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Egypt. The inhabitants of that country are described, sometimes at amity with the chosen race, and sometimes oppressing them with the bitterest servitude; sometimes triumphant in their plan of subjugation, and sometimes smarting under the lash of ten grievous visitations. We are introduced to the scenes of their private life and of their public life: we listen to the discourse of imprisoned individuals: we have allusions, both to their theology, and to their customs, and to their history. Yet never is the slightest hint given, that they taught the immortality of the soul : in none of these different circumstances of life, so far as we can derive any information from Moses, do we ever find them acting on the motives, or influenced by the prospect, of A FUTURE STATE; or indeed expressing the least hopes or fears, or even common curiosity, concerning it. THEREFORE (on the principle of Bishop Warburton's negative argument) they must have been whoLLY IGNORANT of any such doctrine. . Yet Herodotus assures us, not only that they held the immortality of the soul, but that they held it from the most ancient times : for he represents them, as being the FIRST of mankind who taught and defended that tenet'. Nay more,
· Herod. Hist. lib. ii. c. 123. On the same principle of negative evidence, some have argued not very cogently, that the pyramids of Egypt must needs be more recent than Homer; because, while the poet celebrates the hundred portals of Thebes, he says not a syllable respecting the more northern pyramids. I should conceive, that the account of
the bishop both allows the high antiquity of the tenet among them; and compels himself, on the very ground of his own mode of reasoning, to confess that they must have had it from the earliest formation of their civil polity: for his avowed theory is, that every gentile legislator, at the commencement of well ordered society among each people, diligently inculcated the doctrine of a future retributory state as absolutely and essentially necessary to the firmness and well-being of temporal government'.
Thus vague and inconclusive is the bishop's negative argument, even when the premises upon
which it rests are admitted to their fullest extent.
(2.) But, in fact, the entire argument, as stated by his lordship, is built upon so palpable a fallacy, that one can scarcely refrain from wondering how it should have escaped detection from himself.
He deduces the TOTAL IGNORANCE of the ancient Israelites, not from THEIR OWN TOTAL SILENCE, but from THE TOTAL SILENCE OF THEIR HISTORIANS : as if it plainly followed, that they had never uttered a syllable on the subject, because THEIR HISTORIANS (for what
them given by Herodotus will afford quite a sufficient answer to so very precarious a mode of reasoning. Even in his time, they were evidently considered by the Egyptians as being of a most remote antiquity.
Div. Leg. book iii. sect. 4. p. 184. book ii. throughout.
ever reason) have not thought fit to record their words.
Can we suppose for a moment, that Abraham or Isaac or Jacob, who are acknowledged to have been well acquainted with the doctrine, never once made it a topic of conversation in their families, and never once declared it to be their grand hope and comfort in the midst of all their trials? Yet does the argument of Bishop Warburton, if fairly urged (as it ought to be) in the case of the ancient patriarchs as well as of the ancient Israelites, require us to believe, that, BECAUSE Moses does not record any such language as employed by Abraham or his two successors, THEREFORE they never did employ such language.
The whole argument, in short, is built upon the grossly fallacious presumption; that, if an historian omit to notice the doctrine of a future state when treating of any particular people, we are clearly bound to infer from his silence the total ignorance of that people respecting the doctrine in question.
Thus, on the bishop's principles, because Tacitus, in his admirable treatise on the manners of the Germans, is entirely silent as to their belief in the doctrine of a future state ; though he might so naturally have been led to mention it, when discussing their theology: we must therefore conclude, that they were quite ignorant of any such tenet. If the brevity of that treatise be urged as a sufficient reason for the historian's silence, the reply is ready at hand : Cesar, in his much shorter sketch of the manpers of the Gauls, gives a very prominent place to the Druidical doctrine, that souls do not perish after death, but fit transmigratively from one body to another; while, in his annexed picture of the manners of the Germans, he preserves the same suspicious silence as Tacitus with respect to their belief in the doctrine of a future state'.
Here then we have the negative testimony of two eminent historians, that the Germans looked not for any existence beyond the present world: and, accordingly, if we read the more elaborate treatise of Tacitus, in none of the different circumstances of life wherein he exhibits them, do we ever find them acting on the motives or influenced by the prospect of a future state of rewards and punishments. Insomuch, that, if nothing had come down to us respecting the ancient Germans beyond what Cesar and Tacitus have recorded, as nothing has come down to us respecting the ancient Israelites beyond what Moses and a few other writers have recorded; we should have been compelled on Bishop Warburton's principles to maintain, that our Teutonic forefathers were quite ignorant of the doctrine in question.
"Cæsar. de bell. Gall. lib. vi. $ 13-23.
2. Hitherto I have discussed the bishop's NEGATIVE argument, conceding to him the basis on which it rests, namely the TOTAL SILENCE of the Hebrews under all circumstances with regard to a future state of existence : but I am inclined to think, both that he has very greatly exaggerated the matter, and that in his assertions he has not always been either perfectly accurate or quite consistent even with himself.
I omit, for the present, the early patriarchs : because, however their alleged silence
bear upon the bishop's assertion, that Moses studiously forebore in any part of his writings to teach the doctrine of a future state; it does not precisely bear upon his other assertion, now more immediately in hand, that the body of the early Israelites had no expectations of a future state of rewards and punishments'.
(1.) Throughout the whole of his lordship’s statement there runs, I think, very evidently a vein of decided exaggeration.
He assumes, that, under whatever circumstances a man may be placed, whether of prosperity or of adversity, whether of safety or of difficulty, whether of health or of sickness, whether of captivity or of victory; he will immediately introduce in a prominent manner the doctrine of a future state of retribution, pro
Div. Leg. book vi. sect. 6. p. 133. book v. sect. 6. p. 196. sect. 5. p. 182.