Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

siastic expectation of the impending advent, had not been ignorant that nearly two thousand years would elapse without any tidings of Jesus, the supernatural claims of Christianity could not have survived the first century

III. At the era of the Reformation, Protestant theologians disavowed the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, through faith in Scripture as the infallible criterion of divine truth. If, therefore, they could have foreseen the collapse of this pious illusion in the light of modern criticism, on what foundation could they have erected the superstructure of Protestantism ? Devout Jews and Catholics, holding the faith of Moses or the creed of Rome in absolute independence of human reason, may smile at the conclusions of modern Scepticism; but Protestants, whose theological existence rests on the appeal to reason, can claim no exemption from inquiry into all which purports to be supernatural in their creed ; and the old Puritan faith in an infallible Bible as the word of God, in the same sense as if uttered by a voice from heaven, is as incapable of rational proof as any Roman dogma rejected at the Reformation.

Modern research, gleaning historical fragments from generations remote from the pious traditions of the Reformation, sees in ancient Hebrew literature nothing more than the unattested compilations of Ezra, Nehemiah, and a succession of editorial scribes, who exercised free discretion in correcting, interpolating, and transposing the contents of ancient records ; and in even canonising the recent compositions of anonymous authors in the names of ancient prophets. Thus, the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah are not the work of

that eminent Nabi, but of some unknown bard of the Captivity, to whom the name of his predecessor was, doubtless, given to sustain the patriotic and pious fiction that a Hebrew seer had, centuries previously, named Cyrus as the anointed of Jehovah, predestined to restore the Israelites to Palestine.1

In 2 Esdras xiv. we read that the law, having been burnt, was reproduced by Ezra under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This version of the editorial work of the Restoration was adopted by primitive Christians, as shown in the following words of Clement of Alexandria : • The Scriptures having been destroyed in the Captivity of Nebuchadnezzar, Ezra, the Levite, inspired as a prophet, reproduced the whole of the Sacred Scriptures in the time of Artaxerxes, the king of the Persians.'? This pious fiction, obviously originating in the desire to invest recent compositions with the authority of ancient records, gives traditional confirmation to the post-Babylonian compilation of Hebrew Scripture.

That Ezra and later canon-makers merely accomplished editorial work, subject to all the errors of human judgment, is shown in the incongruous mass of materials collected within the pages of the book known to us as the Old Testament. Zealous and learned theo-, logians have exhausted the resources of criticism in the vain attempt to unravel the enigma of authorship, dates, and verifiable text, with no more satisfactory result than the development of interminable controversies, establishing nothing more clearly than universal ignorance on the subject.

In reviewing the work of Hebrew scribes, it is diffi1 Isa. xliv. 28, xlv. 1-4.

2 Strom. i. 22.

cult to judge the actions of men who, some five-andtwenty centuries ago, committed literary forgery as a pious duty ; let us, however, acquit them of wilfully perverting divine revelation, by assuming that they worked in absolute ignorance of the modern theory of an infallible Bible.

If Ezra and his successors had, however, possessed and faithfully transcribed existing manuscripts, even then, according to the weighty evidence of Jeremiah, no reliance could be placed on the text of Hebrew Scripture : ‘How do we say, We are wise and the law of the Lord is with us? Lo, certainly the false pen of the scribes worketh for falsehood.'1 If we thus learn, on the authority of so great a prophet, that the Divine Oracles may reach us in a perverted form, may not revelation prove a greater danger than a blessing to Humanity?

The acceptance of the Mosaic fiction of Deuteronomy as the autogram of the great Hebrew Prophet, although disclosing its later authorship in language, ideas, and narrative, is one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of pseudonymous literature ; and its prescriptive right to a place among the five books of Moses betrays the poverty of primitive and mediæval criticism. It has now, however, been identified by modern research as the mysterious Book of the Law said to have been found in the Temple in the reign of Josiah, composed about the period of its alleged discovery by Jeremiah or some other zealous prophet who, in pious collusion with the High Priest, sought to awaken, through the male

i Jer. viii. 8.

2 2 Kings xxii

dictions of Moses, a more enthusiastic religious revival than attainable through his own exhortations.

The coincidence of patriarchal life and Persian theosophy in the pages of Job remains to this day an unsolved enigma in the hands of puzzled theologians. But, when we abandon the fiction of its divine inspiration, we at once detect in the work a dramatic adaptation, in the style of Æschylus, of some ancient Hebrew legend to the dual principle of antagonism between Good and Evil-between Auramazda and Ahriman, obviously borrowed by the unknown author from Persian theology, at a much later period than the age of the patriarchs.

If the Book of Enoch had been extant at the time of Ezra, it would have doubtless found a place in the Hebrew canon ; and its most marvellous episodes would have made no more unreasonable demand on faith than the canonised legend of Jonah swallowed by a whale. This important work, ostensibly written by Enoch and Noah, although excluded from all but the Ethiopic canon, held an imposing position as Scripture among primitive Christians. The apostle Jude quotes Enoch as a prophet ; and Tertullian (A.D. 160–240), whilst admitting the absence of the book from the Hebrew canon, maintains its divine inspiration as a work of the most ancient prophet Enoch, containing important revelations respecting the Messiah. By a singular fatality, this remarkable book disappeared in the early centuries of Christianity, and was supposed to have been irretrievably lost, until the distinguished traveller Bruce brought three copies of the Ethiopic version from Abyssinia, A.D. 1773, and deposited one in the Bodleian Library at

i Tertullian On Dress, chap. iii.

Oxford, where it remained in obscurity until Archbishop Laurence published an English translation in 1821, followed by second and third editions, in 1833 and 1838, long since out of print.

Notwithstanding apostolic and patristic faith in the remote origin of the Book of Enoch, modern criticism assigns its date to the century immediately preceding the Christian era; and its authorship to some unknown Hebrew exile, who borrowed the name of an antediluvian patriarch to authenticate his own enthusiastic forecast of the future glories of the Messianic kingdom. But when and by whomsoever written, in the contents of this long-neglected work we now trace the source from which Jesus of Nazareth drew His conception of the second advent of the Messiah. Some passages in the Book of Enoch are so closely followed in the utterances of Jesus that Tertullian imagined the book was, for this reason, rejected by the Jews, and some modern theologians suggest that the Messianic passages are the interpolated additions of primitive Christianity-conclusions equally embarrassing for modern believers ; for, if the Book of Enoch, in its present form, was in the hands of Jesus, the extent to which he borrows from the Messianic passages indicates his acceptance of the illusory dreams of an imaginary prophet; and if, on the contrary, these disputed passages were introduced into the text subsequent to the death of Jesus, this corrupt or fanatical tampering with real or imaginary Scripture necessarily discredits all the primitive literature of Christianity. We adopt the conclusions of Archbishop Laurence by assigning the Book of Enoch to the century immediately preceding

« ÎnapoiContinuați »