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Dias’ Letters: Letter 21.

(Continued from page 254.)

Let us now examine, whether the supreme legislative power, (in which the sceptre promised to Judah, is made to consist,) was held by the Sanhedrin; but on examination it appears very plain, that it was departed, or taken away from it, long before that period, and its authority, reduced to a mere nothing, a very shadow of authority,* made dependent on the Roman governors; consequently those governors, and not the Sanhedrin, had the supreme power. This is easily shown from those very historians, though they assert, and pretend to make out the very reverse, to serve a turn.

* Prid. Connexions, vol. iv. p. 933.

They tell us themselves, that from a change which Gabinus made in the government (long before the birth of Jesus) the Jews “fell under the subjection of a set of domineering lords,” and consequently lost their power* by the change; and though Hyrcanus had afterwards a grant of the government, both as Prince and High Priest, with privilege of judging all causes:† it is evident that whatever power wherewith he invested the Sanhedrin, it must have been very precarious, far short of the supreme legislative power. This appears from their suffering Herod to appear before them, “though summoned as a criminal, in such guise as gave them to understand that he came not as a private person to be judged by them.” And how could they possess the supreme power, without either the freedom of judging or enforcing their sentence? That they had not that privilege, is very plain from the letters which Sextus Caesar wrote to intimidate the Sanhedrin, and that in their judicial capacity.‡ Can it be said they were the supreme legislators, and yet have their jurisdiction disclaimed by Herod,§ who cruelly put to death all the members excepting two: and that too, for their proceeding in that very council? How insignificant must their power have been if they could not hinder the abolition of their ceremonies, and the introducing of foreign customs, contrary to law;|| neither could they hinder a law of Herod’s being imposed on them, not only contrary to the laws of Moses, but also contrary to the inclination of the whole nation. If these be not proofs, that they had lost the su<<357>>preme legislative power, and that it was never restored to the Sanhedrin, I know not what can be deemed so.¶

* Univ. Hist., vol. 10. p. 376. † Jos. Ant. lib. 14. ch. 17
‡ Ibid. p. 386. || Univ. Hist. vol 10. p. 385.
§ Ibid. p. 386.  
¶ Dr. Warburton, applying this prophecy in a different sense, “thinks the continuance of the power of life and death, amongst a tributary people a perplexed question.”

Besides if they had not lost that power, would they have dared to tell Pilate such a notorious falsehood, as that “it was not lawful for them to put any man to death,” who certainly must have known the contrary? As for the motives which they allege, pretending that the Sanhedrin acted in the manner “they did, 1st, To throw the odium of his death as much as possible upon Pilate and the Romans; and 2d, To make him undergo a more severe and ignominious punishment,”* it will be sufficient to observe, that if it be true, as they pretend, that the Sanhedrin had at that time the supreme legislative power, they could have nothing to fear from either the people or the Romans. From the first they must have had the power to challenge obedience,—that in all governments, (and much more so in the Jewish,) being due to those who have the supreme authority; besides, from the people they had nothing to fear, for they appear clamorous for his execution.

* Univ. Hist. vol. 10. p. 593.

And as for the Romans: if the Sanhedrin could try, condemn, and execute, by their own sole authority, then were they safe in doing so, with respect to them. Besides, the Romans knew nothing of Jesus, and their usage of him shows how little they valued him; and therefore the Sanhedrin could have run no risk, had they asserted their own supreme power. The second motive, has as little foundation. For it is not at all probable or consistent that the supreme legislature, tenacious of their power and privileges and a strict adherence to the laws, which they deemed sacred, should here all at once, not only give them up, but act contrary to the very constitution, and that in an affair the most trivial, nothing more than the inflicting one kind of death instead of another; for the power of punishing with death is what they say the Sanhedrin had; to prove which they instance the case of Stephen, and say, “He was regularly tried, condemned and stoned by their single authority.”* Now I think that the contrary to this representation is plain from the passage itself: Stephen might indeed be brought to his examination as is related; but there is no regular condemnation, nor sentence pronounced. The fact was this: The people being exasperated at his behaviour, tumultuously “run upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city and stoned him.”† It manifestly was a violent act of the people, without either condemnation or sentence; and in this very light it is represented in the Acts, so that I think, nothing offered by these historians <<358>>any way proves their point, or carries the least colour of probability.  

* Ibid. † Acts 7:57, 58,

I find it said by way of excuse, “That if Jesus Christ and his Apostles did not make use of this passage to prove the coming of the Messiah, it was because then the completion of his prophecy was not sufficiently manifest.”* In one of my letters, I took notice of the authors of the Universal History affirming “that King Ahaz could not be ignorant from this prophecy that the sceptre was not to depart from Judah till Shiloh was come;”†‡ by which means, these historians honour Ahaz with having a more minute and perfect knowledge of this prophecy, eight hundred years before the completion in Jesus, than either Jesus himself, or his Apostles; for if it was not sufficiently manifest, either to the person in whom it was accomplished, or to those who lived and wrote long after the conversion of Cornelius (nay, St. John wrote even after the destruction of Jerusalem) who had all those manifesting circumstances to guide them in applying it, and an opportunity from thence of proving his character, how absurd must it appear to make Ahaz have any such knowledge! For how could it be plain to Ahaz, who had not those manifesting circumstances to guide him, which Jesus and his Apostles had?—circumstances, indeed, so very dark when they happened, as to be incapable of guiding the persons themselves whom it concerned, and gave no proof, even to those (the inspired) whose business it was to show its completion; and since neither from the event, nor from the assistance of the Spirit which guided them, they could discern or discover the accomplishment, we may reasonably conclude, that this passage concerned not Jesus at all, and also that Ahaz was entirely ignorant of its having any such meaning.

* Cal. Dic. on the word Shiiloh. † See my 12th letter.
‡ Univ. Hist. vol. 10. p. 155  

There is another thing which I must take notice of, and that is, that Jacob gave each of his children a particular, separate blessing, considering each of his sons in their posterity as twelve different tribes; consequently the blessing was peculiar to each tribe, for “all these are twelve tribes of Israel, and this is it, their father spake unto them, and blessed them, every one according to his blessing, he blessed them.”§ The blessing to Judah must therefore be limited to his particular tribe or his descendants. I make this observation, because Christian commentators do artfully transfer the supreme legislative power (in which they make the sceptre to consist) to those who held the power or magistracy in the land of Judea; though that power had long before departed from Judah, in the person of Zedekiah, the last of Judah’s descendants that held the power or sceptre, never afterwards returning in any of his descendants, excepting Zerubabel, who held it by the <<359>>appointment of another, and that only for a limited time,—the government being afterwards in the tribe of Levi, and others, but not in the tribe or descendants of Judah, as is manifest from the history of those times. Therefore it is absurd to pretend to extend the blessing of Judah, which was his particular privilege, to others.

§ Gen. 49:28.

(To be continued.)