Графични страници
PDF файл

Externally, however, the condition of the nations, at the time of which we are speaking, was favorable to the establishment of a new system both of religion and civilization. The larger portion of the known world was occupied by a single empire, in whose bosom elements of change and dissolution were at work. From beyond the Pillars of Hercules to the Caspian Sea, sweeping through the forests of Germany on the one side, and the sands of the Libyan desert on the other, about a hundred and fifty millions of persons, of diversified climate and character, were consolidated into one vast commonwealth. Diverging from the city of Rome, which might be called the metropolis of the world, magnificent roads stretched in every direction, connecting, by social and commercial ties, distant and flourishing cities. The old separate kingdoms, most of them immobile and stationary, governed by caste, and opposed to progress, which once occupied this vast area, were broken up, and a political brotherhood was

ant of the emperor and the highest ranks of Rome; and crimes at rohich we now shudder, as unnatural, cleare to the greatest names of that epoch. Vice had attacked the foyers of society, and families were expiring so fast that a premium was offered to the man who should transmit a legitimate offspring to posterity. ` Human kind was gradually dying out, and if the process of dissolution had continued unchecked by the infusion of a purer blood and a chaster creed, the race must have become cxtinct." - Martial and his Times. Westminster Reviero.


established throughout the bounds of the civilized world. It was a colossal power, appearing to grasp and control the whole destiny of man. But it had long passed its meridian. The prevalent civilization, based upon idolatry, polygamy, and slavery, was about to find its issue. Internal, ever-augmenting corruption was gradually working its overthrow. In a word, the hand of God, through natural agencies, seemed to be preparing the way for some vast and glorious change, or for some deep and universal catastrophe.

The condition of the Jewish people, at this time, differed little from that of the neighboring nations, except in their hatred of idolatry, their contempt of all other people, and their hope of a conquering Messiah. The vital energy of their ancient faith had given place to formalism and superstition. For a hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ, their Mishna, in which were embodied the traditions of the elders,” had been growing in their esteem.* Ву this they made void the law of God, now all but obsolete. Hence their division into sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the one clinging to traditions, the other rejecting them. The Pharisees, however, were by far the most power

The Mishna was the title given to the collection of traditions made by Rabbi Judah Hakkadosh, about B. C. 150.

ful party in the state, both in religion and politics. Ambitious and intriguing, they controlled the popular will, and inflamed it with their bigotries. Hence they yielded reluctant obedience to the ruling monarch, Herod the Idumean, whose ambitious and selfish character is well known. The Sadducees, as much distinguished for their national pride and intolerance of foreigners, were equally disaffected to the government of Herod, and longed to be delivered from what they deemed a degrading servitude. The nation, therefore, was ripe for rebellion and political change.

In these circumstances, the religion of their fathers, yet revered as a form, had become cold and sterile, a mere engine of political strife. Long had the Shekinah departed from the temple. The voice of its oracles was dumb. More free from the tendency to idolatry than in ancient times, and preserved untarnished in the ancient books, Judaism had lost all regenerative force. The spirit of prophecy was extinct.

No holy seers predicted the glories of the Messiah's reign, or denounced the judgments of God against the workers of iniquity. No Deborah sang under the palm tree, between Ramah and Bethel. No Ezekiel thundered between the porch and the altar. The word indeed remained; brei it was a dead letter to the great body of the people.

[ocr errors]

The formalism of the Pharisee on the one hand, and the scepticism of the Sadducee on the other, paralyzed all pure and earnest feeling. The people, subjected to the galling oppression of a foreign yoke, were discontented and furious. Unheard-of atrocities, which easily account for the subsequent "murder of the innocents," no more strange or monstrous than some of his other crimes, had been perpetrated in the family of the elder Herod, whose days of mingled splendor and crime were about to close, in horror and blood.

In addition to this, infidel and pagan notions, introduced through the influence of the court, began to prevail in some portions of Judea, particularly in Cæsarea, the Roman capital of the country; while the mass of the people, especially in the larger cities, were intoxicated with a savage fanaticism. Hence the origin of the sect or clique, as it may be called, of the Herodians, who saw no harm in mingling the rites of heathenism with the pure ceremonial of their own worship, and whose cringing sycophancy and easy submission to a foreign yoke excited the disgust of their countrymen. Some holy hearts, here and there, in the temple and among the mountains, consecrated by the memories of the past, brooded over the prophecies, and longed for the reign of God upon the earth. The Essenes, the anchorites and mystics of the Jewish faith, were distinguished for their simplicity of manners; but they lived in seclusion, and took no part in public affairs. Separating themselves from their fellow-men as unclean, and making no attempt at the reformation of others, they shut themselves up, in the profound solitudes adjoining the shores of the Dead Sea. The same may be said of their brethren, the Therapeutæ, in Egypt, yet more distinguished for their mystic and ascetic habits.

But the great body of the people were ignorant and superstitious; and though free from idolatry, narrow and sensual in their feelings. They cherished, indeed, the hope of a Messiah, but so mingled with selfish and fanatical views, that it rather exasperated than soothed their passions.

There prevailed, also, at this period, even in the Roman world, a wide-spread expectation of some august revolution, to be achieved by the sudden appearance of a mighty and mysterious personage. This dim idea was floating about not only in Syria, but in Rome, in Egypt, and Babylon. So familiar had it become, that it attracted the attention of the Roman poets and philosophers. Virgil is supposed to refer to it.

Among many," writes Tacitus, “ there was a persuasion that in the ancient books of the priest


« ПредишнаНапред »