صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

HISTORICAL CONNECTION.

many years before this, he built both a theatre and an amphitheatre, and introduced shows and games of heathen origin, and very inconsistent with the laws of God, as well as the customs of the Jews.

We now arrive at the threshold of the Christian dispensation. In the 6th year B. C., or rather before the common era called Anno Domini, an angel appeared to Zachariah, as he was officiating in the temple, promising him a son, named John, who was to be the forerunner of the Messiah; and about six months afterwards, the same angel appeared to the Virgin Mary, promising to her, that she should be the mother of Christ himself, who should be circumcised by the name of JESUS. (See Luke i. 11, 26, 57.)

§ III. OF THE JEWISH SECTS, ETC.

The religious controversies of the Old Testament were confined almost entirely to the question of Idolatry; and, indeed, while there were living prophets to be consulted, who held communion with the Deity, there was little room for disputation; but when inspiration ceased, and revelation was com pleted, there then lay no appeal but "to the law and to the testimony;"-if any spake not according to this word, it was because they were devoid of the true light. (Isaiah viii. 20.)

The Scriptures of the Old Testament, which were completed by, or in the time of Ezra, became now the study of the Jewish Scribes and Lawyers; and the difference of interpretations, to which the weakness of human judgment always exposes men who dare to think for themselves, naturally led to the formation of different sects and parties. Josephus mentions three principal sects as existing in his time, and leads us to their origin.

Of these sects, the Pharisees may be considered as the most numerous, and as constituting the orthodox party in the Jewish church. They believed in the existence of angels and separate spirits; in the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the dead, as we shall see when we come to Matt. xvi. 12, &c. In the mean time, we may notice the account which Josephus gives of them. He says-but we must remember that he was himself a Pharisee-he says, "The Pharisees are those which are esteemed most skilful in the exact explication of their laws. These ascribe all to fate [or Providence], and to God; and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does not co-operate in every action." (Jewish War, book ii. chap. 8.) So in his Antiquities (book xvii. chap. 1), he says, "When they determine that all things are done by Fate, they do not take

HISTORICAL CONNECTION.

from men the freedom of acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it
hath pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what he wills is done;
yet so that the will of man can act virtuously or viciously." By this we under-
stand the Jewish Ilistorian to mean, that this sect believed in the overruling
providence of God, and yet admitted the free agency and accountability of
men, which, indeed, we consider as the uniform doctrine of the Bible.-
He proceeds" They (the Pharisees) say, that all souls are incorruptible, but
that the souls of good men only are removed into other (human) bodies:" and
here he seems to explain the immortality of the soul on the Pythagorean
system not as going, at death, into a separate state of purity and happiness,
but as passing from one body to another, till, by degrees, they become perfectly
pure, and fit to return to the Supreme Spirit from whom they came; that is, to
Him who was the universal soul of all nature. (See Dict. of Religions, in Py-
thagoreans.) But this is very far from the doctrine either of the Old Testa-
ment or the New; and if adopted by the Pharisees, must, we think, have
been at a much later period. As to the state of mankind after death,
the Pharisees teach, according to the Jewish Historian, "that the souls of
good men only are removed into other bodies; but that the souls of bad men
are subject to eternal punishment." (Jew. War, as above cited.) He describes
the Pharisees also as very friendly and sociable, but temperate in their diet,
and regular in their habits.

--

The Sadducees were less numerous, but found chiefly among the higher
orders, According to Prideaux, they were so called from one Sodock (or
Sadock), the disciple of Antigonus Socho, supposed to have lived about three
centuries before Christ; and who often used to inculcate upon his disciples,
that they ought to serve God disinterestedly, and independent of the hopes of
reward, or fear of punishment; from hence it is supposed this Sadock and
others hastily inferred, that neither rewards nor punishments were to be
expected a mistake which could be made only by minds exceedingly depraved.
Such, however, we know from authority far superior to Josephus, was the
doctrine of the Sadducees in the time of our Lord. "The Sadducees (accord-
ing to St. Luke, Acts xxiii. 8) teach," that there is no resurrection, neither
angel nor spirit:" but how they who are universally admitted to have received
and reverenced the writings of Moses, could deny the existence of angels, so
often mentioned in the Pentateuch, has been matter of much difficulty. Our
conception is, that they did not deny that such appearances had been seen in
the early ages of the world, but supposed them to be now discontinued, and
probably persuaded themselves that they were but the phantoms of imagination.
Certain it is, that by our Lord's time, they were generally tainted with infide-
lity, though probably in very different degrees. So Reland, Lightfoot, Dod-
dridge, and many other divines, are of opinion, that the Sadducees did not
universally reject the writings of the prophets, but only considered them of

HISTORICAL CONNECTION.

authority inferior to those of Moses; but they utterly rejected the traditions of
the Rabbins. This we consider to be the truth as to many of them, though
the far greater part were probably deeply sunk both in infidelity and vice. In
fact, it does not appear from the Gospel, that the Sadducees were more hostile
to our Saviour and his doctrines, than were the Pharisees: nor were
publi-
cans and sinners," of the worst class, further from the kingdom of heaven, than
those who sought, by their own merits, to justify and save themselves.

[ocr errors]

There was a third sect, however, called Essens, of which Josephus
gives a much fuller account thau of the other two. He describes them as a
plain, simple, and virtuous people, full of devotion and good works; but they
were recluse, and lived in separate communities. Their devotion was, how-
ever, mingled with superstition, and their faith with some mystical notions, at
this distance of time hard to be understood. They admitted no members into
their society, but on a long probation and trial: and those which approved of
marriage (which many did not), took even their wives first upon that principle.
This sect appears not to be mentioned or alluded to in the Scriptures; though
some think that John the Baptist was probably educated amongst them in the
wilderness.

In the New Testament, we read also of two Greek Philosophic sects,
namely, the Epicureans and Stoics, both mentioned in Acts xvii. 18, where
their distinguished principles will be noticed; as also who the Grecians or Hel-
lenists, and Libertines were (which were not properly sects), on Acts vi. 1, 9.

There are several other denominations of persons which have been taken
for sects, but without sufficient ground. The Scribes were, in the first instance,
only Transcribers of the sacred Books; but from their being peculiarly con-
versant with them, they were considered as men of learning; they became
teachers and professors of the Mosaic law, and were therefore called Lawyers,
though the latter term probably included the students, as well as the professors.
The Herodians were the political adherents and flatterers of Herod the Great;
the Gaulonites, or Galileans, were, on the other hand, among his bitterest
enemies, as protesting against all subjection to any foreign power. (See Ex-
position of Luke xiii. 1, &c.) Some of these were also called Zealots, from
their affected zeal for their rights and liberties; and these, indeed, rendered
themselves particularly conspicuous in the last destruction of Jerusalem. The
Rechabites, and Nazarites, were persons under particular vows, as will be
found explained where those terms occur.

The Samaritans were, properly, the inhabitants of Samaria. This city
was built by Omri, King of Israel, about 925 B. C. (1 Kings xvi. 23, 24);
though it is probable that the district might be called by that name before.

HISTORICAL CONNECTION.

(1 Kings xiii. 32.) In the reign of Hoshea (B. C. 725), it was reduced to a
heap of ruins. Esar-haddon repeopled it with idolatrous Cuthites, from Media
or Persia; but these were driven out by Alexander the Great, and a colony of Ma-
cedonians planted in their stead: so that, though situated but a small distance
from Jerusalem, it was always, more or less, the seat of idolatry. When the Jews
were in prosperity, the Samaritans claimed relation to them, calling themselves
Hebrews, and said they were descended from the tribe of Joseph; but when
they were in trouble they disowned them, and called themselves Phoenicians:
at all times, however, they preferred their own temple at Mount Gerrizim to
the temple of Jerusalem, and the Jews would have no dealings with the Sama-
ritans. (John iv. 9, 20.) There are still some remains of this people in the East,
particularly at Shechem; and they have a copy of the Books of Moses in the
Samaritan character, which they pretend to be the original Hebrew, and many
learned men admit the claim; but there are various verbal differences between
them, of which the most material are in the Chronology, which agrees much
nearer to the Septuagint than to the Hebrew.

But there are two sects often named (though not in Scripture), in relation
both to the ancient and modern Jews, namely, Rabbinists (Talmudists, or
Cabbalists), and Karaites; the explanation of which will necessarily lead us
back to the Jewish Schools, in the period which we have been considering.

The Jews, as every ancient nation, had a great number of traditions
handed down from time immemorial, under the name of Moses, and supposed
to contain unwritten revelations of the divine will, delivered verbally to him
in the mount, and therefore called the oral law, which is considered by
many of equal, and even of superior authority to the Scriptures. These are
supposed to have been carefully collected by Ezra, or the Rabbins (or Rabbies)
who succeeded him, and by them handed down to Rabbi Jehudah, surnamed
Hakkadosh, or the Holy, who formed them into a volume, called the Mishna,
about the close of the second century of the Christian era. But the fertile
imaginations of the Rabbies could not rest here: they wrote commentaries on
these traditions, which were called Gemara; and these, together with the
Mishna above named, formed the Talmud, in which the modern Jews so
much glory, and are therefore called Talmudists. Some of these, how-
ever, from the first, rejected both these traditions and the comments on
them, and were therefore called Karaites (or Caraites), that is, men who
adhered to the text of Moses, and its literal interpretation; whereas the com-
ments of the Gemaru were almost wholly mystical and allegorical. The Ge-
maras of Jerusalem and of Babylon are, however, different; and as either
became connected with the Mishna, it formed the Jerusalem, or the
Babylonish Talmud; of which the latter is most generally in esteem with the
Jews, as containing most of the marvellous and absurd. These latter form

HISTORICAL CONNECTION.

what the modern Jews call their Cahalla, and its professors and admirers are called Caballists; who carried their speculations from grammatical niceties into the regions of metaphysics, astrology, and magic. (See Allen's Modera Judaism, chap. v.)

The distinction between the Rabbinists and Karaites may be traced up to the ancient Jewish schools of Hillel and Shammai; or, as Josephus calls them, Pollio and Simeas. The former, according to the Rabbinists, was born in Babylonia, and came to Jerusalem at forty years of age, where, after a close application to the study of the Jewish laws, &c., at eighty he was chosen President of the Sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews, and lived (to make him a second Moses) to the venerable age of 120 years. The origin of this Sanhedrim the Rabbins carry up to the times of Ezra, and even Moses, but without any sufficient authority; for though it is certain Moses had a council of elders, or magistrates, to assist him (Num. xi. 16, &c.), we have every reason to believe it was not regularly continued; nor have we any trace of it in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah; but the most judicious writers, both Jewish and Christian, date its origin under the government of the Maccabees. The cele brated Hillel, above-mentioned, is known to have been contemporary with Herod the Great; as was also Shammai, who at one time took an active part against him. The latter is said to have been at first a scholar to Hillel, and afterwards Vice-President under him. The Jews consider him as next to his master in point of sacred learning, though they differed materially in their opinions; the former being considered as the head of the Mishnical doctors, and the latter as the chief of the Karaites. The latter were reduced to insignificance and obscurity, by a pretended voice from heaven in favour of the former: the Karaites, however, a few centuries after Christ, revived, upon the publication of the Talmuds, which, by their absurdities, led many to protest against them they still exist as a sect among the Jews in the East, and are by many considered, not only as the more rational, but also the more learned part of the Jewish nation.

The Masorets were a body of Jewish Scribes, which existed from about 450 years before Christ, to 1000 after. Their professed object was, to preserve the sacred Hebrew Text from loss, by counting the words, and even letters. They are also supposed to have invented both the vowel-points, and accents, in order to preserve as much as possible the pronunciation, to distinguish the same word, when used in different senses, and for sundry other important purposes. Their work is called the Masorah, which signifies

"tradition."

Christian writers, as well as Jewish, often make reference to the Targums on the Old Testament: it may be, therefore, acceptable to some of our

« السابقةمتابعة »