« IndietroContinua »
veritas ; and I am once more borne away in the deep and troubled torrent of Antiquity.
These various prejudices above mentioned oblige me therefore to prove the third Proposition, in the same circumstantial manner I proved the first and second : and this will require a previous explanation of the MOSAIC POLICY.
But to form a right idea of that Institution, it will be necessary to know the genius and manners of the HEBREW PEOPLE ; though it be, as we conceive, of divine appointment: and still more necessary to understand the character and abilities of their LAWGIVER, if it be, as our adversaries pretend, only of human.
Now as the Hebrews, on receiving their LAW, were but just come from a strange country, the land of Egypt ; where the people had been held in slavery and oppression ; and their Leader bred at court, and instructed in all the learning of their colleges ; it could not bæt be, that the genius and manners of both would receive a high tincture from those with whom they had so long, and in such different stations, conversed : And in fact, holy Scripture assures us, that Moses was conversant in all the wisdom, and the ISRAELITES besotted with all the whoredoms or idolatries, of Egypt.
It will be of importance therefore to know the state of SUPERSTITION and LEARNING in Egypt during these early ages.
This, as it is a necessary, so one would think, should be no difficult enquiry; for it is natural to suppose, that the same Scripture which tells us, that the Lawgiver and his people brought their wisdom and superstitions from Egypt, would tell us also what that wisdom and what those superstitions were. And so indeed it does; as will be seen in due time: Yet, by ill fortune, the fact stands, at present, so precarious, as to need much pains, and many words, to make it owned. Divines, it is confessed, seem to allow the testimony of Stephen and Ezekiel, who, under the very impulse of inspiration, say that Moses was learned in all the wisdom, and the people devoted to all the superstitions of Egypt ; yet, when they come to explain that learning, they make it to consist in such fopperies, as a wise and honest man, like Moses, would never practise : when they come to particularize those superstitions, they will not allow even the Golden Calf, the o ΜΟΣΧΟΣ ούτος ο "ΑΠΙΣ καλεόμενος,* to be of their number. For by an odd chance, though not uncommon in blind V scuffles, the infidels and we have changed weapons : Our enemies attack us with the Bible, to prove the Egyptians very learned and very superstitious in the time of Moses; and we defend ourselves with the new Chronology of Sir Isaac Newton, to prove them very barbarous and
• HERODOTUS, lib. iii. cap. 28.
Would the reader know how this came about ; it was in this wise : The infidels had observed (as who that ever looked into sacred and profane Antiquity hath not?) that in the Jewish Law there were many ordinances respective of the institutions of Egypt. This circumstance they seized ; and, according to their custom, envenomed ; by drawing from thence a conclusion against The Divine Legation of Moses. The defenders of Revelation, surprised with the novelty of the argument, did that, in a fright and in excess of caution, which one may observe unprepared disputants generally do, to support their opinions ; that is, they chose rather to deny the PREMISSES than the CONCLUSION. For such, not knowing to what their adversary's principles may lead, think it a point of prudence to stop him in his first advance : whereas the skilful disputant well knows, that he never has his enemy at more advantage, than when, by allowing the premisses, how shews him arguing wrong from his own principles ; for the question being then to be decided by the certain rules of logic, his confutation exposes
the weakness of the advocate as well as of the cause. When this is over, he may turn with a good grace upon the premisses ; to expose them, if false ; to rectify them, if misrepresented ; or to employ them in the service of Religion, if truly and faithfully delivered : and this service they will never refuse him ; as I shall shew in the previous question of the high antiquity of Egypt, and in the main question of the omission of a future state in the institution of the Hebrews.
And I am well persuaded that, had those excellent advocates of Religion (whose labours have set the truth in a light not to be resisted) but duly weighed the character of those with whom they had to do, they would have been less startled at any consequences the power of their logic could have deduced. The Tolands, the Blounts, the Tindals, are, in truth, of a temper and complexion, in which one finds more of that quality which subjects men to draw wrong Conclusions, than of that which enables them to invent false Principles.
The excellent SPENCER, indeed, endeavoured to dissipate this panic, by shewing these premisses to be the true key to the REASON OF THE LAW; for the want of a sufficient reason in the ceremonial and positive part of it, was the greatest objection, which thinking men had, to the divinity of its original.
But all this did not yet reconcile men to those premisses. It would seem as if they had another quarrel with them, besides the poor unlearned fear of their leading to the infidel's conclusion ; namely, for their being an adversary's principle simply; and, on that score alone to be disputed. This is a perverse, though common prejudice, which infects our whole communication ; and hath hurt unity in the church, and humanity in civil life, as well as peace in the schools. For who knows not that the same impotent aversion to things abused by an enemy, hath made one sort of sectaries divide from the national church, and another reprobate the most indifferent manners of their country ? *
And it is to be observed, that till that unlucky time when the infidels first blundered upon truth, this principle met with a very general reception : the ancient Fathers, and modern Divines of all denominations, concurring in their use of it, to illustrate the wisdom of God's Laws, and the truth of his Son’s interpretation of them, where he assureth us that they were given to the Hebrews for the hardness of their hearts ; no sort of men stieking out, but a few visionary Jews, who, besotted with the nonsense of their cabbala, obstinately shut their eyes against all the light which the excellent MAIMONIDEs had first poured into this palpable obscure.
Not that I would be understood as admitting the premisses in the latitude in which our adversaries deliver them;
Iliacos intra muros poccatur et extra.
The human mind, miserably weak and instable, and distracted with a great variety of objects, is naturally inclined to repose itself in SYSTEM ; nothing being more uneasy to us than a state of doubt ; or a view too large for our comprehension. Hence we see, that, of every imaginary fact, some or other have made an hypothesis ; of every cloud, a castle : And the common vice of these castle-builders is to draw every thing within its precincts, which they fancy may contribute to its defence or embellishment. We have given an instance, in the foregoing book, of the folly of those who have run into the contrary extreme, and are for deriving all arts, laws and religions, from the People of God: an extravagance at length come to such a height, that, if you will believe certain writers, † the poor heathen had neither the grace to kneel to prayers, nor the wit to put their Gods under cover, till the Israelites taught them the way. But our wise adversaries are even with them; and will bate no believer an inch, in driving on an hypothesis : for had not the Egyptians, by great good luck, as they give us to understand, I enjoined honour to parents, and restrained theft by punishment, the Jews had been in a sad blind condition when they came to take possession of the promised land. Are these men more sober in their accounts of the religious Institutions of the Hebrews ? I think not; when they pretend to prove circumcision of Egyptian original from the testimony of late writers, who neither speak to the point, nor in this point are in reason to be regarded, if they did. $
• Puritans, Quakers, &c. † See note C, at the end of this book.
See MARSHAM's Canon Chron. ed. Franeq. pp. 177, 188.
$ See note D, at the end of this book,
But why all this strife for or against the one or other hypothesis ? for assuredly it would no more follow, from this of our adversaries, that the Jewish Religion was false, than from a lately revived one of our friends, which supposes all the Gods of Egypt to have come out of Abraham's family,* that the Egyptian was true.
It must indeed be of use to true religion, where or whatever it be, to trace up things to their original: and for that reason alone, without any views to party, I shall endeavour to prove the four following propositions.
1. That the Egyptian learning, celebrated in Scripture, and the Egyptian superstition there condemned, were the very learning and superstition represented by the Greek writers, as the honour and opprobrium of that Kingdom.
2. That the Jewish people were extremely fond of Egyptian manners, and did frequently fall into Egyptian superstitions : and that many of the laws given to them by the ministry of Moses, were instituted, partly in compliance to their prejudices, and partly in opposition to those superstitions.
3. That Moses’s Egyptian learning, and the laws he instituted in compliance to the people's prejudices, and in opposition to Egyptian superstitions, are no reasonable objection to the divinity of his mission. And,
4. That those very circumstances are a strong confirmation of the truth of his pretensions.
The inquiry, into which the proof of these points will lead us, is, as we said, very necessary to the gaining a true idea of the nature of the Jewish Dispensation : as that idea will enable the reader to form á right judgment of the force of those arguments, I am preparing for the support of my THIRD PROPOSITION, That the doctrine of a future state is not to be found in, nor did make part of, the Jewish Dispensation. But the enquiry has still a further use. I shall employ the result of it to strengthen that general conclusion, THAT MOSES HAD REALLY A DIVINE MISSION, which I have promised to deduce through the medium of this third proposition : so that the reader must not think me in the humour to trifle with him, if this enquiry should prove longer than he expected.
And here, on the entrance, it will be no improper place to explain my meaning, when, in my first setting out, I promised to demonstrate the truth of the Jewish revelation, ON THE PRINCIPLES OF A
Had I meant no more by this, than that I would argue with him on common principles, I had only insulted the reader's understanding by an affected expression, while I pretended to make that peculiar to my defence, which is, or ought to be, a cir
• Voyez Reflexions Critiques sur les Histo'res des Anciens Peuples.
cumstance common to all : or had I meant so much by it, as to imply, that I would argue with the Deist on his own false principles, I had then unreasonably bespoke the reader's long attention to a mere argument ad hominem, which, at best, had only proved the free-thinker a bad reasoner; and who wants to be convinced of that? but my point was not so much to shew that the Infidel was in the wrong, as that the Believer was in the right. The only remaining sense then of the Deist's own principles is this, Those true principles of his, which because they are generally held by the enemies of Religion, and almost as generally rejected by the friends of it, have got the title of deistical principles. Such, for instance, as this I am going upon, the high antiquity of the Egyptian wisdom ; and such as that, for the sake of which I go upon it, the omission of the doctrine of a future state in the Mosaic dispensation. And these are the principles by which I promise, in good time, to overturn all his conclusions.
The first proposition is,—That the Egyptian learning, celebrated in Scripture, and the Egyptian superstition there condemned, were the very learning and superstition represented by the Greek writers as the honour and opprobrium of that kingdom.
To prove this, I shall in the first place shew (both by external and internal evidence) the just pretensions which Egypt had to a superior antiquity: and then examine the new hypothesis of Sir Isaac NEWTON against that antiquity.
It is confessed on all hands, that the Greek writers concur in representing Egypt as one of the most ancient and powerful monarchies in the world. In support of what they deliver, we may observe, that they have given a very particular account of the civil and religious customs in use from the most early times of memory : customs of such a kind, as shew the followers of them to have been most polite and powerful.—Thus stands the Grecian evidence.
But to this it may be replied, that the Greeks are, in all respects, incompetent witnesses, and carry with them such imperfections as are sufficient to discredit any evidence; being, indeed, very ignorant, and very prejudiced. As this made them liable to imposition; so falling, as we shall see, into ill hands, they actually were imposed on.
Their ignorance may be fairly collected from their age ; and from the authors of their intelligence. They all lived long after the times in question; and, though they received indeed their information from Egypt itself ; yet, for the most part, it was not till after the entire destruction of that ancient empire, and when it was now become a province, in succession, to Asiatic and European conquerors : when