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that the mass of the Jewish nation, including my own progenitors, and with the Sanhedrim at their head, were so blind as not to know a miracle when they saw it, or so inconceivably wicked and foolish, as to put to death one whom they knew to be the Messenger of God, — for whose approach, too, the whole nation had so long and so anxiously waited ? No. The question was tried and decided by the best possible judges, the people and rulers of Israel in the time of Jesus himself; and it would be conduct unworthy of their descendant, to allow that it is any longer a subject for controversy."
Such a train of thought must be admitted to possess, at least to the mind of an Israelite, much apparent strength. What plea then shall be advanced, to induce you to set aside this decision of your ancestors, and grant a new trial to the claims of Christianity ? It must be shown that there existed, in the time of Jesus, causes fully sufficient to account for his rejection by his countrymen ;— we must examine what these causes were, and demonstrate that they were by no means derogatory to the character of Jesus, or of his religion. I trust further to prove that those peculiarities of the Christian system, which led to its rejection by your ancestors, are in fact, although the prejudices of their age prevented them from discerning it, the greatest recommendations of the religion; and present the only means, by which the Mosaic dispensation itself can be reconciled with what nature teaches us of the character of God.
But before entering more fully on this investigation, a difficulty must be removed, which presents itself at the threshold. You object, perhaps, “This religion claims to rest on the evidence of miracles. It is asserted that Jesus and his disciples caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and even, in some instances, recalled the dead to life. Such things, if they occurred, must have carried conviction with them. Does not the rejection of the religion by those of the age and nation in which it appeared, prove that these miracles did not in fact take place ?"
The answer to this objection is to be found in the belief, prevalent in the time of Jesus, in the power of evil spirits to perform supernatural works. The fact will not probably be questioned by any, that this idea, which even now is supported not only by popular opinion, but by numbers of able
scholars, was universally prevalent at the Christian era. An explanation is then at once afforded, of the skepticism of the Hebrew nation with regard to the miracles of Jesus. And this is the very account which the Christian Scriptures give of that skepticism. We do not read there, that, in a single instance, the supernatural character of a miracle was denied ; but the objection was constantly made, “ This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils."
And this was enough to induce most of those who heard it, to hesitate in acknowleging the divine agency displayed. Jesus repelled the accusation, but not by an argument 10 prove that such power would not have been entrusted to evil spirits. Such an argument would not then have been appreciated. But, meeting the popular objection on its own ground, he showed the inconsistency of supposing that works of beneficence could proceed from an evil source. “If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?"*
Similar explanations of the Christian miracles have been given by Jewish writers. “That Christ learned magical arts in Egypt,” says Rosenmueller, † “is a wide spread calumny of the Jews, which needs no refutation. Celsus, who repeated it, was briefly, but well, answered by Origen. But who will not wonder that this base fable, long since exploded, should have met the views in any degree, of some fiction-mongers of our own age ?” “The modern Hebrews, says Calmet, or his Editor, "affirm that Moses, by virtue of the word Jehovah engraven on his rod, performed all his miracles; and that Christ, while in the temple, stole the ineffable name, which he put into his thigh between the skin and the flesh, and by its power accomplished all the prodigies imputed to him." I
We gather, from the proofs thus afforded, the conclusion, that the Jews in the age of Jesus possessed, from the belief then prevalent, a method of accounting for obvious miracles, without admitting them to be the effect of divine power, or the seal of divine truth. That they did not receive the religion of Jesus, is therefore no conclusive proof against the
* Matt. xii. 24, 26. See also Mark iii. 22. Luke xi. 15. + Scholia in Nov. Test. Note on Matt. ii. 14. Calmet's Dictionary, article JEHOVAH.
reality of its miraculous evidence. I may say more. The Jewish writers of later times, as well as the scribes of the Christian era, by tracing the miracles to the agency of evil spirits, to magic, or to the improper use of the ineffable name, actually bore testimony to their supernatural character; for they thus admitted that the works of Jesus were beyond unassisted human power. Receive their testimony, my friends, to this extent; and I have no fear that in the present age, and with a knowledge of the beauty and holiness which distinguish the precepts of Jesus, you should assert that they originated with the powers of darkness. The miracles and the doctrine were then alike from God.
We proceed to examine the causes which induced the Jews of his own age, to reject the claims of Jesus. In speaking, however, of that rejection as a national act, we must not forget that there were thousands, in Judea and elsewhere, who received Jesus as the long expected Messiah ; and thousands more, to whom his claims were never exhibited. The greater part of his ministry was spent in Galilee, not in Judea proper. In order, too, to prevent popular commotions, which might otherwise have taken place in his favor, he did not, till near the conclusion of his course, publicly claim the character of Messiah ; leaving his title to that office rather to the inferences of his followers. Still, the Sanhedrim, and those of chief influence among the people, had his claims fully placed before them, and their rejection of him was, from the station which they occupied, properly a national act.
The Jews of that day expected as their Messiah a temporal deliverer. Jesus appeared as a spiritual deliverer. This was the great cause of his rejection. task, first, to show that such were their expectations, and such his appearance; - secondly, that this discrepancy was the cause of his rejection; and thirdly, that, with the more enlightened views of this age, that very cause affords the strongest argument for the reception of his claims.
The Jews of that age expected as their Messiah a temporal deliverer and king. This, I presume, you will not be disposed to question, as the same expectation prevails anong yourselves at the present day. Nor was this expectation unnatural. The history of the Hebrew commonwealth had been one of remarkable interventions of divine providence. From the age of Moses to that of Judas Mac
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cabeus, never had the nation been long oppressed under a foreign yoke, but some leader had been raised up, distinguished in a remarkable manner by divine favor, for the restoration of Israel. And at the time when Jesus appeared, the nation, as you well know, was enduring the weight of those sufferings which afterwards drove them into the great insurrection, and resulted in the abrogation of their government, the destruction of their temple, and their own expulsion from the land of their fathers. Under such circumstances, there is no race of men, who would not have impatiently awaited the appearance of a deliverer. But, among the Israelites, the expectation was encouraged by prophecies, which, if they were designed to be understood in their literal sense, foretold a temporal Messiah. At the time now spoken of, the national expectation had been more than usually excited. These facts are so universally admitted that it is unnecessary to do more than refer to the often quoted testimony of Tacitus, * Suetonius, † and Josephus. I
I cannot forbear however, to adduce the evidence of a late writer among yourselves. It is from a book entitled, “ Israel Vindicated; being a Refutation of the Calumnies propagated respecting the Jewish Nation: In which the Objects and Views of the American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, are investigated. By an Israelite.” New York, 1820.
“ The idea therefore, of a Messiah appearing at this time, Dear Isaacs, was, as you perceive, confined to a few of our nation, who had been led astray by vague traditions. But even this idea extended no further than to a deliverance from the Roman yoke. The notion of a spiritual Messiah was not entertained till some time after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Two opinions were held as to the character of the Messiah at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem ; but neither of them favored the idea of a spiritual deliverer. • They,' says Manasseh Ben Israel, who believed the city doomed to Roman vengeance, and submitted to the Roman general, as thinking he must be the prince who was to come before their final destruction ; and they who thought a Messiah of their own nation would come, and comforted themselves that their city and temple could not be destroyed before he came, and therefore expected salvation to the last hour. · Letter IV.
* Historia, Cap. 13.
+ Vita Vespasiani, Cap. 4. | De Bello Jud. lib. VII. Cap. 31.
§ For access to this and some other interesting works, subsequently quoted, I am indebted to the kindness of a distinguished member of the Jewish community in Savannah, Georgia ;- - a favor which I take this occasion gratefully to acknowledge.
12. Perhaps, in your own moments of feeling for the remnant of Israel, a vision has passed before you of Him whom you have expected as yet to come, the Warrior, the Deliverer, the Monarch of God's chosen people; just indeed, but stern, and bruising with a rod of iron the oppressors of his race; -clothed in righteousness indeed, but clothed also in majesty, combining the military glory of David and the magnificence of Solomon. For such a Messiah your ancestors eagerly waited. And they probably expected him to appear from among the noblest of his people, and in Jerusalern, the city of their kings.
The Prophet appeared, - a carpenter's son, in a village of Galilee, so obscure that its name was a proverbial expression of contempt. Instead of leading his people in revolt against the Roman power, his first labor was to teach them humility, charity and love to all, and non-resistance to oppressors. Instead of ascending the throne of David, he had not where to lay his head. Though probably startled by these early indications of a character so different from what they had anticipated, the multitude continued to attend his steps, and some became closely and personally attached to him. But they still expected to see his conduct at length change. They looked to see him assume that character which had so long been ascribed to the Messiah. sumed it not. He taught them constantly a system of love to God and man, so pure that all its opponents have never discovered in it a blemish, but the farthest conceivable from that military spirit which they had anticipated and desired. They expected to find him acknowledged by the elders of the people as their chief; they looked to behold him zealous for the very letter of the law of Moses. But they soon found him placed in direct opposition to those whom they reverenced, reproving boldly their prevalent vices of hypocrisy and pride ; and though he showed respect for the Mosaic law to a reasonable extent, they saw him performing cures on the Sabbath day, and heard him maintain that the