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A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF SOME
The Difcrepancies between the feveral
I KNOW not a more rafh or unphilofophical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a ftory, by reason of some diversity in the circumftances with which it is related. The usual character of human teftimony is fubftantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of juftice teaches. When accounts of a tranfaction 'come from the mouths of different witneffes, it is felVOL. II. U dom
dom that it is not poffible to pick out appa rent or real inconfiftencies between them. Thefe inconfiftencies are ftudiously displayed by an adverfe pleader, but oftentimes with little impreffion upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, a close and minute agreement induces the fufpicion of confederacy and fraud. When written hiftories touch upon the fame fcenes of action, the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous, and fometimes important, variations present themfelves; not feldom alfo, abfolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed fufficient to fhake the credibility of the main fact. The embaffy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's or der to place his statue in their temple, Philo places in harveft, Jofephus in feed-time; both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt, whether such an embaffy was fent, or whether fuch an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the fame kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyle's death in the reign of
of Charles the Second, we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Clarendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the fame day on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrow, Heath, Echard, concur in ftating that he was beheaded; and that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon the Monday*. Was any reader of English hiftory ever sceptic enough to raise from hence a question, whether the Marquis of Argyle was executed, or not? Yet this ought to be left in uncertainty, according to the principles upon which the Christian history has fometimes been attacked. Dr. Middleton contended, that the different hours of the day affigned to the crucifixion of Chrift, by John and by the other evangelifts, did not admit of the reconcilement which learned men had proposed; and then concludes the difcuffion with this hard remark: "We must be forced, with several of the critics, to leave the difficulty juft as
* See Biog. Britan.
we found it, chargeable with all the confequences of manifeft inconfiftency *.” But what are these confequences? By no means the difcrediting of the hiftory as to the principal fact, by a repugnancy (even supposing that repugnancy not to be refolvable into different modes of computation) in the time of the day in which it is faid to have taken place.
A great deal of the difcrepancy, obfervable in the Gospels, arifes from omiffion; from a fact or a paffage of Chrift's life being noticed by one writer, which is unnoticed by another. Now omiffion is at all times a very uncertain ground of objection. We perceive it, not only in the comparison of different writers, but even in the fame writer, when compared with himself. There are a great many particulars, and fome of them of importance, mentioned by Jofephus in his Antiquities, which, as we should have fup
* Middleton's Reflections answered by Benson. Hift. Chrif. vol. iii. p. 50.
pofed, ought to have been put down by him in their place in the Jewish Wars *. Suetonius, Tacitus, Dio Caffius, have, all three, written of the reign of Tiberius. Each has mentioned many things omitted by the reft, yet no objection is from thence taken to the refpective credit of their hiftories. We have in our own times, if there were not fomething indecorous in the comparison, the life of an eminent perfon, written by three of his friends, in which there is very great variety in the incidents selected by them; some apparent, and perhaps fome real contradictions; yet without any impeachment of the fubftantial truth of their accounts, of the authenticity of the books, of the competent information or general fidelity of the writers.
But thefe difcrepancies will be ftill more numerous, when men do not write hiftories, but memoirs; which is perhaps the true name, and proper description of our Gospels: that is, when they do not undertake, or ever
* Lard. parti. vol. ii. p. 735. et feq.
+ Ib. p. 743.