Great Men of Great Periods.—Period of Christ's Apostles.—Jews, Greeks, and Romans.—Religious Civilization of the Jews.—Their History and its Relation to that of the World.—Heathen Preparation for the Gospel.—Character and Language of the Greeks.—Alexander.—Antioch and Alexandria.—Growth and Government of the Roman Empire.—Misery of Italy and the Provinces.—Preparation in the Empire for Christianity.—Dispersion of the Jews in Asia, Africa, and Europe.—Proselytes.—Provinces of Cilicia and Judaea.—Their Geography and History.—Cilicia under the Romans.—Tarsus.—Cicero.—Political Changes in Judaea.—Herod and his Family.—The Roman Governors.—Conclusion.
The life of a great man, in a great period of the world's history, is a subject to command the attention of every thoughtful mind. Alexander on his Eastern expedition, spreading the civilization of Greece over the Asiatic and African shores of the Mediterranean Sea,—Julius Caesar contending against the Gauls, and subduing the barbarism of Western Europe to the order and discipline of Roman government,—Charlemagne compressing the separating atoms of the feudal world, and reviving for a time the image of imperial unity,—Columbus sailing westward over the Atlantic to discover a new world which might receive the arts and religion of the old,—Napoleon on his rapid campaigns, shattering the ancient system of European States, and leaving a chasm between our present and the past:—these are the colossal figures of history, which stamp with the impress of their personal greatness the centuries in which they lived.
The interest with which we look upon such men is natural and inevitable, even when we are deeply conscious that, in their character and their work, evil was mixed up in large proportions with the good, and when we find it difficult to discover the providential design which drew the features of their respective epochs. But this natural feeling rises into something higher, if we can be assured that the period we contemplate was designedly prepared for great results, that the work we admire was a work of unmixed good, and the man whose actions we follow was an instrument specially prepared by the hands of God. Such a period was that in which the civilized world was united under the first Roman emperors: such a work was the first preaching of the Gospel: and such a man was Paul of Tarsus.
Before we enter upon the particulars of his life and the history of his work, it is desirable to say something, in this introductory chapter, concerning the general features of the age which was prepared for him. We shall not attempt any minute delineation of the institutions and social habits of the period. Many of these will be brought before us in detail in the course of the present work. We shall only notice here those circumstances in the state of the world, which seem to bear the traces of a providential pre-arrangement.
Casting this general view on the age of the first Roman emperors, which was also the age of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, we find our attention arrested by three great varieties of national life. The Jew, the Greek, and the Roman appear to divide the world between them. The outward condition of Jerusalem itself, at this epoch, might be taken as a type of the civilized world. Herod the Great, who rebuilt the Temple, had erected, for Greek and Roman entertainments, a theatre within the same walls, and an amphitheatre in the neighboring plain. His coins, and those of his grandson Agrippa, bore Greek inscriptions: that piece of money, which was brought to our Saviour (Mat. 22, Mar. 12, Luk. 20.), was the silver Denarius, the "image" was that of the emperor, the "superscription" was in Latin: and at the same time when the common currency consisted of such pieces as these,—since coins with the images of men or with Heathen symbols would have been a profanation to the "Treasury,"—there might be found on the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, shekels and half-shekels with Samaritan letters, minted under the Maccabees. Greek and Roman names were borne by multitudes of those Jews who came up to worship at the festivals. Greek and Latin words were current in the popular "Hebrew" of the day: and while this Syro-Chaldaic dialect was spoken by the mass of the people with the tenacious affection of old custom, Greek had long been well known among the upper classes in the larger towns, and Latin was used in the courts of law, and in the official correspondence of magistrates. On a critical occasion of St. Paul's life, (Acts 21, 22) when he was standing on the stair between the Temple and the fortress, he first spoke to the commander of the garrison in Greek, and then turned round and addressed his countrymen in Hebrew; while the letter of Claudius Lysias was written, and the oration of Tertullus spoken, in Latin. We are told by the historian Josephus, that on a parapet of stone in the Temple area, where a flight of fourteen steps led up from the outer to the inner court, pillars were placed at equal distances, with notices, some in Greek and some in Latin, that no alien should enter the sacred enclosure of the Hebrews. And we are told by two of the Evangelists, (Luk. 23:38; Joh. 19:20.) that when our blessed Saviour was crucified, "the superscription of his accusation" was written above His cross "in letters of Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin."
The condition of the world in general at that period wears a similar appearance to a Christian's eye. He sees the Greek and Roman elements brought into remarkable union with the older and more sacred element of Judaism. He sees in the Hebrew people a divinely-laid foundation for the superstructure of the Church, and in the dispersion of the Jews a soil made ready in fitting places for the seed of the Gospel. He sees in the spread of the language and commerce of the Greeks, and in the high perfection of their poetry and philosophy, appropriate means for the rapid communication of Christian ideas, and for bringing them into close connection with the best thoughts of unassisted humanity. And he sees in the union of so many incoherent provinces under the law and government of Rome, a strong framework which might keep together for a sufficient period those masses of social life which the Gospel was intended to pervade. The City of God is built at the confluence of three civilizations. We recognize with gratitude the hand of God in the history of His world: and we turn with devout feeling to trace the course of these three streams of civilized life, from their early source to the time of their meeting in the Apostolic age.
We need not linger about the fountains of the national life of the Jews. We know that they gushed forth at first, and flowed in their appointed channels, at the command of God. The call of Abraham, when one family was chosen to keep and hand down the deposit of divine truth,—the series of providences which brought the ancestors of the Jews into Egypt—the long captivity on the banks of the Nile,—the work of Moses, whereby the bondsmen were made into a nation,—all these things are represented in the Old Testament as occurring under the immediate direction of Almighty power. The people of Israel were taken out of the midst of an idolatrous world, to become the depositaries of a purer knowledge of the one true God than was given to any other people. At a time when (humanly speaking) the world could hardly have preserved a spiritual religion in its highest purity, they received a divine revelation enshrined in symbols and ceremonies, whereby it might be safely kept till the time of its development in a purer and more heavenly form.
The peculiarity of the Hebrew civilization did not consist in the culture of the imagination and intellect, like that of the Greeks, nor in the organization of government, like that of Rome,—but its distinguishing feature was Religion. To say nothing of the Scriptures, the prophets, the miracles of the Jews,—their frequent festivals, their constant sacrifices,—every thing in their collective and private life was connected with a revealed religion: their wars, their heroes, their poetry, had a sacred character,—their national code was full of the details of public worship,—their ordinary employments were touched at every point by divinely-appointed and significant ceremonies. Nor was this religion, as were the religions of the Heathen world, a creed which could not be the common property of the instructed and the ignorant. It was neither a recondite philosophy which might not be communicated to the masses of the people, nor a weak superstition, controlling the conduct of the lower classes, and ridiculed by the higher. The religion of Moses was for the use of all and the benefit of all. The poorest peasant of Galilee had the same part in it as the wisest Rabbi of Jerusalem. The children of all families were taught to claim their share in the privileges of the chosen people.
And how different was the nature of this religion from that of the contemporary Gentiles! The pious feelings of the Jew were not dissipated and distracted by a fantastic mythology, where a thousand different objects of worship, with contradictory attributes, might claim the attention of the devout mind. "One God," the Creator and Judge of the world, and the Author of all good, was the only object of adoration. And there was nothing of that wide separation between religion and morality, which among other nations was the road to all impurity. The will and approbation of Jehovah was the motive and support of all holiness: faith in His word was the power which raised men above their natural weakness: while even the divinities of Greece and Rome were often the personifications of human passions, and the example and sanction of vice. And still further:—the devotional scriptures of the Jews express that heartfelt sense of infirmity and sin, that peculiar spirit of prayer, that real communion with God, with which the Christian, in his best moments, has the truest sympathy. So that, while the best hymns of Greece are only mythological pictures, and the literature of Heathen Rome hardly produces any thing which can be called a prayer, the Hebrew psalms have passed into the devotions of the Christian Church. There is a light on all the mountains of Judaea which never shone on Olympus or Parnassus: and the "Hill of Zion," in which "it pleased God to dwell," is the type of "the joy of the whole earth," (Psa. 48:2, 68:16.) while the seven hills of Rome are the symbol of tyranny and idolatry. "He showed His word unto Jacob,—His statutes and ordinances unto Israel. He dealt not so with any nation; neither had the Heathen knowledge of His laws." (Psa. 147:19, 20.)
But not only was a holy religion the characteristic of the civilization of the Jews, but their religious feelings were directed to something in the future, and all the circumstances of their national life tended to fix their thoughts on One that was to come. By types and by promises, their eyes were continually turned towards a Messiah. Their history was a continued prophecy. All the great stages of their national existence were accompanied by effusions of prophetic light. Abraham was called from his father's house, and it was revealed that in him "all families of the earth should be blessed." Moses formed Abraham's descendants into a people, by giving them a law and national institutions; but while so doing he spake before of Him who was hereafter to be raised up "a Prophet like unto himself." David reigned, and during that reign, which made so deep and lasting an impression on the Jewish mind, psalms were written which spoke of the future King. And with the approach of that captivity, the pathetic recollection of which became perpetual, the prophecies took a bolder range, and embraced within their widening circle the redemption both of Jews and Gentiles. Thus the pious Hebrew was always, as it were, in the attitude of expectation: and it has been well remarked that, while the golden age of the Greeks and Romans was the past, that of the Jews was the future. While other nations were growing weary of their gods,—without any thing in their mythology or philosophy to satisfy the deep cravings of their nature,—with religion operating rather as a barrier than a link between the educated and the ignorant,—with morality divorced from theology,—the whole Jewish people were united in a feeling of attachment to their sacred institutions, and found in the facts of their past history a pledge of the fulfilment of their national hopes.
It is true that the Jewish nation, again and again, during several centuries, fell into idolatry. It is true that their superiority to other nations consisted in the light which they possessed, and not in the use which they made of it; and that a carnal life continually dragged them down from the spiritual eminence on which they might have stood. But the Divine purposes were not frustrated. The chosen people were subjected to the chastisement and discipline of severe sufferings: and they were fitted by a long training for the accomplishment of that work, to the conscious performance of which they did not willingly rise. They were hard pressed in their own country by the incursions of their idolatrous neighbors, and in the end they were carried into a distant captivity. From the time of their return from Babylon they were no longer idolaters. They presented to the world the example of a pure Monotheism. And in the active times which preceded and followed the birth of Christ, those Greeks or Romans who visited the Jews in their own land where they still lingered at the portals of the East, and those vast numbers of proselytes whom the dispersed Jews had gathered round them in various countries, were made familiar with the worship of one God and Father of all.
The influence of the Jews upon the Heathen world was exercised mainly through their dispersion: but this subject must be deferred for a few pages, till we have examined some of the developments of the Greek and Roman nationalities. A few words, however, may be allowed in passing, upon the consequences of the geographical position of Judaea.
The situation of this little but eventful country is such, that its inhabitants were brought into contact successively with all the civilized nations of antiquity. Not to dwell upon its proximity to Egypt on the one hand, and to Assyria on the other, and the influences which those ancient kingdoms may thereby have exercised or received, Palestine lay in the road of Alexander's Eastern expedition. The Greek conqueror was there before he founded his mercantile metropolis in Egypt, and thence went to India, to return and die at Babylon. And again, when his empire was divided, and Greek kingdoms were erected in Europe, Asia, and Africa, Palestine lay between the rival monarchies of the Ptolemies at Alexandria and the Seleucids at Antioch,—too near to both to be safe from the invasion of their arms or the influence of their customs and their language. And finally, when the time came for the Romans to embrace the whole of the Mediterranean within the circle of their power, the coast-line of Judaea was the last remote portion which was needed to complete the fated circumference.
The full effect of this geographical position of Judaea can only be seen by following the course of Greek and Roman life, till they were brought so remarkably into contact with each other, and with that of the Jews: and we turn to those other two nations of antiquity, the steps of whose progress were successive stages in what is called in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:10) "the dispensation of the fulness of time."
If we think of the civilization of the Greeks, we have no difficulty in fixing on its chief characteristics. High perfection of the intellect and imagination, displaying itself in all the various forms of art, poetry, literature, and philosophy—restless activity of mind and body, finding its exercise in athletic games or in subtle disputations—love of the beautiful—quick perception—indefatigable inquiry—all these enter into the very idea of the Greek race. This is not the place to inquire how far these qualities were due to an innate peculiarity, or how far they grew up, by gradual development, amidst the natural influences of their native country,—the variety of their hills and plains, the clear lights and warm shadows of their climate, the mingled land and water of their coasts. We have only to do with this national character so far as, under divine Providence, it was made subservient to the spread of the Gospel.
We shall see how remarkably it subserved this purpose, if we consider the tendency of the Greeks to trade and colonization. Their mental activity was accompanied with a great physical restlessness. This clever people always exhibited a disposition to spread themselves. Without aiming at universal conquest, they displayed (if we may use the word) a remarkable catholicity of character, and a singular power of adaptation to those whom they called Barbarians. In this respect they were strongly contrasted with the Egyptians, whose immemorial civilization was confined to the long valley which extends from the cataracts to the mouths of the Nile. The Hellenic tribes, on the other hand, though they despised foreigners, were never unwilling to visit them and to cultivate their acquaintance. At the earliest period at which history enables us to discover them, we see them moving about in their ships on the shores and among the islands of their native seas; and, three or four centuries before the Christian era, Asia Minor, beyond which the Persians had not been permitted to advance, was bordered by a fringe of Greek colonies; and Lower Italy, when the Roman republic was just beginning to be conscious of its strength, had received the name of Greece itself. To all these places they carried their arts and literature, their philosophy, their mythology, and their amusements. They carried also their arms and their trade. The heroic age had passed away, and fabulous voyages had given place to real expeditions against Sicily and constant traffic with the Black Sea. They were gradually taking the place of the Phoenicians in the empire of the Mediterranean. They were, indeed, less exclusively mercantile than those old discoverers. Their voyages were not so long. But their influence on general civilization was greater and more permanent. The earliest ideas of scientific navigation and geography are due to the Greeks. The later Greek travellers, Strabo and Pausanias, will be our best sources of information on the topography of St. Paul's journeys.
With this view of the Hellenic character before us, we are prepared to appreciate the vast results of Alexander's conquests. He took up the meshes of the net of Greek civilization, which were lying in disorder on the edges of the Asiatic shore, and spread them over all the countries which he traversed in his wonderful campaigns. The East and the West were suddenly brought together. Separated tribes were united under a common government. New cities were built, as the centres of political life. New lines of communication were opened, as the channels of commercial activity. The new culture penetrated the mountain ranges of Pisidia and Lycaonia. The Tigris and Euphrates became Greek rivers. The language of Athens was heard among the Jewish colonies of Babylonia; and a Grecian Babylon was built by the conqueror in Egypt, and called by his name.
The empire of Alexander was divided, but the effects of his campaigns and policy did not cease. The influence of the fresh elements of social life was rather increased by being brought into independent action within the spheres of distinct kingdoms. Our attention is particularly called to two of the monarchical lines, which descended from Alexander's generals,—the Ptolemies, or the Greek kings of Egypt,—and the Seleucids, or the Greek kings of Syria. Their respective capitals, Alexandria and Antioch, became the metropolitan centres of commercial and civilized life in the East. They rose suddenly; and their very appearance marked them as the cities of a new epoch. Like Berlin and St. Petersburg, they were modern cities built by great kings at a definite time and for a definite purpose. Their histories are no unimportant chapters in the history of the world. Both of them were connected with St. Paul: one indirectly, as the birthplace of Apollos; the other directly, as the scene of some of the most important passages of the Apostle's own life. Both abounded in Jews from their first foundation. Both became the residence of Roman governors, and both afterwards were patriarchates of the primitive Church. But before they had received either the Roman discipline or the Christian doctrine, they had served their appointed purpose of spreading the Greek language and habits, of creating new lines of commercial intercourse by land and sea, and of centralizing in themselves the mercantile life of the Levant. Even the Acts of the Apostles remind us of the traffic of Antioch with Cyprus and the neighboring coasts, and of the sailing of Alexandrian corn-ships to the more distant harbors of Malta and Puteoli.
Of all the Greek elements which the cities of Antioch and Alexandria were the means of circulating, the spread of the language is the most important. Its connection with the whole system of Christian doctrine—with many of the controversies and divisions of the Church—is very momentous. That language, which is the richest and most delicate that the world has seen, became the language of theology. The Greek tongue became to the Christian more than it had been to the Roman or the Jew. The mother-tongue of Ignatius at Antioch, was that in which Philo composed his treaties at Alexandria, and which Cicero spoke at Athens. It is difficult to state in a few words the important relation which Alexandria more especially was destined to bear to the whole Christian Church. In that city, the representative of the Greeks of the East, where the most remarkable fusion took place of the peculiarities of Greek, Jewish, and Oriental life, and at the time when all these had been brought in contact with the mind of educated Romans,—a theological language was formed, rich in the phrases of various schools, and suited to convey Christian ideas to all the world. It was not an accident that the New Testament was written in Greek, the language which can best express the highest thoughts and worthiest feelings of the intellect and heart, and which is adapted to be the instrument of education for all nations: nor was it an accident that the composition of these books and the promulgation of the Gospel were delayed, till the instruction of our Lord, and the writings of His Apostles, could be expressed in the dialect of Alexandria. This, also, must be ascribed to the foreknowledge of Him, who "winked at the times of ignorance," but who "made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." (Acts 17:30, 26.)
We do not forget that the social condition of the Greeks had been falling, during this period, into the lowest corruption. The disastrous quarrels of Alexander's generals had been continued among their successors. Political integrity was lost. The Greeks spent their life in worthless and frivolous amusements. Their religion, though beautiful beyond expression as giving subjects for art and poetry, was utterly powerless, and worse than powerless, in checking their bad propensities. Their philosophers were sophists; their women might be briefly divided into two classes,—those who were highly educated and openly profligate on the one side, and those who lived in domestic and ignorant seclusion on the other. And it cannot be denied that all these causes of degradation spread with the diffusion of the race and the language. Like Sybaris and Syracuse, Antioch and Alexandria became almost worse than Athens and Corinth. But the very diffusion and development of this corruption was preparing the way, because it showed the necessity, for the interposition of a Gospel. The disease itself seemed to call for a Healer. And if the prevailing evils of the Greek population presented obstacles, on a large scale, to the progress of Christianity,—yet they showed to all future time the weakness of man's highest powers, if unassisted from above; and there must have been many who groaned under the burden of a corruption which they could not shake off, and who were ready to welcome the voice of Him, who "took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." (Mat. 8:17.) The "Greeks," who are mentioned by St. John as coming to see Jesus at the feast, were, we trust, the types of a large class; and we may conceive His answer to Andrew and Philip as expressing the fulfilment of the appointed times in the widest sense—"The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified."
Such was the civilization and corruption connected with the spread of the Greek language when the Roman power approached to the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea. For some centuries this irresistible force had been gathering strength on the western side of the Apennines. Gradually, but surely, and with ever-increasing rapidity, it made to itself a wider space—northward into Etruria, southward into Campania It passed beyond its Italian boundaries. And six hundred years after the building of the City, the Roman eagle had seized on Africa at the point of Carthage, and Greece at the Isthmus of Corinth, and had turned its eye towards the East. The defenceless prey was made secure, by craft or by war; and before the birth of our Saviour, all those coasts, from Ephesus to Tarsus and Antioch, and round by the Holy Land to Alexandria and Cyrene, were tributary to the city of the Tiber. We have to describe in a few words the characteristics of this new dominion, and to point out its providential connection with the spread and consolidation of the Church.
In the first place, this dominion was not a pervading influence exerted by a restless and intellectual people, but it was the grasping power of an external government. The idea of law had grown up with the growth of the Romans; and wherever they went they carried it with them. Wherever their armies were marching or encamping, there always attended them, like a mysterious presence, the spirit of the City of Rome. Universal conquest and permanent occupation were the ends at which they aimed. Strength and organization were the characteristics of their sway. We have seen how the Greek science and commerce were wafted, by irregular winds, from coast to coast: and now we follow the advance of legions, governors, and judges along the Roman Roads, which pursued their undeviating course over plains and mountains, and bound the City to the furthest extremities of the provinces.
There is no better way of obtaining a clear view of the features and a correct idea of the spirit of the Roman age, than by considering the material works which still remain as its imperishable monuments. Whether undertaken by the hands of the government, or for the ostentation of private luxury, they were marked by vast extent and accomplished at an enormous expenditure. The gigantic roads of the Empire have been unrivalled till the present century. Solid structures of all kinds, for utility, amusement, and worship, were erected in Italy and the provinces,—amphitheatres of stone, magnificent harbors, bridges, sepulchres, and temples. The decoration of wealthy houses was celebrated by the poets of the day. The pomp of buildings in the cities was rivalled by astonishing villas in the country. The enormous baths, by which travellers are surprised, belong to a period somewhat later than that of St. Paul; but the aqueducts, which still remain in the Campagna, were some of them new when he visited Rome. Of the metropolis itself it may be enough to say, that his life is exactly embraced between its two great times of renovation, that of Augustus on the one hand, who (to use his own expression) having found it a city of brick left it a city of marble, and that of Nero on the other, when the great conflagration afforded an opportunity for a new arrangement of its streets and buildings.
These great works may be safely taken as emblems of the magnitude, strength, grandeur, and solidity of the Empire; but they are emblems, no less, of the tyranny and cruelty which had presided over its formation, and of the general suffering which pervaded it. The statues, with which the metropolis and the Roman houses were profusely decorated, had been brought from plundered provinces, and many of them had swelled the triumphs of conquerors on the Capitol. The amphitheatres were built for shows of gladiators, and were the scenes of a bloody cruelty, which had been quite unknown in the licentious exhibitions of the Greek theatre. The roads, baths, harbors, aqueducts, had been constructed by slave-labor. And the country villas, which the Italian traveller lingered to admire, were themselves vast establishments of slaves.
It is easy to see how much misery followed in the train of Rome's advancing greatness. Cruel suffering was a characteristic feature of the close of the Republic. Slave wars, civil wars, wars of conquest, had left their disastrous results behind them. No country recovers rapidly from the effects of a war which has been conducted within its frontier; and there was no district of the Empire which had not been the scene of some recent campaign. None had suffered more than Italy herself. Its old stock of freemen, who had cultivated its fair plains and terraced vineyards, was utterly worn out. The general depopulation was badly compensated by the establishment of military colonies. Inordinate wealth and slave factories were the prominent features of the desolate prospect. The words of the great historian may fill up the picture.
"As regards the manners and mode of life of the Romans, their great object at this time was the acquisition and possession of money. Their moral conduct, which had been corrupt enough before the Social war, became still more so by their systematic plunder and rapine. Immense riches were accumulated and squandered upon brutal pleasures. The simplicity of the old manners and mode of living had been abandoned for Greek luxuries and frivolities, and the whole household arrangements had become altered. The Roman houses had formerly been quite simple, and were built either of bricks or peperino, but in most cases of the former material; now, on the other hand, every one would live in a splendid house and be surrounded by luxuries. The condition of Italy after the Social and Civil wars was indescribably wretched. Samnium had become almost a desert; and as late as the time of Strabo there was scarcely any town in that country which was not in ruins. But worse things were yet to come."
This disastrous condition was not confined to Italy. In some respects the provinces had their own peculiar sufferings. To take the case of Asia Minor. It had been plundered and ravaged by successive generals,—by Scipio in the war against Antiochus of Syria,—by Manlius in his Galatian campaign,—by Pompey in the struggle with Mithridates. The rapacity of governors and their officials followed that of generals and their armies. We know what Cilicia suffered under Dolabella and his agent Verres: and Cicero reveals to us the oppression of his predecessor Appius in the same province, contrasted with his own boasted clemency. Some portions of this beautiful and inexhaustible country revived under the emperors. But it was only an outward prosperity. Whatever may have been the improvement in the external details of provincial government, we cannot believe that governors were gentle and forbearing, when Caligula was on the throne, and when Nero was seeking statues for his golden house. The contempt in which the Greek provincials themselves were held by the Romans may be learnt from the later correspondence of the Emperor Trajan with Pliny the governor of Bithynia. We need not hesitate to take it for granted, that those who were sent from Rome to dispense justice at Ephesus or Tarsus, were more frequently like Appius and Verres, than Cicero and Flaccus,—more like Pilate and Felix, than Gallio or Sergius Paulus.
It would be a delusion to imagine that, when the world was reduced under one sceptre, any real principle of unity held its different parts together. The emperor was deified, because men were enslaved. There was no true peace when Augustus closed the Temple of Janus. The Empire was only the order of external government, with a chaos both of opinions and morals within. The writings of Tacitus and Juvenal remain to attest the corruption which festered in all ranks, alike in the senate and the family. The old severity of manners, and the old faith in the better part of the Roman religion, were gone. The licentious creeds and practices of Greece and the East had inundated Italy and the West: and the Pantheon was only the monument of a compromise among a multitude of effete superstitions. It is true that a remarkable religious toleration was produced by this state of things: and it is probable that for some short time Christianity itself shared the advantage of it. But still the temper of the times was essentially both cruel and profane; and the Apostles were soon exposed to its bitter persecution. The Roman Empire was destitute of that unity which the Gospel gives to mankind. It was a kingdom of this world; and the human race were groaning for the better peace of "a kingdom not of this world."
Thus, in the very condition of the Roman Empire, and the miserable state of its mixed population, we can recognize a negative preparation for the Gospel of Christ. This tyranny and oppression called for a Consoler, as much as the moral sickness of the Greeks called for a Healer; a Messiah was needed by the whole Empire as much as by the Jews, though not looked for with the same conscious expectation. But we have no difficulty in going much farther than this, and we cannot hesitate to discover in the circumstances of the world at this period, significant traces of a positive preparation for the Gospel.
It should be remembered, in the first place, that the Romans had already become Greek to some considerable extent, before they were the political masters of those eastern countries, where the language, mythology, and literature of Greece had become more or less familiar. How early, how widely, and how permanently this Greek influence prevailed, and how deeply it entered into the mind of educated Romans, we know from their surviving writings, and from the biography of eminent men. Cicero, who was governor of Cilicia about half a century before the birth of St. Paul, speaks in strong terms of the universal spread of the Greek tongue among the instructed classes; and about the time of the Apostle's martyrdom, Agricola, the conqueror of Britain, was receiving a Greek education at Marseilles. Is it too much to say, that the general Latin conquest was providentially delayed till the Romans had been sufficiently imbued with the language and ideas of their predecessors, and had incorporated many parts of that civilization with their own?
And if the wisdom of the divine pre-arrangements is illustrated by the period of the spread of the Greek language, it is illustrated no less by that of the completion and maturity of the Roman government. When all parts of the civilized world were bound together in one empire,—when one common organization pervaded the whole—when channels of communication were everywhere opened—when new facilities of travelling were provided,—then was "the fulness of time" (Gal. 4:4), then the Messiah came. The Greek language had already been prepared as a medium for preserving and transmitting the doctrine; the Roman government was now prepared to help the progress even of that religion which it persecuted. The manner in which it spread through the provinces is well exemplified in the life of St. Paul; his right of citizenship rescued him in Macedonia (Acts 16:37-39.) and in Judaea; (Acts 22:25.) he converted one governor in Cyprus, (Acts 13:12.) was protected by another in Achaia, (Acts 18:14-17.) and was sent from Jerusalem to Rome by a third. (Acts 25:12, 27:1.) The time was indeed approaching, when all the complicated weight of the central tyranny, and of the provincial governments, was to fall on the new and irresistible religion. But before this took place, it had begun to grow up in close connection with all departments of the Empire. When the supreme government itself became Christian, the ecclesiastical polity was permanently regulated in conformity with the actual constitution of the state. Nor was the Empire broken up, till the separate fragments, which have become the nations of modern Europe, were themselves portions of the Catholic Church.
But in all that we have said of the condition of the Roman world, one important and widely diffused element of its population has not been mentioned. We have lost sight for some time of the Jews, and we must return to the subject of their dispersion, which was purposely deferred till we had shown how the intellectual civilization of the Greeks, and the organizing civilization of the Romans, had, through a long series of remarkable events, been brought in contact with the religious civilization of the Hebrews. It remains that we point out that one peculiarity of the Jewish people, which made this contact almost universal in every part of the Empire.
Their dispersion began early; though, early and late, their attachment to Judaea has always been the same. Like the Highlanders of Switzerland and Scotland, they seem to have combined a tendency to foreign settlements with the most passionate love of their native "land. The first scattering of the Jews was compulsory, and began with the Assyrian exile, when, about the time of the building of Rome, natives of Galilee and Samaria were carried away by the Eastern monarchs; and this was followed by the Babylonian exile, when the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were removed at different epochs,—when Daniel was brought to Babylon, and Ezekiel to the river Chebar. That this earliest dispersion was not without influential results may be inferred from these facts;—that, about the time of the battles of Salamis and Marathon, a Jew was the minister, another Jew the cupbearer, and a Jewess the consort, of a Persian monarch. That they enjoyed many privileges in this foreign country, and that their condition was not always oppressive, may be gathered from this,—that when Cyrus gave them permission to return, the majority remained in their new home, in preference to their native land. Thus that great Jewish colony began in Babylonia, the existence of which may be traced in Apostolic times, (See 1Pe. 5:13.) and which retained its influence long after in the Talmudical schools. These Hebrew settlements may be followed through various parts of the continental East, to the borders of the Caspian, and even to China. We however are more concerned with the coasts and islands of Western Asia. Jews had settled in Syria and Phoenicia before the time of Alexander the Great. But in treating of this subject, the great stress is to be laid on the policy of Seleucus, who. in founding Antioch, raised them to the same political position with the other citizens. One of his successors on the throne, Antiochus the Great, established two thousand Jewish families in Lydia and Phrygia. From hence they would spread into Pamphylia and Galatia, and along the western coasts from Ephesus to Troas. And the ordinary channels of communication, in conjunction with that tendency to trade which already began to characterize this wonderful people, would easily bring them to the islands, such as Cyprus and Rhodes.
Their oldest settlement in Africa was that which took place after the murder of the Babylonian governor of Judaea, and which is connected with the name of the prophet Jeremiah. (See 2Ki. 25:22-26, Jer. 43, 44.) But, as in the case of Antioch, our chief attention is called to the great metropolis of the period of the Greek kings. The Jewish quarter of Alexandria is well known in history; and the colony of Hellenistic Jews in Lower Egypt is of greater importance than that of their Aramaic brethren in Babylonia. Alexander himself brought Jews and Samaritans to his famous city; the first Ptolemy brought many more; and many betook themselves hither of their free will, that they might escape from the incessant troubles which disturbed the peace of their fatherland. Nor was their influence confined to Egypt, but they became known on one side in Aethiopia, the country of Queen Candace, (Acts 8:27.) and spread on the other in great numbers to the "parts of Libya about Cyrene."
Under what circumstances the Jews made their first appearance in Europe is unknown; but it is natural to suppose that those islands of the Archipelago which, as Humboldt has said, were like a bridge for the passage of civilization, became the means of the advance of Judaism. The journey of the proselyte Lydia from Thyatira to Philippi (Acts 16:14), and the voyage of Aquila and Priscilla from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18), are only specimens of mercantile excursions which must have begun at a far earlier period. Philo mentions Jews in Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, and Attica, in Argos and Corinth, in the other parts of Peloponnesus, and in the islands of Euboea and Crete: and St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of them in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea, in Athens, in Corinth, and in Rome. The first Jews came to Rome to decorate a triumph; but they were soon set free from captivity, and gave the name to the "Synagogue of the Libertines" in Jerusalem. They owed to Julius Caesar those privileges in the Western Capital which they had obtained from Alexander in the Eastern. They became influential, and made proselytes. They spread into other towns of Italy; and in the time of St. Paul's boyhood we find them in large numbers in the island of Sardinia, just as we have previously seen them established in that of Cyprus. With regard to Gaul, we know at least that two sons of Herod were banished, about this same period, to the banks of the Rhone; and if (as seems most probable) St. Paul accomplished that journey to Spain, of which he speaks in his letters, there is little doubt that he found there some of the scattered children of his own people. We do not seek to pursue them further; but, after a few words on the proselytes, we must return to the earliest scenes of the Apostle's career.
The subject of the proselytes is sufficiently important to demand a separate notice. Under this term we include at present all who were attracted in various degrees of intensity towards Judaism,—from those who by circumcision had obtained full access to all the privileges of the temple-worship, to those who only professed a general respect for the Mosaic religion, and attended as hearers in the synagogues. Many proselytes were attached to the Jewish communities wherever they were dispersed. Even in their own country and its vicinity, the number, both in early and later times, was not inconsiderable. The Queen of Sheba, in the Old Testament; Candace, Queen of Aethiopia, in the New; and King Izates, with his mother Helena, mentioned by Josephus, are only royal representatives of a large class. During the time of the Maccabees, some alien tribes were forcibly incorporated with the Jews. This was the case with the Ituraeans, and probably with the Moabites, and, above all, with the Edomites, with whose name that of the Herodian family is historically connected. How far Judaism extended among the vague collection of tribes called Arabians, we can only conjecture from the curious history of the Homerites, and from the actions of such chieftains as Aretas (2Co. 11:32). But as we travel towards the West and North, into countries better known, we find no lack of evidence of the moral effect of the synagogues, with their worship of Jehovah, and their prophecies of the Messiah. "Nicolas of Antioch" (Acts 6:5) is only one of that "vast multitude of Greeks" who, according to Josephus, were attracted in that city to the Jewish doctrine and ritual. In Damascus, we are even told by the same authority that the great majority of the women were proselytes; a fact which receives a remarkable illustration from what happened to Paul at Iconium (Acts 13:51). But all further details may be postponed till we follow Paul himself into the synagogues, where he so often addressed a mingled audience of "Jews of the dispersion" and "devout" strangers.
This chapter may be suitably concluded by some notice of the provinces of Cilicia and Judaea. This will serve as an illustration of what has been said above, concerning the state of the Roman provinces generally; it will exemplify the mixture of Jews, Greeks, and Romans in the east of the Mediterranean, and it will be a fit introduction to what must immediately succeed. For these are the two provinces which require our attention in the early life of the Apostle Paul.
Both these provinces were once under the sceptre of the line of the Seleucids, or Greek kings of Syria; and both of them, though originally inhabited by a "barbarous" population, received more or less of the influence of Greek civilization. If the map is consulted, it will be seen that Antioch, the capital of the Graeco-Syrian kings, is situated nearly in the angle where the coast-line of Cilicia, running eastwards, and that of Judaea, extended northwards, are brought to an abrupt meeting. It will be seen also, that, more or less parallel to each of these coasts, there is a line of mountains, not far from the sea, which are brought into contact with each other in heavy and confused forms, near the same angle; the principal break in the continuity of either of them being the valley of the Orontes, which passes by Antioch. One of these mountain lines is the range of Mount Taurus, which is so often mentioned as a great geographical boundary by the writers of Greece and Rome; and Cilicia extends partly over the Taurus itself, and partly between it and the sea. The other range is that of Lebanon—a name made sacred by the scriptures and poetry of the Jews; and where its towering eminences subside towards the south into a land of hills and valleys and level plains, there is Judaea, once the country of promise and possession to the chosen people, but a Roman province in the time of the Apostles.
Cilicia, in the sense in which the word was used under the early Roman emperors, comprehended two districts, of nearly equal extent, but of very different character. The Western portion, or Hough Cilicia, as it was called, was a collection of the branches of Mount Taurus, which come down in large masses to the sea, and form that projection of the coast which divides the Bay of Issus from that of Pamphylia. The inhabitants of the whole of this district were notorious for their robberies: the northern portion, under the name of Isauria, providing innumerable strongholds for marauders by land; and the southern, with its excellent timber, its cliffs, and small harbors, being a natural home for pirates. The Isaurians maintained their independence with such determined obstinacy, that in a later period of the Empire, the Romans were willing to resign all appearance of subduing them, and were content to surround them with a cordon of forts. The natives of the coast of Rough Cilicia began to extend their piracies as the strength of the kings of Syria and Egypt declined. They found in the progress of the Roman power, for some time, an encouragement rather than a hinderance; for they were actively engaged in an extensive and abominable slave-trade, of which the island of Delos was the great market; and the opulent families of Rome were in need of slaves, and were not more scrupulous than some Christian nations of modern times about the means of obtaining them. But the expeditions of these buccaneers of the Mediterranean became at last quite intolerable; their fleets seemed innumerable; their connections were extended far beyond their own coasts; all commerce was paralyzed; and they began to arouse that attention at Rome which the more distant pirates of the Eastern Archipelago not long ago excited in England. A vast expedition was fitted out under the command of Pompey the Great; thousands of piratic vessels were burnt on the coast of Cilicia, and the inhabitants dispersed. A perpetual service was thus done to the cause of civilization, and the Mediterranean was made safe for the voyages of merchants and Apostles. The town of Soli, on the borders of the two divisions of Cilicia, received the name of Pompeiopolis, in honor of the great conqueror, and the splendid remains of a colonnade which led from the harbor to the city may be considered a monument of this signal destruction of the enemies of order and peace.
The Eastern, or Flat Cilicia, was a rich and extensive plain. Its prolific vegetation is praised both by the earlier and later classical writers, and, even under the neglectful government of the Turks, is still noticed by modern travellers. From this circumstance, and still more from its peculiar physical configuration, it was a possession of great political importance. Walled off from the neighboring countries by a high barrier of mountains, which sweep irregularly round it from Pompeiopolis and Rough Cilicia to the Syrian coast on the North of Antioch,—with one pass leading up into the interior of Asia Minor, and another giving access to the valley of the Orontes,—it was naturally the high road both of trading caravans and of military expeditions. Through this country Cyrus marched, to depose his brother from the Persian throne. It was here that the decisive victory was obtained by Alexander over Darius. This plain has since seen the hosts of Western Crusaders; and, in our own day, has been the field of operations of hostile Mohammedan armies, Turkish and Egyptian. The Greek kings of Egypt endeavored, long ago, to tear it from the Greek kings of Syria. The Romans left it at first in the possession of Antiochus: but the line of Mount Taurus could not permanently arrest them: and the letters of Cicero remain to us among the most interesting, as they are among the earliest, monuments of Roman Cilicia.
Situated near the western border of the Cilician plain, where the river Cydnus flows in a cold and rapid stream, from the snows of Taurus to the sea, was the city of Tarsus, the capital of the whole province, and "no mean city" (Acts 21:39) in the history of the ancient world. Its coins reveal to us its greatness through a long series of years:—alike in the period which intervened between Xerxes and Alexander,—and under the Roman sway, when it exulted in the name of Metropolis,—and long after Hadrian had rebuilt it, and issued his new coinage with the old mythological types. In the intermediate period, which is that of St. Paul, we have the testimony of a native of this part of Asia Minor, from which we may infer that Tarsus was in the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean, almost what Marseilles was in the Western. Strabo says that, in all that relates to philosophy and general education, it was even more illustrious than Athens and Alexandria. From his description it is evident that its main character was that of a Greek city, where the Greek language was spoken, and Greek literature studiously cultivated. But we should be wrong in supposing that the general population of the province was of Greek origin, or spoke the Greek tongue. When Cyrus came with his army from the Western Coast, and still later, when Alexander penetrated into Cilicia, they found the inhabitants "Barbarians." Nor is it likely that the old race would be destroyed, or the old language obliterated, especially in the mountain districts, during the reign of the Seleucid kings. We must rather conceive of Tarsus as like Brest, in Brittany, or like Toulon, in Provence,—a city where the language of refinement is spoken and written, in the midst of a ruder population, who use a different language, and possess no literature of their own.
If we turn now to consider the position of this province and city under the Romans, we are led to notice two different systems of policy which they adopted in their subject dominions. The purpose of Rome was to make the world subservient to herself: but this might be accomplished directly or indirectly. A governor might be sent from Rome to take the absolute command of a province: or some native chief might have a kingdom, an ethnarchy, or a tetrarchy assigned to him, in which he was nominally independent, but really subservient, and often tributary. Some provinces were rich and productive, or essentially important in the military sense, and these were committed to Romans under the Senate or the Emperor. Others might be worthless or troublesome, and fit only to reward the services of a useful instrument, or to occupy the energies of a dangerous ally. Both these systems were adopted in the East and in the West. We have examples of both—in Spain and in Gaul—in Cilicia and in Judaea. In Asia Minor they were so irregularly combined, and the territories of the independent sovereigns were so capriciously granted or removed, extended or curtailed, that it is often difficult to ascertain what the actual boundaries of the provinces were at a given epoch. Not to enter into any minute history in the case of Cilicia, it will be enough to say, that its rich and level plain in the east was made a Roman province by Pompey, and so remained, while certain districts in the western portion were assigned, at different periods, to various native chieftains. Thus the territories of Amyntas, King of Galatia, were extended in this direction by Antony, when he was preparing for his great struggle with Augustus: just as a modern Rajah may be strengthened on the banks of the Indus, in connection with wars against Scinde and the Sikhs. For some time the whole of Cilicia was a consolidated province under the first emperors: but again, in the reign of Claudius, we find a portion of the same Western district assigned to a king called Polemo II. It is needless to pursue the history further. In St. Paul's early life the political state of the inhabitants of Cilicia would be that of subjects of a Roman governor: and Roman officials, if not Roman soldiers, would be a familiar sight to the Jews who were settled in Tarsus.
We shall have many opportunities of describing the condition of provinces under the dominion of Rome; but it may be interesting here to allude to the information which may be gathered from the writings of that distinguished man, who was governor of Cilicia, a few years after its first reduction by Pompey. He was intrusted with the civil and military superintendence of a large district in this corner of the Mediterranean, comprehending not only Cilicia, but Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, and the island of Cyprus; and he has left a record of all the details of his policy in a long series of letters, which are a curious monument of the Roman procedure in the management of conquered provinces, and which possess a double interest to us, from their frequent allusions to the same places which St. Paul refers to in his Epistles. This correspondence represents to us the governor as surrounded by the adulation of obsequious Asiatic Greeks. He travels with an interpreter, for Latin is the official language; he puts down banditti, and is saluted by the title of Imperator; letters are written, on various subjects, to the governors of neighboring provinces,—for instance, Syria, Asia, and Bithynia; ceremonious communications take place with the independent chieftains. The friendly relations of Cicero with Deiotarus, King of Galatia, and his son, remind us of the interview of Pilate and Herod in the Gospel, or of Festus and Agrippa in the Acts. Cicero's letters are rather too full of a boastful commendation of his own integrity; but from what he says that he did, we may infer by contrast what was done by others who were less scrupulous in the discharge of the same responsibilities. He allowed free access to his person; he refused expensive monuments in his honor; he declined the proffered present of the pauper King of Cappadocia; he abstained from exacting the customary expenses from the states which he traversed on his march; he remitted to the treasury the moneys which were not expended on his province; he would not place in official situations those who were engaged in trade; he treated the local Greek magistrates with due consideration, and contrived at the same time to give satisfaction to the Publicans. From all this it may be easily inferred with how much corruption, cruelty, and pride, the Romans usually governed; and how miserable must have been the condition of a province under a Verres or an Appius, a Pilate or a Felix. So far as we remember, the Jews are not mentioned in any of Cicero's Cilician letters; but if we may draw conclusions from a speech which he made at Rome in defence of a contemporary governor of Asia, he regarded them with much contempt, and would be likely to treat them with harshness and injustice.
That Polemo II., who has lately been mentioned as a king in Cilicia, was one of those curious links which the history of those times exhibits between Heathenism, Judaism, and Christianity. He became a Jew to marry Berenice, who afterwards forsook him, and whose name, after once appearing in Sacred History (Acts 25, 26.), is lastly associated with that of Titus, the destroyer of Jerusalem. The name of Berenice will at once suggest the family of the Herods, and transport our thoughts to Judaea.
The same general features may be traced in this province as in that which we have been attempting to describe. In some respects, indeed, the details of its history are different. When Cilicia was a province, it formed a separate jurisdiction, with a governor of its own, immediately responsible to Rome: but Judaea, in its provincial period, was only an appendage to Syria. It has been said that the position of the ruler resident at Caesarea in connection with the supreme authority at Antioch may be best understood by comparing it with that of the governor of Madras or Bombay under the governor-general who resides at Calcutta. The comparison is in some respects just: and British India might supply a further parallel. We might say that when Judaea was not strictly a province, but a monarchy under the protectorate of Rome, it bore the same relation to the contiguous province of Syria which, before the recent war, the territories of the king of Oude bore to the presidency of Bengal. Judaea was twice a monarchy; and thus its history furnishes illustrations of the two systems pursued by the Romans, of direct and indirect government.