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as Jesus of Nazareth.
Pilate well knew that his sovereign would soon hear of the works and condemnation of this wonderful man. In common prudence, therefore, he would not neglect to transmit an authentic narrative of events, in which the name and power of Cæsar were deeply involved. But it was his imperious duty to do this, and at his peril he would not omit it. These acts existed in the archives of Rome; and Justin Martyr addressing the then emperor and senate, confidently appeals to them as existing there in his days.
5. The miracles which our Lord performed, the reality of which was universally believed in Judea and other countries, disposed the minds of men to receive false miracles. The impostors who in Rome and in the provinces, practised the arts of magic, availed themselves of this disposition; and endeavouring from the real works of Jesus to attach credit to their own impostures, affected to use and extol his name, while they were enemies to him and to his Gospel. The Samaritan Simon, Barjesus, the seven sons of Sceva, all mentioned in the book of the Acts, are examples of this kind. And there is no room to doubt but the astrologers and magicians in the court of Tiberius acted on the same principle. These impostors appeared to have an honourable idea of Christ; for they said that he was Pan, the son of Mercury and Penelope. Mercury, it is well known, was the messenger of Jupiter, and Penelope was a rare example of chastity and prudence. By the former, therefore, they might hint at his office as the servant of God; while, as the son of
Penelope, they might delineate his extraordinary purity.
Tiberius, though a fatalist,* was extremely superstitious, and always surrounded by a herd of these impostors. Plutarch expressly declares, that the emperor consulted them on this occasion, and that they gave it as their opinion, that the person enquired after was one of the highest among the Pagan Gods. Now, as it was their opinion, that Jesus was a god, or, in other words, that before he was put to death, he was inhabited by a god, and as they gave this opinion to the emperor, is it not probable, that they also advised him to procure his deification from the senate? And as, moreover, Tiberius was exceedingly devoted to such men, is it not reasonable to suppose, that he did, from their advice, and under their influence, what he would not have done, from his own temper or from the acts of Pontius Pilate. Tertullian and Eusebius were acquainted with these circumstances; but being ashamed of the base advisers of the emperor, they threw a veil over their interference: but wishing to avail themselves of the fact, they left it, by their omission, destitute of its proper evidence.
Dion Cassius informs us, that "Tiberius reprobated the verses of the Sibyl, and examined all the books containing predictions: and some he rejected as of no value, but others of them he
Circa Deos ac religiones' negligentior: quippe addictus mathematicæ; persuasionisque plenus cuncta fato agi, Sueton. Tib. 69.
approved."* This historian places the examination here mentioned so early as the time of Germanicus, prior, some years, to the appearance of Christ. But Tacitus, who is a better authority, refers it to a period after the execution of Sejanus, and of course not long before the death of Tiberius. Is it not probable, then, that this enquiry respecting the Sibylline oracles originated in the enquiry, which the same emperor made For certain verses, respecting Jesus Christ. predictive of our Lord, and acknowledging the truth of his Gospel, were forged at an early period, and put in the mouth of the Sibyl by some nominal advocates of Christianity. The wicked Jew and his associates mentioned by Josephus, or the Philologers in the court of Tiberius, who pronounced Jesus Christ to be Pan, the son of Mercury, were likely enough to be guilty of such forgeries. Many of those men certainly drew upon themselves the resentment of their patron, and they were compelled to abandon their arts, or to leave Italy.‡
Ο ουν Τιβέριος ταυτά τε τα έπη, ως και ψευδή οντα, και βιβλια παντα τα μαντεία τινα εχοντα, επεσκέψατο, τα μεν ὡς ουδενός άξια απεκρινε, τα δε ενέκρινε, 'Dion.
Cass. lib. 57. p. 615.
† Dion often connects in the same detail occurrences which, in point of fact, were separated by long intervals. The following is a caution given the reader by one of his annotators. Sane hoc oportet lectorem Dionis observare, junctim ab illo narrari, quæ minime eodem tempore, nec eodem anno gesta sunt. Tacitus has recorded the examination in question, in Annals, VI. 12.
Expulit Mathematicos, sed deprecantibus, ac se artem desiturós promittentibus veniam dedit, Suet, in vita Tiberii,
There is one passage in the Apology of Justin Martyr, which remarkably confirms the above conclusion. From Tacitus it is manifest, that the emperor not only prevented the reception of the above oracles among those already ascribed to the Sibyl, but prohibited the use of them by private individuals. Now we find, from Justin, that a prohibition was actually in force against the oracles forged by some of the primitive Christians, whether imputed to the Sibyl or to Hystaspes or to the Jewish prophets. The passage in part is as follows. "From the instigation of the demons, death is pronounced against those, who peruse the books of Hystaspes, or of the Sibyl or of the prophets." Apol. Prima. p. 67. ed. Thirlby.
Ælius Lampridius, a writer of the Augustan history who flourished about the end of the third century, has words to this effect in his life of Alexander Severus. "He intended to build a temple to Christ, and to receive him among the gods: Which Adrian also is reported to have designed; who ordered temples to be erected in all cities without statues; which therefore to this day are called Adrian's; it being said, that he built them for that purpose. But he was hindered by those who, by consulting the oracle, had discovered, that if such an event had happened to the person desired, all would become Christians, and other temples would be forsaken."*
If this paragraph had been penned by any
* Ælius Lamprid. in Alex. Sev. c. 43. See Lard. Vol. vii. p. 364.
ancient Christian, the truth of it would, no doubt, have been called in question; but it is written by a heathen, who did not believe in Christ. And who therefore had no motive to record such a falsehood; and we may be assured, that he would not have recorded a thing so false, and, at the same time, so obviously repugnant to his prejudices, if it had not been forced upon him by unquestionable evidence. The fact itself is very important, as it shows, that the divinity of Christ was very generally believed among the heathens, and that the emperors themselves were of the same opinion. The conduct of Hadrian and of Alexander Severus illustrates and confirms that of Tiberius.
The notion, that Christ was a god in human shape, or a god dwelling in the man Jesus, must have prevailed in Egypt as well as in other countries. Hadrian, in his letter to the Consul Servianus, preserved by Vopiscus, asserts, that the devotees of Serapis were believers in Christ.* They were doubtless such believers in Christ, as Hadrian himself was, that is, they were believers in his divinity, thinking or affecting to think, that the god which dwelled in him, was the same with Serapis. This supposition was as natural in the people of Egypt, as it was in the Jews to suppose, that he was animated by Beelzebub or in the magicians in Rome, that he was the son of Mercury and Penelope; or in the people of Lystra, that
Illi qui Serapim colunt, Christiani sunt, et devoti sunt Serapi, qui se Christi episcopos dicunt. Flav. Vopiscus in Saturnino, cap. 7. et. 8. See Lard. Vol. vii, p. 363.