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to him rather doubtful, he did wisely in passing it over.
But supposing him ever so sure of it; he might think proper only to involve it covertly in a general account of the butcheries of Herod about this time; occasioned, as he saith, which is exceedingly remarkable, by the expectation of a new king*. For he might be unwilling, or even afraid, to offend the posterity of that monarch, with one of whom, Agrippa, he was intimate, by the express relation of a barbarity so unmanly: and might think, that he had sufficiently given his readers to understand Herod's character, without saying moret. If the testimony concerning our Saviour, ascribed to him, be genuine; his omitting to name these children will be an objection of small weight against the Gospel history. And if that testimony be not genuine; it will be no wonder in the least, that he, who, for the sake of paying court to Vespasian as the foretold Messiah, could suppress the mention of Jesus, and his miracles, should avoid to record a fact, which must have brought the same Jesus in view, under that character; and Bethlehem, as the place where the Messiah should be born 5. He hath been silent, in other parts of his work, for much less reasons, about many con
* Ant. l. xvii. c. 2. g. 4.
+ Josephus, in his own life, 9.65. saith, " It is necessary that an Historian should write truth : but he may allowably avoid charging on some persons their ill actions with bitterness; not for their sakes, but for that of his own moderation.” But he saith this, not in relation to Herod, but to excuse himself for not having expostulated till then with Justus, on the falsehoods contained in his history of the Jewish war, published before that of Josephus.
# Perhaps for a like reason Justus never mentioned the Christians, though they made no contemptible figure then in Palestine. VOL. III.
siderable things, of which he must have known the truth *. Indeed it is so frequent in all histories for one author to pass over things, even of great consequence, which another relates, that if this were to be made a ground of suspicion concerning the articles thus omitted; scarce any author could preserve his credit, and certainly not Josephus : for in very much of what he delivers, he stands entirely single, and unsupported. Another material consideration is, that as he wrote long after St. Matthew, whose Gospel must have been well known in Judea; he might, and surely would, have contradicted him in this point, if he could: which he hath not. It
may be added further, that Macrobius, a Roman writer, who lived indeed a considerable time after both of them, in the beginning of the fifth century, but saith he compiled his performance out of earlier books; and who, by putting Syria instead of Bethlehem, shews, he did not borrow this part from the New Testament; and who, being a Heathen, was not partial to the Gospel history; mentions Herod's murder of the children, as a known trutht. And his joining another fact with it, which possibly happened at a month's distance from it, is by no means enough to discredit his testimony: which will be greatly confirmed, if we believe Sixtus Senensis, a learned man who lived two centuries ago, and saith he read the same account with that of Macrobius, in a part, now lost, of Dion Cassius, a Pagan historian, 100 years older than Macrobius I. A book also, of un
* See Ottii Spicileg. in Joseph.
+ See, concerning these particulars, Massom's Appendix to Bishop Chandler's Vindication.
# See Dr. Gregory Sharpe's Argument in Defence of Christianity,
certain date written in Hebrew by a most virulent Jew, admits Herod to have done this deed *.
But whatever may be said concerning the omission of it by others, possibly you may wonder, that all the Evangelists, excepting St. Matthew, should omit it. For they all relate the same matters in several instances of less moment: but then these were chiefly, if not solely, matters which came to pass after our Saviour's public teaching began, and at which they were present. St. Luke and St. John have each of them many particulars, and even St. Mark hath some, which none of the rest have. And plainly no one of them undertook to publish a complete history of our Saviour's life: but each wrote those occurrences which he knew or remembered best, or judged the most needful to be inserted in his narrative. What the beloved disciple saith of his own Gospel, may be extended to each of the former. Many other things Jesus did, (and doubtless other persons did in relation to him,) which are not written in this book: but these are written that ye may believe f. The fact now before us was not the most necessary to be known. Had St. Matthew likewise been silent about it, our faith would still have had abundantly sufficient evidence. But when he had related it, here was less need, that the Gospels, which came after, should. And perhaps the greater wonder is, that so many such things are repeated in them, than that so few are.
But hence arises one very natural and important observation more: that St. Matthew could have no temptation to forge a story, which was no way essential to his design, and might have been so easily disproved when he wrote, if it was not true; especially, as he is understood to have written in Judea. Or, if he had been so rash, the early writers against Christianity would have charged him with it, and the early writers for it endeavoured to defend him: and there is not the least appearance of either.
* Toldoth Jeschu, published by Huldrick at Leyden, 1705, 8vo. p. 11, 12. But perhaps he might take the fact from St. Matthew, only perverting it, as he doth absurdly, to his own purpose. † John xx. 30, 31, xxi. 25.
Still one circumstance may seem attended with a difficulty. Why should Herod carry his cruelty so far, as to slay all the children from two years old and under, when one year, or half a year, if not less, would have answered his ends as well ? Now here perhaps we commonly mistake the Evangelists. For learned men have held, that the original word, translated, from two years, may mean, not, from two years completed, but from two years begun; from the entrance into the second year. But if that be doubtful: yet Herod, notwithstanding that he inquired exactly when the star appeared to the wise men, could not be sure, nor they tell him, whether it appeared to them exactly at the birth of the child, or some time after it. Nor do we know, how long it might be after that appearance, that they were able to settle their affairs and begin their journey; nor from what distance they came, nor what hindrances might happen in their way; nor what stay they might make at Jerusalem before Herod sent for them; and then, before he dismissed them: nor consequently, how old the child was when they saw him. The slaughter of the innocents is appointed in our calendar to be commemorated three days after the nativity. If that was supposed to be the real time, the meaning must have been, not to place it, or the coming of the wise men, preposterously, before the appearance of the star, which is fixed in our calendar to the twelfth day, but to place it almost a year after. And if the child could either in reality, or in Herod's imagination, be almost a year old; a wretch of such unspeakable jealousy as he was, and whose express character it is, in the Jewish historian, rather to go too far in his fears and suspicions, than fall short*, would by no means think it safe, especially in his passion, to give an order extending to much less than
These, I think, are all the objections and doubts, that can well be raised in relation to this part of the gospel narrative. And if any of them hath received a more satisfactory answer, than it was beforehand imagined could be given; a modest and equitable mind will be ready to conclude, that other Scripture difficulties also may in all likelihood be fairly solved, whether the particular manner of doing it appear at present, or not.
It will now be asked, what use we are to make of this piece of history ? and here perhaps it may be worth while just to observe, that in the first place we should be careful not to make a bad one. very bad and absurd one hath been derived down, though I hope not to many of the present generation, from the times of popish ignorance: in which persons imagined, that the day of the week, on which mass was annually performed in honour of these children, thence called Childermass day, was an unlucky one throughout the year, and unfit for the beginning of any business. But what shadow of
* Ant. l. xvi. c. 8. $. 2.