Section 5: Arabia Visit—Mentioned by Paul, Not Acts
Not altogether without special reason, seems the veil of obscurity to have been cast over this long interval. In design, rather than accident, or heedlessness, or want of information,—may be found, it should seem, the cause, of a silence so pregnant with misrepresentation. In addition to a length of time, more or less considerable, spent in Damascus, a city in close communication with Jerusalem, in giving proofs of his conversion,—three years spent in some part or other of the contiguous indeed, but wide-extending, country of Arabia—(spent, if Paul is to be believed, in preaching the religion of Jesus, and at any rate in a state of peace and innoxiousness with relation to it)—afforded such proof of a change of plan and sentiment, as, in the case of many a man, might, without miracle or wonder, have sufficed to form a basis for the projected alliance:—this proof, even of itself; much more, when corroborated, by the sort of certificate, given to the Church by its preeminent benefactor Barnabas, who, in introducing the new convert, to the leaders among the Apostles, for the special purpose of proposing the alliance,—took upon himself the personal responsibility, so inseparably involved in such a mark of confidence.
In this state of things then, which is expressly asserted by Paul to have been, and appears indubitably to have been, a real one,—considerations of an ordinary nature being sufficient—to produce—not only the effect actually produced—but, in the case of many a man, much more than the effect actually produced,—there was no demand, at that time, for a miracle: no demand for a miracle, for any such purpose, as that of working, upon the minds of the Apostles, to any such effect as that of their maintaining, towards the new convert, a conduct free from hostility, accompanied with a countenance of outward amity. But, for other purposes, and in the course of his intercourse with persons of other descriptions, it became necessary for him to have had these visions: it became necessary—not only for the purpose of proving connection on his part with the departed Jesus, to the satisfaction of all those by whom such proof would be looked for,—but, for the further purpose, of ascribing to Jesus, whatsoever doctrines the prosecution of his design might from time to time call upon him to promulgate;—those doctrines, in a word, which, (as will be seen), being his and not Jesus's—not reported by anyone else as being Jesus's—we shall find him, notwithstanding, preaching, and delivering,—so much at his ease, and with unhesitating assurance.
A miracle having therefore been deemed necessary (the miracle of the conversion-vision), and reported accordingly,—thus it is, that, by the appearance of suddenness, given to the sort and degree of confidence thereupon reported as having been bestowed upon him by the Apostles, a sort of confirmation is, in the Acts account, given to the report of the miracle: according to this account, it was not by the three or four years passed by him in the prosecution of their designs, or at least without obstruction given to them;—it was not by any such proof of amity, that the intercourse, such as it was, had been effected:—no: it was by the report of the vision—that report which, in the first instance, was made to them by their generous benefactor and powerful supporter, Barnabas; confirmed, as, to every candid eye it could not fail to be, by whatever accounts were, on the occasion of the personal intercourse, delivered from his own lips. The historian sayss,
When in the year 57, Paul,18 to so many other boastings, was added the sufferings he would have us think were courted and endured by him, while preaching in the name of Jesus, that gospel, which he proclaims to have been his own, and not that of the Apostles, little assuredly did he think, that five years after, or thereabout, from the hand of one of his own attendants, a narrative was to appear, in which, of these same sufferings a so much shorter list would be given; or that, by an odd enough coincidence, more than seventeen centuries after, by a namesake of his honored patron, Doctor Gamaliel, the contradiction thus given to him, would be held up to view.
In the second of his epistles to his Corinthians, dated A.D. 57,—the following is the summary he gives of those same sufferings. Speaking of certain unnamed persons, styled by him false Apostles, but whom reasons are not wanting for believing to have been among the disciples of the real ones,—He says,
Add from his former Epistle to the same in the same year, battle with beasts, one.
Let us now see how the account stands, as per Acts. On the part of this his panegyrist, whether any such habit had place as that of cutting down below their real amount, either the sufferings or the actings of his hero, the reader will have judged. Of both together, let it not be forgotten, the Acts' account comes some five years lower, than the date of the above tragical list: in it are included those sufferings and perils which we have seen, namely, those produced by the voyage to Rome, and which, at the time of Paul's list, had not taken their commencement. Now then for the Acts' list. Stripes, nine-and-thirty in a parcel, none: difference five. Beatings with rods, saving one possible one, of which presently, none; difference, three. Stoning, one.19 Shipwreck, as yet none: the accident at Malta being three years subsequent. "Night and day in the deep,"—according as it was on or in the deep—either nothing at all, or an adventure considerably too singular to have been passed over. Diving-bells are not commonly supposed to have been, at that time of day, in use; but whoever has a taste for predictions, may, if it be agreeable to him, see those same scientific instruments or the equivalent in this Gospel of Paul's predicted.
As to the parcels of stripes, the self-constituted Apostle takes credit for, they would have been,—supposing them administered,—administered, all of them, according to law, meaning always the law of Moses: for, it is in that law,(namely in Deuteronomy 25:3) that the clause, limiting to nine-and-thirty, the number to be given at a time, is to be found. Of these statements of Paul's, let it not pass unnoticed, the place is—a formal and studied Epistle, not an extempore speech: so that the falsehood in them, if any, was not less deliberate than the Temple perjury.
Of all these same boasted bodily sufferings, eight in the whole, when put together,—one was, at the outset, reserved for consideration: let us see what light, if any, is cast upon it by the Acts. One beating, the Acts informs us of: and it was a beating by order of magistrates: and accordingly, a beating according to law. But the law, according to which it was given, was not Jewish law: the magistrates, by whose order it was given, were not Jewish magistrates. The magistrates were heathens: and it was for being Jews, and preaching in the Jewish style, that Paul, and his companion Silas, were thus visited. It was at Philippi that the affair happened: it was immediately preceded by their adventure with the divineress, as per Acts 16:16; 34, Chap. 13: and brought about by the resentment of her masters, to whose established business, the innovation, introduced by these interlopers, had given disturbance: it was followed—immediately followed—by the earthquake, which was so dexterous in taking irons off. Whether therefore this beating was in Paul's account comprised in the eight stripings and beatings, seems not possible, humanly speaking, to know: not possible, unless so it be, that Paul, being the wandering Jew, we have sometimes heard of, is still alive,—still upon the look-out, for that aërial voyage, which, with or without the expectation of an aërostatic vehicle, we have seen him so confident in the assurance of.
Remains the battle with the beasts. What these same beasts were, how many there were of them,—how many legs they respectively had—for example, two or four—in what way he was introduced into their company,—whence his difference with them took its rise,—whether it was of his own seeking, or by invitation that he entered the lists with these his antagonists,—how it fared with them when the affair was over,—(for as to the hero himself, it does not appear that he was much the worse for it);—these, amongst other questions, might be worth answering, upon the supposition, that these antagonists of his were real beings and real beasts, and not of the same class as the arch-beast of his own begetting—Antichrist. But, the plain truth seems to be, that if ever he fought with beasts, it was in one of his visions: in which case, for proof of the occurrence, no visible mark of laceration could reasonably be demanded. Meantime, to prove the negative, as far as, in a case such as this, it is in the nature of a negative to be proved,—we may, without much fear of the result, venture to call his ever-devoted scribe. To this same Ephesus,—not more than a twelvemonth or thereabouts, before the date of the Epistle—he brings his patron,—finds appropriate employment for him,—and, off and on, keeps him there for no inconsiderable length of time. There it is, that we have seen, Chap. 13, §. 7. his handkerchiefs driving out devils as well as diseases: there it is, and for no other reason than that he is there—there it is, that we have seen so many thousand pounds worth of magical books burnt—and by their owners: there it is, that with a single handkerchief of his,—which so it were but used, was an overmatch for we know not how many devils,—we saw a single devil, with no other hands than those of the man he lodged in, wounding and stripping to the skin no fewer than seven men at the same time. If, then, with or without a whole skin at the conclusion of it, he had really had any such rencounter, with one knows not how many beasts, is it in the nature of the case, that this same historiographer of his, should have kept us ignorant of it? To be shut up with wild beasts, until torn to pieces by them, was indeed one of the punishments, for which men were indebted to the ingenuity of the Roman lawyers: but, if any such sentence was really executed upon our self-constituted Apostle, his surviving it was a miracle too brilliant not to have been placed at the head of all his other miracles: at any rate, too extraordinary to have been passed by altogether without notice. The biographer of Daniel was not thus negligent.
After all, was it really matter of pure invention—this same battle? or may it not, like so many of the quasi-miracles in the Acts, have had a more or less substantial foundation in fact? The case may it not have been—that, while he was at Ephesus, somebody or other set a dog at him, as men will sometimes do at a troublesome beggar? or that, whether with hand or tongue, some person, male or female, set upon him with a degree of vivacity, which, according to Paul's zoology, elucidated by Paul's eloquence, entitled him or her to a place in the order of beasts?—Where darkness is thus visible, no light can be so faint, as not to bring with it some title to indulgence.
Of the accounts, given us by the historiographer, of the exploits and experiences of his hero while at Ephesus, one article more will complete the list. When any such opportunity offered, as that of presenting him to view, in his here assumed character, of a candidate for the honours of martyrdom,—was it or was it not in the character of the historiographer to let it pass unimproved? To our judgment on this question, some further maturity may be given, by one more law-case, now to be brought to view. Under some such name as that of the Ephesian Diana, not unfrequent are the allusions to it. Church of Diana silversmiths versus Paul and Co. is a name, by which, in an English law report, it might with more strict propriety be designated. Plaintiffs, silversmiths' company just named: Defendants, Paul and Co.; to wit, said Paul, Alexander, Aristarchus, Alexander and others. Acts, 22:41. Action on the case for words:—the words, in tenor not reported: purport, importing injury in the way of trade. Out of the principal cause, we shall see growing a sort of cross cause: a case of assault, in which three of the defendants were, or might have been, plaintiffs: cause of action, assault, terminating in false imprisonment. In this exercetitious cause, defendants not individually specified: for, in those early days, note-taking had not arrived at the pitch of perfection, at which we see it at present. That which,—with reference to the question—as to the truth of the beast-fighting story,—is more particularly material in the two cases taken together,—is this: in the situation, in which these junior partners of Paul found themselves, there was some difficulty, not to say some danger. Pressed, as he himself was afterwards, in his invasion of Jerusalem,—pressed in more senses than one, they found themselves by an accusing multitude. What on this occasion does Paul? He slips his neck out of the collar. So far from lending them a hand for their support, he will not so much as lend them a syllable of his eloquence. Why? because forsooth, says his historiographer, Acts xix. 30, 31, "the disciples suffered him not:" item, v. 30, "certain" others of "his friends." When, as we have seen him, spite of everything that could be said to him, he repaired to Jerusalem on his Invasion Visit,—he was not quite so perfectly under the government of his friends. On the present occasion, we shall find him sufficiently tractable. Was this a man to be an antagonist and overmatch for wild beasts?
Now as to the above-mentioned principal case. Plaintiffs, dealers in silver goods: Defendants, dealers in words. To be rivals in trade, it is not necessary that men should deal exactly in the same articles:—the sale of the words injured the sale of the goods: so at least the plaintiffs took upon them to aver: for, in such a case, suspicion is not apt to lie asleep. The church of Diana was the Established Church, of that place and time. To the honour, the plaintiffs added the profit, of being silversmiths to that same Excellent Church. To the value of that sort of evidence, which it is the province of silversmiths to furnish, no established church was ever insensible. The evidence, furnished by the church silversmiths of these days, is composed of chalices: under the Pagan dispensation, the evidence furnished by the church silversmiths of the church of the Ephesian Diana, was composed of shrines. When, with that resurrection of his own, and that Gospel of his own, of which so copious a sample remains to us in his Epistles,—Paul, with or without the name of Jesus in his mouth, made his appearance in the market, Plaintiffs, as we have seen, took the alarm. They proceeded, as the pious sons of an established church could not fail to proceed. Before action commenced, to prepare the way for a suitable judgment,—they set to work, and set on fire the inflammable part of the public mind. The church was declared to be in danger, ver. 27: the church of Diana, just as the church of England and Ireland would be, should any such sacrilegious proposition be seriously made, as that of tearing out of her bosom any of those precious sinecures, of which her vitals are composed. In Ephesus, it is not stated, that, at that time, any society bearing the name of the Vice Society, or the Constitutional Association, was on foot. But, of those pious institutions the equivalent could not be wanting. Accordingly, the charge of blasphemy, it may be seen, ver. 37, was not left unemployed. So the defence shows: the defence, to wit, made by the probity and wisdom of the judge: for, by the violence of the church mob,—who, but for him, were prepared to have given a precedent, to that which set Birmingham in flames,—the defendants were placed in the condition of prisoners: and the judge, seeing the violence, of the prejudice they had to encounter, felt the necessity, of adding to the function of judge, that of counsel for the prisoners.
But it is time to turn to the text: not a particle of it can be spared.
And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre. And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people. But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another. But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.
The Judge by whom the principal cause was tried, and the plaintiffs non-suited, is styled, we see "the Town Clerk:" the more appropriate and respected title would not on this occasion have been ill-applied to him. Except what we have here been seeing, we know nothing of him that is positive: but, seeing thus much of him, we see that he was an honest man: and an honest man is not ill portrayed by negatives. He had no coronet playing before his eyes: no overpaid places and sinecures for relatives. He had not been made judge, for publishing a liturgy of the church of Diana, with an embroidery composed of his own comments,—or for circulating, with anonymous delicacy, a pious warning, never to be absent from the shrine of Diana, when the sacred cup was, proffered by the hands of holy priests. Accordingly, when the charge of blasphemy was brought before him,—being a heathen, he found no difficulty in treating it, in that gentle and soothing mode, in which, when, from the bosom of an established church it enters into a man, the spirit, which calls itself the spirit of Christianity, renders him so averse to the treating it. If, when his robes were off, he spoke of Diana what we now think of her,—he did not, when they were on, foam or rave, declare—that all, who would not swear to their belief in her, were not fit to be believed, or so much as fit to live.
By him, one man was not robbed of his rights, because another man, when called upon as a witness, refused to perjure himself. By him, a man was not refused to be heard as a witness, nor refused protection for the fruits of his industry, nor deprived of the guardianship of his children, because he waited to see Diana, before he declared himself a believer in her existence. In the open theatre was pronounced the judgment we have seen. He did not, by secret sittings, deprive men of the protection of the public eye. He did not, we may stand assured—for we see how far the people of Ephesus were from being tame enough to endure it—he did not keep men's property in his hands, to be plundered by himself, his children, or his creatures, till the property was absorbed, and the proprietors sent broken-hearted to their graves. He did not—for the people of Ephesus would not have endured it—wring out of distress a princely income, on pretence of giving decisions, declaring all the while his matchless incapacity for everything but prating or raising doubts. He did not display,—he could not have displayed—the people of Ephesus could not have endured it—any such effrontery, as, when a judicatory was to sit upon his conduct, to set himself down in it, and assume and carry on the management of it. He would not have sought impunity—for if he had sought it in Ephesus, he would not have found it there—he would not have sought impunity, in eyes lifted up to heaven, or streaming with crocodile tears.
Thus much as to his negative merits. But, we have seen enough of him, to see one great positive one. When, from the inexhaustible source of inflammation, a flame was kindled,—he did not fan the flame,—he quenched it.
The religion of Diana having thus come upon the carpet, a reflection which could not be put by, is—spite of all efforts of the church silversmiths, in how many essential points, negative as they are, the religion of Diana had, on the ground of usefulness, the advantage of that, which is the religion of Paul, and is called the religion of Jesus. Diana drove no men out of their senses, by pictures or preachments of never-ending torments. On pretence of saving men from future sufferings, no men were consigned by it to present ones. No mischievous, no pain-producing, no real vice, was promoted by it. It compelled no perjury, no hypocrisy: it rewarded none. It committed, it supported, it blessed, it lauded, no depredation, no oppression in any shape: it plundered no man of the fruits of his industry, under the name of tithes. For the enrichment of the sacred shrines,—money, in any quantity, we may venture to say, received: received, yes: but in no quantity extorted. One temple was sufficient for that goddess. Believing, or not believing in her divinity,—no men were compelled to pay money, for more temples, more priests, or more shrines.
As to the religion of Jesus, true it is, that so long as it continued the religion of Jesus, all was good government, all was equality, all was harmony: free church, the whole; established church, none: monarchy, none; constitution, democratical. Constitutive authority, the whole community: legislative, the Apostles of Jesus; executive, the Commissioners of the Treasury: not Lords Commissioners, appointed by a King Herod, but trustees or stewards; for such should have been the word, and not deacons,—agents elected by universal suffrage. In this felicitous state, how long it continued—we know not. What we do know, is—that, in the fourth century, despotism took possession of it, and made an instrument of it. Becoming established, it became noxious,—preponderantly noxious. For, where established is the adjunct to it, what does religion mean? what but depredation, corruption, oppression, hypocrisy? depredation, corruption, oppression, hypocrisy—these four: with delusion, in all its forms and trappings, for support.
So pregnant is this same boasting passage in 1st Corinthians 15:32, the labour it has thrown upon us, is not altogether at an end. By what it says of the resurrection, the memory has been led back, to what we have seen on the same subject, in one of Paul's Epistles to his Thessalonians: brought together, the two doctrines present a contrast too curious to be left unnoticed. Of the apparatus employed by him in his trade of disciple-catcher, his talk about the resurrection, was, it may well be imagined, a capital article. Being, according to his own motto,
So much for explanation: now for the announced contrast. Whoever the people were, whom he had to address himself to,—they had contracted, he found, a bad habit: it was that of eating and drinking. Reason is but too apt to be seduced by, and enlisted in the service of her most dangerous enemy—Appetite. Not only did they eat and drink; but they had found, as it seemed to them, reason for so doing. They ate and drank—why? because they were to die after it. "Let us eat and drink," said the language we have seen him reproaching them with,
The case is—that, in pleasure, in whatever shape they see her,—all men, to whose ambition supernatural terrors supply an instrument of dominion, behold their most formidable rival. Against such a rival, wonderful indeed it would be, if their hostility were not proportionable. No morality accordingly do they acknowledge, that does not include, with or without other things, hatred,—with or without contempt, of pleasure. Such, too, as is their morality, such is their law. Death is scarce severe enough, for a pleasure, which they either have, or would be thought to have, no relish for. So at least says what they teach: but, teaching how to act is one thing; acting accordingly, another. Thus we all see it is, in so many instances: and thus, without much danger of injustice, we may venture to suppose it may have been, in that of the self-constituted Apostle.
Not so Jesus: no harm did he see in eating and drinking, unless with the pleasure it produced greater pain. With this reserve, no harm,—for anything that appears in any one of the four histories we have of him,—no harm did he see in anything that gives pleasure. What every man knows—and what Jesus knew as well as any man—for neither in words nor in acts did he deny it—is,—that happiness, at what time soever experienced,—happiness, to be anything, must be composed of pleasures: and, be the man who he may, of what it is that gives pleasure to him, he alone can be judge.
But, to return to eating and drinking. Eating and drinking—he gives his men to understand—even he, holy as he is, should not have had any objection to, had it not been for this same resurrection of his, which he was telling them of: eating and drinking—a practice, to which, notwithstanding this resurrection of his, and so much as he had told them of it, he had the mortification to find them so much addicted. So much for his Corinthians. It was, as we see, for want of their paying, to what he was thus telling them about the resurrection, that attention, to which it was so well entitled,—that they still kept on in that bad habit. But his Thessalonians—they too, as we have seen, had got the same bad habit. Well: and what was it that gave it them? What but their paying too much attention to this same resurrection of his, dished up in the same or another manner, by the same inventive and experienced hand. In conclusion, on laying the two cases together, what seems evident enough is—that, in whatever manner served up to them, his resurrection, whatever it was, was considerably more effectual in making people eat and drink, than in weaning them from it.
18 N.B. The editor at this place inserts pages of discussion—which the author exhibited by way of an appendix. At the expense of a little redundancy and incongruity the editor inserts it in this place.—Ed.
19 According to the Acts' account, this same stoning, if it was the same, was much in the style of that same resurrection of Eutychus, which we have seen in Chapter 13 §. 10. As to Paul, when this martyrdom had been suffered by him,—"some" says Acts 14:19, were "supposing he had been dead:" and on that supposition, "drew him out of the city." Paul, on the other hand, thought otherwise: he supposed himself alive, and, on that supposition, he walked off, as if nothing had been the matter with him. Verses 19 and 20 say,