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taken before the children of Israel's going into Egypt; and Menasseh Ben Israel contends with many others, that the 430 years did begin from the promise made to Abraham, and the 400 from the time of Isaac, to which their most ancient books of chronology do agree: and to the same purpose speak both Philo Judæus and Josephus; who although in one place he seems to make the Israelites' affliction in Egypt to have been 400 years, yet, when he speaks more particularly of it, he makes the time of their abode in Egypt to have been only 215, and the 430 to begin from Abraham's entrance into Canaan. The Targum of Jonathan begins the 430 from the vision of Abraham, and the 400 from the birth of Isaac; all which I mention, to let you see that the Jews themselves do in sense concur with the Samaritan and Greek copy; and therefore we have more reason to suspect something left out in the present Hebrew, than any thing added in those copies. But doth not this take off from the authority of the Scripture? Not at all: for the only question is about the true reading; and having the consent of the Sa. maritan, Alexandrian, and other copies of the LXX. and of the ancient church, and of the Jews themselves, as to the sense of it, we have reason to look on this as the truer reading; which is making no addition to the Scripture, either as to persons or places, but only producing the more authentic copy : much less is this adding or changing as we please ; for if we did this without so much authority as we have for it, you might as easily reject it as we produce it.
3. After all this, I do not see the mighty force of your reason to charge the Scripture with contradiction, supposing the 400 years were to be spent in the servitude of the children of Israel in Egypt. I confess, when I found the Scripture so boldly, so frequently
charged with no less than contradiction, I expected something like demonstration in the case, especially in this place which you chose to put in the front of all: but I do not find any thing like such a proof of a contradiction, supposing we should allow the 400 years to be spent in Egypt. Yes, say you, Coath was five years old when he came down into Egypt; and when he had lived there sixty-five years, he begat Amram, and Amram, being seventy years old, begat Moses; to which Moses's eighty years being added, we have only 215 years. But since the Scripture doth not assign the particular age of any of these when they begat their children, I see no impossibility or repugnancy in the supposition, that 400 years should pass from Levi's going into Egypt to the eightieth of Moses, any more than from Salmon's entrance into Canaan to the time of David; for no more are reckoned in Scripture than Boaz, the son of Salmon by Raab, and Obed, and Jesse: so that by the same way this latter may be explained, the former may be so too. If it be said, That either they begat their children at a great age, or that the Scripture in genealogies doth not set down all the intermediate parents, but only the most eminent, (as Caleb is called the son of Esron, 1 Chron. ii. 9, 18. although there was at least one between them, the very same answer will serve to clear this part of the chronology of Scripture from any appearance of contradiction. These things you might have found more largely deduced, and fully handled, by those learned persons who have undertaken to clear the chronology of Scripture; who were men of more judgment, than from any difficulty of this nature to call in question the truth and authority of the sacred Scriptures. And although the opinions of chronologers are like the city clocks, which seldom agree, yet some come nearer the
time of the day than others do; and therefore you ought to examine and compare them, before you pronounce so peremptorily about contradictions in Scripture, which you have no reason to do till you find that no one hypothesis among them will serve to free the Scripture from contradiction : for otherwise you do but blame the sun, because you cannot make the clocks agree.
This is all I can find in your papers under the head of contradictions; and I leave you now soberly to consider whether this place did afford you sufficient ground for so heavy a charge; but if you say, you have a great many more by you, but you sent me this only for a trial of my skill, before you send any more, I beseech you, Sir, to consider,
1. How easily things do appear to be contradictions to weak, or unstudied, or prejudiced minds, which after due consideration appear to be no such things. A deep prejudice finds a contradiction in every thing; whereas in truth nothing but ill-will, and impatience of considering, made any thing, it may be, which they quarrel at, appear to be so. If I had been of such a quarrelsome humour, I would have undertaken to have found out more contradictions in your papers than you imagine, and yet you might have been confident you had been guilty of none at all. When I consider the great pains, and learning, and judgment, which hath been shewn by the Christian writers in the explication of the Scriptures; and the raw, indigested objections which some love to make against them; if I were to judge of things barely by the fitness of persons to judge of them, the disproportion between these would appear out of all comparison. A modest man would, in any thing of this nature, say with himself, methinks if there were such contradictions in the Bible, as now seem to me, so many persons of incomparable abilities, in the first and latter ages of the Christian church, who have made it their business to inquire into these things, would have discerned them before me: and yet they retained a mighty veneration for the Scriptures, as coming from God himself; and therefore it may be only weakness of judgment, want of learning, or some secret prejudice, may make me suspect these things; or else I must suspect the honesty of all those persons who have pretended such a devotion to the Scriptures, and yet have believed them full of contradictions.
2. Wherein the contradiction appears. Is it in the main and weighty parts of the religion revealed herein ? or is it only in some smaller circumstances as to time and place ? The great thing you are to look after, are the matters those Scriptures tell you your salvation depends upon; and if there be a full consent and agreement therein, you find enough for you to believe and practise. And if some contradictions should still appear to you in smaller matters, what follows from thence, but only that the same care was not taken about little as about great things ? And you ought to set that appearance of contradiction in small matters together with the real consent in the things of the highest importance; and from thence rather to infer that this was no combination or design to deceive others; for such persons take the greatest care to prevent suspicion by their exactness in every minute circumstance; and sometimes the overmuch care to prevent suspicion doth raise it the more.
3. What ways have been used by men of judgment and learning, to clear those places from the charge of contradiction. For not one of the objections you can start now, but hath been considered over and over, and all the difficulties that belong to it examined : if you
will not take the pains to do this, it is plain you do not desire satisfaction, but only seek for a pretence to cavil; especially if you only search the weakest or most injudicious writers on the Scriptures, and endeavour to expose their opinions, without taking notice of what others have said, with more clear and evident reason. This shews either want of judgment in choosing such expositors, or want of candour and fair dealing, and a desire of taking any advantage against the Scriptures. .
4. How hard a matter it is for us, at this distance, to understand exactly the grounds of chronology, or the manner of computation of times used so long ago : and therefore in all difficulties of this nature, we ought to make the fairest allowances that may be, considering withal, that escapes and errors are nowhere more easily committed by transcribers, than in numbers : and that it is a very unreasonable thing that a book, otherwise deserving to be thought the best book in the world, should be scorned and rejected, because there appears some difference in the computation of times. We do not so exactly know the manner of the Hebrew chronology, nor the nature of their year, or intercalations, nor the customs of their genealogies, nor the allowance to be made for interregnums, so as to be able to define peremptorily in these things; but it is sufficient to shew that there is no improbability in the accounts that are given; and no sufficient reason can be drawn from thence to reject the authority of the Scriptures.
2. I come to consider the places you object, as containing things inconsistent with the wisdom or goodness of God, according to a rational persuasion; and those are either, 1. From the laws of Moses. 2. From the express story of the Bible, or actions of the prophets.
1. From the laws of Moses : Your first objection is