Sayfadaki görseller

cles, by the application of divine names, sentences from Sacred Writings, and certain symbolical arrangements of letters and words. Jews of all classes supposed that miraculous power resided in the name of Jehovah. The characters which represented that name were inscribed only in the holiest recess of their temple; and it was a popular idea that any person who obtained possession of them might thereby work miracles. The Cabalists, who attached mysterious significance to numbers, reckoned seventy-two names of the Deity, from which, by different arrangements in sevens, they produced seven hundred and twenty. The principal of these they disposed in a six-pointed star, called The Shield of David. They believed this would extinguish fires, preserve people from wounds and diseases, and perform many other miracles. All these things, and a vast many more of similar character, they contrived to reconcile to the Law of Moses, oral or written, to which they believed all the world would be finally converted, when their Messiah came to reign on earth.

It has been already said that educated Jews in Alexandria enlarged for themselves the old intellectual boundaries of Palestine, and were much attracted toward Grecian philosophy. The Cabalists mixed portions of it with the system of Zoroaster. But there was also a school of Hellenistic Jews, who infused the entire system of Plato into the old Hebrew religion. The Law of Moses, either written or traditionary, was believed to be the only source of truth; and this opinion was too firmly established to be braved with impunity by young minds captivated with foreign theories. Therefore, the ideas of Plato were transferred to Moses, as those of Zoroaster had been, under the elastic veil of allegorical interpretation. It would be unjust to suppose this was the result of timidity alone. Doubtless the assumption was often made with reverential sincerity ; since men easily find in Sacred Writings whatever they are previously convinced ought to be there.

Aristobulus, an Alexandrian Jew, who lived one hundred and seventy years before Christ, was anxious to

Vol. II._7*

defend his nation against the charge, frequently brought by Grecians and Romans, that the Hebrews were a barbarous people, who had made small progress in philosophy or literature. To prove this assertion untrue, be affirmed that all Plato's ideas were familiar to Moses; and he professed to find them all in his writings, by means of an allegorical system of interpretation, Grecians who entered into controversy with him were surprised and silenced by his thus producing, from Hebrew Sacred Books, precisely the ideas of their own best writers. But the zeal of Aristobulus carried him still farther. He himself composed verses under the names of Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod, and filled them with Jewish ideas; thus endeavouring to prove Hebrew superiority both by reference to their own Scriptures, and to the sacred literature of other nations. In his writings, and in those of later Hellenistic Jews, there is manifested a tendency to represent as persons what Plato seems to have intended merely as attributes of the Divine Being. He calls the first emanation from God “The Second Cause;" “The Wisdom of God;" "The Father of Lights.” Other Jewish writers were accustomed to make a distinction between “Jehovah;

a The Word of Jehovah; and the Habitation of Jehovah." Before the time of Aristobulus, there were Jewish writers, who covertly described the Divine Word as the author of all wisdom, teaching men what they ought to be. Philo, a celebrated Jewish Platonist, born thirty or forty years before Christ, calls the Logos, or Word, " The most ancient Son of God;" "a Second God;" whom he represents as creating all things according to patterns given him by the Father.

A Jew named Dositheus devoted himself to solitude and abstinence, and practised many austerities. He tried to convince his countrymen that he was the promised Messiah. Failing in this, he went over to the Samaritans, and endeavoured to persuade them he was the Prophet promised by Moses, who they expected would come and reveal all things. He had followers for a time; but little is known of his doctrines.

[ocr errors]

One of the most remarkable men of those times was John she son of Zacharias, who appeared among the Jews as a religious teacher of the people. He was a Nazarite, vowed to the service of the Lord before he was born. His parents both belonged to the priestly house of Aaron. While his father was ministering in the temple, we are told the angel Gabriel appeared to him and foretold that he should have a son, who would "be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb, and turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” Accordingly, when the priest's wife became pregnant, she hid herself, as was customary for the mother of a Nazarite. Soon after he was born, his father “was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied: Thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare

his way." He was never allowed to taste wine or strong drink. When he grew to manhood, he wore hair garments, tied with a leather girdle, and “fed on locusts and wild honey.” He is represented as living in the wilderness; but we are not informed whether he was an anchorite, or a member of some such association as the Essenes. He called upon both Sadducees and Pharisees to reform; exhorted the tax gatherers to be just in their dealings; the soldiers to refrain from robbery and violence; and the people universally to impart liberally of their substance to the poor. Especially he urged men to repent of their sins speedily, because “the kingdom of heaven was at hand;" a phrase which to Jewish ears signified the immediate advent of the Messiah. This idea, always so interesting to the people, attracted crowds to listen to his preaching. It is recorded that "all the people counted him as a prophet;" that “all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, went out unto him in the wilderness, and were baptized in the river Jordan, confessing their sins ;" that "all men mused in their hearts whether he were the Messiah or not.” It was the general conclusion that he was either the Messiah, or the prophet Elijah, who was to precede his coming, or Jeremiah, who was to come with him, and show where he had hidden the Ark and the Tab. ernacle. His influence over the multitude was so great, that the rulers feared to deny he was a great prophet, lest the people should stone them. The civil authorities were alarmed, lest rebellion against the government should be concealed under these prophecies of a new kingdom about to be established. They sent a deputation to inquire of him who he professed to be. He declared that he was not the Messiah. When they asked: “Art thou Elias? he answered No. Art thou that prophet? [meaning Jeremiah] he answered No. I am the voice of one crying in the. wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”

John was surnamed the Baptist, because he required his disciples to be immersed in water. All Asiatic nations attributed sacredness to water, and all practised ablutions as an important part of their religion. Moses ordained ablutions; and foreign proselytes, who were received into full communion with the Hebrews, were always admitted by circumcision and baptism also. The Jews do not seem to have had holy rivers, whose waters were deemed peculiarly efficacious, as was the case with Hindoos, Egyptians, and Persians. But Elisha ordered Naaman to wash seven times in the river Jordan, in order to be cleansed of his leprosy; and we are told there was a pool in Jerusalem, called Bethesda, resorted to by great multitudes of the lame, the blind, and the withered, who at certain seasons of the year went into it and were cured of their diseases. The popular belief was, that an angel went down into the pool, stirred up the water, and imparted to it miraculous power of healing. From time immemorial, water was considered typical of purification from sins of the soul, as it was an external means of cleansing the body. The peculiarity of John, which gave him the surname of Baptist, seems to have been that he required not merely Gentile proselytes, but Jews also, to be baptized, in token of cleansing from former sins, and the purity of a renewed life, in preparation for the Messiah's kingdom. To the multitudes, who were led into the Jordan by him, he preached a still higher baptism. Among Hindoos, Chaldeans, Persians, and Syrians, fire was deemed a type of more thorough purification than water; for which reason, they passed their children through fire, and devotees sometimes burned themselves to death, as the readiest means of ascending to the highest paradise. In allusion to this prevailing idea, John said: "I indeed baptize you with water; but he who cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This prophet of the people was beheaded by order of Herod, on account of the boldness of his rebukes to that monarch, who was doubtless jealous concerning the new kingdom, which he predicted would come so speedily.

While he was preaching, a new sect was starting into existence. His mother's cousin, named Mary, had married Joseph, a carpenter, described as a just man, and a lineal

a descendant from King David. Mary gave birth to a son, whose Hebrew name was Joshua, which Jews who spoke the Greek language called Jesus. It is recorded that the angel Gabriel appeared to her, and announced that the child about to be born should be called the “Son of the Highest;" that “God would give him the throne of his father David, and he should reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” An angel likewise appeared to Joseph in a dream, and told him that the child had no earthly father, but was conceived of the Holy Spirit. Mary soon after went up "into the hill country,” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and inform her of these glad tidings; and when they met, the unborn babe of Elizabeth recognized the divine presence of the promised Messiah, and leaped for joy." When Jesus was born, at Bethlehem in Judea, a chorus of angels in the air sang: “Glory to God in the bighest, and on earth peace and good will to men." It is not known with certainty when this great event happened, but it is generally supposed to have been in the twelfth year of Augustus Cæsar. The season of the year is matter of conjecture. It is recorded that his birth took place at the time when "all the people went to be taxed, every one into his own city;" and that is said to have been in the Spring.

[ocr errors]


« ÖncekiDevam »