Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

opinion, not only because the books called the prophecies are written in poetical language, but because there is no word in the Bible, except it be the word prophet, that describes what we mean by a poet. I have also said, that the word signified a performer upon musical instruments, of which I have given some instances ; such as that of a company of prophets prophesying with psalteries, with tabrets, with pipes, with harps, &c., and that Saul prophesied with them, 1 Sam. chap. x., ver. 5. It appears from this passage, and from other parts in the book of Samuel, that the word prophet was confined to signify poetry and music ; for the person who was supposed to have a visionary insight into concealed things was not a prophet but a seer, 1 Sam. chap. ix., ver 9: and it was not till after the word seer went out of use, (which most probably was when Saul banished those he called wizards) that the profession of the seer, or the art of seeing, became incorporated into the word prophet.

According to the modern meaning of the word prophet and prophesying, it signifies foretelling events to a great distance of time; and it became necessary to the inventors of the Gospel to give it this latitude of meaning, in order to apply or to stretch what they call the prophecies of the Old Testament to the times of the New. But, according to the Old Testament, the prophesying of the seer, and afterwards of the prophet, so far as the meaning of the word seer was incorporated into that of prophet, had reference only to things of the time then passing, or very closely connected with it; such as the event of a battle they were going to engage in, or of a journey, or of any enterprise they were going to under. take, or of any circumstance then pending, or of any difficulty they were then in ; all of which had immediate reference to themselves, [as in the case already mentioned of Ahaz and Isaiah with respect to the expression, Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son] ‘and not to any distant future time. It was that kind of prophesying that corresponds to what we call fortune-telling ; such as casting nativities, predicting riches, fortunate or unfortunate marriages, conjuring for lost goods, &c., and it is the fraud of the Christian church, not that of the Jews, and the ignorance and the superstition of modern, not that of ancient times, that elevated those poeticalmusical-conjuring-dreaming-strolling gentry, into the rank they have since had.

But besides this general character of all the prophets, they had also a particular character. They were in parties, and they prophesied for or against, according to the party they were with; as the poetical and political writers of the present day write in defence of the party they associate with, against the other.

• I know not what is the Hebrew word that corresponds to the word seer in English; but I observe it is translated into French by la voyant, from the verb voir, to see; and which means the person who sees, or the scer.

After the Jews were divided into two nations, that of Judah and that of Israel, each party had its prophets, who abused and accused each other of being false prophets, lying prophets, impostors, &c.

The prophets of the party of Judah prophesied against the prophets of the party of Israel ; and those of the party of Israel against those of Judah. This party-prophesying showed itself immediately on the separation, under the first two rival kings, Rehoboar and Jeroboam. The prophet that cursed, or prophesied, against the altar that Jeroboam had built in Bethel, was of the party of Judah, where Rehobcam was king; and he was way-laid, on his return home, by a prophet of the party of Israel, who said unto him, (1 Kings, chap. 13, ver, 14,)“ Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? and he said, I am.Then the prophet of the party of Israel said to him, “ I am a prophet also as thou art, (signifying of Judah) and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water : but, says the 18th verse, he lied unto him.This event, however, according to the story, is, that the prophet of Judah never got back to Judah, for he was found dead on the road, by the contrivance of the prophet of Israel ; who, no doubt, was called a true prophet by his own party, and the prophet of Judah a lying prophet.

In the third chapter of the seco of Kings, a story is related of prophesying or conjuring, that shows, in several particulars, the character of a prophet. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and Jehoram, king of Israel, had for a while ceased their party animosity, and entered into an alliance : and those two, together with the king of Edom, engaged in a war against the king of Moab. After uniting, and marching their armies, the story says, they were in great distress for water; upon which Jehoshaphat said, ver. 11, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him ? and one of the king of Israel's servants answered and said, Here is Elisha (Elisha was of the party of Judah,] the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the Lord is with himThe story then says, that these three kings went down to Elisha; and when Elisha [who, as I have said, was a Judalımite prophet] saw the king of Israel, he said unto him, “ What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay, for the Lord hath culled these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” [Meaning because of the distress they were in for water.] Upon which Elisha said, “ As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, I would not look towards thee, nor see thee.” Here is all the venom and the vulgarity of a party prophet. We have now to gee the performance, or manner of prophesying.

“ Ver 15. Bring me, (said Elisha,) a minstrel : and it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came

upon him." Here is the farce of the conjurer.

Now for the prophecy : And Elisha said, (singing most probably to the tune he was playing,] Thus saith the Lord, make this valley full of ditches ;" which was just telling them what every countryman could have told them, withont either fiddle or farce, that the way to get water was to dig for it.

But as every conjurer is not famous alike for the same thing, so neither were those prophets; for though all of them, at least those I have spoken of, were famous for lying, some of them excelled in cursing. Elisha, whom I have just mentioned, was a chief in this branch of prophesying : it was he that cursed the forty-two children in the name of the Lord, whom the two she-bears came and devoured, We are to suppose that those children were of the party of Israel : but as those who will curse will lie, there is just as much credit to be given to this story of Elisha's two she-bears, as there is to that of the dragon of Wantley, of whom it is said :

“Poor children three devoured he,

That could not with him grapple;
And at one sup he ate them up.

As a man would eat an apple.' There was another description of men called prophets, that amused themselves with dreams and visions ; but whether by night or by day we know not. These, if they were not quite harmless, were but little mischievous. Of this class are

Ezekiel and Daniel ; and the first question upon those books, as upon all the others, is, Are they genuine ? that is, Were they written by Ezekiel and Daniel ?

Of this there is no proof; but so far as my own opinion goes, I am more inclined to believe they were, than that they were not. My reasons for this opinion are as follow : First, Because those books do not contain internal evidence to prove they were not written by Ezekiel and Daniel, as the books ascribed to Moses, Joshua Samuel, &c., &c., prove they were not written by Moses, Joshua, Samuel, &c.

Secondly, Because they were not written till after the Babylonish captivity began : and there is good reason to believe, that not any book in the Bible was written before that period : at least it is proveable, from the books themselves, as I have already shown, that they were not written till after the commencement of the Jewish monarchy.

Thirdly, Because the manner in which the books ascribed to Ezekiel and Daniel are written, agrees with the condition these men were in at the time of writing them.

Had the numerous commentators and priests who have foolishly employed or wasted their time in pretending to expound and unriddle those books, been carried into captivity, as Ezekiel and Daniel were, it would have greatly improved their intellects, in comprehending the reason for this mode of writing, and lave saved

them the trouble of racking their invention, as they have done, to no purpose ; for they would have found that themselves would be obliged to write whatever they bad to write, respecting their own affairs, or those of their friends, or of their country, in a concealed manner, as those men have done.

These two books differ from all the rest ; for it is only these that are filled with accounts of dreams and visions; and this difference arose from the situation the writers were in, as prisoners of war, or prisoners of state, in a foreign country, which obliged them to convey even the most trifling information to each other, and all their political projects or opinions, in obscure and metaphorical terms, They pretend to have dreamed dreams, and seen visions, because it was unsafe for them to speak facts or plain language We ought, however, to suppose that the persons to whom they wrote, understood what they meant, and that it was not intended any body else should. But these busy commentators and priests have been puzzling their wits to find out what it was not intended they should know, and with which they have nothing to do.

Ezekiel and Daniel were carried prisoners to Babylon, under the first captivity, in the time of Jehoiakim, nine years before the second captivity, in the time of Zedekiah. The Jews were then still numerous, and had considerable force at Jerusalem ; and as it is natural suppose that men, in the situation of Ezekiel and Daniel, would be meditating the recovery of their country, and their own deliverance, it is reasonable to suppose that the accounts of dreams and visions, with which these books are filled, are no other than a disguised mode of correspondence, to facilitate those objects : it served them as a cypher, or secret alphabei. If they are not this, they are tales, reveries, and nonsense ; or, at least, a fanciful way of wearing off the wearisomeness of captivity ; but the presumption is, they were the former.

Ezekiel begins his books by speaking of a vision of cherubims, and of a vision of a wheel within a wheel, which he says he saw by the river Chebar, in the land of his captivity. Is it not reasonable to suppose, that by the cherubims he meant the temple at Jerusalem, where they had figures of cherubims ? and by a wheel within a wheel, [which, as a figure, has always been understood to signify political contrivance) the project or means of recovering Jerusalem? În the latter part of this book, he supposes himself transported to Jerusalem, and into the temple; and he refers back to the vision on the river Chebar, and says, chap. xliii., ver. 3, that this last vision was like the vision on the river Chebar; which indicates, that those pretended dreams and visions had for their object the recovery of Jerusalem, and nothing further.

As to the romantic interpretations and applications, wild as the dreams and visions they undertake to explain, which commentators and priests have made of those books, that of converting them into things which thoy call prophecies, and making them bend to times

can go.

and circumstances as far remote even as the present day, it shows the fraud or the extreme folly to which credulity or priesteratt

Scarcely any thing can be more absurd, than to suppose that men situated as Ezekiel and Daniel were, whose country was over. run, and in the possession of the enemy, all their friends and rela. tions in captivity abroad, or in slavery at home, or massacred, or in continual danger of it; scarcely any thing, I say, can be more absurd, than to suppose that such men should find nothing to do but that of employing their time and their thoughts about what was to happen to other nations a thousand or two thousand years after they were dead : at the same time nothing is more natural, than that they should meditate the recovery of Jerusalem, and their own deliverance; and that this was the sole object of all the obscure and apparently frantic writings contained in those books.

In this sense, the mode of writing used in those two books being forced by necessity, and not adopted by choice, is not irrational : but if we are to use the books as prophecies, they are false. In the 29th chapter of Ezekiel, speaking of Egypt, it is said, ver. 11, No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it ; neither shall it be inhabited forty years. This is what never came to pass, and consequently it is false, as all the books I have already reviewed are. I here close this part of the subject.

In the former part of the Age of Reason, I have spoken of Jonah, and of the story of him and the whale. A fit story for ridicule, if it was written to be believed ; or of laughter, if it was intended to try what credulity could swallow ; for if it could swal. low Jonah and the whale, it could swallow any thing.

But, as is already shown in the observations on the book of Job and the Proverbs, it is not always certain which of the books in the Bible are originally Hebrew, or only translations from the books of the Gentiles into Hebrew : and as the book of Jonah, so far from treating of the affairs of the Jews, says nothing upon that subject, but treats altogether of the Gentiles, it is more probable that it is a book of the Gentiles than of the Jews : and that it has been written as a fable, to expose the nonsense and satirize the vicious and malignant character of a Bible prophet, or a predicting priest.

Jouah is represented, first, as a disobedient prophet, running away from his mission, and taking shelter aboard a vessel of the Gentiles, bound from Joppa to Tarshish; as if he ignorantly supposed, by such a paltry contrivance, he could hide himself where God could not find him. The vessel is overtaken by a storm at sea; and the mariners, all of whom are Gentiles, believing it to be a judgment, on account of some one on board who had committed a crime, agreed to cast lots, to discover the offender; and the Int fell upon Jonah. But, before this, they bad cast all their wares

1

« FöregåendeFortsätt »