The Problem of the Apparent Nonfulfillment of the Levitical Covenant

The Problem of the Apparent Nonfulfillment of the Levitical Covenant

The Problem of the Apparent Nonfulfillment of the Levitical Covenant

It is important to recall how the Levitical covenant lasts until the destruction of the Second Temple, although the Zadokite priesthood may not have endured nearly as long. The Zadokites apparently managed to retain the high priesthood until the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. What became of the Zadokite priesthood thereafter remains a matter of debate.136 This raises the very difficult question of the apparent nonfulfillment of the Levitical grant-type covenant of perpetual priesthood, as well as Ezekiel’s prophetic oracle regarding the Zadokites. A comprehensive treatment of such questions is well beyond the scope of this study.137 Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that there are canonical considerations that argue both for and against the permanence of the Levitical covenant. In other words, there is a tension concerning the status of the Levitical covenant/priesthood in the Bible itself.

To begin with the considerations against its permanence, these may be enumerated as follows. First, the Levitical priesthood arose as a result of Israel’s sin (Exod 32:25–28). The second consideration is closely related: the original intent of God was a royal priestly primogeniture for all Israel (Exod 4:22; 19:6).

To recapitulate what we have seen above, a natural royal priesthood of the firstborn son seems implicit in the biblical narrative from Adam through the end of the patriarchal period, that is, throughout the Genesis narrative. In Exodus, this royal priestly primogeniture was offered to Israel in both a collective and individual sense: Israel was to be God’s firstborn son with a priestly role toward the nations (Exod 4:22; 19:6) and within Israel the firstborn sons (apparently) were to serve as ministerial priests (Exod 19:22, 24:5).138 This priestly firstborn role was forfeited by Israel to the Levites after the golden calf incident (Exod 32:25–28; Num 3:40–51). Thus the Levites were appointed to assume the covenant of priestly primogeniture in Israel, but they, in turn, forfeited the fullness of their covenant, first to Phinehas and his descendants (Num 25:12–13), and then further to the Zadokites (Ezek 44:9–15).

This in itself suggests that the Levitical covenant economy was not God’s original intent for Israel, but a remedial response to their hardheartedness. It may be viewed primarily as a corrective arrangement that naturally retains something of a provisional character. Israel stood in need of some temporary Levitical remediation, during which time the Levites would instruct and guide Israel in the practice of holiness, while retaining a subordinate share and a mediatory role in the original covenant vocation that God issued to his “firstborn son” to serve as “a kingdom of priests” (Exod 4:22; 19:6). In fact, future generations of Israel’s twelve (lay) tribes are nowhere forbidden from aspiring to merit the royal priestly call their fathers forfeited at Sinai and in the wilderness. This may have been the overarching purpose behind God’s dual covenant plan with Israel.

To use an architectural metaphor, the whole Levitical economy was a scaffolding erected around the House of Israel in order to repair it. The divine architect was free to use the Levitical priesthood for as long as it took to restore the House of Israel fully to the covenant. Thus, in the eschatological age when Israel’s idolatry (e.g., the sin of the calf) would be definitively overcome and the hard-hearted sinfulness of the people completely removed (Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 36:25–27), the Levitical economy would no longer be necessary, precisely because it had served its purpose. The scaffolding could be removed since the house had been repaired: the people would be restored to their original royal priestly primogeniture promised them before they sinned with the calf (Exod 4:22; 19:6).139 The Levitical covenant may be viewed primarily as a corrective arrangement, then, in which case it naturally retains something of a provisional character.

Third, the Levitical grant-type covenant is anomalous in that it is nowhere founded on an oath. We have observed that in general, an oath by the suzerain is a formal necessity for the establishment of a covenant of grant. Nonetheless, while having all the other features of a grant-type covenant, no divine oath for the Levitical covenant can be found in the Law, the Prophets, or the Psalms. This fact may be another indication of its apparent provisional character described above; in any event, we will see in Chapter 10 that the author of Hebrews sees in it evidence for the transience of the Levitical covenant.

Fourth, certain prophetic texts more or less explicitly suggest an eschatological change of the Levitical covenant economy. We leave out of consideration for the moment certain texts that imply the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood’s Temple (e.g., Isa 66:1–2), sacrifices (e.g., Isa 1:11; 66:3–4; Ps 50:7–15; 51:16–17), and covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Mal 2:1–9), since the interpretation of these texts is complex. A more obvious challenge to the perdurance of the Levitical priesthood is found in certain other texts of Isaiah which suggest an eschatological opening up of the priesthood to all of the Lord’s people and even foreigners:

For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues, and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations … and they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their cereal offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. (Isa 66:18–21 RSV)

The antecedent of “them” in v. 21 is ambiguous: it could refer to “your brethren” (presumably Israelites) from v. 20 or it could be the same “them” as in v. 19, namely, “all nations and tongues.” In either case, it suggests an eschatological age in which “priests and Levites” will no longer be selected only from the descendants of Levi but either from all Israelites or from all nations.

A general priesthood of all Israelites seems suggested by Isaiah 61:5–6:

Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their riches, you shall glory.

On the other hand, a priestly status even for foreigners seems suggested by Isaiah 56:6–7, which speaks of non-Israelites being able “to minister” (see Jer 33:21) to the Lord, “to be his servants” (see Num 4:28; 8:11, 15, 19, etc.), and (apparently) to offer acceptable sacrifices:

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isa 56:6–7 RSV)

Thus, we have four canonical considerations that would argue for the provisional nature of the Levitical covenant and its eventual alteration or cessation in the future age. On the other hand, certain biblical texts affirm the unbreakable perpetuity of the Levitical covenant of the priesthood. Besides Exodus 40:15 and Numbers 25:13, the most compelling prophetic texts in this regard are found (surprisingly) not in Ezekiel but Jeremiah:

For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn cereal offerings, and to make sacrifices for ever.…” Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me. (Jer 33:17–18, 20–22 RSV)

Here, in no uncertain terms, the Levitical covenant is made as permanent as the covenant with David and the covenant with all creation (cf. Sir 45:15, 24–25).

The tensions between this text and the considerations we have raised above are palpable. Is it possible that there is a biblical-theological solution to this tension which recognizes the Levitical covenant as, in some sense, both perpetual and provisional?

The status of the priesthood between the old and new covenants is addressed in the New Testament most directly by the Epistle to the Hebrews and First Epistle of Peter. Between these two epistles it is possible to construct a new covenant theology of priesthood in which the Levitical covenant is in one sense replaced, and in another sense, maintained and fulfilled.

Hebrews stresses the discontinuity between the priesthood of Christ and the Levitical priesthood. As we will see at greater length in Chapter 10, the author of Hebrews points out not only the lack of the requisite divine oath (Heb 7:20–21) but many other indications of the impermanence of the Levitical covenant economy as well. According to Hebrews, with the coming of Christ, the natural, royal priesthood of the firstborn son—lost to Israel since the golden calf—is restored (cf. Heb 1:2, 6; 7:1–28; etc). Since there is now adequate atonement, healing, and forgiveness for Israel’s sin (and that of all humanity), the Levitical economy that arose as a result of that sin is no longer necessary (Heb 10:11–18). To return to the architectural metaphor, the scaffolding of the Levitical covenant may be removed, because the purpose for which it had been constructed—the restoration of Israel’s royal priestly primogeniture—had been accomplished in Christ.

But is there any participation of the Lord’s people in this royal priesthood of Christ? The author of Hebrews suggests there is. In Hebrews 1:6, the author applies to Christ the theologically charged term ho prōtotokos, the firstborn, a status that entitles him to royal and priestly privileges (cf. Heb 7:15–17). The term is used only once more near the end of the Epistle, this time in the plural, when the author refers to his readers as the ekklēsia prōtotokōn, “the assembly [or church] of the first-born” (Heb 12:23 RSV). The faithful participate in Christ’s status as firstborn. It follows that the privileges of the firstborn, namely kingship and priesthood, accrue also in some sense to the individual believer.

This is made more explicit in 1 Peter 2:5, where the author speaks of his readers being “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Those “who believe” (v. 7) become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (v. 9). This brief verse clearly echoes Exod 19:5–6 as the author applies the concepts of sĕgullâ (“special possession”), mamleket kōhănîm (“royal priesthood”),140 and gôy qādôš (“holy nation”) to the Christian community. The theological message is clear: for those who believe in Christ, the corporate royal priestly primogeniture promised to Israel prior to the calf incident (Exod 19:5–6) is restored. Everyone “born anew” through Jesus Christ (see 1 Pet 1:3) partakes of this priesthood, including those who were priests and Levites under the old economy. The numbers of old covenant priests who came to faith in Christ were not negligible, according to Acts 6:7. These descendants of Levi who entered into the new covenant did not cease to be priests but became priests of a different sort. In Christ, the royal priestly firstborn, they became royal priestly firstborns (Heb 12:22). Thus, the promise of the grant-type covenant to Levi is never broken. The promise of the Levitical covenant was not that every single descendant of Levi (or Phinehas or Zadok) would serve as a priest, nor that his descendants and only his descendants would be legitimate priests, but simply that he would never lack descendants who would be priests before the Lord (cf. Jer 33:18; Sir 45:7, 15, 24; Exod 40:15, Num 25:13). In the new covenant, all God’s people participate in Christ’s priesthood—thus, nothing is taken away from the Levites who enter the new covenant. However, the rest of God’s people gain what previously only the Levites enjoyed. In this way, the covenant with the Levites is not broken, even though the bicovenantal economy under which the Levitical priesthood operated is replaced. The canonical tension between the permanence and transience of the Levitical covenant is resolved.

Finally, although no definitive treatment of the subject is possible here, we may note that Luke, in his account of the presentation (2:22–38), portrays Jesus as a holy firstborn Israelite with a natural priestly status.141 Most commentators note that this Lukan narrative is quite anamolous on careful reading. Luke describes Jesus as being dedicated or presented in the Temple in fulfillment of the Law. However, the Law did not require the presentation of each firstborn. Exodus 13:13 required all firstborn males to be redeemed, like an unclean donkey. Yet Luke’s quotation concerning the firstborn (2:23) is based not on Exodus 13:13 but on Exodus 13:1–2, which speaks not of the redemption of the firstborn but of their consecration to the Lord. Furthermore, Luke records no redemption ritual being performed for Jesus.142 C. H. Talbert describes the situation succinctly:

The prescription of Exod 13:2 concerning the first-born son was literally fulfilled in the case of Jesus, the firstborn (Luke 2:7), who was not ransomed (Exod 13:13; Num 3:47; 18:16). Contrary to normal custom, Jesus was dedicated to God and remained his property.… The closest parallel to this emphasis is found in 1 Samuel 1–2, where Hannah gives Samuel, at his birth, to the Lord for as long as the child lives.… If Jesus, in a similar manner, was dedicated to God and not redeemed, he belonged to God permanently. This would explain the reason Jesus would not understand why his parents did not know where to find him in Jerusalem (2:48–49): since he was God’s he could be expected to be in his Father’s house, as in the case of Samuel. At the plot level of the narrative, Jesus had made a personal identification with the decisions his parents had made about him at his birth.143

Talbert’s findings agree with those of B. Reicke: “Thus Lk 2:22 uses παραστῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ [parastēsai tō kuriō, to present to the Lord] in connection with the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and we best understand this in terms of the presentation of a sacral minister to his master. The author would seem to mean that like Samuel or a Nazirite Jesus is basically set in and dedicated to the service of God. In this Messianic sense the law of the consecration of the firstborn (Ex 13:2, 12–15) is here fulfilled, v. 23. The narrator is not implying, then, that this kind of presentation is normal for all Israelites.”144 Thus, Luke presents Jesus as a righteous firstborn who—unlike other Israelite males since the calf incident—is not redeemed from service to the Lord (Exod 13:13) since he is not unclean, but consecrated as a firstborn (Exod 13:1–2). As H. D. Park observes: “On the basis of the fact that Jesus is dedicated to the Lord not as a Levite or a priest but as a firstborn son in Lk 2:22–23, it seems justifiable to conclude that Jesus is consecrated to the Lord in the sense of a firstborn male and in the sense of a voluntary gift to the sanctuary.”145[1]

 

136 Some scholars believe that the origin of the (Essene?) community at Qumran may stem from the Zadokites losing the high priestly office. See F. M. Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961) 127–69; idem, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 334–42. But to the contrary, see A. Schofield and J. C. Vanderkam, “Were the Hasmoneans Zadokites?” JBL 124 (2005) 73–87; and more generally, J. C. Vanderkam, From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004).

137 The apparent cessation of the Davidic and Levitical covenants gave rise to messianic hopes, but the subject of “messianism” in later Judaism is fraught with complexity. Variations of Davidic and Levitical forms of “priestly messianism” emerged, like those found in the Qumran scrolls. See J. Marcus, “The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark,” JBL 111 (1994) 441–62, who notes: “Even at Qumran, where two Messiahs are expected, a Davidic one (‘the Messiah of Israel’) and a priestly one (‘the Messiah of Aaron’), the term ‘the Messiah,’ used absolutely, refers to the Davidic figure” (457 n. 76). On the larger subject, see D. L. Olayiwola, “Messianic Metaphor in Levitical Covenant,” Bible Bhashyam 17 (1991) 221–32; Zerafa, “Priestly Messianism in the Old Testament,” 318–41; W. M. Schniedewind, “King and Priest in the Book of Chronicles and the Duality of the Qumran Messiah,” JJS 45 (1994) 71–78; G. J. Brooke, “The Messiah of Aaron in the Damascus Document,” RQ 15 (1991) 215–30.

138 See N. H. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991) 107, who comments on the identity of “the priests” in Exod 19:22: “According to Exodus 28 and 29, the priesthood was not established in Israel until after the Sinaitic revelation, which would make the present reference to priests, like that in verse 24, an anachronism. Many modern scholars regard these verses as reflecting a different strand of tradition about the origins of the priestly institution. Jewish commentators understood ‘priests’ here as referring to first-born males, in that the latter functioned as priests until they were replaced by the Aaronids, as recounted in Numbers 3:11–13 and 8:16–18.” See also the comments of Wenham (Numbers, 97–98), on the dedication of the Levites at Sinai on the occasion of the “second passover” in Numbers 8–9: “Thus the dedication of the Levites to take the place of the first-born is very appropriate here [Num 8], for the next chapter describes the second passover.” Wenham also states: “The Levites are being substituted for the first-born Israelites, who as a result of the passover were given to the Lord” (98).

139 Briggs (Messianic Prophecy, 103) comments: “This is the way in which the seed of Abraham is to be a blessing to the world.… Thus Israel was called to a universal priesthood. This priesthood was prior to the establishment of any priestly office in Israel.… This universality in the calling of Israel as a nation is at the basis of all the Mosaic institutions, and was not abrogated by any subsequent legislation. The selection of an order of priesthood in Israel, at a subsequent time, did not do away with the universal priesthood of the nation. The establishment of a royal dynasty did not supersede the royalty of the nation. The promise maintained its validity in all the subsequent history of Israel.… In the priesthood of the nation there is the generic priesthood which advances through the Levitical, Aaronic, and Zadokite lines, until it culminates in the Messianic priest.”

140 On the translation, “royal priesthood,” rather than “kingdom of priests,” see John A. Davies, A Royal Priesthood: Literary and Intertextual Perspectives on an Image of Israel in Exodus 19:6 (JSOTSup 395; London: T. & T. Clark, 2004).

141 Note Luke’s description of Jesus as the firstborn of Mary in Luke 2:7, and commentary by J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke 1–9 (AYB 28; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980; reprint, New Haven: Yale University Press) 407.

142 R. Brown comments: “It has been argued that the reason why Luke does not mention the redemption of the child Jesus through the payment of the five shekels is that he wants the reader to think that Jesus stayed in the service of the Lord” as a priest (The Birth of the Messiah [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979] 449). See discussion in P. Gadenz, “The Priest as Spiritual Father,” in Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God (ed. S. Hahn and L. Suprenant; Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 1998), 228–29.

143 C. H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: Crossroad, 1989) 36. See also B. Reicke, “Jesus, Simeon, and Ana (Luke 2:21–40),” in Saved by Hope: Essays in Honor of Richard C. Oudersluys (ed. J. I. Cook; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 100: “In the present case, the prescription concerning the firstborn in Exod 13:2 was fulfilled literally, so that Jesus was really given to the Lord and not ransomed like other males in accordance with the instruction about substitute offerings added in Exod 13:13.… Against normal custom the child Jesus was thus dedicated to God, and remained his property. This exceptional obedience to God’s will implied fulfilling the law on its messianic level, that is, the law understood as evidence of the Lord’s dispensations for the salvation of his people.” Jesus is much like Samuel, Hannah’s firstborn son, who was dedicated to the Lord’s service (1 Sam 1:28), served as priest (1 Sam 2:11, 18), and replaced Eli the high priest as judge of God’s people (cf. 1 Sam 2:22–33, 4:18, 6:15). This fits into a larger Samuel-Christ typology-evident in the infancy narratives: one has only to compare the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55) with Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2:1–10) or the accounts of the growth of Samuel and Jesus in stature and favor (1 Sam 2:26; 3:19–4:1; Luke 2:40, 52). The possibility that Luke, in his description of the relationship of John to Jesus, is showing the provisional Levitical priesthood giving way to its fulfillment in a righteous firstborn Israelite who will be raised up as a faithful priest (1 Sam 2:35) and so restore the true priesthood of Israel, poses an intriguing avenue for further research.

144 B. Reicke, “παρίστημι, παριστάνω” TDNT 5:837–41, here 840–41. See also the following note.

145 H. D. Park, Finding Herem? A Study of Luke–Acts in the Light of Herem (LNTS 357; New York: T. & T. Clark, 2007), 160.

[1] Hahn, S. W. (2009). Kinship by covenant: a canonical approach to the fulfillment of God’s saving promises (pp. 166–172). New Haven;  London: Yale University Press.

CHRISTIANITY CONTRASTED WITH DEISM

CHRISTIANITY CONTRASTED WITH DEISM

CHRISTIANITY CONTRASTED WITH DEISM: OR THE PRESENT RELIGION OF FRANCE.

TO WHICH IS ADDED, AN ADDRESS TO THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE AND PIETY.

The Second Edition corrected, with Notes and Additions.

BY PETER PORCUPINE.

PHILADELPHIA. PRINTED FOR THE BOOKSELLERS. 1796.

INTRODUCTION.

THE boldest adventurers in reforming efforts were never fortified with sufficient temerity to adopt a system of religion truly rational or sublime. In all ages of the world, the mind of man has been prescribed to certain rules; a deviation from which would incur the severest penalties of persecution, and proscription. It is true, however, that new religions have been established; fresh ideas brought forward; rights, rituals, and ceremonies altered; but these were trifling improvements upon the general principles of common error; nothing having yet appeared truly rational, in the production of our most celebrated reformers.

The sect has generated sect, error producing an error, till at length Christians are divided into as many parties as the Indian tribes, and carry their superstitious scruples to such a length, as to exclude reason, as being incompatible with religion. But those who worship the Deity, contrary to the dictates of reason, must do it conformable to the rude custom of irrational, and savage barbarity, and may be compared to the men of Lystra, to whom, Paul said: “Him, therefore, ye ignorantly worship declare I unto you.”

Were our modern sectaries, who pretend to a superior refinement in the knowledge of scriptural science, permitted to control opinion, how dark and gloomy, how dull and uninteresting to a rational and intelligent being, would all religious treatises appear? And the author of the following sheets would suffer a persecution, no less rigorous than those instituted under the influence of the Popes; and receive as dreadful a sentence of proscription as those pronounced by the pious directors of the Inquisition. To such a length would Christian charity be extended by those who are intoxicated with the pernicious draughts administered by a mysterious religion to its blind votaries. But since opinion is in some measure free, nothing should deter us from propagating sentiments interesting to humans.

No sooner were the chains of monkish policy broken, and the mind of man permitted to explore the wide empire of reason, then an important truth was discovered, that an established Church, is an established tyranny; and if philosophers would pursue their speculations, they would find that all positive institutions of religion, are but a sanctified policy, which with propriety may be considered a holy deception, or a pious fraud. There is no religion extant destitute of able advocates; an Indian Fakier, or a Turkish Mufty, will defend his faith, with equal confidence, as an English bishop will support the Trinity or the divinity of Christ. Nor do I know any religion that would fall, for want of supporters, were they rewarded equally to a British prelate.

How must every human heart sympathize at the recollection of those enormities perpetrated under the specious name of religion—under the mild banner of a human God: those plots and conspiracies formed to propagate a divine system; these holy massacres instituted to establish a belief in holy writ, and those rewards given to Catholic murderers to destroy unbelieving heretics. But St. Dominic’s flaming faggots are finally consumed; the fires of Smithfield are extinguished; the dazzling sword of fanaticism is blunted; those gibbets exhibiting the carcasses of slaughtered heretics, to adorn the mother of Christianity, and of Rome, are moldered into dust, the sublime worship of saints, and the pious adoration of Idols, is left to our own discretion. Religious liberty, and the freedom of conscience is established among us on a pure and rational basis.

Let us then, in the name of GOD, remedy prevailing error, and remove stale prejudices, by contemplating boundless creation, which perpetually exhibits its captivating wonders around us, let us give free operation to the exercise of reason, and improve those moral faculties conferred on us from a source unknown; and finally, let us confide in a beneficent DEITY, to crown our labors with success.

THE AUTHOR.

CHRISTIANITY CONTRASTED WITH DEISM.

WHEN man feels himself possessed of new ideas or embraces sentiments on celestial or terrestrial objects, uncommon among the great mass of vulgar, he also feels, by instinct a propensity to lay them before the public, for the inspection of a regenerated people, recently emerged from the shackles imposed on them by knaves and impostors. Under this impression, I embark on the arduous task of being the public oppose of popular errors; trusting at the same time, that in exposing those religious foibles, to which deluded mankind are too fondly addicted, I shall not insult the good understanding of the well informed, nor abuse that scope of reason which kind nature has conferred upon me.

Could we but glance at futurity with equal facility as we view the actions of past generations, how would our souls be exalted on contemplating posterity, at so great a remove from rude barbarity, advancing by gradual steps to a more natural image of that perfection, which brightens the features of humanity, and exalts man to those high stations in human life, allotted him by his divine Creator.

Situated as we are in the middle passage between the future and the past, we cannot but look forward with consoling avidity on the rapid progress of human perfection, for, however retarded in its progress, by a combination of kings and priests, it has nevertheless succeeded in arresting scepters from the one, and miters from the other.

The almighty host of reason and of truth strikes deep at the root of evil, while ambiguous priests and their armies of spiritual slaves, grope in the obscure cells of fable and of mystery.

When we take a prospect of the past ages of the world, and recount the numberless enormities committed under the high-sounding sanction of a revealed religion, human nature recoils, and our souls revolt against so unnatural a system.

A liberal education, aided by rational liberty, and the light of reason, emboldens men to hazard opinions, at the present day, for which, in times of yore, the inquisitorial decrees of a vicious priesthood would consign him to the dungeon, and his works to the flames. But as these obstacles to human improvements are surmounted, and the superstitious worship paid to crowns and miters, nearly abolished; let us, while we reflect on past folly, endeavor to improve on modern wisdom.

It would be the work of a voluminous history to delineate the errors of former ages, the wars, and massacres, fomented by one faction of priesthood against another, each professing divine theological inspiration; the stretch of princely power, the cruelties exercised to establish religious tenets, the shifts and stratagems resorted to, in order to establish and seal with a vine impression, the doctrine of the victorious party; and the unnatural edicts of kings and national governors, to bind men down to these tenets, under pain of confiscation and excommunication. All these being foreign to my present plan, I shall proceed briefly to state some general objections to prevailing error and leave this age of philosophy to draw its own conclusion.

Our deluded ancestors were, for the most part, incapable of discriminating between sound reason and ambiguous sophistry, nor was holy writ more revered by them, than doubtful tradition, or human invention. Stories the most idle, and doctrines the most repugnant to nature and reason, never wanted legions of advocates; and cold steel, or flaming faggots, were applied as the cure of unbelief; hence sprung fanatism and frenzy, the offspring of a systematic ignorance established duplicity, art, and imposture.

The infatuated men of old, who idolized and adored the prophetic history, firmly believed it to be the handwriting of an unerring God, and yielding an implicit obedience to the interpretation of their Priests, conceived it too bold and presumptuous to reason for themselves, till at length they insensibly sunk into a blind tho’ tyrannical system of orthodoxy; which kept the world in chains of ignorance for many centuries. No sooner did a bold adventurer rouse from the bed of theology and start objections to the corrupt doctrines of the times, but he was silenced by an imperious, self-interested, and monopolizing clergy, who had no bounds to their usurpations, and scorned to live under any rational control. All reforming efforts prove abortive, while the clergy rules the roast.

At length, some disappointed Monks, or outvoted Cardinals, fired with revenge against the seer of Rome, publicly exposed the absurdities of current orthodoxy. They set up a new traffic for themselves: and as the success of one imposture proves a stimulus to various others, we find the Christian religion divided, and subdivided, into a variety of branches. Perseverance and artifice established every sect into a kind of licensed Order. All are possessed of divine grace; none are exempt from the promises of the gospel.

Kings chuse some favorite system, as the religion of the land; not for their own good, but for that of their loving subjects. The pious clergy reforming with the times, found it their interest to crouch to the foot of monarchy; royal letters patent, by the Lord’s anointed, sealed their dogmas with a divine mission. Separate establishments ensued; one church vied with another, sect accused sect of false doctrine, heresy, and schism: The Bible was resorted to as the rallying point of all controversies: divines of all descriptions treasuring it up, as the grand magazine, which heaven reserves for their mutual purposes. Like a free port for all nations, the Bible harbors all and supplies the contending parties with the implements of war and controversy. This Bible will confute in one passage the doctrine it approves in another. Tenets however doubtful can be proved by scripture, and fancy. From hence originated theological broils, and national calamities: with a variety of evils heaped on man, by the blind leaders in religious ceremonies, which we hope modern wisdom has finally put an end to.

We have now no further need of holy wars to fight the Lord’s battle, nor religious persecutions to establish the word of God; fagots need not be lighted, nor racks, nor gibbets erected, to propagate a divine theology, which has nothing for its object, but slavery to the laity, and revenue to the clergy.

Can a rational being suppose for a moment, that a religion descended from heaven, should spread such terror and desolation wherever it makes its appearance: or that a gracious God, would speak to his peculiar people, in a language not to be understood: or transmit to posterity, a history so obscure and unintelligible, as to leave us in eternal doubts and uncertainties: a history no less difficult to reconcile in all its parts, than to bring the two polar stars into one point: nothing can be a more glaring contrast, than the different constructions each sect puts upon the words of the Bible. To believe what they all say, is impossible, and how to discriminate we know not. Shall we then renounce the fabric, with all its fiction, rhapsodies and concomitant absurdities: or shall we still keep growling in the dark and never find our way, shall we nod approbation to a system of blind mysteries, and refuse to embrace those truths conveyed to us by the light of nature and of reason? we see the Christian world convulsed and agitated, and it only requires the virtuous exertions of enlightened men to restore those captive slaves, under the bondage of Priests, to the family of freemen.

The few remaining fanatics will not fail to brand us with their usual epithets of changelings, shifted about by every wind of doctrine, a natural man, carnally minded, with other cant phrases. But may we not with equal justice retort, and accuse them of shifting their ground, changing from primitive institutions, and borrowing their maxims from the most notorious errors. What are the whole chain of reformers, but the offspring of popery, the illegitimates of superstition and idolatry? If fortunately for the good of man, we could dissipate the clouds that cover so many mysteries and remove the errors of human invention, we should be better able to confute the proud presumption of those who threaten with the vengeance of heaven, all who attempt to alter one tittle of their ritual.

Liberty of thought says the philosopher, is the first of rights, and the most respectable domain, is that of conscience: these being the gifts of nature conferred on man,” who shall say we have not the right to examine.

May we not then under the hopes of impunity examine the precepts of the Christian system, and see whether its boasted morality excess those of other nations, so much reprobated by Christians. We shall

First, with submission to the clergy of all nations, examine the holy order of those missionaries sent by Christian kings, and Roman Pontiffs, to convert infidel nations to Christianity:

Secondly, we shall notice the exemplary virtues of those patriots who graced the golden age: these we shall do by a reference to their respective histories, after which we shall proceed,

Thirdly, to analyze the venerable system of Christianity.

These three things were promised, we proceed, first, to examine the conduct of these Christian missionaries who have traveled into foreign countries to spread the light of the gospel. These, instead of convincing the natives, that they excelled in the practice of moral virtues, have given the loose to every kind of vice, and outdone in every species of plunder and debauchery, those who have lived without religion, and without laws. They had committed every enormity that could make human nature appear monstrous. Few can be ignorant of the cruelties committed by the Spanish missionaries at Mexico and Peru, where they built churches at the expense of the inhabitants, and endeavoring to explain the mysteries of their religion to the natives, in a language of which they were totally ignorant, and afterwards piously slaughtered them as heretics, for not believing what had been so clearly demonstrated to them. When these missionaries had conquered the Island of Hispaniola, they made peace with the natives upon conditions that they would cultivate all their lands for the use of the servants of Jesus, and to furnish them with a certain quantity of Gold every month. The poor wretches finding the task unsupportable, as well as impossible, took shelter in the mountains to screen themselves from their cruel oppressors, but the Spaniards in justice (as they said) to the injuries offered by the natives to God’s people, trained their dogs to hunt them, and fired with superstition, made a vow that each of them would destroy twelve Indians every day, in honor of the twelve apostles; to this might be added a brilliant history of the plunders and ravages committed by our much respected mother country, upon the plains of Hindostan, but, humanity recoils at the dismal recital.

From a view of such scenes of cruelties committed under the banner of a meek and suffering God, and by the real professors of his holy religion, what inference can we draw, but that they look upon their religion to be a mere farce, and the Bible upon which it is founded, to be all a lie.1

We now proceed to notice in the second place the exemplary virtues of our primitive patriots. Men are so infatuated even to this day, that they affect to look back with a reverential awe, and devoutly honor the past periods of the world, with the splendid title of the golden age, admiring what is past, and despising what is present, with the hardened epithet of the age of iron. They indeed affirm, without much authority, that in the patriarchal ages, the earth brought forth her abundance spontaneously, that the Lion and the Tyger were harmless as the Lamb, and that mankind free from tumultuous passions, lived in the utmost simplicity and security: but if the Bible did not confute such accounts, I should not be able to do it, under the authority of that confused and barbarous history, of which the following is a brief abridgment. Instead of all virtue then existing upon earth, the fate of the abandoned cities which were consumed with fire, said to be from heaven, is a proof to the contrary, and gives us an example of the total corruption of ancient times. The diffidence that every man entertained of his neighbor, is no weak argument in favor of their dishonesty. Abraham and Isaac both apprehended that they would be slain for the sake of their wives, and it was no uncommon thing for a man to require an oath of his neighbor that he would do him no harm.

The stories of Judah and Tamer, his daughter in law, and the rape of Dinah, gives us a just idea of the debauchery and injustice of God’s chosen people—Judah condemned Tamer for the crime he had committed with her; —The perfidious sons of Jacob slew the Shechemites after they had ratified a treaty of peace with them, in the most solemn manner;— Jacob bargained with his uncle to serve seven years for his daughter Rachel: when the time expired, Laban shamefully imposed upon him Leah, and had the effrontery to justify what he had done, and exacted another seven years for Rachel;—Jacob deceived his brother Esau;— the sons of Jacob sold their brother Joseph as a slave to the Egyptians;—Moses committed murder; David contrived to have Uriah slain, that he might enjoy his wife Rebecca;—Solomon committed boundless fornications;—and Absalom in the most shameless manner, cohabited with a multitude of women, before a numerous people.

Such, pious Christians, are the accounts of the peculiar favorites of the Deity, recorded in the divine volume, so much admired by ignorance and credulity. But, when Christianity took effect, were crimes less usual? Does history paint mankind as meliorated at so great an event? alas! the reverse is the fact. Gloomy superstition started up accompanied by persecution, which drenched the world in blood. Rome erected a spiritual authority, and indiscriminately trampled on the rights of God and Man; Christian Saints succeeded heathen Gods: witchcraft and miracles were opposed to the eternal unerring laws of nature. On looking over a vast desert of eighteen centuries, we find that Christianity has been the parent of ignorance, and the hand-maid of oppression, cruelty, and superstition. Blind mysteries and fabulous tales are the spiritual food dressed up for the faithful in Jesus Christ.

When Rome, the proud mistress of superstition, assumed a spiritual and temporal authority over all Europe, she not only fettered men’s minds to slavish doctrines but presumptuously laid an embargo on heaven. No more angels shall descend from thence to minister unto men; no more prophets shall predict the will of God; no more miracle to confound the obstinate, but such as are wrought by her own members; and those, like the miracles of Jesus, are done in secret, and seen only by the credulous ignorant. Yet these imaginary phenomenon’s have been trumpeted afar off by the oracles of deceit and were the grand instruments in duping the Christian world into a servile submission to superstitious formalities and idle ceremonies. When a few Christian States reformed from the errors of popery, and shook off the pope’s supremacy, the clergy piously preserved to themselves the means of power and monopoly. They changed indeed the name of their religion, but they firmly maintain the aggrandizing benefices. They are continually disclaiming against the damnable doctrine of the Roman church, who in her turn accuses them of heresy. Thus, an irreconcilable difference pervades the whole mass of Christian professors. The Christian saints are considered as the tutular deities, who preside over the churches dedicated to them. The Catholics have a day which they consecrate to the memory of seven thousand holy virgins, who slept three years and thought it but one night. The English have their St. George; the Scotch their St. Andrew; the Welch their St. Taffy; the Irish their St. Patrick, &c. Churches are dedicated to these imaginary saints, and days religiously observed to commemorate their virtues.

In this country we smell too strong of the old leaven, our churches are dedicated to us know not who, and though we profess to be the most liberal in our religious principles, we have not one church in this great continent dedicated to the supreme Being. Reason dictates, that when we enter a temple, consecrated to religious worship, it ought to be dedicated to the being therein worshipped. The God of nature being the grand object of all rational adoration, every house of worship should be dedicated to him alone. But the great trait in the Christian system is its pre-eminence in the science of contradiction; Christians contemn a deist for unbelief, but they cannot accuse him of idolatry.

A deist believes in a supreme being without an equal, or a troop of infernal deities, called devils or damned spirits. A deist contemplates the glory of omnipotence, in the minutest of his works, and worships God in every particle of his creation; a deist presumes not to dictate to the almighty, what blessings he shall give, or what evils to withhold; a deist is convinced by reason and experience that human petitions will never alter the will of providence; a deist endeavors to make himself happy in his present state, contemns no man for opinions; is liberal, candid, and communicative to all men. But a Christian worships three Gods in the person of one God: and in defiance to the science of numbers contends that, three times one is one, and that, once one is three; he petitions the deity in the most absolute and dictatorial manner; he is dissatisfied with what he has, and is continually coveting more; contemns those who differ from him in opinion, and is ready to persecute his brother to do his God a service. In short, a Christian, is illiberal, narrow minded, and uncharitable in the extreme. They tell us that their God is his own son; that this son is his own father, and that he was born unbegotten, being four thousand years older than his mother. Three Gods are but one God; three eternals are but one eternal, three Almighties are but one Almighty; in short, almost every tenet in the Christian system, is a complete negative to itself.

We shall now contrast a few passages of the sublime medley, called the Bible, by comparing its former with its latter parts, and shewing the difference between the old and new word of God. In the former part we are informed that Elijah never tasted death, but that he was hoisted off alive to heaven in a chariot of fire; in the latter part we are informed that it is appointed to all men once to die: and that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Whether Elijah was a man or a composition of flesh and blood, I leave the Christian doctors to determine. Moses tells us to resist evil and seek restitution for injuries done unto us, even to so nice a fraction, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth &c. But Christ in direct opposition to him, tells us to resist not evil, and if any one shall smite us on the one cheek, turn unto him the other also. As these two divine legislators differ so materially in their preceptories functions, it is impossible to adhere to them both: and those pious Christians who believe all the Bible to be the revealed will of God, must plainly see that in these opposite precepts, God contradicts himself: which destroys the idea of his being an unchangeable God, the same today, tomorrow, and forever.

How chimerical are those notions which suppose that an infinite God, in the person of man, or angel, should in his flight thro’ immensity, perch upon this earth, and relate those contemptible stories, about Sampson and his foxes: Balaam and his ass: Jonah and his whale: Bell and his dragons, or Tobit and his dog. Two is better than one, that which is crooked cannot be made straight; that which is wanted can never be numbered: with a variety of such frivolities, as are too insignificant to amuse the feeble genius of a child. Such never can be the language of a God infinite in wisdom.

Fellow citizens, insult not the deity by attributing to him a work so barbarously written, as that book called the Bible. Let the following passages serve as a sample of the base production. “Now go and smite Amalek and destroy all that they have, and spare them not: but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass, &c. Again —Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow, let his children be continually vagabonds and beg, let them seek their bread in desolate places, let the extortioner catch all that he hath, and let the stranger spoil his labor, let there be none to extend mercy on him, neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children, let his posterity be cut off, and in the generation following, let their names be blotted out.” The first of these passages carries with it all the marks of cruelty and injustice, and urges the execution of an act shocking to humanity: while the second passage seems rather the language of an infernal demon, than that of a just and merciful God. The only apology, for this last passage, is, that it is the composition of a royal prophet. As for the Psalms of David, the Songs of Solomon, of Deborah and Baruk, they were sung in the camps of the Israelites and in the cities of Judea and Jerusalem, as Homer’s works were sung in the cities of Greece and Athens. Our Bible makers, however, took infinite pains to collect together those scattered remnants of oriental poetry, calling them the word of God: and metamorphosed David into a pious Christian.

On closely examining this holy Bible I find it to be the dregs of ancient folly and presumption. Some parts of it pretend to give an history of the antediluvian and the first ages of the past diluvian world: other parts describe God’s dealings with man, under the Jewish economy, where all nature is said to be inverted to convince those blind people of their errors: yet it appears that God’s government over them was ineffectual, and void of energy. The upholder of worlds could not keep these people in proper subjection; he was therefore, according to this Bible, obliged to resign his command, and suffer a people, for whom he had so parental an affection, to become the common vagrants of the earth. Other parts of this holy book predict what God will do in time to come: but as no specific time is affixed to any event, our zealous partisans are making daily discoveries of the fulfilments of the prophecies.

There is I think one passage of the Bible which bids fair never to be accomplished, while a Christian king is in existence, and which might be truly verified, if those devouring monsters were finally extirpated, viz. “they shall turn their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” When Saul was a peasant, he enquired of a prophet concerning his father’s asses, but when he mounted a throne, his majesty consulted a witch on the success of a battle; such is the universal piety of kings.

A wretch more infernal than either witch or Devil, would be consulted by a king with avidity, while in pursuit of conquest, fame, and ambition.

I now proceed to examine those events called miracles, recorded in the sacred history.

The famous miracle of the red sea dividing, and affording a dry passage to Moses and his followers claims the first rank. If the history of Egypt deceives me not, I find the same sea afforded a similar passage to Alexander the Great and his whole army, when they were pursuing victory, to the destruction of the Persian empire. We are as well assured that the red sea divides once a year in that particular spot, as we are of the hurricanes in the West Indies, or the monsoon in the East Indies. The second grand miracle, is that of the sun’s standing still at the command of Joshua. As this mighty miracle is fully confuted by the Newtonian system of astronomy, I shall pass it by without a single comment. If then, the two greatest miracles upon record are either accounted for, or confuted by the laws of nature, what credit ought to be given to those little tricks played off in the dark by magicians and soothsayers. That Moses was a crafty and arbitrary legislator appears evident from his own account. He took the advantage of thick hazy weather to go up to the mountain, where he affected to consult the deity, and then returned with his head full of proclamations, saying, “thus saith the Lord.” The deluded people, being duped, paid the most religious regard to all his precepts which for the most part were exceedingly stupid.2 His successors pursued the same maxims. Nothing could pass into a law, until it was sanctioned by divine approbation: this once obtained, it was proclaimed with another, “Thus saith the Lord.” Who can justify the bald prophet, in calling from the woods two she bears to devour forty and two little children: or can we suppose that the wisest man that ever lived should be the chief of adulterers and fornicators: though at a period when incapable of further excesses, he made a fortunate discovery, “that all was vanity.” But, passing over those wise men, murderers and miracle makers, I shall proceed to make some observations on the New Testament: and here I trust that every rational Christian, who seriously considers this subject, will look back with horror upon his former folly, and reflect upon himself, for being so long the dupe of faction, the sport of impostures and the victim of deceit.

The Christian system is prefaced with one of the most extravagant fables ever recorded, a fable so much dwelt upon as the source of all human miseries, as renders it impossible for me to pass it over without some animadversions. I allude to the wars in heaven, which, by the by, are only a prelude to the fall of man.

I know not the time, in which this rebellion is said to have happened, but the history of this memorable event is as follows: Satan, once the highest angel in heaven, and next in power to the Deity, stimulated by ambition, aspired to the throne, and with a vast number of his confederates conspired against the supreme power. The deity apprised of the evil imaginations of the insurgents, whose intentions were to dethrone him, immediately summoned a numerous army, at the head of which he placed Jesus Christ, then angel Gabriel, and conferred upon him the high office of commander in chief of the heavenly host. The progress of the proud conspirator was impeded, after a most desperate battle, in which the superior generalship of Jesus Christ, and the valiant powers of his royal army, proved victorious. Satan’s troop of infernals, being so completely routed, as rendered it impossible for him to rally his forces, or take the field a second time. General Jesus pursued his victory, and kept close to the rear of Satan’s retreating army, until he had finally driven the rebels beyond the boundaries of heaven.3

So wonderful was this war conducted that not one soldier was killed, wounded, or taken prisoner on either side, during the whole campaign.

We must further observe that the conduct of the Deity was widely different from that of the present rulers of the world: who immediately execute those that resist their government. The Deity pursued a different plan; he added another limb to creation by forming a place called Hell; he put a crown upon the head of Satan, and gave him the sovereign dominion over that vast empire, with full power and authority, to commit all manner of depredations upon the inhabitants of this earth, as if we had been a party concerned in the rebellion. The first shock we sustained, by this infernal Monster, was at a time when he had taking a country airing in the garden of Eden, where he assumed the form of a serpent, and by the charms of his eloquence, and the rattling of his tail, he prevailed on mother Eve to eat an apple, by which all mankind would have been eternally damned if the Deity had not ratified a treaty of amity and commerce between Satan and the clergy about 1796 years ago.

The conditions of this treaty, for inhumanity cruelty, and injustice, surpasses all rational belief. The preamble is briefly this: a virgin was overshadowed by the holy Ghost: this holy Ghost was God: the virgin conceived, and brought forth a son: this son was God also. There is something very puzzling to make it appear, that Christ is the second person in the trinity. If the holy Ghost overshadowed the virgin Mary and that she conceived by him; then the fruits of that conception must be the son of the holy Ghost: of course, he is the grandson of God, the third person in the trinity, and not the second. But my business is not to prove doctrinal points, I shall therefore leave the doctors of mysteries to manage this part of the subject.

After this God, or, son of God, had lived for thirty years in the most perfect poverty and wretchedness, he commenced the profession of an itinerant preacher; and, in consequence of his seditious tenets, he was accused before the chief judge, who sentenced him to death, which he accordingly suffered. It is said that Christ predicted all this himself, and that it was necessary he should die for the sins of the world. Yet it is remarkable, that the people who executed so necessary a work, should of all others be so much reprobated by Christians.

When Christ was expiring upon the cross he said to one of his fellow sufferers,

this day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

This was the last speech of a poor unfortunate God. But the creed makers assert that he descended into hell. Whether then to believe Christ, or creed mongers, is at the option of the reader, for my part, I believe neither. After Christ was taken down from the cross, he was packed up in a stone sepulcher, and a centurion placed at the mouth of the cave to prevent the corps from being stolen away. Christ however, found means, without breaking the seal, or alarming the sentinel, to creep out of the sepulcher, and take a journey all the way to hell: and was so expeditious, as to return in less than three days, and took his position as before. Fortunately for the Christians, but quite the reverse for the Jews, the sentinel fell fast asleep, and afforded a most special opportunity for an angel to descend from heaven,4 who rolled the stone from the mouth of the sepulcher, and let out Jesus, alive and well, safe and sound. After this, Jesus appeared to a few of his former disciples and gave them some directions concerning their future ministry, when, lo! he took wings and flew up to heaven.

Thus, ends the whimsical history of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection: on which I shall make a few remarks, by way of illustration. I have not knowledge enough in mysteries to know what Christ’s business could be in hell, unless it was to pay his court to the royal family, and, by his personal appearance, convince Prince Satan that the treaty was ratified on his part, by which we were purchased of the Devil, whose property we were before the crucifixion. A papist will inform us, the better to establish the doctrine of purgatory, that Christ did not descend into the hell of the damned, having no sin to answer for. A protestant will retort, that he did not descend into purgatory, because, having no sin, he need not go there for purification: but most Christians agree, that he descended into hell to preach the gospel to the damned, and this clenches the argument at once. I must give it as my opinion that Christ’s stay was too short in hell to deliver many sermons, and that if he was accustomed to preaching from notes, as most of our modern divines are, they were in danger of being scorched by the flames; or, perhaps the climate was too hot to agree with his constitution, and this obliged him to make so speedy a return to the more temperate regions of Asia. The vulgar are led to believe that hell is somewhat below us, or in the bowels of the earth, which notion is chimerical, nor is it possible to know what part of the creation this tremendous abyss occupies. If we may judge from the gestures of divines, in their pulpit harangues, heaven appears to be above us and hell below us, for when they mention heaven they look up, and when they mention hell they look down, it is like looking up for the sun, and down for the moon.

If Christ did really leave the sepulcher, and descend into hell, could he not with equal facility, have risen from the dead, without the assistance of an angel: and made a public appearance before that tribunal which condemned him to death. If he predicted that he would rise the third day after his crucifixion, would not those who pronounced his sentence have anxiously awaited the fulfilment of such predictions, or, if he did rise from the dead, should he not have made his resurrection of equal publicity, as his crucifixion; this he should have done unless he was afraid of being crucified a second time.

If darkness obscured the air, if the earth shook with a convulsive pang, if the vale of the temple was rent at Christ’s crucifixion, he should, at his resurrection, have dashed to atoms the sepulcher wherein he was laid, the proud temple should have been shattered into dust. The palace of Caiphus, and the hall of Pilot, should vanish like smoke, and a thousand phenomenon’s should have taken place, to convince the Jews, that the great Being, whom they crucified, was now risen from the dead, agreeable to his own prediction. But alas! Nothing like this had happened, everything was silent.

In the name of common sense, what great and mighty works did Christ perform, what godlike acts, or monuments of fame did he leave behind to establish his divinity? His greatest miracles are equaled, if not exceeded in the Old Testament. We grant that he destroyed a whole herd of swine, and a troop of devils, at one stroke, he cursed the barren fig-tree, and made a triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem, mounted upon an ass said to be stolen; with a variety of other feats, which taken in the aggregate, make rather against than for his divinity.

Had Christ left anything wonderful, for the world to behold, we would suspend all doubts respecting his mission. But doing so little we have just cause to suspect the whole system to be a fraud piously contrived by a few early impostors. Had he caused a fountain to spring from the dry land and raised its summit to the utmost ken of human sight; had he caused the cross whereon he was crucified to take root, and grow to the size of Babel’s tower, remaining an everlasting monument of his atoning merits; —these might be irresistible proofs of his divinity. But the tale is related without authority, and credited without evidence.

Having shown the feeble principles upon which the Christian system is founded, I proceed to other observations.

Christ says, “Lo I am with you even unto the end of the world.”5 If so, why such distraction among Christians; or why not make another visible appearance, and set matters right; and not give the poor clergy so much room to complain about want of faith; nor exclaim that Christianity is losing ground, and that Deism is gaining hard upon them. Do they insinuate that Satan has violated the treaty, or that he is more powerful than the Almighty; surely not. That there is a want of faith among Christians is evident, else mountains would be rolled about like pebble stones.

In short, under the most favorable circumstance in which we can view the Christian system, it has all the marks of fraud and imposition; its sole basis is founded upon fable, and its rubric more irrational than the heathen worship.

After these bold declarations, me thinks, I hear some Christian exclaim, what, are we to have but one God; Are we to have no Jesus Christ to redeem us; Are we to have no holy Ghost to sanctify us; Are we to have no infernal Demons to inflict torments? Why this would be to unhinge the whole order of our system, and place at once the righteous and the ungodly upon an equal footing. Surely Sirs, little need be said to prove that one true God, is better than a thousand false ones: as for Jesus Christ, he never redeemed you; neither has the holy Ghost sanctified you; these are but the catch words of priest-craft. Men are as independent of these step ladders, by which to climb up to heaven, as they were ten thousand years ago. If Jesus Christ has redeemed you, why terrify the vulgar with the fears of hell? (as for the learned of all nations they have no fear about it.) If the holy Ghost has sanctified you, in what manner does the sanctification appear? Are Christians more honorable or honest in their way of dealing? are they freer from debauchery and vices of every kind than other men? With sorrow I repeat it, the reverse is the melancholy truth. A little Turkish morality, annexed to the purest precepts of the Christian gospel, would constitute a better religion than any now in vogue.

It requires a round faith indeed to credit the existence of a monstrous devil, or that there is such a place as hell, I disbelieve both: yet I am far from the opinion that the righteous and the ungodly will be upon an equal footing; for the same God who reserves to himself the power to reward virtue, will also punish vice, independent to agents, demy gods, or infernal demons. As for unhinging the whole order of the Christian system, that can never be effected while the duplicity of the clergy, and the blind credulity of the laity are proof against reason and common sense, for, truly, such is the system of piety preserved by Christians, that if a man, conscious of the duty he owes his maker, undertakes to vindicate the moral character of the deity, in opposition to the corrupt passages of current orthodoxy, he is sure to be stigmatized with the most opprobrious epithets, and none more contemptible than that of a Deist. It is a truth that I am a Deist, I wish to live a Deist, and hope to die a Deist, yet I shall reproach no man for being a Christian.

The Bible on which the Christian system is founded, exhibits doctrines repugnant to each other, and inculcates principles highly injurious to the moral happiness of man, it delivers precepts of doubtful meanings, and are therefore liable to be disputed, neither do the trumpeters of the Bible’s praise, think proper to be governed by it, but follow their own course of life as heedless as if they had no such thing as a Bible to be governed by. This book is written in such figurative and ambiguous language, hyperboles, and metaphorical phrases, that it appears only calculated to puzzle creed-makers, miracle men, and soul-saviors.

When the church of Rome had the Bible under lock and key closely concealed from the people, mankind was anxious to know the contents of the sacred deposit, but the moment it was divulged its frivolity appeared, and the more this book is read, the less it is regarded. I firmly believe that if this Bible could be generally read without prejudice, there would not be a Christian in existence fifty years hence; it lays down no system of religion whatever, but is equally calculated to establish Atheism as Christianity, and is but a wanton burlesque upon God and his providence. It has done less good, and more real mischief, than any other book that ever was printed.6

If Christianity was instituted for making men better than they would otherwise be, to curb their unwieldy passions, and prevent those murders, massacres, and inhuman butcheries, so frequently committed by Christian against Christian, we find it has entirely missed its aim, and woeful experience proves how prevalent such cruelties are at this day in almost every corner of the Christian world. Not less than two million of Christians including the slaves of despots, have been murdered, massacred, and slain in battle, in the space of four years. Is not this in due conformity to Christ’s words,

Think not that I am come to bring peace upon earth,

no, but to set families and friends at variance: the true character of a Christian then, is to live in a continual state of warfare. And behold one of the most gracious kings in Europe, in justice to his profession, proclaims to the world that he is called upon by his religion, to prosecute with vigor the most infamous war, that ever degraded the page of history. If then the Christian religion is of a celestial origin, as its professors proudly boast it to be, would it, or could it, possibly admit of so many enormities. In short, view it in every direction and it appears a monster in full perfection.

Christ is represented to us as the Prince of peace, though he says himself, that he is not come to bring peace upon earth. O sublime contradiction, peace in one hand, and war in the other, welcome most noble prince to this world below.

It is not, I am persuaded the sublimity of the Christian system that invites so many to its communion, when children, our parents lead us to their respective churches, and train us up to their different ceremonies; but when we begin to think for ourselves, discovering errors not easily digested, we renounce our first rituals, and embrace another doctrine, in order, if possible to arrive at some rational certainty; instead, however, of improving here, we find other tenets equally disgusting, from this we change perhaps to a third, where similar errors still exist, at length, fatigued by making fruitless researches after rational and comprehensive doctrines, we abjure our reason, and join the common cry that “all is mystery.” This was absolutely the case with me for near forty years, till finding with all my endeavors to sift out some consistent mode of worship, I was only changing from one absurdity to another, at length I solemnly renounced them all. Is it not the same with the people of this continent, as it is with those of other countries, who take their religion by chance, not by choice.

If the grand Turk of Constantinople had established a colony in America, instead of the king of Britain, we should be all Mahometans, we should then say of Christians, as the Christians now say of the Mahometans. The reason why a child is brought to the synagogue to be circumcised is because his father was a Jew, and he becomes a Jew himself for the same reason that his father was a Jew before him.

Suppose we were in a mere state of nature, destitute of any religion whatsoever; and that all the religious extant were laid before us to choose from among them one; it is a query which we should prefer; probably that which appeared the most rational. In this case, I see nothing in the Christian religion that would give it the preference to the Pythagorean system; and it is probable Mahomet’s Quran would take the lead of the Mosaic Bible.

As for the Christian religion I know not what it is; Christ never instituted any, he only taught a few scraps of moral philosophy; the whole history of his life, and doctrines might be comprised in a six-penny pamphlet, who taught us then that this man was God? Did he ever say so himself? No. Did any of his disciples say so? certainly not. Christ has not left a single paragraph on record by which we may know his real sentiments; he had no learning in consequence of his poverty, of which he made great merit, and wished none to follow him, but those who are equally poor as himself. But we discover a striking contrast in the professors of his doctrines. He was illiterate, they are learned; he was poor, they are rich; he was humble, they are arrogant. In short, he was destitute, but they have abundance.

Having stretched this second proposition to some length I now proceed in the third place to analyze the venerable system of Christianity, and here I shall endeavor to demonstrate three propositions:

First, that the Christian religion is impracticable.

Second, that it is inconsistent with reason, and

Thirdly, that it is unnatural.

First then; that the Christian religion is impracticable, appears from the following precepts, which enjoins us to pray without ceasing, to sell all and follow Christ, to cut off our hands and pull out our eyes, in case they should offend us, to love our enemies; bless them that curse us, and pray for them that persecute and despitefully use us, &c. Great stress is laid upon the first of these precepts, but we are assured from long experience, that our prayers are ineffectual, and perhaps the reason is best assigned by the apostle, who tells us, that we receive not, because we ask in vain: What then is the use of asking? have we not innumerable instances that human petitions never altered the divine will? David was three days and nights in prayer for the recovery of his child; the answer was, thy child shall die. Are not all the kings of Europe, assisted by their clergy, almost incessantly supplicating the deity in the name of Jesus, for the success of their respective armies. But the God of battle hears them not; neither is it possible to pray without ceasing, because the time required to procure the necessaries of life, is about two thirds, and the remaining time is scarce sufficient for rest and refreshment; therefore, to suppose a man can be in prayer continually, is to suppose an impossibility.

“To sell all and follow Christ, is a precept delivered to the laity only, it does not affect the clergy, as appears by their love of riches, and in general this doctrine has had a contrary tendency, for the more pious and religious the Christian, the more greedy after gain; point out to me a devout Christian, and I will point out to you in the same person, a miserable worldly muck-worm.

“To cut off our hands, or pull out our eyes,” may be a kind of hyperbole, or figurative speech, it is therefore the province of some learned doctor of divinity to explain how far these precepts can be compiled with.

To love our enemies, bless them that curse us and pray for them that persecute and despitefully use us,

are precepts that look well on paper, though it is not the weakest part of Christian philosophy that can strengthen our resolution, or restrain our resentment of injuries done unto us; nor is it common among Christians to kneel and pray for the being who is at the same moment cursing them. “To love our enemies,” is a precept strongly urged by the pleaders of the pulpit, but the pleaders of the bar preach a different doctrine; and if the greater number of adherents amounts to a proof in favor of any precept, we must evidently declare for the latter; consequently, the preachers of the bar not those of the pulpit, are inspired by the holy Ghost.

Secondly, that the Christian religion is inconsistent to reason, will appear by the following. “If a man smites you on one cheek turn unto him the other: he who steals your coat, give him your cloak also: take no thought of to-morrow, neither seek what ye shall eat, drink, or wherewith ye shall be clothed.” All these precepts are truly Christian, and how far they can be compiled with, common experience plainly demonstrates. That they are inconsistent with moral happiness, is beyond all doubt. As for encouraging a thief, or tamely submitting to assault and battery, as applied by the two first articles, it is contrary to the principles of moral justice, or public order. The law of retaliation, as thought by Moses, is far more rational, and, I need not say, more universal. He who takes no “thought for to-morrow, nor seeks what he shall eat, drink, or wherewith he shall be clothed,” would be considered as an idle vagabond; he would be destitute of credit or respect; he would be covered with rags and poverty, and discarded from all society. Nay, where is the Christian, be he ever so pious, that is not anxious to day, for the bread he hopes to consume to-morrow. Even the clergy, the most righteous of all men, are particularly nice in their table furniture; resembling the rich man talked of in the gospel, “They are clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day.”

I shall now proceed thirdly, to shew that the Christian religion is unnatural. “When thou make a feast, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsman, nor thy rich neighbors &c. But when thou make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the halt, and the blind. Except ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Except ye are born again, and become as little children, ye can never enter the kingdom of heaven &c. These are the express words of Christ, consequently they are positive rules, proper to be obeyed by every professor.

The first of these precepts denies a Christian the social enjoyment, which naturally results from friendly visits, and rational entertainments; it confines a Christian to the company of poor, lame, and blind beggars. This precept is so unnatural, that those who have voluntarily chosen Christ for their head, never obey it. Even those who pretend to have obtained patents from heaven, for being ushers in Christ’s school, pay no regard to it, but run through life with as little remorse, or shame at a breach of it, as the most obstinate unbelievers. Can we suppose that a right reverend father in God, by divine providence, a true disciple of Jesus Christ, should provide a sumptuous entertainment, and sit down to glut and gormandize with his rich neighbors, to the total exclusion of the poor, the lame, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, when conscious that he is thereby violating an express command of his lord and master. Or shall we suppose that these right reverends are concealed infidels who believe nothing of the matter? The words of Christ are plain and express, they are not in a lofty stile of language, neither are they hyperboles, or figurative speeches, that mean more than is expressed; they are plain words that do not admit of double dealing. If then these rules of life, laid down by Christ himself, are improper, as well as unnatural, and professors indulge themselves in a total neglect of them, is it not the duty then of our first rate divines to unfold this riddle?

“Except ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” It is impossible to enumerate the volumes of controversy this text has given rise to, the contentions it has created, or the tons of human blood it has shed. To suppose that Christ offered his disciples real human flesh to eat, and natural human blood to drink, is so barbarous and inhuman as to shock our grossest feelings. This is one of the Christian mysteries never to be understood, and because of its sublimity it is construed into a sacrament, wherein bread is, by the conjuration of a priest, transubstantiated into flesh, and wine eucrastised into blood, and this bread and wine is taken and received by the faithful “as the real body and blood of Christ.” Thus, a system of cannibalism spiritualized, is the most fundamental tenet in the Christian religion.

“Except ye are born again, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” If by being born again, signifies changing from one rule of faith to another, there are few Christians who have not been born and reborn repeatedly. Whether Christ means this kind of re-generation, I know not, it is however unnatural in the extreme, to suppose we can grow downwards, shrink into children, become as little infants, re-enter our mother’s womb, and put her to the painful operation of giving us a second birth. This is so repugnant to the course of nature, and so great an insult to reason, that I should think it a waste of time and paper to say more upon the subject.

There are a variety of other passages equally impracticable, inconsistent, and unnatural as those already quoted, but it would require a book as large as the Bible, to do them justice. I shall therefore wave all further animadversion, and proceed to some cursory observations.

There is a sect of Christians, commonly called Quakers, who profess the strictest observance to the Christian precepts, particularly these; resist not evil, swear not at all, let your charity be in secret, place no dependence in long prayer, &c.” but surely he who prescribed these rules also said, “lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth.” The friends probably think they may safely indulge themselves in the breach of this latter precept, upon condition that they attend to the former rules. Christ, if I mistake not, cautions his disciples, against making an outward show of their profession, by any external form, or dress, yet the moment we behold a man in a drab colored coat, or an horizontal hat, we immediately think of a Quaker.7 The enlightened and well informed Methodists, are gradually declining into the same maxims, signifying their profession by outward apparel: but I will not say of them, as Christ said to the Pharisees in a parallel case, “Woe be unto you hypocrites for ye have your reward!”

After the monstrous heap of absurdities, thus briefly stated, it is to be hoped that, in future, Christians will not take the liberty to contemn Deists, in the manner they have usually done.

Were I disposed to dispute doctrinal points, my essay would be extended to an enormous size indeed, yet I would wish to know what benefit arises from the frivolous ceremony of infant baptism, or saying a few prayers over a dead person? For my part, I know of none, except good eating and drinking, in the former, and the parson’s fees in the latter, be considered as such. If sprinkling a little water upon the face of an infant, or saying a few prayers over a corps, could operate by way of a charm, these ceremonies would be of infinite utility; but as they appear to be founded in priest-craft, no good can be expected to result from them.

The clergy ‘tis true are civil enough to conduct us to the grave, and wish us a good journey to the other world, being confident that when they have deposited our remains in the silent vault, their deceptions have thus far escaped detection, and this accounts for their successful duplicity. But we will have developed the dark designs of sanctified impostors and decry the cunning artifices of fictitious theologists. In short

There appear to be so many absurd and whimsical ceremonies in the Christian institution, that I am now stimulated to ask the candid reader, (even supposing him to be a Christian,) what apology he can make for the many contradictions and inconsistencies, of which the Christian system consists? Will he answer, that he principally depends upon the faith and virtue of the good clergy, who would not preach a doctrine, knowing it to be false, and as they are a very learned body they are the best judges. That this is the plea of millions of Christian professors I verily believe, and I am no less certain, that the clergy are a very learned body, who will do anything that serves their present interest, and this is the plain reason why religion, and the Bible, are what they are. For instance, if you apply to a doctor of divinity concerning some doubtful tenet, you should first recollect that he is bound by oath of office, and interest, to support, at all events, true or false, the doctrine of that church to which he belongs, and from which he receives his revenues. A popish priest will defend the doctrines of transubstantiation, purgatory, and the works of supererogation, &c. A Presbyterian priest8 will support the doctrines of election and reprobation. An Episcopalian priest will maintain the doctrines of free grace and redemption by the blood of Christ. Each of these priests will take his oath that his doctrines are true and that all the rest are false, so that, lay piety aside, and the clergy are a very learned body indeed.

I am informed that in England when a gentleman takes up holy orders, he is qualified to keep a pack of hounds, and the business of a clergyman being but an idle calling, most of their time is occupied in hunting, shooting, or gambling, so that it is a mystery to know whether those men live to play, or play to live. The clergy of France swore by the four Evangelists that they were inspired by the Holy Ghost, and endowed with the gift of continency; but since the revolution of that country, they have discovered a propensity to women equal to other men. Thus, much for the oath and veracity of the holy order of clergymen.

I find in history that the clergy of England changed from popish to protestant in one reign, from protestant to popish in the next, and from popish to protestant in the third. Who will say that all this shifting and changing was in search of purer doctrine, and not in search of loaves and fishes? It would be a disgrace to my profession if these men were called Deists.

These people seem wonderfully affected, while deploring the sufferings of a poor unfortunate God. But can a rational being suppose for a moment, that the creator of the world should reside for three and thirty years upon this earth, in the contemptible manner ascribed to him, one part of the time necessitated to work with his father at the business of a carpenter, at another time so destitute as not to have whereon to lay his head, and at last to be put to a shameful death by a few of his own creatures? Is it not a fact, that God is as far above the power of human cruelties, as the heavens are above the earth? Can the creature have power over the Creator? Certainly not: if then it should be said in the cant way, the better to get over these difficulties, that there is nothing impossible to God: I answer in the negative, not but I acknowledge the divine will, and admit the power and attributes of the Deity in the fullest latitude, yet I am of opinion that there are many things impossible to God. He cannot create another God as old as himself—he cannot act inconsistent with himself—he cannot divide his own essence, he cannot put a period to his own existence, nor suffer it to be done by others. These plain truths, without any comments, will, I presume, convince the candid, that there are many things impossible to God.

Is it not time to abolish forever the ignominious remembrance of ancient frenzy, and renounce the dreadful custom of commemorating a torturing God. Our thinking faculties enable us to enlarge our circle, and we discover few truths but what a beneficent Deity has permitted us to see. It is therefore by communicating our sentiments through the medium of the press, that we benefit society in a thousand different forms. To exalt the mind to a true sense or omnipotent wisdom, to represent the Deity in the high plenitude of power and of goodness, and show his wondrous works in the rapid movement of blind matter, has been the work of philosophers for many ages, far from the narrow and contracted notions of crucifying to death a God who was from all eternity, far from the magic tricks of putting him in a hollow stone, sending him down to hell, bringing him back again,—and then sending him to heaven in a whirl-wind. A Deist laughs at these contemptible tales, and pities those who are dupes to fables and to mysteries, to priests and impostors.

If there is anything which can astonish the contemplative philosopher, it is the length of time which these magic deceptions are permitted to impose upon the credulity of man, and it is no less surprising that any being of ordinary capacities should abjure his reason, his liberty, and his finest faculties, to embrace ideas incompatible with nature, reason, and all human comprehension.

The word Gospel signifies truth, but why the new testament should be considered as such, is difficult to determine, since it is all fable, mystery, and metaphor. The parables said to be uttered by Christ himself are allowed by all the Christian clergy to be only figurative speeches, which represent things in a foreign sense, after the eastern stile. No such person ever existed as the prodigal son, though it is the most striking fable in the whole Bible, and fully expressive of the natural consequences of prodigality, wantonness, and dissipation. As for the fable of Dives and Lazarus, it is a most extravagant thought. I have often amused myself in the idea, what a roaring and tremendous voice Dives must have had, to be heard from the lowermost pit of hell by father Abraham, who was at the same time in heaven, dandling Lazarus in his arms, as a nurse would a child. In short, this parable is too romantic, and all the rest are too insignificant to admit of serious animadversion. If Aesop’s fables were bound up in the Bible, and called the book of parables,9 they would convey more moral instruction to man, than anything we read of in that vast volume. I shall pass by those letters written by the Saints, which we call Epistles, because they are no more to be considered holy writ than the letters written by one clergyman to another. As for Jacob’s ladder, the miraculous pillar, Peter’s vision, St. John’s dreams, his white horse, the sheet full of wild beasts, and the seven golden candlesticks, I throw them as lumber into the bargain.

Thus, the Bible running through a tedious and uninteresting narration of contradictory circumstances, empties itself in a round assertion, “Were all the works that Christ had done written in a book, the world could not contain it.” What a pitiful notion of the world the people of those days must have had, to suppose it might be covered over with a manuscript.

Citizens, rouse from your lethargy, be no longer amused with the remnants of fusty tales, or the genealogical tree of Eden, disregard at once all antiquated folly, and become the cotemporary of future ages. Contemplate that revelation, which the God of nature and reason has given us, in the bounties of his creation; there you will read a language that requires not the interpretation of theological drones, nor the comments of divine Simonites; you see that religion which has poisoned the world is founded upon a rotten basis, and it appears high time to give to morality a much better support.

Let us all seek truth as if none of us were possessed of it, the opinions which to this day have governed the earth, produced by chance, disseminated in obscurity, admitted without discussion, credited from a love of novelty and imitation, have in a manner usurped their empire. It is time if they are founded in reality to give them the solemn stamp of certainty, and to legitimate their existence.10

Oh, ye clergy! ye learned men! instigated by some untoward destiny to deceive the world, permit me to address these my last lines to you. What say you to those gospel precepts, do you really believe them to be either practicable, rational, or consistent with nature or with reason? Do you patronize after the model of him whose disciples ye profess to be? Are you like him, free from passion, anger, or despair? Have you disgraced the reformed pulpit, or profaned the Roman altar, when an unitarian lecturer exposed the folly of your dogmas? Oh, ye clergy, are you the disciples of that unreasonable man who laid down rules of life impossible to obey? Do you take thought for to-morrow, what ye shall eat, drink, or wherewith ye shall be clothed? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you do good for evil, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that persecute and despitefully use you? Do you invite the poor, the lame, the maimed, the halt, and the blind to your sumptuous tables, to the utter exclusion of your rich friends and neighbors? Do you swear not at all, and resist not evil? In a word, do you do unto all men as you wish they should do unto you? If Sirs, you do not attend to all these precepts, which are truly Christian, what pretensions have you to be the obedient servants of him, who, as your master, allotted you these several tasks and duties to perform, without exception.

He who told you to sell all and follow him, do you not rather acquire all and forsake him? did he not forewarn you against covetousness? And are you not as covetous as if you were to live a never-ending life? You who should lay no store on the good things of this world, are you not as particularly nice in your eatables and wearables, as if your bodies were formed of purer clay than those of other mortals? Do you not in direct contradiction to the precepts of your Lord, entertain your rich friends and neighbors to the total exclusion of the poor and blind, nay, have you not under the sanction of a reformation, even robbed the poor to enrich your own revenues. If then, what you tell us be true, that we shall all appear before your divine master at the last day, to receive judgment according to our works, what account can you give of yourselves, seeing that you deviate from those commandments which he set before you; must you not say that they were impracticable, inconsistent, and unnatural, or else that you did not approve of them.

Remember then the language of my fellow creature whom your stile your God: “If ye continue in my word then are ye my disciples indeed.” Divines, we see you eternally conspiring against reason, against liberty, and against the freedom of conscience, we listen to your declamations against us Deists, whom you invidiously stile the sons of infidelity, you prevail upon your flock, to believe that we wish to destroy all virtue and morality, but the reverse is the fact, we inculcate virtue and sound morality, founded upon reason and the being of a God. We Deists are not ashamed to own our profession; we will convince our Christian adversaries, by our commerce with the world, by our lives, conduct, and conversation, that we are virtuous, mild, gentle, and humane.

Clergy, we listen to your description of a terrible heterogeneous monster whom you set up as the terror of man. At one time he is fomenting sedition in heaven, at another time he is in open rebellion against the Deity, at another time he is hurled into a pit, and chained for a thousand years, at another time he is at large going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, in short, he is but everywhere: can a reflective mind suppose for a moment that such a monster does exist, or that he has the power which divines attribute to him. It was to destroy the power of this fiend that the mighty Jesus came into the world, yet he never was more omnipotent than since the commencement of the Christian era, and divines render him almightier than the Deity himself.11

As it is with Satan, so it is with man, at one time he is the high and mighty Lord of God’s creation, the noblest of God’s creatures, the image of God himself, but one degree below the angels in heaven, having dominion over all things, &c. at another time he is but dust and ashes, a crawling worm, a filthy animal, a helpless wretch unworthy of God’s favors &c. Thus divines, do you figure to us with profound sublimity, those glaring contradictions, nay, you transmography the Deity himself in as many, and various attributes, as man and Satan. You Deify a man and call him very good, who tells you, “There is none good but one,” evidently meaning God.

To conclude. Charity will not permit a supposition that a well-informed people can yield implicit credit to a book which exhibits in almost every leaf some strange and unaccountable paradox, a book crowded with indelicate and obscene matter, unworthy a serious reading, it leads the credulous into numberless errors, and involves them in a multiplicity of incoherent doctrines. To attribute such a production to an all-wise Deity is offering the grossest insult to his omnipotent wisdom, it being a mass of iniquity, the fountain of invidious controversies which usually terminate in the effusion of human blood, whose overflowing torrents have deluged the world, as well under the Mosaic theocracy, as under the Christian dispensation: it is a volume of knavery, purposely contrived to answer the sinister views of priests and princes, who alone fatten on its impracticable precepts.

Would it not then, be a felicity to future generations, were this book and the blind tenets deduced from it, scouted from the earth, and bloated forever from the memory of man, will not an unborn posterity, at the perusal of this volume, blush at the folly and blind credulity of their ancestors. But alas we fear, while the apostles of duplicity feel an interest in supporting the pious fraud, and live in sumptuous indolence upon the bounties of a credulous laity, the world will be too long infected with a nuisance so disgusting to every enlightened mind. Christians, we Deists are not possessed of vain ostentation, and, though we act upon a different principle, and found our hopes upon a different prospect, we acknowledge you to be our brethren, we pity error, we defy envy, but we never persecute opinion.

ADDRESS, TO THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE AND PIETY.

DURING the imbecility of childhood I had not the capacity to judge, and in the juvenal days of immature manhood I thought it a crime to doubt the divinity of those preceptorial doctrines, the knowledge of which you wish to promote, but now, finding my chin graced with a grizzly beard, my head ornamented with grey locks my mind free from the shackles of ecclesiastical tyranny,—and my heart panting for the good of man, I became moved by an indescribable impulse to compare the principles of your religion with the practice of its professors. I soon discovered a contrast, which gave me a stimulus to further enquiries, the result of which proves the utter impracticability of the Christian system.

My duty as a citizen of the world, leads me to publish a few strictures on a chain of dogmas, and whimsical mysteries, so much at variance against nature, incompatible with rational consistency, irreconcilable to common sense, and dishonorable to an all-wise Deity. Motives of pity might be the basis of your institution, but your zealous efforts to promote the cause of God, and the good of man, would be less in vain, were you to abandon folly, and institute a society for the promotion of useful knowledge and science, instead of encouraging the breed of saints and fanatics.

Is it now after a religion has been in fashion near 1800 years that we are to acquire a knowledge of its ceremonious punctilios, and extract from it a little piety, what it really produces? is it now, we are to open our eyes, and gaze with astonishment on the beautiful fabric of blind mysteries, or look with a pious admiration on the divine sublimity of a system which has confounded the inquisitors of all ages. A system founded upon fable, and established upon fanaticism, and persecution: a system that never consults reason, but always opposes it: a system that approves poverty, yet commits simony and rapine to maintain its pomp: in short, —a system inconsistent with everything but contradiction. How are our thinking faculties confounded at the contemplation of such a system, strange that a society should be instituted to promote the knowledge of a religion, to the bottom of which no Christian dare venture; it is criminal for a Christian to enquire into the origin of his religion, and to doubt the truth of the Bible, is an exclusion from heaven. Does your society in the circulation of its knowledge, inform the faithful, that the book of Job, is fabulous? That the acts of the apostles are anonymous? That the gospel of St. John is spurious? That the Epistles are miscellaneous? And the Revelations an unintelligible jargon of metaphysics.12

These facts are well known to the Christian clergy of all nations, but instead of giving their flock such information, they fondly conceal the fraud, under the mask of piety: how then are we to obtain a knowledge of the Christian religion, ask one sect of Christians, “how many sacraments hath Christ ordained in his church?” You will receive for answer, seven: ask another sect, the same question, and you will be informed, two: ask a third sect, and you will be told, none: what shall we say to such glaring contradictions. Each of these profess to be of found orthodox principles, yet they differ from each other, as much as a substantive differs from a nonentity. It appears to me then, that instead of promoting Christian knowledge, your society is instituted for the promotion of Christian ignorance, by which reason is degraded; and those who are dupes to a pretended revelation, are completely hag-ridden by the magic charms of priest-craft. Thus we may discover, that while the deluded Muslims are coranized the infatuated Christians, are bibleized to a miracle, and the pious ministers of a poor unfortunate God fail not to pronounce an eternal anathema on those who do not abjure reason, and embrace dogmas repugnant to sense and nature.

Divines? You who assume such powerful dominion over the souls of men; you who can transport us either to heaven or to hell at your pleasure, why not work some mighty miracle, after the manner of your lord and master, from whom you received your divine mission, to convince us of your authority over us, but, why talk of miracles, when pious duplicity informs us that miracles have ceased; all we have to do then, is to believe, and this belief leads us to imagine, that we are dead when alive, and that we are alive when actually dead. This belief reverses the whole order of creation; this belief will save us to eternity, with all our imperfections, without which the most righteous must endure, a bitter portion of never ending miseries. Oh! horrible doctrine! established by the sword, and maintained to this day by military governments, hostile to reason and to liberty.13

Will you, Sirs, deem it criminal to expose the foibles of a system which has filled the world with blood and terror for eighteen centuries, during which period, scarce a moment’s interval of peace can be traced out by the most zealous partisan;—hostile wars,—carnage,—desolation,— famine,—and infidelity, mark the gloomy pages of the Christian history,—thus the divine precepts of a celestially begotten man, has transformed Christians into devouring monsters, who make the earth groan under the weight of superstition, bigotry, fanaticism, and persecution.

Divines, you call these enormities, only an abuse of power, flowing from the corruption of Christianity; but it is not your bountiful stock of divine grace, nor all your rhetoric, nor pulpit admonitions, that can prevent the evils, nor wipe away the odium: know you not, that you are the time servers of every nation: the engines of despotism: the tools of statesmen, and of sovereigns: even to assassinate where occasion requires, whatever is the will of your prince, you cheerfully obey, and thus you piously serve God and Mammon. You profess a dependence upon the mercies of your God, a reliance upon his providence, and a cheerful resignation to his will; but the moment an epidemic appears you abandon all your professions, desert your church, and mistrust the goodness of your God, whose mercy and providence is no longer to be depended upon. I had an opportunity of making these observations in the case of the Philadelphians in the year 1793, and of the New-Yorkers in 1795, when the most religious were the most apprehensive of danger, and the first who fled from the contagion. Family attachment had no check upon their fears, humanity yielded to selfish brutality, they no longer trusted to the mercies of a divine providence, and the God of Christians was no longer the God of hope, at that awful crisis. Christian piety discovered that the rural Gods were more propitious than the great ruler of populous cities.

Let us now listen to the language of your divine master, whatsoever ye ask the father in my name, he will give it.” Needs there any more to confute this vague assertion, than a reference to long experience, and well-known disappointments. It is fresh in the recollection of every man, that all churches and chapels of every sect through the British dominions, were for seven successive years importuning the Almighty, to turn the hearts of the rebellious subjects in America. Why where not their prayers immediately answered, after heaven and earth were so piously moved to that effect, or why are not all Christian petitions complied with, after being echoed from one nation to another, especially since they are fervently offered up in the name, and for the sake of Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior.

He again tells us that, “his yoke is easy, and his burthen is light,” and invites “those who are weary and heavy laden to come unto him, and he will give them rest.” Now, though it is the language of a humble God, to his poor distressed disciples, I challenge the assertions. His yoke, if such may be considered the obligation of performing his precepts, is slavish beyond comparison, impossible to be complied with, being repugnant to human nature, and his burthen, if such may be considered the expense of supporting his religion, is arbitrary, oppressive and tyrannical, especially in countries, where established churches, have the exclusive right to expound the word of God, and where every individual is obliged to contribute to the religion which is most fashionable at court; in such countries, the clergy resemble the imps of infernal deities, rather than the meek disciples of an humble, penitent, and suffering Savior. What rest can the weary and heavy-laden find, by subscribing to a religion, bearing no proportion to itself, a religion that confounds both sense and nature, and petrifies all human understanding, a religion that humbles a God to a man, and proudly exalts man to a God, a religion that makes the creature a creator, and the creator a mere creature.

Is it to promote the knowledge of such a system that societies are formed. Yes, you will say, it is necessary to keep up a system of religion. Granted; but is it necessary to keep up a system of fraud, would not a more rational system be equally effectual, both in its moral and political tendency. What benefit arises to man by confounding divinity with humanity, or worshipping a feeble man, who disclaimed the title of a God. Are you afraid to offend the deity; by discontinuing to honor him. You will answer perhaps, that it is no wise criminal to worship a being who had, “all power given him, in heaven, and upon earth:” but how has Christ made it appear that ever such power was delegated to him? upon what authority do you believe he possessed such power? upon the authority of a blind assertion; one man relates the story to another, and he relates it again as an ipso facto. Would such authority establish a fact now a days? certainly not. Were I to say I was born unbegotten, or begotten not made, or that I was older than the man who was at my christening, would anyone believe me.

Strange indeed that a man who had all power in heaven and upon earth, the savior of a whole world, could not save himself, and prolong a terrestrial existence, to the more solid satisfaction of future generations. Was eighteen months the only time allotted this ambassador plenipotentiary extraordinary, to ratify a treaty between the priests of this earth, and the high court of heaven. That the all-powerful God of nature could perform more in eighteen seconds, than Christ had done during his earthly residence, all reasonable men will allow, yet this man is represented to us as a God of worship and adoration, and though he was miserably wretched, we are taught to believe he possessed all power in heaven and upon earth.

Were not his distresses insupportable; did he not labor for a miserable existence like many others; was he not as destitute as the itinerant mendicant: and did he not suffer a degrading and ignominious death: but, you will say, all this was to set an example to the world, and his death was to ransom sinners from the wrath to come. Yes, he set an example which his most pious and zealous admirers studiously avoid, and his death was evidently, because he could not help it He preached up sedition, and opposed the law of Moses, he insulted the Jewish Rabies, and obstructed their tranquility, for which they accused him, and by legal prosecution sentenced him to death agreeable to the customs of their country. Would to God the Christian religion were exempt from crimes of equal abhorrence. Murder and felony were alike committed under the mask of piety; racks, gibbets, and lighted faggots were the arguments opposed to those, who attempted to obstruct the early progress of the Christian system. Even now, in the states of Italy, or in the empires of Spain and Portugal, any person attempting to reform popery, would infallibly suffer death, not as a redeemer, but as an heretic, not as a savior, but as a sinner.

Upon a clear examination, I find this savior of the world is but a partial redeemer, his atoning merits extending but to a few of the human race. The number of people inhabiting Christian nations, does not exceed 136 millions; one fourth of them are Deists, consequently they disclaim all participation in the meritorious sufferings of a savior. The remaining number will not exceed 102 millions. The whole globe has about 400 millions of inhabitants, subtract 102 millions of Christians, and there remains 366 millions of people; who know not Christ, nor choose him for their head; must all these perish eternally, must they linger in never ending torments, and wallow forever in fire, brimstone, melted lead, brandy and gun-powder, with all the combustibles a vicious priesthood can invent, because they do not believe what is not true. Who but men blindly infatuated would subscribe to such a preposterous religion.14

The capricious temper of the Deity, as recorded in scripture, is somewhat singular. At one time, to save the world and mankind, he destroyed it and them together by a mighty deluge: This not perfecting his intention to save lost man, he destroyed himself upon a gibbet. His third experiment will be to consume the whole globe and all things in it with fire from heaven; such romances pass as current among Christians. If sin is to be destroyed by barbarous and inhuman cruelties, this latter experiment will undoubtedly prove most effectual. This will be a grand burnt-offering to the Lord of Hosts. Here the gratifying flames of all things, animate and inanimate, will ascend to heaven, and the Deity will console himself with the odoriferous effluvia, this, not like the partial offerings of the ancient priests, who sacrificed bulls, and goats, and kids, and lambs &c. upon the holy alter, piously offering the fat and blood to God, but eat the flesh themselves. In this last exhibition the whole earth with all its inhabitants, both priests and laity, both savage and civil, will be consumed by celestial fire, while the almighty will delight in our torments, and like a Roman tyrant dance to the music of our shrieks and groans; well may the God of Christians be called a devouring God, a God of vengeance, who creates men only to destroy them: but, the scene is not yet closed: after the consummation of the earth, the moon shall be turned into blood, the clouds shall fall, and the stars drop from heaven. Here will be rattling works indeed; much better be a spectator than an actor in this pantomime. Perhaps this is the time, when those who have died in the faith shall rise triumphant, and

play marbles with those little stars, kick about the morn, and quench the blazing sun; then shall the celestial gods, and goddesses meet, and fumble in the dark.

Unruly man, be cautious on that great day, how you come across the virgin Mary.

Pardon me Sirs, I am more at a loss to apologize for this irony, than to expose the folly of your favorite system—but to return

The most potent evidence in favor of the Christian scheme, are those of Mary and Thomas, though it is a little remarkable that Thomas said nothing about the matter himself; other people tell the story for him. As for Mary, she gains greater credit, than would be given to a lady of more honor and veracity in those days: it is rather strange, that Mary and Thomas never favored the world with either an epistle or a gospel upon the subject. They, it seems, told the story to others; others told it again to others, till at length the tradition, like that which Moses gives us of the creation, becomes the prevailing belief. Were an old Methodist woman to assert that she saw John Westly, a certain time after his burial, that he was seen by many others of his most intimate friends, that he wrought many miracles before them, and then went up to heaven, would anyone believe her; if she had gone before a magistrate and taken her oath that it was a fact; would she gain the more credit, certainly not: neither do I chose to believe Mary, nor Thomas, nor . . ..

The primitive councils, who first founded the Christian system, took infinite pains to blend the virgin Mary with the God-head, and so make it consist of four persons instead of three; she was however, rejected by a small majority. Notwithstanding she lost her election, there are a numerous sect of Christians, who, to this day honor her with divine worship and adoration.15 If then the motion for her union with the God-head had passed in the affirmative, would not our modern Christians worship her among the catalogue of their Gods. All this proves to a demonstration, that the world is governed by fraud, and not influenced by reason. The four following remarks will bring us to a conclusion.

1st. The Lord’s prayer is confessed by all Christians to be of divine sublimity, surpassing anything of human composition, but this is far below the test of criticism. In the former part you direct the Deity to do his own will, the next sentence demands bread for the day, what most people are already possessed of. Then proceeds a request, that your trespasses might be forgiven, as you forgive those who trespass against you: But I say unto all Christians, woe be unto them, if heaven shews no more benignity on them, than they shew mercy on their offenders.

2d. If Moses and Jesus Christ spoke by divine authority, it is blowing hot and cold with the same breath, every proposition of one being palpably contradicted by the other; however, the laws of Moses, take the lead of Jesus Christ’s whose precepts have no influence upon the passions, form no part of our municipal laws, nor are they attended to by any Christian sect whatever. Whether then, your Christian religion is of divine revelation or a trick played off in the dark ages of ignorance, it is an untoward system, and deserves to be admired only for its deformity.

3d. The Christian religion was first established by the terror of authority: the insinuating arts of missionaries, persecution and proscription, &c. All these conspired to establish Christianity upon the ruins of the Mosaic system. Did you ever consult these truths, did you ever inform yourselves of the stratagems first adopted to propagate your holy religion, even in its reformed state, or, did you believe the histories which transmit to posterity these impartial facts, as implicitly as you believe the bible. It is probable your zeal would slacken, your exertions to promote Christian knowledge would be less vigorous, and—your contribution would be appropriated to a more laudable purpose.

4th. Were I to say that blind men were very keen sighted, and that deaf men are very quick of hearing, you would naturally think me a lunatic, yet such sentiments are as compatible with reason and common sense, as many precepts of the Christian system. Can you reconcile those ideas of a God in three parts?  a virgin in wedlock? a God in gibbets? Serpents and asses speaking most eloquently in human language, and those heroic flights from earth up to heaven, in whirl-winds and fiery chariots; yes, you believe all these, and a thousand other like stories, but deny an equal fact that blind men can see, or that deaf men can hear. You bow down with reverence to the fables of antiquity, and consider a modern farce as the effects of sin and levity. You reject the adoration of an indivisible God, and worship with enthusiasm, a mixture of deities, composed of many parts; You confound finite with infinity, and divinity with humanity, you humble the God of creation to a level with man, and proudly exalt man to the magnificence of a God. Believe me, sirs, that Deism is yet triumphant, where despotic laws are not enforced, to maintain that whimsical, and metaphorical system, the knowledge of which you wish to promote.

Now, 〈◊, urging the subject no further, I have only to observe, that if I have corrupted any passage, or misquoted any text, it is your duty to instruct the ignorant, to reclaim the obstinate, and direct the stranger, in the path that leads to our destined heritage.

THE END.[1]

 

1 I am purposely short in this first proposition the second and third being rather lengthy.

2 Perhaps of all the high finished villains that ever degraded the page of history, or the shape of humane, none ever eqalled the monster Moses in scenes of systematic plunder, murder, and debauchery. To assert that so vile a character could have access to the deity, and consult him face to face, is to assert that the deity is accessary to his crimes, crimes so complicated as to stagger all rational belief; Nay, charity obliges me to hope they are not done.

3 Here blind Milton takes his poetic flight, and sets the heavens in an uproar; he pursues with wonderful success the lofty stile of genius, and humours with vast sublimity, the fabulous dreams of theological facts; O that such talents should be lost in fable.

4 If this celestial messenger had not arrived just at the nick of time, it is a thousand to one: but he would have been shot dead by the sentinal.

5 When I read the new word of God, commonly called the gospel, and see how often Christ appears and disappears. A little while and you shall see me, and a little while and you shall not see me, and the indefatigable Mary meeting him on all occasions, it reminds me of Harlequin and Columbine; and the conspicuous, part the devil acts in the farce, is characteristic of old Pantaleon in the Pantomime.

6 Read the Bible without prejudice, and if anything is calculated to shock the human heart, or blacken the character of the Deity, the Bible seems evidently intended for that purpose. It was written with blood, and is a continued history of murders and debauchery.

7 Mr. Paine asserts that these people are Deists, but I hope he will excuse me, when I say that this is paying them too high a compliment, they are between the Deist and the Christian, which denote nothing but a Buckram pride, as rediculous, as it is singular.

8 I denominate all under the term Priests, or Drs. of duplicity.

9 Then might our pious and learned clergy say, the word of God which you will find written in the 6th chap. of Aesop’s parables, and the fox said to the grapes thou art sour.

10 See Volney, page 151.

11 Perhaps of all the scarecrow doctrines that ever afflicted an enlightened nation, this is one of the grossest impositions on the human understanding. Foolish man there is no roaring lion, the clergy who terrify you with this idea know it to be a fraud, yet they carry their deception to such a length, as to count it profane to take his sooty majesty’s name in vain.

12 Deluded Christians, what will you say of yourselves, when we tell you that this description is precisely true, as evidently proved by the ministers of your own religion.

13 Faith serves as a mask and muzzle to hood-wink and jaw-clench the deluded laity; who, by virtue of their spiritual faith, can work themselves into a belief that any thing is possible, however derogatory to the nature of things. Will my believing a fable constitute it a fact, or will my believing in a nonentity constitute it a substantive? Suppose I believe a horse is a dog, or a dog to be a pig, will this alter the nature of these animals? If I believe that one is three, or that three is one, this is repugnant to the science of numbers, or if I believe that a virgin conceived a son, and that this son was his own father, being 4000 years older than his mother, nature and reason instantly revolts and says this cannot be. It would be well then to throw aside blind faith, and believe in nothing but what can be clearly demonstrated.

14 The clergy may, For interested motives, maintain their rigid doctrines, but I have too great a sense of their learning and understanding not to allow them to be Deists. I have a knowledge of three in Philadelphia, and two in New York, who are of that persuasion and one of the five is a bishop. It is because Deists are not formed into society that they have not preceptors of the first rate talents.

15 The Roman Catholics have it thus: Mary by the rights of a Mother, command thy son to intercede for us.

◊〉 Indicates a word is illegible or missing in the manuscript.

[1] Porcupine, P., & Cobbett, W. (1796). Christianity contrasted with deism (pp. iv–83). Philadelphia.: Printed, for the booksellers.

Bible Character Noah Quran Reflections

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“It is interesting to note the details where these two versions of the Noah story converge: there is the mention of waters gushing forth from the earth, and not simply rainfall; there is also the mention of two animals of every kind. Even in these details, however, the differences are noteworthy. Genesis actually does not say that the waters gushed up out of the earth per se as the Qur’an does but that “the fountains of the great deep burst forth.” These “fountains of the deep” bear an obvious relation to Genesis 1, which speaks of God’s breath-wind (Heb. ruach) blowing across “the face of the deep.” It is clear—as clear as chaos can be!—that “the deep” represents the dark, mysterious, and massive waters of the sea (the Mediterranean, to be precise). In Genesis 1, it is these waters of “the deep” that God divides into waters “above” (whence falls the rain) and waters “below” (whence flow the springs). These waters, situated above and below the dry land called earth, are representative in biblical cosmology of the powers of swirling chaos, tohu bohu, that continually threaten the order of creation at its edges. In the flood narrative of Genesis 7, God is portrayed as unleashing these chaotic powers of destruction upon the earth, thereby reversing the act of creation as it is described in Genesis 1: the waters above and the waters below converge upon the land. Thus in the Genesis account, we encounter an act of divine decreation, God’s undoing what was done in creation. Chaos is let loose from its boundaries above and below and gushes back in upon the dry land. The point is not that the Qur’an denies this portrayal of Noah’s flood but that it mutes, if not altogether silences, the cosmic, even universal elements of the Genesis story.

Another difference between Genesis and the Qur’an regarding the story of Noah concerns the number of animals who made it on board. In this case, the difference very likely begins with varying traditions within the Bible itself. The Qur’an’s mention of “two of every kind” echoes God’s instructions to Noah in Genesis to bring “two of every kind,” “of every living thing, of all flesh” (6:19). But Genesis includes another narrative tradition in which God commands that “seven pairs of all clean animals … and seven pairs of the birds of the air also” (7:2–3) embark on the ark. It becomes clear later that the greater number of kosher animals is necessary for the sacrifices that Noah would offer after the ark hit dry ground: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (8:20). In other words, more than just a pair become necessary when Noah’s story is told in a culture in which sacrificial animals are important; in such a setting one would be likely to ask how Noah would be able to offer sacrifices without a surplus of kosher creatures. The Qur’an, meanwhile, would have no need to bother with this issue, given the fact that sacrificial practices and concerns are virtually absent from its pages.
But of course it is not only animals that board the ark. A remnant of the human community is also delivered. At this juncture, though, the Qur’an includes a subplot that is absent from the Bible:

Surah 11:42–43
And as it sailed along with them amid waves like mountains, Noah called out to his son, who stood apart: “My son, embark with us, and do not remain with the unbelievers.”
He said: “I will seek refuge in a mountain that will protect me from water.”
He said: “Today, there is no protector from Allah’s Decree, except for him on whom He has mercy.”
Then the waves came between them and so he was one of those who were drowned.

There is no story like this one in Genesis, nor is it easy to locate anything comparable in the history of Jewish interpretation of this passage.6 This may be entirely unique to the qur’anic revelation. In any case, it is a highly significant story line: whereas in Genesis Noah took his entire household—“you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (6:18)—in the Qur’an the humans who are saved are not necessarily all bound by family ties. Noah boards with family members who are believers and with others who have also believed in his proclamation. Further, one of his own sons, refusing to embark on the ark and seeking his refuge elsewhere, is drowned in the floodwaters. Robinson suggests that this fascinating detail may provide another point of identification between Noah’s story and Muhammad’s own prophetic experience, for it “probably mirrors the anguish of the Muslims who left relatives behind when they migrated [from Mecca to Medina].”7 With this new twist in Noah’s story, the Qur’an underscores the idea that Islam creates a new kind of social arrangement, a polis or social identity that is not dependent upon blood kinship but rather upon submission to Allah’s will.”

Lodahl, M. (2010). Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and the Qur’an Side by Side (pp. 119–121). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Practically all critical scholars agree Jesus died and rose again

Practically all critical scholars agree Jesus died and rose again

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“There are a minimum number of facts agreed upon by practically all critical scholars, whatever their school of thought. At least twelve separate facts are considered to be knowable history.

(1) Jesus died by crucifixion and (2) was buried. (3) Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended. (4) Although not as widely accepted, many scholars hold that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
Critical scholars further agree that (5) the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. Because of these experiences, (6) the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection. (7) This message was the center of preaching in the early church and (8) was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
As a result of this preaching, (9) the church was born and grew, (10) with Sunday as the primary day of worship. (11) James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed that he saw the resurrected Jesus. (12) A few years later, Paul was converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.”

Habermas, G. R. (1996). The historical Jesus: ancient evidence for the life of Christ (p. 158). Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company.

Quran and Inspiration

Quran and Inspiration

Qur’an and Inspiration

“In Muslim thinking it is not Muhammad who was inspired, but the message he transmitted. Its origin is not in Muhammad, but in the Preserved Tablet kept in heaven and referred to in Sura 85:22. From this record there have been other revelations given: the Torah, the Old Testament Law, given to Moses; the Psalms, given to David; the Gospel, given to Jesus; and the Qur’an, given to Muhammad. The Torah is in Hebrew for Jews, the Gospel in Greek for Gentiles, the Qur’an in Arabic for Arabs and ultimately for all people.

The Gospel in Greek for Gentiles, the Qur’an in Arabic for Arabs and ultimately for all people.
The book itself is not seen as the product of Muhammad. It is inspired. The word used is wahy from the verb awha, used in the Qur’an more than seventy times. In Sura 16:68 the word is used of the bee. How does it know how to construct its hive and where to build it? The answer is wahy. The bee doesn’t work it out logically: it is guided by God.

According to the Islamic scriptures, Muhammad’s times of inspiration were accompanied by physical manifestations: perspiration, shaking, and even trance. An example is given by Bukhari:

The Prophet waited for a while and then the Divine Inspiration descended upon him. Umar pointed out to Ya’la, telling him to come. Ya’la came and pushed his head (underneath the screen which was covering the Prophet) and behold! The Prophet’s face was red and he kept on breathing heavily for a while, and then he was relieved.15

Muhammad’s own explanation was that the inspiration sometimes came

“… like the ringing of a bell, this form of inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me.” Aisha added: “Verily I saw the prophet on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead (as the inspiration was over).”16

It was this claim to inspiration that gave authority to Muhammad’s teaching, although those who opposed him said that he was merely repeating what someone was telling him. Yet there is no denying that at least the earlier suras of the Qur’an are lively, highly imaginative, poetic, and in that sense inspired. The claim that the entire Qur’an is written in this same “inspired” form is debatable; the later suras can often seem labored (to non-Muslims, at least), giving the impression of being constructed to meet an immediate social or political need.”

Riddell, P. G., & Cotterell, P. (2003). Islam in Context: Past, Present, and Future (pp. 62–63). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

 

“THE QURÁN.—The question of the inspiration will be fully discussed, and an account of the laws of the exegesis of the Qurán will be given in the next chapter. It is sufficient now to state that this book is held in the highest veneration by Muslims of every sect. When being read it is kept on a stand elevated above the floor, and no one must read or touch it without first making a legal ablution.1 It is not translated unless there is the most urgent necessity, and even then the Arabic text is printed with the translation. It is said that God chose the sacred month of Ramazán in which to give all the revelations which in the form of books have been vouchsafed to mankind. Thus on the first night of that month the books of Abraham came down from heaven; on the sixth the books of Moses; on the thirteenth the Injíl, or Gospel, and on the twenty-seventh the Qurán. On that night, the Laylut-ul-Qadr, or “night of power,” the whole Qurán is said to have descended to the lowest of the seven heavens, from whence it was brought piecemeal to Muhammad as occasion required.2 “Verily we have caused it (the Qurán) to descend on the night of power.” (Súra xcvii. 1.) That night is called the blessed night, the night better than a thousand months, the night when angels came down by the permission of their Lord, the night which bringeth peace and blessings till the rosy dawn. Twice on that night in the solitude of the cave of Hira the voice called, twice though pressed sore “as if a fearful weight had been laid upon him,” the prophet struggled against its influence. The third time he heard the words:—

“Recite thou, in the name of thy Lord who created—
Created man from clots of blood.” (Súra xcvi. 5.)

“When the voice had ceased to speak, telling how from minutest beginnings man had been called into existence, and lifted up by understanding and knowledge of the Lord, who is most beneficent, and who by the pen had revealed that which man did not know, Muhammad woke up from his trance and felt as if “a book had been written in his heart.” He was much alarmed. Tradition records that he went hastily to his wife and said—“O Khadíja! what has happened to me!” He lay down and she watched by him. When he recovered from his paroxysm, he said “O Khadíja! he of whom one would not have believed (i.e., himself) has become either a soothsayer (káhin) or mad.” She replied, “God is my protection, O Ab-ul-kásim. He will surely not let such a thing happen unto thee, for thou speakest the truth, dost not return evil for evil, keepest faith, art of a good life and art kind to thy relatives and friends, and neither art thou a talker abroad in the bazaars. What has befallen thee? Hast thou seen aught terrible?” Muhammad replied “Yes.” And he told her what he had seen. Whereupon she answered and said:—“Rejoice, O dear husband and be of good cheer. He in whose hands stands Khadíja’s life, is my witness that thou wilt be the Prophet of this people.”1 The next Súra, the 74th, was revealed at Mecca, after which there seems to have been an intermission, called the Fatrah. It was during this time that the Prophet gained some knowledge of the contents of the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures.
Gabriel is believed to have been the medium of communication. This fact, however, is only once stated in the Qurán:—“Say, whoso is the enemy of Gabriel—For he it is who by God’s leave hath caused the Qurán to descend on thy heart” (Súra ii. 91.) This Súra was revealed some years after the Prophet’s flight to Madína. The other references to the revelation of the Qurán are:—“Verily from the Lord of the worlds hath this book come down; the Faithful Spirit (Rúh-ul-Ámín) hath come down with it” (Súra xxvi. 192.) “The Qurán is no other than a revelation revealed to him, one terrible in power (Shadíd-ul-Quá) taught it him.” (Súra liii. 5.) These latter passages do not state clearly that Gabriel was the medium of communication, but the belief that he was is almost, if not entirely, universal, and the Commentators say that the terms “Rúh-ul-Ámín” and “Shadíd-ul-Quá” refer to no other angel or spirit. The use of the word “taught” in the last Súra quoted, and the following expression in Súra lxxv. 18. “When we have recited it, then follow thou the recital,” show that the Qurán is entirely an objective revelation and that Muhammad was only a passive medium of communication. The Muhammadan historian, Ibn Khaldoun, says on this point:—“Of all the divine books the Qurán is the only one of which the text, words and phrases have been communicated to a prophet by an audible voice, It is otherwise with the Pentateuch, the Gospel and the other divine books: the prophets received them under the form of ideas.”1 This expresses the universal belief on this point—a belief which reveals the essentially mechanical nature of Islám.

The Qurán thus revealed is now looked upon as the standing miracle of Islám. Other divine books, it is admitted, were revelations received under the form of ideas, but the Qurán is far superior to them all for the actual text was revealed to the ear of the prophet. Thus we read in Súra lxxv. 16–19:—

“Move not thy tongue in haste to follow and master this revelation;
For we will see to the collecting and recital of it;
But when we have recited it, then follow thou the recital;
And verily it shall be ours to make it clear to thee.””

Sell, E. (1880). The Faith of Islám (pp. 2–5). London; Madras: Trübner & Co.; Addison & Co.

“Another feature of the revelation of this the middle Meccan, period is the constant assertion of the inspiration of the Qurán. It is called the blessed Book, the luminous Book, the honourable Qurán. It is the Book from God, the best of all recitals He hath sent—a missive from on high:

A blessed Book have we sent down to thee, that men may meditate its verses, and that those endued with understanding may bear it in mind.—Súratu Sád (38) v. 28.

Muhammad is bidden not to grieve at the hardness of heart of his hearers and is assured that his message is divine. These are the signs of the lucid Book:

Haply thou wearest thyself away with grief because they will not believe.
Were it our will we could send down to them a sign from Heaven, before which they would humbly bow.
But from each fresh warning that cometh to them from the God of mercy they have only turned aside,
And treated it as a lie.—Súratu’sh Shu‘ará (26) vv. 2–5.

In the one hundred and ninety-second and following verses of this Súra there is a very strong assertion of the fact that Gabriel brought the Book down from heaven: but, as there is a reference to the Jews, this passage is considered by Jalálu’d-dín as Syúti to belong to the Madína period and so I do not quote it here. In other parts of this Súra, five of the older prophets are represented as saying “Fear God and obey me;” and the conclusion drawn is that in like manner the Quraish should obey Muhammad, or suffer for their disobedience; and if they disobeyed him then he could, in the name of God, say,

I will not be answerable for your doings. v. 216.

In Súratu’t Túr (52) the charge of forgery is met and the supernatural nature of the Qurán is asserted:

Will they say, ‘He hath forged it himself?’ Nay, rather is it they that believe not.
Let them produce a discourse like it, if they speak the truth. vv. 33–4.
Have they such a knowledge of the secret things that they can write them down? v. 41.
Verily, there is a punishment for the evil-doers. v. 47.

Súratu’l Háqqah (69) which belongs to the first Meccan period, contains one of the strongest denials of forgery to be found in the Qurán:

It needs not that I swear by what ye see, and by what ye see not,
This verily is the word of an Apostle worthy of all honour,
And that it is not the word of a poet—1
How little do ye believe!
Neither is it the word of a soothsayer—
How little do ye receive warning!
It is a missive from the Lord of the worlds.
But if Muhammad had fabricated concerning us any sayings,
We had surely seized him by the right hand and had cut through the vein of his neck;
Nor would we have withheld any of you from him. vv. 38–47.”
Sell, E. (1905). The Historical Development of the Quran (pp. 48–51). London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; Edwin S. Gorham.

Quran and Crucifixion

Quran and Crucifixion

Quran and the Crucifixion

“Qur’an and Crucifixion

Most intriguing is the one verse in the Qur’an which deals with the crucifixion of Jesus. The Jews are being condemned in Sura 4:157 because

they uttered against Mary a grave false charge (and) that they said “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”—But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them. And those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. (Sura 4:157)

The “grave charge” directed against Mary is obviously the accusation that she had been unchaste and that her pregnancy was the result. The remainder of the verse is both intriguing and perplexing: intriguing because the actual meaning of the passage is not clear; and perplexing because there appears to be one certainty at least about Jesus, that he was “crucified under Pontius Pilate.”45

The most obvious meaning is that given by the majority of Muslim scholars: Jesus was not crucified. This then gives rise to a further problem: then who was crucified? The Qur’an offers no answer to the question, simply asserting that it seemed to those responsible for the crucifixion that they had crucified Jesus. The sixteenth-century Gospel of Barnabas, written in Italian by Father Moreno, a Christian turned Muslim,46 provides a detailed explanation: it was Judas who was crucified, because God snatched Jesus away to the third heaven and made Judas resemble Jesus in appearance:

When the soldiers with Judas drew near to the place where Jesus was, Jesus heard the approach of many people, wherefore in fear he withdrew into the house. And the eleven were sleeping. Then God, seeing the danger of his servant commanded Gabriel, Michael, Rafael and Uriel, his ministers, to take Jesus out of the world.

The holy angels came and took Jesus out by the window that looketh toward the south. They bare him and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels, blessing God for evermore.

Judas entered impetuously before all into the chamber whence Jesus had been taken up. And the disciples were sleeping. Whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus. And he, having awakened us, was seeking where the master was. Whereupon we marvelled, and answered: “Thou, Lord, art our master; hast thou now forgotten us?”

And he, smiling, said: “Now are ye foolish, that know not me to be Judas Iscariot!”

And as he was saying this the soldiery entered, and laid their hands upon Judas, because he was in every way like to Jesus.…

The soldiers took Judas and bound him, not without derision. For he truthfully denied that he was Jesus.47

Certainly many Muslims find it hard to believe that a prophet like Jesus could be crucified. Muhammad himself was well aware of the fact that prophets could be rejected and even killed, but crucifixion was a death cursed in the Old Testament.48 How could a prophet die an accursed death?

Muhammad’s rejection of the crucifixion of Jesus may possibly be traced back to the Christian philosopher Basilides,49 who seems to have taught that Jesus was not crucified but someone else took his place. Perhaps this happened in the scuffle and confusion of the arrest, or perhaps at the cross things became confused and Simon of Cyrene was crucified instead of Jesus.

Since it is widely accepted on the basis of the historical record that Jesus was in fact crucified, it has been suggested that the text could be understood as meaning “they,” the Jews, did not crucify him. E. E. Elder made this suggestion, and this certainly has the advantage of leaving the question of just who crucified Jesus open. However, the Arabic text does not emphasize the pronoun “they” as might have been expected if that was the intended meaning; this interpretation is just, but only just, barely possible.50

A third option is that taught by the Ahmadis. They came into existence around the beginning of the twentieth century, led by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839–1908), who was born in the Punjab. He claimed to have received revelations from Allah when he was forty years old. He asserted that Jesus was crucified but did not die on the cross. According to the Ahmadis, Jesus was taken down from the cross alive and was resuscitated in the tomb through the efforts of Nicodemus, who in this account becomes a skilled doctor:

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, an expert physician, now came and took charge of the body of Jesus, brought it down from the cross, wrapped him in a linen cloth, which was impregnated with spices, and laid him in a sepulchre.… There can be no doubt that Joseph and Nicodemus must have continued to minister unto Jesus in the strong hope of reviving him.51

Jesus is said to have completely recovered and subsequently to have gone eastward in search of the lost ten tribes, eventually dying and being buried in Kashmir.52

Seyyed Hossein Nasr recognizes the importance of the Qur’an’s denial of the crucifixion: “The Qur’an does not accept that Jesus was crucified, but states that he was taken directly to heaven. This is the one irreducible ‘fact’ separating Christianity from Islam, a fact which is in reality placed there providentially to prevent a mingling of the two religions.”53 Similarly, but polemically, the Ahmadi writer Muhammad Zafrullah Khan claims: “Once it is established that Jesus did not die on the cross, there was no accursed death, no bearing of the sins of mankind, no resurrection, no ascension and no atonement. The entire structure of church theology is thereby demolished.”54

In the twenty-first century the debates between Muslims and non-Muslims focus on the Jewish people and the State of Israel, on worldwide Christianity in its various manifestations, and on the economic and political system generally designated capitalism. In the thinking of many Muslims the latter two are in good measure conflated.

Nasr (rightly) sees the inescapable logic of the incompatibility of the two religions, Islam and Christianity. Meanwhile, Zafrullah Khan sees beyond that to the “demolishing” of the religious element of the principal alternative to Islam.”

45 As Geoffrey Parrinder comments, “No serious historian doubts that Jesus was a historical figure and that he was crucified, whatever he may think of the faith in the resurrection” (Jesus in the Qur’an [London: Sheldon, 1965], 116).

46 See David Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas (London: Allen and Unwin, 1984). This is a thorough examination of the many questions raised by the so-called Gospel of Barnabas and ought to have ended the claims by Muslims, and even by Muslim scholars, that this Gospel is the one and only first-century Gospel written by a disciple of Jesus; see Muhammad ur-Rahim, Jesus: A Prophet of Islam, 2d ed. (London: MWH Publishers, 1979), 39. See also the discussion of the Gospel of Barnabas in Moucarry, Faith to Faith, 247–51. For a spirited, if forlorn, defense of the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas, see Yusseff, Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of Barnabas, and the New Testament.

47 Aisha Bawany Wakf, ed., The Gospel of Barnabas (Karachi: Ashram Publications, 1976). This is a new edition of the translation by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg (London: Oxford University Press, 1907); see also F. P. Cotterell, “The Gospel of Barnabas,” Vox Evangelica 10 (1977): 43–17.
48 Deut. 21:23.
49 Gnosticism certainly flourished in neighboring Egypt: Hans Lietzmann, “Egypt,” chap. 13 in The Founding of the Church Universal, 3d ed. (London: Lutterworth, 1953). Basilides claimed the authority of the apostle Peter for his system.
50 See Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, 120.
51 Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Deliverance from the Cross (Southfields: London Mosque, 1978),33.
52 See Khan, Deliverance from the Cross; and Kenneth Cragg, Islamic Surveys 3: Counsels in Contemporary Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1965), chap. 10.
53 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Life and Thought (London: Allen and Unwin, 1981), 209.
54 Khan, Deliverance from the Cross, 89.
Riddell, P. G., & Cotterell, P. (2003). Islam in Context: Past, Present, and Future (pp. 77–80). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.