeping and thine eyes
from tears : for thy work shall be rewarded,
saith the Lord, and they shall come again
from the land of the enemy. And there is
hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy
children shall come again to their own border"
As to the prophecy mentioned in the last
verse of this chapter, that the Messiah was
to be called a Nazarene, it is not to be found
any where else, and therefore must be the
mere production of the writer's own fertile
imagination, to account, in some manner, for
our Lord's being so often spoken of by the
title of Jesus of Nazareth ; but in the account
he has thought fit to give us of the cause of
his dwelling at Nazareth, in Galilee, he has
betrayed an ignorance of the Geography of
Palestine, which cannot be attributed to
Matthew, nor to any other native of that


country. He tells us, that Joseph, on bis re-
turn out of Egypt, after the death of Herod,
finding that his son reigned in his stead, was
afraid to go into Judea, and therefore, by
divine admonition, " turned aside into the
" parts of Galilee." Here the reader is
requested to remark, first, that Galilee having
been as much under Herod's jurisdiction as
Judea, and his kingdom having been divided
amongst his sons after his death, it was a son
of Herod who reigned in his stead, in Galilee
as well as in Judea, consequently the child
Jesus could be no securer in one province
than in the other. He is next desired to cast
his eyes upon the map of Palestine, and ob-
serve how impossible it was for Joseph to hav^e
gone from Egypt to Nazareth, without tra-
velling through the whole extent of Arche-
laus's kingdom, unless he undertook a long
peregrination through the deserts, on the
north and east of the lake Asphalites, and the
country of Moab, and then either crossed the
Jordan into Samaria, or the lake of Gennesa-
reth into Galilee, and from thence went to the
city Nazareth : and if it were at all credible,
that thelatterwas the case, with what propriety
could such a tedious journey have been deno-
minated, turning aside into the parts of Galilee?


III. IN the history of John's Baptism, re-
corded ia the third chapter, there are many
sentences copied word foi 4 word from the
Gospel according to Luke, notwithstanding
which, it contains one very essential differ-
ence, and one direct contradiction to it.
The first is in the second verse ; where we are
told that John preached, " saying, Repent
u ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand/'
If this account were true, then Jesus and his
Apostles could not be the first preachers of
the Gospel ; for these are the very words they
use, to announce the commencement of the
Gospel Covenant to the Jews : but Luke in-
forms us, not only in the parallel place of
his first history, but also in a speech of Paul,
related Acts xix. 4, that John only " preached
" the Baptism of repentance for the remis-
" sion of sins ;"* and since our Saviour tells
the Jews., Luke xvi. 16. that the Law and
the Prophets, that is, the Mosaic Covenant,
subsisted until John, but that since John's
time, the New Covenant of the kingdom of
God was preached, we may be certain, that

* The advocates of the doctrine of atonement and satisfaction
would do well to consider, how the supposed sacrifice of the death
of Jesus could be necessary to the Deity's pardoning the sins of man-
kind, when, before the ministry of Jesus, John was commissioned by
God to preach the remission of sins, on condition of repentanc only g



John's mission was only preparatory to that
of Jesus; and that Jesus was the first pro-
mulger of the Gospel Covenant, and of the
supersession of the Old Covenant, by the
commencement of the kingdom of God", or,
as this author calls it, the kingdom of heaven,
in the world. This passage therefore is one,
and as we proceed, there will be occasion to
point out several other proofs, that the writer
of this history, whoever he was, did not un-
derstand the phrase kingdom of God, in the
sense in which only it is used by our Lord
himself, in the prayer he taught his disciples,
by Luke, and by every other primitive
preacher of the Gospel. In the seventh
verse, the latter half of which is transcribed
literally from Luke, we are told that this me-
morable prophetic exclamation of the Bap-
tist, " O Generation of Vipers, who hath
44 warned you to flee from the wrath to
" come ?" was addressed to " many of the
" Pharisees and Sadducees, who came to his
" Baptism," in flat contradiction to Luke,
who not only affirms it was made to the
whole " multitude of the Jews, that came to
"be baptised of him," but c. vii. v. 30, ex-
pressly assures us, " that the Pharisess and
44 Lawyers were not baptized of him." It is


not possible, that both these contradictory
assertions should be true ; and on which the
guilt of falsehood rests, every man must
judge for himself.

IV. THE fourth chapter commences with
the most extraordinary and incredible narra-
tive of our Lord's forty days' fast, and subse-
quent temptation, by that manichean, ima-
ginary being, denominated the Devil. A
narrative, which, I have before observed,
there is the strongest reason to believe, was
from hence interpolated into Luke's history,
in the second century, together with the
story of his Baptism by John. And as the
mortification of long fasting, or (to use Paul's
prophetic language, respecting the first au-
thors of the apostasy from the true religion
of Christ) frequent abstinence from meats, which
God hath created to be received with thanks-
giving, was held amongst the sect of the En-
cratites, that arose early in the second cen-
tury, to be the next meritorious virtue to cell*
bacy and unnatural chastity, there seems no
doubt but that the whole Gospel, and this
fable in particular, was the production of
one of that apostate sect of professed Chris-
tians, with a view to authorize and encou-

L 2


rage the general adoption of the tenets of
their own superstition, by the pretended exam-
ple of our Lord himself. In verses 13, 14,
15, we have another remarkable instance of
the author's very imperfect knowledge of the
geography of Palestine, which cannot be
supposed of any native of the country ; as well
as another direct contradiction to the much
more probable account given us by Luke*
As if he imagined the city of Nazareth was
not as properly in Galilee, as Capernaum
was, (which indeed seems implied also in the
second chapter, where he tells us Joseph
" went aside," not into Galilee, but "into
" the parts or coasts of Galilee/') he informs
us, that after John's imprisonment, our Sa-
viour departed into Galilee, and, leaving Naza*
reth, came and dwelt at Capernaum, in order to
fulfil a saying of Isaiah's, respecting the
country beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the Gen*
tiles. Now to Isaiah, or any inhabitant of
Judea, the country beyond must be the
country east of the Jordan, as Gaulanitis or
Galilee of the Gentiles, is well known to
have been; whereas, Capernaum was a city
on the western side of the lake of Gennesa-
reth, through which the Jordan flows., This
whole story of the removal of Jesus from Na-


zareth to dwell at Capernaum, is also in di-
rect opposition to the history of Luke ; for
he assures us, c. iv. that the reason of our
Lord's leaving Nazareth was, because the
inhabitants, offended with his discourse to
them, drove him out of their city, with in-
tent to throw him headlong from an adjoin-
ing precipice ; but that he escaped through
the midst of them, and went down to Caper-
naum, where he preached to the people for a
short time, and wrought many miracles of
healing ; but was so far from taking up his
dwelling there, that, though the inhabitants
entreated him to stay and not depart from
them, he left them saying, he must preach the
kingdom of God to other cities also ; for that
was the purpose of his mission.

In the last verse of this chapter, the au-
thor informs us, that great multitudes of peo-
ple followed Jesus, amongst other places,
from Decapolis ; and speaks of this Decapo-
lis, not only as a particular country or pro-
vince, but as a country, which did not lie
eastward of the Jordan, because he expressly
distinguishes it from " the country beyond
4 Jordan :" and the writer called Mark,
speakfng of the same Decapolis, c. vii. v. 31,
more than insinuates that it was a country

L 3


lying north-west of the sea of Galilee ; for he
tells us, that Jesus " came from the coasts of
" Tyre and Sidon, to the sea of Galilee,
" through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis"
These are circumstances, which merit the
critical attention of every candid reader, who
wishes to satisfy himself, respecting the true
time when these two Gospels were realty
written : for no such country as Decapolis is
once mentioned by any other writer of either
Testament ; and, from the geographical de-
scription of Palestine, given us by Luke, con-
firmed both by Josephus and Tacitus, it ap-
pears that in the fifteenth year of Tiberius,
and during his whole reign, the Jewish terri-
tory was divided by the Romans into four tet-
rarchies, Judea in the south, which was go-
verned by a Roman prefect ; the north-east-
ern tetrarchy, which contained Trachonitis,
Jturea, and Batanea, with Gaulanitis, or Ga-
lilee, east of the Jordan, under the govern-
ment of Philip, a son of Herod ; the western,
comprehending Galilee proper, and all the
colmtry west of the Jordan, and north of the
prefecture of Judea, to which was annexed
the province of Perea, on the eastern banks
of the Jordan, governed by Herod, another
son of Herod the great ; and Abilene, so


called from its metropolis Abila, including,
except Perea, all Palestine east of the Jor-
dan, and south of Gaulanitis, subject to the
dominion of Lysanias. Under this division
by the Romans, its conquerors, Palestine
seems to have remained, until the reign of
of the emperor Claudius, who, Tacitus in-
forms us,* erected several smaller principali-
ties or prefectures in that country, to gratify
his freedmen and favourite Roman knights,
alluding, most probably, to the toparchies
that Judea was, at length, divided into,
which are enumerated, though with some
little difference, by Josephus and the elder
Pliny, and to some others which are occasion-
ally mentioned by Josephus. In. the twelfth
year of his reign, Claudius-f- gave the coun-
try, which had formed the tetrarchies of Phi-
lip and Lysanias, as a kingdom, to Agrippa :
but though Josephus particularly describes
the kingdom allotted by the Emperor to
that Jewish prince, and the several addi-
tional grants of territory, which were made
to him afterwards ; though several of the ten
cities which, Pliny tells us, were generally
reckoned to compose the Decapolis, were si-
tuated in the country expressly said to be

* Hist. 1. v. c. 9. f Jos. Ant. 1. xx, c. 5

L 4


assigned to Agrippa ; and though, in the
preceding parts of his histories, he has re-
peatedly given us accurate geographical de-
finitions of the several provinces of Palestine
and the adjacent countries, no such province
or ethnarchy, as Decapolis, is taken notice of
by Josephus, nor does he once mention the
name, . before Vespasian was governor of
Syria, and general against the rebellious
Jews, in the latter end of Nero's reign, and
then only says of it,* that ." Scythopolis was
" the largest city of the Decapolis;" and,
though he afterwards, (in his life) several
times, mentions the cities intended by the
name Decapolis, he never again uses that
aggregate term, of the singular number:
but calls them the ten cities of Syria : and
since he speaks of the insurrection of tho
Jewish against the Syrian inhabitants of
some of those cities, it is natural to con^
elude that, from some particular motives,
the Romans had been induced to annex ten
Jewish cities to the government of Syria, and
to place in them colonies of Syrians, to whom
the Hebrew inhabitants could not be recon-
ciled ; and as the first disturbances amongst
the Jews began in that part of Palestine

* Bell, 1. iii, c. 16,


which formed the kingdom of Agrippa, it is
most probable, that those rebellious insurrec-
tions cave rise to the establishment of such a
line of military stations, peculiarly subject to
the authority of the Proconsul of Syria, and
that before that period of Nero's reign, the
very name Decapolis did not exist. At least,
since Pliny tells us,* that the territory which
intervened between those ten cities, and which
surrounded each of them, was not subject to
the same government as the cities themselves,
but to the adjoining tetrarchies, and Jose*
phus informs us, that all those ten cities ap-
pertained to the government of Syria, it is
evident that the Decapolis was not any dis-
tinct country or continued district, as the
pretended Matthew and Mark represent it,
but merely the general appellation often de-
tached, insulated cities, lying all, except Scy-
thopolis, beyond, or east of, the river Jordan,
which in later times, for some military conve-
nience to the Romans, were taken from the
jurisdiction of the original tetrarchies, (most
of them probably long after the time allotted
for the writing these Gospels) and made sub-
ject to Syria. So that to talk of any per-
son's going to or coming from the Decapolis,

* Nat. Hist. 1, v. c. 18.

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Online LibraryEdward EvansonThe dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical → online text (page 9 of 18)