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§ 17. The Sacrifice of Purification, and the Ransom of the First-born; their Weight as Proof against the Mythical Theory.

The mass of the Jewish people, whose minds were darkened by their material and political views, entertained a totally false idea of the Messiah; but there were many at Jerusalem who longed for a purer salvation, and these, also, were to receive a sign that the object of their hopes had at last appeared.

Forty days after the birth of the infant Jesus his parents carried him to the temple at Jerusalem, in order to offer, according to their means, the prescribed sacrifice for the purification of Mary, and to pay the usual ransom for their first-born.4646   Exod., xiii., 2, 12; Num., iii., 45; xviii., 15; Levit., xii., 2. This appears strange, in view of the extraordinary circumstances that preceded and followed the birth of the child, which, one might suppose, would make it an exception to ordinary rules. The points which the Levitical law had in view seem not to have existed here: so remarkable a birth might have pre eluded the necessity of the Levitical purification. The ransom which had to be paid for other first-born sons, in view of their original obligation to the priesthood, could hardly be necessary in the case of an infant who was one day to occupy the summit of the Theocracy. It would be natural to suppose that Mary must have hesitated, and laid her scruples before the priests for decision before she could make up her mind to perform these ceremonies. But we cannot judge of such extraordinary events by common standards. Mary did not venture to speak freely in public of these wonderful things, or to anticipate the Divine purposes in any way; she left it to God to educate the child, which had been announced to her as the Messiah, so as to fit him for his calling, and, at the proper time, to authenticate his mission publicly and conspicuously.

Now a mythus generally endeavors to ennoble its subject, and to adapt the story to the idea.4747   The remarks of Strauss, 1. c., p. 326, do not at all weaken what is here said. He adduces, also, the fact that Luke (iii., 21) states the baptism without mentioning John’s previous refusal (Matt., iii., 14); but all the force of this lies in his presupposition that Luke’s narrative is also mythical, which I deny. As to Gal., iv., 4, we of course believe that Christ strictly fulfilled the Mosaic law; but this fact, on Jewish principles, is no parallel to the other, viz., that Mary, under the circumstances of the miraculous birth, needed purification, and that the Messiah, who was destined for the highest station in the Theocracy needed a ransom from the obligation to the priesthood. If, then, the Gospel narrative were mythical, would it have invented, or even suffered to remain, a circumstance so foreign to the idea of the myth, all so little calculated to dignify it as the above? A mythus would have introduced an angel, or, at least, a vision, to hinder Mary from submitting the child to a ceremony so unworthy of its dignity; or the priests would have received an intimation 24from heaven to bow before the infant, and prevent its being thus reduced to the level of ordinary children. Nothing of all this took place; but, instead of it, simply and unostentatiously, the high dignity and destiny of the child were revealed to two faithful souls.

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