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the images and statues of the gods were framed, we can relate the names of those workmen who made them. If they be gods, why are they not from the beginning ? Why stood they in need to be framed by the art of man? Nay, to be sure, they are only earth, stones, and matter fashioned by curious art. a
Dr. Prideaux, speaking of the Persians, who imagined that intelligences had their residence in the sun, moon, and stars, says, “ And therefore when they paid their devotions to any one of them, they directed their worship toward the planet, in which they supposed he dwelt. But these orbs, by their rising and setting, being as much under the horizon as above, they were at a loss how to address them in their absence. To remedy this, they had recourse to the invention of images, in which, after their consecration, they thought these intelligences, or inferior deities, to be as much present by their influence, as in the planets themselves, and that all addresses to them were made as effectually before the one, as before the other ; and this was the beginning of image-worship among them. To these images were given the names of the planets they represented, which were the same by which they are still called. And hence it is, that we find Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, Mercury, Venus, and Diana, to be first ranked in the polytheism of the ancients; for they were their first gods. · After this, a notion obtaining, that good men departed had a power with God also to mediate and intercede for them, they deified many of those whom they thought to be such; and hence the number of their gods increased in the idolatrous times of the world. This religion first began among the Chaldeans, to which their knowledge in
a Legatio pro Christianis, p. 16, 17. Edit. 1686.
astronomy helped to lead them. And from this it was, that Abraham separated himself when he came out of Chaldea. From the Chaldeans it spread itself over all the East, where the professors of it had the name of Sabians. From them it passed into Egypt, and from thence to the Grecians, who propagated it to all the Western nations of the world." a
It appears that the Jews, when they first turned to idolatry, following the example of the surrounding heathen nations, worshipped the sun, moon, and stars, without images, prostrating themselves before them, or their emblems of light and fire. The God of Israel, in prohibiting this, says, “ Take ye, therefore, good heed, lest thou lift up thine eyes to heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, should be driven to worship them and serve them.”
While sculpture was in its infancy, the images were made of coarse materials, such as potters' clay, and, after being burned like our earthen vessels, were painted with vermilion. Afterwards they used wood, being the easiest for carving. Hence trunks of trees were formed into gods. “ Thus," says Isaiah, “ the carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth with planes, and he marketh it with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house." The Prophet proceeds, “ He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread : yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire; and the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith; Deliver me; for thou art my god.”
* Connection, &c. Part i. p. 177–179. Octavo Edit.
The Gentiles, according to their own statement, did not consider their statues, whether made of clay, stone, wood, iron, brass, silver, or gold, as really gods, but as emblems of the deities they worshipped, and only intended to revive in their remembrance the object of their adoration. When pressed on the subject of image-worship, by the arguments of the Christians, they said, “ You err: we do not adore the wood, brass, silver, or gold, as if these metals were of themselves gods; but we worship the gods, who, by virtue of the dedication, inhabit these images." a To which Lactantius replied, “ If the gods are present, by virtue of the consecration, what occasion is there for images ? What need have I for my friend's picture, if my friend be near me in person? God, who is a Spirit every where present, never absent, needs no image to supply his place.” b
The Egyptians, though reputed the wisest of the Gentiles, carried their system of idolatry so far, as to include the worship of animals. The Jews being tainted with it, the prophet Ezekiel says,
« Behold every form of creeping things and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, pourtrayed upon the wall round about.” The apostle Paul adds, that
Arnobius, lib. vi. b Institut. lib. ii. cap. 2.
the Gentiles “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man,
and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” The animals sacred to religion among them, were sheep, cats, bulls, dogs, cows, storks, apes, birds of prey, wolves, and several sorts of oxen. Lucian, though a heathen, sarcastically rails at this monstrous absurdity, saying, “Go into Egypt, there you will see fine things, worthy of heaven, forsooth, Jupiter with the face of a ram, Mercury as a fine dog, Pan is become a goat, another god is Ibis, another the crocodile, another the ape. There many shaven priests gravely tell us, the gods being afraid of the rebellion of the giants, lurked under these shapes; they mourn over the sacrifices, but if Apis their great god die, there is no body so profane as not to shave his head and mourn, though he had the purple hair of Nisus. This Apis is but a god chosen out of the flock. The things seem to require a Heraclitus or Democritus; the one to laugh at their madness, and the other to weep at their ignorance." ; Thus have we taken a short view of the origin and prevalence of idolatry in general among the nations of the earth, merely as introductory to what may be advanced concerning the religion of the ancient Britons. This measure appeared requisite, as the first colonies that migrated from Asia to Europe, brought with them many of the religious sentiments and usages of that and other countries in the East.
The religious establishment of the ancient Britons, as well as that of Gaul, though it has a strong resemblance, was different in some particulars from the systems prevailing generally in other nations. Its elementary principles were probably somewhat similar to those professed and propagated by Cush, his adherents and descendants. Mr. Maurice, in his Indian Antiquities, intimates, that the order of priests, anciently established in this country, were the immediate descendants of a tribe of Brahmins, situated in the high northern latitudes, bordering on the vast range of Caucasus: that these, during that period of the Indian empire, when its limits were most extended in Asia, mingling with the Celto-Scythian tribes, who tenanted the immense deserts of Grand Tartary, became gradually incorporated, though not confounded, with that ancient nation; introduced among them the rites of the Brahmin religion ; and, together with them, finally emigrated to the western regions of Europe.
a De Sacrif. Operiem. tom. i. p. m. 367.
Sir William Jones says, “ The first corruption of the purest and oldest religion, which consisted in the worship of the one God, the maker and governor of all things, was the system of the Indian theology, invented by the Brahmins, and prevailing in those territories where the books of Mahabad, or Menu, are at this hour the standard of all religious and moral duties.” a In his Preface to the Institutions of Menu, he states, that the Vedas were composed about 1580 years before Christ, or about one hundred years before the time of Moses; and that the institutions of Menu were written about three hundred years after the Vedas, or about 1280 years before Christ.b
It is the opinion of Sir William Jones, that the origin of the Hindoo nation and government is to be looked for in Iran, or Persia, where a great monarchy was established before the Assyrian, called by the Oriental historians the Pishdadian dynasty. In the reign of
a Dissertations relating to Asia, vol. i. p. 199. b Vide Preface, 4, 7, 12.