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If the chapters had been fabricated by ignorant and obscure persons, they would have been denied and rejected bv the learned; if on the contrary the learned themselves Iwd made the attempt, the simplest might have discovered and exposed the fraud*. They could not have been forged in one kingdom, without being detected by the Churches in another; nor could they have been written by the early Christian writers, who were ignorant of Hebrew, since they are replete with Hebraisms; nor by the Fathers of the second and third century, since the style of their Greek works is essentially different from that of these passages. We may justly therefore affirm from the unanimous testimony of the ancient Versions,— from the positive assertions of the early Fathers,— from the presence of all the criteria of genuineness,—and from the impossibility of interpolation, —that St. Luke really wrote that relation of the miraculous events attending the birth of John the Baptist, which is contained in the first chapters of his Gospel1.
it does not appear that any of the friends of St. Luke denied that they were his production;—thirdly, they are contained in the most ancient copies, and we have no reason to suppose that any considerable time elapsed after^the death of St. Luke, in which they were unknown;—fourthly, no argument can be urged against them for the nature of the style; it is such as might have been expected; the hymns of Mary, Elizabeth, and Zachariah abound in Hebrew idioms and constructions, because "the language is that of the Old Testament, old terms being transferred to new things ;"—fifthly, no facts are related which happened after the death of the reputed author;— lastly, no doctrines are introduced which contradict those he advances in other parts of his Gospel.—On all these grounds the authority of the chapters is unimpaired.
4 See Grotius, De Verit. Rel. Christ, lib. iii. sect. 15, &c.
But the second part of the question still recurs;—might not the historian himself have invented the supposed facts; or, if his integrity be established, might they not be the fabrication of all or any of the parties connected with the account;—as Jesus, or some of his disciples; John, or some of his followers; Zacharias, or some of his associates?
In the first place the narrative could not have been forged by St Luke.—It is evident both from the nature of the work itself, and from the author's own declaration, that this Gospel could not have been published till the time that the number of Christians was so much increased, as to require written histories, either to supply the want of verbal accounts, or to prevent the possibility of their being forgotten or corrupted2. At the very least, this must have been seven or eight years, and probably many more, after the death of Christ. If, therefore, this detail of extraordinary events were false, the want of previous notoriety alone would have led to its immediate detection. For if the Apostles were not engaged in the fraud, they would undoubtedly have observed and condemned it; if they were concerned in it, they would have met with universal contradiction and contempt, and ruined the cause they laboured to promote. Who would have believed, that, if the Apostles had possessed the knowledge of supernatural facts, forming a most powerful and decisive evidence for the claims of John, and consequently for the divine origin of Jesus, they would never have made mention of them, and never have insisted on their application and force?'—The suspicion of forgery would have arisen on the outset, and defeated the only object for which they could have entered into the design,—a prejudice in favour of the pretensions of their Master. Discovery must inevitably have followed: the clumsy instrument of deception would have recoiled on the inventors, and the religion, it was intended to hold up to admiration, would have fallen at once to the ground. It must be granted, therefore, that the facts must have been commonly known; the story then could not have been invented by St. Luke. Nor indeed is there any internal mark of forgery in his relation. "There is always some truth" says Hartley3, "where there are considerable particularities related, and they always seem to
1 The following observations of Huet seem extremelyjust and convincing: "De Lucae Evangelio si duo priora capita detraxeris, nihil de Jesu, ad quern tamen unum totum hoc Evangelium pertinet, praefatum Lucam reperies, sed ejus mentionem velut obiter et aliud agentem injecisse: 'Factum est autem/ inquit, 'cum baptizaretur omnis populus, et, Jesu baptizato et orante apertum est caelum.' Quae cum de viro historicae artis haudquaquam imperito, ut Evangelium hoc et Acta Apostolorum indicant, existimare non liceat, omnino dicendum est jam ante ipsum Christi Jesu, in primis nempe duobus capitibus, meminisse."—Demonstratio Evan» gelica, Prop. ix. c. 9.
'Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. c. 24.
bear some proportion to one another." Indeed, to suppose that an impostor will deal in particulars, is to imagine that he will furnish his reader with numerous criteria of detection. Accordingly all forged writings abound in general occurrences only. The spurious epistles of Phalaris are, in the words of their great exposer1, "a fardle of common places: without any life or spirit from action and circumstance." —" Do but cast your eye," continues the same writer, "upon Cicero's letters or any statesman's, as Phalaris was: what lively characters of men are there! what descriptions of place! what notifications of time! what particularity of circumstances! what multiplicity of designs and events!" The reason is obvious:—truth is easy, but falsehood is a labyrinth of difficulties.—" Quae decipiunt, nihil habent solidi. Tenue est Mendacium; perlucet, si diligenter inspexeris2."—Imposture bears in its very frame and essence the elements of its own destruction—Men, who were present at a transaction, cannot always remember all they have seen, but certainly know what they have not seen; the relater of falsehoods, therefore, who gives a list of particulars, carries with him inevitable exposure. Now the whole narrative which constitutes the chapters under consideration, is remarkable for particularity in names, dates,, places, and circumstances. The whole, it is expressly said, took place "in the days of Herod, king of Judaea;"—the profession
1 Bentley's Dissert, upon the Epistles of Phalaris, p. 351. * Senec. Ep. 79
of Zacharias, and the lineage of his wife Elizabeth are both specified, he was "a certain priest of the course of Abia," and she was "of the daughters of Aaron ;"—his sudden dumbness was at the remarkable period when "his lot was to burn incense," and the still more remarkable moment when it was usual to dismiss the people with a solemn blessing,—his sudden recovery of speech happened "on the eighth day" after the birth of John, when "they came to circumcise the child," in presence of the "neighbours and cousins" of Elizabeth, and all these events, it is positively asserted, were reported "throughout all the hill country of Judaea."—
Surely such fulness and circumstantiality would suffice, even in these later times, to detect falsehood, if it existed, and still more, have enabled those, who lived in the same age and in the same country, to have thoroughly investigated the fact. We might add too the appearance of simplicity and candour and undesignedness, which distinguish its style from the productions of imposture. Every description bears the striking impress of truth: there is no air of artifice, no tincture of exaggeration: all is plain and unaffected, yet dignified and touching: all is prepossessing from the absence of any attempt to prepossess: all is convincing from the persuasive nature of unadorned facts alone. These the historian lays before us, without that caution which characterizes the impostor; without endeavours to avoid objections; without introductory remarks to reconcile the mind to the marvellous part of his narrative, and