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Age of Reason, Part III, Section 1
An Examination Of The Passages In The New Testament, Quoted From The Old, And Called Prophecies Of The Coming Of Jesus Christ.
[THIS work was first published by Mr. Paine, at New York, in 1807, and was the last of his writings edited by himself. It is evidently extracted from his answer to the bishop of Llandaff, or from his third part of the Age of Reason, both of which it appears by his will, he left in manuscript. The term, "The Bishop," occurs in this examination six times without designating what bishop is meant. Of all the replies to his second part of the Age of Reason, that of bishop Watson was the only one to which he paid particular attention; and he is, no doubt, the person here alluded to. Bishop Watson's apology for the Bible had been published some years before Mr. P. left France, and the latter composed his answer to it, and also his third part of the Age of Reason, while in that country.
When Mr. Paine arrived in America, and found that liberal opinions on religion were in disrepute, through the influence of hypocrisy and superstition, he declined publishing the entire of the works which he had prepared; observing that "An author might lose the credit he had acquired by writing too much." He however gave to the public the examination before us, in a pamphlet form. But the apathy which appeared to prevail at that time in regard to religious inquiry, fully determined him to discontinue the publication of his theological writings. In this case, taking only a portion of one of the works before mentioned, he chose a title adapted to the particular part selected.]
The passages called Prophecies of, or concerning, Jesus Christ, in the Old Testament, may be classed under the two following heads :--
First those referred to in the four books of the New Testament, called the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Secondly, those which translators and commentators have, of their own imagination, erected into prophecies, and dubbed with that title at the head of the several chapters of the Old Testament. Of these it is scarcely worth while to waste time, ink, and paper upon; I shall, therefore, confine myself chiefly to those referred to in the aforesaid four books of the New Testament. If I show that these are not prophecies of the person called Jesus Christ, nor have reference to any such person, it will be perfectly needless to combat those which translators, or the Church, have invented, and for which they had no other authority than their own imagination.
I begin with the book called the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
In the first chap. ver. 18, it is said, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise; when his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together SHE WAS FOUND WITH CHILD BY THE HOLY GHOST." — This is going a little too fast; because to make this verse agree with the next it should have said no more than that she was found with child; for the next verse says, "Then Joseph her husband being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily." — Consequently Joseph had found out no more than that she was with child, and he knew it was not by himself.
V. 20. "And while he thought of these things, (that is whether he should put her away privily, or make a public example of her,) behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him IN A DREAM (that is, Joseph dreamed that an angel appeared unto him) saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son and call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins."
Now, without entering into any discussion upon the merits or demerits of the account here given, it is proper to observe, that it has no higher authority than that of a dream; for it is impossible for a man to behold any thing in a dream, but that which he dreams of. I ask not, therefore, whether Joseph (if there was such a man) had such a dream or not; because admitting he had, it proves nothing. So wonderful and rational is the faculty of the mind in dreams, that it acts the part of all the characters its imagination creates, and what it thinks it hears from any of them, is no other than what the roving rapidity of its own imagination invents. It is, therefore, nothing to me what Joseph dreamed of; whether of the fidelity or infidelity of his wife. — I pay no regard to my own dreams, and I should be weak indeed to put faith in the dreams of another.
The verses that follow those I have quoted, are the words of the writer of the book of Matthew. "Now, (says he,) all this (that is, all this dreaming and this pregnancy) was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the Prophet, saying,
"Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted, is, God with us."
This passage is in Isaiah, chap. vii. ver. 14, and the writer of the book of Matthew endeavours to make his readers believe that this passage is a prophecy of the person called Jesus Christ. It is no such thing — and I go to show it is not. But it is first necessary that I explain the occasion of these words being spoken by Isaiah; the reader will then easily perceive, that so far from their being a prophecy of Jesus Christ, they have not the least reference to such a person, or any thing that could happen in the time that Christ is said to have lived — which was about seven hundred years after the time of Isaiah. The case is this;
On the death of Solomon the Jewish nation split into two monarchies: one called the kingdom of Judah, the capital of which was Jerusalem: the other the kingdom of Israel, the capital of which was Samaria. The kingdom of Judah followed the line of David, and the kingdom of Israel that of Saul; and these two rival monarchies frequently carried on fierce wars against each other.
At the time Ahaz was king of Judah, which was in the time of Isaiah, Pekah was king of Israel; and Pekah joined himself to Rezin, king of Syria, to make war against Ahaz, king of Judah o and these two kings marched a confederated and powerful army against Jerusalem. Ahaz and his people became alarmed at the danger, and "their hearts were moved as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." Isaiah, chap. vii. ver. 3.
In this perilous situation of things, Isaiah addressed himself to Ahaz, and assures him, in the name of the Lord, (the cant phrase of all the prophets) that these two kings should not succeed against him; and, to assure him that this should be the case, (the case was however directly contrary*) tells Ahaz to ask a sign of the Lord. This Ahaz declined doing, giving as a reason, that he would not tempt the Lord; upon which Isaiah who pretends to be sent from God, says, ver. 14, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son — Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good — For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings" — meaning the king of Israel and the king of Syria, who were marching against him.
* Chron. chap, xxviii. ver. 1st. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, but he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord. — ver. 5. Wherefore the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria, and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captive and brought them to Damascus; and he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.
Ver. 6. And Pekah (king of Israel) slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day. — ver. 8. And the children of Israel carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand women, sons, and daughters.
Here then is the sign, which was to be the birth of a child, and that child a son; and here also is the time limited for the accomplishment of the sign, namely, before the child should know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
The thing, therefore, to be a sign of success to Ahaz, must he something that would take place before the event of the battle then pending between him and the two kings could be known. A thing to be a sign must precede the thing signified. The sign of rain must be before the rain.
It would have been mockery and insulting nonsense for Isaiah to have assured Ahaz as a sign, that these two kings should not prevail against him: that a child should be born seven hundred years after he was dead; and that before the child so born should know to refuse the evil and choose the good, he, Ahaz, should be delivered from the danger he was then immediately threatened with.
But the case is, that the child of which Isaiah speaks was his own child, with which his wife or his mistress was then pregnant; for he says in the next chapter, v. 2, "And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah; and I went unto the prophetess, and she conceived and bear a son;" and he says, at ver. 18 of the same chapter, "Behold I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel."
It may not be improper here to observe, that the word translated a virgin in Isaiah, does not signify a virgin in Hebrew, but merely a young woman. The tense also is falsified in the translation. Levi gives the Hebrew text of the 14th ver. of the 7th chap. of Isaiah, and the translation in English with it — "Behold a young woman is with child and beareth a son." The expression, says he, is in the present tense. This translation agrees with the other circumstances related of the birth of this child, which was to be a sign to Ahaz. But as the true translation could not have been imposed upon the world as a prophecy of a child to be born seven hundred years afterwards, the Christian translators have falsified the original: and instead of making Isaiah to say, behold a young woman is with child and beareth a son — they make him to say, behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son. It is, however, only necessary for a person to read the 7th and 8th chapters of Isaiah, and he will be convinced that the passage in question is no prophecy of the person called Jesus Christ. I pass on to the second passage quoted from the Old Testament by the New, as a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. ii. ver. 1. "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah, in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem — saying, where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod, the king, heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him — and when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born — and they said unto him in Bethlehem, in the land of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet — and thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, art not the least among the Princes of Judea for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule my people Israel." This passage is in Micah, chap. 6. ver. 2.
I pass over the absurdity of seeing and following a star in the day-time, as a man would a Will with the wisp, or a candle and lantern at night; and also that of seeing it in the east, when themselves came from the east; for could such a thing be seen at all to serve them for a guide, it must be in the west to them. I confine myself solely to the passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
The book of Micah, in the passage above quoted, chap. v. ver. 2, is speaking of some person without mentioning his name from whom some great achievements were expected; but the description he gives of this person at the 5th verse, proves evidently that it is not Jesus Christ, for he says at the 5th ver. "and this man shall be the peace when the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise up against him (that is, against the Assyrian) seven shepherds and eight principal men — v. 6. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod on the entrance thereof; thus shall He (the person spoken of at the head of the second verse) deliver us from the Assyrian when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders."
This is so evidently descriptive of a military chief, that it cannot be applied to Christ without outraging the character they pretend to give us of him. Besides which, the circumstances of the times here spoken of, and those of the times in which Christ is said to have lived, are in contradiction to each other. It was the Romans, and not the Assyrians, that had conquered and were in the land of Judea, and trod in their palaces when Christ was born, and when he died, and so far from his driving them out, it was they who signed the warrant for his execution, and he suffered under it.
Having thus shown that this is no prophecy of Jesus Christ. I pass on to the third passage quoted from the Old Testament by the New, as a prophecy of him.
This, like the first I have spoken of, is introduced by a dream. Joseph dreameth another dream, and dreameth that he seeth another angel. The account begins at the 13th v. of 2d chap. of Matthew.
"The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: For Herod will seek the life of the young child to destroy him. When he arose he took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt — and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I have called my son."
This passage is in the book of Hosea, chap. xi. ver. 1. The words are, "When Israel was a child then I loved him and called my son out of Egypt — As they called them, so they went from them, they sacrificed unto Balaam and burnt incense to graven images."
This passage falsely called a prophecy of Christ, refers to the children of Israel coming out of Egypt in the time of Pharoah, and to the idolatory they committed afterwards. To make it apply to Jesus Christ, he must then be the person who sacrificed unto Balaam and burnt incense to graven images, for the person called out of Egypt by the collective name, Israel, and the persons committing this idolatory, are the same persons, or the descendants from them. This, then, can be no prophecy of Jesus Christ, unless they are willing to make an idolator of him. I pass on to the fourth passage, called, a prophecy by the writer of the book of Matthew.
This is introduced by a story, told by nobody but himself, and scarcely believed by any body, of the slaughter of all the children under two years old, by the command of Herod. A thing which it is not probable should be done by Herod, as he only held an office under the Roman government, to which appeals could always be had, as we see in the case of Paul.
Matthew, however, having made or told his story, says, chap. ii. v. 17. — "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah, the prophet, saying, — In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, weeping and great mourning; Rachael weeping for her children, and would not be comforted because they were not."
This passage is in Jeremiah, chap. xxxi. ver. 15, and this verse when separated from the verses before and after it, and which explains its application, might, with equal propriety, be applied to every case of wars, sieges, and other violences, such as the Christians themselves have often done to the Jews, where mothers have lamented the loss of their children. There is nothing in the verse, taken singly, that designates or points out any particular application of it, otherwise than it points to some circumstances which, at the time of writing it, had already happened, and not to a thing yet to happen, for the verse is in the preter or past tense. I go to explain the case and show the application of the verse.
Jeremiah lived in the time that Nebuchadnezzar besieged, took, plundered, and destroyed Jerusalem, and led the Jews captive to Babylon. He carried his violence against the Jews to every extreme. He slew the sons of king Zedekiah before his face, he then put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and kept him in prison till the day of his death.
It is of this time of sorrow and suffering to the Jews that Jeremiah is speaking. Their temple was destroyed, their land desolated, their nation and government entirely broken up, and themselves, men, women and children, carried into captivity. They had too many sorrows of their own, immediately before their eyes, to permit them, or any of their chiefs, to be employing themselves on things that might, or might not, happen in the world seven hundred years afterwards.
It is, as already observed, of this time of sorrow and suffering to the Jews that Jeremiah is speaking in the verse in question. In the two next verses, the 16th and 17th, he endeavours to console the sufferers by giving them hopes, and, according to the fashion of speaking in those days, assurances from the Lord, that their sufferings should have an end, and that their children should return again to their own children. But I leave the verses to speak for themselves, and the Old Testament to testify against the New.
Jeremiah, chap. xxxi. ver. 15. — "Thus saith the Lord, a voice was heard in Ramah (it is in the preter tense) lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachael, weeping for her children because they were not."
Verse 16. — "Thus saith the Lord, refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, said the Lord, and THEY shall come again from the land of the enemy."
Verse 17. — "And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord that thy children shall come again to their own border."
By what strange ignorance or imposition is it, that the children of which Jeremiah speaks, (meaning the people of the Jewish nation, scripturally called children of Israel, and not mere infants under two years old,) and who were to return again from the land of the enemy, and come again into their own borders, can mean the children that Matthew makes Herod to slaughter? Could those return again from the land of the enemy, or how can the land of the enemy be applied to them? Could they come again to their own borders? Good heavens! How has the world been imposed upon by Testament-makers, priestcraft, and pretended prophecies. I pass on to the fifth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
This, like two of the former, is introduced by dream. Joseph dreamed another dream, and dreameth of another Angel. And Matthew is again the historian of the dream and the dreamer. If it were asked how Matthew could know what Joseph dreamed, neither the Bishop nor all the Church could answer the question. Perhaps it was Matthew that dreamed, and not Joseph; that is, Joseph dreamed by proxy, in Matthew's brain, as they tell us Daniel dreamed for Nebuchadnezzar. But be this as it may, I go on with my subject.
The account of this dream is in Matthew, chap. ii. verse 19. — "But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt — Saying, arise, and take the young child and its mother and go into the land of Israel, for they are dead which sought the young child's life — and he arose and took the young child and his mother and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither. Notwithstanding being warned of God in a dream (here is another dream) he turned aside into the parts of Galilee; and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets. — He shall be called a Nazarene."
Here is good circumstantial evidence, that Matthew dreamed, for there is no such passage in all the Old Testament; and I invite the bishop and all the priests in Christendom, including those of America, to produce it. I pass on to the sixth passage, called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
This, as Swift says on another occasion, is lugged in head and shoulders; it need only to be seen in order to be hooted as a forced and far-fetched piece of imposition.
Matthew, chap. iv. v. 12. " Now when Jesus heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee — and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zebulon and Nephthalim — That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, saying, The land of Zebulon and the land of Nepthalim, by (he way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles — the people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is springing upon them."
I wonder Matthew has not made the cris-cross-row, or the christ-cross-row (I know not how the priests spell it) into a prophecy. He might as well have done this as cut out these unconnected and undescriptive sentences from the place they stand in and dubbed them with that title.
The words, however, are in Isaiah, chap. ix. verse 1, 2, as follows: --
"Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulon and the land of Nephthali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations."
All this relates to two circumstances that had already happened, at the time these words in Isaiah were written. The one, where the land of Zebulon and Nephthali had been lightly afflicted, and afterwards more grievously by the way of the sea.
But observe, reader, how Matthew has falsified the text. He begins his quotation at a part of the verse where there is not so much as a comma, and thereby cuts off every thing that relates to the first affliction. He then leaves out all that relates to the second affliction, and by this means leaves out every thing that makes the verse intelligible, and reduces it to a senseless skeleton of names of towns.
To bring this imposition of Matthew clearly and immediately before the eye of the reader, I will repeat the verse, and put between crotchets the words he has left out, and put in Italics those he has preserved.
[Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation when at the first he lightly afflicted] the land of Zebulon and the land of Nephthali, [and did afterwards more grievously afflict her] by the way of the sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.
What gross imposition is it to gut, as the phrase is, a verse in this manner, render it perfectly senseless, and then puff it off on a credulous world as a prophecy. I proceed to the next verse.
Ver. 2. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." All this is historical, and not in the least prophetical. The whole is in the preter tense: it speaks of things that had been accomplished at the time the words were written, and not of things to be accomplished afterwards.
As then the passage is in no possible sense prophetical, nor intended to be so, and that to attempt to make it so, is not only to falsify the original, but to commit a criminal imposition; it is matter of no concern to us, otherwise than as curiosity, to know who the people were of which the passage speaks, that sat in darkness, and what the light was that shined in upon them.
If we look into the preceding chapter, the 8th, of which the 9th is only a continuation, we shall find the writer speaking, at the 19th verse, of "witches and wizards who peep about and mutter," and of people who made application to them; and he preaches and exhorts them against this darksome practice. It is of this people, and of this darksome practice, or walking in darkness,that he is speaking at the 2d verse of the 9th chapter; and with respect to the light that had shined in upon them, it refers entirely to his own ministry, and to the boldness of it, which opposed itself to that of the witches and wizards who peeped about and muttered.
Isaiah is, upon the whole, a wild disorderly writer, preserving in general no clear chain of perception in the arrangement of his ideas, and consequently producing no defined conclusions from them. It is the wildness of his style, the confusion of his ideas, and the ranting metaphors he employs, that have afforded so many opportunities to priestcraft in some cases, and to superstition in others, to impose those defects upon the world as prophecies of Jesus Christ. Finding no direct meaning in them, and not knowing what to make of them, and supposing at the same time they were intended to have a meaning, they supplied the defect by inventing a meaning of their own, and called it his. I have, however, in this place done Isaiah the justice to rescue him from the claws of Matthew, who has torn him unmercifully to pieces; and from the imposition or ignorance of priests and commentators, by letting Isaiah speak for himself.
If the words walking in darkness, and light breaking in, could in any case be applied prophetically, which they cannot be, they would better apply to the times we now live in than to any other. The world has "walked in darkness" for eighteen hundred years, both as to religion and government, and it is only since the American Revolution began that light has broken in. The belief of one God, whose attributes are revealed to us in the book or scripture of the creation, which no human hand can counterfeit or falsify, and not in the written or printed book which, as Matthew has shown, can be altered or falsified by ignorance or design, is now making its way among us: and as to government, the light is already gone forth, and whilst men ought to be careful not to be blinded by the excess of it, as at a certain time in France, when every thing was Robespierrean violence, they ought to reverence, and even to adore it, with all the firmness and perseverance that true wisdom can inspire.
I pass on to the seventh passage, called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. viii. ver. 16. "When the evening was come, they brought unto him (Jesus) many that were possessed with devils, and he cast out the spirit with his word, and healed all that were sick. — That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, saying, himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
This affair of people being possessed by devils, and of casting them out, was the fable of the day when the books of the New Testament were written. It had not existence at any other time. The books of the old Testament mention no such thing; the people of the present day know of no such thing; nor does the history of any people or country speak of such a thing. It starts upon us all at once in the book of Matthew, and is altogether an invention of the New Testament-makers and the Christian church. The book of Matthew is the first book where the word Devil is mentioned.* We read in some of the books of the Old Testament of things called familiar spirits, the supposed companions of people called witches and wizards. It was no other than the trick of pretended conjurors to obtain money from credulous and ignorant people, or the fabricated charge of superstitious malignancy against unfortunate and decrepid old age.
* The word devil is a personification of the word evil.
But the idea of a familiar spirit, if we can affix any idea to the term, is exceedingly different to that of being possessed by a devil. In the one case, the supposed familiar spirit is a dexterous agent, that comes and goes and does as he is bidden; in the other, he is a turbulent roaring monster, that tears and tortures the body into convulsions. Reader, whoever thou art, put thy trust in thy Creator, make use of the reason he endowed thee with, and cast from thee all such fables.
The passage alluded to by Matthew, for as a quotation it is false, is in Isaiah, chap. liii. ver. 4, which is as follows:
"Surely he (the person of whom Isaiah is speaking of) hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." It is in the preter tense.
Here is nothing about casting out devils, nor curing of sicknesses. The passage, therefore, so far from being a prophecy of Christ, is not even applicable as a circumstance.
Isaiah, or at least the writer of the book that bears his name, employs the whole of this chapter, the 53d, in lamenting the sufferings of some deceased persons, of whom he speaks very pathetically. It is a monody on the death of a friend; but he mentions not the name of the person, nor gives any circumstance of him by which he can be personally known; and it is this silence, which is evidence of nothing, that Matthew has laid hold of to put the name of Christ to it; as if the chiefs of the Jews, whose sorrows were then great, and the times they lived in big with danger, were never thinking about their own affairs, nor the fate of their own friends, but were continually running a wild-goose chase into futurity.
To make a monody into a prophecy is an absurdity. The characters and circumstances of men, even in different ages of the world, are so much alike, that what is said of one may with propriety be said of many; but this fitness does not make the passage into a prophecy; and none but an impostor or a bigot would call it so.
Isaiah, in deploring the hard fate and loss of his friend, mentions nothing of him but what the human lot of man is subject to. All the cases he states of him, his persecutions, his imprisonment, his patience in suffering, and his perseverance in principle, are all within the line of nature: they belong exclusively to none, and may with justness be said of many. But if Jesus Christ was the person the church represents him to be, that which would exclusively apply to him, must be something that could not apply to any other person; something beyond the line of nature; something beyond the lot of mortal man; and there are no such expressions in this chapter, nor any other chapter in the Old Testament.
It is no exclusive description to say of a person, as is said of the person Isaiah is lamenting in this chapter. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." This may be said of thousands of persons, who have suffered oppressions and unjust death with patience, silence, and perfect resignation.
Grotius, whom the bishop esteems a most learned man, and who certainly was so, supposes that the person of whom Isaiah is speaking, is Jeremiah. Grotius is led into this opinion, from the agreement there is between the description given by Isaiah, and the case of Jeremiah, as stated in the book that bears his name. If Jeremiah was an innocent man, and not a traitor in the interest of Nebuchadnezzar, when Jerusalem was besieged his case was hard; he was accused by his countrymen, was persecuted, oppressed, and imprisoned, and he says of himself, (see Jeremiah, chap. ii. ver. 19,) "But as for me, I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter."
I should be inclined to the same opinion with Grotius, had Isaiah lived at the time when Jeremiah underwent the cruelties of which he speaks; but Isaiah died about fifty years before; and it is of a person of his own time, whose case Isaiah is lamenting in the chapter in question, and which imposition and bigotry, more than seven hundred years afterwards, perverted into a prophecy of a person they call Jesus Christ.
I pass on to the eighth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap, xii. ver. 14. "Then the Pharisees went out and held a council against him, how they might destroy him — But when Jesus knew it he withdrew himself; and great numbers followed him and he healed them all — and he charged them that they should not make him known; That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, saying,
"Behold my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased, I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles — he shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets — a bruised reed shall he not break, and smoaking flax shall he not quench, till he sends forth judgment unto victory — and in his name shall the Gentiles trust."
In the first place, this passage hath not the least relation to the purpose for which it is quoted.
Matthew says, that the Pharisees held a council against Jesus to destroy him — that Jesus withdrew himself — that great numbers followed him — that he healed them — and that he charged them they should not make him known.
But the passage Matthew has quoted as being fulfilled by these circumstances, does not so much as apply to any one of them. It has nothing to do with the Pharisees holding a council to destroy Jesus — with his withdrawing himself — with great numbers following him — with his healing them — nor with his charging them not to make him known.
The purpose for which the passage is quoted, and the passage itself, are as remote from each other, as nothing from something. But the case is, that people have been so long in the habit of reading the books, called the Bible and Testament, with their eyes shut, and their senses locked up, that the most stupid inconsistencies have passed on them for truth, and imposition for prophecy. The all-wise Creator has been dishonoured by being made the author of fable, and the human mind degraded by believing it.
In this passage as in that last mentioned, the name of the person of whom the passage speaks is not given, and we are left in the dark respecting him. It is this defect in the history, that bigotry and imposition have laid hold of, to call it prophecy.
Had Isaiah lived in the time of Cyrus, the passage would descriptively apply to him. As king of Persia, his authority was great among the Gentiles, and it is of such a character the passage speaks; and his friendship for the Jews whom he liberated from captivity, and who might then be compared to a bruised reed, was extensive. But this description does not apply to Jesus Christ, who had no authority among the Gentiles; and as to his own countrymen, figuratively described by the bruised reed, it was they who crucified him. Neither can it be said of him that he did not cry, and that his voice was not heard in the street. As a preacher it was his business to be heard, and we are told that he travelled about the country for that purpose. Matthew has given a long sermon, which (if his authority is good, but which is much to he doubted since he imposes so much,) Jesus preached to a multitude upon a mountain, and it would be a quibble to say that a mountain is not a street, since it is a place equally as public.
The last verse in the passage (the 4th) as it stands in Isaiah, and which Matthew has not quoted, says, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth and the isles shall wait for his law." This also applies to Cyrus. He was not discouraged, he did not fail, he conquered all Babylon, liberated the Jews, and established laws. But this cannot be said of Jesus Christ, who in the passage before us, according to Matthew, withdrew himself for fear of the Pharisees, and charged the people that followed him not to make it known where he was; and who, according to other parts of the Testament, was continually moving from place to place to avoid being apprehended.*
* In the second part of the Age of Reason, I have shown that the book ascribed to Isaiah is not only miscellaneous as to matter, but as to authorship; that there are parts in it which could not be written by Isaiah, because they speak of things one hundred and fifty years after he was dead. The instance I have given of this, in that work, corresponds with the subject I am upon, at least a tittle better than Matthew's introduction and his quotation.
Isaiah lived, the latter part of his life, in the time of Hezekiah, and it was about one hundred and fifty years, from the death of Hezekiah to the first year of the reign of Cyrus, when Cyrus published a proclamation, which is given in the first chapter of the book of Ezra, for the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. It cannot be doubted, at least it ought not to be doubted, that the Jews would feel an affectionate gratitude for this act of benevolent Justice, and it is natural they would express that gratitude in the customary style, bombastical and hyperbolical as it was, which they used on extraordinary occasions, and which was, and still is in practice with all the eastern nations.
The instance to which I refer, and which is given in the second part of the Age of Reason, is the last verse of the 14th chapter, and the beginning of the 45th — in these words: "That saith of Cyrus, he is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem thou shall be built, and to the Temple, thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut."
This complementary address is in the present tense, which shows that the things of which it speaks were in existence at the time of writing it; and consequently that the author must have been at least one hundred and fifty years later than Isaiah, and that the book which bears his name is a compilation. The Proverbs called Solomon's, and the Psalms called David's, are of the same kind. The two last verses of the second book of Chronicles, and the three first verses of the first chapter of Ezra, are word for word the same; which show that the compilers of the Bible mixed the writings of different authors together, and put them under some common head.
As we have here an instance in the 44th and 45th chapters of the introduction of the name of Cyrus into a book to which it cannot belong, it affords good ground to conclude, that the passage in the 42d chapter, in which the character of Cyrus is given without his name, has been introduced in like manner, and that the person there spoken of is Cyrus.
But it is immaterial to us, at this distance of time, to know who the person was: it is sufficient to the purpose I am upon, that of detecting fraud and falsehood, to know who it was not, and to show it was not the person called Jesus Christ.
I pass on to the ninth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. xxi. v. 1. "And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethpage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying unto them, go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her, loose them and bring them unto me — and if any man say ought to you, ye shall say, the Lord hath need of them, and straitway he will send them.
"All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, behold thy king cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass."
Poor ass! Let it be some consolation amidst all thy sufferings, that if the heathen world erected a bear into a constellation, the Christian world has elevated thee into a prophecy.
This passage is in Zechariah, chap. ix. ver 9, and is one of the whims of friend Zechariah to congratulate his countrymen, who were then returning from captivity in Babylon, and himself with them, to Jerusalem. It has no concern with any other subject. It is strange that apostles, priests, and commentators, never permit, or never suppose, the Jews to be speaking of their own affairs. Every thing in the Jewish books is perverted and distorted into meanings never intended by the writers. Even the poor ass must not be a Jew-ass but a Christian-ass. I wonder they did not make an apostle of him, or a bishop, or at least make him speak and prophecy. He could have lifted up his voice as loud as any of them.
Zechariah, in the first chapter of his book, indulges himself in several whims on the joy of getting back to Jerusalem. Ho says at the 8th verse, "I saw by night (Zechariah was a sharp-sighted seer) and behold a man setting on a red horse, (yes, reader, a red horse,) and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom, and behind him were red horses speckled and white." He says nothing about green horses, nor blue horses, perhaps because it is difficult to distinguish green from blue by night, but a Christian can have no doubt they were there, because "faith it the evidence of things not seen."
Zechariah then introduces an angel among his horses, but he does not tell us what colour the angel was of, whether black or white, nor whether he came to buy horses, or only to look at them as curiosities, for certainly they were of that kind. Be this however as it may, he enters into conversation with this angel, on the joyful affair of getting back to Jerusalem, and he saith at the 16th verse, "Therefore, thus saith the Lord, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies; my house shall be built in it saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem." An expression signifying the rebuilding the city.
All this, whimsical and imaginary as it is, sufficiently proves that it was the entry of the Jews into Jerusalem from captivity, and not the entry of Jesus Christ, seven hundred years afterwards, that is the subject upon which Zechariah is always speaking.
As to the expression of riding upon an ass, which commentators represent as a sign of humility in Jesus Christ, the case is, he never was so well mounted before. The asses of those countries are large and well-proportioned, and were anciently the chief of riding animals. Their beasts of burden, and which served also for the conveyance of the poor, were camels and dromedaries. We read in judges, chap. x. ver. 4, that "Jair, (one of the Judges of Israel,) had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass-colts, and they had thirty cities." But commentators distort every thing.
There is besides very reasonable grounds to conclude that this story of Jesus riding publicly into Jerusalem, accompanied, as it is said at the 8th and 9th verses, by a great multitude, shouting and rejoicing, and spreading their garments by the way, is altogether a story destitute of truth.
In the last passage called a prophecy that I examined, Jesus is represented as withdrawing, that is, running away, and concealing himself for fear of being apprehended, and charging the people that were with him not to make him known. No new circumstance had arisen in the interim to change his condition for the better; yet here he is represented as making his public entry into the same city from which he had fled for safety. The two cases contradict each other so much, that if both are not false, one of them at least can scarcely be true. For my own part, I do not believe there is one word of historical truth in the whole book.
I look upon it at best to be a romance: the principal personage of which is an imaginary or allegorical character founded upon some tale, and in which the moral is in many parts good, and the narrative part very badly and blunderingly written.
I pass on to the tenth passage, called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. xxvi. ver. 51. "And behold one of them which was with Jesus (meaning Peter) stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him; Put up again thy sword into its place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels. But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be. In that same hour Jesus said to the multitudes, are ye come out as against a thief, with swords and with staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.
This loose and general manner of speaking, admits neither of detection nor of proof. Here is no quotation given, nor the name of any Bible author mentioned, to which reference can be had.
There are, however, some high improbabilities against the truth of the account.
First — It is not probable that the Jews, who were then a conquered people, and under subjection to the Romans, should be permitted to wear swords.
Secondly — If Peter had attacked the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear, he would have been immediately taken up by the guard that took up his master and sent to prison with him.
Thirdly — What sort of disciples and preaching apostles must those of Christ have been that wore swords?
Fourthly — This scene is represented to have taken place the same evening of what is called the Lord's supper, which makes, according to the ceremony of it, the inconsistency of wearing swords the greater.
I pass on to the eleventh passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. xxvii. ver. 3. "Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, what is that to us, see thou to that. And he cast down the thirty pieces of silver, and departed, and went and hanged himself — And the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, it is not lawful to put them in the treasury, because it is the price of blood — And they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field to bury strangers in — Wherefore that field is called the field of blood unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value, and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me."
This is a most barefaced piece of imposition. The passage in Jeremiah which speaks of the purchase of a field, has no more to do with the case to which Matthew applies it, than it has to do with the purchase of lands in America. I will recite the whole passage:
Jeremiah, chap. xxxii. v. 6. "And Jeremiah said, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying — Behold Hanamiel, the son of Shallum thine uncle, shall come unto thee, saying, buy thee my field that is in Anathoth, for the right of redemption is thine to buy it — So Hanamiel mine uncle's son came to me in the court of the prison, according to the word of the Lord, and said unto me, buy my field I pray thee that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin, for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew this was the word of the Lord — And I bought the field of Hanamiel mine uncle's son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver — and I subscribed the evidence and sealed it, and took witnesses and weighed him the money in balances. So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open — and I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch, the son of Neriah, the son of Maasaeiath, in the sight of Hanamiel mine uncle's son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison — and I charged Baruch before them, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days — for thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, houses, and fields, and vineyards, shall be possessed again in this land."
I forbear making any remark on this abominable imposition of Matthew. The thing glaringly speaks for itself. It is priests and commentators that I rather ought to censure, for having preached falsehood so long, and kept people in darkness with respect to those impositions. I am not contending with these men upon points of doctrine, for I know that sophistry has always a city of refuge. I am speaking of facts: for wherever the thing called a fact is a falsehood, the faith founded upon it is delusion, and the doctrine raised upon it not true. Ah, reader, put thy trust in thy Creator, and thou wilt be safe! but if thou trustest to the book called the scriptures, thou trustest to the rotten staff of fable and falsehood. But I return to my subject.
There is among the whims and reveries of Zechariah, mention made of thirty pieces of silver given to a potter. They can hardly have been so stupid as to mistake a potter for a field: and if they had, the passage in Zechariah has no more to do with Jesus, Judas, and the field to bury strangers in, than that already quoted. I will recite the passage.
Zechariah, chap. xi. ver. 7. "And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, 0 poor of the flock; and I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands, and I fed the flock — Three shepherds also, I cut off in one month; and my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. — Then said I, I will not feed you; that which dieth, let it die; and that which is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another. — And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. — And it was broken in that day; and so the poor of the flock who waited upon me, knew that it was the word of the Lord.
"And I said unto them, if ye think good give me my price, and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, cast it unto the potter, a goodly price that I was prized at of them; and I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.
"When I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel."*
* Whiston, in his Essay on the Old Testament, says, that the passage of Zechariah of which I have spoken, was in the copies of the Bible of the first century, in the book of Jeremiah, from whence, says he, it was taken and inserted without coherence, in that of Zechariah — well, let it be so, it does not make the case a whit the better for the New Testament; but it makes the case a great deal the worse for the Old. Because it shows, as I have mentioned respecting some passages in a book ascribed to Isaiah, that the works of different authors have been so mixed and confounded together, they cannot now be discriminated, except where they are historical, chronological, or biographical, as in the interpolation in Isaiah. It is the name of Cyrus inserted where it could not be inserted, as he was not in existence till one hundred and fifty years after the time of Isaiah, that detects the interpolation and the blunder with it.
Whiston was a man of great literary learning, and what is of much higher degree, of deep scientific learning. He was one of the best and most celebrated mathematicians of his time, for which he was made professor of mathematics of the University of Cambridge. He wrote so much in defense of the Old Testament, and of what he calls prophecies of Jesus Christ, that at last he began to suspect the truth of the Scriptures, and wrote against them; for it is only those who examine them, that see the imposition. Those who believe them most, are those who know least about them.
Winston, after writing so much in defense of the Scriptures, was at last prosecuted for writing against them. It was this that gave occasion to Swift, in his ludicrous epigram on Ditton and Whitton, each of which set up to find out the longitude, to call the one good master Ditton and the other, wicked Will Whiston. But as Swift was a great associate with the Freethinkers of those days, such as Bolingbroke, Pope, and others, who did not believe the book called the scriptures, there is no certainty whether he wittily called him wicked for defending the scriptures, or for writing against them. The known character of Swift decides for the former.
There is no making either head or tail of this incoherent gibberish. His two staves, one called Beauty and the other Bands, is so much like a fairy tale, that I doubt if it had any other origin. — There is, however, no part that has the least relation to the case stated in Matthew; on the contrary, it is the reverse of it. Here the thirty pieces of silver, whatever it was for, is called a goodly price, it was as much as the thing was worth, and according to the language of the day, was approved of by the Lord, and the money given to the potter in the house of the Lord. In the case of Jesus and Judas, as stated in Matthew, the thirty pieces of silver were the price of blood; the transaction was condemned by the Lord, and the money when refunded, was refused admittance into the Treasury. Every thing in the two cases is the reverse of each other.
Besides this, a very different and direct contrary account to that of Matthew, is given of the affair of Judas', in the book called the Acts of the Apostles; according to that book, the case is, that so far from Judas repenting and returning the money, and the high priest buying a field with it to bury strangers in, Judas kept the money and bought a field with it for himself; and instead of hanging himself, as Matthews says, he fell headlong and burst asunder — some commentators endeavour to get over one part of the contradiction by ridiculously supposing that Judas hanged himself first and the rope broke.
Acts, chap. i. ver. 16. "Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judus, which was a guide to them that took Jesus. (David says not a word about Judas,) ver. 17, for he (Judas) was numbered among us and obtained part of our ministry."
Ver. 18. "Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and his bowels gushed out." Is it not a species of blasphemy to call the New Testament revealed religion, when we see in it such contradictions and absurdities.
I pass on to the twelfth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. xxvii. ver. 35. "And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots." This expression is in the 22d Psalm, ver. 18. The writer of that Psalm (whoever he was, for the Psalms are a collection and not the work of one man) is speaking of himself and his own case, and not that of another. He begins this Psalm with the words which the New Testament writers ascribed to Jesus Christ." My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me" — words which might be uttered by a complaining man without any great impropriety, but very improperly from the mouth of a reputed God.
The picture which the writer draws of his own situation in this Psalm, is gloomy enough. He is not prophesying, but complaining of his own hard case. He represents himself as surrounded by enemies, and beset by persecutions of every kind; and by way of showing the inveteracy of his persecutors, he says, at the 18th verse, "They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." The expression is in the present tense; and is the same as to say, they pursue me even to the clothes upon my back, and dispute how they shall divide them; besides, the word vesture does not always mean clothing of any kind, but property, or rather the admitting a man to, or investing him with property; and as it is used in this Psalm distinct from the word garment, it appears to be used in this sense. But Jesus had no property; for they make him say of himself, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head."
But be this as it may, if we permit ourselves to suppose the Almighty would condescend to tell, by what is called the spirit of prophecy, what could come to pass in some future age of the world, it is an injury to our own faculties, and to our ideas of his greatness, to imagine that it would be about an old coat, or an old pair of breeches, or about any thing which the common accidents of life, or the quarrels that attend it, exhibit every day.
That which is in the power of man to do, or in his will not to do, is not a subject for prophecy, even if there were such a thing, because it cannot carry with it any evidence of divine power, or divine interposition: The ways of God are not the ways of men. That which an almighty power performs, or wills, is not within the circle of human power to do, or to control. But any executioner and his assistants might quarrel about dividing the garments of a sufferer, or divide them without quarrelling, and by that means fulfill the thing called a prophecy or set it aside.
In the passage before examined, I have exposed the falsehood of them. In this I exhibit its degrading meanness, as an insult to the Creator and an injury to human reason.
Here end the passages called prophecies by Matthew.
Matthew concludes his book by saying, that when Christ expired on the cross, the rocks rent, the graves opened, and the bodies of many of the saints arose; and Mark says, there was darkness over the land from the sixth hour until the ninth. They produce no prophecy for this; but had these things been facts, they would have been a proper subject for prophecy, because none but an almighty power could have inspired a fore-knowledge of them, and afterwards fulfilled them. Since then there is no such prophecy, but a pretended prophecy of an old coat, the proper deduction is, there were no such things, and that the book of Matthew is fable and falsehood.
I pass on to the book called the Gospel according to St. Mark
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