Page images

Jews, and underwent continually various changes both by additions and omissions. In consequence, it is known under the title of the Gospel of the Hebrews, that of the Ebionites, of the Nazareens, and probably of the Egyptians. These gospels were considered by each possessor as a true account of the circumstances delivered to them by the mouth of the apostles. As the gospel spread, this Hebrew gospel was translated into the vulgar Greek of Judea, and the original copies disappeared. But this is all conjectural: and the question is, whether such an original gospel was ever adopted by a christian community and made part of its service? If we can bring no proof of it, we may rest securely upon the possession of our four gospels, as being those only which were ever universally received as of established authority.


A comparison of the three first gospels leads indeed to the suspicion of a common origin, but we have no data on which to establish the fact. Matthew's gospel might, if it were really written originally in Hebrew, have been looked up to as of superior authority: but in what respect was it altered in the translation? Luke was not acquainted with our gospel of Matthew, as it stands in the present editions of the Testament; but from the original text, or corrections of it, and oral traditions, he supplied defects, as may be seen particularly in the last journey of our Saviour to Jerusalem. Mark could not have had either our Matthew or Luke before him ; but drew from the same sources which they did, keeping closer to the substance of the original text, but farther from its arrangement. Be these things as they may, the intelligence imparted is authentic: the history of our Saviour is clearly given, and originated with those who heard his precepts, and were eyewitnesses of his miracles. Tradition was the origin of the gospels, and on their worth tradition decides. The canon against heretics made all apocryphal except the four established on its authority; and in process of time these apocryphal gospels were filled with fables, and became the repositories of the most abject bigotry.

The object of the 'Critical Commentary' is to establish a real gospel, in which the letter and the spirit must be carefully distinguished; and this is to be extracted not only from the four gospels now in use, but from every part of scripture. In establishing this point, neither talent nor industry is wanting, and it was not embraced without deep reflection. The oldest monuments of christian antiquity are examined with great candour and moderation; and what is not clearly determined by them, is left still within the bounds of conjecture. In fact, a variety of arguments is produced to shew that Mark had seen neither our gospel of Matthew nor that of Luke, yet they

cannot boast of novelty. Nor does the retranslation of the Greek expressions of the separate evangelists into Arabic, in two very ingenious instances, which appear to lead to the origin of their difference, afford us by any means assured remains of the original text. It is not very difficult to represent in a couple of periods, a pretended Hebrew original: but before it is adopted, let us reflect, and with the seriousness which the object demands, how little is the knowledge that we possess of the peculiar state of the language spoken by the Jews at Palestine, in the time of our Saviour. The verbal agreement of the three first evangelists in several passages, is a fact which must have had its source in a prior text: to recover at this time of day that text, seems to be both an endless and not a very profitable labour.

An exact comparison of the evangelists, with a view to mark their verbal agreements, has produced an actual improvement of our knowledge, and limited completely what remains to be explained: but on the other hand, the severest scrutiny of all the fragments of the life of Jesus has excited only a variety of surmises on the age of these accounts, over which the veil spread by antiquity is impenetrable. Hypotheses founded on them are merely conjectural; and he who would build his faith upon such slight materials, must be far advanced in the regions of credulity. We have gained much by knowing that, after unwearied enquiries, nothing farther is to be expected in the details of former times; and the author is most to be praised when he is contending against the presumed certainty of various determinate propositions on the existence of our gospels.

We cannot contemplate the work as a complete critique on the biblical intelligence which we possess of the life and doctrine of our Saviour; but in the Commentary many materials for such a critique, and those well worthy of attention, are to be found. This must have been the author's idea, when he named his work 'a Critical Commentary;' for a commentary it must be called, both from the biblical text being explained by paragraphs and in connection, and from the notes, which oftentimes take up four times as much room as the text of the paragraph. His principles are generally good in explaining that circumstances, in some respects disagreeing, are not to be forcibly compelled to an union; nor, on the other hand, is it right to follow some modern instances, and, running into the contrary extreme, overrate the disagreements. Relations of a fact in common life do not contradict each other, though there is a seeming difference between them, and it is not easy to unite them together in an exact narration; and the difficulties under which the author labours when he would, from

three sources, give a complete detail of a history, must be insurmountable. Where is he to fix his point of view?—and, after all, the result must be problematical, and can never rise to the dignity of history.

In the narrative of the recovery of the daughter of Jaïrus, we have the words of our Saviour thus given: The maiden is not dead, she only sleepcth; she is sunk in a swoon.' The language of Christ doubtless related to the fact, but the words

sunk in a swoon' are the author's own explanation, and are not to be found in any of the three parallel passages. The above narrative is followed by another, the healing of a woman who had for many years laboured under a grievous disorder. The title is thus given by the author: A woman diseased for many years is made by him well in an instant, and a maiden is brought back to life.' The commentary thus proceeds:

• Matthew connects these narratives apparently with a preceding one; Mark and Luke have an interval, which is however left void of action. Both confirm the history more than Matthew. They name the person who came to Jesus, describe his station, expressly saying, that he was president of a synagogue. According to Matthew, Jesus went in company with his disciples to his house: according to Mark and Luke, a great multitude was with him. This latter circumstance gave rise to another, which Mark in his usual manner relates most accurately; and it must not be omitted, that he mentions that the woman who, according to the account of all the three, had had an issue of blood for twelve years, was come to Jesus on the report of his fame. Indeed his fame as a worker of miracles went always before him, but on this road it accompanied him with full expectation. For how had the presi dent of the synagogue addressed him, and in what manner was his confidence assured? Can then, might the sick woman think, the man have help from Jesus for his dying or dead daughter, and can and will Jesus ensure this to him, and even instantly? The moment for aid is arrived; and to remove the disorder, it is not necessary to lament before him your distress, (from this she was prevented by female modesty) it is enough, if by any means you can come near him the power with which he is hurrying to save a dying maiden will, in this happy morient, shed its influence also on you. Thus she fixed her eyes steadily on him in his passage, so that he must stop and feel her touch. A word of comfort was, as the woman expected, all that she received from Jesus; the assurance, both physically and historically true, that in true faith would be her help; and this was enough for her to forget her former distress, and to make her believe that she would be fully healed. Jesus, who could not in the throng confer longer with her, dismissed her with good wishes: but the old gospel understands this exhortation as the faithful woman received it, and establishes as a fact what she presupposed in this creed. Mark and Luke are more careful upon this occasion. The historian, in

case neither he nor the person who gave him information had made more exact inquiries from the woman, might have conjectured the fact from what had previously occurred: he could not conclude" with any other consequence, and with this conclusion the narration ends. The diseased woman probably was lost in the crowd, out of which she had stepped forth with great timidity. The gospels take no farther notice of her, but the fabulous histories of the ancient church have erected a splendid memorial to her and her physician.'

The remarks upon this narrative are fewer than on most others; and the author may be followed with greater security. when he fixes the historical dates of the circumstances in the text, and explains them with assiduity.

It is the object of the writer to present cursorily, first, the narratives which occur in the three gospels; and on this account a section in this volume is entitled, a review of Matthew, Mark, and Luke,' where they agree: in a second section are contained the deviations of Matthew, Mark, and Luke from each other, where a contradiction in the relaters might be allowable and in the third section is the peculiar information of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, on the facts which, as it should seem, were unknown to the other evangelists. Upon the whole, the remarks are too many rather than too few; and, as it often happens in books with more note than text, several expressions and applications are selected, merely for the sake of the remark. But on the other hand, this extension of the notes will be found very useful; since in them are 30 many important interpretations of ancient and moden writers, and much literary information on the sources whence may be derived the best interpretations of separate passages.

Among the latest writers, the name of Paulus very frequently occurs; and many of his most important interpretations are introduced. But the work descends to the lowest minutiæ for intelligence, and even essays in the latest journals are noticed. This implies very great labour and industry in the commentator, both of which might in this respect assuredly have been spared. Yet with all its excess and defects, the work will be found very useful to the student; who will pursue his course by means of the paragraphs to a true critical acquaintance with both the history and doctrine of the New Testament, provided he keeps his eyes on the original Greek, and examines both the text and the commentary with impartiality. In this way the work may lead to a future production, which shall throw light on the doctrine and history of our Saviour; and the teachers of true religion will thus be led to fix their attention on real critical examination, and not on the traditions of their predecessors.

ART. VIII.-Memoires d'un Père, &c. Oeuvres posthumes de Marmontel.

[ocr errors]

Memoirs of a Father, written for the Instruction of his Chil dren; the posthumous Works of M. Marmontel, Historiographer of France, and Perpetual Secretary to the French Academy. 4 vols. 8vo. 1. 10s. ditto 12mo. 1. Paris. 1804. Imported by Deconchy.

IT is for my children that I write the history of my life; their mother wished it :' so says the author, who thus briefly introduces his work, which we shall as briefly proceed to analyse, without stopping to inquire what may be the value, the object, the authenticity, or the utility, of histories of literary men, written by themselves. Writers of their own memoirs, have, from St. Augustin to Marmontel, generally been such slaves to vanity or ambition, that their lives can never present either a very favourable or moral picture of human nature, and consequently can but ill serve the purpose of instruction. Madame Marmontel has thought otherwise; and we shall endeavour to enable our readers to judge of the prudence or folly of her wishes.

M. Marmontel has not condescended to mention the year of his birth; but his editor, in a short advertisement, remarkable only for its ignorance and vanity, observes,

These Memoirs are the last work of the late John Francis Marmontel, though they were almost all written three years before his death. He was born in 1723, arrived at Paris in 1745, and died in 1799; having thus lived the whole of the 18th century. His connections, society, attachments, places of residence, labours, have made him acquainted, during this long space of time, with the most distinguished persons. Indeed there scarcely lived one celebrated woman, during that period, of whatever character she may be, who has not her portrait in this vast exhibition. What copious memoranda must he be possessed of who has seen and conversed with Massillon, Fontenelle, Montesquieu, and who has been a member of one of our national assemblies !'

Memoranda undoubtedly of the utmost importance, if presented to the mind of a Gibbon, a Robertson, a Montesquieu, or even a St. Real, or a Condillac ; but which have only produced in that of our tale-telling author, a very inferior continuation of his Tales, by some strange misnomer ycleped Moral. In these Memoirs there is the same neglect of chronological order, as there is of morality in the above-mentioned Tales: indeed neither the one nor the other ever seem to have entered the writer's mind; and it will appear in the sequel how

« PreviousContinue »