A Rebuttal to Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” – Letter IV



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Letter IV

Having finished your objections to the genuineness of the book of Moses, you proceed to your remarks on the book of Joshua and from its internal evidence you endeavor to prove that this book was not written by Joshua.

What then? What is your conclusion? “That it is anonymous and without authority.”

Stop a little. Your conclusion is not connected with your premises.

Your friend Euclid would have been ashamed of it.” Anonymous, and therefore without authority!” I have noticed this solecism before, but as you frequently bring it forward, and indeed, your book stands much in need of it, I will submit to your consideration and other observation upon the subject.

The book called Fleta is anonymous, but it is not on that account without authority. Doomsday book is anonymous, and was written about 700 years ago, yet our courts of law do not hold it to be without authority as to the matter of facts related in it.

Yes, you will say, but this book has been preserved without singular care amongst the records of the nation. And who told you that the Jews had no records or that they did not preserve them with singular care? Josephus says the contrary, and in the Bible itself, an appeal is made too many books which have perished.

Such is the book of Jasher, the book of Nathan, of Abijah, of Iddo, of the Jehu, of the natural history of Solomon, on the acts of Manasseh, and others which might be mentioned. If any one having access to the journals of the lords and commons, to the books of the treasury, war-office, privy-council, and other public documents, should at this day write an history of the reigns of George the First and Second, and should publish it without his name, would any man, three or four hundreds or thousands of years hence, question the authority of that book, when he knew that the whole British nation had received is as an authentic book from the time of its first publication to the age in which he lived?

This supposition is in point. The books of the Old Testament were composed from the records of the Jewish nation, and they have been received as true by that nation, from the time in which they were written to the present day.

Dodsley’s Annual Register is an anonymous book, we only know the name of its editor; The New Annual Register is an anonymous book; the Reviews are anonymous books; but do we, or will our posterity, esteem these books as of no authority?

On the contrary, they are admitted at present, and will be received in after-ages, as authoritative records of the civil, military, and literary history of England and of Europe, So little foundation is there for our being startled by your assertion, “It is anonymous and without authority.”

If I am right in this reasoning, (and I protest to you that I do not see any error in it), all the arguments you adduce in proof that the book of Joshua was not written by Joshua, not that of Samuel by Samuel, are nothing to the purpose for which you have brought them forward; these books may be books of authority, though all you advance against the genuineness of them should be granted.

No article of faith is injured by allowing that there is no such positive proof, when or by whom these, and some other books of Holy Scripture, were written, as to exclude all possibility of doubt and cavil. There is no necessity, indeed, to allow this.

The chronological and historical difficulties, which others before you have produced, have been answered, and as to the greatest part of them, so well answered, that I will not waste the reader’s time by entering into a particular examination of them.

You make yourself merry with what you call the tale of the sun standing still upon mount Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon; and you say that “the story detects itself, because there is not a nation in the world that knows anything about it.” how can you expect that there should, when there is not a nation in the world whose annals reach this area by many hundred years?

It happens, however, that you are probably mistaken as to the fact; a confused tradition concerning this miracle, and a similar one in the time of Ahaz, when the sun went back ten degrees, had been preserved among one of the most ancient nations, as we are informed by one of the most ancient historians.

Herodotus, in his Euterpe, speaking of the Egyptian priests, says, “They told me that the sun four times deviated from his course, having twice risen where he uniformly goes down and twice gone down where he uniformly rises.

This however had produced no alteration in the climate of Egypt, the fruits of the earth and the phenomena of the Nile had always been the same.” (Beloe’s Translation) the last part of this observation confirms the conjecture, that this account of the Egyptian priests had a reference to the two miracles respecting the sun mentioned in Scripture: for they were not of that kind, which could introduce any change in climates or seasons.

You would have been contented to admit the account of this miracle as a fine piece of poetical imagery; you may have seen some Jewish doctors and some Christian commentators, who consider it as such; but improperly in my opinion.

I think it idle, at least, if not impious, to undertake to explain how the miracle was performed; but one who is not able to explain the mode of doing a thing, argues ill if he thence infers that the thing was not done. We are perfectly ignorant how the sun was formed, how the planets were projected at the creation, how they are still retained in their orbits by the power of gravity; but we admit notwithstanding, that the sun was formed, that the planets were then projected, and that they are still retained in their orbits.

The machine of the universe is in the hand of God; he can stop the motion of any part, or of the whole of it, with less trouble and less danger of injuring it, than you can stop your watch.

In testimony of the reality of the miracle, the author of the book says, “Is this not written in the book of Jasher?” No author in his senses would have appealed in proof of his veracity, to a book which did not exist, or in attestation of a fact, which though it did exist, was not recorded in it, we may safely therefore conclude that, at the time the Book of Joshua was written, there was such a book as the book of Jasher, and that the miracle of the sun’s standing still was recorded in that book.

But this observation, you will say, does not prove the fact of the sun’s having stood still; I have not produced it as a proof of that fact; but it proves that the author of the book of Joshua believed the fact, and that the people of Israel admitted the authority of the book of Jasher.

An appeal to a fabulous book would have been as senseless an insult upon their understanding, as it would have been upon ours, had Rapin appealed to the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment, as a proof of the battle Hastings.

I cannot attribute much weight to your argument against the genuineness of the book of Joshua, from its being said that, “Joshua burned Ai, and made it a heap forever, even a desolation unto this day.” Joshua lived twenty-four years after the burning of Ai and if he wrote his history in the latter part of his life, what absurdity is there in saying, Ai is still in ruins, or Ai is in ruins to this very day.

A young man who had seen the heads of the rebels, in forty-five, when they were first stuck upon poles at Temple Barr, might, twenty years afterwards, in attestation of his veracity in speaking of the fact, have justly said – and they are there to this very day.

Whoever wrote the Gospel of St. Matthew, it was written not many centuries, probably, (I had almost said certainly) not a quarter of one century after the death of Jesus; yet the author, speaking of the Potter’s field which had been purchased by the chief priests with the money they had given Judas to betray his master, says, that it was therefore called the field of blood unto this day.

And in another place he says, that the story of the body of Jesus being stolen out of the sepulcher was commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

Moses, in his old age, had made use of a similar expression, when he put the Israelites in mind of what the Lord had done to the Egyptians in the Red Sea. “The Lord hath destroyed them unto this day.” (Deut. chapter 11:4)

In the last chapter of the book of Joshua it is related, that Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel to Sechem; and there, in the presence of the elders and principal men of Israel, he recapitulated, in a short speech, all that God had done for their nation, from the calling of Abraham to that time, when they were settled in the land which God had promised to their forefathers.

In finishing his speech, he said to them – “Choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served, that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And the people answered and said God forbid that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.”

Joshua urged farther, that God would not suffer them to worship other gods in fellowship with him. They answered that “they would serve the Lord.”

Joshua then said to them, “Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord to serve him. And they said, we are witnesses.”

Here was a solemn covenant between Joshua, on the part of the Lord, and all the men of Israel, on their own part. The text then says, “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Sechem, and Joshua wrote these words in the book of the Law of God.”

Here is a proof of two things – first, that there was then, a few years after the death of Moses, existing a book called The book of the Law of God; the same, without doubt, which Moses had written and committed to the custody of the Levites that it might be kept in the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it might be a witness against them.

 Secondly, that Joshua wrote a part at least of his own transactions in that very book, as an addition to it. It is not a proof that he wrote all his own transactions in any book; but I submit entirely to the judgment of every candid man, whether this proof of his having recorded a very material transaction, dost not make it probable that he recorded other material transactions.

That he wrote the chief part of the book of Joshua and that such things as happened after his death have been inserted in it by others, in order to render the history more complete.

The book of Joshua, chapter 6:26, is quoted in the first book of Kings, chapter 26:44. “In his (Ahab’s) days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho; he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his first-born, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun.”

Here is a proof that the book of Joshua is older than the first book of Kings, but that is not all which may be reasonably inferred. I do not say proved from this quotation. It may be inferred from the phrase, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun that Joshua wrote down the word which the Lord had spoken.

 In Baruch (which, though an apocryphal book, is authority for this purpose) there is a similar phrase; as thou spakest by thy servant Moses in the day when thou didst command him to write by law.

I think it unnecessary to make any observations of what you say relative to the book of Judges, but I cannot pass unnoticed your censure of the book of Ruth, which you call “an idle bungling story, foolishly told, nobody knows by whom, about a strolling country girl creeping slyly to bed her cousin Boaz; pretty stuff, indeed,” you exclaim, “to be called the word of God!”

It seems to me that you do not perfectly comprehend what is meant by the expression – the word of God – or the divine authority of the Scriptures. I will explain it to you in the words of Dr. Law, late bishop of Carlisle, and in those of St. Austin.

My first quotation is from Bishop Law’s Theory of Religion, a book not undeserving your notice.

“The true sense then of the divine authority of the books of the Old Testament and which, perhaps, is enough to denominate them in general divinely inspired, seems to be this; that as in those times God has all along, beside the inspection, or superintendency of his general providence, interfered upon particular occasions, by giving express commissions to some persons (thence called prophets) to declare his will in various manners and degrees of evidence, as best suited the occasion, time, and nature of the subject; and in all other cases, left them wholly to themselves: in like manner, he has interposed his more immediate assistance, and notified it to them, as they did to the world, in the recording of revelations so far as that was necessary, amidst the common (but from hence termed sacred) history of those times; and mixed with various other occurrences; in which the historian’s own natural qualifications were sufficient to enable him to relate things, with all the accuracy they required.”

The passage from St. Austin is this, “I am of opinion, that those men, to whom the Holy Ghost revealed what ought to be received as authoritative in religion, might write some things as men with historical diligence, and other things as men with historical diligence and other things as prophets by divine inspiration; and that these things are so distinct, that the former may be attributed to themselves as contributing to the increase of knowledge, and the latter to God speaking by them things appertaining to the authority of religion.”

Whether this opinion be right or wrong, I do not here inquire; it is the opinion of many learned men and good Christians; and if you will adopt it as your opinion, you will see cause, perhaps so to become a Christian yourself; you will see cause to consider chronological, geographical, or genealogical errors – apparent mistakes or real contradictions as to historical facts – needless repetitions and trifling interpolations – indeed you will see cause to consider all the principal objections of your book to be absolutely without foundation.

Receive but the Bible as composed by upright and well informed, though, in some points, fallible men, (for I exclude all fallibility when they profess to deliver the word of God) and you must receive it as a book revealing to you, in many parts, the express will of God; and in other parts, relating to you the ordinary history of the times.

Give but the authors of the Bible that credit which you give to other historians, believe them to deliver the word of God, when they tell you that they do so; believe when they relate other things as of themselves, and not of the Lord, that they wrote to the best of their knowledge and capacity; and you will be in your belief something very different from a deist.

You may not be allowed to aspire to the character of an orthodox believer, but you will not be an unbeliever in the divine authority of the Bible; though you should admit human mistakes and human opinions to exist in some parts of it. This I take to be the first step towards the removal of the doubts of many skeptical men and when they are advanced thus far, the grace of God, assisting a teachable disposition, and a pious intention, may carry them on to perfection,

As to Ruth, you do an injury to her character. She was not a strolling country girl. She had been married ten years, and being left a widow without children, she accompanied her mother-in-law, returning into her native country, out of which with her husband and her two sons she had been driven by a famine.

The disturbances in France have driven many men with their families to America. If, ten years hence, a woman, having lost her husband and her children, should return to France with a daughter-in-law, would you be justified in calling the daughter-in-law a strolling country girl?

But she “crept slyly to bed to her cousin Boaz.” I do not find it so in the history, as a person imploring protection, she laid herself down at the foot of an aged kinsman’s bed, and she rose up with as much innocence as she had laid herself down. She was afterwards married to Boaz, and reputed by all her neighbors a virtuous woman, and they were more likely to know her character than you are.

Whoever reads the book of Ruth, bearing in mind the simplicity of ancient manners, will find it an interesting story of a poor young woman following, in a strange land, the advice, and affectionately attaching herself to the fortunes, of the mother of her deceased husband.

The two books of Samuel come next under your review. You proceed to shew that these books were not written by Samuel, that they are anonymous and thence you conclude without authority.

I need not here repeat what I have said upon the fallacy of your conclusion; and as to your proving that the books were not written by Samuel, you might have spared yourself some trouble, if you had recollected, that it is generally admitted, that Samuel did not write any part of the second book which bears his name and only a part of the first.

It would, indeed, have been an inquiry not undeserving your notice, in many parts of your work, to have examined what was the opinion of the learned men respecting the authors of the several books of the Bible; you would have found, that you were in many places fighting a phantom of your own raising and proving what was generally admitted.

Very little certainty, I think, can at this time be obtained on this subject; but that you may have some knowledge of what has been conjectured by men of judgment. I will quote to you a passage from Dr. Hartley’s Observations on Man.

The author himself does not vouch for the truth of his observation, for he begins it with a supposition.

“I suppose then, that the Pentateuch consists of the writings of Moses, put together by Samuel, with a very few additions; that the books of Joshua and Judges were, in like manner collected by him; and the book of Ruth, with the first part of the first book of Samuel, written by him; that the latter part of the first book of Samuel, and the second book, were written by the prophets who succeeded Samuel, suppose Nathan and Gad; that the book of Kings and Chronicles are extracts from the records of the succeeding prophets, concerning their own times and from the public genealogical tables, made by Ezra; that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are collections of like records, some written by Ezra and Nehemiah and some by their predecessors.

That the book of Esther was written by some eminent Jew, in or near the times of the transactions there recorded, perhaps Mordecai; the book of Job by a Jew, of uncertain time; the Psalms by David, and other pious persons; the books of Proverbs and Canticles by Solomon; the book of Ecclesiastes by Solomon or perhaps by a Jew of latter times, speaking in his person, but not with an intention to make him pass for the author; the prophecies by the prophets whose name they bear; and the books of the New Testament by the persons to whom they are usually ascribed.”

I have produced this passage to you, not merely to show you that, in a great part of your work, you are attacking what no person is interested in defending; but to convince you that a wise and good man, and a firm believer in revealed religion, for such was Dr. Hartley, and no priest, did not reject the anonymous books of the Old Testament as books without authority.

I shall not trouble either you or myself with any more observations on that head. You may ascribe the two books of Kings, and the two books of Chronicles, to what authors you please. I am satisfied with knowing that the annals of the Jewish nation were written in the time of Samuel, and probably, in all succeeding times, by men of ability who lived in or near the times in which they write.

Of the truth of this observation, we have abundant proof, not only from the testimony of Josephus and of the writers of the Talmuds, but from the Old Testament itself. I will content myself with citing a few places.

“Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer.” 1 Chronicles 24:29.

“Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and in the visions of Iddo to Seerer?” II Chronicles, Ch. 9 –

“Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer, concerning genealogies?” II Chronicles 12:15 –

“Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, first and last, behold they are written in the book of Jehu the son of Hanani.” 2 Chronicles 20:34. It is possible for writers to give a stronger evidence of their veracity than by referring their readers to the books from which they had extracted the materials of their history?

“The two books of Kings,” you say, “are little more than a history of assassinations, treachery, and war.” That the kings of Israel and Judah were many of them very wicked persons is evident from the history which is given of them in the Bible.

But it ought to be remembered that their wickedness is not to be attributed to their religion; nor were the people of Israel chosen to be the people of God, on account of their wickedness; nor was their being chosen, a cause of it.

One may wonder, indeed, that, having experienced so many singular marks of God’s goodness towards their nation, they did not at once become, and continue to be (what, however, they have long been) strenuous advocates for the worship of one only God, the Maker of heaven and earth.

This was the purpose for which they were chosen and this purpose has been accomplished. For above three and twenty hundred years the Jews have uniformly witnessed the all the nations of the earth the unity of God, and his abomination of idolatry.

But as you look upon “the appellation of the Jews being God’s chosen people as a lie, which the priests and leaders of the Jews had invented to cover the baseness of their own characters and which Christian priests, sometimes as corrupt, and often as cruel have professed to believe,” I will plainly state to you the reasons which induce me to believe that it is no lie, and I hope they will be such reason as you will not attribute either to cruelty or corruption.

To any one contemplating the universality of things and the fabric of nature, this globe of earth with the men dwelling on its surface, will not appear (exclusive of the divinity of their souls) of more importance than an hillock of ants; all of which some with corn, some with eggs, some without any thing, run thither and thither, bustling about a little heap of dust.

This is a thought of the immortal Bacon and it is admirably fitted to humble the pride of philosophy, attempting to prescribe forms to the proceedings and bounds to the attributes of God. We may as easily circumscribe infinite, as penetrate the secret purposes of the Almighty.

There are but two ways by which I can acquire any knowledge of the nature of the Supreme Being, by reason and by revelation to you, who reject revelation, there is but one. Now my reason informs me, that God has made a great difference between the kinds of animals, with respect to their capacity of enjoying happiness.

Every kind is perfect in its order; but if we compare different kinds together, one will appear to be greatly superior to another. An animal, which has but one sense, has but one source of happiness; but if it be supplied with what is suited to that sense, it enjoys all the happiness of which it is capable and is in its nature perfect.

Other sorts of animals, which have two or three senses and which have also abundant means of gratifying them, enjoy twice or thrice as much happiness as those do which have but one.

In the same sort of animals there is a great difference amongst individuals, one having the senses more perfect, and the body less subject to disease, than another. Hence, if I were to form a judgment of the divine goodness by this use of my reason, I could not but say that it was partial and unequal.

“What shall we say then? Is God unjust? God forbid!” his goodness may be unequal, without being imperfect; it must be estimated from the whole, and not from a part. Every order of beings is so sufficient for its own happiness and so conducive at the same time to the happiness of every other, that in one view it seems to be made for itself alone, and in another not for itself but for every other.

Could we comprehend the whole of the immense fabric which God hath formed? I am persuaded that we should see nothing but perfection, harmony, and beauty, in every part of it; but whilst we dispute about parts, we neglect the whole and discern nothing but supposed anomalies and defects.

The maker of a watch, or the builder of a ship, is not to be blamed because a spectator cannot discover either the beauty or the use of disjointed parts. And shall we dare to accuse God of injustice for not having distributed the gifts of nature in the same degree to all kinds of animals, when it is probable that this very inequality of distribution may be the means of producing the greatest sum total of happiness to the whole system?

In exactly the same manner, may we reason concerning the acts of God’s especial Providence. If we consider any one act, such as that of appointing the Jews to be his peculiar people, as unconnected with every other, it may appear to be a partial display of his goodness.

It may excite doubts concerning the wisdom or the benignity of his divine nature. But if we connect the history of the Jews with that of other nations from the most remote antiquity to the present time, we shall discover that they were not chosen so much for their own benefit, or on account of their own merit, as for the general benefit of mankind.

 To the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Grecians, Romans, to all the people of the earth, they were formerly, and they are still to all civilized nations, a beacon set upon a hill, to warn them from idolatry, to light them to the sanctuary of a God holy, just, and good.

Why should we suspect such a dispensation of being a lie? When even from the little which we can understand of it, we see that it is founded in wisdom, carried on for the general good, and analogous to all that reason teaches us concerning the nature of God.

Several thing you observe are mentioned in the book of the Kings, such as the drying up of Jeroboam’s hand, the ascent of Elijah into heaven, the destruction of the children who mocked Elisha and the resurrection of a dead man. These circumstances being mentioned in the book of Kings and not mentioned in that of Chronicles, is a proof to you that they are lies.

I esteem it a very erroneous mode of reasoning, which, from the silence of one author concerning a particular circumstance, infers the want of veracity in another who mentions it. And this observation is still more cogent, when applied to a book which is only a supplement to, or an abridgment of, other books.

And under this description, the book of Chronicles has been considered by all writers. But though you will not believe the miracle of the drying up of Jeroboam’s hand, what you say to the prophecy which was then delivered concerning the future destruction of the idolatrous alter of Jeroboam?

The prophecy is thus written, 1 Kings 13:2 – “Behold a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name, and upon thee (the altar) shall he offer the priests of the high places.” Here is a clear prophecy; the name, family, and office of a particular person are described in the year 975 (according to the Bible chronology) before Christ.

Above 350 years after the delivery of the prophecy, you will find, by consulting the second book of Kings, (chap. 23:15-16) this prophecy fulfilled in all its parts.

You make a calculation that Genesis was not written till 800 years after Moses and that it is of the same age, and you may probably think of the same authority, as Aesop’s Fables.

You give what you call the evidence of this, the air of demonstration. – “It has but two stages: first, the account of the kings of Edom, mentioned in Genesis, is taken from Chronicles, and therefore the book of Genesis was written after the book of Chronicles.

Secondly, the book of Chronicles was not begun to be written till after Zedekiah, in whose time Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, 588 years before Christ, and more than 860 years after Moses.” Having answered this objection before, I might be excused taking any more notice of it, but as you build much, in this place, upon the strength of your argument, I will shew you its weakness when it is properly stated.

A few verses in the book of Genesis could not be written by Moses; therefore no part of Genesis could be written by Moses. A child would deny your therefore. Again, a few verses in the book f Genesis could not be written by Moses, because they speak of kings of Israel, there having been no kings of Israel in the time of Moses and therefore they could not be written by Samuel, or by Solomon, or by any other person who lived after there were kings in Israel, except by the author of the book of Chronicles.

This is also an illegitimate inference from your position.

Again, a few verses in the book of Genesis are, word for word, the same as a few verses in the book of Chronicles; therefore, the author of the book of Genesis must have taken them from Chronicles – another lame conclusion!

Why might not the author of the book of Chronicles have taken them from Genesis, as he has taken many other genealogies, supposing them to have been inserted in Genesis by Samuel?

But where, you may ask, could Samuel or any other person have found the account of the kings of Edom?

Probably, in the public records of the nation, which were certainly as open for inspection to Samuel, and the other prophets, as they were to the author of Chronicles, I hold it needless to employ more time on the subject.

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