WEDNESDAY, 21st JUNE, 1876,
IN THE TEMPERANCE HALL, BIRMINGHAM.
THE CHAIR WAS OCCUPIED BY MR. GEORGE H. ST. CLAIR
The CHAIRMAN: You will be familiar by this time with the order of discussion, which is the same each evening. Last night, I think we were less interrupted than on the previous occasion, and I trust, in this respect, you will apply the Christian exhortation, and go on to perfection. I have the pleasure to ask Mr. Roberts to open on the affirmative side.
Mr. ROBERTS: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.–Last night Mr. Bradlaugh said some rather hard things. They did not hurt me, however: firstly, because I am accustomed to such things; secondly, because, they were not true; and thirdly, because I rather think they indicate, on the part of Mr. Bradlaugh, a conscious weakness in the argument. But there is one thing Mr. Bradlaugh said to which I feel called upon to make allusion, lest my silence should be misconstrued. I refer to his denial of the statement I made at the beginning of last night’s meeting–that I was prepared with chapter and verse to all the authors whose names I mentioned as contemporary witnesses of the existence of the New Testament, at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century. He denied that I had these evidences or had access to these writers. I, therefore, produce them, one by one, to the chairman; and I ask the chairman as a scholar and a gentleman–
Mr. BRADLAUGH: I object.
Mr. ROBERTS: As a scholar and a gentleman, I ask him to say whether or not these books produced justify my assertion, and constitute the proof which I allege. The chairman shall act as umpire, on a matter of fact like this, affecting, as it does, the veracity of the speaker. I produce, first, the seven epistles of Ignatius the very epistles themselves, and not extracts from them by other writers. I produce the epistle of Barnabas. I produce the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. I produce the epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians. They are all bound together with those other writings which constitute the apocryphal New Testament. Next, I produce Milner’s Church History, which was also on the platform last night, in which Milner quotes largely from all these men. I next produce Reid’s edition of Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, in which also are extensive allusions, particularly in Reid’s footnotes, to those writers. I finally produce a compilation by Dr. Brewer, which brings the entire mass of the evidence to a focus, so to speak.
There is only one hypothesis on which I can imagine Mr. Bradlaugh can attempt to justify his assertion, or upon which I can understand it. He may have meant that I did not have in my possession the original books written by these men, that is, the actual manuscripts–the actual parchment on which they wrote. I never said I had. I don’t suppose they are in existence, but this is no barrier to their reception. Mr. Bradlaugh has produced books. What if I said he did not produce them because he could not produce the actual caligraphic productions of the writers? He would say he had copies, which would be an answer. I claim equally the reception and use for the present argument of those books which I have produced. I have made no profession of learning in the matter. If there has been any profession of learning in the matter it has been on the other side of the platform entirely. The works I have alluded to, are such as are accessible to illiterate persons. Nevertheless, I contend they are conclusive evidence on the question as to whether or not the New Testament existed in the first century. My argument is that the New Testament must have existed then or these writers could not have quoted from it. And the force of that argument is not weakened by the fact that some of the writers believed in the Phoenix or any other nonsense. Nor is it affected by the suggestion that these letters of Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, &c., may be forgeries: for even if forgeries, their existence is traceable to the first century, and their evidence of the existence of the New Testament at that time is all the same.
Having alluded to these matters which, I am sorry to have taken up so much of my half hour with, I propose returning to my affirmative argument, and to show that the history of the Jewish nation, particularly as involving the character and career of Moses, cannot be explained on the Free-thinkers’ hypothesis, but is, on the contrary, an irrefragable proof of the divine character and authorship of the Scriptures. In this we are dealing to a certain extent with a palpable contemporary fact. There is such a nation extant in the world as the Jews, as Mr. Bradlaugh himself is compelled to admit. That nation is not of yesterday: its records go farther back into the remote dim regions of antiquity than those of any other nation under heaven, with the exception of the inscriptions on Egyptian and Assyrian remains and monuments, which are childish affairs compared with the magnificent writings of Moses. I must of course refer to those writings in elaborating the argument of this evening. That they are the writings of Moses is proved in several ways. First, there is the tradition of the Jews in all generations. They have said that Moses is the author of that book, and that of itself is a weighty, and in fact, conclusive argument, for how could such a reputation come to exist apart from the fact that Moses at the beginning did write them?
But it is said the Mahommedans are witnesses to the Koran. So they are; I admit it. And it is said the Mormons are witness to the writings of Smith. I admit it. But what have we then? We have a book admittedly written by Mahomet, and a book admittedly written by Joe Smith; but when we come to examine the books in the light of facts, we find evidence that Mahomet and Joe Smith are impostors. The result is the same in a less degree in the works admitted to be the productions of Zoroaster, Confucius, and other ancient writers. The authenticity admitted, their undivine character is self-manifest. All I ask Mr. Bradlaugh is to concede a similiar process of treatment to the writing of Moses. That is, admit its authenticity on the evidence on which he admits the authenticity of the Koran, and then examine the book. Let him admit that just as the authenticity of the Koran is proved by the universal consent of the Mahommedans, so the authenticity of Moses is proved by the universal consent of the Jews. And, then go to the investigation of the books and see whether or not the allegation that it is a divine revelation is proved by its very contents.
My next witness to the authenticity of the writings of Moses is Jesus of Nazareth, whom I have a right to call, because I have proved his resurrection by arguments which Mr. Bradlaugh has not attempted to upset. The testimony of a man proved to be the Son of God by resurrection from the dead, must be true. Jesus recognises Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. In John 5:46, He says:"Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for HE WROTE of me. But if ye believe not HIS WRITINGS, how shall ye believe my words?" In Luke 16:29, he puts these words into the mouth of a parabolic character:–"They have MOSES and the prophets; let them hear them. If they hear not MOSES and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." In Luke 24:27, it is recorded concerning Christ that, after his resurrection, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Logically this evidence is conclusive without anything else. But there is other evidence not so strong, which I produce, because Mr. Bradlaugh has a curious preference for the imperfect and blundering evidence of merely secondary writers, instead of going direct to the merits. I have already referred to Josephus. I have already shown that he (a careful, clear, and trustworthy writer) comes before us as a witness to the writings of Moses. It may be asked how did Josephus know? My answer is, Josephus was a man in office amongst the Jews, with access to all the means existing in the first century of forming a decision, and his writings show that he had the capacity for forming a just decision. The recognition of the writings of Moses by such a man, is of some weight in the scale. I have already referred to the Septuagint as a collateral evidence of value. I might also mention the Samaritan version, which was made from the original ages before even the Septuagint, from a desire on the part of the Samaritans to have the books of Moses in their own possession. All these are valuable collateral evidences of the authenticity of the book now in question.
But let us now go to the book itself. I will affirm that, if you take God out of the five books of Moses, those five books fall to pieces. They cannot be understood on the hypothesis that they were written by a man to glorify himself, his name, or his nation; or to serve any sinister purpose whatever, or human purpose of any kind, minister or otherwise. Let us look at the evidence of this. If written by a man of his own notion, we know, from acquaintance with man universally, that the purpose would be to call attention to or create honour for somebody, or to serve some purpose congenial to human nature. Let us then test Moses by this hypothesis, by the hypothesis that his writings were merely a human production, and then you will see my meaning. If the object of Moses in the operation he conducted in connection with the Jewish nation was to make himself a great leader and make himself a great name, as Manetho says, it would have been necessary for him to conciliate the people by complimentary words, as all popular leaders in all ages have found it necessary to do and have done. He would speak to them pleasant things, and cheer them with prophecies of good. You will find that Moses did nothing of the sort, but indulged in language and assumed an attitude utterly inconsistent with any human object whatever. Let me draw attention to Deuteronomy 9, from the 4th to the 7th verses, and let me ask you to imagine either Moses or anyone else speaking thus while practising an imposture for the glorification of himself or the Jewish nation:–"Speak not thou in thine heart after that the Lord thy God hath cast them (the Canaanitish nations) out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness or for the uprightness of thy heart dost thou go to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness, FOR THOU ART A STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE. Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God in the wilderness, from the day thou didst depart out from the land of Egypt; until ye came unto this place ye have been rebellious against the Lord." Is that the way a patriot speaks to the people whose suffrages he canvasses, or whose good opinion he aims to secure, that his name may be sent down with fame to posterity? Every man can answer that question for himself. We all know the language of men who aim at a personal object. They flatter and speak well of those whom they seek to use as instruments of their personal ambitions. Moses never did so. What I have read is only a mere sample of his style. Let any one read his writings, and they will find they are all in the same strain. If God sent and was with Moses, the style of his address is explained. If God did not appear to Moses, but Moses, out of his own head, sought to accomplish a personal object, such language is incomprehensible.
I must be content on that point and hurry on to something else. I will next ask: Did the people glorify Moses? Did they accept him as their leader? If this book was written in order to glorify Moses or to glorify the Jewish nation–if Jewish transactions in their beginnings were merely human performances, with which God had nothing to do, or if this book had been written afterwards to create confidence in a merely traditional Moses, without reference to truth, it would have been carefully shown that, at the beginning and during all his life, Moses was accepted by the people; certainly, every circumstance tending to show rebellious conduct on the part of the people during all the circumstances attending their exodus from Egypt, and their passage through the wilderness, would have been suppressed. Instead of this, what do we find? Why, the people are described as in a state of continual revolt. Let me illustrate this by Exodus 16, 2nd verse:–"And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness; and the children of Israel said to them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." Again, when the spies sent before to see the land to which they were journeying, took an evil report, we read (Num. 14:1-5; 2:22, 23) "And all the congregation then lifted up their voice and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, would to God that we had died in the land of Egypt, or would to God we had died in this wilderness … Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain and let us return into Egypt. Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel … And the Lord said unto Moses, how long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me for all the signs which I have showed among them? … Because all those men which have seen my glory and my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times and have not hearkened to my voice, surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers."
Then there is the account of the conspiracy of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who rose against Moses with the support of the entire assembly, and whose rebellion was only quelled by miraculous destruction. Now, if God did truly send Moses, and if his statement to Korah, Dathan and Abiram be true, viz., "The Lord sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of mine own mind."–(Num. 16:28)–then the putting on record such a history is intelligible. But if these things never happened, how came they to be invented? What purpose could be served by the invention? No man invents a lie without an object, and what object could there be in insulting the national character by placing in the national archives such an invention? It is impossible to conceive such a thing. The narrative bears the stamp of truth: If true, its record is explained; and in that case, God is proved, and the authenticity and reliability of the Scriptures in general. I am content with the illustration adduced, though there are many others of the same sort, and I pass to the next point of my argument.
If Moses acted as a man out of his own head as the deviser and inventor of the law, he would have taken good care to have contrived that his hand in it would always be visible, so that credit would come to him as the author of it. Instead of that what do we find? We find him always attributing the law to God, e.g. "These are the commandments, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God commanded to teach you."–(Deut. 6:1). When expostulating with them for their rebellion, his language is, "What are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord."–(Deut. 16:8). In Deut. 4:20, this peculiarity comes out strongly in connection with an extraordinary instance of personal disparagement –incomprehensible on any other hypothesis but that of its truth. We find him saying: " The Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day. Furthermore, the Lord was angry WITH ME for your sakes, and sware that I should not go over Jordan … but I MUST DIE IN THIS LAND." (Time called.)