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THE AGE AND PLACE IN WHICH HE APPEARED.
Moral condition of the age.—Gentile world.—Judea.—Galilee.—Nazareth
Mythical theory.—Irreconcilable with the outer conditions of Christ’s life.—These, facts not myths.—Not founded on Messianic ideas.
THE circumstances to be introduced here do not need extended notice, but they are too important to be omitted entirely. The age in which Jesus appeared, the nation to which he belonged, and the place where he dwelt while among men, formed an obvious limitation around his earthly life. If there shall be found any thing free, and catholic, and world-wide in the affections and purposes of his soul, it must be remembered that he was born a Jew, one of a people who had been long accustomed to over-value themselves and to under-value all the rest of the world—a people who had become notoriously proud, narrow, and intolerant. He appeared, besides, at a peculiar crisis in the history of that people, and indeed of the world. The testimony of many independent witnesses proves beyond 51question the awful corruption of manners into which the nations of antiquity had then sunk. It is represented that the age betrayed a secret consciousness of its own moral condition, and a secret apprehension that some terrible change was approaching. It would be mere pedantry to quote in proof of this, from Lucian on the one hand and from Juvenal and Persius on the other, passages with which even a moderate scholarship is familiar. And with respect to Judea, the Jewish historian of the times66 Joseph. Antiq. Jud. See the detail commencing, Καὶ πρότερον τοῦ τῶν Ἰσιακῶν, κ. τ. λ. lib. 18. cap. 3., Geneva, 1663. speaks with unfeigned horror of the moral abominations which then darkened his country as well as the Roman world. Bat Galilee was disreputable even in Judea, wicked as it was and even in Galilee, Nazareth was notorious for the ignorance and profligacy of its inhabitants. It is a recorded fact that Christ’s connection with this place, merely as a dweller in it, created a prejudice against him, and attached a stigma to his name. The question was put, as if it contained its own answer, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”77 John, i. 46. Jesus spent his life, till he was thirty years of age, amid the degradation and pollution of this village, constantly familiar with scenes which were calculated to destroy the seeds of all virtue in his opening soul. It was here, also, 52in the view of those who had known him from his infancy, that he stood forth, at the end of thirty years, to unfold that character, and to assume and execute that mission which are now to form the subject of an extended, and we hope also an impartial investigation.
Thus far our task is accomplished; however briefly and hastily, the outer conditions of the life of Christ have been spread before us. But it would be an unpardonable omission, if even here, special attention were not invited to the fact that these are utterly irreconcilable with the vaunted mythical theory. The ablest expositor of this theory, while admitting a certain basis of historical truth in the Christian Gospels, denies altogether their authenticity as histories, and maintains that the Life which they delineate, like the ancient mythologies of Greece and Rome, is fabulous rather than historical. What seem to be facts he pronounces myths, shadowing forth certain spiritual truths, and these he labors to show were the very truths most firmly believed by the nation in connection with the expected Messiah. His avowed purpose is to prove that by the aid of their imagination the writers of the Gospels wrought up the scanty materials which they possessed into a series of fables, each containing a spiritual meaning, and that meaning always 53in harmony with their traditionary ideas, and even suggested by them.
With the utmost confidence we can defy contradiction when we assert that these principles are incapable of being applied to that series of facts which has formed the subject of the short review we have just finished. With whatever plausibility they may be brought to bear upon other parts of the evangelical narrative, it will baffle the most dexterous criticism to adjust them to this portion of it: “The corrupt and debasing influences amid which Jesus grew up in the village of Nazareth”—“The shortness of his earthly course, and its ignominious close”—“His poverty, his humble trade as a carpenter, and his want of education and of worldly patronage”—these are the things which we have put forward as the outer conditions of Christ’s life. These were not only not in harmony with the Messianic ideas of the Jews at that time, or indeed at any time, but they were diametrically opposed to them. We make bold to maintain that they were the very last things which a Jew would ever have dreamed of connecting with the life of his Messiah. They are not Messianic; the most unscrupulous ingenuity can never construe them into myths, or make them harmonize with national and traditionary fancies. Whatever be fable, these are certainly facts, and would have been eagerly concealed, if they had not been received and undeniable facts; 54and these facts are all that are now demanded, as the basis on which to found an argument for the true divinity of Christ.
“Jesus was a resident in the village of Nazareth till he was thirty years of age. He died in comparative youth, when he was only thirty-three years old. He was a working carpenter; poor, unknown, untaught, inexperienced, and unbefriended.” We shall go to some obscure hamlet of our land, known chiefly for the extreme profligacy of its inhabitants—we shall go to the workshop of a carpenter there, to a young man at the bench, earning his bread by the labor of his hands, remarkable only because amid the surrounding vice, he has preserved himself uncontaminated—we shall go to this youthful artisan, not yet thirty years of age, born of humble parents, brought up in a condition of poverty, associating only with the poor, in no way connected with the rich, the learned, the influential, or receiving assistance, or even countenance, from them—we shall go to this poor young man, who has had no intercourse with cultivated society, no access to books, no time for reading and study, no education but the commonest, and no outward advantages of any kind above others in his humble station, from his birth till that time. Such, in simple historical truth, such exactly was Jesus of Nazareth; and these were the very conditions under which he developed his future character, and rose to his future position.55
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