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the Incarnation as a fact, that Deity took form and shape and flesh in the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem. It assumes the inspiration of the record, of the New Testament and of the Old, that the apostles and prophets and the first lawgiver were moved and guided by the Spirit of God in what they said and wrote, and so preserved from error; and that their account of all which they describe, whether of physical nature or of human life, is infallibly true. It assumes the genuineness of that chapter of Matthew's Gospel which tells of the visit of the wise men; and spends no time in disputing the argument of American and foreign critics who deny that Matthew wrote the story. But the orthodoxy of the writer does not, that we can see, prevent his impartial examination of the story, his appreciation of its difficulties or his admission of the objections against it. He could not treat a classic myth more fairly, Dido with Æneas, or Egeria with Numa. Only, believing that the story is true, he would show by various argument, that it is probable, and what it really means,would rescue it from the bad fame of a doubtful, fanciful, and self-contradictory legend.
The book is in nine chapters, with an appendix. In the first chapter, the author defines the word "magi," and shows that the bad signification of magician and charlatan, which it had unquestionably in the later times of Greece and Rome, was not its only signification, not its best meaning, not its' original meaning; that the magi were wise men, learned men, trustworthy men, skilled in various arts, the advisers of kings, and acquainted with the higher sciences; not such men as Simon the Sorcerer or Appollonius of Tyana, but rather a class of "philosophic prophets," if we may combine these terms. The wise men who came to Bethlehem were of this class; astrologers, perhaps, as they were skilled to read the stars, but not astrologers of the knavish sort, who used the stars to assist their deception and their false divinings. He finds abundant reason for believing that this meaning of the word "magi" was its common meaning among the Jews of Palestine at the time of Jesus.
The second chapter of the volume is an exceedingly close
and ingenious discussion of the meaning of the word ἀνατολῶν, by which Matthew characterizes the place from which the magi came. It is shown that the rendering, " from the East," does not sufficiently designate the meaning of this word; that it should read, "from the Far East;" and that there is an evident distinction between this plural form without the article, and the singular form with the article, in the verse that follows. "The East," as the argument shows, is Babylonia, the famous Chaldean land. But the "Far East," the proper land of the magi, is Persia, beyond the hills,—a country with other customs and with another faith. If patient pleading, and the collation of historic and archæologic facts, can establish so nice a proposition, an excellent prima facie case has certainly been made out. The argument, too, is a scripture argument, and is justified by the use of language in the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible.
Having decided that the magi were Persians, the author proceeds, in his third chapter, to set forth the character and religion of the Persians, the resemblance of their faith to the Hebrew faith and the doctrine of the Zend-avesta as preparing the way for the gospel of Christ. He finds a striking likeness, almost a coincidence, between the teaching of Zoroaster and the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. This likeness has been shown by many writers, English and German, in these last years; and professors of Christian theology now willingly expound to their classes the theses of the Persian sage as the testimony which the heathen brings to the truth of the gospel. This Persian system is no longer included among idolatries, and is shown to hold a sublime conception of God and his relation to men, not less than of the duties of man to man and of man to God.
Then, in the fourth chapter, the obscure question of the position of the magi in the Persian Empire is briefly treated. The materials for a judgment here are extremely scanty, and the author has done the best that he could with them. He quotes various authorities, who seem to say that the magi were the theologians of Persia, the men above all others wise in sacred things; and he sums up the statement in saying
that "among the Persians there could be no religious service without the presence of one of the magi. The learned heads of the order had the charge of the education of the monarch. They were judges and counsellors of state. The magi were diviners, astrologers, and interpreters of dreams. They searched into the secrets of future time. They professed to alter the will of God. The order was to Persia what Delphos was to Greece. It was the Persian oracle."
In the fifth chapter of the volume, the relations of the Chaldeans and Persians to the Hebrews are stated; and in the next two chapters the subject is followed up by an account of the enduring influence of Daniel and his teaching upon Persian thought, especially in the expectation of Messiah. Hardly less than among the Hebrews was this Messianic idea traditional among the Persians, almost a part of their national faith. Their wise men expected a great king to come, to come in the Hebrew land, and to come when the signs in earth and heaven should show that the time was at hand. The evidence of the Latin writers shows that this Messianic idea was general and fixed all through the Eastern land.
The eighth chapter of the volume passes to another branch of the general subject, the consideration of the sign in the heavens, the mysterious Star which guided the magi in their journey. Here the ground is more uncertain, and the way more difficult. There is a scientific protest, and miracle seems to intrude itself into the discussion. There is no intrinsic impossibility that learned men of the Persian nation should expect a great prophet and king from the people whom they had heard of and known as God's people; but that moving star seen in the East, leading their way and resting over a house, seems to bring in a physical impossibility. Kepler's discovery, however, that in the year 747 or 748 of the old Roman era the three planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars were in conjunction, and might be seen as one star of surpassing brightness, gives the suggestion which our author follows to remove the physical difficulty. The magi, who probably had the art of calculating eclipses, occultations, and planetary conjunc
tions, along with their astrological art, may have calculated beforehand this rare planetary conjunction, and fixed upon the event as the sign of Messiah's coming;-led to this possibly by the tradition, which the Jew Abarbanel mentions, that the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter had preceded the birth of Moses, the first law-giver. Our author, nevertheless, is too earnest a believer in the supernatural, and in the proper subjection of physical forces to such a transcendent fact as that of the Incarnation, to have any wish to remove miracle from the story. To him the star is not a planetary star, but a special star, divinely ordered, keeping its way in heaven, indeed, according to celestial dynamics, but disappearing when its mission was done. The new star, moreover, was a part of their Messianic expectation, a part of the prophecy which had come from a very distant day. The prophecy of Balaam tells of a star to come out of Jacob, and this was the oracular sign which Daniel declared. That the planetary conjunction came about the same time, proves nothing against the theory of a Star divinely appointed. The language of Matthew is certainly explicit. He says nothing of any planetary conjunction. It is a special star which brings the wanderers to the manger at Bethlehem. The closing words of this chapter on Kepler's discovery are one of those flashes of eloquence which break occasionally the calm movement of the dis cussion. "It is not strange that St. Matthew, even if he knew of them, did not record the planetary conjunctions. They were facts of nature, left to be made known to the Church, when most needful to it, by one solemnly elected of God to publish the laws and harmonies of the material universe: that, coeval with the Advent of the Lord of the heavens and the earth, a new Star shone, heralding this through all the worlds, and dating it through all time; that when He by whom all things were made and without whom, there was not any thing, lay in the manger in Bethlehem, the apparent sign of the glory that he had before he made the worlds was seen. in the heavens, this the inspired evangelist records alike for itself, and for the miracle of its guiding to its Lord in virtue of both of which it holds high place on the eternal page.
VOL. LXXXVII. — NEW SERIES, VOL. VIII. NO. III.
"Not then, of those planetary phenomena that Kepler rediscovered, but of a new Star, the magi speak, when they say they beheld the Star of the King. This harmonizes exactly and decisively with their coming. Their pilgrimage might have followed upon the conjunction of the planets; yet the faith that braved the toils and dangers of their long road is so high-toned that it requires that decisive intimation. This accomplishes what all else prepared for. It sent them to Jerusalem. History and science elucidate the sublime lesson of the power, the wisdom, and the reward of Faith in the coming of the wise men to the Lord; yet the gospel alone gives, what the records of history and the researches of science, though tending that way, lack, the full explanation, on its human side, of that abounding and unshaken confidence with which these magi proclaimed, in astonished, affrighted, unbelieving Jerusalem, the birth of its King." Eloquent words, and very captivating to the devout mind! But the unimag inative scientists will hardly admit their force as explaining interference with the fixed order of nature.
That this admission of a supernatural star seems to favor the pretended science of astrology, our author confesses in the next chapter, which he devotes to the "Astrological element in the narrative." This belief in astrology in that age was so rooted that it needed no confirmation. Christianity indeed, in seeming by some of its miracles to strengthen astrology, really put an end to it. Astrology, too, with all its absurdities, was not wholly falsehood; and in this instance, at any rate, the reading of the stars was guided by a higher wisdom and to the holiest of ends. The magi may have been astrologers, and used their astrology in this finding of the young child; but we are not to fasten to their art the bad name which it has gained since it has been superseded by the science of astronomy. The magi used their occult art to discover the great secret of the Divinity in Humanity; and that alone would give it dignity. In this chapter the tone is of a gentle mysticism, which reveals in the author the wondering spirit of the Quietists.
And this again comes out, in the tenth chapter, on the "In