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SECTION 11. Of the Conduct of Luke in giving a Date to the preaching of
John the Baptist. I HAD laid considerable stress on the inference which I said was necessarily drawn from the date that occurs in the Gospel of Luke, who fixes with remarkable circumstantiality the time of the commencement of John's preaching, but assigns no date to the death of Christ, an event of much more consequence. I therefore say, that his conduct is not consistent, but on the supposition of one of these events being, in his idea, so connected with the other, in the course of his narrative, as that the date of it might easily be inferred from the date of the other, which I assert, from the tenor of his Gospel, to be the case; and in this, as your Lordship must, I think, acknowledge, I have the sanction of all the ancients.
It was their unanimous opinion, that only one year intervened between the imprisonment of John and the death of Jesus. And what is there in the history of Luke, from the commencement of the preaching of John to his imprisonment, that is, to Jesus's journey to Galilee, which followed immediately upon it, that can be supposed, by any reasonable construction, to take up more than a few months ?
few months? It is all related in his third chapter, and the thirteen first verses of the fourth, which contains an account of nothing more than the preaching of John before the baptism of Jesus, and the temptation.
Now certainly, my Lord, whatever might really be the case, Luke relates nothing of the events of this interval that can be supposed to take up a year; and this I see, by your Harmony, is your Lordship’š own idea of the fact. You date the beginning of John's preaching in A. D. 29, and Jesus's journey to Galilee consequent on the imprisonment of Johu, about eight months after the passover, in the year following: including your own eight months' stay of Jesus in Judea. And as your Lordship is disposed to shorten that stay to about four months, you can hardly make it a year in all. In
your Lordship's letter to me you seem to comprise all the events from the beginning of John's preaching to the first passover, in the space “ of about six months,” which with the four more for the stay of Jesus in Judea, make but ten in all. It will, therefore, follow from the testimony of the ancients, and your Lordship's own concessions together, that Luke has given a date by which the death of Christ may be sufficiently determined, viz. to the year immediately following that in which John began to preach.
Your Lordship says, “I rather think that St. Luke furnishied such circumstantial dates to shew in what a remarkable period of the world, in how very fit a time, the Gospel began to be preached. This sufficed for the great purposes of Christianity, without precision as to other events." +
But, my Lord, Luke himself says nothing of all this, And considering how very circumstantial the date is, I can. not think it at all probable that he had any such idea. If he had thought that precise year so proper for the beginning of John's preaching, and he had mentioned it with that view, he must either have supposed it to be obviously so, and there. fore that it did not require to be pointed out, or he would have informed us wherein the propriety lay. Now can your Lordship say that the Gospel might not as properly have begun to be preached in the 14th or 16th, as in the i5th of Tiberius, or when Lysanias had not been tetrarch of Abilene, &c.? It is plain your Lordship has no idea of the importance of that particular year, because you say you cannot determine whether it was the 15th, reckoned from the time when Tiberius was admitted partner in the empire, or from his being sole emperor.
Had this evangelist contented himself with saying that the Gospel was first preached in the reign of Tiberius, or when the world was at peace, &c. &c. &c., there might have been some colour for your Lordship’s conjecture. At present I see none at all. Besides, there are different epochas with respect to the preaching of the Gospel, and the first, or the preaching of John, does not seem to be of more importance than others that succeeded. Was not the beginning of the preaching of Christ himself, or at least his death, of as much consequence? And was not the descent of the Holy Spirit at pentecost as important as any of them all?
In fact, my Lord, Luke appears evidently to have given a date to his history, just as other historians have done to theirs, without any particular regard to the importance of one event more than another, but merely to shew its place in universal time, and its relation to other events. But one date would not have been sufficient for this purpose, if, in his own idea, the whole narrative had not been so closely connected, that the place of all the important events might be determined from the date that he had given.
Reply, p. 163. (P.)
+ Ibid. p. 137. (P.)
Without this idea, and especially on the idea of his having omitted whole years without any note to indicate the omission, the whole compass and termination of his history would be altogether undefined, and one of the most important events in it would have no date at all. Consequently his giving so circumstantial a date to the beginning of it would be very imperfectly answered, and he would therefore be inconsistent with himself,
Your Lordship says, from Newton, * (though I do not see its perfect consistency with what you had just observed before,) that “the times of the birth and passion of Christ were not material to religion;"+ but they were as material as the commencement of John's preaching, and if some “ remarkable period” was requisite for the one, I should expect periods as remarkable for the other. Upon your Lord. ship’s idea of Luke's history, then, he must either have thought them not equally material, or he must have dated the one for some other reasons than its being so very material.
Of the Ignorance of Herod, and of other Jews, concerning
Jesus, at the Time of the Death of John the Baptist. I HAD represented it $ as a great difficulty on your Lordship's scheme, that Herod seems not to have heard of Jesus till after the death of John; though, according to your Lordship’s hypothesis, he had preached publicly almost two years, and the greatest part of the time alone, John being in prison. Upon my hypothesis, Jesus had not been so much exposed to public notice more than between four and five weeks; and therefore I suppose, that being, probably, like other kings and great men, engaged in a multiplicity of business or pleasure, he might not have heard of Jesus.
This your Lordship is pleased to call “a loose, topical argument,"* that at best it is no more than a negative argument, and that you“ find this maxim laid down in books on the
* On Daniel, pp. 144-147.
Supra, p. 128.
| Reply, p. 137.
art of reasoning, that Testimonium non valet negative." +
That the argument is topical, that is, relating to the subject or topic, is certain; but that it is therefore loose, or of little moment, does not follow. And your Lordship must know that, whatever may be laid down in books on the art of reasoning, a negative argument may be so circumstanced, as to be fairly entitled to more regard than some positive ones.
In another place, your Lordship vouchsafes to call it an ingenious argument," and acknowledges that it points to a difficulty in your Lordship's scheme. I But I conceive your Lordship did not see it in its full force, when you said,
May not the question be fairly asked, whether your scheme is not as strongly affected by this difficulty as mine?" S But if an interval of five weeks, and one of almost two years, makes no real difference in this case, I am unable to conceive what can. It is true, it is not a difference, as it is called, ia kind, but it is such a difference in degree as, in this case, is almost as decisive. But I will consider more particularly all the circumstances in which you say our two schemes agree in this respect; and I shall, at the same time, point out to your Lordship the circumstances in which they differ.
It is true, as your Lordsbip says, that " we must both suppose that Jesus publicly wrought miracles at the first passover," which must have contributed to make him known. But I do not suppose, with your Lordship, that he cleansed the temple at that time, and as we are not informed what the miracles were, we cannot judge of the greatness or notoriety of them.
It will certainly be somewhat favourable to my hypothesis, as well as your Lordship’s, that Herod should not have been at Jerusalem at this passover. But, my Lord, the chance of his being absent from seven successive feasts (when, like every other Jew, he was under obligation to attend them all) or only from one particular feast, || is much more than seven to one. We know he did attend at that on which our Lord was crucified.
We both suppose that Jesus made disciples in Judea after this passover, and for that time to have made more disciples than John. But I suppose him to have spent only a few days there, and not several months; and as no particular miracles are mentioned, those disciples might be the effect of John's preaching in those parts, as much as of his own preaching and working miracles.
• Reply, p. 104. (P.) “ Not to be placed in the scale against positive internal evidence in the Gospels themselves.". Ibid.
' Ibid. p. 98. (P.) f Ibid. p. 101. (P.) 1!. " The difficulties peculiar to me are, that I must suppose seven Jewish feasts to have elapsed instead of one." Ibid. pp. 103, 104.
We both suppose Jesus to have preached and worked miracles in Galilee, Herod's own kingdom. But I leave out at least two of the circuits that your Lordship supposes Jesus to have made through all the cities of Galilee ; I reduce the term of them from months to days, and the whole period of this preaching in Galilee from near two years, to about three weeks. And certainly the probability of Herod's having heard of Jesus will depend much upon the time that these transactions took up.
Had Herod been absent, as your Lordship conjectures, on an expedition against Aretas, it would certainly have taken up a few weeks, and would probably have been at this very time of the year, when Jesus was in Galilee, viz. from the passover to pentecost. But it is very improbable that an expedition against so neighbouring a prince would extend through a winter, the territories of both being very inconsiderable. This expedition, therefore, might have been very convenient to my hypothesis, but cannot at all serve your Lordship’s.
But, in fact, we read of no more than one expedition that Herod made against Aretas, and this followed the death of John. For according to Josephus, the Jews thought that his defeat in that expedition was a judgment from God upon him for putting John to death. *
This single expedition against Aretas seems to have been the only one in which he ever engaged; and Josephus expressly says, that Herod was a great lover of his ease, and that he had no great opinion of the court of Rome; so that it was with difficulty that his wife prevailed upon him to undertake that voyage thither which proved so fatal to him.t
Had Herod made a journey to Rome at this time (as your Lordship likewise conjectures might have been the case), it would probably have been noticed by Josephus, who mentions two of his journeys thither. So very circumstantial is Josephus's history of this period; and journeys to Rome, by
Antiq. L. xviii. C. v. Sect. ii. (P.) “Some of the Jews thought the destruction of Herod's army came from God: and that very justly as a punishment of what he did against John that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue ; both as to righteous. ness towards one another, and piety towards God; and so to come to baptism." Whiston's Translation, p. 280.
† War, B. ii. Ch. ix. Sect. vi.