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THE FACTS OCCASIONALLY MENTIONED IN THE NEW
LIVED NEAR THEIR TIME.
Whatever argument is insisted on in behalf of christianity, whether the purity of its doctrine, the fulfilment of ancient prophecies, the predictions and miracles of our Saviour and his apostles, or the peculiar circumstances of its propagation: it is necessary, that we be apprized of the truth of the things related in the New Testament.
The evidence of the truth of any history is either internal or external. The internal evidence depends on the probability of the things related, the consistence of the several parts, and the plainness and simplicity of the narration. The external evidence consists of the concurrence of other ancient writers of good credit, who lived at, or near the time, in which any things are said to have happened ; and who bear testimony to the books themselves, and their authors, or the facts contained in them.
Every serious and attentive reader is able, in a great measure, to judge of the internal marks of the credibility of the history contained in the New Testament: though he may be very much assisted by the observations of others, who are more curious, or more judicious than himself. And for this purpose many excellent writings have been published with very great advantage in our own, and other modern languages.
The external evidence of the truth of any ancient history, , and particularly of the gospel-history, lies not so much within the reach of the generality of mankind. And though in some modern defences of the christian religion, there have been appeals and references made to other ancient authors; yet those appeals have not been so distinct, full, and express, as might have been wished. The writer has supposed his readers learned; and, not producing at length the testimonies he appeals to, the faith of the unlearned, as to this part of the evidence for christianity, is still resolved very much into the credit and authority of the apologist.
The peculiar design of this work is to enable persons of ordinary capacities, who, for want of a learned education, or of sufficient leisure, are deprived of the advantage of
reading over ancient writings, to judge for themselves concerning the external evidence of the facts related in the New Testament,
At present I offer only the evidence of the facts occasionally mentioned in the books of the New Testament, intending hereafter to treat of the principal facts in a like manner.
The method taken in this work is to set down in the first place the representation, which the sacred writers have given of persons, facts, customs, or principles; and then to produce passages of other ancient writers, which confirm or illustrate the account delivered in the New Testament.
Wherever the matter treated of is of any special importance, and wherever there is any ambiguity, or any peculiar beauty or emphasis in the style and expression of the authors I quote, I have placed their original words at the bottom of the page.
There are added likewise, here and there, some short notes for the benefit of the unlearned reader.
I presume it is needless for me to acknowledge particularly, that I am accountable for the translations of all the passages here transcribed : or to declare, that I have used the best care I could about them. I
have mistaken, but I am sure, that I have not, with a view to any particular purpose whatever, designedly misrepresented any fact, or given a wrong turn to any passage. My putting down the original words of my authors, or very particular references to them, will prevent all suspicions of this kind.
The reader is not to suppose, that I have exhausted the argument. The geography of the New Testament, and many facts, customs, and principles, besides those here insisted on by me, are also confirmed by testimonies of ancient writers. I apprehend, however, that what is here offered is sufficient to answer the end proposed. And though the positive part be not full and complete, and indeed could not be so without being tedious; yet I think I have, in the second book, taken in all the chief difficulties affecting that kind of facts I am now concerned with.
The point I was to make out is the Credibility of the Gospel-History. And to that I have confined myself
. But no one may hence surmise, that I give up the inspiration of the books of the New Testament. Nor am I aware, that I have in the least weakened any argument, that they were written under a special direction and influence of the Spirit of God. I think, however, that if the Gospel History be credible, the truth of the christian religion cannot be contested.
I flatter myself, my design will be approved. I wish the execution had been equal to the subject. Imperfect as it is, I hope what is here performed, may be of use to remove, or abate the prejudices of some; to confirm others upon a good foundation in the belief of the christian religion, and in their high esteem for the writers of the New Testament, and to enable them to read them with new pleasure and profit.
CONCERNING THE SECOND EDITION,
I now allow, that the words of St. Luke, chap. ii, 2. capable of the sense in which they are understood by Herwaert and Perizonius. But as I still dispute most of the examples alleged by those learned men in support of that sense, there is but a small alteration made in that article. The Rev. Mr. Masson has given me occasion to consider afresh what I had said concerning Macrobius's passage. I hope what is now added will be to his and others' satisfaction. I have also taken this opportunity to add some farther observations on Josephus's silence about the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem. But the most important addition, is a curious observation on Josephus concerning the Egyptian impostor, which I received from Mr. Ward. These and the few other alterations and additions made in this edition, can need no apology with those who understand the nature of this design. And as they are printed by themselves, and may be had separate, I hope the first edition is not much prejudiced hereby.
Having in the following work made great use of Philo and Josephus, I here prefix a short account of those two writers.
Philo was a Jew, of Alexandria in Egypt, brotherb of Alexander the Alabarch, or chief magistrate of the Jews in that country.
The Jews having been much abused by the Egyptians, and by Flaccus, the Roman president, in
· See his Slaughter of the Children in Bethlehem, as an historical Fact, vindicated, &c. In the dedication to the Bishop of Coventry and Litchfield.
6 Joseph. Antiq. 18. c. 9. sect. 1.