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copy of St. Matthew's gospel (but whether exactly the same as that written by the apostle, is uncertain) was found amongst the other books in the treasury of the Jews at Tiberias, by one Joseph, a Jew, who after his conversion, was a man of great honour and esteem in the reign of Constantine. St. Jerom assures us that another was kept in the library at Cæsarea in his time, and another by the Nazarenes at Berea, from whom he procured the liberty to transcribe it, and which he afterwards translated both into Greek and Latin, with this remarkable observation, that in quoting the text of the Old Testament, the evangelist immediately follows the Hebrew, without taking notice of the Septuagint translation. A copy of this gospel
A was also dug up in the year 485, on opening the grave of St. Barnabas, in Cyprus, transcribed with his own hand; but these copies have long since perished : and with regard to those published since by Tile and Munster, the barbarous and corrupt stile sufficiently demonstrate that they were not originals, but the translation of a more ignorant and corrupt age, and therefore deservedly rejected by the more judicious and enlightened part of mankind.
THE LIFE OF ST. MARK,
The Evangelist and Apostle,
THOUGH the name of St, Mark seems to be of Roman original, he was nevertheless descended from Jewish parents, and of the tribe of Levi: nor was it uncommon amongst the Jews to change their names on some remarkable revolution or incident of life, or when they intended to travel into any of the Roman provinces in Europe,
St. Mark was generally considered by the ancients, as one of the seventy disciples; and Epiphanius expressly tells us, that he was one of those who, taking exception at our Lord's discourse of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, went back and walked no more with him. But there appears no manner of foundation for these opinions, nor for that of Nicephorus, who will have him to be the son of St. Peter's sister: nay, Pepias, bishop of Hierapolis, who lived near the apostolic times, positively affirms, that he was neither a hearer nor follower of our Saviour It is therefore most probable, that he was converted by
, some of the apostles, perhaps by St. Peter, whom he constantly attended in his travels, supplying the place of an amanuensis and interpreter: for though the apostles were divinely inspired, and had, amongst other miraculous powers, the gift of tongues conferred upon them, yet the interpretation of tongues was a gift more peculiar to some than to others; and this probably was St. Mark's talent, in expounding St. Peter's discourses whether by word or writing, to those who were strangers to the language in which they were delivered: but however this be, he accompanied him in his apostolical progress, preached the gospel in Italy and at Rome, where at the request of the Christians of those parts, he composed and wrote the gospel, which is called after his name.
We are told by Eusebius, that St. Mark was sent into Egypt by St. Peter to preach the gospel, and accordingly planted a church in Alexandria, the metropolis of it; and his success was so very remarkable, that he converted multitudes both of men and women, persuading them not only to embrace the Christian religion, but also a life of more than ordinary strictness. That there was indeed a sect in Egypt remarkably strict in their discipline is evident from Philo, who gives the following account of them.
• There is, says he, a sort of persons in many parts of the world, especially near the Marcotick lake in Egypt, who have formed themselves into religious societies and lead a strict pbilosophical and contemplative course of life. When they first enter on this manner of living, they renounce all secular interests and employments, and leaving their estates to their relations, retire into gardens, and places devoted to solitude and contemplation. Their houses, or colleges, are not contiguous, that, being free from noise and tumult, they might the better attend to the designs of a contemplative life ; nor yet removed at too great a distance, that they may maintain mutual society, and be conveniently capable of helping and assisting one another. In each of these houses is an oratory, called Semnion and Monasterion, in which they discharged the more secret and solemn rites of their religion, divided in the middle by a partition-wall three or four cubits high, one apartment being for the men, and the other for the women. Here they publicly meet every seventh day, where, being seated according to their seniority, and having composed themselves with great decency and reverence, the most aged person amongst them and the best skilled in the dogmata and principles of their institution, comes forth into the midst, gravely and soberly discoursing on what may make the greatest impression on their minds; the rest attending with the most profound silence, and only testifying their assent with the motion of their eyes or head. Their discourses are commonly mystical and allegorical, seeking hidden senses under plain words : and of such an allegorical philosophy the books of their religion, left them by their ancestors, consist: the law they compare to an animal, the letters of it resembling the body, while the soul of it lies in these abstruse and recondite notions, which the external veil and surface of the words conceal from common understanding
With regard to their method of living, they take very little care of their bodies, spending their whole
time in perfecting their minds by precepts of wisdom and religion; the day they wholly spend in pious and divine meditations, in reading and expounding the law and the prophets, and the holy volumes of the ancient founders of their sect, and in singing Psalms to the honour of their Maker; absolutely temperate and abstemious, neither eating nor drinking till night, the only time they think proper to refresh and regale the body; and some of them out of an insatiable desire of growing
in knowledge and virtue, fast many days together. Their diet is plain and simple, sufficient only to satisfy the calls of nature, a little bread, salt, and water being their constant bill of fare. Their clothes are as mean as their food, designed only as present security against cold and naked. ness. Nor is this the case only of the men, but also of the pious and devout women that live amongst them; who religiously observe every seventh day, and especially the preparatory week to the great solemnity, which they keep with all expressions of sincere devotion, and also with severe abstinence.'
Eusebius affirms, that these excellent persons were Christians, converted and brought under such admirable rules and institutions by St. Mark at his coming hither, accommodating all passages to the manner and discipline of the Christians; and is followed by Epiphanius, Jerom, and others. But whoever seriously and impartially considers Philo's account, will plainly find, that he intends it of the Jews, and professors of the Mosaic religion, though what particular sect they were, I shall not pretend to determine ; perhaps they were Essenes: but however that be, it is plain they were not Christians; for Philo speaks of them as an institution of some standing; whereas, the Christians had but very lately appeared in the world, especially in Egypt: besides, many parts of Philo's account does not in several parts agree with the state and manners of the Christians at that time; as that they withdrew themselves from public conversation, and all the af,
fairs of civil life, which the Christians never did, but when forced to it by violent persecutions; for at other times, as Justin Martyr, and Tertulian tells us, they mixed themselves promiscuously with the inhabitants of the country, dwelt in towns and cities, ploughed their lands, and followed their respective trades and callings like other men. Nor can the books which Philo tells us they had, besides those of Moses and the prophets, be understood of those of the Christians; for the writings of the evangelists had been very lately published, and consequently could not come under the character of ancient authors. Not to mention that some of their ceremonies were such as the Christians of those days were absolute strangers to, not being introduced into the church till some ages after Philo wrote his account : nay, some of them were never used by the primitive Christians, especially their religious dances, which Philo particularly describes, as used by them at their festival solemnities, especially that remarkable one which they observed at the end of every seven weeks; when their entertainment being ended, they all rose up, the men in one company and the woman in another, dancing with various measures and motions, each company singing divine hymns and songs, and having a precentor going before each division, singing alternately; till, in the conclusion, they joined in one common chorus, in imitation of the triumphant song sung by Moses and the Israelites, after their great deliverance at the Red Sea, from the hostile attempts of Pharaoh and his army.
From these, and several other particulars that might be mentioned, it will appear, that these could not be Christians; it is not indeed to be doubted, but that persons educated under such excellent rules and methods of life, were more than ordinarily prepared for the reception of Christianity, and could not fail of rendering St. Mark's success surprising in those parts, and open a path for men to come in multitudes to embrace the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.