|Vol. 1, No. 3
Sivan 5603 June 1843
We commence, in this number, the publication of a series of letters on the New Testament, which have been existing in MS form for more than seventy years. They came, before the commencement of the American Revolution, into the possession of the late Solomon Simson, of New York, who had them copied carefully, before he returned them. We have made diligent inquiry of the surviving members of the Simson family; but we have not been able to learn any thing father than the above concerning their author, or the manner in which they came in the possession of Mr. S. We regret this exceedingly; but we indulge the hope, that some persons in England may be able to throw some light on the subject; and we hereby request of our friends in that country to favour us with any information which the publication of these letters may call forth.
About the name of Dea we are somewhat doubtful whether it be the correct appellation of the author, who was evidently a Portuguese Jew; since we know of no family of that name now in England. May it have been Dias? This seems to us to be more probable, still it is mere surmise.
Part of the series was published in the Jew, edited by S. H. Jackson, of New York, about twenty years ago; but that useful periodical was suspended before the whole series was printed. Another small portion appeared in the Christian Inquirer, edited by B. Bates, of the same city; but a comprehensive part has never yet been printed. We hope that our Magazine will live long enough to enable us to insert the whole, which we mean to do, in the very words of the MS., only altering the phraseology and spelling, where they have become somewhat antiquated, and with such occasional notes as the subject may seem to require.
We call the attention of our readers to the following remarks by a correspondent as fully explaining, not alone the justice but the necessity of giving publicity to some defence of our views on the subject in dispute. We know that in the main these arguments have been advanced frequently; but whilst our opponents, (we use the term in a friendly sense,) urge their old views upon our notice, it is but fair that we meet them with arguments which have been found unanswerable for so many centuries.
No apology is deemed necessary for laying the following letters before the public, in a country where every man's right to publish his sentiments is held as sacred as his right to think. It cannot be thought surprising that a part of the community, who have long been treated as the outcasts of society, should feel anxious to vindicate themselves from what they consider misrepresentation. It were to be wished that in conducting a defence of this nature, all allusion to commonly received opinions could have been avoided; that religious discussions should have been laid aside, and the rights of the parties settled upon the broad principles of equality. This, however, must always remain impossible, where the party attacking grounds its charges upon theological distinctions, and claims a superiority in this respect over its opponents.
The "American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews" has assumed this superiority, and upon that assumption, it has erected a barrier, which, if not broken down, must for ever expose the Jews in this country to obloquy and contempt, for their adherence to that form of worship which alone they consider divine.
No one will deny that the Jews have as just a claim to protection as the Christians; but if laws are passed authorizing the latter to combine as a body politic to deprive the others of their religion; if there exists a union of men, honourable from their high standing, whose very formation as a society gives countenance to the prevailing calumnies; if such a combination continues to disseminate its pernicious principles: it is impossible that this persecuted people can ever obtain that standing in the community to which their equality in the eyes of the law and their moral worth justly entitle them. It is therefore hoped, that no one will take offence for inserting the subjoined letters, wherein the claims of the gospels are candidly examined; since, if we are called upon to give up our religion, it is but fair that we should discuss first why we should pursue such a course.
No distance between us shall hinder me, now having leisure, from satisfying your curiosity, and sending you my opinion concerning primitive Christianity, and the foundation on which it is established. I believe, when you required this task of me, you little thought of the trouble and pain I should be at; and I have no doubt, but you expected I should so this in about half a dozen letters. If so, you will find yourself greatly mistaken, for as the subject is extensive, you'll find that the consideration of one thing sill insensibly lead me to another. Your curiosity, I am afraid, will cost you dear, and you are likely to pay for postage more than perhaps any thing I can say will be worth.
In the course of these letters I shall say, myself, as little as possible, neither shall I assert any thing but under the authority of Scripture, or of some eminent authors. Of these there are three, (all in Spanish.) The first is "Fortification de la Fé," by Isaac, the son of Abraham, of whom, take the following character from Basnage: "It must not be denied," says he, "but that they had their defenders, at the head of whom we may rank Rabbi Isaac, the son of Abraham; this man declares, that he spent his life in the courts of Germany, near princes, who often gave him marks of distinction,--he had frequent conferences with Luther's disciples, and it was against them he composed his 'Buttress of Faith.' It must be confessed, his book is one of the most dangerous that has been produced against Christianity. The author runs through the whole gospel, and dwells upon all the passages of the sacred story, that can furnish him with any objections; he enforces them briskly, and at the same time, refutes the Christian's answer. This book is translated into Latin under the title of "Munumen Fidei." "It were to be wished," adds Mr. Basnage, "the learned translator had followed the author, step by step, and confuted him." The author wrote it originally in Hebrew, the Spanish translator has added several notes and remarks of his own. The second is the famous "Tratado de la Verdad de la Ley," written by Saul Levy Mortera, of whom, no doubt, but you have heard. The third is "Prevenciones Divinas Contra La Vana Idolatria de las Gentes," by the learned Doctor Isaac Orobio de Castro, of whom Mr. Basnage makes mention. This learned person had a famous controversy with Limborch, concerning the Christian religion, which is published in Latin; but I very much doubt if the arguments on his side be fairly represented. In the manuscript which I have, there appears so much learning, solid argument and sound judgment, that he must have been entirely qualified to support the advantages arising from his cause, besides his being well versed in all the doctrines of Christianity, and in their subtlety of subterfuges, which he continually exposes and explodes by his solid reasoning. These are the principal Jewish authors, who have written on controverted points, whose works are all in manuscript. I am indebted to some eminent Christian authors who have supplied me with many hints, which I shall make use of occasionally; as what they assert must, when properly applied, give an additional strength to, and illustrate whatever I shall assert.
I shall take care to settle and fix the proper meaning of the terms, and use them according to their true sense and signification, otherwise it will be impossible to avoid mistakes and confusion, as it happens when terms are made use of, or introduced, which have no determinate meaning, or have not proper ideas annexed to them; for how, otherwise, can we judge of the truth of any proposition? After all, I am very sure that the subject will suffer greatly in my hands, for want of abilities equal to the task. For though I shall take care to assert nothing but such truths as I am convinced of: yet I cannot pretend to the happiness of being able to set it forth to you with that clearness, which the importance of the subject requires; neither can I pretend, or you expect, that I should follow that method and regularity so necessary to be observed, and which oftentimes gives additional light to a subject; and I assure you, that nothing less than the pleasure which I always take in obeying you, together with a strong propensity, or desire in me, to search into these matters (for my own satisfaction and information) could induce me to undertake that which must expose my ignorance, and which I only do, on the condition that you keep these letters private, and that you show them to no person whatever.
How unfortunate is it, that there should not be any authentic ancient writing of the transactions which are related in the New Testament, on the veracity of which we might depend. The disadvantage of being reduced to the necessity of taking every particular from such as were deeply engaged, and whose interest must naturally have led them to relate things which, perhaps, never happened, and many others in which they might be deceived, great as it is, is nothing (were there any certainty that the evidence of such authors is genuine,) in comparison with what they have received; and that to such a degree, that I dare say no learned man of the present day will be willing to assert of any one single text that it may not have undergone some change or alteration. Our first inquiry, therefore, must be into the authority of the New Testament; for no person can have the least right over our understanding, or demand our assent to any proposition contrary to our conviction, and we may be sure that we cannot offend, when we make inquiry into the nature of the evidence produced for our conversion; since it is the only method we have to come at the knowledge of truth in any matter. Besides, in so doing, we avoid as much as possible the being imposed on, and act as reasonable creatures, and according to the dignity of our natures.
"God himself," says the judicious Mr. Chandler, "who is the object of all religious worship, to whom we owe the most absolute subjection, and whose actions are all guided by the discerned reason and fitness of things, cannot, as I apprehend, consistent with his own perfect wisdom, require of his creatures the implicit belief of, or actual assent to, any proposition which they do not, or cannot, either wholly or in part understand; because it is requiring of them a real impossibility: no man being able to stretch his faith beyond his understanding." Therefore, our inquiry into the nature of any proposition is absolutely necessary; particularly in matters offered for our conversion. And it is a very just observation of Mr. Basnage, who says, "We must prove the divine authority of the Gospel (to the Jews) before we engage in the particulars of other controversies." And I add, till this is done, and the Jews admit the divine authority of the New Testament, nothing can be urged from it for their conversion; for, in controversies, neither party can, with the least shadow of reason, make use of any authority which is not admitted or granted by the other. A Mahomedan might as consistently urge the authority of the Koran for the conviction of the Christian, as a Christian make use of or urge any thing from the New Testament for the conviction of the Jew. The absurdity of such a method in either case is equally plain and obvious: for, as the Christian does not admit the infallibility or divine inspiration of the Koran, what force or validity could any argument drawn therefrom have, or what regard would the Christian pay to any such authority? So, in like manner, what regard can it be expected the Jew will pay to any proof drawn from the New Testament, the authority or infallibility of which they do not admit. Can conviction be reasonably expected from such grounds?
By inspiration I mean, God communicating his will, and exciting a person to publish, by writing, or proclaiming by words, such matters as are dictated to him. A person thus actuated, either in his writings or words, is properly inspired; and whatever he writes or says, under such circumstances, must be infallible or true; because, being under the immediate influence or guidance of God, he cannot be liable to error or deception. But the person, so actuated or influenced, must necessarily lose his own free-agency; because he thereby becomes an instrument which God makes use of, under whose direction he acts; for otherwise he would not be infallible. Therefore, when I speak of the infallibility of any book or writing, I mean thereby, that its author was under the circumstances afore-mentioned at the time of writing; for if he was not under these circumstances, then cannot his writings be infallible; because he, like other free agents, must be liable to deception ,and may mistake the things concerning which he writes, or may impose upon others.
It is a doubt with me, whether there is any considerate person who believes in the infallibility of the New Testament. For no person will undertake to say that every word it contains was dictated by God to those who wrote it; and if they were not all dictated by God, then cannot the whole be infallible.
That every word could not be dictated by God is plain, from the contradictions it contains; and if only some part or parts of these writings should be thought infallible, such difficulties must necessarily arise in settling what part is so, and what part is not so, that it would be impossible to come to any tolerable agreement concerning it. And I am sure that nothing less than an inspired person could understand it: for otherwise there would be as many different opinions as persons employed in the work; and we should hear one person give as fallible what another asserted to be infallible.
Thus stands the case. Whoever now believes, or is persuaded of the divine inspiration or infallibility of the writings of the New Testament, must, I apprehend, have his evidence and conviction from one of the following means:
1. As to an immediate inspiration of the writer, or that evidence which the writer has, at finding himself, at the time of writing, under the irresistible influence and immediate guidance of God, whose dictates he is forced to set down, as an instrument and, (during the time) with the loss of his natural free-agency: the person thus influenced and excited may very consistently believe his writings to be inspired, and, consequently, infallible; because the circumstance in which he found himself at the time of his writing produced that conviction in him.
It is questionable whether those, who are so anxious to impress on others the infallibility of the writings of the New Testament, ever believed the writers thereof under the aforementioned circumstances; which they must necessarily do, otherwise their infallibility falls to the ground; but if they believed they were, I should be glad to know from what source their conviction arises; for I have not yet met with any thing to this purpose.
2. The next evidence, to that which the writer himself has, is when God is pleased to impress on, or influence the mind of a person by irresistibly forcing him by some supernatural means to believe such and such writings to be inspired. It is very certain that God may do this; but it is a question if He ever did; for no person did ever pretend to these supernatural illuminations, without being suspected by the more cool and sedate; and all pretending to such a gift never met with any credit from the most discerning, who generally ascribe it to a distempered imagination. However, they, like the writer, may very consistently believe such writings to be infallible. But then neither the writer nor the person so influenced can be any evidence to me, unless I attain to the certainty of it by the same supernatural means.