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the most atrocious crimes, and appeared to have lost almost all sense of moral obligation, God was graciously pleased to send his Son, to reform and save the world. “When the fulness of time was come,” our Lord appeared upon earth, “ a light to enlighten the gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel.”
Of the civil and religious State of the Jewish
Nation at the Time of Christ's Birth.
MY DEAR NIECES,
I will now give you an outline of the civil and religious state of the Hebrew nation, at the time of our Lord's advent.
Jerusalem had been taken by Pompey the Great, about seventy years before the birth of our Saviour. The Jews, at this period, were governed by Herod the Great, who received his kingdom from, and was himself tributary to the Romans. This prince was one of the greatest tyrants that ever disgraced humanity. After having destroyed all the descendants of the illustrious Asmonæan family, (who, from the time of Judas Maccabæus, had governed Judea for 129 years,) he began to exhibit a marked contempt for the religion and laws of the Jews. He abolished several of the ceremonies enjoined in the Mosaic code; and in
troduced some foreign customs, which were expressly forbidden by it. He built a magnificent theatre in the city of Jerusalem, and a spacious amphitheatre in the suburbs, where he instituted public games in honour of Augustus. From the beginning of his reign to the final destruction of the temple, the high priests were set up, and removed, at his pleasure, and that of his successors, or of the Romans. He attacked the authority of the grand Sanhedrim, which, by degrees, lost its power, He adopted, in his ordinary habits, Roman customs and usages; and, in his public capacity, was devoted and subservient to that mighty empire. Through his influence Roman luxury was introduced into Palestine, accompanied with all the vices of that licentious people. In a word, Judea groaned under all the corruption and misery which might be expected from a prince who, though a Jew in outward profession, was, in practice, a contemner of all laws, human and divine. The murder of the children of Bethlehem, recorded by the Evangelists, is a strong exemplification of his cruel and jealous temper.
After Herod had amassed a vast treasure by unjust extortions and confiscations, he proposed to regain the favour of the Jewish nation, by rebuilding their temple on a larger and more splendid plan, with many additional ornaments. This magnificent edifice was not considered as distinct from the temple of Zerubbabel, the same general model being adopted. The Jews themselves still regarded it as the sacred temple, and as that which, according to the prophecy of Haggai, was to exceed Solomon's in glory, by the appearance in it of the Messiah.
On the death of Herod, the government was divided between his three sons. Judea and Samaria were given to Archelaus, whose oppressive administration induced the Jews and Samaritans to write a petition to the emperor, in consequence of which he was deposed, and Judea reduced to a Roman province. The governors, appointed by the Romans, were unjust, avaricious, and tyrannical, The Hebrew nation considered it an intolerable grievance to pay tribute to Cæsar, and to live in subjection to idolaters. The extortion of the publicans, who were entrusted with the collection of the revenues, and who abused their authority, became a subject of extreme dissatisfaction. The constant presence of their governors, with foreign attendants and a Roman guard, quartered with their Eagles in the heart of the Holy city, kept the sensibility of the Jews continually on the rack. They considered every thing they held sacred as polluted, and brought into contempt. The sufferings of that portion of the Holy Land, however, which remained under the government of the other sons of Herod, who were cautious of irritating their feelings, were not so intolerable.
The authority of the Roman government did not, however, extend to the entire deprivation of all the civil and ecclesiastical privileges of the Jews. They were permitted to live very much according to their own laws; and were allowed to inflict punishments, less than capital, for offences against their religion. They could expel offenders from their synagogues, and require them to be beaten. And not only does it appear that, during our Lord's ministry, they had agreed, that " if any man