« PreviousContinue »
j 21. When men's opinions favour their known prejudices, this circumstance is a considerable abate
differs from all the preceding. “ Did Christ,” says Mr. Gibbon, Vol. 4. p. 381. N. 131, “ speak the rabbinical or
Syriac tongue?” The latter part of this question is answered already: to the former the answer is plain. No such tongue was known then as the rabbinical. This dialect, which owes its origin to the dispersion of the Jews, after the destruction of Jerusalem, by the Romans, was never the language of the people anywhere : its use was solely among the Jewish doctors or rabbies, whence it has its name. The language of the people would, after they were scattered through Europe, Asia, and Africa, soon be supplanted by the languages of the different regions into which they were dispersed. As to those Jews who were qualified for study, they had the strongest in ducements to make the language of the Old Testament the principal object of their attention. The constant use of it in their synagogues served both as a spur to the study, and as an help in the acquisition. When use had rendered it familiar to them, nothing could be more natural than to employ it as the medium of correspondence with their learned countrymen in distant lands. They had no other common language ; and this had one advantage (of great moment to them, considering the unchristian treatment they commonly met with from christian nations) that nobody 'understood it but themselves. From using it, at first, in conveying their remarks on the sacred text, they came gradually to extend it to the discussion of other topics, historical, philosophical, &c. It will easily be con ceived that, having no standard but the 0. T. they would be often at a loss for words; for however rich that language may, originally, have been, it is but a small part of its treasure which can be contained in so narrow a compass.
How much would one of us find himself embarrassed in composing in Eng
ment from the authority of such opinions ; and even when their testimony favours their prejudices, there is still ground for abatement, though in a less de
lish, if limited to the words employed in the common translation of the Old Testament. The rabbies, to rid themselves of this difficulty, had recourse to two expedients. One was, to form, analogically, from biblical roots, derivatives, to the meaning of which, the analogy of the formation would prove a sufficient guide. Thus from verbs occurring only in the conjugation kal, they form regularly the niphal, hiphil, hophal, and hithpael; also verbal nouns, participles, &c. From abstracts they form concretes, and conversely. There is reason to be. lieve that many of those words are genuine Hebrew, though in the few ancient books extant they do not occur. But whether genuine or not, was of little consequence, as the regular formation rendered them intelligible. Their other ex. pedient was (what, in some degree, is used by writers in overy tongue, when in a strait) to adopt words from other languages. The chief resources of the rabbies have been Chaldaic, Arabic, Greek, and Latin : they do not reject en. tirely the aid of modern tongues. The Grammar of the rabbinical, is that of the ancient Hebrew. The Lexicon of the former contains that of the latter, and a good deal more To illustrate the difference by a comparison, I hardly think that the rabbinical differs so much from the Hebrew of the Old Testament as the Latin of the 7th and 8th centuries differs from that of the Augustine age. Though the question as pro. posed by Mr. Gibbon, has no relation to the language of Matthew's Gospel : yet, as it is natural to conclude, (and I am persuaded, is the fact,) that the language spoken by our Lord was that in which Matthew wrote, I have thought it reasonable to take this notice of it, knowing that the slightest suggestions of a writer of eminence, rarely fail to make an impression on some readers.
gree; men not being so easily misled in matters of testimony, as in matters of opinion. The contrary holds, when either the opinion, or the testimony given, is unfavourable to the prejudices of the person who gives it. Such, doubtless, was the case of the ancient Gentile Christians, when they gave a testimony which, in any respect, favoured the pretensions of the Nazarenes. Their testimony is itself, at least, a strong presumption of their impartiality, and of the justice of a rival claim. The reverse is the natural presumption in regard to the opinion of a modern disputant, when that opinion serves mani. festly to support a favourite tenet, controverted by an adverse sect. This consideration will be found greatly to diminish the weight, if it can be said to have any weight, of what has been advanced on this head, in latter ages, against the uniform suffrage of antiquity.
Ø 22. That this Gospel was composed by one born a Jew, familiarly acquainted with the opinions, ceremonies, and customs, of his countrymen ; that it was composed by one conversant in the sacred writings, and habituated to their idiom; a man of plain sense, but of little or no learning, except what he derived from the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and, finally, that it was the production of a man who wrote seriously, and from conviction who as, on most occasions, he had been present, had attended closely to the facts and speeches which be related; but who, in writing, entertained not the most distant view of setting off himself by the relation; we have as strong internal evidence as the nature of the thing will admit; and much stronger than that wherein the mind, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, acquiesces. Now, exactly such a man the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew must have been; of whom, as we have seen, we have an historical proof, quite unexceptionable, that he was the author.
$ 23. That this history was primarily intended for the use of his countrymen the Jews, we have, in aid of historical evidence, very strong presumptions, from the tenor of the book itself. Every circumstance is carefully pointed out, which might conciliate the faith of that nation ; every unnecessary expression is avoided, which might, in any way, serve to obstruct it. To come to particulars : there was no sentiment relating to the Messiah, with which the Jews were more strongly possessed, than that he must be of the race of Abram, and of the family of David; Matthew, therefore, with great propriety, begins his narrative with the genealogy of Jesus. That he should be born at Bethlehem, in Judea, is another circumstance, in which the learned among the Jews of those times were universally agreed. His birth in that city, with some very memorable circumstances that attended it, this historian has also taken the first opportunity to mention. Those passages in the Prophets, or other sacred books, which either foretell any thing that should happen to him, or admit an allusive application, or were, in that age, generally understood to be applicable to events which concern the Messiah, are never passed over in silence, by this Evangelist. The fulfilment of prophecy was always to the Jews, convinced of the inspiration of their sacred writings, a principal topic of argument. Accordingly, none of the Evangelists has been more careful than Matthew, that nothing of this kind should be overlooked. And, though the quality I am going to mention, is not always to be discovered in modern translations, none of the sacred penmen has more properly avoided the unnecessary introduction of any term offensive to his countrymen 56.
§ 24. That we find so much of this kind in the Greek, has been urged by some, as an argument, that it is the original of this Gospel, though, in fact, it proves no more, than that it is either the original, or a close translation; for other acknowledged versions can be produced, in which this circumstance is equally observable. In regard to this, I frankly own that the Greek, in my judgment, has not many of those peculiarities which may be called marks of translation. That which might chiefly appear such to a critic, is no other than what might naturally be expected in a Jewish original, on the subject of religion, written in that
age The quality I allude to, is the frequent recurrence of the Oriental idiom, in which Matthew, I believe,