« PreviousContinue »
prompted them to supply their own cravings in this direction; and to invent a Bible of their own. Just as the Jews grafted their Talmuds and Targums on the pure word of revelation, and, mingling with it their own traditions, turned the truth of God into a lie, so the old heathen, catching up the fragments of primitive religion and sacred history, revealed to the patriarchs, and interweaving them with the great truths taught by the “things that are made” the evidences of the Eternal Power and Godhead, deduced from the Creation, shaped for themselves a system of theology, which eventually reduced to writing, forned the groundwork of their so-called sacred books.
We look, therefore, on the existence of such books as an inevitable necessity of the human mind. Our quarrel is only with their assumed antiquity and value, and the position assigned to them with reference to the genuine Scriptures. The sceptic, of course, wishes us to accept them as older than the oldest of our Old Testament books, and thus insinuates that the inspired writers are indebted to these spurious scriptures for many of their facts, their doctrines, and their institutions, philosophical, civil, ceremonial and dietetic. On this ground we have little to say to those who make no secret of their enmity to revelation; but are greatly grieved and astonished to find those who ought to know better, and have a real regard for the Scriptures, falling in with the stream, and virtually admitting that what we are accustomed to regard as of divine origin is but an adaptation of the uninspired ideas of heathen nations; whilst in reality it is the grand original from which they have borrowed everything worth having, and, like those minds compared by Coleridge to a sponge, are, through the medium of these so-called sacred books, returning a little dirtier than when they imbibed them. But what are these Sacred Books?
Many nations lay claim to them-India, China, Chaldæa, Egypt, Phoenicia, Iran; but those, perhaps, which have excited most attention are the Vedas, the Pouranas, the Shastres of the Hindoos, and the much-be-praised Institutes of Menu, reputed to be the oldest and most important of all.
There is, as we have already hinted, but one of their many claims to notice, that we are careful to discuss—their relative antiquity. How do we know them to be old! They look so; and they are written in the mysterious Sanscrit-the language and characters of the Brahmins! We hopestly believe
that this is nearly all to be said in their favour, for the weight of evidence, both external and internal, is altogether against this theory of their great age.
In the first place, we believe the Sanscrit to be of far lower antiquity than is generally supposed. Sir William Jones, great in matters of philology, did not consider it to have been the primeval language of India, but to have been introduced by conquerors from
other kingdoms. Bayer supposed it to be no more than six hundred years old in his day, and Professor Wilson, who has not long since favoured us with a translation of the Rig-veda Sanhita, though he thinks it older, craves a margin of many centuries, and confesses, after all, that he knows nothing about it approaching to certainty. It does not seem at all likely, indeed, that a language written, unlike most ancient tongues, from left to right,
more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either,” should have sprung up in India in the very infancy of letters. Long, very long, before we knew anything of it, the Greeks themselves had overrun that country, and, as the Sanscrit is said to bear “ stronger affinity to their language than could possibly have been produced by accident,” it is only natural to conclude that they might have leavened the primeval language with the graces
and excellences of their own. So much, therefore, for the internal evidence deduced from the language itself in which these sacred books are written. But weightier and more conclusive arguments may be urged from the tenor of their contents. The Institutes of Menua code of laws and ethical maxims which have been exalted into competition with the writings of Moses--are by common consent allowed to be older than the Vedas. It seems quite clear, indeed, that they are so, as they were written before the rite of cremation obtained in India, although this rite is recognised, and sometimes commended, in the Vedas. These Institutes of Menu, amongst other things, regulate the legal interest of money, and the limited rate of it in different cases, with an exception in regard to adventures at sea ! Adventures at sea ? Were such things known, even among the enterprising Phoenicians and Carthaginians, two thousand years ago ? But, more especially, were they known among the old Hindoos, who, like the Egyptians, thought it a high crime and misdemeanour to leave their native land ? We are not, indeed, left in doubt upon this subject. Arrian, in
describing the departure of Alexander's fleet from his new conquests on the Hydaspes, tells us that the master of the world was determined to attempt "something surprisingly great and uncommon," when he conceived the idea of sailing "all through the sea” from India to the Gulf of Persia—a passage of a few days' duration, and along-shore for the entire distance! But this is not all. The poor Hindoos were so terrified at the proposal, that he could get none of them to go with him, and was compelled to man his fleet with Phænicians, Cyprians, and other foreigners. The whole country, far and near, was in a ferment; and the very men so great in “adventures at sea ” could only look on, awestricken and bewildered, seriously expecting that all would go to the bottom together. It is not easy, indeed, to see from which of her castes—priests, soldiers, tradesmen, or shepherds—India could have drafted her mercantile marine !
If, therefore, we admit that these “Institutes" are older than the Vedas, the latter could have had no claim to the remote antiquity assigned to them, had we no other proof that they cannot date earlier than the commencement of the Christian era, which we think we have. Diodorus, Strabo, and Arrian, all of them writing about eighteen hundred years ago, enumerate seven castes, or classes, as existing among the Hindoos in their day. At present there are but four, and this is the number recognised in the Vedas-not casually or incidentally, but as fundamentally interwoven with the religious system of that people—the Brahmins, claiming descent from the head of Brahma; the Ketteri, rajahs, or soldiers, from his arms; the Bice, or tradesmen, from his body; and the Suder, or shepherds, from his feet. We could scarcely wish for a more conclusive proof than this.
Yet, in order to exhaust the subject, we believe it can be shown that the Hindoos had no written language at all at the period referred to. Both Herodotus and Arrian lead us to infer this, and Strabo distinctly affirms it, so that we should not at all wonder if the “writynges and letanies” of old Sir John Mandeville-by, which, no doubt, their sacred books were meant belong to a period but little more remote than the days of that redoubted traveller, as nothing was known of their contents in this country even a century ago. So much for the putative antiquity of these spurious scriptures!
The Chinese admit that Buddha, their accredited lawgiver, himself came from India, and was only born about a thou
sand years before Christ, so that this religious system may be safely regarded as of comparatively recent origin.
The Egyptians attribute their sacred books to Hermes. But we knew nothing of this Hermes till the days of Manetho, who pretends to quote from him. His writings, as we have already shown, are so contradictory and absurd, that we need waste no time in refuting them. The Hermetic Creed-attributed to this Hermes has been unduly extolled by many who see no sublimity in Holy Writ; but all that is good in it is so evidently borrowed from the Jewish Theology, that we may dismiss it with the remark that it is only known to us through Jamblichus, who was cotemporary with the fathers of the Christian Church.
A word or two about the traditions of Babylon, Sidon, Assyria, and Iran, which, according to Dr. Rowland Williams, are brought by Bunsen to “illustrate and confirm, though to modify, our interpretation of Genesis !" Tradition may be a very good handmaid to Revelation, but it is rather too much to make her the patron and censor of inspired truth. Doubt, it would thus seem, may confirm certainty, and conjecture, modify facts! And this without any nice inquiry into the age or character of such traditions.
Borossus, who has left us the Chaldean Fragments, lived in the fourth century before Christ, but we owe their preservation to Eusebius, who wrote about seven centuries later.
Of Sanchoniatho, who records those of Phoenicia, we know nothing-where he lived, or whether he lived at all, being very uncertain. For the Greek translation of such fragments as have come down to us, we are likewise indebted to Eusebius. But what intrinsic glory do both these authors possess, according to Bunsen and his annotator, Dr. Williams ! is strange," says he, “how nearly these ancient cosmogonies approach what may be called the philosophy of Moses, whilst they fall short in what Longinus called, his worthy conception of the Divinity !""
Unfortunately for these scoffers, there is such a thing as common sense, and the intelligent masses may choose to decide the matter for themselves. Let us listen for a moment to our Chaldean oracle : “ There was a time in which there was nothing but darkness, and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a twofold principle. Men appeared with two wings, some with four, and with two faces. They had one body, but two
heads—the one of a man : the other of a woman." The darkness and the abyss of waters certainly approach not to the philosophy, but to the facts of Moses; and we certainly miss the "worthy conception" of the Divine fiat, "Light, be!"? But, au reste, we must confess that it looks very like an extract from the “Voiage and Travaille of Sir John Mandeville, Knight.
Never mind! The Phoenician cosmogony of Sanchoniatho may enter, perhaps, into closer competition with Moses. * The beginning of all things,” he says, " was a dark and condensed windy air, or a breeze of dark air, and a chaos turbid and indistinct, like Erebus, and these things were infinite, and for a long time had no bound.” Pity these old cosmogonists did not approach somewhat nearer the philosophy of Moses ! In that case, they would not have babbled of condensed breezes, which can exist only by rarefaction, or infinities that had just come into being, and "for a long time had no bound !"
But their cosmogonies do our sceptics yet further service, by setting aside the current idea that Noali's Deluge was brought about by the direct interference of God himself. In them, “ Our Deluge takes its place among geological phenomena, no longer a disturbance from which Science shrinks, but a prolonged play of the forces of fire and water, rendering the primeval regions of North Asia uninhabitable.". So, because Science "shrinks" from the idea that God drowned the world in judgment, we must look on Noah's flood as a mere phase in the ordinary processes of nature. How true is it that evil men and seducers 66 wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived!”
Of the traditions of Iran, one word, in completion of our subject. Zoroaster, to whom we owe the “Oracles” of this people, is himself a myth, as there is a disparity of a thousand years with regard to the probable period of his existence. His writings, moreover, have been frequently challenged as spurious, and, from the fragments preserved to our time, they appear to be so mystic and speculative that little can be made of them. A short extract must suffice :“The father congregated seven firmaments of the world,
Circumscribing heaven in a round figure,